Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This Time Tomorrow (Shut Up and Eat Your Kinks!)

This time tomorrow, maybe I'll actually post something . . .

Some nice images in the video.

The Kinks. From Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, Part One (1970)

"This Time Tomorrow"

This time tomorrow where will we be
On a spaceship somewhere
Sailing across an empty sea

This time tomorrow what will we know
Will we still be here
Watching an in-flight movie show

I'll leave the sun behind me
And I'll watch the clouds as they sadly pass me by
Seven miles below me
I can see the world and it ain't so big at all

This time tomorrow what will we see
Fields full of houses
Endless rows of crowded streets

I don't where I'm going
I don't want to see
I feel the world below me looking up at me

Leave the sun behind me,
And I'll watch the clouds as they sadly pass me by
And I'm in perpetual motion
And the world below doesn't matter much to me

Well, this time tomorrow where will we be
On a spaceship somewhere
Sailing across an empty sea

This time tomorrow where will we be
This time tomorrow what will we see
This time tomorrow...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Trade

In a stunning turn of events, the Green Bay Packers have traded quarterback Brett Favre to the New York Jets.

Favre is a future Hall-of-Famer, winner of Super Bowl XXXI, the only three-time MVP of the National Football League, and holds every major NFL passing record. The New York Jets are . . . . well, the New York Jets.

Personally, I think Favre can be overrated as a quarterback, and I get sick of the hype over him from a disgustingly fawning sports media who think the guy can walk on water. But I have to admit, I actually let out quite a laugh when I heard the news last night. It all seems so improbable.

For one thing, I was totally shocked that the Jets managed to pull off the trade. I didn't think they had the tenacity, or would be wiling to spend the money, to accomplish such a feat. As of yesterday afternoon, reports were coming out that Favre would probably go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Evidently, the Jets made a final bid in the middle of the night (literally - the news broke around midnight.)

Whatever the soap opera of the last month between Favre and the Packers, from a purely practical standpoint, the guy immediately gives the Jets a better quarterback than either Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens, the two choices they had for the coming season. And they really didn't give up that much to get him. If he plays more than 50% of the season, they give up a 3rd-round draft pick next year. If he plays 70% of the time and the Jets make the playoffs, they give up a 2nd round pick. If they actually make the Super Bowl, they give up a 1st round pick.

Will the Jets make the Super Bowl with Favre? Very unlikely. After going 4-12 last year, I'd be happy to see them go 8-8 and stay in the wild card hunt for most of the season. Though Favre may be overrated, the guy did have one of his best seasons last year, and I think he can still play at a fairly high level. Also, after what went down with Green Bay, the revenge factor - the "I'll show you I can still play" factor - may be a good motivator.

Favre can be a drama queen. And personally, I thought he should've stayed retired. But, hey, if he wants to play football, and the Packers don't want him, I welcome him to the black hole of the New York Jets. We'll see if his greatness and stature as a player are any match for the long, sad and psychologically twisted history of Gang Green.

Whatever the outcome of the season, Favre is one of those rare athletes whose obvious love of playing football makes watching him a lot of fun. (Except, of course, when he's throwing those terrible interceptions in key moments.) One of my favorite football moments ever was watching him play in the snow against the Seattle Seahawks in last year's divisional playoffs. (Sorry, my Seahawks fan.) His youthful enthusiasm took me back to my own childhood and the sheer exhilaration and enjoyment of play.

Sadly, his arrival means the immediate departure of Chad Pennington, who will be released by 4 PM today. There are few professional football players I've admired on a personal level as much as Pennington. The man suffered two serious shoulder injuries, one of which would've been enough to end the careers of most players, but through hard work, determination and a great attitude, he came back and continued to play. When his father suffered a major heart attack, Pennington slept on a chair in the hospital room on his off-days during the season. He's one of the most intelligent, likable and quality players in football. Despite tremendous adversity, he always seemed hopeful, and in a realistic, determined way. But as much as I liked him as a person, he wasn't the answer for the Jets at quarterback. I'm sorry he's leaving the team, and I hope he lands in a good situation somewhere else.

Broadway Joe Namath's sad end in LA

The NFL is full of sad tales of great players who should've retired sooner and wound up on other teams at the end of their careers. I think immediately of the most famous Jets quarterback, Joe Namath, who spent one last pathetic season on the Los Angeles Rams. Or Johnny Unitas, considered by many to be the greatest quarterback of all time, in a dismal final season in San Diego, after 17 years with the Baltimore Colts.

On the other hand, Joe Montana, after 13 seasons and three Super Bowl victories with the San Francisco 49ers, played his last two years for the Kansas City Chiefs and led them to the AFC Championship Game.

Though he's 38 years-old, I think Favre is in better shape than most of the players in these sad stories. Namath was hobbling around on knee braces at the end of his time in New York. Favre, on the other hand, holds the NFL record for Most Consecutive Starts by a Quarterback at 253 games, a truly amazing feat. To give you an idea of the significance of that number, the previous record - held by Eagles' quarterback Ron Jaworski - was only 116 consecutive games. Favre is also playing better late in his career than either Namath or Unitas were before they were traded. Unitas was already riding the bench by the time he went to San Diego.

It's a strange situation, and I'm not sure how a self-admitted "country boy" like Brett Favre is going to deal with the bright lights of New York, not to mention the crazy and often brutal media scrutiny. The fact that the Jets don't really play in the city, and that the new team headquarters will open in New Jersey at the end of the month, appealed to Favre. There are woods and hunting in New Jersey, which, from one report, did bring him some comfort.

Favre will be 39 in October. He's gone to a team that went 4-12 last year. And he's suddenly having to learn a new system. Things may not go very smoothly. (But, then, they never do for the Jets. So what did they have to lose?) All in all, it should be fascinating to see how the story unfolds. I know one thing, my interest in the coming season, which was pretty low before last night, has suddenly increased.

Favre's coming to the Jets!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Greatest Films of All Time: 51-100

You can argue forever about the content of a film, its aesthetic, its style, even its moral posture; but the crucial imperative is to avoid boredom at all costs.

Luis Buñuel

This is the fourth in a series of posts on my exploration of the world's Greatest Films of All Time. The initial post included an Introduction and Films 1-20. The other two posts were Films 21-50 and The Directors.

You can skip the following brief intro if you've already read the other posts.

Briefly, I researched and compiled 30 lists of Greatest Films from various sources around the globe, including critics such as Roger Ebert and Jonathan Rosenbaum; popular magazines like Time and Time Out (UK); films journals such as Sight & Sound, Cahiers du cinema, Kinovedcheskie Zapiski (Russia); and a range of Film Archives from countries like China, India, Ecuador, Israel, Greece, and Finland.

The 30 polls produced a total of 580 films. When films weren't ranked in the polls, I assigned a numeric value depending on the total number of films included (eg. 100 films = 20 points). So, the list I'm presenting is not a ranking of films I personally think are the greatest of all time. It's simply a reflection of results from across 30 polls voted on by hundreds of other people.

My quest was twofold: To see which works were considered the masterpieces of cinema from a variety of international sources, and to see if and how the perception of great films and great directors varied from one region of the world to another.

Films 51-100

51. The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed 396.5 points - 7 mentions
52. Sunset Blvd. (1950) Billy Wilder 379 - 7
53. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) Robert Bresson 373.5 - 7
54. Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola 371 - 7
55. Ivan Groznyy I and/or II [Ivan the Terrible] (1944) Sergei M. Eisenstein 370 - 7
56. Raging Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese 367.5 - 7
57. Fanny och Alexander (1982) Ingmar Bergman 359.5 - 6
58. North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock 357 - 6
59. Modern Times (1936) Charlie Chaplin 355 - 7
60. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) Orson Welles 350.5 - 6
61. Il Gattopardo [The Leopard] (1963) Luchino Visconti 347.5 - 7
62. Rio Bravo (1959) Howard Hawks 340.5 - 6
63. L'Age d'or (1930) Luis Buñuel 340 - 7
64. The Birth of a Nation (1915) D.W. Griffith 329 - 7
65. Barry Lyndon (1975) Stanley Kubrick 317.5 - 8
66. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Stanley Kubrick 317 - 6
67. Persona (1966) Ingmar Bergman 316 - 8
68. Pierrot le fou (1965) Jean Luc Godard 315.5 - 7
69. Viridiana (1961) Luis Buñuel 309.5 - 6
70. Pickpocket (1959) Robert Bresson 303.5 - 7
71. The Wizard of Oz (1939) Victor Fleming 292 - 7
72. Il Conformista (1970) Bernardo Bertolucci 288.5 - 5
73. Jules et Jim (1962) François Truffaut 279 - 6
74. All About Eve (1950) Joseph Mankiewicz 275 - 6
75. Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock 272.5 - 4
76. Sanshô dayû [Sansho the Bailiff] (1954) Kenji Mizoguchi 267 - 6
77. La Strada (1954) Federico Fellini 264.5 - 4
78. Notorious (1946) Alfred Hitchcock 263.5 - 7
79. The Apartment (1960) Billy Wilder 248.5 - 5
80. Amarcord (1973) Federico Fellini 247.5 - 6
81. L'Année dernière à Marienbad [Last Year at Marienbad] (1961) Alain Resnais 243.5 - 7
82. Gertrud (1964) Carl Dreyer 243 - 6
83. The Wild Bunch (1969) Sam Peckinpah 241 - 5
84. Roma, città aperta [Rome, Open City] (1945) Roberto Rossellini 236 - 6
85. Hiroshima mon amour (1959) Alain Resnais 234 - 4
86. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophüls 233.5 - 6
87. (tie) Nosferatu (1922) F.W. Murnau 232 - 7
87. (tie) Madame de… (1953) Max Ophüls 232 - 4
89. (tie) Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder 231 - 6
89. (tie) Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes [Aguirre: The Wrath of God] (1972) Werner Herzog 231 - 5
91. To Be or Not to Be (1942) Ernst Lubitsch 227.5 - 4
92. Ikiru (1952) Akira Kurosawa 227 - 6
93. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Sergio Leone 225.5 - 5
94. Broken Blossoms (1919) D.W. Griffith 219.5 - 6
95. Napoleon (1927) Abel Gance 210 - 5
96. Dekalog (1989) Krzysztof Kieslowski 209 - 6
97. (tie) Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott 197 - 5
97. (tie) Un chien andalou (1929) Luis Buñuel 197 - 5
99. Schindler's List (1993) Steven Spielberg 195.5 - 5
100. (tie) Freaks (1932) Tod Browning 195 - 4
100. (tie) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) John Ford 195 - 4

Dekalog: Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1989 Polish mini-series on the Ten Commandments

Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder seem to have done particularly well in this section of the list, with three films each. In the end, Hitchcock wound up with the most films in the Top 100, a total of five. Wilder, along with Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, had four films in the Top 100. Directors with three films included: Buñuel, Chaplin, Coppola, Dreyer, Godard, Griffith, Kubrick, Kurosawa and Welles.

Whereas the most recent work in Films 1-50 was from 1976 (Taxi Driver) and the average year of production was 1949, Films 51-100 tended to be a little newer. The most recent work was from 1993 (Schindler's List) and there were four films from the 1980s: Raging Bull, Fanny and Alexander, Dekalog and Blade Runner. The average year of production was 1956.

Technically, Kieslowski's Dekalog is not a motion picture but a series of ten one-hour programs shown on Polish television. But it often gets included in polls of great "films." And, according to IMDB, Stanley Kubrick said Dekalog was the only masterpiece he could name in his lifetime. So, there. Whatever it is, it's one of the most powerful works I've ever seen.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was Kubrick's 1975 period piece, Barry Lyndon, ranked #65, just ahead of the more well-known Dr. Strangelove. Again, these two Kubrick's films didn't do well outside of the US/UK polls, though Cahiers du cinema did include Barry Lyndon. I've never seen this one by Kubrick and would be curious to hear from others who have.

Another surprise was Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West cracking the Top 100 at #93, even ahead of his own Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo [The Good, the Bad and the Ugly] (1966), which I always thought was more popular - it's currently ranked #5 at IMDB. Three other westerns showed up in Films 51-100: Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo, ranked #62, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, at #83, and John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, tied at #100. (Ford's The Searchers was the top western at #16.) Of the five westerns in the Top 100, I prefer The Wild Bunch.

Peckinpah's western also made it two films for William Holden in the Top 100, along with Sunset Blvd. (#52)

Other actors who showed up in multiple films: John Wayne (The Searchers, Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) Jimmy Stewart (Vertigo, Rear Window and It's a Wonderful Life), Cary Grant (North by Northwest, Notorious), Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Notorious), Robert De Niro (Godfather II, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita, 8½) , Jean-Paul Belmondo (À bout de souffle, Pierrot le fou), Jack Lemmon (The Aprtment, Some Like it Hot), and, of course, Peter Lorre (M, Casablanca). Charlie Chaplin also starred in all 3 of his films: The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times.

The actor who showed up the most in the Top 100: Orson Welles. He starred in all three of his own productions (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil and The Magnificent Ambersons), and also gave an unforgettable performance as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man (#51). And, of course, there's his little-known but amazing tour de force as Munchkin #27 in The Wizard of Oz.

I didn't officially track actors in the list; I'm just eye-balling the film titles - so there may be others who appeared in multiple films. (Ah!, Claude Rains, for example: Notorious, Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia. And Anthony Quinn: Lawrence of Arabia and La Strada.)

Freaks, directed by Tod Browning(Dracula 1931), was an interesting case. It didn't show up on any US/UK lists, and I always considered it a minor cult film, but it was very highly regarded in other areas. The Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique chose it as one of the 20 Greatest Films of All Time, the Fundación Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela as one of the 24 Greatest of All Time, and the Cinémathèque Française as one of the 33 Greatest. It also ranked highly in the other French poll - #21 (tied) - the Cahiers du cinema Top 100.

It's interesting to note how much of a drop off there is in votes received between the #1 film, Citizen Kane, and #100, Freaks and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Kane showed up in all 30 polls and had a total of 1,735 points. The films at #100 each only appeared in four polls and had a total of 195 points. Only 16 films showed up in at least half of the 30 polls. After that, the number of movies considered "greatest" begins to grow exponentially. From that information, I would say that any kind of film canon must exist in a fluid state. Maybe that's why the IMDB Classic Film Board Top 200, which changes every two months, strikes me as a useful poll.

In the end, there were 46 English-language films from the US/UK in the Top 100. Non-English European films accounted for 47 titles (if you include Russia). Among individual European countries, France accounted for the most productions, with 19. Asia only had 7 titles in the Top 100, six of them from Japan.

Films ranked 51-100 that show up in my own list of Favorite 100 Films: Sunset Blvd., Apocalypse Now, North by Northwest, Pierrot le fou, The Wild Bunch, Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes [Aguirre: The Wrath of God], Double Indemnity, and Dekalog.

Future posts in the series will include Films 101-200 and Films by Time Period. In the meantime, I would like to hear about your own experiences with the films listed 51-100. Faves, ones you can't stand, etc.

Until the next reel. . . .

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Murky Olympics

Beijing's Olympic Village - 11 Days Before the Opening Ceremony

"In Beijing, Blue Skies Prove Hard to Achieve"

Less than two weeks before the Olympics, Beijing’s skies are so murky and polluted that the authorities are considering emergency measures during the Games beyond the traffic restrictions and factory shutdowns that, so far, have failed to clear the air, state media reported on Monday.
Other murky business . . . .

"China to Limit Web Access During Olympic Games"
Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages — among them those that discuss Tibetan issues, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown on the protests in Tiananmen Square and the Web sites of Amnesty International, the BBC’s Chinese-language news, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers known for their freewheeling political discourse.

The restrictions, which closely resemble the blocks that China places on the Internet for its citizens, undermine sweeping claims by Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, that China had agreed to provide full Web access for foreign news media during the Games. Mr. Rogge has long argued that one of the main benefits of awarding the Games to Beijing was that the event would make China more open.

“For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet,” Mr. Rogge told Agence France-Presse just two weeks ago.
"I.O.C. Member Accuses Committee of Betrayal on Censorship Issue"
The senior International Olympic Committee member who on Wednesday made the announcement that Chinese government censors were blocking sensitive Internet sites despite assurances that Web access in China would be unfettered has accused the I.O.C. of “betrayal.”

The official, Kevan Gosper, an I.O.C. member for 31 years, told the Sydney daily The Australian on Thursday that his reputation and that of the I.O.C. had been damaged by China’s actions.

“I don’t know who did the deal,” Gosper told The Australian. “I am still finding out. I understand it was reached with very senior officials. Whoever was involved in that shift, that position should have been made known to the international media community. As a conduit to that, I should have been informed, too, instead of being isolated and given misinformation for some time.”

“China changed course at some stage,” Gosper told the newspaper. “I don’t know when. I can’t guarantee there won’t be other changes.”