Saturday, December 31, 2005

Best Music of 2005

Here it is, the end of the year: I am working on a movie Top Ten, but being stubborn, I am waiting for the year to end. Heaven knows what one could see in the last 2-3 days or 2005! But music - I might as well get posted. I have to cite Girish Shambu here, for he said what I think, summing up the difference between movies and music, as far as list-making goes - there's so much music released, in so many styles, and it takes so long to get to know music, to get all the pieces of music, that what I come up with, at the end of the year, feels completely arbitrary. This list, I have to confess, has been further compromised by my increased reliance on the iPod - which splits albums apart, turning my CD collection into a big radio station. Which is a rather odd effect - it does kind of take me back to the days when I bought 5-6 records a year instead of (it would appear) 43, and got all my music by listening to the radio constantly. Thus adding, I suppose, to the arbitrariness of the process of picking a favorite record - it strongly favors the records with my favorite song or two. Though that can't explain the high placement of 2 instrumental noisefests.... It might also bring about another, more song oriented post - we shall see...

Enough intro: the list...

1. Mercury Rev - Secret Migration: while not up to their last couple records, this is still quite superb - lush, sprawling epics in the grand style, Pink Floyd with better tunes...
2. Earth - Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword: here we enter the experimental part of the program - with an hour or two of feedback and power chords, solo guitar or guitar and drum, recorded live - rather magnificent, in its minimalist grandeur.
3. Boredoms - Seadrum/House of Sun: another long droning workout, 2 pieces, one an army of drummers augmented by piano and vocals, the other a mass of droning strings (guitars, sitars, etc.) playing one chord for 20 minutes, weaving little embellishments around it... another bit of minimalist grandeur.
4. Damon and Naomi (with Michio Kurihara) - The Earth is Blue: handsome folk rock, with one of the world's great guitarists adding color...
5. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow: the ghost of Nick Drake must be very happy. Look at all the new folk acts around - led, I suppose, by Banhardt... This record brings in a band, expanding the sound; Banhardt continues to write arresting lyrics and pretty melodies - he lives up to the hype.
6. Six Organs of Admittance - School of the Flower: a more experimental version of the new folk movement, combining folk tunes with drones and bits of electric guitar squawk...
7. The Mars Volta - Francis the Mute: maybe it's not so much a folk singer revival as a 1972 revival - for here comes the prog contingent. A good deal more lively than most of the prog I've heard - lots of guitar wanking, spanglish lyrics, starts and stops and full on zep impersonation, Tejano, you name it. Damned exciting stuff, and I am helpless before the onslaught of a full out guitar god, and Omar Rodriguez is a guitar god indeed.
8. White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan: in which the stripes move from last year's garage rock revival to this year's weird folk revival - with acoustic guitars and marimbas and pretty songs... It works, for they write some of the best songs anyone writes, songs that work in almost any setting.
9. Decembrists - Picaresque: along with the Arcade Fire and a couple other bands, taking folk sound into full band arrangements - it's hard to pick one among these bands - but I think I like them a bit more than Arcade Fire or Of Montreal, etc. - maybe just that weird stories and sea chanties get me more than their competition. So here they are.
10. The Kills - No Wow: minimalist guitar and drum and vocals, stripped down raw and lean...

Honorable mentions:

I was very fond of the following live records, which I deliberately excluded from the list above:
Gomez - Out West
Richard Thompson - Live from Austin TX - including an astonishing version of Shoot Out the Lights...
Wilco - Kicking Television - I have never completely embraced Wilco, but this comes pretty close - Nils Cline on guitar gives them a definite edge.
Mars Volta - Scab Dates - how many live records did they actually release last year? who knows? who cares? I'll buy em all...
Bill Frisell - East/West

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Updates Galore

Well, I'm back from vacation, and have taken the opportunity to make a few cosmetic changes. That ghastly orange color, never very justified, finally became too much for me. I have replaced it with something less offensive to the eye, a variety of blues... Boring, but until I get the energy to dig into the html a bit more - it will do. This change follows some monkeying with the comments, turning on word verification and trackbacks and whatnot. That took a couple tries to get right, though now, I hope, it works the way I want it to work. I may make a few more changes - to the colors, possibly to the blog posts themselves. I like black on white, in principal, but sometimes it comes off a bit too stark. Black on white is ideal for writing - I'm not sure it's always the best look for reading, though. I'm not changing anything more today, though. If anyone is actually reading this, and has an opinion on the look, share away....

Also tweaked the "blogroll" some more - a couple additions, a couple subtractions, a few bits moved around. Nothing too profound.

And finally - I have not been idle, despite the lack of updates - I have a pile of year end type posts queued up in various stages of completion. They should provide a weekend of reading pleasure to whoever happens by... I have held off on a movie best of the year because I expect to see a couple more films before the new year, and some of them might crack the list... music posts might make it up later today. Though first - Cafe Lumiere is playing in town - seeing that is an absolute imperative.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Humbuggery

I'll bet you were expecting Bill O'Reilly jokes, weren't you? ha ha ha! No, this is about Johnny Damon, Traitor!

Well, you know. Actually, I have been wondering how much longer we could expect Damon to keep playing at the level he'd established the last couple years. (Since he took that horrible crack in the head in the 03 playoffs, then grew his hair - before that, the vultures were circling, wondering what the Red Sox could get for a washed up slap hitter with no arm. Even at the beginning of last year, before he settled down, there were moans and groans - he had a rather bad start in the field in 2004. People forgot that eventually.) Now I think I know the answer. The Yankees, in recent years, have developed an uncannny ability to acquire declining stars - A-Rod is a notable exception, and Matsui has worked out pretty well - but otherwise, they've been quite remarkable (rivaling the Mets, or the 90s Red Sox) in their knack for getting guys at peak cost after their peak value had passed. So - $52 million for 4 years? If you have that much money, more power to you - and if you're going to spend it on the last 2 years - more power to you! Sure, Damon isn't Bernie Williams - he's the Bernie Williams of 2 years ago. We know where that went.

In short - despite the gnashing of teeth about Damon's departure from the Red Sox, I don't see the point. Short term, it might help the Yankees and hurt the red sox - long term - meaning, by next year - if not by August - it doesn't hurt the sox, and won't help the Yankees all that much. Thgey'll score their runs. But so will Boston, and Boston seems more likely to prevent runs at this point. Now - it is up to the Red Sox organization to take advantage of saving some money and put the right people on the field. They are going to need to get a major league shortstop and centerfielder somewhere. Those are rare and precious commodities - though not so rare or precious as a quality starting pitcher.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Movie Week

Another mediocre week for new releases, but a couple really nice rep house offerings, and another nifty American indie film (that is actually indie, actually looks and sounds and feels different than mainstream films) going unreleased, except at Art Museums. So here goes...

Days of Being Wild ****
In the Mood for Love - ***1/2 -
2046 - **** - lots of Wong Kar Wei over the weekend. I think I promised something like this last summer when 2046 came out - but it deserves more than a couple blurbs. I have to think about it, though. Alas! We'll get there.

Alles Auf Zucker - **1/2 - Yes, it was another slow week. Still, this is a perfectly passable German comedy. An aging one time East German TV star, currently running a bar (into the ground), with a bitter wife, a gay looking son, a former jock daughter, and a granddaughter whose name he can't remember, has one last chance to save the day - a big pool championship that he is sure he'll win. But then his mother dies, and his orthodox brother and his brood - an ultra-orthodox son, a slutty daughter, and a somewhat greedy wife - turn up for the funeral, with a will and a host of difficult conditions from their mother. Oh no! Zucker has to sit for shiva! how will he get to the pool tournament? Oh no! It works better than it could have - lots of comic business, not much style, probably better suited for a TV show than a movie, but amusing enough, with a charming skunk lead who nearly carries it.

A Day At the Races & A Night at the Opera - what it starts with is wanting to watch TV while I ate, and having nothing on but football and an interesting looking chambara that was already half done... so I pop in A Day At the Races... and who can stop with one Marx Brothers film? these MGM films are bloated and full of dull patches, but when the brothers are on, they are still on indeed.

Brokeback Mountain **1/2 - Boy, it sure was tough to be a gay cowboy in the 60s and 70s; but gay cowboys sure take a good picture.

There's not much to add to that. I have seldom seen a film so single-mindedly devoted to its thesis - every shot, every line of dialogue, every overwrought symbol makes one or both of those points. It's still a reasonably good film - the actors are fine, and they and those mountains sure do take good pictures - but you really don't need to see the film to get the point.

Talent Given Us *** - An odd set-up - directed by Andrew Wagner, and starring his family - father Allen, mother Judy, sisters Emily and Maggie - playing themselves, or at least, characters with the same names as themselves. The plot goes - Emily is an actress in LA - she visits the NY branch of the family, and they head to their beach house - but as they arrive, Mom demands they turn around and leave - and then, as they drive into the city, demands they keep on going, all the way to LA. They do! They argue and talk and carry on along the way... they talk about their lives (using their real names, mind you) in quite excruciating detail - old affairs, failures, betrayals - medications, sexual peccadilloes, liposuction... The material would get you squirming - the fact that the actors are playing themselves doing this stuff, in front of their son (as director/cinematographer) - well... But the fact is, it's very funny - very humane - and uses its casting well. It's a bit like Andrew Bujawski's films - maybe with a more explicitly documentary style, but with similar structure. Looks improvised, looks utterly casual, though in fact it is well structured and carefully written. It looks caught on the fly, but it has been carefully put together - the casting of his family works - their individuality brings out the best in in the story. It's very good, a true pleasure.

Rushmore & The Royal Tennenbaums: nice to see them in a double feature on a big screen; not so nice to see them in projected video. I don't know if the Brattle is having trouble getting prints or what, but this is the second time in less than a week they've shown a video: the weekend screening of In the Mood for Love was a DVD. Annoying! Throw in the line of kids behind me talking about all the great movies they haven't seen - "have you seen The Killing?" - "No. Have you?" - "No, but it's like Reservoir Dogs, only better." - and the fact that there were people there in costume (oh god) - and it could have been better. But the quality of these films, especially Rushmore, is such that once the film gets going, you forget everything else. I noticed this before - back some years, I saw a pan and scanned version of Rushmore on TV - a horrible mutilation indeed - but still remarkably effective. The story, characters, even the design of the film (though a lot of this you had to fill in from memory) came through.

Constitution? What Constitution?

It has been forever since I have made a political post - I don't plan to get back in the habit too much. But this story, the NSA spying story, is just so awful - so pathetic. It's bad on the surface - here's Jonathan Alter discussing it, how it is plainly illegal, how "Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War." It's bad the way it was covered and revealed, the politics being played - the New York Times had this story last year? Before the election? Sweet Lord! It's depressing to watch Bush and company defend it, trying to turn the debate back on his opponents. Depressing. But it's also pathetic, because it's such a pointless act of villainy. A couple days ago, I saw Mark Jurkowitz on TV, one of those panel shows they have on WGBH. I was just flipping through - and heard him say somethign to the effect, if they put these wiretaps to a vote, they'd pass easily. That raises 2 points. The first is wonky, sure, though fundamental to what it means to be an American - civil liberties aren't supposed to be put to a vote. The constitution is largely about defining what can and can't be put to a vote - the Bill of Rights is a basically a list of things that are not subject to the will of the majority. The second point is more direct - he's right - if you put it to a vote it would pass. And more, there was a mechanism in place for the administration to put this to a vote - if Bush and company had gone after the warrants they wanted, they would have gotten them. They broke the law for no reason. It's that kind of thing that makes us wonder what the reason was - just laziness? contempt for the law, for the constitution? or an unabashed power grab, an attempt to establish precedent for ignoring the contitution? They have a history of that - shrugging off thr Geneva Convention, playign games with what is and isn't a war, what is and isn't a foreign combatant - and when the semantics fail, just doing what they want and brazening it out until someone stops them.

(Meanwhile, over at The Poorman, Sifu Tweety comes up with an actual explanation for the policy - technology! Specifically, cell phones and calling cards that can be had anonymously, thus creating great difficulties in obtaining warrants. Interesting - if that's the case, the government is using the same logic teenagers downloading movies on the internet are - the laws apply to old fashioned technology; new technology makes the old laws inappropriate and ineffective. In this case, the excuse is pretty weak, for the reasons given above - it couldn't have been that hard to get changes in the laws that would cover this situation. Of course, the solution might have been worse than the disease - it strikes me that technology that allows greater anonymity has to be fought with means that catch a lot of innocent people - random tests, or something of that sort. Though the situation reminds me a bit of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly - the police monitor everything - but they don't have enough manpower to actually pay attention to everything - all the information they gather becomes white noise. Getting caught doing something is completely random.

I think in general, it would be better not to live in a world invented by Philip K. Dick.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005


There is a warm place in hell, I say, for Robert Farley, Amanda Marcotte, and Hua Hsu (who started it all) - why? Because they have all three, in the past week or so, weighed in on the Crucial Question of our Day: is "My Humps" the worst pop song of all time? Or at least, of some meaningful period of time, in which we now live? And in asking that question (and answering it), they have led me to click on a link to a video.

Oh, god. The thing is, the first minute or so, it's not so bad - sure, it's stupid, but it's stupid like a Weird Al song, like a parody without an original to make fun of. But then it keeps on going. On and on. And dumber and dumber and more and more horrible... I long to imagine it is stooopid, and that the Black Eyed Peas know thay have made perhaps the worst song in history - a dumb joke on a dumb joke.... but it keeps on going, and going, and - good lord, they think the song itself is witty, not a mockery of - of... It starts out like they're Bialystock and Bloom, but by the end, I'm convinced they're really Franz Liebkind. "My lovely lady lumps?" My god.

What Day is this Again?

You mean yesterday was Friday? Oh lord.

Fun with iPods. The last 10 what played randomly thereon.

1. Stevie Wonder - Too High
2. George Michael - Father Figure
3. Decembrists - From my Own True Love (Lost at Sea)
4. TheNew Pornographers - Jackie Dressed in Cobras
5. Donovan - To Susan on the West Coast Waiting
6. Madonna - Material Girl
7. You La Tengo - Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)
8. Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Polaski Day
9. Wilco - I'm the Man WHo Loves You (live)
10. Iron & Wine - Free Until they Cut Me Down

Monday, December 12, 2005

Movie Review Weekly

Another week, another collection of movie reviews - some good ones, but a slow week for new stuff.

Aeon Flux - Moan - I watched the cartoons, back in the day. I think it took a while to get it, but I liked it - the way things moved, all the angles, the minimalism - I remember the way it sounded, the little flitting sounds... the movie, alas... Look - a movie like this - if you have to make it - is simple: there is one point - the girl in the catsuit. The filmmakers don't even get that right. Long stretches of this benighted affair are consumed in worst kind of back and forth close ups - long plot expositions with Charlize Theron and the guy (I'm not even looking the bastard's name up, not that he's all that bad, but what's the fucking point), Trevor, whatever, talking, talking talking - in alternating closeups - No, God Damn It! This is easy to film - you back the camera up, you put Ms. Theron in motion, you film. Voila. Jesus. Anyway - an online acquaintance wisely suggested that if you need to see a girl in a catsuit, you should rent Irma Vep instead - sage advice. The real irony here is that Olivier Assayas - Euro art film maker deluxe - has, indeed, already made this movie twice. Irma Vep has the catsuit - Demonlover, though, has the storyline, or lack thereof - it certainly gets the sexy nihilism of the old Aeon Flux cartoons. And Connie Nielson, who may not be Maggie Cheung, but who is?

The Wide Blue Road - *** - Gillo Pontecorvo's debut film, starring Yves Montand as Squarcio, a dynamite fisherman somewhere off the coast of Italy (Sicily? or the Adriatic? I don't know.) There is conflict in the town - no one makes money except the dynamite fisherman, but Squarcio's honest friend Salvatore is organizing a co-op that will break the hold of the capitalists and allow honest men to make an honest living. Meanwhile the coast guard is trying to catch Squarcio - at first it's led by another old pal, who's ineffectual and depressed - but he's replaced by a younger man, with a faster boat and a more manly mustache, and things get tougher. Squarcio refuses to join the co-op or stop bombing fish, thinking he can make it alone - but things go wrong... Very formulaic, especially toward the end, but Montand comes close to pulling it off, aided somewhat by Pontocorvo's tough minded leftism. It's also gorgeous, but it's hard to say if that's for or against it.

Pride & Prejudice - *** - it's been hanging around a while, with good reviews, but it's Jane Austen! whatever merits Miss Austen has as a writer, as a source for films - one takes chances.... But this weekend, there was nothing better to see (it's been a dismal few weeks, if I say so myself - there's nothing new I have any interest in at all, and it's been a while since there has been more than one film a week I care about. Thus repeat viewings and films I fear, like this one. [Aeon Flux is another class of film - that's known as a bunch of guys wanting to see some violence. (Skin may also play a role, though blowing stuff up is more immediately important. We aren't teen-agers after all.] We were gravely disappointed, and may be forced to see Syriana to adjust some kind of cosmic balance. Though Syriana looks pretty painful itself.)

Lost the plot there a bit. So faced with the choices of Syriana and that Wal-Mart documentary, I said, let's take my cultural medicine and see if this Austen thing is any good. The answer: yes it was. I quite regret snubbing this film - I should have listened to the reviews. It's a nice adaptation - gets the story told without any offenses to history (real, literary or cinematic) - and done in a way that makes you think the people in it might have been real people, not just Great Literary Characters Brought to Life on the Screen. Uses an active, mobile camera that keeps moving you through the world - and has a nice sense of solidity that is usually lacking in period films. The opening shot of the Bennett manse sets the tone - a single shot going through the farm yard, circling around to show the daughters doing laundry and such - with some nice details in the props - a shiny new (or at least clean) looking wooden table and shabby, worn out creaking wooden floors. That's good - period films are usually either sparkling clean, as if everything was just brought in from a museum, or deliberately shabby, as if everything was just dug up out of an archeological site. The real world - theirs or ours - has both. Things wear out and things are replaced - some things are maintained and some are not. In this film, clothes can be a little threadbare; hair is out of place; people are sometimes shaved and sometimes not; details appear like a servant in a powdered wig with a 5 o'clock shadow; it has worn sideboards, peeling and faded paint, cracked stone-work. Meanwhile - it is raucous and lively. The balls are noisy, cluttered affairs; people carry on indecorously, or decorously, depending on what kind of person they are... And Keira Knightley herself is quite good, in that vein - grinning and laughing - and composing herself - thinking about it... she makes Elizabeth Bennett the actor. She has a very nice kind of canny independent gaucherie. Makes for a fine movie. We are grateful.

Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes van Zandt - *** - what it says. Van Zandt was a songwriter and singer from Texas, well respected, but not exactly famous. A hard life... This documentary follows his life, tells his tale, with plenty of musicians popping in to opine. It's good - it's a bit padded, and sometimes gets confusing, but the story gets told, and the music is quite superb, though it might benefit from more complete and uninterrupted performances. But that's the way with far far too many documentaries about musicians - filmmakers should let the songs finish. Screw cinematic pacing - we want to hear the music! But that's a little unfair - I have had Van Zandt's voice echoing in my head for the last couple days, so they must have done something right.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday isn't it?

Oh yeah - time for a list of random songs isn't it?

1. Neutral Milk Hotel - Ghost [Love this song, I do...]
2. Abba - The Name of the Game [this is something I should not admit t0 - I owned this record when I was a kid. Why did I ever buy this thing? I seriously cannot imagine what I could have been thinking. I remember being a Kiss fan, and Eagles fan, a Styx fan - all the other crap I bought back then - but Abba? weird, man, very weird.]
3. Minor Threat - Minor Threat
4. Mars Volta - Haruspex (from Scab Dates) [let 'er rip, Omar...not that he needs any urging...]
5. Big Star - Mod Lang
6. Dr. Nerve - Unna
7. At the Drive in - Metronome Arthritis [more noise, more sqawling guitar - good day for it, I guess]
8. Black Sabbath - Wicked World [get those riffs going]
9. Sugar Minott - Hang on Natty
10. Son Volt - Who

Monday, December 05, 2005

Return of Movie Roundup

It's been a while since I posted such a post. Last week, being a holiday, saw me riding the rails and making like Henry VIII over the stuffed fowl rather than watching movies - but we're back! It's been a pretty thin couple weeks for the new releases - all documentaries, you'll note... BUt throw a couple classics in there... Onwards:

Jesus is Magic - ** - Basically a concert film by Sarah Silverman - rated NC-17! I didn't know that! y'know, that's just wrong. There's something there that is just wrong. I mean, it's bad enough that Kevin Bacon's ass gets an NC-17, but all Silverman does is talk! or is it for the singing? I don't know.... Her act is funny, and clever, all that twisty morality and irony.... The film, though, is just a concert film, maybe a bit better than a comedy central special, but that's all.

Ballet Russes - *** - I know nothing whatsoever about ballet. I have heard, perhaps, of Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Balanchine and Agnes DeMille, but anything I know about their work comes from whether it turned up in Hollywood (and whatever Jane Feuer said about it.) That ignorance caused this film no harm. It is, for the most part, a talking heads and archival footage documentary - but the talking heads (the surviving dancers mostly) are charming and funny and fascinating. And the archival footage is stunning. Granted, I suppose any ballet is rather awe-inspiring to the completely uninitiated, but here it's put into just enough context that I can at least imagine I know what they are talking about when they say something is out of the ordinary... Anyway - I know more about ballet now than when I went in, and got that knowledge in an inspiring way. Nice film.

Seven Men From Now - **** - I had managed, despite all the movies I have seen, never to see anything by Budd Beotticher until this. It stars Randolph Scott, who is on the trail of 7 men who murdered his wife in a hold-up. While tracking those men, he crosses path with a husband and wife headed to California by a rather odd route, and his old pal/foil Masters, played by Lee Marvin - in LEE MARVIN mode. From there... "pow"...

The Tall T - ***1/2 - Boetticher and Scott again, plus Richard Boone as a lonely gunman saddled with a pair of young fools (Henry Silva as the necessary preening gunslinger) and Maureen O'Sullivan as the "plain" daughter of the territory's richest man. A robbery turns into a hostage situation, and the characters circle each other until such time as some must die.

These two were shown with an episode of the Rifleman directed by Boetticher. Adam West reads lines in his inimitable style in the role of a gunslinger who used to be a schoolteacher who... never mind the plot. There's a drunk and a whore (and the show comes as close to identifying her as a whore as one imagines television could do in the 60s) and a blizzard, and the threat of violence, and some nice shots - the drunk with a fork full of food waiting to eat when the kid says grace...

A History of Violence - *** - repeat viewing. In the context of the Boetticher films, it comes off better than it did the first time I saw it. The beginning, establishing the Stalls family in small town America, is appallingly bad - worse than I thought when I saw it the first time. Lame attempt at a David Lynch vibe, arch and stylized and - dreadful. Then the Bad Men arrive, and the film clicks in - there are still too many moments of cheesy soul-searching, but they don't overpower the film - it runs along on something very similar to what ran those Boetticher films. That's a good thing. On the other hand - the goofy closeups of blown apart heads, and that stupid sex scene on the stairs are very ridiculous. Oddly - both the gore and the opening sequence have parallels in The Tall T - some early scenes of happy frontier life; the aftermath of violence - both handled with a great deal more elegance and gravity by Boetticher. Cronenburg comes off a bit like Count Floyd on SCTV - ooohh Kids! scary!

Darwin's Nightmare - ***1/2 - Documentary about Lake Victoria, which has been utterly taken over by a single species of fish, the Nile Perch - which has created a huge fishing industry in Tanzania, with very little tangible benefit to the Tanzanians. The film itself reminds me of some of Herzog's documentary - different style and emphasis, but similar for its way of maintaining and presenting a very strong point of view, while allowing the subject matter, the people in the film, their chance to speak, to exist, somehow independently of the filmmaker.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra - This is not really a film one can rate. It's a strange case - a dead on parody of bad 50s SF films - that almost never quite breaks character as an imitation of one of those films - maybe a little... I remember when this first came out - seeing the trailers, and thinking it was one of the best things I had ever seen. But once I realized it was a trailer for a real, actual film, that was going to be really, actually released on the real actual big screen - well... the trailer is just as wonderful - but the thought of seeing an actual film of that sort... I didn't see it - and the reviews I've seen (then, and the ones I looked up now, like The Rog) hammered it; it turned up on TV this week, and I rather enjoyed it. I am glad I saw it on TV, though - it is too perfect an imitation of shitty 50s SF films - the pacing is dead on perfect - shots held too long - pointless dueling closeups, lots of filler shots... The stories for films like this one (or, the films it's parodying) take about 15 minutes to tell (less than that really - the trailer told the story perfectly in its 2-3 minutes of screen time) - but the films last an hour, 75 minutes - right.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Major Issues of the Day

What have we done to ourselves, as a country, when a headline like Congress to look into 'deeply flawed' BCS system can occur outside of The Onion? Oh sure, "College football is not just an exhilarating sport, but a billion-dollar business that Congress cannot ignore," said committee Chairman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican. But really... Thanks to the steroids controversy, Congress has realized they can get their pictures on TV for something not related to Iraq, and they are taking every change they get. I heard Ted Kennedy was considering launching an investigation of the American League MVP voting, but Hilary Clinton cut a deal....

Friday, December 02, 2005

Friday Music Ten

1. Cream - I Feel Free [nicely crooned]
2. The Warlocks - Stickman Blues
3. ELO - Poker [kind of crappy ELO - trying to Rock Out, but sounding like the house band in a Tim Burton stop-motion film]
4. Social Distortion - Let it be Me [hey! just put this on the computer - nice of the iPod to throw it up already... I remember some lady back int he 80s or whenever this record came out whining about Social Distortion abandoning punk - or something... I don't know. They're just a band, but this is a pretty nice piece of work, really]
5. Minutemen - Martin's Story
6. Replacements - I'll Buy [not awful, I suppose, but not what made them great]
7. Trusty - Goodbye, Dr. Fate [huh? something on the Dischord collection. Sounding like a cheesy remake of something from Zen Arcade]
8. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven [Argh! I'm 13 again! flashbacks! cruel 7th grade girls! noogies from the cool kids! stairway to heaven in assembly!.. oh days of yore! (the truth is, in 7th grade I was listening to Kiss and Aerosmith and Steve Miller, BTO, The eagles... the cool kids - there actually was a cool kid in 7th grade. He came in talking about the Ramones. I don't know if he'd heard any music by the Ramones, but he'd heard of them, that they were brothers, they sang about sniffing glue. A couple years later, though, I don't what happened to him, I never quite made it all that far (until after college, really), but did get to listening to the Talking Heads and Elvis Costello by the time I was 16-17. And Zep of course.]
9. Of Montreal - Requiem for O.M.M.
10. Tom Waits - Flash Pan Hunter

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Naming Rights!

You know - Atrios says Bill O'Reilly is "effing bonkers" for this screed: - but me, I think he might be on to something.

O'REILLY: They don't have to say "Merry Christmas" in China, OK? They can say whatever they say in China, "Happy Winter." All right? "We like pandas." Say whatever you want. This is America. This is the big commercial holiday.

He's got something, I say. Why not sell the naming rights? If Enron field can become Minutemaid Park, if the Fleet Center can become the TD Bank North Garden (hey! it's got "Garden" in the title!), then why shouldn't December 25th be Happy Yule, if the Swedish Pagan community writes a big enough check? Should store greeters say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"? whatever gets paid for, right? and why not work in the name of the company? "Have a dunkin' donuts holiday!" "Merry Tropicana Premium Orange Juice Christmas!" "O Holy Night, the DirectTV stars are brightly shining...."

Anyway - old Bill does go a tad off the rails, but it is refreshing at the beginning to get some hint of the true meaning of Christmas - buy buy buy, boys and girls. I'm not sure where these Bill O'Reilly types get the idea that Christmas is in any way a Christian holiday - oh, sure, there's a "christ" in the name, but before the pagan elements were downplayed, the hardcore christians (puritans and the like) hated it, and it only really got popular when the retailers took it over. Bill seems perfectly at ease with that, of course....


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Down Down Down

Quick dip into the sewer of politics....

And I mean the sewer - an editorial at NewsMax entitled, "John McCain: Torture Worked on Me", arguing that since John McCain broke under torture, he's a hypocrite for not supporting the use of torture now.

No, really, that's the title - that's the point of the article! Read the final paragraph:

That McCain broke under torture doesn't make him any less of an American hero. But it does prove he's wrong to claim that harsh interrogation techniques simply don't work.

I've read low and disgusting things...

From the Rude Pundit and Atrios.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Music Randomizer, Thanksgiving Edition

Nothing like a long ride on a train to provide fodder for blog posts. So in lieu of the weekly random 10 post (not to mention the weekly movie post), here's a random 20 (only a few days late), courtesy of Amtrak. With comments, written In Real Time (mostly)...

1) Slint - “Washer” - tinkly guitar, a spare slow drum - with little flickers of guitar slipping in and out. The little delicate guitar filigrees - sliding fingers on the strings - singing - delicate - odd . . . This is pretty good - they were big in the 90s - "big” - and I never heard of them until they reunited. . . . There’s the release - twin guitars banging out chords - someone faking a solo - back to the jangle. Is this “emo”? - those are “twinkly guitar parts” if I ever heard any.

2) Outkast (Big Boi) - “Intro to Speakerboxx” - cutesy noise, drum machines . . .

3) Neil Diamond - “Love on the Rocks” - lucky me! Boy, I’m glad I got that record! Shitty live recordings of Oh Caroline and a couple good songs, plus crap like this. Stinks of record contract shenanigans - the early stuff must be on a different label. Christ.

4) Neil Young - “After the Gold Rush” - “we got mother nature on the run in the 1970s.” Brother Neil wrote real songs in the Dylan style, but cleaner, with plain lyrical lines. Still - Dylan is Strange - Neil is more classic - the lyrics make actual sense, on the surface. (Damned harmonica.) “Children crying and colors flying all around the chosen ones” - “all in a dream, all in a dream, the loading had begun” . . . a song you have to listen to . . .

5) Edith Piaf - “Avant Nous” - French pop is quite nice. [That’s all I wrote? Why is it nice? It sounds like nothing else, really - not folk, not jazz, not classical, does it? Interesting. I don’t know what to say about it, but I do like it.]

6) Bikini Kill - “Alien She” - cheesy hardcore stylings - not bad, but hardly X-Ray spex . . .

7) Velvet Underground - “Stephanie Says” - good old Lou.

8) Ramones - “Pinhead” - thank god - I don’t want to be a pinhead no more . . . precise and tight - as a Dixieland band, Johnny said. They didn’t evolve, but why change when you’re all set? Gabba gabba! Gabba gabba!

9) Fleetwood Mac - “Rattleshake Shake” - from one of the Boston Teaparty shows. We’ll be here awhile. “I guess I got to shake it myself.” But get Pete going- I’ve only listened to this once in all the time I’ve had it. I like this record - like this song - but how often do I have 25 minutes to spend on one song? [And why spend it on Fleetwood Mac and not Miles or Coltrane?] It’s a good car song - trains will do; “jerk away the blues” - the intertwining guitar lines - a lot more groove to Fleetwood Mac than to almost anything like it - the 2 guitars playing off each other - the constant, rock solid groove - and Green’s unbounded inventiveness and utter mastery of the instrument. They circle the beat (Green and Kirwin) - Kirwin dropping back, speeding up, dropping chords into different places - accenting . . . while Pete solos . . . and the rhythm section grooves - grooves - grooves! - like a motherfucker. Kirwin comes in (as Pete slides off to he side). Kirwin’s biting attack on the guitar - like Townshend, or like he maintains his role as a rhythm guitarist in his solos. I love that. If you gotta boogie for 20 minutes, this is how to do it. (Oops - that was 12 minutes - now they’ll do Albatross.)

I have to note - Peter Green is better than anyone other than Hendrix, and - I think - Richard Thompson. Thompson is more versatile - and a much better songwriter (though that is probably due as much to the drugs as anything else - Green, sane, probably would have held his own most of those years. [Though it’s also due to the fact that Thompson is much less beholden to the blues. White Englishmen are not the ideal blues songwriters - Thompson draws from a much wider array of music, and draws more fundamentally from British folk, which probably makes his songs sound more real. But it’s moot since Green did not stay healthy all those years.]) . . . Delicacy, touch - the perfect notes - always in tune with the song, the rhythm, everything else . . .

10) Big Country - “Republican Party People” - a slide guitar intro - cheesy vocals - kind of crappy. Stuart Adamson! I remember this guy’s name! (Is this song about Lee Atwater? Holy crap - could be.)

11) PJ Harvey - “Rubit til it Bleeds” - the quiet little beginning, slowly building into that distorted buzzsaw of release - most of her songs do that, back then . . .

12) Minor Threat - “Sob Story”

13) Mission of Burma - “Train” - “making sense of all the hidden facts” - the sputtering guitar parts and bits of jangly noise - “how can you pretend to give a fuck when nothing seems to matter at all”. The “solo” at the end - great stuff - all chords - all three of them throbbing and crashing . . .

14) Six Organs of Admittance - “Shadow of a Dune” - Another band that is instantly recognizable, an odd fact, since I've been listening to them less than a year. They are in deep already. They’re good - or, Ben Chesny (or whatever his name is) is good.

A tripod in a meadow.

15) Modern Lovers - “Road Runner” - ah. And the highway when it’s late at night, “don’t feel so alone got the radio on” - “the highway is your girlfriend . . . I’m in love with rock and Roll and I’ll be out all night” . . . that sweet beautiful organ solo.

16) Friction - “Dear Richard” - Peter Laughner and company - Pete jangles - sputtering guitar parts . . .

17) Johnny Cash - “25 Minutes to Go” - “the trap and the rope they work just fine . . . this ain’t the movies so forget about me.” Goddammit what a song. Cash’s banter - “my idiot sheet” - “how ya doin’ Shirley?”

18) Buzzcocks - “I Believe” - another great one.

19) Pere Ubu - “Perfume” - Pennsylvania, one of David Thomas’ nourish recitations - all desert imagery, echoey guitars (Tom Herrman’s return - the sharp, cutting slides.)

20) Jim O’Rourke - “Halfway to a Threeway” - quiet little acoustic thing. “I try again and again to indulge in just one sin.”

That’s all. That got me home.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Movies 11/20

Another week - a few more films...

Walk the Line *** - solid biopic, with nice performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. That's about it, though. Could it be better? Is it possible to make a great film about a great artist? It seems to me, anything a filmmaker could say about someone like Johnny Cash has already been said, better, by Johnny Cash himself. It's that way with most great artists, isn't it? In a way, this film reminds me of Bird - it's not so much that they are alike (pther than being about great American musicians), but they both seem to make honorable attempts to get at their subjects, in a style that itself attempts to do justice to the subject. They come short, but they come short in a very admirable way. Bird's twisty, impressionistic style seems right for Charlie Parker's story; the plain, direct, concrete style of Walk the Line is right for Johnny Cash. In her review, Salon's Stephanie Zacharek notes the solidity of Cash's demons - trains, guns, fire - and the film works that way, embodying evil and redemption in real things and real sounds: saws, trains, tractors, fishing rods, guitars, pills and pill bottles, to the point of making Cash's return to the church quite literal - he returns to a building. The emotion is the same - the power in Cash's music is in its unsentimental sentimentality. Emotion - love, anger, fear, pain - is felt for real - a sad song is a sad song and you are supposed to feel sad about it. The film gives you that - gives you the heart tugging moments you're supposed to have in this kind of film, the uplift, the sorrow, gives them to you pretty close to their baseline - "God has given you a second chance" - as sentimental a line, and plot point, as you could ask, but played perfectly straight, because it is perfectly real.

Smile - ***1/2 - 1975 Michael Ritchie film about a California beauty pageant. Even more Altman-light than Bad News Bears, but light or not, it's pretty damned good on its own. Sharp and funny dialogue, an array of more or less defined characters, some great parodies of mid-sized American towns in the 70s - "want a major weenie?" In the end, bitter and sad - Bruce Dern trying to talk to some soldiers - "we held the Chosen reservoir!" - "Did you see the knockers on that one?"

Top Hat **** - I'm tempted to drag poor old Busby Berkeley back out for some theorizing and comparing. Thought of it toward the end here, during the Picolino dance number - which has, like Berkeley, a gang of dancers making patterns and traces for an overhead camera, before Fred and Ginger join in for some celebratory hoofing... Mark Sandrich and company may have picked up the large patterns of dancers Berkeley favored, but none of his style - none of the cutting in and out of the dance, none of the construction of the dance on the editing table. No - Sandrich shoots almost all of it from high above, one or two angles - dropping down only to give a better look at the dancing as a whole (or at least of a pair of legs) - and, of course, for Fred and Ginger. But comparing Top Hat to Berkeley has little point except to note where the energy of this film (and the Fred and Ginger films in general) lies - it is about the performances, about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing. Berkeley's films are about the movement and colors, the patterns, etc. - the music and dancing in films like the Chevalier/MacDonald films are much more about creating character and a world - the music and dancing in Fred Astaire's films is about Fred Astaire, singing and dancing. The story (this one a paper thin series of highly contrived misunderstandings performed delightfully by the usual set of loons - Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore and Erik Rhodes and Helen Broderick) is there to get them together to dance - and to create the sense of conflict that can be enacted and overcome through dancing... The dances, though, carry the film - they set up the conflict, show the two coming together, and, of course, give you the lgorious release they promise... Anyway. A more satisfying film, or type of film, has seldom been made... (And a word in favor of Mark Sandrich, or someone - not only does he do a fine job of allowing Fred and Ginger to put their moves across on the screen, but there are some nice little motifs run through the film - sound and silence, birds and flying... and the gorgeous art deco look of everything.)

The Squid and the Whale **** - yes, I saw it 2 weeks ago. Just checking in. Yes, it is the best film of the year.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday is Music Day Chez Nous

What if I started blogging in French? That woulnd be a problem since I would be limited to the present tense and about 50 words. Sacre bleu!

But it is Friday, yes, and so we get, Random Music. Today, as well, you'll get a comment or two...

1 Beatles - Back in the USSR
2 Mouse & The Traps - Sometimes You Just Can't Win [this came from one of those Mojo compilations - neat stuff - may have to poke around for it...]
3 Carter Family - The Church in the Wildwood [just in time for the Johnny Cash bio - which seems to be almost as much about June Carter Cash - a chance to hear one of their signature songs, which Johnny and June also adopted. And a great song anyway.]
4 Beatles - I want to Tell You
5 Radiohead - Paranoid Android (live)
6 Bob Dylan - It's Allright Ma, I'm only Bleeding
7 Six Organs of Admittance - Close to the Sky
8 Shellac - This is a Picture
9 Decembrists - 16 Military Wives
10 U2 - So Cruel

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Movies (and DVDs) Seen 11/7-13

Three Outlaw Samurai *** - More samurai cinema, this one directed by Hideo Gosho, starting Tetsuro Tamba. Three peasants have kidnapped the daughter of a corrupt lord - they are hiding in an old mill, and sure enough, who turns up by a hard-bitten ronin, who takes their side. Well - the lord comes for them, using crooks and villains, including another ronin, who soon turns side - and off it goes... It starts comic, but with a gritty edge, and darkens about the middle, into betrayals and reprisals, and an oddly nihilistic happy ending. More than any of these films, this one plays like the Chinese films that followed them - the style, the character types, etc. feel more like Chang Cheh than Kurosawa.

Samurai Rebellion **** - With Mifune as a master swordsman whose lord orders his son to marry one of his (the lord's) discarded concubines - 2 years later, the lord wants her back, but Mifune and his son won't go along with it. Time to use those martial arts!... Kobayashi is a hard case. He is a master, a great director, but I can't warm to him. There is something dishonest about him - his films suggest a kind of politics they don't quite achieve, I think. They concoct elaborate, self-pitying melodramas to justify their characters' killing sprees and manly posturing - they are anti-feudalist and anti-militarist, but those things are opposed by military supermen (this is true in both these samurai films, and in his epic The Human Condition, where liberal anti-militarist Tatsuya Nakadai turns out to be a superhuman soldier.) It's an old problem, of course - the difficulties inherent in making an anti-war war film: he never figures a way around it.

Kurosawa has some of this - but Kurosawa is not sentimental about it. His swordsmen, first, are practical - they fight, they win, they don't pretend to be anything special. (Unless they are, and when they are, they are usually more like monks than samurai - not an accident, necessarily, that Takeshi Shimura first appears in Seven Samurai impersonating a priest.) Second - competence is taken as a value in itself. And third - the political implications of this stuff gets a far more serious turn. Swordsmen in Kurosawa's films, good or bad, are not particularly important, politically - they can come through and disrupt and break things, but it is more the canny types (the honest ugly official in Sanjuro), the professionals (Nakadai's character in High and Low) or the masses (the peasants in Seven Samurai) who make things run or not.

But back to Samurai Rebellion: it has those flaws - it is, after all, really a melodrama, as weepy as any Mizoguchi or Naruse, if you get down to it, but instead of suffering women, it's Mifune murdering extras. It's a rigid and symmetrical films, all blocks and squares, careful compositions - with a few twists - direct overhead shots, freeze frames, flashbacks inside flashbacks.... It's brought alive, however, by the performances, especially Mifune. He is grand - caught between all the forces (his lord, his nagging wife, his sons, his own bitterness and pride), holding himself in, until things reach a point where he can release - once the die is cast, once there's no going back, he comes alive, in a rush of defiance. You see him, Mifune, bringing the character alive, when his son first defies the lord's ruling - you feel him thinking, "I have raised a man! I have raised a son to die for! And he's married a woman to die for!" He - Mifune - expands into this character, a glorious and exhilarating thing to see, like watching Gondo change in High and Low.

Harakiri **** - another melodrama of poverty and doomed love and friendship that ends in a bloodbath - but again - Kobayashi builds the tension higher and higher, waiting for the release, then giving it to us... Here, Tatsuya Nakadai stars as a ronin with a daughter and a son in law, who is the son of his best friend - they suffer in the peace of the early Tokogawa era when no one needs samurai... They suffer too much, and the son-in-law tries to get some cash by threatening in to kill himself in front of the Iya family's gates - well: they decide to make an example of him by forcing him to really kill himself - which he is quite literally not prepared to do. Nakadai finds out - and a few days later shows up himself, repeating the boy's request. But first, a little exchange of stories, theirs, his.... Then - the whirlwind is reaped.... It is a terrible denunciation of the samurai code - not the code as such, but the fact that it is a facade, used only to defend the power of those that have it from those who don't. But as I said - Kobayashi's attacks on feudal, military values always seem to involve a superstar actor with katana in hand knocking over walls and slicing up villains - which tends to undermine the point a bit.

Twentieth Century **** - Carole Lombard and John Barrymore are unleashed on one another in an early (1934) Howard Hawks screwball comedy... he's a Broadway impresario - she's his greatest discovery - both turn up the ham to 11... With Roscoe Karns, Walter Connolly and the like doing their character thing to the very hilt... "What was Oscar doing, rowing?" Great stuff.

The Passenger ***1/2 - This is an odd case. Watching it, I didn't really warm to it - oh, it looks as good as films have a right to look, and I could sort of nod along with it's philosophical pretensions, but it didn't add up to much more than that. It felt like something was about to happen - but never did.. or did it? whatever.... But now, getting ready to write this, reading a couple reviews (Ebert and O'Hehir, in Salon), it seemed to come together. That may be a function of the themes - the emptiness, the kind of meaningless trace of the character - who is not a character... it's a heady brew, probably better suited to words than pictures. Though it loops back - what comes to mind are the pictures, Jack Nicholson's face, the empty landscapes, the crappy hotels, the blowing sand - so maybe what I mean is it's a film better appreciated in memory. I don't know, but I am more impressed than I thought I would be.

Bad News Bears ***1/2 - Baseball misfits win anyway, begetting a million films about bratty unathletic kids winning championships. It's enough to put you off your feed. It's enough, if you aren't careful, to make you forget how good this film really is. (I'm referring to the Matthau film, of course. Haven't seen Billy Bob's take.) We all know the story, I hope - Matthau is a bum who's hired to coach a bunch of loser little leaguers... they start bad, then start to win. He brings in a girl and a hoodlum as ringers. It's about the evils of competition in America, especially among kids. All the cliches are there, but this is where a lot of them came from - and there are a couple things that utterly redeem it. First, the real nastiness under the story - the violent, bitter competition, the sense of desperation and anger, the loss and regret... Second, Michael Ritchie's Altman-light style (the documentary look, the American pageantry, the way he displaces dramatic showdowns) - these elevates it. The harshness is real - Matthau's anger, disappointment, self-hatred - the way none of the cliched resolutions come off - he doesn't get back with Amanda's mother; Amanda and Kelly don't get together; the Bears don't win; he doesn't quite save anyone, though a lot of the kids get a second or two of fairly believable redemption - drawing a walk - laying down a good bunt - catching a ball... It's a great film.

Forty Shades of Blue *** - star turn by Rip Torn as a Memphis music impresario, who looks like Merle Haggard, but plays more like, oh, Jim Dickinson or someone like that. He has a trophy girlfriend, a stunning Russian woman, they have a son - he also has a son from a previous marriage who turns up with his own problems. The three of them - Torn, the Russian woman (Dina Kurzon, who is fantastic), the son - go around each other, all of them a bit too fond of the bottle.... It's a superb film. Directed by Ira Sachs, who made The Delta 9 years ago now - this has more polish, but a similar look - the patient, observant camera, catching people almost unawares it seems...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Music Random Ten

Once again:

1. fIREHOSE - Down with the Bass
2. Yo la Tengo - Tired Hippo
3. Sly and the Family Stone - Family Affair
4. Bing Crosby - White Christmas
5. X - In this House That I Call Home
6. The Waterboys - The Thrill is Gone
7. The Fall - C.R.E.E.P.
8. The Velvet Underground - Run Run Run
9. Linda Ronstadt - Different Drum
10. The Minutemen - The Tin Roof

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Nothing much to say this Tuesday evening... I did some tweaking to the "blogroll" - not much, just added a couple links and did a bit of reordering. It has been a while since I have tried a metapost - I need a metapost once in a while, though I can't come up with a reason why I need it. Something to break up the weekly iPod and movie review posts, which is about all this humble blogger seems to manage. Though to be honest - getting to the point where I get those 2 posts every week, however rote they may be, is a definite triumph. Now if only I had a cat to blog. I do have a potato:

Somehow I doubt that Wednesday potato blogging will ever replace Friday cat blogging. On the other hand, the potato serves a secondary purpose, a purpose it shall now fulfill, once I've fetched the sour cream....

Friday, November 04, 2005

Mostly Samurai Cinema

Doppelganger ***1/2 - Kiyoshi Kurosawa takes on Dostoevsky, Poe, everyone else who has made a doppelganger film. Koji Yakusho plays a scientist working on an artificial body - things are not going well, and when one of his coworkers tells him about a woman whose brother saw his double and killed himself, it's not long before Yakusho's own double shows up. The double, as is usually the case, is pure id - raising money and chasing women - while Yakusho sticks to moping and science. Then he finishes the machine, and the film gets strange... as usual with Kurosawa, it is very stylishly done - especially when the double shows up, and he splits up the screen, sometimes synchronizing the image, sometimes doubling it, sometimes dividing it. Throughout, though, the themes and images of doubles persist and multiply - as the literal doppelganger is joined by doubled characters - Yakusho and the girl (whose brother saw his double) - Yakusho's former manager and the kid he hires as an assistant - the kid and the double (the manager and the double) - etc. And mirrors, and windows, and movie quotes (Raiders of the Lost Ark!), and resurrections and of course the artificial body itself.... The first 2/3 or so has a nice spookiness to it, mixed with irreverence and wit - then gets very silly at the end. Very nice film all around.

Where The Truth Lies * - a strange experience, watching this film, knowing it is Atom Egoyan, knowing he has made great films - and this one is so dull. Empty, dull. It's getting some attention for the sex - the NC-17 rating, etc. - what on earth for? female nudity, some humping, a little bit of girl on girl - the only thing less explicable than why this got an NC-17 is why Egoyan thought he had to have all that sex in there in the first place. For a film that pretty much turns on sex (it's integral to the plot), the onscreen sex is a complete waste. This would have worked every bit as well (actually, badly) if it were rated PG-13. One wonders if there might have been other motives in not cutting it down - the knowledge that it was a stinker and needed all the help it could get? Maybe I'm too harsh. It's perfectly watchable, it moves along nice enough, but really... about the only thing it had going for it was the sex, and it was dull, conventional looking - just Hollywood sex.

The Squid and the Whale ***1/2 - brilliant film written and directed by Noah Baumbach, based on his parents' divorce. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play the parents - both writers, he's on the way down, she's on the way up (a fact that hangs around in the background, but doesn't quite take over the film) - he's a shaggy professorial type who uses his knowledge and taste - for everything. It charms people, it's a defense against emotion, and a way of expressing emotion, it's a way to blot out the vulgar things like where the money comes from. She's quieter, less of a bully, but - maybe - not much better... They have two sons, Walt and Frank - Walt sides with his father, blaming his mother for everything at first - Frank with his mother, defying his father, claiming that he wants to be a philistine... But these categories don't hold. The film, in the end, does not take sides - though Daniels might steal the show a bit, because he is louder, more of a showoff - he may cover it in wit and Godard quotes, but he wears his heart on his sleeve... It's great, though, a moving, funny, sympathetic film...

Kill! *** - yes, it's Samurai week at the Brattle - this one is directed by Kihachi Okamoto, and it's a wild ride indeed. Let me attempt, somewhat feebly, to describe the plot. You have: 7 idealistic young rebels; a farmer who wants to be a samurai; a yakuza who used to be a samurai (Tatsuya Nakadai, channeling some of Mifune's Sanjuro); a yakuza who survived the massacre of his gang; a villain; a traitor; a commoner swordsman who wants money to redeem his wife from a brothel; the wife of course; a prostitute with dirty feet; a sleepy old man; swarms of extras, fit to be cut down by Nakadai and the commoner. This lot is turned loose on a dusty town straight out of Leone (complete with twangy guitar on the soundtrack), an old fort in the mountains, a samurai house, and a brothel, where they plot and scheme and fight and pretend to fight and argue and switch sides and pretend to switch sides... describing the actual plot would take longer than the movie, though in practice, it's not all that hard to follow - a good sign - anyone who can get keep this many people and stories moving, and straight, is doing something right. It's fast and funny, but manages to give some personality to a surprising number of the characters, and remain, as I say, startlingly coherent. It's quite a treat.

Sword of Doom *** - also directed by Okamoto, 2 years before Kill. This also stars Tatsuya Nakadai, this time as a master swordsman who is also a psychopath. He starts the film cutting down an old pilgrim on the Daibotsu pass, leaving a pretty girl orphaned (her story provides a subplot to his); the next day he kills an opponent in a kendo match, then wipes out a mob of men out for vengeance, and is obliged to leave the province, with the dead man's widow in tow. Things don't go well for them - and 2 years later they are poor and miserable, and he is a hired sword for a gang of pro-shogun thugs (this is 1863), skulking about in his black kimono and a big straw hat. Meanwhile, the dead man's brother is training with Nakadai's good twin, played by Mifune - and the orphan girl is misused by cads and sold to a brothel in Kyoto, despite the aid of her uncle the thief. Through it all there is much mayhem - not all of it perpetrated by Nakadai's character - and some nice swordplay... It all comes down to a confrontation in Kyoto - with the brother ready for his vengeance, the thugs divided against each other and ready to use and discard our anti-hero, and then - he meets the girl and his sins finally exact their toll. Then - there is a fight.... Contains 3 total blowout type swordfights - the one vs. all thing: Nakadai vs. the avengers after the kendo match; then Mifune obliterating a gang of assassins in a snowfall, while Nakadai stands in the back and stares in wonder; and then Nakadai vs. the thugs in a burning brothel. This tops it all, with Nakadai staggering through the place, wiping out all comers, even as they get a few cuts in, weakening him, but never enough to make him miss... all to the end, to a stunning and perfect ending...

Yojimbo **** and Sanjuro **** - nothing more needs to be said here does it?

Return of Friday Random Ten!

One of those things you should be able to count on - back! after an absence...

1. Kinks - Dead End Street
2. ...And You Wll Know us by the Trail of Dead - All White
3. Pink Floyd - Flaming
4. Undertones - She can Only Say No
5. Cibo Matto - Birthday Cake
6. Queen - We Are the Champions
7. George Michael - Look at your Hands
8. Fugazi - Sweet and Low
9. Imperial Teen - Freaks
10. Stooges - 1969

Monday, October 31, 2005


All this movie going - I have to empty the notebooks now and then. This weekend, a couple things got to me - so...

1) I saw two new Asian films this weekend, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Three Extremes. I saw the first at 5 PM Saturday - in a very spare house. Saw the second at a Sunday matinee - up until 5 minutes before showtime, there was only one other person in the theater (and he happened to be sitting exactly where I would have wanted to sit - terrible!) At the Saturday Park film, when I bought my ticket, another person asked me if the ticket taker said whether the film was likely to be crowded or not; the ticket taker hadn't said anything about it. It didn't turn out to be a problem.

But I understand the question. 10 years ago, Asian films - specifically (at the time, in Boston, at least), Hong Kong films, kung-fu or gangster films mostly, were mobbed. A film like this Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, with the reviews it's gotten, with Oldboy leading the way, with Tarantino's endorsement, would have had lines around the block. Not - what? a dozen or two people filtering in... I had a row to myself.... What happened? I suppose it could have been other factors - the weather - it was snowing, for chrissakes! (Sunday it hit 60 though, and today is supposed to get up to 70! god bless New England weather!). Or maybe the real crowds were coming out for the 7:30 PM shows, which was a double feature with Oldboy - could be. But I didn't see lines around the block when I left... so I don't know.

This might be exactly the sort of thing that is killing The Brattle. I don't know, of course, what kinds of crowds they got over the whole weekend - but if mine was typical - that is not going to keep anyone in business. And especially since this is exactly the kind of film that, for years, could fill the place, without fail. Is this just part and parcel with declining film attendance? That's one possibility... Or maybe - the vogue for Asian films is passed. Or maybe, the enthusiasm for Hong Kong action (John Woo/Ringo Lam type shootemups, and martial arts films) never translated into enthusiasm for Korean blood soaked morality plays. (It never translated for me into enthusiasm for anime or J-horror - though it did translate into enthusiasm for Beat Takeshi and Takashi Miike.) I have noticed similar patterns at other screenings - the Museum of Fine Arts has shown a few Kim Ki-duk films - which are attended okay - but not like the Hong Kong films (poppy or artsy) they'd show in the 90s. Why would this be? I see as much buzz about Korean films now as I saw about Hong Kong films in the early 90s. Is it just the fact that those films were pushed as cult films, as much by cultists as critics, while the Korean films tend to be pushed primarily by critics, by the film world? I don't know. I'm probably not one to judge.

I am one to worry though. I worry that the Brattle didn't make any money on Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and so will not book Sympathy for Lady Vengeance when it comes out - and that no one else will take it either... and I'll be left waiting for the MFA or HFA to bring it in for a one shot (or the Brattle - if it's still around - or Coolidge to bring it in for a midnight show). I am somewhat resigned to that sort of thing with Hou Hsiao Hsien films - I understand! the audience for those films will probably all fit in one of these theaters at the same time... I know. But how is it possible that a visceral (and intelligent) action film like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (or Oldboy - what kind of audiences did Oldboy pull, anyway? ca. $700,000?) can't find some kind of audience? And if these films can't fill places like the Brattle, if nothing else - how can places like the Brattle survive?

2) Meanwhile, at the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang show.... saw previews for Memoirs of a Geisha, and that has set me off. I fear the worst. No, I don't fear the worst - I am positive of it. Here is a film about Japan, about Japanese women, in a profession that is, really, fairly unique to Japan (in that form) - and yet - all the main roles are played by Chinese women. And - in Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh - Chinese women who do not look in the least Japanese. And furthermore - no attempt has been made to make them look Japanese. The whole film (or, what shows up in the trailer) is like that - it seems to have lifted its look wholesale from Hero and House of Flying Daggers - lots of brightly colored cloth flying in slow motion wind, my friends! lots of flowing garments and hair.... In short - while it is grossly unfair to abuse a film based on its trailer - this one, I think, is going to reek to several heavens. From the very first line of the trailer - "a story like mine has never been told" - well, no, not by American hacks with Chinese actresses perhaps - but the story of geisha, at more or less all stages of their careers, is a perfect staple of Japanese film, and if you must Americanize such things, shouldn't you at least pretend to try to see the era and the characters as they were seen by the people living them? It's a 20th century story - 20th century geisha fill Japanese films. They do not look like Zhang Ziyi.

3) Another trailer that had me in conniptions - is it my imagination or is Ice Harvest a parody/remake of Charlie Verrick? Oh god! say not so! for I fear it is true.

4) And while I generally sit back and take the advertisements at films as they come - this show was a bit excessive. Worse, the string of ads came on after an announcement thanking the audience for watching the "pre-show entertainment" (or whatever they call it - mostly ads for the Discovery Channel, in any case), and promising previews. Instead - one of those stupid Coca Cola sponsored "short films" followed, and then a bunch of plain old fashioned ads. Very confusing.

Hopefully this bit of bitching will hold me for a while...

Happy Halloween! (I think it's Halloween - feels like Memorial Day; 2 days ago it looked like Christmas. Oh, the temporal confusion wrought by the local climate!)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

This Week at the Movies

Another big weekend on the movie front. Naruse, Bresson, and 2 significant Asian films - very nice.

More Naruse: Mother and Late Chrysanthemums. Probably not much I can add to my previous comments, so I'll leave it at another confirmation of their greatness. These two have been available on video - I don't know if they are in print anymore, but they might be kicking around the more enlightened video stores.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang **1/2 - entertaining trifle, playing miscellaneous metafictional games with detective movies, buddy movies, Hollywood movies.... amusing, with Robert Downey Jr. in a very welcome large role - but just another movie, really.

Three Extremes *** - an anthology horror film, with segments directed by Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook and Takashi Miike. Chan's piece ("Dumplings") features Bai Ling selling rejuvenating dumplings to Miriam Yeung. What might those dumplings contain? Fans of Anthony Wong in the Untold Story (or Maggie Cheung in Dragon Gate Inn) might be able to guess. It's witty, rather gruesome, and might stand as a warning against back alley abortionists, if such a thing is needed. Park's segment ("Cut") is the most conceptual - a famous director is kidnapped by a jealous extra, who whines that the director is not only rich, famous, a genius, but he's a good guy as well. He sets up a terrible choice for the poor man, to try to force him to be evil for once in his life. It's very metafictional, almost an allegory, arch and gory, and of a piece with Park's Vengeance films (one of which is reviewed below) - the price of a guilty conscience again.... Finally, Miike turns in what is a rather conventional seeming horror film of nightmares, dreams, hallucinations, circus tents, and exotically beautiful but sad young women ("Box") - or something like that. It's sleek and mildly deranged, but never quite goes off the deep end the way his films inevitably do. And then - it does..... Taken together - it's good - it's not great. All three segments work, and there are some nice echoes between the first two (which are even linked through the sound editing), but there's not much more to say about it. The Miike section is probably the best on its own - the Park section is probably the most interesting in relation to his other films.

Mouchette ***** - for my money, Bresson's best. Story of a teenaged girl in a nasty home situation, an outsider at school, who suffers from all sides until she takes matters into her own hands. I found that I was remembering it wrong - I thought I remembered that Mouchette was always alone in the film - that's not true. She is never alone (almost never alone) - she is surrounded and can't get away from people. Her sick dying mother, her drunken lout of a father, the bullying kids at school, the cruel teachers, the preying men, the nosey busybodies of the town.... She can't get away - she can't even go to fetch a bottle of milk without everyone nagging at her. She is pressed down down down, and every offer of kindness comes with a cost or is snatched away.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance **** - This might be the best Korean film I've seen. (The closest contender is Memories of Murder.) The story is roughly - a deaf mute factory worker has a sister who needs a kidney - he can't donate hers because their blood types don't match, so he tries to buy one on the black market - only to lose one of his and the money that would pay for her operation. So he and his anarchist girlfriend decide to kidnap the daughter of his boss (who recently fired him.) This goes as well as one could possibly hope until the sister finds out - she does not condone kidnapping, and takes drastic measures to stop this one. From there it is all bad, as vengeance leads to vengeance, and everyone is drowned in a torrent of blood, death, piss, water (yes, there is a motif there.)... Park talks about these film as being about guilty consciences: "My films are stories of people who place the blame for their actions on others because they refuse to take on the blame themselves." (Quoted by Filmbrain - I'm not sure of the original source.) It's clear. Everyone in this film behaves badly - and everyone here definitely has good reasons - but what they do is very dumb, careless, selfish - and every act is ruthlessly punished by someone else with a guilty conscience. That's basically what happens in Oldboy as well - there's a circle of punishment and vengeance, with every act adding to the list of sins to be avenged or expatiated. To this is added politics and religion - more politics than religion here, with the conflicts between rich and poor, the relationships between employers and employees, the interest in how people live, the rich and the poor. All made a bit more explicit by the ravings of Ryu's anarchist girlfriend... The same political themes are present in Oldboy, with the resentment between the rch kids and poor kids and so on - and in his segment of Three Extremes. ("Cut", though, makes the guilty conscience theme - and the religious themes - even clearer. Along with more overt references to one of the best thrillers ever made - High and Low.) These themes were present in Oldboy - but seem clearer in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - or maybe it's just the cumulative effect of seeing both.

In any case - Sympathy... is the real deal. And so, I think, is Park. I've now seen 3 1/2 of his films - he has a relatively distinct style and set of concerns, but each film looks and feels different. The style in Sympathy fr Mr. Vengeance is much plainer, more direct than in Oldboy, and far more basic and harsh (though also a bit more experimental) than in the fairly slick Joint Security Area. And "Cut" adds a Kubrickean [is that a word? is there any excuse for that kind of word?] look, and heaps of metafiction to the brew... (And from what I've read, in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, he expands his style again.) He is one of the good ones, and might get to be one of the great ones.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Inspired By IMDB's Anniversary

Via Girish Shambu, I see a chance to make a list: IMDB is celebrating their 15th anniversary by posting their staff's top 15 films of that period. well - that's a game we can all play! Now Girish (and others) have been cheating - listing their favorite directors from that period - not me! I shall play the game in by the letter of the law! On the other hand - I thought I had posted a list of contemporary directors (best directors of the last X years), back in a post linking to a Guardian list of contemporary directors. But no! I did not! But I should! So I will!
But first - the 15 best films since 1990.

1. Rushmore - dir. Wes Anderson
2. Breaking the Waves - Lars Van Trier
3. Goodbye, South, Goodbye - Hou Hsiao Hsien
4. Yi Yi - Edward Yang
5. Fallen Angels - Wong Kar-wei
6. 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould - Francois Girard
7. Through the Olive Trees - Abbas Kiarostami
8. Flowers of Shanghai - Hou Hsiao Hsien
9. Beijing Bastards - Zhang Yuan
10. 2046 - Wong Kar-wei
11. White - Kristof Kieslowski
12. The Sweet Hereafter - Atom Egoyan
13. Once Upon a Time in China - Tsui Hark
14. A Moment of Innocence - Mohsen Makhmalbaf
15. Dead Man - Jim Jarmusch

And now, pour les auteurs.... judged solely (as solely as I can make myself) on what they have done since 1990. What rules have I set myself otherwise? Well - they have to have made, and I have to have seen, at least 2 films - though I think 3 is a better gauge; the exceptions (there may be only one) will be filmmakers who have done something genuinely extraordinary, and have a reputation of excellence that has been borne out by what I have been able to see - but whose films are grotesquely under-released in the States. That is, Edward Yang.

1. Hou Hsiao Hsien - his last 2 haven't made it to the states yet, but he got 2 on my list above, and could have had 3 easily, so, really, it's an easy pick. One of my 10 favorite directors ever.
2. Wong Kar-wei - for some reason, for a while, I was taking him for granted. But he's another director with no soft spots - every film does something remarkable, every film is an event, worth studying, savoring, returning to. He was the director of the 90s the way Godard was the director of the 60s, making historical films as the history happened. I still haven't mustered any lengthy appreciation of 2046, which I was promising back in the summer - but it's one that deserves it.
3. Edward Yang - I feel a bit guilty about this: I've only seen 2 of his films, Yi Yi and Mahjong - Mahjong is fine, Yi Yi is transcendent - he's here as much on reputation as that. Though the films certainly justify the reputation. I'll live with the guilt. Maybe praising him will somehow move someone to release his earlier films on DVD.
4. Abbas Kiarostami - when I did try to write up a list of contemporary directors, I think I set my limits as 1995-2005. In that period, he has been good, but he seems a bit soft - go back to 1990, and he has simply produced a body of work that ranks with the best...
5. Jia Jiang-Ke - another director who hit the ground running - from Xiao Wu on he has worked with complete confidence, documenting his world...
6. Tsai Ming-Liang - going back to 1990, he too has worked consistently among the best of the best. I hesitated some about the positioning of these directors...
7. David Lynch - ... but put Jia and Tsai above Lynch, mostly because Lynch was not at his best in the early 90s. Wild at Heart and the Twin Peaks movies are okay - but nothing like Children of a Neon God or Viva L'Amour - or Lynch's subsequent films. (Let alone his earlier films.) But he's been in fine form since Lost Highway...
8. Wes Anderson - Rushmore and the Royal Tenenbaums stand with any films; Bottle Rocket is a fine work; the Life Aquatic is amusing, but... his resume is a bit thin yet, but....
9. Kiyoshi Kurosawa - I haven't seen anywhere near enough of his films - but they are very impressive, the half dozen or so I have seen.
10. Hirokazu Kore-Eda - I was wondering if I should put him on this list, and where. I have liked all his fiction films, some of them immensely (After Life and Nobody Knows ar magnificent - the other two ar ver good as well.) Then I remembered, I have seen Without Memory - a devastating film. So yes.
11. Takashi Miike - sometimes, you just need to see a guy swallow someone's head.
12. Dardennes Brothers - I've only seen their 3 features from this period, but again - no let ups...
13. Aki Kaurismaki - sometimes easy to overlook, but has a strong body of work in the last 15 years, and before....
14. Guy Maddin - this is way too subjective - I don't know if I could justify this by any other standards than that his films are as enjoyable as they come. As are his DVD commentaries, his books, his reviews, everything.
15. Mohsen Makhmalbaf - hurt mostly by the lack of availability of his films in the states, and the scarcity of the films - as he's turned to educating his children, it seems.

The truth is, I can't do this. I don't know what my criteria are, they'd change every day anyway - the exact order probably depends on the last film I saw, or the last film I read about, or something random. I would say the following directors have every bit as good a claim to be in the top 15 (or 20 or whaever) as the ones I listed:

Jim Jarmusch
Alexander Sukorov
Michael Haneke
The Coen Brothers
Atom Egoyan
Hal Hartley

and maybe Anaud Desplechins (whose disadvantage is that I have only seen 2 of a relatively large body of work - 2 Great Films, though - but still)... Bruno Dumont (I have some mixed feelings, though his first 2 films are extraordinary)... Lars von Trier (some inconsistency?)... Jane Campion (why not?)... maybe Jafir Panahi (whose films have deepened as his career has progressed).... and I feel guilty not listing Francois Ozon or Olivier Assayas.

And am I really justified in leaving Altman off? Herzog? and another one I need to see more of from this period, Jacques Rivette - the 2 I've seen (Haut Bas Fragile and Va Savoir) have been delightful. So?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sunday Night Movie Post

Another week, another bunch of movies. Kind of short, these notes, but that's okay...

Capote : **1/2 - Philip Seymour Hoffman in a star turn as the writer, in the process of writing In Cold Blood. Focusing on the identification between Capote and one of the killers, Perry Smith, and Capote's investment in the project, sometimes at their expense. At times, it creeps close to preachiness, taking a kind of judgmental attitude toward Capote - but Hoffman's performance, his ability to convey Capote's self-awareness, carries the film.

Burden of Dreams (DVD): ***1/2 - Les Blank's documentary about Fitzcarraldo. Unforced, economical, very beautiful and fascinating - and making its own points, shadowing Herzog's film, while exploring Blank's own interests.

Pistol Opera (DVD): ***1/2 - 2001 film from Japanese cult film master Seijun Suzuki. It owes something to Suzuki's classic, Branded to Kill, with its ranked assassins and over the top style - somehow, it manages to be less coherent, and more intense.... In Pistol Opera, the #3 killer, Stray cat, is assigned to kill #1, Hundred Eyes, who nobody knows - meanwhile, a seemingly endless array of associates appear - more killers - "Teacher", "painless surgeon", "dark horse", and number 0, "the champ", who may be the same character as in Branded to Kill... plus stray cat's mother, a little girl named Sayoko, an old woman selling guns, a guy in charge of an exhibition of terror, an agent in a white robe and purple mask, and so on. People die, or don't, dream, meet the dead, deliver speeches on stages, pose with guns, and move with the magic of cinema. They fight and scheme and talk and flirt, there are puns about sex and guns and masturbation (stray cat likes to do it alone - she won't teach the little girl) - pass through charged, beautiful spaces... it's strange, one of the strangest films I have ever seen - but beautiful, and hypnotic and wonderful.

Scattered Clouds: ***1/2 - the last of the Naruse series (there are a couple more showings, at the MFA, of films that have already played at the Harvard Film Archive), the last film Naruse made. Color, widescreen, the story of a woman whose husband is killed in a car accident - the driver of the car tries to send her money, tries to help her - she resists but sooner or later they end up falling in love. But this inevitably causes someone else to be in a terrible car accident, which they witness, and she panics, and doesn't go away to Pakistan with him. The, um, hint of melodramatic nonsense does not distract from the film making, which as always with Naruse is breathtakingly beautiful, clean precise and powerful.

Little Fugitive: **** - pioneering independent film by Morris Engel. With a specially made camera (35 mm, handholdable, in 1952), a crew of 2, and, for most of the film, one 7 year old actor, he went to Coney Island, and made a film. Influenced by the neo-realists, an influence on the new wave, it stands on its own - funny, moving, revealing of the popular entertainments of the day - it works fine as a documentary, as well as a story. A great film.

World Series

So I'm sitting here, watching the world series while I'm writing my weekly movie post... and - it's like clockwork: Ensberg just hit a home run - while Fox was running a promo. They did this all last year - they do it all the time. They never get back for the start of the inning, and if anyone swings at the first pitch... Amazing. The reasons Fox sucks are too many to list - but that's one....

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Weekly Movie Roundup

Kind of back to normal this week. Still some Naruse's showing, but not the solid block like last week. So then...

A Countess From Hong Kong - * - Charlie Chaplin brings Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren together on an ocean liner. He's a politician, she's a white russian countess who's been hustling in Hong Kong and sees a chance to smuggle herself to America. Hilarity and romance - is supposed to ensue, but what ensues is pretty bad. Lots of talk, lots of glowering from Brando, bits of stained farce. Poor Charlie.

Wife! Be Like a Rose! - **** - some Naruse left... seeing this the second time, I am more sure than before that it is among his best films. He had the filmmaking thing down pat - he still moves the camera a lot in this film, but has lost the mannered showiness of the silents I've seen - he had figured out how to use sound already - and he shows a complete mastery of tone. The way the film shifts - tone, style, pace - when Kimiko goes to the mountains is first rate. (The story, roughly, is this: Kimiko is a modern girl, working in a office, in love with a boy - in an unneurotic way almost completely missing from Japanese films of the day - hell, missing from most American films, then or now; her mother, meanwhile, is a poet, a teacher; her father has abandoned them for an ex-geisha. Eventually, Kimiko heads into the mountains to bring dad back - where she meets his other woman, and her family, and gets a new perspective on things.) It' a great little film - funny, sweet, masterfully made, and probably should be considered among the better films of the 30s...

Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-rabbit - *** - amusing tale featuring Nick Parks' claymation stars... W&G here are running a humane pest-riddance service - but when Wallace tries to branwash the rabbits out of liking their veg - bad things happen... All very amusing indeed.

Thumbsucker - **1/2 - I don't know what I think of this exactly. Story is - a 17 year old who still sucks his thumb - his father, his orthodontist (Keanu Reeves! in full hippy-mode!), the school nurse all have ideas... the thumbsucking isn't all that important tot he story - it's about the kid navigating though his senior year... I don't know what to think. It's an honorable effort - it features a Magnificent Cast, who are all on top of their game: Keanu Reeves gives it some star power, and sends himself up - while Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio and Vince Vaughn provide the acting chops. Lou Pucci (as the thumbsucker) acquits himself well in this company... But for all it has going for it - it still seems disjointed - jumping from one setup to the next, sometimes offering a rather pat set of oppositions (speed/pot, notably) which give the film a certain by-the-numbers feel. I don't know. I can't tell if I liked it more or less than I should have....