Saturday, December 27, 2008

Favorite Discoveries of 2008

I have completed my Favorite Discoveries write up to accompany my 2008 Top 10 list.

The second list are my favorite non-2008 films that I discovered for the first time last year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

2008 Top Ten List

Okay, I finished my write up for my favorite films of 2008.

In the next day or so I'll try to include a write up of my favorite discoveries.

Most of the films on my list are ones I have previously reviewed, so I linked to the full reviews where possible.

Monday, December 22, 2008

2008 Top Ten List -- Happy-Go-Lucky

7) Happy-Go-Lucky -- Mike Leigh

I haven't seen this film topping many (any?) end of year lists, but it sure feels like the film on all the lists that everyone is talking about. Of course, everyone is saying different things about it, which is what makes it so interesting.

My meta-pondering about the film has focused on whether or not that is a good thing. One school of thought (very New Critical that) is that I film should mean what it means, and if it is effective, most people ought to watch it and get mostly the same thing out of it. Another way to think about it, though, is that a film that gets people disagreeing gets people talking about it.

Thinking about Happy-Go-Lucky as a hot-button, provocative film is interesting. People (at least the ones I've talked to) don't seem to merely disagree about whether or not Poppy is happy; they seem to disagree passionately. Which leads me to the question of why we care so much whether Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is truly happy or just putting on a happy face. For me, the answer is somewhat obviously the latter, and the real question becomes whether her ability to do so is healthy, unhealthy, or inconsequential.

If this argument is stacked, it may be because the antagonist who delivers the accusation that Poppy's carefree attitude is calculated and contributes to his poisonous hatred of the world may be such a hostile and negative character that we reflexively go the other way just to disassociate ourselves from him.

Even so, I couldn't shake the feeling that the film's post-coda resolution, with Poppy and friend literally rowing around in circles is dripping with irony. Perhaps it does not have the same hostile contempt that Poppy's driving instructor has for her life, but it does (at least for me) still contain a strong whiff of, "If this is the life your philosophy has gotten you, what does that say for your philosophy?" Poppy is unquestionably happier than the habitually growling inhabitants of her circle, and if the film suggested that she was better off than she might be if she gave in to grousing, I could agree.

But...and this is a big "but" for me, there is a part of me that kept saying perhaps unhappiness is not always an inappropriate response to all situations. Just as physical pain makes Poppy seek out a doctor who treats the cause of her pain, so too can emotional unhappiness spur someone to address the causes of their unhappiness.

Is it better to settle? Is having a relationship that is limited to the current moment with no promise of (nor impetus for) anything further better than being alone? It's not that I think there is anything wrong with clinging to those pieces of good within a sea of bad. It may actually be noble. But there is something wrong with saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace. So the question becomes, which is Poppy doing?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008 Top Ten List -- The Visitor

8) The Visitor -- Thomas McCarthy

The first thirty-five or forty minutes or so of Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor is just sublime. It is measured. It reveals itself gradually. It is anchored by a sad and beautiful performance by Richard Jenkins. It's leisurely. It doesn't try too hard to be about anything.

If the second half of the film is a bit too relentlessly expository and tries a bit too hard to rise to a level of social and political significance, well...the first half of the film was still sublime. The second half doesn't ruin the film, exactly, but it does slow its momentum, which is, I realize, an odd thing to say about a film that I was complementing for being so leisurely.

When the film is primarily a character study, than the leisurely pace allows us to observe Martin (Jenkins), and the pace gives us an opportunity to observe the layers of his personality. When the camera reverse zooms and we see not just Martin and his new friend, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), but the New York skyline sans Twin Towers I immediately said, "uh-oh." And it didn't take long for the film to announce that it wasn't just going to be about the difficulty of people connecting to one another but about people connecting to one another in a post-9/11 world. In case we didn't get it, there is a mural of the towers at the detention center where Tarek ends up, the deportation lawyer talks about how things have changed in a post-9/11 world, and we generally feel with a sense of rising dread that what has begun as a great film will end as a rote civics lesson.

For all that, though, the film does keep providing genuine moments of human contact, mostly provided by Jenkins's ability to inhabit rather than merely perform. There is a moment when he brings a letter to Tarek who asks him to put it up against the glass so he can read it. Jenkins holds the letter at arm's length and then turns his head away to give his friend some modicum of privacy in a place that has none. It is a moment that is instinctive, not actorly, one that the film doesn't draw our attention to but which is typical of the way the film keeps us grounded in people rather than situations.

Reading back over this, it sounds harsher towards the film than I feel, perhaps because the disappointment one feels at a near miss is proportionate to the level of expectations created. And it isn't even as though I disagreed with the political sentiments. I'm just saying I was more interested in Martin's attempts to learn the drums than I was in his education into the vagaries of our legal system. So, yes, it misfires, but when it is working, it is so wistful and engaging and true we end up just being happy to spend some times with these characters that we are willing to follow them into the land of conventional melodrama just to see how they inhabit it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Our Sad Tale of Woe

While having lunch this afternoon--biting into my lightly breaded coconut shrimp dipped in mango sauce with just a touch of ginger--it occurred to us that reports of our trip might mistakenly be read with a tone of gloating. To correct for this, we decided it was important to put out a blog post cataloging the numerous hardships, obstacles, and bad things we have had to overcome on this trip, showing that our success has only been through a Herculean effort of maintaining a positive attitude.

--The first key Cindy got didn't work on the rental car.
--The second restaraunt we went for sushi didn't serve lunch on Saturdays.
--Sherry scraped her leg on a rock.
--It took us most of the first day to figure out how to heat the spa.
--The second time the group went snorkeling we saw only a lot of fish instead of a huge number of fish.
--Cindy was the only one who saw a live Honu.
--The remote control to play the DVD player in the minivan was missing, meaning we could only play one episode of "The Shield" on our drive to Hilo.
--Since Kona is not an ACC market, the CBS affiliate cut away from the Duke-Xavier game after Duke went up by 30 points.
--I forgot to pack pants. (Contrary to what is being widely [and I think libelously] reported, I did not forget to bring pants. I was, in fact, wearing pants on the plane. I just didn't have any additional pants (except my swim trunks).
--I lost my Star Sidewinder playing Safari golf in Hilo.
--One of the games we played didn't have instructions, forcing us to make them up.
--The local mailbox store had a note that said Western Union was "temporarily unavailable" and when we asked when it would be available again they said "next year."
--The time difference meant that people occasionally called or texted us at weird hours.
--Sherry had an allergic reaction to some mascara and had to wear sunglassess for all of one whole day.
--I fell asleep half way through Don Cheadle's "Traitor" and so didn't have brownies until the next day (when they were no longer hot out of the oven).
--After going through a whole meal at the Kona Brewery, Cindy was informed that Beer-a-misu was no longer available (even though it was still on the menu).
--The multi-disc DVD player that is hooked up to the home entertainment center with stereo sound only has a next disc function (instead of skip disc function) on the remote, meaning you have to either get up and walk to the unit or let one disc load for 10 seconds if you are on disc 1 and actually want to watch something on disc three.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hawaii Disc Golf

Well, Hawaii became the thirty-eighth state in which I have played disc golf when Todd, Cindy, and I played Safari golf at Wailoa State Park in Hilo yesterday. There is an official course listed in the PDGA website, but you need a local guide and the number was out of order. So Safari golf will have to do. And I lost a disc.

Hawaii has some big rough.

Cindy's hole had a double mando (which she missed and had to play from the drop zone).

My form isn't the greatest...but we still had fun.

Hey, I bet if I threw from half way across this bridge, the water hazard would be no problem...

Yeah, well, maybe not.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I'm working hard on my vacation. Here's the sunset from my lanai (that means balcony for all you mainlanders):

In other important news, I've tentatively scored an invite to play disc golf with some locals at a private course on Sunday.

Monday, December 15, 2008

View From My Window This Morning

Aloha to all my friends.

Todd, Sherry, and I arrived safely at Kona yesterday and met up with Cindy.

The house has such a beautiful, peaceful quality. It's so nice to be here after a long, stressful semester. I was meditating this morning on how much nicer some blessings are when you can share them with people you love and who care about you.

Here are some pictures from the house I took this morning....yeah, it's good to be me!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema--Free Preview

Cambridge Scholar's Publishing has upload a free preview of the book that includes Mike Hertenstein's introduction and the first chapter (Bill Scalia's essay on Bergman).

Link is here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"F" is for Frequency

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

That seemed to be the question worth asking as I perused the 56 songs beginning with the letter "F" in my Itunes library.

The playcount feature on the right column is an odd thing--I don't remember listening to these songs proportionately more than any others (I tend to only really listen to stuff on shuffle play), but here's what the counter says are the five most frequent songs that came up when the shuffling stop:

1) "Fast Car" -- Tracy Chapman. Weird story about this song. I always assumed it was a guy. I had heard it on the radio but never knew who sang it. I had heard of Tracy Chapman but never listened to any of her music. Then I downloaded "Change" after hearing it on a commercial for HBO DVDs and searched for other songs by the same artist.

2) "Find Us Faithful" -- Steve Green. Honestly, I don't remember listening to this song ten times in the last decade, but the counter says...Must have come up when I pulled the earbuds to pay my bills. Fairly well made if conventional CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) that I've always liked since a guy sang it at my church when I was in college. (Though I confess I liked the cover better he did better.)

3) "For Your Eyes Only" -- Sheena Easton. Personally, I think this is far and away the best Bond theme song. (No offense to Carly Simon.)

4) "Further to Fly" -- Paul Simon. You know, I remember playing Graceland during a Spades game in Marye House and Cindy (who was just a friend at the time) asking me who it was. That was the first (and last, really) time anyone who was at all cool artistically ever complimented me on my taste in music. I thought Rhythm of the Saints was a great follow up, but I haven't heard much from Simon after that, have I?

5) "First We Take Manhattan" -- Leonard Cohen. I actually have no idea what this song means. But I kind of like the lyrics: "They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom /For trying to change the system from within."

Graduation Kvetching

By which I mean graduations in general, not any particular graduation I've attended. (They do all blur together, don't they?)

Graduations rival department meetings for the least pleasant aspect of my job. They are the Prufrockian coffee spoons in which my life is counted out.

In no particular order, here are some things that are wrong with graduations:

1) Graduation speakers. Students have had to spend four years (at least) listening to lectures. Nobody, and I mean nobody is there to hear the speaker. And most ceremonies are long enough. I'm not complaining that graduation speakers are always bad. What I am saying is why have them at all? Think back to any graduation you've ever been to...and try to remember something...anything the graduation speaker said. I think, perhaps speakers are a means of trying to lend seriousness to an occasion that is already wrapped in over-seriousness (more on that in just a second).

2) Honorary Degrees. These are bogus. They tend to diminish the presenting institution rather than elevate the conferee. I'm not saying that awards or honorifics are always bad (but they are overdone), just that awarding someone a degree is not an appropriate form of reward. Could you imagine if, to honor me for my service to the city of Washington, the Redskins awarded me a Super Bowl ring? Or, worse, yet, how about if the Carolina Panthers did? (I've seen some institutions award honorary versions of degrees they don't even award, let's say the Panthers made up a special Super Bowl ring and gave it to me even though they've never won a Super Bowl and my achievements had nothing to do with football.)
Let's say that for writing a film book the Academy of Motion Pictures gave me an honorary Oscar for Best Director even though I've never made a film and then I insisted for the rest of my life that everyone refer to me as "Academy Award Winner..." In fact, hey, Peter, Todd, Cindy, I hereby grant you Nobel Prizes for Beer Brewing and Tasting. From this day forward, I shall refer to the three of you as Nobel Laureates. (I'm soooo jealous!).

3) No cheering rules. When and where, exactly, did this happen? Why have academic institutions become such sourpusses all of a sudden? If you've worked four years to achieve a monumental lifetime goal and friends and family have gathered around to see you get it...don't they have a right to give expressions of joy? I'm not saying be crass or rude or obscene, but whoop, holler, cheer, yell bravo, whatever. If I'm the person before or after you to receive my degree, that doesn't diminish my achievement. Are we so anxious to be taken seriously that we've lost the ability to be genuinely celebratory? I wish university presidents across the country would all read the celebration chapter in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline...and try to make graduations a celebration for the degree recipients rather than a statement of high seriousness for the degree grantors. Let's have a big spread with some good food and music, put on the the cap and gown and give graduates an opportunity to get pictures taken with friends or mentors.

Or why not have micro ceremonies (by discipline or something) throughout the campus...where people can graduate with their friends and have a more intimate setting with their families.

Or something...there's got to be a better way to do this.

I'm trying to imagine what it would be like if the pastor interrupted my wedding for twenty minutes in order to give some elder deacon or donor to the church an honorary wife.

Friday, December 12, 2008

1,169,466 with a bullet!

So someone somewhere bought a copy of my book. I know this because earlier in the week I logged on to the Amazon page and it said they had 2 in stock and today they said they had 1`in stock.


I also see that I am now ranked

"#1,169,466 in Books"

Gee, I do wish I could see what was 1,169, 465. (Turns out from a Google search, that it was at one time a kid's book called The Droll Troll: A View from Under the Bridge. No shame in losing to that. Could be the next Neil Jordan film.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wanted Rant

Here are the opening intertitles for Wanted:






Now I forget if it was Siskel or Ebert who said one key test of a film is whether or not its plot sounded more or less interesting than a documentary of its actors having lunch. I would certianly say another is whether or not the plot was formed by MadLibs (TM).

Try picking a friend at random and asking them to play MadLibs and then see if your movie premise sounds more or less the same or even better than Wanted's:

A __Number__ OF YEARS AGO...

A CLAN OF ___Profession (Plural)__ FORMED A SECRET SOCIETY OF __Dungeon's and Dragons Character Type__.


THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE __Type of Group or Organization___.

__Number___ WEEKS AGO...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Obama (TM) Administration

In the wake of last month's election, I read several articles pondering how the Obama (TM) campaign's ability to marshal and utilize volunteers might translate to his administration.

One opined that the incoming Obama (TM) administration would have at its disposal a built in PAC constituency, as the campaign had collected data from citizens who had been willing to donate and to volunteer time. The thinking went that perhaps Obama (TM) could appeal directly to citizens to contact local and state representatives demanding support for legislation. Think of all those donation requests you get from various PACs asking you to sign petitions or contact your senator or congressperson. Now think of them as coming from the White House.

This sounds good, but the reality thus far has been that it is not the PAC model that has dominated the Obama (TM) administration's use of donor and volunteer lists but rather that of multi-level-marketing (MLM). Obama (TM) has become a brand name, fit to be put on tee shirts, coffee mugs, or whatever. And brand names are not so good at getting people to do stuff--they are primarily about getting people to buy stuff.

Earlier this week, I got a campaign from the Obama (TM) administration. It might have explained why the president elect thinks we need a new stimulus package. It might have explained his cabinet picks or tried to stump for Jim Martin in the run-off in Georgia. It might have outlined Obama's (TM) thoughts about a why a bailout for Detroit's big three is a good thing. It might have done a lot of things.

What it did was ask me for money. Again. This is roughly the sixth time that Obama (TM) for America has asked me for money since the election. If I send them $35, they will send me (I am not making this up) a four year calendar, decorated with pictures of the campaign trail.

Look, I like Obama (TM).
I voted for Obama (TM).

I just wish that Obama (TM) for America treated me a little bit more like its constituency rather than its customer base. And I wish that Obama (TM) for America acted a little bit more like leaders and a little bit less like vendors.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Shield

I have an appreciation of FX's The Shield in this month's The Matthew's House Project. There is also a companion piece by M. Leary about the wrap of that show.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Destiny (1921)

Some Screen Grabs; I'll try to talk about these later/elsewhere. Right now, I'm just trying to get them uploaded: