Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dungy's next job

I always liked ex-NFL coach Tony Dungy and knew he was a man of faith, but I'm disappointed to read these anti-gay marriage statements. Dungy has been invited by President Obama to become a member of something called the "White House Faith Council." (US News)

The soft-spoken Dungy sparked controversy in 2007 by endorsing an Indiana ballot initiative to ban gay marriage and similar legal arrangements for gay couples. "I feel like telling people when they look at this issue of same-sex marriage . . . I'm not on anybody's side," Dungy said at a 2007 banquet sponsored by the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative Christian group associated with Focus on the Family. "I'm on the Lord's side."

At the event, Dungy said he "embraced" the Indiana Family Institute's support for the gay marriage ban. "IFI is saying what the Lord says," Dungy said, accepting the group's Friend of the Family Award. "You can take that and you can make the decision on which way you want to be."

"We're not trying to downgrade anyone else," Dungy added. "But we're trying to promote the family—family values the Lord's way."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Original rock blocks

A list of 25 albums designed to be heard from end to end. Sufjan Stevens (above) gets some love, as do Husker Du: (AV Club)

3. Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade (1984)
Hüsker Dü’s landmark, drug-fueled double album is a dizzying blur of punk, noisy experimentation, and some of the most potent emotional bloodletting ever recorded. Underneath the maelstrom lies a semi-comprehensible story about a runaway escaping a bad family life (“Broken Home, Broken Heart”), turning to drugs, losing a friend in the process, then returning home—but it was all a dream. Or something. Luckily, Zen Arcade’s 23 tracks don’t need a shaky storyline to work: The album contains some of Hüsker Dü's finest moments (“Something I Learned Today,” “Never Talking To You Again,” “Chartered Trips,” “Newest Industry”).

Sunday Music (The Monday Remix): Scott Avett - "Rambling Fever"

A Merle Haggard cover from a solo Avett. (I Am Fuel)

How to overwrite your bio

A playwright takes a little too much credit. (Between Productions)

Buy playwright Dan Gordon's entry gave me pause. It begins: "Dan Gordon (Playwright) is a master storyteller who creates indelible characters and relationships, which have afforded actors the opportunity to play some of their most unforgettable roles." It sticks in the craw. I'm sure that kind of self-salesmanship goes over well in Tinseltown, where arms are permanently out of joint from everyone's patting themselves on the back so much, but it's unseemly for Broadway. A simple record will suffice. And the bloviating is unearned.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Case of the Alaskan Blogger

A prominent Alaskan political blogger is "outed" by a State Representative. Will Andrew Sullivan find a way to blame this on Sarah Palin? (Mudflats)

And in any of those three scenarios we should probably find it disturbing that an elected official is using his time and mental energy in this way, against an ordinary citizen. I don’t need to remind Mudflats readers that Alaska is in a time of turmoil. We are facing unknown consequences with an erupting volcano that threatens to wipe out a tank farm on Cook Inlet holding 6 million gallons of oil. We have critical issues in the legislature, including Alaska’s acceptance or rejection of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for education and other critical purposes. We have a governor who has just chosen an incredibly divisive and extreme right wing idealogue as our new Attorney General. And there are only three weeks left in the legislative session. It bothers me quite a bit that instead of focusing all his energy on doing his job, one of our elected representatives would rather spend his time stalking and harrassing a political blogger.

Brother Theodore Memories

A remembrance of the late actor/monologist Brother Theodore with a link at the bottom to info on To My Great Chagrin, a documentary on Theodore by my friend Jeff Sumerel. (Boing Boing)

Now flash-forward to the late 1990s, New York City. I had become friends with the then 91 year old Theodore Gottlieb, better-known as the infamous dark comedian Brother Theodore, a big influence on Eric Bogosian, Lydia Lunch and Spaulding Gray, who had been performing his totally insane one-man show at the tiny 13th Street Theater for ages and was a frequent guest on David Letterman's show during the 1980s. No exaggeration to say that Theodore had been around forever. He was delivering lines like "The only thing that keeps me alive is the hope of dying young" long before I was born. What was a great gag when he was, say, 50 years old, and then to STILL be delivering a line like that at the age of 93, as he did on my UK television series, well that existential tension is what made his nonagenarian performances so incredibly spell-binding.

Yes, it's racist

The new Resident Evil videogame plays with some stereotypes that have come and gone before.

If all of this is in plain sight, why have so few dared to call a spade a spade? The answer probably has something to do with gameplay familiarity. For anyone who’s checked out the superlative “RE4,” the experience of playing this next-gen sequel is -- despite its focus on action over horror -- strikingly similar, from the series’ tried-and-true mechanics to the up-and-down pacing of its mayhem to the predictable behavior of its enemies. It’s like taking a spin in the souped-up new model of your old car, and the result is that, once the first couple of levels have been conquered, the color of your enemies’ skin and the verisimilitude of your dusty, run-down location cease to be pressing concerns, so consumed are you with going through well-worn video game motions.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Let's flute, everybody!

The Decemberists new CD The Hazards of Love is out, and it might be the best Jethro Tull album you've heard in awhile. Colin Meloy's 33 1/3 book on The Replacements' Let It Be is one of my favorites in that series; I've always wondered what took him from Paul Westerberg fandom to prog opera land. (Parabasis/33third)

As they switched labels and embraced a larger following, Meloy et al.’s ambitions for their material have similarly grown. The songs have gotten longer, the narratives more elaborate, the lyrics thornier. Running along side of this has been music that has moved backwards from the mid-90s to take on classic rawk riffing and early prog complexity. It is in both of these spirits that The Decemberists have created The Hazards of Love, a rock opera/song cycle that takes its lyrical cues from Lord Byron and musically is deeply embedded in territory charted by The Who, Led Zepplin and (especially) Jethro Tull. The end result is an album about a love triangle in a mythical forest that you can air guitar to. This album may prove a line in the sand some of The Decemberists’ fans are unwilling to cross, but I admire it even if it is not entirely successful.

Wilco Whetting

More early word on the forthcoming Wilco album with appropriate disclaimers attached.

The forthcoming and still-untitled next Wilco album is nearing completion. Jim Scott and the band spent the last few weeks mixing in Jim's studio in Valencia, California and here's a list of song titles spied on the reels -- note this is not necessarily complete and not in sequence.

Dept. of Things Your Friends Do

A non-ironic post about Dungeons & Dragons which helped to clear up what a certain subset of my friends are talking about. (Wil Wheaton)

Over the weekend, I started a 4E campaign for Nolan and his friends. The plan is to take them through the entire Keep on the Shadowfell module, and then probably into Thunderspire Labyrinth, with possible detours into various level-appropriate Delves, or something from Monte Cook's awesome new project, Dungeon-a-Day, if it makes sense to incorporate it into the campaign. If my memories of running campaigns are any indication, they'll find some way to go storming into some tower or sewer or whatever that isn't in the actual module, and I figured I should have at least one Delve prepared, just in case.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tweet tweet, Lethem style (updated)

Novelist Jonathan Lethem will be Tweeting here next month as part of a collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum. (It looks like a request is necessary to follow)

From the comments:

Hi Simon,
You actually have to sign up as a $20 1stfan Member of the Museum in order to see Lethem's tweets. There's a different artist each month on the feed. You can read about 1stfans Membership here: www.brooklynmuseum.org/1stfans

DGG gets a few words

An appreciation of David Gordon Green's Southern Gothic Underworld, maybe the least controllled and most Malickian of his films. (HND)

I wanted to talk about Undertow largely because it's been forgotten: you're right that almost no one brings it up these days in talking about Green, who's mostly known for his first two films and now the Judd Apatow collaboration Pineapple Express. Ebert's rave aside, I believe Undertow got decidedly mixed reviews upon release, including its fair share of very negative ones, but on the whole I wouldn't say it's maligned so much as simply overlooked. That's unfortunate, because in my opinion it is Green's best film thus far, the film that comes closest to fulfilling the tremendous promise he's displayed in all his features. It's not a perfect film by any means, not a masterpiece, but in its own strange way it is "great," a baroque fable about the loss of childhood innocence and the totemic power of family. I don't use that word "fable" lightly, either. I think Green is quite consciously tapping into the language and aesthetic of fables and children's stories, especially the darkness running through the Grimm fairy tales or, in movies, Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Breaking Bad

I just finished watching the 7-episode first season of Breaking Bad on DVD and wanted to echo the good things Todd has been saying about the show over at HND. (Most recently here) On it's face the show's premise doesn't sound sustainable, or at best like something that would last a few episodes over on FX. But appearances can be deceiving....

Just like Lost isn't really a show about an island or BSG wasn't really a show about space, Breaking Bad is only superficially about the making and selling of crystal meth. High school chemistry teacher Walter (deserved Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with cancer in the pilot and latches on to the drug idea as a way to ensure his family's financial future after seeing a TV report on a huge bust made by his DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris). The show is very specific about Walter's economic situation: he's as underpaid as any public school teacher and his wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) is pregnant with an unexpected second child and apparently doesn't work. (There's also a disabled teenage son, Walter Jr., well played by RJ Mitre) Walter is forced to take a demeaning second job at a car wash in order to get the work of providing for his family done.

Series creator Vince Gilligan wisely doesn't oversell the show's criminal element, which isn't scary in a vague, glamorous way like so many TV drug dealers. The men that Walter and his ex-student partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) sell their product to are sociopathic, violent, and dangerously stupid and Walter's initial attempts to reach out to the dealers who can move sufficient quantity of his product are believably inept with bloody results. Although this is Cranston's show without question, Aaron Paul holds up his end and gives Jesse some needed depth as we get more information about his background.

In an extra on the Season One DVD, Cranston talks about a seemingly inconsequential scene in the pilot in which Walter demonstrates a chemical reaction to his students. The way Cranston plays the scene shows how much joy Walter takes both in teaching and in the scientific process himself, and it's a time efficient way of showing just what kind of man Walter is - or was before he wound up teaching high school in New Mexico. At first I was disappointed that Gilligan doesn't provide more background on what took Walter from working on research that contributed to the Nobel prize (according to a plaque we see on his wall in the pilot) to his humdrum teaching career. Later Walter and Skylar attend a party at the home of an ex-colleague who (it's implied) has gotten rich running a company that was started based on work Walter played a major role in and is married to a woman (Jessica Hecht) with whom Walter had a history. All the flashbacks in the world can only take an audience so far; what matters isn't so much the details of how Walter go where he is but that he has the intelligence, energy, and passion to walk a dangerous path in an attempt leave something for Skylar and his children.

So far in Season 2 the net has tightened slowly around Walter as Hank (who traced equipment used to make the meth to Walter's high school chemistry lab) stumbles across Jesse's connection to a local drug kingpin but doesn't quite have the leverage to hold Jesse or get him to flip. As Todd pointed out in an earlier post, it's the blind spot of family that prevents Hank from seeing what's in front of him and also what has made Breaking Bad such an unexpectedly must-watch series.

Avett prep

The Avett Brothers new album, I And Love And You, will be out in July. (Rolling Stone)

For their major label debut, the band toiled with Rubin in Malibu and Asheville, North Carolina — a time they called "an experience defined by heightened levels of commitment and conviction." The sessions yielded cuts like the poppy "Slight Figure of Speech" and the autumnal, Wilco-style title track. The brothers are road testing the material at SXSW this month and are gearing up for summer dates with the Dave Matthews Band.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do the Shuffle #27

  • Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love
  • The New Pornographers - Letter From An Occupant
  • Throwing Muses - Ellen West
  • Neil Young - Old Man
  • Luna - Malibu Love Nest
  • Buffalo Tom - Crawl
  • The Avett Brothers - Salvation Song
  • Feist - Sea Lion Woman
  • The Rolling Stones - Happy
  • Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Evergreen
  • Peter Case - When The Catfish Is In Bloom

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 11/45
    Miscellaneous Fact: I am now drinking non-alcoholic beer instead of the real stuff exclusively about 4-5 days out of every week.
  • If you've got the bucks

    Some recent "deluxe" editions of classic albums may be worth picking up. (HuffPo)

    Though most folks credit Nirvana's breakthrough album Nevermind as being the role model for grungy Seattle-scene alt-rock, Pearl Jam's twelve-times-platinum-selling Ten is every bit as seminal. Beyond Ten's monster radio staples (like "Even Flow," "Alive" and "Jeremy"), many tracks from this landmark album have had extensive college and FM airplay for the almost two decades post its release. The combination of Eddie Vedder's growling, angst-drenched vocals backed by bassist Jeff Ament, and guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready created a sound that immediately was original, successful and often imitated by pikers who couldn't mimic a tenth of what this band expressed in one verse. Getting a two-disc celebration of their now classic album is a pretty special event, and Sony's various configurations allow fans to experience their memories of Ten in various ways.

    Dept. of Indie Survival

    A good post on how bookstores can adapt to changing times. (The Mumpsimus)

    So these days, yes, I kill bookstores. I buy used books, I use libraries, I link to Amazon from this blog. I'm not feeling too much more guilt than I felt when I stopped using the local video store and switched to Netflix. It increases my access to movies, and it adds to my happiness. I'm sorry the local video stores have all gone out of business, but they rarely had anything I wanted to see, anyway.

    We now have the option of abundance, and the business models that survive will be the ones that give us the most satisfying, least confusing path into that abundance, and help us navigate when we're there. Places that provide discovery and joy, surprise and wonder. That's what bookstores were all about even in the days of scarcity, and I expect, with some creativity and adjustment, they can continue to be that still.

    Editorial decisions

    The Sean Penn-Natalie Portman rumors the NY Post tried to stir up never seemed to get any traction; far more interesting is the idea of Penn having his entire performance cut from a movie. (Gawker)

    Well, specifically the movie was Crossing Over, that Wayne Kramer-directed muddle of a Traffic wannabe about immigration, for which the greasy Comrade Penn shot a few scenes as an 'enforcement agent.' The Post claims that Penn had his bits cut from the film because he objected to a scene that depicted an honor killing—an Iranian woman is killed by her brother because of some social faux pas. The claim, I guess, is that he didn't want Iranians shown in an unpleasant light?

    Lost in trans....you know the rest

    I haven't caught Let The Right One In on DVD yet, but this post about alterations to the film's subtitles for home video release makes me wish I'd had a chance to see it in theaters. (Icons of Fright)

    About 20 minutes into the screening, I was absolutely horrified.

    The subtitles had been drastically changed since the last time I saw it, and dare I say... had been completely dumbed down? Sure, the basic gist of what the characters were saying was kind of there, but missing completely was the dark humor, subtleties and character nuances which made the movie so powerful and a favorite amongst audiences last year. I tried to carry on and ignore it, hoping that only a few of the translations were off... but... I was wrong. Just about the intent of every single line of dialogue was completely off and ruined the movie.

    Just add water

    This is either brilliant or the longest piece of sustained sarcasm I have ever read. How to get your band get noticed on the Internet in a few easy steps. (Hipster Runoff)

    The modern band is not just about ‘music.’ The modern band must successfully win over fans by finding effective methods to generate themselves into a meme-source worth following. You are more than just your music. You are an aesthetic. You are the news that bros every where need to read about. You need to picture a world where you have at least 20K twitter followers who are eager to follow your lifestream on a meme-to-meme basis.

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    I Love You, Man

    What's most offensive about the disappointingly unfunny I Love You, Man is the notion that men are just geeky, awkward children looking for a bigger stage to play on. Yes, Paul Rudd works hard and gives a funny performance as the malaprop-prone realtor looking for a best man at the urging of his fiance (Rashida Jones). Rudd has nothing to play against since Jones is given nothing to do but be generically sweet and Jason Segel (as the flaky Rush fan who crashes Peter's open house and becomes his running buddy) is resolutely one-note. It's all buried in a mass of lowbrow jokes and a celebrity cameo from Lou Ferrigno that never goes anywhere. As much as I've enjoyed the Judd Apatow films I've thought they were somewhat overanalyzed and overpraised, but he does find nuggets of humanity in his characters that are absent in this knockoff. Good comedy still needs a bit of drama at its heart; in I Love You, Man the premise is so weak and the narrative so uncompelling that Rudd's Role Models seems like a Woody Allen movie by comparison.

    Hall of Fame

    The 15 American musicals that will always deserve to be revived. (About Last Night)

    Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, Show Boat (1927). The first Broadway musical in which book and score were fully integrated, Show Boat remains viable to this day, though it is rarely revived, presumably for reasons of race-related political correctness. Fortunately, virtually all of the show's essence comes through clearly in James Whale's splendid 1936 film version, which is mysteriously unavailable on DVD but pops up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. David Thomson calls it "wonderful," and he's right. See it and marvel.

    Sunday, March 22, 2009

    The '80s beat

    Greg Mottola is using a "classic alternative" soundtrack for his forthcoming Adventureland, and Yo La Tengo are providing the score. I've always felt Yo La Tengo would be a great subject for one of the rock documentaries that seem to be popping up everywhere these days, but their quiet professionalism and apparent lack of interest in doing anything other than exactly what they want to may make their appeal too limited. (NY Times)

    The movie’s pensive tone is maintained in its score, which was written by another group whose origins date to the ’80s: the indie favorites Yo La Tengo. Since 2001 this Hoboken trio has branched out to write music for six films, a sampling of which was released last year on a CD called “They Shoot, We Score.” The group’s members admired “The Daytrippers” and already knew Mr. Mottola, who is a fan of the band, and found that their notion of how music is best used in films meshed with his.

    “I’m down on songs that literally describe the action on the screen, because that’s unimaginative,” said Ira Kaplan, who founded Yo La Tengo with his wife, Georgia Hubley. As a result, he said, in “Adventureland” “sometimes the music is ahead of the movie by a beat, or behind by a beat.”

    Buy now - (MP3)

    Tom Courtenay

    Sunday Music: Public Enemy- "Bring the Noise"

    From the Jimmy Fallon Show. Remember when rap used to be about something?

    Saturday, March 21, 2009

    Instant classic?

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is being released as a Criterion Collection DVD. My review here. (Cinematical)

    Someone's looking to be on The Daily Show

    What "not getting it" re the financial crisis looks and sounds like. (Obsidian Wings)

    A couple of years ago, it would have been hyperbole to suggest that we would all be better off if the senior executives at all our major financial firms were people picked entirely at random out of the phone book. Now, it's arguably true. People picked at random would, admittedly, be likely not to have been to business school. They might not know a lot about futures or derivatives or put options. But so what? At least they might have been more likely to know that they were clueless, and a few of them might have had the common sense to ask questions like: will housing prices really go up indefinitely?

    The $3 billion dollar question

    How the reviews (and ratings of those reviews) on Amazon help bring in almost $3 billion a year. (UIE/Kottke)

    Interestingly, only a fringe portion of the audience writes reviews. For example, while Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has more than 3,000 reviews, our calculations indicate Amazon sold more than 4,000,000 copies of the book. That's 0.075% or only one out of every 1,300 purchasers that took the time to write a review.

    For small numbers, chronology works just fine. However, it quickly becomes unmanageable. (For example, anyone who discovers an established blog may feel they've come in at the middle of a conversation, since only the most recent topics are presented first. It seems as if the writer assumed the readers had read everything from the beginning.)

    The problem came with the eleventh review. Since the product page only showed ten on the first page, the eleventh pushed the earliest review onto a different page. This worked fine as long as every new review was better than the existing ones.

    But that wasn't happening.

    Friday, March 20, 2009

    I've Loved You So Long

    I'm in agreement with this take on I've Loved You So Long, in which Kristin Scott Thomas plays a woman trying to restart her life after 15 years in prison while living with her sister (Elsa Zylberstein) and her family. Thomas keeps the blinds closed as an actress, which on a certain level is appropriate for the character but still comes off as the same sexy haughtiness she has always had. There's one great moment that occurs at one of those wine-soaked liberal dinner parties that only occur in French movies in which Thomas's character humiliates a table full of her sister's unwitting friends, but not enough time is spent on the minutiae of reentering a world that has kept going without you for a decade and a half. The surprise of the last few minutes isn't earned, and I'm not sure that it even makes sense on a literal level. I Loved You So Long actually needs a few of those "moments" that we often love non-Hollywood films for not having. (Humanizing the Vacuum)

    Thursday, March 19, 2009

    More NP casting

    NP and Brad Pitt to star in a romantic comedy with a long title and an uncinematic premise. Unlike that Thor rumor, this seems to be solid with NP's production company involved. (Variety)

    The book takes the form of a Sotheby's-like estate auction catalog, with 325 entries and photographs depicting items that reveal the private moments and the rise and fall of a four-year relationship between the fictitious couple Hal Morris (a 40ish photographer) and Lenore Doolan (a New York Times food columnist in her late 20s).

    DFW questions

    The author of a recent magazine profile of David Foster Wallace answers readers' questions. (New Yorker/Kottke/photo by Eric Chu)

    Was it emotional for you to write this piece? It was heartbreaking to read.
    Tess B.
    New York, N.Y.

    This was a very upsetting article to write. What was worst of all was the feeling that the ending didn’t have to be the ending that was, that either a different therapist or a different drug combination might have stabilized Wallace. Some suicides seem destined, but I never felt this was true of Wallace. He had lived with depression for so long, wasn’t he used to it by now? I felt I might just as easily be writing about a living David Foster Wallace as a dead one.

    Last Address

    The sad thing is, this isn't the only building with a story like that. (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York/Orange Crate Art)

    The building became an almost communal haven for artists. Elaine deKooning had a studio above the orthopedic shop, and the top floors held dancers and sculptors. Frank threw parties here, with John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and many others. When he wasn't socializing, he watched westerns on his black-and-white TV and wrote poems, but only occasionally. Mostly, at 791 Broadway, Frank O'Hara drank. The contents of his refrigerator, says Gooch, had been "winnowed down to a bottle of vodka, a bottle of vermouth, and some olives for martinis."

    At this time, his poems began to publish in earnest. It would have been to this address that copies of Lunch Poems were sent from City Lights. And it would have been here, on a muggy Friday morning, that he packed a bag for a weekend in Fire Island where he met his death under the wheels of a beach taxi.

    Dept. of Social Networking Freak-Outs

    Why do I feel this is one "Dept. of..." post title I might use again?

    Twitter v. Facebook (Pretty Much Amazing)

    Twitter allows people to post their thoughts, feelings, or experiences in a single status update of 140 characters or less (known as “microblogging”), forcing them to cumulate all of their thoughts into one single sentence and revolutionizing the way we tell people about our lives. You can synch your Facebook up to receive your Twitter updates. You can update your Twitter with new blog posts. They’ve also remained the same over the short time they’ve been online, with only minor changes and the introduction of SMS updating, which has only made the service more exciting. (They also turned down a $500 million buyout offer from Facebook!) And while many argue that Facebook has solved the problem by including a “What are you doing?” (now “What’s on your mind?”) stream of status updates on one’s profile, the two services continue to exist separately and hold common users who (like myself) aren’t willing to choose between the two platforms.

    Get going

    Seriously, how great is Roger Ebert's blog? Here he is on the pleasures of reading and travel.

    As for the reading, one of the best ways to read is to get yourself right off the map and out of the reach of cell phones and annoying twits. Hemingway traveled without them. So can you. On a trip you can really dig into a longer book. In Venice for the 1972 film festival, I spent long afternoons flat on my back at the Hotel des Bains, unable to stop reading The Golden Bowl. In the evenings I would break loose for a couple of movies. That was a good book.

    That may not broaden your mind, but at least it gets you off the map. Obviously, the way you broaden your mind through travel is to stop traveling and stay somewhere. In my mind I have always envisioned a room overlooking the Grand Canal, a bed-sitter in London, a cheap little inn in Japan. Never happened. I did spend a year studying in Cape Town. Never mind what I learned there. The point is, I was there, not here. The United States was away up there overhead to my left somewhere on the map. I internalized the fact that most people live somewhere else, and are perfectly happy doing so.

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Natasha Richardson

    "I know the pressures of being the daughter of a great actress," she said in a 2005 interview with London's Independent newspaper. "But it's inspiring. You learn so much that other people don't get to learn until later on. My father being a director, I [learned] a real work ethic. You think: 'One day, I'd like to be as good as that.' But when I was starting out professionally, I had a level of attention put on me that I didn't deserve or wasn't ready for. And it was hard, particularly in England, to make my way." -Natasha Richardson

    After a couple of days of conflicting reports regarding her condition Natasha Richardson has died at age 45 of injuries suffered in a skiing accident. In one of Richardson's last films, Evening, she played the bitter daughter of a dying woman played by her mother Vanessa Redgrave. By all accounts Richardson's personal and professional lives were full and happy, as she bounced from strength to strength onstage (with occasional film projects in between) and raised two sons with Liam Neeson. It's possible Richardson could one day have been held in the high regard now given to her mother, but we have been denied the chance to enjoy the rest of her career. (LA Times)

    Two originals

    A SXSW chat between Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes, presented in succinct 140-character updates. (Oregonian)

    #sxsw Haynes wondering if digital world undermines traditional notion of "film school graduate directors"

    Linklater hosted underground screening of "Superstar" last night & remembers meeting Haynes at IFP in 1988. #sxsw

    TH on spending other people's money to make a film: "I find myself in a state of semi-denial"

    Artists' colony

    Artists are taking advantage of Detroit's through-the-floor housing market. (NY Times)

    Now, three homes and a garden may not sound like much, but others have been quick to see the potential. A group of architects and city planners in Amsterdam started a project called the “Detroit Unreal Estate Agency” and, with Mitch’s help, found a property around the corner. The director of a Dutch museum, Van Abbemuseum, has called it “a new way of shaping the urban environment.” He’s particularly intrigued by the luxury of artists having little to no housing costs. Like the unemployed Chinese factory workers flowing en masse back to their villages, artists in today’s economy need somewhere to flee.

    But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished. From Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (think of a neighborhood covered in shoes and stuffed animals and you’re close) to Matthew Barney’s “Ancient Evenings” project (think Egyptian gods reincarnated as Ford Mustangs and you’re kind of close), local and international artists are already leveraging Detroit’s complex textures and landscapes to their own surreal ends.

    Do the Shuffle #26

  • Robyn Hitchcock - Welcome To Earth
  • Jorma Kaukonen - There's A Table Sitting In Heaven
  • The National - Slow Show
  • John Mellencamp - I'm Not Running Anymore
  • Arcade Fire - No Cars Go
  • The Mountain Goats - In The Craters On The Moon
  • Camper Van Beethoven - Border Ska
  • Belly - Now They'll Sleep
  • Dan Auberbach - Because I Should
  • The Mountain Goats - Toolshed
  • The V-Roys - Strange
  • Leonard Cohen - That Don't Make It Junk
  • Keith Jarrett Trio - Sleepin' Bee (live)

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx) - 13/42
    Miscellaneous Fact - Weird. Two songs less than a minute long (Hitchcock & Auerbach) and two from a band (Mountain Goats) I thought I had deleted already.
  • Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    Jason Collett & Feist - "Hangover Days"

    It's always good to see Feist, and I think Collett is also part of the whole Broken Social Scene hootenanny. I want to hear more. (I Am Fuel)

    Very Late in Campaign '08

    Hey, remember that whole crazy Al Franken Senate recount and lawsuit thing? It's still going on. (Politico)

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday first blessed the idea of encouraging Coleman to take his fight into federal appeals court and potentially all the way up to the Supreme Court. On Monday, several top Republicans continued pushing the federal courts angle, which could delay the Minnesota Senate race for several more months.

    “The state court is not the final word on that, because the question in federal court is whether the guarantee of equal protection under laws in the U.S. Constitution has been violated by an inconsistent policy with regard to counting ballots,” said Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sessions said he “absolutely” would encourage Coleman to take his fight to federal court if he loses.

    NP Marvel-ous?

    Today's rumor has NP being wooed for a role in the Kenneth Branagh-directed version of Thor that's still being cast. As the post points out, "Nordic" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks Portman but the comics offer a few "real-world" characters that might suit her. (Cinematical)

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    New blog alert

    An elementary school classmate has started a personal blog...

    12 Across: Rhymes with "flog"

    Learn the word "cruciverbalist." Then meet one. (This Recording)

    I’d been solving puzzles for a long time, but the first puzzle I ever constructed was for my then-girlfriend, now-wife. It was an interesting experience sitting on the other side of the desk, but not one I immediately found addictive. My favorite clue/answer was: “The worst kind of souvenir? / EBOLA”. It wasn’t until Wordplay came out in ‘06 that I got it into my head to create a puzzle I could sell. It took me a year of hacking around until I really got the basics of cruciverbalism and another year until I put together a puzzle that met the NY Times standards.

    As Seen On TV: The Flock

    The things you'll stay up until one in the morning to watch. The straight-to-DVD The Flock was directed by Andrew Lau, one of the directors behind the Infernal Affairs trilogy (the basis for The Departed). I can't think what attracted Lau to such a bare bones story of obsession and cheap sexual perversion, but his poor choice of script is partially redeemed by the performance of Richard Gere as an a bureaucrat being forced into an early retirement. Gere's job is to keep track of registered sex offenders in what I think is supposed to be Texas but looks like Canada, but he lacks the authority and even the sidearm of a cop and is regarded as a borderline nut job by his colleagues. The plot involves Gere training his replacement (a miscast Claire Danes) while inserting himself into the case of a kidnapped girl whose disappearance he believes is connected to one of his charges.

    There's nothing surprising or dangerous about The Flock, the bad guys are exactly the people you expect and Gere's furrowed brow performance is good enough to hold your attention but the role has no depth beyond a kind of avenging angel mentality that never lets up. The unrelentingly grim view of human sexuality presented makes The Flock a sort of junior high version of Seven; the straight-to-DVD release is entirely justified.

    Ron Silver

    Actor Ron Silver has died at age 62. Silver won a Tony for Speed The Plow and his most memorable film roles were as Alan Dershowitz in Reversal of Fortune and a man juggling three women in Enemies: A Love Story (a movie I need to search out again). In recent years Silver was probably best known for his role on The West Wing and for jumping the ideological fence to support the Iraq War. (EW)

    UPDATE - I'd forgotten Silver was trainer Angelo Dundee in Michael Mann's Ali. Thanks to In Contention for the reminder.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    Box bucks

    In a world where downloading is king, enormous CD boxed sets of classical composers are still being released and doing (relatively) well. I'd point out that classical music may not translate as easily to iPod listening as 4-minute songs, and I also think fans of Philip Glass, etc. are more likely to be concerned about the delivery system for their music. Don't forget, there's just something human about the desire for a complete collection of something. (NY Times)

    A typically baffling set, released last year by Nonesuch, is the “Glass Box.” This 10-CD retrospective of Philip Glass’s works is a six-inch-square box, an oversize thing adorned with glossy photos and too bulky for a standard CD shelf. All Mr. Glass’s important operas, symphonic works and chamber pieces are represented, though sometimes only in extended excerpts, a curious decision on Nonesuch’s part. You would think that someone interested in “Satyagraha” would want the complete opera. The “Glass Box” sells for about $100, still a reasonable $10 per disc, though hardly the bargain of the Karajan set. Again the question arises: Who is the target consumer?

    Asked about the “Glass Box,” Robert Hurwitz, the president of Nonesuch, one of the most adventurous classical music companies of the last 50 years, said, “I could take either the blame or the credit for that one.” He wanted to keep the set within the 10-CD format that had worked well for Steve Reich and John Adams boxes, which also included excerpts of certain works and sold strongly. Mr. Hurwitz compared the “Glass Box” to a museum exhibition. “The philosophy is to look at a body of musical works in the same way,” he said.

    Blog Chat

    An interview with blogger Dennis Cozzalio, whose Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule inspired Mostly Movies' lone instance of blogger-on-blogger conflict. Seriously though, Cozzalio is one of the friendliest fellow film bloggers I've come in contact with and well deserving of your attention.

    Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule is the place I go to express my thoughts on the movies and (occasionally) on baseball, and to interact with a small but very intelligent community of like-minded readers. I do a lot less writing on baseball than I used to, mainly because I realized that I was a better fan and observer of the sport than I was an informed writer about it. There is some overlap between the two audiences, but since my primary passion has always been the movies that’s usually where I feel most comfortable. I have discovered a natural affinity for writing about the films that came out in my youth—I came of movie-going age during the much-lauded early 70s of Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, and as much as I love the classics of that period, I have thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering other less vaunted films from this era that are just as good and worthy of discussion. I’m as comfortable writing about horror films and other grindhouse fare as I am about Hollywood classics and contemporary films from around the world. I’m only limited by my interests and what is available for me to see. In my book, Revenge of the Cheerleaders is twice the movie The Reader is.

    Sad news

    The disturbing story of a Georgia Peace Corps worker apparently murdered in Africa. The deceased woman, Kate Puzey, kept a blog of her experiences and it sounds as if the loss will be a serious one:

    After so much traveling, it was nice to settle back into village life. In addition to school, I started meeting regularly with two work partners beginning to organize Badjoudé’s second annual International “Day of the African Child” celebration – a festival highlighting primary school talents in traditional theater, music, and dance, while at the same time educating about children’s rights. The last two weeks were spent moto-ing around the countryside visiting over 20 little primary schools in the commune, inviting them to participate—tiring but fun!

    Life in the Theatre

    A review of A Strange Eventful History, a new biography of actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry and the children who attempted to carry on their name in the theatre.

    As the years and pages go by in "A Strange Eventful History," this long biography starts to feel increasingly Proustian: Here is the flow of life, as one generation passes into the next, as men and women struggle for fame and achievement, then surprisingly find that they have grown old. Henry Irving, who wanted to go "like that," returned one night to his hotel after a performance, slumped down in a chair and died. Ellen lingered into her 80s: "The days are so short -- I wake in the morning -- I meet a little misery -- I meet a little happiness -- I fight with one -- I greet the other -- the day is gone." And toward his end, Gordon Craig told visitors, "I was very honoured when our Queen made me . . . whatever it was." Enough. "A Strange Eventful History" is a wonderful book, deserving applause, bouquets and a rave review in this morning's paper.

    Sunday Music: Grizzly Bear - "Colorado"

    This band is fairly new to me. I only know that their forthcoming album is being as eagerly awaited in certain circles as the latest Animal Collective. I do like this older tune though; it's a good example of how much you can do by leaving things out. The accompanying blog post says the studio version is quite a bit different. (Muzzle of Bees)

    Buy now (MP3) -


    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Its been too long

    No NP news except for whom she's allegedly dating, but here's a picture to tide us over.

    The Shins will change your life..

    ...or at least keep you entertained for the next four minutes and change. A live performance and celebration of their song "Australia." (Song In My Head)

    Just for good measure, he adds a carpe diem note of warning: "Well do it now or grow old, / Cause your nightmares only need a year or two to unfold," and "Will you be pulled from the ocean, / But just a minute too late," and he adds in the last verse, "You don't know how long I've been / Watching the lantern dim, / Starved of oxygen." Wow, talk about a fun-killer.

    Let's get it....or we could just cuddle

    A celebration of the erotic (not the sexual) in movies with plenty of clips you probably haven't seen before. (Roger Ebert)

    There once was a time when movies approached eroticism with some awe. Now too often it is trivialized. How did it happen that exhibitionism became confused with sexiness? When did intercourse become something to be rushed through? The editing pace of many movies allows no time for caressing or foreplay; the lovers are so overcome they rip off clothes passionately and commence against the nearest wall or on top of the closest surface. A proper regard for the importance of human intimacy is the enemy of the 1.5-second ASL (average shot length) modern entertainment. Meet-and-screw is the best friend.

    Apple does the Shuffle (again)

    Apple unveils a new, talking iPod shuffle with 4gb of memory. I'm glad I made the decision to get the 30gb 18 months ago; I've still got something like 5700 songs to go. (BB Gadgets)

    Apple's business is built on creating simpler, better user interfaces, so we come immediately to the simple question of whether it's better than the last model.

    The short answer is an equally simple "no." The new iPod Shuffle is Apple's worst product in years. Its headphone module-interface fails because it's really about physical appearances: it does nothing to improve the experience of listening to music, and is in fact irritating until you've learned how to use it.

    The long answer, however, is that it's just not that big of a deal, and the worst Apple music player is still not a bad one. Beyond this flash-point issue, the new Shuffle is a tiny and inconspicuous metal sliver with generous storage and at least one cool novelty: Voiceover, an androgynous robot voice that tells you information about the tracks loaded onto the machine. It's not completely dumb text-to-speech, either: It pronounced Saint Etienne correctly!

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    "Carpetbaggers" - Jenny Lewis, Elvis Costello, Zooey Deschanel

    The music clips have been piling up and if I try to save them all for Sundays I'll never get through. Check out this performance from Costello's TV show of the best song from Jenny Lewis's Acid Tongue album. (Muzzle of Bees)

    Not on the resume

    An Oscar-nominated director reaches the low point of his career. (Spout)

    Peter Bogdanovich has spent his entire career chasing the spirit of Orson Welles. As a mentor, friend and frequent critical subject, Welles has loomed large for Bogdanovich ever since their first meetings in 1968. Bogdanovich is at a point in his career where he is remembered by few and celebrated by none, not unlike Welles was when the two embarked upon the interviews that would later form the text of This Is Orson Welles, first published in 1992. Last year marked the fortieth anniversary of Bogdanovich’s proper debut as director, Targets. However there was no fanfare. There were no retrospectives.

    Sonic Youth's Happy Birthday

    Choreographer Merce Cunningham will be spending his 90th birthday in good company. I wonder how much Sonic Youth charges for a birthday party? (BrooklynVegan)

    Sonic Youth's 16th album, 'The Eternal', is out via Matador Records on June 9th. Maybe we'll get a plain old Sonic Youth concert some time around then.

    Dept. of Saying It All

    Kristin Hersh (who played at the big tribute show in NYC last night) on R.E.M.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Bob Mould returns

    Bob Mould has a new CD (Life and Times) coming out April 7th. I've been interested in Mould for awhile for reasons I discussed here; apparently Mr. Mould can still bring it live. (Fuel Friends/Hippies Are Dead)

    Rachel on DVD

    Rachel Getting Married (my favorite film of 2008) is Greencine's DVD of the Week. I saw Rachel twice in the theater and plan to buy the DVD. I'm more and more convinced that the film's detractors are missing a point that this post makes so well:

    Within the context of this family—in which Bill Irwin plays a musician who knew and worked with all these cats from way back when, including yes, the husband-to-be's father—why can't they live with color-blindness, instead of making reference to the "black" groom and the "white" bride? These characters were once children who played together. I'll even step in with a personal take, as someone with an African-American stepmother and step-siblings, and say that it's quite possible that maybe it isn't a big deal THAT NEEDS TO BE CONSTANTLY ADDRESSED. If the diversity says anything about these characters, it's that their liberalism isn't false, but a mask they fall back on to maintain their passive-aggressiveness towards what they don't want to confront. The family believes their boho sensibilities make them flawlessly open-minded, when in truth, the elephant in the room (said familial tragedy) still rears its trunk; their shared domestic flaw is that they push all of their anger, bitterness, blame, guilt and sorrows onto Anne Hathaway's drug-rehabbed scapegoat—which makes sense, as she is the perpetual fuck-up who can't get out of her own way. Why is the movie being judged for its multi-culti sanguinity when it's the characters' defined backgrounds (jazz/world musicians!) that make "Jews in saris" an honest, naturalistic sight?

    More Neko niceness

    Sasha Frere-Jones loves Neko Case's new CD. (New Yorker)

    “Middle Cyclone” isn’t an album that breaks apart the world with new sounds. It has the same feel as R.E.M.’s “Murmur,” Meat Puppets’ “Up on the Sun,” or X’s “Under the Big Black Sun,” perfectly formed rock albums from the eighties that emerged from the nest of punk rock, steeped in a love of older music and newer sounds, with self-indulgences held in check by a quick pulse.

    Do the Shuffle #25

  • Van Morrison - Ballerina (live)
  • Brian Eno & David Byrne - One Fine Day
  • R.E.M. - Shaking Through
  • R.E.M. - Harborcoat
  • Neko Case - Magpie to the Morning
  • Throwing Muses - Calm Down, Come Down
  • Ra Ra Riot - Winter '05
  • The New Pornographers - Falling Through Your Clothes
  • Mazzy Star - Be My Angel
  • Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - The End
  • Whiskeytown - Somebody Remembers The Rose

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 11/45
    Miscellaneous Fact: I just bought a new pair of running shorts.
  • Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    The Tupac of the literary world

    More posthumous manuscripts by Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano (including a "sixth section" of 2666) have been found among his papers in Spain. I'm reading his The Savage Detectives now and loving the picaresque story of poetry and women in Mexico City. (Guardian)

    The Wylie Agency, the literary agency, which recently took over the Bolaño estate, declined to comment about the reports. The novels apparently came to light when piles of documents, notebooks and diaries left behind by Bolaño were being sifted through.

    It follows the discovery of another novel, entitled The Third Reich, which was shown to publishers at the Frankfurt book fair in October.

    Publication of the books would add to the number of works by Bolaño due to appear over the next few years; the English translations of three novels and four collections of stories are already scheduled for the end of 2011.

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    As a dedicated Muppet fan....

    ...I had either never heard of or forgotten about this adventure. (Vintage Kids Books)

    So the Muppets are in dire need of a vacation and Kermit decides an ocean cruise is just the thing the cast needs. But when they arrive at the shipyard to find a dump, they'll need more than elbow grease to get out of this one.

    Leigh's process

    You're an actor about to go into a meeting with Mike Leigh. What can you expect? (The Believer/Kottke)

    We’re sitting in a room and there’s nobody else there but the actor and I. We talk about their life. Then if I feel the relationship’s going to move forward, I call them back in and we do some work for a while. It’s basically a process of getting a sense of people. The actors I collaborate with tend to be confident in the best sense of the word. They’re not overwhelmingly confident but relaxed, cool, together, focused, open, intelligent, and have a sense of humor.

    My job apart from anything else is to build an ensemble composed of actors who all come from a secure place so that they can all work together to make the film. So on the whole, frankly, trust is not much of an issue. What I don’t do, as you know, is throw actors instantly into a dangerous situation. The actors I select for my projects sit and chew the fat with me for ages before we gradually get the characters on the go. So by the time they get to the bit that’s dangerous, they’ve spent a lot of time sorting things out without any pressure. Nobody’s watching them but me. We’re careful and slow. The reason my films work is because every actor on set is very secure. They’re able to fly.

    I saw Happy-Go-Lucky last week and was a little disappointed despite the good performances by Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan. This really isn't a movie about characters but more about the worldview of Poppy, the teacher played by Hawkins. There's nothing wrong with that of course, but Poppy's sunny disposition is never put to the test in any real way, so the film feels aimless as a result. Maybe Leigh's films need a natural hook (daughter and mother reconnect) or a built in structure (Gilbert and Sullivan produce a musical) in order to fully succeed,

    If only they'd fixed those railings

    Last night's L Word finale was, to put it mildly, a little open-ended. (TV Eye)

    Instead of wrapping up this story they're acting like flailing newspapers, inviting their remaining followers to the internet, where viewers can see - for free! - some sort of lingering afterstory called "The Interrogation Tapes." It may be just the raw footage of the interviews of each of the characters in the wake of Jenny's death (like every "CSI" you've ever seen, everybody's a suspect). Or they may actually move toward a resolution. Whatever it is you'll have to let me know, because I won't be watching anymore.

    Do the Shuffle #24

  • Marah - Far Away You
  • Vetiver - Roll On Babe
  • Dirty Projectors & David Byrne - Knotty Pine
  • The New Pornographers - Use It
  • Silver Jews - Random Rules
  • Jonathan Richman - As My Mother Lay Lying
  • Brad Mehldau - When It Rains
  • The Connells - Link
  • Belly - Gepetto
  • Van Morrison - Take It Where You Find It
  • The Spinanes - Uneasy

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 11/43
    Miscellaneous Facts: So far I've only put half of the Dark Was The Night compilation (song #3) on my iPod, but I think the whole thing might have to get added.

    Buy now (MP3) -

    Knotty Pine
  • Neko knowledge

    A couple of different perspectives on the new Neko Case CD Middle Cyclone, which I've finally decided I like even though it's not as marvelously opaque as Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. Here's hoping I get to see her in concert again soon. (The New Gay/Humanizing the Vacuum)

    Sunday, March 08, 2009

    Is Zooey OK?

    My boycott of all things Death Cab For Cutie momentarily suspended to link to this post describing the making of an arresting DCFC video. All the pasty white guys seem to make it out OK. (BoingBoing)

    Facetwitter talk

    A good analysis of the subtle differences in "friendships" established via Facebook and Twitter. There's one misunderstanding though: I'd argue that the point of Facebook is to serve as a hub for connections one already has. This is the opposite of MySpace (or of my memory of MySpace anyway, it has been awhile)Anyway, it's a relief to hear someone finally say:

    This is the other thing it’s useful to remember when talking about this kind of site: it’s absurd to talk about how the site “is used” as if individual users have no agency. The question is how individuals use the site, and which kinds of use the company running the site facilitates.

    Thank you, and anyone thinking of writing an article about social networking would do well to remember the above. (TAS)

    Sunday Music: The Avett Brothers - "Glory Days"

    A Springsteen cover from your favorite neo-bluegrss/alternative/punk North Carolina trio (with cello!). (Muzzle of Bees)

    Friday, March 06, 2009


    Take the heaviest, dustiest history of the Cold War you can find and hit yourself in the face with it while watching Taxi Driver and you'll know what it's like to view Zack Snyder's nearly 3-hour long Watchmen, a heavy-spirited affair that arrives a good two decades after it was needed. Stories about Alan Moore's hatred for Hollywood adaptations of his work have almost achieved cliche status by now, but it wasn't until I was looking at the Watchmen poster outside the local theatre that I focused on the fact Moore's name is literally not on the movie. (The poster reads "Based on a graphic novel co-created by Dave Gibbons")

    I can understand why an artist with any feeling for his work at all wouldn't want his name on this unsubtle and assaultive movie. I have only passing familiarity with Watchmen in its graphic novel form, but that work (which includes numerous text passages) can hardly be any less layered than what's on screen. While I don't agree with those who've said that there's nothing good in the movie after the stylish opening credits sequence, I do wish that Snyder had been able to maintain the energy and tone that the titles establish. In 1940 a group of "costumed heroes" known as the Minutemen establish themselves and quickly become iconic and popular figures. Chief amongst them are the cynical Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Sally Jupiter aka Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino, who deserves some federal bailout money for what she's asked to do here). The 1985 murder of the Comedian opens the movie proper, and it's the Comedian that's one of the movie's biggest problems. Unlike Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach (more on him later), whose sociopathic behavior is honed to a fine point by his belief that "liberalism" will bring about the end of civilization, the Comedian's disgust with the world is literally homicidal; his attempted rape of Sally is Snyder's most disturbing and least necessary directorial flourish. As Rorschach vows vengeance for the Comedian's death and attempts to enlist his now retired Watchmen colleagues (whose careers have been interrupted by a law banning masked heroes) in solving the murder viewers new to the Watchmen might have a hard time wondering if the Comedian's life was worth saving.

    It's Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach that provides Watchmen with what heart it has and raises all sorts of disturbing questions about what exactly heroism is anyway. Rorschach spends most of the movie behind a mask adorned with constantly shifting ink blots (Why and how do they shift? Apparently no one cares), and his gruff narration sets the scene of a New York and a world on the edge of an abyss both moral and literal (a US-USSR nuclear conflict looms). When Rorschach is set up for murder and falsely imprisoned we get a glimpse of the man behind the ink blots, and Haley's performance is all the more impressive for managing to be humane and chilling simultaneously. While Rorschach is the only character unwilling to accept the half loaf of an ending after the motives of Comedian's killer have been revealed, readers of the source material would be hard pressed to describe his behavior as "heroic" out of hand. Yet for too much of the film Rorschach is flattened out into the Last Angry Man in America. His murderous behavior has no context, since the filmmakers are even less interested in grounding their comic book world in a recognizable reality than the makers of The Dark Knight (and that's saying something). Look elsewhere for discussions of Snyder's attempt to placate his core audience by replicating panels from the book.

    Every bone break, knife edge, and other contact with hard surface in Watchmen is given its full glory, but Snyder's reverent direction and the complicated web of character relationships keep the audience at much too great a distance to consider the consequences. There seems to be little reason why Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman, whose acting and costume both merit a "yikes" - decide for yourself on the inflection) should fall for the schlumpy Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) except that the script calls for them to unite to assault the jail where Rorschach is being held. (He doesn't need their help) SS2's pursuit of the Nite Owl is allegedly motivated by the behavior of her lover Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), once a nuclear physicist whose exposure to radiation has transformed him into a creature with the ability to control matter and see the future. Dr. Manhattan is the vehicle for most of the science fiction-ish aspects of Watchmen; he's trying to build a reactor that will solve the world's energy problems and is tempted to take up residence on Mars when his disinterest in humanity approaches the point of no return. The good Doctor also serves as the mouthpiece for the "big" questions that no Zack Snyder-directed movie is capable of answering, such as whether there's any point to saving humanity and why anyone should bother trying. (Anthony Lane called this "metaphysical vulgarity") Any doubts about or serious examinations of the characters' mental states and their awareness of the consequences of their actions have no place in this Watchmen, except when its revealed Nite Owl needs his costume in order to perform sexually.

    Watchmen may please its target audience but I'm skeptical about what it has to offer a general audience other than the lame promise of another "event" movie marketed and tested until all the flavor is drained out. Zack Snyder may be Hollywood's reigning champ at creating onscreen fantasy worlds, but he hasn't yet learned how to tell a human story.

    David Simon, reporter

    I was/am a huge fan of The Wire, but that newspaper story in the fifth season was a little bit too angry and not specific enough about the effect of failing newspapers on an American city. Wire creator David Simon recently put his old reportorial skills to work on a police shooting in Baltimore, and the result is a much more succinct description of why we need well-staffed daily papers. (Wash. Post/Kottke)

    In the halcyon days when American newspapers were feared rather than pitied, I had the pleasure of reporting on crime in the prodigiously criminal environs of Baltimore. The city was a wonderland of chaos, dirt and miscalculation, and loyal adversaries were many. Among them, I could count police commanders who felt it was their duty to demonstrate that crime never occurred in their precincts, desk sergeants who believed that they had a right to arrest and detain citizens without reporting it and, of course, homicide detectives and patrolmen who, when it suited them, argued convincingly that to provide the basic details of any incident might lead to the escape of some heinous felon. Everyone had very good reasons for why nearly every fact about a crime should go unreported.

    Thursday, March 05, 2009

    I was walking up Sixth Avenue....

    Wish Robyn Hitchcock a happy birthday with a celebration of one of his quirkier "love" songs. (Song In My Head Today)

    Like many a Robyn Hitchcock number, though, "Hurry For the Sky" is not clearly about anything. Verses one and three are all platitudinal self-help advice ("Knock yourself out yesterday / Tomorrow will be fine"; "You can easily confuse / Money with success.") It helps, of course, to imagine the dark-eyed glitter with which Hitchcock is wont to deliver such adages; they're not meant to be taken seriously, except when they are. And just to throw you off course, verse two takes a sharp left turn into the Egyptian imagery that's a familiar Hitchcockian leitmotif: "Pharoah's tomb is empty now / You can come right in / Bandage up your grin / Bandage up your sin." I can imagine him writing that one after watching The Mummy on late night TV -- that "bandage up your grin" line kills me.

    You are "reading this"

    An interview with "Carles," the anonymous blogger behind the popular music site Hipster Runoff. What's interesting and a little sad is the repeated use of quotation marks in the answers (the interview was conducted via IM). See below:

    I think people would expect me to be "loud" and have a "strong personal brand." Just to be some excessively alternative guy with "a sad life." But I think I probably have "a sad life" in a different way that's a little bit more mainstream and means having a salaried job.

    Does he know he's not being "ironic?" Forget old media/new media stuff for a second. If the next generation of critics forget that it's OK to want things and to be engaged with anything about art other than how people talk about it then we are all in trouble. (Village Voice)

    Hassled by the Man

    A black playwright on writing a "black play" that isn't about making you feel better. (Love's Labors Lost)

    As I was looking at the piece I'm working on now, I realized something peculiar. I noticed how freely I used West African and African Diaspora mythology and religion as formal elements of my work. I noticed how easily I imagined Orixa as a Black woman without also imagining other characters as White. I noticed how naturally this all came to me, with little if any conscious or deliberate choices on my part. I saw how I'm creating a play that is by and about Black people without it being about Being Black [in America]. This piece I'm working on now is thoroughly Black yet creates a world rooted in myth, religion, and art - expressions drawn from the depths of human existence - and White people are not at the center or at the root of it.

    Buzz buzz

    Wow, the expectations for Watchmen are being lowered in certain circles of the critical community. Should a property this beloved have been filmed at all, and if so should the adaptation have been so slavish? I like this list of five reasons we should whisper "no." (Spout)

    Many smart cinephiles and comic book geeks will avoid watching Watchmen this weekend. Not to avoid the crowds of opening weekend, and not to patiently await word of mouth from friends and reactions from critics. No, these bright few will ignore the out-of-season blockbuster event because there is absolutely no reason to see this movie. They recognize that any Watchmen adaptation (particularly this one that’s been made) is completely unnecessary. Well, for anyone not out to profit from it, anyway. Of course, even Warner Bros. might have been better off not producing the thing, since the studio won’t be making as much money as it had initially envisioned thanks to that profit-participation settlement with Fox.

    Do the time loop

    A provocative (and complicated) theory about Lost which attempts to explain some of the more miraculous happenings of seasons 1 and 2.

    1970-2007 (first iteration): Richard is born and becomes the leader of "the others." Around 1970, The DHARMA initiative comes to the island to begin experiments. The DHARMA initiative was originally created for the enhancement of the human race and may have never had any intention of using the island for time travel; however at some point after 1970, they discovered that the island was able to actual leverage the magnetic properties to bend time and space. There was a single point on the island that, when "moved," would disrupt time and space, causing the island to move through time. In short, it could turn island into a large-scale time machine. Unfortunately, DHARMA was not able to control the "time jumping" of the island when using the donkey wheel. Instead of fiddling with the donkey wheel, they worked to leverage the island's time-traveling capabilities to create a smaller-scale time machine - one which could send individual people/animals back in time (but not the entire island).

    More modern dancers please

    David Byrne talks and sings on The Colbert Report. Can't Colbert afford a studio where musicians can stand up?

    Wednesday, March 04, 2009

    Horton Foote

    Playwright (Pulitzer) and screenwriter (2 Oscars) Horton Foote has died at age 92. (NYT)

    Mr. Foote, in a 1986 interview in The New York Times Magazine, said: “I believe very deeply in the human spirit and I have a sense of awe about it because I don’t know how people carry on. What makes the difference in people? What is it? I’ve known people that the world has thrown everything at to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and don’t ask quarters.”

    Who reviews the Watchmen?

    One of the (small) plesaures of not being a paid movie critic anymore is that I can read other people's reviews in advance of seeing a highly anticipated release. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker was probably just the right person to review Watchmen, his work gets some love here. (TAS)

    Lane has been concerned for some time about the difficult relationship between the portrayal of violence and the depiction of suffering. Here he is four years ago writing about Sin City:

    Nothing is easier than to tumble under the spell of its savage comedy—Marv driving along with the door open, say, holding another guy down so that his head is roughly sanded by the road, or Jackie Boy continuing to chatter with his throat cut. We have, it is clear, reached the lively dead end of a process that was initiated by a fretful Martin Scorsese and inflamed, with less embarrassed glee, by Tarantino: the process of knowing everything about violence and nothing about suffering.

    What I like about Lane’s approach to this vital question is that it’s unencumbered by the need to make global pronouncements, universal sweeps through the whole territory of cinema. His worry has gathered over years, movie by movie, review by review. And that makes it more worthy of our attention. If indeed we moviegoers are learning to know “everything about violence and nothing about suffering,” into what human situation are we maneuvering ourselves?

    Alternative Rock Dance Fight?

    Who's that band on your iPod everybody says you should like? Right now it's probably Grizzly Bear but a couple of years ago it was Arcade Fire, and Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne wants you to know what he thinks of the Canadian hipsters. (Smoking Section)

    "I'm a fan of them on one level, but on another level I get really tired of their pompousness," says Coyne. "We've played some shows with them and they really treat people like shit. Whenever I've been around them, I've found that they not only treated their crew like shit, they treated the audience like shit. They treated everybody in their vicinity like shit. I thought, 'Who do they think they are?' I don't know why people put up with it. I wouldn't put up with it. I don't care if it's Arcade Fire or Brian Eno. If either of them walked into a room and treated people like shit I'd be like, 'Fuck you, get outta here.'

    Tuesday, March 03, 2009

    Chabon's Barton Fink experience

    Michael Chabon goes to China, discovers screenwriters have a hard time there too. (Paper Cuts)

    M. and F. floated the Grandmaster idea, and they also the floated the whole “Grandmaster sends Gwen off to YET ANOTHER G.D. TEMPLE to be trained.” I wanted to cry. I wanted to take out my tai chi sword and chop those ideas into little slices in front of their eyes, but of course I just sat there and tried to look pleasantly intransigent in what I hoped was good Chinese fashion.

    O.K., so anyway, I was like, dudes, you have your prophecy-Messiah-Neo is the One-Paul Muad’dib-Return of the King-Cloud Tiger Messiah plotline that I’ve never liked but somehow to my surprise and totally against my will has somehow crept back into the story. Now you want the Grandmaster and the Other Temple. Why don’t we just slap the English fiance who’s really a demon back in there, too, and I can just go shopping for my kids and you can shoot right off the prior draft?

    Neko's new one

    A review (7.9/10) of Neko Case's Middle Cyclone , a CD that on first listen may lack the odd time-warp beauty of Fox Confessor Brings The Flood but might bring Case the audience she deserves. Could it be her American Beauty? (Pitchfork/photo: thisgig)

    Case remains her own best muse, a strong, feminine presence who demands you meet her songs halfway (she calls herself a control freak in every article I've read), but her band deserves credit for creating the ambient, dark-night setting in which her tales of murder and animals sound natural and compelling. Middle Cyclone features the same core group she's been playing with for years-- including guitarist Paul Rigby, bass player Tom V. Ray, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and back-up singer Kelly Hogan-- along with a supporting cast that includes regulars Garth Hudson of the Band, M. Ward, Sarah Harmer, and members of Calexico, the Sadies, and Giant Sand. With an increasing familiarity between them, this cast finds new ways to sell her songs and couch Case's vocals in unpredictable arrangements.

    Fossil films

    Terrence Malick's new film Tree of Life will involve IMAX, dinosaurs, and Sean Penn. No word on who gets top billing. (Playlist)

    Yes, that the word according to the aforementioned fanboy site, 'Tree Of Life' has expanded (always was?) into two separate pictures.

    Apparently one will be the regular "Tree of Life" drama which they call, "massive" and then they'll be an IMAX-only half "depicting the birth and death of the universe."

    Sounds like Malick's ponderous and navel gazing tendencies will finally get their own movie.

    "It's important to note that these films are not narratively connected; to the best of my knowledge, they're thematically complementary pieces," write AICN. So what's the special effects wizard Trumbull doing? Working on those dinosaurs that will hopefully only appear in the panoramic IMAX version. Well that would make sense now would it? Cinephiles just brought the yellow alert down to a basic calm, blue. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn (hopefully) won't be running around with dinosaurs in a Terrence Malick movie. Whew!

    Monday, March 02, 2009

    Snow-delayed Sunday Music: Gillian Welch/Old Crow Medicine Show - "The Weight"

    When will Gillian release another album? (Muzzle of Bees)

    Buy now - (MP3)

    The Weight (2000 Digital Remaster) (by The Band)

    The International

    So you've seen all of this year's Oscar nominees, now what? It's that dead spot in the movie year between the end of the "awards season" and the arrival of the big-budget, media dominating summer blockbusters. (Though this year the season will be shortened since I assume starting next week we'll all be debating Watchmen) I tried to snap out of my cinematic funk yesterday with The International, Tom Tykwer's take on a globe-hopping, '70s-style thriller with relevant undertones (Banks are bad!). Clive Owen plays Salinger, an Interpol agent with a fixation on the International Bank of Business and Credit. (If McDonald's figured in this movie it would be known as "Food-Getting Place")

    The IBBC, as it's known throughout the movie, has its fingers in plenty of pies. The bank's chairperson (Ulrich Thomsen) wants to broker arms in the Third World as a means of controlling the debt (and eventually the natural resources) of impoverished nations. The bank seems to have arms dealers and politicians on speed dial; Salinger's efforts to prove the IBBC's involvement in the various murders that occur throughout The International are stonewalled at every turn. Only a New York ADA (Naomi Watts)whose colleague is the victim of an IBBC hit in the opening scene shares Salinger's fervor for bringing down the bank. The amount to which one enjoys The International won't depend very much on the plausibility of the IBBC's plans, indeed the fervor with which the bankers want to meddle in geopolitical affairs is part of what gives the movie its energy. It's the chases through European streets and tension over seeing just how the villains will carry out their plans that's the fun here; the pleasures of The International are the pleasures of genre familiarity. There's even a bit of clever narrative misdirection, as two characters who enter late in the story prove to be nothing like they've been described.

    The slightly too early climax comes in a shootout at what's supposed to be the Guggenheim Museum, where Salinger has tailed a hit man (Brian F. O'Byrne) who has become a IBBC target. The two men shoot their way out of the museum, which I couldn't help notice contains no paintings but rather giant video screens. The actual ending, which involves a IBBC operative (Armin Mueller-Stahl) switching his loyalty, is a bit blah and (depending on how much you buy the "everyone is involved" premise) pretty cynical. But The International is an amiable winter diversion if you're looking for something to get you through until the summer fun arrives.