Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movies Weekly

I may have missed the Friday Random ten (I was at Fenway, booing Manny*), but I can make my weekly movie post, I hope. Thisweek brings us a couple new films, a couple DVDs, and a gift from TMC...

5x2 - *** - moment to moment, shot by shot, Francois Ozon is one of the best directors in the world. He's not necessarily showy (though sometimes he is), but he makes everything he does seem right. This is the story of a marriage, told in reverse, from divorce to first attraction, in five discreet episodes. Critics have sniffed at the structure, and maybe they have a point - but it serves a couple purposes that can't quite be gainsaid: it keeps you from investing in the suspense of what will happen - you know what will happen - so you don't think about how it will turn out; because of this knowledge, Ozon is free to concentrate on the incidents in their isolation - and on those moment to moment, shot to shot details. And, it allows Ozon to pose other couples against the main pair, in a more interesting way than if he had told the story chronologically. This strikes me as more important than most of the reviews I've seen notice - that each section (except the first) brings on a different couple, who pose a kind of alternative to them.... I don't know if this is enough to make it really work - except that it does work, at least it kept me completely engrossed, in the fate of a pair of people who aren't really worth the trouble.

Wedding Crashers -*** - there seems to be a wide range of opinions about this, critics (kind of) hating it, loving it, everything in between: I'll have to come down on the liking end of the scale. It's funny; Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are both in great form... the story? it's got a couple wild boys settling down because of women - oldest plot in the book - except, the women here aren't exactly all that settling. True love, here, is finding someone who wants to join you in doing what you want to do anyway...

The Merry Widow - **** - Ernst Lubitsch directs Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald - plus the requisite second bananas - Edward Everett Horton, Sterling Holloway, etc. - in a classic Viennese musical comedy. And who can resist? And what would possess anyone to resist?

42nd Street - **** - I see that look - yes, yes, more Berkeley. This one's on DVD so I can take another look... I've finally gotten around to reading Rick Altman (all that Berkeley adulation back in May and June was the start, not the end...), and am looking at 42nd Street in his terms. It's interesting - some of the elements he stresses are in full swing here (the modulation from real to ideal, the "audio dissolve") - others, such as the formation of the couple, are less clear. It would be interesting to spend some time on this film, in that context - I may, but not tonight. I will limit myself to this - the duality of work and art (real/ideal, inside the machine/above the machine, etc.) - the way the backstage part of the film builds toward the explosion of the Berkeley numbers, which themselves repeat the pattern, building from the stage possible to pure cinema - and maintaining the "real" (the real stage, I mean - the painted backgrounds in the 42nd Stret number, for instance) and the "ideal" (here, the illusionism of the cinema - the creation of depth and cinematic space during the number.) Etc. It is a glory of a film....

Showgirls - 0/inc. - ah. So lately I have been trying to track down crappy movies, and see if they really are crappy. This is an obvious candidate for that. Well - unfortunately, the DVD did not cooperate - giving up the ghost somewhere around the 52 minute mark. So now what? Is it fair to praise or trash it without seeing the rest? No, probably not - thus the "incomplete". But do I expect the rest of the film to change the impression of the first half? Not really. The odd thing is, it's actually rather difficult to attack it. Film Quarterly, for example, ran a roundtable discussion of it a couple issues back - the contributors ran off the predictable litany of its virtues - it is camp, it is satire, it comments, fairly meaningfully, on gender, race, class, sex, performance, drag, genre, movies, Las Vegas, etc., it establishes visual motifs of the double, the mirror, the whole nine yards. Al that is true - that stuff is all there. And it's probably supposed to be there a good deal of the style, feel, structure - good bad or indifferent - are pretty clearly intentional. So - why isn't it a neglected, misunderstood masterpiece? Well - partly because all of those things, whether they're in the film or not, are more interesting to talk about than to watch. They are in the film - usually in a bland, literal, calculated way - which it parodies, ironically.... The terrible sense one gets, in the end, is that Showgirls is to, oh, 42nd Street, what Creed is to The Ramones. Yeah - Creed is a rock group - look! they have a guitar player, he's got a leather jacket, they have a long haired singer, they sig songs! - it's rock, right? But it's just - just - just -

Zabriskie Point - ***1/2 - meanwhile: here's Antonioni trying to do a hippy flick. It's interesting, if never quite functional. Has some great shots of LA at the beginning - industrial wastelands, billboards, freeways... then heads out into the desert, where the boy and girl Antonioni has been somewhat aimlessly following meet. They go into the desert and flirt, and when the sex starts, Antonioni stages a very strange mass orgy in the dust - which now strikes me as a distant homage to The Merry Widow (or film like it) - in the Lubitsch film, there is a montage toward the end of Chevalier and MacDonald dancing - they dance alone in a room, then are joined by hundreds of dancers - Lubitsch cuts to another room, they dance alone, then hundreds of dancers come in - repeated a couple more ties... The Antonioni has the same effect - though it's silly rather than exhilarating. What is exhilarating, though, is the ending - ah, the redemptions of imaginary violence and Pink Floyd!

*I didn't boo Manny! the crowd did, and I don't blame them - but hey - he gets a big hit (like he did today), and all is forgiven.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Movies, Dully Listed and -

- I am going to try this. What does it look like? I don't know. This is just what I have seen since the last post about movies. I am going to adopt a shameless rating system, 1-4 stars, just like Roger Ebert! Sort of. Throwing in what commentary occurs to me. In an ideal world, something like this would become a weekly tradition, a Sunday night tradition, in the spirit of the Friday iMusic-blogging, and any other spirits I can conjure. I need some spirits if this blog is going to be anything other than a once a week music post...

Murderball ***
Youth of the Beast (DVD) ****
The Beat My Heart Skipped ***1/2
Batman and Robin (DVD) **1/2 - I have been trying to watch some crappy movies lately - to test myself, see if they are really all that crappy. This one, actually, crappy as it is, is not as crappy as it could be. Yes yes, the dialogue is appalling, the story is dim-witted, the spectacle is tiring and direction lacks any juice - for all that, it almost achieves the campiness it aims for - the spectacle here has slowed down from Batman Forever, and that makes it work better - the set design and colors and lighting - the whole works - works better slow - it looks more like a comic book or the TV show - and that is good, at least here. Uma Thurman in particular seems to get the idea, and camps it up with real gusto - she has the eye-rolling scene chewing absurdity of the TV villains; she's quite good. The rest... well... still... what can I say?
2046 (DVD) ***1/2 - I also saw a trailer for this at the movies - I am pleased. It is gorgeous indeed, even on DVD, but the TV cannot do justice to its widescreen, rich, lucious lighting... I shall reserve judgment on it until I see it in a proper setting - though it looks pretty good as is.
Happily Ever After - **1/2 - I was disappointed, somewhat to my surprise. A French ensemble comedy that didn't quite go anywhere.
Batman Forever - ** - I should hate it, but... it's passable, Carrey and Jones ham it up in fine style, and it almost manages... but in the end, this is probably the dregs of the franchise - that alone is perhaps a radical statement, given the usual reception of Batman and Robin - but I have to call what I see...
Me and You and Everyone We Know - *** - one of those films I couldn't help finding fault with, but that somehow adds up to more.... I think what it gets right - the kids, the performances (by John Hawkes and the kids playing his sons, especially), the structure - the loose arrangements of stories around a fairly convention romantic plot that it keeps in the background - outweighs what it gets wrong... some of the cutesier dialogue, some of the more overt symbol mongering, and anytime Miranda July herself appeared on screen - what an obnoxious character she played! On the whole then... I liked it. (This is one I may come back to when I have a chance.)
Mysterious Skin - **1/2 - billed as the Gregg Araki film that doesn't suck, it managed to reach that not very exalted level... ad maybe more. It started slow, but got better - Araki found a rhythm in the last third, and the characters seemed to outgrow the cliches they'd begun as... the acting is quite strong, and it ends on a powerful note.

Friday, July 22, 2005

In Memorial an old friend - one of my brother's cats, Katrina. Aged - 14 plus - has expired of kidney failure, I believe. Poor old cat! She was a sweetheart...

In her memory - here she is. A kind of special Friday Cat Blog....

And a close up, looking for some petting:

Friday Random 10, Again

And, another quick and simple one. One of these days....

1. Ramones - Blitzkreig Bop - where it all started
2. Sleater Kinney - Banned from the End of the World
3. 15.60.75 (The Numbers) - About the Eye Game - this band and this record (Jimmy Bell's Still in Town) probably are the most underrated band and record in history.
4. At The Drive In - Napoleon Solo
5. Bjork -Verandi
6. Velvets - Candy Says
7. U2 - The Fly
8. Sunny Da Real Estate - Grendel
9. Fugazi - Cassavetes
10. Donovan - Sunshine Superman

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


This is a sad post. Not the end of the world - but the end of an iPod; and a couple weeks of irritation getting it replaced. It was working fine last week - thank god for that! This post documents its last triumph, 2 1/2 hours on the train, coming back from vacation. A couple days later - nada! woulnd't boot! (And bad timing too - a bunch of kids trying to sing on the subway - No! do not sing on the subway trains! even if you are moderately competent singers! do not do it! do not!) Anyway - this is a long post: I jotted stuff down while I was listening, and have added some since.. That (and inconsistent internet performance, oppressive heat and humidity, and sloth) have delayed the arrival of this post: but I hope it is worth waiting for! There are 35 songs here - that's a pretty good haul....

1) Que Vida- Love: this list was randomly generated, on the iPod, by opening the "Songs" list and starting at the beginning. This is the beginning, thanks to the spanish punctuation that marks the title. This never shows up on these lists since I always jump to the the next song. But this time, I'm leaving it in. It's a good song, after all - and it only seems right.
2) Red Morning Light - Kings of Leon: I don't have much to say, except it's a better song than I remembered - got this record, didn't listen to it all that much... but not bad.
3)Ye Olde Battlaxe - Danielson Famille: always welcome - "give it up for your momma!"
4) Exit Does Not Exist - Modest Mouse: lack of insightful comment does not imply comment. This is early MM, lots of guitars scratching each other like angry cats. Good stuff.
5) Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed:This song has a place - memories - I remember hearing it on the radio, when I was very young. I had no way to know what the lyrics were about. It sounded great and seductive and a bit scary, though. And the colored girls go do-de-do-de-do...
6) Everyday - Yo La Tengo: so far the iPod seems to be running a tribute to what I listened to from 1999-2001... right.
7) Marooned - Wire: no comment recorded...
8) Circles - Dag Nasty: uh oh! negativity! "Dull DC hardcore" says my notes... oops.
9) Electricity - Captain Beefheart: very cool; back to that 99-01 thing - a period where I started buying a lot of records again, concentrating on edgy, punky stuff - some contemporary, some classic - the Captain led the way, among the latter group...
10) Little Queen - Heart: the notes read, "better songs on here, but hey" - I think I was referring to Heart songs - should I admit to being a Heart fan? even just sort of a Heart fan? I should have pretended this was there for ironic or nostalgic reasons, but it really isn't...
11) Long Black Veil - Johnny Cash (live at Folsom): Stunningly beautiful song, with the bit where he almost breaks himself up ("I'd been in the arms of another man'swife") - then ends with the routine about a glass of water... the range Johnny Cash represented in everything he did...
12) Crown of Love - Arcade Fire: another good song, unglossed
13) I Think I Love You - The Partridge Family: oh, you mean this? but while this may be cheese, it's pretty cool cheese - goofy, but rather well constucted and written, and the kind of thing you turn up when you hear it on the radio, whether you're laughing at it or just digging it. Irony or pleasure you ask? both! sheesh!
14) Numb Erone - The Residents: I need more of their stuff. Odd, but fascinating tunage...
15) What's So Good About Goodbye? - Smokey Robinson and the Miracle: one of the greats here. Another of the greats, really - Lou Reed and Johnny Cash have come up, the Captain - Smokey is in that company.
16) One More Night - Can: cool quiet, understated, sexy stuff. Another band I went after when I started buying lots of records again... a bit later - 01-02... lots of Kraut rock and Japanese noise from that period.
17) Shakin' Through - REM:back when Michael Stipe refused to enunciate. God bless him.
18) Traveling Riverside Blues - Robert Johnson: "you know what I'm talking about" - go get em, Robert!
19) When My Baby's Beside Me - Big Star:god damn, what a gorgeous song! I went too long without listening to big star - a story of technology (the end of the LP)... I am very glad I found this CD, and stopped pretending I was going to set up the record player again...
20) Cortez The Killer - Neil Young (live) - very cool, but I have to admit, the Built to Spill version might have it beat.... if that had come up, this would have been a shorter list though!
21) A Second Life - Damon and Naomi (with Michio Kurihara): this comes up all the time - probably because I've added it to about 6 playlists. I'm not complaining. They are really good - this new record is really good... they are quiet, soothing, yes, but with a cool, sexy edge to them - and then Kurihara comes in, his solo (here) shocking, beautiful - top of the line song.
22) Embassy Row - Pavement: geez - this came up on the last one, didn't it?
23) Gravity Rides Everything - Modest Mouse: makes you want to buy a minivan! well, you know. That and a sexy soccer mom... Hey - I'm not complaining. A nice song - I'm not gonna begrudge Isaac and the boys getting a paycheck along the way.
24) Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands - Bob Dylan: a pretty song, this...
25) Breadcrumb Trail - Slint: this band grew out of squirrel bait, apparently - a band I never heard, but remember reading about back in the 80s, in Spin, for instance... Slint is interesting enough - got a nice slow burn about them... bought this because of the publicity about their "reunion" - pure curiosity...
26) Awaken - Six Organs of Admittance:
27) The Art of the Fugue: contra - Glenn Gould: um - what am I supposed to say about this? classical music (and a lot of jazz) doesn't make as much sense on the iPod as it could...
28) Light My Fire - Emma Franklin: from one of those Mojo compilations... this one sounds like the singer has, some time in her life, actually gotten laid. (The poor Lizard King - handsome to look at, in his youth, but about as sexy as a mangy rat.)
29) Return the Gift - Gang of Four: cool, cool, cool. Cool. Cool. Cool. "We'll send you an inside shower." Thanks! (They, on the other hand, are sexy as all fuck.)
30) One PM Again - Yo La Tengo: 30 songs in, te first band to repeat! pretty good, I have to say.
31) Pig's in Zen - Janes Addiction: nice to hear old friends... pig is nude, unashamed...
32) Till the Morning Comes - Grateful Dead: pretty sog - lots of them on that record - kind of dull, but great material.
33) Baby's on Fire - Eno: this isn't dull. Being a fan of guitar wannking, this will always be a classic - it's more interesting now, knowing that the guitar player has a name - Phil Manzanera, if I'm not mistaken. It's interesting, knowing it's someone I can trace to other records - listen for the similarities to something like "Gun" - it adds a dimension...
34) Motherbanger - Chris Morris:A very funny, and pretty damned good, Pixies parody - "I want to have sex with a mutant ibex"...
35) Remainder - Rites of Spring: and we're home....

Not a dog in the lot - not even any filler (since I'm not here to apologize for Heart or the Partridge Family). A very nice goodbye. I may do this again when the replacement comes in. Take a long train ride, just to get my money's worth from the toy...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Flickers of Life!

in the form of a (day late)Friday iPod post.... there may be another friday iPod post, last week's - in the form of a eulogy for my new iPod, which gave up the ghost, but not before providing 2 hours of train riding random entertainment - whch I am inclined to share.

But right now - just a random 10, from my old (though reloaded) iPod:

1 Stereo Sanctity - Sonic Youth
2 Tzomborgha - Ruins
3 Excitable Boy - Warren Zevon
4 Money Folder - Madvillain
5 Embssy Row - Pavement
6 Shelter from the Storm - Bob Dylan
7 D. Boon - Uncle Tupelo
8 Do It Clean - Echo and the Bunnymen
9 Sloth - Fairport Convention (live)
10 Bonnie and Clyde - Serge Gainsbourg

Friday, July 01, 2005

Friday is iPod Day

and do we have a random 10 for you! yee haw! just barely, I have to admit - the battery was run down to its last gasp... just snuck this in there.

1 Dawn - Mahavishnu Orchestra
2 I threw it all away - Yo la tengo
3 Camel Backwards - Sunburned Hand of the Man
4 Lost in the Supermarket - the Clash
5 Ricky - Butthole Surfers
6 Change - Asian Dub Foundation
7 Tundra/Desert - Modest Mouse
8 When you're gone away - The Waterboys
9 Don't Worry - Pere Ubu
10 Blueprint - Fugazi