Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How dare they annoy Debra Winger?

Eight offensive quotes on the Polanski situation. (Indie Eye)

I can't argue with the inanity of any of these statements about the case, split between the throw-away-the-key and let-him-go-he's-a-genius camps. It's correct to say that Polanski is a convicted criminal and that the U.S. government is within its rights to seek his extradition, though I think the wishes of the victim and the blatant hypocrisy of the L.A. district attorney's office in the wake of the Wanted and Desired documentary cut pretty heavily in Polanski's favor. It's very disappointing to hear comments from people I respect suggesting Polanski's talent should get him a free pass, and I most definitely would not have done this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dept. of Long Resumes

Why it's harder to be a polymath these days. (More Intelligent Life)

It is not only the explosion of knowledge that puts polymaths at a disadvantage, but also the vast increase in the number of specialists and experts in every field. This is because the learning that creates would-be polymaths creates monomaths too and in overwhelming numbers. If you have a multitude who give their lives to a specialism, their combined knowledge will drown out even a gifted generalist. And while the polymath tries to take possession of a second expertise in some distant discipline, his or her first expertise is being colonised by someone else.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

NP honored


Natalie Portman is among a group selected for honors this year by the Independent Film Project; others honored will include actor Stanley Tucci and director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). (The Envelope)

Each of the honorees has a lengthy career in independent film; Bigelow has alternated between offbeat and art-house fare ("The Loveless," "Near Dark," "The Weight of Water") and Hollywood products ("Point Break," "K19 The Widowmaker") throughout her career. Her most recent effort is the critical and festival hit "The Hurt Locker."Oscar-nominee Portman has also kept a foot in both worlds, with credits including "Garden State" and the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, while Tucci -- one of the top character actors working today -- has maintained an interest in independent film from both sides of the camera. As an actor, he has appeared in features including the recent "Julie and Julia," the upcoming "Lovely Bones," "Road to Perdition" and countless others. He has also directed or co-directed such indie favorites as "Big Night," "The Imposters" (both with Campbell Scott) and the upcoming "Hunter."

GLBT in middle school (Speak it!)

Must-read and already much linked to Times article about the rising number of middle schoolers identifying as gay, lesbian, or bi and the way schools and families are rising to meet the challenge. A story worth telling to be sure, though the reference to the "Day of Silence" (in which GLBT students and their allies are mute for a day to raise awareness) annoys me as usual. The metaphorical implications of keeping silent are just too powerful, and I maintain anyone who sees the film Milk should quickly realize how defeatist the idea is. A telling moment from the article:

On the national Day of Silence last April, I visited Daniel Webster Middle School in Los Angeles, one of 21 middle schools in California with a G.S.A. California is one of only 12 states that have passed laws to protect students from bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. (In May, Representative Linda Sanchez of California introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a federal anti-bullying bill that would require schools to implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies that include protections for gay students.)

I arrived at Daniel Webster, a school of some 850 students, most of them Hispanic or African-American, at lunchtime. About 50 kids milled around two large wooden tables at the center of the school’s leafy courtyard. Many of them wore pink T-shirts, and some filled out cards that would later be strung together and displayed: “You Are What You Are — Embrace It,” “Never Put Someone Down, and Never Let Someone Put You Down.” Others communicated using hand gestures or by writing notes to one another. But most had given up trying to be mute. “Good luck getting middle-schoolers not to talk,” the school’s counselor and G.S.A. co-adviser at the time, Ruben Valerio, told me with a smile.

Sunday Music: Scott Avett - "Greensboro Woman"



A Townes Van Zandt cover. The Avett Brothers' new album, I And Love And You, is out this week.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Informant!/Fame


In Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! Matt Damon plays a man named Mark Whitacre, who in the 1990's both exposed a price fixing conspiracy at Archer Daniels Midland and was convicted of embezzling money from the company. The details of the case (laid out in Kurt Eichenwald's book on which the film is based) are insanely complicated and Soderbergh doesn't get too bogged down in them; he frames Whitacre's story as one in which a mentally ill man leads the U.S. government on a costly and lengthy journey through his own psyche. Soderbergh (working from a script by Scott Z. Burns) uses voice over in a way I've never quite see before; it would verge on a spoiler to talk too specifically about how Whitacre's increasingly banal voice over sentiments are played off against his delusional behavior. The Informant! may be the first completely successful movie I've seen with an unreliable narrator. Matt Damon gives what's probably the finest performance of his career, working with additional weight he's as physically daring as he was in The Talented Mr. Ripley but hits notes of both desperation and comedy he has never had a chance to explore. The '70's-style titles and jaunty Marvin Hamlisch score take the movie out of the realm of corporate thrillerdom; in Soderbergh's hands The Informant! is a uniquely American story of rise and folly.

Fame: Too many characters, too little plot, and absolutely no sense of what it's like to study to be a working artist. While the frequent dance sequences give the movie a kick, too much time is wasted on dull characters (Kay Panabaker as a whiny actress) and not enough spent on the more promising ones (Kherington Payne, pictured, as a moody dancer). The teachers are played by a parade of familiar faces who spend most of their time spouting banalities. Only Bebe Neuwirth as a ballet teacher cuts through the utopian blather by refusing to play the movie's game of bland self-fulfillment.

Do the Shuffle #37

  • R.E.M. - Bad Day
  • Ray Davies - After The Fall
  • U2 - Magnificent
  • Michael Penn - Bunker Hill
  • Bill Callahan - Santa Maria
  • Ra Ra Riot - Too Too Too Fast
  • A.C. Newman - On The Table
  • Talking Heads - Road To Nowhere
  • The Cure - A Letter To Elise
  • The Breeders - Bang On
  • Wilco - War On War

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.) - 11/45
    Miscellaneous Fact: The season premiere of "Do the Shuffle" came on a gray and overcast Saturday; it's always funny how the music adds to or detracts from the surroundings.
  • Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Bye Bye Specialization

    Not the first "How the iPhone will obliterate all gadgets" post, but probably the most concise. (Kottke)

    Once someone has an iPhone, it is going to be tough to persuade them that they also need to spend money on and carry around a dedicated GPS device, point-and-shoot camera, or tape recorder unless they have an unusual need. But the real problem for other device manufacturers is that all of these iPhone features -- particularly the always-on internet connectivity; the email, HTTP, and SMS capabilities; and the GPS/location features -- can work in concert with each other to actually make better versions of the devices listed above. Like a GPS that automatically takes photos of where you are and posts them to a Flickr gallery or a video camera that'll email videos to your mom or a portable gaming machine with access to thousands of free games over your mobile's phone network. We tend to forget that the iPhone is still from the future in a way that most of the other devices on the list above aren't. It will take time for device makers to make up that difference.

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Megan Fox, actress

    Jennifer's Body director Karyn Kusama: (Cinematical)

    Cinematical: What do you think are her emerging strengths that you think she brings to this film or to the films she's in?

    Kusama: I can only speak to our experience together, and I remember really vividly when we talked about the sacrifice scene and she said as a very off-handed comment, 'a lot of young girls are going to see this movie, and it would be socially irresponsible for me to do anything but play it straight.' I thought that's a pretty sophisticated take, because so much of the script is so sort of hyper-real and theatrical and walking this sort of absurdist-comic tone that she could have easily looked at her dialogue in that scene and not played it straight. I thought I was gearing up for a conversation about moving her towards this sort of more realist depiction of that event, and here she had already gotten there on her own, and she didn't feel that there was any other way to do it. I just thought, that's her strength – she has innate intelligence, and a sense of respect for the character she's playing. In a funny way, of course shooting that scene was pretty difficult and kind of uncomfortable, and here the whole dynamic of the scene is that she is freaking out while everybody else is joking around her and treating her like a thing, and so I think one of her strengths is that she can go deeper than you think, particularly if you just ask for it.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    NP film seeks distribution


    NP's Love And Other Impossible Pursuits played the Toronto Film Festival because it doesn't have distribution - a sign of changing film business economies. The LA Times distributes the good word on NP's performance, which might have benefited from her late entry into the project.

    Roos made mention that Portman came into the role only 10 days before shooting after another actress dropped out. Perhaps she should take all her roles with so little preparation, as she seems to inhabit the part so completely it is difficult to imagine anyone else in it. She doesn't exhibit the plucky spirit so often asked for of younger actresses, but rather an armored wariness and defensive hostility that is remarkable to encounter. Though the film may at times be less than perfect, Portman gives a startlingly rounded and full-blooded performance.

    Jennifer's Body


    I spend about half of my hours at work in the store before it's open for business, and there's always a steady stream of music playing. Depending on who has the initiative to fire up Pandora or AOL Radio the fare can vary from '90s alternative to hip-hop to metal, but one thing that seems to run through all of my colleagues' playlists are horrid covers of old Top 40 hits by current "punk" bands. (The quotation marks are deliberate) Songs like these are marketed under the "Punk Goes Pop" moniker and are almost without exception crushingly literal and lacking any of the charm that made the songs hits in the first place.

    I suppose there could be bands out there that really want to reimagine "Careless Whisper" or "Psycho Killer," but more often than not it's a label-induced cry for attention. I make the point because Diablo Cody's Jennifer's Body script takes out after unimaginative bands desperate for industry traction; it's one of many targets in an imperfect film that arguably has a little too much on its mind. A band called Low Shoulder led by a preening, ambitious lead singer (Adam Brody) capitalizes on the bloody goings on in the fictional town of Devil's Kettle with a inescapable ballad called "Through the Trees." The song is an irritant to Needy (Amanda Seyfried), who is preoccupied with the newly physicalized relationship with her doting boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) and the strange behavior of her best friend and school sex kitten Jennifer (Megan Fox).

    One aspect of Jennifer's Body that has gone largely unremarked upon is portrayal of the high school world as sharply divided into cliques. It's a sharp contrast from the relatively benign high school of Juno. Needy seems to have a place at Jennifer's side but must deal with the snide remarks of those who think that Needy's feelings for Jennifer are a little more than sisterly. (Which I'd argue they are on a deeply repressed level) Jennifer is the most desired girl at school but it isn't clear she's the social queen bee and it's that vulnerability that motivates her homicidal behavior. It isn't spoiling anything to say that Jennifer commits several murders during the course of the film; the reasons for her actions are explained on a pure plot level but there's a layer of perhaps too dry satire inserted. Jennifer's behavior is Cody's version of a revenge fantasy for any teenage girl valued only for her body and anyone who has discovered that growing up means losing a friend. The fault lines that run underneath teenage friendships and are discovered at inopportune moments are Cody's primary concern. The since-childhood friendship between Needy and Jennifer seems to be functioning on autopilot. Needy has found a boyfriend and some measure of independence while Jennifer has gone about as far as being the hottest girl in Devil's Kettle can take one.

    While I think there is more going on in Jennifer's Body than is apparent at first glance that doesn't mean I think it's flawless. It isn't especially well directed; there are weird crosscuts (between a murder scene and Needy and Chip having sex), it isn't scary enough, and no sense of building towards a climax. There is less "Codyspeak" than in Juno, what there is comes mostly from Jennifer and doesn't add much. As for Jennifer herself, I'd say Megan Fox does exactly what's asked pretty well: look good and bored at the same time, kiss a girl, and get off a couple of one-liners. Cody isn't interested in developing Jennifer's story through character and incident. She wanted to write a loud, bloody, girls rule/boys drool fantasy and she did. Her voice may have become more shrill this time out, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored.

    On the hook

    Diablo Cody wasn't just a writer on Jennifer's Body, so if you don't like it then it's her fault. (IFC)

    Q: You have an executive producer credit on "Jennifer's Body," which can mean different things. What was the full extent of your involvement with the film?

    A: I feel like I cut my teeth as a producer on "Juno," even though I didn't have the credit, because Jason Reitman is such a generous guy. He would ask for my opinion on things like casting and production design. I didn't realize at the time that those are tasks often left to a producer.

    On "Jennifer's Body," I was able to formally give input into pretty much every aspect of the production, be on set every day and talk about the look of the film and what we were trying to convey, which is a discussion being had constantly because the tone is so specific. I enjoyed that very much, and I'm also a producer on this TV show that I write ["United States of Tara"]. It's on-the-job training, like a truck driver.

    Sunday Music: Band of Horses - "Weed Party"



    --Holland '08

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Well...


    I don't agree with NP's views on the inclusion of Tel Aviv in the "City to City" program at the Toronto Film Festival. Reasonable people can disagree of course, but I'm less OK with this:

    "Also there's so much dissent in Israeli and Palestinian art, and that's part of the spotlight. I wonder - because those people [who signed the protest letter], I respect their work - I wonder if they hastily signed that, because it seems not well thought through."


    It's fine to fight for one's own views fervently, but to impugn the motives of others without any justification seems beneath someone of NP's education and (usual) dignity. Even though I thought some of NP's statements about the political themes in V for Vendetta were pretty naive, I never questioned the sincerity or seriousness with which she expressed them.

    I Am Trying...


    Did Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot "rebuild the genre" of alternative country? A few reasons why: (Pretty Much Amazing/photo by Sam Jones)

    Yankee Hotel Foxtrot opens with one of the most prolific songs of 2002 and “I am an American aquarium drinker” is the how Tweedy decides to deliver it. The word drinker may be the only similarity to the country that most people were aware of at the time. Many people think that this album was the beginning of alternative country, but it wasn’t true. It was a brand of music that had been developing throughout the 90s and although it wasn’t your grandma’s country, it was a lot closer to that than it was to your country.

    Egoyan in Toronto

    Roger Ebert likes Atom Egoyan's Chloe, which stars Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, and Amanda Seyfried and will (if it's as good as Ebert says and with some luck) restore Egoyan to A-list art house status.

    Atom Egoyan's "Chloe," one of his best and certainly most commercial films, begins as a hypnotic story of suspicion and jealousy, and continues through passion and eroticism to an unexpected but logical conclusion. It becomes a battle of wills between the middle-aged wife (Julianne Moore) of a famous professor, and a 20-year-old prostitute (Amanda Seyfried). The professor (Liam Neeson) has a habit of flirting with women that his wife finds troubling, and when he says he missed a flight home on his birthday she doesn't believe him.

    She has reason to know that a young blonde women (Seyfried) is a prostitute, and knows how to locate her. She thinks she's her husband's type. She pays her to "meet" her husband and report on how he behaves toward her. I've seen a similar device in other movies, but Egoyan treats it in an entirely different way. The two women find themselves drawn into a web of secrets and confidences, and Egoyan, as so frequently, is a master of sexual obsession and the ways of seduction.

    Bruce


    Last night at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, SC I attended my first Bruce Springsteen concert. The impetus for going was as a birthday present for my father, but as a music fan whose Born In The U.S.A. cassette got plenty of play when I was about 10 I have no trouble admitting I was psyched. I don't know whether it was because of Springsteen's workingman image or reputation for lengthy shows but I assumed the concert would start relatively close to the 7.30 advertised time. When it got close to 8.15 and no Bruce we began to hear some restless noises from the crowd. (A new ticketing procedure at the venue may have accounted for some of the delay) Who does Bruce think he is, Amy Winehouse?

    Of course the show did start, and after some general whipping-the-crowd-into-a-frenzy stuff the band launched into "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out." I'm no better than anyone else when it comes to evaluating new work by classic stars; the temptation to compare the new stuff to the songs that made you love the artist in the first place is always there. Springsteen could never be accused of not knowing what his fans want, so the set list was heavy on the older stuff ("Badlands," "Glory Days," "The Promised Land," "Dancing In The Dark") and the new songs were broken up with crowd pleasing antics including a requested cover of "Satisfaction." For the record I think I might need to give the "Magic" album another listen and "Working On A Dream" is just as effortless as on record. "Outlaw Pete" still doesn't work though.

    As for the E Street Band, it may only be in concert that one can really appreciate that it takes this many people working this hard to create Springsteen's sound. You don't associate Springsteen songs with guitar solos (though Springsteen, Nils Lofgren, and Steve Van Zandt each got off a couple); it's the piano of Roy Bittan and of course the sax of Clarence Clemons that really define the E Street sound. Suze Tyrell on violin added some good tonal coloration (and got a nice spotlight on "American Land") and young Jay Weinberg more than ably held up the family's reputation on drums. Whatever one thinks of Springsteen there's no way not to appreciate the man's energy. He doesn't have to go into the middle of the crowd but he does, and that spirit has kept him relevant all this time. All in all an evening I'll remember and a reminder of why I cared.

    Right next to the protein bars

    What do backpackers read? (Bookride)

    I remember seeing a guy at Milan's cathedral like central station sitting on the steps half way through John Livingston Lowes' 'The Road to Xanadu' - a weighty study of how Coleridge came to write his greatest poems. It seemed a good choice for a book to read on a journey -- as Toby Litt says "...its argument, that Coleridge had one of the most extraordinary minds the world has ever seen, is there on every page." He seemed oblivious to the rest of the teeming world lost in Lowes' deep investigation into the creative process. Wherever he was heading from Stacchini's gargantuan stazione ('bombastic splendor') he had good company for a 1000 miles or so. Bon Voyage or 'Latcho Drom' as the gypsies say.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Afterwords

    David Foster Wallace could be remembered for his nonfiction more than his novels. (3 Quarks Daily)

    Now there’s no reason to think Wallace loathed writing nonfiction—it just wasn’t his passion. He aligned himself with Dostoevsky and Pynchon, not Capote and Talese, and there’s even scuttlebutt out there that he killed himself in despair over his unshapely mess of a last book and the pressure of never living up to, well, himself. I will read that last book when it comes out, for sure, and since last September I’ve decoded a fair number of his hermetic short stories and even committed a month to finishing (and I did finish!) all 1,079 pages of Infinite Jest, down to every last little cross-eyed footnote’s footnote. I felt less guilty after finishing, but yet finishing only reinforced what I’d suspected. When the Library of America editors get around to selecting a picture of the long-haired, bandana-ed, tobacco-cheeked Wallace for its 2050 catalogues, they’re not going to spotlight his fiction in this first volume. It’ll be the nonfiction he composed during spare hours.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Padding the resume

    Steven Soderbergh seems to be forging ahaead with new projects despite the underperformance of some recent films and studio cancellation of others. Does studio timidity make it harder for Soderbergh to bring his sensibility to mainstream fare? (Indie Eye)

    It's not like Soderbergh's dabbling in studio fare was ever necessarily that commercial. 2000's "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic" play it relatively straight, but since then every "mainstream" film he's made has been a little off-kilter. The "Ocean"'s series -- especially "Twelve" -- privileges pure style over content more than any other franchise around. "The Informant!" is Soderbergh's first proper "studio movie" in two years, and early reviews are mixed, suggesting there's a tonal clash between dramatic and wryly comic material. To me, that seems to mean not that Soderbergh's "failed," just that this supposedly commercial comic vehicle didn't come out that way.

    Humpday


    Lynn Shelton's Humpday takes what on the surface is an absurd idea (two straight men having sex on camera for a homemade porn contest called "Humpfest"), avoids the obvious pitfalls and winds up being a surprisingly gentle comedy about roads not taken and the consequences that result from our choices. Ben (Mark Duplass) is awakened one night by the arrival of his former college buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard), an itinerant "artist" whose lifelong underachievement is unspoken between the two friends. To the surprise of Ben's wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) the arrival of Andrew brings out a different side of Ben, who skips out on a dinner to hang with Andrew and a group of bohemians he latches onto almost immediately.

    There is a side to Ben that his marriage, job, and planned-for baby don't fulfill, and the proposed sexual encounter with Andrew (devised during that drunken bohemian night) doesn't have much to do with either man's sexual orientation; both Andrew and Ben continually refer to it as the "art project." Humpday is NOT a movie about someone discovering he's gay (though it veers close to that at one moment); both Ben and Andrew feel a need to "finish" something in their lives and think making the sex tape will be a way to find a missing sense of achievement. In a long, funny, and emotionally frank talk at the movie's climax that the two friends realize they must keep going down new paths rather than backtracking old ones. As a film Humpday bears all the visual and dialogue trademarks of "mumblecore," but its open-heartedness and confrontation with adulthood are welcome signs in a genre too often inarticulate and immature.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Stuffing

    Every three months the Federal Communications Commission comes up with its Quarterly Report on indecency complaints, and we sit around scratching our heads. How come the latest stats, in this instance for the first quarter of this year, show the viewers relatively calm at 578 complaints in January, then 505 in February, followed by 179,997 in March?


    How one advocacy group screws up the FCC complaint stats. (Ars Technica)

    Dept. of No Comment Needed

    Children of icons with nothing to do. (Art Fag City)

    The image is a reversal of Rolling Stone’s iconic photograph capturing Lennon’s parents, John Lennon and Yoko Ono and was shot by Annie Leibovitz only a few hours before the rock star was assinated. As a remake it’s unclear what if anything the new photograph intends to achieve besides monetizing an iconic image and powerful history. Unlike the original, the gender power reversal no longer exists. This may be good news for Muhl, as she’s unlikely to be villified, but it also removes much of the photograph’s intrigue for staged lust. It fact, the expressions borne are almost indistinguishable any American Apparel ad.

    Wednesday, September 09, 2009

    Quick response to Phish's Joy


    It's pretty much a given that Phish has never made a studio album that matches the experience of their live show, which I've never been lucky enough to experience. I'm no Carrie Brownstein but I did come rather late to Phish, and thus I'm in the fairly unique position of preferring their more recent work to their early stuff. The early albums to my ears are labored and try too hard to be weird; give me a "Farmhouse," a "Connection," or "Backwards Down The Number Line" from the new album Joy. The new release is about as relaxed and effortless as I've ever heard the band. There's a warmth to the songs that suggests band having fun together in the same room. Favorite tracks are the aforementioned "Number Line" and "Kill Devil Falls," which sounds like it could have been inspired by a McGuane or Ford short story. Lyrics are uneven as usual, though Anastasio's songs are stronger across the board. I'm not enough of an expert to know, but do the other guys usually write and sing this much?

    Brooklyn take me in...

    It is impossible to live in New York City without lusting after careers you’ll never have, women you’ll never date — not unattainable fantasy jobs and girlfriends, but paths you might’ve taken were there only time to take them all. If only a man could live ten lives, you think to yourself, standing in autumn on an outdoor Brooklyn subway platform, the air just brisk enough to invigorate the lungs, the night a bundle of potential energy as yet unspent.


    --From a longer post at TAS, where a collective reading of John Dos Passos's U.S.A. has just begun.

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    Disc Men

    Chuck Klosterman on the Beatles' reissues. This is fun once you get the joke. (AV Club)

    The Beatles get darker and (I guess) cheaper on Beatles For Sale, now fixating on their insecurities (“I’m A Loser”) and how difficult it is to waltz a girl into bed when her ex is a corpse (“Baby’s In Black”). There are a bunch of unexpected covers on this album, so it’s kind of like Van Halen’s Diver Down.

    Monday, September 07, 2009

    Whit's 10

    A collection of 10 favorite Criterion discs by Whit Stillman, whose The Last Days of Disco recently got the Criterion treatment. Stillman's top pick is The 400 Blows:

    1. It seems that any filmmaker’s first film idea is something about the mawkish predicament of a ten- or twelve-year-old child quite a bit like themselves—and usually their careers end with this choice (Sundance and other debut-oriented film festivals their final resting place). Truffaut took this dimmest of subjects and made one of the most radiant films of all time, in glorious black and white.

    Sunday, September 06, 2009

    Jonze

    Just read the already much linked-to NYT profile of Spike Jonze in which the director's struggles to get Where The Wild Things Are made are detailed. What strikes me about Jonze (besides the fact that he comes off as refreshingly unpretentious and maybe a little boring) is that he has forged a career as a director with none of the film school presuppositions about structure, storytelling, genre, or film history weighing down his imagination. I also like his aversion to creating "moments," those scenes we can all see coming when the music swells and everyone goes into slow motion for a moment. (See the two car crashes in Adaptation for an example of how Jones prefers not to wring emotions from his audiences)

    Jonze’s attitude, much more than the ability to spin an enthralling tale, is at the heart of who he is and why he matters to people. His music videos don’t tell stories; they capture a feeling. “Jackass” is probably the most successful plotless movie in American film history. The narratives in “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich” were formally groundbreaking, to be sure, but in both cases it was mostly Charlie Kaufman who supplied them. What Jonze contributed to those films — and what earned him most of the acclaim he received for them — was an attitude, a feel: a deadpan sense of humor, a do-it-yourself production style, an eye for naturalistic detail in everything from the set design to the performances. In nearly all of his works (as in the Torrance of his youth) the realistic and the banal merge with the fantastic and the extreme. To borrow a phrase that Sendak once used to describe his best-known creation, Max, Jonze inhabits a world in which one can “skip from fantasy to reality in the conviction that both exist.”

    Preston & John


    Preston Sturges and John Hughes died 50 years apart to the day. Each separated himself from Hollywood in his own way, but Sturges never lost his belief in the possibilities film offered. (Movie Morlocks)

    Perhaps that’s the biggest distinction between John Hughes and Preston Sturges. Whereas Hughes grew conservative and restrained, Sturges became riskier and more inventive with every new film. Consider his final two hits, both released in 1944: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is the story of a woman who can’t remember which soldier got her pregnant at a wild party, and Hail the Conquering Hero is about a rejected marine who pretends to be a war hero upon returning to his hometown. Both these films were made during World War II (!), when the Production Code bristled at the mere suggestion of wartime impropriety. (As critic James Agee famously wrote about The Miracle of Morgans’ Creek, “The Hays Office has been raped in its sleep.”) But Sturges believed in his scripts, and he fought for them – and, incredibly, he won. If he wasn’t trying something new, he was just plain bored.

    Sunday Music: Dirty Projectors - "Cannibal Resource"



    From last week's Letterman. I think Bitte Orca is my co-favorite album of the year to date along with the M. Ward....

    Saturday, September 05, 2009

    The Time Traveler's Wife


    When there is nothing at stake then there's no drama, and that's the biggest problem with The Time Traveler's Wife. Based on a bestselling novel that I haven't read, this story of a unwilling time traveler fighting to save his marriage has all the urgency of a cotton commercial. The enormously appealing Rachel McAdams plays Claire, whom we see in an early scene meeting and becoming smitten with Henry (Eric Bana). Claire is excited but not in the way you'd expect, for she has already met Henry during her childhood and had the whole time traveling situation explained. The screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) fuzzes the specifics of Henry's time leaps; for instance it feels entirely arbitrary that Henry knows he will make it back from the future for his wedding but doesn't know that he and Claire have a daughter named Alba (Hailey McCann). (It's also unclear why Henry is a different age each time we see him) Oddly enough the movie spends considerable time developing a scientific explanation for Henry's condition (electricity emitted by the brain) but the scientist (Stephen Tobolowsky) who unravels the mystery never even attempts to offer a solution.

    If either of the lead characters had any darkness then The Time Traveler's Wife could survive the flaws listed above, but the movie doesn't develop a shred of suspense around what Henry will find each time he returns from his travels. Claire is always there waiting, and any chance that the time traveling device will be anything other than an imposed plot contrivance is left by the wayside early on. Eric Bana slips into blandness quite quickly, but McAdams is as effortlessly charming as any actress out there; her emotional journey is provides a point of entry into this overly determined disappointment.

    Friday, September 04, 2009

    MP3dom

    I wasn't going to link to this because quite frankly I can't understand all the terminology, but seeing it in a few other places changed my mind. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead thinks you can have too much music. (Sasha Frere-Jones)

    SFJ: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the MP3 age?

    JG: The downside is that people are encouraged to own far more music than they can ever give their full attention to. People will have MP3s of every Miles Davis’ record but never think of hearing any of them twice in a row—there’s just too much to get through. You’re thinking, “I’ve got ‘Sketches of Spain and ‘Bitches Brew’—let’s zip through those while I’m finishing that e-mail.” That abundance can push any music into background music, furniture music.

    More Viral news

    I told you about my friend Amy Lynn Stewart and Viral here. I'm pleased to report that the show won a Best Play award at the NY Fringe Festival and will be performed 5 more times. Here's a brief interview with Amy and one of her fellow cast members. (Just Shows To Go You)

    "...an art-rock nemesis to Dan Humphrey..."

    Thurston Moore is excited about the upcoming Sonic Youth appearance on Gossip Girl, and he hopes this won't be the end of his involvement with the show. (Rolling Stone)

    Sonic Youth have finished filming their cameo for the October 12th episode of Gossip Girl, in which the downtown art rockers meet the uptown rich kids by guesting as a wedding band and performing their Eighties classic “Star Power.” “Kim [Gordon] and I are pretty fanatical viewers of the show,” Thurston Moore tells Rolling Stone. “It’s sort of our dose of Shakespeare every week.”

    Basterd boosting

    I liked Inglourious Basterds but after reading this (long) discussion of the film at HND I think my regard for the film has increased. Don't read if you haven't seen Basterds yet, but if you have the post shines some light on the complexity of QT's vision. (It's more complex then I gave him credit for)

    Too good to ignore


    Megan Fox uses the H-word when discussing Michael Bay. Too bad the full interview isn't online. (Wonderland)

    MH: Here’s another one from Andrew. How did you feel about presenting with Michael Bay at the MTV Movie Awards?

    MF: I hate being looked at. And when I’m on stage it’s clear that I’m being stared at by everyone and that’s my worst nightmare. My only goals when I go on stage are to not vomit, trip or have uncontrollable diarrhoea. If I accomplish those three things, I don’t care what else happens.

    Wednesday, September 02, 2009

    Chabon

    To repeat my warning from a few weeks ago: avoid at all costs the film adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. With that out of the way, enjoy this essay on how Chabon's renewed interest in his own Judaism mirrors themes in recent work. (Christianity Today)

    Michael Chabon's brief 2007 novel Gentlemen of the Road is the kind of story invariably described as "swashbuckling." It involves swordplay, axeplay, horsetheft, mysterious potions, damsels in disguise as well as distress, and, to speak generally, the full panoply of effects common to the kind of boy's adventure story that had its heyday a hundred years ago—though it must be said that few of those older tales, as I recall, were set near the end of the first Christian millennium and in the region of Central Asia dominated by the Khazars, that strange tribe of converts to Judaism; nor did the damsels of such books curse like drunken sailors. The story has chapters with titles like "On Anxieties Arising from the Impermissibility, However Unreasonable, of an Elephant's Rounding Out a Prayer Quorum." It is not remotely the sort of book that anyone would have predicted from Chabon when, twenty-one years ago, he published his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

    Dept. of Tempis Fugit

    Should fantasy author George R.R. Martin (or any writer) have to finish his next book on your timetable? Have the pre-publication reviews (from fans) already sunk the book's chances? (About Last Night)

    Yesterday I happened to think about Martin's series and decided to check Dance With Dragons' Amazon page to see if it had a release date. No, but somehow the book had accrued 49 reviews and a two-and-a-half star rating. Had I missed the book's coming out? Was there some foreign edition that people had gotten a hold of? No. The majority of the "reviews" are fans expressing their disappointment with the delay in publication and asking variations of the question: "Why isn't it done yet?"

    Tuesday, September 01, 2009

    Atypical Left-Wing Gloating at GOP Follies

    I usually leave this kind of thing to others but I couldn't resist this account describing the now resigned chairman of my state's Board of Education and her apparent secret career as a erotic novelist. (Gawker)

    Yes, apparently there are some similarities between Maguire and a virtual alter ego, Bridget Keeney. Like what? Well, like age, number of children and their background in engineering. That's not much to go on, of course, but FITS claims to have seen documents proving Maguire discussed the matter with Sanford ahead of her resignation and that his administration helped her cover her trail. This wouldn't be a big deal, of course, except for the fact that — surprise! — Maguire was thick as thieves with the "family values" set. She even donated $1,300 to failed presidential candidate and rabid bigot Mike Huckabee last year.