Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hitchhikers' Movie

So I saw the movie last night, and I've been trying to put my opinion into words. It's a little difficult to do; Neil Gaiman once mentioned that what you want from the new stuff from your favorite author (or artist of other description) isn't something like their last work, but something that makes you feel like you felt when you read their last work. Somehow I have to think about the movie this way, and somehow it lets me down.

Don't get me wrong, I am in the large quite affectionate towards the film. Having at last seen it I think the casting choices basically make sense, and I think it has a vastly better structure than anything a direct translation could form. I can really see the music video and commercial background of the directors at work -- they have a real talent for creating impressive visuals, and they've managed to get a movie with twenty million different looks but a distinct aesthetic. Take a moment for this point, because it's important. The Matrix (whatever you may think of it in the large) looked good because it had a unified aesthetic, an actual look; neither of the first two Star Wars' pulled this off, and they suffer a lot for it. Hitchhikers' is very comparable to Star Wars in this regard: both have a few dozen alien locales to create, and they all have to look very different from each other, but Hitchhikers' manages to fit the disparate pieces into a single puzzle. In some ways, I think the directors were actually perfect, since they got a visual sense of the books into the movie very very well. When a few dozen people lay on the floor of the local pub with bags over their heads, when Ford Prefect wheeled a shopping cart full of beer down a country road, or during the amazing opening montage of the Dolphins leaving (water ballet, more or less, with a full-blown production numbery song), my heart was filled with joy.

Plot alterations. As I've said, there are many many plot changes, and they tend to transform the movie into something substantially more movielike than any previous incarnation of Hitchhikers' has been. A few of them, however, seem to stray from the spirit of the thing -- I can't say too much about the changes that really bothered me because most of them qualify as major spoilers, and of course they're mostly little spiritual kinds of bothering. On the other hand, the dialogue isn't quite on that level.

I remember reading the screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick's self-interview last summer and it filled me with hope. He said so much good stuff about loving the language and ideas of Douglas Adams. Unfortunately, while he seems to understand good words and understand good ideas, he definitely doesn't understand the rhythm of dialogue. Brilliant phrase after brilliant phrase just got slightly changed, just the tiniest little bit, turning hilarious jokes into unfunny ones. Easy example to cite (because it's on the website):

"... Arthur went to a fancy-dress party, and met a very nice young woman, who he totally blew it with."

in the movie, versus

"... Arthur went to a very nice party, and met a very nice girl, who he totally failed to get off with."

in the book. Crying shame after crying, crying shame. Whether the alterations are for clarity or de-Britishization or just 'cause, I can't quite deal. There's also a strange affection for punning that Adams basically avoided; it may just be a subtle thing that only bothers a ridiculous fanboy like me, but the many visual puns are just ... off.

I think the basic punchline is that this edition of Hitchhikers' fails me not because it's bad, but (ironically) because however much I may love brilliant visuals and stunning dolphin songs, it just doesn't make me feel the way Hitchhikers' should. Crying shame.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I heart the Daily Show

I am, as always, charmed by the Daily Show almost beyond words. The story on the students who created Harvard's new maid (sorry, cleaning professional) service was entirely too delightful in every way.

I'm even learning to appreciate the new Dennis Miller. Segment one of him was an amazing tour de force of logorrhea (which word, interestingly enough, google cannot spell) that was completely hilarious. Segment two was the same ... or would have been if it hadn't been filled with the kind of unbearable stupidity that is now his trademark. But I'm trying to like it in the same spirit Jon Stewart seems to: purely as a superlative demonstration of craft. Kind of in that way one appreciates Wagner or Pound or any other brilliant artist whose unsavory political beliefs occasionally creep into their art.

And now we get last night and Frank Luntz. Heart heart heart.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Note to Rahm Emmanuel

When soliciting DCCC contributions, even from relatively generous (for a grad student) donors, some days are definitely better than others.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dropping Arguments

At the peril of actually commenting on something happening in the blogosphere, I wanted to talk about Democrats and culture. All this argument is probably good for us, but most of it seems to miss the correct starting point.

Back in high school, I was a debater for a very brief time. Since the activity, like most longstanding extracurriculars, had developed a rich technical language for describing various bits of itself, I almost can't comment on public debate without using its terms. One in particular comes to mind: spreading. What is called "policy debate" denudes the argument of all pretensions towards persuasiveness or rhetorical technique, encouraging everyone to simply speak as fast as possible; "spreading" was the art of making as many arguments as you can, talking like the micro machines guy all the while, in the hopes that your opponent wouldn't respond to some of them. Any dropped argument you then snap back: "since they dropped (whatever), they concede the point, and therefore their plan leads to nuclear war."

(for those who don't know, every negative in policy debate leads to nuclear war)

National politics doesn't quite have spreading, but in this case of culture we do have something close: lefties don't want to censor (not to mention that we tend to get exercised about different bits of potentially-censorable stuff), but also don't want to have to put it quite that way, so we tend to say nothing. Argument dropped, the opposition then says we want nuclear culture war. Badness ensues. The strangeness is that even the pro-censorship folks don't really want to do much, and even can't -- even nibbling on the edges of "obscenity" doesn't affect the issue at the root of the demagoging.

As far as I'm concerned then, the local point is that we do need to be saying stuff about culture and media, even if it is bloviation or non sequitur -- there's just no response that's worse than not responding, however logically incoherent that response may be. Even saying "I'm not happy, but I can't do anything" is probably better than nothing. We don't need to be anti-media crusaders, but our response to events can't be mumbling and feet-shuffling.

The global point is more interesting: find things Republicans don't want to talk about and bring them up. Stupid, yes, but it's impressive how little we do this on a national level, particularly because we miss the point about not needing to take strong action against the issues under discussion. For instance, we could talk more deeply about in vitro fertilization (yay, but hardcore pro-lifers can't support it), toxic chemical pollution, even infant mortality would be plenty good enough -- smarter people than me should be able to think of better points, but the idea is simple enough and woefully unexploited.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I have created a monster

The esteemed Neil has, having never previously enjoyed mayonnaise, become addicted to my current version (champagne vinegar and chili oil); I fear this may imply more worry in future. On the other hand, it may enhance my argument that he should learn how to cook (cheap+skill=good is an equation any utilitarian can love).

On the gripping hand, it's not like he's outpaced my own gluttony yet. So we'll see...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

For the Record

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Immaculate Gatling Gun of Loving Non-Dualism. What's yours?

Simply too charming to pass up.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Junk Food Ninjitsu

I love cooking.

Final four party.

Roommate says: "I could do with some cheese fries." Great: frozen fries, check. Provolone, check. Tinfoil, check. Toaster oven, check. Junk food aplenty, ten minutes tops. A gracenote on the chips and dip (god, homemade onion dip may be the most addictive smell I've ever smelled -- browning the onions half to death is the thing) (and the fries probably would have been homemade if I had another russet; the oil from the chips was still cooling in the pot).

Guest says: "I could do with cheese fries with gravy."

Gravy!?! A Canadian thing. Chicken or turkey, apparently. We can swing with that.

Medium roux. No roast, so improvise. Nuke cup and a half of stock from the freezer, add sherry up to two cups, peppercorns, bay leaf, reduce to one. Rouxify, taste.

Disaster.

Sherry too sugary. Gravy (of all things) cloying.

Salt, yes -- none from the nonexistent pan drippings -- but more than that. Must beat the sweet. So: rice wine vinegar.

Add. Fries. Taste. Correct. Simmer. Doublecheck. Cheese. Decant. Melt. Serve.

Win.

I love cooking.

Goodness later -- I promise.