By now I’m resigned to the fact that I simply won’t and can’t be able to write about everything in my pop culture diet. Rather than letting some of my thoughts spin around my head and then disappear (or occasionally emerge on Twitter and slip away from memory), I’ve decided to follow the lead of Nick Hornby’s THE BELIEVER column about what he’s reading and a friend’s weekly log of artistic consumption. This way there’s no pressure to write in full about these works, yet I can still scratch down a few things that might be of interest. Maybe it will be of more value to you than to me, but I hope this will be a worthwhile read.
films watched and books read will be easy enough. For the sake of
practicality and keeping this log a reasonable length I won’t list every
TV episode I watch or song I listen to. (Note: this first entry turned
out to be much longer than intended. So much for keeping it short.)
With TV I’ll write about whatever grabs me; with music I’ll indicate
the albums I spun and the individual songs that stood out.
January 1-7, 2013
1. ROSETTA (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 1999) (Blu-ray) (January 1)
quite fond of the Dardenne brothers’ films and now only have LA
PROMESSE to see of those that brought them international attention and
acclaim. (Never mind the nearly two decades of hard-to-see
documentaries and narrative features preceding it.) ROSETTA won the
1999 Palme d’Or, so surely it’s another brilliant work on par with their
other films, right?
provides a relentless and visually narrow look at the daily realities
of poverty and trying to break free from it. The camera’s point of
view, the enveloping sound design, the charismatic but unsentimental
lead performance (a feral Emilie Dequenne), and narrative urgency are
equal to any of their films, yet this one didn’t grab me as much. I
suspect that seeing Gabriela Pichler’s excellent ROSETTA-influenced
docudrama EAT SLEEP DIE (ÄTA SOVA DÖ) at TIFF 2012 took some of the
shine off its inspiration for me. ROSETTA is another good effort by the
Belgian brothers and one that I hope to appreciate more whenever I
watch it again.
2. HEAVEN’S GATE (Michael Cimino, 1980) (2K DCP) (Wexner Center for the Arts) (January 4)
critical reevaluation of this notorious flop has brought newfound and
renewed appreciation for a film that’s been pop culture shorthand for
Hollywood folly. I tried watching it years ago on DVD and never
finished it. I think I bailed around the time Kris Kristofferson goes
into the general store, so not even a third of the way into the running
time of the director’s cut. I’m glad I didn’t complete it then because
seeing it in 4x3 letterbox would not have been the best introduction to a
shaggy but stunning epic.
a degree HEAVEN’S GATE is an ancestor of THERE WILL BE BLOOD in how it
delineates business and government in America. (I’m passingly familiar
with the TV series DEADWOOD, which plays like another potential
descendant.) Thematically it feels as contemporary as anything being
made now, and stylistically it’s just as fresh. If this film marked the
last hurrah of 1970s studio adventurousness, what a bold and lively way
to go out.
visual scope is enough to sell me on the film’s value. Widescreen
shots of location shoots with hundreds of extras are crammed with detail
and natural beauty. The clattering sound design, especially in the
action-packed climax, builds the sense of bigness and chaos. Sure, the
energy flags at times, but Cimino fulfills his ambition. Although the
violence isn’t particularly realistic to today’s eyes, it’s still as
disturbing as the exaggerated bloodshed in DJANGO UNCHAINED.
observations: I was surprised to discover Terry O’Quinn in a small role
delivering dialogue that would be comfortable coming from his LOST
character. And isn’t that Tom Noonan? (Yes.) Mickey Rourke gets a
funny lesson about biting from a trapper played by Geoffrey Lewis. Jeff
Bridges has to have one of the most interesting filmographies of actors
in his generation. It’s always great to see Kristofferson and Isabelle
Huppert. I feel like people tend to treat Christopher Walken as a
caricature of the oddballs he’s played, but he’s quite good in this.
I’ve never seen Sam Waterston play a character as cold-blooded as he
for the 2K DCP presentation, HEAVEN’S GATE’s transfer is remarkably
film-like most of the time. I feel safe in saying that it doesn’t look
as good as a 70mm print would, but since that is not an option, this was
a worthy alternative. Preserving the grain and softness goes a long
way in making it look like celluloid.
3. OBSESSION (Brian De Palma, 1976) (DVD) (January 6)
Palma’s VERTIGO homage pales in comparison to Hitchcock’s
masterpiece--how could it not?--but he throws enough curves for it to be
trashy fun anyway. (Vague spoiler for a 37-year-old film follows.) I
guessed one of the major turns using the cinematic laws of economy of
characters and the persistence of hairstyles, but other surprises were
still in store. OBSESSION overlaps nicely with the director’s PASSION,
and an enterprising programmer would do well to pair them in a double
feature when the latter is released this year.
4. TEXAS CHAINSAW (John Luessenhop, 2013) (2K DCP in 3D) (Gateway Film Center) (January 7)
strive to keep an open mind before whatever I’m seeing, but I’d be
lying if I said I expected much from the seventh film in THE TEXAS
CHAINSAW MASSACRE series. I liked the 2003 remake, unpopular as that
opinion may be, but I held little hope for this functional sequel to
Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original. TEXAS CHAINSAW isn’t good, but give it
credit for trying to be a little substantive and not piling on the
visual murk favored by many of today’s horror films.
the new film’s prologue, which picks up where the original film ends,
the angry townsfolk initiate a shootout with the warped Sawyer family
and then burn the farmhouse to the ground, presumably killing everyone
inside except for the baby girl one of the mob takes to raise as his own
with his wife. Twenty-odd years later the baby returns to Texas to
claim the mansion from a grandmother she never knew and gets a hard
lesson in her biological family’s history with the locals.
of TEXAS CHAINSAW is particularly scary or disturbing. Seeing it in 3D
adds no benefit, although the shots expressly acknowledging the format
are worth a laugh or two since they border on parody. Still, the film
can’t be dismissed entirely because of the thematic question that
emerges. Is it right to treat figurative monsters with monstrous
behavior rather than letting the justice system handle them? TEXAS
CHAINSAW doesn’t aspire to be a political allegory like Hooper’s film,
nor is it equipped to provide a thoughtful response to the question it
poses. Still, it deserves a few points for attempting to be about
1. Gillian Flynn GONE GIRL (2012)
don’t read novels as often as I’d like, but December travel jumpstarted
my desire to pick up books again. I needed a physical book so I could
keep reading when my flights required turning off my Kindle. I selected
GONE GIRL because praise for it popped up time and again in my Twitter
feed. I tore through the first hundred pages pretty quickly, but I’ll
reserve comments for when I’ve finished it.
2. THE ONE YEAR BIBLE (NEW LIVING TRANSLATION)
few times I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to read the Bible in full
but haven’t been able to keep up with the daily readings. With the
beginning of another year, here goes another attempt.
1. Kylie Minogue LIGHT YEARS (2000)
2. Kylie Minogue APHRODITE (2010)
3. Kylie Minogue KYLIE MINOGUE (1994)
4. Kylie Minogue FEVER (2002)
let it be said that a small role in an art film won’t sell albums.
After seeing Kylie Minogue in HOLY MOTORS and being reminded of her
terrific 2002 single “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, I decided to seek
out some of her music. I never expected to be quite so taken with what
I’ve heard, especially since I don’t regularly listen to electronic
started with FEVER and LIGHT YEARS and have been working through
her catalog in both directions. The disco-inflected LIGHT YEARS has
provided the template for what’s followed: a seemingly endless supply of
irresistible hooks and workout-maximized beats per minute. (Her albums
soundtracked most of my runs during my time out of town during the
holidays.) Considering how successful this formula has been almost
everywhere, I’m amazed she’s struggled to make much of a dent in the
United States. Is her lack of popularity here the reason why she’s yet
to record a James Bond theme song? Otherwise she’d seem to be a
MINOGUE reveals an artist trying to transition from teen sensation to
serious artist. At least on first listen the album seems more reliant
on adult contemporary ballads and textures than I prefer (or than her
subsequent albums feature), but it’s still a solid collection of songs.
With its seamless blend of styles LIGHT YEARS competes with FEVER’s
all-out disco for the top spot among her albums that I’ve heard. APHRODITE is pretty much more of what you’d expect: lots of good
melodies married to up-tempo rhythms.
tracks: “Spinning Around”, “On a Night Like This”, and “Please Stay”
(LIGHT YEARS); “Get Outta My Way” and “Aphrodite” (APHRODITE); “Confide
in Me” (KYLIE MINOGUE), “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, “Come Into My
World”, and “In Your Eyes” (FEVER)
5. Paul McCartney RAM (1971)
up with the Paul McCartney solo and Wings reissues and seeing him in
concert in 2011 reminded me of how many great songs he’s written even if
his whole time in The Beatles is ignored. His early solo work is a lot
weirder and rougher than I realized.
Key tracks: “Dear Boy”, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, “Monkberry Moon Delight”
6. Kat Edmonson WAY DOWN LOW (2012)
suppose WAY DOWN LOW should be classified as a vocal jazz album,
although it’s what would have passed for a pop record until rock ‘n’
roll came onto the scene. (The snarky might tag it as Starbucks/NPR
music, even if such a classification is sort of spot on.) Edmonson’s
voice possesses that jazz chanteuse timbre familiar to the genre--you
know it when you hear it--yet the quality isn’t so pronounced as to
sound affected or precious.
this spotlessly recorded and performed set Edmonson demonstrates that
she’s a talented singer and interpreter. The slowed down cover of The
Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” works beautifully.
Upbeat and downbeat versions of “I Don’t Know” bring out different
shadings in her voice and the lyrics. Lyle Lovett drops by for a
playful duet. This is nothing earth-shaking, but innovation for its own
sake can overrated. Plus, in the age of AutoTune it’s a pleasure to
hear a talented singer doing her thing.
Key tracks: “I Don’t Know”, “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”
7. Japandroids CELEBRATION ROCK (2012)
to back one of last year’s much-praised rock records still sounds samey
to my ears, but then again, I had a similar issue with The Hold Steady
until something clicked. Lots of energy here, no doubt, and I’m not
immune to it. Just waiting to be won over completely.
Key tracks: “Fire’s Highway” and “The House That Heaven Built”
-College and professional football (ABC, CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC)
women are involved in sports media than used to be, but isn’t there
something kind of insulting to them and to the audience in literally
putting them on the sidelines? The woman in the booth for football
games is rare--I vaguely recall coming across one calling a college
game--yet you’ll see women reporting from the sidelines at most
televised football games now. Regardless of if it’s a man or woman on
the field, the sideline reporter strikes me as one of the least
essential parts of game productions, especially when he or she is
sticking a mic in the face of a coach or player running to the locker
room. Is this progress when there’s a sense that having female sideline
reporters is just a way for the producers to add pretty faces to
telecasts? The boys club atmosphere of televised sports exists and
reared its ugly head when Brent Musberger ogled the Alabama
quarterback’s girlfriend during the BCS Championship.
Random observation: Is there a reason why the Pepsi commercial with Drew Brees and One Direction was produced in 4x3?
-666 PARK AVENUE (2012) (ABC)
series has been canceled--the final four episodes are apparently airing
in the summer--and the show never really worked. So why did I watch
the two post-Thanksgiving episodes on my DVR? It’s likely I would have
eventually bailed on 666 PARK AVENUE, even if it had been renewed. At
this point I feel like riding it out the rest of the way to see how they
close it out and provide some answers that have been frustratingly
supernatural, soapy fun hinted at in early episodes never amounted to
much as the series delivered halfhearted stand-alone entries and
mythology building. Not all of the answers needed to be provided by
episode #9, but a sense of the rules and a master plan would have helped
immensely. The series played okay when sticking to Rachael Taylor’s
unsettling experiences in the hotel and Terry O’Quinn’s machinations to
get her in his debt. Instead it seemed like 666 PARK AVENUE was doing
too much and not enough with subplots including the boyfriend’s
unbelievably rapid ascent in New York City politics, the professional
and personal pickles a Broadway writer got into, the psychic teenager,
the mystery around the death of the hotel owners’ daughter, the red box,
-FINAL CUT: THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF HEAVEN’S GATE (2004) (YouTube)
was curious for more information about the brouhaha around HEAVEN’S
GATE and was pointed toward this documentary, which isn’t included in
the Criterion Blu-ray/DVD set.