I recently learned that the film Lonely Hearts like Home of the Brave was partly filmed in Spokane, my hometown.
In the beginning of Lonely Hearts there are several scenes that are filmed in the beautifully remodeled Davenport Hotel. It is a film that was based on a true story about a couple (played by Jared Leto and Salma Hayek) called “The Lonely Hearts Killers” who preyed on lonely women through personal ads. John Travolta and James Gandolfini play the obsessed cops who finally chase them down and bring them to justice. I don’t think it was exceptional in any way, but it has a good cast and has all the set details right that add to the atmosphere of the piece. All in all, it’s an enjoyable crime story.
Home of the Brave was completely filmed in Spokane and I could recognize most of the set locations. Since this is the first Iraq story to be filmed expectations were high. Unfortunately they were not met in the film. I think the opening scenes set in Iraq were among the best in the film. The stories about the soldiers’ return to civilian life with mental and physical battle scars comes across as cliched, heavy handed, and melodramatic. It might have turned out alright if the writer showed some restraint in creating the specific problems of the soldiers. Some of their reactions seem very unbelievable and unlikely. Samuel Jackson plays a troubled doctor who turns to the bottle and trouble relating to his son and civilian life after returning. 50 Cent is a soldier whose girlfriend is estranged from him and who also acts out violently in his return to civilian life. It is interesting that there are so many black actors in this film, since Spokane is very white I heard that only 3% of the population is black. (50 Cent notoriously dissed Spokane as being a boring place with nothing to do). The storyline about the soldier played by Tommy Yates is the most effective and the least overdramatic one in the film, Jessica Biel’s story isn’t as overblown as the others, but clichéd nonetheless. I'd say wait for a better Iraq film to be made.
I just finished Philip Caputo’s riveting A Rumor of War. It clearly belongs in the elite pantheon of books about the Vietnam War along with Michael Herr’s Dispatches, Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried, and Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History. Caputo writes about his experiences that led him to enlist in 1965 in order to satisfy his romantic ideals about war. His experiences vary as his company defends an airstrip then engages in search and destroy missions before being put in charge of the dead at a base camp. Then he joins another rifleman unit for search and destory missions. The apex occurs in which a couple of civilian noncombatants are killed and he faces court martial and is eventually cleared of the charges. But throughout these experiences Caputo loses his illusion and romantic ideals and begins to question the validity of the war and the reasoning that fuels the war. But the beauty of the book lies in the details: the stifling heat, the insects, the fatigue, constant worry about snipers and booby traps, an enemy that is indistinguishable from the noncombatant general population, inept officers caught up in the bottom line of kills, lack of the basic joys of life, and so on. My only criticism is that it would have been nice to have put his operations in perspective with the general strategies of the American forces, but it is a minor fault. It is a powerful account of one’s man’s life changing experience fighting in the Vietnam War.
The AV Club's Steve Hyden has an interesting blog post about grade evaluations of albums and films:
As a reader, I understand putting grades on reviews. As much as I adore my own prose, I know most people will scan it in about two seconds and consult the grade as a quick answer to the important question: “Should I pay for this or not?” But as a writer and lover of reading criticism, I hate grades. They reduce all the thought you put into trying to figure out what something is trying to do and how well it achieves it into another glib, meaningless way to keep score. Now that sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes—which I often look at and enjoy in a lot of ways—have taken those meaningless scores from every major publication and compiled them into big, monster scores, critical consensus has been quantified like box office returns. Somehow the actual stuff being reviewed gets lost in the shuffle.
At the risk of sounding like one of those high-falutin’ pantywaists, it’s the ideas in a review and the discussion they generate that matter, not some arbitrary letter or number score you pluck out of thin air. I love Robert Christgau’s pithy reviews from his Consumer Guides, but it’s the insights and one-liners I remember, not the grades. Which is why I get frustrated when readers fixate on the score in our reviews—come on, is this really all we have to talk about? If you think The A.V. Club is off-base with a review, state your case, don’t just express your utter shock—shock!—that so-called intelligent people could dare think an obvious C-minus movie is actually worthy of a B-minus. Otherwise you and your comments clearly deserve an F.
What do you guys think—am I wrong? I admit I’m guilty of perpetrating my own pet peeve at times, so my glass house is less than secure here. Do you guys read reviews, or do you tend to scan and glance at the grade? And what do these grades mean to you, anyway?
I do find criticism very useful it helps me weed out films, books, and albums that I might not like. However, I agree that it is often a good descriptive review that can push me in the direction of a particular piece of art. For example, long article on books and/or authors in Harpers have inspired me to read diverse writers like short story writer Deborah Eisenberg and memoirist/journalist Phillip Caputo (I’m currently reading his memoir about Vietnam, A Rumor of War). I’ve found book reviews in Salon, as well as reviews by Nick Hornby to be extremely helpful and inspiring for books. So, for books, it is exclusively the ideas in the reviews rather than scores that attract me.
However, for films and music, sites like Metacritic, Pitchfork, and Rotten Tomatoes can give me an overall idea if I’ll like a film or an album, but I usually read a review by one of the featured professional critics via a link to the original article. Some of the film critics I find useful are Andrew O’Hehir (Salon’s Beyond the Multiplex column writer), Heather Havrilesky (Salon’s I Like To Watch columnist), David Denby and Anthony Lane (The New Yorker), Roger Ebert (The Chicago Sun-Times), everyone at the Onion AV Club, various writers from The New York Times. I can’t really say that there’s any one music critic or site that I rely on, but I’ve gotten some inspiration from Slate, Salon, and The AV Club in general.
A friend forwarded me this intersting article, by Rowan Callick in The American, about Japan's economy and role in the world:
All eyes have focused on China lately, but Japan’s economy is nearly twice as large. More important, the ‘lost years’ of economic stagnation are over. Japan is back, and Japan is different. ROWAN CALLICK looks at why Japan changed, its new reform spirit in economics and politics, and its relations with the U.S. and with its obsession, China.
There is no doubt that Japan is on the rise, but the particular contours of this latest ascendancy remain undefined. Will Japan come to terms with its imperialist past and find a way out of its demographic dilemma? To what extent will Japan allow its cultural and political rivalry with China to trump common economic interests? How will Japanese relations with the West change? So far, it seems clear that Japan wants to remain a close ally of the United States, but not at any price. In the aftermath of World War II, Japan had no choice but to follow the U.S. lead, but that era is now over.
And how will the United States respond to Japan? So far, in stark contrast to the outcries of the 1980s, the American public does not even seem to have registered that Japan is on the rise, and until very recently American investors did not seem to be paying attention either. But that picture has shown some signs of change. Fidelity’s Japan Fund now has $1.9 billion in assets, and in late April, Merrill Lynch announced it would buy a $2.9 billion stake in Japan’s fourth-largest bank, Osaka-based Resona Holdings. Citigroup has been seeking to buy Japan’s third-biggest brokerage firm.
A few years ago, Richard Jerram, the astute chief Japan economist at Macquarie Securities, wrote, “The typical U.S. institutional investor seems to view the Japanese recovery rather like most Americans view the soccer World Cup. They are aware that it is taking place, but have difficulty in getting very excited about it.” That’s changing. Americans as a whole, not just big investors, are beginning to realize that Japan is back—and that Japan is different.
I recently saw a couple of entertaining thrillers that I think are good summer viewing, The Hoax and Fracture.
The Hoax is based on a true story about a publishing hoax by writer Clifford Irving, Richard Gere at his best, selling an autobiography of Howard Huges without having met or interviewed him. The plot is engaging as the actors bring the characters o life. Lasse Hallstrom does an excellent job of recreating 70s America with locations, props, hairstyles, clothes, music and even the film stock and film clips. There are standout supporting performances by the likes of Alfred Molina as his researcher and best friend Dick Susskind and Marcia Gay Harden as his wife Edith. There are several other cameos by the likes of Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Julie Deply and Eli Wallach.
Fracture is a thriller about a very intelligent aeronautics designer, Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal Lecture mode, who finds out his wife is cheating on him and tries to enact the perfect crime. The supposedly slam dunk case is given to up and coming prosecutor Willy Beachum, with a nuanced performance by Ryan Gosling, who is leaving the DA’s office for a high paying private sector job following this trial. Needless to say complications ensue and Gosling is embarrassed in the courtroom. I think the well-written script with plot twist that play out like revelations and the high caliber acting takes this beyond the B list of thrillers.
This week Sawa Kurotani exaimines how different cutures react to illness in her latest column for Behind The Paper Screen for The Daily Yomiuri:
Anthropologists have noted for many years that illness is a cultural phenomenon, and that our experience of our bodies is culturally framed. That is to say, although people from various places around the world may have exactly the same physical symptoms, we perceive, understand and respond to those physical symptoms through the categories, worldviews and explanations that we have been taught through our socialization.
In the 1920s, Margaret Mead tested the common assumption that difficulty of adolescence was "hormonal," and therefore unavoidable. In her famous study of Samoan youth, she argued that the relaxed and stress-free adolescence of Samoan teenagers demonstrates that it is the social environment that determines whether physical changes during adolescence are experienced as stressful.
More recently, anthropologist Margaret Lock compared symptoms of menopause typically reported by North American women and Japanese women. She, too, concluded that, while menopause is caused by hormonal changes, the ways in which individual subjects experience those changes varied greatly between the two groups, suggesting that the experience of illness is culturally mediated.
Compared to the typical American instinct to pinpoint the cause-effect relationship of illness, Japanese ideas are decidedly fuzzy. Not that one is better than the other; they are just different, and each has strength and weakness. The scientific knowledge of our bodies and illnesses would not have been possible without the Western positivist emphasis on causality. At the same time, this model does not accommodate well those symptoms that cannot be connected to specific causes.
Fuzzy concepts like taishitsu, when misused, can keep people from getting proper diagnosis and treatment, and thus may be dangerous. However, they also let us be kind and forgiving to ourselves. Cultural categories do not only influence our recognition of certain illnesses, but also affect our responses to them.
Michael Ondaatje’s memoir Running In The Family is an unusual book. It isn’t a classic narrative; there are little episodes about his family, reports of his return to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the 70s, poems, and other anomalies. This book first came to my attention through Nick Hornby’s inspiring column in The Believer magazine called What I’m Reading. It’s really a quirky little book, but entertaining, heartfelt, and informative. He had a very colorful family. His father was an alcoholic who used to get drunk and take control of the trains and run it back forth at his whim. The adults of his parents’ generation drank, danced, loved, gambled and flirted compulsively. In fact he credits a family member for starting the betting craze of wagering when a crow would fly off a fence. His description of the heat, jungle, and all the creatures in it makes Ceylon come alive. He also describes the relationship of Ceylon with the former colonists and the rest of the world. It is a fascinating little memoir.