These posts are either "jump pages" for my weblog or posts-in-process that will eventually appear there. For what it's worth, here's an archive of these random bits. The picture to the left is by a famous comic book artist.
View current page
...more recent posts
Jean-François Richet's remake of the 1976 el-cheapo John Carpenter thriller "Assault on Precinct 13" has moments of potential: It's set on New Year's Eve, when even the most wretched among us are susceptible to bleary-eyed sentimentality, the promise of new beginnings, and dialogue along the lines of "The Greeks called it eros and thanatos: sex and death" (uttered by a sexy thug played by Laurence Fishburne, no less). The picture is set in a rundown, soon-to-be-shuttered police precinct on the outskirts of Detroit, but it may as well be in the Yukon: The old brick building, nestled against a snowy forest, looks like part of a model-train setup, and a blizzard happens to be raging, too. The little figures inside that police headquarters -- some innocent, some not so innocent -- are all united in the desire to survive, seeing as they're under siege by baddies outside armed with grenades and automatic weapons. There's an aura of pulpy coziness around "Assault on Precinct 13" that's seductively appealing; in its best moments, it has the charm of a glitter-dusted Christmas card made lovingly by prison inmates.
But there's no killer instinct behind "Assault on Precinct 13": In fact, there's no instinct at all -- a great deal of thought may have gone into the making of "Assault on Precinct 13," but its tone and its rhythms are consistently out of whack. Richet, working from a screenplay by James DeMonaco, has no sense of the difference between being direct and bludgeoning. The movie's pulse beats irregularly, bumping and thumping in all the wrong places. Moments that should have been sustained are clipped too short, and vice versa. Characters we're just getting to know (and like) meet with cruel and sudden ends -- they're popped off with barely a blink of the shutter, rendered immediately inconsequential, as if Richet and DeMonaco just didn't know what else to do with them.
All of that's a shame, because some of the performers, at least, seem to understand what the tone of the material should be. Ethan Hawke plays Jake Roenick, a former undercover cop who's riven with guilt for a bad decision he made, one that caused the death of two of his colleagues. He's now a sergeant at ramshackle Precinct 13, although that precinct is about to be shut down -- this New Year's Eve is its last hurrah, and it's already beginning to look like something out of a ghost town.
But listen -- what's that we hear? Not the dancing and prancing of each little hoof, but the whirring of a prison bus careering along the icy road, its driver nearly blinded by the urgently falling snow. The bus is ferrying several evildoers from the center of Detroit to a far-off high-security detention center, but the weather is just too bad: The driver has to pull over at Precinct 13, where he begs Sgt. Roenick to let his prisoners spend the night.
But someone -- who could it be? -- is particularly interested in one of those prisoners, notorious crime lord and cop killer Marion Bishop (Fishburne). In scary hoods and padded vests, those big, bad nasties circle Precinct 13 and begin rattling its doors and blowing out its windows. Roenick and his visiting prisoners (they also include John Leguizamo as a psychotic junkie and Ja Rule as a small-time hustler), as well as a merry band of misfits, huddle inside. Among the refugees are the precinct's hottie receptionist, played by Drea de Matteo; a cheerfully crusty police veteran (Brian Dennehy, a sometimes fine actor who is also, unfortunately, the originator of the patented cheerfully crusty dial-a-performance); and Maria Bello, as Roenick's shrink, who's on her way to a New Year's Eve party but who must return to the precinct owing to the bad weather -- she shows up in a sparkly, strappy dress and Ugg boots, which she promptly trades for clickety-clackety golden sandals, as one usually does when entering a decrepit precinct building.
Carpenter's original "Assault on Precinct 13" was inspired by Howard Hawks' superb and deeply touching western-as-neighborhood "Rio Bravo," and even in this exceedingly pale imitation, you can see sparks of Hawks' spirit here and there, particularly in the way the performers interact: Unlikely alliances are formed; loyalties shift and reassert themselves, often uncomfortably. The crime boss and the sexy secretary find themselves strangely attracted to each other in the midst of all the violence; the shrink turns out to be far less in control of her emotions than her troubled patient is.
Hawke is much better here than the material warrants: He speaks every line, even the unconscionably stupid ones, as if it means something, and now that he's getting older we can see that his snaggle-toothed vulnerability, which could sometimes seem like an affectation when he was younger, rests deep within his bones: It informs his performance here, even in the moments when silliness and useless brutality clump around him. And Bello, who has always been such a likable actress that only since "The Cooler" has it become obvious just how good she is, gives off a radiant, prickly warmth here -- she's untainted by the movie's bumbling ill humor.
There's some good gore in "Assault on Precinct 13" -- one of the thugs is dispatched via the old icicle-through-the-eyeball routine -- but for the most part, even when the movie is at its noisiest and most violent, it feels curiously inert, as if it were thinking too much instead of allowing itself to ride its wilder impulses. And pulp needs a pulse -- without one, it's DOA. No matter how hard some of its actors work to resuscitate it, "Assault on Precinct 13" is as lifeless as a corpse on a slab. You could prick it with a darning needle and you wouldn't be able to raise a twitch.
NY Times - Steven Parrino Obituary
Steven Parrino, an artist and musician who imbued abstract work in several mediums with a relentless if oddly energetic punk nihilism, died early Saturday morning in a traffic accident near his home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was 46.
Mr. Parrino was returning from a New Year's Eve party in Williamsburg when he apparently lost control of his motorcycle and was thrown to the pavement. According to a police report, he was pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan at 2:25 a.m. on Saturday.
Mr. Parrino was born in New York City in 1958 and grew up on Long Island. He earned an associate of applied science degree from SUNY, Farmingdale, in 1979 and a bachelor of fine arts degree from Parsons in 1982.
While in art school he began making the work for which he is best known: big modernist monochrome paintings, mostly black ones, that had been violently slashed, torn or twisted off their stretchers. He called these sculptural, performance-oriented works "misshaped paintings" in response to the shaped paintings that had preoccupied abstract painters in the early 1960's.
Mr. Parrino first showed his paintings at Nature Morte, an East Village gallery, in 1984, emerging as part of a strain of postmodernism called Neo-Geo. Neo-Geo artists, who included Peter Halley, Wallace & Donahue, Haim Steinbach, John Armleder and Olivier Mosset, mixed modernist abstraction with a more cynical form of Pop Art worldliness by adding references to commerce, design, music or the movies.
In addition to painting, Mr. Parrino exhibited painted environments that involved monochrome walls pounded with sledgehammers; films of the making of these environments; sleek metal sculptures whose bent and folded elements related to his misshaped canvases; and photographs of his desktop strewn with the newspaper stories, magazine spreads and music albums that often inspired him. He also played electric guitar in several downtown bands, most recently Electrophilia, a two-person group he formed with the painter and keyboardist Jutta Koether.
He had nine solo shows in New York, the last four at the Team Gallery in Chelsea and showed widely in galleries and museum in Europe, where his work was more widely appreciated than in the United States. A retrospective of his work will open at the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain in Geneva in 2006. But his influence was visible in New York in the early 90's work of Cady Noland and more recently the black-hued, rock 'n' roll-centered sculptural installations of Banks Violette.
Mr. Parrino is survived by his father, Jerry, of Hicksville, N.Y., and his brother, Robert, of Manorville, N.Y.
back to weblog
Even Einstein Had His Off Days
By SIMON SINGH
Published: January 2, 2005
WE have now entered what is being celebrated as the Einstein Year, marking the centenary of the physicist's annus mirabilis in 1905, when he published three landmark papers - those that proved the existence of the atom, showed the validity of quantum physics and, of course, introduced the world to his theory of special relativity. Not bad for a beginner.
"It's not that I'm so smart," Einstein once said, "It's just that I stay with problems longer." Whatever the reason for his greatness, there is no doubt that this determination allowed him to invent courageous new physics and explore realms that nobody else had dared to investigate.
What he was not, however, was a perfect genius. In fact, when it came to the biggest scientific issue of all - the origin of the universe - he was utterly wrong. And while we should certainly laud his achievements over the next 12 months, we may learn a more valuable lesson by investigating Einstein's greatest failure.
The story starts in the late 19th century, when the scientific establishment believed in an eternal and unchanging universe. This was a neat theory of cosmology, because a universe that had always existed did not raise any awkward questions, such as "When was the universe created?" and "What (or Who) created it?"
Einstein grew up in this era, and was similarly convinced that the universe had existed for an eternity. However, when he developed general relativity (his theory of gravity) in 1915, he became aware of a tricky problem. Gravity is an attractive force - it attracts coins to the ground and it attracts comets toward the sun. So why hadn't gravity caused the matter in the universe to collapse inward on itself?
Gravity seemed to be incompatible with an eternal, unchanging universe, and Einstein certainly had no sympathy for the alternative view of a collapsing universe, stating that: "To admit such a possibility seems senseless."
Isaac Newton had run into the same problem with his own theory of gravity some 250 years earlier. He too believed in an eternal universe, yet he knew that gravity would have to cause its collapse after a finite time. His solution was to propose that God was responsible for keeping apart all the celestial objects, adjusting their positions from time to time as part of his cosmic curatorial responsibilities.
Einstein was reluctant to invoke God, so his solution was to fiddle with his theory of general relativity, adding an antigravity force alongside familiar gravity. This repulsive force would counteract gravity over cosmic distances, thereby maintaining the overall stability of the universe. There was no evidence for this antigravity force, but Einstein assumed that it had to exist in order to provide a platform for eternity.
Although everything now seemed to make sense, there were some dissenters. A small band of renegade cosmologists suggested in the 1920's that the universe was not eternal but had been created at a finite moment in the past. They claimed it had exploded and expanded from a small, hot, dense state into what we see today. In particular, they argued that it had once been compacted into a primeval super atom, which had then ruptured and exploded. This model, which has since developed into the Big Bang theory, did not require any stabilizing antigravity because it proposed a dynamic, evolving universe.
The Big Bang model was initially ridiculed by the scientific establishment. For example, one of its pioneers, Georges Lemaître, was both a cosmologist and an ordained priest, so critics cited his theology as his motivation for advancing such a crackpot theory of creation. They suspected that the model was Lemaître's way of sneaking a Creator into science. While Einstein was not biased against Lemaître's religious background, he did call the priest's physics "abominable." It was enough to banish the Big Bang model to the hinterlands of cosmology.
However, in 1929 Einstein was forced to eat humble pie. Edwin Hubble, working at Mount Wilson Observatory in Southern California, showed that all the distant galaxies in the universe were racing away from one another as though they were debris from a cosmic explosion. The Big Bang model seemed to be correct. And, while it would take several decades before the theory was accepted by the scientific establishment, Einstein, to his credit, did not fight on. "This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened," he said, and even called his repulsive force the biggest blunder of his career.
In 1931, Einstein paid a visit to Hubble at Mount Wilson, where he renounced his own static cosmology and endorsed the expanding universe model. His support was enough for The New York Times to embrace the mavericks, running an article with the headline "Lemaître Suggests One, Single, Great Atom, Embracing All Energy, Started The Universe." Hubble's hometown newspaper in Missouri, The Springfield Daily News, preferred to focus on its local hero: "Youth Who Left Ozark Mountains to Study Stars Causes Einstein to Change His Mind."
It might seem that Einstein emerges from this story as a flawed genius, one who was not perfect. In fact, there is a twist to the tale, one that implies he was perhaps better than perfect.
If gravity pulls everything together, then the expansion of the Big Bang should be slowing, because all the receding galaxies would be attracted to one another. In 1998, however, when astronomers tried to measure this deceleration, they were astonished to find that the universe is in fact accelerating. The galaxies are apparently moving apart faster and faster as time passes.
What is the best explanation scientists can come up with? The existence of an antigravity force. Theorists call this repulsive effect "dark energy," but it is exactly the sort of force that Einstein posited to maintain the stability of the universe. Antigravity is now back in fashion some seven decades after he abandoned it. It seems that even when Einstein thought he was wrong, he turned out to be right.
And, as we celebrate the Einstein Year, let's also bear in mind the fact that he was prepared to admit that he was wrong. Perhaps humility, more than anything, is the mark of true genius.
Simon Singh is the author of "Fermat's Enigma" and the forthcoming "Big Bang: The Origins of the Universe."
back to weblog