Monday, October 31, 2011

In Time

Andrew Niccol's In Time wears its themes of class and economic division boldly on its sleeve but is clever and well-cast enough for it almost not to matter. In the world of the film people stop aging at 25 but then die in a year unless they can acquire more time, which has become the only currency. The unnamed city in which the film takes place is divided into "time zones"; the rich (who possess centuries but can still be killed by violence or accident) hide in one zone while those living literally day-to-day fight and claw in another. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one such working stiff who wakes with less than a day on his clock. One wonders what Will's 50-year old mother (an obviously not 50 Olivia Wilde) has had to do to survive this long, but chance and tragedy propel Will into the world of the fortunate after a stranger (Matt Bomer) gives him more than a century. The movie takes off after Will is falsely accused of murder and goes on the run with Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a time magnate (Vincent Kartheiser). Will and Sylvia become time Robin Hoods, looking to break the system by giving days away to those who fight for seconds. The movie turns into a chase, with a "timekeeper" (Cillian Murphy) pursuing Will and Sylvia through the back alleys of "Dayton", the ghetto will calls home. These scenes are executed skillfully enough, but Niccol enjoys the details more. Once Will reaches the utopia of "New Greenwich" he's marked as an outsider by the fact that he runs (the poor don't have time to stand around) and when the time that Will and Sylvia steal reaches the streets the establishment retaliates by raising the cost of living. There's a world in which two people less improbably attractive than Timberlake and Seyfried would be cast as the leads in In Time, but we aren't living in it. It's a credit to Niccol that he doesn't pause to let us enjoy their hotness but instead keeps his central up-with-regular-people message flowing,. The rich must protect themselves against dying by chance and so they don't really live; when Sylvia goes swimming with Will it's as big a risk as she has ever taken. As others have pointed out, we need movies  as economically aware as In Time and we probably need stars the wattage of Timberlake and Seyfried to be in them . In Time may resolve tself a bit too neatly (Will and Sylvia upset the status quo, but who turns the aging gene back on?), but its a piece of politically relevant art at a time when that can't be ignored.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A New Hat

In his new film We Bought A Zoo, Cameron Crowe tries a different way of working and attempts to change perceptions. (NYT)
By mapping out every shot ahead of time with the cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and rehearsing extensively with his cast before filming, Mr. Crowe said he was able to shoot efficiently and bring in the movie early and under budget. “It’s lean and mean and shows up on the screen, which sounds like a Don King-ism, but it’s good to work that way,” he said. New model or no, he still made sure that he had plenty of time to work with his cast. “I love actors,” said Mr. Crowe, who has shown a knack for eliciting exceptional performances (Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Jerry Maguire” and Kate Hudson in “Almost Famous”). “I try and direct environmentally, so that people don’t feel like everything is going to depend on what happens when someone says, ‘action,’ so that they can literally be swimming in the warm water, and at some point the race begins, and at some point the race ends, but it is about being free to swim.”

Sunday Music: Lou Reed - "Dirty Boulevard"

With words like "unlistenable" and "train wreck" being used to describe Reed's forthcoming collaboration with Metallica, it seems like a good time to revisit New York.  David Sanborn on sax.

The Material Girl's Yearbook

The biggest curiousity about this collection of Madonna magazine covers is the fact that she was once big enough to be on the cover of news and business magazines. Talk about the monoculture.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"...the sensation of betrayal."

Chuck Klosterman on the new Lou Reed/Metallica album Lulu. (Grantland)
I'm sure there will be a sector of Metallica's core audience that feels "betrayed," mostly because Metallica fans enjoy the sensation of betrayal.1 I suppose a handful of Lou Reed obsessives will consider this record hilarious as long as they don't have to listen to it, and I'm certain some contrarian rock critic will become Internet Famous for insisting it's more subversive than Transformer and a musical reaction to both Occupy Wall Street and the subpar drum production on St. Anger. It will be legally purchased by the 13,404 Metallica completists who saw Some Kind of Monster on opening weekend, unless the album is exclusively sold at Walmart, in which case it will enter the Billboard charts at no. 2. Rolling Stone will give it 2½ stars and then pretend it never happened; meanwhile, people who thought The "Priest" They Called Him was a brilliant idea will hold a vague, misplaced grudge against Dave Mustaine while sleepwalking to the methadone clinic. It is not a successful record.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The politics of four...

I just discovered this site (via @aquadrunkard) and this interview with Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, who speaks to the idea of how a functioning band should work with great clarity.
If you’re on tour in a band with four people one person can be bummed out and the other three will pick up the slack, but with one other person it’s really hard, it’s a really different energy. Conversely, being in a band with just one person and writing, the conversation is so much more intense because it’s just the two of you kicking it back on forth. Being in a bigger band, politicking takes place. You have a part you really like, and really want this part in a song. Then somebody else has an idea and if they build it, it could affect your chances of getting your thing past. It’s this quid pro quo. You get into that. It’s not quite so calculated, but it’s also fickle. Each person is unique to themselves, they’re dealing with whatever’s going on in their own lives, they might have relationship stuff going on, they could just be in a weird place in their life, they could feel sour about something culturally or musically. For example, Furniture is a song which I wrote in 1986 and Fugazi did it at the very beginning of the band. Then at some point it just kinda got nixed. You know, this is not working and we should stop doing it. It never got recorded and went off to wherever those songs go. Eight or nine years later at some point we were talking and Guy or Brendan said ‘why did we stop doing that song?’ and I said ‘I don’t fucking know’. So we played it and it sounded great, and we loved playing it again. We recorded it and we came out great, so who knows? Everyone’s on a different timetable.

Sunday Music: Tom Waits - "The Heart of Saturday Night"

The eve of a new album release finds Waits at a good place and still doing things his way. (NYT)
History informs some of the songs on “Bad as Me.” The opener, “Chicago,” bustles with a plinking banjo and back-and-forth saxophone chatter, as Mr. Waits turns into a narrator deciding to “leave all we’ve ever known/For a place we’ve never seen,” hinting at the Great Migration that began a century ago, bringing millions of black Southerners north via Chicago. Other songs face the present. “Hell Broke Luce” — a title knifed into a wall at Alcatraz by an inmate during a prison riot, Mr. Waits said — details the miseries of soldiers back from the Middle East, over a semi-martial beat. In “Talking at the Same Time,” a kind of hollowed-out shuffle, he observes, “We bailed out all the millionaires/They got the fruit, we got the rind.” “I’m not really qualified to discuss any of these matters on a political level,” he said. “I always imagine you sit at a piano with an open window, and whatever is out there will come in, pass through you and then turn into a song.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dolphin Tale

The fact-based Dolphin Tale is earnest and slow at times, but the movie is so sincere in its own intentions that it's hard not to like this story of a aimless young boy named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) and the injured dolphin named Winter that he helps to rehabilitate. After he helps rescue the stranded Winter on a Florida beach, Sawyer becomes part of the community at a run-down animal hospital where the dolphin is being cared for. Dr. Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.) is impressed by the way Winter responds to Sawyer while his daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) succeeds in drawing out the shy young man. The arc of Winter's recovery contains successes and failures that parallel the story of Sawyer's cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), who is injured while serving overseas in the military. There's a resounding never-give-up theme in Dolphin Tale for Winter and the rest of us, but the arrival of Morgan Freeman as a VA specialist in prosthetics who attempts to design a tail for Winter helps the message go down smoothly. As if that weren't enough there's Sawyer's concerned mother (Ashley Judd, chased by a pelican in one scene) and the possible sale of the hospital property to a hotel magnate who looks like a bassist for a Yes cover band. Yet I wish the movie didn't lurch along quite so much; there are unnecessary scenes involving the children flying a remote control helicopter and Kris Kristofferson plays a Wise Old Man character to no great purpose. There is little that's subtle or unexpected in Dolphin Tale yet there's also a welcome acknowledgement that someone who doesn't find much excitement in school can find education and challenge in unexpected places. Judd's best scene is an attempt to get Sawyer's summer school teacher (Ray McKinnon) to give him credit for is experiences with the animals. Dolphin Tale isn't a great-teacher movie though; it's always clear-eyed about the possibility that Winter may not survive despite everyone's efforts. Winter touches the lives of everyone she meets, and Dolphin Tale is honest enough to appeal to children and the adults who've brought them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grown-Ups Table

Did you ever wonder what life was like for David Foster Wallace, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jonathan Franzen before they broke through? According to this, it was competitive, a little sad, and heavy on the self-doubt. Fascinating, if a little gossipy. (New York)
That same summer, Jonathan Franzen, also 28, was living in Jackson Heights, Queens, and feeling �totally, totally isolated.� The neighborhood was an immigrant jumble, and Franzen was a solemn, intellectual guy from St. Louis without much occasion to leave the house. He had gotten some attention and money for his debut novel, The Twenty-Seventh City, but the axis of the planet had not obediently shifted. He was frustrated with living in �shared monastic seclusion� with his then-wife, he says, when he got a fan letter from a writer he knew of but had never read. David Foster Wallace, then 26, was having dire troubles of his own and wrote to praise what Franzen had done in a �freaking first novel.� It was the first time Franzen had ever heard from a peer, he says. �And I was desperate for friends.� Gradually, he found some: first Wallace, then William T. Vollmann, David Means. Through Wallace, who also knew Vollmann, he met Mary Karr and Mark Costello. Later Franzen would connect with Eugenides, Moody, and their other college friend Donald Antrim. A scene was taking shape and growing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

25 years on...

Kristin Hersh talks about the past and future of Throwing Muses, including a new compilation CD I didn't even know was out. I know the song above isn't regarded as classic as some, but it was my introduction to the band. (Huffington)
Q: Did it annoy you to be thought of, even marketed by your label as the "crazy girl" singer? Do you regret coming forth with your bipolar disorder and mental health issues? A: I didn't want to present myself as anything other than normal, your girlfriend, sister, your friend. I'm doormat nice. The songs may be crazy, but not the singer. I kept it secret forever, and was outed by 2 writers as bipolar. They asked me how I was doing and really told them. They wrote a very good piece about it. Certainly I didn't want to market myself as such. It is very dangerous to think a broken mind has anything to teach a healthy one. There's no pride in the brokenness that I've had to live through.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hello, its been too long....

NP will return for a sequel to Thor, which will be directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster). We've got some time to get ready...
Disney also announced that Thor 2 will be moved from its July 26, 2013, release date to Nov. 15, 2013. For those who can't wait to see Thor and Loki return to the screen, both Hemsworth and Hiddleston will play their roles in Marvel's upcoming superhero ensemble film, The Avengers, which is set to hit theaters May 4, 2012.


The header of this blog makes a vague reference to current events, so in that spirit allow me to deviate from the usual diet of movie reviews and '90s rock nostalgia. Is it actually important how much the President knows? I think so, and this post makes a good argument for why a President Herman Cain (shudder) might want to bone up on foreign affairs (Foreign Policy)
This is fascinating question -- does it really matter if Cain continues to dodge any and all foreign policy questions? I've noted that specific foreign policy pledges don't matter all that much -- what about generic foreign policy knowledge? I think it does matter, for a few reasons. First, the continuity between Bush and Obama overlooks the fact that Bush's foreign policy circa 2008 looked very different from his 2002 foreign policy. It was Bush's post-2001 first-term deviation that truly stands out. Eventually, these deviations from the norm return because they are unsustainable. During the interim, however, an awful lot of blood and treasure can be wasted. I'd like a chance to know Cain's general thinking on foreign policy topics if he seriously wants the commander-in-chief job. If he also deviates from the general contours of American foreign policy, it's the rest of America that will suffer.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Thing

I'll admit something up front: I'm in no position to judge the fitness of the new The Thing (directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr., and I've typed that name for the last time)as a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing. I'm not usually a person who goes to horror movies because I enjoy neither sustained anxiety nor the cinematic rules that seem to govern the genre. The second time someone goes off alone or makes another otherwise stupid decision is one time too many for me. Like the Carpenter film, the new Thing takes place at the Antarctic in 1982. American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited to join a Norwegian expedition after the discovery of a spaceship and a creature encased in ice. The scientist who hires her, Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), is a careerist not interested in Kate's opinion but only what she can do for him and the Norwegian team only barely tolerates the American helicopter team lead by Carter (Joel Edgerton). It's when things start to go bad that The Thing misses some opportunities. The creature can replicate those it kills so at any time there's a chance that one of the characters might not be human. Where the filmmakers slip up is by not letting the audience know where (or who) the creature is. What would have been wrong with generating a little old-fashioned suspense as Kate and the others descend into paranoia? There's one great scene of Kate taking charge and beginning to separate the humans from those who may be dangerous (she can tell by their dental fillings) but The Thing too often opts for scares of the "Boo!" variety over building tension from situation and character. The Norwegian scientists aren't differentiated well after a quick introduction and the one other woman (Kim Bubbs) isn't around long enough to make an impression. Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings a welcome understatement to the role of Kate, a woman refreshingly secure with herself and her abilities as her small world begins to disintegrate. Yet Kate and all the others spend most of the movie running from things and by the time she's on the creature's vessel you can see where things are headed. The ending (before an epilogue sets up the Carpenter movie) is ambiguously played and The Thing works as a smart diversion that forgets that sometimes we're our own worst enemy.

"...slight shredding of my face..."

Seeing Throwing Muses. (Math Is My Bag/photo by Jessica Gilbert)

the band rips right into and out of songs that i couldn't even begin to tell you the name of (please see paragraph 3). the bass player is into it. the drummer is a fucking beast. then, kristin. everytime i'd get distracted by some other element of the band's performance, kristin would bring me right back with a slight shredding of my face (via her guitar). it's like she was watching me and waiting for me to drift so that she could snap me out of it. kristin does this thing with her face when she hits the grittier, growlier parts of the vocals. she looks like she's really pushing out a hard, meaningful lyric and is reaching for the cojones to make that voice. at least that's what it feels like. she's good, i guess is what i'm trying to say. really good.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Autobiography? Who cares?

Michael Ondaatje's new novel The Cat's Table sounds like a must and sounds like it might be revealing. Or maybe not.

Yes and no, I think, when it comes to this one. Thankfully, we're not beholden to Barthes anymore, so we can indulge in the delicious speculation that The Cat's Table might be, in part, a memoir. As a boy, Ondaatje took the same journey his protagonist did, from southeast Asia to London. When we flash forward to his protagonist's future, the character lives in Canada just as the author does. They end up at the same school. And Mynah, that echoing bird, is a nickname for Michael.

Ondaatje hasn't made any secret of any of this; there is no clumsy disguise at play here. He makes his intentions clear in an author's note:

Although the novel sometimes uses the colouring and locations of memoir and autobiography, The Cat's Table is fictional — from the captain and crew and all its passengers on the boat down to the narrator. And while there was a ship named the Oronsay (there were in fact several Oronsays), the ship in the novel is an imagined rendering.

Pauline Kael said.....

What would Pauline Kael have made of the everyone's-a-critic era of Web movie reviewing? A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis discuss Kael's conflicted legacy. (NYT)

A.O. SCOTT: I have to say that the idea of critical authority has always struck me as slippery, even chimerical. Authority over whom? Power to do what? The importance of particular critics can’t be quantified in lumens of fame, circulation numbers or box office returns, though by all of these measures Kael, in her heyday, certainly enjoyed unusual prominence. But like every other critic, she was above all a writer, and a writer only really ever has — or cares about — one kind of power, which is the power to engage readers.

I think Kael is remembered not for her particular judgments or ideas, but rather for her voice, for an outsized literary personality that could be enthralling and infuriating, often both. A lot of people read her for the pleasure of disagreement, and the resentment she was able to provoke — in critical targets and rival critics — is surely evidence of power. An awful lot of our colleagues are still, in both senses, mad about her. To reread her is to understand why.

Five years later

Kenneth Lonergan's long-awaited Margaret sounds like a sprawling, not-unworthy, rough draft of a movie. Glenn Kenny reviews. (Here's a 2009 LA Times story on the film's troubled history.).

Does it all work? Not entirely. There's a bit of awkwardness to the articulation of the prevailing consciousness, or self-consciousness, at times. I really didn't need the bus driver to be quite so lumpen, or quite so much from a Bay Ridge that is a much less compelling product of Lonergan's imagination than his Upper West Side is. Poor Jean Reno is almost laughably miscast.The swing-for-the-fences approach, when it becomes obvious, sometimes leads to near-disaster. Indeed, at the film's finale, Lonergan seems to be lurching toward a cornball universalist Sweeping Gesture, and he fortunately regrounds things back in the specific for the final shots. But on the whole, and given a few hours to let it sink in, I'm thoroughly impressed. As many of you migh tbe aware, Margaret has a tangled and unpleasant post-production history. It was shot over five years ago and spent a considerable amount of time in editing rooms, and in civil courts, before receiving its current limited release. Several of its lead actors, most prominently Matt Damon and the very great Anna Paquin, look almost comically younger than they do today; indeed, on the evil Twitter machine I wisecracked that Fox Searchlight might want to market the film as being about a time-travel device that puts movie stars in touch with their younger, fresher selves. (Also, hey, look, there's young[er] Olivia Thirlby!) Armed with such information, critics will of course run with it, and Margaret has taken some brickbats for its ostensible lack of focus and "punishing" running time. I dunno; even though there were times I thought it wasn't quite making it, I was sufficiently drawn into its world that in retrospect I could have more than stood it being quite a bit longer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What it's like downtown

I know I'm behind but this is the first thing I've read about being on the ground at Occupy Wall Street. (Parabasis)

One thing that was immediately apparent was the organization at work. Whether that was there from the beginning or if it's sprung up as the protests have gone on, I couldn't tell. But it was unmistakably there. There was a central command center/media hub, snaked through with extension cords, an area of bulletin boards with information (see below), a medical area, staffed with people with little red crosses made out of electical tape on their jackets, a food prep and serving area. Everything in those areas moved with efficiency and focus and, above all, professionalism. In fact, the whole camp is pretty orderly and organized. And clean. I saw a couple of different people walking around, picking up pieces of garbage and cigarette butts. I don't know if the folks worked out a deal with a nearby Burger King, but they seemed to be managing to find sanitary places to use the bathroom. This camp does not look like the work of bored college students or unemployed slackers.


Gus Van Sant's Restless is a sweet, slight film about young love and death that feels like something of a regression after the bustling humanity of the director's Milk. Enoch (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) is a dour young man with a wardrobe straight out of a Decemberists video who spends his time crashing other people's funerals. At one such service Enoch meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), who tells him she works in a children's cancer ward and soon becomes the only person who can penetrate his moods. The trailer for Restless reveals that Annabel is in fact a cancer patient herself with a grim diagnosis, and the bulk of the movie is Enoch and Annabel's few months together. If you've been reading this blog for awhile then you know I'm a Mia Wasikowska fan since In Treatment; here she plays Annabel with a wonderful self-possession and a sense of not losing herself to her disease. That said, I wasn't nearly as moved as I should have been because Van Sant and writer Jason Lew can't stop being precious on the subject of death. I'm not sure what would have been so wrong with letting Annabel be scared by what's about to happen to her, but Wasikowska is only asked to play adorable for scene after scene as she and Enoch discuss birds, attend a Halloween party, and pre-enact Annabel's death to a prerecorded soundtrack. Henry Hopper has the right look to play a socially awkward teen, but as we come to understand Enoch's behavior Hopper can't make us feel the character's despair and he whiffs on a big breakdown scene with Annabel's doctor. Restless would have had more bite if Annabel and Enoch had at least tried to face some hard truths about their situation; instead profundities are delivered courtesy of a ghost named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase) who has been a part of Henry's life since childhood. Mia Wasikowska is always worth watching but Restless is too airy for its own good. As he proved in Milk Gus Van Sant is more than capable of working on a bigger canvas, and I hope Van Sant's next film finds him looking outward once again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Ides of March

I was unprepared for just how bad The Ides of March turned out to be. Simplistic and underwrittten, George Clooney's film of Beau Willimon's play Farragut North purports to be a look at what it really takes to get a President elected in this country. The movie is, in fact, stuffed with improbabilities and shaky motivations and it doesn't really add anything new to the growing file on Ryan Gosling. Gosling is playing Stephen Myers, key aide to Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney). Morris is idealistically liberal to a fault and Clooney plays him with a sharp intelligence which actually makes the revelations of his behavior that come later in the film hard to swallow. The Governor character was never seen in Willimon's play; he's in the film just to move things along. The Ides of March is Ryan Gosling's show, but Gosling isn't well served by the part. Myers is a political pro but also a true believer, and we get the cliches about Kool-Aid consumption from a New York Times reporter played by an underused Marisa Tomei. Since there's nothing to be gained, why does Myers meet with the campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) of Morris' rival and then believe everything he says about shifting poll numbers? Myers' attempts to reverse the Governor's political fortunes (the movie unfolds in the week before a critical Ohio primary) and avert potential scandal lead to his dismissal from the campaign, and it's here that The Ides of March turns into the world's biggest hissy fit. Gosling isn't given a fully formed character to play, he exists only in relation to his boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the Governor. The sight of Myers burning every bridge in order to get what he wants is akin to watching a rat knock down the walls of a maze to get to cheese: it's unattractive and not very interesting. If the point of The Ides of March is that self-interest trumps all when someone is trying save their career, then I wish I'd saved my money.

There's one other character in The Ides of March worth mentioning. Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) is an intern on the Morris campaign and looking to start at the bottom in politics even though her father is the Democratic National Chairman. Molly and Stephen begin a relationship, obviously the outcome Molly desired when Wood makes her first entrance. It's good to see Wood onscreen but she too deserves better. Molly has no purpose in the film other than to provide the impetus for Gosling and Clooney's final confrontation. The movie winds her up and sends her on a proscribed path, and thinking about the motivation for her final choice leads to some disturbing conclusions regarding Clooney's view of women and politics here. The Ides of March pretends to make grand statements and contain hard truths, but it's less lived-in than a good West Wing episode and a sad misfire from talented people.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sunday Music: Zwan - "Lyric"

Sorry things got quiet here, I was enjoying a few days in Chicago (my first time!) during which time I saw two excellent plays (Clybourne Park and Red) and got a generous helping of sights and cuisine. I'm back home now, but in honor of my trip here's Chicago's Billy Corgan with a song from his aborted side project Zwan.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

"He is still raging."

Maurice Sendak isn't done yet. (Guardian)

He is still raging. But since Eugene's death, says Sendak, it is merely an echo of his former anger. He looks around his property, built in 1791 and boasting in its grounds one of the last elms still standing in Connecticut, and approaches something like peace. He knows he is lucky and has been lucky for a long time. His relationship with Eugene, who was a psychoanalyst, lasted almost 50 years. His parents never knew – not officially. "Of course, they knew. Especially my father. My mother was so bewildering and strange and lived in another world, I don't know what she knew. Nothing was said, but if something had been said, I would have been thrown out of the house. And yet they met him and respected him. Strange."

Monday, October 03, 2011

This counts too....

A tribute to "Everything Counts", which turned out to be a direction-changing career saver for Depeche Mode. (AV Club)

As Gahan admits in another interview around the same time, crafting catchy pop songs and club hits was always the focus: “They might suddenly think, ‘Well, what does all this mean? Admittedly, a lot of people will just hum the tune and never think about it, just ’cause it’s a good beat. That’s exactly what my mum does.” Construction has more industrial-sounding moments (for instance, the droning, atonal “Pipeline,” which goes overboard on its Neubauten worship) and more pop-oriented ones (like the relatively lightweight “Two Minute Warning”). But even within those two outliers, Gore shoots for a nervy equilibrium. “Get The Balance Right!” is the name of Depeche Mode’s single immediately prior to “Everything Counts,” and it’s also the first song Gore wrote after assuming Clarke’s duties. But the title can be read as a statement of intent—one that Gore and the rest of Depeche Mode fully realized with “Everything Counts,” which remains one of the band’s concert staples and best-loved songs.

Late Sunday Music: Pink Floyd - "Astronomy Domine"

The recent batch of Pink Floyd reissues reminded me that I've never knowingly heard anything from the band's first album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn. Even a casual fan can hear that Roger Waters' sensibility hadn't emerged into the band's sound yet. What would have happened to Pink Floyd if original leader Syd Barrett hadn't had to leave is one of rock's great what-ifs.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

What's Your Number?

There were quite a few funny people involved with What's Your Number? but it's too bad that none of them were writing or directing. This unintentionally depressing romantic comedy feels as though it were made by people who've gleaned all their insight into other people from movies like this, and a talented cast gets wasted along the way. An unemployed young woman named Ally (Anna Faris) sets out to reconnect with ex-lovers after a women's magazine tells her that women with too many sex partners won't find husbands. Joining Ally in her quest is Colin (Chris Evans), the rascal from across the hall who of course possesses a hidden well of sensitivity. A number of talented performers traipse through What's Your Number, including Blythe Danner, Chris Pratt, Martin Freeman, and Heather Burns, but none of them is given time to develop a rapport with Faris or do anything interesting. Ally is fired from her job by a smug boss (Joel McHale) in the opening scenes and doesn't seem to have much in her life besides finding out which of her exes she should have ended up with. There's a half-baked subplot about Ally's artistic ambitions, but it never catches fire and her character's naked neediness really doesn't let Faris do what she does best. It feels strange to say that the character Faris played in The House Bunny was better developed, but it's true. Faris spends far too much time here looking pinched and unhappy when she's not playing scenes out of the romantic comedy textbook. (Colin and Ally play basketball in their underwear.) Anna Faris deserves better roles and we deserve more observant movies about sex and relationships. The question in this movie's title is better left unanswered.


50/50 has a difficult road to walk between broad buddy comedy and sober drama. It comes through successfully thanks to an emotionally honest script and a cast that can handle the movie's subtle shifts in tone. When a young radio reporter named Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with spinal cancer he must go through treatment with the support of his artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and good-hearted best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen). Gordon-Levitt doesn't overplay Adam's slide from denial into fatalism and anger, but Will Reiser's script (which follows Adam through chemotherapy) largely elides the physical messiness of cancer. Reiser also doesn't include any mention of financial issues, a glaring omission since Adam lives in a funky rental house and spends most of the movie avoiding his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston). The movie charts the tectonics of Adam's support system. It's no surprise that Rachael isn't equipped to deal with the burdens of caring for someone going through chemo, but I didn't expect how harshly the movie judges her. After 50/50 and The Help Bryce Dallas Howard had better be careful or she'll wind up playing too many callow and selfish characters.

Most of the best moments in 50/50 are between Adam and Kyle, and though Rogen does a version of his usual character here he doesn't press too hard and is genuinely likable for maybe the first time. We don't realize for most of the movie how hard Kyle is working to support his friend, since Kyle seems preoccupied with using Adam's disease to get girls. It's a moving moment when we learn how much Kyle cares, and 50/50 is its best when it's about a friendship under stress. There's also Adam's bond with two older patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) whom the movie doesn't use as teachers but rather simply lets exist. The other major character in 50/50 is Katherine (Anna Kendrick), Adam's therapist-in-training. I loved Kendrick in Up In The Air but she's better here and again plays the hyperintelligent but fragile young professional to perfection. Maybe I liked the characters a little more than the movie itself, but 50/50 is well-acted, understated, and not full of easy answers.