Monday, August 31, 2009

Interview interview

NP and Jake Gyllenhaal in Interview. (only an excerpt is available online)

GYLLENHAAL: It’s interesting that you think the lyric “Wait ’til you see my dick” describes your current state. I think people are learning more about you right now then they ever have in an interview. I’m proud of that.

PORTMAN: [laughs] Well, you’re really good at getting out the dark secrets. But actually, as far as the more general state of things right now, I think it’s kind of an exciting time. I mean, everyone is cutting back. It’s happening in every industry—including our own. But I think that’s going to translate into a situation where people aren’t motivated by money as much as they have been in the recent past. A lot of my friends from college went into fields like banking for financial reasons—obviously people have school loans and things to pay off.

And now, all of a sudden, they’re doing jobs that they hate and they’re not making as much money as they thought they would or they’ve lost their jobs entirely. So I’ve started to see people looking more toward their own passions and what really excites them. Obviously it’s much easier to say that you’re going to follow your passions when you’re financially secure, but at least we can take solace in the fact that we now have the time to pursue the things that we really want to pursue because now the option of doing things just for the money isn’t necessarily there.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Paper Heart

How do I know when it's love? That is the question posed by writer/star Charlyne Yi in her "documentary" Paper Heart. Yi's examination of what holds couples together is given shape by her own budding relationship with Michael Cera, who appears as himself and whose inability to handle the constant presence of the documentary crew in Charlyne's life is the source of the movie's drama. Is Paper Heart fact, fiction, or some blending of the two? Yi and everyone else involved have been cagey on the question; my own theory is that Yi set out to make a nonfiction film and then changed creative course when she met Cera.

The "reality" of what we're seeing is less interesting then the form of Paper Heart, which blends bubbly montages of Yi and Cera (set to the two's own music) with Yi's interviews with an assorted cast of celebs and civilians on the road (accompanied by Jake Johnson as the real Paper Heart director Nicholas Jasenovec) and whimsically animated (the animation resembles a moving diorama) reenactments of the love stories told by the couples that Yi interviews. The result is a kind of combination romantic comedy and video blog that reveals more about Charlyne Yi than the subject of love. Shy, irreverent, and sweetly geeky, Yi decides to keep the filming going evn after Cera begins to express reservations. If Julie & Julia is the first film based on a blog then Paper Heart is the first film that could just as easily be a Facebook page full of multimedia, autobiography, and personal ephemera. Yi (a comedian and musician) is self-involved enough to have begun this whole project but the film she has produced is open-hearted enough to make us care when she shows up at Cera's door post break-up. Is it too much to hope for that Charlyne Yi has invented a new genre, a style that combines a young person's genuine curiosity and sweetness with the vagaries of personal experience? Yes, it is probably too much; but I'll be along for the ride the next time Yi tires to figure herself out.

Sunday Music: Ornette Coleman & The Roots

Everybody's favorite backing band with the jazz legend, London 2009.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This just in...

Just finding this conversation in Interview between NP and Jake Gyllenhaal. I'll have more thoughts on it later, but here's a picture. (photo by Vinoodh Matadin, Inez Van Lamsweerde)

Inglourious Basterds

While watching Quentin Tarantino's nutso and defiantly ahistorical Inglourious Basterds I couldn't help thinking how much worse it would have been if it had been directed by a younger QT, say the one just coming off of Reservoir Dogs. That Tarantino would have made a film about an irreverent squad of Jewish-American soldiers sassafrassin' and crackalackin' (to borrow a phrase) their way across France, stopping only to scalp Nazis and debate the merits of Billie Holiday versus The Andrews Sisters. In short, an unbearable and bloody mess. Thank goodness that instead we have QT c. 2009; the version of Inglourious Basterds that we actually have alternates brilliant set pieces with cartoonish violence and distracting directorial flourishes and features a couple of the best performances ever given in Tarantino's films. QT has gotten better but he hasn't grown up.

Tarantino hasn't gotten much more interested in people during his career, or perhaps it's more accurate to say he is only interested in how characters can be exaggerated to fit into his movie-soaked vision of the world. In Basterds there's an inordinate amount of concern from the very first "chapter" not with military strategy or the relative strengths of the two sides but in how each character fits into the war's mythology. From the opening scene in which Col. Hans Landa (Oscar-worthy Christoph Waltz) interrogates a French farmer as to the whereabouts of a Jewish family through to the end there is a running discussion of nicknames, gossip, and the difference between what is perceived and actually done on the battlefield. When the actual "Basterds" show up Tarantino doesn't waste much time establishing their legends either; Lt. Aldo Raine (a drawling and rollicking Brad Pitt), who carves a swastika into the foreheads of each Nazi he lets live, is quickly "Aldo the Apache" and baseball bat wielding Sgt. Donowitz (Eli Roth) is "The Bear Jew." In the world of the film the bloody work of this small outfit affects the course of the war and strikes fear into the heart of the Fuhrer (Martin Wuttke) himself. The Basterds integration into the main plot comes rather late in the game, after a boozy and bloody rendezvous between a German actress spying for the Allies (Diane Kruger) and a British spy (Michael Fassbender). This barroom scene is the second of the self-contained brilliant strokes Tarantino pulls off (the opening scene is the first); it's a small gem of well-calibrated tension whose only flaw is that there's really only one way it can end.

There is a quieter and more urgent movie waiting to get out of Inglourious Basterds; it's the story of Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), the young woman who escapes from Landa's clutches at the opening and returns a few years later as the owner of the Paris cinema where the movie climaxes. When the opportunity presents itself Shosanna is only to happy to strike a blow at the German High Command with the assistance of her lover Marcel (Jacky Ido). First she must deal with the attentions of Pvt. Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), whose accomplishments are to be celebrated in the premiere of the movie Nation's Pride at Shosanna's theater. Zoller is the biggest single drag in Inglourious Basterds. I kept waiting for the character to develop some of the shadings Tarantino and Waltz give Landa but Zoller is exactly who he appears to be, existing only to drive the movie to its inevitable bloodshed. "I'm a slave to appearances," says Pitt's Raine in a late scene; and the lack of irony in Zoller's character means a chance missed to comment on different kinds of heroism.

Finally Inglourious Basterds is a very entertaining mixed bag, an ample showcase for QT's strengths and weaknesses. There are breathtaking moments of tension and dark humor, but on the other hand the only character whose fate matters at all is crudely dismissed from the film. As for the relationship between the WWII of history and the one made by QT, a little closer relationship between truth and fiction would have added some welcome notes of humanity and introduced a theme Tarantino never stops to consider: the cost of all of this to everyone involved.

Friday, August 28, 2009

If I lived in New York...

...would I be one of these people? (JVNY/photo by Jeremiah Moss)

As we moved further along the J line, the locals became understandably less amused. The racial and socioeconomic divide became starker. At Broadway Junction in East New York, we stepped out to a quiet elevated platform, intervening with a different reality. The group of mostly white partiers clumped together, away from the mostly black neighborhood people waiting for trains.

One of the singers struck up his band to sing "The Lady Is a Tramp," announcing, "This song is about how money's not important!"

A man said to a group of partiers, saying with a bemused smile, "This is not the stop to be doing this kind of thing. Don't you know where you're at?"

"We're in Brooklyn," said the partiers.

"This is not a good stop," he said. "Don't you think if you were here all alone, you'd be mugged right now?"

"I don't believe that," said the partiers.

"Believe it. You don't know where you're at."

"Yes, we do," said the partiers, "This is our train, too. We ride this train every day."

House of D-constructed

An interview with David Duchovny. What was the deal with his 2004 directorial debut House of D? (AV Club)

DD: I had this script called Yoga Man, which was really a ’70s-style script about an anti-hero, pretty much like Shampoo in a yoga studio. And I was working with an acting coach named Larry Moss, preparing to do a role that I never did in a movie that hasn’t been made yet, but which I’d still like to make someday. And Larry had seen an episode of The X-Files that I wrote and directed, and he said, “You know, you should have your agent send that episode out to everybody, because this is what you should be doing, you should be writing and directing. What have you got? What do you want to write and direct?” I gave Yoga Man to him, and the next week, we got together and he said, “Well, this is good, but I think you have better. Is there anything else that interests you?” And I told him I had these ideas about a story that takes place in New York in the ’70s. Basically the image that kept sticking in my mind was a fairy-tale image of a boy who doesn’t have an adult to talk to, because he’s lost his father, can’t reach his mother, and so he’s talking to a woman out of sight, pretty much like Rapunzel or something, stuck up in a tower. And it all takes place around the Women’s House Of Detention, which was an actual tower in an actual city, as unreal as that may seem.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dept. of Sensible

Yes anonymous blogging/commenting can lead to problems, but how far is too far in the other direction? (TLF)

Can self-regulation, social norms, public and press attention, and external pressure form others encourage some of the most vitriolic voices of the Net to moderate their tone? Perhaps not. With a platform like the Internet, you have to be willing to accept some silliness from those loonies who haven’t quite learned how to responsibly use this wonderful tool that has been put at their disposal. But I will take this approach over the forced surrender of our anonymity any day of the week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The 9

"Immaculate innings" are becoming more common in baseball...(David Archer/Kottke)

It is a surprisingly rare occurrence in the history of professional baseball. Only three pitchers have done it twice, and no pitcher has done it three times. It happened once earlier this year, when AJ Burnett faced the Marlins, and a number of other times this decade, as the phenomenon has become increasingly common.

I like Michael Cera but...

...I'm breaking from my usual policy of not discussing trailers to mention the trailer for his next film Youth In Revolt, coming this fall. I'm reading the novel (by C.D. Payne) on which the movie is based; it's 500 pages long, the main character is a not especially funny 14-year old, and at least half the book is about masturbation. I think Cera has been very lucky so far in finding material suited to him, but if he plays this one the way he played George Michael then Youth In Revolt could be a bomb. I'm particularly curious to know what sort of offhand wisecrack Cera's character Nick Twisp will utter in the scene where he's spanked by his horse's ass of a stepfather. Nick does some things in Youth In Revolt that it's pretty hard to imagine "Michael Cera" the screen persona doing. Will the actor adjust to the material or has the material been reshaped to the star?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Music: Wilco & Andrew Bird - "Jesus, Etc."

I've been into this again since hearing the version (which also includes Bird) on the Funny People soundtrack.

Big Post-Vacation Catch Up Post

  • Funny People - I think I've said here before that I'm a sucker for big, flawed movies that are obviously personal to their directors and represent (in some cases) years of effort to get their vision on screen. By way of example I'd offer Anderson's Magnolia (which I actually think is good) and Crowe's Almost Famous and Elizabethtown (one of which I think is good). Funny People is such a movie, and I'm pleasantly surprised to say I think it's very good. Lengthy, but with none of the dead spots that marred Apatow's other directorial efforts, Funny People is first a film about a very specific culture. Remember that old Tom Hanks movie Punchline in which he played an aspiring comedian? What Apatow knows about comics that Punchline didn't is that when they're offstage they're often not funny and in fact sometimes really annoying. The chief offender is Adam Sandler as a comic-turned-star of dumb comedies. I don't have any idea how much acting Sandler is doing but it works; letting him be essentially a complete jerk until the end can't have been an easy choice. I also have no idea how much of Funny People benefited from on-set improv, but the movie feels tightly written. The hungry young men of the L.A. comedy clubs are as close to Apatow's heart as his own wife and kids (yes, even Leslie Mann pulls her weight); his affection for these very funny misfits gives Funny People an urgency previously unknown in his work.

  • District 9 - The one movie of the summer that probably demands a second viewing. There's already been so much written about whether or not District 9 is racist; for the record I'm in the camp that is more troubled by treatment of the Nigerians than anything else. While the ways in which the movie is informed by apartheid are clear, I found myself thinking more of the Paul Bremer phase of the Iraq War. A government finds itself confronted with a culture it would prefer it didn't have to deal with and winds up bringing in a private contractor which invariably makes the situation worse. For me Sharlto Copley's performance as the hapless bureaucrat is good enough to paper over some holes (like where all the aliens go during the climactic chase), but I wish director Neill Blomkamp hadn't let the movie's politics get away from him.

  • Julie & Julia - Thank you Amy Adams for making half of this movie watchable despite it being about a woman with no discernible personality. What's more important is the delight that is Meryl Streep's turn as Julia Child and the 2 hours of suppressed giggling that is Stanley Tucci's performance as her doting husband Paul. The "Julia" section is so airy that it almost entirely glosses over the enormous amount of work Child had to do to see her cookbook out in America. The unexpected pleasure of the summer.

    I also had time to read a couple of books. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo marks a return to the subject of underachieving academics Russo staked out in Straight Man (my favorite novel of all time). This time Russo's hero is a screenwriter-turned-professor named Jack Griffin with parents he can't escape and a marriage that may be falling apart. Russo's gift is the gift of compassion. Despite his doing and saying some unpleasant things we're still rooting for Griffin to figure it all out. As with most of Russo's fiction, characters keep going when it looks like maybe they shouldn't. Colm Toibin's Brooklyn is small, exquisite, emotionally devastating, and recommended.
  • Hubley & Kaplan Household Favorites

    Georgia & Ira of Yo La Tengo have a playlist in today's Times; their new album Popular Songs is out September 8th.

    MR. KAPLAN We’re much more casual music listeners than we used to be. Kurt Vile, I think that’s kind of a good example. When CDs came out, we got a CD player, and against all odds it worked for, like, 20 years, and it just broke recently. So we had to replace it, and we found out that it’s really hard to get a single CD player. Now we have the six-CD changer, which we don’t even want, so the Kurt Vile CD, we’ve basically been too lazy to take it out.

    Saturday, August 22, 2009


    I can't cite the link but I ran across a post on another blog the other day in which the author made a case that August's reputation as a dumping ground for movies is quickly becoming undeserved thanks to releases like Tropic Thunder and this year's District 9. (Other examples were also mentioned; no endorsement of Tropic Thunder implied) I'll deal with District 9 and some other high profile releases in my vacation catch-up post tomorrow, but two small scale films go further to making the point that August can't be safely ignored as a month for new films.

    As Rob reported last week there's a feeling building that Bandslam got screwed by its own studio, which attempted to market to fans of Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Michalka's Disney work. Bandslam, directed by Todd Graff, couldn't be further removed from the High School Musical trilogy or whatever it is Michalka is known for. The socially awkward Will(Gaelan Connell) arrives at a new high school where he almost immediately falls for the iconoclastic Sa5m ("the five is silent"), played uncutely by Hudgens. Will is also adopted by a senior named Charlotte (Michalka), who wants him to be the manager of the rock band she has formed to compete against her ex (Scott Porter of Friday Night Lights, much too old) in a regional contest known as "Bandslam." Neither Hudgens nor Michalka have many acting surprises after their characters are established as Baby Goth and reformed Mean Girl respectively, but they make appealing poles for the genuinely geeky Connell to travel between. There's a first kiss scene between Hudgens and Connell that's played with a genuine sweetness that I don't remember ever seeing anything quite like, and the fraught relationship between Will and his Mom (Lisa Kudrow) is made lived-in by both actors. So what if the climactic song performed at Bandslam sounds like a No Doubt B-side? The respect Graff pays his characters is more than a little refreshing; the thoroughly winning Bandslam doesn't deserve to be a box office irrelevancy.

    I'm not sure if Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo is quite as thematically rich as Spirited Away (which I might appreciate more with a Masters in Japanese religion) or Howl's Moving Castle but if possible the animation looks even more beautiful. There are moments in this gentle story of learning to respect the oceans that genuinely look like a children's book come alive. Although the story of a Sosuke (voiced in the English version by Frankie Jonas) and the fish named Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) he adopts rolls to a close as opposed to ending, Sosuke's journey to rescue his mother (Tina Fey) after a flood is as gripping as anything I've seen at the movies this summer. Miyazaki is a creator or worlds in the truest sense; watching one of his films feels like eavesdropping on the totality of someone's imagination. So it's unfair to say to much about the magic contained in Ponyo, but if you're new to Miyazaki listen up: there's something in his work for adult and child alike. It's a core of humanity I never felt while watching Up. Are you listening Pixar?

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Ratio Ratio

    Soderbergh on the way HD movies should look on your TV. (DGA)

    Now, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because I have never believed that even a small portion of what happens in the entertainment industry matters that much, but it’s fucking lame to watch Jaws—a film that uses the 2.40 ratio as well as any ever produced—in the wrong format on HBO. Does Universal so badly need a few extra pennies that it’s willing to ruin a classic? And does HBO really think its viewers are so stupid as to forget movies currently come in two sizes?

    Apparently so. (No, I’m not forgetting the original, “golden” ratio of 1.33:1, it’s just that no one uses it anymore except the pretentious assholes who made The Good German.)

    Love This

    A Short Manifesto on the Future of Attention. (Design Observer)

    And yet I can't shake fantasizing about attention that has no price, that can't be bought or sold, but is given freely: a gift. I buy and read books because I want to give the gift of my attention to the attention economy I'm (as a writer) a part of. I'm inspired by Lewis Hyde in The Gift, who says that what distinguishes commodities is that they're used up, but what distinguishes gifts is that they circulate — the gift is never trapped, consumed, used up, contained or confined. That seems like the best basis for cultural production to thrive.

    In which I act like a boor for a moment....

    This post was going to be about a new producing project for NP's company; a high school comedy with a let's-get-boyfriends-by-prom angle. But the net is abuzz after a review of the screenplay for Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan (watch for spoilers!) reveals a sex scene between NP and Mila Kunis! It's not April 1st by any chance is it? Quite a bit can happen from script to screen....(Variety/Cinematical)

    Neil's Blu-es

    A review of the pricey ($350!) Neil Young Archives boxed Blu-Ray set, which I'll be getting just as soon as I get that $200 Blu-Ray Player. (Dangerous Minds)

    There are 128 tracks, nearly 60 of them never heard before spread across the ten discs. The old metal file cabinet user interface is nothing that innovative, but it’s probably the most appropriate considering the depth and archival purpose of the set. There is a nice looking “timeline” that displays photos, video clips and hidden tracks along the way. The set contains the first release of Young’s 1973 documentary Journey Through The Past and twenty video clips. Some of them are totally wonderful (like Young walking out of a record store with bootlegs of his music, the mind-blowing CSNY live performance, an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show and a 1970 performance at the Finjan Folk Cafe) but this is where my first problem with Archives comes in. The video content, whilst containing several gems, isn’t nearly enough. Not enough to justify the price, the fan expectations and not nearly enough to satisfy the wide open spaces of the storage available on Blu-ray (couldn’t most of this material fit on like TWO Blu-ray discs?). Where, for instance is the amazing BBC “In Concert” performance from 1971 or more of the CSNY performance?

    Thanks Rob!

    In a few hours I'll have returned from Oslo and will resume a normal blogging schedule, but let me take this opportunity to thank Rob for keeping things running here this week. Stay tuned for anything Rob may post throughout the day, but I'll go ahead and say it: I know Rob's an in-demand guestblogger (Daily Kos, Huffington, etc.) but I want him back here whenever I take my next hiatus. I've got a big catch-up post to write, including my opinions on several recent films and a couple of novels. Thanks again Rob!

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Ricky Jay

    Even though Simon is currently away on business, risky business, I can only imagine he would appreciate the idea that I'd like you to introduce you to Ricky Jay, a magician and performer who you may or may not have ever heard of. I first saw Ricky Jay in an HBO special entitled "Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants" which was an hour of card magic the likes of which I've never seen.

    You cannot purchase a copy of "Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants" on DVD, and perhaps this is at the wishes of Jay himself, who wrote an Op-ed for the New York Times in June decrying the public's sense of expectation and imitation:
    Ricky Jay's Op-Ed in the New York Times (

    Still, that original performance made me a fan, and I've always relished watching Ricky Jay do cameos in movies (even that Bond film where he was terribly underutilized as the uber-villain's second-in-command). Jay has a website, of course, where you can see what he is up to.
    Ricky Jay's website (

    And those who want a nice long read about him should probably take a look at this extensive profile done in the New Yorker back in 1993, which has been floating around the internet this week and made me think to share this with all of you:
    Ricky Jay profile in The New Yorker (

    If you don't know of Ricky Jay, I can only hope you will enjoy him as much as I do.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009


    Was Bandslam deep-sixed by it's marketing department? (

    I'll admit, I saw the reviews were good on rotten tomatoes when looking for something to see last weekend but took one look at the poster and said to myself "oh, never mind. it's a kids' movie." I wonder how many other people did the same thing.

    As you may know, Simon is riding a big white furry creature into the never-ending story this week, so it's up to me to bring you the goods.

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Juliana Hatfield's life story on twitter

    Simon may not have mentioned this, since he has been secreted away to a remote location where he is helping to edit the CIA World Factbook, but Juliana Hatfield is railing against her Wikipedia entry and filling in some details of her life on twitter tonight:

    Highlights so far:

    what i see when i read about my Wikiself: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah alternablahblah

    blah blah neil young blah blah blake babies blah blah women in rock blah blha evn dando blah blah guitar blah blah vocals blah radio blah

    modern rock blah blah blah lilth fair blah blah blah punkrock blah blah

    read these now because i am going to delete them all and try to make you all forget any of this ever happened tonight when i am insane

    You've been warned. Get going.

    Update: the posts are gone this morning. She wasn't kidding! The link above is still worth a look.

    More on District 9

    Wired has a little information about seeing District 9, including the best time for a bathroom break.

    Read the full story (

    Since Simon is on a, well, erm, rather *extended* bathroom break right now, I felt obligated to bring this information to you in his stead.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    District 9

    Hey kids, I know Simon is off climbing mount kilaminjaro right now so he can't tell you what's up, but take my advice sci-fi fans, go ahead and take a chance on "District 9" if you weren't already planning on it. One of the best and most original stories i've seen lately. I loved the cinematography, effects, and most importantly the crazy story. The fly meets shawn of the dead meets blackhawk down meets enemy mine. Yeah, enemy mine. Beat that!

    Sunday Music: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings: "Sweet Tooth"

    Just because Simon is making his way down the Oregon Trail this week (good luck, Simon!) doesn't mean we can't stand on ceremony around here. Today's Sunday Song is a new song from Gillian Welch & David Rawlings.

    If you ever get a chance to see these two live, run, don't walk. The amount of music they get out of two guitars and four microphones is stunning.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    And now for something completely different.

    Hey, kids. Rob here, filling in for Simon while he takes a much-needed trip to points south. We all hope he will recover soon and wish him the best of luck with his terrible affliction.

    In the meantime, please take a gander at my favorite youtube video, an original song by some girl out on the west coast who became some sort of an internet ukulele sensation after playing Britney Spears' 'Toxic' on the ukulele

    I can't match the quality of Simon's writing but I'll pound on the keys a bit while Simon's gone and maybe if we can find 99 more monkeys we'll have Shakespeare.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Stuff that could only have happened before Facebook

    Band pranks New Yorker about Pynchon; now admits truth. (ArtsBeat)

    In the mid-’90s, Mr. Pynchon also picked up some indie-rock credibility when he wrote the liner notes to “Nobody’s Cool,” the second album from the New York band Lotion. The story of how Mr. Pynchon came to be a Lotion fanatic was spelled out in “Godzilla Meets Indie Rockers,” a Talk of the Town article in the June 24, 1996, issue of The New Yorker. Andrew Essex, then a New Yorker staffer, reported these details: that Mr. Pynchon had spoken to the band after a concert at a Cincinnati laundromat/rock club; that he wore a Godzilla T-shirt; that he only used cash to pay for meals; that he didn’t identify himself until much later, when he saw, backstage, a copy of one of his books.

    From the director of Dodgeball

    Fans of Michael Chabon's novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh will want to stay away from Rawson Marshall Thurber's film adaptation just out on DVD. The novel is the story of Art (Jon Foster), enjoying his first post-graduation summer in Pittsburgh before starting a job as a stockbroker. Art's relations with his shady father (Nick Nolte) cloud the story, since Dad makes his money through illicit means and may have been incidentally responsible for the death of Art's mother. Thurber cuts out one of the novel's central storylines, Art's sexual relationships with both his coworker Phlox (Mena Suvari) and his friend Arthur (who isn't in the film at all). The fluid sexuality is crucial to the book's last-summer-before mood of being on the precipice of a life one isn't quite ready for. Instead two minor characters get elevated to first tier status: Small-time thief Cleveland (miscast Peter Sarsgaard, who gets to carry the weight of the bisexual storyline) and his girlfriend Jane (Sienna Miller). Thurber mistakes minor plot details (Cleveland's gambling, Art's affair with Phlox) for the atmosphere that he and Chabon talk incessantly about in a featurette. There's little sense of why anyone does what they do in the film and no feeling at all of the slow closing off of one's choices. For a movie that tackles similar themes much more nimbly I'd refer you to Adventureland, neglected unfairly on its release earlier this year.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    (500) Days of Summer

    (500) Days of Summer isn't quite as original or as charming as it wants to be with its hip soundtrack and cooler-than-cool leading lady. There are pleasures to be had for sure: Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel ) wander through a happy L.A. I'm not entirely sure exists, full of funky vinyl shops and revival house movie theaters. Deschanel has never been photographed so beautifully on screen and gets to show a hint of the iciness that I think critics tend to underrate in her acting. (I'd recommend her work in Winter Passing to anyone who hasn't seen it) Joseph Gordon-Levitt probably got a bigger paycheck for his role in G.I. Joe, but he has to be much happier with his performance here since Tom gets an emotional arc that goes from swooning love to desolation. There is that soundtrack; I don't think Oscars are given for music supervision, but Regina Spektor's "Us" is especially well chosen while "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" could serve as the movie's theme.

    Still, who are we kidding? (500) Days (and why the parentheses?) is tonally a good deal more muted than your typical assembly-line romantic comedy but in other ways it is a product of the same mold. The not-quite-adult mood swings of Tom are our real subject here. The opening scenes (which contain that same portentous narration that ruins the trailer) inform us that Tom's life is centered around meeting "The One," while all we learn about Summer is that she has long hair and doesn't seem to be fully in touch with her own emotions. We perceive Summer through Tom's eyes, from his first sight of her across the office to their breakup over pancakes. The situation is never reversed; does Summer think Tom is marriage material or mildly obsessive? The contrivance that drives the plot is Summer's professed desire to avoid relationships. Her fear of commitment is never explained, it's just an excuse for director Marc Webb to fill time with close-up's of Deschanel's face and flourishes like a postcoital dance sequence performed by Tom to a Hall & Oates song. While Deschanel's character isn't called upon to dance or babble in the way that say, the heroines of Garden State or Elizabethtown were, she's an equally willful and enigmatic version of a familiar archetype: the woman who exists to help a man grow up. Finally (500) Days of Summer is a good try, a film made with care and some ambition that doesn't quite have the nerve to follow through on its promise.

    Thom speaks

    Don't expect a new Radiohead LP anytime soon. (Stereogum)

    BELIEVER: I've heard you talk a lot about singles and EPs. Is that what you've been moving toward?

    TY: I've got this running joke: Mr. Tanaka runs this magazine in Japan. He always says to me, "EPs next time?" And I say yes and go off on one, and he says, "Bullshit." [Laughs] But I think really, this time, it could work. It's part of the physical-release plan I was talking about earlier. None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can't possibly dive into that again. It'll kill us ... Jonny [Greenwood] and I have talked about sitting down and writing songs for orchestra and orchestrating it fully and just doing it like that and then doing a live take of it and that's it -- finished. We've always wanted to do it, but we've never done it because, I think the reason is, we're always taking songs that haven't been written for that, and then trying to adapt them. That's one possible EP because, with things like that, you think do you want to do a whole record like that? Or do you just want to get stuck into it for a bit and see how it feels?

    Sunday, August 09, 2009

    Novel playlist

    Musician Joe Pernice on the playlist for his new novel It Feels So Good When I Stop. (NY Times)

    For the past 15 years I’ve made my living as a songwriter and recording artist. Before you nod your head in admiration, know this: That living was at times a meager one, as in, “Let’s go on a six-week tour of indifferent, tertiary markets because I could really use the per diem and sporadic backstage chips and salsa.” Not a joke. Countless times my dear friend and guitarist James Walbourne and I — in situations like waiting in line to use a backed-up urinal somewhere in Ireland — have flung the following in the face of the other: “It’s the life we’ve chosen. It’s the life that’s chosen us.”

    Animal Collective - "Summertime Clothes" (with dancers!)

    Better do this now while it's still relevant....

    Hip Hype

    A blogger reexamines Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion and finds it holds up:

    I feel like I’m supposed to tell you that this album was over-hyped. I feel like I’m supposed to tell you that we all got caught up in some big sham – that Merriweather Post Pavilion isn’t all that great. Hell, there are scores of fans who will tell you it’s Animal Collective’s third or fourth best album. But you know what? They’re wrong. Because this album is phenomenal. It is the summation of every Animal Collective note that came before it, a landmark album from a group that has always pushed the edge of the proverbial envelope , provided that the envelope contained ridiculous jams.

    Same blog: Why the bleep does everyone cover "Wonderwall?" (Pretty Much Amazing)

    Friday, August 07, 2009

    Foxy Friday Fluff

    How To Lose Friends and Alienate People is based on Toby Young's memoir of his experiences at Vanity Fair magazine. Young, played here by Simon Pegg, was the acerbic Brit you saw last season on Top Chef; Pegg plays him as a quivering mass of British awkwardness. A strong cast can't make up for a script that offers shallow insights about celebrity and the culture of those who make their living covering it. Jeff Bridges is largely wasted as the magazine editor who hires Pegg's character. Bridges's hair gives his character away as a stand in for Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter. Kirsten Dunst plays the staffer Pegg alternately annoys and attracts and reaps the benefits of playing the role that most closely resembles a human being. Here's hoping for a comeback; Sandra Bullock can't do every romantic comedy.

    How To Lose Friends is the first time I've ever actually seen Megan Fox act in a film as opposed to having her imposed on my consciousness through photo shoots and ironic interviews. Fox plays a starlet with a self-centered streak that doesn't come out until late in the game. Her expressions and timing are the mark of an inexperienced actress but in this broadly played affair she emerges about as well as anyone (The mock trailer for her character's Mother Teresa biopic is the funniest thing in the movie) I don't plan on catching either of the Transformers flicks anytime soon, but in the interest of journalism we'll keep watching Ms. Fox in her future efforts.

    Thursday, August 06, 2009

    The Hurt Locker

    There are sequences of sustained tension in Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker that are as remarkable as anything I've seen at the movies in a great while. The filmmaking on display is so assured that I'm gradually warming to the idea of 10 Best Picture nominees if it means some recognition for Bigelow's skilled direction of the story of a American bomb disposal technician (Jeremy Renner in a starmaking performance) and the two soldiers Sanborn and Eldridge (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) charged with keeping him safe while he works.

    After a prologue involving Sanborn, Eldridge, and another bomb tech (Guy Pearce) that establishes the movie's alternating moods of white-knuckle tension and gruff male-on-male joshing Renner's Staff Sgt. James arrives for his new assignment just a few weeks before the company is due to rotate out of Iraq. James is a brash risk-taker whose disdain for protocol and apparent disregard for his own safety offend the cautious Sanborn; James refuses to use the robotic bomb disposal device and instead prefers to investigate all ordinance firsthand. Almost all of the bomb disposal scenes in The Hurt Locker take place on public streets and are witnessed by Iraqis. It's Sanborn and Eldridge's job to judge which of the onlookers are innocent and which could be threats, resistance fighters ready to stage a remote detonation. Bigelow (working with editors Chris Innis and Bob Murawski) cuts these urban nightmares to the point of squirm-in-your-seat terror with the tension only exacerbated by James's apparent heedlessness. A quote on the poster compares Renner to a young Russell Crowe; I'm not going there since Renner plays James with a dry wit and lack of smugness that I've never seen Crowe possess. This is, literally, all in a day's work for Sgt. James. When questioned about his success record by a superior officer (David Morse) James goes quiet and claims not to be able to remember the number of bombs he has defused. The #1 movie last week was Funny People, in which (I gather) men talk profanely and at great length about their shortcomings. James's lack of ego and self-knowledge is the exception these days and all the more refreshing for it.

    James barely stops to think about where his attitudes toward his job come from, and that's a slight problem in The Hurt Locker's second half. James becomes obsessed with discovering the fate of Beckham (Christopher Sayegh), a young Iraqi "base rat:" with whom he'd formed a bond. James had to care about something, but Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are only interested in the Iraqis to the degree they threaten the Americans. The scenes involving James and his reactions to Beckham feel a little underdone, and instead of probing James's psyche we get scenes of Eldridge and a doctor that are too lightly written to add much. These are minor quibbles; Bigelow's control over the material is masterful (a desert confrontation with a sniper is the scene of the year) and Renner and Mackie are an ideal pair of mismatched colleagues. Refreshingly non-political, The Hurt Locker proves out its opening quote from Chris Hedges: "War is a drug."

    John Hughes RIP

    John Hughes, dead at 59. I wish my high school years had been a little bit more like a Hughes movie, but the larger point is that such warm-hearted depictions of teenage confusion are few and far between these days. (NYT)

    Mr. Hughes was responsible for a slew of films in the 1980s that defined what it meant to be an American teenager, from the music to the fashion to the social faux pas. His universe of nerds and jocks, socialites and misfits, rockers and rebels – not to mention overbearing principals, clueless teachers and absentee parents – also influenced a generation of movie-goers and -makers, versing them in a common language of pop culture idioms that persists decades on. “Mess with the bull, get the horns.”

    Wednesday, August 05, 2009

    Hating Atticus Finch

    I don't really know where to start with this New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell on the conservatism of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. Gladwell's central point is that Finch should be faulted for not going further in his defense of the accused rapist Tom Robinson; that choosing to impugn the testimony of the alleged victim marks Finch as a type of musty Southern liberal who faded into irrelevancy after the Supreme Court's Brown decision enraged the hard-core segregationists. (According to Gladwell, Bull Connor was a political nobody before Brown)

    Gladwell seems incapable of appreciating the book in terms other than one might discuss an episode of The Practice or some other legal drama in which an inflammatory defense strategy is used in court over the objections of one of the characters. While it's technically correct that Harper Lee and her protagonist might have had other prejudices (specifically against the "white trash" Ewell daughter whom Robinson is accused of raping), Gladwell faults Lee for not having a sort of extrahistorical foresight about the South of years to come. The reason To Kill A Mockingbird is still with us isn't because Atticus is an early avatar of the Civil Rights Movement but rather for the way Finch teaches his children to see things from another person's point of view. The book's concerns are larger and less messy than the particulars of the trial; critiquing the defense strategy is a little like saying Deadwood is a unrealistic portrait of saloon ownership. (I'd love to see a David Milch-scripted version of Mockingbird) As I read Gladwell's account of the way lower-class whites were put on a equal or lesser footing than blacks by the professional white classes in the pre-Movement South a horrible thought occurred to me: Gladwell's Finch would have taken a plea bargain.

    Tuesday, August 04, 2009


    The bigwigs of Twitter, refreshingly taking the long view. (Guardian)

    Doesn't it feel odd to have that connection – or, as happened during the Iranian protests, to have the US State Department plead with you to make sure your site stays online?

    "Something unbelievable happens every week," he says. "Things do get increasingly weird as we become part of a global stage. It's intimidating, but it's a great opportunity."

    In the grand scheme of things, he says, Twitter is just one part of a larger movement in which Google, Facebook, the mobile phone industry and the internet all play a part.

    "You need to zoom out a little bit more and realise that communication and the open exchange of information in general has a positive impact in the world."

    The New York...

    ...I want to live in. (Anecdotal Evidence)

    “On my way home from work in the snow I paused in front of the second-hand bookshop which opened up a year or so back in a little hole-in-the-wall on Twelfth Street – the one where I bought my Greek grammar, and, more recently, a set of Gibbon for three-fifty, and where one usually gets into a very intense literary discussion every time one wanders in, though I don’t know who these people are at all. I didn’t have it in mind to buy anything…”

    This is the poet Amy Clampitt writing to her brother Philip from New York City on Feb. 3, 1955 – a time and place she makes sound beautifully, impossibly civilized and vibrant. This is the Manhattan of A.J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell, Seize the Day and Charlie Parker (who would die a month later, on March 12). Only an oaf would deride the United States in the nineteen-fifties as stifled or reactionary. Clampitt’s is a sensibly genteel world we’ll never see again.

    Antony & The Johnsons - "Crazy in Love"

    I've never been a full-scale fan of this group but there's no doubt they make Beyonce's song into something new. (TAS)

    Sunday, August 02, 2009

    Cut & Paste

    Reporter sees story linked to, feels pride, then asks questions. (Wash. Post)

    After talking with Denton, Nolan and others for this article, I still want a fluid blogosphere, but one where aggregators -- newspapers included -- are more transparent about whom they're heavily excerpting. They should mention the original source immediately. And if bloggers want to excerpt at length, a fee would be the nice, ethical gesture.

    So, Gawker, do me a favor. At least blog this piece. I'll even write a headline for you (free of charge). How about: "Whiny WashPost Reporter Makes His Point: Respect the Genuine Article"? Oh -- one other thing. If you sell ads against your posting, can you cut The Post a check?

    Saturday, August 01, 2009


    I seem to be on a personal blogging thing today, so let's roll with it. In 2000 I appeared in productions of Arcadia, As You Like It, and Scapin with an actress named Amy Lynn Stewart. I was smitten instantly, both by her and her talent...she took the plunge and moved to New York and it wasn't until relatively recently we became friends again through the Web. All this to say I wish I could be in NYC to see this show (that's Amy in the trailer below)....if you are, please support Amy and the rest of the company!


    Despite the fact that I felt this way about his most recent album, I am looking forward to seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time when he makes his Greenville debut in September. The concert is also an ideal early birthday present for my father, who in the last few years has let his freak flag fly by building up a CD collection heavy on The Dead, Neil Young, Dylan, and the Boss. I've got six weeks to ponder what oldie I'd like to hear most.