On The Boardwalk

From our vantage point at Venice Beach’s Sidewalk Cafe for breakfast, I sat the camera on the rail and snapped this empty scene of the little plot on the Boardwalk where artist David Alexander English plies his stock and trade:

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[bigger version here on Flickr]

Later on we walked up to the Santa Monica Pier to see the Ashes and Snow photography exhibit, which was marvelous. I may try to drop some thoughts about it that go a little more in-depth but that’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, here are one-word reviews of the latest films we’ve seen on DVD: Memoirs of a Geisha: Yaaaaaaaaaaaawn; Brokeback Mountain: Puh-leeeze; Hustle and Flow: Brilliant.

My Baloney Has A First Name, It’s O-S-C-A-R

Not that I have anything new to add to all the chatter about last night’s Academy Awards, but I don’t know if it could’ve been any more boring.

My main reason for watching — Jon Stewart — was an abject disappointment. Not even a third of the way through his opening monologue I knew we were all in for a long, mostly unfunny night of him playing to a cold house. Whether he was unable or unwilling to be funny doesn’t matter. He was only moderately humorous on too few occasions and extremely safe on too many.

The most memorable moments of the night for me:

  • George Clooney’s speech accepting the award for best supporting actor because he gave voice to my long held belief that it is an impossibility to compare performances and call one the best
  • Ben Stiller in the greenscreen unitard and Steven Spielberg’s failure to go along with the joke
  • The passion of the director accepting the award for Tsotsi, which won for best foreign language film
  • Will Ferrell’s and Steve Carell’s make-up
  • The total shock in the house that It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp from Hustle & Flow took home the award for best original song (which gave way to me wondering how long it would be before one of the songwriters would turn the Oscar into the ultimate bling by drilling a hole through the statuette’s head and stringing it with a gold necklace to wear around his neck)
  • The Oscars going to Rachel Weisz, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Reece Witherspoon.

And the wish-they-could-be-forgetable:

  • Any joke/montage referencing Brokeback Mountain
  • Keanu Reeves’ puffy face
  • Lauren Bacall flubbing her lines introducing a tribute to the film noir genre (but to her credit coming up with a nice save at the finish)
  • The makers of March Of The Penguins coming onto the stage bearing huge plush-toy penguins
  • Dolly Parton
  • Yet another embarrassing animated presentation sequence with Chicken Little and a lame duck
  • Jenny Garner almost slip-‘n-falling on her ass during her entrance

And the truly ridiculous:

  • Charlize Theron’s shoulder bow
  • Larry McMurtry’s blue jeans
  • Any of the choreography/concepts accompanying the performances of the best original song nominees
  • The despicable Crash winning best original screenplay and best picture

I had huge issues with Crash (not because we had a favorite that lost it; the only other best picture nominee we saw was Good Night And Good Luck and I didn’t want that to win either).

I certainly found a number of the performances in Crash very compelling (Matt Dillon; Terrence Howard) and didn’t object to its subject matter — in fact I appreciated that the film brought a spotlight to the racial tensions that run under this city like a roiling river. I just hated the way they shined the light. That the characters were so few and so starkly drawn was cheap enough, but that their disparate lives were so entwined and interconnected within such a vast landscape as Los Angeles was too easy and shallow and contrived.

Very much like the Oscars telecast itself.

And if I could just add one more thing:  I’m not sure who let the provision lapse, but I distinctly remember after James Cameron’s foolish “I’m the king of the world!” moment after Titanic took best picture late last century, steps were taken that would prevent directors from quoting lines from their winning films in celebratory. Clearly enforcement has fallen off, as evidenced by Ang Lee looking awkwardly at the Oscar just handed to him for best director and mewing “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

He should be forced to give the award back for muttering such a stupidity that may have seemed funny while he was getting ready for the limo ride to the Kodak Theater, but fell flatter than a lot of Jon Stewart’s monologue.

Johnny Cash Was My Greatest Teacher

Susan and I watched Walk The Line last night. We both enjoyed it — especially the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon — but with this movie coming out a year after the similarly plot-pointed biopic on Ray Charles in 2004, we both couldn’t help but wonder what legendary musician’s film will be rolled out for 2006, replete with horribly traumatic sibling loss and long-term drug addiction.

jcsq.jpgAfterwards I dug out my mom’s tired old copy of his LP Johnny Cash At San Quentin, the very same disc I first heard when it came out in 1969 when I was five years old.

Coincidentally, Ray Charles was another of my first musical influences. If my childhood musical tastes could be reduced to a “Top Three” it would be Cash’s A Boy Named Sue, Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles, and Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini from the soundtrack of film Hatari. Just to represent some semblance of culture, I must also make mention that Rossini’s William Tell Overture was right up there (even if it was because it was used as the theme to the TV series featuring my first hero The Lone Ranger).

I played those over and over and over and over and over. And over. When whatever song would threaten to end I would race back to the old Admiral Hi-Fi with its Murphy bed-style drop-down turntable and ever so carefully pick up the needle and replace it at the beginning of the track. It’s a quirk I still do to this day (albeit without the need to deal with needles and turntables). If there’s a song I enjoy I will listen to it so repetitively as to be considered perhaps a sign of autism or other mental illness.

That’s just how I am.

Certainly I listened to the entire respective albums that contained those faves, but it was those specific songs that sang to me the strongest.

Listening to the second side of Cash’s album this morning — easily for the first time in 20-plus years (maybe even since I was that 5 year old), I was first surprised at what good condition it was in. I expected it to have scratches and hisses and pops and warps and such, but it was remarkably well maintained.

The second thing that caught me off guard was how much Johnny taught me with his songs. While clearly drawn to A Boy Named Sue because as a fatherless boy I so identified with the anger and betrayal and need for revenge articulated by Cash through the young man in the song whose father had deserted him and gave him that awful name, what I never acknowledged is that Johnny taught me to forgive my dad as well. Sure, he sings about Sue finding the sumbitch and brawling violently with him, but in the end:

I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
And I came away with a different point of view.

My embrace of that different perspective took a little bit longer and most definitely didn’t come after any confrontation, but I still have to credit Cash with planting the seed that allowed me to ultimately forgive and release the man who did me such a life-long wrong.

I sat in front of the turntable listening to him sing Sue, along with intensely moving San Quentin, the soothing Peace in the Valley and the requisit Folsom Prison Blues to the raucous and appreciative gathering of inmates and at a couple points I had tears in my eyes in part because of the unbreakable connection he made with the throngs of society’s rejects to whom he sang, and in larger part because it was righteous to re-establish that same connection he’d made with me so long ago.

Turkey Shoot

Just crossed my mind so I figured I’d chuck its triviality up here. I love the TV series 24, but I can only hope last night’s episode proves to be the weakest link and the series doesn’t stretch its ridiculousness any further than it already has.

That terrorists were granted access to the president of the United States and allowed to make demands directly of him was bad enough, but that the prez — however reluctantly — actually gave in to those demands and provided them with the motorcade route of the visiting Russian leader — with whom he’s just signed an historic peace agreement! — so that they can assassinate him isn’t just preposterous… after all the whole series is preposterous and I can live with that. Far worse: it’s just crap writing, which is something that will lose me as a viewer if they keep it up.

And speaking of losing me, I made the mistake of dropping the needle onto the disc of Wedding Crashers and subjecting Susan and I to its inanity over the weekend — which we disgustedly quit about an hour in.

Has there been a more successful retarded movie in motion picture history? The terrible thing’s grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, and why exactly? I suppose it could be for the alleged comic chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson of which it becomes readily apparent way early on that there is none. It certainly wasn’t for the wicked awesome script or the ensemble of interesting characters, or the totally fucking implausible scenario of two flimsy sleaze-bozos hanging out at the ultra-dysfunctional home of the secretary of the U.S. fucking Treasury with Owen’s idiot falling so incongruously in love with one daughter and Vince’s jackass getting stuck in oh-so-hilarious situations such as being masturbated at the dinner table or accused of sleeping with a foul-mouthed octogenarian — or best yet having an awkward encounter with the xecretary’s angry and misunderstood homosexual son while helplessly tied to a bed.

We finally hit eject in the next scene when Vaughn’s character, who can’t leave fast enough is begged by Wilson’s to stay because if he doesn’t his attempts to woo his true love will go all to shit. Could someone explain to me exactly how Vaughn’s absence would send things into a tailspin? Oh wait, I got it: because whoever the team was that”wrote” and produced this worthless excuse of a sex farce has all the creativity and imagination of a pantry moth.

Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill

Until the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill came out last year (and with it glowing enough reviews to get me to add it to my Netflx queue) I hadn’t ever heard of Mark Bittner and his personal mission to care for and feed the conures that are thriving around San Francisco’s North Beach area.

Susan and I watched it tonight and it’s a lovely, touching film. What first grabbed me were the similarities and differences between Bittner and his birds and Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell and his bears. While both insert themselves in with their respective animals (but in obviously far different ways), Treadwell’s motives become muddled whereas Bittner’s stay pretty pure. He strives throughout not only to maintain the flock as wild and ultimately not in need of human involvement, while also devoting himself to researching them. The sense I got from Bittner that he respected the natural order is one I failed to receive from Treadwell (or at least the Treadwell that was presented to me).

What touched me most about Parrots is that Bittner and these birds are pretty much outcasts who found each other. Whatever the urban legend you want to believe on how they came to call San Francisco home, the South American parrots are in point of fact a nonnative species and thus essentially ignored — even shunned — by conservationists. Bittner himself is an aging boomer musician who found himself drawn to the bay area where he landed somewhere between the beatniks and the hippies and never achieved his dreams of musical stardom. Basically with no means of support or income he has relied on assorted odd jobs and the kindness of friends and strangers to provide him with room and board.

Enter the parrots and the birth of a mutual appreciation and finally worldwide publicity as the “birdman of Telegraph Hill,” which led to this heartwarming and endearing documentary. Bittner found the birds and the birds helped him find himself. It doesn’t get much more gratifying than that.

Ursa Major

Susan and I just finished watching Grizzly Man, the documentary by Werner Herzog on Timothy Treadwell who found his life’s calling — and death — living for months at a time among the grizzlies of the Alaskan peninsula’s Katmai National Park.

Treadwell first came to my attention in the ’90s when his book Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears in Alaska was published. I ate it up and found him and his passion for the bears and nature very appealing. But even before he met his end at the claws and jaws of a bear, I knew there was something wrong with his campaign as some sort of self-appointed wildlife protector, and the movie makes a fine point of it: indigenous people of that region have co-existed with bears for thousands of years — at a distance. In a brief interview with an employee of an area museum, the young man doesn’t mince words in saying that he felt Treadwell was being disrespectful and ultimately doing more harm than good in habituating bears, (and other creatures such as foxes) to humans.

For as much as I wanted to defend Treadwell’s motives, I can’t help but agree. And where the book showed me a troubled man whose huge heart was in the right place, Herzog’s compelling documentary doesn’t negate that, but it does show me another side of Treadwell, one who wasn’t necessarily interested in minimizing his impact on his adopted world and whose heart was overruled by a sense of entitlement to do what he did regardless of the danger to himself or the bears about whom who cared so deeply.

Nature ultimately showed him that such entitlements are meaningless.