...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Movie in a Minute (x4)

Let me take you for a quick spin around the four visually intense (intensely visual?) films that I've watched recently:

Thief of Baghdad -- Up to the minute and thought-provoking, this story about George W. Bush......okay, okay, sit down, it was a joke.

Okay, this 1940 Technicolor Arabian Night adventure story is available on DVD with a vibrant transfer thanks to the wonderful magical Criterion Nerds. Not only that, it has a commentary courtesy of Coppola and Scorsese! Marty says that the viewer has to just lose himself in the picture in order to truly appreciate it, apparently overlooking any filmmaking weaknesses. Though that's entirely true, giving your heart over to a film is lovely, there's also an edge to what he says since it seems to criticize those of us who titter at some of the dated silliness.

Look, I get it. It's admirable to make a picture full of youth and void of irony. But when you have one of the best villains, Jaffar (played with bravura by Conrad Veidt), in cinema history, you cannot have your Prince Ahmed played skinny, boring, fey, and with smears of purple eye shadow. Technically young Abu (played by Sabu) is the real hero, but when the lovers (not Ahmed and Abu, technically) don't even register in Technicolor, how is that a strength? And when a hero is stranded in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles away from saving the day, it is never acceptable for a screenwriter to suddenly send him inexplicably to The Magical Land Where Anything Can Happen in order to finish the story. That's called cheating.

Pierrot Le Fou -- I have had a 10-year struggle with Godard that I'm trying to unwind and deconstruct. It shall rear it's head in many future postings. You can count on that. Now that time has passed I'm taking in his cinema again, not because I'm supposed to like it, but because I'm trying to find some sort of armistice here. Pierrot Le Fou has all of the stuff I love and hate about Godard.

There is no other director who loves the potential of the moving image like Godard or at least there is no other director who chased that potential to the edge of the medium like he. And Pierrot Le Fou is full of so much cinematic love and excitement. (Anna Karina co-stars and that is OK in my book, cinematically, whatever.) The early party sequence where everyone's dialogue has been reduced to regurgitating commercials......I love it, can someone just steal (pay homage) to that every year? It wouldn't be original but it would be true and false at the same time.

But amidst dabbling in painting, poetry, and fracturing all of storytelling rules, Godard's self-obsessed "characters" vomit out communist propaganda, loaded with chunks of anarchy. Sound like his Weekend? Though I agree with most of it, it comes off so proud, smug, and self-important that I almost turn into a capitalist. For a moment. But the image on screen is brilliant. And I see how he chose the opposite direction that Dylan took. Godard believes that the artist can or must be political, because if art can free your soul shouldn't it fight the forces that try to snuff out the spirit? I don't know, but 9 out 10 times it's so obnoxious that I disagree with him even though I agree with him. But 10% of the time......

There's this one scene where the two main characters put on a play about the Vietnam conflict. They stand there face to face screaming gibberish at each other. And I thought to myself, "Two individuals in costume screaming nonsense back and forth until it becomes absurd. This is War, is it not?"

So I guess Godard wins this round.

Southland Tales -- This is our generation's Dune. With its melancholy synth score, volumes of story rushed out through voice over and in-scene dialogue, heavy handed New Testament references, and stilted absurd lines delivered with the utmost monotoned severity, Southland Tales constantly reminded me of Lynch's take on Herbert's sci-fi tale. But I kinda like Dune. There's something about its moody somnambulism that I always remember wistfully.

I'm not saying that Southland is bad. Rich Kelly seems to take the impatient chili-making approach to filmmaking -- throw a bunch of ingredients into the pot and keep playing with them hoping that the end result is...well...chili.

I am glad he made this movie and I hope that he gets financial backing to continue his unusual career. He certainly got a fine performance out of his lead. Dwayne Johnson (yes, The Rock) has a great screen presence, not just because he's totally yoked, but he's got a great voice, expressive face, and is comfortable with self-parody.

If you do see this epic Venice Beach-filmed movie-thing, let me know what your favorite scenes are. My two favorites are the dancing sequences. Yeah, dancing. It was this close to being a musical about the apocalypse. How about a sequel?

Shortbus -- I'll keep this one brief. It took more courage to make this than any of the above films. John Cameron Mitchell (the brilliant sprite who made the electric Hedwig & the Angry Inch) and his co-writing cast put everything out there. And I do mean everything. Recently European filmmakers have been putting real sex on screen more often, but these films have been negative and depressing. Mitchell wanted to throw unsimulated everything up there for us to see without making us hate being human. To me, he succeeds. Do I recommend this? Well, if the thought of one man singing the Star Spangled Banner into the arsehole of another man while in the act of love strikes you as offensive or nauseating, then this is not for you.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Air Marshall Carlin

(When writing this column, I have refrained from using language that would make this site more than G-rated. This was not to censor, but rather a challenge to reach for other words to fulfill my thoughts and feelings. In this post in honor of GC, fuck it.)

As I'm sure most of you have read or seen, Sensei Carlin left us last Sunday. At St. John's Hospital, his heart stopped and his soul rejoined the river of the universe. It is likely that he would have found this outpouring of attention from major media outlets very funny. They have obviously never listened to anything he has said.

But I have listened. And it wasn't his humor that affected me. It was his mind. He, possibly more than anyone else, helped structure my very thought process in the years between my bar mitzvah and my high school graduation. I didn't quite realize this until I listened to his Jammin' in New York album this week. For four years I must have parroted the first 30 minutes of that album. The best that I feel like I can do right now to honor him is to provide recap his wisdom from this album. (ALSO, if you've never heard or read his Baseball versus Football mediation, it's here.)

He boils down warfare (especially the previous Iraq "War") to a bunch of phallic thrusting brought about by insecure masculinity:

"You don't have to be an historian or political scientist to see The Bigger Dick Foreign Policy theory at work. It sounds like this: 'What? They have bigger dicks? Bomb them!' And of course all of the bombs and the rockets and the bullets are all shaped like dicks. It's a subconscious need to project the penis into other people's affairs. It's called fucking with people!"

He analyzes (read: thrashes and demolishes) the abuse of language -- how we misuse or add words to make something sound more important when it isn't. This rant boils down to the punchline:

"You know what I tell these people. Go pre-suck my genital situation! And they seem to know what I'm talking about."

He riffs on the bizarro-speak that airlines use:

"Please check around your immediate seating area......SEAT! It's a goddamn seat. Check around your seat."

"...for any personal belongings.....what other kind of belongings are there besides personal? Public belongings? Do these people honestly think I might be travelling with the fountain I stole from the park?"

"...you might have brought on board......well, I might have brought my arrowhead collection. I didn't. So I'm not going to look for it! I'm going to look for things I brought on board. It would seem to enhance the likelihood of me finding something, wouldn't you say?"

"And who made this man a "captain", may I ask? Did I sleep through some sort of armed forces swearing in ceremony or something? Captain? He's a fucking pilot and let him be happy with that. If those sightseeing announcements are any mark of his intellect he's lucky to be working at all. Tell the Captain that Air Marshall Carlin says, Go Fuck Yourself."

And my favorite: "Get on the plane. Get on the plane. Fuck you, I'm getting in the plane."

He takes a multitude of stabs at American values. Here's a joke that I've used a dozen times, always crediting its source:

"Beverly Hills has a brand new restaurant specifically for bulimia victims. It's called the Scarf and Barf. Well they were going to call it The Fork and Bucket. Thank God better taste prevailed."

Towards the end of this second half of the show, he drifts away from standup and goes after conservatives, liberals, business people, environmentalists, religion, and plastic bags.

"Besides there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The people are fucked."

"The planet isn't going anywhere. We are. We're goin' away. Pack your shit, folks. We're going away......just another failed mutation......the planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas."

He progressively loses his inebriated audience until there isn't much laughter. He seems to be in some sort of vitriolic trance. And while I may agree with about half of what he says, it's exhilarating. And he ends with the following:

"I think we're part of a greater wisdom than we'll ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. You know what I call it? The Big Electron. It doesn't punish. It doesn't reward. It doesn't judge at all it. It just is. And so are we. For a little while."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Food & Sports

I have the crib to myself this week. Cooking for one is not much fun, though cooking for two is the thing to do.

I whipped up some really swell Mahi Mahi (the dolphin fish so nice, they had to name it twice) Tacos. They're so swell that if I can find someone else (Kristen) who will like them then I'll share the procedure.

Strange week in sports. Golf was exciting and basketball was bo-ring. I like to watch golf on TV, but I've noticed that if Tiger Woods isn't playing, my golf attention span drops from two hours to five minutes. As for the b-ball finals, our LA radio stations overhyped the matchup so much that I didn't even listen to it on the radio. If that doesn't sound extreme consider that I listened to parts of 40+ regular season Laker games and most of the playoff games. And I don't even like the Lakers. Traffic is Hell.

To me, though Tiger and Kobe are the best at their respective sports, I have different viewing relationships with them. Kobe is SportsCenter good. His skills are best viewed as a 30-60 second highlight reel on ESPN. But Tiger is a thrill to watch live. There's always the sense that something miraculous is going to happen at any moment. Example: Woods beating every single professional golfer at the US Open...while he had only one functioning leg. His playoff against Rocco was better than any sports movie, ever. Thank you USOpen.com for streaming that. Yet when Kobe dropped 81 points on Toronto, it made for a perfect SportsCenter segment. I could watch the highlights for a couple minutes and didn't feel like I missed a thing.

The Yankees won last night, but The Farns did his darnedest to prevent that from happening. I am rooting for Joba Chamberlain to make a successful transition to starter, but here's the problem......there's no Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen to save his arse once he throws too many pitches.

My favorite Yankee right now is The 'Stache. Not the guy wearing The 'Stache, but The 'Stache itself. It seems to have magic powers. With it, a seemingly washed up player suddenly plays like he's 10 years younger and on the juice. But 'Roids ain't got nothing on The 'Stache. Go The 'Stache Go! Put the team on your hairy shoulders and carry them through October! My second favorite Yankee remains Jorge Posada's Batting Without Batting Gloves. That's right. That is so manly that I will refrain from going into further description.

On a side note: Moises Alou versus David Ortiz.

For those who don't know, a couple years ago Moises Alou told an interviewer that he urinates on his hands (in the shower) to toughen them up for hitting barehanded during games. There was a large "Ewww Gross" backlash that followed against him and it's still a running joke. I think that's silly. Pee is largely bacteria-free and 90-95% water. What a guy does in his shower is his business, plus it's not like he was pissing on his hands in the on deck circle. Though that would be awesome if he did that once. Plus he's a great hitter when he isn't screwing up his legs. Maybe he should wee on his knee once in a while too.

Then there's David Ortiz. Largely regarded as an absolute saint, the man spits a loog on his batting gloves and rubs them together before every at bat. THAT is disgusting. He might as well just spit right on the dugout boy 5 times a game. And no high-fives. D.O. is that to help grip the bat better? Why don't you just blow a snot rocket into your spikes to help grip the dirt on your home run trots?

Whoa, totally slackin'

The pause between posts has been much too long. My apologies! Last night I wrote a post so massive and without pictures, that I'm going to have to hack it in two and fix it up today. So there should be two posts -- Sports & Food and Music & Movies -- coming up soon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

La Question humaine

Last week was strange and I thought I'd drop a small note about it here in case I can't get another entry in this week.

I have not kept secret the fact that my job is 50 hours a week of soul-suffocating insanity. I was beginning to pull together the first of several emails preparing coworkers for my eventual voluntary departure. Sort of a heads-up that the following things are broken and make my job generally intolerable. So, I prepared to get the writer energies to serve this purpose only to arrive on Monday to find out that I was given a substantial raise. Like, wuh? Raises are almost as rare as quality TV programming at my place of employ. So, just as I came to grips with this idea on Friday, I was informed that I have credits. On TV. Real ones. On Supper Club (quality programming) on Planet Green and This is Why You're Single (dunno, at this moment) on TLC. As a Production Accountant. Incomplete sentence.

Who would have ever thought I would have gotten my first credits this way? I mean, I have Production Assistant credits on a couple of straight to video nuggets, but that's it.

I'm not really sure how to feel about any of this. I've heard myself thanking people for each thing, but it doesn't sound like my voice and it doesn't seem like my life. I don't know.


I watched a film and a movie on Saturday. First was Heartbeat Detector (La Question humaine, much better title) which, though released by the French, is a European Union film. The lead, (Mathieu Almaric) a psychologist for a European chemical corporation, is given the task of investigating the CEO whom the board thinks has lost his mind. The film goes completely into the dark reaches of the EU soul after that. The loudest theme in the film is about the dehumanization of language, how we create ways of speaking to legitimize our actions. Then this very language robs us of our humanity once we put it into use. The language of present-day corporations are paralleled with the verbiage used by the Nazis in the step by step assembly of the Final Solution. There are times in the film when the two are combined and one doesn't know where the corporate words begin and Himmler's instructions end. It is horrifying. The film's intensity forces it to leave behind the plot 2/3s of the way through, then eventually abandons all imagery for blackness and a voice speaking fractured prose.

Then, five hours later I watched Sex and the City. The polar opposite, if you will. I will not be too harsh on the movie or Sarah JP. But stylized television acting does not translate to the very big screen. The result is two-and-a-half hours of ACTING. Shatner would be proud. Otherwise there's not nearly enough sex and the male characters are pushed to the far periphery. It could have also used some more of the series' humor. Though I was never able to entirely relate to series' characters, I did admire the unique voice and humor that lived in each episode. I feel it was all abbreviated to squeeze a half season's worth of story into a single 2.5 hour feature. Aside from that, the film wasn't designed for me, so my only true honest criticism of it can be of its tight embrace of the luxury consumer culture that I wish would just come crumbling down already.

Anyway, good Monday wishes to all! Make sure you listen to some good music this week.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The horses hit

I caught a stellar Kubrick film on Netflix's Instant Watch setup, a few days back and thought I weigh in on it briefly. The Killing -- Kubrick's first film with a real budget and a recognizable cast -- is about a bunch of small time crooks banding together to rob a racetrack. Since the Belmont Stakes runs this weekend I thought the film was sort of appropriate. Especially since the characters in the film are robbing one of the seamiest sports in existence.

Forced segue: Horse Racing needs to stop or be completely overhauled. In short, an animal is drugged and beaten so that she can, in sheer fear and terror, run in circles so that people can bet on her. And if she gets hurt in the process, she's killed on the spot. Because it has been deemed a "sport", these actions are allowed, unpunished. There is no place in our society for this sort of sport, instead we deserve a more evolved, enlightened, esoteric sport like imitation MMA.

Back to The Killing. I recommend it to everyone, especially to those who like quick tight crime dramas. At a swift 83 minutes, the story has no "good guys" just a bunch of dames and fellas trying to make a buck to better their lives and pay off their debts. Like the rest of Kubrick's films, every character is cold as ice yet fascinating in his struggle obtain what he desires. Sterling Hayden plays the leader of the group as a man who obtains respect not via threats and murder, but through laid-back confidence. Elisha Cook Jr. and Timothy Carey are just plain chilling. I miss their sort of old fashioned depiction of insanity -- though they're each quiet and still, the performances feel immense. The lighting is sparse and smart, seemingly coming from the actual sources -- lamps and windows -- in the world of the film (another practice that Kubrick played with later in his career).

But what the flick is most known for, and what stays with me the most is the tale's constantly shifting perspective. Kudos to Kubrick for one of his best scripts. At first it's jarring to see a 1956 film leap back and forth through time. Once the opening sequence finishes, we learn that this is the end of the film. Then the next scene is from the week before. Then the next scene was from 5 minutes earlier. Then the next scene was from the next day. Then the next from the previous day. But not an ounce of this is confusing and the storytelling isn't forced. It's not a stunt, it just feels like the only way the story can be spun. Add in the voiceover and it's like someone telling you about a robbery, "First they did this, then they did that, and oh wait the day before this guy did this right before his wife said that, etc." And to top it all off, the final robbery is told from the point of view of each of the main crooks while simultaneously moving forwards and backwards chronologically. And it works.

Finally, though "the killing" may refer to the all the money being stolen, the actual execution that happens may surprise you or strike of irony after this most recent Kentucky Derby.