Friday, December 28, 2007

Tiger attack at SF Zoo latest blow - Yahoo! News:
"The deadly tiger escape at the San Francisco Zoo could prove to be a costly blow to an institution that has come under fire repeatedly in just the past few years over the deaths of two elephants and the mauling of a zookeeper. The zoo could face heavy fines from regulators. It could be stripped of its exhibitor license. Its accreditation could be at risk. It could be hit with a huge lawsuit by the victims or their families. It could even face criminal charges, depending on what the investigation finds.

'All this legal action is likely to impact the financial viability of the zoo,' said Rory Little, a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. 'Whether the zoo can stay open is a big question.'"

I have become somewhat ambivalent about zoos. As a kid, I loved them and spent lots of time at the St. Louis Zoo, one of the better zoos in the world. I have been going to the SF Zoo for about 10 years or so. One of the best locations for a zoo, a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean, mild climate, foggy on Summer mornings, wonderful fauna and flora. But precious few animals! It had recently begun a major renovation effort and, while beautifully done, it was not so good for animal watchers. More space, less animals. And come on, I like lemurs as much as the next guy but do we really need one more California zoo to house lemurs? At any rate, should this zoo close I would not be surprised. It is very popular with families, no question about it, but if you want to see animals, exotic animals, go somewhere else.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007 In Review: Movies:

**** no country for old men
**** darjeeling limited
*** sweeney todd
*** paris, je t'aime
*** ratatouille
** harry potter and the order of the phoenix
** transformers

Yes, I know it's only 7 films; that is all I saw in a theater this year. The films I saw on DVD were not from 2007 so I ignored them. Far and away, I though NCFOM was the best film. Possibly the best film of the 00's. Every scene, every detail, was exquisite. And for such a bleak, relentless subject matter, what a beautiful film. It's like "The Denial of Death" made into a movie. Essential.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)***
Enjoyable, with fine lead performances by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. I just wasn't emotionally engaged in the film. I also found the washed out colors and ultra-dark lighting very distracting. Perhaps that was the theatre's fault but it was in a digitally projected cinema which usually means clear, crisp images.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quietly, the Polish-German border dissolves - International Herald Tribune:
"Notably absent from the discussion is the long-expressed fear that Poles will come and take German jobs. When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Germany left significant legal hurdles in place to prevent their neighbors from coming to work. Instead ambitious, highly mobile Polish workers moved in droves to more welcoming parts of Western Europe, Britain and Ireland in particular, where they have been credited with fueling economic growth, passing Germany by - and especially its poorer, depopulating East - on the way."

Hopefully, some day, the US-Mexican and US-Canadian borders can quietly dissolve.

Friday, December 14, 2007

No Country for Old Men (2007)****
Whoa! Much like last year's Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth this is a brutal, harsh, uncompromising look at reality. Expertly directed, wonderfully acted, beautifully, sparingly written. The use of sound is superb as well. The best film of 2007 and maybe the best of the decade.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Martz: Pats are new ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ -, North Andover, MA

"The Patriots have shown that having an explosive offense can take pressure off a defense. It's like you are playing to win the game on every snap, being aggressive, attacking. ... I love it. The whole purpose is to set the pace for the game. Football is a game of speed and attitude. I'm not surprised at the Patriots' success. I knew it could happen."

I expected great things from the Lions this year with Martz having 4 high quality receivers. I overestimated Kitna's abilities. And perhaps I overlooked Martz' tendencies within the red zone to become a bit too cute when he doesn't have a power runner. The Patriots don't either but with Moss they don't need to.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Humanist: The New Atheists are responding to provocation, not mounting an arbitrary attack
"What Mr Dalrymple does not see is that the so-called New Atheists are responding to a provocation, not mounting an arbitrary and uncalled-for attack. Instead of turning a politely blind eye to religion as we all did until recently (when those with religion had the good taste, mainly, to keep quiet about them in return), we have chosen to speak out against the absurdities, distortions and even dangers that the presence of religion in our societies cause. For nearly twenty centuries the religionists have had it their way: what a squealing they put up now that half a dozen "New Atheists" have argued back!

In that squealing I hear hope for the world. It has the sound of desperation, of defeat, of retreat and lost arguments. No doubt the conflict will be long and bloody; look at the historical precedent provided by the Roman Catholic Church when it lost its hegemony over the mind of Europe, and sponsored a century of bitterest war in the struggle to hang on – the Thirty Years War and the preceding Wars of Religion, devouring human beings in their maw from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

2007 In Review: Music:

**** apples in stereo - new magnetic wonder
**** bruce springsteen - magic
**** field music - tones of town
**** fountains of wayne - traffic and weather
**** future clouds and radar
**** kt tunstall - drastic fantastic
**** mitch easter - dynamico
**** rilo kiley - under the blacklight
**** shalini - the surface and the shine
**** suzanne vega - beauty & crime
**** the new pornographers - challengers
**** the shins - wincing the night away
**** they might be giants - the else
**** walker kong - deliver us from people
*** siouxsie - mantaray
*** son volt - the search
*** spoon - ga ga ga ga ga
*** paul mccartney - memory almost full
*** peter bjorn john - writer's block
*** plasticines - lp1
*** of montreal - hissing fauna are you the destroyer
*** laura veirs - saltbreakers
*** imperial teen - the hair the tv the baby and the band
*** crowded house - time on earth
*** The Broken West - I Can't Go On, I'll Go On
** travis - the boy with no name
** the national - boxer
** the pipettes - we are the pipettes
** the polyphonic spree - fragile army
** tegan and sara - the con
** st. vincent - marry me
** maria taylor - lynn teeter flower
** mary weiss - dangerous game
** great northern - trading twilight for daylight
** georgie james - places
** feist - the reminder
** deborah harry - necessary evil
** brian ferry - dylanesque
** air - pocket symphony
* wilco - blue sky
* the clientele - god save the clientele
* rogue wave - asleep at heaven's gate
* mary timony - the shapes we make
* lucinda williams - west

Thursday, November 15, 2007

CEPR - Bat Boy Lives! As Do Myths About Social Security:
"The fact that a major Democratic presidential candidate could attack the front-runner in 2007, for not proposing a solution to a problem that is so relatively small and uncertain and nearly four decades away, is testimony to the power and durability of well-financed right-wing propaganda -- especially when there is no matching effort on the other side. The right spent more than two decades, and millions of dollars, discrediting Social Security with nothing more than verbal and accounting tricks - they never even bothered to make their own projections to compete with Social Security's Trustees. Some of the money that altered public opinion came straight from Wall Street financial firms who stood to make a fortune from privatization. These efforts should be regarded as one of the most successful disinformation campaigns in modern history. "

I had a previous link regarding Obama's Social Security errors but Mark Weisbrot makes it clear. This has been a thorn in the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society's sides for decades. They had near complete control of government and were going to make sure SS was killed. This is why the trillions being spent on the war and the billions of dollars in tax cuts don't matter to them: they want government destroyed. They want it bankrupt.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dickey: The Real Cost of Iraq | Newsweek Voices - Christopher Dickey |
"It's been three years since President George W. Bush experienced what he called his 'accountability moment,' i.e., his re-election. And it's a year now since American voters sent a Democratic majority to the House and Senate on the delusional assumption they'd hold this administration responsible for what it's done to the United States and the world. We know how that hasn't happened. So why would the folks in the Bush White House be the least bit perturbed by publicity about the mind-boggling long-term costs of the war in Iraq that they rushed to wage? I don't think they are, and I wouldn't expect them to be. This is an administration that admits no guilt and knows no shame, and in that it is a perfect reflection of what America and Americans look like to the rest of the world."

Christopher Dickey articulates my feelings perfectly in a nicely written piece. They wanted to trash the government and they succeeded beyond measure. This is not funny.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Yochai Benkler: The Wealth of Networks:
"The critical shift represented by the networked information economy is that on the order of a billion people on the planet have the physical capacity to produce and communicate information, knowledge, and culture. This means, in the case of writing, millions or tens of millions of people, rather than a few thousand, get to write in ways that are publicly visible. Of necessity, there will be a wide range.

The probability that any newspaper, however well-heeled, will be able to put together the kind of legal analytic brainpower that my friend Jack Balkin has put together on his blog, Balkinization, is zero. They can't afford it. On the other hand, even the Weekly World News is tame and mainstream by comparison to the quirkiness or plain stupidity some people can exhibit. The range is simply larger. That's what it means to have a truly diverse public sphere.

If you want to find evidence of nonsense, as of course it is important to people whose sense of self-worth depends on the special role traditional mass media play in the public sphere, you will easily find it. If you want to find the opposite, that too is simple. What's left is to wait and see over time whether one overwhelms the other. As I wrote in the book, I do not think we are intellectual lemmings. I don't think we jump over the abyss of drivel, but rather that in this environment of plenty we learn to develop our own sense of which is which, and where to find what. Perfect information about all the good things, we won't have. But we don't have it now either. Instead we have new patterns of linking, filtering, recommendation, that allow us to do reasonably well in navigating a much more diverse and interesting information environment than mass media was able to deliver."

This is what scares the crap out of the current gatekeepers to information. A big big change is happening and they have no idea how to control it and monetize it. Because they can't.

via Kottke

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Real Nanopod: World's Smallest Radio From A Single Carbon Nanotube | Scientific Blogging: "
“The entire radio would easily fit inside a living cell, and this small size allows it to safely interact with biological systems,” Zettl said. “One can envision interfaces with brain or muscle functions, or radio-controlled devices moving through the bloodstream.”"

via Robot Wisdom

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

'NYT': Extra Hour of Daylight for Halloween Due to Candy Lobby?:
"But it gets even stranger than that. The candy lobby also played a significant role in pushing Halloween into daylight saving time, believing that extra hour of trick-or-treating in daylight would spur more candy sales but arguing that it would decrease deaths, according to Michael Downing, the author of 'Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,' an amusing book about the myths and realities behind daylight saving time. "

But who goes trick-or-treating in daylight? All the kids/families I know of wait until dark to begin their rounds. Extending DST just makes them have to start an hour later than otherwise. It's more inconvenient.

via Robot Wisdom

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)****
Superb Wes Anderson film. It seems modest, it seems merely charming, but it's probably his best and most thoughtful film. And thats saying a lot. Remember, a director's style, signature hallmarks, etc. are not there for their own sake. This is a well structured movie.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reaganomics Finally Trickles Down To Area Man | The Onion - America's Finest News Source:
"Kellener, who has cared for his schizophrenic sister ever since her federally funded mental institution was closed in 1984, said that he plans to donate the full $10 to the Republican presidential candidate who best embodies Reagan's legacy."

Yes, yes, we all know The Onion and it is usually spot on and hilarious but this bit seemed to me to hit all the right points. And the last one is the kicker: why do people who are left out of the "conservative" agenda, continue to support it?


Sunday, September 30, 2007

SHALINI - The Surface and the Shine (2007)****
Sort of a companion piece to Dynamico (3 songs were written by or with Mitch Easter), this record doesn't quite achieve those lofty heights. But this is a great CD, much better, more consistent than "Metal Corner" from 2004. Classic, heavy power pop with tons of hooks, riffs and harmonies. "Gloria" is...well glorious!

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Time Machine (1960)****
Apparently this is a guy flick. Well then since I'm a guy, I loved it! George Pal's crowning achievement, it's underlying intelligence and imaginative art direction (of which Mr. Pal was a crucial, yet uncredited, component) plus sincere performances and excellent script make this the classic that it is. Yes there are blue, hairy cannibalistic beings preying on docile, almost albino humans, plenty of borderline cheesy special effects, but there is a sincerity and attention to story that is a cut above the standard "B" movie. Rod Taylor is in fine form as well. And it all comes in at an economical 103 minutes!
Scientists get first look at nanotubes inside living animals:
"'Carbon nanotubes are much smaller than living cells, and they give off fluorescent light in a way that researchers hope to harness to detect diseases earlier than currently possible,' said research co-author Bruce Weisman, professor of chemistry. 'In order to do that, we need to learn how to detect and monitor nanotubes inside living tissues, and we must also determine whether they pose any hazards to organisms.'"

Thanks again to Robot Wisdom, what freaked me out about this was the fact that we are capable of creating things "much smaller than living cells"! These things can be placed inside us and we wouldn't have the slightest idea they were there. Nano-technology is not sci-fi and not a dream. It is reality. Incredible.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

ABC News: Obama Floats Social Security Tax Hike:
"'If we kept the payroll tax rate exactly the same but applied it to all earnings and not just the first $97,000,' Obama wrote this week in an Iowa newspaper, 'we could eliminate the entire Social Security shortfall.'"

Again, there is NO Social Security shortfall projected until 2046. Repeat: 2046! There has never been a time in the history of the Social Security program that it was in such good financial shape. For a major party candidate to not only say such a thing but to actually believe it to be true is mind-boggling to me. I had considered supporting Mr. Obama but if he can't understand this concept, nor hire a consultant who understands this concept, then how can he run the country?

Friday, September 21, 2007 & A with investigative journalist Seymour Hersh:
" JJ: That's all they are? Marginal? SH: With these stories, if they slow down or make people take a deep breath before they bomb Iran, that is a plus. But they are not going to stop anybody. This is a government that is unreachable by us, and that is very depressing. In terms of adding to the public debate, the stories are important. But not in terms of changing policy. I have no delusions about that."

Via Robot Wisdom, Seymour Hersh articulates our present predicament: we have a government that is unreachable by us. Exactly how I feel, and exactly why when I stop and think I get depressed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)****
Nothing Earth shattering here except a finely crafted and executed whodunit featuring an exceptional performance by Albert Finney in the lead role. He is on screen almost the entire time and never ceases to be interesting or entertaining. A great actor in a great role.
The Passenger (1975)***
Michaelangelo Antonioni is a gifted director with a wonderful visual sense and assured abilities with a camera, but as a screenwriter he leaves a lot to be desired. Some interesting ideas but you have to strain to get a hint of them. Still, an interesting and thoughtful work.
The Black Hole (1979)*
An embarrassment for all concerned. The story makes little sense even within its limited and scientifically inaccurate universe. Clearly an attempt to re-work "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" into an "outer space" environment, it succeeds at absolutely nothing. A complete failure.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Greenspan Concedes Mortgage Dilemma:
"'While I was aware a lot of these practices were going on, I had no notion of how significant they had become until very late,' he said in a CBS '60 Minutes' interview to be broadcast Sunday. 'I really didn't get it until very late in 2005 and 2006,' Greenspan said."

But, but you're Maestro! You knew EVERYTHING! Think about this for a minute: he was aware that dangerous, questionable, extremely risky lending practices were not only happening but causing the run-up in housing prices thereby creating an unsustainable market bubble, AND HE DIDN'T GET IT!

I think he is a liar. He could NOT have been that stupid. I think his banker friends wanted him to look the other way and he complied. They got theirs. And now, unfortunately, the rest of the country will get ours.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Doctor Dolittle (1967)**
Here is one flick that could do with a Tim Burton directed remake. Johnny Depp would be great as the lead. And I'm sure Mr. Burton could bring it all in at around 100 minutes or so and not the incredible 152 minutes this film takes! And that doesn't include the intermission. So yes, my regular rant about the length of the film is warranted here. And there are about 6-7 songs too many. Mr. Harrison's talk/sing style gets wearisome too, although he does a nice job overall. Anthony Newley is tough to take though.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Britney Spears earns scorn for MTV performance - Yahoo! News:
"The 25-year-old singer, whose professional achievements have been overshadowed by her personal crises in recent years, performed 'Gimme More' in a black sequined bikini and knee-high boots. No longer boasting the buff body that helped drive her to international superstardom almost a decade ago, the mother of two moved sluggishly around the stage at the Palms casino, often with the support of a troupe of dancers. At one point, the camera panned to rapper 50 Cent, sitting in the audience, who looked bewildered by the action on stage. 'She blew it,' gossip columnist Perez Hilton told Reuters. 'Everybody knows Britney lip-syncs, but that's because she dances so much. She barely even danced in this. It was so bad. It was painful. It was embarrassing. And I loved it!'"

Talk about high expectations! You'd think Ms. Spears was supposed to be doing an excerpt from King Lear or something. Come on, LIGHTEN UP! I thought she looked pretty damn good. Just how "buff" do we want women to be for heaven's sake? I'm not a big fan of her music but the song, "Gimme More", was a "danceable ode" as Sir Paul might say, perfectly acceptable at the disco and to my dirty-old-man eyes she seemed to give it the attention it deserved and seemed to move around the stage appropriately. It wasn't a transcendent performance but this was the MTV awards for crying out loud! I think it's just a fashionable thing to berate Ms. Spears and that sort of thing just irritates the hell out of me. You want to punish her for her behavior? Ignore her. If you can.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bush: No Interest In How Iraqi Military Got Disbanded; No Effort To Reverse Decision?:
"Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, 'The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen.' But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush's former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army's dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, 'Yeah, I can't remember, I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?'' But, he added, 'Again, Hadley's got notes on all of this stuff,' referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser."

Do any Congressional Democrats get The New York Times? Do they read the front page? Just asking.
Coming months vital for U.S. Iraq strategy - Yahoo! News:
"U.S. President George W. Bush, on a surprise visit to Iraq, raised the prospect of troop cuts after meeting top commanders at a desert air base in western Anbar province on Monday. 'I think the next three to four months is critical,' said Odierno, head of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq."

I had to do a double take when I saw that headline. I thought I had stumbled upon The Onion instead of Yahoo! News. Can these people even hear themselves speak? Ever since July 2003 some "senior official" has been saying "the next 3-4 months are critical". What a joke. Oh and how very brave of Mr. Bush to visit Iraq. It's always a surprise too. That's a nice touch. I miss the flight jacket though.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)**
Yet another flick that is WAY too long. 2 hours and 12 minutes! It is a full 37 minutes before we get into the volcano! I wonder if I am just getting more used to the tempo of action flicks of today. This film is from 1959. There is a HUGE amount of set up in the first 37 minutes which I doubt would be tolerated today. James Mason is, of course, solid, Pat Boone manages to be not too embarrassing, Bernard Herrmann's score is tremendous and the cave settings are spectacular. A fine family film.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On the occasion of the anniversary of my birth:

Ever since my Father died in 1975 at the age of 50 (well, actually one day short of 50) I have had this notion that I, too, will shuffle off this mortal coil when I turn 50. Well, as of today I have 2 years left. And I kind of like this idea. I think everyone should set a date for their demise and live accordingly. I like to think I am less attached to things. I like to think I savor the moment more knowing I have less time than most. I don't know if I am truly successful. But I think it helps to have this perspective on life. Ephemera. Detachment. Distance. It suits my personality. I'm sorry to all those who it does not suit. I meant nothing personal. If I got too attached to you, life would become unbearable to me. I know this now. I wish I knew this then, but such is life.

Happy birthday!
Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight (2007)****
It all sounds like a pastiche of 70's riffs, beats and harmonies used to great effect on 11 strong tracks. Plenty of hooks, plenty of punch, less quirky than previous recordings. Jennie Lewis is in fine form. Their best so far.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

sp!ked review of books | Towards an age of abundance:
"Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local, the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion is guaranteed. Sound idyllic? But hold on… Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation; there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical work which may end up yielding little. There is – or at least was – such a place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary, there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life."

Yes, there are extremes on all sides of every issue. Setting up straw men does nobody any good. There is plenty of room for reasonable middle ground. All I really want is for there to be some sort of oversight on the food markets to encourage reasonable growth, strive for sustainability and to try to reduce the use of industrial chemicals, recycled bio-mass and the like . I don't think that is an unreasonable, nor unprofitable idea. I want greed and profit to not be the be all and end all of food production.
Topaz (1969)**
Mediocre Hitchcock overall with some exceptional sequences in the early going. When the locale switched to Cuba, though, it comes off as an extended episode of "Mission Impossible". Some severe editing was called for here. It's obvious this was a studio job for Hitch and not a picture he felt strongly about. Still the acting is good, there are many noteworthy shots and scenes. It just goes on too long and there is an uncharacteristically bad use of music in this film. It's quite jarring and distracting in several sequences. Disappointing.
BBC NEWS | Entertainment | French star sued for hero comment:
"Ardant said she admired the founder of the Red Brigades group, Renato Curcio, because he had never abandoned his leftist ideals, adding she 'considered the Red Brigades phenomenon to be very moving and passionate'."

Fanny, Fanny, Fanny! Say it ain't so! Ah well, she is still a stunning beauty and a fine actress. So sometimes her ideals get the better of her and she says something foolish and stupid. Is that a crime? Um...well yes actually in Italy it IS a crime. Stay home in Paris, dear.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Solaris (2002)****
One of the more romantic sci-fi films ever and one of Soderbergh's best efforts. Clooney just seems to click with Soderbergh as he turns in another fine performance for him. It bugs me a little when I read reviews that knock a film because it is not slavishly "faithful" to the source material. A filmmaker gets his inspiration from many sources and if it happens to be a book so what? He may like just one layer of the book or one plot twist or one character and want to explore that visually. The problem is when you find your inspiration from a popular or revered work. Hitchcock's best pictures came from relatively unknown books or stories that he changed dramatically. We're making movies here, not filmed reading material.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Forbidden Planet (1956)**
The obvious prototype for classic Trek. An amazingly talky film, but what's shocking is the lack of imagination on the part of the set and production design. Laughingly dated script as well.

Monday, August 13, 2007

20000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)**
The film is way too long and poorly paced. For the time, the script is intelligent and thoughtful, the acting is very good. James Mason in particular is a revelation. One of the few roles in which he is able to be a muscular, athletic, macho-type guy while at the same time being literate and intellectual. I thought Mason was perfect for the role of Captain Nemo.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

" The sharpest conflict between naturalist and humanist ethics arises in the regulation of genetic engineering. The naturalist ethic condemns genetically modified food-crops and all other genetic engineering projects that might upset the natural ecology. The humanist ethic looks forward to a time not far distant, when genetically engineered food-crops and energy-crops will bring wealth to poor people in tropical countries, and incidentally give us tools to control the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

Mr. Dyson lost me at this point. While I agree that humans are THE most important animals on the planet Earth right now and our survival is paramount, I hardly think genetic engineering of plant life will be our savior! We all know the infamous human capacity for error ALONE will prohibit reliance on genetic engineering for a benefit to humanity. I do accept that an increase in the global temperature has been recorded and predicted. I am not certain as to what it means, what has caused it and what needs to be done about it. I agree with Mr. Dyson that a reliance on computer models is to be taken with a great deal of skepticism. But our agreement ends there.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Becket (1964)**
This might be a case of high expectations and/or seeing a film in hindsight. I thought the screenplay was a bit too simplistic. I thought Burton was sleepwalking and O'Toole over the top. We are supposed to feel that those 2 have some sort of chemistry together, that they really do love each other as friends and indeed in real life they did. But on the screen in this picture, I didn't get that at all. It is a beautiful picture, well shot, very colorful, well designed. And maybe I am just incapable of enjoying a film with ham-fisted use of music but I thought that was exceedingly bad here. I know it was the style at the time but Hitchcock was able to make films with virtually NO music (The Birds, eg.), and I like a number of films that use music very effectively such as nearly all of Kubrick's work, To Kill A Mockingbird, to name but a few.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)**
I am a fan of the series but have never read any of the books. I did enjoy the film once Alan Rickman shows up which is late in the picture unfortunately. The the film takes off and eventually reaches a satisfying and emotional conclusion. I like the English-ness of the films, the art direction, the CGI which is always top-notch, and the fine cast of supporting actors. Newcomer Evanna Lynch makes a mesmerizing debut. I thought the direction was a bit heavy-handed. Granted, this might have been the least cinematic of the books, but just pumping up the volume of the music doesn't make things exciting just annoying.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Suzanne Vega - Beauty & Crime (2007)****
A multi-layered collection of songs that never fail to entertain and enlighten. Might be her most consistent album ever. Adventurous yet true to herself, fine melodies, well-crafted production.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sick and Twisted
In a New Yorker commentary lauding Michael Moore's "Sicko" because it successfully keeps the issues of healthcare in the public mind, Atul Gawande states:

"The cheapest proposals [for universal single-payer coverage] circulating would still require more than a hundred billion dollars a year in public funds—around a thousand dollars per American household. Taxing millionaires or cutting 'waste, fraud, and abuse' won’t pay for that."

No, but for $84/month I would be very happy to pay for that coverage instead of the $850/month I currently pay for Blue Cross with a $1,500 deductible per person. Yes, ANY health plan will cost money. But you can't just say that without also stating the enormous savings that will result. The simplest and best approach is to simply extend Medicare coverage to all citizens. Let's do that first, give some REAL competition to the private insurance industry for once, and then start to tinker with it. This will work. It will have its difficulties at first. But it will be cheaper than the Iraq War that's for damn sure and we somehow find a way to pay for that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Transformers (2007)**
A CGI achievement in film so it gets the 2 stars. Might have been a better movie movie if about an hour had been trimmed starting with the horrific war/military angle. That aspect just didn't seem right in the middle of one of the worst military disasters in our nation's history. Shia LeBeouf does a fine job and Megan Fox looks very good.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Ratatouille (2007)***
I have to say I was disappointed with this picture. It is a superb example of craftsmanship, technological wizardry, art direction, set design, lighting and on and on. Everything is perfect except the script. Seriously flawed. Never soars to the heights of "The Incredibles" nor even "Cars". I think the problem is it never really trusts itself. There is NO WAY to manipulate a person by pulling his hair. It would have actually made more sense to have Linguini and only Linguini be able to understand Remy's speech. And the pre-climatic change of heart by Remy was totally unbelievable. I could not imagine his character EVER turning his back on the restaurant or Linguini. It made no sense within it's own context. After that everything was a series of soaring strings and clichéd plot turns. I don't know for sure, but I suspect this one had more of Brad Bird's stamp on it than "The Incredibles" where he was overruled several times on key plot points. This is closer to "Iron Giant", another wonder technically, yet a big disappointment story-wise. Again though, if you see it in a theatre, demand a digital projection. Absolutely beautiful.

A President Besieged and Isolated, Yet at Ease

"Still, that trip demonstrated that Bush cannot escape his burdens. King, the GOP congressman, introduced him backstage to a soldier injured in one eye. Bush teared up and asked the young man to take off his dark glasses so he could see the wound, King recalled. 'Human instinct is when someone has a serious injury to look the other way,' King said. 'He actually asked him to take them off. He actually touched the eye a little. It was almost as if he felt he had to confront it.'"

Is it just me or is this not one of the more perverted things this president has done? This is alongside his bald head fetish in creepiness. I think he actually thinks he has messianic powers, healing powers. And no, this article is not from The Onion, but the Washington Post! What an absolute idiot this man is.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)***
I was more familiar with the 1956 version (which I find superior) but this one has its charms also. It's an amazingly fresh script with complex characters, a lot of humor and an exceptional shootout that seems very uncharacteristic for a Hitchcock picture. Some interesting, memorable shots and sequences, along with some laughable ones. This was the work of a genius on a shoestring budget. The later version was more assured, the sequences more masterful.
Finding Neverland (2004)*
One of the more depressing films I have ever seen. I couldn't find one character that showed any true emotion to latch on to. A pall of death and bitterness hangs over every scene. I can't imagine this as a play at all. The film even makes Julie Christie look bad.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The New Pornographers - Challengers (2007)****
From the Fleetwood Mac of 21st century power pop, another amazingly similar yet different collection of a dozen intense tunes. "Failsafe" is my favorite so far, propelled by a tremelo guitar and a driving beat. But they are all excellent, with atmospheric lyrics, intricate melodies, wonderful harmonies, the awesome Neko Case on the title track in particular, and a trio of some of Dan Bejar's best.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full (2007)***
Paul McCartney has written some stunning songs in his career. So we do know he is a more than capable songwriter, musician, lyricist. What's so frustrating is not that he has missteps, or reaches too far, lots of folks do that. It's that half of his songs just sound like he didn't really care. On this record, the half that are good are actually pretty good. "Ever Present Past" has a nice hook to it and meaningful and clever lyrics, likewise with "Vintage Clothes" and "That Was Me" (probably the best track). "Mister Bellamy" is an enjoyable ditty with some nifty production, "You Tell Me" is a somber, sober reflection on a lost love. "Dance Tonight" is enjoyable enough but it is sorely lacking in the lyric department. On "House of Wax" he tries real hard, too hard actually, for something meaningful and just ends up with something unlistenable. The others are pretty bad. I really wish he always had a collaborator with him, someone to tell him "You know, this song might be good if we just WORKED at it a bit more" or "This thing stinks!"

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)****
A film that slowly grabs you and doesn't let go until the brutally honest and truthful end. My only quarrel with it is I could have done without the scene of the Captain "fixing" the cut on his cheek. We already knew he was a sado-masochistic monster. Uncompromising film making of high rank.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Walker Kong - Deliver Us From People (2007)****
As someone once said, a pleasing combination of hard and smart and sweet. Brilliant, passionate power pop from a group at the top of their game.
NYRB: In Sarkoland
"A group of American campaign experts was invited to France in April by the French-American Foundation. They were impressed with the French candidates' use of the Internet, especially Sarkozy's site, and astounded by how little money could legally be spent ($22 million—€16.2 million—per candidate, mostly government-supplied), by the campaigns' non-use of focus groups, and by the strict equal-time limit on television appearances of each of the twelve candidates (including two Trotskyists, the Greens, a hunting and fishing candidate, etc.). What most shocked one of the Americans was that Ségolène Royal had allowed herself the bikini photograph. That would ruin her in America, said Barbara Comstock, a Bush (not Clinton) adviser. 'You want to look like a commander.'"

It's all about appearances over here. Will we ever get over this? Maybe if we limit the amount that can be spent to $22M and adhere to strict equal time rules AND limit the amount of TV time that can be purchased.
Venus (2006)****
Great performance by O'toole and the rest of the cast in this intelligent, bawdy, touching slice of late life meditation on what it all means, if anything.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pope acknowledges colonial injustice in Americas: Yahoo News
"In a speech to bishops at the end of a visit to Brazil earlier this month, the Pope said the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. He said they had welcomed the arrival of European priests at the time of the conquest as they were 'silently longing' for Christianity. Embracing it purified them, the Pope said."

You know, a lot of people I know keep telling me what a brilliant guy this Benedict is, all the books he has written, all the deep theological insights, etc. So how can he say such stupid things? Has he no proof readers? Is there no one in the Vatican that says "You know, this line about being purified and in fact the whole speech which completely ignores centuries of oppression and genocide, you might want to rethink that." I have to believe that there ARE people telling him that and that he IS a smart guy and that he DOES know exactly what he is doing.

And he does it anyway.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush White House fires back at Jimmy Carter: Yahoo News

"'I think it's sad that President Carter's reckless personal criticism is out there,' [White House spokesman Tony] Fratto told reporters. 'I think it's unfortunate. And I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments.'"

When you can't attack someone's argument, attack them.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wolfowitz resigns; Bush to nominate successor soon - Yahoo! News
Ok, he's gone from the world bank, but I want to be assured this cretin is gone from public life permanently. He's really done enough, correct that, way more than enough, damage. I don't expect it to happen, but he should be up on war crimes charges.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Little Children (2006)****
An intelligent, insightful and enormously entertaining film. My only beefs are with the football subplot (too many clichés and was it really necessary?) and the casting of Jackie Earle Haley. He does okay, but I just don't think he was right for this role. I would have preferred to find SOMETHING sympathetic in his character, but as it is he's completely repugnant. There are so many wonderful scenes in this film. Great job by Todd Field and the cast.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy elected France's president - Yahoo! News
I was pulling for Sego, but Sarkozy seems like a competent, intelligent, well-spoken and thoughtful person. I'm not all that knowledgeable about his overall political background. I know he is spoken of as a conservative, but what conservative that we Americans are familiar with would say "I want to tell (the U.S.) that friendship is accepting that one's friends can act differently, and that a great nation like the United States has the duty to not obstruct the fight against global warming but on the contrary to take the lead"? The great thing about this whole election though was how quickly it happened! Wouldn't that be great? And I LOVE the "day of reflection" ban on all political talk/discussion the day before the polls open. Paradise! This sure seems like a civilized way to run a country.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Night at the Museum (2006)*
One star for Mickey Rooney.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

For Your Consideration (2006)**
While there are many funny moments in this picture, after it is all over you get the impression that this was not a comedy at all. Maybe it was Catherine O'Hara's brilliant performance that seems to take over the tone of the film. Kind of a disappointment.

Thursday, April 19, 2007 - Schulman pumps up Mandalay
"A highlight of the Mandalay Pictures’ slate at Universal is the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 'The Birds', scheduled to be in production by early fall. 'We think we have a very contemporary take' Schulman said. 'In the original, the birds just showed up, and it was kind of like, why are the birds here? This time, there’s a reason why they’re here and (people) have had something to do with it. There’s an environmental slant to what could create nature fighting back.'" know, Cath, the pointlessness of the birds' behavior in the original is PRECISELY why the picture is a masterpiece. To change that and just make it some sort of slasher picture with crows...oh never mind. What an ass.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut 1922 - 2007
"I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did.'

"It appears to me that the most highly evolved Earthling creatures find being alive embarrassing or much worse. The funniest American of his time, Mark Twain, found life for himself and everybody else so stressful when he was in his seventies that he wrote as follows: 'I have never wanted any released friend of mine restored to life since I reached manhood.' That is in an essay on the sudden death of his daughter Jean a few days earlier. Among those he wouldn't have resurrected were Jean, and another daughter, Susy, and his beloved wife and his best friend, Henry Rogers.

"So it is not one whit mysterious that we poison the water and air and topsoil, and construct ever more cunning doomsday devices, both industrial and military. Let us be perfectly frank for a change. For practically everybody, the end of the world can't come soon enough."

Excerpted from Timequake.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Americans offered 'aggressive patrols' in Iranian airspace | Iran | Guardian Unlimited:
"In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the US and Iran."

But I'm sure they exhausted all diplomatic options first, right? That might have taken the first day or day and a half maybe. God help us. If you want to know just how close we came to war with Iran, read the whole article. Scary, scary stuff.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)**
I did not enjoy watching this film, except for the performance of Dustin Hoffman. However I give it 2 stars because any film that has me thinking about it for several days after I see it deserves at least 2 stars. I just had the feeling that, while it had a lot of nice ideas in it, you have to do more than just throw ideas on the screen. I was not drawn to the characters at all and never found them believable. I never understood whose story was being told so I could never get involved with the narrative. It is possible that that was the intention, that this was some sort of meta-movie about the whole idea of film itself or the human need/desire for narrative but the film never resonated with me at all. So I admire those ideas, ideas which I often find in the works of Charlie Kaufman who CAN create intricate, detailed, tightly wrapped meta-narratives expressing those ideas and be entertaining at the same time. But having a good idea is not enough.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky (2007)*
Suffers from the same problem as Lucinda Williams' latest: repetitive sameness. Same tempos, same subject matter. Even the best song on the record, "Impossible Germany" runs out of ideas halfway through its 6 minute run time and dissolves into a Steely Dan-ish instrumental. We are a far cry from "Summerteeth" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot". Very disappointing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Science of Sleep (2006)****
Charming, involving, inventive dream-state movie. Fine performances all around, but Alain Chabat nearly steals the picture. One of the saddest happy endings ever.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Marie Antoinette (2006)****
Kirsten Dunst delivers a tremendous performance as the last queen of France in this thoroughly entertaining, interesting, beautiful and touching film. We knew Sofia Coppola was particularly adept in her use of a soundtrack, but the framing and pacing of this film is indicative of a director at the height of her powers. A bold, risky and rewarding picture. This would make an interesting twin bill with The Queen.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Casino Royale (2006)**
Might have earned a third star if about 45-60 minutes were trimmed. This is WAY too long for the material. The producers apparently wanted to go the way of the Bourne series and sort of started that with the previous Bond film. This is a box office move and I think it will work. Although there is something to be said for a 90 minute comic-actioner along the Spy Who Loved Me line. It might be interesting to take a Daniel Craig and put him in a Roger Moore era production and see what that gets you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Son Volt - The Search (2007)****
"Underground Dream" alone would force me to give at least a 3 star rating for this fine piece of work from Jay Farrar and company. Even better than their previous effort. More hooks, stronger melodies, more expansive sound, less "experimentation". Can they be surpassing Wilco?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sic Semper Tyrannis: Feltman as Dealbreaker?

"This deal over Lebanon was clearly at the expense of Syria in that a conviction might occur that would require party or parties unknown to be sacrificed in Damascus as well as Beirut. This worked for the negotiators. After all, it was a zero sum solution at the expense of the Syrians. This is comprehensible for them and for the Bush primitives. This should have 'worked.' An American envoy waited 'in the wings' while the talks were held. This envoy was briefed by the king when the deals were made and returned to the White House to explain. The result? The Palestinian deal is unacceptable to the Bush Administration. The Lebanon deal is unacceptable to the Bush Administration. (It gives something to the 'opposition.' Evidently, anything would be too much.)"

We desperately need leadership that understands the word "negotiate". Please. At the very least.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Old Yeller (1957)***
Good family film about a Texas family in the late 1800's and the "yeller stray" dog that comes into their lives and manages to save them from all sorts of peril. Tommy Kirk in his debut does a surprisingly good job as the oldest boy who starts off resenting the dog but comes to appreciate and love him, after all. A bit over the top, but the film redeems itself by its un-sugar-coated ending.
Lucinda Williams - West (2007)*
I like Lucinda Williams. I thought her last record, World Without Tears was one of the best of 2003. This one, however, is nearly unlistenable. The only track I liked is "Learning How to Live" and it is starting to wear thin. All the rest are mind-numbingly repetitive, not just musically, but lyrically. The first track, "Are You Alright?" is mainly that phrase repeated endlessly, relentlessly. There is very little songwriting going on here. I understand she has been through a great deal of pain and feels her music helps her get through that, but it seems as though in this instance she's merely pushing the pain onto us instead of transforming it for our benefit. Very disappointing.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why all the hate for Little Miss Sunshine? - By Matt Feeney - Slate Magazine:
"By now, [Time critic Richard] Corliss' thesis is more than valid. It's obvious. You might even say it's formulaic. The critics have a point, which they sometimes make with noticeable bitterness, that many independent films are stale and mannered. But for some of these films, this critical dismissal is a strange fate: to be faulted for pretense, preciosity, and stylistic calculation when their real achievement is to reintroduce an enjoyable sort of broad humor into American cinema. You may not find the next Bergman at Sundance, but you might well find some fancy poop jokes."

I gave a poor review to LMS also not because it was pretentious, precious and stylistically calculating, but because those traits seemed OBVIOUS to me in viewing the film. I loved Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know", which was at least as pretentious and precious as LMS, but the film didn't proclaim that fact in every frame. The story, as quirky as it was, seemed to flow more evenly, characters seemed to be real people. I don't exactly know how Ms July did that and Dayton-Faris did not, but to my eyes, there was a big difference between her film and LMS.

(Thanks to for the link!)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Apples In Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder(2007)***
There's just too much filler to put this album into the 4 star category. I mean, "Energy" and "The Sun Is Out" sound nice and bouncy and all but come on give us more than a half of a verse and a chorus repeated over and over. Plus I'm not a big fan of "experimental" and "linking" tracks of which there are plenty. And although I am a big ELO fan, let's use their songs as an inspiration not a blueprint next time. "Same Old Drag" sounds like "The Diary of Horace Wimp, Part 2". "7 Stars", "Sunday Sounds" and "Open Eyes" are among their best work however.
Dynasty Restaurant ****
A recently added restaurant on the Modesto dining scene, Dynasty finally brings good Cantonese/Hunan Chinese food to the locals. I haven't tried the full dim sum menu but if it is anything like their mu shu pork, spring rolls, lemon chicken and Mongolian lamb, it should be very tasty. These are dishes you will see in the typical low end Chinese food place of which there are a few in town, but they are done here with care, fresh ingredients, attention to detail and subtle variations. The sauces are not overpowering and enhance rather than dominate the dish. I can't wait to try some other offerings on their 109 item menu. Located in the Coffee - Standiford shopping center, the same one that houses the remarkable Sushi Garden Japanese restaurant. Eating out in Modesto keeps getting better!

Monday, February 19, 2007

David Fincher - Zodiac - Movies - New York Times:
"Robert Downey Jr., impeccably cast as a crime reporter driven to drink, drugs and dissolution, called Mr. Fincher a disciplinarian and agreed that, as is often said, “he’s always the smartest guy in the room.” But Mr. Downey put this in perspective.

“Sometimes it’s really hard because it might not feel collaborative, but ultimately filmmaking is a director’s medium,” he said. “I just decided, aside from several times I wanted to garrote him, that I was going to give him what he wanted. I think I’m a perfect person to work for him, because I understand gulags.”"

The eternal struggle between actors and directors as played out in David Fincher's new film "Zodiac". I find it interesting how some directors like Fincher, Kubrick often do dozens and dozens of takes in an effort to get the performance they want from an actor, and others, like Clint Eastwood for example, manage to get good results with a handful of takes. I mean, why would you need 70 takes of a scene? Kubrick it seems, often wanted a certain stylized portrayal difficult for most actors to do. Maybe dozens of takes made this possible. I don't know much about Fincher or his films but he is critically respected and his films are popular. Actors do want to work with him.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Free File Home - Your Link to Free Federal Online Filing
Yeah it's free all right IF you make less than $52,000/year. This really pisses me off. I can't imagine any reason, other than protecting their bureaucratic fiefdoms, why ANY taxpayer has to pay to electronically file their tax return. Not only that, but the IRS should be providing the tax preparation software also free of charge. After all, we all pay for the IRS. Providing this software and allowing for free e-filing would reduce their expenses. It is mind-boggling and insulting. California has this capability already. It is a readily doable thing. Argh.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nacho Libre (2006)*
I can handle dumb, goofy comedies as well as the next guy, but this reaches a new low. It's just not funny nor particularly interesting.
Chris Brown - Now That You're Fed (2006)****
Lush, beautiful, exquisitely polished pop gems. "April" is a stunning tour de force of songwriting. Some Dylan-esqe and Buckingham-esqe flavors to the tunes. In a very good way.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Guardian - How the US sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish:
"To oversee the expenditure the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] was supposed to appoint an independent certified public accounting firm. Instead the CPA hired an obscure consulting firm called North Star Consultants Inc. The firm was so small that it reportedly operates out of a private home in San Diego. Mr Bowen found that the company 'did not perform a review of internal controls as required by the contract'.

However, evidence before the committee suggests that senior American officials were unconcerned about the situation because the billions were not US taxpayers' money. Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA, reminded the committee that 'the subject of today's hearing is the CPA's use and accounting for funds belonging to the Iraqi people held in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq. These are not appropriated American funds. They are Iraqi funds. I believe the CPA discharged its responsibilities to manage these Iraqi funds on behalf of the Iraqi people.'

Bremer's financial adviser, retired Admiral David Oliver, is even more direct. The memorandum quotes an interview with the BBC World Service. Asked what had happened to the $8.8bn he replied: 'I have no idea. I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't - nor do I actually think it's important.'

Q: 'But the fact is billions of dollars have disappeared without trace.'

Oliver: 'Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?'"

It will be interesting to see how the supporters of the administration spin this away. Most likely they will simply ignore it and watch the story just fade away since it's not exactly tearing up the American press. So the plan was to just dump billions of dollars of American bills paid for by Iraq into the hands of random Iraqi's? And that would jump start the economy? That would rebuild the infrastructure? That would provide the clean water and consistent power? And it didn't matter, STILL doesn't matter, who got the money? AND THESE PEOPLE ARE STILL IN CHARGE???
Bookshops' latest sad plot twist - Los Angeles Times:
"This is the paradox of modern bookselling. Even in an entertainment-saturated age, people still buy books. But the casual reader has many other places to get bestsellers and topical books, from warehouse stores to the mall. Meanwhile, book nuts — the ones who simply must buy several volumes a week — are lured online. Few businesses can survive that lose customers from both ends of the spectrum."

The problem is not the technology in and of itself. The problem is the independent bookseller has now got to compete with it. If a bookstore opened up across the street, it would have to compete with it too. This is not a new thing. You've just got to use some imagination AND use YOUR strengths. What strength would a small, independent bookstore have over Amazon? What about the ability to get the book you want immediately? Amazon has to ship it. The local store has it right there waiting for you. What always bugged me about online shopping from brick-and-mortar stores was the fact that I could not order the item online and pick it up at the store that day. This is starting to change but the last time I checked you still couldn't do this at Barnes & Noble. And there are precious, precious few local independent booksellers who have ANYTHING like a web site. At the very least, you need to have a web site where you can post recommended new titles, upcoming author visits, events, or even store hours for crying out loud! It is not expensive and it is not difficult. It IS new though for most of these owners. But you can't win if you don't play.
Brick (2005)***
Basically a remake of The Maltese Falcon but set in a southern Californian high school. Interesting, quirky, with some great art direction. Good, smart entertainment.
The World's Fastest Indian (2005)****
A textbook example of how to carry a film. Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers a towering performance, lifting the whole picture to a level it really doesn't belong in. The direction is shabby, the script is weak in a number of scenes, but the supporting cast is generally fine. It's reminiscent of The Straight Story and often hits that high mark, thanks to Hopkins. His performance ranks up there with George C. Scott's in Patton as far as I'm concerned. Brilliant.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Memento mori, Kevin:

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going —
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.
-- Kozan Ichikyo's Death Poem

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mitch Easter - Dynamico(2007)****
I may have to reconsider my 4 star rating system because this album deserves 5. It's been a long, long time but we finally have a new Let's Active CD and it is wonderful. Great tunes, beautifully, powerfully produced. Transcendent power pop.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)**
A great cast which does a generally fine job, but it all seems forced, artificial and clichéd. I have no idea why it was nominated for a best picture Oscar.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Spot in brain may control smoking urge - Yahoo! News:
"'What this study shows unequivocally is the insula is a key structure in the brain for perceiving the urges to take the drug,' urges that are 'the backbone of the addiction,' Volkow added. Why? The insula appears to be where the brain turns physical reactions into feelings, such as feeling anxious when your heart speeds up. When those reactions are caused by a particular substance, the insula may act like sort of a headquarters for cravings."

I wonder if the patient had any other addictions that he just "forgot about"?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

FSI Language Courses
Fantastic resource! Complete language courses originally prepared by the US Foreign Service back in the 1960's. Text and audio. (via The Best Media in Life Is Free)
Field Music - Tones Of Town (2007)****
Even better than their debut. Quirky almost to the point of annoying on first listen, the hooks reveal themselves on subsequent spins. The first track brought to mind "Close to the Edge"-era Yes with the off-kilter beat and Jon Anderson-like harmonies. Fine power pop.
The Shins - Wincing the Night Away (2007)****
Another gem from The Shins. The lyrics seem a bit more inscrutable ("the necessary balloon lies a corpse on the floor"?) but the hooks and melodies are still there. Good pop tunes that stick with you.
The Queen (2006)****
Ridiculously exceptional acting performance by Helen Mirren. Most of the time, she is called upon to look thoughtful. But somehow she manages to convey a surprising depth and meaning to this thoughtfulness. Some of that is direction, some of that is what she is meant to react to, some of that is what we bring to the film. But most of it is Dame Helen herself. Subtle, thought-provoking film.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Birds (1963) ****:
I've seen this film many times and each time I appreciate and enjoy it more. There are many scenes where the principal action happens in the background or off to the side. Several sequences take their time to develop with very long takes. The writing is for the most part, crisp and smart yet realistic and believable. I love the fact that there is practically no music in the soundtrack, just bird noises (or rather noises used to mimic bird noises). An all star cast of Jessica Tandy, Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren (her debut), Veronica Cartwright and a fat-faced Suzanne Pleshette looking all the world like Shirley MacLaine from The Trouble With Harry. And the ending is extraordinary.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Recipe: Twice-Cooked Pork Tenderloin - NYTimes (reg. req.):
I like to cook, and over the years I have tried numerous methods of cooking one of my favorite cuts of meat, pork tenderloin, with limited success. Nearly every time I've tried it, whether grilled, sauteed, roasted, whatever, it always came out drier and blander than I would have liked.

No more!

The wonderful Mark Bittman offered this recipe for "twice-cooked" pork tenderloin a few weeks ago and it looked simple (a requirement for me) and tasty so I gave it a go. And if I do say so myself, and I do, it was superb. Easily the best pork tenderloin I have ever cooked and quite possibly the best I have ever EATEN. Really, really good. I did make one major change in the recipe though. Mr. Bittman calls for 1 tenderloin, about 1 lb., but at my nearest market they are usually sold 2 to a package so I used both. About the same portions of all the other ingredients and it came out splendidly. I also used mustard in the glaze which was perfect.

Bon appétit!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Iraqi Official Seeks Release of Iranians | Guardian Unlimited:
"``You have to remember, our destiny, as Iraqis, we have to live in this part of the world. And we have to live with Iran, we have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries,'' he [Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari] said. ``So in fact, on the other hand, the Iraqi government is committed to cultivate good neighborly relations with these two countries and to engage them constructively in security cooperation.''"

This will be an interesting test of the Iraqi government's credibility with the US. Do they know who is a threat to them or don't they? Now I'm no expert on the Middle East, but as I understand it, Iran is a Shia Islamic nation and now, thanks to us, so is Iraq. Why would Iran want to destabilize the Iraqi government? The current government is PRO-Iran! The insurgency is complex, but mainly Sunni-based. That's the same branch of Islam as our "good friends" the Saudis. It seems to me the Bush administration is once again ignoring all the facts and just barreling ahead, pedal to the metal, gung ho for more and more war. Culture of life. Right.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NY Times(reg. req.): Computers Join Actors in Hybrids On Screen:
"The film, with a budget of about $200 million, is an original science fiction story that will be shown in 3D even in conventional theaters. The plot pits a human army against an alien army on a distant planet, bringing live actors and digital technology together to make a large cast of virtual creatures who convey emotion as authentically as humans."

Given Cameron's track record, I don't expect this flick to be much more than comic book level (not a good thing). The most worrisome thing is, as the rest of the article makes clear, it's the ability to play with the technology that drives the making of this picture not the need to tell a particular story. And that rarely makes for a decent film. And another huge amount of cash that could have been used to make half a dozen Children of Men will instead be sucked up to make yet another piece of schlock.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Children of Men (2006)****
I'm still haunted by several sequences from this thrilling, gut-wrenching, fantastic picture. Not a film for those wanting escapism or comic book heroes or the Hollywood treatment. This is a gritty, taut, tough, unflinching mirror to today. Exceptional.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sic Semper Tyrannis: Casting for the play:
"It makes very little sense that a person with this background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially "ground" wars are being fought unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character."

Holy shit. I sure hope Col. Lang is wrong this time. If hope is even possible anymore...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Yahoo News: Police Reunion rumors reaching fever pitch:
"The more rational approach would have been, 'OK, Sting, go make a solo record, and let's get back together in two or three years,"' he [Andy Summers] said. "I'm certain we could have done that. Of course we could have. We were definitely not in a creative dry space. We could have easily carried on, and we could probably still be there. That wasn't to be our fate. It went in another way. I regret we never paid it off with a last tour."

I really hope this doesn't come to pass but it appears very likely. If creativity and "art" are the real reasons for getting back together, why not create a new band?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Longs Drug Stores Photo Center
Not exactly a breaking news item, but to me the ability to upload digital photographs and have them printed on high quality photo printers at my local drug store WITHIN AN HOUR for 15 cents a print is just, well, amazing. Awesome. Terrific.
A note on self-realization:

Most times I need to be hit over the head with an observation about myself repeatedly and over a long period of time before it becomes apparent to me. And sometimes, with a little luck and a lot of awareness training, you get an insight that cuts through all the crap and hits you right in the mouth. It is at those times that I need to make sure I am paying attention and not try to rationalize it away. Forgiving yourself is important, but accepting reality when it is right there in front of you is more important. Because it won't be there long. Remember, your brain is designed for movement and deception and it is very, very good at both of those things.

The point is: you're a liar.