Thursday, March 26, 2009

other people's words

Far be it from me to want to direct people to Fox news, but one of their interns recently spent her spring break volunteering with Common Ground Relief and ended up working with (the not-so-facially-pierced) Morgan Meeting himself, aka Gorgon the Destroyer, aka Cap'n Morgan... I could go on. Point being he and CGR got a little publicity.
Morgan Elzey, a project coordinator for Common Ground Relief in New Orleans and my leader on this particularly muddy trek, specializes in working to rebuild the wetlands of the Mississippi Delta, which is disappearing by football fields everyday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

IRS to the rescue!

the solution to the AIG executive bonus problem seems to me to send the IRS after them. audit the fuck out of those executives. you may not get all $165 million back, but you're bound to get some of it. and who knows? maybe a few of those guys will be sent to jail for tax fraud or evasion or perversion or inversion or some other thing, which would be a bonus on the revenge front and may ebb the nation's bloodlust.

i have to say, while these people clearly do not deserve another penny, $165 million in taxpayer money really only comes to about 50 cents per person, which isn't so bad... unless, of course, you add to that the hundreds of billions that were given to the company as a whole. in the end, as i'm sure we're all aware, this completely idiotic managerial move isn't really the problem. i think joel achenbach said it well:
The eruption of outrage over AIG is understandable given our innate need for a satisfying narrative—one in which bad things are caused by bad people, and the bad people get caught and punished. It offends our narrative sensibility when the problems are disproportionate to the number of villains.

on the portland front, many things are afoot. M & T bought a house, which it seems i will be moving into sometime in the next month or so. i'll be migrating from NE to SE, near a Pix Patisserie and the revered Pok Pok and their delectible fish sauce chicken wings. there's also a swell little bike shop, food co-op (repleat with neighboring year-round bit-sized farmer's market), and a new seasons grocery within walking distance.

i've also joined a couple of co-ed soccer teams and have miraculously turned into a goal-scoring machine this season. i think i slotted in one during the fall indoor session, but i've managed at least seven this session. players are only allowed two goals maximum per game and i've reached that limit thrice. honestly, i don't know what to do with myself. (no, really, once i get two goals i just wander around the field aimlessly—my defense is for shit. more goals get scored against us when i'm in the back than when i'm not. and i seem to have a propensity for getting in the way of and injuring our keeper.) the outdoor team gets rolling soon and that should be a good time too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Monday, March 09, 2009

the inevitable (dweebish) watchmen post

Saw Watchmen yesterday. It was good. About as good as I expected. There were scenes that were incredibly campy, some that were profound. Among other things there was lots of blood; overly prettified fight choreography; a giant, naked blue man; too much CGI; and one sex scene that went on too long and in a kind of ridiculously showy manner. There seems to be somewhat universal agreement that the film adhered too closely to the comic book and failed to create its own identity. The critics loved Jackie Earle Haley's portrayal of Rorschach and hated Malin Ackerman's Silk Spectre. I thought they were both adequate. The major difference being that Rorschach's character—demented, violent, uncompromising—is just way more compelling to watch or read. It was the same in the comic book—its two best chapters are 5 and 6, which focus almost mostly on Rorschach.

My general feeling is that making Watchmen into a movie is about as silly as making Citizen Kane into a comic book. In adapting it, it lost a major component of what makes it such a great piece of work—its comic bookness. As much as it's a story about superheroes trying to save the world, it's also a story about debunking the myth of the comic book hero. And as much as it's a fine piece of pomo, non-linear storytelling, it's also really a twelve part course in how comic book stories are told—the ways to relate one comic book panel to another. And this last part, I believe, is really what made Watchmen "unfilmable" as its been called on so many occasions (probably most often by its cantankerous mastermind). It's unfilmable because one of the intrinsic values of the story is that it is a comic book.

There are certain things that comics allow for that helped develop some of the themes—symmetry and time—of Watchmen and this relationship between panels is one of them. The comic book's page-layout holds almost entirely to a grid divided evenly in 18 sections. Most pages had 9 panels, but whatever the configuration was, it held to that underlying grid. While it lent a certain rhythm and structure to the pages look and narrative pacing (the effects of which, I don't think I entirely understand), it also allowed for a vast use of symmetry in the page designs (see the page depicting Rorschach's capture). In as much as Watchmen was important to comics with respect to its mature subject matter (it being an instigator for the movement of comics' target audience from 8-to-12 year-olds to 18-to-30-somethings), it was equally important regarding how its panels tell the story.

The narrative flashes back and forth in time throughout the story. As Dr. Manhattan says later on in the book, "There is no future. There is no past... Time is simultaneous..." With the comic you can easily move forwards and backwards in the narrative just by turning some pages. By looking at an entire page at once you can see moments in the story happening simultaneously. Rorschach is a character of dichotomies. He sees everything in a prism of good/evil and right/wrong. His life is divided into two periods, when he was Walter Kovacs and when he became Rorschach. His mask is a mercurial Rorschach blotch, perpetually moving to make new symmetries. So the gimmick of using symmetry in the illustrations to underscore his character traits is an obvious enough device.

In the page depicting Rorschach's capture (and a number of other pages in book), the coloring of the panels is symmetrical. But the way in which that device functions in the comic is what makes it work so well. The physical motivation behind the color change in the panels is the flashing neon light in the background (The neon light features a symmetrical skull-and-crossbones in its design). The alternating color in conjunction with the rigidity of the grid-based layout acts as a sort of metronome, ticking off the moments until the issue's climax. And while it functions as a sort of timing device, in order to actually see the symmetry on the page the reader must look at all nine panels at once, such that what's happening in the first panel of the page is synchronous with the last panel. The symmetry is only apparent by making time stop in the story.

This is something that couldn't really be done in film. The comic book ties together these themes of symmetry and synchronicity in a very particular comic book-y way. Certainly the themes portrayed on film, but not in the same manner.

And this is one of the major strikes against the film. Outside of cutting scenes out of chronological order, there's little thematic play in its narrative technique. It cops the style of the comic without paying attention to the substance conveyed by that style. Snyder and co. didn't make much of an effort in that regard. They had an opportunity to create a very striking visual vocabulary (maybe using simultaneous imagery or montage, for instance) and they didn't. The only elements of the film they seemed to take liberties with were the credit sequence and the fight choreography and physics of battle, which were essentially a Matrix rehash with more blood.

A similar argument could be made for the murder mystery aspect of the story. Rorschach and Nite Owl's investigation into the Comedian's death and the reader's efforts to create order out of Moore and Gibbon's disjointed narrative are underscored by comics' innate qualities—the setting of illustrated panels together to create a larger picture. The comic doesn't just resemble a puzzle, it is a puzzle.

The movie, in the end, was the fireworks without the orchestra.

the art (click to enlarge) of Dave Gibbons, John Higgins, and Alan Moore:

more TK?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Al Forno Ferruzza

Of course. A few weeks before I'm slated to move to another neighborhood (details to come in a future posting), a new—but more importantly good—pizzeria has opened its doors around the corner and a couple of blocks from my memory foam mattress.

The interior of Al Forno Ferruzza is presently a rather cavernous space with high ceilings and just a couple tables and some counter space by the windows. Next to the register is a bit of a haphazard display case showing off the olives, a large can of San Marzano tomatoes, and pizzas by the slice. What the space lacks in warmth, the proprieters make up for in friendliness (one of them chatted to me a bit about his home's wood-burning oven, and even offered a free taste of their spiced olives). And though the space feels empty, it looks like the owner has some big plans with one wall boasting a large mural of a pizzaiolo attending his oven and another wall an image of Mt. Vesuvius.

Previously (and still?) a food cart in SW Portland, Al Forno Ferruzza (which translates to something about an oven—I can't find a definition of ferruzza), produces thin-crusted pizzas and in a stone-floored oven run at 800 degrees F. How do they keep the oven so hot? Propane. Apparently the standard gas used in gas ovens doesn't do the trick. I ordered a plain pie with half arugula. What they produced was a beautifully charred pizza, topped with a chunky sauce of San Marzano tomatoes; fresh mozzarella; a parmagiano-reggiano cheese made in Argentina, which they also sell hunks of; and a sprinkling of what looked like home grown arugula. Their list of toppings includes, among others, fresh oregano, caramelized onions, and house cured olives. Their crust was head and shoulders above Tastebud's in terms of flavor—smokey, yeasty, umami-y. Over all, I found the pizza's major fault, besides a glaring lack of basil, was balance—it was sauce heavy, which, I think I've mentioned maybe once before, is an uncommon complaint for me, as I find most pizzerias seem to skimp on the sauce and focus too much on the cheese and other toppings... "meat-lover's"... eugh. But I digress. Despite its faults, Al Forno Ferruzza's pizza certainly ranks highly on the Portland pizza chart, possibly unseating my own works at the highly coveted number three position.

Al Forno, sadly, is replacing what was an admittedly low-rent looking Ethiopian deli/restaurant. Outside of using their ATM a couple of times, I never took advantage of the establishment and I regret that, as it certainly added to the eclectic feel of an area that's increasingly gentrified every month. It was one of those places that reminded me that one of my favorite quotes about Portland isn't entirely true, which is good. (I quoteth: "I think I feel my temperature rise a degree every time someone says, 'Keep Portland weird,' because it's just a bunch of white people drinking pinot noir.") In its place though is potentially a Portland institution and I look forward to eating many a slice out of its piping hot oven.