The big news for geeky film fans is that Peter Jackson has settled his dispute with New Line Cinema and has agreed to produce movie versions of The Hobbit. There will be two films and Sam Raimi is apparently eager to direct.
Although I've nto written about it, I have been to the cinema lately. Mostly recently was to see Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Here's the trailer:
Slate's Stephen Metcalf recently came down hard on the film. His gripe that there are too many versions of the film floating around is fair enough. (Wikipedia has a list.) And he is surely correct in noting that the film probably would have disappeared from our collective conscience had VCRs and cable television not come along. But I think it's interesting that it's technical aspects and distribution methods which make up the great majority of Metcalf's complaints. Just explaining the confusing array of versions of the film takes up more space than the discussion of its quality or lack thereof.
Everyone agrees that Sid Mead and the visual effects folks made Blade Runner a visual treat with its dystopian vision of the future being almost the gold standard for sci-fi films. However, I disagree totally with his assertions that "its story is underplotted and its characters almost totally opaque". I also think that to say the movie is about "what it's like to be mortal" is to give primacy to the wrong theme.
As with all films, different people will get different things from the same story. For Metcalf, Blade Runner is a meditation on mortality; for me it's primarily about the main concerns of the source material's author – what it means to be human. Although very different from Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I feel that Blade Runner captures the core of Dick's interests and it does so better than any other Hollywood adaptation of his work. If, like Metcalf, you think the film is about mortality and you examine it for its treatment of this idea, then I suspect you're likely to find it underplotted and the characters opaque. It makes more sense, I suppose, to show characters having a full life and then confronting death. The contrast surely helps drive home the point. You'd want to get to know the characters so that their impending death is all the more sad. In Blade Runner, however, mortality, or perhaps cognizance of it, is just one element in defining human. Giving primacy to the inevitability of death here is to ignore the eye motif, Leon's precious pictures and the issue of memory, as well as Rachel's ignorance of her identity and her own memories. It's not that mortality and awareness of it are unimportant, but I think you have to place them in the larger dichotomy of human—replicant and how the film breaks down the barriers between the two.
None of this is to say that everyone who sees Blade Runner will enjoy it. But it's disingenuous for Metcalf to bring his piece to a close by noting that his wife laughed when Batty gave his final speech because it ignores all of the people, including those who were with me at the theatre last weekend, who didn't. That there even is a Final Cut is testimony that the film is not a laughing matter for hordes of filmgoers.
Enough about Metcalf – how was it? The Final Cut is essentially the Director's Cut of 1992 cleaned up. I caught most of the changes and would again refer the reader to the Wikipedia entry above for a list of what's new here. Nothing major has changed. For instance, the dialogue has been modified so that the number of renegade replicants is correct. Fans will notice the difference but it doesn't alter the story or the themes. Shots of dancers wearing hockey masks and Deckard talking to a cop were inserted just prior to him entering the Snake Pit and this is about it for new scenes. I entered the theatre wondering if the hospital scene was going to be inserted and it wasn't. However, the scene is included on the new DVD set and is, unsurprisingly, on Youtube:
It was the first time I'd seen the film on the big screen and I loved every minute of it. The cityscape is so much more impressive than on a TV and thusly also more expressive. I found myself wanting to mouth Batty's initial dialogue ("Man? Police...man?") but refrained. I love how Rutger Hauer extends the ee sound in "police" and adds a slight pause before he says "man". And the scene when Roy and Batty pay a visit to Chew is just iconic for me and some of my friends. While driving home after the film, The Dulcinea remarked to me that she discovered the source of many of the quotes my friends and I use in conversation. Holden's "You know what a turtle is? Same thing." is ubiquitous for us. Why? I'm not quite sure.
One can spend hours dissecting Blade Runner and many have. What I do know is that Blade Runner clicks with me. I love the visuals and I love how 1940s noir got blended with sci-fi; I think it's great that the majority of the main characters are anything but "normal"; there are some great one-liners; I enjoy Vangelis' soundtrack; and I find the Phildickian preoccupation with defining human to be very intriguing. I always get nostalgic after watching Blade Runner and find myself wanting to look at my own precious pictures, just like Leon. The D and I saw it last Sunday afternoon and that night I was in my room staring at the foot locker by my bed because that's where I keep most of my pictures. Did I really want to look at them? Did I want to traverse those memories?
My friend Pete, an avid deer hunter, e-mailed me his views on the newly-released I Am Legend:
One problem with the movie, the deer hunting sequences, followed by flashing to a full pantry. Inserted just for action? The deer look like shit, run like they're palsied, and seemingly can't jump over cars.
He called me yesterday night to talk about his e-mail and elaborate upon his missive. There's a whole deer theme, apparently. At the very least they're a prominent device. When I labeled his deer hunter critique interesting, he replied, "I guess you've gotta talk about what you know."
Sunday night after an afternoon showing of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, The Dulcinea and I went to Cafe La Bellitalia over on Sherman Ave. The folks at Eating in Madison A to Z gave the place a good review, as have others. We left vowing only to ever order take out.
Everyone has commented on how cramped the interior is. I personally don't mind cramped quarters too much but our small table was further shrunk with the addition of a menu holding device which took up a fair portion of space. Add to this salt, pepper, parm, and red pepper flakes shakers, and about a quarter of the tabletop was gone. To make the furniture situation worse, the table could have used a shim or two to cure its rickety disposition. These are things I'm willing to live with, however, if the rest of the meal goes well. The packet of bread sticks was a nice touch to start things off as we perused the menu which had your standard Italian fare of pasta, sandwiches, pizza, and the like. It all sounded very appetizing and we ended up ordering a Sicilian pizza and salads. It was shortly after our drinks arrived that things went downhill. I had to remind the waitress of the cream & sugar that she'd neglected to bring for the weak & lifeless coffee. While I enjoyed the cucumber and Roma tomato in the salad, that iceberg lettuce was all we were deemed worthy of was just sad. Considering that other and earlier reviews note that in a golden age their salads were of mixed greens and had delights such as red onion, this is doubly disappointing. The garlic bread would have been perfect had I been able to taste more garlic than one part per million. The pizza, however, was fine. Indeed, it was quite tasty. The thin crust was nice and mix of cheese, tomato, and fresh basil is a favorite of mine.
There was a party of about 12 next to us with one woman feeling the need to hold and carry around the table the infant of a couple there. The problem was that our waitress, who was clearing a table behind us, was in a big hurry (it was nearing close) and couldn't be bothered to say excuse me. And so she tried to zip between our table and the woman holding the child. In cramped quarters this was not a good idea and resulted in some unidentified drink being spilled on The D's pants which, I found out the next morning, had left an immutable stain. I was given strict orders not to tip more than 10%.
Having only been once and tasted only a very small portion of the menu, I can't really pass judgment ex cathedra here, but it will likely be some time before we make a return visit. My love for La Rocca's remains true.
Actually The D and I have hit several restaurants that were new to us recently. One that we both loved was Inka Heritage.
The place had comforting orange-yellow walls which made us forget that it was winter outside. Well, until other folks walked in regaling us with a blast of chilly air, anyway. The waitress was friendly and attentive and the cinnamon tea I ordered straight away was very tasty.
To be blatantly honest, I probably know more about medieval Polish cuisine than I do Peruvian. And I'm sure one result of this was that I ordered the Peruvian equivalent of a hamburger and fries. For some photos and another review, check out what Nichole wrote over at Eating in Madison A to Z. The menu described some of the dishes as being aphrodisiacs and I tried to get The D to order one of those but, alas, I failed.
For an appetizer, we had the hoolie with mashed potatoes, avocado, and shrimp. It is formed by taking a cylinder and placing mashed potatoes on the bottom followed by a layer of avocado, shrimp, and mayo. Finally, another layer of mashed on top with a trio of shrimp as garnish. We thoroughly enjoyed it. For the main course, I had the Lomito Inka Heritage which was a piece of beef tenderloin on a bed of beans & rice with a fried egg atop it all. On the side were fried plantains and red onion. It was absolutely delicious. Fried plantains are a favorite of ours and it brought back memories of this past summer of grilling bananas. It was very simple in that there wasn't a whole host of seasonings involved. The meat was tender while the egg was slightly underdone. While I personally have no problems with a bit of raw albumen, others might. Egg yolk makes everything good and dipping a bit of meat and the rice/bean combination in its cholesterol goodness made for a most satisfying dish. The D had what I'm guessing is the beef saltado – pieces of tenderloin on French fries with rice. I nipped a couple fries that had been soaking in the meat's juices and they were heaven. I found this a fair trade in exchange for some plantain.
There is much territory yet to explore at Inka Heritage and we will certainly return.
Finally we have Takumi, a Japanese restaurant that opened near East Towne Mall this past spring. It's been a couple weeks since we were there so my memory is a bit hazy. The interior was dark and sleek while our waiter was nice and attentive. I only wish that the TV was off. There's just too much music and television being piped into public spaces. In some cases this is no big deal, but, when I'm eating, I want to focus on food and company, not waste time trying to tune out distractions.
The D ordered a mix of tempura delights while I had a wide noodle dish. We also had rolls. I cannot recall which variety she had but I got the ones with shrimp and avocado. (I see a pattern developing here.) Some of the tempura had a bit too much batter on them while others were just right. As above, my knowledge of Japanese cuisine is far outweighed by my ignorance of it. Was our meal "authentic"? Not particularly, I'd imagine. I'm sure it's one strand of Japanese-American cuisine. But, for what it's worth, I thought the food was tasty.
Saturday was errand day. The back seat of my car had three garbage bags full of clothes which just weren't right for my new mid-30s rotund look. It was off to the East Towne Goodwill. The Dulcinea was accompanying me and she asked to be dropped off at Scrapbook Memories over on Thierer Road in the same mall as Maharaja. I do so and zip off to Goodwill where I deposit the clothes belonging to the thinner me. On my return, I'm sitting at the stoplight at Zeier and Lien Roads when my cell phone rings. I find that it is The Dulcinea and she's asking where I am. After assuring her that I was but a minute away, I hung up. It wasn't long before I pulled into the parking lot and she sits down next to me in the car looking glum.
"Sometimes I hate your people," she says to me.
Little did you white people know that I represent our entire race.
I ask her what happened and she proceeds to tell me how the white clerks at the scrapbook store ignored her while white patrons who entered after her were given their rapt attention. The D was upset and angry. And rightly so. It's something that's happened to her before, as if I need to write those words. The most recent incident was earlier in the week when she was at a medical clinic. The D was in the waiting room with another patient, a white woman. The woman looked at her and drew her purse closer and clutched it tightly.
Back in my car, I took a last swig of my egg nog slushie (a bottle of egg nog that I'd left in the car overnight which was only then melting) and The D asked something akin to, "Why can't people just see me for what I am? I'm dressed like a normal, average person…" Racism, in both subtle and less overt guises, is tireless and unreasoning and I had no explanation then and have none now.
This happened a couple days after I wrote a post at my music blog about the lack of colored faces in best-of-2007 lists/indie rock. A more clever writer than myself could find some ingenious way to link the two but all I can say is that they're related. Not equivalent, mind you, but related. Motivations are different, contexts are different, but what they have in common is how small things cascade together into a larger pool. If The D were to go through life having experienced what she did on Saturday only once or twice, perhaps we could ignore those incidents and write them off as being negligible. Indeed, any once instance of this can be viewed this way but they pile up with those times when a white woman clutches her purse a bit tighter. There are times when we have the TV on and she'll see a token minority character while I'm sitting there seeing another bland sitcom. These times too cascade into the pool.
This alabaster-skinned blogger doesn't presume to speak for my girlfriend or anyone of color but I can imagine that all of these things and others of the same ilk add up to give a picture that is perhaps not too pretty or, at the least, is very light. There were a couple blog posts from last summer, I believe, which were linked to by the usual sites in which a person of color was bidding Madison adieu. Unfortunately I don't have the links but, if memory serves, each of them indicated that there are racist assholes here in Madison – no surprise there. But they also remarked that many liberal whites are complacent; they think that this town is so liberal that they don't see the things which can make colored people feel unwanted or ignored. If anyone recalls these posts and has links, please let me know. No doubt my memory is faulty and their views were not represented totally correctly here.
Once the shock had worn off, The D and I found ourselves sitting in the parking lot. She wanted to just get the hell out of there, to put some distance between her and those clerks. We were both hungry so it was decided to get some lunch. I can't recall who suggested it, but we soon found ourselves headed to Jada's Soul Food. Southern cooking is comfort food for The D as it reminds her of her aunt and grandmother in Alabama – the colored half of her family. Plus Jada's just made great food period, with the catfish being a near-orgasmic experience for The D. On top of that, it was also a place to go to seek shelter from my people. Presumably it would be like the last time we were there when I found myself the only white person in the joint. It's weird how skin color is at the same time so negligible a quality and so important.
We turned onto Beld only to find that Jada's had closed. A cached copy of their website says this is only temporary and that they'll find a new location. I sure bloody hope so! Personally, I think they should move to the storefront that used to house Francois' and Sunprint on Milwaukee Street over by my house. Then I'd have Jada's and Papa Bear's BBQ within close proximity. And speaking of Papa Bear's, I was there a couple weeks ago and found out that they are going to deliver soon. I love that joint. I love the food and I love the utilitarian décor and the staff have always been friendly. There's nothing pretentious about the joint and it just plain has the qualities of a great neighborhood eatery. Baby Bear was cooking that night and I told him that they need desserts – pecan pie, peach cobbler, etc. He said that other folks have made the same comment so I am hoping that they'll soon have some sweets.
Update: Kristian Knutsen of The Daily Page sent me these links which address racism and diversity in Madison and were written by people of color: