An infrequently updated dumping ground for one culture junkie's thoughts on film and whatever else

Friday, February 27, 2009

An Observation

Just returned from James Gray's Two Lovers, which I loved. But while watching Joaquin Phoenix's performance I couldn't help but notice that, in addition to his usual internalized roiling, Joaquin was affecting a slurred speech pattern which, combined with his character's troubled psyche and unpredictable behavior, kept reminding me of none other than Dr. Steve Brule. Some cursory googling indicates that I am the first person to make this observation. For your health!


I might post more substantive thoughts about the movie later, if I feel like it. For now, suffice to say that if James Gray didn't exist it would be necessary to create him—I loved his underrated, beautiful crime drama We Own the Night, and this, despite some basic implausibilities in the concept that are easy enough to get past, is perhaps even better.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Overblown Warning of the Week

As part of his borderline-obsessive tracking of pre-release Watchmen buzz, Jeffrey Wells cautions: "I say again that only non-vested straight-talkers who were never that into comic book geekdom can be trusted on this movie. It may be a great film, or a very good or deeply stirring one, but only the pure of heart and the culturally uncommitted can determine this. Trust no one with any kind of deep-rooted, strongly Catholic investment in geek fanboy culture." (Bolding his.)

Now, I understand Wells's frustration with fanboy culture and his quickness to disregard the opinions of that world. But isn't it slightly wrongheaded to claim that the only people who can be trusted to fairly judge an adaptation of something are those who haven't read the source material? It's rather like saying to avoid reviews of Revolutionary Road by anyone who has read the Richard Yates novel. If anything, the opposite is true in that case; you'd want the most informed opinions possible to tell you what kind of adaptation it is.

Still, I can't help be endeared by Wells's paranoid phrasing. And when you get right down to it I agree with him, and I do not give much credence to any of the early geekgasm reviews that are trickling in. As an erstwhile comic book nerd myself, do I resent Wells's implication that comic fans are not "pure of heart"? No; it made me laugh too much to resent this delightfully crazy old bastard for anything. Keep it up, Wells!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Important

If you happen to be reading this, you should know that Nina Paley's animated film Sita Sings The Blues—which has racked up rave after rave at festivals, plus effusive praise from Rog, but which cannot be conventionally distributed due to legal issues pertaining to music rights—will be streaming online at the Reel13 website starting this Thursday. I gather that Reel13 is a public TV show in NYC dedicated to film, and that the station will be airing Sita Sings the Blues regular-style for those who live in New York in addition to the online option. I'm stoked about this because I foolishly passed up the chance to see the movie at last year's Chicago Film Fest (I was planning on going, but scheduling conflicts with other festival fare precluded it), and it may never show up in a theater near me again. Watch it!

Monday, February 23, 2009

OH MAN

Forget the Oscars—the truly memorable TV moments this month came from Conan O'Brien's final week of "Late Night" shows. Even though he's only moving one hour earlier, his 16-year "Late Night" run got a proper and very moving send-off last week. It was great television with plenty of memorable moments, but the best was Nathan Lane pulling a Bette-Midler-on-Carson and serenading Conan with this hilarious "My Way" rewrite, "Your Way." Special props for finding something to rhyme with "Andy Richter" in the song's funniest couplet.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Boo-urns

I was looking forward to two things at tonight's Oscar telecast: Jerry Lewis's acceptance speech and Mickey Rourke's. The former was disappointingly generic and brief, and the latter didn't happen. But at least I got to see a McDonald's commercial with an Os Mutantes song in it.

Also, what happened to clips? I'm not sure how I feel about this "five presenters" thing. And for the record, I thought Hugh Jackman brought his A-game but was woefully underused.

?!?!

Os Mutantes in a McDonald's commercial. For real.

That's what I get for not allowing enough buffer time on the DVR'd Oscar telecast.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Prospect of Wit

They were talking quickly and getting laughs on intonation alone, the prospect of wit. This isn't really funny, Lyle thought. It seems funny because we're getting half smashed. But nobody's really saying funny things. Tomorrow she'll say what a funny night and I'll say it just seemed funny and she'll give me a look. She'll give me a look—he saw the look but did not express it in verbal form, going on to the next spaceless array, a semi-coherent framework of atomic "words." But I'll know I'm right because I'm making this mental note right now to remind myself tomorrow that we're not really being funny.

—Don DeLillo, Players, 1977

Friday, February 20, 2009

THIS JUST IN

Haha, David Lynch twitters the weather. And yeah, it's really him.

Edit: apparently he's been doing this for a while, in video form. What a goofy goober.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Department of cruel tricks of fate

Oh you've gotta be kidding me. When I tried searching mp3 aggregators for "The Fall of Troy" by Tom Waits, I got a song called "Tom Waits" by some damn hardcore band named—wait for it—The Fall of Troy. Is this some sick joke? Come on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Not bad, not bad

This comes perilously close to the Freiberg/Seltzer maxim of "Recognition = Parody," but the details redeem it: the economic doomcasting used in place of review blurbs, the handheld camera authentically mirroring specific shots from the movie, the masterstroke casting of Alyssa Milano as Marisa Tomei, and the Uncle Sam conceit itself. Springsteen ensures that this carries most of the pathos of the original trailer, too.

(Edit: the embedding is screwed up, so make sure you click the "expand to fullscreen" button.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Like "The Shield," But With The F-Word

Well, this is timely. Just after I finish watching the awesome third season of awesome cop drama "The Shield" (which is largely about a corrupt and brutal elite squad of L.A. cops known as the Strike Team), footage surfaces of real-life, inexplicable police brutality on a CTA bus (via Chicago Cop Watch).



"The Shield" was on FX, so they didn't get to drop the F-bomb. "Do you want to fight me???" I'd like to see this guy go head to head with Vic Mackey in a sociopath-off.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Goggins Slandered



We were shocked and appalled recently to discover slanderous remarks made against blog fixation Walton Goggins by NPR "journalist" Mike Pesca. In a largely favorable review of The Shield's third season DVD, Pesca opines that the cast is uniformly excellent "with the exception of Walt [sic] Goggins, who plays Mackey's chief flunky Det. Shane Vendrell. The character is played as too hot-headed and careless to have escaped serious censure for this long."

More than anything else we feel pity for poor misguided Mike Pesca, who was apparently too hung up on niggling matters of plausibility to enjoy Goggins's intense yet subtle performance as Shane Vendrell. Moreover, I would argue that Pesca's criticism has nothing to do with Goggins and everything to do with the show's writing, which does require a certain level of disbelief-suspension in order to buy that the corrupt Strike Team has gotten away with their malfeasance for this long. This is not a serious problem, though, and certainly not one to pin on "Walt," as Pesca took the liberty of calling him.

Everything you need to know about this Pesca character is revealed in his NPR bio, which offers this nauseating nugget: "He lives in Manhattan with his wife Robin, son Milo, and their dog Rumsfeld." That's right: Mike Pesca, anti-Goggins crusader, has a dog named "Rumsfeld." Now, it's not clear whether this dog was so named as an ironic joke or a sincere tribute, but either option reflects poorly upon Pesca, his family, and his judgment.

At the risk of stating the obvious I'd also like to point out that Walton Goggins could kick Mike Pesca's ass. And that The Shield is fucking awesome.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Just For The Surreality Of It

Theoretically I shouldn't care about this, but that new title sequence in 16x9 widescreen just looks fundamentally wrong. I might have to tune in just for the surreality of it. Matt Groening once complained on a commentary track about how people were watching Simpsons DVDs in the wrong aspect ratio because they didn't know they had to switch from 16x9 to 4x3 fullscreen. Well, now if anyone buys Season 20 (J.H. Fucking Christ, can you believe that number?), they won't have that problem.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"Something dark will happen to them anyway"

Hilariously awkward clip of our generation's Saint Valentine, Stephin Merritt, interviewed on local Atlanta news before performing.

Whistlin' past the graveyard

I'm stealing this from Pendarvis because it's possibly the single funniest image I've ever seen, anywhere:



If Chicago ends up getting the Olympics in 2016, I'm storming Mayor Daley's office to demand that "Cemetery Pranksmanship" be added as a new event. And that this young man be retroactively awarded the gold medal.

Things we heard about five months late

So I guess this is happening. Man, that dude is prolific. If only his fellow TV genius named David, Mr. Milch, were as dedicated...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Between two ferns, so to speak



I'm a month or two late to be chiming in on this topic, but I'm still fired up, dammit. Basically, I'm feeling caught between two equally wrongheaded camps in my (favorable) response to Gran Torino. Ever since I first saw the movie in December I've been growing increasingly frustrated at members of my generation who are inclined to view the film as "unintentionally" funny or otherwise inept. And now I have another group to be frustrated at, thanks to the good-ol-boys at the National Review, who are doing a whole thing about the top 25 "conservative" movies. Gran Torino is #25. I'm not going to dignify them with a link.

I don't want this to come across like I'm saying "I'm the only one who understands it!", because that is not remotely true. Manohla Dargis got it. Glenn Kenny got it. Scott Foundas got it. Many other smart souls on the internet and in print have written smarter appreciations of this movie than I am capable of producing. Still. I don't think it's one of Eastwood's best films and I don't think it's a masterpiece, but it deserves better than (to put it in the reductive terms of the 2008 election) the snarky, narrow-minded, uninformed derision of Obama-voting youth and the racist myopia of McCain-voting geriatrics. (As long as I'm getting all CULTURE WARRIOR about this, let's say that my comrades on this issue belong to the part of the venn diagram showing the intersection of Obama voters and Gran Torino fans. And no, the irony that Eastwood leans conservative and supported McCain is not lost on me.)

At first I was thinking that the movie is something of an auteurist litmus test, since most of the positive notices take at least a semi-auteurist tack in placing Gran Torino within the context of Eastwood's career (as both director and actor), and most of the snark is coming from people who probably haven't even seen Unforgiven, let alone Bronco Billy or A Perfect World. But then how to explain the millions of Americans who ate the movie up and carried it to #1 at the box office (doing record numbers for an Eastwood-directed film)? Not a lot of auteurists in that bunch, I'm guessing, and there's obviously nothing wrong with that. But how many of those people watched the movie through the same lens as the National Review douchebags? Probably not that many, but still, read Andrew Breitbart's conservative take on the movie and you'll see why I'm uncomfortable with the reaction: "[Eastwood] blows away political correctness, takes on the bad guys, and turns a boy into a man in the process. He even encourages the cultural assimilation of immigrants."

Ugh. There's always a risk of this kind of misidentification—it's like when wannabe thugs view The Wire as a cool celebration of gangster life, opining on message boards about how Namond deserved to get got. Conservatives are particularly myopic about this stuff; if they see any representation of conservative "values" they automatically assume it qualifies as an endorsement. The politics of Eastwood's movies are famously ambiguous, but Gran Torino takes Clint's character Walt Kowalski on a journey that not only gives lie to Breitbart's Dirty Harry fantasies, but renders questions of political views pretty irrelevant (if they were even relevant to begin with).

As for my snarky contemporaries, I don't want to go all Denby on their asses, but gah. Listen hear, people: did it occur to you that while you were laughing at Clint's overheated growling and dated racial epithets that you were supposed to be laughing? Why did so many people jump to the conclusion that this humor is unintentional? Clint Eastwood knows what the fuck he's doing! He's working in a specific register, in which everything is melodramatically heightened and slightly removed from reality in its bluntness. Yes, he literally growls, and you're supposed to find it a little funny—it's not a flaw or deficit in the filmmaking or acting. It's the intention. Not many filmmakers adopt this kind of tone these days, so I understand why it confused some people. But you should investigate your confusion rather than chalking it up to dumbness or ineptitude on the film's part. And look, it doesn't take an auteurist to figure out that Eastwood is playing with his own iconic image—something he's been doing for decades, but rarely with the blunt humor on display here. That seems too obvious to state and yet I worry that members of my generation (and I'm talking about, you know, the smart ones) are so disinterested in film history/culture that it's lost on them. When snarkheads try to prove that they're smarter than Gran Torino, they're actually proving that they're stupider.

Ha, and then there's the splinter cell within the online critical community that's declaring Gran Torino overrated, best represented by this questionable piece of contrarianism at Reverse Shot, which muses: "The fact that so many smart, discerning critics have fallen in line behind such an obviously terrible movie speaks to entrenched auteurist agendas: Eastwood’s consensus status as the last American 'classicist' (to use a much-abused term) gives him a pretty long leash and leads to some remarkable feats of critical calisthenics—my favorite being the idea that Gran Torino is a seriocomic work of mischievous and pointed self-parody."

Well, self-parody isn't quite right, but uh, the movie is unequivocally a seriocomic and pointedly introspective work on Eastwood's part. And I'm not even getting into the movie's other virtues and subtleties, which are many. Really. As for the argument that critics give Eastwood too much slack because of his rep, how do you explain the mixed-at-best reaction to Changeling? Sure, there's always the danger when a living artist becomes canonized that his work won't be judged objectively. But it's insulting to both critics and Eastwood to suggest that the warm reception of Gran Torino is purely the result of "entrenched auteurist agendas," especially when that suggestion is clearly disproved by the reception of a movie released only a couple of months earlier.

This post is too long. I'm sorry. I blame Abe, for bringing that National Review list to my attention. I can only assume he was punishing me for some unknown offense. And now, if you read this, I've punished you.

One last thing. To the dismissive snarky jerks of my generation, and to the creepy crypto-racist Republicans of my parents' generation, may I politely suggest that all of you get off my lawn?

Goggins At Large



The following Goggins news item broke all the way back in November, but I just found out about it and am honorbound to relate it here (due to my pledge to provide the ultimate Goggins resource). The item in question is the announcement that Walton Goggins is set to star in a new drama for the AMC network, currently in development, titled "Rectify." The big story here is that Walt gets a true-blue leading role, his name on the metaphorical TV marquee. No longer will Goggins be held back by the tyrannical narcissism of a certain bald-headed Emmy-winner whom we shall not formally recognize by name on account of his ruthless obfuscation of co-star Goggins. Now Baldy is likely seething with jealousy because he does not get to play "a man released from a lengthy prison term after being exonerated by DNA evidence"! That is a role only Walton Goggins can sink his Georgia-sharpened teeth into. Just think: before long, Walton Goggins and Jon "Man-Crush" Hamm will coexist on the same network! The mind boggles. Or should I say, the mind "goggins"!!!*




*No, I should not say that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Our Anger At The CTA

While sitting on stalled trains tonight it occurred to me how crazy it is that the Traveling Wilburys existed. Stop and think about it for a minute. It's just really weird/unlikely/awesome that such a group was assembled, regardless of if their music was any good or not (I've only ever heard that famous single). It's easy to take such things for granted. Was this the "silver lining" of tonight's painfully long, headache-inducing commute home? No. There wasn't one of those.

Dessert



If you enjoy outlandishly unhealthy foodstuffs or pictures of same, you just found a new favorite website. You're welcome. I didn't think it was possible to cringe and salivate simultaneously, but this website was all, Yes We Can.

In which we take a firm stance against a certain proclivity among bloggers (and then casually rescind it)

Why does m——core (I don't like typing out the full name) always inspire so much prognostication? It feels like every piece I read is either announcing its death, or proclaiming its rejuvenation, or some other damn projection of the unknowable. Today's variant, courtesy feisty blogger Karina Longworth, seems to carry the unwritten tag "M——core Gone Mainstream" (Ms. Longworth would never write such a tacky headline as that, but she did write one that illustrates my point about bloggers' prognostication fetish).

Okay, so Noah Baumbach is putting m——core muse / hipster sexpot Greta Gerwig (pictured) in his next movie, and he's bringing along the (non)movement's contentious kingpin Joe Swanberg as a cameraman. Karina is convinced that This Means Something. For her, it portends that "the m-word might cease to exist as a stand-alone concept" as "its stars and spirit are being assimilated into mainstream indie film." I dunno. Steven Soderbergh shoots a couple of DIY-style features on video and all of a sudden we're talking about assimilation and existence-ceasing? Unless Karina has intel she's not sharing, there's no indication that Baumbach's Greenberg will be DIYish or shot digitally or bear any m——core signifiers. Isn't it possible, even likely, that Baumbach merely wanted to make use of Gerwig's talents as an actress and wanted to give Swanberg experience on a professional set?

It's been acknowledged many times over that m——core exists more in the minds of critics than in the intentions of filmmakers, and that the tag has become an albatross for movies that want nothing to do with it (see one of my favorites of last year, Joshua Safdie's entrancing The Pleasure of Being Robbed, which was interesting largely for the ways in which it broke from m——core tradition yet still was lumped in with the "movement"). So can we further acknowledge that this relentless prognostication—a symptom of the blogosphere's instantaneity—about m——core and The Future of Indie Film isn't really any more useful than, say, Oscar predictions?

I don't want to target Karina, who I think was being at least slightly tongue-in-cheek with that headline about The Future, and I'm grateful to her for bringing this item to my attention. The prospect of Greta Gerwig paired up with Ben Stiller (!) is more than a little intriguing, and I liked Baumbach's last two features enough to follow him pretty much anywhere. (I've avoided most of Swanberg's features, so I'm not as, erm, intimately aware of Ms. Gerwig as I could be, but I liked her a lot in the Duplass Bros.' funny genre mishmash Baghead). But if bloggers and critics (and filmmakers) are all so eager for the m——core moniker (and associated talking points) to go away, why don't they stop talking about it?

Because that wouldn't be any fun, stupid. (I'm addressing myself as stupid, for the record, not Karina or anyone else.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

GOGGINS UPDATE

In addition to its regular function of pop-culture punditry (or whatever-the-hell-I-want punditry), this blog aims to be your one-stop source for news related to our favorite rugged young Southern actor, Walton Goggins. Today's Goggins update is an exciting one! Mr. Goggins has lent his sly, offbeat charisma to a new film, That Evening Sun, which has recently been announced as a competitive entry in this year's SXSW Film Festival. Congratulations to Walton as well as the rest of the cast and crew, which includes star Hal Holbrook. SXSW synopsizes the film thusly: "A ruthless grudge match between two old foes. Lines are drawn, threats are made, and the simmering tension under the Tennessee sun erupts, inevitably, into savagery." Intriguing! That Evening Sun is based on a short story by acclaimed Southern author William Gay. We are familiar with Mr. Gay's reputation thanks to the recommendation of our blogging inspiration (and Facebook friend), hilarious author Jack Pendarvis. So it all comes full circle! That's all for today's update, but keep checking in for all your Goggins needs. (Pictured: Walton Goggins looking pretty stressed out. Hang in there, Walt!)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Yeah I didn't see this coming either



It breaks down like this:

1st season of "Chuck" = uneven, amusing diversion
2nd season of "Chuck" = one of the best things on TV right now.

I totally wrote this show off when it premiered because I was angry at the trend of giving handsome, charming actors some stammering dialogue and a pair of glasses (or pocket protector, in Chuck's case) and passing them off as "nerds." Turns out that was mostly just packaging, though, and a stupidly short-sighted reason not to give the show a chance. I've been sick the past week and, looking for something light and engaging to watch in my clogged-up stupor, I took my fave TV critic Alan Sepinwall up on his recommendation of this goofy spy-comedy.

In its outstanding second season, "Chuck" has realized the Platonic ideal that shows like "Veronica Mars" and "Reaper" have only been intermittently successful at: a perfectly balanced blend of outsized genre-geek storytelling and relatable human comedy. It's gotta be the most purely pleasurable series on the air right now. Its espionage plotting provides more credible action and thrills than any network drama, and its heavy doses of comedy provide more laughs than this season's soap-opera-ish episodes of "The Office." Adam Baldwin is especially hilarious as a terse, grunting, Reagan-worshipping NSA agent.

Until "Mad Men" comes back this summer, "Chuck" is my favorite show of the moment. No more snap judgments about TV programs!

Monday, February 2, 2009

NO NO NO NO NO

WHY
WON'T
HE
DIE

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Buddy Love vs. the Wheelchair Assassins

From the people who brought you the short-sighted, missed-the-point protests of Tropic Thunder comes the latest round of misplaced P.C. aggression against Hollywood. Yep, they're protesting the Academy's decision to bestow the humanitarian Oscar on showbiz legend and emulsion-licking auteur Jerry Lewis.

Now, it's one thing to take issue with Jerry's fundraising methods. If they think the MDA telethons propogate negative stereotypes about the disabled, then it's valid to make that point. But is it anything but mean-spirited to try depriving an 82-year-old legend of his last chance at honorary recognition? And there's also the issue of looking a gift-horse in the mouth: Jerry Lewis has done more to raise money and awareness for your cause than, oh, everyone else in the history of that cause combined, and you're gonna give him a big fuck-you just like that?

Then there's this line, which I have no idea what they're even referring to: "Under the guise of 'schtick' and zany, slapstick humor, Lewis’ early films mocked people with developmental disabilities." Wait, really? I haven't seen all of Jerry's early movies but I'm having trouble imagining a scenario in which any of them would even include disabled characters, let alone make fun of them. Are they talking about the fact that Jerry's characters were usually bumbling, stupid weirdos? Is wacky clumsiness a developmental disability now?? That's insane!

Seriously, all this kind of thing accomplishes is give conservatives fodder for deriding us as a bunch of P.C. whiners.

Actually a good rejoinder to these charges would be the climactic scene of Jerry's own The Nutty Professor, but I can't find it on youtube. The movie's be-yourself message, spoken by Jerry after his hepcat Buddy Love persona has worn off and he's been exposed as ugly nerdy scientist Julian Kelp, jibes pretty damn well with what the disability protesters want to make clear: "You might as well like yourself; just think about all the time you're going to have to spend with you."

Since I can't find that scene, enjoy this clip of Buddy Love performing "That Old Black Magic" at the eternal Purple Pit. Incidentally, a note to members of my generation who might be put off by memories of the icky Eddie Murphy remake: Jerry's original The Nutty Professor is one of the most perfect films ever made, and essential viewing for anyone with even a cursory interest in American comedy and/or American cinema. Oh, and this interview with Jerry from Entertainment Weekly is an enjoyable read. It confirms that Jerry is upset that the award is for his humanitarian work rather than his film artistry.

Goggins!

You know who has an awesome name? Walton Goggins. No, that's not a Hobbit, it's one of the stars of FX's The Shield. Just say that name to yourself: Walton Goggins, Walton Goggins, Walton Goggins. Actually, his name isn't the only reason I admire him. With his rough-hewn features, jagged charm, and sense of humor that's always on the brink of violence, Goggins reminds me of '70s tough-guy icons like James Coburn and Warren Oates. And I do not hand out Warren Oates comparisons lightly. Plus, check out this awesome fact on his Wikipedia page: "At the age of 10, Goggins and his mother were the statewide champion cloggers, otherwise known as Mountain Dancing. When B.B. King was on tour, Goggins and his mother opened for him at the Atlanta Fulton County Prison." I count four distinct awesome things about that fact. IMDb gives us another taste of Goggins' authentic Southern background: "He won first prize at the Gold West State Days Hog Calling Contest." Goggins!