Sunday, July 24, 2011

You May Now Keep Up With Right Thinking by Following Your Cool Hot Center on Twitter

That would be:


Great Thoughts that are perhaps not great enough for a formal airing on this site.  Probably lots of gags and ad hominem attacks.

I'll tweet links all new articles.

Hope to see you there.

My thanks.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

County Road 26, July 23, 2011

On my old Schwinn trail bike
Mercury near the century
On County Road 26, gravel
Shooting out from under
My fat tires and the
Washboard road bouncing
My disgraceful love handles,
I steered off to the roadside
Into the smoother smashed-
Down brush and suddenly
Before me rose up dozens,
Hundreds of grasshoppers
Startled from their torpor
By my offroad detour.
They flew off before me
To the left and right and
As I split the frothy spray of 
Panicked flying yellow Orthoptera,
I felt like Leo DiCaprio
On the bow of the Titanic
Except that the phrase
I'm the king of the gravel roadside
Somehow lacked for grandness,
But at least I didn't drown
In the bitter North Atlantic
And was not required to appear
In "Shutter Island."

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harry Potter and "The Tempest": J.K. Rowling Says Good-Bye with a Nod to the Bard at the End of "Deathly Hallows"

[SPOILER ALERT:  This article reports on a brief moment near the  conclusion of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," currently in wide release.  It does not reveal any significant plot points along the way, but those who want to avoid any information about how the film ends should stop reading here.]

This is cool.

Here's an observation I haven't seen anywhere else -- I looked -- so I'm going to claim originality.  However, it is almost certainly not original, since I'll bet there are lots of others who noticed it.   If you know of anyone else who has published on this, please keep it to yourself.

I am not a profound scholar of Shakespeare, much less of the Harry Potter books or films.  However, I was struck by a moment at the end of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," that the Memsahib and I saw in a nearly-empty theater in downtown Fort Worth last Saturday night.  I throw it out there for you fans of either Shakespeare or Rowling to see what you think.  If you find it of merit, please pass it along to any Shakespearean scholars, Potter scholars, major film critics of your acquaintance, or J.K. Rowling.

[Capsule review:  The Mem and I both liked it.  We had both disliked "Deathly Hallows Part 1," which we found dreary, angst-filled, slow, and incomprehensible.    We were able to figure out what was going on in Part 2, and there was plenty of action, good monsters, and some surprises that wound up a coherent plot.   The 3D was good -- these movies are kind of dark and murky to begin with, so the marginal murk you get with 3D didn't get in the way.]


Why did Harry break the Elder Wand?  Did this act have some special significance to the story?   Harry Potter fans probably have many better answers to these questions, but here's mine:

Near the end of the movie, after Lord Voldemort has been vanquished (who made him a lord, exactly?), Harry succeeds to physical possession of the Elder Wand.   He is standing facing Ron and Hermione on a bridge outside Hogwarts.  He is holding the wand.  I wish I had written down the exact dialogue, but it isn't terribly important -- no big speeches.  Ron makes the observation that Harry's possession of the wand makes him the most powerful wizard in the world.   Harry holds the wand as if to snap it in two, and as Ron and Hermione start to object, Harry says something like it's been more trouble than it's worth, or we don't need it anymore.  He breaks the wand in two pieces and throws it into the bottomless chasm beneath the bridge.

What All the Fuss Is About:  The Elder Wand
Now consider a scene in Shakespeare's The Tempest. The play is set on an island ruled by Prospero, a powerful magician.   After he has used his magic to bring things to a suitable conclusion, he makes this speech in the final scene of the play, which gives our language the phrase "this rough magic":

     .  .  .  I have bedimm'd
     The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
     And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
     Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
     Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
     With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
     Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
     The pine and cedar: graves at my command
     Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
     By my so potent art. But this rough magic
     I here abjure, and, when I have required
     Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
     To work mine end upon their senses that
     This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
     Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
     And deeper than did ever plummet sound
     I'll drown my book.

            -- Act V, Scene 1, ll. 41-57

Prospero breaks his own wand ("staff") and buries it, and also destroys ("drown") his book of spells.

Christopher Plummer as Prospero in The Tempest
That may not seem like much of a reference by Harry/Rowling to Prospero, but consider:  It is the consensus of scholars that The Tempest is Shakespeare's final play; he may have written parts of Henry VIII but "The Tempest" is considered to be his last fully-realized work.  Prospero's staff-breaking is widely regarded as Shakespeare saying farewell to his audience and his art.  Announcing his retirement, as it were.  (By the way, for you "Maltese Falcon" fans:  In the previous act, Prospero says:  "We are such stuff as dreams are made of.")

Deathly Hallows is the last of the Harry Potter movies and J.K. Rowling has said there will be no more Harry Potter books.

Both scenes are at the end of the story; both involve the breaking of a magic stick; both involve casting or burying the pieces deep within the earth; both involve a wizard voluntarily giving up magical powers.   Prospero destroys his magic book; Rowling has ended the Harry Potter series of magic-impacted books. 

Ms. Rowling did not write the screenplay but I understand something like this scene is in the book.  I think it is at least possible, perhaps even likely, that Ms. Rowling is borrowing this powerful scene from The Tempest to say:  This is the end and I really, really mean it.

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Finally:  In what I concede is only oblique support of this thesis:   Prospero performs some of his magic through the spirit Ariel who serves him, and to whom Prospero has promised freedom if Ariel performs certain final magical tasks; in the end he does free Ariel.  Ariel frequently acts by creating deceptive images for mortals to react to.  This power was also practiced on Muggles by Dobby the house-elf -- who Harry freed from the Malfoys, and who thereafter faithfully served Harry until his death.  OK, it's a stretch, but it suggests that perhaps serious Potter scholars may want to have a closer look at The Tempest.

Dobby the Magical House-Elf (as Himself)

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Super _________ 8": A Flashy Disappointment


The Memsahib and I had a lovely dinner last night and then went to see "Super 8," written and directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg.   Kids.  An alien presence of some sort.  A middle-class family setting in a small Middle America town.  Sound familiar?  "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"; "E.T."; "Goonies" (Spielberg story and co-executive producer [no aliens but a menacing disfigured guy]); "Gremlins" (Spielberg produced).

Uh, this movie isn't like those.

It isn't necessary for a Spielberg-influenced film to be like earlier, beloved Spielberg-influenced films for it to be a good film.  A good film can be violent, lots more violent than those earlier films.  Lots more.  I like violent action movies where stuff gets blown up and the alien presence isn't a positive thing for the population.  And I liked this movie.  I didn't get bored.  There was a chuckle or two. 

But I didn't like it a lot, and neither did the Mem.   Tell me true:  When you turn on the TV and see that "Close Encounters" or "E.T." is on, don't you linger?  I can't imagine I will do so when I stumble over this one a few years from now. 

"Super 8" has received sensational reviews.  Part of this is Spielberg.  Part of it is J.J. Abrams being the flavor of the month.  Part of it is the charm of the child actors who carry the film.  The story, such as it is, moves along smartly.   The effects are terrific, if somewhat overdone (no train in the history of trainwrecks wrecks ever wrecked like this train wrecked, or for as long). 

But the movie has three problems:

First:  The plot was full, and I mean full all the way up to the chock, of holes.  Huge.  I can't tell you what they are without spoiling the film.  Drop me an email if you don't care about spoilers and I'll tick off a few.  When I say "plot holes" I don't mean things like "there's no such things as aliens"; I mean plot elements that don't make any sense even after you have suspended disbelief and are willing to listen to a story about kids tracking down some malignant presence in their town. 

So what? you say.  It's a sci-fi thing, it doesn't all have to make sense.  Oh, but it does, after a point:  Once you have the illogical menace (a nasty alien presence) established, everything else has to be dramatically consistent.  Reality has to be the stick in the ground that creates the tension when the menace comes up against it.  This movie violates this principle that I just made up time after time with the result that the ending is so dopey that Abrams has no idea what to do with it when it arrives.   The film just ends abruptly, as though the director is fearful that the whole thing would fall apart if anyone thought about the final scene too closely.  (It would.)  The upshot, for me, was that I felt kind of taken when the screen went dark at the end.  (I note that people in the theater just sat there, not stunned by the denouement, but thinking there had to be more.)

Is this just me being too persnickity and logical?   The nonsense of the plot doesn't seem to bother the critics.  Answer:  No.  More people should think like me.  Everyone, in fact.   Seriously, I was still able to enjoy the show even while shaking my head.   The point I want to make here is that this carelessness (and the next two points) are serious flaws that keep a pretty good movie from being a great one, or even a memorable one.

Second:   I mentioned the charm of the young actors.  They are charming and mostly skillful (standout:  Elle Fanning), and at the outset of the movie you think that you will come to care about them in the same way that you cared about Eliot in "E.T." and some of the characters in the other Spielberg products mentioned above.  But while this movie seems to feature interpersonal drama and feelings and stuff that should cause the audience to identify with these characters, Abrams's heart is not in it.   There are a couple of parent/child conflicts, and a family tragedy, but they seem pasted on to the roaring action and explosive, mass-destruction, ear-shattering effects that dominate the picture.  It's nice that they tried to make a special-effects blockbuster with a heart, but its beating is drowned out by heavy things crashing to earth after flying improbably through the air, incredibly destructive attacks, mass hysteria, and, yes, explosions.

Finally:   Twice now I've said that the kids are charming.  This is a credit to their personal charisma and their acting skills.  Unfortunately, Abrams seriously, seriously attacks their natural appeal by making them incredibly foul-mouthed.  These are supposed to be 14- and 15-year-old boys (and a 15-year-old girl) who are somewhat precocious.  The year is 1979.  I don't have the research on the speech habits of kids of that age at that time, but I had a hard time believing that these kids, who are ambitious and bright (although apparently not the best students), would speak with the casual vulgarity Abrams has assigned to them.   Whether or not kids like this spoke like this in 1979:   Irrespective of verisimilitude, the profanity transformed them from people we are attracted to into somewhat thuggish twerps.   Used skillfully, the rare instance of cuss words coming from the mouth of a child can be funny or dramatic; but here, the profanity was way overemployed and did absolutely nothing to establish a rooting interest of the audience in these teenagers.   When the film was over, a disapproving remark was the first thing out of the mouth of a parent sitting next to us who had brought her child (it's PG-13).

So if you plan to see "Super 8," leave the kids at home.  

And don't take the train.

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Note on our filmgoing experience:  Among the unusual things that happen in the movie as the result of the escape of the alien presence is that the town's power flickers and sometimes goes out altogether.  When the Memsahib and I arrived home, our garage door would not open with the built-in opener, and we soon learned that our side of the street had been without power for close to four hours.   In the movie, a utility worker trying to fix a power line meets a predictable fate, but CoServ managed to hook our block back up without any of the local malignant presences taking notice.

[SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER]   In what can only be seen as an homage to the very first "Star Trek" teevee series, every black character in this movie with a speaking part is killed.   Even casual fans of that series know that on the rare occasions when a black crew member would appear (Lt. Uhura aside, probably spared because she was doing series creator/producer Gene Roddenberry), he was a goner.

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