Monday, June 26, 2006

Quote of the Day

"I am aware of and most grateful for the benefits of the age. No matter what complaints we may have, Japan has chosen to follow the West, and there is nothing for us to do but move bravely ahead and leave us old ones behind. But we must be resigned to the fact that as long as our skin is the color it is the loss we have suffered cannot be remedied. I have written all this because I have thought that there might still be somewhere, possibly in literature or the arts, where something could be saved. I could call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them."

--Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, the final paragraph of In Praise of Shadows (trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

(Part of a Blog-a-thon which includes--tentative list here--Jen at Invisible Cinema, Michael at The Evening Class, and Girish.)

I don't know entirely what I want to say about this film (Lian Lunson's documentary Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man) or this artist (Cohen), so I'll figure it out as I write. The film intersperses footage of a tribute concert for Cohen with interviews with and some archival material about Cohen himself. U2 (particularly the Edge and Bono) make an appearance, and their presence closes the film, which is to me a blemish on an otherwise tasteful selection of musicians. (At this point, can anyone watch Bono without smirking or sneering? He brings out the cynic in me, that's for sure.) The rest of the talent (which includes Rufus Wainwright, Antony, Nick Cave, Linda Thompson, and many more) does passable-to-excellent covers of Cohen songs. What's fascinating to watch is how much fun most of these people seem to have singing these songs. Some of them dance or contort in ways that made me think that they were performing in front of a mirror at home, "trying on" Leonard Cohen like a suit, taking his words and milking them for full expressive effect. As though his words guided them somewhere altogether new--chords and lyrics (tea and oranges) that seduce them.

Here are some lyrics from one of my favorite Cohen songs (unfortunately left out of the tribute concert):

"And now you look around you,
see her everywhere,
many use her body,
many comb her hair.
In the hollow of the night
when you are cold and numb
you hear her talking freely then,
she's happy that you've come,
she's happy that you've come."

This is the fourth and final verse of "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy," which is a reflection upon a woman, Nancy (apparently someone Cohen knew who committed suicide). These lyrics are an exposition upon a certain haunting memory: the ghost of Nancy is that which invades your perception, showing others "using her body," "combing her hair," a voice which comes to you in the deep hours of the night. There's something both romantic and amicable in the narrator's recollection of Nancy, but it's told in an almost casual way ("Nancy wore green stockings / and she slept with everyone," etc.) so that her specter hovers in the mind of the narrator between significance and insignificance--she's an elusive figure, neither cipher nor center.

What makes this important to me is that, as Cohen insists in I'm Your Man, he's not a nostalgic person. Instead, LC deals with the problems of memory, and the inclusion of the past inside the present, not as a matter of nostalgia but as a condition of daily experience (compare this song to, say, "Bob Dylan's Dream"--a heartbreaking song, but as wistfully sentimental as "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" is stoically-resigned). This is to say, maybe, one doesn't look back in LC's universe so much as he or she is pushed forward by constant, complex, and even irrational presences of the past. Even when the signifiers can be ascribed to Cohen's personal life and history, the relation to the listener (and the potential for the reinterpreter) works because it is a whole self-sufficient system of meaning-making. This is what good songwriters and poets often do, constructing something deeply personal but expressing something that exists outside of persona.

At any rate, this is what I have to offer up in honor of Leonard Cohen--it's not much but there it is. Respond with your favorite LC songs/poems!

Round of 16

Germany! Germany! Two months before this tournament, a quarterfinal match-up between Argentina and the hosts would have had people saying "Auf wiedersehen" to Klinsmann's squad. And that still might happen: Argentina could win this whole thing, and Germany aren't guaranteed to stop them on their way. However, anyone who has watched this Cup knows that the Germans, to our pleasant surprise, are playing some of the most entertaining soccer. (Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger of SoccerNet wrote after the Poland match: "Of all the teams we have seen so far, Germany is also the one that has delivered the most unforgiving high-tempo, route-one football.") I feel my status as a Germany-supporter--over barren years!--has been vindicated by this tournament so far. It'd be a shame to see them stymied by Argentina. Just as it was a shame to see Mexico drop out after challenging Argentina so thoroughly.

I've been all over the place with my predictions, some of them way off (such as Germany continuing to play conservative soccer!) ... but two that I'm happy about predicting correctly are Switzerland topping Group G and Australia advancing to the Round of 16. I will be rooting for an upset in the Italy-Australia game--that's what would make that corner of the Round of 16 interesting, because otherwise we're looking at (probably) a straight-shot to the semis for Italy (as they can top either Ukraine or Switzerland). And Italy have given us, as I see it, the most boring soccer of the tournament, at least among the big teams. So bring it to 'em, Aussies! I'll drink a Foster's for the Socceroos.

Other predictions: England, Netherlands, Ukraine, Brazil, and Spain will advance in their respective matches. Portugal beating the Netherlands is possible, but it wouldn't be an "upset," but if there is going to be one, I'll predict Ghana to stun Brazil. Not likely, but ... . As for eyebrow-raising results, I think we may see Spain trounce France by three goals. A team with a lot of firepower versus a team that has had so much recent trouble scoring in World Cups? The only thing that stands in Spain's way is the fact that it, um, always always always underachieves.

A few words about the dearly departed Team USA: they could have done OK for themselves, but the fact of the matter seems that, while they can play well, they can't play extraordinarily well. In a Group of Death, they're still going to need a lot of luck to get out, and the fact that we faced the aging Czechs in their first and most invigorated match, that we had those two questionable red cards versus Italy, and that Ghana were awarded (in my opinion) a bogus penalty kick does not change the fact that we didn't display the high level of footballing that the Czechs, Italians, and Ghanaians all did in at least one game. Our attack is weak (the opponents' third is like kryptonite to the Americans). Our touch and our pace are nothing enviable. We may have been unlucky in a few big ways, but the fact that we exited at the group stages remains a fair estimation of our abilities & achievements--not just the US men's national team, but as a whole 'soccer culture.' Now to see if Jurgen Klinsmann can step on for Bruce Arena, as rumor has it, and try to repair our US soccer program for a good showing in 2010.

(Leonard Cohen post coming very soon ...)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

De Palma Image of the Day *

* (Not necessarily a daily feature.)

A severe diagonal composition here, predicated upon the splash of color and of darkness: a woman's features (a woman whose "guilt" becomes part of the subject-matter and fabric of the film--like Carrie, like Femme Fatale). De Palma's images come to us pristinely but with unsettling formal properties--they are not always balanced, or are balanced all too readily (hence his penchant for split-screens). Something pent up may explode. An image like this one remarks upon the psychic state (as well as its fictive, dramatic energies!) of the woman-figure, the chosen protagonist, an underdog.

Excerpts on Revolution, Authority, Freedom

World Cup rantings & vague Marxist ruminations on cinema--I am sure that lately Elusive Lucidity has been more fun than a barrel of monkeys!! Here are some excerpts that I thought had a nice confluence of 'talking points' ...

From the Preface to "Political Position of Surrealism" (1935):

From Marx to Lenin, this period of gestation which lasted more than half a century [1848-1917] sustained such a great effervescence of ideas, the problem of its outcome gave rise to so many debates, the points of view relating to it clashed with one another on all occasions with such violence, and, finally, the view that was to carry the day did prevail so forcefully that I cannot help but consider the constituion--both through men and events--of scientific socialism as a model school. As a school of an ever more profound understanding of human need which must aim, in all areas and on the largest possible scale, at finding satisfaction, but also as a school of independence where each person must be free to express in any and every circumstance his way of seeing things, and must be ready to justify endlessly the domestication of his spirit.

For years now, however, a great deal of time and effort has gone into telling us that times have changed on five-sixths of the globe (since a catchword prompts us to subtract) the revolutionary has no longer basically to look to himself for the re-creation of the reasons which militate in favor of social transformation, and to try to accelerate, from the point where he now finds himself, this transformation by every possible means. He is invited to leave that up to other men--men who have "made the Revolution" in the U.S.S.R. and who, some day or other, will presumably be called upon to fill a providential role everywhere else. The unbridled exaltation over whatever these men undertake, be it great or small, takes the place of judgment with respect to the possibilities which are theirs. We are witnessing the formation of a taboo, of the deplorable crystallization of what may be the most moving and most protean in the essence of human demands. Can we be asked to toss onto the dunghill this unlimited capacity to say no which is the whole secret of human progress in order to watch and wonder unreservedly at what is going on without us at the other end of the world? No, this contemplative, ecstatic attitude is totally irreconcilable with the revolutionary movement.


From Slavoj Žižek's "Can Lenin Tell Us About Freedom Today?":

This Leninist freedom of choice--not "Life or money!" but "Life or critique!"--combined with Lenin's dismissive attitude towards the "liberal" notion of freedom, accounts for his bad reputation among liberals. Their case largely rests upon their rejection of the standard Marxist-Leninist opposition of "formal" and "actual" freedom: as even Leftist liberals like Claude Lefort emphasize again and again, freedom is in its very notion "formal," so that "actual freedom" equals the lack of freedom. That is to say, with regard to freedom, Lenin is best remembered for his famous retort "Freedom--yes, but for WHOM? To do WHAT?"--for him, in the above-quoted case of the Mensheviks, their "freedom" to criticize the Bolshevik government effectively amounted to "freedom" to undermine the workers' and peasants' government on behalf of the counterrevolution.

... and, earlier in the essay ...

In contrast to this false radical Leftist's position (who want true democracy for the people, but without the secret police to fight counterrevolution, without their academic privileges being threatened), a Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e., of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it.


In a prefatory segment to Michael Chanan's Cuban Cinema, there is an interview between Robert Scheer and Francis Ford Coppola from 1975, after the latter's visit to Cuba. One question & answer follow:

Did you ask questions about the problem of artistic freedom?

Yes. No one is permitted to criticize the government, other than through the channels that are provided for them. If you're a worker or if you're a writer, you can do it in your various workers' groups. In a factory they get together a couple of nights a week and discuss problems--how to make things better, what's unfair, and stuff like that. So, in other words, there are channels that allow you not to criticize the idea of the society but to figure out how to make it better. I like the honesty of it. They say no, you cannot criticize the government--that freedom, no, you don't have.

Here in America you can write or say anything you want, and many people in Cuba are very impressed when you tell them this. They are surprised when they see something like Godfather II. They wonder, "How can you make a film that says nice things about our Revolution?" But the truth is, I believe, that the freedoms we have here are possible because they do not even come close to jeopardizing the real interests that govern our country. If there were someone who really came close to jeopardizing those interests, I believe our freedoms would vanish, one way or the other. If there were a man, a political candidate, who was elected to office and began implementing real programs that were counter to the big interests, there would be a coup or a murder or whatever was necessary.

In Cuba they don't even have the illusion of that kind of political freedom. It's as though they're saying, "Our Revolution is too fragile, it has too many enemies, it is too difficult to pull off to allow forces inside or outside to work to counter it." I understand the implications of what I'm saying, the dangers. But I put it to you: if they are right--if their society is truly beautiful and honest and worthwhile--then it is worth protecting, even with this suspension of freedom. In Chile, the newborn, elected society was not protected in this way, and so it was destroyed. Ironically, the government that replaced it is not taking any chances and is controlling the press and opposition in a way that Allende did not."

( which point Ruiz fled his homeland and became one of our greatest transnational filmmakers...)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Not Over Yet

Before too long I'll get back to posting about films. (Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven sucks, by the way.) I can't even put out thoughtful game analyses or even larger intellectual musings about the culture of the sport. Only fannish reflection. This World Cup fever has been intense--and it's a really good tournament so far. At the end of the day all I want to do is drink. Sometimes not even eat--I think there were 3-4 days last week when I didn't break 1000 calories.

Italy 1 : 1 USA

Shit! The US still have a chance. They played a physical game, and even though I think the two red cards were harsh, the foul tally was pretty high. I think that our boys need to fine-tune the art of playing tough without playing rough, because yellow cards can hurt you in this tournament. The other thing USA need to do is figure out how to attack in the penalty area--too often they'd get to the Italian box and then just pass it around among their midfield, desperately hoping someone either got a breakaway or a cross. So they'd get up there quite often, but not go for that final slog. They need more team confidence in the attack! (Especially lacking players with long shots like Lampard's or Gerrard's, though Mastroeni's one effort yesterday was good.) Overall they played well against Italy, they showed that fighting spirit that makes them fun to watch even when they're not the most skilled team. Italy were disappointing, they were definitely the weaker side in the first half (though they capitalized on US defensive flaws very well with the one goal they scored), and it's to the US' credit and their demerit that they couldn't score a go-ahead goal in the second half.

Ghana 2 : 0 Czech Republic

Wow! Even more so than the US/Italy game, we see a completely reversal, and Ghana dominate the Czechs almost as much as the Czechs dominated the United States. Group C may be the real Group of Death, but by this second go-round Group E (the Group of Injury?) shows at least that all four teams want it (whereas Group C showed only three contenders: Serbia & Montenegro didn't seem to show up).

Ghana will be a dangerous match for the United States, but a doable one--what throws the US off so much is, I think, that daunting European tactical professionalism. Sometimes they can prepare themselves well against it (as with Italy yesterday), and sometimes they just crumble horribly (as against the Czech Republic). Ghana won't present that exact challenge, and so the US will have to play athlete-to-athlete, speed-for-speed, shot-for-shot. It should be an intense match. Either team could win it.

The one bad thing about the US and Ghana doing well is that if the Czechs actually exit in the first round, it'll be a big loss for the tournament overall.

Portugal v. Iran was a little bit boring. Cristiano Ronaldo bugs the hell out of me; we get it, you can move your legs around the ball really well. In these last two games, at least, has his fancy dribbling (as opposed to, say, his speed) actually made him at all dangerous!? As for today's games--the Brazil-Australia one should be excellent, hopefully the Socceroos can not only put up a good effort but also lull Perreira's squad out of lethargy. Croatia should trounce Japan. I have a weird feeling that Korea might upset France. They've got team organization whereas France don't give any indication of having found their form or their synergy.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Vintage '98?

In 1998 the United States had an "off" World Cup, to say the least, finishing (statistically) dead last out of 32 teams. In 2002 they had a decent World Cup, playing two mostly excellent games (against Portugal and Germany), recording only two victories in five games (against a surprised Portugal and a superior Mexico side), and managing to coast on good fortune the rest of the time. The (American) media like to rattle on about USA's #5 FIFA rating for the United States (which every soccer fan knows is merely indicative of the ranking system's faults, and in no way accurately reflects our footballing status). The fact that they made it to the quarterfinals last time just inflates fairweather fans' sense of what the American team can and should do.

I wasn't expecting a semi-final finish this time around, nor even a quarterfinal repeat. I understand that soccer talent doesn't spring up overnight. I didn't expect to see the United States advance to the Round of 16 after seeing their tough draw, and I still don't expect them to work miracles after today's match against the Czech Republic.

But some things are just too much. Here is my advice for the United States, who play Italy on Saturday:

Pass the ball even slower. You all were passing it pretty slowly in the Czech game, but I bet you'll perform better if you crank up the lethargy. The same goes for your feet. I saw a lot of standing around, but if we're going to win soccer games and the respect of the footballing world, we'll have to do more sauntering. Heels on the ground! As for moving into space and opening up for teammates. You barely did that against the Czechs, and I don't see how you could minimalize on this front any more. So good job at being the best on 'static football,' which I hear is all the rage at Ajax right now. And whatever you do, don't even try to pretend that you want the ball, you want to win, you want to play. It's clear from this game that you didn't, and I'm OK and you're OK with that.

(Eddie Johnson, you're somewhat exempt from the above sarcasm. You made something of an effort. As for the rest of you guys, it pains me to say it because I think some of you are fantastic, but this match was well below what anyone should just chalk up to a tough break, for any of you.)

All in all, it was one of the more embarrassing games I've seen a squad play at the World Cup level, and it's sad because I have been pulling for my fellow Americans so genuinely these years, and will continue to do so, as painful as it gets. But they were outclassed in every conceivable way by the Czechs, by huge margins. I expected Nedved & Co. to beat them. I also expected them to put up a fight. It's possible for USA to beat Ghana, and they do actually have the skill to perhaps top Italy if the Americans play a phenomenal game and the Italians stumble just a bit. We're not dead yet. But it's a prerequisite for this fan's respect for the team to play with some heart, which they resoundingly did not do today. And I see no reason why I should be optimistic about Saturday's game. It could very easily be another 3:0 trouncing from a dangerous Italian side.

The Czech Republic deserve praise for playing an excellent match--they're an extraordinary team.

World Cup highlights so far: watching Mexico beat Iran (and reach my personal score prediction of 3:1) while eating tacos and drinking cervezas in a local taqueria with friends; seeing Germany play their exciting opener; gradually starting to root for Trinidad & Tobago. Disappointments included Ghana's loss and Ivory Coast's loss, and also seeing that Portugal fizzled after some really fast and exciting play against Angola. (I didn't see the Netherlands/Serbia game.)

Thursday, June 08, 2006


The FIFA World Cup starts tomorrow, and I may write a few blog entries on it over the course of the next month. Skip 'em if you actively dislike the game--some Americans, especially, have a psychological complex where they go out of their way to put down the sport. Some scattered thoughts:

Reason Why I'm Finally Rooting for Brazil: Ronaldinho. I've always loved what I've known and encountered about Brazilian culture, but I've never gotten behind their national soccer team because (a) they had a bad habit of eliminating teams I really liked in recent World Cups, and (b) I was rubbed the wrong way by some of their recent stars--Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldo. But Ronaldinho? That goofy, infectious smile, and especially the superhuman skill ... what's not to like? He is the primary reason for my turnaround. (On the flipside, I would usually pull for the Clockwork Orange to do well, but I'm less enthusiastic this time around because of bad vibes from ... Ruud van Nistelrooy. Don't ever mistake me for a rational soccer fan.)

Teams I Will Root For, Always: USA (World Cup brings out my nationalism), Germany (I learned to play soccer when I lived there as a kid). I'm preparing to have my heart broken in the group stages by the US, and in the quarterfinals by Germany. But I'll be cheering them on--and hoping against hope--the whole time.

Surprises: Switzerland and Australia. I'm going to predict them both to make it to the Round of 16 at least. Switzerland may even surprise France and top their group.

Dream Final: England v Brazil, with healthy players all around. My real dream final would involve Germany playing a surprisingly great tournament all the way through to the trophy, but that's even less likely than the United States managing to emerge from the same group as Italy, Ghana, and the Czech Republic.

Prediction for Tomorrow's Opener: Germany 1 : 0 Costa Rica. The Germans will control the pitch but play cautiously, until Miroslav Klose's lanky ass finds its way in front of the right cross. We'll maybe have to wait until Ballack is fit to play to see the Germans try anything creative ...

Desire & Capital: More Notes

I'm about to begin reading Herbert Marcuse's The Aesthetic Dimension, and will hold that in comparison/contrast to some of his fellow Frankfurt Schoolers. A big question for me, when the mind wanders, is whether or not we have some mental aspect that is not imprinted by society, and is furthermore indomitable--i.e., is there something within "the human spirit" in which we (progressives) can put our energy into: a trigger, a tap, a safe space? Or is the project of human rights & civilization a constant and necessary battle against its own inherent threats--the "recidivist element" within our enlightenment (cf. Horkheimer and Adorno's prefatory notes to The Dialectic of Enlightenment)? As something less than even an aspiring historian, sociologist, psychologist, or philosopher, I can't expect to come up with good answers to this question in the foreseeable future. What I can try to do is see when and what artwork throughout history has to say about this question, what arguments it puts forth for an explanation of one form or another--and what material, practical, or ideological employment these explanations may undergo for people in historical reality. Being a cinephile I'm obviously drawn to the ways that the modes, technologies, and aesthetics of later modernity (or we can just call it the twentieth century) address this question. Special emphasis here on surrealism, fragmentative aesthetic practices, and the so-called unconscious mind.

When we, culturally, unloose and share our libidinous, mysterious, and starstruck fascinations upon the images we make with each other ...

(Above: Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart; Patrick Bokanowski's L'Ange; Luis Buñuel's Subida al cielo)

... is there something tangible we can get from this exercise of free expression and the recounting of dreams? Aside from the pleasure of that expression itself? Can we craft our stories and images to do what we want, socially? Well, obviously, we can and do, within limits--but what are those limits? Once we have started using a disruptive, disjunctive impulse to patch together new artworks that examine our social mores and patterns ...

(Vera Chytilova's Daisies)

... or our individual, psychic perceptions ...

(Carl Th. Dreyer's Vampyr)

... or our collective psyche (does it ever emerge with a clean bill of health!?) ...

(Alexander Kluge's The Eiffel Tower, King Kong, and the White Woman)

... can we really ever be assured of the revolution (of whatever magnitude and stripe we expect) we feel we've been promised? Does Makavejev urge us to fuck as a way of getting the revolutionary ball rolling or does he think seeing his films about--among other things--fucking will do the trick (now this is a question more easily answered with some simple research, though)? In other words, what are the real differences when a viewer sees a film that plays up its performative enunciation ('I am a film that is out there attacking or promoting something through my very presence') versus a film that seems to promote action at expense of itself ('I, as a film, am invisible and unreadable beyond being a call to action')? To ask a related question [which Marcuse tackles], is great art always potentially subversive and productive [if so what is great art!?] ... or is there something that politically-minded observers must be sure to separate when dealing with art, since something great might also be something bad?

My temperament in this case is cautious and a little pessimistic--my suspicions are that art (and aesthetic experience as a category within experience) are not essentially, not even always potentially, "productive" or "positive" sites for the human being. Whatever is deemed good or bad for people, art can and does do both.

Mayakovsky charged that the bourgeoisie were subconsciously afraid of the electricity (the force) they had invented--they ate by candlelight (quotation found here). If the larger project of surrealism, for instance, which melded waking, rational reality with the streaming mental reality of the subconscious, what ways can we make sure that we're not just unleashing some more latent force or invention of ruling interests? I'm not trying to even skirt with a 'vulgar Marxism' here, as though that which is suspected to be "bourgeois" is bad and deserves to be destroyed or ignored. I'm only caught inside a question: how can I be sure when and where my fantasies are my own? Will it really be a case of the the unconscious breaking through our false consciousness (maybe the first impulse of the surrealist-marxist) or will our conscious, rational minds have to save us from our own socially-constructed desires? Probably what is needed is a dynamic balance between the two. And when it comes time to construct or consume images, sounds, narratives ... we're left with a vital necessity to think on-the-fly, case-by-case, provisionally, with a pragmatic and somewhat relativistic rigor.

Which brings me back to where I've started, really, and I have the feeling that in climbing the saddle between the giant mountains of Social and Aesthetic Theory, I've done nothing more strengthen my grip on the rocks I'm already holding for dear life. (Which is precisely why I'm blogging on this subject rather than publishing on it, at this moment in time.) Still, there were some pretty film frame enlargements along the way, right?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

All Kinds of Loose Ends

One of the cool things about Birth (some appropriate linkage here, here, and here--probably more that aren't coming to mind immediately) is that it doesn't suffer from what I'd call 'Vanilla Sky syndrome,' that is, a willingness in mainstream cinema to push into some interesting and really fractured territory (with regards to at least storytelling, possibly form), and an even greater willingness to resolve all these apparent loose ends in the final reel, reducing the whole experience into a clever puzzlepiece contraption--and severing all the loose and ambiguous, potentially profoundly evocative, tendrils that hurl out from the screen. I'm not against this sort of plot construction in an ironclad doctrinaire way, but, well, you can't imagine the disappointment I felt in the final minutes of Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky when I saw it some years back. Jonathan Glazer's Birth (I thought his Sexy Beast was very good, as well) feints in this 'plot cleanup' direction and so for a few minutes I was very nervous ... but it mostly retains the heft of its mystery. I'm not as over-the-moon about this film as some people, but definitely put me down in the camp that greatly admires and appreciates it, and would like to see more like it.

One of the depressing things about saying I'd like to see more films like Birth is that (as regular readers will know) I don't see many new films these days, for a variety of reasons, and though I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things, I feel really out of touch with not only the so-called moviegoing public (ah but don't all cinephiles?), I'm also out of touch with critics. Case in point: Peter Jackson's abyssmal King Kong, one of the most inane things I've ever watched. Also a critical hit. I don't like saying that films are boring because this really means "I was bored when I watched it," and with the right mindset practically anything can become interesting (or uninteresting). But for the sake of polemics and on the credit of my scarce usage of the word, I'm going to say it: this film is boring. Inept plot construction (what's with the black sailor-cum-lit-professor!?), a tired visual sense and production design, the Kraft-cheesiest trans-species "humanism" you've ever seen, and possibly the most blatant abuse of 'suspension of disbelief' principles in the history of cinema. If every single character (OK, every major white character) proves to be impossibly heroic, athletic, durable, and lucky ASAP, then what is the point of pretending for three damn hours that this action-adventure film is worth investing yourself into? It's essentially a lame and predictable (but fast!) roller coaster ride with some animatronic hugging along the way. You'd think there'd at least be a joke about how Adrien Brody is initially timid or Jack Black gets winded easily (or even some reference to Naomi Watt's superhuman whiplash-resistance), but nope--these horribly-frightened strangers to Skull Island prove themselves immediately capable of handling anything, and rescuing each other from everything. Anyway, I know a lot of people liked this movie and I don't really want to trash something just for the sake of trashing it ... but I felt the need to vent a bit. I don't do it that much, do I?

A P.S. about Kong--though I alluded twice above to race, I don't think the film is exactly 'racist,' a tag I believe some have attached to the film. (The '33 original is of course a racist film, borne of a cultural psyche rather than D.W. Griffith-like devotion to a cause.) I do think that Jackson's film has some serious racial baggage that needs examining, and it clearly has some residual content of the original's racism, but I don't think it's particularly malicious itself, nor 'racist' in any notable sense. Open to discussion on this point.