Thursday, July 31, 2008

Critic crisis

I'm starting to almost feel bad that no one has left a comment about my Dark Knight review. (Filmbrain)

In his pan of the film, Armond White opens with the line, "Every generation has a right to its own Batman." Though he hated the film's "hip, nihilistic tendencies," I think this is precisely why the film has stuck so deep a chord with so many, for The Dark Knight addresses the zeitgeist of our post-9/11 world, but does so without the annoying complexity of real-world issues. There's no ideology, or clash of cultures/religion at play here — the Joker is unquestionably a terrorist and Batman unquestionably good, even though he occasionally employs methods that are ethically/legally questionable. (Sound familiar?) What the film does do well is capture this new age of anxiety in which we live, and its nihilism is perfectly suited to these dark times. With a senseless war being fought overseas, an imaginary war on terror at home, and a collapsing economy to boot, people seem to be taking comfort in the film, and, judging by some of the comments I've read, its effect has been outright cathartic. How else to explain such vitriol when faced with a negative review?


Tim Russert's newly graduated son gets on-air job at NBC. (NY Observer)

Hayes Carll

Robert Christgau reviews alt-country comer Hayes Carll. (NPR)


Note to self: read something by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. His new nonfiction book on running was just excerpted in the New Yorker and his Norwegian Wood is going to be filmed. (Kottke, Switchblade Comb)

Melissa Leo

Melissa Leo is getting lots of early Oscar talk for the indie Frozen River, and she's been in plenty of other supporting and guest roles over the years (21 Grams and The L Word to name just two). Like most of her fans I'll always remember her from Homicide: Life On The Street. (NY Times)

The role that put her on the map, though, was in the groundbreaking NBC police drama “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Always in man-tailored pants but sporting a curly, light-red mane halfway down her back, Ms. Leo’s wry, sardonic cop, Kay Howard, was the squad’s avenging angel. Ms. Leo appeared in 76 episodes from 1993 to ’97, only to have network executives replace her with a series of more glamorous female characters. Fans still gripe about this on the Internet. At the time she issued a statement saying she was “surprised and saddened,” adding, “There were not enough women like Kay on TV, and now there are none.”

Escovedo on Reed

I just became a fan of Alejandro Escovedo and his new CD Real Animal. While rock and strings have never fit together perfectly for me, I love the way that Escovedo uses the violin of Susan Voelz. He talks about strings and more in this interview. (Exclaim)

Q: First, name something you consider a mind-altering work of art?

A: I’d have to say as far as music is concerned, Street Hassle, by Lou Reed. That was probably the record that really turned my musical taste and what I knew of music around. I realized when I had been working with strings, that it was that record that really opened the door for what we would eventually develop. Without that record, it’d have been a much more difficult thing to find. Lou Reed’s pursuits as far as creating art out of rock’n’roll was something that not a lot of artists have done on the level that he has accomplished, from the Velvet Underground on. Experimentally that was the kind of piece of art that changed my mind and my life and my whole perspective on nearly everything.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wilco - "Impossible Germany"

Wilco came up a couple of times today, in the Pelecanos playlist I linked to and in this discussion of post-The Band "Americana" at HND. The same post also hypes Fleet Foxes, look for me in the comments! Anyway, for karma's sake here's a performance:

Playing in Heidi Klum's yard

NP on this week's Project Runway

Mike Mills... not the bass player for R.E.M. The artist/director talks about careerism, The Dark Knight, and the power of the Web. (IFC)

Q: Then as a voice from the periphery, do you think enough of the talented D.I.Y. artists around you are getting noticed in this age of information overload?

A: I don't know. It's funny now how much we look at -- whatever you want to call it: art, design, culture stuff, film -- online, and how in the online world, you're instantly global. It's hard to differentiate what's big and what's not, which [deserves] credit and what doesn't. So it does create this huge democratization of a platform. I have no idea about the bigger picture -- is it easier or better for people to get exposed, or is it just flattening everything out? In a way, that's something I try not to think about too much as a creative maker because it confuses and distracts.


A playlist from novelist/screenwriter (The Wire) George Pelecanos. Two highlights: (Paper Cuts)

5) Impossible Germany, by Wilco. I haven’t always gone along on Jeff Tweedy’s experimental ride, but this song is flat-out majestic. Nels Cline’s solo, comprising the last three minutes of the track, alternately soars and shreds.

10) Self Destructive Zones, by Drive-by Truckers. From the rock band of the decade, an exemplary cut off their latest, “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Best Blog Post of the Day # 3

"Where The Girls Are" (SpoutBlog - suggested subtitle: "How Aeon Flux gave us Jamie King and Rose McGowan")

There was nothing like an old-school Gale Hurd production at this year’s Comic-Con. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that Hurd has not produced a female-fronted film since 2005’s box office disaster Aeon Flux (which Hurd insisted over the weekend she is “still very proud of) is directly related to the rise of a kind of starlet like King in these kinds of films. The respective talents and accomplishments of these two women are simply not compatible with each other. What we’re seeing is the ghettoization of the female action star to below-the-title, near-disposable status.

...The idea of making a film where women actually look sexy, fight crime and are given the agency of real human beings isn’t even on the minds of those filmmakers who have done it before. At his Terminator press conference, McG recalled that his first film, Charlie’s Angels, was about “breaking down the glass ceiling” to prove that women could front a successful action film. “But I’m a different filmmaker now.” Because that mission was accomplished, or because your incompetent sequel convinced all around that there was no future in it?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Just because Garden State is on TV....

That's Mr. Duvall


Some love for Robert Duvall. (In Contention)

“There are two greats in America right now. The first is Brando, whose best work is behind him, and the other is Robert Duvall.”

Legendary acting guru Sanford Meisner said those words in the 1960s. He trained Robert Duvall at the Nieghborhood Playhouse in the late 1950s and early 1960s before the actor’s screen debut in “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the children’s boogey man and savior Boo Radley. In the years since, Duvall has given some of the greatest performances captured on film, yet stands in his seventies now with just a single Oscar to his credit, a Best Actor trophy for his country and western singer in 1980’s “Tender Mercies.”

More Oasis, please

What's The Hold Steady listening to? (NY Times)

Dept. of Stuff I Was Looking For

Orange Crate Art helpfully provides the piece of Frank O'Hara read last night on Mad Men. House Next Door has their usual excellent recap.

Weiner and co. cleverly use the famous Jackie Kennedy telecast as the jumping-off point for a montage that brings us up to date on a few more of our favorites: Paul ain’t the only one with a new beard, and Salvatore’s seems just as spunky as Lois but a lot better looking. We get a glimpse of Joan with her doctor boyfriend (in a vignette which lends fuel to my suspicion that she doesn’t really enjoy sex at all), while Pete, somewhat unsurprisingly, spends the night on the couch watching a science fiction movie. (His family ain’t as rich as they used to be, but surely he could do better by Trudy than a box of chocolates from Schrafft’s, the 1962 equivalent of one purchased at Duane Reade).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

It's not quite that bad?

Phillip Lopate isn't quite as down on the state of film critics as everyone else is. (Film In Focus)

The current fear that film critics are an endangered species certainly has legitimate roots, given recent layoffs in the print media and skepticism that a shift to the internet can sustain the past's standards of quality or provide practitioners with a living wage. However, before panic sets in about whether the field is dying, it would do well to consider the larger picture — where film criticism has come from, and what patterns are suggested by that history.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Michael Atkinson goes off re The Dark Knight: (Zero for Conduct)

The Dark Knight epitomizes the problem specifically not by simply being a Caped Crusader trifle masquerading as Paradise Lost, but because it failed to do the simplest things movies have always done: tell a fucking story. The film is quite literally one violent set-piece followed by a 20-second snatch of exposition, to explain what significance the set-piece is supposed to have, repeated again and again and again, for over 2.5 interminable hours. Stories require character and incidents that happen to those characters and decisions those characters have to make, and us watching them make those decisions, and then the tragic/triumphant/ironic result of those decisions. The Dark Knight runs along literally like a series of disconnected cabaret acts, with what passes for narrative happening off-screen most of the time, and the ample screentime remaining filled up with chases and fights so haphazardly shot and cut you can’t tell where anybody is or what’s going on. We hardly see Bruce Wayne, the Joker (yes, Heath Ledger was fascinating) has no backstory or motivation, plot holes loomed like event horizons (sure, you evacuated that hospital), dialogue scenes never lasted more than a few seconds – in other words, anything that might substantiate the film as dramatic material fit for adults was almost completely elided.

What about the drum solo ?

Rush plays "Tom Sawyer" Rock Band-style. (Laughing Squid)

Sundayish Music: Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes perform "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Best Blog Post of the Day # 2

Roger Ebert puts Sneak Previews/Siskel & Ebert/Ebert & Roeper to rest.

The day we fully realized it in our guts, I think, was the first time we were invited to appear with Johnny Carson. We were scared out of our minds. We'd been briefed on likely questions by one of the show's writers, but moments before airtime he popped his head into the dressing room and said, "Johnny may ask you for some of your favorite movies this year."

Gene and I stared at each other in horror. "What was one of your favorite movies this year?" he asked me. "Gone With the Wind," I said. The Doc Severinsen orchestra had started playing the famous "Tonight Show" theme. Neither one of us could think of a single movie. Gene called our office in Chicago. "Tell me some movies we liked this year," he said. This is a true story.

We began to catch on. Jack Nicholson told Gene, "Harry Dean Stanton called me and said there were a couple of guys discussing movies on TV and they didn't even look like they should be on TV." We didn't. Tall and thin, short and fat. Laurel and Hardy. We were parodied on SNL and by Bob Hope and Danny Thomas and, the ultimate honor, in the pages of Mad magazine.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Good casting news

Mia Wasikowska was the reason I kept watching In Treatment, I praised her work earlier this year. Now Wasikowsska has been cast in the title role of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Historic site in disrepair

A campaign to save England's Bletchley Park, site of the Allies' WWII codebreaking effort. (BBC)

More than 100 academics have signed a letter to The Times saying the code-cracking centre and crucible of the UK computer industry deserves better.

They say Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, should be put on a secure financial basis like other "great museums".

"We cannot allow this crucial and unique piece of both British and World heritage to be neglected in this way," the letter to The Times said.

Black Kids

A review of Black Kids' new Partie Traumatic, a CD I discovered when they somehow managed to acquire prime retail space at a large retail store where I work (we'll call it Circuit Buy). (AV Club)

None of it is revolutionary, and all of it is so steeped in early-'80s new wave that it's tempting to dismiss Black Kids as mere revivalists. But their revisions have verve.

Nudity, and rumors of nudity

The first poster for Diablo Cody's Jennifer's Body is out...(First Showing)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A lone voice

The "first critic to pan" The Dark Knight responds to his critics. (The Projectionist)

Fun! Fun! After nine years of anonymous fanboy attacks at Slate whenever I dared to criticize a masterwork like The Mummy Returns (“I only wish harm to you and your family”), I figured I’d finally escaped the rabid nerd hordes. But they seem to have arrived here en masse — maybe thanks to a Web headline somewhere branding me the author of “the first negative review of The Dark Knight.” (There have been other negative reviews since.) Comments below the review here and elsewhere have struck similar chords:

(1) I am “an idiot trying to make a name for himself” and get “hits for his site.”
(2) I am a pretentious prick.
(3) I am a fag.
(4) It's not New York, it's Chicago, fool.
(5) My reason for criticizing The Dark Knight is that it is “too dark” when everyone knows that Batman is supposed to be dark.
(6) The idea that Heath Ledger went to a bad place to play the Joker shows a dim understanding of actors’ craft.
(7) May God have mercy on my soul.

Trailer hype

If you're looking forward to Watchmen, don't you want more than just visuals? (The American Scene)

Best Blog Post of the Day

I linked to this in the Dark Knight review earlier, but it deserves more attention:

"The Dark Nought" (Humanizing the Vacuum)

Do the Shuffle #9

  • The Avett Brothers - Souls Like The Wheels
  • The Connells - Get A Gun
  • Steve Earle - Come Home To Me
  • Mike Doughty - Put It Down
  • Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine
  • The New Pornographers - Letter From An Occupant
  • Arcade Fire - Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
  • The Mountain Goats - Michael Myers Resplendent
  • Lucinda Williams - Crescent City
  • Sun Kil Moon - Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes
  • Belly - Gepetto
  • Rilo Kiley - Dejalo
  • Neko Case - Deep Red Bells
  • The Avett Brothers - The Greatest Sum
  • Taj Mahal - EZ Rider (live)
  • The Dark Knight

    Before I get to some specific comments on The Dark Knight, can we please stop with the nonsense (see Denby's New Yorker review) that playing the role of the Joker had something to do with Heath Ledger's death? There's no evidence to support such a claim, and writing something about how Ledger's performance "looked into the abyss" betrays a real lack of understanding about an actor's process. I have my issues with the Cult of Heath Ledger; were these fans wearing Joker makeup wearing Ledger's costumes outside Brokeback Mountain or (shudder) The Order? But that's a subject for another post.

    Heath Ledger's performance certainly keeps TDK from being a crashing bore; Christopher Nolan's dour film is overlong and far too stuffed with plot. I think it's guilty of imposing some themes on the material as opposed to exploring the evolution of its title character. Every facial tic and vocal inflection of Ledger's pulls us right into the heart of classic Batman mythology: a lone, slightly loopy, warrior driven to expunge the city's grotesquely exaggerated criminal element. Yet except for a couple of jolts I was never really scared by the Joker. It's not Ledger's fault, he does as much as anyone could have expected with the role. But the Joker isn't a fully fleshed out character, he's a walking representation of the idea that Batman's heroics are only a step away from madness. The Dark Knight isn't the first film to point out that the obsessiveness and solitude a hero requires can make them a litte scary, but the idea that Batman is only heroic relative to the Joker doesn't come off at all. If that's true then why is the city overrun with Batman imitators?

    I read somewhere that TDK "exposes" Christian Bale as an actor. (Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance exposes Katie Holmes, but is that a surprise?) That's not a view I share, I think Bale is dependably interesting. Bale has remarkably little to do here, most of Batman's time is spent fighting and (in an extremely unattractive bit of characterization) worrying about what people think of him. The idea that Batman might be able to "retire" due to Gotham's victory over organized crime is floated on several occasions, but given that there seem to be about three honest people in the city's government (Dent, Gordon, the Mayor) that notion is ludicrous on its face. The moral framework that's sketched out seems to suggest that the people of Gotham have no problem with leaders that everyone knows are corrupt, but can't abide a vigilante cleaning up the streets.

    If there's any actor who should be considered for an Oscar here - a proposition I find extremely unlikely - it's Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. I've never been a huge Eckhart fan but he shows me something here, hidden reserves of both compassion and fury. There's a minor controversy brewing (SPOILER!) about whether Dent is in fact dead at film's end, and while it makes sense on some level Two-Face would certainly be a worthy villain for an all-but-certain next installment. The acclaim for TDK's excitement level and plotting seems inexplicable to me, since we actually spend time that could have developed the whole Dent-Wayne-Rachel triangle on Eric Roberts, Hong Kong, gadgets and an unnecessary cameo by Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with attempting to make a superhero/comic book movie relevant, but the prevailing attitude that dark=profound reaches new lows here. (Humanizing the Vacuum calls TDK on its self-seriousness here) Nolan seems to have gone out of his way to destroy much of what was interesting about this character and this world, either by leaving it out or hammering it home to a painful degree. There are only flashes of goodness in Christopher Nolan's Gotham, attempting anything more leads to madness or death. That would seem to leave Batman stuck in the dark graphic novel territory that rekindled interest in the character in the '80s, and to diminish the chances of taking any pleasure from future installments of this franchise.

    Jonathan Richman

    A review of Jonathan Richman's Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild, which has been out for a little while but deserves your attention. If you don't know Richman, go here. (Pitchfork)

    As another understated Jonathan Richman album arrives, with remarkably little publicity, this Massachusetts native's influence can hardly be overstated. 1976's recently reissued The Modern Lovers is a proto-punk classic, foreshadowing hardcore punk's Minor Threat-led "straight edge" movement while inspiring artists from the Sex Pistols and David Bowie through Galaxie 500 and Art Brut. Richman's wide-eyed sincerity, developed further over subsequent solo LPs, also shines out of great indie-pop from the Television Personalities to Jens Lekman. But the last thing most people would expect from the There's Something About Mary guy is an album haunted by death.

    CD's I won't be buying

    NP in a music video for Devendra Banhart's "Carmensita."

    Docu drama

    Are reenactments (and in one case, appropriated music) ruining the integrity of documentaries? (HND)

    A couple of weeks ago I went to a press screening of James Marsh’s Man on Wire. I’d heard a lot of good things about the British doc, and indeed it has a fascinating subject in recounting the early career of French aerialist/conceptual artist Philippe Petit, especially his daring walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

    But watching the film was not a happy experience. Try as I might to concentrate on its narrative, I couldn’t. After 45 minutes I walked out.

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Does going to an "elite" university...

    ...make you a jerk? (American Scholar)

    There is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s intellect or knowledge. There is something wrong with the smugness and self-congratulation that elite schools connive at from the moment the fat envelopes come in the mail. From orientation to graduation, the message is implicit in every tone of voice and tilt of the head, every old-school tradition, every article in the student paper, every speech from the dean. The message is: You have arrived. Welcome to the club. And the corollary is equally clear: You deserve everything your presence here is going to enable you to get. When people say that students at elite schools have a strong sense of entitlement, they mean that those students think they deserve more than other people because their sat scores are higher.

    Re: Ledger & Oscar

    Does Heath Ledger need an Oscar nom for his DK performance to be remembered ? (In Contention)

    Imagine signing on to play the Joker and knowing that not long ago Jack Nicholson knocked the role out of the poark and was adored by millions…my God…the pressure?? The dilemma for Ledger must have been similar to Robert De Niro portraying a young Vito Corleone in “The Godgfather Part II,” knowing that the eyes of the film-going world would be watching him closely after Marlon Brando’s Oscar-winning efforts two years prior.

    And of course, Ledger is brilliant in the role, dominating the film in every way. The Oscar talk is moot. His performance will live forever and if the Academy has the courage to at least nominate him, I will be pleased.

    Praising Nolan....

    Christopher Nolan, "greatest living American filmmaker?" (Esquire)

    It's probably nuts to expect greatness from The Dark Knight (July 18), since Nolan's Batman Begins, while superb by the standards of the superhero franchise, didn't exactly burrow its way into anyone's soul. And yet, I can't help feeling that the Joker's carved grimace and prankster sadism could mesh nightmarishly well with Nolan's bizarre flair for grim entertainment. The question is whether people will be able to look past the creepy poignance of Heath Ledger's posthumous performance to see the stealthy, oddly underappreciated virtuoso at the helm. Probably not.

    It's a DK world

    Counting up the records. (DHD)

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    The Return of Sunday Music - Dave Rawlings Machine

    Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch cover Ryan Adams' "To Be Young..." in Asheville NC, 2/07.

    David Carr

    The much-discussed excerpt from journalist/blogger David Carr's memoir of addiction and parenthood is here. (NYT)

    A taste:

    On the face of it, I am no more qualified to take my own inventory than the addict with the fetid dreads who spare-changes people on the subway while singing “Stand by Me.” Ask him how he ended up sweating people for quarters, and he may have an answer, but he doesn’t really know and probably couldn’t bear it if he did.

    To be an addict is to be something of a cognitive acrobat. You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs — you need, actually — to keep them at a remove. Let’s stipulate that I do not have a good memory, having recklessly sautéed my brain in fistfuls of pharmaceutical spices. Beyond impairment, there may be no more unreliable narrator than an addict. Recovered or not, I am someone who used my mouth to constantly create one more opportunity to get high.

    Here is what I deserved: hepatitis C, federal prison time, H.I.V., a cold park bench, an early, addled death.

    Here is what I got: the smart, pretty wife, the three lovely children, the job that impresses.

    Saturday, July 19, 2008

    Why are Public Enemy still cooler than you?

    Because they just recreated It Takes A Nation of Millions... on stage at the Pitchfork Music Festival, and Flavor Flav partied like it was 1984. (Stereogum/photo by Amrit Singh)

    The Book I Read: All The Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen

    I just finished reading Keith Gessen's All The Sad Young Literary Men, a novel (really a collection of linked vignettes) being heavily hyped in certain circles. Keith, Sam, and Mark are college friends who in their post-college years go through moderate amount of professional success, which means anything from completing a dissertation to becoming an online political writer. Assorted relationships come and go for all three, all marked by a staggering inability to achieve emotional intimacy with any of the women who march through the book and who are for the most part interchangeable.

    The most developed of the three main characters is Sam, who dreams of writing a "Zionist epic" and later journeys to the Middle East to demonstrate his sympathy with the occupied Palestinians. Sam is nervous, politically naive, and a bit emotionally inept, but at least he does something. This section of the book feels the most lived in to me, with a funny scene of Internet porn in a Middle Eastern web cafe and few shots at well-meaning but clueless international activists.

    What Gessen fails to do is ground his young men in any sense of the political climate of the times, late-'90s through the present. Keith, Mark, and Sam's idea of validation seems to come from acceptance from a closed intellectual community rather than any kind of concrete engagement with the world around them . The men's insularity gives the book an oddly fetid feel, which was complemented by the weird black on the dust jacket of my copy. (This may have been for effect, all the copies I've seen had the same look. But the result is very unattractive) The last paragraph (set post-2006 elections)strains to rally the troops for some old-fashioned left wing procreation.

    And now it was too late, as I have said - but also, you know, not too late. We had to live. And there were enough of us, I thought, if we just stuck together. We would take back the White House, and the statehouses and city halls and town councils. We'd keep the Congress. And in order to ensure a permanent left majority, Gwyn, we'd have many left wing babies. My love.

    Look for this to appear in boldface on the Obama website.

    RELATED - The author's blog.

    Friday, July 18, 2008

    Search engine anarchy

    Today is "Yeah, I could be talking about The Dark Knight but I'll see it first" day on Mostly Movies. Anyway, if you're reading this you're probably a "mainstream" Web user. So, why don't you use your browser's address bar to get where you want to go? (ReadWriteWeb)

    Poster art

    If you made a motivational poster based on the work of your favorite author, what would it look like? The fans of David Foster Wallace take their shot. (The Howling Fantods)

    Wild at Heart

    What's up with Spike Jonze and Where the Wild Things Are? (LA Times)

    I congratulate Warners for being willing to let daring artists tackle its more conventional material. No one wants to see "Where the Wild Things Are" in the hands of a paint-by-numbers filmmaker like Chris Columbus. But if Jonze has his mind set on making a dark, occasionally disturbing film, how much rope should the studio give him before it tries to rein him in?

    Dept. of Stuff You Might Care About

    Does Kanye West write his own blog? (Idolator)

    Is Kanye West really behind all of the design porn and crazy rants that make up his blog? A few skeptics have had the gall to ask that question over the past 24 hours, and the realization that the caps-lock-happy MC may employ a "ghost blogger" from time to time lit up the message boards and led to Kanye posting the above photo, which I guess is supposed to be actual photodocumentary evidence that yes, he does in fact write his own entries.

    Worst Blog Post of the Day

    "The Blake Lively Name Game" (Some Came Running)

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Dept. of Former Blog Darlings

    I used to post an awful lot about Maggie Gyllenhaal (second only to a certain Shins-loving activist Oscar nominee), stopping only because she slowed up on the movies and started up a family. Hey, MG is in a little movie called The Dark Knight this weekend and just signed on for a "music-based drama" with Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall. Since T-Bone Burnett is involved look for one heck of a soundtrack album. (Variety)

    What Goes On - Lou edition

    Julian Schnabel works a little too hard in his film of Lou Reed performing Berlin. (Slant)

    When Julian Schnabel's cameras simply revere him, dipping up and down and left and right in an attempt to catch nuances, it telegraphs him as a Great American Independent Artist. The rough, jittery handheld camera is shorthand for "integrity" and the lingering on Reed, and the swishing back to him in an attempt to capture moments, is shorthand for "moments gleaned from a monumental poet." It makes one feel a little jerked around when you're trying to just, plain and simple, watch the concert, but it's not the only frustration. Schnabel also created the sets, which are dank and busy and ornamental and also seem to reinforce the idea of age and experience and dank lugubrious weightiness. There are also accompanying filmed sequences projected on the wall (directed by Lola Schnabel, Julian's daughter) that visualize the album character Caroline (acted by Emmanuelle Seigner) smoking cigarettes, venturing through European rooms, staircases and alleyways with distressed walls, and gazing forlornly or kittenishly at the camera, depending on the mood of the particular song Reed is singing.

    Where Intent Meets Execution

    Why the Obama New Yorker cover doesn't quite come off. (Go Comics)

    But if this same cartoon were created by Sean Delonas and published by The New York Post, I'd think it was satirizing Obama himself, and that's a very different (opposite) point -- it would be tasteless and offensive.

    A cartoon shouldn't rely on the context of its creator and publisher in order to successfully make its point. Some more indicators should have been utilized in the cartoon in order to make the target of its satire clearer.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    Hellboy II is not...

    Hellboy II is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the worst movie of the summer. Anyone who thinks so hasn't seen The Love Guru or Meet Dave and since I haven't even seen The Happening I won't go there. Instead, it's a slightly above-average action movie that provides fertile stomping ground for Guillermo del Toro's visual imagination while failing to reach the heights of The Devil's Backbone or Pan's Labyrinth.

    In his memorable Charlie Rose appearance with Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, del Toro talked about the "lucid dreams" that provide visions to fill his now much-discussed notebooks. There's one scene in Hellboy II that must have filled up an entire notebook, in which Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Liz (Selma Blair, disappointingly flat) and Abe (Doug Jones, who also plays two other roles) visit the "Troll Market" in search of their quarry, a prince who has declared war on the human world. (The central conflict between humans and the world of elves and magic is set up in a stylized prologue that looks like a children's book del Toro hasn't illustrated yet) The Market is a grimier and more crowded version of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley, where our heroes interrogate a variety of impossibly ornate creatures (including a sarcastic tumor) and Hellboy winds up fighting a giant with a retractable fist.

    I wish del Toro had done more with the idea that humans need but barely tolerate the magical world represented by pasty Prince Nuada (Luke Goss). There's a barely introduced subplot about humans discovering the existence of Hellboy and his cohorts followed by a scene in which Hellboy rescues a baby during an attack by one of Nuada's creatures. When the baby is returned to his mother, she greets Hellboy with revulsion. Nuada briefly tries to convert Hellboy over to his side in the human-magic culture war, but Hellboy's loyalties are never seriously in question. We are kept inside the bureaucratic culture that surrounds Hellboy & Co. at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, there's a character called Johann Krauss (ectoplasm in a suit, voiced by Seth MacFarlane) sent to supervise Hellboy's team that gets way too much time. I'm a fan of Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Hellboy's human boss, but the gag about him being worried for his job is stretched too thin.

    After the transporting experience of Pan's Labyrinth, it's entirely possible that I expected too much from a second Hellboy. I never felt transported the way I did with PL (which is brilliant, sorry haters), but merely like I was seeing a good movie in the misfit superhero genre with a charismatic lead actor (strangely Perlman feels a little underused) and top-drawer design. In a summer where audiences are going crazy about a man in an iron suit, I'll take it.

    Do The Shuffle #8

  • Iron & Wine - Lovesong Of The Buzzard
  • Mike Doughty - Fort Hood
  • Nada Surf - Concrete Bed
  • B-52's - Follow Your Bliss
  • Erasure - Blue Savannah
  • Erin McKeown - To The Stars
  • Radiohead - Morning Bell
  • Throwing Muses - No Way In Hell
  • Avett Brothers - Will You Return
  • Guided By Voices - I Am A Scientist
  • Widespread Panic - Wonderin' (live)
  • Be Good Tanyas - Ootishenia
  • Old 97's - Barrier Reef (live)
  • Throwing Muses - Saving Grace
  • Fiona Apple - Shadowboxer
  • Career Turning Point alert

    On the eve of Pineapple Express, a consideration of director David Gordon Green's career. (Village Voice)

    Is it a triumph for Hollywood cynicism when Green, who made his rep with a movie where kids and adults commiserate over dreams, now scores laffs off grown-ups peddling weed to grade-schoolers? Before hoisting the "Sellout" effigy, let's show good faith once more. How much stagnancy in the multiplex (and arthouse) comes from our best and brightest sticking to the ghetto of indie cred when they could be working? Green's a smart producer now (he backed last year's superlative Shotgun Stories), a proven hustler, and committed to giving back to vernacular American film culture. I'll only say: Godspeed.

    Marvel news

    Actor/writer/director Justin Theroux (who wrote the upcoming Tropic Thunder) will write Iron Man 2. (Variety)

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    Look out Heidi

    NP to appear on Project Runway (TheaterMania)

    Rudy Wurlitzer

    An interview with screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer, who has made a career of working with iconoclastic directors. (Vertigo)

    I met the composer Philip Glass in Paris. He was there spending time working with Nadia Boulanger. We, Philip and I, were both pursuing the same girl which neither of us was successful at. [laughs] Then afterwards, later in New York, in the 60s, I got to know him better. He was working as a plumber and I was just trying to survive. One summer we went up to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. By then he was married with kids, and we were so broke we shared a house. We ended up buying a place there that we divided, and we would go up there off and on through the years. I have been up there for a few winters for the last 35 years or so. That was where I also met Robert Frank, who lived about twenty miles from us.


    GRRL vs. GRRRL (Ben and Alice)

    NYFF news

    Cannes winner The Class to open New York Film Festival. (IFC)

    Counting to 4...

    ...with Feist and the Muppets.

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    The Ad Game

    How a real life "Mad Man" helped create one of TV's other memorable ad men. (Design Observer)

    In 1989, the second thirtyomething season opens with a bang. I return home one evening, having missed the episode, to an answering machine full of messages from long-lost friends. Seems there is a new character, Miles Drentell (note the spelling error), the new boss of Michael and Elliot at their new place of employment. He wears expensive suits, strokes a zen sandbox, and speaks in a terrifyingly snide, controlled monotone; yet two seasons later he would commit date rape. Back in real life, every meeting I went to during those years was haunted by this character, and the question of his connection to me — the biggest asshole on television. A sweet homage by an old friend turned into a nightmare he never imagined — it being Hollywood and all, I was supposed to be honored to have my Mad Man reputation cemented on the small screen. In real life, I wasn't.

    On the eve...

    ...of the physical release of Stay Positive, a summing up of the Hold Steady and their appeal. (NY Magazine)

    For anyone new to the Hold Steady looking for a point of breaking and entering on Stay Positive, start with “Sequestered in Memphis.” It’s as immediate and infectious as “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” The same goes for the title track. Musically, two songs are real standouts: a guitar solo provides a plaintive wail on behalf of the rocky couple on “Lord, I’m Discouraged,” while the harpsichord becomes the voice of the protagonist on “One for the Cutters.” The instruments aid and abet Finn as he articulates the inner turmoil of his characters’ lives.

    “Stay Positive is about taking your youthful ideals and putting them up against real-life problems and hopefully not losing all of those ideals but also becoming an adult,” said Finn. “This record is about the attempt to age gracefully.”


    Review of fat new Godard biography here: (NY Times)

    It’s the artists we love best who are most capable of disappointing us, and anyone who has taken pleasure in the boldness of the movies Godard made from 1959 through 1967 — he produced an astonishing 15 full-length features in that period, beginning with “Breathless” and including “Contempt,” “Pierrot le Fou” and “Weekend” — would have to know that pain is part of love. If we didn’t, how carefully could we have been watching his movies in the first place?

    Response here. (Some Came Running)

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    20 for 20

    A subjective list of the 20 best Sub Pop albums. I'm happy to see the Spinanes' Manos, which I've recently rediscovered, make the list.

    1993's Manos wasn't a purist affair: featuring multitracked guitars and vocals, it could have been the work of a bigger group. Sonically, though, it was all about the jam econo. Gates' spindly guitar lines, just on the cusp of overload, bristle like a field of thistles, honeyed and forbidding; Plouf's drumming seems to explode out of a small, confined space. Here as on later albums, Gates' voice-- close harmonized in a virtual duet with herself—takes center stage, tying up bittersweet in shiny ribbons that simply beg to be undone. At the time, the Spinanes sounded like a departure for Sub Pop, uncharacteristically sweet and worlds away from other, more macho, records—from Tad, Dwarves and, uh, House of Pain-- that appeared around the same time. But looking back, Manos looks more like the climbers' grip that helped pull the label into the post-grunge era.

    Thought for the day

    Here's a Twitter for those all geeked up for the new iPhone. (Anil Dash)

    Damn it feels good...

    A fun examination of hip-hop as used by white characters in films from The Wackness to Paranoid Park. (No Trivia)

    Rap music is hard to pull-off in a movie because it's very distracting music that demands attention; it rarely blends into the background. Additionally, most of the viewing public's stuck in incredibly out-dated (or never made sense) concepts of what rap music is, what it means, and how it can be used. So, when a rap song comes-in at a point that's emotionally powerful well, it just doesn't resonate, it's just distracting. The music's ability to work or resonate in films is further complicated by the sheer lack of black films that even get made each year. Still stuck in a conventional sense of who does and doesn't look absurd listening to rap, it's hard for films made by whites about whites to engage hip-hop in a way that doesn't come-off as one big joke or incredibly cloying. Given the obsession with irony and juxtaposition in everything from Hollywood to high-minded indies, even when a movie does use rap seriously, it's still often taken as a joke.

    Thursday, July 10, 2008

    Dept. of You've Probably Already Seen This

    The much talked about review of Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards script. (Vulture)

    "Is Dara Torres clean? I'm a believer."

    Great piece on drug testing in swimming: (MSNBC)

    Though Dara can not prove she's clean, she is doing the very best next thing. She is one of a dozen volunteers - along with Michael Phelps and others - in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency program, launched this spring, that collects blood and urine samples well beyond normal protocols.

    I have said this before but at the risk of repetition say again: USADA can not afford for this program to fail.

    Moreover, it's not just that Dara volunteered. It's how she volunteered.

    She picked up the phone and asked to be tested.

    Then, last fall, she traveled to Colorado Springs, where USADA is based, and met with chief executive Travis Tygart - one on one, without a lawyer or an agent at her side.

    In that meeting with Tygart, she told him, as she recounted last week, "DNA test. Blood test. Urine test. Whatever you want to do. Just test me."

    She added Tuesday on the telephone, "They can take my hair samples. I want to show everyone I am totally clean."

    She said she already has undergone testing that would test anyone - last year hearing the knock of testers at her front door at 7 one morning when she was breastfeeding daughter Tessa.

    Hellboy prep

    Cinematical has an interview with Guillermo del Toro in podcast form, while you can bone up on your Hellboy comic knowledge here. (ComicMix)

    Insert "Last Picture Show" joke here.

    Bogdanovich: You know, I have a theory that one of the reasons younger people don’t like older films, films made, say, before the ‘60s, is because they’ve never seen them on a big screen, ever. If you don’t see a film on the big screen, you haven’t really seen it. You’ve seen a version of it, but you haven’t really seen it. That’s my feeling, but I’m old-fashioned.

    Peter Bogdanovich and Mark Cuban on the future of the big-screen experience. (SpoutBlog)

    A friend just told me....

    ...that I could play chess with RZA. (Thanks Jenn!) (Brains on Fire)

    While I doubt you’ll find me castling my king with the rest of the Wu Tang community (com-wu-nity? sorry.), I do think it’s worth taking note. Specific, true to the people who started it, clearly keying into some existing passion, finding a higher purpose along the way… if they can manage to deliver on the experience and authenticity that music fans (and I would argue, chess fans) expect, this may really be something to watch.

    Family Meal

    I knew the term "family meal" from a Michael Ruhlman book I'd read, but this article gets inside the ritual and conviviality of the practice at some of New York's best restaurants. (City Magazine)

    Though patrons may catch glimpses of it during a typical dinner, a chef’s heritage is never more apparent than when he or she cooks for staff meal. At the Mercer Kitchen, Staff Meal Chef Jennifer Luces’ curried chicken showcased her Trinidadian roots, while at Midtown’s Toloache, Sous Chef’s Arteño Barreto chicken and pork adobo stew with Mexican rice and a fiery guacamole sauce felt right at home at the contemporary Mexican spot. Incidentally, the assumption that New York’s primarily Latin-American back-of-house staffs steer most family meals toward their native cuisines — as author Bill Buford suggested in Heat, his behind-the-scenes look at Mario Batali’s restaurant empire — went mostly unfounded, at least during my visits. At Toloache, hamburgers and fried chicken have certainly made an appearance or two, said manager Victor Medina: “They can do whatever they want to do, so they really prepare whatever they like.”

    Mission statements

    The changing role (and varied content) of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in a "post-gay" world. (LA Weekly)

    A sense of Purpose was more easily defined when Outfest began, 26 years ago, in response to the dearth of venues for LGBT films to be shown. Then, the thrill of simply hearing conversations and seeing images that sprang from both queer realities and queer fantasies was enough. What makes this year’s Outfest notable is that, beneath the glitzy premieres, star-studded galas, assorted panels, envelope-pushing theater pieces, musical performances, tributes and advertiser-sponsored after-parties, there is a renewed emphasis on conversations about and around queerness that you’re not likely to hear anywhere else.

    Wednesday, July 09, 2008


    The most efficient way to read the new Young Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair is here, though I think Blake Lively might do a little better than what's forecast. (TAS)

    Red carpet news

    When Eddie Murphy was up for an Oscar, stories circulated that the star's bad attitude doomed his chances and ultimately gave the award to Alan Arkin. It may not have all been rumor; Murphy reportedly cancelled an appearance at the premiere of HIS OWN movie (Meet Dave, costarring the much friendlier Gabrielle Union) just 90 minutes ahead of time. (Defamer)

    I need to talk to you

    From a series of posts by writer Earl Pomerantz on the early days of The Cosby Show: (Earl Pomerantz/Entertainment Weekly)

    I also asked to read Cosby’s doctoral dissertation (the subject: Fat Albert, and its effect on racial stereotypes.) I don’t believe anyone had previously made such a request. Doctor Cosby was hardly enthusiastic. Finally, he went upstairs and returned with a leather-bound volume, handing it to me, with the words,

    “You don’t have to sit down to be a writer.”

    I leave it to you to make the interpretation.

    It’s remarkable now to remember that there was not much excitement concerning The Cosby Show before it went on. At a press junket interview, Cosby was asked what prompted him to get into the dying field of half-hour comedy. “We have thirteen televisions in our house,” replied Cosby. “It was either do a show I was willing to watch, or throw them all out.”

    Paging Mr. Hecht

    Jonathan Franzen on turning books into movies. (Paper Cuts)

    In any case, the problem with “exploring” the artistic medium of film or television is that the screenwriter doesn’t get to do much exploring.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2008


    I'm looking forward to the collision of Tilda Swinton and the Coen Brothers in Burn After Reading. Meanwhile, the best looking woman at this year's Oscars is starting a film festival I'd actually like to go to. (IFC)

    Tilda Swinton is starting a small festival in her hometown of Nairn in north-east Scotland. She's passed up what I feel is a key opportunity to capitalize on her recent Hollywood role by calling her event "Nairnia" or the like, instead going with "The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams." Tickets to films will cost £3 or a tray of baked goods, and everyone will sit on beanbags to take in "films with highly coloured, dreamlike elements," according to the Guardian.

    Dara Torres update

    I feel a little better. Christine Brennan just gave a a much more balanced account of the Dara Torres situation on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. Brennan gave a fuller account of the voluntary program Torres enrolled in through the US Anti-Doping Agency which tests her blood (something that Barry Bonds has never had done) and made the point that the speculation about Torres is coming from the media, not her competitors. This directly contradicts what Pat Forde said in his Sportscenter appearance yesterday and makes the whole thing seem like one more media attempt to stir up controversy.

    Boys in the band

    "Secret weapons" in bands. He's not that secret, but I'll nominate Mike Cooley of Drive-By Truckers. His more irreverent songs (download "Marry Me" or "Self-Destructive Zones" if you don't know them) are a necessary counterpoint to Patterson Hood's more serious-minded efforts. (Monitor Mix)

    In this room

    I'm not wild about the packaging and the commentaries are a little underwhelming so far, but a reviewing of Mad Men has me salivating over the impending second season. This post nicely summarizes the assorted isues of class, denial, and gender at play in the offices of Sterling Cooper. "The Marriage of Figaro" may be one of the best single episodes of television I've ever seen. (Moving Image Source)

    Riotously handsome and successful, Draper is a psychological basket case. He loses Rachel to panicked impulse; he's haunted by his loveless, impoverished childhood; and he lives with no end of blots on his conscience: the ugly circumstances that allowed Dick Whitman to become Don Draper, his brother's suicide, his inattention to his kids, his adulteries. (Before Rachel there was the downtown bohemian Midge, played with splendidly offhand gusto by Rosemarie DeWitt.) His marriage to gleaming blond Betty, the ex-model and mother of their two small children, is at turns impassioned and detached. It's Betty, not Don, who lands on the psychiatrist's couch, and who gradually realizes that her life and marriage are an elaborate lie; as she reaches a desperate clarity by season's end, she begins to evoke the tragic and resolute April Wheeler of Richard Yates's 1961 masterpiece Revolutionary Road. (And when she strolls onto her lawn one weekday afternoon with a rifle—clad in nightgown and shades, cigarette dangling from her lip—and starts shooting at her neighbor's pigeons, she looks like she's just walked out of an A.M. Homes story.)

    Elvis in the building

    A review of Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence, the critic's new interview show on TCM. (Slate)

    As the situation requires, Mitchell also draws on the interviewing styles—variously confrontational and ass-kissy—of Peter Bogdanovich, Charlie Rose, and James Lipton. In the episode that airs tonight, he gets the now-late Sydney Pollack going about Gene Kelly's dancing, and Pollack compares Kelly's physicality to Burt Lancaster, which is the kind of throwaway gem that shows like this should exist to mine. Better yet, the second episode finds Mitchell uncovering new facets of Bill Murray's weirdness. Murray starts out the half-hour looking rumpled, gray, and mildly suicidal. He ends it with a glow after having gassed on marvelously about screwball comedies and fast-talking dames. His throwaway gem elucidated the flexibility and longevity of Barbara Stanwyck by favorably comparing her to Bea Arthur—a line so odd it has to be sincere.

    Monday, July 07, 2008

    Dept. of WTF?

    With no actual evidence, ESPN's Pat Forde just accused 41-year old Olympic swimmer Dara Torres of using steroids on tonight's Sportscenter (and in this column). Forde's theory appears to be based on the facts that other athletes, including Roger Clemens, have used steroids and lied about it in the past and that people who lost to Torres at last week's Olympic trials aren't happy about it. The column details how Torres volunteered for an Anti-Doping Agency program which tests here more rigorously than her competitors, and of course she has never tested positive. Enjoy hell Pat, I hear there's an opening at Defamer.

    UPDATE - If you're a Facebooker and interested in this stuff, I have formed a group called "Dear ESPN, please fire Pat Forde." I have emailed the ESPN ombudsman and will report.

    Avett News

    The Avett Brothers, the best North Carolina neo-bluegrass/punk/pop trio, are recording with producer Rick Rubin and have left their label for Rubin's American Recordings. (Spin)

    Do the Shuffle #7

    This set was actually the result of two clicks of the shuffle button, but for all that was remarkably consistent. We started out spiritual, with Mavis Staples and a Dylan cover, and then got in to a languid summertime groove:

  • Mavis Staples - On My Way
  • Poi Dog Pondering - Wood Guitar
  • Sufjan Stevens - Ring Them Bells
  • Madonna - Intervention
  • Van Morrison - Bulbs (why isn't this one as well known as Van's other early '70s work?)
  • They Might Be Giants - Contrecoup
  • Rilo Kiley - Dejalo
  • Nada Surf - In the Mirror
  • My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
  • Brad Mehldau - Exit Music (For a Film)
  • Poi Dog Pondering - U Li La Lu
  • A lone voice


  • There is no character development. WALL•E is who he is from the very beginning. He does not grow or change. EVE changes in as much as she falls in love with WALL•E, and becomes more of a personality, but she doesn’t really learn anything of consequence, and she doesn’t really grow. And the humans obviously undergo some moral growth, but it is (a) purchased very cheaply, and (b) none of them are actual characters. For me, this is a pretty fundamental problem.

  • There is almost no plot. Of course, WALL•E is a Noah’s Ark story, and the template doesn’t have much plot. But it’s still a problem. In this case, though, the fix the creators have settled on makes the problem worse, because the plot they have tacked on – the autopilot doesn’t want to let the humans go back – didn’t pack much emotional punch.

  • There are huge problems with what there is of a plot. Why has the cruise ship “sailed” so far from Earth, given that it isn’t going anywhere? Where does the cruise ship get new matter to sustain its charges (we see huge amounts of garbage being dumped into space, so we know it is not a closed ecology)? Most seriously why is EVE still being sent to look for vegetation if project recolonize has been cancelled??? This is a huge, massive, gaping plot hole that basically ruined the second half of the movie for me.

  • More here. (The American Scene)

    Streep talks trash

    Meryl Streep on the gymnastics required for Mamma Mia! and her feelings about Pauline Kael. (Guardian)

    "I keep getting asked about the scene with the splits," says Streep. She does look amazingly limber when, mid-song, wearing dungarees, she jumps on a bed and flicks out her legs to meet her outstretched hands like a teenage cossack. "They ask - was there a body double?" she says. "Yeah, right! Or was it CGI? Of course! They grafted my face on to Olga Korbut's body." She's joking. Note to younger readers: Olga Korbut was an adorable, Olympic gold-winning Soviet gymnast of the early 1970s, who will always be remembered in her teenage state; Meryl Streep is an actor who turned 59 barely a week ago.

    Sub Pop

    Interview with Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman; founders of Sub Pop Records, which is turning 20 (sort of). (Pitchfork)

    Pitchfork: From the beginning of the label, you guys were talking about world domination and how things were gonna be huge, but at the time, what was the highest level of success you could think of?

    Jonathan Poneman: Oh, boy...just being able to pay rent, pay ourselves a salary, being able to pay the bands, being able to sustain our one-room office and not have, in my particular case, to go back to work making copies at Kinko's. Honest to God, that was the level of success for which I would have given anything. That's what I struggled for.

    BP: I'll give you some perspective. The first album that Sub Pop put out was in 1986, it was called Sub Pop 100, it was a compilation-- Wipers, Sonic Youth, Steve Albini, and so forth. It was kind of an extension of the cassette compilations we were putting out. But at that time, in '86, if you sold 5,000 copies of a record, that was considered kind of like a gold record. That was considered very successful. By '88, selling 5-10,000 copies a record was considered doing very good business. The idea of selling millions of records was almost inconceivable. A lot of what Jon and I were doing was living in this hyper-fantasy realm where we were pretending-- it was almost like we were five years old-- let's play record label! In our press releases, we would announce that the Nirvana album was gonna go double platinum and stuff like that, never believing for a minute that would actually happen with the way that distribution and media was set up at that time. I remember Bleach in its first year selling 40,000 copies, which was amazing.

    Sunday, July 06, 2008

    Del Toro talks

    Hear Guillermo del Toro talk about the look of Hellboy II and see sketches from the director's now famous notebooks. (NY Times)

    Saturday, July 05, 2008


    The reason I don't (usually) blog about myself:

    Bloggers operate without that stamp of approval, so they make easy targets. If your words were worth anything, some publisher would be paying you for them.

    Artists are supposed to release their emotion in clean neatly-printed bursts, not in big sloppy blog posts. And what kind of artist accepts comments? Would Henry James participate in a flame war? Would Truman Capote defend himself in a blog?

    I think the answer is yes. I think artists are fragile, fallible human beings, and no amount of critical approval or financial success can cure that.

    I think the great artists of history were just as petty as we are; they just didn’t have the chance to blog about it. I think artists are human and I think, fundamentally, people hate that. In a real sense, we want artists to be better than us. It’s wonderful when a piece of writing touches us, but it’s also invasive — intimate, unsettling. Some readers are uncomfortable about having their emotions manipulated. They want to know an author is someone they can trust — someone they can respect and look up to.

    Blogging destroys that respect, and when a blogger is young, they don’t just lose respect; they make it impossible to respect them in the first place.

    From The Overshare War (Geekcentric)

    Friday, July 04, 2008

    Birthday wishes

    Mostly Movies wishes America a Happy Birthday. In the spirit of cinema's hottest terrorist, go blow something up today (sparklers, bottle rockets, etc.). Just remember to keep it safe.

    Thursday, July 03, 2008

    Oops, one more/Do the Shuffle #6

  • The New Pornographers - Sing Me Spanish Techno
  • Fiona Apple - Pale September
  • Wilco - Ashes of American Flags
  • Throwing Muses - Bright Yellow Gun
  • Avett Brothers - Tales of Coming News
  • Ruckus - Same In Any Language (It's really MMJ from the Elizabethtown soundtrack)
  • The National - All The Wine
  • Steve Earle - Sparkle And Shine
  • The Jody Grind - Carry You
  • Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Pa
  • Phish - Cavern (live)
  • Throwing Muses - Civil Disobedience
  • Tift Merritt - Good Hearted Man
  • Before signing off for the day...

    If you're not feeling very summery, may these photos and a review of The Hold Steady in Brooklyn cheer you up. (Stereogum)

    Hancock (contains spoilers)

    (If you haven't seen Hancock and want to be surprised, don't read this yet!)

    I'll start out by saying that Hancock isn't as bad as many early insider reviews suggested. I had sort of looked forward to seeing a Will Smith July 4th release completely botched, but upon seeing the film I can report that what's onscreen is just more of the same old Hollywood underachieving. The film is in fact more disappointing than bad, considering the past work of director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), Smith, and Charlize Theron (whom I've pictured because in a way the film is just as much her character's story as it is Hancock's).

    Hancock is a drunken mess in the early scenes, and Smith's natural charm is turned down considerably. As the first of many examples of how lazy and underthought Hancock is, the point about Hancock's crime stopping angering the citizenry because of the collateral damage doesn't work because it's really never made clear whether we're supposed to laugh. Sure, dumping the van full of shooters on top of a building is a perfect summer movie money-shot moment, but how to take the following scene where Hancock watches angry news coverage of the event in a dive bar and threatens another patron with his "foot in your ass?" What is it with this movie and asses anyway? But that's another post.

    I don't have the slightest idea whether Jason Bateman's PR guy character is at all realistic, but I doubt it since he appears to spend most of his time asking people to give things away for free. But thank goodness for Bateman's presence in the movie, since his way of wringing laughs out of the mildest line readings grounds Hancock in something real amid all the high-concept nuttiness. We don't get any sense of how Bateman's campaign for Hancock fits into his other professional activities, whether it's a genuine cause or an effort for career advancement. Like quite a bit more of Hancock, it feels like it was done this way because no one could come up with anything else that worked.

    Most early descriptions of Hancock described it as a movie about a troubled superhero who falls for another man's wife, in this case the wife of Bateman's character played by Charlize Theron. The casting of Theron perhaps should have been a tip that there was more going on, because of course we find out midway through that Theron is a superhero as well and that she and Hancock are married and have been linked throughout history. Too much proximity too each other causes each to lose their powers, but they have been drawn to each other throughout history and will continue to be. It's at this point that Hancock begins to fall apart, because the too-close-together business is never explained. It's also not clear why any of this would cause Theron to feel the bullets enter her body or just how far away Hancock has to get before his powers come back (or why he didn't die in the gunfight.) The entire last third of the movie feels rushed and slammed together( a "criminal mastermind" is shoehorned in at the last minute), as if filmmakers and studio execs were afraid of what would happen if this material got explored to the degree it really needed to be. So, we get a good scene between Theron and Smith in a a hospital that's wasted because it's obvious that someone came up with it to tie everything together at the last minute. There are good actors and good moments in Hancock, but there's a longer and darker version out there somewhere (maybe still on the page) that we would have seen if Hollywood had trusted us.

    Notes from the....

    The relationship between writers and the "underground." I am reading Mr. Gessen's All The Sad Young Literary Men as we speak. (Keith Gessen)

    I think part of the answer is that all of these people come from the underground. Let me explain what I mean by that. There are a couple of writers in every generation who go straight from being hot-shots at their college literary magazine to a staff job at the New Yorker or a book deal with Random House. Updike did this. Jonathan Safran Foer, in my generation, did it. Everyone else—and I really mean everyone else—has to go out into a world that doesn’t give a shit. That is to say they enter bohemia—the underground. I’ll give a definition: The underground includes all young people, because they are powerless, and a few older people who’ve decided to stay in it and keep the flame alive. But the key point is that—again, with some exceptions—all writers pass through it, and it’s vital in keeping their spirits up while they struggle for more mainstream recognition.

    Gibney on Gonzo

    Alex Gibney talks about his new Hunter S. Thompson documentary. (SpoutBlog)

    SB: What would Hunter Thompson have to say about these times we’re living in now, or can you speak for him?

    AG: I don’t know if I can, but he got very depressed when Bush won in ‘04 and not long after that he committed suicide. I think it’s too much to say that that’s what drove him to suicide. There are lots of other factors that are not so pretty. But I think he would say that we’re seeing the triumph of fear and loathing over that other part of the American character, this sense of idealism. Bush represented to him that aspect of the United States that goes back to its inception. At the same time, he was a big Bobby Kennedy fan and big McGovern fan. I think he’d be an Obama guy now. He would say, “Here’s somebody who understands the need for a prime actor in the theater of American politics. A “together Hunter”–as his wife says– not the drug-addled drunk. The other Hunter would have something to say about it.

    Get behind the mule

    A review of a Tom Waits concert. (Muzzle of Bees)

    From his slightly elevated stage Waits stomped his foot, raised his hands and began the evening with his signature growl and storytelling tales. Indeed, Waits would seem just as much at home guessing your weight or telling your fortune at the local town fair. Throughout the night he peppered his commentary with useless facts and trivial knowledge only he could deliver. I learned you could draw fourteen omelets from an ostrich egg; it’s illegal for women to parachute on Sunday, and that if every person in China climbed a ladder and jumped off simultaneously their collective landing could knock the world off its axis. The banter was an added bonus and hecklers (there were many) didn’t go unanswered.

    Wish I'd Written This

    Too much meta. (The American Scene)

    The gimmick in Tropic Thunder is the flipside of the one in Hancock. In the former, self-absorbed and self-referential to the point of insanity, Black, Stiller, and RDJ deliver ironically un-meta lines in an ironically ultra-meta setting. They think faking it is still real! With guns! Oh the hilarity. Of course no ironically un-meta performance is complete without its own episodes of self-conscious meta-ness: fake black guy RDJ consoling a real black guy, who doesn’t need to be consoled, by whispering the Jeffersons theme song in his ear; getting called out on it; whispering just as seriously that it doesn’t matter. This is nearly as sweltering and dispiriting an ordeal as hacking through the jungles of ‘Nam. Can we admit this style of humor is dead of its own compound inauthenticity?

    Conor Oberst

    On the eve of a new solo album, the leader of Bright Eyes talks politics. If you're disappointed with Obama on FISA, don't click here. In other Oberst news, this piece on My Morning Jacket reveals that he, MMJ's Jim James, and M. Ward are recording an album together. Here's hoping their Austin City Limits performance together will see the light of day. (HuffPo/Rolling Stone)

    No mystery here

    Get ready for a double shot of Sherlock Holmes projects. (Guardian)

    Not content with offending the citizens of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen now appears to have targeted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Scots-born author must be spinning in his grave at the news that the man best known as Ali-G, Borat and Bruno is to play the role of Sherlock Holmes.

    To add insult to injury for Sherlockians worldwide (yes, that's what they call themselves ... ), Dr Watson is to be portrayed by none other than Will Ferrell.

    Free City Rhymes

    Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and her family have moved out of New York City: (Angry John Sellers)

    TONY: How does the quintessential New York band get away with living in Western Massachusetts, anyway?

    Kim Gordon: Well, only half of us live there.

    TONY: True. Were you and Thurston done with New York?

    Kim Gordon: New York is really just a different state of mind now. I think we were ready for something else. And it’s kind of interesting living on the edge instead of being in the middle and being somewhere that’s not “cool” necessarily—although I have to say Northampton is pretty hip.

    Wednesday, July 02, 2008

    All wet

    In a sports more interesting than even the Tampa Bay Rays, Natalie Coughlin leads a world-record breaking charge at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials. (ESPN)

    Coughlin, who won five Olympic medals in Athens, will surely be one of the biggest stars of the powerful U.S. swimming team, along with Phelps and Katie Hoff.

    A day earlier, Coughlin watched her world record in the 100 back snatched away by Hayley McGregory in the prelims. Two minutes later, Coughlin took it right back. Twenty-four hours later, she went even faster.

    "I knew I could go a 58," she said.

    Young Hollywood

    Lots of photos & videos from Vanity Fair's "Young Hollywood" issue are available here. Get your Gossip Girl and Olivia Thirlby fix, and share my surprise that GG's Penn Badgely has Talib Kweli on his iPod. (Vanity Fair/photo by Mark Seliger)

    Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    "Are you sure you need to write a screenplay?"

    Screenwriting tips from Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People). (Guardian)

    2. Do the title first

    Seems obvious, but you'd be amazed. A great title can make a big difference. The musical Oklahoma, as it was initially called, famously flopped in the provinces, but became a massive hit after they added the exclamation mark. Orson Welles said Paper Moon was such a great title they wouldn't need to make the movie, just release the title. If you want a good title, you need it before you start, when you're pumped up with hope. If you look for it afterwards, you end up thinking like a headline-writer. If Victor Hugo had waited until he'd finished Notre-Dame de Paris, he would have ended up calling it I've Got a Hunch.

    Dept. of Good Casting

    Gillian Anderson to produce and star in biopic of war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. (Variety)

    The end (of history?)

    As stated in the previous post, I have a problem with a movie being marketed to children asserting that much of what is good about humanity will just wither away due to laziness and then resolving the problem with a couple of cute robots. This eye-catching post by James Poulos points out that the closing credits of Wall-E posit a slightly happier version of human history after the Axiom returns to Earth. (The American Scene)