Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Joyeux Noel

Amy and I are leaving for Paris Thursday morning. We have a rather busy Wednesday so I suspect I will not have time for writing. I don't believe I will have internet access in Paris so I will not be writing again until around January 2.

All of this is to say I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Hug your mom, kiss your dog and please, be careful people!

Monday, December 20, 2004

A Short Post

This will be short. I have spent most of the day quite ill and I don't expect I have the strength or mental capacity to write a whole lot at this point. My blog pal Foolish Knight has asked everyone for their top ten songs of all time. I posted mine in his comments which you can read here although it is not the final version. i have a very hard time with the term "favorite." Mainly because it makes me try to say one thing is better than the other. If I say Star Wars is my favorite movie then it means I think To Kill a Mockingbird is not as good as Star Wars. When this is not at all true. Choosing ten songs was amazingly difficult. There are a whole lot of other songs that I enjoy just as much as those ten. Then there are a million more that I enjoy at certain moments to make me happy or sad or whatever...All this is to say I hope to make a new list on this site going over a whole bunch of my favorite songs/artists.

Being sick I slacked off even more on my movie watching. I still haven't finnished the Abyss and didn't get started on this weeks movie: About Schmidt. And now there is Christmas to content with. Maybe I'll get back on track in the New Year.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Poseidon Adventure Review

There are a few movies I remember being surprised at as a child. These were movies that I saw on television or Beta/VHS that were made before my time and not meant as children's stories. Some of them were genuine classics like To Kill a Mockingbird that instilled in me a sense that beauty and art can be found in a film. Others were like the Poseidon Adventure that while not particularly masterful films still showed me that there were many other films out there besides the "family" films being churned out at the local cineplex. These films eventually opened up to me the world of cinema.

I first saw the Poseidon Adventure at Grandma and Papa's house. I had been dropped off by my mother for an afternoon while she went shopping or some other mundane task. After flipping channels awhile I came across this great sinking ship and fell mystified into a grand epic adventure. To this day I recall my mother coming home during the final 20 minutes or so and me making her stay because I just had to see the ending. She had seen the film, but praised it as a classic adventure and allowed me to see the end. Periodically I have caught bits and pieces of the movie again on cable and always pause to watch a scene or two. I bought it in a bargain bin a few months back and joyfully added it to my collection. Last night Amy and I decided to watch it.

Watching it on DVD I realize this was the first time I have ever actually seen the very beginning of the movie. As a child I caught the picture 10-20 minutes into and all subsequent viewings have all been by catching it part way through on television. I am afraid the movie as a whole doesn't hold up all that well to my childhood memory. Oh, it's a big, grand adventure, but like the ship of the movie, it starts to sink under its own enormousness.

It has a basic 70's disaster movie plot. Big ocean cruise liner is hit by enormous wave and is turned upside down, killing nearly everyone. A few survivors are followed as they make their way up (down?) the ship and try to escape. It is way over the top and it almost seems as if the director Ronald Neame told his actors to ham it up in every scene. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine do their best howling at each other in every other scene.

The script follows very basic rules. It rolls like something you would see in a basic screenwriter's class. You start with an establishing shot, follow it with a basic introduction of your main characters while making sure their essential character motivation is directly handed to the audience in their first few minutes of screen time. Then you set your plot into action. It's disaster is even set into action by an evil corporate leader. Leslie Nielson plays the good captain who is hounded by a goon sent from the ships corporate owner to ensure it ports for its final time on the right date. The corporate goon orders Nielson's captain to increase speed though Nielson argues this will surely cause the old ship to sink. The corporate goon, of course, wins and sets up the disaster. On a sidenote it is unintentionally funny to watch Nielson in a serious role when everyone knows his slew of later, goofier roles in movies such as the Naked Gun and Airplane.

This film acts like it invented implausibly. Gene Hackman reverend moves, acts, and orders others around like he's the ship's captain though he has no previous knowledge of how the ship's design, or conceivably the physics of a cruise liner. Yet his motivation for acting like this was set up earlier. Before the ship sinks we get a sermon from this unorthodox preacher who believes in helping onesfelf instead of relying on Divine intervention. Likewise all the other characters follow along in their previously established types, never budging from this set character mold and certainly not evolving in any meaningful way.

All of this is not to say the film isn't enjoyable. It is not high art after all. It knows full well it's purpose is to entertain the audience and nothing more. It does this quite well. Though its plot is strained it moves along with a quick pace and maintains a claustrophobic tension throughout. I have not seen many of the other disaster movies of the era so I cannot place the Poseidon Adventure accordingly amongst their ranks. But as an action/adventure flick you could do worse.

Friday, December 17, 2004


One More Friday Night

Wow! It's been a few days since I last wrote. I keep promising myself to write everyday and I keep not doing it. I can't say that I have been busy, but I guess I have been busy enough to keep me away.

I still have no managed to watch all of the Abyss for my review. I guess I have been slightly busy. Hmmmm, what have I been doing since Tuesday? Wednesday is Amy's day off so we piddled around, had French class, went to church and planned our Casablanca trip. We spend most of the afternoon, on Thursday, at Elizabeths. There we had lunch and made tons of cookies. Well, I should say Elizabeth and Amy made tons of cookies while I sat on the couch, read, and ate the cookies. Daniel and Laura joined us a little later and we all sat around eating cookies. They were all going to the departmental Christmas party that night while Amy and I went to Casablanca. It was very disenchanting because weeks ago Amy got an e-mail inviting a few folks to go to dinner at this nice restraunt. The invite said nothing about it being a Christmas, or year end party at all. It sounded more like Amy's boss had found a cool restraunt that had excellent tarte flambees and wanted an excuse to go than a departmental party. So Amy and I decided that we really couldn't afford to pay the estimated 50 Euros to have tarte flambee. That night we realize it is in fact a Christmas party and everyone is going! Typical French to make a vague invitation and expect everyone to know it is a Christmas party even if there is no way we could know that.

Interestingly enough on our way from Elizabeths we ran into Amy's boss. He was quite dissapointed in us not going to the party, but we did our best to explain our misunderstanding. No kidding ten minutes later in the exact same spot we ran into our friend Nadia. No, we weren't standing in the same spot waiting. We had actually gone to the house, grabbed a sandwich and headed out to see Casablanca. Totally weird to run into someone else in the same spot not but a few minutes later. We often run into people we know on the streets of Strasbourg. It's got a half million people in it, of which we know maybe 20, but at least once a week we bump into a familiar face. Ah, France!

Casablanca was, of course, wonderful. I will wait to review it until I watch it again on DVD. This viewing was pure joy and I didn't bother myself with an objective view. Unlike Touch of Evil, Casablanca was playing in the big theatre instead of the crappy basement theatre. It is one of those old gorgeous theatres. It has big red curtains, a real balcony, and fairly ornate architechture. The print of the film was pretty bad. There were lots of crackles in the soundtrack, lots of smudges in the picture and several moments jumped forward a second or two, missing some classic lines of dialogue. We went with Jason, Ivica, Pamela and Jill all of who had never seen it before. It's such a pleasure to me to watch classic films that I love with people who have never seen it. During the scene where Rick and Ilsa are seemingly getting back together I could hear Pamela making a ruckus. At first I thought she was making fun of the movie and not liking it. Then I realized she was enjoying the film and was upset that Ilsa was with Rick while still married. I wanted to whisper to her that it works out in the end but she was too far away. After the movie she was beaming with joy over the fact that they did the right thing. I have talked to a few "younger" people about Casablanca before and found they didn't like the ending because it wasn't the traditional happy ending. It was quite unique to find Pamela thrilled for the same reason. All in all everyone seemed to love the movie. Ivica struggled with some of the dialogue because English is not his first language and because of the poor quality of the print. Although he did tell me that 'that Rick is a pretty cool guy." I had to agree.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Books I've Read Since September 2004

This started as a list of books that I have read since I came to France in September 2004. Eventually I started rating them and writing mini reviews, which in turn became long reviews. I know the format of this page stinks, in time I'll work something better out. Until then scroll down for the reviews.

31 Songs by Nick Hornby
Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Feilding
The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx
The Corrections by John Franzen
Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
The High Window by Raymond Chandler
Fox Fire by Joyce Carol Oates
All Around this Town by Mary Higgins Clark
Glass Key by Dashielle Hammett
Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Idiot Girl's Action Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Me and Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti
Girl with the Pearl Earing by Tracy Chevalier
Trance State by John Case

Read in 2005
Playback by Raymond Chandler
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle ***
Peter Mayles account of his first year in the South of France. It is filled with humerous accounts of the locals, rebuilding his house and delicious meals. He describes the French cuisine like art. Nearly every page leaves your belly rumbling and mouth watering.

Forrest Gump by Winston Groom **
A few months back I watched the movie again and was well underwhelmed by my memory of how magical it was. The book didn't do much to bolster my opinion. The plot is similar even if it differs in many places. Forrest is very much the idiot sevant, but his adventures are mostly different. The book is funny in many places, and several times I laughed out loud. However, it fell short in trying to make me care about the characters or in its attempt at satire.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris ****
This was my second time reading this book. If anything it has proven even funnier the second time. Sedaris has an eye for detail and a way of finding humor and insight in the sordid details of his life. It is so hard to distinguish where his reality ends and fantasy begins. And surely there is some fantasy for some the stories he tells are so bizarre they have to be made up. Having now spent 4 months in France and dealt with trying to understand the culture and the language, I found the essays on France to be the most interesting. There are pages of texts where I laughed out loud, read again with tears rolling down my cheeks, then sought out my wife so I could read them to her and laugh all over again.

Animal Farm by George Orwell ****
This was kind of a reverse 'negative utopia,' for animals. That is to say, here the characters begin their story by creating a real utopia, but in true Orwell fashion, that utopia is slowly destroyed and a darker, crueler world arises. Not nearly as good as 1984, this is never-the-less classic stuff. I can't help but root for the characters in Orwells writing knowing full well that it won't turn out good for them. This, still manages to crush my spirits by books end.

Rabbit Redux by John Updike ***
3/4ths of this is very good. It sinks somewhere in the middle with a lot of dialogue about race issues. I understand that the characters need to undergo change. But do you have to give me 40 odd pages of dialogue for me to understand that change? The rest of the novel is pure Updike. Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is back 10 years after the events of Rabbit, Run. He is still the American everyman. And still very much without a clue about his life. Choosing to allow life to happen to him, rather than make a choice. There is a social commentary weaved into the commentary, this time pinned into the fabric at the tumultous end of the 60s. It's weaved a little too thick here, in some places, so that it feels more like a treatice than the background for a good story.

The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon ****
I started reading this book in February or March of 2003. For one reason or another I was only a couple of hundred pages into it when it was due back to the library. As is usual with me, I decided to give up reading it and turn it in, rather than recheck it. This is not a comment on the quality of the read, but rather a quirk in my own existense. I was fairly busy at the time and I figured that if I only made it through 200 pages in the first three weeks, another three weeks wouldn't get me to the end of this 636 paged tome. Finding it in the library here, I decided to pick it back up. I'm glad I did, and grateful I managed to finnish it this time.

Chabon has created a magical book. Slightly based on the history of the comic book, and partly a fictional account of a small group of Jews during the atrocities of Hitler. Though, as Chabon admits, he chooses to ignore facts and history as it suits his story. It is the story of the friendship between Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay. The story begins with Joe having fled Nazi run Prague for the comforts of his cousin, Sam's comfortable apartment in Brooklyn. They quickly become great friends and enter into the burgeoning comic book world.

Chabon writes beautifully crafted sentence that course forwards and bacwards through time to tell a multi-faceted story. His pen pauses in moments of time during the present and pulls the reader into a back story of Prague, the Kavaliers and comic books. Joe Kavalier's story is beautifully told, encompassing a stint as a magician and escape artists before travling from Prague to New York by way of Asia and California. The story of how Joe traveled to New York by way of a golem filled box is hilarious, frightening and poignant. For the first 2/3s of the book, Chabon's pen doesn't let the reader down from it's magnificent begining.

Yet it is about 2/3s of the way in, that the story begins to faulter. In an effort to tell a grand, epic story, Chabon treads beyond the beautifully told past, and magnificent present, into a less than glorious future. Seeing his characters rise from humble, troubled beginings to a stellar, triumphant present, only to have them fall again was a mistake. It's not so much the fall that hurts the story but the rushed way it is told. The novel moves at a slow pace, giving many sumpuous details and never minding to slip into the past for a revealing story. Yet, when it moves to the future it seems to force things along. You can feel the writer telling his story to point towards his final concluding point, rather than just allow the story to unfold. To really flesh out the future section he would have needed another few hundred pages. I would have preferred him to wrap up the story leaving out the future scenes. He does manage to salvage the conclusion and bring his characters into fully realized beings.

Double Indemnity by James M Cain ****
Of the great trinity of American crime fiction (Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Cain) James M Cain is the only one who told his story from the perspective of the criminal rather than the detective. Just as you know in a detective novel that the detective is going to catch the crook, here you know Cain's criminals are going to be caught. But that doesn't make you root for them any less. They are sad, pathetic, often cruel and yet strangely sympathetic. Double Indemnity's lonely insurance man is a schmuck, but there is an everyman charm in his guillibility. Cain writes it as if anybody; your neighbor, brother, or even yourself is just a sly woman away from committing murder and fraud. Tough, gritty and beautiful.

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk * 1/2
Serenade by James M Cain **
How to Be Good by Nick Hornby * 1/2
Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux *** 1/2
The Hound of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ***
Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett **1/2
Jane Eyre by Chalotte Bronte ****1/2
The Little Sisterby Raymond Chandler ****
I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe ***1/2
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr *****
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer ***1/2

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway *****

American Tabloid by James Elroy ***1/2

The African Queen by CS Forester **

The Simpsons One Step Beyond Forever: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family...Continued Again

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mardi Malade

Living’s mostly wasting time
And I waste my share of mine
But it never feels too good
So let’s not take too long
You’re as soft as glass and I’m a gentle man
We got the sky to talk about
And the world to lie upon
--Townes Van Zandt

A late update today. I've been rather ill most of the day and have not felt like writing much. I did manage to do quite a bit of reading, watching a lot of old Simpsons episodes, and do a lot of napping. It's a hard life, I know.

I've always been a bit of a voyeur. Not in the dirty, peeping kind of way. I find myself looking into lighted windows, watching people pass me by, and studying others while in a restraunt or store. I find the behavior of others utterly fastenating. I still remember standing in line at Wet n Wild or Universal Studios in Orlando, FL when I was 14 or 15 and being amazed at all the people. There were gobs, and gobs of people everywhere. We would stand in line and I remember thinking, as I stared at the same people in front and behind of me, that this is the only moment in my life I would ever see these people. But they all obviously had their own lives. It was a profound moment for me to realize that the world is full of people and I will never know in the mildest sort of way. Since then, I guess, I've always liked to watch others when they don't think they are being watched. These days as I look out my window and catch glimpses of others in the apartment across the street I find myself thinking of language. The people over there are just like everyone else, more or less, but I realize that if I could hear what they were saying, if I was that fly on the wall, I would have no idea what they were talking about. Oh, I might catch a word or two, I might gather some gist through gestures and will, but mostly I would just sit confused.

If there is anything I have learned in France thus far it is the utter complexity of language. I speak, in English, every day without thinking about it. Words fly off the tongue and they are gone, meanings are grasped but the words dissappear. Yet everyday I hear people speaking in French and have no idea what they are saying. I know those strange words have meaning for others understand and respond, but its like some old mystical song to me. Like that scene in Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbins plays the bit from the opera. It's like the words are a cryptic puzzle and I'm missing the key.

I suppose I am learning little pieces of the language at a very slow pace. It's amazing at how nervous I am when trying to speak it to others. Last night I had my french lesson in a Subway. After Ann bought her sandwich I went over to buy myself a drink. I was literally nervous over ordering a Coke. I didn't even have to ask for it politely, poiting towards the can on the shelf and saying "Coca" would suffice. But I had no buffer with me. I feared that the lady behind the counter would not be satisfied with my simple order and may ask for more information. Or that she may be friendly and ask about my family, where I was from, or any number of pleasantries. I don't want to appear as some rude American who refuses to say "I'm fine thanks, and you?" Relations between our countries are difficult enough without me adding to the trouble. What if she asks if I want a sandwich and a bag of chips and a cookie? My usual response to French I don't understand is to smile and nod politely, this could be confused as acceptance of an order I can't possibly afford. When I finally did order the Coke the two ladies whispered to each other, pointed upstairs to where Ann was and then one spoke in English, "you get free refills with the meal." Referring to the meal Ann had ordered. I explained I wanted a Coke for myself and somehow felt let down that I had not been challenged with the language.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Another Manic Monday

I just posted my 2010 review. Got partially through a mini review of Touch of Evil and the Corrections before some weird glitch happened and it was deleted. We'll see if I write it again...Today I plan to watch the Abyss so keep an eye out for that review in a couple of days.

We spend the weekend bumming around. Amy went to the girls to make Christmas decorations and so I watched 2010 a little earlier than planned. We "rented" Bridget Jones Diary as well and watched it last night. Not sure yet if I'll actually review it.

It snowed a little here. Nothing to write home about. The cars have a thin layer and you can see it in grassy area of the cities. I swear to you every single car that has a layer of snow on it also has writing in that snow. It's like there is this whole pack of snow grafiti artists who lie in wait for the first snow and then attack with smiley faces, santa clauses and a wide variety of perversion. Very odd it is.

Just found out Amy only has one class today so I might not get to watch the Abyss as planned. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Review: 2010

To read my concept of reviews click here.

Like several movies in my DVD collection I did not purchase 2010. It was a movie my folks owned and decided to get rid of. Never being one to turn down a movie, I took it.

I watched 2001 for the first time in college. I had no intention of seeing the sequel because I knew it was not made by Kubrick and felt it would probably be very inferior. However, my roommate, decided to rent it and I watched it. Even though my parents gave it to me a couple of years ago, I have had no desire to actually watch it. But since I have vowed to review all the movies in my collection I did my duty this evening. I was mildly surprised, but not at all impressed.

In watching this movie I did my best to remove the idea that this is a sequel out of my head and just tried to enjoy it as a science fiction film. This was increasingly difficult since a great deal of time in this film is spent going back and explaining all of the events in 2001. This is probably my greatest complaint about the film. Where 2001 works not by not giving any answer, 2010 works too hard to give meaning not only to itself, but also 2001. Where 2001 is silent, allowing images to tell the story, 2010 fills nearly every moment with noise.

The visuals of 2010 were very well done. I felt the images of the space ships, planets, and space travel were quite nice. The special effects, in general, were also very nice. The film does get severely dated with it's cold war subplot. Americans and Russians working together in space while their political counterparts wage war on the Earth below may have been effective at the time, but today it only seems cheesy.

I have not read the books to 2001 or 2010 so I do not know if their explanation of HAL's "malfunction" are the same as the movies. I can't help but feel disappointed with the explanation either way. I have always felt that part of the power of 2001 was how it didn't answer many of the questions it asked. How there was no explanation of where the monoliths came from, no explanation of what went wrong with HAL, no explanation of what the long sequence at the end meant. It's as if by not giving us explanations, the viewer has to fill in the gaps. In 2010 we get more answers than we need. Any real explanation of why HAL went bad, no matter how logical, seems to dull the experience of watching 2001. Now again, I haven't read the books, where I believe those very things are explained. So those who have read the books may not feel the same way, but this is my experience.

In the end, that is the better way to sum up my feelings on this movie. If you have never read the books, but find 2001 to be an immensely satisfying film experience then 2010 is most likely to be disappointing. However, if you have read the books and have already had much of the meaning behind 2001 explained to you, then you may find more enjoyment out of the sequel. Likewise, if you have never seen the art that is 2001, or found it too heady to understand, then 2010 may be an enjoyable piece of science fiction.

Friday, December 10, 2004


Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon
Is shining high above the trees

--James Taylor

This morning I had a French lesson at McDonalds at 11 am. Or I was supposed to have one. I left my place about 10:30 which is a bit more than you need taking the tram, but I was hoping to walk most of it, hopping the tram if I saw I was running late. McDonalds is right on the tram track so I normally walk along the tramway to get there. This time I decided to take a short cut. From my way the tram actually makes a little curve on its way to McDonalds. By my way of thinking I was going to make a straight shot of it, going from one point of the curve to the next without actually taking the longer curve of it. Does that makes sense? Think of a circle and realize that the shortest distance from one point to the next on the cirlce is a straight line, not the curve. Apparently the actual curve is a lot less than I imagined it to be and so I wound up walking more parallel with the tram than actually running into it. This comes from hindsight and was unknown to me at the time. I walked, and walked, and walked always believing I could spot the tram tracks just ahead of me. Eventually I noticed a little garden section of the city that is on the road to Germany. Knowing that McDonalds was not on the way to Germany I decided to turn. I walked, and walked, and walked and the road ran out. Before me was a section of field followed by a lot of trees. McDonalds was definitely not in a forrest! I managed to find a map at a bus stop, but I could not find any of the streets around me on the map. Again I walked. Did I mention that the temperature was right around 0 degrees celcius? Freezing is the word. Back in the city, and not the forrest, all the streets look the same. They are all lines with the same type of tree, they all have the same sort of stores and the apartments look identical when your lost. I began to just backtrack hoping to get back to someting familiar. Finally after an hour and a half I saw the tram pass in the distance! I didn't know what tram it was or where it was located, but I nearly lept knowing it would take me somewhere in my knowledge of Strasbourg. I kept staring at that spot waiting for another tram to pass, hoping I hadn't hallucinated it the first time. Nope, a second one passed in minutes. At about 12:20 I made it back to McDonalds where, of course, my tutor was no longer waiting on me. After 15 minutes and I was back home. After a few e-mails (EVERY call in France costs money, so it's easier to e-mail) and lots of apologies Ann, my tutor, forgave me. It turns out the student before me had also not shown up. So poor Ann had waited in McDonalds for three hours!

The rest of the day was uneventful. We went to Daniel and Tammy's and had a good visit. Then we went grocery shopping. Constantly grocery shopping. When you only have a small cart to carry them in, and a small refrigerator to put them, you are always grocery shopping.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Little of This, a Little of That

I am already re-editing my 2001 review. That's quite a movie to get just right. Not a lot going on today to talk about. In doing a little laundry I discovered I am missing two pair of blue jeans! Because laundry is so expensive, and our inability to do laundry and Daniel and Tammy's, we have been rather behind on our laundry for many weeks. Our tendency has been to do the necessity items when needed, and to throw an odd pair of pants/shirt in with those. We haven't actually launered all of our clothes in well over a month! This being true, I have no idea when my jeans went missing. I could have left them at Daniels, or the boys, but my suspicion is somebody swiped them when we did laundry at one laundromat. There is one mat we went to a few times that has a person on duty who supposedly watches the clothes so that you don't have to stay there. This person also moves the clothes from washer to dryer and folds them when everything is done. All of that and it is actually a little cheaper than most of the do-it-yourself laundromats. However, the last time we went I noticed that the person on duty doesn't really watch the clothes all that well. In fact several times that we have come in, there was no one out front at all. So in one of those absences I suspect someone may have seen my pants and ran with them. Who knows, maybe I'll find them under the couch!

We are going to see Touch of Evil tonight. It is playing in VO which means it retains the original English sountrack with French subtitles. I have only seen this film off of cable so I am quite excited to watch it again on the big screen. I'm not sure if it is the original version or the recent "director's cut." Apparently the studio made a number of changes to Orson Welles version of the release. Welles wrote a 58 page memo detailing the changes he wanted to make to the version actually released. The studio paid him no mind. However, in 1998 some folks took the memo and trie to re-edit the film according to that memo. That version is quite a movie. Next week we get to see Casablanca at the same theatre! Cool beans! They actually show quite a few older movies and have some pretty neat "festivals" showing the films of a particular actor or director or theme. Needless to say, I am excited.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

2001: A Review

To read my views on reviews click here.

I will not attempt to discuss the meaning of this film, or to answer most of the questions it poses. There are plenty of places on the internet that try to do that.

2001 is one of the few films I find absolutely amazing, and that I dread to watch. Like Citizen Kane I find this movie to be technically brilliant, but mostly boring. It was the first or second dvd that I purchased when I bough my player back in 1999. Yet in the interim 5 odd years I have watched 2001 in its entirety only once or twice. Several times I have started to sit and watch it, but I just can't get through it all at once. Even for this review I watched it in sections.

It doesn't help that the section I enjoy the most (the section involving the mission to Jupiter and HAL) is a good hour into the movie. It's not that the other sections do not have meaning to me, it's just that I find them very difficult to get through. The opening sequence "The Dawn of Man" is very well filmed, is vital to understanding the whole movie, and begins to ask some very good questions (does the advent of technology bring us closer to destruction as it also further our race? Yet, I find this section mind numbingly dull. Upon first viewing it was interesting, but now I know that the monolith is coming, I know that the ape-men discover the use of the bones as tools and this leads to their use as weapons. My knowledge of the action now bores me. I am the type of person who enjoys watching a movie repeatedly. I have a pretty large collection of DVDs and watch many of them often. So knowing the outcome of a scene does not always neccesitate my boredom. It is just so with this particular film.

Likewise the next section of film leading to the discovery of the monolith on the moon I find to be quite boring. It is only when we get to the middle chapter of the movie dealing with the journey to Jupiter and the madness of HAL that I remain interested as a film watcher. This section also happens to be the one I find most technically interesting. I must also admit this is the section with the most dialogue and most action. But I am not ready that this is the cause of my enjoyment. Because by most standards there is still not a lot of action or dialogue going on in the film. What I do enjoy is the use of sets to create the space station atmosphere. For example, I love trying to determine how they created the scenes where the astronauts appear to walk upside down or 'turn' with the ship? The atmosphere created by use of the silence of space, the loneliness of the ship and the remoteness of the all seeing HAL eye is pitch perfect. Kubrick builds the tension between the two conscience astronauts and HAL brilliantly. The scene in which HAL reads the astronauts lips is still one of my favorites in any film, ever. HAL, though a computer, has been rated as one of the greatest scree villains of all time, and rightly so. He is as calculating as he is cold.

Once this section ends, though we slip back into the brilliant but boring mode of the film. When Dave slips into the wormhole (did anyone call it a wormhole back then?) we are treated to a psychedelic ride of crazy colors and trippy music. But it goes on so long that I wish I did acid or smoked pot to keep me interested. It's like the whale chapters of Moby Dick, where I have to agree that they are important for the sake of the novel, but I'd rather just skip past them and get on with the story. I believe the parts I find boring in the movie are essential to the film, and in many ways they make it the masterpiece of cinema that it is. This being so doesn't make me watch it more than once every few years.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Books Are Coming

I was going to a long treatise on what I have learned while being in France and the differences in races in culture, but something happened and that's out the door.

We got our books! We got our books! In case you don't remember the book problem. Click hereto read my post concerning the matter. Amy was very excited about it until we actually got the books home and she opened them. Then she realized this means she has no reason not to study for her Ph.D exams! yuck. But me, I'm thrilled. Now I have lots of good books to keep me busy when I am not reading something from the library ;) There were three boxes packed inside a giant shipping bag. Initially we began dragging the bag down the street, but after a few minutes Amy decided to run and get the cart we used to buy groceries and what not. She removed the bag and it made a makeshift hand cart. Instead of just waiting with this giant bag full of boxes on the side of the road, I decided to keep dragging it. So here I am this very bundled up American boy dragging with large bag full of boxes down the streets of Strasbourg. Let's just say I got more than a few odd looks. As I dragged the bag began to rip open so I kept turning it over to a non ripped side. The carboard corners of the boxes made this terribly loud noise as I walked which drew me even more absurd looks from fellow street walkers. Finally Amy came with the box and we got it into the building. The elevator, for some reason, didn't stop at our floor, number 2, but kept going to floor number 4. Oblivious to this fact we went to where our apartment should have been if we were on the right floor and wondered why the keys weren't working! Red faced we realized our error and took the elevator back to the second floor and made it home!

As I look at my books I remember my process of selection back in America. I decided that since I would have plenty of time to read I would send myself many of the big fat books I never get around to reading. So I now have Les Miserables, Of Human Bondage, The Fountainhead and several other mountainaous tomes. To offset these bohemoths I then filled the rest of the box with sillier novels like Forrest Gump and Bridget Jones Diary.

I haven't yet finnished watching 2001. I just can't watch that film in one setting. So my review may be a few days later than initially stated. I'm also realizing there isn't a chance of me giving an in depth review of what it all means or of all the techniques used to make the film. There are plenty of other places to get that information anyway. I will probably make more personal observations about the movie and what it means to me. Not that anyone really cares anymore.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

Apparently we had an earthquake Saturday night. It wasn't bad enough to do any real damage, but gave enough shaking to wake most of my friends out of bed and give them a good scare. Amy and I slept right through it. I have to say I was a little disappointed with that.

We now have Christmas plans. Our friend from Penn State has a boyfriend, Paco, who lives in Paris. They are both going to visit Paco's family in Spain for Christmas and have generously offered to lend us his flat in Paris! Christmas in Paris sounds marvelous to me. It couldn't have come at a better time either. Amy had just spent Sunday morning a little upset about not having Christmas plans and then like an Angel came Elizabeth with her gift.

I'll be watching 2001 this afternoon so expect a review in a day or so...

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Before I do any actual reviewing I wanted to give a little background into why I am reviewing and my general philosopy of reviews. Some of this will repeat what I have posted previously, but hopefully there is enough new material to not bore anyone.

Now that I have declared that I will be reviewing movies, music, and books I begin to wonder why want to do it. Generally reviews are written when an art form has recently been released for general consumption. They are, in fact, designed to inform potential consumers of whether or not that particular art form is good enough to be consumed. Unfotunately, I am in France and rather poor, and thus cannot review newly released material. I do not have the cash to buy new cds, American movies are generally released weeks to months after their American release dates, and I never did buy newly released books. This means the material I will be reviewing will be outdated. This begs the questions of why am I bothering to review these materials and why should you, as a reader, care?

To answer the first question I respond that the answers are largely personal. With plenty of time off I need something productive to occupy my time. By actively watching, reading, listening to various art forms I am giving myself something to that seemingly does not waste my time. To ingest these medium in a way that I must review them to an audience means I cannot merely allow them to play in the background while I lounge in my pithiness. Likewise I have always had a minor dream of writing in some professional capacity. Writing reviews will help me sharpen my craft and allow me to see, if I have any ability that credibly be moved into the realm of professional writer. Likewise, if I ever do decide to try to be a professional reviewer I will have a portfolio of sorts to stand on.

Why should you, as a reader, care? Frankly, you don't have to. Personally, I find that I often seek out reviews of movies, books, music that I have recently consumed. I enjoy reading the opinions of other people and comparing them to my own personal views. Sometimes it is interesting to see if another soul found the same meaning in the same moments, or if they saw something that I may have missed. In time I will hopefully have a large body of work to which readers may delve into to see how I viewed certain material. Albeit if I actually do create a large body of work I will have to find a better way to organize it than this blogger does.

In general, reviewers have had to have journalistic integrity. That is to say they were held responsible in reviewing the reviewed material in a objective way. A journalist is bound to report the facts, to reveal the actions and events as they occured without subjective date, without relaying personal feelings and ideas into the report (I will not comment on whether or not this actual happens, but that is the journalistic ideal). Art forms are in large part a subjective medium. There are no yardsticks to measure, quantitatively, an actors performance. There are no measuring cups to qualify the use of lighting in a film. Yet a reviewer was devised to do his/her best to objectively review the material.

The new internet reviewers, best exemplified by Harry Knowles and Aint It Cool News scoffs at objectivity and revels in their subjective reviewing methods. They believe that since it is impossibly to be wholly objective while reviewing an art form it is best to allow the reader to understand their subjective stances. They therefore allow the reader to know of any preconceived notions they had before they had consumed the art. For example for over a decade fans hoped, dreamed, and prayed for the Star Wars prequels to be released. When the Phantom Menace finally was realeased there was no way it could have not been dissapointing (that in fact it was not very good, also added to the dissapointment). These fans had preconceived fantasies in their minds of what the film should have been, and thus when the reality was not the fantasy, these fans were then disapointed. The new version of reviewers informs the reader of these notions. Also, they believe that external and internal forces effect they way they consume the media. If the revier is having a bad day because their dog just died, or they dinner was cold these things can effect their perception of the art form. Just as the mood of the day can. If a reviewer is not in the mood for a comedy this will effect their opinion of the slapstick they have to review that day. Unfortunately, these fans often slide into long segues of personality and do little actual reviewing of the material.

My philosophy of reviewing lies somewhere between these two versions. I believe their are some things you can objectively quantify. If a director uses a camera technique that has never been used before you can not this. If a singers lyrics are cliched and trite this also can be noted. However, I also believe in the impossiblity of being completely objective and that some points of personality must come across. When someone tells me they really liked a movie, but I do not know any other movies that they enjoyed I pay them no mind. However, if they also enjoyed many of the movies that I enjoyed, then I will listen to them explicitly. This is why I hope to create a large selection of reviews so that the reader may have an understanding of the variety of material I enjoy and don't enjoy.

Well, that was long. If you've made it this far, thanks for listening.

Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I realize I said the first review I would do would be 2001, but after learning Amy had never seen Close Encounters we decided to watch it last night. And thus you get a review.

This movie is pure joy to me. This makes it rather difficult for me to actually review the movie and not just give it praise. Since I have seen it numerous times, and there are then no suprises for me, so I must first warn the reader that there will probably be **spoilers** in this review. So if you have not seen it and do not want any details of the film, stop reading now.

There were a few difference with this viewing than in previous viewings. First I have actually been to the Devils Tower in Wyoming. Having actual seen this natural monument takes a little mystery out of it in the film. For years it seemed more like something out of the filmakers imagination, something of the dreams of Hollywood, than something real. Something made of rocks and dirt. The mysterious glow that surrounded the rock in the film, and especially the first actual appearance in the film on television, has been dimmed a little. Likewise as Richard Dryfuss sculpts the mount in the begining I wanted to shout at him to flaten the top.

Secondly, I am now quite familiar with a number of Francois Truffaut's films. He plays the mysterious French scientist in the film, but is in reality, a gifted director and pioneer in the French New Wave. Being familiar with who the actor is, gave the character more depth and mystery. I wonder how Spielberg talked him into becoming an actor in his film. If he had any influence on the direction of the film. How much English he speaks.

Having learned a little French myself, and having a very good translator beside me also shed some light into what was actually being said in the French conversations. There are several moments in the film when Truffaut speaks in French and Spielberg uses no subtitles. I always felt this was intentional to give the film a little more mystery, to add the the international, interwordly feel to the film. So it was interesting now to actually understand what was being said.

I have also, for the past few years, lived in Indiana. Much of the movie takes place in Muncie, Indiana and I found the same joy that I always find when a movie, book, or song takes place somewhere I know or have been to. As if it becomes more real simply because I know the places it occurs.

To me, the film is less about aliens and more about a sense of wonderment. In a famous scene, a small boy stands in front of an open door which is ablaze in a fiery glow. You cannot see what is outside, but you have spend the previous minutes watching the boys mother become very frightened as the aliens attempt to enter the house. Yet the boy standing close tothese unseen and unknown creatures stands unafraid, even curious. There are many beautiful shots of a night sky with billions of brilliant stars sparkling. Throughout the film Spielberg seems to be using space and aliens as a means to express wonder and amazement at the unknown. Richard Dreyfuss' character loses interest in his family and outside life except for the mystery of the things he saw in the night sky and the recurrent thought of the mysterious mountain. Several times as he builds the mountain out of clay, dirt, mashed potatoes he proclaims that it must mean something, but isn't sure of what. Even in the last scene when he boards the alien craft there is no final meaning given. It's as if Speilberg is saying that it is the search for meaning in the universe, it is in looking with wonder at the great mysteries of the world that we in fact find some purpose, some meaning.

I was reading a review of Steven Spielberg as a director and one of the things it discussed was the directors tendency of not moving his camera. That he tends to allow action come to the camera's view instead of following the action with the camera. So as I watched this film I kept a keen eye out for camera movement. I did find this to be true, throughout the film the camera is still allowing the action to to move into view. That's not to say the camera was only in one place. In fact it often was placed in different parts of a room for a scene, but in any given shot there was little movement. No sweeping shots, no long tracking scenes. The biggest movement I saw was when Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon arrive at the Devils Tower. The camera then sweeps over the car and follows the characters up a hill to reveal, finally, the giant rock in a real shot. I'm not sure what to make of this, but found it interesting.

As in many of Spielbergs films there is distress in a marriage. Richard Dreyfuss and Terri Garr's marriage literally falls apart as Dreyfuss becomes more and more obsessed with his visions. There is one scene in particular where Dreyfuss is locked in a shower crying and Terri Garr begins to scream at him and scream at the children to go to their rooms. Speilberg uses several close up shots of the children to show how this fighting disturbs them. Spielberg has been on record to say that his own parent's divorce disturbed him deeply. Many of his films either show the distress of an unhealthy marriage, or the products of divorced. Yet in this film the creator of this unhappiness in marriage, Richard Dreyfuss' character, is the hero, is whisked away in the wonderful alien ship. I view this not as a detraction from the film but as an artisitc endeavor. Spielberg takes time out of his alien picture to show the hurt and pain Dreyfuss causes. Dreyfuss's character also shows remourse over his actions yet cannot turn away from his obsession. As he begins to tear down his scrapbooks of alien abductions he tears the pointy top of his clay Devil's Tower and becomes obsessed all over again. Though in reality I wold see such a person's actions in disgust and contempt in the context of the film I see it as a broader artistic action toward the overall goal of seeking deeper meaning and wonderment. Just as I can cheer for the violent destruction of the bad guy in an action movie when the reality which be abhorrant and grusome.

And that's my review. I am reluctant to give any kind of official 5 star rating or whatever, because that seems so arbitrary. And as happens when I begin rating anything I find trouble in giving Evil Dead II the same rating as To Kill a Mockingbird because one is a much better piece of cinema but the other is also a wonderful flick.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Top 5 Opening Tracks

Top 5 from Side A Song 1 on any album of any genre, that isn't a Greatest Hits package.

1. Box of Rain by the Grateful Dead from the album American Beauty.

Phil Lesh wrote all of the music, and even scatted the vocal lines before giving it to Robert Hunter to write the lyrics. He wanted a song to sing to his dying father. Hunter is quoted as saying the lyrics nearly wrote themselve coming as fast as the pen could hit the page. It is a beautiful song and opens waht is arguably the best Grateful Dead album ever made.

2. Where the Streets Have No Name by U2 from the album The Joshua Tree

The opening track to my all time favorite U2 album. The slow, ethereal feel of the organs drifting is like sitting in a cathedral. Then the quick rhthym of the Edge's guitar fades followed the thump thump of Adam Clayton's bass. My head begings to nod, my feet begin to tap and then 'BAM' Bono's vocal "I wanna run. I want to hide" it's like the lift off of a rocket. Pure joy is followed for the next 4 minutes.

3. So What by Miles Davis from the album Kind of Blue

The jazz album for people who don't own any jazz. This is a Miles Davis album in name only, with a line up like John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on saxophones, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums this is an allstar jazz group. And it is this opening tonal song that brings the world to a new kind of jazz. Even the opening notes are some of the finest music to be played on any album.

4. A Hard Days Night by the Beatles from the album Hard Days Night.

From the opening chord of George's guitar you know this is gonna be something exciting. From that startling moment John launches into one of the all time great rock and roll dities. Just one of many lennon/mccartney tunes that sound like they're having so much fun and you just can't help but sing a long at the top of your lungs.

5. Radio Free Europe by REM from the album Murmur.

A muddy, murky tune that you can't understand a word to ushers to the world the sound that would be REM (at least for the next decade or so). Alternative college rock had been brewing behind the scenes for awhile and this, to me at least, is one of the defining songs of the whole scene. To this day I have no idea what Michael Stipe is singing about, and I just don't care.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Take My Chances

This will be short. I was unable to post yesterday due to some problem with blogger. It would let me view my blog, log into my blog, by I couldn't access any of the editing menus and was not able to create a new page.

Amy and I have created weekly schedules for ourselves. I have posted mine on my closet door. It's not particularly full, but hopefully it will give me some structure and I may actually accomplish some things. I have allocated Monday afternoons as a time for me to critically watch, read, or listen to something. Which is a good term for goofing off with a pencil. Or, rather, to watch a movie, listen ot a cd, read a book and take notes. Hopefully that will lead to some reviews on this page. We've also scheduled some walking so maybe we'll get into a little better shape.

I got an e-mail yesterday from a girl on one of my e-mail groups. I have created a little signature on my e-mails leading people to my blog and my pictures. It seems this girl saw I was in Strasbourg and e-mailed me because she was thinking of a visit here soon. It was fun because I got to act like an expert on the city and tell her all the places to go. Brewster's Tour Guide....