Monday, November 30, 2009

Full Metal Jacket

I just watched Full Metal Jacket a little while ago; I'm not sure what to make of it, though I'm pretty sure that in itself isn't a bad thing. Nearly a year since I saw A Clockwork Orange for the second time, and several more since the first, I still am not sure what to make of that film either. Stanley Kubrick's movies have been decried as cold, clinical, and detached, and while that's not entirely false, I think it does him a disservice. I would say his perfectionist approach could be better described as, at least in these two films, as non-judgmental. The violence in Clockwork is all seen at an almost frustrating distance, which makes it that more unsettling, and in Full Metal Jacket, a politically charged film that must have something to say, Kubrick seems to be content to let his characters speak for themselves and let us make up our own minds. I think the key to what Kubrick himself might be getting at is to be found in the endings to the boot camp sequence and the movie itself. I don't know. I'd like to think there's significance to be mined in the deaths of the two other principal grunts, one at his own hand, the other by a sniper's, and both by way of a sniper rifle. One presaged the other? Pyle knew what was coming? I don't know. I'm sure Kubrick wasn't the first to make the observation that "War is hell," (though perhaps the first to have it sardonically brayed by a remorseless killer soldier) but the near-end of the film, in which Joker and the other soldiers take on a sniper, is frighteningly effective, with its flaming building interiors, atonal score, and a mercy killing that serves as mirthless wish fulfillment.

I don't know. I'm rambling all over the place. It's immaculately put together, of course, and not in an obnoxious way, as I find Wes Anderson's films to be, but it's as yet a mystery to me. And that's alright.

A Very Scary Christmas: Theater of Blood

[Note: I'm watching a bunch of horror films, mostly slashers, for research for a script I'm writing, and I figured I could start generating content on here again if I posted my reactions. This is the first such entry in a series titled, entirely due to the season, A Very Scary Christmas. Enjoy, whoever you are.]

To my shame I’m not familiar with Vincent Price’s body of work (outside of an old Tim Burton animation short about a boy who thinks he’s—wait for it—Vincent Price), but Theater of Blood, less of a detour in the series of horror films I’ve lately been watching than one might think, is a delightful introduction. Essentially, Price plays Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who attempted suicide after failing to win a prestigious award and proceeds to kill the critics who snubbed him, in the manner of death of characters from Shakespeare plays, delivering some of those plays’ best and most well-known speeches all the while. Shakespeare contrived some particularly nasty deaths in his day, and so the movie’s violence isn’t entirely shocking, but that some of it is as graphic as it is, is startling when one considers it came years before Dawn of the Dead, and still a year in front of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is actually much less bloody than its reputation would suggest.*

But then again, the mayhem is played obviously for laughs (it contains one of the most hilariously methodical decapitations I’ve ever seen) and most of the critics are ciphers anyway. This makes it, bizarrely, something of a proto-slasher film, insomuch as it contains elaborate killings committed by a madman against a number of barely-defined schmucks, a formula that would be refined in John Carpenter in 1978 with a focus on developing the victims rather than the killer (as well as significantly lowering their age), and then be bastardized and codified just a year later with Friday the 13th, which prized sensationalism over character, story, logic, and basic technical competence. The key difference between Theater of Blood and Halloween’s debased progeny, of course, is there is actual talent at work: Price tackles the role of an egotistical ham actor with gleeful abandon; the script by Anthony Greville-Bell is smartly written, drawing from several obscure plays in the Shakespeare canon for its kills but setting them up enough to let neophytes know what’s going on, and containing some nice, dry one-liners; and in an unexpected twist, Michael J. Lewis’ melodramatic score is surprisingly well-done and fits perfectly with Lionheart’s antic disposition.

I’ll add for the sake of completeness that the kills require a ludicrous degree of meticulous planning (even granted the help Lionheart is receiving, he puts to shame the Rube Goldberg scenarios of Saw’s Jigsaw killer), one of them (Othello) is less funny than mean and so not effective, and a late twist is aimed less at the other characters than the audience and as a result is kind of silly, but that’s the movie in a nutshell: it’s all silly and never plausible beyond the confines of the story, but it’s always aware of that (though the characters never are—a distinction that makes Lionheart campy, not cloyingly stupid), and it’s never condescending. Due to the robust stomach and possible Shakespeare geekery necessary, Theater of Blood’s appeal might be somewhat limited, but those who can clear those hurdles will find a bloody good time to be had.

*Edited to correct dates of release

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Going, going, almost gone

I'll be hailing a cab to take me to the airport in a few minutes. Once again, I'll start posting photos en masse in the near future, and I'll also be doing some write-ups on the trip that will be more detailed than the real-time dispatches.

Until then, however, take care.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Interesting Times

I went to Barnes and Noble on E. 86th St. this evening accompanied by some friends I had dinner with, to see New Yorker writer George Packer speak about and read from his latest book, Interesting Times, a collection of essays he's written about American foreign policy and new media. We arrived about 15 minutes early and were surprised to find John Oliver from the Daily Show standing at the bottom floor with a camera nearby. I got a little giddy, and we decided to hover in the distance for a bit. I took out my camera and had one of my friends point it at my other friend and I, in order to get a picture of John Oliver, who was behind us. A little weird, yes, but this was my first celebrity sighting.

I was still antsy, however, and so I soon approached Oliver, now upstairs, and shook his hand, told him I'm a fan of the show. I asked if he was shooting a segment, and he said they were, about the release of Sarah Palin's book, and they just had one more shot to get. I went back over to Jonathan and Rachel across the way, and while talking to them noticed they had started filming. There was red light on a couple cameras trained vaguely in our direction, and so I alternated between watching and acting natural as John Oliver shouted at some woman. The clip is going to air tomorrow, and I'm hoping that we'll be visible in the background.

On top of that, George Packer answered a question I had during the Q&A session after his talk, and he signed an issue of the New Yorker for me. I heart NY.

More Pics

Hard to believe this...

...was once this:

Amazing when famous paintings that have been sold as posters end up being quite small in real life.

It's a long way to the top of the Empire State Building.

I'm done visiting major sites. I'm meeting some friends for dinner, and then I think I may go see George Packer read an excerpt from his new collection of essays. As I said, I'll hopefully have the time and means in the airport tomorrow to start mass uploading my hundreds of photos onto Facebook, which will be available for viewing by everyone. Until then, I'm out.

Quick recap

I stayed out much too late at a bar last night with my host, so I'm already behind on my itinerary for the last day, so this will be brief. A good deal of time was spent at Ellis Island yesterday, followed by the Museum of Modern Art (I was in awe of the many masterpieces they had on display), and then a reading with the Seven Devils folk. Today it's the Empire State Building and Chinatown, and then a movie and mingling with friends. Last time I jetted all over the city at the end of a trip I got hit by a bicyclist, so I'm going to take things easy today. Tomorrow I fly back, and hopefully the Denver airport will have free wireless to busy myself with, so I can put some more photos up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Our Town

I ended up changing my evening plans to see Thornton Wilder's Our Town based on the urging of my friend who's putting me up in my new digs for the remainder of my trip. I'd never seen or read the play before and was in fact a little wary; the strangeness of Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth was a bit too much for me to wrap my head around when I was in it a few years back, and so I had let it pass by. Apparently this is something of an accomplishment, because the play is a perennial favorite of high school theatre.

This made everything about the play that people know so well--the interactions of its characters, its deceptively straightforward narration--an interesting surprise for me, enhanced by the 3/4 thrust staging that puts much of the action in the midst of the audience. I was intrigued and carried by the story as it unfolded, and touched and taken by the grim musings of the third act. Then came a much ballyhooed twist--which even I, a lowly blogger, dare not write--that made the play's ending the biggest gut-punch I've ever felt in a theatrical production.

It also, additionally, made for a nice corrective to last night's drearily disappointing Kitsch, or Two for the Price of One.

Some More Photos

I'm in the process of moving to my second lodging, so I've little to say. Here instead are four thousand or so words, spoken visually.

On the Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Tabernacle is quite large.

Some neat sidewalk art near the 96th West subway station

Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bringing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Life

I caught T. Schreiber Studio's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead tonight, and honestly I can't find anything to complain about. The cast is uniformly engaging--the lead Player, portrayed by Erik Jonsun, has an absolutely stunning speech about acting and being watched--the set design and costumes marvelous, the lights nicely underscoring punch lines. The play is set in the round, with the actors moving, standing, sitting in front, behind, next to, and in the audience (I exaggerate not; the seat next to me was the only one open, and Guildenstern sat himself down in it as he said, "I feel like a spectator."). Certain lines are delivered directly to audience members ("Would you rather be alive in a box, or dead?"), and so the play's winking theatricality is given a much greater workout than it would be on a large proscenium. At $25 this is an absolute steal.

Some Photos

A sneaking suspicion:

Georgia O'Keeffe's "East River from the Shelton Hotel," one of my favorite paintings I saw at the Met:

Rockefeller Center is big. How big, you ask? This big:

Caption This

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Notes on an Apple

Gotta get to bed, rising early for a trip to Rutgers campus tomorrow. A few notes:

- In exiting the Natural History Museum on West Central Park Ave. and going through the park, I somehow came out on West Central Park Ave., some 5 blocks or so above where I started. Damn place has too many exits.
- I had to ask directions on how to get out of the Metropolitan Art Museum, it was so huge. I also bought a book on Andy Warhol.
- The Lily's Revenge is totally sold out, and the only way one can get tickets now is to show up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and wait until 5:30 to get one of maybe 15 rush tickets. I might do it on Sunday, if I can manage.
- Circle Mirror Transformation was pretty good, although its concept strained credibility.
- Times Square is a neon nightmare, while Rockefeller Center, loud rap music aside, is marvelous. I never knew Prometheus was that big.
- At night the subways turn against you and will prolong your trip as long as humanly possible. Took me damn near an hour to get home.

Some pictures forthcoming.

In the City

After a couple days in Wisconsin I landed at LaGuardia without incident yesterday afternoon. I then caught a bus into the city with Rick, the guy who's letting me crash at his apartment. Entering New York's urban jungle was a little surreal, in that it brought to mind memories of the video game Grand Theft Auto III, whose Liberty City was modeled after the Big Apple. This was most acute when crossing the RFK Bridge into the city--the video game begins with a bomb being tossed at your character's prison convoy while crossing a similar-looking bridge. Life imitating art imitating life.

Today's itinerary begins with the American Museum of Natural history, followed by a walk through Central Park to the Metropolitan Art Museum. Things get a little looser after that; I'll probably head downtown and explore, and then tonight is the mad epic The Lily's Revenge.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Resuming Activity

Yeesh, a whole month of inactivity. A product of laziness in part, to be sure, but also because things were heating up toward the end of rehearsals in the community production of Edward Albee's The Zoo Story I was directing. After that much of my time was spent planning for the trip I'm about to embark on. After a brief jaunt in Wisconsin I'll be in New York City for a week. I have my camera, and I should have easy internet access, so I'll do what I can to document my exploits my first time in The Big Apple; when I'm not out and about, of course.

I'll try to throw up a few limericks in the meantime, and maybe some more straightforward musings as well; when a handful of topics dominates the news cycle the way health care reform has, it gets laborious having to find ever more elaborate ways of rhyming similar material anew. And the more I have to force these, the less impressive they are anyway, so hopefully this means better quality in exchange for quantity (though after a month of silence I suppose anything is an improvement).

More soon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Laying Kennedy to Rest

A wake and a funeral, Camelot fit;
Republican words of his loyalty, grit.
Now that Ted is passed,
Is broke the sail's mast:
The Democrat Senate boat's something adrift.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, R.I.P.

A congressman, drunk driver, scorn of the right;
Ted Kennedy, all these, has lost th' cancer fight.
What more does one say?
At th' end of the day,
The Senator lion is sleeping tonight.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inglourious Basterds Review

There's less than expected o' Kill Bill-style splatter,
More of Tarantino's old plot-driving chatter.
A Jewish revenge
Tale somewhat unhinged,
Inglourious Basterds should quell many natt'rers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Barack Obama's Birtherday

The Birthers, by the birthplace issue gripped,
Have yet to get onto a BIRTHDAY trip:
On August Four,
Not o' woman born--
Barack was from his mother's womb untimely ripped!*

*Not really.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gotta Have Priorities

Of Crowley and GatesGate the media still chatters;
Though Jackson is dead now, his story they'll batter.
The Democrats screw
Their restless Pooch Blue .
Is it in this order that these stories matter?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

For Your Information

[EDIT: This entry is part of a contest. To help me win it, leave a comment and click either of the DermaNetwork links here.]

Come hither, friends, I must of tan-beds tell:
They have not Heaven's light, but heat of Hell!
For though we've Phoebus' steeds put to the bit,
They'll not their rider bear, they'll trample it,
With UV rays of such abundancy
Is matched by tanners, their profligacy.
A million souls do daily rest in those,
Not beds, nay! coffins hot enclosed.
This tanning legion, would-be Boehners all,
Are, like Ben Button, in an age withdrawal.

"More have been going since their years as tots,
Thus do more youth have Melanoma spots.
One patient mine, his skin had cancers three!"
Saith Doctor Zimmet. Would you disagree?
Some near receive their lifetime UV fix
Ere they're th' consenting age for carnal tricks.

"To combat this, the states must and do fight
With legislation," thus saith Lauren Wright.
Although Montana failed, there is a pending law,
I' a score of states, including Arkansas.
That minor access ought to be controlled
By doctor is a notion been well polled.
One out of ten such laws would like t' see;
That's better than Mahmoud his so-called victory.

I know no clearer way to out this spell,
So mark this wisdom, friends, and mark it well:
Not only safer is a minor ban,
It's also cooler than a killer tan.

Brought to you by DermaNetwork


So it escalates.
Will this beast be placated?
Th' Grave of Empires yawns.

Friday, July 24, 2009


'Twas stupid enough when Crowley cuffed Gates,
Obama then came off a bit (shock!) irate.
With all of the sound
That's deaf'ning Georgetown
You never would know there's a healthcare debate.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Heroic Coup, extempore

I wonder lately; what is GOP?
Perhaps its gop, a substance slippery.
If so, it could in multitudes of form
Assume--for short a time when over warmed.
A watchdog, say, with tight a fiscal leash;
Mayhap a hawk whose wingspan's overreached.
A predator, a troll for carnal play,
Sometime a lamb, did seeming blameless pray.
A wolfsbane bulldog, rural and petit,
Does Pale, become a Kristol-ine elite.
With passage of a week a sixpack Joe
Translates into a plumber with a co.
A Dick with Southern Strategy appeal?
A Bu-cannon with balls of Michael Steele?
An entity so oft transmogrified
Can't be by others--self!--identified.
Take comfort, though, gop's easier to tell
The more it sheds as nears its deathly knell.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Walter Cronkite

America’s anchorman, Walter Cronkite,
Has shuffled his coil, extinguished his light.
Moon landing or Tet
Or JFK’s death,
He always was there, so good luck and good night.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, RIP

Today the dancing King of Pop
His heart did sudden seize, then stop.
Th' alleged molesting
Was sometimes perplexing,
But his talent you're hard-pressed to top.


Since I have nothing better to do, now is as good a time as any to start posting here again. I thought a good way to do this and to stay informed would be to to write little poems and limericks from the day's biggest news. Stay tuned, Stewie.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I've been following the torture issue pretty closely for awhile now. That we are even having a debate about using torture to gather information is absolutely appalling, but even given my moral revulsion, it's still remained an abstract concept.

At the same time I've been writing my Honors History paper on English revenge tragedies and what they reveal about the Elizabethan atitude towards the gruesome public executions carried out at the time, especially with regards to traitors. I've taken issue with scholars who follow Foucault's interpretation of the public execution as a means of underscoring and reinforcing the assymetrical power of the sovereign and terrifying the populace. Essentially, my argument goes that the same elements that make the plays dramatically satisfying are present in the executions and would therefore lead them to condone such treatment. That they did is not even in dispute; public executions were social events, and the only time the people complained is if they thought that a particular person did not deserve to be hung, cut down alive, disemboweled, drawn and quartered.

Throughout the writing process I've maintained a pretty neutral stance on the grim details of the execution process. I suppose on the one hand I thought the tactics were self-evidently wrong and did not need any lily-guilding. But I had been arguing about the symbolic significance attached to these specific punishments, and the rationalizations the Tudor state made rather reservedly. I was today looking for illustrations to go with my presentation of the project, and came across this,

and was frankly shocked and appalled. There really is a difference between reading about medieval capital punishment, especially in the bland language of Holinshed, and actually seeing it, even if only in the form of an engraving. It's the difference between learning something by memorization versus experience, I suppose. My professor had commented on the populist aspect of it, which I guess was the point of my paper all along, but I hadn't quite seen in that light. My thesis was more correct than I realized: these practices are indeed reprehensible--though I might add the proper moral framework to opposing torture was not as developed as it is now--but the English people loved it, except, of course, when a specific person "didn't" deserve it.

What does any of this have to do with the current torture debate? Only that Jay Bybee's dry legalese does much to obscure the abhorrent nature of the tactics we employed, and while the news and blogosphere reaction has been heated on either side, I haven't heard much talk amongst the people I know. The Obama administration will release several torture photos to the ACLU next month; short of videotapes of the interrogations in question (the Bush administration shamelessly destroyed key footage of Jose Padilla's interrogations), coming face to face with photographic evidence of what we did is probably the best hope we have of genuine popular outrage developing far enough to nudge Eric Holder into opening an investigation and trying the officials of both parties for implementing the program.

And yet, we've already seen Abu Ghraib. How much worse can it get?

We'll have to see.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Stratford and Me

Since I have nothing better to do at 3 in the morning, I thought I would poke around the interwebs and find out if other people hate Stratford-upon-Avon as much as I do.

Do they? Well!

Germaine Greer's title, "Stratford-upon-Avon is such a dump," pretty much says it all. She's seen and knows much more of it than I cared to while I was trying to get out of there. "It would be a bitter irony if the greatness of Stratford's greatest son should be the direct cause of this little town's ultimate undoing," she concludes. Sadly, there are no ifs about it. The city milks William Shakespeare's birth, an accident of history, to the point of teat bleed.

Even more interesting is this discussion amongst several Stratfordians about the article, and how terribly wrong the town has gone in the past several years. Reading about the destruction of old, beautiful land and the insidious influence of a powerful developer (the Royal Shakespeare Company, of all things!) brought to my mind a lot of what has happened in McCall and Valley County the past several years. This is a side of Stratford's story I had barely considered. Knowing it now, I think I hate the place, if not its residents, even more than before.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Post-Script: Morality hazard

On that note, I will also ask: these bonuses supposedly had to be paid out of contractual obligation, that to deny them would have been illegal. I don't want to get into an argument (with myself, it looks like) on the difference between legality and morality, but it bears repeating that these people wrecked the economy, severely, and millions of people are suffering because of their recklessness. I doubt there is a law on burning down the economy, but there is a moral obligation that the bastards who pissed peoples' money away should be punished. Who among the executives responsible for this mess have resigned or been fired?

This isn't a matter of populist outrage, but simple accountability. These people fucked up, bad, and they need to be punished. To wring hands over the legal necessity of million dollar bonuses is to lose sight of the much bigger crime that made this such a contentious issue in the first place.

What was that about private market efficiency?

I find little to argue with in this post on the absurdity of AIG executives receiving six- and seven-figure bonuses after the bailout. Instead I'll posit a broader ideological question: the libertarian idea of the free market goes that government programs are wasteful, and since the market is based on offering a better product for a better price, it would be best to leave large sections of utilities in the hands of private companies to make them better at less cost to everybody else. But how the hell do pre-negotiated bonuses that are in no way tied to actual performance an efficient use of money? It sounds an awful like a powerful elite skimming off an enormous profit for themselves, which is the whole reason economic liberals think regulation and accountability are good ideas in the first place.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No dejected havior in this visage

Apparently a contemporary portrait of William Shakespeare, the first of its kind, has come to light, having sat in a private collection for 300 years. The few likenesses of Shakespeare we have were created after his death; this portrait is thought to have been the original from which the Folio picture is derived.

I'm still not sure how to react to it. There certainly is a resemblance between the two portraits. That it may have come from Southampton would in my mind strongly support its authenticity, given his patronage of Shakespeare. The outfit is quite fancy, but let us not forget Shakespeare was a very successful stakeholder in the Globe, and his family was able to afford a coat of arms in 1596. Dismissing its possible inaccuracy due to a tendency to idealize the subject of a painting during the Elizabethan era is silly; by that logic, what good are any portraits from that time period?

But this is hardly a game-changer if it is authentic. We don't know who commissioned it, and it is still, only a painting. Stratford would have us think it offers new insights into Shakespeare's purported bisexuality, but then again they would say that, wouldn't they? Their industry depends on continuous scholarly and popular interest in Shakespeare, regardless of whether or not there is any new information to have actually been unearthed. Bill Bryson has a refreshingly brief survey of how little we actually do know about the man, which made for a much-needed antidote the inflated (self-)importance and deification I saw in Stratford. Given how Shakespeare has been so Disneyfied by his town of birth, I lean towards caution rather than further bombast.

We have a better picture of who the man was, but it is a picture all the same.

EDIT: I will add, though, this is a considerably more dashing rendition than the Chandor portrait, and also turns his beard red.

Friday, March 6, 2009

And now I'm off to bed.

Good thing I don't have class until 3:20 PM.

Watchmen review *some spoilers*

My biggest concern going into Watchmen was that it wouldn't be able to stand on its own as a movie; that--especially due to the density of the source material--it would be too dependent on one being "in the know" to understand what's going on. Thankfully, that wasn't the case, though it'll be awhile before I myself can view it as a movie and not an adaptation. But indeed one of the film's greatest accomplishments is to have transferred Alan Moore's story intact. There were cuts, of course, but the heart of the story is there. One of the best parts for me was the opening credits, a montage of the various Minutemen and their history-changing deeds,deftly establishing in minutes the alternate 1985 the characters inhabit. It's a sequence which allowed Zack Snyder some license to play around with the material and not strictly follow the book.

This is, alas, one of the only parts of the film where such liberty is taken, and it is here that the film's achievement becomes its handicap: its fidelity, long thought impossible, becomes constrictive. For those who have read the book (I did two or three years ago, but I intentionally stayed away leading up to the film's release so I could have a relatively fresh view) there is, storywise, little surprising. Even the dialogue, much of it lifted from Moore's text, feels here stilted, as if the characters (and to only a certain extent the actors) would have been better served by being allowed to break free from their intricately sketched literary counterparts. There is a certain pre-ordained feel that overshadows even the best of the film.

Good thing there is so much done right; Patrick Wilson is the perfect everyman in Dan Dreiberg, and Jackie Hale Earley makes the gravelly voice that feels so weird with Christian Bale's Batman a natural fit for the wounded sociopath Rorschach, especially when the mask comes off. Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan was an inspired choice (one shudders to imagine Joel Silver's suggestion of Arnold Schwarzenneger having become reality). His stoic delivery and demeanor are perfectly suited for a character that views humanity with clinical, but not antisocial, detachment. I was concerned that the score would be one-dimensional, and while perhaps not particularly memorable, it was effective (here's hoping nothing was stolen). The additional use of popular music in the soundtrack, apparently lifted from the lyrics quoted in the chapter endings in the book, spans decades and genres and, together with the afforementioned credits sequence, gives the film a time-spanning feel, with my favorite such sequence, probably my favorite in the entire film PERIOD, probably being Dr. Manhattan's departure to Mars and flashbacks, underscored by a Phillip Glass piece from Koyaanisquatsi. There are certain parts that don't work (Malin Ackerman feels out of her league as Laurie, in the same way Katie Holmes did in Batman Begins), and the script feels somewhat clunky at times. But it's obvious everyone involved with the project gave it their all.

It's all so well done, but again, its conservative take on the material keeps it from greatness. The best adaptations--my friends mentioned Fight Club--take their source material and make something new with it. Because Watchmen is so beloved and so intricate, there is simply no way that it could have made any significant departures, however great, without getting ripped to shreds by the fans. Unfortunately, part of the magic of the original was its deconstruction of the comic book medium (done, for example, in the Curse of the Black Freighter scenes which are wisely jettisoned here; I'm curious as to how they'll be handled on the forthcoming DVD), which could only be done as a comic book. A more interesting direction for the movie to take would have been to examine the now-ubiquitous superhero films in the same manner. But it would have been too much, and maybe an impossible task.

Bringing Watchmen to the screen without sacrificing its story or (much of) its thematic integrity is a Herculean achievement; Alan Moore's works have been poorly served in previous adaptations, and we should all be glad that one has finally gotten the respectful treatment it deserves (V for Vendetta came close, but not close enough). At the same time, though, that very faithfulness blunts the enjoyment for one already familiar with the material. I thought it strange that so many of my friends wanted to read the graphic novel for the first time just before the film came out, and I think my concern was justified: the movie is probably much more enjoyable to the uninitiated, who then have the depths of the book to explore. As a movie, as its own work of art, I must reserve judgment: I've so focused on the adaptation aspect at this point that I can't without subsequent viewings see the movie objectively, and I have a feeling the film will appreciate for me, given enough time. For now, as an adaptation, it feels strangely safe. Yet considering the perils even making the film at all carried with it, this is about the best we could have hoped for.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pakistan Get Worse

A terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan left 8 people dead. Worse yet, the team had gone to play there as a gesture to encourage other international teams it was safe to travel and play there. This is the end of international cricket and Pakistan, at least for now.

This is bad for the country's economy and social scene, and potentially disastrous security-wise. I don't want to read too much into it, but there are going to be a lot of idle, pissed off Pakistanis with one less pursuit to keep them busy. Hopefully they'll channel their anger properly and begin ridding their country of the barbarians responsible for this.

Party like it's 1997

The DOW has dropped to levels not seen since 1997.

The economy was great back then! So that must mean the economy is great now!


Monday, March 2, 2009

Uh Oh

Official head of the GOP Michael Steele criticizes the unofficial head, Rush Limbaugh, and mere days later is forced to apologize.

Let's consider this for a moment. Rush Limbaugh is now the de facto leader of the opposition. This seems all fine and good for now; with the Republicans increasingly marginalized, Obama and his policies will gain that much more support. If those policies do not manage to get the economy on the right track by 2012 (2010??), people are going to turn to the batshit crazy Republicans (there's always the chance of a third party rising from the ashes of moderate conservatism, but it's not bloody likely to happen), and that's when scary things could start happening, on the order of Sarah Palin or some equally rabid culture warrior (Rush???) taking power.

My imagination has a way of getting carried away, but the point is this: in a worst-case scenario of the economy continuing to tank and the Democrats getting thrown out, what kind of Republican do you want in their place: one who disagrees with you, or one who HATES you?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Editing

Yesterday I finished cutting together the first part of my first ever scene (the second part of it has yet to be filmed). The editing process was a revelation; I had never considered how important fluid continuity and the passage of time are when putting together a film. That sounds dweeby and naive and obvious, but it's true.

The scene is a chase through my school's performing arts building, with one fellow, Schwarz, pursued to varying extents by three others, Brian, Sketch, and Walter. The three pursuers all split up, requiring cuts between four characters. Since three of them are running as fast as they can, this also means the cuts have to be quick; if I were to linger on any character too long, I would have to either backtrack in time when switching to another character in order for it all to make geographical sense, or, conversely, when I switched to the next character they would be much farther along than they were when we last saw them, and prompting a "where the hell are they reaction?" It's a difficult balancing act.

There's a part where Walter comes out of an elevator, sees Schwarz running to some distant stairs, and then turns around and gets back in the elevator. If possible I may see about doing pickup shot of that because the next time we see Walter, he's dashing down the hall downstairs and sees Schwarz burst through the door outside. As it is, the mental connections I (and anyone else who watches, I am sure) am making say that based on how long it would take Walter to get back down the elevator, he could not be where he is.

The lesson I can easily apply to the other scenes I'll be shooting for my senior project is, you can never have too much coverage. I'm using an HD video camera that's easily moveable, so there's no reason for me to not get the action from as many angles as I can.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Joys of Enlightened Nerdiness

Matt Yglesias ponders the true nature of Transformers (robots or vehicles or both?). My favorite comment:

Transformers are philosophically interesting because they complicate the classic Aristotelian distinction between form and matter, since their very nature is to change from one form into another. So we can’t say their form is either humanoid or as machine. As Aristotle would argue, their form consists in their activity, namely, tranformation. And their matter is organized around that principle. If Maximus Prime could no longer perform the act of transforming into a truck, or vice versa, he would no longer be a transformer. So, they’re neither one nor the other, intrinsically. They are, it goes without saying, more than meets the eye.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Is it me, or do the Republicans have a knack for burning out their rising stars? Sarah Palin imploded within a couple weeks, and after all the talk of Bobby Jindal being a 2012 contender, we get Kenneth from 30 Rock, an association that in the age of Facebook is not likely to go away easily. Are they really that bad at selling their ideas (in which case, their animosity towards Hollywood liberals is simply a manifestation of professional jealousy)? Or is the Republican party simply vacuous? Occam's Razor is having trouble paring this one down.

I mean, seriously. SNL's been lousy for years; the only reason their political material is funny now is they hardly have to try.

What's worse is that this Republican incompetence, mixed with insanity ('leave it up to the frozen markets!'), precludes the very necessary debate that needs to happen over the details of issues like the stimulus. Democrats are going to need a different perspective in untying this economic Gordian knot, but the Alexandrian solution is not constructive. It became a campaign debate cliche, but: hatchets and scalpels. Hatchets and scalpels.

Now here's a real a rebuttal:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hate to Say I Told You So...

...and I can't anyway, so I won't.

Penn's win surprised the hell out me, not the least because he's won so many times already. My friend Jordan (whom I owe a beer) probably had it right: "In the eyes of the Academy, the gays are now placated." Especially after that speech! It made a nice counterpoint to Dustin Lance Black's speech, which was so very moving.

And yet I thought that since they rained on Rourke's parade they might do the same to Slumdog. But no. I am happy, though. I haven't seen Milk and can't judge it, but Slumdog was a great film, and Danny Boyle a great director.

Besides those two upsets (and Penelope Cruz, which I figured a toss-up), though, I ended up nailing most of the secondary categories outside of the wild guesses (short films and foreign film). "Jai Ho" won (I thought "O Saya" was much more emblematic of the film), and the only real surprise was sound mixing, which Slumdog got.

But that's neither here nor there; with 15 out of 24 guessed correctly, I tied at the Oscar party I was at for most guesses, and took home the Wall-E DVD! I got runner-up last year in a contest and won a mini-Oscar statuette, a Sasquatch Gang T-Shirt (which I sold to a co-worker for $15), and some Semi-Pro socks, so this is setting a good trend.

The Oscars

The Academy Awards have always been about politics and creating a narrative; The Departed was far from being the best picture of '06, but hey, Scorsese needed an Oscar. So here are my attempts to (second-)guess this year's winners.

Best Picture - The momentum is on Slumdog Millionaire's side, but I'm betting the farm (and a beer) on Milk. The 2005 snubbing of Brokeback Mountain was a minor scandal, and Hollywood is going to want to make amends with the gay community, who are especially wounded now after the passage of Proposition 8 (which might not have happened if this movie had come out before the election). This would be the third Best Picture in a row where the main character dies in the end, and maybe the Academy has learned its lesson about fighting a wave of goodwill and publicity, but in the end these things come down to internecine politics, and Milk is the safe choice. How far has America come when we can say that about a film depicting the rise and assassination of a gay icon?

Lead Actor - Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler - Because no one thought Mickey Rourke would be great again. This will be the climax of his comeback, with which the movie itself is inextricably linked.

Supporting Actor - Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight - Because he will never be great again (leaving aside the unfinished shooting of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus) Plus, he should have gotten it for Brokeback, and he really did do a damned terrifying Joker.

Lead Actress - Kate Winslet, The Reader - Because she's never won, despite multiple nominations, of which she will remind you, at length.

Supporting Actress - Not really sure what to make of this one, but Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one I've heard most about, so I'll chalk this up to quality, for once.

Animated Film - WALL-E. No animated movie has gotten this much love in a long time, and there's no reason for the Academy to differ.

From here it becomes more of a crapshoot, with biases towards films with a higher profile. I think Benjamin Button is going to take a lot of the technical categories for making Brad Pit old-young, and if they're going to upset the Slumdog momentum, they're going to probably do it by chipping some of the smaller awards away while still acknowledging its overall greatness. That way they can still make Milk look like a surprise upset at the end.

If Slumdog sweeps all of its early nominations, though, then like Return of the King it will have Best Picture in the bag (except ROTK was also political, since they waited until the Lord of the Rings trilogy was over before showering it with love).

Art Direction - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Cinematography - Slumdog Millionaire
Costume Design - The Duchess
Directing - Slumdog Millionaire
Documentary - Man on Wire (it pulls off the trick of making us feel good about the twin towers by telling the story of an equally marvelous feat)
Short Documentary - The Conscience of Nhem En
Editing - Slumdog Millionaire
Foreign Language - Waltz with Bashir (this had a pretty high profile in London, but like all the others on the list, I never heard about it here)
Makeup - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (a no-brainer, though it was nice to see Hellboy II included)
Original Score - Slumdog Millionaire (I hear Benjamin Button is most deserving, though)
Original Song -"O Saya" from Slumdog Millionaire
Animated Short - Lavatory - Lovestory
Live Action Short - New Boy"
Sound Editing - The Dark Knight (remember that frayed, one-note Joker theme?)
Sound Mixing - The Dark Knight
Visual Effects - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Adapted Screenplay - Slumdog Millionaire
Original screenplay - Milk

To those still paying attention....

It turns out I can link my Facebook photo albums so that non-users can view them. Behold!

Day 1 (Hotel Room)
Days 2 and 3 (Trafalgar Square)
Day 3 (St. Pauls, Fleet Street at night)
Day 5 (Imperial War Museum--brief, because my camera battery died)
Day 7, part 1 (Parliament, Westminster Abbey, etc.)
Day 7, part 2 (Buckingham Palace, etc.)
Day 8, part 1 (Oxford)

Those are all I have now. My computer has not cooperated with Facebook's photo uploading applet. I'm going to try to upload them from a fast computer in the near future. Check back soon!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

There and Back Again

Well, I made it back, and have largely managed to avoid jet-lag, mostly on account of the return being so screwy and drawn out.

We left Heathrow around noon and arrived at Chicago O'Hare around 3:30. I managed to catch a couple naps in the meantime, along with some reading and schoolwork. Unlike the initial plane ride, I brought my camera on board, and so I was able to take some great photos over British Columbia.

While walking around O'Hare I suddenly found my left ring finger was bleeding; the run-in with the bike the previous day had failed to shed any of the stuff, and so I was at a bit a loss.

We were scheduled to depart for Boise at 7:30, but the torrential rain that was pouring in Chicago delayed our flight by three hours. Most of us--our group was now four students and the three professors; the others remained in Europe to continue enjoying themselves--had been planning on staying up until we were to get home, around midnight, but the delay took most of the wind out of that idea, and I think all of us slept on that late flight.

I awoke hearing a distorted celestial voice talking about Salt Lake City and 6 in the morning and hoped it was a dream, but alas. Weather concerns forced us to detour and land in Salt Lake, where we would remain until the ticketing offices opened up the next morning.

My paternal grandparents live in Salt Lake, and so I considered getting a different ticket back so I could spend a day or so with them. It was too late to call them, but I had to know what the plan was by the time we talked to the ticket offices. So I waited until around 5:20, when we were close in line, to call. My grandfather, Opa, was already up, and we planned on having him come get me.

Then I called Mum, and she looked up the airline's flights and saw the only way to Boise was through Denver, at 4 in the afternoon. I thought I would stay in SLC for a few days and try for Tuesday.

Then I found out they had already set us up with a flight to Boise. No problem, I could get it changed.

Then the ticket guy said I would have to pay to get it changed, and they don't even go to Boise normally. So that was that.

We took off without incident, dealt with some turbulence, and landed. Professor Maughan gave me a ride back to the dorms. The trip was over

I miss London already. I'll be back, someday.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I thought it might be worth mentioning I got hit by a bicyclist last night. I was making an ad hoc cross of the streets to get to Monument, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, and he was either closer or going faster than I thought he was. There was a yell, and he hit me (presumably) on my left side.

I got off with a couple bruises. He seemed to be okay, as was his laptop. He was none too happy about his bike, which he had gotten just the day before, whose front brake grip I messed up.

I'm essentially fine, just a little uncomfortable.

And with that, adieu!

One Day More

A full itinerary: the Natural History Museum, the Saatchi Gallery exhibition on Middle Eastern Art, and the Tate Britain's Altermodern, which posits a movement away from postmodernism. Hopefully another play tonight, too.

This will probably be my last entry written in London proper; I hope you all have enjoyed what I've had to offer. I'll be adding reflective entries and photos in subsequent days, so keep checking back.

Give me a couple days to sleep off the jetlag, though.

Lear's Shadow

Today is our last day before heading back to the states, so no pictures. In a few days I'll hopefully have the time and means for more content.

But: overall the Young Vic Lear was very good; there were some very questionable directorial decisions (Albany was terribly cast; the heath scene was only half-successful; Goneril does NOT need to be pregnant; the Edgar-Edmund duel sent mixed signals), but all of them are more than redeemed by Pete Postlethwaite as Lear, who is absolutely spell-binding (and a perfect gentleman too; he signed my sketchbook afterwards!). Gloucester and Edgar especially were able to work on that same level, which was especially critical for the Poor Tom scenes and the "trial" of Goneril and Regan, represented here by two potted cacti which Lear proceeds to rip apart with his bare hands when it comes time to "anatomize Regan."

The center of the play, in fact, is some of the most intense theatre I've experienced yet, with a triple-knockout succession of Poor Tom (with Lear and Edgar both operating on the same insane wavelength and the Fool seemingly aware that his own eccentricity has been far usurped), the trial, and the blinding of Gloucester, which was effectively, gruesomely done with an added nastiness as Regan, ever eager to outdo others in wickedness, starts gouging out the other eye and then proceeds to rip it out with her teeth and spit it out into a dirty basin downstage. The end of the play is nearly derailed by the awful Albany, but the core.... Wow.

Monday, February 9, 2009


A different sort of theatrical experience, Pete Postlethwaite as King Lear at the Young Vic.

Les Mis

Les Miserables is an anomaly of theatre. With over 20 years under its belt, it's the longest-running production in London. It's an unweildy beast of three hours, with an ensemble of 20 or 30 people, and massive production values. Just think of the chair Valjean breaks after Fantine's death. They would need one chair for every production, of which there are five or six a week. Multiply that by 56 or so, and multiply that by 20 (whatever the number is); that's a lot of money invested in just a chair. Think too of the dry cleaning bills for all the costumes, for whatever food they need onstage, and all the actors' salaries.

This is just to give some background to what is a very accomplished production that I watched on Saturday. The technical details--rotating floor, two huge setpieces that combine to form a scaffolding-set that later turns over to become the barricades--were dazzling, the performers all great (Eponine and Javert were my favorites), and the sleight of hand to keep it all moving without anyone noticing was flawless. It was all very impressive, and I am glad I went.

All the same, I thought the spectacle overwhelmed the story and the characters (which might not be all that deep to begin with; I haven't decided). This would make an amazing movie, and it's surprising that 20 years on there still has not been one made, but the elaborateness of it all on stage ends up feeling like less than the sum of its parts.

Also, whatever Victor Hugo's politics, the production is incredibly conservative. Its state of permanent existence puts the lie any talk of revolution, and thatand the tight choreography effectively choke off any sense of spontaneity. I almost hesitate to call it theatre, in that theatre is supposed to be an ephemeral event; part of the package--in addition to the details a particular night's show being one-of-a-kind, which is inherent and unshakeable-- is that eventually a show will close and will be gone forever. Les Mis is not like that at all. It's been here, and will seemingly always be here, for anyone who wants to see it or see it again. Immortality, whether in production or in real life, effectively robs all sense of urgency and weight.

I really did admire it, though, honest.

Back Attack

I've been in London for a couple days now, but because of sporadic internet access (and troublesome computers when I do have access), posting has been spare. But I'll try to give some quick updates.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Cathedral

For reasons unexplained, Canterbury Cathedral receives no state support (this is how it should be, but this is England: how does the seat of the state church not receive any subsidy?). I could have used Sean's resident card to get in for free, but I knew they needed the money and was glad to pay the 5 pounds 50 pence entry fee.

Friday was a good day to go, because they had decided to remove the chairs from the center and open the space up, to let others see what it would have been like hundreds of years ago, when it was used as an open market (what would Jesus have thought? I wondered). The interior was typically amazing.

This was a much better use of my money than Shakespeare's Birthplace, and I say that as a fire-breathing atheist and (now chastened) Shakespeare enthusiast.

Canterbury, continued

I spent most of Thursday just exploring the city, not with any real purpose. The day started with a traditional English breakfast at a local cafe, which was very good, very filling; I don't understand why English food gets the bad rap it does. After Morgan gave me a whirlwind tour of the city, I went with her to the University of Canterbury, which whatever the quality of education (and it sounds like they have some top-notch departments) has some incredibly ugly modernist buildings, as it was only built in the 70s. Apparently the architect's previous project had been a prison. The library is one of the better buildings.

The school is quite a distance away from Sean and Morgan's apartment, taking a good half hour to walk there, uphill. Compare this view from outside their door:

to this, from the entrance to the school.

After getting back I decided to do some walking around. I wanted to go to the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey, but it was closed for some reason. So instead I decided to follow the city wall for awhile. I actually found a rock that had fallen out onto the ground and considered taking it as a souvenir, but then judged that to be rather touristy, and possibly illegal. It was next to a main traffic artery and so I didn't take my chances. I went along the outside up the northeast end, and eventually found myself back at the apartment. Just before that, I came across this house, which for obvious reasons is always being photographed:

After that I went back to the Dane John, a little park named presumably in reference to the city's 11th century viking conquerors. Among other landmarks it contains a monument to those who died in the Boer War of South Africa.

That night Morgan prepared for us a hardy meal, made all the more amazing by the fact that it was made up of leftovers.

Later that night I rode one of their bikes back up to the University to see Slumdog Millionaire, an amazing and even heartwarming movie which I highly recommend.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Taste of Canterbury

Outside the cathedral.

The cobblestone streets really can be that narrow.

How great would it have been to have been able to play on this as a child?

The greatest tree I've ever seen, as if from Sleepy Hollow or Pan's Labyrinth.

From outside Canterbury Castle. No idea as to its original use, probably had to do with pumping water.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

The Stratford train station toilet is a foul space, with shreds of toilet paper unspooled and heaped upon the grimy floor, pleas for sex (or maybe just “cock”) with a phone number carved into the dispenser, an old-fashioned loo with a pull handle and an ominously suspended bowl, rude penises scrawled onto the door. You will never find a more wretched hive of (s)cummy viscera.

It was in this environment that I had to relieve myself, which I had made no easy task, the ski tights I had worn to keep me warm proving extremely cumbersome. In order to shit properly, I had to take off my coat and scarf, then remove my hat; this is because I had to take off my shirt and sweatshirt in order to unzip the jumpsuit to down below my waist, put the shirt and sweatshirt back on so I wouldn’t catch a chill, then tuck the sleeves of the jumpsuit into my lowered drawers, lest they mingle with the filth of the floor. My business done, I went to wash my hands and had to dry them on one of those strange dispensers that uses thin-but-actual towels that seemed to cycle back into the apparatus, which in this dungeon served to pervert cleanliness into an unhealthy pursuit. I resolved to wash my hands, for real, at the next sink to which I had access.

Thus finished, I picked up a map of Stratford and set out to find a place to stay. In my left hand was a bag of bread, over my shoulders a backpack packed with reading material, toiletries, sandals, a day’s change of clothes, and a blanket that would prove extremely useful. The only youth hostel in town was actually not in town but two miles out, near Warwick; it had a reputation for inconsistency—for one reviewer, the price of a room changed literally overnight. I wanted none of that and so resolved to find a place in town to make my base of operations as I fulfilled my pilgrimage. The first hotel I passed was a giant estate and had a gate that closed at 11 and a large yard in front of the building, which was enough to deter me from bothering with it. Up a side street were a couple bed-and-breakfast establishments, both booked up. I came across these within a five minute span, but it was already going on 2 o’ clock, and I needed to get settled in, away from the snow and cold. These were my overriding concerns as I entered the White Swan (the Swan of Avon! O, erudition! O, literary innuendo!) to find out their rates.

A normal room was #65, prohibitively expensive. I asked if they did student discounts, which they didn’t, not really, but they could make an exception for me. The young lady at the desk said she could knock off #10, and then another 10 by getting rid of breakfast. I had no idea of rates elsewhere—I still don’t, for that matter, because I will never, ever go to Stratford again, and if I do I should be put on the rack, hung, cut down before I die, made to see my stomach sliced open and my entrails removed and tossed on the fire, drawn and quartered, and my head put on a pike on the London Bridge to serve as a warning to others who would betray their better instincts—and since I had already haggled a discount I didn’t want to push my luck. So I signed off on my #45 room, room 1 (she took pity on me with my overstuffed backpack), and went up to deposit my stuff and get situated.

The room was relatively spacious and looked nice enough, with two beds, a view overlooking the center of town, a relatively large (after having spent ten days in the charming but cozy Berjaya Eden Park Inn, everything was relative) bathroom, and even a hallway with a dresser and closet to connect the two. There was a television, larger than we had had in the previous room, and the customary trouser press and tea set. I spread out the map to figure out what would be first on my itinerary, and unwrapped a sandwich I had filched from the breakfast buffet; it was while eating this that I recalled the scatological morass of the train station toilet and my resolution to give my hands a proper scrub. Eventually I settled on Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The capital ‘B’ is intentional, and emblematic of the Bardolatry that holds Stratford captive.