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September 14, 2003 Reviews

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Some notes on what seems to be out there, and what some of us have sampled....


Military History - from Shiloh to Baghdad by way of ancient Greece with a stop in Okinawa ...

Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think
By Victor Hanson
Doubleday  278 pages  $27.50 USD
I was at West Point for the graduation of the Class of 1990 and heard Colin Powel give the graduation speech.  And I will admit I am quite proud of my nephew, now a Major in the Army.  And I was most impressed with him and his classmates that weekend.  Good men doing the right thing.  And they studied military history of course.
This Hanson book is one of military history.  Victor Hanson is a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and a well-known political columnist, mostly in the conservative National Review, and he's been all over the talk shows given what has happened in the last two years.

But Hanson here isn't writing about the current war.  He chooses three "watershed" battles, ones that he contends helped shape our world: the Battle of Okinawa, Shiloh, and the little-known Battle of Delium in Greece.  He says these three battles changes the world tremendously.  And he's pretty convincing.

Hanson argues that while the Battle of Okinawa (1945) was the summation of three savage years of island fighting, the most striking aspect to emerge was the suicide bomber.  Suicide fighters are everywhere in history - soldiers have "consciously searched for death amid irrefutable defeat" since the beginning of war, but the kamikaze was a template for the postwar world.  The lesson on Okinawa was that the willingness to sacrifice men might result in military parity, at least temporarily, against a technologically superior foe.  With that philosophy, it is no surprise that well after the defeat of the Japanese at Okinawa, the basic principles of suicide attacks are still with us today, providing hope to the militarily inferior that, if they're armed with a fervent ideology, the sophisticated infrastructure of the West could be susceptible.  So those guys in Baghdad blowing up our expensive Hummers learned from the 1945 battle in the Pacific.

As for Shiloh a key battle in the American Cival War there are different lessons.  It is there that General Sherman developed the doctrine of total warfare on the enemy's economic base, a program followed by generals ever since.  William Tecumseh Sherman understood, in a way, even then, "It's the economy, stupid!"  War is waged beyond the immediate battlefield.

Hansons third case is the disastrous Battle of Delium, when, in 424 BC, Athens was defeated by the rustic Thebans in a "savage slaughter" that, he argues, had important effects on both Western thought and military culture.  Delium included what is likely the first recorded defense of preemption strategy, attacking an enemy that posed a long-term rather than imminent threat.  It was a bad idea at the time.   The Battle of Delium, fought during the Peloponnesian War, was the first defeat Athens suffered that involved high casualties at the hands of Theban/Boeotian opponents, and it directly affected large numbers of thinkers, writers and statesmen - including Socrates, one of the survivors.  Hason claims the severity of the battle shaped the Western "decisive" approach that survives to the present.

A battle, a Hanson writes elsewhere, "is not merely a logical continuance of politics, but an abnormal event in which thousands of warriors . . . attempt to kill each other for a few hours, a dramatic and strange experience bound to change their lives and the fate of their families and friends for centuries thereafter."

History can be of use.  We see here where some ideas start.  We don't see where they end.


Smoke and mirrors - notes on attending a Hollywood movie premier...

This week I actually attended a movie premier, which is something one should do if one lives in Hollywood, and I guess I do.  The film was Matchstick Men, Nicholas Cage's new movie.  I saw it Tuesday, and Friday it went into general release. 

Yep, I was down at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for that, down on Wilshire between the Lamborghini dealer and the discount drug store.  This is the commercial part of Beverly Hills.  And the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences screening room is there, in this rather drab section of town.  But there are ten-foot tall statues of the "Oscar" flanking the stage.  A good room.

Let's see, at dinner before the show - at Kate Mantilini a few blocks west of the theater - my friend and I chatted with a fellow who claimed he was Cage's stunt double on the film Face Off  - but that he was now representing the Black American actor John Amos.  I don't exactly remember Face Off and Amos is a fellow I haven't seen in anything for years.  I kind of liked him - as the weatherman on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show.  The Brit with whom I was chatting said he's going to get Amos to do an interview for this magazine.  Amos has a new situation comedy on the WB coming up.  And I've been invited to the taping.  Well, we'll see.  I am skeptical.  I may have been being joshed. 
It doesn't pay to trust anyone in Hollywood.  Everyone has a story, and a back-story.  And are there celebrities everywhere?   Hardly.  Tourists visit and buy maps to the stars' homes, drive their rental cars through Beverly Hills and snap photos of homes that most probably belong to senior executives who run large companies that import cheap shoes from Brazil and China.  You don't see famous movies stars.  You see, if any, the minor ones.

At dinner, two tables away was Adam Arkin, the actor son of the actor Alan Arkin.  I believe that's c-list, son of b-list.  At the screening there were the pretty local television news anchors and critics, off or on duty and looking trim.  Joy, my friend with connections who got us there, and with whom I spent the evening, pointed out Jeffrey Katzenberg in the row behind us.  Rich studio owner - Dreamworks and all that... but his partners Steven Spielberg and David Geffen were not there, as far as I could tell. 
Joy also pointed out that a bit part in the film - second pharmacist in the drugstore scene - was played by her old high gym teacher, who was always cutting out to do such things, even all those years ago.  Hey, everyone can be a star.

The film?  I liked the long outdoor shots in my neighborhood.  Places I knew.  Oh, the film was quite amusing.  Very clever plot.  A small bit of actual depth to the characters.  Zippy dialog.  A lot of the score was that tango stuff from Paris, the Gotan Project guys - twice mentioned in this magazine.   A good time.  A shallow movie, but what else is new?
David Edelstein in Slate sums it up well -
It's a blah little exploitation picture that thinks it's a deep humanist parable.  Nicolas Cage is a con man whose bad conscience has done a Freudian number on him: Without medication, he becomes a twitchy obsessive-compulsive.  His hungry partner and protégé (Sam Rockwell) finds him a new therapist (Bruce Altman), who suggests confronting his past -in particular the wife he left pregnant many years ago.  Soon there's a 14-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman) poking around -and, wouldn't you know, she wants to learn the con.  Should Dad, in his quest to bond with his little girl, induct her into the life that has made him rich but reduced him to a basket case? ...
The director, Ridley Scott, apes hotshot young directors by mixing speeds and throwing in fancy zooms and jump-cuts.  But for all his virtuosity, he can't shoot a simple scene between two characters to make you care about either one.  It's a testament to the cast - especially Altman, as the smugly humanist shrink - that the movie is mildly tolerable.

Matchstick Men  [ 1 hour 56 minutes ]
Phobia-addled con artist Roy (Cage) and his protégé Frank (Rockwell) are on the verge of pulling off a lucrative swindle when the unexpected arrival of Roys teenage daughter Angela (Lohman) disrupts his carefully-ordered life and jeopardizes his high-risk scam.

Release Date:  September 12th, 2003 (wide).
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language.
Director: Ridley Scott
Distributor:  Warner Brothers


Upcoming pop music events...

For those of you out here, and those who might just visit, pop notes.

Coming to Los Angeles in September - the Los Angeles Times list and this writer's own guide.

Wynonna - (Country diva) Greek Theatre, Sept. 14; Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Sept. 21.
My take on this?  A nice lady with a good voice, but diva is a word that only fits here marginally.

David Johansen & the Harry Smiths - The former front man for early punkers the New York Dolls has teamed up with a quartet to explore the blues.  Royce Hall, UCLA. Sept. 14.
My take on this?  Isn't punk dead?  Hasn't it been dead for some time?  And they're going to "explore the blues?"  Yeah well, Royce Hall is for historical performances.

Bad Religion - Southern California punk heroes. House of Blues, Sept. 15-17; House of Blues Anaheim, Sept. 18-19.
My take on this?  I have other heros.

Lisa Marie Presley - House of Blues Anaheim. Sept. 15.
My take on this?  There is something deeply wrong with this woman being associated with "the blues" in any way.  But the House of Blues has as much to do with the genre as Cheese Whiz has to do with real food.

Jefferson Starship - Original members Marty Balin and Paul Kantner are on board. Key Club, Sept. 16; Coach House, Sept. 20.
My take on this?  Are they still dead?

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - On this tour, Young has been focusing some of his show on his concept album, "Greendale." Santa Barbara Bowl. Sept. 17. Also, with Elvis Costello & the Imposters, who'll perform from his new "North" album. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Sept. 20.
My take on this?  I just read again Douglas Adams; Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  In it the listing for our planet, Earth, is two words: Mostly Harmless.  Same here.  In the Adams book the Vogons, early on, destroy the Earth, as its pretty useless.

Calexico  Desert-noir ballads and Southwestern-style rock. El Rey Theatre. Sept. 18.
My take on this?  Desert-Noir is a new genre to me.  Perhaps they need their own Phillip Chandler.

Alan Parsons Live Project  - Grove of Anaheim, Sept. 18; the Canyon, Sept. 20.
My take on this?  Fine.  We all need nostalgia now and then.

The Dead - The latest incarnation of the legendary Grateful Dead features original members Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir; Joan Osborne and other friends drop in for this show. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Sept. 18.
My take on this?  This is just sad.

Chicago - Greek Theatre. Sept. 19-20.
My take on this?  Shallow, pretentious rock never dies.

Boz Scaggs - El Rey Theatre. Sept. 21-23.
My take on this?  I'm sure he's still pleasant.  And harmless.

The White Stripes - The greatly anticipated three-night stint at the Greek begins for Detroit's ultimate garage and blues band. With the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Soledad Brothers: Greek Theatre, Sept. 22-23; With Hot Hot Heat: Greek Theatre, Sept. 24.
My take on this?  I've been to Detroit.  Often.  Not by choice.  The music is fine.  These guys should stay here and not return.

Lisa Germano - On her recently released "Lullaby for Liquid Pig," Germano sings about her favorite melancholy subjects to a minimalist jangle of pianos, violins and guitars. Largo. Sept. 24.
My take on this?  This sound dreadful and humorless, but one never knows.

Radiohead - In one of the most highly anticipated concerts of the fall, the British band brings its experimental rock delicacies from "Hail to the Thief" to the Hollywood Bowl for a two-night stint. Sept. 25-26.
My take on this?  One of the most popular groups in the world, at the Hollywood Bowl?  Cool.

Steve Winwood  - The Wiltern. Sept. 25.
My take on this?  Im sure he's also still pleasant.  And also harmless.

Little Feat - Legendary jam band. Cerritos Center. Sept. 27.
My take on this?  Great band.  Good stuff.  I really miss these guys, but it's not 1978 is it?

James Brown - The godfather of soul turned the big 7-0 this year. Hollywood Bowl. Sept. 27. Lancaster Performing Arts Center. Sept. 28.
My take on this?  Yes.  Go.  He's seventy?  So what?

Jimmy Buffett - A one-show treat for Parrot Heads. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Sept. 27.
My take on this?  This may turn into a political rally for Bob Graham.  Or not.  But Buffett is fun.

Steely Dan - Santa Barbara Bowl, Sept. 28; Universal Amphitheatre, Oct. 1-2.
My take on this?  Every new album is worse and more shallow than the last.  Will they get back to form?  Not likely.


Overall, with a few exceptions it seems better to meet with friends and play with the cat.