Saturday, December 09, 2006

Not bad for a big budget action movie

I saw Apocalypto tonight. I’m not a big fan of big budget action movies, but as those things go it wasn’t bad. There was plenty of blood and action, some beautiful women and a few tits. The scenery was different and often striking, the costume and language interesting. A typical action movie. Mad Max on foot. A mostly mindless way to spend two and a half hours. Great art, however, it was not.

I’ll break from my usual practice of not giving away the plot because it is boilerplate big action movie. All is wonderful in the beginning. Bad things happen. A lot of people die bloody and spectacular deaths. The hero overcomes great obstacles and saves the girl. The end.

The opening scenes are based on Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer. Indians live happily in a forest paradise. The women all are beautiful. The men stand straight and tall. Sexual hijinks ensue. Everyone is laughing and having a good time. Then some bad dudes from the city, led by a guy who’s Nagual name translates as “The Lord Humongous,” leads his men on a rape and killing spree and hauls the survivors off to the big bad city to be sold as slaves or slaughtered. Along the way they meet a creepy little girl who foretells the rest of the movie in cryptic sentences that all come to pass. Then the Deus ex machina goes into overdrive, a convenient solar eclipse allows the hero to escape the obsidian knife that is about to cut out his heart. Then he runs at full sprint for at least 24 hours after several days of beatings and privations then getting speared through the chest. Along the way, he outruns a jaguar, jumps off a waterfall, struggles his way out of quicksand, takes another blow to the head and an arrow through the chest, all the while getting stronger and killing his pursuers in the best horror movie fashion. The best part was where he cracks a bad guy's skull and the blood sprays out in a fine mist. The audience got a few chuckles from that one. Will he escape the bad guys? Will he save the girl? It’s a cliffhanger. Yep, a cliffhanger. That’s what it is.

Then at the end, when he has no where left to hide and no more chance to escape, Cortez shows up and distracts the warriors that are about to kill our hero. I kid you not. Fucking Cortez! There were quite a few chuckles in the audience about that as well.

As I said above, not a bad action movie but not great art by a midnight mile. The only element of any interest whatsoever is the depiction of the Aztecs. They are portrayed as a sick and brutal people. They cut out people’s hearts, cut off their heads and toss their heads and bodies down the temple steps. There are quite a few skulls around and piles of bodies are a common site.I don’t have a problem with that. In real life, the Aztecs were a sick and brutal people, pathologically so, unrivaled in all of history on that score. The were as bad as the movie depicted them on a good day and usually a helluva lot worse. But there were also a lot of beautiful things about their culture and little or none of that was displayed. Too bad.

The movie opens with a quotation about how great civilizations are only defeated when they rot from within. I guess that was a comment on the Aztecs and Cortez’s arrival, but it could have something to do with the political situation in Australia. I don’t know. I don’t follow those things. Or maybe it’s a reference to the Jews. Were there Jews in Mesoamerica? Did they bring down the Aztecs from within? I guess if you believe the Mormons, it’s possible.

Anyway, character development is not handled well. The dialogue telegraphs that the main character is supposed to overcome his fear, but he never seems that afraid in the beginning so when he overcomes it in the end, it’s not much of a change, if at all.

The direction and cinematography are average for big budget blockbusters. There are a few nice shots of the jungle, the Aztec city is marginally interesting. That’s about it. There’s a lot of running through the forest, but if you want to see how that’s handled by a master, check out Rashomon.

It would be nice to see a genuinely good movie about the Aztecs. If Hollywood ever asks me, I’ll recommend adopting the short story The Night Face Up by Julio Cortâzar. Or if you are really interested, read This Tree Grows in Hell by Ptomely Thomkins. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read on any subject, fiction or non. Dr, Chuckling’s advice? Skip the movie. Read the books.

Update: Now that I'm reading reviews, I notice that every reviewer refers to the Mesoamericans depicted in the film as "Mayans." I don't know where this came from, presumably Gibson or his production company. I don't know if that's some kind of joke on the media, or what, but they are obviously based much more on the Aztecs than the Mayans. The temples, the ceremonies, and the bloody fact that the Spanish galleons arrive at the end leave no doubt.

Update II: Rex Reed in The NY Observer has a similar take, but phrases it much better.

A question of magnitude

Our insane right wing friends – the Rush Limbaughs, Richard Perles, John McCains, as well as the cowardly keyboarders are in extended two minute hate mode over the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's analysis of American policies in Iraq and its proposals to minimize the damage. Never mind that it is only bipartisan in the sense that it includes both Republicans and conservative Democrats who were stupid or cowardly enough to support the idiotic war when they had a chance to do something to stop it. Might as well just save words and call them morons, eh? And never mind that their proposals are equally insane, though certainly not as disasterous as Bush's "path to victory," which stripped of newspeak translates as " catastrophic downward spiral." What Iraqi army are they planning to train? There is no Iraqi army. Only factions.

In any case, our rightwing brethren, those who have been astoundingly wrong about everything, have a point. The ISG's report does not contain a plan for victory. If it is not, as they say, a plan to surrender, it is certainly a plan to retreat. If it is not an acknowledgment of defeat, it is an acknowledgement of inevitable defeat if we keep trying for victory.

The nutcase argument in favor of victory will resonate with a lot of Americans. After all, most people would agree that victory is good and that defeat is bad.

The problem, however, is not that we will be defeated when we withdraw from Iraq. The problem was that we were defeated when we invaded. All that's left to sort out is the magnitude of the defeat. And every day we stay, it just gets worse.

But the idea of not admitting defeat, of doing what's necessary to achieve victory could resonate beyond the right wing fringe. Everyone, even Bush, admits publicly that the present policies are not working, that changes will have to be made. I don't doubt that Bush is capable, if not likely, to advocate change by staying the course, but the only two logical alternatives are leaving or putting in more troops.

My guess is that we will put in more troops. Athough this is insane, it is the only thing that makes sense if one is still deluded enough to believe that there is any hope of victory. It is the "Lyndon Johnson" approach and will have a similar result. Many, many more dead and violent spillover into other countries before the inevitable denouement. And the inevitable denouement in this case is significantly worse than Lyndon Johnson's war. Dominos may not fall, but they will take a lot of damage.

Dr. Chuckling, however, has a can't fail plan for ultimate victory. It's called international rule of law and it's the only hope we have. Pretty much all educated people used to know this, but our right wing brethren and their joe sixpack and religious nutcase enablers were not among them. Unfortunately they gained power and fucked up everything for years to come, if not forever. But things can change. Blowback can happen and it doesn't just go from right to left.

But what to do in the short term? How to stop the troop increase that John McCain advocates? You'll see. Soon it won't just be McCain. It will be the entire right wing hate machine. Throwing more death at the problem is all that's left to them.

Dr. Chuckling has a short term plan as well. He recommends labeling the idea of increasing troops in Iraq as the "Lyndon Johnson strategy." Everyone with a platform should repeat it over and over again. The Lyndon Johnson strategy, the Lyndon Johnson strategy, the Lyndon Johnson strategy.... Didn't work then, won't work now.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A two-headed child or a headless calf?

I've been suffering through a period of brain death lately and have not written, or created by other means, much of anything. Fortunately, the big television died and there isn't much on anyway, so I've been passing the passing of my intelligence by reading. I read Brooklyn Follies by the bad man, Paul Auster, the children's book Holes, and several books of science fiction nonsense.

Now I'm bogged down in more challenging stuff: Blood Orchid by Charles Bowden, Tests of Time by William H. Gass, and Rios Profundos by José María Arguedas.

These books are not what you'd generally call page turners. The writing is so great that you stuck in sentences, or paragraphs, or perhaps on rare occasions, even pages, and they fill your head so full that it's difficult to keep reading. So I switch off to another book and the style is so radically different that it takes a several minutes to make sense of the words and I have to read again.

In any case, maybe when I'm smart again I'll tell you about it. I know there's a lot of demand for the ol Bowden/Gass/Arguedas review, but it will have to wait. In the meantime, though, I will share with you this paragraph from Rios Profundos, just because it's about words, and me like words.

The Quechua ending yllu is onomatopoeic. Yllu, in one form, means the music of tiny wings in flight, music created by the movement of light objects. This term is similar to another broader one –illa. Illa is the name used for a certain kind of light, also for monsters with birth defects caused by moonbeams. Illa is a two-headed child or a headless calf, or a giant pinnacle, all black and shining, with a surface crossed by a wide streak of white rock, of opaque light. An ear of corn with rows of kernels that cross or form whorls is also illa; illas are the mythical bulls that live at the bottom of solitary lakes, of highland ponds ringed with cattail reeds, where black ducks dwell. All illas bring good or bad luck, always to the nth degree. To touch an illa, and to either die or be resurrected, is possible.

Kinda makes me want to learn more Quechua.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thinking the all too thinkable

I fear we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of major disaster in the last year. It’s understandable. September 11, the ongoing disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan, New Orleans, government services, massive election fraud and in everything else George W. Bush and his henchmen have touched provides us with a feeling that it can’t get any worse. But it can always get worse. It can, it can.

George W. Bush is perhaps the biggest loser in the history of the world and he has two more years to foster new disasters or ignore warnings that could have prevented them. We know something's coming, at least one miserable failure, but we don’t yet know what form it will take. So in order to get ahead of the game, I’m listing a few possibilities and their likelihoods.

Disasters can come in three categories: National Security, Natural and/or Political. Am I missing anything?

National Security Disasters

Possibility: Terrorist attack.
Likelihood: Almost assured. The fact that there has been no major terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 is Bush’s only positive accomplishment. It is highly unlikely that Bush will leave office with any positive accomplishments.

Possibility: War with Iran
Likelihood: Fair to High. Attacking Iran would be so mind numbingly stupid that the armed forces might refuse to follow orders. But unfortunately, fostering a breakdown in the constitutional authority of the president would constitute a horrendous failure by itself, so we can’t rule it out. Otherwise, we know they are actively planning for a war with Iran and there is a large right wing constituency for it. Bush may feel that defeating the Mullahs and bringing democracy to Iran would be the crowning achievement in his legacy and that he has nothing left to lose but the lives of millions and the future security and prosperity of the United States. Just kidding, I’m sure the lives of millions and any likely negative consequences will not enter into his equations, which are something along the lines of 5 - 3 + 12 = 48.

Possibility: War with North Korea
Likelihood: Low. North Korea has nuclear bombs. Bush is a sniveling coward. If they somehow managed to nuke D.C., he could get hurt. Not gonna risk it.

Possibility: War with some small, weak country
Likelihood: Very High. If Bush could find some small country like Grenada or Panama to defeat, he might feel he could go out a winner. If Castro dies, which seems likely, watch out.

Natural Disasters

Possibility: Giant asteroid strikes earth, wipes out all human life
Likelihood: Small. But, if there is a giant asteroid hurtling towards us, it is very likely that Bush is ignoring the warnings. Maybe he doesn’t believe in asteroids, maybe he just thinks the “scientists” are trying to cover their asses, or maybe he thinks God will bail him out (again). Unfortunately, we’ll never know because we’ll all be dead.

Possibility: Very Nasty Hurricane
Likelihood: Small. Of course there will be a couple more hurricane seasons, and there may even be a big one, but after Katrina, state governments are on the ball and would not be dependent on Bush or his appointees being the least bit competent.

Possibility: Earthquake
Likelihood: High. Earthquakes happen all the time. It’s been a long time since one has struck the United States. And since the Pacific coast states are probably prepared, I’d guess it will happen in the midwest or on the east coast. If that happens, Bush will go into hiding, curl up in a ball and suck his thumb before emerging to trumpet his manly and agressive response to the disaster.

Possibility:Tidal wave
Likelihood: Fair. Most likely coupled with previously mentioned Earthquake. "Scientists" will warn Bush's aids, but they will be too afraid to disturb him when he's curled up in his fetal position, and he would ignore them if they did.

Possibility: Volcanic Explosion
Likelihood: Not likely, but possible. I recently read that Yellowstone sits on top of a super volcano, the kind that erupts every half million years or so and causes mass extinctions, and that it’s overdue. If anyone has bad enough Karma to set it off, it would be Bush.

Political disasters

Possibility: Declares national emergency, refuses to give up presidency
Likelihood: Low. If he were popular, it would be a near certainty, but only the most idiotic 30 percent of voters, and 90 percent of the pundits (Richard Cohen would lead the liberal apologists), would support him if he tried to do something like that now.

Possibility: Pardons everyone who ever kissed his ass or wrote him a check
Likelihood: Certain.

Possibility: Gets caught having sex with gay prostitute in White House.
Likelihood:Fair. You just know that he is worse than Clinton in every way. Can he get away with it for two more years?

There are so many more possibilities. Help me out here.