Thursday, December 31, 2009

Robin Wood

Learned today from David Bordwell's blog that film critic Robin Wood has died. My only tenuous link to Wood was to snipe at him impotently when I wrote about David Cronenberg for Film Comment. Bordwell honors him as a friend and a major influence on his own work, and includes a resonant quotation from an essay on Rio Bravo:

"Hawks, like Shakespeare, is an artist earning his living in a popular, commercialized medium, producing work for the most diverse audiences in a wide variety of genres. Those who complain that he 'compromises' by including 'comic relief' and songs in Rio Bravo call to mind the eighteenth century critics who saw Shakespeare’s clowns as mere vulgar irrelevancies stuck in to please the 'ignorant' masses. Had they been contemporaries of the first Elizabeth, they would doubtless have preferred Sir Philip Sydney (analogous evaluations are made quarterly in Sight and Sound). Hawks, like Shakespeare, uses his clowns and his songs for fundamentally serious purposes, integrating them in the thematic structure. His acceptance of the underlying conventions gives Rio Bravo, like Shakespeare’s plays, the timeless, universal quality of myth or fable."


Best Film of the Decade

Forget all the hacks and light-weights we've been haggling about. Here's the word from on high. (Sort of.)

Una escena de la película Mulholland Drive, en la que Rebekah del Rio canta "Llorando."

Let's recapture the fun of trying to figure out what the *bleep* was going on!

David Lynch's 10 Clues:

Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.

Notice appearances of the red lampshade.

Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?

An accident is a terrible event... notice the location of the accident.

Who gives a key, and why?

Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.

What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?

Did talent alone help Camilla?

Notice the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.

Where is Aunt Ruth?


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Bob & Rose"

The Russell T. Davies series “Bob & Rose” (2001) is at least half perfect; so much so that you could slice it down the middle. If you're like me, you will reach the end of the end of the third of the program's six episodes convinced that "B&R" is so close to flawless that the shortfall is not significant. Problems begin to surface only in episode four.

The fact-based story is the most extreme case imaginable of a person falling inexplicably in love with someone who is not their type: in this case a gay man (Alan Davies) poleaxed by a straight woman (Lesley Sharp). (You know Bob's a goner when, six hours later, he's still chuckling over one of Rose's jokes.) Bob maintains stuanchly that he is still gay and not bi-sexual: "I haven't changed. I've just added a little bit on top." (Another of Bob's signature lines was adapted for use by Ianto Jones on Davies' Torchwood: Children of Earth: "I don't like men. I like him.") The key to the productions success is how good both performers turn out to be at suggesting the giddiness of a couple of shelf-worn grown ups surprised by joy -- and the wisdom shown by writer-producer Davies and his two directors, Joe Wright and Julian Farino, in standing back and keeping things simple.

The only other exploration of the mismatched romance theme worth mentioning in the presence of the near-perfect "Bbb & Rose" is Bertrand Blier's Too Beautiful For You, in which Gerard Depardieu, married to godessy Carole Bouquet, outrages friends and family members by leaving her for his dumpy secretary. I think it's a bolder move to suggest that crossing the beauty barrier could arouse passions comparable to ignoring conventional lines of race or class. More dismissive of the conventional/sentimental. It may actually be easier for an audience as long as both characters are attractive, even when one of them is (playing) gay.

Davies has a good satiric point in the resentment Bob inspires in the gay community by daring to color outside the PC lines--and possibly an even better one in the beffudlement of his loving mother (Penelope Wilton), who has devoted every waking moment to a mothers-of-gay-children activist group and now feels horn-swaggled. In practical, narrative terms, all these various forms of opposition serve the same function: generating suspense in a situation that would otherwise have almost none, because the love at the center of the story is strong and true by definition. The title characters are portrayed as so gloriously sane and clear-headed that they could scarcely fail to recognize, as we do instantly, that they are perfect for each other. Disinformation campaigns like the one waged by Bob's jittery school-teaching colleague Holly (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson) are required to create even modest speed bumps.

Everything that in the series' final half begins to seem problematic can be traced back, I think, to one miscalculation: trying to stretch five hours of story to fill a mandated six hours of running time. Imperfections that become increasingly glaring include Davies’ over-reliance on mirror-image narrative constructions (inter-cutting between two party scenes or phone conversations or break-ups or family visits that comment ironically on each other); the over-statement of the obsessiveness of the meddling Holly, which makes a sad and lonely character begin to seem pathological; and the attenuated and borderline extraneous subplot about Rose's mum and her drastically unsuitable new con-man fiancee.

The other triumphant aspect of the production for me is that Davies' explores, as very few straight writers would dare, the vast potential of "coming out" as a metaphor. In the interview linked above he says: "To my surprise, 'Bob & Rose' started to become the gayest thing I've ever written. Because over six weeks, everyone comes out of the closet - unloved wives, secret James Bond fans, and those who are simply lonely, all harbouring some sort of love that dares not speak its name. And all realising, through the actions of Bob and Rose, that they can shout it out loud."

Hat tip: Muffy St. Bernard.


"Red Riding" is better than "The Godfather"...

...sez David Thomson in the NYRB,

"...but it makes you feel so much worse, and the business plan of watching a film is never realized if it doesn't make you feel it's leaving you assured, ready to sleep...fulfilled. That's what we expect from entertainment, isn't it? Something that'll give you a warm inner glow at the end of a day when you've been ruined, humiliated, out of work, and lied to over your obituary. No need to rub that in, is there? Turn on the telly. You're less alone with the telly on, and less given to the thought that there are types of loss and anger and betrayal that might have you shouting in the streets. So "Red Riding" is a deeper pool than "The Godfather," but it doesn't encourage swimming.
Well worth $3.00.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Artistic breakthrough or derivative junk?

Green Mansions, from the 1908 novel, tells the story of Rima the jungle girl, who was too beautiful and strange to survive contact with civilization.

Roger Dean's album covers for Yes inspired a million drug-addled profundities.

Margaret Keane was scorned by an entire generation for her sentimentalized and frankly ugly paintings of big-eyed children, puppies, and kittens. Forgotten now, but obviously not by everyone.


Monday, December 28, 2009

It was easy.

A gleaning from my new obsession with ephemera, from a French site called "The Muller-Fokker Pulpbot Effect" (after a forgotten novel by John Sladek) devoted to post-war noir, fumetti, and silly smutty photographs: every boy's favorite Mickey Spillane novel.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Title cards...

If the pages of dialogue in the screenplay of the almost three-hour Avatar add up to more than five or six, I would be surprised. The sparse, functional lines function the way the title cards did in silent films, as captions or transitions. The throbbing romanticism harks back even further, to the nature worship of Green Mansions and Tarzan--though James Cameron makes the "inter-connectedness of all things" literal, envisioning a organic, global, neural network, a cool idea cleverly worked out. That the Golden Age SF landscapes and dragon-riding battle sequences are thrilling is one thing; that the love story is neither creepy nor silly is astonishing. We're looking not at animated characters but at performances that have been translitterated into a new medium with so much detail that they register directly, with no sense of a technological buffer. The real triumph of Avatar is making the fancy new tools transparent.

The ex thinks Avatar

"could challenge Titanic‘s $1.8 billion record after all.


Repeat business. There’s so much to watch and revel in. The film is such a must-see (even the president went to a local Hawai'i 3-D theater over the holidays) that people are going back again and again. One producer pal has watched it in all three formats, just to see how it plays. “I like 2-D for story,” he says. “3-D is fine but I liked IMAX 3-D best.”


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Just one day late for Elder's masterpiece

But I can't resist sharing it.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang Part 2

Our Canadian correspondent, culture critic Muffy St. Bernard, posted this mind-boggling ACTUAL VIDEO to my Facebook page today, and agrees with me that it's "too good not to share."

This is why all Hollywood anti-war black comedies fall flat: they can't match the surreal real thing.

I knew that Bollywood was popular in Israel, but I never imagined it could inspire a Bollywood-style commercial for an arms firm.

What's surprising to me is how inept it is, really. Producing a professional Bollywood song segment must take a huge amount of money and coordination...they couldn't pull it off with this small cast and (apparently) $15,000.

But the song is catchy. Dinga dinga dee! Israeli Rafael's Indian promo
The Israeli arms firm Rafael displayed this Bollywood dance number-based marketing video at the recently held Aero India 2009 in Bangalore. This video has been uploaded for the purpose of embedding on the Defense and Strategic Affairs Online News Magazine, StratPost with the permission of Rafael. .....


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tulkinghorn's Christmas Commonplace Book

"To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labor tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution." -- Samuel Johnson (hat tip to Terry Teachout)

"To enjoy good houses and good books in self-respect and decent comfort, seems to me to be the pleasurable end toward which all societies of human beings ought now to struggle" -- William Morris


Monday, December 21, 2009

Canadian Pulp Fiction

Borders has these.

Favorite title: Kiss Your Elbow.

UPDATE: The mystery guest who comments below is of course correct. Here's the key passage from the company blog linked above:

...our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior—such as hitting a woman—that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership.
Cool move: demolish any credibility the reprints will have as cultural artifacts, in order to pander to a readership that won't be interested in them anyway. How much do they pay these people?

UPDATE: Harlequin is now taking some fairly serious flack in its comments section for bowdlerizing these reprints. Like to think HG played a small role.


# 1 Hindi movie feel-good song of 2009

De Dana Dan: "Bamulaiza." Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Sunil Shetty, Sameera Reddy. Director: Priyadarshan. Music: Pritam. (Click through to watch fullscreen.)


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blaft (sic)

"Surender Mohan Pathak has a groove on the second finger in his right hand, having written over 268 novels in long hand with a fountain pen."

Went Christmas shopping today in Little Tokyo and came away with one for myself, a "where have you been all my life" find called The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction.

That is "blaft," by the way, and not "blast," which was the way I first read it. Blaft Publications of Chennai.

The book includes several excerpts from the work of Rajesh Kumar, reputed to be the most prolific author ever, in any language, with "more than 1,250 novels and 2,000 short stories" published since 1968.


On putting movies behind us

Surprisingly powerful love letter video created by a fan, posted on the TOH blog.

With the music and the cutting this expresses, I suspect, the way a lot of people who attend movies frequently experience the medium these days: less as a series of discreet beginning/middle/end stories than as one big continuous wash of images and emotions.

People who are repelled by movies can find ammunition here. But so can fans who get impatient with critics. Because the nits that could be picked from any small portion of this are so much less important than the exhilaration of riding the wave.


Friday, December 18, 2009

TCM Tonight: Darktown Strutters

Now this looks like a movie (Friday night at 11 PT):

Darktown Strutters, blaxploitation from the seventies, written by George Armitage, whose name is unfamiliar to me, but whose work is not:

Another AIP alumnus, screenwriter George Armitage, got his start writing and producing Corman’s last film with that company, Gas-s-s-s (1970), whose mishandling prompted the filmmaker and company to part ways. Corman took Armitage along to New World where they turned out Private Duty Nurses (1971) and Night Call Nurses (1972). Armitage went solo to MGM in 1972 where he wrote and directed the successful Hit Man, a black action remake of Get Carter starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier. By this point the Armitage stamp was becoming clear: unique, highly stylized dialogue and eccentric supporting characters thrown into unexpected action sequences with wild tonal shifts. Darktown Strutters is the only ‘70s film Armitage wrote but did not direct, though it still reflects an extreme representation of his style. The rest of his career was filled with long gaps of inactivity, highlighted by 1976’s drive-in staple Vigilante Force, the outstanding oddball cult favorite Miami Blues (1990), and his most popular film to date, 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank with John Cusack.

The plot:

When prominent abortion clinic owner Cinderella (Frances Nealy) goes missing along with a string of other black community leaders, her singing daughter Syreena (Trina Parks) and her fellow female biker gang members tangle with the bumbling, racist police and equally inept Ku Klux Klan members before uncovering a nefarious plot by barbeque ribs magnate Commander Cross (Norman Bartold) to undermine the entire political organization of the black community.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From the streets of Mumbai

That's the translation of the name of a new restaurant in Artesia that the LA Times likes a lot -- Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se.

Dig it:

Pomegranate seeds spill from the sandwich after each bite, brilliant and glistening like freshly polished rubies. Peanuts tumble out too, speckled with flecks of cumin, cinnamon and ground chiles. They land with a percussive patter that completes the sensory experience that is the Indian snack dabeli, a White Castle-sized, potato-based slider that's a staple on the streets of Mumbai.

Each order consists of two of the miniature sandwiches, their tiny toasted buns wrapped around loose potato patties flavored with dabeli masala (a spicy mix of chiles, cumin, cinnamon and other aromatics), onions, green grapes, peanuts and pomegranate seeds. It's texturally complex and well balanced, enlivened by bursts of sweetness that shock the senses and dull the burn. The dabeli is as enjoyably messy and thoroughly rewarding as any great burger.

This deliciously described establishment is likely to be the site of a post-Christmas, post-"3 Idiots" Hungry Ghost Society gathering on the evening of the 25th.

Drop something in the comments box if you'd like to join us.


Tulkinghorn in love

Manhola Dargis has won my heart with single phrase in this astoundingly frank interview:

Let's acknowledge that the Oscars are bullshit and we hate them. But they are important commercially... I've learned to never underestimate the academy's bad taste. Crash as best picture? What the fuck.


On why so many romantic comedies are so terrible: One, the people making them have no fucking taste, two, they're morons, three they're insulting panderers who think they're making movies for the great unwashed and that's what they want. I love romantic movies. I absolutely do. But I literally don't know what's happening. I think it's depressing that Judd Apatow makes the best romantic comedies and they're about men. All power to Apatow, but he's taken and repurposed one of the few genres historically made for women. ….We had so few [genres] that were made specifically for the female audience and now the best of them are being made by Judd Apatow.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seriously starting to wonder...

...if Netflix practices red-lining. My friends who live in ritzier neighborhoods don't seem to have these problems.

UPDATE: After sending the url for this post to the press contact listed on the web site, with a note inquiring if there might be a story in it for this for an enterprising freelance writer, I was startled to get a call on my cell phone in the middle of the afternoon from a man in "corporate communications" for Netflix.

The oddest aspect of his explanation of oddities of availability like the one shown above was that I bought it. It made perfect sense to me. The gust is that when supplies fall short, priority is given to people who have not received very many high-demand films from the company over the past few months. In the spirit of "it's only fair." Of spreading the wealth around.

I suppose a cynical spin could be put on this, to wit, that Netflix policy favors people who routinely demand less for their subscription money than the rest of us. Makes sense that these would be the folks they're most concerned to keep happy. No red-lining is possible, according to this very pleasant gentleman, because customers are identified only by e-mail address; labels are printed only after the discs have been allocated.

I suppose the only way to test this explanation would be to adhere closely to the patterns Netflix says it favors: Order fewer high-demand films and leave them lying around longer on the coffee table. And then see what happens. But that would, as they say, mean that they've won, and by the diabolically clever stratagem of convincing us that we've won.

A "win win," IOW, though not in the usually accepted sense.


Monday, December 14, 2009

"I'm the Doctor..."


Sunday, December 13, 2009

"3 Idiots"

Stars Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani; produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra; directed by Rajkumar Hirani ("Munna Bhai MBBS"); music by Shantanu Moitra ("Parineeta"). Releases December 25.

Promo sez: "'Zoobi Doobi' is a retro Bollywood track that draws references from the Shammi Kapoor rock ‘n’ roll era."


Friday, December 11, 2009


The show winks at itself so often that parody seems superfluous. But still.

UPDATE: An old school TV writer-producer of some fame, with hit sitcoms dating back to the early '80s, came last year to the Great Metropolitan University that pays my rent, to speak to a screenwriting class. He offered cool practical wisdom about writers' rooms and the manipulation of idiot executives. Turned out 30 Rock was a pet peeve of his. He said he was deeply offended that a show could become so acclaimed while violating every rule of continuity and common sense, the standards he'd felt honor-bound to adhere to throughout his career. Bottom line for him: "None of the things that happen on that show have any consequences."

He was right, of course. A typical episode of 30 Rock is an anything-goes collection of sketch comedy gags, lightly stitched together by a plot that is presented almost sarcastically. Because Tina Fey and associates are much too cool to take those old fashioned conventions seriously. 30 Rock flagrantly takes advantage of the "flexible continuity" we've grown accustomed to on The Simpsons. Homer is an astronaut this week and Mo is a cross-dresser, but by next week we'll have forgotten these things ever happened. By failing to understand this, our distinguished show-runner revealed himself to be an old fuddy-duddy, a stickler, a sitcom traditionalist, a pre-post-modernist. In short, a square.

I don't think the creators and producers of Torchwood have knowingly adopted "flexible continuity" as their code, but they might as well have. At times the tone of the show suggests an undergraduate theatrical spoof of a sci-fi TV show being presented with a straight face. Imagine the cast and crew huddling backstage, convulsed with giggles, waiting for the audience (or the BBC) to catch on.

All the standard, literal-mind complaints about Torchwood are well-founded. There are plot holes you could drive a Tardis through, personalities and motivations that seem to shift opportunistically from week to week, pseudo-scientific shop talk that is transparent gobbledygook. But in the end, none of this matters. In fact, what I enjoy most about the show is its casualness, its relaxed attitude toward continuity, its willingness to embrace the odd, often lewd non sequitur. Torchwood is great fun to hang out with.

The most intrusive of the smutty jokes harp on the characterization of head gatekeeper Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) as a emissary from mankind's supposedly omni-sexual distant future. During one of Jack's pre-spin-off appearances on Doctor Who, he was shown coming on first to a woman, then to a man and then to a blue-skinned and tentacled alien. (The Doctor seemed only mildly annoyed.) My favorite of these gags so far, though, was not on Jack, but his on "time agent" nemesis, John Hart, played by Buffy and Angel icon James "Spike" Marsters.

HART: "Ooh, she's nice."

GWEN: "That's a poodle!"
"That's a poodle" is a line that should be on tee-shirts.

The show has such a wide open premise (puzzling creatures and artifacts constantly spilling into present day Cardiff through a space-time rift) that there aren't all that many hard and fast details to keep track of. Half the stuff that pops through remains mysterious even to our heroes, the gatekeepers of the rift. ("How does this thing work?" "I have no idea. It just does.") Either they are implying, or I am inferring, that while they could easily have concocted a long-winded explanation for the workings of, for example, the steam-punky piece of mechanics called the "rift manipulator," they realized at the end of the day that as we've all grown weary of this sort of balderdash, they'd be better off taking it as read. We can think of much more enjoyable ways to spend the time. Wink, wink.

I can understand as a critic being offended by the cavalier attitude of a show like Torchwood. We may not expend as much energy as showrunners do on mastering the immemorial rules, but still, it can make the whole enterprise seem pointless when a show that brushes the rules aside with a sneer doesn't just get away with it, but wins awards and becomes a cult.

So. Faced with the grim truth that art and entertainment are, like life, often unfair, what are serious people to do? Best available advice is relax and enjoy.

Muffy St Bernard, excellent on Torchwood Season 2.

And for all John Barrowman completists...

Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Constable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), reflected in the eye-ball of an alien.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Books I never really got started reading

"In his mind, he kept playing Sara's phone call over and over in his head...." -- Karin Slaughter, Blindsighted, p. 16.

Recommended by Sarah Weinman, no less. Here's her best of the decade list. I feel quite smug that I've already read and liked about half of these.


If you dislike abstract painting

Commissioned by Michael Jackson from British artist David Nordahl.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

25 Years Ago

And, not being a Time Lord, I had to live through every one of them. (Click on the image to see full size.)

Believe it or not, the book is still available.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Feeling lucky?

Well, are you?


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last Temptation

Astonishing how much power the revered classics of pop culture can still dredge up when they happen to fall into the right hands.

British TV sifu Russell T Davies ("Queer as Folk") took charge of the revival of "Doctor Who" after a 16-year hiatus, and despite being a deep-dyed fan who honors the program's traditions and revels in the fine points of its mythology, he has improved and updated the series in ways that continue to surprise me as I watch my way through the episodes of the third new season, the second in which The Doctor is portrayed by the great David Tennant, a true heir to the antic spirit of Tom Baker.

Among the "production values" that Davies has ramped up are the dramatic ones. Tennant helps, of course, committing to the role whole-heartedly, but so do the radiant actresses who play his companions, Billie Piper and Freeman Agyaman. What they give us is not quite psychological realism, although the characters they play do have a full complement of grown up emotions. Put it this way: Tennant is young and attractive enough that the sexless, school-msterish relationship between the Doc and his companions is no longer the only option.

I thought it would be hard to match the impact of the season two finale, in which The Doctor and Piper's Rose Tyler are wrenched apart. But it was trumped by the two-parter in season three, "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood," in which the two-hearted alien Doctor conceals himself from some implacable enemies by transforming himself into a human -- a fubsy private school instructor in England circa 1913 who has no knowledge or memory of his extra-human nature.

The obvious echos are, I think, completely intentional. Not pretencious. Not offensive. Just obliteratingly great.



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If you were there now....

A newsstand in 1935. Full image here, large enough to browse. Lots of movie magazines, and generic detective and western magazines, but there's a Doc Savage; and Flying Aces looks good, and what about Horror? and The Spider? Just my luck, they seem to be sold out of Weird Tales... No, but wait! There it is.