Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And so...

..."JournalSpace is no more." Luckily I'd already signed the lease on this studio apartment; this bachelor crash pad. Onward and upward.

This morning in the current mystery novel I came across an aphorism from my distant past, one that I used to quote fairly often: "When in doubt, do nothing."

This is slight misquotation from War and Peace, in which it is repeated as a French proverb by the Russian general Kutuzov, the unprepossessing schlump who fought Napoleon to a standstill:

"Well, what do you want us to do?" he repeated and his eye shone with a deep, shrewd look. "I'll tell you what to do," he continued, as Prince Andrew still did not reply: "I will tell you what to do, and what I do. Dans le doute, mon cher," he paused, "abstiens-toi"*- he articulated the French proverb deliberately.

* "When in doubt, my dear fellow, do nothing."
(That's Book 10, Chapter 16 in the sturdy old Maude translation; III/Two/XVI in the new Pevear/Volokhonsky version, in which it is rendered, more literally, as "When in doubt, abstain.")

This struck me partly because, just the night before, which is to say last night, I finally got around to watching Sideways, free on Hulu, which with great skill and pinpoint timing makes the case for a diametrically opposite approach to the turning points of life, for the advisability of doing something rather than nothing.

I'll spare you my deep thoughts on this fortuitous convergence. We'll get back to discussing Telegu action movies shortly.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

His word is his Bond

Admired blogger Christian Arthur Lindke has suggested that the crash of JournalSpace could be attributed directly to my failure to post as promised these cogent comments of his on the new Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace," offered originally in a heartfelt e-mail. If he is right, perhaps this rectification will bring about a miraculous recovery. Fingers crossed!

As you know, I was skeptical of most of the reviews that had been offered regarding this film. I was going to say "critical analysis," but I think that is largely dead when it comes to the modern film review. Modern film reviews seem to be "buyer recommendations" with a touch of what Sarris called the "Primal Screen." The modern review seems overly obsessed with what the writer thought of a particular subject as a child. This criticism includes everything from the way "comic fanboys" responded to Superman Returns to the way paid reviewers (I cannot use the word critic anymore) watched and said, "that's not Bond."

Thankfully these two groups share something in common. They are small populations that people don't really pay any attention to. The new Superman film had its weaknesses, chiefly that it was an awkward remake of the first Superman film, but it has some magnificent moments and captures the core of its character. As for the new Bond film, it is free of the flaw of repetition, has been grossly misunderstood by critics, and is among my five favorite Bond films.
  • 1) On Her Majesty's Secret Service

  • 2) Goldfinger

  • 3) Dr. No

  • 4) Casino Royale (Craig)

  • 5) Quantum of Solace (Craig)
There is naturally some play in this list. Sometimes Thunderball works its way up and sometimes I cannot forgive that it created almost every cliche in the Bond franchise (the men in pajamas mass gunfight finale among those crimes). I know that "You Only Live Twice" is equally liable (as is come to think of it, Dr. No), but that film has Ninjas which brings a lot of forgiveness due to my own Primal Screen.

There was a point in the late-90s when I watched Bond films only out of some sense of nostalgic duty. I had seen all the Bond films to date and was meeting my Bondly Obligations by attending whatever current Bond film was being released. It mattered not if the film was a bad remake of Goldfinger, I call The World is Not Enough "Black-Gold Finger," or a bad remake of Diamonds Are Forever like Die Another Day. I had liked Tomorrow Never Dies, as it seemed to bring something new to the franchise (Michele Yeoh for one and a discussion of the power of Media for another). This is also the time that I rewatched the Moore movies. I found them almost unbearable to watch. They were cliche for the sake of cliche (Live and Let Die being an exception). They were too wedded to the "Bond movie formula." I realized that, as weak as some of them were, that the Brosnan films were an attempt to bring some dignity back to the franchise. They succeeded in this goal, but they were still rarely able to capture the same wonder that Bond should bring. It was the Craig films that brought this back and made me believe in Bond again.

What is it about the Craig films that made me believe in Bond again?

First and foremost, they are serious. They are not camp.

Second, Casino Royale hired the most talented 2nd Unit director in the business to help them in the reimagining of how action was presented. Alexander Witt came in and did what he does best, set an undeniably powerful style for action. From Speed to Gladiator to Black Hawk Down to The Bourne Identity to Casino Royale to Fool's Gold, Witt does one thing enormously well. He direct action like no other 2nd Unit director. Not every film he works on is a masterpiece (Daredevil comes to mind), but the action is always compelling. That's why you bring him in. Watch the narrative flow of the action sequences in Bourne Identity and compare them to the other two Bourne films. They all utilize the same "style" of action -- quick cuts, sharp angle changes, desparate action -- but only one moves smoothly from frame to frame. That film is The Bourne Identity. The difference lies not just in the editing, but in the "coverage" of the action sequences which provide material for the editing. Witt provides sufficient coverage and beautiful cinematography -- Ridley finally gave him the full DP position in Body of Lies and thankfully so. The shift from first Craig Bond film to second is similar to that in the Bourne films, but lessened due to the underlying differences in the characters -- more on that later -- as the production company shifted from the A list Witt to the Witt jr. version Dan Bradley who was Witt's replacement when he turned down Indiana Jones. Bradley is essentially a version of Witt who comes from a Stunts background rather than a cinematographic one. Hence a slight scaling up of the stunts and a slight decrease in visual storytelling. I don't mean to make it sound like Bradley is a hack, far from it, just that his history affects the narrative feel of his action. Same "school" of action, different electives if you will.

Third, the action is believable. Bond feels pain. Bond doesn't look silly when he fights, etc. American films have learned a lot from their HK counterparts, and one of the lessons I am happiest they have learned is how to make non-martial artists look like martial artists. This has led many, erroneously, to compare Bond to Bourne (especially when you combine this with the fact that they share 2nd Unit Directors). But I were to make a version of The Manchurian Candidate they would probably feel the same way after they watched my remake of the famous Frank Sinatra "judo" scene. Sinatra's obvious incompetence pulls the audience out of the film, he's laughable. Better to be compared to Bourne -- even though the rest of my film would be relatively actionless -- than to be laughable. That's what is going on here with Bond as well. The new Bond film is a case study in what the modern fight scene looks like, a style that was first seen by "Western" eyes in Bourne, but that originated in films like Armour of God and Operation Condor. These are Jackie Chan style fights, I am in particular thinking of the fight between Chan and Benny Urquidez in Wheels on Meals, which has the appropriate desperation. American fight scenes have grown up, but that is where the Bond/Bourne comparison really ends -- more later.

Fourth, the stories are more plausible. Casino Royale was about funding terrorists and using terrorism to affect the stock market. Quantum of Solace was about exaggerating the effects of global warming by hiding water in aquafers which in turn creates regime instability in South American countries. No super lasers, orbital space stations, or underwater Utopias here.

If they keep this up, I'm in for the long haul happily.

Now for my thoughts on Quantum of Solace. If this film isn't Bond as Bourne, what is it? What motivates Bond in this picture? Why is he so harried and desperate? Is this a film about revenge?

This film does what I thought would never be possible, it updates Bond to the post-Cold War era. Most reviewers have presented the film as a quest for vengeance for the death of Bond's love Vesper. They are wrong. Certainly there are hints of that narrative, as it is offered as a red herring to the audience, but it is not the focus. Where Casino Royale was a fusion of Casino Royale and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this film is a fusion of You Only Live Twice (the vengeance aspect) a little bit of From Russia With Love (the infiltration by a terrorist organization into British Intelligence) with something new -- a threat for the 21st Century. No longer do we have SMERSH or SPECTRE. Now we have QUANTUM, an organization which "has people everywhere" and seeks control over many of the world's resources and leaders.

The film begins in media res with a car chase that ends with Bond having delivered a person of interest, who has be renditioned, for interrogation. The man laughs and says "we have people everywhere" at which point M's bodyguard of 12 years shoots the person of interest and takes a quick shot at M. This is the core of the film. Bond must find out who has infiltrated British Intelligence so deeply and what their intentions are. This is not a vengeance film, this is a protection film. Bond is reacting to the threat against M, a threat that could come from anywhere and anyone. He is preforming exploratory surgery throughout the espionage world to find the proper connections and to discover who this new global entity is. An entity that includes, as Bond finds out at a performance of Tosca, a chief advisor to the PM to whom M must report. M, like most critics, believes Bond is out for revenge. But when M says to Bond at the end of the film "I need you back James" and he responds "I never left," he is letting us know that everything he did was for M -- to protect a woman he loves. This is a film that portrays the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive action, on the personal level. It is quite compelling and desperate, and exactly the opposite of Bourne. Bourne hates his government and seeks the downfall of its assassination program. Bond loves his government and reacts to an internal threat instantly and without regard to its bureaucracy. He is relentless in his pursuit, takes vengeance when it is appropriate (he kills one person in a manner related to how they killed one of his "women'), but puts mission before everything...including protocol and procedure. This is Bond of the books. Sentimental and brutal at the same time. I recommend reading page 2 of On Her Majesty's Secret Service to get a sense of what I am writing about: "What a long time agon they were, those spade-and-bucket days! How far he had come since the freckles and the Cadbury milk-chocolate Flakes and the fizzy lemonade! Impatiently Bond lit a cigarette, pulled his shoulders out of their slouch and slammed the mawkish memories back into their long-closed file. Today he was a grown-up, a man with years of dirty, dangerous memories -- a spy." There's more to the passage where you get to see Bond's personality shift from reminscence to disdain for innocence. Powerful. The same is true of the movie Quantum. Someone threatened Bond's mother figure, M, a woman he "loves." He is relentless in his pursuit.

The only criticism I can offer is that Craig's Bond is a reactive character.


Friday, December 19, 2008

JournalSpace is down again

Reports here.

UPDATE 12/20:

"What happened is that both drives which hold the databases have failed. On Monday we'll be sending them to DriveSavers for recovery. Because of postal transit times and the holidays, journalspace will likely be down for most or all of Christmas week. We're very sorry for this inconvenience."
Not that this is likely to have much impact on my pulsating lifestyle, given how much and/or little I've been posting lately. But you never know.

Latest review. Third one down.

Everything from April to August was archived. Worst case, everything posted from August to December 2008 is no more.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Not quite yet

Back at the old homestead:


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Back again

Compare date of previous post to see how recently JS crashed the last time.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back here for the time being...

...after another JournalSpace meltdown.


Thursday, April 10, 2008



Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mon semblable, mon frere...

Only half way through the Fred Vargas rompol Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands and I already know who the killer is. There's really only one person it could be. Perhaps at this point I've simply read too many mysteries. As soon as Adamsberg woke up on the path with blood on his hand I knew whose blood it would turn out to be and how that fact would be detected.

Normally this sort of thing would be a deal breaker and the book would go flying across the room. You can't be consistently this far ahead of a fictional detective without losing respect for him. But while Wash This Blood works hardly at all as generic mystery it is nevertheless a quite effective dramatic novel about cops who are also human beings with tangled psyches. (One of the book's defining metaphors is a remote lake with a deep layer of almost prehistoric sucking mud.)

Or rather, it is a melodrama, a genre in its own right, little respected nowadays, that has rules every bit as rigid as those of the detective story. Melodrama can in fact work better when you can see the finale coming (as in this case) 200 pages away. It creates a sense of looming dread and of an overall pleasing symmetry that the Ahab-like cop who has been stalking a "dead" serial killer for two decades is himself an object of obsession---for the last person he, though not we, would ever think of.

The most relevent form of melodrama for our purposes is, of course, film noir, and on the evidence so far I'd say Vargas has more in common with Cornell Woolrich (cf especially The Black Curtain) than with Simenon or Mankell. Which is fine with me. Can't be a Bollywood fan without having a high tolerance for melodrama.

And if I'm wrong I will either mange mon chapeau or remove it and bow deeply to Frederique, the new Queen of Crime.

UPDATE: In the end Vargas succeeded in tricking me, but in a rather anti-climactic fashion: with a very deftly executed feint that seemed to promise a wrenching twist she had no intention of delivering. I had a wonderful time reading the book, and have already added Vargas to my short list, though as a genre technician I would rate her much lower than rompol sifu Reginald Hill, who builds his similarly involving and intricate dramas on rock-solid puzzle-novel frameworks. Weaknesses here include a way-too-elaborate string of deductions based on Mah Jong hands that felt dropped in from some other, much less rumpled and naturalistic sub-genre; and an over-reliance on a computer hacker pulling answers out of the ether. (In a more hard boiled story the source of least resistance would be an astonishingly well-informed CI.)

An obvious follow-up to a crime novel that takes place partly in French Canada is the latest from a Great White Northern master. Beauty, eh?


Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Sponge and the Jellyfish

Back in my college days, during the grim summer I spent in Baltimore borrowing four or five Simenon novels a week from the downtown public library, I came up with the theory that this natural born novelist, who seemed to write as effortlessly as breathing in and breathing out, had created in Maigret a detective who solved crimes by means of intuitions strikingly similar to those of a fiction writer; by moving into a new environment, absorbing impressions, and coming up with a narrative.

This week I finally got around to a Maigret written in 1943, but first translated only in 1979, L’Inspecteur cadavre, which contains the following dead-on passage:

”…at that moment Maigret was living in a world of his own and not in the present at all, and he answered [Louis] half–heartedly without really knowing what the question was.

Many a time at the Police Judiciare, his colleagues had joked about his going off into one of these reveries, and he also knew that people used to talk about this habit of his behind his back.

At such moments, Maigret seemed to puff himself up out of all proportion and become slow-witted and stodgy, like someone blind and dumb who is unaware of what is going on around him. Indeed, if anyone not forewarned was to walk past or talk to Maigret when he was in one of these moods, he would more than likely take him for a fat idiot or a fat sleepyhead.

“So, you’re concentrating your thoughts?” said someone who prided himself on his psychological perception.
And Maigret had replied with comic sincerity:

“I never think.”

And it was almost true. For Maigret was not thinking now, as he stood in the damp, cold street. He was not following through an idea. One might say he was rather like a sponge.

It was Sergeant Lucas who had described him thus, and he had worked constantly with Maigret and knew him better than anyone.

“There comes a time in the course of an investigation,” Lucas had said, “when the patron suddenly swells up like a sponge. You’d think he was filling up.”

But filling up with what? At present, for instance, he was absorbing the fog and the darkness. The village round him was not just any old village. And he was not merely someone who had been cast into these surroundings by chance.

He was rather like God the Father. He knew this village like the back of his hand. It was as if he had always lived here, or better still, as if he had created the little town. He knew what went on inside all these small, low houses nestling in the darkness. He could see men and women turning in the moist warmth of their beds and he followed the thread of their dreams. A dim light in a window enabled him to see a mother, half-asleep, giving a bottle of warm milk to her infant. He felt the shooting pain of the sick woman in the corner and imagined the drowsy grocer’s wife waking up with a start.

He was in the café. Men holding grubby cards and totting up red and yellow counters were seated at the brown, polished tables.

He was in Genevieve’s bedroom…”

And with this Maigret is back in the main narrative, spinning out his mystery-solving account of what must have happened that night, the only thing that could possibly have happened.

There can't be much doubt that Simenon is writing about himself, here. I remember reading back in the day a magazine article about Simenon, I think in Life, that described his working methods: spending six or eight weeks at a stretch just wandering around Paris every day, soaking up impressions, swelling up, until it was time to rush home and write a novel in as little as two weeks. (I suppose a comparison with the process of gestation and birth would work also.)

When I finished Inspector Cadaver I decided to give Fred Vargas a squeeze, if only to test my assumption that France’s current bestselling rompol author could hardly help owing a thing or two to her legendary predecessor. The first few chapters have been enough to confirm this, although they also suggest a more au courant debt to some popular Scandinavian imports.

There are some significant differences, of course: The second in command to Vargas’ rumpled and absent-minded crime-stopper, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, also compares his patron to a deep sea invertebate, though not to a sponge, rather to “a primitive species of jellyfish, without feet or tentacles, top or bottom, a sort of transparent being, floating in the water…”

Remains to be seen how much deeper the similarities run.


"As a male movie critic with both conservative-libertarian convictions..."

Would any reviewer for a major American magazine be able to get away with the right-of-center equivalent of this recent opening ploy of David Edelstein's?

As a male movie critic with both liberal-humanist convictions and a hypersensitivity to injustices large and small...
The question answers itself.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big B 4 Me

Generic finally offers the eagerly waiting world its presidential endorsement. In retrospect it seems so obvious!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mamet sees the light...

Read it and weep. Via 2 Blowhards.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Buy The Boss

The online DVD retailer AnyTamil has begun offering the Rajnikanth record-breaker Sivaji - The Boss for sale. We assume this is a pre-order situtation, though they aren't saying so, because the title isn't yet listed on distrib Ayngaran International's own site.

Super Star: That's what you are.



Tuesday, March 4, 2008

No further comment(s)

Frequent (make that almost only) reader Tulkinghorn approves our new approach, and references Andrew Sullivan:

In an auto-pilot, populist web, old-fashioned editors are almost chic at this point.

An additional advantage, of course, is that this way one avoids making quite as open a spectacle of how pathetically thin ones readership has become. So much easier to pretend to rise above.

There is an argument adrift in the b-sphere to the effect that a blog that is edited is not a blog, and neither is a blog without comments. Comments and interactivity are part of the form, the argumment runs, of the new medium itself. The boy genius who is constructing UCLA's new web site references studies (Studies! Blech!) that purport to show that users become much more committed and loyal to blogs that are "open" rather than "closed," that "make them part of the conversation."

Blgrs such as Michelle Malkin, who got tired of wading through reams of racist invective, still often feel the need to explain or apologize when their comments sections go dark. I feel no more compunction about it than a shopkeeper painting over graffitti---which was just about the level of some of the comments I was getting.

Life's too short. Hassles abound. My new motto is "Jhoom, barabar, jhoom."


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Nicholson Baker...

...has published an essay about Wikipedia in The New York Review that seems weirdly naive for such a sophisticated writer. Baker may have been seduced by the way the randomly accumulating structure of the "people's encyclopedia" mimics the sniffling pack-rat sensibility of his own fiction.

Like a lot of people, I use Wikipedia because it is convenient, and I'm often impressed by how much arcane information can be found there, but the honeymoon ended for me several years ago when I realized that key passages in the entry on the wuxia genre had been lifted without attribution from my Premiere article about Crouching Tiger. Hidden Dragon. Notes to the administrators pointing this out went unanswered, and at the time I assumed that the Wiki-hipsters were rolling their eyes over what a square I was to imagine that in the digital age there was a such thing as intellectual property any longer. What a quaint, tight-assed pre-Post notion.

Baker, I imagine, would say instead that in aiming a note up to the top of the chain I simply wasn't playing by the Wiki-rules: only a clueless newbie would fail to understand that the onus was on me to wade in and correct or delete the offending passage; even, apparently, to make sure that it was properly ascribed---which was really all I wanted. On one level I was perversely flattered that someone considered my sketchy account of a 1,000-year-old action genre to be worth pilfering. But what's the underlying proinciple at work, here, that everything is fair game as long as no one complains? Quite apart from the inherent dangers of an encyclopedia that by its very nature boils everything down to consensus positions, this brand of post-Post anti-ethics is just too subtle for me.

Despite his subtlety in ethical matters I doubt Nicholson Baker would be happy if I were to copy out this unbroken-apple-peel of a sentence from his 1990 novel Room Temperature and (would that I could) claim it as my own:

I certainly believed, rocking my daughter on this Wednesday afternoon, that with a little concentration one's whole life could be reconstructed from any singe twenty-minute period randomly or almost randomly selected; that is, that there was enough content in that single confined sequence of thoughts and events and the setting that gave rise to them to make connections that would proliferate backwards until potentially every item of autobiographical interest---every pet theory, minor observation, significant moment of shame or happiness---could be at least glancingly covered; but you had to expect that a version of the past arrived at this way would exhibit, like the unhealthily pale frog, certain telltale differences of emphasis from the past you would recount if you proceeded serially, beginning with "I was born on January 5, 1957," and letting each moment give birth naturally to the next.

Is it just me or does that "I was born" echo the opening line of every Victorian novel you've ever read? In fact, if I was going to steal this slice of Baker it might be as a lead in to a consideration of the shift that occurred in the novel when (was it with Proust or somebody even earlier?) the stream of time was abandoned in favor of the stream of consciousness as an organizing principle. I expected the book(s) I'm reading now, Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, to be classically point-A-to-point-B in their approach, but so far, barely 100 pages in, it seems instead to be the sort of work that selects a few key events in the life of its characters and then circles around them repeatedly, peering at them from several points of view, layering on more and more details. It's not even the stream of one consciousness but of several, a la Laurence Durrell, although the difference of tone could scarcely be greater. Scott's Anthony Powell-like sentences are even longer than Baker's.

UPDATE: You would think that after practicing for 32 years, by actual count, trying to learn how to write, I would be able to explain myself a little more clearly than this.

The point about Wikipedia hinges on the importance of recognition, of being acknowleged as the author of your own words, especially if you are more or less happy with them. At the time when this anonymous Wikipedia public servant confiscated my words for the good of the people and posted them as his/her own, the Premiere piece was the only mainstream synthesis that existed of academic and film festival sources on the subject of wuxia. Each time that material was read by a Wikipedia user who did not realize that I was its author, each time I was deprived of the possibility that said person would read those words and go, "Wow, this guy really knows his stuff," some measure of the value of my work was stolen from me. The apparent remedy of deleting the passage or adding the missing attribution after the fact is only apparent, because it could not reverse the effect of that original failure of recognition. Is that legalistic enough?

I would suggest further that it shouldn't take a shrink to figure out why this particular issue gets this particular writer, tipping the cup upright to savor the last dregs of his career, so exercised---an attitude I intend to stick to, in spite of the fact that it's taken me this long to figure it out for myself, or to figure myself out, or something. Isn't it amazing what 32 years of playing chopsticks can accomplish?


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Salman Rushdie...

...on Akbar.


Yakuza-Eiga: A Primer, Part Seven

Paul Schrader's seminal article is now available online, not on Film Comment's website but on his.



One great irony is that the blogs many of us most admire, from 2Blowhards to About Last Night, are those that, like an Englishman dressing for dinner in the middle of the jungle, Quixotically strive to maintain the literary standards of Old Media. I say “irony” because all the trends of the new medium supposedly push the other way, encouraging ever more narrowly focused niche or affinity-group writing that is pleasingly hassle free because a community of understanding can be assumed. It does not require authors to define terms or fill in the context that would make the subject understandable to people who don’t share their experience; in effect creating a new shared experience. But that, to me, is writing. The rest is journaling in public.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oscar bummer...

The Hollywood Reporter's headline was not bad: "'No Country,' four gold men."

In an AP story, one of my UCLA colleagues was quoted:

Dark times breed dark movies.

Is there a reason that the material this year was so desperately sombre? As Jon Stewart quipped of "Juno," the one lighthearted film of the bunch, "Thank God for teen pregnancy!" But film experts are split on whether it's a reflection of our national psyche, or merely a coincidence.

"The material has always been dark," says Richard Walter, screenwriting professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. "People just forget. This is what drama has been, going back to Homer: blood lust, despair, jealousy." Not that Walter is a huge fan of this year's best picture winner, which he found ponderous. "I call it 'No Movie for Bored Men,"' he says.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Not quite ready?

Release of Jodhaa Akbar "suspended" in parts of India. Perhaps Ashutosh gave his countrymen too much credit.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

It has been said...

...or probably has, that being a journalist or critic, or a writer of any kind, is a career adopted to make sense of always being restless and uncomfortable; perpetually unsatisfied. You can claim to be a "generalist" or even a dilettante if you want to be cheeky. But what happens when writing itself is one of the things that hasn't panned out? What do you move on to from there? Perhaps to nothing special, which is what G.H. Hardy says the vast majority of people settle for. To whatever course happens along. Which in practical terms means not trying to steer a particular course or make choices.

But it's awfully hard to opt for that except as a pose when you've been infected with (or have inherited) the nagging idea that there must be something special; that if you have the sensibility to recognize it nothing else will do. I think of it as related to the impulse that translates as good taste: when I look at the various options I have an instinct for the one that is truly the best. And if that means that if you can't afford the movie camera you know to be the best, and therefore don't buy any, this supposed talent is not exactly a blessing.


Spoiler alert

Hitch on The Raj Quartet


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yakuza-Eiga: A Primer, Part Six

David Brooks: "McCain is also a renegade and a romantic. He loves tilting at the establishment and shaking things up. He loves books and movies in which the hero dies at the end while serving a noble, if lost, cause."


Playing Catch-Up: "The Bourne Ultimatum"

After all the palaver, on David Bordwell's blog and elsewhere, about the down-side of director Paul Greengrass'"queasy cam" visual style, I finally took the bold step of renting and watching the film, and I liked it fine. On the small screen, at least, the shooting style is very good at getting a lot of information across quickly and clearly. Can't imagine a few whip-pans making anybody bilious in this day and age. I would have said that on the strength of this, Greengrass would be the ideal director for the 24 movie, except that I doubt he could ever bring himself to make (nor the critics to praise) a film about an agent who believed in what he was doing. As in Michael Clayton it's the negativity that lifts what is basically one long chase out the realm of pulp in the minds of its supporters.

Matt Damon, meanwhile, is up to no good.


Easier said than done...

A nifty assortment of quotations from novelist and critic Wilford Sheed, including this one:

Cultural conservatism: “Cultural conservatism is becoming an older writer: anything else is cosmetics anyway. If he whores after the new thing, he will only get it wrong and wind up praising the latest charlatans, the floozies of the New. His business is keeping his own tradition alive and extending it into its own future: an old writer can grow indefinitely, what he cannot do is keep up.” (Essays in Disguise)


And ours...

Tulkinghorn sends along a link to an item on the classical music blog of New Yorker critic Alex Ross, who in turn quotes a reader delirious at having discovered the work of Olivier Messiaen:

He writes: I'm not even going to try to describe the effect it had on me, other than to say there are a few cultural encounters that have marked me forever---understanding Cezanne for the first time, my Merce Cunningham epiphany, my first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth viewings of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flowers of Shanghai---and the Turangalla now joins their company." This is obviously my cue to see Flowers of Shanghai!


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar--sort of...

Of all the movies that have been tough to sum up recently in a 200-word capsule review, Ashutosh Gwarariker's 3 1/2-hour historical epic Jodhaa Akabar (scroll down) establishes a new high water mark. I fussed over this one for two days before admitting defeat.

I now hasten to point out (because I've gotten in trouble in the past for criticisizing the critics) that none of this is the LA Weekly's doing. They have proven themselves plenty ready to run full-length Bolly-reviews---provided I can get in to see the movies a few days in advance of the deadline for opening-day publication. And that's the rub.

Advance press screenings are still such a hard and fast convention of the way movies are covered in the US that, by refusing to acknowledge it, Indian distributers are all but declaring that they have written off the American "mainstream" market. Apparently it is felt that the films are successful enough already when released on a four-wall basis with minimal advertising (JA came in at # 19 this week on the Variety top-50 chart) . Who am I to say they're wrong, even though this sounds to me like a classic self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perhaps we should pitch in to buy paperback copies of James Clavell's Taipan for the CEO's of Eros, UTV and Yash Raj? This is a classic pulp business novel (with added cool elements of sex, swordplay and piracy) about a Scots entrepreneur who becomes the dominant gweilo wheeler dealer in colonial Hong Kong (based upon the real-life founder of Jardine Matheson) by paying attention to the way his Chinese partners think and operate. A lesson worth pondering. at any rate.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Denby on that pesky ending...

Hat tip to GoJoe for this Key Quote from David Denby's New Yorker re-review of No Country for Old Men:

"The spooky-chic way the Coens use Bardem has excited audiences with a tingling sense of the uncanny. But, in the end, the movie's despair is unearned; it's far too dependent on an arbitrarily manipulated plot and some very old-fashioned junk mechanics. No Country is the Coens' most accomplished achievement in craft, with many stunning sequences, but there are absences in it that hollow out the movie¹s attempt at greatness. If you consider how little the sheriff bestirs himself, his philosophical resignation, however beautifully spoken by Tommy Lee Jones, feels self-pitying, even fake. And the Coens, however faithful to the book, cannot be forgiven for disposing of Llewelyn so casually. After watching this foolhardy but physically gifted and decent guy escape so many traps, we have a great deal invested in him emotionally, and yet he¹s eliminated, off-camera, by some unknown Mexicans. He doesn¹t get the dignity of a death scene. The Coens have suppressed their natural jauntiness. They have become orderly, disciplined masters of chaos, but one still has the feeling that, out there on the road from nowhere to nowhere, they are rooting for it rather than against it."

We couldn't have said it half as well.

Denby's last point is perhaps the crucial one, embracing many of the film's defenders as well as its makers.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No genre for old men

When I was researching Chinese martial arts movies, one of my intermediate goals was tracking down and watching all the movies shown at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in their landmark retrospectives of 1980 and 1981, as memorialized in the now OP volumes A Study of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Film and A Study of the Hong Kong Swordplay Film (1845-1980). I did pretty well, too, although it took me a while to realize that the 1980 film credited to director Du Qifeng, The Enigmatic Case, was actually the first feature of the millenial autuer now known as Johnny To. (Thankfully the local cultural authorities abandoned a few years later the befuddling practice of transliterating only the Mandarin forms of Cantonese names. Bending over to vote 'Yes' on the Handover?)

With the release on DVD and VCD of many of the key Cantonese wuxia movies, such as Moslem Sacred Fire Decree and Sacred Fire, Heroic Wind, the circle is almost closed. All the major King Hu films are now available on DVD. When HK Flix gets the elusive disc back in stock I may even be able to revisit the best movie ever directed by "swingy arm" kung fu superstar Wang Yu. My guess is that those "local cultural authorities" have mixed feelings about the fact that the most distinctive products of the region's cinema are now almost universally accessible, wide-open to misinterpretation or, worse, to "kick ass" appreciation. Like academic film professionals everywhere, the HK gatekeepers are always on the lookout for uncertified intruders.

The point being that while film buffery is often seen as a young man's game, to really take the cake you have to be in it for the long haul. Way back in the early '90s one of the journalists I squired around New Orleans as the unit publicist on John Woo's Hard Target was a personable kid from San Francisco named Sam Ho. Now the director of the Hong Film Archive, Ho has based this mouth-watering new film series on an article he wrote for the HKIFF almost a decade ago. It kicks ass with go-go boots, and who could argue with that?


Monday, February 18, 2008

Critical PC, Special Zombie edition

David Edelstein makes it too easy: "[In Diary of the Dead] Debra explains that she’s finishing [her boyfriend's film] The Death of Death to reveal the truth that the government and its lackey mainstream media have suppressed—although it’s unclear how the population could remain oblivious to marauding zombie cannibals. Is this a metaphor for the atrocities happening oceans away, in Iraq?"


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Playing Catch-Up: "Zodiac"

How do you craft a compelling thriller about an unsolved murder case? The approach chosen by director David Fincher and company in Zodiac was making the real subject the state of mind of the investigator: implicating us in his obsession, making his frustration the key to the movie's tone. Very impressive, and much less pummeling than the grimly methodical visual overstatement Fincher is known for.

The question that lingers for me is exactly why this case is still regarded as unsolved. What exactly is the distinction between circumstantial evidence and...whatever the other kind is? One of the investigators interviewed on the above-linked site says there are three ways to prove guilt: "An eye-witness, a confession or physical evidence." And this is apparently deemed to be so even when, as in the Zodiac case, a suspect is implicated by dozens of pieces of so-called circumstantial evidence that lock together in a way that couldn't possibly be accidental. (This is assuming that the cool objective manner of the movie isn't a snow job and that the evidence has been fairly summarized.)

A possibility the movie hints at is that the supposed suspect was an unusually subtle and crafty version of the cop movie old standby the false confessor, teasing the police and making himself the center of attention, expending considerable ingenuity to deliberately implicate himself, knowing full well that there was no direct evidence for anyone to find. There still seems to be enough left over, after everything is eliminated that might be susceptible to that kind of fabrication, but how much do you need for reasonable doubt? And with that I guess I've answered my own question.


Finishing "The Fountainhead"

As a fabulist and satirist, Ayn Rand works fine; if you let go of the notion that her stuff is in any ordinary sense realistic, there are many sharp flashes that seem true.

Especially the negative stuff, the Toohey chapters: she has a great eye for manipulation disguised as idealism. And since the '60s in the US some of his attributees no longer seem over the top at all. Her exaggerations for effect have become reality.

Practical men deal in bank accounts, real estate, advertising contracts and gilt-edged securities. They leave to the impractical intellectuals, like me, the amusements of putting the gilt edges through a chemical analysis to learn a few things about the nature and the source of gold. They hang on to Krem-O Pudding and leave us such trivia as the theater, the movies, the radio, the schools, the book reviews and the criticism of architecture. Just a sop to keep us quiet if we care to waste our time playing with the inconsequentials of life, while you're making money. Money is power. Is it, Mr. Wynand?

In a contemporary movie version Toohey would be a Cultural Studies professor. His acolytes would be Washington Post columnists, school board members, ACLU lawyers. One can only hope that the Hollywood types supposedly working on an Atlas Shrugged adaptation are smart enough to approach it in this spirit.

There may be something after all to the idea that Rand appeals to young people who boil her ideas down to the theme of "self-actualization"---even though this points directly to the patronizing thought that she her limited role is to inspire and be outgrown. Or perhaps to the thought there is no real program here to be adopted; that we always have to be thinking and re-thinking how the ideas should be applied. Which suggests that she is consistent to the extent of respecting the freedom of thought of her readers.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Apparently I'm just not hip enough... grasp the fruity import of No Country for Old Men:

I take this story as first and foremost a statement on the fact that we live increasingly in a post-modern culture, in which values are no longer rooted in objective standards. Such a world is certainly "No Country for Old Men" — that is, it is alienating to those who still hold to the "old" objectively-based value system; because in a truly post-modern world-scenario (as is depicted in the film), the very concepts of "good" and "evil" have lost all meaning. ... we abandon a rational, moralistic view of life, we lose all sense of purpose and meaning in the process, and evil wins by default. Now THAT is a meaningful ending!
ELSEWHERE: John Podhoretz on No Country For Old Men:
[Chigurh] is very frightening, even though he has a Prince Valiant haircut. He stops at a gas station and threatens the owner by flipping a coin and demanding the man call heads-or-tails for his life. It is a powerful and portentous scene, but like most of No Country for Old Men, it seems set in some amalgam of The Twilight Zone and Waiting for Godot. The Twilight Zone aspect gives the scene an unsettling kick; the Godot evocation offers pretentious viewers the illusion that they are watching something meaningful. .

Sheriff Bell is trying to figure out what is happening, but he is a small-town lawman and not equal to the task of dealing with Chigurh. But given the supernatural prowess McCarthy and the Coens have bestowed on Chigurh, it would take a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Porfiry Petrovich, and Professor Van Helsing to keep up. Chigurh is just a Hannibal Lecter knockoff who seems to have taken a Calvinist community-college course in providence and predestination.

Given the injustice to Yeats of associating his great poem "Sailing to Byzantium" with this tawdry swill, I wish the Coens had used a more suitable title, like, say, The Texas Highbrow Massacre.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Creeped out

Not to be taken bluntly literally (of course), but the creepiness of aspects of the Obama campaign seems at least distantly related to the subject of Liberal Fascism raised below. First there was this leftie Hollywood trance video; all those celebs chanting along with the words of their guru. And all the words are platitudes. Then from InstaPundit we get a link to a page that documents the cult-like aspects. Follow the Joe Klein link:

"...there was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism — "We are the ones we've been waiting for" — of the Super Tuesday speech and the recent turn of the Obama campaign. "This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It's different not because of me. It's different because of you." That is not just maddeningly vague but also disingenuous: the campaign is entirely about Obama and his ability to inspire. Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause —other than an amorphous desire for change —the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is."

Background here. Thirteen million hits.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

He hates the assumption that he is a left-winger

This interview spoke to me. Key quote:

I manage to survive trendy dinner parties by keeping my mouth shut, nodding at the received wisdom of the bien-pensant, and avoiding nasty and surprising arguments. Anything for a quiet life. But the political education I received from old Catholics like my grandfather and even from old Marxists I met at Communist party meetings in the 1970s has made me contemptuous of the simplistic banalities of the modern progressive élites. They lack intellectual rigour and ethical integrity, their politics are bland and sentimental, their hatred of Christianity is fundamentalist.


Ayn Rand on the Art of Criticism

"What achievement is there for a critic in praising a good play? None whatsoever. The critic is then nothing but a kind of glorified messenger boy between author and public. What's there in that for me? I'm sick of it. I have a right to wish to impress my own personality upon people. Otherwise, I shall become frustrated---and I do not believe in frustration. But if a critic is able to put over a perfectly worthless play---ah, you do percieve the difference! Therefore I shall make a hit out of---what's the name of your play again, Ike?"---Jules Fougler, dramatic critic of the Banner, in The Fountainhead.
A reader elsewhere, who apparently thought I hadn't noticed, pointed out that Fougler is one of the bad guys and therefore unreliable. A better way to put it is that he is a satirical negative example. A few chapters later Rand gives us the sounder views of Mr. Howard Roark.
"What you feel in the presence of a thing you admire is just one word---'Yes.' The affirmation, the acceptance, the sign of admittance. And that 'yes' is more than an answer to one thing, it's a kind of 'Amen' to life, to the earth that holds this thing, to the thought that created it, to yourself for being able to see it. But the ability to say 'Yes' or 'No' is the essence of all ownership. It's your ownership of your own Ego. Your soul, if you wish. Your soul has a single basic function---the act of value. 'Yes' or 'No,' 'I wish' or 'I do not wish.' You can't say 'Yes' without saying 'I.' There's no affirmative without the one who affirms. In this sense everything to which you give your love is yours."
"In this sense, you share things with others?"
"No. It's not sharing. When I listen to a symphony I love, I don't get from it what the composer got. His 'Yes' was different from mine. He could have no concern for mine and no exact conception of it. That answer is too personal to each man. But in giving himself what he wanted, he gave me a great experience. I'm alone when I design a house, Gail, and you can never know the way in which i own it. But if you said your own 'Amen' to it---it's also yours. And I'm glad it's yours."


A program of study...

When my daughter (Brown '11) and her boyfriend exchanged favorite books, and his turned out to be The Fountainhead, I decided to re-read this not-quite-guilty pleasure of my own teen and college years---though it was not as solid a favorite as Atlas Shrugged, which is almost the longest book I have read twice (that would be A Suitable Boy).

More later, but for now: I enjoy Rand enormously as an ideological pulp writer but have never been an acolyte. It doesn't strike me as a problem that her Social Darwinist/Libertarian "Fourth Way" doesn't work for me as a realistic prescriptive program. She is right about too many other things along the way for this to be much of a concern. She defined the tone of her own fiction as "Romantic Realism" and its aim as "the projection of the ideal man as an end in himself." It isn't a mixed and muddled view of man as he is---much less a kitchen sink wallow with man at his depressive worst. And what a relief that is! We have way too to much of that stuff already.

It could also be argued that Rand was a gifted, even prescient satirist. As I recall my left-intellectual mother was particularly offended by The Fountainhead's portrait of the manipulative left-intellectual architecture critic Ellsworth M. Toohey (missed a trick there; why not middle initial "P"?), which mom considered cartoonishly unrealistic---as if that was incompatible with an element of truth. From our post-deconstruction vantage point it's fun to imagine some of Toohey's more extreme pronouncements getting worked up into full-dress Cultural Studies essays for scholarly journals, in the spirit of the delicious Lingua Franca hoax:

"Personal love, Peter, is a great evil---as everything personal. And it always leads to misery. Don't you see why? Personal love is an act of discrimination, of preference. It is an act of injustice---to every human being on earth whom you rob of the affection arbitrarily granted to one. You must love all men equally."

I've also enjoyed a element I had forgotten, the backstory given to Hearst/Kane-style tabloid newspaper baron Gail Wynand, as a Gangs of New York teenage thug in Hell's Kitchen c. 1895, battling arch rivals The Plug Uglies. The editorial philosophy of Wynand's flagship paper, the Banner, looks ahead to the rub-their-noses-in-it ethos of today's celebrity sleazies:

"It overstressed the glamour of society---and presented society news with a subtle sneer. This gave the man on the street two satisfactions: that of entering illustrious drawing rooms and that of not wiping his feet on the threshold. The Banner was permitted to strain truth, taste and credibility, but not its readers' brain power. Its enormous headlines, glaring pictures and over-simplified text hit the senses and entered men's consciousness without any necessity for an intermediary process of reason, like food shot through the rectum, requiring no digestion."

(Rand is remarkably good at expressing disgust, especially when describing bad writing:

Sentences like used chewing gum, chewed and rechewed, spat out and picked up again, passing from mouth to mouth to pavement to shoe sole to mouth to brain...)

Recently I pulled out a long-borrowed copy of The Conservative Mind, in order to finally read a detailed overview and perhaps determine if I actually am one. But I haven't made much headway; it's one of those exhaustive "First the earth cooled" histories. A few more preliminary steps remain to be taken before I can wade into waters that deep.

I hardly ever buy and read the big official conservative bestsellers. Anne Coulter's Godless was the last, because from what I had heard it touched on some issues that were of direct personal concern, such as the rise of militant atheism and religious intolerance. (The book turned out to be not quite what I expected, though still interesting: a mostly persuasive depiction of liberalism as a secular religion.)

Another book that interested me on the basis of its advance buzz was Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. This is part of the official description of the book on Amazon:

Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term "National socialism"). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities-where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.

I wrote a few years ago about some "personal concerns" that seem to apply here:

As Stanley Hauerwas says, 'politics names the order of disguised violence.' This suggests an interesting angle on the comments of film scholar Noel Carroll quoted below, questioning the familiar notion that 'everything is political:'One way to interpret this assertion is as an intellectual power grab, a way to claim jurisdiction over the subject under discussion. As a child of radical socialist parents, who participated in most of the big marches of the 1960s and even spent a summer as a CIT at Camp Ahimsa, the Summerhill-ian youth camp run by the CNVA (the Committee for Non-Violent Action), I saw first hand how the 800-pound-gorillas of the Movement used the purity of their committment as a weapon to browbeat potential rivals.So I've been convinced for years that a hunger for personal power lies behind a lot the high-minded talk we hear about 'community' and 'consensus,' like that currently emanating from the 'progressive' wing of the Catholic Church in America, as manifested in various RCIA and Liturgy Council meetings I've witnessed. A dead giveaway was the assurance that prayer wouldn't work unless all the Children of God did it the same way. (People who dared to kneel were berated from the pulpit.) Rule by consensus creates a fertile field for domination by the most powerful personality in the room. That this is in itself a form of violence, and an interesting covert twist on Social Darwinism, is rarely acknowledged. 'Everything is political' is a strategy that has metastasized into a first principle for ideological bullies. I say it's spinach.

Whether this will prove to be enough to pull me through all 400-plus pages of Liberal F. remains to be seen...


It's a secret....

I've been saying to myself for a while that I'd love to be able to make a living without having to write. The concept being that I would then stop writing altogether and wait patiently to see what (if anything) eventually moved me to start up again. I had begun to suspect that I had only kept on doing it for at least the last couple of decades because it was the only thing anyone was willing to pay me to do.

When I started to get work as a critic in my twenties, first in Maine and then in Boston and Los Angeles, I was happy to be able to stop working in stores and restaurants, to say "So long, suckers" and saunter off to do something that seemed like fun; that I had been doing on my own in my spare time. But over the years it has been ground down into a chore. I hardly ever look forward to doing it anymore. Nowadays I put much less energy into writing than into making up excuses to avoid writing.

A couple of years ago I drove up to San Francisco to interview the wonderfully charming and ridiculously prolific novelist and screenwriter Ni Kuang. When I marveled at the obvious delight he still took in his work and confessed, as one writer to another (an old school interviewing move), that while I was sometimes pleased to look at a finished piece and realize that I had written it, the actual writing was always an unpleasant struggle, Ni sifu beamed at me like a kindly uncle: "That's because you haven't found your niche."

It was not my place to fill him in on exactly how old I was, or to go into detail about the many different forms of writing I'd tried over the years that had not turned out to be my "niche." But I've returned to that thought many times; wondering if I got off on the wrong foot thinking of myself as some sort of reclusive intellectual when I get antsy almost instantly sitting at a desk and am not even all that smart.

Can people live out most of a life operating on a false assumption? God only knows. More on these and other more cheerful subjects in the weeks and months ahead.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The laziest kind of blog post... the one that just copyies stuff from other people's sites.

This time the practice has a kind of meta reflexiveness, however, because I'm copying passages from an appendix, into which they were originally copied by film scholar and mystery buff David Bordwell. So this is copying twice removed. And by doing so I'm making a couple of points at once: Pointing out that Bordwell notices exactly the sort of things in movies that I'm often derided for caring about it, and that we enjoy many of the same books. Coolness by association.

To his piece on transitional "hooks" in movie storytelling Bordwell appends three examples of similar devices used in novels:

Appendix: The hook in literary texts

George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener (New York: Little, Brown, 2006). Scene change within Chapter Twenty-Five, p. 231:

“Let’s get a beer or something,” said Holiday.

“Drop me at my car,” said Ramone.

“C’mon, Ramone. How often do we see each other? Right?”

“I’ll have a beer,” said Cook.

Ramone looked over the bench at Cook. He seemed small, leaning against the door in the front seat of the car.

“Okay,” said Ramone. “One beer.”

Ramone was finishing his third beer as Holiday returned from the bar with three more and some shots of something on a tray.

Elmore Leonard, Unknown Man #89 (New York: Harper, 2002). End of Chapter 12, p. 144:

Ryan saw the manager. The manager said he had just talked to the police. Who was this girl, anyway? What’d she do? She certainly hadn’t worked for Uncle Ben.

Maybe not, but for some reason she had used the address. She was around, somewhere.

That was on a Monday.

Chapter 13[p. 145]:

Wednesday afternoon, Ryan was sitting in a bar on Saginaw Street in Pontiac.

Ian Rankin, The Naming of the Dead (New York: Little, Brown, 2007). Scene change within Chapter 3, p. 62:

Rebus finished the call, decided to check for messages. There was only the one. Steelforth’s voice had gotten just a dozen words out before Rebus cut it off. The unfinished threat echoed in his head as he crossed to the stereo and filled the room with the Groundhogs.
Don’t ever try to outsmart me, Rebus, or I’ll…

“…break most of the major bones,” Professor Gates was saying. He gave a shrug. “Fall like that, what else can you expect?”

As a card-carrying academic Bordwell avoids "value judgments," but I feel obliged to point out that the crafty deployment of hooks is the most primitive form of the low cunning of pulp storytelling. It's a skill like carpentry that could be learned from a "For Dummies" book. Pop fiction writers who have no other apparaent advantages, such as The Da Vinci Code's Dan Brown, use hooks to pull readers by the nose through a stew of half-digested dubious research; exactly the kind of ruthless manipulation that makes people furious when it happens at a movie they don't approve of.

How far back do we have to go to find the first fiction writers influenced by the storytelling techniques of movies? Not a crisis on a par with the one that confronted painters after the advent of photography, but an upheaval that surely set in well before Hemingway. Were there Parisian avant garde novelists emulating movies well before the turn of the 20th century? Perhaps Ramesh can remind us if Andre Bazin ever wrote an essay on the subject. (Bordwell has probably written a book.)

In our continuing off-line discussion of the David Lynch post below, Tulk and I touched on the fact that the most interesting filmed narratives now are on post-HBO TV, partly because the timelines are so much longer. Tulk noted that feature films have the narrative thickness of short stories or, at best, novellettes. Only TV has the scope to be truly "novelistic," and very few feature screenwriters or even novelists use narrative hooks as skillfully as the masterminds behind Lost and 24.

Or better yet, The Wire (how's that for a hook?), which launched its fifth 'n' final season on Sunday. We will refrain from sweeping prouncements for the time being, just as we would would reserve judgment after finishing only the first few chapters of a new novel by a favorite author. Looks pretty solid so far, and as a person who actually worked for a time on a big city daily newspaper I am inclined to dispute the claims of some of his former collegues that in his fictional depicition of the distinguished paper he once worked for series creator David Simon was led astray by his desire to settle old scores. The newsroom scenes in Ep. 1 rang true to me. Homicide actor-turned-director-turned-actor Clark Johnson was, admittedly, a little too good to be true as a mensch of a Metro editor who bends over backward to give props to his writers (even when they don't really deserve it?), and who knows how to use the word "evacuate" correctly. But that's just normal writerly wishful thinking; hardly a deal breaker.