Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
[Read Part 1 and Part 2]
Interpol, "Heinrich Maneuver"
Interpol's second album, "Antics," was so boring and uninteresting to me, I thought maybe the mechanism in my brain that enjoyed Interpol had broken permanently. I listened to that album 3 or 4 times, and then pretty much never again. This year's "Our Love to Admire" fared far better, and this was my favorite track - it brings together everything the band does really well.
Iron and Wine, "Boy with a Coin"
Jay-Z, "Ignorant Shit"
The great thing about Jay-Z's soundtrack/album "American Gangster," which at this point I can safely say I prefer to the Ridley Scott film of the same name, was all the '70s samples. My favorite song from the album, "Ignorant Shit," borrows the same bit of the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets" as Biggie Smalls' "Big Poppa," invoking the memory of a patron saint of the genre and giving everything to come a feeling of significance. The opening, in which Hova wonders aloud why fans declare his party albums "genius" but can't be bothered with his more heady "Kingdom Come"-style endeavors, lays the foundation for a takedown of the culture of hip-hop and its politics that's both hilarious and insightful. I'm serious, there's a lot of interesting ideas packed into this 3 minutes and 44 seconds. I honestly can't BELIEVE Pitchfork chose a song from this album as it's Best of the Year and it WASN'T "Ignorant Shit." I like "Roc Boys" too, but...this one is clearly the highlight.
Kings of Leon, "Fans"
Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
I swear, I'm not just picking this song so I can post this video. I really do like the song, even better than "Stronger":
Jesca Hoop, "Intelligentactile 101"
The first time I posted this song on here, I said I had no idea what it was about. But I've listened to it a lot more, and now I think I've got it. It's sung from the perspective of either (1) a fetus or (2) a soul floating around in space waiting to be placed inside a fetus, and it's about how the narrator is excited about being born. Maybe I've overthought it, but what can I say? This was one of those songs that wouldn't get out of my head this year.
The Light Footwork, "Rebellion Time"
I really like this band. This song is what Sufjan Stevens would sound like if he wrote songs instead of faux-symphonies. And had a girl with him. In other words, The Light Footwork would kick the White Stripes ass in team debate.
M.I.A., "Paper Planes"
This is an amazing song, both because I could listen to it 10,000 times without getting sick of it, and because it so boldly tells its audience what they don't want to hear. What could be a more direct response, in a year when so much of the world continues to recoil against the horror of IMMIGRANTS in their HOMELAND, than a woman flying the flag of "Third World Democracy" chanting "all I want to do is [bullet sounds] and take your money?" I'm going to go ahead and say, "nothing could be a more direct response than that."
Melody Function, "Anne Maria"
Just a great, loud, driving hard rock song. This is kind of a throwback to the early aughts when bands like The Strokes ruled the airwaves, and even though that "The Blanks" era has ended, this kind of simple pop song never really goes out of style. No embeddable copy, but you can download the song here at You Ain't No Picasso. That's where I found it, and a good deal of the other songs on these lists.
The National, "Mistaken for Strangers"
It was tough to pick just one National song for this list. There are at least 5 cuts from the album I could see putting on a Best 2007 Songs list.
[Continue with Part 4! Or skip to the end, Part 5!]
Check this little slice of awesome out: Veronica Belmont's exclusive interview with auteur-author-musician-actor and all-around mack Crispin Glover:
I'm desperate to see the new film, It Is Fine, Everything Is Fine!. Missed it a few weeks ago at the Egyptian.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I have heard that Ian McEwan is a terrific novelist, and I fully intend to one day get around to one of his books. But I can say, having seen two adaptations of McEwan novels, that they don't make the transition to the screen very well. Enduring Love was a navel-gazing mess of a movie. I wrote in my original review:
"I'd have preferred enduring just about any unpleasant activity over Enduring Love, an utterly joyless exercise that's as preposterous as it is dull. This is clearly a film that thinks it has something to say about the nature of love, but for the life of me I can't determine what that thing could possibly be."
And now we have Atonement, another film about the unbearable pain of an impossible love. It's fairly evident to me why Joe Wright's screen version (based on a script by Christopher Hampton, best known for writing Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liasons) doesn't work - everything revolves around an event that happens within the first 45 minutes or so of the movie. In a novel, characters can spent half a book reflecting upon something that has already happened. It's prose - the unfolding of events in some kind of synchronous order isn't required to maintain reader interest, so long as the writing itself is entertaining.
But in a narrative movie, you can't really have the crucial event go down at the end of the First Act and then whisk people away to other, less interesting action with zero stakes, populated by a bunch of strange new characters. Actually, "can't" is too strong a word here. I can think of several films that do, in fact, unfold in similar fashion to Atonement, in which an incident early on in the film inspires all the conversation and attention for the rest of the film. Even this year, No Country for Old Men spends its final half hour considering the action that has come before.
What I mean to say is that Atonement failed to keep my interest through its various time jumps and epilogues.
We open in an English manor in 1935. Young Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) lives with her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley, who starred in Wright's previous film, Pride and Prejudice) and mother Emily (Harriet Walter), along with a large staff of servants and their families. Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) is one such employee, working on the estate as a gardener and planning and future career as a doctor.
Briony, an imaginative girl with a bit of a crush on Robbie, sees something she should not and makes an ill-considered accusation. She winds up causing both Cecilia and Robbie a great deal of trouble, and their woes only increase with the onset of World War II.
After Briony's accusation is made and the consequences meted out, Wright's film jumps ahead five years. Briony (now played by Romola Garai) and Cecilia are now nurses working at a veteran's hospital, but they are not on speaking terms. (Briony, we come to understand, is tormented by guilt over her actions and obsessed with trying to set things right). Robbie is serving as a private in the Army, doomed to the lowest rung on the military ladder because of Briony's misdeed years before.
I'm still not really feeling Keira Knightley, I must say. In the past, I've said she wavers constantly between two modes - pouty/petulant, and headstrong. Here, she spends the first act in Mode One, and the remainder of the film in Mode Two. You can always tell when she's evoking steely resolve...because it's pretty much all she ever freaking evokes.
This is the third film I have seen starring James McAvoy, and I only know that because I have looked him up on IMDb. (He was Mr. Tumnus in Narnia and the star of Last King of Scotland.) How boring do you have to be to star in three films in as many years and still be such a nobody? THIS boring.
The rest of the cast is fine. Both Brionys, the younger and older incarnations, are terrific, and the transition from one to the other is seamless. Brenda Blethyn plays Robbie's mother, a servant in the Tellis household, and steals a few scenes. The camera work by Seamus McGarvey is also really solid, with some really nice use of muted colors. (There's one beautiful shot of a soldier walking in a field of tulips.) There's an impressive tracking shot that has to last a few minutes at least, in which McGarvey's camera tours around a French beach where thousands of British soldiers are waiting to board ships and head home, but it's also distracting and serves no real dramatic purpose in the movie. The transition from the story of intrigue at a British manor to a war movie is abrupt enough without long, graceful establishing shots setting off the pace and calling attention to themselves.
Like everything after the time jump in Atonement, the tracking shot would have more impact if there were some importance to it, some reason we had to see what's going on at this beach. Robbie spends the entire remainder of the film waiting to go home. Just sitting around, waiting, thinking about how he came to be in France. Cecilia spends her time waiting for Robbie to get back. Briony spends her time thinking about what she did, waiting to hear back from Cecilia to see whether or not she'll be forgiven. That's a lot of sitting around and waiting.
Vanessa Redgrave shows up and plays Briony as an older woman, and she's fine, but these sequences are not at all cinematic. They play like Hampton just transcribed the screenplay from the novel. Seriously, Redgrave spends the end of the film staring into the camera and explaining to you what you have just seen, and then the title of the movie. (She's being interviewed by Anthony Minghella for TV cameras at the time).
It's kind of embarrassing, really. The film might as well have ended with Minghella in a smoking jacket with a pipe, in an easy chair, closing the book version of "Atonement" and wishing you a safe drive home. If you can't think of a way to show us what happens in the book visually in at least a semi-compelling fashion, don't adapt that book. Simple as that.
I saw it in front of I Am Legend. Now it's on YouTube:
Most discussion centers of Heath Ledger's Joker make-up. Yes, it's a more realistic look than the Nicholson version. But it totally works for Christopher Nolan's vision of a more realistic Gotham City and the vibe of the first film. Plus, he has the voice TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY NAILED.
The years, to my mind, have not been to kind to the first Burton Batman film. (I maintain that Batman Returns was the superior episode). And one of the things that come off the worst to me looking back is the Jack Nicholson performance. It's way too much Jack and not enough Joker. In fact, I think he's much more enjoyable in the Charles Napier scenes, before he makes his transformation. Not a good sign.
He's just not evil enough. All Clown Prince and no Crime. (He wants to mutate the citizens of Gotham with toxic shampoo and spray graffiti in the Guggenheim? Really? That's the set-up for your blockbuster action film?) So I'm looking forward to seeing what Ledger does with the character and how he's changed.
Plus, it's hard to knock any film that releases this as a one-sheet.
[SPOILER WARNING: I will do my best not to reveal crucial information about the end of the new Will Smith film I Am Legend in this review, but I can't very well talk about my impressions without divulging some aspects of the Third Act. As well, I intend to spoil the ending of Richard Matheson's original novel upon which the film as based, which is also the ending of the two previous film adaptations, the Vincent Price film The Last Man on Earth and the Charlton Heston classic The Omega Man. Sorry.]
I Am Legend gets off to an amazing start. Robert Neville is the last man alive in a broken Manhattan reclaimed by Nature. We find him racing around the streets amidst empty rows of tanks and fading Quarantine signs in a sports car, chasing wild deer around Times Square. He moves in to kill a buck, but is thwarted by a pack of lions. All around him, the evidence of our consumer-crazed, advertising-obsessed civilization crumbles. In a few more decades, all traces of humankind will have dissolved.
Director Francis Lawrence and his design and art departments render the Manhattan of 2012 so credibly, it's almost distracting. It's hard to focus on the action of the story - you have to consciously stop marveling at the empty, despoiled New York City sets.
Plus, I think I prefer watching Will Smith without co-stars. He can't wisecrack as much with only mannequins and a dog around to hear him. There's still some rather tedious business in which he chats with the aforementioned department store props, attempting to maintain some semblance of a community and a daily routine, for it's fortunately short-lived. Lawrence has made a movie of intense silences, and Smith bravely caps his usual jocularity to get inside the head of a more troubled, brooding individual than he typically portrays.
Robert Neville has a lot to be depressed about. An Army Colonel and doctor who was working on a cure for the engineered virus that wiped out nearly all of humanity, he's now without his family, his faith or any significant hope for the future. Each night, he must hide from the roving Infected, humans who have caught the virus and turned into kill-crazy maniacs.
Neville maintains a rigid schedule - hunting and restocking his Washington Square apartment by day, continuing to work for a cure in his basement lab, and then hiding in a bathtub in the fetal position with his beloved dog Sam and a high-powered rifle all night. He sends out AM radio messages searching for other survivors, but evidently has no real hope of finding anyone else.
Lawrence previously made the above-average comic book adaptation Constantine, and there as here, he demonstrates a gift for CG-heavy action scenes. I typically find sequences in which live-action characters battle with computer-generated meanies either dull or ridiculous, and it's undeniable that Lawrence's vampire-zombies (and even some of the CG animals) look entirely fraudulent. But still, there's a certain kinetic sense to the way these monsters jump around, and I liked how the Main Vampire's ragged clothes flopped around in the air as he howled and shuffled about. Everything moves fast - the vampires typically look like little more than pale white blurs - but we get just well-chosen little details. (The suble death rattle of a freshly-killed vampire, say, or the creepy, hunched-over huddle formation in which the vampires sleep.)
So, yes, there's lots to like. But then the Third Act happens and ruins everything.
Seriously, this is a horrific case of screenplay sabotage. And who wrote this screenplay, that lurches into its final half-hour and lands somewhere between obtuse and offensive? That would be the all-star duo of Mark Protosevich (writer of Poseidon!) and Akiva Goldsman (writer of...get ready for this...Batman and Robin, Lost in Space, A Beautiful Mind, I Robot and The Da Vinci Code!) Who could have imagined these guys would deliver anything less than a superior conclusion?
Sarcasm aside, it's pretty much fait accompli that an Akiva Goldsman script will fail to deliver. But I'm still gobsmacked at just how poorly the conclusion to I Am Legend comes off.
[Warning: Spoilers Ahead!]
So here's how the original story goes, the original ending that, bear in mind, BOTH previous film adaptations maintained. Neville discovers that, contrary to his previous thinking, the vampires have started their own sort of society from within the old human world. (There aren't, after all, any humans left.) They have been hunting him not because they mean to feed on him, but because he's been hunting them. The title itself refers to the stories vampires tell one another about the last human, a ghoulish figure who tries to kill them while they sleep.
It's a message about fear of the unknown and, in the end, about tolerance and acceptance. Goldsman and the Poseidon guy ditch this in favor of a very American, very silly good-vs.-evil, rah-rah-Amuricah! ending in which God comes down from Heaven and shows Neville how to save the day and destroy the evildoers. It's pretty much a complete rip-off of Signs, which is a really stupid movie to rip off. (Though it's better than ripping off Lady in the Water.)
I don't know, maybe they were afraid the original ending would make Neville too unlikeable, so they had to come up with some more heroic, noble send-off for him. The only problem is, it makes the film pointless. Also, a lot of the previous scenes we've seen (like having the vampires cleverly turn one of Neville's traps against him) don't make sense in light of the conclusion. Oh, yeah, and the FUCKING TITLE doesn't make sense. But, you know, otherwise it's fine...