Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Man on Wire

L and I watched the movie "Man on Wire" this Sunday; great movie, I have rarely seen something as crazy. One of the only cases of someone who can legitimately say that "life should be lived on the edge"...

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Saturday, July 26, 2008


L and I watched "The edge of heaven" (Auf der anderen Seite) yesterday - and both really liked it. It's more mature that Fatih Akin previous movie, and the permanent back and forth between the two languages was strangely appealing - Turkish being disorienting, German bringing back childhood memories.
After the movie, we stopped for dinner in Japantown, where we found multiple wish-trees. It felt very strange to browse through these anonymous requests - like reading through someone's diary. I found this one, left by a fellow rationalist, particularly endearing:
I wish for universal understanding of logic.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

We went to see "Bigger, stronger, faster *" with L. last week, and I highly recommend it; it's an excellent documentary, smart, funny, and moving. Rather than talk about it, here is one of my favorite moments: the Schwarzenegger cow.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Don't look any further than your own backyard

That's it, I now belong to the Oz-luminati, and I have seen Oz the Great and Powerful, in my own backyard, Dolores Park. As with most masterpieces, I had some idea of what to expect (L had briefed me quite a bit beforehand so that I would be ready), and I was still surprised. One thing I did not expect was the sudden switch from black-and-white (sepia, actually) to color; it is particularly effective, especially as it happens at a moment when the movie kicks into a scene that looks straight out of a deranged pothead fantasy - Munchkin land.
Munchkins in their natural habitat.

Munchkins sighting in Los Angeles.

Anyways, it was really fun. The open-air showing created a great ambiance; there was quite a crowd, strong whiffs of exotic plants being inhaled, and L and I had a big bag of popcorn and a great time. The movie is quite literally for all audiences: the dog of our grass neighbors really got into the movie, and strongly identified with the adventures of Toto the dog; at the same time, there is quite some exegesis around the movie, and its interpretation as a commentary on the relevance of the Gold Standard and other monetary policy considerations in the US. As a novice freshly initiated, I won't dare to comment on this question, but I definitely recommend this movie to fellow companions who want to gain a better understanding of America!

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Foundation books

When I was in high school, our philosophy teacher gave us parts of the Bible as a reading assignment. His opinion was that, regardless of one's opinion about the contents, it was a worthwhile read because of its huge influence on occidental thought and writing. At that point, I had largely parted ways with catholicism, but I actually really enjoyed the experience. I had attended catechism as a kid, but there the book was studied as a source of guidance, and I had largely missed (or forgotten) that it was also the origin of numerous popular expressions.
I had a similar experience much later as I attended a class in graduate school in California. The professor made a reference to a road of yellow bricks, which was absolutely unintelligible to me. Looking around in the classroom, I could observe a divide: while most foreign students looked utterly puzzled, it seemed to make sense for Americans. Later on, it was explained to me that it referred to "The Wizard of Oz" - and I discovered that, while maybe less influential on western thought overall, Oz permeates the American language, with its set of references, covering topics from Kansas to what's to be found over the rainbow.
I haven't had the opportunity yet to watch Oz, but this will finally change, as tomorrow, the movie will be played in open air in Dolores Park. I have great hope this will help me figure out some of the missing keys in understanding America!

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

The mysterious Netflix queue

I have been a (very happy) Netflix subscriber for a while now. For the obvious reasons (I hate going to a movie rental place, finding out they don't have the movie I like, getting another movie and paying late fees), and for less obvious ones - like being regularly surprised at how my queue, which contains only movies I picked, looks so random to me, as if a complete stranger had done the selection.
The principle of Netflix is simple: you select on the web movies you want to see, put them in a queue, and one by one, the movies are mailed to you. Nothing random about that. And yet, when I look at my queue, for quite a few movies I have no clue when and why I put them in there. I guess it has to do with this: I tend to put movies I really want to see ahead of the queue, so obscure movies I added for odd reasons linger at the end of the pile, and spend enough time there that I forget all about them and why they are there. I was reassured to realize that it happens to others as well; L too regularly receives mysterious movies.
Anyways, in the end, I kind of like this harmless form of schizophrenia, where my doppleganger selects movies which I then watch. It's a nice chaotic process, where a deterministic process dissipates information and ends up looking random.
Well, as a result, I watched a great movie yesterday: Onibaba. You should add it to your queue.

(Image from www.shillpages.com)
Do you have this same experience with your Netflix queue?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Count Orlock in the Castro

Tomorrow evening, the Castro theater has a double-feature not to be missed: two silent movie masterpieces, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at 7pm, and Nosferatu at 9pm, with the Club Foot Orchestra playing live. There is even a third movie earlier that day, Sherlock Holmes Junior, but remembered that "the better is the enemy of the good", so L and I will just go to two movies, and skip Sherlock. Can't wait!

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Savages

Contrary to what you may think, "The Savages" is not a documentary about the Yanomamo, or some other tribal group living in a remote corner of the rain forest. "The Savages" is about Wendy, Jon and Lenny Savage, the daughter, son and father in the Savage family. It's also the best movie I have seen in a while.
You should really go and watch it. That being said, I also recommend giving careful thought to when, and with whom you will go. The movie revolves around the theme of the body, more specifically its decay, aging and death; and the treatment is quite direct, which makes for some uncomfortable moments. I would definitely not recommend it for a date. I would also advise not to go if what you need is some cheering up. There are some very funny moments, and the ending is happy, sort of, but it's definitely not a feel-good movie.
The story opens with Lenny Savage, the aging father, having a fit of dementia; he has to move out of his residence, and as a result, his two estranged children, Wendy and Jon, suddenly have to figure out what to do with him. The acting of the movie is absolutely flawless. I was especially touched by the relationship between the brother (Philip Seymour Hoffman, from "Capote") and sister (Laura Linney, from "The Squid and the Whale"); their struggle coping with this body irrupting in their life with a heavy luggage of anxiety, and their closeness, with a deep mutual understanding, and an ability to push each other's buttons, are perfect.
Unfortunately, "The Savages" has been released at about the same time as "Juno", which has taken the "darling indie movie of the moment" spotlight; hopefully, when the Juno craze fades out, its time to shine will come!


Friday, December 28, 2007

Juno, no Juno

It’s a weird phenomenon – every couple of years, a movie comes out, it gets great reviews, everybody loves it and raves about it, I go see the movie, and… I hate it – and have no idea why everyone is getting so excited. Most of the times, even when I don’t like a movie, I understand why it may resonate with others, and what they could see in it. But sometimes, I really don’t get it. I had that unpleasant experience some time back watching “The Spanish Apartment” (“L’Auberge Espagnole”), and it happened again this Tuesday, when I went to watch “Juno” with L.
I was seriously ready to leave after 30 minutes; but L and I decided to give it a bit more time, in hopes to witness the pumpkin turn into
“One of the brightest, funniest comedies of the year, whose smart script and direction are matched by assured performances”
(Rotten Tomatoes "consensus").

I’ll give you that, it improves a bit after a while (or did I simply become numb?), and we stayed until the end; but I can’t recall an actress whose delivery (pun not intended) made me cringe as much as Ellen Page. Maybe I am just getting old, and can’t take the too-cool-for-school mannerisms of teenagers anymore?


Monday, November 26, 2007

Bamboo Village

Last Saturday, L and I went to see "No Country For Old Men" at the Bridge theater, on Geary boulevard. I really enjoyed the movie; think "Fargo", but replace the cold, snowy mid-west by the hot, dusty Texas wilderness, and you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. On top of that, the Bridge Theater management sent someone on stage before the movie, to thank us for helping them stay in business for a 69th year as a neighborhood theater. I like to be reminded that I am a great customer - and I hope that they don't end up like their former neighbor The Coronet, which is still in the process of becoming the Institute for Aging.
I was much less satisfied by the dinner we had at the Bamboo Village; out of three dishes, one was good (the BBQ chicken cooked in coconut rice), the rest rather mediocre. But what really sticks in my memory is not the food, but the music; we had to suffer through what seemed to be the same one tune of spa music (you know the type, the annoying oriental, slow-paced stuff) playing in a loop, for a good hour. I think they will have to count on someone else than me to keep in business for 69 more years.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gone, Michael Clayton, gone

L and I went to see "Michael Clayton" and "Gone, baby gone" – and enjoyed both movies. I knew very little about Michael Clayton, besides that it was about lawyers, and starred Georges Clooney. It was a bit of a slow day, and we wanted to be entertained; and the movie did just that. It is by no means memorable – but it’s a good thriller, with a solid plot and very snappy dialog; a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
I have been a Lehane fan for a few years; he is one of the very few authors who manage to write “noir” today without sounding like a Chandler pastiche. Part of his strength is his gritty descriptions of the popular neighborhoods of Boston, so I was initially concerned that a lot would be lost in translation getting the Hollywood treatment - and then got very excited when I heard Ben Affleck, an outspoken Bostonian, explaining that he took a documentary-like approach and that "the characters portrayed in Gone Baby Gone are all real people". I thought the resulting movie was very good, mostly for that reason. It is a smart adaptation; the plot is simplified, but the spirit of the book is definitely preserved, and there is something raw and honest about the movie which largely makes up for its minor flaws.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Back from L.A.

After one week of vacation topped by an in-and-out incursion to Los Angeles, returning to work felt like a crash-landing back to reality. Since our LA stint, L has been a bit sick, and I haven't felt that hot myself. The ambiance at the office has been a been tense; we had a deployment scheduled this week, which is always a bit stressful. No matter how carefully you prepare these, there are always some last minute surprises - and rarely of the pleasant kind. In addition to that, a colleague announced her resignation somewhat unexpectedly, which also dampened the spirits a bit.
Going to the movies sounded like the perfect indication for our condition - a movie not too intellectually demanding, and, if not uplifting, at least with no excessive drama. So we went for The Bourne Ultimatum. I am still unclear as to why the movie received such high praise from the critics; but, within the requirements aforementioned, the movie delivered, and L and I had a very good time. I can't recall another movie where the edit of fight scenes is so fast-paced. Where fight scenes are usually carefully choreograph to highlight the elegance of the movements, Bourne's fight scenes almost make it look like the cameraman is the one taking the beating while trying to shoot. Until there is only one man standing, it is pretty difficult to follow what is going on, but the very fast-pace makes up for the lack of coherence, and is really entertaining. Which, overall, is also an adequate description of the entire movie.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Paris je t'aime

Dubious base-ball metaphor aside, I tend to agree with Stephen Holden's review. A collection of short movies under the theme "Stories of Love, From the City of Love", held great potential for disaster. There are some very annoying segments ("Place des Victoires", Nobuhiro Suwa), and the movie tries too hard to be clever at times; still, I had an unexpectedly pleasant time overall; most pieces manage to avoid being offensive, and a few are actually quite enjoyable (Coen/Buscemi, Depardieu/Rowlands).

For this kind of omnibus movie a success rate of two out of three is a pretty high batting average. There are no home runs, however, only doubles, singles and coy little bunts.
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Saturday, June 16, 2007


It's always nice to see a small-budget, independent movie, becoming a success - but I was rather unimpressed by "Once", and I don't understand why it is receiving such praise. I usually don't enjoy musicals much, largely because the music is really not to my taste; and this one was not different, even though the music was atypical for a musical. In spite of some nice moments, the movie dragged on and felt at times like a lengthy music video - unfortunately not for a band I would listen to.


Monday, June 4, 2007

Spider Man

Apparently, the special effects for the Sandman ran $100 million over budget; that is already impressive, for an overall movie budget of $250 million. But then, try to remove the character from the plot, and it works just as well (or would, with pretty minor adjustments), which begins to make it a bit of an expensive accessory.
OK, I admit it, it's not completely true - the character does bring more than special effects, and I liked the movie, at least more than what I expected given the so-so reviews it got. Nevertheless, the movie felt a bit long at times, and would have gained from some trimming.