Friday, April 29, 2005

Spring in France

Spring is in full swing here in France. Four months of dark, foreboding skies filled with rain, sleet and snow have been taken over by warm, and sun filled blue skies. The French anticipated this season eagerly a few weeks before it actually began. Just as the temperature began to warm a slight amount, though the sky remained gray and bleak, I noticed a slight cheerfulness going around. The dress began to change. The thick, long, black coats were changed into lighter, sportier jackets. Scarves began to come down from nose level, and once in awhile you could catch sign of a bare leg. It was all as if the people knew spring was finally arriving and were ready to shed the oppressiveness of the long, cold winter.

Now that spring has truly arrived the change is more dramatic. Bare flesh is everywhere. The lovely French maidens have brought out their sexy wear. Their tops are tight and cut for maximum flesh and curves. All blouses seem to be sleeveless and low cut to show the most bountiful décolletage imaginable. What cloth there is fits firmly around the bosom and cannot seem to be stretched to cover the entire naval. Not to be outdone, the pants fit so low on their torsos that they expose the curvature of their hips and expose their delectable, lacy panties. The pants also remain so tight as to determine each girls personal likes, dislikes, and religion.

That’s if they wear pants, normally these lovelies prefer to wear a wide variety of skirts. Long skirts, short skirts, tight skirts, loose skirts, skirts of all colors and shapes now wander the streets flirting with whoever will watch. There are long skirts with slits up to places my mother warned me about. They have tight denim skirts that might as well not exist they are so short. Or they saunter about in short loose numbers that fly high above their navels whenever the tiniest breeze flutters about.

The men, not wanting to be left out have also deck themselves in the skimpiest of fashions. The light button-up shirts are buttoned down to expose the hairiest of chests. Or if their pectorals are peaking, they don skin tight pastel colored t-shirts to give everyone the best view of their long worked after, bulging muscles. Their pants are, of course, skin tight leaving nothing to the imagination. Unless of course they are at the park, then the preferable attire is either the skimpiest of jogging shorts, declaring their thighs to the world and barely covering what god never meant to see the light of day, or the mandatory Speedos.

Yes, gone are the days when the streets were filled with walking masses of bulky clothes. No longer are the massive coats covering every curve from neck to kneecap. Winter scarves have left the remaining neckline and facial features below the nose. Where once all that was visible were blacks of their eyes, the French have come out, so to speak, and announced their glorious bodies to the world.

It is a sultry, sweaty, flesh filled landscape these days. It is quite a change, and frankly, not one I’m sure we can all take. The American stereotype of French people is that they are curt, rude, and snobbish. Perhaps it is not a cultural anomaly, or a hatred of all things American, but rather something more simply. Perhaps they are simply sexually frustrated and must take it out on someone.

Big Sleep Review

This classic film noir has very few of techniques generally associated with noir. It contains no skewed camera angles; and though it is darkly lit, it is not overcome with murky, obscuring shadows. The hero is not down-and-out, poor, or desperate. There is no retrospective narration, or flashbacks. Yet, the Big Sleep is widely considered to be one of the very best of this genre. It is a cynical, perverse, murderous world filled with loads of confusing action and unknown motives. It is, in fact, one of the great films of one of the screens greatest actors (for my personal top 10 actors list, click here), and most talented directors.

It was directed by Howard Hawks fresh off of the successful pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall in To Have and Have Not. The two star here again and it is easy to see why they made another two films together. Based on a Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, many people complain that this film is incomprehensible. Somewhat famously it is reported that Bogart and Hawks, after arguing over who killed one of the characters, called up Chandler to get the correct answer. Chandler didn’t have the slightest idea, for the novel is rather vague on this point. It’s true that both the novel and film leave many plot points as to who did what to whom more than unclear, but there is so much style in both that it’s hard to make a convincing argument against them.

A good deal of the confusion within the film comes from the production codes in effect at the time it was produced. Chandler’s novel deals with murder, homosexuality, heterosexuality, and pornography. At the time, these things were deemed unfit to show on a movie screen and so Hawks had to hint at them using various subtle methods. For instance, when Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) is found by detective Phillip Marlow (Bogart) in the novel she is completely nude and sitting posed for a hidden camera. Since pornography is explicitly against code, in the movie she is dressed in a silky, Japanese gown. There is still a hidden camera, and its missing film becomes a catalyst for much of the action in the film. We must infer from the exotic nature of the gown that there was more than just pictures of a woman in a gown going on. There are many similar instances in the film like this. For an audience member who has not read the book, they must pay close attention to the subtext, or the film will seem baffling.

Personally, I am very much a fan of the book, and all of Chandler’s work. While I appreciate that some of the finer plot points are a bit vague in this film, I also understand that the film succeeds not in the details of the story, but in a sinister sense of style. The film oozes with a dark, disquieting atmosphere. Nearly everyone Marlowe meets is hiding something, and is of less than upstanding moral character. Hawks does a great job of keeping nearly every scene in the dark or in the rain, or both. There are so many characters coming in and out of the shadows and with their own shady character that it is difficult to keep up.

Bogart, of course, does a marvelous job as Marlowe. He seems to understand a lot more information than the audience is ever given. Chandler wrote Marlowe as a detective who sticks by his own set up morals, remaining somewhat of a noble creature trying to stay afloat amongst the muck and sewers of the city. Lauren Bacall does a very good job portraying Vivian Sternwood Rutledge, in a role that is much different than the one in the book. Like many films from this era, they create a romance that wasn’t really in the source material. I don’t mind though, because Bogart and Bacall really sizzle.

What can I say that hasn’t been said before? This is really classic noir at its best. It’s got Bogart and Bacall. It was directed by Howard Hawks, written by William Faulkner from a novel by Raymond Chandler. What more could a lover of classic cinema want?

Red as a Lobster

It has been quite sunny here the last couple of days. Having a couple(!) of days off from work, I went to the park and relaxed with a book. Today I even managed three parks! I’ll explain. I was stuck in the house all morning, washing dishes, cleaning up a little, and basically piddling around. Amy was gone for several hours at school working. When she got back we washed clothes and had lunch. By this time I was really jonesin’ to go outside and enjoy the day. Amy, being Amy, she thought she might like to go with me, but just wasn’t sure at the moment. How anyone can not be sure whether or not they want to take a walk is beyond me, but Amy moves at a pace that is not my own. After some heated discussion we finally decided that I would go out then, and maybe later we’d check out a little park on the other side of town. So, I grabbed my camera and headed out the door. I let my feet do the walking, which generally leads me to the Orangerie park. I go there so often that I’ve pretty much photographed everything possible there, so I just took a quick walk around. I next decided to walk to what I have dubbed “Laura’s park,” dubbed so because it is close to our friend Laura’s home, and she’s admitted to visiting it often. There isn’t much to photograph there, so I again just walked around it, enjoying life. I took the long walk home, returning after about 2 and a half hours of sun baking.

Shortly thereafter, Amy and I did indeed check out another park. It is on the other side of town, just behind Auchan. It has a little lake and there were lots of kiddies swimming, old men in Speedos, and contrary to popular opinion, no topless women. We sat on the bench for a good while enjoying the surf and sun.

All of this is to say, that I am one toasted fellow. I now joke that I am going to come home thin, sporting long hair (I haven’t cut a hair since being in France) and with a deep, dark tan. No one will recognize me!

We’ve just about figured out our travel plans for the summer. It looks as though we are going to head to Barcelona for a few days and slow meander through France making out way home after a week or so. I will really miss not being able to tour Ireland, or see Prague, but we just can’t afford to see everything, so cuts had to be made. Oh well, this gives us a good excuse to come back.

Harvey Review

Towards the end of the 1950 film, Harvey, Elwood P Dowd (played by James Stewart in an Academy Award nominated role) says this:

“In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”


It is a memorable line, and one that sums up the film quite well. For the picture is filled with lots of smart people, and a few pleasant ones. It, in fact, seems to be the film’s central theme. Dowd is an alcoholic and mentally ill, all of which creates quite a disturbance throughout the film, but is ultimately washed over because he smiles a lot, allows others to pass through the door first, and speaks in a gentle, even voice.

Perhaps I’m being too unkind myself, it is after all a harmless comedy, slap stick and all. At that, it fairs well enough. The catch of the film, if you’ve somehow managed to not hear it before in the 55 years since its release, or forgot to look at the picture on the front of the DVD box, is that Dowd’s best friends happens to be an invisible 6 foot rabbit, named Harvey. Much of the film’s humor, and a great deal of it’s heart, come from that rabbit, which the audience never sees.

The conflict comes from Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hall) and her daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne). They have grown tired of Dowd’s antics with Harvey, and the embarrassment of having such a relative has caused untold grief for their social positions. Early in the film they decide to have Dowd committed to an insane asylum. Slapstick ensues when Verta is mistaken for the crazy one.

I found it to be a fine, humorous film. All of the cast members are firing on all cylinders and create a wonderful ensemble cast. Stewart and Hall are particularly fine as Dowd and his sister. The jokes work well enough, at least they are not particularly unfunny, and are pleasant enough. I think this is where my complaint comes in; it is all just too pleasant. Even the Simmons’ are rather sweet and kind while they try to put Dowd away.

It was slightly disturbing to me to watch a man with an obvious mental illness be touted as the film’s hero, and a character that we should all emulate. But again, I’m probably being too unpleasant again. I realize that the film is being more Peter Pan than Awakenings in this aspect. For Harvey seems more fantastical than hallucination, but Dowd never once hints that the giant rabbit might not be real. I know, I know, I’m being too much the tired cynic at this point. Dowd did give me the same brief desire of improvement that Atticus Finch give me while watching To Kill a Mockingbird. Though Finch never spotted giant rabbits, just a black man served more injustice.

It is difficult to complain about a film that really just wishes we would all be happy and kind to one another. Indeed a brief searching of the IMDB’s user comments finds an agreement with everyone that this is a wonderful, joyful film.

It is a heartwarming film, which only managed to kindle a low flame in my heart. This is a weird feeling. It is as I feel the chastisement of a million fans calling me a cold hearted son of a son of a sailor. It just failed to make me laugh enough, or move me enough to declare it wonderful. While I don’t have any hard complaints about the picture, it is not something that I’ll be placing on any top films list.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Best Concerts Ever

It has been awhile since I posted any top 5 lists. So, I thought I’d do something a little different today, meaning that this one is even more subjective than all the others. So, I present to you, my humble readers, the top 5 Concerts I have personally experienced.


5. Leftover Salmon – May 2, 2000 – Knoxville, TN

The Salmon are an eclectic mix of bluegrass, country, Cajun, southern rock and boogie. We go front row tickets at the Bijou and smiled every minute of it. There music is all about fun, and I danced my little rump off until the last cord. These guys made sounds come out of the mandolin and banjo I wouldn’t have thought possible.

4. Lucinda Williams – September 25, 2001 – Bloomington, IN

Lucinda is one of my all time favorite musical acts. We got there early and were rewarded with spots right off the stage (there were no seats) and to the left. Dressed in a low cut, red tank top and tight fitting blue jeans, Lucinda was dressed to please, and she did just that. I would have preferred it if the band had stretched some of the songs a bit, but what they left out in improvisation, they more than made up for with energy. She sang all my favorite songs, and a few that quickly became new favorites.

3. Ratdog – April 10, 2001

I’ve seen Ratdog several times before, but this was my favorite performance. I decided to go at the last minute, on a whim, and I’m glad I did. It was a mixed setlist, containing both songs I really don’t like and some of my very favorites. But even on the crappy songs they played tremendously.

2. Furthur Festival – June 25, 1998 – Atlanta, GA

Through various circumstances I was never able to see the real Grateful Dead in concert. What I have to live with is their various incarnations minus Jerry Garcia. In the second year of the Furthur Festival, a touring festival featuring members of the Dead as well as other Dead influenced bands, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead (minus drummer Bill Kreutzman) formed The Other Ones. This was the first time since Garcia’s death that all of them were playing together, and the first time they set out playing the old classic Dead songs. It was not a disappointment. The jams were hot and smooth, in fact much of the three hour show seemed like one giant medley of music. It was a perfect time, perfect place and I enjoyed some great music with even better friends.

1. Willie Nelson
I’ve seen Willie Nelson twice: Once at the Brady Theatre, in Tulsa, OK and again at the IU auditorium in Bloomington, Indiana. They were completely different types of shows, and yet I cannot claim that one was better than the other. In Tulsa they took all of the seats out of the theatre to give it a livelier atmosphere. The bar was running plenty of drinks out and the crowd acted like it. Willie’s music was up to the task. He played a huge medley of all of his classic hits without taking a break to say a word. It was loud, obnoxious and fantastic. I’ll never forget Willie standing on the stage with a wrinkled face, and broken guitar running through a Amazing Grace and Uncloudy Day with about 20 bras having been thrown on the stage and the audience saluting their beer mugs to the gospel music. It was quite a time.

In Bloomington, the atmosphere was completely different. It was an academic auditorium and the people were all dressed appropriately. Willie played his songs as songs, pausing between each one to say thank you. The audience sat politely in their seats, except a few moments when they gave an ovation to the giant American flag and his tribute with some patriotic songs. It was vastly different than the crazed party scene I had witnessed before, and yet it was still a wonderful night of music.

That was really tough. There are another of concerts that just barely missed the top five. The Indigo Girls, Sam Bush, and Jamgrass were difficult to cut out. But that's what a top list is for, I guess.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Google News

I wrote my first piece for Google news today. Let me explain. I’ve been writing for Blogcritics for a couple of months now. Mainly I’m posting the reviews I write there over there, but there have also been a couple of music essays as well. Many Blogcritic authors also write on current events, such as the Michael Jackson court case, the new Pope or whatever happens to be going on in the world. A lot of those posts are picked up by Google news which is subsequently picked up by just about everybody. I’m not really cued into any current situations of the world, thus I’ve stayed away from posting anything. Until today. I just heard that Dark Star Orchestra’s keyboardist recently passed away and felt moved enough to write about it. I must say that I’m not particularly a huge fan of the band, but I know enough people dig them that it is newsworthy. I feel a little opportunistic taking a tragedy and using it to put my name a little further into cyberspace, but I suppose that’s the breaks. I guess, really, I happened into this information and realized it had not been posted on Blogcritics, so I took that opportunity. Read my post here.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Plans

Wow! That was a lot of reviews. I guess with a week off for vacation I had a lot of things to review. I still have a couple more to write, but I may wait a day or two. Things have been pretty tame around here the last few days. The weather has been crap too. Lots of clouds and rain.

We finally purchased our plane tickets home. We will fly into Louisville on July 21. Amy did a great job of looking all over creation for a decent price, and found none. It cost us just over $2000! With that cost we have had to rethink our European tour plans. I just had a good long talk with my sister and her husband about it. We have decided to do a 3 day packaged tour of Ireland, then fly into Barcelona for a few days. We plan to take a slow train through France, hitting various smaller towns throughout before we make our way to Paris. We'll take a couple of days there and then head on home. Should be fun.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Everything Is Illuminated Review

On the back cover of my copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, Everything Is Illuminated, it says that it is “a work of genius,” and for lengthy sections of this debut novel, it really is, but ultimately his lofty ambitions are not fully met by his pen.

Ambition is something this book has in spades. It is a complicated, heady novel whose narrative stretches, bends, and breaks. It is really three stories tied together by a small Ukranian village whose past is linked to several characters’ destiny. The first story involves the history of that village as far back as 1791 and moving forward until it was horrendously destroyed by the Nazi party. The second story consists of a character named Jonathan Safran Foer, an American searching for a woman who lived in the village, Trachimbrod, and who may have information concerning his grandfather. This story is told by his Ukranian guide, Sasha, in a hilarious broken English. What makes up the third story are letters from Sasha to Jonathan detailing bits of his own life and commenting on the other two stories. All three stories are intermingled with one another giving an odd sense of both being off kilter and well balanced.

Adding to the ambitiousness of the three intermingled stories is a peculiar use of the typed page. The titles of chapters often swirl, curve, and dance off the page. There is gratuitous use of ALL CAPS, pages that are indented well beyond the others, and even several pages consisting almost completely of elipses (…). All of which is designed to give meaning and an emotional response. It is mostly effective in doing so, though at times, it seems a little too showy, as if the author is jumping up and down waving his hands shouting Hey look….THIS IS ART.

The central story of the city is silly, hilarious, sometimes moving and mostly an outlandish caricature of ancient Jewish life. It is also more standard in its narrative. For it is a straight told story, using the typical use of type setting. It creates several moving pictures of Nazi atrocities on the town, though anyone not being able to create emotion out of the holocaust is a poor writer indeed.

The remaining stories are also quite interesting, humorous and moving. There is a lot being said about our concept of perceptions and truth. Several things that Sasha tells us in the beginning about himself, he later admits to be false. Just as he details that he will make changes to his story that Jonathan requests due to putting him in a negative light.

It is not a novel that I would consider to be enjoyable, or an easy read. The narrative structure as well as the type structure is often difficult and confusing. While it is a novel showing a great deal of talent in its author, it never quite lives up to its hype or ambition. Though there is much to admire and it is well worth the time to read.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Slaughterhouse Five Review

On February 13 and 14, 1945 US and British troops firebombed the non-military German city of Dresden, killing somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000 civilians. In 1969 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote about his experience as a prisoner of war in Dresden during the bombings in Slaughterhouse Five. It is a beautiful, hilarious, bizarre, horrifying novel or your average Kurt Vonnegut book.

It is a true Vonnegut novel in that it isn’t straight fiction. Who else would write a novel about a fire bombing that includes a time traveling, alien abducted, hero and barely says a word about the actual fire bombing? In his introduction the author describes how it took him several years to be able to write his Dresden book. He visits fellow witnesses, drinks lots of booze, and generally has a rough time of it. Then he proceeds to tell us exactly how his story begins and the words that conclude the novel. It is as if the narrative itself isn’t important, but rather its underlying themes and ideas.

The narrative itself involves Billy Pilgrim, a bumbling, incompetent replacement soldier. He started the war as a priest’s assistant, but finds himself being moved closer to the front. He doesn’t manage to get far before he is captured by the Germans, and sent to Dresden. Mixed in with this simple narrative is Pilgrim’s abduction by aliens and his ability to travel through time, albeit without any type of control. The novel weaves throughout periods of Pilgrim’s life. From the war, to what would be called the present, to the future where he spends his time in an alien zoo making love to a dirty movie star. This is dusted with a dry philosophy that time is meaningless and individual destiny is a myth. What happens happens, and so it goes.

It is a breezy, novel written in a seemingly stream-of-conscience style. But one shouldn’t let the novel’s ease of reading confuse it with a simple throw away novel. No, Vonnegut obviously spent a great deal of time and skill crafting a novel that is deceptively simple, yet serves a thick plate of ideas. It is written in the third person from Vonnegut’s own point of view. Several times the author stops and let’s us know that the character he has just described, or quoted is, in fact, himself.

The firebombing of Dresden itself it given but few details. We see the bombing as Vonnegut himself did, from underground in a shelter. The little we do see is the aftermath, the rubble and destruction. But the massacre is never far from the author’s lips. While detailing the adventures of Billy Pilgrim, whether marching with fellow soldiers, on route to Dresden via putrid trains, or sitting naked on an alien planet, we see the end, we can almost smell the charred masses after the bombing.

It is an anti-war novel that doesn’t wear its position on its sleeve. There are many moments of laugh out loud hilarity. It is read so fluidly that it is hard to stop during the more poignant moments to feel the sting of emotion. There are no gung-ho moments of war bravado. There are no heroes to be found in the novel, and as Vonnegut says in the introduction, “There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." It does give us a moving portrait of your average soldier fighting a war he doesn’t understand, seeing atrocities he cannot comprehend. Yet somehow he (and we) are supposed to continue living our lives as atrocious massacres are somehow normal, acceptable things.

And so it goes.

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc Review

What happens when you take a talented French director, his model cum singer cum actress wife, one of the greatest actors of the 70’s and makes a movie about one of the most renowned saints of France? You get a giant mess is what. The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is loaded with lots of talented people, is filmed gorgeously and is mostly a lousy, muddled film.

The story of Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc as they call her in France) is well known just about everywhere. Joan is a poor peasant living in a small village in France during the Hundred Years War with England. She begins seeing heavenly visions that tell her she is God’s messenger to rid her country of the bloody English. Somehow she convinces Charles, the Dauphin with visions of being king, to give her an army to storm Orleans. Using unconventional methods she leads her army to victory. The Dauphin is crowned king and mostly forgets about Joan. She leads an unsuccessful siege on Paris is given over to the English, tried and burned at the stake, several hundred years later she is sainted by the Catholic church. The Messenger covers most of this relatively faithfully, and beautifully.

Luc Besson is a talented director filming such classics as Le Femme Nikita and The Professional. His talent is presented here in his ability to create interesting and beautiful shots, but is lost in creating a cohesive story. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with the story about the young saint. In parts it seems earnest in it’s recreation of this revolutionary with heavenly visions, but then it sinks into near parody of itself and in the ends sinks towards a reinventing of the events themselves asking Joan herself whether or not her visions were real or mere psychosis.

Milla Jovovich is a pretty face who has mostly been in forgettable, silly comedies and the Resident Evil franchise which might as well be considered a silly comedy for all its worth. Here, she has two modes of acting, a strange amphetamine delivery of her lines as if she couldn’t spit them out fast enough, or a snarled scream as if acting was merely being the loudest person on the set. It is not a nuanced performance. For the entirety of the film she seems completely out of place.

The battle or Orleans is tame at best. There are virtually no scenes of real ambitious spectacle. We are given nothing to inform us of her revolutionary forms of combat. Instead her method seems to be screaming a lot and jumping a horse over the enemies fence. Later the storming of Paris is so humorous it is sad. Joan screams and screams that she needs back up while a few soldiers randomly knock on what must be the Paris gates. These soldiers are so bewildered a pathetic looking they seem more out of a Monty Python sketch than a serious film about war.

Beyond the visual elements the only saving grace is Dustin Hoffman’s performance as the Grand Inquisitor or Conscience. It is a fine performance from a fine actor, but it is a peculiar character. He spends his time questioning Joan’s own sanity. Could her visions in fact be some form of psychosis or fantasy? Could crucial moments in her life like finding a sword in a field in fact be simple coincidence? Good questions in the history of the real Joan of Arc, but they seem out of place here. Nowhere in the film are we led to believe Joan is nothing but the real thing. Why bring these questions into play during its climactic ending. The film would have worked much better believing whole heartedly in Joan’s purpose and vision. Or questioning her visions from the beginning, a revisioning of the myth could be very interesting. Instead it kicks its legs out from under itself by bringing her into question so late in the film.

What we get in this portrayal of Joan of Arc is some pretty visuals and a find performance from Dustin Hoffman. Try renting one of Luc Besson’s earlier films and pick up anything from Hoffman’s hey day in the 70’s, they will be worth your dollar and your time far more than anything thing to be found here.

The Village Review

The problem with most thrillers is that once you’ve watched them one time, there is nothing left. Too many of these films spend all of their creative energy trying to give the audience a scare. The best directors of the genre create truly great films, which just happened to give the audience a scare. While M. Night Shyamalan is an excellent craftsman, he tends to be unable to elevate his films into the realms of true cinema. The Village is no exception.

The story centers around a small village that seems to be set in the later part of the 1800’s. The Villagers have worked out a complicated deal with strange creatures (“Those We Do Not Speak Of”) lurking in the near woods. Problems arise and the long held pact begins to break down. This causes there to be a need for one of the villagers to venture through the woods into the larger towns.

The biggest problem with the Village and the last several of Shyamalan’s films is his surprise endings. I read somewhere several years ago that he didn’t want to be pigeonholed into doing the same supernatural type stories with twist ending. I wish he had kept to his word. Instead everyone goes into the theatre expecting, waiting on the surprise at the end. This is a distraction taken away from the whole of the film; it is a gimmick that has run thin. A truly surprising ending for the director now, would be no surprise at all.

Where Shyamalan excels is his Hitchcockian use of suspense. He understands that some of the best thrills come not from something jumping straight out at the audience, but in what we don’t see. It is a long time in the Village before we see “The Things We Don’t Speak Of” and even then we only catch a glimpse. For Shyamalan understands that our imaginations are more powerful than any piece of costuming or CG effect. There were, in fact, several moments during my first viewing of the film that hand my hair standing on end. These were tense, beautifully paced moments.

The film also creates a masterful sense of mood. The color scheme, set design and costuming are all top notch. They give the film a true sense of paranoia and suspense. The acting, for the most part, is quite good. Which is not surprising considering the cast is made up of the likes of William Hurt, Sigorney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, and Adrian Brody amongst others. There several interweaving human stories set amongst the supernatural tale, some of which are quite moving. Yet it is the supernatural aspect that shines brightest, and ultimately, falls flat upon subsequent viewings. Watching the film a second time, knowing the surprises, I felt a tinge of boredom. The story no longer captivated me as it did the first time. Knowing the truth, there were too many plot points, and character actions that seemed false, or self serving.

It is a film worth a first viewing. Shyalaman is a true talent, and I look forward to his next film. In a sense the Village is really two stories. One is a suspenseful tale of creatures lurking in the dark, and the other of a quaint village dealing with extraordinary circumstances. I believe the fault lies with the merging of the two. The suspense doesn’t hold up under subsequent viewings. It does not serve the other aspect of its story. Likewise, the more human story is broken apart too much by the mystical aspects

Cape Fear (1961) Review

Gregory Peck is so linked in my mind to the simplicity and grace of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, that it is always surprising to see him in anything else. To find him in the gritty, dirty piece of film noir that is the original Cape Fear is something of a shock. Yet, as always he does a marvelous job, and some of that grace manages to shine through the grime.

The story is a pretty basic noir plot. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) is an ex convict who just got out of prison. He has come back to town to haunt Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who testified against Cady for attacking a woman. Cady has spent his time in prison well, and has studied up on the law. He manages to terrify Bowden and his family and still remain within the confines of the law.

Though Peck gets top billing, this is truly Robert Mitchum’s film. He plays Cady with a swagger and menacing smile that is simply magnificent. We can see inside his swarthy confident charm and see the evil, menacing psychopath. The brilliance of the role is that we almost never see the violence that hides just behind the mask. Yet it seethes and oozes out, ready to strike at any time.

J. Lee Thompson keeps the tension pumping throughout the 105 minute film. There is hardly a moment to relax before something else occurs to tense us right back up. Yet the tension doesn’t come from boogie men jumping out from behind closets. It is a slow, boiling tension that tightens as we imagine just what might happen. When the climax finally does occur it is almost a let down. The censor at the time would not allow the type of action packed blood bath it does now, but the film doesn’t suffer for it. What we get is plenty good, but is in the nature of the genre that the climax leads to the come down. But, the ride getting to that point, is well worth the time.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

April Excursion


I love the French school system. They get two weeks off every couple of months. Amongst much discussion on where we would go during the April break we finally decided to see a good deal of France. I would have preferred Barcelona or Athens, but being the French girl that she is, Amy was adamant we see some more of this country. I agreed on the condition that we make it to the Normandy beaches. France conspired against us to actually make it to the beach, but at the time we thought we would make it without problem.

We started off headed towards Lille. One of our Indiana friends has been doing her year abroad there, and it seemed like a good starting point for our trip. Lille is a pretty little city in Northern France just off the Belgium border. There is nothing particularly famous or awe inspiring there, but it is quaint, and very pretty. Many of the cities in this part of Europe have very tall, ornate bell towers. Lille has two on opposite sides of the town. The architecture there has many Flemish influences and many of the building have little star step roofs that are quite beautiful.

It was very nice to visit with Kim and hear how her time in France has been going. Unfortunately it rained for most of our visit, but there was enough dry spells to see the sights. We stayed in a larger hostel this time. Where in Rome our hostel was essentially an apartment rented out amongst other full time renters with only two bedrooms for a myriad of people, Lille’s hostel was a rather large building with numerous rooms. We had our own room, though we had to share a bathroom with the remainder of the place. Oddly, someone had stolen, or ripped out all of the seats on the toilets. It was very peculiar, and not very comfortable.

I have been in France too long. While checking our room for an additional day an English speaker was rather testily trying to get his room. Like many native English speakers his idea of speaking to a French person was to speak English very loudly. Now, we had spoken to the lady behind the counter on several occasions and found her to be very pleasant. She spoke quite a bit of English and had spoken to us in both French and English. But this guy was just being obnoxious. She misunderstood how many nights the man wanted and his response was to speak louder and actually pretend to strangle the woman! At this point I could tell the woman was just stringing him along a bit. One of the joys of being French is having control of their own bureaucracy. She began asking for his passport and various other papers, simply because she could. She knew he needed the room, and she was holding that power over his head a bit for being rude.

It was an odd scene to me. As an English speaker I felt as though I should feel sympathy towards this man. But, I’ve lived in France long enough to understand how the system works. I understand that there is often tons of paperwork and bureaucracy to get through. If you are patient, and follow orders it will go much faster. It also helps to speak what little French you know. I find the French are much more responsive if you try to talk to them in their own language. A simple “Bonjour” will go a long way. So, when this guy looked at me for a little sympathy, I gave him none. He just wasn’t working with the system.


We took a day trip into Bruges, Belgium. Like Lille, there aren’t any major monuments, or anything the average European tourist would want to visit. It is however, a very touristy town in the Gatlinburg, TN kind of way. There were lots of souvenir shops, and plenty of corner café’s selling all of Belgium’s finer culinary delights (waffles, French fries, and chocolate.) The buildings were also Flemish influenced, and the town square was very pretty. We climbed the 320 odd steps to the top of the bell tower and were treated with a lovely panoramic view.


Our next train led us to Rouen. We stopped there figuring it was a good middle point for the next two stops we wanted to make: Giverny and the D-Day beaches. It is also the city made famous by having burned Joan of Arc at the stake and housing the cathedral made famous in a number of Monet paintings. They also have something like 9 churches of which we saw about 4. The cathedral was beautiful, but very difficult to photograph. Especially since the main entrance is covered in construction facing. Lots of the city is taken over by Joan of Arc memorabilia, most of which is tacky. What I could see of the museum (via post cards and guidebooks) was just awful. They had wax figures and mannequins dressed like Joan leading a siege or being burned. The site where she was burned was pretty tame. There are but a few ruins remaining of the church left and virtually no posts describing what actually happened.
Nearby is a new church dedicated to the saint, and the remaining area is tourist crap.

We also visited a gravesite for the people who died of the black plague in the area. At the entrance way is a petrified dead cat, warning all who come into the area. On the building surrounding the little cemetery are wood carvings of skulls and the like. The actual site is less like a cemetery and more like a little park. There are no gravestones since the bodies were just piled onto each other.

North of Rouen is Caen. It is the closest city to the D-Day beaches and houses a big WWII museum as well as tours of the actual beaches. We decided to make a day trip of it, and left our baggage in Rouen. We took a mid morning train and headed straight to the museum. The packaged tours were very expensive so we decided we would just try to make it on our own. We figured they would surely have bus lines running out to the various beaches. The museum was very fact filled, but a little light on real pieces. There was very little to look at besides placards describing various events, and old photographs. Still, it took a few hours to visit. By the time we were finished we were through. Checking the bus schedules we realized there was no way to make it to the beach and catch our train back to Rouen. After some debate about whether staying the night in Caen and seeing the beaches in the morning, dirty and wearing the same clothes, or heading back to Rouen and making the trip all over again the next day, we opted to just forget the whole thing. I was incredibly disappointed, but all other options seemed pretty bad.

Back in Roeun we booked a train to Giverny the next day. Wandering back by the Rouen Cathedral we bumped into Amy’s coworker from the university in Strasbourg. Apparently she is from Rouen and just happened to be out walking with her mother. Small world.

We arrived in Giverny Monday afternoon, but most of France is closed on Mondays, including the Monet museums. We were actually staying in a town called Vernon, which is where the train stops, Giverny being to small for anything like that. Deciding to walk to Monet’s house anyway, we tied our shoes for what turned out to be about a 5 mile hike. It was a long journey by foot, but a beautiful one. The sun was finally shining and almost everyone in the town has a flower garden. Monday slipped away and we awoke early to head back into Giverny.
Monet’s gardens are astoundingly beautiful. He entire back yard is taken up by rows and rows of flower of every color imaginable. The water lily pond is actually across the street that you take a little tunnel to get to. It is quite a thing to see the actual pond and Japanese bridge that I’ve seen my entire life via Monet’s paint brush. In Indiana I even have one of the prints hanging over my television. It was a little too early in the Spring to be as flushed out as you see in the paintings, but it was still quite breathtaking. We had arrived early enough as well, to avoid the rush of tourists, and were able to stop and enjoy the view.

The next day we trained home. It was a long and expensive trip. We were not able to see everything we had hoped, and it wasn’t the sort of trip you think about when you think about European vacations, but it was nice to see a lot more of the country I’ve called home for the last 7 months.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Monet's Lilly Pond in Giverny, France

Tonight I Sing My Song Again...

I'm back. We visited our friend Kim in Lille who took us into Bruges, Belgium. Then we headed to Rouen where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and Monet painted his famous pictures of the Cathedral there. We caught the WWII museum in Caen, but unfortunately were not able to make it to the D-Day beaches or Mont Sant Michel. We did go to Giverny where Monet had his home and the beautiful water lily pond still exists. I will have pictures posted and a longer, detailed version of our trip up soon.

There are some more reviews coming soon. I read a couple of books on the trip, and saw some movies before we left, I'll try to get to those in a few days. For now I am exhausted and rather broke. Europe is expensive.

Stay tuned....

Monday, April 11, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Train?

Alright, I said I would post again so here it is. This will be short. We leave tomorrow by train for Lille. We plan to spend about three days there. We will probably bop up into Belgium for a day trip at some point while there. After we head to Normandy for a few days. Besides the beaches and museums there is a supposed to be a very beautiful church on a hill that looks rather like the castle in Return of the King. If we have the cash we may head down South to visit our friend, Kate, and do some castle seeing. We will probably be gone a week or so, so I shall not write until then.

Take care, my blogging friends.

Funny Face Review

I hate to admit that it was a pop song that made me fall in love with Audrey Hepburn. It was the spring of 1996 and Deep Blue Something’s ditty about breaking up Breakfast at Tiffany’s was all over the radio. One dull afternoon in the life of a college student, a friend of mine admitted that she had actually never seen the film. I sheepishly admitted the same, and we went straight out and rented it. I immediately fell madly in love with the style, grave, and beauty that is Audrey Hepburn. In the many years following, I have done my best to nurture that one sided love, and try to watch any film with Ms. Hepburn when I get the chance. Recently I sat down and watched Audrey and Fred Astaire in Funny Face.

It is a film that is first notable for being a musical in which Audrey actually sings. A feat she was famously not able to say the same for a few years later in the much loved musical hit My Fair Lady. It is a soft, kind sort of voice a simple boy could fall in love with, but one can see why Mr. Cukor opted for another one to sing for Eliza Doolittle.

The Gershwin’s again create some wonderful songs. Mixed with exuberance, humor and a sweetness that no other songwriter has ever matched, George and Ira created some of the world’s greatest songs. The stand out here is the simple sweet closer, S’Wonderful, but there are several numbers that are really quite good as well, “How long has this been going on?” and the title number among them. Ira’s silly, unbelievable rhymes are in full order here as well. In “Bonjour Paris” he manages to rhyme the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre with Montmartre.

Being not only an Audrey Hepburn picture, but also starring Fred Astaire, there are plenty of dance routines. Only one number is what I would consider exceptional and that is a number between Hepburn and Astaire while photographing a wedding scene outside a lovely French church. The setting is beautiful (though shot in soft lighting for some reason) and the routine flows beautifully and with much charm.

The plot as it is centers around a Hepburn playing a bookish, intellectual Jo Stockton, and a women’s magazine photographer, Dick Avery (Astaire) trying to convince Stockton to pose for him. She agrees only as a ruse to go to Paris and meet the inventor of a new philosophy, empathicalism. Of course they fall they fall in love, amongst various set backs. There is nothing really new or all that interesting in the story, but it is set in Paris which gives it some very beautiful backgrounds in which to tell it.

Call me a heretic, but I’ve never been much of a fan of Fred Astaire. He has a fine singing voice, and his dancing is always excellent, but there is something about him as an actor and leading man that rubs me the wrong way. He does a decent job here, but ask me who I’d prefer to see play opposite Audrey and I’d choose Bogart, Cooper, Peck, or Grant any day of the week over Astaire.

Funny Face is a fun, harmless musical. The Gershwin tunes are a pleasure, the story is…well, fodder for the songs and dance numbers, but fair enough for what it is. But the real reason to watch the picture is the one, Audrey Hepburn. While I am embarrassed that it took a silly pop song for me to see the light around that graceful woman, I am forever grateful for that three minutes of bubblegum, for it gave me the joy that is Audrey.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Unbelievable

The florescent light above our kitchen sink has not worked properly since we moved in. After a few minutes of illumination, it will start blinking on and off until it finally decides to stay permanently off. We have switched bulbs, jiggled, wiggled, and finagled it to no avail. I have taken it apart and made sure all of the connections were connecting. Nothing I could do would ever make it work differently. We finally broke down and got a friends husband, who also happens to be an electrician, to come over and give it a look. Within a few minutes he worked his magic and it now works like a charm.

As our luck would have, the very next day, our bathroom light started acting the same way. It continues to blink on and off, and eventually gives out entirely! So, the lamp that was taking the place of the faulty kitchen light has now been moved into the bathroom.

Next week, I will be without the use of the computer. Amy and I are taking another trip. This time we will be visiting our friend, Kim, in Lille. We also plan to take a minor excursion into Belgium and then make it to Normandy. If we have the time, and money, we may venture towards the center of France and visit a few of the castles there.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

American Beauty Review

The first time I saw American Beauty it was the last in three consecutive weekend movie run. The other two films were Fight Club and Bringing Out the Dead. All three films are about men trying to come to terms to what it means to be a man in America in this day and age. Fight Club finds meaning in deconstructing everything down to base needs, feeling through pain. Bringing Out the Dead gives meaning to its character through drug use, but is was in American Beauty that I found some sense of hope.

In the film, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) plays a middle aged, middle class suburbanite, with seemingly everything he could desire. He has a good, well paying job; a beautiful wife (Annette Bening); a large luxurious house; and a lovely daughter (Thora Birch). Yet, with all of this he is not happy. In fact, all of these things are not quite what they seem. His employer is facing cut backs, and he may soon lose his job. He marriage is in shambles, and his daughter openly hates him. Early, we see him masturbating in the shower, in narration; he states this is the highpoint of his day. All is not well in the house of Burnham.

All of this changes when Lester meets Angela (Mena Suvari), his daughter, Jane’s gorgeous, cheerleader friend. On first seeing Angela during a cheer routine, Lester feel a special, lustful connection. Later that night, Lester overhears Angela playfully tell Jane that if he would only work out, he would be sexy. His lust over this teenage vixen becomes the catalyst for the film and Lester’s very life.

Soon after Lester quits his job, in fact he bilks the company for a year’s salary by threatening to disclose scandalous information that he has become privy to. He begins smoking pot, buys a hot rod.. He plays with remote control cars, takes a job at a fast food joint, and of course does start working out. In every way he reverts back to his teenage years. Even the soundtrack begins blaring out classic rock tunes from the 1970’s. Finally after years, decades even, of feeling low, miserable, not alive, he feels great.

This reversion back to his glory days is only the beginning. It is a reversion back to the days when he had fun, when he felt alive. But he is not a man who will stop there. This is just a beginning point to a life long conversion of living a full life, as opposed to a life full of the right things, but that is ultimately empty. Or it would be if he was not shortly dead (this is not nearly the spoiler you might think it is, for Lester announced his death within the first minutes of the film.) Towards the end of the film we can see that Lester is already outgrowing his childish behavior. When he yells at his daughter, he immediately feels the sting of regret. When given the chance to indulge in his lusts, he backs away, understanding that it is not right. Just as the music changed to classic rock with the first change, here it has changed again, turning into the same classic rock being covered by newer, contemporary artists.

Many will probably say that using the lust for a teen, and illicit drug us as a catalyst for change, is not a change for the better. I can already hear my mother scolding me for having seen the movie, much less reviewed it from 2,000 miles away in Oklahoma. Yet, here it works, and works well. I don’t believe the film is saying that these things should be the means to a change, these things only served as means for this character to break free from the rut that had become his life. There is a telling scene where Lester and his wife are overcome with sexual desire. As he dips his wife to kiss her, she stops the embrace because he is near to spilling his glass of wine on an expensive couch. An argument ensues with Lester proclaiming that “it’s just a couch,” while his wife is horrified at the thought of ruining said couch. There lies one of the central themes of the film. That these characters are so wrapped up in the material that they lose sight of the better pleasure of life, including love making.

It is not a perfect film. The Burnham’s neighbor, Col. Fritts (Chris Cooper) seems a caricatured archetype. His plays a hateful, homophobe who really carries deep rooted homosexual tendencies is too outlandish to be considered real. Though it must be said the part is played marvelously by Chris Cooper. Jane’s speech about being a freak too, may move the young kids who consider themselves the nonconformist, shy-type, but it is too after-school special for my tastes.

I’ve left out some of the best scenes and an important character, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). He plays the drug dealing son of Col. Fritts, who likes to record everything on his video camera. There is a moving scene in which he and Jane watch an old tape of his of a plastic bag floating through the air. It is a moving, poetic scene that conjures up thought of the futility of life and its very beauty. It is that type of movie. It creates beautiful, moving, simple scenes that bring a sense of hope to life, while at the same time, showing the ultimate horror of living it.

I Am Charlotte Simmons Review

Every few years or so, Tom Wolfe creates a massive tome documenting sections of American society. In 1988, he detailed New York City during the Wall Street boom in Bonfire of the Vanities. In 2001 he turned his satiric eye on to the capitol of the South, Atlanta, GA, in A Man in Full. In 2004 he has deconstructed another part of American culture, that of the university.

I Am Charlotte Simmons is set at the fictional Dupont University. It is a setting of higher learning as prestigious in its intelligentsia as Harvard or Princeton, with an athletic department as fearsome as the University of Texas, or Stanford. Like New York and Atlanta it is full of a great many sub-cultures with their own social statuses. Wolfe again skewers them with a journalists eye for details.

Within Dupont University there are several classes of society. There are the fraternities and sororities filled with alcoholic, sex obsessed frat boys and their counterpart sorority girls, who are perfectly dressed, coiffed, manicured and accessorized. There are “student athletes” who are set apart from all other students on campus with private dorms, dumbed down classes (taught by professors who understand the needs for the “program”) and, of course, plenty of lavish gifts bestowed upon them. Then, there are the students daring to come to the university to actually get an education. These students are at the lower end of the social totem pole. Nerds and geeks who want to use the university for its intended purpose. But these poor lads are not the complete social outcasts. For this Wolfe gives characters with no other purpose than to be losers. There are groups of girls who line the dormitory hallways blocking the paths of others only to grasp a little of their coolness and gossip about anyone with something resembling a life.

Charlotte Simmons enters Dupont from the mountains of North Carolina. She is a beautiful, intelligent prodigy from the sticks. She comes to this bastion of social milieu, naïve, morally pure, and with Southern good cheer. The near 700 pages within this novel details her freshman year trying to find her place in all of this.

Wolfe again writes from the perspective of different characters. When chronicling one character, the reader understands their thoughts and perspectives. Here, he gives us insight into several characters. There is JoJo Johanssen, star basketball player being outplayed by a incoming freshman. Next there is Hoyt Thrope, the coolest of cook frat boys, who is rich, suave and completely one dimensional. We also understand the perspective of Adam, a poor, intellectual and radical member of the school newspaper. Of course, much of the novel is written from Charlotte Simmon’s perspective. An interesting turn of perspectives occurs when two or more of these characters interact with each other. Suddenly we see one of the characters from another point of view.

The novel does a great job giving details to the nuances of the fictional university. Wolfe is the reporter chronicling American college life. Yet, he is also the constant satirist drilling into the ultimate contradiction of a university doing everything but educate. There are several beautiful passages detailing the state of the once grand and beautiful fraternity houses. The large, ornate tables have long since been stained and chipped by countless beer games. The antique, gorgeous library now houses pizza boxes, beer cans and a lone television, without a book to be found.

At its heart, this is a coming of age story. Charlotte Simmons must become an adult woman. Wolfe lets us know that she is an intellect prodigy. He writes her with the ability to become an intellectual giant. She is also a pure, naïve country girl. When the novel begins, she is a virginal, teetoling young lady who is shocked, SHOCKED at the foul language coming from the mouths of her peers. Also from the beginning we know that within the novels pages Charlotte will lose her innocence. Intuitively, we understand that Wolfe must crush her under the pressure of her peers. We hope she will be able to put herself together, into a stronger self, before the last page.

A large part of the novel focuses on Charlottes desire to find a boyfriend. There are three boys vying for her attentions. Hoyt is the good looking, incredibly popular forerunner. He is suave and incredibly charming and quickly goes after Charlotte’s affections. Adam brings with him a stunning intellect that wows Charlotte, and gives her the intellectual challenges she came to Dupont for in the first place. JoJo is the sweet, kind hearted basketball star who cannot be overlooked.

Who she winds up with at the end of the novel, I found to be a large fault. It is almost as if Wolfe wants to surprise the reader with the least acceptable candidate. Throughout the novel, Charlotte belittles and is annoyed with this character. In order to end the novel, we are found with Charlotte throwing away so much of what she had worked form. Some of this had been destroyed with bad decisions, but we do not see where it is destroyed so much that she will accept where she is by the novel’s end.

It is discouraging, and yet believable that Charlotte is so enveloped with the need to be popular. Certainly the need to fit in, to find kinship with our fellow people, is a universal need. Yet Charlotte concentrates so deeply on this need, it is disappointing to see. She notes that in high school she was able to be above the worldly throng, yet almost immediately she is going against her own beliefs merely to fit in.

Out of place in this novel is the lack of God. Charlotte is from the rural mountains of North Carolina, practically the buckle in the Bible belt. Her morals abound from Christian ideology. She mentions that her mother is from the Church of Christ Evangelical denomination. Yet, rarely is there mention of God or faith. The first mentioning of the divine comes from Charlotte fearing the wrath of her momma’s God. The way the passage reads we understand she fears the wrath of her momma over the wrath of that God. Later, when Charlotte has all but been destroyed, she prays to God over and over again to take her away from this earthly plain. Yet, by novel’s end Charlotte ruminates over her disbelief in an eternal soul. It is not difficult to believe that even a rural North Carolina intellectual could pull away from her mother’s belief in God. But, to have the character seem unscarred by this belief (or unbelief), seem more from the writers New York intellectualism, than one based in the character.

Tom Wolfe has again created a masterful work of satire. His journalistic eye gathers enormous details about the structure of American collegiate life. He seems to be trying to shock his audience where there is none left. There have been far too many MTV Spring Break specials to find any shock in college students drinking and indulging in casual sex. However, he gives a bravado performance detailing their escapades. In the same manner, he fails at bringing perfect insight into the nature of someone like the titular character. He glances over any religious turmoil that would certainly be central to her character. Even with these flaws, I Am Charlotte Simmons is a beautiful read. There is much that is spot-on correct in the current university scene, and there is much to enjoy while reading.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

No Water No Cry

Once again this morning our water was turned off, that makes it six times since we’ve been here, I believe. I have no idea why they need to turn it off so often. We were awaken by some insistent hammering, drilling this morning, that must be a part of it. Unfortunately, the hammering didn’t come early enough. The water was turned off at 8:30 and we had forgotten about the notice we received yesterday, so we slept right through. Ugh, no water is miserable. No shower, no drinks, no washing of the dishes from the previous night, no flushing the toilet. The notice said it would be back on at 12:30. We decided to sit down and watch American Beauty to pass the time. It finished right on the 12:30 nose. “Ahhhh,” we said, looking ever so forward to a long shower.

“It’s not working!” cried Amy from the bath. Indeed, she was correct, out water was still not working. Hoping it would only be off for a few more minutes we began straightening the place up. Ten minutes later and it was still off. I settled in to read a book, and Amy checked her e-mail. Thirty minutes of this and no water in sight. Amy moved to the couch to stare at the side of my head, while I picked up my French homework.

Two o’clock came and we were still greasy as every. Amy had to be at work at 3, in desperation, we called our friend Elizabeth. Thankfully, she was home, and allowed us to jaunt over and clean up. It felt like everybody in France was out on the street gawking at the greasy Americans as we walked over.

It is now just past three o’clock, and we still do not have any water, but at least I’m clean.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Boring Details About My Day

It has been absolutely gorgeous here again for the last several days. My now daily walks to the park are gaining me a red face and a slimmer belly. There are few things better than being able to pull your belt a notch tighter.

Along with my park walks, I have nabbed what I feel, are some very good photographs. Please visit my webshots pages and take a look.

It looks like we'll be taking a bit of a tour of France next week. Amy has a two week vacation from school so we though we'd go visit the other regions in France. We hope to hit Lille, Normandy and a few castles in the middle of the country. More details will come when we have them.

Astute observers will notice I have fewer links on my blog these days. There are several reasons for this. They are a pain in the butt to install, and I figure you guys can go to google and search for that stuff on your own if you like. I had originally planned to have interesting and well researched links, but that takes far too much time than I care to give to the project. Also Google search rankings go down whenever you link to a sight that doesn't link back to you.

Speaking of Google, my blog counter gives me information on how people get to my blog. This includes linking here, or what web search they came from. Two of my favorites are searches for a popular ice cream chain "Brusters," except the searchers mispell the name to read "Brewsters." The other searches involve a picture I took at a German McDonalds (which you can see by scrolling to the bottom of this link) The picture consists of a window advertising a bar located in the McDonalds shows the naked silhouette of dancing girls, the kind normally seen on truck flaps. The funniest of these searches involved Yahoos engine where someone searched for "naked silhouett" and came to my site. From there I got several links from Yahoo mail. Presumably the anonymous searcher found the picture so interesting he had to e-mail it to his buddies.

My little stint on blogcritics.org is going quite well. They are getting upwards of 40,000 visitors a day and so my reviews/essays are being read by a lot more people than I ever generate on this little piece of cyberspace. That's a bit exciting, and rather daunting.

Well, my friends, I believe that is the boredom for today.

The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler once wrote that Dashielle Hammett “Gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse.” In his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” he continues to praise Hammett while berating Agatha Christie types who set murders at tea parties and ended them by bringing all the suspects into one room while the detective ran over all the clues before them, causing the killer to jump out and confess. Chandler set out to write Fiction, with a capital “ART”, that it happened to involve pimps, drug fiends, mobsters, and lots of murders is secondary.

It is difficult to review a single work of Chandlers, they all kind of fuse into a sort-of biography for his singular detective, Phillip Marlowe. His novels are very similar, in that they involve the seedier aspects of the city, are all told in the first person by Marlowe, always include various crimes, usually murder, and are filled with an assortment of double crossing, corrupt folks. But, novels are not the same in the way novels by the likes of Dean Koontz or Mary Higgins Clark are the same. Where they seem to have a dozen storylines and can simply fill in different character names and settings. No, though Chandler’s stories are similar in many ways, they differ in the means by which they are told. Like the way snowflakes look the same in one drift, but upon observation are each different. Or the way in which dollar bills are the same aesthetically, but are spent in a million different ways. Chandler’s writing sparkles amidst the slums and degenerates he writes about. His dialogue sparkles as Marlowe’s sarcasm cracks your lips into a smile.

The Little Sister starts with a little nebbish girl, from nowhere-Kansas who asks Marlowe to help her find her brother. From there the plot involves Cincinnati mobsters, Hollywood agents, starlets and a few ice picks sticking out of a few necks. As always, Chandler’s plot gets very complicated very fast. The joy of the novel is not in trying to figure out who is who, and who did what, but in the way Chandler lets the mystery unfold. The murders are always at the center of the story, but there is something else hanging near, something more akin to great literature, than dirty detective stories.

By the time he wrote the Little Sister, Chandler had written several screenplays for Hollywood pictures. He seemed to not like the experience one bit. There is plenty of cynicism directed towards Tinseltown here. The agents are like kings who will sell souls faster than Doctor Faustus, and the starlets are empty, callous girls who sell sex like McDonalds sells French fries.

Reading the Little Sister was a little sad for me, since it is the last Chandler novel that I had not read. There are still his short story collections to look forward to. It feels like the end of an era. His novels still swarm around in my head, and give me hope as a writer. Here is someone who wrote stories, not just to entertain, but to try to find something more-Literature or Art- and maybe, in doing so helped us to understand what it means to be a writer.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Band of Brothers Review

HBO’s ten part mini-series on the “Easy” Company’s tribulations during the German invasion of World War II is a grand spectacle, filled with numerous moments of perfection, and begs one simple question. Why can’t the rest of television look like this?

Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, and produced by Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg, the series gives a realistic, gut-wrenching portrayal of Easy Company’s activities from the final stages of their paratrooper training, to D-day, through their major battles up until the end of the war. It spans 10 hour long episodes (the series opener “Currahee” clocks in at 1 hour, 30 minutes), with each episode focusing on a particular battle front, and often specific characters. It gives a good portrait of what war must be like to those who actually fight it. It does not shy away from the brutal, ugly reality of combat. It is not just the Saving Private Ryan like battlefield violence (though there is plenty of that here) but the cold blooded murder of German prisoners, and the cowardice of boys trying to be soldiers. This is not John Wayne standing gruff and courageous against fascism. Band of Brothers does well to show that not all soldiers were courageous; all were scared, some so much to be rendered useless.

Each episode spotlights one or more of the men. In doing so it gives the audience a chance to view the soldiers on a more personal level, and not just their heroics. While doing so, the episodes also spotlight the types of struggles the soldiers dealt with day to day. While mainly this technique worked, there were a few missteps. Instead of using an entire episode to highlight the medics, I would have preferred those moments to be seen throughout the series. Medics were in constant need while on the battlefront, and to see this in detail, intertwined into every episode, would have served the purpose better. Instead I would rather have seen another soldier highlighted (Nixon comes to mind.)

Likewise the Normandy invasion seemed underwhelming. Easy company was part of a paratrooper division which flew over the beaches and fought their way back. Following the company, we miss much of what was the D-day invasion. Instead we find the soldiers taking out a few machine gun nests. Though this may be historically accurate, it seems disappointing not to see more of what is one of the most significant battles of the 20th century. I suppose I’ll have to watch Saving Private Ryan for that.

These are minor complaints in what is ultimately, an excellent series. It is a joy to see such an excellent production come out of a television series. HBO proves once again that it is at the top of the television game. The networks need to take a long, hard look at their cable competitors and see how they can produce quality productions.

Taken at the l'Orangerie, in downtown Strasbourg.