November 30, 2006
I Know You Are but What Am I?
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It is now on display at the British Museum along with some prehistoric aluminum siding.
November 29, 2006
Compassionate Conservatism Is Alive and Well and Living in the Red States
See a review here.
These maps are also very telling:
The Films of Francesco Rosi
Just as La Dolce Vita was marking Fellini's farewell to neorealism, and other masters of the genre—Rossellini, De Sica, and Visconti—were also moving on, Rosi gave it new life. A reaction to the inflated, bombastic "epics" of the fascist era, neorealism was marked by stark, simple stories of the lives of working-class people, using nonprofessionals as actors (an unemployed electrician played "Antonio" in the classic Bicycle Thief), and as little in the way of "special effects" as possible. Mostly shot on the streets, these films intended a documentary quality.
Enter Rosi with The Challenge, The Magliari, and then the films that elevated him to master status in my estimation:
1. Salvatore Giuliano, the story of the Sicilian "Robin Hood" who fought for that island's independence but whose ultimate "agenda" remains a mystery.
2. Hands Over the City, a small masterwork about urban renewal as a cover for real estate speculators colluding with corrupt politicians. (Rod Steiger stars, and even though his voice is dubbed, his gestures, intensity, and sheer screen presence generate a powerful performance, despite our never hearing his voice.)
3. Christ Stopped at Eboli, an adaptation of Carlo Levi's book about an anti-fascist doctor-turned-painter exiled to a peasant village as a political prisoner during the fascist era. His lesson in the simplicity and integrity of rural life is a saving grace—both for him and for the peasants whom the middle classes despise and the upper classes send off to war.
4. Three Brothers, a melancholy reflection on death, family, and class, again among the lower classes in southern Italy.
Some might object that the director's class obsession reveals a socialist agenda that diminishes the power of the films—or, at the very least, that Rosi is guilty of a Tolystoyan radicalism and romantic idolization of the peasantry.
I believe that Rosi's gifts as a visual stylist and storyteller overcome these ideological considerations. And one must also make room for the unique economic, social, and political challenges that plagued southern Italy for centuries, and which are still being addressed today (although the standard of living of most Italians is among the highest in the world).
And one can still appreciate the dramatization of that dynamic between the "recognized" (i.e., legal) political forces and the illegal—those grassroots and home-grown attempts to create a balance of power (e.g., the rise of the mafia).
But start renting Rosi and judge for yourself whether he deserves a place among the all-time greats.
Trivia question: Cinema magazine was the Italian periodical dedicated to promoting the new breed of neorealist directors. Its contributors included Michelangelo Antonioni and Luchino Visconti. Who was its editor-in-chief? (Answer tomorrow.)
I would also like to know how many Americans have never heard of the people who go around asking Americans whom they've never heard of.
I know I've never heard of them!
November 28, 2006
Those Wacky Teen Stars Who Play the Theotokos
Miss Castle-Hughes will be unable to attend the Vatican premiere of the film because she is "too busy." (The pope will also be unable to attend, BTW, as he is too busy dodging Turkish assassins.)
O, Dana Carvey, Church Lady of Old, where art thou when we need thee?
November 27, 2006
With My Compliments . . .
Blasphemy is a lucrative business—and there's no business like show business.
I am starting my protest this morning: I am feeding my ancient VHS version of Joe Versus the Volcano into my Staples document shredder. It is not going well. Not well at all . . . That doesn't sound good . . . What kind of warranty does this thing have . . .
November 26, 2006
Fast Food Nation
That is the message of Fast Food Nation, a fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's bestselling work of reportage that did for McDonald's what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did for the gulag.
Not since Upton Sinclair's The Jungle had Americans been treated to such an edifying spectacle of greed, exploitation, depradation, and corruption. And that was just the french fries.
For those who were swayed by Mr. Schlosser's dispassionate prose and copious detail, fast-food restaurants became Exhibit A in the case against deregulation, laissez-faire capitalism, and a meat-based diet. From the exploitation of illegal aliens, to the underpaid and uninsured fry cooks, to the land speculators, to the health and safety violations, every Big Mac eaten was depicted as a nail in the coffin of this great land of ours.
Or not. For some, it was little more than a well-written political screed against all things capitalistic, Middle-American, and Republican.
Whatever one thought of Schlosser's agenda, one had to give him credit for at least telling the whole story of the rise of fast food chains, including what he perceived as their benign, and relatively healthful, beginnings, as well as at least one example of an ethical fast-food business (California's In-N-Out Burger).
Common sense would have dictated that a serious, impassive, and straightforward documentary be made that followed a hunk of beef from cattle farm to styrofoam carton and that allowed moviegoers to judge for themselves as to what the process said about modern American business. Instead, director Richark Linklater (Slackers, Bad News Bears) and Schlosser chose to do an end run around the documentary and depict a fictional world and a fictional burger joint: Mickey's. (Just in case you're tempted to think "Mickey D's," McDonald's is mentioned as a rival. So there's absolutely no connection. I know I'm convinced.)
The story of Mickey's is one of human misery from beginning to end, especially as we enter the house of horrors that is the meatpacking plant that supplies Mickey's and every other fast-food chain imaginable. Filled with illegal aliens who are sexually exploited by viscious managers, mangled in unsafe conditions, forced to work faster than is safe for the quality of the meat—you may as well just drop a straw in the nearest cesspool and be done with it rather than eat anything coming out of this place.
It is the conditions at the meatpacking plant out in Colorado that drive Mickey's executive Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) to investigate how cow manure made its way into some of the company's hamburgers. What he learns—especially from a crusty cattle rancher played, well, crustilly by Kris Kristoffersen—is that crap is business as usual. Speed, low prices, and mass distribution are what drive Mickey's—not safe working conditions, fair wages, or healthy food.
Anderson is both stunned and disappointed at what he learns and so proceeds to do—you guessed it—absolutely nothing. Better to risk the health of his customers—and court massive lawsuits—than upset upper management and risk losing his job!
The larger story here is the trafficking in cheap Mexican labor, who are paid $10 an hour as opposed to the $3 or $4 a day back in their homeland. As might be expected, the women are virtually raped by floor managers, drug use is encouraged and then punished, and safety warnings are given in a language they don't understand. And, of course, the illegal status of these workers prevents their pursuing legal redress of any grievance.
Then there are the teens of the Colorado town who propose to organize and take on the strip-malling, polluting, and land-grabbing of America. They're depicted as naive, at times even silly, and ultimately powerless. You see George Bush and the PATRIOT Act have made the destruction of private property akin to terrorist activity. Imagine that: You can't just destroy private property anymore! What is this—Russia?! ("This isn't Russia, Danny.")
The episode where these idealistic, would-be Weathermen try to liberate doomed cattle destined for a ripe degutting is treated with a level of humor that leaves you wondering whether Linklater and Schlosser are mocking them or merely depicting how overwhelming the evil is, to the point where even good ole sixties-style activism is left impotent. If they wanted to leave their audience feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of a supposed national scourge, they succeeded. Didn't they take "Socialist Realist Aesthetics 101"?
Whatever. I have no doubt there is truth to a lot of the points made in Fast Food Nation. And those of a conservative persuasion should be bothered by eminent domain laws that allow the government to virtually confiscate land it deems socially useful, as well as the fact that the so-called competitive nature of this business is rigged, fixed, and closed to interlopers who hope to offer healthier alternatives.
But what is eminently phony about this movie is what is not said: how many on the political left have been complicit in the exploitation of illegal immigrants, while decrying their treatment once here (as if non-citizens are entitled to the rights of citizens by virtue of popular acclimation). Also, while Bush is bashed, no mention is made of the president of Mexico and his deliberate policy of facilitating the transportation of truckloads of unemployed Mexicans across the border at great risk for the express purpose of getting American greenbacks mailed back home to prop up his corrupt—but resource-rich—nation. (And let's not talk about the Mexican government's own treatment of Guatemalans who sneak into the country looking for work in Mexico!)
That is why Fast Food Nation fails: You never doubt for a moment that you are being manipulated—even when the film may very well be conveying some unpleasant facts about mass-produced munchies. And so for those who are not already ideologically committed, it is impossible not to resist the film's blandishments—in short, to rebel against its call to rebellion. (Even if that call is undercut by an overwhelming sense of futility.)
In any event, I admit to being sufficiently moved by the claims of Fast Food Nation that I took it upon myself to boycott all fast food for twenty minutes. After which, I ordered up a Big McFat Burper Burger, with extra fat, two orders of partially hydrogenated fries, and enough cookies to choke a cow.
Hopeless . . . I'm just hopeless . . .
November 25, 2006
"Pep broke his back and a leg in a 1947 plane crash. Told he'd be lucky to walk straight again, Pep stepped back into the ring five months later."
I have been known to curl up in a fetal position and wail like a little girl after suffering a bad case of hat hair.
I have not aged well . . .
Stranger than Fiction
All of them.
What, pray tell, does it mean to be free in such a scenario? And once you have resigned yourself to an inevitable death, what kind of "choices" do you then begin to make? Do you begin to live the life you always wanted, enjoy the pursuits you never had time for? Do you finally risk humiliation and confess your affection for someone who may or may not despise you? And if so, isn't that freedom of a kind—or are these reactions to the "death sentence" hanging over your head as preprogrammed as the rest of your sorry tale?
This is the premise of the amusing, interesting, and very thoughtful Stranger than Fiction, in which Will Ferrell plays just such a character, and Emma Thompson just such an omnipotent narrator.
As Harold Crick (Ferrell) becomes aware of his dilemma, he seeks psychiatric help, only to be told he's suffering from a classic case of schizophrenia. Crick is unsatisfied with this response. After all, the voice only he can hear isn't speaking to him—it's speaking about him.
And so who better to consult than a literary theorist, played with delightful integrity by Dustin Hoffman. After all, if your life is someone else's story, doesn't it make sense to consult someone who has read every plotline imaginable, to get a better idea of how the whole thing may turn out?
Hoffman advises Crick that his life is either a tragedy or a comedy. It's a tragedy if he dies and a comedy if he gets hitched. And so Crick begins making tick marks in a notebook in order for him to get a better idea of how his life's adventures are adding up: tragically or comedically? The locus of this distinction is his relationship with Ana Pascal, a left-wing tax evader who starts out despising the "tax man" buts ends up falling for his goofy, aimless charm. The closer Crick gets to wedding her, the better the odds are his life is a comedy. The more he screws up and alienates her, the more likely his life will end badly.
Can Crick make the right choices and steer his life toward a comedy denouement? Or does the narrator hold all the cards, making any "choice" on Crick's part meaningless, if not simpy impossible, and marking Crick out for a fate that is death.
And what happens when the sovereign author begins dreading the demise of yet another of her creations and begins to conceive of a way to "rewrite" the story so as to save him? What kind of sacrifice will this entail on her part?
For Christians, of course, this is not an unfamiliar tale. For Christians life is both a comedy and a tragedy. There are many ways to begin relating the Christian narrative: with the promise of a redeemer given in Genesis, the hope of an advocate expressed in Job, the picture of the suffering servant in Isaiah. Or one can tell a straightforward biography, beginning with a conflation of the birth stories in Matthew and Luke. If one wanted to be certain that the hero was clearly defined, then you could begin at the end: with Jesus as Lord of History, meting out final judgment to the nations, and the churches, in Revelation, and work backward from there.
But if you believe that life—and especially the Christian life—is essentially a comedy with tragic elements, then start with the wedding at Cana. Traditionally, this is where comedies end. But our Lord knows the end from the beginning, and this is where he defines the totality of his ministry: the pouring out of new wine, enough to sate all. And, of course, while the story of Jesus apparently ends tragically, with a sacrificial death, we know that another, larger wedding is coming: the wedding of Christ and his Church and the wedding feast that is the Kingdom of God.
It is liberal Christianity that makes of Christianity a tragedy through and through, with its death of a mere martyr and the myths, lies, and oppression that is patriarchal heterosexual marriage. That is why liberal Protestantism is dying: You cannot marry, never mind reproduce with, a corpse.
At the close of Stranger than Fiction, Thompson says of her main character that anyone who knew he was going to die and was willing to accept that death if it entailed saving someone else was someone you just wanted to keep around.
Which is to say, to resurrect.
Ferrell has mastered the amiable, affable dork role and was a fine choice for the role of Crick. Thompson bleeds for every sentence and virtually convulses with the pain of story birth, every contraction and comma evident in her pale, traumatized face. Maggie Gyllenhaal is predictable as the radical baker, to whom Ferrell brings flours. (That is not a typo.) If there is disappointment in this film, it is that the prose of the novel "the great writer" is constructing is painfully banal: the kind of generic storytelling language one has come to expect in the movies. Which is probably why most screenwriters are not great novelists.
In any event, see Stranger than Fiction. Because our lives are.
November 24, 2006
A Good Year
Not exactly original, I will grant you.
Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a Brit stockbroker for whom the rules of the game are nonexistent. He is rich, a ladies man, and as callous as a buffalo hide.
Then his genial uncle dies. The uncle with whom Max spent his summers as a lad. The uncle who left the England he loved in order to live a life a leisure overseeing a luxurious Provencal estate complete with vineyard. The uncle who provided the best memories Max has.
And so—you guessed it—Max the City Boy inherits the estate and the vineyard and the staff, all of which he intends to sell as quickly as possible and for as much money as possible, as he had not been back to Provencal or been in touch with his uncle for ten years and could not imagine a life more than a tube stop away from Picadilly and the City.
Then Max's "cousin" shows up—the illegitimate daughter of his uncle, and with more of a valid legal claim to the property than Max has.
Needless to say, a mild wackiness ensues, including a love affair between Max and a volatile native and an ethics investigation back home.
And it is this mild wackiness that is the charm of the film, the kind of picture you could imagine Cary Grant having starred in back in the day, with just a visual hint of that great French comic genius Jacques Tati, whose films are highlighted on an outdoor movie screen.
Albert Finney supplies the necessary gravitas, the sun-burnt wisdom of the man-full-of-years, which amounts to little more than a moral imperative to enjoy one's life. And this, ironically, is the weakness of the film, if we were to get picky about it. While Max is derided as a rule- and heartbreaking capitalist pig, his uncle, who supposedly lives a superior, Mediterranean, and civilized life, is little more than an irresponsible cad who makes crap wine and who dropped out of society—oh, and who has a daughter he never met.
Crowe seems to be having fun in a role that does not exactly tax his considerable talents, as opposed to the role of that other Max—Maximus Decimus Meridias—in that other Ridley Scott–directed film, Gladiator.
And yet, and yet—just once I would like to see a film in which the ambitious city slicker embraces his life, makes no apologies for it, and admits to himself and everyone else that a life in the country would prove to be little more than an early grave. Why does a fast-paced, productive, ambitious life always entail corruption and deep-seated unhappiness? Why can't the go-getter be basically honest, imaginative, and just as in love with all that a London or a New York or a Rome or Tokyo has to offer culturally as his or her "earthy" relative or girlfriend is in love with all that the country has to offer?
A Good Year is a pleasant trifle about living the life one presumably should have lived, as opposed to the life one has made, but it is not worth paying $10 for (the movie, not the life). Wait for spring and do the Netflix thing.
November 23, 2006
Herr McCain correctly aludes to my views in the matter of the "second canon," namely:
Following the Hebrew canon, and St. Jerome, I do not consider the Apocrypha fit for the construction of doctrine; these books should be preserved only as a matter of historical interest and for their contribution to "wisdom" literature. Therefore, I did not see any reason to eject them from our German Bibles in the sixteenth century, any more than I did those disputed books of the New Testament, including the dubious Book of James.
Given the confusion within even confessional Lutheran ranks in these times, however, I am loathe to introduce the Apocrypha to English-language Bibles that traditionally have been printed without them, lest we evangelical Lutherans be seen as settling controversies by adverting to Rome. I do not want, even by unjust inference, to be interpreted as giving back to the Romanists much of what we fought to eliminate in order to purify our doctrine and to give God alone the glory for our salvation—for example, notions of free will when it comes to doing what is pleasing to God (Sirach 15), and prayers for the dead, as if these in some sense could make satisfaction for their sins (2 Macc. 12).
I have always made it a policy to retain practices that may not be explicitly biblical yet can serve as pious devotions or props to faith if one's trust in Christ as sole saviour, redeemer, and Lord is strong. Yet I am afraid that faith in our day is too weak, and controversies too vast, to introduce these books to our Bibles. It will require a generation of a strong Lutheran church inculcating in its congregants the capacity to make distinctions without fear of falling into heresy or nonsense. It will also require loyalty among those congregants to the teaching authority of the church and its pastors. We are not speaking of "infallibility" here; merely of the proper respect due offices ordained by God.
May I go back to my Thanksgiving table now? I am only on my third helping of my second serving of my fourth appetizer.
November 22, 2006
For Your Consideration
If you are not already laughing, there is something wrong with you. Something that may not be correctable, even with the technology currently available to modern medical science.
Christopher Guest and his troupe of regulars have made the mockumentary into more than just a comic art form—they have made it into a form ... of art ... that is ... comic.
By turning the camera on a group of artists—or rather, ahr-teests—Guest shows up the pretensions, cluelessness, self-absorption, and even pathos that is the modern American celebrity-wannabe (even when that "celebrity" is living vicariously through his dog). The very pettiness of their concerns is a reflection of the pettiness of the culture we all enjoy to some extent. And so as we laugh at some talentless community theater actors or the obsessiveness of dog lovers or the banality of some rock blockheads, we are laughing at ourselves ... laughing at them ... who are really just a picture of us ... laughing at them ...
And now For Your Consideration. Here Guest has broken from the mockumentary format and offers a "straightforward" story of the baseless hopes and too-real fears of some B- list actors and their goofy-uncle of a director (Guest) as they film "Home for Purim," a wacky marriage of Tennessee Williams and Mel Brooks.
A reviewer for the New York Times recently opined that no studio would ever have greenlighted such a production. Has he been to the movies recently? The whole point of For Your Consideration is that bad movies are made with mediocre actors and bankrolled by big studios eager to grasp at Internet-chatter straws that are stirring rumors of Oscar nods—in this case for the desperately-seeking-validation female star (Catherine O'Hara); the male lead (Harry Shearer), known primarily for his hot dog commercials; and the young lesbian daughter (Parker Posey), whose previous one-woman show was dismissed with a critical one-liner.
There's some LOL business in the early part of the film as the cast is first introduced to us and we glean the director's "method" of working with actors trapped in a very Yiddish South. But as the Internet "buzz" about Oscar nominations grows louder and some of the "Purim" cast are asked to talk about their prospects on morning talk shows, the film begins to falter. The cliches that are the loudmouth, know-nothing hosts are very familiar, and we never quite buy that the MSM thinks the film—or the lame group of actors—could ever stand a chance of Oscar glory.
Nevertheless, even a mediocre Guest picture is worth your time; he and co-writer Eugene Levy do have something to say about the private agonies of actors whom we all know (at least by sight if not be name) but who are nevertheless on the periphery of the truly big business of Hollywood filmmaking. They work with some regularity and yet are never quite good enough or smart enough or talented enough even to merit a decent character role in a Spielberg or Scorsese or Pollack or, well, Christopher Guest movie.
Ricky Gervais is wasted here, I'm afraid, as some Brit backer eager to broaden the appeal of the film by toning down its Jewishness. His character—or I should say his characterization—is just a variation on David Brent.
Special attention should be given, I must add, to the wonderful Catherine O'Hara, who should start getting her own, serious Oscar buzz for her always risible and pathetic portrayals. But then Hollywood has never taken comedies very seriously.
And ... the entire cast of Luther at the Movies wish you and yours a very Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving. "What are you thankful for, Herr Luther," you may ask? I am always thankful that I am me. Which is to say, that I am not you. Because if I were you, there would be no me, and you'd be staring at a blank screen. And a ripe bloody idiot you'd feel.
November 21, 2006
This may come as a surprise, but I was never a great fan of his early work. M*A*S*H, perhaps, is the one fine picture, but McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Brewster McCloud, and especially Nashville were, frankly, vastly overrated, as in phony, as in more Hollywood than anyone had the courage to admit.
Throw in genuine stinkpots like California Split, A Wedding, and Popeye, and you have a career that was interesting but hardly earth-shattering. That he featured lots of characters talking over each other was by no means revolutionary (Welles was doing it decades earlier). And he never culled one great performance from anyone. Good, yes; funny, yes—but great? After a career that lasted as long as his and with the number of films he directed? Not a one.
Nevertheless, Gosford Park was a welcome surprise. Even A Prairie Home Companion had its moments. I was more looking forward to what he still had up his sleeve, rather than tending to dwell on old magic.
The Nativity Story
The Nativity Story is a pious, serious, credulous account of the birth of Jesus, culled from the narratives found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
The performances are dignified. The language is generic biblical-epic-speak, in which No Contraction Shall Pass My Lips, O Lord, Lest the Audience Think I Am Speaking English.
The Three Wise Men are good for some comic relief—and are very wise, indeed, as one of them greets the newly born Christ with, "God wrapped in human flesh!" thus presaging the high christology of the Gospel of John by a good ninety years.
Joseph (Oscar Isaac) is portrayed as a hail, upright, and hard-working fellow, always seeking to do what is right. Much attention has been paid to the portrayal of Mary. Keisha Castle-Hughes (Academy Award nominee and the former Queen of Naboo in Star Wars: Episode III—O Why Won't Someone Shoot Me Now?) delivers a performance that I found to be sullen, even leaden, and resigned. One must sympathize with any actress given the role of the teenage Mary, however. The Method is going to fail here, as will sense memory and the odd, querulous “What’s my motivation?” Even when the words of Scripture are spoken verbatim, they seem unceremoniously plopped into the middle of the dialogue, a kind of rote and contractually obligated product placement. This may be why Mel Gibson considered Aramaic the best solution to the stilted-language problem of biblical epics: No one knew what they were hearing in any event, and each audience member could supply his or her own inflection to the mental reading of the subtitles.
Nevertheless, all is well-intended here, and no one can fail to be moved as Joseph, carrying a birth-panged Mary in his arms, frantically seeks shelter in Bethlehem.
Where I think this film best succeeds is in showing showing the vast distances between people, literally and figuratively. The trials one must undergo to get from one village to another, never mind from one country to another, as when Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus set out for Egypt in order to escape Herod's murderous scheme. The risk, the peril, the bone-achingly torturous paths one had to traverse just to get from Point A to Point B. Who would not be anxiety-ridden by all that could go wrong—bandits, storms, accidents on narrow mountain paths, even the demise of the animal you're riding.
And then there are the distances between the peoples themselves: between Jew and Gentile, between the "righteous" and the outcast, between Herod and his subjects, between Rome and Jerusalem, between the Temple priests and the people aching for absolution, liberation, and peace.
These vast distances are bridged finally not by warriors on horseback challenging Roman tyranny and Herodian decadence on their own terms but by a baby, born in a manger, who is Christ the Lord. It is in the precariousness of life that Life is reborn. It is on the precipice of death that Death is conquered. The vastness of the world will be reduced to the size of an infant, the Second Adam, through whom all of creation will be remade and who will, when lifted up, draw all men to himself.
Parents should be cautioned about bringing very small children to this film, however. There are scenes when Roman violence—images of crucified and hanged corpses—may prove too strong. We are reminded here how the Pax Romana was effected: through terror. We are also reminded that the shadow cast over the quaint nativity scene re-enacted under countless Christmas trees is the Massacre of the Innocents.
In the end, if you leave the theater with the declaration of Mary—"Be it done to me according to thy Word"—on your lips, then it will be the best ten bucks you have ever spent on anything ever.
Nota Bene: This film will not be released until December 1. So if you go to the theaters now to see it, you will be turned away or asked to wait in the lobby, along with the homeless, the unemployed, and Clint Eastwood asking why no one is going to see his war picture.
November 20, 2006
No doubt the good bishop's me-ology will facilitate that process posthaste.
The Coolest of All Time
There must be some mistake. The two coolest guys ever to stride across the big screen are missing!
Answer to yesterday's trivia question:
What was Adrian's name in the original, unedited Rocky script?
Adrian Klein (changed to Adrian Panina)
November 19, 2006
Frankly: I have a feeling this will be better than you think (especially given that expectations are already pretty low). Especially if you're a guy over 40. Or 50. Or, in my case, 500.
My miserable execrable assistant, the erstwhile entertainment editor of Mr. Stallone's men's lifestyle magazine, Sly (now defunct), says the original script, which Stallone was constantly tinkering with, is pretty much a remake of the original Rocky. There was one tragic lapse in its construction: There was no "Win" moment.* Perhaps that has been repaired in a subsequent draft.
Opens Friday, December 22.
Extra credit trivia: What was Adrian's name in Stallone's original, unedited Rocky script? Tune in tomorrow for answer.
*Remember in Rocky II, when Rocky is waiting for Adrian to come out of her coma? As long as she is "out," Rocky cannot muster the enthusiasm to train properly for his rematch with Apollo Creed, and he will not even look at his newborn son until he can do so with her. Finally, Adrian awakens. And despite the fact that she has been vehemently opposed to his returning to the ring, she whispers, still bed-ridden:
Adrian: Come here.
Adrian: Come here. I wanna tell you something.
(Rocky leans toward her.)
Adrian: There's one thing I want you to do for me.
Rocky: What's that?
(Rocky theme comes up and a bolt of electric energy shoots through the movie theatre as audience explodes with cheers and applause. Training montage begins.)
That's a "Win" moment.
November 18, 2006
A Bad Blond Bond Sell
Or so I thought. Yes, there's a wowza-yowza early chase sequence that proves we're definitely in the post-Matrix CGI era. And there's M. And more M. And why-is-there-so-much-M M. (No Q, alas.)
But the one absolutely positively crucial element necessary to make a Bond film a Bond film was most definitely missing.
And that was James Bond.
Daniel Craig is lean, mean, and sure can take a sock to the cojones. But let's get this straight: He was never James Bond. He was a new character with MI6 cred and who's got the murder-kill thing down, but he's not Bond. Not the Bond we've seen in various incarnations, from the Connery template to Moore mischief to Brosnan's Angry Young(ish) Spy. (I'm skipping Dalton and Lazenby because, well, because...)
But over the years and variety of visages there was at least a through-line of characterization. Even when Connery came back sans Albert Broccoli and Monty Norman/John Barry (let's not start THAT all over again) theme, and sported that awful wig, he was still Bond.
But Craig is someone else. Bond's successor, surely. Darker, as the reviews have stated endlessly, but I would say just more confused. I understand that this was the "How James Bond Became James Bond" movie, going back to the very first of the Ian Fleming novels, but there is no going back. Explaining Bond doesn't, well, explain Bond. Fleming or no Fleming—Bond is sui generis, an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in the Union Jack.
Here, the character—whom we will just call Craig—seems very comfortable blowing people away from the get-go. He says little, and his steely blues give away less. Then he falls in love with a woman desperately in need of a curator to remove the Picasso painted on her face. And suddenly Craig is all-too-too human. He even has a soul he thinks worth saving. Unfortunately, he seeks salvation from an idol. The idol turns out to have another agenda. (Drop the needle on Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" here.) Then the Bond guitar riff rips the air and Craig delivers the trademark ID: "Bond, James Bond."
But, no, you're not. You're Craig, Daniel Craig, who has just given a slick performance in a fairly entertaining if lumbering tale of multimillions of terrorist dinero floating from one suitcase to another. But you are not now, nor will you ever be, James Bond.
Is it the blond hair? The fact that he has the personality of a Beefeater? That the writers have created a wax nose of a character that can be pulled and twisted into any shape? That the tone of the film is a mix of Fight Club, The Bourne Identity, and Searching for Bobby Fisher? That we learn Bond is an orphan, and that that's supposed to mean something? That the villain lacks a maniacal laugh?
You will learn how Craig winds up with Bond's Aston-Martin and how Bond's martini comes to life. You will see a superspy who after a fight looks like he's been in a fight, who bleeds from cheeks to knuckles. You may, in fact, see a Bond that is closer to Fleming's original conception—the character as encountered in the early books.
But so what? The James Bond most of us know is the one we have encountered in the movies. And there was a lightheartedness, a "taking a bite out of life" quality, that gave the films—at their best, at least—an elan, a verve, a vitality. Craig's Bond and his GH-bloat takes himself, well, too damn seriously.
The James Bond franchise is dead. Broccoli's company will continue to turn out movies with an actor playing a character called James Bond. The movies may be well-executed and entertaining, but make no mistake: Bond now rests with the fishes, like Han Solo or Magnum P.I.
I wonder how the autopsy report will read. Death by contract-negotiation breakdown?
Or maybe just death by overkill.
November 17, 2006
She's Dawn Eden, and the book is called The Thrill of the Chaste. Get it? Well then get it!
Ah, Those Were the Days...
Biggest Hollywood Disasters of All Time?
Few would argue with most of the choices. (Heaven's Gate, Ishtar, Gigli, and Battleship Earth are all dutifully stigmatized.) But I balk at the following:
No. 48: Fitzcarraldo. Yes, the making of the film is at least as interesting as the film itself (one could say the same thing about Apocalypse Now), but to say that the picture itself was a disaster, as opposed to the catastrophes that hounded its construction, is ludicrous. Say what you want about its "operatic" quality, I promise you that nothing like it had ever quite been been seen before—or since. Herzog's vision, not to mention the title character's, is mesmerizing, romantic, and epic. Feh on you if your weak stomach cannot digest its excesses. They are well worth that one stunning image of Fitzcarraldo finally emerging from the Amazon mists, the strained tenor gold of Enrico Caruso preceding him.
No. 39: Bruce Willis in Hudson Hawk. Yes, this was another big-budget flop that was quickly added to the list of Worst Ever. (BTW: Where is Inchon?) But I'm sorry, as chaotic and loony as it is, Hudson Hawk enjoys a What's New Pussycat? "That must have been a helluva lotta fun to make" appeal, and Bruce Willis provides just the right amount of all-American smirk to counterbalance the "Aren't we so damn cultured" European hauteur.
No. 37: Sofia Coppola in Godfather III. Enough already. There were many things wrong with this film: Al Pacino had lost all sense of the character; no Robert Duvall; the script's obvous straining for "immortal" lines to match those of its two predecessors; the overwrought, intercut denouement that harked back to the baptism/execution scene in Godfather I, which only highlighted how feeble Gf III was by comparison; and the last, risible "Laugh-In's Artie Johnson on a tricycle" keel-over of the aged Don Corleone in Sicily. THAT's what was wrong with this film—not Sofia Coppola. As a matter of fact, I am willing to argue that her inexperience heightened the sense of innocence and naivete that doomed her character.
Now, what was missing from this list?
1. Giving American Beauty Best Picture. A phonier piece of crap has never been filmed (exempting for the moment what Michael Moore insists on calling "documentaries"). One-and-a-half dimensional characters are ratchetted up to a second dimension by first-rate actors in the service of a jury-rigged piece of propaganda that depicted middle-class Americans as deviants lost in a web of self-deceptions, while every digression from traditional family life—however idealistic it may seem in this age of reality-show nihilism—is hyped as exemplary.
2. Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick were never awarded Best Director Oscars. (I exempt certain foreign-born directors whose films have otherwise been rightly celebrated but who themselves have never won Best Director, such as Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman.) Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil, Chimes at Midnight, Macbeth, Othello, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now consider that Sydney Pollack won for Out of Africa (although I have enjoyed several of Pollack's films) and Sam Mendes won for the aforementioned American Beauty, and you can better gauge the enormity of the omissions. (I have not included Martin Scorsese among the deserving but bereft, because he will win the award this year for The Departed, no doubt.)
3. Mickey Rourke's career. Not his talent—his career. From his early turns in Body Heat—in which he steals scenes from William Hurt like Milton Berle used to steal one-liners—and Diner, Rourke exuded a prescence reminiscent of a young Brando or Dean. A few years and some personal demons later and Rourke was having trouble being taken seriously. Despite a nice small performance in The Rainmaker, he still hasn't found his footing again. Let's hope that changes soon.
And another thing: Keep an eye out this weekend for a review of Casino Royale!
November 16, 2006
No One Home on House
And so I have been repaid for my weakness with an episode about incest and now, most recently, an absolutely ludicrous episode about a man who has been in a vegetative state for ten years who jumps out of bed after—an injection. No one thought of this before? Then, to add madness to senility, this man, who has been bedridden for TEN YEARS, begins walking, talking, and driving as if he had just woken from a snooze at a day spa.
Unfortunately, these wonderful-to-behold reconstitutive powers will be shortlived—it is revealed that he has only one day before he returns to his coma-like state (a necessary plot device). And so what does House do? Think up a more potent drug that will keep this guy on his feet a little longer? No-o-o-o-o-o-o! Instead, House strangles him to death in order to get a healthy heart for the recussitated gentleman's dying son. Just like they do at your local hospital!
Who writes this show now—Charles Manson? What is next: House dissects a race of space aliens in order to reassemble a robotic love slave, while selling off little childen with MS (theirs will be a miserable life anyway) to the Saudis in order to fund his drug habit?
Either pull the plug on House or get a writing staff not currently overmedicated.
November 13, 2006
I haven't heard news this bad since it was announced that Air Supply was to play the 2007 Düsseldorf Oktoberfest! Ach!
I disagree completely with his assessment! We could not have seen the same film!
I found Babel to be a startling and revelatory skein of human interrelatedness as revealed by the common deep-seated longings that mark us as made in the image of one Creator despite cultural and linguistic distinctions. And Brad Pitt was OK. (But what was with the naked teenager?! Put some underpantaloons on when in public, please!)
Now, I ask you, my Lutherans, who are you going to believe? Him—a nincompeep who with every utterance subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge—or me—unspeakable genius that I am?
I thank you.
November 10, 2006
Today Is My Birthday!
In any event, you may compensate for your absent-mindedness by purchasing one of the following gifts and UPSing it to me immediately:
1. A velveteen rain hat with electronic ear flaps.
2. A first edition of St. Augustine's City of God, autographed and with the original dust jacket—no tears!
3. An I.V. drip stand on wheels, suitable for intravenous feedings of Dinkelacker while on the run from my many enemies.
4. The conversion of at least three countries ending in -stan to Lutheranism. The confessional variety, please! If I hear one chorus of "Kum-ba-ya" in Fratblackistani, I will convert to Zoroastrianism and be done with it!
5. The complete original Odd Couple series on DVD. (Currently it is available only on VHS. If you REALLY loved me you would see to this situation...)
6. A classic candy/gumball machine filled with M&Ms and mini-pizzas.
7. Tickets to a Prince concert, at some point during which I am introduced to his fans and allowed to preach for 40 minutes on Galatians 3 while his band plays "Thieves in the Temple" faintly in the background.
8. My original pre-conversion gaunt physique, so I can enjoy the experience of ballooning to twice the size of an Audi Coronado once again.
9. A jar of freckle cream.
10. A glossy photo of Valerie Bertinelli waving hi to me.
IS THIS TOO MUCH TO ASK? I'M 523 YEARS OLD, DAMN YOU! EVEN MY ARTHRITIS HAS ARTHRITIS!
November 09, 2006
The Funniest Progam on Television (or Radio)
Imus, the ex-alcoholic, ex-cocaine addict who dresses like an heroin-addled Halloween cowboy, has no internal censor and the worst taste in music since Telly Savalas was asked to record "If."
Reining Imus in from his worst tangents is Charles McCord—news reader, classical pianist, and sole recognizable human being. The voice of reason to Imus' voice of doom, McCord is the show's conscience and assumes the role of the average, putatively outraged listener/viewer ("Is there any way you can die?").
To Imus' right is Bernard McGuirk, who makes Imus sound like Mortimer Adler. McGuirk is the show's executive producer and also responsible for ten of the funniest minutes on the funniest show on TV or radio, this when he dons his FedEx package for a bishop's mitre and becomes "Cardinal Egan." McGuirk's thundering out anathemas in an Irish brogue should be used to revive coma patients: If they don't jolt out of bed with a case of the giggle fits—pull the plug, damn it, pull the plug! They're as dead as Chevy Chase's film career.
As if that were not enough, try Rob Bartlett as President Clinton or Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys or Dr. Phil. If that doesn't do it for you, then there's Larry Kenny as Jerry Falwell or Jack Nicholson.
Whatever your politics, Imus is prepared to appall. The self-described "only Republican living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan," he also voted for John Kerry (whom he then turned on) and loves John McCain. And if you think you are going to double-deal either him or his wife, Deirdre, when it comes to fighting autism or throwing a wrench in the works of any of their other charitable or environmental concerns, just ask Joe Barton (R-Texas) about the consequences.
So, if you are sick of Two and a Half Men and never found The New Adventures of Old Christine even slightly amusing, and are desperate for something that's funnier than the Japanese prime minister channeling Elvis, then tune in to Imus in the Morning. If you don't get this program by either radio or television, move. Just move.
November 06, 2006
[Richard Dawkins:] No, but then I wasn't badly indoctrinated. I did go to a school where we went to chapel every day, but the Anglican church is a weakened strain of the virus. It's not the real McCoy.
Even an atheist can see this...
But the larger question is: Who have you infected today, my Lutherans? And by that, I'm not talking some bacterial infection or fungus outbreak like athlete's foot, but a full-blown gospel pox. A virtual Good News impetigo. A Word of Truth Whooping Cough. A Salvation shingles.
In short, I want to see my Lutherans making everyone around them sick!
(OK, I've officially ridden this metaphor to the point of counterproductivity...)
November 05, 2006
Guy Fawkes Night
Add to this unseemly bit of business Pope Pius V's bull against Elizabeth I and the failed invasion of the Spanish Armada, and you will have some idea as to why anti-Romanism remains Britain's fourth favorite sport—behind soccer, rugby, and guessing Kate Moss's weight.
That King James I hated tobacco, was extremely superstitious, and had a Scottish boyfriend named Robbie is unfortunate. That he could compose lines such as:
As Marmaids wyse, who wepis in wether faire;should consign him to the bowels of history forever.
And marvelous Monkis, I meane Monkis of the see.
Bot what of monsters, when Ilooke and staire
On wounderous heapes of subiectis seruing the?
How should we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night? By watching Luther, of course (and with The Incredible Mr. Limpet as a possible second feature, to boot).
Ted Haggard, Evangelicals Droopy
At least Mr. Haggard takes full responsibility for his actions, unlike some who blame their parents, Pres. Bush, Hilary Clinton, the religious right, filthy communists, communists who worry over their hygiene, or the guy who canceled Mr. Belvedere.
Pray for Mr. Haggard's family. I have no idea whether New Life Church preaches the gospel or some counterfeit, yet I cannot help but believe there are many sincere believing Christians associated with it. Pray for them as well. As for the insincere unbelieving jackanapes, pray that they be locked in a small vat of Crest Minty Teeth Whitener for seven days until they come to their sense and become Lutherans.
Now, what can we learn from this appalling and depressing episode?
1. Buy your methamphetamine on the street like everyone else.*
2. Want a massage? That's what chiropractors are for.
3. Want a massage from a man? That's what prison is for.
*To those for whom humor is a newfound thing: THIS IS A JOKE. DO NOT BUY METHAMPHETAMINE AT ALL. STICK WITH CRACK.**
**THIS IS ALSO A JOKE. DO NOT BUY CRACK AT ALL. STICK WITH MUCHO MAS GRANDE ESPRESSO MACCHIATOS.***
***THIS IS NOT A JOKE. THAT STUFF WILL HAVE YOU BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS.
November 02, 2006
The MSM and the Antichrist—Together Again
Of course the pope is the antichrist. But that doesn't make him a bad person...
Ach, in my day, the only thing you ran for was YOUR LIFE.