Thursday, September 27, 2007


I rented this 1995 Japanese film from the director of After Life and Nobody Knows (both unseen by me), on the strength of this youtube clip, which would be gorgeous if youtube were capable of such a thing. The overhead shot with the snowfall beginning -- fantastic. Unfortunately, the US dvd from New Yorker is wretched, much like my attitude in this post. Looks transferred straight from vhs, exactly the opposite of what this carefully composed film demands. Nevertheless, judge this 6 1/2 minutes for yourself.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another unnecessary sequel!

Fuggedabout Schmidt (2009) - Jack Nicholson returns as discontented retiree Warren Schmidt, and this time he's teaming up with mob boss Frank Vincent to steal -- aaaah, fugeddaboutit! Directed by Linc Cassavetes (yup, there's another one).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Well, they say that Santa Fe is less than ninety miles away...

The term “media circus” didn’t emerge until the mid-70’s, but by 1951, Billy Wilder had already literalized the concept onscreen in his caustic satire Ace in the Hole, recently rescued from oblivion by a much-celebrated Criterion dvd release. When a miner is trapped in a cave-in while scavenging for “Indian artifacts” in New Mexico, opportunistic reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) spins the predicament into an epic human interest story that attracts hordes of gawkers, reporters, entertainers, and yes, even a full-fledged carnival (not-so-subtly titled “the Great S&M Amusement Corp.” in a sneaky move past the censors) to the site. While the disgraced, ex-big time reporter seeks to prolong the rescue mission until he can leverage his way back to his old job with a New York paper, the miner’s discontented wife (Jan Sterling) plans to skip town once the story blows over; lining her coffers in the meantime by charging admission to the site.

Ace has a reputation as Wilder’s most cynical study of human nature, and indeed Douglas’ Tatum is one of the meanest bastards ever to appear outside of a gangster picture in a Hayes Code-era Hollywood film. Stridently unethical and verbally, as well as physically, abusive, Tatum seemingly embodies every negative trope of the 50’s-era news business that Wilder and co-writers Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels could throw in; and the film’s contempt for the broadly drawn “Mr. and Mrs. America” types who lap up every tragic detail of the story (and ostensibly resemble a large segment of Hollywood’s usual target audience) is almost equally pronounced. Not surprisingly, the film was such a box office bomb that Paramount never even released it on VHS, and in fact recouped some of its losses from Wilder’s salary on his next hit, Stalag 17.

Unfortunately, Wilder’s cynicism isn’t as perfectly realized here as in masterpieces like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard; occasionally coming off not only as one-note but insultingly obvious. Tatum’s canny deflection of suspicion from the obviously unwieldy drilling plan also seems like a stretch, until you recall the mainstream media recently took their own sweet-ass time before raising hard questions about the deadly Utah mine disaster. Nevertheless, the film is a must-see not just for its uncompromising tone but because its audacity is complemented to outstanding effect by Wilder’s typically pimped out dialogue and some of the sharpest cinematography of his career.

Ace in the Hole would also make a great double-bill with the even-more prescient A Face in the Crowd (1957). While most Americans today can probably at least acknowledge the distasteful overkill of most media circuses, even as they devote their unhealthy interest to them, plenty are still wholly, gullibly snookered by the sort of sinister, phony folksy charm Andy Griffith lays on in Elia Kazan’s cautionary tale, as evidenced by George W. Bush and that doofy red pickup truck that future washout presidential candidate Fred Thompson uses exclusively for campaign appearances.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Where am I going to get a pair of beautiful women's legs on such short notice?"

(Above: a possible still from Napolean Dynamite 2: Awkward Boogaloo)

Roger Ebert has been covering the Toronto Film Festival and gives a typically generous heads up (Yes, I said "heads up." I dare not infringe his copyright) about the latest Quirky Indie Comedy that will be driving me nuts in a couple of months... probably without me ever actually seeing it. Juno stars Ellen Page as a 16-year-old pregnant with Michael Cera's mumbleseed, and everything Ebert writes about it gives me an uneasy feeling: The film received a warm, loud, standing ovation (So did Clerks II at Cannes. Means nothing. Plus, the audience was probably packed with these shills); The characters in this situation are unlike any others he's seen before (i.e. they're all driven by precocious child logic that has no bearing on reality); and he predicts the film will be "quickly beloved when it opens at Christmas time" -- most likely by an audience suddenly demanding their comic heroes stride across the screen decked out in a demeaning mish-mash of 70's/80's/90's retrogeek fashion. Michael Cera doesn't need a goofy costume to be funny, but such sloppy visual cues are apparently the new definition of crowd-pleasing for nostalgia-addled... whipper snappers (there, I said it!) who watch too danged much VH1. Why doesn't that channel ever play Amy Grant videos anymore, anyway?

But, we'll see. I could be very wrong, as I was in my little-read 1997 essay on The Sweet Hereafter, "Tragically Hilarious: Atom Egoyan's Bus-Crashing Laff Hoedown." First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody previously adapted her blog Pussy Ranch - which chronicled her time as an "unlikely" stripper - into a book that landed her this Letterman appearance. Wikipeida not-inaccurately notes that Dave was "imbued with fascination with the sex industry and her observational prowess" during the interview. Hey, it beats listening to Paul Schaeffer's constant cackling. I just found out about Cody 20 minutes ago, but my cold assessment is that her friendly demeanor, calculated wit and anime-ready moniker clearly mark her as a savvy purveyor of Fleshbot-friendly geek chic (I demand that appear as a blurb somewhere). Ultimately, that means she would probably charm me out of my nothin-happenin' schlubdom with ease if we ever met, before she returned to her multitude of fulfilling projects and I to my pretentious Netflix rentals, respectively.

Boy, this post really went in an unintended direction. It's almost like I got my just desserts for complaining about a movie I haven't seen yet; But how could that be?

Update (non-all caps version): I waited until after I posted this to read Michael Hirschon's notes on the proliferation of quirk in The Atlantic, which gets off to an immediately shaky start with its use of the term "Gen-X" but mostly recovers. Looks like I avoided too much overlap, except for a shared disdain of Napolean Dynamite, as Hirschon's big target is Ira Glass. Between this and the Onion's recent smackdown, isn't it odd how there's apparently a This American Life backlash suddenly brewing? For what it's worth, I agree that the one episode of the tv version I saw didn't work at all, with Glass' "And now for something completely different" transitions serving as the nadir. As for a couple of Hirschon's other examples, if anything Arrested Development is more zany than quirky, and Flight of the Conchords ended up charming me to the point where it was my favorite show of the summer. Granted, the only other competition was John From Cincinnati, but still.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Yet more about TheWirethewirethewire

A good read from the Washington Post about the last day of filming. They report the s5 premiere date as Jan 6 - sooner than I thought. So you know what that means: S4 arrives on dvd Dec 4.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

As Philly Boy Roy would say:

"Who does he think he is, Omelet Ertegun?"

Sunday's New York Times Magazine had a feature article on former wanna-be wrestling manager/current Columbia Records co-chairman Rick Rubin, detailing his efforts to save the music industry without having to get up from the comfort of his zabuton. First, I should mention the article is amusingly bookended by Rubin's discovery of a "new" band called the Gossip, who I first saw when they opened for Sleater-Kinney in 2000 and are so popular in England that Beth Ditto bared her corpulent flesh on the cover of the NME. Second, this is more like Rubin-as-Guru PR stuff, rather than an astute appraisal of his credentials as a producer. I'd like to read more about just how "hands-off" his role is during the recording process; surely Slipknot can't be the only band with grievances? That said, one need only type the words "Def Jam" to shore up Rubin's cultural cache, and he was unquestionably a godsend for Johnny Cash's career. There may not have been a Walk the Line and probably a lot fewer reissues if the Rubin-helmed American albums hadn't made Cash marketable to Gens X, Y, XY, YX, MXPX, and so forth. He also deserves credit/blame for extending the Red Hot Chili Peppers' career by at least 15 years, thereby establishing Chad Smith as a national treasure (and ensuring that I will now get tons of google hits for "Chad Smith" + "national treasure").

The article also details some of Rubin's ideas for saving the major music labels, who at one time could weather storms like home taping and the Rock 'N' Wrestling Connection but are now in genuine danger of collapse. I have doubts about Rubin's proposed $19.95 subscription model, but at least he seems to be bringing something to the table other than flailing gestures and the usual contempt for consumers and artists alike. Take Steve Barnett of Columbia's suggestion in the article to start gobbling up artists' touring and merchandise revenue; Not exactly the kind of idea that'll prompt Steve Albini to shutter his recording studio and start a supergroup with Ashlee Simpson, Taylor Hicks and Gibby Haynes.

As for me, I don't pretend to know what could solve the major labels' woes, but I did think of a couple of possibilities while writing this post:

1) Have prominent Dead Boys fan Jim Cramer go on CNBC and beg the Federal Reserve to bail out the music industry like he did in response to the mortage crisis.

2) Expand upon a curious new phenomenon I witnessed firsthand at a club the other night: band elections! Normally, you couldn't drag me out to H St in DC on a Wednesday night to see Rogue Helicoptor Pilot open for These Cupcakes Are Delish, but this was more like a riveting microcosm of our political process than a standard indie rock show. The guitarist, bassist, drummer and glockenspielist of TCAD were all campaigning onstage for the title of Band President, to be chosen by the audience at the end of the show. The lead singer told the crowd he was ineligible to run "under the Van Halen Fairness Doctrine," but that he was promised some sort of honorary title and a specially designed, gold sequined robe from American Apparel as compensation. The singer also introduced scattered "campaign ads" projected on the wall throughout the night - I was struck most by the glockenspielist's heartwrenching tale of having to pay 4% of his art school tuition - and moderated a heated debate during the encore break in which the guitarist called the drummer a "leaden-footed flip flopper," holding up a gasp-inducing cameraphone pic of his rival drumming while wearing flip flops to bolster his claims. The band then handed out golf pencils and paper scraps to the audience and waited until the results were tabulated before playing the last three songs of the night. Unfortunately the voting ended in a tie, necessitating a run-off gig later in the month, but I'm sure Sony or whatever would have the wherewithal to rig it so that doesn't happen very often. At least I hope so, as some of the miffed indie rockers in the crowd started poking each other with the golf pencils, spilling their cheap beer and hurling subtle sarcasm at the visibly cowed band until the club owner politely asked everyone to file out in an orderly fashion, which they did. Maybe next time these kids will learn to run on the only political platform I care about: The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

That's it! I'm buying a video camera.

There's literally no reason why you and I should not be making movies and cashing in on awkwardness when a film can be released with this title:

My pitch is for a real-time movie called BRB, about a bunch of hip, underemployed college grads who've recently moved to Brooklyn (i.e. the most fascinating, culturally relevant people on earth), waiting on line to buy the latest iGadget. It'll delve into their very mild disaffection; their slightly inarticulate confusion; their somewhat dwindling trust funds; their struggles to recall the perfect Family Guy scene for every social situation. I don't think "mumblecore" adequately describes what I'm going for. I've been kicking around "shirt-edge" as a genre title. What do you think?