Socioculture

This is old news to Phillip K. Dick aficionados, but an interesting article on the moral implications of the new frontiers of personal psychopharmacology.

http://www.reason.com/news/show/124543.html

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Movies – Quai des Orfevres

Quai des Orfevres is a terrific, old-fashioned good time at the movies. It combines two fully flushed-out worlds – the chaotic mill of the french dance halls and cabarets, with singers, dancers, bicycle and dog acts, roughhousing stagehands and predatory producers, and the police headquarters of the title – cynical detectives, worldly beat reporters, a whole hierarchy of middle-managing captains, lieutenants, clerks and lawyers. There’s a depth of surrounding characters here that may only be rivalled by the best Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks movies. It’s an early postwar work by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who later went on to make ‘Diabolique’ and ‘The Wages Of Fear’, two legendary masterpieces of suspense.

The start of the film introduces us to Jenny Lamour, Paris’ premier hot tomato good-time chantoozie. She’s married to Maurice, a mousy, browbeaten piano player who gave up a conservatory career to devote himself to her. Naturally, as these things go, he also has a fierce but endearing jealous streak, and is in constant fear of being cuckolded, despite the clear fact that they love each other dearly. Their best friend and neighbor, Dora, is a photographer who happens to, reluctantly, do a little side work for a lecherous and grotesque big-name producer named Brignon. Jenny happens upon Brignon at Dora’s one day, and her ambition overwhelms the warnings from Dora about Brignon’s darker habits. She sees him a few times, is encouraged by his seemingly earnest professional tutelage, and agrees to have dinner with him to ‘sign a contract.’ Things go badly, a crime is committed, and the police start their investigation.

This is where the seemingly standard soap-opera plot really starts to deepen, as we spend the movie confident that we know what happened and we’re just waiting to see how it will be resolved, not unlike a Columbo episode. We also find ourselves pleasantly surprised at how much interest and sympathy we’ve invested in Jenny, Maurice and Dora, despite the obviousness of the melodrama, and are anxious and somewhat fearful of what their fates will be. Now the film adds Inspector Antoine (played by the great Louis Jouvet), a character who would be right at home in an Elmore Leonard story – a fascinating regular mug who just happens to be very good at this particular thing. I was completely and shamelessly hooked. The basic plot and characters are entertaining enough, but I’d like to watch it again just for all the stuff happening in the backgrounds – the beautiful black-and-white photography employs many reliable show-biz-flick and film noir elements, but is also admirably deep-focused; the story happens in a full, substantial, and believable real world.

Do yourself a favor next time your working the Netflix queue or are browsing in one of the three or four good video stores this country has left. You won’t find this baby at Blockbuster, I’m afraid.

Movies – 300, Children of Men

300 – It’s oddly refreshing when a movie delivers on most of the things you think it’s going to be. It’s as stentorian and testosterone-fueled as the trailers promised. The battle scenes feature as much meat-grinding, and the quiet scenes as much earnest bonding brotherhood, as the elaborate visuals will bear. And, as a bonus, it’s a true story! If you wanted it, you got it. If you weren’t interested in the first place, you didn’t bother anyway.

So, I suppose it’s not really right to criticize this movie too much. Frank Miller aficionados were, I suspect, very happy. History buffs, while grumbling over the usual Hollywood liberties (and liberties, in this case, is a kind word), were still thinking ‘Yeah, but it’s Thermopylae, man!’ I even have to admit that the computerized visual scheme, for the most part, served the story and characters well (the CGI was what I most dreaded, but once you get used to the fact that every single Spartan has had the exact same greased, sweaty, heaving pectorals and six-pack composited onto them in each and every frame – well, OK, once you notice you don’t get used to it – it’s pretty weird). There was a conspicuous absence of that annoying, blurry, super-speedy jump-cut editing that threatens to screw up otherwise admirable fare like Batman Begins or the Bourne movies. In fact, director Zack Snyder, via his canny CGI guys, actually makes a point to slow things down – slow motion, freeze-framing, stop-and-start strobing, stealing Matrix-like ideas without everything looking like the goddamn Matrix. Wide shots are meticulously choreographed – three or four things happen in the same shot and you can actually absorb it all. Visually, I was sold.

So here are my two complaints. The Lena Headey-Dominic West “Meanwhile, back in Sparta…” intrigues seem to have been directed by phone. The dullest kind of soap-opera exposition, generically designed and indifferently shot. Both of these actors have been really good pretty often – they seem to have been left to their own devices here, and it ain’t art, my friends.

My other, larger complaint I’ll refer to as The Phantom Menace Syndrome. Remember, if you will (if you actually sat through that celluloid dead fish) how in the first third of the movie, Ewan and Liam ( or Obi-Wan and whatever the hell…) effortlessly plowed through hundreds and hundreds of storm troopers, mercenaries, and various forms of robot artillery effortlessly, unscathed. But What’s This…?? Darth Maul!! And suddenly, for no other reason besides That’s What The Script Says, Obi-Wan and Whatever are battling for their very lives. Huh? What happened to those two badasses we saw before? A riddle for the ages, apparently. And one our pal Zack Snyder has no answer for as well, since these same Spartans chew up and spit out whatever comes near them until It’s The Part In The Script Where They Get Killed. Then sons die, makeup runs, all the arrows magically missing everyone suddenly land, and Voila – Gotterdammerung! And they seemed to be doing so well…

Children Of Men – another film with a lot of admirable things going on, delivering on many of the promises of the trailers and media hype. The reliable Clive Owen is practically in every shot of the film, and he owns it. Very compelling story, many humanist elements expressed without over-earnestness or preaching. Particular supporting characters are given room to breathe and do much more than just fill functions.

So here are my two complaints. For me, Julianne Moore is a pro who can generally leave an impression even when she isn’t given much to do. I can’t decide whether A) this time the character was such an empty functionary plot device (the ex-wife turned resistance fighter tugging Clive’s regretful heartstrings while leading a ragtag band of devoted blah blah blah…) that she just got up and did it without breaking a sweat (and there are many detractors who assert this is often Julianne’s M.O.) or B) some good work was served up, filmed, and then edited out.

Because this movie was designed, shot, lit, and edited within an inch of its life. Which is complaint #2. For me, the film eventually devolved into not much more than a parade of Alphonso Cuaron’s Cool Shots. Lots of long, hyperkinetic tracking shots through all sorts of post-apocalyptic terrain and adversaries. Lots of steadicam zipping along with the cars, running along with Clive – which are all very compelling when they serve the story you’re telling. The movie this eventually most reminded me of was Black Hawk Down, which obviously presented a whole different tone than the one this one would seem to be aiming for. We needed a little less How Bad Things Have Gotten and and a little more Here’s What They’re Doing About It.

Music

One of my favorite articles on the music business – a speech by Courtney Love given at Digital Hollywood last year on the real costs of creating music in America.

http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/06/14/love/print.html

Greg Kot at the Chicago Tribune is one of many big supporters of the canny and eloquent Courtney Love that most people never notice under her trip-to-the circus media persona. Besides this being good evidence for her, it’s a great tutorial/expose by any working musician.

Politics

It’s not just me. I didn’t make it up. Here’s Associated Press on Richardson’s withdrawal:

MERRIMACK, N.H. – New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ended his campaign for the presidency Wednesday after twin fourth-place finishes that showed his impressive credentials could not compete with his rivals’ star power.

Americans don’t want wishy-washy crap like real experience. Star power, baby! Vote for it today!