Saturday, February 28, 2009

Toast(er) anyone?

Ladies and gentlemen, Katee Sackhoff. (Hero Complex)

"Everyone scoffed at the idea of Starbuck in high heels," Sackhoff said, looking back on the role that won her a 2006 Saturn Award. “That’s was who she was in my mind. That’s me: No one is going to tell me to take my high heels off, and I carried that throughout her attitude. Maybe not the high heels, per se, but Starbuck’s attitude was there from the very beginning with me.”

Pretending the Internet doesn't exist

Does it seem like Twitter is your whole world lately? While Twittering this morning I came across a Twitter about this article by Mark McKinnon on Twitter which asserts that the 140-character per post site has "jumped the shark." (I don't feel like explaining what "jump the shark" means again, so figure it out from context or move on) Why?

This from Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX): “Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren't going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.” Now, I’m totally down with Ana Marie Cox, the original Wonkette, being the reigning journalism media queen of Twitter. She’s young and hip and all things new media. But, Joe Barton is, well, not. If Joe Barton is Twittering, I’m thinking maybe Ana Marie may be on the next idea. And if members of Congress are Twittering, we can be fairly certain it won’t be hip much longer.

So, Twitter is over because middle-aged Republicans are now using it. Every time I come across an article about how social networking sites are the death of Western Civilization I experience the same sort of irritation I felt at the movie Wall-E. It's the natural aversion to being condescended to or hearing blithe assertions about one's lifestyle by people who don't know what they're talking about. Wall-E posited that all of human culture would one day disappear because some people like to eat at McDonald's, and social networking haters make a similar leap in logic when they claim that everything good about our way of life is about to vanish because a certain percentage of Twitter users are obsessed with how many "followers" they have. (For the record, I have more followers than people I follow and less than 100 of both. That seems like the way to go.) It's in the way that you use it, folks. We're still learning how Twitter might change journalism and how it might become a viable business, and generalizations don't help the discussion. But for the 6 million or so who use it (and that includes businesses, journalists, and sports teams) it's a functional part of their life in ways that McKinnon never stops to consider. Statements like:

I've decided to spend that time on the handful of people I really care about. I write them real letters.

are as smug and useless as those personal essays on All Things Considered about how rewarding it is to make your own jam and not have electricity. Who knows how long and with what frequency I'll continue to Twitter, but it's here.

Dept. of GOP Follies

GOP chairman Michael Steele fesses up; Rep. Michele Bachmann is cool. (TPM)

And check out this latest development in Steele's campaign to create a hip-hop image for the GOP. Michele Bachmann praised Steele's speech: "Michael Steele! You be da man! You be da man."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fighting the backlash

On his website, Nick Hornby puts down Slumdog snobbery. I never wrote a full review of this year's Best Picture winner, but for the record I didn't find it as garish or assaultive as others did. I think that at a certain point the movie becomes fairly predictable once the dynamic between the two brothers is established. (One will do what it takes to survive so the other is protected and doesn't have to do much of anything) The final question on the quiz show should come as a surprise to no one who has been paying anttention, and I'm not looking forward to seeing Freida Pinto in the new Woody Allen movie. That said, Danny Boyle's technique and sense of pacing make up for a lot of flaws and as a fan of the underrated sci-fi Sunshine I'm piqued to see what Boyle will do with the clout an Oscar gives him.

Every time there’s a left-field, one-off, totally unpredictable hit like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, or ‘Juno’, or ‘The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time’, or ‘Stalingrad’, we should all give thanks to our gods, because they are what keeps the wheels of the whole commercial arts machine turning; without them, we’re doomed. They encourage risk – editors and commissioners can look at a script or a draft of a book and think, well, with a fair wind and a lot of luck, this might find its audience - and without risk, every new book and film and album would of necessity have to be part of a franchise.

On point

Book recommendations: "Mono-histories," or popular biographies of certain everday objects or foods that are part of our daily lives. (Shelf Talk)

The pencil: a history of design and circumstance, by Henry Peroski - This lyrical book by a writer-engineer may be the grandparent of the many mono histories being published today. Originally published in 1989, it was highly praised. One of the jacket blurbs comes from Larry King, who notes “You will never feel the same about the pencil after you read this terrific book.” I have to agree.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wilco's new album

Rolling Stone hears this June's new Wilco CD, and you don't. (Smoking Section)

Finally, let's just say the record is sick! When we heard Wilco debut the song "One Wing" at Lollapalooza last year, we predicted that the band was consciously moving in a more experimental direction (a la Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), but the songs we heard at the Loft take Wilco in yet another new direction. Great melodies, great lyrics, great playing and great sounds. You're gonna dig it!

Page rage

Roy Blount, Jr. on the problem with the Kindle 2's text-to-speech function. After rebuffing the nonsense that the Authors Guild wants to stop parents from reading stories to their kids, he gets to the central problem: Amazon has come up with a device that trumps the contractually agreed upon intellectual property rights that put money in authors' pockets. Opposing viewpoint here. (NY Times/Boing Boing)

True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.

You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading “Harry Potter” or of authors, ahem, reading themselves. But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable. There’s even a male version and a female version. (A book by, say, Norman Mailer on Kindle 2 might do a brisk business among people wondering how his prose would sound in measured feminine tones.)

No lumps in the mash-up.

Radiohead & Dave Drubeck - "15 Step" meets "Take Five"

Dept. of Things I'm a little embarrassed about

I wrote about my fascination with the absurd CW series One Tree Hill here. Now comes word that the show has been renewed for a seventh season, which means that Lucas, Peyton, and the gang will be around for 22 more episodes of emo-filled, badly soundtracked, life lessons and that none of them will be able to get too far away from thew teat that is their nondescript North Carolina hometown. What can we expect from a seventh season? (Come on fans, you know what I'm talking about)

1. Lucas will brood and suffer a crisis about his marriage to Peyton.
2. Nathan will continue to want to play in the NBA and will keep not making it.
3. Brooke, despite no visible means of support, will spend all her time designing clothes, being a foster mother to a surly teenage girl, and sketching fashion designs.
4. The impending film-within-a-show to be made from Lucas's novel will cause problems.
5. Lucas and Nathan's father Dan will still be dying from the slowest failing heart in TV history.
6. The faux-film's director (played by a brilliantly cast James VanderBeek) will sleep with one of the female leads.
7. Lucas will get a buzz cut.

Is the CW's reliance on older shows killing the network? Ok, you can all get back to your shame-free lives.

And the winner is...

A night at the Oscars with Mike Leigh. (Guardian)

The truth is, you only really get the loser's hump about the winners if you think that they're crap, and tonight I get a real buzz out of nearly all the awards. Chuffed for jolly Michael O'Connor (best costumes, The Duchess), who assisted Lindy Hemming on Topsy-Turvy, and delighted that Benjamin Button only got technical awards! Wanted Mickey Rourke to win best actor (I voted for him) and, no disrespect to Kate and the other girls, I desperately miss Sally. I genuinely can't see how any of their performances are as original, creative, profound, witty or versatile as hers. But there you go.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pixar and the ladies

The women characters (or irrelevance thereof) in the ultra-sucessful Pixar films. (Vast Public Indifference)

The Pixar M.O. is (somewhat) subtler than the old your-stepmom-is-a-witch tropes of Disney past. Instead, Pixar's continued failure to posit female characters as the central protagonists in their stories contributes to the idea that male is neutral and female is particular. This is not to say that Pixar does not write female characters. What I am taking issue with is the ad-nauseam repetition of female characters as helpers, love interests, and moral compasses to the male characters whose problems, feelings, and desires drive the narratives.

DVD Catch-Up

  • The DVD for Wong Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights has been sitting by my sofa for months. As readers of this blog know I'm a sucker for anything with Natalie Portman, so why the delay? It might have been because NP only plays a supporting role or because I'd heard such mixed things about the movie, which attracted the usual amount of WKW critical divisiveness. While Blueberry is no In The Mood For Love, it is an ideal primer for those unfamiliar with WKW and proof he can work with an English-speaking cast. There are plenty of bold colors and loopy romanticism in the story of Beth (Norah Jones, obviously inexperienced but not without some natural ability), who strikes up an emotional bond with cafe owner Jeremy (Jude Law) over a mutual love of desserts and a wariness about new relationships. Beth's fear of commitment leads to an extended road trip through Memphis, where an alcoholic cop's (David Strathairn, excellent) obsession with his floozy of a wife (Rachel Weisz) plays out in front of her at a dive bar in some hyperreal version of the city. Another waitressing gig brings a friendship with unlucky gambler Leslie (Portman), and a road trip to Vegas. I'm not sure I entirely bought Portman in the card table scenes, but she nails the insecurity coated with brashness that the part requires. Beth's road trip doesn't lead anywhere very surprising, but Wong's first American movie makes me want to see his next one.

  • The good news about The Secret Life of Bees is that Dakota Fanning, who plays the 14-year old main character, can have a career as an adult. Fanning's Lily runs away from her angry father (Paul Bettany) in 1960's South Carolina to find the true reason that her late mother left the family. Joining Lily is her family's maid (Jennifer Hudson) and the road leads to three sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo) who operate their own honey business. The entire cast performs well, but the message is pretty generic and the women's lives never feel threatened by the surrounding white community. A subplot involving Lily's attraction to a local boy (Tristan Wilds of The Wire) deserved a little more time. Fanning never seems interested in being cute and handles the dramatic stuff ably; I only the wish the movie were as gritty as its lead.
  • Another drink, Mr. Marlowe?

    One reader's book bender featuring works by boozy writers. (Proof)

    All seemed hopeless. That night I lay on my couch clutching an old, stained copy of “The Long Goodbye” to my breast and cried myself to sleep.

    The next morning, I awoke, emotionally weakened and physically drained, and made my way to a nearby Barnes & Noble. There a salesperson named Daniel gently led me to the memoir section. At first I recoiled. No, I cried, anything but this! I needed a whiskey-soaked fiction bad. But Daniel handed me Pete Hamill’s “A Drinking Life.” I read it slowly, doubting every page. But then something miraculous happened before I was halfway through: I liked it. I liked it a lot.

    This new reading life wasn’t easy. The urge to slip back to my old ways was strong. I took it one book at a time. Hamill led the way to Mary Karr’s “Cherry,” then “Home Before Dark,” Susan Cheever’s memoir of life with her father, John Cheever. Soon I had a whole new bookshelf given over to writers who wrote just like my beloved boozers but did so in the past tense.

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    In a word

    John Hodgman takes on those who say "Meh." (Waxy)

    hodgman: It is the essence of blinkered Internet malcontentism. And a rejection of joy. Also: 12 hive mehs in the replies SO FAR

    There's a god in Godard

    Godard biographer and New Yorker writer Richard Brody on Jean-Luc, the man and the myth. (HND)

    But Godard has always taken a special and fascinating point of view on how to approach the past in cinema. When Francois Truffaut made The 400 Blows he was telling stories about his own childhood, by and large. He was telling stories that took place in the 1940’s, but he set them in the day that he filmed them, late 1958 and early 1959. He updated the events, and transmuted the events, and turned them into a fiction being lived by characters other than himself; the character does not bear his name. When Godard works on history—and this is as true of his own personal history as it is of political history—when Godard works on the past in film, he does it from the point of view of the present day. So, when he makes a film that’s autobiographical, when he wants to talk about his childhood, he doesn’t film a character who looks like himself as a kid, doing the kinds of things that he did as a kid but doing it in contemporary Paris or Switzerland. And he doesn’t set it in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Instead he films his own situation in a certain way, from his present day standpoint and his present day place, and he archaeologically excavates—by means of cinema—the elements of the past. In other words, he’s always filming the ambiance of the past, the presence of the past, the latency of the past, the persistence of the past in the present.

    Spoiler alert

    How Ronald Moore's BSG podcasts dampen, not enhance, the viewing experience. (Cultural Learnings)

    If you remember last week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica, with the exposition-packed “No Exit” providing an enormous amount of detail about the Cylon origins, you likely also remember asking yourself a very important question: who, or what, is Daniel, the 7th Cylon model? We learned some of the details of his existence, however brief, during the episode itself, but there were a lot of outstanding questions about how it could relate to Starbuck, or how it could relate to any of the other Cylons, and how it fit into these questions of identity that have long driven the series forward. It is impossible that any fan left that episode without a fundamental question about this Cylon’s whereabouts.

    Monday, February 23, 2009


    Michael Lewis (Moneyball) on his work habits. (Daily Routines/Kottke)

    Q: What is in front of you when you begin to write?

    A: Nothing, except for the computer screen. I write from memory, as if I were writing a novel. When I finish a day's writing I go back and check the text against my notes to make sure the facts and quotes are right, and that I haven't inadvertently made anything up. The quotes are almost always accurate because by that point I've gone over the material so many times in my head.

    NP at the Oscars

    NP and Ben Stiller (doing some Joaquin Phoenix schtick that was funnier at the Spirit Awards) present the award for Best Cinematography at last night's Oscars.

    What happened was....

    After resisting the temptation to make a last-minute switch to Mickey Rourke (because I saw his Spirit Awards speech), I held fast with my picks and nailed 22 out of 24 to take the win at my Oscar party. Thanks to In Contention for some insight into the Foreign Language Category that convinced me the two most high-profile nominees wouldn't win. As for the ceremony, Hugh Jackman was a very agreeable host, though I think a way must be found to keep whoever is hosting involved for the second half of the show.

    The group presentation of the acting awards seemed like a good idea at the beginning of the night but by the time Best Actor rolled around I was ready for them to get on with it. Is there an audience for seeing the nominees reassured Oprah-style and told they're all pretty too before the winner is announced? I'm all for the inclusion of past winners and classic stars, but many of those people could have been worked into the ceremony in other ways. The Oscars are self-congratulatory enough without all the psychic group hugging. The time saved could have been better spent on music; the Original Score felt tacked on and the condensation of the Original Song nominees into a medley (and resulting absence of Peter Gabriel) has to be regarded as a major embarrassment. Does anyone believe this award would have been handled the same way if Springsteen had been among the nominees? I'm not exactly sure how the salute to musicals related to this year's field of nominees. But the ceremony did have an energy and humor lacking in recent years and the intimate design of the theater may have played a role in loosening everybody up. I haven't seen any mention of the TV ratings, but who cares? You know they're going to try it again next year.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    ...and the Oscar goes to, I hope....

    Nothing too shocking about these picks, but I wanted to get something on the record. Personal choices are in parentheses where they differ.

  • Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire (Milk/Rachel Getting Married)

  • Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk

  • Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader (Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married, Winslet Revolutionary Road)

  • Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (James Franco, Milk)

  • Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (I'm split on this one between Cruz, Rebecca Hall for the same film, and Rosemarie Dewitt for Rachel Getting Married)

  • Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire (Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married)

  • Best Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk (a deserving winner, but I also like Jenny Lumet for Rachel Getting Married)

  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire (John Patrick Shanley, Doubt, though I'm OK with Slumdog winning here)

    I won't pretend to have anything to add to what's already been said about the tech categories, but look for The Dark Knight and Benjamin Button to score here. Here's hoping for at least one surprise.
  • Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Girl, Interrupted with a side of crazy please

    I'd love to see Angelina Jolie win the Oscar tomorrow night, though I know she won't. Anyone who can look at Jolie's work in A Mighty Heart and tell me Marion Cotillard still deserved the Oscar last year is crazy if you ask me, but I know she's only one great role away from forever altering the way we think of her. (HuffPo)

    Early Spirit Awards

    James Franco and Dustin Lance Black of Milk just took home Spirit Awards. In a colossal misunderstanding of their audience, IFC is offering only red carpet and press tent coverage on the web, though perhaps it would be different if I was in a cafe in Brooklyn.....

    Sundayish Music - Peter Gabriel/Hot Chip - "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

    Yes, it's the Vampire Weekend song from Mr. Gabriel too. I hope you're up to looking at a picture of Cape Cod for 4 minutes, because it's worth it. (Humanizing the Vacuum)

    Buy now (MP3) -

    Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (Vampire Weekend version)

    "Did Al Qaeda fund 'Yes on 8'"?

    I am aware that Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney hold the same positions on gay rights.

    More rhetorical lunacy from a gay Republican here. My post title comes from the comments section. (Indie Gay Forum)

    Dept. of Straight Priorities

    Jedediah Purdy: (Paper Cuts)

    What are you working on?

    1. A history of American environmental ideas: how do personal epiphanies and Romantic aesthetics get turned into politics and law?

    2. A Facebook 25-things list to retake the genre from the snarky knowingness that has been making people shy. (It’s not exactly saving the world economy, but you do what comes your way.)

    Can't put a price on Bob

    The Cure's Robert Smith, no doubt well compensated for the use of "Friday I'm In Love" in He's Just Not That Into You, reflects on his habit of firing band members and the value of value. (Times UK)

    His axe has swung many times over the ever-shifting Cure line-up since 1980, and as their celebrated Curiosa Festival tour of America wound to a close in 2004 he sharpened his blade once again for the necks of the band’s long-term guitarists Roger O’Donnell and Perry Bamonte. “I knew that was it for Roger and Perry,” he says. “I didn’t spend more than five minutes with either of them on that tour apart from when we were onstage. When it’s gone, it’s gone. I told them both that I wanted to try something with Simon [Gallup, bassist] and Jason [Cooper, drums] and I’d let them know how it went. I felt that was the fairest way of doing it because I thought if it doesn’t work with Simon and Jason then the group will be over. The thing drifts apart. The bigger the group gets the harder it is to hold it together.”

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Top to bottom

    This post on "non-hierarchical management" caught my eye because of the company I work for, a large and familiar one you've all heard of. I had never worked for a company like this before about 14 months ago and didn't know what to expect; I thought it would be something like the movie Office Space but instead it's a real team effort, a place that cares about its employees and where the managers exist to serve those "below" them. (aaronsw/kottke)

    A better way to think of a manager is as a servant, like an editor or a personal assistant. Everyone wants to be effective; a manager’s job is to do everything they can to make that happen. The ideal manager is someone everyone would want to have.

    Instead of the standard “org chart” with a CEO at the top and employees growing down like roots, turn the whole thing upside down. Employees are at the top — they’re the ones who actually get stuff done — and managers are underneath them, helping them to be more effective. (The CEO, who really does nothing, is of course at the bottom.)

    Dept. of Annoying Commercials

    Quick consumer alert! One commercial you've probably seen for something that you should avoid. (PC)

    Angered that I had been duped so easily, I went back to the site and took a closer look. I found fine print that stated: "If you don't cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership." Why didn't I see this earlier? Because the site had practically hidden this information in a powder blue box with blue text, making it almost invisible in comparison with the shiny orange "Click here to see your Free Credit Report & Score!" button.

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    Track talk

    I recently discovered the AV Club's "New Cult Canon" series, a weekly essay on a film that should be in your collection. Last week's piece recalls the classic Lem Dobbs-Steven Soderbergh duel on the commentary track of The Limey, an often hilarious Master Class on what happens to a film from script to editing room.

    From that opening salvo, Dobbs and Soderbergh scrap pointedly about The Limey’s evolution from a violent B-movie written by a 19-year-old (“the stupid version,” Dobbs calls it) to a shooting script with richer backstories and character detail to the stripped-down, achronological, semi-experimental daylight noir that Soderbergh created. At bottom, Dobbs respects the choices that Soderbergh made, and the two have fun teasing each other over issues minor and major, but the discord is genuine, too. Dobbs snipes at critics (like “that motherfucker in Variety”) who failed to give him credit where it was due, challenges Soderbergh over the ruthless pruning of his script, and even laments scenes that were filmed exactly as written, but didn’t come out like he’d imagined. At a certain point, Soderbergh can only sigh and ask, “When are you going to direct?”

    The empty seat

    Roger Ebert remembers his colleague Gene Siskel, who died 10 years ago today. (Roger Ebert's Journal)

    Before his final shows, the studio was cleared so that his nephew could help him walk onto the set and take his seat. No mention was made of his illness. He taped his last program a week or two before his death. His pain must have been unimaginable. But he continued to do his job, and I never admired him more. Our eyes would meet, unspoken words were between us, but we never spoke openly about his problems or his prognosis. That's how he wanted it, and that was his right. In a way, we had that our talk on that night in Cambridge. We talked about what mattered.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009


    He's Just Not That Into You is famously based on a gag from a Sex and the City episode that became a bestselling self-help book. The result is about as feeble an effort as one might expect from a film that replaces character and story with broad and banal generalizations about the way men and women relate to each other. Most of the dating maxims revolve around Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), whose sole personality trait seems to be an overwhelming need to be coupled. Gigi's efforts to land real estate broker Conor (Kevin Connolly) result in her meeting Alex (Justin Long), whose views on dating are more pragmatic than Barack Obama's economic policy. For those unfamiliar with the source material the basic idea here is that if a man doesn't call you within 3 days he isn't playing games, he's not interested. Since a man's apparent lack of interest is almost an aphrodisiac to Gigi (the appealing Goodwin is really just reduced to one character trait), she begins to wonder if Alex might be carrying a torch under all his cynicism. Three guesses how it turns out. The rest of the film actually has little to do with the central thesis, but rather is made up of shorter chapters called "Technology Makes Dating Confusing" (Drew Barrymore as a lovelorn MySpacephile) and "I Want To Sleep With Scarlett Johansson," in which Bradley Cooper and Kevin Connolly both ponder rearranging their lives around ScarJo's "singer" and her low-cut tops. Lost somewhere in all this are Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, and a badly miscast Jennifer Connelly. I would love to have seen what Woody Allen could have done with this cast, but the film's schematic view of human interaction left me cold.

    As appealing as Isla Fisher is in Confessions of a Shopaholic, the arc of her clothes-obsessed Manhattanite is just too predictable. I don't fault the producers for their timing since they couldn't have known there was going to be an economic crisis, but couldn't they have made Fisher's character more than a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe? The presence of John Goodman, Joan Cusack, Kristin Scott Thomas, and John Lithgow help make Confessions bearable, but other than its cast and Fisher's charm there's nothing here but a vision of New York life that's fast becoming stale.

    Tumblr under punches

    I'm a Tumblr (Tumblrer?), but use the site merely for silly stuff I don't think fits here. I think I even signed up for the account just to figure out what it was. Anyway, the "reblogging" feature (which makes it possible to repost other users content followed by snide comments)and the intense hatred of "microcelebrity" Julia Allison has led to the shutting down of 5 blogs dedicated largely to mocking Allison and her self-obsessed friends. It seems there is to be no more meanness on Tumblr. (NY Times)

    Last September, Mr. Krangel explained the problem that Tumblr took steps to address this week:

    Here’s how anonyblogging works: let’s say is your target. You create a free account [...], then “follow” John’s blog. Obsessively “reblog” every post John makes, adding snarky, mean, or outright profane commentary. Tumblr’s “dashboard” system means that people [who] follow John will likely see the nasty comments. It’s the equivalent of watching someone shout at your pal as he walks down the street. But what makes the attack so unpleasant is that there’s no way for John to shake a malicious anonyblogger. [...]

    The favored targets of anonybloggers are Tumblr personalities whose “Internet fame” is felt to exceed their merit. Wired cover girl Julia Allison has multiple anonyblogger critics, and persistent harassment from anonyblogger griefers led Vimeo co-founder Jakob Lodwick to quit Tumblr altogether. But the anonyblogging phenomena is metastasizing through Tumblr so quickly even small fish are finding themselves under attack.

    Armond's anger

    Film critic Armond White is a contrarian (or what I might call a "dance fighter" of the first order and generally held among the best or worst in the critical spectrum, depending on who's doing the listing. This profile sheds some much-needed (for me) light on White's background and philosophy. While I'm pleased to note that White's negative takes on The Dark Knight and Wall-E agree with my own I'm more gratified to discover that his views seem to come from a deeply moral place, beginning with a childhood that mixed religion and a big dose of classic American and European cinema. (NY Mag)

    If the discourse of cinema, as he claims, has reached “the bottom”—victim of Roger Ebert’s thumbs up/thumbs down Roman Colosseum–style methodology, excessive blurb-mongering, fixation on weekend box-office reports, sheer laziness, etc., etc.—the fault lies not with the movies themselves. There will always be good movies. The problem is with the messengers, the sold-out, the politically and historically indifferent movie-critic sheep who have abdicated the passion-filled mantle of Kael and Sarris.

    To anyone who used to care about such issues, this can be a compelling complaint. As for White’s corollary to the argument, his however-immodest proposal that he, and he alone, remains to tell the … well …

    “Shit, you’re writing a piece about Armond?” exclaims one well-known film critic who would just as soon keep his name out of this. “Armond’s smart and all, I get a kick out of him, but do I really have to see him looking out of the magazine like he’s the last angry, honest man in the film culture?”

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    Thomson's choices

    David Thomson's new memoir looks back to a childhood lit by movies and a father who might as well not have been there at all. (National)

    This is a coming-of-age story that will make sense to other cineastes. Left to figure out the world for himself, the young Thomson turned to movies, jazz and cricket, and his memoir calls back to life the films, music and sports of a London that has disappeared. Many of the best sections of the book deal with movies and music, and that makes sense; Thomson is a critic. His memoir echoes a recent film, Terence Davies’s Of Time and the City, a documentary about the director’s youth in Liverpool. Of Time and the City is an aggrieved work, narrated in tones of extreme disdain, but in Try to Tell the Story, Thomson for once leaves bitterness behind, to see the past more clearly. Davies stayed in England; Thomson eventually left for America. Even before he went away, Thomson left his past behind by trading his father’s shadow for the shadows on the screen.

    Louris & Olson

    I really should write a more detailed post on how much I love Gary Louris & Mark Olson's Ready for the Flood, but for now this interview with the ex-Jayhawks and current partners will have to do. (PopMatters)

    Louris concedes that he and Olson were in no place to be objective about their new work. “We wanted to be in the studio, we hadn’t worked together in a long time, and it was kind of a heavy, emotional session. We knew we wanted someone there to help us sort through stuff, because we can certainly fall into the doubting, insecure mode. I think both of us feel that we’re either the shit or we’re shit. You know, it’s hard to tell. There’s no way to tell. Depending on the moment you feel like, ‘Wow, this is the greatest or this is horrible.’ So we needed somebody that we trusted who was our friend.”

    Page turners

    Our physical relationship to books is very different to the one we have with music, and that's yet another reason why the Kindle seems like a lot of fuss over nothing. (Marginal Utility)

    The Kindle is not apparently meant to be the book that subsumes all books; it appears to become clumsier to use the more you load onto it. In practice, it seems a novelty gadget for travelers who want respite from their laptops, but are too indecisive to settle on what book to bring on the plane.

    Sunday, February 15, 2009

    Sunday Music: M. Ward - "Chinese Translation"

    M. Ward's new album Hold Time will be added to my library on its release this week. This NYT profile goes along with everything I've ever read or heard about Ward, he seems to be entirely uninterested in self-promotion even after his success as one half of She & Him (or maybe because of that).

    For Mr. Ward that success has been a slow and steady build. In the decade since he moved to Portland to record his first album, he has supported himself through music — a reflection of the city’s livability as well as his career as a sideman. Something of a musician’s musician, Mr. Ward has performed as a slide guitarist with members of Calexico in Europe, as an orchestral player for Bright Eyes in concert and on TV, and at Madison Square Garden with Norah Jones. His other collaborations on the road and in the studio read like a Who’s Who of the indie-love firmament: Jenny Lewis, Cat Power, Neko Case, the White Stripes. In addition to She & Him’s “Volume Two,” among his next projects is Monsters of Folk, an album with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

    Buy now (MP3) -

    Chinese Translation

    We'll never know

    In an alternate universe, would the unproduced screenplay Edward Ford by Lem Dobbs be a classic? (Ice Box Talk)

    The screenplay has three main sections, the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s – following Edward’s life from his arrival in Los Angeles in the 1960s (the tail-end of the old Studio System), to the moment in the 1980s (which would have been the future if we believe that '79 date) when a film is made about him. Edward loves movies, but he isn’t a cinephile, uninterested in theories, directors or even whether a film is any good or not. Mostly he’s fixated on actors. Not even the stars. Rather he worships the dependable two or three-line bit-guys and gals who fill out the edges of the frame in countless Westerns, thrillers, musicals and comedies (but mostly Westerns). And they have to be American Studio pictures, because he also loves the Studios. Edward sits in the cinema with a notebook and writes down the names of all the actors in order of their appearance, and a special mark if they get “bumped off”, then transfers this data to a filecard system.

    Dark Was The Night

    As you've probably heard, there's a new 2-disc compilation out this week full of new tracks from indie and alternative rock acts. It's one of those "Red Hot" discs with proceeds going to fight HIV and AIDS. The members of The National were involved in organizing the effort and appear on several tracks, read more about how things came together here. (I Am Fuel...)

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Do the Shuffle #23

  • Okkervil River - Lost Coastlines
  • Poi Dog Pondering - Sound of Water
  • Hothouse Flowers - Giving It All Away
  • Nickel Creek - When In Rome (live)
  • Chatham County Line - Engine No. 709
  • Poi Dog Pondering - Thanksgiving
  • Brian Eno/David Byrne - One Fine Day
  • Iron & Wine - The Rooster Moans
  • Iron & Wine - Promising Light
  • Throwing Muses - Rabbits Dying

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.) - 10/41
    Miscellaneous Facts - I did not leave my jacket at Rebecca's party.

    Buy now (MP3) -

    Lost Coastlines
  • Patti Smith: Dream of Life

    Patti Smith: Dream of Life, directed by Steven Sebring, has to count as a huge disappointment for anyone hoping to learn something about the poet-singer whose '70s albums (with portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe) have become so iconic they were referenced in Juno. Smith's work since then has been more infrequent, with a lengthy detour into motherhood and family life with her late husband Fred Sonic Smith. In recent years Smith has stood in sharp relief to the George W. Bush administration and seen her "People Have The Power" adopted as a progressive anthem. Dream of Life includes a denunciation of Bush and scenes of Smith speaking at an anti-Iraq War rally.

    Steven Sebring took over a decade to make Dream of Life, and somewhere along the way must have fallen in love with his subject. A better word might be infatuation; the film suffers from a lack of directorial judgment about what facets of Smith's life are interesting, whether or not it's relevant what order things happen in, and how much information to pry from its subject. Smith provides voice-over narration, but aside from a moving account of her husband's singing an unreleased song she wrote about Jackie Kennedy there isn't much to what Smith adds to the film; it's a pretty dry recitation of already well-known biographical details. Would it have killed Sebring to provide some context as to when things were happening? Without some guideposts the film feels arbitrary; I can't explain the juxtaposition of Smith at an anitwar rally and a scene where she's reminiscing with Flea on a beach about awkward trips to the bathroom. Sebring's worst offense is making me like Smith less. If I didn't already know something about her life I'd think she was a dilettante who spent all her time taking photos and aimlessly going through all her old possessions. (Patti Smith doesn't have a digital camera either, it's a boxy thing that looks like a piece of old medical equipment)

    Making a film that depicts the creative process is notoriously hard work, but couldn't we have had some perspective on Smith's influence on other artists or the birth of one of her better known songs? Smith's old buddy Sam Shepard shows up to play guitar and pal around, and the sheer inconsequence of the scene is an example of everything that's wrong with Dream of Life. Shepard's the perfect figure provide some detail, some color, some grounding, and add to paint a picture of Smith the woman as opposed to the Icon. Instead we get idle chitchat. Let Smith's genius remain sui generis, since Patti Smith: Dream of Life adds nothing to our understanding of its subject.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    In A Free Land

    Buffalo Tom leader Bill Janovitz is writing a firsthand history of '80s-'90s alternative rock on his blog. This week's installment (MP3 included!) recalls his disdain for hardcore until a little band called Husker Du came along.

    The first band to make sense of hardcore for me was Husker Du. I got Zen Arcade while still in high school. The band had been drifting away from their more straight-up loud-fast-rules hardcore for a few records. This record was a sprawling double-LP set of youthful angst and alienation played through most of the set with a primal urgency and reckless abandon (the record was completed in a few days, I recall). But there were truly pretty moments of almost quietude – a piano vignette here, a meditative feedback squall there. And one of the prettiest melodies on the record is song called “Pink Turns to Blue,” sung by Grant Hart and set to a driving attack from the band. It was the perfect record for a high school kid like me, lyrically and musically. Probably a lot like Born to Run was for kids a little older than me, and how the Hold Steady, another great Minneapolis band, might be for a kid hip to that sort of thing now, songs about fearing life in a dead-end suburb, factory jobs, drug abuse, broken homes, inability to keep young relationships together – in other words, complex emotional subjects that were far different than the didactic coldness of most hardcore.

    But of course, this meant that Husker Du was no longer “hardcore.” This was fine for me, even as I went back and delved into their more raw early records. But it was Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, and Candy Apple Gray, which form one of those classic mid-career trifectas for me and many more like me, including Chris and Tom from Buffalo Tom. Our shared love for these records was one of the main impetuses for bringing us together to form a band.

    Paging Brett Ratner? (just kidding)

    In what I think may in time be regarded as a very wise move, Christopher Nolan has decided his next project won't be Batman 3. (Hollywood Reporter)

    Christopher Nolan has set up his next project with Warner Bros., an original screenplay he wrote called "Inception." The "Dark Knight" director hopes to shoot the sci-fi action film in the summer for a release during summer 2010.

    Picture pages

    Movies and comics, each affecting the other. (Financial Times)

    In my more brainstorming moments, I wonder if the cinema’s obsession with comic books (apart from their earning power at the box office) does not come from some yearning to un-invent the wheel. Guilty about the perceptual fraud practised on the viewer, the filmmaker longs to revert to the chaste integrity of still frames in sequence. Think of the great directors who have loved to halt the moving-image flow at major moments. Think of Eisenstein’s famous set-pieces: the rearing lion statue (done as successive freeze-shots) or the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin with its virtual staccato of eyeblink horrors. Think of Orson Welles prologuing Citizen Kane with those haunting still images of Xanadu. Think of the bullet-point montages that provide violent, virtuoso consummations in Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009


    Edward Zwick's Defiance is inspired by the true story of the Bielski brothers, Polish siblings who led a partisan resistance to the Nazis and are credited with saving about 1200 Jews. There are always a few movies whose studios decide the rush of awards season is too great an obstacle to the effort to find an audience. Defiance joined The Road and The Soloist as one of the most high-profile 2008 releases to move their date; the film opened December 31st to barely qualify for this year's Oscar nominations (earning only a nomination for Original Score) and bowed in January to the rest of the country.

    My question is, why? Defiance is a far superior effort to The Reader both in message and execution and genuinely stirring, albeit in some fairly conventional ways. For those unfamiliar with the film's historical basis, let's just say that a key scene near the end is roughly analogous to the moment in Star Wars where Han Solo decides to return to help destroy the Death Star. You can see it coming, but that doesn't make it any less powerful. Zwick benefits enormously from the performances of his two leading men. Tuvia (Daniel Craig) becomes the leader of the group, organizing work details and patrols and resisting those who would seek vengeance on collaborators with the Nazis. I'm not sure how Jewish I think Craig looks, but it doesn't matter because he spends almost the entire film bruised and covered in dirt. The Germans are the enemy, but the central conflict in Defiance is between Tuvia and his brother Zus (Liev Schreiber). While Tuvia focuses on maintaining the values that the community had before the war Zus (who joins a Russian Army unit) concerns himself with fighting back. I've never thought of Schreiber as an action hero, but he seems entirely comfortable in the role and performs with a surprising physicality (nothing like that Wolverine trailer, but still). Craig tamps down the personality we've come to love in the James Bond movies, and never lets us forget that underneath Tuvia's authoritarian veneer he is of course frightened out of his mind. The degree to which Tuvia becomes willing to do what needs to be done as Defiance proceeds is delineated in clean, sharp beats.

    Zwick and his cowriter Clayton Frohman don't ignore the class divisions in the camp or the treatment of women, many of whom wound up becoming "forest wives" to the men whose spouses were missing or dead. Zus leaves the camp because he doesn't want to die protecting Jews from urban ghettos who look down on him and later a rebellion by some of the fighters must be put down at the point of Tuvia's gun. The women don't have much to do, but the movie is the better for the high spirits of Iben Hjejle, Alexa Davalos, and the great Mia Wasikowska (whom I blogged about here) from HBO's In Treatment. The gifted supporting cast also includes Mark Feuerstein (nice to see him not playing a bland urbanite), Allan Corduner, and Mark Margolis in one scene as a ghetto elder afraid to ally with Tuvia. In perhaps the boldest scene (which makes troubling viewing in light of accusations about the Bielski group's real-life activities), Tuvia leaves a captured German soldier to the brutality of the Jewish mob. That's a scene Spielberg would have never filmed, and it's the anger coursing through the displaced warriors that makes Defiance resonate. Tired of seeing the victims of Nazi oppression portrayed as impossibly noble victims or, you know, Roberto Benigni? Edward Zwick isn't afraid to show Jews doing things that are often to hard to watch but also fiercely human.

    Where's Ms. Pac Man when you need her?

    A forthcoming video game contains some images that might not play even in post-racial America. (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

    Seriously though, the whole "it's only a game" defense--which people always raise--is so lame. It's usually raised by the same 35-year old dude who plays video-games, like other people watch TV, and swears that video games are just as legitimate as TV. As a guy who plays WoW, like other people watch TV, and swears that gaming is just as legit as TV, I can relate. But if we're going to allow video games to enter into the world of adults, if we don't want to looked upon as boys in the bodies of men, then we have to be serious. Either this shit is real, or it ain't. You can't ask people to at once respect the creativity of gaming, and then tell them they can't critique it.

    Dept. of New Band Bloggery

    This is the way to write about bands one is hearing for the first time. (TAS)

    Brief note on two bands.

    An old friend of mine — he was one of these older, cooler guys who would hang around and dispense wisdom — is also a really brilliant musician, and a while ago he started playing semi-regularly with Zach Condon, the Generation Z genius behind Beirut. (I was thinking: Condon dropped out of high school. By celebrating Condon, do we celebrate dropping out of high school. I don’t think so. But what if a generation of youths dropped out of high school to become eccentric multi-instrumentalists obsessed with the musical traditions of the shtetl? This would be a new and pressing social problem that I don’t think we’re fully prepared to tackle, which is why I’ve called for $50 billion of stimulus money to address this looming crisis.)

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    Alien 3.1

    I have a soft spot for David Fincher's Alien 3 since it was the first film in the franchise I saw and of course because Sigourney Weaver shaved her head. But there was another very different version of the film planned with director Vincent Ward, and it looks like the world of Ward's Alien 3 would have been something to see. (Lebbeus Woods)

    These drawings were made—in Hollywood and Pinewood Studios, England—for a movie that was never made. The movie called Alien3 that was made and seen around the world was conceived and directed by David Fincher, and is notable for it’s unremarkable sets and its unrelenting grimness. The movie I made designs for was directed by Vincent Ward, but ended in its early stages, when he left the project.

    Do the Shuffle #22

  • Ryan Adams - Rescue Blues (live)
  • Juliana Hatfield - Law of Nature
  • Jayhawks - Sister Cry
  • Silver Jews - What Is Not But Could Be If
  • The Hold Steady - One For The Cutters
  • The National - Secret Meeting
  • TV on the Radio - Province
  • Eddie Vedder - Society
  • R.E.M. - Until The Day Is Done
  • Erin McKeown - To the Stars (live)
  • Buffalo Tom - Tree House

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.) - 11/42
    Miscellaneous Fact(s) - 1. I saw Kelley and her kids on the walk. 2. I tried to like Silver Jews, I really did.

    Buy now (MP3) -

  • Trust me, I know

    It's not looking good for those hoping to make money from their blogs. (Newsweek)

    Advertisers shy away from blogs because they're too unpredictable and because few blogs attract anything approaching a mass audience—and even those that do face so much competition that ad rates remain pitifully low. "A lot of expectations are coming down in terms of monetizing social media," says Paul Verna, an analyst with eMarketer. " People have not figured out a clear way to monetize some of these vehicles." The bad economy compounds the problem, Verna says, but the real issue is "the lack of a clear business model that can generate substantial revenues."

    Dept. of Language Police

    The problem with "That's So Gay." (HuffPo)

    What to do? Even if you think it's funny or a hip turn of phrase, don't forget that "That's so gay" is hurtful. Just because it doesn't have the same bite as "fag" or "dyke" doesn't mean it's not harmful or hateful. It is. We need to stop using the word "gay" to mean dumb, stupid and worthless and to think before we speak (or post on Facebook). As Shannon Gilreath, a law professor at Wake Forest, explained to me last year, "Physical violence begins with bullying, name-calling and homophobic remarks. When nothing happens to someone [for making slurs], it escalates to violence." So, as teens say today: Don't go there.

    Monday, February 09, 2009


    As an adult with no children, what do I look for in an animated film? A good story well told that works for all ages, nodding to adult audiences without layering on the irony too heavily. So it's with great pleasure that I report Henry Selick's Coraline is a thorough success, visually wondrous and a hundred times more human and vibrant than that better known Pixar offering from last year - you know, the one about the robot. Actors often record their dialogue for animated films long before the finished product winds up in theatres, so I don't know how long ago Dakota Fanning gave her performance as Coraline. Fanning is out this week with the sci-fi film Push, her first semi-adult role. Fanning would be too old to play Coraline in a live-action film, but her vocal work here as the selfish Coraline is pitch-perfect. When Coraline discovers a hidden passageway to an alternate world in which her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) are a little too perfect, Fanning makes Coraline's desire to stay in this happy universe is palpable.

    The entire voice cast here is strong, with Hatcher's nicely differentiated two roles and Hodgman dialing back his "Mac vs. PC" persona. Ian McShane brakes out his Russian accent for a warm turn as an acrobat and circus impresario. Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French of Absolutely Fabulous are Coraline's batty downstairs neighbors and Keith David voices a cat whose powers of speech prove especially useful to Coraline. In so many Disney and Pixar films the talking animals are just comic sidekicks, but David's feline has agency, key information, and a bone to pick with Hatcher's "Other Mothe;" he makes an ideal mentor/foil for Coraline.

    What a beautiful looking movie Coraline is. I suppose I could research the specific processes used to make Coraline look like a children's book come to life, but where's the fun in that? It's enough to say that the visuals are genuinely illustrative, tactile and funky enough to ground the story in an emotional reality but also wildy imaginative and scary where appropriate. The faces are all expressive; I especially liked Coraline and her father. But there's no attempt for photorealism or anything close, and the stylization just adds to the sense that we're in a world similar to but not exactly our own. Coraline is about the nooks and crannies of childhood, those moments that seemed boring or inconsequential at the time but in retrospect are precious when compared to the banalities of adulthood. That's a concept so low and risky that the Pixar folks would run away screaming, but the makers of Coraline have rendered it with a mix of technical wizardry and unabashed heart.

    Great leap forward

    The ups and downs of Twitter as exemplified by reaction to the Hudson River plane crash. (NY Mag)

    On his personal blog, Krums, five days before the crash, posted that one of his goals for 2009 was to “Have over 1000 followers on Twitter,” adding, “this goal has no real purpose other that to prove that I can do it. It will make me feel better about myself.” Needless to say, after the crash, it worked: He’s at more than 4,000.

    He lost one, though, a week after the crash: Me. I don’t know Krums, and I don’t need to hear about his attempts to lose weight or what he thought of that night’s episode of The Office. He was getting kind of boring. Thanks for the photo, though, and for not making me pay for it.

    Leading the fight

    Milk writer and Writers Guild Award winner Dustin Lance Black rallies the WGA audience with a political acceptance speech. (Gold Rush)

    His speech, emotionally delivered and punctuated by a standing ovation from the assembled industryites, had a strong anti-Prop 8 message: No more of this state-by-state stuff. If there are ever to be equal rights for the gay community, he said, it will have to come from the federal level.

    He asked his fellow writers to join him in advocating for federal protection, not just for gays but for all groups that face discrimination. "We still have a long way to go for equal rights for everyone in this country."

    A few thoughts on watching some of the Grammys

    Try to imagine a Oscar ceremony where the presentation of awards is delayed by Sean Penn and Kate Winslet performing a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. That would be the rough equivalent of what went on at the Grammys last night since CBS and the producers seem to believe that a successful awards show equals depends on the number of musicians per square foot of stage space. The "rap summit" had some energy and I think I can name most of the people involved (What was M.I.A. doing there exactly?), but the Bo Diddley tribute felt like something I'd watch at the Smithsonian and the Lil Wayne New Orleans-themed number is a couple of years too late. I'm hardly the first to point out that the number of Grammys given for what appears to the casual fan to be exactly the same thing (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, etc.) means the shelf life for the winners lasts about as long as it takes to download an MP3. For all the hoo-ha about the sorry box office of Oscar-nominated films we remember the winner because "Best Picture" has a certain simplicity to it and there are natural storylines around the acting nominees. See all the blog chatter about Kate Winslet and of course the anticipation around Heath Ledger's likely win for examples. How about Best Album, Male, Female, and Group for Rock, Country, Rap, Jazz, and "Alternative" with a "Best Song" going to the songwriter? The show would still be overlong but at least we might remember more than who sang with who.

    Sunday, February 08, 2009

    NP casting rumor

    It could turn out to be just that, but NP has been linked to an adaptation of the novel Cloud Atlas to be penned by Tom Tykwer (who directed the forthcoming The International) and the Wachowski Brothers may be producers. It all seems to still be coming together. (/Film)

    The book is comprised of six seperate but loosely connected stories that take us from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to the far future after a nuclear apocalypse. Each tale is told from the point of view from the the main character in the next. It’s unclear if Tykwer is focusing on one, a couple or all of the stories. I cant imagine that a film adaptation would feature all six stories as the narrative would become too episodic. And each story is a vastly different genre than the next, spanning post-apocalyptic sci-fi to modern comedy. The author has said that the book’s theme is predacity — individuals prey on individuals, groups on groups, nations on nations.

    Maggie & Peter do Chekhov

    Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, in love and on stage together in Uncle Vanya. (NY Times)

    Their individual résumés explain why the prospect of their acting together is so intriguing. Mr. Sarsgaard, 37, is coming off a widely praised Broadway revival of Chekhov’s “Seagull,” in which he played Trigorin with Kristin Scott Thomas as Arkadina, to add to a repertory of reserved yet sympathetic characters in movies like “Shattered Glass,” “Kinsey” and “Garden State.”

    Ms. Gyllenhaal, 31, who was last seen on screen in the summer blockbuster “The Dark Knight” (playing a role she inherited from Ms. Holmes), has her own tradition of playing astonishingly raw and unglamorous characters, in films like “Sherrybaby” and “Secretary” and plays like Tony Kushner’s “Homebody/Kabul.”

    Sunday Music: Lou Reed - "What's Good"

    Dedicated to the memory of Gary Veronneau, a stage manager and spot operator on several shows I acted in and (as I found out at his memorial today) an even better man than I realized.

    The Croft contest

    Could anyone really replace Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider franchise? I don't think so but the race is apparently on. One name not mentioned is Kate Beckinsale's; she'd bring a key part of the core audience from her work in the Underworld movies. Monica Bellucci is a good dark horse. (Underwire)

    Is there anybody out there, really, who can replace Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft?

    Eight years after she brought the daredevil archaeologist to cinematic life in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Warner Bros. announced plans last week to reboot the franchise.

    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    Kat's Class Act

    Catherine Keener on Kat Dennings for the NYT Magazine's Oscar issue. Maybe it's just my computer monitor but the photo of Dennings accompanying the NYT story is one of the worst pictures of a beautiful woman I've ever seen.

    A lot of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” was shot like a controlled improvisation. Anything and everything was welcome, and the director, Judd Apatow, never yelled “cut.” It took me a while to get used to that style of working, but Kat was a natural. In one scene her character, who is anxious to give up her virginity, is battling with me. As her mom, I don’t want her to grow up too fast. Kat’s character is in the bathroom, crying, and I’m outside the door with Steve Carell, who played my boyfriend. Kat was just screaming at me — cursing and yelling and calling me all kinds of names that were not in the script. I was thrown and I turned to Steve and I said, “I don’t know what she’s talking about.” Even though it was improvised, Judd kept that line in the movie — I clearly sounded like a frustrated mom and it was all due to Kat’s rant.

    Cajun flavor

    An early review of In the Electric Mist, based on the novel by James Lee Burke and starring Tommy Lee Jones as Det. Dave Robicheaux. (Last Night with Riviera)

    If it weren't for the charismatic Tommy Lee Jones, present in every single scene, we'd have ceased to care after the first 3 or 4 gumbo-flavoured clichés. If we hang on it's because his beaten-down Robicheaux, a recovering alcoholic with a smart, dry sense of humour, refuses to give up. There's something in the actor's sunken eyes and heavy sighs, the stoop of his shoulders, the meaningful silences, which dare you to keep watching. Unfortunately while a lot goes on behind Tommy Lee Jones' impassive face, the same can't be said of this trite thriller which hides very little of interest behind its generic facade.

    Making that Bank

    Why there should be a stimulus for bloggers. (Knowing and Making)

    Bloggers spend, not save, a stimulus. In order to post pictures of their shoes or the food they ate in a restaurant, bloggers need to buy shoes and eat in restaurants. Thus, bloggers spend more of their money, save less and increase the Keynesian multiplier.

    Friday, February 06, 2009

    Reading The Book

    Reading Infinite Jest. A bit meta- at first but a good appreciation. (The Rumpus)

    To begin, you need a dictionary, preferably the OED. Since countless characters hijack the narrative without warning, I’d recommend keeping a list of monikers to separate the Canadian wheelchair assassins from the recovering/persisting head-cases from the tennis prodigies. Wrist braces aren’t a bad idea. A working knowledge of mathematics, chemistry, grammar, physical education, video production, waste management, puppetry, media dissemination, the Twelve Steps, and Canada will go a long way. Finally, a Faulkner-Gaddis-Pynchon-like-patience is necessary, as in butt-in-the-seat-time to power through even what you don’t understand, what doesn’t seem like English, and what gives you a physical headache; just read the words, and they’ll invade some part of you that can absorb and translate and assimilate. Have faith. Persevere. DFW will slap you a couple of times to make you pay attention harder, because you’re saying, “I’m laughing too much; I’m crying too much”; you’re now facing the challenge of being too emotional to continue reading the book as you’re distracted and wiping tears away and recovering.

    The Wrestler: More gain, less pain

    There's a good deal to admire about The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky's downscale drama that has revived the careers of Mickey Rourke and (once again) Marisa Tomei. As Aronofsky's most realistic and least affected work to date The Wrestler proves that the director of Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain can in fact tell a story. Both Rourke and Tomei are in fine form and richly deserve their Oscar nominations, I only wish that the movie surrounding them had dared to go a little farther in depicting a world where characters are hemmed in by their own shortcomings.

    The Wrestler isn't a much a movie as it is a catalogue of indignities visited upon Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a former pro wrestling star reduced to playing American Legion halls on the weekend to make a buck. The Ram is much older than the men he wrestles with and against and his colleagues revere him as a hero of the sport. There's a funny scene early on where the wrestlers plan their matches with their opponents, negotiating moves and stunts in an effort to please the audience and stay safe. I wish Robert Siegel's script had gone a bit further inside this warmly depicted ad hoc community where getting a garbage can dumped on your head is all in an evening's work. The story turns on a "match" seemingly designed for its sadomasochistic possibilities, in which the Ram and his opponent break glass over each other's head and the Ram is shot repeatedly with a staple gun. The Ram has a heart attack after the match (caused in part by his unhesitating consumption of steroids) and is forced to give up his wrestling career for a humiliating job behind a grocery deli counter.

    Aronofsky and Siegel work so hard to make the point that there's no place for the Ram in the straight world that I almost wanted to put my hand in a slicing machine by the end of the movie. The Ram's boss is a jerk, the single mom stripper (Tomei) he loves doesn't think he can handle a relationship (the scene where the Ram and Tomei's Cassidy share a beer and bond over '80s metal is the movie's loveliest moment), and his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) has good reasons for not wanting anything to do with him. It's the passivity with which the Ram accepts his lot in life that sucks a good deal of the charm out of The Wrestler for me. Just like the way Jennifer Connelly's addict becomes a prostitute in Requiem for a Dream, the Ram seems a little too set on subjecting himself to physical or psychic pain wherever he can find it. The Ram's tirade through a grocery store after quitting his job is well played and well set up, but why does he have to maim himself first? The climax occurs when the Ram is matched up against an old rival for a 20th anniversary bout. Rourke almost pulls off the maudlin speech the Ram gives to the crowd before the match but the scene is a setup since we already know that the Ram thinks the match will be the last gasp for his failing heart. Do wrestling fans like hearing soul-baring confessionals from their heroes? Aronofsky is unwilling to grant the audience a chance to empathize with the Ram at the end, since the movie ends in medias res with the Ram on the top rope ready to pull off his patented move. As good as Mickey Rourke is (though the years have left him with an awfully inexpressive face), The Wrestler is just as overly determined as one of the Ram's matches.

    (also posted at The Greenville Critics)

    Hope on trial

    Shepard Fairey, who created that well-known Obama "Hope" poster, is being sued by the AP for copyright infringement. Here's a good analysis of why Fairey should win and that the poster falls under the "fair use" exception to copyright. (Concurring Opinions)

    Moreover, the poster might constitute fair use. The fair use factors include:
    1. the purpose and character of the use
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work
    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market

    The poster isn't a direct copy of the image. The background of the photo and other details are different in the poster. The poster is quite different in its use and nature from the photo, and the market for the poster strikes me as significantly distinct from that of the photo. The AP seems to be attempting to be money-grubbing here with this rather petty copyright claim.

    Thursday, February 05, 2009

    Another reason I'm...

    ...applying to Berkley for grad school. A class on The Wire. It's good to see Richard Price's Clockers on the reading list.

    Swanberg exposed

    Glenn Kenny gets at the essential dullness in the work of "mumblecore" hero Joe Swanberg in far more detail than I ever could. My problems with mumblecore here. (Some Came Running)

    Swanberg’s first feature, 2005’s Kissing on the Mouth, made shortly after he received a BA in film from Southern Illinois University, is the most sexually explicit feature Swanberg has made to date, and hence, a good place to take on one of Craig Keller’s points. Keller insists that Swanberg’s “sex-scenes have something true, honest, funny, brash, and sincere to say about sexuality on film,” and that the heat he (Swanberg) takes for them stems from “some My Phallic Camera sub-theoretical basis.” Keller believes that Swanberg’s work in this area could fuel “an entire panel discussion [pertaining to] what/how/when/whether that camera or the cinema can or should show with regard to sex/violence, with regard to a narrative-construct around it.”

    Wednesday, February 04, 2009

    An actor's life for me

    Hanging out after a show with Martha Plimpton. Plimpton was one of the standouts when I saw Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia on stage and I've always loved her in films (Parenthood, Beautiful Girls), though I don't think she has ever had a role worthy of her talent. (NY Times)

    Ms. Plimpton, 38, has received two Tony nominations — as best featured actress in “The Coast of Utopia” in 2007 and “Top Girls” last year. This season the critics have been more than kind to her portrayal of Gladys Bumps, a singing and dancing floozy with a grudge. She has also been taking some days off and flying to the West Coast to film a comedy pilot for Showtime — “The End of Steve,” with Matthew Perry of “Friends” as an egomaniacal television talk show host and Ms. Plimpton as his producer.

    Dept. of Should have gotten the protection plan

    Angelina Jolie has misplaced her Oscar. (Telegraph/photo by Alberto Tolot)

    With splendid insouciance, the 33-year-old Miss Jolie says that she gave it to her mother who hid it away somewhere because it was so precious, but has since died. "I didn't actually lose it," says Miss Jolie. "But nobody knows where it is at the moment."

    Jeff Tweedy - "Fake Plastic Trees"

    January 31st, Champaign IL. (Muzzle of Bees)

    Fonda Blog

    Jane Fonda is blogging about returning to Broadway for the first time in over forty years .

    Back to rehearsals: Tech is really tiring. Not sure why because it’s a lot of standing around. Maybe it’s standing for so long under the lights. It is, however, a swell way to practice lines and moves and even new ideas.

    It’s also the first time Moises is seeing us all in costume, on the set and under the lights, so there’s a lot of wardrobe trials and errors. David Woolard (who’s doing my clothes) and I are really in sync. I feel very comfortable with the look that we are evolving for Dr. Brant (me)—stylish but not too; academic but with an edge. Diane Wash, our classical pianist, walked by this afternoon and said, “That’s great, Jane…a ballsy musicologist.” I think she meant I looked strong which is how it should be. Speaking of Diane, can I tell you what a treat it is to be privy to a private concert everyday as she warms up at the gorgeous Steinway?

    Stephen Fry...

    ...stuck in an elevator. Complete coverage. (Twitpic/Kottke)

    Tuesday, February 03, 2009

    The Wackness

    (No, it's not a still from the movie but I love these group shots that magazines always run after film festivals.)

    Set in early 1990's New York when Giuliani was Mayor and hip-hop was still good, The Wackness is an affectionate tale of growing up in a city that's becoming crueler and less interesting. Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) isn't looking forward to college in the fall but plans to spend the summer pocketing money from his low-key pot dealing. Luke's shrink Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) is one of Luke's best customers; Squires is a well-meaning but clueless doctor, focused a bit too much on Luke's so far nonexistent sex life. Luke's prospects improve when he meets the Doctor's stepdaughter Stephanie, played by everybody's indie film crush Olivia Thirlby in a performance that deserves a movie shaped around it. There are no easy pot-soaked laughs here, by the end Luke has learned that all he really has to count on is himself. Writer/director Jonathan Levine is a little too interested in Dr. Squires' overripe ramblings, which Kingsley plays with an obscure accent and his usual relish. Thanks to the two leads and the soundtrack The Wackness gets by on charm; it's an ode to a city that's gone forever.

    Art project

    I used to read movie novelizations as a kid; if only the covers had looked like this. (Spacesick)

    This one's for the blogosphere

    Animal Collective as Internet creation. Can't tell if this is supposed to be ironic or not, which probably shows how out of it I am. More here. (Hipster Runoff/Fimoculous)

    I like ‘looking forward to things’ because it is a gimmick that makes my life worth living. With all of this anticipation for the album release of what I perceived to be a relatively-niche band, I wonder if I am living in a world that is completely out of touch with ‘what real people listen to/consume/value in music. How BIG OF A DEAL is the new Animal Collective/what social constructs do I realisticially expect it to break down? Can they be 1 of the newest relevant crossover alt artists? Even if you put AnCo head2head with other ‘alternative artists’ who ‘have a worldwide universal appeal on a commercial/spiritual level’ and are regarded as ‘being culturally relevant’ and ‘progressive’ at the same time, do u think Animal Collective can compare to these bands?

    Monday, February 02, 2009

    Best Picture, a quick review

    Now that I've seen all the nominees:

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

    What I liked: Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, the visually stylized world Benjamin moves through, the much-discussed digital effects, and the scene where Benjamin and Daisy watch the Beatles on TV in their apartment.

    What I didn't: The vacancy of the central character and wasting of Brad Pitt, the inauthentic feeling of New Orleans in the early scenes, the undramatic nature of the script and it's nonsensical inversion of Fitzgerald's story, the framing device with old Cate Blanchett and Julia Ormond, and the heavy-handed backwards clock metaphor.

    The Reader:

    What I liked: Kate Winslet, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz, the whole high-toned literary adaptation style of the thing, and David Hare's honest attempt to make a movie out of an uncinematic novel.

    What I didn't: The feebleness of the central message- Nazis have feelings too! A dull, wan, performance from Ralph Fiennes.


    What I liked: Langella & Sheen, the transformation of a talky play (lots of direct address to the audience) into a dramatically compelling movie, forgetting I was watching a movie directed by Ron Howard.

    What I didn't: Nixon had already resigned, why was all this important? The talent of its stars, writer, and director is all this has going for it.

    Slumdog Millionaire:

    What I liked: The visual and aural energy and unfamiliar setting plus the appealing child actors.

    What I didn't: I don't think the film glamorizes or whitewashes poverty, but once the initial dynamic is set up of the older brother being the one who'll do the ugly stuff in order to survive the ending seems very obvious.


    What I liked: Pretty much everything; it's a rousing tribute to the American spirit of activism. Plus, how often do we get to see something totally new from a well-established actor like Sean Penn? Josh Brolin, Alison Pill, Emile Hirsch. Among these five nominees, Milk is my clear personal choice.

    What I didn't: Diego Luna's performance was the only instance where I was conscious of an actor "playing gay." To be fair, Luna's role is underwritten; the movie really isn't interested in Milk's personal life. I would have liked to see more of Milk's politically shrewd side.

    Sunday, February 01, 2009

    Sunday Music: Bruce Springsteen - "Badlands"

    Why not, it's Super Bowl Sunday after all. My co-favorite Bruce song with "Brilliant Disguise." From 1985.