...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lands of Questionable Cuisine

This year of transition continues...

In a few hours, I'll be off to London. On Monday, Jason and I will fly to Amsterdam where we'll stay for 3 nights. Then we'll fly back to London for the rest my trip. I return to this country on the 21st.

I expect to be online during much of this voyage. There's a rumor that the British have access to the Internet. Frightening thought, yes, but true. This means I can drop snippets of the trip right here on this blog. Due to the chance that I may be imbibing local drinks, don't expect the best grammar.

We hope to have pictures too, but probably not too many from Amsterdam that are appropriate for American public display. It's just that I hear that their coffeeshops have really good coffee.

Also, photography is not allowed in the Red Light District -- not to be confused with the Blue Light District, which is the clearance aisle at K-Mart.

Sorry. There's a good joke to be had, but that wasn't it.

For those readers who have been to L-town and A-dam and have tips for good travel and good times, please DO share either here or in an email. Don't worry, no suggestion is too base for me, except maybe spending $25 on fish and chips.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

This is NOT my quote

A quick note about the NCAA Championship game. Memphis head coach, John Calipari said the following on Jim Rome's radio show:

"You have a bucket of poop and a bucket of ice cream. You can put all the ice cream you want into the bucket of poop and it is still a bucket of poop. But if you put a scoop of poop in a bucket of ice cream, it's now a bucket of poop. So don't be the poop in our ice cream, my friend."

Did a grown man, who is not me, actually come up with that metaphor and say it on the air? Does that motivate people?

Well, apparently his team couldn't hit a bucket of poop from the freethrow line and thus lost the game. Congrats, Coach. That's what you get for screwing up my bracket and publicizing that crappy analogy.

All Through the Night (1941)
(released a week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor)

One of the first things that one's taught in film school is to ignore the filmmaker's intent when analyzing a movie. I state this here, because I have no idea what the filmmaker's intent was when crafting this uneven bizarre bite of anti-Nazi propaganda.

Vince Sherman seems to have a dream cast -- Bogart, Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Jackie Gleason, and Phil Silvers -- but instead of using it well, the film relies on batches of stereotypes (cowboys, blacks, Irish, Germans, mothers, etc.) to tell a story with a clear plot but confused head.

Veidt and Lorre are rather refreshing as Nazi spies, since the actors emote in German and English equally well. Plus they have the only believable accents. Bogie plays a bit of a dope and does a refreshingly good job. Phil Silvers in an early role is painfully unfunny, but a young Jackie Gleason holds a relaxed welcoming screen presence.

Ignoring whatever the potential inent may have been, the movie bespeaks the following themes: American criminals are patriotic redeemable louts while Germans are just louts. Cops are funny because they're inept. And you should fear a terrorist attack on American soil.**

The premise is basic -- A bunch of gamblers and thugs team up to stop Nazi terrorism in the US, with the help of a mysterious woman trying to save her parents' lives -- but the film never settles on a consistent tone. It slips slapstick between executions, so tension is never successfully developed. Thus the climax falls flat when Bogie infiltrates the Nazi meeting and everyone is played for an idiot. It fizzles when it should sizzle.

Kaaren Verne, as the female lead, embodies the main problem with the film in her dull, strange performance. At first I thought she was trying another of the film's bad accents, until I realized that she had at least one speech impediment. This is exploited during the obligatory nightclub music scene where she (a singer of course) bursts into songs full of 'L's and 'R's that she can't possibly pronounce -- Aw fwoo fa noiwt wif you. The horrible urge to laugh can't be denied since the movie has been directed comical thus far. But she and the band play it straight. One has to wonder, in an age when cross-eyed people were still played for laughs in movies, how's an audience supposed to react when an impeded person has to verbally walk on tacks through torch songs?

Is this a parody on other films' scenes of lovely ladies crooning in clubs? The lyrics of the songs (by Johnny Mercer) are neither funny nor full of corn. It's all played straight. Yet it is undeniably unusual. And one feels as if her speech problem is being played for laughs.

In the end this exemplifies how the movie's final tonal unevenness rings false. When Gloves the Gambler slips and falls, its a gag. When the Kaaren's father dies in Dachau, it's a......plot point?

** -- related sentence included in order to have this site appear on more Google searches

Saturday, April 5, 2008

This is Our Country

Enough of the contemplative personal stuff. Back to the sexy, sexy cinema.

This was a rental that I was looking forward to for some time. I greeted it with a generous glass of scotch (Glenmorangie's Sherry Barrel). At the end of the first act it was joined with a second smaller glass. About a half hour later I realized that scotch was the wrong drink. This was a Western. I needed American Beer. Luckily I had a 24oz. can of something that I drink not for the flavor.

My expectations were set low. There was the unfortunate Oscar-winner backlash that seems involuntary to many of us each year. Additionally, there's the strange post-Lebowski slump in which the Coen brothers have been mired. I didn't even see their previous two films, such was their decline. Finally No Country is a Western.

I HATE Westerns. Yes, it is the one pure American film genre. But historically they've always embraced with two sunburned arms their racist, ignorant, male stereotypes. Stubborn ignorance is not manly, it is childish. I used to blame Hemmingway alone for screwing up two generations of men. But no more. Now it's Hemmingway and Wayne. John W may have cut an impressive shadow, but he was a cancerous, xenophobic, occasionally anti-Semitic, misogynist whose line delivery was mind-numbing. Think Paris Hilton, without the irony and sex tapes.

Of Westerns that I like, they number four: Once Upon A Time in the West, Good Bad and the Ugly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Wild Bunch. And of the previous generation of films, I appreciate Red River, Stagecoach, and The Searchers. That's it.

But these concerns of mine were unwarranted. No Country is an excellent film. A Western that works. Arguably the best of the Coen's serious films.

It's sort of an anti-Fargo. Fargo never sat well with me due to the direction of the actors. Their quirky local accents were exploited to make all (except Frances McDormand's) characters appear simple and dopey. The film felt condescending to its characters from start to finish.

No Country does not have this issue. In fact the dialogue is very sparse for a Coen film. The accents feel organic to the characters, locations, and scenes.

Though Tommy Lee Jones could play his Sheriff in his sleep, his delivery of the devastatingly written final monologue defines the film for me. It's still chill-inducing two weeks later. Makes one rethink his character and the plot.

Javy Bardem is Fate as played by Anton Chigur. The character is brutal because there are no answers to the questions behind his actions. The performance is unnerving.

Josh Brolin's performance as Llewelyn Moss is the most surprising. Excellent in the lead, he's a quiet focused force (again, rare for Coen films). Though he is often alone in large empty widescreen sequences, he seems to guide the forward momentum of the story on his own.

But the real star of the show is America. From the barren West Texas plains, to roadside murder motels, to country diners with dollar coffee, to the road, it's as if this country holds the blood of its violence in its hands until it's dried by the sun.

The Coens turn out their most controlled Spartan writing/producing/directing/editing job yet. It feels like the first film of theirs wherein the graphic violence has actual meaning and its consequences understood.

One's opinion of the film probably hinges on two factors, the violence and the editing. Death is around every frame of the film, so if one cannot stomach cinema blood (of men and animals) then one would best not even start this DVD. If one also prefers film endings spelled out with no ambiguity, then again, this ain't the right DVD. Because the film pulls a switcheroo, then ends with a monologue that seemingly has nothing to do with the plot, many viewers have left the movie going, "Huh?"

But I like ambiguity -- even though I think that the Sheriff's monologue has everything to do with the themes and the plot -- and I appreciate meditations on violence (I've tried to write a couple of those, myself). What I appreciate most is that the Coen men have made a Western that I like. And that's no small feat.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Kravitz finishes a marathon!

Yeah, really. At this point I have very few photos to prove that it happened. Just some cruddy camera phone pix. I'll put them up on this post.

One of my marching partners, Nick, took real quality photos and I'll post them as they arrive, later on. (UPDATE: May be able to post these today...)

Jesse, Nick, and I drank the night before. Probably not recommended. We loaded up on dried fruit at an Albertsons. Here's a pic of Jesse giving up on the automatic check out machine.

After about 3 hours of broken sleep we woke up at THREE THIRTY. Probably not recommended. Got to the base at 4:30am. The march didn't begin until 7:15. I don't remember much about the time in between. Except maybe the sunrise on the Organ Mountains that surrounded us.

We started our walk at 7:17am. There were over 5000 marchers. 90-95% of them were military. That should have been a hint. The first 1/2 was uphill. Some of the ground was paved, most wasn't. We took breaks for snacks and leaks. I swapped shoes and socks out at mile 10. And again at mile 19. It seemed as if a lot of people were not finishing, most of them being military. I am not tougher than them, I just wore more comfortable shoes. They had to march in their boots.

The toughest part was the wind. Wasn't warned about that part. Hopefully, I'll have some pics of this at some point. Having dirt blow heavy into one's face for most of 11 hours does not make the travel easier, nor make the time pass quicker. It also makes one brown from head to foot.

My $7 hat was pretty money. My worries of sunburn were unfounded as I applied sunscreen on 6 separate occasions. I held up better than I thought. Until mile 20.

Mile 20 to 22, dubbed the Sand Pit, is a cruel joke. It's not just uphill, it's UPHILL. In sand deeper than your foot. Did I mention the wind? My back gave out about then. Then my knee. Then my feet. I was on the verge of turning into a whiny child. Didn't want to do it anymore. But then I did it anyway. And then, before mile 23, the land led downward. And it was a numb mindless walk/limp to mile 25...

...when we opened up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. That was awesome. I credit Jesse with that idea. We were delirious at that point anyway. Some of the marchers shouted support. They were just thinking of that great cold beer waiting for them at the other end.

And we finished. We bought beer. It hurt to walk. We got home and collapsed on the floor. Here's one of Nick's blisters.

I got 10.5 hours of sleep. Jesse and Nick slipped in and out of consciousness over a period of 14 hours. It seems as if I got out of it with the fewest injuries and blisters -- not because I'm tougher, but because I had the lightest backpack. The balls of my feet are bruised, but recovering. It still feels like I have dirt in my lungs.

And just to be funny, I went to the gym this morning.