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.