Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Enough Once?

Sasha Frere-Jones thinks "Falling Slowly" from Once is just another bombastic Oscar-winning ballad. That may have been true at the ceremony, but in the film Hansard and Irglova's characters discover the song for the first time together in the piano store. I'll admit I'm a sucker for Once, but it's the joy of connection through the song that gives the movie its appeal. (New Yorker)

"How utterly cool is Natalie Portman?"

Well....(MSNBC)

In an age of starlets gone wild — and the pursuit of same by the insatiable scandal-sheet press corps — Portman has risen to the top of her profession with smarts and class. Even if all of her film choices weren’t the greatest — anybody remember “Where the Heart Is”? — she’s hit upon a winning formula for playing the fame game, and her peers would do well to follow her lead.

Vantage Point

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Yes, to add just a little to this review - Vantage Point seems like it should have been much more fun. There's a strong cast and a script full of double crosses, not to mention a foreign locale and an above average car chase. But too much weight is placed on the stop-and-start plot structure; we see the prelude to and aftermath of events from several angles. Cutting things down to about 3 POV's (Quaid's, Fox's, the Pres, one of the Europeans, OK maybe 4 POVs) would have been tidier. Nothing new is said about the U.S. standing in the world. The U.S. President, whom William Hurt makes believably beleaguered, seems like a decent guy. Dennis Quaid is well-cast in the central role, but he never has a chance to do anything other than a dour Harrison Ford impersonation. (Parabasis)

Artists' blogs

David Byrne goes to the museum, Mike Doughty thinks about politics, and Mac McCaughan (Portastatic/Superchunk) talks hockey and makes a winter mix.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Delicious soul talk



I'm not always of the opinion that hearing someone explain their work makes it more interesting, but after hearing Mike Doughty talk about the song "Fort Hood" from his new CD Golden Delicious I felt I understood Doughty much better. The cut-and-paste lyrics and appropriation of music from Hair make sense when Doughty talks about his childhood. The whole CD, like all of Doughty's work as a solo artist and with Soul Coughing, is exuberantly and chaotically groovy. You can hear Doughty talk and sing (player download required) for about 20 minutes - just acoustic guitar and cello - on Acoustic Cafe here.

Biggio

Baseball stat guru Bill James on falling out of love with a favorite player. (Slate)

Great words...

..about the myth of "unpopular" Best Picture nominees and why you don't want a Knocked Up v. Transformers Oscar race. (Film Experience)

There will be more articles and from better publications about the Oscar's low ratings this year, the lowest ever, and more misleading attacks on how they've lost touch. And sure Oscar could use some lightening up. But Jesus, the public's taste lacks for variety. The public is even more narrowminded in their favoritism (CG laden franchises, animated films and low brow comedies fill out the top 20) than Oscar is in theirs. Oscar at least hops between prestige literary adaptations, biopics, musicals, war films and dramas. That's five genres to three from the public.

Look back

The late great early-'90s band Belly and their first album Star. (Slant)

L! A thousand times L!

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Hooked on The L Word. I am too, but I need to catch up with this season On Demand. (James Wolcott)

IFC reviews....

...the Oscars. Yes, there were a lot of montages. But I wonder how much of that was due to the lack of writers' preparation time? Stewart giving Marketa Irglova more time for her speech was a great genuine moment, and I agree with the list of other highlights. (Tilda Swinton in general was a high point for me) See my previous post on La Vie En Rose for my issue with Cotillard winning.

"Photogate"

A low point from the Clinton camp re the "native clothing" photo. (Daily Dish)

Radiohead blah blah

Yes, Radiohead are good and important. But why does everything written about them have to sound like a term paper? (Try making your way through the 33 1/3 book on OK Computer without a Master's in music theory) In this long post James Poulos attemps to put Thom and the guys in context with a series of sweeping generalizations that assume all people experience music exactly the same way and that if you like the wrong "emo" band then you're stupid. Any band that could do this:



has some sense of humor about themselves. (Yes, I know I put up this same video a couple of weeks ago) (Doublethink)

A theory about...

...Rebecca Miller's Oscar dress. (Slate)

Monday, February 25, 2008

A word on Nirvana

Getting in touch with one's musical past....(Rockcritics)

The gap between my enjoyment of Nirvana’s music and my disinterest in reading about them is more pronounced than it is with just about any other major pop/rock artist I can think of. I can’t really explain this gap aside from admitting I’m just being an unreasonable, stubborn bastard on the matter. I do have a vague sense that, back when they stalked the earth, there was an awful lot of nonsense written about them, and that the nonsense increased exponentially after April 1994. Can I point to anything specific to prove my case? Not really — like I say, it’s just a vague sense. I think part of it stems from the fact that the whole Seattle moment was one of the few genuine pop explosions of my lifetime that I not only didn’t feel part of, but in fact felt a little alienated by (though not alienated enough to prevent me from hearing the music.

Plan your summer early

Damon and Greengrass all in for a fourth Bourne movie. Both have plenty of projects lined up first, so it could be awhile. (Cinematical)

I guess...

...I should have gone with Marion Cotillard after all. You'll have to take my word for it, but despite the prediction I posted last week I switched and picked Tilda Swinton in my Oscar pool. That was good enough for a 3-way tie and a whopping eight bucks. Cotillard is the one weak link in what was otherwise an enjoyable ceremony; I'll say more later.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Late breaking!

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A Marion Cotillard upset for Best Actress? The Envelope thinks maybe, but not me. The choice between screen legend and young upstart (Christie v. Page) is too appealing, and a lot more voters have seen Juno than La Vie en Rose. I'm sticking with Christie.

I love this

Raymond Chandler on the movies....(Daily Dish)

All the...

...Jacques Rivette you could ever want. (Order of the Exile)

Mamet

A (mixed) review of a new biography of David Mamet. (NY Times)

Hmmm...

I've used Entertainment Weekly to guide my Oscar picks in the past, with some success. Slant claims to have a better record than EW; they make a strong argument in some of those lesser known categories.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I'm not suggesting...


..that the results of the Independent Spirit Awards herald anything for tomorrow night's Oscars, but I think it's worth noting that there was obviously a response among the voters to the brashness and energy of Best Feature winner Juno. Facing a lineup of name directors and A-list stars (Haynes, Schnabel, Jolie), Juno took no prisoners and won the evening's top prize as well as awards for Ellen Page and writer Diablo Cody.

Will Oscar voters unable to distinguish between No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood throw up their hands and vote for the one nominee with jokes? My guess is no, because of the political mini-storm Juno created and because I think voters' respect for The Coen Brothers, Javier Bardem, and Daniel Day-Lewis will siphon enough votes to the dramas and prevent an upset. I'm not comparing it to Juno, but which way will the voters who thought Crash was an incisive film about racism break?

No surprises here...

Predictions:

  • Best Picture/Best Director: No Country for Old Men, The Coen Brothers

  • Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis

  • Actress: Julie Christie

  • Supp. Actor: Javier Bardem

  • Supp. Actress: Cate Blanchett

  • Original Screenplay: Juno

  • Adapted Screenplay: No Country for Old Men
  • New tunes

    A remix of the second catchiest song of the year, Vampire Weekend's "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa." (I slightly prefer "M 79" by the same band). (I Am Fuel....)

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    Remember that....

    ...Spielberg/Sorkin collaboration on a Chicago 7 movie? Looks like it's off. (Cinematical)

    Story time...

    Forget movies, TV is the new long-form storytelling medium. I don't agree that The X-Files is comparable to Lost. The latter is a show about the possibility of altering one'e life for better or worse; look how Locke has changed now that the castaways have splintered into factions. The X-Files was a dramatically inert (with some outstanding individual episodes) show made by and for paranoids. (Jane Dark)

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Newsroom follies

    How the NYT decided to publish the McCain story. (New Republic)

    Beyond its revelations, however, what's most remarkable about the article is that it appeared in the paper at all: The new information it reveals focuses on the private matters of the candidate, and relies entirely on the anecdotal evidence of McCain's former staffers to justify the piece--both personal and anecdotal elements unusual in the Gray Lady. The story is filled with awkward journalistic moves--the piece contains a collection of decade-old stories about McCain and Iseman appearing at functions together and concerns voiced by McCain's aides that the Senator shouldn't be seen in public with Iseman--and departs from the Times' usual authoritative voice.

    Good notes

    The music of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. (Slate)

    Day-Lewis debate

    A big post at Salon that attempts to explain why Daniel Day-Lewis isn't very good in There Will Be Blood. The comments section is worth reading too. I'm in the pro Day Lewis camp and this piece does nothing to change my mind. In addition to the fact (as several commenters point out) that author Stephanie Zacharek totally ignores the historical context of TWBB, there's a fundamental misunderstanding about what actors do.

    Being a "Method" actor doesn't just mean one thing. Two of America's foremost acting teachers (Adler and Strasberg) couldn't even agree about what Stanislavski meant. But I guarantee that Day-Lewis has justified all of Plainview's behavior to himself even if some motives are unclear (as they should be) to the audience. Any acting teacher I've ever met who has taught me anything has told me to expose myself to as many techniques as possible and then take what works from each one. Yes, Day-Lewis has the desire and the time to go through a full-immersion preparation to assemble the character's skin. But the internal work is what prevents his performance from being just a showy, Oscar-baiting, turn.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    Get to know...

    ...the new IFC music blogger. (Indie Ear)

    Much like John Connor in Terminator 3, I've been living "off the grid" of late. Last year I watched all my of co-workers lose their jobs, while I toiled away on a sinking ship trying to sell hand-held video games to impressionable teenage boys--a far cry from what was an endless music-video oasis and a place for musicians to come talk shop about their latest album and tour. I'm not hatin' on anyone--I'm just saying--that's how it went down.

    Changes are coming?

    There are problems with the selection process for the Best Foreign Film Oscar; this year Persepolis and Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days didn't make the final list. Surely the Academy could put together a multinational panel that could have the power to determine what films from what countries are considered. I don't agree with this blogger, who seems to suggest that a film's acquisition of U.S. distribution should cut against it. (Filmmaker)

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Monday Music: R.E.M

    Just heard the new R.E.M. song (more on that later) - here's footage of the guys doing "Imitation of Life" in rehearsal.

    3 for 1

    Depp, Law, and Farrell all to replace Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which Ledger was filming at his death. (Huffington Post)

    The one where....

    ...Tom Wilkinson talks about his mid-career decision to start over again in films and his love of Friends reruns. It's heartening to know Wilkinson and I have the same guilty pleasure. (The Envelope)



    His other TV passion? Monica. Ross. And Rachel. "I'm totally hooked on reruns of 'Friends.' I know I shouldn't be. They show them between 5 and 6 every night of the week, and I get a slightly bad temper if I have to miss them, even if I've seen them 20 times. It's like a piece of music you know well but never get tired of."

    One blogger...

    ..goes off on Edward Zwick. There's some truth to the fact that Zwick has gone back to the formula (described in the post) used in Glory several times, but if he's such a hack how come the TV shows he puts his name on (My So-Called Life, Once and Again) are so good? (The American Scene)

    The wedding is off...

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    Natalie Portman will never get married (not even to Scarlett Johansson)....(Ireland Online, photo by Steven Klein)

    Pander Alert

    McCain's retreat on torture...(Obsidian Wings)

    Omar!

    Michael K. Williams of The Wire....(HipHopDx)

    Lindsay Lohan...

    ...as Marilyn Monroe for NY Magazine. The link to the full gallery takes forever. (Cinematical)

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    Got to pick this up...

    A review of the new Criterion DVD edition of Alex Cox's Walker. (Slant)

    The charismatic antihero, William Walker (Ed Harris), who will go on to stage the first American invasion of Nicaragua, boastfully writes in his journal about his heroic actions (he consistently refers to his glorious self in the third person) and those of his men. As the world erupts in chaotic death all around him, he retains the plucky optimism of the American individualist and the tight-assed prissiness of a puritan saint, and when he steps outside to join the few surviving men-at-arms who swear to fight with him to the last, he orates that their situation isn't good, and because they've run out of food and ammunition, it seems that only an act of God can save them.

    Discussion question

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    After having watched Marion Cotillard's Oscar-nominated performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, I can't help wondering if we give too much credit to actors who play real-life musicians and lip sync. The acclaim for Cotillard's performance is understandable; her energy carries a movie that suffers from its nonlinear narrative structure, and there are enough bravura scenes (collapsing at concerts, learning of the death of her lover) to capture the attention of any Oscar voter.

    Cotillard lip syncs to Piaf's songs very well, but when she opens her mouth and Piaf's sounds come out I have the same reaction that I did to Jamie Foxx in Ray. I'm not watching a character but rather Ray Charles' Greatest Hits, with dialogue in between. There is somethin about hearing those already canonized voices come out of the mouths of vital actors that washes the drama right out of the movie, no matter how strong the rest of what's on screen is.

    The one recent biomusical that didn't have this problem was Walk The Line, in which Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did their own singing. The film certainly has flaws, but the energy that actors singing provides makes it much better than Ray in my opinion. The early scenes of Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others performing to a packed house have a real kick, because we're watching an attempt to convey what it felt and sounded like at the beginning as opposed to a too-perfect recreation of moments that became iconic in restrospect.

    I've nothing against the performances of Foxx or Cotillard in other respects (though I'm not wild about Foxx's post-Ray output), but their films cater to our desire to hear the end product (familiar versions of old hits) when we're watching a musical biography. Wouldn't it be more interesting to hear what Famous Song X sounded like before we heard it?

    Old Master

    Jacques Rivette, still going strong with a new film...(NY Times)

    Saturday, February 16, 2008

    Spiderwick talk

    An interview with Spiderwick Chronicles director Mark Waters. (MTV Movies Blog)

    MTV: I saw a name in the credits — John Sayles. John Sayles?!

    MW: We have to remember John Sayles started his career doing movies like “Piranha” and werewolf movies for Roger Corman. He’s got this real fun fantasy horror side to his sensibility. I think he did rewrite work on “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He’s got that part of him that loves working on these movies. The big thing that John did was he said, “Let’s take on all five books of this series and tell a complete story as opposed to trying to make a piecemeal.” He kind of was able to sift through that and find a general story structure, as well as ground it in the sense of a very real family going through some very real difficulties.

    Lots of gray, not much pay

    Life is tough for actors working in regional theatre...(James Wolcott)

    Take the test

    I'm not sure I completely get this, but here's a different kind of test to determine whom you should vote for. (Utne)

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    What reality TV....

    ...teaches us about HBO's In Treatment. I'm not entirely convinced this show is working, save for the performance of Mia Wasikowska as a maybe suicidal young gymnast. (The Medium)

    Sayles' job

    A review of John Sayles' Honeydripper. The DIY legend has a screenwriting credit on The Spiderwick Chronicles. (No Depression)

    I'm not a horror fan, but....

    ...attention must be paid. George A. Romero on why you should see his Diary of the Dead. (MTV Movies Blog)

    Super?

    There's confusion about whether or not "superdelegate" Rep. John Lewis has endorsed Obama. Here's the latest: (Talking Points Memo)

    Jeff Zeleny, the writer of The New York Times's disputed story today reporting that Rep. John Lewis, a Hillary supporter, will vote for Obama at the convention, just went on CNN and stood by his reporting, offering some key clarification.

    The Oscars are...

    ...playing catch-up. (VF Daily)

    Casting news

    What's Ellen Page up to ? (Cinematical)



    For those who were kinda bummed out after they didn't get to see Ellen Page be a real mom in Juno, you'll be glad to know that she's signed on to star as a young mother in the new psychological thriller Peacock for Mandate Pictures.

    Friday fluff: Madonna

    In honor of her debut as an auteur, here's a classic I spent way too much time watching when I was younger.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Visual evidence

    NP on the cover of W, plus another image. (NataliePortman.com, photo by Steven Klein)

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    Oh Lord

    NP and Scarlett on cover of new W magazine. They dress in black but proclaim their conservatism (in relationships, not politics).....(Defamer)

    Punk

    The up-and-coming punk duo No Age keeps it real...(New Yorker)

    Belgian style

    An interview with In Bruges director Martin McDonagh. (IFC News)

    Q: When you decided the characters would be hit men, were you concerned that the "soulful hit man" movie has been done to death in the last decade or longer?

    A: I think part of the idea was to set up that "it's a cool hit man movie" fish-out-of-water story that we've seen before, but then try to subvert that, and take it into territory that's a lot darker, more despairing, or sadder than most "soulful hit man" films ever really go to. Guilt and sin are addressed, but it's more of a lapsed Catholic take on it, you know? It has the balance of the comedy, but I think the sadder place it goes to is what makes this different.

    Tom Lantos

    The only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress has died at age 80. (NY Times)

    What's the score

    The false promise of those (weird) FreeCreditReport.com ads. (Megan McCardle)

    Tuesday Music: Nada Surf

    An acoustic performance of "Always Love" by 2/3 of Nada Surf. I'm not sure what UGO is.

    Critical heresy

    Blogger disses Preston Sturges, commenters disagree.....(Chicago Reader)

    Of course I could temporize, stave off ridicule by pointing out, as I already have, how wonderfully well made these movies are, their "choreographic sensibility ... commedia dell'arte energy and spectacle ... 'Brueghelian' congestion," all that diversionary hoo-hah. But when it comes down to basics—are they funny or or are they not?—then, sorry, ladies and gents, gotta part company there.

    News flash:

    It's hard to leave Facebook.The site's archiving of information raises serious concerns (info for users under 18 should definitely be deleted), but adults bear some accountability for what they choose to put on their pages. (NY Times)

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Is Anna Faris...

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    ...the best young comedienne in American movies? Faris has livened up Lost in Translation and even Brokeback Mountain in small roles and was the face of the Scary Movie franchise. Gregg Araki's Smiley Face offers Faris a chance to put her dizzy charm to work in a role seemingly built for her.

    I'll admit there's not much to it. Faris is Jane, a wannabe actress who spends her days smoking pot and drinking the year's supply of root beer she got for doing a regional commercial. Jane doesn't get along with her roommate (Danny Masterson), so when he leaves her a note asking her to pay the power bill in person she retaliates by eating the cupcakes he'd baked for a sci-fi convention.

    That's pretty much it. A hugely stoned Jane must, after buying pot from a dealer (Adam Brody) and then losing it, venture out into L.A. on a journey that eventually encompasses a geeky admirer (John Krasinski), a trip to the dentist's, a failed audition in front of a drug-hating producer (Jane Lynch), and a first edition of the Communist Manifesto. Throughout the film Faris's performance suggests someone trying to work out something with rigorous internal logic and firmly believeing she has, while of course from the outside looking like a complete idiot. Smiley Face can perhaps best be described as the dessert on your movie night. Anna Faris (like red wine or vegetables, to strain a metaphor) is unexpectedly good for you.

    Silly season

    As the writer's strike ends, get ready for Oscar hype....(Carpetbagger)

    Roy Scheider...

    ...of Jaws died yesterday at 75. (NY Times)

    Thursday, February 07, 2008

    Notebook

    E.B. White on writing for children: (About Last Night)

    Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept almost without questions, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly. I handed them, against the advice of experts, a mouse-boy, and they accepted it without a quiver. In Charlotte's Web, I gave them a literate spider, and they took that.

    I want to go...

    ...to Bonnaroo. (NME)

    The new Nada Surf CD...

    ...is pretty damn good. I couldn't agree more. (I Am Fuel, You Are Friends)

    These Charming Men

    Radiohead covers "The Headmaster Ritual" by The Smiths. (Hat tip: Angry John Sellers)

    Dept. of Reading Too Much Into Things?

    Do the makers of Cloverfield want the bad guys to win? (New City Chicago)

    Hardly an hour in, even knowing in advance how abbreviated the movie is, an immoral thought comes to mind: why were these soulless ciphers not slain sooner? Art ought not make you think such thoughts. "There's some horrific shit in Midtown," as a character bleats.

    Girl on Girl.......Action!

    I'm usually better than this. (Huffington Post)

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Glitz Blitz

    Vanity Fair Oscar party cancelled. For most of us that means fewer pictures to look at in Entertainment Weekly. (Carpetbagger)

    Car bombs as a means of starting over

    A case for Michael Clayton; I weigh in via the comments. (Thanks for the Use of the Hall).

    Super Wednesday

    Delegate counts:

    GOP - McCain 615, Romney 268, Huckabee 169, Paul 16 (1191 needed)

    Dems. - Clinton 825, Obama 732 (2025 needed)

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    Anyone who ever had a heart

    After having seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly I'm looking forward to seeing what Julian Schnabel makes of Lou Reed and his album Berlin. I couldn't find very much about the film online, but here's the page from last year's Toronto Film Festival.

    Double Casting

    There's word on how The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - the Terry Gilliam film Heath Ledger was shooting at the time of his death - might be completed. (Cinematical)

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    The Great Debaters

    PhotobucketRocket Science (d. Jeffrey Blitz, 2007)

    If you're like me and have a retrospective appreciation for the joys and pain of high school while being firmly comfortable with the age you are now, then the gently life-affirming Rocket Science (just out on DVD) may be the movie for you. A plot summary may not do it justice - an awkward boy named Hal (Reece Thompson) falls in love with a type-A girl named Ginny (a brain instead of a babe, played by Anna Kendrick) while dealing with both a speech impediment, the debate team, and a chaotic home life featuring divorced parents and a kleptomaniac brother (Vincent Piazza). This sounds like a recipie for Napoleon Dynamite 2, but Blitz subverts all our expectations of the high-school drama and creates a genuinely bittersweet movie that cuts deeper than most of its kin.

    The movie is framed by the comments of an omnisicient narrator (Dan Cashman) who in the opening moments frames the nervous breakdown of Ginny's debate partner Ben (Nicholas D'Agosto) as a potentially life-changing event for all concerned. The narration keeps a similar tone as we move on to Hal's attraction to Ginny and clumsy first steps on the debate team. (Ginny's motives for recruiting Hal aren't immediately apparent) What's great about putting a frame around the relatively familiar events of the plot - characters include an eccentric Asian neighbor and a sexually fixated preteen who exchanges one-finger salutes with Ginny through their windows - is that it adds that layer of self-dramatization that's not just exclusive to teen characters in movies.

    All teens think they're the leading characters in their own play, and as we watch Hal stumble towards a showdown with Ginny at the state debate championships we can't help feeling that more rides on the outcome than just a trophy. It even makes the stutter, which I would describe as more of a stammer, seem highly metaphorical. It couldn't possibly have been that bad, right? The right person can change your life at the right time, even if you're not both acting out parts from a romantic comedy. I also have to mention the lilting musical score by Eef Barzelay, which further puts Hal in his own world. There are songs in the movie as well; isn't it time we put an end to filmmakers' use of the Violent Femmes' song "Kiss Off"? Blitz's heightened version teen life got him a deserved directing award at Sundance last year, and I hope his voice doesn't lose its originality or clarity.

    How do you...

    ...resign from a rock band? Bob Mould's resignation letter from Husker Du. (ThirdAv)

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    Super Bowl Sunday Music: Tom Petty



    Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (w/ Eddie Vedder) - "The Waiting" 2006

    These are the good years...

    Are the best films of this year as good as '70s classics? One blogger thinks so (Guardian):

    It is this catholicity of ambition - the sense that a director or actor such as Greengrass or Hoffman is prepared to try pretty much anything - that gives current cinema its richness. Producers, casting directors, creative talent and prize panels have all moved away from the strict rules of suitability that once fenced people into genres.

    Get your chicken dances ready

    Rumors of an Arrested Development movie....(Cinematical)

    Welcome news...

    Guillermo del Toro to direct a two-film adaptation of The Hobbit. (Guardian)