Sex and the City

Sex and the City

 

Yep, I saw it. I work for the movie company that produced it, so I got to go for free. The standard line with Michael Patrick King’s now decade-old Sex and the City franchise is that it has always appealed mostly to gay men and the women that love them. Even though this Dork Reporter is more or less a whitebread straight dude (while I like naked lady bottoms and affirm Sean Connery is the best James Bond, automobiles and professional sports don’t move me), I don’t mean that as a disclaimer. While I’d never seen more than portions of the original television show, and I’d not voluntarily pay see the movie in the theater or rent the DVD, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve seen it.

Sex and the CityAfter shopping, let’s go shopping

I had recently seen an advance screening of a yet-to-be released film (that will have to remain nameless here) that had more than a little in common with the plot and characters of Sex and the City. Let me just say that in comparison, Sex and the City is a masterpiece, and at least, watchable by straight men. The male characters in the film are endowed with more characterization and complexity than I would have expected. When Mr. Big (Chris Noth) does something “bad,” it’s because he’s confused and conflicted, not because he’s a douchebag (which is the explanation of any and all bad behavior by male characters in the aforementioned movie-that-cannot-be-named-for-professional-reasons).

Sex and the CityHey there, Mr. Big Stuff

To get into the nitty gritty of the plot, there was one aspect that I just couldn’t wrap my head around: Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) makes an understandably bitter comment about marriage in general to Mr. Big that becomes one of many influences upon his spontaneous decision to leave Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) at the altar. Miranda neglects to tell Carrie about her comment, and the event and its cover-up is weighted by the film as A) the worst thing one friend can do to another and B) the single reason why Mr. Big stood Carrie up. When Miranda eventually comes clean, Carrie reacts as if she sees Mr. Big and his actions in a wholly new light, and the reconciliation begins. I just don’t get it; it seems to me, based on the fictional characters’ actions and motivations in the world of the film, that Miranda’s minor indiscretion is exactly that, and the true problem is in fact Mr. Big’s ambivalence about Carrie’s desire for a disgustingly overblown princess wedding. But I suppose the answer to my confusion may simply be that I don’t get it because I’m a dude.

And finally, a Dork Report Public Service Announcement for any other bloggers searching the interwebs for movie stills with which to illustrate their reviews of Sex and the City: depending on your inclinations, exercise caution when Googling “Mr. Big.”


Official movie site: www.sexandthecitymovie.com

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is ultimately a little disappointing, especially if one reflects too much on its plot and basic plausibility, but it has plenty to commend it. It is also far from the worst entry in the franchise (that would be Temple of Doom – blech! stay tuned for The Dork Report’s forthcoming teardown of that stinky turd), which admittedly isn’t saying much.

The basic concept (reportedly conceived by producer George Lucas and viewed askance at by director Steven Spielberg and star Harrison Ford) is sound. The original trilogy was set in the 1930s, and as such the first and third films mostly concerned Indy battling the Ratzis. So, whom better for an older Indiana Jones to face off against in the 1950s than Commies and UFOs? In all seriousness, sounds like fun to me! Unfortunately, the end result is muddled with bits of business about El Dorado, and saddled with a disappointingly conservative tsk-tsk disapproval of the rascally Indy’s wayward ways with women. But perhaps the focus on marriage and the restoration of a broken nuclear family was also a conscious allusion to the conformist 1950s?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullVee haff vays of making you talk

Cate Blanchett is far and away the best thing in it, but then again, she usually is. Impossibly sexy in a severe bob haircut and outrageous accent (the subject of Indy’s best gag: “Well, judging by the way you’re swallowing your wubbleyous, I’m guessing Russian”), Blanchett can take a line as boring as “Take the thing and put it in the car” (I’m paraphrasing) and steal the scene with it. However, this Dork Reporter is puzzled by the ubiquity of sudden A-lister Shia LeBeouf. He is not especially handsome, funny, charismatic, or even a skilled action performer. But Stephen Spielberg seems to have a man-crush on him, so here he is. Let’s hope saner heads prevail and don’t make him the star of future sequels. There can only be one Young Indiana Jones; River Phoenix, we miss you. It’s a treat to have Karen Allen back at last. Unfortunately, there’s no John Rhys-Davies or Sean Connery to be had, but in a pinch, Ray Winstone will do fine.

Of course modern action movies get compared to video games all the time (often derisively, mostly deservingly), but The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is one of the most overt offenders I’ve seen yet. Sequences like the one in which the gang must solve puzzles like racing down a spiral staircase as the steps retract and the ground falls away will no doubt translate more or less intact into the film’s official game.

The biggest classic Indy theme missing from Skull is that of religion. In the first film, Indy tracked down the honest-to-Moses Ark of the Convenant. The MacGuffin of the second film was a set of Hindu (well, a derogatorily fictionalized version thereof) sacred stones. The third installment went back to the franchise’s Judeo-Christian roots and had Indy pursue none other than The Holy Grail. Indy sometimes dismisses religious traditions as myth, but usually doesn’t have any trouble accepting that the 10 Commandment tablets and the Grail are anything less than actual objects. There are no mere metaphors for Indiana Jones!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullYou never introduced me to your father!

In keeping with the religious overtones, all three parts of the original trilogy end in psychedelic freakouts: witness an empty Ark explode Nazi heads, sacred stones magically relieve a village’s famine, and a Grail cause an earthquake. So as much as I may have hated Skull’s mystifying, CG-drenched in which a bunch of alien corpses become one living being that does something glowy to Irina Spalko and launches his spaceship off into another dimension (all of which is like an unholy love child of the X-Files feature film Fight the Future and Spielberg’s own A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), it is actually in keeping with the endings of the original three films (even the “good one,” of course, Raiders). If you don’t believe me, go back and watch them again.

Must read: Rod Hilton’s hilarious, cutting The Abridged Script.


Official movie site: www.indianajones.com

Laura Veirs, Bowery Ballroom, New York

 

This Dork Reporter has been a big fan of the bespectacled, water-obsessed Laura Veirs ever since first discovering her infectious song “Galaxies” on the late MP3 blog Salon Audiofile in 2005. Why it was not a huge hit, featured in iPod or car commercials and embedded in the denouements of The O.C. or Gray’s Anatomy, I’ll never understand. Still, she’s evidently doing well for herself, for I’ve now seen her live three times in New York City, and each time she’s graduated to a larger venue.

Laura Veirs

This is the first time I’ve seen her perform solo, without her band The Saltbreakers (whom she lovingly refers to as The Bearded Men). Like seemingly every other singer/songwriter these days, she employs live looping technology (popularized by Joseph Arthur and ripped off by K.T. Tunstall) to become a one-woman band, accompanying herself with looped beats and bass lines all generated on a single acoustic guitar. The mood was great and she was well-received, and she later ranked New York City as the best audience of the tour.

Laura Veirs

Official site: www.lauraveirs.com

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Youth Without Youth

Youth Without Youth

 

Youth Without Youth had a shockingly poor reception for the first film in years from a major American filmmaker, garnering a middling 43 on Metacritic and a painful 29 from RottenTomatoes. In January 2008, this Dork Reporter found himself in a room with a bunch of journalists from genre publications like Fangoria and ComingSoon.net (Weird, right? It was a work thing. Anyway…). Several of them had recently reviewed Youth Without Youth, and the buzz was extremely negative. Now having finally seen it myself, it is this Dork Reporter’s opinion it received an unfair bad rap.

Youth Without YouthRecline thy weary head betwixt my thighs, old man

Why would the likes of Fangoria be interested in a prestige period piece? Needless to say, Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most famous living filmmakers. Many young movie lovers first discover an appreciation for film through the canonical The Godfather Parts I & II and Apocalypse Now (and hopefully later graduate to the subtler pleasures of The Conversation). Alas, he went tragically awry with the expensive folly One From the Heart in 1982, and spent decades digging out of the financial hole. People have been waiting for years for him to return to form after many years of work-for-hire (The Rainmaker) and misjudged sequels to past glories (The Godfather Part III). But the main reason for sci-fi & horror fans’ interest in Youth Without Youth is that it is in fact Coppola’s first science fiction. It is, however, more in the contemplative mode of The Man Who Fell to Earth than Fangoria’s usual beat.

Youth Without YouthOh, Francis, you know you’re going to catch flak for that beret…

The freeform plot meanders to say the least, which clearly isn’t the point, but will frustrate viewers anticipating a more lucid science fiction conceit. The academic Dominic (Tim Roth) undertakes a project literally too big to finish in a lifetime: a complete history and analysis of linguistics. In a true example of careful-what-you-wish-for, the aged and suicidal intellectual is struck by lightning and mysteriously restored to his youth (Roth is at his best in these scenes, where he carries his younger body with the gait and posture of an old man). As he strives to complete his massive folly (could Coppola identify?), he is aided by a sympathetic Professor Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz), evades the Nazis, and is haunted by an incarnation of his youthful love Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara). Youth Without Youth is definitely an old man’s film (I mean that as a compliment, Francis), for the themes of rejuvenation, doubles, and transmutation/reincarnation echo throughout Dominic’s extended life.

Please see Jaimie Stuart’s excellent and succinct appreciation (at the bottom of page), suggesting that one possible reason for the film’s poor reviews was that the digital format transferred poorly to large screens but looks ravishing on DVD. It does.


Official movie site: www.sonyclassics.com/youthwithoutyouth

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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Walk Hard The Dewey Cox Story

 

This Dork Reporter finds most so-called biopics wanting. The two to three hour feature film format is more akin to an essay or short story than a book, and as such is ill-equipped to sum up the entire life of a human being in more than just a string of highlights. Yet studios and filmmakers keep churning out parades of Classics Illustrated-like films that seem to exist mostly to grant actors Oscars and Golden Globes based on their abilities to imitate historical figures. The best of them ought more deservedly to be recognized for their abilities to create new characters from whole cloth.

But I reserve a special degree of hate for musical biopics; I’m looking at you, Bird, Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, and El Cantante! They all seem to be forged from the same template: troubled genius beset by addiction, and the woman that loves him anyway. Comfortingly, the existence of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story proves I’m not alone in bemoaning this most pathetic genre. Walk Hard touches on each cliché in turn: physical infirmity (Cox is tragically “nose blind”), drugs, disapproving parent, dead sibling, etc.

John C. Reilly in Walk Hard The Dewey Cox Storypssst… your bouffant is cramping my style

At its best, director and co-writer (with Judd Apatow) Jake Kasdan’s Walk Hard is a history of popular music and narcotics from the 1950s on. The chameleonic Cox evolves with the times, beginning as a diamond-in-the-rough Ray Charles type, breaking through like a young Johnny Cash, becoming a pop superstar Elvis Presley, passing through a Bob Dylan folkie stage, and ending up as a Brian Wilson, an obsessive pop genius unable to complete his unachievable masterpiece (like Wilson’s own notorious Smile). The best running gag in the movie involves Cox’s succession of drug addictions (pot, cocaine, heroin, pills, and, well, everything…), which no doubt gave the MPAA a heart attack.

Lest I sound like I’m praising the film for being clever, here’s the bad news. The self-proclaimed “The Unbearably Long, Self-Indulgent Director’s Cut” DVD edition repeats the same jokes over and over. Its idea of hilarity is to repeat the name “Cox” as much as possible, which should give some hint as to the overall level of sophistication. Each character explicitly verbalizes and explicates the genre clichés and their own character types: the unsupportive starter wife, the doomed sibling, the venal music studio boss, and the disapproving father (whose refrain “The wrong kid died!” follows Cox through his life as both curse and motivation). Historical celebrity cameos are repeatedly signposted with their full names, lest anyone in the audience not catch on that the batch of four candy-colored lads from Liverpool noodling on sitars in an Indian ashram are, in fact, The Beatles. It is great fun, however, to see Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Rudd, and Jack White do their best Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and Elvis Presley, respectively.

John C. Reilly in Walk Hard The Dewey Cox StoryThe 70s were a decade of taste and restraint

One little quibble: as the characters age, the makeup jobs are actually too good, far better than, say the outrageously silly age makeup for Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. This unfortunately ruins the genuinely funny gag that John C. Reilly plays Cox as a teenager with no attempt to hide his age. Why not carry it through to the end, with Reilly looking exactly the same when Cox is supposed to be 70?

Does anybody remember when Reilly was a serious actor? I’m happy for him that he’s no doubt building a significant nest egg off his recent string of lowbrow comedies (Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, etc.), but I hope we will see more of the fine actor of Sydney (aka Hard Eight), Boogie Nights, and The Hours.


Official movie site: www.walkhard-movie.com

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26 Albums I’m Told I Should Remove From My Collection

100albums2.jpgThe author, with some of the offending articles

Chalkills, the XTC fansite, wants to help you sift through the detritus of your music collection, pronto: One Hundred Albums You Should Remove from Your Collection Immediately (spotted on DGMLive).

I own (or once owned) a whopping 26% of these overrated (so they say) canonical classics! Hey, Chalkhills, what did I ever do to you? I love XTC (Apple Venus and Wasp Star being two of my all-time favorite albums, hands-down), so my tastes can’t be all bad, can they? But having read your list, I find that for every one of your selections that brings steam out of my ears, there’s another with which I have to begrudgingly agree.

So here’s my annotated list, including, for fun, the format in which I purchased each offending title and whether or not I eventually discarded it:

U2 - The Joshua Tree
2. U2 – The Joshua Tree
20th Anniversary Edition boxed set
U2’s true masterpiece Achtung Baby was yet to come, but the complex depth of that record wouldn’t have been possible without the unironic earnestness of The Joshua Tree. And yes, maybe I’m a snob (not to mention old) for upgrading to the remastered anniversary edition, but just the other day I listened to the revived recording of “Mothers of the Disappeared” with my jaw literally hanging open and the proverbial chills running up and down my spine.


Nirvana - Nevermind
3. Nirvana – Nevermind
cassette (discarded)
It was a gift, I swear. While I intellectually understand what the mass-market breakthrough of Nirvana did for music (basically, sparking a fresh explosion of so-called “alternative” music comparable to punk’s effect on a stagnant world of disco and stadium rock in the early 1970s), I always preferred the rock ‘n’ roll songcraft of Pearl Jam to the loud ‘n’ sloppy depression of Nirvana.


The Beatles - Let It Be
5. The Beatles – Let It Be
cd, The “Naked” version
Any antipathy towards the Beatles seems a bit strange coming from an XTC fansite — surely Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are acolytes. Do I still have to discard Let It Be if I own the McCartney-approved “Naked” edition, as opposed to the original with Wall-of-Schmaltz orchestral overdubs by Phil Spector? Let it Be is not my favorite Beatles long-player (that would definitely be The White Album), and obviously one the lads tossed off at the tail end of their (actually quite brief) association. But how is that any different, really, from their early quickie LPs recorded in mere hours with the aid of amphetamines?


The Police - Synchronicity
7. The Police – Synchronicity
cassette (discarded)
I agree with Chalkhills’ assessment that Synchronicity is a surprisingly dark album for a mainstream platinum hit, but I believe that’s exactly what makes it special. What other band, at the peak of their commercial success, released such a paranoid, neurotic album? OK, maybe Radiohead’s Kid A.


Lou Reed - Transformer
8. Lou Reed – Transformer
vinyl
Agreed. “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Satellite of Love” are both masterpieces, but I couldn’t name a single other song from the album. Am I redeemed by owning the vinyl edition? It must be said that it earns extra Cool Points for being produced by David Bowie, but the back cover photograph of Lou with the boner in his tight jeans is just plain gross.


Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Complete Bitches Brew Sessions boxed set
Yes, I am that poseur that owns the Complete Sessions boxed set. I have to very, very strongly object to Chalkhills’ dismissal here (and I do I detect a strong anti-jazz bias?). Miles changed music forever when he plugged in to rock, fusion, and funk. Trying to pretend Bitches Brew never happened is as fruitless as still complaining about Bob Dylan going rock (or country, or Christian, etc…) or The Sex Pistols giving the world the finger. The difference is that it still sounds fresh and new.


Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti
12. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
vinyl
I love me some Zeppelin, but I have to agree that Physical Graffiti isn’t a keeper. It is, however, better than its follow-up Presence (but that’s not saying much).


Beck - Midnite Vultures
19. Beck – Midnite Vultures
cd (sold)
Agreed. I listened to it once, and then sold it as quickly as I could. Blech!


Derek and the Dominoes - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
21. Derek and the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
cd (sold)
I could not agree more: two brilliant songs in “Layla” and “Little Wing,” padded out with a forgettable batch of filler. Legend has it the substance-abusing Clapton literally does not recall recording the album.


The Who - Tommy
22. The Who – Tommy
vinyl (triple gatefold with lyric booklet)
I don’t disagree that Tommy is loaded down with a lot of silliness and filler, but hey, it’s a rock opera, and the first one at that. What do you expect?


U2 - Zooropa
26. U2 – Zooropa
cd
I firmly, absolutely disagree. Zooropa may be a product of its time (the cut ‘n’ paste postmodern media overloaded 1990s), but it includes some of U2’s all-time best songs, including the title track and Stay (Faraway So Close). The multilayered production by Flood and Brian Eno may make the songs “sound weird,” but it also rewards a lifetime of repeat listens.


The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
32. The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
cd
I regrettably agree. Give me Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots any day, but I just can’t get into this one.


Dave Brubeck - Time Out
34. Dave Brubeck – Time Out
cd
Blaspheme! Blaspheme! Again with the jazz hate! I was not aware anybody disliked this album. What’s wrong with you? If you had included Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on your list, I think I would have had an aneurism.


Wilco - Being There
39. Wilco – Being There
cd (sold)
Like the rest of the world, I loved Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, so I sought out some older Wilco albums. And I suspect like most of those people, I got rid of them.


The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta
42. The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
cd
Disagree! Zenyatta Mondatta is my favorite Police album. Granted, “De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da” is the epitome of pop silliness (except for maybe “Louie Louie” and R.E.M.’s “Stand”), but the rest of the album is full of classic reggae-inflected new wave pop.


Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking
44. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking
cd
As Perry Farrell himself once sang, “Stop!” Jane’s Addiction’s debut studio album Nothing’s Shocking is a fantastic batch of songs. Perry Farrell’s wild persona and Dave Navarro’s famously louche lifestyle got all the press, but my god, haven’t you listened to the rhythm section? Jane’s Addiction proved that prog could live without shame in a new world after Led Zeppelin, and they got even better in their next album Ritual De Lo Habitual (before self-destructing, alas).


Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
50. Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas
cd
I don’t have a really strong opinion about it, but I enjoy listening to it from time to time. I didn’t even know it was especially popular. Sorry, jeez.


Radiohead - I Might be Wrong
51. Radiohead – I Might be Wrong
cd
It’s a fair statement that most live albums begin life as contractual obligations. But what actually does bother me more about I Might Be Wrong is that it’s basically an EP sold at LP prices. That said, the performances are strong, and prove that the weird, arty music on Kid A and Amnesiac can and really do come to life on stage.


Tori Amos - Under the Pink
54. Tori Amos – Under the Pink
cd (sold)
I loved Tori’s official solo debut Little Earthquakes, but I suspect my sensitive teenager self may have been crushing on the cute & quirky redhead at the piano.


Arrested Development - 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days In The Life Of...
55. Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days In The Life Of…
cd (sold)
“…non-threatening rap-lite for sensitive white liberals who want to “keep it real” and experience hip-hop safely.” Zing! Busted.


Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon
64. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
30th Anniversary SACD
Again, blaspheme! Yes, enough copies of Dark Side of the Moon exist on this planet to form their own continent, but don’t you think there is a reason for that? Mere momentum alone can’t be enough to explain its appeal. If you want to single out one Pink Floyd album for being overrated and overpurchased, please allow me to direct you to The Wall, which unlike most other Floyd albums, appeals to sullen immature teenagers but does not grow in sophistication as they do.


Sarah McLachlan - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
65. Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Surfacing
cds (still on my shelf but I really ought to sell them)
Ouch! You got me here. I once liked both of these, but quickly fell out of love with them. I maintain there are some decent songs underneath the slick adult contemporary overproduction.


U2 - War
69. U2 – War
vinyl
U2 charts no less than three times on this haters list, rivaling the Beatles and the entire genre of jazz for raising Chalkhills’ bile. I suggest revisiting “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and tell me if the drums don’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.


R.E.M. - Out of Time
80. R.E.M. – Out of Time
cd
OK, maybe it’s not their best, and it is especially disappointing for having come right after the legendary, essential album Green. But “Shiny Happy People” is maybe the best 3/4-time pop song ever, and the whole second half is superb.


Grateful Dead Reckoning
83. Grateful Dead – any album
Reckoning (lp) & Infrared Roses (cd)
Yep, I picked up a secondhand vinyl copy of Reckoning for pennies and it’s pretty loose and rambling, even for the Dead. But I do dig the crazy electronic jams on Infrared Roses, man.


Sting - Ten Summoner's Tales
90. Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales
cd (sold)
I’ll cop to liking “Fields of Gold” back in the day. Oh god, did I just admit that out loud on the internet?


There, done. Finally, I just want to say that yes, I do have a sense of humor and I get the point of Chalkhill’s rant. Responding to their List of Hate was just an excuse for me to scribble out a few words about some of the dustiest old artifacts from my music collection. Thanks!

100albums1.jpg

The Savages

The Savages

 

The Savages is the story of a fractured family, separated not least by geography, that reunites on the occasion of an aged parent’s health. Both siblings haven’t seen their father in years, so what was probably a slow decline seems to them a sudden plunge into senility. Both have their own problems, and neither is mature enough or equipped to care for their father. Who abandoned whom?

Curiously, the two siblings have defined their lives by two very different aspects of the theater: Wendy (Laura Linney) is a frustrated writer, endlessly applying for grants instead of actually writing. Rather, she brings a great deal of fiction into her everyday life: she manufactures drama at every turn, not just with her lover but also with her own body (she has a mean case of hypochondria). She is definitely a narcissist; her lover is only slightly older than she, but to her he is an “older man.” Also, note her hysterical (in both senses of the word) rationale for her belief that she is above an affair: “I have an M.F.A.”

savages1.jpgPhilip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in The Savages

Her brother Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a college professor trapped in a perpetually unfinished book analyzing Brecht. Based on his attitude towards Wendy and her lover (a theater director), he evidently looks down on those that do the dirty business of actually creating theater.

In a coda, we see that both Jon and Wendy appear to have grown, and become unstuck in the careers and personal lives. Unfortunately, the ending rings false, not in keeping with the tone of the events before it. Is writer/director Tamara Jenkins’ theme that the death of a parent is a final stepping stone in growing up? If so, how and why? As they did not witness their father’s aging, the audience did not witness Wendy and Jon’s offscreen growth.

savages2.jpgLaura Linney and Philip Bosco in The Savages

Two talented Chrises make contributions: Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris in HBO’s The Wire) appears as perhaps the most mature and sensible character in the film. And Chris Ware was an excellent choice to design the poster and DVD menus, for The Savages would fit very nicely alongside his Acme Novelty Library comic book series.


Official movie site: www.foxsearchlight.com/thesavages

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I’m Not There

I'm Not There

 

This Dork Reporter always finds it interesting to ponder his preconceived notions of a movie once he has seen it. The marketing and buzz on I’m Not There mostly centered on two talking points: the quirky device of multiple actors all playing incarnations of Bob Dylan, and Cate Blanchett being just plain amazing as usual (what else is new?). The first point is what gave me pause: how much sense would this film make to someone who is not a Dylan fan and scholar?

All I really know about Dylan comes from the Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home, and even that paints a sketchy picture of the man. Dylan has been an enigma throughout his long history in the public eye, often speaking in riddles, and (at least in his early years) inventing a fictional backstory. The press and even his own paying audiences were often openly antagonistic, so it’s no wonder he was so famously combative and evasive. Prefiguring the modern-day chameleons David Bowie and Madonna, Dylan presented a series of personas: American roots folkie, political agitator, rock ‘n’ roller, born-again Christian, Hollywood actor, and so on. The question being: how much of this evolution was sincere growth and change, and how much was performance art? Who is “Bob Dylan”?

I'm Not ThereAn Oscar nomination’s a-gonna fall

Director and co-screenwriter Todd Haynes, having already deconstructed David Bowie in Velvet Goldmine, tackles the many aspects of Dylan perhaps the only way possible: fracture his key facets into multiple characters. As with the Bowie analogue Brian Slade in Velvet Goldmine, none of the Dylan figures are actually named Dylan, but then again neither is Dylan himself, whose actual surname is Zimmerman. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, interpreting Dylan’s Christian period, and Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid, a pretty literal interpretation of Dylan’s years in the wilderness after his fame peaked for the first time. Adding an extra layer of postmodern complexity, the late Heath Ledger plays Robbie Clark, a film actor famous for playing one of the fictional Dylans in a biopic. And of course, Cate Blanchett is amazing. As Jude Quinn, a reluctant celebrity fending off the attacks of the press, she triumphs by avoiding mere impression. Sure, she’s wearing a fright wig and shades, but her expressions and body language capture Dylan’s paradoxically wordy elusiveness.

The result is part faux documentary, part fiction, but provides a truer overall picture of Dylan’s complicated character than a mere biopic ever could. Perhaps at some point after his death (may that be a long time from now), we will see a conventional musical biopic made of his life story (a la Bird, Ray, or Walk the Line), but I certainly hope critics and audiences will remember I’m Not There.

I'm Not ThereHey mr. guitar man

The DVD edition is the only I can think of that incorporates long on-screen text introductions (more than one, in fact). Does this reflect a lack of confidence on the part of the filmmakers or distributors in the home viewers being able to comprehend the film, or is it more in the vein of the scholarly introductions that preface Penguin Classics volumes? Either way, it only reinforces the impression that you have to be a Dylan scholar to appreciate the film (which, incidentally, turned out to not be the case).

And finally, I detected a few references to director Richard Lester: Robbie Clark (Ledger) walks through the set of the 1968 film Petulia, during an early scene in which women in neck braces leave a freight elevator before a party to promote highway safety (attended by the likes of George C. Scott, Julie Christie, and the Grateful Dead, so it’s not at all unlikely Dylan could have been there too). But even better is the best Beatles tribute I’ve ever seen: the Fab Four breeze through as the epitome of carefree fun, literally speaking and moving in fast-motion. They tempt Jude Quinn’s (Blanchett) desire to escape, until they are chased away by A Hard Day’s Night’s screaming sycophants.


Official movie site: www.imnotthere-movie.com

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Le Scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

 

Julian Schnabel is an artist turned filmmaker, evidently preoccupied with the lives of other artists and writers: Jean-Michel Basquiat in Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, and now Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Several years ago, This Dork Reporter designed Fine Line Features’ official website for Before Night Falls. But frankly, I had trouble working up the enthusiasm to watch a biopic (absolutely not one of my favorite genres) about a tetraplegic. But please do not be dissuaded by the admittedly depressing subject matter. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is utterly beautiful in every way, and moved this hardened Dork Reporter to tears in the end.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Mathieu Amalric (who resembles a more symmetrical Thom Yorke) plays the real-life Bauby, a fashion magazine editor who suffers a stroke. He survives with “locked-in syndrome,” the proverbial fate worse than death: near-total physical paralysis but with full mental faculties intact. In the true spirit of a French film, Bauby is surrounded by beautiful women. No less a French hottie than Emanuelle Seigner plays Céline, the estranged mother of his children. In a moment of bittersweet humor, the despondent post-stroke Bauby is partially consoled when he first meets his two utterly gorgeous physical and speech therapists (Marie-Josée Croze and Anne Consigny).

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThe camera loves Emanuelle Seigner

According to the DVD bonus features, screenwriter Ronald Harwood conceived of the powerful visual device of using the camera as Bauby’s point of view, simulating his sole means of communication: blinking. He is, blessedly, able to move one eye, and painstakingly dictates his biography letter by letter.

The soundtrack is excellent, including Tom Waits, Joe Strummer (a really great song, new to me, called “Ramshackle Day Parade”), and the best possible use of U2’s “Ultraviolet.”


Official movie site: www.thedivingbellandthebutterfly-themovie.com

Buy the DVD from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to The Dork Report.

Low in Europe

Low in Europe

 

I came late to appreciating Low, but they have since become one of my favorite bands. I was vaguely aware that trainspotting music critics had christened a new genre to categorize bands like Low: slowcore, the distinguishing characteristics of which being playing very quietly and slowly (an overgeneralization, it turns out, but it never hurts to be famous for something unique). “Venus,” a free promotional MP3 from A Lifetime of Temporary Relief given away on Amazon.com, lived in rotation on my iPod for some time, and finally convinced me to buy the 2005 album The Great Destroyer. I first saw them live in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool in 2006, supporting Iron & Wine (whom I like well enough, but if you ask me it should have been the other way around). Even in direct sunlight, their music is beautiful and engrossingly enigmatic.

Low in EuropeThrill to the sounds of slowcore legends tuning up

Director Sebastian Schrade’s documentary Low in Europe was filmed on their 2002-2003 tour of Europe, before they wrote and recorded my two favorite albums of theirs: The Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns. It’s part concert film and part documentary, but not enough of each. There are no complete musical performances included, and although the principals are all intelligent and interesting, the fact is the interviews are sometimes a little less than gripping.

The band first expresses their ambivalence about operating within the commercial music industry. They address their reputation for slow tempos and low volume with good humor; in their early days, they played really slow, in the fuck-you avant-garde spirit but not the loud ‘n’ sloppy letter of punk, to antagonize and challenge the audience. Their contrary nature extends to their personal lives: principal members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, practicing Mormons and a longtime married couple, tour with their children and view it as a simplified and focused way of life. This came as something of a surprise to this Dork Reporter, whom feels perhaps he had a heretofore undiscovered prejudice that Mormons couldn’t be rock stars.

Low in EuropeOver to you, Alan

The heavily-documented Low can be further investigated on the three documentary shorts included with the A Lifetime of Temporary Relief boxed set, and on the forthcoming You May Need a Murderer, a new doc coming out June 3.


Official movie site: www.low-in-europe.com

Buy the DVD from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to The Dork Report.