Archive for April, 2010

A Town Called Panic

April 23, 2010

At a time when computer animation has made it possible to make incredibly beautiful and detailed cartoons, there seems to have developed in opposition to this an aesthetic of crude animation. South Park is a good example of this. As a member of a generation that grew up on the cartoons of Hanna & Barbera, not to mention Rocky & Bullwinkle, I know how potent cheap animation can be. A Town Called Panic carries on this proud tradition of cartoon slumming.

The characters in this film all look like cheap plastic figurines (the kind you can purchase in a bag in a toy store); some even have little oval stands underneath their feet. (According to Wikipedia, 1500 plastic toys were used in the making of this film. Truly, a cast of hundreds!) They all move in awkward jerky motions, as if they were being moved around by children. The three main characters are Cowboy, Indian, and Horse. Their names describe them exactly. It would be impossible to summarize the story of this film. Suffice it to say, it involves some strange aquatic creatures that keep stealing the heroes’ house, as well as a giant robotic penguin that throws enormous snowballs. This film is 75 minutes of pure, unadulterated silliness with no redeeming social value whatsoever. Highly recommended.

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The Real Poor

April 22, 2010

The other night when I was leaving a grocery store, I was approached by a woman and a man. The woman told me that they had missed their bus, and the next one wouldn’t come for the next two hours. She said they needed to pick up their daughter. She asked me if I could give them a ride. I was reluctant to say yes, because the place they wanted to go to was on the other side of town. (I’ve also had a couple of bad experiences giving rides to strangers.) I told them that I didn’t have much room in my pick-up truck. They said they didn’t mind. With that, I gave in. Their names were Madge and Eddie. (This is really a guess. I have a terrible memory for names.) Eddie squeezed himself into the dummy seat in the back of the cab, with the spare tire between his legs, and immediately fell asleep. Madge sat next to me. She told me that they lived in a van. The fan belt was broken. They had replaced it once before, but it had broken again, and they didn’t have the money to get another one. She said someone had told her that she could make a fan belt out of nylon stockings, but she was skeptical about this. I told her that this didn’t sound like a good idea to me. She told me that she and Eddie supported themselves by doing odd jobs, mostly yard work. They were both exhausted after a long day. She told me she had to get up early the next morning, because she had to be at a free medical clinic at 5 A.M. in order to have her teeth fixed. The clinic only takes a certain number of patients each day, so she had to be there early to make sure she got a spot. I dropped them off in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. They never asked me for any money.

These are the real poor here in the U.S. Not the tea baggers who paid $349 a head to hear Sarah Palin spout gibberish at the Tea Party convention. These are people whose voices are never heard, whose very existence is rarely ever acknowledged by the media.

North Face

April 21, 2010

The German film, North Face is a fictionalized account of a 1936 attempt to climb the north face of the Eiger Mountain in Switzerland. Two German climbers, Toni Kurz (Benno F├╝rmann) and Andreas Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) and two Austrians, Edi Rainer (Georg Friedrich) and Willy Angerer (Simon Schwarz) are determined to be the first to climb the dangerous north face. However they run into various difficulties. Their ascent is closely watched by a young reporter, Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek) – who is also Toni’s sometime girlfriend – and by her ambitious boss, Henry Arau (Ulrich Tukur).

Although I liked this film overall, there are a few problems with it. While the film frankly acknowledges that the climbers were tools of Nazi propaganda, I got the impression that the filmmakers weren’t sure what conclusions they should draw from this. Kurz and Hinterstoisser are portrayed as being politically indifferent, though I wonder whether that was true in real life. (Rainer and Angerer are portrayed as enthusiastic Nazis. They’re clearly meant to be less sympathetic than the other two.) Also, at the end Luise is inspired to move to New York and become a photographer. This reminded me uncomfortably of Titanic, in which Kate Winslet is inspired to become an aviatrix after seeing her boyfriend freeze to death in the North Atlantic. The idea here seems to be that a woman has to see her significant other come to a bad end before she can do something with her life.

What makes this film so powerful and disturbing are the climbing scenes. We see the climbers struggling in an absolutely unforgiving environment, where little mistakes can turn into huge disasters. At times I couldn’t help squirming in my seat. At the end we’re left wondering why some people undertake such dangerous pursuits as mountain climbing. The only explanation seems to be that they do it because they can.

Papal Culpability

April 17, 2010

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have announced that they are going to try to have the Pope arrested for “crimes against humanity” when he visits Britain in September. I agree that Ratzinger’s behavior has been criminal, but “crimes against humanity” seems to me to be a little over the top. (Hitchens should stay away from terms like “crimes against humanity”, since he supported the Iraq War. Such things could come back to bite him.) They also claim that the Pope has no immunity, because the Vatican is not a sovereign state, since it is not a member of the United Nations. This argument seems specious to me. Many nations (including the U.S.) have diplomatic relations with the Vatican. In any case, it seems to me that militant atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens shouldn’t need to fret about having Benny arrested. The very fact that these allegations about child abuse have been made public shows that the power of the Catholic Church has declined greatly in recent years. In previous generations people were afraid to make such accusations in public. (Don’t think that bad behavior started with Ratzinger. During the Paris Commune, for example, the Communards found in the Picpus nunnery nuns who had been imprisoned in cells for years, as well as instruments of torture.)

People’s whole view of Christianity is changing. A few years ago, the world’s bestselling novel claimed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had sex. In previous centuries, this would have been considered the worst sort of blasphemy. The Church would have had the author tortured and then burned at the stake. Now, church leaders could only wring their hands in impotent rage.

The liberation theology movement, which Ratzinger helped to kill, offered the Church’s last, best hope for reasserting itself in the modern world. Now, the Church is losing ground to evangelical Protestant churches in Latin America, and it is losing ground to shopping malls and to computer games in the U.S. All the Church can do now is circle its wagons and defend itself from accusations about pedophile priests and abusive nuns. I guess this just shows that even when you’re Christ’s representative on Earth, shit catches up with you sooner or later.

Update: I have since learned that people in Germany sometimes refer to the Pope (not affectionately) as der Ratzepapst. I swear, I’m not making this up.

As the above photo suggests, I believe that Ratzinger missed his true calling in life. He should have been an actor in grade B horror movies.

Fake Populism

April 15, 2010

Check out this article in the New York Times:

Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated.

More evidence that the Tea Party movement is not a populist movement. It is a movement of well-to-do white people motivated by hatred of Blacks and of poor people. And of course these people are receiving plenty of corporate funding.

A Prophet

April 5, 2010

A Prophet is a French language film directed by Jacques Audiard. It tells the story of Malik (Tahar Rahim) a young man of Arab descent who is given a long prison sentence for assaulting a police officer. The prison he is sent to is dominated by a Corsican criminal gang, led by Luciani (Niels Arestrup). The Corsicans get Malik to carry out a murder for them. When he succeeds, they place him under their protection. Luciani becomes a perverse sort of father figure, who is alternately kind and brutal towards Malik. He arranges leaves for Malik so he can carry out tasks for him. Malik takes advantage of these leaves to form his own criminal circle, dealing in drugs.

A Prophet is a study in the development of a criminal personality. When the Corsicans first approach Malik, he is revolted by the idea of killing a fellow human being. At one point, he even tries to have himself thrown into solitary confinement, just so he won’t be able to commit the murder. By the end of the movie, however, he has no compunction about killing anyone who gets in his way. Indeed, he seems to relish it. This is in keeping with the Marxist notion that consciousness is determined by material conditions. The prison in the film actually serves to create and train criminals. A Prophet calls into question our society’s whole approach to dealing with lawbreakers.

A highly recommended film.