You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, January 23, 2011


In the Miso SoupIn the Miso Soup by Ryƫ Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this because I learned that Ryu Murakami wrote the novel that became Takashi Miike's Audition, a brilliant film but for neither the weak of stomach nor faint of heart. In prose, the slow pacing that you just know is building to some horrific climax doesn't work as well as it does on film -- or maybe this story is not as compelling as Audition.

Kenji is a twenty-year-old from the provinces who should be studying for his college prep tests but instead has became an unlicensed guide for gaijin looking for a sex tour of Tokyo. He knows from the start that Frank is a weird one, but over three days he goes on a psychic journey that his previous immersion in the world of foreigners and the seamiest side of Tokyo could not possibly prepare him.

Since Kenji is the narrator, you know he's going to survive. When he finds the postage stamp-size patch of human skin stuck to his front door, I wondered why he didn't bail. But he is both frightened and curious, and he has not yet been paid.

Books by Ryu Murakami available in English

View all my reviews

Friday, January 21, 2011


A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps up on them; infirmities follow; shames and humiliations bring down their prides and vanities; those they love are taken from them and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. The burden of pain, care, misery grows heavier year by year; at length ambition is dead; vanity is dead; longing for release is in their place. It comes at last -- the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them -- and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence...Then another myriad takes their place.

Mark Twain,  The Autobiography of Mark Twain

Friday, January 14, 2011


Awards season is upon us. Remember when there were just the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, and that was it. Then the Daytime Emmies crept in, and several years ago we were told to start taking the Golden Globe Awards seriously. Suddenly the Academy Awards are just a footnote.

The only awards program I really enjoy is the MTV Movie Awards. They are funny and good-natured and introduced such categories as Best Kiss, Best Fight, and Best Villain. Now there is also the awkward, self-congratulatory Independent Spirit Awards, and the low-rent People's Choice Awards -- the Parade Magazine of award shows where winners grudgingly take the stage and say, "This means so much to me, because I know it was voted on by you! The People!"

The Teen Choice Awards are in a class by themselves. There are seldom any surprises here--Guess what? The kids love Justin Bieber!. But where else is Channing Tatum, star of G.I. Joe, ever going to win best actor? What are the odds that in ten years he will either be hiding his little statuette in the pantry or trying to hock it?

Even with everybody seeming to have a chance at winning something, there remains one unjustly ignored potential movie-making award. I want to initiate the annual award for Best Film Made for the SyFy Network. (Up until a few years ago, the SyFy network was the Sci Fi network, but for some reason they decided, and this is documented, that changing the name to something that sounds exactly like the previous name would widen their appeal.)

Weekends are movie marathon time on Sy Fy, usually based loosely around a theme: aliens, natural disaster, vampires, the return of extinct species, and things that are scary enough when small getting really big. For a decade I wanted to watch these films, but the commercials defeated me. Tthey are long and relentless. Enter the lifesaving, time-wasting DVR. A two-hour time slot can be reduced to one hour and 25 minutes, even less if you starting skipping the dialog and get straight to the Mega Piranhas.

Fan reviews of these films tend to be ruthless. IMDB is full of single-star comments that start along the lines of , "Bad even by Sy Fy standards." But I think these would-be Roger Eberts in their Lazy Boys are missing the point. Yes, they are bad, but they can attain a certain sublimity. The Made for SyFy film takes place in an alternate universe that has nothing to do with its fantastic elements. No, this is a universe where Casper van Diehm, David Keith, C. Thomas Howell, and Luke Perry all have flourishing careers. It is a universe where a female character introducing herself as a paleontologist, archeologist, or the head of research at the National Oceanographic Laboratories more often than not looks like a stripper. In other words, it is a little corner of heaven -- so long as you have a DVR.

I have three contenders for 2010. (Dating these films can be tricky. It could be that some I just happened across for the first time last year. Others may have earlier production dates and have already made the rounds of the Phillipines and the in-room movie services of Asian hotels before getting their big break on SyFy.)

Anyway, this years contenders are

1) Mongolian Death Worm

First of all, the title Mongolian Death Worm undersells this movie. We are not talking Death Worm in the singular. There are dozens if not hundreds of these things, six- to ten-foot-long chubby bags of wriggling horror with lots of teeth. They foul a village's drinking water, and storm the warehouse of the evil, exploitative Western Corporation that has done something to upset them. (I am vague on some plot details of these movies. As I said, I sometimes skip not only commercials but dialog scenes as well. ) Most of these movies are made in former Soviet bloc countries, but I kept thinking Mongolia, in this case, looked remarkably like the scenery you see out the window on the way to Austin or Houston. About the time I noticed this, a character entered played by an actor I had last seen as Oberon at the Dallas Theater Center. This one was apparently shot in Texas. Score one for the Texas Film Commission.

This movie should maybe not be on the list. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was made with theatrical release in mind. One giveaway is the number of obscenities bleeped from the soundtrack. It is also filmed better and has some interesting plot elements. Checking now on IMBD, I see it was made back in 2006, and actually had a opening weekend gross. So in a way I'm sorry I brought it up, but it is worth seeing. Something about a boy who can end the curse of the werewolves among the descendants of his tribe. They are a branch of Navajos who have apparently migrated to Canado where the film was clearly shot. But is is enjoyable and it stars Elia Koteas, one of my favorite actors.

Some movies deserve awards based on their title alone. Just like Universal Studios in the 1940's, SyFy's producers like to recycle monsters. Universal wanted to get the most of their living human actors. At SyFy I assume they are getting the most out of the piddling amount of money spent on the initial CG effects. So we have had Boa vs. Python (one of their best), Dinocroc vs. Supergator, and the list goes on. I don't know enough about these things to be sure, but I suspect that the Bulgarian team that created the CG Gargoyles for two films later used their basic drawings for the Pterodactyls in the eponymous film.  A year ago, there was an profoundly unwatchable film called

Who would suspect that so feeble an effort could give rise to Sharktopus. You have probably guessed that this is an unholy genetic mutation of a shark and an octopus, both of them very large. The shark is the upfront part. Early in the film, sharktopus loses the implant that controls it and is gobbling up bikini-clad teenagers/ When its creator, played by Eric Roberts, gets called to task for this minor screw up, he barks out the line, "You told me you wanted the ultimate killing machine and I gave it to you!" I would have liked to sit on that meeting of top naval brass where Roberts proposed genetically mutating a shark and an octopus, and some admiral, dripping with ribbons and brass, pursed his lips, sat back in his chair, and said, "Sounds good to me."

Sharktopus is the obvious winner of 2010, but a new year has just begun. Not only will you have another 30 or so opportunities to see the films I've already mentioned, but somewhere in the former Soviet bloc, some brainy computer kid is doing preliminary work on Gargodactyl.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Yes, I set up safeguards, the first day's dictating taking this position: that an Autobiography is the truest of all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines, where the author's cat is raking dust upon it which hides from the disinterested spectator neither it nor its smell ... the result being that the reader knows the author despite his wily diligence.

Samuel Clemens in a letter to William Dean Howells, 14 March, 1949