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what i watched last week

Great Expectations. The David Lean version. Normally when a movie wins Oscars only for art direction and cinematography, your expectations aren't all that great ... pretty pictures, absent any other qualities, aren't enough. When the film in question is based on a classic piece of literature ... well, my hopes weren't very high. But this is a fine movie, with mostly excellent performances (the casting is what matters, I suspect) and a feel for Dickens that overcomes any condensation of the plots. At times, it plays like an old-fashioned horror story. #360 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.

Sparrow. Hard to describe this one ... what if Johnnie To made his version of In the Mood for Love? No, that's not really accurate. If anything, it's close to the spirit of early Godard, with its seeming disregard for plot and its willingness to be obscure while focusing on the charming interaction of the characters. When it was over, a friend said it was "cute," and he wasn't wrong, but that's a bit of a surprise coming from the director of films like The Mission and Fulltime Killer. 7/10.

friday random ten, 1973 edition

1. Dolly Parton, "Jolene." This oft-covered early hit for Parton is wonderful, but I continue to wonder how a woman so clearly dedicated to making the most of herself would write a song like this one. In real life, I imagine Dolly kicking Jolene's ass.

2. The New York Dolls, "Looking for a Kiss." If you're only going to watch one video here, this is your extra-special goody. Of course, if you can't stand the Dolls, ignore that statement. It's rare-to-me, that's for sure. Much as I love David Johansen, it must be said: Johnny Thunders ruled.

3. Aretha Franklin, "Until You Come Back to Me." We head into the mid-70s and Aretha's still cranking out the great hits.

4. Mott the Hoople, "I Wish I Was Your Mother." Interesting video from the Hunter/Ronson days, with Mick on mandolin playing Levon to Ian's Dylan. If you aren't familiar with this one, you need to take a listen. It's lovely in all sorts of odd ways.

5. The Who, "Love Reign O'er Me." With apologies to the many who know the story, the video link (which may come down at any moment) purports to be from the infamous Cow Palace concert where Moonie lost it. Seems real enough to me, anyway. For those who haven't heard, Keith Moon did a lot of drugs and alcohol even by his prodigious standards, and soon after this song, he passed out on stage. They stopped playing, Moonie was dragged back stage, they revived him, they returned to the stage, he made it a bit longer, and he passed out again. The Who tried playing as a trio, and then Pete Townshend asked the audience, probably half in jest, "Can anybody play the drums?" Out of the crowd came 19-year-old Scot Halpin. He played the rest of the concert, took bows with the band, and at the end of the year, Rolling Stone named him "Pick-Up Player of the Year."

6. Elton John, "Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)." Next to "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," my favorite Elton John track, mostly for "Love Lies Bleeding," which is an appropriately monster rocker after the terrific buildup.

7. Sly and the Family Stone, "If You Want Me to Stay." His last great moment, and isn't that sad.

8. Sylvia, "Pillow Talk." Can you be a one-hit wonder, two times? First she was half of Mickey and Sylvia, calling for her lover boy in "Love Is Strange." Sixteen years later, she had this solo hit. She wasn't done, either ... she co-founded Sugar Hill Records and was a driving force behind "Rapper's Delight."

9. Tower of Power, "So Very Hard to Go." Not sure if this is true, but I feel like Tower of Power elicits fonder memories here in the East Bay.

10. Robin Trower, "Daydream." I saw a lot of great bands at Day on the Green concerts back in the day ... Led Zeppelin, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Fleetwood Mac, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, The Grateful Dead, Santana, The Band. My fondest DoG memory, though, is of Robin Trower playing "Daydream" while someone in the top row of the upper deck slowly set loose a toilet paper roll. You'd get people trying to do that trick all afternoon, but only rarely did someone have the skill to get that paper unfurled so that the entire thing drifted over the stadium. Meanwhile, guitar heroes were perfect for those stadium shows ... you didn't need the intimacy of a club, you just let loose with killer solos that the audience could feel in their boots all the way to the nosebleed seats. This is Trower's greatest song, and I know a lot of people reading this are thinking "Robin Trower had a great song?" For some reason, he's not mentioned very often, although guitar heroes are making a comeback, so maybe he'll have his day. "Daydream" features one of the most exquisite solos ever by anyone. The video is from somewhere indoors, maybe Winterland, but when he holds that long note near the end of the song (talk about hurts-so-good), imagine that roll of toilet paper.

current dickheadism creeps back for a bit, past dickheadism is even uglier than we might have thought

Obama released the Bush-era torture memos, so he's done the right thing. But holy shit, the people running this country were some evil motherfuckers. Evil, and two-faced ... no wonder everyone hates us:

[T]he United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries. Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned appear to bear some resemblance to some of the CIA interrogation techniques....

Diplomatic relations with regard to foreign countries are not reliable evidence of United States executive practice and thus may be of only limited relevance here.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, the above is "explicitly saying that the standards we impose on others do not bind us in any way."

And this isn't just some marginal crackpot talking ... the memo quoted above was from an insider crackpot, Steven G. Bradbury, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General from the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel.

And this isn't just some marginal wrist-slap they are talking about ... they are talking about torture, done in the name of our country. As an AP report describes:

The methods authorized in them include keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food. Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee's cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee's family were also used.

Another memo adds, to the above, "insects placed in a confinement box" and, of course, waterboarding.

an extremely nice person

Jerome Waldie, who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 84, wrote a column for the East County Times just before his death that is well worth your time. Here's an excerpt:

One of my favorite doctors (I have seen 14 physicians during this ordeal) discussing his diagnosis sought to comfort me by revealing that in his experience every patient he had seen who had Giant Cell Arteriosis was an "extremely nice person." I was quite moved by his sincerity and his compliment. Though at a later conference, being the smart ass that I am, I asked him if I became a SOB would it be easier to treat my disease?

you say pecan, they say pecan, i say pecan, let's call the whole thing off

We're sitting at dinner the other night, and the talk turned to pie, mostly because we were going to be eating some very soon. Two of us were going to eat pecan pie, and after we gabbed about it for a bit, my son called a halt to the discussion and said something to me I'd never heard before: "You can't add a third pronunciation."

I've been saying the word "pecan" the same way for as long as I can remember, which is many decades by now. My son didn't care for the way I said it, though, claiming that there were only two ways to pronounce the word, and that I was trying to invent a third. I wasn't trying anything, I was just saying it as I always did, but looking at various dictionaries, it appears he's right that I'm not pronouncing it "right."

The two "correct" ways to say the word are PEE-cann and puh-CAHN. Well, here's how I say it: PEE-cahn.

So Neal's right, I'm inventing a third way to say the word. Help, I'm drowning! Does anyone else out there say PEE-cahn?

creeping dickheadism

I can't just reprint every column Glenn Greenwald writes, but he's been on this for a long time, and for whatever reason, I've decided the honeymoon is over. So I quote Greenwald:

That the Obama DOJ has repeatedly embraced the very legal theories responsible for much of the intense progressive rage towards the Bush/Cheney regime is now beyond dispute.  The question of motive -- of why Obama is doing this -- is far less clear.  Motives in general are notoriously difficult to discern.  It's often hard to know one's own motives, let alone those of others, and one can only speculate about the reasons for Obama's actions....

Ultimately, though, motives don't matter.  Simply put, there is no excuse, justification or mitigation for advocating blatantly unconstitutional and tyrannical powers or claiming that secrecy shields the President from the rule of law.  Nor is the faith-based belief that Obama is a Good Person who therefore deserves trust even remotely rational or relevant.  As Professor Turley put it on Countdown:  "It doesn‘t matter if you are a good person doing bad things. You are doing bad things."  These secrecy and detention powers are among the most dangerous and tyrannical powers a President can seize, and Obama's attempt to cling to them is deplorable no matter his "motives." ...

Whatever else one might say, the rule of law, the Constitution, and core civil liberties are the centerpiece of a healthy and well-functioning government, and nothing justifies an assault on those safeguards.  That was the argument most progressives made throughout the Bush presidency, and the more Obama continues on the Bush/Cheney path in this area, the more solid the progressive consensus against his actions becomes.

what i watched last week

Tell No One. French thriller based on an American novel is nothing like the kinds of movie France turned out in their New Wave, i.e. this ain't Breathless we're talking about. Well-done, interesting characters, takes its time and does things right. The complicated plot never gets too obscure, even if it may not all hold together in retrospect. All that's missing is the kind of inspiration that makes a movie like Breathless a classic. A good job all around, well worth seeing. 7/10.

Detour. What is left to say about a movie that cost about 1/5 of what we spent remodeling our house, and is now in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry? A marvel of ingenuity, and surely the best movie you could make, given $20,000 and six days. One of the least-perfect great films ... you can watch it in the spirit of Plan 9 from Outer Space and it will reward you ... but it is relentless, and Ann Savage is perhaps the #1 noir bitch in screen history. #390 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the 1000 Greatest Films of All Time. 9/10.