Friday, January 18, 2013

2013 Pop Culture Journal: Week 2

January 8-14, 2013

Second week in and already it’s a challenge to keep up with this.  I’ll blame it on coming down with the crud that’s going around, writing for the TV show, and consuming quite a bit.  Better late than never, right?


5. IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012) (DVD) (January 8)

At the end of last year the champions of this animated feature came out of the woodwork and for good reason.  Don Hertzfeldt made a funny, achingly sad, and empathetic movie that defies expectations. (Review)

Grade: B+/75

6. GANGSTER SQUAD (Ruben Fleischer, 2013) (35mm) (Arena Grand) (January 11)

Everyone I’d tell that this was no good kept saying, “But that cast!”  True, an impressive cast is assembled, but they’re not credible because Ruben Fleischer applies the comic book team-up film aesthetic (ie., MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS) to a period gangster picture that provides scant characterization.  The tongue-in-cheek humor doesn’t mix well with the off-the-books (but totally OK because they’re cops) violence.  Ryan Gosling does something weird with his voice, at least in his first scene.  The Chinatown sequence is put together nicely enough--is this the replacement scene for the section removed after the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shootings--and the final stand-off isn’t too shabby either.  Ultimately, though, it feels like everyone’s playing dress-up as hard-boiled heroes and villains.

Grade: C-/45
7. BARBARA (Christian Petzold, 2012) (2K DCP) (Gateway Film Center) (January 11)

Although BARBARA is, in part, a thriller and a melodrama, it resists feeling anything at all until the protagonist must make a crucial decision.  Nina Hoss is inscrutable but intriguing as the title character, a doctor banished to the countryside in 1980 East Germany.  The film supplies few details about her and is all the better for it as the larger picture of who she is comes into focus.  BARBARA’s strength is not knowing which direction it may lead us at any moment.   

Grade: B/70

8. DJANGO UNCHAINED (Quentin Tarantino, 2012) (35mm) (AMC Dublin Village) (January 12)

The second time seeing DJANGO UNCHAINED was the charm for me.  I liked it during my first viewing but wasn’t entirely sure that it was complete.  It opened up on a repeat visit, proving to be much deeper and more controlled than I gave it credit.  My favorite films of 2012 tended to require being seen multiple times, which I’ll choose to characterize as a sign of their richness and not my deficiency as a viewer. (Review)

Grade: A/92

9. THE IMPOSSIBLE (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2012) (DVD) (January 13)

The tsunami sequence is suitably impressive, and the period in which mother and son, played by Naomi Watts and Tom Holland, must try to get to safety is ripe with drama. Then they receive some help, and all the air seems to go out of the film.  My NOW PLAYING co-host respectfully disagrees with that point, but the effort to reunite the family, if everyone survived, felt perfunctory to me more often than not. (Review)

Grade:  C+/58


AVANT-GARDE MASTERS: A DECADE OF PRESERVATION (Wexner Center for the Arts) (January 10)

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have much familiarity with experimental cinema, and sometimes what little I’ve seen completely baffles me as to its appeal.  Still, I try to remain open to appreciating the work being done off the beaten path.  I’m acquainted with the person who introduced this particular program, so I thought I’d show support and check it out.  I also feel it’s important to support the Wexner Center’s Film/Video department, as the folks there do an excellent job of providing chances to see films like these on celluloid.  As it turned out, I enjoyed this particular restored shorts program overall and noted how some of these have had clear influences on music videos.

For accounting purposes in this journal, I’m counting shorts separately from features.

1s. COSMIC RAY (Bruce Conner, 1961) (16mm)

Most of the energetic COSMIC RAY features a nude woman dancing to Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say”.  If this have never been projected in the background at a Flaming Lips concert, someone let Wayne Coyne know about it.  It’s exactly the sort of thing that I could see playing behind the band.

2s. RABBIT’S MOON (Kenneth Anger, 1950-70) (35mm)

The only other Kenneth Anger film I’ve seen is LUCIFER RISING, which played on a bill with Olivier Assayas’s DEMONLOVER and David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME.  I found that Anger film to be pretty silly, although I did see it ten years ago, an eternity in cinema literacy terms.  Still...

RABBIT’S MOON, on the other hand, is a lovely tragedy about a clown’s romance with the moon.  There’s some revelatory matching of the doo-wop soundtrack with the images on screen.  The print shown was outstanding.  

3s. VELVET UNDERGROUND IN BOSTON (Andy Warhol, 1967) (16mm)

The longest short in the program was also the most trying.  Andy Warhol’s document of a Velvet Underground concert has its moments, mainly in revealing details with archival/historical interest, but at 33 minutes I found it to be a real slog.  It’s composed of whatever happened to interest Warhol during the show, making it kind of like his version of a Frederick Wiseman documentary.

4s. PIXILLATION (Lillian Schwartz, 1970) (16mm)
5s. OLYMPIAD (Lillian Schwartz, 1971) (16mm) (3D)
6s. ENIGMA (Lillian Schwartz, 1972) (16mm) (3D)

Sensory overload with colors and shapes rendered in early computer animation set to electronic music proved to be the program’s most visually stimulating segments.  My favorite was ENIGMA, the most aggressive of the three.  

7s. PREFACES (Abigail Child, 1981) (16mm)

The sound collage is impressive, even if I couldn’t always follow it very well.  Chalk this one up to appreciating the technique but not being grabbed by it much otherwise.

8s. AMERICA IS WAITING (Bruce Conner, 1981) (16mm)

Conner’s montage of what I presume is stock footage is set to the music of David Byrne and Brian Eno, again making his influence on music videos seem apparent to me.  I want to say something by Ministry resembles this short, but who knows if that’s right.  It feels like something I’ve seen mimicked a lot.




8. David Bowie STATION TO STATION (1976)

Not much to say other than what a weird, wonderful album.  I look forward to the new album he’ll be releasing this year.

Key tracks: “Golden Years”, “Word on a Wing”, and “TVC 15” (although I should just put the whole album here)

9. Kylie Minogue X (2007)
-Kylie Minogue FEVER

Kylie Minogue’s tenth studio album is more of the same.  No complaints here.  These two albums--I wrote a little about FEVER last week--kept me moving at the gym this week.

Key tracks: “2 Hearts”, “In My Arms”, “Speakerphone”, and “Sensitized”

Live music

1. Jeff Mangum (Opening acts: The Briars of North America and Tall Firs) (Southern Theatre - Columbus, Ohio) (January 14)

Because of the near-unanimous praise for Neutral Milk Hotel’s IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA on a Guided by Voices LISTSERV I was subscribed to in 1998, I bought the album unheard.  So what if the band’s name was weird and I had no idea what the album would sound like.  Once I got my hands on it, I thought it was as great as it had been touted.  Little did I expect this album to attain the modern classic status it enjoys.  It seemed more like an underground secret.  

Fifteen years later, including a period where it seemed like no one knew what Jeff Mangum was doing or what happened to him, I finally got to see him perform songs from IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA.  I didn’t really have any expectations.  Even if I had, they would have been exceeded.  I pretty much had the chills through his entire set. Except for when a member of The Briars of North America came out to add French horn or trumpet, it was just him on stage playing an acoustic guitar and belting out his songs with a voice like a brass instrument.  If I had a weaker constitution, I might have cried through the whole show.  From the opener “Oh Comely” to the encore “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”, it was so painfully beautiful.

That reaction may sound like hyperbole, but this was a concert where the normal rules were thrown out.  After the first song Mangum invited people to come closer and sing along.  The Southern Theatre isn’t really set up for a standing room crowd, yet a good number of folks surged forward.  Fourteen rows back I could still see him and, like some other rear orchestra stragglers, had the row almost to myself.  The concert was still very intense and had a worshipful air.  (The discomfort I did feel was for Mangum when people would shout out extreme praise at him, which was fairly common between songs.  As I understand it, part of the reason he went “missing” was because he couldn’t handle his previous success.)

As for the opening acts, The Briars of North America played an enjoyable set of folk/chamber pop while the duo Tall Firs plodded through one mid-tempo song about death after another.  



File under Unfortunately Named Television Series.  It’s not in the top tier of current TV comedies, but it’s finding its legs during the second season and deserves a chance to develop.  Too bad the way it’s being aired--leftover season one episodes that break continuity scattered among season two shows--indicates it isn’t long for this world.

DON’T TRUST THE B---- IN APARTMENT 23 can push the limits on TV’s standards and practices--note the title--but the raunchy humor here has the cleverness that seems to be missing in pop culture free to be as nasty as it wants to be.  I’ll concede that I’m not crazy about excessively vulgar humor, so this show may hit the sweet spot for me of challenging boundaries but being restrained from obliterating them.  The obstructions require creativity to work around them.

The push and pull between Krysten Ritter’s cheerful wickedness and Dreama Walker’s idealistic stodginess is balanced quite nicely.  There’s room for both characters to be who they are without casting judgments on their opposite personalities and worldviews. I’ve grown weary of the washed-up celebrity playing himself/herself for easy laughs in movies and TV shows, but James Van Der Beek is very funny playing James Van Der Beek.  The series has given him something to do rather than just stand around debasing himself as has-been for our amusement.  Ray Ford steals scenes as JVDB’s loyal assistant.   


I couldn’t care less who wins the Golden Globes, but this year’s ceremony was entertaining by awards show standards.  Or it was worth paying attention to while following the comments of a significant portion of my Twitter stream.  It’s too bad that hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler didn’t get to do much beyond a solid opening monologue, but that’s how these programs usually go.  (Loved the DOG PRESIDENT nominees, though.)  Funny how there’s such a fuss about who’s hosting when they don’t get much time. 

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