Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bond. James Bond

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - My Thanksgiving weekend went all right---we had our usual Thanksgiving turkey feast Thursday evening, and once again I can't say I felt as tired after ingesting massive amounts of turkey as I thought I would, considering that these days, I always tend to feel tired at nights and also considering what I constantly hear about the tryptophan in turkey which is supposed to fatigue you. Well, whatever.

Otherwise, I ended up not being all that productive this past weekend.

Oh yeah: I did end up partaking in Black Friday "festivities"---we drove to a Walmart (the Devil!) on Rt. 1 at around 7 a.m. and ended up not buying a whole lot of interesting stuff except some clothes. My mother bought me a black leather jacket, however, that seems to have turned people's heads. When I went to work at the State Theater Saturday evening, the first thing one of the bartenders said to me was "That's a nice jacket, man." I got the same reaction from a friend of mine Tuesday night at the Inside Beat meeting: that friend further suggested that, if I got some nice Old Navy shirts and grew my facial hair out a little, I might actually look good (or, at least, better than I currently do, I guess). Not that I really care about his, uh, "fashion" advice, but that said, I do think the black leather jacket is kinda cool.

Anyway, I might as well get my thoughts on one of the two new films I saw on Friday onto the blogosphere right now, before I buckle my ass down to finish this Sacha Guitry French Film paper tonight.

Casino Royale (*** out of ****) is one film I saw on Friday; The Fountain is another. I'll reserve my thoughts on the latter for a later date, partly because I'm still just a tad unsure where I stand regarding Darren Aronofsky's new folly---is it a masterpiece or merely an ambitious, visually grand, fairly pretentious attempt at one? And if it's the latter, shouldn't we still welcome it into the modern film landscape simply for trying? (Hey, we've welcomed similar follies like Griffith's Intolerance, von Stroheim's Greed, and even Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and even accept them as timeless masterpieces---although, simply put, The Fountain, for all its grandeur and epic vision, probably won't ever be considered on the same plane as an Intolerance.)

Now, I'm not the most up to date on my James Bond knowledge; in fact, I haven't even bothered to tackle some of the character's most famous '60s adventures---such as From Russia With Love or Goldfinger, two films commonly considered the best of the franchise so far. So basically I'm accepting the superiority of Sean Connery's Bond on pure faith and pure hype. (To be honest, the only Bond flicks I've seen in full---I've seen bits and pieces of some of the others---are The Spy Who Loved Me---a good one, and Jaws, the silver-toothed villain, makes that one worthwhile---and some of the recent Pierce Brosnan Bond flicks, none of which I remember particularly well.)

The previous paragraph is also an admission that I don't necessarily have a fully formed opinion on the Bond franchise as a whole. Is it essentially an imperialistic and misogynistic franchise that panders to our taste for big explosions, cool gadgets and scantily clad women-as-sex-objects? Probably. All I know is that, after 20 features before Casino Royale, Bond has become such a known commodity that I wasn't really expecting a whole lot different from this new film---maybe a few good action sequences, but overall nothing that'll stand out in my memory the next day or week.

Turns out, though, that Casino Royale is not only one of the best big-budget action entertainments of the year---it easily beats the so-so Superman Returns and the mostly agonizing Pirates of the Caribbean 2---but also a lot more interesting on a character level than one had any right to expect from a Bond picture.

The best thing I can say about Casino Royale is that it, indeed, makes James Bond into a genuinely fascinating character---appropriate for a film which takes place as Bond is still easing into his "00" status. Those who have seen Daniel Craig in recent films like Munich and even as the volatile Perry Smith in Infamous should know what they're in for when they see him as Bond. He doesn't have the suavity of Sean Connery or Roger Moore; Craig is more in the tough, intense Timothy Dalton mold. But, as with Connery, Craig is able to suggest a complex, multifaceted character who always seems to be keeping something in reserve amidst his cold, ruthless demeanor---hints of softness to occasionally thaw out his monstrous ego.

Craig isn't just doing this on his own, however: for once, a Bond script---this one written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis (that guy again!)---seems to show a genuine interest in creating a genuine characterization with James Bond instead of simply taking him through his action-adventure paces. Thus, Bond is saddled with a love interest named Vesper Lynd (played by the luscious Eva Green) that seems to bring out the romantic softie in him---he's so taken with her that, after he's gone through hell and high water to bring down villainous banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), he decides he'd rather be with her than continue doing his potentially ball-busting (pun intended; if you see the movie, you'll see what I mean) spy work. A real romance in a Bond film? (I haven't seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but supposedly that 1969 George Lazenby one-off is the only other Bond film that tries to work in a sincere, fleshed-out romance among its action fireworks.) And yet one can believe Craig-as-Bond when he says to Vesper that she represents the last vestiges of his soul left.

But such a romance is not to be, and by the end of the film Bond is forced to break out of his romance-induced stupor and mow down a whole bunch of bad guys. Finally, the film's character trajectory is revealed: Casino Royale is about how James Bond lost his soul in order to become to the cool, fairly heartless Bond we all know and love. I wasn't expecting such self-awareness and humanity in a Bond film, which, during the Pierce Brosnan years, had pretty much lapsed into rote (if technically impressive) spy-game pyrotechnics.

Let me put it this way. Usually, when you go to see a Bond film, you know what to expect: explosions, cool gadgets, babes and coolly tossed-off one-liners. Casino Royale brings to the table things you wouldn't expect---a degree of emotional gravity, for instance, and a genuine interest in character development. And it's a lot of fun, with some of the best (often gadget-free) action sequences you'll see this year---an opening footchase in Uganda is a particular wow. (No, I don't think the film's various plot twists make a whole lot of sense---but hey, do we necessarily go to Bond films to get overly wrapped up in the storytelling?) If this is the kind of thing we'll be expecting from upcoming Daniel Craig Bond films in the future, I wholeheartedly hope for him continued success in the franchise. In fact, I'd say that he's precisely what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Today is Thanksgiving, and while my family usually isn't big on holiday celebrations in general---especially when it comes to Christmas---when it comes to Thanksgiving, we feast on turkey and our stuffing and our sweet potatoes like almost everyone else. I don't really know why we make an exception for Thanksgiving. Maybe it's just that Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that isn't tainted too much by religious origins. Maybe we like what Thanksgiving celebrates in general: being thankful, giving thanks. Or maybe the idea of a turkey feast is just too mouthwatering to resist. (Hey, I'm not complaining! Food is good.)

Am I thankful for anything in particular? Well, I'm thankful that I'm alive, and that I'm in fairly good health. Really, that's all that matters to me. No matter how stressful or frustrating life may be---and believe me, over the years I've had my fair share of both---and no matter how worried I sometimes get about my future, at least I'm around to live it. That's certainly something to be thankful for.

I'm also thankful I have my pair of eyes, without which I couldn't soak up the pleasures of films at their sensuous best.


That makes for a rather clumsy segue into Babel (*** out of ****), the recent Alejandro González Iñárritu film that I got to see late Tuesday evening. Does it represent film at its sensuous best? Probably not---but what recent movie does? (Maybe the mostly glorious A Prairie Home Companion---which turned out to be director Robert Altman's final feature, since he died Tuesday at the age of 81.)

Speaking of the late Altman, here we go again with the intercut multiple storylines---the so-called "hyperlink" structure. Last year, two big, self-important hyperlink films---Crash and Syriana---came out of Hollywood, and Babel is a new (and better) addition to that company. Altman was able to pull off using 24 characters in Nashville because he was able to tether all the various stories, themes and emotions to some kind of broad, coherent idea (Nashville as a representation of modern America in all its glory and shortcomings). Crash, alas, was too crude and schematic to come close to matching Altman's humanism; Syriana, for all its genuine political provocation, forgot the emotions. And Babel? Well, Iñárritu is no Altman either---at times he seems like a more compassionate Lars von Trier in the way he likes to make his characters suffer---but his new film certainly has the themes and emotions to make it compelling and, at times, shattering. I'm not so sure it has that broad, coherent idea, however---not the kind that gave his and writer Guillermo Arriaga's splintered storytelling style its interest in their previous collaborations, Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003). (Apparently Iñárritu considers Babel his third in an unofficial trilogy that includes those earlier two films.)

I guess I can see the appeal of the hyperlink structure: not only does it afford a writer and director a chance to play narrative games and keep an audience on its collective toes, but it also provides an opportunity to try to encapsulate a whole entire world in one movie. (Forget that older films---like, say, Robert Bresson's 1966 Au hasard Balthazar---was able to do this with merely a linking device---a donkey, in the case of Bresson's film.)

Certainly, that is what Iñárritu seems to be trying to do in Babel: suggest the human connections and discontinuities that bind us together or keep us apart the world over. The film's title is highly suggestive in that regard. For those who don't know the bible story of the tower of Babel: when ordinary people decided to band together and try to build a tower to heaven, God was apparently so incensed by their arrogance that he confused their language so that they could not communicate with each other anymore. Babel, appropriately enough, tells four stories in four (or five, if you count sign language) different languages, but the stories it tells deal, to a great extent, with miscommunication, with arrogance (both personal and political), with mistaken assumptions, etc.---in short, with emotions and thoughts that are universal.

The thing about Babel is: while an unfortunate incident of violence binds (sometimes rather tenuously) the four stories together, ultimately the storylines don't necessarily have a whole lot to do with each other other than those subtle underlying universals that the movie suggests. So at times the movie feels as much of a narrative stunt as, say, 21 Grams more than anything else. Ah, but one could say the same thing about the great granddaddy of all multiple-storyline films, D.W. Griffith's monumental Intolerance (1916): that, in spite of its core theme of "love's struggle through the ages," the stories---which span both the world and time---never really add up to anything more than four stories told at once. Yet Intolerance is considered one of the most astonishing achievements of cinema (which it is), and Babel has been met with its share of skepticism about the meaningfulness and legitimacy of its storytelling style. (Not that Babel is anywhere on the level of Intolerance, of course!) Perhaps the skepticism isn't entirely off-base: I mean, what does a wealthy American couple (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) traveling in Morocco (why???) have to do with a deaf Japanese girl (Rinko Kinkuchi) trying to get some?

That Japanese storyline has gotten its fair share of attention out of the four stories in Babel, justifiably so. It's perhaps Iñárritu and Arriaga's most powerful representation of their attempted broad theme: I mean, what is less obvious than having a deaf girl as a major character, one that seems to be crying for romantic attention from a person of the world? It's arguably the most emotionally fascinating of the four, and as Rinko Kikuchi plays the girl, you understand that there's something other than mere horniness driving this girl: there's a palpable desperation underlying her anger and frustration, perhaps borne out of her mother's death and her father's emotional and physical distance.

Emotional fascination is what really moved me in Babel. Obviously, when not all of these stories end happily, you're bound to feel some sadness here and there. But, even with so many stories going on seemingly all at once, I think it's amazing that we're able to respond to the characters and their emotions at particular moments as viscerally as we do in many moments of Babel. Even if Iñárritu and Arriaga can sometimes be accused of being overly cruel towards its characters, I rarely felt like I was being manipulated to feel for these people. I do think Iñárritu genuinely cares about his characters and tries to put us inside their heads, even as he and Arriaga use them to demonstrate some larger thesis. The situations in the film may become ever more melodramatic, but the characters and the world they inhabit remain convincing, and the emotions remain earthbound and real.

I bestowed three stars on Babel at the top of this incoherent little review thing. I'll stand by it, because it's sprawling and flawed, and at the end one might understandably wonder whether the destination was worth all the trouble and tears. On a visceral level, however, the film got to me, and I suspect I'm going to be thinking about this movie months from now.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Most Wonderful (Shopping) Time of the Year?

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - About this time of year in the past, I would most likely shoot my mouth off (literally and figuratively) about the commercialism that has corrupted the so-called "holiday season": how it's become all about the money instead of all about the "holiday spirit"---if there even is such a thing, or if that "spirit" is another pernicious creation of big chain stores to justify to people the expense of buying extravagant gifts for loved ones...and, in the case of Black Friday coming up soon, waking up at, like, 5 a.m. in order to risk life and limb to get particular gifts. Black indeed: who'd be greedy enough to add to such an ugly spectacle of consumerism?

I would say all that, but then I'd be unforgivably hypocritical.

Last year, my family entered into the Black Friday sweepstakes and got a nice Philips 42" widescreen plasma television set out of it (and I also got the third season of 24 on DVD for a little over $20---an unbeatable deal). And you know what? Yesterday I realized that I was already starting to think about---and heck, even get a little excited about---what great deals would be available at local stores this Friday.

Is it possible that I'm starting to become corrupted by the consumerism of the holiday season? Last year was a rarity: our family rarely partakes in Black Friday shopping, but last year I guess my parents felt like it was time to go high-def. A couple of days ago, here I was talking about how we should try to get a sound system this year to go along with our TV. And when I blurted that out at the end of dinner at home, I immediately started to feel a twinge of guilt. I dislike what Black Friday stands for---and yet here I am, thinking about waking up early as hell on Friday morning to become one of its participants. (Will the fourth season of 24 be available at a rock-bottom price this year?) Dammit, Kenji, didn't you take anything out of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead???

Maybe I shouldn't feel so conflicted about this. Admit it, Kenji, you like to consume. If you were much more high-and-mighty about consumerism than you claimed to be in the opening paragraph of this blog entry, maybe you wouldn't even bother to have a DVD collection in the first place; you could always rent if you wanted to watch a film you saw before instead of dropping down $20 or $30 for an extravagantly priced Criterion Collection DVD. As long as you don't go overboard, as long as you control your spending on don't spend too much on meaningless shit (and most of my DVDs, I like to think, aren't meaningless---except, maybe, my Die Hard Ultimate Collection set), you'll probably be better than most Americans regarding consumption habits.

Still, the wannabe nonconformist in me balks a little at how potentially excited I am about the deals that might await me come Friday morning; I feel like I'm becoming part of some kind of vast nationwide consumption machine. After my experience last year, maybe I am. Maybe, according to Best Buys and Circuit Citys across the country, I've finally seen the light, so to speak---and the light is beckoning me to spend, spend, spend.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Very Niiiice

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (*** out of ****) may be vulgar and unfair, but, for most of the way, it's damn funny, and I laughed all the way through.

Is there really much more to be said about this comedy---still No. 1 at the box office for the second week in a row---that hasn't already been said by other, better critics than I? Not really, so I'm just basically one more voice adding to the chorus of critical hosannahs this movie has been receiving from nearly everyone (except, say, near-reliable contrarian Armond White at the New York Press). So let me just suggest the reason I personally liked Borat, other than the simple fact that it made me laugh (and it certainly made me laugh more consistently than that glorified sitcom Little Miss Sunshine earlier this year).

Maybe it's just that I find the premise of this film so brilliant. What is the premise? Ostensibly, it's about this Kazakhstani who comes to America in order to try to learn more about it, but who gets sidetracked when he starts getting the hots for Pamela Anderson. That's the film's barely-there "plot." But what Sacha Baron Cohen has done with his character Borat is to conceive a character that embodies vulgarity and prejudice, pit this character into America, and try to see how we supposedly inclusive Americans react to such a character. Yeah, it was probably a risk to actually use a real country for his cinematic stunt (and of course the Kazakhstan government banned the film, for obvious reasons)---but of course Cohen's subjects would have seen right through his pose if he had used a fake country name. It's all a part of his stunt: Borat as a sounding board of sorts for most of our social ills.

What Cohen's remarkable stunt reveals isn't necessarily fresh or insightful---the limits of politeness in "civilized" society, the existence of certain intolerant attitudes (certainly more convincingly demonstrated here than it was in last year's hopelessly crude and contrived Crash), our obsession with image without considering the human being underneath---but mainly I was just dazzled by the breadth of Cohen's stunt and his satirical eye. This isn't just gratuitous shock comedy designed to make you laugh at its sheer outrageousness. It is outrageous---that extended nude-wrestling scene between Borat and his manager pushes the limits of outrageousness, to screamingly funny effect---but it's outrageous for a genuine, absurdist purpose. It's very smart about being dumb.

No, the movie isn't always fair to its real-life participants. When that gun-store owner responds to Borat's question about what's the best gun to shoot Jews, for instance, it seems like the movie is intended to make us think the owner is some kind of bigot, when in fact it may be just that he's just either trying to be polite. And of course there's that rodeo rider who, in responding to something Borat has said, says that they've been trying to get rid of homosexuals for years. Yet another instance of smug red-state condescension?

Perhaps. But Cohen isn't just aiming at red-staters. Borat is, like Dave Chappelle and like the two South Park creators, an equal-opportunity offender, so that both red states and blue states are targeted, and general decorum is blown-up sky high. As with all good satires, Borat is both hilarious and troubling, sometimes because of what it says, and sometimes because of how it says it. But as Pauline Kael wrote in her (negative) review of Network, "satire doesn't have to be fair to be funny."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Excitement on the Banks of the Old Raritan

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I finally saw Borat yesterday (although I missed Babel, which came out in wider release this weekend), but I will hold off on pooling my thoughts on it for a later entry. (I'm not sure I have a whole lot to say about it that hasn't already been said by others except that I laughed consistently throughout---but of course, why it's as funny as it is is a question worth exploring...just not now.)

Besides...didn't Rutgers have a big college football game last week? Which they won?

Oh yeah, that.

It's sometimes funny how being immersed in a particular environment can turn you around to becoming enthusiastic about something that, under other circumstances, you would normally not feel much enthusiasm about.

Last week's Rutgers-vs.-Louisville was a case in point. Even when Greg Schiano and co. were 5-0, I wasn't exactly jumping out of my figurative seat with excitement, I guess because I've just never had that much school spirit for any school I've ever been to, even this one. Always more important things to be spirited about, I've always told myself.

Yet, with all the hype swirling around the big game Thursday night---with the Daily Targum and other media outlets touting the game as the biggest in the university's history, with then-No. 15 Rutgers facing supposedly their highest-ranked opponent ever (Louisville was ranked No. 3 at the time), and with the game getting national exposure via ESPN---I couldn't help but get caught up a little in the hoopla surrounding the game. I mean, considering the sheer dedication and occasional violent shuffles on display Tuesday morning when tickets for the game went on sale (and sold out in a matter of hours), you knew that this game meant something big to the students here at Rutgers. And on Thursday, with news of classes being cancelled left and right---just because of a friggin' football game---and with students walking around in their scarlet Rutgers T-shirts and hoodies chanting "R-U, R-U, rah rah rah!"---well, maybe I'm just impressionable, and maybe I just like to go along with the crowd (not exactly qualities that makes a good film critic, I realize, unless, I guess, I can provide reasons as to why something popular is worth following), but I couldn't help but feel a little...spirited?

Of course, I'm not ashamed enough to admit that I found the game thrilling from start to finish, even when it seemed like Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm was in a rhythm during most of the first half and when it seemed like there just wasn't enough Ray Rice in that same first half. I'm not ashamed to indulge in verbal flights of fancy for the event: "the stars were aligned, and the weather was perfect (it was unseasonably warm and sunny all day) for what may have been the greatest football game in Rutgers history," something like that. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I was clapping enthusiastically when kicker Jeremy Ito kicked that game-winning 28-yard field goal to cap off the Scarlet Knights' improbable rally to beat the No. 3 team and move up in the BCS standings (they're at No. 6 now, while Louisville is down to No. 10)---this after Ito missed a 33-yarder a few second before but got a second chance thanks to an untimely Louisville offsides penalty. To put it simply: it was awesome.

I don't really care that I wasn't at the stadium to see the game in person, but, hearing the craziness that ensued after the game on College Ave. did fill me with a bit of regret that I didn't try to convince my roommates to drop whatever they were doing and just walk over to College Ave. to join the fun. Who knows? With spirits high, and with school pride seemingly binding people together on-campus, maybe I wouldn't have been nearly as much the wallflower that I usually am at your typical frat party.

Of course, a few days removed from the event, and perhaps you can't help but remember that there are infinitely more important things going on in the world other than college football. Hey, the Democrats scored victories of their own last week when they took the House and (barely) took the Senate. (Damn, was it a great fucking week last week!) And people are still dying in Iraq over a cause that some people still question.

Eh, but hey: we're young, we love our entertainment, and we ought to be allowed to enjoy something like this once in a while without guilt. Let the guilt come later. Last week's game, for at least a couple of days, was really something. And hey, I can at least boast that I was a part of it, and not hearing about it way after the fact. I was there. As that popular American song goes, "No, they can't take that way from me."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Twitch of the Eye Nerve

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I think I'm starting to get that twitch in my eye again.

Over spring break last summer, I had to deal with my very first instance of blepherospasm---the medical term for an eye twitch. It was a (to borrow a Britishism) pretty nasty little bugger: whenever I yawned, or even on random, inopportune occasions, that optic nerve would start moving on its own as if I was actually angry at something. Eh, who knows? Maybe I was angry at something at that point---angry at basically being stuck doing a shitload of work while many people I knew were off going wild in either Florida or some exotic island somewhere, for one thing (damn you, Media Ethics!). Mostly, though, it's probably because I either a) didn't get enough sleep in the previous few weeks, or b) was drinking a bit too much caffeinated soda in general.

Well, it looks like it might be on the verge of happening again. But hey, can I help it if I have a 50-point Editing & Layout design project to finish in a night---as I did last night, staying up 'til, like, 4 a.m. to finish---or if I seem to have trouble staying awake in my 1:10 p.m. French Film class even with a bottle of Mountain Dew constantly on hand?

Life of a typical college student, I guess. But hey, if I ever decide to become a teacher or something, at least I'll have some experience in the teacher lifestyle as far as sleep deprivation goes...


Can you believe it?

Our Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team---which, a few years ago, went something like 1-11, and is now 8-0 this year---is now so much the hottest ticket in college football that it was the source of campouts, fights and a special visit---complete with over 50 pizza boxes---from Coach Greg Schiano as students almost literally fought their way to advanced game tickets yesterday in anticipation of tomorrow night's nationally televised football game against No. 3-ranked Louisville. Who woulda thunk it?

Funny thing: I actually know pretty well the guy who---at least he tells me---was the first guy on line for the tickets yesterday morning. (If you're expecting me to reveal names, no luck; I guess you can e-mail me, IM me or Facebook me or something, but you're not getting it here; feel jealous on your own time.) He apparently went to Busch at around 8:30ish p.m. Monday night and camped out all night for tickets. Now that's dedication. (He told me he made the extra effort partly because he expected this to be his last football home game, so he knew he definitely wanted these.)

The game, for those who don't already know, sold at about around noonish Tuesday. And already you can find tickets for this game selling for over $1,000 on eBay! Hats off to whoever would be willing to plunk down that much money for one or two tickets to a football game; I'll applaud you even if I don't entirely understand you.

As for me: yeah, I think I'll watch it on TV. In fact, I'm actually getting pretty excited about it. Yeah, I'm a frontrunner, I know. But might as well have some team to root for now. My New York Mets were eliminated in fairly heartbreaking fashion, and the New York Jets are 4-4 right now and apparently not doing so good with its offense. But apparently the Rutgers football Scarlet Knights is firing on almost all cylinders, especially its defense.

I guess it isn't all bad to have some school spirit, right? Go team!


I liked Christopher Nolan's newest film The Prestige (*** out of ****) well enough even though a) I'm a bit of a Christopher Nolan agnostic (Memento is okay, I guess, although I've never been able to see it as more than a fleetingly impressive narrative stunt; and I still think Batman Begins, for all its obvious sincerity and seriousness, provided master classes in both editing incoherence in action scenes and prosaic compositions in a comic-book movie) and b) I thought this year's earlier movie-about-magic The Illusionist was more elegant and fun than this intriguing but kinda cold tale about revenge and betrayal.

Still, there is one way to take the various twists and turns of The Prestige seriously: as a study of obsession. Robert Angier's quest to avenge the death of his beloved wife is mirrored by Alfred Borden's obsessive quest to simply be the best. Yeah, the movie's kinda cold in its tone, but is there any way to really relate to such singleminded, driven people except to observe them as tiny, nasty insects going to near-outrageous lengths to outdo the other? Best, perhaps, to simply observe these specimens as tiny, nasty insects whose problems more or less don't really matter much in the grand scheme of things---except, maybe, to Christopher Nolan, whose previous films have featured similarly obsessive heroes whose existences seem mostly defined by other people's existence, or by vengeance. In that way, perhaps The Prestige is a kind of auteurist masterpiece, complete with fractured storytelling, hollowed-out characters and a mythical, storybook visual style (courtesy of DP Wally Pfister, who also lensed Batman Begins) that occasionally provides more visual interest than his other films have provided. (In other words, some of The Prestige looks genuinely, beautifully atmospheric, like frames out of some forbidden adult storybook fairytale.)

Some have complained about the supposed absurdity of the twists in this movie. Absurd? Perhaps, but I think they all make some kind of sense within the psychological context this film provides. (SPOILER WARNING) I mean, what resonance isn't there in this double-barreled tale of obsession when you find out that one of the characters was able to clone himself four times and use all four of his doubles to pull off his biggest trick of all?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Politiciana, Concluded

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Well, some of you may be pleased to know that I did vote today, and thus not only did I supposedly contribute to our country's democratic process, but I avoided possible feelings of guilt for not doing so.

Does this make me a better American citizen? Eh, probably not. I barely knew much about either N.J. senatorial candidate going in, so my choice---Menendez---wasn't exactly the most informed. And I basically voted all Democrat. Hey, one thing I believe for sure: we need a change in Congress. If the Democrats do take over Congress, it'll be very interesting to see how our good ol' Republican president George W. Bush will adapt to this, and how Congress will respond to him. Hopefully they'll actually learn to work beneficially with each other...? One can only hope.

I guess I really shouldn't have felt too guilty about not voting; I mean, I'm hardly the only one who won't be voting today, and I like to think I would have had a better reason for not doing so than sheer apathy. Still, I figure, might as well contribute to the small pool of young voters, since apparently so few of us vote anyway. Maybe, in some way, I can contribute to finally getting politicians to take issues regarding us college students and recent college grads seriously or something.

See, I guess there is still a bit of the old naive idealist in me after all.

Oh, and, last time I checked, CNN had already gone ahead and declared Menendez the winner anyway. Go team.

Monday, November 06, 2006


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Forgive my rather lengthy absence from this blog since my last entry. Last week I had wanted to pool my thoughts on The Prestige and Halloween---among other topics---but I guess I was either too busy or not enough in the mood---in other words, my usual pathetic excuses.

Well, I'm currently waiting for a particular computer lab on-campus to open up so I can work on an Editing & Layout project that's due on Wednesday (I have to design an inside newspaper page). So here I am, about to bitch election-day cynicism, once again. (Perhaps I'll get to The Prestige---actually a pretty good, intriguing film, although less sheer fun than this year's other magic movie, The Illusionist---some other time. And dammit, I didn't get to see this weekend's No. 1 cinema attraction Borat this weekend; gotta catch up on that for sure!)

Tomorrow is Election Day, and I'm still figuring out whether I'm going to be voting or not. Once again, I'm forced to admit that I don't really know a whole heck of a lot about either New Jersey senatorial candidate, Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Tom Kean, Jr.---and, judging from the sheer amount of smear ads I've seeing on television regarding this campaign, I'm not sure if I really care to know, either.

Now, I'm just going by what I've been hearing...but when I hear that this year's N.J. senatorial campaign has apparently sent a new high (or low) in mudslinging, once again I just can't help but throw my figurative hands up in the air and cry out, "Why does politics have to be so damn dirty?" Apparently the first televised debate between Menendez and Kean degenerated into insults and allegations. Issues? Who cares, really? Image-building is what political campaigning seems to be about, anyway. So if one candidate suggests in a brief TV ad that the other accepted bribes or soemthing, the better to put a dent in one's conception of a candidate. And in the mainstream media, what can we base our personal conception of candidates on? Unfortunately, it seems that we can only get an idea of a candidate through those 30-second to 1-minute ads, most of which seem intent on convincing us that we're getting undigested information about one candidate or another, when the fact of the matter is, it's only a pretense. I mean, what can you really get out of 30 measly seconds? What can you really get that convinces, anyway?

I dunno. Am I being knee-jerk cynical again? Maybe. What bothers me is that I think I've been indoctrinated to believe that my cynicism is a bad thing---that I'm just being blindly negative, that I'm just whining without trying to do something about my disillusionment, that I'm being smug.

But can I help it? When I hear the news media covering one more story about political corruption, when I see all these mudslinging ads which don't even come close to touching on relevant and potent issues, and when it seems like a struggle to try to find a source of good, solid, in-depth information about the positions of candidates, I can't help but feel just a little bit sour toward the system in general---toward the media's seemingly misplaced priorities, toward politicians' apparent hunger for power, etc. Yeah, maybe I am being smug about my political hopelessness---and maybe I'm just masking and pathetically trying to rationalize the simple fact that I'm not the most politically active and knowledgeable person, to say the least---but I can't imagine that I'm the only one that isn't turned off by the state of politics in general. And I don't like to think I'm just being knee-jerk cynical. I like to think I have legitimate concerns about what's going on in this faraway land called Politics. What are they planning? Do they really care about their constituents as people? Who knows? You're not necessarily going to get a good idea of such things from the mainstream media.

Still, the question remains: will I vote tomorrow? I dunno. Maybe I should---just to tell myself I voted, that I contributed to the political process, regardless of whether I know or even like any of the candidates. (Based on some of the stuff I've read about Menendez, I'd probably vote for him.) Will it mean anything in the long run? Not sure. But I guess it'll mean just a little something to me---that I'm at least some kind of active citizen, that I'm not entirely a political nihilist. Maybe that's something, I guess.