Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cocteau Show

Seeing the Cocteau Twins, circa 1990. (Ned Raggett)

But I do remember one moment very clearly, the encore — it was the politest stage rush ever. I can’t recall whether it was after they’d left following the main set or when they came back, but I have this impression of a rustle of black fabric and veils all around me, like all the goths who I knew were there the whole time but who I hadn’t fully noticed somehow appeared from and boiled out of the rows and seats to swoop up to the stage front. Of course, I joined them. (No veils, though.) Seeing everything up close didn’t really change the experience all that much, but I’m pretty sure they saved “Heaven or Las Vegas” itself for the encore, and I sense a piercing, faraway look in Liz’s eyes and Robin’s hands nimbly calling up the arcing guitar parts during the break and end of the song.

Fred Hersch

Great NYT profile of Fred Hersch, the gay jazz pianist whose amazing survival of a two-month long AIDS-related coma and a host of other problems related to the disease is informing his new work and a career still going strong.

Hersch, among the most sensitive of jazz pianists, is acutely sensitive to the proposition that his sensitivity makes his music “gay.” I took up the subject on a walk with him along the gravel path behind his country house. We heard hummingbirds in the beech trees and got to talking about nature and the conception of beauty as a value in gay culture. “I wouldn’t quite say that’s bull, but it’s a very dangerous idea,” Hersch said, slowing his gait. “The compliment I get the most often is, ‘My, you sounded really beautiful.’ I used to think, I want them to say something else, because I felt like that was a kind of, Oh, yeah, you’re gay — so of course you play lyrically and you’re one of the great ballad players. Of course. But now I just don’t care at all what people think. I think music should be beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with beauty. I’m attracted to beauty and lyricism, but I don’t play the way I do because I’m gay. I play the way I do because I’m Fred.”

Sunday Music: Ben Gibbard/Jay Farrar - "These Roads Don't Move"

From the One Fast Move Or I'm Gone soundtrack CD; the film is a documentary about Jack Kerouac's Big Sur and the lyrics on the CD are taken from the book itself. My avoidance of all things Death Cab For Cutie related is temporarily suspended since it turns out hearing Gibbard sing about something other than himself is actually not so bad while Farrar does a less intense version of his Son Volt thing. Farrar has grown on me, but it's hard to imagine there was ever a time when Jeff Tweedy was perceived as the member of Uncle Tupelo less likely to have success outside that band. More on this song here. (Song In My Head Today)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Broken Embraces

One of the most disappointing films I've seen this fall/winter, Almodovar's Broken Embraces is so clunky and inconsequential it might have been directed by someone trying to put together a pastiche of Almodovar's familiar stopping places of Penelope Cruz, movies, and intense mother/child relationships. A movie centered around Cruz's character Lena might have worked as a piece of high-toned melodrama; Lena is a secretary who becomes the lover of a possessive tycoon (Jose Luis Gomez) and later the muse and lover the of the successful filmmaker Mateo (Lluis Homar). Mateo, who narrates the early '90s events of the story from the present, is now blind and works as a screenwriter with would-be directors like Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano). The too-intense Ray has an unsurprising connection to the rest of the story that becomes clear as the flashbacks unfold, but what's more unusual about him is that (in the Almodovar films I've seen) he's the first weak gay character. The Ray we see in the 1990's segment of the film is passive, needy, and ugly to an almost comical degree; it's troubling to see Almodovar getting cheap laughs this way - there's also the minor character of an obviously gay hairdresser who is only referred to as "Faggot."

But Lena isn't the main character, it's the dull Mateo. We first see Mateo getting the paper read to him by a blonde whom he then sleeps with and that's about as active as he gets. Mateo's passion for Lena doesn't feel well-conceived or organic to this material; Almodovar is just getting off on the story of a director obsessed with his blond-wigged leading lady. Life-changing events occur and a betrayal is revealed (in a particularly stagey scene) but the characters are so flat and mood so dour that none of it matters. Pedro Almodovar needs some new obsessions and maybe some new cast members for his next film; Broken Embraces feels like the product of a brand rather than a filmmaker.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


If you watched the first season of Dawson's Creek now, you'd be amazed at how much better Katie Holmes and Michelle Williams were then their male costars. Williams has more than proven out as a grownup and now Holmes (who it's hard not to root for) is back at Sundance with a strong performance in something called Romantics. (LA Times)

Most of the time, Holmes seems to be taking on parts that don't bring out her best and in which she doesn't even seem particularly engaged (a sharp contrast to her "Dawson's Creek" co-star Michelle Williams, who consistently shows just how seriously she takes her acting, proving it again just a few days ago at Sundance with the world premiere of the tonally on-point "Blue Valentine").

But Holmes' Laura character in "Romantics," a tortured but still grounded woman with reasonable resentments, is a perfect vehicle for her skills, and actually gives the actress a chance to showcase much of what distinguished her on "Dawson's Creek:" This also is a talky part, and one in which she has to be grounded even as she's the center of a coiled drama (and one in which she also happens to find herself in a complicated relationship with a man she's known for a long time).

This would never happen today

From the NYT's obituary of J.D. Salinger, who has died at age 91.

In 1941, after several rejections, Mr. Salinger finally cracked The New Yorker, the ultimate goal of any aspiring writer back then, with a story, “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” that was an early sketch of what became a scene in “The Catcher in the Rye.” But the magazine then had second thoughts, apparently worried about seeming to encourage young people to run away from school, and held the story for five years — an eternity even for The New Yorker — before finally publishing it in 1946, buried way in the back of an issue.

Tech Talk

I'm really throwing this link out there to get a reaction from my more tech-oriented friend/coblogger Rob, but here are "8 Things That Suck About the iPad." The list of things a netbook has that this doesn't is worth thinking about, but my first reaction was to the awkward-looking design. It's hard to imagine someone using this in a coffee shop or other small space - too easy to lose, drop, or spill on. (Gizmodo, comments worth reading)

No Multitasking

This is a backbreaker. If this is supposed to be a replacement for netbooks, how can it possibly not have multitasking? Are you saying I can't listen to Pandora while writing a document? I can't have my Twitter app open at the same time as my browser? I can't have AIM open at the same time as my email? Are you kidding me? This alone guarantees that I will not buy this product.

UPDATE - A response to the very Gizmodo post linked to above. (Tomorrow Museum)

I actually prefer my iPhones inability to multitask. It’s putting a constraint on me… and my worst multi-tabbing, unfocused habits. If I can’t so easily navigate to another app or another page, I won’t.

The iPad is effectively dividing two experiences: reading and writing. This means actively listening to another person’s words, and having the time to think of what to say before typing. This is better communication. This is the future.

I'd like to thank...

Wes Anderson accepts a National Board of Review special prize for Fantastic Mr. Fox, in my opinion the best animated film of last year. (Kottke)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hoffman's Tales

A Sundance review of Jack Goes Boating, directed by and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. (IFC)

Philip Seymour Hoffman loves theater. He got his start in it as an undergrad in NYU, he's an instrumental member of the LAB, he's appeared in Broadway revivals of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "True West." So it's not unexpected that he chose a play (by Bob Glaudini, who also wrote the screenplay) to adapt for his directorial debut. But I wish he hadn't. "Jack Goes Boating" is packed with all of the issues of the typical play-to-film transfer. Characters drift into monologues, long single location scenes have to be awkwardly broken up, we drop into the middle of conversations in a self-conscious way that would look a lot better if preceded by the lights coming up at the start of Act 2. Things that work well on the stage tend, on film, to look awfully, you know, stagey.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Do the Shuffle #49

  • Johnny Cash - Let The Train Blow The Whistle
  • Liz Phair - Table For One
  • Wilco - Handshake Drugs (live)
  • Whiskeytown - Streets of Sirens
  • Sufjan Stevens - Adlai Stevenson
  • Rilo Kiley - The Angels Hung Around
  • Los Lobos - Two Dogs and a Bone
  • Wilco - Blue Eyed Soul
  • Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Streetlights
  • Steve Earle - Copperhead Road (live)

    Total Songs/minutes (approx.): 10/38
    Miscellaneous Fact: The Steve Earle track begins with about two minutes of a mandolin jam that serves as a bridge into the song. I've written about the Liz Phair track before, but I really need to get that off my iPod.
  • Sunday, January 24, 2010


    Here's a mixed Sundance review of NP's Hesher, and (for the UK release of Brothers) an interview in which she looks forward to more "adult" roles. (First Showing/Mirror)

    Portman is clearly not your typical Hollywood actress. Although she made her film debut at the age of 13 in Luc Besson's Léon, she has successfully avoided joining the list of child-star casualties.

    Composed, level-headed and highly intelligent, she drives an environmentally-sound Toyota Prius, is a strict vegan, and refuses to wear leather or fur.

    She will only use non-animal tested make-up and shuns diamonds because of the way they are mined.

    She is also deeply involved with Finca International, an organisation that makes loans to poor women in developing countries to start their own businesses.

    "It sounds almost like a parody of political correctness," Natalie readily admits.

    "But at the same time we can't be ashamed of trying to be good in all aspects of our lives. There are ways to have fun and also incorporate the stuff you care about too."

    Fantasist of the People

    Neil Gaiman in The New Yorker. I need to read American Gods and a few other things obviously. Why is the Gaiman family's relationship to Scientology repeatedly removed from Gaiman's Wikipedia page?

    Comics, science fiction, and fantasy conventions are nowadays something of a hardship for Gaiman—“like being a maggoty log at a woodpecker convention,” he says. A few years ago, he was at a convention with Angelina Jolie, who played Grendel’s mother in the movie “Beowulf,” for which Gaiman co-wrote the screenplay. “When I try to explain that I attracted more attention than she did, people say, ‘Oh, ho, he’s being funny.’ I’m not.” At Worldcon, the international science-fiction convention, where he was the guest of honor in August, people walked around wearing pins that read “Neil Gaiman! Squeeeeeee!”—an expression of hysterical enthusiasm. One woman, when he asked to borrow her program for a moment so that he could see where he needed to be next, crowed, “He’s getting eye tracks all over my program!

    Sunday Music: The Very Best (feat. Ezra Koenig) - "Warm Heart of Africa"

    The Very Best (Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit) with Ezra Koenig "Warm Heart of Africa" LIVE in NYC from 'Sup Magazine on Vimeo.

    The Very Best are Malawi's Esau Mwamwaya on vocals and two European producers; this is the title track from last year's debut album. See a very charming official video here.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    Nicole & Catherine

    Good news; Nicole Holofcener and Catherine Keener are working together again . If you've seen any of Holofcener's previous films (especially my favorite Walking and Talking) then you know her stories of barbed female friendship are the perfect match for Keener's facility with witheringly angry and sarcastic characters. The new Please Give is Holofcener's fourth film since 1996; her credits also include a few episodes of Sex and the City, Gilmore Girls, and Six Feet Under, but that's it. It's hardly a new question, but what kind of gauntlet are we making our directors run?

    The central dilemma to the movie is the question of what to do with people's possessions when they pass on; in that sense, the film is something of an American version of Olivier Assayas' recent film "Summer Hours." Both movies spend a lot of time puzzling over the value of everyday objects. "Summer Hours" asks "What is it that makes something valuable?" "Please Give" asks "Is it fair to declare something valuable?" Holofcener examines the issue effectively, thoughtfully, and humorously for an hour and a half and doesn't ultimately arrive at an answer. I wouldn't have expected her to. She's not interested in moralizing; her brand of comedy is about observation, not judgment.

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    For Rent: Gamer

    A pretty efficient B picture that takes on a lot of big targets (corporate influence on society, nanotechnology, how much TV we like to watch) without wasting time (95-105 minutes, depending on where you look) and benefits greatly from the presence of Michael C. Hall as a billionaire nut job who has invented a way to control humans through an implant that replaces the cells in their brain. Hall drawls and giggles his way through the movie and when the hero (Gerard Butler) invades his home Hall gets to break out in a dance number with a chorus line of his brain-upgraded henchmen. There's a whole subplot about Butler's wife (Amber Valletta), who works as a human sex doll in Hall's flesh-and-blood Second Life and Butler's character is the top contestant on a kill-or-be-killed reality show. Gamer ends with a whimper but the ride is fun; "Neveldine/Taylor" (the writer/director team behind the Crank movies) get off on their imaginations so much that the inconsequence of it all goes down smoothly.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    I want to read...

    If Patti Smith's memoir provides real insight into her early creative years and friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe I'll happily read it. It has to be better than this disappointing documentary. (Barnes & Noble)

    And yet Just Kids is about as un-rock’n’roll as it’s possible for a book to be while still including an appearance by Gregory Corso. (“Gregory lit a cigarette and read from my pile of abandoned poems, drifting off, making a little burn mark on the arm of the chair. I poured some of my Nescafé on it.”) The book is an act of recall in the Augustinian mode, closer to Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain or Thérèse of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul than to, I don’t know, David Lee Roth’s Crazy From The Heat. The language is solemn, every word weighed, and the mood devout, even if Smith’s saints and martyrs are a gang of heretical Romantic burnouts. Arthur Rimbaud, in particular, is a supernatural consolation to the young Patti as she struggles on the assembly lines of 1960s South Jersey. “Rimbaud held the keys to a mystical language that I devoured even as I could not fully decipher it. My unrequited love for him was as real to me as anything I had experienced. At the factory where I had labored with a hard-edged, illiterate group of women, I was harassed in his name.”

    What the GOP shouldn't do

    Will the GOP take the right lessons from Scott Brown's victory? (Plain Blog)

    What is likely to happen is that Republicans will overinterpret this election as further confirmation that their rejectionist strategy is a winner. I continue to be unconvinced. While I agree with John Sides that it's a mistake to try to interpret this particular election beyond what our very limited evidence can suggest, would send readers to John Sides for more careful analysis of this specific election, the bottom line, to me, is that Obama and the Democrats are suffering above all from a terrible economy. Obama, at the end of a full year of his presidency, is at 50% approval. Would he be doing significantly better if the economy was the same, but Republicans had dropped their over-the-top rhetoric about death panels, the dangers of trials for terrorists, ACORN, and the rest of it? I very much doubt it.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Quick reaction to Spoon's Transference

    If you discovered Spoon a couple of years ago due to their song "The Underdog," then I think Transference will knock you back a bit. It's a reserved, slightly nervous set of songs that could be the soundtrack for a movie that Wes Anderson hasn't made yet or some great lost classic that has fallen through a time warp from the New Wave late-'70s. I like the fact that Britt Daniel makes no concessions to the audience; there's not a chorus or female back up singer for miles and lyrics are about as cryptic as you can ask for.

    How can it feel so familiar when you've never been there?/How can it seem so unreachable/You never tried to find/Never tried to find the mystery zone

    Yet there's something undeniably right about this album; I can hear "Who Makes Your Money" in the trailer for Wall Street 2 right now and I can hear Daniel's heart beating on the closing track "Nobody Gets Me But You," which is probably the warmest track on the album. If I'm not as bubbly about Transference as I was about Vampire Weekend, don't confuse my reserve with lack of enthusiasm. It's merely my appreciation for Britt Daniel doing his own thing and an acknowledgment that Transference is good enough not to give up all its mysteries the first time around.

    What Democrats Should Do Now

    There's an argument to be made for passing the health care bill before Scott Brown takes his oath of office, but I don't think an angry electorate would be up for what they would perceive as more partisan tricks. I would like to see the House swallow their pride and quickly pass the Senate bill; more importantly I'd like to see a bit of decisiveness from my party. After all: (Amer. Prospect)

    Let's say we count how many people each senator represents (I'm using 2009 census data and counting each individual as one-half a constituent for each of his or her two senators). Before today, Democratic senators supporting health-care reform represented a total of 196 million Americans (or 64 percent), while Republican senators opposing reform represented a total of 110 million Americans (or 36 percent). If Brown wins, Democratic senators supporting reform will represent 193 million Americans (63 percent), while Republicans opposing reform will represent 113 million (37 percent). It would be hard to argue that that small change means Democrats no longer have a right to enact their agenda.

    This will all be moot, of course, if Coakley prevails. But if Brown wins, Democrats have a choice to make. They can abandon health-care reform literally days from the culmination of a seven-decade effort and betray the millions of Americans waiting for relief from this abomination of a health-insurance system. Doing so would tell the public in no uncertain terms that electing broad Democratic majorities is a waste of time and virtually guarantee the loss of one and perhaps both houses of Congress in this fall's election. Or they can show some spine and do what they were elected to do, even if Republicans squawk.

    We'll see which path they choose.

    Robert B. Parker

    Mystery writer Robert B. Parker has died at age 77. Parker wrote over 60 books, including 37 novels about a Boston P.I. named Spenser. I started reading Spenser books in high school and I've read almost all of them; Parker's writing gets more mannered as the years go by but there's a wonderful humor and a sense of knowing what to expect from the characters. The Ed Harris Western Appaloosa was also based on a Parker novel. My favorite entries in the Spenser series are here, here, and here.

    It was Spenser, though — spelled “like the poet,” as the character was wont to point out (his first name was never revealed) — who was Mr. Parker’s signature creation. He appeared for the first time in 1973 in “The Godwulf Manuscript,” in which he is hired by a university to retrieve a stolen medieval document, an investigation that triggers a murder. The first pages of the book revealed much of what readers came to love about Spenser — his impatience with pomposity, his smart-alecky wit, his self-awareness and supreme self-confidence.

    “Look, Dr. Forbes,” Spenser says to the long-winded college president who is hiring him. “I went to college once. I don’t wear my hat indoors. And if a clue comes along and bites me on the ankle, I grab it. I am not, however, an Oxford don. I am a private detective. Is there something you’d like me to detect, or are you just polishing up your elocution for next year’s commencement?”

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

    Terry Gilliam has Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to thank for the existence of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The film might not exist at all if the three stars hadn't stepped in to contribute cameos after the death of Heath Ledger during shooting, but whatever notoriety Imaginarium has going forward will at least in part be due to its place as the answer to the trivia question about Ledger's last screen appearance. Ledger is winning in the role of Tony, a disgraced charity executive rescued from a suicide attempt by the performing troupe of Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). Parnassus is the proprietor of the "Imaginarium," a sort of psychic hall of mirrors that allows those who enter to accept the power of their imaginations. The conceit of the script by Gilliam and Charles McKeown is that the immortal Parnassus is locked in an eternal battle with "Mr.Nick," aka The Devil and played with a nice offhandedness by Tom Waits. Parnassus represents the last vestiges of the power of myth, narrative, and imagination to shape human society, while Mr. Nick offers the slickness and easy pleasure of modernity.

    Despite all of Ledger's charm (like all his best roles, this part doesn't depend on his good looks), Imaginarium belongs mostly to Plummer. I still can't quite get my head around the fact that Captain Von Trapp from The Sound of Music is still alive and working, but Plummer is still unquestionably in top form. He rumbles and wheezes through the film like a Lear betrayed by his own arrogance and lust into allowing Nick to make him immortal. The Doctor's one saving grace is his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), the beating heart of the film. Valentina is tempted by the tranquility she sees in home magazines; will she be seduced by the worldly Tony or the Doctor's doting but naive assistant Anton (Andrew Garfield)? The Imaginarium is a coming-out party of sorts for Cole, whose striking good looks are both Classical and today at the same time

    Depp, Law, and Farrell all show up in CGI sequences set inside the Imaginarium, pretty to look at at but with the feel of DVD bonus materials. Their presence is justified within the story, but just barely. The longer the movie goes on the further it goes off track, as the struggle between Parnassus and Nick (with Valentina's soul as the prize) is displaced in favor of the less compelling question of Tony's fate. I can't believe I'm saying this but Imaginarium has one of the same problems as the far more conventional The Lovely Bones; behavior and motivation are knocked flat by digital effects. (Gilliam accomplished just as much with a guy on a horse and a good cameraman in The Fisher King) As shaky as the late scenes feel, Plummer's determination to keep the movie in his teeth gets Gilliam and Imaginarium out of its third-act jam. Gilliam's ending is hopeful: the struggle goes on and the stories may be smaller, but the audience is still there.

    For Spalding

    Steven Soderbergh has made a documentary about the late Spalding Gray. (NYT)

    Mr. Soderbergh said he shared what he described as Gray’s need “to keep making art in order to get out of bed in the morning.” So he felt an admittedly irrational fear that what Gray suffered would somehow “splash onto him.” His anxiety was so great, he said, that he never made contact with Gray after the accident.

    “I was totally absent in a way that is inexcusable to me,” he said. “And this entire movie is in part an act of contrition. The irony is that I spent the better part of three years immersed in something I tried to avoid. But as Spalding would say, ‘What are we to do with any of this except make a piece of art?’ ”

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    The Lovely Bones

    Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones boils itself down to a series of bland affirmations about love and letting go over the course of 2+ hours; making a good film out of this hazily written tale of a young girl's murder and its aftermath may in fact have been impossible, but Jackson's flourishes undercut the stories harder edges. As 13-year old murder victim Susie Salmon, Saoirse Ronan is innocent, budding, and just guileless enough to be believable as someone who'd stop at the urging of sketchy neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci, succeeding in a near-impossible role) to check out his newly constructed underground lair. As readers of the novel or viewers of the trailer will know, Susie isn't on earth for the better part of the story. Jackson is less specific about the afterlife than I recall Sebold being; Susie winds up in the "in-betweens," a sort of agriculturally malleable holding area where she can observe but not influence events back home. As appealing as Ronan is she's redundant to the story after her murder.There's nothing at stake in the in-betweens, where Susie pals around with a too knowledgeable Holly (Nikki SooHoo) in a CGI-created playground and delivers unnecessary voice over narration. Jackson (along with cowriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) wouldn't dare risk offending anyone by making a choice about what Susie's afterlife means, so nothing is explained about where Susie is or what happens if she can't let go of her earthly life.

    At the Salmon house things proceed with great predictability. Mom (Rachel Weisz with nothing to do) can't deal with Susie's death and takes off while Dad (Mark Wahlberg) becomes obsessed with solving the murder. There's little feeling of the passage of time in The Lovely Bones; it comes as a shock when we realize that months have passed between scenes. Wahlberg is the movie's biggest liability. I loved his funny, profane cop in The Departed but (leaving aside the fact that he looks too young to be the father of two teenagers) he simply can't get to the festering anger and pain that undergirds his role. Susan Sarandon tries to make something out of a few scenes as a flinty grandmother, but her character exists only to remind everyone else how they aren't dealing with things. As Susie's younger sister, the first to become suspicious of Mr. Harvey, Rose McIver is the only cast member who transcends her character arc. Her invasion of Harvey's house is the movie's best set piece and the one scene in whch it feels like anything could happen. Discussions of Jackson's involvement in The Lovely Bones have likened it to Heavenly Creatures, but in that striking work the two teenage girls were alive in more than just the literal sense. The fantasy sequences in Heavenly Creatures were manifestations of the girls' half-understood desires and onrushing sexuality, but in The Lovely Bones the giant topiaries and gravity defying sled rides are pretty wish fulfillment for a girl whose story has already been written.

    Any vision of the afterlife engineered to be meaningful to everyone is by necessity so vague as to be meaningful to no one, and that's the problem with The Lovely Bones both on page and screen. A director with a surer feel for the intimate and personal would have better served a story that's smaller than it thinks it is.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    I'm tweeting...

    ....the Golden Globes! Check it out here.

    Privacy, part deux

    Isn't it remarkable how quickly all the talk about Mark Zuckerberg's views on what people really expect with regard to Internet privacy died down? This post from TLF goes to one of my points about the situation, which is that there's a disconnect between the way people make choices to give up privacy online all the time and their tendency to go off when they get called on it. Worth reading.

    When confronted with real world choices about privacy and information sharing, we often are willing to accept some trade-offs in exchange for something of value. But when we are asked about this process we are loathe to admit that we would willingly engage in such privacy-for-services trade-offs even if we do it every day of our lives. As Michael Arrington of TechCrunch rightly points out:

    the rest of us seem to be ok with Gmail. And our phone. That’s because the benefits of those products far outweigh the privacy costs. And people are going to be just fine with Facebook, too.

    And he notes there are other examples of where people seemingly make these trade-offs every day, even if it seems illogical to others why they would do so.

    Sunday Music: Mos Def - "Quiet Dog"

    From last June. Saw Mos Def last night on Austin City Limits do this song with only his own drum accompaniment and had to look this up. That full episode (also featuring Somali rapper/singer K'Naan) can be found here. (may require Flash Player download)

    UPDATE - Are Mos Def and K'naan "acceptable" for a PBS audience? (All Songs Considered)

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    A Single Man (mild spoilers)

    If there was ever a movie that didn't need to be directed by a fashion designer then it's Tom Ford's A Single Man, based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood. Colin Firth's performance as George, a professor grieving the loss of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode), is the most soulful and lived-in work I've ever seen from the actor whose career seems to have come down to playing bland British versions of The Guy She Was Supposed To Be With All Along roles. (Transpose many of Firth's roles to America and Bill Pullman would have had a lot more work recently) Eight months after Jim's death in a car accident George 's grief has hardened into an almost total refusal to engage with the world and a decision to take his own life. Although George doesn't seem to have any real friends other than boozy Charley (Julianne Moore, hard to take when she's drunk and British), A Single Man isn't really a movie about how George relates to everyone else; it's about the pain behind George's eyes when he hears the news of Jim's death and the fact he's not welcome at the funeral. Firth's performance in that early scene is a piece of peerless screen acting and the most nakedly emotional moment in the movie. The stiffness with which George carries himself at school and even the way that he behaves at a charged private dinner with Charlie are all suggestive of a man retreating from life.

    If only Tom Ford had given Firth's performance a better foundation. As a director Ford has a terminal case of being distracted by shiny objects. There's not a surface, article of clothing, or naked male torso that doesn't distract Ford's camera and I'm afraid the effect isn't the one Ford intended. There's not a frame in the scene at Charley's house that wouldn't look right as a part of some glossy "retro" magazine spread positioned right before an article about all the good the Hot Actress du jour is doing in Darfur. (This scene also includes a slightly too on-the-nose affirmation of the validity of gay love that feels very 2010, as a blogfriend points out Tom Ford wasn't shy about making changes) Would George's will to live really be restored by the clingy Charley, a passing conversation with a hot guy (Jon Kortajarena; I hope Pedro Almodovar saw that scene) at a liquor store, and the attentions of a sexually ambiguous student (the admittedly enticing Nicholas Hoult)? So Ford would have us believe, though the cruel ending suggests that George's heart belongs to Jim in this world and the next. There's no middle ground for George in Ford's conception; unlike his married neighbor (Ginnifer Goodwin) who hosts cocktail parties and has annoying kids, for George it's either Jim, death, or a lifetime of pretty distractions.

    Do the Shuffle #48

  • Tift Merritt - Diamond Shoes
  • Tom Waits - Dead & Lovely
  • Phish - Born Under Punches (live)
  • Norah Jones - Man Of The Hour
  • Dirty Projectors - No Intention
  • Mark Olson/Gary Louris - Doves & Stones
  • Ra Ra Riot - Run My Mouth
  • Bon Iver - Team
  • Bill Janovitz - Little Girl Blue
  • Maria McKee - This Property is Condemned

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 10/44
    Miscellaneous Fact: I have Phish's live performance of the Remain In Light album on my iPod but I do not have the original Talking Heads album. Oops.
  • Friday, January 15, 2010

    NP on Haiti

    Sorry for getting a post out of a strange combination of global tragedy and private obsession, but there's a statement from NP and an opportunity to help Haitian earthquake victims at the FINCA website. NP is Ambassador of Hope for FINCA, an organization seeking to end poverty through microloans in developing countries.

    Quick reaction to Vampire Weekend's Contra

    I love it. Quick enough for you? But seriously, I thought I'd enjoy Contra but didn't think I'd listen to it essentially nonstop for a week. (When was the last time I did that with a new album?) I think there's a quality to Vampire Weekend which isn't complicated but gets overlooked in discussions of their music: These guys are happy. Yes, you might say, they're four young, good-looking, New York Ivy Leaguers.Who wouldn't be happy in that situation? It's obvious in songs like "Holiday" but even "White Sky" (my favorite track so far) has a New York in winter, it's exhausting-but-exhilarating feeling to it that I can't quite compare to anything else. I think happiness is a quality missing from the bands we tend to obsess over on music blogs and in reviews, with the possible exception of Animal Collective. (I'm looking at you Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire, and yes even Wilco) This blog post is starting to sound like something Wayne Dyer might write, so I'll finish this point by saying that I think certain circles (myself included) tend to equate joy in a rock band with a lack of seriousness, but Contra is good enough to overcome the doubters.

    With the exception of a couple of tracks ("Holiday" and "California English") I don't really get the "West Coast" feeling that people are talking about with Contra, but there is the beginning of a strain of emotional directness that could yield great future results. ("Taxi Cab" and "I Think UR a Contra") All of Ezra Koening's weird shrieking ("White Sky") and mid-song reggae bridges ("Diplomat's Son") don't feel like affectation but rather like the product of a band that is perfectly content to be the sum of some very interesting parts and cares very little what anyone thinks of them. The confidence and charm of Contra are a surprise midwinter pleasure, as is the knowledge that these guys are going to have a career.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    The Song Doesn't Cost The Same

    Does the cost of licensing music prevent some filmmakers from finding their audience? Ask Charles Burnett and Abel Ferrara. (Boing Boing)

    In 1977, filmmaker Charles Burnett submitted Killer of Sheep as his Master's thesis at UCLA Film School. It's set in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts and filmed in an Italian neorealist style. After a well-received festival run, it languished for 30 years without a theatrical release or distribution because of music rights issues. It wasn't until 2007 that the rights were secured, and the film went on to have a theatrical release. Burnett isn't the only filmmaker who has run afoul of music rights. Abel Ferrara's 1992 film Bad Lieutenant used the song "Signifying Rapper" by Schoolly D, including in a key scene where a nun is sexually assaulted. Schoolly D's record company had not cleared the sample of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir used on "Signifying Rapper." Zep's people sued, and the upshot was that Ferrara had to destroy all unsold copies of the film and change out the track.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    The 400

    The perceived glamour and practical realities of being on Twitter's "suggested user" list. (Anil Dash)

    I do have some misgivings about the effect of the list, though. In addition to showing how much control Twitter has over the medium they've created, the list also causes some pretty uncomfortable and awkward distortions. It conveys remarkable privileges to the few hundred of us who are members. A lot of celebrities, some past their prime, have pointed to their enormous numbers of followers on Twitter as evidence that they still command some sort of passionate following online. Other nascent talents have had their profiles raised by becoming "Twitter stars", with their thousands or even millions of followers held up as proof of strong demand for their ideas.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

    Werner Herzog claims never to have seen Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (neither have I) and that's OK, since Herzog's tale of a drug-addled cop in post-Katrina New Orleans reminded me more a Western than a story of hellish '90s New York. We don't know much about what kind of cop Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage in a carefully calibrated freakout) was before he injured his back saving a prisoner from drowning, but when he returns to duty he's nursing a slightly too-big crush on Vicodin and shaking down club goers for stronger drugs. Unlike his fellow cop Stevie (Val Kilmer), McDonagh is a still a company man and he attacks the murder of a Senegalese family with a fury that belies the external pressures he's under. In addition to his drug problem Terence has a stout gambling habit as in on the verge of being cut off by his bookie (Brad Dourif, whose time on Deadwood feels like the right credential for this role)This performance is too weird and the film too small to provide Cage with the comeback he badly needs, but it at least rehabilitates him critically to a degree. There's not a moment that doesn't feel honest, and Cage may be the best around at playing careful delineations of chemical imbalance.

    Werner Herzog's New Orleans is a empty-feeling wasteland up for the taking; the goal of drug dealer and murder suspect Big Fate (Alvin Xzibit Joiner) is to buy up enough condo-ready riverfront property to become a legitimate player in the city's revitalization. There's no sense of a battered community on the mend; McDonagh, his girlfriend/fellow addict Frankie (Eva Mendes), and Big Fate are all survivors who've made it in spite of the city and not because of it. I'm not going to guess what Herzog has in mind with his versions of McDonagh's drugged-out visions (Oh, may "What are these f-ing iguanas doing on my coffee table?" become the next "I drink your milkshake."), but Bad Lieutenant would have been just another procedural had it not been for Cage and for Herzog's outsider's eye. The story of McDonagh and Big Fate rolls to a close rather than stopping but that's no problem; watching Cage's lost soul sort of find is his way is the real show. One other note: Jennifer Coolidge, the broad comedienne who has plied her ditz in everything from Christopher Guest movies to Secret Life of the American Teenager is unrecognizable as the alcoholic wife of McDonagh's father (Tom Bower). I don't know how Coolidge got cast in this role, but she has a future as a character actress.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Worst Blog Post of The Day #6

    "The Elitist Issue" (Marissabidilla)

    The New Yorker gets slapped for not being appealing to people who shop at Wal Mart and not running more profiles of the cast of C.S.I.. Has it occurred to blogger that the only way magazines can survive these days is by targeting specific audiences? The shot at (and willful misreading of the poem by) Donald Hall is especially egregious:

    Still, far more unsavory is one of the poems in this issue, "The Things" by Donald Hall, which I am tempted to call the worst poem I have ever read.

    When I walk in my house I see pictures,
    bought long ago, framed and hanging
    --de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore--
    that I've cherished and stared at for years,
    yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
    of the trivial: a white stone perfectly round,
    tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
    a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
    a dead dog's toy--valueless, unforgettable
    detritus that my children will throw away
    as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips
    with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
    and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.

    I just can't shake the feeling that the only reason Hall wrote this poem is because he wanted to brag about his art collection. And then he tries to convince us that he's not bragging, that he's really a sentimental guy who takes pleasure from the little things in life, and tries to make us feel upset that his children will throw these things away. But really, how upset can one get? These kids are lucky, they're inheriting De Koonings! It all leaves an extremely bad taste in my mouth.

    Dept. of Teapot-sized Tempests

    The best reaction to the "Facebook doesn't care about privacy" mini-flap that I've heard comes from a commenter on CNet:

    I love how everyone treats privacy like it were such a binary thing. Fact is, it's not.

    For instance, how many folks on Facebook who were arrested and/or fined for DUI would openly say so? How many of them do you figure would publicly admit to having had syphilis, gonorrhea, or HIV? How many of them would relate their true deepest sexual fantasies and preferences? How many post their Social Security (US) number? How many would openly allow Facebook to place an agent on their web browser and post all the sites they have visited in the past week, month, year? How many would publicly post that they've declared Bankruptcy in the past five years?

    The answer to all of those is probably "none, if any, and those that do exist are likely fake or forgeries".

    In the middle, we have stuff that we don't mind folks knowing. This time, I can only present myself as an example: I don't mind people knowing that I work in IT. I enjoy 'talking shop' with near-perfect strangers in the same field. I don't mind giving a rough estimate of my salary (so close to six figures that I can almost taste it). I have no problem with sharing funny (even self-deprecating) stories about myself with friends.

    Then of course there's the usual business/government stuff: I have to tell Pizza Hut my home address and phone number so they can get my purchase to me and/or call me back if there's a problem - and my CC# in order to pay for the thing (unless I use cash). I have to tell the local DOT/DMV my birthdate, Social Security number, insurance carrier name, etc. if I want to renew my car's tags or renew the driver's license.

    Then there's the stuff that people don;t care who would know/find out - usually their first names, what town they live in, etc.

    Long story short - privacy is not black/white. It's a ginormous spectrum of gray, with a sliver of white or black on either end.

    If you believe this interview with an "anonymous Facebook employee" is genuine, then it's even worse than you've heard. Full disclosure: there's nothing on my Facebook page that I'd mind a friend knowing, someone I went to elementary school with, or (except for my phone #)really even someone who just Googled me. Why would you have it any other way?

    Do the Shuffle #47

  • Robyn Hitchcock - Saturday Groovers
  • Ryan Adams - My Winding Wheel
  • Van Morrison - Ballerina (live)
  • Josh Ritter - Right Moves (live)
  • Edgar Meyer/Mark O'Connor/Yo-Yo Ma - Fisher's Hornpipe
  • Sara Watkins - Lord Won't You Help Me
  • Phish - Chalk Dust Torture (live)
  • Van Morrison - Venice U.S.A.
  • Portishead - The Rip

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 9/44
    Miscellaneous Fact: The Phish track is from the Live At Madison Square Garden New Year's Eve 1995 CD. If all their stuff was this good no one would make fun of them.
  • Saturday, January 09, 2010

    Early Sunday Music: Vampire Weekend - "White Sky"

    A song from Vampire Weekend's new CD Contra, out this week. This performance is from 2008, so no telling how the song may have changed since then.

    Do the Shuffle #46

  • Phish - Gotta Jibboo
  • White Stripes - The Denial Twist
  • Bon Iver - Creature Fear
  • Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band - To All The Lights In The Windows
  • Mark Olson - My Carol
  • Rhett Miller - Sometimes
  • Spinanes - Uneasy (I loved this album in college, where did they go?)
  • Son Volt - Jukebox of Steel
  • They Might Be Giants - Upside Down Frown
  • Robyn Hitchcock - Into It
  • Patterson Hood - The Range War
  • Mark O'Connor - Limerock
  • Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 13/46
    Miscellaneous Fact: The Patterson Hood track was the real surprise in this set, it's from his '09 solo Cd Murdering Oscar. I'm pleased to note that Hood's full-time band Drive-By Truckers will release a new album called The Big To-Do in March. Their last disc, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, was my #1 CD of 2008.
  • Friday, January 08, 2010

    The Young Victoria/Youth In Revolt

    At first glance there's little reason to review these two togther except timing, but both The Young Victoria and Youth In Revolt deal with young people from whom little is expected and much is received. In The Young Victoria Emily Blunt plays the longest reigning English monarch, who assumed the throne at the age of 18 in 1837 amid almost unanimous speculation that she was too young for the job. The bulk of the film follows her reign through her marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) and the birth of her first child. Blunt, who is 26, is best in scenes that depict Victoria's increasing unhappiness with the restrictions imposed by her mother (Miranda Richardson), who makes someone hold her hand going up and down stairs, and by the advisor (Mark Strong) who hopes to become the power behind a Regency if King William IV (Jim Broadbent) dies before Victoria's 18th birthday. Victoria's early stabs at being a social reformer are given perfunctory attention; why talk about the living conditions of the poor when we can watch Victoria fall in love with Albert, to whom Friend gives enough spine to make Victoria's attraction believable with enough underplaying to signal that it will always be Victoria's country. Assorted palace intrigues are depicted concisely and the overall effect is pleasing, as costumes and other trappings don't overwhelm Blunt, Friend, or Paul Bettany as self-interested Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Will Blunt be game for a sequel in 15 or 20 years?

    Youth In Revolt, based on the 500 page (too long by half) novel by C.D. Payne, is being billed as a chance for Michael Cera to break out of that lovably awkward run of roles that has lasted...well, since anyone can remember. Cera plays Nick Twisp, sex-obsessed and about as at home with his inattentive Mom (Jean Smart) in a trashy Oakland neighborhood as he would be in a Star Trek movie. Nick is 13 in Payne's book, which Cera obviously isn't and the movie suffers for the age adjustment. The behavior Nick uses to win the heart of Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), including car theft and drugging, seems like the product of a sex-addled mind gone awry in the novel but if Nick is 16 or 17 the same behavior comes off a little obsessive. Smart, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, and Zach Galifianakis all have too little to do in supporting roles. As for Cera, he shows some different colors as Nick's id-created bad boy persona "Francois Dillinger" but otherwise drifts through the movie in a haze of irony when what was needed was a mass of roiling desires. Cera can change our perception of him by not trying so hard, most of his films seem a little too tailored to his persona. Don't be afraid of supporting roles, take some meetings (David Gordon Green?, Noah Baumbach?) and roll the dice.

    Thursday, January 07, 2010

    Oh No She Won't

    The three kinds of movies Natalie Portman won't do. (iVillage)

    2. The Holocaust survivor.
    "I’ve always tried to stay away from playing Jews. I get like 20 Holocaust scripts a month, but I hate the genre," says Portman, a native of Israel who grew up in the U.S. The actress played her first explicitly Jewish role in the 2009 ensemble indie New York, I Love You.

    Movie Club

    Follow the links at Slate to read a group discussion of the year in film. Start here, with this absolute nailing of my problem with Precious.

    But what irks me about the movie is how its relationship to these characters, and to the audience, doesn't rise to the performers' level of honesty. Precious is supposed to be about the heroine lifting herself out of abjection, yet the film itself wallows in abjection, hurling the awfulness of Precious' home life in our faces and watching us squirm. I'm thinking in particular of the film's treatment of food: the close-ups of pigs' feet frying on the stove, the congealed lump of macaroni and cheese that Precious' mother, Mary, forces her to eat, or the bucket of fried chicken that she steals, eats, and then vomits into a trash can. I wouldn't go so far as to say, like Armond White, that these scenes are racist. Pigs' feet and fried chicken may be stereotypical "ghetto" foods, but they're also traditional soul foods sold cheaply in the inner city, and it doesn't seem offensive or far-fetched to imagine characters like Mary and Precious eating them. But there's a voyeurism to those aggressive close-ups of greasy-chinned chomping—it's as if the audience is being encouraged at once to recoil from Precious' world and to congratulate ourselves for being brave enough to confront it: a combination that I find complexly icky.

    If I'd only been a little older ....

    I might have mentioned before that it's a slight disappointment to me that I wasn't born just a little earlier so that I could have experienced the music of the early to mid '80s while it was happening. This reminiscence about going to see a New Order show reminded me of that, though I'm not saying New Order would have been my band of choice. (I definitely would have shown up for Throwing Muses as the opener though...) I could easily have found myself in the situation below. (Ned Raggett/HTV)

    And so like I said I already knew what “Fine Time” was when I heard that guy sing that and the album followed hot on its heels and so when I heard they were playing I wanted to go. But therein another problem — I didn’t have anyone to go with, and I wasn’t too sure how to find them because I needed a ride and all.

    Which in retrospect feels completely ridiculous to me — it had to have been at the time, because I definitely remember others in my dorm (hell, others on my dorm floor) talking about the show after it had happened and how great it was. Which it was but I’ll get to that — the point is that somehow I was still too clueless or too shy or too something to figure out who else was going or to get a ride. It’s a classic blank spot there, not something I think I’ve specifically wished out of existence, just something, again, ridiculous, utterly crazy. The more so because I do remember getting very, very antsy about something I would completely shrug off now, but at the time seemed like a foreign world to me:

    Wednesday, January 06, 2010

    Nine years gone

    2010 in books, with plenty of posthumous publication. My sister will be especially excited about:

    Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: Jonathan Franzen’s follow-up to The Corrections, Freedom, is likely to cause a stir when it appears, most likely in the fall. Among the prominent media narratives – the backlash, the backlash-to-the-backlash – will be the length of the novel’s gestation. Really, though, in novelist time (as distinct from internet time), nine years is a mere blip – particularly when you publish two books of nonfiction in the interim. Far more remarkable is how tight-lipped Franzen has managed to be about the novel’s content. From various obscure interviews, we’ve managed to cobble together the following: 1) The novel has something to do with U.S. politics, of the Washington, D.C. variety. 2) Franzen’s original conception of how those politics would intersect with the narrative changed radically in the writing, likely shifting from an “inside baseball” look at bureaucracy toward the personal. 3) Germany, where Franzen has spent some time recently, “will play an important role in the novel.” 4) After two New Yorker short stories notable for their smallness and misanthropy, the excerpt from the novel that appeared last year was notable for its return to the more generous ironies that endeared The Corrections to our “Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far) panel.” (Garth)

    Monday, January 04, 2010

    Imagine a world without Criterion #40

    What goes into Criterion's selection of recent titles, and does it hurt the chances of still neglected older films getting their shot? A decline in DVD sales may be the best thing to happen to Criterion junkies since Wes Anderson. Green's George Washington was the first Criterion I ever owned. (Indie Eye)

    The DVD boom was a mixed blessing for Criterion, which was able to blossom beyond the roots of its forebear, the world cinema distributor Janus Films, and their incredible collection of Bergman and Ozu movies, among others. Criterion was able to evolve and champion new filmmakers like Wes Anderson, David Gordon Green and "Ratcatcher"'s Lynne Ramsay while putting together killer packages for canon-approved titles like "Rules of the Game" or the first American home video release of Visconti's "The Leopard."

    Meanwhile, other studios realized the value of their back catalogs and were more reluctant to license their films -- in the laserdisc days, Criterion was able to give their full treatment to Warner Bros.-owned titles like "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane," with the latter boasting an incredible collection of interviews with 35 filmmakers and collaborators that has yet to be replicated on any format since. (And don't even ask about "The Magnificent Ambersons" laserdisc, the only place where Welles' original vision of his butchered classic could be deciphered, still not available on DVD.)

    Shop Talk

    Advice from playwright Theresa Rebeck: (Adam Szymkowicz)

    Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

    A: I think that young playwrights should spend more of their time working on the basics of playwriting--scene work, dialogue, character, action. I think they should try to hear the rhythms of language in their own idiom. I think that they shouldn't worry so much about being "unconventional." A friend of mine recently confessed that younger writers are being taught, in some programs, that anything "conventional" is not cool. I think that's catastrophic thinking. Too many young writers spend so much time trying to be post modern that they don't finally write about anything at all.

    Late Sunday Music: Grizzly Bear - "While You Wait For The Others"

    Sorry for posting this late; after seeing Veckatimest on so many Best Of lists recently I thought it was time for a slightly begrudging acknowledgment that many people whose opinion I respect think these guys are great. I still don't get it but I do like this performance.

    Sunday, January 03, 2010

    Essential Reading

    Why Twitter Will Endure. Love It. (NYT)

    On Twitter, anyone may follow anyone, but there is very little expectation of reciprocity. By carefully curating the people you follow, Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people in their respective fields, whose tweets are often full of links to incredibly vital, timely information.

    The most frequent objection to Twitter is a predictable one: “I don’t need to know someone is eating a donut right now.” But if that someone is a serious user of Twitter, she or he might actually be eating the curmudgeon’s lunch, racing ahead with a clear, up-to-the-second picture of an increasingly connected, busy world. The service has obvious utility for a journalist, but no matter what business you are in, imagine knowing what the thought leaders in your industry were reading and considering. And beyond following specific individuals, Twitter hash tags allow you to go deep into interests and obsession: #rollerderby, #physics, #puppets and #Avatar, to name just a few of many thousands.

    Saturday, January 02, 2010

    Nine/It's Complicated

    Both Nine and It's Complicated feel like relics in a year when the lo-fi Paranormal Activity was a hit and James Cameron showed us what movies could look like a century from now. These big, star-driven films - one based on an established property and the other from a "brand name" director - creak into theaters at a time of year when Hollywood is supposedly showing off its best. While neither is without charm both feel unnecessary and smack of studios throwing money at the audience.

    I can't tell you how much Nine does or doesn't have to do with Fellini and 8 1/2 or with the musical on which it's based. Rob Marshall's film takes place in some ethereal movie land a little bit to the left of anyplace an actual human has ever been; it's a dream version of 1960's Italy in which everyone dresses like a model and even the raggedy pensione in which stymied director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) stores his mistress (Penelope Cruz) could almost double as the set for a Merchant-Ivory film. For a film whose cast and setting are so easy on the eyes Nine is amazingly inconsequential. (How did it work on stage?) Guido can't write his next film and spends all his time thinking over it when he's not juggling the ladies. Most of the songs are filmed against in an abstract space meant to suggest the not yet built set of Contini's new movie and are slammed into the middle of dialogue scenes. Each number doesn't advance the story so much as convey one Capital Letter idea. Carla (Cruz) is ready for sex, screen siren Claudia (Nicole Kidman) is love with Guido, and Seraghina (Fergie) is (I think) the essence of all things Italian. Only Kate Hudson's "Cinema Italiano" (a kicky, B&W music video) and the two songs by Marion Cotillard (as Guido's beleaguered wife Luisa) transcend the obvious. "My Husband Makes Movies" is a complicated realization of how Guido can never be fully in the marriage while "Take It All" is a furious kiss-off (and the best staged song). Both "Cinema Italiano" and "Take It All" were written for the movie. Marion Cotillard is the best thing about Nine, and maybe deserving of an Oscar nomination. She's the only character I could imagine having a life outside the film - Judi Dench's costume designer rings especially hollow on this score - and also the only one with a real layer of vulnerability to Guido's charms. Day-Lewis gets to display a lighter tone for once, but there isn't enough to keep him occupied here. Nine, like the film Guido can't make, is a good-looking dream that won't stay with you on waking up.

    Reviewing a film based on the economic status of its characters feels a bit stale. (What is this, The Nation?) Yet it's hard to care about the romantic travails of Jane (Meryl Streep) in It's Complicated what with all the stuff on display. Jane has a magazine-ready California house and owns a gorgeous restaurant. She doesn't date, but there's no real reason why other than screenwriter's affectation. It's another Nancy Meyers tale of middle-aged love; Jane is torn between her self-absorbed ex (Alec Baldwin) and an architect (Steve Martin) who's renovating her place. Even the comic set pieces (Everbody gets stoned at the graduation party of Jane's son!) feel engineered to appeal to the mostly female audience that gabbed through the showing I attended and applauded afterwards, and the characters are to be envied rather than identified with. The rakish Baldwin and sensitive Martin roles are too-perfect compliments. Given the talent I wanted to like It's Complicated more than I did, but it's hard to care when nobody needs anything.

    Do the Shuffle #45

  • Uncle Tupelo - Sandusky
  • Mark Kozelek - New Partner
  • Husker Du - New Day Rising
  • Tift Merritt - I Am Your Tambourine
  • Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Killing The Blues
  • REM - Leaving New York
  • Ra Ra Riot - Too Too Too Fast
  • Swell Season - Back Broke
  • Vetiver - Lon Chaney
  • Liz Phair - Table For One
  • Poi Dog Pondering - Circle Around The Sun

    Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 11/42
    Miscellaneous Fact: At a certain point this became more about getting out of the cold than listening to this surprisingly wintry playlist, but damn "Table For One" is a depressing song. I don't really remember putting it on the iPod and I have a feeling I might have uploaded one of Sister's tracks by accident.
  • Friday, January 01, 2010

    Did You Hear About The Morgans?

    I'm actually a little surprised this bland comedy hasn't been adopted by some conservative op-ed columnist as a celebration of "real" American values, since it spends so much time working its messages (Marriage is difficult but worth saving at almost any cost; people from New York are spoiled babies) that it too often forgets to be funny. Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker - as a New York couple marooned in witness protection in Wyoming - have both been funnier elsewhere but there are some incidental pleasures from Sam Elliott, Elisabeth Moss, and especially Mary Steenburgen. Morgans is little more than an exercise and is recommended only for character actor junkies.


    ..for a more moment-to-moment picture of what's going on with me and the site you can follow me on Twitter and you can see some overflow stuff at my less frequently updated Tumblr.

    A word to the readers

    How appropriate to end 2009 with a Natalie Portman post, though I didn't plan it that way. Expect more in 2010, as assorted projects begin to come to fruition. I finished '09 with 694 posts, down significantly from 2008. I don't know if there's a way to measure but I'm sure the average length of post went up - more reviews and less "one sentence and a link" items. I've been pleased with the direction the site is headed and want to continue to keep it current, as I doubt I'll have time for many long career retrospective posts. I want to continue to champion the films,books, and music I like the best while not being afraid to occasionally celebrate my guilty pleasures, which at the moment include Rihanna and the TV show Parks and Recreation.

    On a personal note, in 2009 I lost my job as a paid movie critic, was robbed, and watched a family member battle cancer (and knock it into remission). By 2010 I hope to be on more stable footing personally and professionally and to be bringing you this blog from a different location. First though I've got a production of "The Scottish Play" to act in with a great ensemble and a couple of grad schools to hear from. Thanks to Rob for tech support and substitute blogging and thanks to you for reading and commenting. (I could stand a few more comments by the way) Happy New Year and let's get started.