1985 was one of those years where everything is endowed with a sense of monumentality. Gone were the light comedies of yesteryear (or yester-yesteryear; see, or don’t see, the Oscars-lite of 1987: Where Everybody Comes of Age!), replaced by a series of Epics and career making performances. It was also the year where Sydney Pollack took home the Best Director statue and Best Picture statue for what really is one of the most wonderful love stories of the second half of the twentieth century, Out of Africa. Sydney Pollack was not one of the directorial luminaries of his generation; he was, at best, the 7th most prominent director of the Hollywood Renaissance. But he was an excellent, unassuming filmmaker who excelled at unironic love stories. He was also a terrific character actor. In the last stage of his career, Pollack got to play that guy, the one lurking in the background who really knows what’s going on, the one you’d have asked for help at the start of the movie if he weren’t so ominous looking. The best of these roles was probably Victor Ziegler in the underrated Eyes Wide Shut. With Pollack’s Ziegler, you’re never too sure what to believe, yet his character has a stability that the others don’t seem to possess. In this often illusory film, Pollack is the perfect emotionless center. Cold, rational, otherwise disposed. In a word: perfect.

But one year, Pollack really was the best filmmaker, the master of the cinematic universe. With that, we turn to 1985.

Wild Card: Ran. A very good film with terrific battle scenes, that happens to be one of the most interesting adaptations of all times. Ran turned one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays into a Samurai epic, perfectly placing the play in its new cultural context. In fact, Ran might be the second-best Shakespeare adaptation of all-time, behind only the brilliant 10 Things I Hate About You. Ran, however, suffers from a decided lack of freshness. It never escapes the sense of being familiar Kurosawa territory, it never breaks out into any new ground. For an action-epic, it’s also a bit on the slow side. A very well-made movie, but not one of the director’s classics. B+

Nominees: Witness. Witness was one of the unquestioned highlights of the mid 1980s, if only for the sheer number of genres it was able to combine into one still coherent movie: star-crossed lover movies, fish out of water movies, buddy cop movies, buddy cop gone awry movies, sudden action movies, barn-raising instructional videos, and Harrison Ford sure is handsome movies. A highly entertaining movie, Witness deserves to have been mimicked so many times; whether those deserve to be watched is another question entirely. A- Read the rest of this entry »

It was revealed to me in a dream that “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was a terrible movie. I assumed this to be a reaction to the so-so early word that the movie was getting from Cannes, and decided not even to mention this to the panel of expert psychoanalysts I keep on retainer. But after the movie started to get generally favorable reviews from generally sharp critics (i.e. Roger Ebert giving the movie 3.5 stars), I started to wonder if my dream contained some sort of hidden wisdom. Perhaps I was chosen to prophecy (or FUTURECAST) a secret truth and spread light to the critiquers who’d lost their way. No matter what, my dream got me interested in a movie that I hadn’t thought about in weeks; if for no other reason, I had to go watch Indy just to make sure that I wasn’t a prophet. With my mind on metaphysics, and money on my mind, I was off to the midnight show.

It’s quite possible that Indiana Jones 4 will be remembered as a great prequel to the Amazing Adventures of Shia LaBeouf: I Have No Facial Expressions What So-Ever. It’s also quite possible that “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” will be remembered as a poor finish for a generally great franchise, the movie where the once infallible action director suddenly looked tired; yet for that matter it’s equally likely that the movie will be remember as a an overall enjoyable popcorn movie which, if it doesn’t cut to the heart of human experience, still provides us with a welcome distraction during a time of mortgage induced malaise. Your opinion probably depends on several factors: 1) Whether or not you believe that Shia LaBeouf does in fact have facial expressions and has fulfilled the promise he showed in “Holes;” 2) Whether or not you believe that a 65 year-old Harrison Ford still has the raw sex appeal of a young Alain Delon and enjoy his boomer second romance with the ageless Karen Allen; 3) You like your movies to have disappointing endings; and 4) Cate Blanchett and the occasional thrill doth a great movie make

The movie is not without it’s positives. It’s surprisingly funny, and the chase around New Haven is quite thrilling. Plus there’s Cate Blanchett channeling equal parts From Russia With Love, Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, and your crazy uncle’s mail-order bride from pre-Putin/pre-Oil! Russia. The Harrison Ford-Karen Allen love story is often highly entertaining and I even found the story to be an interesting, logical next exploration into the pulp genre. Actually, this might be one of the movie’s biggest scores. Lucas and Spielberg took a big chance by changing genres and moving Indy into the realm of 1950’s Sci-Fi–even if it meant the movie looked a bit too much like “Stargate.” There’s something to be admired in their limited self-iconoclasm. Read the rest of this entry »

Impossible Contrast!

May 16, 2008

Though it is a truism, it is nonetheless true that the simplest expression’s in a language are often the most untranslatable. The German lassen sich doesn’t easily bend to your will, nor, for that matter, does anything in the French language. This is because French is the language of truth and English can not hope to contain it’s brilliant post-structuralist neologisms. But, I digress, and in the interest of general bonhomie, I will restrict myself to speaking about a language near and dear to all of us: Yiddish. The reason languages are often so hard to translate is because they’re entire systems of understanding, and while the words may be carried over from one language to another, the words do not mean the same things in the same system. Take for example: lehavdl. The word is derived from Hebrew and literally means “to separate.” The word is used every week in the prayer that ends Sabbath, “l’havdil ben qodesh v’khol,” meaning: to separate between sacred and profane. Two things that want nothing to do with each other or a “binary” if you’re so inclined. From this, the word gains an attributive meaning of, roughly, “these two things have nothing to do with each-other,” or, “don’t get me wrong! I’m really not equating these things!” So Weinreich’s dictionary gives the example sentence, “a mentsh un lehavdl a malpe”: ” a man and an ape.” (For a much better discussion of this word see this mendele discussion.) I’ve never really seen a good one word translation, but the best two word translation I’ve come across is “–impossible contrast!–”

So it is that today I want to make an impossible contrast of my own between Chad Pugh’s “Science Machine” and “There Will Be Blood.”

“Science Machine” has a very unique production history. Here’s how gizmodo puts it:

“Over several months, one artist put roughly 40 hours of Illustrator drawing work into a piece called “Science Machine.” And over that time, he had his computer screencap the project every five seconds.” So, we’re basically watching one person drawing in illustrator as he’s illustrating different parts of the project. There doesn’t appear to be much of a narrative at all. The video is simply random elements being drawn and added into the image one at a time. Nor is there much of an anti-narrative.

And yet the video coheres into a wonderful whole. Time passes and the image develops, taking on fantastic proportions. The world forms. It’s almost like the world Paul Thomas Anderson built before our eyes in “There Will Be Blood,” almost like the way Anderson had that machinery rise up out of the earth. The music is almost like Greenwood’s score. Pulsing. Slightly Haunting. Then again, it also sounds like the music from “Top Chef.” “Science Machine,” as much as it is a story about one person slaving away and becoming absorbed and mastered by a technology he wants to master, is very similar to “There Will Be Blood” and its tales of obsession.

Then again, this is an impossible contrast, and the two really have nothing to do with each other.

Artist's Depiction

Hello there, listeners!

We have a special treat for the second YS interview podcast (hint: it’s not Christopher Walken).  This week we’re joined by noted game designer Erin “The Ivy” Robinson (pictured at left).

Hailing from the snowy tundra of Northrend Canada, Erin brought us the delightful Spooks and currently serves as the proprietor of www.livelyivy.com …when she isn’t investigating the higher mysteries of the hippocampus.

Listen here.

Since, at this point, the typical fan of Yesterday’s Salad can be best characterized as a Jessica Rabbit-enthused-celebrant of AGS games, today’s post will either come as a welcome surprise or a nuisance. For today Dash puts away his microfilm induced malaise and offers a bit of commentary on that greatest of American festivities: the Kentucky Derby. This is hardly our first horse racing post; just check out this article from JUNE 2006. Yet this is our first horse racing article in quite some time, and the first since I decided to make a concerted effort at analyzing everything using a terrible combination of post-structuralist literary techniques and regression analyses, so it may appear quite terrifying to those who are new readers, and maybe even uncanny, umheimlich to those who have been with us for sometime. After all, Freud defines the uncanny as being so disturbing precisely because it’s so close to us.

Also, on a much sadder note, before we embark on the telepoeisis, I need to pause to dedicate this to the memory of an older friend. Mr. Gocool was the security guard at my dorm my freshmen and sophomore year of college. He was impossibly kind and warm. He loved students and cared about everyone. He was also a great fan of the races, and the two of us spent long hours strategizing our picks. Rather, he hounded me to make picks and then he’d bet what I told him. Together we made some nice money on Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. I don’t stop to think about Mr. Gocool that much, and I’m glad the races came to remind me of such a great man.

Now to the analysis: first, Beyer Speed Figures are without question the best way to pick a winner. This is why Beyer, “lives like a Czar in an ice palace made of frozen sighs, and being a president of a temperance society, he only drinks the tepid tears of orphans.” This good op-ed from Mr. Beyer introduces the metric well while also pointing out its limitations. It’s not a be-all and end all. While a horse needs to recorded at least one 100+ race (see this chart), it doesn’t need to have consistently run at that speed, nor does it need to have recorded the fastest figure. All it needs is the potential. So, this year, that probably rules out Tale of Ekati who, despite winning the Wood Memorial, a major indicator, has never run a 100+ race. Court Vision looks like a nice horse, but hasn’t won in 6 months. This year’s biggest Beyer contenders are: Big Brown (3-1), Colonel John (4-1), Pyro (6-1), Eight Belles (20-1), and Gayego (15-1). Personally, my heart is with Gayego who has never finished lower than second and just won the Arkansas derby. Plus, those are nice odds to make some cash. But what does our literary analysis tell us about these horses?

Gayego: according to google scholar, Gayego is an excellent scholar of the Israeli economy. Winner of the Arkansas Derby and a major economist? Cheers!

Pyro: Since he was frozen by Iceman at the end of X3: The Last Stand, little has been heard of him. However will they retcon this one if he wins?

Eight Belles: clever, but a little too clever.

Colonel John: no doubt named for the founder of Ottawa. That alone disqualifies him.

And Big Brown: too generic to ever make it in the age of McLuhanism. There you have it, Gayego is our official pick.