the vio-lens of film

Ryan Gosling's new film Only God Forgives, currently screening at Cannes, was apparently booed. But that's not the interesting bit. This is, from an article at the Toronto Star:
The gore quotient in the film is high even for Winding Refn. It includes eye gouging, head piercing and an appalling act of desecration of a body that can’t be described here, other than to say it might well have sent Sigmund Freud calling for his mommy.
Winding Refn made no apologies for any of this, and actually seemed to revel in it all at the press conference. Peering imperiously through his black glasses, he chided a British female journalist for bringing up the topic of movie violence: “You sound like my mother!”
“Art is an act of violence,” he continued. “Art is about penetration. … I approach things very much like a pornographer. It’s about what arouses me. And certain things turn me on more than other stuff, and I can’t supress [sic] that. … I have surely a fetish for violent emotion and violent images and I can’t explain where it comes from.”

Setting aside the fact that art is not about penetration - how very patriarchal and phallocentric of Refn to believe so - and that art is most certainly not an act of violence, however one might debate the nuances of the equivocation, at least he is honest about his relationship to film violence. This is more than can be said for most, who insist on dressing up their fetish with all kinds of rationales without acknowledging the underlying impulse.


star trek into nowhere: an unreview

Though I never came close to reaching the peak of pointed-eared fandom seen in conventions, there was a time when Star Trek was, if not an obsession, than at least a pleasant passion. As Roddenberry’s concept changed from an iconoclastic and, above all, earnest science-fiction vision to a profitable franchise, that passion gradually weakened with each successive Trek series and movie not involving the original crew. Despite inevitable and often more than quibbling reservations about characters and storylines here and there, I did develop an affection for The Next Generation, once it grew into its own, as a vehicle for genuinely outstanding and humane science fiction – the first and last episodes of the series, for example, count among the best science fiction stories. Deep Space Nine started strong and collapsed into a distinctly un-Roddenberrian heap of militarism, cynicism, and religiosity. Voyager, though compelling on account of its premise and characters, often suffered from a lack of ambition and a lazy overreliance on time-travel or Borg stories. Enterprise held a lot of promise, although like many I had my suspicions about the viability of a prequel series. Still, the Trek show with the lousy theme song managed to be likeable on account of its characters even though its militaristic narrative arcs were contrived and unsatisfying.

If I were to sum up what it is I love about Star Trek in general, it would be the blend of speculative science fiction, human drama, and optimistic vision of the future (which wasn’t as Pollyanna-ish as many people seem to think). And while any individual Star Trek story might have been more strongly focused on character operatics than sci-fi concept,s these stories earned it because of a rich history of episodes that built up the Trek universe and made significant efforts at offering narratives that were, indeed, rooted in  high-concept speculative science.

This brings me to J.J. Abrams reboot, which left me unimpressed the first time around. Now we have a second, which I’m even less enthused about on the basis of this “official” synopsis:

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

Force of terror? Personal score to settle? Weapon of mass destruction? Sounds like the first film, which involved a force of terror (vengeful Romulan) with a personal score to settle (the death of his family and home planet) using a weapon of mass destruction (a time-travelling ship with devastating weapons). Setting aside the gorgeous production design and solid casting (characterizations notwithstanding), J. J. Abrams and his scriptwriters Orci and Kurzman entirely failed to deliver, in their first foray, an actual Star Trek film. Since the arguable failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the studio system has struggled to take Star Trek away from Roddenberry and, despite the sincere efforts of individuals committed to his vision if not his continued involved, finally found in J.J. Abrams the man capable of decisively clipping the Great Bird’s wings.

What he delivered was a story predicated on violence and destruction, delivered with style and special effects capable of deceiving audiences into thinking they watched a better movie than they had. And judging from the previews, synopses, and a few reviews, it seems like they’ve done it again with Star Trek Into Darkness. Once again, Hollywood proves itself the carnival barker that promises a classly striptease in the red velvet tent only to deliver a moonshine-soaked hoochie show instead.

However much I respect those who click with Abrams’ vision for Star Trek and wish them well in their enjoyment, I have no intention of watching Star Trek Into Darkness. Perhaps my impression of the film as yet another exercise in boldly going nowhere is wrong…however articles like this one by Spinoff’s Anna Pinkert suggest I’m not. We could debate the quality of the script writing (poor, in my opinion, and overly riddled with plot holes and inconsistent characterizations) and other aspects of the film, but ultimately I’m not interested because there’s little about this rebooted Star Trek that recalls to me what I loved about the original. Crucially, it’s not even a science fiction story, merely yet another plot about violence and aggression in an industry obsessed with exploiting violence and aggression for entertainment.

massaging the medium with marshall mcluhan (at TFPO)

Perhaps it indicates a gap in my education, or merely underlines the fact that my reading list exceeds my lifespan. But my only exposure to Marshall McLuhan so far has been through his post-modern disciple Jean Baudrillard and pop-culture memes. Yet, like most people plugged into the cybernetic zeitgeist, I am firmly entrenched in the strong field of influence generated by McLuhan’s often pithy media theory. A book like McLuhan for Beginners, then, is a timely wakeup call to take a moment and consider one of the 20th century’s foremost media and culture theorists even if that consideration reveals – as it does with Baudrillard – a mixture of brilliance and puffery. Read the rest of my review of McLuhan for Begineers at TFPO.


a crash course in corporate profiteering

Strictly in pop-political terms, it seems as if conservatives are generally in favor of corporations but suspicious of government (aka the deregulated "free market"), while liberals are suspicious of corporations but in favor of government. Although the evils of government are easy to list, it is often too easy to forget the good that government can do, such as roads and social safety nets. Nevertheless, the ability of the private sector to fulfill the public-good functions of government is a powerful ideology. And that ideology fails to take in account situations such this one, recently reported by the Associated Press:

AP IMPACT: Cars made in Brazil are deadly

It seems that Brazil has four times the fatalities in passenger car accidents than the US, and the problem is "the cars themselves, produced with weaker welds, scant safety features and inferior materials compared to similar models manufactured for U.S. and European consumers, say experts and engineers inside the industry. Four of Brazil's five bestselling cars failed their independent crash tests."

Carmakers, of course, claim their cars meet Brazilian safety laws, although "the country's few safety activists perceive a deadly double standard, with automakers earning more money from selling cars that offer drivers fewer safeguards." They might, indeed, be following the law...and if that law happens to result in considerably less safety than, say, US law...well, tough luck for Brazilian drivers, right? Caveat emptor.

The lesson is that, when left to their own initiative, it is all-too-easy for corporations to choose profit above people and the environment. Examples such as this highlights the fact that corporate authority is something to be wary of just as much as government authority, a position that ultimately rejects the doctrinal positions of both pop-conservatism and pop-liberalism, as well as refutes libertarianism as fundamentally misguided (read: fatally flawed) anarcho-capitalism. Ultimately, the problem is an age-old conundrum. Just as there is good governance and bad governance (in the moral sense), there is good business and bad business. The difference between the good and the bad is, of course, people.


Can Baggers Be Choosers? (at TFPO)

Culver City's City Council will vote on Monday on whether or not to ban plastic bags. Naturally, it has created quite the debate. Here's a round-up of op-ed pieces at The Front Page Online, culminating in my own contribution:

And mine:

If nothing else, the proposed ban on plastic bags has ignited a much-needed public discussion on our environmental impact, with a focus on two issues: Public health and resource management. The most pressing question that arises is this: Do you wash your underwear?

Read the rest here:  Can Baggers Be Choosers?

What do you think? To ban or not to ban?


heeeeey margarita!

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone, but a good margarita recipe lives forever. I've been struggling over the years to come up with the perfect, or near-perfect, go-to recipe for a  classic margarita - the kind I can just pull out of my cocktail book, mix up, and not worry about.

Although I've come up with interesting variations, like a pineapple-guava margarita, the classic eluded me. So I tried looking online for an alternative to the book I had so far been using, and came across a simple recipe that used tequila, cointreau, and lime juice in a 3:1:2 ratio.

It didn't work.

So with my wife's far superior palate as final arbiter, I heavily modified the above recipe to come up with a margarita that has all the flavour I expect: Sweet, but not cloying, with ever-so-slightly dominant citrus notes, and a finishing jab wearing padded gloves.

The right tasty result:


I call it the Social Margarita, because the quantities are intended to yield two servings for sharing.

You will need:
  • two margarita glasses
  • cocktail shaker
  • ice
  • salt (optional)
  • lime wedges or slice
In the shaker, mix the ice with the following:
  • 3.75 oz of tequila
  • 1.5 oz of grand marnier
  • 1 oz of BOLS triple sec
  • 2 oz of fresh lime juice (or juice that is not from concentrate)
Wet the rims of the glasses with the lime slices, than salt as desired. Pour in the mix with the ice, and garnish with a wedge or slice of lime. Finally, enjoy.

Give it a try and let me know how it turns for you. Just remember: margarita recipes are very personal indeed. If this one doesn't do the trick for you, experiment and share your results with me!



science fiction's forget-me-not (@TFPO)

Like Lucifer, only without the theological trappings of sin, Joseph Kosinski set out to bring some light into the normally dimly-lit visions of Hollywood science fiction. It’s a logical step. His work on Tron: Legacy was entirely rooted in the play of light on dark in an agile, design-driven cinematography of contrast. Rebutting Ridley Scott’s pitch-grime Prometheus (or, as he points out in an interview with the L.A. Times, the original Alien film), Kosinski engages the opportunity for brightly imagined vistas, whose appeal James Cameron reignited with Avatar, all the while delivering high-concept science fiction inspired by the character-driven films he grew up with in the seventies. The result makes stunning use of natural landscapes (Ireland is a star) and design spanning architectural and industrial concepts – without blurring the wistful character study’s focal point as typically happens in more technology-obsessed blockbusters. From the beautiful bubble ship design – a practical and not virtual object – to the tower habitats that loom far above the earth’s surface, to the sweeping landscapes of a planet haunted by the memory of civilization, the clarity and brightness of Kosinski’s work marks him as a visionary. Read the rest at The Front Page Online