Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Manzanar & Mammoth

(Ansel Adams photo of the Manzanaar Monument)

So we had a great weekend skiing in Mammoth. Conditions were great, a little cold and breezy, but the snow was fantastic. Going up the weekend after MLK Holiday meant that the town wasn't sold out and only a few times was there a lift line of any consequence.

Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp, is on US 395 on the way to Mammoth between Lone Pine and Independence. When I first visited there in 2002, it was just a barren National Historical Landmark. There were no NPS buildings and the tour through the camp was a dirt road with markers pointing out the various points of interest. There is a small monument that is erected at the back of the site and a few small graves are there.

Manzanar is the only internment camp that has been developed for visitors and it's quite amazing that it has only been in recent years that facilites have been built there. For the thousands of self absorbed Southern Californians who whiz by there every year on their way up and down the Owens Valley, it should be a required stopover to educate one's self about this fascinating and important part of American history.

Last year, I stopped by to visit the new visitor's center which does a tremendous job of summarizing the Japanese American experience. This year, they've constructed a "guard tower" just off of 395 which looks rather ominous to those driving by. My comic friend Kevin Kataoka had relatives interred there, I believe, and does some of very funny bits about it - he also wrote a satire "Shogun's Heroes" that unfortunately I didn't get a chance to see. Poker Girl (AKA Lary Kennedy) has a friend whose father was interred at Heart Mountain in Wyoming which I believe is somewhere near Brokeback Mountain. George Takei was interred in Arkansas - now that he's come out, maybe they sent him to the wrong place. And comedian Jack Soo was interred at Camp Topaz in Utah.

I am very interested in the Japanese internment because it is in complete contrast to the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the change in attitude towards Chinese America. I picked up a book at Manzanaar that was probably someone's dissertation about the Chinese & Japanese in America and I hope to plow through it sometime soon.

Manzanar is both beautiful and tragic. The majestic Sierras rise above this encampment. LA used to own the site (for its water rights of course - see "Chinatown" with Jack Nicholson for the best explanation of how Los Angeles "acquired" all the water it needs). And for some, it's that damn part of 395 where you can't pass someone.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

One Day in September

After watching "Munich", I rented "One Day in September" through Netflix. It is an Academy Award winning documentary about the 72 Olympic massacre. I think it's a more gripping film than Munich because it contains an interview with the sole living member of the Palestinian terrorist group that took the Israeli atheletes hostage and later killed them. It is also quite amazing at how inept the German authorities were and how they blew any change at rescuing the hostages. If you liked "Munich", then definitely rent "One Day in September" to see the real story of this crisis.

The New World

Terrence Malik has made four films. I have seen three of them; Badlands, his first, I have yet to see. I remember seeing Days of Heaven when it first came out many, many years ago. It was a beautiful, haunting picture and I even liked Richard Gere in it. Linda Manz was the little girl in it and she narrated it.

Terrence Malik, I believe, grew up near Bartlesville, OK so I was always interested in what he did (I grew up in Oklahoma City, myself). Bartlesville was the headquarters of Phillips 66 for many years and was a company town. After Phillips 66 merged and merged again, now with Conoco, I believe the headquarters moved away from their and ever since the town is but a shell of its former self.

When "The Thin Red Line" came out, it was another haunting picture about the battle of Guadacanal. His storytelling was visual and lyrical and the film was narrated by several different characters. He combined the horrors of was with the beauty of nature. It is certainly one of the most different war pictures you'll ever see.

I had a chance to see "The New World" and it is very similar to "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line". "The New World" is a visual picture. The narration is told by Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, and an interesting young girl, Q'Orianka Kilcher who plays Pocahantas. It is about love, the loss of love, and settling for what you can't have. The narration is in hush tones, almost whispers, and the story is more about moods that happens to be told against the backdrop of the Farrel/Kilcher/Bale love triangle.

While it is a good film, it is not easy to watch. Most of today's Hollywood output is spoon fed to the audience and requires little effort. But "The New World" forces you to think and not be solely entertained. It is authentic in feel and sound and the acting is natural. But I'm doubt I would ever sit through it again.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Let me start by saying I know a male to female transsexual (she's also preop, a dominatrix, and a feminist activist who's been featured on Dateline NBC). In fact the story of how Ric Fergeson told me he was becoming Susan Stryker was a monologue I orginally did as I was developing my one man show.

I had met Ric when I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma and we both got into student politics. In fact, Ric, Mike Bresson, and Bruce Kravitz and I all went to see Richard Nixon's first public appearance after he resigned the Presidency when he spoke at a fundraiser in Enid, Oklahoma for departing US Senator Henry Bellmon. It's a screenplay that's been kicking around in my head that I want to call "Touching Dick Nixon" - it was Ric who actually got to shake Dick's hand.

Anyway, fast forward to San Francisco, mid 90's. Ric had gotten divoriced from Brett (whom I also knew at OU through Ric) and had also just completed his dissertation from Berkeley in History. I called him up to go see an Oakland A's game. On the way to the game, he told me that he was in the process of becoming a woman. I looked over, and yes, he was starting to grow breasts. To a transsexual, it is not about sex or sex organs, but it is about gender identity. I learned a lot that afternoon. The A's won the game, by the way.

So with that background, I must say that Felcity Huffman was nothing less than perfect as a preop male to female transsexual. She is one brave actress and she deserves props for doing this movie (I imagine she did this before Desperate Housewives). I've always had a little crush on Felicity - I noticed her first in "Things Change" and "Reversal of Fortune". She always had little parts in this and that and did that awful Showtime series called "Bedroom" - at least she was topless in that and played a lesbian. "Sportsnight" should have been her breakthrough but, alas, no one really watched it.

The movie was better than I thought it would be - it tried to be shocking - but Huffman brought out such humanity in her character that she didn't fall into the trap of playing a transsexual but played a human being. It's nice to see her finally getting her kudos. William H. Macy is a very lucky man.

Munich, Elizabethtown

I think Munich is the best film I've seen this year. 2005 was a tough year because no film got to me or touched me in any way. It is a flawed film but I can overlook that for its ambition. Hey, if you're pissing off both the Palestenians and the Jews, then it can't all be bad.

Eric Bana is finally coming into his own as a leading man and he does a very good job of carrying the film. Geoffrey Rush is wonderful, as always, and Cirian Hinds gives the best performance in the film. Special kudos to Marie-Josee Croze as the "Dutch Woman". I first noticed her in "Ararat" and then "The Barbarian Invasions". Most of her films are French Canadian or French (she's from Montreal) and she's never done a Hollywood film until now. Sexy and beautiful, I'm glad to see her in a major motion picture.

The script by Tony Kushner is thoughtful and provoking. It's nice to see that he is able to write for the screen as well. I thought "Angels in America" was a little hard to follow on stage but the TV adaptation made the work more intimate and therefore better.

My one qualm is with the "climax" of the movie. It was a little cinematic stunt by Spielberg and it bordered on being a bit silly.

"Elizabethtown" was a disappointment because I'm a Cameron Crowe fan. Now I thought "Almost Famous" was brilliant but "Elizabethtown" pales in comparison. There's some things that work but some things rang false like Susan Sarandon's big speech. Orlando Bloom was fine but he just can't carry this film. Kirsten Dunst was annoying but cute. I liked the end of the film. But most of what preceded it just didn't work.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Aside from the obvious jokes I can come up with, "It's the beans that made them gay", I thought Brokeback was a very good but not great film. Heath Ledger was terrific as well as Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, and Linda Cardellini (Jake Gyllenhall was just okay - he didn't suck - or maybe he did - but I don't think he was completely up to the task.). The sex scenes weren't too uncomfortable for me although the female heavy audience at the NuWilshire kind of giggled at some of the jokes and gay inferences.

Ang Lee has very deftly handled the material and it is well photographed. But in the end, I didn't have an emotional or intellectual reaction to it. Am I blocking because it is a gay love story? Maybe. But I have to agree with my acting coach Cliff Osmond in his review that brooding is akin to whining where a character suffers rather than solve. Ennis Del Mar is obligated to his daughters but I didn't feel the trauma that he had as a young boy was so damaging as to keep him from happiness. Characters that are desperate and that do something about it are interesting. Those that are desperate and do nothing we see in every day life.