Friday, December 16, 2005

too cool for school

Item! Police are on the manhunt for an aging fourth or fifth string NY Times film critic who has, in a fit of picque, lacerated innocent bystanders with what's being described as his "cutting edge." Details of this incident remain sketchy, but victims are described as possessing something called "middlebrow," which may or may not be synonymous with monobrow.

Okay, that wasn't funny. Let's try it again. This post concerns a potential Sideways-level cineaste backlash to the critically lauded gay cowboy movie, one which Steve Erickson believes to be on the horizon. It's a backlash that has already arrived if you read certain highbrow sites like Dave Kehr's blog (check out the comments for some particularly funny examples of film geek self-congratulation). You see, the self-styled guardians of cinephilia are up at arms over Lee's "safe, middlebrow" tendencies, as if by virtue of identifying a target audience of uncool types (here, Oscar voters) they've identified the film's fatal flaws. For some, Lee's nondescript visual style in service of earnest, character-driven dramas proves too much for those with rarefied tastes. Worse, he dares to peddle his middlebrow antics in the sacred land of genre films. While the philistines fete a hack like Ang Lee, true geniuses like Renny Harlin and Walter Hill toil away in tragic obscurity, making brilliant, underappreciated genre exercises like modern day Budd Boettichers. Or so the superhighbrowcineastesnobs will have you believe.

That's where Kehr and his auteurist zombie[1] acolytes come in. Kehr's one of America's finest critics, but notice how his critique of Lee's film amounts to nothing more than artier-than-thou posing? Compare Kehr's impoverished attitudinizing with a review that actually engages with what's on the screen, which is above all a poignant study on the way an imperfectly realized love affair gets withered away by time and distance. (As if I need another movie to validate my "no long-distance relationship" policy.) Instead of addressing the movie the way Bryant Frazer did, Kehr just wants to show off how enlightened his aesthetical stance is. The argument? Lee is embraced by Oscar-voting, middlebrow philistines, ergo Lee is a hack.[2]

Alarms should go off whenever you hear critics go off on "middlebrow" this or humanistic (or anti-humanistic) that. These are not qualitative judgments. Rather, these terms are simply descriptions of the film's approach or sensibility. Too many critics, even terrific ones like Kehr, lose sight of that.

[1] What is an auteurist zombie? I like Bilge Ebiri's description: "people who will call three movies a trilogy if Ulmer has an insert of a shoe in each one."

[2] Just to be clear, I don't consider Ang Lee to be one of my favorite filmmakers, and as superb a job as he did with Brokeback, the film's missteps are mainly made by Lee (and Gyllenhaal). I just find the anti-Lee vitriol to be way over the top.

Also, this guy is a fucking twat.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is there anything more annoying and pathetic...

...than white American Christianists* whining about being victims? Let's see. 80% of Americans call themselves Christian. The United States is the most powerful, wealthiest empire the world has ever seen. You've got a born-again President who grovels at the feet of evangelical leaders.

Yet, these poor brittle little souls act as if they've been enslaved for a hundred years. Or had their land swiped. Or thrown into intern camps. Or prohibited from marrying their loved ones.

Oh, what fire burns inside as the Christianist passes by a "Happy Holidays" sign at the local Mervyns. Is there a worse indignity that can be inflicted on a person? Oh, Lord or Savior, I beseech you to punish these heathens without mercy, these blasphemous souls who refuse to recognize that it is the Lord Himself who commends us to honor His birthday by running our holy credit card debts because our son cannot do without the newest XBox! Oh, please deliver us from this wretched earth, from the Best Buy sales clerk who mocks us with his paganistic greetings, taunting our very soul with his demonistic secularism!

* Christanist here is used similarly to "Islamist" to distinguish the observant and devout (Christians and Muslims) from extremist religious-identity freaks who want to establish their religion as the basic organizing principle that governs every facet of civilized life.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Theo Epstein = sixth toe

Heading into the winter meetings with a phantom GM in a year of transition? No problem. The resident boy genius Theo Epstein is gone, but that hasn't stopped the Sox from enjoying their best off-season in years, all done without an official replacement. Among the coups:

(1) Josh Beckett, one of the five best young pitchers in baseball 25 or under. A franchise top-of-the-rotation guy and World Series MVP. Throw in Gold Glove winner and comeback player candidate Mike Lowell and solid set-up man Mota, and this is one heckuva trade. Sox give up two very good prospects in Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, but I think they sold high on HanRam, and Sanchez projects to be a #3 starter. Even accounting for Lowell's bad contract, this is an unbelievably lopsided trade, the best bargain at the Marlin firesale.

(2) Mark Loretta, who's one year removed from being one of the ten most productive middle infielders in baseball (a staggering .886 OPS at 2b in 2004), for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli. Loretta may or may not bounce back, but even a mediocre Loretta is worth Wakefield's caddy. What were the Pads thinking? Another steal.

(3) Andy Marte, one of baseball's top prospects, for error-prone Edgar Renteria. I like Edgar, but he's pretty clearly on the decline (dude had a .721 OPS this season, 30 points below the league average and the most errors of any SS in the AL). Baseball Prospectus has Marte as the top prospect in baseball, a potential all-star at 3b. I'd pull the trigger on this trade every time. And guess what? They're already popping champagne corks over at Red Sox Nation.

Now, they've just gotta sign Captain Caveman to a decent deal (he'll be overvalued, but bite the bullet), convince Manny to stay or trade him for a disgruntled Miggy Tejada, trade David Wells for a reliever, and come up with a young, cheap first-sacker, and next year will sport the best Sox team on paper since...oh, 2004.

Other questions:

* Did the Blue Jays win the lottery? How are they coming up with all this cash to pay the likes of Burnett, Ryan, Overbay, et al.?

* The Dodgers sign Grady "Gump" Little to be their skipper. I'm sure Grady's a fine man. From all accounts, he's well-liked by players. But the dude can't manage to get a car out of a Wal-Mart parking lot. Grady is an utterly incompetent in-game manager, who, beyond his 2003 ALCS Game 7 brain-fart, consistently sticks with pitchers too long and never figured out how to take advantage of lineup matchups. This is another in a series of awful panic-induced moves (which includes firing Moneyballing GM DePodesta) for the Boys in Blue. When Bill Plaschke, very likely the stupidest sportswriter for a major publication, gives you the thumbs up, it's pretty clear you've just fucked up big time.

* For the first time in memory, the Yanks are not major players in the Hot Stove Season, having coughed up $50 million in losses as the profligate spending in previous winters finally caught up to 'em. Tell me this is not good for baseball.

* Anyone who's a sports fan should pick up Bill "The Sports Guy" Simmons' Now I Can Die in Peace. Simmons' gut-busting collection of essays shows what true fandom is like in all its passionate absurdity, without resorting to lame Red Sox underwear jokes or whatever tripe that was served up in Fever Pitch. Simmons chronicles the ups-and-downs of the 2004 Red Sox season, which is undoubtedly more meaningful to Sox fans. But you really just have to be a sports fan with a healthy background in "guy" culture to appreciate Simmons, the funniest sportswriter in the business.

* Btw, I am crushing the $50+5 SNGs on Party Poker. Thanks for asking.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dog Bites Geisha

This just in: Memoirs of a Geisha will suck the holy ass. Yup. You heard it here first. Or maybe you heard it somewhere else first, and this is your fourteenth reminder that this movie is bound to suck. But here it is (again). Please be reminded that there's a better chance of democracy flourishing in Iraq in a year than Memoirs being anything other than shitty. Heck, there's a better chance of Lars von Trier's slave epic Manderlay being watchable than there is Memoirs.

Before I continue with the hating, I must first say that I'm not down on this movie's prospects on the grounds that Zhang Ziyi's butt has somehow betrayed 5,000 years of Chinese self-determination. Actually, I'm fine with that. ZZ's butt can do whatever it likes, including, but not limited to, subjecting the denizens of the Middle Kingdom to further humiliation. And unlike my (ethnically Japanese) aunt Mich, who railed against this movie's casting the entire Thanksgiving weekend, I'm not especially offended by the Sino-centric casting choices. Don't Asians all look the same anyway? Lastly, while in the past I've resisted Zhang and her emotional limitations, she's proved herself capable of giving fine performances, at least when she's listening to Wong Kar-wai's marching orders.

So what's the problem? Where to start? Let's see. First, there's Chicago, a film so ineptly directed that you're better off watching your local junior high production. The hack responsible for that embarrassment is at the helm for Memoirs. If his abysmal credentials weren't enough, Rob Marshall's hackery can already be glimpsed in the laughable trailer, which showcases a torrent of derivative Japanese imagery (flat, symmetric compositions! colorful kiminos!) stolen from the likes of late Kurosawa, the Shogun TV mini-series, and The Pillow Book. Egad.

Then there's the notion of a geisha movie for Western audiences. I don't think I'm particularly touchy about implications of cultural imperialism or Orientalism. I laughed off my mom when she told me Crouching Tiger is just a sell-out movie made for Western eyes. But this project just screams cultural sensationalism. Most people don't know what a geisha is. They assume that it's the Japanese for "call girl", but that's not quite what geishas are. They're rarefied courtesans who entertain a certain class of men. Exotic, yes, but geishas do not typically lead the lurid life found in the popular American imagination.

No doubt the geisha milieu can be a fascinating subject for movies. Kenji Mizoguchi returned to that world again and again, coming up with such poignant geisha studies as Sisters of the Gion and Street of Shame. The geisha world fed some of Mikio Naruse's best movies as well, including Flowing, Late Chrysanthemums, and (reputedly) When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. As always, Mizoguchi's concerned with the plight of female suffering brought about by abandonment. Naturally, geisha became a recurring subject for Mizoguchi's vision of women tragically imprisoned by the callous choices of men. Naruse, meanwhile, found the geisha a natural for his examinations into lives of quiet desperation; the geisha house is a perfect microcosm of his vision of a reified world, where personal relationships are defined by the financial transactions between the individuals.

So if you want to watch movies about geishas, why not turn to Japanese masters who know the milieu intimately (Mizoguchi, especially, was known as a frequenter of geisha houses)? It sure beats a bowdlerized Western superproduction helmed by a dude who can't even competently translate to the screen a broadway show about a midwestern American city, right?

Okay, so maybe I'm acting like a big snob. Give it a chance, and who knows? The Red Sox won a World Series recently, so anything's possible, right? Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you're still optimistic about Memoirs, let me direct you to a review from the proudly anti-elitist The Hollywood Reporter, a publication not known for their concern for verisimilitude in movie portrayals of non-American cultures.
The filmmakers have made the characters crasser, they ignore nuances within geisha tradition and give characters attitudes and dialogue highly unlikely for Depression-era Japan. The heroine, who in time becomes a legendary geisha, is modeled in the film more after a willful, modern American teen than a young Japanese woman...She performs a dance on her first night as an apprentice, something that would never happen. She makes sharp ripostes with her rival, dialogue more in tune with a ‘30s American film comedy than ‘30s Japanese culture. A dance performance at one point, choreographed by John DeLuca, feels like a modern Western interpretation imposed on Japanese tradition, more "Chicago" than Kyoto as it were.
When Kirk Honeycutt is dissing a movie for its cultural inauthenticity, you know you're getting the sub-Disneyland version. Remember, the implicit purpose of this movie/book is to provide a revealing glimpse into a secret world. So cultural authenticity is not only important, it's the film's raison d'être.

Yeah, anything is possible, but what are the realistic chances of this movie being any good? Let's be honest. You'll have better odds betting that Tom Cruise will come out of the closet on Christmas Day, 2005.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Confession of a MoDo Addict

(For a concise summary of this post, scroll down to the last line.)

So MoDo (alias "Maureen Dowd" -- NY Times columnist) rolled into town, and I didn't even know about it! Who dropped the ball? Who? Where's Flavorpill? What's the point of subscribing to two hundred event-listing listservs if they won't even tell you about a MoDo appearance?

So I missed MoDo. Your reaction, I'm guessing, is "so fucking what?" No need to repeat her faults; I've heard it all. MoDo's the annoying Heather of political journalism. An irredeemable name-dropper, her pieces little more than obvious one-liners and bon mots strung together by inartful transitional clauses...that is, when she even bothers with transitional clauses. She's the Ally McBeal of columnists, when she's not the Bridget Jones of newsprint. She doesn't care about anything substantive, and her writing's formulaic. The MoDo column consists of one or more of the following: (a) a Shakespear allusion, preferably with Freudian implications; (b) Bush and/or his cronies are idiots; (c) an analogy to a situation found in a suitably respected recent middlebrow movie or a well-known; (d) someone associated with topic du jour is a hypocrite and liar. A guest columnist like Barbara Ehrenreich delves into the very root of working class lives. Ehrenreich investigates and reports. MoDo just pontificates. Often badly. Her words lack the erudition and conviction of Paul Krugman, the earnest concern for "Third World" suffering a la Nick Kristof, the occasional sociological insight of David Brooks, the wizened certainty of the globe-trotting Tom Friedman, and the all-around persuasiveness of Frank Rich. And she's not the black guy, so no Tavis Smiley guest appearances or presumed authority when discussing Katrina victims. Indeed, the irreverent snark of Wonkette, blogging without Gray Lady oversight or the need for a unifying "theme", has made Dowd's brand of attitudinizing tame by comparison, at least when MoDo's not slapping down Judy ("reporters are not stenographers") Miller.

So she's not exactly James Agee. And yet...she's so, what's the word here, beguiling. Maybe it's that picture of her on the TimesSelect site, smiling bewitchingly, that's so seductive. Or that goth-queen act she puts on during interviews, like a grown up Winona from Beetlejuice. I'm sure she taps into my longstanding fascination with redheads, but I never could explain my big crush on MoDo, given my irritation with her snide dismissals of the serious and the profound.

Until now. It's springtime for MoDo obsessives as she's out promoting her new book, titled provocatively Are Men Necessary? (I would say no, if weren't for the likelihood that my poker profits would disappear if men were to vanish from the earth.) The book sounds like a chore, a navel-gazing exercise in self-pity. Apparently MoDo's had poor luck with men lately, and she blames it all on fear. Fear of the smart, opinionated, sassy modern woman, she says -- a species celebrated by feminists but which have fallen way behind in the mating game. Or something. I don't plan on reading the book. But I did read a recent New York magazine feature on Dowd which, along with this lengthy Kurtz profile of her in the Washington Post, more than anything, helped explain the crush. As portrayed by the NY piece, Dowd is a screwball comedy heroine -- a little bit daffy, a little bit zany, and every bit the society girl. Like Myrna Loy or Irene Dunne, MoDo's sophisticated yet "feminine," a coinnoisseur of nice shoes and fine wine. And she's spunky, too, having developed a distinctive taste for the traditionally masculine art of political combat.

It strikes me that MoDo's the closest public figure we have to a feminine ideal of classic Hollywood (or at least, my feminine ideal anyway), Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday. A woman who can wisecrack with the boys at the same time she's pounding out 2000 word columns. She's confident of her opinions yet decidedly feminine in holding fast to certain romantic notions that would make Gloria Steinem wince.

So let me take back part of what I said. What's attractive about MoDo -- or more precisely, what's attractive about the MoDo persona, is that she's defiantly not Ally McBeal or Bridget Jones. Unlike those two putzes, she doesn't get played by rakes and she doesn't let men set her self-esteem levels. She's not running through boxes of kleenex, unable to work, just because she had a bad date. If anything, her thesis appears to be that modern men are pussies, lacking the fortitude and confidence to grapple with a lioness like her. Yet she's no Catherine Keener or Isabelle Huppert either. The recent pop incarnations of the modern professional women come into two varieties: ball-chomping vamps or adorable neurotics. The MoDo type harkens to an earlier era of pop culture, when a woman might fire off some zingers while throwing down a scotch, all the while flirting with her eyes.

In other words, MoDo is pretty freaking hot, with the kind of appeal we don't see much of these days, at least not in the movies.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

So many topics, such a torturously small space...

* The GOP of the Dubya era, a paradigmatic case.

* Left-wing activists and right-wing activists are equally extreme? Nonsense.

* The eighth or ninth weirdest dinner ever in the history of our country: Arianna and Ahmed Chalabi, Iranian spy and possible prime minister of Iraq.

* I've fallen and I can't get up.

* Torture, yay or nay? Philosophy students (and law students) are often presented with ethical conundrum(s) like: would you kill an innocent person if that would save a hundred other innocent people? Would you kill the baby Hitler if you could? A train will surely collide with a mini-van with four kids stuck on the railroad tracks. You can pull a lever to alter the train's course so that it will instead collide with a single unemployed man on the other tracks. Would you do it? Would you torture to extract information if that means saving innocent lives?

These are difficult questions. My ethical positions aren't very developed, but what's there tends towards the utilitarian side (I'd kill baby Hitler), even if I'd have a hard time altering the course of the train so that one person who would otherwise have lived would die at my hands, even if it means saving six other people. By far the easiest question is torture. If I know I can extract information that will save innocent lives, I'd do it. Waterboarding and water torture? Gruesome, but yeah. Desecrating religious items? Sure. Electro-shock? If it guarantees that lives are saved, I'd find someone to press the button.

I know I sound like Dr. Evil's sadistic twin. But I'm not persuaded that torture is never allowed simply because it violates human rights or is otherwise "immoral". As with most arguments based on some abstract notion of human rights or morality, these arguments proceed by simple assertion. The lofty liberal rhetoric of human rights is problematic because, absent a foundational document, "rights" are just a set of political preferences couched as absolutes. "Health care is a universal right," I've heard lefty activists say, as if by the simple assertion of something as a "right" all debate ends. What if you don't think that to be the case? What's the authority for suggesting that health care is a "right"?[1] I bet most activists won't have a good answer.

Think of law developed on unlawful search and seizure, where improperly obtained evidence by the state is inadmissible in court. This doctrine was developed to prevent police abuse and lower the probability of wrongful convictions. But what happens if we live in a world with Minority Report-like pre-cogs, who can predict with absolute certainty whether an imminent crime will take place? You'd be in a world where no innocents are arrested, and guilty party are always identified as such. Wouldn't the entire set of protections we've erected against police abuse -- Miranda rights, exclusionary rule, etc. -- be superfluous? You'd simply have a set of laws where citizens are left alone by the police unless the pre-cogs peg you as a criminal. Then you are done. The criminal court system would be useless, and our 4th Amendment rights totally inapplicable. The constitution would be amended in a pre-cog world. The point here is that your rights are defined and limited by the world you find yourself in. Most rights are essentially contingent, not universal. So while the moral case against torture is interesting, the contingent rights of prisoners wouldn't to my mind outweigh the supposed benefits derived from torture -- saving innocents.

But does torture save lives? That is to say, are there real-world benefits to torture, and do those benefits outweigh the cost? That seems to me the more interesting question. And considering the evidence, I strongly believe torture should be banned because it's wildly ineffective. John McCain, himself a victim of torture, gave the Viet Cong names of the Green Bay offensive line as they sought the names of people in his squadron. In this week's Newsweek, McCain pens an eloquent and strong case against torture, suggesting not only that torture is against American values, but that it doesn't lead to useful information and has instead served primarily to foment worldwide hatred of American policies. The ever-lucid Matthew Yglesias also mounts a pragmatic case against torture.

Banning torture (explicitly) is one of the many steps we can take to rehabilitate our image in the world. (Impeaching Bush/Cheney would help, too, but I'm not counting on it.) The cost isn't that high. If torture worked so well, we'd have Osama and Zarqawi's heads on sticks. And if we truly need to resort to torture in special instances, just hand the guy over to the Mossad.

[1] The liberal rhetoric of rights, as it relates to health care, labor, abortion, and so on, hasn't been all that effective politically. Why not instead discuss why Americans would be better off with expanded health care coverage, the ability to have abortion if necessary, and laws that protect worker safety and a floor for wages? A case for why something is good in the concrete generally beats out than why something is necessary in the abstract.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is it possible?

I'm not inquiring about the possibility of talking cars on the market in a couple of years, but that's cool, too. Nor the miraculous possible reprieve of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What's truly implausible is the notion that Pride & Prejudice -- that new one that sports the hideous tagline "Sometimes the last person on earth you want to be with is the only person you can't be without" -- can be any good. Could it be? I'm a pretty big fan of Austen's novels, and I'm not immune to the charms of Austen adaptations. And I even (embarrassingly) succumbed to the banal pleasures of Bridget Jones's Diary (feel free to ridicule me in the comments section below; I've heard all before, even from the girlfriend).

Austen credentials now firmly established, I've got to say the trailer of this latest version of Pride had me gagging. Obligatory Judi Dench role? Check. Stock footage of the English countryside? Check. Close-ups of a wooden British hunk glowering for no reason in particular? Check. The lovely but utterly vapid Keira Knightly as an Austen heroine? I'd sooner watch Orlando Bloom thow a pillow on his back and exclaim "a kingdom for a horse!" Look, I'm not looking for drumming raccoons and homeopathic frogs in this picture, but I just don't see any way that this movie could be good.

But today, after two weeks of belittling this movie, I scanned MetaCritic only to discover, to my astonishment, that it's one of the most acclaimed films this year. Even the estimable David Edelstein, who had mocked the ad campaign in his column, gave this film serious props, exhorting his readers to not "judge a filmmaker by the vulgarity of his distributor's marketing." Can it be?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Election post-mortem

Finally, California voters did something right and torched all the initiatives on the ballot, but not before the state wasted $ 50 million taxpayer dollars to administer this retarded election. To top it off, various political groups spent upwards of $250 million mounting dishonest campaigns to try to confuse voters, certainly not the productive use of money.

These campaigns are very clever. On Monday, I finally examined the heaping pile of campaign flyers I've received over the last couple of weeks. A couple jumped out at me. In one, a "Democratic Voter's Guide", a beaming Angelides (the state treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful) urged me to vote down the Arnold initiatives. But at the bottom was this: VOTE YES on 78 and NO on 79, with a message directing me to the Yes on 78 website. Very strange, since that endorsement directly contradicted the positions stated on the official California Democratic Party voter's guide, which I had read just a few minutes earlier. 78 is a Big Pharma bill designed to counterfeit and pre-empt Prop 79, a consumer group-supported measure that aimed to reduce drug prices and cut into drug company profits. Prop 78 supporters produced another flyer called "COPS support 78" which showed a group called COPS ("a group that supports the interests of sheriffs and law enforcement officers" according to the flyer) that tells you to vote yes on 78 and no on 79. On the face of the flyer are a bunch of other quotes from labor unions slamming the Arnold initiatives. Most voters won't catch this, but the flyer basically uses a front group that makes it appear as if the Yes on 78 campaign is allied with the unions. Undoubtedly Big Pharma targeted those flyers to reliably Democratic voters like myself, hoping to bamboozle them into taking their deceptive "voters guide" into the voting booth. On a scale of dirty politics, this probably ranks only a 3 or a 4, but it's the first time such tricks were directed at me.

What does the election debacle portend for Arnold? Michael Hiltzik, blogging for the LA Times, thinks Arnold will call it quits, since his ego won't be able to take an electoral drubbing in 2006. I agree with everything Hiltzik says about Arnold's pathetic governing skills, but I'm not so sure Arnold sees defeat in 2006. Arnold's probable opponent will be either Angelides and Westly, a couple of colorless technocrats no more formidable than the unfortunate Cruz Bustamante. If Arnold can move to the center and start triangulating, he may still recover. An Arnold that's wedded to the winger GOP agenda will not prevail in California. A "Arnold: beholden to special interests, and a typical Bush Republican" campaign will crush him. However, a chastened and centrist Arnold, projecting a pragmatic image and showing that he's not in the pocket of the Chamber of Commerce and anti-tax zealots, may yet look good next to the charisma-challenged Democrat. And if he does win, he'll have the sorry state Democratic party to thank for its collection of Gray Davis clones (they work their way up the state party machinery and win statewide offices by virtue of having the (D) next to their names). Gavin Newsome and Antonio Villaraigosa, a Blue State turns its lonely eyes to you.

And please, Warren, don't do it. Don't turn California into a bigger joke than it already is.

The national picture finds the GOP in deep trouble, as every pundit has noted. While I've learned not to ever misunderstimate the GOP machine or read too much into off-year elections, this New Donkey post, on the lessons of the Tim Kaine win in Virginia, makes me pretty optimistic. The race illustrates that GOP dirty tricks and demogoguery don't always work, even in a fairly red state (now trending purple). The Dems are still not favored to recapture even one chamber of Congress, as only a blue tsunami will wash away the advantages of gerrymandered districts in the House and the 6 seat GOPer majority in the Senate. But the disasterous GOP policies are now impossible to ignore. Bush is damaged goods and Republican scandals will continue to dribble out daily. Scooter's trial. Darth Veep's bottomless evil. Weekly Abramoff nuggets. Tom DeLay drowning in his cesspool of corruption. The Iraq Group's intelligence deceptions. Continuing revelations on officially sanctioned torture. Etc.

And that's just background noise.

In the foreground will be the continuing "catostrophic success" of the Iraq occupation, high gas prices, the deflating of the real estate market, stagnant wages, a ballooning budget deficit, and Bush's bald incompetence. The GOP will try to change the topic, but Bush's tax reform panel's suggestions are not politically viable, and we've got no troops left to attack other countries. They've run out of ideas, and most likely will be left to doing what they do best, repeating the old canard of GGG (guns, god and gays), and the usual warmongering and taxmongering.

It's easy to knock the Democrats. I bitch about their feckless ways all the time. But under the wily and fearless Harry Reid, they seem to be finally finding their stride and just in time for 2006. Run culturally conservative types like Tim Kaine in red states and competent liberals like Corzine in blue states. Tie Bush like an anvil around GOOPer necks. Come up with some actual positions and stick to 'em. Don't back away just because something didn't test well in a focus group. Take a gun to a knife fight instead of the reverse. For more, please view Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive. Pay special close attention to the ending.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

This Blog's Official Ballot Endorsements (free of charge)

Because the world would be a much better place if everyone voted exactly like me.

California Initiatives

73 - Abortion parental notification. No. Because the decision should be made by elected officials.
74 - Weaken teacher tenure. No. Because the decision should be made by elected officials.
75 - Fuck the Unions Act. No. Because the decision should be made by elected officials or the courts.
76 - Spending Cap. No. Because budgetary decisions should be made by the legislature and governor.
77 - Redistricting. Yes. Because the only issues voters should get to vote on directly are process questions -- term limits, redistricting, campaign finance, etc. -- that should not be decided by elected officials due to conflicts of interest. Prop 77 is pretty poorly drafted, but besides public financing of campaigns, few acts would improve the political system more effectively than to take district-drawing out of the hands of political hacks. Competitive districts would make legislators care about their constituents again. Prop. 77 is flawed, but it's still much better than what we have now. Gerrymandering sucks -- whether Dems have the edge or not. On the "not" front, see also Ohio Issue 4.
78- Pharma-subsidies. No. Because the decision should be made by elected officials.
79- Low cost drugs. No. Because the decision should be made by elected officials.
80-Electricity re-regulation. No. Because the decision should be made by elected officials.

Also, it's not on the official ballot, but if you happen upon Prop 1000 - No More Initiatives Will Ever Be on the Ballot Ever Again Ever, VOTE YES!

If I were to live in Virginia I'd vote for Tom Kaine for Governor, if only because some lefty crybabies went way too far. If I were to live in Jersey....who am I kidding, I'd never step foot in Jersey! [rimshot] New York, I guess the RINO Bloomberg isn't so bad. Everyone else is voting for him, and who wants to swing with a loser?

Village Voice/New Times merger

The long-gestating merger between the two major alternative weekly conglomerates have finally gone through. What does it mean for devoted fans of lefty weekly rags? And for their staff, some of whom are friends and readers of this blog? The unpredictable Marc Cooper provides this informative and convincing analysis of what's at stake. His take is firmly rooted in reality -- in the actual conditions of the business.

With the emergence of digital information technology, many industries are struggling. Newspaper circulation have been in decline. Cooper alludes to the detrimental effect that Craig's List had on the alt-weeklies. Just as some lament of the distribution crisis facing super-hifalutin art cinema, others lament the inhospitable conditions facing traditional journalism.

We are all attached to certain institutions. My ex-girlfriend used to worry that I'd kill myself diving into a BART track for a discarded NY Times. That's how much I love newspapers. But things change. Like the travel agent racket, various long-standing industries and institutions will continue to change or die. Digital technology has enhanced the ease of consuming information and art while simultaneously diminishing the consumer's patience for long, rigorous works. The changes in the print media reflect overall changes in information consumption. The trade-off yields a net benefit, I think, but the cost of technological change should be acknowledged.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A response to a reader's request.

A correspondent kindly requested that I provide some thoughts on movies I have seen recently. Though I have not seen many movies in the last three weeks, I will comply with this request and do my best to address the movies seen and unblogged over the last month, along with one unseen movie.

The Squid and the Whale (Baumbach) A-/B+

This movie is excellent in many ways, all of which have been better articulated elsewhere, and falters only on occasion, which has also been otherwise noted. The reviewers are right that the performances are uniformly wonderful and the observations sharp and devastating. Other positive observations made by certain reviewers are also largely correct, at least the portions with which I agree. Also, Jonathan Lethem, Baumbach didn't read your fucking book and doesn't give a shit about your shared experiences. Get over it.

Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones (Lucas) C+

Most viewers have dismissed this movie as one of the series' worst, and it's a sentiment I mostly share, for most of the reasons that this sentiment is widely shared by most viewers. I do think the designs of different planets were cool, perhaps surpassing the ingenuity of other, also quite interesting elements of the production design, which were unsurprisingly excellent. Also, I was interested enough to check up on a couple of Star Wars related items on Wikipedia, only to discover the frightening depths of Star Wars nerditude. (Boba Fett's clone origin is "canonical"; his escape from the clutches of the Sarlaac "apocryphal." Yes, just like the Bible.)

Mirrormask (McKean) B-

Gaiman geeks who know The Sandman inside out instantly recognize his inimitable sensibility, as I do. It is also easy to identify the murky ethereal collage effects as the visual style of McKean, who aims to capture privileged moments stationed between dimensions. Or something. (I made the last part up.) As for the movie, the story stumbles in ways that Gaiman stories sometimes stumble, in the manner described by various Gaimanologists over the years, and the flickering lighting scheme and out-of-focus effects might have permanently damaged my retina, as McKean's out-of-focus visuals tend to do. Mirrormask is good in expected ways and not-so-good in expected and unexpected ways -- a true mixed blessing.

Le Amiche (Antonioni, 1955) A-

I have various reasons for my high regard for this early Antonioni, most of which I cannot divulge in the short space allotted. But rest assured perfectly good reasons exist to support this grade, backed by insight and careful attention devoted to this movie's acting, directing, lighting, camera movement, and script. Le Amiche's themes, both stated and unstated, seem to me especially poignant, and the execution well-nigh flawless. Overall, I agree with those who have called this an underrated gem.

Zabriskie Point (Antonioni, 1970) A-

This movie is excellent, which thereby directly contradicts all assertions of its non-excellence, of which there are many and all of which are of course wrong-headed and borne of a Philistine's sensibility. Those possessed of an adventurous and cosmopolitian appetite will undoubtedly be nourished by the experimental prowess of this director, the vision of which is exhibited in many bravura sequences that should be studied in semester-long film courses. I would describe said bravura sequences and the sublime spatial configurations that make up each image's composition with more specificity, but numerous Antonioni scholars have made the same points elsewhere, exerpts of which may be found on the internet, if the search words are wisely chosen. I recommend the Web search engine Google for the purpose of conducting an article search.

Thumbsucker (Mills) N/A

Mike Mills has the reputation as a good director, and this film has received fairly decent notices from cineastes much more esteemed than myself. Nevertheless, I hereby declare that I would rather do sake shots off the bare pudgy torso of three inebriated Young Republicans than subject myself to two hours of petulant whining from overprivileged white people looking to be passed off as the brave primal scream of a tortured "emo."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Fall Sneaks

With my beloved Red Sox shredded by the Pale Hose, what's to look forward to except the possibility of Karl Rove being frog-marched to the federal pen?

Oh, yes, cinema. We've got movies to keep us warm during those long, hard California winters. As baseball winds down, Hollywood will begin their seasonal rollout of prestigious heavy-hitters for those of us who were too busy trolling the movie nerd sites every 20 minutes living life instead of TIFFing. A diet heavy on buttery, middlebrow Oscarbait won’t sate the rarefied palate of folks who are deep into international auteur cinema, but this year balance can be achieved by regular visits to the cinematheque. An awesome retrospective season awaits. Seriously, take a look at the following screenings coming to La La Land (ranked in preferential order).

01. Mikio Naruse (from Nov. 1 to Dec. 2 @ UCLA Film Archive).

Reasons for excitement: Now, if I were one of those sorry nerds who draws up lists with titles like “Most Anticipated Director Retrospectives”, that hypothetical list I'd draw up may very well have a Mikio Naruse retro sitting right smack at #1. And why not? Of the great Japanese masters, Naruse’s cinema is the most modern and unsentimental, featuring extraordinary work from three of the finest actresses the medium has ever known: Hideko Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Setsuko Hara. But what makes this series a schedule-your-life-around-it kind of event is that, unlike his peers, Naruse’s oeuvre, both major and minor, are for all practical purposes impossible to view. He's probably the most significant director in world cinema whose films are almost entirely unavailable on video (Late Chryanthemum and When a Woman Ascends the Staircase are the only ones on tape I'm aware of; no DVDs at all, at least none with English subs). The long overdue traveling Naruse retrospective rolls into town next month -- I believe only the second Naruse series in the last twenty-five years -- giving me the chance to finally catch Wife, Be Like a Rose, Yearning, Scattered Clouds, Lightning, and other elusive would-be masterworks. Easily the cinematic event of the year for me.

02. The Passenger (opens Nov. 10 @ The Nuart).

Reasons for excitement: A just-concluded Antonioni retrospective has opened my eyes to the man's staggering visual ingenuity. Yes, Zabriskie Point shows a director acquainted with Boudrillard perhaps fondly but not too well, but oh what images! Antonioni has a peerless eye for framing architectural space, and for creating the perfect shot that encloses Modern Alienated Man in the cold metal and glass monoliths of mid-century Modernism. After surveying Antonioni, I was struck by how many of Wong Kar-wai's compositions in his 60s Hong Kong films were close approximations of the Italian masters', where iconic actors are framed and blocked facing different directions -- a perfect visual representation of alienated characters incapable of honest communication with one another. (Wong also shares Antonioni's fixation with shooting close-ups of the back of heads.) Antonioni and Godard are probably the two greatest living filmmakers, and The Passenger is the culmination of Antonioni’s modernist phase, for many the summit of his career. This one also features Jack Nicholson at the height of his combustible powers, though post-L'avventura Antonioni is not known for eliciting powerhouse performances, to put it mildly (Monica Vitti's chic somnambulance is a far cry from the wrenching performances you find in early Antonionis like Le Amiche and Il Grido). Put it together and you have a movie resting confidently on my list of the ten movies I most want to see. That is, if I were to devise such a list. Which I would never do, of course, not being remotely that geeky.

03. Hidden (Caché) (Opens Dec. 23)

Reasons for excitement: The best pound-for-pound boxer in the world is a title invented by boxing purists to recognize a pugilist, no matter what the weight class, who best combines all the skills of the sweet science into one package. If such a category exists in filmmaking, the Austrian perfectionist Michael Haneke would have to be on any purist’s shortlist. A filmmaker of impeccable control, Haneke parcels each bit of information so carefully that not one speckle on the frame is a mistake. It's a cinema where not one strand of hair is out of place. Combine that cinematic mastery with a provocateur's personality and the mind of a logician, and you have one of the few working filmmakers who can leave you trembling for hours (Funny Games) and keep you thinking for days (Code Unknown). His icy films are often too arid, determined, and anti-sensual for my taste, but it's obvious he's one of the most formidable film directors currently working. Hidden, the most acclaimed film at Cannes this year, may finally bring him the recognition he deserves. And frankly, if there's a filmmaker with the intellectual rigor and temperament to take an accurate temperature of the West's existential state, post-9/11, it's Haneke.

04. Brokeback Mountain (Opens Dec. 9)

Reasons for excitement
: A gay cowboy movie starring Jake “skid row Tobey” Gyllenhaal will send few pulses racing. But when said gay cowboy movie is compared to The Age of Innocence, In the Mood for Love and Far From Heaven…well, you might as well tell me that Winona Ryder, Maggie Cheung and Julianne Moore are presently squeezed under my sheets, nude and awaiting my tender ministrations. Ah, yes…wait, where were we again? Oh, right. Perhaps an orgy isn’t an appropriate metaphor to express my enthusiasm for this particular movie, but let's just say I'm extremely pumped for this Ang Lee adaptation of E. Annie Proulx' cowboy story.

05. The New World (Opens Dec. 25)

Reason for excitement: Reportedly Malick's "revisionist" (which really isn't so, in the sense that mainstream historians now tend to acknowledge the European savagery during the Age of Exploration) take on Pocahantas and John Smith, I'm guessing we'll be treated to lots of pretty pictures of indiginous people frolicking in paradise lost. Which is fine. I dug Tabu, too. More importantly, Colin Farrell, please do not show your bare butt more than three times in this picture. Your consideration is much appreciated.

06. Heroic Grace II: (from Nov. 17 to Dec. 11 @ UCLA Film Archive).

Reasons for excitement: More goodies from one of the great projects of the last five years, Celestial Pictures' remasters of the Shaw Brothers library. This sequel to the wildly successful Heroic Grace series aims to solidify the reps of baroque wuxia stylist Chu Yuan, aka Chor Yuen (Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan) and kung fu purist Lau Kar-leung, aka Liu Chia-liang (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin), two accomplished genre specialists who should by all rights be as respected as Maria Bava and Walter Hill. As it happens, I've caught a number of their films earlier this year, and this series will help round out my perspective. Perhaps a long-planned Lau/Chu post will finally get off the ground after this series. The one unmissable picture here is King Hu's The Valiant Ones, one of Hu's two hard-to-catch acclaimed pictures from the 70s (the other being The Fate of Lee Khan).

07. The Squid and the Whale (Opens Oct. 14)

Reasons for excitement: Dr. Akagi fights Old Boy to the death? Not quite, but it's nice to see Noah Baumbach rebound the last couple of years, first with The Life Aquatic, the wacky collab with Wes Anderson, and apparently now with this highly lauded autobiographical pic. The urbane wit of 90s indie stalwarts Baumbach and Whit Stillman have been sorely lacking in the age of Garden State, and so his return is a relief for sore ears. The trailer, like all Indiewood pics, sucks the big hairy ass, but I have it on good authority that the movie is more than just another quirky family therapy movie. Heck, I'm just happy Baumbach didn't need to cast freakin' Eric Stoltz to get a project off the ground this time.

08. Jacques Rivette (from Oct. 1 to Oct. 28 @ UCLA Film Archive).

Reasons for excitement: David Thomson called Rivette the greatest director of the last thirty five years, and Celine and Julie Go Boating the most significant film since Citizen Kane. Personally, I'd call Rivette Murder on the Assbone. And unfortunately, the taxing Rivette opuses I'm actually very eager to view, L'Amour fou, Out 1: Spectre, Le Pont du nord, Gang of Four, and Joan the Maid, are all missing from this series (as well as Rivette's awesome La Belle noiseuse), which explains why this series is placed so low. Last week, I had the chance to see the quite conventional (but surprisingly good) The Nun, and perhaps will hit this retro one more time, for a second dose of Up/Down/Fragile. But that's all. Hopefully the next Rivette series will be more comprehensive.

09. Match Point (Opens Dec. 25)

Reasons for excitement: A Woody comeback! Where have I heard that one before? In so far as his latest features the unbeatable combo of Scarlett Johansson and tennis (can we have a Maria Sharapova cameo please?), it could be the next Shadows & Fog for all I care. But it'd be nice if the Woodman would turn out an un-excruciating movie for a change. The Cannes consensus is that Match Point is Woody's best since maybe Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even perpetual Cannes crank D'Angelo is on board. And if D'Angelo can be trusted on anything, it's the oeuvre of Woody Allen (now underrated by those "serious" J-Ro Kool-Aid-drinking cineastes -- you humorless wankers, how do you dis Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall and Manhattan?).

10. Aeon Flux (Opens Dec 2)

Q. You're not serious about this?
A. I'm dead serious.
Q. Dude, how much you wanna bet you're not even gonna watch this thing?
A. Maybe not, but Charlize looks hot and the trailer kicks ass. And do you remember those Aeon Flux segments on MTV's "Liquid Television" back in the early Nineties? So kewl!
Q. Oh dear. You do remember that noogie you delivered to "fanboys" as you slammed Sin City?
A. So what's your point?

11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Opens Oct 21)

Reasons for excitement: Honestly, I don't know why this movie is this high. I mean, Tango & Cash was okay, but now we're supposed to be pumped about the writer of that movie's directorial debut? I guess everyone says it's good, and it's always a treat to see Robert Downey, Jr., so I'll go along like the sheep I am. Oooops! I just realized it wasn't Tango & Cash but The Last Boy Scout that Shane Black worked on! Sorry!

12. The Most Typical Avant-Garde and the Joseph Cornell series. Listed here to show I AM HARDCORE!!! It's actually a goal of mine to work through the a-g canon, and we've got some goodies here. Also, the silent horror series should be pretty awesome -- I'm hoping to finally catch the Lon Cheney Phantom, though regrettably not the Epstein House of Usher.

Nope: Memoirs of a Geisha, Rent, Elizabethtown

Proceed with Caution: The treacherous minefield of the Thinkpic -- All the King’s Men, Munich, Syriana, Jarhead.

On the fence: King Kong (the effects look great, but do we need to see this story again?), The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (read the book as a kid, not sold on the film version); Chicken Little (supposedly a good non-Pixar cgi-pic!), and the Louis Malle retrospective (I've seen most of his acclaimed works; his minor films appear eminently missable).

Special mention: National Lampoon’s Barely Legal. Description from Yahoo! movies: "Three high school sophomores try to make a porno movie in their basement while their parents are away at work." Res ipsa loquitur.

Fest Films

01. Three Times. All of HHH's greatest hits rolled into one, and it looks amazing.
02. A Tale of Cinema. Hong Sang-soo is my dawg.
03. Gabrielle. Chereau's breakthrough film?
04. Princess Raccoon. Seijun Suzuki's raccoon romp is likely the only picture I'll be seeing at the pathetic AFI Fest.
05. The Wayward Cloud. Tsai goes Irreversible. Which sounds awesome in theory; unfortunately, it seems to wow only the folks who evince a weakness for shocking feel-bad denouements.
06. Regular Lovers. I do not expect to be able to see this movie until ten years from now.
07. Tideland. It can't be that bad, can it?
08. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Because watching some poor Romanian schlub drown in his own urine is my idea of a good time. Or not. The love it/hate it film of the festival circuit this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Gov, you are so cool!!!!

You know, I was initially skeptical about clicking on the link to this Harriet Miers parody blog being passed around the blogosphere, since parody blogs tend to be funnier in theory than in practice. But after reading this story, that anonymous parodist now looks like a genius.

And the blog really is pretty damn funny!!!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rule No. 253 (borrowed from Esquire)

If you see a line outside a club or bar, before you queue up, count the number of men wearing striped button-down shirts. If that count numbers at least 75% of all sausages in line, move on.[1] That club screams "tools only."

[1] This rule does not apply to anyone holding an M.B.A., currently enrolled in business school, or planning to attend a business school.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Talented Mr. Linkly

No, I have nothing better to do with this space than to pass off links that will open up whole new worlds of procrastination. In today's installment, I present the Implicit Association Test, which will purportedly measure your unconscious biases on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, political parties, and other discrete groups. Each bias is measured by a single test. I've taken three of these Harvard-devised babies, which run about eight minutes to take. And if the results are remotely accurate, it turns out I have a strong unconscious preference for Bill Clinton over George W. Bush (hardly a surprise), a slight association of Asian faces with Americans and white faces with foreigners (somewhat of a surprise, though growing up in an Asian-heavy neighborhood in the United States might help explain this counterintuitive response), and a slight unconscious preference for European-Americans over African-Americans (no, dammit!).

Quite interesting. Also interesting is Mike D'Angelo's post about the coming Singularity, which is either a more stunning revelation than "peak oil", global warming and "grey goo" combined, or the mere fabulous musings of a smart nutcase. I can't make up my mind just yet, though I look forward my new nano-tech exo-skeleton, which I hope will allow me to mentally control my molecules like The Sandman (or maybe Molecule Man). Beats the snot out of being Left Behind, in any event. Is it time to bet heavily on nanotech and genetic engineering stocks? Will we enter an phase in humanity where money won't matter anymore? Nothing to kill or die for? Will John Lennon be resurrected as a seer and saint? I wish I had some background in analyzing this idea's potential, but a few lower division college courses in each of evolution, biology, and general psychology just doesn't cut it.

MLB predix: Angels in 4, Red Sox in 4, Cards in 3, 'Stros in 4. Angels over Red Sox in 6; Astros over Cards in 7. Astros win the Series in 6.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Q. What is more addictive than crack?


My best time for "easy" is 6 minutes 3 seconds. Haven't been able to master the harder levels, however.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Cutting and pasting through the last two weeks

1. Katrina.

Pretty much consumed my waking info-absorbing hours the last two weeks. I recommend the following links:

(a) Two excellent TNR articles. Noam Scheiber riffs on a NY Times article that tracked two families, one middle class and one poor, as they try to survive. The former landed on their feet, relying on "life skills" and connections that the couple accumulated through the years. The poor family was left behind. The article illustrates how impoverished folks who stayed didn't do so because they're morally bankrupt or lack intelligence per se, but mainly stems being born and stuck in a world where essential life skills, including something as seemingly basic as opening a bank account, were not needed, until you actually need 'em. It's the another dimension of poverty, that sociological estrangement from American society which middle class folk like me have a hard time understanding. The other is a wonkish attack on urban policymakers who think that edgy culture, haute cuisine, and nightlife are all that's needed to revitalize cities. I've happened upon this critique before, but having a real-life example makes it so much more powerful.

(b) Annoying as he sometimes can be, Andrew Sullivan might be the best blogger on the Katrina response, rightfully indignant and full of interesting e-mails from knowledgeable correspondents. Josh Marshall has been the top Republican corruption narc on net, and he's ever alert here, tracking what right now looks like a Karl Rove patronage operation that will be handing out $200 billion dollars to GOP cronies.

(c) This American Life, Episode 296 (9/9/05). Devastating. (Link is to RealPlayer file.)

(d) The most distressing news story of governmental malfeasance, even beating FEMA incompetence and cronyism? The police and sheriffs in white suburban Gretna, Louisiana, forming a line at the Mississippi River Bridge, firing their weapons in the air to prevent New Orleans evacuees from getting to safe, dry land. It's like something out of Cool Hand Luke. Billmon has more. Prepare to be outraged.

(d) Bush's failures: the NY Times op-ed page (R.I.P. NYT columnists); Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing; and the Daily Show, who came up with this killer Bush disaster checklist:

Dear God: Impeach Bush now before the coming yam shortage kills everyone on earth. Thank you.

2. John Roberts hearings.

Listening to the hearings off and on at work, and this dude is one smooth operator. Favorite exchange:

Senator Schumer: "It's as if I asked you what kind of movies you like. Tell me two or three good movies and you say, I like movies with good acting. I like movies with good directing. I like movies with good cinema photography. And I ask, no, give me an example of a good movie, you don't name one. I say, give me an example of a bad movies, you won't name one, and I ask you if you like Casablanca, and you respond by saying lots of people like Casablanca. You tell me it's widely settled that Casablanca is one of the great movies."

...Judge Roberts: "First, Doctor Zhivago, and North by Northwest."

(b) My thoughts on his confirmation pretty much align with this editorial.

(c) Wonkette's John Roberts-is-gay posts are a hoot. Tell me this doesn't trip your gaydar.

3. Recently seen films

(a) Everything Is Illuminated. The moving last couple of reels almost, but not quite, redeems this farrago of irritating quirks and derivative directorial gestures masquerading as an Eastern European road movie. Kind of a C-/B+ split. Or what he said.

(b) Proof: Miramaxed [mir'a-maksd]: adj. (1) a phenomenon by which a film, often a literary adapation, is compromised via pedestrian direction that underlines obvious themes, broad characterizations, a reduction of human complexity into easily digestible psychobabble, and above all, an unsuitable feel-good ending. (2) Any movie project that mandates at least three loving close-ups of Gwyneth Paltrow per minute.

(c) A Good Lawyer's Wife: These Korean movies might give this impression that Korean men are largely vapid, boozing, cheating wife-beaters. And that's not fai...uh, nevermind.
Moon So-ri confirms she's one of the bravest, greatest actresses currently working, even in this rather familiar film that lacks the emotional precision of Hong Sang-soo.

(d) Grizzly Man. Tell me Treadwell didn't trip your gaydar. And what he said.

(e) Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) & Goyokin (1969). There's something about the visual texture of b&w Tohoscope films from the 1960s that just slays me. Gosha's excellent Seven Samurai knockoff is no exception, a visual masterpiece of arresting compositions and exquisitely designed action. The soporific solemnity of his stylized color film Goyokin, however, left me literally conked out in my seat. Stephen Hunter differs, calling Goyokin Gosha's best work in perhaps the first American article featuring the neglected genre specialist.

4. Miscellaneous

(a) David Mamet on how learning poker can revive Democrats. Dave, bud, I wrote this piece ten months ago.

(b) Google new's Blogsearch engine (it powers the Blogger toolbar at the top of this page) sucks the hairy ass. As of now, it has only indexed posts dated June 2005 and thereafter. A search for any older postings will yield nothing. Dear Google: please leave your crappy search engine out of circulation until it's ready to go next time. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Marty's favorite colors

I don't mean blood-red. To promote something for Philips, Martin Scorsese provided two lists of his favorite color-films, divided Sarris-like, into English-language and non-English. I'm posting it mainly because I find some of the choices bizarre and haven't seen this list linked by anyone else (David Hudson?):

1. "Barry Lyndon" (1975, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

2. "Duel in the Sun" (1946, dir. King Vidor)
3. "Invaders From Mars" (1953, dir. William Cameron Menzies)
4. "Leave Her to Heaven" (1943, dir. John M. Stahl)
5. "Moby Dick" (1956, dir. John Huston)
6. "Phantom of the Opera" (1943, dir. Arthur Lubin)
7. "The Red Shoes" (1948, dir. Michael Powell)
8. "The Searchers" (1956, dir. John Ford)
9. "Singin' in the Rain" (1952, dir. Stanley Donen)
10. "Vertigo" (1958, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

1. "Contempt" (1963, dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
2. "Cries and Whispers" (1972, dir. Ingmar Bergman)
3. "Gate of Hell" (1953, dir. Teinosuke Kinugasa)
4. "In the Mood For Love" (2000), dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
5. "The Last Emperor" (1987, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
6. "Red Desert" (1964, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)
7. "The River" (1951, dir. Jean Renoir)
8. "Satyricon" (1969, dir. Federico Fellini)
9. "Senso" (1954, dir. Luchino Visconti)
10. "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (1964, dir. Sergei Paradjanov)

Invaders from Mars and Moby Dick would make nobody's canon but Marty's, I suspect. And I've never even heard of this 1943 version of Phantom. Wtf? My overall impression is Marty goes ga-ga for broad melodramas in lurid colors like Duel in the Sun and Leave Her to Heaven, though it's kinda surprising the more accomplished bold melodramas in lurid colors from Sirk and Nick Ray didn't make the cut. Scorsese's possibly trying to promote lesser-known favorites here. Meanwhile, the foreign films betray a strong bias for movies that enforces a strict symbolic color scheme (Red Desert, Satyricon, Cries and Whispers), with an emphasis on primary colors. It's astonishing to see In the Mood For Love in there, but good job, Marty. One question: Is In the Mood the most canonized film since the turn of the century? My impression is yes, but I'm not an unbiased observer.

Sorry for another pointless list. A real post will arrive sometime soon, I hope. This is mainly a chance for me to sneak in a still from Contempt.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Best Year in Movie History?

A couple years back, the Nuart, an arthouse/rep movie theater in LA, put on a series called "1962: Best Year in Movie History," which the programmers posed as a contrarian alternative to the commonly accepted annus mirabilis of cinema, 1939. That program included such immortal classics as The Manchurian Candidate and Lawrence of Arabia. Besides those two standouts, though, it's remarkable many well-known movies screened in that series: To Kill a Mockingbird, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Miracle Worker, Days of Wines and Roses. Those were screened alongside cineaste classics like Ride the High Country and Bergman's Through the Glass, Darkly (technically a 1961 movie released in the US in '62).

It's a staggering lineup. And that year's made more impressive when you take my favorite movies from that year, Chris Marker's La Jetée and Godard's Vivre sa vie, into account. This, by coincidence, I ended up seeing a batch of movies from 1962, including The Exterminating Angel, Advise and Consent, Hatari!, L'eclisse in that new Criterion edition. That gave me an opportunity to put together a top 10 list for this year for my previous top 10s page. Long story short: while devising that list, I had to conclude that, yes, 1962 is one amazing year for movies, giving birth to this post. I mean, check out this lineup:

01. La Jetée (Marker)
02. Vivre sa vie (Godard)
03. The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer)
04. An Autumn Afternoon (Ozu)
05. Advise and Consent (Preminger)
06. The Exterminating Angel (Bunuel)
07. Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)
08. Knife in the Water (Polanski)
09. Ride the High Country (Peckinpah)
10. L'eclisse (Antonioni)
11. Hatari! (Hawks)
12. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (Ford)
13. Cléo from 5 to 7 (Varda)
14. Harakiri (Kobayashi)
15. Le Doulos (Melville)
16. Sanjuro (Kurosawa)
17. To Kill a Mockingbird (Mulligan)
18. Days of Wine and Roses (Edwards)
19. Lolita (Kubrick)
20. Hell is for Heroes (Siegel)

Just off are movies like Sundays and Cybele, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Carnival of Souls, Losey's Eve, and Pasolini's Momma Roma. And the above list doesn't include the various acclaimed movies I haven't seen like Cape Fear, My Name is Ivan, Family Diary, The Music Man, I Fidanzati, Two Weeks in Another Town, These are the Damned, Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Zatoichi, The Trial of Joan of Arc, etc.

You might wondering, is there an actual point to this post besides nerdy navel-gazing on the level of an Auteurist Zombie thread? Well, not really. But I'll posit a theory to avoid the stench of unmitigated navel-gazing: It's true that using these "greatest year" debates rely on something essentially arbitrary -- the calendar year as the time interval of measurement. It's probably more instructive to look at a "great" year as a peak of a golden period, a burst of creativity and accomplishment that might last anywhere from two to five years. 1962, like other commonly-cited great years such as 1955, 1974, or 1939, aren't flukes. Those years instead mark a crest in an uncommonly fertile period for movies. For me, the early 60s stand out as the peak period for cinema because it's at the nexus of a number of developments: you have the Nouvelle Vague just exploding on the scene, the "mature" (not quite "late") period of classic Hollywood auteurs, the transition point between the Old Japanese Masters and the Japanese New Wave, and the intersection of Italian neo-realism and the Italian new wave, and generally a much greater willingness on the part of filmmakers to tackle political material. The remarkably fecund early Sixties marked a transition from an art form's classical period to its modernist period, a tantalizingly brief window of time where Ford and Godard share movie marquees.

1962 is the peak of that awesome period. That year included many elegiac, autumnal pictures like Ozu's last movie (appropriately titled) An Autumn Afternoon, John Ford's last great western Liberty Valence, Hatari!, which is probably the purest "Hawks movie" Hawks ever made, and his last great picture. Kubrick, Polanski, Bertolucci, Pasolini, and Peckinpah were just starting out, with both Polanski and Peckinpah making one of their very best. Bunuel made arguably his greatest picture The Exterminating Angel, the most potent lampooning of bourgeois dependence put on film. The two great modernist masters, Antonioni and Godard, were operating at the height of their powers. And the two most incisive, urgent political movies to ever come out of Hollywood were from this year: The Manchurian Candidate and Otto Preminger's compulsively watchable Advise and Consent, my pick as the most astutely observed movie about American politics ever made. And Jack Lemmon boozed it up and Bette Davis camped it up in two of their most memorable roles. It's a list filled with masterpieces and near-masterpieces, with some signature works by the artform's most luminous practioners.

So there you have it: an airtight case for 1962 as the greatest year in movie history. Your favorite movie year just doesn't match up. Sorry, nerd.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Wrigley Building, the Union Stockyard, and Big Heads

Two years ago, when my cousin got hired by a graphics design outfit based in Chicago, he asked me what my impressions were of the Windy City. I immediately told him the key fact: "Chicago's a city where people have big-ass heads. I mean huge!" I held out my hands and gestured like I was picking up a watermelon. "This big," I exclaimed. He gave me a puzzled look as I launched into a wild soliloquy, describing the preternaturally large head of Mike Ditka, who's the patron saint of Chicago, theorizing on the relationship of the Midwestern diet to head size, and advancing pet ideas concerning Polish ancestory's effect on head size. After my ten minute presentation, looking bored and skeptical, my cousin replied, "okay, I'll look out for it." Four months later, when he came back for a visit, he told me excitedly that I was dead on, that there are indeed an alarmingly large number of big-headed people in Chicago. And he couldn't for the life of him figure out why this is so.

I hadn't thought about this fascinating question in a while, until that last steroids post. Today I began to wonder anew: what accounts for Chicagoans' humongous heads? Heads the size of that red rubber handball that I played with in 2nd grade. Heads so wide that the ears reach the vertical plane of the shoulder blades. Is it an evolutionary mutation to protect the brain against the heavy gusts coming in from Lake Michigan? The aforementioned a 12" pizza for dinner diet?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Other pressing questions of the Age: why are so many young Latino men completely obsessed with fey British troubadour Morrissey? Do Asians have a genetic predisposition to like Erasure?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

HOFfing with Smoltzy

Anabolic steroids. It enhances muscle mass, aids muscle recovery, slows down the effects of aging, and gives you some seriously nasty backne. It also shrinks your testicles. The president has spoken about it. Kids have died from overdose. But what concerns me most about steroids aren't the health issues, dangerous as it may be. It's that rampant steroid use by baseball players has fucked up the favorite parlor game for baseball statheads, Who's a Hall-of-Famer?

Before the steroid era, you've got some simple benchmarks for induction into the Hall of Fame: 300 wins, 3000 hits, and/or 500 homers will get you in. Short of that, the voters will look at whether you were a dominant player for a long stretch, or an all-star-but-not-quite-MVP material for an even longer stretch. It's harder to evaluate those essential qualities, though primo stathead site Baseball Reference gives you four different metrics to evaluate potential HOFers.

However, BR has not yet incorporated the new cutting-edge "metric," which is hat-size-to-home-run-ratio. Example: you start out donning a size-7 baseball cap, and after five years of mysterious head-growth, you're now at a Charlie Brown size-8. Well, bud, not only do you start looking like a big-headed doofus, your 550 homers might not cut it. (625 homers should be the bare minimum for 1 hat-size increase over five years.) Seriously, I don't know that Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa deserve entry into the Hall, given that their credentials -- unlike, say, Barry Bonds' -- depend entirely on their career home run totals. And those dinger totals are more than likely padded by the Juice. Raffy, of course, is also on the fence, mainly because unlike Sammy and Big Mac, Palmeiro was never a dominant player. He was a pretty good player who somehow become a hall-of-fame candidate when his career took a big spike while the man's in his early 30s. Frank Thomas, I think, has a better case.

You see where this post is going, but I'm gonna make an abrupt detour and look at pitchers, particularly the one who intrigues most: John Smoltz. Smoltz has been a dominant pitcher, but only spottily so. He's finished in the top 5 Cy Young voting three times, but failed to finish in the top ten in every other season. He's won the Cy outright in '96, has been a dominant closer, and boasts a glittering postseason ERA. But he's also been injured too many times, and will be lucky to reach 200 wins/3,000 KO, which puts him where almost-HOFers like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are. However, he's notched 150+ saves, and will probably go back to closing before his career ends. As Jack Morris is in the HoFer debates now, Smoltz will be the subject of the most furious and interesting debates when he's up for induction. (Schilling is a no. Mussina, if he has two or three more good seasons, a yes.) It's no surprise then that, on BR, his numbers show Smoltz has reached HoF levels by two metrics, but not so by two others.

Smoltz is back starting and doing well, but I think he needs at least three more solid seasons to be a strong candidate. The Hall's tougher on pitchers (no surprise since pitchers tend to have shorter careers and suffer greater risk of injury) as the inductee list shows. If we're lucky, perhaps five or six active pitchers over 30 will be HOFers one day. The Rocket, Greg Maddux and Pedro are locks, and the Big Unit and Mo Rivera near-certainties. Glavine will probably eke out 300 wins and get in, Don Sutton style. That leaves Smoltz, Schilling, and Mussina as the marginal candidates, guys who were star pitchers, but not quite the all-timers that belong. I wouldn't bet against Smoltzy (one of my favorite pitchers), but he needs to kick ass a few more years.

Speaking of the Rocket, I am in fucking awe. The man is having one of the best seasons ever. His ERA is at a Bob Gibsonesque 1.32. He may well post the lowest adjusted ERA+ (ERA relative to league ERA) post-1900, the best single stat in determining pitching performance. If Roger keeps it up, he'll surpass Pedro's inhuman 2000 season (currently the best adjusted ERA+ year, post-1900). ESPN posted a poll asking if this is Roger's best season ever. The other choices were:

Year W-L K ERA

1986 24-4 238 2.48 Cy Young and MVP
1990 21-6 209 1.93 1st sub-2 ERA by a starting pitcher in over ten years.
1997 21-7 292 2.05 Cy Young and pitching triple crown.

As good as Clemens has been over the years, to possibly post a sub-1.50 ERA at age 43 would be a greater accomplishment than even those great seasons. Due to the total lack of run support, Roger probably won't win the Cy since he won't finish with more than 15 wins. I guess that would be poetic justice for having snatched the Cy away from Randy Johnson last year due to generous run support. (Run support is beyond a pitcher's control, buds. ERA isn't -- mostly.) The Cy Young voters might be braindead, but that doesn't diminish Clemens' likely-to-be-historic season.

[Just as I post this, there's a rumor apparently going around the ESPN studios that Clemens has been busted for 'roids. Man, I hope it's not true.]