Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I'm taking a hiatus from this blog. (The cries of shock and disapointment reverbering around the internets is deafening!). But hey, I'll be regularly posting snippets, news items and music over at my new digs, also called the Mixed-Up Files. Cause you know that name rocks. I just think the quick 'n easy tumblr-style is what I'm in the mood for these days. See you on the other side!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Alphabet Meme

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles.

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under "R," not "S" as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with "S." Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under "R," not "I" as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under "L" and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under "C," as that's what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type "alphabet meme" into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

All About Eve
Double Indemnity
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Far From Heaven
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Ice Storm
Jackie Brown
Key Largo
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Mean Girls
Now, Voyager
Opening Night
The Piano
It's Quite odd that I can't think of one film I liked beginning with Q...
Singin' in the Rain
Todo Sobre Mi Madre
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
The Visitor
A Woman Under the Influence
X-Men 2
Y Tu Mama Tambien


Open tag, y'all. Go wild.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Choking on pretzels

Yet again, I offer up apologies for my prolonged leave of absence. My bad. As a combined welcome back to myself, and a sorry note, I present two new reviews. Shock and, indeed, horror!


Paying to see W in the cinema, less than a week after Barack Obama’s historic ascent to be the first black President-Elect of the United States, and coming at the wind-down of a politically riveting two year campaign in which I (and most of the Western World) became saturated up to our eyelids with policies, candidates and CNN, feels like a bit of a ripoff. You wonder why on earth Oliver Stone felt the need to make this particular film, a biopic of the sitting US leader, at this point in time. JFK and Nixon, Stone’s two other Presidential targets, were made years after each men had left office, surely its far too early to make the kind of incisive, thoughtful feature the topic deserves. Without the benefit of hindsight to shade in all the consequences, the film feels frustratingly unfinished. Even worse, after two years of exciting new political figures and rhetoric, the subject translates as boring and tired.

So, Stone is left floundering between these two poles - on the one hand, too early and on the other, too late. Post-Obama, post-Palin, post-Joe the Plumber, does he really expect an audience to still chortle at Bush’s mangled syntax? This film seems stuck in 2004, when everyone passed on those Bushism emails and made jokes about cowboys. The political landscape has changed drastically since then, and one-liners which might have seemed amusing a few years ago now appear vaguely embarrassing. A number of familiar remarks are shoehorned into the screenplay - “"Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?", “Misunderestimated” - sounding more like the product of laziness on screenwriter Stanley Weiser’s part, than cutting satire.

A reliance on cheap laughs (which, incidentally, didn’t seem to inspire much mirth in the, albeit mostly empty, screening I attended) wouldn’t be such a problem if W dared to probe deep into its protagonist’s inner world. Josh Brolin’s Dubya comes across as bit of a dunderhead, someone fundamentally confused about his place in the world and constantly struggling to escape his father’s shadow. So far, so common. But, frustratingly, that’s as far as it goes. We learn nothing new about any of the main shakers ‘n players of the Bush administration, nor do we gain any radical understanding of the events that transpired throughout their rule. Many epochs are, in fact, left out altogether. Nothing big is made of 2004’s election scandal and Katrina isn’t mentioned at all. To the film’s credit, this version Bush isn’t crudely drawn as the cartoonish villain, but I’d argue it swings too far back in the opposite direction; by leaving out some of the most reprehensible acts of his administration, it basically hands him a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

Thankfully, many of the performances are worth a look, in particular Brolin’s leading role. It’s not a particularly subtle portrayal - but Bush is not a subtle kind of guy - and Brolin shades in just the right amount of differing emotional facets (and neatly side-steps the traditional Gurning Monkey impression) to create a vivid character. The always-welcome James Cromwell is probably the standout in the cast; he is frankly terrifying as Bush Snr, and his performance exists as the most celluloid-ready in the picture, as he doesn’t rely on a physical similarity. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Thandie Newton, who thankfully has little to say as Condoleeza Rice. Her performance is frankly bizarre; she looks like Condi, but speaks as if she’s only just learned how to form vowels with her mouth. She appears to be in acute physical pain during her scenes; whether this was a conscious actor’s choice or an actual ailment was hard to say. Seriously, I’m baffled to what she was doing in this part. Newton’s Condi would have looked out-of-place on SNL, where Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin at least sounded like a human. The cast as a whole are shockingly un-united. It’s as if they picked up on the unfocused direction and sloppy script and misinterpreted them as a thematic choice rather than faults; some of them seem to think they’re in a proper adult drama while others simply chew the scenery and play for laughs.

It’s not a complete disaster - aside from everything previously mentioned, plus the disorientating cinematography and editing AND its overly long- and there are some choice moments. Toby Jones pops as Karl Rove and the final shot, employing an old but visually arresting baseball metaphor, is well done. Yet the film, on the whole, fails to deliver. It speaks volumes that, during my screening, I was itching for it to end so I could go home and visit the various punditry blogs I’ve been reading. When a film, which should be bolder, more exciting and inventive than real life only leaves me yearning to get back into reality, you know you’ve got a failure on your hands.

High School Musical

Despite the groaning shelf loads of East High Wildcats cheerleading uniforms and embossed lunchboxes, the Disney moguls have neglected one key merchandising option for the High School Musical 3 franchise: a limited edition can of Ronseal paint. That said, it is debatable whether it would sell, but Ronseal’s famous tagline - “Does exactly what it says on the tin” - serves as a handy summation of exactly why High School Musical 3 is, in fact, a Good Film. In this respect I share in the sentiments of Mark Kermode, the reviewer-in-residence over at Simon Mayo’s BBC 5 Live Friday slot, who recently named the third instalment of the franchise as his movie of the week, much to the disgust of a number of regular listeners to texted and emailed in to complain. Where I differ from the Good Doctor in one respect is that the film didn’t make me tear up, but apart from this, I share his enthusiasms wholeheartedly. HSM3 delivers exactly what you’d expect: a heart-warming, inspirational story peopled with good looking young stars and a song-and-dance routine every few minutes. This is all to be expected, but what I didn’t anticipate was the tricksy choreography, the homages to Fosse, a number of good belly laughs and a general accumulation of good feeling that lasted long after I stepped out of the cinema. After a rake of disappointing features in the cinema this past month, I’m surprised and a little perversely happy to say this is one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in theatres for months.

There’s no question of who the star is. Zac Efron bookends the film, his blandly anodyne features engulfing the screen, sweaty and focused during the opening basketball game, and beaming in what can only be relief at the end. I don’t know where I’d gotten the memo that Efron was leaden-footed, but it was obviously mistaken: the boy can dance surprisingly well, and some of the most enjoyable moments in the film come when he gets his Saturday Night Fever on. Yet Troy’s main storyline, his romance with the irritatingly perfect Vanessa Anne Hudgens, who plays Gabriella, provides us with some of the film’s least interesting moments. A rendezvous in a tree house, a wardrobe-consultation meeting on the roof of their school that develops into a Waltz 101, yet another romantic tree-based conversation; the filmmakers seem determined to lift these two lovebirds high in the air, but it’ll take more vertical height to elevate this rather pedestrian storyline. As usual in films such as this, the supporting characters steal the show and in this case it falls to scheming drama queen Sharpay Evans and her campy choreographer brother Ryan. Their main number, the so-catchy-it-hurts “I Want It All”, is the film’s undoubtable highlight, with snazzy production design that almost seems cribbed from the dream sequences in classics like Singin’ in the Rain. Ryan, all perma-grin and Jazz Hands, and Sharpay, who’s own blend of Britney/Paris/Nicole-lite obliviousness and Academy of the Dramatic Arts deviousness, have a great rapport and the film immediately perks up whenever they’re on screen, This doesn’t leave Troy completely flailing around in their dust, however. An energetic dance routine in a scrap yard with Troy and Chad (Corbin Bleu) isn’t likely to leave the ghosts of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor nervously looking over their shoulders, but packs just the right amount of playful muscular bravado and fancy footwork to make the scene pop.

Coming from an Irish, Catholic second level school, I can’t claim to relate to the world of High School Musical, but then again, I doubt very much if American teenagers could relate to it either. It’s not so much the impromptu musical numbers which destroy any semblance of realism, but the fact that nobody ever seems to go to class or study for exams. The characters’ fears for the future are broached tentatively, but not in any way that would allow a regular teenager - worried over grades and colleges and jobs - to identify with. In its narrative and characterisation, the film treads on many toes. For example, is Sharpay, supposedly a seasoned and talented amateur actress, really so disgusted by the onstage appearance of Troy’s understudy that she gives up on her lines and blocking completely? Would a basketball star really hand over the reigns to an inexperienced doofus freshman at the critical juncture in his last ever game? Are we supposed to find a puerile exercise in bullying and public humiliation endearing? This questions, and more, float around the peripherary of the whole HSM 3 experience, but don’t expect to hold on to them for very long. No sooner had a quibble formulated in my head than the next glitzy set piece had shoved it right out again. You could strike up a black mark for this shameless seducing of the audience, but then you’d be missing the point. Placed back to back with a supposedly more serious film such as W, there's no question of which work comes across as fuller, more even-handed and, best of all, most inviting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

DFW (1962-2008)

Sad news, folks. A true original and a mind-bogglingly talented writer, David Foster Wallace, was found dead in an apparant suicide at his home in California on Friday. It's an incredible loss, not only to his thousands of devoted fans, but to his wife Karen Green, and his students at Pomona College, where he has been teaching creative writing for the last few years. I've been an admirer of Foster Wallace since I happily plowed through what we can now say is his definitive work, the gargantuan Infinite Jest, last summer. I've also enjoyed numerous essays by him, on topics as diverse as John McCain's 2000 presidential bid, luxury holiday cruises, playing tennis and David Lynch. Whatever he turned his attention on, he illuminated with wit, depth and a characteristic curiousity about the world. His writing was lucid, funny, sometimes melancholy, often challenging but never obtuse. I'd often approach a new piece by him with a dictionary at my side, but finish reading with a head full of new concepts and questions about the world, and a heart full of emotions, rather than just a list of new vocabulary.

But while his own fiction often showcased his mastery of postmodern pyrotechnics — a cold but glittering arsenal of irony, self-consciousness and clever narrative high jinks — he was also capable of creating profoundly human flesh-and-blood characters with three-dimensional emotional lives. In a kind of aesthetic manifesto, he once wrote that irony and ridicule had become “agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture” and mourned the loss of engagement with deep moral issues that animated the work of the great 19th-century novelists.
- from The NY Times

I'm really shocked and upset by this news, as are many writers, bloggers and others literary types. If you try to enter the McSweeney's site, you're greated by a blank page. "Timothy McSweeney is devastated and lost". I know how they feel.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Dr. Smith’s Lost in the Space at the End of Summer Movie Quiz.

I'm partaking in one of the seasonal Q&As hosted by Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. In comparison with the veteran commenters over at the site, I'm woefully uneducated, but this was a helluva lotta fun to do.

1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie

This includes musicals, right? If not, I’ll have to rack my brains a little harder, but if we are including musicals, then it has to be the Gideon & Jagger scene from All That Jazz. There are so many iconic moments in that film - the entire opening sequence for example - but the moment that hits me right in the solar plexus is this one. Seen out of context, it’s wonderful;
Peter Allen’s singing, the natural camaraderie between Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Foldi and of course, the dancing. But seen as part of the whole film, it becomes almost too much for me to bear. When I first saw All That Jazz, I rewatched this one scene maybe 10 times. Since then, I have no idea how many times I’ve watched that one scene, but it must be nearing the hundreds. The thought of Joe Gideon’s girlfriend and daughter working on that routine for hours, to get it just right for the notorious perfectionist. The knowledge that even if it wasn’t perfect, he’d be bowled over regardless. The fact that Kate is so loving and caring with Michelle, and thatall the basic ingredients for a happy family are here, ut yet Joe continues to sleep around and throw his life away. The part where Reinking plays Michelle’s stomach like a piano, glances at Joe and says “Pretty pictures.” Joe’s funky apartment, with all the theatre paraphernalia and those “whatchamacallit lights”. The part where the duo rush at Joe to kiss him. Finally, and most importantly, Joe’s face throughout. I don’t know how Roy Scheider does it. Amusement, regret, incredulity, sadness, pride - they’re all there. The killer: during the line, “And every gal only had one fellow”. His face at that point slays me. It’s a little flash of recognition, of regret and embarrassment and still you can see he’ll never change. Beautiful.

If we’re not talking musicals, Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek slow dancing in the dark to Nat King Cole in Badlands. I am so excited about the upcoming rerelease.

2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews
I have this unwritten rule, which states: if you are presented with a multiple choice question and one of the answers is connected to Laura (1944), this is your best bet.

3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie
You can’t go wrong with a most of his films, but I’ll pull out something a little different: Garbo Talks, while not a great film by any means, is entertaining purely because of Anne Bancroft. She plays this firecracker New Yoiker whose dying wish is to meet Greta Garbo. Every minute when she’s not on screen (a quite sizeable amount of time, tbh) is quite dull, but near the end Lumet grants her this great, lengthy monologue about the similarities between herself and Garbo. Fantastic acting.

4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season
The pregnancy quotient is way down on last year.

5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth
Remember the rule! Gene Tierney.

6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?
On DVD: Raising Arizona. “Mighty fine cereal flakes, Mrs. McDonough!”

In theaters: The Strangers.

7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?

8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?
It hasn’t been released yet, but I’d be 24% more likely to go watch the remake of The Women if it featured Vanessa Williams doing an impression of Annette Bening. Which, you know, I'm not completely sure it doesn't.

9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung
Tony Leung.

10) Most pretentious movie ever
Garden State.

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie

12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”
Hannah And Her Sisters or Mean Girls.

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo
To be honest, I really need to see more work by both women to make a fair judgement. But this is a blog, where fair appraisals aren’t required and I’m saying Dietrich purely because of her role in Witness For The Prosecution. The twist in the tail of that character! I’m still as gob smacked as I was the first time I saw it, years and years ago.

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?
I usually sneak in sweets; peanut M&Ms, Minstrels, Smarties. Most vile? Buttered popcorn.

15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system
Rachel McAdams.

16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?
Everyone needs a good laughing work-out, so I’ll kick start my theater off with three of my favourite comedies: His Girl Friday, Tootsie and The Lady Eve.

18) What’s the name of your theater? (The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in…)
The Local. Okay, that's a terrible name. The Fleapit. No, that's worse. The Local Fleapit? PERFECT. Hilarity will ensue.

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress.
Angela Lansbury in Gaslight. She celebrated her 18th birthday on set! Watch the video, she talks about her experience on the film and there’s a photograph of the birthday, with Ingrid Bergman cutting her cake!

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season
Many, many subpar dramas. I know the summer isn’t prime drama season, but there were quite a few movies that looked promising enough until I actually watched the damn things. Smart People, Married Life, bleurgh.

22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated
The Dark Knight. I liked it a lot, but I mean - come on. It wasn't even the best film I saw that month, let alone the best film of all time.

24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated

Tom McCarthy.

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?
No. I prefer Tommy the Cat!

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd
Trevor Howard was in The Third Man. Nuff said.

27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?
The best answer would probably be to say Paul Thomas Anderson, which I partly agree with. But I also have to pitch in a mention for Tom McCarthy, who has shown us, in a mere two films, that there is still room for bittersweet, character driven pieces and that Big Liberal Ideas can form an integral part of a film without overtaking it.

28) Favorite William Castle movie

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie
Aren't most films ethnographically oriented? West Side Story, I guess.

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?
Ah, so many. Blindness, because the book haunts me with regular nightmares and I’m curious to see how on earth it’ll translate to screen. Burn After Reading, because even the trailer makes me laugh. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Doubt. Synecdoche, New York.

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?
I wonder how Hitch would have handled the 21st century? New technology and all.

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?
Tim Burton could keep mum for a couple of years and I’d be happy. Not for ever, you understand, just five years or so. Let some new ideas percolate around his brain. Spend some quality time watching dvds, catching up on recent actors who aren’t called Johnny or Helena.

Friday, August 22, 2008

It’s hard out there for a Tori Amos fan.

Not only do you have to deal with the inevitable "She's just a poor Kate Bush for the nineties!", but you also have to defend her while at the same time acknowledging that her body of work includes The Beekeeper. She appears in public sprouting off about faeries. She indulges in tedious dress up games. She cannot edit her albums for shit. All these things are qualities that would usually turn me off an artist immediately, but because of the entirety of Little Earthquakes, Under The Pink, From The Choirgirl Hotel, Boys For Pele bits and pieces of Strange Little Girls, Scarlet's Walk, and American Doll Posse, the live disc of To Venus And Back, the odd interview in which she can be hysterically funny and a whole load of b-sides, I make a huge exception for Tori. She can release half a dozen albums that are on the same level as The Beekeeper from now on, if she so feels like it (I hope she doesn't, obvs) but because of that back catalogue, I'm an Ear With Feet for life. So, in honour of her 45th birthday, I'm making a Top Ten Tori Tunes list.

Even leaving a handful of her studio albums off the longlist, a top ten will be hard to compile especially taking into account all the b-sides and covers and live tracks available. Lady is prolific. And I'm so fickle, this list will be obselote tomorrow, when I decide that 'Winter' or 'Cooling' or her version of 'Famous Blue Raincoat' or 'Tear In My Hand' or any number of other songs deserve a placing. You get the picture. But for now, here they are:

10. Father Lucifer

An example of how her left-of-centre interviewee style sometimes works really well can be found during the VH1 Storytellers concert. This song opens that concert, and I laugh every time I hear her introduction to it: "And my dad and I...I...I really do love my dad, it took us many years to, um, I think, respect each other's spiritual beliefs. So, um, when I came home, I guess it was a Thanksgiving because I remember a bird, and forks going down at the table, when my father said to me, "Tori Ellen, I can't believe you wrote this song about me". And I said "I write everything about you, what are you surprised about?". And he said, "No, but I'm really hurt about this one." And I said, "Well, which one is it?". And he said, "Well, you call me Satan." And I said, "No! I was taking drugs with the South American shaman and I really did visit the devil, and I had a journey!" And he went, Oh praise Jesus!". The version above isn't necessarily my favourite (like I said before, I love the Storytellers version, and you can't beat the studio cut) but it's still fantastic.

09. Mr Zebra

This only negative thing I can think to say about this song is that it's way too short. At 1 minute and 6 seconds, its over before you get a chance to appreciate all its jaunty, wry offerings. My solution: play on repeat. I listened to this song on repeat every morning during Transition Year, while walking up to school. It was like my own personal theme tune. That last line! "Too bad the burial was premature, she said. And smiled."And watch the above live video, where she completely screws it up but manages to save it just at the last moment.

08. Northern Lad

Okay, ignore the stupid homemade video and just listen to the song. I could've chose a live version to put here, but the studio version makes me cry. It's the only song I can think of containing an f-bomb that can make me well up every time it comes on. I think it's the line "I guess you go too far / When pianos try to be guitars".

07. She's Your Cocaine / Raspberry Swirl

Shoot me. I couldn't choose between the two, so they can jostle for space together at number seven on my list. Both are on From The Choirgirl Hotel (at times my overall favourite), both are fast, sweaty and slightly sleazy. Love it.

06. Playboy Mommy

The saddest Tori song, bar none.

05. Talula

I surprised myself by putting this on the list. I came to Pele later than most of her other stuff, so I'm not as familiar with some of the tracks on it in the same way as, say, Little Earthquakes. Yet this song stays in the mind for a number of reasons. The harpsichord and mandolin are possibly my favourite instrumentation of every Tori Amos song, but I think it's this section:

I got big bird on the fishing line
with a bit of a shout a bit of a shout
a bit of an angry snout
he's my favourite hooker of the whole bunch
and i know about his only bride
and how the russians die on the ice
i got my rape hat on
honey but i always could accessorise
and i never cared too much for the money
but i know right now
that it's in god's hands
but i don't know who the father is.
I love the phrasing of that whole piece, it's great to sing along to. When she suddenly breaks out the falsetto on "and I never cared too much for the money", she sounds like Prince.

04. Muhammed My Friend

Every time I listen to the studio version of this, the introductory piano solo drives me insane. I can't wait to delve into the main body of the song, goddamit! And yet, I couldn't do without that piano solo. It creates a tension, an anticipation, a pause before that triumphant opening couplet. I hate David Letterman, but the above version is worth a watch.

03. Siren

Anyone remember the 1998 Great Expectations movie, directed by Alfonso Cuaron? No, me neither. Looking it up on IMDB, the castlist is crazy: Robert deNiro, Anne Bancroft, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Gwennie Paltrow. Maybe it's just me, but I had no idea any of those people were ever in a film together. Anyway, I'm thankful for it because it gave us one of Tori's best recent songs. I always think of circles when I listen to it. That chorus. It sounds elliptical
to me, or something.

02. Take To The Sky

I never actually told anybody this, but 'Take To The Sky' was the unofficial sponser of my Leaving Cert year. Anytime I felt grumpy or tired or bogged down in exam revision, I listened to this. It's defiant and quietly furious, catchy as all get out and features some bitchin' piano slaps. Exams? "Here I stand with a sword in my hand!". (Yeah, I know how lame that sounds. But it worked like a charm!)

01. Precious Things

I said that this list is exremely subject to change, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will always be numero uno. It was the first Tori Amos song I absolutely fell in love with. Let me flash back for a second, to Christmas 2003. I was heavily in the throes of my Nirvana phase, but I spotted a review of an best-of album called Tales of a Librarian in some music mag and liked what I read. After downloading 'Cornflake Girl' as a taster, I decided to buy it and so I purchased it the next time I was in town. I had liked 'Cornflake Girl' (who doesn't, right?) but when I heard this song, I was blown away. It opens the collection and is the absolute best primer a newbie could hope for. Everything essential about her is contained in this one song: beautiful piano playing, a novelistic sense of storytelling, the Catholicism, spurts of sudden rage - those jarring bursts of electric guitar still give me the shivers - humour, even the Trent Reznor friendship ("those demigods / with their nine-inch nails"). I always associate this with Margaret Atwood (I think I was reading Cat's Eye for the first time around this period). The song and the book kind of bleed into one another, both are extremely important to me. To borrow a line from another song not on this list, "They say you were something in those formative years". Yeah, I was something. Obsessed with this song. Still am. Listen!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The man who walked on air

Yeah, I know. Long time no blog. There's no particular excuse or reason, other than general ambivalence towards it, but I had to post about the most recent film I saw in theaters, James Marsh's film, Man On Wire. Give and take a Wall-E here and a The Visitor there, this is one of the best films I've seen all year. Come to think of it, all three have something in common. The critically-adored Pixar smash, the low-budget immigration story buried inside Tom McCarthy's character based second film and the award winning documentary about wire-walker Philippe Petit all share a common feeling. Watching each of the three, I felt the urgent need pressed upon me to really appreciate life, to take chances, to create art. Believe me, I know how cheesy this all sounds. But watching Philippe Petit dancing across the empty space between the twin towers, his only support a tiny cable, I felt truly exhilarated. There's a beautiful moment when he spots a policeman on the top of one of the towers, urging him to come back to safety, and Petit's face breaks into this beatific smile. It's hilarious, extraordinary, terrifying (at this moment, he's 400 metres up in the air).

The basic story has been told and retold to death. Petit, a French street performer and self-taught wire walker (a much classier term than tightrope walker, don't you think?) became obsessed with the World Trade Centre towers as they were being built. He followed their progress in the French newspapers, all the while formulating a plan in the back of his mind. He wanted to walk across them. He needed to walk across them. The towers became a full blown obsession for him. So he acted on his obsession: gathering a town, scoping out the towers, reading, sketching, making diagrams. Insane preparations. He rigged up a mock cable in a Frencg field and got a bunch of friends to jump up on down on it as he crossed, to stimulate the probable wind conditions. He had notebooks filled with complex instructions and doodles. He made contacts inside the WTC, so his team could have mock I.D. cards. 6 years of intense planning, all culminating in 45 minutes on a clear August morning in 1974. Having snuck up to the highest floor, hidden from the guards and rigged the cable across the two towers (an incredibly complex manouevre), early birds in New York city were treated to the spectacle. Petit crossed back and forth 8 times, pausing at different points to kneel, lie down and look up at the clouds and, insanely, to actually look straight down. I'll repeat that: he knelt on the wire and gazed down into New York city, 400 metres above it. I get dizzy climbing the stairs into the attic!

It's an interestingly constructed film, mixing talking heads, archive footage and artful reconstructions in order to dazzle the audience. Petit himself, now 59, is a lively, engaging storyteller. His wide eyed retelling of his escapades are amusing, but his gleeful joie de vivre is set off by some of the other contributers. His former girlfriend, Annie Allix and one time best friend, Jean-Louis Blondeau, both provide moving accounts. They are both impressed and saddened by Petit. After the feat, his relationship with both people fizzled out; perhaps a necessity after collaborating on something that intense. It's one of the things I liked most about the documentary, its focus on the intense planning of the 'before' and the bittersweet letdown of the 'after', as well as the glorification of the event itself. Go see it, please. It's the most thrilling, moving paean to art and the creative impulse that you'll see in the cinema all year.

More on Petit:

I observed the tightrope 'dancer'—because you couldn't call him a 'walker'—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire....And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle....He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again....Unbelievable really....[E]verybody was spellbound in the watching of it

- the eyewitness report of Sgt. Charles Daniels, the officer assigned to coax Petit down.

'Many people use the words "death defying" or "death wishing" when they talk about wire-walking. Many people have asked me: "So do you have a death wish?" After doing a beautiful walk, I feel like punching them in the nose. It's indecent. I have a life wish.'

- in his own words. From an interview with the Observer.

I also discovered that Paul Auster (i.e. my favourite writer) has a connection to Petit! Living in Paris in the early seventies, he encountered Petit as a street performer. Captivated, he followed his career with interest, which ended up with a meeting between the two men. Auster helped Petit with getting his book, On The High Wire, published, and he also translated it into English from the French original. In the preface to the book, Auster writes a piece on his appreciation of Petit and I have it in my Collected Prose. Here's a short excerpt, describing his first sighting of Petit. He taps into what's so magnetic about the man:

"Unlike other street preformers, he did not play to the crowd. Rather, it was somehow as though he had allowed the audience to share in the working of his thoughts, had made us privy to some deep, inarticulate obsession within him. Yet there was nothing overly personal about what he did. Everything was revealed metaphorically, as if at one remove, through the medium of the performance. His juggling was precise and self-involved, like some conversation he was holding with himself. He elaborated the most complex combinations, intricate mathematical patterns, arabesques of nonsensical beauty, while at the same time keeping his gestures as simple as possible. Throught it all, he managed to radiate a hypnotic charm, oscilliating somewhere between demon and clown. No one said a word. It was as though his silence were a command for others to be silent as well. The crowd watched, and after the performance was over, everyone put money in the hat. I realised that I had never seen anything like it before."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thank God it wasn't Infinite Jest...

J.D. has tagged me and I duitifully respond. This time it's a gleefully pointless bookish meme:

  1. Pick up the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Locate the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
  5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged me.
I say pointless, because taking three lines from the middle of a book won't necessarily yield up any great surprises, although my closest at hand, Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, did throw up a curse.

"A neatly lettered message, relatively polite - in the States it would have been Cunt - and ordinarily Roz would have merely calculated the cost of the repair and how much time it would take to get it done, and whether it's deductible. Also, she would take out her annoyance by making a scene with the parking lot attendent. Who did this?"

This book has been sitting on the living-room shelf for a few months, after I stupidly bought it in the midst of a book buying spree at Borders. Why stupidly? Because I already own a copy of the book and have read it a few times. In the bookshop, I somehow got confused and bought it, thinking I was getting The Blind Assassin. It wasn't until I got home, cracked it open and read the first line that I went "....wait a second...". So, anybody in the market for a copy of The Robber Bride? It's good, I swear. So good, I bought it twice!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Humphrey Lyttleton

I was sorry to hear that veteran trumpet player Humphrey Lyttleton passed away last night. Despite being one of Britain's foremost jazz talents (he was invited to the States in 1968 to play for the crew of Apollo 8), he was also a cartoonist, a calligrapher and a broadcaster. I knew him mainly from I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, still the funniest panel show ever broadcast on any media. Of course, there's also his appearance on Radiohead's Life In A Glasshouse. Jonny Greenwood wrote and asked him to play on Amnesiac's closing track and the result is phenomenal. I urge people to check out Radiohead performing the song on Jools Holland, with Humph onstage. Here's what he said about the experience:

".... it was very interesting indeed. When they asked me to bring some members of my band along and do something with them for their new CD, I had to ask my daughter who they were. I then met up with Jonny Greenwood and heard a tape of their music. And if you'll pardon the expression, I thought to myself, "What the Hell?" - this is a kind of music new to me and it presented a challenge. In the process I got to appreciate their music and I think they got to appreciate mine and I think that can't be bad."

A young Humph with Duke Ellington

Just the thing...

...to get me posting again.

That's Don DeLillo (in the greenish cap) and Paul Auster (beside him), along with two Gotham Book Market employees at a Yankees game. Yesssss.

Picture credit http://blog.myfinebooks.com

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Can you feel the love tonight? I can. It feels like waves of love radiating through the screen, warm fuzzy pink clouds emanating from my modem. But where is it coming from? What's the source? Nope, it's not Elton John cozying up to Clinton - although that does merit a mention, just for the sheer oddness of it - but Final Girl's Hey, Internet, Stop Being Such Cynical Effing Doucebags Blog-A-Thon! I'll let the creator herself spread the gospel:
Write about a movie you adore. Write about a single movie moment you adore. A performance, an actor, a trailer you're looking forward to like crazy. Write about that time you went to the movies and what you saw made you so happy you wanted to make out with the screen. Write about that film you couldn't stop thinking about for days, and how awesome that feeling is.

In other words, for just one day, internet, don't be a cynical effing douchebag. Wear your heart on your sleeve and tell us all why you love something. That's not so hard, is it?
Ya got that? So, I really wanted to participate in this and so I started tossing ideas around. At first, I couldn't get Scorcese's vastly underrated Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1973) out of my head, especially the scenes involving Ellen Burstyn and her son, played with brittle, precocious hilarity by Alfred Lutter. Their water-fight, the extended driving scenes, the "shoot the dog!" joke - I love their relationship in this film, because it feels so fresh, so unclichéd, so true-to-life. Sadly, I don't own it on dvd (yet!), but it did remind me of another mother/son film that I do own; Gloria (1980). In the case of John Cassavete's nod to the gangster genre, Gena Rowlands isn't actually Phil's mother, but she's as good as. When the little fella's family get killed in a brutal, yet somehow trivial, mobster killing, Gloria takes reluctant charge of him. Cue a lengthy (some would say too lengthy) series of escapades through the bars, seedy hotels and public transport of New York city. There are many pieces to love in this messy, flawed yet invigorating film, most of them having to do with Gena Rowlands. Check out her character introduction; first we see a shot of her smoking, though a keyhole

After espying Gloria, Phil's father turns to the camera, pauses for an exagerated length of time and then makes this face

and says, "It's Gloria" in a tone of voice that nobody would ever use in real life, ever. It could possibly b
e described as frustration + bewilderment + exasperation + humour + the director told me to say it like we were shooting clips for the trailer = "It's GlOOriA!" I can't even adequately describe it and as I can't take sound clips, you're going to have to take my word for it. It's great though, especially as it occurs 11 minutes into the film. The exagerated line-reading would make perhaps an iota of sense if it were the very first scene, but we've just been spending time with the Dawn family. Don't worry though, they're about to get blown up in a few minutes by the gangsters who are milling about in the foyer saying things like "Nice staircase they got here" and wearing shirts like this

Ooh. Threatening.

Anyway, everybody in the family is a target and so Jeri Dawn tries to foister her youngest kid, Phil, onto Gloria, who really just needed to borrow some coffee.

She isn't wild about this idea.

GLORIA: Hey, Jeri, you know I'd do anything for you. But...I don't like kids. Especially yours.

Well, too bad Gloria. Because the kid is yours. Here's where the film starts to get really good. Gloria drags Phil (literally) back to her apartment, to protect him from the mob. She's not really the most competent babysitter and Phil is hardly the most obliging child. It's the most awkward babysitting ever.

Gloria: I've got some goldfish in the bedroom. You wanna play with them?
PHIL: *blank stare*
GLORIA: You wanna play twenty questions?

PHIL: *blank stare*

GLORIA: How bout watching the tv for a while? *pause* Hey, can you understand what I'm saying to you?
GLORIA: (to her cat) Where's my boy, eh? Yeah. Come on, big fella. There's my baby. Yeah. You like him? You like cats?

From then on, the film just gets better. The plot meander along lazily, gaping plot holes are neatly side-stepped, nothing is ever fully explained, characters develop and grow before suddenly reverting back to how they were before - and I LOVE IT! Seriously, I would be perfectly happy to watch this film constantly on a loop for the rest of eternity. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 favourite things about "Gloria", in no particular order.

1. The many faces of Phil.

John Adames won a Razzie for this, his one and only screen appearance (he actually tied with Laurence Olivier!) and his performance is regularly siezed upon as being one of the worst examples of child acting in the history of film. I don't agree; he's supremely annoying and whiney, but that's partly because its how the character is written. He speaks every line as though it's causing him actual pain to say the words, but look at that face!

2. Gloria' s face when she sees herself on television.

3. The quasi-romance between Gloria and Phil. It's a love/hate thing, one minute he's asking her if she's ever been in love and trying to stroke her hair, the next he's all "Bye, chiquita! Bye, little sucker!". They're like an old married couple, really.

4. The clothing. We have Gloria's red satin dressing-gown, the ridiculous wig she gets landed with and the newest line from the My 'lil Pimp Clothing range.

5. Bam!

That's it.

Hey, internet! Stop being such cynical effing douchebags! Take a leaf out of Phil's book; his whole family have just been killed, he's been wearing the same awful bell-bottoms for days, his only guardian is a gangster's moll and he won a Razzie. Yet somehow, he's still happy.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eggs. A golf-club. A remote control.

Why did I watch Funny Games, Michael Haneke's 1997 psychological, meta, 'horror' film'? The answer is simple; the director's shot-by-shot remake arrives on Irish shores soon (it opened this weekend in the States) and I wanted to watch the original before I saw the new version, because I'm nerdy like that. After watching it, I'm excited about seeing the new one. The draw of seeing how Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, two fine actors whom I like very much, react to the awful events that they are subjected to, is substantial. Naomi Watts, incidentally, is one of my Actress picks (see below) and while I very much doubt this will win favour with the Academy, I have a feeling there'll be a rigorous campaign and critical buzz attached to it. From the trailer and a few screengrabs which are floating around the net, the remake looks very clean and bright, unlike the original (a stupid point, perhaps, but I dig the white, crisp streamlined look that's such at odds with the dim graininess of the original). Plus, it's in English, which will add an extra dimension of unease to my viewing. While the original's German created an extra welcome barrier between me and the characters, I have a feeling the harsh starkness of hearing their pleas in English will have the adverse affect. Before last night, I had never even heard of Susanne Lothar and was only marginally familiar with Ulrich Muhe, but I've seen Naomi Watts and Tim Roth countless times. I don't know if this'll will add to or detract from the terror, but we'll see.

The premise of Funny Games is simple. Two eerie, polite men in their 20s terrorise an affluent family of three in their summer house. That's it, really. By that description alone, you'd be forgiven for assuming it was your run o' the mill genre flick, a "torture porn" film created for and by those with the adolescent boy mentality. Well, you'd be forgiven until you saw the name Haneke was involved. If you're at all familiar with the Austrian director, you realise that what you're getting into is something much more intellectual, more challenging, more infuriating. More disturbing. And let me warn you, although nearly every instance of violence occurs off-screen, this film is disturbing. Muttering feverently under your breath disturbing. Nails digging into palms disturbing. Clutching a soft, cuddly toy like you haven't clutched so hard since you were a toddler, disturbing. At one point, I found myself singing softly under my breath as a means of half distracting myself! It's not just because of the "your imagination is scarier than anything a director could construct" old chestnut that is regularly trotted out. This clichéd maxim readily applies to FG, but the feeling of unease that this film generates is not because of that alone. The creeping dread that descends over you has to do with the way in which the film implicates you in the violence. You're the voyeur, you're the one causing these awful events by the very fact that you choose to watch this film. That's another point, you never forget that what you're watching is a film.
It's unrealistic and uber-stylized. There's a scene (I won't say what it is, but if you've seen it you know what I'm talking about) where Haneke pretty much gives his audience the finger, messing with your head and your preconceptions of what a film should be. Apparently, this scene is the reason why people have such negative reactions to the film. I can understand this stance, but it didn't make me hate it. In fact, the scene made me appreciate the film more; by not allowing the narrative to function as a straight-forward film, it made it clearer that this was something to be appreciated as an intellectual exercise, rather than a thriller in which good prevails, the bad guys get their come-uppance and all is right with the world.

By the film's end, I felt hollow, but not unhappy. I wasn't trembling and I didn't require a viewing of Clueless or The Incredibles, both of which I had lined up in case I needed a post-viewing boost. It was difficult to fall asleep afterwards, but because I was thinking about my reaction to the film, about what it all meant, about how people would react when it's released here. I wasn't terrified of two men breaking into the house (although I do admit that the shot of the golf-ball rolling in a slow circle on the wooden floor will stay with me for a good while). I do get the feeling that I'm not exactly the target audience. If the film is intended as a polemic against those who queue in their droves to watch teenagers be slaughtered, the "gore hounds", the people who really appreciate a good finger-slicing scene, I'm not included in this category of film-lovers. Running quickly through a mental list of my favourite films, violence only lurks at their peripherary and gore is almost non-existant. I've never responded well to acts of onscreen violence, ever since I watched Scream at a sleepover when I was 11. The scene where Drew Barrymore is being dragged across her lawn with a hook in her neck, whimpering scratchily to her parents, stayed with me for a long time....I've still never gone back and watched that film because it upset me so much the first time. Undoubtedly, it's probably a lot tamer than what I've imagined, but I still have no desire to revisit that scene. That's the same reason why I've never seen a "Saw" film, why I don't ever plan to see "Cannibal Holocaust" or "I Spit On Your Grave", why horror (with a few notable exceptions) isn't usually my cup of cinematic tea. If I were somebody who enjoyed this, I daresay I would have been even more disturbed and uncomfortable with this film, but I'm not and I wasn't.

I wouldn't recommend Funny Games to everyone, not by a long shot. I wouldn't even say I enjoyed it, per se, but it does provoke a reaction. By holding the camera still for interminably long sequences, for sustaining a fine balance between horror and ridicule, for treating the viewer as an accomplice (and not a very bright one at that), Haneke's film forces you to question the reason for your viewing of it, bullies you into thinking long and hard about the art of film and violence and the way in which the two intertwine. For me, it dredged up that memory of Scream, which I hadn't really given any thought to for years. I don't regret watching it for a second, although it was sometimes unpleasant.

The trailer for the remake is weird. Seriously, "In The Hall of the Mountain King"? Cheesy as all hell, that piece of music is. I'm guessing that's just something they've added in for the trailer, because if Haneke has included it in the film, he's probably lost his marbles. The overwhelming silence is such an integral part of the original and its inclusion in the trailer is completely overblown and hilarious. That said, the much-admired poster is truly something.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Actress Psychic Contest


Just a quick note before I run back to hit the books (with a stick, naturally). Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience has opened the floodgates for his annual Actress Psychic Contest.
If you're at all interested in the Best Actress contest, have a masochistic streak or are a compulsive gambler, head on over and make your predictions. The entering criteria are simple; pick 5 women who have films opening in 2008 and throughout the year there'll be a running tally, with points being allocated for awards, publicity, critical buzz and a whole host of other bits 'n bobs. It's all very mathematical and complex, but all we have to do is send off an email with 5 names and then start praying that our picks will amount to something. For those of us who need a little reminder of what's to come in the cinematic year ahead, Nathaniel has helpfully provided a comprehensive list of 50 or so women who could be making waves with their coming films. My 5 names are listed below:

Anne Hathaway - Dancing with Shiva
Rachel McAdams - The Time Traveller's Wife
Julianne Moore - Blindness
Naomi Watts - Funny Games
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road

I submitted this line-up mere minutes ago and I'm already filled with doubts. The list is skewed towards the young end of the actressing scale and leaving Meryl Streep out of any line-up seems foolhardy, but I'm sticking with these five. I strongly doubt this will reflect the 2009 Oscar nominations (except maybe Winslet and Moore), but my five could possibly whip up some excitement between them on the publicity circuit. I have Hathaway and McAdams for the publicity trail, Winslet and Moore for the prestige spot and Watts for the critical approval/leftfield spot. I think my picks are a little too scattered and perhaps
too beholden to my own personal biases, but we'll see how this goes. Expect many updates, upsets, curses and perhaps some minor miracles (i.e. Funny Games not being branded "too dark" for major buzz) as the year progresses.

Friday, March 7, 2008

My Dinner with...

It's meme time!

1. Pick a single person past or present who works in the film industry who you'd like to have dinner with and tell us why you chose this person.

This is a headscratcher; not only are there numerous technical virtuosos,
who wouldn't necessarily spring to mind straight away, yet who would be fascinating to dine with (I'm thinking of people like Roger Deakins, Christine Vachon, Philip Glass, Colleen Atwood) but the sheer plethora of chatty actors, directors and scriptwriters that I wouldn't mind sitting down with renders my answer to this question dependant on whatever mood I'm in. If you'd asked me a week ago, my answer would have been Sissy Spacek. On any number occasions, it could have been Pedro Almodóvar, Laura Linney, Cary Grant, Roz Russell or Donald O' Connor. Dinner-table manners have to be taken into consideration; Robert de Niro circa 70s would be fascinating, but according to Jodie Foster, he wasn't such a great lunch partner back then. Likewise, I'd have a million questions for Alfred Hitchcock, but he'd probably play some awful practical joke on me and leave. So, I'm looking for somebody intelligent, verbose and who I'm assured will be polite and warm, somebody who I have many questions for but who remains a bit of a mystery, and somebody who I've recently been watching. Todd Haynes, care to join me for dinner?

2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.

I'm afraid of poisoning any potential dinner guests, so we'd head out to the city for our meal. Maybe
Acapulco, the Mexican place on Georges Street. Not only is it my favourite restaurant (I'm going there tonight, actually) but it adds a certain ping of intertextuality referencing to our evening. Its a casual enough place, so we wouldn't have to dress up fancily - although Mr Haynes has proved that he can scrub up as well as he dresses down. After the meal, we could drop into a cafe for some coffee and maybe a slice of cake, in honour of our shared birthday (Jan 2nd).

3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner.

1. You graduated from Brown with a degree in semiotics. Perhaps as a result of this, your films have been dismissed by some critics as university projects, dominated by intellect rather than emotion. How do you respond to this?
2. I've noticed you tend to surround yourself with superb actors and technicians. Especially in a film like "Far From Heaven", which functions as a real "team effort", between your script, Julianne Moore's acting, Elmer Bernstein's score, Edward Lachman's camera and Sandy Powell's
costumes. So, on one hand you cultivate an air of intense collaboration, yet there's also a very singular vision dominating all of your work. Do you see filmmaking as a solitary or collaborative pursuit?
3. Did you experience even a small twinge of disapointment when I'm Not There was almost roundly passed by during awards season? I don't think you've ever been a director who tries to court awards, but your latest had great critical buzz.
4. Are there any actors who you'd love to work with, but haven't yet? What about Julianne Moore, any plans to write another script for her? She has a tiny part in I'm Not There, but I'm harking back to films such as [safe] and Far From Heaven, films that showed me that Moore is a great talent, rather than just a lousy mother who mopes around on swings.
5. Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment? I already know we share some tastes; Haynes directed a Sonic Youth video (and Kim Gordon has a cameo in I'm Not There). He has also made biopics of Bob Dylan, Karen Carpenter and Glam Rock; and these feel more like personal obsessions, rather than studio-urged projects. What's your favourite Sonic Youth album? Mine is either Daydream Nation, Goo or Murray Street. Care to recommend me any other musicians you're into? How about we trade mixtapes?

I can't think of 6 people to tag for this, but anyone who comes across it is free to run with it. That means you, Ann Marie, Damien et all. Thanks to Piper for the original idea and Emma for the tag.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ed Norton as The Hulk

This is what Empire Magazine just sent to my inbox. I think that's the first picture I've seen of him actually...Hulkifying. The only other still I've seen is that old one with a pensive Norton gazing into a glass vial. The email included a quote from The Hulk's director, Louis Letterier; "We didn't want to make a cerebral movie...Admittedly, I'm not the most adult director, but just because we're making a superhero movie, it doesn't just have to appeal to 13-year-old boys. Ed and I both see superheroes as the new Greek gods, so there's a classical undercurrent to Bruce's psycho-drama. It's Prometheus, Pandora's Box, Hercules...but with explosions!". A film starring and written by Edward Norton can't help but be cerebral, I think - but this sounds like a good sign that they're not taking this too seriously. If The Incredible Hulk turns out to be something akin to Spiderman or X-Men II, consider me intruiged. The supporting cast seem interesting as well; Robert Downey Jr, Tim Blake Nelson, William Hurt, Tim Roth and...Liv Tyler? I had completely forgottten she was an actual actress and not an elf.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The wrap-up party

My predictions were, to be honest, crap. But even if the names called out didn't quite correspond to my picks, the 80th Academy Awards were still a treat. Diversity, multi-culturalism and a certain giddy relief were the themes of the evening, "You're here! You're here! I can hardly believe it, you're here!". Most of the right people were awarded and the rest of them made up for it with amusing, barely coherant, sweet speeches. Javier Bardem enthused in Spanish, Frances McDormand had loving hysterics in the audience and Gary Busey attacked Jennifer Garner on the red carpet, who was swiftly rescued by Laura Linney. Cate Blanchett showed us how to lose graciously and Jack Nicholson was, well, Jack Nicholson (that man has one default facial expression). Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Hudson and HRH Helen Mirren all flubbed their lines, one with a magnificent Freudian slip, one with insincere bumbling and the other with absolutely no engagement with the audience. Jon Stewart was an exemplar host; witty, charming and scrubbed up nicely in his tux. I had originally thought that he had toned down the acerbic political humour, but I then realised that for some odd reason, RTE's highlights cut out all the topical stuff, neatly severing the Hillary Clinton/Away From Her quip from the opening monologue. How strange...

As predicted, No Country walked away with the closest thing to a sweep (though it could hardly qualify as a sweep, the accolades were fairly well distributed throughout) and I was thrilled. It's not an easy film - and it's certainly not a plotless series of violent events, as I heard a RTE commentator remark on Monday afternooon, did he watch the film? - and seeing people really grapple with it is gratifying. The Coens' nonchalant speech, after Martin Scorcese called their name, was probably my favourite moment of the night (aside from Blanchett's horror at her own Elizabeth clip), but I still find Glen Hansard incredibly irritating. Heck, with Hansard's whingeing and Colin Farrell's unkempt shuffling, I was almost ashamed to be Irish (thank you, Saoirse Ronan and Daniel Day-Lewis, for not being total idiots).

I'm off now, but I'm going to direct you to some of the best Oscar coverage around the net, from writers much more talented and erudite than me:

Nick gets all lovesick over Swinton - Nathaniel has some interesting truths to share (browse around, the Film Experience has everything you need for full blown Oscar-obsession) - Kim Morgan shares her highlights - the Fug girls sharpen their tongues - Emma does a quick run down with great pictures and Glenn lets us in on some red carpet whispers...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar Predicts.

I've never done this before. Yikes!

Best motion picture of the year
“Michael Clayton”
“No Country for Old Men”
“There Will Be Blood”

WILL WIN: I’m calling it for No Country. People are wondering whether TWBB will effectively split the dark, male film vote, but No Country just feels right.
SHOULD WIN: Not Juno or Atonement. Well, I haven’t seen Atonement, so dismissing it so readily seems like narrow-mindedness. And it is! I really find it hard to get worked up about the film and I disliked the book so vigorously that it’s probably ruined for me anway.
PERSONAL SNUB: The fact that Zodiac was so thoroughly snubbed still has me baffled. Are Academy Members that forgetful? True, removing Juno or Atonement and adding a three-hour serial killer film would only heighten the dark masculinity of this Best-Picture line-up, but it deserves to be in there.

Achievement in directing
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” Julian Schnabel
“Juno” Jason Reitman
“Michael Clayton” Tony Gilroy
“No Country for Old Men” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
“There Will Be Blood” Paul Thomas Anderson

WILL WIN: The fact that the Coens are finally giving us a two-for-one deal makes me hopeful for them.
SHOULD WIN: I really don’t mind, in this category. While I don’t feel Juno is a best picture contender, I think Reitman did a good job. There Will Be Blood still hasn’t opened here (my initial enthusiasm is waned slightly, stop making me wait this long for things I want!) but I respect PT Anderson enormously, Michael Clayton and The Diving Bell were both very masterfully put-together, so I’m not too fussed about who takes it..
PERSONAL SNUB: Todd Haynes, for I’m Not There’s dazzling audacity, playful spirit and enormous scope. Having only seen the film a meagre two times, I’m impatient to see it again.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
George Clooney in “Michael Clayton”
Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood”
Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Tommy Lee Jones in “In the Valley of Elah”
Viggo Mortensen in “Eastern Promises”

WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis.
SHOULD WIN: I like Day-Lewis, despite not yet seeing TWBB, but Tommy-Lee Jones broke my heart in The Valley of Elah. A surprise win is not on the cards, but if it had to be anyone else, I’d pick TLJ.
PERSONAL SNUB: Chris Cooper, in the vastly unseen Breach (if it’s out on dvd and you haven’t yet watched it, do so!)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”
Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men”
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Charlie Wilson’s War”
Hal Holbrook in “Into the Wild”
Tom Wilkinson in “Michael Clayton”

WILL WIN: There’s no point even tossing a coin on this one, friend-o. Javier Bardem’s oddly coiffured pyschopath has this one locked up.
SHOULD WIN: Cry category-fraud all you want, Casey Affleck still deserves to be recognised for his weak-willed Robert Ford. Affleck plays him with such a twitchy neurosis that is such at odds with the winsome stillness of the rest of the film that it stays in the mind for weks after the fact.
PERSONAL SNUB: Having finally snuffled my way through The Diving-Bell And The Butterfly, I can’t understand why Max von Sydow is getting so little attention. In two short scenes, he completely reverses our sympathies, bringing pathos and humour to the stock, cantankerous old-father role. Watching old men crying, especially legends like von Sydow, is always discomforting, but when it’s done with such abandon and pain, it becomes nearly unwatchable.

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Julie Christie in “Away from Her”
Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose”
Laura Linney in “The Savages”
Ellen Page in “Juno”

WILL WIN: Julie Christie. I feel it in my fingers…I feel it in my toes…
SHOULD WIN: Laura Linney’s not as showy, as snarky, as shouty as some of the other nominees (and she’d never be caught dead saying the words “fo shizz”). A Christie win would be okay with me, however.
PERSONAL SNUB: Anamaria Marcina. I came out of 4 Months feeling very uncomfortable. It took a little while to process it, but Marcina's peformance helped a lot. Sympathetic, frustrating, utterly believable - and that look at the end (only rivalled by Jude Quinn's slow smile in the taxi).

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Cate Blanchett in “I’m Not There”
Ruby Dee in “American Gangster”
Saoirse Ronan in “Atonement”
Amy Ryan in “Gone Baby Gone”
Tilda Swinton in “Michael Clayton”

WILL WIN: This is the hardest acting category to predict, I think. At one Amy Ryan looked set for a sweep, but in the meantime Ruby Dee, Blanchett and Swinton have all garnered major prizes. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Blanchett‘s going to take it. The Academy wants to award her, and they’re definitely not going to go for Elizabeth, so this could be her night.
SHOULD WIN: I’ve only seen two of these, so I’m not really at liberty to say. I enjoyed both of them (Blanchett and Swinton), but as a whole I preferred I’m Not There.
PERSONAL SNUB: Kelly McDonald, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Imealda Staunton, Marisa Tomei. Hell, even Cheryl Hines in Waitress.

Best Original Screenplay
"Lars and the Real Girl"
"Michael Clayton"
"The Savages"

WILL WIN: I’ll be astounded if Juno doesn’t get this one.
SHOULD WIN: Ratatouille scores points for Anton Ego’s speech about criticism, The Savages for the brother-sister rapport, but neither are enough to push them over the edge for me. I’d probably favour The Savages over anything else, though.
PERSONAL SNUB: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.

Best Adapted Screenplay
"Away From Her"
"Diving Bell and Butterfly"
"No Country For Old Men"
"There Will Be Blood"

WILL WIN: This is a tough one. I could go the way of the tide and say No Country again (you can’t stop what’s coming, after all), but I’m saying Diving Bell.
SHOULD WIN: Away From Her. I’m always impressed when writers can sketch out a feature-length film from a slim short story.
PERSONAL SNUB: Zodiac. Gah! I was watching All The President’s Men a few weeks ago and I was astounded at the similarities between the two films. Makes you wanna work at a news desk in 1970s America, on the trail of a serial/Watergate buggers.

Best Foreign Film
"Beaufort" -Israel
"The Counterfeiters" -Austria
"Katyn" -Poland
"Mongol" -Kazakshtan
"12" -Russia

WILL WIN: The Counterfeiters, because it’s the only one I’d heard of before the nominees were in.
SHOULD WIN: *tumbleweed*
PERSONAL SNUB: It’s so obvious I feel stupid even typing it; 4 Months, 3 Weeks 2 Days.

Animated Film
"Surf's Up"

WILL WIN: Ratatouille.
PERSONAL SNUB: *tumbleweed*

"Assassination of Jesse James" -Deakins
"Atonement" -Garvey
"Diving Bell and Butterfly" -Kaminski
"No Country For Old Men" -Deakins
"There Will Be Blood" -Elswit

WILL WIN: Will the Deakins double nod half his chances? Probably. It’s a pity, he’s an interesting guy and a great photographer. I’ll say…Kaminski.
SHOULD WIN: Deakins, but I’m not sure which film. Both left lasting impressions.
PERSONAL SNUB: Edward Lachman, on I’m Not There. Heath Ledger sitting in the blue-romanticism of a New York coffeehouse, the dusty orange of Riddle, Marcus Carl Franklin solemnly walking though the dark deep blue of the ocean, even the stark black and white of the opening.

Art Direction
American Gangster -Max
Atonement -Greenwood
The Golden Compass -Gassner
Sweeney Todd -Ferretti
There Will Be Blood -Fisk

WILL WIN: I honestly have no idea. Fisk?
SHOULD WIN: For all it's Whovian charm, The Golden Compass. A flawed film for sure, for I adored parts of it.
PERSONAL SNUB: I know I've said it a million times, but where the hell is Zodiac? That cluttered newspaper office, with its used coffee mugs, stacks of paper, retro phones... I think I have some kind of office fetish?

Costume Design
Across the Universe -Wolsky
Atonement -Durran
Elizabeth the Golden Age -Byrne
Sweeney Todd -Atwood
La Vie En Rose -Marit Allen

WILL WIN: Durran.
SHOULD WIN: None of these particularly excite me, tbh.
PERSONAL SNUB: Okay, this is the only category that I’d have loved a Juno nod. The clothes suited the characters perfectly and I really, really want that slinky tee.

Achievement in sound editing
“The Bourne Ultimatum”
“No Country for Old Men”
“There Will Be Blood”

WILL WIN: I still don't understand this category, but I think No Country will do it again.
SHOULD WIN: Come back to me when I have time to read some book explaining the logistics of Sound Editing. I swear I'll get around to it one day.

Best Film Editing
The Bourne Ultimatum -Rouse
The Diving Bell and Butterfly -Welfling
Into the Wild -Cassidy
No Country For Old Men -"Roderick Jaynes" (i.e. The Coen Bros)
There Will Be Blood -Riegel & Tichenor

WILL WIN: "Roderick Jaynes"
SHOULD WIN: It nearly made me throw up, but the BOURne uLtiMAAATum!
PERSONAL SNUB: Jindabyne. To be honest, I could probably put this film into every Personal Snub, but read this piece and tell me it shouldn't have at least gotten this.

Original Score
3:10 To Yuma -Beltrami
Atonement -Marianelli
The Kite Runner -Iglesias
Michael Clayton -Howard
Ratatouille -Giacchino

WILL WIN: Atonement...clackclackclack.
SHOULD WIN: Haven't heard most of them.
PERSONAL SNUB: Jonny Greenwood, biznitches. It's [probably extremely intrusive when watched in the context of the whole film, but sometimes that works. Think Philip Glass in The Hours. Think Bernard Herrman in, well, anything. Think Jaws!

Best Original Song
"Falling Slowly" Once
"Happy Working Song" Enchanted
"So Close" Enchanted
"That's How You Know" Enchanted
"Raise It Up" August Rush

WILL WIN: Hollywood coes over Once and rewards “Falling Slowly”.
SHOULD WIN: I know I’m a disgrace to my country and to my reputation as somebody who likes music, but I prefer Enchanter’s “That’s How You Know” than the Once duet. Earnest singer-songwriters, especially if they’re named Glen Hansard, just don’t do it for me.
PERSONAL SNUB: Kate Bush. She probably wouldn’t have turned up, but still