Wednesday, October 03, 2007

MLB predictions

The predictions are not, I hope, based on wishful thinking (at least not largely), but rather on obscure stathead metrics like the Pythagorean and equivalent run record (generally closer to measuring a team's true strength than win-loss), and "secret sauce" rankings (Baseball Prospectus's formula of postseason success based on strength of important pitching and defense metrics). Oh, and some observations resulting from having actually watched a bunch of baseball games this year. I gotta give more weight to the metrics, since pretty much every commonly-accepted stathead tool indicate that the Red Sox are the best team in baseball this year, whereas my own eyes tell me this team has a lot of problems.
ALDS 1 - Red Sox over the Angels in 4. The Angels would be a fearsome team if they didn't get screwed by some late-season injuries, and if they didn't suck at Fenway. Right now, the Sox catch the ball better, hit the ball better, and throw the ball better. I'll be going to Game 3, yay me.

ALDS 2 - Indians over the Yankees in 5. Key is Wang. If he outduels Sabathia in the opener, the Yanks prevail. Otherwise, the Indians, closer aside, are an exceptionally balanced team that should end up outlasting a loaded Yankees team that's short on dominant starting pitching, which happens to be the most important element in postseason baseball. Just make sure Betancourt is toeing the rubber at the end of a close game.

NLDS 1 - Rockies over Phillies in 4. Going by stathead metrics, the Rockies are the best team in the NL (outside of the departed Mets, anyway). They also have lightning arms in Morales and Jimenez and play terrific defense, the epic Monday night game aside. Rox should end up outslugging the offensive juggernaut from Philadelphia, who have a staff getting by on Cole Hamels's flowing locks and pins and needles (JC Romero?, Kendrick?, are you kidding me?).

NLDS 2 - Cubs over Diamondbacks in 4. Basically a sentimental pick, though the Diamondbacks are the only team in the playoffs with negative run-differential. That means they might be just a bit lucky. Superior bullpen usage accounted for the Snakes' strong record in one-run games, but the Cubbies are a slightly better team. It comes down to the two Webb versus Zambrano matchups.

ALCS - Sox over the Indians in 7. Pretty even matchup; Indians probably win this if they had home field.

NLCS - Cubs over the Rockies in 7. Rockies are probably better, but not by much. That leaves room for a good story.

World Series - Sox over Cubs in 4. Sentiment only takes you so far though. In an uncertain world, we still need little comforting certainties, like the persistent futility of the Cubs. So we have more agony for the North Siders. But it's not their fault. Any of the AL teams would beat any of the NL teams in 5 games or less. The gap between the leagues remains that wide, last year's fluke aside.

Friday, September 28, 2007

P2P streaming sports

Some folks have asked why I don't blog so much, and my standard response is that I've been watching way too much baseball ever since I've discovered this site.

This myp2p site is basically a compendium of streaming p2p software, with a community centered on seeding live streaming of sports. The site is pretty easy to navigate and is self-explanatory, though I encourage a dig through the forums. Volunteers on that site seed not only much of the daily baseball schedule, but also European soccer, football, NBA as well. Basically, follow their directions, download the third party client software, follow the links and voila! Live streaming sports! I use mainly SOPCast for Red Sox games and VPU (for college football), and even if you don't watch sports, these programs stream TV shows and movies showing in channels in Europe and Asia. Quality isn't always great, but it's hard to get churlish about free programming. Warning: the programs mostly are PC-only.

I know I'll be spending plenty of time this weekend, following the wide-open NL race. All of the division leaders appear intent to cough up the title. It's just a question of whether any team can get lucky and seize the opportunity. In the East, the Mets are in the midst of a historical choke-job, cursed with an awful bullpen, an inconsistent bullpen, and an offense that was humiliated by Joel Pineiro yesterday in one of the biggest of games of the year. The loaded Phillies somehow beat both Tim Hudson and John Smoltz to tie things up with three to play. We may end up with a postseason without the Mets, which had been the best team in the NL through most of the year. Nobody seems to want the NL Central title. The Cubbies are distinctly mediocre, stumbling against bottom-feeders when a couple of wins could put the division away. Luckily for them, they're up against the bumbling Brew Crew, who made five errors in a must-win game and their putative ace Gallardo on the mound. Their series with the Pads is the marquee series this weekend. I like the Pads, who have suffered through horrendous luck and generally runs a good organization, but I'm rooting for the Rockies, who've bolted into contention on the strength of a bunch of young players.

Colorado's the only team that's playing like they want to win, and their Pygathorean record (record based on run-differential, which is a more accurate gauge of a team's true strength) indicate that they are the best team in the NL. Primarily, though the Rockies are appealing because they've won through a youth movement. They've decided (due to financial necessity perhaps) to play good young players rather than load the team with expensive, underperforming veterans that reflect a management philosophy from the 20th century. That philosophy has doomed my 2nd favorite team, the Mariners, who have unfortunately asked hapless GM Bavasi and their incompetent, veteran-obsessed manager McLaren to return. The highly sophisticated Mariner fan blogs do not approve. A similar difficulty is creating havoc for my hometown Dodgers, currently imploding. Whiny, unproductive veterans are pointing the finger at Matt Kemp and James Loney, the most productive Dodgers in the 2nd half. If the reports are true, Loney and especially Kemp might be prima donnas, but it's not as if Jeff Kent is Tony Gwynn himself. Smart Dodger fans know that the organization has some of the best young players in the game, including the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball in Clayton Kershaw. A good organization should aggressively mix in their top young players, or trade them for valuable pieces. I fear that the Dodgers, a team that gave Juan Pierre a $45 million dollar contract, will end up trading Kemp and LaRoche for an aging name like Ken Griffey Jr.

Friday, September 07, 2007

TIFF - Movies Seen

Comments to be fleshed out, hopefully, as I've been bed-ridden for four days following a nasty bug caught on the last day I was at TIFF. Tiff.

Day 1

The Duchess of Langeais (d. Jacques Rivette): B+

This movie tries very hard not to break your heart, but does a little anyway.

The Mourning Forest (d. Naomi Kawase): C+

While I can always go for Shinto animal spirit mumbo jumbo, this movie is about an erratic child-man healing via group therapy. That is much too ask from this viewer.

Flight of the Red Balloon (d. Hou Hsiao-hsien): B/B-

Juliette Binoche is stressed out in this movie. Has anyone ever been stressed in a Hou Hsiao-hsien movie?

My Winnipeg (d. Guy Maddin): B+/B

I noticed that Canadians are very tickled by jokes about how bored and miserable people are in Canada. They were also very entertained by Guy Maddin's live narration of the film, as was I. That's the kind of special presentation that makes TIFF worth it.

Day 2

The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (d. Eric Rohmer): B+/B

What if someone filmed Nicaraguan fourth-graders doing a shadow puppet performance of Corey Hart's "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" video? It would probably be as pointless and weird as this experiment in period camp. But would it be as fun?

The Man From London (d. Bela Tarr): C+

This movie has elegant tracking shots, images of lusciously inky black, and a guy trying to balance an apple on his nose. I wish I cared about the dude from London, though.

The Edge of Heaven (d. Fatih Akin): B

This movie had a pretty hot lesbian scene. But I think it ends up saying that German liberals should not be helping Turks. Or maybe not. Also, I'm kinda depressed that Hanna Schygulla did not spend 3 million euros to aid her in aging as gracefully Deneuve has.

Ploy (d. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang): C

This movie likes to do that trick where out of nowhere something totally shocking happens, but then it will say ha ha, just a dream. Besides that, it is mostly boring when it is not stupid.

Day 3

Secret Sunshine (d. Lee Chang-dong): B+/B

This movie features the ultimate helper guy. Also a woman who kinda cycles through the five stages of grief one too many times. Movie peters out, but this Lee Chang-dong sure knows how to direct actresses.

Les Chansons d'amour (d. Christopher Honore): C+

I love preening twits like the actor in this movie when he's in one of those French movies all about examining these preening twits under the microscope as if they were plankton on a slide. But who wants to go on an emotional journey with one?

Day 4

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (d. Christian Mungiu): A-/B+

Remember when helper friend was stuck in her boyfriend's apartment, subjected to a torturous dinner party where conversation revolved around doctor gossip? Remember how badly she wanted to leave, how tense she looked as she took the champagne glass to toast, and how the camera doesn't even catch the face of other party guests? That was so awesome.

Happiness (d. Hur Jin-ho): B-

Terminal illness movie: -28 points. Soulless city slicker finds humanity in the countryside trope: - 31 points. Corny romance: -22 points. "I wanna hold your hand" scene: -10 points. Maudlin score: -5 points. Somehow turning on a dime into the preferred Destruction Wrought by Weak-Ass, Selfish Man movie: +60 points.

Sad Vacation (d. Shunji Aoyama): D+

I remember a flat, unnecessary movie called Texasville, a sad attempt by Peter Bogdonavich to capture the old magic of The Last Picture Show after producing a string of flops. This is Mr. Aoyama's Texasville, only the results are far worse.

Redacted (d. Brian DePalma): B-

I expected this movie to be abject crap, and so I was shocked when it was not totally retarded. While there are many scenes of community theater badness, DePalma is not afraid to show the central problem for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, which is that they are on a hair's edge all day, playing protector to their potential killers. And also, they've been letting in some serious nutjobs in there.

It's a Free World... (d. Ken Loach): C+

Ken Loach tries really, really hard in this movie to not make a polemic about the Evils of Globalization by casting Pamela Anderson as a single-mom entrepreneur. But soon enough, each scene turns into either Illustration of the Destructive Logic of the Profit Motive, or Example for Why Capitalist Competition Dehumanizes Us All, or Why Must This Bitch Continue to Exploit These Poor Undocumented Workers, Why?

Day 5

Silent Light (d. Carlos Reygadas): B+

This movie is of course excellent. I would use the phrase "tour de force" except every moment in this movie is a "tour de force". Which makes me think maybe this movie has problems.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


My September unexpectedly freed up, and what better way to spend some free time than to catch five movies a day in one of the most attractive cities in North America? All accounts a bumper crop of festival goodies, most of which will be screening at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival. Alas, I won't be seeing too many of them, given (1) a short stay of four-and-a-half days; (2) the perverse programmers decided to schedule a bunch of cinephile must-sees at the same time-slot (on the 9 am-noon on September 9: the new Rivette, Rohmer, Roy Andersson, Kitano, and Pen-ek are all screening); and (3) I'm staying mostly away from major commercial releases. I'm aiming largely to catch movies that won't get a release, or at best, have one of those blink-and-it's-gone deals. I've been very bad about catching up to movies on one-week runs lately.

It also means I won't be seeing (or won't aim to see) many of my most eagerly awaited movies of the year, which I hastily rank this way: (1) I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' pomo Dylan riff (with Cate Blanchett!); (2) There Will Be Blood, PTA's long-awaited new effort (with DDL!); (3) No Country for Old Men, Coens' reputed return to form; (4) Paranoid Park, another Gus paean to troubled youth and shot by Chris Doyle (I fully expect this to be my favorite movie of the year), (5) Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, boasting a typically great cast, trailer, and one sheet, though the Venice reviews are mixed; (6) American Gangster (Crowe + Denzel > 90s version of De Niro + 90s version of Pacino); (7) Ang Lee's steamy Eileen Chang adaptation Lust, Caution (Tony Leung in Tony "the Lover" Leung mode! Hot Chinese ingenue doing full-frontal!); (8) Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, with Nicole and Jack Black; (9) the acclaimed My Kid Can Paint That; and (10) lastly, what do McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford have in common? Westerns with long titles conjoining two names? Hope for more. Jesse James is billed as a spiritual descendant of those languorous, poetic masterpieces, though I'd settle for a slightly more focused The Proposition.

Eight of the ten cited above will be playing at TIFF. But I think I can wait.

For some reason, the TIFF gods didn't schedule either the new (supposedly terrible) Wong Kar-wai or the new (supposedly terrible) Olivier Assayas. Cannes' fave Actresses is also nowhere to be found. Yet for all the whining one can do, it's hard to complain about four days where new movies by Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Guy Maddin, Bela Tarr, Hou Hsiao-hsien and the highly regarded Cannes bows Silent Light, Secret Sunshine and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days are all screening. With the exception of the latter, all of these face iffy prospects for commercial release.

My schedule below is borne of both necessity (I couldn't score tix to Mourning Forest, Secret Sunshine, or Redacted) and choice (I want the flexibility of having some slots open to take advantage of festival buzz). With ticket prices at close to $20 a pop, I'm also wary of taking chances on less touted features.

Anyway, TIFFers, give me a holla if you happen to be at the same screening.

Friday - September 7, 2007

Same Day tix - The Mourning Forest - Scotiabank 4 - 12:00 pm
The Orphanage - Sb 1 - 10 pm

Slots open - (a) 5 pm - 7 pm (Nap)

(b) 9:30 pm - 12 am The Orphanage - Sb 1 (10 pm)
Control - Sb 2 (9:45)

Tentative Schedule

09:45 am - 12:00 pm Rivette - Sb 2
12:00 pm - 02:00 pm (Mourning Forest - Sb 4)
02:45 pm - 04:45 pm Hou Hsiao-hsien - Ryerson
08:00 pm - 09:30 pm Guy Maddin - Wintergarden (Visa Screening Room)
10:00 pm - 12:00 am [Slot (b)]

Saturday - September 8, 2007

Same Day tix - [Choices from (a), (b), and possibly (c)]

Slots open - (a)11 am - 3 pm - The Man from London - Sb 14 (12:30 -3)
My Kid Can Paint That - Sb 2 (12:15-2)

(b) 3 pm - 7 pm - Edge of Heaven - Sb4 (3:30 - 5:45)
Useless (Jia) - V-8 (4:30 - 6)

(c) 9:30 pm - 11 pm (Socialize - Poker?)
Happiness (Hur Jin-Ho) - Sb 1 (9:30)
Chrysalis - Sb 4 (9:45)

Tentative Schedule

09:00 am - 11:00 am Rohmer- Isabelle Bader Theater
12:00 pm - 03:00 pm [Slot (a)]
03:30 pm - 05:45 pm [Slot (b)]
07:00 pm - 09:00 pm Ploy (Pen-ek) - Sb 14
09:15 pm - 12:00 am [Slot (c)]

Sunday - September 9, 2007

Same Day tix - Secret Sunshine - Sb 1 - 11:45 am
Slot (a)

Slots open - (a) 9 am - 11:30 am - (Rush Secret Sunshine if no same day tix avail)
(Sleep in)
Lust, Caution - Sb 2 (9:15 -11:45)
XXY - Sb 4 2 (9:30-11:00)

(b) 5 pm - 9 pm - (City stroll/shop/surf net)
The World Unseen - Sb 3 (6-8 pm)
Barcelona (A Map) - Sb 4 (6:45-9)

Tentative Schedule

09:00 am - 11:30 pm [Slot (a)]
11:45 am - 02:15 pm (Secret Sunshine - Sb 1)
03:30 pm - 05:00 pm Les Chansons d’amour (Honore) - Sb 1
05:00 pm - 09:00 pm [Slot (b)]
09:15 pm - 11:00 pm Chaotic Ana- Ryerson

Monday - September 10, 2007

Same Day tix - 4 Months, 3 Days - Cumberland 1 - 10:00 am
Redacted- Varsity 8 - 6 pm

Slots open - (a) 9am - 12 pm - 4 Months, 3 Weeks... - Cumberland 1 (10 -12 pm)
In Bloom- Sb 2 (12:15-2)

(b) 12 pm - 2:30 pm - George Romero’s Book of the Dead - Sb3 (1:00 - 2:30)
Chrysalis- Sb 1 (12:30 - 2:00)
Happiness - Cumberland 3 (12:15 - 2:15)

Tentative Schedule

09:45 am - 12:00 pm [Slot (a)]
12:00 pm - 02:00 pm [Slot (b)]
02:30 pm - 05:00 pm Shunji Aoyama - Sb 4
06:00 pm - 07:30 pm (Redacted -V 8)
08:00 pm - 10:00 pm Ken Loach - Wintergarden (Elgin)

Tuesday - September 11, 2007

Same Day tix - Jellyfish - Cumb-1 - 2:30 pm or Man from Plains - V8 (2:15 pm)

Slots open - (a) 9 am - 12 pm [ten movies screening but nothing to see]
Night - Cumberland 1 (9 - 11)
Terra - Sb 10 (10 - 12)
Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame - Sb 4 (9-10:30)
Love Comes Lately - Sb 1 (9:15 - 11)
(Sleep in)

(b) 2:30 pm - 5 pm Jellyfish - Cumberland 1 (2:30 - 4:30 pm)
Man From Plains - V8 (2:15 - 4:15)

Tentative Schedule

09:45 am - 12:00 pm [Slot (a)]
12:15 pm - 02:15 pm Silent Light - Scotiabank 4
02:30 pm - 05:00 pm [Slot (b)]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Suns, suspended + sports notes

The NBA would do well to follow the teachings of (not-Leandro) Barbossa, who wisely pointed out that the Pirate's Code is best viewed as a set of guidelines than hard and fast rules. The evil pirate's had a much smarter approach to legal reasoning than the NBA, which suspended the Suns' Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw one game each for leaving the bench momentarily, reacting to a cheap shot delivered to their star point guard in the closing seconds of the game. The Spurs' Robert Horry, the instigator, got two games. Under the NBA's Draconian rules, any player leaving the bench during an altercation will be automatically suspended for one game, no questions, no exceptions.

It's a lazy rule, and by applying it without thought or care, the decision led to a horrid result which rewarded the bad actor while punishing innocent actors. It's hard to imagine such an ill-considered decision made by someone not associated with the Bush administration, but there you have it. Sports fans everywhere are rightly furious.

To add insult to injury, David Stern is now trying to make high-minded "letter of the law" justifications for his mistake. On the Dan Patrick Show, Stern came off as a defensive, self-satisfied douchebag. "A rule's a rule", Stern insists from his Olympian perch, insinuating that he's too high-minded to worry about such pesky matters as facts. If we don't apply rules inflexibly, why, we'd have...judgment calls! You can't have the league commissioner, getting paid tens of millions of dollars a year, actually be put in the tough position of making judgment calls, can you? Stern pretends that he's applying the law judiciously, but as a former attorney he should know that few laws are bright-line rules applied with no flexibility. The law empowers courts to take situation and circumstances into consideration. Even the most inflexible of laws -- traffic laws -- are enforced and applied differently: nobody treats the guy running red lights to get an ailing mother to the hospital the same as a drunk driver. That's why we have judges -- note the title -- rather than judicial clerks deciding matters.

Stern's been a very good commissioner, but he needs to call a PR firm and regroup. And contrary to Stern's retorts, the problem isn't just that the results are unjust but also that his reasoning is screwed up. Only the most intellectually lazy, folks incapable or fearful of making judgments based on available information, would reason in this literal fashion. I mean, what happens when the Suns send cheerleader Sean Marks to break Tim Duncan's knees, and Parker and Manu rush in to defend their star? Suspend them all? If the Suns end up losing this game, the heat's gonna be turned up another three notches.

Bill Simmons just posted his take. Pretty dead-on, especially this part:
Let's say you're one of the best seven players on the Phoenix Suns. You love Nash -- he's your emotional leader, your meal ticket to the Finals, the ideal teammate and someone who makes you happy to play basketball every day for a living. He's killing himself to win a championship. His nose was split open in Game 1. His back bothers him to the point that he has to lie down on the sidelines during breaks. He's battling a real cheap-shot artist (Bruce Bowen) who's trying to shove and trip him on every play. But he keeps coming and coming, and eventually, everyone follows suit. Just as things were falling apart in Game 4 and you were staring at the end of your season, he willed you back into the game and saved the day.

Suddenly, he gets body-checked into a press table for no real reason on an especially cheap play. You're standing 20 feet away. Instinctively, you run a few steps towards the guy who did it -- after all, your meal ticket is lying on the court in a crumpled heap -- before remembering that you can't leave your bench. So you go back and watch everything else unfold from there. Twenty-four hours later, you get suspended for Game 5 because your instincts as a teammate kicked in for 1.7 seconds. Think about how dumb this is. What kind of league penalizes a teammate for reacting like a good teammate after his franchise player just got decked?

Random sports notes:

* How do you not go with the Suns this series after all the dirty tactics we've seen? I respected the Spurs before, but man, it's hard not to root for Steve Nash, the consummate warrior and the best pure point guard I've ever seen.

* Warriors-Jazz. Every time I tune in to this series, I see some variation of this sequence: (1) Stephen Jackson or Matt Barnes launching an off-balanced trey; (2) AK-47 grabs long rebound; (3) Utah goes into half-court set, resulting in a Boozer post move, an Okur three, or a second-chance basket. The Jazz must be something like +60 in the playoff games I've watched. So on the internets I find out that the Jazz are actually not the second coming of the '87 Lakers, but a mid-tier team. Maybe so, but the nine quarters of Jazz basketball I've seen on the teevee make them look like world-beaters, and this team seems to match-up well to both the slow-footed Rockets and the run 'n gun Warriors. They'll give the eventual NBA champs (Suns or Spurs) a tough series.

* The Rocket in pinstripes. Well, we'll always have Pedro. It's sad, I suppose, that my favorite player growing up turns out to be a mercenary. But that's what he is, and the deals on the table weren't even close. Can't blame the guy for taking an extra $9 million. Plus, a pro-rated $28 million (+ luxury tax hit) is a lot of coin in exchange for 5.1 IP and a 3.80 ERA, which is what you can expect from Clemens facing the more patient and deeper lineups in the AL. In any event, the Yankees', with their roto-team lineup and the addition of Clemens and all-world prospect Philip Hughes, should be able to mount a run. If the Yankees don't, they'll be biggest bust in baseball history. Not a good way to send Steinbrenner off.

* Red Sox: Best team in baseball? When you're first in the league in runs scored and runs against, the answer is pretty clear. Can this excellence be sustained for the entire season? Last couple of seasons, the Sox took a dive soon after the all-star break. This team should be more resilient. Offensively only Lowell and the 2B platoon are seriously overperforming; Theo's high-priced acquisitions like Lugo and Drew haven't stepped up yet, and Manny should regress to the mean. As should Coco Crisp, the weakest link on the team right now. Even with four starters underperforming, the offense currently leads baseball in team OPS. A good sign.

The pitching should drop off some, as Schilling and Wakefield will end up with ERAs in the high 3's. But Beckett, as long as he can get a handle on the finger issue, should remain a Cy Young contender. Last year, he'll pump his straight 97 mph four-seamer until he's blue in the face, stubbornly "challenging" hitters at every opportunity. He's now mixing in a change-up and snapping off sharp curves for strikes on fastball counts, finally learning to pitch. It's a pleasure to watch. I'm also confident Dice-K will end up posting great numbers. Guy's stuff is just too good. Even in his strong start against the Tigers, he didn't have his best pitches working (the curve, slider, and the shuuto, a change-up with a screwball action). He ended up up throwing cutters and two-seamers most of the game, inducing 15 groundouts. Once Matsuzaka settles in, he'll be a top ten starter in the AL.

* Non-Sox baseball fans: If you love baseball, you owe it to yourself to watch at least one Curt Schilling start (the Sox are on TV like 20 times a year) and then go to Curt's blog 38 Pitches the following day to read about what's going through Curt's head as he's pitching. It's incredibly illuminating, the internet equivalent of reading Greg Maddux's notes after a game.

* De la Hoya-Mayweather. Caught some of the replay -- kinda reaffirms what everyone thinks about boxing these days. It's boring. A couple of guys getting a big paycheck and going through the motions. Hey, Oscar's got a hot wife, a hundred mil in the bank, fame, and the unblemished face of a tennis pro. Why risk your health by going all-out?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Killer (updated)

Awful. And we now get a portrait of a dude who exhibited tell-tale signs of a would-be psycho killer.
“He was always really, really quiet and kind of weird, keeping to himself all the time,” he said. “Just of anti-social, didn’t talk to anybody. I tried to make conversation with him in August or so and he would just give one word answers and not try and carry on the conversation.”
Then there's this:
Cho was an English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service...
I'm sure we'll soon be hearing about him skinning cats for fun.

Whenever something crazy and catastrophic like this happens, demagogues of all stripes use the incident to beat the drum for their own cause. Gun zealots are already crying foul. And in our nativist climate, I'm rather curious about how Cho's national origins would play. By way of background, the Post identifies Cho as a Centreville, VA man who immigrated from South Korea to the United States as a child. The emphasis seems right. Having immigrated as a pre-schooler to the United States myself, I would certainly think it's more accurate to describe me first as someone from Alhambra, CA rather than "an immigrant from Taiwan" . The AP on the other hand, leads with the guy's national origins and immigration status, as if he were an exchange student. The guy grew up in the U.S.; he was majoring in English lit. He's not a fob. It'll be interesting to see if the media continues to emphasize Cho's weirdness and alienation (which may partially be attributed to the immigrant experience but obviously not entirely) as the story plays out, or if they start playing up his foreign origins.

Lastly, did he go by his surname first? If not (and I can't imagine why he would), why is the media calling him Cho Sueng-Hui? Weird.

Update: A Counterstrike fanatic! Mercy as we go through another cycle of hand-wringing about violent video games.

Update 2: Obviously, his ethnic background should be mentioned. But it's not his defining characteristic (I'd suggest "sociopathic"), unlike, say, the 9/11 attackers, whose motivation is religious tribalism. To AP 's credit, the story discussed up top eventually had the headline altered to "English Major blamed for massacre," though I'm not sure being an English major is all that germane either. Last note on this: I still think the Asian American's Journalism Association's advisory, imploring the press to not identify Cho's race unless "germane to the story" is an overreaction, but reading these kinds of exchanges between right-wing nutjobs gives me some pause (Via Daily Dish (and House Next Door). Now, it's entirely expected that some whites, especially in economically distressed times, would scapegoat minorities for their problems, especially the illegal immigrants perceived to be taking their jobs. What's disturbing is the large number of whites who think of themselves as besieged on all quarters by minorities and "liberals" -- two classes that don't actually wield a whole lot of power in this country. You can find the sentiment underlying the grievances aired during the two big media stories last week, the Imus brouhaha and the Duke lacrosse team botch-job. It's hard to say what's most pathetic about these people: their bottomless self-pity, the total lack of self-awareness, or their unshakable sense of white entitlement.

Oh, and Jo, the throwaway comment about Old Boy? Check this photo out. What. A. Fucking. Basketcase.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Madame de...

In anticipation of a reacquaintance with the exquisite Madame de... tonight at LACMA's Janus series, I googled the movie and unearthed this declaration by Andrew Sarris:
When people have asked me to name the greatest film of all time—in my humble opinion, of course—my instant answer has been unvarying for the past 30 years or so: Max Ophüls’ Madame de … (1953).
Sarris then names a few of this movie's most passionate supporters, which include the likes of Pauline Kael and David Thomson. Then Sarris raised an interesting question: is there a generation gap when it comes to the work of Max Ophüls, and does that extend even to his widely acknowledged masterpiece? I haven't seen Madame de... since college. I remember falling in love, mesmerized by not only those tracking shots but also by the lightness of touch, and by the idea that we can't ever truly know our lovers. Unlike, say, Ugetsu, another "sublime" objet d'art from 1953 loved by the same set of critics (and which I stupidly dismissed at the time as melodramatic tripe), it's a tragedy played more like a waltz than an opera.

But I wonder if I hadn't been unduly influenced by Sarris and Kael's raves, included in Confessions of a Cultist and I Lost It At the Movies respectively, which read more like descriptions of first orgasms than proper movie reviews. (As perhaps the ultimate formalist, Ophüls tends to elicit reviews that are little more than recounts of rapturous virgin viewings -- see also Thomson's Biographical Dictionary entry.) And it does seem peculiar that Madame de... is not especially celebrated among the younger set of critics I know, and Ophüls' rep in general appears to have lost some luster, even as Ophüls-devotee Stanley Kubrick has now become the supreme godhead for twentyandthirtysomething movie buffs. Can it be that Ophüls' quaint romanticism just doesn't hold up for young contemporary audiences, as Sarris surmises? Is this peerless formalist, like Griffith, Rossellini, and Ford, something of a fallen master, known for a style that has lost resonance with contemporary movie enthusiasts?

Perhaps so. His other movies that I've seen are impeccably filmed and highly sensitive to the wronged woman's conflicted heart, but also are flawed in some fundamental way. If Godard had mistakenly decided to make Contempt not the story of a marriage but as a tragic character study of Brigette Bardot, it might've turned into Lola Montes, one of the most beautiful films ever made about an utterly vapid character. La Ronde is very clever. A nice little woman's pic/noir hybrid, Caught's somewhat underrated but lacks urgency. Le Plaisir is a trifle. And if martyred naifs are your thing, Letter from an Unknown Women is about as good as it gets. It's naturally the only one of his movies I don't like. Have yet to see La Signora di Tutti and Leibelei, and The Reckless Moment is actually number 1 on my must-see list, but who knows when it'll be screened again, or when the DVD rights will finally be cleared? After surveying this uneven body of work, doubts arise concerning the director's position in the pantheon. But even if Ophüls is downgraded, we're still left with that inimitable style and that camera that pirouettes and glides across the set so gracefully that aesthetes are left weeping with joy in their seats, a "vindication of cinema," in the words of Thomson.

We're also left with Madame de...which I'm anxiously hoping will be as breathtaking as I remembered. I fear it may be like sex with an old lover -- the reacquaintance can never live up to your memories of past encounters. Oh, drat, now I'm resorting to this lame metaphor.

Life in Los Angeles explained

This handy graph, courtesy of the Economists View blog, finally reveals what Angelenos have long known: this place is a freakin' sausage factory.
The Blue bubbles mean areas where men out-number women. Red bubbles indicate areas where women outnumber men. The bigger the bubble, the greater the numerical disparity between genders. One can draw an obvious conclusion from this graph: that single females are huddled east of the Mississippi, while single men congregate westward. How to explain this? I can offer a reasonable explanation for the Bay Area, but otherwise, I got nothin'.

At least the trouble appears more systemic. It's gratifying to learn that it may not be just my bad luck (or worse, extreme uncoolness) that has doomed me to habitually attend events where at least a 3-to-2 sausage ratio prevails. Perhaps now I can finally find the strength to stop complaining about an infamous social outing when I ended up busting out "Ice, Ice Baby" in front of twelve dudes I've never met before at a birthday party. This was two years ago, and I still haven't recovered.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

There he goes again

Apparently, this ridiculous piece by old friend David Ehrenstein published in the LA Times op-ed page has achieved some notoriety, though not the good kind. Leaving morons like Rush out of it, Ehrenstein's sad imitation of Armond White doesn't begin to stand up to any kind of scrutiny. In a nutshell, Ehrenstein argues that Barack Obama is a real life manifestation of a fantasy movie figure, the Sidney Poitier/Morgan Freemanesque "Magic Negro", who somehow assuages white guilt through the sheer nobility of his being. The argument is so very, very wrong. And dumb.

To be sure, the "Magic Negro" exists as a singularly irritating Hollywood trope, and I appreciate Ehrenstein's discussion of same. I personally would've singled out Djimon "let us free" Hounsou as being the post-Poitier exemplar of the patronizing "Magic Negro" archetype (even Freeman is allowed to stand on his own sometimes), but the examples provided were fine. Attaching the label to Obama? Here's Ehrenstein's entire case:
It's the way [Obama] said it that counts the most. It's his manner, which, as presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Biden ham-fistedly reminded us, is "articulate." His tone is always genial, his voice warm and unthreatening, and he hasn't called his opponents names (despite being baited by the media).
I mean, that's it. That's all he has. Let's dispense with it, then, shall we? First, his entire against Obama rests on positive stylistic traits to which any number of presidential contenders aspire. Hillary is also trying to project these same qualities (warm, familiar, unthreatening) with less success. So is someone like Republican contender Mike Huckabee, who's trying to put a friendly, congenial face on social conservatism. Would Ehrenstein prefer that Obama run as Mr. Angry Black Man? He's running to appeal to the most people, not to flatter the sensibility of narcissistic culture critics. More pointedly, the Magic Negro, as defined in the piece, is a black man without a past, who exists solely to redeem the white protagonist. What does it say when Obama's campaign message is basically "vote for me because my life story offers hope for a better future." This is biography-as-metaphor, and Obama himself used his best-selling memoir as a launching pad. Obama is all about telling his own story, which is the opposite of what a Magic Negro should be doing, no?

In movie terms, Obama is more like Denzel, the charismatic, likable protagonist whose actions drive the story. We root for Denzel because we like him and he's the good guy, not because he's there to teach the white star some valuable lesson. In the same way, Obama's appeal comes from his incredible charisma, compelling biography, and the sense that he's trustworthy, authentic, and has good judgment, not because he grabs our sympathy as a noble helper guy, auditioning to be the Vernon Jordan of the post-Bush era. The whole idea doesn't stand up to one poke. One really has to wonder what's going on at the LA Times op-ed section when they run something as sloppily thought-out as this. Just because it has a provocative title? Perhaps the Times feels the need to balance the weekly lunatic ravings of Jonah Goldberg with retarded lefty rants, and David Sirota wasn't available this week.

Update: I guess there's a lot of shit going down in the Times recently. Running dumbass opinion pieces are the least of its troubles. Please Broad/Burkle/Zell, step in and do something.

Friday, March 16, 2007

You know what I hate about blogs?

Blog triumphalists. Talking Points Memo did a great job digging into US Attorney purges amid widespread media apathy, but generally blogs, even excellent ones, are little more than opinions on news of the day. News reported by reporters and disseminated by the major media outlets. Both sides love to knock the "MSM", but without the mainstream press -- and the resources it brings to bear --the blogosphere would be nothing more than a couple of tennis players playing without a ball.

How do we know if the surge is working or not working? Why did Bush cut a deal with North Korea? What's happening at Walter Reed Hospital? What's going on in Pakistan, China, France, Darfur, and Argentina? Not from some dude pounding away on his keyboard in a basement in Spokane.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nuggets from the inbox

Another sign that the end is nigh? (Breast-men should avoid clicking on the link; others, please scroll down for the picture.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dept. of Really Bad Game

In another e-mail sent in January, Shipman wrote Oefelein at his NASA e-mail address: "I love you and I am head-over-heals IN love with you." Oefelein responded the next day from his office e-mail: "You must really have me around your finger that I can't even function without you here."
Jesus. Oefelein's chances to be the Maxim Man of the Year just went up in smoke.

Oefelein told investigators that when he broke off his romantic relationship with Nowak in January, she "seemed a little disappointed, but she seemed to be accepting of that."

Oefelein and Nowak still agreed to be gym partners and train for a bicycle race together, he said. Nowak still called Oefelein daily and left friendly messages, he said, but "I wasn't always receptive to the phone call."
Not a good idea to be workout partners with someone you just dumped, astronaut.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

lagging commentary on Oscar telecast

You know that disorienting sense that the world's coming off its axis, that somehow you've been transplanted into a bizarre alternate universe where everything is just a little off? I get that once in awhile, maybe once a year. Usually it comes the day after the Oscars, when I become mystified by the bizarre assessments of the telecast from the nation's most renowned TV critics, wondering if we watched the same event. Take Tom Shales, the Washington Post's longtime TV critic. By virtue of his position and reputation, Shales is respected and influential, so I figure I should see what he has to say. Shales apparently watched a different show altogether:
"Ellen DeGeneres, doing a crisp and unpretentious job in her first gig as an Oscar host...

"Crisp"? I like Ellen, but she was flailing, telling jokes that wouldn't rouse the crowd at a Rotary Club luncheon.

"Time was wasted throughout the evening on a number of cutesy gimmicks that laid enormous eggs -- among them the avant-garde Pilobolus Dance Theatre, whose members posed behind a white screen and acted out the titles of film...

What? While I'm an avowed hater of interpretive dance numbers, this was easily the best "performance" innovation from the Academy in a long while. The Little Miss Sunshine and Snakes on a Plane bits were particularly good.

"As the third hour of the show approached, the stage was taken over by the cast of "Dreamgirls" for a medley of songs from the film. It was fine..."

You mean that little glass-shattering contest pitting Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson? This dreadful medley was "fine"?

"More time was wasted with a lame piece of "special material" -- a song about how comics don't win Oscars, performed by the usually hilarious Will Ferrell, the semi-talented John C. Reilly and hack Jack Black. The song wasn't funny and went on, yes, too long..."

John C. Reilly "semi-talented"? Sez who? And Jack Black, the unstoppable comic dynamo, is really...a "hack"? I'm beginning to have an idea of who the hack is, and it's not any of the three guys who staged this fairly hilarious number (by Oscar standards anyway).

Naturally, Shales didn't mention the real travesties: the needless montages (yet again), the exasperatingly pointless Chris Connelly backstage interludes (which added a good ten minutes to the show). To be fair, he at least took a shot at the night's nadir: Celine Dion, totally trashing Ennio Morricone's good name.

See, this wouldn't be a big deal if people like Tom Shales weren't actually influential. But last year, the bad reviews from idiots like Tom Shales doomed Jon Stewart's chances for another hosting gig, in spite that show being the funniest one in memory. To be fair, Shales probably isn't an idiot so much as he is a fuddy-duddy fiftysomething whose taste is seriously out of touch with younger viewers who live-blogged this thing. He's speaking to his crowd, Better Home & Gardens subscribers who guffaw at Don Rickles jokes in their La-Z chairs. Nothing wrong with being a mouthpiece for a niche group, but come on. The dude's opinion shouldn't carry *that* much weight. Well, one positive effect of the blogosphere: Tom Shales is now an endangered species, his influence diminishing every year.

As for the awards itself, hooray for Marty, boo on the Lubezski loss, and a tip of the hat for Leo, the king of the world, apparently. And goddammit, it really looked like both Peter O'Toole and Little Miss Sunshine were gonna take it home, which would've made me $400 dollars richer. Oh well. At least a really good movie nabbed the Best Picture this year.

Friday, February 23, 2007

More like this please

This is how it's done.

This is how not to do it. Stop whining and just plant a fist on this asswipe's kisser. Why is this so hard to understand?

Update: just saw Atrios' nearly exact same headline for the same story. No intent to rip him off, but this post was kind of an unconscious homage to Atrios anyway.

The wacky world of YouTube

While watching that interminable "movie" that comes on after you finish a stage of Medal of Honor or Final Fantasy IX on PS2, does your mind ever start to wander, perhaps arriving at the thought that maybe Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times would kick ass if it were remade as a CGI short? Me neither, but probably because I don't even own a video game console. Luckily for humankind, though, some anonymous genius thought of this great idea and came up with this masterpiece:

Coming soon: a tentacle-Hentai reimagining of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Best movie scenes

For the fourteen loyal P&B readers who don't visit Mike D'Angelo's blog, please stop by, won't you? He just finished a countdown of the best movies of the year, at least according to a selected number of movie nerds. While those results may not be of much interest to non-nerds (though I will always maintain that the Skandies is the best and most interesting of all movie surveys/awards), Mike's posts include clips of the year's best scenes (as voted on by said movie nerds -- the idea is that these are the year's best scenes that can be seen completely divorced from context). So you'll get to see some awesome clips, everything from Children of Men's miraculous "automobile ambush" trick-shot (voted #1 scene of the year) to Borat wrestling in the nude to this hilarious bit from Talledega Nights, a scene I hadn't seen before. My favorite scene of the year is here as well. Good stuff.

Also, if you have a Tradesports/Intrade account, check out the low, low prices on Peter O'Toole. Definitely worth a flyer. You'll also find good prices for Little Miss Sunshine for picture and Scorsese (who's a lock but not priced like one) for director. Alan Arkin might be worth a gamble as well. Make sure you buy me a beer if you score big, but take these tips at your own risk.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Neon Bible

Arcade Fire's eagerly anticipated follow-up doesn't disappoint. It doesn't contain anything so anthemic that politicians might use as intro music like "Power Out", but I kinda like how they didn't try to up the arena rock ante, instead going forward with strange arrangements -- Hungarian orchestra to a military choir. Impressively ambitious. Unfortunately, shunning their Quebec roots, the band didn't include a French song. Don't they know that everything sounds better in French?

After about ten spins, I'm partial to "Intervention" and "Rebellion"-esque "The Well and the Lighthouse", though "My Body is a Cage" is really growing on me. A couple of songs sound oddly like mid-80s Springsteen, and "No Cars Go" is a cleaned-up version of the EP track. Anyway, I'm pumped to see them at Coachella (Arcade Fire is playing on the same day as The Decemberists and The New Pornographers -- it's Indie Rock heaven on Saturday). Also, hardcore fans can listen to Arcade Fire's NY show on Feb. 17th on live stream courtesy of NPR. Save the date.
Speaking of The Decemberists, I might as well post my favorite albums over the past year. None of the albums I list are "perfect"; even the Crane Wife contained moments of prog-rock wankery that is quite inexcusable. But I'll kindly overlook that when it also includes the sublime "Yankee Bayonet" and "O Valencia". The rest of it looks embarrassingly wimpy, but it's been that kinda year.

01. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
02. Cat Power - The Greatest
03. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
04. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
05. Girl Talk - The Night Ripper
06. Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
07. Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That
08. Junior Boys - So This is Goodbye
09. Mates of State - Bring It Back
10. Voxtrot - Raised by Wolves [EP]/Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives [EP]

HM: Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury; Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat; Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies; Beck - The Information; The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes.

Favorite shows: Coachella Day 1, April 29, 2006; Built to Spill @ Troubadour, June 29, 2006; Neko Case @ Henry Fonda, June 23, 2006; Massive Attack and TV on the Radio @ Hollywood Bowl, September 24, 2006.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Drive by reviews - Inland Empire, Bubble, Down in the Valley

Inland Empire (d. David Lynch): C+

* An inversion of Mulholland Dr. If the earlier film was the desperate starlet fantasy of a depressive never-was, this is the nightmare of a Hollywood has-been. Except Inland Empire, like Lost Highway before it (and unlike the more conventional Mulholland Dr.) annihilates narrative logic, collapsing dream and reality, past and future, backstory and story, actor and character. Everything's wrapped up in one. Or to put it more precisely: Inland Empire employs Lost Highway's radical anti-narrative-logic framework to get at Mulholland Dr.'s deeper emotional truths, the anguish culled from the dreams of those actresses destroyed or abandoned by the Dream Factory and left to rot on Hollywood Blvd.

It all sounds so theory. And if Lynch had made this film with much greater care, instead of stringing together a host of individually awesome or tedious scenes (read: rabbit sitcom) into a frustrating mish-mash, this would indeed be the Lynch movie to end all Lynch movies. But as it is, it's an indulgent misfire, too visually ugly and incoherent to finally work as the kind of transcendental artistic experience its scores of supporters claim for it. As with Terrence Malick's The New World, Inland Empire is a signature piece that showcases its maker's singular talents -- and most glaring flaws -- in all their naked glory. Guess what I'm trying say is that there's such a thing as too much, and the movie's just too Lynchian.

* Look, I'm not one of those people who needs to have something "make sense". Both Lost Highway and Fire Walk With Me floor you with the wtf? moments, but even when they're operating wholly on Lynchian anti-logic, they're visual-aural pleasures. Lynch is perhaps most audio-centric of the great stylists, and while his genius for sound-design remain evident in Inland Empire, his newfound obsession with low-grade DV imagery is really quite tragic. It's as if, in middle age, Vladimir Horowitz decided that he will perform publicly only on a Casio starter keyboard. Notably distracting were the careless, or perhaps deliberately artless compositions and sloppy camera movements, which suggests that the much touted "freedom" that DV provides might prove to be too much of a good thing.

* How do you know if someone is a Lynch cultist-fanboy who will lap up anything with the David Lynch appellation? When they start to tell you how our nightmares are supposed to look exactly like the images captured by the Sony PD-150. It's one thing to say that the low-grade DV has interesting effects, such as stretching and flattening faces in close-up (though a wide-angle lens will give you the same gargoyle effect, no?) or the creepy mood evoked by the desaturated, pixellated imagery. But when you start suggesting that nightmares are supposed to look like low-grade DV, which includes not just the aforementioned (all of which can be replicated by a much better camera), but the poor color contrasts, the abysmally shallow depths of field, and just plain ugliness, you're in nutbar territory.

* How amazing was Laura Dern in this movie?

Bubble (d. Steven Soderbergh): B-

Back when I frequented the arcades, I'd always run into that one virtuoso gamer who wanted to show that he can kick my ass using every Street Fighter II character. He might challenge first with the unplayable Dhalsim, drilling me to death. Then this fucker might intentionally dump a match just to challenge again with a different character, maybe savagely piledriving my ass silly with the awkward Zangief. Can Steven Soderbergh really be taking his career cues from a 5'7" Vietnamese gamer? Consider Soderbergh's output since Y2k: (1) a solemn, demanding Tarkovsky remake; (2) a Dogme '95 guerrilla project that lampoons celebrity culture; (3) a jokey, star-studded Topkapi-style caper; (4) a self-referential, Lestereque goof disguised as a blockbuster sequel; (5) a simulacrum of a 40s Warner Brothers programmer; and this, an indie working class portrait by way of late Bresson. Eclectic doesn't do it justice. It's as if the dude wants to spend his life proving that he can do anything in any style, creating an oeuvre that recalls that chapter in Ulysses where Joyce imitates various historical prose styles from Chaucer to Gibbons to Dickens. But hey, if anyone can succeed as a chameleon-auteur, it's Soderbergh (surely before Winterbottom, anyway).

But while the rigor of Bubble is quite admirable, there doesn't seem to be a point except for the formal challenge of it. On a formal level, it's superb, a beautifully austere film, shot in a tableaux vivants style designed to minimize the degree of difficulty for the non-professional cast. And if you eat up exquisitely composed shots of factory work -- and I do (it's not for nothing that this picture is one of my all-time faves) -- this is a little slice of heaven. Those disquieting shots of the disembodied doll heads, held for three or four seconds, are especially memorable.

But I'm afraid that the S-man is in danger of becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. The movie stumbles when it pivots from an observational slice-of-life mode to a thoroughly unconvincing murder mystery, in effect shifting into a half-assed L'Humanite (albeit a less retarded one but without Dumont's mythoreligious ambitions). Generally, a random, unmotivated murder in the 2nd act is a tell-tale sign of a project desperate for a point. Right on cue, Soderbergh trots out this old standby to get this formal gambit-in-search-of-story from A to B. Watching something like Bubble makes me more fully appreciate the Dardennes' movies all the more. Soderbergh observes these working class characters from a lofty perch, like a marine biologist studying the mating habits of sea cucumbers. But he doesn't really get these people. The Dardennes make movies on the ground level, blending astutely observed behavioral detail and motivated action into perfectly realized parables of underclass desperation. Go with the guys who know how to do it, I say. Also, I suppose there's the idea that the narrative turns into a kind of hear-me-roar from the most underexposed, oft-ignored American type, the overweight middle-aged Midwestern woman, casually dismissed by pretty young things at their peril. But color me unimpressed: remember when Kathy Bates performed this kind of "narrative seizure" in Misery? Not so awesome.

* Check out this weird, Bubble-like story, which is even more insane than the utterly batshit crazy astronaut love triangle story.

Down in the Valley (d. David Jacobson): B

* I'm probably overrating this cowpoke-in-the-Valley story, as it gets pretty stupid down the stretch. Can anyone provide a good rationale for turning Ed Norton's ingratiating cowboy into Travis Bickle? Anyone?

* On one level, the genre self-consciousness is kind of annoying. Undoubtedly, Jacobson has a sophisticated understanding of Westerns, and how the genre will often dramatize a central thematic conflict (among them, individualism v. community values, urban v. rural, civilization v. the "wild", authority v. rebellion/liberty) as a battle between models of masculinity. Think Red River, The Man from Laramie, or The Lusty Men. And I appreciate that he's trying to show his understanding not by blogging about it, but by actually making a weird, contemporary movie stocked with interesting Western tropes. But it doesn't quite work. What's the point of pitting two psychos against one another, a face-off between David Morse's gruff, authoritarian child-abuser vs. Ed Norton's flaky charismatic wacko? Is Jacobson making a critique of father figures, suggesting that the Western's lionization masculine role models is lame? If that's the idea, the movie fails by giving in to sentimentalism. And the My Darling Clementine setpiece? Less said the better.

* But Jacobson's direction is quite superb, nailing the hollowed-out mallscape and the lazy rhythm of the San Fernando Valley -- an ironic endpoint of manifest destiny -- without quite descending into snark. Flanked by endless rows of tract housing and framed in gorgeous CinemaScope, Norton's dress-up cowboy seems almost heroic, like Gary Cooper in Man of the West as he rides into a ghost town. A widescreen movie with visual authority of an Anthony Mann Western? That I like.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Beantown Boobs Duped by Toon

Taking an afternoon stroll, you notice a few Lite-Brite things that look like little Kool-Aid Men scattered about. See video for more:

So what do you do? If you're the retarded mayor of Boston, you shut down the city and send in the bomb squad. Afterwards you blame everything on the guerrilla marketing team from the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force", calling them terror hoax perpetrators, when the city could've saved all that money and inconvenience to Bostonians just by asking any reasonably savvy young person what the heck is up.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Drive-by reviews - Miami Vice, The Prestige

Miami Vice (d. Michael Mann): C+

Every year, there's one or two "visual reverie" type films I'd love to play on a silent loop on a wall-mounted LCD flat-screen. Last year such luminous motion paintings include 2046 and The New World. This year comes The Intruder, Three Times, and Miami Vice. The last one, though, is the only one of these I wouldn't want to watch again with the sound on.

Reg'lar folks can't stand this movie, if my experience is any guide. But movie nerds and critics? An altogether different reception. It finished higher than Babel and Little Miss Sunshine in the definitive highbrow poll, for example. And some of my favorite critics list this as one of their year-end favorites. That Miami Vice would generate this kind of schism is, I suppose, not so surprising. Genre machinery that gleans with personal style and crafted by a brand name auteur is exactly the thing that appeals to a certain kind of cinéaste. And Mann's one of the undeniably great directors on the scene today; I can watch those shots of florescent neon reflecting off dark waters all day. But what about the stuff everyone's complaining about, the idiotic story and the scowl-and-pose acting? Why, that's minimalism, boy. Mann's harkening back to the existential genre pics of Monte Hellman, or maybe the stripped-down Westerns of Budd Boetticher, or don't you know?

Maybe. But however you cut it, the throwaway story is retarded, and the acting sucks. As achingly beautiful as it is -- the movie's splendorous lighting is worth many extra looks (just check out the still on the right borrowed from the always excellent Bryant Frazer's top ten write-up) -- the regular moviegoers are closer to being right than the cinephiles.

The real problem? Mann's fatal flaw, self-importance. In some up-is-down formulations, the unearned "gravity" somehow gives this film meaning -- the movie's erstwhile stupidity is by design, woven into this movie's supposedly fascinating minimalist fabric. Who cares if the angst of these D&G-garbed cyphers were utterly contrived -- standard oh-did-I-cause-her-death, oh-how-do-I-tell-her-the-truth nonsense? Doesn't anyone care that Mann lards a TV-show adaptation with gobs of emotional anguish, without any devotion to the characterizations or fleshed-out relationships to match? I could be missing the point. Guess it might be passé to prefer one's Handsome Boy Modeling School cheese without all the calories.

* Bonus: I got my hands on a top-secret tape showing Michael Mann and Colin Farrell rehearsing before principal photography begins; for the benefit of you fortunate souls, I will transcribe it:

Michael Mann: Shooting starts tomorrow, Colin. You ready?
Colin Farrell (excitedly): Yeah, Michael. I think I finally have Crockett down.
Mann: That's great, Colin. Remember, Crockett's filled with fuckin' anguish. He's caught between the woman he loves and the fuckin' cops he's deeply loyal to.
Farrell: I know, man. Look, check this out. [Farrell tilts his head slightly. He squints, looks out into some indeterminate middle distance, purses his lips, and, with his face turned at a 3/4 angle, begins to mumble in a deep monotone]: "I'm gonna do every scene just like this."
Mann: Excellent! I can feel your anguish, man. So much fuckin' anguish!
Farrell, still squinting and holding his pose, mumbles something.
Mann: What? What did you say?
Farrell (breaks out of character): Let's do a few lines!
Mann: Yeah, sure. Let's see. [Thumbs through script] Yeah. This scene is the emotional center of the whole fuckin' movie. I spent countless fuckin' hours laboring over these lines. Let's give it a shot...
Mann [In a "Tubbs" voice]: "Are you ready for this?"
Farrell [squints, looks out into some indeterminate middle distance. He turns his face towards no one in particular and mumbles in a low monotone]: "I absolutely am not."
Mann [out of character]: That's perfect! Perfect! You're gonna make people forget that motherfucker Don Johnson ever existed, Colin!

The Prestige (d. Christopher Nolan): B+
Not every movie needs to be "about" something, but some movies are impressive chiefly due to the movie's meaning. This is a textbook case. Really, this movie is so rich in subtext you can pick and choose from the following interpretations [VAGUE SPOILERS WITHIN]:

(a) The necessity of illusion: or, how people learned to stop worrying and learn to lie to themselves. The idea here is that scientific materialism -- the so-called "real magic" represented by Tesla's "multiplier" device -- is so horrifying that we'd rather believe that the whole thing is all some kind of optical illusion. Magic is one of the many ways in which the audience would rather accept lies than to face up to the meaninglessness of "scientific truth", which calls into question even the very idea of the "miracle of life", the generally accepted proposition that each and every life is special and unique. This compliments Nolan's Memento, which is also about the lies we tell ourselves in order to give our lives meaning. Mike has more precise reading in the same vein: "that only extreme self-sacrifice can rescue us from our dawning certitude that science has eliminated all mystery from the world".

(b) An allegory of early and late capitalism. Set during turn of the Twentieth Century, the movie links the cutthroat competition between Edison and Tesla with the can-you-top-this? antics of Angier v. Borden. Unlike some magician films, these magicians aren't so much interested in the "art of magic" as they are consumed with winning in the marketplace. Neither one cares much how he tops the other guy; just that he does. In doing so, each one engages in the kind of tactics you find in your daily business page: employee poaching, sabotage, swiping trade secrets, deceptive marketing, etc. In effect, the magicians play out a lose-lose scenario you find in non-zero-sum game theory. Since becoming much more interested in business decisions/business news the last few years, what I found most fascinating was the contemporary echoes in the competition between Borden and Angier, which, like the one between Tesla and Edison, the film suggests, is a battle between the innovator (Borden/Tesla) and the popularizer (Angier/Edison). Borden invents the "transported man" but Angier's was able to steal the idea and popularize it through superior presentation/marketing -- at least until the Borden started exploiting the "bugs" (the drunken Angier look-alike). It's like the paradigmatic battle between Apple and Microsoft -- the better product vs. the more opportunistic and vicious business.

(c) The wages of obsession. The movie depicts the self-sacrifices that fuel obsession. A fairly obvious theme that I won't dwell on, but this also recalls Memento.

(d) Duality vs. Multiplicity. I'm sure someone can offer a good reading for this, but you won't find it here.

Even ignoring the subtext, what you got is one of best kinds of stories, the tale of the dueling magicians. See, e.g., the real story of Ching Ling Foo vs. Chung Ling Soo. If I'm not higher on this movie, it's only because I'm resistant to movies with twist endings, especially one involving devices you find in daytime soaps, like [CENSORED BY SPOILER POLICE]. Also, there's something nutty about the Tesla machine that bothers me, too many implications that the movie ignores. But still, I expect I'd dig this even more on second viewing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Atheists 52, Moderate Christians 14

If the polls are to be believed, atheists are among the least popular people in the United States. So it's somewhat surprising that two recent atheistic treatises, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, have been so popular, mainstays on Amazon's bestseller list (though maybe the persecution complex is what's driving atheists to pick up these books).

With the exception of a sojourn earlier this year, when I argued in a movie nerd discussion group (don't ask) against Dawkins' thesis that science can theoretically prove that God doesn't exist, I'd been taking a long vacation from these debates. Religion is bad, their foundational myths have been disproven, the probability of God's existence (at least a God who actively interferes with the affairs of people) is close to nil, the moral teachings are suspect and contradictory, etc. -- I've heard it all before. The anti-religion arguments are mostly right, but sometimes the atheists are so frustratingly literal-minded and dogmatically rational that they turn me off. Frequently, atheists too easily dismiss the non-rational -- the spiritual or mystical experiences that often enrich human lives. People end up talking past one another, wasting everyone's time.

After browsing a few book reviews, I had dismissed Sam Harris as one of these literal-minded atheists who's obsessed with using scientific evidence to reject Biblical passages. These guys always miss the point of religion. So when Andrew Sullivan, self-professed "doubting" Catholic (whatever that means), started posting links to an ongoing internet debate on with Harris on his blog, I didn't even bother. But yesterday one passage grabbed my attention and so I checked it out: lo and behld, Harris is just dead-on. He doesn't just debunk myths; he gets at the *moral failing* of religion, and does so without dismissing spirituality. Sullivan, professional pundit and a sharp debater, can't so much as muster a whimper in response. It's a wholesale rout. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Promises, promises

Believe it or not, there will soon be some serious movie-blogging on this site. Before that commences, though, just a few thoughts on the Oscar noms this morning. Everyone knew Dreamgirls will walk away with Best Picture, right? Isn't that what all the "experts" predicted?
AMPAS not only threw the pundits for a loop, what's shocking is that the "surprises", both moderate and shocking, were actually so damn pleasant. My favorite helming and performance of the year both nominated? Ponies for everyone.

* The best directing job of the year belonged to Paul Greengrass, whose United 93 hovers far above any other American film I've seen all year. After being shut out of the guild awards, everyone kind of wrote off United 93's chances for anything. Nobody wanted to actually sit down and watch this movie, it's been explained. Well, I guess the directing and editing branches did finally pop in the DVD. And perhaps they found themselves enthralled by not only by Greengrass's superior craftsmanship, the detailed recreation of that fateful morning, but also by its artistry. Misunderstood as either well-made atrocity porn or as an indictment of Bushie neglect, United 93 above all captures a change of a collective state of mind -- it depicts, with harrowing intensity, that five hour transition from the pre-9/11 world to the post-9/11 world, when Americans' entitled sense of invulnerability and innocence gave way to a new violent world where there are no safe harbors.

* Half Nelson (about which I hope to post something this week) is much more than just a Ryan Gosling showcase. But I can't complain about this mildly surprising Oscar recognition for Gosling's extraordinary if decidedly un-Oscar performance. At every opportunity Gosling eschews the scene-stealing histrionics that command Oscar attention in favor of portraying something far more unexpected and truthful (see, e.g., the confrontation with Mackie; the scenes in the teachers' lounge; going to his date's pad at 3 a.m. and high). If this nod, for my favorite performance of the year, calls attention to this remarkable movie, cool.

* "Treat FBI officers like mushrooms -- feed'em shit and keep 'em in the dark." Mark Wahlberg, after years of getting treated like an FBI officer, finally gets some much-deserved Oscar attention with the help of The Departed's screenwriter William Monahan, who created the poet laureate of profanity in Dignam. Monahan's nod's not a surprise, but his work better not lose out to that steaming dysentery shit castle Little Children (where the method of the storytellers is tell and show and then tell and then show the same thing again, in case the explanatory voiceover, the Taboo-sketch, and PowerPoint presentation making the same point failed to get through).

* Cinematography, Children of Men. Of course. In last year's The New World, Emmanuel Lubezski's delighted the senses with shafts of light illuminating untouched earth. In stark contrast to Malick's lush pastoralism, here Lubezski creates an equally vivid world, but one that's been utterly corrupted by the creations of men. Lubezki's jittery compositions and desaturated greys brilliantly imposes a kind of Holocaust-doc grimness and determinism onto the Big Brother dystopia envisioned by Cuaron and his art director (where's the art direction nod, dammit?). The result is a crackerjack concept, sci-fi realism, flawlessly executed. And yes, those trick shots -- esp. in the car with Julianne Moore and in the war zone -- were fucking awesome. But one gripe: While I'm sure not enough voters ended up seeing Agnes Godard's characteristically amazing work in The Intruder, did the cinematography branch also skip the shimmering nightscape of Miami Vice, easily the most beautifully shot movie of the year? And pity poor Steven Soderbergh, whose unfairly maligned The Good German was, if nothing else, a technical marvel.

* Unfortunately, the underrated Prestige didn't get recognized by the writers for the year's most profound screenplay. To my shock the Academy didn't overlook the dueling magician movie's art direction and cinematography, which had been undervalued even among movie nerds. Our focus on Nolan's narrative and thematic hocus-pocus mostly blinded us to the care with which Nolan constructs the visual design. Good job Academy actually paying attention to the cinematic properties.

* Other hits: Penelope Cruz in Volver. Not a surprise, but given Volver's rather stunning omission in Foreign Language, I'm glad she was able to hang on. And this just in: the Iwo Jima diptych is pretty damn good.

* Other misses: Sasha Baron Cohen. Come on. Ken Watanabe, I suppose. Haven't really caught up with the big Oscar-baits (still on tap: Pan's Labyrinth, The Queen, Dreamgirls, Babel, Notes on a Scandal, possibly Little Miss Sunshine), so kinda hard to gripe just yet.