Monday, December 11, 2006

My Weekly Reader...

...that's what this once-daily blog has turned into, sorry to say. (Just like grade school for you fellow old-timers, eh? I just came across a little stash of those archaic elementary school treasures while packing on Saturday.)

The move continues, with the closing on the new house going down tomorrow AM -- and the very good news that we have a buyer (and, incredibly enough, a backup buyer) for our Marlboro home, too. This has thankfully removed most of Marge's anxieties about the move, and given us considerable confidence in the wisdom of our decision to do this crazy thing in the first place.

That said, there's much hard work ahead, and not a day goes by without hours poured into the process in multiple capacities. This means almost no computer and/or writing time, which has been a disappointment in more ways than one, but the tasks constantly at hand are many and increasingly urgent.

More news as all this falls into place. Know for now that all is still going surprisingly well, I've only falling down the backsteps once carrying boxes, and we'll be in our new home soon.

I'm cautious about saying too much more, though; don't want to chance any (further) missteps or false expectations.
_________

Feeling momentarily fried on all-things-moving, after a busy Sunday morning -- sigh -- packing, Marge and I played hooky from our own lives long enough to dash down to Brattleboro and catch separate matinees of movies we both wanted to see -- but not together.

Ya see, Marge hates cinematic violence, so Mel Gibson's Apocalypto was on her "definitely don't see" list, especially given its epic 2+ hour running time and instant critical notoriety for its Mayan sacrificial horrors and characteristic Gibson onscreen brutality. For me, having little patience for studio-produced 21st Century romantic comedies, I'd rather have my face gnawed off by a jaguar than sit through well over two hours of The Holiday (Eli Wallach's character role notwithstanding).

Preserving our marital bliss, we carpooled to the theater, kissed, divided and conquered, emerging individually slaked and recharged after our respective matinee entertainments had unspooled.

Our capsule reviews: Marge loved The Holiday, reportedly crying through part of it -- "but a good cry," she cooed -- and was most surprised by Wallach's performance, which may yet get me into the theater. I was captivated and engrossed with Apocalypto, which taxed my credibility only with its over-the-top childbirth sequence amid the climactic gauntlet mayhem -- otherwise, an engaging and decidedly masculine classic of its form. The NY Times review belittled Gibson and his film for not emulating Herzog; they miss the point entirely -- with Braveheart and Apocalypto, Gibson is most clearly following and improving upon the directorial efforts of a prior generation's star-turned-filmmaker Cornel Wilde, whose best films (The Naked Prey, Beach Red, No Blade of Grass) were similarly unapologetic for their aggressive, violent, pulpish and rigorously physical endurance tests; unflinching films with rich emotional cores and tough world views. Apocalypto is essentially a remake (and an inversion) of The Naked Prey, with similar end-of-empire colonial underpinnings and ideosyncratic collisions of sentimentalism and savagery.

Gibson's new film worked for me; more sickening, to my mind, is the useless spectacle of squeamish critics ignoring Gibson's accomplishments in order to whine about the quotient of onscreen bloodshed amid America's bloodiest era since Vietnam. That era yielded a Christmas season (1971) bounty of Friedkin's The French Connection, Polanski's Macbeth, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, Siegel's Dirty Harry, and Russell's The Devils; how soon we forget. For a nation continuing to indulge and (via a spineless Congress) sanction its leaders's basest instincts for warmongering, torture and bullying, the disconnect is increasingly revolting. To date, I've heard/read no discussion of the obvious links between the Christian population's embrace of Gibson's The Passion (of the Christ) and chronologically concurrent eruption of abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanemo and "extraordinary rendition" kidnappings and torture; for a filmmaker so clearly obsessed with martyrdom, penance and repentance, one would think the heartfelt and transparent thematic response from Gibson via Apocalypto would prompt some substantial discussion or debate, but it's all being swept aside as trivial: only the mock collective outrage at simulated violence merits discussion, with obligatory nods to Gibson's personal misbehavior.

If only similar outrage had been so quickly mustered and mobilized against the genuine horrors, the real blood on our collective hands...
_________

Returning home, I packed some more while Marge wrapped the last of the Christmas presents we have for friends and family. We then bolted out the door to savor an evening at Jeannie and Mark Martin's cozy log cabin home in Massachusetts, and a good old-fashioned Christmas season party at the Martins. It was a capacity crowd, a grand time, and it was great to see some new faces -- hello, Colin, Dan and Phayvanh! What an amazing surprise! -- among those I'd not seen for years.

Then it was home agin, home agin jiggedy-jig, and down for evening. Without packing.

Up this AM -- and packing anew...
_________

Among the casualties of the move and the lack of time to blog has been updates and current news, links, etc. I used to be pretty dependable for. It's beginning to catch up with me, as books I have some small part of are seeing print without a whisper from me here.

* First up is Rob Walton's exquisite one-volume completion of his classic 1990s comic Ragmop, which is indeed a thing of beauty. Unlike most things of beauty, though, it's also gut-busting, fall-down funny and savagely precise in repeatedly bulls-eying its many social/religious/political targets, which are (literally) legion (in the Biblical sense of the word, natch).

From Rob's revamp of Jack Davis's classic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World movie poster art for the collected Ragmop cover to the abundant extras and appendices in the back of the book -- this is as jam-packed as a 'special edition Director's Cut' DVD, bunkie! -- Ragmop is a true delight, and hefty enough at 452 pages that if you accidentally drop it on your cat, you'll be making a trip to the vet or the pet 'semetary' in a skipped heartbeat.

I've posted numerous times here over the summer and fall about this revised & expanded completion of Ragmop, and there's not much more I can say with the little time I have this morning, except to holler, in virtual space -- don't delay, snap up your copy (perfect Christmas gift, too!) today. Pronto! I'd be ballyhooing Rob's epic regardless, but it behooves me to mention my own minor contribution -- an introduction -- if only to prompt a few of you out there to
  • read the online interview with Rob about Ragmop over at PaneltoPanel.net, and place your order while you're at it!


  • * Secondly, the new issue of Video Watchdog magazine -- #128, cover-featuring actor Tony Russel of 1960's guilty pleasure Wild, Wild Planet -- sports a review by yours truly. Nothing momentous -- a trifle entitled The Hollow is my subject -- but its nice to be in VW's pages again, and here's hoping after the move I can get back to work on my freelance writing (including more, of substance, for VW) with my old enthusiasm. As usual, though, Video Watchdog is compulsive cover-to-cover reading, and my favorite magazine of them all.

    _________

    Howard was dead right --

    Howard Dean of Vermont, then a candidate for president and now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, quoted February 2003:

    "I firmly believe that the president is focusing our diplomats, our military, our intelligence agencies, and even our people on the wrong war, at the wrong time. Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms."

    2 Comments:

    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    I have to admit that I was a bit put off by the arrival of Gibson's PASSION film. But it was a lot of stress over nothing. In the first place, very few people are going to be inspired to commit acts of hatred by a movie (and probably only if they're predisposed to do so). Secondly, SHREK II outgrossed it. Oy.

    I do plan on seeing APOCALYPTO, since I've long had an interest in how that civilization was so easily destroyed by the Spaniards. Don't know if Gibson's take on it will be what I expect, but I figure it may be worth watching.

    12/11/2006  
    Blogger Daniel Barlow said...

    Hi Steve -

    It was a great pleasure bumping into you at Mark Martin's party (which reminds me that I need to drop him a line of thanks for being a great host).

    And thank you Steve for introducing me to Mike Dobbs, which kicked off 30 minutes of brutal stories concerning the current state of the newspaper industry.

    Phayvanh and I headed off to Kipling the other night to catch a showing of Happy Feet (her choice, not mine), but discovered that the show times in the newspaper (those things again!) were incorrect and the film began more than 30 minutes earlier.

    Feeling bad, the theater worker let us in free to a movie of our choice and Apocalypto was only 10 minutes in ...

    I've never liked Mel Gibson as an actor or a filmmaker, but walked away astonished at the beautiful scope of the film and its blood-red darker side.

    It's an important and certainly timely film and I couldn't help but reflect on some of the horror stories of random killings, beheadings and even rapes coming out of the Iraq conflict as the peaceful Mayan tribe was brutally taken apart, whipped into submission and hauled off like animals.

    That said, I don't think I would ever watch that film again. Some of the violence was too much for me and I've even seen (several times!) Joel Reed's BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, which has thankfully been kept in print by Troma.

    12/12/2006  

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