Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Review

The next-to-last book review I wrote is ready for viewing. You can check it out here. It was a pretty good book, especially if you like short stories. And as a fun aside, the author's brother is Colin Meloy from The Decemberists. They're a pretty literary band, so it seems that literature runs in the family.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

So it's summertime, right? Or it will be officially next week. That means it's time for, among other things, summer music festivals. Yes, sunburn, agoraphobia, two-dollar bottles of water, and the feeling that--for now, anyway--you're still able to hold on to your youth. I have to confess that I haven't been to many festivals. ACL (anterior cruciate ligament?), Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, these have all escaped me. But I'm fully expecting DFest to be awesome this year.

Speaking of festivals, I found these guys on the BBC news site. Glastonbury, a British summer festival, is hosting them this year. Two Door Cinema Club. Here's their MySpace page. That single is catchy, yeah?

Monday, June 15, 2009

That Kind of Summer

Jon tipped me off to this band: Matt & Kim. (They're featured in a Bacardi ad right now, apparently. I haven't seen it.) And I think I have decided to adopt this song as the theme song of the summer. It has a live-in-the-moment ethic to it. And frankly, that's the kind of summer I want to have this year.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

YouTube is awesome, sometimes unintentionally

I was going to post something else. A link to The Fray's cover of Kanye's "Heartless," to be specific. But then my eyes tripped on a comment near the bottom of the page on YouTube, and I had to share it. It's just ... wow. I present it herewith:

1. Cover you mouth with your hand
2. Make a wish into it.
3. Close hand (make a fist)
4. Place hand (fist) over heart for 5 seconds
5. send this to 3 vidios
6. tomarrow will be the best day of your life

Am I going to hell for laughing at this person?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Marriage of Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson

My cinematic education is sort of stunted; there are a lot of movies that I simply haven’t seen. And so sometimes, to broaden my horizon of movies from the 90s and 2000s, I pick a director or writer and add that person’s stuff to my Netflix queue. This is how I have come to watch most of the Noah Baumbach that I have. And at this point, I think I’ve seen every movie he’s written that managed to work its way outside the indie community. This to say: I think I’ve seen more than half the movies he has made that were watched by more than twenty people, including:

  • 1995’s Kicking and Screaming. Follows a quartet of recent college grads as they navigate life outside academia. Much dialogue, not so much action.
  • 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Bill Murray, in a role that makes up part of his 21st-century comic renaissance, plays an oceanographer in the twilight of his career and possibly his life.
  • 2005’s The Squid and the Whale. A family of only semi-functional intellectuals copes with the dissolution of the parents’ marriage.
  • 2007’s Margot at the Wedding. Nicole Kidman’s Margot arrives at her childhood home for her sister’s wedding. Familial angst ensues.
Now, Baumbach wrote a couple of other screenplays around 1997, movies I haven’t seen. But I’m wondering if watching them would confirm my suspicion that Life Aquatic (which I adored, by the way) represents a definitive shift in Noah Baumbach’s career. Life Aquatic is the first movie he made with Wes Anderson, and both the movies that followed have a distinctly Andersonian flavor. Kicking and Screaming and Margot at the Wedding have similar structures—they’re both carried along primarily by pastiches of placid conversation—but completely different aesthetics. Margot at the Wedding looks decidedly indie; Kicking and Screaming looks exactly like Reality Bites.

And maybe this is just a symptom of what might be called virulent Wes Andersonification. This guy argues that everything from films (lots and lots of films) to TV to commercials to your dog’s activities at the park are starting to look like they came straight from Wes Anderson’s brain. You know what I mean: it’s a quirkiness, a sense of ironic detachment, a twee moment appliquéd on top of a dark and dramatic storyline. The titles are set in block letters, and I think there’s even an Andersonian color palette, one with a lot of retro browns and pale blues and pink and orange. Juno had it, and Napoleon Dynamite had it.

Also, cloudiness. Cloudy skies are important to Wes Anderson. It was even cloudy in that commercial he made for American Express.

The question is, are Noah Baumbach movies better under the Wes Anderson school of filmmaking—do his subject matter and worldview lend themselves better to those 90s rom-coms that wanted to be more, or to the quirky comedies of the late 2000s? It’s hard to say. Maybe we ought to just call it six in one. Kicking and Screaming wouldn’t have made measurably more sense if visually treated like Juno. And I’m pretty sure I would not have enjoyed Life Aquatic as much under a different director (or with a different score).

So maybe Noah Baumbach is writing movies to fit a certain cinematic zeitgeist. And maybe another director will become as popular as quickly as Wes Anderson, and all movies—Baumbach’s included—will start to look like that guy’s. (Or girl’s.)

I guess any actor, director, or screenwriter’s body of work is going to be a series of hits and misses. That’s what’s fun about following one artist for a while: you get to trace their development—and anticipate what they might do next.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Call It a Comeback?

I know, I know. I slacked off for a while there. The blog gods are probably all frowny.

Anyway. Let's begin. So I’m going to have to take a book back to the library. I’m sure it’s great; I just haven’t been able to get into it, and it's already overdue. It’s Leap Over a Wall by Eugene Peterson. Fans of the Bible paraphrase The Message will recognize the name.

It’s been a while since I read any contemporary spirituality, actually. Although I did like Blue Like Jazz. And a few weeks ago I needed to skim Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis for work purposes, if that counts as spiritual reading. The thing is, I found that exercise to be a little bit disorienting. Lewis is very thinky. And that’s great and everything. But that cerebral quality made me feel like I was chasing intellectual rabbits all over the place long after I'd put the book down. I didn’t feel like I’d absorbed anything.

My priest once closed an e-mail with a quote from an early church father. I can’t remember it exactly—and my Googling turned up nothing—but it said something like, “The mark of true wisdom is that it leads you to stillness and quiet in your mind.” I’m not ready to write off all modern spiritual writing. I’m sure there’s some great stuff out there I don’t know about, and I'm probably just too immature or too easily led into overthinking to really benefit from most spiritual authors. But a lot of what I read feels busy and jumpy; it feels like it’s on shaky ground. It doesn’t feel very peaceful, and it doesn’t feel very true.

Maybe I’ll return to spiritual books someday soon. But for right now, I think a sojourn away from modern authors isn’t such a bad thing. Keep it simple.

Sorry to get a little heavy on you my first day back. I'll post about Adam Lambert or something soon to make up for it.

Peace out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Calling All Big Bang Theory Fans

On Monday nights starting at 7:00, I watch an hour of TV: The Big Bang Theory followed by How I Met Your Mother. For a long time I didn't watch any shows on CBS. But they're doing me right with these two sitcoms. (But not the two after. Those look terrible.)

BBT offers genuine chuckles and truly unique characters. What's perhaps most interesting about my involvement in this show, however, is that I have some level of a crush on this guy:

What does that mean about me? I don't know. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that I like nerds. Or maybe I find social awkwardness endearing. What's weird, though, is that Sheldon is possibly the least datable character in the history of celluloid. Because it's not just that he's nerdy or awkward; it's that in certain aspects, he's completely socially removed. You could date him, but he wouldn't date you.

His particular social makeup contributes heavily to the premise for the show: four brilliant scientists struggle to perform very basic human interactions, as displayed in their interplay with their "normal" neighbor, Penny. And it also has people asking if the writers intended Sheldon to have Asperger's syndrome.

I like it that "Aspies" have a sympathetic character on mainstream TV. And I like Sheldon. And I like nerds. So, yeah, I enjoy this show.

Anyway, here's some video featuring an interview with Jim Parsons, the actor who plays Mr. Sheldon. I think he was also in Garden State: "By the way, it says 'balls' on your face." That's a key line.

Monday, February 9, 2009

World music fan, are you?

So I've been spending some time on Edun Live's Web site, checking them out. They're this really cool company associated in some way with Bono that makes T-shirts in Africa, creating sustainable industry in several African countries. It's like American Apparel, only international and without Dov Charney's sexual harassment.

Anyway, on their site, they have some streaming radio, and first in the queue was a song called "lakeside" by BLK JKS. (I think this is pronounced "Black Jacks.") They're from South Africa, and they have great beats. Here's their Blogger blog.

Let me know if you likie.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dr. Dog

I'm always interested in finding new bands. I don't know if this is because I genuinely enjoy the music, or because I'm on a constant quest to have Heard Of Them First. Every now and then, I explore my psyche a little to figure out which, but then I start thinking about food or something and give up.

So anyway, in my constant search for hip new indie bands, I like to listen to RSU's radio station in my car (91.3--I'm pretty sure this is where I first heard Band of Horses). If I hear something I like and the announcers don't announce it, I jot down a snatch of the lyrics (only at red lights, I promise) and go home and Google it. This process led me to Maritime and, most recently, to Dr. Dog.

I think lots of people besides me have heard of Dr. Dog. But they're new to me, and I likes them very much. They remind me of Ra Ra Riot.

Here they are on Letterman being awesome. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Three lyric snatches from today

Midmorning: “I know a man who lives under his covers / uh uh uh uh uh uh.” “Murray” by Pete Yorn. I likes the Yorn. And I can’t be the first to have noticed that he’s a really pretty guy.

Noonish: “I am on your side / It’s taken me a long time.” “On Your Side,” again by Pete Yorn. Sorry, it was a musicforthemorningafter day.

Right now: “I need to get out / Or figure this **it out.” I think it’s called “Disturbia,” and I think it’s by Rihanna. How many singles did that girl have out this year, anyway? She’s like the Elizabeth Banks of pop music.

Check you later.

Monday, February 2, 2009

With Apologies to Mr. Colbert


So, item 1. New Decemberists album, which they will play in entirety at South by Southwest. That's pretty cool. The Crane Wife is the best album I never listen to; every now and then, I put it in the player and think, "Why don't I listen to this all the time?" And I haven't heard much of their other stuff, but Colin Meloy's live song stylings are just lovely.

Item 2: South by Southwest is adding a social networking element to their Web site. This happened in an episode of The Office, didn't it? That didn't turn out so well. Ryan.

Friday, January 30, 2009

DVD: City of God

This week I finally got around to watching City of God. It had been sitting in its Netflix sleeve for weeks. I had trouble finding a free evening, or at least a free evening in which I was in the mood for something serious.

Two thumbs up--it was really excellent. I liked the way the movie was sectioned off by titles. Really, the entire visual effect of the movie was striking, and those beach and discoteque scenes made me want to move to Brazil with a stock of tank tops and a pair of roller skates. Also of note, Alica Braga, who played Angélica, was also in I Am Legend as well as Blindness, I believe, another Fernando Meirelles film.

Of course, this was not necessarily an entirely happy movie. Drug wars are not a pleasant subject matter; neither is poverty. And while Meirelles is generally applauded for dealing with tough material--in this film and others--other people reacted to City of God the way they're decrying Slumdog Millionaire as "poverty porn."

So. Are Slumdog and City guilty of portraying poverty with a sense of voyeuristic pleasure? Do they treat brutality in a way that illuminates the condition of the world, or are they just capitalizing? I guess it comes down to: Are these films helpful?

Truthfully, I'm not so sure these movies make an enormous difference in the lives of the kind of people they portray. I think people walk out of a movie like The Kite Runner feeling a little more aware and maybe more compassionate, but not necessarily inclined to do much about it. So in terms of raw practicality, that's points off right there.

But I still think we need movies that deal with darker subjects. I need not to go through life unaware of other people's experiences. I need a break in the insulation of my existence. And I think a lot of people need that too.

There's something else at play here. I happen to like movies with tough subject matter. But I'm as guilty as anyone about being all awareness, and all talk, without a lot of action. If half the people who saw Slumdog Millionaire went home and donated the same amount they spent on admission to organizations that fight poverty worldwide . . . well, that would be good.

So if filmmakers like Fernando Meirelles are going to confront us with poverty in Rio de Janeiro, maybe we shouldn't just watch, but also listen, and also act.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Missing Out

On Sundays at 10:00, something wonderful is happening, something in which I am unable to partake. That's when Flight of the Conchords airs on HBO. I don't regret not getting cable; but I sometimes chafe under my restricted access to the Conchords.

According to HBO's episode guide, this is what happens in the latest installment: "Bret becomes a prostitute to pay off his reckless cup purchase." What does that mean? I don't know.

I've heard that this season is sub-awesome, especially compared to the first. And that seems possible. But I, like Mel, am a devoted fan. They can do no wrong, those Conchords. And thus I will wait patiently for the DVD.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Say It Ain't So

A Facebook status I haven't used yet: "Jessica thinks Weezer might be the greatest band of all time." The blue album represents my freshman year in high school more or less completely. And as time has gone on, I've become more and more convinced that Rivers Cuomo is the coolest person ever.

When it comes to obscurity of lyrics, though, they're right up there with Beck. The words to several Weezer songs are unintelligible to me. So not too long ago, I decided to look up the words to "Say It Ain't So," a favorite of mine. And now I like it even better.

Apparently, the word I thought was "hiney" is actually "Heine," like the Dutch beer. "Wrestle with Julie" is actually "wrestle with Jimmy." And "your job is a heartbreaker" is really "your drug is a heartbreaker." All together, this song is apparently about Rivers stumbling on a beer in his fridge in high school and remembering how his parents split up possibly due to his dad's alcoholism.

Great song + Dad issues = awesome. Here's the vid. Check the uber-strong 90s vibe--hackeysack even makes an appearance.

And here's a Weezer bio I didn't know existed. Might have to check that out.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Far as the Curse is Found

The book on my desk right now (there’s always at least one—sometimes eight) is called The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. It takes place in 1800ish on a Jamaican sugar plantation. So there’s slavery. And with the slavery, sundry other terrible things.

I guess I just don’t understand how human beings are able to brutalize each other so badly. How could you brand someone? How could you sodomize someone with a white-hot metal object? No one I know is capable of whipping a neighbor’s flesh until their arm gets too tired to continue. And that’s to say nothing of the verbal, nonphysical repression required in order to keep a class of people underfoot.

The thing about living several generations removed from slavery is that from here, it makes no sense whatsoever. Societal acceptance of slavery seems impossibly wrongheaded. I guess it’s the same story with anti-Semitism. (Yeah, sure, the Jews caused the plague. What the heck was wrong with you, 1350? Oh, that’s right, you didn’t know about germs. And you were sort of generally nutso.) It’s all very unsettling, because I don’t think I believe that human society is getting increasingly awesome with each generation. If we sucked before, there’s no reason to think we don’t suck now or won’t suck again.

According to pretty much everyone, raising sugar cane is ridiculously hard work, really back-breaking labor. So I suppose the best way to make a lot of money doing it is to have some people do all the work for you, people you don’t have to pay, just feed (sort of). And I don’t suppose it’s easy to get those people to do that unless you use some kind of force—that and systematically, psychologically break them down. And I guess that’s where the terror comes in.

So maybe it all started with something as simple and timeless as greed.

And if that’s true, maybe there’s more injustice here in this civilized, enlightened society than I realize—and maybe there’s injustice in my own life. Because I’m just as capable as anyone of greed and pride and other deadly sins. And maybe all of us are vulnerable to tacitly accepting injustice—who harvests our sugar cane, anyway? And sews our shoes, and picks our strawberries?

Sorry to open the can of consumer-ethics worms—I know it can be difficult to untangle. But I’m looking at the cover of this book and skimming its pages, and I’m thinking, Let’s not do this again, OK? Let’s just please not do this again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You Caught Me

I'm watching the American Idol auditions.

I'm sorry.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lyrics of the Day (I warn you: this might become a recurring post)

Today I had one of those days that are sewn together by snatches of earworm song lyrics. The day sounded something like this:
  • "And the truth be told, I miss you / And the truth be told, I'm lying" ("Gives You Hell" by AAR--the new one, Jon!)
  • "Well, that is that, and this is this / You tell me what you want, and I'll tell you what you get / You get away from me / You get away from me" (Modest Mouse--can't remember the song title right off. It's the one with the big scary bird in the video. Right? Or am I thinking of "Soul Meets Body" by Death Cab?)
  • "He just drove off--sometimes life's okay" ("Float On," also by Modest Mouse, but the version in my head was Ben Lee. He's sweet.)
  • "Love, love, love" ("All You Need Is Love" by Los Beatles)
And that's about where it ended. Darn those Rejects for writing one of the most effective earworm songs ever--I practically woke up with it in my head, and it didn't move on until well into the afternoon.

I can't help but notice that these songs kind of flow into each other. The chorus of "Gives You Hell" has, well, "hell," in it, which probably led me to the Modest Mouse song: "For your sake I hope heaven and hell / are really there, but I wouldn't hold my breath." And that led to the next MM song, though my brain picked the Ben Lee version for some reason. The only breakdown is the Beatles track. And I think that one landed in my head because that line is in a book I'm working on.

This one time? I was in a Sunday school class about forgiveness? And as the class disbanded, the guy next to me started singing "Father of Mine" by Everclear. "I don't know why that's in my head," he said hastily. But you could tell it was kind of Freudian. I think sometimes those earworms have less to do with a song's catchiness and more to do with what's going on in our psyches.

Anyway, feel free to post the lyrics of your day in da comments.

Until tomorrow.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gran Torino, anyone?

I realized today that I haven't seen many Clint Eastwood movies. I saw Mystic River. And then there was . . . and . . . see, I think that might be the only one I've seen. That may be why I'm sort of ambivalent about Gran Torino. I'm sure it's good, probably with a healthy dose of Mystic River grit. But I'm not in any sort of committed filmmaker-filmgoer relationship with Eastwood. I don't know that I'm in love with his ethic. So I won't buy Gran Torino based on his name alone.

Here's a review. Let me know if anyone wants to go see it!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Follow the Pineapple

I’m sure Seth Rogen fans everywhere have already noted that Pineapple Express came out on DVD this week. I’m pretty sure this was the funniest movie of 2008. And what does it mean about me that I found James Franco way more hotter as the affable stoner than as wealthy pretty-boy Harry Osborne?

At this point, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow have made so many movies together I can’t keep them straight. But maybe their most distinct movie is the one they did before Pineapple, Superbad.

I had sort of a conflicted response to Superbad. On the one hand, I do enjoy an underdog story, and Michael Cera is one of the most endearing and comically gifted actors I can think of. On the other hand, I had sort of an ick reaction to Jonah Hill’s Seth.

It’s a moral problem, really. And I’m not talking about the usual content parents find objectionable. No, there are two specific aspects of the movie that rubbed me the wrong way:

1) Seth’s scheme to use McLovin (can’t think of his real name at the moment) solely to buy alcohol to bring to the party, coupled with his unabashed ditching of McLovin the second he’s no longer useful. That’s not really okay.

2) Seth’s scheme to get Jules drunk so that maybe she’ll have sex with him. Am I taking crazy pills, or is putting someone in an altered state specifically to take advantage of his or her lowered inhibitions not really okay either?

All told, Seth isn’t such a great guy. But he finally gets to go to the party of his dreams, and ultimately he also gets the girl. The message: you can be some level of a douche and use people as expendable tools in your shallow, selfish plans, yet still get everything you want. What an annoying universe.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe Seth isn’t such a bad dude—just an undeveloped dude. And I’m sure Seth Rogen didn’t intend to make any particular statement with this film. He and Evan Goldberg probably just said to themselves, “Hmm, what cool stuff can we have happen to Seth and Evan?"

But see, that almost makes it worse. Because it’s sort of hinting that being a total jerk is the most natural thing possible—which I guess is sort of true. All of us pay a ridiculous amount of attention to our own lives, and all of us want a life story that’s sparkly and fun, with a hip indie soundtrack. The thing is, none of us deserve that more than everyone else. We might deserve to go to the party, but we don’t deserve to sell out McLovin to get ourselves there.

There is one tiny redemptive thing about this movie. Seth doesn’t get the girl by scheming or intoxicating her; he gets her by being honest. Even a little vulnerable.

We all have something going on; we’re all trying to write a cool life story for ourselves (or live in a cool life story written by someone else—it seems like a lot of people try to replicate books or movies or sitcoms in their own lives). I’ll try to think that by the end of Superbad, Seth had dropped his scheming and learned to interact with his fellow humans. Maybe he went on to learn how to pay attention to the experiences of others, to listen to their life stories. Because just as much as we want people to follow the movie of our lives, everyone around us wants the same thing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bride Wars (which might as well be titled "Bridezillas")

Today I found a video offering reviews of three movies in digest form. Here's why this is worth watching: because in one clip of Bride Wars, it points out that you can actually see a cameraman in a mirrored door. It's not too often you see a gaffe in the trailer of a movie.

I have to confess, part of me wants to see this movie. I'm curious about this spectacle of awfulness. I'll resist, though, partly because I feel uncomfortable watching anyone's star dim, and Kate Hudson is just not as on top of the world as she was when How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days came out. She hasn't really transcended. Hasn't made the jump Reese Witherspoon made from Legally Blonde to Walk the Line. There will be no Oscars for Bride Wars. Or The Skeleton Key.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

There be new U2 album. Who's lining up to buy it? Probably not me. I mean, hey, I like U2, and I totally respect the Bono. If the album's good, I'll get it. But I'm not sure anything can follow Joshua Tree.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Run, Fat Boy, Run

Presently I'm watching Run, Fat Boy, Run, the latest in my Netflix queue. Questions abound. Is Simon Pegg the most British-looking person in the hemisphere? Where's Nick Frost? And did David Schwimmer really direct this? That David Schwimmer?

About 27 minutes back, I was pleasantly surprised by an appearance from David Williams, of Little Britain fame. He pesters Libby at the counter of her bakery, asking for gingerbread rabbits. "Do you have anything shaped like an animal?" Then "I'll settle for something shaped like a fish." And when Dennis snaps, "Then why don't you go to the fishmonger?" David Williams says, "Because I'm a vegeTARian."


And now Dennis is running through the park, looking for his son. I really like this movie.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On My Shelf: Da Shack

One of my church friends gave me a copy of The Shack for Christmas. I hadn't really planned on reading this. Umpteen people have told me how great it is, but--and this is sort of an immature thing about me--I don't like to do things that everybody else is doing. I especially don't like to read things everybody else is reading. That's why it took me a couple years to read Blue Like Jazz, which I really liked. Maybe I'll like The Shack just as much.

Something interesting about this book is that it's currently the sole title of its publisher. That is, Windblown Media was created to launch this book. The reason: the publishers didn't think a secular publishing house would be able to market the book effectively, and they didn't think a Christian house would know what to do with it either.

This makes sense to me. The mainstream houses probably aren't as in touch with the Christian book-buying bases, which are established and distinct. Christian houses, on the other hand, have to maintain a certain kind of authoritativeness, and they can only push the envelope so far. So a book that speaks directly to Christians but wants to explore beyond the Christian establishment, yeah, probably falls through the cracks.

So Windblown published it a la carte, so to speak, and it's sold a bajillion copies. And I say, good for them.

Here's to interrupting the status quo. Because sometimes, to quote Dr. Horrible, the status is not quo.