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dogville is coming, part 2

Wow. The reviews are coming in, and they run the gamut from J. Hoberman in The Village Voice ("a masterpiece") to David Denby in The New Yorker ("avant-gardism for idiots"). But even Denby may not reach the extremes of Charles Taylor in Salon (here is the link, although I don't know if it's available without a subscription):

Bullies can be just as persuasive in the arts as they are on the playground and von Trier is nothing if not a consummate bully. An American critic who slams "Dogville" opens him- or herself up to the usual charges of Americans being unwilling to face the ugly truths about their country (no matter how facile or smug or uninformed those "truths" are). But any critic who rejects the film is open to being told they can't accept dark, pessimistic art, that they'd prefer nice movies. That's a very macho vision of the arts, in which the "hissing naysayers" (as one critic called those of us who reject the film -- and let me own up: When I saw it at the New York Film Festival last fall, I hissed) should just go back to our nice humanist movies and leave the heavy lifting to the tough-minded....
[Von Trier] may find all human beings equally despicable, but that doesn't mean that they suffer equally in his films. Women are von Trier's select victims. That alone doesn't make him a misogynist. What does make him a misogynist is the sadistic relish he takes in the drawn-out destruction of his female characters, which we see as if watching flies having their wings pulled off under a microscope....
The movie is being acclaimed as a great indictment of the incipient fascism in American life, or a powerful statement about human venality. And yet it's been made by a director who sees his job as that of a puppet master ("To give up control you have to trust somebody, and it's easier for me to convince females to do this, for some reason"), who is willing to sacrifice the talent on-screen and the characters they portray to the greater glory of his "vision." If von Trier's supporters are really concerned with the themes of power and freedom and enslavement he pretends to address, should they really be kissing the backside of the fascist behind the camera?


forrest gump

This isn't really a review, just a cut-and-paste of some comments I made on one of my class bulletin boards. In one of my classes, we are watching Forrest Gump, and I thought the students should know what I think of the film. Here's an excerpt from my comments:

I really detest this movie. I'm glad we chose it for class ... I think there are all sorts of interesting areas for discussion ... but I hate it. What do I hate about it? Many people see it as an inspirational story about a person overcoming handicaps to make a good life for themselves. I understand that reading of the movie, but it's not mine.

I see two very unfortunate things happening in Forrest Gump. First, I don't think the film stops with "look what a mentally-challenged person can accomplish." I think the movie goes much further than that. Forrest is basically a better person than everyone else in the entire world of the movie. And he's not just better because he overcomes challenges ... I would argue that the movie makes the case that Forrest is better because he's stupid. He's simple ... he doesn't fully grasp the socio-cultural meanings of life, he's just a simple guy with a simple outlook. And, in the world of Forrest Gump, that puts him closer to god. He understands just enough to get by ... god and good luck do the rest. The unstated opposite side of that philosophy is that intelligence is a bad thing, something that just complicates your life, pulls you away from god. I find this to be a very dangerous philosophy ... I am sure our leaders would love for us all to be as simple and accepting as Forrest Gump, but me, I think it's better that we utilize our intelligence to the fullest, in order to get more out of life. I don't think the film makers agree with me.

The other thing I really hate is the character of Jenny. Jenny is the anti-Forrest ... she DOES know what's going on, she experiences the cultural milieu first hand, and she is miserable. Eventually, she gets mortally ill ... before she dies (for all of her sins, which consist of partying and politicking), she sees the light and returns to Forrest. Basically, Jenny is punished for not being stupid, punished for actually engaging in the world (Forrest just gazes at it from the outside).

Furthermore, the film's trickery, whereby Forrest and Jenny are inserted into many famous historical events, demonstrates where the movie's sympathies lie. There is no such thing in the movie Forrest Gump as a reasoned political stance. Politics, like everything else that is "of the world," is for neurotics ... only stupid people like Forrest are touched by god. And so Jenny waltzes through the various social movements of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and all of them are treated exactly the same: Jenny's participation is related to her neuroses, she only takes part because her life is empty, and protesting the war in Vietnam is exactly the same as doing coke in the disco era, that is to say, a fad for screwed-up people, something you will dump whenever a new fad comes along.

So you've got a movie that treats political activism as serving the same function for neurotics that cocaine does, you've got a movie where the most likable character, indeed the most successful character in all aspects of life, is a stupid man who luckily doesn't really understand any of that silly cultural stuff. I believe Forrest Gump is an extremely reactionary movie that promotes the value of stupidity for the masses. I think it's one of the most dangerous popular films I've ever seen. I hate it.


chris and steven's all-stars

One afternoon back in 1998, as I remember it, my sister Chris and I were sitting at a doubleheader at the Oakland Coliseum. You can't sit for seven hours watching baseball without having at least a few silly conversations, and in one of them, we started wondering who the best players would be in the future. We decided that we would each pick an All-Star team (8 hitters, 4 starting pitchers, one relief pitcher) and compare their stats over the next five years, which was 1999-2003. We didn't do to badly, either, although neither of us chose Barry Bonds: our hitters were pretty even, but Chris picked much better pitchers than I did, and she won the contest.

We've decided to start another five-year contest, and yesterday we finished picking our teams. I like to think we've done a better job this time ... the first time, we were choosing guys off the top of our heads, whereas this time, we had time to think about it. Time will tell ... if this blog is still here in October 2008, I'll post the results.

Here are our teams. First, defending champ Chris:

C : Jorge Posada
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Alfonso Soriano
3B: Alex Rodriguez
SS: Nomar Garciaparra
OF: Vladimir Guerrero
OF: Manny Ramirez
OF: Carlos Beltran
SP: Mark Prior
SP: Roy Oswalt
SP: Tim Hudson
SP: Barry Zito
RP: Billy Wagner
And now, my guys:
C : Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Marcus Giles
3B: Eric Chavez
SS: Miguel Tejada
OF: Lance Berkman
OF: Adam Dunn
OF: Vernon Wells
SP: Pedro Martinez
SP: Javier Vazquez
SP: Roy Halladay
SP: Kerry Wood
RP: Eric Gagne
Again, we're predicting who will do well between 2004-2008. The first time we did this, the two main differences between our choices were 1) Chris picked good pitchers, I picked Jimmy Haynes, and 2) I picked younger hitters than did Chris. I hope I haven't picked any crappy pitchers, but in the meantime, what about the ages of the hitters? We both picked 32-year-old catchers, but for the rest of the team, my infielders are ages 24-27, Chris's are 28-33, and my outfielders are 24-28, hers are 28-31. So it's another test of Prime Ages for Hitters, which as I noted above came out even last time around.


live sports begin again

I'm off to Spartan Stadium for the first home match of the new Earthquakes' season. It's also the first year I have a full season-ticket package ... I've always gone to every match I wanted to in the past, it's not like tickets are hard to get, but there are rumors that the club will move if attendance doesn't improve, so I'm doing my part. (It doesn't hurt that it only costs $243 for the entire season, plus at least one playoff game, for fifth-row seats at midfield.)

The Earthquakes have won the MLS Cup twice in the last three seasons, which is quite a turnaround from the time only a few years ago when they were the laughingstock of the league. (The championships began at the same time Landon Donovan arrived.) Tonight's match isn't part of the regular MLS season, though, which isn't to say it's an exhibition. The Quakes, as defending MLS champs, are participating in the Champions Cup for teams from all over our region. Tonight they take on LD Alajuelense from Costa Rica, and to be honest, it's highly likely this will be the Quakes' last match of the Champions Cup for this year. The format is that the teams play two matches, one at each home ground, and last week in Costa Rica, LD Alajuelense took a 3-0 lead, which the Quakes will try to overcome tonight. It's not impossible ... they came back from four goals down in last year's playoffs to beat the hated Los Angeles Galaxy ... but with lots of defenders injured and Landon Donovan sick, it's gonna be hard.

But it starts the season. The MLS home opener is April 10, the Giants home opener is April 12, and I'll see Robin again come winter.


the most underrated rock act of all time

This was one simple. I took the artist rankings from Acclaimed Music, which compiles consensus critical choices over the years, and counted down until I found the first act that was eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but hadn't been inducted.

The act in question ranks #39 on the Acclaimed Music Artists List. Between 1972 and 1982, this band had six albums that made Acclaimed Music's critics list of top albums. Three of those albums were in the top ten for their year. One album ranks in the Top 100 albums of all time. Between 1972 and 1975, the band also placed three singles among the leaders, two of them top ten for the year, with one single making #110 on the list of top singles of all time.

Moving to the All Music Guide, we see that AMG gave their highest 5-star rating to four albums by this band, and 4 1/2 stars to two other albums.

The band also placed four albums on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time list.

Finally, the band produced at least two major solo artists who had some success outside of the band. One placed two albums among the top 40 of the year according to Acclaimed Music. The other placed #87 on the all-time artists list at Acclaimed Music, with seven Top 40 albums (two of them Top 10). This gentleman also got 5-star AMG ratings for five of his albums, and worked frequently as a producer for acts as important as David Bowie and Talking Heads.

Yet the band in question is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Compare them to ZZ Top, who were just inducted. ZZ Top is the #259 artist of all time at Acclaimed Music. They never got a 5-star rating for any of their albums at AMG, not even best-ofs. Yes, I think we've found the most underrated rock act of all time.

And I think I'll let someone else tell us who I'm talking about, in the comments section. Can you do it without looking at any of the above-mentioned sites?


the daily show

Tim Goodman on Jon Stewart and The Daily Show:

At this point in time, the Little Show That Could on Comedy Central is essential television. If you're not watching it, you're out of one very important cultural loop. Stewart's time is now and "The Daily Show" grows in importance almost nightly, a mock news show that skewers both political parties and this country's gaseous nightly news broadcasts.


more on the lying sacks of shit

Here's Tom Daschle "on the Administration Attacking Good People for Telling the Truth" (link from Atrios):

The purpose of government isn't to make the President look good. It isn't to produce propaganda or misleading information. It is, instead, to do its best for the American people and to be accountable to the American people. The people around the President don't seem to believe that. They have crossed a line–perhaps several lines–that no government ought to cross.

We shouldn't fire or demean people for telling the truth. We shouldn't reveal the names of law enforcement officials for political gain. And we shouldn't try to destroy people who are out to make country safer.

I think the people around the President have crossed into dangerous territory. We are seeing abuses of power that cannot be tolerated.

The President needs to put a stop to it, right now. We need to get to the truth, and the President needs to help us do that.


l word

Those of you who don't watch The L Word but have heard about it probably have an idea in your head what the show is like. And I imagine you wouldn't be surprised if I noted that, beyond the ensemble cast of lesser-known actresses alongside the better-known Jennifer Beals and Pam Grier, The L Word has featured guest appearances by folks like Anne Archer, Rosanna Arquette, Helen Shaver, Holland Taylor and Lolita Davidovich.

What I bet you'd never guess in a million years is another person who has made more than one guest appearance on the show. That's right ... Snoop Dogg has been in a couple of episodes of The L Word.


hbo sunday

HBO debuted a new show last night, Deadwood, a western with pedigree (pilot directed by Walter Hill, the entire project put together by David Milch, who helped start NYPD Blue). Robin gave the pilot a thumbs-in-the-middle ... I probably liked it better than that. They had to introduce a lot of characters (including Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane) and establish a tone, which didn't leave much room for the kind of details that can flesh out a series. Still, Keith Carradine has an odd charisma as Wild Bill, and Deadwood the place looks suitably dirty. As one critic said, this is what America looks like without government, and it's not a v.pretty picture of unbridled emergent capitalism. I'm there for episode 2. (And yes, there is an ENORMOUS amount of cussing, not just variants of "fuck" but also hella "cocksuckers." I understand the reviews now ... there's so much cussing, you can't not talk about it.)

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

Speaking of cussing, we'll get to Steve Hammond's Sopranos F-Word Count in a second, but first ... what a terrific episode of Sopranos that was last night! First, there was the hilarious confluence of Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the brain-addled Junior sees CYE on his television and when Larry David and Jeff Garvin have a conversation, Junior thinks its him and Bobby on teevee. But (and this is something non-watchers of Sopranos probably don't realize), this episode was heavy on the "touching moments," but saying it that way sounds too flippant. This was seriously touching stuff, from Junior's apparently emerging Alzheimer's to Tony's pathetic attempts to be liked ... having Artie move in with him seemed like comic relief, but that last "Don't you love me?" line to Junior was wrenching. Great episode.

Last night reminded me of something I was gonna say a couple of weeks ago when someone on Sopranos was watching another HBO show on their television (I think Oz but I can't remember for sure). When Junior sees Curb Your Enthusiasm, it means HBO exists in the Soprano Universe. Which makes me wonder if the people in the show ever watch their own show.

Here's Steve's F-Word report:

Episode 55 - "Where's Johnny?"

Said the F-word 61 times

Total for the season 161
Average per episode 53.6

Most in a Season 5 episode - 61 - Episode #55 Where's Johnny?
Least in a Season 5 episode - 47 - Episode #54 The Rat Pack

Most ever in a single episode - 104 - Episode #37 Pine Barrens
Least ever in a single episode - 13 - Episode #27 Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood

Average for Season 3 - 51.77 per episode
Average for Season 4 - 42.1 per episode

** Note: all statistics are from seasons 3 through 5 **

(No L Word report today ... I'll watch it later in the week ... it got bumped from the Sunday schedule by Deadwood.)