Thursday, January 28, 2010


Another icon dies - J. D. Salinger, only a day after Howard Zinn... Is it true that many of the comments on Salinger's death are personal? it seems that way - notes about reading Catcher in the Rye, the personal connection the reader had to it. There may be good reasons - Salinger seems to me to have had a particularly intimate way of writing - "to inhabit the skin" of Holden Caufield, say (as Ted Burke put it) - a quality, that intimacy, that interiority - I remember from all his work I read. My strongest memory of Salinger is personal - less the stories, more the fact that I found a copy of Nine Stories at a summer camp where my parents volunteered and we usually took summer vacation. An old beat up paperback, maybe missing the cover, that I carried around with me most of the week, reading it when I could, sitting in the shade, reading it in the back seat of the car. I remember there was something off about that summer - somebody did a lot of fighting, me and my mother, or me and my brothers, or my brothers and my parents - I don't remember who or why, just a kind of simmering tension, that was unusual, especially for vacations. (Might have been the year my brother broke his leg, though that seems late - but it would certainly explain the bad tempers.) There was one day, we took a day trip somewhere - godawful hot, but someone had to go to the DMV, I think it was - and I ended up stuck in the car with some collection of quarreling relatives, waiting while someone was attending to unpleasant official business. Sitting in the back seat listening to whatever argument and whining was going on, reading Salinger, and tuning out everything else. It seemed like the perfect thing to be reading... As for Catcher in the Rye, I read that in high school, toward the end - later than a lot of people did, I suspect. I liked it well enough, but it didn't really stick with me. I was enough of an old fart at 17 that I was obsessed with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" - the most inspiring novel at the time was Ignacio Silone's Bread and Wine. After the fact, I found, the best book I read at the time to be The Great Gatsby - I had to reread it once or twice to really get it, but it gained in power; I can't say the same for Catcher in the Rye... but Nine Stories haunts me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January Capsules

This is something I have to get back into doing - writing about films as I see them. I hope this becomes more of a weekly thing than a monthly thing, but for now, this is going to have to be a month long roundup. All the new films I see in the theaters, at least - with older films, DVDs, and such mixed in when it seems right. Capsules and ratings, I think - using a scale I picked up somewhere on the internet - out of 15 - basically, a five star rating, with three levels per star. So - 12/15, say, is a 4-star film, out of 5, and on the verge of being 5 - probably one of the best films of a given year... 8/15 might be a 3 star film, the quintessential 3 star film, etc... 5 stars are rare - last 13 film I saw (for the first time, in a theater) - Liverpool and Los Muertos, say; last 14 - Secret Sunshine (couple years back, to be honest) - 15's are all time, top 50 type films... Just as a reference.

Now, on to the show - moving backwards from this weekend:

Police, Adjective: 12/15 - A cop is following three kids - one has informed on his friend, claiming a brother is bringing drugs into the country - there is also a girl, who is assumed to be the center of the triangle. The officials want a quick sting to arrest the kids and maybe get the dealers - the cop doesn't want to arrest them for possession. The film alternates between long shots of surveillance, as our hero watches the kids, and police procedure, going through the details, trying to find the dealer, punctuated by scenes at home, where the cop argues with his wife (a teacher) about metaphors and the meaning of words, and the ways the language is changed, by fiat.... Concludes with a drawn out meeting with his captain, that combines modes - police business and the dictionary, defining conscience, law, moral, police - though to be honest, it boils down to brute force - do what you're told... A very strong film - patient and attentive to detail, morally engaged in its way...

The Man From London: 11/15 - Bela's Tarr's latest - 28 shots in 133 minutes, from a Simenon novel - a watchman sees two men who seem to have stolen some money - he retrieves the money - policemen come looking for it. It's a simple enough story, and a fairly generic noir, when you think about it, in plot and style, the shadowy black and white - subjected to great pressure, that stretches and mutilates the conventions almost, not quite, beyond recognition. Not quite... Bela Tarr always makes me think of the band Earth - at their most extreme - taking a simple riff and resting on it, sustaining it, milking it s far as it will go, until you move past the surface - the notes, the story - to the overtones, the pure play of light and shadow, things on screen... turns surreal at times - shots and sounds that look and feel like David Lynch - and another really cool, funny, musical interlude in a bar - an accordianist playing as a man dances with a billiard ball balanced on his forehead...

The White Ribbon: 11/15- Haneke's latest, a German village in 1913-14, where strange incidents occur - a man falls from his horse; a woman falls through some rotted boards at the mill; her family attacks the landlord's cabbages; children are beaten, punished, keep secrets, suffer; paranoia, cruel parents, class resentment, repressed sexual desires play their part; then the war comes. It's something like the perfect art film - austere, handsome, reserved, ambiguous, in very studied ways - portentous, haunting, and tends to remind you of the long tradition of art films. (I kept thinking of Young Torless, a rather better version of the type.) An excellent film, though not one that seems to quite justify its existence...

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus: 9/15 - a total mess but nice to look at; Heath Ledger is wonderful, when he gets a chance, and the rest of the cast gets their own moments of glory. Though Tom Waits, as the devil, sort of, steals the show. I would be lying if I said I knew what it was about - some kind of contest who can get the most souls in the doctor's imaginarium, with Waits constantly reraising, so they never have to stop - something like that.... Makes no sense in the least, not that that's the end of the world.... it looks lovely - it is, in fact, almost unfailingly entertaining and engaging - just rather slight, and doesn't quite carry off the effort.

And a couple notable DVDs: finally got around to watching Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, streamed from Netflix - a fine documemtary about one of the extraordinary musical talents of the last 45 years... I've had Christian Petzold's Yella sitting on the shelf for months - finally watched it - a fine work (12/15) - it occurs to me, though IMDB mentions something about a reference to Alice in the Cities as the source of the title, that the film bears quite a bit of resemblance to Italian horror, especially Argento (at his most restrained, in the build ups of his films) - giallo, maybe? Still more Fritz Lang - Man Hunt, Hangmen Also Die, Fury, these going back to December (and multiple viewings of each.) More to come on that score...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Music 2009

I'm a bit worried that though I have managed to put up a good number of posts this month, they've all been lists, end of the year trivia, or political rants. This one, I'm afraid, isn't going to change that - I'm finally getting around to posting something about last year's music.... (And the lists aren't done: I have a Best Music of the 00s post in the works, and a couple more film posts - especially a Directors of the 00s - and if I'm ambitious enough, a directors of the 10s post. Might as well predict the future while we're here. But not today. Today is just music.)

2009 was not a big year for music for me. The decade was - I went on a couple major buying sprees, listened to lots of music, especially on the iPod - but the last couple years, I've backed off a bit. I won't try to explain why - I will just say I tend to go in cycles on the arts. I'll go a couple years listening to all the music I can - then a couple years reading in all my free time - movies tend to stay pretty stable, but my attention to other arts shifts around a lot. So - I did not break the bank on music this year, and what's worse, a lot of what I bought went into iTunes and sat their forgotten and unheard... in any case, my opinions of what I heard have not been as strong as some years. But that won't stop me from a bit of a survey...


1. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs - they are always reliable, and this seems a bit more consistent (And maybe a bit more rock) than some of their recent work even..
2. David Sylvain - Manofan - the avant-garde heard from; I listened to this CD specifically, too, which helps it.
3. Sonic Youth - The Eternal - like a lot of Sonic Youth, the material tends to bleed together, but this has some great stuff on it - seeing them live was a treat too (though - you know - Feelies, and all...)
4. Times New Viking - Born Again Revisited - closest thing to a discovery this year... cool crude lo-fi rock...
5. PJ Harvey and John Parrish - A Woman A Man Walked By - this is what you get for not listening to records enough; I've barely heard anything from this - but when I seek it out - it's PJ Harvey after all. I'd guess this would be near the top if I listened to it a few times.

6. Dead Weather - Hore Hound - solid record - Jack White remains very reliable.
7. Mission of Burma - The Sound The Speed The Light - maybe up if I listened to it more, though mostly it's just MIssion of Burma doing what they do...
8. Pere Ubu - Long Live Pere Ubu - Mr. Thomas and co. finally take on M. Jarry....
9. Decembrists - Hazards of Love - this didn't knock me over like their last record, but it's still pretty interesting...
10. Bishop Allen - Grrr - what's odd about the records I got this year is how many by bands I really like (from Devandra Banhart to DInosaur Jr. to Six Organs of Admittance to Son Volt) I haven't listened to - I can't remember a single song from any of those CDs. I feel ashamed.... Bishop Allen, on the other hand, keeps coming up on the iPod when I listen to it - catchy, clever, likable - what's wrong with that?

Times New Viking:

That's records - Songs, I suppose, I can manage better - I hear them, after all... Here, then, is a list!

1. Yo La Tengo - And the Glitter is Gone - the Krautrock blow out on this year's record - but I am an unabashed fan of 10 minute guitar wankings, and motorik leanings are a plus - so...
2. Sonic Youth - Massage the History - this is their version, with a bit more variation even...
3. Dead Weather - So Far From Your Weapon
4. Sonic Youth - Walkin Blue - SY at their most feeliesesque - including lyrically I'm afraid...
5. PJ Harvey & John Parrish - A Woman a Man Walked By
6. David Sylvain - Small Metal Gods
7. Times New Viking - These Days or Martin Luther King Day
8. Decembrists - The Hazards of Love 1 or The Rake's Song
9. Meat Puppets - Rotten Shame - luck of the draw, probably, though not a bad song... this was actually a decent record, especially considering their recent output
10. Yo la Tengo - Avalon or Someone Very Similar - well, when in doubt, stick with Yo La Tengo...

Here's 10 minutes or so of Yo la Tengo, for your viewing as well as sonic pleasure:

there's more, actually:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My 2010 Movie Posts

This is just what it is - an index of film posts, sorted a bit. As much for my convenience as anything, since it's the only way to find things I might have written once.

Longer Posts:

5/11: Kick-Ass and Superheroes - inspired by Matt Zoller Seitz.
6/4: Gertrud considered, and the Dreyer site.
9/11: On making it up - mostly Tarsem's The Fall, though Gentlemen Broncos and The Three Musketeers as well. More essay than review.
9/24: Vampires - Nosferatu and Dracula, at length.
10/31: Halloween, sympathetic monsters, and Mamoulian's Jekyll and Hyde.
11/1: Jekyll and Hyde part 2 - style.

Occasional Posts:

01/07: Best of 2009.
01/10: Resolutions (mostly movie related)
01/13: Rohmer obit.
01/17: Best older films seen for the first time in 2009.
2/13: Comments on Auteurism and diegesis, and more death of criticism, sparked by Sam Juliano vs. Stephen Russell-Gebbett.
3/4: Miscellany - more death of criticism, particularly related to spending money (the Ebert club) - and links. One review, of Mother.
4/26: Television considerations.
5/1: Mayday with Pirate Jenny.
5/6: Lubtchansky Obituary.
5/8: National Train Day pictures.
5/25: Panahi's release.
5/30: Dennis Hopper remembrance and Blue Velvet.
7/1: Canada Day with Guy Maddin.
7/14: Bastille Day and Godard.
7/20: Pictures from the new Ozu set and Vivre sa Vie.
8/6: Blogathon links. (Huston, Summer Movies, Cronenberg.)
8/12: Bruno S obituary.
9/8: Professor David Huxley's Back to School quiz.
11/4: Japanese film blogathon link and comments.
11/11: The Great War remembered - Paths of Glory.

Reviews etc:

1/26: January Roundup - Police, Adjective, The Man From London, The WhIte Ribbon, the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, plus Yella, Scott Walker, Fritz Lang, in passing.
2/9: Another Roundup - Fish Tank, Crazy Heart, A Town Called Panic, The Last Station
2/15: Roundup - Broken Embraces, Most Dangerous Man in America, The Headless Woman
4/1: Catchall again - Greenberg, Secret of the Kells, The Red Shoes, Ghost Writer, Byron on DVD.
4/12: Roundup again - Warlords, The Sun, several Kurosawa films (Red Beard, Cobweb Castle, Lower Depths and Dedeskaden), LAnd fo the Pharoahs, The Sheik and Sleeper.
5/4: Late April roundup: Exit through the Gift Shop, Vincere, Hausu, The Good the Bad the Weird, plus Kingdom of Heaven on DVD, and Mysterious Object at Noon, mentioned but not reviewed.
5/19: Another roundup - No One Knows About Persion Cats; Hot Tub Time Machine; Bluebeard; Please Give.
6/26: June Reviews: Metropolis; Air Doll; Harlan: in the Shadow of Jud Suss; Network; Casino Jack and the United States of Money.
8/18: Summer film roundup, part 1, oldies and foreign films - Anthony Mann films, Wild Grass, 36 Vues du Pic St. Loup, Eccentricities of a Blonde Haired Girl, I Am Love.
8/19: New American films seen - Cyrus, The Kids Are All Right, Despicable Me, Dinner for Schmucks.
9/5: Weekly theatrical reviews - Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Soul Kitchen, Two in the Wave, The Tillman Story.
10/4: A Film Unfinished review.
10/8: another roundup - Room in Rome, A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop, Catfish, The American, Machete and Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.
10/18: The Social Network review.
11/14: Ishtar screening.
12/19 - Roundup - brief notes on White Material, Black Swan, Marwencol, I Love You Phillip Morris, Tiny Furniture, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Anton Chekhov's The Duel, Inside Job and Red.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts Fail

I'm not sure how depressed I should be about Scott Brown's victory last night. Pretty fucking depressed, I guess, though... what's really depressing about it is even with 60 votes in the Senate, and a huge advantage in the house, the Democrats have barely gotten anything done in the last year. Obama is basically governing to the right of Nixon - and still can't get anything big passed. The GOP is a disgrace - they;ve stopped caring about government, they are united in their determination to thwart anything Obama tries to do - they will cause the dems to fail, and then run on the dems' inability to do anything... nice trick... The Democrats haven't learned any lessons from this, they refuse to play the same game - you'd think they'd learn to vote as a block and cram things through, and leave it to the voters to decide whether it was a good idea or not. But they don't. And they end up with disasters like this health care reform bill - not that it hasn't got some benefits (enough to deserve to pass - take what Evan talks about for starters) - but it does it without really getting at any of the underlying problems. It's ironic - the farther left the bill, the better the bill - at some point, I don't see any way to cut into costs without some kind of very strong public option... But that is what gets compromised out in an (ultimately pointless) effort to bring in conservative votes - leaving us with a bill that probably costs more than what we have now. (Though with more coverage, and maybe some chance of cost movement.) That's depressing....

Though the voters - I don't know.... There's not a lot of love for this health care bill - but it's astonishing to think that people would vote for a republican because they don't like this bill. The Republicans are not going to come up with a better alternative - they are satisfied with what we have. Their strategies are depressing - block the democrats and run on the dems' failures; make government useless, and run on the fact that government is useless; convince people that they can't change things, that politicians are corrupt and incompetent, and get them to vote for style and slogans; do all you can to eliminate actual policy choices in politics, and all you can to keep people from thinking about the policy choices they are voting for. Create frustration and run on frustration. Convince people politics is too complicated to understand, that the world is frightening and they are weak, teach them to whine about the government while accepting government authority.

Oh well. It's very strange to treat an election that reduces the democratic majority from 60-40 to 59-41 like a disaster - unfortunately, given the recent track records of both parties, the increasing dysfunction of the Senate, and the bizarre inability of the public to actually realize there aren't any republicans like Edward Brooke anymore - it's hard to see this not being a disaster....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Old Films, Newly Viewed

I'm killing some time here, monkeying around with exporting video on my other computer - so I think I will post another list. This is inspired by Joseph B. - who just posted his best five non-2009 movies seen in 2009. Sounds like a plan! I go to a lot of old films, at Harvard and the Brattle especially, and even now surprise myself with number of films I've never seen... Anyway - I think I will divide this list into three parts, since so much of my viewing was for the two German cinyema classes I took...

For Class:

1. Mabuse the Gambler - probably no surprise there...
2. Testament of Dr. Mabuse

3. Romance in a Minor Key - 1943 melodrama made in Nazi Germany, but almost completely outside the system of the time...
4. Student of Prague
5. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City


1. Hands Over the City - thanks to the Film of the Month Club, a neat idea that seems to have faded away, as so many neat internet ideas do...
2. Arigato San - Shimizu
3. Wild and Wooly - Douglas Fairbanks out west...

4. An American in Paris...
5. Three Penny Opera - German film not covered by the class...


1. Eros + Massacre - Kuji Yoshida
2. Blue Collar - Paul Schrader's best film
3. Land of Silence and Darkness - Herzog
4. The Wild Child - Truffaut
5. Bigger than Life - Ray

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Captain Beefheart!

Happy Birthday to Don Van Vliet - 68 today... one of America's finest musical artists... source of this blog's subtitle and motto...

Video is called for - Electricity on a beach:

And Big Joan Sets Up, live in Detroit, with washed out video, but at his and the band's challenging best:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rohmer, Haiti

It's hard to even wrap my mind around the disaster in Haiti - the death toll, the devastation - in a place that has more than its share of suffering. It hits rather close to home - my brother was planning a trip down there later this month, a volunteer work trip... Not sure what will happen now - this certainly gives it added urgency, if they can still make it. Time to hit head for the Red Cross site, I guess...

And - it's been a couple days, and I might be the last film blogger to make a public note of Eric Rohmer's passing, but I have thought of a couple things to say. First, if I'm remembering right, wasn't the last line in his last film, "Live! I command you!" ? - I like that; I hope it's true. In any case - he was one of the giants of film - I haven't seen nearly enough of his films as I should, just enough to know that he was one of the greats, and that sooner or later I need to spend a sustained amount of time on him. This year, I've been watching Fritz Lang films whenever I can - one of these years, I will have to take on Rohmer...

Thinking about him, and his place in history, it is impressive how many of the French New Wave directors are still alive, and active - Rohmer lived to 89, and remained active until a year or two ago; Godard and Rivette are still making films; Resnais, Varda, Chabrol, Marker are all active, still making films that are among the best of the year. The new Rivette and Resnais, in particular, are highly praised - I hope they get here soon... They were a remarkable generation - revolutionary, brilliant, and so many of them able to sustain their creativity and productivity well past the immediate flush of the movement.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Imagine my Claude Rains Voice...

Mark McGwire admits to using steroids. This is shocking news, huh? I have never been a Mark McGwire fan - nothing to do with steroids, really, it's just that - without steroids, he would have been a one dimensional slugger, a new Dave Kingman - with them, he set records and was mistaken for one of the all time greats. A problem in part because it overshadowed people who probably were among the all time greats - and I remain fairly convinced, drove those players to the same expedients that made McGwire seem like more than he really was. And so people act as though Clemens and Bonds, to name names, were just chemical byproducts, instead of two of the best who ever played. And McGwire's part in this goes deep - we shouldn't forget that he and Canseco (and probably a few others, but mostly the bash brothers) were instrumental in moving steroids from a dirty little secret of the game to front and center, the engine of the game in the late 90s and early 00s. I didn't like that style - I like pitching and defense and line drives and walks - I may only be able to play slow pitch softball, but I don't want to watch it.... But that is how the game was built, and it was very popular, and restored the game to new heights after the labor problems that almost ruined it.

But all that aside - this confession would be enough to get me to vote for McGwire to the hall of fame. I don't care if it's cynical and fake-sentimental and years too late for something - the fact is, he's the first major star of the era to state the obvious without being forced to. (Unless you count Canseco, though his was even more cynical and self-serving; and a bit pathetic.) McGwire is catching hell for it - sanctimonious shits like Brian Williams pontificate away, mewling about the "magical stuff" of the summer of 1998 (not magic - science!) - ugh.... Look - it was possible to look at Bonds, know what kind of player he had been all his career, and sort of imagine that maybe, if he gave up trying to run and just bulked up, he could hit those home runs - wishful thinking maybe, but still... But not McGwire, and not Sosa - they were steroids players, playing a steroids game - with the tacit (at least) approval (even encouragement) of the owners and league officials - not to mention the people who played the business up on TV. The only other explanation for all those homers that ever had any validity was that the sport was juicing the balls - it was the baseballs or the players or both, but something was getting juiced...

And people enjoyed it. Why not? they enjoyed it then, and are enjoying it now, cause they get to play the victim - oh, we were fooled! - and huff and puff and bask in their own righteousness and the convenient amnesia about what kind of dope the old timers were using. And McGwire - going first - will get the worst of it. Just like A Rod got it worse than Manny and Manny got it worse than David Ortiz last summer.... every player who admits this will get just a little less crap about it, and by the time Bonds or Clemens gets around to it, they'll be able to brag about it. And - I'd wager - by summer, McGwire will be getting more cheers than boos - and maybe - who knows, in time this will look like what it is - a misguided era in baseball history, creating some odd offensive stats that require some on the fly translation to understand (at least until everyone 'fesses up and the statisticians can start trying to parse out what, exactly, steroids changed) - it will be something like the dead ball era that you just have to count around. No one will ever win 42 games again; probably no one will hit 73 home runs; both are products of how the game was played at the time....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Up, Up and Away, 2010 (Resolutions)

Given a new decade as well as a new year, I might as well post a set of resolutions I can break. Or fail to live up to. This is, of course, a film and blog related set of resolutions - I'll skip the eat better, save money, get more exercise resolutions, more or less.

Last year's are at the Film & Discussion blog - I did not do very well: 250 movies? almost, and I spent a lot of time on individual movies, thanks to taking classes, so that's pretty much good... turn over the netflix queue? Not quite, but not bad - bursts... I did not watch DVDs I bought, I still haven't watched Center Stage again... #4 was a rousing success - I took two film classes (and an English class, on theater), and all were immensely rewarding - though time consuming... thus - 3 blog posts a week? I was lucky to get 3 a month! though all three classes I took required weekly postings/papers - which were blog posts by another name... comments? not enough, no... Making things? nope... I did not do Piper's dinner with X meme... I did not travel much at all (up to Maine a bunch of times, for reasons that may be deduced from my recent personal notes here...)

So 2010 dawns and - try it again!

1) Start with a perennial - see more movies: 250 makes a good goal - that's not so much a resolution for change as a target... And again - and turn over the netflix queue - every month, say, at least, all 4 films in a month... this year, I've tended to sit on one or two films and switch out the others fast - especially with the classes. I've had Yella and The Fall since this summer, but have gone through a pile of other films in the same time frame... I'll try to improve that. And try to at least open and look at every movie I buy... ha!

2) Post 3 times a week on the blog and comment more often on other blogs. I try - we'll see. There is also Facebook, which complicates matters, because I don't know quite what to do with it. I haven't quite worked out what belongs where... the overall point, in any case, is to post here regularly, and be more active around the Interwebs. (I mean, in reality, not in the minds of others - though more actual interaction with people, even to the point of picking the occasional fight is not a bad thing. Though preferably with sane people. Though I'd be a piss poor stalker if I didn't notice that he just posted a note about Lang's Metropolis, but embedded a video of the trailer to the anime. Thought he anime is pretty good, and originates in Osamu Tezuka's manga, and Tezuka is an even more important artist than Fritz Lang, so no harm done...)

3) Classes and the like - I like the discipline, I like doing it - in terms of hobbies, I'd rather take a class than play video games or join a bowling league - not that I wouldn't join a bowling league if I had the chance... though softball is more my game, even at this advanced age. (I was almost competent again last year - only hurt myself once, though it was at a key moment, and turned a game where we had a chance into a humiliating defeat, when 3 of our starting outfielders got hurt. Since all three of us are north of 40, that's not much of a surprise, though.) But - I will take classes, though if they monopolize my time as much as last year's did, resolution #2 will likely suffer as well...

4) Eat better! save money! exercise more! Save money the big one - I need stuff - furniture especially - and want stuff - a new TV, an all region blu-ray/DVD player... a house would be nice, but... I'll settle for an all region DVD player and the new Mabuse set. (See? I worked it around to movies. Fritz Lang, too...)

5) I want to do things in other media - video, sound, pictures - this may not turn up on the web, but I hope I can do some work in video, etc. I monkey with video and animation from time to time, though it never gets far - but it's fun. Over the summer, I did make a film of sorts with my brother's kids - with their Johnny West figures and some nice woodsy settings out by their house - it's a blast, the kids loved it (my niece provided the story, the nephews provides most of the "puppetry", so to speak)... I'm not much of an artsy craftsy kind of guy, but it's fun, and there's no reason I can see not to treat making films like making tree forts or go-carts or whatever it is people do with and for kids, or their own entertainment and distraction. I need to do more of that. I doubt any of it will be good enough to share with anyone not involved, but anything worth doing is worth doing badly... There's also Piper's dinner meme, 2 years overdue - the two might go together.

6) Speaking of other media, and doing things badly - I should try to learn to play the piano again. I poke at it for a week or two every year, but never get anywhere... ought to try to change that.

7) Travel - this year, probably Canada, etc., visiting relatives, friends, places - but get out of the country. A film festival would be nice, but probably going to take a back seat to socialization this year.

8) Universal Health Care would be a nice thing. Ha!

Anyway - thus 2010. Here's to a decent year of it...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Best Films of 2009

A first cut, anyway. This list is of the top 25 films released commercially in Boston in 2009. This list was harder to make than I expected - it's not that this was a bad year (or an especially good one) - but looking at the films I saw, a lot of the good ones seem, now, smaller than I remember them. And some of the films that seem to be growing larger with memory, I'm not really sure how good they are. They just feel important - they demand your attention - even if there are other films better... difficult. We'll see...

1. Che - Steven Soderbergh - the first of three he got released this year. And that's counting this 2 parter as one - count em as 2, and that's 4! Criminy!
2. Tokyo Sonata - Kiyoshi Kurosawa
3. Thirst - Park Chan-wook
4. 24 City - Jia Jiang-ke
5. Bad Lieutenant, Post of Call New Orleans - Werner Herzog - and actual 09 film
6. A Serious Man - Coen Brothers
7. Hunger - Steve McQueen
8. Inglourious Basterds - Tarantino - this is exhibit A in those films that loom larger in memory than fact. I'm still not sure if it is a great film - but it feels like it should be - it has heft and power, even if it is a bit emptier than it should be. I reserve the right to upgrade this severely - or downgrade it. I don't know. It will take a couple more viewings at least - except - other than Waltz's parts, I don't know if I care enough to sit through it.
9. The Limits of Control - Jarmusch - another one I can't quite place. I loved it, but don't know, without seeing it again, whether it's much more than a cool looking trifle (with great music - I do love Earth and Sunn O)))))
10. Antichrist - Lars von Trier - exhibit B in films looming larger etc...
11. The Hurt Locker - Kathryn Bigelow - the anti Inglourious Basterds? I think I've downgraded it from when I saw it - but that seems wrong. It's a bit too slick sometimes, but it's still masterfully made, haunting, attentive to detail, a classic war film, and truly worthy of the best of the genre.
12. 35 Rhums - Claire Denis
13. Moon - Duncan Jones - Exhibit C - this time, with none of the hype...
14. Revanche - Gotz Spielmann - I resisted this a bit, watching it, but was almost completely convincing by the end - reminds me of the arc of Head On - starting out rather sensationalistic, and getting smarter and more moving as it went. I don't know now if I am overrating or underrating it.
15. Gomorrah - Matteo Garrone - this has shrunk in my memory, but I think it might deserve to stay high on the list...
16. Beaches of Agnes - Agnes Varda - so light seeming it almost flits away from you - though it's not quite so light as it seems... and masterfully made.
17. Beeswax - Andrew Bujalski - probably better than this...
18. Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson - this is a good bet to ascend when I see it again
19. Il Divo - Paulo Sorrento
20. Summer Hours - Olivier Assayas
21. Julia - Erick Zonca - god I love Tilda Swinton
22. Bright Star - Jane Campion
23. Treeless Mountain - So Young Kim
24. SIta Sings the Blues - Nina Paley
25. The Informant! Soderburgh #2... though now that I'm at the end of the list, things look a bit different. I didn't think this was a great film year, but there are a lot of films to go that are every bit as good as a lot of the ones above. It's been that kind of year - lots of decent films, not a lot of really overpowering ones. Though I suppose the first 10 or so might make it. What might be more surprising is that a lot of these decent films were from 2009 itself - for January, this list feels like it has more than the usual number of real 2009 films...

And another thing - last year, the only film I managed to get on any of my lists directed by a woman was Lucretia Martel's The Headless Woman (though I had it down as the best film of the year.) This year - there are 6 on the list; since I don't go out of my way to include them, that's a good sign - that's a bunch of really good films made by women; a couple of them in fact with very strong careers shaping up - Denis, Campion, even Bigelow...

And a quick shot at the best films made in 2009:

1. Thirst
2. Bad Lieutenant...
3. A Serious Man
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. The Limits of Control
6. Antichrist
7. The Hurt Locker
8. Moon
9. Beeswax
10. Bright Star

And - some other notables -

1. Christophe Waltz - spectacularly good.
2. Nic Cage
3. Denis Lavant in Tokyo
4. Benicio del Toro
5. Michael Stuhlbarg


1. Tilda Swinton - Julia
2. Gainsbourg - Antichrist
3. Abby Cornish
4. Tilly & Maggie Hatcher - Beeswax
5. Kim Ok-vin - Thirst


1. Soderburgh - Che
2. Kurosawa - Tokyo Sonata
3. Herzog - Bad Lt...
4. Von Trier - Antichrist
5. Coens - A Serious Man


1. Inglourious Basterds - Tarantino
2. A Serious Man - Coens
3. Extract - Mike Judge
4. Beeswax - Bujalski
5. In the Loop - Iannucci, Armstrong, Blackwell, Roche


1. Antichrist - Antony Dod Mantle
2. A Serious Man - Roger Deakins
3. Che - Soderbergh
4. 35 Rhums - Agnes Godard
5. Inglourious Basterds - Robert Richardson

Moments? since I never actually got around to doing this last year, I will do it for everything I saw this year, new:

* The karaoke job interview in TOKYO SONATA

* The girl discovers the thrills of vampirism in THIRST

* The long central conversation in HUNGER

* Iguanas and Nicholas Cage

* The realization that his girlfriend is dead, in the Austrian contemplative noir, REVANCHE.

* The cameraman moving on the bridge in ANTICHRIST - Von Trier's (and Mantle's) integral use of the handheld camera

* "I don't want, Santana, Abraxis!"

* Everything Christophe Waltz does in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, though especially that opening scene.

* The stink monsters in BIG MAN JAPAN - and the final confrontation, so to speak - when things get strange...

* The narration, especially, in SITA SINGS THE BLUES

* The beginning, especially, of Leos Carax' section of TOKYO, with Denis Lavant running amok on the streets of Tokyo.

* "Squirrel!"

* Ben Affleck's marriage advice in EXTRACT - probably not a good source of marital counseling there

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Goodbye

Welcome to the New Year, not to mention the new decade. Been a while since I've posted - 2009 ended badly. My mother died the day after Christmas - that puts a damper on things. She was a good woman (better than that) - she lived a full life, at least until her health started to go. She had heart surgery 10, 11 years ago - and since then, a series of medical problems, that slowly wore her down. She'd been on dialysis for the past three years, and in that period especially, she seemed to be withering away. She kept her mind, but her energy went, and she had to give up a lot of the things that filled her life - and I imagine, as she lost the ability to do things she had been doing (from doing the books for various organizations to her sewing and quilting, to being able to take walks outside), the enforced idleness contributed to her decline. It was startling to be reminded of all the things she had her fingers in - she taught for 20 years; she ran quilting classes and workshops; she kept books for the PTA, for the church, for the town cemetery commission; she worked for the town, she volunteered at summer camps, she ran quiz programs for kids - as well as running a family. It's hard to think of those things - because over the past dozen years, they all peeled away, one by one. Still - it was only this summer that things went really wrong. She had surgery on one of her legs, and never quite recovered. Every time I saw her this fall, it was a bit shocking to notice how much weaker she looked - I can't say her passing was a surprise. But when it came, it came quickly - itself something of a blessing, since drawn out deaths can be horrible, for the sufferer and family alike... Still, it hurts, and I will miss her.

I'll leave you with one of her quilts, one she worked on for years: