29 December 2012

My Top Ten Films for 2012

1. L'enfant d'en haut (Meier)
2. Django Unchained (Tarantino)
3. Moonrise Kingdom (W. Anderson)
4. Gianni e le donne (DiGregorio)
5. Bernie (Linklater)
6. The Master (P. Anderson)
7. Lincoln (Spielberg)
8. Holy Motors (Carax)
9. Noordzee, Texas (Defurne)
10. Seven Psychopaths (McDonagh)

Honorable Mention: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Zeitlin)Argo (Affleck)The Deep Blue Sea (Davies)Generation P (Ginzburg)Any Day Now (Fine).

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Best Actress: Rachael Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)
Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
Best Supporting Actress: Edith Scob (Holy Motors)

L'enfant d'en haut -- released in the U.S. under the title "Sister" -- is my top film of 2012. You likely missed this gem as it quickly passed through a few select American theaters. It only played in Berkeley for a week. On the other hand there were months worth of Batmen Spidermen Ironmen and JamesBondmen. There is no underestimating the state of American culture. In any case look for Sister on DVD in the coming months enjoy and thank me later. It co stars the lovely Lea Seydoux who appeared in Midnight in Paris and had a small role in Inglorious Basterds. She features along with a young lad by the name of Kacey Mottet Klein. They are a very down on their luck duo (maybe brother and sister maybe not) living near a chichi ski resort in Switzerland. The boy supplies most of their income through common thievery and the young woman just wants to meet the right guy. It is a touching but never maudlin tale that Chaplin would have been proud to direct. However the director here was Ursula Meier directing only her second feature. Hopefully there will be more to come and hopefully they will enjoy wider releases in the U.S.

27 December 2012

Dr. Tarantino Prescribes What Film Goers Need -- Django Unchained!

I do not have to post this. I can write whatever I want so long as it's true.

I frequently write just after bouncing back from a cold or even as now when still suffering the sniffles the soar throat the chills. The easy agony of a common cold. When I taught middle school I would average three or four a year. Now that I work with an adult population I get by with one or two. Hallelujah.


Slept let today not having to go into work. Later oldest daughter and I saw Django Unchained which you may have heard about. Director Quentin Tarantino is an acutely self aware film maker. He knows exactly what he's doing and what effect he wants. There is a comfortable self consciousness about his desire to push our buttons. He is a film lover who wants his films to be loved. He is in fact a director who constantly puts himself in the the mindset of the audience. But the good thing is that Tarantino is not trying to sell tickets -- just please those who purchase them. He doesn't pander or sell out his vision indeed his vision is as clear as crystal.

You sit down for a Tarantino movie and your going to get what he thinks is best. Dr. Tarantino has your prescription. Swallow whole.

Why are his films so violent? I don't know why is life so violent? You ever read a history book or check out the news? People be getting shot everyday all over the place sometimes in great numbers. Film violence is wonderfully unreal with the big fat benefit of no one actually dying. In fact cinematic violence is often an effective story telling device as long as it is used in the forwarding of telling a story and not as an entertainment end to itself. Tarantino tells the types of stories that call for shots to be fired people to keel over screaming in pain and for blood to spurt. Django Unchained would not have worked if Eric Rohmer had directed it. Just as Tarantino could not have done justice to Clair's Knee (1970).

Think about -- tell me I'm wrong.

One thing that struck me about Django Unchained was how closely the antebellum slavery it depicts resembled everything I've read and for 18 years taught about the peculiar institution. The treatment of the slaves the look of the plantation the attitudes the dress the manner. Credit to Tarantino for nailing all that. It was an ugly unpleasant and very violent world and would that there had been a whole mess of real Djangos to extract a little --nah, a LOT -- of revenge. Pow! Bullet in an overseer's gut.

Django is freed and ultimately hired by a bounty hunter (Christoph Walz) who teaches him the tricks of the trade and how to bloody well read to boot. Waltz is just the sort of mannered self conscious actor ideally suited for a Tarantino movie. Match made in film heaven. Kerry Washington is Django's ravishing wife whose freedom they seek to gain from a plantation owner played to perfection by Leonardo DiCaprio. Samuel L. Jackson is the embodiment of the loyal Uncle Tom House Nigger (as called by field slaves). A fawning sycophant whose got it far far far better than 97% of those in bondage and ain't about to rock no motherfuckin' boat. Whitey could count on his house slaves.

Django Unchained is a buddy picture. A revenge flick. A twisted slice of historical fiction. It is most of all a way of giving a cultural corrective to the horrible image of the beaten and submissive slave who had to watch from his knees as his woman was beaten or sold or both. I never sugar coated my teaching of slavery. It would have been a disservice to make this sad history anything other than the horror that it was. It also needed to be (and still does need be) taught as precisely and accurately as possible. Full of the cruelty rape duplicitousness savagery and stench of high hypocrisy. There is no pretty little ribbon to be put around the real story of American slavery. Stink. Stank. Stunk.

So let's have this film where we can at least play with the notion of one ex slave extracting some revenge. And how about this message: a freed black man "going back" for a woman. The woman he loves.

It is a story told with bravado with rich charters aplenty an eclectic soundtrack brilliant visuals and yes large dollops of blood.

And damned if it didn't make me completely my cold for two and half hours.


19 December 2012

Joy to the World and Especially to You Fanny and Alexander

We are all miracles. The odds against our being born are far greater than the odds against being elected president once we are born. We defy explanation. Passion. Love. Art. The music of Verdi. The paintings of Raphael. The poetry of Neruda. A long slow kiss. Fresh cherries. The films of Chaplin. Love. The overwhelming desire to be with someone to hold them to look into their eyes to be as one with another.

We interrupt our rapture for pain and insanity and cruelty and hatred sprinkled with terrifying moments when the entire world seems to be giving way from beneath. The pitch blackness that infects the mind and soul and leads us to sob or cringe or kill. Death -- not our own for that is easy. The death of those close to us. Their permanent departure from our lives. That void. How horribly final.

No wonder we are conflicted. A constant battle between joy and sorrow rages on within and about us. And it is always surrounded and often obscured by the mundane. Indeed we often cloak ourselves in the trivial (think of television) to find respite from the harder truths. And so we become numb. Awakening to one of the twin forces in times of clarity. Sure we deflect the awful but so often we fail to welcome the beautiful as if it were so great an effort to invite the wonders.


And then there is the meaningful. The knowledge that abets our greatest hopes and worst fears (have you ever had the worst day of your life? Have you ever had your best? Do you reckon that more contenders for both will come along? Are you girded for the storm? Are you...). So often we confuse information for truth or understanding. Our brains collect trivia and we stamp ourselves smart then recoil at contradictions unable to break away from linear thinking.

As we aim to possess understanding it calls us weak and stupid and we shove it under a rug and tell more lies -- mostly to ourselves.

Celebrations. Why do I a non believer so love Christmas? I always have. As a child. As a teen. As a young adult. As a parent of children. Now as a parent of 20 somethings. It is -- you see -- colorful and different. Christmas comes with its own set of music and decor and lights and traditions and food and drinks and treats and of course gifts. Family feels so close. So secure. So loving.

Some will tell you that there is a war on Christmas. If so it has no chance. This entrenched holiday is everywhere for  a full month. The only blows it has suffered is the use of Happy Holidays in lieu of Merry Christmas and the elimination of a nativity scene or two. Christmas thrives because it is an economic force as well as cultural one. Xmas has barely suffered a few nicks and bruises.

Christmas also brings with its own set of films. (Please see the Christmas label on the right of this page for some of my past posts about Christmas movies.) A recent tradition for me this time of year is to watch the magnificent Ingmar Bergman opus Fanny & Alexander (1982). The full version as shown originally on Swedish TV. It is a rich sumptuous delight. The five plus hours (spread over two nights) spent with the Ekdahl family of whom the titular characters are two junior members flies by. How can it not with the rich cinematography of Sven Nykvist? Sets down to the tiniest prop that are brimming with beauty and color and evoke early 20th century Sweden.

Only the film's first hour takes place at Christmas and what a Christmas it is. Brimming with an amazing blend of tradition and spontaneity. Rich with food and gifts and fun. Downright sensual and ribald yet fit -- so very fit -- for a child. Here is life in full and the joys of family love and love of family. Here is the precursor of the troubles that are to come for out two young protagonists but the foreshadowing of their courage and their families devotion that will rescue them.

Amazing wonders and villains and strange heroes await the children. Steadfast are two uncles one a lout to his poor wife the other a loving if unfaithful husband who takes great huge gulps of life. Grandmother is so strong and wise and peaceful and kind. She even has a Jewish lover has had since before she was widowed. Wink. Wink. And mother. Widowed suddenly but a much older husband (whose ghosts regularly checks in with Alexander not the only apparition he will see). Mother beautiful loving but what a mistake she made in making the bishop her second husband. One of filmdom's great evil characters.

Fanny and Alexander is a wonder a miracle an amazing journey through all the darkness and light that life can throw our way with no wasted time on the plain the ordinary the mundane. Here in film is life in full. Huzzah!

16 December 2012

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone

"We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds."- Anton Chekov.
 I wonder as I wander.

I'm off for a week so get to watch a gazillion films and read a library's worth of books and listen to Christmas Carols and eat gluttonously and repent at the gym and contemplate all the eternities of dozens of memories. Meanwhile I ache at the thought of six year olds slaughtered indiscriminately.

Roger Ebert in addition to being a legendary film critic is also a sharp observer of the social and political scenes in this country. He's just a damn good writer and a very very smart man. However in blogging about the massacre in Newton he condemned the news media for their role in glorying the stories of  Columbine style mass murderers (The Trenchcoat Mafia) and suggested that this leads to copycat killers. This in turn was his response to the notion that films and TV influence the perpetrators of such heinous crimes.


Let's all stop with side issues. There are two ways to address to the kind of killings that can turn movie theaters and shopping malls and elementary schools into killing fields.

The first and most important is the quick identification of and treatment for the types of mentally unstable young men who go on rampages. Sandy Hook Elementary School had just installed new security measures to protect its students. These proved worthless. We can hardly be expected to turn our schools and every other public building into stalags anyway. We cannot stop movies TV shows or video games from depicting violence lest we slip down the slippery slope of censorship. And we cannot expect the news media to ignore the stories of society's monsters. But perhaps we can learn to recognize the kinds of behaviors in our young people that may later manifest themselves in horrible ways. Certainly very few become mass killers but there are a thousand different ways in which they can hurt innocent people. Maybe we can start intercepting these people and providing them with the kind of treatment that will make them happier and more productive citizens and make the rest of us safer. I know I know I know this is akin to the idea of expending more resources on preventing young people from becoming criminals so that we can spend less on incarceration. An ounce of prevention. It is the type of thing talked about and talked about and rarely seriously addressed. Perhaps last week's tragedy can provide an impetus. We certainly owe it to the memories of those babies who were killed.

The second and more immediate action that can be taken is passing much more stringent gun control laws. No citizen needs the type of assault rifle that was used on those children. But let me pause here to add a personal note: Fuck you NRA. Fuck you and your tragic misinterpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Fuck you for fighting tooth and nail and with millions of dollars to keep any kind of gun control legislation passed no matter how rational. Fuck you for promoting a gun culture in the United States and the idea that an armed citizenry is a free one (those children at Sandy Hook are free all right -- free of their lives). Fuck you NRA. Rivers of blood are on your hands for your maniacal determination to keep guns in the hands of every sentiment being. You not only help arm mass killers but the day to day individual murderers that go on relentlessly throughout the country. And a final fuck you to the legislators who have allowed themselves to be bought and intimidated by the NRA. Your hands drip with blood too. (See this story: Twelve Facts About Guns and Mass Shootings in the U.S. and please note numbers 8 and 9.)

I do believe that  this time people are angry enough that some sort of token gun control legislation will be passed on the national level. It's hard to be optimistic that it will be enough.

So we process as best we can the idea of an elementary school being the site of a massacre. The sorrow and the anger must not consume us. We have our own lives to manage. But neither should we let them go too quickly. It is critical to channel that outrage and hurt into meaningful action. I have noticed how people -- usually men -- will hang on to anger after their favorite team loses a game. In a situation in which they are utterly powerless they will fume and fuss and contemplate what could have and what should have been. Some of their rantings are a healthy release but after awhile that energy is utterly and completely useless. We have little power over how are team does on the field. But we do have a say in  how our communities and cities and states and country conduct its affairs. Together it is possible  to affect change.

At least we can start the conversations. At least we can ask questions and write letters and do research and demand action. As long as this society stands by and when tragedy strikes merely sends "thoughts and prayers" and "offers condolences" we are all accomplices. We must stop writing "there are no words." Bullshit. There are a lot of words. There are words like: "that's enough something must be done. We've got to figure out how to identify the disturbed before they kill. We've got to keep young people from so easily and quickly turning to crime. We've got figure out how to keep assault weapons out of everyone's hands and other weapons out of the hands of those who are unfit and unqualified." There are lots of similar words and it's time we started using them.

Shock is understandable. Sorrow is natural. Now onto the outrage and action. There are enough angels right now.

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.  ~ George Elliot

10 December 2012

Waiting for God to Show Up Seeing a Good Story Instead The Flowers of St. Francis

I have a friend who regularly tells stories from his day.  Often I wait for a dramatic conclusion or a point. But usually the story just dies a natural death with no denouement and no lesson learned. Merely a simple slice of everyday life. Often these stories reflect a kind act or a minor revelation of character. But just as often there is seemingly nothing to them. But I indulge these stories because he is a friend and because in their simplicity and the straight forward fashion in which they are offered comes a kind of comfort. So much of life is comprised of the quite ordinary that defy any attempts to provide meaning -- should one be foolhardy enough to try. Things happen. An errand is run. A walk is taken. A task is carried out. An acquaintance is greeted. Nothing to see here. Just move along. And so we do. The recounting of the mundane is not pointless if offered genuinely and without embellishment.

There is an element of this in a Robert Rosselilni film called The Flowers of St. Francis (1950). The first time I watched it some months ago I was disappointed having made the huge mistake of awaiting some dramatic moment or some profound insight. There seemed little point to these tales of Francis of Assisi, the Italian monk of the 12th century. Like much of Rossellini's earlier work it was a joy to look at and had a strong sense of realism having been shot on location sans professional actors (in this case actual monks played monks). But I was waiting for god to show up or at least a miracle to show some rascally sinners. At the very least I expected a profound point to be made.

Be careful what you look for you may be missing something else.

I gave the film another try yesterday. Who knows what compels one to give a film a second chance. But I did and am glad of it.

There was Francis leading his charges through a rainstorm back to their shelter which had been usurped by a nasty old cuss. In another film the squatter would have been given what for. Here the monks yielded their spot being told by Francis that they should take satisfaction in having given another protection from the elements. Later we see Francis and company building new digs. We see them take in an old fool who no one else wants. We see Francis embrace a leper he encounters. We see them given a large recently deceased pig and promptly pass the meat to the poor. We see Fra Ginapro try to cook two weeks worth of food in one go (to save time) and later we see him nearly butchered by a tyrant. We see a lot of Francis and his soft smile offer stern lessons on charity and following god's will. There is none of the religious intolerance and bigotry that has been such a part and parcel of so many manifestations of christianity over the millennia. There is a constant concern for the plight of the needy.

The Flowers of St. Francis can be interpreted as christian propaganda but I feel it is far less so than a film like It's a Wonderful Life (1946) with its angels and prayers being answered. As a rabid non believer I appreciated it for the wonderful episodic tellings of humility. Stark real simple humble men who live their principles. They are believers. Their belief is not revealed through words but deeds. Unspectacular. Unvarnished. Uncomplicated. The polar opposite of the biblical epics that ate up hours of my youth when I wanted to be playing baseball.

Simplicity as art.

29 November 2012

Holy Movie Holy Motors Holy Wonderfully Confusing -- Thank You!!!

"She knew, because she had held him, that he suffered DT’s. Behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare. The saint whose water can light lamps, the clairvoyant whose lapse in recall is the breath of God, the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose puns probe ancient fetid shafts and tunnels of truth all act in the same special relevance to the word, or whatever it is the word is there, buffering, to protect us from. The act of metaphor then was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were: inside, safe, or outside, lost.” - From 'The Crying of Lot 49' by Thomas Pynchon.

Dare me with delights. Stagger me with your confusion in great profusion. Let me unearth the sorted meanings from moments unhidden. And bid me a loving memory of your ghostly chants. So cries the rain on calm Winter nights of pure black.

I saw Holy Motors. An enigmatic film from France that jealously guards its meaning(s) but invites us to ponder them. Piquant. Ribald. And enthusiastic about story telling.

Most films are up front about who is who and what is what and where is where and when is when and even  -- dare I say -- why and how. Mysteries are solved for us and we are left to turn off our higher thinking skills and eat at the trough. These movies are eaten like the popcorn they are served with and provide a like amount of nutrition. Harumph!

In the world of Holy Motors there are great stretch limousines traveling around Paris and perhaps for all we know other cities. Inside are individuals with "appointments." We follow one such mystery person (Denis Lavant) and his faithful driver on a day when he has nine appointments. Ahh but these assignations. So strange. Once a man picking up his teenaged daughter from a party. Once a man set on killing a lookalike. Once a man dying in a hotel room with a loving niece by his side. Once not a man at all but an old beggar woman. And once...well it's hard to say really. A flower eating, money eating, hair eating freak show of lunatic who carries off a model (Eva Mendes). Is she part of the show? Is it a show? And who is that man who appears in his limo between assignments? I'll not reveal their conversation but in it there must be clues. Right? Or how about when he meets with a fellow...uh, traveler? (Kylie Minogue). Yes that is a strange interlude complete as it is with a musical number. (There's an earlier jaunty musical interruption that serves as an entr'acte.)

So that question comes up again. "Did you like the movie?"and its frequent partner: "What was it about?" Oh you!

Images. Not just the right set piece but the peculiarity the mystery the wonder of what is going on within it. The unconventional. I mean really. How often can you see the usual?


My mind is dwelling in the land of Holy Motors where limos meet and drivers put on masks and Frenchmen live with apes. And fingers are bitten off and bankers shot in public and colds caught in the process. And people survived knifings to the throat and did I mention talking cars? Oh but that opening sequence....Zowie!

So thank you for the thought. Thank you for playing with me and daring me to think and trusting me go along for the ride and zigging with your zagging. I'm not doing anything right now because I'm so busy. Therefore this is good time to ask me about who arranges and for what purpose and how is all this possible and what is the symbolism and are these angels and is life really -- like the bard said -- a stage? We the players.

Holy Motors was written and directed by  Leos Carax and I think he's nuts and I like that about him.

23 November 2012

Lincoln Alive Again If Only On Screen

“The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you.  I’ve always liked that phrase He was visited by grief, because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.” - Stephen Colbert. 

Pain. Suffering. Death. Long nights of emptiness. The world is full of horror and unexplainable cruelty. Cursory glances at history and current events will confirm this. It is not only inescapable but easy to dwell on. But there is beauty and magic and miracles and love and dancing and joy. An occasional method to the madness. There are people who persevere and nurture and create. I look at my wife and children and am amazed that life can be so rewarding so fulfilling so beautiful. We should always be mindful of the gifts life bestows. If we are to dwell on anything why not those?

Lincoln is the latest film from Steven Spielberg with Daniel Day-Lewis in the titular role. It is not the greatest film I've ever seen nor even the best of the year thus far but is is a revelation. As a life long student of U.S. History -- including the life and times of Abraham Lincoln our 16th president -- I feel safe in singing the film's praises as masterful historical fiction.

Wisely, Spielberg did not try to make a sweeping historical epic. He confined the film largely to Lincoln's efforts to gain passage of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which abolished slavery.

At their best, historical dramas not only tell us a story but recreate an era and its people. Lincoln the film does this. Sets costumes and pitch perfect casting followed by similarly precise performances seem to transport the viewer to Washington D.C. in early 1865. Muddy streets. The White House. The House of Representatives. Taverns. Houses. You are there and best of all in your company is the thoroughly engaging personage of Abraham Lincoln. My goodness Day-Lewis gets it right fitting as his performance does to the collective picture of Lincoln our culture has created. That wisdom. That wit. That folksy story telling charm. And that political cunning that beguiled so many who were so ready to dismiss the angular hick from Illinois. It is the best cinematic portrayal of a historical figure since Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.

This was a remarkable man. Especially considering that he was largely self educated --- what a teacher! You will hear from many who will find fault in his presidency and his politics. Gasp! He was not perfect. There are those in academia who love to puncture the public's mythology about their heroes. It's an odd and easy sort of game. Largely purposeless except as a twisted self aggrandizement. The more famous the more beloved the more respected their target the greater the payment to their ego to take him down a notch. Lincoln had contemporary detractors aplenty -- like the white residents of the Southern states -- and does today. I heard one proclaim that Lincoln did not free the slaves that they left of their own accord. It is true that he did not march down south and open the gates and escort each slave to freedom. But from his perch as president he played a significant role in the ending of the peculiar institution. His insistence on the passing of the 13th amendment is one example.

Lincoln the film reveals the legend as man. Humble. Affable. And a shrewd politician. He mixed it up with the best of them and won more often than not. Lincoln the film shines a light on Lincoln the person largely by fully revealing some of the individuals and archetypes who surrounded him. See Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens the abolitionist senator. David Straitharn as William Seward the secretary of state. Sally Field as the pixilated Mary Todd Lincoln. See a cast ranging from James Spader to Bruce McGill from Hal Holbrook to Joseph Gordon-Leavitt from Tim Blake Nelson to Michael Stuhlbarg.

There is a bit of the sports movie story arc to Lincoln where a last minute victory is pulled out against all odds in dramatic fashion. But this is a different sort of film in that the protagonist is subsequently killed. Oh yes and this just may be the definitive American historical drama.

12 November 2012

The Master, The Mind, The Movie, The Message, The Mix

"What if I'm God. I'm the only one who truly exists and you're just a creation of my imagination?"
"I've thought that too. Like my life keeps happening over and over again."
"Yeah because we all see things from our own mind, our own perspective and can't truly appreciate or even begin to understand how other people view the world."
"That's why its such a miracle when two people totally view a situation the same way, are on the same wave length."
"Yeah but its like its that one thing or maybe more, maybe a lot of things but then there's so many other things that those same two people view completely differently and could never agree on."
"Even if they're lovers or married or best friends or siblings."
"I sometimes think that the tiniest atom in the universe is also the biggest."
"I've thought that too."

So I tell people I saw The Master the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson and they ask something like: is it good? Or did you like it? And maybe they're asking to be polite and aren't really interested in seeing it. Maybe they respect my judgment and might see it or avoid it partially based on my comments. What do I say? How do you take nouns and adjectives and verbs and such and turn them into some sort of coherent reaction that comes out as thumbs up or thumbs down? Simple, concise. Nahhhhhhh.

I would not want to be in the thumbs up or down movie reviewing business. Respect to those  reviewers  and the ones who give a movie one to five stars. Wow man. Take what can be an experience and reduce it to a number or one of two possible signals. Ooooooo.

How would you rate that cloud? I mean its beautiful but a little dark and totally ambiguous. Do you understand the cloud? Would I want to see it? How many puffs do you give it on a scale of negative 39 to 463? What's the basis of your evaluation?

So I say that I "liked it" because I found the two plus hours of the film to be an enjoyable experience. (And that is putting it very simply. It gets complicated.) I also say that I don't think the movie is for everyone. This gets me off the hook. I'm saying here that if you see it and don't like to please remember what I said about it not being for everyone. This disclaimer also telegraphs the notion that this is an unusual kind of film. It's not one of those James Bond or Spiderman deals with a tried and true and tired and rue story arc. It goes and it goes and some people want it to like stop.

I go on to mention that Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix were brilliant which they were. Transformative. These are superior performers given superior performances. Master classes in acting. Hoffman is the embodiment of the know everything life guide or the sophisticated charlatan who maybe believes his own stink. (And you'd like Amy Adams as his wife. There is a spookiness there). Phoenix is a hunched over raging alcoholic who is everyman in a twisted world where everyone is prone to be demented. He is so freaking stupid and so damn brilliant about his ignorance and you just got at marvel at the creation of such a character and the interpretation by a brilliant actor.

I also discuss the LOOK OF THE FILM. Oh my. Hard to explain in a short polite conversation. The Master is "the first motion picture in 16 years to be filmed entirely on 65mm format using Panavision's System 65 camera." I gotta be honest here and say I'm not all sure what that means but I could tell the movie looked different simply by checking out the screen.

It looked


And Anderson is meticulous about set design or he hires people who are. Costumes too. I was all up in the movie because of the look which just sucks you in and hey here we go. You at times, could feel enveloped by the picture. The colors bathe you and keep you not just awake but entranced. Thank you much.

So the story...ummm. See here's where some people object because they want it to go someplace more specific. A lot of people want specificity in their movie going experience because paying all that money to sit and have to think is like a bit much. Better have the story spelled out for you then to draw your own conclusions. Now with Andersons's previous film, There Will Be Blood there was this sprawling story with this amazing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis and it looked like something out of visionary's brain but that story left me cold and unsatisfied. There was a there there but I didn't like it. It was confined to this one man and his madness. But The Master has a whole lot of story going on and you can make lots or little of it as you please. There's a lot to be done with it. Geographically it travels hither and yon and spiritually and mentally and emotionally it goes even further. Intellectually its off the friggin' charts.

Here is where I would give a synopsis but I think IMDb does it just fine and my first mention of the film is linked to their site so check it out there if you must.

I think.

What The Master does best

is leave spaces where ideas can grow and these space are all filled with this stunning visual sense that adds to the complexity and the dimension of the questions you can ask and answer and ponder and fiddle with. Like fer instance: who's a crazy person? Who manipulates how and why and why do people look for leaders and great teachers and enlightenment and why do they fall for snake oil salesmen and religion and cults and alcohol? And who really knows anything anyway? How do we journey in life and where she stops nobody knows. But we go. Answers. There are people probing and poking and flailing away. There is Hoffman as THE MASTER with all the answers -- or not -- and then Phoenix as loose cannon like a cannon skidding on a waxed floor and liable to ejaculate all kinna explosions and does. Did. It's post WWII America and don't think that's not significant and don't think it is. Unless you want to because it's that kind of


So yeah I liked it. As I said. I give it four G*i&6g9ts and a p)/"3y. 

04 November 2012

The Buddhist Threat, Friends Indeed, Being a Fan Amy W. --A Long Overdue Edition of Odds & Ends

The above clip is a rather strong condemnation on the republican party (no longer worthy of being capitalized) in particular and the country as a whole. There is such woeful ignorance and outright stupidity throughout a country that extolls itself as the greatest on earth that one wonders how we manage to get anything done. Too many people eschew facts and indeed are unfamiliar with them. Fox News is a major culprit as it disguises baseless polemic attacks as news. Edward R Murrow, Walter Cronkite, I.F. Stone and dozens of other newsmen are turning over and over and over in their graves....

I'm thinking of taking the biggest hardcover book on my bookshelf and hallowing out the middle. I would then place a secret formula there and return the book to the shelf. All I need is a secret formula and a reason to hide one. So close....

When people say they didn't know whether to laugh or to cry I have to assume they suffer from sort of mental or emotional problem. Knowing when to laugh and when to cry is pretty basic and doesn't even need to be taught. Even a baby knows when to do what....

Have you ever been asked a question about yourself by a friend that would seem to indicate they know nothing about you? When my brother died a friend asked if he had a family. I don't know how many times I'd mentioned to this friend about my brother's wife and their four children including in the email he was responding to with his condolences and question. Then there are friends who never ask about inquire about your recent doings your family your health or your job nor do they solicit your opinions on matters of the day instead yammering on endless about this or that as if your sole purpose was to give them a human object to talk at. Actually you learn to separate such folks from your real friends....

I went to see the The Perks of Being a Wallflower yesterday. There were teenagers literally running about the theater and others who were apparently in the theater to picnic. I had the feeling that I might not be too happy trying to watch a film in the middle of recess. Then a group of pre teen girls sat right behind giggling and chatting up a storm. The writing was on the wall and written in bold letters. I went to the box office and said I had an emergency and could I have a refund and they said sure and I'm a liar but I saved myself an unhappy experience. Another time perhaps....

I was about to type the words: my favorite baseball team won the World Series for the second time in three years. But that would be like calling my wife my favorite adult female. I'm married to K just as I'm married to the San Francisco Giants. Actually K and I only go back to when I was in my 20s but the Giants and I go back to when I was eight years old -- sooner actually but my first memory of being at a game was when I was eight. That's not just a favorite, that's part of who you are. Anyway they are atop the baseball world again and its kind of weird. I'm not used to this though I'll try. A beloved team is like one of your children: you don't love it any less when it fails or any more when it succeeds. You're always proud. Intellectually there's a real danger in being a sports fan. It took me years to learn perspective and  to learn not to obsess to learn to celebrate and appreciate victories and not to waste energy bemoaning defeats....

I have a new musical love -- Amy Winehouse. I came upon her by accident and was immediately struck by the power and beauty of her voice. Her jazz stylings are terrific but it is a soul singer that she really shines. Of course this is all past tense as she succumbed to her addictions and died at the age of 27 just as three other of my favorites did, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. I know a little about substance abuse and it is a miracle that some of us get an out of jail card and go on to lead long and productive lives (okay I'm flattering myself here -- I may be on my way to long but the productivity of it seems open to question). Gin, cocaine, vodka marijuana, scotch, beer, LSD, wine in great quantities can make life seem more special, more wonderful, more exotic, more alive. Then they wrap their tentacles around you and squeeze the life out of you. Drip drop and you stumble and you curse and you make other people uncomfortable and you question normal and rational and existence and do it in bad ugly ways like life is a gift you want to exchange....

As part of my recent efforts to learn to speak Italian I've been watching a lot of Italian films. This is not a chore. Fellini and Antonioni are two of my three favorite directors (behind Bergman) and I also admire DeSica, Rossi, Rossellini, Olmi and others. But the cool thing is all the wonderful films I'm discovering. Such as Dillinger is Dead (1969), Mid-August Lunch (2008), The Salt of Life (2011), Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), Hands Over the City (1963), Seduced and Abandoned (1964) and Il Divo (2008). A few years ago I did a series on Italian films which you can find by checking out the Italian Films label on the right of this page. I hope to find time to do another such series.

28 October 2012


The San Francisco Giants are champions of baseball. Hallelujah!

27 October 2012

Seven Psychopaths A Wonderful Confusion

Seven Psychopaths is a movie that knows it's a movie. And revels in it.


I did too.

It's about....Stories. How they are created and refined and made interesting and nurtured. And its also about how characters are what make some stories really interesting and others maybe not. Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits are particularly good as people playing parts to the hilt. And Harry Dean Stanton just stands around staring for a bit and who could do that better?

Farrell plays a struggling screenwriter with a drinking problem. His head is so far up his arse that he's mean to his delicious girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). He's far nicer to his bit actor buddy (Rockwell) who is a bit of case. Said friend is in cahoots with an older gentlemen (Walken) in the dognapping business. Of course. The duo nab a dog owned by a crime boss (Harrelson) and mayhem ensues although truth to tell there was already mayhem what with some psychopaths loose already one of which we meet at the beginning of the movie -- who is that masked man.

So there are stories told within the larger story we are watching and there are revisions and corrections made and what is real and what is not and where it is all going is a wonderful confusion. This is semi-linear story telling that is enhanced if we suspend the need for constant clarity. Better to enjoy the great affect with which the casts vamps. Harrelson bites huge chunks out of the scenery playing it with all the subtlety of an uppercut. Walken puts on a clinic of acting like a version of his quirkiest self. Hey he's playing a man who doesn't drink but does eat peyote. And by god he will not raise his hands just because you're pointing a gun at him.

Rockwell is a revelation. This guy. Good. Is. We can hope for decades of him on screen bringing his unique every guy quality (assuming this every guy is a bit let us say touched) to performances. I say performances because the man he be performing.

Waits is a guy with a bunny rabbit who details how him and his gal...aw see for yourself.

The movie was written and directed by Martin McDonagh who previously delighted audiences with In Bruges (2008). I like the dialogue he writes. It's character driven and interesting and happily minus cliches. Okay not everybody talks that way but for the love of God if I want to hear how people REALLY talk I'll save the ticket price and ride a fucking bus.

There is violence and blood and shooting galore in Seven Psychopaths. But it manages to telegraph the fact that none of this is to be taken too seriously its really just part of the story being told and could you just relax about it already? There is nothing gruesome or gratuitous.

There are also two interracial couples just because I guess. There's a quaker killer and all I can say is its about time. The Quakers and the Amish have been getting a free pass from Hollywood for too long. Also an ex Viet Cong with a Yale educated prostitute. And oh by the way the movie essentially admits within it that its female characters are mistreated. What movie does that? This one.

23 October 2012

The Intellectual Richness of Baseball

"I believe in the church of baseball. I've tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball. And it is never boring.... I've tried them all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the church of baseball." -- From Bull Durham (1988).
Someone cut into a discussion I was having regarding the forthcoming World Series to complain about the intellectual vacuity of baseball.


Such confusion. As if the exertions of the body were separate and unequal from the mind. As if playing a game were not an indicator of intelligence. Woody Allen said in Annie Hall (1977), "That's one thing about intellectuals — they've proved that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on."

The mind should not be left to its own devices. It so easily develops a complex about physical acts --  an ugly snobbery that labels athletic achievement as inferior rather than seeing it as another part of the human experience. Some of those soft weak kids who couldn't play sports in school can still appreciate athletics. Others scoff and snort and create an illusion of superiority because they read Proust while we are watching a man hit a baseball 400 feet and marveling.

Sunsets waves mountains the snow. Visceral and physical and thus to be diminished. That notorious  jock Albert Camus once said that "an intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself."

My two favorite sports are baseball and soccer. They are beautiful games that seem slow to the novice but provide endless talking points and huge casts of characters. For that is part and parcel to the love of sports the players -- people -- who perform. It is not just their physical actions but what they bring of themselves the unique people they are their story their zeitgeist to those performances. And then often how they magically gel as a team. Team. Coordinated efforts of individuals towards a common goal with an opposing side trying to best them not just through physical means but by matching wits as well. And the drama they create. The real life stories that unfold before our very eyes. Stories that sometimes defy fiction. Tragedy triumph comedy drama elation and heartbreak. Such a rich stew for the mind to sup on. Intellectual vacuity indeed.

My quibble is with sports watchers who do nothing else. Junkies hooked on the game and not its beauty but its results its numbers its gossip. There are 24 hour sports networks an endless array of sports websites and tweets and updates and scores and it all becomes a meaningless jumble that detracts from whatever purity is involved in athletics. So many obsessed people who care too much and seem to know too little who are engorged by their tribal attachment to a team and knowing every last bit of trivia and keeping up with every score as they parse parse parse the night away.

There has to be a balance.

A balance between the effete rejection of people in motion and teeth gnashing when the home team loses. It's a game. Which is a good thing. And its a game which means it has a place that is not every place.

One reason I'm glad my beloved San Francisco Giants made it to the World Series is that I get to watch them play for at least four more games. If they win the title I will celebrate and feel happy and satisfied and good as I did when they were champions two years ago. Should they lose I will happily go on about other matters such as reading great books and pondering great questions and watching teams and athletes in other sports match talents with others.

That is not vacuity but a very rich world indeed. And one worth talking about.

22 October 2012

Thoughts On A Monday

It was like being in a long vertical room with metal sidings empty of anything save wooden chairs. With me speaking loudly my voice ricocheting around and about and back to me. I heard the sound of my own voice as if it came shouting at me. It rang through my brain. I was teaching on a Monday morning and the class was especially quiet and docile. I've grown used to lively vibrant classrooms with  a lot of interaction and those accented voices from around the world sharing the space with me. But today they were quiet they were listless they were seemingly outside of their bodies and in another space entirely. I could hear my thoughts ringing about seeking solace in forgotten corners. I put them in groups where they were obliged to talk and felt the waves of their voices soothe me.

Later in the day I buzzed happily on coffee sharing quips and stories and observations with colleagues. I spoke too much now too fast too silly and giggled at my own jokes. I was quickly on to me and drew inward and read student papers and silently stroked my ego with thoughts of how cool I could become at a moment's notice. I thought I'd like to be in a community of people like Hemingway and F Scott and even TS Eliot and certainly ee cummings and 1930s European foreign correspondents covering the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Nazi Germany and jazz scenes and James Joyce and oh those romanticized times when typewriters clickety clacked. When smoking was okay and whiskey hangovers were a sign of manhood just like catching marlin and slapping cads. I thought of that community of writers and journalists and people who mattered but were unselfconscious about it. They did not have twitter nor Facebook followers. They had class. When class meant something.

I felt how my body responds to a cold and missing trips to the gym and eating sweets and sitting a lot. I walked on the beach and talked to seagulls and they consistently failed to respond -- as if my words didn't matter to them! I thought of our cat and my daughters and my beautiful wife as I looked at the Golden Gate Bridge and the sky so bright blue after the morning rain and the clouds so brilliantly white and massive and gorgeous. The sand was ubiquitous. I threw a rock into the bay because I am still in so many ways 10 years old. I squinted. I stared. I scratched. I shook my head in disbelief at all the little tiny moments life offers that we miss because we are so busy being someone. Not ourselves always. But a someone. Who others would have us be. We are so many Zeligs. But I realized that life is fair enough for most of us when you consider the alternatives. We get by and abide. Thus spoke zarathustra.

21 October 2012

Trying to Live Up to My Remembrances of the Past, The Sixties Redux

I gave a talk on the 1960s a few days ago. It was called: The 1960s, The Music, The Protests and Me. I felt good about it. I felt energized. I felt that I lived in a magical time in a magical place and seen amazing things happen. I'd seen hippies, the National Guard, tear gas canisters, the world through LSD. I'd heard anti-war chants. Beatles records on vinyl that I bought new for $3. I felt excited and hopeful and like all things were possible. I felt there was a chance to change everything. I grew to be disappointed that only some things were changed. I grew to appreciate that which did change. I grew angry and cynical and morose. I grew out of that to wax nostalgic and to re-visit Joplin and Hendrix and Neil Young and The Who.

I saw Watergate and said: that figures. I saw Vietnam end and said: it's about time. I saw Reagan elected president and said: oh no. I saw disco come and go and said: dance, dance dance the night away. I saw an end to my own over indulging and said: thank you.  I saw my children born and said: this is fantastic. I saw the U.S. invade Iraq and said: here we go again. I saw a middle school classroom for 18 years and said many many things. Now I see how things have been and understand some and not others. I am glad to be able to remember what I do and wish that I could have been a better passenger for the first decades of my trip through life. I learned to accept what I cannot change and not have regrets not have resentments and to try to be honest at all times in all things. I learned there are worse things than run on sentences.

I gave a talk on the 60s a few days ago. The Beatles were singing, people tripping, soldiers dying (when, oh when, don't they?) and a helicopter flew over my head pouring tear gas on us. I was in high school, cut class and headed for the demonstrations on the Cal campus. On the way through campus large men in bright blue uniforms in full riot gear hid behind shrubbery, they were as obvious as the sand in a desert. We chanted, we yelled, we exercised the U.S. Constitution. Gave that mother a good work out. Then a helicopter appeared with the white clouds flowing out of unto us. An indelible moment in a young man's life. Lo these many years later the sound of a helicopter has a special meaning to me and not a pleasant one.

We ran.

I escaped the clutches of arresting officers and made my way back to school, the day's lesson learned on a college campus.

I spoke of this the other day. I spoke of Woodstock, Altamont, the Domino Theory, Nixon, Johnson and the Haight Ashbury. I write of it now. I write of belief. So powerful to have a belief system and values. A code we live by and up to and with and never ever -- if we can -- ignore. If we fulfill our duties to ourselves we are doing all around us a favor. The Sixties formed me and gave me backdrop and a sense of what is important --- crazy crazy ideas like peace and love. And brotherhood and sisterhood and true equality and not tolerance but respect and holding your truths to be self evident and not in need of facelifts. We who we are have us to become and to value and to hold dear and be and we be as we are this. This. Ourselves.

We are who we were.

I was young and smart and idealistic. I have a past to live up to.

11 October 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy and School Appearances

I've spent years pondering the strong desire many Americans have to be busy. Not only do people aspire to being busy, they boast about how busy they are. It's as if relaxation, recreation and contemplation were signs of weakness. Odd when you think about it. We work for more hours and harder than many previous generations. Instead of creating leisure we create more work more activities more ways to fill the calendar.  But I think I get it now. To be busy distracts us. Keeps us from looking ourselves and our mortality in the eye. To have free time is to be able to contemplate the abyss that awaits. It begs us  to go about the awful task of self evaluation, to consider who we are, what we have wrought and what is to come.  We fill those vast expanses of thought with work and what's left with television and chores. Child rearing is an especially good out, particularly in today's society where children are constantly waited on, taken to soccer practice, violin lessons, play dates (imagine!) while parents occupy themselves with ancillary activities like PTA meetings. Two working parents trying to earn enough to pay for all the needs of their children while saving for their college funds have no time nor any inclination for musings on the universe.  Children don't demand so much of their parents' time, the parent's demand it of themselves and their children. When do kids have a a minute for an unscripted thought? They are rarely alone and never without something to do. If there's not a coordinated activity in place there is the TV and the computer. Young minds are taught from an early age to fill open moments, all of them with "something to do." Hopefully something productive. Idle minds are the devil's workshop, people must suppose. In truth, a people given time to think will frequently start to ask the question: why? This can lead to trouble for authorities, institutions and conventional wisdom. Further, considering the why can lead one to uncomfortable truths. Better to keep busy.

Today a North Dakota high school freshman walked in front of his class, apologized then shot himself. The principal, Jay Townshend said this: "This has never happened here before." You know pal, it's not like it's an everyday occurrence at other schools across the country. But this is expected reaction of the soulless bureaucrat that is a public school administrator. To them it's all about appearances. This kid shooting himself makes us look bad and we've got to get out in front of the story and assure people that our students don't make a habit of performing ritual hari kari in full view of their classmates. I'm reminded of the last principal I worked for, a chubby walking buzz cut of pseudo man who personified the modern de-flavorized administrator, who wouldn't allow in school suspensions. Was it because they were counter productive or harmful? No it was because they "looked bad." This bad look stemmed from the fact that most students who would be serving on campus suspension would be African American. So forget about addressing the problems our young black students are having, let's just make sure we keep it under wraps. Appearances. As a teacher the evaluation process never -- I literally mean never -- examined the tests I gave, how I graded them or how I prepared students for them nor did it ever consider the projects I assigned or how I graded them or how I prepared students for them. But the arrangement of my desks and the amount of student work displayed on my walls? Always. Sadly, I kid you not. It was all about appearances, how the room looked, not what went inside it.

03 October 2012

Answers to Questions Never Asked

A portly woman in early 30s who chuckles constantly at her own inanities. Pleasant competent was a solid student and is headed for a middle management career and a late marriage to a pleasant if banal fellow. She has been stripped of any originality by the sheer weight of her competence and hours of television popular modern literature and a total lack of nuance. She has bad colds but no serious injuries failed romances from 17 to today with one bad sexual encounter because she gave herself to the wrong guy. She likes everyone and everyone likes her but she lives without passion and avoids risks by never thinking of them. So many things in her world are what happen to other people and she just chortles forever content and completely and totally empty and shockingly unaware of it. She'll say the wrong thing occasionally -- punctuated by a titter -- but won't notice it and it'll be quickly forgotten anyway because she is after all such a nice person. Very nice.

There are moments that turn your insides outward and alter the way in which you process the everyday events of every day. They are not moments of great joy or pain or insight but are borne of numbing ordinariness. That  insipid comment the breath of a breeze that dropping of a pencil that has the taint of so much endless repetition. That street has been crossed so many times that it is not stirringly unique and brilliant and shining and now we understand what so much has meant. Through these wonderful blazing rays of incandescent light shining brightly on the baby carrot you just bit...we see what has been missing for so long. An answer. To a question unasked. Clarity. A window into how we function. Who is around us and how we relate. From nothing comes all that LSD never could see -- truth. But like a drug we seek more of it. This endless drive to make meaning. The unquenchable desire to make sense of the inherently senseless. Like explaining a dream that is only half remembered. We are what we think. But patience always. Frustration with our ignorance blocks. Let it come and be surprised and happy and wiser.

Question: why do some people feel the urge to tell you that thing you enjoy...they don't like it. Odd. Straight out. You're watching soccer? I don't like it! You love Bergman films? I don't like them! You like fog? I don't! What an all consuming ego an amazing self possession a soaring insecurity it must require to constantly apprise people of how your personal and by the way superior tastes conflict with theirs. Imagine the responsibility. One would think the sheer weight of such a burden would render a person immobile. But no they trudge on the peerless contradictors. Never at a loss for an opposing view. Vive la difference!

02 October 2012

The Satori of Early Autumn

On the doorsill the Paranoids, as we leave milk to propitiate the leprechaun, had set a fifth of Jack Daniels. - 'From The Crying of Lot 49' by Thomas Pynchon.

And so there is in every day a way. A path for muddling through or soaring and tearing and maybe rending as we seek to survive or understand higher truths or digest hard realities. There is the merry mixture of the what and the why with hows for good measure and let us not forget the oft significant when and where and whos that can perplex. Perplexed in Purple that dazzling rock band from the 1980s whose sole hit was -- like them -- non existent. Gads.

On the trolley to work this morning a large black woman (why does it matter? I don't know, why doesn't it?) had her i pod blasting away disturbing my reading. So I put mine on careful not to be too loud and listened to Hendrix. Purple Haze all in my brain...excuse me while I kiss the sky. Having to look up I saw across from me two characters from a Wes Anderson film. The man of about 33 wore a loud striped shirt that was decades old and never looked smart or stylish even when an old aunt gave it for a birthday gift -- cue the, "thanks Aunt Louise!" and the "try it on" and the "oh good, it fits." He was totally bald and and tall and dorky in a pleasant kind of way. He spoke of the weather. His companion was an Asian American woman about five years his junior, equally pleasant looking though plain as brown paper bag. She'd survived the rages of acne. Her attire suggested someone in a hurry with piles of clothes strewn about the closet. They were not lovers nor destined to be. Co workers probably and on friendly terms. It was nice to sit across from them. Hiya.

Hey, speaking of Wes Anderson, have you seen his latest? Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Should do. Let's talk about it sometime. Uh huh.

I had causal car pooled to San Francisco as I do every morning. This was a bad one as the car radio was tuned to an AM station which meant constant and loud and obnoxious commercials and faux brainy news readers who were more into reading the news than understanding and boy did I miss NPR.

The US is crazy loud and filled with advertising. You can't sit in a movie theater, a football game, a car or in front of your TV without being besieged. And lawdy those disclaimers in which they ejaculate a word a millisecond. I'm rather amazed at how excepting most Americans are of these loud intrusions. There is a certain passivity that has set in. It's like being in the dentist chair as the novacaine takes full effect and you settle into the chair surrendering your mouth to whatever the dentist has a mind to do. Let it come, I will not resist.....

"I cry at the drop of a hat, so please, keep your hats on." - David Letterman.

People are too willing to take on faith who they are. They except without question the role that has been fitted for them by parents, teachers, peers, role models, media bosses, authority figures. There should be a greater thirst to define oneself both as an individual and as a member of society. We are us and can be what we want to be we should be we must be. Verb yourself pick your modal and selectively go through all applicable adjectives -- even the non applicable ones. Boldness. No need to let Mrs. Crank your third grade teacher or that drunken uncle with the big mouth or Sassafras McGee from next door dictate what you be -- you know the verb "to be" right?  Well be it, brother -- or sister.

Brother. Mine still deceased. Two weeks now and...

Well that's that.

I guess.

Hitler loved the film The Lives of  a Bengal Lancer (1935). Hunh!

30 September 2012

Yes, I Know, Life Goes On

I just finished one of those highly acclaimed modern novels that is supposed to be a biting commentary on contemporary society, particularly consumerism and blah blah blah. Critics loved it because it is so easy to admire for its satiric wit and noble intent. I found it as subtle as a jab in the ribs. But it's what passes for smart in American culture. Overblown, easy to create characters who are as unbelievable as their eccentricities and constant philosophical musings. Time magazine named it one of the 100 best novels of the century. But to me it is one of those cookie cutter novels with the facile protagonist in a small college town surrounded by what are supposed to be a collection of quirky characters but are ultimately unbelievable and annoying. Post modern American literature reads like some wise ass precocious teenager making fun of his neighbors. There is insight without wisdom and pith without pathos. Intitialy you feel like you're feeding your intellect by reading one of these novels but by the end you see it as merely witty and a good read. (When someone tells me a book is a "good read" I know it is empty calories.) No thanks. Will read Thomas Pynchon next. There's always a cure.

A burial. A memorial. Endless hugs and tears and comforting and being comforted and being offered sympathy. Grieving is exhausting. Just moving on is simple enough but hard earned and there will be pangs of grief and remembrance forever and yes life goes on. I only got the one brother and now he's gone. All stages of grief checked off. Lately people have said to me: "you and your family are in our thoughts." What exactly, I wonder, am I doing there? What if I want out? I feel a sense of discomfort being in other people's thoughts. How do I know what they're thinking while I'm in there? I'm troubled enough by being in my own thoughts. I think. All right I grant you it seems I'm being flip about very sincere offerings of sympathy. I'm not. Just a little fun with words is all. But I've also heard "may god comfort you..." If  there is a god, why the deuce did she/he take my brother's life in the first place? Then I wouldn't need her/his comfort. Surely an omnipotent god could have let him live longer. He'd have seen his first grandchild for a few more years and could have met his second who will born next March. I have, no pun intended, grave doubts about this god and how capricious it is. This is my thing and I have no quarrel with anyone who has an abiding faith in an almighty. I am an ardent supporter of religious freedom (which includes being free of religion) so long as that religion is not a weapon to oppress. I thank everyone who has offered kind words these past two weeks and neither my wordplay or my strong doubts about a higher power should be seen as any rejection of these heartfelt offerings. My brother was a pious man. I'm just difficult.

I watched Amarcord (1973) last night. I did not really need another reminder for why I love cinema or why I love Fellini, but there it was. A cornucopia of a film positively brimming with memorable characters and situations. Amracord is like a reaffirmation that life is filthy rich with the amusing, the unpredictable and the beautiful. Beautiful not in the sense of physical attractiveness but in the discovery of wonderful, amazing, exciting moments. Characters who pulsate with the excitement of being an active member of the human race. The father who threatens to kill himself and proceeds to simultaneously pull his upper jaw up and lower jaw down. The teens who spontaneously sway in the wind to unknown music. The mental patient on a family outing who climbs to the top of a tree and shouts that he wants a woman. The town beauty who is proud to be ogled by one and all as she sashays around town with a big grin. The local historian who offers the town history into the camera despite hecklers aplenty. What a fine madness! There are sweet little films, there are taught thrillers, there are hilarious comedies, there are moody noirs, and then there are bombastic audacious swirling and shambling and rambling delights like Amarcord. Oh it does't flinch from anything. There are fascists, there is a premature death there is unrequited love and the insane. In other words there is the rich stew of life. Sup, everyone, sup. You must because time is fleeting. We come we go we are left we leave we must enjoy. Bellissima!

18 September 2012

Goodbye Big Brother

Robert leading his youngest daughter up the aisle two months ago.
I cried on the cat. She was very good about it. I held her tightly and finally sobbed as I'd wanted and needed to do for several hours. Ever since I found out that my one and only sibling, my big brother Robert had died.

Robert Hourula was one month shy of his 65th birthday. He had four fantastic children and one grandchild. He was as good a big brother as anyone has ever had. I feel so alone and so....

All I now know is that Robert died in his sleep. He'd been plagued by various ailments for years and was hoping to avoid any further prolonged hospital stays. He hated hospitals. He won't have to deal with them anymore. But I don't get to see him on Thanksgiving or Christmas or at barbecues at his house. I called him yesterday and left a message because I wanted to see if we could have lunch Friday, my last weekday off until Thanksgiving.


The older I get the more people I know who die. This is not unusual in human experience. It particularly afflicts people with friends and families. I do not have either a huge family or a whole lot of friends but there are enough that every so often someone close to me is gone. Forever.

But only one of them was my big brother. We used to toss the football back and forth when I was a kid. He was a lot older and traveled a lot and would bring me presents. When I was an older teen I would visit him and he'd buy wine and drink with me. I could talk to him about most anything and did.

Actually we didn't have a lot in common. He inherited the fishing gene from my dad and I inherited the sports fan gene. He became a Christian and I became an atheist. But we always got along. In later years we would reminisce a lot about childhood, the Berkeley we grew up in and of course family. He seemed to love telling stories and was becoming as accomplished at it as my dad was.

Of course this is what your supposed to do, happily remember  a person's life and not simply mourn their death. Death can, after all, be the exclamation point on a life well lived. Robert's life was a decade two too short but he made the most of what he had. A family that loves him so is sufficient evidence of that.

I miss you, big brother and am shocked that you are gone so abruptly. I'm damn sorry I didn't tell you how much I loved you and how much you meant to me. Maybe I never fully realized what a positive impact you had on my life and what a great example you set for me. Just like a big brother should.

10 September 2012

"No! I'm not like you. I don't feel like you. I'm Sister Alma, I'm just here to help you. I'm not Elisabet Vogler. You are Elisabet Vogler." Thoughts After Watching Bergman's Persona

Solitude and the desperation of lost chances. The unforgiving nature of time. Tick.

I think a sign of real intelligence in human beings is the ability to listen to and ask questions of others. You'll note that the especially empty headed will ramble on obliviously saying nothing, hearing nothing, asking nothing. It's an apt metaphor for their lives that they try to fill with work and chores until they burst, because the alternative is to face reality. Then too, some people go to religious services and there imagine that by giving themselves to the infinitely unknowable they are answering all of life's mysteries.

I saw that the fat guy who is governor of New Jersey said at the republican convention that his party loves teachers but not the unions. Translation: we want you to continue educating our children for little renumeration but we don't want you to have any protection or security while doing that work and by the way, shut up!

So I was trying to be useful today on a Monday of a week I have off. Trying to do things. Be productive. Make full use of my time. But I was having trouble. The impulse was to fiddle about doing a little of this and a little of that, none of which was going to "accomplish" anything. No sustained tasks at all. I was contemplating this inability to be "get going" while sitting on out back deck. There beside me was our cat. Sprawled out in the sun, not a care in the world. I realized she had it right. The old fleabag is an adept mouse slayer and is skilled at keeping laps warm, especially those watching a movie. She is also quick to grab a bite to eat and to crawl into boxes and explore paper bags. But when there's nothing else that catches her fancy, she is more than content to just flop somewhere. This is not laziness, this is living. She makes no apologies for spending hours upon hours in complete lethargy, nor do we expect her to. Yet, when I allow myself some time to "do nothing" I feel the guilt of a thousand pilgrims glaring at me. Enough. Some days were meant to be lazed away and by god I mean to do it (which doesn't account for me busily typing right now).

"I don't know what to do with my tenderness." - Mr. Vogler, from Persona.

I watched Persona (1966) today as is obvious from the title of this post. Ingmar Bergman films have the effect of making me feel better about being alive. They are like deep meditations on the nature of existence and the lives we lead. They help us explore our perceptions and our quest for meaning. They don't so much force as allow us to examine the unique human capability of questioning. Our innate ability (too often repressed out of fear or religion) to ask: why?

God's silence is a theme in many a Bergman film but in Persona it is the silence of the actress, Elisabeth  (Liv Ullman). She is with a nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson) at a rustic island retreat recuperating from a mental breakdown that has robbed her power of speech. Elisabeth and Alma, Alma and Elisabeth, become intertwined as they share the confines of a house and the vastness of the outdoors and more than that, as they share life. One talks and talks the other listens and listens. Symbiotic. Bergman even morphs their faces at one point. Symbiosis.

Elisabeth is that most compelling of film characters, the emotionally disturbed. It seems that people who have or are suffering some sort of emotional or mental crisis are not just interesting, but they are on to something. Isn't their psychosis evidence of a fundamental understanding of reality? Can't insanity or mental instability be a sign of someone who has reached a higher truth that renders it difficult if not impossible to dwell in the world as most others do? When reality is understood at such a basic and deep level, the trivialities of life and the tedium of so much of existence is rendered impossible to comprehend.

But in Persona we are talking of two people. The duality. Twins. As Alma talks and talks and Elisabeth listens, as Alma violates confidentially by reading a letter Elisabeth has written, as Alma threatens to throw boiling water on Elisabeth, who is the stable one? Who is in charge? Who is the nurse and who is the patient?

Questions always from Bergman. Challenges. As we see with the opening sequences of the film that reappear in an abridged form in the middle. At times quizzical at times disturbing at times maddening. Carbon, film breaking, sheep, a child, a heart an erect phallus, a woman's face. It means everything of course just as it means nothing, because it is so very much up to us to determine why. Because we have the capacity to do so.

Great films are to be watched again and again but a film like Persona demands it on another level. Because in repeat viewings we see so many different things, view the same through such different lenses depending upon where we are in our life and out thinking and our understanding. It is a film that especially lends itself to the power of wonder.

So much in the world to wonder at. So many ways to do it. So lucky to think of any of it at any time. Chance.

02 September 2012

Will Did You Evah?

You ever know someone and at one point think: this guy drives a car? Hard to imagine. Then one day you catch a ride with the person and it makes you really question the wisdom of his having a driver's license then you question the notion that in the US driving seems to be right rather than a privilege then you get to thinking that way too many people drive which is a major cause of global warming and traffic deaths and congestion and noise and that less people should be able to drive and more people should want to use public transportation which would increase the demand for busses and trains and subways and maybe create more routes and an increase in service so you're much less likely to stand around for 30 minutes waiting for a bus. And then do you think that if you brought this up in some sort of forum that conservatives would start hollering about another assault on individual freedoms and you're reminded how conservatives equate freedom with being able to do whatever the hell you want to and that there seems to be a growing chasm between liberals and conservatives that is getting to be tribal and intractable and making for more hostility and less of a likelihood that anything can get done in this country? That ever happen to you? Cause the thing is that it happened to me. Seems a lot of things get me thinking about the polarization of American politics and culture. In some ways I feel sort of not involved because I feel less and less vested in this country especially as a self identified socialist but at the same I live and work here so I should really be concerned but then I feel there's so little I can do aside from living my life as an example of my values. Values. My....

Belief system. Which is not necessarily connected to or for that matter separate from the man I was. Who was. Different. The theoretical. But I am trying and am conscious and I do think of the insanity of all these cars and people driving a few blocks when they could walk and is it any wonder obesity is such a big fat problem in this here country. I work in SF in an area lousy with tourists and one way you can tell the Americans from foreign is waistlines. Nine times out of ten an overweight person will not have a foreign accent unless you consider Alabama foreign which in many ways it is from the Bay Area. Dig it.

You ever know someone and at one point think. Yeah, me too.

But getting back to the rift in this country...I saw a comment on a non political online forum from a conservative who said republican women were prettier than democratic women who, he said, tend to be "butt ugly." You see that? Us/them. And THEY are not only wrong politically but bad all around, even their women are ugly. It's like when Ann Coutler said that "our blacks are better than their blacks." We don't have different political parties or philosophies, we have different breeds. It's like the Crusades, man. It's like football rivals. Beat em!

Where do we go from here?

"I go to bed with horror on my wings. In my pillow is sad comforts." - Jack Kerouac.

There are the unchained voices of yesterdays sorrows that visit from long lost travails. They whisper to us of how and why and we ignore them at our own loss. This is our sad burden as empty nights go by and we clamor for a dream that we never even had. America the confused. Desperate to climb some holy hill without taking so much as a single step. The easy path. The easy answer. The simple mind. The lost and the loss of those who venture to challenge. Stuck in the mire of dead end minds. Braying at us from TVs. Promise us everything. Every. Thing. You promise. With no plan on how to give it. We --

The sarcastic laughter and ineptitude of our scholarship are evidence of bereft intellects and a swollen pride all out of proportion to any accomplishments.

All that is asked is hope.

I get into cars and see so so many others and die a little bit each time. It's all very tired. 

28 August 2012

Just saying -- IMDB User Comments on Sight Sound's Greatest Films

Earlier this summer the prestigious Sight and Sound Poll of the 250 greatest films was released. The poll derives some of its gravitas from the fact that it only comes out once every ten years. Their first poll was released in 1952. The voters include film critics from all over the world as well programmers, writers, academics, distributors and other cinephiles (somehow they failed to ask me to participate). Over 1,000 people voted. There is a separate poll based on the votes of noted film directors released at the same time. That list only includes 100 titles. The two lists feature many of the same films.

It is my pleasure to offer you the fourth edition of IMDB user comments, wherein I painstakingly copy and paste the words of mostly anonymous film fans from the indispensable Internet Movie Database website.  In this instance I have selected films from the Sight and Sound's greatest list, including most from the top ten. As always, these comments come sans any annotation from yours truly. I neither endorse nor condemn any of the views or opinions expressed. None are edited, you're getting the pure stuff. All comments come from the IMDb page dedicated to the particular film. Enjoy.

Vertigo (1958)
cheesy, unbelievable and pointless for the 1st hour, and then you understand what is really happening. But really I still think the 1st hour or so is really too slow. I still gave it a 9 out of 10, but how can that movie be better than Citizen Kane, are the critics retarted or just tired of CK being first?

Citizen Kane (1941)
I get the feeling that most of the people that rated this film so highly on imdb went to film school and their professors convinced them it was great. The movie is good but not wonderful in my opinion. Definitely won't be watching it a second time.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
I didn't hate it, but I chose not to finish it. Not long after the pig scene I gave up and deleted it from my cable box. It was another L'Atalante: a highly-raved-about film from long ago that left me unmoved. Please don't hate me. After all the raving I thought I was in for another "The Crowd" or "City Lights" but I just didn't care for it. About twenty minutes in I thought to myself "if this movie didn't have the high praise it does, I'd have given up on it already."
The standout flaw of the movie was the plot. I just do not believe that he could go from murderous rage to cry-baby regret so fast, and get forgiven by his wife so fast. I don't believe it coming from these paper-thin characters. Maybe, MAYBE Dostoevsky could have written two characters from which I'd believe such behavior in such a small span of time, but I could not stop thinking "hang on, he almost murdered her a few hours ago and now they're whooping it up on the dance floor?" There aren't enough masterfully-filmed tracking shots in the world to spackle over that hole.

Rules of the Game (1939)
anyone with an open mind would not rate it more than 5unless he wants to pretend he ''knows'' about cinema...its just a plain bad movie...la grane illusion is definetely a better movie.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
...I'd rather watch an old Star Trek episode, any day. It sucks, man, it sucks! Dumb dumb dumb...borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring.

The Searchers (1956)
What drives me -nuts- is how many 'serious film critics' go on and on about all the 'layers' in The Searchers. If they just said, 'Yeah, it was a cool popcorn movie for its time.' I wouldn't give it a second thought.
I understand the genre is almost by definition kinda over the top, but characters like 'Mose' are ----so----- ridiculous I just can't see them being worth a doctoral thesis... but people -do- write scholarly papers on this thing.
I can understand -liking- it... in the same way I -like- a lot of Bruce Willis movies that no one can call great art. I watch 'em over and over. But I don't try to find deep -meaning- in every scene.
The scenes are beautiful... the shots are really well composed and almost like that 'Painter Of Light' guy dramatic.
But as I was watching it I kept thinking of Blazing Saddles... a lot of the dialog is so hammy it's tough to take seriously.
Now, I still love Errol Flynn movies. They have a lot of the same stock characters and cliches but for 1956 but again---not great art.
What am I missing?

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Okay so well, I've been reading around and it appears everyone seems to have been absolutely blown away from this film, personally, I don't quite get the hype.
I found the first half hour incredibly slow and dull, the forty minute mark it started to turn into a film I was beginning to enjoy. If it wasn't for the Voices of Light score, I think I would of fallen asleep, I almost fell asleep about twenty minutes in anyway.

8 1/2 (1963)
Having read many reviews over the years about how great and influential this film is supposed to be, I finally got round to watching it this week. It took me four days as I could only watch about 30 mins at a time before getting so bored I had to get off the couch and do something else. If it wasn't supposed to be such a 'great masterpiece' I wouldn't have stuck with it beyond the first instalment.
Now I don't think I am stupid, ignorant, or insensitive (before you fans start accusing me) - I have an IQ of 143 and enjoy 'real' films, including French, Italian and Japanese cinema, but I just don't get the hype with this one. Yes, its 'surreal' but lets face it, its boring! Apart from a couple of exceptions, the acting is atrocious, the pace is uneven, the dialogue second rate, etc. etc. Does 'surrealism' excuse all this?
You can get enjoyable, interesting and intelligent 'surreal' films - look at the work by Powell and Pressburger for example, or even Bergman or Lars von Trier. Can someone please explain why I should have to make the effort with 8 1/2? It takes more than 'cool sunglasses' to get me excited about a film!

Tokyo Story (1953)
Dont get me wrong, I thought this was a fantastic film, and I really admired its greatness. But I thought it was never going to end, just such a chore to watch. Does anyone agree with me? Or are you all going to say that you were completely involved and fully interested, because I would be sorely lying if I didnt say I was looking at how much time was left every five minutes.

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Don't read unless you have seen the movie. I will be spoiling basically all of it.
Honestly, I haven't been this bored with a movie since I watched Citizen Kane 2 summers ago. Don't get me wrong, I like a good character study movie. I thoroughly enjoyed Lawrence of Arabia & The Godfather Trilogy, but this movie just bored the frick out of me. Thank the Lord I wasn't watching the Redux version; I don't think I could have taken an additional 40 minutes of footage.
One of the reasons I found it boring was the plot was uninteresting. After the airstrike & Robert Duvall saying "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning!" (best line of the movie), the only interesting things that happened only lasted 30 seconds or less. The tiger attack lasted 15 seconds, The Natives shooting arrows lasted 30 seconds & The missile attack lasted 30 seconds. That is a minute 15 seconds of interesting events on an hour long boat ride. Why should I give a flip about some strip show? What is so interesting about a commercial boat where they end up slaughtering the people driving it for no reason? Nothing else was interesting happened until they got to the place where Kurtz was hiding out. That leads me to the next huge issue I had with the movie.

Persona (1966)
I usually give a film around 30 minutes before I decide if I want to continue watching. Kubrick once said that you have around 20 minutes to draw the viewer into a film before they'll lose interest. This is the third Bergman film I've watched. I started with Winter Light, then watched The Seventh Seal and finally this one. Does Bergman at all try to entertain the audience? I really want to like his films, but he puts NO effort into making me care at all. The "golden rule" of film-making (and writing) is "show, don't tell". And all Bergman's films are talking. Talk, talk, talk. And then a shot of a tree or something.
And it's not that I'm easily bored. I can appreciate directors like Tarkovsky. He, at least, makes his films intriguing, even if they are a little "talky". Maybe this is just bad luck on my part and I've watched his three least entertaining films. And don't say his films aren't meant to be entertaining. Film, as a medium, needs to be entertaining in order to convey the message or meaning behind it. Bergman should've just made this film a short story. I didn't feel any emotion at all watching this film, or Winter Light. The Seventh Seal was at least tolerable for a while but I zoned out around the 50 minute mark. If I wanted to hear the philosophical ramblings of people I'd go check out Philosophy forums online. Does Bergman have any idea about how to present ideas effectively? He just has his main character (in the case of the films I've watched, always a projection of himself) ramble on about this and that, usually not even within the context of the scene.
So help me out here. I REALLY want to like Bergman. He was in Kubrick's top 3 favourite directors (along with Fellini and David Lean). I just can't get involved in any of his films. Should I just give up him? This was worse than La Dolce Vita. All in all, Bergman is a boring hack and I've had enough of him. I'm off to watch A Clockwork Orange. A film with meaning AND entertaining value.
Edit: Oh yeah and Wild Strawberries was alright. It at least kept me interested (Forgot that was by Bergman. So I've seen 4 of his films but my point remains)