Saturday, December 31, 2005


Well, the final minutes of 2005 have finally arrived. My wife, my daughters and I are relatively safe from overzealous revelers and drunks firing weapons into the air as the hour creeps toward midnight and the first minute of 2006. As tradition goes in Japanese households, in this country and the motherland, New Year’s Day is perhaps the most important holiday of the year, and each dish in the day’s elaborate day-long meal has some significance in indicating, predicting or attempting to influence the fortunes of those who eat it in the coming 12 months.

And New Year’s Eve (at least in my wife’s parents’ house) is no wild party, but instead a festival of relaxation in front of the TV, watching not Dick Clark (or whoever has been dubbed to replace him on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve) but instead a gargantuan, five-hour variety show dedicated to a “competition” between male and female musical performers, who sing in styles ranging from traditional enka to the most modern (often excruciating) pop and rock straight off the Japanese charts. At the end of the program, a panel of judges and the members of the audience present in the huge theater where the special is videotaped vote for who they felt offered the best performances, the men or the women. Then, no matter who emerges the winner, everyone on stage dances and sings and holds hands as the credits roll, presumably into a brighter, happier year than the one just wrapped up. The whole show is, of course, in Japanese, beamed straight from the Japanese television network NHK, but that’s no hindrance to the kitschy fun to be had by non-Japanese-speaking viewers, if you’ve the right sensibility or receptivity to it. I always jump in with enthusiasm, but around hour three a brisk tumbler of tequila is often a great help to maintain that enthusiasm. (I remember one year getting that agave boost a bit too early and exclaiming a bit too enthusiastically when it was revealed that one of the judges was the great Japanese film director Kon Ichikawa.)

So far this year the men seem to be out of the gate early with some fine, more traditional performances, and one by pop star Moriyama Naotoro, who performed his hit ”Kazahana”, that caught my wife’s ear (and eye). My own tastes run toward the enka performed by the women, although there was one woman early on who I thought was mesmerizing, both in physical appearance and performance, who performed her modern pop tune while playing a traditional samisen. (I missed her name, unfortunately, though I mentioned to my wife at the time that she looked very much like a Japanese Jane Seymour.) Still to come: performances by insanely popular superstar popsters SMAP (don’t ask me!), Dreams Come True and male enka vocalist Takao Horiuchi, known around my parents-in-law’s house as the “Thank You! Man” for his unerring signature of ending even the saddest ballad with a triumphant “Thank you!” in English. And that’s not to even mention the slightly loopy female enka singer, and her male counterpart, whose main function in the competition is to perform in the wildest, most gigantic and elaborate costumes imaginable, some of them 40 or 50 feet in height, in a last-ditch attempt to tip the scales of the audience’s sympathies toward their respective genders. I started watching this show with my wife and her family about 15 years ago, and now I can’t imagine a New Year’s Eve without it. I’ve had more fun sitting around in my underwear drinking tequila with my extended family watching this crazy program than I ever did doing the mandatory New Year’s Eve club-hopping when I was younger and desperately trying to impress my soon-to-be-wife. I think she’s more impressed that I seem to be as well-versed in this family TV “tradition” as I am, and now, with my daughters running around the house causing distractions and having their own fun, the Japanese New Year’s competition show is even more fun than ever. Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!

I’m guessing, however, that you’re not spending your New Year’s Eve wondering whether the men or the women in that NHK studio will reign supreme when all the voting balls are counted. You’re probably not even near a computer. But even so, there’s still New Year’s Day, and perhaps even Monday, an official holiday for most of the working world (don’t get me started…), to poke around the Internet. And so, in the interest of enriching your first surfing experiences in 2006, let me get all GreenCine on you for a moment, if I may. Most of you will already know what that means, and for those of you who don’t, first, shame on you, and second, click the link and start the new year hooked up to the most essential blog I can think of for the dissemination of quality film culture—journalism, blogging, reviews, commentary, online viewing and listening. One look at the great work David Hudson, Craig Phillips and the rest of their staff do on a daily basis—making access to great writing easier than easy for all of us—will make you a daily reader. I’ve been looking in on their site—“joined at the hip” to their terrific Bay Area-based on-line film rental site GreenCine (for people who like to watch—thank you, Ben…)—for about two and a half years now, and I don’t even want to remember what life was like without them. Right now Craig has his top 10 list posted, in addition to all the rest of the great links to lists from film journals, papers and blogs. Enjoy!

And by “getting all GreenCine on you” I mean, the best way I could think of to salute my own humble readership and wish you all the best for 2006 and beyond was to emulate, for one night only, GreenCineDaily’s fantastic resource gathering and offer up a few fun places for you to visit, just in case the prospect of bowl games and parades doesn’t exactly get your engine revving. Some of the links that follow were, in fact, brought to my attention by GreenCineDaily, and for that I will thank them again. Some of the others were culled from my own connections to bloggers and writers with whom I’ve become acquainted over the last year. Some I stumbled on by pure, happy luck. There are even a couple that bear no real, tangible relationship to cinema, yet are so compelling and/or readable and/or moving and/or hilarious that I just had to pass them along. Here, then, are some of the best ways I could think of to start your 2006 reading experience, and mine.

One of my favorite critics, David Edelstein, ended his 10-year relationship with Slate this past Thursday with the conclusion of the Slate Movie Club, an addictive, infuriating, exhilarating enclave of film critics that gather under Edelstein’s aegis annually to assess the year in film, and to attend to whatever pertinent issues—societal, theoretical, personal—informed that year. The 2005 gathering includes the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, the New York TimesA.O. Scott, the L.A. Weekly’s Scott Foundas and, of course, Edelstein, and is as vital and worth reading as ever. Edelstein takes over senior film critic duties at New York magazine later this month.

Another cinephiliac gathering of sorts is the Village Voice Take Seven film critics poll. This year’s overwhelming winner for best picture is David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, but that’s only the tip of the poll’s iceberg. In addition to top ten lists from senior critic J. Hoberman, and Dennis Lim and Michael Atkinson, there is the poll’s annual, and lengthy, column space devoted to the extemporaneous commentary of the various critics involved in the poll who attempt to out-hipster or otherwise one-up either each other or the bad taste of the general viewing public. Given a forum of my own this year, this is bait I cannot resist—I will revisit some of these comments in a post a little later in the week and offer some commentary of my own.

Dave Kehr talks about the year in DVD releases for the New York Times, while the technoelves over at DVD Beaver offer their choice for the Best DVD of 2005 (not really much of a hint: it was in my Christmas stocking this year!)

Anne Thompson of the Hollywood Reporter’s Risky Biz has her top-ten list available, along with a ton of everyday items good for keeping abreast of what’s going on in the industry and in film journalism. (Why, she even led off her December 27 post with a link to a certain film quiz we’re fond of around here… well, everyone except for the Mysterious Adrian Betamax…)

David Poland picks the best movies you should have seen, but for some reason didn’t.

He was looking to stir things up a bit, and that’s just what he did-- The Reeler goes off on top ten lists and what he perceives as the masturbatory tendencies of critics this time of year, and on Cinemarati Filmbrain takes issue with his ire.

The most surprising observation of the year comes from Grady Hendrix, who discovered through intense exposure to the extensive DVD extras available on Warner’s The Dukes of Hazzard disc, that the big-screen TV show is perhaps the best movie ever made.

Pop on over to 24 Lies a Second for terrific new articles on director Guillermo Del Toro and the ‘70s cinema of Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola, plus juicy and spirited (but refreshingly civil) debates on King Kong, A History of Violence and much, much more. 24 Lies’s Peter Gelderblom promises a new article examining one of his underappreciated favorites, Jonathan Glazer’s Birth.

More fabulous Top ten Lists: Andy Klein of New Times

Aaron Graham trots out his Top Ten, plus a look at the spiffy new DVD edition of Death Race 2000 (and a keen picture of the Real Don Steele from that movie)

Girish sports lists of Top Ten Older Films he’s seen this year, as well as a Top Ten of 2005

Cinephiliac has, easily, the best-designed Top Ten list of the year

Over at DVD Radio you can check out great podcast interviews with George A. Romero, Leonard maltin, Kevin Smith, Miranda July, and even get a report on the Cineschlock-o-Rama Schlockcast of something called The Seduction of Misty Mundae.

Brian, who heads up the essential blog Hell On Frisco Bay, has done more than anything (except the fact that my best friend lives there) to make this die-hard Dodger fan wish he was a citizen of the City by the Bay by offering extensive reports on revival cinema, special screenings and reports on the often tenuous status of the city’s remaining great cinema venues.

Looker offers up some holiday annoyances relating to the audience surrounding him at a recent screening of King Kong, and asks the terribly pressing question, can anything be done to stop New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane?

Flickhead offers the season’s most painful and moving recollection of a night out at the cinema with one parent attempting to hide the effects of a difficult divorce. It’s called ”The Abyss”, and it has nothing to do with James Cameron.

And hey, the drive-ins are still open! Find out what’s playing at the Mission Tiki this weekend, and catch up with your favorite ozoner at the essential site Drive-Ins.Com. For fans of hardtops, check out the endless supply of information and memories linked to every theater, open and closed, in America and elsewhere, at Cinema Treasures.

Finally, cinematically speaking, here’s an article from today’s Los Angeles Times that curdled my urine (thanks to my childhood friend Ron’s dad, Roy Matchett, for coining this particularly vivid phrase that has stuck with me for 30-some years): it’s the story of one Richard Troncone, who has kept a detailed list of every movie he’s seen for the past 40 years, and who is trying to break his own 1972 record of seeing 176 movies in theaters before the ball drops tonight (at this writing, he’s got about an hour and a half—how about that late showing of Hoodwinked, Richard? It’s only 80 minutes long…) The reason my urine got curdled is that I’ve been doing the same thing, but for only 28 years. Damn! One-upped again!

And now, to things non-cinematic:

Do yourself a favor and go get hooked on the writing and societal observations available every day by prolific writer Rodger Jacobs at his fine site 8763 Wonderland.

Or get ready for what just has to be a better 2006 for the Boys in Blue by surfing over to Jon Weisman’s Dodger Thoughts. And while you’re there, be sure to order a copy of Jon’s new book, The Best of Dodger Thoughts. I ordered mine yesterday!

Friend and frequent SLIFR contributor PSaga writes about ”Three People Who Deserve This Blog More Than I Do”, one of whom is our very own the Mysterious Adrian Betamax, and then adds a fourth person, which made me wonder if it was possible to blush in cyberspace…

Blog friend Preacher Beege offers a moving (and at one point scatological—I’m still wondering about this one, Beege) New Year’s Eve tribute to her marriage, which is six years old today.

And finally, speaking of scatology, what better way to launch into the new year than with The Poop Report’s very own Best Of list, which I guarantee is like no other you may have read so far this holiday season. And be sure to check out all the links to some pretty hilarious fecally oriented essays too.

May 2006 keep the turds and the troubles in their proper places and offer to all of you as much pleasure, prosperity, creativity, joy and love as your hearts and souls can accommodate.


girish said...

Ooh. Nice trove of links all in one place. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Not only a wonderful wealth of linkage, but thanks for the kind words of recognition! Happy cheers, fellow film-head.

Brian Darr said...

And Dennis, you often make this non-car-owner wish I lived in the land where drive-in theatres still exist; I haven't been to one since I was less than ten years old.

Thanks for pointing out that hilarious Grady Hendrix Dukes of Hazzard piece, and others I haven't read yet!

Thom McGregor said...

Dennis, no one has ever captured the Japanese New Year TV variety show spectacular in all its glory as you just did in your blog. It's not an easy thing to describe, and you captured both the weirdness and the sweetness of it. Your are now an honorary Japanese, according to me.

Anonymous said...

Wow, how did I not see your comments here until today, Dennis? At any rate, many thanks for your kind words re: GreenCine. We're tickled pink. Or green. Or something. Well, tickled anyway! And kudos to you for your fine blog, as well, I always enjoy stopping by and reading your thoughts. (And enjoy yours on my own blog as well.) Happy New Year!

Craig P