Saturday, July 31, 2010
A gallery of images chosen by you to stand for so much of what makes Cinema such a rich and exciting medium.
The meme originated over at Checking On My Sausages, and you can see the original gallery here.
Leopard's contribution, Heroic Silhouette Images, can be viewed here.
And here is my modest contribution.
Either way, it can be said with confidence that our tomato plants - after a couple of disappointing years - are going gangbusters this year.
The only fly in the ointment is whatever creature is helping itself to the low-hanging fruit each evening. Probably the stupid raccoon that was eating our fish during the spring.
I plan to take full credit for Marguerite's success, because I hired her, almost five years ago now (every now and then, I make a good decision). Hopefully, she'll remember me when she becomes rich and famous.
Go check it out - Starting in December.
"Inception" is not a film without flaws, and in a series of posts about the acting in the movie, Sheila O'Malley (the gold standard of bloggers, as far as I'm concerned) has done a typically wonderful job of pointing them out (see the links below). I agree with much of what Sheila has to say, but even with all that, I flat-out loved the movie. It made me think of this line from Robert Christgau's review of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" :
Springsteen needs to learn that operettic pomposity insults the Ronettes and that pseudotragic beautiful-loser fatalism insults us all. And around now I'd better add that the man avoids these quibbles at his best and simply runs them over the rest of the time.
To me, that's what Nolan accomplishes in "Inception" - he simply runs over the flaws in the film. So while I can understand and fully appreciate that Ellen Page's Ariadne is less a character than she is a device to move the plot along and help the viewer understand what the hell is going on, I can forgive and even overlook that, because the whole is so stunning - breathtaking, even.
It is a breathtaking movie, even more so than "The Dark Knight." There were several moments when, not unlike the feeling I get when I listen to a great rock album, I felt the goose bumps rising on my arms, and I just sat there wanting to let the experience wash over me. Most notably, the scene at the beginning of the film where the protagonists are battling Ken Watanabe's crew, and the magnificent scene (see picture above) where Arthur fights the security guard in the "rolling hotel corridor."
Kudos to all of the actors involved. Leonardo DiCaprio has managed to reinvent himself over the past decade, and we are all the better for it. Ellen Page has a spark that is hard to define, but which makes her fascinating to watch even if her character is not. Tom Hardy jumps off the screen with a level of charisma that screams "star!" Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings a sly humor to what is essentially a humorless role. Tom Berenger hasn't aged very well, but it's good to see him again. Ken Watanabe is his usual, dependable self.
I haven't even tried to describe the plot, because I won't do it justice. You just have to go see it yourself. "Inception" is a spectacle, the kind of summer escapist fare that gives "summer escapist fare" a good name.
Sheila O'Malley on the acting in "Inception" :
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Meanwhile, life goes on. We loved "Inception," which I will write about eventually. The new M.I.A. album jumps out of the speakers like nothing else in the last few years (since the last M.I.A. album, perhaps). The Giants are on a tear, and look like they just might take over the National League West. They seem to do much better when I'm not paying attention.
Life goes on.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
But the Top 50 Movies will return eventually, and a review of "Inception" (which I loved) will be up here at some point.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
When Tiger Woods wins a major championship by 8+ strokes, that's history.
When Louis Oosthuizen wins a major championship by 8+ strokes, well...that's just kind of boring.
But still, it is the Open. Congratulations to the young man on a dominant performance.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
3.6 magnitude? Please. That's like...every day in California.
Reminds me of that famous scene from "Crocodile Dundee" - "Knife? That's not a knife..."
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Well, imagine the scenario a little differently. Imagine for a moment that the runner was in fact safe, and the umpire blew the call (in an obvious manner) by calling him out, resulting in a perfect game that should not have been.
I wonder how that story would have played out.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
You know, if you're really secretly happy that the person in question is dead, then don't give me that line about being sad for the family. Because it really doesn't ring true.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
While the new flick doesn't have any single scene that rivals the Schwarzenegger-Carl Weathers handshake for pure manly awesomeness, it is well worth seeing. If a movie like "Predators" is your cup of tea, that is.
The premise is simple - a group of warriors of different nationalities and backgrounds finds themselves landing in an unknown piece of forest, and it doesn't take them long to realize that they're the prey, for a change. You've got your soldiers, you've got your bad guys, you've got your psycho, and you've got at least one surprise (sadly, I was the only one in my family dumb enough not to figure it out). And then as an extra added bonus, you've got Laurence Fishburne having a great time playing a dude who's been stranded in the game reserve for just a little too long.
The movie is smart enough not to take itself seriously, and includes a couple of clever homages to the original film - one, where Adrien Brody quite consciously adopts a very Schwarzenegger-like pose, mud and all. He obviously worked out quite a bit for this movie, but still - Arnold he is not, and you're meant to chuckle when you see the comparison. And in one of the movie's best scenes, what I would call the "tribute to Billy," we get to see what actually happened when the "mystic samurai warrior" in the group held back in order to allow his comrades to get further along on their journey.
It's not going to get nominated for any awards, but "Predators" is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Friday, July 09, 2010
And after entering what should have been the two most glorious months of his life, LeBron James comes out of it having collapsed in the playoffs. He signed with a team that already has its No. 1 star… and for $30 million less than he could have gotten. His hometown hates him so much there’s footage on television of fans burning his jersey. The papers and Internet are now filled with stories about how he’s unpopular, unfeeling, a traitor, afraid of the bright lights. He’s widely viewed, at least for the moment, as the petulant and narcissistic star on one of the most ill-conceived television efforts in the history of sport. And his King James brand suddenly doesn’t look so great anymore.
That’s one heck of a magic trick, isn’t it? It’s sort of like he ACTUALLY DID saw a lady in half.Perhaps the most classic "WTF?" moment in the history of sports?
It's a movie about guitar players - specifically, The Edge, Jack White, and Jimmy Page. Director Davis Guggenheim gives us a bit of backstory on all three, but the most effective parts of the film are when they just sit down together and talk, or even start to play a bit.
I'm not sure it's what you would call a classic documentary, but when the three sit down at the end, work out and then play The Band's "The Weight," such distinctions hardly matter. Any rock fan will find something to like in this one.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
On the 4th, my mom pulled out a box labeled, as you can see, "Vintage LA Crap." All sorts of interesting material from those trips.
In the days and weeks to come, I'll be sharing some of the stuff, plus the attached memories. Who knows, something in here might actually be valuable!
Monday, July 05, 2010
One way to describe these movies is that these are the ones, even though I own them on DVD, will still watch through the end when they show up on cable.
Another way to put it might be “intelligent entertainment.” When I go to the movies, I want to be entertained (or perhaps even learn something), but I don’t want to feel like I’ve been taken advantage of. I want the talent that went into the movie to show up on the screen. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and I also think when you approach movies like that, you are open to a hell of a lot of good stuff. Movies as different as – to name three that I really like, but didn’t quite make the cut for this list – “Shaun of the Dead,” “Heat,” and “Casablanca.”
“The Fugitive” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s not an original idea, certainly – based on the famous TV show of the 1960s. But it is flawlessly executed, populated with interesting characters, and filled with moments of tension throughout. If you knew anything about the TV series, you knew how this movie was going to end before you even walked into the theater. So the trick was to make the journey fresh and interesting. And man, did the filmmakers succeed.
The movie starts off with a bang, to the point where you’re almost afraid to take a breath. The terrific first few minutes tell the story of the injustice suffered by Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is told, followed by the amazing train/bus crash which results in his escape. U.S. Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, in his Oscar winning performance) is soon on the scene, leading to a moment of almost unbearable tension when the two face off for the first time.
And then, the movie shifts gears, and slows down as Kimble tries to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder, and Gerard follows closely behind, along the way beginning to doubt Kimble’s guilt. This is my favorite part of the movie – it shows the intelligence and resourcefulness of both men, even though they couldn’t be any more different. This section culminates with a phone call from Kimble to Gerard, which shows up at the very beginning of this video. It’s probably my favorite scene of the whole movie.
Tommy Lee Jones richly deserved his Oscar, but it’s silly to think that “The Fugitive” would have been as successful without Harrison Ford (a premise I think was proven with the “U.S. Marshals” sequel). The supporting cast is also outstanding, from Joe Pantoliano (who is good in everything he’s ever been in), Tom Wood and Daniel Roebuck as Gerard’s colleagues, Jeroen Krabbe and Andreas Katsulas as the bad guys, and even Julianne Moore in a brief role as an emergency room doctor who gets to witness Kimble’s fundamental goodness “up close and personal.”
“The Fugitive,” directed by Andrew Davis and starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones – a great example of intelligent entertainment, and #47 on my list.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
“America,” Simon and Garfunkel
“I Am A Patriot,” Jackson Browne
“Pink Houses,” John Mellencamp
“American Skin (41 Shots),” Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
“American Music,” The Blasters
“Born on the Bayou,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Winter in America,” Gil Scott-Heron
“Welcome to the Future,” Brad Paisley
“Dancing in the Street,” Martha and the Vandellas
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Friday, July 02, 2010
There's only a handful of rock critics that can rightly make a claim for being the most influential of all time - Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs (even though he's been dead for almost 30 years), maybe a few others - but there's little doubt that Christgau is at the top of the list.
For most of its life, the Consumer Guide was housed at The Village Voice, which is where I read it religiously from 1978 on. When The Voice bounced Christgau a few years ago, I decided it was finally time to cancel my subscription - even though the magazine had been a shadow of its former self for almost a decade. Fortunately, Christgau landed at Rolling Stone for a while, and the Consumer Guide at MSN.com, although its tenure there was flawed by a maddeningly poor design and poor maneuverability. But that's just quibbling.
Christgau's ability to distill the essence of an album into a few short sentences is the kind of thing that can be good and bad. When done well, as he did it, it was magnificent. But few could do it that well, and when trends start because of a pioneer, you can never be quite sure where they'll lead.
Some of my favorite Christgau reviews:
Dirty Mind, Prince [Warner Bros., 1980]. After going gold in 1979 as an utterly uncrossedover falsetto love man, he takes care of the songwriting, transmutes the persona, revs up the guitar, muscles into the vocals, leans down hard on a rock-steady, funk-tinged four-four, and conceptualizes--about sex, mostly. Thus he becomes the first commercially viable artist in a decade to claim the visionary high ground of Lennon and Dylan and Hendrix (and Jim Morrison), whose rebel turf has been ceded to such marginal heroes-by-fiat as Patti Smith and John Rotten-Lydon. Brashly lubricious where the typical love man plays the lead in "He's So Shy," he specializes here in full-fledged fuckbook fantasies--the kid sleeps with his sister and digs it, sleeps with his girlfriend's boyfriend and doesn't, stops a wedding by gamahuching the bride on her way to church. Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home. A
Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen [Columbia, 1984]. Imperceptible though the movement has been to many sensitive young people, Springsteen has evolved. In fact, this apparent retrenchment is his most rhythmically propulsive, vocally incisive, lyrically balanced, and commercially undeniable album. Even his compulsive studio habits work for him: the aural vibrancy of the thing reminds me like nothing in years that what teenagers loved about rock and roll wasn't that it was catchy or even vibrant but that it just plain sounded good. And while Nebraska's one-note vision may be more left-correct, my instincts (not to mention my leftism) tell me that this uptempo worldview is truer. Hardly ride-off-into-the-sunset stuff, at the same time it's low on nostalgia and beautiful losers. Not counting the title powerhouse, the best songs slip by at first because their tone is so lifelike: the fast-stepping "Working on the Highway," which turns out to be about a country road gang: "Darlington County," which pins down the futility of a macho spree without undercutting its exuberance; and "Glory Days," which finally acknowledges that among other things, getting old is a good joke. A+
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, P.J. Harvey [Island, 2000]. If Nirvana and Robert Johnson are rock's essence for you, so's To Bring You My Love. But if you believe the Beatles and George Clinton had more to say in the end, this could be the first PJ album you adore as well as admire. It's a question of whether you use music to face your demons or to vault right over them. Either way the demons will be there, of course, and nobody's claiming they won't catch you by the ankle and bring you down sometime--or that facing them doesn't give you a shot at running them the fuck over. Maybe that's how Harvey got to where she could enjoy the fruits of her own genius and sexuality. Or maybe she just met the right guy. Tempos and pudendum juiced, she feels the world ending and feels immortal on the very first track. The other 11 songs she takes from there. A+
The second movie, which focuses on the selection of the Mercury astronauts and their initial flights, is much lighter in tone. The astronauts are confident to the point of being arrogant, and at the beginning are presented by Kaufman in a less heroic light than the test pilots, who operate well out of the public eye and know that every flight could be their last. There’s a lot of humor in the part of the movie where the prospective astronauts are being run through a battery of tests to determine their mettle, and that humor is underscored by the fact that many of the tests plainly have very little to do with anything other than making them as uncomfortable as possible.
Over the length of the movie, the heroic nature of the astronauts develops, and near the end there is a scene when Yeager defends them in a conversation with his colleagues. But even with that, you get the sense that Kaufman wants us to leave the theater thinking that Chuck Yeager was a greater hero than any of the original 7 – Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Slaton, Cooper, Carpenter and Schirra.
The performances are great, particularly Shepard as Yeager, Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard, Ed Harris as John Glenn, Fred Ward as Gus Grissom, and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper. At first, the Mercury 7 don’t have a lot of use for each other (especially Shepard and Glenn, who are very different in demeanor and attitude), but eventually the 7 develop a bond and a sense of respect for each other that goes well beyond mere friendship.
If I recall correctly, “The Right Stuff” was not a huge hit at the box office, which is a shame. It is a great American story, and a great adventure story. #48, “The Right Stuff.”
The mourning of a loved one's death is an intensely personal matter, but the growth of these types of "car memorials" mystifies me. Personally, I can't imagine what it would feel like to have the constant reminder, every time you looked in your rear view mirror, of what was probably the most painful moment of your life.
Maybe for the people who do it, it helps. I hope so.