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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I, anyone? 

In the past month, I've noticed something rather unusual at the New York Times: the widespread use of first-person narrative outside the op-ed page. Often considered a journalistic faux pas, the pronoun "I" has nevertheless gained currency at America's newspaper of record. Take this article for example, in which the author makes liberal use of first-person while rhapsodizing, improbably, about mosquitoes.

Personally, I think first-person has its benefits. It absolves journalists of the need to use awkward circumlocutions like "this author", "yours truly", etc., on the few occasions that first-person becomes necessary. But more importantly, it has a kind of endearing quality that can infuse greater sincerity into an otherwise dispassionate piece of writing. After all, there is a vicarious pleasure in reading about the experiences of others - even lowly staff writers - through their own eyes, as opposed to plodding through a bland third-person description of events.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Elephant 

I recently saw the critically-acclaimed Elephant, recipient of the Palm-d'Or at Cannes. Quite frankly, I thought it was terrible. Elephant's storyline is apparently inspired by the Columbine school shootings, a heady subject to which the film fails to do justice. Watching this movie, I was subjected to an onslaught of tired cliché after tired cliché, stock character after stock character: e.g., the social pariah, the bully, the bulimic girls, and, of course, the disaffected youths turned maniacal gunmen, who are predictably corrupted by violent video games and America's pervasive gun culture. On and on it goes, to the point of exasperation. From beginning to end, there isn't a scintilla of originality to be found.

Also, at the risk of sounding like a philistine, I thought Elephant was a complete snoozer - despite its 80-minute runtime. The film is interspersed with many tiresome shots of people walking leisurely from point A to point B (with the camera assiduously trained on the backs of their heads, for no reason that I can discern), the dialogue is insipid, and little if any attempt is made to diagnose the causes of the school shooting that forms the climax of the film. And so, I couldn't help but wonder what in the devil had compelled the cognoscenti to heap so much praise on this specimen of mediocrity. I guess the old maxim "to each, his own" would be apt.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Carandiru 

Yesterday I saw Carandiru, a foreign film that centers on a grimy and dilapidated prison of the same name in Brazil. As one might expect, violence, drug abuse, and AIDS permeate every aspect of prison life; but the film also injects some pathos into the mix by shining a light on the personal stories of several individual inmates. A touch of humour (and perhaps a bit too much humour, at that) also helps leaven the storyline. Despite the film's occasional flaws, I liked it very much.

I actually saw it at the Carlton theater, one of the few bulwarks of foreign and avant-garde cinema in Toronto. Unfortunately there are a few things not to like about the Carlton: the screening rooms are like cramped broom-closets, in some places the floor is plastered with bubble gum, and the air conditioning is apparently out of commission. And for whatever reason, the box office clerk looked as sullen as a caged animal (or an inmate at Carandiru, for that matter.) In any case, those nuisances notwithstanding, I'm glad the Carlton exists because the usual Hollywood fare on offer almost everywhere else just doesn't do it for me.

Friday, June 11, 2004

McCain's Gambit 

John McCain has apparently rejected overtures from the Kerry camp to run as VP on a Democratic ticket. The move is hardly surprising given his previous comments on the matter.

But beyond the obvious problem of party affiliation, why the cold shoulder? If this op-ed in the Washington Post is any guide, McCain doesn't see eye-to-eye with Kerry on numerous issues, ranging from North Korea to gays in the military - and these differences, it seems, are irreconcilable.

All of that may be true, but I'm not totally convinced. My feeling is that McCain still has designs on the presidency - his statements to the contrary notwithstanding - and doesn't want to throw in his lot with Kerry lest he spoil his chances of getting the top job in 2008. After all, if McCain were to join Kerry on the Democratic ticket and then succeed in unseating Bush, it would be unthinkable for McCain to turn around and challenge his boss for the presidency at the next election in 2008 (assuming Kerry stands for re-election). And what's more, 2012 probably wouldn't be a viable option for McCain either, given that he would be 76 years old and in the sunset of his career.

If the logic above is correct, McCain's current strategy makes perfect sense. By spurning Kerry's overtures and biding his time, he'll have the option of running for president in 2008 regardless of who wins this November. Time will tell if that's his plan after all.

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