Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Baseball Playoffs

Ah, baseball. Last year I jumped the gun, starting my post-season picks before I knew who was really in the post-season. This year, have been holding off - but they're still at it! make up games and playoffs - Lord! Well, I have to do it - I won't have time tomorrow, and the games will start tomorrow, and - all right! Here goes! predictions and everything!

AL 1: ANAHEIM over Boston: if I had to bet... I'll say what I said last year: the winner of this series should win it all. My rooting interest is Boston, of course, but with Beckett up in the air, and Lowell and Drew iffy, the advantage has to go to the halos. Last year, I underestimated the Angels' injuries - with Anderson and Vlad off their game, they weren't going anywhere. The Sox, I think, are in better shape than that - but without Beckett, they are a very long shot. The news is good, on Beckett, though - and Lester is the real deal; Dice-K - you tell me. He seems unhittable when his head is in it - if that translates to the post-season, and Beckett pitches, the Sox could be in good shape here. But for all that - California (I promise to refer to them by every name they've had in the last 50 years) was a good team last year, and even better this year - deep rotation, deep bullpen, and deeper lineup, along with better players at the top - Vlad is off, but lesser Vlad is still pretty damned good (like lesser David Ortiz) but Texeira is playing like he means it. So -good series, Angels have the advantage, but the Sox are in the thick of it - and, I say again - the winner of this should win it all.

AL 2: TAMPA BAY over AL Central Champ: why not? The Rays have deep pitching, a nice, balanced lineup, they've been winning big games all month - neither of the Central teams are perfect, though both have merits. The Twins have a sneaky good offense, solid pitching - the White Sox good pitching, lots of pop in the lineup - can't catch a ball which could kill them in a tight series, against teams that do catch the ball. So Tampa, I say. Setting up a heck of a second round.

NL 1: CHICAGO over LA: this is the logical pick - Cubs have good starting pitching, okay bullpen, tons of offense - while LA dragged to a barely over .500 finish. BUt they too have a great rotation, deep bullpen - and freaking Manny, playing like it's 1999. So the Dodgers could steal it - or disappear - who knows. Cubs have to be the favorites here - but don't rule the Dodgers out.

NL 2: PHILLIES over Milwaukee - I guess. Brewers had to run themselves to the edge to get there - Sabathia pitching every day for a month, it seems - and I'm not sure what they can do now. Phillies came on strong - failed to maintain the longest stretch of 80s win seasons ever by getting to 92 - they have better starters than it looks, with Moyer and Hamels and Myers (before those last 2 starts: holy crap!), and decent relief pitching, and they Can Hit. So - I expect - Phillies win. Though won't be shocked if I'm wrong.

Second round: Angels (or Sox) over Tampa; good god - I'm in position to pick the Cubs to make the world series! Okay - fine: they make it. (If LA wins, they make it.) AL team wins all.

And now: let's do some end of season awards.

AL MVP: this is tough - as a homer, I should take Pedroia or Youkilis - though Mauer (batting leader, catcher) is a fine pick. In fact, there seem to be a lot of players deserving it - most of the teams in contention this year did it with balanced, deep attacks, rather than spectacular performances. So - I say Pedroia: gold glove second baseman, spark-plug for the team all year - but Youk and Mauer are excelent choices, and Morneau is a better pick this year than the year he won. (That was a disgrace.)

AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, easy.

AL Rookie: Evan Langoria - if he had made the team out of spring training and not gotten hurt he;d probably be joining Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki and MVP/ROY co-winners.

NL MVP: Pujols - the arguments are simple - he had a monster year - he kept a very mediocre team in contention. Pujols.

NL Cy Young: interesting race - most people say it comes down to wins vs. numbers, Webb vs. Lincecum - but if that's your choice: why not Santana? who had the same numbers as Lincecum, basically. The other complicating factor is that Webb in fact, had almost the same numbers as Lincecum - worse ERA, but in a better hitter's park. Lincecum had the strikeouts, but that's a glamor stat - meaningless except as a predictor of future success. So - here's the real question - if a guy leads the league in shut outs -leads both leagues in shut outs - leads the majors in IP and complete games, singlehandedly pitches his team to the playoffs: how many votes should he get for Cy Young? I'd be tempted to vote for Sabathia. BUt I think I'd actually vote for Lincecum, barely. But if Webb wins, don't let anyone tell you the voters only look at the wins. Even if it's true - he was just as good as Lincecum. WHIP is where it's at.

NL Rookie: Geovany Soto, obviously.

Onwards! Thanks to the wonders of the 1-0 pitching duel, the White Sox made the playoffs before I finished this post. Whoo hoo! Actually - crap. I wanted the Twins to win. (Yes, I picked them to finish last - so what?) The White Sox managed to be barely better than my 65-85 wins prediction, and just as unpredictable - look at the last week alone. Anyway - this doesn't change anything - Tampa should beat them anyway. I hope so. The Rays might be the Mortal Enemies of the Home Town 9, but they are also One Hell of a Story - and have armies of players I love, from Carlos Pena (of Northeastern University!) and Rocco Baldelli (pride of Rhode Island!) to Cliff Floyd (Expo!) to Scott Kazmir (oh, those poor Mets) to Grant Ball Four to scrubs making good again like Eric Hinske. So - see you in the second round, I hope! (And if the Sox fail - the Angels have always made a good fall back team.) It;s all good as long as the Dodgers lose.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Edward Yang Week 2

It's taken me all week to get around to writing anything up about the second weekend of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen films at the HFA. I would like to write more - but I am lazy... and, let's not overlook the fact that these are long, complicated, dense films: it is very hard to do do any kind of justice to them on one viewing. I just hope it is not another 10 years before I get to see Brighter Summer Day or Terroriser again. For now, though - get thoughts down in words, and out to the internet.

Brighter Summer Day is all it is cracked up to be. 4 hour film about high school kids in early 60s Taipei - they are all mixed up in gangs - there is tension between the children of mainland families and the native Taiwanese as well as between various gangs (and amongthe gangs, since they seem to fight with each other as much as their rivals.) We follow Xiao Sir, mostly, played by Chang Chen - his fights, his amours, his family, etc. He is the center of a dazzling array of stories and characters - the gang plots, with missing heroes and intrigues with girls and elaborate schemes involving rock concerts and pool sharks, are a full length movie unto themselves... But Sir's family (his father's troubles with the government and corrupt friends, his brother's gambling problems, his sisters - one a Christian, who hangs in the background until nearly the end then emerges), his friends (Cat, a tiny little kid with an ethereal voice and a tape recorder doing phonetic Elvis covers when he isn't starting fights; and Ma, a rich trouble maker who becomes Sir's best friend, but can't leave the ladies alone... ), plus all the people around them - the drunken neighbor who resents their "iron rice bowl", the teachers, the film studio next to the school, etc. - all get their due. It's an easy 4 hours to take - gorgeous looking, made with consummate skill. The problem is - its density, the number of characters, the fact that most of the characters go by nicknames in some scenes, actual names in others - and that a number of characters seem to have been deliberately set up to resemble each other (a good deal of plot turns on the fact that Ming and Jade (2 girls) look alike) - all this makes it very hard to keep track of who is who and why: by the time you figure it all out, the film is almost over. It's a film you need to see at least twice, just to know what is going on - and to appreciate the skill with which it is all handled. (Since a lot of the things that make it difficult - like the doubling of characters and names and such - are integral to what makes it work.) But good luck with that.

The Terroriser is the other Yang film I've read about - Frederic Jameson and all that. It also lived up to expectations. Its a network narrative of sort - following a doctor and his writer wife, a photographer, and Eurasian girl - they have nothing to do with one another, but, network narrative fashion, cross paths at key points. The photographer shoots the girl escaping from a police raid; the girl, locked in at home by her mother, phones people at random - she tells the writer her husband is having an affair... eventually they all come back together - maybe. It's Yang's most difficult, strange film - the Antonioni references at their strongest (bits of Blow Up, Zabriskie Point, etc.) - or Oshima. All of it placed most emphatically in the city - the streets and roofs and buildings, the flats and offices and roads of Taipei shaping the material throughout.

Confucian Confusion and Mahjong are Yang's least known, or least talked about, films: they are comedies - CC is a madcap near farce among a bunch of people associated with a magazine; Mahjong is a dark comedy about gangsters, businessmen, international hustlers and the like... Mahjong probably should have been better - it goes astray a couple places - notably, some of the non-Chinese casting is a problem. It's especially noticeable given that the role of Markus was originally supposed to be played by David Thewlis - you can see Thewlis in the role - it sounds like Thewlis - the actor doing it has no hope.. But it's still high quality stuff - very funny at times (Wu Nien-jen as a gangster is a total hoot), capable of sudden swerves into horror and violence - and most of the cast carries it off very well. Confucian Confusion, meanwhile, though overlooked among Yang's work, is a first rate film. Starts out, I admit, a bit too busy - lots of shouting and people bustling about in an imitation of a madcap comedy - but once it gets going, it becomes very good. There are a host of characters, again (all of Yang's films, at least since Terroriser, have been fairly large ensemble pieces), all of them sleeping with each other (like in a Coen brothers film). It's intricately plotted - a series of rumors and real infidelities set everyone chasing everyone else around trying to get proof - everyone bounces off everyone else... though it finds time to reflect - there is a writer, morose and possibly crazy, who hates himself for writing popular novels and now can't sell his serious work, who gets to reflect seriously on the condition of things... he's paired, I should note,by his opposite - an extremely silly playwright and director, who starts the whole thing rolling by plagiarizing one of the writer's popular novels... doubles and parallels abound,but that's a given in Edward Yang's work.

Anyway - these two films are interesting for a couple reasons. One is - his 80s work is often compared to Antonioni - comparison it well earns. (And Oshima - though Oshima and Antonioni often parallel each other as well - at least the films I've seen: compare The Man Who Left His Will on Film and Zabriskie Point, say). But these films - Confucian Confusion and Mahjong - seem to me to shift toward something like a Rivette or maybe Chabrol influence. (I don't know too much about Chabrol: but it seems possible.) The big casts, running through fairly elaborate comedic plots, that turn dark or light almost instantly - all of it circling around artists (in CC at least), all of it very theatrical. Even Yang's famous fascination with architecture and spaces fits - Rivette, too, is notable for his fascination with places,and space.... It's an interesting thought anyway - whether there's anything to it or not.

Finally - the series also showed In Our Time - an omnibus film from 1982: Yang contributed a section, about a teenaged girl's first crush. It's a nice piece - the films as a whole is interesting, especially the first 2 pieces, for how similar they are - the long takes, long shots, the restraint. Yang's style emerges from this blend of neo-realism, Japanese classics, a bit of modernism - it's not quite formed here, though his control of the medium is already apparent.

And Wu Nien-Jen's second film was also shown: Buddha Bless America - a comedy about a Taiwanese village taken over by the US military for maneuvers. The story is familiar enough - the mysterious Americans, the greedy, shifty villagers, the idealist caught in the middle - but it's all quite amusing with an undercurrent of sadness. Interesting too for reserving its harshest attitude for the Mandarin speaking translators who do more to separate the Taiwanese speaking villagers from the Americans than to link them. The Americans and villagers may be selfish and callous to one another, but they don't come off as intentionally cruel - the translators are. Anyway - it's a fine movie, though somewhat overshadowed by the Yang films.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

Paul Newman has died. Greencine has a roundup of reactions.

Far be it from me to link this to the politics of the day - but how can I not? With Wall Street in the tank, looking for some jerk they can really push around - well.... here's Charles Durning's great exit, and Newman's even greater entrance in The Hudsucker Proxy. Sure sure - he may have had better roles (did it matter though? every time I saw him, he, at least was thrilling), but give a great actor with a great voice Coen brothers lines to say - ah, yes. Long live the Hud.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Random Content

Ha ha! a double entendre! This post is random - and so is this!

Sarah Palin trying to answer questions from Katie Couric. Like Jim Henley I am particularly fond of this one:

"Our next door neighbors are foreign countries." Whoo hoo! Hey - I grew up in Maine - our next door neighbors were foreign countries too! some of them even speak F***h! I'd even been to those foreign country before I turned 44, unlike Ms. Palin! why didn't John McCain pick me for VP? even being a full on democrat, I don't think I could do more harm to his campaign than Palin and McCain themselves have done. Is Johnny boy going to show up at the debate tomorrow? or will he be in the next studio, arguing with Katie Couric?

(I should add, for those expecting a higher level of discourse here [good luck with that] - it was a long weekend last weekend - I will try to get some comments up about the second part of the Edward Yang series. Maybe tomorrow, with some luck... And meanwhile - I must point to the Film of the Month club, where Chris Cagle has kicked off this month's consideration of Claire Denis' L'Intrus.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Edward Yang Weekend (1)

Not much blogging hereabouts this week - that is to say - none. Late nights, you know. Halfway through the Edward Yang/Wu Nien-Jen series I've mentioned before. Still to see the 2 films I would have put at the top of that list - Terrorizer and A Brighter Summer Day. Coming this weekend. Have now seen That Day at the Beach and Taipei Story - plus Wu's Borrowed Life. They are all they are advertised to be. I will have to come back ad write up something more about them - I should have the material: my notes about the films have tended to take off in every direction at once, so I ought to get some content... For now just note - Yang was an ambitious and accomplished director from the very start - That Day at the Beach is a complex, detailed story that he handles with aplomb - it's got a more lush, melodramatic look to it than his later work, probably due to having Christopher Doyle as DP (his first film also). There are hints of Doyle's later style in it - handheld camera work, the dense spaces and lighting effects, the dreamines, characters swallowed by light and darkness that marks his mature style... Yang's style is harder edged, clearer - full of reflective, shining surface - characters swallowed by the spaces, the buildings, what have you. All of which is present in Taipei Story - along with the overpowering presence of modern Taipei - the buildings, traffic, the people, etc.

Meanwhile - Wu Nien-jen was at the screenings, showing his film A Borrowed Life, and talking about that film and Yang's films. He's the of Yi Yi and the writer of That Day on the Beach, and one of the driving forces behind the Taiwanese films of the 80s - producing, writing films like Dust in the Wind and City of Sadness, etc... Borrowed Life (Chinese title, Duo Sang, meaning "Father") is quite a bit like those films, or other of Hou Hsiao-hsien's realist 80s films (A Time to Live a Time to Die, say.) It is the story of Wu's father, a miner, born at the end of the 20s, during the Japanese control of Taiwan. Wu called that generation the "orphan generation" - educated by the Japanese, that they were Japanese - then, as he sad, learning in 1945 that they were Chinese. This film is less explicit than City of Sadness, say, about the idea that Japanese occupation of Taipei was replaced, effectively, by mainland Chinese occupation of Taiwan - but the idea is there. The film itself is a long, slow examination of village life, the lives of the characters, both the miners and their children, who move away, and modernize... It looks a lot like Hou Hsiao-hsien - with less of the mastery of the medium, but Wu is a solid director, who knows how to present his stories... A fine film.

Anyway - more to come - more films - more commentary I hope. But I wanted to get some of these thoughts down now - the longer I wait, the more I'm inclined to procrastinate further. But right now, I'm procrastinating going to bed, so good night world!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


It seems like a good idea today to spare a thought for your local
skyscraper. And all the people they house and employ.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wish List Meme

Thanks to Adam Ross, who pushes a fine new meme on me - The Holy Grail List. A variation on the 12 films meme Piper sent into the world - 12 films (1) you haven't seen - and (2) aren't available on Netflix. As usual, it's taking me forever to get this thing written - but here it is! and in time for my first item still to be true!

Those who know me won't be surprised that this is heavy on the Asian films. And I know that this is a list that I will add to, in my head at least, endlessly after I post it. (Heck - I might put it in the sidebar alongside the blogathon list and keep adding to it on purpose...) This is going to have to be the first 12 films [more or less - I fully intend to cheat when possible] that come into my head, which isn't likely to cover it....

1. I have to start with Edward Yang -because if things go well, his films will come off this list over the next week or two. The HFA is running a retrospective - complete, I believe. I have seen 2 - Mahjong and Yi Yi - the first interesting, the latter a towering masterpiece. I suspect if I could see Mahjong again, it would rise as well. I don't know why his films are so hard to see - granted, they're difficult art films - but not that difficult. Maybe that's the problem - they're not as extreme as Hou Hsiao Hsien, lack the romanticism of Tsai Ming-liang - so they get short changed. I don't know. I can't explain it. But I am intensely grateful that they are finally coming...

2. Humanity and Paper Balloons - Sadao Yamanaka's classic, the values of contemporary films by the likes of Ozu and Naruse applied to the Japanese period film. Gotta see it. I could fill this list with 30s Japanese films (just going through Michael Kerpan's blog, say), but this one can stand as emblem for them all.... 

3. ...maybe not all - take for instance Chikamatsu Monogatari - AKA, Tale of Crucified Lovers - Mizoguchi.... this is often listed high in rankings of his films, but never available as far as I have seen. Sooner or later, I suppose, these films might make it here - Mizoguchi is slowly coming into print in the US. Kurosawa has always been available in the states; Ozu is catching up - with 14, 15 films available here - another half dozen and he might be reasonably well represented. (The 30s masterpieces - An Inn in Tokyo and The Only Son, at the very very least, have to be available first.) Mizoguchi has a lot of ground to make up. And then Naruse and Imamura and Oshima and Ichikawa and all the rest... (Of that lot, only Oshima is a good candidate for this list - decent retrospectives of the other three have played here, so I have seen a fair sample - all of Imamura, most of it multiple times... also probably no surprise to readers, at least those who recognize a reincarnated husband when they see one. Though Oshima might not be long for this list either - a retrospective is touring...)

4. Ishtar - what? Foul, you cry - Ishtar IS listed at Netflix! True true, I say, that's why it's been sitting in my "Saved DVDs" list there for 3 years (more or less.) I notice A New Leaf and the Heartbreak Kid are there too, to "Save" - not to "Add." The bastards. Those of you who haven't seen it though, can console yourselves with Mikey And Nicky. Why yes, I do like Elaine May. And - shit... I am cheating: "You must not have seen any of the films on your list, either in theatres or on video" - shit. That ruins that. Of course I've seen Ishtar -  on TV - most of it anyway - have I seen Ishtar? It used to be on TV all the time, but I dont know if I have seen it, start to finish, on purpose, or not. I want to. Given its reputation, at least when it came out, compared to what I know about May, and now that I've seen May's other films - could it be so bad? The bits of it I've caught in the last few years have played as sneakily amusing instead of ham-fisted and dull. One should also consider the effects of seeing (and loving) a bunch of Luc Moullet films (many of them available on Netflix!) - that might be an instructive comparison.... I have to see it again... but that seems more or less impossible.

5. Out One: Noli Me Tangere - The French could be pretty well represented here too. I've seen the short version of Out One, but not this. I've never seen a Rivette film that came close to being too long, including 6 hours of Jeanne la Poucelle, so I quite expect this to be a riveting 13 hours.

6. La Cicatrice Interieure - I've had the good luck to see some pretty darned obscure Philippe Garrel films - Le Lit de la Vierge, say... but nowhere near enough. Like a few directors on this list, almost all his films could qualify - Cicatrice Interieure sounds fascinating - it can stand for them all....

7. Hirokazu Kore-Eda's Hana Yori mo Naho - oh wait: look at that! So why wasn't this released? Because no one expects a samurai film from Kore Eda? that's certainly an annoying fact - directors who depart from their established styles, tend to be ignored. Take Zhang Yimou - now that he's become a big costume epic filmmaker, his smaller films (like Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles) get the barest of releases... This is off topic: darn - how do I get this back? Keep Cool? That was one of the first films I noticed this phenomenon with - after a string of historical epics and melodramas, Zhang turned to contemporary China, a looser, more comic film (so they say - I haven't seen it, obviously) - and besides whatever trouble the commies made for him back home, the film never got distributed - and - happily for our purposes, if not for those wanting to see the film - it ain't on Netflix!

8. Jang Sun-woo's Timeless Bottomless Bad Movie - one of the first Korean movies I read about, 10 odd years ago - it sounded very interesting, but I don't think it has ever surfaced anywhere near me. Lies is on Netflix - I guess a good flogging is always helpful in getting your films distributed. It's also a fairly remarkable film - makes me want to see more of his work.

9. Bigger than Life - Nicholas Ray's film, also mentioned at the Dancing Image - but yeah, one I haven't seen, and long to see.

10. Histoires du Cinema - Godard's big video project. This is another one others have mentioned, but I have to note it,because, damn.... I suppose it's just a region 2 DVD player and £25.98 away, but still...

11. Oh yes - Fantomas - Feuillade's 1913 epic... Another reason to get a Region 2 DVD player, I guess. But - yeah. In fact - freakin' Bordwell might as well be the last entry on this list - especially when he writes about the early silents. Enough of my Netflix queue is already occupied with Victor Sjostrom, Evgenie Bauer, William S. Hart and the like - never mind the ones that aren't there. Though if you think he's bad - try reading Noel Burch!

12. I knew once I started I'd never stop... Souls on the Road - one of the great early Japanese silent films, 1921... or Red Bat - 1931 chambara...


For tags - well - how about the rest of the Film and Discussion crew? Joseph tagged Evan - but if I can get Karyn, Erik, Blade, Mike to join in - why, that would be a fine thing!

(I've also posted a shorter version of this list there.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My Septennial Woody Allen Film

It's a strange fact. I have managed, for 21 years now, to see a Woody Allen film, new in the theater, every 7 years. I saw Radio Days - then Bullets Over Broadway - then The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - and now, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I've mentioned before - not on this blog, another one - that Woody Allen was one of the first filmmakers I noticed, as a filmmaker. (It's interesting that Film Walrus said almost the same thing is his recent "let's just be friends" post about Allen - "one of the first highbrow auteurs that budding film nerds gravitate towards." Yup.) I was a fan in the 80s - the only filmmaker I followed, at least until Blue Velvet came out and I discovered a rather more intoxicating brew.... So it is odd that I have basically stopped seeing new Woody Allen films.

The first gap (87-94) made the most sense - I barely saw any movies in the late 80s - 88-91, say, I'd be surprised if I saw a dozen new films combined. That changed, and after I started going to films again, I finally got around to seeing Woody Allen again... But here - the truth is, I didn't love Radio Days - found it sentimental nostalgia, not up to proper Woody Allen - Sleeper or Annie Hall or Zelig or even Broadway Danny Rose (which I greatly enjoyed on its release.) And Bullets Over Broadway, which came well hyped, proved to be amusing, but kind of drab - predictable plot and characters, a bit forced and over designed. So though I enjoyed it, I didn't feel obliged to see the next Allen film... though throughout the late 90s I always considered it - I'd plan to see them - but it never worked out... What finally did work out was The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Why? Because I was stuck in Manchester New Hampshire for a week, with 3 channels of cable and dial up connection to AOL to fill the evenings - a movie was a joyous respite. The Woody Allen was the best of what must have been a dreary slate up in the hinterlands - o that's where we went. And again - I enjoyed it - it was fun, like a Duck Tale on film - maybe not a Carl Barks duck tale, but a decent imitation... But that's not enough to send you back to the auteur, and the next few Woody Allen films are so forgettable I would not know they existed if I had not looked them up. And then he moved to England for a few films, which - in the immortal words of Belle Waring, "has been implausibly touted as watchable"...

Right. Now comes a new Woody Allen, this one set in Barcelona, and again, inspiring a certain amount of gushing in the press - not very plausibly, to be sure, but still. And again I found myself with a weekend without any inspiring options and excellent weather that convinced me to hike over to Coolidge Corner to see the it.

Michael Atkinson is right. This is not something that happens to me much - but there I was, 15, 20 minutes into the film, the scene in the restaurant, where Javier Bardem has invited the girls off for a weekend of sight-seeing and sex, then left them to argue about it - one of them is an uptight wise ass nerd, the other a dreamy insecure hedonistic, so they disagree - and keep disagreeing, and Woody keeps cutting back and forth between them, simple 3/4 shots, cutting, back and forth, as they drone on and on and on and... I don't think I've ever actually bailed on a film - but if this had happened five minutes earlier - if I had had time to go downstairs and see Frozen River instead - I would have. It was close. Instead I scanned the back of the shot, hoping something would move back there to give me something else to look at... there was a nice shot somewhere, early in the film, some combination of characters blabbing away in the middle of the screen, but in the corner, Allen had left a statue, sort of out of focus, but visible. Probably an accident - maybe the matte as wrong... But for a bit, there was something to look at!

I was able to take some comfort over the next hour or so in spotting the better films Allen was intentionally or otherwise referencing. Given the dry voiceover, the setting, the characters - not just the uptight nerd/hedonist central pairing, but all the insufferable rich Americans around them - even the frigging plot, with the two Americans getting tangled up with the same local lovers, with a dangerous ex- turning up with a gun to resolve the whole thing - it is hard not to drop the "Vicky Cristina" part of the title and think of the almost unimaginably better Barcelona. Now that's a movie. And while Stillman is not exactly Wes Anderson with a camera (...and the voiceover, the Americans trying to "find themselves" in an exotic land, etc., occasionally called him to mind too...), he knows how to cover a scene to bring out the best in the dialogue. Though of course, he also writes dialogue that is funny and clever and tells a story and all the other good things Woody Allen used to do somewhere in the dim past. He also makes characters - even those representing types, even a lot of the bit players - interesting, worth finding out more about. He seems interested in finding out more about them. Not so Mr. Allen, not in 2008. No one ever is or does or says anything that was not more or less obviously predictable from the minute they appear onscreen - unless they are required to behave in a certain way for Plot Purposes.

I wish - in a dream, Woody Allen has a tiff with some financier on the set and goes home in a huff and the Insurance Stooges step in and demand someone Finish the Film - Whit Stillman would be a fine choice; Wes Anderson too; or Pedro Almodovar, another one Allen seems to be trying to channel here. Or nearly anyone, really.... They've got a gorgeous cast, they've got Barcelona, they have the bare makings of a decent story - it can't be that hard to make something watchable. Instead - this looks and plays like a soft-core porn film with the sex scenes cut out. Dull, unbelievable, and promising titillation but then primly turning away whenever something smutty starts to appear. And just so boring to look at! all those streets, those houses, those Gaudi buildings, and there's never anything going on anywhere but between whichever two characters are droning away in the foreground. (Or middle distance - where they wander listlessly back and forth...) None of the background business, the elaborate compositions, etc. that Anderson loves; lacking the patience and interest in group dynamics Stillman has; none of the joy in design, in colors and movement, even in just the solid facts of human bodies, that Almodovar has. Dull editing - that's what almost sent me running, the plain back and forth cuts, edited to a metronome I think... nothing.

I'll leave with one more complaint. A documentary turned up on PBS this weekend - "Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey" - showing a biologist, Spencer Wells, traveling round the world, tracing the genetic history of man... okay - nothing special - but full of shots that - why can't Woody Allen do this?

Look at that shot - the kid in the background - the statue... but especially the kid - who, in the actual shot, follows Wells and the camera as Wells walks around that wall, or whatever it is. It's a great shot - funny in itself - almost impossible to imagine the filmmakers set it up, the kid I mean... It's the main thing missing in the Allen film. Any sense of there being anything alive in the shot - anything in the shot not there on purpose, or - anything in the shot that isn't completely functional in the shot. (It's probably the same thing: Wes Anderson's films are full of that kind of background business, though all of it is exquisitely choreographed. So it's not spontaneity that's missing, it's - anything.) There's nothing. Allen isn't a good enough writer, not now, to pull off turning on the camera and letting the words come - and really, no one any good actually does that anyway. But he has no ideas - no ides how to turn a simple dialogue scene into an interesting dialogue scene. Nothing that opens the film up - or, really, closes the film in. (If he were making a film about claustrophobia - he doesn't do that either.) It's just there.

More Politics, I'm Afraid

A political miracle - Peggy Noonan (and Mike Murphy) say pretty much what I think about McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for veep:

The link is everywhere, at least on the lefty blogs. I first saw it at If I Ran the Zoo, where in comments, Tom Hilton links to Daniel Nexon noting what this says about modern pundits. They know better, but keep putting it out.... hypocrisy, cynicism, shamelessness - the modern republican party.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I don't really fee like writing anything about the Republican Convention. It's bound to be clown show - McCain's campaign has been a clown show so far - picking Palin as VP? it's hard to believe. Skim through the Sarah Palin posts at Lawyers, Guns and Money: we've got pork barrel politics and lies about government pork; we've got the secessionist party; we've got the abuse of power to settle old grudges and personal feuds; the book banning; the ignorance about history (the founding fathers and the pledge of allegiance); the inexperience and incompetence and hilarious attempts to cover for it (Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard!); the fact that she's never been to Canada - and oh yeah, the kid... Well, it's not fair to pick on the kid - lots of kids mess around, and it's not as though the GOP and their supporters would ever criticize the choice sand misfortunes of others. Right?

Those fuckers. Its endless - the things they - the right, at least the public face of the right - do to prove, one more time, that they are utterly without shame. Shameless moralizing hypocrites - they have no values, no morals, nothing, but sheer naked self-interest. There's no reason to be surprised any more - one reason I haven't bothered writing much about politics in a long while. There's nothing left to say. The modern republican party is a party of hypocrisy and power -there is nothing to say or do but vote as many of them out of power as is necessary to convince the rest to grow up and act like human beings again. I imagine most republicans are decent human beings - the ones I know are, they just don't agree with me. But they make common cause with scum, and reap the benefits of the viciousness of the bad ones, so they - the decent republicans - need to lose some elections and fast. Though who knows - there's no sign that the public is much better...

I don't know. You can see the results of of Republican governance on display - Tucker at Pilgrim Akimbo has a post up about protests in Minnesota, and police over-reaction; Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings comments; Glenn Greenwald reports and summarizes.

This is nothing new. Police have been ramping up their response to demonstrations since at least Seattle 1999. September 11, of course, provided an excuse or even more "security", especially around big events like political conventions - though lot of this occurs at a more day to day level. 9/11 put the fear in us - with cause - but we allowed the fear to linger, and it has become paranoia and cowardice. The republicans, in particular, have been the party of paranoia and cowardice - which translates into shows of toughness - attacking the weak, from Iraq, to torturing POWs, to sending cops out in riot gear against radio personalities. (And lite brites! don't forget lite brites!) And what I said then - at some point, it's hard not to see all of this, the petty crap, the bag searches at ball games, the riot cops in subways, the absurdities at airports, the illegal phone tapping and retroactive immunities, the shows of force at conventions and the like, as being meant to teach us to take a police state for granted. Keep pretending they're protecting us, so that when they need to act to genuinely control us, they can - and we can't do anything about it.

I'm not inclined to paranoia, though - I doubt anyone is planning all this. I don't expect a coup, by anyone. But things happen. And habits form. And we form the habit of having everything supervised by men with guns and bullet proof vests and we form the habit of keeping quiet about it. And - if anything happens - our government is in the habit of using those security forces to control it. So... we should not be so willing to accept it. None of it.

So anyway. This stuff won't go away when the republicans lose power - Obama voted wrong on the telecom immunity act - democrats will use it - they encouraged it in the 90s..... But they haven't made a career of it - they seem to have values other than just their own power, and they appeal to emotions besides fear and the desire to find someone else to blame and hurt. So there is hope there.

Oh well. I don't want to write much about politics - too depressing by half. Septembers do it though. The anniversaries of September 11, of Hurricane Katrina - and of my friend's death in Iraq - push this stuff to the front of my mind. And the insult of McCain's choice of Palin for VP (insult to everyone - the American people, women, Palin herself, competent republican women politicians, HIllary Clinton, etc.) plus the usual thuggery in the name of security gives me ample material to rave about....

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day

Happy labor day people! To quote some of America's finest Aristocrats:

You get up in the morning to join the common herd
Your lot is a hard one, or so I have heard
I know how hard it is to bust one's ass
'Cause I'm a Friend of a Friend of the Working Class

And I can only wish the best for the poor working man - if things are hard - well,there's always Roque!

Or - Marianne Faithful doing Lenin:

Or Lennon, as it were...