a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Book Meme

So this fill-out form, which has been skulking about the blogosphere, has finally made its way to my corner. Here goes:

1. Total number of books I've owned.

A total guess, but it's probably around 800-900. I still live with 300 or so, but have been shaving off the number over my two-and-a-half-decades. Which reminds me, must dig out those old Narnia books.

2. Last book I bought.

Geez, it's really been awhile since I went book-hunting. I believe it was Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, though that fell around the same time I snatched up Movie Man by David Thomson, Religion and Science by Bertrand Russell, Ever Since Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould, and Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, so who knows which bundle came first. If that number for whatever reason impresses you, know that was well over a month ago. I'm due a Bookhaven trip.

3. Last book I read.

My reading habits have become embarrassing over the last several years. I used to be a literal bookworm, but my habits died somewhere around senior year in college, and never quite relapsed. Nowadays, I fall into reading spells, burning through a handful of books, and then getting distracted and not reading for anywhere from a couple weeks to (ye gods) a couple months. In any case, the last book was the aforementioned Religion and Science, my introduction to Bertrand Russell. This one isn't, as you'd guess, an all-out assault on organized religion, but a shot-by-shot account of the blockades that engulfed Copernicus, Galileo, et al., and science may frequently lose its battles but always wins the war. Makes me feel oodles better about the Intelligent Design debacle, even if I may not be around to witness its inevitable demise.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me.

Assuming this isn't a "favorites" list...

* Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My canonical entry for the list, Heller's absurdist smorgasboard took me months to finish, probably because I was poring laboriously over every rich sentence. Even moreso than its anti-war messages or even if it's neverending absurdist gifts, what really stuck with me was the Altmanesque spread (though I wouldn't have called it that at 18). Every character is fully-realized with their own brilliantly dreampt-up quandary, to say nothing of the dizzying ways with which Heller interlocks their wanderings. I even mostly like the much-loathed 1970 Mike Nichols movie, which plays like a pretty kick-ass Greatest Hits comp.

* The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
I read this famed evolution low-down in November, which makes this the newest addition, but I can't deny a hierarchial spot to the book that led to me making the small sidestep into all-out atheism. That's a common response -- I read it after a plug from Steven Soderbergh, who said the same thing -- but don't think of Dawkins' book as all blasphemy all the time. Apart from being frequently hilarious and endlessly informative -- his chapter on the eye is one of the best reads in memory -- it breaks down the "irredicably complex" argument rather neatly, showing, among other things, that complexity is hardly the dead-give-away folks like Michael Behe make it out to be. It's also quite the gateway book, sending me on the hunt for everyone from Dawkins colleagues Gould and Dennett to mathematician (and, heh, former teacher of mine in college) Paulos and godless philosopher Russell.

* The Witches by Roald Dahl
Probably the reason for my skeptical bent (strange, that, since it's about friggin' witches), Dahl's typically nasty kiddie opus is one of those books I vividly remember reading. Or not reading, per se: my fourth grade teacher read it to my class. I'm sure I had traces of worldly suspicion prior to these sessions, but this made them blossom: it was as though all the things I trusted, particularly w/r/t anything adult-oriented, were being turned topsy-turvy. I even recall staring at my teacher's feet, seeing if she, like the hags of the book, had block feet. Plus it taught me my most cherished lesson: don't take snakes from strange women. Not the author's best (his short story Skin is among literature's creepiest), but the one that made me a life-long Dahl convert.

*The Dream Life: Movies, Media and the Mythology of the Sixties by J. Hoberman
Just out in paperback! I wanted to put a movie book on here, but even Thomson's Biographical Dictionary or Pauline Kael's numerous collections didn't have the definitive impact Hoberman's chronicle did. It wasn't that I hadn't been mindful of history, both cinematic and, um, actual, before. It just allowed my interest to take on a more concrete form -- and, embarrassingly, it extended to current politics, which I had been slightly indifferent to previously. The climax of the book (in the penultimate chapter, not the one about the aftermath) actually got me all misty. QED!

*Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I read this published screenplay in paperback before I saw the movie and a book's a book, yes? I was 15, if my math's correct, when the movie came out, and with few friends and no driver's license (not to mention parents who, it was safe to say, weren't up for a movie where Ving Rhames gets rammed), it was tough to go see the film in the theaters. On a whim, I got the script. I must have read it 50, maybe even more, times before it came out on video (this was like six months later), at which point I was constantly pointing out all the differences from script-to-screen that I viewed as mistakes. More importantly, it turned me into a hardcore cinephile, and I had found my lifelong cause. In a way, had my PF experience been orthodox, I wouldn't be where I am now -- for better and for worse.

I'm supposed to pick five people to assign this to. But I think this is in the last throes, and I honestly don't know too many people with blogs. I don't think I can come up with five, but right now: get crackin' Jer, Doug, Ryan, and my newest link, Marisa.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A greater lack of humanity than even Kraftwerk

Solely Rep this round of the Weekly, which has officially entered summer duties. So long to the artsy stuff for a couple more weeks, though a shout out is in order to a screening of Made in Sheffield, a ramshackle but watchable 101 on the scene that spawned Cabaret Voltaire, the Human League and (yes) Def Leppard. And local treasures The Secret Cinema and the Lawn Chair Drive-In sport eclectic tastes for their outdoors-y deals.

Also, Slate has dedicated the week to summer cinema, complete with the return of Charles Taylor. Joe Morgenstern, however, has dropped the ball. Why leave Edelstein hangin', bud?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Too self-absorbed to fully connect with an audience

Those who glance to the right will notice I added a glut of new links, most notably to The Actual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a user-compiled refrence to esoterica that's the logical outcome of something that, at least partially, dreamed up the internet. But also a shout-out to the funniest thing I've seen all week (apart from french-kissing minotaurs; see below), namely a collection of some of the greatest typographical doozies found on bootleg DVDs. Apart from the one for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (see entry title), the prize-taker has to be a Catch Me If You Can disc accidentally embroidered with subtitles for Minority Report. Good thing for Frank Abagnale Jr. that those precogs are otherwise occupied.

The Trouble With Takashi Miike

In my increasingly futile attempt to see every film from Takashi “Insanely Prolific” Miike -- 5 down, 60+ since 1991 to go! -- it’s interesting to note where I began. You could start anywhere, of course, but I, like many North American residents, first discovered him in 2001 via Audition. Knowing little going in apart from claims that it was a Rohmer that turns into a Romero, I still left duped: lulled into a pleasant stupor by the first hour, discombobulated by the next half-hour, and all-out wretching during the justly infamous wtf? finale.

Compact, unsettling, and brainy -- lengthy and probably didactic discussions on whether it was a feminist work or some kind of twisted male view of feminism ensued once my movie-going companion and I saved our lunch -- it in no way prepared me for the campy musical The Happiness of the Katakuris, which hit the PFF five months later and, though this is a minority opinion, fairly annoyed the bejesus out of me. Even moreso than Audition’s climax, it hits the so-far-uninitiated like a train: so he’s messy? And why, given that he averages seven films a year, did that surprise me?

Which brings me to my quandry: I’ve been wondering if my gung-ho reaction to this year’s Izo and my mildly less so grade for last year’s Gozu simply have to do with lack of familiarity. Were I an expert, would I see through Gozu’s thrown-together exploration of a virginal yakuza taunted by all sorts of sexual peccadilloes? Would I nod in appreciation at the purported yakuza-killing pooch who gets descimated, the eternally lactating woman who sells her goods about town, the all-transvestite clientelle of a diner, the man who uses ladels as a makeshift viagra, the french-kissing minotaur, the leftfield role-reversal that introduces possible incest content, and the protracted Cronenbergian birth finale, but basically find that it’s just burning celluloid? I wonder.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

In & Out Pt. 2

I'll resume posting sooner or later, but for now, my Weekly shit is up for this issue. A review (fourth down) of the Bataille-based sex-a-thon Ma Mère (with Isabelle Huppert in MILF mode) and Rep is all for this issue. Moral connundrum: do you either go to a $20 benefit for The Day the Fish Came Out, Michael Cacoyannis' never-screened contribution to late-'60s pseduo-psych cinema, or a free screening of that insane piece of contraband Cocksucker Blues? Really; tell me what to do.

Meanwhile, R.I.P. Anne Bancroft, I'm saddened to say. I'm not the first to point out that Mrs. Robinson haunted the actress through most of her career. But if you feel like renting one of her movies, try and make it 1964's The Pumpkin Eater. Directed by Jack Clayton and written by Harold Pinter, it feels like a test for the then-recent Oscar winner, seeing if she could hold her own against Peter Finch, James Mason and Cedric Hardwicke (not to mention a young Maggie Smith), and in an affectated Brit accent to boot. Predictably, she does. However, why can't I remember her from the dire La Femme Nikita remake Point of No Return?

The Beginning of the Batman ain't bad, by the by.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

In and Out

The Weekly drill: a review (third down) of the J. Dench-M. Smith showdown Ladies in Lavender and a naggingly paltry Rep. The season explodes next week, perhaps literally: I'm breathlessly awaiting my screener of Cocksucker Blues.

Also, a quick shout-out to the completely unexpected appearance of the Vincent Price programmer Witchfinder General in Manhattan. Rentable stateside under the title The Conqueror Worm, it's thoroughly Hammer, with nasty bloodletting and topless girls inexplicably lounging about in inns. Hell, it even cracked the "Almost" section of my '68 list. But Hoberman posits a better reason why it might have been let out of the vaults. How do neocons even go to the movies these days without wretching?