Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
Elsewhere in Consumables, I gush about Sonic Youth, Sparklehorse, and the best hip-hop album of the year: The Coup's Pick a Bigger Weapon.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Today's collection of letters in the Los Angeles Times sports section are all from Trojan and Bruin fans reacting to UCLA's stunning upset of USC last Saturday. The win destroyed the Trojans' chances for going to the national championship, ended their seven-game dominance of their crosstown rival, and (perhaps most importantly) shattered USC's air of superiority, of presumed dominance.
Nothing I have read sums up the experience of that game better than the elated, angry, mocking, pithy, clever responses from these fans.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
... Casino Royale
... For Your Consideration
... The Departed
... Happy Feet
... Flags of Our Fathers
... Iraq in Fragments
... The Last King of Scotland
... Sweet Land
... are all in this week's Consumables.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Friday, October 13, 2006
Of all his pieces, this may be my favorite: his glowing review of Bob Dylan's magnificent Love and Theft. He writes the piece as the story of an old man (Dylan) who lives in town who no one really knows. Along the way, Marcus references the songs as clues to the old man's secret passions and sorrows. Anyone who loves the album will find that Marcus has recreated the experience of hearing it for the first time, unraveling its many pleasures.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Friday, September 29, 2006
And for a great, in-depth interview with Zwigoff about the making of Crumb, I highly recommend this site, which includes these bits:
There was certainly times when I was following him around with a camera where he would get to the point where he was running out of patience for it. He would turn to me and say, “If you were not my best friend, I would be so out of here.”
Robert always thought [Crumb] would just be shown on my living room wall. And when it wasn’t and when it sort of caught on and started being released to theaters theatrically and getting all these favorable reviews in all the magazines and newspapers, it really had an alarming effect on his life where he would start to get recognized on the street and journalists were showing up on his doorstep to interview him. And his life as he knew it was changing.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Monday, September 18, 2006
[I]t's worth remembering that, in the rush to pontificate about that awful September morning, five years is no time at all. Events may be fast, but meaning is slow.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Tuesday morning brought some happiness, though, thanks to Keith Olbermann. His 9/11 commentary speaks eloquently to the anger that many of us feel. The Bush administration keeps reminding us that we can't forget what happened five years ago. Olbermann suggests that not only haven't we forgotten, we've also remembered all the foolish decisions and cynical manipulation that have transpired since then:
History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Friday, September 08, 2006
Thursday, September 07, 2006
I spoke with Foulkrod recently for the LA Weekly:
"The biggest mythology in American culture about war is that if you sign up for the military, you'll be taken care of. And I think many soldiers believe that. Even as they're watching someone they know -- a brother or a father who was in Vietnam who came back messed up and never spoke about it and never got help -- they think that somehow they will be different."The rest of the interview appears here.
Christgau's craft is all about compression. He has published hundreds of terrific, expansive essays over the years, but his signature column is the Consumer Guide, a monthly compendium of capsule record reviews that he's been writing since 1969. To date, Christgau has produced more than 13,000 mini-reviews, a testament to his legendarily voracious listening habits. (On the few occasions I've seen Christgau in the flesh, he's either been wearing headphones or had them at the ready around his neck.) With Pauline Kael, Christgau is arguably one of the two most important American mass-culture critics of the second half of the 20th century -- yet he's devoted the majority of his working life to fashioning 100-word blurbs with letter grades. He's a public intellectual who unwittingly invented the reviews section of
Friday, September 01, 2006
The most we can hope for is that both Christgau and Breakfast will find more supportive home bases soon. In the meantime, here's a great piece Christgau wrote right after the death of John Lennon. Seemed appropriate.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Just about covers it, huh? Of all the insightful points Hertzberg makes, "the self-inflicted loss of America's moral prestige" probably angers me the most -- the idea that we now live in a country that has (in the eyes of the rest of the world) forfeited its reputation for honorable, virtuous behavior is going to be a bitter pill we'll be swallowing for a long time to come, I fear.
The war's sole real gain -- the overthrow of the murderous Saddam Hussein regime -- is mocked by the chaos and suffering that have overwhelmed millions of Iraqis, whose country is again a republic of fear. The concrete losses are horrific: nearly three thousand American and "coalition" troops killed; thousands more maimed; scores of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead; a third of a trillion dollars burned through. So are the less tangible ones: the unprecedented levels of anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world and Europe; the self-inflicted loss of America's moral prestige; the neglect of real nuclear dangers, in Iran and North Korea, while chimeras were chased in Iraq. The neoconservative project of a friendly, democratic Middle East, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, is worse than a charred ruin -- it is a flaming inferno.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Monday, August 07, 2006
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Monday, July 31, 2006
Friday, July 28, 2006
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Friday, July 21, 2006
Monday, July 17, 2006
Friday, July 14, 2006
Monday, July 10, 2006
Sunday, July 09, 2006
I was, therefore, very relieved to find Stephen Metcalf's recent piece which does a great job dissecting both the flaws of The Searchers and the tangled rationale for its fans' enthusiasm. It can be difficult to trash a consensus masterwork without sounding foolish or petty, but Metcalf smartly sidesteps such pitfalls. His opener says it all…
The Searchers, John Ford's epic 1956 Western, is a film geek's paradise: It is preposterous in its plotting, spasmodic in its pacing, unfunny in its hijinks, bipolar in its politics, alternately sodden and convulsive in its acting, not to mention boring.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Considering his recent health problems, I thought back to this revealing portrait of Ebert's home life from The New York Times. You get a sense of a fully lived life awash in the art and the people who matter most to him. Frankly, it sounds as close to Heaven as someone in our business can hope to achieve.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
Monday, June 05, 2006
Friday, June 02, 2006
Civil wars can be especially atrocious as neighbors kill each other at close range, but they also have a purpose. They can bring lasting peace by destroying the will to fight and by removing the motives and opportunities for further violence.
The logic is very sound. Of course, the White House will have a hard time accepting this rationale -- it will be a bitter pill for the Republicans to swallow if they acknowledge that they have to step aside and let the country implode so that the Iraqi people can eventually move forward.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
I hold that we are the only animal that makes art, and I'm convinced that this is part of the evolutionary process. We all used to have a tail, you know. Not a collective one, you understand, but we still have a jut of bone at the base of our spine called the coccyx, and that is the vestigial remnant of our tails. You still have this jut of bone; don't look now, but take it as we must so much on faith. To simplify just a little bit, what happened is this: Somewhere along the line in the evolutionary process, our tails fell off and we grew art.For most writers, this would be a strong enough point, but Albee goes further, chiding us to understand the repercussions in a society where art is no longer valued:
[B]roadly speaking, the [artists] we rightly put up on pedestals have less influence on the mind and morality of this country than their intellectual and creative inferiors. We know it is commerce that determines this, which equates popularity with excellence. But I warn you, if the finest minds and talents cease to matter in the larger cultural picture, we are in serious trouble, and our culture is in serious decline.
Monday, May 22, 2006
To most Americans, ridiculing terrorists might seem trivial, even sophomoric, as a weapon of war. But dictators and terrorists, being unable to function in the free market of ideas, need propagandists to control (not merely spin) their public images. They require obedience or acquiescence -- a fear factor that cannot long coexist with put-downs and snickering.Intellectually, the argument makes a certain amount of sense. Of course, it also calls to mind this exchange from Woody Allen's Manhattan:
Isaac Davis: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Y'know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y'know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.
Party Guest: There is this devastating satirical piece on that on the Op Ed page of the Times, it is devastating.
Isaac Davis: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
All [the media's] talk of ''lowered expectations'' may have been an accurate barometer of United 93's ultimate fortunes, but it had the effect of marginalizing the movie before it was even released -- making it sound like something that no ''normal'' American would ever want to see. In a sense, many of us in the media became enablers, telling our viewers and readers, in essence, ''It's okay. Movies aren't supposed to be this painful.''I also can't help but wonder if lack of stars didn't help lessen the film's visibility.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
If I ever get to meet the man, I'd buy him a drink and thank him for this piece. I can only hope my baby and I get to have as healthy, happy and long a life as he and his wife Carola have had.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Friday, March 31, 2006
Monday, March 27, 2006
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Movies, when you used to see them on the big screen, had a mystery that they no longer have. For one thing, they were irretrievable: Once the first and second runs were past, most films were not easy to see again. They were much, much larger than life and therefore instantly mythic (screens and theaters were a lot bigger before the multiplex arrived). And they were inexorable; once a film had started, there was no pausing it or in any way stopping its relentless forward motion.
And while Hoberman didn't love Terrence Malick's most recent film, he appreciates the passion the movie inspires in its fans. I feel the same way as Hoberman -- The New World is the first of Malick's film I was indifferent to, but movies that draw strong reactions (especially when they polarize people) are what make filmgoing worthwhile.
Hoberman's piece reminds that I wish I had seen The New World one more time before it left theaters -- I'm sorry I missed my chance.
Monday, March 13, 2006
I'm not dismissing those who really loved it and the reasons why they really loved it, although I'm on record as hating the film. But what I appreciate is that Bates solely examines Crash's strategy for getting out the vote -- he avoids the rhetoric about the Academy being homophobic and simply focuses on crunching the numbers.
Much of the morning-after punditry and blog logic has centered on whether members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had trouble giving "Brokeback Mountain" a best picture nod because of its gay love theme.
Another theory: Like a cinematic John Edwards, "Brokeback" peaked too early and its Oscar buzz dissipated.
In fact, the key to the success of "Crash" was that the film itself — and the carefully orchestrated promotional campaign undertaken by its distributor, Lionsgate — appealed to the academy's largest voting bloc: actors. With 22% of the voting members, the acting contingent is nearly three times as big as the next-largest group, producers.
It was actors — specifically, those in Los Angeles — who were targeted to deliver votes. And judging by the upset, deliver they did.
It was very shrewd and, considering that Lionsgate also does terrific work advertising its Saw franchise, you have to give the whole company the respect it deserves.
These sorts of articles are important for people on the left -- it reminds us that not all Republicans act alike. Plus, they make us even more upset with our current White House residents -- if folks on the right are starting to turn on this guy, how the hell is he allowed to believe he has any "political capital"?
Friday, March 03, 2006
Friday, February 24, 2006
Monday, February 13, 2006
Sunday, February 12, 2006
But he also nicely explains why music holds such sway over us:
[T]astes in pop music go right to the core of who you are, with a depth and immediacy no other art form can match. Music takes hold of you on levels deeper than articulated meaning. That's why words, sustained by music, have such power. There is nothing like a song for expressing who we are.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
10. King Kong
Some movies have such tremendous upside that you forgive their limitations. Such is the case with King Kong, the most brazenly big movie in many a moon. Peter Jackson doesn’t just want to outdo the original, he wants to outdo every blockbuster ever made. That emphasis on size and spectacle diminishes some of the human elements, but Jackson knows that audiences don’t respond just to insightful characters – they respond quite well to being scared and thrilled and beaten across the face with unbelievable action set pieces. After being set up to be the year’s biggest box-office winner, this monster film has ironically almost become forgotten in the tidal wave success of Chronicles of Narnia. A reevaluation is in order – it’s still no deep piece of personal cinema, but what a show.
9. The Upside of Anger
Most of the attention for this little gem was centered around Joan Allen’s terrific lead performance, which deserved an Oscar nomination if enough voters could remember back to March. Allen plays an angry, grieving mother of four sexy, unique young women who’d rather drink herself into oblivion than face the truth that her no-good husband has walked out on them – and specifically her. In an equally nuanced turn, Kevin Costner plays the totally worst person for her to fall in love with, and much of Mike Binder’s film concerns the co-dependent relationship between two beaten individuals. The ending pissed off some people, but it was simply one more example of the film’s portrait of the bittersweet irony and unpredictability of this shitty, weird thing called life.
Writing about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I praised Jim Carrey’s performance by saying, “I can't think of a performance that encapsulated the essence of being dumped so vividly.” Tony Leung’s portrayal of a depressed man on the rebound comes very close. Like Joan Allen in Anger, he is devastated by love and so he acts out in ways that we might not condone but, trust us, we understand – we’ve all been there before. Compromising his art for bigger paydays, getting involved with several women who (despite their beauty and well-defined appeal) are merely time-fillers, and pining pining pining for the one who got away, Leung gives us a definitive portrait of that time in life when a person decides to destroy his old persona in order to escape himself and his past. I’m just about alone in preferring Wong Kar-Wai’s sequel to the original, but maybe it’s because its theme of loss – beautiful, agonizing, luxurious loss – is so rarely captured on film. And it also goes a long way to showing how the remembrance of a love is often more poignant than the love itself.
7. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Not since The Straight Story has a cinematic travelogue worked so well at saying so much while not doing much of anything. Tommy Lee Jones directs himself as a small man with a big heart for his senselessly murdered friend whom he promised long ago to take back to his home in Mexico in the event that he died. Jones makes good on that pledge – and brings along his friend’s killer (an underrated Barry Pepper) as equal parts vengeance and life lesson. Jones does a great job deftly handling the film’s occasional moments of surreal oddness, but what comes across strongest is the unspoken bond between men, how years of marginal existence and buried disappointments don’t get resolved, they just change locale.
6. Nobody Knows
No one needs to know it’s based on a true story – these sorts of things creep up in the newspaper and the late local news all the time. Four young children are abandoned in a shitty apartment by their feckless mother and must learn to live on their own. But without any fancy manipulative tricks, filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda observes this social drama over agonizing months. Our hero is Akira, a 12-year-old boy played by Yuya Yagira who must learn to be a grownup too early in order to keep his siblings alive, and we come to love him, not because he’s adorable but because he’s pure of heart and brave and 12 years old with no guarantee of seeing 13. Instead of being sensational, the film is quiet, mimicking the lack of attention these lost children receive from the uncaring outside world. And by being so calm, Nobody Knows makes us angry – at their mother, at any society that lets these sorts of silent tragedies happen every day.
5. Brokeback Mountain
One feels almost defensive for loving this movie. Surely I got suckered in by the hype, right? Don’t I realize how obvious it is? Aren’t I aware how it fails to enumerate every hardship ever experienced by every gay person ever? Let history decide if Brokeback Mountain was too tame – right now it’s simply the best love story of the year, an intriguing twist on the “repressed love story” plotlines that were all the rage more than 10 years ago. The men have gotten enough accolades – as well they should – but the women deserve special notice too. No irritating bitches, no whining nags, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are lovely creatures who deserve good men and think they found them. And therein lies the tragedy – Jack and Ennis are doomed to unhappy lives, but so are those around them. The film doesn’t champion the rights of homosexual love as much as ask what kind of world do we want to live in if somebody somewhere can’t be free to be with the one he loves.
You’ve come to the end of your life. You’re in your 80s, you’ve had a distinguished career, you have adoring children and grandchildren, you’ve known the love of a few good women – here at the end, you can finally look back and smile, right? Not in an Ingmar Bergman movie. In his sequel to 1974’s Scenes from a Marriage, he brings back divorced couple Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson for an agonizing reunion after years of separation. Shooting in digital and staging his scenes theatrically, Bergman gives Saraband a jarring, otherworldly feel that becomes hypnotic – it seems like our planet, but one that’s infinitely more dramatic, emotional and painful than ours. Segmented into chapters – each one a lengthy conversation between the former couple, his seething son from another marriage and that son’s prodigiously talented and troubled daughter – the movie feels like one last passionate blast of contempt and sorrow before death comes knocking on the door, as much for the couple as for the filmmaker whose impressive body of intense masterworks draws to a close.
The best biopic of the year worked so well because nobody thinks of it as a biopic. Rather than imitating Truman Capote – although he gets the mannerisms and voice down nicely – Philip Seymour Hoffman offers an interpretation of the writer, one strengthened and supported by a screenwriter and a director who are less interested in a portrait and more jazzed by a theme. Traveling between the New York literary scene and the Kansas community where the shocking murders occurred, Capote is about success and art and failure and evil and how those things may or may not relate to the main character. Along the way, it dispels the notion that great art is made by great people – frankly, most of them are morally ugly people we’d be better off not knowing – and that great art can somehow redeem selfish intentions and callous souls. Hoffman has been one of those “great actors” who’s been searching for the right part – one that’s not simply showy but resonant and meaningful. Finally, here it is.
2. Batman Begins
It’s possible that Christopher Nolan may not be our purest action director. And, yes, I’m not convinced Katie Holmes was the best choice for the love interest. But those are about my only complaints with this very fine addition to one of Hollywood’s great franchises. As he did with Memento, Nolan shows a fascination with an antihero who exudes a noirish intensity and prefers to live out his days alone, haunted by a sad past. This doesn’t quite seem like the formula for a successful summer blockbuster, but without condescension or cynicism, the filmmaker just goes about his business making what might be the best comic book movie ever, one that’s very dark and also very funny and moving. Top to bottom, except for the above exception, the film is also extremely well cast – Christian Bale is tremendous playing what is essentially a twist on Patrick Bateman, the loathsome rich boy of American Psycho, but several character actors and Oscar winners litter Gotham with distinctive performances and not a one of them is just lazily cashing a check. In short, for the first time in a while, a big tentpole feels like a real film, a true work of art. And, c’mon, Gary Oldman is just terrific.
It’s an adjective rarely used to describe a film, but it’s all over the glowing notices for Junebug: true. This quiet little masterpiece of cultural divides is so small in scale that its momentous power comes from its trueness, from its ability to accurately depict the world we live in – its social mores, its fears, its institutions of marriage and family and religion – with quiet observation and no judgment. Amy Adams was the breakout star of a perfectly realized ensemble with no weak links – even the guy from The O.C. is great – which seems appropriate for a film that loves all of its characters and understands them all equally. The red/blue state hot-button topicality comes from the viewer’s personal reaction and not from Phil Morrison’s direction, which painstakingly asks us not to love hicks or to give the undereducated a chance but simply to notice how this rarely-chronicled world operates. Even the music by Yo La Tengo strikes the right note of dreamy, everyday wonderment. No pat morals, no big resolutions, no big deal – just a perfect time capsule of our country and all its many contradictions in the early 21st century.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Monday, February 06, 2006
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
I feel very much marooned without Aron's. (No doubt people on the Westside feel equally weepy about the close of Rhino Records in early January of this year.) Amoeba is simply too gargantuan to give the same intimate pleasure of discovery that Aron's used-record bins provided. It's a very good store, but it can't compare to my first love.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
I still remember being a kid and reading Roger Ebert's ecstatic raves for Apocalypse Now and Raging Bull and wanting desperately to see movies that inspired such jubilant praise. (Consequently, when I finally got a chance to see those films, the resulting feeling was akin to hearing a game on the radio versus watching it on television -- or reading the book versus seeing the film adaptation -- in that the image I created in my mind was more personal, special and unlimited than the real thing could possibly turn out to be.)
These thoughts were swirling around in my head after reading Ted Conover's discussion of Stanley Booth's The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones (also known as Dance With the Devil: The Rolling Stones & Their Times). Beyond simply reviewing the book, which chronicles the band's 1969 U.S tour and sounds like a terrific read, Conover reflects on the value of popular music in society -- and how that value has changed over time. Booth puts it succinctly: "In the sixties we believed in a myth -- that music had the power to change people's lives. Today people believe in a myth -- that music is just entertainment."
I couldn't agree more. And it makes me really want to read the book.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Ehrenstein lays out the sad economics of the situation -- and why, like with the major studios, independent distributors have to rely more and more on DVD sales to shore up their bottom line.
(Note: Part One of this thread is here.)
Saturday, January 21, 2006
The answer is that they're still very much out there, but that American audiences hear so little about them. This piece by Anthony Kaufman in the New York Times helps explain why foreign filmmakers are becoming an endangered species on U.S. screens. The culprits range from lack of media attention to the competition for art-house space, but here's a succinct summation from the head of a small distribution company:
"I feel as if there's almost no auteur draw anymore. As opposed to 20 years ago, you were marketing the movies around the filmmaker -- Fassbinder's new film, Godard's new film. We still do it, but the honest truth is that the filmmaker matters increasingly little today."Which I think is very true and really sad.
(Note: Part Two of this thread is here.)
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Saturday, January 14, 2006
The biggest problem with Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 breakthrough album was always how unabashedly it proclaimed its own greatness. The wall-of-sound, white-soul-at-the-opera-house Born to Run is definitely full of itself — its lead track emoted over five minutes of portentous piano, its title track laden with glockenspiel and guitar guitar guitar, its thematic burden an unresolved quest narrative, its groove as grand as a V-8 hearse. Newcomers may not get why its class-conscious songcraft provided a relief from the emptier pretensions of late-hippie arena-rock. Yet it sounds greater today than it ever did.