Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)

Astounding. Truly awesome. I can't blame myself enough for not having watched this earlier. The film can well be titled "The Pursuit of Happiness." This is to my knowledge the clearest filmic statement against consumerism made within the essentially consumerist framework of the cinema. I will come back to this film in detail one day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1996)

This is a curiously charming crime comedy centered around the themes of innocence and silliness. The combination is of course disasterous, but heart-warming in many ways. Many little laughs guaranteed. It's like watching a school of half-witted dolphins doing their antics in sub-tropical waters. Only the setting is either Texas or Oklahoma, and distinctively American.

Monday, December 26, 2005

River's Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986)

Chilling and so American. First, because of the conflicts of ideologies. Each person is so idealist, clinging to one's own frame of mind, seeing no reality, making the world outside into one's self-righteous picture, following one's ideologic. Second, because of the immense presence of the river. This is the most real, the essence of the material world.

Kids' delinquency is disgusting and the portraits of broken families are regular staples for America, the sad. Not much hope or future in this culture. Dennis Hopper is superb in his portraiyal of SANE insanity. He is retrospective, believing in the need for a princile named hope. Only his hope is never held in common.

This is another 'dead body' film and it's strange it coincided with Stand by Me in 1986. Kids still talked about the fear of Russia then. How historical it now seems!

The only thing that makes you relieved in the film is that at the end 12-year-old Tim didn't shoot his brother Matt. It could have been worse, you know.

Excess Baggage (Marco Brambilla, 1997)

Apart from the cars' Washington license plates and Benicio del Toro's strange accent, this is a rather ordinary film. Christopher Walken is just regular, and Alicia Silverstone gives an impression of being a little chubby. This is surprising that it's only been two years since that marvelous Emma retelling, CLUELESS. Basically I enjoy any film. But this could have been better with a little something. Spices. Or some scenes with more water. Yes, some more splashes would have been fun.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001)

Ben Stiller directs and acts the main role in this funny film with a plot around a super model and the fashion industry. It's funny all right, but leaves us with a sense of doubt. The hero talks as if he cared about the sweat shop exploited by the fashion world in the third world countries. But the making of this film contributes to any change at all? Underpriviledged kids do appear at the end of the film, made happy apparently by the hero's good deed, but that is very little convincing. The assasination plan of the prime minister of Malaysia fails, but the very mentioning of the name Malaysia makes me uneasy. Is this kind of gag compatible with a tongue-in-cheek intention of activism? A subtle taste of disgust sticks to my tongue.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Flatliners (Joel Schumacher, 1990)

The story is nothing more than teenager's daydream (or nightmare) about the near-death experience, but the film is successful with three gorgeous actors: Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, and Julia Fiona Roberts. Julia Roberts in 1990 is the Julia Roberts of Pretty Womanand at the peak of her beauty. All of them are haunted by their own past guilt and seek atonements. In this probably the film strays away from what the young medical students wanted. The focus on what lies beyond becomes a given story for eneryone. But none of us want any instruction on the matter of life and death from the film, so maybe it's good for all of us. Enjoyable. But can't take it seriously.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Duplex (Danny De Vito, 2003)

This is a very funny comedy set in New York, starring Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller, directed by Danny De Vito. I didn't even know that Danny De Vito was directing, but this turned out to be actually quite good. The only problem is that each time I see Drew Barrymore's face I remember her as a child in E.T. and The Firestarter. The beginning sequence is cartoon and nicely done, too (like a movie in the mid-1960s).

The Chronicles of Narnia (Andrew Adamson, 2005)

Watched this with children. Very enjoyable film from the Auckland-born director (whose Shreks we loved) but also very Disney-like. You never see lions, polar bears, and beavers at the same time, do you? Yes, maybe in one location: the zoological garden! So this is a story based upon "zoo-logic," by which is meant that all the heterogeneous components are juxtaposed. Whatever. Tilda Swinton's witch is very attractive. The scenery is gorgeous.

The Road to Wellville (Alan Parker, 1994)

A very funny satire from Alan Parker on the cult of health at the time of Horace Fletcher and others. I don't know how much of this Dr. Kellog (Anthony Hopkins) character owes to a real person, whoever that is. But it captures a certain thread of American history in a very shrewed way. Interesting addition to the filmography of the master filmmaker.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998)

A gang comedy (but with a lot of bloody massacre in it) set in East-end London. To me it's fun for the language and accents of the characters. The story is as futile as any of bad Luc Besson's. "One of the most entertaining movies ever made," says THE SUN. You get the general idea. Some people may laugh out loud, for sure. The ending is cute and light-hearted, but only after those murderous gang activities. Bad guys are all killed. In fact, they exterminate each other, as if by some divine intervention. A team of rather stupid young fellows survive. A lone wolf kind of gang guy, with his little son, gets all the money (he in fact is the least repugnant of the bad guys). So the story goes, the good is at last rewarded, the bad ruthlessly punished. There is this bar owner who reminds me of somebody I know. He looks like Sting. And in fact he IS Sting. He seems to be in his most natural milieu.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

I've heard so much about this film and finally I watch it, and it's way beyond my expectation. What a grim adventure of a story-telling! The reversal at the beginning flows seemlessly into the past. The man doesn't have any short-term memory. He thinks he keeps his long-term memory. But for him there is no telling if the memory is true or false, and as it turns out it's all his construction, rationalizing his behaviour. Inscription of letters, written words, are used to keep things in order. But what if the inscription itself is falsified? No écriture is ever reliable, even if it's on your own body.

Somebody like Severo Sarduy, or Roland Barthes himself, should have watched this. They would have cheered.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Meet the Parents (Jay Roach, 2000)

Everything-goes-wrong story played out by two great comic actors--Ben Stiller and Roberto de Niro. It seems that the role of Stiller was first intended for Jim Carrey; that would have been great, too. It was a laugh out loud for the whole family.


Looking at some of my recent students' lives after they graduated from the college, I am led to think about the relationship between the job and lifestyle. Incredibly cynical climate of monetaristic winners/losers dichotomy is rampant. Seeing my former students ending up as seriously underpayed, disposable temps on the fringe of the non-repentant, habitually-heavy consummer society is chilling. Andrew Ross's 1998 book REAL LOVE: IN PURSUIT OF CULTURAL JUSTICE might help me realigning my thoughts. The book is a collection of essays written over the period under the Clinton administration. Having lived in the US for most of the 1990s, I have overlooked many scorching issues. I need some retrospective inputs.

It is no coincidence that the rise of claims for cultural justice has occured at a time when a pro-scarcity climate of austerity is also being established. The result is a widely shared perception that this is one form of justice we cannot afford. It is time to debunk this cynical perception, oppose its punitive consequences, and urge that we meet the next challenges of history in the spirit of the culture-and-class coalitions that have too often eluded us. (5)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

A stunning masterpiece. The idea is built upon the locatability theory of memory, which is directly opposed to the holographic paradigm, and I don't think man can ever do anything even close to it. Still, it is very intriguing. By the end one is uttely confused about the events' chronology. Where was the beginning? Libido doesn't know nor care about time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Envy (Barry Levinson, 2004)

A good comedy from the director of GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM. Ben Stiller and Jack Black join up as a funny buddy team, with Cambridge-educated, daughter-of-a-Hungarian-psychoanalyist Rachel Weisz and a very unattractive Christopher Walken as supporting casts. The main focus of the plot is an invention called 'Vapoorize' that makes dogs' turd evaporate in no time. How can it be? Well, absurdity is part of the story. I enjoyed it.

In general, I don't get used to things. (Mary Ann Caws)

In Japanese there is a phrase "shishuku suru," which means "to consider someone as one's mentor without actually having met this person." In this sense Mary Ann Caws, the foremost surreslism scholar, has been my such "secretly designated" mentor. Her memoir TO THE BOATHOUSE (2004) is a lovable autobiography of a super-intelligent yet shy and clumsy Southern girl's quest for the miraculous in the ordinary. Sincere, simple, and often elegant.

One thing I found out is that she consumes too much sugar! (Of course, to a certain extent, sugar high helps when one works intently in one's writing. In the long run it's bad for your health, though.) But here is a great quote:

I often start the day with a spoonful of ginger marmalade, preserves, really. The morning glory makes a fence of blue as I trundle my way to my office to write, after biking back from breakfast. I go past the guard, always smiling, past the yellow flowers tall in a massive vase: when I stop to sniff them, the other passerby stare. I suppose they are used to flowers. In general, I don't get used to things. (144)

Not getting used to things. This is the most elaborated definition of homo aestheticus!

It's Always Something Else (Walter Benjamin)

"It is an error to search Benjamin's work for stability in terminology. Nothing works devoid of context, performance. These are texts that must always be read anew, less for the referents they seem to preserve than for their Darstellung: here lives, works, theories, terms, are saved only like phenomena in ideas, only like stars in a constellation. Almost to the point, as Benjamin says of allegory, that all that is used to signify, 'the signifying props' in his writing, inevitably point 'to something else.' 'Any person, any thing, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else.'

Carol Jacobs, In the Language of Walter Benjamin, 7.

Postindustrial ruins

Here is what Cheryl Lester, a Faulkner specialist focusing on the Great Migration, has to say about the urban landscapes of her mind:

Like the sculptor Mark di Suvero, I developed a libidinal attraction to the corroded, crumbling, and demolished steel, brick, asphalt, and concrete I grew up with in Detroit, Los Angeles, and Buffalo. For these ruins are monuments to the disorientingly rapid shifts in the constitution of place characteristic of American industrial and postindustrial culture. (Philip Weinstein, ed., The Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner, 126)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

His trilingual education (George Steiner)

This is what George Steiner writes about his early linguistic education:

A minha educaçao foi completamente trilingue, num contexto sempre poliglota. A minha radiosa mamã costumava começar uma frase numa língua e acabá-la noutra. (Errata: Revisões de uma vida, 22)

His Jewish family was from Vienna, his father had a deep sympathy with Disraeli, and they chose to live in Paris. Hence, German, English, and French.

But what is more interesting is his vision of literary scholarship (or simply reading and writing) as a sort of "secular Talmud." Under a heavy influence from his father, the boy seems to have taken it for granted that to read is to memorize is to comment upon, and to read a text is also to read its commentaries by his predecessors.

Eu devia aprender a ler, interiorizar a palavra e o comentário, na esperança, conquanto fortuita, de que um dia pudesse acrescentar a esse comentário, à sobrevivência do texto, mais uma nesga de luz. (23)

An European child destined to be a critic!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hegel vs. Dostoevski

The more totalizing the theory, the greater the resentment that will be mobilized against it. This was the fate of the original 'end of history.' Hegel's dialectic, although conversant with slaves as well as masters, had no answer to resentment. The nihilistic passion of the Dostoevskian underground man shattered the crystal palace of Hegelian rationality. (Eric Gans)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

A delightful comedy, partly inspired by the life of Jacques-Yves Cousteau (or is it?), with a funny scientist-adventurer and his crew. Seu Jorge sings David Bowie's songs in Brazilian Portuguese through out, and this gives the film an ineffable Carioca quality. It's not particularly a great comedy, but is very enjoyable.

Bill Murray here portraits a father with dubious paternity; isn't Jarmush's new film, in which Bill Murray is the antagonist, also about such a theme? Strange resonance. Or is it a common fantasy of men in their mid-fifties?

Friday, December 09, 2005

This Unbearable Slowness

A great quote from Rosario Ferre in Steven Kellman's The Translingual Imagination:

"English makes me slow down. I have to think over what I'm going to say twice, maybe three times--which is often healthy because I can't put my foot, or rather my pen, in my mouth so easily. I can't be trigger-happy in English because words take too much effort."

I don't even have a trigger here. Darn it!

The World Island

Have you ever thought of Eurasia/Africa as one big island?

"In DEMOCRATIC IDEALS Mackinder defines the 'World-Island' as 'the joint continent of Europe, Asia, and Africa.'


Howard on Sontag

Here is what Richard Howard had to say about Susan Sontag:

"And ever since THE BENEFACTOR, even her means of fictive characterization has been THIS means, epigram or aphorism; concision is her antidote to what Hegel calls THE PROSE OF THE WORLD, her saving grace in a medium that is damned for its mendacity."

Hence Sontag's preference for Barthes, Canetti, Ciora, Pavese, Artaud, and even John Cage...

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (Ian Mune, 1999)

Until told by a friend I didn't know there was a sequal to Once Were Warriors (1994). Then yesterday I found at a local store this at a very "bon marche" price of $9.99! I bought it, I watched it, and I was moved.

Jake's selfish machismo completely shattered at the end of Once Were Warriors, after five years he hasn't changed much. But there are moments he begins to show changes. He is supported by other, more round-minded guys. Pig huntung in the mountain becomes a sort of initiation. Then at the end, he is rescued by a mysterious gang denier within the band of the gang. For the sake of fatherhood that is depicted ultimately in a very positive image.

What I like best about this is its ending. Abrupt, but well calculated. Very understating. Logically speaking, no future is bright for them, still we are left with an impression of hope. Anybody who liked OWW should watch this as well.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Birdy (Alan Parker, 1984)

War traumatizes. But even before any war begins, an individual's combat with the societal has been going on. Birdy relives his past in his own bird-like silence. Al talks Birdy out of his private silence in the way that only an adolescence buddy can. All the little episodes (especially those involving animals) revisited point at a way to recovery. With its sense of helplessness, this is a great work of art. Alan Parker's deeply compassionate creative power at its best. VIVA ALAN PARKER!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Santo, 1989)

This is a great study about fear--the fear of having to do routine things and the unpredictability pertaining to the daily life. Drug addicts want assurance from the promised land of the predictable, and the chemial never fails. Their use of drugs is a flight from contingency, hazard, of life. It's thoroughly an anti-adventure.

William Burroughs here is superbly crazy and very true to his own life.

The song that goes "Poor me, Israelite" has an enigmatic charm in it. (It's by Desmond Dekker and the Aces, the band of which I know absolutely nothing.)

I was imagining the director Gus Van Santo was Dutch, or something. But no, actually he is from Kentucky, of all places. (Then Burroughs is from Lawrence, Kansas.)

"Pressures of everyday life like having to tie their shoes," says Bob (Matt Dillon). The sentence epitomizes his state of mind.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)

One can't help but associating this with such films as Colors, another LA movie, or the Brazilian Cidade de Deus. Of the three this is the most 'humanist,' with an explicit message at the end: increase the peace.

'Either they don't know or don't show or don't care about what's going on in the hood.' True, and the US still suffers, dies, and kills (home or abroad) as a negative legacy of the slavery.

Another 'must see' work regarding racially mosaiced US cities.

Higher Learning (John Singleton, 1995)

Another powerful piece by John Singleton on an absurd racial war on a fictive campus named after the first European invader of the Americas: Columbus. Tensions accummulate and the development of the story line is rather predictible, yet it's rivetting and it involves the audience straightforwardly into the agenda of the film: UNLEARN AMERICA. This is the kind of film that's a must-see on any contemporary campus, regardless of its location. An admirable work.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970)

Full of flavours of the period 1970; but I can't believe it was a commercial success when first released in that year. The whole film is a series of stage plays that pretend to be popular existentialist yet overly so. The theme of dropping out of a prodigal son from a highbrow middle-class milieu could have been attractive to a certain group of people of a certain period, but looking back this moral side seems tepid. Of course Jack Nicholson is 100 percent Jack Nicholson; he can't be anybody else. The great merit of the film is its road movie aspect that unfortunately is not fully pursued. Two women hitchhikers are interesting, the lansdscapes of northern California (near Arcata?) into the Oregon dunes area are quite nice (could have been better, though). To me this could be made over into a much better version now. It may worth trying. And still I don't know what "five easy pieces" mean. Does he play the piano five times in the film? No, I think he played only three times, but I may be wrong.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Barton Fink (The Coen Brothers, 1991)

What a nightmare. Despite its facade, we need not think it's got something profound. The sequences follow the logic of the dream--inconsequential. No hidden meanings,etc. We simply don't know what happened and we will never know. Enjoyable throughout, but not to the degree of later masterpieces such as The Big Lebowski or The Hudsucker Proxy, nor the earlier joyous Raising Arizona.

Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach, 2002)

My main interest in this film was its heavy Scottish accent. I couldn't have understood it without subtitles. The story is too sad to recapitulate. What is this class thing and addiction that are going on? Everything's so futile. Only in the UK could a story be so hopeless. Ken Loach's films are to be discussed in detail in the future. For now, we remain depressed.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Big Lebowski (The Coen Brothers, 1998)

How can they make a film so funny and delightful? This makes you want to go bowling immediately! And I specify, 10 pin bowling. If not, the game doesn't mean the same thing here in NZ...

Hudsucker Proxy (The Coen Brothers, 1994)

This film really blew my mind. It's an unutterable masterpiece! The final 15 minutes or so is sheer Coen magic. A totally different time running, mythical, comic, and sublime. Tim Robbins is very funny and so is Jennifer Jason Leigh. Wow. Just keep watching it over and over again!