film review (straight forward) and TFPO column

I apologize for the lack of substantial posts, but with an upcoming out-of-town trip, it's a bit of a challenge to keep everything together. But, fear not, there's plenty to read.

A review of a DVD release from Echelon Studios:

Straight Forward Cheat

(also at inkandashes.net)

And this week's column on the spiffy new Nano from Tata Motors:

The People's Car is Back


zoinks! is bonusgate not what it appears to be?

I was going to write about design theory, or maybe the spiffy new Tata Nano car, but this news item caught my attention. It’s a resignation letter written by an AIG executive to CEO Edward "Piñata" Liddy, explaining the reasons for leaving the Financial Products division. A few choice snippets:
I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.
You can read the entire letter here.

That the letter was published in the New York Times Op-Ed section raises questions as to motivation and sincerity. Is this a self-serving attempt to come out rosy while everyone else enjoys a little inquisitorial heat? (Mmm-mmm. Finance executive flambé!) Or is this really what it purports to be, an inside view? Either way, while I’m as furious as everyone at AIG and Bonusgate, I have to wonder if righteous anger isn’t creating a witch hunt. If Jake DeSantis is correct, some of these bonuses had nothing to do with AIG self-inflicted wounds and failing to honour the contracts is unfair. But here’s another question: since de Santis agreed to work for $1 salary, does it mean that he and other executives are deserving of these bonuses for the work they’ve done (not involving credit default swaps, so he says), or should they suck that up too?

Maybe we need to be more surgical with our outrage given all the flak out there. Not only do we, the little people, not know what’s really going on, we have to swim through several mucky layers of media and government to get even an inkling of the big picture. We need a draconian culling of Big Finance and maybe even a small dose of – gasp! – socialism to restore some semblance of sanity.( Of course, that’s not my ideal vision, but one has to deal with reality. That’s what separates us from Republicans.) In the end, though, I think we need to open our eyes wider and try to see through the haze…objects in mirror may be smaller, larger, or stranger than they appear.


TFPO column: what do mike daisey, chef gordan ramsay, and the economy have in common?

In a free association worthy of Dr. Frankenstein's work, this week's column stems from the horror of watching Hell's Kitchen. Naturally, there's a parable for the economy at play. Although, you could probably watched a dump truck do it's round and find an equally valid analogy for Wall Street. In any case, the question of the week is...

What Do Mike Daisey, Chef Gordon Ramsay, and the Economy Have in Common?


film review: sunshine cleaning

From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine comes a film with a thematic kinship and "sunshine" in its title. The big question is, is Alan Arkin starting to typecast himself as gruff but loveable father figures? I know roles for people "of a certain age" are rather sparse, but still...

Let the Sun Shine in with Sunshine Cleaning

Also at www.inkandashes.net

theatre reviews: frost/nixon and how theater failed america

I've heard that Stacy Keach suffered a mild stroke but is recovering. Good thing, too. For him and for audiences here in LA who'll get the chance too appreciate his performance, and that of Alan Cox, in the staged production of Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan. (Morgan also wrote the screenplay for the movie.) Here's hoping the recovery continues to go smoothly.

To TFPO...

Frost/Nixon: A Funny, Poignant, Jabbing Flight of Fancy

And if you get the chance, tonight or tomorrow, I highly recommend catching this side-splitting, captivating monologue by Mike Daisey at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Also at TFPO...

Don't Miss Mike Daisey in How Theater Failed America


TFPO column, and a book review at Morbid Outlook

Cell phones carriers. Cable companies. The real Axis of Evil. This week's column:

In Search of an Honest Cell Phone Plan

And over at Morbid Outlook, my review of "Stingy Jack," a self-published book by R. Scott Taylor.

Clickety click right...here.


a few more thoughts on watchmen

(Warning: Here thar be spoilers!)

With an overall freshness rating of 65%, Watchmen hasn’t quite blown away critics the way The Dark Knight did last year. Those critics who didn’t care for the film brought up a number of issues that I just didn’t have the space to deal with in an already long review. For example, the tone-deaf ending that glosses over the deaths of tens of millions of people worldwide, or Snyder’s gratuitous use of gore that exceeds even the violence in the comic book.

A number of commentators have taken issue with dissenters for criticizing the movie on the basis of how it functions as an adaptation instead of considering the movie on its own terms, as a movie. It’s a fair point. However, that critics familiar with Moore’s book can’t, or won’t, distinguish the film as film from the film as adaptation is, I think, telling in and of itself. It reveals that the film doesn’t stand on its own, but is almost parasitic on the source material. Certainly that is the case for me; in thinking about the film, I inevitably think about the book, which is why my view is that if you’ve read and enjoyed the book, there’s no point in seeing the film. Interestingly, I don’t feel that way about the Harry Potter films, which create a universe separate from that of the books and work magically well on their own. The moral of the story: the success of an adaptation rests on its capacity to resist comparisons with the source material.

But part of my ambivalence towards Watchmen, the movie, stems from my ambivalence towards Moore’s book. Dave Gibbons’ art, while precise, is too utilitarian and garishly coloured to be beautiful to look and appreciate on its own. But however much depth and layering the text has, it’s Moore’s philosophical agenda that ultimately fails to persuade. Dr. Manhattan’s objective embodiment of determinism undermines character psychology, free will, and moral choice, leaving us to witness the robotic machinations of automatons in a universe scripted by clockwork physical laws. Granted, this serves an agenda to undermine not only the concept of heroes as saviours and guardians, but also the very notion of heroism. The joke is that good and evil are meaningless in a predestined universe; that characters like Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan appreciate the Comedian’s grasp of this joke, without necessarily condoning his amoral embodiment of it, reinforces this meaninglessness.

I don’t think, however, that Dr. Manhattan is a credible character. When he tells Laurie that living and dead bodies have the same composition, he reveals himself to be the world’s lousiest scientist. To equivocate the metabolic processes of life with the decaying processes of death suggests a being with a highly compromised perception, a lack of understanding as to how science doesn’t just lie in the small building blocks, but in how everything fits together. It’s like looking at trees but failing to see the forest. Or looking at the dots in a pointillist picture and failing to see the picture. Considering that Dr. Manhattan is capable of emotion (e.g. he leaves the older Jenney Slater for the younger, more attractive Laurie Jupiter), and is able to function in the world, it doesn’t really make sense that things like bras would suddenly become mysterious things, or that his ability to reason would suddenly be rendered impotent. Certainly, his refusal to condone or condemn Veidt’s actions is not justified, just as his decision to form himself as a blue man instead of retaining a normal human form seems more capricious than the product of reasonable thinking.

In the end, Dr. Manhattan illustrates how Watchmen isn’t so much a story but an illustrated essay that doesn’t deconstruct but simply dismantles previously accepted conceptions of the “superhero.” That’s why neither book nor movie is narratively satisfying, however much it offers more food for thought than your average funny book and is enjoyable in many respects; the story is actually secondary to The Point – Moore’s philosophical musings and his ironic overturning of superhero mythology. Don’t get me wrong, Watchmen is a fascinating and complex work, even a masterpiece for all its flaws, but the philosophy it espouses is rather simplistic as well as needlessly, unreasonably cynical and bleak. And all because, as Moore wrote him, Dr. Manhattan is a lousy scientist and even lousier sentient being.


TFPO column: prop. 8 - freedom to discriminate

It's hard to say which way the California Supreme Court will swing on the issue of overturning Prop. 8. Personally, I'm not entirely optimistic - the "will of the people" is an alluring shield to hide behind. Freedom, however, means accepting that not everyone will behave or think the way we would prefer. Which makes me wonder if someone really are interested in freedom, or if freedom simply means the freedom to comform.

Prop. 8: Freedom to Discriminate


film review: watchmen

The worse thing that could be said of a film is that's there is, in fact, nothing to say about it. Even a bad film can be an interesting failure if there's something to talk about. Fortunately, although I have mixed and most indifferently feelings about Watchmen the movie, there's no shortage of issues to discuss. Watchmen, for all its strengths and weakness, isn't disposable not worth examining. Of course, that may owe more to Alan Moore's flawed masterpiece than Zack Snyder, but nonetheless, there is a good discussion to be had. And the first question is:

Why Bother Watching the Watchmen When You Can Read?

new theatre review: the threepenny opera

Now on stage at the International City Theatre at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, a flawed but overall enjoyable performance of the classic musical:

The Threepenny Opera Draws Blood


rachael ray, the human body, and self-image

The Huffington Post headline reads, “Rachael Ray Defends FHM Shoot,” and the question is: why does Ray need to defend herself? Defend herself from what? From the traditional perspective comes the shock that a woman would pose in saucy pictures for a men’s magazine, even though plenty of women’s magazines feature scantily clad women on their covers too. It would seem that the moral of the story is that women’s bodies appeal to everyone, not just men, but still, the message from tradition is clear: women who expose their bodies are degrading themselves. Even when we praise this sort of photographic endeavour as strength of character, we apparently can’t let our admiration for women who take control of their own bodies go unchallenged by prudish notions that it’s all subject to sex and commerce, to other people’s desires.

But what if asking Ray to defend her decision to pose for FHM is itself misogynistic? Shouldn’t people viewing the images take responsibility for their own interpretation of these images? Perhaps beauty is being sexualized when it doesn’t need to be – a body is a body, like a work of art – or perhaps there really is sexual dimension to everything, which is fine as long as it comes with the recognition that the sexual dimension isn’t always a meaningful, useful, or valuable. Either way, this lionization of sex skewers our body images. Since we all have bodies, and they are natural, the notion that using our bodies is degrading is itself degrading; it takes us into an abstracted interpretation of the world, and away from the world itself.

“This magazine has as young as seventeen, eighteen-year-olds in hottie bikinis, and these are all actresses, models, pin-up girls,” she said in an interview with ABC News. “I don't belong to any, even remote, club of theirs. And I thought if I'm gutsy enough to do this, this is a good thing for everybody. This is the everywoman, here she is.”

It’s as good a refutation as any, and it goes beyond sexism to how we culturally interpret beauty itself. There’s an obsession with perfection, with standards, with ideal body types, enforced through the media and our own interpersonal relationships. But who’s to say that only skinny toothpicks are beautiful? Why are we programmed to be so damn picky, to reject the slightest curve, the slightest hair, the slightest lack of symmetry? It seems to me that the problem isn’t just the sexualization of beauty, but also the fetishization of it. Our standards of beauty, though variable between individuals, are focused like a fetish on a few features instead of being open to a whole spectrum. Hence, the obsessive preference for skinny instead of voluptuous, tall instead of short, muscular instead of lean – pick your preferred trait – fetishized beauty instead of holistic beauty.

The nudists may be on to something when it comes to dissociating sex from beauty with the goal of simply accepting the human beauty in its natural form. There’s something to be said about finding beauty in everyone and not letting clothes become some sort of psychological trap.

There’s an interest web project by German photographer Sebastian Kempa, called Naked People, that touches on the topic of our relationship to nudity. It’s cleverly set up: people standing in front of a white background, fully clothed. Click on the image, however, and the clothes fade away. There is a range of genders, ages, and body types – not professional models, but everyday folk. The blurb on the homepage, translated from the German, essentially asks to what extent clothes reveal the person beneath. We can tell a person’s occupation, yes, but can we really trust what we see? What happens if, beneath the suit, we discover a tattoo? Does it destroy the illusion, does the person remain inscrutable? Kempa asks us to consider these question through images of dressed/undressed individuals.

Which brings me back to Rachael Ray. We all appreciate beauty, however defined. We all make efforts to look good, or look at things that visually please us. Why be ashamed of it? Why be narrow-minded about it? Let’s just appreciate beauty in all its forms. Let’s have fun instead of being uptight. Let’s not ask women, or men, to defend themselves for having a body, which is obviously natural, and using it.


TFPO column: who owns Jerusalem? an explosive solution

The endless cycle of violence in Israel and Palestine, in a way, brings to mind Watchmen and, earlier still, an SF book called Tesseract in which an outside force essentially blackmails the world into order. It's a bit tacky, I suppose, to indulge the comparison, and yet it seems clear that neither side has the political will to achieve a lasting peace. Jerusalem, holy to three major religions, is but the flashpoint.

Who Owns Jerusalem? An Explosive Situation