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Sarah Recommends

This may become a series if anyone finds these at all useful, so let me know.

Today, in “Sarah Recommends,” we have:

  • Movies
  • Books
  • CDs
  • Random

Movies: Underground

undergroundIn the category of movies, Sarah recommends that you watch Underground. Underground(Serbian: Подземље, Podzemlje) is a 1995 award-winning film directed by Emir Kusturica with a screenplay by Dušan Kovačević. It helps to know some general Serbian history before watching this movie, but you could still gain something without knowing. The movie spans a long period of wars for Yugoslavia– WWII, the Cold War, and the Yugoslav Wars. The movie centers around two best friends., Marko and Blacky. When it starts they are carefree, and enjoying life. Then the Germans invade. The main characters are wanted because they are communists, and they go into hiding underground in a shelter underneath Markos’ grandfather’s house. Marko moves his own younger brother, a stuttering zookeeper, along with his money; Blacky, Blacky’s three year old son Jovan, and various others into the shelter. He stays above ground with Blacky’s mistress Natalija. For whatever reason, whether to keep Natalijia for himself or to keep the fame, money and power to himself, Marko maintains a farce that the Germans are still occupying the country even after Tito comes to power. He keeps the basement dwellers making arms for him that he continues to profit from, not for the resistance, just for profit, and then later as a profiteer in the Yugoslav wars. He has his Grandfather slow down the clock, so eventually the denizens of the underground believe they have been there 15 years, when in fact it’s been 20.  Then the monkey uses the man-made tank to bust through the walls and escape, at which point Ivan goes after him and Jovan and Blacky go to single-handedly defeat the Germans. The whole movie is symbolic, and full of satire, and the end particularly is surrealistic. A brass band following Blacky around provides not only the soundtrack to his life, but an excellent movie soundtrack. Underground is simultaneously the funniest and the saddest movie I have ever seen.Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times nailed it when he called Underground a “sprawling, rowdy, vital film laced with both outrageous absurdist dark humor and unspeakable pain, suffering and injustice.”

Books: Man in the Dark, by Paul Auster

maninthedarkIn the category of books, Sarah recommends that you read the 2008 novel Man in the Dark, by Paul Auster. Man in the Dark is more accessible than the last Auster book I read, Oracle Nights, where half the story takes place in footnotes. That said, it is still very much a postmodern novel and sometimes a bit much to wrap your mind around. It’s a story about a man (August Brill) who used to review stories for a living who tells himself stories at night when he can’t sleep to keep his mind off of the real story of his life. In one of these stories he tells himself at night, a version of the United States exists similar to ours, except 9/11 never occurred. Instead, New York seceded after the 2004 elections and a terrible civil war ensued. The main character in this story, is brought from our world to this world in order to complete a mission to put things aright. His mission, in fact, is to kill the man telling the story, to kill August Brill. It’s things like this that make the novel post modern, but at it’s heart, Man in the Dark is a love story. The real importance of the stories is how they intersect with Brill’s real life, and how he cannot use them forever to avoid his real life. In his real life, his wife, whom he divorced then got back together with but never remarried, is recently dead; he has broken his hip in a car crash; his daughter is recently divorced; his granddaughter’s husband has been murdered in Iraq; and there are three generations embodied in the three people living under the same roof. It is a love story to life, even though he is often times disillusioned with it, it is clear that Brill has loved deeply in his life, and in spite of regrets, continues to do so, now with his family and the memory of his wife.

CDs: Madvilliany, by Madvillain.

In the category of CDs or music albums, Sarah recommends that you listen to the 2004 album Madvilliany, by Madvillain. Madvillain is an American underground hiphop duo consisting of MF DOOM (MC) and Madlib (producer). Why should you listen to this? In one track, they rap over accordion music. Need I say more? I mean really. Seriously. Okay, I’ll say more. This is smart rap, with great flow, great lyrics built from a wide and varied body of knowledge, and a unique sound. This is the rap with alter egos, with heroes and villains and a story line. The only hiphop that is of that vein that I have seen make it to the main stream is Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. Madvilliany won’t be found on any top 8 at 8 radio shows, but it has met with great critical acclaim and has shown up in various underground type spots, i.e. on the Boondocks cartoon, etc.

Random: La Prima Mr. Smooth Coffee beans

In the category of random, Sarah recommends the Mr. Smooth blend of coffee beans from La Prima espresso roastery that is carried by Simpatico Espresso.A wonderful mix of Indonesian coffees that feature low acidity and an earthy, good body.


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Who watches the Watchmen? I did!

watchmen_movie_image_smiley_faceWatching The Watchmen, I felt like I was watching a comic book. That dream like state where your mind combines the text and art of the comic and this is what you see going on in your head. Only more, because your sense of hearing is also invoked.

There were a number of shots, mainly summary or transition shots, where the scene was still and only the camera moved, sweeping and panning.

The world of the movie, like the graphic novel, parallels ours– the Hiroshima bomb, the jfk assassination, the kent shootings, Vietnam, Nixon. Only is this version of our world, there are superheroes. Grey, complex individuals with their own interpersonal conflicts, but heroes with powers. The thing that made this works so different from outs, is that with Dr Manhattan, the US unequivocally won in Vietnam. The comedian acknowledges this, and says that he thinks the country would have gone crazy if they’d lost. There are many other meta-nods to post modernism, like the newspaper editor saying this is still. America and they’d never want a cowboy president, win reference not only to the possibility of Regan running, but to out world and W Bush. Then one character has a line like “I’m not a comic book villain,” though of course, he sorta is.

One of the best things about the movie, that also separates it from the book is the amazing sound track. The sound track provides historic placement, but is also topical to the action of the movie. It also helps to compress time and convey a lot of information to the viewer on less time, a with the opening montage which spans the 1930s-1970s.
The movie was very good and relevant still to our times. Sometimes it was a little heavy handed with the messages, but I forgave it that because of how gray the heroes were, some of them perhaps even sociopaths. Long movie, bit well worth the watch.

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Upcoming Blog Tour

One of my best friends, CRYSTALEE CALDERWOOD, has written and published a childrens book, ANGELINE JELLYBEAN! She is going on blog tour, and Excelsior! is proud to be hosting her on January 2nd, 2009. Here is a complete schedule of the tour so you can follow it. I have received a copy of the book and am very impressed and pleased for my friend. I have completed an insightful interview with Crys, so make sure to come back and check it out!

Angeline Jellybean Blog Tour

Ransom Noble at http://ransomnoble.wordpress.com/ -December 28th
Vivian Zabel at http://vivianzabel.blogspot.com.-December 29th
Laura Peters at http://www.renaissance-seamstress.com/blog/ December 30th
Elysabeth Eldering http://jgdsseries.blogspot.com/ -December 31st
Susan Thompson at http://www.susansmiththompson.com/ – January 1st
Sarah Adkins at https://seapeanut.wordpress.com/ -January 2nd
Lea Schizas at http://thewritingjungle.blogspot.com/ -January 3rd
Crystalee Calderwood at http://crystaleecalderwood.blogspot.com -January 4th

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Just accept that you liked it: JCVD reactions

The movie theater I was in had ear jolting sound problems for the first five minutes of JCVD and at one point in the opening the screen went black. The theater lights were not dimmed until the credits started rolling. Considering all this, I was not neccessarily predisposed to like JCVD. During pretty much the entire movie, I thought it was either incredibly brilliant or ridiculosly stupid, but definitely nowhere between. I think the point in the movie that sold me was the soliloqy VanDamme delivered directed at the audience. This was a very post modern move. The fact that Jean Claude VanDamme plays himself was like Paul Auster’s narrator in City of Glass being named Paul Auster. This movie definitely fit the charateristics of a postmodernist work- it questioned commonly held assumptions and systems, and it was full of irony and self reference.

As a result of the meta-ness of the movie, parts moved slowly. In one case when we got to see part of the same event from two different points of view (the outside first, then the inside), the repeated parts were cumbersome. That did help to set up the sadly funny twist of everyone thinking JCVD was the culprit holding hostages at the post office. There was a lot of irony in the movie and the interactions between the one out of the three hostage takers who idolized VanDamme and the man himself were humorous in an absurd way.

As the credits started rolling (and the lights finally dimmed), I had the vague feeling that I really liked this movie and wanted to smile. But I wasn’t quite sure why.


For those who don’t know, and don’t feel like doing a google search,  here is a brief promo synopsis:

When the life of Jean-Claude Van Damme collides with the reality of a hold-up in Brussels, Belgium, suddenly the huge movie star turns into an ordinary guy, filled with fears, contradictions and hopes. How can he be up to the legend he has built? What can a film hero do when the gun pointed to his temple isn’t charged with blanks? JCVD finds himself at the turning point of his “hero” life.


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Sukiyaki Western Django Manga Worthy

Review of Sukiyaki Western Django (2007), directed by Takashi Miike

“An epic tale of blood, lust, and greed”

Starring… Hideyaki Ito, Yusuke Iseya, Kaori Momoi, and Quentin Tarantino


Two clans are warring and both in pursuit of a hidden treasure. A gunman comes to town with both clans wanting to hire him, but he decides to defend “the temptress” Shizuka and her family. Gunslinging action ensues, with graphic blood and action sequences.

Sukiyaki Western Django is like an adult graphic novel or Manga Zine come to the big screen as a live action movie instead of an anime cartoon. This genre is even acknowledged directly when the character played by Quentin Tarantino says he is just an “otaku” at heart, which means fan in Japanese and is how anime/manga fans refer to themselves.
The movie takes place on an elaborate set, which doesn’t bother to disguise it’s a set. At times the backdrops are iconic Japanese ink block paintings. Color plays an important role throughout, both in the cinematography and the story line. The movie doesn’t bother to explain how an entire western town in the US came to be inhabited by the Japanese (the only non-Asian actor is Quentin Tarrentino). But, if you suspend your disbelief, the story seems ti be just an Asian-Western Romeo and Juliet tale with the “reds” and the “whites” replacing the Montagues and Capulets. Only this Romeo and Juliet had a son, who embodies the best both sides have to offer (he even has a braid of red and white string in his hair). The son parallels the hybrid red and white rose his parents bred, that even blooms in winter. In this story, only the Romeo (Akira) was killed, with the Juliet (Shizuka) left to live as a prostitute with her clan.

The subplot of Quentin Tarantino’s character (Ringo) and Akira’s Mother which entertwines with the main plot is probably the most interesting part of the movie. Everything wrapped up a little two neatly at the end, though it is by no means a fairy tale happy ending. Sukiyaki Western Django is visually stunning and the combination of action, romance, and quirky humour makes it worth a watch.

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