At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Some book review clichés I want to avoid:
"deftly written"
"muscular prose"
"wooden prose"
"whip smart"

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

End of an Era?

Workin' the ref desk tonight. I like to think that print resources are still valuable for ready reference, but experience isn't bearing that out. A student came in looking for "Material Safety Data Sheets," specifically on the toxicity of lye, and after a fruitless search through some print laboratory and chemical safety manuals, we found a bunch of sites on the Internet with free MSDS's. Reliable? I dunno, but the patron was satisfied, and I'm not sure it's my place to tell him what he really wants or needs. Then our Grumpy Old Man came in looking for birth and death dates for some Golden Age cinematographers. They weren't listed in our print Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, but the info was readily at hand in the Internet Movie Database, with which Grumpy Old Man was uncharacteristically pleased. Score two for the Web.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Lost in Translation

Larry McMurtry used to write articles comparing two or three recent similarly-themed movies. Unfortunately he gave it up some years ago; I would love to see his sardonic wit applied to Le Divorce and Lost in Translation. Both are about Americans abroad, and both depend less on plot and characterization than on cross-cultural comparisons to generate interest. For this reason Lost in Translation is better, if only because Japan is so much more foreign than France. (I think this also explains why, although my European vacation was a pleasant escape from west Texas, my trip a few years ago to Taiwan made more of an impression on me.) Still, a little bit of culture shock goes a long way, and after chuckling at, say, a bizarre Japanese television show or a would-be punk rocker tripping over the lyrics of "God Save the Queen," we are left with a boring portrayal of two bored Americans talking about their boredom. Bill Murray's comedic talents are underutilized--he rises out of lethargy for about ten minutes of improv in the middle of the film but then sinks back into impassivity. Scarlet Johannson plays the same sort of sullen, smirking smart gal she played in 2002's excellent Ghost World, but although we're led to understanding that her cooler-than-thou attitude is hampering her ability to form relationshps, at the same time the main purpose of the movie is to join her in mocking the oddities of Japanese culture. Some of the gags, by the way, are amazingly clichéd: on more than one occasional Murray and Johannson find it amusing that the Japanese have problems pronouncing the letter "r," and Murray expresses consternation over the fact that his translator renders long impassioned monologues with a single English sentence.

Sophie Coppola has a pretty good eye (the shots of downtown Tokyo are beautiful), so it might be better if she were to give up writing and stick to the cinematography. (It made me wonder if the film was partially autobiographical, since Johannson's character says she tried to be a writer and then a photographer.)

The movie has at least one thing right: Suntory whisky will fix you up good. (I discovered this in Taiwan, where the deceptively smooth liquor was the drink of choice at my friend's wedding banquet. Tip for the traveler: don't get drawn into drinking games with jocular old Taiwanese uncles.)

I'm getting annoyed at the number of cinematic let-downs I've experienced lately. Next week I'm going to see Luther, out of loyalty to the Reformation, and Intolerable Cruelty, out of loyalty to the Coen Bros, but I'm steeling myself for disappointment in either case. The 2003 movie most praised by the critics, American Splendor, never broke into the west Texas market. Oh well, at least there's Return of the King to look forward to.