January 23rd, 2010

blur shotgun


(picture via Daile, via Movie of the Day.)

Last night Jenny met me after work & we went to S'mac for dinner. S'mac's premise is pretty simple: all macaroni & cheese, all the time. We got an alpine (aka "with bacon") & a la mancha (which was gruyere with fennel?) & a salad. It was a heck-a-ton of food. In the bathroom there was a painting of a house, the sort of thing you'd find at a mall art show-- but it was transformed into thing of lavish beauty with the addition of a single detail: a yellow Lamborghini. Tres magnifique. On the car with a ballpoint pen, someone had written some Park Slope themed graffiti, which was funny to me, because the precious macaroni & cheese bar is exactly the kind of place a "delinquent" Park Slope kid would hang out. After we left we had...we had a rough time, me & Jenny did. First we saw a bunch of cute old people, but that wasn't so tough. The tough part was-- well, the tough part was that we got on a train going the wrong direction! How did it happen! I prefer to think that the F train was running messed up through that station, as it so often does, but it is possible that we just weren't paying any attention. So that happened; Terror on the Rails! Oh, & it is also worth noting that I wrote another post for Kit Marlowe & Co.

Then at home we watched Inglourious Basterds. I have some Opinions about this movie! I probably articulated them at the peak of sense to Jenny last night, but let me see if I can recapture those fireflies, put them back in the bottle. First, I don't think this movie is as good as Kill Bill, let me just say that. How to even approach talking about this movie! I liked it, but I don't feel a need to ever see it again. The movie is all very uncomfortable. The premise of the film's emotional core is twofold: on one hand, discomfort. There are many long sequences in which you grind your teeth while the Nazi conversationally dances around discovering the character's secret. Or in which you know or suspect will end in sudden brutal blood shed. Tarantino absolutely puts you on the edge of your seat with an anvil in your stomach. This is on purpose, & not a complaint, but gosh it makes it hard to watch. Unlike many of his other movies, where the dialogue is smooth & effortless even when the characters are pointing guns at each other or whatever, in Basterds the dialogue is excruciating. It is like the scene in which Mister Blonde tortures the cop...writ large. Again, this isn't a complaint, this is a recognition of intent. The other side of this coin, the other emotion Tarantino has to offer you is: relentless commedic tone. Everything is always just shy of being a jest. A nihilistic little joke.

Christoph Waltz's SS Officer is amazing. I mean, he's just filled with cunning & menace & good humor. Really, the opening chapter of this movie is intimidating as hell. Typically all the scenes in which the Nazi's menace the innocent resistance people end with the resistance clamming up, right? Bold negation of bullying! Not so much here; it is plain as the nose on your face that the guy is in some deep trouble. Everyone else is better than serviceable; Pitt's relentless accent, or the steel spine of Laurent-- still, all over shadowed by Waltz. There are a lot of nice tricks, like the face in the smoke, & a lot of great cuts (you know, talking about something & then Tarantino inserts a ten second clip of it). I also find it funny that Tarantino, who has been digging on reinventing the grindhouse films, the kung-fu movies, the blacksploitation movies, has moved on to reinventing the over blown war movie, which is still alive & kicking in the American cinema. Seriously, the next Band of Private Ryan's Black Hawk in Iwo Jima movie, which will invariably come, is screwed, considering Tarantino just laid the genre bare. So yeah; I liked it. It certainly elevates Tarantino's ouvre. It is punishing to watch, though, as the whole movie is non-stop tension; that stress is at least cut by smirking in the face of utter destruction. I expected, honestly, a lot more Casablanca homage, but there really wasn't!
sunset samurai

Consisting of "Shadow of the Torturer" & "Claw of the Conciliator" (3, 4)

Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' by Gene Wolfe.

& Genesis," with giants,
angels, & demons.

This is the first volume, & two books of the primary subject of New Year, New Sun. It is hard for me to review them, since this is my re-read, so let me sort of mumble for a bit about my impressions. I've been thinking of them in two parts, since that is how I read it; I finished Shadow of the Torturer & then lent it to Jenny to read before getting it back to finish Claw of the Conciliator. I didn't take copious notes for the first part, Shadow, but then after reading all that lit crit, I got in the habit of scribbling down page numbers & notes, so the second half, Claw is annotated with my thoughts through the reading, while the first goes bare! Before I start running down my page-number jottings, let me give a couple of impressions off the cuff. I think the first books slow build appeals to me. I would read a book on every single Tower in the Citadel. I'd read a book on the life of an apprentice of any guild. You don't need to woo me with a plot when the worldbuilding is this good. The second book's meta-texts are my favorite; the meta-text in The Book of the New Sun might just be the most charming asides of all. The clever jokes, the play on myth-- when the demons start yelling at Jahi for ruining the "the woman tempted me!" excuse, I just cracked up. I really like Jonas a whole lot, with his sailors cant, but I also really like Doctor Talos & Baldanders, & Dorcas.

Oh & let me digress about Giants, Aliens & Monsters for a bit, since kingtycoon & I were discussing them. I'm still not convinced Baldanders & the Undines are the same as Abaia (& also on page 204, the priest mentions Scylla-- total poetry, or Book of the Long Sun reference?). In "Eschatology & Genesis," the play Doctor Talos creates from the fragments of The Book of the New Sun (duh, of course the text is recursive-- in many points, in fact) the giants are the children of Gea, which is to say Gaia (352). In the play, Nod the giant acts & is intimated to be a kind of ha-satan-- like, a purposeful adversary-- that is wedding to the cause of man through marriage. I wonder at that, if that is a statement linking the giants as a middle step between humans & Lovecraftian horrors. Like, a literal blending at a genetic level. I don't know, just an idea as to the place of giants-- the other place where giants tread besides the water is under the hill, when the footsteps ring out (249). That whole sequence is all very Mines of Moria to me, though. Speaking of the mines & Kingtycoon; he was saying "why does Wolfe (as fictional translator) call them man-apes, why not "australopithecus" (247)? Well, I thought about it, I say two things. One, they are clearly an homage to the morlocks, to The Time Machine. Two, because they are alien to Severian. If they had been a type of ape-man Severian & the people of the Commonwealth had a name for, then they would have been "australopithecines" or something. Instead they are a horror in the deep, & so they are nameless but for description. A last note on this: I think the Green Man is the opposite of the Ape Man (229). I don't know about the Green Man's future, but I'm not convinced it is Ushas; it might just be another future where the sun comes back by non-theogenic means.

So now let me just run out the clock on these notes. The Claw turns water in to wine-- hinted at at first but later confirmed (239). What is up with what Jonas saw, a man in fur holding up a cup of flaming brandy while the ape-men knelt to him (255)? I thought tarot card, but that isn't what the Magician looks like. Oh & then when Thea & Vodalus discuss the etymology of Urth, Verthandi, & Skuld (269)? That might be my favorite part of the whole series, ounce for ounce. Then we shortly thereafter harken to the recurring motif of marionettes (277). Oh & Jenny! She was confused about a part of the book here, but the thing about Severian knowing Thecla isn't a secret, she talks about it at the table as being "dangerous" is all (279). Jonas says his ship was called the "Fortunate Cloud" & Hethor says his ship was called "Quasar" but how does that all fit in with the truth of Tzadkiel's Ship (300, 180)? In the wonderful "antechamber"-- where they hilariously serve only coffee & doughnuts-- the little girl sees Thecla; is this a special case for just Severian, or is it typical for the analeptic alzabo (321)? At the Vatic Fountain, Severian has his fortune read-- Sword, Rose above a River, Waves, a Rod then Chair then Towers, then finally a Star (338). That makes me think of the tomb young Severian hung around in, marked with a Fountain over Water, a flying Ship, & a Rose (17). I really like when Severian sweats blood when he sees an angel-- is that ever confirmed as Tzadkiel (337). Speaking of unconfirmed, I really think the wizened old man is Father Inire, the inhumi (338). I wonder in fact if the bite on Jolenta's wrist wasn't from him (388). I'd always assumed before she had slit her wrist herself, but now I'm not so sure. I had to look up the names the Contessa cries in "Eschatology & Genesis" but they are just her maids (356). Gene Wolfe peaks through the text & frankly sets himself up as semi-divine when he talks about the Conciliator being the thought of someone "for whom our actuality is no more real than the paper theaters of the toy sellers" (381). After all, isn't he god for all of them in the book, anyhow?