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Doug C

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Everything posted by Doug C

  1. Peter, I was just reminded today that a little fruit juice mixed with seltzer water is a great substitute for soda when you really have the craving.
  2. I haven't played Rex; mostly because I associate the game dynamics of Dune so much with the world of Dune, and I'm not familiar with the Twilight Imperium stuff. And honestly, at $60 for Rex I'd rather spend $100 for a used version of Dune. Citadels with two players is great! There are some alternative rules you have to use, mostly in terms of the initial selection of cards. I forgot, another favorite (though I don't yet own a copy): Betrayal at House on the Hill.
  3. Yep, the only way I'm managing is to do my workout at UCLA during my lunch break. And actually, having a class with instructors helps me a lot, too. I'm not a structured person in general, and if left to my own devices, I'd probably do the same exercise everyday or only show up half the time. Alex was 2-3 when I was freelancing from home and spending lots of time with her, and it was really hard for both of us when I started my full-time job. Now I get home exhausted, and she's just up from her nap and wants to play the second I walk through the door. She's so adorable--actually sits with her stuffed animals on our doorstep beginning around 5:30 just waiting for me to come home despite anything Katie might say to her to dissuade her. Final workout today: ran a mile, 100 ring pulls, 200 pushups, 300 squats, and ran another mile. It's hard to type.
  4. Not weight so much, actually, but a pinched nerve in my shoulder and the first signs of carpal tunnel, headaches and dizziness, eye strain (from focusing on the computer all day long) and general psychological claustrophobia. I couldn't read on the van, either--for the first time in my life, I got car sick any time I tried. But audiobooks have helped with that as well. Be kind to your ankle!
  5. So sorry to hear about your health crisis, Peter, I hope you're feeling better. And thanks for the app suggestion, Darren, I just downloaded it to my Kindle Fire. I've always been a pretty active person, hiking and biking on weekends, biking to work. But when I was hired by UCLA last year, that required a 70-mile daily commute, and I wouldn't be biking that. And the commute meant I would have less time at home, effectively no time before dinner, and I wanted to focus on spending time with my daughter every night rather than going to the gym. So my workout vanished, and I soon found myself sitting at my desk and the vanpool virtually all day, and the lack of exercise was (literally) killing me. Fortunately for me, UCLA started a free strength and flexibility program (but attendance required) for faculty/staff--a three-month class in stretching and weight training 3-4 times a week--so I signed up for it during my lunch hour (and eat at my desk). Happy to say that today marks the final workout for the class (I can't believe 12 weeks have gone by!) and that I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would. I always hated gym classes. But the next class begins next week, and I'm definitely signing up.
  6. Yes, miss talking with you guys. Diane, my wedding was very small but we did everything ourselves, and it was a ton of work, so I know what you're saying! Looking forward to hearing more about Jason's film. I'm on Facebook a lot, FYI.
  7. Doug C

    Dr. Who

    Personally, I thought the Van Gogh episode veered way too much into historic wish fulfillment and sentimentality. I know Who often verges on camp (when it doesn't fully dive into it), but I just felt it was pushing too hard at the end. I'm losing interest in the series. Despite having high expectations from Steven Moffat, who can still write a tight plot in a pinch, the Matt Smith seasons don't have any interesting arcs or dramatic tension; I'm utterly bored with the static characters of Amy/Rory (who are thankfully leaving), the River Song intrigue way overstayed its welcome, and although I like Smith as a performer, he doesn't have much to work with. The Russell Davies era began well and then had its high points (often scripted by Moffat) and low points, but Moffat's era seems to take fewer risks and is more middle-of-the-road in terms of ambition. I'll still probably watch the next couple of episodes, but if there isn't a significant upturn, I'll check out. Update: More Daleks, ugh. More "is (s)he really dead" scenes, ugh. We need fresh material!
  8. Full-hearted agreement on both counts.
  9. Great to see a thread about this amazing writer who recently turned 80 and is still working, but it seems to step off in the wrong direction with its quasi-spoiler "concerns." Gene Wolfe is one of the greatest of all science fiction/fantasy writers, a modernist (indebted to Borges, Kafka and Nabokov) who brings heavy doses of unreliable narration, subjectivism, and psychological complexity. He's a devout Catholic but also a fervent admirer--and direct descendent--of the tradition of Christian genre writers from G.K. Chesterton to Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Fritz Leiber, Cordwainer Smith, et al. But like most of them, he doesn't write direct allegories or feel any compunction to indoctrinate his readers, so don't expect his imaginary worlds or speculative ideas to be religious statements or to convert anyone. You shouldn't hesitate to read the 12 volumes of his Solar Cycle (Book of the New Sun, probably his masterpiece, and its tangentially related Book of the Long Sun and its sequel, Book of the Short Sun) but if you have less time, his short fiction is equally engrossing. Folks here might be especially interested in "The Detective of Dreams," which is in The Best of Gene Wolfe collection. His three-part novella (structured similarly to A Canticle for Leibowitz), The Fifth Head of Cerberus, is a classic SF work; his own favorites range from the short story "Seven American Nights," which I recommend, to Peace, his non-SF novel from 1975 that will be reprinted later this year with a forward by Neil Gaiman, one of his most devoted fans. Be forewarned, reading Wolfe is like stepping off a precipice where you might encounter scenes, chapters and entire narratives in which it isn't entirely clear what is happening until much, much later, or encounter explanations of scenes that completely reconfigure your initial reading of them. Wolfe is fascinated by how we perceive and make sense of the world around us, and unless you're willing to do certain mental gymnastics along the way, his writing isn't going to make much sense or be that much fun for you. Wolfe is a writer's writer, you'll find plenty of famous admirers, including Ursula Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson and many others. Audible.com has released an audiobook of the Book of the New Sun last year that is well worth your time.
  10. Compared to 2002, big (belated) gains for Tarkovsky and Dreyer. It's a bit of a shock to see In the Mood for Love (even though I love the movie), and it's good to see Sátántangó and Jeanne Dielman on the Top 50 for the first time. I'm happy to see The Godfathers dropped from the Top 10, but hard to believe the directors put Apocalypse Now on their Top 10.
  11. Android is indeed a great game, but the hard sell is that it is such a looong game. Carcassonne and Settlers, of course. Wasabi!, a surprisingly fun tile game for the sushi fan. Talisman, the classic game republished, revamped and piled with expansions. Started playing this as a teen in the '80s, so part of its appeal for me is pure nostalgia. The original Dune game from Avalon Hill (see "nostalgia" above), still one of the best-designed games, with fascinating group dynamics (especially for fans of the book). Forbidden Island, a very fun (and surprisingly inexpensive) collaborative game. Three fast and easy two-player games my wife and I enjoy when we have less than 30 minutes to spare: Kahuna Lost Cities Citadels
  12. Doug C

    Board Games for Kids

    Not technically a board game, but I highly recommend Animal Upon Animal, which my four-year-old loves.
  13. Marker's work used to be a LOT harder to see, but Icarus started releasing a lot of his films on DVD a few years back. In addition to the three already mentioned (and A Grin Without a Cat deserves all the extra attention it can), I highly recommend his very insightful and moving film on Tarkovsky, One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich, and his brilliant character sketch of filmmaker Alexander Medvenkin and overview of Soviet history in The Last Bolshevik. http://youtu.be/dmHqfKeRhsE
  14. I wasn't familiar with the term "tensive symbol," Darrel, thanks for that--I think it's a term that's applicable to a number of filmmakers, like Tarkovsky, who always said he hated symbols, but clearly used consistent imagery to suggest certain feelings and associations throughout his films. I do, however, think your argument for this particular film has a lot to do with the fact that most of the movie is comprised of immediate, obvious, and emotionally/intellectually comforting words, images, and music. Several critics have used the term "kitsch" to describe it, and I strongly concur. The argument that "one must experience and appreciate this work emotionally rather than critically" is one that is regularly adopted by adherents of kitsch to explain why, say, Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkaide must be appreciated. "Don't think about it, just enjoy it!" So much of this movie was immediately recognizable, it could've come straight out of any corporate "green energy" commercial (happy people dancing in sprinklers in manicured lawns), New Age posters with "cosmic" visuals and flying orcas (no orcas in this film, but Mrs. O'Brien does waft aloft), and any high-tech nature/space imagery since Cosmos. Milan Kundera offered a famous definition of kitsch: "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see the children running in the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running in the grass! It is the second tear which makes kitsch kitsch." It's also the operative context for this entire film. Yes, one can take the images at face value and bask in their warmth and recognizability, and perhaps even draw a powerful emotional experience from it. But that doesn't make it great art; it doesn't challenge or stretch or enlarge our understanding of ourselves or the world we live in. For me, the film lacked a crucial sense of awe. For all its nonlinear construction and unexpected juxtapositions, it always had a feeling of familiarity and obviousness. The sense of uncanny symmetry or unusual beauty we associate with Kubrick or Tarkovsky (or even earlier Malick works) simply wasn't there; it all seemed demonstrative, reaching for effect. (What does it say about a film that the only way it creates suspense is to tease us with children playing with deadly objects?) The handheld camerawork even grows monotonous with its constant wide-angled voluptuousness; there's little sense of shaping or modulating the visual information; it lacks any dynamics. Even the cosmic imagery, with its billowing vapors and fluids (inspired by the much more profound work of Jordan Belson) lacked a sense of mystery--its organization seemed strangely literal; as if we should be surprised or moved to contemplation by gazing at a meteor slowly receding towards the earth after the film depicts the age of dinosaurs; as if every oceanic documentary in recent memory hasn't equated hundreds of glowing jellyfish to stars in the universe. It seems to me that most people who love the film love the idea of the film, its ambitions and trappings, rather than its execution. Evangelicals seem especially prone to celebrate its laudable intentions, and leave it at that. Maybe the eternal perspective is actually new and paradigm-shifting for some, the idea that individuals are wrapped up in a cosmic story. As a middle class father with a troubled midwestern upbringing who has a profound love of nature and a taste for mysticism, I am definitely Malick's ideal viewer. But maybe I'm too close to the material? I wanted to lose myself in the film and its imagination, but it always felt naive and preening, imploring me to join it rather than fascinating or compelling me.
  15. Doug C

    Les Mis

    I'm not familiar with that blogger, no, but he's definitely right about the film, and--I suspect--Toland's dominant contributions.
  16. Doug C

    Les Mis

    Yeah, it verges on the heavy-handed, but there are several dramamtic high points like the ones you mention, and the quality of the cinematography really can't be overemphasized. Deep focus six years before Kane.
  17. Doug C

    Les Mis

    Alan, have you seen the 1935 film version with Fredric March and Charles Laughton? If not, it's coming out on DVD in April and I'd highly recommend it. Even if it is a bit reductionistic, it follows the book fairly closely and was beautifully shot by Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane).
  18. Doug C

    A Black Thing

    In reference to earlier posts in this thread concerning Charles Burnett, I am delighted to note that it looks like Killer of Sheep (1977) is finally getting a theatrical and DVD release for its 30th anniversary.
  19. Doug C

    Into Great Silence

    I saw this in 2005 and thought the film was enjoyable enough; my problem was that is seemed rather haphazardly constructed, without a steady rhythm in its editing, and I would have appreciated much more structural rigor for a film of this type. Yes, there's no dialogue and that's effective, but I'm not convinced it's a major work of art. On the other hand, I didn't see it in optimal circumstances, either, so I'd be willing to give it another chance when it plays in L.A. in a few weeks.
  20. It's a very effective narrative film with a slow boil that really gets under your skin--and certainly the issue of government surveillance has never been more timely in this country--but some of its plot conceits are so silly that you really have to forgive them in order to fully embrace the film, and I know many cinephiles who won't. It's a film with its heart in the right place, but I watched scores of better, more challenging, complex, and adventurous foreign films last year. But I'm glad it's fueling a genuine cultural dialogue in Germany.
  21. Not only is this post probably too long-winded, but I've had to write it twice now due to a crash. (Of course, this version isn't as good. ) M, I like your article a lot; fwiw, I think it's richer and more nuanced than your previous entry (though I agree that the addition of first names throughout would be a good thing). I love your inclusion of Eliot's four-fold critical model and especially appreciate your citing of Tarkovsky and Dorsky as poet-critics, not only for their writing, but also for their films. It reminds me that criticism comes in many guises, including filmmaking-as-criticism (explicitly as in Chris Marker's One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich or implicitly as in Godard's famous quip, 'The best way to critique a movie is to make another movie'), which I know is something Flickerings cares about and tries to cultivate. You write: This could definitely use some teasing out. There are a wide range of conversations that are produced from reviews, from theological identity or dogma to art appreciation, cultural sensitivity, social awareness, or plain intellectual stimulation. Also, the personality or authority of the critic and his/her particular valuation versus the freedom and intelligence of the reader to think for themself. While it mght be said that all these fall under the realm of Christian criticism, I would argue that some are more productive, empowering, and ultimately important than others. I'm thrilled that you highlight the effect of commercial interests on Christian engagement of film, but I still bristle at the citation of Hollywood Jesus and Relevant Magazine, given that the issues you raise are universal (I don't agree that they are "less virulent" elsewhere). Those two publications have been standard whipping posts around here, but when CT refuses to pay its writers who review films outside of current wide releases, I see no reason to feel superior. Nor are they immune to the directive effects of junkets and media campaigns (ethically practiced or not). I must say that my initial hopes in the late-'90s with Christian discussions boards was to provide a non-hierarchical but serious discussion of films apart from editors, commercial pressure, insiders, and target audiences. In an effort to "legitimize" or "sell" that dialogue, I think we've lost some of its integrity. Absolutely, Greg--well put. Just because some communities have felt marginalized by the industry for years doesn't mean they should lap up whatever crumbs they are given now or fail to initiate their own avenues into culture rather than depending on handouts. Excellent point, Tim. This is why I think there is a place (even a need) for Christian reviews that genuinely foster enthusiasm and appreciation for film as an art form and perpetuate an awareness of its history, period, even without wider evangelical agendas. It's still valuable equipping. It's also why earlier in this thread, I suggested that I saw no problem with using the best and most established film appreciation texts for Christian courses, no "santification" required. (There could always be room for disagreement with such texts if needed.) And I like how you note that this is a societal "water cooler" problem (even a human one) and not merely a specifically evangelical one. Great examples. Also, Australia's first film studio was founded by the Salvation Army, and the famed FilmForum in Los Angeles--a major institution for avant garde screenings today--was founded by a UU church. And the Baptists financed Plan Nine from Outer Space! (A portent of things to come in more ways than one.) Speaking of Sister Wendy, I've been quoting from Sister Wendy in Conversation with Bill Moyers (available on VHS) for years. Highly recommended. Thanks for the heads-up on How Should We then Live?, M. As Bordwell writes in Film Art, "Warner Brothers can finance a film, distribute it, produce a soundtrack CD, promote the film on CNN and in Entertainment Weekly, and later feed it to the US cable on HBO and to worldwide cable/satellite showing on TNT--all within the same company." How many Christians, for example, know Zondervan is owned by HarperCollins, which is owned by Fox News Corp?
  22. I'm glad you liked it Jeffrey, but it sounds like we had a very different experience with it. I didn't find the characters frightening at all; with the exception of two or three doctors (and in this film, that's about 5% of the doctors depicted!), they were overwhelmed and under-resourced but doing the best they could. Many of them were downright inspiring, even if they had to emphasize their expertise over any personal affections. Puiu is the son of a doctor, and this film is no cynical caricature of the medical profession. I like the helpful neighbors with their moustaka, the ambulance driver, the doctors in their bathrobes, the technicians, the nurses at the end, etc. Although Lazarescu's overall predicament is harrowing, more often than not people do what they can and even offer him several breaks (squeezing him into tests amid the chaos, etc.). Your comparisons to CoM seem pretty stretching to me; this film has so much more to say about everyday human behaviors and interactions that CoM ever considers. It's a character study through-and-through (with Lazarescu as mirror, throwing everyone who encounters him into sharp relief), whereas CoM is just an action/war movie. And I wouldn't compare the tone to Songs from the Second Floor, which, for me, was a very snide and cruel film with a strong picturesque-tableaux emphasis. Lazarescu isn't interested in pleasing the eye; it's interested in opening it. The "religious consolidation" question comes up all the time in Puiu's interviews--the DVD even includes a conversation that asks about the Christian references in the film. (Puiu explains that, for him, the idea was to communicate that ultimately we all die alone, just as Lazarus died alone--Jesus arrived after the fact.) Like many great films, it raises questions rather than answers them. And the film raises metaphysical questions--even by omission--even if dramatically, there really isn't any time for philosophy; we're witnessing a medical emergency.
  23. I think it played at many film festivals; it certainly played at TIFF. (They announced there would be an intermission between segments, and Lee--who was sitting in the audience--cried out, "No there won't be!") One of the silly rules the Oscars have is that any film that debuts on TV rather than in theatres cannot qualify for its awards, so don't expect to see it getting any additional exposure there, either. I don't have cable or a TV, but a friend taped it for me in September. Apparently, the new DVD is superb, with Lee having added a fifth act and an audio commentary.
  24. I don't vote for star ratings, but I included the film in the best of the year thread several weeks ago. Superb and unforgettable--a major statement on the worst tragedy to hit the US in years. It's astonishing that so many critics ignored the film. I guess if it doesn't play in the multiplex...
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