29 September 2008

Che Pride.

GUERILLA (d. Steven SODERBERGH) *** 1/2

28 September 2008

"Like children's theatre for forty year-old gay men..."

Allow me, then, some eSpace to talk about the time I've spent in a place where nobody dared to go...

I first encountered the historical Xanadu thanks to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. On their album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, there's a throwaway line, mangling Samuel Taylor Coleridge, where vocalist Holly Johnson says "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasuredome erect-" and proceeding from there along that line.
Fortunately, when it came up in my British Literature class in the tenth grade, I had a vague idea of what was being referenced.

I didn't see the Robert Greenwald film until 1993, during my freshman year of college at NYU, when another floor in my building was having a movie night with free pizza and drinks. Even then able to suss out a great bargain (note: free pizza, drinks, and a movie will always pique my interest), I pretty much crashed it, and was properly engrossed by the film. The music is rightfully spectacular. The film, not so much, but I still enjoy it. But I realized then that I knew the song, the titular song, where Olivian Newton-John and ELO made something majestic. I'd known and loved the song as a five year-old, and it was all that youthful joy sweeping me up into some kind of inXanity. And so it was for me, on the floor of the Brittany Hall building, gorged on pizza and half-flat Coke. It was magic.

When you give me an hour and a half of symphonic synth-rock and pop songs with some decent effects and an endearing sense of fun, and you'll have me riveted. At that point, in the long long ago, the soundtrack hadn't even been released in the U.S. on CD, which was somewhat fucked. Fortunately, the RA who had organized the evening's event made a tape copy for me, one which I listened to for a good three and a half years, until I finally found an Australian CD import to call my own.
And then, last year, it opened on Broadway, to much acclaim and fanfare. And oh, how I desperately wanted to see it. Alas, there was no way I could afford using ticket brokers to get in to a sold-out show, and there was much mopery on my part, but not that much because I had been on a swing away from musical theatre at that time.

What a difference, then, a year makes. I'd heard the show was closing soon, and as such made arrangements (fairly easily) to see it with some friends. But then the closing date got moved up again, so I had to act drastically. So I saw Xanadu on Broadway last Thursday, just three days before it ended its Broadway run. And, as if it had been engineered in a lab just for me, I loved it.

It's hard to express what a liberating joy musical theatre can be (some of y'all may remember my Les Miz-related Obama post a couple of weeks back), and I often forget what a friend it's been to me throughout my life. But it's funny, because musical theatre is always waiting for you, and I was beaming like the proud parent of a kid that could shit glitter for the whole experience.
Firstly, let me just say that between United 93 and Xanadu, I will follow Cheyenne Jackson anywhere. We're talking about a guy who can handle songs meant to sung by Fee Waybill, Cliff Richard, and Jeff Lynne as his own without blinking, and moreso, a performer without a hint of irony. Full marks, to be certain. I've had The Warriors on the brain as of late because of the 'Court's midnight movies series, but I can safely say that Cheyenne Jackson owns the part of Sonny Malone in perpetuity. Sorry, Mr. Beck.

Everyone in the show was good, and it actually had a point, which was hard for me to wrap my mind around at the time, but something I certainly appreciate. In a vast scorched earth of jukebox musicals and movie adaptations, Xanadu took both of those bastard genres and made them vital again, and it did it with humor, style, sass, sparkle, and a brisk running time. I mourn its passing. But I had a hell of a time, and I recommend it to anyone who has the chance to see it anywhere out there in the world. It'd be ideal for Vegas, of which I can only dream.

Here's the original cast performing at the Tony Awards.

And if anyone knows where to find an mp3 of Jackson and Anthony Rapp singing "Suddenly Seymour" at Broadway Backwards III, let me know.

27 September 2008

"Your mothers have been lying to you about sex, and it pisses you off."


Further along.

This is what I've seen since the last time I did one of these updates.

DEMAIN PEUT-ETRE (Maybe Tomorrow) (d. Guilhem AMESLAND) *** 1/2
SERBIS (Service) (d. Brillante Ma. MENDOZA) ** 1/2
TIRO EN LA CABEZA (Bullet in the Head) (d. Jaime ROSALES) **
HUNGER (d. Steve McQUEEN) *** 1/2
THIS IS HER (d. Katie WOLFE) ** 1/2
VOY A EXPLOTAR (I'm Gonna Explode) (d. Gerardo NARANJO) **

"People like doing what they used to do, after they've stopped being able to do it. "

He was an icon who aged gracefully and went out on his own terms. I will always cherish his work and his Low Fat Sesame Ginger dressing.

A well-appreciated stopgap.

So, my Towelhead review actually got picked up by the Tennessean, so that's good, as it means I will have an Internet presence that I personally do not have to generate. It's gone through the extra phantom edit process that happens in such cases, but I'm still grateful for the exposure.

23 September 2008

"A disease immune to bureaucracy."

I've seen the following:

BLINDNESS (d. Fernando MEIRELLES) ** 1/2

21 September 2008

At the movies: The Midnight Meat Train.

Dear Clive Barker;

I just had the chance to see the film of your short story The Midnight Meat Train that's been causing controversy all around Hollywood for the way the studio did you wrong, and I'm going to have to say that I agree with you on this one. It's a very good film, certainly much better than a lot of the horror that gets released in theatres, and light years ahead of some of the crap that Lionsgate themselves have been putting into theatres (Disaster Movie, I call you out).

I don't think that I can call it as good an adaptation of your work as Candyman, but that's one of the best films of the 90s, and, as such, a very tall goal to tackle. But Kitamura Ryuhei brings a great deal of visual strength to this one, and I think it can stand alongside the best filmed adaptations of your work. Some call Kitamura's visual aesthetic pretentious, but I don't even necessarily see that as a flaw. Horror fans (and I say this while being one) are a fickle bunch of people, and they'll find somethign to snicker at or find hilarious without any prompting from the filmmakers, so trying to stuff in any unnecessary leavening is pointless. I'd say Roger Bart handles that job admirably herein as comic relief, and more than that, he adds a certain kind of urbane queerness to the proceedings that is definitely needed.

And while we're on the subject of queerness, I've got to show the film some love for having such an expansive sexual discussion without ever really talking about sex. We've got Bradley Cooper as the world's first otter action hero, and he's up against Vinnie "human fireplug"/"Tom of Finland UK edition" Jones, and all flesh is stripped of gender and reduced to meat. It's stylish and classy and at the same time sexually-charged in the way that the best horror is.

I was inclined to like the film, just because I'm always up for a horror/suspense picture involving trains and/or subways. But more than that, I actually found the film making some rather interesting statements about art, and the merits of working in the intangible (like Leon's earlier photography) versus the tangible (like flesh). The sequence that introduces the Leon character in particular resonates in my mind (in part because of the way it is twinned by the film's final shot) in a way I find difficult to articulate. Are we, the audience, presumed to be who Leon is photographing? It's just a moment, and yet it sets up a whole new kind of expectation for how the film is going to work.

The DePalma-ish flair for baroque setpieces (the whole B&E at Mahogany's hotel room, specifically) also works well, and I am left to curse the fact that the film got treated so shabbily by its own distributors. But moving on from that- are we ever going to see a follow-up to Lord of Illusions? It really is a phenomenal picture on a lot of levels, and I'm sort of depressed that it doesn't get nearly as much love as it should. There's a viscerality in that film that I think still remains unsurpassed, and I'd like to see you return to that universe some day.

If the Hellraiser remake has to happen, please stay as involved as you can to keep them from fucking it up too badly. The "Inside" guys were an intriguing touch, but since they're out of the picture, I can't help but worry. Although I genuinely love Hellbound, and I think it does a great job of expanding the mythos and scope of its predecessor in the way that adventurous sequels should. Something that cannot be said for any of the myriad of sequels made since then. I'm sure that's got to piss you off, like how Scanner Cop has to just wreck David Cronenberg's day if he catches sight of it at the car wash in the discount DVD bin.

At this point, I'm rambling, but I just wanted to say, again, how much I enjoyed The Midnight Meat Train. Yes, Kitamura did much to be proud of, but I was never all that impressed with Versus or Alive, finding a good deal of flash but very little substance or ideas. Thankfully, in collaboration with your story and Jeff Buhler's script, something very satisfying and intriguing was the end result.

So hats off to you all, and keep doing what you do; you've made the horror fans proud.

20 September 2008

Pervasive disappointment.

So I'm gone from Nashville for just a little over a week and this happens.

What. The. Fuck?

You have no idea what kind of damage control I'm going to have to do up here.

And everyone knows your business.

There have been times when I've written of that peculiarly New York phenomenon of heading back home after having been properly laid and everyone you pass by sorta knowing your business from your carriage and demeanor. Well, if you ever wanted to know what that sounds like, strolling on home twenty-something blocks with a buzzed and blissful smile on your face around four in the morning, this is it.

Mr. Fingers - "Can U Feel it"
from 1986 on Trax Records.

So if you're trying to use iTunes (or whatever non-Apple and their damned proprietary software equivalent to make a playlist of the sounds of NYC as I've been hearing them, here are a few more to add to the list (in addition to our friend Mr. Fingers above).

OMD - "Enola Gay"
Charles Aznavour - "Emmenez-moi"
Buzzcocks - "Love You More"
m83 - "Kim and Jessie"
PiL - "This is not a Love Song"
Giorgio Moroder - "From Here to Eternity/Utopia, Me Giorgio"
The Jones Girls - "You're Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else"
Buzzcocks - "Noise Annoys"
Depeche Mode - "Big Muff"

I will add to the list as necessary and as is accurate.

Yesterday I saw:
LOLA MONTES (d. Max OPHULS) ** 1/2
UN CONTE DE NOEL (A Christmas Tale) (d. Arnaud DESPLECHIN) *** 1/2
TOKYO SONATA (d. KUROSAWA Kiyoshi) *** 1/2

18 September 2008

"Show business."

Today I saw:


17 September 2008

"A real blast."

I love a good bit of controversy, and I love a controversial film even more. So it brings me a great deal of joy to give y'all an advance warning of a pretty staggering film that is coming your way that will fuck some people up. The film is an animated Israeli documentary called Waltz with Bashir, and it details a man's efforts to reconnect with other members of his army division during Israel's Lebanon War in the early 80s, specifically in relation to two massacres that occurred in two refugee camps during that time.

The film is remarkable, using the smae sort of psychogenic fugue-narrative that David Lynch worked so well in Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, but applying it to real-life trauma and shock. It's like nothing I've ever seen before, but you could almost call it a head-on collision between A Scanner Darkly and Redacted, except much much better than the latter and on par with the former.

So there are a couple of reasons why people are going to lose their shit about this film- one is that it deals with the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but what's going to cause the big freak-outs left and right is that the massacring in those refugee camps was done by Christians. Since contemporary evangelical Christianity in the U.S. has taken to walking a hard pro-Israel line (basically in order to force the hand of the divine, which is stupid, ignorant, and blasphemous all at the same time and perfectly illustrative of what's achingly wrong with the current theological mindset of U.S. Christianity), I don't imagine that they're going to take too well to this, and I can't wait.

So when Pat Robertson and Rexella van Impe or whoever is trying to exploit faith for power starts decrying this film in the near future, you can remember you got your heads up from me.

Today I saw:

Yesterday I saw:
C.R.A.Z.Y. (d. Jean-Marc VALLEE) ***
SHROOMS (d. Paddy BREADNACH) * 1/2

15 September 2008

"Plato's Republic: pas d'un livre petasse"

I just finished my first day of screenings and my first Mandarin lesson, and I feel as if beaten with sticks.

The good news is that I'm already bowled over by quality with the NYFF films. The bad news is I suck at learning Mandarin. But I'm still hopeful.

For dinner tonight, I feel like A Pimp Named Slickback special. Some of you may ask what that entails, so I will elaborate. I am a very picky eater, and it is markedly difficult for me to find celebrity sandwiches that are agreeable with my temperamental tastes. Which is why, on The Boondocks episode "The Story of Gangstalicious Part 2," when the character A Pimp Named Slickback describes a sandwich good enough to put before hoes, he says 'a turkey sandwich with just tomato,' I almost fell over.

People don't seem to trust simple sandwiches anymore. Everything's got to have arugula or some diced stuff, or god forbid, mayonnaise, and it makes things difficult for me as a human being. So to have someone famous (even fictional animated famous) make a proclamation as to sandwich simplicity, well I embrace that. So, a turkey sandwich with just tomato is A Pimp Named Slickback special, and I plan on eating one.

I'm going to have to do my Mandarin lesson over again. But there's time, and I'm not actually being graded.

But still...

Today I saw:

ENTRE LES MURS (The Class) (d Laurent CANTET) ***
CRY ME A RIVER (d JIA Zhang-ke) **
WENDY & LUCY (d Kelly REICHARDT) *** 1/2

14 September 2008

"Just like I pictured it; skyscrapers, everything..."

So I'm back in NYC, up and running all of twenty minutes or so and catching the subway uptown to where I'm staying. Sitting across from tired, sweaty me clutching my suitcase to keep it from rolling around the A train is a twentysomething year-old woman reading a book called Nasty Dick.

Not a magazine. Not a pamphlet. Not a manga collection. An actual book. Called Nasty Dick.

I love this city and have missed it so.

At the movies: Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

The rumors are true; this is the best thing that Woody Allen has made in quite some time.

To fit that statement on my WA continuum, the last films of his that I liked were Melinda & Melinda and Small Time Crooks, and the last film of his that I loved was Deconstructing Harry.

This is a subtle and genuinely sensual tale of desire and repression and friendship that feels like a brilliant short story given life (its use of a narrator initially seems off-putting, but by the end of the film allows it to reach beyond the usual limitations of such a device and into something rather affecting). Two American girls, drawn into the magnetic sway of a charismatic painter with an unpredictable ex-wife, basically have to try and define who they are, artistically and emotionally. That's the short version.

The long version is that human relationships are complicated, and what one wants is not necessarily a constant thing in life, but that our inherently schizophrenic natures can sometimes make everything okay or just as easily fuck it up beyond recognition. Scarlett Johansson is more beautiful than ever in what seems like her thirty-seventh film with Allen, and Javier Bardem, as he is most of the time, is sex on a stick. Big ups to Penelope Cruz, who knocks it out of the park (and partially in English, which unmakes my theory about her being a great actress in Spanish and a not-so-great actress in English). Spain itself comes off beautifully, with everything being sun-dappled and comfortable and filled with art and wine and opportunities for making love with beautiful people.

This is one of the better date movies of the summer, to be sure, and a hopeful sign of the newly-regained relevance of Woody Allen.

At the movies: The Women.

So Diane English's long-gestating remake of the 1939 film The Women finally came out in theatres, and I simply do not understand the poisonous word of mouth and reviews it's been receiving. It's fairly messy, and there are a few bad performances in it (Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, and Jada Pinkett, I'm talking to you), but on the whole it's got a lot on its mind, and it gives us some great work from Annette Bening, Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, and Meg Ryan.

It deals with betrayal and friendship and eating and alienation and birth and melancholy and desire and power, and it's about ninety times more enjoyable (and less evil) than the Sex & The City movie. The Women at least feels like it's dealing with real women's issues (even if its opening CG fakeout suggests more of the same venal consumerist porn) and having discussions that you don't usually get to see at the movies. I also find that the quiltlike nature of Meg Ryan's face adds immeasurably to the hurt at the center of her character, layering on a whole different subtextual angle as to what all she's given to her marriage. That may be me getting a little too meta-, but it certainly ratchets up the tension a bit.

I haven't seen the George Cukor original, but you can bet that I will now (my father is practically insisting). Certainly I would like to see Diane English's dialogue on the big screen more often, because hers is a unique voice that doesn't back down on women's issues, populist but not meek or campy.

So here's to The Women. It's like a half a Xanax, a margarita, and a pleasant afternoon, all in one.

At the movies: Righteous Kill.

The good news is that Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino decided to work together. The bad news is that it was on this movie, a reprehensible piece of shit that hates narrative and women in equal, dripping doses. Righteous Kill is completely unacceptable.

My friend Sean summed it up best: "Don't look at it, Marion. Keep your eyes closed."

13 September 2008

At the movies: Filth and Wisdom.

Dear Madonna;

Seriously, what's up? Your directorial debut is kind of a mess, and moreso, it's a really dull and sitcommy mess that feels like it could have been made by anyone. You've made art that I've loved, and you've made art that I have not loved, but you've never before made art that I found dull and impersonal, so I'm concerned.

Eugene Hutz is a dynamic screen presence (he pretty much owned Everything is Illuminated), so I'm intrigued to see him as one of the leads. But by building so much of not only his character but much of the film's narrative engine around the music of his band Gogol Bordello, I felt like as a viewer I was going to be stymied, and indeed I was. I get that each of the three main flatmates have their own sets of issues and obstacles, and that all of their peripheral associates in turn react to that.

Ostensibly, it's a bit of naughtiness added to everyone's lives that improve their respective situation, except for the severe girl from This is England, who has a deus ex machina Indian boss who makes her noble dreams come true, subbing for the rich, sexually abusive father she's been fleeing from. And ballet girl who makes a great stripper when she's sad and drunk and the DJ plays a Britney Spears record.

And on that front, what's the deal? Are you and Britney still friends, or are you still enemies, or what? It's hard to keep things straightened out on that front, and because I don't even know how you feel about Britney these days, it's impossible to understand what the subtext of the scene is supposed to be.

And that's the big problem with your movie- I don't know what it's supposed to mean. There's an endless series of platitudes and cliches about dualities and the universality of humanness, but it's sort of empty. There's no fun here (and that's okay, because I haven't expected you to be any fun since Truth or Dare; it's okay, things got serious soon after, and that's where you are, I get it), and by the end of it I realized that I was only still watching the film because I wanted to be able to talk about seeing a film that you made.

I wanted something raw and unfiltered and straight from your id. I mean, you're Madonna. I know you've got some things to say. You've done Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sean Penn, Prince, and Warren Beatty; you've got tales to tell. Give us a roman a clef. Give us something that only Madonna could have made, and not this bland indie foolishness.

But keep making movies, because I like the idea of a woman who knows both sides of a camera who has enough money and ambition to be able to put their own vision up there onscreen. Just don't react to your (unfortunate) husband's (unfortunate) films, and serve up something unique. And please don't think I'm in the business of hating, because "Heartbeat" is one of the best songs you've ever recorded and I'm always willing to take a chance on you.

12 September 2008

At the movies: Frozen River.

I don't envy how this pitch meeting must have gone. 'It's a movie about two poor and disenfranchised women who find themselves smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border and a dangerous river into lives of indentured servitude. Nobody has any moral awakenings. Nobody gets an unrealistic happy ending. And it's also at Christmastime." But thankfully, someone listened, and the end result is one of the more quietly devastating films of the year.

Ray (Melissa Leo) and Lila (Misty Upham) are great and uncompromising characters. They're both mothers, and they're both fighting their way through life, put upon by how things are in a way that is relatable but not too easy to identify with; these are women who make difficult choices that cannot be justified by any rational person, and yet there's a very seductive pragmatism at work in the script that lets us follow them into their course of action even while all that is decent screams out "No."

The mood is bleak and wintry, and the ragged DV photography adds to that effect. High quality images of any kind would seem out of place in this poverty-stricken upstate New York milieu, and Leo and Upham both approach their parts without a shred of vanity or any specific agenda. Both women can be rather unlikable, but never really unsympathetic, even as their choices grow harder and harder to accept.

I find Tattoos on characters in film are often distracting (though sometimes necessary to the plot), meant as empty signifiers or used as instant street cred (or as a point of mockery). Here, we are allowed a couple of glimpses of Ray's morning rituals, and her tattoos, couple with her mottled skin, reads like a silent journal of betrayal and the passage of time.

We're given the same as we watch Lila perched in a tree, tossing food to a large dog to keep it from hassling her, watching the home of a family. Eventually, we learn its significance, and eventually we are able to find context for who Lila is and what she does. But for that moment, early on in the film, we watch her sit in a tree and watch over some family's evening through the front plate glass window, and there's nothing else in the world that hits so hard.

At the movies: Towelhead.

The first trick that the new film Towelhead plays on the audience is simply in using the titular racial slur. Before the film even begins, you're on the defensive. I mean, it's right there, on the ticket stub, that word. And because of that, many people may come into the film expecting an explosive and uncompromising look at the difficulties in cultural communications between Muslims and the non-Muslim world in America.

That's the second trick, because Towelhead, the film, doesn't even mention Islam. Jasira Maroun (played by newcomer Summer Bishil), our main character, and her father Rifat are Christians of Lebanese descent, which sets up a fascinating dialogue about Christianity and racial difference that is neither explored nor even brought up. Bishil plays Jasira in an accepting and open way, feeling reminiscent of the many Avivas in Todd Solondz' film Palindromes. At times, the film posits Jasira's story almost as picaresque, with attempts at Voltairean satire, but more often than not, we get semi-confessional and awkward emotional landmarks in a young girl's development.

Think Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, only with the first Gulf War unfolding in the background. When an Army Reservist neighbor (played by Aaron Eckhart) begins to develop an unusual amount of interest in Jasira and her newly-developing sensual self, things start getting really weird, and not necessarily in a good way.

The social constructions of Erian's novel must have been irresistible for adapter/director Alan Ball, who created Six Feet Under and wrote American Beauty. He's been slicing up the shenanigans of the prosperous and the affected for quite some time, now, and you can sense his palpable delight in shredding the way that people react to the Other, particularly when represented by someone of Arab descent. But something feels off with this film, and for every moment that works (and some do, beautifully, particularly Jasira's internal flights of whimsy that find centerfold models and their fluffy escapades as literal journeys of liberation), we have countless attempts at a snarky or shocking one-liner that just sort of thuds into nothingness.

I didn't hate the film (unlike most of the other attendees of my screening), but it's an overlong mess that seems to think it's creating a dialogue about the unspeakable, bringing the hidden out into the light for all to see. Instead, it's just a series of shocks slathered onto sitcom structures.

The kind of interview we just don't get enough of.

An interview with Diamanda Galas from Out magazine. Wow.

The fifty best Prince songs of all time. Part II: #15-#11.

It seems this project is taking much longer than I anticipated, and for that I apologize. So here's a few more to keep appetites whetted and panties wettened.

15) IF I WAS YOUR GIRLFRIEND – Camille (1986)

It's a suitably fitting achievement when Bitch Magazine calls this song "one of the most genderfuck songs ever recorded." I remember hearing it in 1987 and thinking I would need a few years before I could figure it out for myself. But it remains one of Prince's most original and unique pieces, from its origins on the Camille record and bizarre patient endurance as a single (!), past the weird cover by TLC and being used as Demi Moore shook her groceries in front of Burt Reynolds in Striptease. Truly something special.

14) THE QUESTION OF U (1990)

The kind of ballad that Prince does better than anyone else (see also "Joy in Repetition," "The Grand Progression," "When 2 R in Love"). One of the more amazing efforts from the scattershot Graffiti Bridge, and one of the more achingly endearing of His Purpleness' seductive jams.

I'm going to try to avoid getting into the whole 20/20 hindsight "Here's where Prince went wrong" theorizing, because at this point it just serves no purpose. But for some reason, Prince took an amazing extended cold funk apocalypse with The Revolution turning the place upside down, stripped his own voice from it, and gave it to Andre Cymone for his album AC. That is the gesture of either a truly gracious individual or someone not thinking clearly, because "The Dance Electric," as performed by The Revolution, would have been a great single-only release between Purple Rain and Around The World in a Day. It would have anchored down a slightly revised Around the World in a Day on its own, for that matter. This is one of the few 12+ minute Revolution jams that never gets boring or overly frenetic, and that its only extant version is as an 'extended' five and a half minute version with Andre's vocals just doesn't cut it.

12) LETITGO (Sherm Stick Edit) (1994)

One of the two instances in recorded history where someone else's remix of a Prince song is actually better than Prince's own take on it (the other being Shep Pettibone's remix of "Glam Slam"), this is J. Sw!ft's masterful rethinking of one of Prince's more seemingly autobiographical tales. It's the messed-with "Ballad of Dorothy Parker" loop that anchors everything together, and it sounds wonderful and timeless.

Another exceptional ballad, this one originall meant for Graffiti Bridge, but in the end replaced by "The Question of U." Dammit, though, there could have been room for all of them. Of note as one of the few Prince songs that expresses the Divine in a conditional sense, which is pretty radical for him. Maybe that's why it got left off the final configuration...

"Watch 'em run amuck, catch 'em as they fall; never know your luck when there's a free-for-all."

Mad props to Andrew Sullivan for this. Because it's never the wrong time for musical theatre.

What does it say about me that I can tell that they're using the Complete Symphonic Recording of Les Miz? And whatever happened to Shimada Kaho, anyway?

Charity and common sense begin at home.

Well, I'll send my $10.


Periodically, the news can provide a form of well-needed uplift.

Intrigue in the Buckeye State.

So, as you all know, I love a good bit of scandal. And I'd been worried about the upcoming presidential election specifically because of some of the less-than-ethical means of voter disenfranchisement that have been known to take place over the past few years.

Imagine, then, my surprise at finding this out during my layover in Cincinnati. Is it transparent evil, or has the McCain campaign shit the bed with this one, and since when are candidates allowed to print absentee ballot applications themselves.

Curiouser and curiosuer, said Alice...

This is rumor control; Here are the facts.

I made it up North (no thanks to my initial ride and after a fortysomething dollar cab ride) and am currently kicking it in Boston. I'll be busing my way into NYC on Sunday to gear up for Day One of the NYFF press screenings. It should be as epic as always.

At the movies: Burn After Reading.

It's no Lebowski, but it's a vicious little gem that has a remarkably consistent fake-out tone; a deadpan farce shot and scored like a tragic thriller. The pleasures are in Richard Jenkins' brokedown dog of a performance, the way John Malkovich wraps his remarkable face around the script's baroque profanities, Brad Pitt's numbnuts enthusiasm and personal trainer pep (he's certainly hearkening back to the Johnny Suede days here), and J.K. Simmons' pitch black-humored CIA chief.

The plot is a typical conspiracy yarn, but nobody's working with a complete sense of the big picture. There's a very real sense of melancholy to the proceedings, because nobody actually ends up being as important as they think they are, and that realization drives quite a few reveals that linger, like the film's more baroquely violent tendencies.

And oh, sleazy, sleazy George Clooney. He's doing something very interesting here, an emotionally complex and vain hedonist who nonetheless has a way of sneaking up on you as a viewer and stealing your sympathy in spite of one's better judgment.

I wish there'd been more for Tilda Swinton to do, but the entire enterprise is such a concise and vicious jewel of a film that I can't complain too terribly hard about any constituent elements.

04 September 2008

The Best Music Video of all time.

There is nothing that comes close. I remember this video being shown theatrically in 1984/1985 here in Nashville in some of the Carmike theatres; I know for a fact I saw it before The Dirt Bike Kid and Back To The Future. If this means there's a bunch of 35mm prints of this video out there, then I want one desperately.

Political Rant III.

Some people have pointed out my negative concerns regarding Sarah Palin, and have asked me why I couldn't find something positive to say regarding her.

So let me say this, the positive aspect of Sarah Palin's candidacy.

Levi Johnston is the finest piece of ass involved in a political families sexual peccadilloes in quite some time.


Also, here's some thoughts from Whoopi Goldberg.

At the movies: The Exiles.

Kent Johnson’s 1961 film The Exiles is finally receiving a proper theatrical release, and it’s thanks to filmmakers Sherman Alexie (Smoke Signals) and Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep) that it’s happening. A jazzy (music by The Revels) and mournful trek through twelve hours in the lives a dozen Natives-turned-Angelenos, the film is steeped in vital, kinetic slices of life and pieces of interior monologue, and the disconnect between ideal and actuality is a sharp and serrated gulf. The visual sensibility on display here is astonishing, using high-contrast black-and-white photography to make the streets and sidewalks of Los Angeles into Caravaggio paintings, chiaroscuro portals into absolute darkness next to glittering prizes and ‘open all night’ signs.

The film is a time capsule twice over, documenting both the stories of countless Natives (though that aimless alienation that comes from living in the big city can be quite universal) and providing a visual history of a part of Los Angeles that simply doesn’t exist anymore. As the first, the film can’t help but suffer for its attention to the anomie and alcoholic cycle which most of its characters are stuck in; happy stories don’t normally drive insightful film. But as the latter, The Exiles is a marvel. There is a rawness, a swinging and suppurating energy to its scenes that threaten to break out of the screen, and in its way, Los Angeles itself is as much a character as any of the Native principals.

The Exiles doesn’t claim to offer any solutions to the travails that Native Americans face, nor should it be required to. But there’s a question floating in the ether, one that has been there since the film was made and which has not become any less relevant in the near fifty years since; what can be done? There’s a film coming out next week called Frozen River that also tells some Native American stories, stories of human trafficking, casinos, and crippling poverty. Both films are going to be difficult sells, because most people don’t like to think about Native American issues.

Maybe it’s unresolved guilt, or, as most usually say, the desire for escapism and entertainment at the movies that feed this impulse. But The Exiles is not a lecture. It is an experience, one that resonates long after the film has unrolled and the lights come up. And its ultimate sequence, as sunrise finds a group of young Natives leaving the hillside site of a drunken gathering/dance/council/brawl, echoes that perspective. The cars drive away, the participants creep home, and other than some debris, a little blood, a lot of cigarette butts, and a few tears, there’s nothing left to mark the land. But they were there, and for a little while, at least, it was theirs.

At the movies: Make-Out with Violence.

So, my review for Make-Out with Violence got an actual URL, but, as usual, it's slashed down a bit.

So, here's my Director's Cut review. The film is playing at 6:45 and 8:30 PM at the Belcourt on Wednesday, September 10th, and I'd advise everyone to try and check it out.


There’s an austere and bloody beauty to this film, a languid charm, and a deeply poetic sense of possibility. I’ve never seen anything quite like Make-Out with Violence, a locally-made marvel that tramples genre expectations while delivering interesting characters and a tangled net of believable and affecting relationships. This could have been a slice-of-life dramedy and worked beautifully; it could just as easily have been a straight-up splatterfest and left the most ravenous of audiences satiated. But the film finds its own path, and beautifully.

There’s a dash of Return of the Living Dead 3 here, skulking around in the background. Similarly, you can feel the open, implicitly southern laconic openness of David Gordon Green’s George Washington and All the Real Girls. But Make-Out with Violence is such a fully-realized original vision that the only thing I could honestly compare it to with any degree of authority is Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece The Virgin Suicides (there’s certainly a thematic echo there, but Make-Out is far less dreamy and more focused on the specifics of loss and desire). Whether you take the zombie story at the heart of the film as a literal exploration of what happens when love leaves and you’re left with only flesh, or if you’d rather see it as an extended metaphor for the Darling boys’ metabolizing their grief, there’s no denying that what The Deagol Brothers have put onscreen is like nothing else to come out of the city before, and moreso a staggeringly promising debut.

There’s a sense of community to these characters, and one of the film’s strengths is the way it allows all the different connections between characters to unfold organically, shading in the little details of the hearts being juggled at its center. Make-Out with Violence understands young love; how it transforms bodies, disrupts allegiances, turns friend and family against one another, and sometimes offers a way in- or a way out.

The horror and dramatic elements are in perfect balance (with only a couple of overly comic scenes breaking the film’s sensuous and hypnotic spell), and there’s a cumulative sense of haunting, literally and figuratively, that gains strength throughout, culminating with a finish that weaves shock, resignation, and a palpable lament for what was and what was lost. There’s a stark emotional truth at the center of the film that most movies, of any size or budget, just aren’t interested in exploring. But Make-Out with Violence can sit proudly alongside Black Snake Moan and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things as examples of Tennessee filmmaking at its most uncompromising and enduring.

Political Rant II.

It just keeps getting deeper. And I'm not talking about the book-banning, the venal vindictive abuse of power, the lying, or the hypocritical and inconsistent religious perspective. I'm talking about allowing your special needs child to be used as a prop. Yes, the special needs child that she was so concerned about that she flew AFTER HER WATER BROKE. The special needs child who, at four months old, has no business being treated like a baton in a relay.

What I don't understand is how she can be a hardcore pro-life 'team mom' christian and shirk her wifely concerns to run for any kind of public office. Pick-and-choose christianity is one of my big pet peeves, but this really does seem more shameless than usual. And Jon Stewart, last night on The Daily Show, while talking to Newt Gingrich, pointed it out beautifully- Sarah Palin is a woman who doesn't believe in abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, yet in reference to her seventeen year-old daughter's pregnancy, she refers to it as "Bristol's decision." And decision is just another word for choice.

I am over 'do as I say, not as I do' attitudes amongst our elected officials. Sarah Palin is a shameless hypocrite, and I don't trust her for a second.

Also, much love to Julie Brown for her devastating take on SP on her website and YouTube. I still think Tina Fey is the ideal Palin, but I'm so glad to see Julie back and in action.

And remember, "In Alaska, “Hockey Mom” is code for “Arctic Meth Princess.”"

Forgotten dance classics: Kid 'n Play - "2 Hype."

Ah, the second summer of love. When Manchester's Hacienda was the tastemaking dance floor of choice for international sounds. Gaining ascendancy in the interim between Belgium's one-two punch of New Beat and techno, with acid house, hip-hop, and a lot of ecstasy playing nice together, it was a time of utter magic.

In the midst of that, you had all these American hip-hop artists getting remixed for the European dance market, and the end results were sometimes a mess and sometimes glorious. There's very little actual Kid or Play in Dancin' Danny D's House Mix, but the sounds are amazing (to be sampled themselves just a few years later in Altern 8's "Activ 8"). Luxuriate in it.

03 September 2008

Political Rant I.

The more I try and wrap my mind around it, the only possible solution that I can come to is that John McCain is trying to pull some sort of Andy Kaufman performance art approach to his Presidential campaign, because the whole Sarah Palin pick strikes me as shameless and opportunistic, in the dumbest and most obvious of ways. For him to have built the entire linchpin of his campaign around how much more experience he has than Obama, then to turn around and pick a woman whom people in her own state call a glorified mayor- it’s either the height of hubris or some sort of shocking coup de grace for what was once a promising career.

There was a time when John McCain was a thorn in the side of everyone, a shrewd and volatile voice that was aiming for a bipartisan improvement of things in this country. This was a John McCain who refused to buy into the lockstep hypocrisies of evangelical Christianity, who had gay friends and who didn’t find same-sex marriage all that threatening at all. This was a man who got railroaded by George W. Bush during the ramp-up to the 2000 election. This was a man who was trying to change the face of the Republican party.

I knew it was over at the 2004 Republican convention, when he stood on stage with Bush, hugging the man who’d derailed his own campaign with some of the most ultra-Rovian tactics imaginable. That was the beginning of the end. He was hitching his horse to the way the wind was blowing, to continued war in Iraq, to obscene waste of the Federal budget, and to whatever reactionary Biblical pick-and-choose rules for society were endorsed by James Dobson and other jackals who’ve made the blind ignorance of their followers into their own personal empires. Mark my words- anyone who subscribes to Focus on the Family or feels that Sarah Palin is an icon of family values is not a follower of Christ. They follow their wallets, the fear that someone more powerful than they is watching, and whatever lets them feel good about their own lives and not rock the boat.

So I can’t muster up much respect for the poor shell of a man the Republicans have dredged up from the ditch George W. left him beat up and set on fire in eight years ago. He sold out, like most people do when the price is right. There’s only shame in that if you’ve tried to make your name and word of honor into something, and most people don’t. He did, and now it’s meaningless.

As for Sarah Palin, I feel nothing but contempt. She should never have accepted McCain’s offer of the Vice-Presidential nomination. The only good that will come from this debacle-in-the-making is that perhaps someone will finally get around into investigating the staggering amount of corruption that infests the state of Alaska. When she starts returning that $200,000,000 that was allocated for that state’s infamous ‘bridge to nowhere,’ then we’ll talk. When she explains how she can be a conservative, family values Christian woman who has currently put aside her four month-old special needs child to go run for Vice President, then we’ll talk. When she outlines a credible strategy for removing our troops from or entrenching them in Iraq, then we’ll talk. But for now, all I see is a pretty face who’s in way over her head. She may make it through this election without having too much dirty laundry spilled, but I don’t think that’ll be the case. And I don’t wish that on her; we’ve all got secrets we’re not too proud of.

My dog dropped out of this race a long way back. If someone asks me what kind of candidate represents my values, that’s easy- Dennis Kucinich all the way. But Dennis is a bit much for some people. Fine. So I have to look at who all is in the running and proceed accordingly. I’d like to think that I’m willing to cut people some slack when necessary. So I don’t think that either the Republican or Democratic nominees will willingly provoke conflict with another nation any time soon. Some would say this makes me na├»ve, but our resources are stretched way too think for any rational person to consider that. Again, some would say that I’m showing my own weaknesses by assuming that any of our prospective nominees can demonstrate consistent rationality. But that’s where I’m proceeding from.

Ending the War is a big thing for me. Health care reform needs to happen, and fast. The erosion of the separation between church and state needs to stopped, and the ideal way to do it is to tax churches. More money needs to go toward education than anything else. There’s no reason why climate crisis and non-petroleum fuel solutions can’t be part of our daily routine, and there’s no reason why science should be stymied by how a monolithic group has chosen to interpret ancient narratives. Abortion is not an easy choice, but until every child in this country can be cared for and nurtured and loved, it is a necessary option. The insurance racket needs to be gutted and reconceptualized. Discrimination against people for stupid reasons needs to stop. People without money are just as important as people with money, and it’s time we found a way of making that stick. SUVs should be stripped of their engines and hooked up to horses, becoming the modern stagecoach. Birth control should be available to everyone, everywhere. People who use their phones in movies should be ticketed and made to take a class. The drug war should be refocused onto drugs that actually kill people. Blue Laws should be abolished nationwide, and there’s no reason why wine shouldn’t be sold in grocery stores. Post offices and banks should have to keep normal business hours, because what makes them so special, anyway? People who are assholes should be taxed for it (I admit, I’m starting to get a bit fanciful at this point, but we all know at least one person who is an asshole of such a degree that no one would object to them having to subsidize a few poor kids’ lunches or language training for someone looking to improve the nation’s image around the world). Spaying and neutering for pets should be free for all. Sex work should be completely legalized and taxed appropriately.

That’s vaguely where I stand on things. And nobody represents all of those things, except me. So I have to figure out what works for me with what’s around.

Trapezery, 11/07.

This was the first real cover story I ever got published that I still retain the rights to, so here it is. It's from last Thanksgiving, right when I'm Not There was popping up in theatres. This was originally done for Dish Magazine.


“And refashioning the fashioned, lest it stiffen into iron, is work of endless vital activity.” –Goethe

Memories are details, smells, flashes of color and instances of time, affixed to a wall. In isolation, these fragments can be lovely, or horrifying, echoes of joy or sadness. But in the accumulation of memory, in the course of living one’s life, with enough time having passed, this wall fills with those details. And when you step back and find that each of those isolated pieces of a life, taken together, tell a richer story than imagined, that’s one of the transcendent mysteries of the human experience. It’s the engine behind Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. It’s the metonymic expression of Seurat and the school of pointillism. And it’s why no other artist’s lyrics are like of those of Bob Dylan, and that remains so coming up on fifty years.

There is increased media attention on Bob Dylan at this point, in the fall of 2007, and it is thanks to a sprawling, strange film epic called I’m Not There. Directed and co-written by Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven), the film does not so much tell the story of Bob Dylan, but tells several stories of “Bob Dylan,” presenting us with six different selves, each of which embody a different phase or facet of Dylan’s storied career as writer, musician, actor, and persona. It’s as experimental as the genre of biopic gets, and it’s a remarkable achievement. Because of it, there is more ink spilled than usual about Dylan, but the truth of the matter is that he is always around, part of national and global discourse. His is a singular mind, and even today’s media affords him some deal of respect.

“That quote that comes toward the end of the film: “It’s like yesterday, today, and tomorrow all in the same room; there’s no telling what can happen.” That came out of this period where he (Dylan) was studying with a painter in the mid-70s- this was before he did Planet Waves and Blood on the Tracks. The painter, who didn’t know Dylan or, if he did, who didn’t care, treated all of his pupils with a harsh equality, and Dylan responded to that. The theory that the teacher was putting out there was that on a canvas, all of these separate realities can coexist, not only narratively and representationally, but standing back from the painting, one might find a different meaning to the piece than when examining it in pieces, and it inspired Dylan to take more liberty with temporal representation and meaning in his lyrics, and also to put together different stories in his songs.” –Todd Haynes, Director of I’m Not There, in a discussion at the 2007 New York Film Festival.

Dylan encompasses countless aspects of the American life. He has been Born-Again Christian and practicing Jew, he has been hermit, and Angry Young Man, and philosopher King, and Ozymandias. But unlike the latter, his dominion is written in words, and we have extant confirmation of these things, through record and print and film. We even have moments and concepts of the Dylan since gone by the wayside of contemporary media culture: whether through suppression (the post-Don’t Look Back film Eat The Document) or mysterious disappearances (Dylan’s magnificent, Godardian four-plus hour opus Renaldo and Clara), or even works, like The Basement Tapes, that have gradually become available but are separate from that which is Official, we can access parts of the story that weren’t always part of the official record. And again, this is why Dylan fascinates.

Haynes’ film is a remarkable achievement- any one human being is too complex to be adequately expressed by what one character can encompass, so the multiple character approach feels right, in theory, for any complex portrait. That Dylan’s lives and ideas can weave all the disparate elements into something cohesive and evocative just makes the film feel even more satisfying. Everyone’s got an opinion of Bob Dylan- this film just uses that approach to making something immediate and visceral.

“What’s fascinating about Dylan is the way he skirted who he “really was” for things that he really wanted to be, and the wannabe kept changing faces, so he wanted to be Woody Guthrie, and he wanted to be not Jewish, and he wanted to be Arthur Rimbaud, and he wanted to be Billy the Kid, so I let him be all of those things. But a lot of the film, and the jokes of the film, are about trading one authenticity or fakery for another.” –Todd Haynes

“People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties. They are still being passed around.” -Bob Dylan, 1992

He resists such accolades as ‘voice of a generation,’ precisely because those kinds of epithets are limiting, and there is a spatial and temporal freedom to his songs that spill over such arbitrarily-drawn edges. Whose generation are we speaking of in such statements? To try and nail down a timespace of influence for Dylan’s work is to deny that it is an ongoing phenomenon. Tom Robbins was heading along the same lines when he said that “every day is judgment day.”

“I don't call myself a poet, because I don't like the word. I'm a trapeze artist.” -Bob Dylan

There’s a prankish sense of humor at work here; the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film of his own lives doesn’t feature his own recordings, but rather two discs’ worth of other artists taking their turn at Dylan’s work. But it serves as a testament to Dylan’s relevance and authorial voice that this in no way diminishes the value of the collection- if the film can only explore six different facets of this Bob Dylan, then its album spreads its nets further, allowing thirty-three different voices to add their tones to the picture. The sources may be secondary, but they nevertheless allow us new facets to explore.

“The theory of freedom is very much tied into the idea of identity that the film posits Dylan’s life as an argument for- I think his life, and his work, and the pressures that he lived under, kept forcing that identity into question, and I think the ultimate freedom is to be able to reinvent yourself.”
–Todd Haynes

The philosophy of reinvention has served artists well – just ask David Bowie and Madonna, who have mastered the art of making personal evolution into a facet of marketing. This is not meant to diminish either of their achievements, far from it; but they have made that reinvention into something that is shared with the public on a global scale, and Dylan, while no less adept a chameleon and shifter of shapes, has kept his hand close to his chest. It’s in the music that we find where he’s been and where he’s going, and there is something personal and democratizing about that fact.

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” -Bob Dylan

“The unique weirdness of Dylan at that time has gotten to be so normal, so canonized, we know those images so well- but he was bizarre. When he would play piano in concert, and you see this in Scorsese’s film, where his hand flies up between every line, and he would jump around the stage like a speed-y marionette, and the way he spoke, his gestures, everything about him from that time, is not evident in Don’t Look Back from a year earlier and would never return again after his motorcycle crash at the end of ’66. It was such a complete immersion in this moment… And that’s something you always want to try as a director, you want to re-excite the shock of Chopin in his moment, the craziness of famous people in their famous moments.” –Todd Haynes

So with I’m Not There unspooling in theatres throughout the country this Thanksgiving weekend, with articles written and exhibits opened in galleries and music played and songs sung in honor of the man, the artist, the enigma, it seems a little easier to catch a breath of relief. As besieged as the American soul has been over the past decade, it seems just a little bit more manageable knowing that we still have Dylan around, vital and vibrant and making music, holding out hope while cutting to the bone.

“I still see the people who were with me from the beginning once in a while, and they know what I'm doing.” Bob Dylan, 1965.