Friday, December 25, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
- Cowen's writing is probably best suited to blogging. I suppose that, given the normal quality of the stereotypical professorial paper, mere readability is a rarity. But he makes Malcolm Gladwell look like Joan Didion. Perfectly adequate prose sentence plods into perfectly adequate prose sentence. For a book dealing with art, there's very little art. In small doses, clarity is fine. For an entire book, it's a slog.
- So much of it is him putting down examples of his point. "You think artists don't care about money? But Beethoven said this. And Gaugin did this. And this person died in poverty." That's only slightly exaggerated. I hope later on he gets into a specific, piece-by-piece analysis of one work of art or artist.
- To Cowen's credit, it's refreshing to see someone who points out the fallacies in all the well-crafted but contrived cultural polemics that seem to be the main way any pundit/philosopher makes money these days. He's not saying everything is perfect, but he is willing to point out that, yes, life has become less nasty, brutish and short for more people and to consign those people back to the status quo ante for some weird sense of cultural homogeny is stupid.
- On the other hand, his triumphalism really vague. Some of his points, about the decrease in prices for materials as basic as paper have opened up the art field, make sense. Other arguments seem to boil down to, "hey, people have benefited from this technology/advance, and that's because of capitalism. And since artists are people, artists are benefiting from capitalism." Which is technically true, but, well, he decided to write a book about how capitalism benefits the artist specifically. It's not titled In Praise of Modernity.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Other people have done better jobs of dismantling these arguments (start here, for example, and move forward chronologically). But the thing that struck me about Mendelsohn's article is the last paragraph: "It may be that our present-day taste for "empowerment," our anxious horror of being represented as "victims"—nowadays there are no victims, only "survivors"—has begun to distort the representation of the past, one in which passive victims, alas, vastly outnumbered those who were able to fight back."
I think that Mendelsohn has identified the fact that America does not like to watch people lose (especially when they feel like they are threatened, as in our current economic and political circumstances). We like to believe that the underdog will triumph, the poor but smart and nice guy will get the girl, and good will win out over evil. And these victories are usually because the hero is so darned good, awesome or competent (if not all three). There's little sense of "fate". We rarely see anyone who, despite their best efforts and hard work, fails utterly and completely. The best example of this kind of ending is Chinatown, which still ends powerfully, because the bad guy wins and the good guy hasn't done anything to hurt or stop him. And there's nothing he can do anymore.
But what surprises me is that Mendelsohn (and the other anti-IB people) pull this on Inglourious Basterds, of all movies! This is a movie that makes its own mythmaking-machinery visible to the audience (cf. Brad Pitt's speech about the Basterds' mission, the portrait of Hitler painted as a less-imposing Hitler rants, Nation's Pride being explicitly described as a "German Sergeant York") and certainly complicates the relationship between history and what happens on the screen. People might not recognize the inaccuracies in a million other films (Gladiator, Braveheart, The Patriot, etc.), but they certainly know how WWII ends!
But why not say this about any of a dozen other films about the Holocaust? Schindler's List focuses on some gentile saving Jews. Life is Beautiful is about a guy saving his son from a concentration camp by pure whimsy. Defiance is about Jews standing up and fighting against their oppressors. Described in this reductionist sense, don't all these attempts to understand the Holocaust in cinema fail utterly? Mendelsohn does call out Defiance as an attempt at a feel-good film, but why didn't he write this article then for its release?
In fact, the only Holocaust movie I've seen that points out the characters' helplessness and defeat by the machinery of the Nazis and their death camps is Bent! As far as I remember, the only victory Bent dares to claim for its heroes is in not giving up that final inch of themselves (to paraphrase Valerie in V for Vendetta). And ironically, that film was about the people who get ignored by Holocaust films/books/etc. Quick question: how many movies focus on the Gyspies, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses persecuted by the Nazis? There might be less of them, but their experience too sheds light on the Nazi killing machine and philosophy.
But getting back to my original point, the problem is that Americans like to believe that they have the autonomy to save, alter or improve their lives, that there is no force they cannot defeat by sheer force of will and ingenuity. As far as beliefs go, it's not a bad one. But this tenet of American society really falls apart in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Or the problem of pain in general.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Piranha (d. Joe Dante, 1978) - A great example of what B movie film-making represents at it's best. Although the opening sequence is well handled, and the Jaws video-game is an incredibly clever joke, the next ten minutes are kind of annoying as Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies are thrown together by over-contrived circumstance and without any regard for the characterization they've established (because young, attractive girls go for paunchy, angry alcoholics all the time where I live). But once it gets past those 10 minutes, the pacing and plotting builds relentlessly and cleverly. The action sequences are well-staged and the caricatures that populate the story are engagingly depicted by a cast of b-movie character actors (Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Kevin McCarthy). And Dante's visual wit (the escape attempt from the army, the race to stop the dam from venting) helps to lighten the mood. Like a fresh Krispy Kreme donut, you wouldn't want to devour more at one sitting, nor would you make a meal of it. But a fun time and not insulting to the intelligence. B-
Gypsy (d. Mervyn LeRoy, 1962) - A horror movie disguised as a musical, as suggested by one of my favorite blogs, Shadowplay. Rosalind Russell does a great job of portraying someone who has bought into the combined fantasies of show biz and the American Dream, trying to disguise her selfishness as kindness and bulldozing past any attempt at realism with sheer enthusiasm. Karl Malden and Natalie Wood also turn in great performances. Wood in particular deserves commendation for the decidedly tomboyish and defeated posture she carries through most of the film, totally effacing herself with a pitiful anti-charisma. LeRoy's direction marries these performances to a decidedly tactile universe that continually undercuts any attempts at show biz glamor by Rose (the cow head adds a particular grotesqueness, always lingering at the corner of the frame in most scenes). A
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (d. David Yates, 2009, at theater) Do I really need to give a synopsis? Yates does a great job of staging his scenes, so that a glimpse of a by-passed conversation in a quiet scene suddenly explodes into violence a second later. He and the production department also find a nice balance between the magical feeling of Hogwarts and the lived-in aspect that any such place would have. A good, game cast, but Jim Broadbent as Professor Slugworth adds a particular poignance. As a compromised, faded professor drawn to celebrities like a moth to flame, he offers a reminder of fates worse than death or Dementors that Voldemort can offer. B
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Thoughts brought on by "Antonio Margheriti" rubbing shoulders with G.W. Pabst in "Inglourious Basterds"
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives
Now I find I'm actually getting into both of them. I wonder if anyone else has noticed how much the Hold Steady owe to Steely Dan ("Kid Charlemagne" vs. "Charlemagne in Sweatpants", anyone?). As for the Dead, I'm not exactly listening to their concerts or jams, but some of their bluesier numbers like "Ship of Fools" or some of their Dylan numbers have a nice country-rock The Band vibe to them.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
"You got the most in you, and you use the least. You hear me, you? Got a million in you and spend pennies"
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
But karma is kind, because the production I was afraid of missing, Classical Stage Company's An Oresteia sounds like a dud. Sadly, even this blessing is somewhat mixed, because the reviewer loves Euripides' Orestes (which is not continuous with either his Elektra or his Iphigenia plays) for ALL THE WRONG REASONS. I don't know how Ann Carson could have so awfully botched her translation of Orestes that it turned from a tragi-comedy (a la Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida) into a plain old comedy. It's a play about high minded sentiments masking depraved cruelty and justice undone by political considerations, performed near the end of the Peloponnesian War, when Athens' folly was laid bare.
If there is any comedy in the play (and especially in William Arrowsmith's excellent translation), it's the darkest kind, laughing at how every character's words come to justify more and more grotesque ends.
It's easy to look back and laugh at people like Charles and Mary Lamb, Colley Cibber and Nahum Tate for having the gall to rewrite Shakespeare. But you have to wonder if, another couple generations down the line, if people will think the same thing about productions like these.
The thing is, the crowd of white rappers is kind of dispiriting right now. Beasties aside, it seems like the main trend is nerdy white guys or hipster white guys rapping over cuts from Pro Tools. I enjoy MC Chris and MC Frontalot and MC Lars, but the long, monotonous trail from MC Paul Barman to Optimus Rhyme is kind of depressing.
MC Chris has a decent flow and has one great song, in "Fett's Vette". MC Frontalot is a clever guy, but he's not really that good a rapper. His pieces are carried more by the puns and the lyrical conceits. And then MC Lars... he's funny and acceptable, but he seems to have only two modes: making fun of cliques and 'hey, DIY is the best thing ever'.
I guess El-P breaks it up a little, between his love for John Carpenter-esque samples and horror/sci-fi melodrama. And then there's Goldie Lockin' Chain, who, are a comedy group, but since the joke is in transporting rap to the down-at-the-heels parts of Wales, it's something that feels lived in and fun, instead of posing and snarkiness. But with the exception of GLC, I don't ever feel a need to listen to an entire album by any of them. *sigh*
Weird, because I'm not really that big a hip-hop fan (at least compared to my love of indie and classic rock), but I'd like a little more variety. Music fan cannot live on D&D jokes alone, you know?
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
However, I am growing facial hair, which, if Thomas Friedman is any indicator, compels one to talk in meaningless buzzwords and stories told by taxi drivers.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
However, key lines:
"As Blanche Dubois said, 'I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.' Or in my case, a kind film executive or friend willing to pick up the tab for lunch."
Um... Blanche is saying this as she's being led to the insane asylum after being raped by her sister's husband. Using that as a mantra for optimists is like AA using John Lee Hooker's "One Bourbon, One Shot, One Beer" to kick off meetings. And that's before the bone-headed second sentence, which totally ignores that her quote comes from someone utterly failed by her actual friends.
But the drop in the second week box office, after a decent opening weekend, almost seem symptomatic of Hollywood's problems. Dawn of the Dead and 300 both did well, but in part because they had no names and were relatively cheap to film, despite being recognizable properties. Zack Snyder tried to follow through in the same way on Watchmen with the relatively no-name cast, but he couldn't help but require expensive effects because of the property. And then legal issues came up to further divvy up whatever profit the movie actually makes.
I think that Los Angeles (and to a lesser extent, New York)' film industry is on the blink of oblivion. Whatever the unions do or don't do, whoever the moguls sue or don't sue, the entertainment economic model is increasingly untenable and whatever rough beast now slouching to Studio City waiting to be shot (on digital video, of course) could probably do just as well or better in Oregon or Arkansas or Wisconsin.
Some days, I can't wait to see it all fall down. Other days, it makes me sad and scared. Maybe someday I'll post my theories on the possible new models that might emerge, so that twenty years from now, when Jeff Zucker-tron owns the entire West Coast, everyone can look back and laugh at my blinkered predictions.
"How could he not foresee that Comcast would develop wireless skull implants?" The tight-pants, not-hip-hop listening ingrates I didn't fight in a war for will chortle.
Meanwhile, I'll sit in a theatre with Sam Neill, watching movies and going mad.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Man: What are you talking about? There's nothing like that in there
Homer: Well y'see when I get bored, I make up my own movie. I have a very short attention span.
Lady: But our point is very simple, y'see when...
Homer: Oh look! A bird! Hihihihihee.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
But I've only seen a few episodes of "Firefly" (which I liked), no Buffy or Angel at all. I've never read his run on X-Men, and I haven't watched "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog". So keep that in mind when you get to the next part:
I think "Dollhouse" is okay. But I don't think it's going to be great as long as Eliza Dukshu's the lead.
The second episode just revealed the empress as naked, if you will. She's called upon to encounter different versions of herself during a drug-induced freakout. And my god, if it wasn't for the dialogue/costume cues, I wouldn't be able to tell which version was a mind-erased doll and which supposed to be a living being. Her only method for showing confusion is to walk in a weird stagger and shake her head from side to side.
I mean, I guess there might be some point to having someone as blank as Eliza Dushku play a character whose entire existence is projected onto her by other people. But I don't care about her plight or view her brainwashing as that bad a thing, which is incredibly problematic for this show.
And you know, when Harry Lennix is on screen, kicking butt and being morally troubled, or when Tahmoh Penikett's cute next door neighbor hits on him, or when the meta-plot is getting revealed, I'm engaged and enjoying myself.
But then Eliza Dushku is called upon to show some range and the show falls apart for me. My only hope is that Whedon has some master-stroke planned that is supposed to play off this. But so far, I'm a doubter.
I mean, when your "Most Dangerous Game" episode leaves me saying "eh", you should realize your show has a problem.