Friday, November 27, 2009

band of horses - the great salt lake

Ben Bridwell, the main man in Band of Horses, has always given off a regular-dude vibe, but in case there was any doubt, check out this video for "The Great Salt Lake." He's sitting in the back of a truck! He's playing softball! He's just hangin' with his buds! This video makes me very happy ... how much longer must we wait for his band's next album?

Friday, November 20, 2009

fringe: august

Everybody on Fringe is either dealing with loss or trying hard not to lose someone. All of that came to a head in last night's episode, "August." My recap is up at Vulture.

yo la tengo - periodically double or triple

Do you know that Yo La Tengo have a new(ish) album out? It's called Popular Songs and, big surprise, it's pretty great. "Periodically Double Or Triple" isn't even the best thing on it, but it'll do for a Friday. Funky, nerdy, happy -- god, I love these guys.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'red cliff' review

John Woo's five-hours-condensed-to-two-and-a-half-hours epic Red Cliff leads the latest installment of Consumables. Also reviewed, La Danse, Broken Embraces and the ghastly Planet 51. And if you missed my take on Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, you can read it here.

'blood equity' review

Blood Equity has noble intentions but shoddy execution. Among other honorable goals, this documentary means to expose the serious long-term damage (both physical and mental) that awaits football players after their careers are over. But after Malcolm Gladwell's great New Yorker piece on the subject, there's not much new to say. My full review is at L.A. Weekly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

'bad lieutenant: port of call new orleans': can't you take a joke?

Glenn Kenny touches on something in his mixed review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans that I think is worth discussing further:
For all of its strengths and weaknesses, Werner Herzog's movie, from a script by William M. Finkelstein, is best appreciated as a comedy.


[Nicolas Cage's] performance is a piece of virtuosic slapstick rather than the exhibition (exhibitionism?) of raw-nerve emotional torment that Harvey Keitel essayed in [Abel] Ferrara's [original] film. If you're not in on the joke by the time Cage's character gets the run of the property room from whence he filches a lot of his dope, whereupon his eyes go wider than Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu did at the sight of Jonathan Harker's blood, then you'll never get it.
This notion of "getting the joke" is odd to me when it comes to this movie. Taken as a crime drama, Port of Call is almost woefully inept. First off, it looks cheap. And its plot, as Kenny mentions, doesn't really build or evolve -- stuff just happens. As for Cage's performance, it's not that different than his turn in something like Bangkok Dangerous, although it's admittedly several notches zanier. And the film lacks the smarts of Herzog's last attempt to make a "studio movie," Rescue Dawn. But we're not supposed to let any of that bother us. In fact, if you point these things out, it's as if you didn't even get what the movie was supposed to be about. "Geez, lighten up! It's a comedy, OK?"

But is it? Are we supposed to take Cage's character's depraved, sometimes dangerous behavior as a big joke? But why? What's the object of satire? Crime dramas? Are we supposed to be impressed that Herzog made as chintzy a police procedural as some anonymous hack could?

There's something about New Orleans that brings out the loopy in major auteurs. Or maybe I'm just thinking of Robert Altman, who took a John Grisham story and turned it into The Gingerbread Man. (As opposed to Port of Call, though, that movie's a failure because it doesn't keep winking at us. Or something.) Now comes Herzog, who (I've been told) has delivered a stirring portrait of poverty in America by, uh, including shots of rundown houses. But whereas with Rescue Dawn, where he guided Christian Bale through one of his most restrained performances, Herzog seems to have let Nic be Nic here.

At this stage of his career, Cage is probably as un-direct-able as Jack Nicholson -- you cast him not despite his indulgences but because of them. But the "brilliance" of his performance in Port of Call reminds me of my film-school days when my classmates and I (knee-deep in fashionable college irony) would proclaim certain terrible films "amazing" and "genius" because, well, we got the joke. We knew they were awful, but, you see, we were hip enough to enjoy them for their awfulness. Or something. Eventually, I grew out of that mindset -- proclaiming terrible films "amazing" to random strangers is a good way to never make new friends. But when I watched Port of Call, I was reminded of how easy it is to fall into that trap. So, yes, I suppose I'm "in on the joke." I just don't think it's that funny.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'idiocracy' at the New Beverly

Next Saturday night, November 21, the New Beverly will be hosting a midnight screening of Mike Judge's Idiocracy. Is it a great movie? No. But it is a very correct movie. I explain why at L.A. Weekly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

chicago - if you leave me now

I blame my dad for passing along the gene that makes me susceptible to liking the band Chicago. Most days, I can resist. But today, screw it.

fringe: of human action

Peter does battle with the Most Obnoxious Teenager of All Time on last night's Fringe. My recap/review is up at Vulture.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

'collapse' review

The unsettling, alarmist documentary Collapse leads my latest Consumables column. If that isn't your thing, maybe you'd be more interested in my reviews of Pirate Radio, The Messenger, A Christmas Carol and Treeless Mountain, which are also included.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

them crooked vultures album review

After my initial skepticism, I admit that I've been won over by the self-titled debut from Them Crooked Vultures, the supergroup made up of Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. My full review.

Friday, November 06, 2009

the avett brothers - "i and love and you"

"I and Love and You" first caught my ear thanks to KEXP months ago -- I'd be lost without that station. I hadn't heard the track in a bit, and then it stumbled back into my life this week. Yeah, this is a damn pretty song.

fringe: earthling

My recap of last night's pretty-good episode of Fringe is up at Vulture. I have to be honest with you people: I wish I had come up with the article's headline. Pure genius.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

'the men who stare at goats' and 'precious' reviews

For my latest Consumables column, I take a look at The Men Who Stare at Goats, Precious and Paranormal Activity. Plus, I heap praise on an album that came out in March that I'm still loving, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz!

the yankees win the world series, and that's a good thing

Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci says what I've been thinking since the New York Yankees won the World Series last night:
After years of seeing upstarts, hot teams and cursebreakers win the World Series and playoff baseball reduced to "a crapshoot," we got an old fashioned, the-best-team-won World Series. In most every winning clubhouse players blather about how "no one expected us to be here" and "we had to overcome a lot of adversity to be here," but it was kind of refreshing to see the favored horse bring a win home by a comfortable margin.
My St. Louis Cardinals are one of those teams to which he's referring -- in 2006, they were just barely over .500 during the regular season (partly due to injuries) but got hot just in time for the playoffs to win the Fall Classic. But I think the fact that that Cardinals team were the champions says something about how difficult it is to win the World Series. St. Louis had better teams this decade, but none of them snagged the big prize. Likewise, the Yankees have had consistently great, deep teams in the '00s, but they couldn't win it all. And now that they're on top again, there's a popular grumbling around baseball (especially among Boston Red Sox fans) that it's boring or depressing when the Yankees win because there's nothing exciting or inspiring about it.

But I'd argue the exact opposite: I think there's so much pressure on the Yankees that when they do win it's a testament to being focused and to ignoring all the expectations thrown at you. You can have the biggest payroll and the best regular-season record, but you've got to deliver in the postseason. The Yankees are the only team that if they don't win the whole thing, it's a failure. Why? Because they are supposed to win. They've got all the riches and all the best players. If they don't win, there's no excuse they can point to -- if they lose, it must be because of some deep character flaw within their collective makeup. If you're a sensitive soul, that sort of psychological toil can really mess with you.

I know people hate the Yankees for lots of reasons. I've torn into those arguments before, but I'll say again that I really do love this franchise. Having a significant payroll is absolutely a factor in winning the World Series, but it's not the only one -- as Verducci says, a lot of unlikely teams have pulled it off in recent years. So it has to be more than just money that makes a winner. CC Sabathia could have tanked this season, and Mark Teixeira could have blown out his knee in April. Money certainly puts you in position to be successful, but it doesn't guarantee anything. It takes more than that to win the World Series and, this season, the Yankees had enough of whatever that is to do it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

'everybody's fine' review

Last night I was at the world premiere of Everybody's Fine, the comedy-drama starring Robert De Niro as a retired widower who decides to reconnect with his adult children after his wife's death. De Niro is pretty good in it, but the movie's no About Schmidt. My review is at Screen International.

Monday, November 02, 2009

'city of life and death'

City of Life and Death from Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan will open next year. I got a chance to see it Sunday during the AFI Film Festival. It's a remarkable, extraordinary film. I can't even wrap my head around it yet, so in the meantime here are some words from Scott Foundas:
Written and directed by Lu Chuan, The City of Life and Death is a startling historical epic, as brilliantly well-made as it is sociologically astute, set during the 1937 Japanese occupation of the walled Chinese city of Nanking. Latterly exposed in books and documentary films as China’s “forgotten holocaust,” the siege of Nanking brought with it a series of unspeakable (if all too common) atrocities committed by the occupiers against the occupied: the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians; the rape of tens of thousands of women and underage girls; and, in one of the film’s most bloodcurdling scenes, the point-blank assassination of wounded Chinese soldiers in a convalescent hospital.

Shooting in black-and-white wide screen, Lu opens with a bravura combat sequence styled after Saving Private Ryan, but the moral ambiguity of what follows owes more to Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima diptych, with its unblinking depiction of heroism and barbarism, compromise and betrayal on all sides.
That covers it pretty nicely. For those of us who have become numb to Holocaust movies because there have simply been so many of them, City of Life and Death is a revelation, taking another human atrocity from history and making it fresh and vital.

If the film's opening recalls Saving Private Ryan, then much of what happens afterward is closer to Spielberg's Schindler's List: one startling black-and-white passage after another, with each sequence revealing people's best and worst instincts in poetic, understated images. But unlike Schindler's List, City of Life and Death is almost completely devoid of sentimental moments. There's no straightforward narrative to speak of -- the movie simply unfolds, and characters come in and out of the story like an expert ensemble drama.

One way to measure that a movie is working on me is when I start to lose sense of time and place -- I forget I'm in a theater, and I can't quite figure out how long I've been immersed in the film. That happened pretty quickly in City of Life and Death. I can't say enough about this amazing movie. If you can, see it, and try to see it in a theater -- the bigger the screen, the better.