Saturday, November 19, 2011

Watching, reading, listening ... November 18

Movie - "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (2011)

Movie - "Sleeping Beauty" (2011)

Completely by accident yesterday I saw two movies that are intimate examinations of young women who, despite (or perhaps because of) their independence and their cold intelligence, are sucked into all-consuming institutions. In "Martha" it's a Catskills Mountain cult and in "Sleeping Beauty" it's a high-end prostitution service.

And I didn't love either one of them, but they both stuck with me in a weird way, particularly "Martha." You really don't fully realize the stakes involved until the end.


Went off to the beach last September and completely lost my blogging momentum.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Watching, reading, listening ... September 18-24

Sept. 18, 2011

TV - "Breaking Bad" - Season 4, Episode 10 - "Salud" - Wow. This season, which has been my least favorite of the four, is certainly turning around.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Watching, reading, listening ... September 11-17

Saturday, Sept. 17

Movie - "Magic Trip" (2011)

Movie - "Red State" (2011)

Friday, Sept. 16

Movie - "Drive" (2011) - The European aesthetic of Michael Mann's 1981 debut, "Thief" gets filtered whole-hog through the lens of a bona fide European, Nicolas Winding Refn, the tooth-grinding auteur behind "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising." It's a whack-job movie, with a pulsing 80s-centric synth soundtrack, some truly syrupy drama, a Melville-ian procedural approach to the underworld and a jaw-dropping collection of violence. Are we supposed to laugh when Ryan Gosling's cheesy satin jacket gets blood-spattered and he continues to wear it? Or when he literally stomps the head off a minor thug? Or when Albert Brooks' homicidal mogul mobster returns a murder weapon to its burnished box full of knives?

I see through the movie's pretense, I anticipated its inspirations, I seriously questioned the logic of the denouement ... and yet I have to say I'll probably pay to see "Drive" again on the big screen within the next week.

Thursday, Sept. 15

- "Archer" - Season 3, Episode 1 - "Heart of Archness, Part 1" - Hilariousness.

- "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" - Season 7, Episode 1 - "Frank's Pretty Woman" - More hilariousness.

- "102 Minutes That Changed America" - Awkward, sensationalistic title aside, this is an absolutely amazing documentary about Sept. 11. Way more nuanced and subtle than standard "History Channel" fare (although that's where it appeared).

The film consists entirely of amateur video shot on 9/11, in New York, from 8:48 to about 10:30 a.m., synched chronologically by timecoding. There's no narration, no interviews, no talking heads and minimal captioning -- you know what happened, anyway.

Even so, the film is harrowing, repulsive, mesmerizing and at times beautiful in a terrible, fiery way.

The tension that grows between the two plane crashes is almost unbearable (all the spectators are aghast ... but you always know that there is so much more awfulness to come). And yet the footage is so captivating and so carefully edited that I actually was surprised when the second attack hit. Then again, we are seeing people fall to their death when that happens....

Wednesday, Sept. 14

Movie - "Meek's Cutoff" (2010)

Tuesday, Sept. 13

- "Our Idiot Brother" (2011)

Monday, Sept. 12

Movie - "Valhalla Rising" (2009) - Second viewing. It was slightly more coherent this time -- not sure if that comes from seeing it again or from watching it at a reasonable hour on a school night.

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

An unintentional triple-feature of films that have just one thing at all in common -- they're about extremely angry dudes.

Movie - "Super" (2010) - Wants to stick our noses right up in the mess, the better for us to appreciate the extreme reality of the carnage, but it also wants to say, "Hey, where's your sense of humor?" This is a deeply confused movie, both in its tone and its ideas.

Movie - "Comedian" (2002) - A decent documentary, but eight years after my first viewing the center strikes me as smug rather than breezy. It alternates between super-successful grizzled vet Seinfeld (who talks constantly about how crazy it is that he's back working as a road comic rather than relaxing on the beach) and up-and-coming comic Orny Adams who is never once shown having any kind of fun at all. He would've eventually killed his own career, but this movie did him the favor. Watching somebody with this many self-esteem issues get this kind of hatchet job is like watching someone who's petrified of firearms get shot in the face with a cannon. The resulting movie would be unbearable if Adams wasn't already thoroughly hate-able.

Movie - "Valhalla Rising" (2009) - Apocalypse Now meets ... Medieval Times! Which is not to say it isn't kind of beautiful.


TV - "Breaking Bad" - Season 4, Episode 9 - "Bug"

TV - "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - Season 8, Episode 10 - "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Watching, reading, listening ... September 4-10

Saturday, Sept. 10

Movie - "Contagion" (2011) - "Marion Cotillard is Katy Perry as Lucy Van Pelt...."

Thursday, Sept. 8

- "Louie" - Season 2, Episode 14 - "New Jersey/Airport" - Steven Wright, F. Murray Abraham, Chris Rock. Rock is extremely good in his short scene, but Abraham gave me some of the biggest laughs of the show, not the least of which was when I realized he was who he was. Also: "That's a bit of none of your business!"

Monday, Sept. 5

TV - "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - Season 8, Episode 9 - "Mister Softee" - For me, any episode that features extended Leon Black = instant hilarity.

Movie - "Stake Land" (2010) - I wonder if "Stake Land" was always called "Stake Land" or if the title was changed after production to court comparisons to "Zombieland." The latter had America overrun by zombies and the former has the country teeming with ... vampires who basically act like zombies. Both tell the story of two guys wandering a monster-plagued post-apoc wasteland, with one being a naive kid, and the other a larger-than-life cowboy with a manga-ish flair for violence, fueled by hatred. Both also have scenes in which a body wrapped in a tarp is unceremoniously dropped off a second story balcony. But -- since "Zombieland" was a smart, funny blast and "Stake Land" is a grim, laborious slog -- the comparisons end there.

Maybe if the two main characters were charting the Mason-Dixon line, or surveying the Louisianna Purchase, it would earn the bleak, gruelling world-weariness its characters suffer under during the second half of the film. But they're fleeing cheaply made-up ghouls and a gang of radical Christian cult members who shave their heads and dress in monk robes. So, please.

The movie loses additional points for a voice-over narration that underlines everything you're seeing onscreen, but "Stake Land" actually gains points for having its theatrical release on the very same day as the completely different (though similarly titled) "Skateland," which is hilarious.

Sunday, Sept. 4

TV - "The X-Files" - Season 3, Episode 4 - "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" - Speaking of an episode that is "one of the greats, one of the best of the series, one for the canon," there's this. Which is my favorite X-File.

Closer in spirit to a "Zone," with Peter Boyle as Bruckman, a sad-sack insurance salesman and possessor of a psychic gift with a limited range -- he can only foresee how someone will die. His days of playing the lottery in vain are interrupted when he becomes involved in a serial killer case investigated by Mulder, Scully. The script neatly hurtles its many contrivances by wrapping them around Bruckman's fascination with fate and destiny, chance and coincidence.

The real Clyde Bruckman, it's worth noting, was a successful comedy writer and director (he wrote Buster Keaton's "The General," co-wrote "Sherlock, Jr." and "The Cameraman, worked with The Three Stooges, et many al) but his career was hobbled by alcoholism and shaky reliability, until its notorious end.

From wiki: With nowhere else to turn, the desolate Bruckman borrowed a .45-caliber pistol from Buster Keaton, claiming to need it for a hunting trip. On the afternoon of January 4, 1955, Bruckman parked his car outside a local restaurant, ate a meal he couldn't afford, entered a restroom, and shot himself in the head.

TV - "Breaking Bad" - Season 4, Episode 8 - "Hermanos" - Honestly, I haven't been crazy about Season 4. So far, it's my least favorite season of the bunch. By far. I've found it slow and needlessly frustrating -- an opinion not borne out by the TV critics I follow each week. But this episode is one of the greats, one of the best of the series, one for the canon.

Ironically, it's the first of the season The A.V. Club has rated below an A-. They gave it a B+. They're completely, utterly wrong.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Watching, reading, listening ... August 28 - September 3

Saturday, Sept. 3

- "All the Real Girls" (2003)

Friday, Sept. 2

- "Childrens Hospital" - Season 3, Episode 14 - "Newsreaders"

Thursday, Sept. 1

- "Louie" - Season 2, Episode 12 - "Niece" - I thought the season had ended with the hour-long "Duckling," so it was a surprise to flip onto a new episode late Thursday night. I thought the "it's called empathy" exchange with Godfrey was a little heavy-handed and on-the-nose, but other than that ....

- "Childrens Hospital" - Season 3, Episode 13 - "Party Down" - Sweet ending.

Tuesday, Aug. 30

Movie - "Jackboots on Whitehall" - Imagine Parker and Stone's "Team America" crossed with "Inglourious Basterds" -- World War II fought by marionettes -- but both previous films set too high a bar for "Jackboots" to clear. The concept is strong, the design is absolutely beautiful ... but the models' faces hardly move (usually just their mouths quiver a little bit) and that completely compromises the movie, gives it a slipshod quality that almost kills it. Admittedly, however, Josef Goebbels, whose face is perpetually frozen in a screech of rage, regardless of the situation, is one of the best jokes of the picture.

Monday, Aug. 29

- "Parks and Recreation" - Season 2, Episode 4 and 8 - "Practice Date" and "Ron and Tammy"

Sunday, Aug. 28

TV - "Breaking Bad" - Season 4, Episode 7 - "Problem Dog"

TV - "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - Season 8, Episode 8 - "Car Periscope"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Watching, reading, listening ... August 21-27

Saturday, Aug. 27

- "Another Earth" (2011)

Thursday, Aug. 25

TV - "Louie" - Season 2, Episode 11 - "Duckling"

Wednesday, Aug. 24

- "The Larry Sanders Show" - Season 3, Episode 13 - "Doubt of the Benefit"

Tuesday, Aug. 23

- "Childrens Hospital" - Season 3, Episode 12 - "The Chet Episode"

Monday, Aug. 22

- "True Blood" - Season 4, Episode 9 - "Let's Get Out of Here"

Sunday, Aug. 21

TV - "Breaking Bad" - Season 4, Episode 6 - "Cornered"

TV - "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - Season 8, Episode 7 - "The Bi-Sexual"

Podcast - "The Smartest Man in the World" - McDonalds

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Watching, reading, listening ... August 14-20

Saturday, Aug 20

- "True Blood" - Season 4, Episode 7 & 8 - "Cold Grey Light of Dawn" and "Spellbound"

Friday, Aug. 19

- "True Blood" - Season 4, Episode 6 - "I Wish I Was the Moon"

- "WTF with Marc Maron" - Jimmy Shubert

Thursday, Aug. 18

- "Louie" - Season 2, Episode 10 - "Halloween/Ellie"

- "True Blood" - Season 4, Episode 4 & 5 - "I'm Alive and On Fire" and "Me and the Devil"

Wednesday, Aug. 17

Movie - "Sucker Punch" (2011) - I, admittedly, only watched half of this two-hour movie. And I really don't like to weigh in on something I haven't seen start-to-finish. But I find it unlikely that the second sixty minutes could do anything to reverse the pretty crappy effect of the first sixty. It's just one long wank by a guy with great visual sense, precious little intelligence and apparently no idea how revealing his aesthetic is of the overall weirdness of his brain.

Zack Snyder also isn't aware how transparent his manipulations are -- not since Mary Pickford led a gang of orphans through an alligator-infested swamp in 1926's "Sparrows" has a such a small waif suffered so much in exchange for our empathy. But Snyder queers the deal by taking his downtrodden heroine and fetishizing the holy shit out of her. Not for nothing is she named "Baby Doll" and for every fat, sweaty, eats-with-his-mouth-open would-be rapist she encounters (and it's a lot) there's an equal number of shots of her full, quivering, heavily-glossed lips; her false eyelashes; and her neon cream skin. She's a damsel not just in distress, but also in pigtails, a sailor skirt, stockings and heels.

Also, the fantasy-within-a-fantasy-within-a-fantasy narrative is really just an excuse to play by no storytelling rules at all. Follow me if you can -- she's an orphan who dreams she lives in a brothel and her hooker persona dreams she's a fantasy warrior, but the fact that the movie opens on a theater stage (an admittedly cool effect) means there's a good chance none of any of it is supposed to be for real.

Tuesday, Aug. 16

Music - The artist's name is Gas (actually Wolfgang Voight) and the album is "Nah und fern" and it is my musical obsession of the past week. When you want music to write to and you don't want things like melody or lyrics getting the way of your think-stuff, this is the road to take. Like an Eno soundscape with a lot more texture.

Monday, Aug. 15

- "Breaking Bad" - Season 4, Episode 5 - "Shotgun" - As we approach the halfway point of (what we know now is) the penultimate chapter, this is by far my least favorite season of the series' run. I really wasn't as wowed by the critics were by the season premiere, and each subsequent episode has felt sluggish and anti-climactic. I'm hoping they're just building momentum for the second half.

Also, Gustavo Fring -- fried chicken magnate, methamphetamine kingpin, Volvo owner -- was so much more compelling and enigmatic when we knew so much less about him. Further, I seriously doubt he would
've taken the risks that could've come from violently pitting employees against each other in public for such a vague reward.

- "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - Season 8, Episode 6 - "The Hero"

- "Childrens Hospital" - Season 3, Episode 11 - "The Night Shift" - A prime example of one of the most unexpectedly hilarious shows on TV. The standard 11-minute running time doesn't hurt, either.

Sunday, Aug. 14

Movie - "Run Man Run" (1968) - Early morning matinee. Had great potential -- I was particularly charmed when our hero, Cuchino, steals a 20 peso coin, uses it to win a beat, then -- just as it appears he's about to steal more -- secretly repays the stolen money from his winnings.

The basic plot is, essentially, what if Tuco from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" found out about the location of the hidden gold and went to go get it himself. But the story meanders in and out of the lines, the cast becomes too crowded, motivations become questionable and it's soon difficult to understand who's fighting for what.

- "Tom Rhodes Radio" - Doug Stanhope

Podcast - "The Indoor Kids" - Episode 4 - Todd Levin