Saturday, January 26, 2013

LIFECHANCE 2013


Was it me, or did this year's Lifechance, the charity event put on by Radenko Pavlovich and the Columbia Classical Ballet seem a bit shorter, a little rushed, than it has in the past? Even so, the performance tonight brought back to Columbia its favorite star, Brooklyn Mack, some regulars such as Lia & Jeffrey Cirio, and a host of dancers who provided both traditional and cutting-edge modern work. The crowd was quite big, it seems, and everyone was well entertained, and I think it shows the growing support for ballet in the city and state. And for me a special treat, because my friend Renata from Brazil, showed up and I always like seeing her. I hope she can bring Waldilei with her next time (I really miss them).

The night opened, as it usually does, with a work performed by the entire CCB. Dressed all in white, they danced "Etudes," a delightful piece that let everyone shine a bit. I especially liked Nana Yamatani. I may have the name wrong, but I also liked very much the dancing of Yukihiro Tamura. Some of the ones I know from the past---Edward, Lauren, Zoltan, Matthew, Sasha, and Christopher danced, and I even noticed that Nations has been promoted. Eight dancers later performed "Pulse," which was crisp and nicely done, kind of favoring a 40's dance hall, the women dressed in red.

Brooklyn, who just about everyone really comes to see, and coming off rave reviews and a neck load of medals from recent international competitions, did three pieces: a traditional turn with the lovely, talented Ayano Kimuro in "Grand Pas Classique;" a nice piece, titled "On the Way," which oddly enough I saw one of the Japanese dancers do about a month ago, and very well, and Brooklyn brought to his performance the strength and power we are familiar with (I was later told that this work is often used in competitions); and a piece he choreographed, "Lost in Time," an athletic, vibrant, energetic dance that wowed the crowd.

Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga presentes "Polyphonia Pas de Deux," parts one and two, a modern selection that emphasized their strength and precision, somewhat gymnastic in style, a bit dark, and the music a bit jarring. But they did a wonderful job. Maki Onuki and Tamas Krizsa also took two turns, the "La Ofrenda," which in style was similar to "Polyphonia, and a piece from "Giselle." Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio finished the night with "Don Quixote."

Thanks to Lucretia for getting us tickets, and to Katherine for facilitating. It was a lovely night, and the boys and I had a great time, as usual. Soon enough, CCB may have to perform Lifechance on two nights!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

RISING SUN BLUES

Every once in a while a movie comes out, and one thinks, "How did that movie ever get made in that country, then, and what possibly could have been the public's reaction?" Such is the case with Kinji Fukasaku's anti-war film Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972). In it he criticizes Japanese actions during World War II as well as poor treatment of abused troops who survived, and cover-ups that allowed war criminals to escape punishment, often at the expense of their soldiers. It also reveals that many common soldiers (in opposition to what you normally hear) wanted to live, rather than sacrifice themselves, and there was criticism of the emperor. War widow Sakie Togashi (played by Sachiko Hidari) year-after-year (once families are allowed to seek support from the government) seeks to find out why she is denied postwar benefits, only to get the run-around and half answers that her husband was executed for desertion. Twenty-six years after the end of the conflict a sympathetic official sends her on a path toward discovering the true events that led to his death, an exploration that reveals the sorry state soldiers were forced to endure, especially as the war turned against them and the government was unable to provide supplies. These deplorable conditions, which result in horrendous acts, complicated by hardline officers who could not accept defeat and were willing to sacrifice their men, must have been difficult for Japanese viewers to stomach (literally), as well as tales of betrayal, disloyalty, desertion, with little of the patriotic sacrifices usually portrayed. The acting is not sterling, though some actors did a good job. The younger generation doesn't want to dwell on these losses, the older generation wants to simply honor their dead, and the government (and others) seems determined to forget or obscure the truth. This is a movie worth trying, far different from much of the fare offered by 1970s Japanese filmmakers. Some issues and scenes are not suitable for younger children (cannibalism, starvation, violence, etc). I didn't much care for the soundtrack, especially the electric organ music at the beginning.

JELLYFISH

Black plastic jellyfish float on the breeze,
detritus of homeless drunk as you please,
reminder of illness, and other things lost,
price of a forty the true smallest cost.
Gathered at feedings, the city’s unknown,
backpacks aloft they migrate and roam,
library, shelters, and other spots too,
wandering tribe of the destitute blue.
Aggressive panhandler or meekest ghost
trading in cigarettes and ancient boast,
past loves and triumphs now long forgotten,
family ties and teeth terribly rotten.
Health scares daily and fear of attack,
almost impossible to watch one’s back,
no matter comrades or their free cell phone,
when dark one arrives, they will die alone.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

SECRET IN THEIR EYES

Watched tonight the nice little Argentinian movie The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), which is essentially a unrequited love story between a government lawyer and her deputy, who return to a troubling case that obsessed him and cost him dearly. Ricardo Darin plays the retired deputy as he relives the case through a novel, while Soledad Villamil plays a judge. Both actors are excellent. The movie touches on regrets, failures, vendettas, and 1970's Argentina. Apparently it was very popular there, and deserves viewers here as well.

MIDDLE EAST MOVIE TOUR

With the boys off on a one-night camping trip with the Scouts, Dad decided to catch a few movies, as well as sneak off for a nice dinner (and ice cream, don't tell anyone). I don't get these opportunities often, so it was a nice diversion. I decided to spend some of it on the CIA Rehabilitation and Restoration of Respect Tour. Yes, I went to see Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. And I found both films pretty entertaining, with good acting and compelling stories, though not totally accurate. And my first thought, especially in the latter movie, is that there probably was a lot going on that they have not (and likely won't) reveal for many years, if ever, to protect individuals and the agency. But the essential stories seemed true. Furthermore, I hope people realize the very hard work, long hours, terror, stress, and effort a whole range of government officals and employees, from politicians to intelligence officers to foreign service officers to the military give to protect this country. They are only human, often make mistakes, may even fail, but they also carry off spectacular feats (among the thousands of lesser achievements every day) that are usually hidden from attention or praise. In the Iranian situation, embassy guards could have fought back with deadly force, killing hundreds and possibly sparking a war, but they held back and suffered a 444 day captivity. And many people came to the aid of Americans.

Argo, the story of how a CIA operative and specialist in secretly extracting individuals from countries (played by Ben Affleck, who also directed the movie) duped the Iranian authories and gained the freedom of six embassy personnel who escaped the initial takeover by the students. In some ways the early scenes struck a parallel with Bengahzi, where prepared agitators used the cloak of a street protest to gain access to a facility. I think they know the first inclination of American guards is NOT to shoot into crowds. This movie had a personal note, and interest, for me because I worked with about eight Iranians during the revolution and captivity, and I got many insights from them. I even risked my job standing up to a member who was verbally and racially abusing an Iranian employee (who, by the way, lived the rest of his life in the United States and is a contributing member of society). In fact, in an aside, I believe the vast majority of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East to this country have added to the diversity and strength of our nation, many sacrificed and offered their lives to defend us and have contributed mightily, especially Iranians who came here. Ok, let's get back to the movie. I have read about the escape, the creation of a dummy movie-productiuon company, and the film rightly applauds the contribution of the Canadians in hiding and protecting our citizens. The movie avoids a lot of saccharine and sappy aspects some films employ, and tried to be a straightfoward account, with levity being provided at the expense of Hollywood. Since the Academy nominated nine movies for Best Picture, I see how it made the list, but I thought Affleck was rather bland in the lead role (perhaps because he was expected to be, in which case he did a great job). But even in many places where I would have expected a higher measure of anxiety, I didn't feel it, at least to the extent I expected. Perhaps I expect too much. I thought the cast was good, and I loved the John Goodman/Alan Arkin parts (they could make a spinoff and just make a deliciously savage commentary on Hollywood). I loved Adrienne Barbeau's cameo. Although most people probably won't notice, but I thought the smaller roles of Iranians and crowd scenes were very well done, and quite believable, not over the top or exaggerated (such as when the bazari goes crazy when his picture is taken, which reflects the real fears and tumult ordinary Iranians were feeling). I know some Iranians will complain that the movie made some look silly or incompetent, but I thought the filmmakers tried to show just how smart and dedicated (even if fanatical) many revolutionaries were (and also the pain and violence experienced by the population as a whole). And sadly, I think most Iranians continue to suffer from fanatical oppression, and I hope one day they can shed their current clerical leadership. This movie sported a huge cast and must have been a nightmare for costumers and support staff, but I think they pulled it off. I enjoyed the film.

Zero Dark Thirty was a bit more troubling, though it was an exciting film. I thought Jessica Chastain and Jason Clark were very good (even as they glorified torture, which I oppose) as CIA operatives dedicated to destroying Al Qaida and killing its head, and the rest of the cast was good as well. I wondered a bit about the conservative outcry against the movie as a vehicle of adulation for Obama (which, frankly, I did not see). I was a bit surprised that (at least I can't recall hearing it) the SEAL team did not get more mention, because the movie seemed to indicate it was a CIA team. I bet CIA personnel were there, but it doesn't sinc with what I read in No Easy Day. I liked the fact that they showed the contributions of many Pakistanis (as well as Americans of Middle Eastern heritage) in helping kill Bin Laden. I think the film also correctly showed how smart, tenacious, and sneaky our terrorist oppoents can be (and maybe people will realize how difficult is the job to counter fanatics). What a gigantic and coordinated effort is needed to keep these jackals at bay. No doubt Americans will never know the sacrifices and effort made by thousands of public servants who have staved off attacks or killed and captured terrorists. Every terrorist attack is a failure of sorts, but I suspect many more potential disasters were avoided by good intelligence and timely interventions. Depending on the mood of the voters, I wouldn't be surprised if the Academy gives the Best Movie award. Possibly these two movies may cancel each other out and the award will go to a happier movie (though my vote goes to Lincoln). Many scenes are troubling, and I would highly encourage parents to heed the R rating.

As an aside, there will be some Americans who will feel superior and snigger at the Middle Eastern fanatics, but I say we have them too, in elements of the fanatical Christian fundametalists and Tea Party crackpots, and they are just a step away from becoming domestic terrorists, and that what keeps them from destroying this country is that they do not have the advantage of a homogenous (and often oppressed)population, but that we as a nation benefit from broad diversity of cultural heritages and political outlooks and multiplicity of religious and social belief. It's great to be an American, even if we make mistakes and can be wrong (my opinion) on many issues. We must stay vigilant, both at home and abroad, and remain engaged in world events (even when it costs us), and hopefully stay true to our higher ideals and avoid adopting tactics or measures that do not honor us.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A CAUTIONARY VALENTINES TAIL (for Sarah)


[Actual story ripped from the net. . .well, maybe]

"Hi. My name is Jennifer, and I was royally duped.

Yes, I know it is hard to believe, but if Manti Te’o, and the nation’s sportswriter fraternity---not to mention Heisman voters and just about the entire college football fan base---can be so thoroughly mistaken about the death/nondeath of an imaginary college co-ed girlfriend, then don’t blame me for falling for this guy.
He was just too dreamy. He said he commanded an internet empire from his home office, directed the activities of a host of employees, all the way up to one with a doctorate in physics, and scuba dove and surfed on weekends. Wow, that really got me going. I love smart, athletic, hairy men. I believed he was the cat’s meow. And I couldn’t believe he loved movies so much. . .even Charlton Heston extravaganzas. Oh my. He said he was also a talented humor writer, who graciously gave his jokes for a local comic, who was devoted to him, and that he provided material for Big Bang. It made me ache for other big bangs. He said he lived in a huge home, now practically empty after maneuvering two of the roommates out into the streets. I was certain he was inviting me to move in. I was so excited about seeing New York. It is kind of lonely in the Iowa cornfields. I know he was an older guy, but he said he had an absolutely gorgeous silky head of hair (he even sent me a sampling of long blondish manfur, and it was sooooo soft). He said he was of Persian background (and yes, I know that means Iranian), but he was a man of the world, with a condo in Miami and regular trips to Switzerland to check in with the scholars at CERN. He said I could come to Europe with him any time. He said his Indian-American maid/cook spoiled him with sumptuous exotic meals. He said she even sometimes served as his personal masseuse. He said Lebron was a personal friend, though he secretly loved the Lakers. I was skeptical, but I was assured by his friend Jim that he was on the up-and-up. He said my love was like catnip to him, that he would love to sharpen his claws on my body (oh, how romantic), and that he was purrrfect for me (it was so cute how he typed that). He said he had discovered a formylation reaction used in organic chemistry, call the Duff reaction, and that he would be glad to show me how it worked, if I came up to his lab! Oh my. Most guys only offered their etchings. . .

Much to my chagrin, I discovered he was as imaginary as Elmyra Duff of Tiny Toons. I should have known this was a cartoon fantasy! My heart was broken by Duffy Dean. . .but I still love him. Ohhhh, Duffy, Duffy. . . ."

FINNEY

The University of South Carolina Department of English has hired nationally prominent poet Nikky Finney, who won the 2011 National Book Award. This addition will greatly increase the importance of the poetry program and should draw high-level students. I love when USC improves its national status. We're not only about football.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

SEC

SEC football is simply the strongest in the nation right now, and has been. No conference comes close. There are teams who on good days playing their best can defeat SEC teams, but I don't see too many that could survive 8 weeks of SEC hammering, unless they joined the SEC and could similarly recruit. One has to give Texas A&M a lot of credit (and having a special QB) for doing as well as they did, and will likely to next year. Next season should be pretty exciting. I am optimistic about the Gamecocks. I would love to see maybe a TAMU v. USC SEC title game. That would be cool. But Alabama is still dominant, and Georgia will be strong (both depending a little on how much they lose). USC loses a good crop this year. But Clowney and our QBs will be back. Young OL will be bigger and better, I think. If another running back emerges to pair with Davis, we should be ok. Shaq needs to step up at receiver. Biggest challenge I see is linebackers. GO COCKS!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

RED STATE


Kevin Smith delivers an unusual and startling small-budget independent film, an action-comedy-horror-satire loosely based on a violent Westboro Baptist Church type evangelical preacher and his family/flock (who are fueled far more by hate and their belief in a vengeful angry God than a sin-forgiving Church of Jesus Christ), in Red State (2011). Michael Parks is absolutely wonderful, and creepily menacing, in the lead role as the Phelps-like minister, charismatic and cruel, a true believer, who takes his congregation a step further toward the Apocalypse in physically confronting their devils on earth. Into a dangerous trap spun by the minister fall three high-school students expecting some free sex, helping trigger an encounter with local and federal law enforcement. Yet, not all of the firebrand's followers see eye-to-eye, as his granddaughter Cheyenne (Kerry Bishe) frantically tries to protect the innocents. John Goodman also takes up an untypical role, as a conflicted ATF agent who has been monitoring the church's activities. All of the actors are very good, and you will recognize a few in small roles, but I was especially impressed by the group that plays the congregation, from Melissa Leo (who plays the ministers adoring, hard-core daughter Sara) down to the little kids. Smith does not only poke fun and criticism upon the fanatics, but also picks at government officials. Purposely inciteful to a degree, there will be some offended, but movie fans will find a lot to love here, from the great acting to the tight cinematography. I think independent filmmakers could learn a lot from the movie.

I also saw BRAVE (2012). I love just about anything Pixar does. Amazing animation, though not their best story, it is still funny and breathtaking, with a touch of usual Disney moral teaching and magic. The minute I recognized Kelly (Boardwalk Empire) Macdonald's voice, I was "I'm in." A good movie for the kids (and adults too).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

SCOUTS




FIRST THURSDAY: JANUARY 2013

Approaching the downtown area usually dedicated to the monthly arts festival that is First Night in Columbia, all I saw was quiet and dampness, and worried that organizers had canceled the event. But lights were on at Tapps (the bedrock facility for the event) and inside dancers of the Columbia Classical Ballet were preparing to perform. And they delivered a nice program of short dances, featuring an interesting mix of traditional and modern, to the appreciative, cozy crowd. It was nice to see these young artists up close. I am sure women in the audience were especially delighted with the "Magic Mike" orientation of the Japanese male dancers. Sasha and Lauren were just about the only dancers I knew from the older company, and they performed well in the more traditional opening piece (featuring two pairs). Unfortunately, Zoltan was nowhere to be seen. One Japanese male dancer wearing a long skirt did a really interesting modern piece that was beautiful; he was followed by a peppy Japanese ballerina doing a quirky and delightful piece. The only drawback was the uncooperative cd player; you'd think they would have a better sound system there. But the dancers carried on nevertheless. I wish I knew this young company as well as I did their immediate predecessors, but I think they are a wonderful and beautiful company. The Korean (I think) ballerina who dances is striking and precise, but would love to see her smile a little more (that was one thing I loved about Akari dancing, she just seemed to enjoy every minute out there). I am glad the CCB got to showcase some of their talent and hope there is a good turnout for the upcoming LIFECHANCE (26 January). This event was like a small tasty appetizer, whetting our appetite for the coming attractions. It was also nice to chat with Radenko and Myra for a little bit. I would like to see more dance as part of future First Night events, maybe setting up a larger outside stage (perhaps right on the street) where less-constrained dances can be offered.

There wasn't too much new art, and fewer venues were showing off stuff, which was sad. I did like some photography on display. My friend Fred showed up. The crowds were sparse, especially in comparison to last month, but I hope that does not discourage the artists or sponsors. We need more events like this and we definitely need to support the arts.

TWEET HEAVEN


One of the two tweets I made on the Clowney hit during the Outback Bowl got mentioned in The State newspaper. How cool is that? I am not-so-secretly delighted. Such a dweeb am I. My friend Eric Bargeron noticed it and passed it along to me.

http://m.thestate.com/state/db_295846/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=47WwIlNP&storycount=49&detailindex=2&pn=&ps=

The second tweet I wrote, however, was better: IHOP should introduce the Vincent Smith: Corn flour (maize) blueberry pancakes topped with whipped cream and crushed pineapple.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

CLOWNEY HIT

I am putting this link of Clowney's enormous hit in the Outback Bowl for myself, so I will have it. Amazing. Ignited the team. I think it gave them confidence to come back and win the game. And it showed the world in one play just how special a player he is. Top two highlights of Sport Center tonight belonged to the Gamecocks. Hopefully a couple recruits said to themselves, "I'd like to be a Gamecock."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC44nP7ClxM&feature=youtu.be