Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Moose in Meadow Meets Indian Pipe

Sept 19, 2009
5:32 p.m. - A moose successfully crossed Route 116 near the Sunderland town line. At 6:50 a.m. the following day, a moose was seen near the Department of Public Works barn on South Pleasant Street.
- - Amherst Bulletin Police Report

Moose roamed Amherst College near marker twenty seven,
Indian Pipe rose weakly, date seven/eleven.
Beast showed self so briefly twenty September morn,
Morbid flow'r likewise, pale and forlorn.

Photo Credit : Nels Gunnarsen, visiting Amherst College Class of '78 alumni, now of New Braunfels, TX, for astute non-violent capture of "The Moose".

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Movie Review: The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World(2008)

In the end, a banquet restaurant is a banquet restaurant, whether it's in your little working class hometown town here in the USA or West Lake Restaurant, in Changsa, China. Sure the food is different, but much is the same: the huge quantities of food, the hordes of staff, the maze of noisy function rooms, the endless parade of parties of twenty, fifty, three hundred celebrating family events, the loud, corny DJ/MC conducting the rituals of the particular celebration, the backroom kitchens, the backroom management, the sales pitches to prospective clients -- very familiar if you ever had the joy of working weddings, birthdays, funeral banquets from the inside.

TBCRITW maintains a sense of detachment, and thus comes off as a documentary of operations at the most factual level. Add the personal story of the owner, a sharp, pragmatic, tough woman who tolerates no nonsense, and it is a decent portrait of a mammoth, family owned and grown "hospitality" business -- for better and for worse.

I felt sorry for the workers who seemed stuck, having hit an aspirational ceiling too young in a low-paying, mass production facility. I'd love to see the same story, perhaps the "real" story, inside this restaurant, from the folks who do the most basic functions of cooking and serving. That would be the really interesting, forbidden counterpoint to this story.

My rating: Three and a half little chef hats (out of five).
More information at IMDB: The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Some Kind of Poetry Found

Best of the Police Report, Downtown Edition, May 15:
April 20 - 9:57PM A bartender at a downtown bar told police a man left a suicide note on the bar and then left. Police were unable to locate the customer, but examined the note and determined it was some form of poetry.
April 24 - 1:06AM A man carrying a woman outside the downtown bars dropped her to the ground when police got there. She got up and left the area.

Happy Two Hundred Fiftieth , Amherst!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Movie Review: The Counterfeiters (2007)

The Counterfeiters is the true story of a still-living German artist who "makes money by making money" rather than making money from art. From a post-war Monte Carlo casino, the Bogart-esque Solly recalls in sepia flashbacks his arrest in pre-war Berlin by the local anti-fraud police captain. Caught up in the sweep of Jews into Auschwitz he survives five years by sketching portraits and murals for his captors.

Fate plucks him from his painting and drops him along with others into S.hausen, a specialty technical research camp where he re-encounters his old nemesis, now a military man on the rise in the new Nazi regime. The Jews in his specialty unit are charged with counterfeiting pound notes intended to destabilize the British economy and win the war for the Nazis. Unpredictable sadism, moral ambivalence, self-contradiction, and acceptance of specialty squad luxuries within a death camp combine to create a grim all-enveloping tension relieved only by unsentimental kindnesses, flickers of conscience, and gallows humor.

This is a movie whose darkness glows with body heat and soul. Its eclectic sound track includes "nigger music" and silence; its camera shots include fast, shaky zooms, selectively collaged glances, a microsecond of the moon seen through an overhead cage in a prisoner 'recreation' area. 'No rules' editing produces surprising moments, and cinematic discipline results in not even a single gratuitous shot. Every scintilla contributes to telling the story.

The Counterfeiters is a masterpiece, especially attentive to the details of storytelling, and touching so deeply that it will be an exceptionally powerful experience for different people for entirely different reasons. Imagine Cool Hand Luke meets Bridge on the River Kwai in Nazi Germany, yet one of the best Holocaust movies made. It is no wonder The Counterfeiters won an Academy Award. For cinematography, editing, sound, writing, acting, music, it is a ten. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, and it will stay with you for a long time.

Ten real ( not counterfeit) gold stars.

The Counterfeiters (2007) at IMDB

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Movie Review: Gomorra (2008)

So many excellent portraits exist of cold-blooded, reptilian killers, and organized crime that any pretender to this crowded genre faces a tough job dancing with the stars. Gomorra, in its Neapolitan detail, succeeds.

The five main characters involved with the Camorra of Naples, have all been young at one time, passionate about something, full of dreams of some sort. And at a point they are seduced by the devil's cash, thrills, power, or approval, and take that first small decision that becomes the inescapable trajectory of one's life. The movie rolls along in Neapolitan dialect, not even vaguely understandable as Italian, in gritty, smelly streets, alleys, sweatshops, dumps, parking garages, and bars. Believable, dark-humored characters make understandable though fatal decisions and become the same doomed souls you know from Fargo, from In Cold Blood, from Goodfellas, and from The Sopranos. They are poor, often pathetic, and all trapped.

Reviewers at IMDB who have read the Robert Saviano book seem to find the movie disappointing. However, not having read the book I feel Gomorra, standing on its own as a movie, adds yet another nuance to the copious canon of organized crime movies -- a slice of Italian life that is unsentimental, gritty, and grim -- very well done. I give Gomorra 8 out of 10 stars.

Gomorra at IMDB

Movie Review: Todos Estamos Invitados

Todos Estamos Invitados is a cheesy attempt at a thriller, with hackneyed plot, characters, and storyline. Whether its Basque bad guys speaking Spanish with a gratuitous bit of Basque thrown in, or the stressed out lovers falling in the sand on the beach in San Sebastian, its pretty fake. It fails to connect with any universals that touch people who live with terrorism and nationalist sentiments. Shots of the Basque sociedades (communal kitchen/social eating clubs) and food are hunger-inducing, even if
ham-handed, but that's about all that seemed genuine in this movie. From whatever point of view whether ETA, anti-ETA, or simple moviegoer trying to appreciate a particular story that touches a human universal, this movie is a failure.

My rating: One txikitxa sessena (little bull) out of a possible ten. IMDB is kinder, but not much.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Movie Review: Lady Kul el-Arab

A beautiful, dream-filled 17 year old defies her conservative Druze community and enters a beauty contest where she sees a chance to become an international professional model. The Druze community see carnal shame. Her immediate family objects, but they decide to support the young lady once her decision is made. The fireworks begin when an uncle and accomplices are arrested for plotting her murder, her father robs a gas station to pay for his daughter's pageant trip to India, and she and her family are called before the tribal council.

The real issue of this movie is the individual versus the tribe. Because this occurs in the context of a beauty contest, feminist side arguments tend to obscure the core tribal issue, which would be the same, for example, for a gay man deciding to live an openly gay life in an anti-gay tribal community. In the end, the young girl relents and obeys the tribal dictates, choosing the security of tribal membership over ostracism via an irreversible leap of faith into an alternate world of individual achievement.

This was not the story the director -- herself a beautiful young woman -- started out to make, but it is the story that happened. Thus it is full of oddities, ambiguities, and strange twists. Despite a temptation to dismiss the movie as the story of a silly girl, it worth seeing as great food for argument, and for images we don't often see of the Israeli-Arab world.

The director, Ibtisam Mara'ana, was present for an extended discussion on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at Isenberg 137, UMass.

(Israel, 2008, 56 min, in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Poetry Joke

A UMass professor and his wife were on their way to a famous garden in rural Japan when they met two Hungarians travelling on the same bus:

"What brings you to Japan from Hungary?" asked the professor. "We are selling Hungarian poetry to the Japanese." So, a discussion on the Japanese appreciation for beauty in words, gardens, and art ensued.

When they arrived at their destination, the travellers said their farewells, and the wife skeptical but fascinated by the market for good Hungarian poems, said, "Good luck selling your poetry! "

The Hungarian turned to her and said, "Poultry, m'aam, poultry. "

Movie Review: Bella Martha

Well-acted story of a little girl, her nutty nice aunt "The Chef", and the aftermath of a tragic event. The never-quite-right stereotypes of cold Germanesque perfection and Italian romanticism clash as chefs in the kitchen, while sharing the screen with a befuddled psychiatrist and a very pleasant neighbor architect with clear romantic possibilities for Martha. The happy ending renders this a feel good movie that is familiar but not entirely predictable. Great performances by the young Lina, and lovely Italian songs from throaty Paolo Conte, among others.

Part of an ongoing series of German movies, alternating Thursdays, at Amherst College.

The IMDB scoop: Bella Martha (2001)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Real Jobs for PhD's

Graduating PhD's! Don't let all the talk about a recession get you down. This is a real job:
The Hawaii-based poultryOne Media Group is a specialty media group focused on the fascinating hobby of raising poultry. poultryOne is currently searching for a freelance writer to provide web content. poultryOne needs unique articles about raising the following species: geese, ducks and quail.

Resist any urge to philosophize about chickens and eggs and you will do just fine. Good luck!