Sunday, June 20, 2010

Just Watched: Ikiru


After suffering through Avatar I felt the need to watch something with potentially more redeeming value.  I recorded Ikiru a couple of months ago when AMC was honoring Kurosawa with a movie marathon to coincide with what would have been his 100th birthday.  Today seemed like as good a time as any to watch it.

Going in I knew only two pieces of information about this film.  First, I knew it was directed by Kurosawa and second that it involved an old man facing his mortality.  What I didn't know was that it stared the same awesome actor who played the lead Samurai in Kurosawa's arguably most famous film 'The Seven Samurai' and that rather than being a medieval period piece (as have been all the Kurosawa films I've seen)  this one took place in 1950s Japan.

The plot is simple.  The protagonist, Kanji Watanabe, a senior government bureaucrat learns he has stomach cancer and only months to live.  The news of his impending death forces him to take a fresh look at his repetitive existence and he finds it wanting.  He tries drinking and he chases a young lady whose youth he envies but neither can dispel the shadow death has cast on his thoughts.  Finally he realizes that he needs to do something that will have a lasting impact and he decides to use his government position a to help push through a park project that's stuck in bureaucratic mire.

The final quarter of the film takes place at his wake and consists of family, fellow bureaucrats and elected officials debating whether Watanabe deserves credit for the park project of whether he was just a cog in bureaucratic machine that would have created the park with or without Watanabe.   

As I watched Ikiru I kept thinking about Bergman's 'Wild Strawberries' and 'The Seventh Seal', two other great existential films from the same period.   In the end I did not enjoy Ikiru as much as either of those films but found it interesting contrasting the Japanese perspective on death with the Scandinavian.   I grew up watching WWII movies and they usually depicted the Japanese as strict Bushido followers who had no problem being a Kamikaze or gutting themselves with sword if their honor was impeached.  This more nuanced and less enthusiastic approach to death and dieing was interesting to see and much more in line with how I imagine most humans feel.

The production values of Ikiru are very simple compared to the big battle scene's Kurosawa is most famous for.  Personally, I love how Kurosawa uses weather: rain, wind and fog are common elements of his films, however given the propensity of internal locations in Ikiru, weather didn't play a big part.   There were two small but important scenes that had weather elements.  The first has Wantanabe visiting the location where the park is to be built.  It's pouring rain and he walks out into the middle of the storm while most of his fellow bureaucrats huddle beneath umbrellas.  The last directly precedes Wantanabe's death and finds him sitting on a swing in the completed park singing a sad song as snow falls.  Both work well, I only wish there had been more like them.

As much as I enjoyed this film it's not something I'd recommend to anyone but a film buff.  Between the Japanese subtitles, slow pace and dark subject matter this isn't a film for the simple entertainment seeker but I certainly found it a nice balm for the Avatar blues.

Just Watched: Avatar


I feel like an old curmudgeon having to write this review because the story on Avatar has already been written and my views fall on the wrong side of popular opinion.  I love good science-fiction and I love good fantasy but, to me, Avatar was neither.  I didn't watch it in 3D or on a big screen but I don't really think either would have helped.  My problem with the movie wasn't the quality of the visuals, it was the lame story and ridiculous settings.

Believe it or not I've never seen 'Dances with Wolves' so I can't even complain that Avatar is a rehash of that - as I've heard it is from numerous sources - what I can complain about is the generic characterizations and bland story arc.  I did not give a damn about any of the characters.  Not a single one.  I wasn't impressed with the 'noble savages'.  I did not feel for the 'hero' trying to do the right thing but being pulled between two worlds.   I did not hate the 'corporate shill' whose greed knew no bounds.  The characters were all thin shadows of tired cliches.  There was absolutely nothing new going on in any of their heads.  It pains me that someone with a budget as big as Avatar had would invest so little in story.  It's mind fucking boggling.

My second complaint was with the shot designs.  It's cool that CGI is so advanced you can basically create any world you can imagine and I realize this is a 3D movie but does every setting have to have the most ridiculous layers of stuff that the characters need to move through.  Before the movie was half over I tired of the crazy cliffs, the webs of giant vines and the silly floating mountains being in every damn scene.  Given the over-the-top nature of the visuals I'm actually surprised there weren't flying sharks that shot lasers out of their eyeballs cause, you know, that would be fucking awesome.

There were some good bits during the excessive bore-a-thon.  I thought the way the aliens connected via their tentacle thing was neat and I liked the way the little fibers grew out of the ground, like a fungal bloom. I thought those were neat details but they certainly didn't save the film for me.  Honestly, I hated it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

American Craft Beer Fest

I attended the Friday evening session of the American Craft Beer Fest at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston last night. It was a fun event and I got to try a ton of beer; some of them great, some not so great. Here's my recollection of the notable brews I tasted.

Allagash Curieux (Bourbon Barrel-aged Triple / 11%) - I love the normal Allagash Triple but this beer took that and added a whole new layer of flavor. One of my very top favorites from the event.

Beer Works Belgian Quadruple (10.5%) - A very solid Quad from a local brewer.

Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams) Kosmic Mother Funk (Belgian Sour / 7%) - I'm not familiar with the style but this beer was wildly unique to my taste buds. It was funky, sour and very weird. I would have thought the beer was bad or spoiled if it hadn't been served in this setting.

Cambridge Brewing Co. The Audacity Of Hops (Belgian Double IPA / 8.5%) and The Colonel (Wild Porter 6.5%) - Both these beers were exceptional. Porter isn't my style but when you add in a little Brett yeast to give it some funk you end up with one hell of a beer.

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA (India Black Ale / 7%) - Local Lexington guys doing it right. This is a nice unusual beer.

Garnder Ale House Face-off Double IPA (9.8%) - I love this brew pub so I'm a bit biased. That said, last year the beers they brought to the Fest where just okay. They were drinkable, local and got credit for trying but were a noticeable step down from a lot of other beers that were available. This year however this Double IPA was fantastic.

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery Cinco de Mayo (Jalapeno Lager / 5%) - I don't drink a lot of pepper beers but this had such lovely freshness full of Jalapeno flavor. I wouldn't want to drink a six pack of this but I would love to drink it paired with some grilled seafood or perhaps ceviche.

Smuttynose Brewing Co. Rouge De Shire (Sour Raspberry Ale / 5%) - Bright red, very sour, unusual but very drinkable. It reminded me of a more sour Irish Apple Cider.

Wormtown Brewing Co. (MA) Be Hoppy IPA (American IPA / 6.5%) - This was one of the first beers I tasted and it was a very nice brew. It probably was a bit light for the style but I really appreciated the wonderful hop flavor with the lighter body. I could see myself drinking this as a session beer on a hot summer day.

The one slight disappointment at the show was that neither Rouge or Lagunitas had people at their booths during our session. I don't know if they ran into travel problems or what the story was but both had kegs of beer but no people serving. Given the quality of the local brew however it wasn't a big deal. There was more good local beer than I could taste, as it was, so tasting beers from notable national brands wasn't a priority.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Just Watched: In the Bedroom

In the Bedroom 

This movie has been on my radar screens since its release in 2001.  At that time it was roundly praised, received numerous Oscar nominations and it apparently did well in release but I had little desire to see it.  The name of the movie and the few clips I saw made it seems like a Victorian drama about repressed sexuality or something equally unappealing.  However, a month or more ago I noticed it was playing on one of my cable channels and I recorded it on my DVR.  Finally, last night I watched it and boy do I feel like an idiot.

My first head slap was about the movie title.  As Tom Wilkinson's character explains it  'In the Bedroom' is a phrase used by lobster men to describe the negative aspects of having more than one lobster in the trap; lobsters are territorial and cannibalistic so having them locked up together for long isn't a good plan.  The foreshadowing might be a little obvious but you know I was hooked when the authors were using Crustaceans as metaphors for human relationships.

My second head slap was about the location.  The movie takes place in and around Camden Maine.  I don't know where it was actually filmed but the buildings and accents all seem authentically Down-East.  I love Maine so any films that highlights the state is going to be something I want to watch.

My last head slap was the films photography and use of architectural details as elements of the story.  A lot was written about the performances of Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei but to me an equal star of the film was the interior shots of the quirky N.E. style homes.  The angles of staircases framed through door ways, multi-paned windows, billowing lace curtains all are used to great effect to highlight the tension or emotion of a scene. 

Given the exquisite simplicity of the composition of this film I could have used less of a Hollywood story arc but I guess they needed something dramatic to happen.   I would have been happy just watching these people live their quite lives but the plot has a few twists and turns along the way.  The final turn wasn't needed but the film does at least end on a contemplative note.

All in all, a great movie.  I can't believe I waited so long to watch it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fighting the Good Fight

I'm not sure whether Glen Beck is evil or just a loon but in either case he is a bad man who spreads hate, fear and outright lies as he panders to the sad part of society that require simple answers to complex questions and that don't care if the answer is in fact the truth.

It's tempting to laugh Beck off as just another charlatan but it's dangerous to underestimate the power of a simple albeit wrong explanation.  The bad ideas are like a virus that infect the non-skeptical.   I see this all the time with the evolution 'debate';  with each retelling the lie gains 'homespun validity' that is hard to undo.  Soon even normally reasonable people start repeating the pernicious nonsense. 

That's why is so nice to find people like Chris Rodda in the world.  She debunks Glen Beck's faux history lessons in great detail.   She points out the complete fabrications.   She provides full text for the cherry picked/half quotes.  She provides the untold story that puts the word and phrase choices in their proper context.   The real story is unfortunately not nearly as interesting as the made up one but she labors on and tells is anyway.

I doubt anyone who actually believes Beck or his guest 'historians' will ever read her but it's nice to know there are people like her out there providing honest answers for the truth seekers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Aliens among Us.

This picture from National Geographic's photo essay Translucent Creatures stirs my imagination and sends it spiraling off in a myriad of directions.  I see an old Kung-Fu master, an alien walking robot,  Cthulhu in a black cloak and of course various octopus stories: sad, calm, inquisitive.  It's a neat photo..

A Sum Greater than Its Parts

I'm an excitable boy.  I'm susceptible to bouts of euphoria when I stumble upon something new and interesting and I can go a little over the top while trying to share my enthusiasm.  (You might even say my purple prose flow thick as sap). It can even be embarrassing when the flames of my latest infatuation die down and I find myself sitting with just another flawed thing whose glimmer of newness I mistook as an inferno of greatness.  I'm not a bitter or spiteful person however so I don't turn on my past loves but rather clear for them a nice spot on the curio shelf of my life and move on; perhaps to revisit them in a new light;  perhaps not.

It's in full acknowledgment of this flaw of mine that I yet once more jump into fray and will regale you with tales of my new, albeit revisited, obsession: Steven Erikson's fantasy series The Malazan Book of the Fallen.  (Given my paucity of posting you may be forgiven for not knowing this passion was put aside for a time, but trust me it was.  (Alliteration is fun))

I just finished reading book 8, of the currently 9 published books, of the 10 book series.  It wasn't my favorite book of the series, at all, but it started to tie together some of the bigger threads that have run through the series and now I'm glimpsing a potential for mind bending awesomeness that is staggering in its scope.  The word epic isn't grand enough to capture the incredible breadth and depth of the big story. 

My enthusiasm is silly, I know, I know.  But dammit, the series is good and I want to talk about it with someone.

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism