Thursday, July 31, 2008

Baseball Post Manny

Well - Manny Ramirez is no longer with the Red Sox. Traded to LA - with Andy LaRoche from LA, and Brandon Moss and Craig Hanson going to Pittsburgh. The sox had to give up a lot right there - but on balance, I like the deal. Manny's problems are well documented - though even on the field, I don't think it's a bad deal. He's not the hitter he used to be - he's still very good - about the same as Drew or Youkilis, or Jason Bay... he was a good deal more than that in his prime. But now - he hits like Drew or Youk or Lowell - but he doesn't bring their defense. And the odds are, he's not going to suddenly morph into his 2004-5-6 form again - he should maintain what he's doing - but that's all... And Bay gives them that - and Bay should play better defense... and costs a third as much.... This is what they would have had to do at the end of the year - find someone to replace Ramirez. So I'll take this deal.

As for the other teams involved? The Dodgers get a real hitter - can't be bad, at least as long as they know enough to sit Pierre. The Bucs? LaRoche was supposed to be ready this year, but got hurt; Hanson hasn't figured it out yet, but will probably have some decent years eventually - though who cares? Moss - provably won't do too much,but has the potential to be a solid major leaguer, I think. Though only LaRoche is good enough to maybe be as good as Bay...

Meanwhile - an even better player, though even more washed up, got traded - Ken Griffey heads t the south side of Chicago, where he is supposed to play center field. That doesn't sound wise - but if he can do anything, that could give them a boost... I mean - I still play center field once in a while, and I'm almost as old and crippled as Griffey...

Anyway - it is exciting. Some nice pennant races shaping up - in the AL East and central, all the NL divisions, though the west, even with Manny around, is a sad sad thing...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Links July 30

Being completely lazy and without discipline, and trying to work out the best way to use Newsfire (since it rather messes up my favored Save-It-For-Later device, the Shared Google page), I shall have recourse to a links roundup. Of course as usual, this takes as long as a real post would have....

Budd Boetticher's Seminole DVD - Glenn Kenny, at the Auteur's Notebook.

Watching silent movies online, from The Bioscope.

David Cairns explores the horror of Sea Monkeys.

TCM's blog examines Written on the Wind.

Grand hotel Screenshots at Sixmartinis and the Seventh Art.

And a Rug Rats Blogathon, I just found.

In other news, Orson Scott Card is crazy.

Pacze Moj writes about the Olympics, politics, and money.

And oh yeah - new Tor site, with an all star cast.

Finally - and anticipating a real post here, I hope -Dennis Lim's history of the fight scene in Slate is getting a lot of attention. For example - Glenn Kenny - Screengrab - David Cohen at Anne Thompson's Variety blog - to pick three I remembered to bookmark.

Lawyers, Guns and Money, meanwhile, takes on both Lim's fight post, and A.O. Scott's dismissal of the superhero film. Putting the two together like that reminds me: Lim's big How To Stage A Fight Scene example - Oldboy - IS a superhero film. At least as much as any Batman is.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Youssef Chahine

I just want to adda note about the passing of Youssef Chahine, the great Egyptian director. I've seen a handful of his films, and heard him speak once, promoting Al-Massir, his Averroes musical. The best of his films, for my money, was Alexandria, Why? - an autobiographical/national epic told in a breakneck style - there are swarms of characters, representing the cultural richness of Egypt (though some of it about to be lost): the main (autobiographical) character, Yehia, and his family; a Jewish family, with a daughter who loves a communist; a pair of bumbling Egyptian nationalists; an evil rich man and his more decent son; a decadent aristocrat who falls in love with a British soldier he kidnaps; a petty crook - and mobs of people around these, people who keep popping in out of nowhere and taking surprisingly substantial places in the story, all of a sudden.... Chahine tells his stories fast, getting a wealth of incident and plot into a short amount of time, and does it in many registers - melodrama, politics, musical numbers, love scenes, intercut documentary footage, etc. It's a great film, and not the only great film he did.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kurosawa Blogathon (etc)

Since I jumped the gun by a week, it's probably no surprise to learn how excited I am to see the Kiyoshi Kurosawa blogathon up and running at the Evening Class.

Also, the X-Files blogathon at South Dakota Dark is running another day.

Meanwhile - one of the ongoing threads in online writing about the film world is the continued hand wringing about the fate of critics: Philip Lopate weighs in at Film in Focus.

And another, from Nathaniel Rogers. This article also joins the ongoing debate over the Dark Knight (the "cons" are starting to gain on the "pros", I think), and contributes to a Dangerous Trend - St. John of the Cross Puns!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Retribution

Today is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's birthday - an excellent excuse to post about him. It helps that I have had Retribution out from Neflix for a while, putting off watching it until I would have the time to do justice to it, maybe even write about it.

This is about Retribution. It’s a ghost story (which kind of spoils it, though not really, since it doesn't waste much time before turning fantastic.) Koji Yakusho plays a cop investigating the murder of a woman, drowned in salt water. He starts finding clues that he was the criminal - he thinks he can’t be, but for some reason he can’t shake the feeling. Then he starts dreaming and seeing ghosts... The story will be familiar to J-horror fans, and Kurosawa fans - vengeful female ghosts, mystical serial killers. It plays a bit like Cure for a while (complete with sinister madhouses), before sliding toward a more conventional J-Horror ghost story - but Kurosawa makes it unmistakably his own, bringing a characteristic intense sadness to his apocalypses. Its a beautiful film, moving, and thrilling to look at.

I want to pull out one stylistic device Kurosawa uses heavily in the film. He has a tendency to film characters in murk or from behind, and bring them into the light, or a clearer shot - as this shot, Yoshioka seen through a plastic screen:

But even when they are not obscured - he very frequently composes shots to put the characters in a darker, more shadowy foreground, with a bright, intrusive light source in the background - usually a door or a window, or something leading out of the space of the shot.

This shot of the police station (repeated a couple times in the film):

Or the first shot of the ferry, again using the dark foreground, bright background:

And almost every shot in Yoshioka’s house has some variation on this. His introduction, being awakened by an earthquake - all fairly shadowy, noirish, but with two bright windows puncturing the background:

A dinner scene, with recessive openings leading to a bright window, almost threatening in the background:

These compositions quickly take on thematic, dramatic force - Kurosawa withholds what they signify at first, but it’s hard to see these shots and not know something isn’t quite what it seems right now.

Harue leaving:

Harue commenting on the neighborhood - full of screening effects, plus the lighting in the background:

All of which pays off in the end. Kurosawa sets up the pattern and carries it through - those background lights keep haunting the shots, as much as the ghosts do. In the madhouse, Yoshioka moves through darkness, with slashes of lights cutting the background, before finding what he was looking for - with a nice visual rhyme to the earlier shots of Harue, as well:

All that, while maintaining the tightrope between uncanny and marvelous, that Kurosawa usually walks. How much of all of this is in Yoshioka’s head?

And how much in the world?

(Or - )

But through it all - Harue's story, while always seeming to be in the background, carries the most weight - and is given the most weight, by Kurosawa's camera (not to mention the last word, which I am not going to include, in a belated and feeble gesture at not "spoiling" anything.) But these shots - one of the couple together, one of the couple parting - seem to me to be the center of the film. Both come before the real plot of the film has been revealed - but they show everything....

Harue in the light:

Harue leaving:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Weekly Post

This is getting awful. I am back on my summer schedule, lucky to post once a week... I don't know. I can blame vacations or the heat or watching the Red Sox or playing softball, but who knows...

All right: keep a toe in until I get some energy back.... The Film of the Month Club has moved on to its new film: The Fireman's Ball. I look forward to this - Czech new wave is one of those things I have never really explored - in fact, I don't know if I have explored it at all... This is a perfect excuse. Assuming I can muster the energy to sit down in front of the TV and watch a movie...

There are other blogathons going on, coming, or just concluded - check out the blogathon page to the right. The one I'm itching for is Maya's Kiyoshi Kurosawa blogathon (mentioned down at the bottom of this post) coming on the 19th. That's coming up fast: if Im going to show some life it had better be quick.

The year is halfway through: I should make a list or something... the year so far. Others have. Maybe I should make a list of the films that have played in Boston, possibly for the only time in years - that I was too lazy to go to? Boarding Gate? Chaotic Ana? God - how can I face myself?

The best I have seen? Quite a few of this year's releases made it onto last year's retrospective lists - so this is only since the last list post. 2008 releases, best since May:

1. Edge of Heaven
2. My Winnipeg
3. Chop Shop
4. Up the Yangtze
5. Gonzo: Life and Works of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
6. Speed Racer
7. Operation Filmmaker
8. Monkey Warfare
9. All For Free
10. The Tracey Fragments

Heavy on the documentaries and Canadians, as usual this time of year. I have to write some of these up, if I ever get the energy to sit in front of the computer for a couple hours... Right.

And music? Haven't been buying a lot of stuff, down from usual. But some recent good stuff... new Beck record (Modern Guilt) sounds pretty good, though I just got it... And the Melvins have a new one out - I've been listening to the Melvins a lot lately. Working backwards from Boris, I guess you'd say. New one is called Nude with Boots... And I've been digging up Mark Stewart records when I can - Edit, the new one, is pretty interesting. And Sigur Rus - who in the last couple years have become one of my favorites. Haven't quite gotten into this one yet, but they usually come... Still - overall, I haven't been buying that many records this year: the best all year are probably the Earth record (Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull) - with Bill Frisell! and the latest Nick Cave (Dig, Lazarus, Dig!)

All this of course is an excuse to post a video - easy material! Let's use live Earth - Engine of Ruin. Another beautiful song...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Summertime Links

Yes, it's high summer, with its holidays and vacations and heat and softball games (and attendant aches and pains, for I have become old), and so there's not much blogging being done here. There's plenty going on elsewhere though - so here are some links:

First - a couple blogathons: Culture Snob's Self-involvement blogathon starts today. I quote: "Most film writing is movies filtered through the self; I want the self filtered through movies.”

At the Valve, John Holbo is hosting discussions on Douglas Wolk's book, Reading Comics. A first day round up here.

And though it was scheduled to finish on July 3, there are still posts coming in related to the New York films blogathon at 12 Grand in Checking. This one, for example, from the Self-Styled Siren.

Meanwhile: the midyear roundups are starting to appear - multiparter at Fin de Cinema, starting here. And Larry Aydlette sketches the first half of the year in several media. I may join that party one of these days...

And - another obituary: Bruce Conner has died. GreenCine, Ray Pride round up links and notes.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Even Happier Independence Day

Meanwhile - The Feelies are back on their holiday schedule, more or less - what could be better?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day

It's summer vacation time, so, you can see the rate of posting... but I can pop in long enough to note the passing of someone who did more than his share to piss on the legacy of this holiday - Jesse Helms. Don't speak ill of the dead, yeah yeah yeah... easier said than done - he worked to make the country a worse place for decades. What am I supposed to say? People like Helms should not be part of our public life. Just being reminded that he was alive is a downer...

Anyway, to help you cheer up - let's let Galaxie 500 get the last word - happy fourth of July!