Sunday, January 27, 2008

a double dose of Lynch

A trip down to L.A. to celebrate my brother's birthday was the occasion that led to my finding myself watching "Lynch", the documentary about film maker, in the LACMA auditorium. The documentary was oddly entertaining, which is to say at times annoying, but I nevertheless left it with a better understanding and appreciation of David Lynch than I had when I walked in. There were multiple references to "Inland Empire", his most recent film, which I didn't even know existed. Naturally after seeing the documentary I was curious to see it.

On balance, I am a Lynch fan. His approach to film making is unquestionably creative, adventurous and original. There are times, however, when his work crosses the line and one wonders if it's not actually a stinking pile of fraudulent horse shit. But rather than dwell on how bad it might be, I prefer to reminisce fondly on the demented humor of "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart", or the unexpected wholesomeness of "The Straight Story". When "Mulholland Drive" came out a few years back, I was pleasantly blown away. It appeared that Lynch had matured and finally balanced his unapologetic weirdness with enough structure or anti-structure to raise his art to a new level.

After reading some positive reviews for "Inland Empire" I decided to take the plunge. Sadly, I think Lynch is backsliding with this one. There are a few good ideas here -- I like the rabbit people, the actors (Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons), and the whole Polish thing -- but the results are sort of half-baked, and the thing goes on for nearly three hours. The length alone is already a problem, but along with the slow, repetitive, meandering, structureless-ness of the barely existing plot, plus all the bad acting and non-acting, one wonders if Lynch doesn't take some sadistic pleasure -- consciously or unconsciously -- in subjecting his audience to this kind of thing.

I have faith that some of his future endeavors will build on the success of "Mulholland Drive", his best film to date.

Friday, January 04, 2008

beST FILMS of 2007

Let me start by saying that no one film or handful of films completely knocked my socks off this year. That being said, this one did the beST job of balancing art, entertainment, and public service:

Blood Diamond ('06)

Using similar criteria, these films were deemed for one reason or another above average:

A Crude Awakening ('06)
Babel ('06)
La Vie en Rose ('07)
The Passenger ('75)
The Namesake ('06)
Sicko ('07)
Miss Potter ('07)
Come Early Morning ('06)
Volver ('06)
Heading South ('05)
Rabbit Proof Fence ('02)
Neil Young: Heart of Gold ('06)

The same jaded brain determined these films worth mentioning:

U.S . vs. John Lennon ('06)
Children of Men ('06)
Fast Food Nation ('06)
The 11th Hour ('07)
The Number 23 ('07)
American Dreamz ('06)
Life and Debt ('01)
Shut Up and Sing ('06)
Color Me Kubrick ('05)
Little Miss Sunshine ('06)
American Splendor ('03)
Night at the Museum ('06)
No Reservations ('07)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

beST BOOKS of 2007

and the beST books of 2007 are:

The Traveler's Tree: Bruno Bontempelli ('94)

(not to be confused with Patrick Fermor's book of the same name... both are fascinating journeys into the tropical past... this riveting tale of 18th century seafaring is a great read)

Two Years in the French West Indies: Lafcadio Hearn (1890)

(a great writer and a fascinating man, better known for his books about Japan... this book is one long Caribbean moment preserved in amber)

The Omnivore's Dilemma: Michael Pollan ('06)

(a timely book that wrestles with the serious food issues of our day... industrial vs. organic, global vs. local, carnivore vs. vegetarian, the domination of corn)

Tree: Colin Tudge ('05)

(a book about the size and thickness of Omnivore's Dilemma, but focusing on trees... a heaping pile of factoids... with a side helping of science)

Nadja: Andre Breton ('28)

(a journey into the mind of the ambassador of surrealism as he journeys into the mind of a disturbed young woman... great illustrations and that 80 years ago in Europe feeling)

The Mezzanine: Nicholson Baker ('86)

(an annoyingly fascinating literary experiment... if you can refrain from throwing the book across the room, Baker extracts a spirit of joy out of a painstaking succession of mundane details)

Max and the Cats: Moacyr Scliar ('81)

(an obscure story that was clearly the inspiration for The Life of Pi, last year's beST book)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

beST MUSIC of 2007

and the beST CD's of 2007 are:

Burning Spear: Creation Rebel ('04)

(a collection of the Spear's early studio work... a muST for Burning Spear fans... this is where it all began)

Air: Talkie Walkie ('04)

(it may be European ear candy, but it contains no artificial sweeteners or genetically modified organisms)

James: Pleased To Meet You ('01)

(the nearly impossible to find companion to the Eno-produced masterpiece Laid ... this one also has its moments)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Jamaica - part 14

On the day of departure, quite a few of the guests were also checking out of the hotel. One German-speaking family was transferring to the exclusive Round Hill Hotel outside Montego Bay, and I thought, that's the way to travel -- a week at one great hotel, to experience the west end of the island, then another week at another hotel to experience the other end. Jamaica is a large island and to experience the whole thing properly would require at least two weeks and two locations, so as to minimize those long, bumpy rides. For now I am content with having seen half the island.

The bus to the Montego Bay airport wasn't too bad since I knew what to expect. In contrast to the ride to Negril, the weather was clear and sunny, and there were no traffic jams. We passed Round Hill, where my parents stayed in the 1950's. That was unquestionably a very different time on a very different island; Negril wasn't really developed until after the hippie era. The whole island was probably more pristine; decades of modern tourism must certainly have taken a toll, and from some angles the place looks tired and worn-out, much in the same way New York and much of the eastern US has a haggard and time-worn appearance -- giving the impression that the infrastructure is just barely holding things together. On the positive side, the hippie era enhanced Jamaica's demographics, evolving them beyond the old neo-colonial model of affluent white tourists and their servants. Among other things the Rastamen, who existed for decades underground, came out of the woodwork.

The duty free shops at the airport were buzzing with activity. Reggae CD's were certainly not less expensive than they are at home, so I passed them up. Blue Mountain coffee on the other hand came in many sizes at decent prices, so I got as much as I could cram into my bags. The final piece of business was the bottle of Myer's rum I promised to get my Mom. The only bottle was quite large -- 750 ml's. A lady explained that not only was it the only size available, but that there was currently a shortage of the stuff due to a change in distributor, or some such thing. So I went ahead and bought it.

As a rule, L and I pack lightly so as not to have to check bags, and thereby make flying that much easier. Unfortunately, once we landed in Atlanta, the bag with the rum had to be checked in. So I carefully placed the bottle in the center of my bag and surrounded it with clothes. We then somehow missed the baggage-check counter, entering security a little too soon. To make a long story short: my shoes, jacket, belt, plane tickets and wife had already passed through security when I was sent back to the baggage-check counter and its very long, slow-moving line. There I waited, in socks, not even certain that I was in the right line, while the woman in front of me talked non-stop -- alternately in Georgia English and Central American Spanish -- about how difficult it was to travel with kids. My vacation was officially over.

The moral of the story is this: you can save a few bucks by buying rum in Jamaica, and then pay for it in other ways.