Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I'm always attracted to posts about why people do things well, and this post about Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi is no exception. (Joe Posnanski/Kottke)

This is how most people refer to Lionel Messi, by the way … not so much by name (though they will call him Leo) but by his title: The Best Player In The World. There is something official about the title — Messi was named the FIFA World Player of the Year for the first time in 2009. But it seems that it is the unofficial, informal, lower cased title of “best player in the world” that means more to people. There are a handful of players — among them Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Brazil’s Kaka, Spain’s Xavi or Fernando Torres, one of England’s stars like John Terry, Wayne Rooney or Steve Gerrard, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o, perhaps the young German Thomas Mueller — who are in the typical bar and work conversation for best player in the world. But it is Messi who, at the moment, seems to be the consensus choice, the way Albert Pujols is in baseball. It isn’t something people seem to be arguing about.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mother and Child

Mother and Child, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, bears the fingerprints of executive producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Garcia's use of interlocking storylines and a tone of high seriousness are reminiscent of Inarritu's Babel, though Garcia's domestic concerns feel much more personal and immediate. Karen (Annette Bening), is a physical therapist whose life revolves around an aging mother (Eileen Ryan) and a bitter regret over a daughter given up for adoption 35 years ago. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), a successful attorney with a habit of changing cities, doesn't get too close to anyone until an affair with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) upsets her emotionally regimented life. The third major character is Lucy (Kerry Washington), a young woman dealing with the difficulties of finding a child to adopt and having a husband who's not as excited about the prospect. Mother and Child isn't about suspense, it isn't difficult to see how the womens' lives will fit together. The acting is uniformly good (Bening and Washington especially) and the cast filled out with strong players in small roles. I especially liked S. Epatha Merkerson as Washington's no-nonsense mother.

What of the movie's message? Everyone is Mother and Child who is affected by adoption is damaged by it; Karen and Elizabeth are both closed-off, unhappy women and Lucy must endure the horror show of auditioning for young mothers and her husband's implicit accusation that she's damaged goods. Is isn't clear what we're to make of all this unhappiness, and though the film ends on a grace note there's a major plot thread left hanging that promises emotional trauma to come. Given the skill of the performers I wish I could say I liked Mother and Child better, but it ends up being a buffet for tragedy junkies.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Olivia Munn as herself

I'm a little fuzzy on why Olivia Munn is famous, but the feminist backlash against her seems misplaced. Munn is clearly playing a character named Olivia Munn who gives the fans what they want. She even acknowledges as much: (NYT)

“I’m a ‘What you see is what I want you to see’ kind of girl,” she said. “When I first started, I just wanted to be perfect. I wanted to say I loved bunnies and rainbows and world peace. I realized that the only way to be perfect was to embrace your imperfections. I kind of became that character.”

On “Attack of the Show!” Ms. Munn and her co-host, Kevin Pereira, visit technology shows, interview celebrities and perform skits. But perhaps her most memorable (if not downloaded) act on it is the time in February 2009 when she donned a French maid’s outfit and leaped, knees first, into a giant pudding-filled pie crust.

Jonah Hex

I can only assume that at some point studio executives took a look at Jonah Hex, shook their heads, and decided America wasn't ready for a political allegory wrapped inside of a movie based on a second-tier DC Comics character. The resulting 80-minute version probably isn't some kind of mangled classic but is just crazy enough to pique my curiosity. My attempt to get "Jonah Hex Justifications" going on Twitter was just a ruse; Jonah Hex is the kind of movie one sees with the hope it might be a turkey for the ages.

The basics: Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is left for dead by his commanding officer Col. Turnbull (John Malkovich) after refusing to participate in the war crimes of his Confederate Army Company and killing Turnbull's son. (Cheers if you can figure that out from the opening montage) Rescued by Indians, Hex is revived and granted the ability to talk to the dead. Scarred by Turnbull's brand, he's operating as a bounty hunter when found by the U.S. Army (Will Arnett is offbeat casting as an officer). It seems Turnbull, thought dead, is staging a series of terrorist attacks with the ultimate goal of bringing down the U.S. Government during the Centennial celebration. Turnbull and his forces have the goal of the Tea Party (tearing down the established order with no subsequent plan) and use the methods of Al Qaeda, though the superweapon they use looks like something from a steampunk era episode of Alias. John Malkovich however has the goal of cashing a check and uses the method of phoning it in. It's a tired, lazy performance and I could have sworn there were a couple of scenes where we were actually looking at some kind of Malkovich-like Muppet. Malkovich aside, the cast is the best thing about Jonah Hex. I wanted to spend a little more time with Michael Fassbender's smiling killer and Lance Reddick's purveyor of jacked-up weaponry. Then there's Megan Fox as the prostitute who can bring out Jonah's softer side. Even less is asked of Fox here than in Jennifer's Body, if that's possible. While I would have liked to have seen her and everyone else try to make Jonah Hex a little more fun, I deeply resent the "Can this career be saved?" whispers following Fox around the web. She's in the movie for 10-12 minutes tops, and no one seems too worried about Josh Brolin's career.

Jonah Hex finally descends into madness. Is director Jimmy Hayward really cutting between two different scenes of Malkovich and Brolin fighting in different locations? Yes, he is. Michael Shannon is allegedly playing a character called "Doc Cross Williams". Can you find him? I couldn't. Why did anyone want Jonah Hex to be made? I don't know.

Sunday Music: Heartless Bastards - "Out At Sea"

Their recent Friday Night Lights cameo reminded me to get their CD The Mountain. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jayhawks 2.0

It's good to see the Jayhawks, one of my favorite bands of the early to mid-'90s, playing together again. There's no indication in this review of some recent Minneapolis shows if a new Jayhawks album is in the works, but we know from the album that co-leaders Gary Louris and Mark Olson put out last year (one of my Top 10 of 2009) that the two seem disposed towards working together again. The recent arrival of the group's rare first album on CD has inspired an exploration of older songs. (Star-Tribune)

No doubt, the goal was to vary the First Ave performances from night to night. Also, last month's reissue of their little-heard 1986 debut ("The Bunkhouse Album") seemed to spur the band to dig deeper.

Thus, in place of familiar favorites such as "Waiting for the Sun," "Two Angels" and "Over My Shoulder" (all forsaken Sunday), the concert featured long-shelved tunes including "Ain't No End," "Will I Be Married," "King of Kings" and the opener "People in This Place on Every Side." Instead of the radio-polished single "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" -- which itself would have been a surprise, since it came in the post-Olson era of the band -- Louris dusted off "Someone Will," an early version of that tune with a different chorus.

Where The Roots go.....

Read the following quote to learn why The Roots are the most interesting and important thing in hip-hop. More here. (WSJ)

WSJ: Why did you decide to record the cover song "Dear God 2.0"?

Mr. Thompson: Hip-hop is 100% machismo. Even for females it's machismo. Because we are men in our late-30s, now approaching 40, there has to be a new role, a new playbook that we have to go by. We're writing it as we go. We wanted to make a record that reflected the tone of the country. "Dear God" is a song about someone holding on with the last fiber of their being to something to believe in. The gentleman singing on it is Jim James, the leader of My Morning Jacket; he was one of the leaders of a supergroup called the Monsters of Folk, which included him and Bright Eyes. They came on the show and I heard the lyrics and it absolutely floored me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Episodic blues

The AV Club's thoughtful discussion of the boom in web TV criticism is worth reading, but doesn't address a couple of major problems with the form. The rise in the number of places offering recaps of individual episodes leads is of course perfectly timed with the arrival of blog comments and Twitter. Yet there's no getting around the fact that reviewing an individual episode of a TV series is taking something out of context that was meant to be viewed as part of a larger whole. It's no accident that every series that can stand up to this kind of scrutiny is the product of a single mind: Mad Men, Treme, and Breaking Bad are the active examples. Weiner, Simon, and Gilligan have all proven to be writing with a long view in mind, and the focus on week-to-week payoffs does them no favors. (Looking back, I think the best recap I ever wrote was this annotated collection of Tweets. It seemed appropriate.) There's an economic element at work here too. If you like good TV but can't afford cable or a DVR then you're out of the discussion.

The attempt to retroactively establish a TV canon by blogging old series feels a little rushed. We've only recently arrived at the point where series were being created with the idea of a DVD audience in mind. Series like The Sopranos and The Wire are brands; you can tell a good deal about a person by their favorite TV addiction. Trying to think of a series from the '90s that could have achieved similar cachet today is a chore, and don't even think about going back earlier than that. (I say this as a person who campaigned to be allowed to watch Moonlighting as a middle schooler.) Yes,we can analyze TV with the speed and thoroughness with which we discuss films, but when we do we are only skimming off the top of a very deep well.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Music: The Gaslight Anthem & Bruce Springsteen - "The '59 Sound"

I'm loving their new American Slang, this song is actually the title cut from their first record. Note how the singer mimics Springsteen's stage patter.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oh Armond.....

I haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet but can only imagine the glee Armond White took in ruining the film's shot at a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. This post is about the most honest thing I've read about White, acknowledging his contrarianism while defending the need for critics who don't fall in line with the blockbuster-of-the-week mentality. (Something Old, Something New)

Most movies, then and now, don't matter that much in the long run. And the ones that do turn out to matter often aren't the ones that get the four-star reviews at the time. That, at least, is something that White keeps pointing out in his own strange way. And while everyone should like what they like, there's a weird sense of entitlement in some of his attackers, the idea that not only did they think Toy Story 3 was great (a perfectly good opinion) but that because it's the biggest movie of the week, everybody must validate this opinion. White's performance art is suggesting that most of these big movies are just the flavor of the week, and it doesn't matter much what critics say about them. I'd prefer this suggestion to be coming from a regular critic who actually discusses the movies, not a distant idea of what they are, but at least he's goading people into questioning some assumptions about what the "important" movies are at a given moment.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Please Give

Thank goodness for Nicole Holofcener, the writer/director whose Please Give is an acidic bath in a movie summer where far too many films are injections of sugar. Holofcener provides another leading role for Catherine Keener, who shows here again that she has cornered the market on darkly funny urban unhappiness. Keener plays Kate, who with her husband Alex (excellent Oliver Platt) operates a vintage downtown NYC furniture store that gets its stock from buying the possessions of the recently deceased. Like just about every other character in Please Give, Cate feels almost exactly the opposite of how someone in her situation should feel. The successful business seems to bring her no happiness, she's starting to feel like a grave robber, and her efforts to make amends by giving money to the homeless lead to embarrassing scenes like the one in which she offers her leftovers to a black man who is actually waiting for a table at another restaurant.

If Cate and Alex's work is hitting a little too close to home it's because they're waiting for someone to die themselves. Their neighbor Andra (Ann Guilbert) is 91 and bad-tempered; Kate and Alex own her apartment and plan to expand theirs after Andra dies. Andra's granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) spends most of her time as a caretaker while other granddaughter Mary (Amanda Peet) is unrepentantly selfish. Although Keener's glower dominates the movie the ensemble all get their moments. Holofcener seems to be the only American making films about how different generations of women relate to each other. An uncomfortable scene where a drunken Mary draws Kate into describing her plans for Andra's apartment within Andra's hearing is a turning point; Kate's need to connect with something besides dead people's furniture leads to awkward volunteerism but almost costs her a relationship with teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele). Steele gives Abby a touching lack of guile which is especially poignant when played off of everyone's beaten-down misery.

The expressions on Keener and Platt's faces in the closing shot ends Please Give with some hope for the future. The early scenes zip along with screwball-fast dialogue but Holofcener is after something slower and deeper. Please Give is a movie about surviving; if we're alive then we have to go on, even with only a daughter's smile or sister's touch to sustain us. May Holofcener and Keener continue working together. I'm happy to see just a little light creep in at the end of this marvelously dark tale.

Please like us...please.

Yikes. A post about the commercial failure of the well-reviewed Splice blames the film's box-office troubles on the lack of "likable" characters. I can't tell what's being insulted more here, the audience's intelligence or the profession of film critic. Splice is a nightmare from a marketing point of view, it's really a cautionary tale with strong satirical undertones. Still, to call for more likability (and reliance on Cinemascore ratings) is to call for throwing in the critical towel altogether. (via @mattzollerseitz, click through for a take that matches mine)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Never Let Me Go, the trailer

If I'm talking about trailers it's a sign that a. my blogging time is limited and I'm looking for a good, easy post and b. something about the film in question really catches my eye. Anything with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan is presold as far as I'm concerned, but this trailer for Never Let Me Go really is very arresting and doesn't give too much away. Had I seen this without any credits provided I would never have guessed that Mark Romanek (of One Hour Photo and many music videos) could have produced something that looks like the work of Joe Wright. Never Let Me Go is based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, most famous for The Remains of the Day, but this is clearly something else altogether. One more for the reading list.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Catalogue

There is an enormous amount of unreleased Ryan Adams music; now that Adams is free from his record contract we may finally hear some of it. (Speakeasy)

Though the apparent coming deluge of archival recordings is a welcome one for Adams fans, these unreleased albums are just a drop in the bucket of the dozen-plus collections that have been traded and freely (if dubiously) available online on message boards, bittorrent sites and other file-sharing networks for years — a whole alternate discography rich with some of the troubadour’s best material. As we await his next move, Speakeasy has compiled a list of six of Adams’ unreleased essentials.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Goodbye, Killer

Pitchfork is cool to the Pernice Brothers' new album Goodbye, Killer because it's too much like what the band has done before. I'm not sure that's the case actually, the album has a much looser and offhand feel than their previous work. There is something beguiling about the character sketch "Jacqueline Susann" (the subject of the song reads both Susann and Ford Madox Ford) and "Newport News" has the emotional specificity of a good short story. There's even a funny song called "We Love The Stage" that details the joys and hazards of life on the road. There's something to be said for a career spent writing smart, adult, lushly romantic pop songs. How different do we want Pernice to be? Goodbye, Killer is a small, quick album, but one still full of pleasure and one certainly not worthy of the hypocrisy with which a certain influential music site reviewed it. Later this summer the Arcade Fire will release a new album; if it turns out to be a collection of Greek Orthodox hymns it will be praised as a bold departure but if it's a note-for-note cover of their previous record some quarters will hail it as a the triumph of a band working at the height of its powers. Under these circumstances, how can Joe Pernice catch a break?

Not "edgy" enough

The writer/director (for now) of the in-the-offing Fraggle Rock movie has a few things to say about The Weinstein Company's treatment of his project. Has the studio ever seen the source material? (Cory's Curiosities)

"EDGY." That's the note. That's what they are trying to do to the Fraggle Rock movie. EDGE it up! Let me say right now that "edgy" is one of my least favorite words. Since my earliest days in the client video business, "edgy" has been a sign of someone who doesn't know what they want. Not only is "edgy" a nebulous, abstract word that means something different to everyone, but it chases the immediate whims of pop culture. WHAT is edgy?? Faster edits? Rock music for the score? Boober wearing some gangsta bling? I have no idea. What I DO know is that the word "edgy" should not be anywhere near this movie.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Our shyest great actress

Marian Seldes, 60 years into an award-winning career, wants to see your show. (NYT)

It is Seldes’s blend of Old World manners and youthful exuberance, her journeyman work ethic, paired with a sense of privilege at being in the theater, that has made her a legendary figure within it. In the mirrored bubble of show business, where people see only themselves, she sees everyone else. More than that, she celebrates them. She goes to their shows, whether on Broadway or some crummy joint downtown; she’s front-row center at both their sparsely attended readings and their lavishly produced awards ceremonies. She is as avid a fan as she is an actress; she listens as intensely as she speaks. After seven decades of working, often without acclaim, her rapture at her profession remains undimmed. Happily, the theater has ultimately returned the embrace. André Bishop, the artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater whose two plays Seldes saved in previews, said, “With Marian it’s like what Stephen Sondheim said at his birthday gala, when he quoted Alice Roosevelt Longworth, ‘First you’re young, then you’re middle-aged, then you’re wonderful.’ ” So much so that Rick Rodgers, a former actor, is making a documentary, “The Third Act of Marian Seldes.”

“I had to kill Marian onstage,” Nathan Lane recalled of their Off Broadway run in McNally’s “Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams” in 2005. “She played a woman dying of cancer who wants my character to smother her with a pillow. So one matinee I smother her. She dies and I was in tears. I drop the pillow and from the audience I hear an old man say, ‘Vell, that’s the end of Marian Seldes.’ And I thought: Oh, no it’s not! She’s still going to go on!”

Sunday Music: James McMurtry - "Melinda"

From earlier this year. This song is from McMurtry's 1995 album Where'd You Hide The Body, which I rediscover periodically and highly recommend to fans of roots music or "alt-country".

Saturday, June 12, 2010

This is why....

....I love the Internet. A minor celebrity - Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation - can (I'm assuming) get drunk and create this, and then use her Twitter feed to draw attention to it. Plaza's meta-fangirl absurdity is just one element of the "conversation" that Roger Ebert writes about more seriously in his homage to Twitter. I have a feeling that every one of these Twitterers that Ebert mentions is worth reading.

There are millions of Tweeters, or Twits, as I prefer to think of us, and no doubt many of them are bores. Try reading the real-time stream if you dare. Those I follow give value for time. I'll get a retweet from someone, and if I like it, I'll go to that person's Twitter page and scan 20-30 Tweets and make a judgment call. Some of my discoveries may only have a dozen followers, but I have a sixth sense.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Statement of purpose

From a longer (and well done) review of the National's High Violet, a few words that perfectly summarize the position that I (and most pop critics) find themselves in: (TAS)

Anyway, enough overinterpretation. I realize I have, in lame music-crit fashion, focused on the lyrics of “High Violet” to the neglect of the music. I would say more about the music, except I don’t know really know anything about music, as I suspect is the case with a lot of pop music critics. I will say, though, if I haven’t already, that in the parts I have pointed out, where the lyrics get really good, the music seems like it gets really good, too.

Dept. of Career Paths #2

I'm a little late with this piece on Sarah Polley of Splice, but I'm a sucker for Polley's braininess and the unusual honesty of her thoughts about beginning acting as a child. (LA Times)

"It's always a complicated thing, I think, kids working," she said. "It's a complex issue that we're not mulling over enough in this industry. We've decided as a society that we don't think that kids should work, period. But for some reason, we make this exception in an industry where there's enormous pressure, long hours, and a lot of people who aren't necessarily equipped to be around kids all day."

The fact that she hasn't ended up like the late formerly troubled child stars Corey Haim or River Phoenix is something she can only attribute, she says, to pure luck. "It wasn't merit. There were a lot of kids around me who were more talented, and didn't continue on and their lives became anti-climactic in various destructive ways," she said. "And it's understandable, right? If you have the moment of greatest success when you're 12 or 13, what does that do do the rest of your life?"

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Kristen Stewart's words

I could have used a little more reasoning but I agree with the sentiment in this post about Kristen Stewart's "rape" comments. There are many uses of violent words and images that go ignored, but we're eager to punish a young woman just because of her success. Advocacy groups must have better things to do than slapping around (oops, violent words again) a celebrity who made one ill considered remark. This isn't about how rough celebrities have it, it's about priorities. (MetroWNY)

Who is Ariel Pink?

This post comes to you from deep inside the world of interlocking indie-music blog discourse so obscure and self-referential it makes me want to take a nap. To understand why this matters (to some people) you really should read this and probably this. Warning: There is no chance you will then want to buy the album under discussion. (Decibel Tolls/Hipster Runoff)

Ariel Pink is visionary. Because it has been a tumultuous journey for this fact to be recognized, I’ve gotta call shenanigans on 75% of the music writers out there. Hipster Runoff’s Carles recently posed the question of whether Ariel Pink was the next Animal Collective or whatever, dubbing him “the great lo-fi hope.” And since it’s Carles, the observer effect kicks in, the gears of the PR machine will start turning, and Ariel Pink will fulfill the prophecy of becoming the next blue chip act. I truly detest labeling something as the “next” anything – just let dudes make their music. That’s not my beef, though. When Ariel Pink was opening for Animal Collective back in 2005, people were way bummed on it. I heard a couple of boos from the show I saw. Pitchfork consistently kept him in the lukewarm 5 – 6 metric range during their mid-decade obsession with dance punk. And now that Ariel Pink is en vogue, bloggers and music writers are going to praise this as the second coming. Five bucks says Pitchfork will put Before Today somewhere between an 8 and Radiohead. And the subject of booing during his opening set for Animal Collective is now poised to be “the next Animal Collective.” You dumb fickle motherfuckers. Hate all ya’ll. But I digress. Positive vibes from here on out. least it's short. Oh wait.....

I feel much better after reading this on Lady Gaga's video for the song "Alejandro". I was worried I'd missed something, but the clip seems to be another step in the process of confirming L.G. as a sort of living art installation; one replete with clues to the artist's "theory" of sexuality and gender but one that is ultimately obscure. What no one seems to be talking about is how boring it is, at almost nine minutes about twice as long as it needs to be. I can't say that I'd ever given the question much thought before, but "Alejandro" really could use both more and more interesting lyrics; that's something it shares with most of L.G.'s work. How many lines from "Bad Romance" can you remember, really? If "Alejandro" is indeed L.G.'s valentine to the gay community, then the stylized lighting and regimented, aggressive sexuality reveal a pretty limited understanding of what gay people respond to. What I think bothers me most is the continued sense that what's behind the curtain is a smart-ass art school student who wants us to have these pseudo-academic discussions about what it all means. There's a playfulness in the videos of Christina Aguilera, the best of Madonna, and others in the pop diva sisterhood that Gaga needs to acquire or risk becoming tiresome. (House Next Door)

What's the real Gaga? Personal narratives tend to be fascinatingly difficult to unravel; as mainstream sources confront the Gaga narrative looming in front of them, each tries to wrestle with what she really means. In primetime television, Gossip Girl rushed to be the first in line with a performance from The Fame Monster while mumbling something trite about "a satirical commentary on fame, glamour, and our society's obsession with the shiny new thing." Glee recently had a more nuanced take, locating Gaga at the intersection of theatricality, identity politics, and personal expression. (They also had the insight to stage an acoustic version of "Poker Face" between a daughter and her estranged mother, giving a whole new meaning to the line, "I won't tell you that I love you, kiss or hug you.")

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Dierks Quirks

I've only had the chance to listen to a few tracks and may post a full review later, but I'll go ahead and nominate Dierks Bentley's Up On The Ridge as the musical surprise of the week. Bentley is one of those contemporary country artists so bland that the casual fan could easily get his songs confused with those of, say, Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban. It would have been easy for Bentley to keep turning out arena-country, but this time out he has opted to release pretty much a straight bluegrass record with guest appearances by Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, Del McCoury, Miranda Lambert, and more. Bentley's cover of Bob Dylan's "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" (with Thile adding some vocals) is entirely credible and I can't wait to hear his version of "Pride (In The Name Of Love)". Cheers to Bentley; this album seems about as likely as Nickelback doing an album of hymns or Led Zeppelin touring again.

Wallace 1, Jobs 0.

Kottke quotes a nice bit of futurism re the new iPhone from Infinite Jest.

The recently announced iPhone 4 includes a feature called FaceTime; it's wifi videophone functionality. In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote that within the reality of the book, videophones enjoyed enormous initial popularity but then after a few months, most people gave it up. Why the switch back to voice?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

For Rent: Tetro

Francis Ford Coppola's first original screenplay since The Conversation is full of familiar signposts; there are complicated sibling relationships and large gatherings throughout Tetro, but the central action concerns what lies unspoken between two brothers. Tetro (Vincent Gallo) is a writer slumming it in Buenos Aires with his girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu, who breathes a good deal of life into all her scenes). The couple are visited by Tetro's younger half-brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), a teenager who has found his way to Argentina thanks to a cruise ship job. Both brothers are running from the tyranny of their father (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a famous conductor not shy about moving in on his sons' girlfriends.

"Personal" is the word that has been associated most with Tetro, both in the film's marketing materials and in Coppola's own DVD commentary. However much Tetro may have been shaped by Coppola's relationship with his own older brother, it's easier to buy Bennie as the object of desire for both an older actress and her niece than as a budding writer. A modulated Gallo is more believable as an intellectual, yet despite some funky locations and gorgeous B&W cinematography by Mihai Malaimaire Coppola never really situates Tetro within an artistic community. There's an indistinct plot about the production of a play and a critic (Carmen Maura) who can make or break Tetro, but the actors playing the theater troupe all blend together and the climactic banquet scene looks like something a cranky Woody Allen would have filmed. Despite its incongruities - Tetro is set in the present, but we only know because of the odd cell phone and computer - the film rumbles along pleasantly enough however. All of that rehearsal (documented on the DVD) paid off, since Gallo and Ehrenreich generate some real emotional heat as old truths are revealed. I'm happy to see Coppola working in a small, personal mode. Now that these family issues are off his plate I look forward to him turning his eye to the world.

Do the Shuffle #67

  • John Mellencamp - Lafayette
  • R.E.M. - Harborcoat
  • Juliana Hatfield - For The Birds
  • B-52's - Topaz
  • Books - Cello Song
  • Hold Steady - Both Crosses

    Songs/Minutes (approx.) - 6/25
    Miscellaneous Fact: The Hold Steady? Really? What was I thinking?
  • Sunday Music: John Prine & Sara Watkins - "The Late John Garfield Blues"

    I'm enjoying Prine's new live CD In Person & On Stage, which features Watkins doing this song as well as Iris Dement, Emmylou Harris, and Josh Ritter. Prine is one of those I've always sort of vaguely appreciated without taking time to listen to. A forthcoming tribute album reveals just how many artists feel they're in his debt.

    Saturday, June 05, 2010

    Born to be wild?

    A belated RIP to Dennis Hopper, whom I discovered in Hoosiers and then tracked back through ups and downs to Easy Rider. My favorite Hopper performance is a beautiful little one scene role in Jesus Son. Hopper plays a patient in the hospital where the main character (Billy Crudup) works and turns out to have sort of lived the life Crudup's character is trying to survive. (A great deal can be inferred about Hopper's character from just a few lines.) Of course I'm also a fan of his great duel with Walken in True Romance. I knew Hopper was conservative but he never seemed to make a big deal out of it. I liked this post about a small-c conservative reading of Hopper's Easy Rider. (Reason)

    In 1984, it was possible for Gene Siskel to contrast Easy Rider (which, he informed us, "trashed establishment America") with the anti-Communist thriller Red Dawn (which was "nothing less than a military manifesto for our nation's youth"), concluding that "After more than two decades of pervasive liberalism, the Hollywood film industry is suddenly producing popular pictures that can only be called conservative." As it happens, Red Dawn director John Milius is a self-described "Zen anarchist" and a product of the same New Hollywood that gave us Easy Rider, but it's easy to miss those sorts of nuances when you're looking through the distorting prism of the Culture War. In retrospect, the New Hollywood was too big to be contained by either the counterculture or the left; it included John Milius as well as Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood as well as Jack Nicholson, Hopper the budding Republican as well as Hopper the hippie. In the best movies of the period, the animating idea wasn't some clichéd battle between the hipsters and the squares. It was the concept that powered those westerns of an earlier era: the tension between the home and the road, and the happiness and horrors to be found in both.

    Friday, June 04, 2010


    Splice, cowritten and directed by Vincenzo Natali, has been marketed as a horror movie. We all know Hollywood's habit of trying to fit films into predetermined genres; studio careers are made by the ability to fool enough of the people on opening weekend. There is more than enough going on in Splice to make a discussion of marketing a tangent. Although it turns to horror in its last act, Natali manages to make the buildup a unusual blend of satire, love story, and unnerving riff on the anxieties of parenthood.

    Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are young biochemists in love who in the opening moments of Splice succeed in synthesizing a new life form (which resembles a pulsating brain) for the purpose of harvesting disease-curing proteins. I'm not sure if we have seen scientists like Clive and Elsa before, their careers are controlled by a giant pharmaceutical company and their high profile (Do biochemists really get on the cover of Wired?) has gone to their heads. The opening scenes of Splice are nervous and played almost too fast on purpose. Clive and Elsa, whose bosses want to take their research in a different direction, are forced to be be hucksters for their livelihoods. It's almost as if the movie wants to convince us that their work is important at the same time Elsa is convincing Clive to try splicing human DNA into their creation. The result is Dren (played by Delphine Chaneac and Abigail Chu at different ages), a too-pretty creature whose legs seem to come from one of those small dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The rest of Splice is what happens as Clive's weakness and Elsa's repressed maternal instincts allow their creation to spin out of control.

    Sarah Polley has made her name in brainier fare like The Sweet Hereafter and her directorial debut Away From Her. Elsa is the power in this couple and Polley's haughtiness is ideal for this woman who has absolutely convinced herself her actions are right and necessary. Polley's performance gets more interesting as the reasons for Elsa's behavior become clear; the cracks in Elsa's veneer of professionalism are heartbreakingly detailed. (Polley pulls off the neat trick of becoming scarier the calmer she gets.) Adrien Brody admirably plays a man ruled by his ambitions and lower desires. Splice won't be scary enough for some horror junkies, but it's the way that Clive and Elsa feed on each other's weaknesses that's the real scary story. I became less interested in Splice the more it resembled a conventional horror movie, but I won't forget the ways Natali makes Clive and Elsa's lab a menacing place (low camera angles and lots of monitors) or how the movie calls Clive and Elsa on their hubris. There's a darkly hilarious press conference scene in which the consequences of the two's obsession with Dren are played out, and an ill-timed lab tryst early on is paid off later in a scene more believable than it should have been. The villain in Splice isn't science, but rather corporate-controlled science in which bureaucrats call the shots. Don't miss it; it's smarter than standard summer fare without working nearly as hard.

    Work habits (and R. Kelly)

    Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation, this week's MTV Movie Awards) probaly doesn't mind if you're not familiar with his stand up comedy. He's too busy working to care. (NYT/Knope Knows)

    Just don’t think that he is ever idle. When Mr. Ansari asked an audience member at a previous evening’s performance at the Largo nightclub here to imagine how he spends his days, he was surprised by the response.

    “He was like, ‘You probably wake up about 10 o’clock, and then you smoke some weed,’ ” Mr. Ansari said. “ ‘Then you play video games for a couple hours.’ ”

    Recounting that exchange, Mr. Ansari said, “That sounds like a terrible existence.”

    Thursday, June 03, 2010

    Quick reaction to Tift Merritt's See You On The Moon

    I discovered Tift Merritt through the song "Stray Paper", a slice of country-rock from her 2004 album Tambourine. Merritt had released one album prior to that, a more overtly country effort called Bramble Rose. Tambourine threw in rock, country, soul, and gospel elements and was a mainstay of my personal CD rotation for months; it didn't hurt that I saw Merritt in concert around that time. The more slowly paced Bramble Rose is gorgeous, but the energy I responded to in Tambourine was taken by some for badly produced clamor. Four years and a new label later Merritt released Another Country, and it turned out that what she wanted to be wasn't another Lucinda Williams but rather a Joni Mitchell. The singer-songwritery Another Country certainly shows off Merritt's way with a melody, especially on the fragile "Broken", but overall the album suffered from a case of the blahs; it seemed a wan effort from an artist so early in her career.

    See You On The Moon begins with "Mixtapes", a song that wouldn't sound out of place in a montage on Grey's Anatomy. Alarm bells - this sounds like a bid for a pop hit and a sign of further stylistic uncertainty. Things look up almost immediately with the faster "Engine To Turn", a song that signals the rest of the album's renewed purpose. The sound is closer to country than anything else, but occasional grace notes (lightly used strings, a clarinet on "The Things That Everybody Does") reveal Merritt as a bit of a sonic adventurer. See You On The Moon is first and foremost a Tift Merritt album, not a journey through genres. Lyrically things are looking up; "Six More Days Of Rain" could be a ballad but turns out to be about getting through the storm. The key phrase in "Feel Of The World" (which seems to be about an old relationship) is "Time will take care of you love." I can't explain the cover of Kenny Loggins's "Danny's Song," but overall See You On The Moon is a confident, exploratory work by an artist whose most exciting music hasn't been made yet.

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    The Discoverers

    When I was in junior high and high school I didn't have regular access to cable television. HBO, MTV, sports channels and the rest were thrills that I only got to sample a few times a year, usually on visits to my grandparents' house in Florida. Around age 14 what I saw on MTV began to coincide with my interest in "alternative" music, and I still remember the feeling of seeing R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World (As We Know It)" and also, for some reason, They Might Be Giants' "Ana Ng" among others. Seeing those videos was one of my first indications (along with the documentary Athens GA: Inside/Out) that someone else got it, that I wasn't the only one moved by strange dispatches from the likes of Stipe, Westerberg, and Morrissey. (For the record, I heard the Replacements' last albums first and then discovered the good stuff.)

    Today while getting ready for work I saw the exceedingly polite video for "Bloodbuzz Ohio" by The National. 5.30 am on MTV2, but hey it's good they're playing it right? MTV is far from the only resource for hearing newish music these days, but I started thinking about whether the experience of seeing one video or hearing one MP3 could ever resonate for someone as deeply in 2010 as it did for me. The sheer volume of new music isn't a new subject, but it does lead the question of how much of our indie sensibility is determined by a few tastemakers. I had never heard of The National until I saw their picture on the cover of Paste declaring their album Boxer the best of that year. Their relevance had already been determined, and although I like the band it has been so long since I discovered a band or a filmmaker organically that I almost can't remember the feeling. Kaya Oakes's Slanted and Enchanted (subtitle: "The Evolution of Indie Culture") articulates the problem very well. Oakes chronicles various indie scenes as far back as Frank O'Hara and the New York School. She is brutally honest about the fact that there's enormous pressure on indie publishers, labels, and bands to stay afloat and also about how fast the indie world reinvents itself due to corporate cannibalization of whatever is hot. (It's a fast cycle and getting faster, leading in Oakes's view to the rise of the slower and more tactile indie craft movement as an low-key alternative.)

    The National are a good band; this post really isn't about them anyway. I just hope that sense of discovery hasn't been lost, that a teenager is discovering Sleigh Bells (or whoever the next hot band are) because of a chance encounter or an older sibling and not just because Pitchfork says so.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2010

    NP goes to camp

    A new book goes backstage at performing arts camp and fame incubator Stagedoor Manor. NP is an alumna. (Speakeasy)

    In 1996, Bryce Dallas Howard starred opposite Natalie Portman in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She told Rapkin that Portman took care of her, telling her which groups to avoid and which wouldn’t take advantage of her lineage.