Sunday, October 31, 2004


Great premise, intriguing beginning, disappointing ending. C+

Monday, October 25, 2004

Man on Fire

A complete disaster. Can't remember the last time I saw a movie with such distracting music. The syrupy strings were awful. The heavy metal guitar chords were pretty bad too, as was the Enya-like soundtrack used to emphasize climactic points. The Latino music makes a kind of sense, but it was much too obvious. Worst of all was Pavorotti accomanying an execution. Too much fancy camera work that does absolutely nothing for the story. Incredibly sentimental, so much so that at times it was difficult to watch -- more so than even the revenge scenes. The whole thing is in serious need of some editing. Denzel Washington does the best he can, but it's a terrible script. I'd wager that Dakota Fanning will be a fine actress someday. Never mind some day; she's pretty good now. It's always fun when Christopher Walken shows up, and he has the best line in the movie: "Creasy's art is death, and he's about to paint his masterpiece." D

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Young Adam

A disturbing movie. Pretty good, but disturbing. B

As the credits roll up at the end there's a very good song by David Byrne. I transcribed the lyrics as best I could, but I'm having a little trouble with one line in particular: "Drag it on . . ." and then I don't know. Here are the lyrics from the beginning:

The Great Western Road by David Byrne

The man sticks his fingers inside of his mouth,
The words are stuck in there, he fishes them out,
Whispers and mumbles, statements and verse,
Curses and love songs for nobody else,
Man takes a pencil and puts down his thoughts,
The old human highway from Eden to Nod,
Brothers and sisters, husbands and wives,
Strangers and cripples in love with their lives,

How they dance, in a trance where the river bends
here we go, don't cha know that it never ends
some who ride, some who slide everyone you know
travels on, that great western road.

How they laugh, raise your glass, drink a bottle down,
Any face, any place, in this northern town,
Drag it on, seurlrfanmoan, paschal sengrove,
Travels on that great western road.

Man goes to show world and dreams of the stars
He leans to the left, he leans to the north,
He learns to be humble, he learns from the trees,
And all of God’s creatures, to him they would speak,
Saying "Wake up, my little lambs,
Wake up, it’s time to begin,
Wake up, it’s all that you are,
Wake up, and it’s not very far,

Bakerman, soldierman, beggerman, a thief,
Some are young, some are old, and some on their knees.
Broken legs, broken nose, swaying to and fro,
As they walk that great western road.
Every snake, every bird, every creeping thing,
Like a knife in the night I see her again,
Blessed heart, blessed work, blessed skin and bone,
All along that great western road.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Friday Night Lights

I saw this on Saturday night, but it was still great. Billy Bob Thornton turns in one of the better performances of his career and the cast of young football players is good all the way around. Bound to become a classic. A -

Fahrenhype 9/11

Extremely effective. For what it's worth, I thought the production value was much greater than the movie to which it responds, scene for scene, with devestating accuracy. Political dialogue at its finest. A

Fahrenheit 9/11

Michael Moore raises a few interesting questions, such as why President Bush went ahead with his visit to the elementary school after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, or how civil liberties might be compromised after the attacks, but his presentation is so juvenile and his facts so obviously unsupported that his charges go wide, wide of their mark. This is especially disturbing in a sequence that cut from the terrible suffering of Iraqi citizens during the war to an interview with Britney Spears. Many of the scenes showing President Bush on his ranch chopping wood, playing golf or responding to questions from the press were obviously designed to show him in as poor a light as possible, but I thought he actually came off better than Moore himself, whose whiny voice-over and smarmy interview style often displays more contempt than concern for his subjects. The scenes of mothers who lost their children are certainly moving, but to follow these emotionally wrenching episodes with a loony conspiracy theory involving Halliburton struck this viewer as little more than tawdry exploitation. D

Shark Tale

The animation for this is pretty stunning, but I found the racial stereotypes offensive and some of the sexual content entirely unsuitable for children. Or discerning adults. C

The Grudge

Just doesn't hang together all that well. Maybe the original Japanese version is better. C

Katakuri-ke no kôfuku (Happiness of the Katakuris)

Very, very strange, even for Takashi Miike. The best horror musical I've ever seen, but then it's the only horror musical I've ever seen - except possibly Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video, which Miike parodies in a sequence towards the end of the movie. The movie doesn't cohere especially well, so that scenes such as the Claymation sequence at the beginning of the movie don't connect very well to similar scenes later in the movie. Some of these later scenes seem to suggest an alternate reality, but these aren't developed and the live action scenes are actually more fantastic than the animated sequences. Weirdest of all are the musical sequences which parody 80's music videos as well as traditional Broadway numbers. C+


A fantastic movie with great performances by everyone. Denzel Washington is extremely good, and Matthew Broderick has the best performance of his career. Battle scenes as realistic as to be found in any movie. A

South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut

Maybe a little too long and could've used some cuts. A few outrageous scenes were pretty funny, a few more were just outrageous. Surprisingly boring. "Blame Canada" a classic numer. B

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wheat That Springeth Green by J.F. Powers

The best of the series of books published by The New York Review of Books are all the works of J.F. Powers, who died in 1989. Powers’ novels and stories are almost entirely concerned with Catholic clerical life in the midwest. I hadn’t read his last novel, Wheat That Springeth Green, and I was happy to find that the new edition contained an introduction by the author’s daughter, Katherine Powers. Wheat That Springeth Green is every bit as fine as Morte D’Urban, his first and only other novel written some 25 years earlier, and a National Book Award winner as well. In its treatment of character and plot the latter novel is theologically perhaps even more complex.

I was a little confused about the ending - let me make that clear from the beginning. While I found the last chapter interesting for the scene in which Father Joe Hackett has moved outside the fictional space he has occupied for most of the novel, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean for him. The last word of the book is “Cross,” as in “Holy Cross,” the parish to which he has been assigned, but I don’t remember this being mentioned anywhere else in the novel. Does it refer to the Cross that Father Hackett has finally learned to bear? Hasn’t he been bearing it all along? Or in this last chapter has he come to a realization which I myself lack the insight to attain? I felt like I was grasping at straws here, and several rereadings of his earlier interaction with the characters that comprise the final chapter haven’t helped me.

While I’m not sure what is being conferred upon us at the end of the story, Joe’s character is cast from the first pages: as a toddler he gets attention from his parents’friends merely for declaiming at a party “I go to church!” We also learn of his parents’ antipathy towards the parish priest’s intoning on the subject of the “Dollar-a-Sunday Club,” an attitude that Joe will inherit, and which becomes a theme that will be played out in a number of surprising ways. We also sense something of his aloofness in these first chapters as well. He doesn’t keep up with many friends, but he does seem to know the value in keeping up appearances: “Joe just smiled at Frances and everybody, so they couldn’t tell how he really felt about being in the sack race...” Joe is a good athlete, even in grade school, and the race he really wants, but doesn’t get, is the sprint.

Much of the story revolves around Joe’s relation to money, so that even an early adventure (described in nearly pornographic detail) involving his first adult relations with women is later understood to be subsumed by his larger pecuniary obsessions. His sexual sins, or at least the memory of them, turn out to be something of a red herring: at the seminary he asks his instructor, “Father, how can we make sanctity as attractive as sex to the common man?” a question that (rightly) earns him nothing but mirth from his fellow seminarians. We are given hints that as Joe grows older he succeeds in overcoming his youthful scrupulosity. After a stint at Archdiocesan Charities he is assigned to the parish of St. Frances - a name shared by his childhood infatuation and a co-traveler in the youthful adventure already mentioned. So as far as sex is concerned, here in his maturity there is a sense that all is right with Joe, if not the world. That this is the case is dramatically reinforced by the nearly hopeless entanglements of an ex-seminarian, some of which leads to misplaced retribution that Joe patiently, even faithfully endures. These episodes are magnificently structured, displaying in Joe’s life a kind of fate that is worked out through choices made less in freedom than with a concern for propriety and in service to principles that are neither his own, nor of the church in which, as he says in other circumstances, he does so much hard time.}

Other obstacles to holiness, as perhaps they always must, remain.

Although his basic attitude is good, the reader realizes that the young Father Hackett has refused one halo in favor of another when he refuses to toady up to either the priest in his parish or to the archbishop in his archdiocese. Money matters are everywhere in evidence: the rectory built by Joe; bribes offered by parishoners; purses collected on behalf of retiring priests; inheritence; a collection drive that is farmed out to a private firm - in which Joe will take no part. All this points to beyond the contradiction in one man’s character to a paradox that is funamental to our very being. How do we care for an abundance which is most fully ours when we least consider it our own?

Joe’s misappropriation of his own nature, and indeed human nature, leads to a truly heinous transgression in one of the final chapters. That this transgression is committed and then resolved in secret, without comment from Joe or even the narrator, points toward a God who is as truly all merciful as he is unnoticed even by lesser beings working on his behalf. I would guess that the true thorn in Joe’s side is also Powers’, and while reading I several times wondered whether the crux of the story wasn’t inspired by his frustration at watching baskets and plates passed through the pews, week in and week out, for a lifetime.

Perhaps the last word makes some sense after all.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Dead or Alive 2: Tôbôsha

Watched Miike’s “Dead or Alive 2” last night. It wasn’t nearly as good as the first one; it was, in fact, pretty lousy. It wasn’t quite so much the slow pace as it was the cloying sentimentality that marred the first DoA. While the line between true feeling and true goo will often be in different places for different people, suffice to say that a plot that hinges on a couple of hit men using their earnings as proceeds for vaccines in third world countries is, or certainly ought to be beyond the pale for anyone. Not so much because it presents to the viewer a moral conundrum involving the grey zone between good and evil, but because it is such an artistic conundrum that is almost nowhere good and everywhere bad. Hit men are fitted out with angels’ wings, like the old R.E.M. video, and as in DoA 1 but for different reasons, we have to laugh. In DoA 2 I’m not so sure that this is Miike’s intention, and now I’m having doubts about the earlier movie. I later read a review at the imdb site that made me wish I’d paid more attention to the scenes involving a play performed at a children’s school, but I admit that I found the movie so god-awful boring I put the disc on fast forward and watched the last half at 4x speed. On to the finale. D

Team America: World Police

Funniest movie I've seen in a long, long time. B+

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Interesting special effects. Not a very interesting story. Some good gags here and there, but more than a few annoying bits, such as Sky Captain saying, "Good boy, Dex" and a female character named "Frankie." This must have been intended to be edgy, or funny, but it just sounded dumb to me. That tiny elephant was pretty cool, but why didn't they shrink all the animals on the ark? Never mind, I really couldn't care less. C

The Forgotten

Awful. Truly awful. D

Dead or Alive

Late last night I watched Miike's 1999 Yakuza movie, Dead or Alive. At Scarecrow (the video store I frequent), the employee recommendation tag underneath the Takashi Miike shelf described it as a film "that will toilet snake your soul". No kidding. The scene that may well have inspired this comment consisted of a disemboweled stripper soaking in a pink plastic kiddy pool filled to the brim with brown water and the former contents of her own intestines. This may well be the most gruesome image I've seen in any movie, and that Miike was able to invest more than just shock value in it says a great deal about his talents as a director. It certainly is shocking, but then he just stays with the shot: the woman lies still in the tub and the gangster remains placidly seated in his easy chair, watching her. He seems bored, or impatient. What began as one of those real-and-yet-somehow-unreal moments soon becomes grating, and then even boring. With a bare foot (so as not to dirty his shoes) he pushes the woman under water, killing her. What a waste. Something more complex than shock or disgust, I think, and that Miike opens the scene up for this kind of reaction in a movie that elsewise seems to aim for little more than B level yakuza status is a risk seldom taken by other directors in the genre.

The movie begins at a frenetic pace. To the accompaniment of choppy, 80's era metal guitar chords, the camera races through restaurants, titty bars and back alleys somewhere in Tokyo. Men are gunned down while standing at urinals, strippers spread their legs for better viewing, and a businessman does a line of coke a hundred feet long. Nuts. As is evident in such later Miike movies as Audition (2000) and Ichi the Killer (2001), Miike later slows the pace down, affecting a realist tone that also sets the viewer up for further explosions of violence. At other times the movie turns quite sentimental (slow motion shots of a young man dying, a cemetary in the rain), the utter lack of which made 2001's Visitor Q a minor masterpiece.

The ending is way, way over the top as the picture descends from B to C level gimicks, however flashy. With this descent he shows how unseriously he takes himself as a director, all the while pursuing the logical end of the characters' hateful, egoistic pursuit of total annihilation. In their own destruction they see the destruction of the entire world, and Miike invites us to laugh. But that Miike manages to maintain a moral vision - the long line of coke, the atomic bomb, and and even in spite of that occasionally mawkish sentimentality - is no small achievement. Riki Takeuchi's blow-dried hair and doughy exterior belies his characterization of the gangster with a heart of flint. Sho Aikawa is especially good as the salary man cop beleaguered by trouble at home and his superiors at work. B

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


The movie for tonight was "Heaven" starring Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi. Krzysztof Kieslowski, director of 'Red', 'White', and 'Blue' as well as the even better 'Deacalogue,' has a writing credit for the movie, and his imprint is evident everywhere. It's a good movie, not a great one, but Blanchett and Ribisi are both very good throughout. Blanchett's early distress at the news that her plans have gone awry is entirely convincing. Ribisi's character has the right mixture of naivete and cunning needed to attempt such an outlandish plan. The film is beautifully photographed; director Tom Tykwer has, if possible, adapted a more melancholic and meditative manner than Kieslowski himself had. In attempting the sublime, it several times verges on boring, but what keeps it from becoming so is a plot that is frankly unbelievable. Is this perhaps the point? Ultimately I'm not convinced there is enough to help us in our unbelief, but along the way there are a number of surprising camera shots which emphasize the fantastic nature of their daring enterprise. One in particular is of Ribisi on a park bench, first from the front and then from the back. Another is the final shot of the movie. I'd suggest watching it. B

Monday, October 11, 2004

Wheat That Springeth Green II

Concerning the parallelism just mentioned, it could of course be easily explained if I had first read the book and then ordered the non-fictional matress. In that scenario, I would simply be taking cues from the novel I happened to be reading at the time. This is simply not the case. Tullia ordered the bed, and she did so before I started reading the novel. Still slightly freaky.

Wheat That Springeth Green I

More freaky deaky. Over the last couple of days I've been reading J.F. Powers' last novel, Wheat That Springeth Green. It's a great novel, and hopefully I'll be able to make more substantive comments on it later. What I'd like to mention now is a sequence in the novel in which the main character, Father Joe, is having all sorts of trouble having a new bed delivered for the new curate finally assigned to his parish. It's an okay sequence, certainly not the best in the book (so far), but what was really strange was that I went to pick up a new bed this weekend. And there were problems in getting this order together - ended up making four trips back and forth to the store before everything was straightened out. Not the same problems that Father Joe has in the novel, but enough to warrant that spooky feeling of parallelism I sometimes get when I'm in the midst of a great book. And it is a great novel. Walker Percy great.

Everybody's Gettin' Lined Up

at the Barbershop. One funny movie. A little on the sentimental side, maybe, and the plot's a little hackneyed, but the characters are great. Played by a great cast. Ice Cube is solid as usual, but Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Early and Troy Garity... actually everybody's great. Can't wait to see the sequel. B+

What I really found astonishing was the following scene, found in chapter 13 on the DVD, as everyone in the shop is talking about the news of a recently stolen ATM machine.

CUSTOMER I'm telling you, they got about 15 or 20 G's in that ATM.
EDDIE $15,000?
JIMMY I read that those machines are worth more than the money in them. There may even be a reward.
CALVIN A reward for a ATM machine?
EVE I wish the money in it was mine.
ISAAC If that was me I'd use that money, I'd take my girl out to a real nice dinner, like Red Lobster.
DINKA Oh, see, now that's upscale.
JIMMY Red Lobster is the IHOP of shellfish. That is not upscale.
ISAAC I don't hate cheese toast just 'cause I'm eating scampis and shrimps and scallops and shit.
JIMMY You know what man? You are truly ignorant. You probably don't what a scallp is. You know a scallop, it ain't even a shellfish. Did you know that?
EVE Do you know you get on my nerves?

Now the thing of it is, just an hour or so before I sat down to watch this movie I was enjoying a plate of "Lobster Chops" at the Red Lobster. Which is a kind of seafood shishkabob... with scallops.


My Conversation with the Checker at Target

Today I was in Target buying razor blades (goatee needs a little upkeep), and I was surprised to find that when she rang me up the total came to exactly $9.00.
"Nine even, huh? Betcha don't see that too often," I said, somewhat blithely.
"No, not too often," said Amy, happy (I like to think) to be stirred from her routine.
"Well, you check out a fair number of people every day... approximately how often?"
"I don't know; two, maybe three times a day."
"How bout that?" I said.
"If that," she said, clearly giving the matter some more thought. "And what's really weird is when you get two, sometimes three people in a row with the exact same total. Not shopping together or anything."
"Okay, that is weird"
"I mean, it's not like it's the same stuff they're buying or anything... really freaky deaky, I'm saying."
"Man, that is wild"
"Yeah huh," she said nodding while bagging the blades. "Have a nice day!"
"You too, have a good one!" I said, waving.

Yep, really freaky deaky.

Hail to the Thief

Over the last couple of days I've been listening to Radiohead's latest album, and while I won't go so far as to say that it's their best, there is some absolutely stunning music there. Simply put, Thom Yorke has the most beautiful voice in pop music today. Highlights of the album are 2+2=5, The Gloaming, and my personal favorite, Scatterbrain, which I quote in its entirety here:

Scatterbrain (As Dead As Leaves)

I'm walking out in a force ten gale
Birds thrown around, bullets for hail
The roof is pulling off by its fingernails
Your voice is rattlin’ on my window sill
Yesterday's headlines blown by the wind
Yesterday's people end up scatterbrain
Any fool can easy pick a hole
I only wish I could fall in
A moving target in a firing range
Somewhere I'm not
Somewhere I'm not
Lightning fuse, powercut

Sunday, October 10, 2004

More Nabokov

This time from his last novel,
Look At The Harlequins!

What a great novel. Way underrated.

Grocery List for Tomorrow

Dr. Pepper
paper towels
rubber gloves
steel wool
toilet paper

Quotable from Pierre Delelande

"Comme un fou se croit dieu, nous nous croyons mortels..."

- Pierre Delelande, "Discours Sur Les Ombres"