Thursday, February 25, 2010
[Spoilers for Lost up to episode 6.5 “The Lighthouse” below.]
Lost has been nothing if not infuriating, so it’s time to vent. I’ve got some bones to pick with everyone associated with Lost including you, nerd.
I’m sick of hearing the term “flash-sideways.” The connections between the two narratives we’re seeing are not flash-anythings; that is, they aren’t conscious memories or premonitions or anything in a character’s brain connecting, say, the Jack in LA to the Jack on The Island. They’re just two simultaneously existing narratives that are told in interlocking segments.
Besides, flash-diagonal is much cuter.
The so-called alt-timeline is also a gaping misnomer. Go back to chronicling the names some pimple-faced production assistant sharpied onto a prop and leave the heavy lifting to the rest of us. If, as is the presented reality (not to say we haven’t been misled or flat-out lied to by the series), the detonation of Jughead did in fact reset the timeline, then Oceanic 815 never crashed, and Jack landed in LA just in time to deliver his son into a lifetime of inadequacy and approval-seeking. Which is to say if any timeline is more legitimate, it’s that one.
Just because we’ve known the characters as they relate to The Island all this time doesn’t mean that those characters there are living the “real” life and the others are in an alternate universe. That said, we assume the events on The Island are taking place because Jughead launched the characters into their proper time (from 1977 to 2007). And it also blew up, but that was thirty years ago. So, for those characters, that is the proper timeline and all other universes are alternate.
My point is that both timelines are equally legitimate, and neither is the alternate universe. Each of them is an alternate universe though.
Of course, this assumes that the timelines are both really occurring, which I believe the producers have promised, that they’re both occurring in the time periods we assume (2004 on the mainland, 2007 on The Island), that they’re occurring with the characters that we assume (i.e. Island Jack is at least that universe’s incarnation of Jack Shepard, narcissist at large), and that the characters are alive in that timeline.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there’s at least the possibility that the Island timeline is happening in 2007 in the same universe that the LA timeline is happening in 2004, just three years later. By which I mean it’s possible that Jack, Kate, Sawyer and friends will go about their business playing dad, running from cops, conning hotties until one day, they all wind up on The Island with implanted memories (or something) that make them think they just lived through three years or whatever on The Island and detonated a bomb to set things right and it didn’t work. Not that that would happen, because it makes most of the series a dream, or something like that, but is that actually possible? I fastforward through scenes without Desmond, Locke, Ben, or Crazy Claire, so basically the majority of Season 6 so far.
Which brings me to this foot-tapping, hair-pulling, pee-burning need that every Jacob-damned Lost fan has to connect the timelines. (I realize that I did that very thing last paragraph. It’s a big win for cognitive dissonance.) Where did this theory that one timeline must “win” come from? What’s with this need to physically join them? If Lost were really ballsy—it’s not, at least, not in artistically challenging ways—the LA timeline would never collide with The Island timeline at all. Instead it would continue to exist as a mere foil to the other timeline, a look at how things could have been or could be or are elsewhere, er, elsewhen. The Lost addicts would flip! It would be the greatest, most rewardingly fanbase-alienating finale since The Sopranos! But like I said, Lost ain’t that ballsy.
I suppose there will be some sort of explicit connection at some point. Perhaps Jughead just did half the trick. Maybe it just set the 2007 timeline in motion, and at the end of the 2007 timeline, probably in the series finale, the characters will do whatever needs to be done to sink the Island and set the timeline straight once and for all, launching the revised 2004 timeline, now with retroactive course correction (i.e. righting all the times Island characters went back in time and manipulated events), into play. What do you think?
So what’s the endgame? Locke if I know. James Poniewozik pinpointed his problem with the season and it’s exactly what’s annoying me: we have no idea what the characters’ objectives are. In Seasons 1-3, it was to get off The Island. In Season 4 it was to get back and rescue their friends, although we need to talk about that, too, because nobody on that Island has any idea what friendship is, except maybe Crazy Claire but more on that later. In Season 5 it was to, oh, who remembers, but something about stopping the time-jumping for the Islanders, returning for the Oceanic 6, and then detonating Jughead. And now, it’s to, what? Survive? Bide their time until Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof decide to deliver answers and/or move the characters into place for whatever unmotivated action they have in store for the finale?
In other words, writers, the time is long gone for dawdling on the storytelling. You had Jack in a room with Dogen and he got almost nothing, after repeated declarations in the premiere that Dogen was prepared to tell them whatever he could. We don’t even know who those people are, where they came from, how they knew the Lost cast, or how much they know about the rest of the mythology.
Instead, you’re more than happy to let some guy animating Locke’s body manipulate Sawyer and Jacob manipulate Hurley and Jack (but not Sayid or Miles or Kate or their other “friends”) into trekking off into the jungle blindly and half-heartedly. It was fun to see Adam and Eve again, the visual metaphor on Jacob’s ladder was kind of sort of interesting, and the Lighthouse was spectacular, but, dudes, I got a show to watch. I don’t know if you heard, but there are only thirteen episodes left. It’s time for characters who are supposedly friends to communicate, and maybe stick together a little bit, and maybe have some kind of plan for the near-term future outside of basic survival.
Speaking of that guy animating Locke’s body, I’m guessing there’s a big reason we still don’t have a name for him. You know, because if I were Sawyer, and Locke came to me and said he wasn’t John Locke, my first reaction would be, “So who are you?” And when he inevitably responded with something like, “I’m the guy who’s gonna show you your destiny,” as Lost characters are wont to do, I would have to retort, “Yeah, but, what do I call you? If I get scared in the jungle on our hike, what name do I scream? Jesus Christ, can anyone around here answer a question straight?”
So if there’s a reason we don’t know his name yet, maybe it is Esau. Or Smokey. Or Titus Welliver. Or perhaps it’s a name we’d recognize, like Christian, or Aaron, or Walt, or Charles, or Mister Eko, or Lucifer. Or Ana Lucia.
Either way, we are fairly certain that the character played by Titus Welliver in the Season 5 finale is the same being as what we’ve been calling the smoke monster is the same being as John Locke/Jeremy Bentham post-hotel hanging. (By the way, the moment where Ben learns that John Locke’s final thought was, “I don’t understand,” is easily among the best moments in the series. This show has so much potential.) And he may or may not be the same as whatever’s animating Christian Shepard, but Crazy Claire differentiated between “her father,” who is Christian, and “her friend,” who is not John Locke, so either her semantic precision failed her or the reanimated Christian Shepard really is Christian Shepard. Or maybe Claire just thinks he is, whereas she knows the reanimated John Locke is not John Locke. Either way, it strikes me as cryptic for cryptic's sake at this point. Stall away, Lost producers. You know we'll keep watching.
Anyway, the salient facts are that Crazy Claire is the breakout character of the season—Emilie de Ravin doesn’t seem all that physically imposing, but man does she nail the sweet madhouse moments like when she asks for reassurance that Jin is still her friend or that episode-parting smile she gives Jin before introducing her friend—and that Crazy Claire is the only character I have reason to root for (“They took my baby!”).
Speaking of characters that are far more interesting than Jack or Kate, I’m overwhelmingly disappointed in the single glimpse of Desmond this season. This is certainly not a critical statement, because who knows what the hell is going on this season so far and therefore who could possibly know what’s not artistically working, but as a matter of strict preference, which is not without merit when it comes to sci-fi pulp, and certainly not without merit on a show that scored Emmy nominations for Michael Emerson who was at one time slated to be a bit player, but back to the thrust that while this is not a critical statement, Desmond must be one of the two or three fan favorites, and he’s been repeatedly sidelined even after his flash-whatever episode became the consensus pick for the best hour of Lost. It’s just not fair to keep the pretty Scot around in Season 3 when nobody cares and then write him out of the storyline just when things get good.
On the other hand, a thousand props to whomever figured out how to work in like fourteen recognizable characters into Locke’s 2004 storyline, including the return of the fabulous Katey Sagal as Helen. Having just rewatched the pilot, I’m ever more convinced that L. Scott Caldwell is doing some of the finest work on this show as Rose, and, again, her quips in the Season 5 finale are speaking for me and the other fans bored by the repetitive cycles of ignorant violence inherent to a series focused on Jack. If only Rose could have been our central character. I’m sure the writers would claim that show would be boring, which is their response any time we want the characters to act like humans, which is funny, because I’ve been watching their show, and, yeah, it’s often pretty boring.
So with all these characters on The Island with no apparent objectives, beyond, I suppose, fulfilling whatever Jacob or The Lookalocke (you’re welcome) tells them to do, and with characters who look and sound like the ones we’ve been following for five years but without any of those experiences wandering around in their own short stories with no heretofore apparent connection to the people we’ve been watching for five years, and, by the way, not enough time to dedicate an episode to each of them, what happens now? I can tell you one thing. If “answers will be revealed,” but not until the finale, heads will roll. I've thought about it, and if we get no further clarification regarding The Numbers, I'm okay with it, but it is a tad annoying that The Numbers but just The Numbers and not 360 or whatever of them were inscribed onto The Hatch. But sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.
And here’s an easy one: Someone’s coming to the Temple, which is why Jacob wanted Hurley and Jack away. Is he just talking about Crazy Claire, now on a warpath, or perhaps just the reanimated Locke, his eternal nemesis? Or is someone now coming to The Island that hasn’t been there, say, Desmond or Charles Widmore or Aaron? Other guesses?
Actually this might be easier if we account for our 2007 characters:
Dogen, Lennon, Sayid (possibly reanimated), Miles, and Cindy the flight attendant who is obviously more than she seems are playing tic tac toe and being cryptic at the Temple. Crazy Claire, Jin, Aldo’s body, and the Reanimated Locke, presumably with Sawyer in tow, are at Crazy Claire’s camp, about to rain shit upon the Temple. Sun, Lapidus, Ben, and Ilana are at the graveyard, just, I don’t know, twiddling their collective thumbs because characters don’t exist unless the writers need them to do something. But they were headed to the Temple before burying Locke, so odds are they’ll wind up there at some point. Jack and Hurley are at The Lighthouse staring at the ocean because that’s helpful. Kate is begging to be offed, somewhere alone in a deadly jungle, but, it’s what Kate does, so, you know. Hey, that’s an episode title!
Richard Alpert is also running through the jungle, because apparently even the people who the writers pretend know everything have no idea what’s really going on, a handy analogy if you catch my drift. Boone, Shannon, Ana Lucia, Libby, Mr. Eko, Charlie, Michael, John Locke, Charlotte, Daniel, Juliet, Nikki & Paulo, Scott & Steve, Naomi, Ethan, Danielle, Alex, Karl, Goodwin, Mr. Friendly, Phil, Horace, Keamy, and Bram are dead, at least, the last we saw them they were, because sometimes writers have too many great characters to know what to do with. We never saw bodies for Dr. Chang or Mikhail who has a history of resurrection, so, we can’t be sure about those two.
1. Aaron and Walt, presumably under the care of their respective grandmothers off-Island.
2. Desmond, Penny, Charlie Hume, Charles Widmore, Matthew Abaddon, Eloise Hawking, presumably living their lives off-Island.
3. Rose, Bernard, and Vincent, presumably in a shack in the middle of the jungle away from the primary characters, though I’d love some confirmation.
4. The reanimated Christian Shepard, who recently advised Sun on how to reunite with Jin.
So it looks like at some point in the near future, most of the Island characters will be together at the Temple, which means maybe, just maybe, we’ll see not only cool character collisions and reunions and action and mystery but maybe some information-sharing and good, old-fashioned communication as well.
Who am I kidding? They’d still have half a season left.
Click here for the full post
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Fish Tank would have won all those Oscar nominations if it weren’t so damn real. Of the 2009 films where an antisocial teenage girl comes home to a dilapidated tenement and a mother spewing venom, Fish Tank is by far the most credible. Precious presents itself as a chronicle of one segment of the black experience, but it certainly doesn’t strive for any realism in its burlesque torture escapades. No, Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank is the year’s great saga of poor urban adolescence.
Now, greatness is relative, and Fish Tank is not without its clunky storytelling, and I maintain that the film would be a prime Oscar candidate (which is markedly not the same thing as a great film) if it were slightly less confrontational. Fish Tank is something of a character study of fifteen year-old hip hop-dancing Mia who lives in London tenement housing with her strikingly young mother and her little sister. Mia dresses in dark, baggy track suits and is always about to pick a fight or run away. Enter the studly, consistently brilliant Michael Fassbender, her mother’s new boyfriend and a family figure who shows Mia kindness. Things ensue.
Precious jumped out at me for the obvious reasons. After all, on Mia’s first trip home we hear her mother call her a cunt, but as we soon learn, that’s only because the women in this tenement can’t be so vulnerable as to be kind. The film also incorporates plot devices used in An Education and Up in the Air, and the whole thing feels a little familiar, but it’s also very competent, a standout of social realism.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis grounds the piece in her too believable brand of prickly moodiness, and she’s matched by a uniformly excellent cast from mom Kierston Wareing to sister Rebecca Griffiths. The film’s partly about dance, specifically about trying to express oneself in an oppressive existence, and the most powerful scene sees the three central women dancing together in their living room. It’s low-energy, like a rehearsal, and it kind of is: this is the first time they’ve opened up to each other, and it’s notably wordless.
Fish Tank is a great film, and director Andrea Arnold tells her story with graceful landscapes and oblique portraits, though the piece is a little heavy on symbols and obviousness, especially toward the end. But everyone who found Precious inspiring and thoughtful should check out Fish Tank to see the same story told with multidimensional characters and modulated tone. Precious is a carnival, with heightened performances and an unrelenting mood. Fish Tank is life.
Click here for the full post
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Police, Adjective is the latest entry in the Romanian New Wave, a sort of anti-policier in the way McCabe and Mrs. Miller is an anti-western. All the trappings are there: a detective on a criminal investigation, a climactic showdown, unusual methods that clash with the way things are traditionally run at the department. But director Corneliu Porumboiu methodically upends these tropes in his absurdist indictment of bureaucracy as an amoral semantic wasteland.
Porumboiu’s spins on detective film tropes are consistently inventive, but here’s the thrust of the plot: Plainclothes detective Cristi is reluctantly investigating a drug ring, only his target is a high school student who occasionally smokes some hashish with his friends, one of whom is informing on him. The plot tracking casual drug abusing adolescents is a brilliantly absurdist critique of bureaucracy missing the point, and Cristi’s reticence owes to his adamant belief that the drug laws will soon be overturned. There’s also an early conversation about the influence of European city nicknames, a discussion on the requirement of laws to be written, and a handful of miscommunications born from literal interpretation. So, for the next hour and a half of silent slow chases and uneventful surveillance, Porumboiu gets us mulling over the power of linguistic symbols, in giving necessarily limited shape to formless meanings, to coerce, influence, disrupt, betray—how words define, for better or worse, and how language mediates experience.
As Cristi, Dragos Bucur may as well be a real policeman. I was reminded throughout the film of The Wire, a series of high police verisimilitude that argues over sixty episodes that the purpose of the police force is at odds with its strict duties. That is, incarcerating drug users does not fall under the umbrellas of protecting or serving the people. Unfortunately, Cristi isn’t very good at giving his thoughts accurate shape. It’s a good thing, then, that police departments have such morally thoughtful leaders in the politically accountable command positions.
It’s Cristi’s boss, you see, that ultimately faces off with the young buck over whether he will fulfill his duty as a policeman and uphold the law or supersede it with his personal moral code. The climax is mesmerizing, enhanced by one of Porumboiu’s fly-on-the-wall long shots, and it’s the film’s strongest, perhaps overly literal demonstration of the oppression of words. The film is full of linguistic interludes, some more explicit or shoehorned than others, but the key scenes are the central nine-minute tracking shot where Cristi and his wife discuss pop lyrics and the grand dictionary debate where Cristi’s specific words give way beneath his ideas and meanings, sentences unleashed like arrows until the weaker will surrenders. The deeper the film goes, the less it becomes about language and communication and more about meaning and life, purpose and ethics. Police, Adjective is a carefully constructed philosophical inquiry into not only post-Communist Romania or bottom-line bureaucracy but man’s experience in life itself.
A pulse-pounding and entirely semantic investigation, Police, Adjective is a captivating mental policier, one where Kafka and Orwell conspire, where definitions trap us and meaning is meaningless unless given the right linguistic shape. For Police, Adjective, it’s no surprise that words matter. Apparently in Romanian, the word for “conscience” and “consciousness” is the same. The sense of right and wrong is the awareness of existence, which is to say existing as a member of society is to be in a constant state of moral accounting. If only that were true.
Click here for the full post
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Entertainment Weekly, ye olde artistic bellwether, declares, “The future will be in 3-D.” At first I scoffed, practically choking on my arugula (a reference fast approaching esoterica somewhat thankfully), but the proof is in the pudding. 20 films are scheduled for release in 3-D this year, more than theaters can handle, and apparently Peter Jackson and James Cameron are interested in threedeeizing their respective blockbusters, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Titanic. Finally!
You ever notice how news stories about cinema are always financial, this box office hit or that month’s low ticket sales? With so many 3-D tentpoles coming out—including Harry Potter, Shrek, and Toy Story—I think it’s safe to assume ticket sales won’t be down any time soon. Ultimately, this is what it's all about, not art or quality or entertainment. Just good, old American greenbacks and a pre-written lie of narrative. Sound familiar?
My concerns are more than a Godardian artistic fascism argument, but that's certainly the foundation, since the rapid spread of 3-D technology hinges on fallacies in the Avatar success story.
But first, let’s talk semantics. A photograph has a height and a width, which any geometry student at a Chinese school can tell you comprises two dimensions. A film is a sequence of photographs—you see, cinema is a medium of duration, whaddya know, a third dimension! So-called “3-D” films supposedly add depth, a fourth dimension technically. But when you really examine it, it’s only the illusion of depth; the film image is no physically deeper than a non-3-D one. So I suppose 3-D films really are in three dimensions. It’s just that every other film is too.
More to the point, 3-D films still require glasses, which remain uncomfortable. I don’t think my head’s especially large, at least in reference to my physical cranium, but those glasses are angled pretty tightly inward, aren’t they? Three hours, or four for The Return of the King, in those plastic vises would be no picnic.
Also I’m unconvinced that 3-D mimics how the human eye sees. Sitting in a theater, you’re, what, thirty plus feet from the screen? At that distance, images are mostly flat, right? Or at least, no more apparently deep than a well-composed image with fore-, middle-, and background.
Check out this deep focus from Citizen Kane.
Or this painting by John Constable.
Too bad they don’t jump out at you! Missed opportunities, I say.
Now, there’s no point in my fighting the most financially successful filmmaking technique ever (unless you account for inflation, in which case we should return to rear projection and saturated Technicolor, which, by the way, would elate me). I’m especially fond of framing the debate as one of traditionalists versus inexorable progress, invoking the furor over moving to sound or color. Never mind that 3-D, like deep focus, is an illusion, and one that has not found its The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind yet. More to the point, advocating 3-D for all films is an entirely commercial proposition, ignoring the stylistic demands of the artists. Black-and-white silent The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is better than any 3-D film I've come across and would doubtfully improve with color, spoken dialogue, or 3-D.
But this isn’t a debate over quality. 3-D is happening, and we’ve already handed over our favorite franchises like Harry Potter and the Sudetnland. I'm okay with films being made in 3-D, just not all films, and I'm concerned about the flawed reasoning behind 3-D's rise. Thankfully, I have a funny feeling I won’t be seeing a Claire Denis film in 3-D any time soon, and Guy Maddin’s still crankin’ out silents like some displaced phantasm. The happy truth beyond even James Cameron’s considerably well-funded reach is that they still make films in black and white.
But many films will be in 3-D and here's why: Studio execs spent exorbitant sums of money to pioneer so-called performance-capture for 3-D films, then added another nation-sized budget to market the thing. Next we all did our part and saw the already legendary monstrosity, paying higher prices than usual, accelerating Avatar’s rise to the top of the non-adjusted all-time box office. Meanwhile, the Oscars’ assured ratings spike will be attributed to Avatar despite other popular nominees and a trend of rising audiences for other awards shows. All of this will feed the narrative determined way before Avatar premiered that the film was going to be a game-changer, proof of the success of 3-D and the public’s insatiable demand for the product. Unfortunately, the only real takeaway is that some people spent a hell of a lot of money on something, and they made damn sure we all bought it.
Click here for the full post
Friday, February 19, 2010
Cinema doldrums can be a bit discouraging, and with the exception of Shutter Island, the wide release slate doesn't look to pick up until summer. But somewhere over the rainbow, there's another rainbow. Or at least, many, many films I'm eagerly anticipating. Let's take a ride.
Naturally I'm looking forward to more films than are represented here, among them and to varying degrees Paul Greengrass' Green Zone, Christopher Nolan's Inception, possibly Darren Aronofsky's The Black Swan, and maybe even Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland a li'l bit. But the films featured here make me absolutely delirious with excitement, igniting that part of my consciousness where Diamonds of the Night intermingles with The Twilight Zone and David Lynch. In terms of my anticipation, these are the elites.
Let's start with four films already scheduled for release this year in the good old US of Palin.
The Ghost Writer by Roman Polanski: All I need to know is that Polanski made another film, its title references haunting, and Glenn Kenny (whose screencap is above) likes it lots. Just look at that shot's design. Kenny places the film on Polanski's top tier, and it sounds like I enjoy Polanski's oeuvre even more than he. The picture looks at least as riveting as Death and the Maiden and with some atmospheric similarities to The Tenant, so I'm sold. On limited release as of today (Feb. 19).
Toy Story 3 by Lee Unkrich. When the project was teased several years ago, I wasn't alone in my antipathy. Truth be told, I also somewhat feared the first two Toy Story films wouldn't hold up any more. But after last summer's Pixarathon, I remain highly impressed with both, and after the trailers for Toy Story 3, I can't contain my excitement for the project. Scheduled for June 18.
The Green Hornet by Michel Gondry: Scripted by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, this is an adaptation of the old pulp action hero. Rogen's also playing the Green Hornet, a newspaper magnate by day and masked crime fighter by night who comes with his very own sidekick, Kato. If the premise and writing/directing team were not enough, I'd be sold by the cast, including Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, and Cameron Diaz. Scheduled for Dec. 22.
Restrepo by Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger: An Afghanistan war doc (pictured at the top) that was the talk of Sundance. IMDb lists no definite release dates, but it was picked up, so I'm guessing it'll be out in the fall, say, September/Octoberish.
Now some films that are completed, but I'm not sure when we'll get to see them on these shores.
Around a Small Mountain by Jacques Rivette: A lighter offering about a woman rejoining a circus. After The Duchess of Langeais, I could use some fun.
Helsinki, Forever by Peter von Bagh: Completed a couple of years ago, word has it that the Helsinki cultural history doc is finally crossing the Atlantic this year. I'm very taken with the subgenre of hometown love letters, warts and all, like Terence Davies' Of Time and the City, Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, and to a certain extent, Margaret Brown's The Order of Myths. Helsinki is ripe for cinematic exploration.
Socialisme by Jean-Luc Godard (and six other directors--not sure what the story is there): What I expect, based on the few images released, the rumors of it being a symphony in three parts, and Godard's authorial trajectory, is something of a case for socialism. I won't degrade the auteur by calling him the artful, academic Michael Moore, but I'll just say that I'm increasingly enraptured by Godard as time goes by, and I'm all ears.
White Material by Claire Denis: Colonialism, Africa, and Claire Denis. Good enough for me.
Wild Grass by Alain Resnais: Several online critics I admire fell in love with the latest Resnais last year, and that's all I need to know. Given Resnais' filmography, soon to receive a retrospective at the MFAH (!), I tend not to delve too deeply into the synopses for his films. The director and esteem is enough, and it looks like I'll have to wait until it hits DVD.
Moving on, some films in various states of production:
Birdsong by Rupert Wyatt: A WWI drama starring Michael Fassbender based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks. I have no knowledge of the source material, but Fassbender is amazing and we could use more WWI stories.
The Essence of Killing by Jerzy Skolimowski: A thriller about a political prisoner's escape. I've seen three films by Skolimowski (Deep End, The Shout, Four Nights with Anna--and I'm desperately awaiting Barrier), each of them captivating and unafraid of a little strange. Can't wait for this one.
Faust by Aleksandr Sokurov: I've still not seen any Sokurov (I know, I know. I'll get there), but I have quite an affinity for Faust and basically all things German, and I'm eager to see what the director of the 20th century rulers trilogy does with the devil's bargain.
John Carter of Mars by Andrew Stanton: So many of these are predicated on an exciting marriage of director and project, and this is no different. Classic sci-fi action pulp from Edgar Rice Burroughs by the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E. IMDb has it scheduled for 2012. Here's hoping.
Tree of Life by Terrence Malick: Jesus Christ, stop editing and release it already! Okay, finish it the way you want it, but hurry. Filming ended sometime in the 1800s, but the release date keeps being pushed back. I doubt it'll take Malick the rest of the year to perfect the piece, so my fingers are crossed. Oh, it stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, it's shrouded in so much mystery there's only one image and it's severely cropped from what I assume is a widescreen picture, and it may involve dinosaurs!
The Turin Horse by Bela Tarr: Is that not the perfect combination of title and director? It has something to do with a man embracing a horse and falling to tears, after which bizarre incident he goes silent for years. All I really care about is Bela Tarr making another movie, rumored to be his last, and that gorgeous production art.
Next, a trio of films announced or in preproduction:
Arrested Development by Mitchell Hurwitz: Nuff said.
Silence by Martin Scorsese: In the past day, I've heard that Scorsese announced he's working on a new gangster-related pic starring Robert de Niro as an old man looking at how organized crime has affected his life as well as another pic called The Taxi Driver that is the same as the original, but starring Robert de Niro as a much older Travis Bickle. However, my curiosity is most piqued by this IMDb-vouched in production title, about a couple of Jesuit priests (possibly played by Benicio del Toro and Gael Garcia Bernal) in 17th century Japan. I'm not actually convinced this is being worked on, but of the three projects, I hope Scorsese picks this one.
The latest film by Ramin Bahrani: Yes, the man who brought us such naturalistic, atmospheric works as Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye, Solo is working on a new film, and it's a western! It's set in 1849, which any California student worth his salt will tell you was the year after the Gold Rush began, since James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848. Yeah, I've panned for gold in Coloma, no big. What I'm excited about here is Bahrani's style in the western genre, and so early in the genre at that. You can read more about it in his interview with The Auteurs.
Finally, a fistful of projects that will be a long time coming, if that:
Anything by David Lynch: Seriously, it's been four years since Inland Empire. We need more.
Frankenstein by Guillermo del Toro: Apparently this is his passion project, and he's interviewed that he wants to do it next (which is to say, after The Hobbit films). It'll star Doug Jones as the monster, and it'll hew close to the book, one of my favorites. Personally, I think Del Toro has it in him to make this the definitive Frankenstein film. Just watch Branagh's version and do the opposite.
Interstellar by Steven Spielberg: It's supposedly based on some theories of wormholes and scripted by Jonathan Nolan, but I'll believe it when I see it. Three years ago (or more?) Spielberg mentioned the project in interviews, but I've heard nothing since, much to my dismay. Is it too much to ask for Spielberg to craft a serious space odyssey?
The Sons of El Topo possibly aka Abel Cain by Alejandro Jodorowsky: Jodorowsky's apparently working on King Shot, a typically grotesque crime flick set at a casino in the desert, and while I'm grateful for that, I'm even more eager for an El Topo followup. I hope it happens someday.
So that's what keeps me going. Thoughts?
Click here for the full post
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 4:11 PM
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Election campaigns are great television. I’m not talking about the negative ad wars or loony off-script gaffes caught on camera but the way the election narrative is written episodically and without a definite ending. It progresses with us, week by week, recurring characters floating from this press conference to that newscast, fan favorites peeling off after the primary, paving the way for a structurally foreshadowed climactic showdown in the finale. It’s no wonder, then, that all these banners and commercials keep evoking elections of television past.
Obviously the show that jumps out is The West Wing, with a dramatic will-he-or-won’t-he-run-again cliffhanger early in the series and a later extended look at campaigns and spin, but those were federal elections. It’s much more common, and currently topical, to see state and local campaigns, usually satirizing delusions of power. Take EB Farnum, the very first mayor of Deadwood and the most lifelike puppet you ever did see. Farnum’s role in town reminds us that power is not won but earned, a message echoed by several 2010 Texas candidates, various rallies somewhat recklessly touching on secession, I suppose because it went so well the last time.
Sitcoms have really latched on to the conceit of big title and little power, outsized ambitions succumbing to the realities of politics. Celia Hodes, trying to regain her queen bee status, runs for the laughably corrupt city council on Weeds. On It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the gang chooses comptroller as the office for Dennis simply because nobody could explain what one did. ‘90s cult sketch comedy Mr. Show with Bob and David lampooned campaign ads with characters not running for office, just issuing videos touting their virtues, references, and qualifications and ultimately becoming smear campaigns over nothing in particular. Seinfeld ran a condo presidential race, Stella saw an absurdist resident’s board presidential campaign, Arrested Development featured student body president elections complete with a hysterically negative ad and a focus on the religious vote.
But where a sitcom does a campaign episode, a drama does a campaign season. HBO urban deconstruction The Wire spends a couple of seasons on the mayoral campaign of once idealistic Tommy Carcetti, gradually bending to the lure of power at the expense of his principles. Then there's Battlestar Galactica, whose riveting second season builds not to any space battle or major revelations but an election, and a nail-biter at that. The series quickly becomes a vehicle for exploring just how wrong things can go when fortune favors the unqualified. The Shield features a couple of elections, even casting Andre 3000 for a strange series finale subplot about the ever-present and easily vanquished desire to introduce honesty to politics. Meanwhile Veronica Mars energizes its sophomore season with the arrival of Steve Guttenberg, running for mayor with Veronica’s father as his sheriff. The colorful neo-noir concludes its run (thanks to an unprepared for cancellation) with Veronica jeopardizing her father’s campaign but voting for him anyway. It’s all we can really do.
Actually, there are two federal television elections that are always salient. In Mad Men’s first season, the Sterling Cooper ad agency gets the Nixon account, which is to say they marketed Richard Nixon to America in 1960. Pop history has it that John F. Kennedy’s presentation in the televised debate—his makeup, good looks, and relaxed demeanor—rather than his performance there contributed to his surprise upset that November. The moral: never underestimate a voter’s acquiescence to the superficial.
Meanwhile, for the 1988 Democratic presidential primary, misanthropic auteur Robert Altman concocted a brilliant scheme with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau to shed some light on the banalities and absurdities of the fickle electoral process: create a fictional candidate and have him participate in the real-life campaign season, giving speeches, kissing babies, glad-handing good old boys. Thus, Tanner ’88, an eleven-part miniseries on DVD by the Criterion Collection starring Michael Murphy as a struggling liberal with political guest stars running the gamut: Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson, Bob Dole, Kitty Dukakis, and then some. Obvious spoiler alert: Tanner loses, but you’ll wish real politicians were as principled or erudite.
Even if you haven’t been paying attention, you’ve probably picked up on the basic Republican primary events: mud-slinging from the old guard, a vocal and motivated unofficial Tea Party, accusations of cronyism, some less than popular beliefs about the September 11 attacks. It hasn’t been an especially educational media narrative, but it sure is exciting television, right down to the implied cliffhanger: to be continued. I can’t wait.
Click here for the full post
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I am deeply inspired by the world right now. I wrote that sentence last week, and this one a few hours ago, but the sentiment remains, and not just because I got two fortune cookies in a row promising exciting opportunities just around the river bend. No, I’m inspired by economic experiments in the art world.
I’ve mentioned it recently, but The Film Talk is far and away the best film podcast I’ve heard. ‘Casters Jett Loe and Dr. Professor Gareth Higgins are politically knowledgeable, theologically aware and morally conscious, and they bring their brains to the act of criticism, caring enough to determine what a film is saying. I discovered the podcast as it was closing. They needed an average of 300 listeners paying $3 a month to stay in business the coming year, and the chart on their website hadn’t shown any noticeable progress in the final week of 2009.
I considered paying. No, I didn’t have the money, or a job, but I did (and do) have parents and an ailing economy I'm patriotism-bound to support. I seriously contemplated whether I could go without the podcast. I decided I couldn’t; that's how good it is. But I also couldn’t pay—my new thing is embracing contradiction; it's part of my rehumanization effort—and they didn’t look close enough for my donation to matter anyway. I wrote a review on iTunes, and hoped that would help in some small part. Lo and behold, the listeners came through, and I have been unspeakably rewarded by the generosity of others. In essence, The Film Talk has a pool of listeners, and the ones with more disposable income paid to keep The Film Talk in business for everyone. What’s more, many of the donations came from people who wanted to contribute more than the prior upper limit of $3 a month. It's a small-scale, highly progressive, absolutely voluntary market.
I hadn’t actually put that together until this article, about the music industry’s experiments with free music. In case after case, a band produces music for everyone funded only by their presumably richest customers. My smile grew wider and wider with each paragraph. Don’t they see how big this is? This is more than just paying for a service. This is people banding together to help each other out, both the artists who will continue releasing work and the people who couldn’t pay but want the art. And the goal isn’t profit, although I don’t doubt the musicians and podcasters hope to have some commercial appeal; the goal is simply the creation of art.
And that revenue stream? It’s like the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, only we fans and listeners and co-consumers (consumer-mates?) don't necessarily know each other. Motives aside—assuming some people had the means and refused to chip in, it takes nothing away from the fact that some people did pay to fund art for everyone else—isn’t this the way things should be? I don’t mean that prescriptively; communism hasn’t had a particularly prosperous history in the world. But in my fantasy universe heavily influenced by utopian Star Trek liberalism, society operates because people do what they love, producing not for pay but in exchange for other producers producing what they love. Because some people paid for The Film Talk, I have $36 to spend on a piece of a digital camera with which to film my own movies. Art funding art. Or in less tawdry terms, as JLG would have it, art begetting art.
This goes beyond rational self-interest. So does the Haiti relief and its ongoing coverage. Anyway, it's nice to be reminded of generosity, and in such a personally rewarding way. I get 52 or so more episodes of The Film Talk, and hopefully more beyond. I hope the 2010s see more financial experimentation in the art world and elsewhere. And if it's not too much to ask, maybe stop suing customers?
Click here for the full post
[Previously published by Maroon Weekly; no big.]
We’re in the heart of Black History Month, but you wouldn’t know it from the theater. Denzel Washington and The Rock are the only black faces headlining wide releases this month—though Valentine’s Day somehow found room for both Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah—and both of their films are currently struggling to recoup their costs. More importantly, neither film has much to do with race, but then, that can be a refreshing change of pace. On the other hand, the Oscars just showered love on a fistful of films explicitly concerned with race relations, not least heavyweight Avatar.
Okay, so James Cameron and company traded actual black faces for artificial blue ones, but the film remains a simple tale with a simple message: Can’t we all just get along? On closer inspection, the film’s apparently racial interests fall apart, as do most of Cameron’s arguable themes, with a lily-white cast of humans leaning on Michelle Rodriguez for proof that they do, in fact, have a minority friend. Meanwhile, hidden beneath piles of shimmering pixels are rising black starlet Zoe Saldana, venerable black thespian CCH Pounder, and other actors of color. Yes, Avatar’s deliberately simplistic, but the fact remains that James Cameron undercuts his message by painting each of his noble savages with the same brush—skin color directly correlates with just about every other attribute—instead of celebrating our differences. He even lets his white human hero live that ultimate fantasy of becoming a black, er, blue person permanently. Maybe Avatar 2: Buyer’s Remorse will have more to do with racial identity than its progenitor.
In another case of white directors addressing race through anthropomorphized animals, a conceit that can be creative or problematic or both (see the comparison between King Kong and slaves in Inglourious Basterds), consider Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, up for Best Animated Feature. Anyone who’s seen the TV spots knows the predominant theme, announced when Meryl Streep’s Mrs. Fox is asked by her son whether he’s different: “We all are. Him especially. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?” A little later, Mr. Fox inspires his friends by highlighting their unique attributes and talents in one of the film’s most moving scenes, and, incidentally, George Clooney’s best performance of the year. Far be it for me to encapsulate Black History Month, but equality movements tend to share the idea that we’re all valuable despite (or thanks to, or incidental to) our differences.
Oscar also anointed our first black Disney princess, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. The Disney princess has a spotty history of antifeminism, but Tiana is a true blue role model. She’s a working class waitress saving up to open her own restaurant, she cherishes her family and community, and she falls in love almost reluctantly, not because she’s been waiting for her man to come and make her life.
Meanwhile, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire explores one branch of the black experience, ferociously digging its Sisyphean heroine, played by the deservedly Oscar-nominated Gabourey Sidibe, deeper and deeper into tragedy including incestual rape that produced a special needs child, physical violence, and, in case you didn’t get it, an HIV diagnosis. In an early fantasy sequence, Precious looks into a mirror and sees a white, blonde woman looking back at her. I’m not convinced the film says anything meaningful about race specifically, just that Precious thinks her life would be better if she were white, but Precious does involve a subplot about embracing diversity, and at least it lends some color to movie screens and Oscar slates.
Everywhere you turn there’s another Oscar-nominated look at race, from the laughably politically correct The Blind Side to the credibly post-racial or perhaps a-racial The Hurt Locker, by which I mean Anthony Mackie’s skin color is of zero importance to the relations among the central trio, presumably thanks to more pressing matters like bombs or reckless endangerment. Meanwhile the one-time nation of Apartheid South Africa played home to two Best Picture nominees, Clint Eastwood’s latest racial declarative Invictus and the sci-fi allegory District 9, while Inglourious Basterds makes a sport of satirizing racism and humanizing even Nazis. You may not find much racial interest in theaters this month, but you need only look at the Oscar nominations to see just how interested Hollywood is in race relations.
Click here for the full post
The Best of the Decade continues with awards for the best television performances of the decade. Instead of ranking them, I just went with the Emmy categories sans gender segregation, picked my top six, and from those selected an ultimate acting champion to rule them all.
Man, it's been hectic today, so I'm going to publish this without elaboration. If you're really dedicated, you can search for any of these actors or shows and find justification elsewhere on the blog, say, in anything I've written about who should be nominated at the Emmys.
Here come the rufies.
Best Supporting Comedy Actor of the 2000s:
Kristin Chenoweth - Pushing Daisies
David Cross - Arrested Development
Jenna Fischer - The Office (US)
Martin Freeman - The Office (UK)
Chris Langham - The Thick of It
Jessica Walter - Arrested Development
And the Best Supporting Comedy Actor of the 2000s is:
Jessica Walter from Arrested Development. Easiest pick of the day, by the way. A coodle-doodle-doo.
Best Lead Comedy Actor of the 2000s:
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock
Jason Bateman - Arrested Development
Peter Capaldi - The Thick of It
Tina Fey - 30 Rock
Ricky Gervais - The Office (UK)
Lisa Kudrow - The Comeback
And the Best Lead Comedy Actor of the 2000s is:
Lisa Kudrow from The Comeback. My take on the series here at #13.
Best Supporting Drama Actor of the 2000s:
Drea de Matteo - The Sopranos
Michael Hogan - Battlestar Galactica
Elisabeth Moss - Mad Men
Clarke Peters - The Wire
Andre Royo - The Wire
William Sanderson - Deadwood
And the Best Supporting Drama Actor of the 2000s is:
William Sanderson from Deadwood. The personification of delusions of status.
Best Lead Drama Actor of the 2000s:
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Edie Falco - The Sopranos
James Gandolfini - The Sopranos
Jon Hamm - Mad Men
Mary McDonnell - Battlestar Galactica
Ian McShane - Deadwood
And the Best Lead Drama Actor of the 2000s is:
Ian McShane from Deadwood. I go back and forth on McShane and Gandolfini. It's gonna take another rewatch of The Sopranos and Deadwood to really know. Poor me.
I considered doing a Best Ensemble category as well, but they're basically the same as my top six dramas and comedies from my Best Television list. So, what do you think? Is it a crime that I left Michael K. Williams off? Or that I picked Lisa Kudrow over everyone else? Let 'er rip.
Click here for the full post
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
For all the ballyhoo about the new Oscar ratings tactic, this may be the year with the most great films nominated. Of course, like all of our recent records—Super Bowl XLIV and Avatar—I haven’t adjusted for inflation, in this case, the doubling of the lineup. Oscar added five whole slots to the Best Picture race presumably to lift ratings but definitely to spread the love. So how’d they do?
Since popular opinion has never failed me, then I'll buy that Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Up in the Air would have been nominated ceteris paribus. (Man, college jargon is really coming in handy lately, first with Oceanography 201 and now microeconomics.)
That leaves The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, A Serious Man, and Up.
As a ratings ploy, I think any spike can be traced to the popularity of four films: Avatar, which would have been nominated anyway and will probably singlehandedly revive Oscar ratings, District 9 and Inglourious Basterds, which every self-respecting fanboy has been hawking for months, and Up, a film that is notably for the whole family. Now that I think about it, The Blind Side may draw its fair share of new eyes, too, scoring what I believe is referred to as boffo coin at the box office.
But more importantly, the five alternates to Best Picture are interesting choices.
The Blind Side, which again contains almost nothing artistically redeeming but which features Sandra Bullock as an ultra-entertaining ball-bustin’ belle, is the cost of admission. I’m willing to allow something like that—and really, it’s harmless—in order to bring in something like A Serious Man.
District 9 squanders much of its potential, but remains an incredibly surprising choice for the Oscars. Sci-fi is notoriously overlooked, although the nominations indicate the Academy is trending (slightly) younger and (slightly) adventurous of late, so hopefully Avatar and District 9 are just the beginning of a certain type of genre flick scoring gold. Whatever its artistic problems, it’s hard to have a problem with something like District 9 filling one of the placeholder slots.
An Education is also seriously flawed—it’s a relatively shallow approach to questions beyond its grasp—but I’m heartened by the attention to this mostly well-made indie. Like District 9’s Sharlto Copley, Carey Mulligan delivers one of the best lead performances of the year, and she’s supported by wonderful turns from Rosamund Pike and Alfred Molina. Meanwhile, it has a refined sense of taste, from opening song “On the Rebound” played by Floyd Cramer to an onscreen preoccupation with the Pre-Raphaelites.
Which brings us to the best American film of the year, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, the most exciting Best Picture nomination since Mulholland Dr., and the most ambiguous too. In a five-picture race, no way does such an elusive arthouse marvel get nominated, not over such faux deep gems as Precious and Up in the Air. But with ten, the Academy found enough support for America’s most consistently excellent contemporary directors to squeeze in this challenge with no stars, probably because they liked the Jefferson Airplane.
Finally, the best picture whose title begins with the word “Up.” Considering the snubs of The Dark Knight and WALL-E were the impetus for expanding the lineup, the experiment would have been a failure without the latest Pixar. Up's artistic excellence is beside the point, really, but it's nevertheless a consistently adventurous and entertaining triumph. Up is a worthier choice than any of the “real” Best Picture nominees.
Regardless, thanks to the inevitable Avatar ratings surge, we’ll probably have ten nominees next year, too. For now, I call it a success. You?
Click here for the full post
Monday, February 8, 2010
Januarys are typically time to catch up with the previous year’s overlooked or just arriving hits, which usually means Oscar films and international indies finally popping up in these parts. But somehow, cutting through all that awards circuit noise, the best movie I saw last month was from a ‘70s DVD set from Criterion, Chantal Akerman’s Hotel Monterey.
Challengers for the prestigious title include two 2009 triumphs, Wes Anderson’s marvelous return to childhood Fantastic Mr. Fox and Ramin Bahrani’s intimate examination of political sociology Goodbye Solo. I found Lisandro Alonso’s chilly, withholding you-can’t-go-home-again drama Liverpool spellbinding and breathtaking, and not just for its rich cinematography, and I’ve already droned plenty about Eric Rohmer’s 2004 anti-spy film Triple Agent. The final standout was Alain Resnais’ 1950 short Guernica, a collage of the Picasso masterpiece, a Paul Eluard poem, explosions, and a foreboding, enchanting score by Guy Bernard. But the best movie I saw last month is Hotel Monterey.
Just over an hour, Hotel Monterey is an intoxicating formalist experiment. Akerman shoots footage throughout a hotel from evening until dawn, usually an extended, static shot, but occasionally she’ll bungee down a hallway and back. With no sound, not even a score, the film is essentially a tour of an often eerily deserted building, starting at its inviting lobby bar where patrons stroll past the camera working up to a room that seems empty until the disturbing surprise of its guest and building to the roof where we breathe deep the morning air and luxuriate in the surroundings of familiar civilization. It’s the oldest haunted house story in the book, and we survived until morning.
Hotel Monterey isn’t exactly as frightening as all that, but after minutes at a time staring down a long, dilapidated corridor or holding on a floor whose doors ever so subtly rattle in reaction to the air conditioning, you can’t help but get the creeps. I mentally supplied the drone of the air, the hum of the lights, the creak of the floors. Meanwhile, the occupants are sometimes ignorant of the camera, as in an elevator scene with the biggest scare—we’re in the dark inside as the doors close on a woman racing to make it in time, and suddenly an arm reaches across our view from the left and is just as quickly supplemented by a neighbor on the right—and sometimes they gaze at the camera with the stillness of a living portrait, usually the guests in their rooms.
For a gimmicky concept, no narrative per se, and only unspoken text, Hotel Monterey is a shockingly excellent film and quite an exciting adventure. As with Akerman’s most famous work, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Hotel Monterey encourages us to just sit and think as we absorb her stimuli, and as soon as I saw the room design I couldn’t shake the sinister Lynch vibe. I have a feeling Hotel Monterey will strike me as more innocuous in the future, but my first tour made for a haunting portrait.
Click here for the full post
Sunday, February 7, 2010
If I’m not mistaken, and I sincerely doubt I am because the universe is still here, we just had our first full week of television since the newfangled midseason finale onslaught of December ’09. That was around the time Avatar was in theaters and we Americans had a black president, if you can believe it (this joke brought to you in homage to The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, may it rest in peace). So how are our favorites faring?
It’s sweeps, which I believe is how Orson Welles made his name when ratings for War of the Worlds skyrocketed with a surprise relative—the stunt-cast Rita Hayworth—and two twists they never saw coming. Yes, it’s hard to believe sweeps still exists, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from devouring arts and entertainment over the past few years it’s that the commercial side of the art world is only slightly more open to change than Strom Thurmond.
I’m behind on Friday Night Lights, Chuck, Dollhouse, Caprica, and The Sarah Silverman Program, as well as the new series Archer, and as much as Spartacus looks like the best 52 minutes I’ll spend outside of the American remake of Les Cousins Dangereux, well, it seems they’ve taken the lowbrow appeal of 300, namely swords and six-packs, and somehow made it lowerbrow with the addition of a prosthetic penis and even more gore. Also, the phrase “the best 52 minutes” should be nowhere near it.
So, let’s begin with Mondays. The Big Bang Theory has plateaued (or abyssal plained—I really need to incorporate more geological humor) into the sometimes funny, always annoying show it spent the fall becoming. It would help if the writers wrote Sheldon as credibly intelligent; why would he need to visually model carbon in order to understand electrons passing through a graphene sheet? As for How I Met Your Mother—prepare for blasphemy—I’m getting bored of Barney Stinson, so, thanks, writers, for rolling back that character development. Also, it’s a bit cruel to make Robin participate not once but twice in Barney’s disgusting sexual agenda. Finally, I miss Rachel Bilson, and they missed the opportunity to put Princess Sparkle in her apartment. But most importantly, writers, stop making Seinfeld about Kramer.
And NBC execs aren’t the only dummies. ABC aired reruns of Better Off Ted and Scrubs periodically over the past few weeks, and now both shows have ended their televised seasons and probably runs with episodes left in the can! How hard is it to count the weeks and figure out how often you need to double up? But at least it’s for a good cause, the return of Lost. I’m mildly surprised nobody cared that Lost wasn’t among my best shows of the decade, but there’s one thing Lost does very well: large strokes, the general story arc of the series. When it comes to actually realizing that story, well, the dialogue and basic characterizations are a bit implausible, to say the least, but I’m having fun. On the other hand, they made a series about Jack and Kate when they could have made one about Desmond and Daniel and Ben. Which is like if F. Scott took Gatsby out of his story for chapters at a time. Or if Nick Carraway had overwhelmingly boring issues, and ones that required zero personal growth. Any thoughts on how this season concludes? Does one timeline “win,” do the timelines merely serve as foils for each other, will there be further universe fractures, will it all come to a head with a reverse time anomaly that Captain Picard brilliants out of existence?
Cougar Town has become one reliable half-hour, and I’m unspeakably happy that Busy Philipps has a weekly showcase. I often find Cougar Town funnier than Modern Family, which brings us to the subject of heart. Bill Lawrence, I’ve said before, has a knack for sentiment in just the right amounts. Two refreshing twists on “I love you” came from Lawrence shows this month: Denise telling Number One (I honestly forgot his name), “I love you. Now don’t talk to me for a few days,” and Jules telling her ex-husband, “I love you. But not like that.” Meanwhile on Modern Family, the closing monologue is excruciatingly cringeworthy every time! The showrunners claim to be trying to moderate it, but even in the latest episode, it said in voice-over what the visuals and dialogue were showing much more subtly and movingly.
My Community dilemma is that I enjoy it more and more, but then Parks and Recreation airs and towers over it. So I assume Community is pretty good, and that incest round table was strong support, but it just doesn’t stack up to Parks, which is not only hysterical but can spend a half hour on Tom being a tool and still make our hearts wrench as he watches Wendy walk away. I don’t want to go into The Office; suffice it to say my problems with it remain. Moving on, if you don’t think Jan Hooks’ celebritrash mom was hilarious, topical, and absurdist, I’m not sure you ever really got 30 Rock. Honestly, though, it’s a wonder this show ever got as much admiration as it did considering its aversion to people-pleasing. It sounds odd being no stranger to toilet humor and slapstick, but it’s increasingly clear that 30 Rock is as highbrow as network comedy gets.
Oh, and Project Runway has course-corrected like nobody’s business. Nina and Michael are able to be more present now that the show’s back in New York, and more importantly, they seem to be working to deliver targeted fashion criticism this year, observing specific, fixable drawbacks and well-executed elements of balanced design for the Runwayers. I still contend that the critical process could use a bit more, you know, critical thinking, but Project Runway has become a meritocratic competition show that has almost no interest in the dramatic lives of its contestants.
The Jay Leno Show concludes this week, and while I won't be watching, I hope Leno keeps trying to make his situation sympathetic. In the words of the late, great Livia Soprano, poor you.
Important Things with Demetri Martin is back, and the premiere was another solid outing, but again, I'm looking forward to The Sarah Silverman Program even more.
So how are you enjoying your Glee vacation? Did anyone check out Life Unexpected or the other generally well-received new series?
Click here for the full post
Friday, February 5, 2010
As a world-renowned expert in the field of musica, I’m often asked, Chancellor, what is the best Kinks album? They ask me this because while opinion is subjective, mine are actually fact, my every decision churning out truth, reality constantly assembling in my wake. So it is with very little brainpower that I know the answer: Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One.
Plenty of people turn off to the sounds of successful artists complaining about making money and living a party lifestyle by doing something they love. The proletariat can be so predictable. But me, I quite enjoy the bourgeois lifestyle; I cannot abide denim. (No comment on “Get Back in the Line,” a beautiful, thematically interwoven working class lament.) So what amounts to an album about the tribulations of being a rock star is, to these refined, classically trained and well-groomed ears, somewhat less annoying than you’d expect.
And let’s be clear: “The Moneygoround” makes quite the case for the legitimacy of the Kinks’ complaints. “Let’s all sit and watch the moneygoround/everyone take a little bit here and a little bit there/ Do they all deserve money from a song that they’ve never heard?” Well, to quote a dear friend and one-time lover, deserve’s got nothing to do with it. The music industry and indeed the commercialization of art is predicated on a series of bottom line-obsessed middlemen. Thank god for that!
But it ain’t all bad for the Kinks. Even the publishers on “Denmark Street,” with their grooming concerns and debilitating insecurity, ultimately sign our heroes. “Top of the Pops” says it best: “Life is so easy when your record’s hot.” Meanwhile, “Lola” might sound like a frustration song, but it’s about as joyous as the album gets—“When I looked in her eyes, well, I almost fell for her”—and even after the turn, hey, new experiences and all that. In fact, while the album as a whole projects a moody anxiety, several individual tracks are punctuated with energetic drums and guitars, each personally suited to the song, from the banjo-strummin' on “Introduction” to the carnival jingle "The Moneygoround" to the Caribbean sounds of “Apeman,” which, it turns out, is not in fact a Darwinian outburst of racism.
Still, the standouts are unquestionably the anxiety songs. “Strangers” is the group at their most poetic: “If I live too long, I’m afraid I’ll die/Strangers on this road we are on/We are not two, we are one.” It’s a sublime quest for comfort that won’t come; the big questions don’t have easy answers, which is why the Germans invented Weltschmerz. Unfortunately, it also marks Dave Davies’ dive into penniless communism, promoting a vagabond existence and, literally, the joining of two fleshes that I can only assume are of the same sex (and presumably, the same family, Davies addressing his brother), which is, you understand, an abomination.
Which brings us to the centerpiece, the brilliant “This Time Tomorrow.” Ostensibly about the daylessness of touring, the piece is a rich metaphor for coming of age. Where will we be, what will we know, will still be in our same position when we catch up with tomorrow? Despite what amounts to a series of worried questions, the song is largely an inviting, bouncy number, thankfully keeping the album thumping.
The denouement launches from melancholy to outright rage, beginning with the piece-by-piece takedown “A Long Way from Home,” heightening with the harder and self-explanatory “Rats,” and culminating in “Powerman,” a rocking, era-appropriate cri de coeur. You can just see the Kinks lying on a grassy hill with some granola waifs, smoking some Jane and pontificating on the root cause of evil: “It’s power, man!” Spoken like a true rock star.
I don’t mean to send mixed messages; it’s just that Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One seems to think power and money ain’t all that, and, well, from where I sit (a gold leafed toilet atop a statue of myself slaying a dragon), forgive me for not buying into their hippiedom. Or, as the Kinks so eloquently put it in “This Time Tomorrow,” “The world below doesn’t matter much to me.” Is there in truth no beauty?
Click here for the full post
File this story under Things You Never Thought You'd Hear: I officially write for a newspaper--but wait, there's more--that, just last week, featured the multifariously sophomoric headline, "Obama Year One: Fail." I was this close to donning a black wig and squawking, "That's a dealbreaker, ladies!" but then I'm not the first to write for a seditious rag, and hey, I'm no sunshine patriot.
Yes, I am now a nominally professional film critic, brimming with ideas for the Maroon Weekly, a weekly social/entertainment newspaper in, you may have guessed, Bryan/College Station. And to be fair, the latest issue opened with an indictment of the American public for reacting to torture with apathy, culminating in the cry, "We should be ashamed of ourselves." We may not be fair, but we're collectively balanced. And kind of judgmental.
So you may have read my Crazy Heart review already, but you haven't seen it formatted like this! (Link to come. There's been some confusion about when my articles will begin, but I have confirmation my byline will appear in print next Thursday. But I'm clearly not waiting that long to post this.)
Is this where I write --30--?
Click here for the full post
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
For a year they tried to shake things up, the Oscar nominations are awfully predictable. It doesn't take an awards guru to know who's going to win the acting races, and their fellow nominees have been mostly in the cards for weeks. What surprises there were come from awards bait everyone expected to be overlooked, not exactly a positive sign. Still, I know I've mellowed toward Oscar of late, but to my eyes, the 2010 nominations ain't so bad.
Best Supporting Actress:
Penelope Cruz - Nine
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious
While Farmiga dances circles around the rest of the talented cast of Up in the Air and Mo'Nique practically breathes fire in Precious, it's a shame the nominations come from less-than-great films. No room for Inglourious Basterds' stunning duo of Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger? The overlooked also include Nicole Dogue in Claire Denis' tender masterpiece 35 Shots of Rum, Sari Lennick as the passive-aggressive wife in A Serious Man, Rosamund Pike's mod ditz turn from An Education, and any of the women from the year's best ensemble, In the Loop, particularly Mimi Kennedy as the film's only patriot. No matter; Mo'Nique has this one sewn up.
Best Supporting Actor:
Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
After Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger and now, presumably, frontrunner Christoph Waltz, this category is becoming action villain gold. Like Mo'Nique, Waltz has won a majority of precursor awards, including the SAG award and the Golden Globe, so there's no contest here. That said, again I offer the snubbed cast of In the Loop, this time the venomous Peter Capaldi or bumbling Tom Hollander, or the scene-stealing Fred Melamed of A Serious Man, or the moving Red West from Goodbye Solo.
Best Lead Actress:
Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Meryl Streep - Julie and Julia
This is a race between Streep and Bullock, and I suspect it's finally Bullock's time to shine, with her ostensibly feel-good drama spotlighting her impenetrable likability. If the character had any negative qualities, I'd feel better about her Mary Sue's inevitable Oscar, but such is life. I'm especially pleased to see Mulligan score a nod, delivering one of the decade's best young performances as a bright girl led astray by socialite layabouts in early '60s London. Unfortunately, Abbie Cornish's work in Bright Star as textile artist and John Keats' muse Fanny Brawne goes unnoticed by Oscar, as does perhaps the year's most fearless performance of any sex, Charlotte Gainsbourg in Lars von Trier's ridiculous grand guignol Antichrist.
Best Lead Actor:
Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
Unsurprisingly middlebrow, here we have another lineup of fine performances in fine films, and it bothers nobody that Jeff Bridges is going to finally win Best Actor, even over Colin Firth's best reviews yet and Jeremy Renner's out-of-nowhere tour de force. Still, 2009 saw three better performances by three very serious men: Michael Stuhlbarg, the titular Serious Man, Viggo Mortensen, taciturn to a fault in The Road, and Nicolas Cage--yes, seriously--in Werner Herzog's pulpy excoriation of governmental abuse of power, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. And in the international world, let's not forget Alex Descas' weary work in 35 Shots of Rum or Tahar Rahim's magnetic Arab prison kingpin in the French juggernaut A Prophet.
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
James Cameron - Avatar
Lee Daniels - Precious
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
No surprises here, either, which means, for those counting, the year the Academy tries to shake things up with ten Best Picture slots correlates with a conservatism in the other races. I'd give the award to Tarantino, and it sticks in my craw that Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman are now Oscar-nominated directors (twice in Reitman's case), but this comes down to Cameron and Bigelow, big-budget epic versus intimate psychodrama (albeit with more than its fair share of riveting action). Having just won the Directors Guild Award, I'm not only cheering for Bigelow; I'm predicting her. Here are six other great directors from 2009: Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox), the Coen Brothers (A Serious Man), Claire Denis (35 Shots of Rum), Pete Docter (Up), Werner Herzog (The Bad Lieutenant), and Jim Jarmusch (The Limits of Control).
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
The wider the net, the more diverse. Quality ranges from the smart and moving (Up) to the shallow and common (The Blind Side), from the cribbingly inventive (Inglourious Basterds) to the disappointingly derivative (District 9). Still, there are a few shockingly good films in the mix, including the ambiguity-loving A Serious Man and Up, scoring a long overdue Best Picture nomination for Pixar. My best guess as to the eventual victor is The Hurt Locker, presumably riding a wave of minor Avatar backlash and a late low-key surge for the Iraq indie to Oscar triumph. Shameful snubs include the wildly acclaimed Fantastic Mr. Fox, the harrowing, elevating The Road, the masterful portrait of paternal repression The White Ribbon, and the postmodern deconstruction The Limits of Control.
In the other fields, I'm happy to see In the Loop nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and I think it actually has a shot. Best Original Screenplay comes down to Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man, and Up, any of which would be deserving. The White Ribbon is happily up for Best Cinematography as well as Best Foreign-Language Film as the arguable frontrunner. I'm rooting for Michael Giacchino's score for Up, and for Best Original Song, I'm torn between "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart and the two nominations from The Princess and the Frog, "Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans."
What do you think?
Click here for the full post