Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Roll The Dice To See The Squid

Comic Critics

(Via earthtopus and kukkurovaca)


Just watched Kindle guy defend Kindle 2 to Jon Stewart. I'm by no means a Luddite. I own or am caretaker to a private arsenal of technology. I'm typing this on a Mac and I was one of many thousands Twittering (but not over-Twittering) last night's Oscarcast.

Therein lies my main resistance to turning my library "green", though. Do I really want one more device, when one of the pleasures of reading is an escape from what the industrial revolution hath wrought? Does the act of reading a book have a different physiological and psychological effect than reading text on a screen? I believe so, and I don't believe I'm imagining it. I feel much more at ease when I've spent a healthy part of a given week deep in reading, thankfully apart from anything that attaches itself to the pace of the outside world.

Beyond that, for all the time I spend online, it's primarily consumptive, not reflective. I have to stand back from the deluge of information I receive before the wheels start rolling and I turn it into work, or more accurately, begin to pose greater questions or attempt to interpret. Another electronic device might stir up an already ingrained consumptive predilection on my part. Which is fine, but I'm not sure I'm consumptive when I read a book. I think that act is supposed to ignite different impulses, which my body has reserved for the reading of a physical book, not a screen.

When I read a book or any non-electronic text, I find myself freed up. Isaac Asimov once described a book as a non-electrical video cassette that required no screen and started merely upon looking at it. It would pause when you looked away and required no more than your attention to unpause it.

I suppose that leaves me with having to defend myself from the self-righteous position of the Kindle partisan, assuring me but really castigating me that it's the way to "go green", as a reader. Sure, because no electronic device leaves a carbon footprint, certainly not one hooked up to a 3G network downloading information on a daily basis, my no, that doesn't require energy consumption at all. I'm pretty sure my owning a physical library is not on par with driving a four-by-four or spraying aerosol cans into the air, thanks. Plus, you probably own a car and a Kindle, whereas I own neither.

Still, having said all that, I'm not entirely unsympathetic to where our economic and sociopolitical repletion will eventually encapsulate us. We'll all be in our own cubicles eventually, and I guess I can just hope it gets to that after I'm gone or don't care anymore.

In any case, I wouldn't rule out the notion of owning one. It has significant scholarly possibilities to say the least, and would be great to travel with.

But I'm not about to make a trade.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

I was not in fact trying to sound like Andrew Sarris while tweeting this last night.

I am in fact, not pissy at all this year that Departures beat Waltz With Bashir and The Class, as I've seen none of these movies so far.

However, when The Lives of Others beat Pan's Labyrinth, in Best Foreign Filim back in '07, I was down on it, because the Academy had snubbed the Pan, a deserved Best Pic nom.

I got over it when I saw The Lives of Others. It's a tremendous, brilliant film.

This is one of the few categories in which I'm very tempted to completely trust the voters' judgment (all categories, except for Best Picture, I believe, are limited to a specialized, narrow group of voters). I think they know people are going to see Waltz and The Class, just like they knew people were already embracing Pan's Labyrinth.

Nope, not being pedantic here, either.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Read 'em and Weep

Liveblogging the pics I got right (and wrong), startin' here in a few. Just keep on refreshin'.


Actress in a Supporting Role

My Prediction: Taraji P. Henson

Winner: Penelope Cruz

Well, I loved her, and Nate Silver was right that he'd be wrong.


Best Original Screenplay

My Prediction: Dustin Lance Black

Winner: Dustin Lance Black


Adapted Screenplay

My Prediction: Simon Beaufoy

Winner: Simon Beaufoy


Animated Film

Mine: Wall-E

Theirs: Wall-E


Art Direction

Prediction: Benjamin Button

Winner: Benjamin Button



Prediction: The Duchess

Winner: The Duchess



Prediction: Benjamin Button

Winner: Benjamin Button



Prediction: Wally Pfister

Winner: Anthony Dod Mantle


Best Supporting Actor

Mine (Yours): Heath Ledger

Theirs: Heath Ledger



Prediction: Man On Wire

Winner: Man On Wire


Visual Effects

Prediction: Benjamin Button

Winner: Benjamin Button


Sound Editing

Prediction: Wall-E

Winner: The Dark Knight


Sound Mixing

Prediction: Wall-E

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire



Prediction: Chris Dickens (Slumdog)

Winner: Chris Dickens (Millionaire)


Original Score

Prediction: A.R. Rahman

Winner: A.R. Rahman


Best Original Song

Prediction: Jai Ho - A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Gulzar

Winner: Jai Ho - A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Gulzar



Prediction: Danny Boyle

Winner: Danny Boyle


Best Actress

Prediction: Kate Winslet

Winner: Kate Winslet


Best Actor

Prediction: Mickey Rourke

Winner: Sean Penn



Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bit of a Reach?


If you're lost enough to be a Holocaust denier, you were there before The Reader reared its head.

(Spoilers Follow)

I don't believe the movie whips up tremendous sympathy for Winslet's character. She was Fiennes's boyhood love. He can barely touch her hand when he meets her in prison thirty years later. He pulls away. He never stops being disgusted with her contamination of his life. Yet, he knew her, and knew her before any other woman. He sends her books. She learns to read. Monsters are human, too.

The trial scenes are really scenes of an angry, subconsciously guilty mob. I fail to see how the movie explicitly or implicitly defends or excuses German citizens calling for her punishment. I don't for a second believe that David Hare and Stephen Daldry hold the viewpoint that German citizens were not responsible for what happened.

Vonnegut once said that if he had been a citizen in Nazi Germany, he'd have been a Nazi. What choice would he have had? It's a difficult subject, and I certainly don't expect Jews to be comfortable with films showing Germany dealing with the ramifications of the Holocaust, after the fact. I'm not, however, sure that ramming the Holocaust and its horrors down our throats is all that beneficial.

I agree that the Academy is probably being blind and vain and self-serving by nominating the movie, but Rosenbaum et al jumping on it in this way is itself an act of ignoring several key incidents:

The scenes where David Kross's law professor expresses concern about Kross coming forward with information he has and doing the right thing, or else "we have learned nothing".

The scene of Germans watching Winslet's trial, snarling and gasping in shock, as if they were not themselves culpable. "Hypocrite!" is an inescapable thought during these scenes.

The law student ranting against his fellow students about German Society's culpability

Winslet's character chooses to take full responsibility for her actions and those of all the other guards, ostensibly to protect the secret of her illiteracy. Is that the only reason?

I don't think it's a great film, but I also don't think it's worth Rosenbaum's level of vitriol. It's clear that Holocaust denial is a much worse problem in Europe than it is here, as recent Papal events indicate. Still, does Rosenbaum actually believe that Holocaust deniers are going to sit through five minutes of Shoah in the first place?

Ebert argues that the film is less about the Holocaust and more about speaking up when you know you should. Watch the film with that comment in mind, and see how the trial scenes play for you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Impeach the Backwards Aging Nazi Pederasts

The viewing public is understandably nonplussed by ultra-serious Oscar fare at the moment, as the numbers suggest. It's been a wonky year, to be sure. A small number of big budget pictures were more distinctive in their own way than what ended up being cheered by the Academy. With the exception of Slumdog Millionaire and Milk, I'm sure, as I've stated previously, that the Best Picture nominees are not well-deserved. Pity the voters. One year it's overwhelmingly indie, the next, it's The Dark Knight and Synecdoche, NY. Maybe Hollywood needs to start going to the movies.

Harping on the choice of nominees would be its own way of suggesting the perverse canard that such was ever different. As usual, I approach the Oscars as a springboard from which unrecognized work can widen its exposure. Last year was some kind of reveling nihilist apotheosis. It'll be awhile before we see that again.

The Reader

Stephen Daldry has at least accomplished, along with his resident screenwriter David Hare, a movie that this time around didn't assault me with its own self-pity. The Hours was absurd. Julianne Moore was its saving grace. The Reader does not deserve, however, the various assaults against it. I fail to see how it's fodder for Holocaust deniers, except in perhaps the most determined and circuitous ways. You'd have to want that conclusion, because, by my count, Winslet's character suffers greatly, paying for her crime and the crimes of several others.

We get a story of a person who went to work for the Nazis because she could find no other work, is turned into a scapegoat by a ravenous German mob eager to purge itself of its own sins of inaction (or terrible action, one assumes), suffers, loses her freedom, and regains her humanity for a few brief years. Surely the notion of people swept into a tyrannical system is also subject for meditation? I failed to see at any point how the film shirked the horror of the Holocaust, and am in fact relieved I didn't have to see yet another Oscar-Baiting film consumed with the subject. There's room for Shoah and The Reader, but besides, this film is slight. It is exactly what Oscar likes: Stately, slightly scandalous, and tailored for a conclusion we all see coming. It's a statue in search of a statue.


It's hard to say why anybody thought this would be a big draw. In terms of marketing, the studios were nuts from the start. Getting Ron Howard to direct a story that doesn't require the pacing of Apollo 13 is a strange choice, artistically, and deserved failure commercially. The whole story strikes me as, well, a possible other side of the coin to All The President's Men. So, why not get a filmmaker, say, Stephen Frears, who knows how a Peter Morgan scripts works inside and out? Still, it's not as if the choices here don't work in some way, and I can't fault the movie too much, it being certainly entertaining.

I only wonder if we needed the extra fireworks for an event we can all see on DVD from thirty years ago. Langella and Sheen are wonderful to watch and listen to, and I surely walked away enjoying Nixon's company. Strange thing to imagine, isn't it? Still, this movie is minor league compared to Altman's Secret Honor, with Philip Baker Hall as Tricky Dick, drunk off his ass, all by his lonesome. Nixon is a figure we can attach a number of qualities and depredations to, depending on our mood. I hasten to add that Morgan's script is great. To my mind, for all its skill, the movie never completely justifies itself.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Defensive title, yes? Curiouser and curiouser. Here's another flick that may not have justified itself (or its running time). The difference is that Button spends its entire length trying very hard to bring that premise to a close. It can't, but I'm getting the premonition I've seen something that will be embraced for many years. It's a fascinating conceit to witness, even if you're in agreement with Ebert, creeped out at something fundamentally wrong.

For all the lambasting of Eric Roth for Gumping his Button script, you can't fault him for working in some of the same ideas. The two movies do stand alone, YouTube be damned, and I only thought of Gump when it was most glaring. Eric Roth does wish-fulfillment. The Academy has an outside chance of giving this one Best Picture because (and this is not so limited to the famous) everybody wants to get younger. I was not bored, not for a moment. I don't know what the hell it's supposed to mean, but it is quite an absorbing movie.

Slumdog Millionaire

Stop now. I don't want to hear it. It all occurred to me while watching it, and I just don't care. This is an exhilarating, rich and kick-ass moviegoing experience. It's a cheer your ass off crowd-pleaser. I know it's all sorted out from the start, and clearly driven by artifice (I say it COULD HAPPEN), and that Charles Dickens lives in Bollywood and you don't like that. But I won't hear it. We are all Slumdogs now. Just accept it. This movie seriously bypassed whatever cynicism I could possibly have about storytelling, coincidence, and if-it-were-in-a-movie-I-wouldn't-believe-it-isms. For once, I say that's a testament to how well it's made. If only the Academy were nominating Loveleen Tandan, Danny Boyle's Co-Director for India (which I assume means the lion's share of the movie, right?), I'd have no cynicism directed toward it at all. WHAT? I don't CARE if you think it romanticizes Bombay's terrible poverty JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO JAI HO

Sean Penn is magic, and I defy the Onion for saying it would've been more artful if it had been more like Van Sant's Last Days or Elephant. Those movies examine inexorable paths towards death. As we see, Harvey Milk knew he was on that path at a certain point, but Milk is a celebration of total life. It's a great American film.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It's moments like the last bit on this clip where I really dig Olbermann.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Some Revision

The Oscar reviews are coming soon. Until then, here's how the directing category should look, because this really really matters:

Jonathan Demme - Rachel Getting Married

Gus Van Sant - Milk

Danny Boyle & Loveleen Tandan - Slumdog Millionaire

Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight

Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, NY

I like Ron Howard just fine. He's made a couple of great movies. Frost/Nixon is not an astonishing directorial accomplishment. It's a wonderful acting and writing accomplishment. I'm skeptical that Ron Howard's insertion of "intensity" here and "suspense" there was really needed at all by actors of this caliber, much less by the proceedings of the script.

David Fincher is one of the best living American directors working, as last year's ridiculously unrecognized Zodiac further proved. Why did Jason Reitman get a nod over Fincher's glorious puzzle piece? Fincher deserved it for that, not the aging paradox epic.

Stephen Daldry does not deserve the nomination. There is nothing special in his directing strategy. He does good work, but the work hasn't much of an original voice.

I don't think directing should get in the way of the story, but if we're going to give awards for best coordinated artifice, let's do that. Otherwise, hand out an award for individuals. In their work, I can see all five of the people I listed up front, and I'm not distracted by their presence one whit. I'm enlarged for a brief period by knowing another person. If the award ain't about that, it's not worth giving out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lest We Forget....

....we're in for a rough four to eight. Just in case you missed it on Maddow, it's worth pointing out that all our attempts at bipartisanship will be met against these sections of a constituency (though not the whole) that's bound to hate our breathin' guts. This is not a political blog, yadda yadda, but bear with it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Makin' Up a Post About Coraline

Last year A.O. Scott dared to speak some common sense to parents: Sometimes your children are ready for more than just the talking panda or the ninja kid. My ventures into Tarantinoland or my exposure to Preacher may have come too early for all I know, but I would've been more than ready for Coraline back then.

If you're ready to explain the movie to your kids, by all means take them to the Jungian wonderland, and make sure it says "3D" on the marquee. Go out of your way for that experience, rightly ignoring dear intransigent Ebert, who seems to think that mean or self-centered characters are unusual in children's stories, and probably would've lavished at least one half star more on the movie were it not for 3D lenses darkening his vision and thereby obstructing the view of his notepad.

Staring into Henry Selick's model-box-come-alive is an event rife with many pleasures scary and beautiful and subtle. The 3D part of it is not a novelty insofar as it's 3D. If it's a novelty at all it's because there will scarcely be another like it, unless Selick and his team can top this. I don't want to get into specifics. Go. Your eyes haven't opened wide enough lately.

(If you have already seen it, here's its Making Of Channel)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Dancey Fist Jab

It's nice to know my favorite remix in a hot minute won a Grammy.

This is, to say the least, a damn lot better than wasting it on Oakenfold's latest tits-up FAIL of a cocaine jingle.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Ain't No Lie

I make no apologies for being inspired by Roger Ebert. I've been a reader of his for over a decade. When people tell me they have this or that problem with him (or with critics in general), I don't get defensive anymore, because what they're saying is usually over-determined either by reading his review of Cop and a Half and bitching that he gave it three stars, or by a willful ignoring of the fact that what he's doing is the difficult act of interpretation, not mere recommendation.

If you think you've got Synecdoche, NY or Children of Men or Babel all figured out by your pretty self, then why are you talking to me about Roger Ebert? What's it to you?

Earlier today:

However, there are certain areas in which I consider myself an authority, like the movies. I have devoted years to learning about the Theory of Evolution. I think Creationism is superstitious poppycock. I believe the problem with the literal interpretation of the Bible is that anyone can easily discover its support for the opinions they already hold. I believe Conservatism has proven itself disastrous every time it has been implemented in this country. I believe George W. Bush was not only the worst president we have ever had, but the first, as far as I know, guilty of being an accessory to murder and suborning the Constitution.

Ebert's currently also writing the best blog in the world. Check it.

How Do We Live?

The new year brought with it a renewal of the need to write, and write and write. I need a beat to cover, and had been knocked into an emotional molasses-uphill battle last year, leaving little energy left in me to follow much but the political outrages of '08. That's not my territory. I don't have a lifetime of emotional or intellectual understanding of politics, save what's sieved through the celluloid colander.

I know I'm a film critic the way a wrestler knows he's a wrestler. Which leads me to my new year's resolution with Holly. I'm sticking to it, and we've both taken a pass with one movie. That's it, so I'll start my first column along those lines, dealing with two films that won't clean up at Oscar season, and covering mostly Oscar Nominees until near the end of the month.

American Duty

Sam Mendes may miss Conrad L. Hall more even than the rest of us. Every shot Roger Deakins composes in Revolutionary Road seems to invoke our memory of that great filmmaker. The desolation of fifties American life isn't buried underneath, it's overexposed. This is a cold, uninviting movie. Mendes, Deakins and crew want it that way, perhaps driven by a script that rages its id out front and center just as its characters seem to.

I haven't read the novel, but I have no trouble believing an author could be this self-aware, this unhappy, this alone. What I have trouble imagining is that people in 1950s America would be this aware of the real spiritual predicament they're in. If we're to take DiCaprio and Winslet's couple as representative of a normal couple, we're swallowing a hard enough pill. The total destruction of their dreams and their love for one another is the set-up for the movie, not the end. This makes what proceeds all the more unreal and unpleasant, which is not to leave out ruthless, and for that it has my respect.

Revolutionary Road is a curious, drawn out chick-tract with no God in sight. There's no mention of church, no crosses in any rooms, no symbols of devotion. In a depiction of 1950s America, this is a deliberate choice of omission. Its didacticism is still, however, thoroughly secular. Which brings us to Michael Shannon, most certainly an Oscar winner if not for Heath Ledger's nomination, playing this godless world's angel of death.

He flies in under the guise of Kathy Bates's character's "mentally-unwell" son, and proceeds to methodically dismantle every single move the film's central couple makes to save themselves. He sees their desperation, in fact sees in desperation, and drives them completely into the ground, using words and words alone. He frees them from the need to try and be free. Shannon's performance is the stand-alone reason to see the movie; it's terrifying in his deconstruction of their hopes. He's an actor to watch, but wear a helmet while doing so.

Bielski Justice

Films this year have noticeably fallen into a more positive mode, looking to uplift us with stories of characters' search for meaning and dignity. Defiance falls into a category with Revolutionary Road precisely because both are about struggles for survival against long odds. Those questions of survival are intertwined with meditative examinations of a corollary question, namely, "how do we live?"

I'm puzzled, a little, by critics' responses to this film. No, it's not groundbreaking, yes, it's a conventional narrative (you have seen other Edward Zwick films, yes?), and yes, the pacing is off at a few points.

Still, I think the story of the Bielski Trio is amazing enough to transcend those petty quibbles. The movie isn't bad. It tells their story, if not exploring it beyond the surface, and gives us a compelling character in Liev Schrieber's Zus Bielski. Schrieber keeps getting better, and I think his work here is being ignored. Daniel Craig's character (as well as Jamie Bell's) is a little less compelling, but it's a structural bearing and it props the rest of it up. It's a good movie, folks.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Let the Right One (Edit)

I really want to see this:

I'm pumped by Diplo's review, fresh off of having seen it while touring in Europe.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

This Ain't a Politics Blog

For now, it's perfectly fine for Republicans to scream and yell about tax cuts being the answer (even when credit is a thing of the past?). It really doesn't bother me. You lost, people. We'll try your ideas next time, maybe. Another team won. They get to make the law for awhile (unless they bend over backwards to give concessions to a rancid, powerless, leaderless party).

Last political post for awhile, because I'd like this blog to take a direction and not simply be an angry dumping ground. Every time I see the looks of seething anger in my house, accompanied by the transcription of rancid words belched into golden microphones and sent out over the waves to corrode and constrain the functions of otherwise generous hearts, I come here to put it somewhere else.

That has fueled my anger in my own time of crisis more so even than the rancidity of the ideas. Republicans have treated their party as royalty, with subjects divided into attitude duchies presided over by feudal lords Rush and Hannity and O'Reilly. I hope not to fall victim to that here on this side.