Friday, November 09, 2012


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Random Thoughts That Have Nothing to Do with the Election or Star Wars

:: UK talk show host Alan Titchmarsh got Cesar Millan to admit that he uses spike and shock collars and even punches dogs. Sooner or later, you find out that most people are frauds, it seems like. I know training dogs can be hard, but bullying them into a state of learned helplessness is not the same thing as training I've seen dogs that have had shock collars; I've heard them yelp in pain and I've seen the patches of bare skin they leave behind, and I think you have to be some kind of special asshole to use that on a dog. That's cruel. And Cesar Millan isn't just cruel, he's also apparently a liar.

:: I didn't see this a lot in the news about Hurricane Sandy, but did you know that there was an alert issued at New York's Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant? An NRC alert, which is the second level on their four-point emergency scale. If you're curious, the fourth level is substantial core damage with possible loss of containment. They were about halfway through the exact same coolant circulation problem as Fukishima, but they were able to stop it. So just imagine how that could have gone down.

I take back everything good I ever said about nuclear power. I know I've done that already, but I feel like I can't do it enough.

:: If you're interested, you can now read back issues of OMNI Magazine for free at the Internet Archive.

:: The Muppets 2 starts filming in January. That just makes me very happy. Lots of the creative team returning from the previous movie. So when I asked before how a new Muppets movie was coming along, that's how. (Hope they change the title, though. But if not, who cares, it's more Muppets!)

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past two weeks.

THE RIVER (1951)
Jean Renoir is a great observational director. This film is about an upper class English family living in India. Ostensibly, it's about a teenager's first love, but the film envelops so much more than that, showing us these people as they live and interact and embrace India. It's about emotions and behavior and each frame is full of beautiful color and detail. Renoir captures an outsider's view of India, but he doesn't get in its way, letting India and the Ganges River reveal themselves through this experience. The best part of the film is dancer Radha Burnier, who plays a mixed-race neighbor's daughter. She's fascinating to watch, particularly the way she regards the young English hero that the other girls are throwing themselves at. ****

Roger Ebert called it: it's an interesting production but a bad movie. Francis Ford Coppola went all out with the sets and the production and completely forgot to populate his movie with living, breathing human beings. The human drama of a couple whose marriage is falling apart feels perfunctory and mechanical, because Coppola seems only interested in the staging of each shot and not about anyone becoming emotionally involved. And, I mean, it's a beautiful movie to look at, but the characters are awful. Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr are held at arm's length; they're too passive to give a damn about. As their brief love interests, Nastassja Kinski and Raul Julia fare better, working with what they have. Most of the performances seem dictated by timing. The songs by Tom Waits and Crystal Gale are okay. There's some really good stuff in here, but this is (to me) the movie that pretty much killed that 1970s Golden Age. Every criticism people level at Star Wars (production value over people!) is much more accurate to this indulgent, unlikable mess. *

Paul Wegener as a medical student who becomes obsessed with obtaining a virgin's blood in order to use a magic spell to create life. Very gothic, gleefully perverse, and Wegener is a great horror figure, always looming with his stare and his tight lips and his cloak. Very atmospheric. ***

I'm so familiar with this story just from the movie versions; I've never actually read the Dickens novel. I should rectify that. This is a very good production, with appropriately grim sets. Jackie Coogan is a very vulnerable Oliver Twist (this is the year after The Kid), and Lon Chaney is compelling as Fagin. ***1/2

A short film about sushi chefs fighting sea monsters. That's all you need to know. God damn, I hope this is some kind of show reel for a feature film, because I would line up for that. ***1/2

I found this one a little hard to get into, if only because the opening felt hacky and forced. You know, there are six of these found footage horror flicks a year, you don't need to spend so much time setting up and explaining the device, I'm overly familiar with it as is. As the film goes on, though, it pulls a lot of really great tricks and gets really, really suspenseful. So I'm giving it **1/2 because it took a while to work on me, but when it does work, it really works.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Far Out, America

It was tense in the early stages, but in the end it wasn't even close. President Obama. So much for "Mittmentum" and "the Romney Landslide." Jeez, my stomach is unknotting as we speak.

Four more years of Obama. Maybe he's not the perfect choice, but that's not the point. The point is not seeing equality and civil rights rolled back. The point is not having Romney pick Supreme Court justices. The point is not giving parental rights to rapists.

Get down, America.

I'd say that maybe we can all get to work on the problems our nation faces and we're all in this together and let's remember to still be vigilant because no President is perfect, but, you know... we have the stars, let's not ask for the moon.

Right now I'm too relieved to worry about that. That starts tomorrow when I get annoyed by just how many family members will have a "in 4 years America will be communist" status update.

Hopefully the 2016 election doesn't start tomorrow.

A Couple More Thoughts on Episode VII

I see a lot of people online talking about how the next Star Wars trilogy "needs" to be some adaptation of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy or some other Expanded Universe et cetera. Honestly, I think nothing else sounds more boring.

I don't exactly hate the Expanded Universe... I just don't give a shit. I stopped reading all of that stuff in the mid-nineties. With the exception of some of the stuff that really did try to explore other parts of the Star Wars universe (Rogue Squadron for example), it just became continuity porn about making sure every minor character half-glimpsed in the corner of a frame had had a run-in with Han Solo at some point, or assuaging people who apparently really, really, really couldn't live without knowing whether or not Walrus Man and Hammerhead had real names. I don't consider that stuff necessary, and it's wonderfully easy to ignore.

Do the films have to follow the continuity of the Expanded Universe? I know The Clone Wars hasn't been, which is apparently pissing off a lot of fans of Mandalorians. I don't know that Heir to the Empire has to be an official part of the films just because George Lucas liked the name Coruscant and used it in The Phantom Menace.

I don't know, when it comes down to it, I just don't think the Thrawn Trilogy is all that good. I know a lot of people love it, but I think a lot of that comes from their primacy; they were first, and they made everyone excited about Star Wars again around the time that everyone had moved on and let those movies be part of the past. But the story itself is only okay. And here's the thing about making those into movies now: you either have to have a Han Solo who's 70 years old, or you have to watch someone like Gerard Butler or Bradley Cooper playing Han Solo, and who the fuck honestly wants either of those things to happen? It's kind of super-irritating watching the same fanboys who complained that Harrison Ford was too old in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls clamoring to see him play Han Solo again, like they really think this is the time they're not going to complain.

The Star Wars saga is really the story of the Skywalker family. Let's just let it be the next generation. A new Jedi Order, a new Republic. Frankly, the only characters I think should really, really come back are Luke Skywalker (because it's the Skywalker family and I think Mark Hamill would be there on day 1 to play an older, wiser Jedi Master Luke), See Threepio and Artoo Detoo, and maybe Chewbacca because Wookies live so long. The first trilogy was the fall of the Republic. The second trilogy was its restoration. The third? Redemption, maybe? I think Luke redeeming the Jedi Order is what that's about; an Order redeemed of the hubris that made the fall possible in the first place, and a Republic redeemed of the political corruption that tore it apart and made the Empire possible.

It makes sense. Let's not rehash books we've already read. Let's go into an unknown future and see what's there. That's where I want to go.


Monday, November 05, 2012

Personal Update: I Voted

Just wanted to mention it, since I was complaining months ago about possibly not even voting because of ideological disappointment in Obama. While I still don't agree with some of the policies he's continued or some of the things he's not done, I'm not in the camp who keeps saying he's accomplished nothing at all. And I figured, you know, be an adult and actually make a choice. And if I didn't do the one thing I could to try and stop a Romney presidency, I'd never forgive myself--not voting is a vote for Romney.

So yeah, I voted on Friday, like a responsible American citizen.

80s Revisited: Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing (1989)
Written and directed by Spike Lee; produced by Spike Lee, Jon Kilik & Monty Ross.

Do the Right Thing is a movie that got away from me for a lot of years. I was 13 when it was released, and 14 when it came out on video. I remember trying to watch it with my Mom, but I think she wanted it to be more of a comedy and was surprised by some of it. Eventually, she just had to turn it off because she was so uncomfortable. I honestly didn't really get it, but I was 13 and grew up in a predominantly white suburb, and the movie already had that controversy around it (it had since before it was even released) that it was somehow going to cause all of this racial violence that it never actually caused.

I saw it again--this time the entire picture--a few years later, when I was 19 or 20. By then, I had seen a few other Spike Lee movies and wasn't really a fan of his, but I had a better handle on what kind of filmmaker he was. Do the Right Thing was so acclaimed and considered such an important work that I really felt I had to sit down and watch it and give it a chance to reach me. But I still didn't really know what to make of it. And over the years, as I liked Lee's films less, I started to internalize this opinion that's out there that the movie was too angry, too racist, tried too hard to be controversial, and I didn't think about giving it a second chance.

But recently I've just happened to read some stuff about the movie (on great film lists and such), and I began to realize that all of that was just a sort of overreaction/justification to how uncomfortable the movie made me in its last 20 minutes or so. It never sat well with me that the pizzeria gets burned down in the end; I thought, when I was younger, that that was just going too far. But I just had this realization that none of my feelings about the film itself were really based on the film itself, but by those bizarre imprecations that the movie was a racial flashpoint. So I decided I had to see it again and make up my own mind.

I think the problem, as usual, is age. I wasn't ready for this movie when I was 13 or 19. I wasn't able to hear what it had to say, to see what it had to show me. I find, to my disgust, that I had completely forgotten that what motivates the crowd who burns down the pizzeria is the murder by police of a young black man; that I should have been angrier about a human life than I was about white property. I don't like what that implies about my subconscious. But I understand so much better at 36 than I did at 19 all of the tension and frustration that leads to that moment in the movie when Spike Lee's character Mookie throws the garbage can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria.

What I was surprised about was that the movie is so fair. Spike Lee as writer and director observes his characters, sees their faults and their strengths, and--most crucially--has empathy for all of them. That's key to the whole film. It takes place on one Bed-Stuy block in one day during a summer heatwave, and in that one day, we observe a microcosm of racism in America. It doesn't beat you over the head with a message, it just simply observes a day in the life. But under the surface, you can feel the tension building. You can hear old resentments resurfacing, you can see it in the way people look at one another, you can feel it in the way people sometimes overreact to one another when they feel slighted. You start to feel this struggle that just keeps rising, leading to an explosion of violence that seems shocking and sudden, but which you realize afterwards was inevitable.

What I like about this movie is that Spike Lee has the courage to show what was then and still is the truth in America: that racism exists, that it is institutionalized, and that is has taken root in our minds in ways that are subtle and charged and that we don't always understand. I don't think I'm a racist, but I think there are ways in which racism in society has affected how I think. I don't want to be a person who is more saddened by the destruction of a building than the murder of a kid by cops. I think what bothers me and a lot of people about this film is that it confronts you with the possibility that, well, maybe you are and maybe that's part of the problem.

That's what's so brilliant about this movie. No one's really the bad guy. And no one's really the good guy. Lee doesn't paint each race or each class with the same brush. He empathizes with the people of the neighborhood, the people who live and work there. He's sympathetic to all of them. He makes them understandable. We don't anticipate what will happen, but by the end of the film we understand why it does. Like I said, it's very fair towards its characters. It's society that isn't fair, and that's what all of the characters can't escape. This movie is a masterpiece, maybe the masterpiece of the 1980s. It says everything about that decade without waving any flags.

Do the Right Thing, famously, wasn't even nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars that year. Driving Miss Daisy won. I guess the Academy wasn't ready for Spike Lee's vision of what it was like to be African-American. My Mom couldn't make it to the end of Do the Right Thing. Driving Miss Daisy made her cry. I think that sums up what audiences wanted to be told about racism in 1989.

Kristen Bell Mondays

UPDATE 11:51 AM: Apparently she's pregnant. Good for her. (This doesn't really affect me in any way--I think it's funny when fans start talking about a celebrity like she's a family friend or something--but, you know, congratulations.)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Song of the Week: "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory"

Because I was in a great mood this morning, and now I'm depressed as hell.