Saturday, May 30, 2009

NP gets medieval

I like the teamup of NP, James Franco, and David Gordon Green but I'm a little nervous about the fact that they're doing a medieval comedy written by the happy-to-be-here Danny McBride. The costume possibilities are intriguing though....(Cinematical)


Words that come to mind when listening to Grizzly Bear's new album Veckatimest: polished, craft, anxious, free-floating, and (to quote this) cold. Is this really where we are with "indie" rock? (Substitute "alternative" or whatever overused adjective you'd like) Typically when discussing a new CD I'd refer to a couple of tracks as either highlights or failures but with Veckatimest the effort required to figure out when one song ends and another begins obscures any pleasure in individual tracks. We've come a long way from (to cite a personally meaningful example) an album like R.E.M.'s Murmur, an album so rooted in the circumstances of its own creation it might as well be producing weather patterns. Tell me something about who you are Grizzly Bear; Veckatimest feels like it could have been recorded by anyone at anytime who had the requisite knowledge of recording studio geegaws and flangdoodles. I mocked Sasha Frere-Jones for this piece about the lack of rhythm in indie rock, but after reading all the Grizzly Bear anticipation and then hearing the album I wonder if he wasn't lowballing it.

Winona is free

You'll have to track down the magazine to read the full piece, but it seems Winona Ryder is doing just fine (and working with director Rebecca Miller) despite what you may have heard. (Jezebel)

Even though this piece doesn't touch on her shoplifting, you do get a little bit of insight into Winona's psyche — when talking about basing her Pippa Lee character on someone she used to know, she says: "In this day and age with antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs and diagnoses, there's so much to blame your problems on. Everybody has a disorder of some sort." She also admits she had an "extra-large breakdown" when she was 20. "I had just done Dracula and Edward Scissorhands. I had just had my first real break-up, the first heartbreak. And I think it was really ironic because, like, everybody else just thought I had everything in the world, you know, I had no reason to be depressed, everything was sort of at its peak, but inside I was completely lost."

Blog Catch-Up Day!: The Beastie Boys - "So What'cha Want"

Today I'm going through and picking up on some things I haven't had time to blog about this week, so I'll kick it off with this video from Jimmy Fallon's show. You can insert your own comments about the rebels becoming the establishment...(seriously, look at the way they're dressed).

Thursday, May 28, 2009


A conversation about music, life, and fatherhood between Jason Isbell (whose new CD with his band the 400 Unit is one you should get) and Justin Townes Earle (whose new CD is one I should get). (Aquarium Drunkard)

JI: Yes, I’ll take it now, I’m not gonna fight against it anymore. Let’s see, I got some more here. That kinda goes into umm…the kinda stuff you play really to me has a real old-time feel to it, you know, and it feels like a lot of old mountain music that I grew up with that my granddad played and a lot of really old country and even you know some gospel kinda stuff in there. And I’m wondering, I feel like you personally, you know, when I actually spend time around you, I see you more as kind of a punk rock guy and, you know, I’m not just talking about the tattoos or whatever, but just from knowing you over the years. What do you feel like are the similarities between those two spirits or those two kinds of music — how do those lines cross really?

JTE: I think they cross in the simplest fashion just because musicians have always been looked at as outlaws, and somehow through history, I don’t exactly know how it happened, I don’t know how people ended up translating Johnny cash into punk rock. But it ended up happening and it was just this attitude thing when these guys were coming up back in the day you had a bunch of rough and tumble folks like Charlie Pool and Dock Boggs. The kind of characters that may have been from the hills, but they’d shoot your ass in a second. They were rough, they drank, they didn’t give a shit what they said to anybody or what anybody said to them, they were gonna do what they wanted to do. And I think you know even though Dock Boggs did use his wife as a shield in a gunfight in Bristol Tennessee, I think he pulled off punk rock a little classier than Sid Vicious did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Asking questions

I wish I'd read this post at Parabasis before I directed my first play, but I think it really gets at what a good director should do and at what kind of a director I want to be. Most of the questions in the show I directed centered around what one might call the "mechanics of comedy," questions like "How far away should two people be from each other when one is throwing a drink on the other?" But I think Isaac is right when he says it's the director's duty to find the answers to all the questions in the script be they thematic, logistical, or mechanical. I'd also add that I think finding those answers can be a communal effort. I'm nowhere near confident enough in my directing abilities yet to think I have the best answer to any question, but if I've cast well and created the right atmosphere in rehearsal then it should be a matter of my having to choose between competing good ideas.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In Treatment

I have no idea whether HBO plans a third season of In Treatment or if the Israeli source material went into a third installment but I have to commend Gabriel Byrne on his stamina. For an actor of his stature to do what's essentially a season and a half of television in which he's in almost every scene while playing a grumpy, self-absorbed, and emotionally distant man the material has to be pretty good, and the second season of In Treatment largely lived up to Byrne's commitment to his role. Beginning with a visit from the father (Glynn Turman) of the patient who died while in Paul's care last year, season 2 began with Paul's visit to a lawyer named Mia (Hope Davis) about the lawsuit brought by the patient's family.

Paul and Mia have a history; he had treated her years before when she was pregnant and Mia holds him responsible for the decision to terminate the pregnancy and for her failure to find a husband and raise children in ensuing years. I've been a fan of Hope Davis since Next Stop, Wonderland, and her theater background serves her well in the show's close quarters. Yet the Mia episodes didn't shed much light on Paul's behavior with Laura and Alex in season 1 (though Davis's resemblance to Melissa George can't have been an accident) or on why Mia hasn't had much luck meeting a man. Mia is all over the place emotionally; telling tales of casual sex after bursting into Paul's office with baked goods then recalling a break down after a fight with her father. A couple of episodes dangled some erotic tension between Paul and Mia but that felt forced given the disaster of the near-relationship with Laura. Despite Davis's strength Mia ended up being the most conventional character of the season, simply not possessing the tools to balance work and a personal life thanks to mixed messages from her parents and a major case of denial.

This season of In Treatment belonged to Alison Pill and John Mahoney. Pill's flinty April was a sort of inverted version of season one's Sophie (who gets a callback in the final April episode). Where Sophie was anger and raw emotion, April comes to Paul with her defenses already up. Recently diagnosed with cancer, April is convinced that going through chemo and allowing her family to help her would be signs of fatal weakness. Pill's collapse in Paul's office when he won't take her to chemo a second time was the scene of the year, but it's her insistence on subsequently expressing grief at the death of Paul's father and on not being allowed to act like a brat in Paul's office that marked the biggest change in the show this season. Season one's patients seemed concocted to bring Paul to a crisis point as a husband and father, to set up why Paul is divorced and living in Brooklyn this year. Season two's patients are much more combative - arguing with Paul, acting out and then apologizing, or in the case of divorced mother Bess moving away despite the fragile emotional state of unhappy son Oliver (Aaron Grady Shaw). April's insistence on thanking Paul for the work they've done gives her story arc a pleasingly unruly finish, a sense that her life exists outside the office and will maybe even eventually lead back to therapy.

John Mahoney's Walter is a character we really haven't seen on TV before, a successful man at the end of his professional life (a CEO forced out after a scandal) who isn't sure what to do next. Like all of the other patients (except maybe Oliver), Walter's story isn't really resolved but we've seen the most interesting part therapeutically speaking. Mahoney gets to play a range of emotions rarely seen in a single TV season, from curt dismissiveness (we get the feeling he's squeezing Paul in) to utter helplessness. I always thought Mahoney was wasting his time on Frasier (go back and look at his performance in Say Anything), and his work here makes me think about what roles he might have played in the years he was tied down by his TV job.

If In Treatment has aired for the last time then it's stopping at a good place. Paul, who in the last episode ends his own therapy with Gina (Dianne Wiest), has learned a little humility and the limits of what a therapist can do and is free from the legal cloud he was under when the season began. Byrne's performance will live on thanks to DVD and reruns but I can't help wondering if he isn't ready to show a few more colors.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jay Bennett

I didn't go back and watch I Am Trying To Break Your Heart when I learned of the death of former Wilco member Jay Bennett at age 45, but I still remember the scene where Bennett obsesses over some detail of recording the song "Heavy Metal Drummer" and Jeff Tweedy almost palpably suppresses a freakout. It's never clearly spelled out why Bennett was fired from the band; my impression was that Tweedy didn't really want another strong personality in the band and was threatened by the volume of Bennett's ideas. I've no idea whether Bennett's suit against the band for alleged unpaid royalties had merit but it's disturbing to read that lack of health insurance and pending surgery were concerns in Bennett's last days. (The cause of death has yet to be determined) (NYT/Gawker)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation is a fairly entertaining action film as far as it goes but doesn't feel like it has much to do with the James Cameron-directed entries in the series or even the loud third film with the female Terminatress. Special effects be damned, there was something about watching the Connor family and Arnold Schwarzenegger's outmoded model T-whatever fight off the visitors from the future in our relatively analog present. Salvation takes us into the world left over after "Judgment Day," when the Skynet computer system becomes self-aware and wipes out most of humanity. I'll be the first to admit that the nearly obliterated world of Salvation is well conceived and free of obvious digital imposition. During several crisply executed action scenes I never felt like I was watching obvious CGI shots or other post-production gone awry, but I also didn't understand why I needed to see all this since John Connor's future actions to protect his family and younger self are well known from earlier movies.

What has happened to Christian Bale? Bale-bashing has become a popular sport around the 'sphere at least since that fight with his family when The Dark Knight opened, but more importantly (just like in TDK) all the feeling seems to have gone out of Bale's acting. There's a doggedness to the performance that rises to what the functional screenplay calls for but doesn't bring any depth (or, loaded word) humanity to the material. John Connor is a hole at the center of Salvation. Sam Worthington as convict-turned-cyborg Marcus Wright does somewhat better and the surprising heart of the film is Anton Yelchin as time traveler to be Kyle Reese. As for the women let's just say Linda Hamilton (or even Lena Headey) is sorely missed. Sorry Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood, but I hope you each got a nice check and get better scripts next time. There's no reason I can see to bash McG (who does not in fact give himself two "directed by" credits) other than the fact he made something only mildly watchable out of a beloved property. I wanted something a bit more sweet-and-sour from Salvation, a bit more of Michael Ironside's (as a kill 'em all Resistance general) ham and especially some of Arnold's cheese.

Sunday Music: Iron & Wine - "Upward Over The Mountain"

From 2008. If you only know the album version you don't know this song.

Cannes winners

The results are in: (San Jose Mercury News)

Austrian director Michael Haneke's somber drama "The White Ribbon" claimed the top prize Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival, where Quentin Tarantino and Lars von Trier entries earned the acting honors.

It was a big night for Austria, whose triumphs included Christoph Waltz as best actor for Tarantino's World War II epic "Inglourious Basterds." Charlotte Gainsbourg won the best-actress honor for von Trier's "Antichrist," a film that riled and repelled many Cannes viewers with its explicit images of physical abuse involving a grieving couple.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jammed on Jams

Juliana Hatfield on all-star jams, the first Lilith Fair, and a certain band from New Jersey.

In 2006 I took part in a Bruce Springsteen tribute concert at Carnegie Hall. The proceeds were to benefit a children’s music education program. An eclectic bunch of people, including Patti Smith, Pete Yorn, Ronnie Spector, North Mississippi All-Stars, Odetta, Jesse Malin, and me (Jewel was billed but she never showed up), each played one Springsteen song of our choice. Bruce was there, hanging around backstage, mingling, watching the performances. At the end of the night, after the last scheduled act had finished, Springsteen walked from the wings out onto the stage, to the delight and surprise of the audience (Bruce hadn’t been announced as part of the program). After saying a few words of thanks, Springsteen led the house band into his “Rosalita” and motioned for everyone watching from the sidelines – all the musicians and singers who had performed – to come out and join him on the song. With much determined, insistent goading by everyone around me I was convinced to tag along onto the stage after all the other performers. I positioned myself behind a bunch of people, right in front of the drums, in mortal fear that one of my fellow musicians would grab me and push me in front of a microphone at the front of the stage, in full view of the audience, when I didn’t know the words to the song. (I loved Springsteen in theory, but his radio hits were really the only songs of his that I knew well enough to sing. I’d learned and practiced just one of these hits – “Cover Me” – for the concert.) As the singer from the Hold Steady went, basically, nuts, jumping up and down like a giddy kid while singing excitedly into the front mic he was sharing with Springsteen himself, I stood in back, hidden, and I clapped along in time to the song, like an idiot with nothing better to do but clap, grinning in spite of myself (I even laughed out loud a couple of times), because I was on stage with the Boss – the Boss! – and how many people ever will get to do that? I knew how the Hold Steady singer felt; he just had a different, more visibly enthused way of expressing his wonder and amazement at his circumstances in this precious, bizarre, fleeting (who will even remember the Hold Steady in five years? who remembers me?) and kind of wonderful moment than I did.

Life songs

I've neglected to mention the cancellation of NBC's excellent cop show Life, yet another victim to the network's decision to give Jay Leno 5 hours of weekly prime time air next fall. At least I don't seem to be the only one missing the show or its excellent choices in music. (All Songs Considered)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do the Shuffle #34

  • Elvis Costello - Indoor Fireworks
  • Guided By Voices - My Valuable Hunting Knife
  • Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - If I Am A Stranger
  • Keith Jarrett Trio - Five Brothers
  • Bob Dylan - Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts
  • M. Ward - Outro
  • Daniel Lanois - The Maker
  • Keith Jarrett Trio - Summer Night

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.) - 8/42
    Miscellaneous Fact: Today's short playlist brought to you by Mr. Jarrett and Mr. Dylan
  • Angels & Demons

    My late review of this movie should tell you something about my level of interest in it. Angels & Demons is marginally better as movie than The Da Vinci Code; there are fewer scenes of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) poring over old documents and explaining history. The plot is just as much of a mashup of anti-Catholic hysteria and historical speculation; this time around it involves the Church's relationship with the Illuminati, a secret society depicted as superrationalists fighting Rome's outsized spiritualism. Everyone from Ron Howard and Hanks on down looks bored with only the professionalism of Stellan Skarsgard (inscrutable Vatican cop) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (inscrutable Cardinal) preventing me from drifting off. Dan Brown's desire to let no Catholic go untainted is exposed in the last half-hour; the movie has about four endings which aren't worth the time it takes to describe them. Look for the scene where Ewan McGregor's parachute shows up- that's when things are about to get crazy.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    Sticking up for Blueberry

    Videogum nominates My Blueberry Nights for the worst movie of all time, which of course it isn't. I'll give you that Norah Jones might not have been the best choice for leading lady but if someone gave you a choice between seeing "Wong Kar-Wai's valentine to America" or a Martin Scorsese-directed movie about the Dalai Lama you'd think twice wouldn't you? Any director willing to go outside his comfort zone will always get a hearing here. My take on Blueberry.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Read it now, avoid the lines

    Have you ever had that feeling of knowing maybe you should see a film but not wanting to because of how you'd feel afterward? Roger Ebert to the rescue with a post that describes key events in Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, the film that's got Cannes all abuzz.

    The Book I Read: The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips

    I've tried to get a post going on Arthur Phillips' The Song Is You a couple of times and I think that what has gotten me stuck is the novel's willful inconsequence, its fixation on what I'll call "Lonely New York Moments." The first time I went to New York on my own a few years ago I had the probably not uncommon feeling that if I lived there it would be possible to feel very crowded and also very lonely at the same time. That's sort of the position that Phillips' protagonist Julian finds himself in. Julian is a successful director of commercials who seems to have no ambition to go further (not even into music videos). Divorced from Rachel, Julian would have no trouble picking up women if only he had the desire.

    Things change when Julian sees the singer Cait O'Dwyer and her band on a chance solo visit to a bar (Lonely New York Moment #1). Cait is younger (late 20s to Julian's mid 40s), a commanding stage presence, and the instant object of desire for band mates and audience members alike. The rest of The Song Is You is the chronicle of how Julian uses modern technology to almost but not quite have an affair with Cait and of the reasons why he doesn't. (I'm leaving out a key past event which Phillips underplays but uses to explain Julian's behavior) Along the way there's iPod listening on the subway, hanging out along in dog parks, and messing about in the stairwells of apartment buildings.(LNYM's #2-4) As much as I wanted to like The Song Is You (being a fan of Phillips' Prague and Angelica) the overall effect is like hearing a late night anecdote from a friend with a "...and then I did what I should have done all along" ending. Cait's guitarist, Rachel, and Julian's brother (whose subplot deserves its own short story) all get a turn on center stage, padding out what's really quite a short book about loneliness and music's ability to sometimes alleviate it. I still look forward to Phillips' next book and I think there's a good novel to be written about the rock clubs and music blogs of Lower Manhattan. The Song Is You suffers from being too mature for its own good.

    A Brighter Summer Day

    My favorite film of all time is Yi Yi, directed by the late Edward Yang. Yang's other work is more than a little hard to come by; it's with great pleasure that I link to this post about an earlier (and even longer) Yang film A Brighter Summer Day. Thanks to Martin Scorsese and the folks at Cannes I might have a chance to see a critical work from a director I'm still getting to know. (Moving Image Source)

    We only discover at the end that the film is a bolero, rising silently to a chilling moment of climactic violence, but its affect is decidedly unmelodramatic. The film’s length is a vital factor, and requires one to paradigm-shift into a distinct film-watching mode. Genuine length—utilized as time undergone, as film-watching in a perpetual state of re-self-definition, as personal investment, as movie-life in the grip of duration, exhaustion, and accretion—is a tool largely misused and misunderstood by Americans, who demand that any random five-minute chunk of a film be as exciting and distractive as the film is as a whole.

    Sunday, May 17, 2009

    Portman puts pin in Penn story

    No surprise, but NP has officially denied the much rumored relationship with Mr. Penn. (HuffPo)

    Sunday Music: Kristin Hersh - "Listerine"

    My favorite alt-rock lady doing a track from one of her solo CD's. Read about her future plans at the same place I found this video. (BrooklynVegan)

    TV Catch-Up

    I'll admit I only watched one episode of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, the current cause celebre of TV bloggers and scifi aficionados. If you're also ignorant of Whedon's latest creation (and future source of massive DVD revenues for a large corporation) I'll refer you to this post by Todd, which makes a good argument for bringing Ms. Dushku and Co. back based on the show that Dollhouse might become. (HND)

    It behooves us to remember, of course, that the show isn’t perfect. For all of Whedon’s faith in series lead Eliza Dushku (who plays the doll Echo), the actress has only been up to what she’s been asked to do sporadically. Whedon has never had as strong an eye for casting as his closest TV look-alike, J.J. Abrams. For every Nathan Fillion in Firefly, there’s a Marc Blucas in Buffy – someone slightly out of their depth who has a look that fits the character more than the soul of that character. Whedon’s exceptionally good at figuring out how to write to these various actors’ strengths, though, and he’s very good at directing his stars when he gets the chance (witness how the occasionally moribund Sarah Michelle Gellar lights up the screen like a genuine movie star whenever Whedon directs an episode of Buffy).

    Saturday, May 16, 2009

    What have I been doing?

    This is the longest I've gone without blogging in a while, and since I think I only alluded to it earlier I'll let you in on the fact that the reason is that I've just finished directing my first play. The Mystery At Twicknam Vicarage by David Ives ran this weekend at the Greenville Little Theatre here in Greenville, SC and if I do say so myself it was well received. I'm still mulling over the differences between acting and directing, but for now I'll just say that I definitely want to direct again. Blogging will

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    Star Trek

    When word of mouth on a film is as strong as it was on JJ Abrams's Star Trek it's often a setup for disappointment, but I'm happy to report that this Trek lives up to the hype. Abrams had no investment in the franchise so there was ample opportunity for screwing up a property in need of a new direction, yet the film keeps to the spirit of Gene Roddenberry's creation and to the established behaviors (with some provocative new additions) of even the minor characters.

    Chris Pine has more than the required amount of swagger and wit for Kirk, and the backstory of him joining Starfleet to avoid a life of boozing and bar fights feels right. Pine is an able choice to carry Trek into the future, but this Star Trek is Spock's show. Perhaps the most important but subtlest reimagining of the Trek universe is the reconception of the Vulcan psyche. It's long established that Spock is half-human but the TV show and older films stopped there. In the JJ Abrams Trekverse we're told early on that Vulcans do have emotions; they're just really, really good at controlling them. The young Spock must choose between a career in Starfleet and a post at the Vulcan Science Academy while dodging taunts about his half-human heritage. Fed up with being treated like an African-American who has just passed a "literacy test" in 1960's Mississippi, Spock leaves his human mother (Winona Ryder) behind and enlists. Zachary Quinto's Spock is full of resentment and and a contempt for Kirk's bravado that would have dismayed fans of the older films. Even though Kirk and Spock are necessarily thrown together by film's end their differences aren't settled (since Kirk seems to have stepped over Spock on the Starfleet food chain) and there's room to test the relationship in future films. It was awfully good to see Leonard Nimoy again, and he even gets a bit more range than the earlier films allowed him. By the time Nimoy's Spock is thrown together with the younger Kirk Spock has learned that the connections one makes with others are all that really matters. He's also understandably glad to see a friend who in his timeline would have died decades before. While Nimoy's Spock is still unmistakably Vulcan, his human side has gained some purchase by the time we encounter him here.

    What else to say about this rarest of treats, a satisfying summer blockbuster? Zoe Saldana's Uhura is a perfect creation for a 21st century Trek: she knows what she wants from her career but allows herself ample time for a surprising (and welcome) workplace relationship. I've read some complaints about Eric Bana as the villain and it's true that the character doesn't develop much after he's introduced, but this is genre science fiction after all. Bana's tattooed Nero is a nice change from seeing Christopher Plummer under pounds of Klingon makeup. One final thought on casting: The late Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird, played an Admiral in two of the '80s Trek films. Tyler Perry, you're no Brock Peters.

    Star Trek c. 2009 presents a Federation that's an active force for good in a complex world. I'd say Kirk, Spock, and the rest are needed now just as much as ever.

    Dept. of Films I Want To See

    Atom Egoyan talks of his new film Adoration and asserting his Armenian identity. (Greencine)

    Q: You have certainly talked about it more since making Ararat. There are allusions in Next of Kin, but your "Armenian identity" did not really come about until Ararat. You made it your international identity as a filmmaker.

    A: Yeah. That's something I was not expecting to do, but I realized on the scale of that film and the response to it, it warranted I take a clear position. Interestingly enough, Arsinée had to take a more ambiguous position than what she's normally used to as well.

    What are film bloggers talking about?

  • An NPR review of the documentary Outrage about closeted politicians with anti-gay voting positions was edited to remove names of politicians mentioned in the film, specifically ex-Sen. Larry Craig and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. The critic, Nathan Lee, has since had his byline removed from the piece and submitted a comment (which was also removed) on the NPR site. I'm no fan of outing, but (from the available information) the thrust of the documentary seems to be the hypocrisy of elected officials saying one thing and doing another. Isn't there already widely reported anecdotal evidence about these men, especially Larry Craig? From a purely journalistic standpoint the decision is inane, since a critic can't review a movie if he can't talk about its subject. Lee was right to remove his name from the review. (Indiewire)

  • Is it a problem that the young hero of Pixar's Up is overweight? One blogger thinks so. I'm inclined to agree, though I'll hold off until after I see the movie. (Hollywood Elsewhere)
  • Do the Shuffle #33

  • Vetiver - Down From Above
  • Mazzy Star - Be My Angel
  • Nada Surf - Here Goes Something
  • Mark Olson/Gary Louris - Chamberlain, SD
  • Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band - Bloodline
  • Bob Dylan - Moonlight
  • R.E.M. - Laughing
  • Tift Merritt - Virginia, No One Can Warn You
  • Pavement - Embassy Row
  • Alejandro Escovedo - Last To Know
  • Bob Dylan - 4th Time Around

    Songs/Minutes: 11/39
    Miscellaneous Fact: I actually thought the song from the new Conor Oberst CD (which is sung by one of his bandmates) was another Vetiver track.
  • Monday, May 11, 2009


    The man himself talks creativity and his new film The Limits of Control. (Film Comment)

    But anyway, that stuff was floating around in me, so it’s my normal process to have these things and then start drawing details and eventually a plot. But this one I kept very minimal because I wanted it to expand while we were shooting. I wrote the story in Italy over a period of a week or so, and I wrote a 25-page story, and there wasn’t really dialogue in it at all. So I used that and I took that to Focus and said, I want to make a film based on this story, I’m going to expand it as I go; I wanna cast these people. And they were like, Wow, yeah, great… I felt they’d say, Go write a script and come back, but instead they said, No, if that’s how you wanna do it, we’re interested in that. So they financed the film.

    Shock Talk

    The upside of nasty blog comments? (Wash. Post)

    The subjects that have generated the most vitriol during my tenure in this role are race and immigration. The racist comments showed up regularly during the presidential campaign and have continued at a slower pace since Barack Obama's election. Racist remarks often accompany stories about crime and violence. The untimely death of the Washington Redskins' Sean Taylor would be the most appalling example. Where does this hate come from? Do we need to know it's here?

    Yes, we do. But I am heartened by the fact that such comments do not go unchallenged by readers. In fact, comment strings are often self-correcting and provide informative exchanges. If somebody says something ridiculous, somebody else will challenge it. And there is wit. My favorite one-liner came in the coverage following the botched swearing-in of President Obama by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. A reader self-identified as "HumbleGovWorker" observed that "This is not one for the Harvard Law Alumni Newsletter." Both Obama and Roberts are Harvard Law grads.

    NP is "Funny"

    NP is interviewed by Zach Galifianakis for Funny or Die's "Between Two Ferns." It's all a big joke but doesn't have that loony, offhand quality of the site's best stuff, and we know NP can be funnier than this.....

    Monday Music: Bon Iver & My Brightest Diamond - "Flume"

    From the "Dark Was The Night" concert at Radio City Music Hall.

    Saturday, May 09, 2009

    Tilda's Baker's Dozen

    13 Things You Want To Know About Tilda Swinton. (Indiewire)

    11. According to her, she doesn’t know one thing about acting.

    “There’s this endless disclaimer that I always feel I honestly have to give about not being an actor,” she said in all seriousness. “Because it really does feel most honest. I always feel that real actors are going to stand up and say ‘you’re a fraud! Confess it!’ And I want to be the first to say that I never pretended to be anything else. I always pretended to be a film fan first, and an artist’s model second. I’m in front of a camera, because I’m curious, and that’s about it. I don’t know one thing about acting.”

    Past Blasts

    Betty Aberlin of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fame (and two Kevin Smith movies?) on Fred Rogers, Barack Obama, and those puppets. (Billevesees)

    It just felt totally like serendipity. I didn’t begin to know, again, the implications of it. I just knew that the work was really worthy, and that as a musician, as a lyricist, as a child-development-audience-focused, kindly, secretly ministerial, not-so macho guy, [Fred Rogers] was modeling the possibility of kindliness.

    [At first,] I thought that was just complete poppycock — “Come on, what is this ‘Neighborhood’? Say hello to the postman, and ‘Hi, Mr. So-and-So, how are you doing?’” I just thought, “Right. That’s a Good Housekeeping kind of thing, come on.” Because I came from New York, where if somebody says, “How are you doing,” you think, “What do they mean by that?” And then years later, I realized I was the one with the skewed reality. That I had been inculcated with a sense of mistrust and danger, because that’s what the city was, when I navigated it all by myself.

    Do the Shuffle #32

  • Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians - Lady Waters & the Hooded One
  • Ryan Adams - Starting to Hurt
  • Mark Olson - Salvation Blues
  • Alejandro Escovedo (w/ Bruce Springsteen) - Always A Friend (live)
  • Van Morrison - Astral Weeks/I Believe I've Transcended (live)
  • R.E.M. - Leaving New York
  • Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians - Ted, Woody, and Junior

    Total Songs/Minutes: 7/36
    Miscellaneous Fact: Running v. Walking + 10 minutes of Van = short playlist
  • Friday, May 08, 2009

    "It's the place where poetry comes to die..."

    Good music links today. Meet St. Vincent, whose new album is partially inspired by Terrence Malick's Badlands. (NYT)

    Ms. Clark released her debut, “Marry Me,” in 2007, to critical acclaim. Writing in The New York Times, Kelefa Sanneh called it “an extravagant collection of songs that show off everything at once.” It has sold about 30,000 copies. With the voice and bearing of a retro chanteuse and indie cred, she could have easily coasted on soft and palatable; instead “Actor” relies on more of the driving guitars and complex orchestration that have made her stand out.

    “She doesn’t fall into one category, i.e., a singer-songwriter for example, so she’s not pigeonholed,” said Miwa Okumura, a senior product manager for Beggars/4AD. Ms. Okumura compared her to a diverse range of acts, from the folky Bon Iver to the indie rockers the National to the multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird. “She rocks out,” she said.

    Watt Spiel

    Bassist Mike Watt, famously of The Minutemen and now an Iggy Pop sideman (among other things), has stayed true to himself. (Brooklyn Vegan)

    You know, a lot of things was a reaction to arena rock. Like the idea of meeting people who played in music-this idea of expression would be a personal side to them-was like wow. Before, music was like building models, you know. But it was a whole different trip to us. To us it made no problem about learning Pop Group and Wire and Germs, and it was no fucking stretch for us. I know looking at it from the outside world, it's like this is insane. And then learning about John Coltrane--because we hadn't heard any of it growing up. When [artist and resident poster-designer for the SST scene Raymond] Pettibon played me Coltrane, I thought he was doing punk too. I just thought he was a little bit older. I didn't know he was dead.

    Dark Was The Night in concert

    From his blog, David Byrne on the recent all-star Dark Was The Night concert and why it didn't contain any "factory-made" product.

    There’s a lot going on musically right now. It’s an exciting time. Other than Sharon Jones’ soul music and some of the other artists’ folk leanings, the overall tendency amongst this group seems to be a kind of potpourri of art rock. I mean that in a good way — it’s art in that pop music is taken, assumed even, to be a serious and open form; a genre that admits a wide variety of approaches and instruments; and a musical form that is equal in depth and emotion to anything else out there. That’s a really different approach than what might be called traditional rock or pop, which can be extremely dogmatic — not to mention disposable — with prescribed instrumentation, tempos and subjects. There’s a sense of seriousness about this crop of artists — serious play, but still serious.

    Thursday, May 07, 2009

    Grab Bag

  • A Scarlett Johansson-directed short film has been cut from an upcoming anthology, but that might not be such a bad thing. (Guardian)

    Johansson is well out of it, I reckon. If, as seems possible, she was encouraged down a self-indulgent path by her recent association with Woody Allen (himself the contributor to the 1989 portmanteau film New York Stories) then inscrutable fate could be exercising a little tough love by evicting Johansson from the most unappetising movie smorgasbord. But it could also be that her short film would have been far superior to everything – who knows?

  • Did you remember Wes Anderson was making an animated film? (Film Experience)

    He also informs me that despite early reports and the information on the IMDB page, Cate Blanchett's voice is nowhere to be heard. It's Meryl Streep supplying the pipes for "Mrs. Fox". George Clooney, as you already know, voices the title character. My friend thought the voicework was excellent -- none of the dip in quality you sometimes get when filmmakers feel the need to have all celebrity voices [*cough* every studio but Pixar]. Sadly, Anjelica Huston has but a voice cameo (the other bit voice players are Brian Cox and Owen Wilson). Come on, Wes ... she's earned a front and center role by now. Next time, maybe?
  • Wednesday, May 06, 2009

    Dept. of Leaving The Herd

    Believe it or not, some people do not like The Wire. (Kottke)

    Perhaps it is in the office where the show falters the most, sometimes having camera shots zoom in on a person for three seconds at a time while they are thinking about nothing. Then there is the whole thing with the detective using a typewriter. Okay, did I miss something? Is this 2008 or 1978 people?? High Profile crime unit using typewriters, sure I buy it and a bag of that counterfeit money they had in the first episode.

    Tuesday, May 05, 2009

    The Soloist

    The Soloist doesn't hit the dying newspaper angle as hard as State of Play but instead ends up being about something I don't think I've ever seen dramatized on film before: the amorphous but unbridgeable gap between reporter and subject. LA Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) is the kind of newspaperman most cities can't afford anymore; in the film's version of the newsroom he seems to operate entirely as a free agent with only minimal supervision from his ex-wife/editor (Catherine Keener). Lopez is just looking for a story when he encounters Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless man playing violin under a statue of Beethoven in a city park. With a little investigation Lopez discovers Nathaniel was a cello prodigy who dropped out of Julliard after developing schizophrenia.

    Although his initial interest in Nathaniel is purely journalistic Lopez becomes more than just an impartial observer once he's delivered a new cello (from a Times reader) and helped Nathaniel get situated in the LA homeless community. It's here that the movie becomes more involving and less cliched, since director Joe Wright films the Skid Row neighborhood where Nathaniel hangs out with nightmarish particularity. Wright comes perilously close to fetishizing the homeless on a couple of occasions, but the performance of Nelsan Ellis as a seen-it-all counselor helps ground these scenes in some kind of reality. Lopez's idealistic fantasies of medicating Nathaniel and restarting his musical career are barely taken seriously; Susannah Grant's screenplay (which features more than a few clunkers about the beauty of Nathaniel's playing) is clear headed about the possibility of socializing a man with mental illness as severe as Ayers. Jamie Foxx gives a performance as singular and locked-in as one of Nathaniel's runs through a Beethoven concerto. (The flashbacks "explaining" Nathaniel's illness add little to the story) Foxx's mannerisms are carefully worked out but he never lets his guard down and truly engages his costars; the choice feels right and means the movie doesn't wander into heartstring-tugging sentimentality. Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Predjudice) is still more comfortable with the rhythms of the English country house than with 21st century America, but his outsider's touch and cool sensibility were just what this story needed.

    Monday, May 04, 2009

    Kermit gets the VIF tour

    Wishing I could see the exhibition of Jim Henson's work that inspired this thought: (CulturePulp)

    It now takes teams of computer jockeys using reams of processing power to conjure the same suspension of disbelief that Henson could create with a hand shoved up a sock, and Henson's comic timing was sharper. Two decades on, I find myself wondering how much "movie magic" has really progressed, frankly, because in 1979's "The Muppet Movie," Kermit and Fozzie were really behind the wheel of that Studebaker, and today they'd try to do the whole thing with green-screens and everything would look too shiny and you wouldn't feel a thing.

    Sunday, May 03, 2009

    Sunday Music: Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals - "Put It On Me"

    My friend Margaret just saw him in concert and I've always loved this song. I wonder if the sedentary studio audience bothers the musicians?

    Friday, May 01, 2009


    ....and away we go. The summer blockbuster season begins in earnest today with this X-Men "origin story" which in all honesty doesn't so much reboot the franchise as put it on a lazy susan. It's too expensive to assemble a cast of big names for more X-Men adventures, so (if audiences are amenable) Wolverine is the first of a purported series of films exploring the pasts of various mutants (Magneto? Deadpool?) and the assimilation of younger X-kids at the school run by Professor Xavier (a "First Class" film is planned with a young cast). Hugh Jackman (who also produces) returns as Wolverine, the sharp-clawed soldier with a libertarian streak who anchored the previous three films.

    Wolverine answers all the questions raised by the original trilogy and familiar to comic fans. Who is Wolverine, aka Logan, and how did he get this way? The film's prologue is a quicker version of the Watchmen opening credits, as Logan and his brother Victor (Liev Schreiber) fight their way through a century and a half of American wars. Their mutant powers (Logan's expanding skeleton and Victor's, well, toothiness) make the brothers indestructible and easy pickings for Col. Stryker (Danny Huston), who recruits the two for a "special team" of mutants formed to covertly fight America's enemies. Or so Stryker would have us believe. The real purpose of the team (which also includes Ryan Reynolds as "Wade Wilson" and as "John Wraith") will be well known to X-Men scholars and will eventually lead to Logan's injection with "adamantium," the element which makes him self-healing, and to the wiping of his memories by Stryker.

    Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) seems an odd choice for this material but handles it well enough, though he's clearly more interested in Logan's civilian life with Kayla (Lynn Collins) in the Canadian mountains before he's pulled back into Stryker's mutant-on-mutant fray. Unlike the two Bryan Singer-directed X-Men movies, Wolverine only engages the question of how the mutants blend with human society in the most superficial way. Schreiber's Victor (soon to be Sabretooth) makes a more interesting antihero than Ian McKellen's Magneto, but the character is turned into a stooge for far too much of the plot, and too much of the story takes place in a sort of summer-movie limbo of "secret labs" and blasted out landscapes. The use of other X-Men characters feels like a marketing move to set up sequels, though I wouldn't bet the farm on an overmatched Taylor Kitsch as Gambit. (Ryan Reynolds, you were pretty good in Adventureland but I now want to punch you again)

    Wolverine delivers the goods in the sense that Jackman is in good form and the movie seems to touch all the required plot points, but the fourth go-round for this character winds up being more of a nod to the fanboys than anything else (If I didn't know anything about the X-Men, Wolverine would be incomprehensible). I'd like to see the sensibility of the earier films brougt back in future installments; and we all know they're coming, don't we?