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Month: January 2008

Rambo in Thailand: The Reviews Roll In

When I heard that Sylvester Stallone’s new “Rambo” flick takes place right here in Thailand, I knew it’d be a must-see. I haven’t laid eyes on the film yet, I’m sad to say, but some early reviews have just rolled in:

Joel Stein, writing in Time, interviews Stallone and opens with this exceptional lede:

Sylvester Stallone has memorized a lot of Procol Harum lyrics, and for the next two minutes I’m going to hear them. Because if you want to know what inspires a man to write a movie in which hundreds of people are blown up and which, by his own estimate, contains only three pages of dialogue between the two main characters, apparently you have to listen to the lyrics of a psychedelic 1968 song called In Held ‘Twas in I: Glimpses of Nirvana. This is the song that made Stallone want to be a writer, which is surprising because while it contains one Zen koan and mentions the Dalai Lama three times, it does not allude to firing a rocket launcher through a helicopter window.

And then there’s this:

Sure, Stallone agreed to do the movie before Rocky Balboa was approved, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t find something to say. Like Procol Harum, Stallone is not afraid of metaphor, of being opaque, of answering some questions with questions and other questions with a hail of bullets. What he wanted to say in the new Rambo came down to one smart speech: “Old men start wars. Young men fight them. And everyone in the middle gets killed. War is natural. Peace is an accident. We’re animals.” Stallone eventually cut all that dialogue out because Rambo is a silent man, and blurting out your thesis is for college papers, not movies.

And finally:

The guy who created Rocky is a cheery pessimist who believes that despite an ugly world, you can make incredible things happen with great effort. “Rocky represents the optimistic side of life, and Rambo represents purgatory,” he says. The world, Rambo realizes, is perpetually chaotic and dangerous. “If you think people are inherently good, you get rid of the police for 24 hours—see what happens,” Stallone says. “I could start a war in 30 seconds. But some countries spend 100 years trying to find peace. Just like good manners, peace has to be learned.”

I also like A.O. Scott’s story in the NY Times:
“Rambo (2008): Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Jungle”:

When we first encounter him, this weary warrior has retreated from geopolitics, passing the time at a remote river station in the Thai jungle, where he hunts poisonous snakes and dabbles in blacksmithing. Old Rambo seems kind of depressed, to tell the truth, until his wrath is stirred by the viciousness of the Burmese Army.

Burma? But why not Burma? (In this movie, no one calls it Myanmar.) As a precredit montage of actual news clips reminds us, the military government of that nation has been engaged not only in widespread authoritarian abuses but also in a brutal, long-running campaign against the Karen ethnic minority. And it is with the Karen that Rambo, once roused from his weary cynicism, throws in his lot. No longer the bloody avatar of wounded American pride, he seems more inclined toward humanitarian intervention — a one-man N.G.O. with a machete. Will he show up in Darfur next?

The review ends on this surprisingly upbeat note:

Mr. Stallone is smart enough — or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not — to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony. His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back.

Other reviews, however, aren’t as kind:

Hollywood Reporter/Reuters: “Rambo should have left sleeping dogs of war lie”

SF Chronicle: “‘Rambo’ – There will be blood. And rippled muscle.”

Kansas City Star: “GRAMPO! At 61, Rambo is in fighting form, but does America still care?”

(Emphasis mine.)

Have you seen this flick? What do you think?

Flags of the World, Graded

The world’s flags given letter grades is a tongue-in-cheek look at national symbols that are rarely viewed from an artistic standpoint:

Some time ago, browsing through my friend’s atlas, I realised that there are significant differences in quality between the flags of different countries. Some are good, some are bad. Some countries have clearly taken care in the choice of colours, layout, and design. Others have been lazy, stolen the flags of their neighbours, or just designed flags that are clearly supposed to cause pain to those who look at them.

To my surprise, there is no international body responsible for upholding simple standards of vexillilic aesthetics. Nor do the UN or Interpol have the power to call in and punish those responsible for such atrocities as the Brazilian or Cypriot flags. I suppose there is probably a conspiracy of rich western nations (those with permanent seats on the UN security council, no doubt) to prevent such crimes from being brought to justice; however, in the meantime I am giving letter grades to the existing flags of the world.

Here’re the A grades, the failing grades, and an alphabetical listing of countries.

(Via Kottke.)

Bangkok Street Food

The New York Times recently ran a travel story by Joshua Kurlantzick about Bangkok street food. Austin’s phenomenal blog Real Thai gets a deserved mention, and I’m not just saying that because he gave me shout-out today due to our mutual love of all things waffle-related (i.e. the infamous Thai waffle-coated hot dog that I scarfed down in Kanchanaburi).

From the NYT piece:

…After culling through Thai food Web sites, I often arrive in Bangkok carrying a list of street dishes I must try — unripe mangoes dipped in sweet chili sauce, charcoal-grilled fish sausages, tacolike shells filled with shredded coconut. Every time I mention my list, real Thai gourmets tell me noodles, the ultimate quick snack, should be the real test of any street stall.

“Noodles are one of the great Thai secular religions,” wrote the longtime Thailand food critic Ung-aang Talay, adding that Thais think nothing of plodding across Bangkok to sample a new dish. Nearly every street in Bangkok has a vendor selling thin, slightly sweet egg noodles; wide, chewy rice noodles; pad Thai topped in gooey omelets. Even, occasionally, the northern Thailand noodle specialty known as khao soi. As the Thailand food blogger Austin Bush has suggested on his knowledgeable site — — khao soi reflects the many foreign influences on Thailand cuisine. Khao soi blends egg noodles with a mild, Indian-style broth and toppings of crispy noodles, shallots and pickled cabbage, a Burmese touch that adds an acidic flavor cutting the rich, oily curry.

There’s also a slide show of images by Josef Polleross that’s worth checking out.

$150 Per Night to Live Like a Peasant in India

BBC News:

Some of India’s richest people are paying $150 a night to live like peasants at a “native village” in the southern state of Karnataka.

The village, Hessargatta – just outside India’s IT capital, Bangalore – is designed to encourage the preservation of some of India’s rural traditions.

It offers visitors the chance to qualify in tasks like milking cows and looking after the other animals, such as turkeys, ducks, chickens and dogs…

Related: Virtual Airplane Rides in Delhi.

(Via my new favorite blog.)

Chicago Tribune Eliminates Help-Wanted Ads on Weekdays

Editor and Publisher:

In the most radical move from print to digital advertising by a major newspaper, the Chicago Tribune announced Monday it is eliminating help-wanted ads from the newspaper on weekdays.

Instead, there will be a listing of basic information in the business section every Tuesday. The listing, called “Careerbuilder QuickFind,” will refer readers to the full recruitment ad on through a Web ID.

“Chicago Tribune and the rest of the newspaper industry face the same challenges with shifts in help wanted advertising, and we are taking the lead on reinventing the way we present our job listings,” Ellen Glassberg, the paper’s director of recruitment advertising, said in a statement. “We see this challenge as an opportunity for us to retool our recruitment advertising offerings and fully integrate the online and print job search experience to be hyper-focused on the needs of job seekers.”

As reported, the Tribune launched its redesign Monday with a new nameplate, narrower page width, and some changes in section head typefaces.

Emphasis mine.


Scrivener in the New York Times Magazine

Remember Scrivener, the excellent OS X writing application that I mentioned back in July? Virginia Heffernan, in a recent New York Times Magazine story about Mac OS X alternatives to Microsoft Word, gives Scrivener an excellent review:

Our redeemer is Scrivener, the independently produced word-processing program of the aspiring novelist Keith Blount, a Londoner who taught himself code and graphic design and marketing, just to create a software that jibes with the way writers think. As its name makes plain, Scrivener takes our side; it roots for the writer and not for the final product — the stubborn Word. The happy, broad-minded, process-friendly Scrivener software encourages note-taking and outlining and restructuring and promises all the exhilaration of a productive desk: “a ring-binder, a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner and text editor all rolled into one.”

(Via 43 Folders.)

The WSJ’s Informed Reader Blog

The Wall Street Journal’s Informed Reader blog (tag line: “a survey of insights from media around the world”) has quickly become one of my favorite sources for international news from a variety of publications.

Recent posts include:

“Malnutrition Plagues Peru Despite Economic Growth,”
“African Farm Boom Defies Continent’s Grim Image,”
“How Nerdy are Sports Fans?”
“Getting Vicuna Wool the Inca Way”

(Via fimoculous’s “Best Blogs of 2007 That You (Maybe) Aren’t Reading”.)

Best Books of 2007

I was too busy this year to put together my annual Bloggers’ Favorite Books list (previous lists: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006). But here’re some other round-ups that you might enjoy:

“PW’s Best Books of the Year” — from the staff of Publishers Weekly.

— The New York Times’s “10 Best Books of 2007” and “A Year of Books Worth Curling Up With.”

“Pick of the Bunch,” from The Economist.

“Of War and Wharton, Starbucks and ‘Peanuts,'” from the Wall Street Journal.

“The Best Books We Read In 2007,” from The Onion AV Club.

— Entertainment Weekly’s “The Best Books of 2007.”

“Editors’ Picks: Top 100 Books,” from

— For further reading, I suggest this excellent best-of lists compendium at

— And finally, a useful tool for sharing your favorite books and getting recommendations from others is, which is a sort of social networking site for avid readers.

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