Thursday, March 26, 2009

new photos

after spending four or so hours revising historiography and then my paper for the conference in april, i wanted to spend ten minutes doing something that (gasp) wasn't about ireland.

so i went and scanned these.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

study break!

or, more realistically, rewriting break. i went home last weekend and, as is my habit when i go home, i watched a lot of movies.

  • night watch. okay, this one i didn't watch at home. but it's really good. my only problems with it were more technical than anything else -- it took me about the opening 7 minutes to wrestle my dvd player into the proper combination of russian audio and english subtitles without any additional commentary, "for the hard of hearing" indications, or anything else tricky. once that was done, however, the movie was totally worth it. loved the ending. we'll leave it at that.

  • brotherhood of the wolf. watched this one in boston, too, and, wow, i wish i hadn't. what a waste of 2+ hours. the disc sleeve said something about it being "luminescently filmed" or words to that effect and, yeah, it sure was pretty. note to filmmakers: i'm pretty sure no-one in the 18th century would have volunteered for a fullbody wax by contemporary methods which is the only way those guys would have been as shiny as they were. it was about as historically accurate as a lump of cheese and as involving as dustbunnies. i originally rented it because i thought it might be about the same collection of werewolf legends and witchcraft trials in france that neil gaiman has written a couple of short stories about and that i have seen referenced elsewhere but no such luck. then i thought it might be a rather clever political allegory about power in france prior to the revolution -- but it wasn't. then i just hoped for a good beastie -- and there wasn't one. give it a miss, is my vote.

  • my blueberry nights. great stuff -- good cast, good music, nicely balanced plot. i described it to someone as being like love, actually without quite as much comedy. it doesn't have quite the same setup of being layers of co-incidental interlocking stories -- it's more like a sequence of three or four stories told by one or two narrators, but it works along kind of the same lines. and it has a completely satisfying and very sweet ending.

  • in bruges. nothing at all like love, actually. far more like sexy beast or layer cake. it felt a little like a stage play -- which i don't believe it ever was; there was a very small cast, the action took place in a fairly circumscribed area ("in fuckin' bruges?!" as one of the characters remarks regularly), and the characters are telling the story rather than the effects. it's actually a very quiet movie -- quite literally -- but i thought it packed a fairly intense emotional punch. oh, and be sure you watch the gag reel and the "fuckin' bruges" reel after you see the movie. the second one especially is hilarious.

  • blow-dry. alan rickman, bill nighy, natasha richardson (rip), rachael griffith, rachel leigh hunt, josh hartnett. the latter with a yorkshire accent. okay, yes, they should have cast jamie bell but since they must at one point have hallucinated about getting an american audience for this, i can see their point and he does really well with the accent. there's a heavier story underlying the comedy in this, but the whole thing is very well-balanced and the wider story -- a u.k.-wide hairdressing competition finals being held in keighley in yorkshire -- is completely hilarious. some of the things done with hair in this movie are unbelievable.

  • greenfingers. i'm not a huge clive owen fan, so i actually had rented this movie before and turned it off about ten minutes into it 'cause, frankly, he just kind of stands there and i didn't know what to do with it. the supporting cast, though, makes it worthwhile -- david kelly, paterson joseph, and helen mirren being the notables although the rest of the prisoners make a good showing, too. it's "based on a true story" about prisoners in an open-prison in england who took up gardening as part of their rehabilitation and ended up successfully competing in the major garden shows in england. it probably borders on the heartwarming so, fair warning.

  • the sarah jane adventures. i was a little loath to try this since i remember the original attempt at the doctor who spin-off for sarah jane smith called k-9 and company back in 198....something or other. i actually have it on tape, more fanpoints to me! and -- it isn't that great. credit to liz sladen for making it work as well as it did, but k-9 was clearly having major technical issues and nobody else seemed to have put a lot of thought into it. but now, with the ground beautifully cleared for successful dw spin-offs by torchwood, i think maybe giving it another try was a very good idea. the first episode, "invasion of the bane," was very fast-moving, funny, sarah jane has gained a nice sharpness without losing any of her essential sense of humor and kindness, and her new "companions" will be, i think, good additions to the widened dw canon. oh, and everything is better when it's sonic as captain jack would, i'm sure, be pleased to know.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    "remember the atrocity committed against us before which forgives the atrocity we are about to commit today! hurray!"

    so interestingly enough i was thinking the other day about writing a post about the use of emotive language in the writing of irish history. specifically i've noticed that historians -- and i'm using this term to cover, as you might say, a multitude of sins from memoirists to journalists to professional academics to passing people who just thought, "what the hell - i can write about that!" -- tend to use the phrase "shot dead" rather than "killed," "murdered," or simply "shot."

    and then look at this! a splinter group of the ira -- the actual original ira must be so long gone now -- goes and proves my point: two soldiers killed at antrim army base. "shot dead." right there. guardian coverage. while they were accepting a pizza delivery. and two of the delivery guys got shot, too, but not killed. (at least last i knew -- no-one seems to be too bothered about them.)

    anyway, this isn't the post about that because i haven't really finished thinking about it yet. this is more of a post to comment on the fact that, suddenly, there's present-day coverage of my thesis topic.

    most of the news commentators i've read have been saying things like, "but it's been so quiet here -- what the hell!" (except -- you know -- in more formal language than that.) even ian paisley's son has made a comment to that effect -- which is really odd, because i was expecting him to come out fulminating the same old orange rubbish that his dad spouts at every opportunity and, so far, he's been remarkably restrained. points to him. 

    really what all this "but it's been so quiet!" translates to for me at this point is that something has been bubbling away quietly for at least the past, oh, say, fifteen years? and everyone's been ignoring it or hoping it would go away. which is probably true. what they're now calling "dissident" republicans -- the guys who used to just be "gunmen," "provies," "provos," or, occasionally, "terrorists" or "guerrillas" back in the day -- were never happy with the truces that were called in the '80s or '90s. they were never happy with the good friday peace agreement. they fought the international observers in the late '90s -- not literally, admittedly, but still. they dug in their heels when it came to dumping arms. and one of these groups, the real ira who has claimed the shooting deaths of the two soldiers, were the ones who bombed the bus in omagh in 1998. frankly, i'm still surprised that more people haven't tried to kill martin mcguinness or gerry adams as traitors to the cause. my guess would be that, despite their protestations to the contrary, they both still know enough names and enough doors to knock on to keep themselves from a messy death.

    in any case, the present little explosion seems to have been tipped off, or at least immediately predated, by the announcement that the british military would be sending in undercover forces to northern ireland. most people saw this as an admission that there was something going seriously wrong somewhere and "conventional" forces weren't enough to get at it. martin mcguinness almost immediately put out a press release to say he thought it was a bad idea (i can't track down this article any more; if anyone sees it around, would you please send me a link?); i agree. if nothing else, if you're going to do it, don't fucking make an international announcement about it. how many policemen do you want shot? do you still think the irish can't read?

    and this morning -- i've begun checking my news feeds with more trepidation than i've felt for a long time -- there was a bbc report of a policeman was shot and killed while responding to a call for help. who wants to sign up for the force, kids! being a cop in northern ireland has to be one of the top 10 worst jobs you can get in the u.k. 

    the really fun thing is that all the rhetoric being used by the politicians commenting on the events -- from the head of the police force, sir hugh orde, to gordon brown, to gerry adams and ian paisley -- would sound totally familiar to any irish nationalist from the 1890s: these are the actions of a dissident group; they don't represent the feelings of the majority; we must respect the feelings of the population... this must sound dishearteningly familiar to anyone who lived in northern ireland, or even passed through it and read a newspaper, between 1969 and 1990. this isn't a new response; despite claims to the contrary, this is the same old response trotted out yet again. lets see if it works this time!

    (the subject line, by the way, is poorly quoted from memory from a terry pratchett discworld novel. it's a line he uses more than once. i think i might be cribbing it this time from... jingo maybe? or possibly fifth elephant.)

    Saturday, March 7, 2009

    procrastination am fun!

    because what am i doing this morning instead of writing my historiographical essay? well, y'see, i saw this post earlier in the week and, while i didn't think about it particularly at the time except to acknowledge the obvious wisdom of the first entry (although i might have refined it down a bit and given han his due in making the scene work), it suddenly came to me the other day that one of the things missed in the list was

    1. from predator 2. which is not one of the great (action) movies of all time or even a particularly good sequel, but. towards the end of the movie when our hero, danny glover, is chasing our villain, the predator (duh), through l.a., the predator breaks through the wall of an apartment building, ending up in the bathroom. a quick cut reveals the tenants to be an elderly couple watching "jeopardy" or something -- the husband is snoozing, but the wife hears the commotion in the bathroom. the husband refuses to wake up and investigate, so she grabs her trusty ol' broom and goes herself. after doing some immediate first aid -- which involves liquidizing some portion of the bathroom wall, setting it on fire, turning it green, and spackling it on his leg with concomitant howling in pain -- the predator bursts out through the inner door of the apartment, throwing the old lady back against the wall but not, note, killing her. he then takes off through the main door into the rest of the building. danny glover follows within minutes, practically collapsing at the woman's feet and, when she shrieks and starts to whap him with the broom, hauling out his cop i.d. and waving it at her: "it's okay, i'm a cop, i'm chasin' that guy--"

      at which point the lady looks at him, leans in, and delivers one of the great lines of the '80s: "mister, i don't think he gives a shit."

    2. ripley and newt are trying to escape from the hellhole the atmosphere processing plant on lv-426 has become; they take the wrong turning and find themselves confronted with the alien queen, surrounded by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of eggs, and the threat of dozens of drone warriors in the offing. the queen and ripley come to an agreement -- after due demonstration of flamethrower -- and ripley and newt begin to back away. as they do, an egg cracks open, the legs of the facehugger come into view as it begins to crawl up prepatory to springing on whatever is nearest. ripley looks up at the queen and tilts her head. no-one says anything. the moment is as close to silent as you're likely to get in an early james cameron movie. and the communication between ripley and the queen is absolutely clear: we had a deal. you broke it. fuck you.

    3. without wanting to spoiler anything for anyone (particularly since i intend to write something about night watch later which will just spoiler the hell out of it), the end of pitch black. basically from of monsters to the closing credits.

    4. pirates of the caribbean. i could just wuss out here and say, basically the whole first movie. it works so well and geoffrey rush leaves just about enough scenery for johnny depp to chew with a few fragments left for knightley and bloom, but i love the ending. the last few moments just before the snap to black. it's timed so beautifully with the score. and while it's totally sequel-hunting, it deserved to be sequel-hunting!

    5. and, while i thought about doing it, i really can't avoid putting star wars on here in some shape or form but, since the original post covers one of the great explosions of all time, i don't feel like either copying that or going for the jedi battle or explosion. so, instead, i'll plump for a moment from the final fight sequence between luke and vader. not the whole thing -- i love it, but it looks a little antiquated, particularly in comparison with menace and sith -- but just after vader has been driven back onto the little catwalk space. luke basically just beats him into the ground (there isn't a lot of finesse here but there's plenty of suppressed anger and frustration), cuts off vader's hand -- then very clearly realises what the hell's going on and steps back. the emperor has been applauding him and coming down the steps from his throne and now urges him to go ahead, kill vader, be done with it. there are a few moments of consideration -- then luke steps back, throws his sabre hilt to one side (i remember being able to hear it hit the floor, but i find that sound effect isn't on either of my dvd editions -- perhaps i imagined it?), and refuses: "i am a jedi like my father before me." it's great. a wonderful moment. he is about to get his ass kicked on a monumental level and i'm sure he's aware of that -- i mean, if he has any brain at all, he probably thinks he's about to die, but he does it anyway.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    "babylon don't even exist."

    i heard that, after the somewhat less than stellar opening of babylon a.d. last summer, director mathieu kassovitz "disowned" the movie. it wasn't what he had had in mind; it didn't come out right; it wasn't the way he wanted; waaah, waaah; mommy. it seemed ridiculous and not a little immature and just plain rude at the time -- if nothing else, it rather seemed to leave his cast hangin' in the wind.

    and, really, it isn't that bad. it says a lot for the academic turn of mind, though, that about halfway through, i had to find a pencil and a piece of scrap paper to start making notes for myself of all the movies babylon was stealing from. let's see...a partial list includes:

    • blade runner. the long slow pan into "new" new york. all the neon. all it needed was the rain. oh, and the garbage. apparently the future is really clean. at least in the u.s. like -- obsessive cleanliness.

    • fast and the furious. there was vin diesel. there were gasoline-driven vehicles of various varieties. and the whole thing with the snowmobiles was just the same scene from xxx but not as much fun.

    • firefly/serenity. aurora is basically river without the charm. or intelligence. or... "i will kill you with my brain"-ness. i don't think jayne would have had the slightest qualm being alone with aurora whereas river clearly gave him serious pause for thought.

    • chronicles of riddick. turop is a very, very similar character to riddick but... again, without the charm or the trick with a one-liner and the bizarre -- whateveritwas that made riddick somehow sympathetic despite his obvious disdain for 99.999999% of humanity living or undead.

    • fifth element. visuals -- but more the storyline itself. young girl -- carrier of something miraculous that will save (or, alternately, damn) the world -- doesn't know much about the world but has to learn -- needs protector -- evil people out to get her -- blah blah blah. we know this routine.

    • revenge of the sith. the whole "divine children" bit was what made me think of this. suddenly the young woman is less important than the children she will have. it was unfortunate when lucas did it to padme; it's really unfortunate here because aurora hasn't gotten even half of the character time padme did. and it's not like we have three movies-worth of previous experience with the kids!

    • children of men. children who will save the world. and it had the same effect on me of "wow -- i almost care. but not quite." also, the post-apocalypse is really clean. seriously. even the opening sequences which are supposed to take place in serbia and then proceding eastwards through bits of russia are relatively clean for how hell-hole-y they're supposed to be. everyone's teeth are really good. everyone's clothes were in excellent shape. i was kind of willing to let this slide for our three main characters -- two of whom come out of a convent and one of whom is believably a rather highly paid mercenary but everyone else? c'mon! even the guy cage-fighting in vladivostok or wherever it was had miraculously good skin, excellent teeth, clean nails, and no visible scar tissue.

    • the dark tower. yeah, i know, it's not a movie -- please god, no-one get any bright ideas and try to make it into one, okay? anyway -- i just started reading through the series again about a month ago for two reasons. the first is that i never finished the last volume and it's now been so long since i read song of susannah that i'd forgotten salient details of the first five books. the second is that i need something to read that isn't thesis-related and can be guaranteed entertaining. and, since i just finished the waste lands and started wizard and glass a couple of weeks ago, i guess i have demonic children on the brain. and the train in the film reminded me of blaine. not for any really good reason other than passing visual similiarity. blaine is way freakier; this was just a train.
    the first half was better than the second -- the world (such as it was) was still new, we were still learning our way around, there were still some possibilities. as soon as the story began to lock into place and try to work itself out, the plot holes became more and more painfully apparent and the entire thing started to lose momentum. also, the more aurora needed to be hauled around by her two fellow travellers, turop and rebecca, the less i could be bothered to care about her. i'm not a fan of protagonists who need to be walked through everything with a hand on their shoulder; unless there's some reason for this which is previously established and promises interesting developments, why do i care? why would anyone else care? why are we bothering to shepherd this person around in the first place?

    vin diesel's opening and closing v/os and his first scene with michelle yeoh are probably the best parts of the movie. but, then again, i have a serious soft spot for him -- love his voice. and turop is kind of interesting -- i wish he'd had a little more...something, i'm not sure what. backbone, maybe; or decisiveness.

    all in all, this movie didn't seem to need me a lot. the characters didn't invite buy-in except on the most surface level; the action was barely there; the more the plot developed, the worse it got -- i mean, does anyone know what charlotte rampling was doing here? she showed up in three or four scenes; was kind of...undirectionally hostile; and vanished again. it was kind of fun and that's about the best i can find to say for it.

    oh, and as a sidenote, the quotation in the tagline for this post is not from the movie. it's from an episode of carnivale called "black blizzard" which precedes an episode called "babylon" (guest-starring john hannah peculiarly enough).

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    the definition of irony

    the first time i saw this headline, i thought, "oh, how nice. darnton's standing up for freedom of access. go him."

    and then i went away.

    and i thought about it.

    and i thought, "gosh. how many times have i been in widener and thought--- wait. i've been in widener once. to pick up photocopies. for my professor. and i needed two forms of i.d. to get into the basement. they almost never do ill. they don't do consortia (that i know of). they barely do the neighborly thing of letting faculty of other colleges use their collections (unless you're some hot shit like niall ferguson or simon schama in which case they'll be all over you). you practically have to run over broken glass (and make some friendly faculty member at your own institution do it, too) to get six days a year of access as a graduate student. possibly they should look to their own access issues before bitching about other people's."

    (i should note here that my quibbles with the harvard library system are largely with widener and their absolutely ridiculous access policies. the harvard special collections and archives are more than charming -- nice librarians, beautiful facilities, great collections, and, if you go to houghton on friday morning, they give you coffee and scones!)