Monday, July 28, 2008

A Wager on the Future of Japanese Cultural Influence

So duvall and I recently went to see the Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Murakami is a Japanese manga-style cartoony pop artist who earned his place in the art world by

1) In a Duchamp/Dada/Warhol fashion had the audacity to put it there.

2) Further, had the audacity to embrace crass commercialism to the extent of putting a Louis Vuitton handbag store not just at the gift shop, but within the exhibition itself.

To his credit Murikami's work are beautiful examples of excellent manga-style craft, and beautiful to see.

Our debate was what this exhibit signifies about the future of Japanese manga influence on Amerian pop culture.

Duvall contends that this is only the beginning. As the current generation of American tweens obsessed with mangas grows up, they will be the culture creators and mangas will ascend, just as comic book super heroes have recently dominated summer movies.

My contention is the opposite. That cultural influence tracks economic influence. That what Japan inspired culture exists today is merely the aftershock of the '80's Japanese economic powerhouse, and that with Japanese economic power on the wane, so too will its cultural icons. Instead, we should look to Bollywood and China to rise.

Of course, only time will tell. Our 10 year wager begins now.

We will reexamine in July 2018.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wow: An Impressive amount of BS about the Dark Knight

So i have an annoying penchant for writing superhero reviews with excessive amounts of philosophizing bulls#@$ and grandiose grandiloquence and veritable verbiage. I tend to over-cite Nietzche and Plato a lot in my movie reviews.

As in my recent review of Wanted, or my use of the Hegelian dialectic while deconstructing Mallrats.

But I figure that's ok to be a bit mas@#$#@^tory in my writing, after all I'm only writing for myself.

So it was shocking to read MANOHLA DARGIS's new york times review of The Dark Knight which totally outdoes me in its bombastic self-indulgence (which says a lot).

Tossing around references to the Black Dahlia, Heat, Cirque du Soleil, 9/11, Zodiac,

And terms like "antiqued dystopia," "pop-Wagnerian," "postheroic" and "plesureably moody ressurection"

I must say, I was impressed.

And despite the review (or perhasp because of) I do indeed really want to see the movie.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

bryaNt PaRk project: RIP

NPR is canceling their new show, the Bryant Park Project

To add my two cents. This sucks. I just got hooked on the podcast. I would definitely donate money to save it, if there was a way to target my donations to this show. Instead, I'm left in this limbo, of wanting to donate money to npr but having no venue, since they only accept money by radio station, and until moving back to New York City, there was no station I'd really donate to. (The Ithaca NPR is rabidly marxist, and I only tune in to podcasts anyway. I don't listen to WNYC directly either, but do listen to radio lab on On the Media).

As an avid listener to npr podcasts, I already listen to hours each week. But as soon as I started listening to BPP, it quickly became part of my daily routine.

I was skeptical when I heard about NPR's efforts to innovate and target a "younger" demographic with more unedited fare. Their new show, the Takeaway, is boring. I thought I liked the normal ultra-polished NPR style. But I was impressed that BPP actually worked for me. Basically, it has the banter of the typical rock station morning show (which I like), but on npr topics. Good stuff.

Sad to see it go.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Review: Wanted - or A Nietzschean uber-mensch shoots people in satisfying ways

Bullets that curve. This could be the tagline and the recurring motif of this Assassin action thrill fest starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie, in this Timur Bekmambetov film (director of Russian runaway phenomenon, Night Watch) based on a Mark Millar graphic novel. Bullets that curve (fired by a gun slinger who slings a gun with enough angular momentum that the bullet curves like a curveball) represents a movie filled with action that bends the rules of physics to the point of breaking, but allowing just enough reality to suspend disbelief on the thinnest of thread, in order to spin ridiculous action into sublime bullet ballet.

In a dense field of action movies filled with Matrix inspired imitators, it is hard to innovate, but Wanted managed to provide three “Oh $#!^” moments in just the opening two scenes, moments where I couldn’t help but laugh at the beautiful absurd awesomeness (for the record, the first three for me were: assassins flying through glass, picking up passengers and driving on buses). And the rest of the movie lived up to that innovation using bullet-time action in new creative ways. It’s no longer enough to freeze bullets on screen, and actors in midair—bullets must fly with style, colliding in mid air, curving gracefully, cars must drive through the air with agility, and a gunman spars with a knife wielding butcher with panache.

Plot and acting are easy to evaluate. They do the job. The story begins with boring mundane ineffectual accountant Wesley discovers—in the classic Cinderella story—that his father is the best assassin in the world, and he is to be trained to avenge his father’s death. The story hangs together reasonably, if not grippingly. Acting is adequate by not being distracting. All are just incidental to provide a skeleton for more action awesomeness.

Along the way, there is some exploration of Nietzche’s concept of Will to Power (inspiration for much of Nazi propaganda), of the uber-mensch, the superman who imposes his will on his environment, as opposed to the mundane lives of most of the world’s sclubs who let the environment impose its will on them (a theme often explored in superhero stories such as most of Frank Miller’s, e.g. Batman: Dark Knight Returns). There’s also some nice loom imagery that simultaneously hearkens back to the Greek Fates, as well as to the invention of punch cards and binary code.

But all of that is just high-minded fluff for a movie that’s really just about wowing its viewers. And at that, it eminently succeeds.

Final Grade: A-

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Watch this for a good time.

I remember seeing this sometime a year or two ago when he had just started. There really is something beautiful in its goofy earnestness and simplicity. And somehow uplifting. Makes the world seem like a smaller place, by having him unchanged each time, but the world flashing around him. It's a nice image, of the world dancing together.

This is a good quote from today's New York Times "However you interpret it, you can't watch "Dancing" for very long without feeling a little happier."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Reviewlet: Resolved: It is resolved that this is a good movie.

While looking for something to play in the background during my workouts, I stumbled on Resolved, a documentary on high school debate. I put it on out of curiosity about what I learned is called SpRead. Or Speed Reading, the practice in high school debates, where people debate at ridiculously fast speeds, throwing eloquence out the door in favor of getting out as many arguments as possible. (Think the guy from the Micromachine toy car commercials in the 80's fast. So fast that the documentary needed subtitles for all the debate scenes.)

It was a simultaneously witty and entertaining and deep look at high school debate, by following the debate teams at two schools, one highly privleged Texas school that wins constantly, and the underdog predominatly black school that parlayed a victory in the Californaa state tournament, into a bid to start a revolution using the debate tournaments. Inspired by Marxist theories (specifically Friere but also Gramsci), these kids used each of their debate matches to condemn the very act of debate as a bougeois affectation, and seek to use their words to transform society. Basically the underdogs adopted a meta- debate strategy. Instead of debating the topic assigned (That year, all debate matches were about human rights abuses at Abu Grahaib and racial profiling) they debated the act of debating.

The movie culminates at a highly satisfying climax. At a qualifier match for the national championship, where the underdogs' meta- strategy was finally defeated by a judge's meta-meta- decision.

In all, any movie that climaxes in meta-meta- ness gets an A in my book.

Final Grade: A