Sunday, January 22, 2006

I’ll be what I am, a solitary man

The overriding focus of discussion about Brokeback Mountain has naturally been about the love affair between two men. To be sure, a major motion-picture telling the story of a love affair between two men spanning the 1960s and 1970s in the big sky country of Wyoming is worth talking about. But the film is not just about “gay cowboys eating pudding”. There much more going on.

Mostly I saw it as a character study of a man, Ennis Del Mar, who has a profoundly sad inability to get out of his own head and connect with other people. People are drawn to him – his lover Jack Twist, wife Alma, eldest daughter Alma Jr., bartender Cassie Cartwright. Yet Ennis struggles to reciprocate their attraction, subconsciously but overtly keeping people at a distance, never deliberately showing his true self. When he does open up and flash a bit of unabashed emotion (excitement over going “fishing” with Twist), it takes his wife and the audience by surprise.

To be sure, it is beautifully shot and the acting is first rate. The landscape shots are lush and spectacular and stand in sharp contrast to the interior scenes that Ang Lee frames in a way that's evocative of the American realism period of painting of Eakins and Hopper -- stark images conveying loneliness and empty space. Heath Ledger plays Del Mar with just enough reticence and vulnerability to make the character a tragic hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Twist is a bit less fully realized. He's definitely trying to be a young romantic, wanting to seduce everything in his path, but there's something about Gyllenhaal the actor...he doesn't carry the emotional weight that Ledger does, and seems small and meager by comparison.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

the sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine

The owners of the mining company should be brought up on 12 counts of negligent homicide. From the Washington Post:

Time and again over the past four years, federal mining inspectors documented the same litany of problems at central West Virginia's Sago Mine: mine roofs that tended to collapse without warning. Faulty or inadequate tunnel supports. A dangerous buildup of flammable coal dust.

Yesterday, the mine's safety record came into sharp focus as officials searched for explanations for Monday's underground explosion. That record, as reflected in dozens of federal inspection reports, shows a succession of operators struggling to overcome serious, long-standing safety problems, some of which could be part of the investigation into the cause of the explosion that trapped 13 miners.

In the past two years, the mine was cited 273 times for safety violations, of which about a third were classified as "significant and substantial," according to documents compiled by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Many were for problems that could contribute to accidental explosions or the collapse of mine tunnels, records show.


The media, this so-called anti-business, anti-Republican liberal media, is almost as much to blame for the deaths, and that's as much a deal as the idiotic and unprofessional reporting that told the world that the miners were all alive.

Good investigative reporting -- of the likes of Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, Jacob Riis, Jack Anderson and pre-fame Woodward and Bernstein -- has gone the way of the rotary phone. And it's this kind of reporting that exposed a meat-packing industry that was killing people, exposed life in NYC slums, exposed corrupt politicians from Boss Tweed to Nixon. They were in full-throttle during the Lewinsky thing, but only in it for the titillation. "Reporters" dig for the next missing blonde chick but don't work to expose real problems like the Sago mine.

These miners died because of a lack of enforcement of safety codes and a lazy press. Its OSHA, the EPA, FDA and other agencies that should be there to protect us. When they fall down the Fourth Estate (the press) needs to be there to call them into account.

Let's not let the union off the hook. They're as complicit in the deaths as the mining company and the press. They should never have allowed their rank-and-file into that mine and should never again allow workers to go to demonstrably unsafe mines.

These miners died because of a business climate that falsely proclaims how burdensome safety regulations are and because the press has left its balls and vigilance at the door in a trade for access and glamour. China allows its citizens to be expendable cannon-fodder for industry and "progress" (dam failures, chemical plant explosions). The Soviet Union did the same (Chernobyl) The number of deaths is astounding -- do some research on it. The level of government complicity and the callousness of government response in these and other nations we condemn for human rights abuses is even more astounding. We should be better than that.

some kind of monster

i'll start this by saying that i'm not a metallica fan. have never dug their music. so why use netflix rentals for the documentary "some kind of monster", which details the making of metallica's "st. anger" album? because the reviews were pretty good and i have some experience in the music biz, including in the studio and dealing with fucked up band dynamics.

i'd read the stories about how hetfield and ulrich were major assholes -- control freaks who didn't let kirk hammett or jason newstead have much in the way of creative input, how they mercilessly hazed newstead after he took over for the dead cliff burton. if you read the rock press you read the 'alcoholica' stories, you read about the groupies. ulrich makes news going after napster. but you also read about an incredibly successful band.

so it's quite a shock that the movie starts with conflict, newstead leaving the band just before they commence recording what would become "st. anger". also, the band has brought in a $40K/month life-performance coach to help them with their issues. the sessions begin with nothing demoed, evidently a departure for them. but hey, they're rich, they can afford to dick around in the studio. also, the plan is for everyone to contribute both musically and lyrically, again a new thing.

the sessions aren't yielding much but fighting between hetfield and ulrich, with hammett playing his usual peace-maker. after a particularly bad fight, hetfield storms out of the studio. he doesn't come back for a year, going into rehab. upon his return the band slog thru recording and finish. they also hire a new bass player, rob trujillo, from ozzy osbourne's band.

the crux of the film is not the artistic process itself, but the interplay between the art and personal reconciliation. simply put, these guys have major issues in how they deal with each other. their lives having come to a crossroads of age {they're all at or near 40} and their material wealth great and musical legacy strong, they need to find out how to be challenged to create and how to get out of the dysfunctional rut that will keep them from moving forward artistically.

there are some powerful scenes from therapy sessions and meeting, scenes that make the viewer feel like an intruder. but they resonate with real pain and emotion. notable is a meeting between dave mustaine and lars ulrich. mustaine, kicked out of the band almost 20 years ago, *still* harbors major resentment towards hetfield and ulrich for the way they dumped him {though he acknowledges he deserved it, given his alchoholism..which is saying something considering how much these guys drank}. despite that mustaine's band megadeath sold millions and millions of records, he still acts like a wounded child, his self-esteem stuck at being measured in terms of his relationship to metallica's success and that he wasn't there for it.

hetfield's post-rehab change is remarkable -- he emerges as this sensitive, caring family man who openly professes love for his bandmates. the directors do a great job of developing his character.

it's a layered and complex film about real relationships. and from experience i know that being in a band is very much like a marriage or other romantic relationship. you put so much of yourself out there, you're so vulnerable and the only ting that keeps you going is your trust in your partner{s}.

so get the movie. make sure to also get the bonus disc {shipped separately if via netflix}. it's an amazing piece of work. this non-fan still doesn't like metallica's music that much, but i came away with a fair amount of respect for them, in the sense that they embarked on a risky path of personal and artistic change, and doubled that risk by letting cameras chronicle every minute.

new year's in vegas

photo set...

for my first time in vegas, why not during the new year's holiday? if you're gonna do over-the-top sensory overload, no time like when it's as crowded as possible. it's supposed to be second only to nyc/times square in terms of number of people gathering.

anyway, first day+ was hanging with a friend who lives in henderson. mellow, just eating, drinking, watching hockey.

the vegas experience starts the next day, thursday. meet up with my friend j (knew her in miami, now she's a photography student at parson's in nyc) and get to the hotel, the excalibur. there's a medieval theme that's definitely played out in the architecture, and to a point in the entertainment and a few of the restaurant names. the rooms themselves were fairly generic. just a small faux medieval tapestry hanging on one wall, and the bedframes had vaguely gothic/olde englishe style carving.

anyway, the strip hotels, especially the newer ones (bellagio, wynn, venetian, paris, new york new york ,mgm grand luxor, mandalay bay, cesear's palace) were HUGE. some were set a good 3-5 minute walk back from the sidewalk.

each had a different vibe (theme aside). the mgm grand felt old-school/old money. dark lighting, wood paneling, chic (almost deco) design. across the street, the tropicana goes for middle-brow cheese. slot machine noise is all you hear, there's $5 blackjack with a lively crowd. played a few hands and had the coolest dealer -- a laconic and world-weary asian dude. great counterpoint to the boisterous crowd at his table. playing the same game at the $10 or $25 tables at luxor was stuffy and boring. at new york new york somewhere in the middle.

the bellagio and wynn are going for super-high end style. nice touches in each...marble flooring with cool in-lay, luxurious pool areas. at wynn it was almost defeated by this gigantic animatronic frog. the mirage (home to sigfried and roy) has a jungle theme augmented by a beautiful (live) tiger on display in a zoo-like area as you walk towards the main casino floor. felt kinda bad for the cat...smallish area, people gawking. at one point he was pawing at the door to get back to his secluded area, but the keepers must not have seen or heard him. looked just alike a housecat trying to get past a closed door -- on his hind legs and pushing/pawing.

the eating was good and (surprisingly) expensive. at the newer hotel restaurants you get good food, but for more than you'd pay at a conventional restaurant in a city. but then, this on a major holiday weekend and without any comps. but good sushi at a place in cesear's palace, and a good new year's dinner at wolfgang puck's restaurant in the mgm.

we took one day and hit lake mead and the hoover dam. awesome, especially the trails around the lake and the colorado river leading towards it. the hoover dam is an awesome engineering marvel. the design of the buildings and statues reflects its deco-era construction.

the older part of vegas, the downtown, is decidedly unglamorous. very bright neon lights flashing quickly. it's the golden nugget, four queens, glitter gulch strip joint. much more down-to-earth vibe. the fremont street experience light show is ok...more a technical marvel, but worth seeing. also, per usual, i found a good dive bar (at the art bar) and a good mexican place (casa don juan). kinda places locals go to, decidedly non-touristy.

new year's eve itself was ok. lots of events in every hotel. the strip (las vegas blvd) is blocked to traffic and people can walk on the street. by 11pm it's packed, to the point where it's impossible to walk all that far. fireworks up and down, including a synchronized display from new york new york, the mgm, and excalibur (they're each at the corners of the strip and tropicana ave).

getting anything done takes forever. it's a long walk to anywhere from inside the hotels. getting out is a chore (a design feature to keep you in) and with the crowds and the urban design it's like a quarter mile to to get from the hotel lobby to a street corner.

verdict -- worth going for the experience. i'd like to go back when it's less crowded and when room rates aren't at gouging levels (our rate for the 31st was 3x the rate for the 29th). might have spent more money on dinners and shows if the room hadn't set us back so much. but they still got lots of my dough.