30 November 2008

Absolutely unbelievable.

This is simultaneously absurd and terrifying, and I can't for the life of me imagine the circumstances behind it. It makes me think about how I drive, to be sure, but you can damned well bet it makes me worried for the people of Nashville, both in terms of its bad drivers and its aggressive evangelicals.

At the movies: Transporter 3.

The Short Version: Could've used one less dialogue scene and one more car chase.

The Longer Version: Yes, thank Gawd, he takes his shirt off. Thrice. Once, it's even against his own druthers. Now I support consent in all naughty activities, but Jason Statham should just about always be shirtless, unless it's really cold out.

To snag some terminology from the great Joe Bob Briggs (one of the two biggest influences on my own critical self), there's far too much plot getting in the way of the story. And the higher-ups seem to have gotten freaked out by Louis Leterrier's whole deal about Frank Martin being the first big gay action hero, because he gives up the groceries to a pixie-ish red-headed Ukranian chick who looks eerily reminiscent of Fifth Element-era Milla Jovovich (which, considering this was co-written, produced, and released (through his EuropaCorp films) by Luc Besson, makes sense) because she says he's boring and takes ecstasy in his car.

But there's a great scene with a German associate of Frank's, and some excellent fleshy kung fu (including one fight where Statham has to shed his clothing and use it as weapons). Action films are the new dominant genre for Europudding productions (it's a delight seeing Paul Verhoeven alum Jeroen Krabbe as aforementioned Ukranian chick's minister father), and it's nice to blend cultures and languages for a while.

So Transporter 3 is enjoyable enough for a Thanksgiving matinee and for connoisseurs of flesh. The law of diminishing returns applies here, though.

12. AVT.

Nothing says ballin' like a snifter.

During my most recent sojourn up in the northeast, I found myself and some friends driven by the rain into the little bar in the Cloisters, up in the north ass-end of Manhattan Island. Feeling cavalier and with more cash than I should have been carrying or spending, I decided to start trying new drinks.

The winner of the evening was something called the Hudson Royale. I love it in a way I can't completely articulate, but I feel that the very least I can do is to share it with you, beloved reader. What follows is the recipe, as best I can depict it.

First up, you need a sugar cube. Not a brown sugar cube, and not a sugar cube that's been coated with any illicit substances (because that is not the kind of game you want to play if you're going to be drinking like this).

Congratulations. You've completed step one.

Next, you need to pick a glass. Technically, you should use a champagne flute, but the drink police have other shit to worry about. Personally, I go for the snifter nine times out of ten, because nothing says ballin' like a snifter.

Once you have your chosen glass, put the sugar cube in it.

A word of warning: be careful with the Angostura Bitters, because this stuff does not play; it is the real-real.

Very carefully, drop two (or, if you have a particularly wild hair up your ass to get all crazy) or three drops of the bitters into the glass and on to the sugar cube. This is important, so make sure you have the dexterity for such a project.

Next comes the colorful part. Get your pomegranate liqueur (it doesn't have to be Pama, that's just what I have for visual reference) and get ready for some madness, y'all.

So you pour your pomegranate liqueur of choice into the glass, letting it reach a level where it covers the sugar cube completely, then adding just a little bit more to make sure that we have completely enveloped the cube.

And then, of course, you need the finisher, the thing what holds the drink together.

It doesn't have to be Veuve-Cliquot (if only we lived in such a world); any champagne, chilled, will do. Just fill the glass the rest of the way up, then let it fizz for a minute or so, then drink and enjoy.

So, to reiterate: you need a sugar cube, a drinking vessel, some pomegranate liqueur, angostura bitters, and some chilled champagne. Congratulations, you've mastered the Hudson Royale.

29 November 2008

Putting a ring on history.

So everyone and their brother is making videos of their performance of the choreography to Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)." It's a catchy song and a good performance, but when someone busts out the Bob Fosse moves and the word doesn't spread, then I feel the need to step in.

This is the original footage of Gwen Verdon's dance to "Mexican Breakfast," synched to the Beyonce track. Dig on it.

Because of Beyonce's success with this routine, I find myself having a dream that Bob Fosse choreography will make a big comeback in unexpected places. Let's dream, then, shall we?

25 November 2008

11. Blue mood.

At the movies: Australia.

Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) must leave England to tend to her family's Australian cattle ranch. There, she encounters the half-caste mystical child Nullah, culture clash on several levels, and Hugh Jackman, done up right as The Drover- an independent businessman who handles business all over the Northern Australian frontier.

Sweeping plains, arid desert, cute animals, collective racial guilt, financial shenanigans, and the timeless power of "Over The Rainbow." Nobody blends disparate cultural touchstones together quite like Baz (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge) Luhrmann, and Australia is a glorious mess of an acheivement.

Hugh Jackman gets to be Clint Eastwood (eye-lit man of mystery in bar fight), John Wayne (driving cattle across the plains), Cary Grant (when cleaned up for a society ball), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (rescuing children) all in the same movie. Nicole Kidman gets to be all prim and stuffy, then beat a bad guy with a riding crop, herd cattle in the most dangerous part of the Aussie desert, preside over a fancy dance (where she gets to rock a cheongsam like Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love), breathe life into desolate nothingness, sing a little, and give up the goods in a rainstorm.

In the seven years since Moulin Rouge, director/cowriter Baz Luhrmann has remained an enthusiast of mash-up culture and timeless romanticism, and this film could have easily been released in the fifties, such is its sense of Cinemascope epic-ness. For anyone, then, who says they don't make them like they used to. You could almost call it South Pacific with kangaroos.

I spent the first ten minutes thinking I was in hell, then gradually warmed to its blend of frontier adventure, aboriginal magic, and romantic skirmishes. And by its final half hour, I was bawling my face off like a puppy had died right in front of me. If Australia, the film, is about thirty-five minutes too long for its own good, it still delivers everything one could want from an old-fashioned romantic epic. If Pearl Harbor hadn't been made by a sociopath, it might have had some of the emotional impact that this film wrings from its collision with WWII. As it stands, there's nothing else quite like this out there.

I am a hypocrite.

Because when I first heard about the mysterious 'elbowed squid' here, I was caught up in the staggering possibilities of the animal kingdom, and all the weirdness that has managed to survive in spite of all the foolishness we've unleashed upon the world.

I mean, look at it.

That's really something. I mean, you could give brilliant people millions of dollars and the most state-of-the-art computer imaging programs and still not get something as weird and majestic as that.

But that still doesn't stop me from eating squid. I love it; it's delicious.

So I'm a hypocrite.

But isn't that elbowed squid something?

Forgotten dance classics: Time Bandits - "Endless Road (And I Want You to know, my Love)."

19 November 2008

At the movies: Twilight.

Working from the first book in author Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Quartet, director Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, The Nativity Story) has crafted a moody and atmospheric tale of womanhood and burgeoning desire. Teenage Bella (Kristen Stewart, from Panic Room and The Safety of Objects), uprooted from Phoenix and spending the year with her father in the perpetually overcast Forks, Washington, finds herself drawn to the mysterious Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, current subject of teenage girl riots throughout the country). Drawing on the universal themes of awakening desire, familial upheaval, and collective racial guilt, Meyer and Hardwicke present a new variation on the time-told legend of the blooddrinker. These vampires don’t avoid the sun because it brings death to them, but rather because it makes them glitter like Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie; naturally, they’ve settled in the Pacific Northwest. As always, Hardwicke knows how to get mood exactly right, as always, her grasp on the story is a little bit tenuous. It’s still refreshing, though, to see a film that understands that a heartfelt statement of commitment during a slow dance at the Prom is just as (if not more) important than a climactic showdown with lots of special effects. Major points for a left-of-field use of Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole,” the return of Sarah (24’s Nina Meyers) Clarke, and for Billy Burke’s turn as Bella’s father, who shows that all the puncture wounds and nonconsensual blood donations in the world aren’t nearly as painful as a cruel turn of phrase from the past.

At the movies: Synecdoche, NY (The Long Take)

Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) makes his directorial debut with the story of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a theatre director in the midst of personal crisis. After a head trauma starts short-circuiting his nervous system and his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) leaves him, he finds himself confronting both his own mortality and his lack of purpose. So when he is awarded a MacArthur Grant, he aims to create a mammoth work of ‘true’ art, turning a cavernous warehouse space into a miniature version of New York City, where hundreds of personal dramas can unfold in real time and space.

After a mixed-to-disastrous premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Kaufman did some pruning and rearranging with the film, debuting this final version to an even more divided response. Kaufman’s material has always made room for playfulness and diving down tangential rabbit-holes, but with this film it feels like an exorcism. Starting out as a horror script written for Spike Jonze to direct, what emerges is an unblinking and emotionally moving stare into the life of an artist crippled by doubt. Something broken cannot be fixed to be like it was- it is something different, something made new out of that brokenness. And as Caden’s play begins to attain a life of its own, who can say which is truly life? And more importantly, who’s living it?

Synecdoche, NY, is an exhausting and transcendent experience. It’s certainly as demanding as moviegoing gets these days, but it comes with an emotional payoff on the level of, say, the Lord of the Rings films or 2001. There’s something about how the process of the film mimics the path of human life that had to be part of Kaufman’s ongoing attempts to get this story told visually, and yet it always feels like it’s an ongoing happy accident. Both in grandeur and emotional power, this is 2008’s There Will Be Blood.

At the movies: Dear Zachary.

When filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s lifelong friend Andrew Bagby was horrifyingly murdered, he decided to try and assemble and curate a memorial to the man’s life; traveling all over the country, visiting past friends, relatives, lovers, and associates in order to try and find a way to preserve the memory of someone taken too soon. But then, in the midst of this, Bagby’s murderer, Dr. Shirley Turner, fled to Canada and announced she was pregnant with his child. So what began as a simple collection of reminisces became something to give the child a record of who his father was, what would become a chronicle of flight, cruelty, tragedy, and hope. This is as personal as documentary filmmaking can get.

This film is riding on some of the highest praise lavished on a documentary in years, with audiences throughout the world being overwhelmed by the time spent in its emotional whirlwind. Nonfiction films made about tragic miscarriages of justice are sadly commonplace in our world, but to be able to witness an ongoing trainwreck of governmental negligence as it happens is an opportunity that we don’t too often see. The process that David and Kate Bagby (Andrew’s parents) go through in order to claim custody of their grandson Zachary and to put Shirley Turner away for their son’s murder is exhausting and horrifying, and the strongest-willed of audiences have been taken down a peg by its detailed and mounting power.

Though not what you’d call a date movie, Dear Zachary is a must for anyone intrigued about the evolution of documentary films where the filmmaker is part of the action being witnessed. Law students, judicial reformers, and concerned parents could all find facets of Dear Zachary that allow them to expand their won experiences, and anyone suffering from overwhelming personal tragedy might, with this film, find some catharsis for the tragedies that linger in their own lives. It’s not an easy film to watch, and it’s a difficult one to recommend for the casual moviegoer. But it is near-impossible to forget the Bagby family, and this film has a raw power unequalled by anything else like it this year.

At the movies: Role Models.

Director/co-writer David Wain, responsible for Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten, and a founding member of sketch comedy godhead The State, has exactly the right approach for the material. The story outline of the film sounds like something we as the audience feel that we’ve already seen at some point, so he and the cast make a point of changing things up; going for character-based comedy rather than pratfalls and visual puns.

Paul Rudd has been the go-to guy for supporting greatness in comedies for several years now, and he steps up to the lead with a hard-won sense of timing. He could have vaulted up into superstardom after 1995’s Clueless, where he actually served as a funny romantic lead, but instead worked his way up through riff-y supporting roles over the intervening years in Wain’s previous two films and much of comedy multihyphenate Judd Apatow’s recent work. So he brings to the film an absolute absence of vanity and a willingness to shun traditional likability, and it pays up immensely. It’s rare that we get this kind of emotional complexity in a comic lead. Seann William Scott’s Wheeler could have easily been Stifler Part II, but instead we’re given a libidinous partyboy who has achieved an almost Zenlike state of being. All that jock/fratboy energy that poisoned his American Pie character here becomes liberatingly sleazy, and he rebounds from Southland Tales into something a bit different for him. I would never have said that KISS embodied a philosophy before, but now, after viewing this film, I’m not sure I can be so certain.

The two kids that Danny and Wheeler find themselves mentoring get huge laughs just through course of action. Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse a/k/a McLovin from Superbad) is a Live Action Role-Playing enthusiast who rejects much of the awkwardness in which he finds himself, and Ronnie (Bobb’e Johnson, finding new ground to explore in the ‘foul-mouthed child’ archetype) has abandonment issues and delights in burning through assigned mentors. The always-great Jane Lynch pops up periodically as the chief administrator of Sturdy Wings program, and most of the time she’s brilliant, though occasionally she’ll hammer away at a line for longer than necessary. Who would have thought that 2008 was going to be the year that Elizabeth Banks became gloriously inescapable? With this, she gives her third great performance of the year (complementing both Zack and Miri Make a Porno and her well-drawn Laura Bush in W.), taking a small character and making it feel like more.

Role Models is an exceptionally satisfying comedy, but one that does so in unexpected ways. Brazenly filthy but also disarmingly sweet, we have here the first date movie/dude movie hybrid of the season.

At the movies: Happy-Go-Lucky.

Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a primary school teacher in South London possessed of a truly sunny disposition. A firm believer in looking on the bright side of life, this woman is, and she’s found a good network of friends that help her get along just fine. Her bike recently stolen, she decides to take driving lessons, and her instructor is a paranoid and racist conspiracy theorist (Eddie Marsan) who nevertheless seems to be looking for some kind of positivity in his life. So we have dueling ideologies in one corner, but Happy-Go-Lucky is really the kind of breath of fresh air that anyone tired of miserabilism or just looking for something frothy and fun should check out.

Mike Leigh, the man who specializes in journeys into the dark places of the human heart, has made a feel-good comedy? Absolutely. Without altering his methodology (extensive preparation and rehearsals, improvising the script over several weeks with the cast, evolving a complete universe for the characters), he’s decided to spend some time looking on the bright side of life. With Poppy and her friends, the film not only has a believable and interesting collective of characters, but an astonishing ensemble of meaty roles for women. Sex and the City be damned, here’s a group of women that actually seem fun to be around.

Director Mike Leigh has always had a gift for getting great performances, but Sally Hawkins’ Poppy is practically luminescent. It’s the kind of performance that wins awards and gets people’s attention, and thanks to her anchor, the film is as refreshing and nurturing as a homemade sandwich or a puppy that knows instinctively not to pee on the floor. Leigh has trod a vaguely similar path before, with 1999’s Gilbert and Sullivan history Topsy-Turvy, but here he’s in completely new territory, and the end result is winning acclaim all over the world, as well as a new accolade: accessible. With an effect undiminished by multiple viewings, Happy-Go-Lucky will fix whatever’s wrong for you for a little while, leaving you happy, hopeful, and regretting nothing.

At the movies: Quantum of Solace.

The latest James Bond film has three aces up its sleeve: Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, and Daniel Craig. That’s not to diminish the achievements of the director (Marc Forster, an inspired choice considering his body of work) or any other contributing artists, but it’s those three that make Quantum of Solace into such a satisfying experience. Dench, as MI6 head honcho M, continues to bring class and diamond-like resolve to everything she touches (let’s not forget, she even made The Chronicles of Riddick into something unique). Wright, continuing a moral throughline from his turn as Colin Powell in Oliver Stone’s fascinating W., pops up as America’s moral compass and steals all of his scenes. And Daniel Craig, as the blond, blunt force weapon of choice for a world in crisis, is an unrelenting badass with a heart as cold as his steely blue eyes. Though I had hoped for a bit more of Forster’s more artsier flourishes (see his tragically underseen Stay for an example of what I was hoping for), the only irredeemable aspect of the new Bond film is its utterly dire theme song, for which both Jack White and Alicia Keys should be ashamed. There’s so much intrigue and melancholy regret at play here, one can almost shirk off the burdens of enduring a blockbuster action film (and the entire first forty-five minutes is almost all action setpieces). Fatalism and fireballs, in equal amounts; though I would recommend rewatching (or at least familiarizing yourself with) Casino Royale beforehand.

At the movies: Let The Right One In.

Oskar is a young boy dealing with his parents’ separate lives and with an escalating problem with bullies at school. He doesn’t have too many friends, that is, until he meets Eli, who is everything Oskar could have wanted in a potential girlfriend. She’s smart, self-sufficient, and a vampire. And nothing helps nurture one’s first crush like an escalating body count…

Riding a rapturous wave of response from genre enthusiasts, gorehounds, hopeless romantics, foreign film junkies, and lovers of fairy tales, Let The Right One In is the real deal. It’s a perfectly-balanced thriller, equal parts sweet and merciless, as well as the kind of dark tale that, while dealing with a child’s milieu, understands and uses the tropes that can’t help but make adult audiences shiver as well. There also hasn’t been an iceskating scene this unnerving since The Dead Zone.

If Twilight is the sensitive middle sister and HBO’s True Blood is the wild bisexual oldest sibling who just moved out of the house, then Let The Right One In is the youngest child in the theoretical family of contemporary pop culture vampirism. All share elements that draw on our desires to truly know the dark, but this adopted Swedish child has gazed deeper into the heart of what lies beyond the pale, and it wins as both an object of beauty and an instrument of cruelty.

At the movies: Ashes of Time redux.

In this moody reconstruction of his 1994 wu xia (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Curse of the Golden Flower) epic, Wong Kar-Wai (In The Mood for Love, Chungking Express) brings us a series of interconnected tales of men and women, wounded by love and betrayal, enduring recursive patterns in their lives, waiting for another chance at happiness to find them.

After the mixed response to his 2007 English-language debut My Blueberry Nights, rightfully acclaimed director Wong Kar-Wai decided to undertake a restoration of this film, but when they tried to begin the process, they found the original negatives in horrible shape, and a more radical course of action was deemed necessary. So Wong re-edited the film, adjusting the colors and eliding some moments. The digital recoloration of Christopher Doyle’s remarkable cinematography and slight tweaks and edits here and there don’t diminish any of the film’s grandeur, though they do allow it to take its thematic place amongst Wong’s more recent work (especially 2046). And because of it, the mere sight of a wicker birdcage will fill you with an immense and timeless sadness

It’s mind-boggling to audiences today to look at the cast Wong has at his disposal here. The late Leslie Cheung, both Tony Leungs (Chiu-Wai and Ka-Fai), Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, and even Sammo Hung handling the abstract and unusual action choreography... So much has happened since then, both globally and in the lives of those icons of Hong Kong cinema; that wu xia itself is now an exportable film genre couldn’t possibly have been predicted. But it is a testament to all involved that Ashes of Time has endured as a modern classic. As dizzyingly romantic a night at the movies as one could hope for.

06 November 2008

Something for all to keep in mind.

Do not think all is sunshine and roses. I am truthfully happy regarding Barack Obama's victory, but let's not have too much back-patting and 'haven't we come so far' discourse.

So I read these...

Now that I'm back from the NYC and re-enmeshed in the workday, I've been reading more, and I've finished quite a few in the past couple of weeks.

Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
Pretty good, though since it's occuring in well laid-out time periods in the Dune-iverse, there aren't any big surprises. Still, I love spending time with the characters and the seventeen or so millenia in which the Dune-iverse unfolds.

The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America by Lawrence J. Epstein.
Interesting history of both the Jewish-American experience and the evolution of humor and stand-up comedy. A little dry for my taste, but still a brisk and fascinating read.

Silent Bob Speaks by Kevin Smith.
A collection of previously published pieces. Smith is a fun conversationalist and writer, but this collection feels like a cash-in. No offense to Smith, but his bloggery is more immediate and enveloping.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.
A delightful little read, full of whimsy and deadpan humor. Sort of an Afro-Caribbean Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Light in tone, and, as always with Gaiman, witty and imaginative.

At the movies: Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

In a way, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the perfect synthesis of what defines the cinema of writer/director Kevin Smith. Coarse and liberatingly filthy, it also wears its deeply-felt emotions emblazoned on its proverbial sleeve, and the two modes of thought actually combine rather nicely. It’s been a source of amusement to see the minor controversies that have risen up (from the film’s initial poster and now, its title) around the film, because it’s an American film with a truly liberated and responsible sensibility about sex, recognizing that the act of love is complex and can be recreational, nasty, liberating, profitable, or life-changing in its impact, and sometimes mixing those elements around beyond easy definition.

So why exactly do Zack and Miri make a porno? Mostly a combination of financial crisis and long-term comfortability. Bills have to get paid, and options are few and far between. So they take inspiration from what the world has given them (and an encounter with adult film star Brandon St. Randy, played here by comic treasure Justin Long) and decide to put themselves out there for the world to see. One can see many of the emotions that motivated Smith in the making of his first film, 1994’s Clerks, on display here in the ragtag “let’s put on a show” enthusiasm he gets from the cast (with special accolades due Craig Robinson, from Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, who steals every scene in the movie), and you also are allowed to see cult icon Traci Lords make peace with her past in the adult film industry. The balance between sleazy and sweet is maintained here much better than in any of Smith’s films since his 1997 masterpiece Chasing Amy, and it boggles the mind to think that a film this sweet and heartwarming can also feature one of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen in a mainstream comedy. I’m talking Salo filthy. I’m talking Jackass filthy. I’m talking Sweet Movie filthy.

The first ten minutes are a bit rough, and there are some emotional shifts that seem a bit abrupt in the latter third, but for the most part, Zack and Miri is a delight. There are countless scenes which on their own could have made the movie worth seeing (the Brandon Routh/Justin Long sequences, a surprise use of Bronski Beat, a discussion of Lost, unscrupulous realtor Tom Savini, the Jermaine Stewart-scored closing credits, boating equipment from the Netherlands, and a few others), but in conjunction with one another, you have the most satisfying film Smith has made this decade. *** ½

At the movies: Poultrygeist.

When it says Troma, you know what you’re getting: gore, breasts, monsters, mutants, a representation of national diversity that makes Hollywood product look insular and unadventurous, and at least one (but often more) moment where the only response you can have is to say “well, I’ve never seen that before.” The typical Troma film, if you can even define such a thing, is like a madcap collusion between Frank Tashlin and the Marquis de Sade that works on whichever level you want it to. No setpiece too gross, not pun too outrageous, and no patience for subtlety; but still the Troma brand remains absolutely true to itself, and its take-no-prisoners style of social splat-ire doubtless will offend a significant portion of the population.

What else could we expect from a film positively enraged by the course of human life at this point in the aughts, explicitly attacking the legacy of Native American disenfranchisement, the way that food has become a corporatized industry, the Abu Gharaib photographs, and the way that entropy brings down countless social movements from the inside. Which is a remarkable agenda for a film about chicken monsters and dismemberment. There is no bodily mutilation, desecration, or violation that one could conceive of that remains unexplored during the course of Poultrygeist, and its gleeful willingness to gore up the place a little bit is a welcome breath of fresh air when you look at the disturbing ideologies splatter fans are made to implicitly support, through efforts like the Saw series or something like Quarantine, just to get a little grue.

The former frustrates because of its cruel and faux-moralistic undertones (perfectly served up for the Dr. Phil/Sarah Palin side of America), the later disgusts because of its dumbing-down and eviscerating of a quality foreign film/classic that didn’t need to be remade in the first place. And that’s where most modern horror is stuck. So even if Poultrygeist’s tone never strays far from slapstick farce rather than exploring more serious responses to horror, it still slings righteous social anger like the finest of documentary offerings and splatters the walls in ways that make this year’s Inside and Mother of Tears look restrained and dainty. Director/cowriter Lloyd Kaufman once again manages to find the gorgeous within the gruesome, and there’s no other splatter musical willing to talk about issues and sever limbs with such wit. ***

At the movies: Changeling.

For years, the quintessential Angelina Jolie performance was in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow; an interesting but somewhat inert film that exploded into Technicolor life anytime her one-eyed military advisor popped up to unleash an amphibious squadron. With the exception of the tragically underseen A Mighty Heart, she’s been toiling away in character roles with nuclear star wattage ever since her Oscar. So now we get Angelina front-and-center in a hard-hitting melodrama about suffering and persistence, and she’s just marvelous. It’s just a pity that the surrounding film isn’t up to the standard she sets.

Changeling isn’t utterly reprehensible like Absolute Power or The Rookie, nor is it perfunctory like Blood Work. Certainly, in the Clint Eastwood oeuvre, it sits securely above those films. But it’s a mess that feels surprisingly impersonal and atypical, stymied by a script that either lapses all too often into the ridiculous or allows too much ridiculousness from historical record to remain. I have no doubt that there were actual shocking reversals, multiple court cases, mass axe murders, an operatic hanging, and a dramatic jailhouse confrontation. But what we see onscreen doesn’t feel like a movie based on a true story, but rather a true story that seems to be engineered out of the iconography and history of the movies.

The story of the vanished child Walter Collins is a dynamic frame on which to hang the story, but there’s so much else stuffed into the film that it tears itself asunder. Better would have been to focus on the scenes between Jolie’s Christine Collins and the false child foisted upon her by the police. It’s in these three scenes that Changeling achieves the greatness it oh-so-briefly shows, and a leaner, more focused film might have been an emotional juggernaut. But because Eastwood and writer J. Michael Straczynski want to expand the story into a comprehensive portrait of 20s Los Angeles, the focus shifts and falters, and by the time the forcible commitment and quasi-pedophilic ax murders start coming, it’s just simply too late. Fortunately, Eastwood has another film coming later this year, and I’m still more than willing to see anything he puts out. But this isn’t nearly what it could have been. ** ½

04 November 2008

A sign of the upcoming newer, awesome America.


This is encouraging, and much cooler than Busta Rhymes and Martha Stewart hanging out.

03 November 2008

And now, a glorious pop music break before the madness.

Election Day here in the U.S. I'm ready to be past it, and I'm cautiously optimistic. Eight years of subterfuge and shenanigans will do that to you.

Regardless, here's my current fave-rave pop song. Written by the Pet Shop Boys and produced by Xenomania. Simply magic.