Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The final word?

The great WNCW, public radio station out of Spindale NC, has released its Top 100 CD's of the year. I'm pleased to see several of my favorites here, especially Drive By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo. My list here.

WNCW's Top 10:

1 Avett Brothers - The Second Gleam
2 Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
3 Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher
4 Drive By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
5 Wood Brothers - Loaded
6 Lucinda Williams - Little Honey
7 James McMurtry - Just Us Kids
8 Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal
9 Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
10 Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet - (self-titled
)



New Year, New Plan

As of today my four year term as a paid movie critic has ended due to budget cuts. (Join the club, right?) No, that is not my only source of income. This change comes as I'm thinking about the future of my web presence, so you may be seeing changes to this site in an attempt to make it a little more, you know, renumerative. Thanks for your comments and support and keep reading in '09.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A year-end review...


...that I could have written (most of). By the way, the engagement of Zooey Deschanel to Ben Gibbard means it's pretty unlikely I will ever listen to Death Cab For Cutie again. (This Recording)

For me, one huge highlight of 08 was standing up front for a She & Him day performance at SXSW, thus confirming how totally unfair it is that one person gets to be so many different kinds of talented/beautiful. But despite her obvious singing talent, Zooey Deschanel still swears she didn’t have the courage to put an album together until M. Ward encouraged & convinced her she could do it. Isn’t that messed up? Doesn’t it make you think, like - Do *I* have a pursuable hidden talent that someone could call me out on? You guys, should we make a resolution right now to do that for each other? Like, let’s say Yes Man is our day job, and “Volume One” is our passion. I can be M. Ward to you, and you can be M. Ward to me. In 2009, let’s tackle that scary “Volume One” talent we’ve considered, but never took seriously. Fascinate ourselves & such.

Michael Franti....


...is the hardest working man in show business. (Boing Boing)

Music, film, kids' books, and yoga. It must be a Michael Franti Christmas. At least that's how it felt around our house this year, and it was all my fault. I bought the limited edition boxed set release of Franti's latest CD, All Rebel Rockers, for our 13-year-old (and myself), his beautifully illustrated children's book, What I Be, for our 6-year-old, and his Yoga DVD for Shawn.

Can a blogger get some love?

The 30 Most Notable Blogs of 2008. (Fimoculous)

In previous years, this list was dubbed "The Best Blogs You (Maybe) Aren't Reading." But that wordy contrivance seems presumptuous in these niche-filled times, where everyone seems to read everything yet no one seems to read the same things. So I took some advice that Lindsay gave me last year and dubbed this a collection of "notable" sites instead. That appellation seems more appropriate.

From the Mixed-Up Files

I don't remember what I did for my sixteenth birthday, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't dining alone at one of New York's most famous (and expensive) restaurants. (Foodie at Fifteen)

It all started back in early September of this year. I found myself with plenty of leftover dough from my summer job, and plenty of sensible things to potentially do with it, the least of which being to spend it on a restaurant. Yet fate displayed its dominance, and I decided that once again, I would throw away $298 on a single meal. This would be my third time going, and I am often asked why I am continuously drawn back to Per Se. The rest of this paper will aim to answer that question.

Let the drummer have some

Three rock drummers who aren't Neil Peart, Lars Ulrich, or Dave Grohl (or some other well-known drummer I'm leaving out). (Parabasis)

Jim Eno (The Ringoist)

Cousin of playwright Will, Jim Eno is the drummer and only other remaining original member of Spoon besides frontman Britt Daniel. He engineers and produces their albums now, and they build said albums in a studio he has designed. It's easy to overlook exactly how good a drummer Jim Eno is because his drumming is very very simple, but without him Spoon just would not work as a band. Spoon's approach to music relies on minimalism. They espouse an ethos of only doing what is necessary to make the song work. In one of their songs, the entrance of a tambourine halfway through is pretty much the biggest change in the whole song. With so few ingredients to rely on, each component has to be perfect and it's no surprise that Spoon are notorious perfectionists in the studio.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hey, did you know....


...that Scarlett Johansson is a reluctant sex symbol? That description is a little hard to credit given the number of photos out there where she's half-dressed, but I suppose there's something to the point that at least those are photo shoots and not paparazzi shots outside a nightclub. I think I'm going to have to see The Spirit despite the word-of-mouth. (Times UK)

Now the aim is to ensure career longevity. It may seem a long way off, but, in one sense, she is anxious to leave her twenties – and that sex-symbol baggage – behind and get on with it. “I look forward to growing in the industry and ageing in the industry. A lot of actresses take their meatiest roles in their thirties and forties. And I’m looking forward to that. I’m at a little bit of a funny age where I get that ‘sexiest woman’ thing, and it feels like a label for right now. But maybe when I get older, it won’t be like that.”

New Year's Reading

A book of Radiohead interviews is on the way....(At Ease)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Valkyrie


About what I expected. Cruise is wan and unconvincing, especially when placed in relief against a supporting cast that includes Branagh, Nighy, Stamp, and Wilkinson. There's little tension in the first hour or so, surprising considering that Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) had a hand in the script. Did so many treasonous conversations really take place inside the Nazi headquarters? Lesser characters who could have brought some personality to the proceedings, like Tom Hollander as a Hitler-loving second-tier officer and Eddie Izzard as a reluctant participant in the assassination plot, aren't used enough. Instead we're treated to repeated discussions of how all German military personnel aren't like Hitler and the future of Germany in a post-Nazi world. Cruise's desire to play the hero may have been the problem here; a better movie could have been made from the point of view of someone at a lower rung in the pecking order.

Sunday Music: TV On The Radio - "Golden Age"



As I climb upon the bandwagon.....

Dept. of Tone Deaf

Was your first love forever or fleeting? Or were they on staff at a concentration camp? The folks at CNN seem to think The Reader is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Flight of the Red Balloon


It was with great anticipation that I sat down to watch Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, since I'd read so much critical acclaim of the Taiwanese director but had found my first Hou film (Cafe Lumiere) a cold and largely inaccessible work. The casual viewer may want to stop reading now, because even though Red Balloon is set in Paris and benefits from the warmth of Juliette Binoche in the lead role this isn't the kind of life-affirming French drama we can all cluck over and nominate for an Oscar. (If Hou had directed Amelie, Audrey Tautou would have come off as insane) The sensibility seems resolutely non-Western. Formal, nonjudgmental, and open-ended aren't exactly words associated with the filmography of, say, Jerry Bruckheimer - the point is that if you're not used to Hou's work, settle in for a worthwhile challenge.

Suzanne (Binoche) is a puppeteer and single Mom struggling to find time to care for son Simon (Simon Iteanu), a precocious and sensitive boy. Simon's new Chinese nanny Song (Fang Song) quickly wins the boy's trust and devotion thanks in part to her ever present video camera. Song is making a film about red balloons and the 1956 Albert Lamorisse Red Balloon, a timeless celebration of Parisian childhood. We see clips of Song's work in progress, and Hou also has a red balloon floating over the city at regular intervals as if to suggest that the Lamorisse film's promise of happiness lies outside of Simon's grasp. Suzanne's life is a frenzy of professional and personal complications, including a new puppet show and a delinquent downstairs renter. She means well, but rarely seems to have a moment to connect with her son.

In the closing scene, Simon and a group of classmates visit a museum and view this painting. It's significant that Simon is silent during this scene; instead we here commentary from the teachers and other students on the omniscient point of view and moody feel of the art ("a little bit happy and a little bit sad"). Hou views Simon with the same detachment as the artist does the child in the picture (but with much more compassion), and Simon is of course living out his own balloon pursuits both real and symbolic. The scene is an efficient summing up of this quietly beautiful film, a humanistic masterpiece that cements Hou's reputation as an artist with something to offer the world.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Do the Shuffle #20

  • XTC - Garden of Earthly Delights
  • Ron Sexsmith - Brandy Alexander
  • Bob Dylan - Love Minus Zero, No Limit (live)
  • Liz Phair - Help Me Mary
  • Brett Dennen - Darlin' Do Not Fear
  • Tift Merritt - Broken
  • Arcade Fire - Ocean
  • XTC - Merely A Man
  • Kevn Kinney - Scarred But Smarter
  • Bon Iver - Team
  • Whiskeytown - Somebody Remembers The Rose
  • Ray LaMontagne - Forever My Friend
  • Wilco - Sunken Treasure

    Songs/minutes (approx.): 13/53
    Fact: I was not awake during all of these.
  • Pile On


    Early Athens, Ga. band Pylon (whom I discovered in this documentary) are back together and just played in New York. (Village Voice)

    We got kind of hooked up real quickly, mainly because the B-52's had gone up and played, and the response was just so huge that the whole city just freaked out. You know, everyone that ran a club or had read any music press had heard about this sort of weird phenomenon that happened when they came and played. And I don't remember why they had such a big crowd, like if their single had already been played or how people knew about them, but anyway it just blew peoples' minds. So one of the members of that band, Fred, he took our tape to the people who ran Hurrah, which is sort of somewhat the predecessor to Danceteria, but in at a different address. I think their attitude is like, 'We'd be fools to ignore a recommendation coming from somebody in the B-52's, and if something special's going on out of Athens, Georgia . . .' I mean, they might not have even listened to our tape.

    Bush slips up, does something cool....

    Check this out: (HRC)

    The Human Rights Campaign today hailed the passage of a law that protects partners who inherit retirement savings. The Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 (WRERA), signed by President Bush today, contains technical corrections to the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA). PPA made it possible for employers to allow any nonspouse beneficiary of an employee’s retirement plan—including an employee’s same-sex partner—to roll inherited retirement benefits directly to an individual retirement account (IRA) and avoid immediate taxation. WRERA requires that all employers provide this rollover opportunity to nonspouse beneficiaries.

    Klosterwisdom

    What Chuck Klosterman knows. (Esquire)

    My mother taught me how to deal with adversity through stoicism. Over the course of my lifetime, it certainly seems like there's been a strange American emphasis on embracing any emotion you happen to be having at any given moment, and that there's something psychologically wrong with you if you're not constantly confronting your emotions in public. I don't like that quality. I think it's bad for society.

    Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Harold Pinter

    Playwright/screenwriter/actor Harold Pinter has died at age 78. (NY Times)

    The playwright Tom Stoppard said that before Mr. Pinter: “One thing plays had in common: you were supposed to believe what people said up there. If somebody comes in and says, ‘Tea or coffee?’ and the answer is ‘Tea,’ you are entitled to assume that somebody is offered a choice of two drinks, and the second person has stated a preference.” With Mr. Pinter there are alternatives, “such as the man preferred coffee but the other person wished him to have tea,” Mr. Stoppard said, “or that he preferred the stuff you make from coffee beans under the impression that it was called tea.”

    Lines I wish I'd written

    Yes Man:

    There is a scene about halfway through the Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man where Zooey Deschanel shows up to a costume party dressed as Heroine Granger from the Harry Potter series. The rest of the film is also more or less worth the price of admission.


    --Scott Mendelson, Huffington Post

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008

    John Denver & the Muppets - "The Peace of Christmas Day"



    Scooter gets a solo? But seriously, Merry Christmas.....

    Dept. of Not Counting Chickens

    E-books: (Paper Cuts)

    Whatever else it’s remembered for in the publishing industry, 2008 may be remembered as the year that e-books finally caught on. Kindles are a regular sight on my train these days, and seem poised to become as ubiquitous as iPods: due to unexpected demand (or shrewd marketing?) Amazon sold out well before the holidays and established a Kindle waiting list, elevating the device to the vaunted commercial realm of Birkin bags and Tickle-Me-Elmos. Meanwhile, executives at one publishing house recently told me they now read all of their manuscript submissions on Sony Readers, not paper, and they may eliminate bound galleys in favor of electronic review copies.


    That's quite a comprehensive sample. In other news, threesomes are in because one was featured in a Woody Allen movie. If you're a mother and plan to read Goodnight Moon to your child using a Kindle, post a comment. Otherwise, ebooks continue to be the most overrated tech trend.

    Julie Christie, the rumors are true...


    Celebrate Hanukkah with Yo La Tengo, playing a series of eight shows. First two setlists here. (BrooklynVegan, which has continuing coverage)

    Preach on brother

    Hitchens on Warren. (Slate)

    I think we are all entitled to ask and to keep asking every member of the Obama transition team until we receive a satisfactory answer, the following questions:

    Will Warren be invited to the solemn ceremony of inauguration without being asked to repudiate what he has directly said to deny salvation to Jews?
    Will he be giving a national invocation without disowning what his mentor said about civil rights and what his leading supporter says about Mormons?
    Will the American people be prayed into the next administration, which will be confronted by a possible nuclear Iran and an already nuclear Pakistan, by a half-educated pulpit-pounder raised in the belief that the Armageddon solution is one to be anticipated with positive glee?

    ...This quite simply cannot stand. Is it possible that Obama did not know the ideological background of his latest pastor? The thought seems plausible when one recalls the way in which he tolerated the odious Jeremiah Wright. Or is it possible that he does know the background of racism and superstition and sectarianism but thinks (as with Wright) that it might be politically useful in attracting a certain constituency? Either of these choices is pretty awful to contemplate.

    Tuesday, December 23, 2008

    Dept. of What I'm Doing Tomorrow

    The Flight of the Red Balloon is sitting next to my TV in a Netflix wrapper. Hou Hsiao-hsien's film has won the Indiewire Critics Poll as Best Film of '08.

    How's it going, Oshifer?

    A collection of drunken holiday gaffes. (Proof)

    “I don’t believe we’ve met. Oh, really? Right next door? Ten years?”

    “We’re not really budgeted for a vacation this year, what with the exchange rate and my gambling addiction.”

    “I have to apologize for not reading your new book yet. It’s just that the last one was so awful.”

    Yes Man


    In Yes Man, Jim Carrey performs like someone who's thinking about the better dramatic roles he's wishing were coming his way. There are a few sublime moments of physical comedy (watch Carrey make a three-act play out of knocking over a tray of drinks in an early scene) but I can't help thinking that this movie should have been much funnier. Carrey plays a loan officer who, once he accepts the "say yes" principles of a self-help guru (Terence Stamp), gives loans to everybody who asks. There's no way the filmmakers could have anticipated the financial crisis of course, but this premise is executed in so emphatically unthreatening a way it leeches most of the fun out of the movie. Zooey Deschanel does her thing as the free spirit who turns Carrey's head. I'm a fan of Deschanel, but I can't say she's asked to do any more than in most of her other roles. At least her character gets to sing a couple of songs, which give a bit of personality to an underwritten role. Carrey should look for high-concept comedies that drive their stories a bit further down the track.

    Grace notes

    How to host a classical music radio show. (Chloe Veltman)

    When it comes to announcing, my biggest rule is to picture someone you know very well, and speak as though you're speaking to just that one person. Don't talk to "all those out in radio land" but instead talk personally to just one person.

    List of lists

    You'll never have time to read them all, but there's a huge list of links to Best Of lists (music & books) here. I started clicking around and came up with a good example. (Largehearted Boy/Fear the Ostrich)

    #2 --> Radiohead - In Rainbows

    i can already hear it...yes, controversial pick. is this a 2007 release, or a 2008 release?

    does a digital release count as a release? no. the release date is the day evan can purchase the album on vinyl in the united states. the definitive answer. have bush write it into law before he leaves.

    as far as the album itself? i don't need to write anything. it's radiohead. it's good. allison and i saw them the day after our wedding...if they're good enough to travel through 6 hours of DC traffic AND get in an accident the day after your wedding - then their album doesn't need further press in my book.

    #1 --> Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

    this is the best album of the year. go buy it and you'll know why

    These are a few...

    ...of Thurston Moore's favorite things. (BrooklynVegan)

    1. Eight Miles High (Das Wilde Leben) - German movie about Uschi Obermaier, super 60s Rolling Stones groupie who was a commune radical in Berlin.

    2. Let the Right One in (Låt den rätte komma in) - Norwegian movie about a 12 yr old boy who is bullied and meets a friend - a 12 yr old vampire girl. Sweet and sticky.

    3. The Savage Detectives - Robert Bolano - fiction book. 18 year old Mexico City poet dude falls in with weirdo literary gang who call themselves the Visceral Realists. Funny, strange, sexy - kickass book - looking forward to his next one (Bolano’s dead) - just came out, titled: 2666

    NP at work


    NP's current film has been retitled 17 Photos of Isabel, and her shooting schedule has her in Gossip Girl territory. (Jaunted)

    Memo to Etheridge

    Stop letting bigots flatter you. (HuffPo)

    I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

    When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.


    "Build bridges to the future" sounds an awful lot like "compassionate conservatism" to me, and we all know how that turned out.

    Monday, December 22, 2008

    Wonderful

    The history of the Star Wars Holiday Special. (Vanity Fair)

    Onto the body of Lucas’s sentimental and irony-free Wookiee plotline, the producers and writers grafted a campy 70s variety show that makes suspension of disbelief impossible. In between minutes-long stretches of guttural, untranslated Wookiee dialogue that could almost pass for avant-garde cinema, Maude’s Bea Arthur sings and dances with the aliens from the movie’s cantina scene; The Honeymooners’ Art Carney consoles Chewbacca’s family with such comedy chestnuts as “Why all the long, hairy faces?”; Harvey Korman mugs shamelessly as a multi-limbed intergalactic Julia Child cooking “Bantha Surprise”; the Jefferson Starship pops up to play a number about U.F.O.’s; and original Star Wars cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill walk around looking cosmically miserable.

    Just to clarify....

    Rick Warren: not a fan of the gays. (HuffPo)

    Despite what you might have heard, Warren has never publicly voiced support for civil unions, and his church refuses to accept lesbian and gay members.

    That's the truth. Now let's take a closer look at the glamour.

    Reporters and pundits throughout the mainstream media have repeated over and over again the incorrect assertion that Warren supports civil unions.

    I didn't make it

    The best male (and female) bloggers of the year. (The Frisky)

    Units of time

    Author/academic Clay Shirky does a State of the Internet thing, and makes an important point: We're changing culture through Web more than we're being changed by it. (Columbia Journalism Review)

    But, the deep effects seem to me to be that when people are given media that isn’t interactive, they invent their own interactions around it. You will see this around television shows. Lost and Heroes are probably the most famous in this mode where the enormity of fan activity around the show is vastly larger than it was around equivalently popular shows in the ’90s, much less ’87, as its era. And so, where the creators of media aren’t adding interactive effects, users are stepping in on their own, right?


    and:

    What is quite obviously happening is that the number of things that are available for short attention are increasing. But, so is the ability to consume complicated, long-form information. I think the fact that Nate Silver’s site in the recent election—Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com—became a breakout hit was a kind of a testimony to a hunger in people for taking in information in long, large, complex ways. It was just a crazy amount of information that Silver followed. One of the things the Internet does by removing the old constraints—it’s really the first thing ever invented worthy of the name media, because it’s the first general purpose media we’ve ever had—is it almost never moves us from a world of one effect to another effect. It almost always increases the range of all effects. So, I think that, you know, it’s certainly been a boon for, you know, short-form blogging and Twittering and so forth. But, it also means that someone who’s especially interested in a certain kind of content can actually get much, much more access to it than possible.

    Coming together

    Tammy Lynn Michaels (aka Mrs. Melissa Etheridge) attempts to build some bridges. No comment on the spelling. (Hollywood Farm Girl)

    anway. hath hell frozenth over? rick warren was humble and kind. honey and i are to go to his church sometime soon. and honey invited him to our house for an afternoon, to be with our family. (w.t.f.)


    open minds hearts hands

    differences fade.

    Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Sunday Music: Mike Doughty - "Fort Hood"



    Continuing my retrospective look at some of my 2008 favorites, I'd nominate this as my co-favorite song of the year along with Stephen Malkmus's "Gardenia." Doughty talks about the background of the song here, worth it if you've got 20 minutes to spare.

    It sucks

    Just picked up this novel over the weekend and can't wait to see the movie. (But I'll have to) Let the Right One In gets a Best of '08 nod. (Newsweek)

    Manohla's Year

    Ms. Dargis is optimistic: (NY Times)

    At the risk of sounding stoned on hope, I offer the following heresy: The movies are fine. Sometimes they’re great; occasionally they’re magnificent. The movie and news businesses are hurting, true, but any year that brings films like “Still Life” into American theaters — along with “Momma’s Man,” “Reprise,” “Ballast,” “The Class,” “Boarding Gate,” “A Christmas Tale,” “The Duchess of Langeais,” “Gran Torino,” “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29,” “My Winnipeg,” “The Last Mistress,” “The Order of Myths,” “Trouble the Water,” “Frownland,” “Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” “Mad Detective,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Che” and “Wall-E,” or rather its first superb 15 minutes (which bear remarkable resemblance to the first 15 minutes of “There Will Be Blood,” though that’s another story) — cannot be deemed a washout.

    On the town

    I wish I could have attended this party. (TAS)

    I had kind of a joint pre-birthday party with fellow December birthday friends and it was very strange. The neighbors suggested, very gently and kindly, that we turn down the deafening music at around 3:15 AM, and the party wound down by 4 AM. But at 3:15 AM, thanks to the four excellent DJs, my tiny apartment was packed with bodies, most of them the bodies of strangers. One friend — or enemy? — filled me with paranoia re: my precious shirts — she suggested that it was inevitable that some item of great emotional value to me would be pilfered, and I spent the last hour of the party in a lather, not least because many of the new party arrivals seemed were friends of friends of friends of friends, and ornery to boot. Honestly, my love for shirts is unhealthy. I’d probably be better off if someone burned all of my shirts. But please don’t.

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Take it off


    NP among the greatest big screen strippers. (Cinematical)

    What is it we love so much about big-screen strippers, aside from the obvious? Is it the eyes that reveal a trapped soul? The bruises that reveal a wounded heart? The solitary dances that reveal a lonely spirit? Obviously the stripper makes for a very complex character on screen as she (and he) has appeared in countless films over the years, spanning several different genres.

    Aronofsky

    Darren Aronofsky talks The Wrestler. (AV Club)

    AVC: You’ve changed your style radically with each film. Why so many radical shifts?

    DA: Well I’ve been joking that if Madonna taught us anything, you’ve got to reinvent yourself. I think it’s important as a filmmaker, as any person working in the arts, that you’ve got to try new stuff and challenge yourself and take chances. I’ve tried to take a chance with every film I’ve done—I’ve never done it the easy way, and I think that’s because that’s what excites me, is making as big a mountain as I can in front of me, and just trying to mount it.

    Read this

    An American military officer with firsthand knowledge speaks out about torture. A must-read. (Harper's)

    2. One of the most controversial tactics that the Bush Administration adopted in the war on terror involves abusing a prisoner’s religious feelings to degrade or humiliate. Enforced nudity, the use of military dogs, sexually suggestive conduct, and forms of ritual defilement have all been documented as authorized techniques in Iraq and at Guantánamo, even though these techniques are probably illegal. Do you believe that an interrogator can make headway by trashing his subject’s religion or by using religion to degrade? Did you make use of religion in a different way?

    First, there’s no doubt in my mind that these tactics are illegal. Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 specifically bans “humiliating and degrading treatment.” Trashing or degrading a detainee’s religion does not help convince a detainee to cooperate. It does just the opposite, reinforcing the reasons why the detainee decided to pick up arms against us.

    Son of a not so late great

    Hey, for a different perspective on Wilco check out the blog of Jeff Tweedy's 13-year old son Spencer. Wouldn't you like to spend your birthday this way?:

    What I did on my birthday this year was not a typical cake-eatin’ celebration. Don’t get me wrong: there was cake (which was unintentionally bought with rum-laden icing), but everything else was out of the ordinary. I spent my birthday in New York City’s Madison Square Garden with Neil Young, Pegi Young, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Jack McBrayer, Fred Armisen, and of course, Jeff Tweedy (did I forget anyone?). The night was headlined by a Neil Young performance (as I mentioned before), which was incredible. If you read the You, Me, & Neil Young post, you’d know about it, but there’s one thing I didn’t mention before.

    Thursday, December 18, 2008

    Why Caroline Kennedy...

    ...should be appointed Senator from New York. I'm not entirely sure I agree with this but I like the perspective.

    She’s a bona fide New Yorker, and if she hasn’t spent a lot of time in muddy upstate barns, then neither had Hillary Clinton, the last dynastic choice, who managed to impress that region with her effectiveness.

    SAG awards

    Doubt leads SAG awards race. (Variety)

    Miramax’s religious drama “Doubt” dominated the Screen Actors Guild nominations with five, followed by “Milk” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with three each.
    “Doubt” scored nominations for Meryl Streep for actress , Amy Adams and Viola Davis for supporting actress and Philip Seymour Hoffman for supporting actor. It also received a nomination for ensemble cast along with “Milk,” “Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

    The same quartet of “Doubt” thesps received Golden Globe nods last week.


    Doubt is an actor's showcase, so it's no shocker it would do well in the Guild nominations. I'd go ahead and lock up these four for Oscar noms as well.

    Dept. of Worthy Causes

    Homeless Gay Kids Need Your Help. (HuffPo)

    While the struggle for gay rights typically focuses on civil unions and marriage, homeless gay youth is a clear and frightening epidemic. There are 1.6 million homeless kids in America, with 40% of those LGBT, a massively disproportionate figure. Thousands of these kids live in New York City and many receive vital services from the Ali Forney Center.

    The Ali Forney Center, founded in 2002, is the nation's largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth and currently services over 2,000 kids.

    Do the Shuffle #19

    All over the place with this one.

  • Guided By Voices - Watch Me Jumpstart
  • Van Morrison - Lifetimes
  • Ryan Adams - Starlite Diner
  • Ryan Adams - La Cienega Just Smiled (live)
  • Pernice Bros. - Judy
  • Jerry Garcia Band - The Harder They Come (live)
  • B-52's - Topaz
  • New Pornographers - Adventures in Solitude
  • Patti Scialfa - Stumbling to Bethlehem

    Total songs/minutes (approx.): 9/45
    Miscellaneous fact: "Starlite Diner" is from Adams' 29 CD, which came out the same year as the very good Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. I never thought I'd say this, but sometimes there's a little too much Ryan.
  • Flying Circus, c. 2008

    John Cleese. (Time Out New York)

    Q: Sweet and dim?

    A: That’s the way I’d like to be remembered.

    Any excuse...


    Signs of life from Kristin Hersh and Throwing Muses, though you may have to live in Europe to get the full effect. Hersh's site has no news of a new Muses CD. (BrooklynVegan)

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    The Purpose-Driven Fraud

    Disappointed to hear Rick Warren will give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Here's a good takedown of Warren's recent idiocy on Proposition 8. (Box Turtle Bulletin)

    Divorce is very common, but you can waive all the divorce decrees and new marriage licences in front of a Catholic priest’s face and he’s not going to marry anyone unless the Vatican has granted an annulment. And he’ll be happy to explain it to the couple in his office, at the pulpit, on the Internet, or anywhere else. It’s not hate speech.

    And what if it were considered hate speech? No problem there either because in the United States, hate speech is not against the law.

    Dept. of Gratuitous


    Megan Fox (and Ellen Burstyn) are among "Women to Watch" in 2009 movies, so enjoy the post and this picture of Megan Fox while reading about her (and Ellen Burstyn) and the films we'll be enjoying over the next 12 months. (Cinematical)

    As seen on TV: P.S. I Love You


    Don't let the fact that this romantic weepie is directed by Richard LaGravenese fool you; the man responsible for writing The Fisher King seems to have taken leave of his ability to render conversations that sound believable anywhere other than Lifetime. (A trip to Ireland and good sex solve everything!) But the biggest problem is Hilary Swank, in the central role of a woman whose late husband sends her letters with the goal of getting her to stop grieving and start her life anew. (The husband, played by Gerard Butler, knew he was dying of a brain tumor and so had time to prepare) There isn't a moment in Swank's performance when the wheels aren't spinning. It's a visible struggle for her to render the character's emotional extremes. If there were ever proof that some actors need an accent and a haircut to be good, this is it. In a large cast only Lisa Kudrow and Harry Connick Jr. escape unscathed, each has enough of a sense of irony to make their scenes bearable. What a cardboard piece of whimsy, and what a dour statement about a woman's ability to control her own emotions.

    Toronto critics

    Here's a different set of choices from a critics' group, with plenty of love for Rachel Getting Married. (In Contention)

    BEST PICTURE: “Wendy and Lucy”
    Runners-up: “Rachel Getting Married”; “WALL-E”

    BEST ACTOR: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
    Runners-up: Sean Penn, “Milk”; Jean-Claude Van Damme, “JCVD”

    BEST ACTRESS: Michelle Williams, “Wendy and Lucy”
    Runners-up: Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”; Meryl Streep, “Doubt”

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
    Runners-up: Josh Brolin, “Milk”; Robert Downey, Jr, “Tropic Thunder”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Rosemarie DeWitt, “Rachel Getting Married”
    Runners-up: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”; Viola Davis, “Doubt”

    BEST DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme, “Rachel Getting Married”
    Runners-up: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”; Andrew Stanton, “WALL-E”

    Neko news



    A video about the making of Neko Case's Middle Cyclone, out in March. All promotional materials for everything everywhere should be this good, sound this good, and come from a farm in Canada.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Liv love


    Happy 70th birthday to Liv Ullmann. Assorted links are here, including a very worthwhile op-ed Ullmann wrote recently for the Boston Globe. (Greencine)

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Another county heard from

    St. Louis critics awards: (Awards Daily)

    BEST PICTURE
    The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

    BEST ACTOR
    Sean Penn (Milk)

    BEST ACTRESS
    Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road)

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
    Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
    Viola Davis (Doubt)

    BEST DIRECTOR

    Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)



    UPDATE - ...meanwhile in Phoenix....

    Best Picture
    Slumdog Millionaire

    Top Ten Films of 2008 (in alphabetical order)
    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    The Dark Knight
    Frost/Nixon
    In Bruges
    Milk
    The Reader
    Slumdog Millionaire
    The Visitor
    Wall-E
    The Wrestler

    Best Director
    Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role
    Sean Penn, Milk

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role
    Meryl Streep, Doubt

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
    Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
    Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

    Best Acting Ensemble
    The cast of Milk



    ....San Francisco and San Diego.... (In Contention)

    DFW's thesis

    David Foster Wallace's undergraduate philosophy thesis sees the light. (NY Times)

    Sometime in his later college years, Wallace became troubled by a paper called “Fatalism,” first published in 1962 by a philosopher named Richard Taylor. The fatalist contends, quite radically, that human actions and decisions have no influence on the future. Your behavior today no more shapes events tomorrow than it shapes events yesterday. Instead, in a seemingly backward way, the fatalist says it is how things are in the future that uniquely constrains what happens right now. What might seem like an open possibility subject to human choice — say, whether you fire your handgun — is already either impossible or absolutely necessary. You are merely going with some cosmic flow.

    Boston winners

    Starting to see a pattern in year-end critics' awards? Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E tie for top prize in Boston.

    Best Picture

    Tie: Slumdog Millionaire and WALL-E

    Best Actor

    Tie: Sean Penn for Milk and Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler

    Best Actress

    Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky

    Best Supporting Actor

    Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight

    Best Supporting Actress

    Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona

    Best Director

    Gus Van Sant for Milk and Paranoid Park

    Best Screenplay

    Dustin Lance Black for Milk

    Best Cinematography

    Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li¹ for Paranoid Park

    Best Documentary

    Man on Wire

    Best Foreign-Language Film

    Let the Right One In

    Best Animated Film

    WALL·E

    Best Film Editing

    Chris Dickens for Slumdog Millionaire

    Best New Filmmaker

    Martin McDonagh for In Bruges

    Best Ensemble Cast

    Tropic Thunder

    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    Read this *^%^ing blog now

    My friend Jason, who probably holds the record for most comments here, has started a new "R-rated" movie blog called The Grouchy Cineaste. I'm not exactly sure what a "cineaste" is, but knowing Jason it should be well worth finding out. I don't think there will be too much overlap between MM and its new competitor; I will still be covering Natalie Portman, silliness, and awards buzz - though if Jason is letting his former blog go I may have to start catching up on my Pynchon and reading British newspapers to pick up the slack.

    Thought for the day

    My parents moved to St. Louis several years ago, and they’ve done a good job of keeping in touch with their Houston friends, most of whom they met through church. They all visit each other relatively frequently and stay up-to-date on what’s happening in everyone’s lives.

    After I decided I wasn’t going to go to SXSW next year (though I’ll be in town to hang out in the evenings), I made a point of going to Chicago to visit Andrew and Cinnamon, two of my favorite people I see at SXSW. I’ve been toying with the idea of visiting Seattle for the same reason, though I’m not sure yet if that’ll happen.

    While I was in Chicago, my parents happened to be there as well. They were on their way to Elmhurst to visit some old church friends of theirs, and they stopped by to have lunch with Andrew and Cinnamon and me. As we were walking back from the Indian restaurant, Andrew and my dad were walking ahead of me, and my mom and Cinnamon were walking behind me, and that’s when it occurred to me that I treat my internet friends the same way my parents treat their church friends. We don’t get to see each other too often, but we try to make a point to visit and keep up.

    Is the internet my church?


    Most of my internet friends are people who passed through my life briefly and now live elsewhere; the number of internet-only friends I have is pretty small. I'm undecided on how the web and social networks affect friendship: is it a blessing that it's easier to keep up with people or are the relationships devalued because the person is "always there?" All in all, I think I'd rather have these people in my life than not. (Bluish Orange)

    Curtain time


    Maggie Gyllenhaal and husband Peter Sarsgaard are taking to the stage for a playwright very close to my heart. (Cinematical)

    Sundayish Music: Alejandro Escovedo - "Pale Blue Eyes"



    Revisiting another artist on my Top 10 this year, here's a wonderfully spare cover of the Velvet Underground classic. (Muzzle of Bees)

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Penn and ick

    Do Sean Penn's crushes on left-wing dictators taint his post-Milk relevance as a gay rights advocate? (The Advocate)

    Why should anyone care about an actor’s politics? The bloviations of Hollywood stars tend to be ignorant and irrelevant to those interested in serious debate about the issues of the day, but Penn’s grandstanding matters due to both his role in Milk and the film’s political relevance in the context of Proposition 8 and the nationwide campaign for gay rights. Gay rights are human rights, as Milk said, and Penn discredits both when he rationalizes illiberal ideologies as “anti-imperialist” and rushes to the defense of thugs who posture as victims of the West. Penn’s ignoble political side projects taint a noble cause.

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Blogger dance fight!

    Terry Teachout (About Last Night) vs. Patrick Appel (The Daily Dish)

    Teachout: I'm writing the libretto for an opera based on Somerset Maugham's The Letter and just saw the set design for the first time. This phrase popped into my head, which doesn't actually mean that I'm comparing myself to Christ.

    Appel: Are you serious? Teachout is a snob and obviously has Messianic delusions.

    The verdict: Toss-up. On a literal level Teachout's explanation makes sense, but if you read his blog regularly you've probably noticed that it has become almost entirely about his opera, his forthcoming biography of Louis Armstrong (which I'll probably read) and the charming B&B's and Frank Lloyd Wright houses he checks out with his wife on the weekends. Teachout's recent focus on his own endeavors is further evidence of a rather unpleasant streak of envy I wrote about here; he can't seem to stop himself from being the first contrarian to weigh in upon the passing of a major cultural figure. He also doesn't seem to think much of us who enjoy pop music or see current films. I'd like to see a critic with such a large platform not set himself apart from the culture he's covering.

    I know you've been wondering....


    ...what's Zhang Ziyi been up to? (Cinematical)

    Eight years ago, Zhang Ziyi soared into public consciousness as the tempestuous heroine in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She's continued to score in sumptuous epics like Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and The Banquet, as well as off-beat pleasures such as Seijun Suzuki's Princess Raccoon. (Let's all try to forget Memoirs of a Geisha, shall we?) In her latest film, which opened in China last week, she plays a Peking Opera singer.

    Forever Enthralled is the English title of Mei Lanfang; the name of a real-life, internationally-recognized opera star well-known for playing female roles over the course of a career that lasted more than 50 years. Leon Lai, a veteran Hong Kong actor and pop singer, takes on the challenging assignment to play the legendary character, while Zhang plays fellow performer Meng Xiaodong, who was known for playing bearded men (?!). The two singers met, married, became parents, and divorced, all between 1925 and 1931.

    Smart set

    Hey, we're not as dumb as we think we are! (Or maybe it's just in England) (More Intelligent Life)

    One of the commonest complaints by cultural doomsayers is that nobody reads good books any more. Yet in the past two years, the Oprah Book Club in America recommended Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and three novels by William Faulkner--good by any standard, and they all made the bestseller lists. This year, Waterstone’s, which owns over 300 bookshops in Britain, asked two celebrated novelists, Sebastian Faulks and Philip Pullman, each to choose 40 titles and write a few words of recommendation. The chain then piled copies of the books on tables next to the entrances of its main shops and waited to see what would happen. Faulks and Pullman hardly dumbed down their choices: they included Fernando Pessoa’s “Book of Disquiet”, Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”, and Raymond Queneau’s “Exercises in Style”. The sales increases for these books over the same period the year before were, respectively, 1,350%, 1,420% and 1,800%--clear evidence of latent demand. If you offer it, they will come.

    'Tis the season

    A fun collection of worthy charities for your holiday donating dollars. (BoingBoing)

    Globe nominations


    Golde Globe nominations here. I suppose the lack of attention for The Wrestler and Gran Torino might surprise some, this list is heavy on the literary adaptations. I was glad to see nominations in the comedy categories for Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell for In Bruges, and Rebecca Hall joins Penelope Cruz as a nominee for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. (HFPA)

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    "Painting away and whistling"

    What were the work habits of Willem de Kooning? This is a great new blog, and this is my favorite painting of all time. (Daily Routines)

    Two appreciations

  • Jim Carrey:

    Yes Man, out this month, is Carrey’s latest existential parable. If, as has been speculated, Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard shared a libertine moment in the salons and cellars of 19th-century Copenhagen, they could have brainstormed this movie over drinks. Carrey plays Carl Allen, an office drone and cautious Cuthbert who abruptly starts saying “Yes!” to everything—Korean lessons, cans of Red Bull, love, and life itself. This impulsive assent to existence is characteristically presented in the form of a gift/curse, laid upon Carrey, in this case, by a New Age positivity guru played by Terence Stamp. (The tie-in with Red Bull is a brilliant stroke, of course—no other legal product so generously extends the promise of turning you, if only for half an hour, into Jim Carrey.)


  • Wes Anderson on his friends and influences.

    AVC: The generation of filmmakers that emerged in the '70s—Scorsese, De Palma, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola—were all friends. Do feel like you're part of a group the way they were part of a group?

    WA: Yes and no. Quentin Tarantino, I really love his movies. He's such a good writer—and he was always a good director, but then over those first three movies or so, he really became a great director, so original and obviously so imitated. But I don't really know him that well. And Paul Thomas Anderson, I don't know at all, but I love his movies too. I guess I know more the New York filmmakers—Noah Baumbach in particular. Noah's obviously a very good friend. I think Quentin and Paul Thomas Anderson may be friends, too. Maybe if we spent more time in Los Angeles, they'd invite us over. [Laughs.]


    (Atlantic/AV Club)
  • Milk a hit with NY critics

    Oscar watchers must be having a field day; it's like multiple candidates winning during primary season. The New York Critics awards are out. (In Contention)

    Best Picture: “Milk”
    Best Director: Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
    Best Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”
    Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
    Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, “Milk”
    Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
    Best Screenplay: Jenny Lumet, “Rachel Getting Married”
    Best Animated Film: “WALL-E”
    Best Documentary: “Man on Wire”
    Best Foreign Film: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”
    Best First Film: Courtney Hunt, “Frozen River”
    Best Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle, “Slumdog Millionaire"

    Cadillac Records


    I'm not going to pretend that Darnell Martin's Cadillac Records has much to do with the actual history of Chess Records, but this rollicking story of the rise of blues icons Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) crackles with the energy and unadorned emotion of their music. Wright is a marvel; he has long been at the top of my list of actors guaranteed to win an Oscar someday. Martin's script doesn't spend much time on the bluesman-as-tomcat cliches. I loved the complicated feeling of Muddy's relationship with his wife Geneva (Gabrielle Union, one of my biggest film crushes and finally in a good role) and the growing realization that he isn't getting his financial due from label founder Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody).

    The conception of Leonard Chess is the movie's biggest problem. Chess was willing to go to extremes to get Muddy's music played in the early days; he pays off a Mississippi DJ (Vincent D'Onofrio) to break the first Chess single on Southern radio. Yet there's no question that Chess took advantage of his talent, fudging the distinction between royalties and personal loans and habitually buying off the musicians with new cars. Martin can't quite drop the hammer on him though; as the
    '60s begin to get ugly Chess is last seen getting mugged in an alley and then dying of a heart attack as he leaves his office for the last time. Brody does manage to work up some erotic heat in his big scene with Knowles, who does the best work of her career here and finds the scared young woman under James's badass exterior. The rich cast also includes a witty Mos Def as Chuck Berry. I absolutely believed this was the same man who blows up at fellow musicians in the Hail,Hail, Rock'n'Roll documentary. Eamonn Walker (who appears to be the size of an NFL lineman) left me wanting more in his too-brief role as Howlin' Wolf. Cadillac Records could have used a stronger narrative focus; Chess seems too much like a bad business man as opposed to an opportunist. But it is a needed film about a major part of our musical history - let's hope that it inspires some leaner and meaner efforts in the same vein.

    Lethem on Criterion

    Jonathan Lethem's Top 10 Criterion DVDs. (Criterion)

    F for Fake
    Orson Welles
    United States

    1. It’s truly astounding to consider that Orson Welles invented the postmodern-appropriationist-essay film, along with so much else.

    Put them to work

    How about reviving the Depression-era Federal Writers Project as a bailout for out of work journalists? (New Republic)

    Gifted FWP alumni who went on to distinguished literary careers in literature include John Steinbeck, John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, and African Americans Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright. The recent death of Studs Terkel-- a FWP veteran who went on to use the skills he developed in the program to chronicle the working- and middle-classes on his long-running radio show and in his Pulitzer Prize-winning books--is a reminder of how valuable this kind of experience can be. Ellison used his FWP research in Invisible Man, and Steinbeck and John Gunther relied on the FWP state guides for Travels With Charley: In Search of America and Inside U.S.A., respectively.

    Votes coming in

    In proof that all New Yorker writers aren't Manhattan-centric snobs, Sasha Frere-Jones selects Taylor Swift's Fearless as one his top CDs of the year. (S/FJ)

    No soy, I'll have the real stuff

    Milk preaches to the choir, but the choir needs to hear. (FourFour/Humanizing the Vacuum)

    I think that has a little to do with the self-hatred in gays that can keep us from understanding ourselves and those who made our present conditions possible (meager as they may seem), but it also has to do with not being given very much to work with. It'll be a weird day when gay history becomes everybody's history, but a major Hollywood production like Milk advances that endeavor. I've long lamented the lack of a gay figure as inspiring and visible as the Malcoms and Martins, but now I think the issue is less about existence than exposure. In packaging Harvey Milk's story as something so consumable, Van Sant allows Harvey Milk to reverberate. Milk is a good movie about a great man that still manages to be almost as essential as he was. If nothing else, it tip-toes closer to cinematic equality, giving gays a broad, overly expository, exclamatory and compassion-triggering biopic of our own

    Tuesday, December 09, 2008

    L.A. Critics Awards

    The Los Angeles critics have selected Wall-E as Best Picture of the year with The Dark Knight as runner-up. I'm no expert on what this does to the Oscar race, but even in what seems like a relatively thin year this has to be considered a surprise. (Variety)

    Picture: "Wall-E"
    Runner-up: "The Dark Knight"

    Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
    Runner-up: Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"

    Actor: Sean Penn, "Milk"
    Runner-up: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

    Actress: Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
    Runner-up: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"

    Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
    Runner-up: Eddie Marsan, "Happy-Go-Lucky"

    Supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Elegy"
    Runner-up: Viola Davis, "Doubt"

    Screenplay: Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
    Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, "Synecdoche, New York"

    Robert Prosky

    Prolific character actor Robert Prosky has died at age 77. (Washington Post)

    He once told The Post he accepted and turned down the role of a bartender on "Cheers" and was later grateful not to have been a part of the hit comedy because "doing the same role for 6 1/2 years" sent a chill down his spine.

    Looking to '09

    If you've been reading this blog for some time you may remember that I've made a couple of attempts to catalogue the DVDs, music, books, and films I see each year with the goal of a. being able to remember them at the end of the year and b. producing some sort of really cool year-end lists with great opinions about what was good and what wasn't. Those attempts haven't worked out for reasons which don't really matter at this point, but as we approach another January I was wondering if anyone had suggestions for how I could be a more thorough blogger in '09. I am actually pretty pleased that I've gotten into the habit of writing short reviews of every film and DVD I watch in this space - I have to thank my friend for helping me get into that habit with his "movies you have to watch" challenge. So, the best solution may be just to do the same thing with books and music. (I would like to read a lot more books next year, but who knows) If you have any other ideas, the floor is open.

    Monday, December 08, 2008

    Source code

    What would a gamer bring to the White House? (Infovore)

    The next 50-100 years are likely to be characterised by scarcity: the increasing scarcity of natural resources like oil, and the realisation that cheapness is often just an illusion. Cheap oil is an illusion. Cheap food is an illusion - you might notice in the shops that whilst the price of cheap bread is rising rapidly, expensive bread is rising in price much more slowly. We’re slowly being reminded of the real cost of things. How does your behaviour behave when things become expensive? And how do you behave if you’ve grown up never knowing that some things used to be cheap?


    A gamer looks at scarcity and says “oh, this is just survival horror”. Survival horror is, fundamentally, about surviving terrifying situations in the face of scarcity of resources - usually amnunition and health. You can’t play Resident Evil as if it was Quake; that leads to death very quickly. Instead, the player has to make judgment calls about every action. Save points, in early survival horror, are rationed just like ammunition; saving now means potentially not being able to save later. Using this magnum round now means not having it later. Taking the SMG as Claire means that it won’t be there for Leon.

    DC prizes

    Slumdog Millionaire takes top prize from Washington, D.C. critics. Best Supporting Actress (Rosemarie Dewitt) and Original Screenplay (Jenny Lumet) to Rachel Getting Married. (In Contention)

    Over and over


    Say a word over and over again until it loses all meaning; "persimmon" for example. The glut of Holocaust movies is in danger of doing the same thing to history for those born after 1945. (Nextbook)

    This isn’t to deny the possibility of moral persuasion. Certainly you could find young Christians—Muslims, too—who saw Korczak, or Anne Frank Remembered, or even Life Is Beautiful and felt a new understanding; just as there must be young Jewish viewers who watched such films and then concluded they had to do something for the people of Darfur. For the most part, though, the mounting volume of this material seems merely to have allowed people to think of the Holocaust as another choice on the entertainment menu, another imaginative world to inhabit at will and then abandon. Where does this lead? Todd Solondz showed us in his 2001 feature Storytelling (a movie that Insdorf’s filmography skipped), in a corrosively funny scene set at a dinner table in New Jersey. A family of suburban Jews, all of them born in the United States well after 1945, are drawn into a discussion of the Holocaust, and by the end manage to conclude that they, too, deserve to be called survivors.

    Woman trouble

    Catherine Hardwicke will not be directing the sequel to Twilight; if you believe the official version it's because there's a disagreement about the amount of prep time before shooting. If you believe the gossip it's because Hardwicke was "difficult" on set. This is a troubling moment for female directors, who have to be wondering if there's a higher standard they have to live up to in order to get in-demand gigs. (Variety)

    Twice the value

    Roger Ebert names his 20 best films of the year, with 5 bonus documentaries.

    "Rachel Getting Married" After seeing this film, people told me, "I wanted to attend that wedding" or "I wish I'd been there." It's that involving. Jonathan Demme doesn't lock down one central plot, but considers the ceremony as a wedding of close and distant family, old and new friends, many races, many ages, many lifestyles, all joined amid joyous homemade music. His camera is so observant, we feel like a guest really does feel. Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel and Anne Hathaway as her sister generate tricky sibling tension.

    Sunday, December 07, 2008

    Boycott talk

    Why boycotts against companies whose leadership supported Prop 8 aren't the best idea. (Independent Gay Forum)

    Instead, let us remember that people are not businesses. Businesses change practices due to attacks on the wallet; people change their minds through attacks on the heart.

    Punishing Cinemark or Marriott or El Coyote for the foolish personal choices of a few leaders is unlikely to change (already pretty gay-friendly) corporate policies. We must build rapport with those leaders instead; we must talk with them; we must introduce them to gay people and explain from our hearts why their positions are wrong. And we must save boycotts for the companies that actually deserve them.

    Boycotting is a blunt instrument. Let's not smash through our own interests accidentally. Instead, let's use a lever. And move the world.


    Sunday Music: Drive By Truckers - "3 Dimes Down"



    From my favorite CD of the year, Brighter Than Creation's Dark.

    What's your status?

    These photographs will make you think twice about the amount of time you spend online. (Wooster Collective)

    Dept. of Feast or famine

    A sequel to Alex Cox's Repo Man. (Tor)

    Well, technically it’s Sequel Number Two, if you count the graphic novel version, Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday, written by Cox and illustrated by Chris Bones and Justin Randall, which came out in March 2008. Either way, I have no idea what to think about this. David Lynch is apparently producing, which could be a great sign. But how the hell do you make a sequel, twenty-five years later, to the trippy mishmash of William Burroughs references and the L.A. punk scene, film noir and Plates of Shrimp, aliens, beer, and pre-Mighty Ducks Emilio Estevez that made the original so...well, original?

    Saturday, December 06, 2008

    It had to end sometime


    Let us pause to note the retirement of Greg Maddux, whose best years were with the Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s. (LA Times)

    Maddux, a nine-time All-Star while pitching for the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, started his major-league career in 1986. His 355 victories rank eighth in major league history, one more than Roger Clemens, with Maddux earning his final win by holding the San Francisco Giants to one run over six innings on Sept. 27.

    Fear of death

    Steven Soderbergh on Che and (many) future projects. (Indiewire)

    iW: Both "Che" and "Girlfriend" are being made available though video-on-demand. What do you think that says about the industry and yourself, having gone to these companies, IFC Films and HDNet?

    Soderbergh: I'm one of these people who thinks you can't put the genie back into the bottle: This technology exists and you have to figure out how to use it to your advantage. When you're dealing with a movie that can't justify the expense of a wide release, this is a really efficient way to get to millions of people. "Che" will be an interesting experience, because it will be one of the highest profile movies to go out this way. I'm anxious to find out whether that model can work, because if it can, that opens up some avenues not just for me, but others, as well. If IFC makes money, it gives them the confidence to keep going after stuff.

    Friday, December 05, 2008

    Dept. of Attention Must Be Paid #2

    A profile of young adult author M.T. Anderson. Got to read Octavian Nothing. (Washington Post)

    Octavian Nothing is an African American youth whose circumstances, as the first volume begins, could scarcely be more unusual.

    He has fallen in with a peculiar group of Boston scientist-philosophers known as the Novanglian College of Lucidity. The Novanglians "devoted themselves to divining the secrets of the universe," as the young man writes in the journal that forms much of Anderson's novel. One of the secrets they're trying to divine -- by experimenting on Octavian -- is "whether the capacities of the African are equal to those of the European." To this end, they bestow upon him an elite education in the arts, sciences and classical languages.

    Which would be paradise, except that his scholarly benefactors have neglected to mention that they own him.

    Let the song tell the story

    Not a big fan of "memes" but this one has potential.

    1. Put your iTunes (or any other media player you may have) on shuffle.
    2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
    3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS!
    Here we go...

    IF SOMEONE SAYS "IS THIS OKAY" YOU SAY?
    Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere - Neil Young

    WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
    Go Places - New Pornographers

    WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
    The Underdog - Spoon

    WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?
    Law of Nature - Juliana Hatfield

    WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
    Acid Tongue - Jenny Lewis

    WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU?
    I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll - Gillian Welch

    WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?
    Cape Canaveral - Conor Oberst

    WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?
    Days Aren't Long Enough - Steve Earle

    WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
    Life Is Better - Q-Tip w/ Norah Jones

    WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
    Piano 1 - Kristin Hersh

    WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
    Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show

    WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
    Girlfriend - Matthew Sweet

    WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?
    Mary Jane - Vulgar Boatmen

    WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
    Medicine Hat (live) - Son Volt

    WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?
    Fever Few - Throwing Muses

    WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?
    Camera - R.E.M.

    WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?
    Stunned & Frozen - Mark Eitzel

    WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
    Challengers - New Pornographers

    WHAT'S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?
    My Valentine - Rhett Miller

    HOW WILL YOU DIE?
    Nowhere to Sleep - Chatham County Line

    WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU REGRET?
    To Go Home - M. Ward

    WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
    Margaret vs. Pauline - Neko Case

    WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
    Jumpin' At The Woodside - Count Basie

    WILL YOU EVER GET MARRIED?
    Silver Bullets - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

    WHAT SCARES YOU THE MOST?
    Losing My Religion - R.E.M.

    DOES ANYONE LIKE YOU?
    In The Evening - Led Zeppelin

    IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
    Devil's Elbow - Colin Meloy

    WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW?
    Pale September - Fiona Apple

    Top 10 CD's

    My Top 10 CD's of the year:

    1. Drive By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
    2. Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
    3. Conor Oberst (self-titled)
    4. Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal
    5. Nada Surf- Lucky
    6. Robert Forster - The Evangelist
    7. Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
    8. Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
    9. Vampire Weekend - (self-titled)
    10. Ray LaMontagne - Gossip in the Grain


    You can vote for yours here from a long list of nominees.

    Thursday, December 04, 2008

    I'm proud of...

    ...my Governor. (Obsidian Wings)

    NBR awards

    The National Board of Review has selected Slumdog Millionaire as Best Film of the Year. (IndieWire)

    Best Film: "Slumdog Millionaire"

    Best Director: David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

    Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"

    Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"

    Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, "Milk"

    Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

    Best Foreign Film: "Mongol"

    Best Documentary: "Man on Wire"

    Best Animated Feature: "WALL-E"

    Size matters


    NP's venture to produce a line of vegan shoes has bitten the dust. (Fashionista)

    Most people know Té Casan because of Natalie Portman’s venture into vegan shoes. Well, Natalie will now have to leave the vegan thing up to Stella because Té Casan just folded.

    Relative problems

    An unhealthy mix of nepotism and politics. (Salon)

    There are numerous factors that account for this artistocratization of our politics. Viewing political officials through the combined prism of royalty and celebrity naturally generates interest in, and affection for, their family members. The same deeply sad mentality that makes it worthwhile for celebrity magazines to pay many millions of dollars for celebrities' baby photos is part of what makes so many people eager to vote for the sons, wives, and brothers of their favorite political star. Independently, a rapid worsening of America's rich-poor gap stratifies the society in terms of opportunities and access and breeds a merit-deprived aristocratic culture.

    Uh-oh

    Does Barack Obama use a Zune? (Clog)

    Hood ornament

    I know I've sort of covered this already, but you've got to see Neko Case's new CD cover. (Stereogum)

    Shanley speaks


    John Patrick Shanley on directing Doubt. No new gossip on NP's almost-casting. (LA Times)

    "This is very personal. This is my childhood," Shanley says, adding that the sexual abuse accusation in the story is not autobiographical. "I remember every single person from my eighth-grade class," Shanley says. (Sister James was based on Shanley's second-grade teacher, Sister Margaret McEntee, who was a technical advisor on the film.) Michael Roukis was cast as the rebellious student William London because he reminded Shanley of classmate Tommy Diehl.

    Sundance lineup

    The Sundance Film Festival has announced its lineup. Expect plenty of blog chat about Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, based on the book by David Foster Wallace and directed by Office star John Krasinski. (Screen Daily)

    After a period of sombre meditation on the myriad iterations of post-9/11 angst, the upcoming 25th anniversary edition of the Sundance Film Festival from January 15-25 appears to have trained its sights on romance and stories with high emotional resonance.

    "This is a festival that's going to make people cry," festival director Geoff Gilmore said, announcing the 64 competition entries that takes their place among a slightly streamlined roster of 118 features representing 21 countries and 39 first-time film-makers culled from 3,661 submissions. The non-competition entries will be announced tomorrow.

    10 Best

    The 10 Best Books of 2008. This one sounds good: (NY Times)

    NETHERLAND
    By Joseph O’Neill.
    Pantheon Books, $23.95.

    O’Neill’s seductive ode to New York — a city that even in bad times stubbornly clings to its belief “in its salvific worth” — is narrated by a Dutch financier whose privileged Manhattan existence is upended by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. When his wife departs for London with their small son, he stays behind, finding camaraderie in the unexpectedly buoyant world of immigrant cricket players, most of them West Indians and South Asians, including an entrepreneur with Gatsby-size aspirations.

    Wednesday, December 03, 2008

    Blurry lines

    Neil Gaiman on free speech and those weird Japanese comics..

    If you accept -- and I do -- that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said.

    Dept. of Lessig

    I'm still learning about the undefined zone that is licensing and the net, but here's a post arguing why collective licensing for musicians online won't work. I think I'm a little convinced. (Tech Liberation)

    I respect the fact that Lessig is at least acknowledging a problem exists and proposing a solution to it, but the collective licensing approach will be anything but “simple” in practice. As I have pointed out here before, collective licensing proposals and efforts almost always become compulsory in practice. They inevitably involve government mandates to determine (1) who pays in, (2) how much they pay in, as well as (3) how much gets paid out and, (4) who gets the money.

    Good skating

    Frozen River takes top prize at the Gotham Awards with a Best Actress nod for Melissa Leo. (Variety)

    Acquired by Sony Classics after it screened in Sundance, "Frozen River" has become that rare thing in the 2008 indie/specialty world: a grassroots hit.

    Like "The Visitor," which was also nommed for best feature at the Gothams, "Frozen River" benefited from coming out before the fourth-quarter prestige crush with a lot of fest buzz to get it started commercially. Released Aug. 1, the pic has cumed $2.3 million in the U.S.

    Tuesday, December 02, 2008

    Secret chord

    Are you tired of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" yet? (Nigeness)

    Do the Shuffle #18/What I Listened To....

    Sending this out to my blogfriend, whom I believe is on a hiatus of the I-don't-have-time variety. I hope he won't mind if I borrow a couple of his features for this post only.

  • She & Him - I Was Made For You
  • Jonathan Richman - When We Refuse To Suffer
  • American Music Club - Another Morning
  • Uncle Tupelo - Grindstone
  • Yo La Tengo - Mr. Tough
  • The Smiths - Cemetry Gates
  • Keith Jarrett - Autumn Leaves/Up For It (live)
  • Josh Ritter - Empty Hearts
  • Britt Daniel - Who Backs Your Money (live) (a solo track from the Spoon leader I downloaded from some blog)

    Total Songs/minutes (approx.): 9/43
    Miscellaneous Facts: a. It's cold and b. songs 2-6 are from bands that I've followed at least since college
  • Case's case

    Details on the new Neko Case CD, out in March. (BrooklynVegan)

    Miss Cate


    Cate Blanchett talks to Jack White. (Interview)

    JW: [both laugh] I wanted to ask you what aspects of the theater company in Sydney you're involved with. Are you interested in the lighting? Let's start there.

    CB: Basically, we've programmed 12 one-woman shows based around the various chapters of my life, and for some reason-and I cannot work out why-our audience numbers have been dropping. [laughs] But, no, it's a huge company. For me, I think the bigger something is, the more difficult it is to make it nimble and fleet afoot. So that's kind of been our mission. There's not a long, entrenched tradition of theatergoing in Australia. People love events-they love performances, they love music-and I think Australians are great entertainers. But there's this patina of weariness regarding any theatrical endeavor, so I think our job has been to kind of enhance the event atmosphere, bring excitement around actually coming to the theater. We are on a wharf. We're on the sort of seedy side of the bridge, and we have been having sessions once a month to get some music in the foyer, just to kind of rough it up a bit and create an atmosphere around the shows. Because our people need to see something good. The company has done great work in the past. It used to spill out into the foyer, and now there's nowhere to go and nothing to latch onto-you kind of just go home, and you forget the experience, or it sort of rests in isolation. And theater is all about foyers and conversation and digesting what you've seen. That's a long-winded answer to your question, but it's been mammoth


    Spirit Award Nominations



    Let it begin. The Spirit Award nominations are out and as usual there are far too many on this list I haven't had the opportunity to see. I am pleased to see Rachel Getting Married among the top nominees as well as not very surprising recognition for Richard Jenkins. (Indie Eye)



    Best Feature

    "Ballast"
    Producers: Lance Hammer, Nina Parikh

    "Frozen River"
    Producers: Chip Hourihan, Heather Rae

    "Rachel Getting Married"
    Producers: Neda Armian, Jonathan Demme, Marc Platt

    "Wendy and Lucy"
    Producers: Larry Fessenden, Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani

    "The Wrestler"
    Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin

    Last DFW

    A piece of fiction David Foster Wallace was working on in the months before his death (part of a new novel?) will be published in a college literary magazine. (The Howling Fantods)

    Monday, December 01, 2008

    New month, slow day

  • Richard Belzer's novel has fun with his familiar TV persona, Det. John Munch. (Ben and Alice)

    We see Belzer on the set of SVU, practicing his lines, feeling good about nailing a scene, enlisting his personal assistant to be his Gal Friday, and, weirdly enough, practicing (and deploying) martial arts. One of the running jokes is that New Yorkers recognize him from somewhere, but they keep mixing him up with other TV cops and actors. He gets mistaken for William Petersen, James Woods, and, he imagines, "George Clooney having a bad day on a bender."


  • Quality Show Fatigue. (NY Mag)

    I confess: I don’t watch Mad Men.

    I say this with reluctance, because every time I admit it—to friends, relatives, co-workers, strangers—I’m answered with the same sputtering combination of disbelief, dismay, and disdain. What?! You don’t watch Mad Men? Don’t you understand how good it is? Yes, I do. And as we enter year-end-list-making season, I look forward to being reminded about it again and again (and again).
  •