Monday, January 26, 2009


While searching through YouTube for something that my household shark aficionado could watch that didn't involve divers being menaced but still had the cool creature factor, I stumbled across trailers for the some Sinbad epics that I had seen as a kid, and it got me wondering what the original source of the character was. To Occidentals, he first showed up in Burton's translations of the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, but the Sinbad (or Es-Sindibad) stories were already old by the time they had been included in that anthology, and may have originated in the pre-Islamic Sassanid Empire.

Like King Arthur, Sinbad has proved to be a solid fixture in modern pop culture as well as legends of an earlier era; Doug Faribanks Jr. depicted him in 1947's Sinbad the Sailor (where Maureen O'Hara played a Persian princess who couldn't have looked more Irish if she had been a pint of Guinness in the hand of Van Morrison on St. Patrick's Day). The fun really got started when Ray Harryhausen brought his special effects into the mix, and three films made a lasting mark in the geekosphere: 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1974's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and 1977's Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (which I remember seeing as a kid--it was rated G, despite a scene with a near-nekkid Jane Seymour). There has also been a Japanese cartoon, and a DreamWorks animated movie. How many more stories can Hollywood et al. get out of this at-least-1,500-year-old adventurer?

JAWS 1 1/2

The little guy reached the year-and-a-half milestone today, and he marked his newfound maturity with an obsession for sharks. He'll repeat the word until I take down my Audubon Encyclopedia of Animal Life and show him the one photo of a shark in its pages. We spent the weekend looking through the shark videos posted on YouTube, but after the third clip of a great white ripping a seal decoy to shreds, I wondered if this was the best way to bond with my son. Isn't this how axe murderers are formed?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Fifty Films Doctor Lao Saw in 2008

The Fall
Diary of the Dead
Be Kind, Rewind
Lakeview Terrace
Roman De Gare
The Dark Knight
Walk Hard

The Mist
There Will Be Blood
The Savages
Harold and Kumar 2
Iron Man
Indiana Jones 4
The Incredible Hulk
The Mummy 3
Ghost Town
The Wackness
I Served the King of England
Quantum of Solace
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Synechdoche, New York
Hamlet 2
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Pineapple Express
X Files 2
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
No Country for Old Men

Slumdog, Millionaire ***
Seven Pounds ***
Milk *****
Synechdoche, New York (BOMB)
Quantum of Solace ***
I Served the King of England ****
W. ***
Religulous *****
Blindness **
Eagle Eye ***
Lakeview Terrace *****
Ghost Town ****
Burn After Reading**
Hamlet 2 **
Step Brothers *
The House Bunny ***
Henry Poole is Here ***
The Wackness ***
Vicky Cristina Barcelona **
Roman De Gare *****
Tropic Thunder ***
Pineapple Express BOMB
The X-Files: I Want to Believe *
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ****
The Dark Knight *****
Hellboy 2 **
Priceless ***
The Incredible Hulk ****
Get Smart ***
The Strangers ***
The Fall *****
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ****
Redbelt ****
Iron Man ***
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay ****
Smart People ***
Forgetting Sarah Marshall **
Diary of the Dead *****
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day ***
Be Kind, Rewind *****
The Savages ****
There Will Be Blood ****
Cloverfield *
Atonement *
No Country for Old Men *
Juno **
Walk Hard *****
The Mist ****


Thursday, January 01, 2009


A recent piece in the New York Times about the screen classic It's a Wonderful Life had me entertaining fresh questions about this film, which is one of the wife's favorites. I now share with her the custom of watching it every Christmas season, and while I have become fonder of it than I used to be, I use it as fodder for self-imposed brain teasers. For example, is Ernie the cabbie secretly in love with Bert the cop? Not only does Ernie kiss Bert on the forehead, but Bert makes a point of saying he needs to go home to his wife after spying Violet in a provocative dress. Are there more clues?

The big puzzle, though, is the one that James Stewart's character George Bailey must confront--is the episode in the final hour of the film, where he is shown what his town would be like if he had never been born, really real? George repeatedly tells his "guardian angel" Clarence that he knows he's being hypnotized or otherwise tricked, but is such the case, or if he is being tricked, does George understand the nature of the deception.

I've come up with four theories explaining what happens in the film's final segments, assuming that the prologue in heaven can be discounted (and why shouldn't it be--no one in Bedford Falls is aware of it). Here they are:

One--The Head Wound Theory

This is actually the wife's--when George plows his car into the tree, just before jumping off the bridge, he sustains a serous blow to the head. Everything that occurs until Bert meets George on the bridge is a delusion dreamt up by George as he staggers from his car to the bridge.

Two--The Psilocybin Theory
While drinking at Martini's, before getting in his car, George sips from a bottle that has become infested with hallucinogenic fungus. It really hits when he gets out of his car. The visions he suffers--Clarence, Pottersville, all of it--are akin to a bad 'shroom trip. This theory sounds far-fetched, but it's in fact what some historians have used to explain the initial events of the Salem Witch Trials.

Three--The Truman Show Theory

This is my favorite, but it's also the weakest one. George Bailey has, all of his life, been living on a theatrical set, owned and directed by Potter. All of the inhabitants of Bedford Falls are actors, with the exception of George. Potter and the other actors repeatedly foil George's plans to leave the town, because if he did he'd realize that he was on a set. Concocting ever more frustrating situations for George, and impressed with his resistance to them, Potter comes up with this journey to an alternate history, accomplished with a quick set change and some new scripts for his actors. With this theory, however, I can't explain how George's mouth and ear heal when he goes to Pottersville, or how Zuzu's flower petals get back into his pocket (getting them out would be easy--Clarence removes them when their clothes are drying at the bridge), but it explains Potter's single-minded interest in George.

Four--The Parallel Worlds Theory
In his book Parallel Worlds, physicist Michio Kaku describes the universe as a kind of roiling foam, with dimensions arising like bubbles. Unstable dimensions collapse back into the soup, but stable ones, like ours, continue for a bit longer. In this theory, George visits a "bubble-reality" similar to his own, with a few exceptions, one of them being that he was never born. There are others that speak of a structural instability, namely a heightened uncertainty principle, which allows Clarence to vanish while he's wrestling with Bert. George's ability to enter and exit this reality before its collapse is another sign that its physical laws are a mess. Clarence, the visitor from a higher reality, can explain things to George only in the most enigmatic way, leaving George to fill in the blank spots in his comprehension with talk of heaven. This explains how George, never born in one reality, can appear within it--the bubble-reality is so unstable and so full of logical violations that he can enter and leave it according to the same uncertainty principle that transports Clarence.

Predating The Matrix, this was a movie that urged audiences to ask if, even though their minds could doubt it, if reality as they experienced it seemed plausible then shouldn't they just go along with it? A cerebral tour-de-force indeed.

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