At Home He's a Tourist

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

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Movie Roundup

Troy--Solid summer entertainment, hokey but exciting. Well-choreographed fights, especially the duel between Achilles and Hector. Lots of pecs for the ladies: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and even the lithe Orlando Bloom have obviously been putting in their time on the bench press. Not as much eye candy for the gents, though; Diane Kruger is pretty but not worth starting a war over. None of the primary actors looked at all Mediterranean, by the way, though many of the extras were sufficiently swarthy to be Greeks. It's been fifteen years since I read the source material, but I think I remember enough to know that the screenwriter modernized the story in one respect. In the book, if I remember rightly, Briseis is only a trophy Achilles and Agamemnon fight over, and Helen is Paris' sex toy. But in the movie Achilles and Paris genuinely love their respective women, and this love transforms their moral character, making Paris more courageous and Achilles less violent. This revision is an improvement in the moral sense, perhaps, but anachronistic. Ancient Greeks didn't have enough respect for women to think a relationship with one would be improving. (True, in Plato's Symposium one of the characters suggests that an army of lovers would be uncommonly brave because everyone would be ashamed to be seen acting cowardly in front of their beloved; but he was thinking of homosexual lovers.) I also seem to recall Achilles being ferociously angry, whereas Pitt's version is merely disgruntled and cynical. Good news, Lord of the Rings fans: not only do you get to see Orlando Bloom defend yet another besieged city with his longbow, but Sean Bean (Boromir in the Peter Jackson films) plays Odysseus.

Together--We should lament the death of the wholesome American PG movie. There are plenty of great G movies, thanks to Pixar mostly, and lots of increasingly obscene PG-13 and R movies, but adult fare without objectionable content is hard to come by. I find the best serious PG movies are coming from Asia now. Together is a sweet, sentimental story from Kaige Chen (Farewell My Concubine) about a provincial cook who goes to Beijing with his son, a violin prodigy, in search of a suitable music tutor. It was fun to see the good-natured father, through a paradoxical combination of boldness and obsequiousness, manage to snag the country's most famous violin teacher.

Blood Simple--One reason I loved Raising Arizona and Fargo was because of the hilariously exaggerated local dialects. I would have though Texas would provide plenty of raw material for such spoofery, but maybe, since Blood Simple was their first film, the Coens hadn't yet developed their peculiar linguistic interests. Anyway, this is cheap-looking and not especially funny, and the tangle of double- and triple-crossings is confusing, but it's still quirky enough to be of interest to fans.

Thérèse--A very stagey adaptation of the Little Flower's Histoire d'une Ame, with minimal props set against a photographer's neutral backdrop (for example), and not a single note of soundtrack music. Beautiful, though; the warm lighting, rich colors and careful arrangements made each scene look like portraiture. Catherine Bouchet does an excellent job of capturing St. Therese's cheerful, humble spirituality. (By the way, there's an American film on Therese coming out this fall, though without the backing of a Mel Gibson such a strongly Catholic movie probably won't get shown here in the Bible Belt.)

Tokyo Godfathers--Pretty good anime about a odd triple of beggars who find an abandoned infant on Christmas eve and set about to find its biological mother. Unfortunately Kon mixes hand-drawn animation with CGI, which I find distracting.

Insomnia the past couple of weeks. I'll try taking a sleeping pill tonight.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Englund, Steven. Napoleon: A Political Life. Scribner, $35.

Library Journal: “A remarkable work of prodigious research and erudition….a definitive work that belongs in every European history collection.” Kirkus Reviews: “An all-encompassing study…Englund is a stylish writer…A rigorous contribution to the literature.” Commonweal: “Englund makes his way through the crowded scholarly landscape with great skill…A lively and convincing account.” Booklist: “Englund is an excellent writer whose vivid prose brings the man and his times to life. Although his admiration for his subject seems to lead him to de-emphasize Napoleon’s egotism and cynicism, this is still a valuable addition to our knowledge of one of the most compelling personalities in history.” New Republic: “Englund is something of a popularizer, but in the older and more estimable fashion of the man of letters. In Napoleon, he eschews close analysis and makes the sort of minor errors common to writers who have not pickled their brains in historical journals since early childhood. Still, he has serious and suggestive points to make, and he makes them in a luminous prose that few professional historians can match. His book is by far the best of the recent batch of Napoleoniana, and the best biography currently available…Englund cannot always resist undue admiration, and has a tendency to minimize the uglier side of Napoleon’s rule. Still, this is an enthralling work. Not only does it present Napoleon in the vivid detail he deserves, it also begins to suggest how to fit him back into the broad sweep of European history.” Publishers Weekly: “Englund slips forward and back chronologically and often uses terms and names before he has introduced them or neglects to identify them at all. When he is interested in a particular event or interpretation, he offers a strong reading…Elsewhere, the writing becomes uneven, plagued by shifting tenses, elaborate phrasing and occasional awkward wordplay.”

Bonus: Napoleon's letter to George W. Bush.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


"One of the major chemical ingredients of green tea serves as both a preventative for cancer of the esophagus and a treatment for it." So for every Coke you drink (see below), brew a cup of green tea.

Monday, May 17, 2004


Coffee drinking helps liver, but soda consumption linked to higher incidence of esophageal cancer.


Buchan, James. Crowded with Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment; Edinburgh’s Moment of the Mind. HarperCollins, $29.95

Booklist: “spellbinding…an impressively sophisticated and multilayered cultural history.” Choice: “Buchan has written a particularly readable book…Endnotes and index are both ample and helpful. Recommended. All libraries.” Kirkus: “a lively portrait…If Buchan is a little imprecise on how Edinburgh eventually became a vital center of European civilization, he does a nice job of describing daily life among its intellectual set, of charting their ideas, and of evoking days gone by.” Publishers Weekly: “Buchan writes well and does a find job arguing the case…Yet much of this material has been covered before, most recently in Arthur Herman’s enjoyable How the Scots Invented the Modern World.” Library Journal: “novelist and critic Buchan…can make for dry and ponderous reading. This book will be of interest chiefly to serious students of Scottish history. Recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries with special collections in British history.”

Sunday, May 16, 2004


Duke University study finds that alcohol consumption increases smoking pleasure.