Film, Philosophy, Pop Culture, review, Satire, Uncategorized

A Lacanian Review of “Baywatch”

The Interplay between The Rock’s primal over-compensating Nietsczean character and the latent homosexual archtype played by Effron brings to mind the process by which Hegelian material dialectics brings form to the amorphous potential of power dynamics in a totalitarian state system; that the Rock, an apt pseudonym for such an immovable superego figure, continually subjects Effron to progressively more perverse forms of sexual torture mirrors the crippling, stultifyingly, repetative but nonetheless erotically charged Real of “bay watching” i.e. the omnipotent Object of the Sea and the subjective figures drowing in its unexplored depths, and the father-signifier Life-Guard striving to pull subjectivity from the great blue churning Other of Stalinist derrived material hermenutics.

That the milleu of the picture is the ever-sunny, ever objectivity denuding beach-scape of Southern California, land of silicon bosoms and rictus grin visages sculpted from the raw pulp of human flesh at $30,000 a pop, throws the psych-sexual dialectic of the film into stark contrastm, especially when considered alongside the the obsessive cinematographic fondling and half-joking fetisization of Alexandra Daddario’s magnificent natural breasts. One cannot help but recall Lacan’s claim in his XXth Seminar:

“The subject is nothing other than what slides in a chain of signifiers, whether he knows which signifier he is the effect of or not. That effect- the subject – is the intermediary effect between what characterizes a signifier and another signifier, namely, the fact that each of them, each of them is an element. – “

I give the film as a whole 2 1/2 Stars.

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art, music, Pop Culture

Grammy Night…Music on My Mind

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I am in one of those moods, rare for me, where I would rather take a break from the hard-scrabble world of political theory, philosophy, and 18th century sexual deviant geniuses in order to discuss something of more pressing importance: The Grammys

Well, less the Grammys than my taste in music and how that overlaps WITH said award program. My taste is rather eclectic and hard to pin down. It is easier, I suppose to state what I do NOT like.

1. I hate 95% of country music. The exceptions are Hank Williams, Johnny Cash (who along with Woody Guthrie is, in my opinion, the best American musician of all time…go ahead, challenge me on it) and….well there you go.

2. I hate 95% of hip-hop and rap made after 1992. The exceptions being Kanye West’s early stuff (I know that sounds hipster of me but oh well), Biggie Smalls, and Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise”. It is all just so much sound and fury signifying jack shit, to turn a phrase.

3. Not a big fan of jazz. I just…I don’t get it.

4. Anything auto-tuned. Just. Don’t.

Well now that I have THAT out of the way…on to what I DO like! My favorite channel on Pandora radio is my customized “Donovan” network, named for the Scottish songwriter/poet/musician who in many ways is what Dylan wanted to be when he tried to get all spiritual in the 70’s and failed miserably. The choices on that station are hardly limited to Donovan though: The Doors, The Beatles, John Lennon, The Stones, The Kinks (perhaps the most underrated rock group of the 70’s) and of course Zeppelin.

I have my wife’s wonderful music tastes to thank for my discovery of Led Zeppelin. I am partial to their more bluesy and soulful material but for just rocking out you cannot beat some of their arena anthems like Whole Lotta Love or Black Dog. And I can listen to Stairway to Heaven until the cows come home. Queen is another great band that gets a lot of play for me…especially Love of My Life, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Somebody to Love. Killer Queen is also exemplary. Freddie Mercury is pretty much a rock god in my eyes.

My guilty pleasure has always been U2…Name any of their songs and I will find something to love about it. Their Greatest Hits album was the soundtrack to my first solo trip to London back in 2005. Especially beloved by me are Sunday, Bloody Sunday, Beautiful Day, Where The Streets Have No Name, and the sublime One. Springsteen, The Clash, and Three Dog Night also inspire and move me as well.

For my more artistic moods I tend to reach for early Dylan…the folk stuff and the era when he just started going electric. Highway 61 Revisited is one of my all time favorite albums of any genre and I wrote some of my earliest poetry while listening to the haunting Desolation Row on loop for hours on end. As for his later stuff…well I like Quinn the Eskimo. We will leave it at that.

Not much about contemporary rock gets me excited…there are a few exceptions of course. The White Stripes are the best band of the 2000’s, hands down, and The Black Keys are fast becoming essential listening for anyone who needs to get in touch with the roots of rock. I’m Slowly Turning into You off of Icky Thump from the former and Lonely Boy from the latter are especially good examples of the genius of these groups. I hope that we will see more rock of this type as the years go by.

I am actually a rather big fan of lyrical hip hop and 80’s era politically infused rap. NWA’s Natural Born Killers and Express Yourself are two of the best contemporary songs of all time in my honest opinion. And The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is terrifying, haunting, and captivating all at once. Public Enemy is also another favorite of mine, as are the Beastie Boys.

Three of my all time favorites are The Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Supremes, in that order. Ball of Confusion, My Girl, and Can’t Get Next to You Babe are…well they are classics. It’s Just The Same (Old Song) is just pure fun and energy and I can listen to almost anything song by Diana Ross at random. Motown in general is perhaps my greatest standby for when I just want to hear something that makes me happy.

Beyond pop I have a great love for Classical music. I can and have listened to Mozart for hours on end, especially the Operas and the Requiem Mass. Bach is a favorite as is Beethoven and Handel. I love the romantic era composers, especially Saint-Saens, Berlioz and Lizst. You can never go wrong with Richard Strauss either. I am amazed again and again when I listen to the Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens and his Carnival of the Animals suite, especially the segment entitled The Chickens with its frantic bursts of energy and concise structure. It really captures the mood of an autistic mind such as mine.

I think I mentioned something about the Grammys…oh yes! Well they were tonight and the Black Keys did NOT get the album of the year award they so richly deserved. The grossly overrated Mumford and Sons took that honor away from them. Meh. I was happy to see Adele get another award (I loved her 21 album) and the Lumineers are a delightful group, though I fear they may be a one hit wonder. Fun. is ok but they need to stop trying so hard to be Queen. I liked Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z’s Al Green-esque new song and I am intrigued by Frank Ocean. I also greatly appreciate Katy Perry’s breasts. Quite a bit.

Well that is my taste in music in a nutshell. Believe me, I could go on about this topic for 1000’s of words, and perhaps I will someday in this blog, but for now I will spare you. I have a date with Lola by The Kinks…Happy Listening!

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Bond, Film, Pop Culture, Skyfall

The Top 3 Greatest Bond Film Countdown: #3 Skyfall

[SPOILER ALERT: There are details from the most recent Bond film and from many of the others in the following essay] 

To say I a fan of the James Bond film franchise would be an understatement of monumental proportions. I LOVE this series, which I think surpasses the Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings series and rivals the Godfather series for cinematic panache and style.

This weekend I saw the third best Bond film ever made. This may seem like faint praise at first but you need to remember that the series spans 50 years (JFK was President when Dr. No came out!) and 23 installments. There have been 6 actors who have portrayed Commander James Bond of Her Majesty’s Secret Service agency MI6 and all of them have had their good points and their bad. I will spare you an assessment of all the men and their particular failings and accomplishments, but I can safely say that the three best Bonds were played by Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, in that order. Each man has a film in the franchise that defines Bond and their take on the character. This series of Blogs will be a countdown of sorts and I will reveal the Best Bond Film of all time this time next week. Tonight I’ll start with the most recent and the freshest in my mind, at #3 on my list but number 23 in the series:

Skyfall

Daniel Craig has never been the sort of Bond one could easily imagine cracking wise or playing around with Q’s inane and awesome gadgets, but as Bond Craig brings a dignity and a professionalism that makes him the most believable of all the Bonds as an actual intelligence agent. If there is sometime too much Bourne in this Bond it is because Craig is so naturally gifted physically and his dynamic power comes out most remarkable when he is in action.

Take the scene at the secret casino island in Macau. Bond arrives by boat but he is far to wired up and on edge to even take a seat on the small boat. When he hops onto the dock he is immediately all business and makes sure he has all his escape routes planned with his fellow agent Eve. With this done a self-assured smirk appears on his face, Craig’s physical trademark as the character of Bond. The night’s events lead to a drink with a beautiful and haunted prostitute, a vodka martini, and a fight with three henchmen that descends into a pit of Komodo Dragons. It is to the credit of the director, Sam Mendes and of Craig himself that the scene is never at any point over the top in a distracting way. As with the scenes later with the famous Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5, there is a endearing kitsch to the Komodo sequence that both reminds us of the Bond heritage and embraces that heritage as part of the “new look” of Bond. Back to the Future indeed.

A great Bond film often has a great Bond villein and Javier Bardem could not be better as Silva. He chews the scenery politely and with a napkin placed on his lap. The best Bind villeins steal every scene they are in and Silva is no exception to that rule. In one scene we find the former British agent turned hacker attacking Bond’s compound with a helicopter that is blaring a song I will not spoil for you here. Needless to say it is both hilarious and chilling. Bardem is constantly grinning throughout the film but not in a patronizing way: he is having a blast and wants the audience to know it every step of the way. And on an awesome side-note no one has more convincingly pulled off a homoerotic sequence with Bond then does Bardem here. All of their scenes together crackling with kinetic, erotic, and dramatic tension.

All of the supporting actors here are brilliant and well cast (I especially liked the gorgeous and compelling Naimie Harris as Eve and the always superlative Ralph Fiennes as Intelligence Director Mallory) but Judi Dench is far and away the best acted character in the entire film. M has always been an under-explored character but this time we finally get some insight into what it is like to be the only person given the power and the burden of controlling Great Britain’s greatest intelligent asset: James Bond. Dench as M is no nonsense but she is not above letting Bond do what he needs to to get the job done. She is by far the least squeamish character in the film and the most pragmatic. We find this out when it is revealed that Silva is actually the “old Bond” i.e. the agent who came before the current 007. M sold him out to the Chinese in exchange for 6 valuable intelligence assets. It was a good trade in a national security sense, and secured her promotion to the head of M16, but it lead to Silva’s festering hatred and macabre almost Oedipal obsession with her. Their last scene together is the stuff of film legend and is a fitting culmination of M’s character arc. Dame Dench deserves yet another nomination for this role.

The film making on display in Skyfall is perhaps the best reason why this film works the way it does. Casino Royale was a good outing, but it was slow in parts and featured too many scenes in the Casino and the hotel and not nearly enough of the compelling and tragic villein Le Chiffre. The real problem with the Craig films up until Skyfall has been the editing and direction. Casino Royale looked gorgeous and could be amazingly exciting at time but it had a far to static and cosmetic a look most of the time and one got the feeling that the characters were walking about on a giant Grande Tour of Europe administered by PBS’ Rick Steves. There are scenes in the film where the camera does not move except to cut from one character to the next for nearly 5 minutes at a time. That is just a failing of screenplay writing and cinematographic imagination: with so much to use and so many great actors to use it Casiono Royale is often filled with moments when you catch yourself saying “is this really worth all the trouble?”.

Quantum of Solace is another problem entirely. It is almost as though the cinematography was done by a commercial photographer for SAAB and the editing by a caffeinated 19 year old film student. The beginning car chase sequence is the worst opening of any Bond film, and that is saying something for a franchise that prides itself on opening sequences. I honestly did not know where to look on the screen and around the 6th hairpin suicide turn on the cliff I had lost interest and had taken a handful of aspirin for the visual whiplash I was suffering. Fortunately the film did get a bit better: Olga Kurylenko is fun and interesting and drop dead gorgeous as a Bond girl with a really twisted past but the film goes nowhere with her story and ends up with a cliched conclusion to her arc. Craig is almost nowhere to be seen in this film: he is wasted in action sequence upon action sequence and he never really gets to have a break. The one scene that works in the film is where 007 is being tracked by his own MI6 employers and he must escape a hotel while also carrying on a conversation with M. It is Craig and Dench’s acting chops that make this scene work and it is the only time in the film where it seems like the director and his cameramen seemed to know what they were trying to communicate.

I admit to being a skeptic about Daniel Craig when it was first announced he would be taking over from my favorite Bond, Pierce Brosnan. That skepticism has now abated but I stand by my assertion that Brosnan was the best Bond. Not the best actor or the best looking, but the best Bond. Craig is often too serious and a trifle too good-looking: he on occasion upstages the amazingly sexy women he is with! He also does not quite look the part of Bond either. Say what you will but James Bond is NOT a blonde. All that being said Daniel Craig is much better than the non-entity George Lazenby, the almost-but-not-quite Timothy Dalton and the utter embarrassment of Roger Moore (with the exception of Live and Let Die). Craig may not be the best Bond, but he is certainly talented and charming enough to bring Bond into the 21st Century. Skyfall is easily the best Bond film of the past 20 years or so and I do not think it will be topped until the next actor takes over for Bond presumably in the early 2020’s.

NEXT WEEK: The 2nd Best Bond Film of All Time and my discussion of the Greatest Bond: Pierce Brosnan.

 

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