To see what condition my condition is in


Netflix time! This week: The Big Lebowski (1998), Casino Royale (1967), and The Merchant of Venice (2004).

The Big Lebowski
Joel and Ethan Cohen - (1998)
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro.

Jeff Bridges plays Jeff Lebowski, aka "The Dude", an aging pothead in LA who likes White Russians, surfing, and bowling. Things go wrong when he's mistaken for the other Jeff Lebowski, a rich man with no legs and a striking resemblance to Dick Cheney. Extortionists, intent on getting money from the other Lebowski, piss on the Dude's rug. He goes to the Big Lebowski to get compensated for his rug, only to get drawn into the kidnapping of the Big Lebowski's trophy wife.

This is a really excellent movie, for a variety of reasons. One is the pastiche of Film Noir (which seems to be a running thing with the Cohens, e.g. Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Big Lebowski). Another is the trippy way they frame scenes, especially the "Bowling Flashback" (which I'm pretty sure is the only time you actually see Jeff Bridges' eyes in the entire film). Although I couldn't tell you why, this movie is really funny, and is definitely going in the collection.

Casino Royale
John Huston, Val Guest, Kenneth Hughes, Joseph McGrath, and Robert Parrish - (1967)
Starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Terence Cooper, John Huston, Orson Welles, and Deborah Kerr

There's no plot. I mean, there are so many different plots that it's hard to tell. Only one is based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. While this is a send-up of the 007 genre -- something I'm all for, as my recent Matt Helm and Our Man Flint viewings have shown -- it goes too far. Any film that starts to parody itself has also lost track of what it's supposed to be making fun of, and has thus begun to collapse. I liked bits of it, mostly dialogue ("Are you Richard Burton?" "No, I'm Peter Sellers." "Then you, sir, are the greatest man who ever lived.") and Deborah Kerr's Scots accent just about did it for me. Other than that, it's too silly, and doesn't even have the redeeming camp value of other British comedies (e.g. Passport to Pimlico or the Carry On series).

The Merchant of Venice
Michael Collins - (2004)
Starring Joseph Finnes, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Lynn Collins

One of Speare's more troubling plays, The Merchant of Venice is a kind of half-comic, half tragic farce. Bassanio of Venice (Joseph Finnes) has fallen on hard times, but has a solution: if he can just marry the heiress Portia (Lynn Collins), she'll solve all his troubles. However, he needs three thousand ducats to make his suit, and so turns to Antonio (Jeremy Irons), the Merchant of the title. Antonio, however, has everything tied up in shipping, and thus can't give Bassanio the money—but he does have connections with Shylock (Al Pacino), a Jewish moneylender. Shylock, however, is not fond of Antonio, and so writes a compact stating that if Antonio be forfeit, he shall pay with a single pound of his own flesh.

The acting was spot-on, and much of the dialogue was intact (as was Titus, but not, say, Richard III). I suppose the only thing that bothers me about the play is the play itself, and in this day and age, I suppose it should. Though the director goes to pains in order to make Shylock more sympathetic, his case against Antonio is not entirely clear; does he also blame the merchant for the loss of his daughter? Has this loss—not a clear connection to begin with—driven him insane? Why does he suddenly convert, when moments before he was willing to let the Duke take his life? It doesn't hang, and maybe that's the point: if Shakespeare had let Shylock remain resolute to the end, then he may well have seen fit to kill him onstage, too, and incite the groundlings to further violence. Not, of course, that there were officially Jews in England in the early 17th century. It's a mess, though, and a really tough thing to stage, though that doesn't excuse Pacino's occasional hackneyed recitation of his lines. Watch out for Gareth Keenan as Leonardo, and Jason Sidor—er, Joseph Finnes as Bassanio.


Misfirings, or Cleaning up my scribblings file

Because the novel is fundamentally bourgeious, set up to espouse the value of that class, any novel which purports to present values counter to those is flawed--and any novel that presents fully and accurately the values of, say, the Roman elite, the Carolingian empire, Zulu tribes, Marxism, or the Queché, is not a novel. Such a work is also therefore speculative fiction, because it experiements with the underpinnings of modern "accepted" literature.


Entering a completely virtual world where everything is under the control of the individual could well result in a world where no-one is connected at all, where isolation is the norm, and where the basic definition of human is "one who creates" But is it enough to be the creator? Might we not move on? If so, what happens to the created?


Everything is ritual. Going to the store is a ritual. Going to the movies is a ritual. Everything has to be done in its order, its place, its time. We are creatures of habit, the habit of stereotype and performance.


The second-person singular pronoun is the rhetorical equivalent of grabbing someone by the lapels of their coat and shouting in their face. It's too agressive.


       The Debate on Homosexuality continues:
       "What does Jesus say?"
       "Well in Leviticus--"
       "What does Jesus say?"
       "Well, St. Paul--"
       "What does JESUS say?"
       "Well, there's this bit in the beatitudes about adultery--"
       "Is that homosexuality?"
       "Well,no, but--"
       "Does he say anything or not?"
       "Oh piss off."


"So that's it? I've made my contribution to the gene pool, and now I'm no longer needed? Sort of a 'Wham, bam, thank you m'am' to Mother Earth?"

"I can't belive you just said 'wham, bam, thank you m'am'."


Part of being a teenager means discovering irony, which—unless you're British and doing it properly—most people will drop when they're about twenty-five or so. For the rest of us, there's a quick move into sarcasm—unless you're American, in which case you were doing that already—followed by the development of odd hair, myopic vision corrected by black-framed glasses, and a "pop sensibilty" (whatever that is).


I must be getting old: self-conscious irony is no longer sexy. Actually, most forms of sarcasm aren't that sexy, either, although it is nice to hear banter. I'm not only turning into my parents, I'm turning into my parents circa Red & Kitty Forman. Not that that's a bad thing, right?


A craving for breakfast foods can indicate serious levels of bordennia morbidis, which is a disease akin to the virus that causes lethargy (sarcopsychos princeps). You should see your pop culture specialist or neighborhood quack dealer right away. In the meantime, 4 out of 5 sober doctors recommend lunch; the fifth recommends martinis, and therefore doesn't count.


There should be a statute of limitations on how long after a relationship withers one is still allowed to contact the members of that relationship, e.g. "Oh, well, I'd love to stay and chat, but frankly it's been five years since I saw you last so this friendship's gone off. Sorry." or "After the break-up, the party of the second part is allowed to call the party of the first part until six months do pass."


And finally, for Opa:

From the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Mythical Beasts, 11th edition (2003); Oxford: OUP. Volume 7, page 832:

OUSKEHOBIN (var. oskahoben, owskehobbin, pl. -öben or -obens.) Any variety of the Family Mark-trollar, Genus Michegandiae. The ouskehobin is usually mottled tan or brown, about .5 - 1m tall, with thin, almost fairy-like extremities extending often the length of their bodies, forming their main survival camouflage as saplings or branches; their faces, like most trollar, are knobby and wide, and their bodies vary from squat to twig-thin. They have a knowledge level of three (somewhere between two and eight years old) and generally feed off of roots and berries. As with most trollar, they are usually nocturnal, although some vareities seem to be able to survive in daylight under the forest canopy. Their range, geographically speaking, is no farther south than the Ohio and no farther west than the Twin Cities; although some were sighted in the Ozarks, and there were reports of a few in the forests of Osaka, Japan, these remain unconfirmed.
During the early 20th century, it was belived that these creatures were descendants of the long-thought extinct Ent race; subsequent interviews with Redsage Treeshaker and Ironskin the Fair (Genivive Michelsson, She Spoke to Trees, U Chicago 1973) revealed that the Ents had not produced offspring for seven thousand years, and had no memory of the Ouskehöben race.
Following the genetic survey of Bill O'Woolfe, the troll-ancestor of the Ouskehöben appears to have been brought to the New World with the Icelanders in the early 11th century (Keitel Blackhair, "Voyage to Markland", ch. 39; cf. "The Saga of Hronbiter the Odd", ch 17). Few survived the crossing, and those that did quickly interbred themselves to near-extinction before the arrival of the Cornish and Swedish Knockers (1789-?1820), with whom the weakened markland-trollar crossbred to produce the Ouskehobin. The current population is stable, although rarely seen.
Attempts at preservation, including a captivity-breeding programme outside of Stockholm and an attempted transplant to Finland, have yet proved unsuccessful due to the particular energy of the forests of the Upper Midwest. They cannot survive outside of forests without special care.
Status: Endangered but stable.
Warning: DANGEROUS. Owing to their almost-pixie like nature, Ouskehöben are very mischievous, often to the point of extreme danger. These trollar still posses "iron skin" and will not die easily; their "fun and games" can often be quite deadly.


Crazy White Man

I watched Dead Man today. It's really interesting, and I may have to watch it again to really get some of it. Full plot over at Wikipedia (click above).

I also have a pretty good thing going with Glendale apartments. I filled out an application and gave them a deposit. The only shaky part is that I'm buying out a guy's lease, and he's moving in with his girlfriend, but when I met them both today they seemed okay, so hopefully all will be well. Barring cupidial intervention or the discovery of a criminal record as yet unknown to me, I should be moving on the 25th of July. I don't want to jinx it too much, and I certainly won't feel okay until I'm standing in the middle of the apartment with all my stuff in it, but things look to be possibly heading in the direction of being okay.

Now to discover the Leading German Medieval Literature Journal.


Frühling für Hitler und Deutchland!


For those of you who don't live in my head (and I'm pretty sure that's most of you), the USPS decided that my order to forward mail to my parents after the first of July meant "as soon as possible." As a result, I lost two days of mail, and had it start up just in time to get a letter saying the University wants my building gone (that's another story--and a hell of a weekend of waiting for 8:00 on Monday). The upshot of the mail bit was that it started on a day when Netflix was due. So after many long days of me wondering just where in the hell my Netflix DVDs went, I got them today: Richard III (1995); The Producers (1968); and Dead Man (1995). The last will have to wait, since it's late right now and I do have school tomorrow, but the other two were pretty interesting.

Richard III stars Ian McKellen as the title incarnation of pure evil, and it damn well shows. In fact the movie is almost entirely McKellen and his Dr. Evil smirk, so much so that when the play ends (spoiler) with his plunging to firey death, it... ends. Right there. No "and Henry Bollinbroke became King of All England and Order was Restored in time for Catholocism to fall and Capitalism to Rise." In fact, though it's been a while since I've read the play, I'm pretty sure there were other speaking parts. Don't get me wrong--it was great acting, great sets, great idea (hm, Fascist 30's Britain = the late 15th century), it just didn't work out well, and was so tied up with R3 that a lot of the usual 'Speare story got lost. As a reviewer at Netflix said:

This is an "alternate history" version of the play, a lavishly realized fascistic England in the '30s. I don't see that this aspect of the film really "says" much about either element: Shakespeare's vision of calculated and self-conscious villainy, or the director's vision of Nazi Germany. It's elaborate but insubstantial window dressing which will delight some (i.e., me) and distress or annoy others. [T]his is streamlined Shakespeare, with a substantially reduced word count, which is likely to be distressing to some viewers and indeed troubles me.

The Producers was also pretty good, except that it felt rushed toward the end. Otherwise, though, it felt, well, exactly like a late-sixties camp comedy, complete with drag, drawn out musical numbers, and random fetishistic scopophilia.

A Max Byalastock production.


Bonus: Latin Ramblings


Quaestio: An amor labor est.
     Majus: Labor omnia vincit (Vergil Gerogics 1.145).
          Labor > omnia.
     Majus: Omnia vincit amor (Ovid, Amores)
          Amor > omnia.
     Minus: Labor non est omnia. (Aristotle)
     Minus: Amor non est omnia. (Aristotle)
     ERGO: Amor est labor; labor est amor.
     Quod eras demonstrandum.
Quaestio: Quod labori est amor?

Omnis Mulieres sunt semper nuptiis; si non, sunt non boni cognoscendi.
All women are married; if they ain't, they ain't worth knowin'.
-- Samuel Johnson (on a tuesday afternoon, well into his cups)

Mulieres mirant quomodo viros irrumatores esse. Vir omnis qui irrumator est ob solis. Solicitia torquat; solicitia ob eros pertorquat.
Women wonder why it is that men are bastards. Every man who is a bastard is so because he is lonely. Lonliness twists; lonliness on account of eros twists the hardest.
-- Charles Bukowski (on a tuesday afternoon, well into his meds)

Quod est libertas, ut peramatus est?
What is liberty, to be so loved?

The Vinyl Kings: A Little Trip

(CD Review originally posted at: CD Baby).

One of the things that's so interesting about the Beatles is that they spanned a wide variety of music in their relatively brief musical career, and continued to do so well after their breakup ("... and Wings" notwithstanding—sorry Paul). This is important to keep in mind when approaching The Vinyl Kings, a band whose biggest sell is that they sound like the Beatles—and they do, all too well. A Little Trip, their first album, is jam-packed with the kind of songs that make us dig out the old LPs, pointy boots, and the marching band jackets, and like Rob Fleming in High Fidelity, listen to the music that belongs to us, that will "make me feel something, (but) they won't make me feel anything bad."

And that's all well and good, but with A Little Trip the Vinyl Kings have captured the Beatles sound in a hyper-compressed form—which is to say that it's a great disc, but the Beatles of Meet the Beatles are not exactly the same as those of Sgt. Pepper, and entirely different than those of The Beatles (aka The White Album). A Little Trip is exactly as advertised: it is a collection of Beatles-esque music that feels like someone's mix tape of personal hits. This is fine, up to a point: "Bang Bang" feels wrong, as if in the midst of the singer's tirade against the industry the Lennon mask has slipped a bit; and "Chocolate Cake" is a pastiche of both "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Savoy Truffle" that manages be more confusingly strange than both. This album has the overall feeling of demo tape, a sort of "look what we can do" to the world, and while that is no doubt the point of A Little Trip, it doesn't quite gel as an album. Nevertheless it's good to hear this kind of music again, and I look forward to hearing their next album.