Eastern Promises is not a bad film. It’s not a great film either. Maybe it’s just a good film.

The script is smarter than your average Hollywood script, in that it doesn’t entirely spell things out for you at every turn. It’s just like your average Hollywood script, however, in the sense that it goes essentially where you expect it to go…at most turns.

At more than a few points during my viewing, I noticed definite signs of “draftiness” in both the plot and the dialogue. By that I mean that the script seemed at least two solid re-drafts from finished. I was surprised, afterwards, to discover that Stephen Knight, the screenwriter, also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, a very good, well-written, polished film.

Viggo Mortensen is good in Eastern Promises. At one point, you kind of see his penis. Naomi Watts is forgettable in Eastern Promises. At one point, you kind of see her penis.

The direction is sometimes wonderful. At many other times, it seems as if it were cut along with the cookies. There are some classic Cronenberg scenes sprinkled throughout the film. I could have used more of them.

The film doesn’t waste much of your time but still manages to move rather slowly. It spends too much of its running time following Naomi Watts as she walks, rides, and is driven back and forth between three locations in order to move the plot along. It ends anticlimactically.

I was underwhelmed by Eastern Promises.

Every blog has its day in the sun. Every blog also has its day in the shade, and for us that day was yesterday. After being the darling of the New New Media for a few fortnights, YS’ traffic has suddenly become more like the darjeeling limited: a lot of primping, a lot of quirkiness, and the occasional mark of genius. I can only posit a few reasons for our sudden decline:

1) The Oscars hypothesis: We’d picked up a lot of readers looking for semi-literate film reviews and oscar odds, but with Dash out campaigning for the Biden-Thompson unity ticket, we’ve recently become negligent in our duties as source. So, to correct: YS went 4/5 on picture nominees missing Michael Clayton (we picked Into the Wild). What happened?

a) Into the Wild was not that good. As with Dreamgirls last year, academy voters will ultimately recognize that a movie is not that good (I hope). Then again, these are the same people who nominated Titanic, Return of the King, The Accidental Tourist, and The English Patient. I really don’t know what captivated America about that movie. In the years since, everyone has become Elaine.

b) Never believe the buzz. Atonement (which we picked) seemed down for the count about a week and a half ago, and Juno also seemed on the ropes. In their place: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (review to come) and, yes, Into the Wild. When push comes to shove, go with the movie your mom and dad told you you had to see.

c) Never pet against the Clooney. Not when the movie is really good.

d) And the best movies the academy probably never considered nominating were: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Superbad, Knocked Up, Meduzot, and King of Kong.

2) The Heath Ledger hypothesis: I’m not going to say much about the death of Mr. Ledger, who really was quite an excellent actor. In fact, the only person upon whose death we have given comment is Jean Baudrillard. I actually think that Mr. Baudrillard would be rather pleased with the way people are responding to Mr. Ledger’s death. A woman in the times claimed that she felt she knew him. Celebrities really are that close to us these days. But Baudrillard would probably be most interested in this: emails from the dead!

3) The Mandrake hypothesis: with America divided, Americans want to know whom to vote for, and who won’t be president. One man gave them answers. Whither?

Mister Charlie Told Me So

January 23, 2008

The A Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been successful in recent years by mocking, poking, prodding, and lambasting our media. Reasoned, informative news programming promotes healthy debate in the public square and at the dinner table. Privately owned corporate media need to make money so what bleeds, leads. Bill O’Reilly is a bully. All of this analysis is well known and borders on the tautological (warning: incorrectly used). Other media have their bright spot – NPR features soothing voices on radio; the Salad is of course the champion of reason and sensibility on the internet. I believe, however, that there is a notable exception to the woeful state of affairs on the boob tube whose virtues I would like to extol.

Charlie Rose has been interviewing a vast array of personalities on his eponymous show on PBS since 1991. His guests and topics range from sports to politics, from film to economics. He features panels of journalists covering the primaries as well as hour long sit-downs with Noam Chomsky and William F. Buckley, though not at the same time; Tiki Barber talks about the Giants’ season and Brad Pitt talks about Katrina as well as his acting and family life. Throughout, Rose demonstrates erudition. He displays genuine interest in the world his guest inhabits. He attempts to understand the individual on their own terms, leading some critics to feel he is not critical enough and that he fails to challenge his guests.

But is this really a problem? Rose’s guests feel they have come to an open forum without the same time constraints of the sound-byte world and therefore feel comfortable expressing their views as well as all of the attending content. The drawbacks? Rose himself sometimes interrupts his guests and its really annoying. Sometimes the show can be a bit of a snooze if the guest and/or topic is not particularly dynamic – sometimes the program is just stuffy and boring.

There is something to be said, however, for challenging ourselves as a generation to have some Sitzfleish. On the whole, Charlie Rose has been offering a healthy and refreshing alternative to the mass media talk format. The show features its own Youtube profile and is one of the most accessible television programs around. It airs on PBS affiliates throughout the country. Let’s move beyond the talking points and aim to be consumers of substance and not be spoon fed the junk food equivalent of TV.

This was a triumph!

January 23, 2008

We at Yesterday’s Salad pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of yesterday’s news, particularly where gaming is concerned.  Although we snagged a prerelease copy of Supreme Commander, and somehow managed to review the excellent Blackwell Legacy within hours of its release (try the demo for the next game in the series!), since we do our best to act more grizzled than we really are (by several decades), most of our game coverage requires some dusting to stay relevant.  So it’s with some trepidation that I mention Portal, one of the best games to come out in this or any other universe.

In Portal, you play a silent protagonist who finds herself stuck in a series of experiments, run by the aptly-named Aperture Science corporation.  As the game progresses, and the experiments/tests become increasingly complex, you gain access to a “portal device,” a tool that can link two places in space.  Thanks to a robust physics engine, this leads to some remarkably non-linear movement and puzzle-solving, as well as countless “how-could-that-happen” kinds of moments.

For instance, to cross a particularly long chasm, you can simply create an opening to the portal on both sides of the chasm, and can simply bypass it.  However, when you consider that momentum is conserved going into and out of a portal (although it’s really speed being conserved), the possibilities multiply and get much, much weirder. If you fall into a portal on the ground, and the linked opening is on a wall, oriented horizontally, you will fly out of the opening.  Carefully placed openings can allow you to loop objects (or more cautiously, yourself) through a pair of portals with increasing speed, until they eventually slingshot out.

The story is excellent, and while there’s plenty of spoiler material out there, let me simply say that there is a tremendous amount of deadpan humor, particularly poking fun at the “scientific” trappings surrounding the tests.  So too, the A.I. who guides you through the tests is a thoroughly hilarious character, as she becomes progressively less helpful as you advance, and begins to make light of the considerable danger your character is in.  However, in true YS fashion, she continually hints that there will be cake at the end.

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