New Lipstick, Same Pig

The Daily News and The New York Post both splashed their front pages in the city yesterday with headlines about the renaming of the Freedom Tower rising on the World Trade Center site. “NO MORE FREEDOM” read the Daily News, while the Post roared forth with “FREE DUMB TOWER.” New Yorkers can shell out a buck a day for these cupfuls of indignation.
Continue reading “New Lipstick, Same Pig”

The Empty Balcony: Burn After Reading

Watching a Coen Brothers movie is sometimes like attending a blind tasting. There won’t be any swill waved under one’s nose, but just what is in the glass could be surprising, or disappointing.

Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers followup to their best picture winner, No Country for Old Men, has a very serious plot. A former CIA analyst named Osbourne Cox, played by John Malkovich, is writing a memoir of his days with the company. His wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton), is secretly pursuing a divorce, and makes a copy onto disc of files from his computer, including the memoir and some classified materials. A secretary at her lawyer’s firm loses the disc at a gym, where it is found and comes into the possession of Chad (Brad Pitt), a personal trainer. Chad enlists his colleague, Linda (Frances McDormand), in a scheme to extort money from Osbourne in exchange for the disc. Meanwhile, Katie is having an affair with Harry (George Clooney), a Treasury agent who, coincidentally, meets Linda through an online dating service. It’s complicated, and only gets more so when plans crisscross and things inevitably go awry. Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: Burn After Reading”

The Empty Balcony: Soylent Green

The future is a rough place in Richard Fleischer’s 1973 film Soylent Green. Especially New York City in the year 2022. The population is 40 million, the city is in the grip of an endless heat wave, and apparently the only things to eat are colored crackers. At least the green kind, Soylent Green, to be particular, seem pretty popular. Man, of course, is to blame for the calamities of this bleak future, as the film demonstrates in an opening photographic montage that is artistically compelling. Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: Soylent Green”

Meritocracy, Anyone? – Part 4

The saga continues. Only a few weeks after taking his seat in the Senate, dubiously but legally, it appears the Senate’s initial wariness towards Roland Burris may have been well founded. First, Burris swore in an affidavit that neither he nor his representatives had any contact with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich or his representatives prior to his being chosen to fill Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Then, he stated that he had been asked to raise money for the Governor’s reelection but had refused. Now he says that he did attempt a fundraiser for the embattled Governor prior to his appointment, but had been unsuccessful. Continue reading “Meritocracy, Anyone? – Part 4”

Film in the Tubes: Sushi Conveyor

Simplicity can sometimes be sublime. Thus it is with a little film that Andy Scearce made in Japan a few years ago. It’s nothing more than a camera placed on a conveyor belt in a sushi bar. The camera is pointed outwards towards the customers, and makes a four minute journey through the restaurant, into the kitchen, and back out again. The joy in the film is seeing the faces of people as they look up and realize there’s a camera passing in front of them. Most of them do notice, and smile. A few don’t, and we get a light voyeuristic peek into a moment of their lives, grabbing a meal or having some conversation. For something so simple in idea and execution, it’s a striking film.

Sushi Conveyor used to be available by clicking here, but has gone missing. If I ever come across it again, I will surely link to it.

The Empty Balcony: Robocop

Dystopian future societies are the stuff dreams are made of. They are what grow from the seeds of our own decadence and shallowness. The moral bankruptcy, and sometimes outright horror, of the settings of films like Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, THX 1138, Escape from New York, and Soylent Green wouldn’t be possible if writers and directors didn’t look around them and see the lightning speed with which we throw ourselves into unknown futures, sometimes without regard for so many of the present realities which work so well and don’t need change. The ever-present message is that change, sometimes jarring change, is inevitable. Films that look to the future warily revolve around placing the viewer in the role of Rip Van Winkle. When the theater lights dim, the familiar world of today dissolves into the freak show of tomorrow. The overriding questions always being: Why are the people onscreen comfortable with this? Why doesn’t everybody see how wrong things are? Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: Robocop”

Meritocracy, Anyone? – Part 3

A quick note before I begin. In the last article under this heading, I cited three open Senate seats, in New York, Delaware, and Illinois. After that article was posted, then President-elect Obama named Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as his pick for Secretary of the Interior. Colorado’s governor, Bill Ritter, named Michael Bennett as Salazar’s replacement. They’ve managed, thankfully, to avoid controversy. If only such could be said in the cases of New York and Illinois. Continue reading “Meritocracy, Anyone? – Part 3”

What Country Is This?

First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.

— President Obama

Three days after Barack Obama’s inauguration and the new president has instituted perhaps the toughest lobbying rules for prospective and former members of his administration in the history of the office. He has revoked the veto power of former presidents and vice presidents to hide their papers from public view. He has signed executive orders setting a closing date for the prison at Guantanamo Bay, set up a panel to review the status of all prisoners there, and ordered the CIA to close its overseas black sites. He has ordered that all detainees be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and interrogations follow guidelines established in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nakedness and sexual humiliation, exposure to extreme temperatures, and other techniques up to and including direct physical harm. In announcing that order, President Obama became the first person in the Executive Branch in about seven years who was not lying when he said the United States does not torture. Continue reading “What Country Is This?”

October Horrorshow, Retroactive: Horror Express

Horror ExpressHorror Express is one of those good bad movies. The budget is low, the plot has twists and turns which serve little purpose than stretching out the running time, and a middling celebrity makes a token appearance to swipe a quick paycheck in exchange for lending some prestige to the film. Ah, Telly Savalas. During the 1970s, cheap European horror films must have been how he expensed vacations. His name is in the credits, to be sure, but the title of the film could easily be changed to Where’s Telly Savalas? Kojak takes his sweet time making his entrance, but such bliss, for Savalas plays a Cossack captain in command of soldiers in Siberia. He’s gruff and flamboyant all at once, smoking cigarillos and drinking vodka, never quite sure if he should talk with a Russian accent. It looked like his scenes were filmed in a day. Anyway, Savalas isn’t in a starring role.

Those honors go to Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Lee plays a British scientist who discovers a two million year old frozen ape man in 1906 China. Peter Cushing is a British doctor on his way back to the home islands. Lee and Cushing make an engaging duo, in a kind of reprise of their successes in the Hammer horror films. The Horror Express of the title is a train traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Continue reading “October Horrorshow, Retroactive: Horror Express”

In The City: The Subway Touch Rule

Never touch anything in a subway station. Never lean on a column, sit on a bench, or, God forbid, do a pull-up from a rafter. Subway stations have been coated with a hundred years of filth. Brake dust, rust, flakes of lead paint, rotten food, rain water drained from the street, dog piss, rat piss, human piss, vomit, all kinds of fecal matter from all kinds of sources. There’s no reason to believe the rare occasions when things are sprayed and scrubbed down that everything is cleansed. Even the smell of the air, a truly unique odor, tells one all they need to know about the tunnels. In the cars, it’s different. There are three options. Sit on a dirty seat, a thin layer of clothes between you and the plastic; hold onto a metal bar; or surf, holding nothing and risking falling on the floor, which is just as bad as lying on the track bed in some cars. In fact, the ideal situation would be to ride the subway in a deep sea diving suit which, upon exiting, is dipped in gasoline and set on fire.