Sunday, April 20, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier does feature a character called “The Winter Soldier”, a assassin of mysterious origins whose strength and speed are a match for the Captain’s own. The Winter Soldier is really more of a presence than a character through most of the film, so why does he merit a place in the title? The real Winter Solider of course is Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) himself, and the first Captain America film set entirely in the present does a good job of putting our hero out in the cold. In the opening sequence Rogers and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) are tasked with rescuing a hijacked ship, and Rogers is angry to find Natasha more concerned with saving S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence than rescuing hostages. Rogers didn’t sign on to serve someone else’s agenda, and in the early scenes of The Winter Soldier he’s thinking about leaving the superhero life.

The first Captain America film considered the difference between being a symbol and hero, and here the issue is protection vs. control. To put it another way, what is S.H.I.E.L.D. for? Rogers’s boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his boss Alexander Pierce (a well-used Robert Redford) are pushing a project that involves giant airships monitoring the world, but the amount of power S.H.I.E.L.D. is amassing feels very dangerous to a hero who battled fascism firsthand. Steve and Natasha discover fault lines within S.H.I.E.L.D., some of which call back to the Captain’s work in the last film, and they’re faced with the question of whether the organization should even be saved. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (whose action sequences are well-staged, intimate, and frightening) couldn’t have known when they signed on that a film about surveillance and government power would feel so relevant in 2014, but the immediacy of the concerns is of great help to Marvel’s attempt to build a new superhero mythology. Steve Rogers’s doubts about his place at S.H.I.E.L.D. are much more interesting than Tony Stark’s sobriety or Thor’s maturity, and whatever happens with Evans’s “retirement” going forward Captain America is positioned as the conscience of The Avengers. To someone without a knowledge of the comic canon The Winter Soldier feels like a transitional work in the series, a film designed to get the characters out from under the machinery of “super” heroism. The next time Captain America and the Avengers get together it looks like they will have only themselves to rely on, and that’s a ticket I’ll be buying.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Half artist. Half businessman."

Roger Corman talks to Jonathan Demme, and looks back on a career built on equal parts love of movies and an eye for the bottom line.
DEMME: I'd like to start off with the following: You used to say that in order to succeed, a director had to be 40 percent artist and 60 percent businessperson. Does that still hold true for you, and if so, how did you come up with that formula?

CORMAN: The formula was made up. I would actually modify it now, although the business side seems to have taken over motion pictures. I would probably make it 50-50. Half artist, half businessman.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Music: Nirvana w/ Lorde - "All Apologies"

It's not a spot on the original of course, but I like Lorde's take on Nirvana at the Rock Hall of Fame ceremonies and I think Kurt Cobain would have enjoyed having a woman sing his song. (Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, and St. Vincent are on stage as well and also performed Nirvana songs that night.) For further description, go here. Sorry about the shakiness of the clip, but it was the best I could find.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

"I take on a lot more now."

Jim Jarmusch's new film is finally here, and the director has no thought of slowing down.
The film is part of a productive swoop for Mr. Jarmusch. It’s the first in which his five-year-old band, Sqürl, provides much of the soundtrack, in collaboration with the composer and lutist Jozef van Wissem; alongside musicians like Zola Jesus and Yasmine Hamdan, they have played shows in Berlin, Paris and New York to promote the accompanying album, from ATP Recordings. Coming projects include a quasi-documentary about the Stooges (“a little poetic essay,” Mr. Jarmusch said); an opera about Nikola Tesla, in collaboration with his friend the composer Phil Kline and the international director Robert Wilson; and another feature, about a bus driver and poet in Paterson, N.J., that Mr. Jarmusch wrote in the years he waited for “Only Lovers” to come together.

“I take on a lot more now,” he said, partly out of age, experience and desire, and partly out of professional gumption.

Sunday Music: Little Feat (w/ Bonnie Raitt & Emmylou Harris) - "Dixie Chicken"

No great story behind this one, I just stumbled on it during some YouTube browsing. I do wish Raitt and Harris could be heard a little better.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Music: Nickel Creek - "21st of May"

This 2012 performance - officially Chris Thile and Sean Watkins guesting at a Sara Watkins show - was among the events that led to the reformation of Nickel Creek. Their new album A Dotted Line is out this week.
Sara Watkins is grinning, her fiddle tucked under an arm. “Sean and Chris and I grew up playing in a band called Nickel Creek together,” she says, indicating the guitarist Sean Watkins and the mandolinist Chris Thile, on either side of her. A small but hearty crowd — packed into the kids’ tent at the 2012 Newport Folk Festival and startled to find itself in the right place at the right time — lets out a whooping cheer.

What comes next in this genial ambush of a reunion, which can be viewed on YouTube, is telling. Mr. Thile and the Watkins siblings tuck into “The Fox,” a bluegrass standard that the band last played at its farewell show in 2007. And in no time, the fluent ease among the three musicians seems to take on a life of its own. “Thanks, everybody!” Ms. Watkins calls out afterward. “We’re Nickel Creek!” Maybe it’s partly force of habit, but over the course of a brisk five minutes, she’s made the shift from past to present tense.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hannah's Fish Tank

I haven't seen Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank (a 2009 Criterion film I'll soon add to my list), but its selection by Lena Dunham as her favorite film of the last decade is the jumping off point for this unusual consideration of it against the Girls bottle episode "One Man's Trash". Or, as you may know it, "the one with Patrick Wilson".

“My favorite film of the past decade” is how Dunham describes Andrea Arnold’s 2009 sophomore feature elsewhere in her entry. Superbly photographed in controlled, roving long takes by Robbie Ryan, Fish Tankconcerns a stifled fifteen-year-old girl, Mia (Katie Jarvis) who harbors dreams of escaping her Essex housing estate by becoming a great dancer. A loner with a short fuse, Mia practices her routines along to CDs in between screaming fights with her distantly permissive mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing). Her disciplined attempts to master and marshal her blossoming body bump up against the overpowering desire she feels for Joanne’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender). Suddenly, the same lanky limbs she’s able to swing into all kinds of intricate positions slacken along with her jaw in the presence of her devastatingly handsome new (step)father figure.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

(Late) Sunday Music: Tom Waits & Kronos Quartet - "Cold Cold Ground"

I love this version with Waits backed by the Kronos Quartet, the string ensemble that is celebrating 40 years  playing the works of living composers and influencing young musicians.

Nicholas Cords, the violist for Brooklyn Rider, said: “The influence of the Kronos Quartet has been felt by virtually any quartet operating today, even those who are not doing stuff on the fringe. They have had a huge role in generating interest in what a string quartet can do.” Kronos’s entrepreneurial model of creating repertory and “defining a quartet based around a passion,” he added, inspired the growth of his own ensemble. Mr. Harrington was inspired to found Kronos after hearing George Crumb’s “Black Angels,” a theatrical, anti-Vietnam War piece for strings and percussion that uses unconventional bowing techniques and electronic effects. During its early days, Kronos, which has undergone several personnel changes, performed Haydn and Mozart alongside new music. By the late 1970s, the group focused on contemporary music and began a series of longstanding collaborations with composers including Mr. Riley and Mr. Glass.