When it comes to Pixar I admit to being in the minority on the studio's post-Incredibles work. A play I was acting in prevented me from seeing Cars, but I remember being distinctly underwhelmed that after addressing human concerns on a human level so richly in The Incredibles the follow-up project was a film where a car learns not to be a jerk. Ratatouille left me cold, probably because I found the main human character a complete bore and resented the fact that he'd become successful at film's end while the talking rat did all the work.
I approach Wall-E, then, with some hesitation. Hearing about rapturous reviews and a "silent first 40 minutes" did nothing for my confidence. The silence isn't complete of course, there are strains of songs from Hello, Dolly and the title character's electronic burbling. But I'll just say it now: this is not a children's film. It's too slow and not nearly funny enough to hold kids' attention, and given the fact that the film's second lead (the robot "Eve") actually does most of the work in the climactic scene it's difficult to imagine anyone leaving this movie and wanting a Wall-E Happy Meal. That said, I'm with those who want the richly detailed first act to last a bit longer. Wall-E shuffles around a now-abandoned Earth, compacting garbage and occasionally finding a new use for some found object. I'm especially curious about what he was going to do with the jewelry case after he tosses the ring inside away. I could have spent more time with Wall-E as he acquires knowledge about his home and realizes that even a robot needs companionship.
The on-Earth courtship between Wall-E and Eve is predictable; full of scanning, Wall-E dodging Eve's gun, and the struggle to break down the language barrier. (I'm guessing all this is predictable for robots) When Eve finds evidence of plant life and goes into shutdown mode, it's the way Wall-E sweetly looks after her that will eventually prove crucial. Since this is ostensibly a film about being aware and responsible towards the world around you, more time could have been spent on how Wall-E acquired feelings - but hey, it's been 700 years.
The humans show up after Wall-E's ride through space on the side of Eve's ship, the most visually interesting part of the film. Fat, infantile, stupid, and slothful, they're pretty much as broadly caricatured as you've heard. (The ship's captain voiced by Jeff Garlin is the only human with any dimension)The scenes aboard the "Axiom" spaceship are essentially one long chase, as Wall-E races to find Eve and then they work to reset the ship's course to return to Earth. The dramatic flaw in Wall-E, as my moviegoing companion pointed out, is that Wall-E and Eve aren't in conflict with anything except human laziness. Much fun is had at our expense watching the globular people trying to walk once they lose their floating chairs, we're to believe that thanks to the omnipotent corporation that owns the ship (and everything else) every bit of human curiosity, creativity, and spirituality has disappeared. Compare the Earthless existence of the humans in Wall-E to any episode of Battlestar Galactica and think about the difference.
I don't know why Pixar doesn't like people anymore, but I've rarely felt so talked down to as I have coming out of Ratatouille or Wall-E. If Pixar drops the preachiness and begins to address human life, or at least human concerns in a more charming way, I'll be back. Otherwise, watching Pixar films begin the slide into self-parody will be just too sad.
Monday, June 30, 2008
A review of Largo, a new documentary about the L.A. club that serves as a sort of artistic home base for Jon Brion (above), Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, and others. The same site also has a review of Hellboy II; I only read the first two sentences because I didn't want to spoil anything, but consider my appetite whetted. (Cinematical)
Phair discusses her new relationship with ATO Records and revisiting Exile in Guyville 15 years later. (Pitchfork)
Pitchfork: What's it like to excavate these songs again?
LP: It's kind of a nightmare to contemplate having to figure out what I was playing on guitar in all of them. I'm not sure I'm going to get all 18 right. I know how to play most of them. It's good in a way, because there are a lot of songs I leave off my sets that I can't go to because I don't know how they were made anymore. So I'm hoping it enriches my live show in the fall.
Pitchfork: Any new favorites?
LP: Yeah. The last song. ["Strange Loop"] I have no idea what I'm playing. With 18 songs, sometimes you don't give it a full listen. That's one of the ones that I haven't heard as much as the other ones, and I'm appreciative of my songwriting ability back then. That's pretty cool.
Terry Teachout comes down from the mountain to recall a dalliance with the music of Liz Phair. (About Last Night)
I'm sniffing the air again, but not so obsessively as I used to: I've pretty much given up on new movies, for instance, and I don't even pretend to know what's going on in pop music. One can only absorb so many new things in a lifetime. These days I devote most of my absorptive capacity to the shows I write about each Friday in The Wall Street Journal. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't even bother to check out Liz Phair's last album.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
What films inspire Roger Ebert to shed tears? (Roger Ebert's Journal)
One of the most prolific and intelligent contributors to the comments section of the blog is Soloman Wakeling. I wrote in curiosity, asking to know more about him. He replied that he is a 24-year-old law student from Australia, and that one of his problems is, "I read too many books." There was one thing he said that I felt I needed to write about in the blog: "I find your work is filled with an essentially humanitarian philosophy, dealing with concepts like redemption."
The first half of his statement I hope is true. The second part is certainly true. Let us set aside all of the films that are essentially entertainments (although they have their uses and pleasures, too). I am thinking now about the remaining titles, which deal seriously with human lives. The ones that affect me most deeply are the ones in which characters overcome something within themselves or the world, and endure.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
After reading this, I will pay more attention to the illustrations that accompany New Yorker short stories. (Lined & Unlined)
Throughout, one feels the work of what must be a small army of researchers and photo editors digging through portfolios and photo banks to pick, pair, crop, commission, and collaborate with authors and editors to strike the right tone, make the right match, marry their chosen images to others’ chosen text to create—at least before I turn the page—a perfect relationship.
Hey, apparently Hancock might not be that good after all. I read fewer reviews before seeing films since I became a critic, and try to know as little as possible about the "buzz" on a movie going in. But after everyone went crazy over the trailer and the general Will Smith can do no wrong stuff, the negative reviews kind of caught me by surprise. Greencine has a roundup. (Variety/Kottke)
78-year old Gene Hackman (Can a 2-time Oscar winner be underrated?) has a new line of work. (Reuters India)
Q: What do you like about writing so much?
HACKMAN: "I like the loneliness of it, actually. It's similar in some ways to acting, but it's more private and I feel like I have more control over what I'm trying to say and do. There's always a compromise in acting and in film, you work with so many people and everyone has an opinion (laughs). But with the books, it's just Dan and I and our opinions. I don't know that I like it better than acting, it's just different. I find it relaxing and comforting."
Singer Cassandra Wilson, whose new CD delves into the American songbook while maintaining the jazz musician's love of the ensemble. (New Yorker)
The album is full of such surprises. Meredith Willson’s “Till There Was You” begins with a seventy-second prologue that seems provocatively unrelated to the song but soon triggers intricate embellishments from Wilson, including a moaning counterpoint to Sewell’s solo. The introduction on “Gone with the Wind” sets up a countermelody that is sustained during the entire performance, putting a stamp on a song that had been stamped by virtually every exponent of the classic American songbook—Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, Tony Bennett, and on and on. One wonders, however, if any of her forebears could have done as well by Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom,” which Wilson personalizes and rejuvenates, laughing in one verse and clearly revelling in her rapport with the band. If making records were as effortless as “Loverly” sounds, there would be a lot more of them.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I've written before about my admiration for the 1998 film Next Stop Wonderland, a shining example of the they-don't-meet-until-the-very-end genre of romantic comedy (a genre rendered obsolete by email and cell phones) and my introduction to the gifted actress Hope Davis (pictured above). That film's director, Brad Anderson, has kept working and is about to release a new film called Transsiberian, a thriller with Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, and Ben Kingsley (shame on you for The Love Guru, Ben). Cinematical has an interview.
Cinematical: I didn't realize it before, but there's actually a whole subgenre of train movies. Hitchcock did a bunch, and James Bond always takes the train...
BA: I don't think we were trying to pay homage. It just used to be the way that people got around. And there really aren't any trains around anymore like this one. We always wanted to make it a little more old fashioned in the sense that you get to know the characters. You kind of get to know them and invest a little in their scenario. And then you throw in the complication. The pacing in this story was always going to be a slow build, almost like a train.
Today's workout mix:
Arcade Fire - Intervention Poi Dog Pondering - Living With The Dreaming Body The Pernice Brothers - PCH One Scarlett Johansson - I Don't Want To Grow Up Dinosaur Jr. - The Wagon Old 97s - Rollerskate Skinny (live) Neko Case - Dirty Knife Mark Eitzel - Free of Harm Belle & Sebastian - The Fox in the Snow The Mountain Goats - Autoclave Lauryn Hill - Every Ghetto, Every City Bettye LaVette - Down to Zero New Pornographers - My Rights Verus Yours (live)
Here's hoping the next 1500 will be as good. Anyway, Quentin Tarantino has finished his long-gestating WWII script Inglorious Bastards. Get your bets down on what past-their-prime star will have their career resuscitated this time around. (Thompson on Hollywood)
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Meet Olivia Thirlby, the young actress most likely to take your (onscreen) virginity. (Entertainment Weekly)
Back in Central Park, Thirlby has managed to get lost. She's trying to find the exact spot where she and her Wackness costar Josh Peck (of Nickelodeon's Drake & Josh fame) filmed their first kiss, one of the film's pivotal moments. Finally, she finds the rock slab where she and Peck smoked (faux) pot and made out under the branches while nearby real kids toked actual ganja. Set in early-'90s New York and accompanied by a booming classic hip-hop soundtrack, The Wackness (costarring Ben Kingsley, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Method Man) is a stylish coming-of-age story in which Thirlby plays a cooler-than-cool high school temptress who's the object of drug dealer Peck's affection. In addition to lots of funny, naturalistic banter, the pair share a series of painfully awkward deflowering scenes — something Thirlby also depicts in Snow Angels and New York, I Love You. ''I actually was being interviewed once and the interviewer was like, 'So is that going to be your new thing: taking people's virginity?' At the time I was, like, totally offended. And then I realized, Oh my God. That's kind of it exactly.''
In news that should upset film bloggers everywhere, Thirlby will not be starring in a "lesbian werewolf" movie called Jack & Diane with Ellen Page. (NY Mag)
Jason Bateman talks a forthcoming Arrested Development movie and the arc of his career. (Times Online)
He has just finished a role in the Hollywood film version of the British TV drama State of Play opposite Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, playing the character of Dominic Foy, the part originally taken by Marc Warren. The director was the Scottish wunderkind Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland).
“In this version Foy is a bisexual fetish club promoter who has some information that Russell's character wants, which he is not willing to give. It's about a 15-page segment of the film and my character goes from A to Z in 15 pages.”
Bateman also confesses that starring in the lead role in films terrifies him and that coming second to someone like Will Smith makes him feel more comfortable. “If I am going to do a comedy, I might be near the top of the call sheet and then if it succeeds or fails, it's going to be down to me. In drama, I am protected by big stars above me. Hancock is Will's film and will do incredibly well. I am lucky to be associated with the cool kids.” He has just signed for the lead role in Extract, the new comedy from Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis & Butthead).
A good set today with some strong older cuts and a couple of promising new ones:
A Tribe Called Quest - Excursions Scarlett Johansson - Falling Down Throwing Muses - Marriage Tree Radiohead - Morning Bell Uncle Tupelo - The Long Cut The Hold Steady - Both Crosses Robert Forster - Demon Days Whiskeytown - Somebody Remembers The Rose (live in-studio) Daniel Lanois - Where Will I Be Nada Surf - Beautiful Beat Bruce Springsteen - The Rising Neko Case - Soulful Shade of Blue The Jody Grind - Circle Joe Henry - Stop
Monday, June 23, 2008
Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney is suing financially strapped distributor THINKFilm because the alledgedly botched the post-Oscar release of Taxi to the Dark Side. THINKFilm disagrees. Valid or not, could Gibney's suit have a chilling effect on small distributors' efforts to push difficult material to the marketplace? (IndieWire)
"ThinkFilm did not disclose to us that the company did not have the financial ability to properly release the picture," Gibney told indieWIRE via email this weekend, in the wake of recent reports of a financial crisis at ThinkFilm (see related indieWIRE article). A copy of X-Ray's complaint to the IFTA, reviewed by indieWIRE, seeks $1 million in damages, payment of legal fees, a termination of its agreement with ThinkFilm, and a return of the film's distribution rights.
Charging that ThinkFilm didnt have the financial resources to properly exploit Gibney's film, the X-Ray complaint contends that ThinkFilm buried the film after its Oscar win and, "jeopardized the success of the film by failing to abide by the terms of contracts it entered into with public relations firms and advisors and failed to pay such firms for work done and expenses incurred." The complaint charges "fraud and intentional and willful breaches of its marketing obligations under the distribution agreement."
A salute to the best one-scene movie performances of all time. Alec Baldwin is deservedly if unsurprisingly on top for Glengarry Glen Ross; William Hurt gets some love further down for his turn in A History of Violence. (AV Club)
Comedian George Carlin has died at age 71. (NY Times)
That early success and celebrity, however, was as dinky and hollow as a gratuitous pratfall to Mr. Carlin. “I was entertaining the fathers and the mothers of the people I sympathized with, and in some cases associated with, and whose point of view I shared,” he recalled later, as quoted in the book “Going Too Far” by Tony Hendra, which was published in 1987. “I was a traitor, in so many words. I was living a lie.”
In 1970, Mr. Carlin discarded his suit, tie, and clean-cut image as well as the relatively conventional material that had catapulted him to the top. Mr. Carlin reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine that, according to one critic, was steeped in “drugs and bawdy language.” There was an immediate backlash. The Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas terminated his three-year contract, and, months later, he was advised to leave town when an angry mob threatened him at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Afterward, he temporarily abandoned the nightclub circuit and began appearing at coffee houses, folk clubs and colleges where he found a younger, hipper audience that was more attuned to both his new image and his material.
Friday, June 20, 2008
An interview with Decemberists drummer John Moen. (Pitchfork)
Pitchfork: It seems like things with the Decemberists have come to a lull. Is this the calm before another storm of activity?
JM: Yes, we've got a bunch going on, actually. There are things we spent some time recording earlier this spring. I don't know how the release will go with that; it was more fun for us, maybe songs that wouldn't fit into the next record so much, things that have been lying around. I can't actually speak to how that will format itself. But at the end of July, we start working on a full record, and that'll be a lot of fun.
Pitchfork: Are those songs written already?
JM: As far as I know. Colin's kind of holed-up working, as far as I can tell.
Pitchfork: Is there another big concept to this album?
From a much longer wrap-up on the Seattle International Film Festival, a takedown of the new adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I'm a Chabon fan but just got around to reading this on my vacation. (House Next Door)
Worst Film: At the end of what may well be the sorriest literary adaptation in many a moon, a title credit appears: Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Pretty soon we get to: Written by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Somewhere in the production credits, this bone of contention arises: Based on the novel by Michael Chabon (although the preceding movie we’ve just watched (in collective stupefaction) was only based on the title of a novel by Michael Chabon); a few more credits flash past, and then we come to it: A film by Rawson Marshall Thurber. At this point, I could no longer contain the whoop of derision that had been building in my craw over most of the past 85 minutes.
“A film” is precisely what Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber hasn’t made of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Chabon’s 1988 debut as a novelist. Rather, Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber has made a complete hash—a motion picture so bad, so utterly at cross-purposes with the novel’s intent, and yet a movie so utterly sure of itself in the deforming liberties it takes as to seem an achievement on par with—what? With Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s trashing of Susan Orlean, perhaps? Well, not quite, because in that instance the makers of Adaptation were openly, quite self-consciously urinating all over The Orchid Thief; by contrast, Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber genuinely appears to believe he has wrought somethin’ fine out of Chabon’s book by grinding it down into a sort of Apatow-esque Garden State 2. Yes, it’s just like revisiting Garden State, only with more nudity, a soupçon of bisexuality (lucky for us Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber sure did get rid of all that gay stuff Chabon wrote about), a rapidly edited montage of hetero anal sex in a bookstore, oh and a jewel heist, followed by a high-octane police car chase with screeching sirens and crunchin’ gravel—yes sirree, Bob, just like at a real movie! Carried off with a straight face and everything. And have I mentioned all the voice-over narration that goes on and on in scene after scene (i.e., “Suddenly my mind went blank”), thereby relieving the actors of any responsibility for acting, as well as abdicating us, the viewers, of any obligation to watch (we can just close our eyes and listen, honey)? On the weight of this evidence, I pronounce Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber the cinema’s first totally non-ironic graduate of the Donald Kaufman School of Acme Screenwriting.
There are no mysteries in Thurber’s Mysteries; those well-observed vicissitudes of Chabon’s that linger in the mind nearly 20 years after reading his book, those haunting, individual qualities that transcend the coming-of-age genre—those have been assiduously sponged clean. Thurber’s movie scarcely seems to have anything to do with Pittsburgh, either; it’s a whitewash that could take place anywhere. And although the story’s purportedly set in 1983, the writer-director’s lone concession to period detail lies in the fact that the three neurasthenic creeps who serve as his main characters do not text one another.
The reviews are in and they're mixed for the Dylan Thomas biopic The Edge of Love, but the film is worth seeing for the combo of Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller. (Greencine/Independent)
Maybury's camera catches the giddy energy of the friends' saloon-bar carousing, but he also finds a visual language for the crosscurrents of tension and jealousy that crackle between them. He shoots through veils and shadows, and sometimes pauses on a face that seems to be stilled by sleep, only to show the eyes surreptitiously alert. In his close-ups, Maybury pays almost ecstatic attention to his leading ladies. I'm not sure Knightley or Miller have ever been more beautifully photographed, and they reward the director with what are, by a long chalk, their best performances. Knightley, freed from the urge to pout, lends a natural poignancy to the intense, unhappy Vera, while Miller looks ripely, raucously alive as a woman who, one suspects, was anything but likeable in reality.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
There's a decent chance I'll have to review the children's film Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, since I think it opens opposite Hancock in a couple of weeks. I try to avoid reading about movies I'm going to review, but Greencine has links to some pieces on the film and it sounds like it might be above average. The director is Patricia Rozema, whose Mansfield Park is second only to Roger Michell's Persuasion on my list of best Jane Austen films.
Juliana Hatfield on her work habits:
I sometimes try to justify my laziness by saying, “An artist needs to be idle so that when an idea alights upon her, she will be receptive, and available — body and soul — to write it down, sketch it, hash it out; capture it.” ”It’s my duty,” I say, “to spend a lot of time lying on my couch, doing nothing; looking out the window, up at the sky, at the birds, at the sunset.” If I were caught up in anything that demanded my attention; demanded that I really participate or engage or care, much, a great idea might pass me by, fluttering away to some other writer who is lying on her couch, waiting for ideas to come to her.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A plausible guess at what happens in the last ten episodes of Battlestar Galactica, and a celebration of how this "half-season" ended up. (American Scene/House Next Door) From HND:
In an episode filled with great moments, the final shot—a highly ambitious tracking shot of the sort that is rarely attempted on TV—was probably the best, starting with a close-up of Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) hand as he holds a clump of irradiated soil, a Geiger counter clicking away mercilessly. The shot moves up to a two-shot of Adama and Roslin (Mary McDonnell), staring out opaquely at what is likely a bleak landscape (McDonnell gets the shot’s only line—“Earth”—and she wrings every drop of bitterness she can out of it). From there, the shot moves past most of the other major characters (I didn’t see Gaeta—Alessandro Juliani—but he’s missing a leg now, so…), obviously on the edge of absolute despair (Aaron Douglas’ Tyrol just offering up a disbelieving and bitter chuckle), finally ending on the face of Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff), so sure of herself and her quest earlier in the season and now seemingly on the verge of tears. Actors move in and out of frame, wander into the background or step into the foreground, even as the camera relentlessly tracks to the right, finally panning off of Starbuck’s face to reveal the crumbling ruins of what appears to be the Brooklyn Bridge (though there’s some dispute about this).
The shot is nothing compared to celebrated tracking shots in films like Children of Men or Atonement, but (unlike in Atonement, especially) the tracking shot serves a greater purpose, neatly laying out all of the relationships between the characters at the season’s midpoint (Adama and Roslin a couple; Lee (Jamie Bamber) wandering from one party to the next, trying to unite them; Tyrol isolated from everyone else, alone in disgust; Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) striking an uneasy first step toward a nuclear family; and on and on) and manages to underline a new change to the series’ status quo—the Cylons and humans have united (they’re all in the same shot, after all), but now that they have, they’ve also united in shock and horror. So how, exactly, do they bounce back from THAT? (It also bears mentioning that this is the sort of ambitious, go-for-broke direction television rarely deals in, preferring, instead, to just get through things quickly and efficiently. Even if it hadn’t worked, you’d have had to give the show points for trying.)
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
Although I will always remember Russert's evisceration of David Duke, his much-remembered interview with Cheney right before the Iraq War, and his nuking of then-candidate Jim DeMint in one of MTP's Senatorial debates (DeMint won anyway),I think there's some truth to this assessment. (Humanizing the Vacuum)
Armond White wishes more gay-themed fiction films would be like the documentary Chris & Don: A Love Story: (NY Press)
“There are no more lovers left alive,” Neil Tennant sang in Pet Shop Boys’ “Dreaming of the Queen” (1993), a lament for AIDS devastation that distinguished itself from ordinary threnodies by recognizing a certain alienation and inhospitality that settled upon the world—especially gay culture—ever since. That song resonates through two new documentaries, Derek by Isaac Julien and Chris & Don: A Love Story by Guido Santi and Tina Mascara. Both are elegies to gay cultural figures, British filmmaker Derek Jarman and British novelist Christopher Isherwood, but they also uniquely chronicle lives of affection and rebellion—personalities that are rarely found in the gay films that break into today’s mainstream. These gay documentaries show more loving than today’s gay film fiction.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Today's workout mix (note repeat from yesterday and another Ryan Adams rock block):
Liz Phair - Dance Of The Seven Veils Whiskeytown - Houses On The Hill Ryan Adams - English Girls Approximately Ryan Adams - These Girls Avett Brothers - Hard Worker M. Ward - Chinese Translation New Pornographers - To Wild Homes Neko Case - That Teenage Feeling Vampire Weekend - M79 Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova - Falling Slowly Tift Merritt - I Know What I'm Looking For Now B-52's - Roam She & Him - Take It Back Luna - Great Jones Street New Pornographers - My Rights Versus Yours
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
So the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired was on HBO this week; there's been a good deal of publicity about a last-minute change to the film's ending. The original ending stated that Polanski was offered a chance to return to the U.S. with no further jail time but would be required to appear in a televised courtroom hearing. After an objection from the L.A. Superior Court, the closing titles of the film were changed to read that Polanski declined to return to the States because he feared his court appearance would be on TV. Now Polanski's lawyer and the D.A. who handled the case (who both appear in the film) have weighed in on the side of the filmmaker. (Indie Eye)
I'm not going to make this what-was-on-my-iPod stuff a habit, if only because I think this blogger is doing it so well. Still, I thought this was a weirdly midtempo set for a morning power walk.
Colin Meloy - The Gymnast, High Above the Ground (live) New Pornographers - Three or Four Ryan Adams - Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part Ryan Adams - English Girls Approximately Steve Earle - Days Aren't Long Enough Throwing Muses - Bright Yellow Gun Broken Social Scene - Lover's Spit New Pornographers - Jackie Erasure - A Little Respect Kathleen Edwards - 12 Bellevue Josh Ritter - Empty Hearts Replacements - Alex Chilton
Novelist/blogger Cory Doctorow on his new Little Brother and giving his work away under the Creative Commons license: (AV Club)
Here's my review of Little Brother
It's funny, because the received wisdom is that the great big giant publisher Tor—which is a division of Macmillan, a division of Holtzbrinck, one of the largest publishing empires in the world—those guys are going to be the big faceless corporate machine that will never see reason. But it turns out that the tiny nimble independent presses are actually more scared, because an individual book for them is a bigger deal than for Tor, and Tor has more room to explore. With the first short-story collection, they said, "Let's only do seven of the nine stories as free downloads," and I think it would have been better if we'd released all nine of them. And the second time, we released the nine stories as nine separate files, instead of in one single file. I think it actually made things more complicated, made it harder for people to figure out what to download. It just wasn't as good. If I had it to do over again, I would have made those single files.
Here's my review of Little Brother
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A piece worth reading: why independent TV producers are disappearing and how quarterlife might be the last gasp. (The Nation)
Having turned to the Internet as an alternative distribution venue, Zwick and Herskovitz did finally return to the regular TV fold. Quarterlife was picked up for broadcast during the writers' strike, and the episode fragments were cobbled together and censored slightly for broadcast by NBC in February. Despite a putatively strong lead-in, The Biggest Loser, quarterlife earned the lowest 10 pm Tuesday rating recorded by NBC in seventeen years. Why any programmer would imagine a gimmicky reality show about dieting fat people to be a terrific lead-in for a talky drama featuring mostly anorexic girls is a mystery. In any case, quarterlife quickly migrated to the cablecaster Bravo, where it ran just once as a marathon. Zwick and Herskovitz have made niche programming all along, never ratings grabbers for a mass audience, so a small cable channel may well have been the best place for them. But Bravo's bread and butter is reality shows, and it's likely that viewers preferred the bona fide, talented young artists of Project Runway to quarterlife's supposedly artistic kids endlessly circling their problems. Could this be Auf Wiedersehen to the last of the independents?
Emmylou Harris on her writing process and working with other musicians. (Pitchfork)
Pitchfork: You seem like a very generous collaborator, which may explain why so many people gravitate toward you.
EH: I think most musicians tend to be generous. It just starts with that jam, people sitting around trading songs, playing on each other's stuff, singing harmony. I found that out the first time I ever met a group of musicians and sat around playing music all night. It's like, yeah, this is what I want to do. I like this! I don't think that I'm unusual in that sense. And of course, I've benefited from all the different people that I've met and worked with. I really believe that music is all about collaboration. Only so many people can make a record of just them and their guitar, and do that for the rest of their lives. I don't think I could do that, anyway, but I wouldn't choose to. For me, a lot of the inspiration comes from what songs a musician will play, or what a group of people getting together can come up with, all around a song. That's the way it's always happened for me.
...it should have happened already. Really, Dennis Kucinich? Really? (Raw Story)
An Ohio Democratic lawmaker and former presidential candidate has presented articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush to Congress.
Thirty-five articles were presented by Rep. Dennis Kucinich to the House of Representatives late Monday evening, airing live on C-SPAN.
"The House is not in order," said Kucinich to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), upon which Pelosi pounded her gavel.
"Resolved," Kucinich then began, "that President George W. Bush be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate. ...
...gets political. This interview contains spoilers for War, Inc.. (Greencine)
Then you have some people who say the tone of it is way over the top or it's five years too late or it's five years too early or you can't mix all these tones and styles together and it's a failure. So you have this chasm between movie critics and people who write about the world from a different perspective and the chasm is pretty extraordinary. So we have plenty of supporters out there for it, but we've also had people who have said the movie goes soft and it's a happy ending. And I think, "Are you even watching the same film?" If that's a happy ending...
Monday, June 09, 2008
A review of a new documentary about the late director Derek Jarman, featuring contributions from his friend/muse Tilda Swinton. (NY Times)
The personality that emerges is that of a defiantly cheerful rebel with a self-deprecating sense of humor and nothing to hide. The first movie he remembers seeing was “The Wizard of Oz,” which so terrified him it remained etched in his consciousness forever. “La Dolce Vita” was another revelation. The first feature film he made, “Sebastiane” in 1976, scandalized Britain with its explicit homoeroticism. Mr. Jarman was attracted to Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” which he filmed 1979, because the play, in his view, is about uncovering a secret world.
Friday, June 06, 2008
An interview with one of the busiest film bloggers around, Greencine Daily's David Hudson. (DVD Panache)
EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'I'm guessing it'd be Mary Poppins. I don't know if I saw it during its initial run (I would have been five years old when it was released in August 1964), but I do remember that it was an event. I had some sort of tiny plastic model of Mary Poppins, umbrella aloft, that would rise and fall when you put it in a glass of water, thanks to some fizzy stuff in there. What I do remember is this: A teacher mentioned in class (kindergarten, maybe?; then again, movies would run forever back then) that the kids had to run up the stairs to the bank (or *down* the stairs *from* the bank?; hey, it's been decades) over and over again before they got it right. And it was a revelation to me, my first inkling of what it took to make a movie. They (whoever "they" were) don't just point a camera, shoot and move on. Evidently, this whole movie-making thing was hard work.'
Clint Eastwood on Dirty Harry, politics, and Spike Lee: (Guardian)
Lee shouldn't be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood's next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city's make-up was changed by the large black influx. "What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin' story about that?" he growls. "Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I'm not in that game. I'm playing it the way I read it historically, and that's the way it is. When I do a picture and it's 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people."
Eastwood pauses, deliberately - once it would have provided him with the beat in which to spit out his cheroot before flinging back his poncho - and offers a last word of advice to the most influential black director in American movies. "A guy like him should shut his face."
...the original Donnie Darko, but what the bleep is up with S. Darko? This now-shooting sequel has the blessing of absolutely no one involved with the original (actress Daveigh Chase is returning in the title role). That doesn't matter, says star Briana Evigan: (MTV)
In the original flick, it was Donnie who had all the fun. This time around, the characters of Corey and Donnie's little sister, Samantha (a returning Daveigh Chase), will be on a road trip to Los Angeles, and both will be harnessing the hallucinations and time-travel abilities that once plagued Samantha's older brother.
"I have the power too," Evigan explained. "I'm [Samantha Darko's] best friend. ... In ways, with me and her, it's like two girls on a road trip. It's a really cool, fun script. But it's darker, and I hope everybody understands it."
Calling the script "very twisted," the 21-year-old actress also said that "S. Darko" will interact with the events of the original film, à la the "Back to the Future" sequels. "We just come back [in time] and change what happened in the first one."
In addition to Kelly, the film is progressing without any participation from "Donnie Darko" stars Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore or Jena Malone. One character that does return, however, is Frank the giant rabbit guy.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
NP is taping a short clip to promote a youth village for orphans of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. (AFP/photo by Mark Abrahams)
"The American film star is currently in Rwanda shooting a film on the genocide," an official close to the ministry of culture told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The young Hollywood star arrived quietly in the genocide-scarred central African country earlier this week.
Israeli media has reported that the clip she is shooting about the new village will be aired in a few weeks on the Oprah Winfrey Show, America's best-rated television programme.
The village, funded by American Jewish donors, will be developed along the lines of Israeli youth villages created for orphaned Holocaust survivors.
It is due to be inaugurated in August.
Where does John Cusack go from here? (Slate)
I wouldn't be surprised to see Cusack emerge as a writer, and not only of his own screenplays, over the next decade: Look at his astute dissection of George W. Bush as "the young John Wayne … Ethan from The Searchers" in a discussion with Naomi Klein on the Huffington Post (to which he is an occasional contributor). As part of the promotion for War Inc., Cusack was the respondent to this month's back-page "Proust Questionnaire" in Vanity Fair (a difficult-to-navigate exercise in calculated self-disclosure that seems designed to make even the wittiest respondent sound like a fatuous dullard). Asked for his personal motto, Cusack cites a Yugoslavian proverb that might serve as an emblem for his whole career: "Tell the truth and run."
An interview with Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, architect of the famed "Moneyball" strategy and a man not afraid to trade away talented players. (Athletics Nation)
Blez: How tough was it for you to trade a guy like Swisher knowing that he has a couple of the traits the A’s covet the most in a hitter: power and patience? He’s also one of your favorite personalities.
Beane: It was a tough phone call. I remember exactly where I was when I called him and he was shocked. It was tough. We had a long conversation. I did like Nick. He’s a good kid that had a lot of personality that fans saw and we saw. How he is on the field is exactly how he is in the clubhouse. He always had a smile and a lot of energy. From a playing standpoint, he had the power and the patience. We knew we were giving that up, but the thing about this winter is that there were never any illusions that we weren’t giving up good players. We were essentially giving up a couple of good players to get a lot of really good young players. These guys are both in the prime of their careers. But in short, it was one of the most difficult calls I’ve ever had to make from a trade standpoint, if not the most difficult call.
Should you buy the new Radiohead compilation, assembled by their old label? Their new self-releasing career path may mark the end of an era. (Pitchfork)
Radiohead's purposeful retreat from the spotlight-- leaving Capitol Records; the patronage-like, "we leak, you pay" pricing policy that accompanied the announcement of In Rainbows-- returned them briefly to the headlines but did little to place their actual music in the public consciousness on any grand, communicative scale. ("Bodysnatchers" was a semi-hit on modern rock radio.) Less than a decade after Radiohead invigorated critics and many listeners by becoming one of the few contemporary bands willing to both strive to reach a mass audience and cast its eyes to the corners and cracks of the pop landscape, they had become another niche group in a world full of them.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
(Part of a continuing series in which I review films suggested to me by my fellow blogger and personal Minister of Culture)
I came to Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control (1997, d. Errol Morris) familiar with the work and style of Errol Morris. His The Thin Blue Line was celebrated for freeing an innocent man in a Texas murder case and the Oscar-winning The Fog of War got Robert McNamara to open up (sort of) and talk about Vietnam. My favorite (and the most disturbing) Morris film is Mr. Death, the story of a man who designs electric chairs and becomes involved (or sucked in) to the nonsense of professional Holocaust denier David Irving. Morris's current film, Standard Operating Procedure, is an examination of U.S. abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the meaning of the notorious photos that emerged.
Next to those weighty topics, Fast, Cheap can't help but seem like a minor work or something undertaken while waiting for the funding for another project to emerge. The film is a profile of four men with unusual jobs: a lion tamer, a scientist who designs robots, a man who has maintained a topiary garden for decades, and a specialist in the African mole rat (a weird-looking furless creature that I'm surprised didn't get a cameo in the latest Indiana Jones movie) Over the course of 82 minutes, each of the men talk at length about their crafts and succeed in giving some insight that wouldn't be obvious to the casual observer. Morris intercuts the narration with footage ranging from close-ups of mole rat life to clips of an old 1930's Hollywood serial starring Clyde Beatty, the animal trainer in whose circus one of the four interviewees (Dave Hoover) has spent his life.
The images on screen don't always match the person talking; for example, we see scenes of the circus while hearing about mole rats. I couldn't help but think Morris was striving for some connection between his four subjects but I can't say that I felt any organic connection or sensed anything more at work than directorial imposition. Each of the interviewees is charming and engaging in their own right, but what keeps Fast, Cheap in the realm of diversion is the fact that Morris's talking head aren't really united by anything more than the eccentric ways they spend their lives. We get no information about any of the men's personal lives, and thus no sense of how much of their time is devoted to their peculiar occupations.
When did we start to fetishize eccentricity, to use it for own entertainment? A decade ago there were fewer people making films like Morris. Now it's not only easier to make your own documentaries about balloon bending artists or whatever else, but shows like This American Life (radio & tv versions) get mileage out of framing first-person monologues against musical scores and wry narration. The blog BoingBoing (and other imitators) is a clearinghouse for the odd, kitschy, and gadgety. Videos of people making fools of themselves are passed around offices as coffee-break fodder. Errol Morris never mocks his subjects, but Fast, Cheap heralds what has become a torrent of using the work of micro-obsessives for our own enjoyment.
Inspired by this discussion, I'll pose the question: What movies do you wish you had never watched. There are all kinds of criteria for judging these things, but I'll stick primarily to artistic. If you really want to know why I hate these films, speak up in the comments section. (Obsidian Wings)
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Why isn't Ken Griffey Jr.'s rookie baseball card worth more? (Slate/Kottke)
Given the number of Griffey cards in circulation, there have long been rumors of an illicit reason for the card's ubiquity. Upper Deck, the legend goes, knew that printing the cards was just like printing money. As such, there was a sheet the company could run with 100 Griffey cards on it, instead of the standard sheet that had just one Griffey in the top corner along with 99 pictures of other players.
"If that existed, I never saw it," says Buzz Rasmussen, Upper Deck's plant manager at the time. Rob Veres of Burbank Sportscards, a memorabilia dealership with a warehouse of 30 million cards, says that if Griffeys were produced in greater quantity than other cards, he would've expected to come across larger collections of the card.
I try to only drink these sugar-loaded things when I really need to; right before a performamce or an extra-long shift at work. Here's confirmation of how bad those big "juice" cans, energy drinks, and fortified water really are for you. (Men's Health)
A review of Robert Forster's The Evangelist, the new solo album from one-half of the Go-Betweens. The other principal Go-Between, Grant McLennan, died in 2006; McLennan is credited as co-writer on three Evangelist tracks. (Pitchfork)
It's impossible to listen to Forster's The Evangelist without thinking of McLennan, but to his credit Forster has designed it that way. Three songs were in fact co-written with McLennan, bequeathed to Forster to reveal to the world and break our hearts all over again. "Demon Days" in particular works eerily like a self-penned eulogy, something that Forster was quite aware of: "I played it a couple of days after he died," recalled Forster in a recent interview in The Age, "and it was an extraordinary moment because I was the only other person who knew this song existed and I've got this thing, this masterpiece, which is so fragile, because if I'd died three days after him, the song wouldn't exist."
Monday, June 02, 2008
Would you read more sci-fi or fantasy if the books weren't so darn long? I think I would. Click through for a link to a piece on the late Robert Jordan, whose Wheel of Time series I sold for over a decade and never cracked once. (Ross Douthat)
Too long absent director Whit Stillman (Barcelona, Metropolitan) provides a list of five favorite film books, including some I've never heard of. (Wall St. Journal)
3. When the Shooting Stops . . . the Cutting Begins
By Ralph Rosenblum and Robert Karen
The dourest of men, Ralph Rosenblum was the editorial genius behind many of the great modern film comedies, including the first films of Woody Allen, Herb Gardiner and Mel Brooks. Rosenblum's account of the editing-room transformation of "The Producers," "Take the Money and Run" and "Annie Hall" is a film education in itself and a counterweight to the usual debate over the primacy of either script or direction. Rosenblum's bête noire is the cult of the film director. In his memoir only three directors -- Allen, Gardiner and Sidney Lumet (the first two also writers and so more tolerably "auteurs") -- come off well. "The myth that the director is the sole creator of his film is a burden on almost everyone in the movie business, including the director," he and co-author Robert Karen write. Particularly revealing is Rosenblum's description of how the beautiful ending to "Annie Hall" -- when Allen, as Alvy Singer, muses on the absurdity and necessity of romantic love -- was concocted in a taxi and recorded in a sound booth barely an hour before a key audience screening.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Much of the critical and public response to the new Sex and the City film seems to impute a kind of spiritual ugliness to Carrie and her gal pals, from web sites that cruelly malign Sarah Jessica Parker's looks to the caricature that accompanied Anthony Lane's recent New Yorker review of the film. Most television-to-film adaptations are greeted with a sort of "Oh no, not this again" shrug of the shoulders and grumbling about how no one has new ideas in Hollywood, but there's something else at work here. We (or some of us anyway) don't just want the movie to fail - if possible we want the ladies to look stupid too.
Let's calm down for a second. In fact, Sex and the City the movie isn't substantial enough to be anything more than the lightest of entertainments for women friends looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon. The audience I saw laughed appreciatively at Carrie & Cos. banter and gasped when Steve revealed his infidelity. When the alternatives at the box office are the dusty fedora of Indiana Jones and the geek chic of Iron Man, who can blame such a huge segment of the audience for wanting a little counterprogramming? In the movie's own terms, it asks us to bask in the world of "love and labels" for a too-long two and a half hours.
In fact Sex and the City has about as much to do with the lives of the women watching it as Iron Man does with international relations. The film is in fact deeply insulting to women and lacks even a quarter of the charm of the television show, which at least gave the characters room to enjoy themselves. The naked neediness of Carrie and Samantha in particular for material goods and relationships in which they are simultaneously completely autonomous and emotionally and economically babied is offputting. Miranda and Charlotte, whose lives were more settled at the end of the TV series, fare slightly better but not much. (Don't get me started on Carrie's "sassy" assistant Louise, played by Jennifer Hudson. Louise wants everything Carrie has and more, and obviously spent a great deal of time watching SATC DVDs before moving to New York.)
The low point comes when Mr. Big (a bored Chris Noth) pulls out of his high-society wedding to Carrie with a severe case of cold feet. Carrie and the gals retreat to Mexico where, in a scene that is making Barbara Stanwyck's ghost throw up right now, Carrie takes to her bed and has to be fed like a baby. Carrie's blues continue for months until an unhappy Valentine's Day dinner with Miranda (the two are mistaken for lesbians, ha ha!) at which Carrie reveals that she is now blaming herself for Big's emotional unavailability. Really, Carrie? Sure the guest list may have gotten a little big, but how is it your fault that your twice-divorced man can't get over his own baggage? You'll recall that in the TV series, Carrie bailed on her wedding to Aiden for definite but not articulated very well reasons. I can't help wonder if any longtime fans of the show are disheartened to see her blaming the fact that she was asked to pose for Vogue for her marriage's cancellation.
As for Kim Cattrall's Samantha, on TV she was the member of the foursome who spent the most time unabashedly enjoying sexual freedom before finally getting a cancer storyline and hunky doting lover Smith (Jason Lewis) to help her through it. The big-screen Samantha is living a rather joyless existence in Los Angeles, jetting back to New York City at every opportunity, and working to further Smith's acting career while ogling her hot next door neighbor. She pulls the same outrageous stunts that fans will remember from the series, but this time there's a been-here-before feeling. The end of the series had Samantha settling into a potentially interesting new way of life; the film has her chafing to get back to her old ways but never gives her a chance to do so. It's a curious waste of time in a film that has plenty.
What all of this spending, striving, and self-laceration adds up to is a movie with familiar characters who have all (with the exception of Kristin Davis's Charlotte) been turned into people that I don't like very much. As a commenter in this Cinematical post suggests, this is no doubt a function of the need to make a film that reaches as large an audience as possible. But Sex and the City the movie betrays what was best about the series, four women friends negotiating their way through the dating wilds of Manhattan not caring a whit what was expected. In the series, Carrie's shoe fetish was treated as an occasional splurge-worthy indulgence while in the film the Manolo Blahnik bag might as well be attached to her hand. The (mostly) female audiences will no doubt continue to enjoy Sex and the City through the rest of the summer, but they deserve a movie that's about more than just the shoes.
Tyra Banks' energy, forward-thinking, good intentions, and slightly weird belief in her own abilty to change people's lives have put her in the Oprah/Martha league. (NY Times/photo by Ruven Afanador)
Banks is not unconditional in her affection for the girls in her audience — she expects them (especially on “Top Model”) to apply themselves with vigor and to follow her example. It is not an accident that Banks posed with a sharp-looking cane in the last series of “Top Model” print ads and that her favorite word is “fierce.” Her message of optimism, reinforced by a heavy dose of discipline, has given her show one of the youngest demographics in daytime television. While about half of the viewers that Oprah attracts are 50 and older, 65 percent of Banks’s are under 50, and she especially embraces and influences a particular sector — young girls from high school to age 34. Both “Top Model” and “The Tyra Banks Show” are consistently near the top of that category and attract more than 13 million total viewers weekly, a larger overall audience than, say, “The View” or “Late Show With David Letterman.”
A report from the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee Meeting: (The New Republic)
...the Hillary protesters are occupying an utterly alternate (and healing-free) universe: a universe in which one of the big lawn rally's speakers yells that the Democratic Party no longer is in the business of "promoting equality and fairness for all"; in which a Hillary supporter with two poodles shouts, "Howard Dean is a leftist freak!"; in which a man exhibits a sign that reads "At least slaves were counted as 3/5ths a Citizen" and shows Dean whipping handcuffed people; and in which Larry Sinclair, the Minnesota man who took to YouTube to allege that Barack Obama had oral sex with him in the back of a limousine in 1999, is one of the belles of the ball.
"They almost made me cry this morning when they told me to get out of there," the blond Sinclair--who's looking roly-poly and giddy in a blue-and-white striped shirt with a pack of Marlboros protruding from the breast pocket--says, referring to several nervous protest organizers who tried to evict him when he first showed up at the rally site early this morning carrying a box of "Obama's DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS: Murder, Drugs, Gay Sex" fliers. Since then, though, he goes on, "I have been totally surprised by the reception I have received!"
He's not kidding. Clusters of people in Hillary shirts ask to take their photo with him, one woman covered in Clinton buttons introduces him to Greta Van Susteren, and he estimates he has handed out 500 fliers. "You could improve your credibility if you downplayed the gay sex and focused on the drugs," sagely advises one Hillary supporter with auburn hair and elegant makeup. But in this universe, Sinclair's credibility doesn't seem to be suffering too much. In fact, he's treated nearly as well as he might be at a meeting of the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy. In the thirty minutes I stand with him, only one woman expresses disgust at his fliers and his willingness to chattily discourse on whether Obama is "good in bed."