24: Season Three

Prods: Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran
Season Three of 24 finally got into our greedy little hands this month,
and it wasn’t long till we had blasted through the series, sitting through at least two five-episodes-in-a-row viewings. Unfortunately this season pales in comparison to the first two for a couple of reasons.
One is that, under pressure from Fox execs, I believe, to make the show accessible to any damn person who may join the show at any point during its run, the script and its structure got dumbed down a lot. Agents told other agents things they already knew, stating and restating the obvious for the benefit of nobody else except the chance viewer.
Second is that the faithfulness to the 24-hour, real-time narrative has been eschewed for a plotting structure that feels like regular TV. Yes, these events still happen in an hour during each episode, but now things happen way too fast. Despite being located near downtown L.A., nobody seems to take any time to drive to locations, with most trips taking ten minutes at most. Hell, it takes 2 minutes just to get to the car from CTU, I bet. Whoever is working the Powerpoint at CTU should get a medal, as well, because 10 minutes after data is requested, there’s a brilliant presentation full of animated graphics and multiple click-throughs to be screened for the agents. 24 has never been the most realistic of shows, but so much of the suspense from Seasons One and Two came from the time it took to just achieve simple tasks. When time was broken down to the minute, suddenly every minute counted, and we counted along with the show. Now the show feels like a 72-hour bad dream.
The show continues its balance between one of the most moral administrations in the history of fictional presidencies, and between the ruthless, cold agent assigned to protect it. Jack Bauer never speaks of his country or of the freedoms he (or others) enjoy here and that he’s protecting. He’s there to protect the President and by proxy the American people (usually presented as a mob of extras, as all other characters are agents, villains, or victims). Jack’s victory over emotion (which cost him his wife in the first season) is now contrasted with the “weak” agent Tony, who acts selflessly when his wife is threatened and is punished for it by show’s end. Like George Romero’s zombie films, 24 punishes those who acts out of emotion and a sense of family, and rewards those who don’t. That may include the villain, but his undoing is when Jack threatens the life of his daughter.
Like Season Two, this season presents torture as a common practice for both sides. In a year that has brought us Abu Ghraib and torture’s legal architect Alberto Gonzales, these scenes disturb, though set up as being as a desperate last option. And torture in 24 always leads to vital information, unlike in real life.
The structure of the season began to show more this time ’round. There’s a “beta criminal” that takes up the first half of the season, whose death or capture leads to the surprise revelation of “alpha criminal” whose death or capture caps the penultimate episode, with loose ends tied up in the final episode. There will also be a sacrifice among the CTU staff. And emotional women will wind up ruining everything as usual. (Exception: Reiko Aylesworth’s Michelle, who plays by the book, leaving husband Tony as the emasculated male).
So, for now, we’re sticking with the series, though we were disappointed. In a year we’ll have Season Four to contemplate, and see if the show got back on track.

Ecology of Fear – Mike Davis

Metropolitan Books

Ecology of Fear is Mike Davis’ follow-up to his groundbreaking City of Quartz,
that most wonderful alt-history of Los Angeles. Ecology of Fear is not so fiery, and concerns itself mostly with the L.A. basin’s propensity to natural disaster. The chapters focus on one disaster type each: Earthquakes, Fires, Tornados, Wild Animal Attacks, and such. Later chapters approach the subject from a different angle–one traces the literary history of the destruction of Los Angeles (a fascinating chapter) and another is more of a revisiting of the themes of City of Quartz, that is of the class segregation and class war.
Davis shows a weakness here not seen in City of Quartz, in that his rhetorical tactics start to show through. When he believes a danger is real, he accuses the authorities of being complacent. When they are not, the authorities are over-reacting. Of course, this varies due to the danger, but it’s still there.
The book drags a bit, as Davis tries to get every example of a disaster in their appropriate chapter. After a while, the rare L.A. tornado got a bit dull to me. I did, however, love his hagiography of disaster novels, and how their heritage is racist and reactionary–natural disasters usually being an excuse for a good ol’ “final solution” style mass death, which we still find today in those awful “Left Behind” Bible-porn books. I also liked Davis’ history of forest fires, which is a collection of dumb rich people building in fire zones and then watching them go up in flames. Mostly, Davis questions ideas of historical data–how can we say what is “normal” for Southern California when records have only been kept for 150 years? When the Owens Valley lake was drained, opponents protested this destruction of a natural object. However, at the bottom of the lake, they found tree stumps, evidence that very long ago, a drought had stayed long enough in California for a forest to grow. And we think a seven year drought is bad…

In the Mirror of Maya Deren

Dir: Martina Kudlacek
A gift from my buddy William (along with a Brakhage documentary I haven’t watched yet).
For those of us who know Maya Deren from her short body of work (but what films they are!) and some of her writings, this documentary allows us a glimpse into the world of the first major woman filmmaker and one of the most important experimental directors of the 20th century. She was a proto-hippy, a proto-feminist with her wild hair, Spanish dresses, and deep interest in other cultures (mainly Haiti). According to Brakhage, who is interviewed here and talks in a most wonderful voice, Deren got so involved in Haitain Voudou that she could call the spirits, and even cursed Brakhage with ill health when he was late to a show. And I believe it too.
For me, I would have liked a bit more on “Meshes of the Afternoon,” which inspires me everytime I watch it. I’ve heard it was shot either up around Mulholland Drive or Laurel Canyon. That long, long curving road speaks to me of a dream from childhood–familiar yet strange. Surely somebody knows that address.
Despite being a visionary and responsible for getting experimental film shown in the States, she died young (45, I believe) and poor, unable to scrape together the cash to finish the movies she was planning and working on. We get some tittilating shots of rolls and rolls of film sitting in her film archives, but very little of the footage itself. She burned brightly and fiercely and then was gone. Damn.

Another case for Creative Commons

In what is sure to be one of today’s most-blogged stories, this Globe and Mail article on how copyright is killing documentaries makes the case for new, more flexible ways of thinking about copyright–and how greed trumps information and education. Well, duh, you commie.

As Americans commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy today, no television channel will be broadcasting the documentary series Eyes on the Prize. Produced in the 1980s and widely considered the most important encapsulation of the American civil-rights movement on video, the documentary series can no longer be broadcast or sold anywhere.
The makers of the series no longer have permission for the archival footage they previously used of such key events as the historic protest marches or the confrontations with Southern police. Given Eyes on the Prize’s tight budget, typical of any documentary, its filmmakers could barely afford the minimum five-year rights for use of the clips. That permission has long since expired, and the $250,000 to $500,000 needed to clear the numerous copyrights involved is proving too expensive.

The Wire: Season One

Prod. David Simon
Recommended by Jon, and in the back of my mind since reading a laudatory article in Salon about it,
the first season of Wire was my first order on Netflix. (Yes, we’ve signed up). David Simon’s story of a Baltimore drug kingpin and the team assigned to bring him down takes delight in upending every cop show cliche, and not just for effect’s sake, but because that’s the way the world works, baby. So instead of brilliant cops going rogue after being told they’re off the case by their cigar-chewing boss, we have cops and detectives brought down by bureaucracy and their own weaknesses. There’s no dialog-for-dummies here, either; characters reference events several episodes previous and we’re just expected to know. On top of that put the dueling patois of the drug dealers (garden variety Ebonics laced with phone-is-tapped shorthand slang) and the cops (cynical, pseudo-racism mixed with procedural jargon) and you’ve really got to prick up your ears. Characters reveal themselves slowly–our “hero” McNulty comes across later as rather selfish; rising dealer Dee is a street thug trying to figure out a right way to live in a society that’s all wrong. There’s none of the safe humor of The Sopranos here, nor a need to ratchet up the suspense. What we get instead is a chance to explore the minutia of the typical drug enforcement case. Salon calls it “novelistic”–in its breadth I’d have to agree. The ending of Season One puts the show on the level of political films as “Z,” a world where no good deed goes unpunished.

Thank Christ.

First Tucker Carlson loses his job. Now this. Damn, today was a good day, as Ice Cube sez.

‘L.A. Times’ Drops Daily ‘Garfield’ as the Comic Is Blasted and Praised
Gene Weingarten, a humor columnist for The Washington Post and Washington Post Writers Group, praised the Times decision during his weekly washingtonpost.com chat yesterday. He said the paper displayed ‘the kind of cojones missing in too many places’ and described ‘Garfield’ as ‘a strip produced by a committee, devoid of originality, devoid of guts, a strip cynically DESIGNED to be inoffensive and bad, on the theory that public tastes are insipid. Now we need others to follow suit. Like the Post.'”

Is this a good excuse to link to Farfield again?

The Perfect Fry-up

Russell Davies’ eggbaconchipsandbeans may on the surface be about the search for the perfect plate of egg, bacon, chips, and beans, but it’s more a celebration of the fast-disappearing mom’n’pop cafes of Britain in all their proletarian idiosyncracy. He has a similar page about cafes (or “caffs,” as the British call it, as a way of snubbing the French) over at
a good place for a cup of tea and a think. Although my memory of English caffs is nowhere near Davies’ (mmm, greasy, ohhh, weak tea), he presents it all with love and affection.

The New G5: Week One

One week later, I’m pretty much set up. The G5 is very stable, and I believe what I’ve read that some users have left their’s on for a month or more. However, I have pushed the machine to its (512mb RAM) limit and frozen it, mostly by using three CPU heavy apps in one go, which I would never do usually. The only other time was using–you guessed it–Toast and Jam. There still seems to be some problems in these apps, one between knowing what to do with an external burner set up, and with burning mp3s straight to CDR, encoding to AIFF on the fly. Much easier, I’ve found, is to save as a disc image, then burn. This actually turns out to be faster than the former way. Toast/Jam does not take kindly to Force Quit, which I think is the app coding, not the Mac. Is there a good open source burner with the versatility of Jam? Let me know.
I think it only took a day or two to accept OSX as the system of choice over OS9 (duh, no shit, said my friend Gene). Things I love: 10.3’s Finder windows, allowing easy dragging and dropping and transferring/copying of files. This is such an obvious way to do an interface it’s taken nearly 20 years to come to it. Found that my PCI card won’t work because these two top G5 models have PCI-X inputs. D’oh! I also got my IDE-to-USB cable in the mail ($4 plus a ridiculous $12 postage from eBay, but it was the cheapest on the web), so I can hook up my old secondary drive to the computer and back up my files.
I never used to use OS9’s assigned folders (Applications, Documents, etc.) but find that in OSX it is the obvious choice. This is probably due to the Finder window meaning I never have to go to my desktop to find things. On OS9, that was where all the action happened. Now it’s elsewhere, either in Finder or the Dock. Also: I love F9 (Expose! Woosh!) and F11 (Desktop! NOW!)
I have yet to find a working P2P app or a FTP app that allows connection to some sites I go to. None of the newsreaders I’ve tried connected, but then again, I don’t usually use a newsreader, so I’m most probably doing it wrong.
Finally, .divx, .avi, and those horrid .wmv files work on my computer. Yay! Files come in with the correct filetype/creator. Wow!
I went through my Case-logic books and realized that the 30 or so installation discs inside I will never need or use again. It kind of hit me there. Wow. Time to rearrange some stuff.
Successfully burnt a DVD (fast) though I have had a few coasters. I again suspect this to be Toast stupidity, as it happened when I wasn’t lavishing attention on it, and it is a needy little bastard of a program. I also have encoded a DVD from an old VHS of mine. I set the encoding rate high and it took 3.5 hours just to encode the m2v. This was a 98 minute movie of course, but does that seem long?
I’ve noticed the G5’s speed while using Photoshop, which is designed for dual processor use. Very few fingers were drummed here, I tell ye.