Monday, January 31, 2005

Movie Club??

Just an idea, but perhaps we should have a long distance movie club? We pick a movie, either in the theaters currently or one we can all it and then discuss. This wouldn't stop other posts, but one thread could be dedicated to the discussion.

Say someone picks the movie, we get one/two/three??? weeks to watch it. The person who picks the movie starts the discussion....

What say you?

Inside and Outside Our Universe

Though a little off subject, last week I happened to stumble across a couple of lectures on the UW TV Station that I thought were fascinating. One was about the Hubble Telescope, and the other about DNA.

Probably, the thing about the Hubble lecture that I found absolutely 'wow' was an image it had take from an area of 'dark' space somewhere in the big dipper. First he showed an image from a regular ground based telescope where virtually nothing was visible, then the Hubble image that showed the same space filled with 100's, should I say 1000's, of Galaxies far far away. That wasn't the fascinating 'element' to the image though; rather he pointed out elongated arc's of light that were captured by the image. Turns out that these elongated arc's of light are light are from galaxies beyond the galaxies in the foreground whose light has been bent by the gravity of the galaxies in between; i.e. a gravitational lens and proof positive of one of Einstein's relativity theories (special or general, I forget which...) He showed images of the last supernova and what scientists think might be the next supernova. Volcanoes on Titan, stars being born... Oh, I had work to do, but I couldn't pull myself away from the TV...

The lecture about DNA pointed out that the DNA molecules in a human being are quite long; I forget whether he was talking about individual DNA molecules or all combined but he was saying they stretch out to be about a yard or so in length (are DNA molecules the biggest molecules around?) . Mr Lecturer (I know, I should have written his name down so I could give him credit) pointed out that this is problematic when trying to fit these molecules inside cells so he tried to explain how it happens. Basically it all boils down to spirals inside spirals inside spirals, folds upon folds; amazing crap!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Inn of the Sixth Happiness

Here’s what you see if you are home watching PBS on a Saturday night. A too-long 1958 movie loosely based on the life of Gladys Aylward, an English missionary to China in the 1930s. By “loosely,” I mean that the five-foot-even, dark-haired Aylward is played by, um, Ingrid Bergman, and the central feature of her life story is her romance with a half-Chinese soldier who never actually existed. But at 2 hours and 40 minutes, it would hardly have been watchable with a short, dumpy actress in the lead and only her stoicism to sustain us. Even with the intercultural romance, you may need a glass of scotch to propel you past the two-hour mark.

The movie is really interesting as a period piece, though. First of all, it raises a lot of questions about race. Why, for example, did they have to make the fictional love interest half white? Was that the only way to make the interracial romance more acceptable, and was it a decision the film’s producers made of their own accord, or are we seeing the hand of censorship at work? And although the actors who play the main Chinese characters are just as white as they can be, the couple hundred extras do appear to be genuinely Asian-— Northeast Asian, not South Asian. Who knew there were so many Chinese child actors in 1958 Britain?

Then there’s the way they deal with the language issue. Apparently subtitles were not an option here, either because the Western viewing public wouldn’t stand for them or because the main Chinese characters didn’t speak Chinese. So very little actual Chinese is spoken in the movie, and the actors use different fluencies of ENGLISH to indicate whether their characters are speaking Chinese or not. When they are meant to be speaking Chinese, the actors speak fluent British English, to indicate that the *characters* are using their native language. And when the characters are meant to be speaking English, the actors speak a halting pidgin English, to indicate their awkwardness in a second language. Got it? As a way of implying bilingualism without using subtitles, it works pretty well. But for verisimilitude, it seems to me they should have made Ingrid Bergman speak pidgin English when her character was speaking Chinese.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hutu Rwanda

In one sense Hotel Rwanda was one of the most expensive movies I've ever seen. As afterwards, when I got home, I made that contribution to Tsunami Relief that I'd been promising myself. If you're one of those people who has the cush-life, like I do, you'll come out of this movie with at least a modicum of white guilt.

Don Cheadle is worth the price of the ticket, plus the contribution to whatever... Otherwise, in a perverse way, the movie is fairly entertaining. I don't think you'll get bored. In a way, this movie was like Lost In Translation, where you get a 2 hr vacation in an exotic foreign country and where you get to stay in a 5 star hotel... (Don't you wish you had the money?) Though unlike that movie, where essentially nothing is happening, here, the world is coming to an end...

The movie has an underlying theme of white guilt and is something of a rare breed: a political movie. As I said, I walked out of the movie feeling that white guilt, but I must say that since then I've been questioning whether it was really fair in its questioning of white responsibility. At least it only questions it, and it is otherwise peppered with honorable and courageous white people, so it was fairly evenhanded. Nevertheless, it points out that the difference between the Hutus and Tutsis was not tribal as was widely reported in the press, but rather this was a segregation that the belgians (those nasty belgians) had imposed upon the people while it was still a colony. It otherwise brings up repeatedly the question of why the U.N. didn't step in to do something about the slaughter, and this was explicitly argued by Nick Nolte in one scene, to wit: the antipathy to the situation was racially motivated and perpetrated by the west. It was somewhat this arguement that I took exception to as I reflected on the movie this week; i.e.: intervention, which is what he was suggesting the U.N./western nations should do, isn't the easiest, nor always wisest solution to problems. Given the facts, in this particular case, I do believe it may have been able to stem the blood flow, but given results from other 'interventions' I'm not surprised by the 'caution' shown by Bill Clinton and others (oh, you get to see a picture of Bill Clinton at least once in the background...). In any event it did make me think, which I guess is a good thing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Clive of India

Put this, I guess, in the category of 'movies no one will ever see again.' But it was there in the Penn library and the subject of the movie is probably also the namesake of our cat, Clive (who was rescued from feraldom by a fellow graduate student who specializes in the history of the subcontinent), so how could we not watch it? It was fairly enjoyable in a campy 'get a load of that 1930s style of acting' kind of way, and the script clipped along at a fantastic rate until it got bogged down in the emotional struggles within Clive's marriage. But even with the slower latter third of the movie, the minimalism of the narrative was breathtaking. The pattern was usually a scene or two showcasing an example of Clive's indomitable courage and übermensch will, followed by words on the screen and swelling orchestral music telling you what the result of said courage and will had been--Clive avenged the deaths of the Black Hole of Calcutta (hooray!); Clive made all of India safe for British commerce (huzzah!); & etc. The acting by the leads--Ronald Coleman as Clive and Loretta Young as Margaret--was fairly good, though the movie seldom required them to move beyond being courageous and British; the native evil-doers and bureaucratic buffoons Clive had to overcome were high camp. I did not recognize Cesar Romero, beneath a thick layer of dark makeup and a stringy beard, as a native ally of Clive (thank you, IMDB for pointing him out). The movie charged through Clive's life like a war elephant at the Battle of Plassey (the single battle scene in the movie), scarcely stopping to contemplate the moment when Clive and Margaret leave their dying first-born infant behind in England to return to India, or when Clive begins his addiction to opium. The fact that Clive tried and failed to kill himself twice in his younger days is mentioned many times in the early part of the movie. The fact that Clive finally succeeded in killing himself barely a year after his trial is not mentioned at all. But it certainly fits his character that a man of such determination would not leave something he had started undone, but see it through to the end or die trying. In this case, both.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

House of Flying Daggers

Okay I'm not much for this type of film, but have been won over in the past by Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That and the fact that it was playing at the Cinerama here in Seattle made it seem like a can't miss. Everyone who had seen it said it was beautiful.

And that's what it was beautiful. Two flipping hours of beautiful. Beautiful woman, beautiful dance, beautiful bamboo, beautiful snow.

What nobody mentioned was that it was boring. Boring, Boring, Boring! If only a dagger had flown out of the screen and severed the heads of the two jerks who decided to sit in the handicap seats (they appeared to have no handicaps other than judgment) blocking the view to the subtitles for the first three rows of the second tear seating (also known as the sweet spot at this particular theater). Only then might the story have been anything other than predictable, irritating and altogether annoying.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Pieces of April

I love this type of movie. No plot, not really, just characters and random moments strung together creating a semblance of forward momentum. This series of vignettes meanders through the life of a highly dysfunctional family attempting to deal with terminal illness (Patricia Clarkson) while traveling to visit their estranged daughter (Katie Holmes) living in NYC. The characters are all depicted as equally villain and victim. And while there is some schmaltzy feel goodness at the end, the journey that gets us there is well worth it.

Below is a note I thought to delete, because I can't fully articulate what it means if anything....would be interested to hear other's comments.....

Though they shoot mostly in cramped quarters, a great spacious void seems to permeate the filming. Maybe this has do to with director's choice to use three axes in space to move the movie along. The family traveling great distance, the daughter searching vertically up and down stair cases in her apartment complex while the boyfriend races with time. Not much for analysis.....but feels like there was intention here.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Ladder 49

(Posted on behalf of someone who, apparently, has better things to do than sign up to post things herself.)

I ended up watching this in a Friday afternoon showing at a shopping mall near Tampa, the place where America keeps all its shorts-clad old people. And the movie was made for just that demographic, steeped as it is in an old-fashioned culture of macho heroism, in which men save lives and women go grocery shopping and turn out babies on a regular basis. The story is this: firefighter risks his life in a fire, judging that the good of saving lives outweighs the worry and potential loss to which he‚s subjecting his family. Take that and repeat six or seven times, and you've got your movie. That's it.

None of the characters change or demonstrate any complexity, the plot doesn't crescendo or keep you in suspense. In fact, the most visually striking scene, the one you see in the trailers of the 20-story building blazing away in the night, is the first scene of the movie. It's The Big Fire, the one in which our protagonist eventually dies, but not before he has an interminable series of flashbacks about his life as a firefighter. I hope the wife got a good widow's pension, because I don't think she'd be able to raise those two little kids on her pre-marriage job as an assistant jewelry maker.


No, not the 2000 remake with Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser. Rather, the original 1967 movie, with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Cook also wrote the screenplay from a story by him and Moore). I haven't seen the 2000 version, but the original is a fabulous film--very funny, and with great performances by Moore and Cook (especially Cook). The film is directed by Stanley Donen, a name I should have remembered as the director of 'Charade.' The movie features a very odd performance by Raquel Welch as 'Lust.' Maybe she thought she was in a Tennesee Williams play? I dunno.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Requiem for a Dream

Uh… What just happened? This is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen in a while. I’m so not shooting diacetylmorphine anytime soon. But wait there’s more, for any of you that have participated in selling diet pills, for shame, she total loses her noodle. Ok back on track, holly crap, this is a dark movie full of pain, drugs, physical, mental and moral decay. On one hand you have the junkies, wait no on both hands you have the junkies. In one its heroin and the other its prescription diet pills. Sprinkle in a little aging and forgotten fixed income female looking for something to live for, a couple of dope fiends, a little rich girl determine to never see her parents again and a whole lot of suffering, some dark humor that pokes up here and there and you’ve got this movie and its all yours for the unbelievably low price of 3 easy to make payment of $29.95. Sorry, if you see the movie tell me if I was total wasting my time on that last long butchered sentence. The DVD menu is so fresh, it’s a bitch how it's put together, but it’s there to confuse you; get you into a state of mind to see this freak of a movie. I’ll watch it again.

Children of God

Hopefully, I'm not breaking any laws by quoting:

That reminds me of that Trantham boy had them oldtimey oxes over at the fair here a year or two back. They sulled up on him and wouldn't go till finally he took and built a fire underneath em. The old oxes looked down and seen it and took about five steps and quit again. Trantham boy looked and there set the fire directly in under his wagon. He hollered and crawled up under the wagon and commenced a beatin at the fire with his hat and about that time them old oxes took off again...

When I read this passage from Cormac McCarthy's Child of God I somehow was reminded of the election, and the somewhat halting, stupid pace of our society. Perhaps because it was not long after the election. I remember I read the passage while waiting for some movie to begin; which one I forget, (if I sat here and thought about it for 5 minutes or so I might remember...). Maybe it was that Sky Captain movie... Oh, at least 6, 7 or 8 weeks ago...

This was a book of many white spaces; blank pages between sub-books; blank half-pages between chapters; widths between the lines. And relatively short; just under 200 pages. I was making no progress until last weekend when I forced myself to sit down and read for an hour. Bang! 50 Pages. I had about 44 left going into yesterday, and bang! hammered those out. Now I get to move on, like those (for Kelly) fucking oxes...

Perhaps, I should add that this was not a book about some guy drivin' oxes. For a good part of it I didn't really have a clue. A little mesmerized by Cormac's language. And just now, looking for the above passage, noticing things I hadn't noticed the first time around, maybe I should read it again... but no, it was about Lester Ballard, hillbilly knucklehead, who stumbles upon necrophilia, which leads him down the bloody road of serial killer. That was pretty much it. Ends up in a looney bin.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Tigers Have Spoken

Okay, so add 'music' to some of the stuff this web log covers. I recently purchased Neko Case's new record 'The Tigers Have Spoken,' and it's fantastic. Well, the first half of it is fantastic; the second half is just good. Case is a alt-country singer, mostly, and her voice is something like Loretta Lynn's, with less roughness. Her records have been on my 'should get one' list for a long time, but I just never got around to it. My, what a mistake that was. The link in the title of this post will take you to one of the record labels Case is associated with, where you can purchase 'Tigers' and some of Case's earlier records. She is also featured in the pop (not country) group the New Pornographers, whose records I also recommend if you like catchy pop songs.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Mike Hodges & The Morons

For those who want to know the real Mike Hodges, check out Morons From Outer Space. Though this movie seems really stupid for the first 20 or 30 minutes (and it really, really is), there's something about a door falling off of a spaceship that had me rolling on the floor. Yes, they are morons so don't expect stinging wit, just sheer stupidity, as this film, my friend, is the definition of moronic.

The Incredibles & Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Remember when the future was really high-tech and filled with all kinds of adventure? Alas, the future these days is more like an amplified present, like in the shopping malls, suburban houses and personalized adverts of Minority Report. These days the past is where the action is--and all the cool machines, too. The animated Incredibles re-animate their dullsville c. 1960s suburban existence by reasserting their white middle-class specialness (as a family, of course) to defeat the evil machines of a problem-child genius, who wants to use technology to make everyone equally special (oh, the nerve!). Going further back in time, the seemingly omnipresent Jude Law has himself partly animated as Sky Captain, a 1930s hero complete with airships, a blonde lady journalist as love interest, and a boyish techno-wiz sidekick. Together they battle the energy-hungry robots of a proto-Nazi mad scientist, whose machines may eventually destroy the world. Both of these movies were enjoyable to watch--I especially liked Sky Captain's comic-book 1930s world, though the overlaid computer animation sometimes just seemed like a whole lot of Vaseline smeared on the lens. My enjoyment was tempered, however, by the intrusion of present-day politics into my viewing of these yester-year fantasy worlds. Partly this was the result of seeing both films shortly before the Nov. 2 presidential election, when politics of the most frustrating kind was as omnipresent as Jude Law. But both films featured battles against a fearsome and mysterious enemy, who seemingly could strike with impunity almost any where, at any time. Protection against this terrorist-like malevolence was provided, in the 1960s, by a white middle-class family that just doesn't seem to fit in amidst their bureaucratic, lawyer-and-government-dominated world that tries to make everyone the same. In the 1930s, our hero patches together a coalition of the willing (US and Britain) to invade and disarm the weapon of mass destruction (set to destroy the world for no apparent reason) secreted away on a hidden island by a scientist from old Europe. Hmmm... Okay, maybe I'm reading too much into these movies. But given the current world situation, is it any wonder that the past seems a lot more exciting than the future?