Saturday, April 20, 2002

Ever notice how Indian restaurants always play Indian classical? Never any film hits or bhangra. And Mexican restaurants some kind of traditional music. (One exception is a Peruvian restaurant I go to occasionally which has plays phenomenally loud dance music beneath two TVs going full blast, one with Univision and the other always showing an old-school Hong Kong martial arts film.) Today I was at a Mexican restaurant and the usual trad band stuff was jumping away in the background when suddenly "ai yi yiyi," it's the Frito Bandito song! Now I have heard this apart from commercials and knew the song existed apart from the commercials but this is always a kind of real-life V-effekt.


Adrian Keith Goldsworthy The Roman Army at War: 100 BC - AD 200 (1996) - Goldsworthy describes in detail the Roman army's structure, methods, materials and tactics but instead of the usual synthesis he tries to stay very close to to sources both historical and archaeological. Unfortunately there are lots of gaps, some of which he can tentatively fill with data from other eras but he's always very strict about the limitations of that approach. (One of the spookiest ideas is that Rome could easily have fought entire wars that we now know nothing about.) The tone therefore tends to be argumentative, taking issue with earlier historians either in specific details (use of slings, for instance) or broader (Roman concepts about the nature of war). I love this stuff; most people would rather drill holes in their heads.


Encounters of the Spooky Kind (Sammo Hung 1980) - The name-only sequel which I saw years ago is lots of HK fun but this first film certainly isn't. Meandering from event to event, the film is slowed down even more by Hung's amateurish direction that's drawn to exciting lock-opening sequences. The fights have all the precision you'd expect but so what?


Carl Hiaasen Double Whammy (1986) - After the Big Trouble fiasco (well the movie, the book is passable), I wanted to go back to the source. You can see how much came from Hiaasen: the large number of characters each with a mini-biography, the intricate plot, the odd-ball crime elements, etc. But the novel Big Trouble was conceived essentially as comedy which made the attempted rape scene (omitted from the film) a severe miscalculation in tone. However Hiaasen's books like Double Whammy are violent crime stories with slight touches of exaggeration and grotesqueries to push out the humor. Big Trouble has the blunt characterization you might get from a newspaper item but Double Whammy goes if not deeper then at least more plausible and quirkier. One of Hiaasen's "heroes" is more unhinged than most of the bad guys which certainly adds uncertainty to the proceedings. While Hiaasen has focused mainly on providing a solid if mildly abrasive entertainment you can also see him quietly tinkering with more: the concept of nature, forms of obsession, law-justice relations.