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Confessions of a Cinephile
(Part 3 of 3)

This is the third and final installment of my poorly updated "confessions of a cinephile" series. I suppose this chapter might best be described more as the random ramblings of a cinephile more than an actual confession; however, in order to make up for my delinquency, this installment is going to be long. Originally, I was going to offer an overview of every film I've seen this year but then I realized that I watch a lot of movies (well over seventy this year) so then I decided to just do the movies I saw in the theater. That number turned out to be over thirty. So, I decided to go over some highlights and then give a few cursory comments to the not-so-great moments.

Before moving on to the films, let me start with something that I've been aching to say for quite some time: CSI: MIAMI is the absolute worst show ever made and David Caruso may possibly be the worst actor ever. What a great combination: fecal matter atop of more fecal matter (hey, this is a PG-Rated Blog). A few months ago (yes, I've been harboring this anger for quite some time), I happened to be flipping channels and ran across CSI: Miami. I thought the original CSI was fine although I'll admit I was never much of a fan. Feeling rather lethargic and brain-dead, I decided to watch a bit.

A few minutes turned into more minutes which turned into the entire episode. I didn't even change the channel lest I miss even a single minute of Caruso's sorry excuse for acting. On one level, this was a brilliant piece of television: make a show so undeniably awful that you can't help but watch. Is it possiuble for this show to get any worse? How much of the bottom of the barrel can you scrape? Of course, on the other hand, it's just bad bad bad. There's currently a hilarious (albeit a bit longish) montage on YouTube that really underscores the pure awfulness of David Caruso.

Ok ... so enough about television. As I had indicated above, I'm going to make a quick run through the films that I saw in theaters over this last year and, because I'm such a loud-mouted blow-hard I'll even add a few words about films I haven't seen. So, in no particular order:

  • BRICK: This film was completely under the radar and probably won't merit any awards but this should be nominated for best film of the year or, more exactly, it SHOULD HAVE since the film technically came out in late 2005. BRICK is a film noir style detective story set in a modern, California high school. That might sound kind of stupid but if you can appreciate a television show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer then you will love Brick. Like Buffy, Brick works because it succeeds so well in creating a world unto itself. In other words, the film's milieu is a highly fantastical world but that world is so completely and thoroughlly constructed that it takes no effort to suspend one's disbelief. This is also one of the few films that might actually be better on DVD than in the theaters. The dialogue is, at times, rapid-fire (in typical noir fashion) and tends to employ a unique argot (again, in typical noir fashion) that watching it with subtitles is almost de rigeur.

    The film also features some great surprise performances. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the lead. You may remember him as the young boy, Tommy, in the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. The film also features Lukas Haas who was best known for his role (many years ago) as the little boy in Witness. Emilie de Ravin, who is currently best known as the Australian single mom in the TV show Lost, also makes a brief appearance but the best performance, hands down, belongs to Norah Zehetner (last scene getting her head blow up in the NBC series Heroes).
  • Akeelah and the Bee: I wrote about this film before. This is a perfectly serviceable feelgood film. It will make its occasional cable appearance and ten years from now no one will remember this film. That's fine.
  • The Break Up: Anyone who knows me knows I love romantic comedies. As long as it's not starring Cameron Diaz, I'll see just about any rom-com. The Break Up has got to be the best film of its genre since Harry Met Sally. Perhaps one of these days I'll pontificate on what I love about rom-coms but for now I'll just say that what I loved about The Break Up is the way in which it subverts the genre. The film essentially begins where most rom-coms end: at the point of consummation. I don't think there's any specific aspect of the film that would merit an award except perhaps the screenplay. The Academy will probably ignore this film but I really think this deserves a nomination for best original screenplay. For those who have already seen the movie, make sure to check out The Tone Rangers doing "Rainbow Connection" in Chicago's Grant Park.
  • The Lake House: I guess this would be considered a rom-com as well although it's more rom and not so much com. Perhaps this would be more accurately described as a romantic drama (dramance?). The critics generally panned this movie. If you take a gander over at rotten tomatoes or at metacritics you'll see that most people felt this movie was far too unrealistic or fantastical. I wouldn't disagree; however, I would disagree with the critics' levels of expectations regarding realism. This is a remake of the Korean film, Il Mare. If I had not seen the Korean version (which came out in 2000) then I might not have been as open to the Hollywood version but knowing the source material helps. The ending in the original is much better but I don't know want to give too much away so ... moving on to another Hollywood remake of an Asian film ...
  • The Departed: As just about everyone knows (and if you don't then shame on you), this is an adaptation of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Unlike The Lake House, there's enough "translation" of the narrative such that I would callThe Departed a film based on Infernal Affairs whereas The Lake House is definitely a remake. The first time I saw this film I was thoroughly impressed. Scorcese really seemed to be back in form. There was an energy to this film that I hadn't seen from him since Goodfellas (1990 -- the film, by the way, lost the Best Picture Oscar to ... drum roll ... Dances with Wolves! Man, that hurts just thinking about it).

    Anyways, I loved The Departed so much that I went to see it again a second time just a few weeks later and, unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as good. Without going into too much detail, I think there are two major faults with this film: the music and Jack Nicholson. The film opens in the late 1980s yet features the music of "Sticky Fingers" era Rolling Stones (that's circa 1971 for you young people). This is pretty much the same music he used for Casino as well as Goodfellas. I understand that Scorcese is using music from his own youth but I think he really does need to hire a better musical consultant. The other problem, Jack Nicholson, is indicative of a larger problem consuming Hollywood: acting legends who no longer act but rely purely on their personality. Nicholson, Hopper, Hoffman, Pacino, DeNiro ... all these actors have made great contributions and I don't want to take anything away from what they have done but I really wish people would stop hiring these guys just to be themselves. It gets really annoying. "Hey, we need a frazzled, burned out druggie ... let's get Dennis Hopper!" "This movie calls for a slightly neurotic and quixotic father figure ... let's get Dustin Hoffman." And speaking of Dustin Hoffman ...
  • Stranger than Fiction: This is another film that I think the critics got wrong. Too many people were comparing this to a Charlie Kaufman film (a common phrase was "Kaufman-lite"). Is this film as complex as something like Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? No, it's certainly not but I think calling Stranger a watered-down version of the two Kaufman films does Stranger a disservice because it doesn't take the film on its own terms. Just because the film is based on a high-concept, fantastical premise doesn't mean that it automatically has to fall under the purview of Kaufman. That's like saying that every nonlinear film made today has to be compared to Tarantino.

    All in all, I thought this a thoroughly enjoyable film with an ending that continues to leave me perplexed. There are basically two ways the film could have ended and I'm not entirely sure which ending would have been better. I am definitely looking forward to the DVD release in hopes that there will be an "alternate" ending.

    I went to see the film with a friend, who I shall hereafter be known as "The J." We both rate movies as being "full-price worthy," "matinee-worthy," "DVD worthy," and "Cable worthy." I haven't decided where this movie falls. Part of me thinks it's definitely worth the full price but another part says not. Why don't you go watch it and let me know what you think. Go on, do it now. Stop reading this. Turn off the computer and go outside, for chrissakes.

  • The Queen: Whenever a film focuses almost exclusively on the brilliance of one particular actor, you need to be very scared. It's rarely ever a good sign. This year we've had The Last King of Scotland (featuring Forrest Whitaker whose best role, by the way, has got to be in Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) and Devil Wears Prada (with Meryl Streep). In both instances, you often read comments like, "This film is ok but X's performance alone is worth the price of admission." Well, in that same category is Helen Mirren's performance in The Queen. I haven't seen Devil Wears Prada or Last King of Scotland but in talking with people who have, I get the sense that The Queen is the best of the three.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this film but I kept wondering if this movie might not work better as a television drama. I generally like Stephen Frears' films but this one had me asking, "What about this is particularly cinematic?" In other words, it was a very well-told story but with a couple of exceptions there wasn't much that I would consider visually exciting.

    I also saw this film with The J and we were both highly amused in seeing the Queen of England running about the countryside in a beat-up Range Rover. I think that alone is worth the price of admission.

  • For Your Consideration: If you're a fan of all those other Christopher Guest mockumentaries then you will NOT like this film. This has none of the wit or pace of the other Guest films. I think part of the problem is that this is much closer to being a traditional narrative film rather than a mockumentary. The improvisational style works well in "reality" situations but I don't think it works the same for narratives. The most generous thing I can say about this film is that perhaps Guest is trying to branch into John Cassavetes territory (Cassavetes, by the way, being my all-time favorite director). But really, bottom line, this movie just bored me to tears.
  • The Illusionist: As awful as For Your Consideration might be, however, it doesn't suck nearly as much as this film. I used to have great respect for Edward Norton but lately I've come to think of him as a pretentious hack who happened to luck into a few important roles (American History X, 25th Hour, Fight Club). If you ever want an example of just how pathetic Norton truly is, take a gander over at the film he wrote and directed himself: Keeping the Faith.

    Also, can someone please explain to me why everyone is so ga-ga over Jessica Biel? Sure she's attractive but no more so than about 30 other young starlets and her acting skills are questionable at best. I've heard some people point to Paul Giamatti as the one great highline in the film. I would agree, Giamatti is the one thing The Illusionist has going for it but it is by no means "worth the price of admission." Of course, this will probably rack up lots of awards and make Norton an even more overrated, self-important twit.
  • The Prestige: This is the other "magic" movie that came out in 2006 or, better yet, this is the "good" magic movie. David Bowie has a small cameo role as Nikolai Tesla but really he's just playing himself. I wish Bowie and Sting would both realize that they're very mediocre actors and stop trying. You've made your money now go retire quietly and practice your little tantric moves.

    Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman and Christian "Batman" Bale star opposite one another as rival superheroes ... er, I mean magicians. I've always thought of Bales as a highly underrated actor. It's too bad he got most of his attention for his role as Batman because it overshadows what he did for American Psycho and The Machinist. Hopefully, this film will bump his standing as a serious actor. I'm thinking that he's going to get a nomination for best actor.

    If you've read anything about this film then you've heard about the twist ending. Well, there are a bunch of twists and most of them are fairly well telegraphed. In other words, you know far in advance what the twist is going to be so you sit there smugly, thinking to yourself, "duh. This isn't such a big deal." Well, believe me ... it is. Just when you think you've untwisted all the twists ... kapow!
  • Children of Men: I'm not ashamed to say I like Tony Scott films (such as Crimson Tide, True Romance, Enemy of the State and, yes, even Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II). Scott makes fun, exciting movies that never pretend to be anything more than they are: taut, suspenseful action flicks that allows you to ease your head back into the seat and be entertained for the next two hours. Children of Men, is NOT a Tony Scott film in neither name nor spirit. From the preview, one might think this would be a meaningful film about the state of the world today, about man's place on Earth, about the nature of God and religion in general. Well, it certainly tries to do that for about the first twenty minutes. The rest of the time the film is basically a chase movie and that's the problem. It's a basic thriller that tries too hard to be something more.

    The film was directed by Alfonso Cuaron whose previous two big American splashes have been Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Children of Men is nothing like either of these two films ... not that these two films have much in common. I guess if there is any discernible link amongst the three films it would have to be the color palette. The reason I mention Cuaron, however, is that I'm fascinated by this recent presence of great Mexican directors on America's cinematic landscape. The other big guy right now is Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros). Not sure what to say about this other than it deserves a lot more consideration than a short piece in Newsweek.

  • Inside Man: Much like The Departed, this is a film that had me really excited upon first screening; however, I saw this again when it came out on DVD and was let down quite a bit. Inside Man is still a very good film and I think Spike Lee certainly deserves a best direction nomination (although not necessarily a win) but the payoff just isn't that great. The plot revolves around papers that would implicate a wealthy banker as a war-time profiteer who made his money through the exploitation of Jews who had been persecuted by the Nazis. So much could have been done with this major subtext but it just sits there. As far as McGuffins go, this one is pretty weak.

  • Little Miss Sunshine, Half Nelson, and Thank You for Smoking: I think we need a moratorium on indie films about eccentric white people traveling (literally and figuratively) across paths of self-discovery. I am so sick and tired of sweet, heart-felt movies in which crazy people find a bit of sanity through discovering love, family, or both. Of the three films, I think Half Nelson is the best only because it dares to refuse closure. The narrative comes to an end but without any real sense of real resolve. People don't change in miraculous ways ... they only change enough to keep surviving. That narrative pulse reminds me a lot of some great indie films from the 80s: most notably,Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape and Richard Linklater's Slackers as well as Dazed and Confused. Those movies really did offer something different, something new and bold. A film like Little Miss Sunshine represents, for me, the height of indie film mediocrity (although I was blown away by the little girl's performance).

  • Volver and Cache: Not including the films I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival, I saw four foreign-language films this year. Volver is a great family drama involving three generations of women. I hope Diane Keaton saw this movie. Maybe she'll learn a thing or two on how to make a good film about a family of women. Maybe Keaton will stop making woefully pathetic movies like Hanging Up and Because I Said So. I hate to play the race card but Diane Keaton seriously gives white people a bad name. Cache is an interesting French suspense thriller that might be more interesting if it weren't so frustratingly French.

  • Jet Li's Fearless and District B13: My father once told me, "Asians invented pasta. Europeans just made it complicated." Well, in a similar vein, Asians invented martial arts, the French just made it pretentious. District B13 is a French film with a lousy plot and even lousier acting. It's basically an excuse to show off parkour, a "discipline of French origin " (so proclaims the film's web page). it's best described as urban gymnastics ... imagine skateboarding without skateboards or, better yet, just imagine every Jackie Chan movie you've ever seen. Really, that's all it is. Cool gymnastic stunts that involve jumping walls and staircases. Parkour is yet another reason to be annoyed by the French. Oh yeah ... Fearless is entertaining but if you want to see something truly special, check out one of Jet Li's earlier films, Once Upon a Time in China.

  • Superman Returns, X-Men - The Last Stand, V for Vendetta: Not a good year for comic-book adaptations. Bryan Singer, who had a pretty good streak of films, blows it with Superman. Brett Rattner proves that he should never be given a lot of money to make a film, and the Wachowski brothers continue in their decline. They hit the mark with the Matrix and immediately fell into the cinematic toilet with the two sequels and have pretty much hit rock bottom with V.
  • Casino Royale: Ah yes, Bond is back. Some people seem surprised that Bond has taken this rather dark turn but to me it was inevitable. Once Batman turned into the Dark Knight and Spiderman became an angst-ridden, reluctant hero it was only time that the darkening of heroes would cross the Atlantic. I would have liked to see Q but I can certainly see the logic in taking him out. Q is almost always used as comic relief and that would, of course, take away from the more serious tone of the film. The other issue has to do with the gadgets themselves. One of the cool things about older Bond films were the crazy gadgets but as technology catches up with the movies, it seems that those gadgets aren't quite as cool or insanely ridiculous (like the invisible car from the previous Bond film).
  • Borat: This film provided me with the funniest six minutes of the year. Unfortunately, the other 82 minutes were a complete waste of time. I think Borat may be a perfect example of the power hype can have over us: the emperor is wearing no clothes and Borat is really not that funny. The set-ups are obvious, the jokes themselves incredibly predictable, and whatever social commentary is supposed to come from this film is inane. This movie is targeted at two basic groups: teenagers who dig Tom Green and urban liberals. I suppose that on some level, being able to bring those two demographics together is quite an undertaking. Too bad that's the only thing worthwhile about this film.

    As I was leaving the theater, I overheard some people talking about how shocked they were that people today could still believe in such "ignorant and racist things." Apparently, someone needs to get out of their urban bubble. The fact there is racism all around this country is hardly new or should be hardly new. More importantly, making fun of small-town rednecks for their outrageously prejudiced opinions only allows urban liberal types to feel good about their more discreet forms of racism. Listen, Mr. UW-Pony Tail guy ... next time you're sitting in a restaurant and you notice that the waiters are all white and the busboys are all people of color the I hope you stand up and protest.

Keep checking back as I keep updating the page

  • Snakes on a Plane
  • Lucky Number Slevin:
  • Babel:
  • Sa-Kwa:
  • Dear Pyongyang:
  • Grain in Ear:
  • Americanese:
  • American Blackout:
  • Talladega Nights:
  • Miami Vice:

 

ENTRY DATE: 04/29/06

Confessions of a Cinephile
(Part 2 of 3)

One of the problems of taking so damn long between blog entries is that you lose momentum and focus. I was moving towards a particular direction in part 1 and now that a month has passed by I'm not so sure where the hell I was planning to go and, more importantly, whether or not I really want to go there. So, instead, I'm just going to move in some new directions.

My Humanities 107 course just started this week and the first film we viewed was Blackboard Jungle. This is the film that almost single-handedly created an entire genre: the caring teacher who helps underprivileged (usually minority) kids to strive towards academic greatness. There are a ton of problems with this film (and the general premise) but I won't get into that here. If I did then I'd have nothing to talk about in our next class (in case any H107 students might be looking at this). The only reason I mention Blackboard Jungle is that I just saw Akeelah and the Bee.

Akeelahmight be considered a subgenre in that it reduces the teacher/classroom interaction to one of tutor/student (a la Find Forrester and Goodwill Hunting). Anyhoo, the film is utterly predictable but sometimes there's a great comfort in that. More often than not, we watch movies not because we're curious how it comes out but because we're interested in seeing how we get from point A to point B. In this sense, most films are not unlike professional wrestling: the actual outcome is secondary to the spectacle.

To some extent, this is also why I like romantic comedies so much. You know that the boy will get the girl at the end but the real trick is trying to figure out some way to keep the two separated ... what misunderstanding/circumstance/tragedy will keep our lovers apart?

On a side note, my film-going companion pointed out that Akeelah featured the reunion of Fishburne and Basset (or, as said companion pointed out: "hey, it's Ike and Tina"). Another small point in the film that tickled my fancy was the fact Akeelah almost blows her chances when she can't spell synecdoche. As anyone who's ever taken my class is well aware, this is my all-time favorite word: I love how it sounds, I love what it means, and I even love how it's spelled.

On a down side, two things about the film that irked me ... the giant Starbucks logo. Howard Schultz is now going into the entertainment business. Akeelah is the first film from Starbucks Entertainment. I don't have any problems with Starbucks expanding their business but they could have at least created a new logo. Instead, as the opening titles roll, you get the giant Starbucks COFFEE logo with the words Starbucks Entertainment trailing to the right of the logo. Hmmm ... it just dawned on me that if Schultz has enough money to finance a movie then why doesn't he have enough money to finance his own arena?

The other minor aspect of the film that irked me was the fact the final word of the spelling bee was pulchritude. What the hell kind of word is that for the final word? This is a very basic high-school vocabulary word that you will run into in almost any SAT study guide. In 2005, for example, the winning word was appoggiatura. Now, that's a hard word.

Entry Date:
03/11/06

Confessions of a Cinephile (Part 1 of 3)

I started writing this entry and realized that it was turning out to be exhaustingly long so I've split it up into three parts.

I love movies. No, let me take that back. To paraphrase Woody Allen (from Manhattan ... a far better and less appreciated film than Annie Hall), I lurrrrv movies. I heart cinema and I especially heart Seattle's CINERAMA theater (see picture). In an era of multiplexes, it's nice to be able to walk into a single-screen theater with a large screen and insanely loud sound system.

There's also something particularly nice about being in such a large gathering of people. I normally hate crowds but I like movie crowds (except for the gabby s**thead who refuses to turn off his cellphone and insists on sharing the movie experience with his friend on the other end of the phone: "This scene is totally kicking, yo.")

The French philosopher and semiotician (as well as one of my intellectual heroes), Roland Barthes (that's the fella on the lower-left), once wrote about the ceremony of cinema: when the lights begin to dim there is a first hush of the audience -- conversations end or begin to trail off -- so that by the time the first images flicker on the screen, the hum of the audience has all but disappeared. I'm not really doing justice to Barthes' prose but you get the point (I hope).

Anyways, I bring up to topic of movies for two reasons: I'm teaching a film course next quarter (and if there are any students reading this, it's a two-credit course ... apparently, the school messed up the course bulletin) and the Academy Awards just happened.

Both of these events have made me think quite a bit about why exactly I love films so much and if I love it so much why I chose to study literature and not film (although I did have film as a minor concentration). I certainly love the narrative function of both mediums and while they each do it differently (the word vs. the image) I can't say I prefer one over the other.

So, why literature? Well, I think part of it has to do with the simple physicality of the written text. Even though we have DVD players being installed just about everywhere and the Video iPod is making portable visual entertainment rather ubiquitous, there's just something wonderful about the very tactile experience of holding a book, shoving a paperback in your pocket, or being able to engage directly with a text by writing in the margins.

I certainly don't believe that watching films (or television) is inherently a passive experience. I think most people watch movies with very little visual knowledge and thus don't have a critical appreciation of what is going on in front of them but I also believe that it's possible to read with very little critical engagement as well. In other words, there's nothing inherently passive or active about reading a book or watching a film; however, with that said, I do feel a text allows for greater intellectual engagement than a film ever could. Gore Vidal once wrote in The Atlantic Monthly (sorry, I don't have a citation handy), because films consist of moving images they are inherently meaningless. While I think he's being a bit extreme, I do agree with the general sentiment.

Come back for Part II: Why I love films and hate people.

Entry Date:
02/10/06

The Rolling Stones (who, by the way, haven't been relevant since 1982's Tattoo You ... seriously, try to think of one song by them since that album) once sang, "what a drag it is getting old." As much as I like to joke around about my "advanced" age, I think getting old is anything but a drag. Certainly, I think we should celebrate the fresh and new perspectives that youth culture can bring but, at the same time, we have to understand that sometimes those fresh and new perspectives are just plain dumb.

Case in point: me (that picture is me from about ten years ago ... I was thinking of putting in a really young picture but I was too lazy to go find one). Right now I'm teaching Terry Eagleton's Introduction to Literary Theory in my Lit 292 seminar. Over winter break, I dug up my old copy of Eagleton's text. I originally purchased this back in 1987 (when I was just starting college) and it was probably 1989 when I had last read it. Well, in preparing for 292 I not only had to re-read the book but I had to go through the embarassing ordeal of re-reading my old marginalia. I have to add that there were a few moments in which I was rather impressed with some of the insights ("wow, I used to be smart") but more often than not my notes just made me cringe. I made assertions that I now know to be just plain wrong. Oh, the naivete was just plain painful.

Of course, being a glutton for punishment, I just had to inflict some more pain on myself and dig through some old journals. Warning to any students who might be reading this: keeping journals is a good thing but just make sure never to go and revisit them. If my Eagleton marginalia was embarassing in its intellectual shallowness, my journals were embarassing in the intense melodrama. I know kids hate being told, "oh, it's just a phase. You'll get over it." But, the fact of the matter, is that it's absolutely true: you will get over it and, most likely, whatever you're experiencing now just won't matter a whole lot in a few years. In one journal entry, I went on and on about the dissolution of a relationship. At the time the break-up seemed so traumatic but, truth be told, I had completely forgotten I had even gone out with this person. In fact, it took me about ten minutes to remember who the heck I was even talking about. If it hadn't been for my journal, her name would have been completely lost to me.

Don't get me wrong: I think it's a terrible idea to temper one's passion and emotional intensity and perhaps that melodrama was a good learning experience (another phrase I'm sure young people just hate to hear). But, when looking back at those old journals I couldn't help but recall George Bernard Shaw's famous quote, "Youth is wasted on the young." If there was some way to combine the energy of being young with the perspective of experience and age ... well, that would be just grand. Of course, at this point, I would just be happy with anything that could stop the body's healing process from slowing down so I could once again ride my skateboard without fear of being in pain for weeks.

Portrait by
Jan Valentin Saether

Despite appearances or first impressions, I am not a curmudgeon. I'm all about having a good time, letting loose, and just being plain out wacky and it's precisely for those reasons that I hate New Year's Eve. Let me rephrase, I just don't hate it, I loathe it with such a ferocity that I would gladly give up two of my limbs if it meant that there would be no more New Year's Eve celebrations. Actually, I'd be willing to give up a lot more than just two limbs but this is a PG-Rated blog so let's move on.

The Russian linguist and philosopher, Mikahil Bakhtin (that's the fella on the left), once coined the term carnivalesque to describe the ways in which social and political institutions are able to maintain control through moments of sanctioned chaos. The specific example Bakhtin used was the Catholic tradition of Mardis Gras. One way the Catholic Church reinforced their power over the people was to allow wild festivities such as Carnival. Simply put, it's all about giving people the minimum amount of freedom so that they remain subservient to system (you know, like the five-day work week).

All this is a rather long-winded way of saying that these socially organized moments of chaos always seemed rather pathetic to me as if people were incapable of actually having a great time on their own, without some kind of organized director leading them. Everything is sponsored by some corporate entity (think MTV's lame-ass "Spring Break"). It just seems that there are less and less truly authentic experiences. Everything is so processed that we no longer have any sense of what an authentic experience might actually feel like and that's just plain sad.

 

Entry Date:
12/19/05

In his short story, "The Library of Babel," the great Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, describes the universe as a series of interconnected, book-filled, hexagonal rooms linked together by a series of stairwells and shafts. The narrator wanders aimlessly throughout this labyrinth, feeling tortured by the seemingly overwhelming pointlessness of this library universe.

Although I can't recall any specific examples, I know that Borges' story has been used ad nauseum as a metaphor for the internet. It's both rather obvious and somewhat misleading. Unlike the library of Babel, in the internet you are not restricted to linear movement. You can jump from any one point to another to find the exact information you want. On the other hand, it is also very easy to wander about aimlessly for hours on end.

So, what does all this have to do with the picture of the Chinese Starbucks on the left? Well, a few days ago, as I was meandering about the cyber world, I bumped into this crazy web page about some guy who is attempting to visit and order a cup of coffee from every Starbucks in the world. Apparently, there is also a film being made about this guy's adventures (which are still ongoing). At first, I found the premise incredulous, then I found it thoroughly sad and pathetic, but now I'm just rather apathetic about the whole thing. No, let me take that back, not apathetic: I'm ambivalent.

Overly obsessive and driven people like this Starbucks guy always make me think of Sherwood Anderson's short-story collection Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson imagines a community in which each person represents a certain grotesquerie (that's Anderson's own term as he subtitled his collection The Book of the Grotesque). By grotesque, Anderson did not mean gross (as in, blood dripping zombies or French people with poor hygiene), instead, Anderson was referring to people who were so overly pragmatic, so devoutly believing that they became distorted by their single-mindedness. Whether it be fundamentalist Christians, left-wing atheists, or insane coffee pursuers, one can become spiritually disfigured by an overbearing single-mindedness. I wonder sometimes where is that line between a positive sense of determination and downright, freakish obsession. If you find it, let me know. (By the way, another Ohio resident, Harvey Pekar, touches upon the same ideas in his works. Maybe it has something to do with the water there. If you haven't seen the film American Splendor then shame on you and go rent it ... now ... turn off the computer, walk out your front door, and rent the damn movie. Go!)

 

Entry Date:
11/28/05

The little fella on the left is my two-and-half-year-old nephew, Andy. The furry one on the right is Barney, my uncle's dog. This picture was taken this last Thanksgiving when everyone gathered, as they usually do, at my parents' home. This was the first time Andy got to meet Barney. Initially, little Andy was a bit timid around Barney but within an hour you couldn't separate the two.

I find kids fascinating: the never-ending energy, the infinite curiousity, their utter lack of self-consciousness, and just simply the ways in which they pick up ideas or concepts. Like most kids (especially of young, first-time parents and first-time grandparents), Andy has been subject to lots and lots of photo shoots. At one point he thought smile was the word for camera because everytime anyone lifted a camera in front of their face there would always follow the requisite request: "smile." Well, apparently, this little fella has become so accustomed to being in front of the camera that he can sense an ideal photo opportunity.

After walking Barney around the house for ten minutes, Andy put him back in the basket and then proceeded to nest himself alongside Barney. As soon as everyone saw this they all laughed and said, "how cute." Realizing this was his cue, Andy immediately responded, "hey, take a picture. Take a picture everyone." As I went to retrieve my camera I couldn't help wondering, "hmm, is this a sign of insight or impending vanity." Shudder.

Entry Date:
11/26/05

This photo was taken in Manzanillo, Mexico, a small fishing and resort village whose only international claim to fame is that approximately fifteen minutes of the film 10 was filmed there. My friend Heejay (she's the one on the right) and I had gone down there in June of 2004 to attend Peter and Carol's wedding. That's Carol on the left -- the one in red, getting funky.

I can't recall what music was playing at the time this photo was taken but it certainly wasn't Prince because if Prince were playing I would have been too busy cutting the proverbial rug to have taken this picture. I do remember that the sound systerm never sounding quite loud enough but everyone was having such a good time it didn't really matter at all.

The wedding was held in this wonderful villa where the wedding party were staying. Included in the villa was a beautiful infinity pool. After everyone got thoroughly sweaty and gross in the Mexican summer heat, we all cooled off by jumping into the swimming pool -- while still wearing our suits and dresses. Destroyed a very nice pair of pants ... kind of miss them now.