Saturday, July 28, 2007


Earlier this week,* I mentioned my inability to catch ...And Justice for All (1979)* after Monday's initiation of my unexpectedly complex immunization protocol.* Have no fear. In a pitched effort to get out from under Sunshine's authorial footwork, I tried again yesterday with more success. Norman Jewison's well-textured and multifaceted examination of the US legal system makes good use of real public buildings and intermittently realistic courtroom activity to advance the suspension of my disbelief before ultimately betraying it in the final reel. Arthur (Al Pacino) is a passionate, hot-tempered Baltimore defense attorney temporarily jailed after taking a swing at a judge. The focus of his ire is Henry Fleming (John Forsythe), who's so adherent to the law's very letter that he is willing to let a known innocent rot under a wrongful five-year sentence rather than admit exonerating evidence offered a few days after deadline. These guys hate one another. But when the judge is accused of rape, he must bully Arthur into representing him. Hey, Arthur's the best lawyer in town. This is the central narrative of a movie unafraid to take ultimately throwaway side trips, with dozens of tangential characters, merely to probe the endless potential of its courtroom material--a whole season of primetime television in two very special hours. This method often pleases me: evoking a nuanced and baroque environment of professional activity instead of streamlining a narrowly focused narrative point-of-view. At its best, ...And Justice for All achieves a voyeuristic, documentary inclusiveness quite contrasting the tics and fits of its melodramatic emotional center. But the filmmakers cannot seem to help occasionally risible banalities: children cutely intone the pledge of allegiance over a montage of empty courtrooms in an intro begging for TV, or that show stopping ethical self-defeat in the implausible climax. [Cavin]

Friday, July 27, 2007


I'm no longer ambivalent about MySpace. Before,* I was prejudiced against all social network sites primarily because of their rigorous brand exclusivity and various levels of restrictions and moderations serving to not only augment the user's security, but to also control that user. I dislike the insular and cliqued communities that naturally arise whenever displays of connectivity are de rigueur, promoting persona management while devaluing meaningful content. Still, devaluation isn't necessarily limitation, and MySpace offers the user an arsenal of tools to ensure content reaches a custom-made audience in manageable ways. So I've also toyed with signing up. My primary reasons for throwing my chips into the blogosphere included keeping touch with a distant social base, many MySpace subscribers already. Today, I fully regret my decision to avoid subscribing--I would dearly love to cancel a MySpace account in protest. Yesterday the company announced* they'd identified and eliminated some twenty-nine thousand registered sex offenders using their free service; a move that falls uncomfortably between double jeopardy and preventative policing. Say, I don't mean to indicate that I'm somehow supporting sex offenders. But MySpace seems to be accepting an unsupportable myth of widespread internet predation--while admitting to even-less-supportable ties between predation and its own service--by adopting the dubious precedent of Megan's Law.* Consider these factors: MySpace can only ever create the illusion of increased security using limited US sex offender lists while offering worldwide services. Since offender-registrants have already been sentenced, this censure of liberties amounts to further penalty being meted by a non-judicial, non-regulated organ. Depending on the US state, sex offences can include conviction of public nudity, consensual homosexual intercourse, consensual intercourse between underage peers, or the purchase of adult materials. MySpace is attempting to moderate a misunderstood reality with a culture-of-fear statistic. Here's coverage. [Cavin]

Thursday, July 26, 2007


The second movie I saw Monday was the meandering Gene Hackman and Al Pacino novelty Scarecrow (1973),* an episodic road show featuring some pitch-perfect work from actors who were arguably at the height of their careers. Max and Francis (Hackman and Pacino) meet while competing for rides along a lonely US back route. Their personalities are fittingly opposite: Max is a rough-talking ex-con consistently simmering with anger mismanagement, while Francis, newly returned from five years in the Navy, is a comedic peacemaker and nervous clown. Francis doesn't think much of Max's bullying ways: he tells a story about how scarecrows don't succeed by frightening birds, rather they are so ludicrous that crows appreciate them as entertainment. For his own part, Max can't stand the name Francis, he decides to call the other man Scarecrow. The two begrudgingly make friends, each maintaining a goal while altering their immediate venture to accommodate a new partner. Max's savings account is in Pittsburg, where he wants to open a car wash. Francis wants to catch-up with the relationship he abandoned in its pregnancy and the child he's never met. Under his arm he carries a present for his kid, its wrapping becoming dirtier as the movie goes by. Essentially plotless, this movie relies on character arcs rather than a distinct set of acts. The leads are almost implausibly good, given every opportunity to shine over pages of open dialogue and successful adlibbing, accompanied by photographic magic that ranges in ability from unobtrusive professionalism to spellbinding artistic virtuosity. But it's Hackman and Pacino who truly defy belief: each playing characters tiresomely overbearing, or the opposite, with such spectacular grace, heart, and--ultimately--restraint, that after nearly two hours of constant study I felt nary a hint of remaining dislike for either of them. [Cavin]

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Yesterday's vaccination meeting at the institute took a little longer than I'd expected it to. I had half expected to get in and out of the walk-in appointment with time enough to make the trip to Silver Spring for the four thirty showing of Norman Jewison's ...And Justice for All (1979),* part of a current retrospective honoring Al Pacino. But after the hour it took to get three shots and schedule something like seven more, I finally left the building with little chance of making it all the way to Maryland in time. Instead, I took the Metro to Foggy Bottom and ate a giant salad at the Sizzex before taking a long walk through town. Eventually, I took the metro to Silver Spring for the seven pm screening of Mario Camus' La Colmena (the Beehive, 1982),* based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Camilo José Cela.* The story, or kaleidoscope of short interlocking vignettes, takes place shortly after the Spanish Revolution. While World War II rages across the rest of Europe, Franco's Spain suffers in other ways: abject poverty is squeezing the lower and upper classes brutally together. The movie gives only occasional clues to time and place: BBC radio news reports, the cold month of December, politics. Madrid is evident through the windows of the archetypical settings: a bustling café, a tenement building, others. These gathering places provide a cross-section of the general weal as seemingly hundreds of characters flit by onscreen, absorbed in their own particular stories while figuring heavily, of course, in the particulars of those stories playing precariously around them. There are moments when this architectural conceit feels vastly more literary than cinematic, a rather respectable fealty to unfamiliar source material but sometimes frustrating above unreliable subtitling. It's riveting, nonetheless. [Cavin]

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I feel pretty good considering I'm fighting off small doses of living typhoid, two types of hepatitis, and rabies. Today I accompanied Sunshine to the institute to schedule any shots I might need for our Southeast Asian tour, where--no time like the present--I ended up getting stabbed thrice and sent away with pills I need to keep refrigerated through Sunday. That's the typhoid vaccination, by the way, four orange-and-white Vivotif caplets of living disease. For anybody keeping score, the holes in my left arm are Havrix and Recombivax for hepatitis A and B, respectively, containing minute live doses or proteins from the individual strains; and the hole in my left is due to Imovax, an inactivated dose of the already attenuated Pitman-Moore strain of viral rabies. Okay, so the rabies wasn't alive when they pumped it into my arm (and hasn't been since 2004*). Today's three shots were fabulously candy-colored sci-fi looking serums in automated glass syringes, and each was the first of their series: the rabies vaccination will be three weekly injections, there will be another hepatitis type B injection in one month, and another of each type in six months, administered by the nurse practitioner in Ho Chi Minh City. Next Monday I will begin a three-shot series to protect me from Japanese B Encephalitis, and two weeks later I'll get injected with the standard tetanus slash diphtheria vaccination which is considered a real arm killer but never bothers me all that much. Lastly, three weeks before getting on a plane in October, I'll start my weekly malaria suppressants, which will be a pill routine that will continue, every seven days, for the entirety of our time in Vietnam. Bookmark this entry if you are planning on visiting us over the next two years. [Cavin]

Monday, July 23, 2007


While Saturday started out dedicated to getting projects done, it eventually led to Wheaton, Maryland, just past Silver Spring, and a dinner party of Sunshine's coworkers. What a nice evening, and I never once got bitten by a mosquito--though the family dog actually took a nip at me once when the little fucker's leash got tangled up around my legs in the dark. He was too little to break the skin. After the party, Sunshine hailed a Virginia-bound carpool while I rode the Metro back to Silver Spring. There's a retrospective of eighties movies this month, and last midnight they screened the incomparable Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987),* featuring a star-making splatterstick turn by the limber Bruce Campbell. Is this necessary (?): Bruce plays Ash, stranded alone in a decaying mountain cabin after playing the late owner's demon-summoning book-on-tape and, in the process, unleashing malignant demons who possess his girlfriend, the bridge back into town, and his right hand. The midnight movie audience was great, shouting encouragement and warnings, reciting the choicest dialog. It was good to see something so forcefully unprofessional, a monster movie with bite, engineered by gung-ho twenty-somethings for the sheer unqualified love of it. Thursday's third movie, conversely, was yet another mindless animated foray into the arcade fancy marketers ascribe to target males, a movie built by committee containing the recommended allowance of moistened abs, pop-culture jargon, teen angst, golden sunlight, cartoon violence, and just enough edgy profanity; mixed well with lots of sterile, plastic looking light-up moving parts and that cool handheld camera and crafty jump-cut effect making the movie look realistic just like news television. Ah, the Transformers,* not one whit different, deep down, than any other toothless corporate fast food. Evil Dead... managed to cleanse the palate completely. [Cavin]

Sunday, July 22, 2007


The second movie I watched during Thursday's* three-movie extravaganza was John Huston's atypical noir masterpiece the Asphalt Jungle (1950),* a film which re-infuses the twitchy melodramatic crime formula with some of the textural realism evident in its sister genre, the police procedural; ejecting along the way much of what is oneiric about classic noir and replacing it with true grit. This grit is evident in the staging of the film's central motif: the planning and execution of a complex robbery, a motif that helped give birth to a sub-genre of caper films. Nevertheless the Asphalt Jungle is noir: advancing the seedy aspects of cinema's criminal underbelly onto center stage and allowing the moldering turpitude of guys* good and bad to commingle in such a way as to blur the lines between them, rendering the struggle between these forces as a balancing act rather than a moral interplay. The film opens along the concrete bank of an unnamed city, a distant skyline rising above early morning fog. The police are hunting for Dix (Sterling Hayden), a crooked man with a crooked house and a nest of crooked friends. Meanwhile, recently released German ex-con Doc (Sam Jaffe) sits in a bookie's basement, pitching plans for a lucrative jewelry heist. He finds a crooked bankroller in a famous local attorney who is hiding his imminent bankruptcy. A band of thieves is hired: a box man, a driver, the hooligan Dix. They all want to get out after one last caper--Dix not least: he wishes to return to the Kentucky horse country of his youth. But the lawyer has secret plans to take the loot and leave the criminals out to dry. Everything is complicated by the unstoppable influence of oppressive environment, the true culprit behind the actions of crooked men. [Cavin]