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Month: August 2004

Kip up

Look, ma, I upgraded to Movable Type 3.1! It’s cool. I am pondering my commenting options; it seems not impossible that I will set the blog to post TypeKey-authenticated comments immediately while screening non-TypeKey-authenticated comments; the legitimate non-TK comments would still get posted, just with a bit of a delay. Or maybe not, since I haven’t had a ton of comment spam recently. Thoughts, bearing in mind that the easiest thing for all of you (no screening, no worries) requires more effort on my part (deleting spam comments)?

There he is

Those of us who miss the Warren Ellis who wrote Stormwatch, Excalibur, and Transmetropolitan should check out Ultimate Fantastic Four. I, obviously, already have. The run starts with issue #7 and it is superb. Ellis likes to dislike superheroes, which is a real pity, since it’s his best genre. He’s doing cool things with the Fantastic Four which boil down to “what if they transformed while they were kids,” and it’s working very well.

Shadow light

Hero is exactly as good as everyone says it is — oh — then, well, curse you Stephen Hunter, for screwing up my schtick. Do these movie reviewers know no shame?

In point of fact, Hero is infinitely better than Stephen Hunter claims it is. More on the politics of Hunter in a nonce, so that those uninclined can skip that. First, we’ll meditate upon the movie, which is lush beyond imagining both in color (my second Christopher Doyle-lensed film in two nights, so if I am intoxicated with the magic of the projector, do forgive) and in martial arts. Lush is the proper word: I believe that the structure of the movie was concocted in order to provide the opportunity for Jet Li to fight Maggie Cheung more than once, and for Maggie Cheung to clash with Zhang Ziyi in more way than one, and if Donnie Yen only gets the one fight scene, well, it’s one of the better ones in the movie.

Yes, of course they’re good martial arts scenes. Jet Li is a master, Zhang Ziyi is getting her feet under her, and everyone else has been around Hong Kong long enough to know exactly what they’re doing. I.e., not only can they wield their swords and spears and fists with athletic grace, they can continue acting while they do so. Each motion has, as purpose, both furthering the flow of the battle and heightening the intimacy of the emotions.

It’s stylistic as all get out, so you shouldn’t expect Kill Bill; Zhang Yimou is building on top of the Shaw Brothers engendered tradition of historical martial arts movies, not imitating them. Thus, while Jet Li and Donnie Yen battle as fiercely and as quickly as anything you’ll see on screen this side of Ong Bak, the camera is as interested (not more) in the way the water drops onto the stone courtyard in which they fight as it is in the swords. It’s a duet.

And it’s very beautiful. Again: Christopher Doyle, and so on. I’d start to think that he was a one-trick pony, said trick being exquisite color filters, except he’s not; vide The Quiet American. I don’t think he could make a grungy movie, but there are plenty of people who can and not enough who can capture the light filtering through a dozen falling silk curtains the way he can, so it all works out and balances.

Now the politics are about to start. Be warned.

I am inclined to agree with Stephen Hunter when he says that one should not kill thousands of people in order to attain peace. As he says, “That’s the justification of all tyrants — tyrants in nations and tyrants in offices…” However, I wonder if he agrees with himself; one might ask, with some justification given that he takes a shot at Kerry in the course of the review, whether or not he thinks it was worth killing 10,000 Iraqis in order to attain peace in Iraq. Or, closer to home, whether he approves of Abraham Lincoln’s decision to start the Civil War.

He fails to note that, whatever the failings of the King of Qin, Qin is not the country employing three deadly assassins. (In fact, aren’t Flying Snow, Broken Sword, and Long Sky terrorists?) But then, it’s easy to decide that the victors were the bad guys from a perspective two millennia in the future. I suspect, although it is merely speculation, that Mr. Hunter’s real quarrel is with Communist China and that he has failed to separate past from present. But that’s the danger of mixing politics with movie reviews —

And damn, there I go tripping myself again.

Second barrel

Kerry continues to be not-Dukakis. The following quote is from Ben Barnes, former Lieutenant Governor of Texas.

Let’s talk a minute about John Kerry and George Bush and I know them both. And I’m not name dropping to say I know ‘em both. I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. of Texas and I’m not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. And I got a lot of other people into the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do, when you’re in office you helped a lot of rich people. And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam and I became more ashamed of myself than I have ever been because it was the worst thing that I did was that I helped a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get into the National Guard and I’m very sorry about that and I’m very ashamed and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.

Here’s the video.

The kicker? This clip is reportedly from a June 8th rally. Kerry’s been sitting on this until the Swift Boat Vets started smearing, because it’s most effective when it stands in contrast to Kerry’s service in Vietnam. Of course, Barnes is a Democrat, and thus partisan, but that hardly means he’s lying and it doesn’t mean this won’t be effective.

Missing tears

Last Life in the Universe is exactly as good as everyone says it is. I’d compare it to Lost in Translation, but then I’d have to get into saying which one is better, and neither of them is: and the expectations might be wrong, of course. So just take a taste of that sad meeting of two divergent people, and move on.

Tadanobu Asano’s Kenji is tired of life. Sinitta Boonyasak’s Noi doesn’t know what she wants out of life. It would be cliched to watch them find each other and come out of their shells, except that the story is punctuated with the unexpected, constantly cutting across the cliches. I went in knowing a little too much about the movie, but even knowing what was coming I was startled by the eloquence of the reveals.

It is an incredibly quiet movie, both figuratively and literally: there are vast swathes of the movie with no music and little incidental sound, and the pacing of the movie will not satisfy you if you’re expecting anything close to action. It is also incredibly beautiful, thanks in part to Christopher Doyle’s cinematography and in part to strong performances from Tadanobu Asano and Sinitta Boonyasak and in large part to Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s understated direction. The long uninterrupted pans across the Thai landscape are worth looking at, because not only is the surface beautiful, the movie rewards examination.

And then — more punctuation — there are swift bursts of violence, filmed from the side or in darkness or head on so that you can’t avoid them. It’s a movie of contrast. Some slow movies are just slow, paced that way for the sake of the director’s vision of developing story. The Last Life in the Universe is slow so that the few shockingly quick moments are heightened by contrast, just as it’s funny in order to heighten the sorrow (and vice versa). Just as it’s erotic to heighten the distance between people.

You probably missed it in the theaters. It might show up at a film festival, and it will be out on DVD next year.

You've reached

I just wrote up a little fictional piece, but it sucked and while I know what I need to write, I don’t currently have the brainpower to write it. So here’s the straight dope.

Jerry Russell is a right-wing talk radio host at KTLK, in LA. He has a medium-sized and devoted following; he pushes the talking points of his ideological friends and runs down the opposition like any good talk show host on any side of the political spectrum. He rules the airwaves from midnight to 4 AM, and has always been a little nervous about trying to go daytime. In fact, he’s turned down opportunities more than once because he’s afraid he couldn’t compete with the big boys.

He is not a Michael Savage or an Ann Coulter. He has a bit of Art Bell in him, ranting about conspiracies from time to time. He does not tell people that the moon landing was a hoax, however.

A year ago, Jerry Russell and his entire production crew at KTLK were killed and turned into vampires by a small coterie with a yen for irony. He doesn’t know anything else but broadcasting, so — he’s still broadcasting. He has the station manager under his Discipline-enhanced thumb, and he has sleeping quarters for him and his crew in the station. Just as he was worried about venturing into the rough world of daytime talk, so he worries about going out into the night and meeting other vampires. Besides, he has to keep to his schedule.

I’m not entirely sure where the premise goes, but that’s the setup.



President Bush wants to work with Sen. John McCain to take legal action against “shadowy” outside groups that have been spending millions of dollars on ads criticizing the president and Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry, the White House said Thursday.

Pesky free speech. What are you gonna do?

The thing is, Bush doesn’t get credit for the moral argument against 527s. It is possible to argue that 527s are bad because they tilt the political playing field towards the people with the most money, which of course they do. However, Bush has demonstrated that he doesn’t care about that principle, insofar as he opted out of the public financing system in the primaries. If he cared about an even playing field, he wouldn’t have done that. The same applies to the schedule of the RNC; it’s unusually late so that Bush has more time to spend the money he’s already collected before public financing laws kick in.

So he can’t legitimately argue that he’s doing this to create an even playing field. The only explanation left is that he doesn’t want people to be able to speak out against politicians. Or, I suppose, that he only minds a tilted playing field when it’s tilted against him.