Gutbrain Records

Tuesday, 21 February 2006

As you can see, Gracie is just as cute with one eye.

I was just glancing at an article about our administration's policy regarding torture. "Policy" is the key word.

I've been watching Yes, Minister again lately. It's very soothing in these politically troubled times. I've seen all of the episodes but I can watch them over and over.

In an episode called "The Moral Dimension" the Minister, Jim Hacker (played by Paul Eddington), learns that a lucrative electronics-manufacturing contract was won by the British government, not fairly but by bribing the oil-rich Middle Eastern country that awarded it.

The Minister confronts Humphrey Appleby (played by Nigel Hawthorne), the civil servant in charge of the department: "You're telling me that winking at corruption is government policy?"

"Oh no, Minister!" Humphrey says. "That would be unthinkable. It could never be government policy. Only government practice."

In another episode, Humphrey considers using the Official Secrets Act to cover up some embarrassing governmental incompetence which lost a great deal of taxpayers' money on a bad investment risk.

When it's put to him that the matter isn't really a secret, Humphrey replies that the Official Secrets Act is meant to protect officials, not secrets.

Another episode deals with a committee meant to investigate whether a possibly dangerous chemical plant should be established in Britain. Of course the committee will be completely independent and no attempt made to influence it. It will be impartial.

Certain guidelines will be suggested, though. Trains are impartial, too, but whatever way you put down the lines, that's the way they'll go.

I strongly recommend Yes, Minister (which eventually becomes Yes, Prime Minister). There's a great fan site for it here. It's very funny and, I guess, cynical. However, "a cynic," Humphrey reminds us, "is what an idealist calls a realist."

That reminds me of something amusing I read in the Times Literary Supplement a couple of weeks ago: the difference between a pessimist and an optimist is that a pessimist thinks things can't get any worse and an optimist knows they can.

Wednesday, 01 February 2006

Gracie is recovering just fine from her surgery. She has one eye now, but she is as cute as ever. Photo to come.

Film criticism has been bothering me lately, mostly because there doesn't seem to be any. Most of what I see is not criticism, but lazy reviewing.

For example, consider the openings of these different reviews of Peter Jackson's King Kong remake.

We should start with the paper of record, I suppose. The New York Times review of Dec 13, 2005, begins:

Among the reasons King Kong — the old 100-minute black-and-white version, that is — has retained its appeal over the years is that it reminds audiences of the do-it-yourself, seat-of-the-pants ethic of early motion pictures.

This is a dubious claim. First of all, King Kong is from 1933: not exactly the dawn of cinema. The reviewer is trying to impose quaintness by using the phrase "early motion pictures". And the idea of DIY as an ethic (as opposed to a necessity) dates back to when? Punk rock?

And seat of the pants? Was that ever an "ethic"? Was it practiced by Cecil B. Demille or D.W. Griffith? Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock? F.W. Murnau? When you think of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, does "do-it-yourself, seat-of-the-pants" spring to mind?

In short, I think this is totally bogus. Find out what appeal King Kong had to audiences in the '30s and you'll likely find out what appeal it has had to audiences since.

Enough with the Times. What about the Boston Globe? It's owned by the same people who own the Times and they reviewed the movie the same day. Their opening line:

Peter Jackson's King Kong delivers all you could possibly want from a modern popcorn behemoth: state-of-the-art special effects, epic scope and running time, rampaging dinosaurs, things majestically going ka-boom.

Bland but safe. Of course, anybody who had seen the preview for the movie already knew that it had dinosaurs in it. And the reviewer, after explicitly stating that the movie "delivers all you could possibly want", goes on to talk about all that he wanted but didn't get from the movie.

The Washington Post tackled the movie in question on December 14, 2005. Its reviewer began by posing questions and attempting to answer them. Remarkably, he gets most of the answers wrong. He even gets some of the questions wrong. Later he unwisely tries to invent a word, "mesmerization". I couldn't bring myself to read beyond what I'll quote here.

The new King Kong answers many important questions:

Can a girl outrun a dinosaur? (Yes.)

Can a tommy gun kill a prehistoric spider? (Yes.)

Can a blonde and a monkey find true, if chaste, love at the top of the Empire State Building? (Yes.)

Can three hours feel like 90 minutes? (Yes.)

Can Jack Black act? (No.)

One hundred eighty-seven minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills, Peter Jackson's big monkey picture show is certainly the best popular entertainment of the year.

No comment, not even on its shilling, swilling and cavilling.

Now, from the January 13, 2006, issue of the Times Literary Supplement, the first line of their piece on King Kong:

Somewhere in the upper levels of the Tate Modern, lurking at the gateway of an exhibition devoted to the works of Henri Rousseau, stands a sculpture by Emmanuel Frémiet.

Ah. This could be an actual critic, or at least a good reviewer. The sentence contains information I didn't already know and nothing that's obviously wrong. Best of all, I actually want to keep reading.