Friday, October 31, 2008

"If I Am A Stranger"

Sorry about the back-to-back videos, but I forgot that I wanted to post this performance from a "secret" show that Ryan Adams played earlier this week.

From the vault

Finally a chance to check out that MTV online video archive you've heard about. It looks as good as advertised, with 16,000 clips from the days when they actually played music. Bet you haven't seen this in awhile.

Playing defense

Could McCain lose Arizona? (Daily Kos)

Research 2000 for Daily Kos. 10/28-30. Likely voters. MoE 4% (No trend lines)

McCain (R) 48
Obama (D) 47

Early voters (17 percent of sample)

McCain (R) 42
Obama (D) 54

I can't believe we may actually win Arizona. And I have a bonus treat for you guys:

If the 2010 election for U.S. Senate were held today for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Janet Napolitano the Democrat and John McCain the Republican?

McCain (R) 45
Napolitano (D) 53

RS on DFW pt. 2

The entire Rolling Stone piece on David Foster Wallace can now be read online. Also from RS, here's a Wallace piece on 9/11 I hadn't read.

After he died on September 12th, readers crowded the Web with tributes to his generosity, his intelligence. "But he wasn't Saint Dave," says Jonathan Franzen, Wallace's best friend and the author of The Corrections. "This is the paradox of Dave: The closer you get, the darker the picture, but the more genuinely lovable he was. It was only when you knew him better that you had a true appreciation of what a heroic struggle it was for him not merely to get along in the world, but to produce wonderful writing."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hornby's music

I try to avoid repitition by not linking to the Paper Cuts playlist every week, but when it's Nick Hornby's list it demands to be included. I like the sentiment expressed in the last sentence here:

12) Roll On Babe, Vetiver. I could have gone for just about anything from Vetiver’s gentle, rich and immensely pleasurable covers album, “Thing of the Past,” which demonstrates as much good taste and musical curiosity as one — and by “one” I mean, of course, “old codgers” — could hope for. “Roll On Babe” is a Ronnie Lane song. The surprising news that folk musicians from North Carolina care about Ronnie Lane makes me happy. Every year is a good year in music, if you’re prepared to dig around.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Ryan Adams plays a secret show; my review of his new CD to come.(Brooklyn Vegan)

Light, water, power

Dean Kamen has big plans for the developing world....(Telegraph)

Kamen's latest project may well be his most ambitious yet: he wants to bring electricity and clean water to the Third World. His plan is not the creation of centralised infrastructure for power grids and sewage treatment, but a small-scale and, relatively, cheap solution. 'Like, how about a device that a couple of people can haul into a village that can turn any source of water - which is typically toxic these days, that kills two million kids a year - into a thousand litres of water a day. How about if we could carry something into a village that could give people a way to make electricity?'

After 12 years working on these two problems, the engineers at Deka now have their solutions on show at the workshops in Manchester. The first is the 'Slingshot', a large box about the size of an office photocopier, sheathed in black protective foam, that can cleanse water of any contaminant from radionuclides to sewage, and run for years at a time without maintenance. The second is another metal box, five feet square, connected to a bottle of compressed gas, which emits a low murmur of humming energy. This is a Stirling engine, similar to the one installed in his electric car, but large and efficient enough to electrify an entire village, which can be driven by any locally available source of heat. Both devices have already been proved amazingly effective: one six-month test has used a Stirling engine to provide electric light to a village in Bangladesh, powered by burning the methane from a pit filled with cow dung; Slingshot has undergone similar tests in a settlement in rural Guatemala. But Kamen has yet to find a commercial partner to manufacture either of the devices for the customers that need them most. 'The big companies,' he says, 'long ago figured out - the people in the world that have no water and have no electricity have no money.' He's tried the United Nations, too, but discovered a Catch-22: non-governmental organisations won't buy the devices until they're in full production.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Too soon. Despite a deeply sympathetic performance by Josh Brolin, Oliver Stone's why-Bush-is-that-way biopic never traffics in anything other than the obvious. W.'s feelings of inferiority, reinforced by his Presidential father (James Cromwell), lead him through a succession of youthful misadventures and career failures before a religious conversion helps him to kick alcohol and get his act together. Stanley Weiser's script deserves some credit for attempting to treat Bush's religion seriously; Stacy Keach has a dynamite scene as a minister who talks W. through a spiritual crisis.

The Presidential years play like a greatest hits of every Bob Woodward book you've read in the past eight years. Powell (Jeffrey Wright) blanches at Bush's messianic vision of a democratized Middle East, Cheney (a sly Richard Dreyfuss) articulates the neocon worldview Bush isn't smooth enough to put into words, Tenet (Bruce McGill) has a better handle on the truth than anyone but is totally ignored, and no one quite knows what Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) is talking about. Although the oil-related benefits of a U.S. presence in the Middle East are spelled out (in a situation room scene that could play as a one-act history of the Iraq War buildup), Stone pays Bush the compliment of believing that W. genuinely thinks he's keeping America safe. The big loser among the supporting cast in Thandie Newton's Condi Rice, who's written as little more than a toady with an fake-sounding accent. I wanted more Of Elizabeth Banks' Laura, apparently the only person who can tell her husband the truth and genuinely in love with the man. The script gives Bush such thin motivation that the movie could have provided more revelation if it had been written from her point of view. W. is too pat to cheer liberals or really anger conservatives; it is, surprisingly, a premature good faith effort to understand the man who's responsible for how we got here.


NP to star and exec produce a Jennifer Lopez-abandoned project called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. (MTV Movies)

Nolan speaks

The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan breaks down the Batman/Joker interrogation scene. (Hero Complex)

On the set, we shot it fairly early on. It was actually one of the first things that Heath had to do as the Joker. He told me he was actually pretty excited to tear off a big chunk early on, really get one of the Joker’s key scenes up in the first three weeks of a seven-month shoot. He and I both liked the idea of just diving in, as did Christian [Bale, who portrayed Batman]. We had rehearsed the scene a tiny bit. We had just ripped through it a couple of times in pre-production just to get some slight feel of how it was going to work. Neither of them wanted to go too far with it in rehearsal. They had to rehearse some of the fight choreography, but even with that, we tried to keep it loose and improvisational. They wanted to save it all. We were all pretty excited to get on with a big chunk of dialogue and this big intense scene between these two iconic characters.

The War on Science continues

Christopher Hitchens goes off on GOP know-nothings. Wonderful. (Slate)

Sen. John McCain has made repeated use of an anti-waste and anti-pork ad (several times repeated and elaborated in his increasingly witless speeches) in which the expenditure of $3 million to study the DNA of grizzly bears in Montana was derided as "unbelievable." As an excellent article in the Feb. 8, 2008, Scientific American pointed out, there is no way to enforce the Endangered Species Act without getting some sort of estimate of numbers, and the best way of tracking and tracing the elusive grizzly is by setting up barbed-wire hair-snagging stations that painlessly take samples from the bears as they lumber by and then running the DNA samples through a laboratory. The cost is almost trivial compared with the importance of understanding this species, and I dare say the project will yield results in the measurement of other animal populations as well, but all McCain could do was be flippant and say that he wondered whether it was a "paternity" or "criminal" issue that the Fish and Wildlife Service was investigating.

I just joined the group, "I want to get paid."

Will the economic crisis kill Web 2.0? Or, as Andrew Sullivan asks, will the newly unemployed have more time to devote to blogging? (Internet Evolution/Daily Dish)

When, in 50 years time, the definitive histories of the Web 2.0 epoch are written, historians will look back at the open-source mania between 2000 and 2008 with a mixture of incredulity and amusement. How could tens of thousands of people have donated their knowledge to Wikipedia or the blogosphere for free? What was it about the Internet that made so many of us irrational about our economic value? It was a "mania," these mid-21st-century historians will explain, like the Dutch Tulip mania of the 1630s or South Sea Bubble of 1720 -- a mania that ended with the great crash of October 2008.

Another color

A different take on Mad Men that's worth reading. (The Atlantic)

Don believes his progress is tied to no one ever knowing who he truly is, to no one discovering his true history--his secret identity, if you will. Don Draper is, in the parlance of old black folks, passing. His orgins are not proper and gentile--he is the child of a prostitute, who as reinvented himself for the Manhattan jet-set. He is Gatsby and Anatole Broyard, no? And yet the irony that animates Mad Men is the fact that, without that past, Draper would likely be the sort of pampered hack he despises. He'd be Pete Campbell. His double consciousness, makes him, indeed, doubly conscious, doubly aware. Don Draper sees more.

Paul Farmer

“I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don’t dislike victory. . . . You know, people from our background — like you, like most PIH-ers, like me — we’re used to being on a victory team, and actually what we’re really trying to do in PIH is to make common cause with the losers. Those are two very different things. We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it’s not worth it. So you fight the long defeat.”

That's a quote from Dr. Paul Farmer in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains. I've been wanting to link to this TAS post for some time, it discusses both Farmer and the idea of the "long defeat" in more detail. If you don't know who Farmer is or what he has done, you should.

"Jesus Etc."

Norah Jones (on guitar) covers Wilco....(Muzzle of Bees)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tony Hillerman

Novelist Tony Hillerman has died at age 83. (NY Times)

But beginning with “The Blessing Way” in 1970 the 18 novels Mr. Hillerman set on Southwest Indian reservations featuring Lieut. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, brought a new dimension to the character of the traditional genre hero.

Joe Leaphorn, seasoned and a bit cynical, has a logical mind and a passion for order that reflects his upbringing in the Navajo Way. His code of behavior is dictated by a belief in the ordered, harmonious patterns of life that link man to the natural world. But he is not a fundamentalist in terms of religion; the grizzled skeptic is the holder of a master’s degree in anthropology.

Younger and more idealistic than his pragmatic fellow police officer, Jim Chee seeks a more spiritual connection to Navajo tradition. Over the course of several books, he studies to become a hataalii, a singer or medicine man. This ambition often creates friction between the religious faith he professes and the secular rules of criminal justice he is sworn to uphold. Chee first appears in “People of Darkness,” Mr. Hillerman’s fifth novel, as a counterpoint to Leaphorn’s cynicism.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Music - Gary Louris: "I'd Run Away"

Gary Louris does an old Jayhawks song. I wrote a review of Louris's solo CD Vagabonds here at my aborted altcountry blog.

Put your hands on your hips...

...and consider Angelina Jolie's chances of an Oscar nomination for The Changeling. (Gold Derby)

Past is prologue?

David Thomson's new book has a crush on contemporary films but is in love with the classics. (The Atlantic)

“Have You Seen …?”—a by turns astringent and gushy appraisal of 1,000 movies made from 1895 to 2007—is, for better and worse, something of a muddle. Whereas the lyrical and bullying, ardent and Olympian, minutely detailed and defiantly impressionistic Dictionary, with its closely packed, tightly printed, double-columned pages, aims toward the comprehensive, this work discriminates in what it includes and what it doesn’t—but does so using several different and somewhat contradictory criteria.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

You say Synecdoche, I say.....

Charlie Kaufman: (Greencine)

Specifically, I find the act of writing or creating another world intriguing and I try to analyze why. To a certain extent, it's part of the process of being alive in the world. We do that constantly. It's not just for writers or filmmakers or theater directors. We constantly take this information and organize it. We constantly tell stories about ourselves. We put our lives in the context of a story, which it really isn't. It's really a subjective, human thing to do - to tell stories about the people that we meet and how we fit in with them. To me, it's a larger thing than a thing about writing or about directing or about the artistic process. It's more about what the interior process of being a human being is, for me.

Worst Blog Post of the Day #4

Technically this may not be a blog post and I wasn't even going to mention it because it's so idiotic, but since a couple of other bloggers I respect have linked to it I'll go ahead and nominate "The Palin Trig-ger" at National Review as one of the worst pieces of political commentary I've ever read.

Truth watch

TPM reports the McCain campaign's possible involvement in pushing an extreme version of the "mugging" story, which has aince been revealed as a hoax.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mad master

Matthew Weiner of Mad Men on plotting, why the show won't cover the Kennedy assassination, and the importance (or lack thereof) of anachronisms. (Variety)

You know this whole concept about anachronisms… I know it’s a game people like to play. And they know I’m working my ass off to keep it from happening. Someone sent me something about how the font at the end of the show was Arial and was not period. I was like “The show’s over, go home. I’m allowed to do whatever I want” (laughs). By the way, I’m allowed to do whatever I want anyway. Don could pull a cell phone out at some time. I don’t do that stuff because I don’t want the reality broken.

Emotional Rescue

Think you need to be musical to appreciate the finer points of music? Not so, says Anecdotal Evidence (with a little help from W.H. Auden).

When music hits me – and often it doesn’t -- it’s unmediated, pre-rational and pre-critical, not at all the way I read King Lear or look at a Matisse. Music is to poetry and painting as the sense of smell is to the sense of sight. I’m musically ignorant enough to believe that music is about something, often something quite emotional. When listening to good jazz Larkin said he was reduced to “a grinning, jigging wordlessness, interspersed with a grunt or two at specially good bits.”

Babylon or bust

I was surprised to learn that veteran TV writer J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) had never had a feature film credit until the just-released The Changeling. (MovieMaker)

MM: How many screenplays had you actually written before then?

JMS: Depends on what you mean by that question. I had worked in television for 20 years and during that period of time I made it a point to avoid the movie industry. I had been given the opportunity to write for them and I never did it just because film was always a crapshoot. You could spend years in development hell and never see anything ever get made, while with television it gets made; if you order 20 episodes you shoot 20 episodes and I liked that aspect of it.

I had written screenplays for myself and, this may sound weird, but I write just for myself, so I had about a dozen screenplays that I had written that no one will ever see that I just wrote to amuse myself. So I knew the form and when I finished up the screenplay, which was the first one I really had taken out, this was the result. It’s kind of remarkable to have your first screenplay get this kind of result.

Play and hit publish

The CMJ Music Marathon showcases blog-promoted bands. (NY Times)

I spent the afternoon at two blog parties on Ludlow Street, presented by The Music Slut ( and Pop Tarts Suck Toasted ( Then it was over to the Music Hall of Williamsburg for Brooklyn Vegan’s showcase and to Webster Hall in the East Village for Stereogum’s party.

As bookers, the blogs did pretty well. Priding themselves on variety, they supplied tunes and noise, storytelling and dance beats, pop elegance and structural experiments, pretensions and rumpuses. Some bands offered the kind of cleverly allusive music that bloggers convince themselves they enjoy, like the would-be pop contenders Passion Pit, an openly cheesy shotgun wedding of the 1970s and 1980s with love-struck lyrics, disco beats, U2 guitars and shrill falsetto vocals. (Wardrobe hint: A disco revival needs something snazzier than T-shirts.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - "Gardenia"

My favorite song of the year to date...

You want to major in what?

Dark Horse Comics gets the Academy's blessing. (PW Beat)

In an partnership formally unveiled last week, Dark Horse Comics‘ entire catalogue is now being shelved at Portland State University. Available for check-out from the PSU library’s general circulating collection will be one copy of everything Dark Horse has ever published: comic book, graphic novel, manga, hardcover and foreign edition, you name it. A second copy of each will be stored in the library’s special collection.

While it’s become increasingly common for libraries to stock graphic novels, the PSU arrangement goes far beyond that in a number of ways. They’re not just shelving books with a spine, but also the floppy “pamphlet” comic books, which have long been archived only in fans’ long-boxes and retailers’ back issue bins. At Portland State, each issue will be given an acid-proof cover and a call number, as well as an extensive catalog listing that will include credits for everyone involved, including letterer and colorist.

We've Loved You

Oscar love for Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long. (The Daily Beast)

Thomas as Juliette is the kind of performance that critics always say deserves an Oscar, but rarely wins: an interior role in a small film in another language. But who knows? The critics have been rapturous. Maybe the Academy will be as well. The film will be a glaring absence in the Foreign Film category (France’s “The Class” is France’s selection this year), but we’d be glad to see Thomas in the Best Actress category again, where she belongs. There certainly has not been a better performance this year in any country.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Williams on Wendy

Michelle Williams, dignified as usual, talks Wendy and Lucy. (Indiewire)

She said that her and Reichardt "really just made it for themselves," but that stance has been tested as the film met festival after festival with glowing reception, most recently at the New York Film Festival. "The response has really been amazing," Williams said. "Kelly and I really didn't expect it. I mean, seeing it screen at the Zeigfeld with this big audience. It was really gratifying."


Rolling Stone has a major artice on David Foster Wallace, but the whole thing isn't online. Go to Kottke for a good selection of highlights.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Brett Dennen

Brett Dennen takes a lot of flack for the supposed naivete of his lyrics, but isn't he really just doing the same thing that has been making John Mayer rich for years? I'd say "Heaven ain't got no prisons/no government no business" is at least on a par with "Mothers be good to your daughters." His new album Hope For The Hopeless is a collection of melodically rich meditations on peace, justice, and love that benefit greatly from Dennen's smoky voice and his way of making even the most generic sentiments seem genuine. I'd also imagine that it takes some guts to have Femi Kuti sing backing vocals. I'm not sure if Dennen has a great album in him, but he has enough satisfying songs to have more than a few summers ahead as an opener on the amphitheater circuit.

The Duchess

There's no one I'd rather watch be British and period than Keira Knightley, but The Duchess suffers from a bit too much modern reimagining. Knightley plays Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Still a teenager when she marries the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), she quickly learns that a marriage she naively believed was based on love is subject to rules of society and propriety she doesn't understand. Georgiana's failure to quickly produce a male heir drives her husband into the arms of various mistresses; the most important of which was the Lady Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell). Foster was brought into the house by the Duke, and the three lived under one roof until Georgiana's death in 1806.

The Duchess is based on a biography of Georgiana by Amanda Foreman, and I can only assume that the book deals with Georgiana's impact on the culture. Saul Dibb's film only gives a mention of Georgiana designing her own dresses, a couple of scenes of her being sketched by journalists, and a glimpse of her campaigning for the Whigs, her lover Charles Gray (Dominic Cooper), and Charles James Fox (Simon McBurney, whom I wanted to see more of as usual). The script glosses over all this and focuses on Georgiana's inability to escape the strictures of the male-dominated society of the day. The Duke, played by Fiennes with an awareness of his own failings he can't articulate, can only relate to Georgiana as a breeder and is drawn to the older Lady Foster's awareness of her own sexuality. I predict Knightley's performance will be underrated here, she never plays Georgiana's awareness of her own situation but keeps the emotional stakes right where they should be. The interlude with Gray is too brief, surely some time could have been spent on what the Duchess might have learned about herself from her friendship with Foster. The Duchess is slightly too long and could have been shaped better, but Knightley, Fiennes, Atwell, and Charlotte Rampling as Georgiana's mother give it a freshness that the British period movie too often lacks.

For what it's worth

Mostly Movies now has its own Twitter.....

Will everyone who understands the ACORN story....

...please step forward. Not so fast, Fox News. Just the facts: (Talking Points Memo)

Vote registration fraud is a limited and relatively minor problem in the US today. But it is principally an administrative and efficiency issue. It is has little or nothing to do with people casting illegitimate votes to affect an actual election. That's the key. What you're hearing right now from Fox News, the New York Post, John Fund and the rest of the right-wing bamboozlement chorus is a just another effort to exploit, confuse and lie in an effort to put more severe restrictions on legitimate voting and lay the groundwork to steal elections.

World Animal Day

World Animal Day was October 4th; celebrate belatedly with The Big Picture.

DGG's next gig

David Gordon Green has been hired to direct a graphic novel adaptation called Freaks of the Heartland. It sounds like it could be a worthy twist on some of Green's more personal films. (Hollywood Reporter)

Illustrated by Greg Ruth, Niles' six-part 2004 series about the horrible secret of a rural Middle American town involves Trevor Owen's attempts to protect his "monster" of a 6-year-old younger brother and Gristlewood Valley's other "freaks" from their parents' worst instincts.

"Bella Donna"

I love the Avett Brothers, but would also love to see some camera movement. (Muzzle of Bees)

The filmmakers we deserve?

Depression-era films reflected human experience in a way the filmmakers of today could never replicate, says David Thomson. Are you listening, Brett Ratner? (Guardian)

Those people and much of the audience have lost the habit, or even the memory, of hard times. And the connection between that dismay and great hopes has had 60 years of prosperity, supremacy and self-satisfaction. The last is the most alarming trait, for it indicates the loss of a critical spirit and a sense of politics that believes in the steady decay of power. The critical spirit that made My Man Godfrey and wrote The Grapes of Wrath is not coming back at a snap of the fingers. Americans (and the people of many other nations) need to reacquire a capacity for experience, for registering what happens to you and seeing it writ large in the people as a whole.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Market madness

Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones (who is obviously not in this picture) solve the global financial crisis. (EW)

He would want you to know

John Hodgman is guest blogging at BoingBoing.

Award derby

Gotham Independent Film Award Nominees: (Cinematical)

Ballast, a much-honored drama about life and death on the Mississippi delta, scored four nominations -- more than anything else -- in the categories of Best Feature, Breakthrough Director (Lance Hammer), Breakthrough Actor (Michael J. Smith Sr.), and Best Ensemble Performance. It's a notable indie film because it's being distributed independently, too, with Hammer having backed out of a deal with IFC Films to release it himself.

Future is now

If your idea of a fun night at the movies involves a Jane Austen adaptation, this story might not be for you. A report from the Scream Awards gives a good indication of where Hollywood is heading. (Hero Complex)

"There's a feeling that film and comic books and all these genres that didn't used to get respect are having this truly dynamic moment right now," said Zack Snyder, director of "300" and the upcoming R- rated superhero epic "Watchmen." "Just look around tonight and you get this feeling things are going into interesting places."

The Scream Awards, which will air Tuesday night on the Spike TV cable channel, are hardly a ratings powerhouse, but you wouldn't have known that from the celebrity turnout. Anthony Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson, Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman appeared to present or receive awards, and two of the most successful filmmakers alive arrived on stage in dramatic fashion -- "Sweeney Todd" director Tim Burton floated in via hot-air balloon like the Wizard into Oz, and "Star Wars" mogul George Lucas entered accompanied by a marching regiment of stormtroopers.

The Truth is Out There

In order for the anti-Obama crazies to be right about Bill Ayers, Marxism, etc., what would have to be true? (Peter Sagal)

2) and/or that those of his friends/colleagues/co-conspirators to whom he did reveal his true agenda, (William Ayers, et al) have also maintained absolute perfect silence/mendacity on the topic, forever, as no one who actually knows Obama has ever said, “You know, once he’s got a couple of drinks in him, he starts going on about Che and finishing the Revolution;”

Further on up The Road

It looks like we'll have to wait until next year to see The Road. Was it delayed because of art or Oscar campaign politics? (The Playlist)

With "The Soloist" also moved to 2009, and "Defiance" basically doing the same (it will receive a very-late December opening just to Oscar-qualify), it appears as if studios are saying: Oscars are nice and all, but not necessarily driving the bottom dollar, if we can release a strong film in Q1, it might make us much more money that it would during Oscar season - and right now that might be all that counts.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Angelina Jolie talks The Changeling and acting as therapy. Interesting point about being the only A-list female star to have never done a romantic comedy. (NY Times)

Grief hit Ms. Jolie hard — and led, oddly, not to “Changeling” but to “Wanted,” a blood-splashed, R-rated comic-book adaptation in which she gives what she wryly called “my Clint Eastwood performance” as a ruthless, almost superhuman gunslinger who utters barely two dozen lines.

“I knew instinctively that I needed something before ‘Changeling,’ ” she said. “I was depleted. I was in a state of just wanting to pull the covers over my head and cry about my mom. It was just too much. For me, there have been times when an action movie, even a ‘Tomb Raider,’ has helped me get out of myself and be physical again. It’s like therapy.”

Ms. Jolie, who says she doesn’t particularly like to watch her own work, hasn’t seen “Wanted.” The film has grossed more than $300 million worldwide. “I’m glad it worked out,” she said with a smile.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sunday Music - Lucinda Williams/"Car Wheels On A Gravel Road"

2006, the Netherlands

Aim High

Spike Lee and Oliver Stone can be infuriating, but I'm in agreement with this TAS post about the value of their ambition and their productivity. As for their latest works, I haven't seen W. yet but it would have to work pretty hard to be worse than Miracle at St. Anna.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Let's meet in the conference room

Mad Men renewed for third season, creator ponders future. (Variety)

Apocalypse Now (and Now, and Now....)

Want to watch the 5-hour workprint of Apocalypse Now? Well, now you don't have to. (Guardian)

One of the things removed from the film for the cinematic release, along with the extra footage, is its political conscience. Scenes in which the characters question and criticise the US involvement in Vietnam and the conduct of American government are cut. Themes of politics give way to an exploration of the human nature and psychology.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gary Snyder

Sure, I could blog on the Malcolm Gladwell piece everybody's talking about. The same issue of the New Yorker contains a profile of poet Gary Snyder which is unfortunately not online. His poem "Hay for the Horses" :

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

Why I Blog

Andrew Sullivan, "Why I Blog" - an important statement of the possibilities and promises of the new medium (Atlantic)

The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete. The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts. You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you are experiencing, and share the moment. When readers of my blog bump into me in person, they invariably address me as Andrew. Print readers don’t do that. It’s Mr. Sullivan to them.

Do the Shuffle #16

  • Neko Case - John Saw That Number
  • Guided By Voices - Game of Pricks
  • Yo La Tengo - Autumn Sweater
  • Dinosaur Jr. - We're Not Alone
  • Wilco - Impossible Germany
  • M. Ward - Vincent O'Brien
  • Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Johnny Appleseed
  • Calexico - Cruel
  • Fleet Foxes - Oliver James
  • The Connells - Hey You
  • Ryan Adams - Dear Chicago
  • Talking Heads - Found A Job (live)
  • Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Madonna, Auteur

    Reviews for Madonna's directorial debut, Filth & Wisdom, are coming in and usual Anthony Lane is the most interesting read. (Greencine/New Yorker)

    Meanwhile, Madonna’s mess of a movie grabs at the rub and rancor of multiculturalism, which it proceeds to squash into a litter of clichés, or, more simply, insults. We get the hectoring Indian wife, besieged with children, followed by the hectoring Jewish wife, clad in curlers at breakfast and gold jewelry for the rest of the day, and married to a weak and masochistic property developer named Goldfarb (Elliot Levey). I may be missing something here, but, if you’re going to profess an interest in Jewish mysticism, as Madonna the Kabbalist has done, it may not be a terribly good idea to create a scene in which a Jewish man pays to be beaten by a Ukrainian and addressed as Rothschild. Why did Mr. Ritchie not warn Mrs. Ritchie about this, as they sat around in their lovely gangsterless home, comparing notes on filmmaking? Could it be that he feared a right old hectoring? We will never know.

    Dept. of Too Easy

    Mccain hugs ACORN's neck. (BoingBoing)

    At Last...

    We learn just how well Radiohead did by releasing In Rainbows in a pay-what-you-can digital format. (Musically)

    The reasons for this are too varied and complex to go into in any great detail. But fundamentally the publisher was able to move faster and do quick deals (with everyone from Radiohead itself to iTunes and which would ensure the money came in straight away. But Dyball is also clear that this is not about to lead to the publisher withdrawing rights en masse from the society network.

    Where Dyball is arguably less successful is in busting some of the ‘myths’ which have grown up around the experiment. Firstly, the most effective way to confront the claim that the average unit price was too low would have been to reveal what the average price in fact was.

    Instead Dyball points to the fact that the band and their management never announced a timeline for the pay-what-you-like experiment and were watching the average price daily with a view to potentially withdrawing it any moment should it drop too low.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Body of Lies

    A long and complicated movie that isn't, as some have said, about U.S. involvement in Iraq but rather about our attitude to the entire region. There are political debates, well-staged action sequences, and DiCaprio's crush on a nurse (Golshifteh Farahani)who gives him a rabies shot, but the heart of the movie is the running argument between Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Hoffman (Russell Crowe). Ferris believes in cooperation with friendly governments in the region and forms an alliance with Jordanian intelligence chief Hani (Mark Strong) while his handler Hoffman pursues a different and more self-aggrandizing agenda. Hoffman, whose motives are never really articulated, sucks up all of Ferris's assets for his own purposes. Usually this results in doing things more quickly and less well than Ferris and his Jordanian pals can do it. I wish Crowe's role had been fleshed out a bit more, is Hoffman following a neocon agenda or just looking for personal advancement? Even though the script gives the two leads ample time to air their views, Ridley Scott never really settles on a point of view and the operation that Ferris and Hoffman mount to catch the master terrorist feels rushed and half thought through at best.

    Ridley Scott certainly knows how to keep a film moving and he gets good performances from everybody (including Simon McBurney as a computer whiz) but by the end Body of Lies throws up its hands and settles for a 24-style climax. This entertaining film feels like a wasted opportunity, I wish Scott had gone deeper into how the U.S. consistently misunderstands the Middle east. That's a film we need.

    RELATED - Open Letter to Ridley Scott. (Parabasis)

    Ayers alert

    The director of a documentary on Ayers and the Weather Underground speaks out. (All These Wonderful Things)

    I, like most Obama supporters, have watched with a mixture of apprehension and revulsion as McCain and his VP-pick have ratcheted up their efforts to smear Obama with his tenuous link to Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the Weather Underground. Me and my pal Bill Siegel made a documentary about the Weather Underground a couple of years ago, and we filmed a number of interviews with Bill Ayers. Since that time, he's become a good friend of ours. We took him and Bernardine Dohrn, his wife, with us to the Academy Awards in 2004 when our film was nominated for an Oscar.

    Do the Shuffle #15

    The city has put a walking trail behind my place, so I am now less than a 10 minute walk from the park. No driving required:

  • Gillian Welch - Revelator
  • The Hold Steady - Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window
  • The B-52's - Junebug
  • Steve Earle - Tennessee Blues
  • Sonic Youth - Bull In The Heather
  • Ryan Adams - Nuclear
  • Throwing Muses - Fever Few
  • The Spinanes - Epiphany
  • Luna - Great Jones Street
  • Tom Waits - A Little Rain
  • Monday, October 13, 2008

    OK, this may be worse

    Rachel Getting Married continues to bring out the crazies. At Hollywood Elsewhere, the argument is that there's a problem because no one even mentions the fact that the marriage at the center of the movie is interracial. Listen up:

    You can say "well, why would anybody mention it?" and I'd take your point, of course. We all like to see ourselves as color-blind. My point is that in real life someone in the wedding party would at one point or another throw some kind of slider ball -- something anecdotal, flip, netural, whatever-- into the proceedings. In the same way someone would say "oh, it's raining" if a cloudburst were to happen. My other point is that such a remark (which wouldn't necessarily be coarse or gauche ) is verboten in a Demme film because it doesn't reflect his values or sensibilities.

    I'm waiting for an attack on Scorsese for not including a scene in which someone says to Travis Bickle, "You've got some sociopathic tendencies," and on Woody Allen for not making movies about homeless people. After all, those directors' films reflect their values and sensibilities too right?

    Hitch switch

    Christopher Hitchens endorses Obama. (Slate)

    The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: "What does he take me for?" Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin. I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to her just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party's right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama's position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.

    Worst Blog Post of the Day #3

    "Anne Hathaway will be nominated for an Oscar...but she doesn't deserve it." (SpoutBlog)

    The usually reliable SpoutBlog blows it with a post analyzing Rachel Getting Married and Anne Hathaway entirely in terms of insider buzz and speculation as opposed to, you know, whether they're any good. When will bloggers realize writing posts like this is just doing the studios' bidding?

    Guillaume Depardieu

    The actor son of French icon Gerard Depardieu has died at age 37. (Guardian)

    Guillaume Depardieu, the son of Gérard Depardieu, died earlier today at the age of 37.

    The cause of death was named as pneumonia, which he'd contracted three days earlier in Paris' Raymond Poincare hospital.

    Suck It Friedman!

    Your Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Paul Krugman. (NY Times)

    Mr. Krugman, 55, is probably more widely known as a perpetual thorn in George Bush’s side from his perch as an Op-Ed page columnist for nearly a decade. His columns have won him both strong supporters and ardent critics. The Nobel, however, was awarded for academic — and less political — research that he conducted primarily before he began regularly writing for The Times.

    Valley PTA

    Esquire's piece on Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't answer as many questions at it raises; Anderson was movie-obsessed and driven, but where was the breaking point that had him not talking to his high-school friends? At least we know the full story of how Anderson came to give the world Philip Baker Hall (above).

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Just how bad is it?

    Palin's Troopergate: (Obsidian Wings)

    Moreover, the Palins seem to have had access to a private investigator's report on Wooten (p. 18). And Todd Palin called people on several occasions to inform them of something Wooten seems to have done wrong that, absent a whole lot of coincidences, he could only have known if he was having Wooten followed, or if he was himself stalking Wooten. Once he called to say that Wooten, who had been injured, was riding his snowmobile, that he (Palin) had pictures, and that he "thought there might be some workers' compensation fraud issues." (p. 29.) It turned out that Wooten had consulted with his doctor before going snowmobiling. Another time, Todd Palin called to say that Wooten had been seen dropping his kids off at school in a marked police vehicle. It turned out that Wooten had his supervisor's permission to do so. (p. 32.) It's pretty strange.

    Generally, the report makes it sound as though the Palins, especially Todd Palin, were just obsessed with Wooten, in a truly peculiar and creepy way.

    Job opportunity?

    Arianna Huffington in The New Yorker.

    In the course of two days in May, Huffington invited the following people to be Huffington Post bloggers: someone at a book signing who had met her at Rob Reiner’s house; a fifteen-year-old lecture attendee; a bookstore owner; the Asperger’s-afflicted teen-age son of a radio d.j.; a woman, dressed exclusively in green, who was trying to stop insecticide spraying. Huffington is profligate in her offers. At Google, she urged the audience to e-mail her blog submissions, saying, “I mean, I’ll give you my own e-mail address.”

    Sunday Music - Husker Du

    This is a little long, but come on. Husker Du play two songs on the Joan Rivers show in 1987.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008


    An American Carol gets slapped around. (Philadelphia Weekly)

    Here is a movie tasteless enough to feature Voight’s Washington and Farley’s empty-headed muckracker at the still-smoldering ruins of Ground Zero. While adrift and despondent in the ashes of senselessly murdered civilians, our pacifist filmmaker must at last relent, admitting that war really is the answer … and he also learns to love shitty modern country music.

    Lord knows, Michael Moore had something like this coming. But despite barn-sized targets like Moore’s perpetual, galling mendacity and monolithic egomania, Zucker mocks him for being fat.

    Lazy Saturday

  • A blog celebrates the well-dressed and elderly. (Advanced Style)

  • The gay family drama Breakfast with Scot needs a little more oomph. (Slant)

    Casting Cavanagh and Shenkman in a film together, let alone as gay lovers, practically counts as a human-rights violation, but more offensive than the neurotic tics these two predictably bring to the table is the sexlessness of their parts.

  • The Roots cover Lil Wayne (Stereogum)
  • Friday, October 10, 2008

    The JC Film Fest: Night and Fog

    (Part of a continuing series in which I watch films recommended to me by my fellow blogger, stage manager, and personal minister of culture.)

    I recently saw a trailer for a forthcoming film called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, in which a Nazi officer becomes the commandant of a concentration camp and his young son begins a clandestine friendship (conducted over barbed wire) with a Jewish detainee about his age. I don't know much about the film, which stars the always interesting British actor David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga, or the novel on which it's based. I'd invite comment from anyone who does, but in the meantime it seems a fair bet that the movie fits into the mold of a number of recent Holocaust themed films. By that I mean that even the best made or best intentioned dramatic films about the Holocaust are designed to fit into our 21st century moral framework, in which the Holocaust is a problem that can be rationally analyzed and to varying degrees staved off with money ("Schindler's List") or humor ("Life Is Beautiful"). We feel comfortable. Someone learns something. Time for bed. I share the viewpoint expressed in the film of Alan Bennett's The History Boys, in which the visiting teacher tries get the boys to boil down the Holocaust into bullet points in order to help them win a place at Oxford (to the horror of Richard Griffiths' Hector). To explain the Holocaust places it within the some limit of rational human behavior, and puts us on the road to writing it off.

    It's with this attitude that I come to Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog), the short 1955 documentary about the concentration camps by Alain Resnais. "Essay" might be a better term than documentary, since the narration written and read by poet Jean Cayrol makes the explicit point that Resnais' images of the now-deserted camps can't begin to capture the horror of what went on. Even the archival footage (taken from newsreels and footage shot after the camps were liberated) only records the aftermath of an obscenity. Resnais says in an audio interview on the DVD that the mixing of color footage (of the empty camps and surrounding grounds) and black & white archival footage from the 1940's was considered radical at the time, and the effect is jarring. The peaceful grounds belie what went on inside, and Cayrol's narration mentions the crematoriums as spots for tourists to have their pictures taken. (There's a mention of "visitors centers" in The History Boys) The barely concealed subtext of the film, which details the organizational structure and layout of the camps, is that we've already started to forget. "War nods off to sleep, but keeps one eye always open," says Cayrol. Anyone who has found their human spirit triumphing after watching a dramatic treatment of the Holocaust should be required to watch Night and Fog. Twice.

    Jim Brown

    The football great, now in his 70's, talks about his involvement with the Ernie Davis biopic The Express and what he thinks of today's athletes. (The Big Picture)

    Brown expects more from today's athletes. After all, he walked the walk. When Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and threatened with jail time for refusing to register for the draft during the Vietnam War, it was Brown and Boston Celtics star Bill Russell who led a contingent of black athletes who offered Ali their support. "Sports is detrimental to the development of culture if all you're willing to do is enjoy the fruits of this country," he says. "You've got to reinvest in the culture, not just exploit it. Today people just want non-combative heroes, who smile and say all the right things. That's fine, but that doesn't mean you have to play the fool and shake your butt just because you caught a pass for a touchdown."

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    Aspect of Evil

    For all you aspect ratio fans out there, there are lots of film bloggers hating on the new DVD release of Welles' Touch of Evil. Here's an open letter to the studio with some relevant links. (Cinema Asparagus)

    Terse verse

    John Cleese on Sean Hannity. As an aside, scan through the comments and decide whether you still think everyone should be allowed internet access. (Talking Points Memo)

    Portman's project

    A great story about NP's work with FINCA to secure microloans for women in developing countries. Big Change is NP's digital playlist in support of the organization; details are here and the music is available on iTunes. (USA Today/Pitchfork)

    "In Guatemala, I remember seeing a family with four generations of women. It might have even been five. They were together, living together, and the grandmother was watching the baby while the women were in the market," Portman says. "They had a small food stand, and with a loan they were able to buy a scale. That vastly grew their business. They got a refrigerator. Whatever they didn't sell could keep for longer."

    Portman recently embarked on a tour of college campuses to talk about FINCA's work. She also helps raise funds for the organization.

    Manny being Manny

    It's a good time to revisit Manny Ramirez as the NLCS gets underway. I wrote about my frustration with the way the media portrays Manny here. Check out a similar post with numbers to back it up:

    Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver joined the chorus-well, actually he stepped in front of the chorus, grabbed a mike, waved down the band and called for a spotlight-Wednesday, slamming Manny Ramirez based largely on the same secondhand stories that have passed around for more than two months.

    “[S]ome of the things he did were simply despicable, despicable - like not playing, refusing to play.”

    In July, when Ramirez was supposedly “refusing to play,” the Red Sox played 24 games. Ramirez played in 22 of them. This was tied for fourth on the team with J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury. He was sixth on the team in plate appearances (AB+BB) in July. Not quite Lou Gehrig’s numbers, but he helped out a bit more than David Ortiz (six games), and was in the lineup somewhat more often than peers such as Moises Alou (one game). Oh, he didn’t get three days off in the middle of the month-Ramirez played in the All-Star Game.

    More here. (Baseball Prospectus/Kottke)

    Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    "I have loved Republicans."

    Playwright Sarah Ruhl on Obama. (Obama Arts)

    I believe that the people who have responded strongly to Barack Obama’s candidacy, including myself, have responded to him not merely because he is a good speaker but because there is something about his language, his writing and his speech, that feels authentic. It feels as though his language might actually reflect a real self, and a self that is capable of moral action, matching and extending his speech into the realm of historic deeds.

    T-shirt showdown

    An indie band's Obama shirt doesn't fly on a late night show. (Stereogum)

    After the rehearsals, the people from CBS said I couldn't wear the shirt. I threatened to walk off the set and not do the show. They would not budge. They said that it was because they had to give equal time. I told them to put up a Mccain t-shirt, or anything else they wanted, but they wouldn't do anything. Dean and I talked and we came to the conclusion that it was better to do the show and make a statement on national TV than just walk away. So I turned the shirt inside out and wrote free healthcare on it.

    Trouble in Putinland

    News of an embattled LGBT film festival in Russia. (Indiewire)

    Attending the event as a juror, I was made aware of some of the difficulties Side By Side had been facing. Festival supporters had picked me up from the airport on October 1, tellingly removing their Side By Side identification as soon as we made contact, and expressing anxiety about whether anything else would go wrong. So on October 2, having been told about the closing of the new venues, I was on my way to join the press conference to show my support together with John Cameron Mitchell, who was in attendance to present "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" as the festival's opener.

    Then, we were called and told to stay away. The private security firm that Side By Side employed to protect attendees (itself difficult to arrange, as city officials threatened to revoke the licenses of many security companies Side By Side contacted) were monitoring the area and warned organizers that police officers as well as rapid response teams in light body armor were in the vicinity ready to arrest participants for illegal public assembly.

    Politics, for a moment

    Academic/activist Lawrence Lessig puts the recent negative campaigning in perspective. (Lessig)

    I'm not sure Americans distinguish between hard-hitting-and-fair criticism (which this is) and hard-hitting-and-unfair criticism (which Palin's is). One might worry that they're "burn[ing] down the house to roast the pig" but I assume they've reckoned that.

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008


    It's a lean little Western that doesn't go anywhere new in terms of plot, but director and leading man Ed Harris brings out some fresh psychological complexity in the characters that keeps this from being just a vanity exercise. Harris and Viggo Mortensen find a great lived-in friendship in their two traveling gunmen roles, and the pleasure they take in playing the relationship under their laconic dialogue gives a snap to scenes where not much else is happening. Harris's discovery of his feelings for a newly arrived widow (Renee Zellweger) - feelings which fully blossom during a standoff with two mercenaries - is played with wonderful delicacy. To state it plainly, his performance as a ruthless killer finding his heart makes Kevin Costner look like a hack. The supporting cast is a little uneven; Zellweger's character is refreshingly sexual, but I'm not sure she's got the selfishness the role requires. Jeremy Irons, as the villain, has too little to do and Lance Henriksen is wasted as a gun for hire. There's more depth to 'Appaloosa' than I would have expected from a film based on a Robert B. Parker novel, and I've read most of the Spenser novels. What's a few rough edges, 'Appaloosa' is a fun ride.

    "I Don't Want To Grow Up"

    Scarlett Johansson's version of "I Don't Want To Grow Up" is one of the better cuts on her Tom Waits covers album, but it has the same central flaw that the rest of the disc does. There's so much production and effects going on around the song that not only is it impossible to tell whether Johansson has any musical talent, I'm not really sure I know how she feels about what she's singing. "I Don't Want To Grow Up" begins with a synthesizer wash that wouldn't sound out of place in a John Hughes movie; ScarJo's pouty vocals make the lyrics sound like voice-over from an episode of Sex and the City. No comment on the weird whispering break in the middle. Still, I like this version if only because Johansson's unexpectedly androgynous voice gives the song a sexier edge that the original never dreamed of.

    Country singer/songwriter Hayes Carll's take on the song makes it a surprsingly affecting workingman's anthem. Carll couldn't have anticipated the financial crisis of course, but lines about not wanting the "biggest amount" and "putting no money down" have a populist resonance here and some smart country radio programmer could make this into a novelty hit. I actually believe that Carll doesn't want to grow up; Johansson just sounds like she needs a nightcap and eight hours sleep. The streak of vulnerability that runs through Carll's cover and the entire "Trouble In Mind" album is a refreshing change from so much MOR country fare. (In the documentary on his career, Tom Petty has a line about current country music being "bad rock with a fiddle" or something like that) Neither version can touch the fairy tale charm of Waits's original, but I'm giving this battle of covers to Carll by a nose.

    Monday, October 06, 2008

    Even more excited about....

    ...the new Ryan Adams CD! (Muzzle of Bees)

    Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

    I'm in no position to comment on whether or not an underage gay (sorry, "queercore") punk band would ever get a chance to open for Bishop Allen at a Lower East Side club; but besides a charming and well-played romance between Michael Cera and Kat Dennings Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist offers what can only be termed a post-everything take on teen friendship. No one will be shocked that prematurely neurotic Nick (Cera) winds up with the realer-than-real Norah (Dennings) as opposed to his self-involved ex Tris (Alexis Dziena); it's only stretching a point slightly to say there's another love story going on as well. The only friends of Nick's we see in the film are his gay bandmates Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron). The friendship is played unironically and free of any sexual orientation angst on Cera's part; at one point when Thom counsels Nick on his love life he enthusiastically takes Nick's hand, earning a salute from a passing lesbian couple. Since N&N isn't a teen farce there's no cheap laugh here - the awkwardness and emotional honesty feel genuine.

    Is it too much to hope that N&N might herald an end to identity politics in teen movies? The high school castes of the characters are barely touched upon; Nick, Norah, and their friends appear to have grown up in a world where MTV includes a multicultural selection of straight, gay, and lesbian teens in its documentaries and dating shows without a second thought. (In other words, the world we're living in now) The group expands to include Norah and her friend Caroline (Ari Graynor), with only the "I'm dating a college guy" Tris left on the outside. Finally N&N belongs to the two leads, but it's uncomplicated depiction of teenage friendship is like a new verse to your favorite Where's Fluffy song.

    Sunday, October 05, 2008

    Sunday Music - Bishop Allen/"Things Are What You Make Of Them"

    Bishop Allen make an appearance in (and on the soundtrack of) Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, about which I'll have more to say.

    Rah Rah (Dept. of This Is a Stretch)

    NP is named one of the hottest "anti-cheerleaders." On a side note, this is apparently what the folks at the CBS Sports website do when they're waiting for the NCAA Tournament to start.

    No. 1: Natalie Portman.Forget about how bad the Star Wars films she was in were for now and know that Portman completed her bachelor's degree in psychology at Harvard. She has also pursued graduate studies in Jerusalem, continuing to live up to her billing as Hollywood's Hottest Anti-Cheerleader.

    After beginning her career in the early 1990s, Portman has played the cute, unassuming role in most of her films. But the 2005 drama Closer was the first time Portman portrayed an overtly sexual character, and men can't thank the director enough.

    Friday, October 03, 2008

    Alejandro Escovedo - "Sister Lost Soul"

    I'm enjoying Escovedo's Real Animal more and more each time I hear it.

    Perry to WGA: Upside the head

    Tyler Perry, union-hater. (DHD)

    The Writers Guild of America, West is taking on the fight for justice of writers who were fired when they tried to get a union contract with Tyler Perry’s production company, House of Payne, LLC. The Guild today filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that House of Payne unlawfully fired four writers in retaliation for their union activity. The charge also alleges that the company bargained in bad faith with the Guild, which is seeking to negotiate a contract covering the writers on Perry’s cable television series House of Payne and Meet the Browns.

    Thursday, October 02, 2008

    The Lucky Ones

    Two soldiers (Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams) heading home from Iraq for a 30 day leave and a third (Tim Robbins) whose tour has ended find themselves taking a road trip across the country in Neil Burger's The Lucky Ones. The episodic movie hits some familiar plot points: No one's life is what they thought it would be, there's an object that may provide financial security for one of the characters, relationships formed in war are fleeting at best. Besides three good performances from the leads, what's notable about The Lucky Ones is that it's the first Iraq-film not to be set in a military or militarized subculture. The three soldiers are out in America and find themselves greeted with reflexive politness ("No, thank you" is the standard response when one of them says "Thank you."), ignorance, or condescension. A Midwesterner (John Heard) encounters the trio at an after-church social and disdains Robbins' remark that being in Irag is about "just trying to stay alive." The Lucky Ones very quietly points up just how abstract the war in Iraq is for most of us even six years in.

    NP delay

    NP's new film Brothers, directed by Jim Sheridan and costarring Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, has seen its release delayed until 2009. (Hollywood Elsewhere)


    How do bloggers make money? And as a follow-up, would you rather see slightly fewer but longer posts on this blog? The pressure to create content is too much for some, but there's no danger of this turning into Gawker. (Slate)

    In 2005, Jason Kottke announced that he had quit his job to blog full-time and asked his readers to become "micropatrons" at a suggested rate of $30. He received $39,900 from 1,450 people but abandoned the experiment after a year. Kottke is vague about the reasons why he swore off micropatronage, but he suggests that he was worried that people wouldn't donate year after year. In order to build a bigger audience and potential new donors, he would have had to do some of the cheesy things to drive traffic (i.e., "Top Five Best" posts) and/or become a cult of personality (overshare, start flame wars, social network relentlessly). These days, he accepts ads as part of the Deck network.

    Snow Angels

    One of the biggest disappointments of the movie summer for me was Pineapple Express, the stoner comedy directed by lo-fi auteur David Gordon Green which turned out to be little more than another Judd Apatow comedy filled with Seth Rogen's smug mugging (smugging?). When directors who have proven themselves already enter the studio system it's heartening to think that multiplex fare may get a little better, but that's rarely the case. I haven't seen Nights in Rodanthe, helmed by celebrated theater director George C. Wolfe, but I'm guessing it's no Angels in America. Fans of DGG's earlier films (George Washington, All The Real Girls) will feel more at home with Snow Angels, the drama he released earlier this year which is now out on DVD.

    Based on the novel by Stewart O'Nan, Snow Angels is the first Green film to be set outside the American South. The novel takes place in Pennsylvania but the film's setting is never specified, it could just as easily be New England or Canada. Arthur (Michael Angarano) is a teenager whose father (Griffin Dunne) has just moved out due to a midlife crisis and who doesn't know what to do with is attraction for the funky new girl in school Lila (Olivia Thirlby). Arthur's former babysitter and current co-worker Annie (Kate Beckinsale) is trying to hang on to a life that includes a young daughter and a troubled estranged husband named Glen (Sam Rockwell) who has just reentered her life. The vague back story we get about Glenn involves a suicide attempt, a conversion to Christianity, and some kind of judicial mandate to stay away from Annie and their daughter. (People keep telling him, "You're not supposed to be here.") I've never paid much attention to Sam Rockwell; his Zaphod in Hitchhiker's Guide was agreeably silly but otherwise he's been saddled with a career as the villain or snarky second lead. Rockwell must have leapt on this role like a wild animal; the chance to play a character with a history and some emotional shading doesn't come along every day. Beckinsale is believably beaten down but still gives Annie flashes of an old spark. Annie semi-flirts with Arthur in the kitchen where they work, recalling her old babysitting days and telling him "I totally used to give you baths."

    I think there are probably one too many movies going on inside of Snow Angels, which is disappointing since both of them are so good. The Lila and Arthur stuff is very well played by Angarano and the much-hyped Thirlby, it's this part of the movie that hews closest to Green's earlier films since Arthur is just beginning to discover the world of love, loss, responsibility, and consequences the way that Paul Schneider's character does in All The Real Girls. The Annie-Glenn story is a bit tougher going since as good as Rockwell and Beckinsale both are it's very difficult to imagine their earlier life together. Glenn is an insecure and angry mess whose faith brings him almost no comfort; Benicio del Toro's character from 21 Grams would have punched him in the face. (The bizarre dance Glenn does with two drunks late in the film is as economical a scene of dissolution as I've ever seen) The conclusion, which trips from tragedy to tragedy, feels imposed rather than earned. As a DGG fan I'm still high on Snow Angels despite its slightly overstuffed feeling. Green has moved beyond a neo-Terrence Malick style of the earlier films and more than capably pulled off a realistic drama. It looks like Green will be busy with more than a few writing and directing projects in years to come; following the maturation of this director should provide enough rewards to outweigh the missteps.

    Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Facts are facts

    Palin's spin debunked. (Rolling Stone)

    THE MYTH: "I found ... someone who stopped government from wasting taxpayers' money." — John McCain, introducing Palin

    THE FACTS: Signature accomplishment as mayor: building a $15 million hockey arena that plunged the city into debt. Broke ground on the project without finalizing the city's purchase of the land; the resulting fiasco cost Wasilla $1.3 million — roughly $200 per resident.

    Folds' friends

    Ben Folds has a new CD out, and he gets phone calls from celebrities. (Vulture)

    Q: Um, Billy Joel?

    A: Yeah, it was so nice! He just called and said he really liked what I did, he understood I'd been compared to him again and again, and he was sorry to hear that. It was random — I didn't know if he was calling to yell at me. Cause when I started out, every other review was about Billy Joel. So I've said things to separate myself from Billy Joel that weren't flattering.