There has been a
lot of good press concerning Benh Zeitland’s 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild. In fact it won the Camera d’Or at the
Cannes Film Festival. I must admit that there were some spectacular visual
scenes throughout the film, but this blend of regional (i.e. southern) realism
mixed with fantasy is not to my liking. There is not denying that Zeitland has
an original vision, however, it is not one that I find particularly interesting
I am probably
one of a minority that thought that the previous Christopher Nolan installment
in the Dark Knight Series, The Dark
Knight (2008), was overrated. So I suspect that I went into The Dark Knight Rises (2012) with lower
expectations, which led me to enjoy it more than I thought I would. That being
said I see it as a high quality action film and there are several visually
compelling scenes throughout the film.
The Island President is an interesting 2011 documentary film
about the efforts of then-Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed to slow climate
change. The beginning of the film was the most fascinating as it chronicles how
Nasheed became the
first democratically elected president of the Maldives in 2008, taking over the
1,200-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean after agitating for political
reform for more than 20 years. This includes imprisonment and
exile. I would like to have seen or about how it became the island resort of
the rich and famous, but I suppose that is another story. The diplomatic
sequences slow the film down a bit, but the point is that he got all countries
to agree to reduce carbon emissions at the climate summit in Copenhagen
in 2009. The postscript to film says that he was forced to resign during a
military coup, again another story, but one I would like to see.
Certified Copy (2010) is a critically acclaimed film by Iranian writer and director Abbas
Kiarostami that I have been meaning to see for quite some time. It is a film
set in Tuscany featuring Juliet Binochet and William Shimmel as a couple who
have an ambiguous relationship and who spend a day discussing the vicissitudes
of life. It is challenge in the sense that most films that are essentially
dialogues are trying for the average viewer. There isn’t a lot of action, but
Kiarostami has an original story to tell and does it with artistry in beautiful
set locations in Tuscany. Binochet won the Best Actress Award for the Cannes
film festival for her role in the film.
I shouldn’t be
surprised that I enjoyed Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 action thriller Haywire as much as I did, given that he
is one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers. I suppose it had something to do
with knowing that the star Gina Carano was a first time actress chosen to do
the film for her skills as a Muay Thai fighter and American Gladiator. I
thought Carano was adequate in her role as a CIA contract agent. Some other
strong points in the film are the exotic locales in Europe, the compact
storyline, and the stellar supporting cast with Ewan MacGregor, Michael
Fassibinder, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael
I can’t remember
the last time I saw a movie that was well over two hours long and didn’t look
at the time or feel bored at any point in the film, until now, Quentin
Tarantino makes film the old school way. Django Unchained (2012) feels like an old school, 70s, mass-market film from the
golden age of American films. It draws from spaghetti westerns,
blaxsploitation, and revenge dramas. I realize that Tarantino’s films aren’t
for everyone, but they are very much for me. I love the way he sets up the
story and strings together great set pieces while casting compelling actors in
major roles: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo Di Caprio, Christopher Waltz, Samuel Jackson,
Walton Groggins, etc.
Kill! (1968) is an entertaining samurai film (chanbura, Japanese sword play film) from
director Kihachi Okamoto starring legendary actor Tatsuya Nakadai. It shares
the same source material, Shugo Yamamoto’s Peaceful
Days, as Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro
(1962). Nakdai stars as a former
samurai who has become disillusioned with the samurai life and has become a yakuza, and seen as a vagrant by others,
who meets a farmer, played by Etsushi Takahashi, who longs to become a samurai.
The two meet when chasing after the same chicken in a town and get involved in
the inter-politics of the clan of that town. They side with the rebels of
corrupt clan leader. Of course there are many elements from classic chanbara films, but there are also
elements from spaghetti westerns, in particular a Morricone-like film score.
(The French Connection and The Exorcist) was responsible for bringing
the play, Killer Joe written by Terry
Letts, to the screen in 2011. It is an intense, dark, and funny film. I think
it showcases Matthew McCanughey as the steely Killer Joe. There are fine
performances from the rest of the supporting cast that of the seedy, down and
out, morally suspect family: Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and
Thomas Hayden Church.
I suppose Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012) will win many awards this year and deceivingly so. I must admit that I was somewhat suspect, sicne Spielberg films can be saccharine sweet and wince inducing, but I thought Daniel Day Lewis' performance was extraordinary as were the make-up, costumes, and set decorations. I also thought there were many excellent supporting roles by actors such as John Hawkes, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, David Straithhairn, etc.
comedy romances are among my least favorite types of films, but I have to say
that David O. Russell has created a modern masterpiece with his latest film, Silver Linings Playbook(2012). It is the
story of a bipolar man (Bradley Cooper) whose marriage is all but over that is trying
to reintegrate into society and win back his wife. At a dinner party he meets
an equally unstable woman (Jennifer Lawrence) whose husband has recently died.
Even though it is working in the conventions of the romantic comedy it provides
several surprises and is very funny at many points throughout the film.
Kate Elwood takes on the cultural significance of "rock, paper, siccors" (known as janken in Japan) in her latest column:
The astounding prevalence of janken, or "rock, paper, scissors," as a
means of determining who will do something, or be eliminated from doing
something, or the order of participation if everyone is going to do it,
is a conundrum so pervasive that for many initially surprised observers
it soon becomes a non-conundrum, and just part of the all-encompassing
backdrop of the way things are done in this magnificent and sometimes
playfully quirky culture.
In 2005 the hand-positioning game made headlines when a Japanese
company decided to sell off its valuable art collection. Unable to
decide whether Christie's or Sotheby's should do the honors and garner
several million dollars in profits, the president instructed the two
auction houses to settle the matter the janken way. Apparently,
Christie's took the challenge more or less seriously, seeking strategic
advice about which formation to go with, while Sotheby's took the
attitude that a game of chance is a game of chance. Christie's won.
The company president could perhaps afford to be whimsical since for
him, if not the auction houses, either outcome would be satisfactory.
But when the stakes are high and a demonstration of responsibility is
called for, not all Japanese people feel that rock, paper, scissors
deserves a place in the proceedings.
Recently, Yoshimi Watanabe, president of Your Party, responded with
considerable irritation to a suggestion on the part of Toru Hashimoto,
acting leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), that
when adjusting electoral districts, the last bit could be decided by
janken. Watanabe's invigoratingly snappish comment, asking rhetorically
whether such a stupid thing could be permitted, was no doubt well
appreciated by the janken-disenchanted of the nation.
According to Sepp Linhart, a researcher of Japanese culture, janken
emerged around the 1840s as a variant of other, more complex, "ken" hand
games which were played by adults and date back 300 years or more. From
the second half of the 18th century, sansukumi-ken, which is the type
of game janken belongs to, appeared. In sansukumi-ken, A defeats B, B
defeats C, and C defeats A. In an old children's version called
mushi-ken, a frog outdoes a slug, which conquers a snake, which beats a
frog. In a once-widespread two-handed adult sansukumi-ken called
kitsune-ken, a fox trounces a village head who trounces a hunter who
trounces a fox.
Janken may have appeared relatively late, but it is the version that
has stuck and embedded itself deeply into the fabric of Japanese daily
life as a resolution tool. Child development researchers Tokie Anme and
Uma Segal made a study of all authorized day care centers in Japan,
obtaining more than 22,000 responses. Their study reveals that 10
percent of children can make decisions using rock, paper, scissors at 38
months; 50 percent can do it as 46 months, and 90 percent can do it at
57 months. Before the age of 5, janken is in full swing, as it were.
Janken may be fun, but it is also a playground necessity.
Educational anthropologists Yi Che, Akiko Hayashi and Joseph Tobin point
to the Japanese cultural inclination to let children resolve their own
disputes without aid from the grownup in charge. At times, arrangements
for discord may even be purposely augmented: The researchers note a
principal at a preschool who deliberately did not put out enough toys
for the children in order to get them to learn to cooperate. What's a
tot to do? In a video taken by the researchers, girls fight over a
shovel and eventually settle the problem through janken.
Begun early and practiced intensively, janken plays a crucial role
in Japanese children's lives. Perhaps as a result of this, while the
less essential "eenie, meenie, miney moe" and "one potato, two potato"
are left by the wayside as children mature, janken persists as the
method of choice for a quick settlement.
Unfortunately, this may be evaluated negatively in cross-cultural
contexts. Kumi Kato, a researcher of "cultures of learning,"
administered questionnaires to Japanese and Australian high school
students in a 10-month study abroad program and found differences in
decision-making to be an area of conflict. One student even branded
After seeing the film Lincoln, we went to Twigs, in downtown Spokane, after for a couple of drinks and some tasty appetizers: Chorizo Sausage Flat Bread, Turkey Sliders, and Twigs Signature Fries with Gorgonzola cream sauce.
I probalby watched more TV shows this year than in recent years-catching up with some well received shows that I had missed the first time around. Here's my rankings:
1. Breaking Bad-can't wait to see how the writers will end it.
2. Mad Men-consistently excellent in all areas of production.
3. Boardwalk Empire-I don't know why I waited on this: Prohibition, gangsters, Martin Scorcese, Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams, HBO, etc...this show really got its legs in the third season.
4. Justified-Rayland Givens is a guy you don't want to mess around with-created by Elmore Leonard.
5. Game of Thrones-fantasy usually not my thing, but HBO, great acting, and fascinating politics.
6. Louie-not really a comedy, but provocative story lines.
7. Community-the best comedy on TV.
8. 30 Rock-the second best comedy on TV.
9. Homeland-disappointed with season 2 and stopped watching, but season one is very compelling TV with great acting.
10. The Walking Dead-technically I haven't started watching season three, since I just finished season two. I liked it enough to continue on, but lacks the high level writng of the shows at the top of this list.
Charles Willeford was a man who knew a lot about many different subjects. His novels always give him an opportunity to show his intimate knowledge of the the South and Miami in particular. In addition, I learned a lot about the world of cock fighting from his novel The Cockfighter. It is clear from the novel that he wrote after that, Burnt Orange Heresy (1971) that he also knows a fair bit about art and art collecting. In fact, I learned that after the war he spent a few years in Peru and LA trying to establish himself as a painter. In this novel, which is also a mediation on art and the role of critics in art, up and coming art critic James Figueras is offered a proposition that can further his career by interviewing a fictional, reclusive French “Nihilist surrealist” named Jacques Debierueart, who is said to be the missing link between surrealism and abstract art. This proposition includes stealing a painting for an equally eccentric collector who is hosting the aging French artist in Florida. Figureas brings his buxom, midwestern school teacher girlfriend, Bernice Hollis in on the gambit to tragic result. I love the details like Figeras' clothes like his canary yellow jumpsuit and specific descriptions of meals eaten by the protagonist among other details. It is another fascinating and entertaining neo-noir novel from Willeford.
There are a couple of gourmet burger places in the Tamachi/Mita area and the first one I visited was Munch's Burger Shack. It has a homey-diner like atmosphere and some high quality burgers, I went for the double cheese, which I didn't realize has two burger patties as well as two types of melted cheese. This resulted in a disintegrating bun. The bonuses here are excellent shakes and squeeze bottles of condiments.
Headshot (2011) is a Thai noir crime film from writer-director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe and 6ixty9ine).This "Buddhist noir" crime film is well made with some interesting shots and set pieces, but it isn't fully satisfying overall. It is a story of corruption, revenge, and redemption that isn't cohesive in its story as it could have been. There is some stylish panache to the film, but it isn't as satisfying as his earlier Thai noir film 6ixty9ine. That being said I thinkPen-Ek Ratanaruang is a talented film maker and I look forward to his next production. This one was entertaining, but not as good as he is capable of producing.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 edited by Dave Eggers with an introduction by David Sedaris is one of the better collections. I still think the first section is usually unnecessary with silly lists, the second section is what I come back for--the inventive short stories and excellent journalism that I may have missed. I realized with Sherman Alexie's compelling "War Dances," that I need to keep up with him since I haven't read anything since The Business of Fancydancing. There were also great stories like "The Encirclement" by Tamas Dobozy about a tortured man who disrupts lecture by a history professor about the Siege of Budapest in WWII, "Man of Steel" by Bryan Furuness about an adolescent trying to come to terms with his mother's abandonment of him and his father, "Gentleman, Start Your Engines" by Andrew Sean Greer about a gay couple's unlikely wedding anniversary spent at a NASCAR race, and Etagar Keret's modern fable "What of This Goldfish, Would You Wish."
There are fabulous pieces of nonfiction in the collection as well. The most fascinating piece for me was Rana Dasgupta's look at money and how it is changing New Dehli in "Capital Gains." The piece opens with the discussion of a the drunk driving case of a son of a wealthy and well-connected business man that tries to get his son off drunk driving and manslaughter charges after he has killed six people. Dasgupta sees this as endemic of a cultures that worships wealth and has mutated traditional values. He identifies several interesting cultural observations, for example he interviews a crusading journalist who explains: "Hinduism is very pliable. it rationalizes inequality: if that guy is poor it's because he deserves it from his previous lives, and it's not for me to sort out his accounts. Hinduism allows these guys to think what they get is due to them, and they have absolutely no guilt about it." Elsewhere he states that, "Delhi is a city of traumas...Delhi was destroyed by the British in 1857. It was destroyed again by Partition in 1947. It was torn apart by the anti-Sikh rampages in 1984. Each of these moments destroyed the culture of the city, and that is the greatest trauma of all." Later he talks with a prominent psychologist who discusses the Rama complex: "in the epic poem Ramayana, Rama gives up the throne that is rightfully his and submits himself to enormous suffering in order to conform to the will of his father. Indian men don't wish to kill their fathers, they wish to become them..." Some the other standout pieces include Evan Ratliff's piece for Wired, "Vanish," where he undergoes an experiment to see if someone can disappear in the internet age, and the compelling "Seven Months, Ten Days in Captivity" by David Rohde who chronicles his kidnapping at the hands of the Taliban in Pakistan. There's also a great piece by GQ regular and fiction writer George Saunders, "Tent City, U.S.A." It is an entertaining story and nonscientific study of life among the homeless in Fresno, California.