Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dept. of What Everybody's Linking To

Who is on Twitter? (Sasha Frere-Jones)

people who are involved in "social networking" and optimizing the power of re-Tweeting and "computers"

people who can't find a reasonable picture of themselves


people who really like the news


DJs at the airport

Friday, January 30, 2009

But how does the perfume smell?

The new issue of Interview has photos of NP and Michelle Williams from a Roman Polanski-directed "fake perfume ad" that's really an art project by Francesco Vezzoli. Interview's site will only let me embed this media player thing, so enjoy scanning through the photos before checking out this interview with Polanski by Vezzoli.

From A to....

How Robert Christgau grades records....

E records are frequently cited as proof that there is no God.

Dept. of January 20th

What was wrong with the Inaugural Poem? (New Republic)

So it was no surprise to hear Alexander begin her poem today with a cliché ("Each day we go about our business"), before going on to tell the nation "I know there's something better down the road"; and pose the knotty question, "What if the mightiest word is ‘love'?"; and conclude with a classic instance of elegant variation: "on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp." The poem's argument was as hard to remember as its language; it dissolved at once into the circumambient solemnity. Alexander has reminded us of what Angelou's, Williams's, and even Robert Frost's inauguration poems already proved: that the poet's place is not on the platform but in the crowd, that she should speak not for the people but to them.

The Visitor

Christopher Buckley's account of a visit to Auschwitz with his father is long but worthwhile reading and unintentionally serves as further proof that movies about the Holocaust are half a loaf at best. (The Daily Beast)

You go through the visitors center and there it is. You’ve seen it in photographs a hundred times, the famous gate: “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Work will set you free. The idea was to be reassuring, unlike the slogan Dante hung over the entrance to his hell, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Put in an honest day and everything will be all right. Counterproductive to panic the arrivals. Here, and up the road, in Birkenau, they thought through all the details, down to the numbered hooks in the dressing rooms outside the gas chambers. The SS jollied you along. Remember which hook you hang your clothes on so you’ll be able to get find them after the shower. And don’t forget to put your shoes underneath so you’ll be able to get them, too. You’re a shoemaker? Great, we need shoemakers. At Auschwitz, they even had a prisoner orchestra playing inside the gate. It helped keep order. Good for morale, too. How bad could it be, if they greeted you with music?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rules for critics

Settle in. I'm going to keep linking to good Updike stuff until it runs out. From the '70's, Updike's "Rules for Reviewing." (Critical Mass)

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

They're not saying Br-u-u-uce, they're saying...

I'm as much a fan of the early, anthemic Springsteen as anyone; that's why it's so disappointing to hear Magic and the new Working On A Dream fawned over as late-period classics. (Rolling Stone)

Working on a Dream is the richest of the three great rock albums Springsteen has made this decade with the E Street Band — and moment for moment, song for song, there are more musical surprises than on any Bruce album you could name, from the Chess Records vocal distortion on the bluesy "Good Eye" to the joyous British Invasion pep of "Surprise, Surprise."

Working On A Dream contains nothing even close to the majesty and sweep of "Rosalita" or "Badlands," but that's setting the bar pretty high. What's more troubling is that the album's worst cuts could play as Springsteen parody. The opening "Outlaw Pete" is an outright disaster, with strings, tempo changes, and a faux classic rock guitar solo all used in an attempt to create some mythos. "Queen of the Supermarket" ("I'm in love with the queen of the supermarket/As the evening sky turns blue/A dream awaits in aisle number two") is (I think) supposed to be a working-class love ballad but sounds condescending. There are a few low-key winners: "My Lucky Day" and the title song could have been the third or fourth singles from an '80s or '90s Bruce album while "Surprise, Surprise" is admittedly infectious.

Springsteen's lyrics have long since ceased to feel rooted in anything personal or authentic (OK I'll give you "The Wrestler"). Instead of the misbegotten heroes of "Glory Days" or the troubled lovers of "Brilliant Disguise" (probably my favorite Springsteen song) we're treated to:

We reach for starlight all night long/but gravity's too strong/Chained to this earth we go on and on and on - "This Life"

Even The Rising had an urgency that seems to have disappeared. The Boss might do well to check in with his near contemporary Paul Simon, who seems able to draw lyrical inspiration from his own life and musical energy from working with new collaborators like Brian Eno. Musically the E Street Band comes off as a kind of collective background rumble on most of Working On A Dream, it's a relief to hear Clarence Clemons rip off a solo on the third or fourth track. As far as the vocals, no matter what the Rolling Stone review says Bruce ain't no Roy Orbison. When the hoopla of the forthcoming tour dies down, Springsteen should hit the creative road in search of some new collaborators and new subject matter. The Boss is trying way too hard to stay in charge.

On the shelf, still

Checking out Updike at your local library. (Anecdotal Evidence)

Given the nature of a public library – capricious budgets, hard use of books by indifferent hands (“the element”) – the Updike collection looks as worn as headstones in acid-rain country. The Knopf template is barely discernable amid the paperbacks, library bindings and two copies of the steroidal Everyman’s edition of Rabbit Angstrom: A Tetralogy. There’s no aura of a dignified, decades-spanning oeuvre. It looks like a library of castoffs in an Adirondack fishing cabin. But think what that means: Since 1957 (the library has a circulating first of The Poorhouse Fair), enough readers have borrowed Updike’s books, dog-eared the pages, split the spines and left them in the sun to bleach, to move a money-strapped public institution to regularly restock its shelves with inferior but perfectly readable replacements. Even a recent volume, The Terrorist (2006), is a cigarette-stinking wreck. The Same Door, published in 1959, is represented by a hard-cover fourth printing from 1991.

A rock star's life for me

Bill Janovitz, from a longer post on guitar influences and the early days.

We rarely took offense at the suggestion that we were Dinosaur Jr. Jr. Ha ha, very clever. The only time I recall reacting is in Iowa City early on. We had just finished at Gabe’s Oasis in the very early days (probably our second tour) when some annoying drunk dude kept horning in on a chat we were having outside our van with some kids we had met. He kept stumbling and leaning in, sloshing around, slurring out insults. When he finally got in my face and sloppily declared, “Dinosaur IMPOSTERS!” at me, I took my half cup of beer and threw it in his face, something I instantly regretted as he stood there blinking slowly and dramatically, mouth agape, wiping the beer from his eyes. Even as we were pulling out of the parking lot a few minutes later, he was chasing the van yelling that sort of belated “let me at ‘em!”

Buy now (MP3) -

Asides From (1988-1999)

@Welcome to Twitter!

A documentary filmmaker joins Twitter, becomes hooked. (PBS)

I haven't found a filmmaking community on Twitter yet, but I can envision that it could be extremely useful. One of the best aspects of Twitter is growing a network of people with various kinds of expertise and being able to quickly mine them for information in an instant. Twitter could be helpful for producers on location — in strange places where you need recommendations of some kind or help with logistics. Also, working with editing software, there's always someone who has better skills that can help you resolve some sticky problem. Sharing and getting recommendations about films, events, and networking in any field... on this level, at least, Twitter could be helpful.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Words from DFW

The David Foster Wallace Dictionary. More here (Griffin and Hoxie/Kottke)


Definition: (noun, plural of tableau) [1] A vivid or graphic description [2] A striking incidental scene, as of a picturesque group of people [3] An interlude during a scene when all the performers on stage freeze in position and then resume action as before. [4] A tableau vivant.

DFW's Sentence: "Steps" gets called a novel but it is really a collection of unbelievably creepy little allegorical tableaux done in a terse elegant voice that's like nothing else anywhere ever. — [Editor's note: Mr. Wallace is referring to this book by Jerzy Kosinski, who also wrote "Being There", which was made into the Hal Ashby movie of the same name staring Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener. Mr. Kosinski also wrote the "Being There" screenplay based on his own book.]

Dramatists' guide to survival

Advice for aspiring playwrights. Great post. (Adam Szymkowicz)

1. Are you sure you want to be a playwright? How about a screenwriter or TV writer or fiction writer? Not that you can’t do them all, but it helps, I think, to concentrate and get really good at one at a time and you should think about if you want that one thing to be a playwright.

Music appreciation

The 33 1/3 book series as a walk through the history of rock. (BoingBoing)

Each book is somewhat unique, there's no set formula, although they all focus on a single album and most tend to have a chapter or two to set up the album, a chapter for each track on the album, and then a follow-up chapter or two. The books are each about 130-140 pages, so they're a quick read -- unless you want to ritualize the experience like I do. For each title, after I buy it, I download the album onto my iPod. Every night, before bed, I listen to one of the tracks, read the chapter on that track, then I listen to the track again. It's really an amazing way of penetrating deeper into the music. Usually after I'm finished with a particular book/album, I'll obsess over that artist for awhile, tracking down and listening to their entire oeuvre, wishing there was a 33 1/3 book for each record.

Updike #2

Thomas Mallon on Updike: (National Review)

He was deeply interested in sex and God, but more than anything he was interested in working—steadily and prodigiously. The Rabbit books, taken together, are the great American novel of the second half of the twentieth century. Even when he was through with them, he kept writing fiction as if, culturally, it still counted—as if it could still land a writer on the cover of Time.

Buy now -

Rabbit Angstrom : The Four Novels : Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit at Rest (Everyman's Library)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike

Novelist John Updike has died at age 76. (NY Times)

As he told The Paris Review about his decision to shun the New York spotlight: “Hemingway described literary New York as a bottle full of tapeworms trying to feed on each other. When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teenaged boy finding them, have them speak to him. The reviews, the stacks in Brentano’s, are just hurdles to get over, to place the books on that shelf.”

Words well said (blogged?)

On The Reader: (This Recording)

Karl Jaspers and Homer, and all the authors of the works Michael reads to Winslet would be disgusted by The Reader. Jaspers wrote that “when language is used without true significance, it loses its purpose as a means of communication and becomes an end in itself.” He would have loathed this film, which makes sport out of genocide.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The anxiety of influence

How Bob Fosse influenced the Rachel Getting Married dishwasher scene and other tales from screenwriter Jenny Lumet. (Guardian)

Despite this starry upbringing, Lumet has spent the past 15 years quietly writing screenplays that have never been produced - until now. She had been teaching drama in a private school and bringing up her son, when suddenly (it seems) her life changed. In the space of 18 months, she married her childhood sweetheart, had another child (her daughter is four months old) and her latest script was turned into one of the most talked-about films of the year. One of Lumet's central characters, Kym, has earned Anne Hathaway an Oscar nomination.

Did she know Jonathan Demme? "No," Lumet says with a shrug. "I stalked him, but nothing worked. So finally I asked my dad. The way it's set up in America, you have to have some kind of connection to get a movie made - unless you finance it yourself. I'm sure in my apartment building there are 14 billion screenwriters who just can't get their stuff read."

Hero worship

Fleet Foxes show Animal Collective and Merriweather Post Pavilion some love.

It filled my heart with pride to see that for a few days the top iTunes record sales were Bon Iver, Animal Collective, and us dudes. That is awesome, legitimately individual music makers doing their own thing and lots of folks being receptive and not requiring those musicians to concede anything to find success. Life is rad and weird. Our record has since fallen off the chart but Bon Iver and AC hold strong - even radder. How amazing would it be if this could be the new popular stuff for real? What if SNL had Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, Department of Eagles, Panda Bear, Joanna Newsom (gimme new songs plz), Vetiver, Cave Singers, etc etc etc etc etc etc on the show and that was the new paradigm? That would be so amazing. So much great music exists. A humbling and terrifying amount of amazing music. Yeah.

Just for a little insight...

...into my personality, there's a thing going around right now on Facebook where you're supposed to list 25 random facts about yourself and then "tag" your friends whom you want to know more about in the hope that they'll do the same. I've been tagged a few times, and I appreciate it, but my view is that the people that I want to know the important stuff about my life already know it. So instead:

Thanks for all the attention, but do any of you really think I'm the kind of person who's going to put 25 random facts about myself online? Even in a forum where only my closest friends can see it? You guys know me. Still, after being "tagged" several times it feels like bad sportsmanship not to participate. But rather than just blurting things out, I want to be efficient. So, here are the answers to some questions I'm commonly asked. Think of it as a user's manual.

1. Poughkeepsie, New York

2. Yes.

3. Because I never wanted to learn

4. When I interrupted a post-"Silent Night" reverie during a Christmas Eve service by saying "Lights please."

5. I was usually the referee or umpire during recess. Yet today I seldom wear stripes.

6. Because my 5th grade P.E. teacher told me to.

7.7th grade awards day. It's all downhill after that.

8. It was not my idea to climb out the window, but I'm glad I did.

9. The villain in "The Revenge of the Pink Panther." I wore my own clothes.

10. No, you've never seen me onstage

11. Working in a bookstore doesn't mean you "have lots of time to read." The same is true of working at Best Buy.

12. I was just kidding.

13. When I was a senior. I think she is the Ambassador to Switzerland now.

14. For about 15 minutes

15. Sophmore year. I couldn't decide between that or Poli Sci

16. I was the only one who didn't care about getting a job in the industry after graduation.

17. We stopped at Burger King in Gaffney so she could put on her dress. I went to the restroom and the zipper broke. We attended the wedding anyway.

18. Since 1999.

19. She was reading a Toni Morrison book backstage.

20. Because I was going to New York anyway.

21. The marathon of Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia"

22. Sweating so much that you actually feel lighter after the show.

23. Blue Ridge. the food's more expensive but you can have a conversation.

24. A a daughter.....does it really matter?

25. Because I'm afraid of her.


A good interview with Steven Soderbergh on Che and other things. I've said it before but Soderbergh gives the best DVD commentaries around just in terms of giving insight into a director's attitude toward his work and the way choices sometimes come about. (The Rumpus)

TR: When people talk about your movies they often talk about the two different Soderberghs. There’s the Soderbergh who does the big projects, and there’s the Soderbergh who does the smaller movies. Do you see your films in that way?

SODERBERGH: That’s a delineation that only somebody who doesn’t make movies would make. They’re all for me. I’m not going to spend two years of my life on something that I’m not excited about. And they both have their pleasures. But the process is remarkably similar when it comes down to it. When you’re trying to shoot a scene, the problems are almost identical. It’s just you have more people standing around.

Some filmmakers, you know, have their style and then they kind of go looking for the movie. I’m not like that. I don’t have one style that I want to take from movie to movie. I think that may be a result of an eclectic upbringing. My father, who was the one who really got me hooked on movies, liked all kinds of films, and I saw all kinds of films at a very young age. So especially when you’re starting to make films, and you’re seeing everything from studio movies to “Last Year at Marienbad,” at a time when things really imprint in a way that’s unique – I’m talking about from around 13 to 17 – [it has an effect]. I was lucky that I was getting exposed to a lot of different kinds of films during that period, and I was liking them all. So it seemed logical to me that you could – as in the style of the studio directors of the 30s and 40s – jump from one genre to the next, with the same satisfaction.

(Late) Sunday Music: Ra Ra Riot - "Can You Tell"

I came late to this band and their CD The Rhumb Line, but now I can't stop listening to it.

...and the singer was in Rachel Getting Married

TV on the Radio as soundtrack to the Obama years (and they finally beat Dylan). (Village Voice)

Two years ago, the cover illustration for the 34th Village Voice Pazz & Jop issue featured a near-septuagenarian white man running over a younger contender of color for the highest prize in the land: Four-time poll victor Bob Dylan and his Great Depression–obsessed Modern Times blazed his motorized scooter over the back of TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone and his band's Greater Depression–obsessed Return to Cookie Mountain. The drawing understandably drew the ire of TVOTR; in a letter to the editor, hornman/collaborator Martín Perna deemed the metaphorical rendering of the critical election results "racist, unfunny, mean-spirited, and inaccurate," an image ultimately demeaning the Brooklyn band's "small army of extended family," its resultant "indescribably ecstatic sound," and their "collective dignity."

Sundance Awards

The lengthily titled Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire wins two top Sundance prizes. The awkward title avoids confusion with the forthcoming Dakota Fanning-starring comic book adaptation. (Indiewire)

Lee Daniels’ “Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire” was the big winner tonight winning three major awards. It received the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award and a special acting prize for Mo’Nique. The film remained without distribution as the prizes were presented tonight, with seller Cinetic Media hoping to stir buyers today as the festival neared its conclusion.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The problem of excellence

What do the Academy Award nominations mean? (Lawyers, Guns, and Money)

More importantly, I think the key problem here is the common fallacy of evaluating the means of production rather than the art. I've never understood someone saying they're a fan of "indie" movies or music; process isn't art. It may be true that, all things being equal, nearly full autonomy leads to better art, but it's also obvious that there are so many exceptions -- collaborative, commercial projects that are compelling art and sincere, personal creations that are dreary art -- that rules are meaningless, and what matters is the quality of the work rather than the purity of the creation. Sometimes, gifted artists given autonomy will produce masterpieces; other times they will use the autonomy to try to prove that they can make a better 3-hour movie with Brad Pitt cast in a non-comic role than Martin Brest. I don't think the latter case should be confused with "excellence."

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Book I Read: The Plunder Room by John Jeter

In the spirit of full disclosure it must be mentioned that John Jeter is the owner of The Handlebar, a Greenville, South Carolina club where I've enjoyed shows by Drive By Truckers, Robyn Hitchcock, The Avett Brothers, and more. So I was already favorably disposed towards Jeter when I sat down to read his novel The Plunder Room, a story of fathers, sons, music, war, and a strange new kind of peace.

For me the problem with so much Southern fiction is twofold. Southern novels tend to be backward-looking, concerned with things of the past rather than what's happening now. A huge generalization? Maybe, but of course if a general burned a swath through your backyard you might have a hard time getting past it. What really grates about so many Southern novels is the self-conscious eccentricity, characters with goofy names and frilly book titles like The Adventures of the Piccadilly Choctaw Pecan Tree Book Club and Marching Band or something like that. (I just made that up but it does have a ring to it. Hmmm....)

The Plunder Room clears the first hurdle and completely avoids the second. It's a modern novel that just happens to be set in the South; it's concerns feel so personal and urgent that there's no room for silliness. Randol Duncan is a professional blogger who lives on the South Carolina property of his war hero grandfather, who dies as the book opens. The most important gift Randol receives from his grandfather is the key to "The Plunder Room," a locked room full of items that Grandpa collected during his military career. Getting into the Plunder Room isn't as easy as it sounds though, since Randol has been left paraplegic after his accident and has no easy means of getting up the stairs.

Jeter has more on his mind than militaristic Southern tradition though, since Randol's dissolute father Jupe is obviously more than the small business owner he appears to be and his half brother Jerod is tight-lipped about his life and the beautiful woman named Annie he shows up with on the day after his grandfather's funeral. A couple of things about Annie: she claims to be from New York and to want a teaching job in the South Carolina school system (that alone should be enough to cause suspicion) and her beauty causes every man who sees her to start quivering. Annie is the book's biggest problem; she's in the book for one reason, so the Duncan boys can uncover the truth about their father and get on with their lives. The reveal of Annie's mischief is a little fuzzy, and her methods (a child pornography website) take The Plunder Room in a direction it doesn't have time to explore.

The Plunder Room isn't a mystery though. The heart of the book is Randol's relationship with his son Eddie, a good-hearted if slightly clueless teen with a fondness for hard rock and a fear asking pretty girls out on a date. Randol is trying to teach his son the precepts of manhood. "....we are all supposed to grow, not just as people, as boys grow to men, but from one generation to the next," Jeter writes. Whether Southern fiction is your glass of lemonade or not, aren't those words what life is all about? The Plunder Room is an offbeat winner, an original offering from an new author who deserves your attention.

Should I buy a turntable?

Vinyl, industry savior? (All Songs Considered)

I've read a number of reports that sales of vinyl LPs and turntables are way up. Retailers speculate the obvious: Vinyl turns music into a tangible work of art, allowing a deeper connection between listener and artist. And many vinyl LPs now come with a code to download a free MP3 version of the album, giving listeners both the convenience of digital audio and the beauty of art you can hold in your hand.

Vinyl could save not only music as high art, but also the music industry itself. Labels and music retailers, reeling from years of plummeting sales, have been trying to lure buyers into purchasing physical CDs instead of downloads. Some have included videos or bonus tracks with the discs. But vinyl is a perfect excuse for returning to an actual, physical record store, where you can lay down some money and walk out with something real. I'd love to see local record stores come back.

A word from...

...Sonic Youth, re their plans for a 2009 album. (NME)

Buy (MP3) -

Daydream Nation

Thursday, January 22, 2009

After Ellen

BSG's Ron Moore on, you know, that whole fifth Cylon thing. (The Watcher/photo by Paul Sanchez Yates)

Q: Why Ellen?

A: There’s a certain logic to it. I sort of figured out early on that I liked the pairing of her and Tigh. [I liked] that there was something deeper to their marriage and deeper to their relationship, that it was literally a relationship that had transcended time and space, that it was very ancient that had gone on for a very long time. It was something that was [mentioned] in the pilot for “Galactica.”


Writer/director John Krasinski on his adaptation of David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. (The Envelope)

In 2005, with a shooting draft finished and the casting process already begun, Wallace, the literary phenom who also penned the groundbreaking novel "Infinite Jest," called Krasinski to give him his blessing on the project. "He said, 'What's it scripted around?' " the multi-hyphenate remembers. "I said, 'A woman doing her dissertation around feminism looking into the role of the modern man in the post-feminist era.' There was a silence. And he said, 'I never figured out how to do that, how to make them all relate together. That sounds awesome.' It was probably one of the greatest days of my life!"

Mottola speaks

Director Greg Mottola (Superbad) on his new film Adventureland and where it fits in his still unfolding career trajectory. (Filmmaker/photo by Lake Fong)

Q: Presumably you don‘t want to be known forever as “that guy who did Superbad.”

A: I may well be that for the rest of my life with a certain audience, unless I make Superbad 2, and then I‘ll be that guy who fucked up Superbad. Superbad did, for whatever reason, become a quasi phenomenon with a certain age group. I can‘t deny how cool that is, but those people have no idea I did a little indie film 10 years ago; they have no idea that I have those [other] ambitions. And as Miramax wisely tries to get them to see Adventureland — at the end of the day, they want to sell the most tickets they can — we‘ll see how that goes over when they see that it‘s not exactly what they expect.

Wrap it up, I'll take it

A long and worthwile year-end post from Dennis Cozzalio; you may remember the mild dance fight (to use my own term) I engaged in a year ago with Mr. Cozzalio re Juno.

Some fulfilled my expectations, some were big disappointments, some surprised me on both ends of the scale, but all in all I have to say that to my mind, unless the last impression of a less-than-stellar package of Christmas releases is what colors the entire year for you, 2008 was a fairly strong year across the board. It’s inevitable that in most years, good and bad, more lousy movies will end up on screens than worthy ones—that’s the law of averages when applied of the cutthroat business of modern movie production. But any year that produces a list like my top 20+, and showcases so many excellent roles for and films about women, has to have something going for it.

Dept. of No Rookie Mistakes

How did first-time Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins, Taraji P. Henson, and Melissa Leo react to the news? Jenkins is a deserving familiar face; I'm happy to see Leo recognized (I loved her work on Homicide) and thought Henson deserved more praise for Hustle & Flow. (Carpetbagger)

All three are first-time Oscar nominees, and all three are more than thrilled with the honor. At first, Mr. Jenkins, who received a best actor nomination for his role in “The Visitor,” thought his son-in-law’s father was playing a joke on him. “Congratulations, he said, and I said, What? You were nominated. I said, no, no, for what? I didn’t really think I was going to be. So that was my brilliant response.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm reviewing!

Feel free to drop by and join (or start) the discussion:

  • Last Chance Harvey

    There isn’t much to Last Chance Harvey, directed by Joel Hopkins other than the sight of two old pros doing their thing and having a good time. Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is squeezing in a trip to London for his estranged daughter’s wedding before a big work presentation that his boss (Richard Schiff) tells him is his “last chance.” Harvey is a commercial jingle writer, but we know that there is more to him thanks to an opening scene where he’s noodling around with his own jazz piano composition (which Hoffman actually wrote). A lifetime’s worth of the professional treadmill has left Harvey creatively unfulfilled.

  • Gran Torino

    Can we just agree that Clint Eastwood isn’t playing himself? The mild-mannered, self-deprecating man we see on Charlie Rose is miles removed from the bull-headed and gruff Walt Kowalski, the widowed Korean War vet Eastwood plays in Gran Torino. White men are an endangered species in Walt’s Detroit neighborhood, where he spends his days drinking beer on the porch while muttering racist comments at the house next door. The new neighbors are a Hmong family whose number appears flexible and whose members mostly don’t speak English. The Hmong characters aren’t differentiated much except for Sue (Ahney Her), a smart and friendly teenage girl with attitude, and Tao (Bee Vang). It’s the shy and awkward Tao who brings his family in contact with Walt. An older cousin pressures Tao to join a Hmong gang the initiation requires Tao to steal Walt’s beloved 1972 Gran Torino. Walt scares Tao off with a gunshot, and the rest of the movie is the unlikely friendship that forms as Tao tries to work off his debt.
  • Singular situation

    Mike Doughty on why our album-centered musical culture is ruining everything. Should I take him off my Top 10 List? (Mike Doughty)

    I subscribe to the theory that the lack of singles in the 90s is one of the things that's sinking the music business right now. Back then, they'd make you buy a $15 CD for one song--almost invariably, the one you saw on MTV was the only good song on there. The cost of manufacturing CDs is ridiculously cheap. They were making big dirty money by marking up the CD to high heaven. So, when the music business weeps about how it's tanking, how everybody is stealing from them, I'm not inclined to sympathize.

    A quick reaction to Bon Iver

    It's a big week for indie-rock music releases and if you were a fan of Bon Iver and his celebrated For Emma, Forever Ago then you'll like his new Blood Bank EP. The opening and title track is probably my favorite Bon Iver song to date - and manages to work up a little early Van Morrison-style sexiness - given that it's one of the few where I don't have to strain to understand the words. (There is that bit in "Skinny Love," but you know what I'm talking about) For someone who will apparently record just about anywhere (Blood Bank was recorded at "Chris and Josee's apartment" among other places) Justin Vernon's lo-fi meditations sound awfully processed to me; as evidence I offer the "Woods," the fourth and final track. While I don't think it sounds "not human" a la the new Animal Collective, I'll concur with Katie's description and leave it at that. (Parabasis)

    Buy (MP3) -

    Blood Bank

    A reading plan..

    Reading resolutions for the new year; this post led me to discover this site. By the way, I'm currently trying to finish Revolutionary Road before seeing the movie. (Quarterly Conversation)

    "Read my blog"

    A work-in-progress from Steven Soderbergh. (Spout Blog)

    Steven Soderbergh was on hand at the Eccles Theater in Park City tonight to screen a “work-in-progress” cut of his latest low-budget digital picture for HDNet Films, The Girlfriend Experience. Starring porn star Sasha Grey as a high-end escort who alternately goes by the names Chelsea and Christine, the film is not the salacious, graphically sexual verite that fans of Grey’s previous filmography might have expected/hoped for. Instead, it’s a cold (although understandably, necessarily so), hands-off portrait of a certain New York City life about a month before the 2008 presidential election.

    Buy now -


    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Big Screen Bell

    Let's start a pool on how much less this will make than Sex and the City. Plans are getting serious for a Veronica Mars movie. (If Magazine)

    "That means I have time to write the VERONICA MARS movie," he says. "But my writing the movie is half the battle. Someone else has to pay for it. Joel Silver does have a certain pile of money. He called on me saying ‘Can we do this now?’ Kristen wants to do it. Joel wants to do it and I want to do it. For me, that’s the next project."

    Buy now on DVD -

    Veronica Mars - The Complete First Season

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    David Hare goes off...

    ...on critics who slam The Reader for its treatment of the Holocaust. Background here. (Guardian/In Contention)

    MB: Have you been bemused or angered by the reaction to the film in Britain?

    DH: Louis Malle was a great friend - I miss him every day - and he told me, "The French will never, ever forgive me for Au Revoir les Enfants and most of all, for Lacombe Lucien." And I said that in Britain we think of Au Revoir les Enfants and Lacombe Lucien as great masterpieces. And he said, "Not in France, they don't." I said, "What is your offence?" And he said, "You must never suggest that ordinary people collaborated. You must never suggest that the people who committed crimes were not monsters but human beings under certain pressures who do not belong to a separate category but are completely normal people."

    You're the fifth

    The final Cylon (?) speaks. (Hero Complex)

    All of this was a tremendous surprise considering Ellen was poisoned to death in Season 3, but with the Cylons the usual rules of mortality don’t apply. Vernon is thrilled to be back. Her character was originally written for a four-episode arc, but she endured and became a key character — until she was murdered by her on-screen husband.

    "I wasn’t done with the character," Vernon moaned. "They killed me off. I was devastated. Why me? What did I do wrong?"

    A small reprieve came when executive producer Ron Moore told her she would return as a dark vision of her husband’s tortured mind, but Vernon said she had resigned herself to the fact that her role in "one of the greatest shows ever made" was pretty much over. Then, on an especially wrenching afternoon many months ago, she got a phone call.

    Singer Songwriters

    I posted earlier about a new MP3 from Gary Louris and Mark Olson. The two ex-Jayhawks chat about the process of making their new record and what their forthcoming tour might sound like. (Muzzle of Bees)

    Gary Louris: This tour will be primarily Mark and myself….I love the person and the playing of Mark’s girlfriend Ingunn and she will be playing djembe and other assorted percussion on a number of shows on this tour. I can’t say enough good things about her. I would be interested in adding people who played on the record, such as the amazing Jason Yates on organ and the incredible and undeniable force George Reiff who played bass on our record, along with the intriguing and unaffordable Ben Peeler and Jimmie Hey on assorted string instruments and drums respectively, but whenever we add players it begs the question…why not the Jayhawks? That is a tough one …The Jayhawks to me were so amazing that it almost seems sacrilegious to try and make that happen again…maybe in once-in-a-while setting but as a day-to-day this is what i do thing it might take away from what it was…..anyway…I am babbling…We will always perform old Jayhawks songs…we are proud of them and for Mark and I they are still exciting to perform…..We feel like our career was cut short prematurely, by our own hands, and we really never have performed them in a live setting like we wrote them…two guys with acoustic guitars…We may tap into our own solo records but mostly it will come from what Mark and I have done TOGETHER.

    Sunday, January 18, 2009

    Six is the new Ellen

    Or something like that. Some provocative BSG predictions to chew on, but only if you've seen Friday's season premiere. (Julian Sanchez)

    The real last cylon will be revealed as Anastasia “Dee” Dualla, who shot herself at the end of the episode (uploading her consciousness back to a cylon resurrection ship point). The body in Kara Thrace’s crashed ship will turn out to be a Dee model—note the ring on her neck matches the one Dee places in her locker before shooting herself. (I should add I’m much less confident about this last bit.)

    Dept. of Lifestyles of the....

    NP out and about. (Gossip Girls)

    Who are Animal Collective?

    A formal introduction to the much-blogged about band whose Merriweather Post Pavilion is already being called the best album of the year. (NY Times)

    IN December an e-mail message encouraged fans of Animal Collective to leak its forthcoming album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” Normally this wouldn’t be much of a surprise; fans of this psychedelic rock band are known to be a devoted lot, furiously monitoring its ever-morphing live shows and debating the lyrics of unreleased songs. But this message appeared to come from Animal Collective itself.

    Sunday Music: Wilco - "You Are My Face"

    From Austin City Limits I think; I picked it to dedicate for a friend's birthday yesterday on Facebook. I have no idea how this happens.

    Buy now (MP3) -

    You Are My Face

    Sky Blue Sky

    I hear that Fishburne can really act

    The now departed Gil Grissom of C.S.I. (aka William Petersen) inspires a leap into the world of fan fiction. (Ben and Alice)

    Until yesterday, I didn't know that others shared my feelings for him--and published them online in elaborate Gil Grissom fanfic erotica. It's a weird phenomenon, but it fits in with the show so well that I'm surprised there hasn't been a CSI: episode about fanfic. It may be that Griss is a good fanfic subject less because "he could be up for anything," as Stevens puts it, and more because he's a student of conventions of alternative lifestyles--as in the episodes about furries, narcocorridos (a dangerous form of fanfic?), horror porn (ahem, Spike TV), and, this season, sitcoms for aging actresses, when the murderess explains how the murder would have occurred on her own badly written TV show. When a fanfic author delights in anatomizing a CSI: episode and reconfiguring the conventions into a new story, s/he's being Gil Grissom.

    What would Strummer say?

    Guitar Hero as the inversion of punk. Do corporate behemoths want us distracted? (Rough Type)

    "Consumerism and its infrastructure," observes Horning, "keeps us well supplied with stuff and seems to enrich our identities by allowing us to become familiar with a wide range of phenomena - a process that the internet has accelerated immeasurably. (I encounter a stray idea, digest the relevant Wikipedia entry, and just like that, I’ve broadened my conceptual vocabulary! I get bored with the book I’m reading, Amazon suggests a new one! I am too distracted to read blog posts, I’ll check Twitter instead!) But this comes at the expense with developing any sense of mastery of anything, eroding over time the sense that mastery is possible, or worth pursuing."

    Friday, January 16, 2009

    Sweet Thing

    Van Morrison is releasing a live CD of his Astral Weeks songs from recent California concerts. (Brooklyn Vegan)

    The concerts marked the first time Mr. Morrison ever performed "Astral Weeks" in one complete concert set. Joining him was an orchestral string section and a band composed of world-class musicians, some of whom played with Van on the original "Astral Weeks" sessions 40 years ago.

    Buy now on CD -

    Astral Weeks

    Andrew Wyeth

    Artist Andrew Wyeth has died at age 91. Since I live in Greenville, S.C., where the art museum established a permanent collection of Wyeth's work 10 years ago, I've been hearing about "America's Painter" for many years. (NY Times/photo: Cranberries, Wyeth, 1966)

    Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject, so that arguments about his work extended beyond painting to societal splits along class, geographical and educational lines. One art historian, in response to a 1977 survey in Art News magazine about the most underrated and overrated artists of the century, nominated Wyeth for both categories.

    Art critics mostly heaped abuse on his work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Supporters said he spoke to the silent majority who jammed his exhibitions. “In today’s scrambled-egg school of art, Wyeth stands out as a wild-eyed radical,” one journalist wrote in 1963, speaking for the masses. “For the people he paints wear their noses in the usual place, and the weathered barns and bare-limbed trees in his starkly simple landscapes are more real than reality.”

    Fest not protest

    Director Gregg Araki on why Prop 8 haters shouldn't boycott Sundance and some gay-themed highlights among this year's films. (Advocate)

    I don’t think anyone can deny that visibility is a crucial aspect of our struggle for equality. And Sundance, with its mission to champion diversity, has always been especially supportive of LGBT films and filmmakers. My film The Living End, Todd Haynes’s Poison, Tom Kalin’s Swoon, Rose Troche’s Go Fish, Jim Fall’s Trick, and many, many more all had their premieres at Sundance. And the festival is not just about the snow, crowds, and agents running around schmoozing on cell phones. It’s also about the critical mass of media covering the event, which makes it a place where films and filmmakers can be discovered—so their voices are actually heard amid the miasma of popular culture. I’ve often said that the New Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s wouldn’t have existed without the media writing about it—and Sundance is what brought those films, filmmakers, and journalists together in the first place.

    State of the Festival

    You may have heard that nobody's going to Sundance this year, but Robert Redford is finding plenty to look forward to. (Hollywood Reporter)

    Sundance founder Robert Redford said that despite downturns in film financing and the larger economy, filmmakers will secure the means to make the movies that audiences will respond to. "Art will find a way," he said at an opening news conference. Reappearing later to make opening-night remarks, Redford added that with change in the air in the White House and in the culture generally, "This could be a very inspiring time for artists."

    The hyphenate also offered careful but pointed comments aimed at those who would target Sundance with boycotts or protests because a member of the Mormon church, which supported California's anti-gay Prop 8, owns a Park City theater used for fest screenings.

    Redford said the festival is predicated on offering a platform of diverse voices, making it particularly ironic that it would be the subject of gay-rights protests.

    What do (crazy) people do all day?

    Nazi lover David Irving, given a platform once again. (Independent)

    “Hitler appointed me his biographer,” David Irving says. He is not laughing. He is announcing that the Fuhrer – the man he has revered since he was a child – saw him coming. Yes: Hitler prophesied Irving as the man who would clear away the smears and bring The Truth at last to an unwilling world. Irving discovered this prophecy when he was writing a biography of Adolf Hitler, but he is only prepared to disclose it baldly now. “I made a great point of tracking down all Hitler’s surviving doctors,” he says, “and I identified Erwin Giesing as the doctor who treated Hitler after the bomb attempt on his life in 1944.” He tracked him down in the 1970s to Aachen in West Germany, and when Irving called, he claims Giesing said: “Yes, I’ve been expecting you.”

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Support your local...

    A photo blog of London's independent storefronts. (London Shop Fronts)

    Dept. of #%&*&% paparazzi

    Zhang Ziyi is in trouble in China for racy pictures, but does the ethnicity of her fiance just throw gas on the problem? (Kaiju Shakedown)

    China's least-liked celebrity, ace actress Zhang Ziyi, may have impressed foreigners but local Chinese like to slow down as they drive by and throw beer cans at her head. Now she's stepped into a hornet's nest with the front-page publication in Hong Kong newspapers of her on the beach in a bikini with her billionaire fiance, Vivi Nevo, pulling down her bikini bottoms and grabbing, plus biting, her butt. The photos popped up first on an English-language website and then flooded across the internet like gravy. Chinese language websites are crashing as people pile on to take a gander, and some message boards are on fire with angry men calling her out for marrying a white guy, and for letting him bite her butt in public.

    Go quickly!

    M. Ward's forthcoming album Hold Time is streaming at NPR.

    "I think the songwriting style of (Buddy Holly's) period was superior," Ward says in an interview with All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen. "There was a certain amount of joy in it, no matter how sad the song is. You get joy in listening to these Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison sad lyrics. I'm attracted to songs that have balance between the darks and the lights and giving them all equal opportunity."

    Buy on CD -


    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    What, no Iron Man?

    Attention flyover country: Your taste in movies sucks.Take several blockbusters and a couple of acclaimed art-house pictures, shake them up, and you've got this list of the "11 Offenses" of the past year. I'm no fan of The Dark Knight, Australia, or Pineapple Express, but this list seems a little too oriented towards telling you that all of the big event movies you enjoyed last year were actually crap. (Reverse Shot)

    The Dark Knight:

    This may be a Schrödinger's Cat of an argument, but isn't it convenient that, just at the heaving endpoint of a long national nightmare that's bruised and battered the American psyche, we can look back on the movie year of 2008 and see, sitting atop the box office junk-heap, a blockbuster entertainment that pokes exactly where it hurts? And critics have accepted it as serious art (and not shrewd business) merely because it came from the creator of . . . The Prestige? Please. The Dark Knight is no more than a typically bloated franchise movie infused with a dram of schematic lip service to "big issues," and because it was all "blalck-as-night" or whatever, it got taken for serious. Did anyone leave this thing and get into a deep debate about the efficacy of terror? The ethics of surveillance? Doubtful, except for the few conservative noisemakers who actually did a nice job of equating Batman with George W. Bush.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    My review of The Reader... up at The Greenville Critics, in which I reveal my secret fondness for period literary adaptations (accents, costumes, the whole works) and discuss the fact that one woman's learning to read seems trivial in comparison to the what went on in the camps.

    The Reader is an example of my favorite kind of movie, the period literary adaptation with accents and classy Brit actors (sorry, “thespians”) like Winslet and Fiennes. It’s the kind of movie that comes out every year, racks up a few award nominations, but never wins the big prize. Sure, these slowly paced litflicks are almost never as good as their source material and usually clock in at a leisurely 2+ hours; (the section involving the Hanna’s trial could have been shorter) I keep coming back for more. On the surface The Reader has all the goods; the problem is that on the inside the movie is tragically and deeply silly.

    Keeping it simple, mon

    A musical epiphany in Kingston, Jamaica. (Ska Blah Blah)

    As you may know, Sound System-style street parties (with massive banks of loudspeakers that are more comfortingly bassy than ear-splittingly treble) happen pretty much every night of the week around Kingston, starting with Uptown Mondays at a shopping plaza in New Kingston with current dancehall hits, and going right through the week.

    The neighborhood of Rae Town has, for the past 20 plus years there, thrown a Sunday night dance and party. The local paper the Gleaner describes it as an oldies night, and the people reflect that, sort of. There are 70 year-olds, all the way down to much younger people. Classes mix: doctors and lawyers from uptown mingle with an array of characters out of Fellini.

    This is America

    Haunting photos of an abandoned school in Harlem. (Bluejake)

    Summit Meeting

    From 2003: Dave Eggers interviews David Foster Wallace about his work habits, politics, and more. (Believer)

    The reason why doing political writing is so hard right now is probably also the reason why more young (am I included in the range of this predicate anymore?) fiction writers ought to be doing it. As of 2003, the rhetoric of the enterprise is fucked. 95 percent of political commentary, whether spoken or written, is now polluted by the very politics it’s supposed to be about. Meaning it’s become totally ideological and reductive: The writer/speaker has certain political convictions or affiliations, and proceeds to filter all reality and spin all assertion according to those convictions and loyalties. Everybody’s pissed off and exasperated and impervious to argument from any other side. Opposing viewpoints are not just incorrect but contemptible, corrupt, evil. Conservative thinkers are balder about this kind of attitude: Limbaugh, Hannity, that horrific O’Reilly person. Coulter, Kristol, etc. But the Left’s been infected, too. Have you read this new Al Franken book? Parts of it are funny, but it’s totally venomous (like, what possible response can rightist pundits have to Franken’s broadsides but further rage and return-venom?). Or see also e.g. Lapham’s latest Harper’s columns, or most of the stuff in the Nation, or even Rolling Stone. It’s all become like Zinn and Chomsky but without the immense bodies of hard data these older guys use to back up their screeds. There’s no more complex, messy, community-wide argument (or “dialogue”); political discourse is now a formulaic matter of preaching to one’s own choir and demonizing the opposition.

    Buy now -

    Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Device fatigue

    I've posted earlier about my skepticism that the Kindle is anything more than a fad. Reading Dickens certainly isn't the same, but the piece points out some troubling numbers regarding the place any kind of reading holds in the culture. (New Atlantis)

    The reason you can’t “screw up” a Dostoevsky novel is that you must first submit yourself to the process of reading it—which means accepting, at some level, the author’s authority to tell you the story. You enter the author’s world on his terms, and in so doing get away from yourself. Yes, you are powerless to change the narrative or the characters, but you become more open to the experiences of others and, importantly, open to the notion that you are not always in control. In the process, you might even become more attuned to the complexities of family life, the vicissitudes of social institutions, and the lasting truths of human nature. The screen, by contrast, tends in the opposite direction. Instead of a reader, you become a user; instead of submitting to an author, you become the master. The screen promotes invulnerability. Whatever setbacks occur (as in a video game) are temporary, fixable, and ultimately overcome. We expect to master the game and move on to the next challenge.

    "Deal with it, Cate Blanchett"

    Eight genuine Golden Globe moments: (Spout Blog)

    We all like to make fun of the Golden Globes, even when the telecast *doesn’t* involve the bequeathing of an unusual amount of power for Billy Bush. So prepare to have your mind blown: there were eight moments on tonight’s telecast that actually trancended my knee-jerk cynicism over awards in general, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Awards specifically. Some were funny, some were borderline surreal, and all struck me as — gasp! — genuinely unscripted.

    Sunday, January 11, 2009


  • Steven Spielberg takes home Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement. They're just now getting around to giving it to him?

  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona takes Best Comedy/Musical, preventing Mamma Mia from winning and proving definitively that the Globes have nothing to do with the Oscars.

  • Kate Winslet wins both Best & Best Supporting; it's a surprising pleasure to see her win something after so many Oscar nominations. I was rooting for Anne Hathaway in this category but I'll have to either go see Bride Wars or wait for her next multiculti collaboration with Jonathan Demme.

  • Colin Farrell seems like someone you'd like to have a couple of (non-alcoholic) beers with.

  • The reaction to Mickey Rourke's win is probably the most genuine moment I've ever seen on an awards show.

    Slumdog Millionaire? We'll see.
  • Sunday Music: Bob Dylan - "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"

    Bob Dylan performs "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" in 1964. William Zantzinger, a tobacco farmer who served only six months for the killing, died this week at age 69. (LA Times)

    Saturday, January 10, 2009

    Reality Bites should have been about her

    Janeane Garofalo: (Gothamist)

    Q: I think that you've been a pretty important comic to a lot of young people.

    A: Well those young people would be old now. But especially in political seasons, I like to have teenagers involved. I like that they can hear political discussions outside of arguing pundits. I like that they are interested or could become more interested by coming to a politically-themed comedy show in the same way that they are motivated by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and DL Hughley and Bill Maher.

    Q: Well you certainly were a figure for a lot of people who are hovering thirty now. I think that I'll have a fair amount more integrity because of being exposed to you at a young age.

    A: You're too nice. I think that you're giving me too much credit, but I'm thrilled. That's really kind of you. If that's really true, I'm really happy about that.

    And that's what I meant by younger people being exposed to people like DL Hughley or David Cross or Kristen Schaal. Because for a lot of teenagers, it gives them something to think about about a way of living. Because you know how difficult it can be inside the conformative confines of a high school situation or a college situation. People can very reticent to express themselves, reticent to be passionate about something. Everybody's so petrified about being uncool, embarrassed by emotion, embarrassed to even think big thoughts in a way among their peer group. It's also nice for guys and girls who are young to be exposed to not classically good-looking performers. It's nice for them to see me, Jon Glaser, Jon Benjamin, David Cross and you go, "Wow, look at them! They look like me. They don't look like everyone I see on TV."

    Friday, January 09, 2009


    NP recommends a favorite restaurant. It's reported that she has been hired as a "contributor" to The Daily Beast, so look out! (Daily Beast/Natalie by Fukada)

    The Book I Read: Indignation by Philip Roth

    In many previous novels Philip Roth's protagonists have been confounded by sex, the 1960's, Richard Nixon, facism, sex, graduate school, women, and sex. In the slightly over 200 pages of Indignation, set mostly at a small Ohio college in 1951, Roth hero Marcus Messner finds himself flummoxed by conformity, fear of being drafted, Protestantism, and of course sex. Marcus transfers to Winesburg after his attempt to go to college at home in New Jersey can't survive his overprotective father. Things don't go well at the new school, there are roommate problems and a date with a sexually aggressive woman. As verbally precocious as your typical Roth character, Marcus subjects us to a book-long rant about his bewilderment over the opposite sex and the oppressive chapel attendance requirements, not to mention the pressure to pledge a fraternity. Indignation is fun but minor Roth, Marcus is a little to neurotic for even a Rothian teen and the book's focus is too narrow to resonate for long after you finish.

    Thursday, January 08, 2009

    Under Covers

    An intriguing digital-only compilation to benefit Teach For America. (I Am Fuel)

    Mr. Waters goes to Washington

    Advice for Obama: (Wilshire and Washington)

    I know gay rights are a tough thing and I understand politics. You can only fight the battles that you know you're gonna win. So gay marriage, for some reason, makes middle America go crazy. I'm trying to figure out why. So I've been studying the sanctity of heterosexual marriage which is hard to figure out when Britney Spears can meet somebody in one night, get married an hour later and get it annulled the next morning. But I'll make a deal with you. I won't fight for gay marriage if you do one thing. The day you become President you make heterosexual divorce illegal. Fair enough?

    Lethem, Eggers,Zadie, Pynchon, Roth

    Sounds like a pretty good year for books, doesn't it? Here's Jonathan Lethem on a recent comics project and plans for a novel this fall. (The Millions/Comic Book Resources)

    Lethem said there were no plans in place, at the moment, to write more comics. “I really was tremendously lucky to enjoy the collaboration with these artists, and the particular set of circumstances that led to this work would be difficult to duplicate,” he explained. “I’ve been spoiled, perhaps. As for other characters, I don’t have any I’m particularly fantasizing about writing, but I’d probably be more inclined to do a supervillain than a hero.”

    In closing, Lethem teased CBR readers with a glimpse into the world he is creating for his yet-to-be-named next novel. “It is coming together, and it should be published in the fall of 2009. It still doesn’t have a title, but I can tell you, it’s set on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it’s strongly influenced by Saul Bellow, Philip K. Dick, Charles Finney and Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ and it concerns a circle of friends including a faded child-star actor, a cultural critic, a hack ghost-writer of autobiographies, and a city official. And it’s long and strange.”

    Buy now -

    The Fortress of Solitude

    Omega: The Unknown

    Reese Witherspoon saves the Industry

    Who says the world hates America? Foreign box office accounts for the fact that anti-war don't actually all flop financially. (Kung Fu Monkey)

    You then announce that you found a very tough little script called Rendition you want to do. You'll do it on the cheap. Anybody wanna help?

    The correct answer is "Who do you need dead, Miss Witherspoon?"

    There is some trepidation, of course, in the studio office. Let us produce a short play to illustrate how both the dilemma and the resolution may have played out:

    Suit #1: In this movie you have brought me, Reese Witherspoon -- America's blonde shiksa sweetheart -- is married to an Arab who is wrongfully kidnapped by the Americans, and tortured. Because, you imply, stopping terrorism can sometimes be bad.

    Suit #2: Yes.

    Suit #1: Get the fuck out of my office.

    Suite #2: If we do this, if we take this risk for her, she may spend her enormous marketplace capital on a project of ours in the future. Say, that script for Romantic Comedy #283 sitting there on your desk.

    Suit #1: I am intrigued, but still trepidacious.

    Suit #2: She may win an Oscar. She's done it before, it's a serious drama ... that would boost our profile, add to our marketplace capital, and insure profitability with the Oscar Bump.

    Suit #1: Still not sure. Let us call Foreign Sales Guy.

    Foreign Guy: (entering) I sensed you needed me.

    Suit #1: Reese Witherspoon. Anti-war drama.

    Foreign Guy: Budget?

    Suit #2: Under thirty million. Gyllenhal's in it too.

    Foreign Guy: Reese Witherspoon reading -- not even aloud, just sitting and reading -- will sell X million tickets worldwide. Gyllenhal's a bonus. You're covered.

    Suit #2: Thank you, Foreign Guy.

    Foreign Guy: You're welcome. Now excuse me, I have to go kill an African-American comedy two offices down.

    Wednesday, January 07, 2009

    "Doves & Stones"

    I just heard "Doves & Stones" an MP3 of a song from the forthcoming Gary Louris/Mark Olson CD Ready For The Flood, out January 27th. As a fan of Olson and Louris in the Jayhawks of the early-'90s I'd have to say this song sounds exactly like I hoped it would and should be a treat for fans of rootsy, twangy, Americana/country rock - or whatever they're calling it these days. Check it out here. (Muzzle of Bees)

    A letter from John O'Hara

    Another reason why I wish I could have been around in the early days of The New Yorker. (Today In Letters)

    However you too frequently reject flatly when a piece could easily be salvaged. That is my squawk about some pieces. In the case of the enclosed I honestly think you ought to read it again. It is better than its predecessor, and even Mother Woollcott wrote a fan letter about that one. He called it “pure gold” and told Gibbs he had read it twice. (Winchell, whose standards are probably less haughty, called it “a literary toy for the mind,” a statement which partly baffles me but at least shows Winchell’s heart is in the right place.)

    Haiti come here I want you

    A world music playlist from author Madison Smartt Bell, whose books I've always wanted to read just for his name alone. (Paper Cuts)

    7) Four Hundred Years, Peter Tosh. The title of this song, which I listened to over and over for most of a decade, was meant to be the umbrella title for my trilogy of novels about the Haitian Revolution, though deployed only in my mind. The song marvelously universalizes the whole problem of the legacy of slavery in the Western Hemisphere. And to know when those 400 years will be over you’d have to fix a date when they began.

    Buy now -

    All Souls' Rising

    Tuesday, January 06, 2009

    A 75-year plan we can live with

    Why you should buy the Criterion DVD of Bottle Rocket (See below) - just watch out for the commentary. (SpoutBlog)

    I don’t know much about the history of DVD authoring, so I’m not sure if there’s ever been a time when a DVD producer has gone back to the talent to say “I’m sorry, this just isn’t usable. Can you guys try that again?” The only commentary that comes to mind that is this inexplicably bad is from The Goonies, when Sean Astin has to leave in the middle because he had to attend a dinner with Joe Pantoliano. No kidding.

    The other extras on the disc almost make up for this, particularly the eleven deleted scenes. There’s a scene called “Temple Nash Jr.” where Dignan, Bob, and Anthony are asking all kinds of gun questions of a redneck gun nut.

    Buy on DVD -

    Bottle Rocket - Criterion Collection

    Love a Conservative Day

    AIDS and the President - An Inside Account (Commentary)

    As it happened, a transformation was taking place in the medical treatment of AIDS. Beginning in 1996, it had been determined that a “cocktail” combining three or four different drugs could extend life significantly for those infected with HIV. The problem was that, at a cost of $10,000-15,000 per person per year, the treatment, known as highly active antiretroviral therapy, was too expensive to be made available to all the HIV-infected people in the developing world. But in mid-2001, an Indian company had started to offer a generic version of this combination therapy at an annual rate of as little as $295 per person.

    There was now a window of opportunity in which to accomplish something truly revolutionary, and Fauci suggested a large expansion of the Mother and Child program. The challenge was essentially the same, but the scale was much larger and the problems commensurately daunting. As we discussed the issue, Edson mapped out on a piece of paper a system—he called it a “network” model—that might work to deliver the drugs to the furthest parts of Africa. We would use primary, secondary, and tertiary medical facilities where they existed and, where transportation systems were unavailable, employ teenagers to deliver the daily regimens by bicycle.

    Hit the Road

    I used to see smaller & indie films in Atlanta (about 2 1/2 hrs away) while on the way back from visiting relatives in Florida, and I'm very proud to have seen both Bottle Rocket and Reservoir Dogs in a theatre. This piece about hitting the road for a movie you just have to see brought back memories. (In Contention)

    ...but the central idea is the annual top 10 list/best of the year online frenzy and how it makes Frank, sitting helplessly in 33-screen Cedar Rapids, Iowa (two hours away from Des Moines, the closest market for limited releases), want to pull his hair out. He compares his annual out-of-the-know agony to being “[t]hat one guy at your college roommate’s sexy art student girlfriend’s party who hasn’t illegally downloaded the latest Bright Eyes album that everyone around him is raving about.”

    Dept. of Visual Metaphors

    If you haven't already, say goodbye to The Wire with photos of the abandoned soundstage.(Abandoned Places)

    Monday, January 05, 2009

    Auld Lang Syne

    Five resolutions with which to start your movie year. (Self Styled Siren)

    1. I will watch more foreign films. I have huge--ridiculously huge--gaps in my foreign-film watching, which was brought home when I was researching which DVDs to buy for my annual Happy Birthday to Me order. I think if I am conscientious, I can see one foreign movie per week, for a total of 52 by the end of the year. To keep myself honest I plan to post as I see them, but I won't be writing full-scale essays on each. The Siren tends to write when the muse raps her over the knuckles, and that doesn't happen for every movie, whether she likes the film or not. Then again, it will feel rather silly to post a string of stars or a sentence like "Awesome flick!" after, for example, I finally get around to seeing Pickpocket. If I don't want to write about the film, perhaps I will just post a still to indicate I watched it.

    You can't stop what's coming

    My review of Benjamin Button:

    Watching David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button reminded me of a giving a friend a birthday card with an elaborate joke on the outside and nothing on the inside. The card was funny in context, but the movie leaves you wanting more. David Fincher and writer Eric Roth have transformed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story into a nearly three-hour movie; that sound you hear is the huffing and puffing of a movie that wants to be taken much more seriously than it deserves to be.

    Read the rest here, then stay to comment and enjoy the new online home of the Greenville (SC) Film Critics Society!

    Read the manual

    The (lack of) necessity for books on blogging. (Portfolio)

    Are there some people out there who automatically buy any book they see promoted on The Daily Show?

    That's the best explanation I can think of for the surprisingly non-infinitesimal sales of The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging. Since it went on sale Dec. 2, the title has sold 6,012 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. Factor in sales not recorded by BookScan and the title has probably sold more like 8,500 copies, at a pre-discount price of $15 a piece.

    Buffalo Cover

    Bill Janovitz of the band Buffalo Tom has a new blog up and running with "Covers of the Week" for download. I like blogs by working artists; Janovitz reveals himself to be a man whose work is thoroughly integrated into his life.

    Buy on MP3 -

    Buffalo Tom - Dry Land

    Sunday, January 04, 2009

    Thank goodness the holidays are over...

    ...and we can get back to real Natalie Portman coverage (almost). Did you know that NP likes dogs? (Gossip Girls)

    Buy now on DVD -

    Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (Widescreen Edition)

    Rachel breakdown

    Lots of love for Rachel Getting Married in today's Times. Anne Hathaway gets deserved recognition (audio stuff here too) for her career-changing role; the awkward toast Hathaway's character delivers in a key moment warrants its own feature. (photo by Bob Vergara/Sony Classics)

    When her turn comes to speak at the dinner, she awkwardly seizes the microphone being passed around the table and adopts the tone of a stand-up comic telling sick jokes.

    “Relax, it’s only seltzer!” she begins, raising her glass and flashing a desperate, insecure smile. “Hello! I’m Shiva the Destroyer and your harbinger of doom for this evening!”

    Already the expressions on the assembled faces have changed from joyous to watchful, withholding judgment, hoping for the best. But as her monologue lurches along, the camera catches the suppressed anxiety of family and friends whose faces express a complicated mixture of love, pity and revulsion; this is brilliant nonverbal ensemble acting that matches the director Jonathan Demme’s quasi-documentary style; it all feels spontaneous.

    Sunday Music: Old Crow Medicine Show - "I Hear Them All"

    Saw them on Austin City Limits and thought of this....

    Buy now -

    I Hear Them All

    Saturday, January 03, 2009

    Oregon story

    A profile of writer Jon Raymond, whose Oregon-centered stories are finding their way to the big screen indie style. (Oregonian)

    "Wendy and Lucy" is the second movie filmed in the same location Raymond used in a short story. The first, "Old Joy," mostly takes place at Bagby Hot Springs, where Raymond and the gang from Plazm magazine once took photos of Bigfoot, with director Todd Haynes playing the lead role in a furry suit. Haynes, who hired Raymond as his assistant on "Far From Heaven," is a big fan of Raymond's writing and his Portland sensibility.

    Words Hurt

    William Hurt talks about the second season of Damages, and sneaks in a few additional thoughts. (ArtsBeat)

    You are better the more you consider. And that’s why — what is the problem with this nation right now? The nation, the problem with the nation is, that our mandate, the mandate of a free political state was, education. And we didn’t do it. We did not use freedom to satisfy our minds, curiosity. The greatest tradition in the Jewish culture is that they honor curiosity as a noble trait. And it was the only one you were born with. The only noble trait you’re born with is the quest to know, to learn. And all the other noble traits you have to learn. They’re inventions. But if you answer the call, to satisfy your curiosity, you’re doing the right thing. That’s where we fail. We fail our children. So to me, that concept applies directly to my work. The more time to be with others, who are my peers, the more I learn, the more I share, the more I’m inspired, the more we do together, the better we are.

    Up the canal with Ralph

    Ralph Fiennes talks The Reader and stage acting after trying to be "born again." (Times UK)

    “For me the lines in the play that resonate continually are, ‘I want to know the secret of my birth' and ‘I do not know who I am!'” he says, dropping his voice to a whisper and running a hand slowly over his shaven pate. The haircut was his idea, he explains, to make him feel more naked on stage, but it has a powerfully imposing effect that, together with today's outfit of blazer and denims with turn-ups, creates the impression of a patrician bouncer. “And isn't that the journey that most of us are on?” he continues, undaunted, transfixed by the tragic clarity of his words. “Who are we? What are we doing? And where did we come from?”