Previous month:
October 2013
Next month:
December 2013

solar panel update

We’ve had the panels running for about ten days now, and have eight days of data to work with.

  • From November 7-14 of 2012, we averaged 37.75 kWh a day from PG&E.
  • From October 30-November 6 of 2013, we averaged 24.5 kWh a day. (We had more people staying here last November.)
  • From November 7-14 of 2013, we averaged 10.75 kWh a day.

So we’ve taken roughly 70% off our electrical usage from a year ago, and more than 50% off our usage from the period just before the solar panels kicked in.

The website that monitors our panel usage includes tidbits like this:

  • Since starting solar, we’ve reduced emissions equivalent to not driving a car for 179 miles.
  • We’ve reduced our carbon footprint equivalent to 181 pounds of CO2.
  • We’ve reduced emissions equivalent to planting two seedlings grown for ten years.

Keep in mind, it’s November in Berkeley. The daily power produced varies according to the amount of sun we get (i.e. how much fog there is). We’ll make more power in the summer time.

The PG&E bill will be lower by more than 50%, since they use a tiered system where you pay more for energy you use over a certain baseline. Our solar system is constructed to reduce our usage to approximately the baseline, so the 50% or more that we don’t use will reduce the bill by a lot more than 50%.


music friday, 2007 edition

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, “Rich Woman”. The pairing may have seen like an odd joke at first, but hindsight makes it seem inevitable.

M.I.A., “Paper Planes”. A favorite of mine, and many others (the video link, as of this writing, has almost 40 million views and more than 40 thousand comments). I love the Clash sampling, and the sound effects in the chorus. But who doesn’t?

The Ting Tings, “That’s Not My Name”. Goofy infectious pop, which some people think is a bad thing.

Los Campesinos, “You! Me! Dancing!”. Another favorite of mine. What was in the water in 2007? This one is also infectious, and I love the video, although far as I can tell it has nothing to do with the song. This song ended up in a Budweiser commercial. I wonder if my perception is true, that nowadays we have lots more two-person bands, but also lots more bands with huge numbers of members. No one liked my posting multiple videos of the same PJ Harvey song last week, but here’s a double-dip of Los Campesinos, with a live version of the song.

Gogol Bordello, “Wonderlust King”. Another band with a zillion members, although without Eugene Hütz there wouldn’t be a band.

Public Enemy, “Can You Hear Me Now”. From the album How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul???.

Bruce Springsteen, “Livin’ in the Future”. I’ve always been taken by the lyric, “We’re livin’ in the future, and none of this has happened yet.”

Miranda Lambert, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”. “To a hammer everything looks like a nail.”

Rihanna, “Shut Up and Drive”. Rihanna meets New Order? I’m there.

Kanye West, “Stronger”. Kanye meets Daft Punk? I’d rather it was New Order, but I’m there, too.


blu-ray series #3: naked (mike leigh, 1993)

(The “Blu-ray Series” is by request from my wife, who said I had to watch all of the Blu-rays on the shelf that I hadn’t gotten around to, before I bought any more.)

About Mike Leigh’s 2010 movie Another Year, I wrote:

I liked this movie quite a lot, about which more in a bit, but I have to hand it to Karina Longworth, who truly hated it, for closing her review by noting, “I haven’t seen a film this year that so openly invited me to revile each and every one of its characters—and I reviewed The Human Centipede.” I found the characters to be human (not centipede). They had their foibles, and there are many uncomfortable scenes in Another Year where people act in socially inappropriate ways. But in most of the cases, we aren’t meant to revile them, but to appreciate the place from which they are coming.

At the time, I hadn’t seen Naked, probably Leigh’s most highly-regarded film. Now that I’ve seen it, I have a better understanding for where Longworth was coming from. I didn’t hate Naked, although I wanted to kick it in the balls at several points. What struck me is that my description of the characters in Another Year (8/10) fit perfectly with how I saw the characters in Naked (uncomfortable scenes of socially inappropriate people), but I found the characters in the latter mostly infuriating. I think Leigh wants us to “appreciate the place from which they are coming” … his vision of post-Thatcher England is unrelentingly depressing. But he works harder in Naked to make us recoil from David Thewlis as Johnny.

Thewlis is as brilliant as advertised, and to the extent Johnny has been beaten down by the system, he elicits sympathy. But Leigh makes sure that Johnny is more than socially inappropriate. His self-loathing is immense, and while I found many of his inspired rants against the world to be incomprehensible, I admired his passion. But the way he externalizes that loathing demonstrates why the film has been criticized for misogyny. Johnny dumps on other men with endless philosophical ramblings. He dumps on women by having violent sex with them. Leigh attempts to show us that Johnny’s not that bad, by including another male character, an upper-middle-class landlord, who is more abusive than Johnny and has the power of his social status behind him. But that doesn’t elevate Johnny, it merely shows us that the upper classes have fewer qualms about their behavior.

As I watched, I felt that my own reactions to Johnny were built into the schematics of the film. I couldn’t accept Johnny because he spoke the uncomfortable truth against power. The more likely truth, in my case, is that I had trouble with Johnny because I recognized myself in his character, which was more than merely uncomfortable for me.

Still, I respect the lengths to which Leigh and Thewlis are willing to take the film’s title at face value, and to go with it all the way. I found the long scene between Johnny and a night watchman to be interminably dull, because I thought Johnny’s philosophy was mostly crap. But the way Johnny is stripped naked in an emotional sense is extreme and disturbing … it, too, goes far beyond merely uncomfortable. Little is done to make Johnny appealing, and there again, I respect what Leigh accomplishes, but it makes Naked a hard film to like. If that’s the point, OK, but ultimately I admired the effort a lot more than I liked the movie, and I can’t just pretend my reaction didn’t exist. So my own rating for Naked will be lower than most people’s, and it should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. #468 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10.

For a Mike Leigh film that I actually liked, see the afore-mentioned Another Year. I’m a fan of the late Katrin Cartlidge, but she had a habit of turning up in pictures I didn’t like. So, I don’t know, how about the Hughes Brothers’ 2001 Jack the Ripper movie, From Hell. And for a different 1993 movie that I really liked, go with Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. There were times during Naked, in fact, when I thought about Linklater, in particular Slacker and Waking Life. Now that I think of it, Waking Life would be a very good movie companion to Naked, if you like movies with lots of philosophical rambling. (If it isn’t clear, I liked Waking Life a lot more than I liked Naked.)


by request: invaders from mars (william cameron menzies, 1953)

Robin gets the honors here … we thought we’d watch a crappy, short sci-fi movie, and she chose Invaders from Mars.

Invaders from Mars has a special place in the memories of a certain group of baby boomers, the ones who watched sci-fi and monster movies on TV when they were growing up. Nearly everyone who saw it then can remember it now. It sticks with you. Seeing it in 2013, the flaws are far more obvious than they were when we watched it in 1963, yet it still has the power to grab us.

The movie is directed by William Cameron Menzies, who made his name in art direction and production design. He won the award for Art Direction at the very first Academy Awards in 1929, and received an honorary award from the Academy “for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind.” He directed the occasional movie, but had a reputation as someone who didn’t work well with actors. His budget for Invaders from Mars was a little over $250,000, which explains much of what makes the movie so ridiculed. There are endless scenes of stock footage of military exercises, the special effects are cheap, the Martians look like humans in pajamas … it’s the kind of movie that gets called a “classic” to signify that it’s a piece of cheap junk that we grew up on and thus have a fondness for.

All of this is true, but it does nothing to explain the hold Invaders from Mars had and has on a viewer. Glenn Erickson, the “DVD Savant”, has written extensively on the film, and he leaves me with very little to talk about. This is definitely a case where you are better off reading his piece and skipping mine. Part one begins here.

There are two primary reasons why Invaders from Mars affects young viewers (which then carries on into their adult lives). First, the story is told from the point of view of a ten-year-old boy, which makes it easy for a youngster to identify with the events as they are told. Young David has perfect parents who suddenly turn into mean-spirited, robotic adults. He goes to the Chief of Police; the Chief has been taken over by Martians, too. For a while, it seems like the only grownups in David’s post-Martian world are those who don’t believe his fanciful tales of a saucer landing, and those whose minds have been taken over by those Martians.

More than this, it is Menzies’ remarkable production design that takes the film to another level. Here is Erickson:

Menzies appears to have put the majority of his resources into one very large, very special set, the hill leading to the Sand Pit behind David's house. It is one of the most remarkable sets ever made, for a number of reasons. A slightly curved path winds up the hill between some leafless black tree trunks, followed by a broad plank fence. Atop the hill, the blackened fence dips out of sight into the largely unseen Sand Pit beyond.

The hill is 'deceptively artificial.' On first impression it reminds of the bridge in the 1919 Cabinet of Caligari, the bridge over which Cesare the Somnambulist kidnaps his female victim. The Invaders hill appears to be a similarly flat-perspective, diorama-like design. In static shots it resembles a painted backdrop. But when an actor walks up the path, all sense of perspective goes haywire. The hill is like a 2-dimensional painting, but 3-dimensional people defy visual logic and diminish as they walk 'into' it. It's a 'reverse forced-perspective' optical illusion. George MacLean seems to get smaller than he should as he reaches the top of the hill, and it takes a lot of steps to get him there. But the trees at the rear of the set don't give the right 'perspective clues,' so it almost looks as if George MacLean is shrinking as he walks. It is a subtle effect that is more easily perceived on a large screen.

I’m telling you, it is impossible to get that “Sand Pit Hill Set” out of your mind, once you’ve seen it.

Erickson is also onto something when he mentions Caligari. Much of the way the film is shot and framed seems borrowed from German Expressionist silent films. When little David goes to the police station, the walk to the front desk is endless, the room is enormous but almost bare, and the desk itself is much bigger than David. It’s just plain odd, and when you are a ten-year-old kid in 1963, watching this thing on a black-and-white TV, you don’t know anything about German expressionism … all you know is Invaders from Mars doesn’t look like other movies you’ve seen.

It is still a cheap, flawed movie. But it is also very special. 7/10.

There are several other films you might watch, if this one appeals to you. Any of the classics of German expressionism would work (Caligari is as good as any). For another 1953 sci-fi movie about Martians invading earth, you can’t do better than The War of the Worlds (not the Spielberg version). And Invaders from Mars was remade in the mid-80s with Tobe Hooper at the helm … I haven’t seen it since it came out, but my memory is that it had a good feel for the nostalgia of the original, without actually being any good.


what i watched last week

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971). Each of us has movies that we somehow missed, and there is no surprise in most cases. I haven’t seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or The Mask, haven’t seen Aladdin or The Lion King or the 1991 Beauty and the Beast, all of them popular movies that don’t quite fit my taste preferences. Robert Altman, on the other hand, is the kind of director who does fit my taste preferences, and I have seen many of his films. The Long Goodbye is probably my favorite, with well-known works like Nashville and Gosford Park right up there, as well. I also have a fondness for some of his lesser-known movies, like 3 Women and California Split. Heck, I kinda liked Popeye, and if I wasn’t very impressed by Buffalo Bill and the Indians, at least I saw it. McCabe & Mrs. Miller would seem to be right up my alley … it has the second-highest ranking of any Altman film on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time (#184). Yet somehow, I missed this one until now. As usual, it’s hard to come at an acknowledged classic for the first time, 40+ years since its release. And I admit the movie got off to a bad start for me once I realized there would be frequent Leonard Cohen songs on the soundtrack (this is not a knock on Cohen, or on the use of his music in movies, just the use of his songs in this particular case). The songs tell what the movie has already shown, and aren’t necessary. The shaggy-dog feel of the movie, which is v.Altmanesque, also takes a while for the viewer to get accustomed to. You have to give yourself over to the rhythms. Once you do, a lovely movie emerges, one that messes with genre just as surely as does The Long Goodbye. And for all its loveliness, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a very sad movie. But not sad in the cheap way of a standard weeper. Instead, it’s sad because we see how tentative is McCabe’s outward bravado, because we know that despite her competence, Mrs. Miller ends up in the opium den. We want the titular characters to have a happier ending, but that isn’t going to happen. And everything sneaks up on you, because when Altman is at his best, his movies always sneak up on you. 8/10. For more Altman, check out any of the above-mentioned movies … well, you could probably skip Buffalo Bill. For a depiction of emergent capitalism in America that offers a slightly different take, watch the TV series Deadwood. And if the sight of Julie Christie’s frizzy hair sends you into rapture, see Don’t Look Now, where, to be fair, her hair is more curly than frizzy.

Wild Boys of the Road (William Wellman, 1933). I remembered this being better than it actually is, probably because there are a couple of scenes that burn themselves in your memory. It matters less that Wellman directed than that it is one of Warners’ socially-conscious melodramas. And it’s pre-Code (a bit of a misnomer … the Code was already in place, but it wasn’t pushed too hard yet). Frankie Darro’s a bit much in the lead … he’s always bursting to show what he can do, like Mickey Rooney on the lam. (Darro gets to show off his circus background with a set of backflips at the end of the film.) Dorothy Coonan has a fresh-scrubbed appeal, although her film career didn’t amount to much. By the next year, she was married to Wellman (it stuck … they were married until he died more than 40 years later). And the various action scenes of the teenage hobos are exciting. The ending was tacked on by the studio, and it’s an odd one … a judge decides to help the kids, and there’s a WPA poster on the wall behind him, suggesting that FDR himself is going to take care of those kids just as soon as he can. 7/10. For more Wellman from that period, you could do worse than The Public Enemy. That movie’s star, James Cagney, shows up briefly in Wild Boys when they run into a movie theater that is playing Footlight Parade. And other, better, movies from 1933 include 42nd Street, Dinner at Eight, Duck Soup, and King Kong. Or, if you’re a sucker for Oscar winners, Cavalcade won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1933, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t recommend it.

Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967). 8/10.


blu-ray series #2: belle de jour (luis buñuel, 1967)

I figure, why not call it what it is? As I mentioned when writing about The Red Shoes, this project is technically part of the “By Request” series because my wife requested that I watch the Blu-rays I owned but hadn’t watched, before I bought any new ones. (Imagine my embarrassment when The Earrings of Madame de … and Weekend came in the mail today.) So, think of The Red Shoes as Blu-ray Series #1, and we’ll move on.

If memory serves, I once went to a Luis Buñuel triple bill back when I lived in Indiana in 1971-2. This was one of three, alongside Viridiana and Tristana. I guess I was prepping myself for my Film Major days, which were soon to follow, but all I remember of that Hoosier afternoon is that watching three movies I didn’t understand was an odd way to spend a day. The tricky thing about Belle de Jour is that Buñuel manages to convince you that you’ve figured out the movie, until you realized “figuring out the movie” is not the point. There would seem to be three … well, I’m stuck for the right word, not “realities”, that’s for sure. And you see the problem: I’m ready to explain, but I’m not sure what it is that I am explaining. In parts of Belle de Jour, we watch the life of a bourgeois wife in Paris in 1967. In other parts, we watch that same women in her second life as a high-class prostitute. In still other parts, we watch the fantasies of that same woman, fantasies that revolve around masochism and sexuality. Over the course of the film, it becomes fairly easy to know when a fantasy is being shown, but it also becomes possible that everything we see is a fantasy of the bourgeois wife, including her work as a prostitute. Or maybe the fantasies of the prostitute, although that’s a bit harder to construct, given the evidence in the film.

It’s a surrealism that sneaks into the audience; it’s not obvious surrealism like the eye being slit open in Un Chien Andalou. Instead, it’s a deeper surrealism that forces us to confront the essential questions of real and not-real in a context that seems relatively straightforward. The opening scene is a good example of this. We see a carriage with two young people in love … they have been married for a year. It is a typical scene, banal in the extreme. But then the idyllic ride turns into something else entirely, as the husband, with the help of the two men driving the carriage, pull the woman forcibly from the carriage, take her into a nearby woods, flog the woman, and begin to rape her … at which point we’re at the couple’s home, and we realize what has just transpired was only the daydream fantasies of the woman. Simple reality, which turns into harsh reality, which is then revealed to be “mere” fantasy, but a fantasy that offers an instant insight into this young wife.

Belle de Jour is said to be Buñuel’s most popular film, which I mention in order to point out that the movie is never boring, equal parts thought-provoking and humorous, and not the kind of “eat your vegetables” movie that is good for you but not very tasty. I tend to resist movies that are what I call purposely obscure, but Buñuel is so playful, it’s hard to hold a grudge. His examination of a female masochist probably still raises a few eyebrows, even now … the Blu-ray includes a short piece featuring Susie Bright and Linda Williams, who place the film in the context of sexual politics, and while I don’t think Bright or Williams intend it this way, it does conveniently show us that there are women who appreciate Belle de Jour with its imagined floggings. #191 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.

For the Buñuel movie that ranks highest on the TSPDT list, see Viridiana. For my favorite Buñuel movie, check out The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. And for another Catherine Deneuve movie from around the same period, you could try Repulsion. If all of this sounds too depressing, you could enjoy Deneuve in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.


ten years ago today

Still the most exciting soccer match I ever attended. The conference semi-finals of the MLS 2003 playoffs, San Jose vs. Los Angeles. LA had taken a two-goal lead down south, and in the return leg in San Jose, they started out by adding two more goals to their lead. The Earthquakes overcame that four-goal deficit, and then won in sudden death:


music friday, 1993 edition

PJ Harvey, “Rid of Me”.

The original recording. I like the concept for this video:

1993, on Jay Leno

Don’t know when, but I like one of the comments: “My boner has a boner” (for some reason, when she’s done, we get the video repeated without sound):

Sydney, 2001:

Another from 2001:

Can’t get enough 2001:

Montreux Jazz Festival, 2004:

 

Tie yourself to me
No one else
No, you're not rid of me
Hmm you're not rid of me
Night and day I breathe
Ah hah ay
Hey, you're not rid of me
Yeah, you're not rid of me
Yeah, you're not rid of me
Yeah, you're not rid of me
I beg you, my darling
Don't leave me, I'm hurting
Lick my legs I'm on fire
Lick my legs of desire
I'll tie your legs
Keep you against my chest
Oh, you're not rid of me
Yeah, you're not rid of me
I'll make you lick my injuries
I'm gonna twist your head off, see
Till you say don't you wish you never never met her?
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her?
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her?
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her?
I beg you my darling
Don't leave me, I'm hurting
Big lonely above everything
Above everyday, I'm hurting
Lick my legs, I'm on fire
Lick my legs of desire
Lick my legs, I'm on fire
Lick my legs of desire
Yeah, you're not rid of me
Yeah, you're not rid of me
I'll make you lick my injuries
I'm gonna twist your head off, see
Till you say don't you wish you never never met her
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs of desire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs of desire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs of desire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
(Lick my legs of desire)
Lick my legs I'm on fire
Lick my legs of desire
Lick my legs I'm on fire
Lick my legs of desire


my obsession

Time for one of my obsessive “what do my ratings mean” posts.

I haven’t rated every movie I’ve ever seen, but I’ve rated 8 Julie Christie movies. The average rating for her movies is 6.5/10.

I’ve rated 7 Warren Beatty movies. Average: 7.1/10.

I’ve rated 8 Robert Altman movies: 7.8/10.

I’ve rated 43 film-noirs: 8.3.

I’ve rated 170 sci-fi movies: 6.5.

I’ve rated 10 Stanley Kubrick movies: 7.1. This is a schizo average … I gave three of his movies 10/10, but also gave two 5/10 and one 4/10. The 10/10 came between 1957 and 1964; the three worst came from 1971-1999.

I’ve rated 6 Kathryn Bigelow movies: 7.3.

I’ve rated 6 movies directed by Oliver Stone: 4.3.

I’ve rated 16 movies directed by Steven Spielberg: 7.9.

I’ve rated 7 movies in which Julie Delpy appeared: 7.7.

This was mostly random, and mostly meaningless. If you didn’t already know I preferred Spielberg and Bigelow and Altman to Oliver Stone, you haven’t been paying attention over the last 11 years.

Criticker is a web site that does some interesting things with the data they get when you rate movies. It adjusts those ratings according to the grading system you unknowingly use. That is, what I mean by 6/10 might be different than what you mean by 6/10. Criticker breaks down your ratings into ten “tiers”, which are spread out according to your ratings. So if I give lots of 6s and you give lots of 7s, Criticker will tend to treat my 6s and your 7s as if they were the same. Here is how they break down my ratings:

Tier 10: 9.1-10

Tier 9: 8.4-9

Tier 8: 8

Tier 7: none

Tier 6: 7.4-7.5

Tier 5: 7

Tier 4: none

Tier 3: 6.8

Tier 2: 6-6.5

Tier 1: 0.9-5

Applying Criticker’s “tier definitions” to my ratings, you can read my rankings like this:

9 or 10/10: “Awesome!”

8/10: “Great”

7/10: “Alright”

6/10: “Bad”

Anything lower than a 6: “Terrible”

This interests me because when I think about a rating, I start with 6/10. If I liked the movie, I’ll figure out how high to go; if I didn’t like it, I’ll figure out how low to go. If I didn’t have any feeling one way or another, I’ll leave it at 6/10. To me, 6/10 is a base, where anything above that is good, anything below that is less than good. But my ratings suggest I think 7/10 is “alright” and 6/10 is “bad”.

Finally, samples for each rating:

Awesome!

10: The Godfather/Godfather II

9: The 400 Blows

Great

8: Attack the Block

Alright

7: Menace II Society

Bad

6: Mulholland Drive

Terrible

5: Men in Black II

4: Hudson Hawk

3: Forrest Gump

2: The Life of David Gale

1: Julien Donkey-Boy