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Monthly Archives: April 2008

“You do know what H2O is? And have all of you heard of Einstein?”

Homeopathy operates on the belief that if you take a substance that produces a symptom, and dilute it a gazillion-fold, you get something that actually has a cancelling effect. This video, amazingly, validates that very principle — the homeopath starts with real science, dilutes it from a bottomless reservoir of stupidity, and ends up with strange and hilarious un-science.

(via bad science)

documentarama: chiefly Heima (2007), The King of Kong (2007), The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

I’m currently on my third straight day of being laid up with the flu. It hurts to walk and the idea of eating solid food makes me cringe, and also, I’m ever whinier than usual. On the positive side, though, in addition to watching innumerable hours of Star Trek, I’ve managed to squeeze in some excellent documentaries.

heima.jpgHeima is a concert/tour film from the Iceland band, Sigur Rós. In 2006, the band, having successfully toured internationally, did an unannounced tour of Iceland, playing in everything from music festivals to coffee houses to abandoned factories in near-ghost-towns. The doc mixes concert footage with starkly beautiful photography and snippits of interviews. The interviews don’t do much to dispel the band’s reputation for being aloof and prickly, but the music (all recorded live) is brilliant and… my god, watch this trailer and tell me you don’t want to go to Iceland.

Actually, I saw this one the night before I came down with the flu, at the VIFC, and there was an interesting Q & A with the director, who explained the genesis of the film in a failed tour documentary that he volunteered to try to salvage. This explains some of the rough edges the film has (and, apparently, a lot of the landscape photography), but really, kudos to Dean DeBlois for taking what apparently was an unwatchable mess and making it into a really striking film.

billymitchell.jpgThe King of Kong is a different genre altogether — the crowd-pleasing, unabashedly dorky subculture doc (see also, Spellbound, Trekkies, Wordplay, etc.). It’s basically the story of a likeable loser and an obnoxious winner, and their not-so-friendly rivalry for the World Record score for Donkey Kong, a record that is almost literally a matter of life and death to them, and almost completely irrelevant to every other human being on the planet. I’m not sure it’s quite worth some of the rave reviews its been getting, but it is terrifically entertaining. (And after you see it, check out this fascinating interview with the film’s “villain”, Billy Mitchell, in which he comes across as even more self-absorbed but also more likeable than he does in the movie.)

hmilk.jpgBeing entertaining, though, is something that doesn’t even enter the picture in The Times of Harvey Milk, about the rise and assassination of one of America’s first openly gay politicians. It’s sombre and powerful, but like a lot of sombre, powerful docs, it’s kind of manipulative: Harvey Milk, a moderately competent local politician killed by a mentally ill man, is presented as a martyr for gay rights, and frankly I didn’t buy it. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t just let Milk’s life speak for itself, and let us see him as a decent man who was the victim of a senseless tragedy.

Devdas (2002)

madhuri.jpgI still don’t have enough of a Bollywood vocabulary to put this in its proper place, but to me, this is what I think about when I think about Bollywood movies — 185 minutes of romance, elaborate dance numbers, and over-the-top, no-holds-barred melodrama. It also has some really striking eye candy, both in the sets — much of the movie takes place in a palace made out of coloured glass — and the cast. (Speaking of which, while Aishwarya Rai seems to be more internationally famous, in that I’d heard of her before seeing this movie, I found the scene-stealing Madhuri Dixit to be more beautiful, more charming, and a much better actress.)

That said, it’s really not a very deep movie. It’s your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-goes-away-to-school-in-England, boy-reunites-with-girl, girl’s-family-rejects-boy, boy-becomes-alcoholic, boy-meets-courtesan, courtesan-falls-in-love-with-boy, whole-thing-ends-tragically kind of deal. It’s all very broad and contrived, but damn if it doesn’t go down smooth.

Shantaram and travel plans

It took a few weeks, but I finally got through Gregory David Roberts’ 944-page potboiler Shantaram. It’s the quasi-autobiographical story of an Australian armed robber and anarchist who escapes from prison and flees to Bombay, where he leads an action-filled life as a slum medic, petty criminal, junkie, counterfeiter, gangster, and soldier, with long pauses to reflect on life, love and India. The writing is stilted and pretentious, and many of the characters thinly drawn, but I really enjoyed the characters and situations Roberts was able to get a grip on, and, above all, his obvious love for India and her people. The book was a gift from my Australian friend Janelle, who tells me it’s practically a phenomenon down under, and I can see why: to crib from Tyler Cowan, it is one of the best bad books ever written.

The timing of my much-delayed completion couldn’t be better, because this past week I was also finally able to put aside enough money from my job for my planned post-PhD 2010 trip across Asia, which will certainly include several months in India. In fact, after reading this book, I’m thinking that I may well want to spend more time in there. Not that the book makes India seem glamorous, or that it glosses over the bad stuff — in fact, there’s a hint of wallowing in the poverty, disease and crime. But the one thing that comes through is that for Roberts, India is a country that rewards trying to understand and adapt to her. Actually, to hell with spending more time there — this book makes me want to pick up and go there, learn the language, and live in Bombay for a decade or two.

Bamboozled (2000)

bamboozled.jpgThe opening shot of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled features Damon Wayans, playing a thoroughly co-opted buppie television writer, nasally reciting the dictionary definition of “satire”. The movie ends with a montage of racist depictions of African-Americans in the media (take that, Birth of a Nation!). These two scenes probably tell you everything you need to know about what to take away from the movie. Namely that this film is a satire on depictions of Blacks in the media and their own complicity in the process, and also that Spike Lee thinks we’re all idiots. Fair enough.

Unfortunately, there are two problems here. First, those are actually the best scenes in the movie, not the worst. Second, there are 134 minutes separating them. 134 minutes of Damon Wayons narrating, in which he describes to us what’s going on in the movie we’re trying to watch, in the world’s most grating parody of Ivy League enunciation. 134 minutes of sermonizing and Jada Pinkett Smith-powered melodrama. 134 minutes of situations so contrived and unrealistic that what they’re really satirizing is Spike’s paranoid worldview. But worst of all, 134 minutes of lazy, shot-on-digital-video un-cinema. And when I say that it’s shot on DV, I’m not talking about a movie shot with Thompson Viper cameras in 2007. I’m talking about one shot on consumer-level camcorders in the 1990s. This is a terrible-looking film. I’ve seen student films that look better. I’ve seen fucking Dogme 95 films that look better!

Supposedly, the “low” 10-million dollar budget required shooting on DV. I call bullshit on that. This was shot on camcorders because shooting on film forces you to actually be selective about what you shoot. Only DV allows you to shoot every single half-baked idea that pops into your self-indulgent head. And that is what Bamboozled is actually about.

I did not like this movie.