Archive for May, 2008

This Week’s Links (5/27/08)

My weekly culling from the internets:

With so much talk in the news about nature disasters, I thought include some unnerving info about earthquakes in LA. Here’s a map of the San Andreas fault. And here’s a recent government study of what would happen if a Sichuan-sized earthquake hit Los Angeles. Here’s what to do in case of an earthquake.

The Scorsese remix of dramatic chipmunk. See the original here. Perhaps the best film of last year. (h/t Ted)

And then there’s this classic bit of police incompetence. Japanese custom officials slip a traveler 124 grams of hashish and then lose the guy.

And speaking of Japan, here’s a gorgeous photo set of Japanese highway interchanges. (from Pink Tentacle)

A list of the best covers from World Weekly News.

And just in case there are some among the millions of daily readers of Witmot? who might believe some of the idiot lies floating about my man Obama, here’s a video.

Remember those mutterings last year about the mysterious NAFTA superhighway that was to run from Mexico to Cananda? It was largely dismissed by the mainstream media as a paranoid fantasy. Here’s a spirited critique of it on the House floor from someone who’s definitely not a crank, my former congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. Definitely worth watching. The gist: that Capitalist bastards are seeking to create a privately run 10 lane freeway from Mexican ports in the Pacific, through the heartland of the States to Canada. The result — a commercial artery from Asia to WalMart that bypasses union longshoremen and government oversight.

Adventures in K-town

At about 3am this morning, I was woken up out of bed by the sound of a loud crash. I live on an upper floor of an old 1920s converted hotel in Koreatown. All sorts of weird sounds echo late at night. Cats yowling, bums fighting, idiots driving too fast. I can usually sleep through anything. But this was loud. At first, I figured it was just a car accident and resolved to go back to sleep. Then I heard a surprising amount of screaming for that time of night. Then a few minutes later half the fire department seemed to descend on the place. And then I started smelling something noxious like smoke. I had to investigate, so I rolled out of bed and stumbled into the hall, which was thick with smoke which was clearly coming from the window at the end of the hall. Half of my neighbors were standing around in their pajamas. I went to the end of the hallway and saw a bunch of firemen aiming hoses at the little Mexican grocery store a building over. What I eventually gathered was that some drunk driving moron tried to round a corner on Western and couldn’t. He (or she) clipped at bus stop before plowing to the shop. I don’t know if the guy (or gal) is dead but if not, he’s probably wishing he were.

300 (2006)

I’m not going to write anything terribly original about 300. I finally saw it yesterday after spending a year and a half avoiding. 300 was booed at the Berlin Film Festival. And rightfully so. I don’t think I’ve purer example of Fascist art since I was forced to watch Triumph of the Will. It seems that Zack Snyder and Frank Miller read Susan Sontag‘s essay on Facist Art and used it as a check list. Hyper-masculinity? Check. Fetishization of the male body? Check. Subjugation of the individual to the group? Check. Glorification of death? Check. An unabashed othering of the enemy? Check. That last one is really striking. The “Persians” were portrayed universally as grotesque, gender-confused, homosexual, crippled, ethnic, or just plain subhuman. On the other hand, the Spartans, in part from their crude brand of eugenics they practiced, are gym-sculpted Aryan adonises, manly men who are more brave than smart. This is not only wildly inaccurate, historically speaking, but pretty baldly racist. How the hell did this shit get made?

300 seems to have three divergent target audiences. 1) Fanboys who are into Frank Miller’s work and/or Lord of the Rings like sagas (and times, 300 seemed also like a parody of LOTR). 2) Gay men who would no doubt enjoy looking at all that rippling male flesh. The rampant homosexuality and pedarasty in Spartan culture, incidentally, was completely ignored in the film. And 3) Neocon fundamentalist crazies who desperately want to stay in Iraq for a 100 years and who want to invade Persia, er, Iran. Why not? According this film, they’re are all perverted, malformed subhumans.

Like Leni Riefenstahl‘s toxic masterpiece, 300 is frequently beautiful to look at. Yet it is one of the most morally repugnant works of art to be belched out the of plastic asshole of American culture in a long long time.

This Week’s Links (5/24/08)

My weekly culling from the internets:

America, the 97th most peaceful country in the world. Has a nice ring to it.

If you’ve had enough the US of A, here’s a list of six micronations. And I’m not talking about dinky nations like Andorra, Liechtenstein and the Vatican. Micronations are states of often dubious legality consisting of one or a couple people. The most famous one is Sealand, an abandoned oil platform a former WWII military platform in the North Sea. Last year, I bought a Lonely Planet guide book on micronations which is a blast to read. Recommended.

Tales of a high school douchebag.

And then there’s his tale of junior high school students who are rebelling against Bush’s idiot No Child Left Behind program. (I honestly can’t think of a single thing that Bush has done right as President.) (h/t Ted)

A great article by the New Yorker’s George Packer about the (thankful) decline and fall of conservatism. Packer makes an interesting point that for most of its reign, and especially after the end of the Cold War, conservatism wasn’t really FOR anything, just against things — anti-abortion, anti-government, anti-tax etc. When they got to the actual task of governing, from Reagan on proved to be really inept.

Hilary as the black knight. (from Americablog)

Why men should go to a barbershop.

The perils of drinking your own urine.

Exactly. And speaking of cars, here’s a guy who loves cars WAAAAY too much.

A photo gallery of Japan’s burakumin. (via Boingboing)

The idiots in LA’s metrolink spend millions to bring down a blog that criticizes it. Way to use tax payers money.

New Weezer video featuring some of your favorite faces from Youtube. (h/t Joan)

Summer Palace (2006)

Summer Palace is film I always suspected would get made. The events of Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were so dramatic and cinematic that it naturally captures the imagination of artists. During the protests — starting from Hu Yaobang‘s death on April 15 through to the government’s bloody crackdown on June 4th/5th — youth in China experience a sort of condensed version of the 1960s. Imagine the Free Speech Movement, Woodstock, and Kent State all jammed into six weeks and you get the picture.

Not unlike the American government in the ’80s, the post-Tiananmen Square government distracted its citizens with a heady combination of economic boom times and virulent nationalism. The Chinese government had to as the protests called into question its very legitimacy. Almost 20 years later, most of the main student leaders of the protests are still exiled. Though the romantic sweep of those spring months still command the imagination, talkin about the protests publicly carries grave risks. Director Lou Ye — who graduated from Beijing University in 1989 — was banned from making movies for five years as punishment for making this film.

Summer Palace was screen in competition in Cannes and was hailed not only for its political daring, but also frank sexuality. As J. Hoberman of the Village Voice noted, not only is this movie the most sexually explicit film to come out of China, it’s more explicit than the six runner-ups combined. Though the pairing of sex and politics is a long one in cinema, Lou Ye’s film is not Closely Watched Trains or even The Dreamers. It’s a portrait of a lost generation.

Yu Hong (played by Lei Hao) is a willful sullen lass from the North Korean border who, once she gets to a Beijing university, plunges headlong into the messy abundance of life. This includes exploring her sexuality with (among others) her fellow student Zhou Wei (Xiaodong Guo). At first, the two are insanely happy, stealing away into an empty dorm room for frankly depicted quickies. But as the protests start ramping up in the background, doubt and suspicion seeps into their own private eden. Yu Hong becomes jealous and Zhou Wei starts sleeping with Yu Hong’s erstwhile best friend Li Ti. As the crackdown explodes around them, Yu has a nervous breakdown and flees Beijing, leaving Zhou behind. Up until this point, the film mirrors the youthful energy of the characters with a tone that’s both giddy and nervous. The camera, frequently hand-held, feels voyeuristic.

After the crackdown, the movie speeds past other major Chinese historical milestones — like the Hong Kong handover — before catching up with Zhou and Yu in the present. Zhou lives as an intellectual in Berlin and continues to make unfulfilling love to Li Ti. Yu sports a bad haircut and shacks up with a married guy out of loneliness. Both seem still seem traumatized by these unhealing scars from the past. The parallels between these two wounded ex-lovers and between China and its intellectuals are clear though not overbearing. Thankfully, Lou Ye roots the drama in the characters rather than an allegory. The regret and dull existential panic these Yu and Zhou felt of hitting your 30s and feeling your life slip out of sight is both palpable here and universal. And that’s what lingered in my mind days after watching it.

Summer Palace is not a perfect film. It sometimes veers close to the self-indulgence and the structure gets unwieldy in places. It is, though, a haunting and glorious mess.

The Week’s Links (5/20/08)

My weekly culling from the internets:

This could possibly be the most hilariously overwrought movie ever made. That’s right, Werner Herzog and Nicholas Cage are remaking Bad Lieutenant.

And speaking of bizarro filmmakers, watch this video of David Lynch putting panties in his mouth. This is creepy even for Lynch.

There’s this EXTREMELY unsettling article about Bush’s plans for a possible police state.

And here’s an even unsettling more article about alternative (or just plain perverted) uses of maggots. Seriously not for the faint of heart. Really. (h/t to Ted who told me much more than I wanted to know about his fetishes.)

And then there’s this tragic/hilarious newspaper clipping detailing that sad fate of Od the Thai circus clown.

What’s funnier than a trailer for a trashy Hong Kong exploitation flick except a trailer of a trashy Hong Kong exploitation flick in German.

There’s this hilarious list of devastating international insults. My favorite are the Bulgarians with phrases like “You’re as ugly as a salad” or “Your mother sucks bears in the forest.”

Finally, the Chinese blogosphere is all a buzz about the run of bad luck China’s been having lately. First there was a massive blizzard that hit 1/25. Then there was the Tibetan riots/demonstrations that started on 3/14. And then there was the Sichuan earthquake on 5/12. All of those days add up to 8. 8/8/08 is the date of the Olympics. Cue spooky music. Along those lines, Liu Bowen from the Ming Dynasty wrote a poem, which is engraved on the Jinling Pagoda in Nanjing, that is supposedly prophetic. It predicts Chiang Kai-shek by name, along with Japan’s invasion and the rise of Communism. I’m told the translation loses a lot and is probably done by someone really into Falun Gong. But there is this striking line.

Hard to avoid the fierce Tiger, Fortunate people live at a mountain village
Vanity cities submerged by vast flood
Fancy skyscrapers became muddy ruins

So according to this, investing in Shanghai real estate might not be a good idea. (h/t to Joan, who spends all day at work looking these things up.)

Adventures in Corporate Teamwork

The other day, the company that I work for had an off-site corporate retreat. The sort of the thing that supposed to foster “team building” whatever that exactly means. The company (I’ll call Y) has little events like this seemingly every week. On the one hand there’s always free beer, and there’s never anything wrong with that. One the other, there’s a forced joviality that sort of creeps me out. It reminded me of going to pep rallies in high school. Part of me rejected them wholesale as groupthink idiocy while another far less verbal part felt vaguely jealous of my classmates who were utterly possessed with school spirit. They cheered, whooped and jumped up and down, utterly unselfconscious about how silly they looked or how artifiscial the event was. As with pretty much any social situation I attended in my late teens, I was more comfortable with scowling in the corner.

For the five months or so I’ve been working there there’s been two trivia nights, a karaoke night, cinqo de mayo celebration, bowling night, and a free Counting Crows concert. (I probably could have done without that last one.) But this retreat seemed different. First off, it was located way up in the hills between Malibu and Agoura Hills. Second, they strongly recommended that we wear old, loose fitting clothes. Third, there were numerous liability waiver forms to sign for the ambiguously described ‘ropes course.’ I started imagining of some brutal HR department culling program where we’d be dragged up a cliff face, given a bowie knife and three matches and told to fend for ourselves for a week. Those who survived got a 5% raise. Those who didn’t lost their jobs though their next of kin did receive a gift card for Jamba Juice.

We rolled in around 8 or so in the morning. The retreat’s coordinators were impossibly perky. They all had names like Kira, Sepulveda, and Oceana (“call me Osh”) and I surmised they listened to a lot of Jimmy Buffet. They quickly divided us into groups and forced us to do some mortifyingly cheesy exercises. I could handle the hand holding and group hugs, but publicly making an ass of your for the sake of group identity (20 of us doing the Travolta while singing “Do the Hustle”) almost had me hitchhiking home.

After that, they lead us to a field where I quickly figured out that “ropes course” was a euphemism for “tempting death and gravity.” There were a pair of telephone poles with a third intersecting the two to form an “H”. The horizontal beam was at least 25 feet in the air. The objective was to climb up one end and cross the beam to the other side. Meanwhile, your partner did the same from the other side. The trick was negotiating yourself around your partner without falling off. There were all kinds of ropes and harnesses that, in theory, would keep you from cracking your skull. In theory. My partner and I were fifth in line. The first four pairs met in the middle, spent a few minutes in a half embrace, their feet fumbling to get past, before one or both fell. While this was happening, I was getting suited up in a harness that seemed one part safety gear and one part fetish garment. I was strapped in five different ways across the back, under the shoulders and very very snugly through the crotch. When it was my turn, I took a couple deep breathes and started climbing, wondering why the hell I was doing this.

There was only one person who opted out. A punk chick in a huge black sun hat. I hadn’t seen her before but I knew that she was a kindred spirit. She and I no doubt would have be talking about cool music were this a pep rally. So why wasn’t I sitting this bit of foolishness out? Simple. I hate losing. That’s not the same as needing to win. I’m fine with coming in 6th place, so long as I’m not last. When I was living in Asia, I found myself eating all sorts of bizarre things (grasshoppers, snake blood, raw horse meat) for the same reason. My dinner companions inevitably liked to play ‘what will the foreigner eat,’ ordering the most exotic things on the menu. My rule was if my host ate the squid testicles then I would. I refused to lose. This same sort thinking got me naked and drunk in Russia and got me very nearly gored by a rhino in Nepal.

Climbing the pole was trickier than I thought because the little flange things were set irregularly, but that was nothing compared to when I got on the crossbeam. I realized that I was very high off the ground and the beam was very narrow and round. I stood there for a very very long moment gripping the pole behind me with white knuckles. I knew that the harness could supposedly support a Hyundai but that argument seemed awfully unconvincing when a couple million years of evolutionary impulses were telling me I was about to die. The reasonable thing to do would have been to climb back down and sit under a tree with a beer in hand, but instead I let go of the pole and started shuffling towards my partner with my arms splayed out either side of me. When we met in the middle, we grabbed and supported each other like a couple of drunks. We stood there in a modified tango pose for something like ten minutes trying to figure out how to get past one another. I tried to get one foot past her, then the other. Nothing worked. Then my partner got impatient and just went for it. I don’t remember what she actually did, it was a blur, but all of the sudden we were on the other side of each other. The crowd below us cheered but I didn’t feel the glory. I just wanted down. And that required us to jump. When “Waldo” the rope guy told me jump down, I retorted “Why the hell would I want to do something like that?” When I did, I fell about five feet before the harness caught, making it even more snug in the crotch.

I sent the rest of the day talking music with that punk chick under a tree with a beer in my hand. There was an opportunity to do another course — one that involved climbing up to the top of a forty foot telephone pole and then leaping to a trapeze — but I felt like I proved what I had to prove that day.

This Week’s Links (5/13/08)

My weekly culling from the internets:

Here’s a fascinating/disturbing article about the rich Chinese imitating the American wastefulness and stupidity. Behold, Orange County, China.

Speaking of China, here’s a pic of what happened in Sichuan on May 5, a week before the big earth quake. According the Chinese blogsphere, there were all sorts of rumors that an earthquake was coming.

For our paranoid readers, here’s a step by step way of figuring out if there’s a spy camera in your room. And there’s this step by step guide of what to do if you are approached by the police.

And this unintentionally hilarious police video (set to the Benny Hill soundtrack).

An local LA artist is trying to make traffic medians islands for art.

This blog lists all the things that are younger that John McCain. Things like Plutonium, Alaska, Spam, and Mt. Rushmore.

More about presidential candidates: Mike Gravel has either put together political commercials or performance art pieces. I’m not sure which, but they are REALLY WEIRD.

Here’s a list of weird mythical creatures from around the world. My favorite is the Popobawa from Tanzania, a flying sentient penis that doinks men in their sleep. It was reportedly responsible for another penis panic like the one I reported the other week.

And then there’s this exceptionally creepy ad from the 1970s.

Holy Crap! This is an absolutely amazing Sony Bravia ad. And this is the making of video of the commercial. These Sony ads have been some of the best things committed to film including this one and this one (see making off vids here and here).

Finally, under the shameless self promotion department, here are slideshows I wrote for Yahoo. You can see them here and here.

No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)

Akira Kurosawa’s first post-war film, No Regrets for Our Youth, is a strange uneasy movie. The story, which is loosely based on real life events, details the transformation of Yukie, the daughter of a leftist college professor — played by Japanese film icon Setsuko Hara — from a spoiled brat, to dedicated wife of an anti-war dissident (based on Hotsumi Ozaki who worked with Richard Sorge — of Spy Sorge fame — and was the only Japanese to be hung during the war) to a dutiful hardworking farmer girl.

Though Regrets is not of the same caliber as Kurosawa’s later masterpieces it’s always interesting. The rhythm and pacing of the first half of the movie is restless like youthful energy unsure where to channel itself. The student demonstration montage sequences seem lifted straight from Eisenstein. By the end of the film, the pacing slows to match that of rural life and to match Yukie’s new found maturity.

But what’s really interesting about the film is Kurosawa’s struggle to understand what happened to his country. How could left-thinking intellectuals allow Japan to be hijacked by the military? Of course, the US occupying forces, terrified of a return of the crazed nationalism that pushed Japan into war, was very much encouraging this sort of cultural introspection. (For more on this, I really recommend Embracing Defeat by John Dower) And you argue that this movie is as much a propaganda film as his wartime films Sugata Sanshiro or Most Beautiful. Given Kurosawa’s trademark humanism, as seen in Ikiru and Rashomon, I think that part of this film is a real heartfelt working through of guilt and pain of the past decade.

Perhaps because I have this sort of thing one the brain, Regret reminded me of some of these Iraq war movies that have been coming out (and bombing). They also seem to be working through many of the same issues. Both Regret and movies like Redacted or Stop Loss, seem raw and uneasy. The tone brittle and lacerating, asking how the hell did we get here?

Odds and Ends

New hipster phrase: Scongress. As in a contraction for “sexual congress.” Example: “Me and my lady had some mad scongress last night. It was off the chain.” I called it. I will demand royalty checks from anyone who manages to get the word into a major advertising deal or big budget Hollywood movie.

Movie Pitch Idea: A shot by shot remake of Gus Van Sant‘s Psycho. If there’s any big name Hollywood producers out there, look me up.

Another Movie Pitch Idea:
An eight hour reconstructed ‘making of’ Andy Warhol‘s Empire. A single fixed camera shot, detailing Warhol and Jonas Mekas hanging out, reading magazines, eating Campbell’s soup while waiting to swap out film magazines. In the background is the Empire State Building. A guaranteed blockbuster.



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