Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grub 2

Yasmine, first Easter:


This is Koosh. He likes monkeys and bunnies. And his Uncle Mike. And his Aunt Jenn, who has no mouth.

OK, here she has a mouth.

Koosh's mom doesn't know that on Flickr, you can flip a sideways photo right side up before you publish it. She does know how to wear a cat costume, though. Koosh knows how to wear a monkey costume.

The one in the middle is mine. Ha, I win.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Yes, this is the coolest news story ever.

Speaking of Godzilla and similar creatures (see previous post below)...



From Science Daily: "Their results may change the way people think about fossil preservation and present a new method for studying diseases in which identification of proteins is important, such as cancer."

Science Daily is very calm about these things. This goddamn Tyrannosaurus rex fossil was 68 million years old! Previously, 1 million years was thought to be the absolute upper limit on the survival of any organic material inside fossilized bones. This is HUGE.

And, when the collagen was sequenced, the closest resemblance was to collagen in chickens.

This is chicken:

This is Tyrannosaurus rex:

This provides yet more confirmation for the now widely accepted hypothesis that birds are descended from dinosaurs. The idea was previously based on skeletal evidence and cladistics analysis... because nobody ever fuckin' thought they'd be able to actually sequence the actual organic material from an actual goddamn dinosaur!!!

Do you realize what this might mean? If this T. rex is not just a gargantuan and almost unrepeatable fluke (a sizeable "if"), then science has been handed an incredible new tool for studying evolutionary relationships among long-extinct and existing animals. The cancer thing is nice, too.

Also, another article I read somewhere says that this could lead to some significant shifts in paleontology paradigms, since a fossil has to be damaged in order to find out if organic material is even in there, let alone extract and analyze it. I smell science journal editorials on conundrums of professional ethics.

So, yes, the "tastes like chicken" jokes have been flying thick and fast online and in news publications in the last couple of days. So have the Jurassic Park references (and no, there isn't any DNA in these samples - it's much more delicate than collagen, so get that idea out of your head, my little Frankensteins). I've tried to weed out the chicken jokes for these links:

Seed Magazine/Agence France-Presse

New Scientist


The ScienceBlogs biology "channel" also inevitably has some interesting commentary. And also inevitably, chicken jokes.

Now excuse me while I wet myself again.

Acknowledgements to and the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board for the images.

Don't drink the water. Or do.

OK, maybe I'm a little late, given that it opened in the U.S. a month ago. But I've been meaning to write about the most joyous movie I've seen in a long time, Bong Joon-ho's The Host. The soundbite pitch is Godzilla meets Jaws meets Aliens meets The Simpsons. In Korean.

Really, I shouldn't have to say anything after that.

But in case you're still not convinced: This is the scariest, funniest, smartest giant-monster-on-the-loose movie I've ever seen, and maybe the only example of that subgenre besides Jaws and the original King Kong that's a flat-out great movie, a classic. (Yes, yes, I like the original '54 Godzilla just fine, but really, it ain't up to these standards.) And if the USA had a sane film culture, people would be packing multiplexes across the country to see it, like they did in South Korea last summer when it ate every box office record whole. When I saw it at the New York Film Festival in October, the enormous, packed auditorium screamed, laughed, cheered and applauded all the way through.

But it's got subtitles. So its American release, while unusually broad for a foreign-language picture, has still been typically half-hearted. Contrary to my briefly entertained fantasies, it hasn't exactly done Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon business, but sturdy little Magnolia Pictures appears to be forging ahead with it - at least the official schedule for the gradual rollout hasn't been cut back noticeably.

In a nutshell, the story has chemical dumping by the American military resulting in an amphibious mutant crawling out of the Han River right in the middle of Seoul to snack and stomp on the residents. Cue the requisite mass panic, military quarantines and grim-faced officials and scientists pronouncing from TV sets. But instead of the usual suspects, the movie centers around an ordinary-at-best family caught up in the chaos - a shlubby, loudly dysfunctional and not terribly bright brood you might not trust to catsit for a weekend, let alone battle a maneating monster. (Thanks to for the family portrait.)

But the Parks are endearing and entertaining enough to carry a movie all by themselves, even if there weren't a creepy-cool creature for them to share the screen with (it doesn't hurt that the family includes my two favorite Korean actors, Song Kang-ho and Bae Doo-na). They're the heart of The Host, the single most important factor making this ordinary-in-outline movie extraordinary. Which isn't to discount one of the most convincing and paradoxically beautiful digital monsters to date; the "look-behind-you" suspense and popcorn-spilling jolts; the snarky satire aimed at the fecklessness of the South Korean government and the arrogance of U.S. power abroad; and the crafty writing, shooting and editing, packed with little surprises and fulfilling all the mandates of the monster movie form while refreshing them at the same time.

While I'm happy that Host is getting any attention stateside, I can't help but feel this is a missed opportunity. I don't (entirely) believe the condescending, self-serving assumption of our media-industrial complex (to borrow a phrase I learned from critic Jonathan Rosenbaum) that the American mass audience just doesn't like reading subtitles. Of course, there's strong resistance to "reading movies," and there are people you'll never convince to do it. But... well, Dances with Wolves, Life Is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hero, The Passion of the Christ, those Klingon scenes from the Star Trek movies...

Anyway, The Host is just the latest Asian import that I feel, maybe naively, could and should have been a crossover success, if it had benefited from bolder and better distribution and marketing (other examples including Shaolin Soccer, the recent work of Hayao Miyazaki, and Infernal Affairs, although the latter sort of did in the form of The Departed). So fight the power... um, don't be another brick in the wall... uh, just go buy your ticket to The Host right now and strike a blow for the blockbuster we deserve.


A NOTE: I've admired the nifty Korean teaser poster reproduced above for a while and finally got it translated, courtesy of Kwangwoo over at the Mobius Home Video Forum's Asian Cinema discussion board. For what it's worth: "Dad! Save me!!" And at the bottom, "Family, Han River, and... MONSTER." (The movie's Korean title, Gwoemul, translates simply as Monster or Creature.)

The image itself is taken from my friend Grady Hendrix's unique and now sadly defunct Asian cinema blog, Kaiju Shakedown. Grady may not be posting anymore, but a couple years' worth of hilarious, informative and irreverent material is still there as of this writing, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

And for good measure, here is an interview with director/co-writer Bong Joon-ho, a neat guy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bad seeds and mood swings.

Yesterday I was taking my evening constitutional in Prospect Park - aka the Crown Jewel of Brooklyn, aka my front yard - as is my frequent habit. In the woods near the carousel, I passed going in the opposite direction a youngish mother pushing a stroller. Thirty feet or more behind her was her older hatchling, who was maybe five years old, a Hallmark card-perfect moppet in pink, with brown hair and brown eyes. Taking little notice of me, said moppet stopped, trudged a couple feet off the path and sat soberly on a large-ish rock; I vaguely recall her singing quietly to herself, but may be confabulating this detail. After I passed, two teenage couples strolled by together, and one of the young women paused to approach the little girl, no doubt with some words of adoration or other.

The child acknowledged the approach with the loud announcement, "I'm not in a GOOD MOOD!"

Here endeth the lesson.

[Thanks to Bright Lights Film Journal for the image.]

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Happy Easter.

Thou Shalt Watch Lots of Movies

I'm not sure what to do about movies on this blog, frankly. Sometimes I feel like I ought to have a blog devoted to film, as a number of friends do. Supposedly I write about movies (although I haven't done it for publication or mammon in quite a while) and many of my posts here are likely to be on that subject. I'm considering having a second blog to collect my film-related blatherings, a sort of edited mirror of this one. But once I declare myself a film blogger, am I suddenly obligated to start putting more thought and effort into my rantings? And, as Robin Williams once remarked in a very different situation: "It's like peeing in velvet pants. It might feel lovely, but will anyone want to watch?"

All of this comes to mind because I've just finished half paying attention to an old Passover/Easter weekend tradition, the annual ABC broadcast of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 version of The Ten Commandments. This was DeMille's last movie, widely regarded as his crowning achivement. It has got to be one of the most popular and most watched works in cinema history, and one of the most beloved among a large segment of actual moviegoers (as opposed to us critic types).* But, Jesus, Mary and Moses, what a cruddy film.

DeMille had been one of Hollywood's behemoths, a sort of Spielberg-Plus without the cinematic instincts, since the silent era. But even by the time he made his first Ten Commandments movie in 1923, he was a staid filmmaker. Judging from the '56 movie, he didn't grow much after that, beyond the inevitable additions of sound and color. Aside from the state-of-the-art special effects, this often seems little more than a filmed stage spectacular, with its ornate and blatantly phony sets, its barnstorming, declarative acting, and camerawork and editing that's... well, not static, downright straitjacketed. And DeMille clings with endearing nostalgia to the mustiest version of the silent intertitle tradition with voiceover narration that takes over any slightly difficult narrative duties and carefully tells the audience what to think and feel about the onscreen events.

Watching this lavishly budgeted church youth group production, it's amazing to remember it was made when the French New Wave was at the starting gate. When Orson Welles had been setting the standard for visual dynamism and artistry in Hollywood cinema for fifteen years. When the late-silent German filmmakers (F.W. Murnau, for example), who brought the moving camera, wordless storytelling and mute emotional expression to new heights of subtlety and power, were already a dusty memory.

So, confession time: I kind of liked it. I think, maybe. Some of the time. Some crud has a certain je ne sais quoi, which is French for "What the hell?" I didn't turn it off, and sat through the whole three hours and forty minutes, although I did other stuff the whole time, including typing up that Harold Camping post below. A lot of its appeal is good old-fashioned camp value, much of it generated by the hypocritical clash of high-minded piety and showbiz luridness, a blend that was DeMille's stock-in-trade. [EDIT AFTER A NIGHT'S SLEEP: OK, actually, I'm not sure I want to follow the standard critical line that this is an amusing hypocrisy on DeMille's part. The Bible, or at least the Old Testament, displays a very similar blend of the lurid and the high-minded, and maybe even for the same reason - a lot of these stories, or versions of them, were first auditioned by oral storytellers who needed to "give the public what they want" in order to hold audience attention. So I'm going to say DeMille is just following the example of his source material.] Another factor is the warm, fuzzy peacefulness of cinematic comfort food; for all its calculated exoticism, The Ten Commandments is redolent of sleepy evenings in front of the TV at the grandparents' place, after a big family dinner. Beyond all that, the film sometimes makes it into the realm of head-snapping lunacy, candy-colored, "ya gotta see it to believe it" surrealism.

All of which is to say that even crud can have its virtues, some of them beyond the reach of mere talent or quality. Maybe I'm the only one who needs to be reminded of that.

*[Irresistible historical footnote with tendentious undertones: At the time of the making and release of the movie, DeMille was deeply involved with a project to place granite Ten Commandments monuments at public buildings around the country, where they continue to inspire trouble and controversial court decisions. More details here.]

(And acknowledgments to for the image of Charlton. A little ironic, considering how little personality he has.)