Sunday, January 29, 2006

Movies of the Week

Return to habit, I hope.... Some good ones showing around town this week.

Bubble - *** - most of the buzz about this film is related to its distribution: released into theaters, the internet, and DVD all at the same time. It's an interesting experiment, though this film is not likely to prove much about it. Bubble is a small art film, following three characters who work at a doll factory on the West Virginia/Ohio border, until something happens... It's fiction, but it's barely fiction - it's shot where it's set; the actors are all local residents, playing characters not far from who they are - there's a policeman in the story, played by the local police detective, say. It's slow, attentive to the world it's set in, and when a Plot appears, it comes matter of factly and is resolved matter of factly... It's not going to make a lot of money, however it is distributed - but it is an excellent film. It's ambitious, for all its minimalism - it was shot on DV, but looks magnificent - and might sound better than it looks. There are sequences, for instance at one of the factories where the characters work, where Soderburgh uses ambient sound, tied tot he visuals - every cut is a cut in the sound, the room sound - it gives weight and specificity to the world, the world of work. It is a bit reminiscent of films like Bruno Dumont's L'Humanite, with it's amateur actors, its working class milieu, its emphasis on places - or recent American indie films like The Talent Given Us, or Andrew Bujalski's films. It's been interesting looking at the reviews - Roger Ebert gushes, but other writers (say, Andrew O'Hehir, in Salon) resist, and whine about the miserablism of the film, worry about it's condescension to the poor and beaten down. But how is this film more condescending than Wagner or Bujalski? Sure, the plot, when it gets going, is generic and feels forced - as does some of the symbolism (the doll factory, notably.) But the rest - having people play characters very close to themselves, though not necessarily themselves - in a story - but in a way that looks and feels almost like a documentary - isn't all that different from those urban hipster films. I will say - I think the plot sort of warps the film away from what it might have been. It makes it a genre film, and a less common or believable genre film than if it had turned into a romantic comedy. But that's about the only thing I can find to complain about.

L'Intrus - **** - Claire Denis film that appears to be a masterpiece. Michel Subor lives on the France/Switzerland border with his dogs and guns and an Asian girlfriend. He has a bad heart though, and an estranged son, and he sets out to buy a new heart, and after that, to find another (?) son he left behind in the South Seas. There - he suffers a setback with his health, which seems to have dire consequences. I am not sure, in fact, one can piece together a literal, logical story - one can, however, piece together a very strong, and very logical emotional story. It works on a kind of dream logic - using substitution of characters, situations, images to move the narrative forward - a strategy made more confusing, perhaps (though also more moving) by the style - elliptical, dialogue, driven by images of nature - mountains and trees and the southern oceans.... There is imagery of intrusion throughout - the heart plot (the idea of the transplanted heart as an intruder in Subor's body), Subor's own trek to Tahiti, where he is an intruder; smugglers crossing the border; people breaking into other people's houses, interfering in their lives; the mix of nationalities - French, Swiss, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Tahitian, etc.... Plus imagery of man in nature (and sometimes nature in man's world), and things like burials, swimming, boats in water, lovemaking, all given a decided sense of penetration. It adds up, in the end, to a complete aesthetic experience - where narrative causality is replaced by analogical causality - a flow of related imagery, that carries the story forward.... I have to apologize for the coolness of these remarks, they do no justice to the power of this film. It is, I suppose, a cold film, one that keeps a distance from its characters, freezing them (and us) out - but it is an overwhelming film, strange and haunting.

The New World - ** - So last week, I took some shots at old Terrence - but this week... well, sooner or later I'd have to see it.... The results? It actually started out very well. It comes off like low rent, rather syrupy Werner Herzog - man in nature and meaning it no good, with Wagner on the soundtrack, but prettier and less severe than Herzog. But intriguing. And, again at the beginning, Malick even gets the story told, efficiently, with an effective balance between story and the visuals, the new world, the magnificence of nature and all. Then, John Smith heads up the Chickahominy and is captured by the Indians and Pocahontas saves his life - well. Here, it seems, imagination fails - and all Malick can come up with is a montage of Happy Days Among the Savages, soon further marred by the intrusion of voiceovers, the absolute bane of a Terrence Malick film. And it never quite recovers - it sometimes seems to come into focus for a moment or two, like when Smith returns to the English and sorts things out, or some of the fighting scenes - but mostly, from this point on, it is one long montage sequence, more or less watchable, though with plenty of voiceover. What's probably worst about it is that it is, in the end, pure schlock - doomed love, then the Husband, a kinder, less mythic man... It's not without its heavy handed symbolism, the contrasts between white men and Indians, the way they move, dress, act, and the contrasts between the wild, beautiful untamed world of Virginia, and the grubby words of English cities and the rigid, manicured lawns of the old English manor houses. All of it whacking you in the head.... what can you do?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Semi-Annual Celtics Post

Well, now, exciting times at the TD Banknorth Garden! C's make a trade - Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marcus Banks and Justin Reed (sort of tossed in, to make the meny work, I guess) - for Wally Serbiak* and Michael Olowokandi.... Had an interesting immediate effect - nice game out of Wally, but more than that - for some reason, the boys decided to play some defense tonight! Plenty of hacking and the usual turnover problems, but they shut down the Kings, dominated the boards - where did that come from? Better question - can they do it again? They've won 4 of 6, I think it is, which is pretty stellar work, by this year's standards - and have occasionally loked competent out there. Obviously, a big part of it is the commitment to play Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson - they need the experience, but even now, both bring energy and some bulk to the game, which they weren't getting from Mark Blount....

Tonight's game looked like the reverse of all the bad things I growled about in my previous Celtics post. They played defense - they are playing the kids - and they tightened it up and played better in the 4th quarter than they had all game. They still turned the ball over a bunch - but not down the stretch (a direct contrast to the Wizards game they lost a couple days ago.) Is Doc Rivers doing something right? I should probably amend some of the ranting I did by noting that the flaws he seems to have - managing the clock, dealing with the end of the game - can be neutralized by putting veteran, savvy players on the floor. Serbiak seems more controlled than Davis - and the kids get better the more they are put in that position. So - they should start dealing with the ends of games better. I hope.

God knows if they play defense like they did tonight, they will start to win a few games here and there. I admit that I didn't like the sound of this trade when they made it - Davis for Serbiak seems to be getting older and less athletic, while trading one gunner for another - but I might be wrong there. They looked good tonight - and Serbiak is a different kind of gunner, more of a shooter than Davis - which (as the whole broadcast crew and Danny Ainge kept repeating all night) spreads the floor, opens up opportunities down low for Al and Perk - so - this might work out....

Meanwhile, in more important sports news, I see the Red Sox managed to pull off their Coco Crisp trade. Adding David Riske, too - a good middle reliever... They've picked up Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez and Riske, kept Timlin, and should get Foulke healthy again - that adds up to a major upgrade of their pitching staff. They've done it without giving away any of the top 4 pitching prospects (Papelbon, Hanson, Delcarmen and Lester), 2 or 3 of whom should be ready to fit into the mix at Fenway this year. There's been angst about Johnny Damon, but this - upgrading the pitching, across the board - is far more important than what's happened on the offense. Manny and Ortiz will do their thing - they still have a bunch of potent hitters - and now they have Crisp, who looks like a pretty legitimate player, and hsould stay useful for a few years. I think they've had a very nice off season.

* Update: one reason this may be the last Celtics post for a while is that "Serbiak" is spelled in fact, "Szczerbiak". That's too many consonants in close proximity to have any hope of getting right....

Friday Randomesque Music

After stumbling across this rather ancient post about iTunes organization, I made some changes - set up a randomizing smart playlist, set to play stuff that hasn't played in a month. That's where this is from. I don't know how much different it is that a regular shuffle, but we'll see. I'm also returning to my Friday Commute format instead of the strict, random ten:

1. Thelonius Monk - Who Knows
2. Better than Ezra - At the Stars
3. Yo La Tengo - Serpentine
4. Dylan - Obviously 5 Believers
5. Big Country - The Teacher
6. X - Blue Spark
7. Xiu Xiu - Mousey Toy
8. At The Drive In - Mannequin Republic
9. Devendra Banhart - The Charles C. Leary
10. Yo La Tengo - whole of the Law
11. 13th Floor Elevators - You Don't Know (How Young You are)
12. B-52s - Dance This Mess Around [where did this come from? it's been more than a month since it's come up? well, no complaints.... anyway - can you imagine how hard it is to hear this on a crowded train? you gotta move, sing along, do something...]
13. Ramones - I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You (live) [... and then the Ramones? lord lord, a fine end to the day's commute.]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Recent films

I haven't seen an awful lot of new movies this month - the ones I've seen have tended to be repeat viewings, at that. I have been trying to write a kind of group review of some of them, since a lot of them seem to share a theme (political violence, in fact.), but it's been hard going. So - back to the short capsules, and if I get the inspiration, maybe I'll get something better out. For now though - I guess it's time to bit the bullet.

Cache - ***1/2 - every Michael Haneke film I've seen, I've felt the same - before I see it, I don't really want to. They sound like the worst kind of Euro-art films, Serious and Deep, and worse, hectoring, mean and shocking, but always in a nasty, puritanical way. But then I see them - and every one of them turns out to be, sure, Serious, Deep, and hectoring and mean, and shocking in a nasty way - but also brilliant, genuinely disturbing, and often, very moving. This is no exception. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche are tortured by anonymous videotapes - he knows more than he lets on.... Issues of racism, surveillance, the personal and the political, chance and intention, the culture industry appear - the story itself proves to be something of a slow motion version of Oldboy, or maybe even Cut (from Three Extremes) - an examination of guilty consciences and the unexpected results of casual, careless cruelty, and just a hint of Duck Amuck...

Good Morning, Night *** - Marco Bellocio's film about the Red Brigade's kidnapping of Aldo Moro 1978. Told from the point of view of the kidnappers, especially a young woman who is their main link to the outside world (she keeps going to her job every day).... Bellochio reimagines the events, adding this woman, and a young screenwriter who tries, rather like Mohsen Makhmalbaf in A Moment of Innocence, to undo the past... It begins fairly straightforward, but grows darker and stranger as it goes - dreams, memories, history and imagination collide with reality, reality and surreality collide and intermingle, as Pink Floyd plays. You'd think it was Zabriskie Point!

Regular Lovers - **** - Philippe Garrel's new film about the aftermath of the 1968 riots in Paris. Garrel starts with the riots - shown as dreamscapes, bunches of kids crouching behind tipped over cars, police aiming mortars, long tracks and pans past the smoking and burning rubble, then everything sort of flashing into action... He cuts from this to the aftermath - the same kids, now mostly hanging around the house of the rich kid they know. He buys them drugs (though they run the risks of getting arrested), subjects them to cynical lectures, and lets them do what they do. There's a numbness in it all, relieved by the love story that develops between the main character (a poet) and the sculptress he falls in love with. Starring Louis Garrel, Philippe's son, who played a very similar role in Bertolucci's The Dreamers (Garrel makes jokes about Bretolucci here). Louis Garrel was by far the best thing about the Bertolucci film, and impresses here - and his father's film is infinitely better than The Dreamers. A beautiful, sad reverie on the past...

The Passenger - **** - When this Antonioni rerelease first came out, I was not sure what to make of it. Seeing it again clarifies things - it is a genuinely outstanding film. It is interesting how the plot works - there is a plot, plenty of plot, with gun-runners and political revolutionaries, and Nicholson's wife and boss trying to track him down across Europe (without knowing they're looking for him). What makes it interesting is how the plot goes on as it does, and Jack Nicholson remains an empty cipher in the foreground. He empties himself of everything - personality, motivation - he follows the plot as laid out in Robertson's notebooks, without caring, even though the story has changed....

The Matador - * - what the hell possessed me to see this? It's not really that bad - Pierce Brosnan plays an aging hit man who runs into Greg Kinnear in Mexico City and they have some good times together; later some plot intervenes. Brosnan is fine, Kinnear isn't bad - but the film itself is a mess. It feels like an outline - no one ever finished the story, so they just filled up the time with lots of jokes and conversation. Amusing in places, but a mess.

The Wild Blue Yonder - *** - Werner Herzog makes a science fiction film from found footage of a space shuttle and exploration beneath the Antarctic ice cap. Gorgeous and strange, with the plot (narrated by Brad Dourif in the person of an alien from beyond the Andromeda galaxy) being used to justify the string of images... and to underscore some of the strangeness of the everyday objects shown in the film. Very odd, but quite lovely.

Mrs. Henderson Presents - * - The problem is this - I have to see something - Transamerica looks okay, but not that good, and was drawing mobs, and I was running a bit late... the other new films out are Match Point and The New World - and frankly, Woody Allen and Terrence Malick are directors I can live very happily without. So I'm casting about for things to see, and though I'd probably have been happier seeing Cache or The Squid and the Whale yet again, this is where I ended up. What do we got? Dame Judi Dench as an old widow who buys a theater to keep busy - Bob Hoskins as a theatrical producer - and a bunch of girls with model perfect tits who look no more like 1940s strippers than I do. All in all it's amusing enough, if hokey, and the odds are it's a more serious and intelligent piece of work than Pocahantas II or I Wish I Could Adopt Scarlett Johanson, so I'm not going to complain too much...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Return of Friday Random Ten

Been a while, but herek, once more, the Friday Random Ten, for your consideration.

1. Elvis Costello - Party Girl (live)
2. Slant 6 - Are You Human? - From the dischord collection. This seems to come up a lot. Nice song, actualy - got something of a Sonic Youth vibe going. I hear it, and think, I ought to look this band up, though I haven['t done it yet.
3. New Pornographers - Jackie
4. Donovan - Mellow Yello
5. Matthew Sweet - Your Sweet Voice
6. Xiu Xiu - King Earth, King Earth - they come up a lot too, for some reason. This is pretty good - they require a bit more attention than the iPod allows, I think. I might like them more if I actually listened to their CDs.
7. Grateful Dead - Nobody's Spoonful Jam - actually, I saw this was 10 minutes long and hit the next arrow. How's that for brutal honesty?
8. Brian Eno - The True Wheel - this is a really great song. I think Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy might be one of the catchiest records ever made, strange as that might seem.
9. Charlie Parker - Klact-oveeseds-tene - jazz doesn't translate all that well to the iPod - the sounds don't cut throught he background noise enough, or something - but Bird is magnificent, after all.
10. John Lennon - Imagine (live, acoustic) - a really good version fo the song - the spare arrangement seems to me to cut off the sense of mewling hippiness it has in the official version. It's direct and sensible, heard this way.
11. Bonus, Antui-Grateful Dead track! The Minutemen - Cohesion - D.Boon's acoustic guitar piece, a minute or so long, and like most Minutement songs, packing more information into the minute, 90 seconds than the fucking Dead managed in any given year. I know, I shouln't pick on the Dead - they made a couple good songs in there (and indeed, their early 70s records at last are quite admirable in their restraint and focus. But hey - they aren't the Minutemen, one of the all time great bands.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Is There a Memo?

(Of course there is.) What is it with all the right wing pundits turning into movie critics? Here's one - the Virgin Ben Shapiro - making a speech about the Oscars. He's always watched em, he says, but not this year! Oh! the awful liberals have taken over Hollywood! "In recent years," Mr. Shapiro laments, "lack of quality from Hollywood has turned the Academy Awards into a special-interest-group get-together. If you're crazy, gay, have a disability or are a member of a minority race, you'll likely be nominated for an Oscar; if your film tackles a "deep social issue" (normally an issue dear to the hearts of Hollywood's liberal glitterati), you'll have an excellent shot at grabbing a gold statuette."

I'm sure this is a recent phenomenon. Before 1994 (the year 0 of this liberal revolution, apparently, having something to do with Tom Hanks in Philadelphia), the Academy Awards went to - what? well - usually - to big, important pictures about Socially Significant Events - Dances With Wolves! The Last Emperor! Gandhi! or more modestly, all those oh so serious problem pictures like Kramer vs. Kramer and Ordinary People. The Oscars are industry awards - the industry always tries to present itself in the best light, rewarding social commentary, "historical" seriousness and the like. When was it not thus? What is different now? Shapiro singles out Hilary Swank's best actress award for Boys Don't Cry and Charlize Theron's in Monster for their political correctness - but are those wins all that different than Dustin Hoffman winning in Rain Man? Good bad or indifferent, they are gimmick roles - the academy has never shied from rewarding those kinds of showy performances - how are Swank and Theron different?

I suppose it is true that Hollywood these days is more willing to put gay or lesbian characters in leading roles, drawing the story-telling attention that used to go to cancer patients or divorcees. (It remains pretty much a given that to win an acting Oscar you have to suffer.) But doesn't this increased attention to homosexuality really mean that the country as a whole is more comfortable seeing gays and lesbians on screen, identifying with gays and lesbians in films? It's hard to see how Hollywood has moved anywhere on this - if they have moved to the left, it's because the country has moved to the left, increasingly accepting the idea that gays and lesbians are human beings like everybody else. Hollywood remains more or less in the mainstream of society on this - probably, in cold fact, rather behind television, where Will and Grace, Ellen DeGeneres, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and so on, seem to be thriving, and have been for a while now.

And - before going back to plain mockery of Mr. Shapiro, I suppose I should add that recent Academy Awards winners have reflected some industrial changes in film. It seems to me that over the past couple decades, the big Hollywood studies have more and more concentrated on their blockbusters, and shifted the burden of making prestige pictures (historical films, serious dramas, social problem films) to the mini-majors and indies. The shock of independent films winning Oscars has somewhat worn off. I think it is because of the division of labor - that the kinds of films that have usually won Academy Awards are being made by "independents" now, though usually in some kind of close collusion with Hollywood proper. Unfortunately for the right wing memo readers, this doesn't seem to have a lot of political implications - the same kind of films are winning Oscars now as won in the 70s or 80s - they aren't any more politically radical now than they were then, at least not compared to the country as a whole. It's a shift that's only really interesting in an industrial sense.

Anyway, back to our intrepid Townhall columnist: reading through Shapiro's screed, I was tempted to wonder if he was telling the truth about always watching the Oscars. It doesn't sound like it - it sounds like someone sent him a list of Oscar winners, and he went to IMDB to find out what they were about, and write something shocked and outraged about them. I suppose I should take him at his word about watching the Oscars - but there's no way on earth you are going to convince me he saw more than a quarter of the films he writes about. Take this:
2000 featured the victory of repulsive anti-suburbia and pro-homosexuality hit piece "American Beauty." Of course, it beat out a film lionizing an abortionist ("The Cider House Rules") and another attacking the tobacco industry ("The Insider"). Most disturbingly, the Academy handed Hilary Swank a Best Actress Oscar for playing a transgendered biological girl murdered by a bunch of hicks.
Anyone want to bet whether he actually saw any of those films?

The rest of it is about the same. He's a clown. I admit, these recent right wing attacks on Hollywood have been interesting. They are nothing new - it's all Michael Medved has had going for him for 20 years - but they've taken an interesting turn lately. Look at the end of Shapiro's screed - some kind of snark about Brokeback Mountain not being a blockbuster is illustrated by pointing to the far better Box Office receipts for Hostel. The real comedy is this - guess which of those films our boy calls "stomach-churning"?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

No Nomi Dances Here

For some reason - an anniversary I guess? - they're writing about Showgirls all around the blogosphere. Girish helps to lead the way, posts a list of other blogs doing the same, links to Greencine's list...

Alas... this is an orgy I want no part of. I tried, you know, I really did - but the technology failed me - the DVD died an hour or so in. And I have not gone back, and don't expect to go back anytime soon. I am going to quote myself, since I said what I thought then as well as I ever will:

"The odd thing is, it's actually rather difficult to attack it. Film Quarterly, for example, ran a roundtable discussion of it a couple issues back - the contributors ran off the predictable litany of its virtues - it is camp, it is satire, it comments, fairly meaningfully, on gender, race, class, sex, performance, drag, genre, movies, Las Vegas, etc., it establishes visual motifs of the double, the mirror, the whole nine yards. All that is true - that stuff is all there. And it's probably supposed to be there - the style, feel, structure, good bad or indifferent - are pretty clearly intentional. So - why isn't it a neglected, misunderstood masterpiece? Well - partly because all of those things, whether they're in the film or not, are more interesting to talk about than to watch. They are in the film - usually in a bland, literal, calculated way - which it parodies, ironically."

I suppose I should add - when the film came out, it was pushed first as Sex Sex Sex! - then, when it was clear it was going to bomb, bomb, bomb, the marketing started to change, to Camp Camp Camp! At the time it seemed the drive to reposition the film as either So Bad It's Good, or, An Elaborate Joke was as deliberate (if a bit desperate) as the initial SEXSEXSEX marketing campaign. I know one shouldn't let marketing campaigns interfere with the actual experience of the film - but... All the parts are there - everything that would be there in an interesting film - but they're all there in a weird, flat, obvious way. When I watched it last year, I ended up comparing the film to Creed - a group that had all the elements of a rock band, the hair, the guitars, the clothes - but did it without any life at all.

[I should add: that's not fair. Creed is, without much doubt, the worst rock band ever; Showgirls is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the worst movie ever. Not even close.]

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Biannual Celtics Post

Yes, it's time for some sports blogging! The inspiration, this time, is Bill Simmons, over at ESPN. com - taking some shots at Doc Rivers. I quote:

It's the little things that makes the 2005-06 Celtics so frustrating to follow. Like Rip Hamilton getting a wide-open look with 0.8 seconds remaining to sink a buzzer-beater. Like nobody calling a timeout with six seconds to play in Golden State, trailing by two, leading to an out-of-control Pierce turnover to end the game. Like my buddy House calling me after attending the Wiz-Celtics game on Saturday night just to ask me, "Why didn't Doc go offense-defense with Delonte West and Marcus Banks down the stretch when Delonte had five fouls and you needed to foul?" ... followed by me answering, "Um, Doc doesn't understand the concept of offense-defense." Like the fact that the Celtics are so consistently atrocious at defending pick-and-rolls, opposing teams don't even bother running other plays anymore. Like a set offense revolving around uncoordinated big men (Blount, LaFrentz, Kendrick Perkins) perched on the high post and looking to find cutters near the basket. Like all of the botched two-for-one possessions at the end of quarters, or the predictable offense down the stretch that basically consists of "Post Paul up 20 feet from the basket and let him create." Like my Dad calling me just to say, "Yup, that was another Doc Rivers Special."
Oh yes. Simmons brings up last week's Atlanta game, the one the C's lost in Boston, switching to a zone in the 4th quarter, against a team that consists, if I'm not mistaken, of Zaza Pachulia, a 4 foot point guard, and 10 2 guards - who happen to lead the NBA in 3-point percentage. I do not know much of anything about basketball strategy, but I do know that the easiest way to beat a zone is to shoot over it - shoot 11-19 from 3-point land, for instance.

The Truth (not Paul Pierce - rather, the fact that Rivers is a dreadful coach) came to me a month or so ago, in the midst of the Celtics' Texas trip. They had managed to beat the Knicks for their first road win, then gotten hammered by Houston, then played a decent game against NO/OKC for a win - but had to finish up against San Antonio and Dallas. Steal one of those - a long shot obviously - and that's a darned good trip. Well - they went to San Antonio - got slapped around a bit early, but then started to get it together - and went into the locker room down 5, 6, something like that. Dare I dream? I thought to myself - this is a test here. We know that the Spurs will adjust in the second half, we know they will find and fix whatever they were doing wrong - this is a test, of whether the C's coaches can come up with anything to do against them. If they cancome out of the locker room strong - ....

Fool! They came out, missed a couple shots, the Spurs made a couple shots - and that was that. The Spurs ran 'em off the court... Game. So the next night - into Dallas - and the same thing happens - Big Al plays well - they hang around, they're down a bucket or two at the half. And you know Avery Johnson is going to figure out what went wrong, make adjustments, get onhis players, not to give this away at home - can Rivers do the same? Anticipate changes? keep them playing hard and smart? Or will the Mavs come out and blow them away?

What do you think? It took Dallas a couple minutes to put them away, unlike the Spurs who did it right from the buzzer - but it was over in short order.

That crap happens all the time, and variations - things that coaching is supposed to directly affect. Coming out of time outs - the C's are worse than on their own. They can't score coming off timeouts - they can't stop anyone - disasters like that Rip Hamilton shot, or the Jerry Stackhouse buzzer beater that beat them this Monday, are an absolute given. Sometimes they deserve better (the Wizards game last week ended on a bad call) - but they can't seem to win those games no matter what happens.

It is time for Rivers to go. It is time for someone to make a decision - either, "we are going to the playoffs - so find the 9 guys who can play and play them" - or "we are going to be a better than mediocre team next year, no matter what happens this year - so Jefferson and Perkins and Orien Green, get out there and figure it out, cause next year, we expect second round." The current little of this, little of that ain't going anywhere.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On Villainy

As he so often does, Lance Mannion has 2 recent posts up that deserve to be called brilliant. On evil, in politics and art, and the most interesting thing about Star Wars. His remains one of the absolute must-read blogs...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Tiger v Vista

The Apple bigot in me can't help linking to this post from Crooked Timber's Kieran Healy, with it's links to some clever video at It's usually a safe bet that anything new on the Mac will turn up on Windows in 3-5 years...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Category Lists

And, keeping the theme going: here are lists of the best film components - performances, scripts, etc. Just flat lists, I'm afraid. When I get to the also promised "Moments of 2005" post, I may go into more detail. I hope...

Best Actor:
1. Jeff Daniels - The Squid and the Whale
2. Matthieu Alamric - Kings and Queen
3. Damien Lewis - Keane
4. Rip Torn - 40 Shades of Blue
5. Romain Duris - The Beat that My Heart Skipped

Supporting role:Jean-Pierre Bacri - Look at Me; Tadanabu Asano - Bright Future & Cafe Lumiere; Andrew Bujalski - Funny Ha Ha & Mutual Appreciation

1. Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line
2. Maria Alche - The Holy Girl
3. Emmanuelle Devos - Kings and Queen
4. Keira Knightley - Pride and Prejudice
5. Dina Korzun - 40 Shades of Blue

supporting role: Amy Adams - Junebug; Michelle Williams (deserving better than Brokeback Mountain & The Baxter)

1. Wong Kar-wei - 2046
2. Park Chan-wook - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
3. Arnaud Desplechins - Kings and Queen
4. Jia Jiang-ke - The World
5. Lodge Kerrigan - Keane

1. Kings and Queen - Arnaud Desplechins & Roger Bohbot
2. The Squid and the Whale - Noah Baumbach
3. Los Angeles Plays Itself - Thom Anderson
4. 5x2 - Francois Ozon & Emanuelle Bernheim
5. Funny Ha Ha - Andrew Bujalski

1. Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pun-leung & Lai Yui-fei - 2046
2. Harris Savides - Last Days
3. Robert Yeoman - The Squid and the Whale
4. Jeong Jeong-hun - Oldboy
5. Yatuka Yamasaki - Nobody Knows

Retrospective List making

Still list-making season, here.... When I posted my Top 10 for 2005, I made some sort of speech about how much the list can change retrospectively. Well - here's a look back and what I think (now) are the best films of each of the last few years.

1. Kings and Queen - Arnaud Desplechins
2. 2046 - Wong Kar-wei
3. House of Flying Daggers - Zhang Yimou
4. The World - Jia Jiang-ke
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Michel Gondry
6. Nobody Knows - Hirokazu Kore-eda
7. The Holy Girl- Lucretia Martel
8. Darwin's Nightmare - Hubert Sauper
9. Moolade - Ousmene Sembene
10. Napoleon Dynamite - Jared Hess

1. Goodbye, Dragon Inn - Tsai Ming-liang
2. Los Angeles Plays Itself - Thom Anderson
3. Memories of Murder - Bong Joon-ho
4. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary - Guy Maddin
5. Elephant - Gus Van Sant
6. Gerry - - Gus Van Sant
7. Cafe Lumiere - Hou Hsiao Hsien
8. Doppelganger - Kiyoshi Kurosawa
9. Blind Shaft - Li Yang
10. Crimson Gold - Jafar Panahi

1. The Son - Dardennes Brothers
2. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - Park Chan wook
3.The Man Without a Past - Aki Kaurismaki
4. The Pianist - Roman Polanski
5. Unknown Pleasures - Jia Jiang-ke
6. Millenium Mambo - Hou Hsiao Hsien
7. Dolls - Takeshi Kitano
8. Lilya 4-ever - Lukas Moodyson
9. Talk to Her - Pedro Almodovar
10. 24 Hour Party People - Michael Winterbottom

1. Mulholland Drive - David Lynch
2. Ichi the Killer - Takashi Miike
3. Donnie Darko - Richard Kelly
4. Distance - Kore-eda
5. The Royal Tennenbaums - Wes Anderson
6. Pistol Opera - Seijun Suzuki
7. Waking Life - Richard Linklater
8. Khandahar - Mohsen Makhmalbaf
9. Bloody Sunday - Paul Greengrass
10. All About Lily Chou Chou - Shunji Iwai

1. Yi Yi - Edward Yang
2. Platform - Jia Jiang-ke
3. O Brother Where Art Thou - Coen brothers
4. Songs from the Second Floor - Roy Andersson
5. The Circle - Jafar Panahi
6. Eureka - Shinji Aoyama
7. The Gleaners and I - Agnes Varda
8. Kippur - Amos Gitai
9. In the Mood for Love - Wong Kar-wei
10. Code Inconnu - Michael Haneke

And for the whole decade (last essayed here, but with quite a few additions):
1. Yi Yi
2. Kings and Queen
3. Goodbye Dragon Inn
4. 2046
5. Mulholland Drive
6. Los Angeles Plays Itself
7. The Son
8. House of Flying Daggers
9. Ichi the Killer
10. Donnie Darko

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

2005 Random 21

Following up on my best records of 2005, this is the semi-promised "song post." This is the result of a long train ride and an iPod, drawn from a playlist of records from 2005, set to shuffle. I've added a few comments... This is more significant than it might look - the iPod changes how you listen to music. I don't listen to whole records like I used to. Even at home, I've taken to turning on iTunes and letting it give me a show... It turns my CD collection into a radio station...

1. Antony and the Johnsons - Hope There's Someone: "torch songs from Mars" says Mojo - with a rushing piano ending...
2. Jandek - Blue Blue World: oy - or not... is this any good? he's like a parody of an "outside" rock musician - blues, kind of mocked... I doubt that's the point, though... it's not really all that bad - but it isn't anything special, that I can see. He's no Keiji Haino.
3. Wilco - One by One (from Kicking Television): I bought a lot of live records last year - this, Gomez, Richard Thompson, half a dozen Mars Volta records - all quite good. I still can't quite get into Wilco - they do very little I feel like I need.
4. Interpol - Not Even Jail: got that joy division groove going...
5. Dangerdoom - Old School Rules: very cool, amusing record...
6. Devendra Banhart - Beatles: more twee than usual.
7. Sun Volt - Gramaphone: Jay Farrar remains more conventional than Wilco, but writes better songs - though sometimes he is so obsessed with Neil Young (Harvest/Comes a Time Neil Young) that he threatens to disappear. That would be a shame, since he has a rather better voice than Neil Young, and has always been a strong songwriter in his own right.
8. The Killers - Somebody Told Me: not bad, which alone is something of a triumph - how many of these friggin bands are there? I got at least 4 of them in 05 - this, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party - and can't hear a nickels worth of difference among the lot. Last year, at least, we had the Liars representing the post-punk/new wave 80s revival - the Liars were (probably are - I see they have a new EP out) a far far better band than any of this lot... They aren't bad (all these 80s revival bands) - they are just indistinguishable. The Liars, of course, come off a good deal different - and Interpol is better than the rest... They are American, of course, always an advantage - well, maybe not always...
9. Mercury Rev - In a Funny Way: one of those songs that sounds like it wrote itself - a feature shared with a lot of these Nick Drake revival bands... Though this one, on the chorus, shifts into Echo and the Bunnymen mode, doesn't it? Isn't that "Lips Like Sugar" they're playing? Anyway - mercury Rev blows just about everybody away - and this is, I think, a fairly mediocre record. Maybe not mediocre - pleasant but unspectacular. I don't think there was a better record this year - and this is their what - 5th best record?
10. Sleater Kinney - Steep Air: not bad, but the turn to more conventional rock didn't help them all that much. This is a good record - probably their best since the Hot Rock - the songs, especially, sound very good in isolation, though rather tedious taken together. I don't think Dave Friedman was a very good choice to produce - they need someone like Steve Albini - someone to sharpen the edges and define the spaces of the guitars, rather than try to turn them into something - what? Mars Volta? Oy... Carrie Brownstein has talents, but they really don't run toward wanking. They don't really even run toward screeching noise mongering...
11. Sun Volt - Who: hey, a repeat! another nice song...
12. Wilco - Shot in the Arm: oh boy! an Uncle Tupelo reunion! with Nils Cline making guitar screetches over a pretty tame bit of songcraft.
13. Ruchard Thompson - How Does Your Garden Grown: quiet folk, the real stuff - or a torch song with guitar... with bits of acoustic brilliance, as onewould expect.
14. Xiu Xiu - Brooklyn Dodgers: sounds like an odd mix of Antony and Rufus Wainwright - soft, odd music...
15. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Upon the Tidal Wave of Young Blood: where did this come from? I downloaded it somewhere. I remember they are from Brooklyn, not much else. Nico-esque voice, someone has. Rather nice song, though - glad it came up.
16. Beck - Hell Yes: an interesting tune, though a bit familiar, shall we say...
17. Xiu Xiu - Sad Dying Guerilla Girl: oh no! can I take two Xiu Xiu songs within 4? [I keep trying to like them - they don't sound like what people say they sound like - "the band itself has been likened to just about any angular guitar band from the late '70s and early '80s" sez AMG, but where are those vaunted guitars? how much of this is due to owning their last two records? how much is due to listening to them on the iPod? I don't know. I should know better than to be buying records by a band named after that movie - Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl was a genuinely awful film...] Back in the moment, however, this song has a nice weird ending, that makes it worth the wait.
18. Sleater-Kinney - Jumpers: an odd one, sounds like the New Pornographers, more than the rest of The Woods...
19. Audioslave - #1 Zero: bit of guitar wanking over a Sleater Kinney "beat"... [This almost broke me - it took an act of will to keep going...]
20. Antony and the Johnsons - You Are My Sister: back where I started! maybe a good place to stop... duet with Boy George - nice song...
21. Gogol Bordello - Start Wearing Purple: "all your sanity and wits will vanish, I promise, it's just a matter of time" - this is a fine end to the trip. I was very impressed to find that the Gogol Bordello web site had been taken down for violating their ISP's terms of service. Somehow, that seems better than any actual web site could have been. Anyway - they are a great deal of fun - picking up where the pogues left off, I suppose - fast, raucous, folk songs - they bring a smile, whenever I listen to them.
[And that just felt like a good place to stop.]

Monday, January 02, 2006

Weekly Movies

Been a couple weeks since my last movie review cattle call post... didn't see much over Christmas - have seen quite a haul over New Year's weekend. So here goes.

Lawrence of Arabia - **** - probably the best regarded film I had never seen... I had seen Dr. Zhivago, a dull costume drama of the worst kind, and feared the same from this. That, plus the more or less absolute necessity of seeing it in a theater in a decent print kept me away. But there it was, last week, playing at the local Landmark theater - so off I went. I was pleasantly surprised. It is a gorgeous piece of work, though the story is rather thin, even at 17 hours... That's not fair - the fact is, it rolls along quite well - the time does not weigh heavy upon you. This is perhaps a function of the grandeur - the vast spaces of the desert demand a pace that matches - that gives you time to take in all the vastness and grandeur. It feels full. I liked it, almost in spite of myself.

Shall We Dance (****) & Follow the Fleet (***) - Fred and Ginger in all their glories. Shall We Dance, especially, comes close to the glories of The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat, with first rate music and fine comic writing around their magnificent dancing. A story that makes emotional sense, if not much plot sense... Follow the Fleet on the other hand has some fine dancing, good music, clever enough writing - but a plot that passes over the line from silly to stupid, and a wretched performance by Randolph Scott, playing a nasty piece of work who somehow gets the girl in the end. Rather unpleasant, actually, though redeemed as much as it can be by Fred and Ginger.

Breakfast on Pluto *** - Neil Jordan has had his slips through the years, but he remains a pretty reliable filmmaker. This is no exception - an entertaining and occasionally serious film about a foundling looking for his mother, passing through many adventures and misadventures - comic and serious - before finding a measure of peace.

Cafe Lumiere - **** - Hou Hsiao Hsien's tribute to Ozu, filmed in Japan, for Ozu's 100th birthday.... Like Ozu, it concerns families, marriage, children - but with most of it, the drama and pressure, diffused into the background. On the other hand, Hou seems to have taken the opportunity to indulge his and Ozu's love of trains without restraint. There are trains everywhere, and unlike most of their films, here the trains take over the plot, the style, everything. Otherwise - Hou's films have always felt like Ozu's films, but they don't really look like Ozu. Other than his own films, this looks most like Tsai Ming-liang or maybe Kore-eda - long takes, usually long shots, of busy streets, with identifiable characters emerging from the crowd and disappearing into the crowd, usually en route to or from a train.... Inside, Hou's films look les like Ozu than like Naruse, or maybe Imamura without the abrasiveness - long static takes, deep, articulated spaces - de-emphasis on editing. Critics often claim that Ozu was not interesting in editing, but that is wrong - he is one of the most radical and fascinating editors in cinema history. Hou is not - he builds his films out of long shots, moving people or things in the shot (or even more, creating multiple planes in the shot, and shifting attention between those planes) - in a few of his films, he also moves the camera, though usually not.

Fun With Dick and Jane - one of those films I can't possibly rate. Why? Because it is probably crap, but I enjoyed it completely. Or - enjoyed it without apology - even though - it was probably crap. So what, though? You have a good time at the pictures, you have a good time. Sure, it'd be nice to be edified as well as entertained, but you take what you get.

Casanova - *** - same idea as Fun With Dick and Jane, though at a more sophisticated level. Handsome looking, funny and clever, maybe even significant in some way (all those shifting identities, all that role-playing - that stuff should be significant, but it is sometimes so obvious...) - and entertaining all around. So there.

Meatballs & Stripes: Bill Murray vehicles, the films that pout him in the movies... Silly and pleasant and fun, very funy. This is what holidays are for - sitting around, drinking beer, and watching Bill Murray and the Marx Brothers. Hooray!

A Night at the Opera, Duck Soup & Horsefeathers - oh look! You can do worse than watch the Marx brothers for hours at a time. Much worse. It's interesting to compare the Paramount and MGM films directly - Duck Soup, especially, comes off even better than I remembered. It seems to me that moving to MGM, adding production numbers and subplots and pacing the absurdity, makes the Marx brothers easier to take for novices - but turns the film as a whole into soup. I admit - the first time I saw these films, A Night at the Opera was my favorite - but rewatching them, it's the earlier films I prefer. Is there anyone alive who doesn't fast forward through all the Allan Jones songs, and most of the Allan Jones subplots? There's nothing to fast forward through in Duck Soup or Horsefeathers - even the music is funny and interesting. The plots date horribly - not the comedy. Part of the problem is that they were made at MGM - one wonders if they'd have fared better at RKO or Warners. Compare them to the Fred and Ginger films - the idea is similar. Fairly conventional romantic comedy plots provide a ground for the music and dancing (roughly analogous to the Marx brothers' routines) - but those Fred and Ginger films don't have much more filler than Duck Soup. There were reasons for this - one being that the love stories were continuous with the song and dance in ways the love stories could never be continuous with the Marx Brothers' nonsense... another, that they are so well written - the stories may not make sense, but the dialogue is magnificent - and of course the cast, from Fred and Ginger down, are superb. Edward Everett Horton is a different kind of foil altogether from Margaret Dumont or Sig Ruman - he's not just the butt of the jokes - he's an active, if secondary character. A film like A Night at the Opera forces you to leave the Marx brothers for scenes at a time, and what you get, however likable the leads might be, is distinctly less interesting. Their Paramount films never did that - the brothers are always on screen, something is always happening. The Fred and Ginger films avoid the problem in two ways - by keeping Fred and Ginger at the center of the films, as romantic leads as well as musical leads (most of the time - when they are not, as in Follow the Fleet, the film suffers significantly), and by making the supporting characters funny in their own right. If someone wanted to open the Marx Brothers up, from the concentrated absurdity of Duck Soup, they should have given the subplots to Margaret Dumont and Sig Ruman - given them more business. It worked with Edward Everette Horton - it probably would have worked with Margaret Dumont.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sucking Taken to a New Level

Not that anyone needs more reasons to hate Coldplay, but check out this story about the copy protection and rules on their latest CD.

What are the other rules? Here are some gems: "This CD can't be burnt onto a CD or hard disc, nor can it be converted to an MP3" and "This CD may not play in DVD players, car stereos, portable players, game players, all PCs and Macintosh PCs." Best of all, the insert explains that this is all "in order for you to enjoy a high quality music experience." Now, that's quality.

Link via Atrios, who makes Coldplay the first wankers of 2006. A great honor indeed!

Best of 2005 - Movies

Happy New Year! And what does the new year bring? Best of the old year lists! Unlike, oh, Roger Ebert, or I usually make myself wait for the year to actually end before posting a top ten, though that's probably because he's seen everything under consideration, and I never know what will turn up in the last couple days of the year. So then....

I have a couple rules for this process. First - this end of the year list is comprised of the 10 best films that were shown in something resembling a commercial theater, in Boston (and environs) during the year 2005. This list is usually pretty stable, it doesn't change all that much. I usually see most of what I want to see in a year, though there are always exceptions: films that played a week somewhere and I missed them; a few films I ignored or put off on initial release that I discover on DVD later. These are very often kid's films - the archetype might be Babe: Pig in the City, which I ignored on release (like pretty much everyone), then saw a couple years later and was completely blown away). Still - those are exceptions. Some time in the future, when the stragglers have come in (all the Oscar bait playing NY and LA, all the foreign films, etc. - films like The New World, Cache, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, etc.), I'll try to post a more explicitly "best of 2005" list....

But enough of that.... here are the ten best films released in Boston in 2005:

1. Kings and Queen - Arnaud Desplechin
2. 2046 - Wong Kar Wei
3. Los Angeles Plays Itself - Thom Anderson
4. The Squid and the Whale - Noah Baumbach
5. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - Park Chan-wook
6. Memories of Murder - Bong Joon-ho
7. The World - Jia Jiang-ke
8. Nobody Knows - Hirokazu Kore-Eda
9. Grizzly Man - Werner Herzog
10. The Holy Girl - Lucretia Martel

And - an early crack at the best films made/premiered in 2005. I don't know how many of these would turn up on a best of 2005 list next year - though looking at it again, it's an okay crop of films.

1. The Squid and the Whale - Noah Baumbach
2. Grizzly Man - Werner Herzog
3. Last Days - Gus Van Sant
4. The Beat that My Heart Skipped - Jacques Audiard
5. Keane - Lodge Kerrigan
6. Mutual Appreciation - Andrew Bujawski
7. Murderball - Henry Rubin and Dana Shapiro
8. Broken Flowers - Jim Jarmusch
9. Forty Shades of Blue - Ira Sachs
10. The Talent Given Us - Andrew Wagner

Hopefully, in the next few days, I will work up similar collections of best performances, best directing, best scripts, etc. - as well as one of those "Moments out of Time" bits Film Comment used to do, and inexplicably stopped doing some time ago. Tragic! Irritating! Much missed, indeed.