Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

Watch what space

David Thomson is cool on Wes Anderson. I disagree - I think The Darjeeling Limited is his least ironic and most effective depiction of stunted emotional growth. Thomson refers to the characters' lack of interest in their Indian setting; surely that's because what's actually important is the brothers' reliance on each other. (The Guardian)

Why Jeff Tweedy isn't black enough

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So I'm grateful to Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker. If it weren't for him I wouldn't have bought the new Spoon CD and discovered "The Underdog," the song that has run through my head more than any other this year. But I can't get behind his recent article lamenting the lack of "soul" and "rhythm" in "indie" rock. What is indie rock anyway? Frere-Jones admits the classification doesn't mean much. On Wilco:

Wilco’s 2002 album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” which won that year’s Pazz and Jop national critics’ poll in the Village Voice, is one of the most celebrated indie-rock records of the past five years. (It was released on Nonesuch, which was a subsidiary of the major label Atlantic—further evidence that “indie rock” has become an aesthetic description, and no longer has anything to do with labels.)

What's the point? A group of bands, linked not by any particular stylistic similarities but rather by an arbitrary media-driven distinction, aren't soulful enough for Frere-Jones's taste. Frere-Jones goes on to say that Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot features "plodding" rhythms and "formless" music. (He obviously didn't listen to the song "Heavy Metal Drummer") What we have here is a case of personal preference dressed up as theory. It's reductive and insulting to assume that all good music must come from the same place. I'm reminded of Ken Burns' Jazz, which draws a line from Louis Armstrong to Wynton Marsalis while pretending that Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett don't exist. In the opening paragraphs of his piece, Frere-Jones describes a trip to an Arcade Fire show:

In January, at a less elaborate show in a small London church, the band’s members had called to mind Salvation Army volunteers who had forgotten to go home after Christmas—their execution was ragged but full of brio—and I had spent the evening happily pressed against the stage. At the United Palace, even though the music was surging in all the right places, I was weary after six songs. My friend asked me, “Do they play everything in the same end-of-the-world style?”

Well, that night they did. We buy CD's and go to concerts expecting a certain experience and when we don't get it it's often frustrating. Frere-Jones has a right to be disappointed in the Arcade Fire, but not to construct a grand social theory about the racial influences on a entire genre of music. Why ruin it for the rest of us? This week I'm going to see They Might Be Giants for the first time; I'm guessing that "They'll Need A Crane" won't sound entirely like I remember it. But that's OK, since I'll still be hearing the band live with a posse of my friends. Where is the joy in Frere-Jones' s concert-going?

In the same attack on Wilco, Frere-Jones mentions that the band's album Being There is one of the few "alt-country" records he listens to regularly. Alt-country is only a slightly more helpful term than "indie," but to complain that Wilco or any other band should conform to what we want them to be betrays a lack of understanding about the sum of any artist's influences. Don't review the music that wasn't made, to paraphrase an old professor of mine.

I don't pretend this a heavily intellectual or reasoned response to what I view as a killjoy manifesto for music fans. Think of it as a cry for the joys of subjectivity, of giving bands the right to try, to change, and even to fail. Thanks for Spoon, Mr. Jones. I hope you have a better time at your next concert.

Monday Music - Ryan Adams & Norah Jones

Ryan Adams and Norah Jones perform "Dear John" in 2006.

Green gripes

The environmental blog Grist reports on how factions of the movement are reacting to the climate change bills moving through Congress.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Which movie...

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...does Natalie Portman regret being nude in? (Ireland Online)

I'm back

Now that my show has ended (successfully), I plan to get back to a more regular schedule of blogging here. Thanks for your patience. Among the things I plan to write about are the novel The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta, The Darjeeling Limited, and the pleasures of Rilo Kiley. I've also got a They Might Be Giants show this week to look forward to.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"The Fallen Woman" - Life, episode 1.5

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If you're the sort of TV fan who spends his or her time worrying about how networks interfere with good shows to make them more marketable, then "The Fallen Woman" might upset you. The Zen-loving, fruit-eating, Det. Charlie Crews of the first couple of episodes is gone, in his place we have a slightly offbeat cop whose spiritual focus this week shifts from Buddhism to angels. This episode also dials back the who-set-Charlie-up overarching storyline in favor of a meditative, stand-alone hour that deepens the connection between new partners Crews and Reese.

A gorgeous young woman wearing angel wings is pushed out of a hotel window. The case attracts heavy media attention and a parade of nuts shows up at the police station to offer various theories about the dead "angel." One diffident man knows the truth. A frightened glue factory owner named Jasper (Steven M. Porter) met the deceased, Lena, in a bar frequented by young Russian women. (Jessica Pare is terrific as a friend of the victim who helps out the cops despite her fear of Roman) The two had married after a happy year together, and that's when Jasper was visited by Roman (Garret Dillahunt, another Deadwood alum checking in). Roman is the sort of Russian gangster people attribute paranormal powers to. Judging by his calm (sociopathic) demeanor and knowledge of the detetctives' personal lives, something is going on with this guy.

It's not surprising Roman would know about Crews, everyone else seems to. But he also provides the first real backstory we've gotten on Reese. Although we don't know where he's getting his info, it's still a genuinely chilling moment when Roman asks Reese about her drug addiction while undercover, affair with a junkie, and subsequent rehab. Reese is appropriately rattled, and (the promos for next week suggest) might be headed back to the bottle. She also seems to have lost her religious faith, and is seen in a closing shot pondering a cross necklace. Sarah Shahi hasn't gotten the hype given to her costar Damian Lewis, but this episode proved to me her acting chops are more than up to the challenge. I'm looking forward to next week, which the promos the suggest will be a Reese-centric episode.

Roman is eventually tied to the murder, but the ending of the episode is bungled thanks to a plot twist I won't reveal. Let's just say the resolution of this case will be familiar to anyone who has seen "The Departed" and Roman is free to return in future episodes. I was looking forward to a good interrogation room face-off between Roman and the cops, though I did enjoy the scene of Reese giving a Homeland Security agent some attitude.

In the subplots, Charlie's lawyer Constance was wrong to take on that shady client Neil Cudahy last week. Neil gets rough with her and Charlie eventually gives him a smackdown in a restaurant bathroom, leading to a look-in-the-mirror moment as Charlie gives into the violence of his prison days. Constance, married but in love with Charlie, is headed for New York on a case as the episode ends. Robert Stark (Brent Sexton), Charlie's partner from his pre-jail uniform days, is back this week. Stark (who let Charlie go down for the murder 12 years ago) has always seemed a little too eager too see his old buddy; at episode's end Roman drops a hint Stark may know something about 15-year old missing money. More to come on that....

"The Fallen Woman" feels like an episode of a show that wants to be around awhile, that wants to put character on an equal footing with story and isn't always about the payoff. I'm not saying its Homicide or anything, but in five weeks Crews and Reese have become very rounded, appealing, and yet believably flawed characters. Life continues to be my favorite new show of the season.

Enablers - Things We Lost In The Fire

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This post contains spoilers for Things We Lost In The Fire.

In Susanne Bier's Things We Lost In The Fire, a woman named Audrey (Halle Berry) invites her late husband's sketchy best friend Jerry (Benicio del Toro) to move into an empty garage apartment. Audrey had never been too keen on Jerry when her husband Brian (David Duchovny) was alive; Jerry and Brian were childhood friends but Jerry's career as a lawyer flamed out after he became addicted to drugs. But when Brian gets murdered trying to break up a domestic brawl, Audrey shuts down and her two children have no one to turn to. By inviting Jerry to stay, Audrey hopes to hold on to a samll part of her husband. (SPOILER ALERT! Cheers to the filmmakers for NOT getting Audrey and Jerry together)

Things We Lost In The Fire is much, much, better than its premise makes it sound. Any movie that involves addiction, widowhood, and children has the potential to be a sentimental mess, but the script by Allan Loeb avoids cliched redemptive moments at every turn. The film benefits greatly from the two above-the-title stars. With the possible exception of Tommy Lee Jones, there isn't an actor in America less inclined to mugging, self-regard, or any other sort of Oscar begging than Benicio del Toro. He is a wonder as Jerry; an intelligent, good-hearted man under the sway of powerful forces. But the performance works on a technical level as well, check the scene where a post-relapse Jerry nods out (with his eyes open) in the middle of a conversation.

As much as I liked the acting (Halle Berry has her best role in years and takes advantage) and the realistic tone, there's an element of convenience to
TWLITF that slightly lessened the film's power. Every single person Jerry comes in contact with during the movie goes out of their way to help him, even though he hasn't always earned their trust. A neighbor (John Carroll Lynch) gives Jerry his old furniture and sets him up with a new career. A cute woman (Alison Lohman, where has she been?) at Jerry's NA meeting takes one look at Jerry and decides he's a soul worth saving. And of course, Jerry is so together that when a freaking out Audrey invites him into her bed and asks him to hold her while she falls asleep, it works.

Jerry does relapse during the course of the film, but only after Audrey has temporarily kicked him out of the house. Isn't it lucky his addictive behavior never put Audrey's kids in any danger? But of course that would be too complicated, as would having Jerry bear some culpability in Brian's death. (What if Brian had been killed on the way back from seeing Jerry?) Those twists would have forced Audrey to make a moral choice, weighing her humanistic obligation to help Jerry against deserved resentment. It might also have led to something even more interesting than the (still fairly strong) conclusion. I try not to criticize the film that wasn't made, but TWLITF works very hard to arrive at a place that won't surprise very many people. There is enough above-average stuff going on for me to recommend this film; but the characters and the audience don't know how easy they have it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Faceoff" - Bionic Woman, episode 1.4

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My last post on Bionic Woman elicited a long comment; the commenter made some points worth talking about, so I've decided to address some of his thoughts in a separate post.

It is just me, or do you get the sense from Bionic Woman with each episode that the writers are casting around, trying to figure out what the show is about. The pacing of each episode is uneven, it's peppered with characters that seem unnecessary mainly because they're either given little to do or terrible dialogue, and some of the plots are incredibly underwhelming (I'm thinking of the "climactic" showdown with Jamie and the soldiers in the store at the end of Episode 2 - very ho hum).

There's no doubt that some characters have only been half-developed. I'm thinking particularly of Berkut Group employees Ruth (Molly Price) and Jae (Will Yun Lee), who spend most of their time lurking around the Berkut compound (which resembles the Batcave too much). As to what the show is about, I think we're at a place culturally where people want a little ordinariness in their heroes. So Jamie has a messy personal life and the bionics don't always work. There's more potential for story material that way than if Jamie is indestructible. The villains have been pretty generic from week to week.

...put her (Jamie) in jeopardy, put her in real danger and make her use her bionics not just in brute force ways, but in ways that are both intelligent and cool.


Granted, the old show was often over the top, but one thing they got right was when a bionic person pushed someone or hit someone, they weren't getting back up. The old Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers would regularly throw someone dozens of a feet away when fighting them (and instead of slowly bending a padlock open, why not rip the whole lock and door knob assembly clean from the door, let's see the door splinter and hear the metal squeal as it pulls free).

See above comment about ordinariness. I'd rather see Jamie have to overcome some adversity.

Regarding Katee Sackhoff:
Her scenes and screen presence are always compelling, and her very greatness on the show makes it very uneven. I hate to say it, but she may end up killing the show if a) the producers and writers don't start massively amping up everyone else's dialogue and performance, or b) retool the show to bring her in as the main character (seriously, as much as I would miss the idea of Jamie, you could kill her off in a tragic episode that somehow redeems Sarah's humanity and goodness, and even maybe make the sister character interesting by having Sarah take her in/watch over her in an effort to make up for the sister she had that was killed in the car accident). Pretty much anything else is a lose-lose situation. If the show keeps going the way it is,

Another idea would be not to have Sackhoff in every episode. I love what she's doing, but I do agree she makes everyone else look ordinary. I do think there are some possibilities in the idea of Jamie trying to help Sarah (who is now basically a half-crazy cyborg) not with bionics but with her humanity.

This will seem trite, but, by the Lords of Kobol, don't end an episode with Jamie standing at a window with some soft pop/rock song playing looking all pensive.

The best use of ending songs in a series is still Homicide.

Are you listening NBC? A couple of new critical perspectives never hurt anyone. By the way, thanks for the comment.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


...about the decline in posts here. I will return, I've just been busy with a show that's opening tonight.

"What They Saw" - Life, episode 1.4

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"What They Saw" gets to a central issue in the revived police career of Det. Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis). How will Charlie's objectivity as a cop be affected by his 12 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit? Crews and his partner Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi) are called to the scene of a murder at a house overlooking L.A.. A wealthy gay man is dead of a gunshot wound and his wedding ring has gone missing. In the woods behind the house Crews catches a homeless man named Holt Easley (William Sanderson of Deadwood) with the ring in his pocket. Open and shut, right?

Of course not. Easley claims to have seen the dead man's husband James (Anil Kumar) commit the murder and toss the ring into the woods. Reese doesn't buy it, but Crews doesn't think the gabby, boozy, Easley is capable of murder. And it's not as if there aren't any other suspects. There's a neighbor named Drew (John Livingston) who might be a closeted homosexual and is alleged to have been sleeping with the victim. For his part, Drew claims to have heard the lazy rent-a-cop who ignored an alarm on the night of the murder make homophobic slurs. But then Easley's DNA turns up in the victim's house...

If "What They Saw" has a flaw it's that William Sanderson gets too much screen time. Since Charlie doesn't want to put Easley in the system he brings him home to his unfurnished mansion. In a not particularly interesting subplot, Charlie's boarder Ted (Adam Arkin) doesn't take to the new guest. (There are repeated jokes about Easley's personal hygiene) Charlie was sent to prison for the murder of a partner with whom he owned a bar and his family; when the now cleared Charlie gets his liquor license back Ted tries to persuade him to open a new place, but Easley disrupts Ted's (very quickly put together) presentation.

In my first post on Life last week I didn't get to the character of Constance Griffiths. Played by Brooke Langton, Constance is the lawyer who won Charlie's release from prison. This week Constance is developed considerably. We learn that she seems to have a savior complex in a scene where Charlie meets her new client Neil(Rodney Rowland). Charlie's prison smarts enable him to size the guy up instantly, and his judgment is proven right when he gets a look at Neil's files. When Charlie tries to get Constance to drop Neil as a client we learn two more things about her. She's married, and her advocacy for Charlie is motivated by the fact she's in love with him. This revelation puts into context some hints that had been dropped in the first three episodes.

Finally, the continuing mystery of who set Charlie up and why. The cops working Charlie's case twelve years ago hid the fact the victim's young daughter was in the house during the murders. That girl, Rachel, disappeared into the foster system. Her whereabouts are unknown; when Charlie gets her files (he seems to have no trouble finding the info he needs) he discovers that she never spoke about what she saw that night but (in a folder labeled "art therapy") drew graphic and violent images of the crime.

I've barely mentioned Sarah Shahi as Det. Reese, but she's turning into an irresistible straight woman for Lewis' eccentricity.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Sisterhood" - Bionic Woman, episode 1.3

Katee Sackhoff owned the third episode of Bionic Woman. "Sisterhood" gave us much-needed information about Sackhoff's Sarah, the first Bionic Woman now being driven insane by the shortcomings of the technology inside her. As the only other person alive who understands what Sarah is going through, Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan) is put in the difficult position of having her uneasy relationship with her employers at the Berkut Group put directly at odds with her humanity.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIn a flashback we learn that Sarah was driving in a car accident that killed her sister; the accident looks suspiciously like the one that led to Jamie's bionic surgery. Now the only way Sarah can save her life - according to rogue scientist Anthony Anthros (Mark Sheppard) - is to persuade to Jamie to submit to testing that might reveal how the bionics are impacting Sarah's psyche.

My favorite scene of the series so far is the argument between Sarah and Jamie after the two knock off a gang of Serbian hoods. Was Sarah this self-involved before the accident? Sackhoff finds some unexpected comedy here; I guess it's not surprising being the first Bionic Woman would make one a diva. I've gushed about Sackhoff before and will no doubt do it again. The idea of creating a "bad" Bionic Woman was a brilliant stroke; this show is going to be about how people relate to large anonymous corporations as much as anything else. Another plot line concerned the "optical tracker" in Jamie's eye that she insists be turned off for privajcy reasons. It turns out it can be turned off and on at will at the cost of only a nosebleed. Who shows Jamie how? Sarah. Live Free and Be Bionic.


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This slightly dated article summarizes the career of Bob Mould from the tumultuous early influential years with Husker Du to his most recent solo album. There's a mention of the controversial Spin piece from years ago, which had a big effect on me since it was the first article I can ever remember reading that essentially told you someone was gay without actually saying it. Mould has just put out a DVD of a career-spanning 2005 concert called Circle of Friends. He maintains a blog here. (What a social life!) (Exclaim)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Let Her Go" - Life, Episode 1.3

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I'm pleased to have the opportunity to write weekly about this fall's most quietly winning show, NBC's Life. We're now three episodes into the season, so a quick recap is in order to bring everyone up to speed.

Los Angeles: Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) is a police officer recently exonerated after twelve years in prison for murder. Charlie's settlement from the city affords him the chance to live in luxury with the company of his boarder/financial adviser Ted (Adam Arkin). Charlie (now an fan of Zen) has opted not to furnish his new home, no doubt preferring the open rooms to the confinement of his cell. In the first two episodes much is also made of Charlie's compulsive consumption of fruit. (Again, I'm guessing there isn't much fresh fruit available in prison) I was all set to start a weekly index of the fruits mentioned on Life but tonight Charlie kept his feelings to himself. I'm pretty sure I saw him working on a candy apple at one point, though.

The other part of Charlie's settlement returns him to the police force with a detective's badge. Charlie is assigned to partner with Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), whose history of alcohol abuse and compulsive sex hasn't endeared her to the brass. Dani is expected to report any non-by-the-book behavior of Charlie's to a lieutenant (Robin Weigert of Deadwood) who seems to have something invested in getting Charlie off the force.

So there are two layers to Life. Charlie and Dani work a homicide each week, each learning to trust the other. Tonight's case involved a woman shot in her car and a husband (Charles Malik Whitfield) who can't remember anything. A witness points Dani and Charlie to a 500-pound Samoan named Manny (Tyler Tuione) who carjacked the victims. There's a stylishly filmed chase scene in which Charlie, after having his hearing knocked out by a "flashbang," runs down Manny and then almost gets into a knife fight before Dani intervenes. The knife (against LAPD regulations) leads to an interesting moment between the partners. Dani confiscates the knife from Charlie but later lies to the lieutenant to protect him. Charlie, having none of it, owns up to having the blade.

The conclusion to this case is sadder and more human than many cop shows would have played it; it reminded me of something we'd see on Without A Trace. Manny gets his comeuppance with the help of some Latino car freaks. Sarah Shahi didn't have as much to do this week as in the first two episodes, but she does some great underplaying in a garage scene when she's told one of the guys who knows Manny's whereabouts wants to airbrush her on to his car.

The other part of Life, the "mythology" if you will, involves who set Charlie up twelve years ago. Last week we learned that there was a witness to the murder- a young girl - Charlie went down for that the cops left out of the report. Charlie confronts the detective who nailed him (Roger Aaron Brown), which may violate the terms of his settlement. He goes so far as to pull a traffic stop on his remarried ex and her husband (which he also pulled in the pilot) to see if she knows the girl's location, since the murder victim was a family friend. There's a room in Charlie's house with one of those only-in-cop-show flow charts about the twelve year old murder, which features Charlie's lieutenant among others. We'll be watching this storyline play out all season.

There's enough stand-alone stuff in Life that one could dip in and out week-to-week. But you'd miss Lewis' bone-dry performance and the rapport he and Shahi have going. I haven't checked the ratings, but if there's any justice Life will knock out Dirty Sexy Money and stick around on Wednesday nights.

(also posted at South Dakota Dark!)

Icon Watch

In this post from May I suggested a lineup for a third season of the Sundance show Iconoclasts. There is a third season coming, but the producers have taken none of my suggestions.

Neko News

Yes, I'm really just linking to a press release - but you'll thank me. A "special edition" of Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood is coming next month. (Anti Records)

Good news

I've just seen the reductive action film The Kingdom. Did you know there was only one nice person in all of Saudi Arabia? Anyway, it's good to read that suicide bombing is increasingly viewed by Muslims as incompatible with Islam. (Pew Research).

We Are More

I've been enjoying Erin McKeown's new live CD Lafayette. Here's what Terry Teachout has to say:

Our favorite rocker, live at New York's Joe's Pub in January of 2007 with a smoking-hot band. If you've never seen McKeown on stage, this CD will give you a very good idea of what you've been missing all these years. I was there, and this is exactly how it was

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Maybe this time...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLohan leaves rehab, has new gig? (Cinematical)


Right-wing bloggers look like idiots. (Obsidian Wings)

Here We Go

A Fox News story suggesting Barack Obama's pastor is racially divisive. I link to this because Andrew Sullivan cites it as an example of how the campaign will be racialized if Obama is the nominee.

The new Grisham, your Majesty?

What would happen if the Queen of England started to read? Alan Bennett (The History Boys) has an idea in his new novella.... (Maud Newton)

That #$%& TMU!

Friday Night Lights could work with less football. I actually thought that for a championship-caliber team the Panthers won too many games on the last play last season. But we need to get Eric Taylor back in Dillon. (The American Scene)

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Spoon's performance of "The Underdog" on last night's Saturday Night Live was 30 seconds shorter than the recorded version. I know that a live TV broadcast requires a good deal of precision, but that seems like a significant difference.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Why you aren't...

...watching Friday Night Lights, and why you should be. (House Next Door)

Not Quite The Same As It Ever Was

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As part of the continuing series of "Live from Austin, TX" CDs and DVDs documenting the Austin City Limits TV show, New West records has just released a 2001 concert by David Byrne in both formats. Talking Heads fans will want to pick this up because in addition to a helping of Byrne's solo stuff there's a choice selection of Heads' material. "This Must Be The Place" (with strings!) is especially good and there are strong versions of "Once in a Lifetime" and "Life During Wartime" as well. These are definitively different versions, not just live run throughs of old hits. Byrne's blog is among the most interesting by a working artist I've read.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bionic Woman episode 1.2 - "Paradise Lost"

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I wrote last week about my surprise at enjoying the pilot of NBC's much-hyped "Bionic Woman," and after another hour I'm still on board. There are quite a few blogs out there that analyze TV shows episode by episode; I've even done it in the past with "Lost." I'm not convinced that a weekly post is the best way to review TV; we have to give producers and writers credit for being able to think ahead, right? It takes at least 5 or 6 episodes to really settle in to a new show.

But we'll give it a try. Read at your own risk from this point on. The folks that turn Jamie (Michelle Ryan) into a fighting machine are called the Berkut Group and led by Jonas Bledsoe (Miguel Ferrer). After Bledsoe catches Jamie having sex in a restroom, he warns her that failing to develop her gifts will lead to insanity a la Bionic Woman v.1 Sarah Corvis (Katee Sackhoff). Jamie signs on to the program and begins training with Jae Kim (Will Yun Lee) and another agent played by a guest starring Isaiah Washington. Events catch up with our heroine; a chemical attack has wiped out an entire Idaho town, and Jamie talks Bledsoe into letting her tag along with Ruth Treadwell (Molly Price) to see what's what.

The major revelation of his episode is that the Berkut Group is a private organization that helps the U.S. government fight extremism. The exact nature of the group behind the attack isn't revealed, but a bad guy in a military uniform gives Berkut enough info to prevent further attacks. I'm guessing there's a central enemy out there we haven't met yet, perhaps involving scientist Anthony Anthros (Mark Sheppard). We saw Anthony getting sprung from prison in the pilot, he's the father of Jamie's late fiance Will.

There's a fair bit of interaction between Jamie and her sister Becca (Lucy Hale), who is still feeling ignored and threatening to move out. Hints are also dropped regarding Jae Kim's lingering feelings for Sarah; they hook up at a hotel and someone even refers to Sarah as Jae's "wife." Entertainment Weekly points out that Katee Sackhoff threatens to overpower Ryan in their scenes. Next week's episode suggests a possible alliance between the two, but we'll see.

So far, so good. Jamie is both emotionally vulnerable and still not quite sure of her powers. Sarah's presence suggests a dangerous path if Jamie doesn't embrace her new life with rigor. Tune in next week....

'08 Senate Watch

GOP Senator Pete Domenici (New Mexico) to retire....(MSNBC)

Ron Paul is...

...just crazy enough? (Politico)

Robert Altman would roll over... his grave if knew how his film Secret Honor was packaged on video. Actually, he probably did. (Talking Moviezzz)

Is Deckard a replicant?

Blade Runner:The Final Cut at the New York Film Festival. (House Next Door)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On the calendar

Guillermo del Toro's next project? (Cinematical)


How can a libertarian be for restricting a woman's right to choose? Ron Paul raises $5 million. (Marc Ambinder)

Authorial jitters

Novelist Susan Cooper has her doubts about The Seeker, the new film based on her The Dark is Rising series. (NPR)

Cougar for Hall?

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I've read a few dismissive comments about John Mellencamp's candidacy for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I'm here to rise to the man's defense. There's no doubt that Mellencamp has put out a few bombs over the years; I actually think his most annoying song is "Cherry Bomb" instead of "R.O.C.K. in the USA." But I'd put "Jackie Brown," "Small Town," "Pink Houses," "Scarecrow," and the underrated "Trouble No More" CD up against anyone.

A blogger writes:

I'm a casual fan of Springsteen's. I like a handful of songs from every album before 1980, Born in the U.S.A. a lot, and love Tunnel of Love. I profess not to hear what Greil Marcus does in 1978's "The Promised Land" (cue lyric about knife cutting pain through the heart). But as I admitted in my reassessment of Tunnel of Love, lots of his subsequent records sound like good ideas rather than finished statements. At their best they remind me of John Mellencamp records, which is odd because Mellencamp's had a far more interesting post-1987 career (the year in which he released his critical breakthrough The Lonesome Jubilee) than Broose; his double-disc comp holds up end to end better than Springsteen's Essential set.

I'd essentially agree. The only Springsteen CD since '87 I can name any tracks off of is The Rising. By my count Mellencamp has released a dozen albums (including compilations) to Springsteen's seven in the last twenty years, which necessarily means the wheat-to-chaff ratio will be skewed. I'm working my way through Springsteen's new Magic now, and I'm not encouraged. "Your Own Worst Enemy" is as anonymous a song as The Boss has ever written.

But I'm not questioning Springsteen's place in the pantheon. Mellencamp is a working musician who keeps grinding away and has produced a body of work that, as a whole, is as good as any of his contemporaries. He's capable of writing a classic at any time, and his best stuff is certainly good enough to warrant a ticket to Cleveland.


Clarence Thomas, hypocrite. (Althouse)

What's wrong with...

...Brian DePalma's Redacted. (IFC)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

We all knew that the....

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...Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would have to broaden its membership someday, didn't we? There's a 25-year eligibilty rule, which means we're in the early '80s now. Not a great time for rock, as I recall. (Hey, Duran Duran could have made the short list) This year's crop of finalists may not be the strongest; I'm rooting for John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen, and Afrika Bambaataa. Rock or not, one of the ways to evaluate the candidates is to measure their popularity and influence relative to their contemporaries.(Just like in baseball - Why isn't Jack Morris in the hall?) By that standard, Madonna is a sure thing.

John Edwards and...

....the other Dem candidates are coming with great health care plans. Paul Krugman in the NYT.

Hotel Chevalier

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Thanks to iTunes you don't have to have tickets to a film festival to see Hotel Chevalier, the 13-minute film by Wes Anderson that (according to the credits) serves as "Part 1" of Anderson's new The Darjeeling Limited. The brief work is a mood piece, one that hints at possibilities of an intriguing new depth and maturity in Anderson's films.

A man (Jason Schwartzman) relaxes in his Paris hotel room and orders a grilled cheese sandwich from the front desk. He's interrupted by a phone call from a woman (Natalie Portman) he obviously knows who announces she's on her way and will arrive in half an hour. He bathes and cleans up; when she arrives it's obvious there's a not entirely positive history and palpable sexual tension between the two. Conversation reveals that Schwartzman can't remember how long he has been in the hotel. After a sexual encounter almost takes place, the two gaze out at a spectacular Paris view.

Even without knowing how all this connects to The Darjeeling Limited, Hotel Chevalier is the sexiest and least stylized work Anderson has done. I don't think I've read anything about the short that doesn't mention the nudity of Ms. Natalie Portman. I've been a fan of all Anderson's films to varying degrees, but I'm ready for him to lose the overgrown childishness of both his characters and his directorial eye. Portman's work and indeed all of Hotel Chevalier whets the appetite for a filmmaker ready to live, love, and relate to the world as an adult.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Christian Right ...

..considers breaking with the GOP. (Salon)

In the Mind of Haggis

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How can we find a balance between how well a film works on the level of sheer audience involvement and entertainment and how much that same film may be hamstrung by a heavy-handed or incoherent message? I ask the question because I think about 96% of In the Valley of Elah is very good; and in tone, execution, and importance it's a much better film than Paul Haggis's clumsy Crash.

But then there's that other 4%. Haggis attacks the war in Iraq in such a curious and really mean-spirited way that I'm surprised the film hasn't generated even more chatter than I've seen thus far. There's no discussion of the neocon push for war or the false intelligence claims; the voice of President Bush is in the air, but everyone at the New Mexico army base where most of Elah takes place is involved with more human issues such as the availability of fried chicken and the avoidance of potentially homicidal rages. You see, soldiers in the army of Paul Haggis view the world through angry-colored glasses. If you weren't an inarticulate sociopath before you joined the Army, then a tour in Iraq will make you one.

It's not giving anything away to reveal that soldier Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) disappears from his Army base shortly after returning from Iraq with his unit. Not too long after Mike's father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones) shows up to look for his son Mike's remains are found in a field outside of town. The questions are what happened and why? One of the few pieces of evidence Hank finds is Mike's camera phone, which contains videos from Iraq that are "corrupted" and must be restored. One or two are innocuous; Mike is seen playing football with Iraqi children. But another video appears to show Mike torturing a prisoner. How does this behavior square with the son Hank thinks he knows?

The videos are where Elah begins to go wrong. On the level of pure plot, they have absolutely nothing to do with Mike's death. This possibility is raised and abandoned in a subplot involving one of Mike's fellow soldiers being a drug dealer with a criminal record. But the behavior the videos capture is implicitly the key to Mike's fate. It seems American soldiers in Iraq are committing atrocities all the time, whether deliberately or by accident. When soldiers return home they are driven to fury thanks to combat stress and the boredom of life on base. As I said in writing about this movie elsewhere; what happens to Mike is horrifyingly banal, but still banal. The end of the movie is a bust because it relies on a series of generalizations about American soldiers that aren't supported by facts.

There aren't any Michael Moore-style montages of Bush hitting golf balls or Rumsfeld speaking gibberish in Elah. One could extrapolate that our leaders are ultimately responsible for what has happened to Mike Deerfield, but Haggis doesn't. He is focused on what's between the ears of our soldiers, and there isn't much there.

Sunday Music (Monday edition): Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette performs Lucinda Williams' "Joy." LaVette's new CD (w/ the Drive By Truckers) is "The Scene of the Crime."