Monday, March 30, 2009

on boredom and ken jacobs' razzle dazzle

I caught Razzle Dazzle last night at the Spielberg Theatre. I enjoyed it immensely, but Ken Jacobs' video project requires an audience member to surrender to its repetitions and seeming pointlessness — I found myself getting restless at first, but then I succumbed to its odd rhythms. The best way I can describe what Razzle Dazzle does is to quote part of a commencement speech from poet Joseph Brodsky on the merits of boredom:
When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.


For boredom is an invasion of time into your set of values. It puts your existence into its proper perspective, the net result of which is precision and humility. The former, it must be noted, breeds the latter. The more you learn about your own size, the more humble and the more compassionate you become to your likes, to the dust aswirl in a sunbeam or already immobile atop your table.
Razzle Dazzle is about many things, but its slow, meandering techniques can make you antsy, and I don't think it's an insult to Jacobs to say that boredom becomes part of the movie's point. Close, sometimes indecipherable scrutiny of a 1903 Thomas Edison film reel forms the basis of Razzle Dazzle, and after you hit bottom — once you realize that this will be most of what you can expect from Jacobs for the next 90 minutes — you do begin to appreciate time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor. The movie becomes like a dream, and it does crush you in a way — it makes you feel insignificant, like a speck in time.

J. Hoberman addressed the paradoxical nature of Razzle Dazzle's appeal in the last line of his glowing review: "Razzle Dazzle feels endless — not a criticism — because it is." It's also hypnotic and surprisingly visceral — it plays your emotions like a piano. And oddly, after being in the dumps for part of the weekend, I found it to be a powerfully cleansing experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

ann powers has heard bob dylan's together through life

"I was lucky enough to attend a listening session Thursday night," Powers writes in today's Los Angeles Times, "where I sat on a comfy sofa in front of a good sound system and scribbled down some notes on the 10-song set. I got one listen. Here's a quick response."

I'm no listening-session expert -- I've done it a couple times when reviewing albums -- but I will say it's such a hard way to accurately judge a record. (How many albums have you been able to figure out after only one spin?) Still, Powers is one of our best music critics, so I very much enjoyed her song-by-song assessment of Bob Dylan's Together Through Life. I'm excited about all that accordion.

Friday, March 27, 2009

the dirty garage

This parody is half-funny/half-painful -- it brings back a lot of bad moviegoing memories. My only complaint with The Dirty Garage: It doesn't look nearly cheap enough to accurately replicate the feeling of watching no-budget American indie cinema.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

blender magazine folds

I started writing for Blender in 2004 thanks to Rob Tannenbaum, who had liked my pithy contributions to The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop issue and invited me to write for the magazine. With him and Jonah Weiner as my editors, I wrote a lot of album reviews and got to interview everyone from Kid Rock to Busta Rhymes to Lars Ulrich to Chris Brown. (Imagine that supergroup.) I enjoyed every minute of it, which makes today's news such a bummer.

the cross

The Cross is a documentary about Los Angeles evangelist Arthur Blessitt, who decided to spend 40 years walking the earth carrying a 12-foot wooden cross. He's a real character, but the film's fawning treatment gets tough to take after a while. My review is up at L.A. Weekly.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

bob dylan wants to help you meet women

To raise awareness for his forthcoming album, Together Through Life, Bob Dylan is engaging in an interview with rock journalist Bill Flanagan that's running in segments. Here's a handy piece of advice from Mr. Dylan:
Flanagan: If a young man considering a career in the arts wanted to meet a lot of women, would he be better off learning to paint or to play guitar?
Dylan: Probably neither. If he had women on his mind, he might think about becoming a lawyer or a doctor.
(Now he tells me.)

los angeles loves pet shop boys

Neil Tennant, on the fact that Pet Shop Boys still have a large following in Los Angeles:
"Years ago I met Monica Lewinsky. I introduced myself and she said 'oh yeah, I know who you are, I grew up in LA in the '80s.'"
I take it, then, that she's also familiar with Depeche Mode, Jane's Addiction, Oingo Boingo, and the Cure.

Monday, March 23, 2009

battlestar galactica finale: what others said

A quick spin around the web for other reactions to the Battlestar Galactica finale "Daybreak," complete with my own response to their responses. (WARNING: There might be spoilers ahead.)

John Paulsen of Premium Hollywood:
Not unlike the finale to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, this one had about five or six endings. It’s understandable — the viewers want to know how each major character moves on, and it’s impossible to do that quickly. I think that this is why they decided to do a two-hour combined finale instead of breaking it up into two episodes. It just wouldn’t have worked as well separately.
I thought the multiple endings at the end of Return of the King dragged, but I wasn't as invested in those characters. I found the slow farewell to the characters in "Daybreak" to be intensely emotional -- the scenes between Roslin and Adama just about destroyed me.

Jacob Clifton of
Television Without Pity:
What a silly, bloated, preachy, half-assed mess. It's embarrassing to see such great actors saddled with such unvoiceable, pointless activity, for so very, very long. After all the talk about holding something back and pacing yourself for the marathon, one would think the creators would follow their own advice, but then, this episode could have easily been written in 1992 when TV still had an excuse for sucking, so maybe they did.
For the record, Clifton liked the series quite a bit but has had problems with where it's gone recently. I felt the same way -- the last season in particular was a tough slog -- but the ending redeemed a lot. As for the charge about being preachy, "Daybreak" does have those moments -- especially its epilogue -- but I contend that a sci-fi series that plays to hardcore geeks and preaches an ecological, back-to-the-basics approach to life is at least novel.

Lord Kitchener's Own:

The main point of particular import in my theory is this: Baltar and Caprica Six both died on Caprica in the initial Cylon attack that began the series.

OK, got that? Baltar died in the first episode along with Cap Six.

From then on, they're both "angels".

I know, but stick with me here.
I don't buy the theory at all, but it's a fun read.

Josh Tyler of
Cinema Blend:
Tonight’s Battlestar Galactica finale was a cop out, but it was also the perfect goodbye. Ron Moore dropped the ball on plot but as always, the show delivered where it really mattered: Characters.
The one truly iffy plot point for me was the relative ease with which the fleet was able to bring Hera back to Galactica. (Good thing Boomer had a Darth Vader-like change of heart when it really, really mattered, huh?) But beyond the characters, here's another point I don't think is being made enough: the quality of the performances. It's very tempting to go big and grandiose in a big finale like this, but you didn't see that from the actors in "Daybreak." If anything, it was actually a more restrained episode than many from this season, which only intensified the emotions at play.

And, lastly, Ronald D. Moore:

I think [the whole series] hangs together better than it has any right to. I do feel good that the process I always believed in and really defended -- about feeling the story instinctively as you go through it, and not being tied to, "Oh, we know exactly how it's going to end up" -- that that was true. We were able to get there and could say, "We've been making this mosaic, and now we just need to put the final touches on it and we'll have a complete picture." There's loose threads and things that don't quite work, but I think that's in the nature of almost any show. By and large, I think we did a pretty good job of it.
I concur.

monsters vs aliens

Monsters vs. Aliens is a real charmer -- although I'm sorry to tell fellow Stephen Colbert fans that he's not that funny in the movie. My review is up at Screen.

battlestar galactica finale: my thoughts

For Vulture today, I've done a quick overview of the major Battlestar Galactica questions that were finally answered (or weren't) during the series finale, "Daybreak." And, for the record, I thought it was a terrific episode.

Friday, March 20, 2009

obama goes with north carolina

Look, I love this guy, so of course I'm biased. But if we're talking about who we'd like to have a beer with, I'm going with Barack Obama, who masterfully keeps his cool while dealing with one of ESPN's reporters as he puts together his bracket for the NCAA tournament. I tried embedding the video, got nowhere, and decided to just do it as an old-fashioned link. Thanks, ESPN.

the thief of bagdad comes to los angeles

Douglas Fairbanks might have been Hollywood's most impossibly beautiful male star of all time, or at least that's the impression you get watching his film The Thief of Bagdad from 1924. A new print screens tonight at the Academy -- I explain why this 85-year-old movie still matters:
At a time when big-budget blockbusters are only getting more juvenile, The Thief of Bagdad stands apart as a wonderfully grownup adventure film: sweet of spirit, fleet of foot, and so delightfully quaint that for younger viewers its old-fashioned romantic sweep and wide-eyed joy will feel positively revelatory.
The rest of my appreciation is here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

observe and report

Observe and Report, which stars Seth Rogen as a mall security guard, will be compared to Paul Blart: Mall Cop for obvious reasons, but while watching it, I was thinking of another film:
This adult comedy feels more tonally reminiscent of The Cable Guy, the 1996 Jim Carrey comedy which struggled to balance silly slapstick humour with a dark, imbalanced central character. [Writer-director Jody] Hill has assigned himself an equally difficult task in trying to wring laughs from a man whom we slowly begin to realise is a legitimate threat to those around him.
My review is here.

super capers

There's no way to sugarcoat it: Super Capers is one of those spectacularly terrible movies that we get two or three of every year. (If we're lucky -- some years we get even more.) If you thought Fanboys wasn't dopey and geeky enough, then it's the film for you:
Just as George Lucas recently unleashed The Clone Wars as a way to lure his fans’ progeny into his lair, so too does writer-director Ray Griggs’ juvenile Super Capers target the next generation, hoping that kids will be interested in a witless send-up of pop-culture detritus like light sabers, Batmobiles and “Hasta la vista, baby.”
The rest of my review is here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

an horse

An Horse are an Australian duo that make delicate bedroom-pop -- their new album, Rearrange Beds, comes out today. I hadn't listened to the record in quite some time, but rereading my review brought it all back. It's a lovely listen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

trashcan sinatras - weightlifting

How about some dreamy, melancholy indie-rock to end our week? Your wish is granted: The Trashcan Sinatras are here to help. Their 2004 album Weightlifting is vastly underrated.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

handsome furs - face control

Face Control is the second album from the indie-rock duo Handsome Furs. As the press notes tell us, they went to Eastern Europe, took notes of what they saw, and made this album. Sounds like it was a harrowing trip.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

busta rhymes talks “woo hah!! (got you all in check)”

As part of Blender's Greatest Songs Ever series, I interviewed the always-entertaining Busta Rhymes to talk about the making of "Woo Hah!! (Got You All in Check)." I had a blast -- the full story is here.

Monday, March 09, 2009


My Watchmen review heads my latest Consumables column. Also included are my takes on Two Lovers, Must Read After My Death, 12, Everlasting Moments and (out on DVD) I Served the King of England.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

don't buy stuff you cannot afford

This Saturday Night Live sketch aired three years ago, before "subprime" and "economic stimulus" were media buzzwords. I remember thinking this was brilliant when I saw it back in 2006. Now, it actually makes me a little sad. And angry.

chris cornell - scream

After many delays, Chris Cornell's Scream will finally be hitting stores on Tuesday. I've heard the album. Here's the opening to my review:
Chris Cornell’s Scream is sure to be derided for the wrong reasons. Teaming up with top-flight hip-hop producer Timbaland for the album, the former Soundgarden frontman will undoubtedly be mocked as a sellout who has traded away his soul and comprised his integrity for a slick pop makeover. But the ambitious Scream isn’t a noble misfire because Cornell decided to work with Timbaland – it’s because the collaboration isn’t nearly as rewarding as it should be.
The rest is here.

Friday, March 06, 2009

body count - there goes the neighborhood

Remember that brief shining moment in 1992 when Body Count seemed like the coolest, funniest hard rock group in the world? It didn't last long -- the group went south pretty fast, and Ice-T decided to focus on acting. For a trip down memory lane, here's their single, "There Goes the Neighborhood." (I had forgotten that there was a censored, radio-friendly version of this song.)

Monday, March 02, 2009

why st. louis cardinals fans are the best in the world

Joe Magrane, former Cardinals pitcher and current MLB Network commentator, talking about his fondest memories of playing in St. Louis:
I would have to say just the support of the fans. Whether we were succeeding or not, they were just incredibly loyal ... You look at the sea of red and knowing that they're gonna be there with you, good or bad.
Very heartwarming stuff, and I'm sure most Cardinal fans would agree with his assessment. But then he added this:
Unlike some of the other teams around the league, these fans look like they've had a shower within the last couple of days.
Translation: St. Louis fans are hardcore, but they're not obnoxious cretins. (And shall we guess which "other teams around the league" he's referring to?)