A Disgusting Display

I have mentioned the French predilection for Public Displays of Affection (or PDAs as we called them in Junior High) before. There is, of course, the bissous, or cheek kiss given to friends as a greeting. But, the French seem to great admirers of showing their affections for each other without the slightest thought given to who else may be within eyesight. Often, there are lovers holding each other close, or even locked in an embrace on the street, in restaurants, bus stops, and even while riding on the tram. It has always bewildered me to see a couple locked in heavy embraces while riding the tram. The trams are generally crowded, are usually musty and cramped, and the stop and go motions create difficulties even maintaining your balance, must less a complicated lip lock. The other day I say the most gruesome PDA I have ever witnessed.

It was around 11 pm and Amy and I were returning from watching a movie at Pamela’s. We entered a relatively full tram for the return home. The tram was full enough that we were unable to find a seat, and had to stand against a wall. Standing near the sliding door was a couple still within their teen years. She was clad in the usual assortment of tight, acid washed, blue jeans and form fitting blouse. He was fitted in a white t-shirt, light jacket and blue basketball shorts so popular amongst his type in the US. They were a happy couple who felt it necessary to make the most obnoxious kissing noises. He had to bend downwards, because his height was a good foot above her own stature. Repeatedly he did so, making a game of it. Flamboyantly, he would grab the young girl by her shoulders, lean down and proceed with the loud SMACK! Then release, only to start all over again in a moment.

This game was interrupted by tram stops. They were very near the doorway and so had to unlock their embrace to allow other on and off. This was but a temporary lull in their love making. For as soon as the tram started again, he was leaning back down to make the noises. Soon, he was not the only one to blame for this sickening display. For, she started to grab ahold of the young man, and pull him downwards. It wasn’t long before the quick smack of the lips became a longer, more sensual open mouth embrace, but always punctuated by an ending SMACK! This went on for several more stops. The couple locked in a long, putrid embrace. Then would have to stop and sheepishly move out of the way of the entrance only to move back to the lip smacking as soon as the tram got underway.

It was difficult not to stare openly. Looking about me, I could see all the other passengers doing their best to nonchalantly NOT look at the couple. My poor wife, red faced, was staring out the window. A tram ride is a rather boring thing, and the sight of a peep show in front of me was too much not too look at.

Soon, even long, lingering kisses were not enough. The boy began stooping down to the girls level so that he could bring her body close to his. Pelvis’ began to girate and grind. Now they were making good use of the swaying of the tram as it sped up and slowed down to a stop. The stop before we were to get out, I caught the ladies hand being lowered to places a hand should never be while standing in a tram. Luckily a stop was made before that could go very far. Passengers left and the couple took a seat in another car. At the next stop Amy and I left the tram, as I glanced back into the car I saw the couple deeply locked into an embrace as the tram sped away.

I will never understand the enticements of a dirty, crowded tramway.

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Omagh Review

On August 15, 1998, a car bomb exploded in Omagh, Northern Ireland killing 29 people and injuring some 220 others. It was the single worst incident in Northern Ireland in over 30 years. In 2004 director Pete Travis filmed a movie about the atrocity and the subsequent investigation. It is a relentless, brutal film that never allows the viewer an emotional sigh of fresh air. What strikes me most about the film, now, is not the quality of the film, which is quite good actually, but that I had never before heard of this event.

Admittedly, I am not the most knowledgeable lad when it comes to current events. When I had a television I would catch one of the morning news shows, and maybe a few minutes of CNN or Fox News just before bed. While in the car I tune into NPR, I receive e-mails from the Washington Post and generally spend a few moments checking the various news websites. I’m not obsessive about the news, I try to stay mildly informed, but I certainly don’t spend every waking moment turning my thoughts to the state of the world. Yet, here is huge terrorist attack, followed by a scandalous investigation with a potential cover up behind it, and I’ve never heard a word about it.

I am sure the news channels mentioned something about it shortly after the bombing. It was probably a short little blurb with a death count. It’s got all the elements they love: terrorists, explosions, murder, and scandal. But, it didn’t happen in America, and European drama doesn’t have the ratings pull as say something stateside, say Michael Jackson’s latest shenanigans. Especially when these events happened on some obscure country like Northern Ireland. Who knew the North of Ireland was a separate country anyway?

In the US we have cable networks that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There is CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, not to mention specialty networks like CourtTV, and of course non news specific networks that still employ daily news shows. Yet with all of these outlets, American audiences are still inundated with the same stories over and over again. It is a big world, with a lot of important events happening, but instead of covering these events, they rehash the current scandal of the week, and trial of the century. How did Bill Clinton’s hummer overshadow the murder of 29 people? How did Mark McGuire’s record breaking homerun sprint become more important than terrorist activity? Certainly the network news shows give us what we want. Had we received a 3 hour special report on the Omagh bombing I’m sure many of us would have clicked over to Seinfeld reruns. In the end, I’m not scholar enough, nor have the time, to lay out why virtually no one I know has heard of Omagh before. This is a movie review after all. Yet, as I think about the film I can’t help but feel the sting of guilt. When I hear the chattering other others complaining that Americans are full of ego, and don’t have the slightest idea about the world, I must hold my head low, and sigh.

The film itself is shot like a documentary, Dogme95 style. It uses hand held cameras, utilizes only natural lighting and there is nary a digital effect to be seen. For 106 minutes it never lets go of its punishing, merciless hold on your emotions. There is no comic relief, no juncture in which to catch your breath and get away from it all. The film brings you in close, lets you feel the tension, suffocate in the terror. It doesn’t want you to enjoy what you see. This is not a film that allows the audience to distance themselves from the actions on the screen, nor their very lives. It is a film that cries out, carrying the voices of all humanity that suffers, that feel injustice.

Though it takes a few moments to adjust to its visual style, the hand held camera work becomes an effective means to bring the audience right into the emotional impact of the film. It looses a little steam in the second half when the main character, Michael Gallagher (Gerard McSorley), a father of one of the victims, begins to lose his way in bringing the terrorist to justice. However, though some headway is lost, the film continues to pack a hard emotional punch.

I am glad that films like Omagh are being made. Though it is a film that will never see a theatre screen in America, it may find its way onto a shelf in the local movie rental house. It is here, that countless Americans may go looking for something a little different, something that they haven’t seen. And it is here that they might learn a little about the world around them.

DVD Review: Three Lives and Only One Death

Chilean director Raul Ruiz created a weird, wild, fantastic world with Three Lives and Only One Death. Marcello Mastroianni plays four different characters in as many different stories that at first seem completely separate, but by the films end are wholly intertwined. It is beautifully, almost mystically shot, effectively using shadows, light, and computer imagery to create painted like imagery. It is a bit confusing, but wholly satisfying film.

In the first story Mastroianni plays a salesman who walked out on his wife (Marisa Paredes) twenty years ago. The wife has since found another husband (Feodor Atkine) and is living a seemingly happy life. For reasons left unexplained Mastroianni suddenly decides he wants his old life back. He catches the new husband, at a Tabac and offers to pay him 1,000 francs for a hour of his time. What proceeds is an imaginative, fantastic tale of why Mastroianni has been gone for twenty years. It is far to complicated to explain here, but lets say it involves a room with moving walls and tiny fairies who prefer to eat franc bills, but will settle for newspaper. The end of the story finds Mastroianni wanting to leave the second husband in the fantastic room, while he moves back in with his wife.

In the second story Mastroianni plays a successful professor who, for reasons that are all his own, become a beggar, and a rather successful one at that. He befriends a prostitute (Anna Galiena), who he later finds out isn’t all she pretends to be, and whose husband (Jacques Pieiller)is something of a psychopath.

In the third story a young couple (Chiara Mastroianni and Melvil Poupaud) find themselves being mysteriously supported by an unnamed friend. After months of finding 1,000 francs in their mail box each week, they learn this mysterious stranger has died and left them his mansion. The catch is they must keep on a peculiar butler (Mastroianni of course) or lose everything.

The fourth story is really a means to tie all three stories together, and yes, it is weird. There is a lot going on throughout the film. It is visually stunning, complex in story, and a delight throughout. It is the type of film that really deserves a second, and third viewing to allow thoughtful absorption of the many details. In what was his second to last film before his death, Mastroianni does a masterful job playing these varied, and interesting characters.

It is a film not meant for everyone. The story is a weird and complex as anything put out by David Lynch. But for the lover of cinema, there is much to appease the appetite. It is a beautiful, layered, surreal film that is a true pleasure to watch.

DVD Review: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

It’s hard to believe it has been 8 years since Austin Powers was unleashed on the world. A couple of sequels and far too many “Yeah Babys” later, and seemingly we’ve all had enough. I sat down and watched International Man of Mystery for the first time in year, a few nights ago. What I found is a pretty solid comedy, which still manages to hold up, even after being parodied to death.

The jokes are no longer wet yourself funny. They are more oh-I-remember-when-this-was-hilarious cute. I did laugh out loud on a few occasions, but mostly I felt a kind sense of nostalgia, for jokes that were nostalgic in themselves. The scenes I remember most, still hold up rather well. The dancing credit sequence and the bits where we almost see nudity are beautifully done. Classics of cinema really.

Mike Myer’s created a very lovely character in Austin Powers. He is truly charming, funny and a great send up of all the classic spy characters. Jay Roach does a very nice job of bringing the manic energy of Myers creation to the screen, while maintaining the feel of all the 60’s spy films.

Elizabeth Hurley proves once again that she has pretty face, looks great in a short, tight, silver skirt, but whose acting skills are less than desirable. Her character’s straight (wo)man to Power’s swinger is the weakest aspect of the film. She is way too boring playing it as a 1990’s gal trying to make it as an Agent on her abilities alone. Yet, her transition into a groovy chic is unbelievable and rather insipid. Though again, she is obviously just meant to be eye candy and on that level she fits the bill.

While watching, I kept forgetting which bits were in this one, and which ones actually belong in the sequels. Here there is no Mini-Me, no Heather Graham, and no references to genitalia when referring to a rocket. Too bad, too, because those are great sources of humor and I don’t have the strength to watch any of the sequels just yet.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is a great film to throw in while having a party. There is no need to see and hear everything clearly. There is nothing, really to analyze. It works well as background filler to supply some hearty laughs when there is a lull in the conversations.

Joyeuse Paques (Happy Easter)

Our Easter was a pleasant one. It was a little bit chilly and it did a good bit of raining, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. We went to church in the afternoon. On our walk there is when we got the bit of rain, so we entered rather soaked. Service was a little odd since Daniel, who normally preaches, was away in Switzerland. But Alex did a fine job, and even translated himself into English.

Around Tuesday, Amy bought a full chicken to fix for Easter supper. Unfortunately, when we brought it out to cook our nostrils were filled with a rather unpleasant odor. The chicken had gone bad. I reheated some birthday pizza and Amy went out for a kebap.

In the evening we were invited to go see Omagh by Flor. It is a relentless, brutal film about the Real IRA bombing a few years back. I’ll be posting a full review later, but would definitely recommend it to everyone.

Bon Anniversaire

Yesterday was a good day. The sun continued to shine, though it was a bit cooler than it has been the last few days. Amy and I took a walk to the park. The flowers are in full bloom now. Beautiful. We laid around and relaxed the remainder of the afternoon. In the evening a few friends came over and we had pizza and watched a movie. I turned 29.

It was also Good Friday and the French celebrate the death of Jesus by closing pretty much everything. Today the stores reopened and we went shopping at the Virgin Megastore. Amy got to buy a few things for herself since it is her half birthday. Normally we don't celebrate this occasion with gifts, but I figure since she really didn't get anything for her real birthday last year, we should celebrate with presents at this point. Her birthday last, we had just arrived in Strasbourg and didn't really know where anything was, nor did we know when we would be receiving any more money.

Variuos Ramblings about U2

In high school I drove a 1986 Plymouth Reliant. It was a hand-me-downs hand-me-down. From my mother to my brother to me, it had seen more than a few hard miles. But, it was my first car, and for what it was worth I loved it, except when the fan belt made that horrible squealing noise as I was pulling out of school. I had a new tape deck that literally hung in the dash. My father, never willing to spend more than he had to on car repair, decided to install the stereo himself. The new one was a bit smaller than the old one so it left a good half inch space around the new stereo. I wedged some card board underneath it to keep it from taking to many bangs and was good to go.

In those days I had a habit of listening to one cassette over and over again. One month I listened to Paul Westerburg’s 13 Songs non stop. I had the Doors soundtrack completely memorized, beat for beat, Morrison wail for Morrison wail. There was a several week period that I listened to U2’s 4 song EP Wide Awake in America and nothing else. Since it is so short it contained the same music on side B as side A. I didn’t care, I loved every moment of it. It was also just long enough to listen to the entire EP in one drive to school.

During this same period I began driving one of my sister’s friends, Amy, to school with us. She was a pleasant girl, and lived close enough by me that I didn’t mind picking her up. Two or three weeks went by like this: driving Amy to and from school, me listening to the same four songs over and over again. One afternoon we loaded into the car after school ready to head home. At that very moment I decided I was tired of listening to U2 and ejected the tape after half a verse of Bad.

“That was a tape?” Amy asked.

“Of course it’s a tape. We’ve been listening to it repeatedly for the last several weeks.” I replied.

“Well, I thought the radio was playing that song a lot.”

“Yeah, and playing it at the exact same moment in the afternoon that we left off in the morning. That’s nice of the radio station to do that for us,” I joked.

I think she was a little more than embarrassed.

————

That particular song, Bad, is a particular favorite of mine. It’s got a cool, elevating jam in it on the live version. It sparkles like the stars in the sky. Truth be told, it is the main reason I listened to the EP over and over again. It’s got some great, mysterious lyrics. Anathematic is the word.

There’s a great story about the band playing some awards show way back when, and Bono spends their entire slotted time trying to get a fan on stage with him. The band keeps playing the riffs, security keeps trying to stop the fan from climbing the stairs. And there is Bono, world savior, persuading the fan to come up with him. Meanwhile everyone else is begging him to come back and sing the song. Minutes roll by, the band’s time slot is almost up, and they haven’t even finished this one song yet. Something like 8 minutes roll by, their entire time slot, and Bono is still trying to get this one fan on stage. Finally security let’s up and the girl runs onto the stage, into Bono’s arms. There he is, one of the biggest rock stars around and he’s hugging a fan. Bam! Superstardom forever.

The song doesn’t have a proper chorus. There is a repeated refrain, but it’s lyrics are obscure. I listened to that song a hundred times and I could never figure out what he was saying.

I’m Wide Awake
I’m Wide Awake

But after that, it was just a mumble. I was sure it was a powerful, amazing lyric, but I could never penetrate its meaning.

One day, months after keeping the tape in my deck for weeks on end, I threw the tape back in my player. Cruising the Oklahoma back roads I cranked it up.

If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
Let it go

Bono sang. The Edge jangling his guitar, the music crescendo’s higher and higher.

If I could through myself
Set your spirit free
I'd lead your heart away
See you break, break away
Into the light
And to the day

To let it go
And so to fade away
To let it go
And so fade away

I’m loving it. It’s a perfect summer day. My windows are down, left arm soaring out the window. The road is untrafficked by other drivers, unwatched by the cops. There are a series of hills we used to call “the Rollercoaster” because they dipped and rose like the amusement park ride. I used to take them real fast and try to get some air between the road and my tires. Life was good.

I'm wide awake
I'm wide awake

And then it hit me. Out of the clear, blue sky I suddenly knew what he was singing. It made perfect sense, fit perfectly with the previous couplet. There it is again, this time I can’t help but understand. How could I have not heard those lyrics before? A smile crept to my lips as I sang along:

I’m wide awake
I’m not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no

DVD Review: The Life Aquatic

Wes Anderson pictures are always an event. His first three pictures (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and the Royal Tenenbaums) have all been brilliant bits of quirky genius. I have waited not so patiently for his fourth picture, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, to make it to France. Though, I tried to read little in the way of reviews, I couldn’t help but notice quite a bit of negativity being garnered its way. After viewing the film, I too, couldn’t help but feel a little let down, but this has more to say about my expectations of a Wes Anderson picture, than the actual picture itself.

Bill Murray proves once again that he is a better actor post 50, than anyone could have imagined. He plays Steve Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau-esque oceanographer who has seen better days. He has spent the last decade scrounging harder and harder to find the funding for his voyages and the subsequent documentaries from them. It seems the critics have been harsher as his fans have become increasingly few. The film opens with Zissou showing his latest documentary to a bored audience. He is attempting to find funding for a second voyage, one that will allow him to exact revenge upon the jaguar shark that killed his friend. He finds the money through Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who may be Zissou’s son, but no one is really quite sure.

Zissou and his might-be son, are accompanied by a rag tag crew and a reporter, Jane Winslet-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) who forms some kind of love triangle with Zissou and Plimpton. Aboard the rusty, ancient Belefante all hands set out to find the mythical shark. Though before they find the beast they encounter many adventures such as found in any road trip film.

Anderson fills his film once again with plenty of quirky, odd ball characters. This time he seems to have filled the action as a means to play homage to various movies and television shows from the 70’s and 80’s. There is an action sequence towards the middle that is straight out of a Charlie’s Angels or A-Team episode. The much discussed animated fish seem to be copied from the Incredible Mr. Limpett. Many of the camera movements, including extensive use of close up zoom on a single character only to zoom out and zoom out again to find the character surrounded by others, seem to be out of some classic television directors guide book. Before I realized Anderson was mimicking that style I was annoyed with the whole thing. Once I caught on I found a few of these moments to be brilliant put-ons, but often I felt like I was watching the last 15 minutes of Adaptation. Where yes I get the joke, and yes I find it funny, but it got tiresome rather quickly.

One of the joys of The Royal Tenenbaums is that each character is fleshed out to some degree. It is a large ensemble picture, but even the smaller roles have moments in which to give them some dimension, to make them real. The Life Aquatic similarly has a large cast, but all but the major characters are never given a chance to become three dimensional. Why, for instance, does the navigator spend most of the film topless? If this is to present that she is a free spirit, why does she argue with Zissou over sailing over unprotected waters? Or why is she so upset with him for stealing the equipment? Her character is given no reasoning behind her behavior, and her actions only force the plot along without any purpose. She is not the only character like this. Either Anderson is again mimicking the plotless plot-lines of classic television, or he has done a poor job of filling in the details of his characters.

There are many things that work in the Life Aquatic. Bill Murray proves again he is more than just a funny, funny man. The characters that are filled out, are aptly acted. Though just what is the deal with Cate Blanchett’s accent? She sounded like she was still hanging onto a bit of Katherine Hepburn. Anderson has again made a fun, funny, quirk of a movie. Yet, when compared to the rest of his output, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Here’s to his next film, and hoping his brilliance continues to shine for a little while longer.

Book Review: Dashiell Hammett’s Nightmare Town

In 1999 fans of hard boiled detective stories got a fresh treat, from writings at least 70 years old. That was the year a collection of Dashiell Hammett’s short stories were combined and released in Nightmare Town. Many of the stories had been unavailable in decades, and several had not been released since the date of their first publication in pulp magazines such as Black Mask. It is a mostly hodgepodge collection filled with some real classics and some failed duds. It’s more of a rarities boxed set than a greatest hits package. But for fans of Hammett it is a real gem.

The stories run the gamut of Hammett’s writing. There is a small collection of Continental Op stories, Hammett’s nameless tougher guy private detective seen in his first two novels Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. We get a couple of short sequels of the Maltese Falcon starring Sam Spade. There’s plenty of murders, bad guys, and even an early draft of The Thin Man, minus any appearance of Nick and Nora Charles.

Many of the stories suffer from what is a shorter length than his novels. It is a difficult feat to devise a tense, terse plot, find a crime, create interesting characters and solve the mystery within 20 odd pages. On several occasions Hammett misses. He takes short cuts with the plots, or explains away the mystery without giving sufficient evidence within the preceding pages.

My favorite Hammett character, the Continental Op, makes several appearances. He is a quiet, tough, private detective who works by his own set of morals. Some of his stories work like gold, while others seem rushed, or as if Hammett was still working out his craft. Too often the Op repeats the details of the case to himself (and the reader) and wonders who too trust, what to believe. It is an unbelievable detail, and one that thankfully Hammett gave up as a writer.

There are a few real gems in the collection Ruffians Wife, His Brothers Keeper, and the Thin Man among them. Ruffians Wife is the story of a tough guy’s wife who spends her days romanticizing her husbands work. When that work is brought home and the violence made real her, instincts change and she sees just how awful those things are. It is written in a sparse, bleak style, giving every gritty detail the right color to feel reality rushing in. His Brother’s Keeper is minus the murders and plus on wayward kids trying to get their one shot at being a contender. The Thin Man has nothing to do with the novel of the same name but may be the best story of the bunch. It is a breezy tale about an insurance man more in love with poetry than trying to find a swindler. There actually is a bit of Nick Charles in him in that he is light hearted and bent more on romanticism than fighting crime. The detectives seem to follow him around and kid him more than try to do their own jobs. The story unfolds in a light easy flow.

The real thrill of Nightmare Town is an unfinished early draft of The Thin Man. While some of the plot details are similar this is a completely different novel in terms of tone. Nowhere are the cocktail drinking, wise cracking Nick and Nora Charles. Instead we get the silent, tougher than nails detective John Guild. He is sent to investigate a bad check and winds up for a long twisted ride helping a young District Attorney on his first murder case. This is only the first ten chapters, but it leaves me wishing for more. A wish I’ll never get granted. Much the same can be said about all of Hammett’s writing.

Nightmare Town is probably not the best place for a Hammett newbie to begin. Any of his full length novels would serve a better starting place. But for those of us who have read ever other published word he has written, this is a great way to see some of his early work and unfinished texts. A welcome addition to your mystery bookshelf.

About the Weather

You guys asked for boring daily details, and that's what you are going to get.

Sorry for not posting yesterday. I was busy writing a Jane Eyre review, and couldn't get it quite right. So, I wrote a couple of movie reviews and put of Ms Eyre for a bit.

I'm afraid it has been rather boring around here. It has been absolutely gorgeous. I've been taking long walks almost everyday and getting some very nice photographs. Please check out my webshots page for those.

We've been planning my birthday party. It's Friday, don't ya know? We decided to have some university friends over, and celebrate with the AIMers at church on Sunday. Nothing too exciting, but you do what you can on a limited budget.

Filed my taxes today. Getting a very nice refund. Very excited about that. It will help us afford what looks like a very expensive ride home.

See, this is boring, boring stuff.