AVC: What do you get told?
NH: “We don’t know how to market this.” “This is too dark,” with Please Give. And I said, “Too dark? There’s a laugh here, a laugh here, a laugh here.” “Oh, those are funny scenes?” “Yeah, those are funny scenes. You couldn’t tell? “No, we couldn’t tell.” And yes, it is dark. But so what? Intelligent audiences want a combination of both things. I hear, “It’s too soft.” “Doesn’t have a hook.” That’s the same as the marketing problem. Or that it’s an ensemble. There isn’t a role for one major star. “Can you get a major star in a small part?” What else do I hear? That’s about it. I’m sure they say plenty of things that I don’t hear like, “This is a shitty script” or “I don’t like it.” But the other things are the excuses I hear.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Nicole Holofcener on her new film Please Give and those always touchy relationships with studios. (AV Club)
Why did I wait so long to watch Kelley Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy? I can't think of another film whose release was so spectacularly ill-timed, in late 2008 no one wanted to watch a movie about a young woman named Wendy who with no job who can't pay to get her car fixed. The fact that said young woman is played by Michelle Williams at the height of her powers doesn't help. Williams is stripped of all vanity as the story requires; I loved the almost apologetic way Wendy shuffles around between her junky car, a gas station bathroom, and the grocery store where she loses her faithful canine companion Lucy. That said, there's little going on in the film besides Wendy's poverty; there's no one for Willams to play off and we learn little about her background. Reichardt's Old Joy seems to me a far richer and more complicated piece of work (I wrote about it here), but like that earlier film Wendy and Lucy must be celebrated as a triumph of American regional filmmaking.
The most surprising thing about Jon Poll's Charlie Bartlett is it's conservatism. Teenagers like Charlie (Anton Yelchin) and his girl Susan (Kat Dennings, working with much less than she did in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) may act out but what they really need is structure and some adults who are happy enough with themselves to pay the kids some attention. Poll doesn't go far enough with satirizing the overmedication of kids (Charlie briefly becomes popular by dispensing meds to his classmates); instead he opts to pair Charlie up with Susan's father (Robert Downey, Jr.), who is also the unhappy principal of Charlie's school. I've no problem with the message of Charlie Bartlett, but I wish its teens had been allowed to have a bit more fun.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 9/46
Miscellaneous Opinion: The NHL playoffs are the best kept secret in sports.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Novelist Colm Toibin manages to make his cluelessness about technology endearing, as opposed to self-righteous. (Speakeasy)
Asked about the implications the Internet has for fiction, Toibin, who was joined on the panel by London Review editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, critic James Wood and British writer John Lanchester, instead offered a funny, rambling monologue on his forays into gay social networking Web sites. Affecting the tone of a naif, he described how years ago the writer Edmund White told him about chat rooms and gay.com, a concept he found revolutionary. “You can be in Nebraska and find there are 100 people like you that are all in Nebraska too,” Toibin said.
When Toibin found that gay.com skewed too young, he said White tipped him to silverdaddies.com — a Web site name that got the audience at Tishman Auditorium chuckling. Toibin said that while on a road trip he then began thinking about combining “a GPS with a gay Web site, so that as your moving up to Buffalo or Syracuse or these funny places, they would say, ‘there’s a guy, if you turn a left.’” He recently arrived back in America, he said, “to find there’s a new thing called Grindr,” an iPhone app that uses global positioning technology to allow gay men to connect. “If you’re in the East Village of New York, there might be someone five feet away,” Tobin said.
Where does Neil Simon's comedy come from? (New Yorker)
Simon’s characters don’t analyze themselves; their psychology is evident in their behavior, and the audience gets the pleasure of connecting the dots. In “The Odd Couple,” Felix, devastated by the news that his wife, Frances, is done with their marriage, is talked out of committing suicide by his poker-playing friend Oscar, with whom he decides to move in. “Oscar! I’m going to be all right! It’s going to take me a couple of days, but I’m going to be all right,” Felix says. “Good!” Oscar says. “Well, good night, Felix.” “Good night, Frances,” Felix says, as the curtain falls on Act I. The precision of Simon’s characterizations invites laughter. “When people care, even the slightest joke will get a big laugh, for they’ll be so caught up in what’s going on,” he told Playboy. “If they don’t care and are not caught up, you need blockbusters every two minutes and even that won’t fulfill an audience.” In “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” for instance, the teen-age narrator, Eugene, is forbidden to eat cookies by his put-upon mother, Kate. He bounds past her on his way out of the kitchen. “Good night,” he says. Without turning around, Kate says, “Put the cookie on the table.” There is no joke on the page; on the stage, it’s a huge laugh. “I asked him, ‘Did you know that was funny when you wrote it?’ ” Azenberg said. “He said, ‘Yes—it’s an organic moment.’ "
Monday, April 26, 2010
Newspaperman and novelist Pete Hamill has a story credit on The Yellow Handkerchief, directed by Udayan Prasad. I associate Hamill with a sort of almost outdated midtown Manhattan man's manliness, so I'm not sure where this story about three mismatched loners driving through Louisiana fits into his resume. Brett (William Hurt) is just out of prison for reasons which eventually become clear; wandering into a quiet diner leads to a chance encounter with an eccentric young man named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) and a teen (Kristen Stewart) trying to make a boy jealous. An ill-timed storm pushes the three further South and into a series of flashbacks involving Brett's ex-wife (Maria Bello). Hurt is pretty much the whole show here, it's a quiet and unfussy performance that becomes more appealing and affecting the closer Brett gets to revealing his secrets. The rest of the movie feels like something crumpled up during playwriting class; Stewart (believably mixed up) and Redmayne (overplaying his character's tics) have little to do except help Hurt's character to his insights and the rest of the movie is underpopulated. Our travelers have a funny habit of showing up at places that are abandoned and which make perfect locations for heart-to-heart talks. The Yellow Handkerchief is worth seeking out for Hurt's performance; he's a Crazy Heart away from making this fruitful second phase of his career into the part worth remembering.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
A song from the group's new album High Violet, out May 11th. Today's NYT magazine piece reveals that band's sometimes contentious recording process probably isn't helped by high expectations.
It was supposed to be the National’s moment. After years of mostly anonymous struggle, the National’s two previous albums, “Alligator” (2005) and “Boxer” (2007), were so full of strangely isolated songs about friendship, romance and work that they had created for this new release the sort of expectant critical murmur that has been rare to hear since the end of the age of record shops. “Alligator” and “Boxer” did what excellent rock ’n’ roll albums did in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s: transcended the sum of their singles to offer something larger. In the National’s case, it was a powerful, probing feeling for the inner lives of average people out in the American heartland. So good was the music that with it came the promise of what might follow, the heady potential that the National would soon take things one step further, go ahead and make the great Middle American novel as music, an album for our time. But now, they seemed intent on holding all that off as long as possible.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
An action picture and graphic novel adaptation (and this is a "picture" as opposed to a film) that doesn't aspire to be anything more than entertainment and ends up being low-key pleasure; when was the last time a movie like this made you want to spend more time with the characters? Cheers to whomever resisted the temptation to slam a star into this and pad the running time with more explosions. The Losers, directed by Sylvain White, benefits greatly from eclectic casting; Jeffrey Dean Morgan is agreeably rumpled as the leader of a band of betrayed soldiers and Chris Evans makes something out of a pretty standard techno-geek role. The biggest "name" in the cast is Zoe Saldana, not hidden behind blue 3D animation this time. If The Losers were going to be a bigger hit (it comes with too little brand recognition and is far too unpretentious) her performance as a mercenary who allies with Morgan's team to kill an eco-terrorist (Jason Patric) could cement her into A-list action girl territory. Saldana's performance here will just have to be a stepping stone to some lesser and more popular role though; so will Morgan's, his comic touch and chemistry with Saldana suggest a more dangerous Harrison Ford.
I don't know any more about graphic novels than I did when I reviewed Kick-Ass. The Losers may share an origin with that louder and emptier film but it isn't annoyingly about itself in the same way Kick-Ass is. No use of animation or funky lettering after the opening titles here; instead White films the action scenes in a weirdly stylized slow motion and frames shots in an off-kilter way to vaguely suggest comic panels. The Losers brings a little bit of style, some adult romantic heat, and a few laughs to the multiplex; it's depressing how that seems like so much these days.
The Singles Jukebox takes off after the Drive-By Truckers "Birthday Boy," a Mike Cooley song that suffers from overproduction and a lack of the humor that shone through his contributions to Brighter Than Creations Dark. I'll go along with the group's rating of 6 out of 10.
Chuck Eddy: Probably the second most boogiefied groove on the new album (after “Get Downtown,” another Mike Cooley number), which isn’t saying much even if The Big To-Do is their best in seven years (which I’m leaning toward thinking it is, despite still suffering from their “We’ve decided ‘rock’ means Crazy Horse not Skynyrd” problem.) It’s also the second DBTs album in a row with a bummed-out Cooley song about a birthday on it. And this is a great song — best part is when the whore figures out the birthday boy is single with a girlfriend, and the logic she uses. Problem is, you have to strain to hear that line and all the rest, because the singing, like the choogling, is self-defeatingly buried beneath reams of murk for no reason. Maybe it’s supposed to sound Stonesy –you know, circa Exile On Main Street or whatever. But that still doesn’t make it rock.
Friday, April 23, 2010
The Oscar-nominated Un prophete (A Prophet), directed by Jacques Audiard, is a textbook example of the cowardice of Hollywood. Audiard's twisty crime tale doesn't have a thing to do with American studios of course, it's as reliably French as the two-foot long baguettes given to each inmate in the prison that is the film's central setting. The real subject of A Prophet would seem to be the ethnic bazaar that France has become; the main character Malik (Tahar Rahim) is an illiterate half-Muslim who starts his six-year sentence with no friends inside or out. Fortunately Malik's other half is Corsican, which soon brings him to the attention of crime boss Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup in a magnificent display of coiled power). After Luciani extracts one violent act from Malik the young man becomes one of his proteges. The rest of the film is the long arc of Malik through Cesar's hierarchy, his own criminal enterprises, and confrontation with the only father he has ever known.
I bring up Hollywood because unlike what would have happened in an American film absolutely no attention is given to Malik's moral rehabilitation. Indeed, the word "rehabilitation" is tossed around among the prisoners as a joke. Malik does learn to read in prison thanks to his buddy Ryad (Adel Bencherif), but literacy isn't used here as shorthand for some self-awakening to one's responsibility to his fellow man. (Compare the way learning to read is treated here to its use as a device in The Reader.) Ryad will go on to become Malik's partner on the outside and possible passport to post-prison life, but even though he embraces the Muslim faith that confuses Malik he's just as susceptible to temptation as anyone else.A Prophet ends with Malik walking pleasantly outside the prison with a woman on the day of his release, but there is an ominous sign of things to come in the film's foreboding last shot. Tahar Rahim is fine as the film's opaque center; he's discovering what Malik wants and is capable of just as we are. It's Arestrup whose performance you'll remember though. A Prophet is in one way the story of the gradual erosion of Cesar's power, and the 61-year old Arestrup's physical fierceness belies the fear behind his eyes as his prison entourage dies off or ships out and the Arabic population grows.
It's that confusion over identity, or which side of the prison yard to stand on, that is at the heart of A Prophet. For all the details of prison life and criminal plots contained in its 2 1/2 hours (nothing feels wasted), Audiard's confident and unresolved epic is finally a metaphor for a country figuring out who it is becoming now.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Rob sends along this unscientific look at the bestsellers of the NY street corner book stall scene. I guess it's not too surprising that the top titles are a good deal more highbrow than last year's top selling books nationwide, which I won't mention because they're too depressing and predictable. If you've seen the John Cusack film Serendipity then you know how life-changing a used copy of Love In The Time Of Cholera can be. I'm amused to see it on the list of top selling book stall titles. (More Intelligent Life)
After I had tallied all the stalls, a weekend spent in the company of Microsoft Excel transformed my notes into a spreadsheet of the most abundant titles and authors. The results appeared to back up my earlier suspicions, with “The Great Gatsby”, “The Grapes of Wrath” and two Hemingway novels all featuring in the top ten titles. But the top spots went to authors who were neither American nor dead: at number one was Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”, with Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and Gabriel García Márquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” in hot pursuit. When I made a chart of authors as well as one of individual books, more prolific writers came to the fore. Boosted by the stalls on Sixth Avenue, which were less literary than the rest, Stephen King and John Grisham sneaked into the top ten. At number one was an author who could do thrills as well as literature: Graham Greene.
Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 12/41
Miscellaneous Fact: The Jody Grind was the band of Kelly Hogan, who is now a permanent part of the Neko Case ensemble. This track is from their second album Lefty's Deceiver; the band's career ended when the drummer and bassist died in a van accident in 1992.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Here's a long N. Yorker piece about the ebook business which suggests several possible problems one should consider before investing hundreds of dollars in an iPad or Kindle. For now publishers seem to have succeeded in preventing Amazon from lowballing the price of ebooks, and Apple has accepted (for one year) a sort of commission on each book it sells. But how much are consumers willing to pay for an ebook? What of Amazon's interest in cutting out the publishers all together? (I'm surprised someone like Nicholas Sparks or Nora Roberts hasn't already eschewed their publisher.) Amazon and Apple both sell plenty of other things of course; they're not going anywhere but the ebook business risks the involvement of too many cooks. Oh, and we've all apparently forgotten how to read anyway.
E-books called the whole system into question. If there was no physical book, what would determine the price? Most publishers agreed, with some uncertainty, to give authors a royalty of twenty-five per cent, and began a long series of negotiations with Amazon over pricing. For months before Sargent’s visit, the publishers had talked about imposing an “agency model” for e-books. Under such a model, the publisher would be considered the seller, and an online vender like Amazon would act as an “agent,” in exchange for a thirty-per-cent fee. Yet none of the publishers seemed to think that they could act alone, and if they presented a unified demand to Amazon they risked being charged with price-fixing and collusion.
In Seattle, Sargent met with Russ Grandinetti, the vice-president in charge of Kindle Content, and told him that if Amazon would not accept the agency model Macmillan would restrict the publication of its e-books. Sargent was giving an ultimatum: Amazon had built its business on comprehensiveness, and if Macmillan withdrew its books it could no longer claim to be the world’s best-stocked bookstore.
Amazon did not react as Sargent had hoped.
Ben Folds's next album will feature lyrics by Nick Hornby. Folds talks about taking a back seat to both the words and the sounds the words needed. (Paste)
Paste: Were you in the studio acting as producer, or did you have someone helping you with it?
Folds: I was the producer, and we kept an uncomfortable amount of space in the recordings as we tracked them. We would track very live, but then we would leave assloads of space, and the reason I did that is because I love Paul Buckmaster’s arrangements, but he’s very busy. He normally gets tossed onto a very full track, and I just thought this could be really powerful if we left an uncomfortable amount of space.
Paste: You mean space with the instrumentation?
Folds: Yeah, just bars of not much going on, but keeping the energy, you know? Make sure it’s not dying. But then, people would hear it as it was being worked on and always weren’t so sure why it was so minimal. Now, I think it’s just right. Paul just went Hiawatha on that shit [laughs].
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The Problem with Blogs (The Decibel Tolls)
Blogs tend to jump on the same buzzword bands, chew them up, and spit them out. If you’re supposed to blog about, I dunno, Lykke Li… then you do, because you have a music blog and that’s what you’re supposed to do, goddamit. This occurs because the handful of tastemakers (won’t name names, but one of them rhymes with bitchpork) write up the bands on labels or firms the writers are cozy with, and it trickles down. Musical Reaganomics, if you will. The result – thousands of blogs on the Internet writing about the exact same shit. The idea of a “marketplace of ideas” flies out the window in the interest of getting Internet traffic from people looking up those buzz bands after they hit NPR or whatever. Why would you not want to generate original content and write-up groups that are deserving of press coverage but aren’t all over the Internet? I don’t get it. It’s really fucking lame, and we don’t stand for that.
So in a sense, music blogs have become the same creature as Viacom. But instead of just bitching about it, I decided to up and start my own music blog. So there ya go – democracy in action.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Kick-Ass arrives with plenty of expectations; it's the movie that is supposed to be the end of the superhero genre as we know it, a celebration of the inner hero in us all pitched directly at the graphic-novel reading, trailer judging, fanboy community that's already lining up for the next Comic-Con. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a perfectly ordinary teen - hitting the comic store, striking out with girls, and getting bullied - when he decides to don a green wetsuit and become Kick-Ass, filling a perceived superhero void and quickly becoming a YouTube sensation. Social networking historians will appreciate the irony that Kick Ass promotes himself via MySpace, since he certainly doesn't have time to approve all those Facebook friend requests. For a few minutes Kick-Ass is a movie about the way we watch. After all, as Dave tells the thugs he's tangling with outside a diner, he's the only one intervening to help a man who's being assaulted as everyone else takes video with their cell phones. If only Kick-Ass (directed by Matthew Vaughn from Mark Millar's graphic novel) had stayed on this tack. The movie isn't well-written or clever enough to be a commentary on anything, it's thuddingly literal, violent, and ugly.
If Kick-Ass was just the story of Dave and Red Mist aka Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the son of crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), then it might be harmless enough. It's the entry of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year old daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) into the picture that will determine how you feel about Kick-Ass. Big Daddy has trained Hit Girl to be a foul- mouthed killing machine, the reasons are explained but don't make the relationship any less troubling. Quite a bit of Kick-Ass has nothing to do with heroism but rather is the story of the pursuit of a vendetta. The violence is a blunt as a bullet from Big Daddy's gun; the movie's centerpiece is Hit Girl's bravura attempt to rescue her father and Kick-Ass from D'Amico's goons. Moretz's performance is winning raves from critics trying a little too hard to seem relevant, but her acting is flat and the role is nothing more than that of a prepubescent homicidal wind-up doll. I'm not one to get worked up about violence in a film when some ideas are in play, but Kick-Ass isn't about anything other than itself and the killings grow tiresome even as they become more operatic.
There's a segment of the audience that will laugh and cheer along with the mayhem on display here; I've accepted that. The rest of us are free to deplore Kick-Ass, a reductive movie all the worse for its pretensions to cultural relevance.
Yes, Pavement is back together for a tour. But what does it mean?? (LA Times)
Of course, Gen X and its culture of independent labels and small publishers has fought its way out from under occupying armies before: Gen Xers grew up buried in talk about Woodstock, the British Invasion, "Happy Days," "Gilligan's Island" and the soundtrack for "The Big Chill."
Gen X nostalgia, then, is essentially different from the earlier brand, in that it's private, sub-cultural, instead of the mass-marketed public group hug that marks the boomer version. In a recent Slate story, Zach Baron called the Pavement reunion "the end of baby boomer cultural hegemony."
Some punk and indie rockers have gotten together for longer than one tour, and even made new albums. But Pavement's second honeymoon will likely be of briefer duration. Malkmus, who now lives in Portland, Ore., said that he barely thinks about music anymore, and that he is more into fatherhood and fantasy sports. "It's an oddly good time," he told GQ, "to put the Pavement thing to rest."
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Congratulations to Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez for no-hitting the Braves tonight, the first no-hitter in Rockies history. There's not much to say about this one from a Braves fan's perspective except that a kid named Jonny Venters pitched some nice middle relief in his first big league game and I got into a vigorous Twitter debate about Troy Glaus; he has his supporters, who knew? It's also the first no hitter I've seen in its entirety since I started watching baseball in 1982. I almost didn't mind being on the wrong side.
This book made me angry. Shields's "manifesto" is a numbered collection of 618 thoughts and quotes of varying lengths united by one common principle: We no longer have time for anything but "reality" in our literature, the old standbys of plot and character are as useful as the horse and buggy. Did you know the novel was dead? In its place Shields prefers memoir, or rather a "reframing of the real." That's the way Shields describes Tina Fey's SNL portrayal of Sarah Palin, and it's also a useful description of the kind of writing that excites him. There aren't too many examples provided, but broadly stated Shields seems to be looking for a kind of vigorous autobiographical writing that seeks to get some kind of essential truth or insight but where literal truth isn't something anyone is too concerned about. Shields isn't that bothered by James Frey, the disgraced author of A Million Little Pieces. (I'm not going to bother to find out whether Shields actually wrote the stuff about Frey. The comments in the book are presented without attribution or context until a closing appendix which Shields says he was forced to include.) It seems that Frey's problem wasn't making things up but rather not being vigorous enough in defense of his inventions, since the elements of the book Frey fictionalized represented what was true for him.
There is no room in Reality Hunger for the social novel, experimental fiction,or anything other than big fat page turners with those weird portraits of the characters on the inside cover that you find on mass market paperbacks in used bookstores. Metaphor, symbolism, indeed any literary technique is vaguely prissy here; Shields instead calls for a robust engagement with oneself, flowery prose and factual accuracy be damned. What's wrong with all of this reality? Shields misunderstands a couple of simple things about readers and writers. Readers first: If Frank McCourt or Mary Karr is a friend asking to borrow 20 bucks, then Frey is a stranger asking you to float him a hundred because his car broke down and his kid is sick. We understand narrative compression and editorial allowances for length and flow instinctively as readers, but we have a problem with someone saying they've been in jail when they haven't. Shields finds it delicious that A Million Little Pieces was almost sold as a novel, I'd argue it demonstrates just how badly Frey wanted attention. As for writers, Shields (who has published two novels) can't understand why a writer might need to filter autobiographical elements through a "story" in order to make sense of them to themselves, let alone readers. There are as many reasons to tell a story as there are ways to tell it, but Shields can't conceive of even something so obvious.
Reality Hunger comes loaded with blurbs from the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Raban, and Amy Hempel. Endorsements aside, a book so urgent and tiresome can't be anything more than a momentary distraction in the culture. The next time Shields wants to take on centuries of literary tradition he might go to the trouble of constructing an argument.
John McPhee talks to the Paris Review about his process. This is only an excerpt, you have to go out and buy the magazine for the rest.
Is there ever a risk of it becoming too mechanical?
It sounds very mechanical, but the effect is the exact opposite. What it does is free you to write. It liberates you to write. You’ve got all the notes there; you come in in the morning and you read through what you’re going to try to write, and there’s not that much to read. You’re not worried about the other ninety-five percent, it’s off in a folder somewhere. It’s you and the keyboard. You get away from the mechanics through this mechanical means. The spontaneity comes in the writing, the phraseology, the telling of the story—after you’ve put all this stuff aside. You can read through those relevant notes in a relatively short period of time, and you know that’s what you want to be covering. But then you spend the rest of your day hoping spontaneous things will occur.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I've never seen Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God but after reading this Roger Ebert post about watching 17 minutes of the film with the director I feel somehow that this method might be the ideal way to view it.
Herzog had only one take. He would never be able to persuade his actors to climb again for a second one. As we watched them descend, he froze the DVD frame to discuss several of the actors. A fat man who ate all the mangos. A close friend, semi-literate, who had bicycled 35,000 km around North America and later became a great photographer. Above all, his star Klaus Kinski, about whom some years later he made a film: "My Best Fiend."
Kinski, in constant rage. Describing himself as a "natural man" who could live in the forest like an animal. Then complaining that his tent leaked. Then complaining that the thatch shelter built over the tent leaked. Then moving at great inconvenience to the production into a shabby hotel where he beat his wife nightly, the crew discreetly removing the blood stains.
"A coward," Herzog says.
"Is it true," a voice from the dark asks, "that the Indians asked your permission to murder him?"
"No. That was on 'Fitzcarraldo'."
I'm not too excited about this list of predictions for next year's Oscars, the inclusion on Malick's Tree of Life is promising but based solely on the director's past performance. (We have no idea when we might see this film, right?) I do note with pleasure the prediction of a nomination for Natalie Portman in Black Swan, but again, I'm ready to enjoy some summer fun before thinking about awards too seriously. The newly announced Cannes lineup is a good place to start thinking about the year to come; entries from Mike Leigh, Innaritu, and Doug Liman (?) all pique my curiousity. (Film Experience/In Contention/photo by Craig McDean)
The most mainstream title gunning for the Palme d’Or, however, is Doug Liman’s “Fair Game”: not, regrettably, a remake of the classic 1995 Cindy Crawford vehicle of the same name, but a political thriller-biopic starring Naomi Watts as unmasked CIA agent Valerie Plame, and Sean Penn as her husband Joseph Wilson. Jeff Wells has been champing at the bit for this one; however it turns out, a Cannes competition slot is quite a rebound for a filmmaker who last hit screens with, er, “Jumper.”
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Pulitzer Prize board ignored the recommendations of the drama jury in selecting Next To Normal as this year's winner. The jury chairman isn't pleased. (The Envelope)
Too bad the board doesn't have members who are better able to distinguish the merits of a production from the merits of a dramatic work. Veteran Pulitzer watchers may laugh at my expectation that those in charge will be equipped with such a sensibility. Why should the theater be exempt from the general stodginess? Yet bold vision is as fundamental to playwriting as reliable sources are to reporting.
It was fortuitous that Bill Clinton and his family attended "Next to Normal" just prior to its winning the prize. But for the award to carry artistic weight, it must be able to recognize the new before it rises to the level of an event deemed worthy of a presidential visit.
A concert pianist sees New Moon (again) and reflects on the way Hollywood appropriates classical music. I love that this post is tagged "Shameful Movie Attendance." (Think Denk)
This was one of these moments where Popular Culture decides for a capricious instant that Hundreds Of Years Of The Western Canon are temporarily useful for appropriation; it does classical music a huge favor by Noticing It. Lovers of classical music are supposed to beam and pant like a petted dog, grateful for any and all attention. Wag wag, woof woof, good boy, go play in your cute tuxedo now! Classical music often serves an iconic, representative, dubiously honorable purpose in popular film, and this instance of classical quotation–besides reminding me what a steaming load of crapola I had been listening to previously–reminded me very much of the famous scene in The Silence of the Lambs, where Hannibal Lecter brutally murders and partly eats his two guards to the strains of the Goldberg Variations.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Could Pope Benedict XVI be arrested on an upcoming trip to Britain? Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens think so. (Guardian/Kottke)
Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.
Monday, April 12, 2010
If you're a fan of the Twilight saga then Kristen Stewart's new film The Runaways may not be for you; Stewart plays the iconic early Riot Grrrl rocker Joan Jett, who (unlike Bella Swan) actually has opinions and does things. The Runaways, written and directed by Flora Sigismondi, follows the brief rise and predictable fall of the titular band, an all female early punk group that enjoyed more influence than actual success. The band's origins are quickly sketched; Jett approaches producer Kim Fowley (exuberant Michael Shannon) outside a L.A. club. Fowley sees possibilities in an all-girl rock band, and pairs Jett with drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton). The key addition to the band is singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning; the film is officially based on Currie's memoir). Currie is a working-class Southern California teen with a Bowie fixation when Fowley finds her in a club. Was the real Currie as poised and aware of her effect on audiences as the film makes out? It seems doubtful, but The Runaways is Fanning's film nonetheless.
Currie's arc (innocent, celebrity, druggie burnout) is familiar but Fanning undersells everything beautifully and thus keeps us from thinking of Currie as a victim. The Runaways doesn't forget that on some level being a rock star is exciting, and Fanning's enjoyment of Currie's coming in to both stardom and womanhood is magnetic. This performance is the beginning of a career. Fanning can play the young woman as well as the star; Currie's final phone call to Jett is heartbreaking. Kristen Stewart haters won't have their minds changed by The Runaways; Stewart's Jett is another in her series of outwardly sullen, walled-off young women. Of course Jett didn't stay that way, and Stewart gets at the singer's yearning to be heard; that yearning runs throughout the Runaways music and serves as the drive to keep her career going as The Runaways fall apart. The band's demise is written off to drugs and clashing egos in a single studio blowout scene, but the end isn't where the movie's heart lies. The Runaways doesn't stray too far from the rock bio template, but it more than gets by thanks to its two undervalued leads and the women they celebrate.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Why is Jonathan Demme directing a Beth Henley play Off Broadway? (Wall St. Journal)
So how did the director of “The Silence of the Lambs” come to work with a small theater? Bernard Telsey, who is co-Artistic Director of MCC (along with Robert Lupone and William Cantler), also runs Bernard Telsey Casting, and cast Demme’s last film, “Rachel Getting Married.” Demme had been talking about casting a film of Henley’s play, which he loved. He decided to have a crack at directing it as a play. Henley has substantially revised the play since its 2000 opening, and will attend rehearsals (starting this coming Tuesday) and continue to revise, says Telsey.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Jonathan Lethem doesn't need much prompting to talk about Philip K. Dick; in this interview he gets to how Dick has influenced his own work. (h+)
ED: With your own new book, Chronic City, I can very much sense the way that Dick has marked you as a reader, as a writer, as a person in the world.
JL: In the process of editing these Dick books, I felt myself recapturing a feeling of intimate kinship that came from the very beginning of wanting to be a novelist — a feeling that I wanted to, in some way, project a relationship to Dick‘s writing. I wanted to find a way to extend my own feelings about it into fictional space. For me, this is a book that‘s suffused in his influence.
Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 10/41
Miscellaneous Fact: I have a grad school interview Thursday!
Thursday, April 08, 2010
I'm going to do something unusual in discussing Michael Haneke's Oscar-nominated and other award winning The White Ribbon, the story of a series of disturbing crimes in a German village in the year before World War I. It's difficult for me to admit that I don't have the knowledge or level of cultural literacy to understand even this most German of foreign films, but I think that's the case here. If you've seen Cache or Code Unknown then you know Haneke isn't a fan of narrative resolution or easy answers. Yet what separates The White Ribbon from those earlier works are (for the first time in my Haneke experience) a relatively linear narrative and an overt look to the past. Everything seems in order on the surface; a Baron (Ulrich Tukur) rules the village with a firm but largely benign hand, and the doctor (Rainer Bock) and priest (Burghart Klaussner) are leading citizens. Christian Berger's Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography is used almost ironically, creating a layer of placidity that Haneke spends the rest of the film poking with a stick. The doctor's riding accident and the attacks on two children that shock the village are the film's most outrageous events, but things are just as disturbing behind closed doors.
The widowed doctor is having a relationship with the local midwife largely motivated by mutual self-hatred; the doctor's relationship with his teenage daughter is potentially horrifying. The pastor fetishizes purity, making his oldest children wear white ribbons to remind them of the standards to which he feels they should aspire. Haneke would have his villagers oppressed not only by their economic dependence on the baron (the tale of a farmer whose wife dies in the baron's sawmill only the most extreme example) but by religious and social custom. Does it follow that the children of the village will turn to National Socialism in the 1930's?That's the hook most reviews of The White Ribbon are taking but I'm not sure Haneke makes the case. The village children travel in a pack and seem to turn up at the most disturbing times; Haneke barely spends time individualizing them except for the two older children (Maria-Victoria Dragus and Leonard Proxauf) of the pastor and another girl whose "dream" foreshadows one of the film's most disturbing events. The voice-over narration of the kindly village schoolteacher (Christian Friedel), looking back from years later, tells us that the events describes in The White Ribbon may explain "things that happened in this country," but in order for that to be true it's necessary to believe that the traumas of childhood in the village affected everyone in the same way.Haneke doesn't prove that point, though the film ends on a note of great foreboding as the village prepares for the war. In The White Ribbon Michael Haneke has put his talents to work on a perhaps unsolvable historical problem and contrived only the most modern of explanations.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
This is the kind of wins we need if we're going to be around in October. After we're shut down offensively for most of the game (6 good innings from Chicago's Ryan Dempster) Chipper bails us out with a game winning 2-run HR in the 8th. Prado's double had set Chipper up for the chance, and our first run came early in the game when Heyward (who now has 5 RBI in 2 games I think) sizzled a double down the right field line to score McCann (who had walked and stolen second!). Jurrjens only going 5 was a surprise, but a bright spot was Billy Wagner. I hadn't actually realized Wagner was going to be our closer, but in his first save opportunity he looked very commanding while only allowing one hit. Not the prettiest win, but good enough.
News of two favorite actresses:
I think the things I'm reading are really wildly different, but I just haven't found the right thing yet. I've just read brilliant scripts that I just feel I've done already or I've visited that ground in some way or I feel like I don't want to go back to that age. After being in Wall Street, which was a big, big film, I wouldn't mind doing a small, small film or a play. But I just don't know what it is, but so few dramas are getting made, and I'm more comfortable in drama than I am in comedy, and I think comedies, mainly they're just big films, so I just want someone who goes through something and comes out the other side of it learning something. I just think too many female characters are just an accessory, and there aren't enough kind of really – I mean, there are, there are brilliant scripts, they're just not getting made. There's no financing, and I hope that changes.
There's a new group blog with high-minded posts inspired by Lady Gaga. To paraphrase (I think) the writer Thomas Mallon: Should anyone write like this, ever, about Lady Gaga? (Gaga Stigmata)
Can you hear me? Listen up: I am gaga for Gaga. I know we all are now, and I was already gaga for Beyoncé except now Gaga is gaga for Beyoncé too so…so I am gonna have to call them both up on the t-t-telephone and find out how to get a piece of the action. And the action, by the way, has little to do with the phallus, real, imagined, lesbian or bionic. Thanks to Tavia (see below) for his brilliant and on point reading of the disappointing and disappearing phallus but from here on out, it is about phones, headsets, hearing, receivers and objects that become subjects, glasses that smoke, food that bites. If the sappy, eco-friendly message of James Cameron’s bloated 3-D off-world was “I see you,” the cooky, cocky, whacky voice-mail left by Gaga/Beyoncé is “I hear you.” The ear and the phone are neither vagina and penis nor speaker and listener, in this agenda-bending extravaganza the telephone is an Avital Ronell wet dream – electric speech served with a twist of live wire. And, by the way, what is up with divas and phones? Remember that Blondie was hanging on one, Madonna was hanging one up, even Beyoncé in “If I was a boy,” was turning one off and telling “everyone it’s broken/so that they would think I was sleeping alone.”
....observes another. (goRealer; the blogger is Craig muMs Grant, and actor and writer who has appeared on Oz among other television series.)
I sat in a Cafe in Brooklyn the other day to get some writing done on PARADOX. I sat next to a guy who was writing full into his journal in long hand. He was in so hard. I'm not sure if other writers notice this but there is this look a writer gets when he is in hard, kinda like a runner's high. He doesn't look up from the page, isn't aware of his surroundings and can't write the the thoughts that are flowing out of his brain down fast enough. Dude was there and I was jealous. I would have to find a power source, turn my computer on, fiddle around with Facebook, gmail, twitter, my bank account, my blog stats and the NYTimes before I'd even open up my document. Then I'd read back through what I had already written and start fiddling in a place I hadn't intended to. I wanted to just then chuck it all and go back to that innocent artistic place I was when I had that hour long train ride to and from the city just to recite poetry.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
How an afternoon with Stanley Kubrick led to one reporter's covering the Fischer-Spassky chess match. (NYRB/Kottke)
The scene now shifts to the spring of 1972. I was spending the year at Oxford, and spent some Sundays with the Kubricks. Our interest again turned to chess but this time it was with the imminent match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Iceland. One Sunday, Kubrick and I watched Fischer’s interview with Mike Wallace for “60 Minutes.” It was around the time of Fischer’s birthday and Wallace had come with a cake. “I don’t like that kind of cake,” Fischer said graciously. Then he told Wallace how he had learned to play chess. His older sister had taught him the moves. He soon began beating her so he spotted her pieces. Then he said that that no longer worked so he began playing with himself—Fischer vs. Fischer. “Mostly I won,” he commented with no trace of humor.
Monday, April 05, 2010
People sure are putting a lot of weight on Greta Gerwig these days. Not only is her untrained style the future of American screen acting, but her casting in Greenberg might herald a new treatment of nudity in Hollywood films. Actually that second one....not so much. (Slate)
Actors in mumblecore movies get naked to have sex too, and they have a lot of it. But the nakedness really is matter-of-fact—there's a sense of intimacy that feels authentic and nonjudgmental, though it's not always pretty. In Nights and Weekends, the opening scene shows Gerwig and her co-star Joe Swanberg, bursting into a dingy, post-grad apartment and having sex on the floor. They are a couple in a long-distance relationship who have not seen each other for months, and without any dialogue the two convey their excitement. Both are equally naked in this scene and Swanberg is obviously aroused. For the viewer, there is again a sense of recognition: This is probably what I look like having sex. In a mumblecore film, there are no manicured Hollywood caresses, and the bodies portrayed are not Hollywood bodies—one Variety reviewer described Lena Dunham's figure in Tiny Furniture as "Neither model-thin nor obese"—but they're not made out to be freakish, nor are they especially sexualized. They just are.
The announcers highlighted Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano's "new attitude" before the game, but I wouldn't want to be his waiter at dinner tonight. We couldn't ask for a better start to the season as the Braves absolutely hammer Cubs pitching with Escobar driving in 5 and Heyward 4 in his first game. The signature moment was Heyward's 1st career AB 3-run homer into the right field pen, 446 feet according to TV. Derek Lowe was good enough, though I'm sure he's thanking the hitters who bailed him out after he gave up 3 in the first. The NL East will be tough but this team can absolutely be a factor if injuries don't get in the way.
A first review of David Simon's Treme, premiering this Sunday. (Salon)
Then along comes David Simon to bring the joys and sorrows of New Orleans alive for us, once and for all. In their new HBO drama "Treme" (premieres 10 p.m. Sunday, April 11), Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer offer up such an intimate portrait of this strange, soulful American city that watching it makes you feel as if you're there, mopping your brow over a cold beer in a dark corner bar, taking in a jazz band at a club, tapping your foot along with a parade on its streets. Suddenly, all the talk of the uniqueness of New Orleans culture, the passionate embrace of its music, the struggle to revive the Lower Ninth Ward and bring its natives back home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, all of it comes together and you can feel the heartbreak of this city, from the second-line parade that opens the first 80-minute episode to the slow funeral procession that ends it.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
A live performance from the Jimmy Fallon show. I chose not to post the infamous video, in which Badu walks naked down a Dallas street and then casts herself as the victim of the Kennedy assassination, because it seems willfully provocative and much less subtle than the song it serves. Had it been released in, say, 1985 then the "Window Seat" video might have been regarded as a landmark of a then-young medium; Badu would have pulled off a statement about the way the world views strong African-American women with much more guile than even the best of Madonna's early videos proclaimed her sexual independence. In 2010 "Window Seat" feels too on-the-nose. Does that mean it shouldn't have been made? No, but Badu's use of historical imagery distracts from her message of individuality; that spoken passage at the end adds to the heavy handed atmosphere.
To be fair, what bothers me most about "Window Seat" might be that we'll debate it and relegate it to controversy-of-the-week too quickly. I can't count myself familiar with much of Badu's work and that's my loss, but she has got a hell of a lot more going on than Beyonce or Rihanna. With "Window Seat" she seems to have gotten tangled up in her own ideas.
The involvement of Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson in Atom Egoyan's Chloe means a wider release for this deeply weird tale of an outwardly successful marriage that has come to, if not a fork in the road, then one of those crazy traffic circles found in European countries. Egoyan, best known for The Sweet Hereafter, has remade the French film Nathalie with a dose of Canadian chilliness and his usual unironic take on sexuality. Julianne Moore is well-cast and appropriately brittle as Catherine, a gynecologist whose failed surprise party for her husband David (Liam Neeson) sets off an chain reaction of events leading to a tipping point in her marriage. Catherine's suspicion of David's possible infidelities (there's a missed flight and some sketchy text messages) prompts her to hire Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), an escort whom she meets by chance in a restaurant bathroom. Chloe's assignment is to approach David, see if he flirts or is open to the possibility of an affair, and report back to Catherine.
Seyfried, the cute rising star of Dear John, reveals a previously unseen strain of raw sexiness as Chloe. In an opening voice over Chloe proudly declares her mutability; she can change herself according to the wishes of her clients, seemingly at the expense of her own personality. Chloe is of course a movie about two halves of the same women. Catherine finds the arousal in Chloe's descriptions of sex with David that her husband isn't giving her, while Chloe finds a warmth and intimacy with Catherine that her job doesn't afford her. (Catherine's attention to a cut on Chloe's knee is a key bonding moment) At the center of all this is Neeson, who opacity is just right. David could be a cheater or merely an overworked and slightly selfish faithful husband. As the sexual intrigue (which also involves Max Thieriot as Catherine and David's son) deepens some might be tempted to write off Chloe as porn for white wine drinkers, but Egoyan is on to something else. Sex in Chloe is an attempt at connection, not just a search for momentary pleasure. In Egoyan's conception both intimacy and eroticism are necessary not only to maintain Catherine and David's marriage but also for Chloe to come into herself as a person. I can't recall an Egoyan film with a conventionally happy ending; Chloe gives way slightly at the end to its thriller mechanics, but I left the theater thinking of the needs that moved two women to find each other.
Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 11/46
Miscellaneous Fact: The fact that it's Easter and I'm happiest about not having to work should tell you something about where my spiritual side is these days.
Friday, April 02, 2010
....will take place in the cabin out back. I'm throwing this out as red meat to certain parties; Cory Doctorow critiques the iPad based not on its functionality but on what it will do to our imaginations.
The iStore lock-in doesn't make life better for Apple's customers or Apple's developers. As an adult, I want to be able to choose whose stuff I buy and whom I trust to evaluate that stuff. I don't want my universe of apps constrained to the stuff that the Cupertino Politburo decides to allow for its platform. And as a copyright holder and creator, I don't want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable material for me to create. The last time I posted about this, we got a string of apologies for Apple's abusive contractual terms for developers, but the best one was, "Did you think that access to a platform where you can make a fortune would come without strings attached?" I read it in Don Corleone's voice and it sounded just right. Of course I believe in a market where competition can take place without bending my knee to a company that has erected a drawbridge between me and my customers!
I don't have any particular reason to resent a remake of Clash of the Titans other than the usual "no new ideas" chorus, but what director Louis Leterrier & Co. have done isn't so much remake the 1981 original as transplant Greek myth into a Lord of The Rings movie. The bulk of the film is the story of the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his journey to kill Medusa and save the city of Argos from the wrath of the Gods. It seems that secular humanism had a previously unremarked upon blossoming in Ancient Greece; prayers to the Gods are down and Zeus (Liam Neeson) isn't happy. In a weak moment Zeus allows his brother Hades (played as Voldemort's second cousin by Ralph Fiennes) to threaten Argos with destruction by the Kraken unless the Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is sacrificed. Perseus is tapped to lead the group of warriors trying to save Argos because he's the son of Zeus, product of one of the Big Guy's one night stands and rescued from a watery death by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) who home schools Perseus to hate the Gods.
Clash of the Titans clocks in at 118 minutes, thus avoiding Summer Movie Bloat (the padding of running times with needlessly drawn out spectacle). The action scenes aren't anything special, though there is an encounter with giant scorpions that's reminiscient of Ray Harryhausen's effects in the original. As befitting a movie about Man v. Deity conflict, much time is spent getting Perseus to accept his true nature while still being, no pun intended, a regular guy. There are the obligatory scenes of Perseus learning to be a warrior with some help from an Argosian soldier (Mads Mikkelsen) and a team of anonymous fighters. Women don't have much to do here; Perseus gets a few moments of flirtation with Io (Gemma Arterton), who seems to have been granted the ability to regenerate her outfits. Worthington's blandness in the central role is the movie's biggest problem. While Neeson and Fiennes camp it up Worthington's Perseus is a vessel waiting to be filled; his acceptance of his semi-divine nature and the gifts of the Gods leaves him no more interestng than he was before. Clash of the Titans provides decent enough spectacle but there's too little at the center. We're supposed to be in a post-movie star, post-everything else era; I could have used a star's charisma to make this reconstituted stuff go down easier.
Total Songs/Minutes (approx.): 9/40
Miscellaneous Fact: Slight adjustment in route accounts for shorter playlist....
The gang at The Singles Jukebox slightly prefers "Rude Boy" over "Hard." I think "Rude Boy" is a good deal more boring musically but agree that it sounds much better when removed from the context of the album surrounding it. As for the videos, even the zebra-print bodysuits can't compare with Rihanna as drill sergeant. (photo by Craig McDean)
Alex Macpherson: On first listen, the dancehall vibes of “Rude Boy” sit awkwardly on its dark, monochrome parent album. As a single, though, it takes on a new lease of life both as an irresistibly lewd spring jam — and as another manifestation of Rated R’s themes of self-reclamation. Rihanna stalks the beat like a predator, and its coiled springs of synths crouch and pounce with her. She assumes total control over the situation — her rude boy may be a captain and a rider, but only at her behest and with her permission. Each line of the first verse begins “I’mma let…”, reinforcing not the significance of the roles she allows him to play but her own agency. The chorus is even more emasculating, with Rihanna’s witheringly direct questions peppered with imperatives, culminating in the order to “Take it! Take it!” Consider the pain fucked away.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Here's the already much-blogged article in which Nicholas Sparks proclaims himself a better novelist than Cormac McCarthy. (Miley Cyrus has the good sense not to comment.) I've already mentioned my dislike of Sparks and anything Sparks-related, but I'll go further. Watching the man work numerous packed book signings it's obvious that for him writing is a means to an end; to see Sparks at a signing was to see a man desperately trying to conceal how much he needs attention. Oh, and I'll never forget his thanking all the "little people" as he left one packed event. (Peace treaties have been negotiated in less time than it took to determine the rules under which he'd sign old books and pose for photos) I'm consoled by the fact that McCarthy couldn't care less about all this, but I'd still urge anyone who reads this to repost and join me in spreading the word about Sparks's vanity. (USA Today)