Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)

Astonished. Look at the water, the leaves, and how the light is reflected on them. Computer animation has reached its maturity. I remember watching a series of short digital animation films at a festival at Honolulu Academy of Arts in 1988. Then we were all stunned to see then state-of-art works. And that was pre-history.

This is a monumental work. Mrs Incredible has an incrediblly charming voice, by the way. Holly Hunter is the one to give her the voice. A great family entertainment.

Says Miles

"I don't like a person that's comfortable where they are."

Miles Davis, talking to Quincy Troupe (in Miles & Me, p.33)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Firestarter (Mark Lester, 1984)

Again rewatched this grasping film after 21 years... I don't believe in any of the ESPs, but this story of pyrokinetics is beyond belief. It's arresting by the sheer power of fiery consumption. One problem is that with the strong characterization of Charlie in this film, I cannot ever see Drew Barrymore in any adult role without seeing the little pouting girl's "Back off! Back off!" Aside from those filmic retellings, Stephen King is one author to be seriously studied. Not only brilliant, he touches some layer of the universal.

The Indian Runner (Sean Penn, 1991)

Sean Penn's first feature-length work as a director, and it's a masterpiece. The story is crude and nothing convincing, but the cinematography, actors, architectonics, all point to the superb height he's aiming at. Quite moving. The story is supposed to take place somewhere in Nebraska. Cass County, it's called, and it's a coincidence that I was so agitated by the mountain town of Cass, South Island, Aotearoa-New Zealand, earlier this year.

The music is great. One remarkable thing is the appearance of Dennis Hopper as an incarnation of evil. Sean Penn, to me, is like a non-biological son to DH. The killing in the film was also a ritual patricide. And the film's over-all tone has something to do with DH's Out of the Blue.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bicentennial Man (Chris Columbus, 1999)

A curiously charming film mostly due to Robin Williams's always funny way of rendering his lines. The story itself doesn't have much appeal to me; a little forced, like all classic sci-fis. One single most memorable thing on the screen is the magnificent beach. It may be in northern California, but it looks more like Oregon to me.

Dogfight (Nancy Savoca, 1991)

A very good film to remember San Francisco in the 1960s by. "Dogfight" is a game played by marines on the loose, in which they bet on who gets the ugliest date to take her to the hard-drinking party. The next morning, they leave for the other end of the Pacific, then on to Vietnam. River Phoenix shows a remarkable performance with Lili Taylor, the "ugly", but equally a splendid actor. They end up making love before parting. The boy is sent to Vietnam, JFK gets killed, the guys remain in the combat zone for three more years, his friends get killed and then he comes home to SF, nowhere to go, but to Rose's cafe.

The ending is so understated it makes you cry. The whole film is accompanied by beautiful folksongs of the 60s. It shows the flip side of self-righteous counter-culture flower children. The wasted youth of little imagination, who were sent to fight, killed and injured, and with nowhere back home to call home. All in all a very accomplished film.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

On Miles (Quincy Troupe)

Here is a paragraph from Quincy Troupe's Miles and Me (U of Cal Press, 2000), p.2.

"Sometimes when he used the mute, whether on up-tempo tunes or slow ones, we knew we were hearing perfection. When he played muted ballads, it was as if he were tenderly kissing our feelings--then he would stun us with bright, rapid-fire bursts of notes that penetrated our souls. Miles not only soliloquized, he also had a "dialoging" style. It was like listening to him having a conversation with himself, with one of his voices imitating a fast-talking, sweet-rapping black street hustler."

A great style here. After finding this book, to my joy, priced at a bargain $10 at the Uni bookstore, I learned of Troupe's incident of resigning UCSD and California's first poet laureate in 2002. It was the immediate consequence of his falsification of CV; he actually didn't have a BA from a Louisiana college. But who cares, it only endorses the incommensurability of poets and educational institutions! He's got style, he can write. He knows music, and has passion to write thrillingly about it.

Professor or not, official poet or not, it's only writing that matters.

Magical Thinking

Here is a quote from Patricia A. Turner's book I Heard it through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture (U. of California Press, 1993, p.61. It's about some pranks done by the KKK to frighten blacks.

"For example, mounted Klansmen would remove false heads attached to the top of their robes and hand them to terrified blacks to hold. Another prank involved the Klansmen hiding oilskin bags beneath their robes and then, pretending to have an insatiable thirst, asking frightened blacks to bring them prodigious quantities of water, which immediately disappeared--right into the bags by means of a concealed tube. Such ostensibly harmless pranks were meant to serve notice to blacks that these mysteriously clad horsemen had supernatural powers."

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Raisin in the Sun (Daniel Petrie, 1961)

Watched for the first time the well-known African-American coming-into-consciousness play in its filmic version that made Sidney Poitier world-famous. The screenplay is also written by the original author Lorraine Hansberry. It's so theatre-like, but well-made and quite moving. Given the historical backdrop of the early 1960s, it's all the more interesting. A must see.

Now I am trying to build up a list of 15 or so African American films for a future teaching project. Have to watch them all anew, including the ones I have already in mind (such as Mississippi Masala). Any suggestions welcome.

Shakespeare Regional Park

Went this afternoon to the beach in Shakespeare Regional Park today. It's located 47 kilometers northeast of where we live. An easy drive in the sunshine. Local children were taking a dip--seemingly the first for them this spring. Downtown Auckland looked afar, and so did Rangitoto island, beautifully. Tranquility all the more intense because of the sound of the in-coming waves. Lovely. Lovely. Lovely.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986)

This is a film I saw when it was first released in 1986, il y a déjà 19 ans. I liked it then, and I like it even better now. A moving masterpiece with Dexter Gordon's portrayal of a fictive New York jazz musician in Paris. Fictive, but it's a composite of real musician-expatriates. The sense of jazz that permiates the film is nothing but REAL. Lovely, lovable, loving. This will remain one of my all-time favourites.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wasabi (Gerard Krawczyk, 2001)

Finally I saw this action-packed movie which in fact is nothing more than a BD vivant, but enjoyable enough, thanks to Jean Reno. The story is excruciatingly cheap but who cares? The tempo is well measured and the inexistent Japan may look intriguing to the ever-orientalist viewers. The young Japanese actress Ryoko Hirosue, acting her own biological age, is super-charmante. And she learned her French well. It's fun on a rainy day.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

An Invisible Sign of My Own (Aimee Bender)

I am now at the last stage of translating Aimee Bender's first and so far only novel An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000). It took me more time than I expected but is deeply rewarding and satisfactory. I will skip explaining to you its storyline. But a paragraph like this near the end will give you the feel. It's so simple, understated, beautiful, and heartbreaking:

I don't want raisin ice cream to go out of business, she added, looking a little annoyed at me. I gave her another two dollars and told her to go back and get what she really wanted. She came back in a few minutes with a blob of chocolate fudge for herself. She still gripped the raisin in her left hand. The chocolate disappeared in a few minutes and the raisin drooled a line of dark purple down her wrist. (234)

Remember, along the stylistic axis of ordinary/extraordinary in the novel, this paragraph is situated definietly at the most ordinary. You'll be surprised by Aimee's almost violent style. But I wouldn't have loved her writing so much if it was not for such a calm, sad, soothing, ordinary occasional paragraphs such as this one.

Aimee Bender. A major American writer of whom I'm so pround to be a translator!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Unbreakable (Night Shyamalan, 2000)

In every film he shoots Shyamalan proves himself to be a master by his ambition, stylistics, and by spending enough time on each sequence. This film is no exception. Based on an all too easy comic-book manicheism of good/evil, he sustains the viewers' interest by his sense for texture. The story is unlikely, for sure, but comes out very plausible. Again Shyamalan himself makes his appearance--this time as a drug dealer at the stadium. My son pointed out Shyamalan's predilection for the raincoat. Quite true, it seems.

Bruce Almighty (Tom Shadyac, 2003)

When I turned the TV on last night a film was about to begin and I ended up watching it all through. It was Bruce Almighty. Not knowing much about the film I thought it was going to stink, but it was not, thanks to Jim Carrey's serious gag-making. He was hilarious and we enjoyed it.

A comedian needs to have kinesic articulation and motor-sensorial rapidity; this we see, for example, in the great Lucille Ball and Steve Martin. Jim Carrey is not doing bad at all. I haven't seen The Truman Show. I'll watch it soon. Not sure if I'd like The Mask, though. (It's funny how we hear and know about films without actually watching them. Prejudices, prejudices.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005


I watched "Nirvana: Nevermind", which is a title from Eagle Rock Entertainment's classic albums series. It's a "making of" kind of documentary DVD but is deeply moving with the producer explaining to us how they recorded the album and commetaries from two other surviving members of Nirvana who now appear as witnesses to the history they made. Highly recommendable. It convinced me that Kurt Cobain was one of the greatest rock singers of all time and a lyric writer at least as good as Jim Morrison.

It's funny because in 1991 I was strolling my son, then barely one-year old, in the shopping mall at Northgate, Seattle, when I saw "Nevermind" just released and getting attention. I didn't even bother to listen to it. (I didn't like the jacket photograph with the baby swimming after a dollar bill.) It took me all of the fourteen years and the growth of my son into his mid-teens to discover the miraculous quality of their music. My life has been full of detours, but this I am sure is one of the worst cases of my endless meandering!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Noi the Albino (Dagur Kari, 2003)

This film has a most unexpected deus-ex-machina--an avalanche. One of the most helpless endings I've watched in my entire life. The story takes place in a remote town in the north of Iceland. The sense of desolation is simply overwhelming. The mountain from the beginning looms ominous. Seventeen year old Noi live within a very small network of people. He is loved, but he is lost. No wonder. There is not much future imaginable in this town.

He rejects school, he rejects work. A desire for evasion is secretly burning but without consequences. When he finally tries to do something, he fails. And on that night, his entire "community" is destroyed. He is left with a toy viewer through which he dreams of Hawai'i. The end.

Oh, but Iceland. How can I not be intrigued by the country. I'll be there one day. One day, si dios quiere!

One thing of special interest. The rainbow hangs very LOW in Iceland.

Autumn or Spring?

I am having such difficulty convincing myself that this is spring when it's October. When the weather is brilliant and ladybirds flying it's easy, sure, but when it's raining like this, on and off, day in day out, with occasional torrential downpours? I am hopeless.

Saturday we had a thunderstorm bringing some serious hail batting the ground and our roof. It was fun, though. But after a while you think: give us sunshine already, this is supposed to be spring!

But one should not complain against the will of "the way of the sun." Oh, an eternal optimist I am. Listen to the rain falling like Jose Feliciano does. It's lovely beyond hemispheric prejudices!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Kurt Cobain

Watched a documentary on Kurt Cobain's life: The Early Life of a Legend (2004). Lamentably, the film couldn't use any of Nirvana songs. But it's very worth watching for anybody with even a tangent interest in the US Pacific northwest.

Cobain was a child of Aberdeen, Washington, and of nowhere else. The film so convincingly tells us this. A town in desolation, a town without so much as an H of hope. Yes, I've been there, back in the early 1990s, and I was curiously attracted by its atmosphere.

Particularly interesting in this documentary are interviews with Kurt's boyhood friends. There is a striking contrast between his grade school friends and his highschool friends! And extensive sequences where Charles Cross (Cobain's biographer) talks are riveting. This guy exudes intelligence. Rock historian as a first-rate intelectual.

Having lived in Seattle between 1990 and 1993, in the golden days of Nirvana, I was stupid enough to miss all their gigs. What kind of fool I was. Now I don't want to repeat this stupidity ever again in my remaining life!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Rashomon (1950)

This morning I talked on how Rashomon (Kurosawa's filmic version) retold creatively Akutagawa's original short story "In a Grove." For this I watched Rashomon twice and still didn't like its overacting mise-en-scene, but its cinematographic splendor is undeniable, thanks to Kazuo Miyagawa, the cinematographer. It's amazing to notice how much light is distributed on each face to show or conceil the character's state of mind. Kurosawa's characters have their inner selves, and I don't know if it's good or not. But when taken as a principle, there is no arguing against the director's decision. It's a masterpiece, of a kind. Do I love the film? No, but for some flickering moments.

The setting is taken from Akutagawa's "Rashomon," and the plot from his "In a Grove." But it seems to me there is a third source that results in Kurosawa's heavy psychologizing: another Akutagawa short story, Kesa to Morito.

Of course all the construction by dramatic monologues comes from Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book, which according to some people is a masterpiece of English literature comparable only to Chaucer and Milton. I wish I could read it one of these days.