...National Get Off Sarah Jessica Parker's back day. You can start again tomorrow.
Friday, May 30, 2008
I first heard of Segway inventor Dean Kamen when I saw an episode of the Iconoclasts series on Sundance. I'm not sure why Kamen was paired with Isabella Rossellini, but in any case Kamen has moved on to something which I think could be more important and is definitely cooler. (Gadget Lab)
Another directing gig for David Gordon Green, whose Pineapple Express rides on the hope that the public's appetite for Seth Rogen hasn't been quenched. Screenwriter Danny McBride played a small role in Green's All the Real Girls and has somehow parlayed that into next-big-thing status. (Variety)
Sketch comedy legend Harvey Korman has died at age 81. (NY Times)
A native of Chicago, Mr. Korman studied drama there and then tried, unsuccessfully, to break into show business in New York City.
"For the next 13 years I tried to get on Broadway, on off-Broadway, under or beside Broadway," he said in an 1971 interview.
Eventually he gave up and returned to Chicago, but he later went to California to try again. After subsisting as a car salesman and movie doorman, in the mid-1960s he began getting minor movie parts, doing voice-overs as the Great Gazoo on “The Flintstones” and winning a TV spot on “The Danny Kaye Show.”
Thursday, May 29, 2008
What happened to Bill Murray's unhappy Lost in Translation character after he returned from Tokyo? Murray's fresh divorce may provide some clues. (SpoutBlog)
If that theory holds water––and assuming all theories about the characters that an actor plays can be seamlessly transposed to apply to the actor’s actual life––than the fact that Murray is now being divorced by his wife of a decade on the grounds of “adultery, addiction to marijuana and alcohol, abusive behavior, physical abuse, sexual addictions and frequent abandonment,” basically makes perfect sense. With the exception of the physical abuse (which is so inherently not funny that it’s not really possible to justify it within a single, speciously reasoned blog post), this seems like the stuff of a Lost in Translation sequel, the story of what happened after he left Tokyo and went home to face his family and found himself incapable of taking responsibility for the transference of affection.
F. Murray Abraham opens up about his philosophy of acting and his post-Amadeus mistakes. (House Next Door)
Asked by moderator Jeff Shannon to elaborate on what he meant by saying “I teach arrogance” to his acting students, Abraham replied: “All of art is basically arrogance. Any creative artist is arrogant. You’re a creator—what does that put you next to? How else can you stand up in front of 5000 people and not control them, but take them with you?” Of his own training, he confessed that the longer he studied with Uta Hagen, the worse he got—that in emulating her techniques, he lost his own: “Don’t fall under their influence completely, forgetting everything you know. Don’t try too hard to please—find your own way.”
It's Madeline Kahn Day! Appreciate the star of Paper Moon, Young Frankenstein, Clue, and more with a passel of links here. (Stinky Lulu)
Thus, apropos of nothing but my enduring affection for her (today's neither Ms. Kahn's birthday nor is it the anniversary of her passing), I decided to call a special event in her memory: a day on which bloggers of all stripes might express their particular appreciations of La Kahn. The day has arrived, and the posts are rolling in.
The latest in ingenious high-tech anti-piracy measures. (BoingBoing)
While at the cinema yesterday, I read a notice posted by the box office that Paramount has intentionally silenced bits of the soundtrack of _Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull_ in order to deter and track piracy. The notice acknowledged that the momentary silences were annoying but that it was out of their control. Basically it said, please don't bug the manager if the sound drops out, unless it lasts more than a minute.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Last year while in New York for the summer I had the opportunity to see Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in Peter Morgan's play Frost/Nixon. The play (coming to a theater near you soon in a Ron Howard-directed film) chronicles the negotiations about and tricky execution of the interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon, which culminated with Nixon's admission of culpability in Watergate.
I thought of Langella's performance as I watched him in Starting Out in the Evening, last year's independent film in which Langella plays a forgotten novelist enjoying a late-life flirtation with a grad student named Heather (Lauren Ambrose) who wants to write her thesis about him and reintroduce his work to the world. As Nixon, Langella's image was projected on giant monitors to duplicate the effect of watching the interviews on television. The monitors weren't necessary though, because just as you'd expect from an old pro Langella's performance touched even me in the next-to-last row of the theater. Every moment of Nixon's attempt to evade Frost's questions through a mix of humor, arrogance, and obfuscation, came through just as if I had been watching the whole thing on DVD. Nixon managed to use up most of the allotted interview time avoiding the questions everyone wanted Frost to ask, and Langella (an actor playing a man putting on a performance to avoid confronting himself) is spot-on at playing Nixon's desire to write his own legacy.
Leonard Schiller, Langella's character in Starting Out in the Evening, is a man too long cut off from any kind of meaningful personal connection. Racing to finish his last novel before health problems prevent him from working, Schiller at first has no time for interviews with the student who seems to idolize him. But Heather is persistent and soon not only has Schiller talking about his work but kissing her (and more) as well. There's a moment at their first meeting when Leonard, after heather has impulsively kissed his hand, reaches out and touches her head. He puts his hand over her eyes for a moment, reinforcing the idea that Heather's perception of her hero is confused, before withdrawing with embarrassment at his own behavior.
The way Langella plays the scene it's a formal moment, awkward but full of an unbearably touching desire for intimacy. It's the fact that can play a state of such high emotion to the back row of a Broadway theatre and also get Schiller's almost entirely interior self-loathing and desire that inspires this post. I recall him as the acting teacher in the too-brief HBO series Unscripted, unable to understand why no one offers him work anymore. The cliched wrap-up here would be something about how Langella is coming into his own late in his career. But he's always been this good; now we're just getting a chance to appreciate him.
I meant to get to this yesterday, but here's cultural critic John McWhorter on the false (in his opinion) political ideas behind the music of The Roots. This response praises the band's musical skills, but do those trump the political discussion underneath? Read and discuss. (The Root/The American Scene)
A report from the set of The Road, this fall's Cormac McCarthy adaptation starring Viggo Mortensen. (NY Times)
For the crew that has just finished filming the movie version of “The Road” — a joint production of 2929 and Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films, set to open in November — that meant an upending of the usual rules of making a movie on location. Bad weather was good and good weather bad. “A little fog, a little drizzle — those are the good days,” Mark Forker, the movie’s director of special effects, remarked one morning in late April while the crew was shooting some of the final scenes in the book on a stretch of scraggly duneland by the shore of Lake Erie here. “Today is a bad day,” he added, shaking his head and squinting.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
...started a rumor that everyone in Hollywood took seriously. (Deadline Hollywood Daily)
But here's what really annoys me: supposedly reputable news outlets and reporters are now picking up erroneous information from gossip websites like Defamer. This is wrong on so many levels that I'm dismayed. Which is why I've decided to go behind-the-scenes of one such egregious and recent example of a showbiz reporting inaccuracy:
45-year old Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer has beaten every other team in the majors at least once. (Philly Inquirer)
The beneficiary of the offensive explosion was - you guessed it - Jamie Moyer, who beat the Rockies for the first time in his career.
The 45-year-old Moyer, the oldest player in major-league knickers, has now beaten all 30 teams in the majors. He is the sixth pitcher to do so, joining Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Terry Mulholland, Woody Williams and Curt Schilling.
His reaction? "I guess I've been around a long time."
Moyer is now 5-3 and 235-181 in his career. The Phils have scored 11, 10, 12 and 20 runs, respectively, in his last four wins. If he keeps getting that kind of support, he may pitch until he's 55.
Monday, May 26, 2008
A track-by-track comparison of the recent musical offerings from Zooey Deschanel and Scarlett Johansson. I have to listen to the Johansson CD again before I make a final decision, but the point about it sounding more like a vanity project for the producer than for her is a good one. (VF Daily)
The LA Times is reporting that director/actor Sydney Pollack has died at age 73. Pollack won Oscars for directing and producing Out of Africa, should have won for Tootsie,and was also an actor and producer. Memorable acting roles included Tootsie, Husbands and Wives, and last year's Michael Clayton. Pollack's many producing credits include three films by the late Anthony Minghella, with whom he partnered in Mirage Entertainment.
Pollack spoke of his preference for working with big stars in an interview with New York Times in 1982.
"Stars are like thoroughbreds," he said. "Yes, it's a little more dangerous with them. They are more temperamental. You have to be careful because you can be thrown. But when they do what they do best -- whatever it is that's made them a star -- it's really exciting."
Sometimes, he added, "if you have a career like mine, which is so identified with Hollywood, with big studios and stars, you wonder if maybe you shouldn't go off and do what the world thinks of as more personal films with lesser-known people. But I think I've fooled everybody. I've made personal films all along. I just made them in another form."
An overview of Cannes, with attention to what films will be making it to US theatres:
Kenneth Turan's summary adds a look at the best out-of-competition films:
(NY Times/LA Times)
The most passionately debated movie of the festival, however, Mr. Soderbergh’s “Che,” had yet to find an American distributor by Sunday evening. This four-and-a-half-hour portrait of Ernesto Guevara, the Argentine doctor who became a leader of the Cuban revolution, sharply divided the critics, whose support will be crucial to its chances. Similarly, no American buyers had yet materialized for two other highly anticipated American films, Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” and James Gray’s “Two Lovers,” both of which also received mixed verdicts from critics and were passed over by the jury.
Kenneth Turan's summary adds a look at the best out-of-competition films:
As always with Cannes, some of the most satisfying films were not found in the official competition. Perhaps the most out and out enjoyable was Bent Hamer's small wonder, the luminous and deliciously funny "O'Horten," a fine successor to an earlier Hamer creation, the knockout "Kitchen Stories."
(NY Times/LA Times)
Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood is just hitting his stride at age 35. (Red Wings Corner)
Osgood has refined his butterfly style somewhat although he has always been a butterfly goaltender. He has sought more coaching and he has figured out how to succeed without being the No. 1 netminder.
But the most important asset that Osgood carries into the Stanley Cup final is one that he's shown throughout his career. Resilience.
"Some players can’t do it; Other guys can," said Osgood. "That’s how you see whether guys are mentally tough, when it’s bad. When it’s easy, it’s easy to play. You just roll along, everything’s great, everybody’s smiling. But when it’s tough, that’s when you see who are the players and who aren’t. I think I’ve always been tough mentally."
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Gay filmmaker/iconoclast Derek Jarman gets a documentary and DVD box set. (NY Times)
Mr. Jarman died of complications from AIDS in 1994, at 52, and perhaps the time is ripe for reappraisal. “Derek,” a documentary tribute by Isaac Julien that had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, will screen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from June 9 through 16. On June 24 Zeitgeist Films, the distributor that helped introduce Mr. Jarman to American audiences, is releasing “Glitterbox,” a DVD set that represents a cross section of his films: the neo-Brechtian biopics “Caravaggio” (1986) and “Wittgenstein” (1993); the homoerotic reverie “The Angelic Conversation” (1985); and his monochrome valediction, “Blue” (1993), as moving an epitaph as any artist has ever composed for himself.
The campaign to stop Joss Whedon's not-yet-aired new show Dollhouse from being cancelled. (Underwired)
DollhouseForums' trailblazing leader Nathan posted the following as a call to arms: "After seeing some of my favorite television shows get canceled in the past -- as well as the 'save this show' campaigns that followed -- I had the idea that a fan campaign BEFORE the show begins may be the best thing to do."
A Facebook fan page dedicated to the online campaign already has nearly 1,500 members.
Some worry the efforts are overkill and will become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. At fan site Whedonesque, several commenters suggest that such pre-emptive campaigning will negatively affect the show.
The Cannes premiere of Wendy and Lucy occasioned the return to red-carpet culture of Michelle Williams. Director Kelly Reichardt was responsible for the much-admired Old Joy, which I wrote about here. (Greencine)
Saturday, May 24, 2008
A negative review of Wim Wenders' Palermo Shooting; another post on the same site says the Cannes screening was greeted with jeers. (Cinematical)
By the finale of the film -- which has Finn realizing that he's actually being followed by Death, personified as Dennis Hopper, and then the two having a nice chit-chat about the nature of existence, the way of all flesh and Death's opinion that film photography is more artistic than digital, the audience was riveted, but really more in that grim way where they were waiting solely out of intellectual curiosity, to see how things could go wrong next.
How jury president Sean Penn's politics may influence who wins at Cannes. I think NP could easily stand up to Penn, thank you very much. (Some Came Running)
You think Natalie Portman's actually going to stand up to Sean Penn? You think Alfonso Cauron and Sergio Castellitto don't have better things to do with their lives than bicker with a steamrolling Yankee asshole? (Castellitto, many of you will be happy to learn, was just cast in a new film by...wait for it...Jacques Rivette, to co-star Jane Birkin.) You think Apitchatpong Weerasethakul is anything but just happy to be there? No. The only jury member I can see giving Penn any significant resistance is feisty Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi, who delivered the lone rejoinder to the president's asinine relevance rules at the opening press conference. And she's likely to be pretty partial to Waltz, for reasons easily inferable.
Friday, May 23, 2008
A mixed review of Atom Egoyan's Adoration. I've always liked Egoyan, at his best his editing and control of how much information the audience gets is masterful. Here are my reviews of Where The Truth Lies and the early Family Viewing. (Variety)
As ever, it's hard not to respect the sheer number of ideas, concerns and subtexts Egoyan touches on, from the difficulty of cross-cultural communication to the human tendency to construct alternate realities and identities. While the script steers clear of the minefield of Mideast politics, it foregrounds the three major Western religions throughout, not least in the way it conflates pregnant Rachel's trip to Israel with the story of Jesus' birth.
But the common charge against Egoyan, that he's more intellectual than dramatist, holds true here, in a film too contrived and prone to spelling itself out to achieve the catharsis it strains for at the end. Khanjian, the helmer's wife and ensemble regular, is given one blunt speech after another as the talkative prof who's either a bold provocateur or a few sheep short of a nativity scene.
An interview with Charlie Kaufman, whose directorial debut Synecdoche, New York just screened at Cannes. (Reuters)
THR: IN THE END, WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF DIRECTING LIKE FOR YOU?
Kaufman: It was hard, but satisfying. Early on I had a hard time even meeting the actors (laughs) when we were doing the other films, I was so nervous. But when you're directing it's very clear: You have to. I can't hide in the back of the room when I'm directing something. The necessity of it makes it doable. I think there's a lot to be said for having to do something.
...to talk about what's going on at Furman University in Greenville, SC. After a petition protesting a commencement speech by President Bush, conservative students are now trying to "force" the university to make faculty attend graduation. Good one. Furman is my alma mater and both of my faculty member parents signed the anti-Bush petition. (Huffington Post)
Thursday, May 22, 2008
An ex-blogger for Gawker recalls her descent into comment-section hell. (NY Times)
Of course, some people have always been more naturally inclined toward oversharing than others. Technology just enables us to overshare on a different scale. Long before I had a blog, I found ways to broadcast my thoughts — to gossip about myself, tell my own secrets, tell myself and others the ongoing story of my life. As soon as I could write notes, I passed them incorrigibly. In high school, I encouraged my friends to circulate a notebook in which we shared our candid thoughts about teachers, and when we got caught, I was the one who wanted to argue about the First Amendment rather than gracefully accept punishment. I walked down the hall of my high school passing out copies of a comic-book zine I drew, featuring a mock superhero called SuperEmily, who battled thinly veiled versions of my grade’s reigning mean girls. In college, I sent out an all-student e-mail message revealing that an ex-boyfriend shaved his chest hair. The big difference between these youthful indiscretions and my more recent ones is that you can Google my more recent ones.
A 12-pack of Heineken plays Wii Fit, and shows progress. (Crispy Gamer)
Once I'm finished, I load up Twelver's profile, then toss him on the board. I decide to start him off with some Yoga training. I click on "Deep Breathing." His man-trainer comes on-screen and does a demo. "Now you try it," he says to Twelver. "Breathe in ... and breathe out."
Twelver doesn't do anything.
"You're a little unsteady, Twelver," the trainer says. "Focus on standing still."
But after the exercise, to my surprise, Twelver is awarded the full 100 points (the most possible), four stars (also the most possible), and the title of Yoga Master.
...they'll be checking the batteries on their laptops because we're going to be hearing a lot about Soderbergh's two-part, not-what-you-expect, leave-out-the-bad-stuff, Che Guevara biopic. (Indiewire)
Good thing then, as far as my opinion is concerned, that Soderbergh doesn't have a rabble-rousing bone in his body. "Che" benefits greatly from certain Soderberghian qualities that don't always serve his other films well, e.g., detachment, formalism, and intellectual curiosity. The two parts of "Che" treat two discrete periods in Ernesto Guevara's life: his participation in the Cuban revolution of 1957-59, wherein he was Fidel Castro's second in overthrowing the tyrannical Batista regime is depicted in "Guerilla"; his dreadfully abortive attempt to spread Latin-American revolution in Bolivia from 1966 to 1967 in the subject of "The Argentine." This structure very conveniently elides the period wherein Che, as effective co-head of Castro's Cuban government, presided over mass executions, the persecution of homosexuals, the ruination of the island's economy, the ill-fated alliance with the Soviet Union, and so on.
In this week's online non-controversy, conservative bloggers are trying to suggest that the 75,000 or so folks who showed up for that huge Obama rally in Oregon were actually there to see local favorites The Decemberists. It seems the media were remiss in not reporting the event as a Decemberists concert as opposed to a political rally. (NewsBusters)
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Studios are removing the film grain from Blu-ray editions of older titles to appease customers who (apparently) don't know what it is. (Digital Bits)
This isn't just a Blu-ray issue, it's going to affect ALL high-definition presentations of older films, if we allow it to. Film enthusiasts (and those at the studios who actually CARE about and respect the integrity of older films) need to really start educating people on this subject - new Blu-ray consumers, friends and family, fellow studio employees. FILM IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE FILM. Older titles on Blu-ray are NOT supposed to look perfect, as if they were shot today on video! The Blu-ray presentation should replicate, as closely as possible, the best original theatrical experience of the film. THAT'S the goal. I'll tell you right now, this is an important issue, just as anamorphic enhancement and presenting films in their original aspect ratios on DVD were before it. As we did with those issues, you better believe it's something the staff here at The Digital Bits will take up as a crusade with the Hollywood studios if it becomes necessary. So you studio folks... let's just say that you'd better get this one right, or you'll definitely be hearing about it from us in the months ahead (and, we suspect, from many others as well).
More on James Grey's Two Lovers, a romantic drama starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Spout Blog)
But, but, but: after dozing on and off for the film’s first twenty or thirty minutes, I awoke to see Joaquin Phoenix breakdancing his way into the arms of Gwyneth Paltrow, and for whatever reason, from that point on I was sort of into it. About an hour later I became totally sucked in, when that moment of dance floor silliness met its dissonant counterpoint with a second, far more desperate scene of Phoenix dancing his way into Paltrow’s arms. It’ll be too little too late for some, but in its final third, Two Lovers becomes an extremely strong parable about the madness of romantic love, and maybe even its impossibility.
Tom Waits: (NPR)
Q: Most thrilling musical experience?
A: My most thrilling musical experience was in Time Square, over thirty years ago. There was a rehearsal hall around the Brill Building where all the rooms were divided into tiny spaces with just enough room to open the door. Inside was a spinet piano- cigarette burns, missing keys, old paint and no pedals. You go in and close the door and it's so loud from other rehearsals you can't really work- so you stop and listen and the goulash of music was thrilling. Scales on a clarinet, tango, light opera, sour string quartet, voice lessons, someone belting out "Everything's Coming Up Roses", garage bands, and piano lessons. The floor was pulsing, the walls were thin. As if ten radios were on at the same time, in the same room. It was a train station of music with all the sounds milling around... for me it was heavenly.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
NP now apparently regrets appearing nude in Hotel Chevalier; she's currently serving on the Cannes jury while having to read about Shia LaBeouf having a crush on her. (MTV UK)
If the Sex and the City movie is anything like the spread in the current Vogue, we may have something....(Spout Blog)
The VOGUE spread restores a bit of the legitimate, grown-up class that has seemed to be lacking from the SATC campaign all along (see: the Houlihans thing, the Fergie thing). Cannes likely would have been able to accomplish the same thing; the VOGUE spread is probably cheaper, and it has the affect of reaching an audience of comparable demographics as those who would be exposed to as Cannes coverage, without ever having to make the actual quality of the actual film an issue (the story actually reads as if author Plum Sykes didn’t see the film before press time; even if she had, she seems unlikely to be convinced that the movie itself is more important than the photoshoot within it). New Line just fired hundreds of people. Such frugality on their part is almost respectable.
Roger Ebert loves the new Indiana Jones film.....(Roger Ebert's Journal)
Why did I think I would be in a minority? Because of what David Poland at Movie City News poetically described as "one idiot." As everybody knows, an exhibitor attended a closed-door screening last week, and filed a review with the Ain't It Cool News website. This single wrong-headed, anonymous review was the peg on which The New York Times based a breathless story on a negative early reaction to the film. That story inspired widespread coverage: Were Spielberg and Lucas making a mistake by showing their film at Cannes? Would it turn out to be a fiasco like showing "The Da Vinci Code" there? The Code got terrible reviews, and only managed to gross something like $480 million dollars at the box office--suggesting, if not to the Times, that even a negative reception at Cannes might not cut Indy off at the knees.
Obviously there are plenty of links and reviews from bloggers at Cannes out there right now; I haven't been doing a lot of linking just because there's so much stuff out there. But I was pleased to learn that James Gray (We Own The Night) has a new film at the Festival called Two Lovers. This post from Glenn Kenny also includes a mostly positive review of Clint Eastwood's The Changeling, which will hopefully get Angelina Jolie the Oscar nomination she was denied for A Mighty Heart.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Phil Schaap, jazz obsessive. (New Yorker)
Not long ago, I listened to him play a recording of “Okiedoke,” a tune that Parker recorded in 1949 with Machito and His Afro-Cuban Orchestra. Schaap, in his pontifical baritone, first provided routine detail on the session and Parker’s interest (via Dizzy Gillespie) in Latin jazz, and then, like a car hitting a patch of black ice, he veered off into a riff of many minutes’ duration on the pronunciation and meaning of the title—of “Okiedoke.” Was it “okey-doke” or was it, rather, “ ‘okey-dokey,’ as it is sometimes articulated”? What meaning did this innocent-seeming entry in the American lexicon have for Bird? And how precisely was the phrase used and understood in the black precincts of Kansas City, where Parker grew up? Declaring a “great interest in this issue,” Schaap then informed us that Arthur Taylor, a drummer of distinction “and a Bird associate,” had “stated that Parker used ‘okeydokey’ as an affirmative and ‘okeydoke’ as a negative.” And yet one of Parker’s ex-wives had averred otherwise, saying that Parker used “okeydoke” and “okeydokey” interchangeably.
Cory Doctorow certainly doesn't need my help to promote his new novel Little Brother, but I'm thoroughly impressed with Doctorow's tale of a teen fighting the government following a 9/11-style attack on U.S. soil. Marcus is a reasonably happy, tech-savvy, high school senior out with his friends one fine San Francisco day when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge. In the chaos following the attacks, Marcus and his friends are swept up by the Department of Homeland Security and interrogated as to their possible involvement in the attacks.
Marcus and two of his friends are released, but their injured friend Darryl appears to have vanished. Motivated by a desire to find out what happens to Darryl and resentment at what he sees as the government's attempt to scare citizens into surrendering constitutional protections, Marcus becomes the informal leader of a gang of young people dedicated to non-violent disruption of the government efforts. I'm in no position to discuss the accuracy or future feasibility of the methods Marcus uses, which involve hacked Xboxes and interfering with the government's ability to ID people using barcodes. Rather than admiring the technospeak, I'll instead express my pleasure at what a fully rounded and dignified character Doctorow has created in Marcus.
Marcus isn't some lite version of a character from the Matrix trilogy; Little Brother is set in the not-too-distant future and all of the book's teen characters are hauntingly real. Marcus is always mindful of the power that has fallen into his hands as "m1k3y," the creator of the online community that uses Xboxes to evade government surveillance. Every choice Marcus makes could affect hundreds of others, including his friends and family, and Doctorow never lets Marcus forget the moral dimensions of what Marcus and his allies are doing. Little Brother is officially a "young adult" novel which does include a sex scene and some civil disobedience, but the deep patriotism and independent spirit of the book far outweigh anything that alarmists could find offensive.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
"One-man band" indie rockers. (NY Times)
“Unprecedented” isn’t a term you hear much in pop music these days, not even in indie circles, and the obvious comfort with which Pallett uses it is closely tied to Final Fantasy’s appeal. An unabashedly articulate 28-year-old with a degree in classical composition from the University of Toronto, Pallett makes no secret of his commitment to reinvigorating pop. “There’s this utopian idea — a cult, really — that an artist should have infinite means at his disposal,” Pallett told me over lunch at a vegan cafe. “But to me that’s not interesting. The boundaries of what I’m doing as Final Fantasy define the whole project: I choose to perform solo, and to write songs in the pop idiom, so neither of those two things are limitations. They’re choices I made.”
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Celebrate the early, crazy, work of Angelina Jolie. (Cinematical)
I'm happy for her, but I can't help but miss the good ol' days. She might have been wild, and she might have shocked many -- but she had a great spark, one that seems to have disappeared inside the current carefully manufactured icon she is today.
The gleam might be hidden these days, but luckily we're living in a world of DVD entertainment. We can head back to the past whenever we want to. What follows are my two favorite Jolie gigs. They're far from the best movies, but they definitely embody both the old Angelina, and a certain period of '90s rebellion. I give you: Hackers and Foxfire.
A positive review of Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona (starring Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall). More links here and trailer here. (Screen Daily/Greencine)
Friday, May 16, 2008
A profile of the newly 60-year old Brian Eno, whose production of the new Coldplay CD will with any luck provide that band with a much needed kick in the pants. (Independent)
His long association with David Bowie was crucial. The one-time glam-rock rivals first worked intensively on Bowie's so-called "Berlin Trilogy". Though Eno was only partially involved in the first, Low, and Tony Visconti produced this, and Heroes, in 1977, he was a vital sounding-board, agile enough to keep up with Bowie's ideas. His synthesiser experiments were the basis for the bleak electronic instrumentation of Low's "Warszawa", and both albums would become founding texts (along with Kraftwerk's albums) for the synth-pop that defined the 1980s. Joy Division were named Warsaw early on, in homage.
Recently I received a list of movies to watch from a friend and fellow blogger whose DVD library exceeds mine in both quantity and quality, so I had to pay attention. I had heard of most of the movies on the list, a wide-ranging collection of both American and foreign titles, but I'm ashamed to say that I had never gotten around to watching most of them. So, armed with a Netflix account and a part-time job that leaves me most afternoons free, I decided to work my way through the list (which is in no particular order) systematically.
Our first film is The Stunt Man (1980), directed by Richard Rush. Although I'd certainly heard of the film before, all I really new going in was that it was best known for a performance by Peter O'Toole as an egomaniacal movie director and that Richard Rush didn't direct another movie for 14 years (Color of Night) after its release. We start with Cameron (Steve Railsback), a drifter being pursued by the police through the California countryside. A lengthy chase scene culminates in Cameron causing the death of a driver who had tried to run him down. That driver, we soon find out, was a stunt player on a film directed by Eli Cross (O'Toole) in a nearby seaside town. Cross, whose production is being menanced by the comical local sheriff (Alex Rocco), agrees to shelter Cameron from the cops if he'll take the stunt man's place on the film. Cameron, given a makeover to disguise his looks, soon falls for the film's leading lady (a charming and sexy Barbara Hershey) before becoming convinced that Cross will try to kill him by replicating the stunt that killed the first stunt man.
The plot summary really doesn't do justice to the antic tone of The Stunt Man, or to the way Rush tries to meld reality and scenes from the movie being shot (a WWI story with an incomprehensible plot). But The Stunt Man has more on its mind than just a satire of the movie business. Cameron is a Vietnam vet who'll describe his experiences in country to anyone willing to listen, only no one seems to care. In the late 1970's that was of course true, but we return to this theme so much that I think Rush is striving to make some connection between Cameron's skill as a stuntman and his wartime experience that doesn't really come off. It doesn't help that Cameron (whose backstory we finally get in a late monologue) doesn't seem to need or want very much or that Railsback is an inexpressive actor that I quickly got tired of watching.
The character of Eli Cross must have seemed irresistible to Rush. Cross is a demigod to his cast and crew the way someone like David Lean or Elia Kazan must have been and the way no director is today. Much is made of how Cross has an all-encompassing view of what's going on both in front of and behind the camera on his set; he swoops in on choppers or cranes to comment on the action. O'Toole is impeccably pompous and probably deserved his Oscar nomination, but the conception of the film production is one reason I think The Stunt Man hasn't aged well. Never mind the fact that all the lavish battle scenes Cross shoots would be done with CGI today, the idea that even the most highly regarded film director would be so ignorant of financial or time constraints seriously dates the movie. The ending of The Stunt Man is also seriously muddled; as Cameron fights for his life while trying to replicate the stunt that killed his predecessor, it isn't at all clear why Eli - who seems to be having a wonderfully good time - would want to harm him.
The Stunt Man feels like a late product of the celebrated "golden age" of 1970's cinema, but it has too much going on (veterans, Hollywood, a love story, comedy, drama, etc.) to be a truly coherent work of art and at the same time too little going on in its main character. I certainly don't regret seeing it, but I'm glad it's off my list.
...serving on the R. Kelly child pornography trial jury. (Chicago Tribune/Kottke)
I blame R. Kelly for Sept. 11. When the judge asked one prospective juror about his feelings regarding Kelly, he cryptically answered: "R. Kelly may have led the Taliban in attacking us on 9-11, but you can't prove it." You're right, we can't. In fact, we're fairly certain that no one has ever tried.
...of the genius that is Jeff Bridges and of his best roles. I don't know that I can add anything to what has been said about Fearless except that it is probably my favorite movie of all time. It almost pained me to see Bridges inside the giant robot suit in Iron Man. (House Next Door)
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Roger Ebert on Redbelt, a genre of its own. My review here. (Roger Ebert's Journal)
David Mamet's recent "Redbelt" is an example of a kind of movie that needs a name. It's not precisely a thriller, or a suspense picture, or a police procedural, and although it occupies the territory of film noir, it's not a noir. I propose this kind of film be named a Twister, because it's made from plot twists, and in a way the twists are the real subject.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
...DC Comics! (Boing Boing)
Thomas Denton of comic blog Say It Backwards has a nephew who was diagnosed with cancer. A charity called Candlelighters helped his family out. Thomas decided to use his connections in the comics world to organize some charitable auctions featuring original artwork by various artists to give something back to the organization. Apparently Time Warner (who own DC comics, who in turn own Superman, Batman and most of the cool superheroes who wear capes) objected to the selling of the pieces featuring their copyrighted and trademarked characters on eBay, specifically Superman from what I understand.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Artist Robert Rauschenberg has died at age 82. (NY Times)
No American artist, Jasper Johns once said, invented more than Mr. Rauschenberg. Mr. Johns, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Mr. Rauschenberg, without sharing exactly the same point of view, collectively defined this new era of experimentation in American culture.
Apropos of Mr. Rauschenberg, Cage once said, “Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.” Cage meant that people had come to see, through Mr. Rauschenberg’s efforts, not just that anything, including junk on the street, could be the stuff of art (this wasn’t itself new), but that it could be the stuff of an art aspiring to be beautiful — that there was a potential poetics even in consumer glut, which Mr. Rauschenberg celebrated.
Plans for a Fraggle Rock movie: (Variety)
Pic will take the core characters Gobo, Wembley, Mokey, Boober and Red outside of their home in Fraggle Rock, where they interact with humans, which they think are aliens. The show premiered on HBO in 1983, ran five seasons and was broadcast in more than 80 countries. It posted strong sales recently when the first three seasons were released on DVD.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Musician Josh Ritter is blogging about his current tour. What's life on the road like? (Huffington Post)
I read a lot on the road, and listen to a lot of books on tape. I also run almost every day, either in the gym of a hotel or on the streets of a city, so I bring my running clothes. My show clothes are durable and dark colored suits and shirts and I have enough of them that I don't have to wear the same sweaty rags night after night. For the most part. My white linen suit period became a whole scale disaster when it coincided with my Canadian winter mud-tour period.
A survey of limited release summer fare. (Wall St. Journal)
One of these coming films takes a look at the harsh realities of school: "American Teen" is a documentary that follows the lives of five real high schoolers in the Midwest. Another takes a nostalgic approach: "The Wackness," a comedy starring Ben Kingsley and set in New York during the mid-1990s, tells the story of a high-school kid who trades dope for therapy sessions. "Hamlet 2" is the musical version: the comedy, which set off major bidding wars at this year's Sundance Film Festival, centers on a washed-up actor-turned-high-school drama teacher (Steve Coogan) who writes a musical sequel to Shakespeare's "Hamlet" for his class to perform.
Friday, May 09, 2008
...because I would never have gotten involved with a sequel to Donnie Darko. (Screen Daily)
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: Does The Tracey Fragments reinvent the language of cinema? (The Auteurs Notebook/Greencine)
Old-school viewers may have a tough time adjusting to Tracey’s fragmentation, but even they might appreciate McDonald’s surprising compositional grace, which culminates in a beautiful, melancholy riverside tracking shot under the end credits.”
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
I have a sneaking suspicion that Jon Favreau and the other folks behind Iron Man think the high point of the movie is the scene in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) eludes two fighter pilots just after thwarting terrorists' efforts to kidnap all the men in an Afghani village. (The men were no doubt preparing to celebrate democracy.) In the dogfight sequence, we're treated to shots of the digitized Iron Man streaking through the sky intercut with a close-up of Downey "inside" the suit. This is high geekery.
There are quite a number of scenes of Stark building things in Iron Man, first after he's captured by terrorists who want him to build a missile system. Instead, with the help of a kindly doctor (Shaun Toub), Stark constructs the first version of the Iron Man suit and escapes. Back in the comfort of his California laboratory, Stark improves upon his creation with plenty of comic relief from his troupe of robot sidekicks and loyal personal assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).
All of the popular mechanics cover a plot that's politically confused to say nothing of dramatically inert. A prologue explains that Stark is a celebrity defense contractor (?) living the high life while designing a new breed of "smart" weapons. Stark apparently has no knowledge of American foreign policy (and has never seen Charlie Wilson's War), because the big eye-opening moment comes when Stark realizes that his own weapons are being used by the terrorists who are holding him captive. There's a lunatic press conference scene where a post-captivity Stark, eating a Whopper in a particularly unfortunate bit of product placement, renounces his hawkish past and proclaims his desire to "protect the people." Protecting the people involves building a weaponized while allowing his surrogate father/partner (Jeff Bridges) to cut him out of his own company. Iron Man operates divorced from any recognizable reality; the military (represented by a dull Terrence Howard) has nothing to do except chauffeur Stark around and the plot about corporate backstabbing somehow ends up with the star of Fearless and The Last Picture Show fighting Robert Downey in a giant robot suit.
There has been a blitz of stories about another Downey "comeback" recently, and while it's difficult not to wish him well I must confess that I've never really found him a compelling leading man. The irreverence that has critics swooning about Downey's performance comes off here like someone who doesn't care very much about what they're doing; Downey speaks throughout in a stentorian whisper that quickly grows tiresome. The performance needed a broader sense of self-mockery. In the end, Iron Man doesn't deserve all the high-end coverage it has been getting on the blogs; it's a film about guys with toys that's badly in need of a stardom injection.
Director Mike Leigh and his film Topsy-Turvy (one of my favorites) get some film festival love. (House Next Door)
"Why would he pick Topsy-Turvy,” the woman standing in front of me in line at the Castro Theatre asked with genuine puzzlement. Mike Leigh was being honored at the San Francisco International Film Festival last Wednesday, and it was safe to assume he would be reviving many of the same questions he was asked when the film, his selection to be shown at the evening’s event, first came out in 1999. Coming from the maker of High Hopes, Naked, and Secrets & Lies, a plush costume drama set in the 1880s and focusing on the genesis of a Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta seemed like a perverse curveball.
Lou Reed and Julian Schnabel talk about Schnabel's film of Reed performing Berlin. (Gothamist)
Robinson: “This is a very uplifting movie, even singing ‘Sad Songs’ at the end seems very uplifting.”
Reed: “Somebody said ‘the act of writing is an act of optimism.’"
Schnabel: “That’s a fragment of something [Andrei] Tarkovsky said. He said that art is different than life because art is a representation of life and therefore it doesn’t contain death. Life contains death. So making art is life-affirming. So even if the art is tragic, it’s still optimistic. There can never be pessimistic artists, there can only be mediocrity.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
I wish No Depression magazine would put its long-form pieces online; I commend the Old 97s profile in the current and final issue to your attention. A blog at the magazine's website reveals that No Depression isn't quite dead in print form, it's just changing styles.
When a critic votes with a vast majority, I think one reason is that some films are obviously good or bad (in the eyes of most people). But when one lonely critic stands apart from the mob, there may be a message to be learned, and that may be the critic you should make a point of reading, assuming he or she has been interesting in the past. There may be a special expertise or sensitivity coming into view, or a film may have been made with such specialized intent that its qualities are invisible to the majority. Or, sometimes, it may be the auteur theory at work, and the critic may be so invested in the work of that director that he or she sees things that reach specifically to his wave length.
Why do critics run in packs? One reason Ebert doesn't really get into here is that so many Hollywood films are specifically tailored to reach the broadest possible audience and are so bland as a result they fail. If you've seen Made of Honor, for example, can you really imagine having a serious disagreement with someone about it? Or preferring it to an independent film like Ira & Abby, which I just saw on DVD? (Roger Ebert's Journal)
Nelson Mandela is on a terrorist watchlist. (USA Today)
Nobel Peace Prize winner and international symbol of freedom Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls the situation "embarrassing," and some members of Congress vow to fix it.
Well, my friends, I suggest you take all of your clothes off, pull your head out of your ass, unfasten your sofa seatbelt, push back the furniture, lay down some newspaper or a drop cloth to protect your personal items, pour a salty beverage and stand akimbo to watch The Guatemalan Handshake. This movie NEEDS your attention. Watch it and then watch it again. Break things. Sing songs. Blow your nose. Stuff needs to come out of you as a result of this experience. If not, it's cinema's funeral.
David Gordon Green on The Guatemalan Handshake, the film I've just put at the top of my Netflix queue. (Filmmaker)
Monday, May 05, 2008
A survey of a thin summer for women at the movies; there's not much work for actresses amid all the superhero stomping around. Manohla Dargis does throw some well-deserved love to Anna Faris, whose trailer for The House Bunny made me laugh this weekend. (NY Times)
And in August, Anna Faris stars in a comedy called “The House Bunny,” in which she plays a Playboy Bunny who is ejected from the Mansion because she’s too old. In a trailer for the movie Ms. Faris’s pretty-in-pink character responds to her firing with surprise. “I’m 27!” she yelps. “But that’s like 59 in Bunny years,” a male friend explains. In Hollywood years too, he might as well have added.
I admit that I laughed at the 59 line, mostly because Ms. Faris — who could be the next Judy Holliday but without the right material will, alas, probably end up the next Brittany Murphy — tends to do the dumb-blonde thing with sizable quotation marks. But I also winced. You can’t judge a film by its trailer, so I won’t boil this bunny sight unseen. I’ll just point out that it looks like a clone of “Legally Blonde” (meaning, yet another iteration of “Pretty Woman”), one of those aspirational comedies in which women empower themselves by having their hair and nails done. In this case Ms. Faris’s character takes charge of a sorority of unkempt brainiacs with boy troubles. Cue the group makeover and pop-tune montage.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Forgetting Sarah Marshall probably doesn't have as many laughs per minute as Knocked Up (as I wrote here), but I think it may be a slightly better movie because it tries to do less. Jason Segel's script nails a couple of specific emotional moments for its female characters that I don't think Katherine Heigl ever quite gets in Knocked Up. But first things first...the much talked-about male nudity in FSM is so fleeting as to be almost polite. It's so inconsequential to the story that I don't really know what else to say about it except that a more cynical blogger than I am would probably conclude the whole thing was just an effort to get extra publicity for the movie.
Sarah (Kristen Bell) learns about halfway through FSM that her ridiculous crime drama series has been cancelled. When she relays this information to her boyfriend Aldous (Russell Brand, hilarious)the best he can do is offer her a chance to go on tour with his band for 18 months. Sarah, worried about her career, declines. Bell plays this scene with a spirit that would make Veronica Mars proud, not afraid to embrace the fact that it reveals that Sarah is a power dater and not much interested in anyone other than herself. But she's also career-minded in a realistic way that the women in other Apatowian movies aren't, since the women in The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up exist mainly as vehicles for male maturation.
When Aldous leaves Sarah makes an aborted attempt to seduce ex-boyfriend Peter (Segel), leading to a scene in which Peter must confess the indiscretion to new love Rachel (Mila Kunis). Rachel, having just slept with Peter the night before, is unforgiving and the moment worked for me because her anger comes from an emotional betrayal and not just disappointment at Peter's childishness. (Peter needs to get out of the house more but is otherwise a functioning adult.) Kunis is charming here, FSM is no doubt a career maker for her, but Rachel is just as unsettled and amorphous as Peter. I was almost rooting for Sarah and Peter to reconnect with both of them the wiser for the experience, but the Rachel-Peter hookup is no surprise.
I'll be interested to see what Segel writes next (a new Muppet movie?), since this script is just different enough for me to recommend the movie.There's plenty of shambling humor in FSM, thanks to Segel, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, and Jonah Hill (who doesn't add much here). I'm already a little tired of this subgenre, let's have a romantic comedy about a unambitious woman and a Type A man. Otherwise, we're on our way to some diminshing returns.
A conversation about blogs, focusing on sports, in which the distinguished author Buzz Bissinger (Friday Night Lights) behaves like a complete ass. Bissinger uses the worst of the blogosphere to paint with a big brush. I hate to sound like a cheerleader, but the good and the bad are both here to stay Buzz....deal with it. (Fimoculous)
UPDATE - The NY Times weighs in.
UPDATE - The NY Times weighs in.