Tuesday, June 30, 2009


If you were in college in the early '90s and a man, then proclaiming yourself a Tori Amos fan was a sign that you at least had aspirations to sensitivity in a "Sure, I'll volunteer at the crisis hotline" kind of way. It sounds like Amos has lightened up: (Spin)

Q: So, in reference to your new album's title, are you abnormally attracted to anything other than sin?
A: Good wine. But not in the morning.

Q: That doesn't sound so abnormal.
A: No. But there's this thing I have with the crew. You know how it's in the contracts with certain artists who have just been through AA -- I'm not mentioning names -- that the crew and musicians have to [abstain from drinking] while on tour? Mine is sort of the opposite.

Q: You actually require people to drink?
A: Well, not exactly. But on my tour bus, it's not good if you're an AA person. I carry a wine cellar on the road, and I just don't think it's good if somebody can't be around a super Tuscan. I am the worst influence. If you can't handle your vices, then I am the Devil.

Away We Go

In an earlier post I mentioned that my desire to see the new Sam Mendes film Away We Go - sparked by the involvement of Dave Eggers, a strong cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal and Allison Janney, and mentions of Hal Ashby as one of the movie's inspirations - would no doubt lead to disappointment once I actually got around to watching it since movies almost never turn out the way they should on paper or the way that trailers make them look. So it is with great pleasure that I report that Away We Go almost entirely fulfills my expectations; it's probably too much to hope for that it will spark a return to freewheeling '70s style cinema.

The predominant critical reaction to Away We Go has been a kind of reverse snobbery, a disdain of the film for being almost too hip and pleased with itself. A.O. Scott of the Times ended his take with the sentence "This movie does not like you," a sentiment both puzzling for its assignment of motives to the results of a collaborative art form and for its almost complete misapprehension of the film's concerns. Away We Go, from a script by Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, is a movie of extremes. The first half broadly satirizes liberal humanism, as Bert (John Krasinski) and his pregnant girlfriend Verona (Maya Rudolph, whose performance makes virtue interesting) travel around the country in search of the best place to raise their soon-to-be-born daughter. Bert's Native American-obsessed parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) have thrown the couple's plans into confusion with the announcement of an impending movie to Belgium; Bert and Verona resolve to look for a new place to raise their child.

Away We Go begins with broad comedy and gradually narrows its focus to more specific and harrowing concerns. The first stop is Phoenix, where a former colleague (Allison Janney) of Verona's drinks constantly and blurts out inappropriate information in her children's hearing while her husband (Jim Gaffigan) can barely conceal his unhappiness. Next is Madison; Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton are liberal academics so indignantly self-righteous that Hamilton's dad puts "making a living" on a list of things his son will never have to do. Bert and Verona are rightly horrified by both Janney's and Gyllenhaal's characters; yet Scott would have us believe there's something smug and ugly about being upset at the idea of not teaching one's child the value of work. Attitudes towards work are constantly at issue in Away We Go; Bert has an incomprehensible insurance job that requires to put on a fake-cheery phone voice. When the couple visit Bert's parents early in the film Bert's father can be heard doing the same routine on the phone in the next room, so Bert comes by it honestly. The real Bert isn't secretly writing a novel or harboring dreams of an organic food empire (from the snide tone of several reviews I expected Bert and Verona to constantly be nattering on about blogs or Tibet). The "real" Bert carries a kind of unfocused, generalized irony through the first half of the film. This includes the scene in which Bert tells Verona he wants their child to have a "Huck Finn-y" childhood; A.O. Scott uses this moment as evidence of Bert's contempt for American society, but the line is clearly meant as a joke.

It's when When Bert and Verona reach Montreal that Away We Go shows its hand. The school friends (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) who take Bert and Verona out for a night on the town are raising a multicultural brood of happy adopted children. At a "karaoke dance" club Messina's Tom tells Bert of his wife's multiple miscarriages and his frustration at not knowing what to do for her in a monologue occurring while Lynskey performs a mock pole dance to the Velvet Underground's "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'." If these two are the "cretins and idiots" Scott describes I must have dozed off for a moment and missed the scene where Tom yells at his children. The dry detachment with which Bert and Verona view the outsized encounters of Away We Go's first half falls away after the Montreal episode. Both fear that the next phase of their life will drive them apart and ultimately damage their child. Given the fact that neither has any support system to speak of (Verona's parents are dead), that's not an unreasonable fear. I won't spoil the ending, but with regard to the "hermetic paradise" (Scott's phrase) Bert and Verona find: They do not decide to live in a biosphere. They will live, work, and parent in a place that affords them peace and safety; there's no indication they plan to or want to stop interacting with other humans. (Aren't they statistically a good bet to change careers 1-2 more times?) I don't think it's possible for a movie to "not like you," but the more troubling question is why does the New York Times have a movie critic who doesn't like characters?

Quick reaction to Wilco (the album)

The first few songs don't flow together that well; "Bull Black Nova" is (as EW pointed out) the only real showcase for Nels Cline on guitar though Cline does add wonderful curlicues on a number of tracks. There are far more keyboards and acoustic guitars than I expected and after an agreeable middle section which includes Feist's contributions on "You And I" the album hits high gear with "I'll Fight," the most pointedly political song Wilco has ever recorded outside the Mermaid Avenue discs.

For you to live, I took your place/A deal was made and I was paid/And in gold as I was told/With a place where my body could be laid

I didn't like Sky Blue Sky at first but it grew on me; I can see why a songwriter would put "Hate It Here," "What Light," and "You Are My Face" on the same album. It's possible that I'll feel the same way about W(TA) in time but for now it feels a bit all over the map and much more song oriented than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. (By "song oriented" I mean focused on verse-chorus-verse as opposed to studio gadgets) Wilco (the album) is the sound of a top flight band putting in a day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How SY does it

Music first, then vocals. (New Yorker)

Gordon does the screaming on “The Eternal” while the boys do the nice singing. Several songs feature one or more of them singing in unison, an arrangement trick that Sonic Youth has so far largely avoided. Moore told me that the band was purposefully exploring more conventional vocal techniques, such as “getting Lee to harmonize with my non-singing.” Nonetheless, as has always been the group’s way, the vocals come only after the music for each piece is recorded. At that point, Moore, Gordon, and Ranaldo divvy up the songs, and each tries singing on a different one, sometimes trading after a week or so if someone is stuck, sometimes adding a track on top of someone else’s. The fact that the music is finished first is a point of pride, and is perhaps the best testament to the band’s career-long loyalty to the possibilities of sound. “For us, songs get born out of a guitar’s tonality as much as they get born out of chords and structures,” Ranaldo says. “We’re creating pieces of music as pieces of music. That’s all we’re thinking about. ‘Does this piece of music sound good?’ ”

More than meets the eye?

A review of Transformers that, while not making me want to see the film, gives me hope for the future of online film criticism. (io9)

Critical consensus on Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is overwhelmingly negative. But the critics are wrong. Michael Bay used a squillion dollars and a hundred supercomputers' worth of CG for a brilliant art movie about the illusory nature of plot.

Oh, and I would warn you that there'll be spoilers in this review — except that, really, since I still have no idea what actually happened in this movie, I'm not sure how much I can spoil it.

Since the days of Un Chien Andalou and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, filmmakers have reached beyond meaning. But with this summer's biggest, loudest movie, Michael Bay takes us all the way inside Caligari's cabinet. And once you enter, you can never emerge again. I saw this movie two days ago, and I'm still living inside it. Things are exploding wherever I look, household appliances are trying to kill me, and bizarre racial stereotypes are shouting at me.

This One Goes To 10

By increasing the number of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 the Academy of Motion Picture blah blah has virtually guaranteed the inclusion of some universally beloved hit like The Dark Knight or (this year's most likely so far) Up. Given the Academy's love affair with Pixar it seems reasonable to assume that the studio will have a slot among the 10 for the foreseeable future; what does this do to the Animated Film Oscar? More importantly, to change seems likely to only further confuse the mass audience the Academy is desperately trying to woo. The Dark Knight was an exception; yes, Transformers will make a hell of a lot of money but there's zero chance it will seize the culture in the way the Heath Ledger-driven Batman reboot did last year. (The most likely blockbuster to snag a nomination would at first pass be James Cameron's Avatar) The most likely scenario is an animated film (probably Pixar), a couple of "Oscar-bait" dramas a la The Changeling, maybe a superior genre work (fingers crossed, Michael Mann!), the odd foreign language choice, and at best a couple of popular hits. The result? Audiences with the same amount of free time will be even more frustrated because they can't see all the movies due to time or lack of access. Oh, and remember that the voters haven't changed - will their taste get any more interesting because there are twice as many nominees to choose from?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blog News

Yesterday my apartment was broken into and my computer stolen, so posting on this blog may be somewhat irregular for a time. It's just a possession of course, but no one is more bothered than me by the thought of not being able to continue the conversation that has started here. Thanks for your patience.

In other news, I'm going on vacation in August and am lining up 2 or 3 friends to blog here for a week. I'm excited about the possibilities. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kindle This

Why Teenagers Read Better Than You (Tomorrow Museum)

I think there is another reason why young adult novels are doing well, and it is less easy gauge. As of yet, there are no real studies determining this, but anecdotally, we all relate to it. A book is an opportunity to get “off the grid.” We read to break free of their digital tether. To experience what life was like before the net. To disconnect. To finally feel alone.

A book holds your hand in solitude and says, here you are alone in your room and everything is alright. You don’t need to call a friend or Twitter something. The world is still turning. If you go for a forty minute walk without your mobile, don’t worry, you’re not going to miss anything.

Sunday Music: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - "Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood"

From 2006; what happened to these guys?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Grizzly gripes

A Grizzly Bear collaborator has responded to the negative NY Times review of the band I linked to here. To each their own, but I think Muhly goes too far with:

Now, I have major objections to the word “precious.” It tends to be borderline homophobic in its coded usage, first of all, but second of all, it’s a derogatory adjective with no alternative. It’s reviewspeak. What I mean is: if you say, “that’s ugly” somebody else can say, “no, it’s beautiful.” If you say, “it’s over-stuffed” somebody can say, “really, I thought it was pretty thin.” So the problem with a word like precious is that the scale of adjectives with “precious” on it belongs solely to the reviewer and is just a way of being mean. Case in point: this whole nonsense about Sufjan Stevens’s’s BQE Thing. Words like fey, twee, and precious have become these little nuggets of coded disdain, but they are really just useless self-congratulatory gestures on the part of the reviewer. What is the opposite of twee? Muscular? It all reminds me of the insane misogynist critiques of Jane Austen’s novels.

Calling a reviewer a homophobe as a rebuttal doesn't really cut it and there's a strange aversion to critical language here that I don't quite get. Muhly's music is a good deal more precious than his vocabulary.

Music to get jump started to.....

Suzanne Vega's creative playlist...(Paper Cuts)

3) The Fact Remains, Juliana Hatfield. Listen to her voice! Isn’t it cool? She has published an autobiography, “When I Grow Up.” She says Proust is “boring” but goes into detail about the gross hotels she has stayed in and the grungy venues she has played. At one point she mentions “Nausea” by Jean Paul Sartre. I think she’s an existentialist! Run to the philosophy section of your library. While pondering the idea of yet another black turtleneck, thumb through Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiographies, from “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter” to “All Said and Done.” Feel dizzy just thinking the amount of work she was able to accomplish in her lifetime.

St. Vincent - "Actor Out Of Work"

An acoustic performance from the one-woman band whose album is growing on me....

St. Vincent "Actor Out Of Work" from Lake Fever Sessions on Vimeo.

Are you "elite" enough?

Why The Economist succeeds where other newsweeklies fail; the high cover price seems to be a factor. (Atlantic)

Unlike its rivals, The Economist has been unaffected by the explosion of digital media; if anything, the digital revolution has cemented its relevance. The Economist has become an arbiter of right-thinking opinion (free-market right-center, if you want to be technical about it; with a dose of left-center social progressivism) at a time when arbiters in general are in ill favor. It is a general-interest magazine for an ever-increasing audience, the self-styled global elite, at a time when general-interest anything is having a hard time interesting anybody. And it sells more than 75,000 copies a week on U.S. newsstands for $6.99 (!) at a time when we’re told information wants to be free and newsstands are disappearing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bitte Orca

The tweaks are slight, making them even more effective. The singing is a little less controlled, the time swings are a little less stark, the vocals are a little more prominent. The group finds beauty in slight inversions rather than drastic shifts. With Bitte Orca, the Dirty Projectors have achieved the (near) impossible – rather than bending their style to conform to popular music, they have bent the very definition of popular music and forced it to include them.

It really is that good....(PMA)

Belay that <3

A thoughtful post on the "limits of Twitter" at a time when the site is a key source of information out of Iran. We can't forget that despite the Internet's democratizing influence it's still subject to the interference of governments and public policy. (Obsidian Wings)

But understand... the tweets could be stopped (more on that below). In fact, I worry that Twitter's success in Iran will create a false confidence that the Internet can't be stopped, and that people's digital voices can't be silenced. They can -- and we should understand that keeping an open global Internet requires aggressive effort and activism.

Sonic Youth - "Sacred Trickster"

I'm trying to imagine the VH1 hosts introducing this on the Top 20. If you haven't picked up The Eternal, do so now.

Portman + Aronofsky ?

Potentially exciting news; NP is connected to a Darren Aronofsky-directed project called Swan, which would certainly be a departure for her in terms of genre and subject matter. Shooting this year? (Though given Aronofsky's habit of punishing his characters, maybe I should worry...) (THR)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bridges to cross

A review of Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love, which it seems won't help us understand Africa or the Muslim world any better. (Slant)

Thus, if Vasarhelyi fails to sufficiently demystify N'Dour's heritage with her honest portrait, it's a failure for which we must accept part of the blame—at least until the patronizing denouement, where the controversial Egypt record wins a Grammy and all is instantaneously forgiven across Senegal. As much as America enjoys masturbatory daydreams wherein it plays global dues ex machina, I Bring What I Love—as with Obama's uneasy quotes from the other Abrahamic holy book—suggests that the few bridges existing between the secular West and the Muslim East grow flimsier and more precarious to traverse by the day. And all the symbolic gestures of distant appreciation—the Grammies and Paul Simon benefits—we have to offer Africa, let alone Palestine, are unlikely to inch us any nearer to meaningful dialogue.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Twitter seems to be helping the opposition forces in Iran organize their efforts. (Daily Dish)

This generation will determine if the world can avoid the apocalypse that will come if the fear-ridden establishments continue to dominate global politics, motivated by terror, armed with nukes, and playing old but now far too dangerous games. This generation will not bypass existing institutions and methods: look at the record turnout in Iran and the massive mobilization of the young and minority vote in the US. But they will use technology to displace old modes and orders. Maybe this revolt will be crushed. But even if it is, the genie has escaped this Islamist bottle.

Sunday Music: Townes Van Zandt - "Tecumseh Valley"

Listening to Steve Earle's album Townes gave me the idea to go back to the source; sadly there's not much to choose from in terms of video.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grab Bag

  • Sure I enjoyed The Hangover but it's a sign of how little in penetrated my consciousness that it took me three days to getting around to write about it. Because of the film's success all its stars will have the opportunity for future work sooner rather than later; I think we can be reasonably sure what can be expected from Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms (and yes, Heather Graham) but what of Zach Galifianakis? I'm not convinced he's much of an actor yet but Galifianakis does have a creased and rumpled comic presence coasted with a sweetness not present in Will Ferrell, the last Todd Phillips-created star. How long before Galifianakis is roped into some project that totally misunderstands his abilities a la Land Of The Lost?

  • Colson Whitehead's novel Sag Harbor is the story of Benji, an African-American youth spending what's really the last summer of his childhood at the beach circa 1985. Benji is a curious case, more into Depeche Mode and other unlikely bands than the early rap his friends like, but the novel is really about the minutiae of a pre-Web and pre-a lot of other things summer. Ice cream, BB gun fights, the beach, and a father's talent (or lack thereof) for barbecue make up Benji's days. I wish Whitehead had kept the book in Benji's 1985 consciousness and not imposed a halfhearted framing device on the book; hearing Benji's perspective from 25 years later doesn't really add much. That said, Sag Harbor is a much warmer and more accessible book than the last Whitehead I read (John Henry Days) and will have me coming back for his next effort.
  • Warning! This post contains indie rock insider talk. You may not be cool enough to read it.

    Will the Dirty Projectors make 'the Leap'? (Vulture)

    Based solely on their much blogged song "Stillness Is The Move," I'm hoping that Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors will penetrate our culture in a way that Grizzly Bear won't. Unfortunately I seem to be in the minority. What's up, Wilco?

    Our Mutual Friend, the Kindle

    Reading the same Dickens novel in multiple formats and developing a few thoughts about the Kindle. (Chronicle)

    I abandoned the Kindle edition of Little Dorrit almost as soon as I read one chapter on my iPhone. Kindle, shmindle. It does almost nothing that an iPhone can't do better — and most important, the iPhone is always with me. Woody Allen had it right: Seventy percent of success in life is showing up. Yes, the Kindle's reasonable imitation of a book is an advantage, but not enough to outweigh the necessity to carry an extra object and its power plugs. The Kindle screen is a permanent dishwater gray, not exactly "just like paper," as promised by the ubiquitous Amazon ads. With free software like eReader or Stanza, iPhone readers have the same capability for customization (font size, footnotes, highlighting, bookmarking) and a more-elegant interface. The new Kindle2 has an intriguing capability to turn any book into an audiobook, but even if that survives the legal challenges from publishers, the computer-generated voice is more R2-D2 than Jim Dale. Worst of all is Kindle's clumsy way of turning pages, only slightly improved on Kindle2. The momentary blackout is a constant annoyance, especially compared with the delicate swipe or tap that changes pages instantaneously on the iPhone (and which even has an option for cruise control, where the pages scroll automatically, though too slowly for speed readers).

    Friday Fluff x2

    Consider how patriarchal civilization has managed to keep women in hand for all these millennia. Among other methods of social control, women are almost always given a series of either-or choices. The deal is usually that they may realize one aspect of their personality but at the expense of many others. And the deal is usually that if they choose "too much," a terrible punishment one way or another awaits them.

    Relax! I didn't accidentally post part of my master's thesis on this blog. The above comes from a new article by a well-known female public intellectual who has figured out that Angelina Jolie is awesome! As if that weren't enough, do you know who said this:

    "I'm actually frightened of [Angelina Jolie]. I haven't had the opportunity to meet her and I try to avoid that because I'm afraid. Angelina's a powerful person and I bet she would eat me alive. I guess that is why I'm afraid of her." - FHM, June 2007

    Find out here. (Harper's/Jezebel)

    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Happy Birthday to...

    A certain actress celebrated her 28th birthday this week.....

    Grizzly Bear & Feist - "Service Bell/Two Weeks"

    Yes, I've been a little harsh on Grizzly Bear since their CD came out. My fundamental view of the band hasn't changed, but I can't argue with this performance of "Two Weeks," which is helped immeasurably by the presence of Feist (who makes everything better).

    Eggers redux

    I know I just linked to an interview with Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida about Away We Go, but this interview with Eggers caught my attention not so much for the discussion of his next book (which sounds good) but for his views on the future of journalism. (Rumpus/Kottke)

    Rumpus: I know a lot of your optimism comes from your working with kids at the 826 centers.

    Eggers: The students we serve at 826, by and large, just aren’t addicted to electronic media—not in the way we’re led to believe all kids are. Most of our students don’t have cellphones of their own, and they don’t have computers at home. So they come into 826, and they work with paper and pencil on their homework. Honestly, that’s about 80 percent of what we do. Even at the high-school level, the students we work with aren’t soaking in the Internet all the time. To some extent all the doom about the printed word is a class thing. Wealthier kids who can afford their own phones and computers are probably spending more time online and in some cases, less time with books, but the kids we work with are honestly pretty enamored of books and newspapers. It means a lot to them to have their work between two covers, an actual book that they can see on a shelf next to other books. There’s a mystique about the printed word. And the students who come into 826 every day really read. These middle schoolers have read everything. Judy Blume came into the center in San Francisco one day, and she was mobbed. Fifty kids swarmed her. They practically tackled her. Same thing with Daniel Handler, who writes the Lemony Snicket books. These are by and large kids whose parents immigrated here from Latin America, and English isn’t spoken at home. But they’ve read all thirteen Lemony Snicket books. So I have optimism about print because I see these kids and how much they love to read. And they work on our student newspapers and anthologies and a dozen other print projects. They really have a thing for print. And I do too. I fear sometimes we’re actually giving up too soon. We adults have to have faith. And we have to rededicate ourselves to examining what in any given issue of our daily papers is really speaking to anyone under 18. That’s a challenge. I was just in Chicago, and the Tribune there does all kinds of very interesting stuff to reach out to younger readers. It’s something that we all have to think about.

    Avett Brothers < 140

    A stream would have been better, but for now make do with two guys twittering while listening to the forthcoming Avett Brothers' album I and Love and You. (IndyWeekBlogs)

    On Monday afternoon, a not-quite-finished copy of the album arrived at the offices of the Independent Weekly in Durham. Later that night, Independent Weekly Music Editor Grayson Currin and New Raleigh Downtown Editor Jed Gant gathered in Raleigh to listen to the work-in-progress for the first time and offer their instant impressions via their personal Twitter accounts. We’ve gathered those moment-by-moment tweets into roughly edited form, presenting them as a generally obnoxious, sometimes humorous and fairly informative guide to what you’ll expect when the band drops its major-label introduction August 11.

    Do the Shuffle #36/Sara Watkins

  • Sara Watkins - All This Time
  • Old Crow Medicine Show - Always Lift Him Up And Never Let Him Down
  • B-52'a - Channel Z
  • Lavender Diamond - New Ways of Living
  • Van Morrison - Beside You (live)
  • Steve Earle - Copperhead Road (live)
  • Lucinda Williams - Righteously
  • Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)

    Total Songs: 8/40
    Miscellaneous Fact: Sara Watkins live show added some oomph to songs on a self-titled solo CD that I thought was pleasant but tentative. Her choice of covers (Morrissey, Waits, Dylan) was admirable if not entirely successful; Watkins' voice takes a lot of the soul out of Waits' "Pony," but "Forever Young" was turned into an uptempo bluegrassy jam, Did I miss Chris Thile? Yes, but Watkins has more than enough talent and stylistic range to make me interested in her next outing.
  • Q: What do Andrew Sarris and I have in common?

    A: The dean of American film criticism and I have both been fired from jobs as paid movie critics. (The Daily)

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009


  • A (brief) interview with Jay Farrar of Son Volt, whose new CD is out next month. I saw Son Volt live a couple of years ago and enjoyed the show, but Tweedy has it all over Farrar in the charismatic frontman department. (Muzzle of Bees)

  • Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth has weighed in on the "Radiohead method" of CD distribution and doesn't like it. Whatever you think of Sonic Youth's new CD (I like it)they'll always be the superior band to me; Radiohead has never come up with anything as bewitching as "Teen Age Riot" or "Kool Thing." That said, I'm not sure a band is under any obligation to its "brother and sister musicians" in the way it releases music. Maybe it's the memory of those lean years on the Lower East Side that makes Gordon blanch at the thought of giving something away for free. Might I suggest a subscription model? $50 a year gets you a few exclusive downloads and maybe a T-shirt. $250 gets you brunch with Thurston and Kim and $2000 a ride on the bus during the next European tour. (At Ease)
  • Tuesday, June 09, 2009


    Ready? Let's take a moment to acknowledge the obvious joke about Up bringing Pixar back "down to earth" after the celebrated, grandiose, and (in my opinion) didactic hit Wall-E. Up takes Pixar in a direction I'd been hoping to see since The Incredibles; it's heartening to see another film about recognizably specific human concerns. Near the beginning of Up there's a montage that follows Carl (Ed Asner) from his 1930's childhood meeting with Ellie (they bond over their love of a famous explorer) through marriage, home, a miscarriage, constantly delayed plans for a trip to South America, and finally Ellie's illness and death. It is a well-conceived scene but I'm not ready to join those proclaiming it a unqualified classic moment. One of the problems with Up is that Carl doesn't have that much to say (and Asner's performance is disappointingly flat for much of the film). When Carl and Ellie first meet as children he's struck dumb by her assertiveness; it's a fun scene but because we're taken through the marriage so quickly it's impossible to know what kind of man Carl became. Pixar, as much discussed, has been a little slow to provide well-developed roles for women and I do think Up blows a chance with Ellie. The two bond over their love of adventure but surely that's not enough to sustain a marriage. In the absence of children, what sort of extended/alternative family of friends and coworkers did they develop? Who took all those pictures we see as Carl pages through Ellie's adventure book? Ellie is reduced to being a symbol of goodness and unqualified encouragement, the reason that Carl decides to take that balloon ride.

    Once Carl ties a bunch of helium balloons to his house and starts his trip to South America he finds himself in the company of Russell (Jordan Nagai), a scout who had been pestering Carl in an effort to get an "assisting the elderly" badge. What Russell lacks in survival skills he makes up for in enthusiasm, and Russell provides just about all the big laughs in the movie. The pace of Up picks up considerably once Carl and Russell hit South America. I won't get too much into plot specifics but I wish the central relationship between man and boy was developed a bit more before bringing on the talking dogs, giant bird, and that explorer. I'm hardly the first to point out that Pixar has now proven itself to be a superior maker of children's entertainment and now stands poised to make a definitive animated film for adults. But what about the Happy Meals? I enjoyed the comic mayhem as Carl and Russell unexpectedly find themselves in the role of protecting rare wildlife but there's a deeper movie underneath about loss, change, and the passing of knowledge between generations that I think largely gets missed. But I'll let the quieter moments of Up serve as an optimistic sign. Pixar will be with us for some time to come of course and I think the in-the-works project with a female director and lead character is surely a good sign. As the studio's ambitions grow and technology expands storytelling possibilities I hope Pixar's product stays as grounded as Carl's house ends up.

    Monday, June 08, 2009

    DFW's designs

    A designer recalls the challenges and pleasures of working with the late David Foster Wallace. (Hipster Book Club/Kottke)

    Consider the Lobster was a little different. Most of the book was very typical, but there was one particular essay called "Host" that required some special treatment. Wallace, infamous for his footnotes and endnotes, wanted to try something a little different with "Host." He wanted to stress the immediacy of communication and the speed of thought that occurred in the studio where the talk radio DJ John Ziegler worked. The Atlantic Monthly had already run a version of this essay and did a spectacular design job, using a format with color-coded callouts, as if someone had highlighted a script and made note in the margins. However, there are intrinsic differences between a magazine and a book. The Atlantic Monthly used color; we were not going to do that. Magazines are usually 8-1/2 x 11, and we were 6 x 9. We had to figure out a way to do this essay.

    Sunday, June 07, 2009

    You know it ain't easy....

    Being in the Dirty Projectors is hard work...(NY Times)

    “The thing that transforms something from being an idea to being a physical reality is work,” Mr. Longstreth, 27, said when he sat down to an interview (between rehearsals for the tour). “You can have outlandish ideas, but if you don’t work at them, they just remain outlandish ideas. Anyone can have an idea. Work is transformative.”

    Since he began releasing music under the name Dirty Projectors in 2003, Mr. Longstreth has gradually established himself as indie-rock’s workaholic mad genius, churning out album after high-concept album with an uncommon drive. Two years ago he won over critics and bloggers with “Rise Above,” a song-by-song reworking of Black Flag’s “Damaged,” the bilious punk classic, which broke down the emotional and musical rigidity of the original with razor-sharp harmonies and sinuous West African-influenced guitar lines.

    Away We Go link fest

    I'll continue to talk about Sam Mendes' Away We Go until I actually see it, at which point I'll no doubt be disappointed and write a bitter review. For now here's a summary of the mixed reaction to the film and an interview with screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, who seem to have their hearts in the right place as far as influences go. (The Daily/AV Club)

    DE: Yeah. Our first draft—actually, the draft Sam must have read—was really broad. There were like six more scenes at the level of the stroller scene, just really big and loud. We had a lot of fun writing it. We were thinking of anything from Hal Ashby movies, like The Landlord in particular, this movie that really has some big scenes that are approaching farce, and then it’ll go deep, deep into social realism in a way that some of those ’70s movies did. Even Dog Day Afternoon has some pretty broad comic moments, and then it’ll get really serious. So in the ’70s, they veered around a little more. Maybe I’m putting those two movies together and generalizing. But what was funny was, through the process, we deepened the relationship between Burt and Verona. It started out—when we wrote it, it was deeply political. It was kind of a reaction to the Bush years.

    "No ass at all"

    This site is new to me; here's a roundup of thoughts on Grizzly Bear's incessantly hyped "Two Weeks." My favorite: (Singles Jukebox)

    Matt Cibula: Pretty enough but it must be very tiring being Grizzly Bear, what with not being able to remember if you are Animal Collective or Vampire Weekend or a strange hybrid of the two. Plus all the standing all the time because on the evidence of this song your band has NO ASS AT ALL.

    Sunday Music: Sara Watkins - "Long Hot Summer Day"

    I saw Sara Watkins live last night (with brother Sean on guitar) at the Handlebar here in Greenville and will have some more thoughts on the show in a bit. This clip doesn't really do her live band (electric bass, drums, acoustic guitar, and of course violin) justice but does give a nice flavor of her self-titled solo CD.

    Friday, June 05, 2009

    Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes on his new Away We Go and his debt to Hal Ashby. (Hollywood Interview)

    I immediately thought of all the great Hal Ashby movies, The Last Detail being the primary one. There was a simplicity in his work stylistically, and also the way he used music, was years ahead of its time. His films are almost more inspiring now than they were when they came out, or even 10-15 years ago. Now you’ve got all these great directors like Spike Jonze, Judd Apatow, Cameron Crowe, all saying that one of their biggest influences was “the master, Hal Ashby.” So I watched The Last Detail several times, and thought ‘It’s so simple in its presentation, yet so complex in the way the characters are presented, and the people that they meet,’ and how unafraid he is to meet someone and move on. There’s no tying up “loose ends” and having the characters come back in the end for some kind of payoff. The whole idea of an “arc” that every character has to have is just absurd. The Last Detail presented human encounters as they usually happen in life: you meet someone, you have the encounter, and you move on.


    Writer Jonathan Rauch on gays in the military and a few other topics: (Economist/Kottke)

    There really is no excuse any longer for the law banning openly gay people from serving in the armed forces. He promised to change that and claims he'll get around to it. If he doesn't, gay people will never forgive him. This issue is not like gay marriage: no one ever said that heterosexuality is part of the definition of soldiering. That ban is just an embodiment of bigotry. It hurts national security, too. (The Obama Pentagon has already discharged at least one gay linguist. An Arabic linguist. Good grief.)

    Julie Christie, the rumors are true....

    Yo La Tengo to release new album in September; hear an MP3 here....(Matablog)

    Thursday, June 04, 2009

    David Carradine

    Not much information yet, but actor David Carradine has died at age 72 or 73 depending on where you're reading. Note the disturbing update to the NYT post. Carradine was nominated for an Golden Globe for playing Woody Guthrie in Bound For Glory.

    Proud Member of the Tribe

    I don't know why it has taken me so long to mention this funny TAS post on the perils of personal blogging, but I agree with it. Even the shortest post is an expression of an enthusiasm or judgment; all any of us can do is express ourselves in the most sincere and artful way possible.

    Paul Simon & The Roots - "Late In The Evening"

    This has already been all over the place, but seriously....

    Wednesday, June 03, 2009

    Do the Shuffle #35

  • Byrds - You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
  • Fllet Foxes - Oliver James
  • Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Willow Trees Bend
  • Conor Oberst - Get Well Cards
  • Johnny Cash - Let The Train Blow The Whistle
  • Wilco - Handshake Drugs (live)
  • Talking Heads - Gangster of Love
  • Rilo Kiley - 15
  • Bob Dylan - I Want You
  • Arcade Fire - No Cars Go
  • Liz Phair - Whip-Smart

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 11/40
    Miscellaneous Fact: I don't think there was an electric guitar until the Wilco track.
  • Monday, June 01, 2009


    When I worked in a bookstore George Pelecanos was one of the authors whose next novel I awaited most eagerly. If you haven't read his Derek Strange novels (start with Right As Rain) then you know that much less about a segment of American life. Pelecanos has a new book out and talks about his collaborations with David Simon on The Wire and the forthcoming Treme. (Speakeasy)

    The Wall Street Journal: The racial divide between black-and-white looms as large in this book as it does in its predecessors. Do you see the gap narrowing?

    George Pelecanos: I think it’s less of an issue in this book. When Chris Flynn goes into juvenile prison, people expect he’s going to get his ass kicked. But it doesn’t happen like that. The people who become his friends tell him he doesn’t belong there because of his background. Not because he’s white but because he’s had all the advantages. Ten years forward, you are in the U Street neighborhood, which is a mix of all races, different economic backgrounds and sexual orientations. I think this book is a current look at what’s going on in Washington. What divides people are issues of class.

    For a moment

    This blog is only intermittently political but I urge you to read these two posts at Obsidian Wings relating to the murder of a doctor in Kansas by an anti-abortion terrorist over the weekend.