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Saturday, March 8th, 2014
12:32 pm - Frankenstein
So, last night after a sudden serendipity from scarlettina, I got to see Book-It Rep's production of "Frankenstein".

This was the third production of Frankenstein that I've seen in as many months. Well, experience. I saw the National Theatre's filmed production of it directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Photopatch, then I read the book.

For those not familiar with Book-It Rep, they only do book adaptations and they try and make the adaptation as close to a reading of the book as possible. So this was actually quite a faithful adaptation as possible. Yes, there was some streamlining to the plot, but not enough to ruin the story or drift it too far from the plot (I'll only tell what if asked).

Book-It isn't exactly the richest theater, but they did really creative things with lighting and shadows, just using backlighting and curtains. I even liked the score. The Creature himself had sort an Aztec Zombie thing going on, with long glossy black hair and pale green contacts. Our view of Frankenstein is of course polluted by electricity (more so than in the source), which this production filled in with lit "Leiden Jars" (lightning undoubtedly being beyond their budget).

The actor (who of course scarlettina knew ) playing Victor Frankenstein looked like either Robert Downey Jr. or Orlando Bloom, but was very good as well. Clearly the younger members of the audience were surprised by the creature. They do a good job of balancing out the essentially moral vacancy of both the creator and his creation.

So, if you want to see a good stage production of Frankenstein - and you can get there by Sunday -- go to Book-It Rep. 

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Sunday, February 23rd, 2014
11:30 am - Outrage
So, the other night scarlettina and I were discussing outrage, and I need to refine my thinking. Her feelings were that she no longer could bring herself to the levels of outrage cable TV wants her too (that's right, right?). And this was a program whose views she agrees with.

My feelings are that the anger on cable TV - however much you may agree with the position - is largely a ginned-up outrage circus. The issues discussed almost never get resolved, and even if they are, they never seem to address the underlying structural problem with our government.

Now, what I'm trying to avoid here is the notion of the crank saying "oh, you're angry about that?? Here's what you should REALLY be angry about!!!" I don't want to go all Uncle Conspiracy on this. But the fact of the matter is that the 24 hour cable news networks are not in the business of solving political problem; they are in the business for jacking up the ratings. The more they preach to the angry choir, the more they can charge to advertise Suger Wackys. It's a circus.

I know people who go to bars as part of an organized event precisely so they can yell at the TV of the "opposition" party's response to, say, the State of the Union. Do you really think this does any good? I ask. Talk about futility.

Meanwhile, the "government" is a duopoly in whose best interest that absolutely nothing gets done and that people are angry about that, but blame the other guy. And why is it exactly in a society that prides itself on Freedom and freedom of choice (certainly in the commercial sphere), the third most populous nation on Earth, 350 million people, has only two sizes of politics to fit all???? And don't mention some "third" party like the Libertarians and the Greens. Under the current system, they have about as much chance of being elected to higher office as I do being crowned Miss America.

A few years ago I heard a great NPR interview with Sherman Alexie, and the interviewer, in pro-forma leftie NPR fashion, said "of course we don't have free speech" to which Alexie, stopping her, said "Oh, no - we have free speech in this country. Nobody listens to us, but we have free speech.  

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11:00 am - Into Darkness
So, another Noir City has come and gone this year. Actually saw all 16 films this year, and there were a could of classics (The Third Man, Wages of Fear, Rififi) and a few obscure new revelations (Too Late for Tears was a blast, just for the dialoge, Brighton Rock was new to me, and Hardly a Criminal was the first Argentine noir I've ever seen), and I really wanted to see Drunken Angel because it was the first Kurosawa film with Toshiro Mifune.

The curator, Eddie Mueller, made this year's offerings international, to point out that "noir" was a worldwide phenomenon, mostly in reaction to the World War II. I can see his point, and it recalled what I thought of the excellent but horribly named Mob City, that half the country had some form of PTSD; World War II even shows up in the excellent video game L.A. Noire.

But for me, Noir really grows out the pulp magazines, the hardboiled fiction, and are a great response to the restrictions of the Hollywood production code, especially when telling dark stories. The French term is of course quite clever; the film is both physically and morally dark. Yet for me it reminds me (and going mash up the quote) of Raymond Chandler's valediction for Dashiel Hammett,  that he was grateful for Hammett's taking murder out for the drawing room in the hands of real people who commit it for real reasons, and about the dark alley that the detective must walk down. Film Noir are the stories of the People, more than other of the output of Hollywood. 

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10:13 am - Tales with Hoffman
It seems a lot of the people I know are viscerally upset about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. For myself, well, I think it's sad - pathetic, actually - and intellectually I know it's a loss to art, but I'm having a hard time mustering up all that much sympathy for the man himself.

I don't know whether or not it's an unexpected outbreak of Puritanism on my part, or simply a difficulty in finding sympathy for a man with far more advantages and gifts than I have doing something techtonically stupid. But to be fair I have no idea why he was doing what he was doing (I wonder if he did). Could have been heartbreak, could have been nerves about being able to perform (actors in my experience are not all that stable, often as not, especially regarding performance issues), or, as they say in Trainspotting, "what they don't tell is, drugs feel great!". Given my lifelong avoidance of addictives, I wouldn't know that either.

I do feel bad for those he left behind, especially his kid. They shouldn't have to go through this (which makes me think this was all a monumental act of hubris on his part).

One thing that did come to mind, while attending Noir City , the memory of a film that would slip right into the noir genre, Owning Mahowny, in which a compulsive gambler who's also a bank manager (Hoffman) falls into the hands of a casino operator (John Hurt). Let's just say it wasn't good for the bank. But Hurt makes an observation about compulsive gamblers, that they don't think they deserve to win, and they keep gambling until they loose big because that's the way things are supposed to me. The periods of winning are almost incidental.

And I can't help wondering if that wasn't what was going on.......

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Monday, January 20th, 2014
12:21 am - Not All That Bad
Today I was supposed to get a little more practice driving my car, or at least try and sell some books, but that didn't happen.

(I also had the weekly phone call to my mom, which was less stressful than I'd feared)

There were two pieces of pure joy, for a day when I didn't leave my apartment (What? And go out in the middle of Seahawks madness?)

1) the return of "Sherlock" - loved the title's nod to the original first "return" story.

2) finishing listening to "Ready Player One", the audiobook read by Will Wheaton. Wheaton does a fine job reading the book, but I just realized that perhaps my problem with audiobooks in that I like to put my own imagined voices on books, rather than have a narrator supply them.  The novel itself was fun, if a little too 1980s in its obsessions, but at least at few points it questions these. 

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Monday, January 6th, 2014
5:34 pm - So, My Pain Has a Name...
Bad alternator.

I forget what this will cost me, but somewhere in the 3 figures. But at least I know. 

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Sunday, January 5th, 2014
10:24 pm - Movies - American Hustle
Went to see American Hustle with scarlettina yesterday afternoon. I highly recommend it. Another great David O. Russell character piece. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence look gorgeous in nearly every scene, and they are great. As are Bradley Cooper, Louis C.K. as his bullied boss, a sympathetic Jeremy Renner, and especially Christian Bale. 

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10:17 pm - Time to be a Grown Up
That's my phrase for the year so far. Time to be a grown-up. About things.

Today, specifically, the car.

For those not in the know - my late sweetie willed me her 2002 Toyota Rav4. With a manual transmission. Problem is, I don't know how to drive a stick. And it's a little bigger than anything I would have gotten for myself.

So I don't drive it very often. Ok, hardly it all since I don't know what I'm doing and don't have any insurance for it yet.

Trouble is, it seems to have electrical issues. It had problems before I took possession, and eventually I got a new battery. Which also has refused to start twice now.

So, today, after having a good friend give it a jump start, I parked it at the auto service center just outside my window. Where I can see it right now. So tomorrow will be my first adventure in auto repair. If it's not an issue of me driving  it more.

Time to be a grown-up about the car.

(yeah, I know, I need to come a decision about this car). 

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Saturday, March 2nd, 2013
8:12 pm - Noir City 2013
Another Noir City at SIFF has come and gone…
Eight Nights, 14 FilmsCollapse )

trimmed for your amusement..

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Saturday, October 6th, 2012
6:19 pm - Looper
Went and saw "Looper" today. It's a good old-fashioned bloody (and, oh, I do mean bloody) action thriller time-travel story. I like the director's other work (Rian Johnson also directed the great "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom"), and this is a big step up for him. He's worked with Joseph-Gordon-Levitt before, and I like him. Here he's almost unrecognizable because he shares a character with Bruce Willis, well on his way to being the Charlton Heston of SF films of the early 21st century (there's this, 12 Monkeys, Surrogates, and of course The Fifth Element). And it works.

The less you know about this movie, the better off you'll be. And of course the ad campaign gives away some crucial plot points (bastards!). But suffice to say it hits a number of time travel troupes, from Grandfather paradox to predestination paradox, all while letting the bullets fly. This is a serious R rated movie. There are at least two parental horrors that I counted. But it's a good science fiction movie (even with the occasional "but who thought THAT was a good idea" head scratchers thrown in.

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Sunday, June 10th, 2012
5:39 pm - SIFF 2012 #15 (the end) - Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods
Today was the last day of SIFF 2012, and for my last SIFF film, there was the rather odd Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods, which marks the only time in SIFF history I can recall when there were two Thor-themed kids films in the festival.

Wickie is not a very good Viking. Unfortunately, his father is the chief of their rather silly village (called Flake, but pronounced Flakey, and they are), and in the first shot of the film Wickie is literally trying to follow in his father's footsteps. But Wickie would rather think about things... and negotiate. But the men of the village, in the opening raid, find an ancient text promising "the treasure of the Gods" and Wickie's father is promptly kidnapped by the rival Sven the Terrible, and Wickie - through some arcane law - is now the leader who must rescue him.

This is a silly little film, aimed - I think- at kids in the single digits. ALL of the characters are comic (ok, maybe not one) in some fashion or another, there is NO body count, and it's mostly goofy slapstick. Which I suppose is fine for a German film looking for an international audience. The 3D is fine, though except for one gag involving a dentistry arrow, I'm not sure why it's in 3D. Lord knows it's not The Lord of the Rings but it was amusing, mostly, and it seemed to entrain the kids who were there.

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Monday, June 4th, 2012
10:30 pm - SIFF 2012 #14 - Overheard 2
Tonight's feature was a Hong Kong thriller about stock manipulation, Overheard 2. From what I can tell, even though I've never seen it, this film has little or nothing to do with the film that came before it, "Overheard", although it seemingly also featured the corporate world and electronic surveillance.

The story opens with a huge and illegal stock manipulation underway, being watched over by someone who's bugged the entire office. But don't worry - it's a Hong Kong thriller, there's a car chase soon enough. This chase ends in a crash, which brings in the cops, who find a bug, and because it wasn't them, it brings in a cop so honest he arrested his own wife for fraud. He and his team begin tracking the spy.

It's got a rather complicated plot, and it rides the anti-corporate zeitgeist quite effectively. But it manages never to be dull, which is a strong point in its favor.

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Sunday, June 3rd, 2012
7:45 pm - SIFF 2012 #12, #13 - Dragon Pearl and Xingu
Today's double feature featured two every different films:

Dragon Pearl was an odd little children's film. It was reminiscent of the live-action films for children in my youth. In a prologue we're told about the magical dragon's pearl. Then, two kids, an Australian boy and Chinese girl, join their parents for an archeological dig in China (where is not made clear, but it looks like a nice little modern town, almost certainly a movie studio backlot). Before the son (to father Sam Neil, who gets to speak Australian) even arrives, his father has prevented the theft of a priceless book - sinister forces are at work! Then the kids encounter a comic temple caretaker, who introduces them to a magical temple resident.

I think that the Australians must just be more naive and gentle than we are. That's not a criticism of the movie, just that an American film - certainly a big studio release- would be louder and stupider. There were a lot of kids in the audience (mercifully well-behaved) and they seemed to enjoy it just fine, even some rather small ones (I'd say about 5). The semi-comic temple caretaker isn't a racist caricature, he's just comic (and a master of broom-fu); he's even funny in Chinese.

And that's my first criticism - my suspension of disbelief was snapped by the idea that two Chinese characters would be speaking English to each other even when there was no one else around (there was a little bit of subtitling but I'm sure they didn't want too much). Plus, the acting isn't going to win any awards. But I can see the festival's comparison to Spielberg.

Xingu was a completely different film, an historical epic of mid-20th Century Brazil and the founding of the largest indigenous peoples' park - larger than Belgium - in the world, just over 50 years ago, by a trio of brothers from Sao Paulo. Expansive emerald vistas and surprisingly large native villages appear in this story about civilizations and transformations. Is any contact good contact? There are also complicated questions of sexual politics and sibling conflict. And the cheerfully corrupt Brazilian government (though thankfully the story avoids the complicated twists of Brazilian politics.

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12:23 am - SIFF 2012 #11: Dragon
More kung-fu goodness tonight with Dragon, whose actual Chinese title is more like "Martial Arts Hero". It stars current Sino-Japanese Hong Kong favorite Takeshi Kaneshiro and the awesome Donnie Yen. It involves a seemingly simple case of a humble village paper-maker taking down two hardened criminals. One investigator can't let the case go.

There's a lot of great action in this, but a story as well, that revolves about the question of whether a man's nature is changeable or not. Also if things are what they appear (and how sometimes perhaps they are). Kaneshiro's investigator shares features with Wilhem Dafoe's in Boondock Saints and, at the risk of spoiling the story, there's a recent movie by a Canadian director derived from a graphic novel which Dragon has strong echoes of.

The landscape of South China is also shot beautifully in this film. Just as last night's movie gave the audience a view into upper-class China in the early 20th century, this one shows us rural clan life in southern China. Unlike "Woman Knight", however, the martial arts didn't take me out of the story, because in many ways they were the story. Plus, it's also nice to see Donnie Yen's reluctant sad-sack face about to put the hurt on someone.

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Saturday, June 2nd, 2012
11:20 am - SIFF #10: The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
So last Thursday the SIFF film was The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake, which was a strange little biography of real Chinese historical figure, Qiu Jin. Of course, it's also a kung fu action movie.

On the one hand, it's an excellent recreation, beautifully filmed, of late 19th Century, and a little bit of Japan, and it is educational on the subject of a female Chinese revolutionary.

However, it's the action elements - while well done- that knock you out of the story, because the characters, who were real people, are doing things that strain credulity and taking punishments that simply aren't possible. Now, that's fine for a wushu fantasy world, but when dealing with historical persons.

So, basically, it's two good movies rammed together. I think the same effect worked better two years ago during Bodyguards and Assassins; maybe the kungfu was better. While I enjoyed that movie better, I can recommend this one as well, but just be prepared for a cognitive disconnect.

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Monday, May 28th, 2012
10:48 pm - SIFF 2012 #9 - ELIMINATE:Archie Cookson
Today's morning SIFF offering was the spy farce ELIMINATE:Archie Cookson

Englishman Archie Cookson is a hapless, equipment-destroying Russian translator who works in a sad little underground office who drinks too much on the job. Until someone sends him some secret tapes labeled "KGB" and it seems everyone wants to kill him. Only, Archie used to be a field agent, so while his life is pathetic, he's not entirely defenseless ... just wondering if he should bother defending it.

The movie makes clear reference to "Three Days of the Condor" (the director was there for Q&A afterwards and confirmed this), but the director is also a big fan of Wes Anderson, and it shows too. Actually, I think I like his version of Wes Anderson more than I like Wes Anderson's version of Wes Anderson. The movie intentionally has a decontextualized setting (it was filmed in Bristol; I asked) and non-specific time (there are cell-phones, but also ancient tube TVs and tape-reels). And it's all very darkly funny, full of betrayal, murder, and laughs. It put me very much in mind of the Cohens' "Burn After Reading" (but less complicated). The director was very kind and said we were the perfect audience; mentioning a scene, he said "You gasped, and then you laughed, and that's what I wanted".

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Sunday, May 27th, 2012
9:51 pm - SIFF 2012 #8 - Wonder Women!
So, today's offering, the first with friends, was the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines. My chief complaint is: it was too short.

It was interesting look not only at the history of the foremost comic book superheroine, but also some her sisters from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and the up-and-down ebb and flow of powerful female characters. There's also a discussion of the need for such characters, and Gloria Steinem gets props in my book for taking such characters seriously. There's also a connection with the Riot Grrrl "movement" and the rather sad fate of the term "Girl Power". There's also a more hopeful note of Do-It-Yourself at the end. Look for it, if you can find it.

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11:36 am - SIFF 2012 #5, #6, #7 - Paul Williams Still Alive, Around The World, Animation for Adults
So, yesterday - on of course a beautiful sunny day - was my big three show marathon SIFF day at the Uptown.

Paul Williams Still Alive

I tell people that when I think of the music of 1970s, I think of Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Waits. But that's bullshit. Consciousness of that came much later. No, the soundtrack of my childhood was written by Paul Williams. Yes, I had a Carpenters collection as a boy (deal with it). I knew many of his songs, and like the filmmaker, I knew him from his many TV appearances. He was on the Muppets so much I thought he WAS a Muppet. And, also like the filmmaker, I assumed he was dead.

Actually, he's quite well preserved, still performs (at very humble venues, but he clearly appreciates his audience, and, at 20+ years older than me, he has more hair. He went through a period of drugs and alcohol in the 1980s, which dimmed his star significantly (though I don't think that's the only reason - but I'll get to that) and had come so far from that state that he's now a certified addiction councilor.

This is a strange film, because the filmmaker is not a documentarian, but a Paul Williams fan (he's also a filmmaker of commercials and a few features). This has him go easy on the subject, though not completely. But that's OK; I've got no reason to see the man tortured or "taken down". Sure, the director is curious about the arc of his life, but I think is too concerned about "how it felt" to fall rather than the how. And to Williams' great credit, he still has his great sense of humor, which is an excellent survival tool, and he's looking forward, not looking back. And the director makes his hapless position a central feature of the film, making it much funnier (and I did love his rumination after visiting a place on the State Department's warning list, that maybe the other places weren't as bad either).

For me, a much more interesting question is the whole nature of fame in the 1970s. It was a very weird time. Television was still messing with what used to be fame and glamor, but the fame funnel was still much narrower than what it is today. Fame tried to look classy but just looked like tinsel. But it was only on a few channels. It's a long way from Paul Williams' big break and Snookie, though. Many more channels and means of delivery have made the kind of ubiquity that Williams enjoyed in the 1970s impossible, and it would have been impossible to sustain even if he lived like Mitt Romney or Pat Boone.

Now, THAT would be a fascinating documentary - the change in fame from the 1970s to today.

Around the World

I must say I was somewhat disappointed by this collection. The first was just a filmed version of an essay by Matthew Modine about Jesus, property, politics, and wealth. It was a sermon, basically, and it's not even like the ideas were that original. I think actors and celebrities have as much right to an opinion as anyone else, but they don't have any more right. There was a very quick time-lapse gender-idenity piece based in old-school Bollywood. And then there were two Scandinavian shorts, and two based in East Africa. The Scandinavians were about subjects I really don't need to be reminded of - the Iceland film's about unemployment and economic collapse around the 2008 banking crisis there (and I have little sympathy for someone who won't take the nation's generous unemployment benefits), and the Danish film involves a boy trying to resurrect his dead granddad by sending dead animals into space with paper balloons. Good Times. Yeah, tell me more about death and unemployment. But the East African films were better and more hopeful. Ironic, as their situations were worse. This is especially true in "Asad", set in Somalia but made in South Africa, about a boy who doesn't want to be a pirate, but a fisherman. And he makes a very strange catch.

Animation for Adults

This collection was more satisfying, but it was also a mixed bag. Some were simple to the point of pointlessness (time lapse Washington State fair neon?) and some were incomprehensible (I'm sure the Holocaust was in the Estonian short somewhere, but I'm not sure what was going on), some were inventive but a bit disgusting (the food one), there was short Plymptoon, and there were some that shone. Like "Ambiogensis", and "Caldera", two CGI pieces, and "The Monster of Nix" a fantasy with the voice of Tom Waits as evil (so of course I liked). And funniest of all was "Mulvar is Correct Candidate!", a satire of hyperactive campaign commercials in Bizarro-world speak: "Mulvar is Green Candidate! Mulvar also come in 200 OTHER colors!!".

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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
10:32 pm - SIFF 2012 #4, Only Yesterday
Tonight's SIFF offering was part of the archival program, an old Studio Ghibli release never officially released in this country, called Only Yesterday.

It's a very poignant story, with no real supernatural elements in it. If "Legends of Valhalla" recalled "Shrek" and "The Great Bear" had elements of "Princess Mononoke", this... really doesn't recall any animated film I can think of. Or any film, but that's probably because it's very much a girl's story (that's not a slam on the film, but me). It involves a young office worker's trip to the countryside to farm on her vacation, but most of the film involves her recollections of her Tokyo girlhood at 11 some time in the 1960s.

This was directed by Isao Takahata, director of perhaps the most depressing film ever made, "Grave of the Fireflies" but this strikes a completely different note. Its views of man and nature reminded me of both Kurosawa and Miyazaki (who was the producer). And in my emotional state, the unabashedly romantic ending, yes, had me crying. And I'm sure I wasn't the only one (I can't tell you how or why without spoiling the ending).

Seattle People, this movie will be playing again later in June at SIFF at a Studio Ghibli fest. I recommend you go see it; just don't look for me quite yet.

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Sunday, May 20th, 2012
4:14 pm - SIFF 2012 #3: The Great Bear
Today's offering, The Great Bear, was my favorite so far.

Also a CG animated children's film, this movie was darker and more uncertain than "Legends of Valhalla". While still a children's film, I wasn't certain where it was going.

A boy (about 10) goes on vacation to stay with his grandpa, but unfortunately his annoying little sister comes along too. Granddad lives on the edge of a great ancient forest, and the one rule he lays down is "Don't go into the forest". Guess which rule they break?

While in the woods, they encounter all sorts of odd animals (including mini-moose), especially a bear about the size of King Kong. Then... well, let's just say it's foreshadowing that the boy is reading a copy of "Moby Dick" on the train.

This movie had a surprising amount of emotionally depth (and, yes, I teared up at the end, but I'm rather emotional at the moment), and it features a protagonist who is believable as a kid (he makes a lot of boneheaded decisions). While it's a Danish movie, it is not geographically specific. The animation is a bit more realistic and less cartoonish than in "Legends of Valhalla" or the upcoming "Brave". If it ever gets a U.S. general release, I recommend it.

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