Monday, February 28, 2011

(Late) Sunday Music: Paul Simon - "You Can Call Me Al"

From 1991; Simon has a new album out this April.

What The F--k. (In defense of Anne Hathaway)

The Motion Picture Academy's attempt to cross demographic boundaries by hiring Anne Hathaway and James Franco doesn't appear to have resulted in better ratings, despite Franco's efforts on Twitter and all the talk of how engagement through social networking is the only thing that keeps viewers' attention. Whether Franco's disengaged performance was the result of chemical alterations or part of a graduate thesis project on celebrity will no doubt be revealed one day, but while I understand the ire that twitterers and critics directed towards him I can't agree with the dislikes being thrown in Anne Hathaway's direction. The job of Oscar host seems to me to consist of three tasks: the opening number/monologue (predictable but performed with spirit), transitioning between presenters, and the much more vague job of embodying the spirit of everything wonderful about Hollywood film. It isn't Anne Hathaway's fault that neither she nor almost anyone else in 2011 could represent the sophistication of Hollywood in the way that Bob Hope or even Johnny Carson could in their day. By reaching for one audience with younger hosts and bits like the "auto-tune" sequence the Academy turned its back on another and is now paying for it in bad reviews and flat ratings. That older audience is made up of the same people that voted for The King's Speech over The Social Network; it seems the desire for pomposity, ill-conceived dance numbers, and montage sequences was stronger than anyone knew. What really killed the telecast was the lack of surprises; if a main talking point on Monday morning is the Best Supporting Actress winner's juvenile acceptance speech then the show never had a chance. I'm don't know if award season is too long, but it is too crowded. Asking Anne Hathaway to make up for the conceptual mistakes and predictability of this year's Oscars feels like asking too much.

What I've Been Waiting For.....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How not to predict the Oscars

Two usually reliable critics trip all over themselves to knock Natalie Portman's Black Swan performance and go so far as to predict that the worthy but so far passed over Annette Bening will pull off an Oscar night upset.

Shoo-in is probably too strong. But I'd be surprised if Bening didn't win, both because of cynical-political factors and because she gave a wonderful performance in a well-liked film. Bening's life story and career trajectory are appealing. She was a respected theater actor and teacher for many years. She is widely admired but doesn't work much and has never played the celebrity game, and she's never won. All that sounds pretty irresistible to Hollywood.

Besides the fact that they completely misread the movie (as a commenter points out, a person can't actually have the duality that the movie's Swan Lake requires), it's as if Seitz and O'Hehir had never lived through an Oscar season before. Portman's narrative - classy young actress gets to show raw side in "edgy" project - easily trumps that of Annette Bening's, the respected multiple nominee who's always doing her best work in the wrong year. Although I agree Michelle Williams is the real loser here, I really don't think there's any doubt that Portman's perception-changing performance and the hype surrounding it will be enough to let her take home a trophy on Sunday.

Dept. of Things That Excite Me

Rolling Stone's opinion of the new R.E.M. album Collapse Into Now might be interesting to some only if it weren't a 4-star review, but I'm pleased to hear that the band seems to have found their footing again (on the heels of Accelerate, which I loved) after a few years of work that didn't always sound fully engaged.

It's been 30 years since these Georgia boys released their debut indie single, "Radio Free Europe"/"Sitting Still," which basically invented everything halfway interesting that guitar bands have done ever since. They long ago passed the point where they're beloved just for continuing to exist. But on Collapse Into Now, they sound like they'd rather be a band than a legend, which must be why they keep pushing on. Who knows if Whitman or Patti Smith is proud — but R.E.M. should be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"All of the Lights"

We continue to be fascinated by the self-lacerations of Kanye West. I've never been a particular fan of West's need to play everything in his life out on record, but the almost uniform inclusion of the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album on Best-of-2010 lists drove to me to check it out. Would I like MBDTF more or even less if I had closely followed West's career from the beginning? Listening to the album in one sitting feels a little bit like yelled at by a stranger on a subway platform who's dressed in the most beautiful tuxedo you've ever seen. "All of the Lights", with featured guest vocals from Rihanna and Kid Cudi as well as other notables in the chorus, is one of the stronger tracks on MBDTF. West's tale of a dad with a violent streak who is trying to work things out has now been given a handsome, Hype Williams-directed video. I disagree with this blogger that Wiliams ran out of imagination after a promising start. I think it's more likely that the Gaspar Noe references and roll call of famous guest stars are West's attempt to distance himself from the narrator of his song. That is to say, I think West doesn't want to inhabit the character of a violent dad in song so much as he wants to do the best song ever about a violent dad and then tell us about it. It's no accident that West is dancing on top of that police car instead of being put inside of it. His ego wouldn't have it any other way. Rihanna and Kid Cudi do feel extraneous, but the flashing light effects and credits at the end aren't just time filler; they serve notice that the fantasy is ending.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Music: The Low Anthem - "Ghost Woman Blues"

I like this NYT piece on The Low Anthem, who seem unbearably hip (Recording in abandoned factories! Handmade CD cases!) until one hears a song like the above. I'll be picking up Smart Flesh.

People who listen to “Smart Flesh” will probably be a little mystified about what heading in their music collection it should fall under. There are old-timey incantations (“Ghost Woman Blues,” “Love and Altar”), noisy, tremulous barrages (“Boeing 737”) and straight-up stomps (“Hey All You Hippies”). And let’s not forget about “Wire,” a midrecord dip into a classically inflected piece for three clarinets composed, and played, by Ms. Adams, who was an intern for NASA before joining the band. The record is the opposite of the usual sophomore outing from a band that now has the backing of a label. Instead of bringing more polish and guile, it is full of hisses and noises framing close harmonies and spare, idiosyncratic instrumentation, with a pervasive sense of elegy.

John Schaefer, the host of “Soundcheck” on WNYC radio in New York, said that the Low Anthem is a band that will catch you off guard. “They set up an expectation with, say, a banjo, and you think, ‘rootsy American song,’ but then there will be a theremin and a pump organ. There’s something beautifully wrong and unsettling about what they do.”

Doing Work

I'm not subscribing to the New Republic to link to this catty article on Black Swan, which isn't the first negative piece I've read but is the first to claim that Portman's physicality wasn't right. I'd like to ask Ms. Homans to watch the above featurette and tell us exactly what Natalie should have been doing. Black Swan is as much a film "about" ballet as Titanic is a film about naval safety.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

For Rent: Pretty Bird

Pretty Bird, directed by the actor Paul Schneider (Bright Star, Parks and Recreation), is an underwritten disappointment coming from an actor who made his name in the personal, micro-budget early films of David Gordon Green. Schneider wants to satirize the American can-do spirit in the person of Curtis (Billy Crudup), a fast-talking entrepreneur with a plan to develop a "rocket belt" for personal flight. Representing good old-fashioned know-how is Rick (Paul Giamatti), an unemployed rocket scientist whom Curtis  recruits to build the belt while he searches for investors. Relationships sour, and Schneider fails to ground the movie in anything that feels real. Where does Rick get two thugs and a boat to threaten Curtis? Why doesn't Curtis's friend Kenny (David Hornsby) realize that his buddy is draining the money from his mattress business? Pretty Bird is underpopulated and it peters out too early. I'm sure Crudup and Giamatti both worked for a considerable discount, but even their talents (Does Giamatti have a peer at finding hidden colors in ordinary men?) can't enliven this thin attempt to poke holes in American dreams.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

The documentary/concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never begins with a montage of familiar YouTube videos. There's the sneezing panda, some laughing babies, and a chain reaction disaster at a wedding. This series of swift kicks to any discerning viewer's sense of irony is followed by a glimpse of a pre-celebrity Bieber crooning a Chris Brown song on his couch at home. The rest of Never Say Never, directed by Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 & 3!) might as well be one long YouTube clip designed to put Bieber on the same level as his socially networked fan base. The first half of the film is loaded with videos and pictures of a young Justin at home with his single mother and grandparents and of him performing at home and at local talent shows. Bieber's father, who looks like a second-tier player on an MTV reality series, pops up briefly but provides no context on his son's upbringing. This autobiographical section goes to great pains to make Bieber not appear to be a prepackaged pop product, and it's the most appealing part of Never Say Never. If Bieber is feigning sincerity at happily returning home from the road to his grandparent's Ontario home or at going to the Y to shoot hoops with his friends, then he fooled me. If you're the kind of person who might tweet something like this about Bieber then it must be the music that offends you, because the kid singing it isn't worthy of your hate.

Never Say Never follows Bieber and his entourage in the days leading up to his first performance at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. We're introduced to Bieber's manager Scooter Braun, whose name also pops up as one of the film's producers. Braun returns several times to recount the story of his discovery of Bieber online and the role he played in engineering Bieber's creative marriage to Usher and the record executive L.A. Reid. Braun also serves as the leader of Bieber's ad hoc tour family, which includes a vocal coach (the only who seems to encourage Bieber think past his immediate career needs), bodyguard, and a couple of guys who just seem to be goof-off buddies. All's well in the Bieber camp until right before the big New York show, when Bieber's voice threatens to give out. The lack of more full performances of Bieber's songs is of no consequence to me, but it's revealing that the music was cut when what replaces it is a valentine to Bieber's management team. How is the music? Too uninteresting to inspire thoughts like this; guest stars like Boyz II Men (for whom it has come to this), Miley Cyrus, and a tamped-down Ludacris come and go too fast.

Justin Bieber can play guitar, drums, and piano and has a pleasant voice. He isn't talentless but is far from a prodigy. Never Say Never suggests that anyone can have Bieber's life with enough desire, but one thing this film reveals is that he's still very much at the mercy of adults. The (mostly charming) young girls interviewed outside Bieber's concerts have the same opportunities in theory, but first they need someone to look at them and see dollar signs.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Joan Crawford would have killed to play her."

Black Swan as "woman's movie"; the choices Nina is faced with are mirrored both in film and in the literature of dance. (NYT)

“The Red Shoes” (1948) — to which “Black Swan” owes so much — actually had more psychological depth. Its ballerina heroine found both fame and love, and her torment came from choosing between them. That’s a highly ambiguous attitude toward ballet — she cannot permanently reconcile dance and love — but you can see why it inspired thousands of girls to take up the art. The “Black Swan” idea of ballet is narrower: obsession, torment, inadequacy, paranoia, delusion.

Those things aren’t absent from ballet (or womanhood or life). And so Nina’s interior and exterior lives here spin together into a compelling vortex.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Another Year

Having a couple of days to think about Mike Leigh's Another Year hasn't done much to improve my opinion of it. I don't know how Leigh is thought of in England, but here his name has become a brand that signifies a serious and unstately Englishness with only the occasional detour into period drama. (Topsy-Turvy, one of my all time Top 5) Much is made of Leigh's working method which involves considerable exploration into character before the cameras roll; we're supposed to appreciate Leigh's work, we're told, because of all the work that was done to bring it to us. Another Year suffers from the same flaw as Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky: Leigh puts characters who are supposed to express an idea into space but doesn't give them anything to work against. There's only the most spare, seasons-of-life structure to Another Year and at some point the film becomes merely a consideration of a certain stage of life.

We first meet Mary (Lesley Manville) incidentally; she's a secretary in the office of a busy therapist named Gerri (Ruth Sheen) who's first seen treating a depressed woman (scalding Imelda Staunton) seeking sleeping pills. Mary and Gerri share an after-work drink, and it's soon clear the two women share a history. Mary is a frequent visitor to the home of Gerri and her geologist husband Tom (Jim Broadbent); her first visit in the film turns into a drunken session of self-pity and Gerri and Tom don't seem surprised, Mary's behavior is almost expected. Mary is unhappily divorced, lonely, and consumed by the idea that an eligible man is standing around the next corner. Leigh isn't shy about extending scenes up to and past the point of uncomfortableness, and Manville rises to the occasion with a detailed portrait of how alcohol and a lack of outlets for emotional expression can make a person barely tolerable. By holding the camera on Broadbent a second too long Leigh reveals the truth: Tom can't stand Mary and regards her as an intrusion on his ridiculously happy home life. We are invited to consider middle age as two poles (emotional desolation vs. bustling, workaday happiness) with nothing in between. There's no suggestion that Mary has a skill or interest that gives her pleasure or that Tom and Gerri ever had to work through an affair or deal with one of them finding the marriage stultifying. Tom, whom Broadbent plays without a shred of vanity, is also troubled by his friend Ken (Peter Wight). Ken, overweight and alcoholic, visits Tom and Gerri in London and has nearly reached his limit both in his acceptance of his life and in how much beer and bad food his body can take. Tom at least makes an effort to reach out to Ken, but Leigh lets us peek into Tom's disgust at what his friend has become.

Another Year becomes a series of scenes in which Tom and Gerri endure the extreme behavior of their friends. An afternoon gathering at their house (where most of the film takes place) is an almost comical scene of abusive behavior and meanness, as Mary rejects Ken for not being good looking enough and Tom and Gerri's son Joe (Oliver Maltman) heedlessly encourages Mary's hopeless crush on him . The dynamics don't change until the last act, when a death brings Tom's brother (stoic David Bradley) to London. We see Mary in a different light here, and it's the contrast between the end and the earlier scenes that have won Manville's performance the acclaim she deserves. Leigh ends on an open-ended but heartbreaking note, and never investigates the question of whether or not Tom and Gerri need Mary around in order to make their marriage feel meaningful. Wouldn't Another Year be a more interesting movie if they did? I can't tell whether my reaction to Another Year is colored by being told I'm supposed to like it, but Mike Leigh is a director who could benefit from trying something new.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A View From The Bridge

This post on Blue Valentine unpacks what's going on with Ryan Gosling's Dean, whose emotional instability and abandonment issues are at the root of what's wrong with his marriage to Michelle Williams's Cindy. The scene in which Dean threatens to jump off a bridge if Cindy doesn't reveal a key plot point is cited as the height of the character's immaturity, and I wonder if the scene doesn't reveal something about director Derek Cianfrance's take on these characters. It has been reported that the bridge moment emerged from Cianfrance directing Gosling to extract Cindy's secret by whatever means necessary. Climbing up the fence and threatening to jump was the first thing Gosling did as Dean to elicit a truthful response from Williams. But did Cianfrance have to keep it in the movie? I'm all for the emotionally raw indie aesthetic, but by going with Gosling's most extreme choice Cianfrance doesn't leave much room for confusion about whose issues will eventually derail this marriage. What was Gosling's second best choice, and could Cianfrance have fashioned a subtler scene around it that didn't give the game away? I was very positive on Blue Valentine, but I didn't quite buy the way that the movie wanted us to think everything revolved around Dean getting his act together. Blue Valentine contains arguably the best two performances of the year, but by barring no holds Cianfrance (perhaps not even aware what he was doing) opted for a slightly less interesting movie.

A lot of people have reacted to the movie as the story of class-crossed love, of what happens when a woman with ambition marries a man without any. Cindy (Michelle Williams character) once wanted to be a doctor, and still has ambitions to better herself; Dean (Ryan Gosling) is more satisfied the way he is, focused on the home. That is certainly part of what’s going on – but it’s not all of it, and framing the story this way, it seems to me, is too easy on Dean and too hard on Cindy.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sunday Music: Mark O'Connor/Edgar Meyer/Yo-Yo Ma - "Emily's Reel"

It's Super Bowl Sunday; while I was a little tempted to post that Black Eyed Peas video where Fergie wears a costume made of old car parts, I do have to look at myself in the mirror. Follow the link for guilty "pleasure" and stay here for three of the best musicians in the world. Go Packers!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Rabbit Hole

The grief that Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) felt at the accidental death of their son Danny eight months ago has hardened into something bigger and  more dangerous. For Becca it's a desire to strip her house and her life clean of signs Danny existed, and an inability to connect with her pregnant sister (Tammy Blanchard) and a mother (Dianne Wiest) carrying grief of her own. Howie's grief is an anger that threatens to strangle him; it can only be tamped down with visits to a support group and a surprising bond with another bereaved parent (Sandra Oh). Rabbit Hole, directed by John Cameron Mitchell from David Lindsay-Abaire's play, is to be praised for its control. Mitchell is ruthless about not making sentimental mush out of scenes a lesser film might have hammered, such as Becca disposing of Danny's clothes or Howie watching old videos. Kidman is subtly brilliant here and I've never seen Eckhart better; the two can pivot from a fumbling attempt at sex or awkward politeness to searing anger in an instant. The dismissal of support group culture also cuts down on mawkishness, though Howie's fear of becoming a group regular is more interesting than Becca's disdain for professions of religious faith. Oh, and can we all acknowledge that Dianne Wiest's Oscars can't be entirely credited to Woody Allen? The tentative friendship that Becca strikes up with Jason (Miles Teller), the teen driver of the car that killed Danny, is the only false note. Jason isn't individualized enough for us to care about him and he introduces a theme of parallel universes that doesn't resonate since Becca can't handle the pain of this one. The steps that Becca and Howie take towards reconnection with the world and each other aren't given too much weight; they're as halting as they must feel to the characters. Rabbit Hole succeeds by doing less, but its unassuming qualities don't make it less worthy of your attention.

Blue Valentine

Anyone who comes to Blue Valentine knowing only that the film almost earned an NC-17 rating for its sex scenes is in for a surprise. Director and cowriter Derek Cianfrance, working in the best traditions of 1970's American cinema, has made an adult drama that's in the year-end awards discussion thanks to powerhouse performances, ambitious writing, and a directorial approach that favors grit over style and never tells us how to feel. We begin with house painter Dean (Ryan Gosling, recalling Hoffman or Duvall in their prime) and nurse Cindy (Michelle Williams, indelible) dealing with the particulars of every day life, juggling schedules and getting their young daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka) off to school. The problems between the couple aren't immediately apparent but there are signs of trouble. Dean, encouraging Frankie to play with her food, comes off as an overgrown child while Cindy doesn't know what to make of a job offer from her solicitous doctor boss (Ben Shenkman). The death of the family dog brings things to a head, and with Frankie stowed at her grandfather's (John Doman) the couple decide to head for a night in the "Future Room" of what turns out to be a hilariously low-rent motel. Is there an Oscar for American realist production design?

The kind of fully felt, lived-in performances that Gosling and Williams give in Blue Valentine can only come from a deep, deep connection between actors. Cianfrance shot the "present-day" scenes of Blue Valentine after a period in which Gosling, Williams, and Wladkya lived together as a family. That experiment followed upon shooting the movie's other half, which follows Dean and Cindy six years earlier from first meeting through courtship and wedding day. Gosling, less paunchy and with a full head of hair in these scenes, is a romantic who's ready to jump off a bridge for his love while Cindy is won over by Dean's apparent maturity as compared to that of her boyfriend (Mike Vogel). Michelle Williams stakes her claim as a major American actress with this performance. The nuances of both Cindy's attraction to Dean and her frustration are beautifully delineated and the final confrontation between the two is as spare and moving as the best of Raymond Carver.

The central questions of Blue Valentine are articulated over Dean and Cindy's dinner in the Future Room. What will Dean do with himself, besides being a husband and father? What does it mean to have "potential", and must potential be turned into a lucrative career? I wish Cianfrance hadn't focused so much on what Dean should do or be and given more attention instead to what the marriage was costing Cindy, but that's reviewing the film that wasn't made as opposed to praising the one that was. Cianfrance gives both Dean and Cindy a chance to state their theories of love (Cindy gets hers from her grandmother), but the reality of this marriage is a kind of chaos that's lacerating but impossible to turn away from. Blue Valentine is big-hearted and unafraid of hard truths. In the end, we're all just walking into the fireworks.

Rosenbaum - "He treats no piece of outside information as irrelevant."

A review of a new Jonathan Rosenbaum collection serves as a reminder of the value of one of our most unusual critics. I also love the story of the guerrilla Godard DVD exchange. (Nation)

Convinced that the potentially final feature from the late twentieth century’s most influential auteur deserved a more lucid presentation, one film critic in Berlin sweated out a more scrupulous set of English subtitles, and another in Texas worked to preserve the stereo separation on Godard’s typically layered soundtrack. Responding to a bulletin on a social networking site announcing the availability on DVD of their improved version of Film Socialisme, I sent out an e-mail, and in lieu of a reply I received a FedEx. I’m not the only beneficiary: at some point I’m supposed to forward the disc to a guy in Nebraska. Like I said, film socialism.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Fighter in context

Joyce Carol Oates frames The Fighter against other classics of boxing cinema and calls out Mark Wahlberg's underappreciated performance. (NYRB)

In his portrayal of the talented but unexceptional athlete who makes of himself through dogged, diligent training a “champion”—if only junior welterweight—Mark Wahlberg is quietly convincing, the film’s anchor as he is the film’s core; his is a steady, stolid performance, subtly nuanced in the way of the young Al Pacino—a kind of “acting” indistinguishable from “real life.” By contrast—and the contrast is considerable—Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund, Micky’s half-brother and trainer, gives a tour de force performance, not unlike Joe Pesci’s in his first major film role as LaMotta’s manic brother Joey in Raging Bull. Dicky is a former boxer himself, whose single moment of glory is his having “knocked down” Sugar Ray Leonard years before in a match that Leonard won. Dicky is Micky’s trainer, when he manages to show up at the gym, clearly intelligent, shrewd, self-destructive and unreliable—a crack addict, yet charismatic—with the gaunt cheeks and sunken eyes of the doomed.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Aaron Katz

Cold Weather is the first movie without Natalie Portman in the cast that I'm excited about seeing in 2011. Director Aaron Katz talks about mystery novels and Friday Night Lights in this interview; Katz's scripts in progress sound winningly eclectic. (Greencine)

Q: How did Cold Weather turn into a detective yarn?

A: The first draft was a big mess. I had the idea of introducing mystery a third of the way in. I was reading a lot of detective books at the time. I was up late at night writing and decided to try it out, thought I wouldn't like it, and ended up getting more motivated to write once the mystery was in there. In the first draft, the mystery made no sense at all. We refined it over the next month, and probably had a script that's not too different from what we shot by the end of summer 2008. A lot of people were saying, "We really like the script but what kind of movie is this? It's half a genre film, and half-not." People were being very conservative with their money then.

Too Much Time in the Lair

I don't like this New Yorker profile of Guillermo del Toro; it spends most of its (longer than usual?) length discussing Del Toro's museum-like second home, his weight, and his fussing over creature designs for The Hobbit and the as-yet unrealized At The Mountains of Madness. The cumulative effect is to make Del Toro seem like an dork who doesn't have a clue about how movies are made or why a studio might be hesitant about backing a big-budget H.P. Lovecraft movie. There's nothing of the charming Del Toro on display in this 2006 Charlie Rose interview. At the same time, Del Toro does have a habit of sticking his toe into a lot of projects with little real activity. Maybe he should abandon heavily designed monster for awhile and try a quick, low-budget suspense film to cleanse the palate.

I heard a heavy shuffling sound: del Toro, who at the time weighed more than three hundred pounds, was coming from a back room. (As Doug Jones observes, “Guillermo doesn’t pick up his feet when he walks.”) Del Toro gave me a genial slap on the back, his hand like a bear paw. Bleak House, he said, had been “inspired by Forry Ackerman,” who had been his “hero of heroes.” He said, “He was so nice! If you called him in advance, he would let you come to the house. Then he’d take you out for a slice of cherry pie.” Del Toro wore black sweatpants, a black T-shirt, and an unzipped black hoodie, all of which had been laundered so many times that they had faded into clashing inky shades. He had large ice-blue eyes, round glasses, and the rubbery cheeks of a kindergartner. An unruly brown beard, touched with gray, grounded him in manhood. A film of perspiration on his forehead trapped strands of hair that were supposed to be combed to the side.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Late Changes

I'm seeing a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf this weekend; I've read the play but am not super-familiar with it. This review of the current Steppenwolf production describes some changes Edward Albee made in the play that (in the blogger's opinion) weaken it, though the production gets pretty good marks overall. I'll investigate whether my friends in the show I'm seeing are aware of the changes, (Millman's Shakesblog)

The third problem, I think, is something that is none of the actors’ or the director’s fault, and that is that the author himself mucked with the text for the 2005 revival, and, in my humble opinion, did a disservice to the play in doing so - and now nobody is even allowed to put on the old version. He made a bunch of small changes to the text that I didn’t really notice, but he radically changed the end of Act 2 in ways that have profound consequences for the play.

Equal Time

I know this blog is stronger when I review films, and I promise that's coming back. In the meantime enjoy this defense of The Hold Steady, a band I don't really like that much, and think about the ways that bands are like theatre companies. (Parabasis)

The Hold Steady are nothing if not a fan's band. One of their lyrics goes "Our psalms are sing along songs." And all of The Hold Steady's songs are sing alongs. From the first mighty guitar licks, the sold-out house was singing, chanting and screaming along, pretty much everyone in the house knew every word of every song. Craig tends to cram words into his lyrics, switchbacks, double entendres (some are nearly puns), and just too damn many words, but each of them were shouted out by a sweaty, roiling mob. I've been to a bunch of their shows, but I've never been that far upfront before. While my ears are still ringing and I've probably done permanent damage to my hearing (what's that you say?), it was worth it.