Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Been A While

I want to explain the general dearth of posting lately. I was hired to organize an event called the International Press Freedom Awards, and it happened last week on December 9th at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto. With all the prep work for that and studying for the LSAT that I wrote on December 5th, I've been pretty busy all fall, particularly in the last few weeks. Now at least I can share some interesting reading.

Below I've embedded an e-booklet that we put together for the Press Freedom Awards. It contains articles on the worldwide culture of impunity around the murders of journalists, and the winners of this year's Press Freedom Awards: Jila Baniyaghoob, The Novaya Gazeta, and Terry Gould. These stories are somewhat unusual for this blog given my typical choices in content, but they're all interesting reads and well worth your time. They're also not happy stories, but that's kind of the point. I hope you give them some time.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Car Long Shot in Children of Men

I was listening to the /Filmcast on my way home from work and in the latest After Dark episode they discuss a controversial article by Mike D'Angelo over at The AV Club (for link see the update at the end of this post). In the article D'Angelo discuses and devalues the famous shot inside the car in Children of Men. If you haven't seen the film then stop reading right now and go watch the movie because it is a fantastic piece of cinema and you should go into it with as few preconceptions as possible (a fact D'Angelo's argument proves). If you have seen the film then after the break is an embed of the scene in question and a discussion of D'Angelo's critique.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From Around the Web - 11/25/09

Bah, two link posts in a row... There will be stuff worth reading soon, I promise

I am quickly discovering that David Thorne's website is one of the funniest places on the internet

If you like Star Wars even a little you should check out this fantastic piece on the core values of the series, and extends this into a defense of Episode 1

The worst news I've heard all week... or all fall, for that matter...

The best news I've heard all week

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some Sweet New Music I've Been Listening to Lately

Dan Mangan is in the midst of a world tour in support of his latest album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice. It's a fantastic album, with standout tracks like "Road Regrets," "Robots," and "Basket." If you swing by Google Videos there's one of Dan and the inimitable Shane Koyczan doing a medley of one of Dan's best songs, "Not What You Think It Is," with Shane's poem "Stop Signs."

Matty Powell, a great singer-songwriter who's currently working in the Toronto area. He put together an amazing album while he was living out in Saskatoon, and it has an incredible and distinctly Canadian prairie sound. He's a bit of a hippy so if that's your thing you'll probably love him, give a listen to tracks like "Hope," "Fall Soft," and "Toronto."

The Vandertramps, an up and coming new group of jokers from out east. They don't have much going on online quite yet, but the song "Snark" shows that they've got some definite promise. If you're into the 90s lo-fi indie scene at all then this band is one to watch.

Daniel, Fred, and Julie is a Canadian folk supergroup, if such a thing can even exist. The band is a colaboration between Daniel Romano of Attack In Black, Fred Squire of Shotgun & Jaybird, and the east-coast queen Julie Doiron. The album is a collection of traditional and original folk songs recorded in a few days in the humblest sense possible. They don't even really have an official website I can link to, but HeroHill has a great write up on them that includes a sample track and a song-by-song breakdown of the album by Romano. Definitely check them out, this is an album that shouldn't be missed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Zombieland Review @ The Lemon Life

The folks over at The Lemon Life have posted my review of Zombieland. For any of you who are recent graduates from university, The Lemon Life is an online magazine that focuses on common post-grad experiences. There are a lot of people contributing articles that give advice and perspective on living without academic guidance for the first time. It's a cool site, you should check it out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Toronto's Crippled Transit System

Ok, so maybe crippled isn't the right word. That would imply that it was at some point fully functional, when in fact that TTC system is and always has been a bit of a mess. Or at least it quickly became one.

This morning someone tried to sell me a clearly fake TTC token on my way to work. If he had wanted to put less effort into the job he could have just shaved down a penny. Appropriately, The Torontoist published an article today in which TTC Chair Adam Giambrone attempts to explain why Toronto is so far behind the curve on fare collection methods.

Giambrone tries to work the positive spin, saying that the TTC might "skip" rather than "miss" modern technologies via late adoption. It's not completely without merit, but it's still a "we're the last one to the party so we'll bring what you all forgot" type argument.

The fact that Toronto is lagging in terms of electronic fare collection is only one facet of our complete failure to have a sufficient transit system for a city of commuters. The fare's that are collected are far too high, with a monthly pass costing an unbelievable $109, and what's more these prices are likely to increase any day now. Our subway system has only two major lines, one of which is too large and reaches many destinations too close together to truly justify different stops. The two smaller lines cover specific non-central areas competently, but are so specialized that they are almost irrelevant.

Beyond that we have a massive and unreliable system of buses to cover the vast majority of the city. Add to that the inherently restricted streetcars which have resulted in the destruction of major thoroughfares en masse (I'm angrily looking at direction of St. Clair West). Furthermore, the GTA is only covered by additional transit that is completely separate from the basic transit costs. The city is mired by poor transit conditions that cost too much for too little and encourage people to drive.

Most major cities around the world have adopted electronic fare collection, and its high time we did too. This will cut costs by streamlining the process of paying for and getting on trains and buses, and will save money on the archaic transfers and ridiculous counterfeit tokens. It will allow us to direct the human resources of the TTC more effectively, and perhaps make the necessary updates to the system that we have been promised for years.

The fact that we are still so behind is completely unacceptable, especially for a city that purports to be making an effort to go green and reduce car emissions. Toronto is supposed to be one of the leading cities in Canada; we acted as though we actually deserved the Olympics for Pete's sake! It's time our transit system started to reflect our position, not the inflated size of our ego.

Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron

David Clowes' Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron is what would happen if David Lynch got together with the illustrators of Mad magazine. Beyond their titular similarities, the graphic novel is reminiscent of Blue Velvet in its exploration of a strange society on the fringes of our world. The story (sort of) depicts the insanity and ultimate tragedy of the entertainment industry, not unlike Mulholland Dr. At the same time Velvet Glove shares the unrestrained nightmare imagery of Eraserhead; the main character meets a fantastic variety of people in his journey, including a dog that has no orifices on its body and also a fish-girl who is the offspring of a potentially-divine merman.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are Review

There's a scene in Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are when Carol, the striped wild thing voiced by James Gandolfini, shows the protagonist, Max, a miniature model. Carol says that it's a model he built of his fantasy world, his dream landscape "where things turned out like you wanted them to." Max empathizes with the underlying senses of sadness and unfulfilled desires, and by seeing them outside himself Max begins to understand the sometimes tragic complexities of life, maturing years right before our eyes. The moment is breathtaking in its honesty and poignancy, achieving the delicate balance of compositional simplicity and poetic depth that marks the best children's films.

Unfortunately it is one of the few moments in the entire film that reaches this level of quality and transcendence.
I'm going to put frame this review subjectively because Where The Wild Things Are is a hugely divisive experience, and my reaction probably says more about me than the film itself. That said, for a movie that has so many people talking about how deeply it touched them, I found Where The Wild Things Are to be remarkably alienating and boring.

The film isn't bad per se, as it has many elements that are simply amazing: the casting, voice acting, costume design, creature effects, and cinematography are all outstanding. It's clear in every aspect of the design that Jonze and the other people involved truly loved the source material, and desperately wanted to do it justice on the big screen. The final product, however, is unfortunately a case where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

The film should be seen if only from a purely visual standpoint. The creatures are unlike anything we have ever seen on film, cleverly interweaving puppetry-based practical effects with CG to give us real-world cartoon characters. The wild things look obviously animated and believably real at the same time, giving them a fantastic quality that perfectly suits their nature. The world they inhabit is similarly well realized and displayed, and the set design work boggles my imagination even now. The sweeping shots of barren landscapes are breathtaking, but at a certain point the world of the film begins to feel dry, empty and dead. Regardless it all looks beautiful, and the film is quite simply a visual smorgasbord.

The acting is also superb, both from the actors on screen and those who lent their voices to the wild thing creatures. The always remarkable Katherine Keener makes her ten minutes or so of screen time some of the most memorable in the entire film. Gandolfini gives his wild thing a depth and vulnerability that is frankly shocking since the creature sounds like Tony Soprano. Max Records gives an incredible performance as Max, giving the character a depth and believability that is rare in child actors. In short the movie is perfectly cast. 
So with all this praise, where does the film fall short?

The problem is that the film is barely a narrative. The events of the plot are loosely strung together at best, and there are no significant developments in the story. Everything fits together in an organic but vague way, and nothing about what happens does very much to push things towards any sort of conclusion. The film more depicts an emotional development than a story, but I’ll touch on that in a bit. For now it’s enough to say that Where The Wild Things Are moseys along in no particular direction.

A lot of reviews are supporting the film by arguing that the way the story is told reflects the embedded perspective of a child. Essentially the meandering, largely aimless flow of the narrative is supposed to convey the way in which a child’s attention drifts between disparate events without significant development or consideration.

I completely agree with this summation, as it's pretty clear that Jonze and co. made the choice to have the story unfold this way. Where The Wild Things Are adheres to Max's perspective both in terms of content and form, which makes sense given that it's his story, his experience. I just don't think that this technique was a good idea for a two-hour narrative film. It was perfectly suited to a ten sentence long children's book, and it might have worked for a short film, but it is not appropriate for a full length major motion picture. Throughout the film I often felt bored and restless, as did the people around and, importantly, all the children in the theatre.

It's particularly startling how much the film alienates children. It doesn't seem to even make any effort to appeal to children, and while it doesn't have to it is surprising that a film based on a children's book would not try to appeal to a similar demographic on some level. It goes on for far too long to hold the attention span of the average youth, and it doesn't really tell a story. When I was a child all of the films I remember loving had narratives that, while not always logical, at least moved forward in identifiable ways.

I was always more interested in serialized and gradually expanding narratives than episodic romps. To give an example as reference, anyone who watched the show ReBoot will remember when it changed and began to tell a long-form narrative as opposed to one-off adventures. I absolutely adored the show in its entirety, but my fondest memories are from after that shift. I loved how they told a story with characters and situations that evolved towards something, allowing me to emotionally invest in the development. 

ReBoot is just one example of how I gravitated towards narratives that moved forward in definitive ways, not necessarily towards conclusions but towards developments. Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are does move forward insofar as Max develops emotionally as a result of his time with the wild things. The problem is that this development is too subtle, drawn-out, and intangible to really appeal to children. More than that it's just not enough to be the central focus of a two-hour film.

Forward moving narratives almost always contain emotional developments within them, but Where The Wild Things Are reverses that relationship; it is an emotional development that is framed using some narrative elements. In that design it is an unconventional and interesting film. The emotional tale, however, is so definitively subjective that is undermines its own struggle to resonate with a large proportion of its audience. It tells the story of a wild, energetic boy raised by a single mother who has serious issues relating to his absent father. Unfortunately, if you can't relate to that story in clearly definable ways then you are largely barred from sharing Max's experience.

Jonze's film demands that the viewer see themself in Max, and project their subjectivity into the narrative. The embedded perspective is so absolute that it denies the viewer any opportunity to have their own perspective of the world of the film. It even dominates the camerawork for the majority of the film, as every shot literally captures exactly how Max sees everything around him, and nothing more.

There are ways in which Max's story speaks to the general experience of childhood, but the problem is that those more transcendent elements are truncated in favour Max's specific issues and how he learns to address them. It tells a story that could be read as a metaphor for his maturation. The film has been called a meditation on childhood, but I would more specifically call it a reflection on a certain type of childhood. Maybe if you loved the book your experience will be different, but I can't really speak to that and I think it's a failing in the movie that it has so much potential to alienate its audience.

In the end I did not particularly like Where The Wild Things Are, but I do recommend that people see it. More than that I think it should be seen in theatres. As I said, this film is worth the price of admission from a visual standpoint alone, and it really deserves the big screen presentation that only theatres can give. 

Furthermore you should see it because there really isn't anything else like it out there. The film is a remarkable experiment by a supremely talented and passionate young film maker. The New York Times put out a fantastic article on Jonze and the story of adapting Where The Wild Things Are, and it gives a sense of the difficulties he has experienced in trying to be true to his artistic vision. He truly is a modern auteur.

In summary, the film didn't do much for me, emotionally or as a narrative. That said, it was a stunningly beautiful and unique experience. I know that many people have been touched by the film, so it does have the potential to affect in profound ways. Go see it while you still can.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Crown versus Michael Bryant

Kirk Makin has published a good piece outlining the Michael Bryant case in the Globe and Mail. It'll be interesting to see how this goes down in court. My money's on him walking.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Josh Ritter's "The Temptation of Adam"

I haven't done a post about a song (or poetry) in a good long while, but Josh Ritter's track, "The Temptation of Adam," has been on my mind a lot recently. I've discussed it with a few people and come up with some interesting and divergent close readings, so I want to explore the track here. I'll start by posting the song and lyrics before I get into the meat of my rant.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thoughts on Sexuality in Video Games

Last night my girlfriend linked me to an article discussing sexual relationships in video games that Alex Raymond posted on back in August. Apparently the link just recently popped up over on Feministing (On a tangentially related subject, if anyone has any suggestions for feminist oriented/leaning blogs that are better than Feministing, we're all ears). I know that Rayond's article is a bit stale but it’s an interesting issue that is definitely still relevant to the medium as a whole. I started to write a response and it snowballed on me until it suddenly became this post.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From Around the Web - 10/27/09

France: Pretty awesome, but still not as awesome as Germany
In case you hadn't heard, why Germany is awesome

No wonder Jay-Z's bitch isn't a problem for him, UK experts find that he's ahead of the curve on science

Journalism students are being sued for investigating innocence claims by a man convicted 31 years ago
Commentary on the absolutely ridiculous story

The latest in the continuing struggle to apply outdated laws to new media

Because you should already be reading Orhan Pamuk
(Append) BUT
While definitely an incredible writer and progressive thinker, the word on the street is that he's a bit of a douchebag in person

How It Should Have Ended: Transformers 2

The "How It Should Have Ended" video series is pretty hilarious. The reimagining of the Superman ending is still probably their funniest entry, but almost everything they've ever done is worth watching. I'm not totally sure that this is new, but today I found the ending they put together for Transformers 2. Given how much I've discussed the ridiculous number of things that are wrong with that film, it would seem wrong not to post this:

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Continuing Struggle for Dollhouse to Realize Its Promise

Dollhouse is a problematic television show. There have been some significant disagreements between the creative minds involved and the FOX network, all of which have only hurt the show. The first season asks viewers to slog through seven or so boring and formulaic episodes before giving us any real reason to come back. Then, after a series of incredible concluding episodes, the second season begins with another set of lackluster installments that reeked of network intervention. The best, and in a sense final, episode of the entire series was never even aired on television.

Despite all this I keep coming back to it, for a whole mix of reasons. Because I love and trust Joss Whedon. Because this is potentially the most mature content he has ever tackled. Because the concept of Dollhouse has so much potential. Because when it's good, it's really good.

The episode that aired this past Friday night was really, really fucking good.

If you've seen the episode then check out this great post on io9 discussing the plot points of the episode and what they mean, with in depth analysis and clips from various sequences. I'll get around to an extended discussion of Dollhouse at some point, but for the moment consider this post as largely indicative of my thoughts.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Enjoyable Things: Zombieland Review

Throughout Zombieland, we are repeatedly told that there are rules to surviving in a world overrun by the undead. Of all of them, the final rule, No. 32: Enjoy The Little Things, is without a doubt the most important one. This light-hearted moral is emblematic of Zombieland since that is exactly what the film asks, nay demands of its audience.

Zombieland comes in the midst of a proliferation of zombies in mass culture, and yet manages to separate itself from the horde, er, crowd. Unlike almost every other zombie narrative out there, Zombieland features characters that take as much pleasure in dispatching the undead as we do in watching them do it. This slight change to the formula dramatically alters the atmosphere of the film, and more importantly its relation to all other zombie films.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bon Iver's Final Live Show (For Now)

Phew, is it ever a busy time. Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone and now it's time to really get into the swing of October.

I keep wanting to write but it's hard to find the time when I'm not working or resting. I have a few posts in the works right now, including a review of "Zombieland" (it was stupid good). Hopefully I'll be able to get at least one of them up in the next few days.

Right now, though, I want to share some music that I found online that I think is pretty awesome.

I'm a recent but big fan of Bon Iver, and so it was with a heavy heart that I read he was going on hiatus for the foreseeable future. I was only converted in March and so I narrowly missed seeing him during his world tour in support of his debut LP, For Emma, Forever Ago and the Blood Bank EP. His most recent show at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee on October 11, 2009 is apparently his last for a while, and so I'm SOL for the time being.

But despite that minor setback there is a positive spin on this story. That final show was evidently recorded and has been posted online over on the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee: Live & In Studio blog. It's available to be downloaded in its entirety (I'm listening to it right now, it's fantastic) and I'm also embedding a streaming player below.

I strongly recommend giving the show a listen, even if you aren't a Bon Iver fan. He's a fantastic musician and it really comes through in his live show, as evidenced by this fantastic recording.

Listen Now:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla: A CGI Sign of the Times

The other night I rented Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, which was a very interesting and surprising experience.

I'm going to start off with a bit of a geek history lesson to give some context to my story. For those of you who are not "in the know" (ie: most people), there were two distinct sets of Godzilla films. First there was the original classic, "Gojira" (1954), which started the whole phenomenon. It was followed by "Godzilla Rais Again" (1955) and then a number of sequels known as the Showa series, concluding with "Terror of Mechagodzilla" (1975).

There was was then a ten year break before the aptly titled "The Return of Godzilla" (1985). This film ignored every sequel to the original "Gojira," and set itself up as a direct follow-up to the events of the first film. This began the Heisei series of Godzilla films, which saw re-imaginings of many of the classic Godzilla villains, including Mechagodzilla in "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II" (1993). The main difference between the two series was the attitude towards the monsters. In the Showa series they were treated as forces of nature, not evil beings, and Godzilla became something of a hero. In the Heisei series, on the other hand, Godzilla and his friends (or kaiju, aka monsters, your geek word of the day) were more often seen merely as hazards to human life.

Now, as far as I knew that was where the complexities of the Godzilla canon ended. Ignoring the American remake, as all good 'zilla fans do, there were simply the two series of Godzilla continuities. So, when I rented "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" I figured I was going to watch one of the three movies from the Showa and Heisei series in which the mechanical monster appeared.

How wrong I was.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

(Evil) Dead Snow: Ein Zwei Die!

So I saw Dead Snow last Friday when it finally opened here in Toronto. I'd been semi-looking forward to the film for months since I'd first heard about it on AintItCool News, and it mostly lived up to my expectations.

The movie is the zombie equivalent of a Michael Bay flick, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The film barely implies a plot to tie its events together "coherently," and all the gags appeal to the lowest common denominator of humour. Unlike the Evil Dead series, which very clearly inspired this Norwegian zombie-romp, Dead Snow fails to push any new ground. It is instead a euphoric celebration of b-grade zombie, cabin-in-the-woods horror comedy, and it is very successful at accomplishing its goals.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Problems with Cycling in Toronto, a Manifesto of Sorts

As I start to write this I feel like letting out a sigh of relief and release: finally. I've been trying to write something, anything on here for what feels like weeks, though I suppose it's only been a few days. After a few geeky and not particularly invigorating posts and then a whole slew of video embeddings, I'm finally getting back to my ramblings and ravings.
I've been super busy at work promoting an event my organization is putting on this week, the international premiere of a documentary called "So Far From Home." It captures the stories of five journalists from conflict regions who put themselves at risk in order to do their jobs. If you're in the Toronto area you should come out and see the film. There's also going to be a panel discussion with the featured journalists after the screening, moderated by CBC's Carol Off. For more info, here are two links to the Facebook event listing and the press release. Anyways, that's why I've been so busy and unable to write.

Now that I'm done with that lengthy preamble, on to the meat of what's been on my mind lately...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pavement Reunion

I'm going to be brief because it's hard to think right now, much less type. Pavement is reuniting for a world tour in 2010. I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn't use this space to flip the fuck out.

Holy fucking god damn shit fucker. Pavement. On tour.

This is the one band I can legitimately speak of using the cliché that they "changed my life." You'll have to excuse me if this news reduces me to a steaming puddle of fanboy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some more Quentin Tarantino Review Videos

Just a few more cool video featuring Quentin Tarantino giving in-depth reviews of some great flicks. On a blogging note, I do have my next post planned and mentally prepared, I'm just having a bit of a crazy week. There'll be something new up soon, I promise, I've got plenty I want to rant about.

Anyways, without further ado:

Taxi Driver

There Will Be Blood

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cool Video: Historical Relevence

It's killing me to have two posts in a row on video games, but I saw this over at and thought it was really cool. The Archie thing at the beginning is a little ridiculous but everything afterward is thought provoking and well researched. The major focus of the think-piece is video game mascots but generally speaking the video is more about history and culture. It's an interesting piece worth the five minutes or so it takes to sit through it, both for people into video games and just general cultural purveyors.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Sega Dreamcast's Ten Year Legacy Recap

So yesterday was the ten year anniversary of the North American launch of the Sega Dreamcast. For those of you who don't know (ie: those of you who aren't huge geeks), the Dreamcast was the final console put out by Sega, one of the two companies that really shaped the video game industry as we know it. Back in the 1990s the only "console war" was between Sega, with their Genesis system, and Nintendo, with their Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). They each had their flagship titles/mascots, Sonic and Mario respectively, and the competition between the two dominated, nay was the industry of the day.

As technology changed and games moved into three-dimensions these companies found increased competitions from the likes of former competitors like Sony, and the market began to expand. The former solitary giants found themselves with dangerous peers, and they experienced some awkward growing pains. Sega released the Saturn a console which did not fare well, and Nintendo made the mistake of utilizing cartridge technology over CDs for games on the Nintendo 64, a design choice that held the console back from achieving the promise its game developers displayed. It was in the successive generation that the industry finally began to change in ways that realized its own potential.

On 9/9/99 Sega launched the Dreamcast in North America. They utilized a highly successful marketing campaign that emphasized the power of the machine as intelligence, telling consumers "It's thinking," and that "You know it's alive. Worse, it knows it's alive." Their first day sales set records as being the "biggest 24 hours in retail entertainment history," giving the system a solid install base of customers and earning the company a cool $98 million.

All this success did not help Sega in the long run, however, as the PS2 launched about a year later and began its ascension to becoming one of the most profitable consoles in history. In 2001 Sega announced the end of their production and support for the Dreamcast, and became a third-party software developer.

So if this console was ultimately a failure, and one that put the final nail in the coffin for Sega's history as a console manufacturer, then why are we celebrating its ten year launch anniversary?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cool Video: Tarantino on Boyle's Sunshine

I don't mean to be such a Tarantino fanboy by posting this right after my post praising Inglourious Basterds, but I found this video on /Film this morning and it's an amazing critique of Boyle's Sunshine.

I saw the movie when it hit theatres back in 2007 and felt that it was an interesting but deeply flawed movie. Beyond its laughable third act twist, I felt that the film borrowed too heavily and obviously from the heavies of the sci-fi genre, both thematicaly nd aesthetically. Tarantino is more forgiving of Sunshine's clear references to its influences, and praises it for exploring new territories.

The reason I'm posting the video is because I think it's interesting to see a director exhibiting this kind of geeky reverence for film making and in-depth critique of a director-screenwriter team. Regardless of my feelings about the majority of his films, this is the reason I like Tarantino: he is a geek. It's great to see this kind of excitement and energy from someone in his position, especially considering how long he's been in the business.

Anyways, that's it for today. This past week has seen me return to the city, so hopefully I can return to a regular posting schedule fairly soon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

In 1951, Theodor Adorno said that, "Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." Fifty-eight years later, Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds' embraces that barbarism for the sake of catharsis. It abandons realism in order to address the underlying shock and anger from WW2 that most films about the period have heretofore been unable to touch upon.

When I first heard that Tarantino was making a WW2 film I was suspicious. I was far from convinced that his style would suit the setting and content very well, and the initial trailers did little to assuage my apprehensions. The final product completely demolishes the conventions of the war film genre in lieu of his signature personality. What surprised me, however, was how expertly interwoven the style and message of the film are. The film is indisputably a Tarantino production, and for what it is trying to accomplish I doubt it could be as successful were it anything else.

The movie isn't about a group of Jewish-American soldiers running around occupied France scalping Nazis, as the trailers and descriptions have suggested. I mean, that happens, but it's a surprisingly small part of the overall narrative. Greater emphasis is placed upon a Parisian movie theatre which hosts the premiere of Joseph Goebbels latest propaganda film, 'A Nation's Pride.' More specifically, the film is about the act of making films about the Second World War.

In outspoken opposition of many war films, 'Basterds' throws historical realism out the window. This film is not about trying to represent the events of the war faithfully, and in fact it throws out the very notion that a film could possibly do so. This film does not adhere to reality, it rather represents our pain, hate, and desire for revenge in the wake of something as terrible as WW2.

Instead of the diegetic melodrama of most war films, the emotional story of Basterds rests within the audience. One of the reasons war films are so consistently fruitful and resonant is because of the scar that the actions of the Nazi party left upon the mass consciousness. Nazis, from Hitler to Goebbels to the most low-level foot soldier, have come to represent pure evil as a cultural/historical signifier. No matter how much we try to humanize them there remains a quality of evil to their very existence that, if nothing else, makes for good movie villains.

The memory of the atrocities they committed makes us root for anyone who fights against them, and for their deaths. In 'Basterds' there are "good guys" that we are barely given a chance to care about but we do so simply because they are not Nazis; at the same time we cheer and laugh at the deaths of characters who beg for their lives simply because they are Nazis. Tarantino recognizes this collective sense of hatred, and his film reacts to it in a way that is simultaneously barbaric and soothing in terms of its treatment of the wounds of WW2.

'Basterds' is literally barbaric insofar as it is quite savagely violent Brad Pitt and his cohorts scalp Nazis before our eyes and Eli Roth gruesomely beats one to death with a baseball bat. In terms of how Adorno used the word, however, the film sharply differentiates itself from purportedly realistic portrayals of history. The Omaha beach scene in 'Saving Private Ryan' is chilling, but it would be a callous stretch to say it captures the feeling of being on that beach in 1944. Whether or not its so-called "realistic" depiction of events as they occurred is respectful or barbaric is a subjective judgment, but Adorno felt such things could not be represented and that to attempt to do so would be cruel.

Tarantino's 'Basterds' openly rejects such realism in lieu of a style of film making that is in an emotional outburst of pain, anger, and remembrance. By giving himself complete freedom in terms of manipulating historical events, Tarantino allows himself to make a movie that is therapeutic through its literal assault on past villains in unexpected and viciously satisfying ways.

Tarantino aligns himself with filmmakers like Henri-Georges Clouzot, who explored the splintered and battered psychology of the populace of Vichy France in 'Le Corbeau.' That film is scheduled to show at the Parisian movie theatre that is central to the plot of 'Basterds,' but it is replaced with Goebbels's 'A Nation's Pride.' That film, a sort of Nazi answer to 'Sergeant York,' takes the idea of historical realism to the extreme by casting its protagonist subject to play himself, reenacting his own actions.

'Basterds' acts as a counter to "realistic" and romantic depictions of history, foregoing purported realism by instead fantasizing revenge upon those evil figures held responsible for historical atrocities and the damage to the mass psyche. Tarantino's story captures the horror, pain, and anger surrounding the events of WW2 without ever showing a concentration camp, taking as a given our knowledge and sentiments regarding the reality. He outright rejects the making of films that attempt to translate the actual events to screen narratives, accusing them of callousness and insufficiency in terms of their attempt to depict history.

'Inglourious Basterds' is a war film unlike any other that I have ever seen. There are moments that make you laugh, moments that make you cheer, and moments that chillingly remind you of the horrible events that occurred in the 1940s. Overall it forces (and this is without question, it leaves no room for ignorance or casual acceptance) the viewer to rethink the very notion of what it means to make a film about the war. It demands a reevaluation of the very notion of respectful treatment of delicate subject matter, and the concept of barbarism in terms of Adorno's use of the word.

Pitt's final words both close the film and effectively speak for Tarantino, who says "It just might be my masterpiece." I for one am pleasantly surprised to find I agree.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The problem with zombies in this day and age

I'm going to start out this rant with a Roger Ebert-style disclaimer: I never made it past page sixteen of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. With that out of the way, let me begin by talking about how bad the book is, and what that means.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer movies

Just wanted to get an update up to ensure this blog is not abandoned. I'm living in the woods, so things are tough. Quick review summaries for what I've been watching:

Away We Go - Remarkable. Potentially the movie of the summer. Cute, hilarious, heartfelt, and completely honest and unassuming. Run, don't walk, to your local theatre if it's still playing.

The Hurt Locker - Good, but not the art flick that it's getting the reputation for being. It's a straight up and fairly formulaic action movie "with a little heart." Enjoy it with some popcorn and no assumptions.

District 9 - A interesting if slightly schizophrenic Meshing of the fictional-documentary social-commentary and sci-fi action genres. You really have to enjoy both sides to like the whole, but it's interesting no matter what your tastes are, and well-deserving of the hype it's received.

Julie and Julia - Haha, didn't see this one coming, did ya? This movie was surprisingly cute and very competent at recreating the periods it covers both in feeling and appearance. It doesn't dive very deep, but it successfully achieves the semi-euphoric and fully-delectible sentiment it strives for. Don't see it on an empty stomach or a diet unless you're feeling masochistic.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Roger Ebert vs. film fans

Just a quick link right now, I wanted to share Roger Ebert's response to the backlash against his Transformers 2 review. I don't want to touch upon the film anymore, and frankly he doesn't seem to either, but his points about education are great. The best bit, however, is this comparison between sports fans and movie fans that I wholeheartedly agree with. I couldn't even begin to estimate the number of times I feel compelled to apologize for the fact that I studied culture in university when discussing film, television, etc.

I think it's ridiculous, and that those without the same kind of background in theoretical models and modes of thought don't necessarily have to agree with me by any means. No one has to agree with me. But to outright discount my opinion and those of theorists because they are "pretentious" or "thinking too much" is infuriating. The worst is when I have to hear these things from my ostensibly more educated friends, those who are often in university themselves, though not because they have any sort of respec for the institution or values they're paying for.

Sigh, at this point I'm more just venting about a few specific people I ahve in mind, so I'll stop. Here's the quote I wanted to point out, followed by a link to the post on Ebert's blog. Check it out, it's a good one.

"A reader named Jared Diamond, a senior at Syracuse, sports editor of The Daily Orange, put my disturbance eloquently in a post asking: "Why in this society are the intelligent vilified? Why is education so undervalued and those who preach it considered arrogant or pretentious?" Why, indeed? If sports fans were like certain movie fans, they would hate sports writers, commentators and sports talk hosts for always discussing fine points, quoting statistics and bringing up games and players of the past. If all you want to do is drink beer in the sunshine and watch a ball game, why should some elitist play-by-play announcer bore you with his knowledge? Yet sports fans are proud of their baseball knowledge, and respect commentators who know their stuff."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trains, not Planes or Automobiles

I finally got around to reading a Walrus cover story that caught my eye back in May but eluded me until now. Monte Paulsen's piece on high-speed rail, and how Canada has completely failed to capitalize on this great mode of transportation is a fascinating piece.

Anyone who has used VIA to travel anywhere in Canada knows that there are serious issues with the service, especially in comparison to European systems like France's TGV or Germany's ICE. As the article repeatedly points out, the core issue in Canada is the ownership of the tracks themselves. The fact that the privatized CN owns the tracks that VIA has to operate on has essentially crippled the market for traveling by train in Canada. This is increasingly problematic in a world where alternative energy sources and modes of transportation are the topic of the day, and we can't afford to continue ignoring the need to improve our rail system.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Robocop, Transformers, and sexism and racism in blockbuster movies

So now that I've seen Robocop I actually feel somewhat vindicated in my lack of surprise at the racism and sexism in Transformers 2. I mean, yes, it's awful, and possibly the most overt example of prejudice in a Hollywood film in recent memory, but does that make it remarkable, or unique in its offensiveness?

Take the scene in Robocop when Nancy Allen's character essentially sets the plot of the entire film in motion by being unable to stop herself from taking a peep at the penis of the black member of Kurtwood Smith's gang. She has him at gunpoint, ready to be arrested, but his penis is out, and when she looks down for a second he hits her and puts her temporarily out of commission. As a result she is unable to come to Murphy's aid, he gets gunned down, etc., becomes Robocop. The entire plot hinges on this sexist and racist joke. Of course she's unable to stop herself from looking at the black man's penis, which is, of course, gigantic and thus worth looking at.

Some reviewing over the next day or so

So I've been seeing a bunch of movies recently, and now I'm spending the next day or so sitting at home due to my impending root canal operation. I had a failed attempt at the operation this morning, and I've been sitting at home without feeling the left side of my face ever since. I'm finishing up a documentary on Arnold Schwarzenegger and his campaign to become governor of California, and then I'm going to go rent Robocop, and maybe Spaced, Simon Pegg's TV series, and potentially a few Woody Allen movies, like Deconstructing Harry. Oh, and maybe Time Crimes too!

In any case, while I'm not doing much I figure that I'll write a few responses and keep the review ball rolling. Transformers 2 and Moon got me started, and so I want to talk about what I'm watching and also a few things I've seen recently that I have yet to talk about in any formal way.

To start off, I want to discuss Up. Kat and I saw it a while back with Morgon and Nick and Katrina and co., and so far I think it was probably the best movie I've seen in 2009. Of all the bigwigs over at Pixar, Pete Docter has always interested me the least. I've never been huge on the Toy Story movies, and I felt Monsters Inc. was boring and failed to draw me in emotionally. In general I always found Pixar movies to be interesting but generally not my thing, with the slight exception of The Incredibles.

That was until I saw WALL-E.

That movie changed everything, and completely sold me on the company and their films. It ended up being one of my top four films of 2008, along with The Dark Knight, Funny Games, and Rip: A Remix Manifesto, strange company for a Pixar film but certainly evident of my esteem for the story of the near-speechless little robot that could. The range of emotions Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter et al were able to evoke using a pair of binoculars attached to a box with wheels amazes me still. The film was actually stronger in the opening 45 minutes when there is no dialogue, particularly when WALL-E takes care of the in-stasis EVE and when he flies through space hanging onto her transport vehicle. The film reaches these heights again later on when it again returns to emotions instead of dialogue, showing us EVE's reaction to the video playback from her time in stasis, and her desperate efforts to revive WALL-E at the finale. In these sequences, and in general, the film tapped into something profoundly human through the story of two robots with the capacity for emotion.

As much as I loved WALL-E, I have to admit that Up does all of that even better in its first fifteen minutes alone.

The opening montage of Carl and Ellie Fredrickson meeting, falling in love, getting married, and living an entire life together is at once uplifting, inspiring, and crushing, and it brings tears to your eyes via the entire spectrum of empathetic sentiments. It's also completely devoid of dialogue. It lets the audience experience Carl's entire life with Ellie, and then grounds us in the time after her death when the story really begins. It's some of the most powerful film making I've ever seen, and following it we are shown an incredible adventure story that is effectively tied to the opening sequence such that it's poignancy elevates the entire narrative.

The first ten minutes are almost a film in their own right, expressing a story about life that is at once celebratory and aware of the harshness of reality. By extending the emotional arc of this sequence into the movie as a whole, Pixar enables us to really care about Carl, know him intimately without ever really hearing him speak, and in that way let us share his learning experience. It's almost like a really great sequel, but to the beginning of the movie.

There's also the curious interplay between reality and fantasy within the film. The story of an old man flying his house to South America via balloons is certainly rooted in the fantastic, but before we see this the film firmly roots its narrative in reality. Carl's life as the true story of the film begins is semi-tragic, his enthusiasm for life dead and gone along with the woman of his dreams, his late wife, Ellie. We are literally beaten over the head with this harsh reality as Carl, in a moment of blind, human frustration, hits a man with his cane and draws blood. In a Pixar film. It's almost uncanny to see on the screen, and it assures us, along with the subsequent legal proceedings, that we are watching a film in which the often unfair nature of reality is at play.

Then he takes off with his balloon-lifted house to a Conan Doyle-esque lost world inhabited by talking dogs, nigh sentient birds, and a crazed explorer who is remarkably spry for someone certainly pushing 80 or 90.

The contrast is effective because the film is, at its core, about the human experience, which itself is both fantastic and tragic simultaneously. Carl's adventure shows us that anything is possible, but the circumstances surrounding it remind us of the permanence of time and age, as well as the cruel side of love. The lessons Carl learns while trying to save a female bird named Kevin and a father-less boyscout are applicable to us all, just as the morals in the best of fairy tales transcend their circumstances. This could largely be said of most Pixar films, and indeed most films, but the maturity with which Carl's story is treated, and with which the audience is treated by having it told so unabashedly, make Up something more.

WALL-E is a film that I will buy when I finally get a Blu-Ray player, and I will enjoy its poignancy, beauty, and charm for years to come. I love its story, I love its constant and reverent nods to the sci-fi genre, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. But Up is without a doubt the best film Pixar has ever produced. It's a true fairytale, and a film that I will show my children (god I feel old typing that) in the hopes that it will encourage in them both good moral sense and an apreciation of film.

Alright, so that's a bit of a rant off my back. Been meaning to get around to that for a while now. As I said earlier, I'm spending a few days just sitting and watching movies, so I'm off to start that. First up is Robocop. Can't believe I've never seen that. Afterwards I have Crimes and Misdemeanors (Jo's recommendation), Before Sunset, and Spirited Away. Should be a good day or two, despite the tooth surgery and pain.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Moon: A landing befitting of Apollo 13

So I just got back from seeing Duncan Jones's Moon, staring Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell, and Kevin Spacey. The movie had been pegged as a throwback to classic, 70s era science fiction, and I expected to see Rockwell going batshit insane at a mining facility on the far side of the moon. Working as the sole operator there at the end of a three year contract, his only companion is a Hal-esque AI named "Gertty," voiced by the ever chillingly cool Spacey. All of that sounds great right? The best part is that that promising description doesn't even hint at the true premise of the film, which further grounds the film in traditional sci-fi lore and gives it a unique spin with loads of potential.

Despite all that, though, Jones and co. managed to make one of the most formulaic and disappointing sci-fi films I've ever seen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformers 2: Take Two; or, The Revenge of Michael Bay

I want to start this second post on Transformers 2 off with a few choice quotes. The first comes from Maryann Johnson, whose review of the film I linked to at the end of my last post. In it she astutely points out that,

“… Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is like the most totally awesome artifact ever of the end of the American empire. It’s so us, a preposterously perfect reflection of who we are: loud, obnoxious, sexist, racist, juvenile, unthinking, visceral, and violent... and in love with ourselves for it. And Michael Bay is the high priest of our self-engrossment. … What we have right here is the Easter Island statue of our legacy.”

Once again, her full review is available at
6/062309transformers_revenge_of_the_fa.html, and it's one of the better pieces on the movie out there. Now, somewhat more succinctly, I want to quote David Chen of /Film, discussing Transformers 2 at the beginning of last week’s /Filmcast. In discussing his initial, unformed thought on Michael Bay’s latest opus, he says,

“Basically I think Transformers 2 perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong, not only with America, but with American cinema.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers 2

Ok, so Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen isn't really worth one of my long-winded rants, but it certainly merits a post, especially considering how long it's been since I made a public one. Julian and I had a long chat abut the movie over a few post-viewing drinks last night, so I'm going to try and get out some of the things we discussed on paper, erm, the internet...

Oh, and spoiler warnings, as per usual

Friday, June 5, 2009

Some poems by Philip Larkin

Been reading a lot of Philip Larkin lately. Reading that article on Carol Ann Duffy made me think of him and desperately want to read "Morning at last: there in the snow" last week. It was the first poem by him that I remember really striking me back in high school, and it's stayed with me ever since. It's not available online, so I had to go to the library and take out his Collected Poems since my copy is in Toronto. I'm posting it here, just in case I ever need to find it again and don't have easy access to a library/my book collection.

Morning at last: there in the snow
Your small blunt footprints come and go.
Night has left no more to show,

Not the candle, half-drunk wine,
Or touching joy; only this sign
Of your life walking into mine.

But when they vanish with the rain
What morning woke to will remain,
Whether as happiness or pain.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Maybe later I'll write one myself, though the topic seems a little beaten to death at this point...

Because it's just easier to post this instead of attempt to link to it, Ron Silliman's review of Up:

Monday, June 01, 2009

Up is the finest American full-length cartoon feature I have ever seen, and the first one that approaches the best work of Hayao Miyazaki, whose influence is palpable in this extraordinary project even more than those of Disney or Pixar, the two companies that combined to bring it to fruition. Both have a long and serious commitment to the cartoon form. Disney virtually invented it, as the conglomerate ghost of Uncle Walt loves to remind consumers everywhere. Disney even became Miyazaki’s American distributor principally so that it wouldn’t be threatened by his inventiveness. And Pixar has been, along with Miyazaki, a primary source of innovation in animated film over the past 15 years. Indeed, Bob Peterson, who wrote Up, got his start as a layout artist on Toy Story, Pixar’s break-through feature. His one previous feature-length screenwriter credit was for Finding Nemo in 2003, although he contributed material to Ratatouille & Monsters, Inc. and has served as a voice actor in many animated projects. In addition to writing Up, Peterson voices Dug, the mongrel who decides that elderly Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is his master. Peterson also serves as co-director with Pete Docter, another director with more than a few writing credits – Wall-E, and the original stories for Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Monster’s Inc. Like Peterson, Docter has done pretty much everything one could do in an animated film, and was a dialog director for the English version of Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, another tale about a building on the move.

I’m focusing here on the directors as writers because I think the writing is crucial to Up’s success. Watching the film – the first cartoon I’ve found myself tearing up over (more than once) since I first saw Bambi as a boy – I thought of the first paragraph of my review of Watchmen this past March:

This is the golden age of movie effects, or at least it should be. Computer graphics have been enhanced to the level that anything is possible, anything you can dream of can be presented as a plausible physical reality on film, a phenomenon that leaves directors, screenwriters & stuntmen drunk with the potential. Yet the problem remains that for the golden age to actually exist, these same individuals have to envision it, have to make it happen. Just as early motion pictures owe a great deal of their narrative structures to the imaginations of D.W. Griffith & Sergei Eisenstein, men who figured out how to transform a story into the new medium, the potential of today’s film technology is just waiting for someone to come along and imagine what it truly might be.

Up demonstrates what can be done when that imagination is in play. It doesn’t look all that much different technically than any of the other recent Pixar projects, because its core isn’t technological. This is really a tale about dignity, something all but a couple of the villains have to spare. And about love, loss & dreaming. Like Miyazaki, this film pairs a young person, rotund Wilderness Explorer Russell, with an elder, and like Miyazaki, this film takes a fundamentally surrealist trope – the old man tethered to his house & all it represents – and makes it seem only the slightest bit strange.

The key lies in the director’s taking the time to tell Fredricksen’s back story, from his days as a child when he first met Ellie, the neighborhood Tomboy, with whom he had a long & loving marriage, although not without its problems & even heartbreak, even though they never got to take the great adventure they’d always imagined. This part of the film takes at least a half hour and it motivates the entire picture, which doesn’t really begin until after Ellie’s funeral. The ways in which the old house – it’s in the Oakland/Piedmont area, tho we don’t find this out until very late in the going – becomes Ellie once she’s gone are manifest and handled with utter confidence and balance.

I could tell you what happens next, but I won’t. I’ve raved enough to set expectations unnaturally high as it is. I’m not alone. As I write, Up has a 98 rating (out of 100) at Rotten Tomatoes. The only films with higher ratings there ever have ten or fewer reviews. IMDB currently rates it as a 9.1 (out of 10), a score that ties it with Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. I actually expect these ratings to generally stay high, even tho it doesn’t really qualify as the best movie ever made. (At IMDB, the highest rated animated film is Wall-E at 8.5). Since IMDB breaks its ratings down by demographics, it is also possible to see just who doesn’t like this film: older women. Women over the age of 45 rate Up at just 4.6. When I mentioned that to Krishna, who loved the film, she complained, “But Ellie motivates everything, this movie is about how somebody gone stays alive in your thoughts & your heart.” Fredricksen & the “short postman” (as the evil jungle dogs call him) Russell bond because they have parallel wounds, the boy with an absent father who “travels a lot.”

One thing that did surprise me in the film is a Pixar in-joke: Russell’s love of the ice cream parlor Fenton’s. As everyone in Oakland & Piedmont already knows, the creamery next to the Piedmont Theater is a local institution. Now I’m afraid that it’s about to be inundated. I can’t imagine how anybody who sees the film at the Piedmont (or at the Grand Lake, or anywhere in Berkeley or Emeryville) will be able to resist going to Fenton’s after the show. And I can imagine it suddenly becoming a stop on the Oakland tour for people in Paris, Brussels, Tokyo, and of course Venezuela. While it was a great joke to see it pop up incongruously in the film, I wish the folks at Pixar had remembered Yogi Berra’s comment about a restaurant that became impossible to get into: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too popular.”

As an append to Ron's review, I saw the film in 3D, and maybe a little later I'll talk about how it adds to what I said about Coraline, but in a different way... More to come, this movie was incredible

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Breaking Free: The Continuing Fight for Control of the Future

As I sat on a plane last month on the way to Scotland for a road trip with my father, I used the time to finally get around to watching RiP!: A Remix Manifesto. The fact that the film was offered as in-flight entertainment seemed simultaneously ironic given the subject matter and appropriate considering the airline. I still think it’s funny that Air Canada actually managed to make me feel national pride during a sequence in which Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks with Stephen Harper about tightening copyright laws. Director Brett Gaylor labels Canada as one of the largest breeding grounds on Earth for intellectual freedom, and it’s just this kind of freedom that terrifies the Governator with regards to media piracy and makes me thankful I grew up in Ontario instead of California.

But wait, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Larkin, Williams, et al

Haha, so my idea about making this a more regular thing clearly didn't pan out. I have made a number of private posts, but the last public one was on May 9th, so I'm not doing so great thus far. I have a rant coming on Rip: A Remix Manifesto, but I want to watch that again before I finish and post it. I discuss an anarchist Tintin book pretty extensively in the piece, so maybe I'll read that again too...

Anyways, I'm just posting now because I was struck by something I discovered while trying to read a Philip Larkin poem online. I remember liking him when I studied his works in grade 12, and just now I was reading a Guardian article on Carol Ann Duffy and how her poem, "Prayer" (which I thought was alright upon my first read of it, but not particularly moving), was voted the second most well liked poem among Brits. The first was Larkin's "The Whitsun Weddings," which I haven't read yet, but seeing his name made me want to look for a poem I remembered reading and instantly falling in love with years ago. After a little bit of searching for vaguely remembered quotes online, I found it was called "Morning At Last: There in the Snow," and that it is not available online (presumably because Larkin only died in 1985).

What I was surprised to find out was that the poem never published during Larkin's life, but only made known by the Collected Works that I worked from in high school. An article I read on compared it to a poem that was salvaged in 2002 from a discovered notebook that contained the last works Larkin ever wrote. The poem reads as follows:

We met at the end of the party
When all the drinks were dead
And all the glasses dirty:
'Have this that's left', you said.
We walked through the last of summer,
When shadows reached long and blue
Across days that were growing shorter:
You said: 'There's autumn too'.
Always for you what's finished
Is nothing, and what survives
Cancels the failed, the famished,
As if we had fresh lives
From that night on, and just living
Could make me unaware
Of June, and the guests arriving,
And I not there.

The article describes some biographical reasons for why the poems were likely left unpublished (interesting stuff, read the article at, but what got me more was the description of Larkin's style:

The poem is Larkin's handiwork, unquestionably. The rhyme scheme—alternating off-rhymes and pure rhymes—is a brilliantly conceived formal expression of the poem's conflict: Each stanza plays disappointment ("finished"/"famished") against reassurance ("survives"/"lives"). This tension culminates in the final line, which, by delivering a full rhyme but coming up one metrical stress short, seems to give both failure and fulfillment the last word. Members of the Society declared the poem "moving" and "fascinating." A Guardian reporter ate his colleague's words, calling it a "poem of high quality ... imbued with Larkinesque sadness."

I haven't even gotten to William Carlos Williams' Spring & All, which I posted about months ago, and its assertions about traditional writing having plagiarism as a primary motivation behind it, but reading Larkin again made me recall my musing on the subject from the day I read about it on Silliman's blog. Admittedly I haven't been through Williams' actual piece on the subject, but I still side more in the favour of traditional writing. I just like more traditionally organized writers like Larkin (or Koyczan, to use my earlier example) more than more experimental ones like Atwood (to use my high school point of comparison), though I definitely do value the more experimental for different reasons. I suppose it's the aesthetic appeal of the more traditionally constructed, more musical, more obviously technically proficient works that gets me...

Or maybe I'm misunderstanding what Williams' means by "traditional"...

Only one way to find out

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Some random thoughts and film reviews

I think I'm going to make a policy of dedicating one hour a day in the afternoon (either when I get back from LSAT classes or just general afternoons) to writing for this blog, because the complete lack of updates since I finished school is getting a little ridiculous. Today I leave for Scotland and the whiskey trail my dad and I are doing, which I can't believe is actually happening now, today, for real. I get back on the 18th, and starting on the 19th I will begin being more serious about this thing, because I'm tired of not writing. Also, judging by how poorly I expressed myself in this first paragraph, I need to keep up the regular practice in order to retain any semblance of verbal proficiency.

I've started listening to podcasts more regularly again, especially Poetry Off the Shelf, This American Life, and the /Filmcast. Poetry Off The Shelf just needs to update more, it's an outstanding podcast that I wish I could listen to more and which I look forward to every month. The Poetry Foundation is doing great work, and it's nice to have them in the increasingly present absence (ha) of an educational institution in my life. This American Life had a great show the other day that featured a guy with a really funny story about marriage and getting hit by a car (wish I remembered his name), the musical stylings of Joss Whedon (the low point of the show, surprisingly enough), and a story from Dan Savage about the death of his mother and religion. The latter was one of the most amazing and poignant stories I've ever heard, and I instantly told Mirah about it since she absolutely loves Dan Savage; Savage described his loss of faith and his devout mother's reactions, her support of him, and then her eventual demise. She sounds like the kind of mother you only hear about, the kind who really is as much of a best friend as a mother without any required concessions. It's no wonder that she produced someone as well loved and inteligent as Dan Savage.

The /Filmcast I was really just waiting to both have some time and also see the movies they've been reviewing, and the Crank 2 and Wolverine episodes proved to be well worth the wait. I need to be seeing more movies more regularly, I've been slacking off of late, and I want to start writing about all of them in a general way, reviews, reactions, thoughts, ramblings, etc., just something to get down my thoughts on paper if only to force myself to have them more. Speaking of which, some quick thoughts on the movies I've seen since I got home:

Star Trek: I'll get my complaint(s) out of the way right off the bat, and just say that a few times in the film I felt it treated the audience like idiots by making the subtext and narrative complexities just a little too obvious for us. The visual metaphor during the birth sequence that aligned Kirk with a sace ship, for instance, or the explanation of the alternate reality route the franchise is now taking. For the latter I understand that they need to make this clear, I just felt that the story did this on its own, particularly the scene with Kirk and old Spock, but I might need to see the movie again to be sure. Besides those minor nit pickings, however, I thought the movie was absolutely fantastic, J.J. Abrams has done a great job of updating and streamlining the franchise for general audiences while being respectful of its history and fans. I know that he really already has "made it," but if nothing else I think this film wil ensure that Abrams earns a position as one of the "big names" currently working in Hollywood. He's great at what he does, which is make exciting and intelligent films with heart, and he deserves the widespread respect and attention that this will inevitably earn him. Now if only Joss Whedon could have a similar blockbuster experience...

Crank High Voltage: I read the first movie as a "balls out" parody of action films and video games, and this second one tried to do exactly that same thing. In attempting to do so, however, it became a bit of a self-parody, succumbing to its own conceit and ending up as just another crazy action movie franchise. That said, the movie was awesome and incredibly entertaining. Someone on the /Filmcast review called it a modern exploitation film in the purest sense, and I like that analogy. The movie just takes advantage of every minority, character, actor, gender, taboo, and expectation we have, and I loved every second of it. There is a character who has full body Tourette's syndrome for the sole purpose of having the audience laugh at him because of his disease. This movie is not politically correct, and it revels in that nature. I actually think it didn't go far enough at times, for example: why oh why did they not have Jason Statham fire the shotgun that he shoved up that fat guy's ass? I can't really imagine why a movie like Crank 2 would shy away from the expectations we had of seeing the explosive disembowelment? It's not as though they saved our virgin eyes anywhere else in the film... It perplexes me a bit, but not enough to make me have any reaction to the film besides glowing admiration.

Oh, and on the note of exploitation films I should probably also mention the absolute supreme glory that is Toronto's Trash Palace. It's this tiny little "theatre" run by a few guys who print t-shirts and posters, among other various business ventures, and every Friday they show various 16mm shorts, exploitation films, etc. Last night I watched Horror House, a horror movie from 1968/9 staring Frankie Avalon as one of a group of young adults in swining London, exploring and being murdered at a haunted house on the outskirts of the city. The plot didn't really make sense, and I don't have the time now to really get into its convolutedness, but suffice to say I will be back at the Trash Palace again and again in the future. It really is a twisted version of what I always wanted The Film Society to be in my wildest dreams. I plan to frequent this place often come the fall, and hopefully find some way to get to know the guys running the show, maybe even get involved if possible. Who knows...

Alright, that's all I have time for, time to get off to Scotland!

PS: What the FUCK happened with Wolverine?! Who actually went and saw that thing, how did it earn all that money? I did not see that coming, not for a second... Wow