Tuesday

Logan Arthur Paul Timmermann


Was Born on Saturday, August 9th, at 1:44 AM at Victoria General Hospital.

Birth Weight:
8 lbs, 9 oz
Birth Height: 57 cm
Likes: being fed, being held, demonstrating exaggerated hand movmements
Dislikes: bright sunlight, waking up alone, poop in his diaper

Wednesday

Dark Days: Murky Moral Relativity from Guantanamo Bay to Gotham City


When I typed this piece (a couple weeks ago), the name most dominating the news reports here in Canada was that of 21 year-old Omar Khadr, the Toronto-born “boy soldier” accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Khadr’s return to the headlines, now six years into his stay at Guantanamo Bay, was prompted by newly released video footage of a visiting Canadian official interrogating a sporadically hysterical, then 16 year-old Khadr.

The tapes have re-energized the cries for Khadr’s extradition to Canada on the grounds that he was essentially still a child at the time of the incident in question, that he’s being held in custody as much for his family’s relationship with Osama bin Laden’s as for the grenade he supposedly threw, and that, as a Canadian citizen, he shouldn’t be forced to endure the well-documented rigors of the notorious detention camp. Others argue that Khadr is, regardless of his age and nationality, a war criminal and opponent of Western democracy, who deserves to be dealt with accordingly.

Somewhat surprisingly, the usually right-of-center Canadian daily news-media has mostly advocated the former position, while Primer Minister Stephen Harper, a willful George W. Bush clone, and his minority Conservative Party seem more than content to let Gitmo “justice” run its course. The Khadr case, and its fractious reception, seem especially emblematic of the times we’re living in – an era in which innocence and guilt and such distinctions as “soldier” and “terrorist” are as increasingly blurry as national borders and codes of diplomacy and war-time conduct.

The next-most prominent story of the moment? Why The Dark Knight, of course, which grossed over $155 million in its record-breaking opening weekend and is now on pace to possibly overtake the box-office’s all-time top spot or finish somewhere close. In Christopher Nolan’s second Batman effort, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne snores through important shareholders’ meetings and arrives at fundraiser events in a private plane with a trio of supermodel types. In costumed, crime-fighting mode, he taps every cell phone in Gotham City and (presumably) exerts unnecessary force in questioning and coercing the bad guys. And he’s the picture’s hero.

The unsubtle overlap between the extra-legal lengths the Caped Crusader goes to, to save the day, and those of the U.S. government and military in waging their War on Terror, must be chalked up largely to coincidence since the roots of this decidedly darker Batman yarn stretch back nearly 70 years – just before America entered another lengthy “war on terror”. What feels less coincidental is the unflinching emphasis Nolan places on his protagonist’s sometimes dubious ethical decisions. If desperate times indeed call for desperate measures, then things in Gotham are, to be sure, looking direr than ever.

Bale plays Batman as a gruff, growling, all-business military officer – not a General calling the shots from a safe distance away from the battlefield, but the top grunt, who doesn’t have to salute anyone within his realm of contact and who doesn’t take orders well, or at all. More than ever before, you believe that Bruce Wayne does what he does by night solely because he’s a man possessed by bottom-line moral imperatives; when we see that he derives no discernable pleasure or satisfaction from all the sound and fury of his action-packed escapades, and also seems to harbor virtually no interest in fame or glory or flattery by way of imitation, that leaves single-minded determination as the only valid explanation left on the board.

For his part, Heath Ledger’s deservedly lauded take on the Joker, above all, calls particular attention to the near-absence of humor in this biggest of summer blockbusters. Where Jack Nicholson proved a black-comic riot in the same villainous role in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, the late Ledger uses the part as a disturbing example of just how soberingly un-funny such a hypothetical super-sociopath would be in something like reality. In one telling scene, a fellow criminal accuses Ledger’s Joker of being crazy. “I’m not…I’m not”, he counters emphatically, without offering any actual evidence to the contrary.

If Nolan’s grim and thrilling film feels eerily in-step with the zeitgeist, it’s no less so than the other best studio release of 2008: the J.J. Abrams-hatched Cloverfield, which eschewed the jam-packed summer season for a January release. Hopefully, it’s not too distant a cultural memory by now, after Iron Man and Indiana Jones and The Incredible Hulk and now The Dark Knight (and, of course, the mountains of hype preceding each).

The “Blair Witch of monster movies”, in fact, might ultimately remain the year’s defining pop-cult statement, once the dust has settled, not least because it’s so many more things besides a faux-verite creature feature. For starters, it’s a minor masterpiece of New Media mastery, from the ingenious, peerless viral marketing campaign to the finished product’s ostensibly amateur video record. The Blair Witch comparison is, at once, spot-on (another essential movie of its time) and altogether too short-sighted, suggesting Cloverfield’s formal inventiveness, but none of the myriad ideas it brings to the table—about premature affluence and America’s distinct brand of arrogance and histories of violence played out both on and off-screen--nor its nasty polemical streak.

Where The Dark Knight searingly captures the troubling moral relativity of a post-9/11 America and world, Cloverfield nails the moment of attack – a mess of bodies alive and dead, the former scrambling in a confused panic across the freshly devastated cityscape. It evokes, at least as effectively and as painfully as Paul Greengrass’s superb United 93, the utter helplessness of the day, that lingering, quasi-apocalyptic sense that the wisest thing to do (maybe the only thing to do, in the frenzied moment) would just be to run and hide – in a corner shop or subway tunnel or department store, which is exactly what Cloverfield’s band of young urban professionals opts to do.

What both of these films lack is developed characterizations and evidence of hearts beating beneath their stylized surfaces. As strong as the performances are across the board in The Dark Knight, there’s hardly a likeable character on screen, save maybe those played by Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine (who don’t really count since they’re likeable in everything). Cloverfield’s solipsistic, privileged sub-“Mumblecore” twentysomethings are less sympathetic yet. Subsequently, the most impressive trick both films pull off is that, almost in spite of themselves, they are finally quite moving, haunting even as collections of indelible images, cold spaces, and colder souls in serious peril.

The same can effectively be said of the interrogation footage of Khadr, who is inevitably sympathetic, despite the brutality of his accused crimes. He is, by turns, eager to cooperate with his questioner, who tempts Omar with sandwiches from McDonald’s and Subway, and emotionally raw, calling out for his mother and removing his shirt to clearly display what he alleges is proof of physical mistreatment by his Guantanamo captors. Skeptics counter that the latter actions were, at least in part, calculated moves to drum up support on Khadr’s part -- and they might not be wrong.

Either way, his behavior is unmistakably that of an overwhelmed boy, and – let’s face it – six years spent in a military prison isn’t likely to have produced a mature, well-adjusted 21 year-old young adult. Still, to let Khadr off the hook on the grounds that he’s just a confused, impressionable kid or unfortunate product of his environment would be far too simple-minded. And if these times are anything, they’re certainly not simple, as evidenced by both the news reports and (remarkably) the multiplex. The brightest hope in these dark days might just be that it’s an election year in Gotham.

Sunday

No Country for Old Mennonites


After catching Silent Light earlier this week at Cinecenta, it's not hard to see why Carlos Reygadas's third feature has been since such a magnet for extravagant, near-universal critical praise since it debuted at Cannes last year. Not only is it a powerful, exquisitely realized drama, it's also chock-full of purposeful allusions to some of cinema's most significant (and critically worshipped) figures. Dreyer's magnificent Ordet is the most direct and obvious point of reference, but there's also healthy doses of Bergman's spiritual turmoil, Tarkovsky's glacial pacing, Ozu's intuitive handling of family dynamics, Malick's ethereal eye toward nature, and--as a sort of Breaking the Waves in reverse--Von Trier's stone-faced, uneasy combination of religion with sex (specifically adultery) in the mix here.

But what's most remarkable about Silent Light is that, despite Reygadas' clear mastery of transcendental film language, his film feels neither studied nor stiff. Instead, it's impressively graceful under the weight of the spiritual/social ideas that Reygadas is deftly attempting to juggle; and, more impressive yet, its power stems from a slow build of real, palpable human feeling--of guilt, of fleeting pleasures, of fidelity, of, above all, profound ambivalence.

The film's protagonist, Johan, a Mennonite farmer living in Mexico with his large family and engaging in an affair that his wife seemingly accepts, is urgently at odds with his conscience, and with his faith, from the film's first scene: after his sons and daughters have left the breakfast table, he drops the stoic patriarch front, weeping and swearing to his wife, Esther, that he loves her. "I know...and I love you, too," she responds, her tone marked, too, with regret and a discernible sense of inner conflict.

From there, Reygadas plunges us deep into the hearts and minds of these "simple" people grappling with issues that are, of course, anything but. Johan's father relates that, some years ago, he also developed feelings for another woman, promises that he and Johan's mother will support him no matter what his decisions, and, finally, confides that while wouldn't necessarily like to trade shoes with his son, he's nevertheless a bit envious. Marianne, Johan's lover, can't continue playing the role of the "other woman," as she informs him after one particularly passionate meeting. Johan suspects, or at least wants to believe, that his attraction to Marianne may be part of some higher plan, while recognizing that Esther is a very good wife, mother, and soap-maker.

In perhaps the film's ultimate mark of ambivalence, Johan's soul-searching is played out against the lush forests and shimmering fields that he depends on for his livelihood. Silent Light is composed largely as a series of visual, thematic, and semiotic rhymes--including the spectacular opening shot of a sunrise and its natural opposite as the denouement--suggesting a deliberate order to the universe that its characters would most certainly affirm. Reygadas, like most of the Great Names mentioned earlier, doesn't seem quite so sure. His faith is in cinema, which is exactly where it should be.