30 September 2010

Busy Work

I don't have the latest unemployment figures, but we all know they're bad.  Who would have ever thought we'd see people reach 99 weeks of unemployment?  That's three weeks shy of two years.  There is a common thought amongst the employed that laziness is the problem; that those "99-ers" could have taken a job somewhere, but just didn't want to because their unemployment benefits were "unfairly" high and discouraged them from seeking work.  I would caution anyone who feels this animosity toward the unemployed not to mistake your own good fortune for proof that you've done something right, or that someone else's misfortune is proof that they've done something wrong.  Have a little humility, folks.

And that's part of the problem.  If you buy into the idea that you're doing well because you deserve it, then when things go wrong you're faced with having to accept the dark, other side of that coin: that you deserve this, too.  Until you've actually experienced the sense of failure that comes with having to apply for government benefits, you cannot appreciate how de-valuing it is.  How empty and shamed you become.  How hard it is to even want to go anywhere for fear that someone will want to talk with you and ask the question, "What do you do?" and you'll have to answer that question.  I could elaborate, but Dawn Foster has already written an outstanding piece about the topic, and I encourage you to read it.  Go ahead; I'll wait.  (Isn't she great?)

If you've come back to me, thanks.  You already knew everything I've said so far, I'm sure.  So now let me introduce an angle I haven't heard anyone discuss.  Set aside the financial side of the unemployment mess for the moment.  You already know about how devastating it is to the families of the unemployed and how resentful the wealthy are about being taxed to pay into the system they don't personally need.  There's something I want to ask, and I'm afraid the answer isn't encouraging.

What have we, as a society, missed from all these lost jobs?  What goods or services were being provided that we really, honestly, miss?  There might be a favorite local restaurant you used to frequent with a special dish no one else offers.  I live in a town that has had at least one video rental store in business at any given time for almost 30 years.  Today, if I want to rent a movie, I have two choices: the Redbox kiosks, and my own Netflix account.  Thanks to Netflix's streaming, I've watched more movies for the first time this year than I have in ages.  I have no actual use for the now-defunct Movie Warehouse.  I feel bad that the people who owned the business had to close their doors, and I feel bad for those who drew their paychecks from the place.  But if you'd told me several years ago that if I didn't remain an active renting customer they'd be out of work, I'd have called it emotional blackmail and contrary to my own interests.

As consumers, the first thing we've done is cut down--or cut out--frivolous purchases...which means that those jobs lost provided frivolous things.  No one wants to hear it or say it, but there you have it.  The market has spoken.  Millions of Americans relied on jobs that contributed absolutely nothing of real value to our society.  And those jobs are gone, and we have only two paths before us.  We can find a way to return to our frivolous ways--though that seems shallow, now that we've adapted to our less indulgent lifestyles.  And it seems unlikely, given the attitude of the wealthy.  They're the only ones with the resources to put people back to work, and instead they not only want to keep their money circulating amongst themselves, but they've publicly fought against being taxed to help support the people they don't want to employ.

The other path before us is...actually, I have no idea what that other path is.  In science-fiction movies, they always depict a future where we've evolved beyond the frivolous and petty nature of contemporary society; we've never seen how we supposedly got from here to there.  We're going to have to navigate these uncharted waters ourselves.

29 September 2010

Prepare for the Jump to 3D

Maybe the reason the Mayan calendar doesn't go into 2012 is that they foresaw that was when George Lucas would plan to begin releasing the Star Wars movies in 3D.  This would begin shortly after the late 2011 Blu-ray Disc release of the entire series with The Phantom Menace and continue annually until 2017 with the release of Return of the Jedi..

Despite his recent claim that he was inspired to do this by the success of Avatar, this was a project Lucas declared as something he wanted to do several years ago.  I could be mistaken, but I believe it was even discussed before Revenge of the Sith opened.  I was under the impression that Lucas already had ILM hard at work readying the original films for 3D.

Reports also indicate that the release of the whole series is also contingent upon the success of The Phantom Menace in 2012.  Lucas will use its box office take as a barometer for determining whether to continue releasing the remainder of the series theatrically.  Even if this doesn't pan out (and it's hard to imagine fans not attending a re-release of any of these movies), it's pretty clear that Lucas's ultimate goal is to have Star Wars ready should 3D TV's and Blu-ray players penetrate the market the way manufacturers hope.  Which, really, is strange because this is the same guy who really resisted releasing these movies on DVD, showing a lack of faith in the format at a time when it had much more support than does 3D.

Digital 3D should be easy for the Prequels
Critics hate 3D with an outspoken passion, and their chief complaint is that most films released in 3D were not filmed in 3D, but rather tweaked in post-production.  I would think that the prequels (especially the last two, which were filmed digitally for the express purpose of maximizing his ability to doctor the footage afterwards) were made with this eventuality in mind.  In fact, they seem perfect for it, since only the principle actors and a handful of props and partial sets were even real in the first place.  It would seem fairly easy to substitute new 3D elements for the previous digital content.

Before anyone dismisses the Star Wars 3D re-releases as another after-the-fact conversion project, let's not forget this is George Lucas.  If anyone in the world has the will--and the resources--to make this work, it's him.  This is, after all, the guy who founded Industrial Light & Magic because no other effects house was capable of delivering what he wanted for the first film.  Attack of the Clones was the first motion picture filmed entirely digitally because he believed that the technology would revolutionize the shooting process.  This 3D plan is not one of artistry, but of technology.  And because of that, I believe it will work.

And, really, who among us doesn't want to see lightsaber duels in 3D?

28 September 2010

DVD: "The Rock" Double-Disc Set

The Rock - Double-Disc Set
Starring: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris
Story by David Weisberg & Douglas S. Cook
Screenplay by David Weisberg & Douglas S. Cook and Mark Rosner
Directed by Michael Bay
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date:: 13 March 2001
Cinescopes Personality Types: Chosen Adventurer, Destined Hunter
List Price: $39.99
The Criterion Collection #108
I Check Movies

The Film
I remember seeing this in the theaters when it opened and enjoying every minute of it. I've only seen it once on DVD, some time early last year, I think. It was just as fun then as it was tonight. Ed Harris as General Hummel is a sympathetic character; too often, rogue military characters lack the humanity that this guy has. And I've never not enjoyed watching Sean Connery in an action movie.

It's a cliche, but I defer to Roger Ebert's comments in the Criterion Collection DVD booklet to defend why the movie ought to be seen. In a nutshell, it's because sometimes you just really want an enjoyable spectacle and 
The Rock delivers. The movie is clearly from the 90s; today, General Hummel would just send documents to Wikileaks and pressure the government through the media to meet his demands.

The Film - Audio commentary by Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, actors Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, and technical advisor Harry Humphries
I'm not generally fond of cut & paste commentary tracks like this; there's a lack of rhythm to them when one voice is replaced by another without any natural segue.

Mostly, this is a Bay & Cage commentary; Cage mostly talks about the lines of dialog he wrote for the movie and ideas he came up with for his character. Bay mostly talks about fights with the studio over money, camera work and his side of some publicized rows he had while making the film. The other three guys have a handful of cherry-picked remarks peppered in throughout.

I would absolutely love to have heard a Sean Connery commentary track, because anecdotes about him dominate the track when the participants aren't indulging in narcissism. In any event, I'd actually recommend this track if for nothing else than the way it really makes the case for how film is a collaborative medium and not the execution of a singular vision the way the 
auteurs insist.

Disc Two: The Vault
Good God, was that really the trailer that got me excited 14 years ago?! Jerry Bruckheimer's few remarks included in the audio commentary track were clearly excised from his standalone video interview, and I think they should have remained there. That cut & paste commentary track was cluttered enough, and his insights really work better in the context of this video segment.

I loved the excerpts from
Secrets of Alcatraz, which explores the history of the island and the various incarnations of the facility itself, as well as the 1969 American Indian takeover (of which I was previously ignorant). I'd be quite interested in seeing the rest of this documentary.

That aside, the most interesting portions (for my money) were the two segments filmed with Harry Humphries's consultant business about the use of guns in movies. I'm not a gun person at all (not anti-gun; they just don't do anything for me, like football or tomatoes), so I found these two segments both informative and devoid of the kind of over-the-top machismo that you normally find in gun instructors. These guys are SEAL veterans, but they don't appear to have that chip on their shoulder that a lot of gun enthusiasts have.  You know, those guys that always want you to
believe they were SEALs.

Also, I enjoyed Roger Ebert's remarks in the booklet.  After thoroughly rationalizing his enjoyment of the film, he eventually concludes, "You may feel silly later for having been sucked in, but that's part of the ride."

27 September 2010

DVD: "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" - Special Edition Two-Disc Set

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Special Edition Two-Disc Set
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort
Screenplay by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Directed by Wes Anderson
MPAA Rating: R (For Language, Some Drug Use, Violence and Partial Nudity)
Release Date: 10 May 2005
Cinescopes Personality Types: Loyal Warrior, Chosen Adventurer
List Price: $32.99
The Criterion Collection #300
I Check Movies

The Film
This was my second-ever viewing of the film; I'd forgotten much of the second half over the last few years.  Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a marine documentary maker, who sets out to avenge the death of his longtime companion by hunting down the shark who ate him--despite its rarity as a species.  Steve's marriage is on the rocks, and the appearance of Ned (Owen Wilson), who claims to be his son, only complicates matters.

This time, I was reminded of The Wrath of Khan with regards to the Steve's mid-life crisis and his relationship with Ned, as well as having the lurking nemesis out there. It resonated with me a lot more this time; perhaps because I've been pretty down of late myself, wondering if perhaps my chances at accomplishment aren't dwindling--if not outright over.

Bill Murray's nuanced performance keeps it from ever tipping into outright comedy, while humanizing the drama of the story. I couldn't help but wonder what the film might have been like had he and Jeff Goldblum been cast in each other's role.

The Commentary Track with Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
The normal track is kind of dull with reminisces about weather problems on a location shoot, or how fortunate they were to get this actor or that kind of thing. Not here. You'd think the story would get the lion's share, then--especially since these two guys co-wrote it. No, not really. They even admit that they themselves don't know what the shark is actually a metaphor for; they're contented that it can be a metaphor at all.

No, this is two hours of Noah Baumbach goading Wes Anderson into talking about what an 
artiste he is. It becomes self-aggrandizing and pretentious, which leads to the only really enjoyable portion at all: the end credits, when they apologize for coming off that way and remark that if they'd just been up front and said, "We made this stuff up because we thought it would be fun" they'd have nothing to talk about for two hours. I can appreciate that, but it seems like they failed to find an engaging alternative.

Disc Two: The Supplements
In one of the most embarrassing interviews I've ever seen--and surprisingly, it's included on this release--director and co-writer Wes Anderson flounders when asked for what, exactly, is his film a metaphor? He contents himself that his film is a metaphor at all; that it lacks an intended correlation appears to have escaped his attention at all until the publicity tour. The "Mondo Monda" interview segment paints Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach as clueless guys in way over their heads in the world of storytelling.

The trailer suggests a quirky ensemble comedy, and as others have remarked, 
Life Aquatic functions much more convincingly as a drama. I don't know how much of this marketing campaign stemmed from the public perception of Bill Murray as a funny man, or any unease at suggesting to take the film seriously in the first place or what, but it's incongruous with the actual film.

I liked the novelty of the inclusion of Seu Jorge's 10 performances of David Bowie songs in Portuguese, but I found the solo acoustic aesthetics hypnotic (read: they began to put me to sleep after 10 minutes).

I found Mark Mothersbaugh's segment interesting, but I wasn't bowled over by it. It was less thorough, I thought, than a comparable segment with Hans Zimmer on 
The Dark Knight Two-Disc Special Edition and Blu-ray Disc releases. Still, it wasn't a bad glimpse into the score of the film, and I appreciated his honest declaration that composers hate the inclusion of recorded songs in a film for hogging all the key moments in the movie, and I was amused/distracted by just how fat his dog was.

The "This Is an Adventure" documentary is a solid making-of feature, but I found the "Intern Video Journal" to be entertaining and more approachable than the stuffy, reverent nature of most DVD supplements.

24 September 2010

Because Crohn's Disease Isn't Cruel Enough...

I have a Google news alert set for "Crohn's" and nine times out of ten, the content brought to my attention are either about fundraising efforts or a local paper spotlight on a Crohnie who makes crafts or whatnot.  Today, though, was one of those instances where I received something far more chilling.  This article concerns a lawsuit filed against Sheriff David Lain of Porter County, Indiana for the death of 33 year old Alan T. Cook from Crohn's disease.

According to the report, Cook's complaints went ignored by his jailers, who placed him on a diet consisting exclusively of Gatorade.  A liquid diet is often necessary and helpful for us Crohnies, but by itself it is not enough.  The inflammation and any obstructions must be treated, with medication and/or surgery.  Jailers are not qualified to make that determination.  Readers of mine will recall my own disagreement with a gastrointestinal specialist about the proper course of treatment for me.  You can imagine, then, what I think of someone as completely unqualified as a jailer making a medical determination about a Crohnie.
"If he had gotten proper care during the three to four weeks he was first in Porter County, he probably wouldn't be dead today," said Patrick McEuen, attorney for Cook's father, Thomas Cook.
Three or four weeks of not being properly treated?!  I know within a day when I need high doses of steroids to stave off something more threatening.  I cannot fathom going three to four weeks without proper treatment.

In fairness, I don't have anything further to go on than what is in the original article.  But reading a remark like "McEuen said there's a history of Cook asking for treatment or a transfer" suggests to me, at least, that perhaps Cook was seen as a bellyaching nuisance.  Knowing some corrections employees as I do, it doesn't take much imagination to envision Cook lying doubled-over in agony and being mocked by some fat redneck with an outdated mustache.  "Whassamatter, Cook?  You gonna need a diaper?  This ain't no nursery, you whining baby; man up."

Again, I concede this is mere speculation on my part.  But I can guarantee you this: no one goes three to four weeks with a Crohn's flare without it being painfully obvious he or she needs medical treatment.  No one.  Whether Cook was marginalized because he was on the wrong side of the law, or because mainstream society has such a poor understanding of Crohn's disease (thank you, David Garrard).  And lest anyone accuse me of bandying about unsubstantiated speculations, consider the 1971 Stanford prison experiment in which a professor of psychology oversaw the simulation of a prison environment.  Within days, the "guards" had adopted an unmistakably cruel streak of authoritarianism.

I don't mean to paint all jailers and guards with the same brush, of course.  But not all jailers and guards overlooked a human being enduring the agony of a Crohn's disease flare for nearly a month, as we've been told those in Porter County elected to do.

20 September 2010

DVD Talk Horror Challenge 2010

With a scant ten days remaining, I thought I'd take a moment and try to suggest to you, dear reader, that if you enjoy gorging on horror movies in October, you might enjoy participating in next month's Horror Challenge at DVD Talk.  This is really the granddaddy of the DVD Talk challenges.  Its original objective was, and remains, to watch 100 horror movies during the month of October.  It has evolved to include three additional, optional, concurrent goals.

The first of these is a subset of daily films; a specific movie is selected for each day of the month and participants watch the movie on their own and then discuss.  Nominations are being made as we speak for this subset, and an effort is being made to concentrate on content available for streaming via Netflix, or will be aired on commonly available cable channels like Turner Classic Movies.

The second subset is a daily theme; this is broader than the specific film per day list, but still focused.  For instance, last 20 October was "A Reel Cinematic Suckfest!" (Vampire Movies).  Dawn of the Dead was the selection for that night's specific film subset, so you would need to do a horror double feature to participate in both subsets since vampires are not part of Dawn of the Dead.  But you could have your pick of any vampire movie to qualify for that night's theme.

You vant to par-tees-ipate...
The third way of participating is the checklist.  The checklist covers various elements of film; everything from one movie from each decade to assorted directors and actors to different types of horror (slasher, creatures, etc.).  The nice thing about the checklist is that you can count a movie for multiple items, so if you watch, say, Dracula, that would count for the 1930s decade, a vampire movie, and any other relevant categories.  You could theoretically participate in just the daily subset and automatically knock off the checklist in the process!

Like all DVD Talk challenges, there are twin objectives.  The first is to give participants an impetus for exposing themselves to new content and exploring a theme.  Maybe you're like me and you've never watched the Friday the 13th series.  This is a good excuse to finally sit down and watch 'em.  The other objective is to promote discussion about content on the forum.  Cursory remarks like "I liked this/hated that" are allowed, but if you find yourself really responding to something, it's encouraged that you share those insights and reactions.

You can follow the Discussion Thread here to get a sense of expectations, guidelines, etc.
You can see my list post here (though obviously it won't become "live" until 1 October).

18 September 2010

Barkeep's Jukebox: "Has Been" by William Shatner

This week, your barkeep is spinning William Shatner's 2004 album Has Been.  If you've ever wanted the definition of pop art, here it is.  Has Been is novel, but it is not a mere novelty.  So if you're planning to hop on over to Amazon and order a copy, here's what you might want to pick up at the liquor store.

"Common People" - The courting of a well-bred young woman raised in an ivory tower.  You can go one of three ways here.  You can have a rum & Coke, mentioned in the lyrics.  You can start with something swank and trendy (coming from the perspective of the young woman) or you can have something blue-collar.  If you go trendy, I'd say Hypnotiq should do the trick.  If you go blue collar, I suggest Molson Canadian.

"It Hasn't Happened Yet" - A very somber narration about a bleak winter day, reflecting about unrealized potential.  This song is the emotionally equivalent of a Newfoundland winter.  Drown your misery with Iceberg vodka; chilled and straight, or mix a screwdriver if you prefer.

"You'll Have Time" - Perhaps the greatest "live life" song ever recorded.  You'll have time to reflect on the opportunity you squandered to live it up.  Pop the cork on a bottle of expensive, impressive champagne.

"That's Me Trying" - An older guy makes a somewhat pathetic effort to reach out to his estranged middle-aged daughter.  Sometimes we forget that the best others have to offer falls short of our own standards of behavior or expectations.  Have an Old-Fashioned, but mix it with Wiser's Reserve.  It's bittersweet and has the burn from the whiskey.  Dropping in a cherry just seems insulting at this point.

"What Have You Done" - More a poem than anything else, Shatner wrote this about his wife's suicide.  It's okay to pass on a drink here, but if you want to have an Irish whisky as though you were at the wake, I think that would be appropriate.  His vocals here are outright chilling.

"Together" - Co-written with Shatner's third wife, this is a sweet-natured ode to his new love.  It's both appropriate and odd that it directly follows the song about his previous wife's suicide; we don't need to "see" the process by which he survived the darkness to find rejuvenation.  It's enough that we have a glass of wine and toast to ongoing happiness; life does go on.  I'd recommend a chilled white wine here; perhaps a pinot blanc.  Go ahead and smile when the warmth hits your cheeks.  It's okay.

"Familiar Love" - Slow-burning jazz here; Shatner celebrates the predictable behavior of his beloved, which only endears him to her after years of unstable relationships.  Drink something reliable yourself.  This sounds like an instance for a Jack Daniel's.  On the rocks, mixed with Coke, whatever makes you happy.

"Ideal Woman" - Back to some humor now; we hear how "I want you to be you"...with some nitpicking exceptions.  There's a very psychedelic groove with a vaguely Latin tinge here that just begs to be accompanied by a tequila sunrise.

"Has Been" - Set to a sound directly out of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores, Shatner calls out the wanna-bes and never-weres who get off on putting down people who've actually done something.  It's scathing, but fun.  You have two choices here.  You can follow that tequila sunrise from the last song with a straight shot of tequila, or you can have another whiskey-based drink.  Anything else is unacceptable.

"I Can't Get Behind That" - A stream-of-consciousness litany of pet peeves and irritants that escalates from amusement to fury.  I have absolutely no idea what to recommend here.

"Real" - Written by, and featuring, Brad Paisley, this is a song about how Shatner the person isn't Shatner the public persona (he is particularly not Captain Kirk).  It's far more humble than his famous Saturday Night Live "Get a Life!" sketch.  "Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm real."  Mr. Shatner, you've not disappointed--certainly not with this album.  I toast your creativity with a Crown Royal on the rocks.

15 September 2010

Good Consumer, Bad Business

Over the last decade, Americans have adjusted their habits as consumers.  Date night used to be on a Friday night; we'd go to dinner at O'Charley's where we'd have a drink or two with our meal, maybe share an appetizer.  Then off to see a movie in digital glory.  We didn't mind that they charged an extra dollar for it being Friday night; that was cost of the excitement.  Then we stopped having those appetizers and drinks before the movie.  Before long, we were hitting the dollar menu at McDonald's on our way to a matinee showing during the week and priding ourselves on how we'd saved money and avoided the crowd.

Of course, many Americans consider themselves fortunate if they can still justify the dollar menu at McDonald's. Each of us has adapted our habits in our own ways, reflecting our own financial situations as well as our obligations and priorities.  I haven't paid for a new book in ages; yet my library has grown more in the last three years than ever before, thanks to Half Price Books.  I won't deny that the lion's share of those purchases came from the $1.00-$2.00 clearance section.  I can't even remember the last time I was a paying customer at a Barnes & Noble or a Borders.  Besides, I can sell stuff back to Half Price Books once I've finished with it, thus perpetuating the cycle.  I can't take books I've read to Barnes & Noble and trade them in for new books.

There is, however, another side of this to be considered.  Thanks to consumers like me, Barnes & Noble and Borders may go the way of the dodo within the next year.  Many economists have speculated that a merger or outright closure of both is all but guaranteed.  That means more Americans will receive pink slips and find themselves among the already too-large pool of unemployed vying for an insufficient number of jobs.  Will I buy $25 hardbacks just to try to keep a few people I don't know employed?  No.  I feel bad about it, though, which is more than I'm sure could be said for those at the top who could have adapted their business model long before now.

See, I can't set MSRPs (manufacturer's suggested retail prices).  I don't have anything to do with determining what discount rates apply to which bulk buying volumes.  Nor do I have anything to do with determining how much better the pay is the higher up the employment ladder one climbs.  I'm sure, once upon a time, the top folks at Circuit City felt they really deserved their ill-proportioned salaries; that they shouldered the big decisions.  When their company faced dramatic loss of sales, they responded by cutting lower-paying jobs.  Best Buy has weathered the storm better, in large part thanks to the way Circuit City handled it.  See, when the people at CC cut those lower-paying jobs (to ensure that enough revenue could be spread around to maintain their salaries), they made it harder for the consumer to get friendly help in the stores.  Under-staffed and over-worked, for the same pay, who could blame the increasingly apathetic and even unfriendly remaining Circuit City staff for their behavior?

I don't know what the board meetings at Barnes & Noble or Borders have discussed.  Maybe they've been too concerned with maintaining their own income levels to make decisions more favorable for the company. I don't know.  What I do know, though, is that the average American consumer has scaled back as much as he or she really can over the last decade.  The problem is that our economy largely rested upon frivolity.  We've learned to find cheaper alternatives, to go out less often.  And we've adjusted to these new ways.  I used to go to at least ten Reds games a year; now I'm doing well if I go once every two years.  The rest of the time, I content myself to watch on TV.  It's not that I care less about the team; it's that going to games in person isn't the priority it used to be and our budget frowns on making it a habit.

It seems that the owners and operators of our businesses haven't caught up with the rest of us yet.  You can't make money selling $100 blue jeans and $30 hardcover books in a society that has gotten used to buying cheaper brands and used paperbacks.  I don't know what the savior of the economy will be, but I can tell you this: anyone who thinks the calendar will ever re-set to the 1990s is mistaken.  And that top 2% that has all the money can't just try to sell us the same things again, or hold hostage a dwindling number of retail jobs.  There are way too many important issues to be addressed in the world; there's no excuse for an economy to rest largely on the self-indulgence that few of us can still afford.

14 September 2010

Crossing the Language Barrier

Remember that DVD Talk Criterion Collection viewing challenge I'm participating in this month?  Don't act like this is the first you've heard about it; I've seen my stats page!  Anyway, I thought I'd post some mid-month remarks about what I've gotten out of the challenge to date.  (And yes, I'm perfectly aware that the actual middle of the month isn't until tomorrow.)

I went into the challenge only owning two actual releases from the Criterion Collection: The Rock and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.  I've availed myself of the titles in Netflix's streaming library, as well as the DVDs on the shelves at my local public library, to expand my viewing options for this challenge.  I've seen few foreign films in my life before this month, but in two weeks I've seen La Grande Illusion (French), Divorzio all'italiana (Italian), M (German) and Sommarnattens leende (Swedish).  I won't go into each film, but I'd like to discuss the topic of watching films with subtitles.

With La Grande Illusion, it took me about 10 minutes or so to wrap my head around the fact that the German characters were speaking in French.  Even more confusing, there are a handful of lines spoken in English, and I'm dashed if I can find a single in-story reason for these instances.  They must be artistic in nature, and I would love to know what the impetus was, since none of the characters in the film are native English speakers.

M was particularly striking; it's a German film made in 1931 about a serial child killer terrorizing a city.  After years of seeing the Germans portrayed as unsympathetic--even when they're not villains, there's a sense that they're not people for whom a non-Germanic audience should wish to identify--it was very odd to find myself actually rooting for the notorious efficiency of the German police to find this guy.  Frustrated with the side effects of the investigation, the mob resolves to conduct its own manhunt for the killer...and as someone who is opposed to the death penalty, I confess I was really hoping the mob would get to him first and exact revenge for his heinous acts.  The final act of the film?  I never saw it coming.  I won't spoil it for you, but it was astounding.

By the time I got to my fourth foreign language film, Sommarnattens leende, I must have completely adapted to the process of "reading a movie."  My Crohn's-infested guts interrupted my viewing of the film for a good 20 minutes at one point, and when I resumed viewing, I forgot to continue reading subtitles!  I'd gotten so into the movie that I was oblivious to the fact I was dependent upon reading the translation text at all.

I'm not saying each of these films is a must-see for anyone, and I understand why it can be tedious for some viewers to watch a movie not in their native tongue.  But it's certainly been an experience that I have appreciated so far, if for no other reason than this: By seeing films from various parts of the world, made in different decades, I've seen some great explorations of universal themes.  We're all human beings, and concepts like love, fear, devotion, jealousy, lust...they do not respect language barriers.  If you find yourself threatened by people speaking in a language you don't understand, I suggest you explore some foreign cinema.

You can order this print by Jaime Hernandez from Criterion.com

11 September 2010

Barkeep's Jukebox: "First Rodeo" by honeyhoney

Whiskey on the rocks!
Another Saturday, another entry in the "Barkeep's Jukebox" sub-series.  This week, I'm spotlighting honeyhoney's debut album, First Rodeo.  Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe are the two halves of this likable duo.

I recently asked them online what drinks they'd recommend for each song, and they responded:

"attach whiskey on the rocks to all of em… That should hit the spot.. ;)"

So, I figured that what I'd do is pick out a specific whiskey for each song.  Here goes!

"Black Crows" - "Some days are better than most," Suzanne intones.  Hopefully, you're chillin' with this album on one of the better days. Get it started with something familiar like Jim Beam (white label).

"Little Toy Gun" - The country vibe here calls for something like Southern Comfort...which is as much a double-entendre as the song itself.

"Sugarcane" - A relationship going bad calls for something a shade bittersweet.  I suggest Crown Royal, a Canadian whisky with a sweet flavor...but enough burn to say "goodbye."

"Not for Long" - "Maybe you're a light that won't turn on/but not for long" - We're trying to feel better now.  Pour yourself some George Dickel, a very smooth Tennessee sippin' whiskey.  Things are gonna be alright.

"Bouncing Ball" - Melancholy.  Listless.  Looking for some hope and guidance now.  Go up a shelf and pour some Old Forrester birthday edition.

"Come on Home" - An acoustic, bluesy cut imploring a lover to come home.  We know he won't.  Pour a Jim Beam (black label) and relish the vanilla and oak--they're the only reminders of home you're gonna have in your loneliness.

Give yourself to this.
Or Suzanne Santo.
"Give Yourself to Me" - An urgent, much-needed surrendering to lust.  Go with Maker's Mark.  There might be a wax play joke in here somewhere.

"David" - "It's alright, David, I'm fucked up again" the song begins.  This is vulnerability without self-consciousness.  The kind of honesty that comes from being done with all the game-playing and drama.  No party drink here.  Pour an Old Grand-Dad and just let yourself hate it.

"Slow Brains" - This one is almost a stream of consciousness.  I'd recommend Early Times.  It's kind of a loose, meandering bourbon ready to go wherever your slow brains want.

"Under the Willow Tree" - A song about how dreams and life aren't always on speaking terms.  This one's pretty morbid, actually.  Go to the top shelf and pour some Booker's.  It'll take the varnish off a tabletop; surely it's an appropriate fit here.

"Oh Mama" - We've already poured eight damn drinks this far into an album with a total run time of barely half an hour.  I don't know if it matters what you pour by now, but it occurs to me we've not had any Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 yet.  Now's as good a time as any.