Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Clockwork Owen

Brandon, I'm #5 in line at the library for Piranha. I'll come to your defense before too long, I'm sure. Of course if you suffer much more abuse from John, I may just have to sacrifice a few bucks to get it from Blockbuster that much sooner.
Dogtooth is #1 in my NWI queue.
The copy of Julien Donkey Boy John sent me is on top of a stack of DVDs in plain sight.
I'll be able to join the fray soon, I promise.

The King's Speech is stunning in its cinematography. pace, casting, and characterization. I could find no fault with it, except that maybe it was a touch too long. But my dozing off the moment the credits started might have more to do with how much sleep I had last night. It's not just a story of a man overcoming a huge obstacle, but one about class and friendship and family and prejudice as well. I don't know much about the actual history of the film, but I hope to goodness that Albert/George VI was even three-quarters the man he was portrayed to be on film. It was funny, dramatic, and epic in all the right places and deserves its many nominations.

No Oscars Here

While you all are catching up with your nominees, I'm watching crap like Cube 2: Hypercube and Cube Zero. Right on.

If you haven't seen the first Cube, it's definitely worth your time. Great concept. A bunch of people are trapped in a cube-shaped room with 6 exits in the center of each square wall, with no recollection of how or why there are there. A bit of exploration reveals that the cube they are in is only one of a large number of similar cubes, some of which are booby-trapped. It's a classic lifeboat setup with the tension among the characters almost a greater threat than the booby-trapped rooms. From a production standpoint, it's genius; they only built one complete cube, using sliding panels to change the colors in each room. It was completed for less than four hundred grand (Canadian) in 1997. It made barely more than that, but has been elevated to cult status in some circles.

The setup of the sequel Hypercube is similar except that the threat is from quantum mechanics gone awry more than mechanical torture devices--things like razor sharp polygons appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the room and slicing people up, and differing gravities and time signatures. It's a nice idea, but not nearly as effective or entertaining as the mechanical torture devices of the first film. Sub-par acting, writing, and special effects don't help matters much either.

The third installment, Cube Zero, returns to the structure of the first, only we get glimpses of what happens outside the cube as well, as a computer technician decides to enter the cube himself to save one of its residents. It's better than the second and doesn't take itself as seriously as the first. Michael Riley's character acting as Jax, an agent of the proprietors of the cube, provides a nice change of pace from the dramatic horror of what goes on inside the cube itself.

The original is not available on NWI, but the two sequels are.

Speaking of Oscars, my wife and are are likely going to see The King's Speech this afternoon. I may or may not keep you posted.

Brandon, after reading your review of Dogtooth, I thought, ugh...I don't think that sounds like something I want to see. And then I saw it was nominated for an Oscar, and suddenly I changed my mind. Funny how that goes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

More CAKE, Please

Listening to and enjoying CAKE's new album Showroom of Compassion has made me want to go back and revisit their older stuff, which I haven't done in a while. I had friends who liked CAKE back in the day, and was aware of their "I Will Survive" cover, but my first album was Comfort Eagle, which I listened to over and over again when it came out. Their new album does not have as many sparkly songs as some of their more well-known classics, but "Mustache Man" and "Sick of You" remind the listener of the glory days of Fashion Nugget and Comfort Eagle. Meanwhile, the rest of the album is filled with thoughtful, subtly layered tracks that show artistic movement and maturity.

My initial thought was to go backwards in time, starting with Pressure Chief. It was a real pleasure to listen to again, and I noted layering and complexity similar to their current album, in contrast to a more straightforward style (guitar, bass, drums, trumpet) from their earlier work. I was also reminded of my favorite CAKE cover (no, not "I Will Survive," though that is a great cover): "The Guitar Man." That song makes me happy every time I listen to it.The weakest track on the album is probably "She'll Hang the Baskets," but I'd argue that it's really the only weak track, and it's really not so bad. Being an occasional fan of electronica, and more so a fan of rock/folk/electronica fusion, I appreciate the synthesized elements that, in CAKE's discography, are perhaps most prominent on Pressure Chief. It's an excellent album overall, and one of my favorites. Besides "The Guitar Man," some of my other favorites include "Carbon Monoxide," "End of the Movie," and "Tougher Than It Is."

Because I only had one other CAKE album on my iPod when I finished listening to Pressure Chief, my idea of listening backwards kind of went out the window right at the start. Of course, if I had to pick one other album to be on there besides their latest, it would be Fashion Nugget, arguably one of the best albums of the nineties, at the very least. With Fashion Nugget, CAKE established their trademark sound and a unique place in rock music. The meaty, melodic, funky guitars and prominent bass lines combined with a single trumpet and occasional country and western sensibilities make it hard to categorize their sound accurately. Add to that  lyrics that are sometimes snappy and pointed and other times sentimental, and you've got a nice mix that fits a variety of moods.

It's hard to find any fault with Fashion Nugget. I'll confess that I'm a sucker for a good hook, and there are lots of great singalong songs here--almost all of them, really. And it doesn't get tired or boring. Fashion Nugget also features the most cover songs on an album, with "I Will Survive," Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps," and "Sad Songs and Waltzes." CAKE have a wonderful way of making a cover song their own while still effectively paying homage to the original. I was reading in a couple of places that "I Will Survive" was perceived as making fun of the original, which surprised me because I'd never gotten that impression. The attitude of the song seemed to be consistent with the attitude of the album and the attitude of McCrea himself--at least as much of himself that's reflected in his lyrics. Sardonic, cynical, yes, but ultimately idealistic. It's a shame that some reviewers can't look past the cynicism to see a band that is hopeful for a better world and trying to do something to change it (their current album was recorded entirely on solar power, apparently). My favorite songs on the album (while I like them all) are probably "Friend is a Four-Letter Word," "It's Coming Down," and "Italian Leather Sofa."

I went home that night and put the rest of CAKE's albums on my iPod, and worked out a plan for listening to the rest of them. Prolonging the Magic would be next, followed by Comfort Eagle. Only then would I go back and listen to their first album, Motorcade of Generosity, followed again by their new one. On longer trips, I have been known to listen to the discography of a band; it's something I love doing, but I find it hard to convince my fellow passengers to partake willingly, at least by the strict parameters that I like to set (listening straight through, without breaks). So, with some compromises, I've been able to  do it with later-era Beatles (Help! and beyond), Weezer (through the red album), and They Might Be Giants (through The Else, and not including ABCs or 123s). I attempted The Byrds on our family cross-country trip a year ago, but only got through Younger Than Yesterday. I like how a band's work is laid out in front of you and you notice things you don't when you listen in the more usual scattered way.

All that's to say that I am pleased for various reasons that the order I am listening to CAKE's albums is not my usual approach, because it allows for some interesting conjunctions that wouldn't have happened otherwise: Pressure Chief with Fashion Nugget, Comfort Eagle with Motorcade of Generosity, and Motorcade with Showroom.

Prolonging the Magic is probably CAKE's weakest album overall. Considering their habits of late, 3 albums in 6 years (1994, 1996, 1998) is a frenetic pace. "Satan is My Motor" is somewhat of a soft opening, but "Mexico," ironically picks up the pace a bit, even though it's a slower song. The next three "Never There," "Guitar," and "You Turn the Screws" are a solid mix of styles and moods. But aside from "Hem of Your Garment," the next 5 songs--too similar in tempo and punch--all kind of run together. I found myself getting impatient as I was listening. It's not that the songs are bad; they just remind me of nineties alt-rock a little more than I'd like them to. "Sheep Go to Heaven" is fun lyrically, but doesn't distinguish itself musically enough to stand out like "Never There" and "Let Me Go." The album picks up nicely, thank goodness, with "Let Me Go" and ends well with the melancholy two-fer "Cool Blue Reason" and "Where Would I Be?" Prolonging the Magic is cover-free, something the band would continue through Comfort Eagle.

It's tough to be objective about music that identifies a specific period in your life. Comfort Eagle was a staple during that oh-so-tough transition between graduating from Houghton and finally moving away from home to seek my fortune, so to speak. I had no idea what the hell I was going to do. I was beginning to resign myself to a career in education, but only because I couldn't think of anything else. Thank goodness for my former roommate and (current) friend who became a children's librarian himself and gave me a glimpse of what I could be doing with my life. Nevertheless, the confidence and certainty of Comfort Eagle was something of an escape from my own lack of direction. Songs from the album appeared on almost every mix CD I made during that time (and I made a lot). Listening to it all the way for the first time in years hasn't diminished the love I have for the album, despite being in completely different circumstances now. So when I rave about it over the course of the next paragraph, know that I believe every word I'm saying, but there's no way I can be even remotely objective about the album.

Comfort Eagle starts off with one of McCrea's quirky character profiles "Opera Singer." It's in a similar vein to "Italian Leather Sofa" and "Mustache Man," but less overtly judgmental. "Meanwhile, Rick James" is my least favorite song on the album, but it's mostly because I don't really get it. Musically, it's well constructed and pleasant to listen to. Conversely, "Shadow Stabbing" was for a long time my favorite. It's possible that we are getting a glimpse into McCrea's writing process: "I'm so nervous, I'm so tense, My heart can't forget about this self defense" could be a little insight into how frustrating it must be to have your art misunderstood so frequently. Certainly, CAKE has plenty of fans, but reviewers are reluctant to really give them their due. Frequent criticisms have to do with the sarcasm, McCrea's non-sequitir lyrical style, and what is perceived to be a deadpan voice. For as much as I love this band--a love that was developed in a much more musically discerning adulthood, by the way--I am puzzled by why people don't seem to get them. I'm not professing to understand what every song is about, but I get the depth of the music. It refers back to that cynical idealism, I think. People get put off by surface lyrics and aren't often willing to dig deeper when something puts them off. But the dedicated listener is rewarded with a message of underlying passion for the human condition. The anger comes because McCrea thinks we should know better and that we should be doing so much more for the environment and for each other. Instead, we're distracted by money and jockeying for position because we have no real sense of self worth. It's sad, and it's infuriating. McCrea's lyrics have an edge to them sometimes, but he softens that edge with dry humor and oddball imagery. After "Shadow Stabbing," Comfort Eagle doesn't let up for pretty much the rest of the album. "Arco Arena" is one of the best modern rock instrumentals I've heard, which may or may not be a compliment, since instrumentals in rock music are practically nonexistent. More kudos  to CAKE for marching to their own drumbeat. It's altogether too short at a minute and a half, however. The title track is perhaps one of the most pointed, sarcastic, powerful, and chilling indictments of our consumerist, capitalistic culture in rock music. Its ire is aimed at the music industry, but there's no questioning that McCrea is insinuating more far-reaching implcations. "Comfort Eagle" has grown on me, and may be my favorite CAKE song now. I had to listen to it 4 or 5 times for the sake of this particular project. The entire album benefits from listening to it all the way through. It's like a story, building to a climax with "Comfort Eagle" and wrapping things up with the resolve of "World of Two." It's too bad that Di Fiore's lovely trumpet is less noticeable throughout the album, but it is not absent at all, and its appearance in a song almost takes the listener by surprise--which is nice, because it's not something you ever want to take for granted, even as a longtime fan. one glaring difference that sets Comfort Eagle apart from its companions is the almost complete absence of McCrea's trademark "Ooooh, yeah" and "Aaaall right." The album is well-produced and clean-sounding as well, but certainly not to its detriment.

I was curious to see how CAKE's first studio album, Motorcade of Generosity would hold up--not only to all of their albums, but also to the fact that is it the one I am least familiar with. Turns out it's a solid album, particularly for a debut. I'd read a couple of instances where CAKE was compared to Soul Coughing, and this is the only album that I found it to be true, if only for a few songs: "Jolene" and "Mr. Mastodon Farm" were most distinct in their similarities. The Tex-Mex influence is strongest here, especially in the first few songs, betraying McCrea's California roots. There are a few tracks that wouldn't be out of place on a current CAKE album, like "Ruby Sees All" and "Haze of Love," which makes for an interesting observation about the band: their sound hasn't changed all that much. And yet, each album has a distinct flavor. There is a discussion about a band's "growth" and "maturity" and what all that means in here, but I've gone on for long enough that maybe someone else will bring it up so I can wrap this up before too much longer.

On a side note, you don't see too many references to faith or religion in CAKE's lyrics, but "Jesus Wrote a Blank Check" makes me wonder about McCrea's spiritual background and perspective. I've been perusing interviews online, but there's not much about it there.

So back to Showroom of Compassion. It's definitely mellower on the whole than their other stuff, but not necessarily less dynamic, which is what impresses me about the album. There's a lot to pay attention to musically, and lyrically there's a wistfulness that's not as prominent on CAKE's other albums. "The Winter" is perhaps the most depressing Christmas song I've ever heard. But it's honest and heartbreaking and one of the highlights of the album.

I realize that I haven't included B-Sides and Rarities in this discussion. There are a lot of good tracks on the album, but it lacks the cohesiveness of their studio releases. It's got two notable cover songs: "Mahna Mahna" and "Strangers in the Night." Definitely worth a listen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Missed the Party

Well, not only did I not have the day off yesterday, I had to work late. So, so sorry I missed out on the high quality discussion John and Brandon were having. Unfortunately, I saw Lost in Translation too long ago to offer any opinions on the issues in question. Emotional infidelity is a real thing, I will say, but it's a lot more blurry than the physical kind. I leave it to individual couples to define their own parameters.

I'm sorry you weren't impressed with True Stories, John. Maybe it's because you didn't also experience your son giggling like he was 6 again (except during the musical routines when he kept asking when the movie was going to end) and your wife bobbing and swaying on the couch while singing along. It definitely enhanced the experience for me.

In other less exciting news, I watched an episode of Blue Mountain State last night. Season 2 is way better than the first season. It's still lowest-common-denominator type entertainment, but entertaining nonetheless. I also caught up with 2 episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Shame, shame! It's a comedy, people! No fair dropping that bomb the episode before last. Any fans of HIMYM here?

Apparently, my subconscious mind  has interpreted John's love of La Moustache as an obsession with the retro facial hair style itself, and I think of him every time I hear "Mustache Man" from CAKE's new album. So, John, I officially dedicate the song to you. I've been enjoying the album very much. There's plenty of that classic sound for CAKE fans to love, and enough that's new to keep us coming back for more.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Only 2 Days Left!

...perhaps only 1 1/2 days, depending on when Netflix takes films off Instant Watch.

I watched True Stories with my family last night, and Dear Lord Jesus, what a delight that film was. It's hard to speak accurately of the plot: David Byrne narrates in more-or-less unconnected thoughts about small-town life as he visits Virgil, Texas, during their 150-year anniversary celebration. John Goodman looks for a love and sings a Talking Heads song to close out the film. Well, a lot of people sing Talking Heads songs, actually. It's quite wonderful. It's David Lynch at 6 years old. Maybe. All three of us laughed frequently, and my wife (who is a big TH fan) bopped around to the music throughout most of the film. I was suprised to learn that while she knew most of the songs, she'd never seen the film before.

And it's off NWI on January 19. It's only 89 minutes, guys. You gotta watch it. It reminded me why I love film so much; it was a breath of fresh air.

John, I'm so happy you watched Frozen. I know it wasn't a great film, but I really liked it. It's a shame that it won't be taken seriously by a lot of critics, and its subtle unique touches will be missed by the college-aged frat boys who are just waiting for the wolves to come back. I have rarely seen a thriller/horror film that will rock you off your seat for a good steady half hour and then completely scale itself back and focus on dialogue and character development. There was something pleasantly existential about just hanging out with the protagonists on the ski lift chair in the sun and the brisk mountain air while they talked--all the while not knowing whether or not they were going to make it to the final credit roll. Then it's right back to the intense drama, then back to calm and quiet. The dynamic pace was refreshing. I would wager that Ben and Brandon would both at the very least be entertained by the film. But it's got longer on NWI than True Stories, so watch that first!

I liked Lost in Translation. I was won over by Murray in one of the first "quirky-Murray" films I'd seen (I wouldn't see Rushmore until later). I saw Coffee and Cigarettes around the same time, and enjoyed Murray's "quirky-Murray" cameo in that as well. I don't remember much else about the Translation. I must confess that I've enjoyed Coppola's work, even though I won't argue with the hipster label. I mean, Virgin Suicides, right? (Great soundtrack, by the way.)

Brandon, Emma Stone is indeed fun to watch. I'm looking forward to her interpretation of Mary Jane; I think she'll do a much better job than Dunst. But why you hatin' on Juno, dog? It's not the movie's fault it got turned into another Napoleon Dynamite marketing dynamo. Both of those films lost something because of the rabid hipster cash grab that went into effect when they went big. If no one had ever heard of Juno, I can't believe you wouldn't be a little softer on it at least.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Since I'm sure none of you have seen this gem of a film (or aren't admitting it if you have), here's all you need to see:

Ben, good article about documentaries. I thought it was interesting the way the writer painted the documentary film subculture as not accepting Jackass as one of their own, though, in pretty much every sense of the word, those movies are truly documentaries... I'd never thought of them as such before, though, so they probably are in a class of their own.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Best of (What I've Seen in) 2010

I'll admit that I saw more films in 2010 than I thought I did--24, if the list of U.S. releases I got off wikipedia is complete: 2010 Films. On a side note, where is the best place to go for this kind of info? I am sorry to say that I don't always pay attention to the year of release when I watch a film at home. I don't get to go the the theater that often, so a lot of the 2010 films I've seen were in my basement, most likely in the wee hours of the morning. For that reason, I need a list to to refresh my memory. Maybe this year I'll keep better track. See the lengths I'm willing to go for you guys?

As I've mentioned, I'm not keen on Top 10 lists, but I'll do my best here since I know you guys thrive on that sort of thing.

I was a little embarrassed with myself when I looked over the list of what I've seen this year. I guess I'm more of a lazy film watcher than I thought. Okay, to be fair, there have been a number of important non-2010 films I've added to my repertoire in my never-ending quest to balance out my film knowledge and exposure. But many of the 2010 films I've seen have been either kids' films (which I most likely saw at the theater) or mainstream action/comedy/horror kinds of stuff. Since it is only 24 films, I feel like I won't burden you by putting them all in a category of some sort. It's mostly because I haven't seen ten that I would put in a best-of list. Sad, I know.

Here goes (all in no particular order):

The Best of the Best (I could find very little fault):
Shutter Island
North Face (Nordwand)
True Grit
Toy Story 3

Almost Made It (Excellent, but I had some issues):
The Town
Scott Pilgrim
Paranormal Activity 2
How to Train Your Dragon

Very Entertaining (Scored high in at least one of the Big 3--Plot, Characterization, Special Effects):
Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows, Part 1 (It's part one and needs the sequel to be judged appropriately)
Iron Man 2
Despicable Me
Due Date
Date Night

Entertaining But Forgettable:
Leap Year
Cop Out
Hot Tub Time Machine

Almost Sorry I Watched It:
Legion (saved solely by handmade SFX)
MacGruber (barely--ever so barely--saved by the first celery in the ass scene)
Karate Kid (saved by the mountain temple scene)
Survival of the Dead (saved because I can't completely give up on Romero, but dammit, this is pushing it)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Little More Grit

 John, I just read your post again and am adding a bit more to my original response. I'm sure you could argue that Mattie was not acting in vengeance the second time she shot Chaney. I think her previous experience told her that he was not going to go with her willingly. The situation was more dire now; people are dying all around her, and nothing had gone according to plan. She may have realized that the only way Tom Chaney was going anywhere with her was draped over a horse. Certainly she had her personal vendetta against the man; it's the reason she was even out there in the first place. But her lack of experience in general combined with her harrowing experience in the present excuse her a bit more than if, say, it had been Rooster doing the shooting. I think that you're right that there were consequences to the adventure as a whole; I think it's why she never married (although having only one arm in the Old West would probably make a woman much less desirable) and that it affected her entire demeanor. That's a life-changing experience for sure for a little girl.

I'm glad you've enjoyed the film enough to watch it three times, but I fear that you will have the remake so much in your head that you won't enjoy the original. I think Adrienne is correct that the original needs to be seen first. I would wait longer in between viewings than I did, though, because I kept filling the gaps of the remake in with details from the original. And because they were so similar, it's hard to keep my opinions of the interpretations separate. I will say that more than many other films, I am interested in reading the book as sort of a final word on the matter. It really is a remarkable story.

True Grit, Coen Style

I find it interesting, John, that you frame so much of your movie watching in moral terms. A lot of the stuff you talked about didn't even occur to me when I was watching the remake yesterday afternoon. It may be that the original is so fresh in my mind that all I could do was compare and contrast between the two. Nevertheless, it's a perspective, so you all might find it interesting anyway.

Right off the bat, I was distracted by how different the two Matties were. I really enjoyed Kim Darby's performance, and Steinfeld's was so different it was really unsettling for at least the first half of the film. I liked how Darby's bravado barely masked her uncertainty and lack of experience, whereas Steinfeld's Mattie was much more reserved and less emotionally expressive. There were times when you could see a hint of the child in her eyes or her trembling lip, but it was a little too understated for me. I'm sure many would disagree with me, but we live in an age in film where the wisecracking, sharp-witted child is not an anomaly. We expect children in films to act and think older than they are. Darby's Mattie was in between being an adult and a child, just like a real 14-year-old. Don't get me wrong; I thought Steinfeld did a fine job, and I think I'll appreciate her interpretation better when I have a little more distance from the original.

The other performances were unique in their own rights, and really comparable to each other. Both characterizations of Rooster were entertaining and distinct. I couldn't say which La Boef I liked better. I preferred Damon's character personally, but, again, I thought both performances were solid.

As far as it being humorous, John, I wasn't surprised. The original was more so, and in that classic movie way. I think I've mentioned how older films seem to be able to span genres better than newer, more serious ones, and the original Grit is no exception. I think I was relieved that the remake kept some of the humorous elements of the original, as it was a part of what gave it that little extra zing (there's a better word than that, but it eludes me).

The dialogue was remarkably similar in both films, and if certain lines of the remake weren't verbatim from the original, they were very close. I also was distracted by the righteous commitment to refraining from contractions in both films, but more so in the remake (maybe because I gave the original that "old movie" leeway). Is that how they talked in the Old West? I'm not up on my grammar history. It's charming and unusual at first, but after two films of it, it does get to be a little obvious. Again, I think that  some distance between the films will ease some of that.

I'll definitely watch either again; I really couldn't tell you which is my favorite. They are both excellent films. I'll leave the moralizing to John for now, and chime in with my thoughts of interpretation when some other have had their say.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Originals

Brandon, I find it remarkable that you haven't seen Before Sunrise. Ben's right that a part of what's so wonderful about Before Sunset is that we'd been waiting for so many years, not knowing what had happened to the two would-be lovers. It's one of the few "arty" films I'd seen close to when it came out (I watched it on HBO back in the day), and the fact that all they did was talk (mostly, anyway--heh) and it was still entertaining made an impression on me. Before Sunset has the advantage of all those years of subliminal longing--the fans of the first are ripe for picking. So I find it interesting and encouraging that you enjoyed the sequel without the benefit of the first, because it says something about how well the film stands on its own. But, really, man, watch the first one. You wouldn't let it stand if one of us had seen Aliens but not Alien, would you? Get on it, man.

I watched True Grit last night. Not the Coen brothers' version. That's today or tomorrow, I hope. Adrienne actually *answered* the question I'd posed to all of you about whether or not to see the original first. I really liked it. I will probably be scolded for it, but it was my first John Wayne film, so it was a treat to see what all the fuss is about. Some comments in the special features mentioned that his performance in True Grit is a special one, that he put a little more of himself into the part. He really did  a fine job. But I have to tell you that I don't think it would be the same movie--and I'd even go so far as to say he might not have gotten that Oscar--were it not for Kim Darby's really unique performance as Mattie. The chemistry between those two was fantastic. That Mattie's propriety contrasted Rooster's impropriety in addition to their chemistry created an emotional dynamo of sorts--an alternator that provided near continuous energy to the film. It was a classic straight man-funny man dynamic, except that they took turns with the roles. I was surprised to see that Dennis Hopper was in the film; I really enjoyed his performance as Moon. The scene involving him and Quincy was shockingly violent for a rated G film. Let's not forget two instances of "bastard" one "son of a bitch" and several hells and damns. Even more evidence that the ratings system is a load of crap (have any of you seen This Film is Not Yet Rated?). I mean, I wasn't bothered by it necessarily, just really surprised. Of course, it was pre-Temple of Doom, which is a distinction we make at the house now since I told my son that Temple of Doom was one of the films that prompted the created of the PG-13 rating in the first place.

On a side note, what is it with westerns and theme songs that sing about the plot? So far I've seen three: High Noon, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and now True Grit. It's amazing that the music can be so incredibly cheesy in some of these old westerns.

P.S. I loved your story about watching movies with your dad. I'm envious of your film education, I must say, though it is something to be discovering some of these classics as an adult, when I have the ability to  appreciate them more. I hope Ethan feels as nostalgic about me showing him Seven Samurai and High Noon as you do about your own father's film influence. Is your brother into film like you are?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Staying Together For the Kids

We touched a little on your topic, Ben, in a little discussion about film critics John and Brandon and I had a little while ago. I am not well-versed in that subject and have been impressed/daunted by what John and Brandon have exposed themselves to. I am a skeptic when it comes to a lot of art criticism, really, because I feel that the enjoyment of art is so personal and visceral that when you try to be objectively critical, you're removing a crucial variable upon which art appreciation depends.

It is true that there are different levels of skill involved in any art form, and if we were comparing home movies to Scorsese's films, you could certainly make a judgment based upon objective elements. But in the professional film-making business, there are a lot of folks who have spent a lot of time studying their craft, and are good at what they do. So it comes down to taste, ultimately. I'll watch a ridiculous movie like Disaster Movie, and be dismissive of it until I watch the special features and see how much skill goes into even a throwaway film like that. I'll still think it's crap, maybe, but more respectable crap that is aware of its purpose--and is not without its fans.
I love reading Roger Ebert's reviews because it's obvious that he likes movies. He'll admit to his not liking a film being simply a matter of taste. I respect that. I think subjective discussions of film are much more enjoyable and fruitful, as opposed to trying to determine whether a film is "good" or "bad." I would have never referred to myself as a cinephile before John called me one, and it's because I associated cinephilia with elitism and criticism. But I'm learning that's not necessarily the case. I love movies. I don't know what's good, but I know what I like. I am a cinephile.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Drum Roll, Please (part 2)

Okay, let's travel back in time about two months and see what I was watching then, and if I still remember any of it well enough to comment. Of course, there are comments on my Facebook Flixster account, which you are all welcome to check out. I just don't feel like doing all that cutting and pasting.

You do realize, that without Flixster, I would have been keeping track of all these movies I've been watching on several scraps of paper, all lost by now. It's not that I think it's so great, John, but it's a good placeholder. And it has all the basic information I need (year, major actors, director) to speak somewhat intelligently about it here.

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985): I loved this movie as a kid. Watched it several times on HBO when it first came out. It's still good for some laugh-out-loud moments. Pre-public-racism Michael Richards is really inspired in an early role. I listened to some of the commentary and was interested to learn how creative the director had to be with a really limited budget. I had a lot more respect for the film after that. The script apparently called for most of the scenes to be filmed at night, but they just couldn't afford it. I think it makes it a little more unique as such, a comedy horror film shot almost entirely in daylight. The director (Rudy De Luca) wrote for Mel Brooks and his influence really shows here.

Pierrot le Fou (1969): Godard take two wasn't so bad. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. It held my interest and was much more visually interesting than Breathless. I watched some commentary and had a bit of an epiphany about modern film. Ready? Just like modern art can be concerned with form at the expense of (or outright exclusion of) representational elements, perhaps film can do the same and still be fun to watch. The big difference is that I can enjoy an abstract painting for as long or short a time as I like, whereas an abstract film will keep me captive for hours sometimes, depending on a director's vision/obsession/delusions of grandeur. But while I tend to prefer modern art over classical, I'm still a sucker for a good story. I'll stick to experimental short films and leave the more dense stuff to the experts. Not that I'm not up for more Godard; I actually wanted to watch more of the special features (commentary does help with films like this, I've found--you're right, John and Brandon) but it was a library item and was on hold for someone else so I had to return it before I was ready. The moment has passed so I probably won't come back to it for a while. If you have't seen it, it's about a guy who leaves his wife and daughter for the babysitter or something. Except that it's not really about that, and it eventually descends into typical Godard inanity/insanity until, similar to the protagonist of Breathless, the main character dies in dramatic fashion. Ah, the French. Sartre was no good for them.

Taking Woodstock (2009): I kept falling asleep, this was so boring. And long. I'm not usually derisive of films; on some level every major studio release is professionally and expertly done. But why watch this film, which took great pains to resemble the famous documentary about Woodstock, when you could just watch the famous documentary about Woodstock? I understand they wanted to focus on an individual experience, but the weren't really consistent there either. Demetri Martin is funny, but he wasn't here.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000): I watched this for the second time with my family, and it was a big hit. I just LOVE LOVE LOVE this film. Snappy dialogue, fantasy elements, clever storytelling, and groundbreaking CGI (I didn't realize how groundbreaking until I watched some of the special features) make this an all-time classic and one of the best films the Coen brothers have put out. So what if it's got a solid mainstream sensibility? So what, I say! And don't forget the killer KILLER soundtrack.

Late Spring (1949): This is a great movie, everyone agrees. Without watching it several more times, I don't know that I can add much to the discussion. It's a bit slow-moving, but really substantial stuff goes on. It's meaty. But this good movie becomes great by the end when you realize what the father did for his daughter consciously, deliberately, and at his own expense. It gives me chills thinking about it now and I saw the movie 53 days ago. I've got two Ozu films under my belt now, so I'm only just beginning to appreciate how the world is a more beautiful place because of his work.

Teeth (2007): Brandon, are you still with me? This one's for you. If you haven't seen this, you will LOVE it. A teenage girl, spokesperson for her high school abstinence group, finds out she has teeth down there when her boyfriend forces himself on her, with utterly disturbing (but hilarious) results. Director Lichtenstein doesn't hold back with the visuals, either. It's not a lot of gore, but what there is will make you instinctively check yourself, if you know what I mean. But, you see, it's not just about unintentionally detachable penises; there's a message in here about empowerment. The fact that this girl starts out intending to be a virgin until marriage is significant to the story. It's interesting to watch how she handles her loss of innocence and makes the transition from being a victim of her unusual physiology to taking matters into her own hands. It's not a perfect film, and not subtle at all. But I can honestly say I've seen nothing like it before or since. You'd classify it as horror, but it's really more like a fairy tale. I'd really be interested in what you think.

Jennifer's Body (2009): I watched this and the previous films in close proximity to each other. It might have even been the same night; I don't remember exactly. It was interesting to see the similarity in themes (a woman taken advantage of gets her revenge) and to contrast it with the completely different responses and attitudes of the main characters of the two films. Jennifer's Body kind of got trashed, bit I think it's a perfectly good B movie. Megan Fox does just fine; I think she's actually a good choice for the role and plays off Seyfried well. Fox is gorgeous and it's not fair that you're not allowed to be that gorgeous and a good actor too. It's like we don't want anyone to be too talented. I'm not saying she's Meryl Streep, but lay off people, really. It's also a shame the Juno connection was so overplayed; this is not a Juno-fan movie. But I bet a lot of them went to see it anyway. I think Cody has a lot of potential as a writer. She's got good ideas and an unconventional approach to them. She's still learning the tricks of the trade. Give her time.

Due Date (2010): I really enjoyed this film and really laughed a lot. I like how Brandon trusts his gut more than his intellect when it comes to comedy. I'm like that, too. The whole point is to make the audience laugh, and if you can do it with a typical plot and plot devices but two really funny actors, then more power to ya. I never thought I'd find a masturbating dog so funny, but, dear Lord, I almost wet my pants. Galifianakis and RJD had great chemistry.

Well, I'm tired of writing and I'm still a month and a half behind. Steady as she goes. I guess I had more to say about each than I thought I would.

Right now The Phoenix Foundation's "St. Kevin" is on, and it's really amazing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Month's Worth of Commentary

Yes, I'm going way back here. I told you I was behind...

Kevin Smith: I would still call myself a fan, but I think he's a funnier person than he is a good filmmaker. Chasing Amy is a cut above most of his films. Dogma is funny and clever. But the rest are really kind of mediocre. Even Clerks has flaws, making its mark primarily because no other film dared put so much weight on dialogue alone to carry a plot. It is ingenious in that regard, but next to, say, The Seventh Seal, it's just another Evening with Kevin Smith.

John, are you a Tori Amos fan? Or was that a college phase? I have to know before I reveal the true extent of my fanhood.

Ben, I thought Waking Life was boring. I wanted to like it, but I couldn't stay focused on the dialogue. A Scanner Darkly was slightly better, but it still didn't grab me. If either of those films had not been animated, I doubt they'd be as well known as they are. On the other hand, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are two of my favorite romantic dramas. The former especially blew me away when I saw it for the first time. Linklater's definitely got range.

I LOVED The Straight Story. I used to think I liked David Lynch--back when I was concerned about having film cred, and thought that liking David Lynch was a requirement--but most of his stuff is really inaccessible to me. I tried watching Inland Empire and kept falling asleep. I'll try again someday. Probably. Maybe.

I think it was Brandon who put out the first Disney live action best-of list. What a great list! Swiss Family Robinson captivated me a kid. The Black Hole is terribly underrated. Flight of the Navigator captured my fancy as well.

Ben, I watched the Community Christmas special and liked it even though I'm not familiar with the characters. I've seen one other complete episode--the zombie one--and thought it was really clever. But it's on a bit too early on Thursdays. My family watches The Office together, and sometimes 30 Rock, and I got hooked on The Apprentice (should I admit that?)--one more show seemed like too much. Too bad it wasn't on after The Office instead of the dreadful Outsourced, which I found myself watching more often than not while waiting for The Apprentice to come on.

Criterion films: I feel like a putz, I've seen so few of these. As I've mentioned before, I tend to watch movies late, so I watch stuff that won't put me to sleep, like horror or comedy or action. But I LOVE foreign and arthouse films. I wish I could figure out how to set aside more time for them. Oh, well--back to Hot Tub Time Machine!

John, you might appreciate that I've been buying Fantagraphic's great Seegar Popeye collections for the kids' comics section at the library. In fact, I bet if you came to my library and saw my kids' comics collection, you might actually be tempted to put your own degree to use. You should all come up sometime. I'll keep inviting you... You missed out on a great double feature at the Dryden on New Year's Eve: The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. We unfortunately only had time to watch the former, but oh how wonderful it was on the big screen!

I hope it doesn't get me kicked out of the club, but I've not ever really been a fan of making top ten lists. Reading them, yes, but making them stresses me out so. I always leave something out or can't decide what order to put them into. I prefer to make lists like "Here is a list of some stuff I liked in no particular order and I'm not committing to it, really, so don't hold me to it."

Ben, I've been wanting to see Primer for a long time now. I love time travel movies (see my entry on Timecrimes) and read some good things about it. I even picked up a used copy at a gas station. Of course, now that I own it, it goes to the bottom of the list after all the stuff I have checked out at the library and all the stuff on my NWI queue that's expiring, etc., etc. I'll check out your link for sure after I've seen it.

John, THANK YOU for the lovely care package. I LOVED the drawings you included and the bonus films. I will try to watch JDB soon and let you know what I think. I've been soft on Korine the two other times I've seen his stuff, so the odds are good that you'll finally have someone to share your appreciation for the film. A note from you would have been nice as well, but of course I wasn't surprised at its omission.

Paul Chadwick's art and writing is unique and unparalleled. Kudos to you, John, for spreading the word.

Brandon, I actually spoke with Bryan Lee O'Malley at NY ComicCon this year and he told me that originally the screenplay to Scott Pilgrim called for Scott and Knives to end up together, but it was rewritten at the last minute. That likely accounts for how awkward it seems. The ending is quite different from the comics, and I was really disappointed in it. Right up until the final battle, though, I'm with you all the way. It's a shame it didn't do so well at the box office because it's really the first of its kind.

Movie Posts by Adrienne

The One in Which Jason Gets Grounded

The One in Which Adrienne Gets Sick and Watches a Bunch of Documentaries

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Holiday Vortex

That's where I've been the past month or so. Trying to keep up was a little overwhelming, so I let the ball drop. But I've caught up with all of your previous posts (and took extensive notes) and will soon post my summary reply to the last month's activity as well as (hopefully) the continued list of what I've been watching (which I'm way behind on now).

I hope you haven't given up on me. I get overwhelmed easily. I am a man of many interests and in attempting to juggle them all, I often drop everything for a while.

Seeing Black Swan and True Grit are at the top of my list. My wife wants to see them both with me, so scheduling dates is more tricky. A question: should I watch the original True Grit first, or doesn't it relate much to the remake?

Briefly, if any of you are British sketch comedy fans, PLEASE check out Little Britain on NWI. The first and second series are available. Also check out That Mitchell and Webb Look, which may possibly be funnier. The wit is a tad sharper at least. References to both shows have been thrown around by all three members of the family for the past month or so, ans we've shown episodes to friends and watched our favorite skits numerous times over.

Not available on NWI, but also a very funny British sketch comedy show, is Big Train--featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of Shaun of the Dead fame, as well as a number of other funny people.

Big Train:

Little Britain:

That Mitchell and Webb Look: