Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don't Hold It Against Me

Snobbery isn't profound, it's just snobbery. I hope that Moby doesn't think that getting called names by Eminem puts him beyond criticism for his ugly comments about Britney Spears in recent interviews. Whether or not Britney makes "music" or just vehicles for marketing is a matter of taste, but unless Moby wants to give back some checks for selling songs from the album Play he really shouldn't open his mouth. (To be fair Moby also singles out Rihanna and Kesha, but does anybody think we'll be talking about Kesha in two years?) I've never been able to stomach the visceral dislike in some areas (usually the comment sections of gossip blogs) for the very existence of too-rich young women who make their living on MTV, but Britney seems to have stabilized her life after having  her virginity put in play as a subject for public discussion (talk about being marketed) and making some shaky choices in men. She'll never return to her former ubiquity, but she has managed to recover from being the butt of jokes during a period of time when Moby's highest-profile release was a book about tea. In her recent performance with Rihanna at the Billboard Awards, I thought Britney carried herself with the air of someone who recognized that Rihanna's high-concept writhing was trying too hard. In other words, there's no topping dancing with a snake.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"If you tried to do that in L.A., you would be laughed off the set."

An oral history of the making of Badlands reveals a cast devoted to their first-time director and a production schedule that seemed endless. (GQ)


Terry called one night and said, "I want you to play the part." I had to get up very early the next morning to go to work, and I was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in a little Mazda. I was listening to a Dylan album I was fond of, and the song "Desolation Row" was playing, and the sun was rising, and it hit me that I was going to play the role of my life. I had been a professional actor since I was eighteen. I was thirty-one, I had four children, I was struggling, doing a lot of television—a lot of bad, silly work just to make ends meet—and I wasn't having any luck in features to speak of, and here was the part of my life. And I was overwhelmed, and I pulled off to the side of the road, and I wept uncontrollably.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Journey Back

The role that brought Joe Mantello back to acting was a long time coming. (NYT)

If every actor or director has one play that resonates more than other works, Mr. Mantello’s is “The Normal Heart.” It prompted him to join the Gay Men’s Health Crisis as a buddy, bringing in food trays that were left outside hospital room doors for AIDS patients. (The founding of that organization generates much of the arguing in the play.) It was a touchstone as friends died of AIDS. It led him to eschew canonical works for performing in new, red-blooded plays like Tony Kushner’s gay epic, “Angels in America,” which earned him a Tony nomination for best featured actor in 1993 as the tormented, self-centered Louis.

In Other Words

I don't have anything to add (at the moment) to this review of Born This Way. I completely agree that Lady Gaga is too eager to highlight herself as a rallying point for the marginalized, or perhaps I mean I wish she could find a more artful way to do it. (Humanizing the Vacuum)

So: roughly a quarter is dross. This leaves almost forty-five minutes of the most sustained pleasure I’ve heard in a pop album all year. A warning though: Gaga’s hungry but not omnivorous, and she’ll need this instinct if she wants to join Madonna, Prince, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, and the other polymaths whom critics still think the age demands (I say so what and who cares). As she steps closer to the explicitness we want from said polymaths, pressure will increase on Gaga’s still maturing popcraft, and who knows whether the Garbo game she’s played since 2009 will extend our good will. But I can’t disabuse myself of the suspicion that my review of Born This Way, like any Madonna garnered in 1986 for True Blue, is irrelevant to the millions of fans — the millions of gay fans — for whom Gaga’s extracurricular outreach illuminates a corpus of new tunes strong enough not to require biographical glossing. The sociopolitical climate has changed; the aesthetic approach, twenty-five years after another set of would-be pop icons released their debut, has not.

Sunday Music: Gil Scott-Heron - "South Carolina (Barnwell)"

Thanks very much to Rob for the guest posts, and for bringing some new bands into the discussion here. Today's Sunday Music goes out to the late Gil Scott-Heron, who as far back as 1975 was singling out my state for its embrace of nuclear power. Here's a good guide to Scott-Heron's recordings. Scott-Heron previously appeared on Mostly Movies here. (Chicago Tribune)

The best of his music occurred in a rush of creativity through the ‘70s as he emerged from his teen years, already a published author and a serious student of blues, jazz, Langston Hughes and LeRoi Jones. He stumbled into the business of making records because a respected elder, veteran jazz producer Bob Thiele, encouraged him. He had a lot to say, producing an album a year for a decade-plus while touring relentlessly with the band he built with his college friend, keyboardist Brian Jackson.

Though Scott-Heron is often typecast as a rap progenitor – a label he steadfastly rejected -- he more accurately suggested a mix of Richard Pryor’s darkly comical oratory, beat poetry and blues-inflected ballad-singing. Musicians more steeped in jazz than funk accompanied him, and the music embodied many of the values of ‘70s jazz fusion, for better or worse. There were elastic time signatures and flowing keyboard melodies, but there were also plenty of meandering flute solos. Even amid the pastel arrangements, Scott-Heron’s rich, mahogany voice commanded attention.

Friday, May 27, 2011

This new record: The Head and the Heart

Simon is traveling today so its time for another music post.

Today on "this new record" we tackle The Head and the Heart, a pop outfit from Seattle.

I find their new self-titled album a bit hit-or-miss but tracks like Ghosts certainly make them worth a listen.

The Book I Read: The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

When I reviewed Arthur Phillips's last novel The Song Is You, I faulted Phillips for filtering the central relationship (a love affair that never quite happens) through a series of moments that felt a little more sentimentalized than actually lived. In the new The Tragedy of Arthur Phillips takes a sharp left turn into the personal by way of metafiction. What we are reading is supposedly Phillips's introduction to the first publication of a newly discovered Shakespeare play about King Arthur. The "introduction" is over 250 pages long and reveals not one but two Arthurs, the author and his freewheeling con man of a father. The early chapters are a picaresque memoir that involves Arthur being an unwitting accomplice to some of his father's doings. It's the senior Phillips who brings the play to light and manages to overcome the suspicions of his son and Shakespeare-loving daughter as to its authenticity. The rest of the book is the full script of this "new", five-act Shakespearean play. It's Shakespeare who plays the role of father that Mr. Phillips cannot (due to his frequent prison sentences). Arthur has great fun with apologists who excuse the Bard's worst moments by claiming that Shakespeare was ahead of his time, but mirrors this behavior by repeatedly returning to put himself at the center of his father's shenanigans. Arthur's relationships with women, especially his sister's girlfriend, also flounder due to his lack of a good example. It's Arthur's sister Dana who escapes her father's curse, finding a way to celebrate Shakespeare (she becomes an actress) that doesn't involve a cycle of pulling away from and drawing back to her Dad.

The story of Arthur and Arthur eventually becomes a sort of thriller: Will young Arthur risk lawsuits and infamy (as well as forgo a big payday), break his contract with Random House, and not allow the play to be published? Since we know the play's true provenance the question is moot; it's whether Arthur can succeed as a man and a writer on his own that matters. Shakespeare can't be torn down but he also can't be piggybacked off of; that's the one thing Arthur's Dad fails to see. I wonder about including the entire script; while the play The Tragedy of Arthur (with dueling footnotes by Arthur and a Shakespearean scholar) is an entertaining enough read I found myself wanting to speed through it after the novel's conclusion. The play might have worked better as a sort of MacGuffin, constantly discussed but never fully seen. The complicated things that pass between father and son are well and imaginatively handled here, and I'll continue to return to Phillips's books to watch his next move. The Tragedy of Arthur is a literary game with not one but two beating hearts at its center.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This old record: American Football

Simon is on vacation this week but hopefully he will approve of some of my music choices and not come home early to kick me out.

Today on "this old record" we revisit a band that always left me wanting more, American Football. They put out an EP and a single, self-titled album right at the turn of the century and then split; you might recognize the lead singer who now records under the name Owen.

I find Owen a bit too sad to listen to much, but American Football hits all the right buttons for me - a little wistful without being too sad, a little nerdy without being too technical. The album has a couple of minor misses but overall I really enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How far right?

I missed the fact that David Mamet is a conservative now. His timing isn't the best. What little I've read of his non-dramatic writing comes off as pretty pompous so I tend to avoid it. Mamet takes off after Brecht in a new book, but as this post points out he may be picking the wrong targets. (Parabasis/Wicked Stage)

Aw, fuck, I give up. A cranky conservative, a so-called "tragic" conservative—I could imagine and even distantly admire Mamet in those terms, as a sort of Beckett-y Archie Bunker. The real scandal here is that David Mamet has become a movement conservative. And for true-blue movement conservatism, the "left" means Communist/collectivist/totalitarian—hence the straw-burning of a Brecht not even John Fuegi would recognize rather than a reckoning with Miller or Pinter, two Western liberals who lived and worked squarely within the Western democratic tradition (and in Miller's case, in as irreducibly and proudly an American milieu as any preening patriot). But these are writers with whom a conservative would have to constructively engage, and perhaps concede that a spectrum of respectable right and left ideas coexist under Anglo-American late capitalism, rather than simply dismiss out of hand or tar as pandering cynics. And this, I suspect, is a parricide even this wayward son can't enact on his progenitors Pinter and Miller; better to pass over their legacies in silence.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jane Eyre

The fine new Jane Eyre finds its heroine reinvigorated and (like the film itself) free of sentimentality  or girlish romanticism. Director Cary Fukunaga and star Mia Wasikowska give us a Jane for now; Wasikowska's Jane carries the pain of indignities visited upon her as a child but is free of illusions of what it will take to survive in the world with no family and no status. The sharp-eyed, guarded performance that Wasikowska gives here reminds me most of her revelatory work as a troubled teen in the series In Treatment. Both her young gymnast Sophie there and Jane are emotionally wounded and unable to lower their defense mechanisms. Wasikowska nails the almost too-brief moment when Jane acknowledges to herself that she is loved; the moment is more than earned, it's a lifetime in the coming.

Fukunaga's England isn't exactly in the same county as Joe Wright's. There's a dankness and an emptiness to the corridors of Thornfield Hall, the house belonging to Jane's employer Mr. Rochester. (Michael Fassbender). In the scenes where Jane wanders the rainy countryside after fleeing Thornfield there's even a hint of danger. Fassbender plays Rochester with a kind of urgent iciness; in Jane he sees a rescue more than  a person but his secrets and class differences prevent him from opening his heart until it's too late. The scenes between Jane and Rochester have a slow-burning heat, and both lead actors beautifully modulate their confusion at finding themselves in this situation. We're on Jane's side though, since we've already seen a Dickensian treatment of Jane's girlhood in which her best friend at school dies of an illness.  The other man in Jane's life is a young minister (Jamie Bell) who offers kindness but also sees an opportunity in Jane, the chance for the propriety a wife would bring. Jane, unwilling to be perceived as anything but herself,is unwilling to accept being reduced. The final moment of connection is hard-earned, and Fukunaga doesn't labor over it. This Jane Eyre is about the journey, and about the discovery of what kind of life one will accept.

Happy 70th Birthday...

Monday, May 23, 2011

To the victors...

There's a decent chance that I'll wind up thinking that Melancholia is a load of hooey, but I'm legitimately happy for Best Actress winner Kirsten Dunst. Overdue for a comeback, Dunst will with any luck be able to score some indie roles that have the charm of her best early films. Reading this piece about Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life has me wondering if amid all the divided opinions the jury didn't get it exactly right. (Daily Mail/HND)

Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life never stops moving forward. It begins with a Bible quote and ends with a transcendental meeting of found souls on a beach, and it has the structure of a child's memories; it gathers in fragments, dreams, fancies, associations, glances, whispers, impressions. Most of it takes place in a small Texas town in the 1950s, and at a certain point, we see a truck that says "Waco, Texas," which is Malick's own hometown. We have no way of knowing just how personal this clearly personal film is, but there can be no question from what's on screen that Malick is working from his own most intimate knowledge of what childhood felt like. Every short shot preserves a sense of mystery, of expectancy, so that we're likely to feel like a character in a Virginia Woolf novel crying out, "Wait! Stop!"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dept. of Young Actor Required Reading

This Carey Mulligan profile, in which the actress reveals early setbacks and the lingering effects of her role in The Seagull, is a wonderful small window into an art form. Never Let Me Go was too understated to really showcase Mulligan's gifts, but her current stage role (in an adaptation of Bergman's Through A Glass Darkly) and upcoming film projects signal a career of challenge and accomplishment.

The play is such a touchstone in her career, she explained, that in difficult moments on other projects she sometimes goes back and looks over the journal she kept then or even rereads Act IV, in which Nina talks about the importance of having faith in her vocation as an actress. After the first day of rehearsal, she recalled, she phoned her mother, sobbing, to say she was hopelessly out of her depth. And then about a month or so into the run, she made the mistake of watching the 1968 movie version, with Vanessa Redgrave as Nina.

“She was so brilliant, so different from what I was doing, that for about three shows I was me playing Vanessa Redgrave,” Ms. Mulligan said. “I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Yet by the end of the play’s lengthy run, she could hardly bear to leave it, and for a long time afterward she had trouble finding a part she liked as well: “I just loved that play so much and that character so much that I couldn’t find anything that matched up to it, really.” These days Ms. Mulligan practically has her pick of movie parts. She recently appeared in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and is scheduled to play Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s version of “The Great Gatsby.” But the part of Karin in “Through a Glass Darkly” was the first stage role to come along that excited her, even though she had never seen the movie, which stars a sweetly vulnerable Harriet Andersson, one of Bergman’s regulars, as a schizophrenic lapsing into madness.

Sunday Music: Drive-By Truckers - "Shut Up And Get On The Plane"

This song won an "End of the World Theme Song" vote on the DBT Facebook page. Patterson Hood was sick for this 2009 show; the band was joined by members of Bloodkin.

Post-Rapture Hip-Hop

The New Yorker piece about the rap collective Odd Future and the whereabouts of member "Earl Sweatshirt" isn't available in its entirety online, but you can read the highlights at the magazine's blog. Writer Kelefa Sanneh nails the way the group has seized upon a moment in hip-hop.

No form of music has suffered more from the industry collapse than hip-hop, a restless, technologically savvy genre wedded to a stubbornly old-fashioned business model. Country music has listeners still eager to buy CDs, and indie rock has bands willing to think of themselves as online startups (and supporters willing to go along); hip-hop is stranded somewhere in between. Fans gorge themselves on free online mixtapes, which are often more vibrant than the albums they promote.

For the members of Odd Future, hip-hop looks less like a road to financial salvation and more like a playground, full of rusty old attractions and rickety new ones; its dilapidated condition only offers more opportunities for mischief.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Not that posting has been exactly regular around here lately, but I'm headed out on vacation so I don't know how much I'll be posting in the next week. I may throw up a video or two and a movie review if the opportunity allows. See you in a week!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Film by Gus Van Sant

For the record, I think a Gus Van Sant-directed Breaking Dawn would have really, really messed with a lot of impressionable people's heads. But I would have paid for a ticket. I'm not going to embed the interview because there's an ad, but you can check it out here. (MTV)

"Twilight" fans far and wide will breathe a collective sigh of relief at hearing what a priority staying true to the source material was in developing "Breaking Dawn." Those who were rooting for Gus (that includes one Robert Pattinson, by the way, who the director says was actually responsible for his involvement with the audition process!), might be a little less happy. Van Sant said his pitch for the job probably wasn't as in-depth as the "Twilight" gods wanted.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Can the experience of high school be reduced to a single night? Prom isn't Can't Hardly Wait, it doesn't try to literally boil high school down to a few hours. Instead, Prom places an inordinate amount of importance on the night anyone who can afford a dress or a date can supposedly make memories to last a lifetime.Prom planning chairman Nova (Aimee Teegarden) is a classic Type A high school achiever, with a scholarship to Georgetown to prove it. When an accident ruins the prom decorations, Nova must rebuild them in 3 weeks with the unwilling help of bad boy Jesse (Thomas McDonell). Of course Jesse isn't really that bad, there's even a good reason for his truancy and he's helping his Mom raise his younger brother. At one point Nova tries to tell Jesse that everyone feels vulnerable and has it rough at times, and that's the problem with Prom. While the movie feels grounded in some kind of economic reality (Nova's workingman Dad is well played by Dean Norris of Breaking Bad), there's little sense of the internal class divisions of a high school or the way that insecurities can make the experience four years of hell for some. Everyone in the large cast is pleasant to the level of Disney Channel stardom, even the player (DeVaughn Nixon) who gets his comeuppance. I had hoped for a more satirical take on the big night, but director Joe Nussbam is content to tie up all loose ends to a Band of Horses song. Teegarden has as beautiful a smile as exists in movies right now, but the movie that surrounds her has been tamped down to the point that this high school is unrecognizable.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Music: Glenn Mercer - "Only Life"

Continuing with a Feelies theme....

Something Starting

Something Wild gets a Criterion release; it was Demme before the Oscars anoited him with seriousness (I'm a fan of Philadelphia and Rachel Getting Married, not so much of Beloved.) and the birth of a director's all-or-nothing style. Also, the above scene may be my favorite screen dance this side of Gene Kelly. (NYT)

In 1983, Mr. Demme, Mr. Fujimoto and the editor Craig McKay saw their finished version of the Goldie Hawn period film “Swing Shift” taken away from them to be rewritten, recut and even, in part, reshot. “I was shattered,” Mr. Demme said. “I was taken down to zero.” Happily, the worst of it came while Mr. Demme was filming the Talking Heads on their 1983 tour stops in Los Angeles for “Stop Making Sense.” “I was making the Talking Heads movie while going through this hideous experience,” he said. “It was a joy to shoot it. The reception was great. It made me feel better about filmmaking, so when I read the script for ‘Something Wild’ I was ready to dive in again.”

Now, every detail would begin and end with the director’s vision. Mr. Demme even considered the casting of bit parts like Used Car Guy and Motorcycle Cop critical, roles that were filled by the directors John Waters and John Sayles. “I guess, subliminally, it looks like I was trying to populate this rebirth film with some of the great independent filmmakers,” Mr. Demme said.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Any honest discussion of Bridesmaids has to begin with the question of whose film exactly this is. Pre-release buzz around Bridesmaids has focused on the dearth of female-centered comedies that don't revolve around the leads winding up with their dream guys, and also about how great it is that Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live is playing her first leading film role. (Wiig co-wrote the script and co-produced.) At some point, perhaps out of necessity, Wiig joined forces with producer Judd Apatow. It's here the trouble starts. Apatow must have jumped at the chance to make a comedy with female leads, and it certainly didn't hurt that "From the Producer of 'Knocked Up'" would appear on the posters. So, Apatow would stay out of the way and let Wiig and director Paul Feig (who goes back to Freaks and Geeks with Apatow) do their work, right?

I don't know. I have a hard time believing that Kristen Wiig left to her own devices would co-write something that so perfectly mirrors what we have come to think of as a "Judd Apatow" movie. Wiig plays Annie, reeling from the failure of her bakery, whose spiral downhill is accelerated when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph, underused) gets engaged. What ensues is a series of disasters set off by Annie's childish behavior and motivated by her jealousy of Lillian's wealthy new friend Helen (Rose Byrne). When Bridesmaids isn't depicting female relationships that are almost uniformly petty, bitchy, and competitive, it's portraying its characters' love lives along a narrow spectrum. Annie can do no better than a selfish sex partner (Jon Hamm) while the groom's sister (Melissa McCarthy) is a sex-crazed buffoon. Think of a female version of Steve Carell's 40 Year Old Virgin sidekicks and you'll get the idea, only these women are crude instead of funny.

The "heart" of Bridesmaids is supposed to come from Annie's budding relationship with a cop (Chris O'Dowd), but this subplot feels like it happens only because the main character has to end up with someone. What feels like an equal amount of time is given to a scene (reportedly Apatow's idea) in which the bridesmaids projectile vomit in a bridal shop, a scene totally inorganic to the story and one that should be excised from the memory of anyone who paid for a ticket. One other unfortunate note: Annie's mother is played by the late Jill Clayburgh, whose signature role (An Unmarried Woman) is somewhere in the DNA of Wiig's ability to write and produce this film. Judd Apatow cut some of Clayburgh's dirtier material, but he forgot to include a credits mention of Clayburgh's passing. We'll never know exactly what happened during the development of Bridesmaids, but it certainly looks like Hollywood still isn't a great place to be a writer.

Woody Allen...

...explains it all for you. His new film Midnight in Paris looks back with honesty. (LA Weekly)

"Nostalgia is a trap, there's no question about that," Allen says matter-of-factly. "It's based on the idea that now is always terrible, because when you're living now, you're living in reality, with whatever the real world is offering you at the time, and at best the real world doesn't offer you anything very hospitable, and it's often quite terrifying. So there's always a sense that if you could have lived in a different time, things would have been more pleasant. One thinks back for instance to Gigi, and you think, well, this is Belle Epoque Paris, they have horses and carriages and gas lamps and everything is beautiful. Then you start to realize that if you went to the dentist, there was no novocaine, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Women died in childbirth -- there were all kinds of terrible problems. If you were an aristocratic gentile living in Paris at that time, that was a step forward. If you were not upper class, or you were Jewish, it would not have been such a dream existence. But you block that out.

Friday, May 13, 2011


You might feel lost if you stumble into Thor a few minutes late, unless your fan of the comics. I'm assuming that a lengthy battle scene involving Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and friends fighting against a race of "frost giants" is a central part of the long-running Marvel saga of the Norse Thunder God. What's meant to be a demonstration of Thor's arrogance serves instead as a reminder of how overuse of digital effects is sucking the magic out of movies. The frost giants look like angry cousins of the Na'vi, and even their King (Colm Feore) is barely a character. Kenneth Branagh's experience with staged and filmed Shakespeare might make him the director best suited to film the parts of Thor set among the nobility of Asgard (Maybe everyone in Asgard is noble.), where Odin (Anthony Hopkins) rules with the Lear-like fury of a man who knows his time is short. Everyone in Asgard can be described in words that start with capital letters; heir apparent Thor is Impetuous while his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a study in Envy. Even Heimdall (Idris Elba), who controls the gateway to Earth and other worlds, gets to be little more than Dutiful. Elba endured a lot of crap for taking this role, and it's a shame he wasn't better used.

A central tenet of Thor in Branagh's conception is that what the Norse gods called magic is understood by humans as modern science. How fitting then that the humans who first encounter Thor once he arrives on Earth are a scientific team led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who study ... we're not quite sure what. It's something to do with portals to other dimensions, and it's far enough outside the mainstream that Jane does her research in the middle of New Mexico out of a lab that appears to have no doors. Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings play Portman's scientific colleagues, and the three form a tidy little comedy team. Dennings in particular is a welcome light touch; her character feels like a woman who knows something about the Bechdel rule. Watching Thor and Foster fall in love is the movie's biggest pleasure. It is refreshing to learn that Hemsworth has a sense of humor (there's a great running gag about Thor getting hit by cars and otherwise knocked out), and Portman swoons with much less visible effort than she did for Ashton Kutcher. Too much of the rest is Loki manipulating Asgard while we wait for the final showdown between the brothers, and Hiddleston is a little too opaque to make the Asgard scenes take off. Clark Gregg and a gaggle of SHIELD agents run around to remind us not to make any plans for summer 2012, and I fear that the small pleasures of Thor - the way Hemsworth tosses aside a coffee cup as if it were a flagon of mead at Asgard - will get swept aside in the wave of sequels and Avengers hype to come. Kenneth Branagh has professed himself a great fan of the Thor comics, but the movie he has made from them could have benefited from having its hero spend more time on Earth amid the scientists and the comic readers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Malick times 2

Shall we call it "Malick Wednesday"? This Matt Zoller Seitz video essay on Badlands succeeds in expressing just why the film works while feeling so unusual. Tree of Life cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki talks about the importance of shooting on film to Malick's work and just what the director is after. (Grain of salt alert: Lubezki mentions Kodak a couple of times and the interview appears on a Kodak site.)

Q: Terrence Malick is known as a very visual filmmaker. How does that affect your work?

A: Films have inherited a lot from other arts, like theater and literature. Since I first met him many years ago, I have felt that Terry is trying to make films, and to express himself, without using the part of film’s DNA that comes from these other arts. The images in his films are very, very important to him. Sometimes he says to me, “Dialog is not what I’m trying to capture. I’m trying to capture an emotion, and I want to do that visually.” I think he has succeeded, and that’s why his films are so strong.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Anderson's New Project

Paul Thomas Anderson has the backing to start shooting a new project, which may be called "The Master" and may be a look at Scientology. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix star with more casting to come. Note to self: read Pynchon's Inherent Vice (rumored to be Anderson's next project) on vacation. (Deadline)

This is the project that Anderson has worked on for a long time, once under the title The Master. He has greatly overhauled the script and now, Hoffman stars as a man who returns after witnessing the horrors of WWII and tries to rediscover who he is in post-war America. He creates a belief system, something that catches on with other lost souls. The film is fully financed by Ellison's Annapurna banner. At a time when the implosion of the indie film marketplace made pricey auteur films so hard to finance, Ellison has emerged as something of a godsend to the small group of auteurs she is working with. She's enabled Anderson to make the movie at or near the $35 million budget the film was going to cost back when Universal stepped away.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Jumping the Broom

The ads that make Jumping the Broom look like a culture-clash comedy don't quite tell the whole story. What laughs there exist mostly at the fringes of this drama produced by pastor/author T.D. Jakes, whose brief appearance onscreen as a minister is supposed to help us see God amidst all the heavy confrontations. I would have bought into Jumping the Broom more if I truly believed that Jason (Laz Alonso) and Sabrina (Paula Patton) came from different worlds, but by the time they meet Jason is already a successful investment banker who can swing getting El Debarge to serenade Sabrina. Most of the movie takes place at the Martha's Vineyard estate of Sabrina's affected parents. (Even the maid is a snob.) Angela Bassett spits glass as Sabrina's mother; is there nothing for Bassett to do in films anymore other than play unhappy women? Jason's mother (Loretta Devine) shows up and behaves abominably for most of the movie, but the irony of her attempts to prevent something that has already happened (Jason's entrance into a different level of society) is never addressed. Whether the wedding itself will occur is eventually called into question, and while we're waiting Mike Epps romps through the movie as Jason's uncle. Epps tosses off one-liners that don't feel scripted and is the only character not existing inside of a melodrama. The more interesting couple is Sabrina's social-climbing friend (Meagan Good) and the earthy chef (Gary Dourdan), genuinely surprised by their attraction. I wanted more time with these two while the families sorted things out. Jumping the Broom has its small pleasures (Julie Bowen as an awkward wedding planner), but a story with potential to say something about class and aspiration gets stifled by all the good intentions.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Free Thinkers' Club

I hope Tony Kushner isn't bothered about not receiving an honorary degree from a university with this guy on its board. (NYT)

I tried to ask a question about the damage done by a short, one-sided discussion of vigorously debated aspects of Middle East politics, like the survival of Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, and which side was more callous toward human life, and who was most protective of it.

But Mr. Wiesenfeld interrupted and said the question was offensive because “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.”

Equivalence between what and what? “Between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “People who worship death for their children are not human.”

UPDATE - Another blogger excerpts the same quote and goes further, asking the relevant follow-up questions. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Water for Elephants

At one point in Water for Elephants (directed by Francis Lawrence from a novel by Sara Gruen) an old man complains about his leg, and then wouldn't you know it that leg becomes a plot point later. There's little surprise in this tale of Jacob (Robert Pattinson), orphaned during the Depression just as he is about to become a veterinarian, but the movie has an agreeable and involving hum. It's a tale of characters we haven't seen before: Americans who lived through the depression by trying to outrun it, a closed society with its own rules, traditions, and taboos. Jacob's skill with animals lands him a job with traveling circus run by August (Christoph Waltz), an ambitious man married to bareback rider and star attraction Marlena (Reese Witherspoon, out of comedy mode and underplaying well). Christoph Waltz displays the same on-the-edge-of-madness magnetism he brought to Inglourious Basterds, but there's no time for jokes here. When a boozy dance with his wife almost turns violent it's a just a hint of the way August uses his anger to deal with the economic and personal pressure he's under. It's August's very real cruel streak (especially where a potential circus-saving elephant named Rosie is involved) and the attraction between Marlena and Jacob that fuels the movie to its violent conclusion, a scene that must have employed digital trickery but that comes off as genuinely scary. I'd be interested to see Robert Pattinson do a comedy, but there are moments here (with the elephant and with the troupe's dancing girls) that are as relaxed as anything he has done on screen. Pattinson and Witherspoon are a good match; I believed the attraction much more than I believed that as an old man Pattinson would turn into Hal Holbrook. I wanted to spend more time in that colorful circus community, the background players give the movie a texture that injects the love triangle story with some energy and all three leads look great in fancy dress. It isn't hard to figure out where Water for Elephants is headed, but a movie that gets the details right makes the trip itself an attraction.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Much needed perspective

Gay blogger Glenn Greenwald has a refreshingly clear view of how to look at the LGBT fight for equality. (Out)

Although Brazil does not yet permit same-sex marriage, the country, which was a military dictatorship until 1985 and has the largest Catholic population in the world, offers same-sex couples privileges that aren’t available in the United States. That, Greenwald says, is a sign of how far the U.S. has fallen in its embrace of human rights. Greenwald occasionally writes about the unconstitutionality (not to mention inhumanity) of the Defense of Marriage Act, although not as often as some gay readers might like. But when he does take on the cause close to his heart, it isn’t, he insists, special pleading. “Gay issues are about the same fundamental issues as other civil liberties questions -- the rights of the individual,” he says. “If you think of gay issues as being discrete and separate, you’re doing the cause a disservice.”

The Artist's Life

If I hadn't known this interview with poet/actress Amber Tamblyn was conducted via email then Tamblyn would have seemed unbearably precious. I'm charmed however by her answer to the question, "What's your version of the artist's life?" (Art Works/Alyssa Rosenberg)

Wake up in a new city. Whiskey breath. Poetry brain. Actress heart. Email Marilyn Manson: “Do you want to come read a poem at a show I’m doing? Great.” Ask Hugh Laurie: “Do you want to see how many times we can say a line of dialogue in a completely different way, winner buys drinks tonight? Great.” No limitations. No boundaries. Everyday is unpredictable. Send a poem to Jeffrey McDaniel. Get a poem from Patricia Smith. Give a reading for young women. Get an inspired letter from one of them. Hang out with my dad. Finger paint haiku with him on an old piano. Read those haiku while my mother plays guitar in the background while dad plays the piano. We all sing together. Harmony or bust. Sleep. Wake up in a new city.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Sunday Music: TV on the Radio - "Will Do"

The first video (directed by Dugan O'Neal) from the band's new album Nine Types of Light and an unintentional Part 2 of my "Women of Parenthood" series.