Saturday, December 23, 2006

Season's Fleetings

I just returned from the 1st Annual Hideout Christmas Pyrate Panto. Jon Langford and Kelly Hogan in drag = awesome. Sally Timms in an evening gown and a mustache = dignified, yet oddly attractive. Lots of dirty pirate jokes, silly costumes, and music to remind one of Popeye. If you weren't there, you missed it.*

Now I guess I'm going to stay up until it's time to leave for my flight. Odds are I won't be blogging from the folks' place, so Happy Holidays to all y'all. Don't bogart the nog.

*I meant to take pictures, but they weren't allowed during the show and it was so crowded after that I got stir-crazy. Ah well.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Night Train

The Night Train
Originally uploaded by Snurri.
"Trains still pass through the city at night. No one can say with certainty where they come from, or what their destination is. Many of them appear to be empty. They follow no schedule, but appear suddenly, glowing with unnatural light, never stopping. . . . In the first years of the city's exile Mayor Faldbakken III ordered the tracks pulled up in residential neighborhoods, particularly where they crossed busy streets . . . However, this soon led to trains passing down the streets themselves, as well as alleys and paths in the city parks; these trains would shriek through in the middle of the night, waking terrified residents to the flicker of spectral faces outside their bedroom windows. The trains left hot tracks in their wake, rails of superheated steel which sent more than one curious resident to the emergency room. . . . Today most residents prefer to ignore the night transit. There are trainspotting societies, however, such as the Motive Locos, who track the time and place of manifestations, plot them meticulously onto charts and graphs and maps and timetables and then endlessly debate them over pierogis at Klekatsky's Deli. And there are others who take an interest in the trains. Loners, mostly, who see them as a means of escape back to the world outside, or elsewhere, or wherever the world is now. Every few weeks the body of another hopeful is found, crushed among the ties or suspended in the gel-sap at the city's border. . . . There are, of course, tales of ghost-hoppers who have succeeded, but in the absence of evidence there is no reason to believe that any have returned via this route. Particularly if, as many amateur (and expert: Walter Wenstrup was among them) motivancers believe, they are the trains of the dead, and the city their last stop before hell." (p.122-4)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Year in Kate

Everyone else is doing "Best Books of 2006" roundups. Which I admire, but can't get my head around, personally. So instead I give you a brief roundup of my viewing of films starring Kate Winslet.

The Holiday: Yes, I saw "The Holiday." It's not my usual fare--well, at least it's not my usual fare when I'm paying ten bucks for a ticket and not having a mild bout with insomnia and some cheesy-but-high-gloss romantic comedy comes on TBS--but Kate was in it. And she was great. The movie as a whole, however, took too long to get going, and was annoying along the way. I mean, it's a romantic comedy, so you have to adjust your expectations accordingly, right? And I did. But still, there are some things that just should not be done. Instapoll: how many of you are sitting at your computers READING THIS POST ALOUD TO YOURSELVES? Do you also do this with email and chat? If you answered no, congratulations! You are not a character in "The Holiday." Now, once it got going there were things to like; Jude Law, despite his penchant for babysitters, can be seriously charming onscreen, and Jack Black subdued his manic impulses for long enough to be a credible romantic interest for Kate. (Note to the haters: Sometimes people fall for people who are less conventionally attractive than themselves. I realize that some of the "OMG JACK BLACK NO WAY" stuff is rooted in resentment that in movies it's rarely a schlubby gal who gets the dreamy guy, but come on. It ain't Jack's fault that Hollywood is stupid.) The weak link in this film was definitely Cameron Diaz. Nothing against Cameron, who can be charming in more straightforward roles, but she had a big arc to handle in this movie and she just wasn't up to it. In her scenes with Jude Law I found that I wasn't watching her at all, 'cause wow was she boring. Perhaps I am developing some sort of Jude Law crush. That loveable cad. GRADE FOR "THE HOLIDAY": Watch it on TBS sometime when you have nothing better to do, but make sure to forget it's on until it's a half hour in.

Flushed Away: Kate's not exactly in the film in the physical sense, but she's the voice of Rita, the sewer-rat/salvage boat captain. Is it wrong that I found her attractive as a rat? Yeah, it probably is. (I'm sorry.) This movie got some minor flack for taking the Aardman claymation techniques and computerizing them, but while some of the images are smoothed over the story wasn't. I saw this at the budget cinema with a bunch of kids and their parents, but most of the time I was the only one laughing. And then the movie started! (Kidding.) Really, it was quite entertaining, although not as much for kids as I suspect everyone thinks. Speaking of man-crushes, I really do have one on Hugh Jackman. He voices Roddy in this flick, a pet rat who lives alone in a posh London home until he gets flushed down into the sewers. He stumbles into the middle of some trouble between Rita and the mis-rat-thropic Toad (voiced by Ian McKellen). The voice talent here is really great, especially Bill Nighy as an albino rat-thug and Jean Reno as a ridiculous frog ninja. There are about a zillion silly singing slugs passing through the film, and Rita's family is great, and the underground rat city is a prime opportunity for some little satirical touches. And Kate is wonderful. GRADE FOR "FLUSHED AWAY": H--for Hilarious! (Rex Reed, look out!)

Little Children: Quite different, and quite good. My major quibble is that there was really no need for the narration--for every bit of humor it brought in there were two or three head-shakingly obvious observations. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta: here Kate plays a suburban mom with a background in academia, who finds herself falling into a domestic cliché of infidelity and ennui. Patrick Wilson plays her opposite number, a stay-at-home dad who's supposed to be studying for his third shot at the Bar exam but instead spends his time wishing he was a kid and feeling emasculated by his working wife (Jennifer Connelly). I'm usually extremely unsympathetic to tales of adultery, but the wronged parties here are a creep and an ice queen, so it's not hard to sympathize to some extent. The secondary plot concerns a recently freed sex offender--he's done time for exposing himself to a minor--who's living with his mother in the same neighborhood. I haven't read Perrotta's book, but between him and director Todd Field there seems to be a conviction that, first of all, we are all basically childish at our worst moments, and secondly that we all have our own sexual quirks; some are just more acceptable than others. We're all a bit hinky, whether we're talking about Mr. Kate's internet porn fixation or Connelly's creepy adoration of her son or the simple transgressive thrills that the protagonists indulge in. It's not a perfect film; it's a bit long and not all the performances work; Noah Emmerich's turn as an obsessive former cop is just slightly off-key, and sometimes it's difficult to decide whether some of the minor characters are meant to be taken seriously or as caricatures. But overall it's a surprising and thought-provoking piece, and I recommend it. GRADE FOR "LITTLE CHILDREN": Notice how I got through that whole review without mentioning the nudity? ... DAMMIT!

I didn't see All the King's Men, so I can't comment on that one. I did re-watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though, so I can report that Clementine is still hot. In case you were wondering.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Elephant News Returns After Long Hiatus

Kenya has gone from three years of terrible drought to the worst flooding in a decade; more than a hundred people have been killed. In the long run the return of the rainy season can only be a good thing, but in the short term it's disastrous for the human residents. For other animals, such as elephants, it's a bonanza. (Wildcast, by the way, has some great videos, and a Flickr account as well--check out the pictures of the newborn elephant calf; it's the blog of wildlife photographer Kim Wolhuter, who's in the process of making a new film.)

Back in the colonies, Bob Barker has pledged $300,000 to move Ruby, a 45-year-old African elephant, from the Los Angeles Zoo to a PAWS sanctuary in San Andreas. The L.A. Zoo doesn't even want to talk about it.

Here's a small story about elephant smuggling in India. You read that right.

Englishwoman Katherine Conner has created a sanctuary for Asian elephants in Thailand, and is seeking donations.

Osama bin Laden is killed. Well, maybe not. A killer elephant in Assam, India was named after the world's most elusive bogeyman, and after a long hunt it appears that he's been brought down. Except that Kushal Sharma from the College of Veterinary Science in Gauhati is pretty sure it's the wrong elephant. There's a metaphor in there somewhere. There's also another dead elephant.