Friday, March 26, 2010

Camera Obscura: Kurosawa's Dog; McQueen's Unseen Pics; Planet Of "Predators"

This past month marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of iconic director Akira Kurosawa and Turner Classic Movies has been airing some of his very best work. As with all great film directors, repeated viewings of their films brings even more chances to dig deep and explore their creations, a task rich with rewards.

While I'd seen most all of the 26 movies TCM has aired (three more of his movies will air on Tuesday) the one I was most eager to see was "Stray Dog", made in 1949 and set in the modern era and not a samurai-filled feudal past, as in "Yojimbo" or "Seven Samurai". Instead we are led into a very palpable and modern post-World War Japan during a summer heat wave which radiates from every frame of the film.

It's the third time Kurosawa cast actor Toshiro Mifune in the lead role, and his performance as a rookie homicide detective whose handgun is stolen is powerful and fragile and speaks to the incredible skills Mifune had onscreen. "Stray Dog" is a bona fide film noir thriller, but goes beyond to capture an intense cultural struggle of the time - expressing the real challenge Japan faced as they sought to move past the war and into an era of peacetime. The nation faced a crossroad - as does Mifune's character and that of the criminal who has the weapon.

Some beautiful shots from the movie and an exhaustive examination can be found here at one of my favorite movie blogs, Cinebeats, where writer Kimberly Lindbergs writes:

There’s just no getting around the fact that the aftermath of WW2 and its effect on the people who survived it is what really fuels Kurosawa’s film. Tohsiro Mifune’s detective is an ex-soldier but the criminal he is chasing is also an ex-soldier. Both men survived similar circumstances but afterward they followed very different paths. The detective and the criminal are both “stray dogs” trying to find their way in a new and unfamiliar world that has risen from the ashes of war. As a filmmaker Kurosawa’s sympathies seem to be with no one and everyone. You’ll find very few cookie-cutter bad guys or good guys in the movie. I think that’s a reflection of what postwar Japan was experiencing at a very trying time. The examination of their previous alliances and adversaries is mirrored in Kurosawa’s film. The complexity of the characters that populate Stray Dog is something that you don’t often see in crime movies made during the ’40s and that’s just one of the reasons why it’s so rewarding. Stray Dog is one of the most nuanced film noirs I’ve seen but it’s also one of Kurosawa’s most style-conscious efforts.

Read it all. And take every opportunity to seek out all of Kurosawa's work. Also just release, a new book reviewing the director's vast body of work titled "Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema" by Peter Cowie.

Master is indeed the best word to describe the director.


And since I mention Cinebeats, another post worth the read concerns a collection of never before published photos, taken in early 1963, of actor Steve McQueen, who was just breaking out as a major film star. And of course, one of the movies which made his career was "The Magnificent Seven", an American western based on Kurosawa's epic "Seven Samurai".

In these images though, we see McQueen in his real world, cruising Hollywood in his Jaguar, taking his wife and his guns to do some target shooting, scouring his record collection and kicking back in pure 1960s Hollywood style.


Jump forward now to some unEarthly adventures for the summer movie season of 2010 -- "Predators", starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo and many others. The characters, all deadly killers on planet Earth wake to find themselves on a different planet, one used by the aliens called "predators" as a sort of game preserve. In other words, the characters are wild game to be hunted down in a sort of practice mode for the aliens.

Top-notch director Robert Rodriguez turns executive producer for this new movie - and here's the new trailer for the movie:

And here's the other Predator video making rounds on the Internet -- a peek at what a Predator musical might look like ...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Modern @rt?

The Museum of Modern Art announced Monday they have acquired the symbol @ for their permanent collection. Yes, it is an image and yes it did not cost the MoMA anything because it's free. Is it art?

Since the symbol was formally included in the museum's Architecture and Design Department, perhaps the important question should be "Is the image an example of design?"

Here's the thinking according to MoMA:

It relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that “cannot be had”—because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747’s, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @—as art objects befitting MoMA’s collection. The same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellence shared by all objects in MoMA’s collection also apply to these entities.

In order to understand why we have chosen to acquire the @ symbol, and how it will exist in our collection, it is necessary to understand where @ comes from, and why it’s become so ubiquitous in our world.

Read more of this fascinating history of the use of @, which dates back to the 5th or 6th century, according to MoMA, and was included on the Underwood typewriter made in 1885 but it was electrical engineer Ray Tomlinson, working in 1971 with the ARPA project for the US military who decided to use the symbol (which had no clear purpose at the time) since it has a strong sense of location -- x person "at" this location.

The next time you send an email just realize you are making @rt.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Republicans Failed By Design to Challenge Health Care Reforms

Thanks to a year or more of empty theatrics (call it No Theatre) against any health care reforms, the Republicans in the U.S. and their leaders continue to steer into a wilderness of their own making.

And consider too, before you read further, that I have not been a total supporter of the legislation just adopted by Congress and signed today by the President. I've always considered that the underlying problem in the nation is that receiving medical care is operated as a for-profit business, when it should simply be available to those who are in need of it. That puts me somewhere far outside the realms of current political thought -- which does not mean my ideas are wrong, they are just unpopular.

And the real cost to the Republican leadership is they offered nothing - absolute zero - to solving the problems any and all Americans face in accessing good health care. Instead, loud and angry voices simply shouted "NOOOOOOOOO!!", refused to find common ground, refused to create solutions, refused to respect truthfulness and instead embraced Fear of the unknown as policy. Republican leader John Boehner bemoaned in his final speech against the actions taken by the Democrats as proof the U.S. Congress is a "broken and failed system".

Sir, you are one of the ones who broke the system, a reality shown in recent polling numbers about Congress, which reveals Americans hold Republicans in lower regard than Democrats in a historically-low approval rating of Congress in general.

Still in the mode of No Theatre, GOP leader Rush Limbaugh said Monday:

"They won because they held Congress and the presidency, and therein lies the lesson: We need to defeat these bastards. We need to wipe them out. We need to chase them out of town. But we need to do more than that. We need to elect conservatives.

"So, yeah, preexisting conditions are going to be covered, but who's going to pay for this? Insurance premiums are going to skyrocket in the next couple of years until they are out of business and the government steps in to take over with the...public option. Which is just waiting a couple of months, couple of days, couple years down the tracks. It's just waiting to happen, because this bill mandates the destruction of the private health insurance business."

Funny, I thought a business which lost the ability to compete effectively was simply a loss for a business model and not the End of The World.

Conservative writer David Frum has called the Republican policy failure a "Waterloo" moment, inviting comparisons to the failure of would-be emperor Napoleon:

We would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing... We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat." Republican legislators who wanted to cut a deal, he notes, were trapped and pinned down by "conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio."

In an effort to show some sympathy for the failed strategy of denial and exploitation of the Great Fearful Unknown from Republicans, I offer the following song from the 1960s as the new official theme song of the Republican party: