Friday, July 31, 2009

25th Anniversary Spiel

The Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime is 25 years old. (Boing Boing)

Pruning with a hatchet

This is well-covered ground, but what the hell did Raymond Carver's editor do to his work? Are we still figuring out how good a writer Carver really was? What would access to the original manuscripts have done to the running time of Robert Altman's Short Cuts? (TLS)

In the Beginners manuscript, Claire’s narration dwells on male fascination with the dead body: how the fishermen’s flashlights “played over” it; how the twenty-four-hour autopsy involved “men . . . examining it, putting things into it, cutting it, weighing, measuring”; how the investigators seek “evidence of rape. I’m sure they hope for rape. Rape would make it easier to understand”.

Much of this was ditched by Lish. Rape is never mentioned. In Beginners, Claire does not say “That’s right” to her husband’s amorous approach. Far from helping Stuart with the buttons of her blouse, she rejects him with “Stop, stop, stop” and a “stamp on his toes”. Stuart responds with vicious obscenities. The following day she moves into the spare bedroom and has a lock fixed on the door, which Stuart breaks at midnight, “just to show that he can”, standing in front of her in his underwear before taking refuge in the whisky bottle. The story ends with Stuart’s “cold” mother moving into their house to tend Claire, whose obsession with the dead girl continues.

How not to make a sequel

You're a movie studio with a hot property that fans feel an intense sense of ownership towards. How do you handle it? What you don't do is screw around with casting halfway through the series. Twilight doesn't exactly keep me awake at night, but how transparent is Summit's decision to insert Bryce Dallas Howard into a role played by a lesser known actress? (Also,I haven't read the books, but raise your hand if you think the director of American Pie will make a better film than Catherine Hardwicke.) I can't believe I'm quoting Nikki Finke, but:

Here's the problem: once a studio lets the fans into the filmmaking process, it's impossible to keep them out. And that's been the situation with Summit and its lucrative Twilight Saga franchise from the start. The studio courted the Twilight fans ever since Summit saw 1,500 Twilighters lined to meet Stephenie Meyer at a book-signing in Pasadena. It's why Summit made the vampire romance into a movie when Paramount passed. It's why the first film in what was to become the studio's uber-valuable franchise succeeded. But then things got hinky.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Good news

Serious Moonlight, a script by the late Adrienne Shelly (Waitress), was filmed by actress Cheryl Hines and will now receive a VOD and theatrical release from Magnolia Pictures. Shelly's husband produced and the film stars Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, and Kristen Bell. (IndieWire)

The Edge of Love

I'm not sure that anyone in John Maybury's The Edge of Love, including Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys of the TV show Brothers & Sisters) is quite as interesting as they want to be. That's a problem with this drama based on the relationship between Thomas, his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), and friend/sometimes mistress Vera (Keira Knightley). Written by Knightley's mother Sharman Macdonald, The Edge of Love is by turns about Thomas's semi-willing participation in British WWII propaganda efforts, the jealousy-tinged friendship between Caitlin and Vera, and the struggles of Vera's husband William Killick (a miscast Cillian Murphy) upon his return from military service. The erotic dynamic among he principals seems to hinge on a teenage sexual encounter between Dylan and Vera, but as always with films about artists and the creative process the role this event might have played in Dylan's art remains elusive. (Thomas disappears for long stretches of the movie anyway)The best performance in The Edge of Love is given by Sienna Miller as the woman no one seems to want. Miller gives Caitlin all sort of reserves of bitterness and flinty desperation that give her scenes with Knightley (finally not called upon to be glamorous) an extra kick. There are pleasant, odd touches like the songs Vera sings at tube stations to those fleeing German bombs; they're staged like David Lynch production numbers. (Angelo Badalamenti did the music) But why Macdonald or Maybury thought the movie should climax with a trial is a mystery. The Edge of Love needed a stronger point of view and a fewer artistic flourishes.

Music Sheets

Why music magazines are failing. The article doesn't mention this, but there are far too many subgenres today for any one publication to keep them all straight. When was the last time you read a music magazine that felt like it handle on a whole scene as opposed to whatever was hot at the moment? (A: Paste or No Depression) (Slate)

One of the most important historical functions of music magazines has been precisely to speak in a semisecret language that separates in-the-know us from square them. Rolling Stone, Spin, and Vibe made their names on the backs of outsider music movements that were storming the mainstream: '60s rock counterculture, '90s alternative, and '90s hip-hop, respectively. (Blender aligned itself with a less oppositional, "poptimist" perspective.) Picture that mythical orange-haired girl walking around a nowheresville suburb in 1994 with a rolled-up Spin in her back pocket—it's not just a magazine but a badge, an amulet, a pipeline to a world far removed from her local food court. At least since the '60s, music has been more integral to youthful identity building than any other part of popular culture, and, at their most successful, music magazines have institutionalized, codified, and made themselves indispensable to that process. Teens trying to hash out (sub)cultural identities today have message boards, fan sites, and YouTube diaries to turn to, not to mention Facebook groups and musicians' MySpace pages. And that's perhaps the greatest crisis facing music magazines: They're being phased out, to a significant degree, by social-networking media, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baker v. Kindle

One might expect Nicholson Baker to spend his New Yorker piece on the Kindle rhapsodizing about the last days of bound paper; after all, Baker is the author of a book detailing his efforts to preserve hard copies of old newspapers. Paeans to the joys of reading the old-fashioned way have been almost weekly events since the Kindle's debut, so Baker instead pointedly critiques the machine's design and functionality. Isn't this all going to be moot when Apple's iTablet arrives?

Despite its smoother design, the Kindle 2 is, some say, harder to read than the Kindle 1. “I immediately noticed that the contrast was worse on the K2 than on my K1,” a reviewer named T. Ford wrote. One Kindler, Elizabeth Glass, began an online petition, asking Amazon to fix the contrast. “Like reading a wet newspaper,” according to petition-signer Louise Potter.

There was another problem with the revised Kindle—fading. Some owners (not me, though) found that when they read in the sun the letters began to disappear. Readers had to press Alt-G repeatedly to bring them back. “Today is the first day when we have had bright sunshine, so I took the Kindle out in the sun and was dismayed to see that the text (particularly near the center of the screen) faded within seconds,” one owner, Woody, wrote. Another owner, Mark, said, “I went through 4 kindles til I found a good one that doesn’t fade in the sun. It was a hassle but Amazon has a great CS.” (CS is customer service.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Elton John - "Oh My Sweet Carolina"

Elton covers Ryan Adams; I think this version reveals something good about both artists...

Kunis to the barre

Mila Kunis will star opposite Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky's already announced Black Swan. (Cinematical)

The plot:a veteran ballerina competes against "a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance." Oh, and throw a little supernatural flavor for good measure. Well, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the rival will be played by Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Mila Kunis, and that bit of strangeness: this rival "might or might not be a figment of the dancer's imagination."

Merce Cunningham

Choreographer Merce Cunningham has died at age 90. (NY Times)

With his collaborator and life partner John Cage, Mr. Cunningham’s most celebrated achievement was to have dance and music composed independent of each other. His choreography showed that dance was principally about itself, not music, while often suggesting that it could also be about many other things as well.

Good collection of videos here. (Brooklyn Vegan)

Aggregate no more!

How & where the Web is getting journalism right; can old media learn before it's too late? (NYRB - long but worth it)

Beyond such individual sites, the Web has helped open up entire subjects that were once off-limits to the press. The domestic politics of US policy toward Israel is a good example. Until recently, the activities of pro-Israel lobbying groups like AIPAC were all but ignored by reporters fearful of being branded anti-Semitic or anti- Israel. Today, the Web teems with news, analysis, opinion, and polemic about US–Israel relations. Rob Browne, a Long Island dentist, keeps track of Israel-related legislation in Congress on the left-liberal blog Daily Kos. M.J. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer-turned-dove, dissects the Israel lobby's activities on Talking Points Memo. Fiercely opposing them is a battalion of Israel defenders, including Ron Kampeas, (Capital J at the JTA wire service), Michael Goldfarb (the online editor of The Weekly Standard), and—the most influential journalist/blogger on matters related to Israel—Jeffrey Goldberg (at The Atlantic).

Opening night

I'd had my issues with Terry Teachout in the past, but having experienced what's described here (on a somewhat smaller scale) I can't help linking to his account of an apparently successful opening of his opera The Letter. (About Last Night)

Once I got on stage, I looked to my left and saw the cast lined up, their faces glowing. I hugged Mika Shigematsu and Paul hugged Pat, whose hands I clasped tightly. I was about to start embracing the other cast members when I realized that the audience was still applauding. My God, I've got to take a bow right now! I thought, and stepped to center stage, standing to Paul's left. I looked out at the audience and saw nothing but a bottomless pit of blackness. The stage lights were so bright that I couldn't see beyond the edge of the orchestra pit. I knew that the audience was clapping, but I felt as though I were hearing them from under water. I sensed that Paul was bowing, so I did the same thing, bending almost double at the waist. Was that bow deep enough? I asked myself. Did it look all right?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Avett Bros. - "Down With A Glistening Shine"

A new song, Chicago, 6/28/09. (Muzzle of Bees)

Public Enemies

I wanted to like Michael Mann's Public Enemies a good deal more than I actually did, mostly based on my enjoyment of past Mann efforts like Heat and The Insider and the way Mann gets his actors to strike wonderful notes of masculine desperation. (Has anybody gotten better work out of Pacino in the last 15 years?) Public Enemies is not really an action film but rather an story of two professionals caught up in changing times. John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) finds his self-contained, freewheeling bank robbing crew in danger of falling out of favor with Mob bigwigs in Chicago who are newly monetized thanks to income from gambling operations. FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is a part of the new, modern FBI created by J. Edgar Hoover (wonderful Billy Crudup). Purvis is put in charge of the Dillinger case but quickly realizes that a rougher style is needed to catch Dillinger and brings in a crew of older agents led by an excellent Stephen Lang. Yet as the case progresses Purvis grows increasingly uncomfortable with what's required of him and intervenes to stop the beating of Dillinger's girlfriend (Marion Cotillard) by a colleague.

There's a stylistic coolness to Mann's films that his leading men can usually penetrate but neither Depp nor Bale (whose jailhouse scene together is one of the film's best) has enough to work with for Public Enemies to be more than a surfacey good try. I had no sense of the darkness in Depp that drove him to rob banks as opposed to doing something else, and in a relatively nonverbal film the "I like baseball....what else you need to know?" speech stands out as a writerly affectation. Bale's performance is miles better than his work in Terminator and gets better the more desperate Purvis becomes, but his work still feels almost willfully underbaked especially after a closing title reveals Purvis killed himself in 1960. (Though there's some doubt) Finally Public Enemies wants to be too much: an action film, a period drama (which it utterly fails at thanks to the overly determined cinematography), and a portrait of conflicted psychology (intermittently successful). Michael Mann seems more at home in our bustling, insecure modern world than the small towns of the 1930's American Midwest.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You & I pt. 2

I've already posted one video clip of this song but if you want to see Wilco doing "You & I" with Feist and Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear here's your link. (Stereogum)

Monday, July 20, 2009

That style

The commentary for James Gray's Two Lovers is worth listening to; it's Gray's serious but never dull recounting of his intentions going into to making the film and the way that collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix and others sometimes put a different spin on the results. In discussing the actress Vinessa Shaw, who plays the woman whose family is buying the cleaning business owned by the father of Phoenix's character, Gray notes that he was initially uncertain about casting the gorgeous Shaw (still best known for her role in Eyes Wide Shut I think) because of her physical attributes; he describes her as looking like a "Nordic Queen" during their meeting. Gray also points out that Shaw hasn't really had much chance to work in the hyper-realist style that the emotionally detailed script for Two Lovers requires.

Do we need another post on the lack of meaty roles for women? No, but stop and think for a moment. Shaw has played prostitutes, wives (3:10 to Yuma), and horror movie fodder (The Hills Have Eyes) as a way to make a living. The chance to play a sheltered young New Yorker edging into a relationship with a mentally ill man must have seemed like a gift from the Gods. I thought of Gray's remarks about Shaw when I saw Natalie Portman in the trailer for Brothers this weekend. In this apparently intense drama Portman plays a woman drawn to her brother-in-law (Jake Gyllenhaal) after learning that her husband (Tobey Maguire) has been killed in Afghanistan. (He hasn't) Now, Portman has done costume drama, sci fi, weirdly precocious kids, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and whatever the heck V for Vendetta was supposed to be but I can't really recall her in a contemporary drama like this. Vinessa Shaw has made relatively few movies but Portman has been around for 15 years or so and has never played a contemporary American woman. It's far too early to tell if Brothers will be an awards player but I'd consider Portman's meatiest role to date to have been in the equally fraught Closer, for which she won a Golden Globe and received her only Oscar nomination. If Portman is as good in Brothers then then the chance to play a whole new type of role might take her out of the fanboy realm and into another league.

"Say Please"

Judge for yourself: it's the first song from the Oberst/James/Ward "Monsters of Rock" project. (My Old Kentucky Blog)

Indie Book

A blog celebrates 100 independent bookstores, a business model still close to my heart.

Only, to spice things up, I've decided that while I'm on the road, I will visit 100 independent book stores and blog about what I think makes them unique. I'll also keep a photo diary on Flickr for anyone interested in seeing more of what these stores look like. It's a road trip, thousands of miles around America, from city to city -- 100 stores, as long as it takes.

What's next, short sheeting?

How did a review of David Foster Wallace by a fictional character make it into an academic journal? (...and why haven't I read White Noise?) (Sample Reality)

I am referring to “An Undeniably Controversial and Perhaps Even Repulsive Talent,” a review of David Foster Wallace’s work that appeared in the prestigious journal Modernism/Modernity, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press. Found in the Volume 11, Number 4 issue (2004) of Modernism/Modernity, the review focuses on Wallace’s last collection of short stories, Oblivion, and is attributed to a certain Jay Murray Siskind, Department of Popular Culture, Blacksmith College.

Superchunk: "The First Part"

Here's one that takes me back to college radio days; the venerable North Carolina band played a recent show in NYC.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Supporting materials

How to read Infinite Jest. (Kottke)

1. If you haven't already, buy the book, get it from your local library, or download to your Kindle. I got my copy in 2001 at a local San Francisco bookstore; I bought it used along with a used copy of Don DeLillo's Underworld (which I started but never finished). I was upset at something that day and purchased the books as a sort of Fuck You to whatever it was that was pissing me off. "Oh yeah? Well, I'm gonna read both of these huge books. Fuck You!" Best $10.80 I ever spent.

Bon Iver: "Tampa To Tulsa" (A Jayhawks cover)

Friday Fluff

  • In praise of Megan Fox. I haven't seen Transformers 2 and I'm not going to, but how can you not love a starlet who says stuff like this? (Gawker)

    I am pretty sure I am a doppelganger for Alan Alda. I'm a tranny. I'm a man. I'm so painfully insecure. I'm on the verge of vomiting now. I am so horrified that I am here, and embarrassed. I'm scared."

  • This isn't fluff actually. Mischa Barton has apparently had a nervous breakdown. (The Envelope)

    Barton was put under Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code by police and transported to Cedars-Sinai. This code gives authorities the power to hold a person if he or she is gravely disabled or suffers from a mental disorder.
  • Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Two Lovers

    Two Lovers succeeds as another of James Gray's chronicles of a slightly out-of-time New York, and it's a relief to see that Gray can work outside of the crime genre he seemed to (at least for now) come to the end of in We Own The Night. There's an screwed-up adorableness to Joaquin Phoenix's Leonard that the actor has never displayed before (and apparently never will again). Gray is full of praise for Phoenix on the commentary and he's right; Phoenix perfectly inhabits this rumpled outer-borough depressive. I'm a little more appreciative of Gwyneth Paltrow's performance than my blogfriend. When considering her performance it's important to note that she's really not ever sexually attracted to Phoenix's character. As the woman who represents Leonard's future in the family business, Vinessa Shaw drops some hints that she's not as a conventional as she seems. The saddest thing about Two Lovers is that it's the kind of movie that gets mentioned in articles about how adults don't go to the movies anymore.

    Frozen River gives Melissa Leo a deserved star turn but the rest of the movie doesn't have enough personality. Everything that happens when Leo is off screen is marking time until her character must make the big decision, which feels imposed rather than earned. With luck this will be a calling card for Leo to higher-profile projects.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    Phish is phine

    A blogger learns to love Trey and the gang. (Monitor Mix)

    Why Phish, you ask? Well, as far as I'm concerned, Phish occupies a unique space in music: It is extremely popular with a large group of people, yet simultaneously misunderstood, judged and dismissed by another -- particularly self-identified music snobs, indie rockers and a whole slew of other folks. Unlike other frequently maligned bands that have an equally maligned fan base, such as The Grateful Dead (whom I love) or the Dave Matthews Band (whom I don't love), Phish has never had a radio hit for non-fans to use as fodder or evidence. In fact -- and this is the most shocking, and what makes the band a rare breed -- many Phish-phobes have never even heard Phish's music!

    "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart"

    A Chicago band called JC Brooks And The Uptown Sound covers Wilco. (I Am Fuel)

    "Got Nuffin'"

    I was so-so on the new Spoon song; others agree. (Singles Jukebox)

    Alfred Soto: For Britt Daniel, minimalism isn’t just a strategy: it’s a belief in the Trinity of eternal recurrence. Expecting him to “loosen up” is like begging Christopher Hitchens to attend Mass once a week. Even singing this (relatively) straight love/lust song, he lets his guitar do his emoting – a guitar whose tone matches his starchy, high voice in a synergy that’ll sustain him longer than any relationship. Hell isn’t other people – it’s leaving the studio for a soda.

    Farrah and the poster

    How much did the famous Farrah Fawcett poster hurt the budding star's career? (Girls Can Play)

    People who knew I was going to interview her loved to show me how clever they were by asking things like "Find out who her dentist is." When I got back home and wrote an article that talked about how good she was in the play, another editor at the magazine added a snarky lead about how "Of course she'll never win a Tony." I fought to get that out of there, but they wouldn't let me eliminate that snide tone altogether. I won a journalism award for that piece, but I always felt like it was tainted by that faint undertone.

    But hey, sneering at Farrah was just one of those things the smart set did back then: It proved you were in the know.

    Huge NP casting news!

    NP will be playing the love interest in Thor, which won't hit theaters until 2011 sometime. I'm not familiar with the comics or the character she's playing; how much do you want to bet the folks at Marvel are happy to have an actor people have heard of in the cast? In other news, you can see the poster for Brothers here and the pic accompanying this post is from NP's part of the New York, I Love You anthology. (Cinematical)

    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    Huffington Huff

    The complicated agenda of the Huffington Post. (Politico)

    Isaac Chotiner, in a critical New Republic cover story last month, portrayed Huffington as opportunistic in repositioning herself politically throughout the past three decades. “Her historical timing has always been exquisite,” he wrote. “If she is herself some sort of institution, she is an exceedingly adaptable one.”

    You have been spared....

    ...the awfulness of "Dressing On The Side" as a post title. That's how much I love you. Anyway, NP will appear on an episode of the forthcoming season on Top Chef. (Celebuzz)

    Whoa there.....

    Bill Janovitz re Layla:

    For me, the Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (a bitterly sarcastic title) LP is Eric Clapton's peak, the descent after which was precipitous, no gradual decline. His raw energy is evident from the time he burst onto the British 1960s blues scene, playing with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, into the Yardbirds, the Cream, Blind Faith and then Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. But, perhaps completely inspired by the personal turmoil in his life, he hits with this one-off band, the Dominos, with a bunch of American cats left over from D&B (Bobby Whitlock et. al.), adds one of the greatest guitarists in rock & roll, Duane Allman, as a foil/partner, has the whole thing recorded by the legendary Tom Dowd in Miami and -- most importantly -- sings his ass off as if this is his last record ever.

    I have never heard Clapton sing this well before or since. Almost immediately after this record, he seems to have had some sort of numbing electroshock or partial lobotomy a la One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and starts singing J.J. Cale and Bob Marley songs as if he were Perry Como fronting a bunch of the Williams Brothers in cardigan sweaters. This is the sort of passion fall-off that instigated punk rock. I mean, here is this guy who displays a steady climb of raw talent and blues soul, with this raw-nerve apotheosis of an album surveying a battlefield of romantic devastation.

    Beck & Tom

    Tom Waits is interviewed by Beck for Beck's new site. It's a pretty rambling conversation, but all the more refreshing for its unfocused nature.

    BH: I wonder, in a way, if it's good to put yourself in those positions where you don't have the equipment, you don't have those crutches. But I think we're so attuned to hearing it at that volume and having to feel that impact? There's something maybe uncomfortable now to just hearing somebody's voice in a room singing.

    TW: I guess it's like when you make dinner at home. You shove the bowl across the table and you throw a fork and you drop the napkin.(Laughs.) You make due. I don't know if it's all cosmetic. I guess you can tell when something is primarily cosmetic and lacks the structural integrity. I think we all have an instinct about that. Where does this "Best" thing come from? Is that human? Is that American? Is it all over the world? Everyone wants the best eye surgeon, the best babysitter, the best vehicle, the best prosthetic arm, and the best hat. There's also the worst of all those things available and they're doing rather well. (Laughs.) Denny's is doing great. It's always crowded. You have to wait for a table.

    Mark Olson & Gary Louris - "Miss Williams' Guitar"

    Listening to the Jayhawks' recently released best-of set; they really were much better when both Olson and Louris were in the band, weren't they?

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    I'm back!

    I'm back up and blogging after a brief and involuntary absence, though since I'm in a show that's running right now posting may still be a little bit light. Thanks as always to all who make Mostly Movies part of their blogsploration.

    Friday, July 03, 2009

    My Sister's Keeper

    There's a young actress named Sofia Vassilieva who plays Kate, a teenager dying of leukemia, in My Sister's Keeper. The central conflict of the film is a lawsuit filed by Kate's younger sister Anna (Abigail Breslin), who doesn't want to be forced to give her sister a kidney after a childhood of being used as a spare parts shop as her sister's medical condition worsens. I haven't read the novel by Jodi Picoult on which My Sister's Keeper is based but it couldn't really spend any less time examining the suspect motives of Kate's parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) for having Anna than the film does. Director Nick Cassavetes instead opts for gauzy and fluttery "moments" in which the sisters bond and an extended scene of Dad taking the whole family to the beach. There's a terrible late scene in which Kate's extended family sits around her hospital room and offers bland affirmations of the "keep fighting" and "think positive" variety to the dying girl. Everyone has their own personal drama in My Sister's Keeper; each member of the family gets a crack at voice-over narration as does the lawyer (Alec Baldwin) hired by Anna in her lawsuit. There's also a judge played by Joan Cusack with a backstory engineered to make her more sympathetic to the family's predicaments. The only reason to care about this bland porridge of affirmation is the sweet-faced Vassilieva, who is forced to endure horrible indignities as Kate gets sicker.(The usually reliable Breslin is largely wasted) Kate's hunger for life and gentle acceptance of her situation permeates enough of My Sister's Keeper to make the film watchable despite structural problems and prepackaged conflicts. Rent it and stock up on Kleenex.

    Long View

    How to tell complex nonfictional stories in print a la John McPhee or Ian Frazier. (TAS)

    Over at The Atlantic, I’ve been interviewing Jack Hitt, one of my favorite journalists. If you’ve never heard the This American Life episode The Super, do yourself the favor of consuming it immediately. It’s just damn good storytelling. The same can be said for Jack’s magazine stories. One example is Toxic Dreams, one of the most impressive magazine stories I’ve ever read. The subject is an environmental lawsuit filed by folks exposed to toxic waste that overflowed from a nearby dumping ground. It’s one of those stories where most writers would get hopelessly lost in the almost impenetrable details. Somehow Jack Hitt turns it into a narrative masterpiece.