Saturday, March 31, 2007

Baseball Post

The baseball season starts tomorrow. It's been an odd winter - maybe it's the Celtics' misfortunes, maybe something else, but I've been very indifferent to sports lately. Even to the NCAA tourney, usually one of the high points of the year. Strange. Even baseball. Though indifference to baseball is a relative term. Reading just one baseball book (the indispensible Baseball Prospectus), only spending one or two lunch hours a week working out predictions and projections, that sort of thing. I forgot that I did do this last year - AL and NL: didn't take any risks, didn't say anything stupid. Sadly, for those of you expecting me to pick the Royals to win it all, I imagine this year's predictions will be equally bland, with plenty of hedging and caveats.

AL East:
1) Boston - I'm sorry, but I'm obligated. The Yankees can't win it forever. The Sox last year would have won the division except half the team went on the DL - especially when Wakefield, Tek and Nixon all went down at the same time - they were done. That could hapen again - or they could stay healthy - in which case they have a very strong rotation, a great closer and a bunch of serviceable relievers (all of whom could collapse of course, but that's relief pitching for you!), piles of offense, decent depth, solid defense (not great not terrible) - sounds good to me.
2) Yankees - they probably helped themselves in the long term by shedding some of the old timers, but in the short term, they aren't as deep - Carl Pavano is the opening day starter! the bullpen is getting old, a lot of the players are getting old - they should hammer the ball, win in the 90s, weather injuries better than the red sox, and go nowhere in the post-season if they get there - which is iffier than it has been in a decade.
3) Toronto - nice line up, strong at the top of the pitching staff, weaker as you go down - but like last year, should be solid, and have the potential to take the division if the other teams falter. If everything clicks, they'll be in the post-season hunt.
4) Tampa Bay - I think I'll keep picking them to finish 4th until they do. Still don't have any pitching - look at their bullpen sometime... but should score runs, might even catch the ball - sooner or later it's going to get better.
5) Baltimore - like King Kaufman at Salon said - it's too bad the O's and Rays couldn't combine forces. Baltimore's pitching is young and old, with Bedard, Cabrera and Loewen teamed with Jaret Wright and Steve Trachsel, but could be pretty good - some talent in the pen as well, behind Chris Ray... the offense is a different matter, though Tejada and Roberts, Markakis, Petterson, Mora are - nice. There's room for some success, though I'm afraid success means, winning 76 games. Their infield and Tampa's outfield, their pitchers plus Kazmir would make a very nice team.

AL Central:
1) Detroit - They have a strong rotation, they have depth on the staff, they could even get better, since Verlander and Bonderman and company are young and improving. They have hitters at every position, a few guys in reserve - if most of the gang stays healthy, they could repeat and build on last year's success.
2) Cleveland - because I want them to finish second. But I do think Cliff Lee will come back a bit, ditto Jhonny Peralta, while Sabathia, Hafner, Sizemore, Martinez remain strong - they need to find someone to pitch out of the pen, but that's a crap shoot for almost everyone.
3) Minnesota - plenty of offense. No pitching. But they catch the ball and playt he game right so they will hang around. Wait - didn't I say that last year? Actually - they have a lot of pitching - it's just that, after Santana, it's mostly in the pen. If their kids develop in the rotation, they could be back on top.
4) Chicago - in fact, they are perfectly capable of winning the division, and more. They are getting old though - the pitching is getting old - there's a lot that can go wrong, and they have less in reserve than Boston and New York - but healthy, they are still very dangerous.
5) You know, Kansas City might not suck forever. Alex Gordon? Brett Butler? Mark Teahan? young pitchers? Another year or so, they could be interesting.

AL West:
1) Oakland - really? yeah, why not? probably sink or swim on Rich Harden's health. As usual, a rather thin offense, but it has its merits. No reason Piazza can't muster one last fling, no reason Chavez can't bounce back a bit.
2) Angels - though if they get their pitchers on the field, they're going to be hard to beat. They need to keep their players on the field too - though they have plenty of options, and some nice youngsters who could emerge...
3) Rangers - if I were picking a dark horse for all this, I might go with the Rangers. The pitching, as usual, is not inspiring - but I think Brendan McCarthy could turn into something - if they get some kind of bounceback from Blalock and Wilkerson and even Slammin' Sammy, well - there's hope, I think.
4) Seattle - probably not exactly hideous. But not very good.

NL East:
1) Atlanta - do I have any justification for this? well - yeah - they have a better, deeper, bullpen than they've had in a while; the rotation falls off fast, but could be solid if Tim Hudson comes back; they have some fine hitters - Jonesx2, McCann, Francoeur, nothing wrong with the rest of the lineup, really. Plenty of room for failure, but a nice chance to come back.
2) Mets - they'll hit the hell out of the ball - they should be able to win close ones, with a decent bullpen - but that rotation - El Duque, member of the 1904 Cuban Olympic Champion squad, is their #2 starter. If Pedro were around, they'd be the favorites, easy. Without him - they'll hang around, might even win, but it's gonna take some breaks.
3) Philadelphia - plenty of pop, some nice young pitchers, but Adam Eaton?
4) Florida - if their nice young pitchers are healthy, and their young players build on last year and a couple more turn up - Jeffrey Loria will have to trade Willis and Cabrera by June to keep them out of contention. Which is a possibility.
5) Washington - kind of hurts to look at this team. 5 years, Ryan. Probably three, since arbitration will get them nervous...

NL Central:
1) St. Louis - there's some crap on this team, but there's a lot of crap in this division. I suspect they were probably closer to their post-season level than their regular season level last year - lots of guys missed time, but were around in the post-season... they lost a few guys since then, but of the Jeff Suppan variety, which is not going to hurt matters.
2) Houston - they should hit, they probably will end up with a pretty good bullpen, and they have as good a chance as anyone to bring in a ringer in June. Just stay close, and give Rog a chance to save the day...
3) Milwaukee - Ben Sheets healthy, and they could contend. Otherwise probably not. A fashionable pick, for good reasons. Sheets healthy, in front of Capuano, with Bush and Suppan to fill innings effectively - not bad.
4) Cincinati - Harang and Arroyo and Oh My God, No! The offense, on the other hand, isn't bad at all, and could be pretty good.
5) Chicago - they spent money at a tremendous rate over the winter, but - you know.... Ted Lilly? Jason Marquis? things could click though, and they could end up pretty good. The truth is, any of these teams could win the division - any of them could finish last. That is true of a good deal of the National League - probably not the Mets, Braves and Phillies, who should all get into the 80s in wins, and Washington, who won't, and maybe
6) Pittsburgh, who won't get past 75 - unless they do. And if Snell and Duke and Gorzelany are the real thing, well - still...

NL West:
1) San Diego - they have about the same gang they had last year, with some odds of incremental improvement, and some chance - maybe slim, but not 0 - of a couple guys taking major steps forward (Khalil Greene? Kouzmanoff?) - I don't see much chance of collapse here - they are the NL's version of the Twins, right down to having the best pitcher in the league - well - at least the best strikeout pitcher in the league. Though I imagine most years, Peavy is going to be around the top. Less dominant and consistent than Santana, less consistent than Carpenter and Oswalt in the NL, but still up there.
2) Los Angeles - they're a high risk reward type team - the pitchers stay heallthy, they could shine - they don't - they won't. Lots of guys who could disappear in a hurry.
3) Arizona - another fashionable pick, with a host of emerging prospects, and some useful veterans. Especially if Randy Johnson bounces back - not that he was all that bad last year: by his standards, yes - and the ERA was hideous - but his other numbers were still in the upper side of the league...
4) San Francisco - though again - what if Cain improves? what if Lowry delivers on his promise? What if Barry gets into a "teammates'" "vitamin" supply? Or - not.
5) Colorado - they're starting to produce some nice young players again, but I don't see them winning a whole lot.

AL: Boston - Detroit - Oakland + NY (alas) - dark horse? Texas
NL: Atlanta - St. Louis - San Diego + NY - dark horse? Florida

AL: if Boston wins the division, David Ortiz will get his due. Though at this point - last year's result utterly discredits the writers - Justin Morneau? he's a first baseman who hit 20 fewer home runs than Ortiz! I can see a case for Jeter or Mauer, or Santana - but not Morneau. Unlike Jeter and Mauer, he was not playing a skill position - he's a first baseman! he's a hitter! and Ortiz out hit him by - 20 home runs! Anyway, I imagine the same general candidates are in the running again - Ortiz, Manny, Jeter and A Rod, Vernon Wells, Hafner, Mauer, Vlad, Texeira, and a few pitchers - Santana, K Rod, Nathan, Ryan, Papelbon, Rivera - to complicate things.
NL: It's Albert Pujols' to lose for the next 6-8 years, I imagine. There are a few guys around ready to take it if Albert misses a month, like last year, but that's not likely to happen.
Rookies: Alex Gordon is supposed to be the man. NL? probably a Diamondback or another Marlin.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Random Music

It's an exciting weekend of course, a day or two away from the happiest day of the year, that sign that all is well with the world. Before that fateful moment, only 2 days away! I shall try to put up some kind of preview, prediction or the like - which, after last year's playoff predictions (a perfect 0-8!) ought to be greeted with, um - something... I must also admit that I am working up to a pile of list posts: I don't obsess over ranking movies like I have in the past, but I sort of want to put something up, go on record, as it were. Kind of a reference thing... In honor of the end of the first quarter of 2007, I suppose you'd day.... But tonight - you'll have to settle for music. The usual - iTunes up, random, 10 songs, stars, comments, whatever comes to mind...

1. Yo La Tengo - Blue Line Swinger *** - I do like Yo La Tengo....
2. Beck - Nicotine and Gravy **** - she looks so Israeli...
3. Gomez - How We Operate *** - nice song, but I didn't like this record as much as the previous one, Split the Difference I guess that one was - that was a great record... this one is just okay...
4. Sunny Day Real Estate - Song About an Angel - I suspect I should feel guilty about liking them, and other Jeremy Enegk records - and when they get mewling away, well - it's easy to wonder what the appeal is.... this one is a bit more mewl than not.
5. Jay Farrar - Cahokian (live) - I've hinted at this before, but I really do like Jay Farrar - he slides around, just under my attention a lot of the time, but every time I hear him, I remember how good he is, how consistent, how enjoyable. I sometimes need to be reminded, which is one of the reasons I like the iPod so much - most of the acts I have on there come up sooner or later - every time I hear one of his, I push a couple songs onto the narrower playlists. This one is likely to get a few stars before I'm done listening to it today.
6. Flipper - Sex Bomb - another great record, though this is a very silly song....
7. Pere Ubu - My Boyfriend's Back - an odd little number from that newest record.
8. Gomez - Nothing is Wrong (live) **** - hey! ask and you shall receive! The studio version, actually, gets 5 stars - but this is very nice. One of a bunch of songs on that record I really like.
9. Replacements - Dose of Thunder - at their crappiest sub-Kiss scroungy worst; which is to say, hell of a song. In it's shitty (shitfaced) way.
10. DNA - Blonde Red Head **** - probably the best of the Pere Ubu offshoots. What you say? yeah - Tim Wright - yeah... anyway, very cool...

As for video - YouTube has been acting up, in Camino at least - I don't know if it's just me, or YouTube or Camino... anyway, hope this works: who or what shall we post? Gomez makes sense - there are a dozen versions of this song on YouTube, but this one stands out - neat arrangement, noice sound, even if it does eliminate their most interesting aspect, the percussion...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Every Blogathon I Know Of

Have other people done this? Probably. I myself have started this from reading Edward Copeland's post on upcoming blogathons, and indeed stealing his links. (And Andy Horbal's as well.) (Plus any other blogathon indexers I can find: FilmSquish offers a particularly complete compilation - going back to the beginning, getting a few I missed; Piper at Lazy Eye Theater keeps a calendar in his sidebar as well.) But I am going back and putting in as many as I can find. I need a way to keep track of these things a bit better. (This is obviously a work in progress: one for the sidebar. Also, to be updated with new blogathons as I discover them, and fleshed out with any comments or additional links I decide to add over time. For example, adding the actual blogathon pages to the announcements, as they come in. And, I think, adding links to my contributions: not because they're anything special, but as a way for me to find them in a hurry.)

January 14, 2008: Val Lewton blogathon, hosted by Michael Guillen.

January 1-5, 2008: And start the new year with an Opening Credits Blogathon, at continuity.

December 27-30: End the year with an Endings Blogathon, at Joe's Movie Corner. Here it is.

December 16: in honor of its 24-7 presence on the airwaves, a day for It's A Wonderful Life, at Cinemathetics. The day has arrived - here it is.

December 2-8: Short Film Day at Ed Howard's blog. Make that week, in conjunction with Culture Snob.

November 19: Here's one I almost missed: A Queer Film Blogathon, at Queering the Apparatus.

November 15-22: work up a Thanksgiving appetite with a week of Kurosawa movies at Film Squish! Main page here.

November 10: A Bob Fosse fest at Forward to Yesterday. Showtime.

November 7-9, 2007: Film and Faith blogathon at Strange Culture. Posts here.

November 6-11: Comedy blogathon at New Critics - for any format: films, TV, books, stand up, you name it...

October 22-26: The Broken Projector's Double Bill-a-thon - write about 2 films for the price of one! Twice the fun!

October 17: Honor Montgomery Clift, at Film Experience. Happy Birthday, Monty.

October 12-21: Close-Up Blogathon, at The House Next Door. Going strong.

September 24-30, 2007: A whole week of Bunuel at Flickhead. And here it is.

September 21-23: William Wyler honored at GoatDog. Articles here.

September 7-10, 2007: Slapstick Blogathon at Film of the Year. Read it Here.

August 29: Lee Marvin blogathon, picked up in progress.

August 27-29: Bizarro Blogathon, hosted by Piper at Lazy Eye Theater. Which sucked royally. I am far too serious for this sort of thing, though careless readers may think this WC Fields post is a joke.

August 5: John Huston blogathon, from Sophomore Critic. Announcement here. I have a post about Beat the Devil (and Huston's adventure films generally) up.

August: In a twist on the format, but worth mentioning - Damien at Windmills of My Mind promises 31 days of Spielberg: "I will view each and every available Spielberg film, write a corresponding piece about it and then post them here on my blog, one a day throughout the entire month of August (31 days, 31 posts)" sez he.

July 24, 2007: Monster Squad-a-Thon, at DVD Panache. Contents of said blogathon, here.

July 13, 2007: Not sure how this happened (vacation! yeah, that's it!), but I somehow missed the Friday 13th Blogathon at Final Girl.

7 July, 2007: The Performance that Changed Your Life - at All About My Movies. Read it here.

June 29-July 9: John Ford - in French, but c'est la vie. And here is the link.

June 21-25, 2007: Film Music - at Windmills of my Mind. Beginning a day early!

June 20-24: Ambitious Failure blogathon, at Savage Art - already underway.

June 12: Action Heroines at Film Experience. (I'm stealing most of these new links from Edward Copeland - that's where I stole most of the old ones, too.) Here it is. And as promised, my Brigitte Lin appreciation.

June 11: Sneaking in late - it's a Grease 2 Blogathon Chezzzz Moviezzzz. Underway.

June 8-10: Ghiblog-a-thon hosted by Joe's Movie Corner, dedicated to all things from Studio Ghibli. (Expanding on Quiet Bubble's Miyazaki blogathon from last year.) Opportunities here for synergy - repurpose those Princess Mononoke posts for the Action heroines blogathon a couple days later! Here's the Ghibili-a-thon HQ.

June 4-8, 2007: Simpsons - at Esoteric Rabbit - and here it is.

May 25, 2007: Star Wars - celebrating the 30th anniversary, at Edward Copeland's place. The host of contributions are indexed here.

May 16-20: Misunderstood Blogathon, at Culture Underway. I contributed another essay on Inland Empire. (Probably not the last thing I'll write about Mr. Lynch.)

April 23, 2007: Shakespeare on Film with Peter Nellhaus - underway here.

April 9-11, 2007: John Carpenter blogathon at Lazy Eye Theater (in honor of the release of Grindhouse). Up and running!

April 8, 2007: Mobathon announcement at the Boob Tubers. And the Mobathon itself.

April 5, 2007 (and forward): Trashy Movies - at Bleeding Tree. Underway, here.

April 1, 2007: White Elephant Blogathon at Lucid Screening - Home Page here

March 30-April 2, 2007: Favorite Screenplays at Mystery Man on Film - Table of Contents

March 23-25, 2007: 1927 Blogathon at Goatdog

March 21, 2007: Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors at Hell on Frisco Bay - the blogathon itself is here.

March 5, 2007: Kieslowski blogathon at Quiet Bubble

March 1-4, 2007: Billy Wilder at Filmscreed. My link to it has some discussion of The Apartment.

February 16-19, 2007: Jim Emerson's Contrarian blogathon, which I contrarily left out when I first posted this.

Feb 14: Lovesick Blogathon at Lucas McNelly's site - and, the thing itself.

January, 2007: Unspoken Cinema - contemplative cinema: still active! (Also - as Andy Horbal mentions in the comments - the sidebar at this site contains links to a great many previous blogathons - up to Andy's criticism blogathon, conveniently enough.) I contributed a couple posts - here's the tag.

December 3, 2006: Film Criticism at Andy Horbal's No More Marriages. I have two related posts: favorite critics, and five more.

April 5, 2006: Roger Corman.

March 3, 2006: Robert Altman, at the House Next Door. I wrote two posts for this - one about Altman's influence on me as a movie fan; the other a long geeky thing about McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Temper Temper!

I don't know why I've been so lazy about posting lately, but there's nothing like a blogosphere pissing contest to churn up some easy content.... Pissing contest isn't quite the term - inexplicable meltdown is more like it. I refer, of course (well, of course if you read the kind of political blogs who care about this sort of thing), to Ann Althouse going all Klaus Kinski on an episode of bloggingheads with Garance Franke-Ruta. It's pretty ridiculous, but fortunately, I can relate it to movies, my preferred blogging topic - I can compare it to David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin, having it out on the set of I Heart Huckabees!

I didn't have a lot to say about those clips when they came out - it's a fascinating train wreck, but I couldn't come up with a coherent opinion about it all. But reading Tomlin's comments on the clips, and watching Althouse's performance, brings it into a bit more clarity. A lot of the commentary seemed to center on the idea that Russell is an asshole - but I think that's a bit simplistic. Tomlin basically says, yeah, it's over the top, buit it was a tense shoot, and it cleared the air - shit happens. And that Althouse rant - I noticed a couple things.

1) The Huckabees fights are, indeed, fights - the bad behavior is reciprocal. It's interesting that two clips were making the rounds - the one of Tomlin raving in a car, the one of Russell trashing a set. Even in that clip, Tomlin needles him before it goes off - and keeps giving it back all through the tirade. But Althouse vs. Franke-Ruta is nothing like that: Franke-Ruta's remarks that set Althouse off are completely innocuous, a neutral reference to an old controversy. (And probably the simple truth - as Ezra Klein says, Althouse's comments about Jessica Valenti were the root of his disdain for her. He's probably not alone.) Althouse starts raving, and Franke-Ruta is completely taken aback, tries to talk her down, and when that doesn't work, sits and waits for it to end. (You can almost read her mind, though - she had to be thinking something like, "my god, she's an idiot; will she ever shut her yap?") It's all Althouse, the raving, and completely unprovoked.

2) Maybe it's because I've been watching a lot of Columbo lately, but there are a couple little moments in these clips that set off alarms. You know how in every episode, there's something, some little detail - where Columbo notices the killer? May not have anything to do with the crime itself - but there's something, a tell.... There's something of that in these clips. In the Huckabees clip, it's when Russell comes back into the room after trashing the set, and almost doubles over, screaming at Tomlin to act like an adult. It's a brilliant moment - the unintended comedy is beautiful - a grown man, screaming like a 3 year old at a grown woman to act like an adult... it's so brilliant, and so funny, it undermined the "un" in unintentional. That's the place where, in the backstage movie, someone tells him to stop acting - or makes a crack about being sure the camera is still running. You expect someone to yell "cut" at the end. It's worth noting - Huckabees feels like that little scene - it's full of blow ups and tantrums and confrontations, with that same tone - tense and jittery, full of fast mood shifts, and contrasting reactions - one person raving, someone else sitting with their feet up waiting for the nonsense to end. So really - how much of the backstage shenanigans are intended almost as rehearsals for the shooting itself? Maybe not consciously, but at some level - it's certainly notable that Russell really never breaks character as a filmmaker - that's a very cinematic fit he throws - his entrances and exits work. And Tomlin, sitting or standing there, sarcastic and defiant through the lot of it, balances him. The clip works as a scene.

Ditto Ann Althouse. What struck me there probably wasn't relevant - the fact that she lost her temper, throwing a fit, and (unlike those Hollywood types) never slipped and used any bad words. I don't know if she is in the habit of using bad words - maybe not; maybe there's a perfectly good explanation for it. But it occurred to me - she is a professional talker (like Russell and Tomlin), a lawyer and professor - and she never breaks character. The second time I looked at it, it occurred to me - she does a lot of whining about the "progressive blogosphere" but she doesn't name any names. Some allusions to Tapped - no details. The rant, then, is strange and unprovoked and extreme - but almost completely contentless - and mostly clean, both in the language and in her general ability to keep to the topic (or away from any real topic.) It is, I mean, a performance - quite deliberate, and probably planned ahead of time. Now in her case - there's more evidence. Take this post on her blog - bragging about her previous pissing contests; saying she like the theater of it. (She doesn't use words like theater, but hey...) Which all brings the episode into some focus - the reason she jumps on Franke-Ruta's tame comments, the reason, once she does get going, that she doesn't mention any of her distracters by name - is that it's all about her. The word "narcissistic" has been thrown around a lot here - but it's about right. That's one of the most narcissistic things I've seen - and her reactions on her blog, all proud and preening and trivial, just confirms it.

So - this brings us back to Russell and Tomlin - because by god it makes them look a hell of a lot better. They act like idiots - but they both act like idiots. They are very probably egging each other on. They are making a film that is trying to achieve something like the tone those fights have. And when you get down to it - they are a whole lot better at it than Althouse is. They are funnier, especially Tomlin, they have a far better sense of stagecraft, those entrances and exits, the timing of their rants. And they have none of the sense of preening self-regard Althouse has - they commit to their raving.... I was unfair up at the top, comparing Althouse to Klaus Kinski - Kinski - there was a man who knew how to throw a temper tantrum!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Musical Lotteryish Post

I have to do some writing - I have been in a funk since the end of that Rivette series... oh well. For now, we'll have to make do with another music post... randomness! ratings when I've entered them! comments if I think of any! etc.! Huzzah!

1. Bad Brains - Sailin' On [not particularly sure why this isn't rated]
2. Of Montreal - The Party's Crashing Us
3. Prince - Uptown or this]
4. The Byrds - CTA-102
5. REM - Everybody Hurts **** - the last REM record I cared about; the first one I'd cared about in a couple when it came out. Then for a long while, I've sort of ignored it - though the songs are quite good, when you hear them after a gap, like this
6. John Cale - Bamboo Floor
7. Mercury Rev - Hudson Lines ***
8. Monk - Nice work if you can get it (trio version) - **** - a somewhat arbitrary rating. Everything on that Genius of Modern Music compilation is basically something I would want to hear any time it came on - which is sort of my definition of 4-5 stars. And this is one of my favorite cuts...
9. Big Country - Look Away - they seem to turn up on random a lot. I onl;y have one record, a greatest hits... I'm not complaining - they were a very nice, rather underrated band.
10. Journey - Wheel in the Sky (live) - sweet Jesus. How did this get on here? actually, it's not half bad - this song at least they play live like they mean it - by this stage in their career, their records were getting squishy - but this version has some kick. I don't know why they can't always sound like this - this is what power pop should sound like. The records - are slop.

Video: let's see - maybe something that came up after the random 10 ended? In fact, yeah - this came up a bit later: so let's put it up: Massive Attack, Karmacoma - a cool video, but not quite up to Wong Kar-wei and Leon Lai...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Where to Browse

..or, where I've been browsing...

Girish, as always - this week, a post on early Kiarostami. With video!

David Bordwell, meanwhile, is blogging from Hong Kong - daily reports. There are times I don't know how we lived without the internet.

Dennis Cozzalio, meanwhile, has posted the footage of David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin going at it while shooting I Heart Huckabees - actually, next to everybody has posted it, but he's got the best discussion of it going on there...

Calvert DeForest is dead - Larry "Bud" Melman, Letterman sidekick. The House Next Door has a nice tribute, and some great clips of Larry Bud in action...

Lance Mannion, meanwhile, takes a look at films in classrooms - interesting conversation follows.

And, finally - peril on the internets! America's most Dangerous Professor (one of them anyway) has returned - Michael Berube joins Crooked Timber. Lock up your sons and daughters, or at least, any crazy ex-Stalinist uncles turned, um, right wing neo-Stalinist D-Hos!

Finally, looking at Crooked Timber reminds me that John Inman has also died. Mr. Humphreys from Are You Being Served? A show I confess to almost loathing - though somehow it's complete shamelessness saves it. Names like Slocumb and Peacock and Humphreys certainly help - if you're going to go for cheap puns, no point in going halfway: and frankly, the unabashed, over the top campiness of the acting, with Inman leading the way, is the main thing that kept it watchable. So - he's worth saluting.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Music on Friday Even

Oh the weather outside if frightful, but iTunes is so delightful; no particular place to go - let it snow let it snow let it snow. Of course the biggest snowstorm of the year comes in March, what do you expect when it's 70 degrees and sunny in January?

Onwards then, with comments and whatever I can think of to turn this post into something more than a dry recitation of 10 song titles and a pirated tv clip....

1. Allman Brothers - Stand Back - this is, I'm afraid, almost complete wallpaper music...
2. Jay Farrar - Feel Free (live version) - I like Jay Farrar. I may have noted this on this blog before, though I'm not sure - but I've always liked Son Volt/Farrar more than Wilco - I like Wilco, but... that's actually a little less true these days - Nils Cline gives them a definite leg up... either way, Uncle Tupelo was a hell of a band, yes they were, and both alumni have put out some very fine music...
3. George Harrison - Hear Me Lord - uncle tupelo is not the first band to spawn a variety of fine acts of course....
4. Tommy Keene - Tattoo - from a Mojo collection, this one "Who Covered"
5. Richard Thompson - Night Comes in - ***** - the live version from Guitar, Vocal. As they say in those blindfold tests in Downbeat - a million stars. Or Carl Saganishly: billions and billions of stars... I spent about a year listening to this song every night before I went to bed back in the 90s.... it's not, by the way, my favorite Thompson performance, either....
6. Nine Inch Nails - Heresy - more wallpaper.
7. New Order - Temptation - **** - let the rating speak for itself...
8. Captain Beefheart - Nowadays a Woman's Got to Hit a Man - "dawned on me man, than a man been doing a woman unfair"
9. Kinks - Supersonic Rocket Ship
10. Bob Dylan - Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts - no rating? well - see, ratings are there to pull songs out on playlists. 5 stars means, really - I will listen to this song to the end every time it comes on. 4 means it is a song I want to hear a lot, and love, though perhaps not in every temper. 3? means I want to hear it more often than purely random. Leaving whole swarms of stuff - especially by the old standbys (Dylan and the Kinks definitely falling into the category) - unrated, just because I have so much of it, or have heard it so much. Anyyay - all of Blood on the Tracks should be 3 stars at least, but, you know...

Video! Searching for Richard Thompson is a good way to sink a couple hours in a hurry... there's much to choose from (though mpost of it later than the song above), but this - an 80s performance of Fairport Convention with Thompson - has to settle the issue:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Links and Habits

All right: here is a new scheme, unlikely to get very far, but worth trying - tossing up posts of links every day or so. Another attempt to trick myself into posting more often, and more interactively.

Here's one - Edward Copeland on "nails on chalkboard" actors and actresses. I name Renee Zellweger. (The post linked from The House Next Door's invaluable links for the day, which this post is in no way* imitating.)

From a couple days ago, The Little Round-headed Boy offers up a list of choices for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That's always a fun topic, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - trying to figure out what criteria they have for admission, and why anyone, including me, should pretend to care. I may have to come back to this. My short answer - that unless they put Kiss and Pere Ubu in, it is worthless, or at best completely arbitrary - may or may not suffice.

Dennis Cozzalio, meanwhile, runs through the responses to his last mid-term film quiz, in anticipation of a new one. And adds a word or two to the latest round of Death of Film hand-wringing - and links to Kristin Thompson's rather exhaustive debunking.

And the Bordwell blog, as usual, is full of stuff: Bordwell's post (from almost a week ago now) on the working of suspense and why spoilers don't spoil anything is particularly fascinating. Another subject I hope to come back to....

Finally - there are five million posts about politics I could link too: most related to the US Attorney Purge and the adventures of Alberto Gonzalez. Talking Points Memo has been on this the most, so I'll point there. And maybe to this comment by Ezra Klein about "Bush's Razor" - "Given a possible universe of explanations for a particular administration action, the most morally pessimistic and politically cynical will inevitably be proven correct." The happy days of Reagan's dilemma (is he an idiot or a villain?) seem to be gone: Bush's administration, consistently, manages to be both - hatching nefarious schemes that they botch....

* This sentence will make more sense if you replace the words "in no way" with the word "shamelessly".

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Music Post

Maybe I should stop pretending this is a "Friday Random Ten" post and admit, it's a Weekend Music Post." Anyway - today's entertainment comes by way of Salon's Audiofile pointer to The Definitive 200 Albums of all time. As chosen by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. "Complete your collection!" Well, at least they're honest about it. If it's not literally the 200 best selling albums since 1955, it's damned close. Arranged in what appears to be a random order, after the top 10 - which consists of: Sgt Pepper; Dark Side of the Moon; Thriller; Led Zeppelin IV; The Joshua Tree; Exile on Main Street; Tapestry; Highway 61 Revisited; Pet Sounds and Nevermind - a completely inoffensive, uncontroversial and useless sort of list.... the comedy comes later, when Kenny G records clock in ahead of Beggar's Banquet and Creed and Linkin Park beat out London Calling. I may be obliged to offer a follow up on Andy Horbal's recent canon post....

Anyway, let's get on with the business of the day:

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - From Her to Eternity [***] - what! no Nick Cave on the definitive 200 list!? What?
2. The Ramones - Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World [***] - what? No Ramones on the definitive 200 list?! This, of course, renders the exercise meaningless.
3. Cheap Trick - Clock Strikes Ten (live at Budokon) - wait a second - no Live at Budokon on the definitive 200?
4. George Harrison - Ballap of Sir Francis Crisp - this made it, I have to admit. #69, right behind Kid Rock's Devil without a Cause. I can see this is going to be a superb source of comedy...
5. Fleetwood Mac - I Don't Wanna Know - shoot, two in a row. #24, which, given a mainstream and commercial point of view, is quite justifiable.
6. Lou Reed/John Cale/Nico - Waiting for the Man (from Le Bataclan 72) - What? No Velvets? You know, by now, most lists like this, however dimwitted they may be, manage to work in something a little left-field - Velvets, Ramones, Stooges - you know... oh well...
7. Black Flag - Rise Above [****] - what!? etc.... But if you're oging to use a word like "definitive" - you are, in cold fact, claiming to be canon-making: and if you are going to make canons, you have to account for something, well - definitive: you have to try to map the terrain, as it were. That's what canons ought to be about - showing what has been done, and how. Leaving out records like this might as well leave out half the history of rock music, if nothing else. Oh well.
8. Dinosaur Jr. - Green Mind
9. The Warlocks - Baby Blue - from the phoenix Album - which is why it's not rated, by the way - the live version they released gets 4 stars: Warlocks sound a bit better live, where things get stretched and flogged a bit.
10. Tom Waits - Black Box Theme - What?! - you know where this is going?

Where else could it go? Here is a suggestion of what to do about this particular list....

Twice! a great live version - shot off someone's TV set, so kind of crappy looking - but a first rate performance....

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Midweek Links Post

I have fallen back into my bad habits, a post a week, plus the odd ritual. We must do better! But as I have nothing original to contribute - I shall run through some links....

First - Lucas McNelly at 100 Films has come up with a great idea - to review "uber-indie" films - films sliding under the regular channels of distribution. (Though part of the point might be that the regular channels of distribution are changing: web sales, YouTube/Google Video, iPod downloads are all changing how you can get films - it's interesting... There's a nice post on 100 Films discussing these new channels of distribution, criticism and so on - worth looking at.) So far he's done Matt Zoller Seitz' Home, and Crooked Features - reviews are posted both at his site and at Talkingmoviezzz. (You can also check out Lucas' own films at d press Productions.)

Second: where did I find this? (Not surprisingly, Making Light.) But god damn this is sweet - Strange Maps: a blog dedicated to - wait for it... strange maps! A beautiful thing...

And so - tomorrow, we may get some music... and then? A weekend bringing The Host and a Brothers Quay film series... (Next weekend, Two or Three Things I Know About Her gets a revival - with more to follow.... oh boy.) With luck, I will manage to write something. Until then....

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Two Blogathons of Note

As it happens, this weekend there are two blogathons going on, honoring two very outstanding filmmakers - Billy Wilder, hosted by Filmscreed, and Krystof Kieslowski, hosted at the Quiet Bubble. Both are sure to be must reads. I don't know how much I can offer - not that they aren't both great directors, not that I haven't been inspired by their films - just - well - I can't say I have a lot to say, right now. So I will leave most of it to the rest...

One thing I do want to note, though: like a lot of people, I have tended to think of Wilder primarily as a writer. But he could make pictures, too. This is not an argument, this post - just some screen grabs - but I think they show what he could do.

This started a year or so ago - I was writing a paper about Cindy Sherman's film still series. And went through some of my DVDs, looking for analogous shots. I figured The Apartment would be a good place to look - it was.

That was what I hoped I'd find - that's a shot that, other than the cinemascope framing, could have come from Sherman as easily as an actual film. A woman, alone, in some kind of angst - though also located in the middle of a scene. That was what I was interested in in Sherman's work - the ways she created narratives out of still images, the ways she places the women in her photos. Like this one:

...the rather intricate way Sherman creates a scene from this picture - the woman's eyeline, the way she holds whatever she has in her hand, the table, candles and all, her clothes, all suggesting there has been a private supper here... Combined with the way she excludes the other person - not just that there is no second person in the shot - but there are no signs of the other person. Even in the mirror - there's only one wine glass, one chair, one coat, and it belongs to the woman.... That shot of Shirley MacLaine follows almost all those rules: she's alone, though clearly reacting to someone else - but there's no sign of him. The closest you come is that doll in the background... And all the rest - the decor, her makeup, her gloves, the way she is sitting - is as posed as those Sherman photos. It's certainly the kind of shot Sherman was imitating....

But looking at the film that way (going through it looking for clips), I noticed other things - like these shots:

Now this is, actually, analogous to some of Sherman's photos - she sometimes uses this kind of deeper field, always to isolate a single person in a space. Wilder creates this shot rather interestingly: Jack Lemmon starts the shot in a two-shot with the doctor (they've discovered MacLaine unconscious in his bed), but he moves, and the camera moves with him, to create this fantastic composition. Deep focus, deep staging, aperture framing (you can see MacLaine on the bed in the distance - though you'll have to blow the picture up to see her), and the foreground objects like that lamp... And this continues, to create, eventually, this shot:

An absolutely stunning use of widescreen, deep space, staging, cinematography - MacLaine stumbling out of the bedroom in the background while Lemmon talks on the phone.... the purely formal elements, the placement of objects, that record sleeve that balances MacLaine’s appearance, the curves and arches, open and closed doors. Outstanding.

I don't know if Wilder's films all look as good as this one - if he sustained this level of work as a director. The problem is, he was such an exciting writer, sometimes everything else got short shrift. So I don't know. I just know that parts of this film can stand with anything...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday Music Stuff

On Friday even! Random ten! the usual routine. Here goes:

1. Stereolab - Wow and Flutter
2. Sonic Youth - Rain on Tin - from Murray Street - a record I think I took for granted a bit when it came out - listening to it, but only quite registering "Empty Page"... oddly, pulling the individual songs out (as the iPod does) benefits them - they are all exciting and beautiful - at least, this is. A surprising result for Sonic Youth...
3. Don Byron - Dreidel Song
4. Bad Brains - Don't Bother me - they are all so good...
5. Neil Young - World on a String - from Unplugged...
6.X - Los Angeles - ****
7. Wilco - Hell is Chrome - live version; nice enough, I guess
8. Spiritualized - Come Together - another good one, though I've never gotten aroudn to rating most of my Spacemen Three/Spiritualized records...
9. Carter Family - Sunshine in the Mountain
10. Ian Dury and the Blockheads - Sweet Gene Vincent

Video? Let's try some Ian Dury....