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Friday, December 30, 2011

Jason Moran



半年前偶然听到 NPR 上关于 Jason Moran 的专题节目就喜欢得很,但是后来忘记了他的名字,想找也没找到。最近因为 Moran 被肯尼迪中心请去做爵士乐 curator 他又上了电台节目,于是我也把他给“找了回来”。

我对 jazz piano 毫无抵抗力,而 piano 和 bass 放在一起的质地对比简直太可爱了。Moran 虽然粉 Thelonius Monk,但是演奏风格感觉有一点 classical,当然这也没什么奇怪的,从 classical 开始而转而迷恋 jazz 的人多了去了。

在这个专题节目里,第一首曲子是 Moran 改编 Maurice Ravel ,好听得一塌糊涂,哇哇哇!后面的几首也不错。

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Terrible Time Waster




YouTube, that is.

Got sucked into video clips of "A Bit of Fry and Laurie." For example:

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Help! I can't stop!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Very Long Blogs


While watching the TV series Kingdom I happened upon Stephen Fry's blog. Holy smokes he writes very long blog articles! Ebert's weekly blog entries can run to the long side, but Fry's seem longer. Wow.
One of these days I'll do a long one. Maybe. :P

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Edelstein, etc.

It is fascinating to listen to David Edelstein's year end movie overview because he is another movie reviewer (an example is Roger Ebert) who is very candid about his own feelings and emotional context of his take on movies.

He expressed my exact sentiment when he labeled Steig Larsson's Dragon Tattoo series as a "primitive fantasy" and David Fincher as a "very cruel director." I also agree with him that von Trier's heavy disdain for people is a annoying and tiresome. I'm less inclined to be impressed by impeccable techniques and a vast visual vocabulary than film geeks. In other words, I'm picky about the kind of filmmakers I "hang out" with, which may have some correlation with how picky I am about the kind of people I hang out with.

When it comes to the impression of Steven Spielberg we go in completely opposite directions. There is something lurking underneath Spielberg's sentimentality that disturbs me, but I cannot put my finger on it. A friend once digressed that Spielberg betrayed a carefully disguised tendency to cruelty and calousness in the Indiana Jones series. Not sure if that is it. To me his effort to appear sentimental and innocent or child-like is just a little too laborious to be wholy convincing. Maybe I'm just paranoid.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Michael Clayton



This is one of the most underrated movies I have seen. When I saw it in theater I couldn't quite put my fingers on why I found it so mesmerizing, but it has haunted me all along.

Putting the Blu-ray disc in the player, for some reason I decided to turn on the commentary track first, even though the plot has already faded in memory. Surprise, surprise. I had always assumed that, given it was the first directing effort by a renowned writer, its strengths lie in the dialog, the narrative structure, the plot, and the characters. Those elements are all excellent, of course, but I did not fully appreciate how beautiful it looks.

With only a fraction of my attention on the chatters of Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy (brothers), I stared at the shots and the color scheme. With all the dense and rapid dialog, visually it is remarkably still and uncluttered, with a stark palette and a gaze on faces and eyes. There is a simple elegance in the framing and composition of most shots. The lighting and shadow are exquisite without being showy or self-conscious, and the background lights and shapes have an abstract beauty that is simultaneously delicate and intense.

One of the movie's tricks is fluid scene-to-scene transitions, sometimes with temporally scrambled voice-overs, sometimes with clever editing (see Tilda Swinton's entry scene). Another trick is movements in the out-of-focus background, scurrying at the edges of the frame and the edges of the viewers' consciousness, oozing an ominous sense of conspiracy and dread.

As a moviegoer I am extremely grateful for directors/editors who trust and respect my intelligence and attention. Thank you for choosing people like me to make your movies for.

****

I can think of no other movie that reflects the mood of the era better (2001 to 2008). It speaks to me.

On the commentary track, Tony Gilroy talks about how heavily he has been influenced by the movies of 1970s. The period of late 1960s to first half of 1970s is truly the golden age of American cinema, the end of which was marked by the commercial successes "Jaws" and "Star Wars." One of these days I'll have to systemically watch the classics from that time. It occurs to me that the parallel between that time and ours is no accident. Vietnam war, Civil Rights movement, social unrest, the assassinations, and, to cap it off, Watergate. Deja vu.

Much Ado About Nothing (Cuban version)



因为是个欢乐的剧,被现代化之后(1930年代古巴庄园)还又唱又跳的,我就拉某同学去看了。现代古巴化之后,全卡司美国口音也十分融合了,只有两个配角演员还很热心地拿出了小小西班牙语口音。美国舞台莎剧里不是每个人都能上英国口音,所以有时候满台南腔北调。不知道英国舞台上 Eugene O'Neill 或者 Tennessee Williams 是否有口音分歧。

某同学坚决不看悲剧,上次跟几个朋友一起看“玻璃动物园”就被他推掉了。

Monday, December 19, 2011

一根葱

最近忽然遇见两起事件让我疑心有些人会不会太把自己当根葱?但是别人或许会说我只是将低自尊投射到别人身上。谁知道谁的现实感更接近现实。

如果哪天有人觉得我太把自己当根葱,请不吝留言提醒。

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Dangerous Method




Nearly all the posters of "A Dangerous Method" arranges Keira Knightly's Sabina Spielrein in the middle, between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), a transparent --- and entirely wrong --- characterization of the movie's theme. She is not the woman that came between Jung and Freud and broke up their friendship.

David Cronenberg, who is Canadian by nationality, makes a subtle but conscious case for the Jewishness of psychoanalysis. The riff between Freud and Jung, the movie seems to argue, is largely an ethnic and class divide manifest in academic disagreement.

Buried beneath this ethnic argument is the suggestion that it is no accident that psychoanalysis originated and flourished in the repressive Victorian era in Europe among Jewish medical men (and remain dominated by Jewish psychiatrists to this day), that the permissive and liberating philosophy of psychoanalysis is inherently Jewish, and that Protestants are instinctively unable to embrace psychoanalysis, even an open-minded, intelligent Protestant like Jung.

I don't know enough about Judaism and Jewish culture to judge whether the hypothesis is credible. It probably is to some extent. I do have doubts about whether ethnic and class difference played a large role in Jung's feud with Freud. The movie implies that Jung is troubled by Freud's emphasis on sex as the underlying motivation for nearly all human behaviors and unconsciousness and his implied support of socially unacceptable behaviors (e.g., infidelity), because Jung is sexually repressed and deeply conflicted. One scene in particularly clearly establishes that Freud and Spielrein understand it (the central role of sex) and each other, because they are Jews and therefore not as plagued by sex-related guilt and conflicts as Jung is.

I don't know enough about Jung and his work to judge whether this characterization is real. Again, it may be true to some extent. However, the very fact that Cronenberg is suggesting that the riff between Jung and Freud is rooted in social class, religious, and cultural differences that neither of them has any control over happens to support Jung's theory that cultural heritage heavily influences people's behaviors and unconscious. Isn't it ironic?

I wonder whether Cronenberg has realized this irony. Although Jung in this movie is portrayed as being repressed and unable to fully accept the legitimacy of sexual urges, while Freud is portrayed as being more "liberated" or knowing of the human nature and therefore perhaps "more correct," the movie itself indirectly acknowledges that Jung is just as correct if not more so by tracing his behaviors and decisions to his Protestant heritage.

Fascinating.

Nevertheless, it would be an injustice to suggest that the movie blames the breakup between Freud and Jung entirely on the Jewish-Protestant and class divide. It fully acknowledges the Oedipal nature of their relationship and conflict. I don't know whether all men want to marry his mother, but it seems pretty universal that all men must murder his father to become his own person. The more intimate and affectionate the relationship, the more the son has to kill of the father (even if symbolically) to become an adult.

The intimacy of mentor-disciple relationship is shown is something of a double layer in the movie: The Jung-Spielrein relationship is a parallel to the Freud-Jung relationship. However, the daughter does not need to murder her father to become independent. She separates from him and her sexual desire for him, and becomes her own person in a process that is perhaps as painful as the patricide. The movie makes both types of separation perfectly clear and somewhat symmetrical.

****
Although the movie is heavily didactic with long segments of dialog, Cronenberg's visual language remains ripe with meaning and suggestions. Note the deep-focus shot in the scene above, which keeps both Freud's face in the foreground and Jung's face in the background clear. Similar view is used throughout the movie to keep the patient and the psychoanalyst, who do not face each other, in the same frame with the same clarity. Perhaps he is suggesting that the process of psychotherapy is bidirectional and affects not only the patient.

The acting is interesting across the board. Knightly is fine in the hysterical, manic scenes and slightly laborious in the later "normal" scenes. Fassbender, interestingly, has done two movies and sexual urges and conflicts around the same time. The second movie, "Shame," seems almost like a rebuff to the line in "A Dangerous Method" that sex is the only reliable pleasure for everyone.

Mortensen takes the cake for the best, but also the subtlest, performance in the movie. While maintaining a detached, controlled, dominant, almost manipulative presence, he drops a number of hints of vulnerability and genuine affection.

Jung's wife, played by Sarah Gadon, is probably a little underdeveloped compared with the 3 main characters. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the treatment of this character and the movie's exploration of gender and power in general. She is clearly distressed by Jung's insatiable sexual appetite (depicted through his hearty appetite on the dining table), but she has to make do, even though she is the financial pillar of the family. So, perhaps, she is a counterpoint to the acceptance and indulgence of primal sexual urges. Possessiveness and exclusivity are also a human instinct. When we love someone we want the most we can wring out of that person. We don't want to share and dilute. Or perhaps some but not all of us craves the exclusivity. That is an instinct, not social regulation or repression. Obviously, one man's freedom is another woman's suffering, even if you take society out of the equation.

As such we enter a territory not thoroughly explored by Freud. Social restrictions on individual behaviors have obviously brought on neuroses and conflicts and mental dysfunctions, but they also serve the purpose of keep us living together in close proximity without cutting each other's throat. Such is the human condition. There is never a place where one's own needs and others' needs can exist in absolute and blissful freedom and harmony. We always have to struggle with conflicts and competing needs between ourselves and others, and hope for a tolerable compromise. (People do cut each other's throat every day in the world, after all.)

****
If I have to grossly simplify the movie's plot, it would not be a love triangle in which Spielrein breaks up Freud and Jung's relationship, but rather a love triangle in which both Freud and Spielrein love Jung, but the damned Protestant just doesn't get it.

Manamana

小时候看到一点芝麻街,对这首歌印象很深,但是不知道啥意思。曾经以为他们在说 "Phenomenon",现在才知道根本不是!

芝麻街的瑞典厨师也很逗,很疯狂。

不过最好笑的还是 Statler and Waldorf 一对老头儿。

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Untitled

Once again I am reminded that I shall never know how another person feels.

Zinsser wrote about his Overtone Years, but it was the sentiment of being a fourth-generation New Yorker that got my strings shuddering.

I've not had rootedness for at least two generations. For whatever reasons, I live like HC Anderson --- figuratively, philosophically.

It's neither good nor bad, this life, but I am just reminded that I'll never know how it feels to be a fourth-generation New Yorker and walk by the apartment buildings that your parents and grandparents lived and died.

隔行

今天听见新闻说粒子撞击器那边爆出新闻,Higgs Boson (又称上帝粒子)“可能” 被证实了。

想到不久前的超光速中微子消息,我有点不敢相信,发了个电邮给某同学问这个是不是真的。上次超光速中微子的消息出来,某同学说多半不是真的;这次他答曰十有八九是真的。

其实某同学也不是物理学家,但是学过一些物理的人至少有概念,一个谣言出来能判断可信几率有多高,而外行就完全两眼一抹黑。同理,我对粒子毫无概念,很容易被蒙住,但是如果拿一篇医学生物研究给我看,即使不懂,至少能估计出是不是胡扯。

Mr. Fox



I'm about 25% into this breezy and delightful book. I like it because it does not have the whiff of rotting paper coming out of university English departments.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Attack the Block



Both funny and scary, with a bit of social commentary.

Beautifully photographed and directed with judicious use of special effects. Thankfully the alien monsters were "man in a suit"/puppet, with little CGI. CGI cannot imitate the real fluidity of movements.

A lot of apparently ad lib dialogs, just the type I like.

It is just the kind of movie that has you screaming and laughing simultaneously.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Father Brown

把 Hamsun 暂时放在一边,重读 Father Brown 系列。过去没注意,现在拿着 Kindle 慢慢地读,才品出 Chesterton 的好。

Sunday, December 4, 2011

味千拉面



洛杉矶有诸般不好,只有一样好: 吃。

各种中国饭馆,跟某同学一星期内吃也吃不不过来,只有在味千拉面吃了两次。

说实话我有点怀疑白色的猪骨浓汤不是真正用猪骨长期熬出来的自然白 --- 每日流量巨大的快餐店,很难相信店堂后的厨房里有几只巨大的锅一直在熬猪骨。谁知道浓汤是怎么批量生产出来的,里面放了多少 MSG,不过好吃还是好吃的。黄黄拉面也还算有筋道,对于没吃过真正用手拉出来的日本拉面的人来说。主要是汤面里的肉、菜、汤、面搭配数量已经科学化系统化,恰到好处,深得我心,各个成份多一分嫌多少一分嫌少,刚好被我全部吃光,无论哪一样多一点都会剩下。

某同学十分钟情店里的南瓜 tapioca 糖水,冷甜食一碗,不算特别甜。

放狗一查,味千只有加州与纽约有连锁店,失望。

Friday, December 2, 2011

Meek's Cutoff




Is it Oregon? I couldn't help but feel it was Australia. On film hardly any place but Australia has left such an impression of a complete lack of human infiltration. Sure, you get a glimpse of a half-nekked aborigine, but that just makes it worse. "You should see the cities we built," Michelle Williams grumbled to the lone Indian captured by the white men. The Indian didn't understand her, of course. I wondered whether she was only trying to remind herself of what cities looked like.

The movie is slow, oppressive, and pretty much a long journey into the belly of desperation. In a male filmmaker's hand, no doubt at some point insanity would take over and someone would get killed in a mad struggle. She generally avoided blood and death, but the sense of doom hung heavy without release, even in the end. Even I find it a bit unbearable and fast-forwarded to the ending.

The ending, ha! A cursory Google search can tell you that a lot of viewers are enraged by it. Mightily pissed off. Is it a reaction typical to American moviegoers? Or is it universal? I digress. Anyway, I suspect that if the movie were merely a slow and artsy *film* but spared us the uncertainty and doubt, if there were some relief of closure at the end (even if tragic), people would not have been so angry about it.

********
There is hardly any dialog in the movie, except for the endless boasting of Stephen Meek, played by an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood (I wouldn't have known it was Bruce Greenwood if it weren't printed on the cast list). This character makes me chuckle (but without mirth). Why? Because I know this guy. I have met him a number of times before. I met him in a friend's husband, with whom I had an unfriendly argument that spoiled my friendship with the wife. I met him in a pot-bellied government bureaucrat, spewing bullshit as his subordinates listened in hushed reverence. You can see him on TV on Fox News, CNN, or other news network's talking heads that they use to pass for news. He is the art professor, some sort of expert, or resident intellectual who keeps dropping big words but makes no sense. He is so sure of himself that people look up to him with awe. He freely dispenses truisms that are vaguely profound but entirely meaningless. He is the charming snake-oil salesman. He is usually male, but I have seen him in a woman or two with Ph.D. in social science.

It is really funny (funny ironic, not funny haha) that, in the beginning, the men in the wagon train, which got lost under Meek's guidance, were whispering doubts about Meek and even suggesting that he be hanged. Yet, faced with Meek's bravado, they continued to follow his lead, relinquishing their power and judgment in his hand. He had no idea where he was going, but neither did they. And people would rather follow a blind man than follow their own instinct. Ain't that the truth.

I know that man. Don't you? I often wonder why such a guy is so popular, so revered, so trusted. "Do you see he has no idea what he's doing?" I want to yell at people and shake their shoulders. But people love him and beg him to tell them what to do. Considering the poignant but subtle social commentary in "Old Joy," I was convinced that Kelly Reinhart was making reference to contemporary events.

Surprisingly, "Meek's Cutoff" is a true story. There really was a Stephen Meek, and he really did lead a wagon train lost in the Oregon wilderness. Only there were a lot more wagons following him and the consequence was more disastrous than in the movie. Amazingly, Meek was not killed by the disillusioned mob after many died on the road, although there were rumors. In fact, the real Meek died of old age. Ain't that what always happens?

********
Back to the enraging uncertainty of the ending. I was reminded of John Sayle's "Limbo," which also has an equivocal ending. "It could be water or blood," as Meek says in the movie.

Just recently I was thinking about the human perception/illusion of time as Brian Greene explained. The past and the future may be equally elusive, but the constant, weak electrical impulses and neuronal patterns that are memory give us the feeling that we have access to the past, but not the future. It is not the past that we know, but rather the ghost of the past still living in our brain. What if we didn't have this ghost living in our brain? (Think anterograde amnesia. Think "Memento.") What if we had a similar ghost in the brain that feeds us knowledge of the future in the same way?

So, anyway, what the heck was I trying to say? Oh, the unknowable future. Right. Hmm. We don't know what awaits us in the next minute, day, week, month, year. We could be hit by a bus and die tomorrow. Or gets killed in a plane crash next week. Or get lost in the Oregon desert and die of thirst. At least, living in this era gives us a false sense of certainty. The whole world has been mapped out. If we get lost, click on the GPS. If we are thirsty, turn on the tap. We know the mathematical probability of dying in a car crash or plane crash. We know the treatment for pneumonia, the cause and prevention of cholera, and the way to get to the nearest hospital. We have this cemented sense of safety through our access to a huge amount of knowledge. However, in the time before maps were charted, what was it like, PSYCHOLOGICALLY, to walk into a desert or sail into the sea without a map, without satellite, with no end in sight? I don't know about you, but it scares me shitless. Perhaps this is why we like our movies predictable. Yet isn't this unknown landscape the same as our everyday reality? The desert of tomorrow is as unknowable as the Oregon desert for the westward emigrants? Isn't it also the same for "the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns"?

The Conversation Soundtrack




发现了 David Shire 的电影音乐,很不错,我喜欢。

The Conversation (计划把整个OST买下来)

The Taking of Pelham 123

Farewell My Lovely

(Very retro)

Shakespeare Theater

Nice marketing tactic. I never fall for sales calls but I did this afternoon. $150 for 3 plays for the rest of this season. I picked Much Ado (Cuban version), Strange Interlude (O'Neill), and Merry Wives of Windsor.

Michael Khan at STC and Erick Shaeffer at Signature are so good. Ah, I am grateful for living in the DC area. It is no NYC but soooooooo much better than LA. There was nothing to see in LA last week. Everyone was doing "Nutcracker." Ugh.

Petyr Baelish of Sichuan: Echoes of the 3 Kingdoms

Sometimes my mind makes unexpected associations. A few days ago I was talking to a couple of friends, who are of Sichuan (or Szechuan) ances...

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