Important Things with Demetri Martin

After watching two awful movies this weekend (which I will discuss tomorrow), it was wonderful to stumble upon Important Things with Demetri Martin. It’s great sketch-comedy. Here are three sketches which give something of the flavor of the show

Captain and the Kings

I was listening to the gspn LOST podcast last night, and was delighted when the closing song was “Can’t Do This On my Own” by Captain and the Kings (an unsigned band). The song is terrific! I can’t find Captain and the Kings on Amazon, iTunes, or other sources, and even their MySpace Music does not have the “buy option enabled.” To listen to the band when my internet connection is fritzy I had to resort to FreeMusicZilla, but I want badly to purchase a full album — the five songs on my space are just not enough!

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Now that I’ve said how enjoyable Captain and the Kings are, I’ll take a moment to geek out. I suspect the reason Cliff @ gspn played “Can’t Do this On My Own” are the thematic resemblences between the song and the story of the main character of the most recent episode of LOST, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham.”

There’s trouble all around
and iI don’t know what to do
I can trust myself
but I know I can’t trust you
Change my name, dye my hair, and start again
is that what I should do?
You won’t know who I am
but I’ll still know you

Start telling me
What I want to hear
Let’s have the truth for a change
The end is drawing near
Time and time and time and time again
Find myself alone
While I’m crying out for help
I can’t do this on my own

I can’t do this on my own
I can’t do this one alone

There’s a cross-roads up ahead
And each rode looks just the same
I’m listening for your voice
I want someone to blame
All my hopes squared high
I told everyone I knew
I want plans to make it work
I guess they’ve fallen through

I can’t do this on my own
I can’t do this one alone

Listen to Captain and the Kings at MySpace Music.

Two-bite movies, Part III: “The Parallax View” and “Lakeview Terrace”

Few people have been lucky enough to avoid the ads for The International, directed by Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run fame). The International is about a bank that tries to kill people. I can’t think of something that I would be less afraid of. Considering their brilliant performing in creating a financial catastrophe, I assume an actual plan by a large bank to kill me would look something like this:

  • The bank announces plans to place a ten-thousand-dollar bounty on my head, which covers the logistical, equipment, and prison risk costs of anyone who wants to knock off a blogger.
  • The bank sells millions in tdaxp assassination futures, which pay off whether when I am assassinated.
  • As such policies are risky, paying off only with a succssful assassination, investment banks then sells billions in tdaxp assassination derivatives, which chang ein value along with the change in tdaxp assassination futures.
  • Hedge funds then get into the action, issuing trillions in in second- and third- order derivatives, which pay off depending on changes in values in the first- and second- order derivatives.
  • Noticing that they’re stodgy ‘just put a bounty on his head’ has merely made them millions, instead of trillions, the banks then buy up many of these derivatives, game the financial risk anaysis market to bundle whatever third-order derivatives the banks are able to buy from the hedge funds as AAA-rated securities, and resell them to insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, and investors all over the world.
  • Along the way, Congress will pass the Community Rearmorment Act, establish Freddie Assassin and Assassin Mac, allow individuals to deduct the interest from their handgun and shotgun purchases, and prohibit banks from not loaning to would-be assassins based on race, geography, or other sensitive variables.
  • The entire house of cards collapses, entire countries are wiped out, and I’m still here.

Thus,, instead of watching The International, my wife and I watched The Parallax View and Lakeview Terrace. The first of these, 1974’s The Parallax View with Warren Beaty, involves a company that’s actually good at assassinations.

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The film is close to being a true horror. The beginning and entry scenes are mirror-images of each other, but the plot generally increases the weirdness by turns, leading to a conclusion that is hopeless, fatalistic, and deeply closed that is visually very similar to a beginning that promises mystery, excitement, and intrigue. Parallax is very much a product of the 1970s, where the yearning of naive youth for a “change” candidate meets an iron wall of death.

Sadly , The Parallax View is ruined by two irrelevant subplots that try to turn the film into an action movie. Sequences that are out-of-plot, out-of-character, and simply out-of-sense have Warren Beaty (a recovering alcoholic reporter) going mano-a-mano with corrupt cops, and later to stop a plane bombing that he knows about through the magic of genre plot devices. A film with the uses deep focus to present both visual and cognitive parallaxx effects if ruined, in the same way the Godfather series is ruined by Godfather, Part III.

If The Parallax View is a movie of the 1970s, Lakeview Terrace is housing bubble drama of the 2000s. “A house is the best investment there is,” one character says. “The value only goes up,” responds another.

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Lakeview Terrace is the story about two families, both of which live in the exurbs of Los Angeles. The first, with Samuel L. Jackson as a single father, bought their land decades ago. Jackson’s character is “real America” version of Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a patrol cop whose cultural conservatism, emphasis on law-and-order, and authoritarian parenting are matched only by his disposal of miscegenation. Jackson’s gregariousness, The Wire-style pragmatism, and protectivenss of his kids are returned by the liberal views of his new, Utne Reader -reading, neighbors. But the viewer’s sympathy toward Jackson is turned on its head when Jackson’s anti-race-mixing bigotry gradually accelerate into increasingly heinous violence against property.

But as The Parallax View is ruinied by two irrelevent subplots, Lakeview Terrace is ruined by its tacked-on ending. I suspect another ending was originally written, if not even filmed, as a much more logical conclusion is foreshadowed through the film. Jackson becomes a Hollywood villain, his neighbor comes a Hollywood hero, and the foreshadowed ending never actually happens. The social background of Lakeview Terrace — which has a surprisingly well-developed theme of black anti-white racism (if not anti-woman sexism) — helps build a thought-provoking better than Babel, if not Crash. But this only stays true if you close your eyes and hum “Lalala! This is not happening!” for the last ten minutes, all while reconstructing the intended ending from the foreshadowing clues you noticed throughout the film.

If the common theme of Godfellas and My Blue Heaven was the story of Henry Hill, and the common theme of Throne of Blood and Ran was Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare, the common theme of The Parallax View and Lakeview Terrace are actually films ruined by Hollywoodization.

The All New Season of 24: “Financial Crisis”

Hour 1. Scene: The Senate Joint Committee to Investigate the Crimes of Jack Bauer

Stuffy Senate Committee Chairman: “Mr. Bauer, the charges brought against you by the committee today are quite serious. While you say that you had no choice but to impersonate the President, order the arrest of most of the Cabinet, dissolve the Senate, and, as you said, ‘Stop talking and start retrieving the Omega Device,” many of us here today…

Jack Bauer: May I remind YOU, we did retrieve the Omega Device

Stuffy Senator: “As I was saying, your extra-constitutional actions to retrieve a device that,as you said while impersonating our President, could ‘disolve matter into its most elemental forms’…”

Bauer: “Rashid Ivanovskov Yamato had already used the Omega Device to destroy CTU!”

Stuffy Senator: “And may I remind you that when you are on trial for dissolving the Senate, in the Senate, it may be wise to show a little…”

(Doors fly open. FBI agent Tina Leans marches in, striding to the front of the committee room):

Stuffy Senator: What is the meaning of this!

Agent Leans: I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Bauer needs to come with me. We are in a financial crisis. Orders of the President.

Hour 2. Scene: The Offices of Mr. Dawhler Pound Yurrow, International Financier

Jack: *punching Mr. Yurrow* Where are the points? Last I looked, the stock market was at 14,000, now it’s at less than 8,000! Where are the points? What did you do with the money?

Mr. Yurrow: I don’t know what you are talking about!

Jack: *punching more forcefully* Don’t give me that. The financial system is in crisis, and we have audiotapes of you driving down the price of stocks. Where did you drive those prices too?!?

Mr. Yurrow: I’ll never tell you!

Jack: *roughly drops Mr. Yurrow to the floor, and menacingly picks up a Hostess Cupcake (TM)* Do you like Hostess Cupcakes (TM), Mr. Yororw?

Mr. Yurrow: Why… yes. Hostess Cupcakes (TM) are delicious! Why?

Jack: You won’t after this!

Hour 3. D.C. Headquares, International Committee for Counter-Proliferation of W.M.D.. Main vault.

Jack (flanked by FBI Agents): Open up your vaults! We know the Dow Joints points are in here!

Strange man in business suit: I can’t!

Jack: Why not?

Strange man: There was… an accident. Humans can no longer tolerate exposure to the lost points. It is… dangerous…

Jack: *angrily* What’s going on?

Strange man: We wanted to double our money… It was just business. But there was an accident.. The assets… they are toxic!

Jack: You’re under arrest!

Hour 4. FBI Building, Integgoration room. Mr. Yurrow and the Strange Man are handcuffed to each other.

Jack: How do I decontaminate the toxic assets?

Mr. Yurrow: I won’t talk until I get immunity from the President!

Jack: That will never happen. *punches Mr. Yurrow, turns to the Strange Man.* You, who are you, and how we do clean those assets?

Strange Man: I’m afraid you’ll have to listen to my colleague, Mr. Bauer. I’m Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner!

Hour 5. Office of the Director of the FBI

Secretary Geithner (on the phone): Yes, Mr. President. I am sure the only way to save the economy is to grant a Presidential Pardon to Mr. Yurrow. *nods head* (to Bauer): “The President agrees. Mr. Yurrow is a free man.”

Mr. Yurrow: Untie me!

(Jack Bauer grudgingly unties Mr. Yurrow)

Secretary Geithner (on the phone): Yes, Mr. President. I am sure the only way to save the economy, now that you have pardoned Mr. Yurrow for stashing 6,000 Dow Jones basis points in a radioactive locker, is to decontamine those assets. Yes, Mr. President. We must give Mr. Yurrow billions — perhaps trillions — more in guarantees, and he promises that he will try very hard not to do it again. … * nods * ( to Bauer). After this meeting, escort Mr. Yurrow to the Treasury Department. He has a couple of tons of money to pick up.

Mr. Yurrow: I knew I would win!

Bauer: *attempts to contain rage*

Secretary Geithner (on the phone): Yes, Mr. President. I am sure the only way to save the economy, now that you have pardoned Mr. Yurrow and printed billions of dollars, is to arrest Jack Bauer, a traitor to the United….

Bauer (leaps up): This can’t be! This isn’t change I can believe in!

(Bauer lunges at Secretary Geithner, but as he tries to throw a punch, his ring gets stuck in something).

Jack Bauer: “What… the?…”

(Secretary Geithner’s face is revealed to be a mask. Jack Bauer rips it off, reveleaing…)

Jack Bauer: Former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson!

Secretary Geithner/Paulson: Waa haa haa haa haa!

* 24 clock sound*

Two-bite movies, Part II: “Throne of Blood” and “Ran”

I recently had the pleasure of watching two movies by Akira Kurosawa: “Throne of Blood,” which was made in 1957, and “Ran,” released in 1985. I’ve enjoyed many films by the director, including “Rashomon” (1950), “Seven Samurai” (1954), “Yojimbo” (1961), and “Dreams” (1990). What makes these films relate especially to each other, however, is that they are based on Shakespeare’s plays “MacBeth” and “King Lear,” respectively.

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Of course, Akira Kurosawa was a man of his own ideas (he famously was booted from the Japanese-American co-production, “Tora! Tora! Tora!) and the characters of “Thone of Blood” and “Ran” are strange reflections of the originals in “MacBeth” and “King Lear.” MacBeth is here a spineless weakling, manipulated by evil spirits and a wicked wife, a “>Montezuma II without the violence or the self-mutilation. King Lear recalls no character in film so much as the Adolf Hitler of “Downfall“.

I watched “Ran” before “Throne of Blood,” and I am glad that I did. Many elements of “Ran” appear to be re-imaginings of parts of “Throne of Blood.” The banners which hang in monochrome in the 1950s are now brilliant colors that themselves frame the shot; MacBeth’s wife bears a striking resemblance(in appearance, make-up, and personality) to King Lear’s daughter-in-law, and the sense of place that is so patiently explored in “Ran” gives context to the quick-pace of “Throne of Blood.”

Unlike “Goodfellas” and “My Blue Heaven,” which are films about nihilistic violence in the American context, “Throne of Blood” and “Ran” are actually worth watching. The holocaust of King Lear’s death, and the world that MacBeth unites against him, provides a depth and a context that escape many directors.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This is going to be the greatest book ever:

I’ll admit it — I’m a message board stalker. Anytime I get a “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” Google Alert (any author who tells you they don’t obsessively scour the internet for the slightest mention of their books is a filthy, filthy liar) I swoop in and scroll straight down to the reader comments. As I mentioned yesterday, people’s reactions to the book’s existence (no one’s actually read it yet) tends to break one of two ways. On one side, you have the “awesome; this is full of win; I hate Jane Austen but I would totally read this” crowd. On the other, you have the “why? Why would you tamper with something as beautiful…as pure…as perfect as Pride and Prejudice?”

Well, I’ll tell you why: because it’s funny. Because the idea of uptight, early 19th Century aristocrats parading around in their finery, attending stuffy dances and taking tea in the midst of an all-out war with the undead struck me as really, really funny. And because the thought of Elizabeth Bennet striking down hordes of zombies with a Katana sword struck me as awesome. That’s the best answer I’ve got

Hopefully it will take Zombie mayhem as seriously at World War Z. Hat-tip to the Weekly Standard.