The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for August 2008

The Coen Brothers

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September will be a great time for fans of Joel and Ethan Coen. Their latest film, Burn After Reading, is set to be released on September 12, and a 10th anniversary DVD release of their cult classic The Big Lebowski will be issued around the same time. There was mention of the Lebowski DVD on Very Short List; you can view it at this link: http://www.veryshortlist.com/vsl/daily.cfm/review/566/DVD/the-big-lebowski-10th-anniversary-edition/?tp

My favorite Coen Brothers film, and what I think is their most underappreciated effort, is Miller’s Crossing. They took a crack at classic film noir with the 1990 release, and knocked it out of the park. The prohibition-era film is set in an unnamed city in the eastern United States that is on the verge of being torn apart by warring mob factions. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom, a stoic right-hand man trying to play all sides of the conflict. He has an affinity for a fedora that goes well with his dark suit and overcoat combinations; he loves it almost as much as he does his boss Leo’s girlfriend Verna. John Turturro complicates things as Verna’s brother Bernie, a greasy fight fixer who is the sticking point between the rival mobs. The most memorable scene is an ambush at Leo’s house in which Leo, played by Albert Finney, showcases his fluency with a Thompson .45 submachine gun as he fends off the hit. The Coen’s craft the scene in excellent style; it ends with one gunman doing the “Thompson Jitterbug” as he is riddled with bullets and Leo gunning down the getaway car as he stands in the street in his pajamas. An Irish tenor sobs “Danny Boy” on a record player throughout.

Speaking of underappreciated films… I watched The Wild Bunch last weekend for the first time in a few years. I’ve never been able to sell many people I know on the the greatness of Sam Peckinpah’s cynical western. The Wild Bunch came out in 1969, the same year as Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. They share some oddly similar title sequences. It pains me to say it, because I love Butch Cassidy so much, but The Wild Bunch is the better film. Butch Cassidy won acclaim and awards because of Conrad Hall’s cinematography, William Goldman’s screenwriting, and the excellence of Newman and Redford, but I challenge anyone to convince me it’s better than The Wild Bunch. It’s William Holden’s finest role in the latter part of his career, and the final shootout is unforgettable. Another oddity between the films is that Strother Martin is in both. He’s given much more to work with in The Wild Bunch, and ends up being one of the best characters in the film.

Written by seeker70

August 30, 2008 at 1:05 am

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More Tropic Thunder

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Salon.com ran an excellent opinion piece today about Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of a black man in Tropic Thunder. The issue is something I thought about as I hacked out my thoughts on the film but didn’t cover in favor of other issues. You can read the piece at this link:

http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/2008/08/25/blackface/

Also, my father reminded me of one of the biggest rip-offs Tropic Thunder makes: those familiar with the bridge demolition scene at the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai will know the scene in Tropic Thunder when they see it. I thought it was hilarious. I also failed to mention the relationship between Tug Speedman and a small Asian boy he befriends; it alludes to Samuel Fuller’s WWII epic The Big Red One. These episodes recall my point about Ben Stiller lifting entire shots from other combat films; anybody who is willing to research that many other films and craft scenes wherein they can be blatantly ripped off really did his homework. The results show in the final product.

My father, by the way, informed me that Tropic Thunder was one of the worst films he’s ever seen. He used another choice word right before “films,” but I’ll probably save that variety of language for future blog entries. I can’t figure the old man out sometimes; he hated this film, but is still the same guy that once rented the cinematic turd Used Cars.

Written by seeker70

August 26, 2008 at 2:41 am

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About the name…

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It occurred to me after some research this week that it might benefit readers and contributors to know why I titled this blog The Seeker. Though there are religious connotations to the title, this is not a religion blog. Writing and commentary about religion might appear on it, but that would point more to the adjective “random” I chose to describe how I envision the content. Furthermore, this is not a blog about The Taliban. “Taliban” has been interpreted to mean “students (or seekers) of Islamic Knowledge.” I have read where they have been referred to as “The Seekers.” No relation, but again, something about the Taliban could appear on this. (An interesting digression: “Taliban” refers to the group as a whole; the singular form is “Talib.” There are also accepted variations of the spelling of “Taliban;” “taleban” and “talebaan” are two of them) The only reason I chose “The Seeker” is because I’m a huge fan of The Who, and my favorite song by them is “The Seeker.” I’ve thought before that it’s the song they wrote for me, and it’s one I strongly identify with. It represents my constant urge to get a deep understanding of all I can.

Written by seeker70

August 21, 2008 at 12:58 am

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Tropic Thunder

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The Political Correctness movement has generated a lot of hype about the offensive content of Tropic Thunder in the past week. I watched the film yesterday and created a non-exhaustive list of people who could be offended by it:

Feminists
Substance Abuse Counselors
Drug Rehab patients
Vietnam Veterans
Disabled Vietnam Veterans
African Americans

the physically and mentally disabled

Child Labor advocates
Southeast Asians

Australians
homosexuals
the British
theatre directors
the obese
Russell Crowe
Gansta Rappers
Al Pacino
Hollywood agents, producers, and actors
Special Effects technicians

When a film works purposely to offend so many people, how can it be taken so seriously? Anybody has the right to be offended by something, but I wonder why other groups haven’t been as vocal with their feelings as those who were offended by the films’ use of the word “retard.” It may be that others don’t feel as empowered as those offended by “retard.” It may be that others didn’t make the first headlines about the films’ objectional content and now they won’t be heard or as seriously considered. It may be that others are focused on issues of more significance to them. But it may also be that other people have a better understanding of the concept of satire and don’t wish to portray themselves as ignorant if they waste their efforts defaming this film. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that PC Nazis have established enough influence to generate the amount of press they have regarding broadly satiric films like Tropic Thunder.

As I watched Tropic Thunder, I kept thinking about Blazing Saddles. The political incorrectness of that satire makes Tropic Thunder pale by comparison. If Blazing Saddles hadn’t been made years before the PC movement established its influence, it probably wouldn’t be made today for fear of PC retaliation to its thoroughly offensive nature (despite that, the American Film Institute notches Blazing Saddles at #6 on its list of the 100 funniest films in American cinema). Blazing Saddles purposely offends everyone, but by doing so manages to point out the ridiculousness of racism and sexism. Tropic Thunder works in a similar manner. Personal and societal insensitivity is at stake in the film; the satire shows how ridiculous we are to think and behave in insensitive ways that seem to be of no consequence, and to accept that behavior in others.

What I haven’t heard much about is the brilliance of the film. This is especially true of the screenwriting. The frame of narration, its self-referential nature, and the way many of the roles are written as characters-within-characters all point toward the screenplay having a definite postmodern slant. The film also works effectively at making fun of the combat film genre. It attacks the solemnity of Platoon and Saving Private Ryan within the first 5 minutes, then sets its sights on Apocalypse Now, the Rambo films, and Uncommon Valor in both blatant and subtle manners, and mocks the popular uber-violence of lesser films like Missing in Action. In the least, Tropic Thunder borrows cliche dialogue from the other films; at most, it copies entire camera shots from them and slams the Hollywood notion of copying what is popular to make a few bucks.

The commentary Tropic Thunder makes about Hollywood personalities is no less than its blasting of the combat film genre. Characters with obviously insinuative name like The Pecker and Les Grossman are the power brokers behind the scenes. The pretty-boy looks of Matthew McConaughy are facile cover for the egocentric agent he portrays; pretty boy Tom Cruise is slathered in makeup and masked behind prosthetics to help him portray the ugly exterior of the films’ producer, who is as equally ugly on the inside. The casting of the former “Sexiest Men Alive” is a particularly cutting commentary on celebrities whose eccentricies and shallowness are forgiven because of their physical attractiveness and the entertainment value they possess. Both actors manage great public relations maneuvers for their images by their willingness to satirize themselves so savagely.

If there is anything that disappoints me about Tropic Thunder, it’s Ben Stiller. If he is capable of producing this type of genius, why does he put effort into forgettable trash like Dodgeball, Starsky and Hutch, and Blades of Glory? My respect for Tropic Thunder isn’t enough to turn me into a fan of his, but it is enough to heighten my expectations of him and to anticipate his next film.

Written by seeker70

August 20, 2008 at 2:20 am

Revisiting Predictions

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I made two predictions last October after the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by the Diamondbacks: the Cubs will win 100 games in 2008, and lose to the Red Sox in game 7 of the World Series.

100 wins seemed reasonable for the Cubs after 85 wins in 2007. No doubt they dropped a dozen or so last season because of injuries and poor play as they adjusted to Lou Pinella’s system; I reasoned that they would be able to make up those games and more with a healthy, confident, and motivated club.

As for seeing the Red Sox in the World Series for a second straight year, they looked like a sure thing. Their pitching was too tough for anybody to handle in the playoffs last year, and they would be getting everybody back, including Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who did a lot in 2007 to help Manny and Big Papi tally runs while Beckett and Matsuzaka mowed down batters. It seemed a lead-pipe cinch they would do that again.

Right now, the Cubs have 74 wins with 41 more games to play. They have to play slightly better than they have already this season if they are to win 100 games; a .023 improvement to their current winning percentage of .612 will do it. They have 13 series remaining; only 4 of those are against sub-par teams. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible with lively bats and consistent pitching. I don’t see them letting up– the Brewers are too close, too hot, too hungry, and home field advantage means too much. If the Cubs have things clinched by the last week of the season, there may be a number of starters resting and that could stifle my dreams of a 100-win season, but that doesn’t seem likely given the caliber of opponents they have yet to face.

At this point, I expect the Cubs to battle the Brewers in the NLCS. The Brewers have a better record right now than any of their likely first round opponents– Arizona, Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or New York– and have enough going for them to plow through any of them to get to the second round. Their young, disciplined bats can get on base and score runs, playoff-seasoned CC Sabathia gives them enough confidence for two wins in a 5-game playoff series, and other arms in their stable like Ben Sheets and Manny Parra are capable of picking up at least one more.

I doubt the Red Sox will make it all the way to the World Series. Their pitching has been unsteady, Ortiz has been injured, and they shipped Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles in a move that baffles me. Manny cannot be replaced, though I’m certain Jason Bay will do all he can. Bay’s defense will be better than Manny’s and he’ll be a better clubhouse teammate than Manny, but he is not one of the two or three best and most feared hitters in baseball like Manny Ramirez. This doesn’t bode well for Boston as they prepare to possibly face a stacked, experienced, and well-coached Anaheim team that is ready to reclaim glory.

Regardless of how things end up, the Cubs will most likely have to get through two of the three best teams in baseball– Milwaukee and Anaheim– if they are to end their World Series drought. Whomever said that nothing worth having ever comes easy must have been talking about this.

Written by seeker70

August 15, 2008 at 2:54 am

Getting Started / Regarding Milt

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After mulling this idea for at least a year, I’ve decided to start a blog. My previous blog experience is limited to a response I wrote to a blog entry written by the mayor of Beach Park, IL that was published in the local newspaper in the town where I teach. You can read the blog entry (And You Call This School?) and my response here:

http://miltonjensen.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-06-05T11%3A18%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=7

Also, if you’re a baseball fan you can check out a story I had published on Lovable Losers Literary Revue:

http://www.lovablelosersliteraryrevue.com/blog/2008/7/28/shades-of-blue-bleeding-for-the-cubbiesand-the-brewers.html

Thanks for checking this out. Stay tuned.

Written by seeker70

August 11, 2008 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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