Friday, June 30, 2006

Monthly Listening Post - June 2006

I haven't really discovered anything much this month, as I was pre-occupied with Bonnaroo. I do have two retrospectives to recommend however:

The Replacements -
Don't You Know Who I Think I Was: The Best of the Replacements
Gram Parsons -
The Complete Reprise Sessions

Like I said, Bonnaroo was fantastic. As soon I get my film developed (I don't have a digital camera) I'll post some of the pictures I took. In the meantime, here are my top 5 performances of the weekend:

1) My Morning Jacket - they laid it down late night in front of the biggest tent crowd I've ever seen in my 4 years at Bonnaroo.
2) Bright Eyes - Connor Oberst made me a convert with a great set highlighted by a surprise appearance by Gillian Welch and David Rawlins.
3) Radiohead - I was never that big of a fan before, but with 29 songs, they certainly didn't disappoint.
4) Gomez - one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend. Solid, but was surprised at the lack of a big crowd (there was a lot going on at the same time) and no 'Get Myself Arrested'.
5) Marah - this was Thursday night, so a lot of people didn't catch them. I've wanted to see this band for a long, long time, and all I wish was that they could have played more than an hour. Great cover of 'Baba O'Reilly', Dave and Serge jumping into the audience during 'The Dishwasher's Dream', and Beatle Bob doing the intro. Couldn't ask for a better start to what was a fantastic weekend.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Fog of War

The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003) [7]
While The Fog of War doesn’t stray too far from the standard documentary style that Morris utilizes in his films, he does have a couple of sophisticated montage segments that really show a side that can sometimes be missing in his films. What this film lacks a lot of the time is a dynamic quality that really engages the viewer. McNamara as a subject is really hit or miss; of course he isn’t going to go into that much depth about his horrendous Vietnam policy. But he and Morris know that is the crux of this film and it takes way too long to get the point. When McNamara does delve into that disaster, it almost redeems the film. I just he was willing to really analyze himself and the decision he made. Apply your little lessons.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Elizabethtown (Cameron Crowe, 2005) [3]
A major disappointment doesn’t come anywhere close describing how I feel about this film. I absolutely loved Almost Famous and this, Crowe’s follow-up, takes all the goodwill that picture built up in me and throws into a big stinking pile of rotten cheese. Crowe’s films have always existed somewhere between solid emotional relevance and total cheesiness, but this film is 100% limburger. Man, I was grinding my teeth anytime that Orlando Bloom opened his mouth. His character is a vapid, self-satisfied do-gooder that just pops his way in and out of scenes with nothing redeeming about him. And don’t get me started on the Kirsten Dunst character, another one of these peppy, living-life-to-the-fullest androids that teaches the dour male character that there is something in life worth living for. Give me break, please. The only time the film catches is when the Bloom characters shuts up and lets his family take over. Too much time is spent on having these two talk on cell phones, as if the cell phone has brought enlightenment to society, now that we can talk for ever and ever and ever… (A film should NEVER feature a fifteen minute sequence with characters talking on phones. End of discussion). Crowe is usually a master of handling a soundtrack but it really lands on target only a small number of times throughout the film, and he relies way too much on it at the end to give it its emotion. That’s what the images should be doing, but that was abandoned a long time before. From the way I’ve been writing it sounds like I absolutely hated this film, but I really don’t. I just expected a lot better.

One Day In September

One Day In September [/] (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) [7]
I had seen this a couple of years ago, but being that I liked Munich so much, I figured it was time to revisit it. I really don’t have that much to say about it except it’s a solidly made film. Through the talking head sequences, one is almost astonished how blundering and incapable the Germans were in handling the hostage situation. The lack of any coordination is at a level almost beyond comprehension. MacDonald uses the archival footage in a different way than standard docs. It looks like he manipulates the athletic action shots a little to give a little more visual spark that grabs the attention more. He also does a good of job of creating a more somber mood when talking directly about the hostage situation. Nothing much comes out of the sole living terrorist involved, but then again, what’s to be expected? I remember this won Best Documentary without being shown in theatres, and I was pissed that it won over Buena Vista Social Club. Looking back, however, I feel that this is the better film of the two

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Content Update

I just got back from Bonnaroo, which was fantastic. I'm still attempting to get caught up with reviews of what I saw before I left, so hopefully I'll get something up within the next couple of days. Not that anyone really cares because no one visits this site which means no one is reading this.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Essential Collection - Ken Burns' The Civil War

I don't really know why but I've always been interested in history and the Civil War in particular. I remember when this debuted on PBS in 1990 it was a big deal, but I was only in third or fourth grade and never really paid attention to the whole thing. I got it the DVD set a couple of years ago and all I can say is that this the greatest historical documentary film ever made. Ever. Ken Burns' style of filmmaking has been mocked and parodied over the years but it works exceptionally well here, mostly out of necessity. When all the historical documents are letters, and photographs, it's going to be hard to create something that can capture a viewer's attention, especially for 20 hours. But Burns does that mostly becuase he goes outside of the standard textbook history of the war, giving idiosycracies of the conflict. He has his two soldiers and their private ruminations to ground the film, while giving all the important figures and battles their due. There is just enough of the talking head shots, but the ones featuring Shelby Foote, while sometimes being anecdotal, give a temporary relief from all the seriousness. All in all, Burns made a film that can be seen as entertainment first instead of being a redundant history lesson. It's also nice to remember a time when a historical and/or political documentary didn't have to resort to partisan hackery.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Winter Passing

Winter Passing (Adam Rapp, 2006) [7]
This is the film Garden State should and could have been. It’s funny and offbeat at times, but it seems to have a real purpose behind it, unlike Zach Braff’s film. It’s the same type of story: a child is returning home after the death of a parent, to come into conflict with a father that doesn’t quite understand her. While I don’t fully buy into that whole storyline, it works in this film solely by Zooey Deschanel’s performance. With her porcelain skin, somewhat shaggy black hair, and her wide-eyed blue stare, there’s a way her physical presence really stands out in a film. Her performance has a kind of post-ironic bend to it; she always has a way of giving her lines in a somewhat flat way that sounds disinterested but is in fact the opposite. Perhaps my overabundance of praise on Deschanel clouds my overall vision of the film, but I really don’t think so. Rapp’s visual style, with quite a bit of handheld work and scenes that look muddy and bleak give the film its attitude. It’s a quiet, reserved film, dark at times, with a main character that almost exists in a cloud. As I said before, Deschanel carries the film, but there are some other strong performances. Who knew Will Ferrell could actually be funny by restraining himself? The only problems I have are that the Ed Harris character is underdeveloped and the ending gets a little too sentimental for my tastes. But this is an actor’s film, and all the actors understand their roles in the film, which makes it work.

Two For the Money

Two For the Money (D.J. Caruso, 2005) [4]
For the last couple of years, Al Pacino has become known more for his overblown performances than the serious acting chops he showed in the 1970s. He’s pretty much played into the parody of Al Pacino that can be seen on sketch shows, and this film does nothing to discredit it. Pacino hams his way through every scene, that his manic performance towers above all else in the film. That’s good because it gives this scattershot film something to cling to. On one hand, it’s about the business of sports gambling and the effects that has on people, but it also wants to be about family and the bonds created through men in the Walter (Pacino) and John Anthony (McConaughey) characters. If the film had focused more on the business of gambling and exactly how Walter’s business is run, it would have been a much more interesting film. The film’s best moments come out of here, whether it’s Jeremy Piven’s performance as a jealous son figure or the near satire that comes when Walter and his handicappers are taping their show. This is the one time that Pacino’s overacting plays perfectly into the character of the film. But all the other characters fall flat in comparison to him throughout the rest of the film, which makes this less than effective.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Grifters

The Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990) [7]
Neo-noir is, for me, something that’s pretty hard to define because it doesn’t have any concrete characteristics to define it the way film noir did. This film is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to being considered the template for neo-noir, not so much for visuals but just from the film’s atmosphere. The characters here are two-bit chiselers trying to find a way out of their seedy, crime-ridden lives. The three main characters here are prototypical noir characters, but they also have a bleaker undercurrent to them than most noir protagonists. That could be because they were the creation of Jim Thompson, who always creates dark stories. What complicates this film is the issue of family and relationships. It’s never easy to tell what the true relationships between all three characters are. Is what we are seeing really how the characters feel about each other? I can never be exactly sure and that’s my only problem with the film. It’s very often that I admonish praise on a score, but Elmer Bernstein’s here is a perfect film noir score. The end is 100% noir, with the characters realizing the need for survival trumps all.

Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005) [7]
This was the first film by Jarmusch that I have seen and his minimalist style is certainly on display here. I have to say I really like it, especially when it focuses on the Bill Murray character’s interaction with the women in his past, especially when it involves dinner. As the Hack has pointed out, the film has a sense of upstate New York regionalism to it, as the shots of Don driving look very similar to what surrounds me here in Binghamton. The film uses these settings in a way that creates a world where there is a lack of action and that certainly could describe upstate. The character of Don is interesting to me, but I also have some issues with him. Murray plays him with just the right amount of resignation in regards to his Don Juan past, but I have a hard time pinpointing his motivations for his journey. It feels like the Jeffrey Wright is pushing him to do this in order to let his character exist in the story as a detective type. I think it is a film that visual style trumps story, which puts the actual film in a sort of middle ground that I can’t make up my mind if I like it more than I do.