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Monday, January 11, 2010

Other movies, randomly

In comment 33 of this exactly-three-month-old thread, Elliot Tarabour asks,

Just when are we going to get around to discussing “Inglorious Basterds”?

Why, that moment is now!  I finally saw it this weekend, and OMG.  I had pretty much given up on Mr. Tarantino, and even the glowing reviews didn’t move me.  But what the hell happened?  Did he start taking Ritalin?  Doing Vipassana meditation? Where did this “focus” come from?  The movie is ridiculously well done, and I’m even tempted to use words like “disciplined” and “polished.” There must be half-a-dozen Great Staredowns that never get silly or mock-epic; the intense closeup of the cream on the strudel is a great touch (and he does this kind of thing a couple of times, always effectively); Shoshanna’s revenge fantasy is sweet and delicious; the hommages aren’t heavy-handed; and the performances are terrific.  Why didn’t you all tell me about this?

On New Year’s Day, Tim McGovern kicked off a thread with this

I won’t do a thing you say until you give your review of the new Sherlock Holmes movie. The Exiled and Lance Mannion gave it some fine reviews, and I won’t stop mocking wHorowitz until you give in to my demands!

In the ensuing 132-comment scholarly discussion of the term “teabag” and its many variants, I forgot to take umbrage at the term “wHorowitz.” Shame on you, Mr. McGovern, for associating sex workers with the David Horowitz Freedom Center!  But shame on me for not offering my review of the new Sherlock Holmes movie and thereby compelling you to do my bidding. 

All right, my review is this: Jude Law and Robert Downey make a great team, and it’s clear that they know it too.  I’m almost at the point at which I could watch the two of them eat oatmeal for 90 minutes and be content.  But I’m sorry.  Guy Ritchie is Teh. Most. Annoying. Director.  At least since I stopped paying attention to Oliver Stone after the epilepsy-inducing experience of Any Given Sunday.  And did we really need voiceovers to let us know that the brilliant Holmes thought about the punches he would throw before he threw them

And finally, no one has ever asked me, “Michael, what do you think of Smokey and the Bandit?”

Well, it happened to be on cable Saturday night, so I watched a good chunk of it, and I do appreciate its central position in American culture, poised precisely halfway between Moonrunners (1975) and its famous TV progeny, The Dukes of Hazzard (1979).  But I had totally forgotten that the film was a 90-minute product placement ad for Coors.  WTF?  At least in Moonrunners the contraband in question is real likker.

And now it’s time for an Overdue Admission.  That remark I made in comment 11 of the New Year’s Day thread?  The one about “creating ‘avatars’ that can communicate with the Palinistanian people using their own language and physiognomy,” using “advanced technologies such as ‘weights,’ ‘pulleys,’ and ‘levers’ to control these avatars from remote sites, with the aim of winning the hearts and minds of ‘the people’”?  I totally stole that from Nick.  Well, half-totally.  Over the Molochmas break, one of my teenaged nephews was talking about Thanksgiving and genocide, and I solemnly reminded him that the Mayflower pilgrims did not in fact exterminate the Native peoples.  Rather, I said, they created “avatars” to blend in with the indigenous North Americans and learn their ways.  “Using advanced technologies such as ‘weights,’ ‘pulleys,’ and ‘levers,’” added Nick, taking it to The Next Level and cracking me up in the process.  Credit were credit is due, my son.  That was totally funny.  So I had to steal it.

And how ‘bout them Jets?

Posted by Michael on 01/11 at 09:16 AM
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Friday, January 08, 2010

About those visuals

That’s funny—you don’t look Bluish....

Gotta run a bunch of syllabus-related errands today (for the graduate seminar on Stuart Hall), so I don’t have any time to direct you to Dissent‘s discussion of “Intellectuals and Their America” (with contributions from E. J. Dionne, Jr., Alice Kessler-Harris, Jackson Lears, Martha Nussbaum, Katha Pollitt, Michael Tomasky, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Leon Wieseltier) or this discussion of why progressives can or can’t produce social change (h/t Roxanne Cooper), or Charles Homans’ take on the disconnect between the Obama Administration and the grassroots organization it built in 2007-08.  Nor do I have time for any other occupatio.  I just want to point out that everyone who says ”Avatar is stupid but it’s also really beautiful” is missing the obvious, namely, that—like it or not—the visual beauty of the film is the point.  Yes, the story could have been better, more inventive, less Dances-with-FernGully.  Of course.  But if you were entranced by the landscape of Pandora, then—aha!—Cameron got you.  You came into the film thinking, for the first half hour, that Pandora was a vicious hostile place that would kill you dead and eat your eyeballs for jujubes.  Then you converted to Bludaism, and you got to experience how breathtakingly beautiful it really was, especially when you learned to ride the Hippogriff.  Then you started realizing—as someone pointed out to me the other day—that all the human artifacts (outside the science lab, that is) were breathtakingly ugly:  no streamlined white flying machines, just heavy gray-metal industrial equipment, open mines, a blighted, spewing refinery that looks like Elizabeth, New Jersey, and helicopters and gunships with big nasty whirly-ears.  So there’s really no separating the form from the content, is what I’m saying.  For better and for worse, the movie’s visuals are its content, and if you loved its visuals in the Pandoran forests, then there’s no escaping the conclusion:  You Are All Jake Sully Now.

Posted by Michael on 01/08 at 01:47 PM
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Thursday, January 07, 2010

On an open fire

Marc Bousquet has now “put up” on the “internet” the full and unexpurgated transcript of the controversial minnesota review parody interview Janet and I conducted with Jeffrey Williams in 1994, which has just been published in the collector’s-item mr “Roast Issue.” Warning: This interview is not for the faint of heart!  (NSFFH!) Williams is a notoriously difficult interviewee who curses, as they say, like a sailor.  “Profane, forthright, daring and stylish, Williams made editing an academic journal into a platform for public intellectualism to an extent unmatched by anyone of his generation,” Bousquet writes.  Yes, well, that’s the polite version.  There’s a more accurate way to say this:  I’ve seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than try to interview Jeff. 

Here’s Marc’s tribute post and his own (real) interview with Jeff.  And here (NSFFH) is our interview.  The first third of it is taken almost verbatim from “reality,” that is, from a real conversation Jeff, Janet and I had fifteen summers ago in North Carolina.  Then it gets a bit more fanciful.  (My favorite part is the bit about the steam-powered linotype machine and the binding glue.  And people who have been reading this blog for untold eons will surely pick up the latest variation on Ye Olde Grundrisse joke.)

Also in this issue, as Marc works overtime to digitize the analog:

Tina May Hall, “Fictional Flowchart”

David Downing, “The Roast-a-Way”

Katie Hogan, “Student Debt”

Amitava Kumar, “At the MLA with Jeff”

Bruce Robbins, “For Jeff—An Undone Roast”

H. Aram Veeser, “The Disquieting Jeff Williams”

Jess Wilson, “The Editor Hits the Court”

ARG Collective, “Top Ten Jeff Williams Editorial Comments”

ARG Collective, “A Mad Lib”

Jeffrey R. Di Leo, “Top Ten Reasons that Jeff Williams Should Continue to Edit mr

Vincent B. Leitch, “A Most True Portrait of Jeffrey Williams:  A Dozen Little-Known Things about the Man”

Kathy M. Newman, “An Entry from Jeff Williams’ Day Planner”

And—I promise this is not another “read the whole thing” Grundrisse joke, because sometimes those little jokes make people angry—you can read the whole entire issue (with contributions from Michelle Massé, Louis Menand, Lennard Davis, Gerald Graff, Jeff Nealon, Cary Nelson, and many many more, including truly inspired parody-interviews by Eyal Amiran and Dick Ohmann) in a “portable document format” right here.

Many many thanks to Marc for stuffing all this material into the Intertubes, and, once again, to the inimitable Heather Steffen for putting together this Top Seekrit Project in a matter of weeks.  And most of all, congratulations to Jeff for eighteen remarkable years in which he made mr one of the most lively and important journals in the humanities.

Posted by Michael on 01/07 at 09:14 AM
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Monday, January 04, 2010

My Avatar Will Go On

Last week, as the four of us—me, Janet, Jamie, and, for a short time only, special guest and firstborn Nick—left the theater after our second viewing of Dances with FernGully, I noted with some alarm that the first two notes of the chorus of “I See You,” sung by the lovely and talented Leona Lewis, sounded identical to the first two notes of “My Heart Will Go On.” Since the tempo of the two songs is similar as well, I unfortunately spent much of the rest of the evening mentally singing, “near, far, it’s your avatar/ I believe that Eywa does go on....”

This pedestrian observation led Nick to ask a pointed and difficult question: since when, exactly, have these blockbuster movies adopted versions of the Soaring Ballad as their theme songs?  Historians of the Soaring Ballad note that its use spans a variety of genres, appearing even in the work of “rock” bands on the soundtracks of Michael Bay films.  “Did it all begin with The Bodyguard?” Nick asked.  “Goodness, no,” I replied.  “I mean, you’d have to include Maureen McGovern’s classic, Academy-Award-winning [!!] ‘(There’s Got to Be) A Morning After’ from The Poseidon Adventure, and, uh....” Whereupon, dear readers, I realized that I did not know what to say. 

This was most disconcerting.  Not merely because I am usually quite willing to mouth off about the origins of art forms about which I know nothing (and you know, I still get smooth-jazz spam as a result of that damn post), but more crucially because I think it is my job, as Nick’s father, to provide him with answers to life’s important questions, even if these answers are totally wrong, so that he will continue to look up to me as a font of all human knowledge.  But on this one, I have to admit, I got nothing.

So, friends, any ideas?  Who can we blame for the Rise of the Soaring Movie Theme Ballad?

Posted by Michael on 01/04 at 01:42 PM
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Friday, January 01, 2010

Twenty ten

So I see from the previous thread that JP Stormcrow stopped by a few minutes after midnight to check whether this blog was still breathing.  It is indeed!  Just look at that fog on your screen.  We’re about to head over to a friend’s house and catch the Penn State - LSU game.

MLA was fun, even though Janet and I were there only for a day and a half.  The Loews Hotel happens to be one of my favorite hotels of all times, and it was a profound pleasure to be at the minnesota review cash bar on Tuesday evening, where managing editor Heather Steffen presented Jeff Williams with a special “Roast Issue” to celebrate Jeff’s eighteen remarkable years as editor.  Heather and her crew put the thing together in a matter of weeks, and just like a real mr issue, it turned out to be about three times as long as she’d planned.  It’s also the funniest academic journal issue ever, and I am happy to say that Jeff himself was gobsmacked (even though a few people nearly ruined the surprise by talking about the thing the previous night with Jeff almost within earshot).  I have a feeling the Roast Issue will become a collector’s item, so if you want a copy of this rare and valuable and hilarious object, write to Heather.

Tomorrow, I’m going to do my very first “book salon.” I’ll be discussing Ye Left at War over at Firedoglake between 5 and 7 pm Eastern time.  Come on over and say hello!  Hey, what’s been going on over at FDL these past few weeks?  Anything I should know about?

Last and least, I am reliably informed that the term “teabagger” is a nasty slur that should not be applied to people who ... uh ... call for Obama and liberal Democrats to be ... um ... mumble mumble mumble.  I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have offended in 2009, and I hereby declare that this blog will henceforth refer to this group as Tea Party Patriots™.  I ask you all to do likewise, just as I once asked you to refrain from calling David Horowitz a vicious racist and sexist term and say “He Who Shall Not Be Referred To By His First Initial and a Drastic Truncation of His Surname” instead.  I would also like to say, for the record, that I do not believe the animus directed against Obama’s stimulus plan last spring had anything to do with race.  Many Americans simply realized to their dismay that government spending was out of control, and some of them began to harbor suspicions that the new president was actually a Keynesian.  Accordingly, they demanded to see his Keynesian birth certificate, and the White House did itself no favors by stonewalling them.  To call these people “birthers” today is to suggest, however faintly, that they are not to be taken seriously, and I respectfully request that you refrain from using that term on this blog as well.

And now, folks, let’s try to have a very happy new year.

Posted by Michael on 01/01 at 12:07 PM
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