Thursday, September 10, 2009

Film reviews: Catch up edition - 9, Extract and World's Greatest Dad

9, Image courtesy of Focus Features



OK, so I've been busy or lazy, maybe both ... for this I apologize. Without any further excuses, here are my latest reviews of:
All posted on Suite101.com, all for written for your enjoyment (or mine, whatever).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Film Review - Big Fan

Image courtesy of First Independent Pictures

As a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, I have to admit, it's hard to objectively look at a story on a New York Giants die-hard. But Robert Siegel's Big Fan is great no matter who you root for -- and actually, I think it's the Eagles fans that'll have the most fun with this.

Regardless, here's my review from Suite101.com. Enjoy!


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Black Crowes Let The Fans Rule

Photo courtesy of Matthew Mendenhall

It seems I go through stages with this blog, but as my writing pace picks up this month, I plan to start posting more regularly. Here's a recent interview I did with The Black Crowes' drummer, Steve Gorman. The Crowes have been through some ups and downs over the years, but always seem to put out solid music. With the addition of Luther Dickinson a few years back, they've got to be a formidable live act, though I've never personally seen them.

The band has a new record (actually, two of them) coming out on Sept. 1, and the first single, "I Ain't Hiding," (download it here) isn't what you'd expect from the typically Southern-rockers. It's sort of disco, which is actually a good thing. Wait for the applause at the end of the song — the band recorded the entire record, Before the Frost, in front of a live audience at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. It creates a looser vibe, yet the song shows no signs of sloppyness.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Film Preview - Avatar

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Avatar preview day was, if nothing else, pretty damn interesting. Check out my full report over at Suite101.com.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Film Review - Inglourious Basterds

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Co./Band Apart

Gotta say, I'm sort of shocked that I'm in the minority of opinion among critics (so far) in that I really didn't enjoy Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Sure, it's got some train wreck appeal and may be the most interesting disaster I've seen on the big screen in ... well, maybe ever.

Not that it's completely without redeeming qualities, but - ah, hell, just read my full Inglourious Basterds review over at Suite101.com.


Film Review - Cold Souls

Image courtesy of The Samuel Goldwyn Co.

Yeah, yeah, yeah - there are quite a few similarities between Sophia Barthes's Cold Souls (her feature debut) and the works of Charlie Kaufman. And she doesn't quite have the emotional kick to match her intellectualism, but as far as clever exercises go, Cold Souls is pretty damn enjoyable.

For my full review of Cold Souls over at Suite101.com, please click here.


Enjoy and look out for a review of Inglourious Basterds.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

DVD Review - Julia

Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Julia is exactly the sort of indie film that is destined to get lost in the theatrical shuffle -- small, character-based, impeccably crafted. I don't even recall seeing this in theaters around Philadelphia/South Jersey, though it may have had a short run that I missed while blinking.

What a shame.

I was extremely pleased to be able to catch the film on DVD, so, without any further ado, here is the link for my Julia DVD review over at Suite101.com. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Taken By Trees Mini-Doc



For those who aren't familiar with Taken By Trees, it's the current moniker that singer Victoria Bergsman is flying under. Now, for those who aren't familiar with Bergsman, she's the lead vocalist on Peter Bjorn and John's hit single, "Young Folks" and was formerly a member of the band The Concretes (you may recognize their song "You Can't Hurry Love" from a great number of Target commercials).

To record the latest Taken By Trees album, East of Eden (out Sept. 8), Bergsman went to Pakistan to record the album. National Geographic put together the accompanying mini-documentary above, and for anyone interest in Taken By Trees or just world music in general, it's definitely worth a peek.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Film Review - Ponyo

Image courtesy of Disney-Pixar/Studio Ghibli

Being that Ponyo is a Miyazaki film, I went into this one expecting to be blown away. And I wasn't, which isn't to say Ponyo is bad, but just not one of Miyazaki's best.

Check out my full review over at Suite101.com and, as always, thanks for making the pit stop at Music|Movies|Misery.

I will say this -- if you've got younger kids, this is one flick they'll probably eat up. Personally, I think you're better off renting them My Neighbor Totoro, but if you're dead set on taking the young'ins to the the movies, there's nothing for adults to gag on in Ponyo.

Still smarter than your average G-rated movie and beautifully animated.

Film Review - District 9

Image courtesy of TriStar Pictures

And the best film I've seen so far this year goes to ... District 9. No disrespect to the likes of Julia (DVD review to come soon), Two Lovers or The Hurt Locker, but there's something about a great sci-fi flick that just totally does it for me.

Head over to Suite101.com for my review.
And, if you're into the R-rated sci-fi thing even just a little bit, go see this film. It's clever and has more heart than almost anything else I've seen this year that didn't have aliens it.

Yes, films with aliens in it can be gory, thrilling AND have heart.

Friday, August 7, 2009

MMM Remembers John Hughes

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Anytime a 59-year-old man dies, it's a tragedy. And so first and foremost, on that basic human level, I was very saddened to hear of John Hughes's death yesterday. But beyond that, as a film fan, a writer, a journalist (more or less), I've been trying to weigh out what exactly Hughes meant to me as an artist.

There a plenty of people who have expressed their unequivocal love for Hughes's oeuvre as a writer and director (I defer to Drew McWeeny at Hitfix and Massawyrm at AICN), especially those that fall into what can only be described as "A John Hughes film", not only to denote his involvement as a director, writer or producer, but to suggest a tone and setting.

Shermer, Illinois and the pubescent turmoil of high school. The films teeter between adolescent wish-fulfillment (Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and the slightly more melodramatic tales of misunderstood teenagers (the "trilogy", Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink).

I can't claim to hands down, absolutely adore any one of these films. I'm not sure I completely agree with the numerous assertions that Hughes completely nailed what it is to be a teenager, because let's face it - the aforementioned films are of there time, and therefore, give a tidier reconstruction of adolescence.

Yet, at the same time, there's no denying that these films have affected me - as a writer, a consumer of film and probably as a teenager to some degree. Because all these Hughes films were basically required viewing by the time you were 12-years-old, they inevitably impacted my generation's expectations (for better or worse) of those high school years.

If I'm not falling over in praise for Hughes's work, I'm not condemning it either. In the evolution of the American teen film mythos -- something I've tried to work out for term papers and in my own writing -- Hughes is an essential piece in the puzzle.

Never mind that his films stand above any of the garbage that gets filed under teen film today, or that he was outdone in his own time by Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a film that gives a more realistic, R-rated portrayal of high school (because life, as Judd Apatow once asserted, is R-rated). A "John Hughes film" has become nearly synonymous with those formative years (and also, the 1980s in whole), and whether we agree with it or not, these movies are a part of our cultural language.

Just listen to M83. Or watch Dazed and Confused or Adventureland. Hughes film made his mark. And given everything I've said about not being the biggest fan of any one of his movies, it's rare I'll turn off any one of them when flipping channels.

Blame it on nostalgia for youth or something like that.

The Green Hornet finds its Kato

Image courtesy of DynamiteEntertainment.com

Well, after the Stephen Chow fall out and the ensuing search, Michel Gondry/Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg's The Green Hornet has its Kato to Rogen's Green Hornet. There's probably not too many Americans familiar with Taiwanese star (music and film) Jay Chou, but Wikipedia has quite a bit on the guy if you're so inclined to read more.

In a press release from Columbia-TriStar, Michel Gondry said, Jay is incredibly unique and charming and fights like a wild dog! When I filmed him next to Seth they had such great chemistry, and I knew the movie will be great."

Chou had this to say:

“It’s an overwhelming experience to take on a role made famous by Bruce Lee. I won’t try to be Bruce Lee’s Kato – I will try to bring my own interpretation to the part. Of course, it’s a dream role, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”


Interested to see how this flick shapes up. I'm not 100 percent convinced that I can buy Rogen as a superhero, even one that will presumably have a humorous bent to him. But I've enjoyed Rogen/Goldberg's script work on Superbad and Pineapple Express for the most part, and am a shameless dupe for Gondry when he's in fighting form.

Gondry's last feature, Be Kind Rewind, was a Gawd-awful mess, but his most recent film work, the opening segment of Tokyo!, Interior Design, was phenomenal. (To check out my DVD review of Tokyo!, click here.)

His name definitely came as a shock when it was announced as The Green Hornet's replacement for Chow (who was originally slated as director and actor), but it was a pleasurable shock, to be sure.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

R.I.P. Budd Schulberg

Image courtesy of WGA West

To be perfectly honest, my gut reaction to hearing that Budd Schulberg died was, "Wow. Budd Schulberg was still alive?" The guy lived a full life -- he was 95 -- during which he wrote two great screenplays, On The Waterfront and A Face In The Crowd. Our condolences go out to his wife and family.

For MMM's look at A Face In The Crowd, click here.

For a more extensive Schulberg obituary, we defer to The New York Times.

Finally! The Lovely Bones trailer hits!

Image courtesy of DreamWorks pictures via movieweb.com

Fans of Alice Sebold's incredibly compelling novel The Lovely Bones and Peter Jackson's filmography (minus the wholly unnecessary King Kong) ... join hands and rejoice.

Jackson's big screen adaptation of The Lovely Bones finally has a trailer. Click here to watch it courtesy of Quicktime.


I was intrigued when Jackson was first announced as the director, but once I finally saw the Kiwi director's Heavenly Creatures, I was 100 percent convinced that he was the right man for the job.

To my eyes - everything looks right, although Susie's sister, Lindsey may have been rewritten as an older sister. There's a six-year-plus difference between Saoirse Ronan (Susie) and Rose McIver (Lindsey), so I don't think anyone is buying McIver as Ronan's younger sister.

Especially if the film condenses the book's time line (which it probably does since the same, 21-year-old actress plays Lindsey throughout the film, lest imdb.com have its facts wrong ...) this seems to make sense. If anything, this goes to show just how wrong Ryan Gosling would have been for the part of Jack Salmon -- not that he doesn't have the chops, but the age just doesn't work on any end of the equation (Rachel Weisz, as Abigail Salmon, is seven years Gosling's elder, so do the math in respect to the McIver and ... it doesn't work out).

More importantly than the minutiae of age changes and whatnot - the visuals look great. If Che hadn't already sold me on the HD Red camera, this trailer certainly would have. The colors are stunning, especially in Jackson's interpretation of Susie's heaven, and it looks like they've captured the 1970s period without tossing in that faux grainy look that too many 70s-set pics tend to use.

This one is WAY up on my list of anticipated flicks before the end of the year. Hopefully, Jackson and Co. just knock this one right out of the park. Let's see Marky Mark get another Oscar nod.

Radiohead Has a New Song: "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"

(Photo courtesy the BBC.)

Stop the (metaphorical) presses — there's a new Radiohead song this morning. "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" is a tribute the namesake, the last surviving British World War 1 veteran, who died recently at age 111.

Thom Yorke — who's been all about new music lately, see: his Mark Mulchay cover, "All For the Best," and "The Present Tense," which he premiered during a surprise set at last month's Latitude festival — was inspired to write the song after hearing a radio interview with Patch. Yorke took to deadairspace and wrote:

Recently the last remaining UK veteran of the 1st world war Harry Patch died at the age of 111. I had heard a very emotional interview with him a few years ago on the Today program on Radio4. The way he talked about war had a profound effect on me. It became the inspiration for a song that we happened to record a few weeks before his death. It was done live in an abbey. The strings were arranged by Jonny. I very much hope the song does justice to his memory as the last survivor.

Fittingly, "Harry Patch" is a somber tune, with a lush Jonny Greenwood string arrangement, and Yorke's desperate vocals. Take a listen here:


Then, go purchase the song at download.waste.uk.com for £1. It's for a good cause, as all proceeds benefit the British Legion.

With all this new material from Yorke, does this mean a new Radiohead album could be closer than we expect? We're not sure, but remember, we had no idea In Rainbows was coming out. Then, on Oct. 1, Radiohead made a surprise announcement — 10 days later, it was on our hard drives.

Friday, July 31, 2009

David Byrne is the man

It's common consensus around these parts that a). David Byrne is the man, and b). U2 sucks. So then imagine my delight when I found this post by Byrne on his always-insightful blog:

Thank You U2!

Mark E pointed out as we prepped for our show last night in Warsaw (at a not so big club/venue called Stodoła) that these undersized dates are in effect being subsidized byU2’s world tour. The promoter of these dates, and of much of the U2 stadium tour, is Live Nation, the global conglomerate. A venue like Stodoła could not possibly afford to pay for us, the catering, or even their local crew given the relatively small number of tickets to be sold here — and it’s not even an “exclusive” VIP-type venue. It’s not like they can charge $200 a seat and make up their losses that way — this is a standing room club… with a floor made of plywood. So in order to book our date, they must (we figure) be losing money now, then making it up with what they expect to earn on the upcoming U2 stadium dates.

Those stadium shows may possibly be the most extravagant and expensive (production-wise) ever: $40 million to build the stage and, having done the math, we estimate 200 semi trucks crisscrossing Europe for the duration. It could be professional envy speaking here, but it sure looks like, well, overkill, and just a wee bit out of balance given all the starving people in Africa and all. Or maybe it’s the fact that we were booted off our Letterman spot so U2 could keep their exclusive week-long run that’s making me less than charitable? Take your pick — but thanks, guys!


I'd offer more, but I really don't need to — Byrne says enough in that one post.

Gov't Mule/ Poor But Sexy

PHOTO COURTESY OF SHOREFIRE MEDIA

I'm not going to lie — it was pretty cool to make a phone call and have Warren Haynes answer on the other end. He's got one of those unmistakable Southern voices that immediately makes you feel at ease with him. He's also a legend, having toured with The Allman Brothers band and The Dead, as well as fronting a pretty successful band in its own right, Gov't Mule.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend last night's Mule show in Washington, but I did write up a nice feature on the band for the Washington Post Express' Weekend Pass section. In it, Haynes discusses how the band is returning to its roots with newish bassist Jorgen Carlsson, as well as the new Mule album, By a Thread, due next month.

I also did a feature for The Washingtonian — where I'm interning this summer — on DC act Poor But Sexy. The band is made up members from various defunct Washington outfits (Dismemberment Plan, Travis Morrison Hellfighters) as well as a few that are still in action.

The band doesn't have an album yet, and doesn't really tour, but it is working on its first full-length. A four-song EP streams for free on the Poor But Sexy MySpace. It's worth checking out, the band brings some fun and funk to the DC rock scene.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Suite101.com Review - Funny People

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures via movieweb.com

It'll be interesting to see how Judd Apatow's Funny People -- his follow up to the universally loved Knocked Up -- will fare at the box office. Because word of mouth may get out pretty quickly that:

a) Despite all the dick jokes (and there are MANY) and the title, Funny People actually gets pretty serious.

b) It's not your typical "Adam Sandler" movie, i.e. he gets to do a little more than flail around speaking in his famous Sandler jibberish speak.

c) The thing runs almost two-and-half-hours.

None of these are bad things (well, in regards to concern c), the film probably could've lost a few minutes) and on a whole, I was pretty impressed. It's a big leap forward for Apatow, even if the film can't go laugh-for-laugh with Knocked Up.

I have more opinions on this, so to catch my Funny People review in full, head over to Suite101.com

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Suite101.com Review - Repulsion (DVD)

Image courtesy of Compton Films/Criterion Collection

Ah Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski's Repulsion - so beautiful, so dangerous. I've blogged and blabbered (albeit briefly) on this film before, so I'll just keep things simple.

The ever-reliable Criterion Collection is releasing (on DVD and Blu Ray) Repulsion on July 28. I wrote a review. Check it out at Suite101.com.

Side note: for any big fans of Criterion's prior home video work, Barnes & Noble.com is currently having a 50% off sale on all Criterion Collection home video, through Aug. 2.

Criterion's great work does tend to come at a price (to be fair, they have to purchase distribution rights, pay for the transfer and correction work and for the special features), so it's always great to catch their stuff on a big sale.

DeepDiscount.com also tends to have a Criterion sale around this time of the year, but nothing has gone up yet (just to prove I'm not a shill for any single outlet).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Gotta Be Effin Kidding Me! - Beck + Wilco + Skip Spence = Awesome

Yes, as part of Beck's Record Club feature on his new website -- hang with friends, record a song-for-song cover of a classic album -- Beck will be releasing his rendition of Skip Spence's absolute classic, Oar. Oh yeah, and as the headline indicates, he recorded it with freakin' Wilco.

As I told my co-MMM scribe, Rudi, earlier today, my head is ready to explode just trying auralize (take that Merriam-Webster's) Jeff Tweedy in harmony with Beck, with the boys just tearing things up. It's a perfect unison of two daring artists on such a loose, psychedelic masterpiece ... ahh, this can't come soon enough.

All due respect to Spence's other esteemed outfits -- Moby Grape (briefly) and Jefferson Airplane (even briefer) -- but I play and enjoy Oar more than either of those hallowed groups' prized albums.

This isn't the first time Beck's taken on Spence -- he covered "Halo of Gold" on a Spence tribute album, a song he'll take another shot at on his full go-round of Oar.

Please - if you're listening Beck -- find a way to release this thing physically, or at least offer a pay option for a hi-res download. I love what we've heard so far of Record Club's Velvet Underground & Nico, but Beck and Wilco's Oar is something I've got a feeling I (and many other like me) will want to own.

Ahhhh this is just too cool. Be still my heart.

Suite101.com Review: (500) Days of Summer

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight via movieweb.com

You know, I ended up liking this one more than I probably ever thought I would. After the trailers, I was a little worried -- the Joy Division t-shirt, record store diving -- it looked like it might stink of a bit of that pop culture pillaging, hipsterdom BS that Garden State dabbled in.

Not so. The flick gets a little too caught up in itself, but hey, ambition and over-cleverness are hardly the biggest sins. Lest I trample on my own feet, check out my full review at Suite101.com.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hey Look an Update!

Image courtesy of Portugal. The Man

Yes, I know, it's been forever since I updated. So it goes. I have a backlog of articles to post, but for now, here's my track-by-track feature on Portugal. The Man's latest album, The Satanic Satanist, a soul- and funk-inspired psychedelic trip of an album.

I'd also like to point out that the interview would not have gone so well had Zach not shown me "Wizards" (If you don't know about the film, read the article), earlier this year. It's a trip, and had quite the effect on the young lives of Portugal. The Man's lead singer, John Baldwin Gourney and Zach.





Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sneak Peak: Thom Yorke does Mark Mulcahy

Image courtesy of Stereogum.com

I'm not going to lie - until I heard about this Mark Mulcahy tribute CD, I had no clue who Mulcahy he was. However, I, like many of my generation, grew up on Pete and Pete and practically knew the opener "Hey Sandy" by heart.

Later, in high school, I went on a nostalgia kick and found the full Peter and Pete soundtrack, which was done by Mulcahy-fronted outfit Polaris. Pretty cool stuff.

Anyway, the real occasion for this post is that Stereogum has Thom Yorke's version of Miracle Legion's "All For The Best" up and streaming from the upcoming tribute album. I have to admit I am not familiar with the original but Yorke's version is fantastic. Definitely worth a listen and only makes me more interested in this tribute and taking the time to discover Miracle Legion/Mulcahy's back catalog.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More Beck Record Club - "Venus in Furs"

Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico "Venus In Furs" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.



Kind of speaks for itself, so why bother you with my inane blabbering? Well, because Beck's got more stuff, which was brought to my attention thanks to a news item on P4K. It appears that Beck plans to stream, one week at a time, all of Modern Guilt performed acoustic. Here's "Orphans", the first entry.

Modern Guilt Acoustic "Orphans" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Friday, July 10, 2009

BLURT Feature: Soul Power interview

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics via movieweb.com

Nothing like a little funk to start off your Friday. Soul Power -- a documentary pulled from the Zaire 74 concert, a show planned in conjunction with the Rumble in the Jungle -- is rolling out across the country in select theaters the rest of the summer. I was lucky enough to talk to director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte about his experience putting the footage together.

The feature is up over at BLURT magazine online - check it out.



Thursday, July 9, 2009

Suite101.com Review - Bruno

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures via movieweb.com

I have to say ... I was a little let down by this one. But don't take my (condensed) word for it - check out the full Bruno review over at Suite101.com. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Unemployment Movie Marathon: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

(Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures via mazello.com)

There have been many recent entries in my ongoing "Unemployment Movie Marathon" -- yes, I decided to give it a name -- and I don't think Kramer vs. Kramer has necessarily been the best or my favorite of my recent, non-blogged entries. But there's something about the film that struck me and is worth my brief and humble two cents.

I'm not sure I'd even go so far as to call Kramer v. Kramer a great film. It's Oscar win over Apocalypse Now for 1980's Best Picture is the sort of travesty that has given the Academy Awards its reputation for utter uselessness. 30 years after its theatrical release, Kramer v. Kramer feels striking to me because it's the sort of film you really don't see coming out of the Hollywood mainstream anymore. It's a bit melodramatic and over-the-top at times, but for the most part and especially considering the story at hand, the film is remarkably restrained.

There's no real emotional manipulation, no tear-jerking or tugging of the ole heartstrings. It's astounding to think that Robert Benton was responsible for directing 2007's weepy, contrived garbage indie flick, Feast of Love. As both screenwriter and director on Kramer vs. Kramer, Benton's approach is 100 percent no nonsense. Nestor Almendros -- shooting in a visually toned down palette from his sweeping photographic masterwork on Days of Heaven -- most lets the camera observe statically. The action and emotion comes out within the frame, much thanks to Dustin Hoffman's and Meryl Streep's excellent work (they both took home Oscars that year for their roles, Benton took home one for direction and one for acting).

It's a pretty straightforward arc -- Hoffman is a workaholic whose wife (Streep) leaves him and his 7-year-old boy high and dry in NYC. Kramer (Hoffman) battles with his high pressure advertising job while trying to raise his kid, Mrs. Kramer reappears, litigation insues. There's nothing incredibly bold in the script or execution, which is also to say that nothing is overintellectualized. Benton lays out the relationships and once the wheels are in motion, it all just clicks.

The closest thing I can think of in recent memory is this year's unjustly shafted Two Lovers, which I should note was distributed by Magnolia Pictures, i.e. not one of the major studios. Both films, Two Lovers and K vs. K, get a little sappy here and there but ultimately the films are just about failed relationships. James Gray and Benton, respectively, get you to invest in their characters and they don't pull any cheap tricks to keep your attention.

And here's the kicker - Kramer vs. Kramer pulled in $106 million, which according to the first inflation calculator that came up on Google, would be roughly $310 million today. In short, the movie cleaned up at the box office. I don't know if the moviegoing audiences of 1979 were so radically different from those of 2009 (to be fair, Hollywood was just beginning to discover the blockbuster), but I can't imagine any big studio exec. hedging their bets on a film as plainspoken as Kramer vs. Kramer.

The film really comes with no strings attached, and that's rare today. Even the film's so-called happy finale feels uncompromised, because in the end, a marriage has still been dissolved and both Kramers have had to endure the pain of being dragged through the mud in court. Divorce is ugly and there may be no complete recovery for either party.

Benton has the decency not to beat his audience over the head, a courtesy we are rarely shown at the movies. One single shot says it all to me -- Kramer is in bed with his son, Billy, reading him a bedtime story just after his ex-wife has announced she will seek custody. It's a lovely personal moment between father and son, but it's threatening too. The open door is only a sliver in the frame, a drastic take on the traditional doorway framing shot.

It's a simple, static shot (until Kramer gets up), but at the same time, there's complexity to it. On one hand, the walls seem to be closing in on the father and son, and it looks impossible -- they're barely present. But that little sliver, all they're afforded in the shot, is very warm and alive. There's something safe about that little space, as if nothing in the world could breach what the two of them share.

Anyway, that's what I got. Stay alert, a Bruno review is on its way.

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Beck Record Club - "Femme Fatale"

Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico "Femme Fatale" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.



Another week, another entry from Beck's take on Velvet Underground & Nico. Thanks to my ailing computer, I haven't listened yet. So, for those of you who don't have trouble with streaming video, enjoy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Suite101.com Review - Moon

(Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Duncan Jones's Moon is probably the best thing I've seen all summer. Head over to Suite101.com to see me express that in big boy words. That is all. Enjoy.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

John Hammond at Haddon Lake Park - 07/01/09

(Photo by Zachary Herrmann)

Every year, I'm continually impressed with the great offering of free summer concerts courtesy of Camden County, NJ. Granted the July 4th show usually sucks -- this year is Marshall Tucker Band opening for Foghat -- but it's been nice to catch the likes of Leon Russell, Graham Parker, Duke Robillard and, tonight, John Hammond without spending a dime.

Hammond was on the top of his game -- unlike his departed friend, Mike Bloomfield, he seems to be riding gracefully on the benefits of relatively clean living. There's not the slightest hint of deterioration in the 66-year-old's voice and his playing ... it's just magnificent. With only an acoustic guitar, a resonator and a harmonica, Hammond kept the park swinging for over 80 minutes of classic blues.

The guy has sort of lived and played it all -- like Bloomfield, he was a young white guy hanging out and playing with all the old, black veterans of the blues. His set covered everything you could think of: Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estee, Skip James, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and a bit of the newer blues via Tom Waits.

In addition to the music, which was a history lesson if and of itself, Hammond recounted many stories about gigging his way from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles and back again in the early 60s, telling little bits about the blues idols he opened for and played with along the way. His approach to the songs was achingly faithful -- beautiful, simple and delivered with the power and conviction of one man, the way the blues should be.

The music was great, the stories were fascinating and as a non-taxpaying dependant, I can say that it truly was (someone else's) money well spent.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Face in the Crowd (1957)

(Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment via moviemorlocks.com)

Suppose I tell you exactly what's gonna happen to you. You're gonna be back in television. Only it won't be quite the same as it was before. There'll be a reasonable cooling-off period and then somebody will say: "Why don't we try him again in a inexpensive format. People's memories aren't too long."

And you know, in a way, he'll be right. Some of the people will forget, and some of them won't. Oh, you'll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top 10. Maybe not even in the top 35. But you'll have a show. It just won't be quite the same as it was before.

Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody'll ask: "Whatever happened to, a, whatshisname? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that? Oh by the way, have you seen, a, Barry Mills? I think he's the greatest thing since Will Rogers."

The above monologue (I know, lengthy chunk of text but bear with me) is delivered by Walther Matthau's character Mel Miller, the Vanderbilt-educated TV writer, to the fallen television idol, Arkansas folk-hero turned megalomaniac "Lonesome" Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith in a knockout film debut). Although A Face in the Crowd was released over 50 years ago as a respone to the death of radio in the face of television, Elia Kazan's film couldn't be any more relevant than it is now.

Video killed the radio star, then the Internet brutally had its way with the remains of both, while taking newspapers, magazines and basically any other form of non-wifi friendly mobile media along too. When I interviewed Carlos Cuaron for his directorial feature debut, Rudo Y Cursi, he talked about the idea of this sort of American Idol/ YouTube-driven culture breeds disposable celebrities - they are, as Cuaron put it, garbage.

And while I don't think Kazan or screenwriter Budd Schulberg were as concerned with the disposability of media sensations as they were their social responsibilities (though as witnessed in the Watthau monologue, it certainly comes up), it's impossible for contemporary audiences not to think of today's quick-fix, empty entertainment when watching A Face in the Crowd. Or at least it should be impossible - I'm pretty certain that the people going out of their way to watch Kazan's masterpiece are the sort who would make that connection.

On the surface, the story follows the classic power-corrupts-the mind/soul structure with Rhodes's unlikely rise from an Arkansas jail to the national spotlight. Under the guidance of an unsuspecting Marcia Jefferies (Particia Neal), Rhodes becomes the no-bullshit voice of the people. He's not the brightest bulb in the pack, but he knows it well enough to exploit his shortcomings and spin them to his advantage. Because what he does have is Southern smalltown charm, a bit of cunning and a guitar.

Warner Home Video brought Kazan's film to DVD in 2005, and the timing couldn't have been any more perfect. Especially as Rhodes moves from advertising shill to political lackey for an up-and-coming conservative Senator, the riffs on image control and the television age combined with Lonseome's Southern dimwit appeal ... well it's downright reminiscent of those recently departed storm clouds we know as the Bush Administration.

Rhodes's racket is TV, but the gross manipulation of the American masses -- the "rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers" or "sheep" as he eventually calls them -- is pure modern politics. Granted he's far more articulate than our most recent former president, but Rhodes is that guy you just want to sit down and have a drink with. At least until fame and money becomes too much.

The predictability of Rhodes's demise is an issue Kazan and Schulberg get away with for several reasons, not the least of which is Griffith's shear magneticism in the lead. Griffith manages to play Rhodes somewhere in between a wolf in sheeps' clothing or a sheep in wolves' clothing. Off the camera, he's a needy, womanizing alcoholic brimming with insecurity, apologizing and pleading all the way to the end.

Still, we never question Marcia's fatal attraction to the media nightmare she inadvertantly unleashed. She is the brains behind the operation, the mostly innocent party who controls Rhodes to the best of her ability, until he just about bursts through his britches. Mel -- who Rhodes initially taunts for his Vandy background (the anti-intellectualism is another connection to the Bush era mentality) -- never professes his love for Marcia, though it's painfully clear. He knows he is dealing with a woman who is tied to something more than an idea - he's competing with an entire failed idyll.

Edward R. Murrow's assessment of television at the 1958 RTNDA convention echoes A Face in the Crowd's deadly view of television's effect on the masses: "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful."

And, like any weapon, in the wrong hands it can breed "ignorance, intolerance and indifference" rather than fight against it. The shadows and darkness brooding through Harry Strandling's crisp black and white cinematography also lurk in the hearts of the advertisers, programmers, the star and, yes, even the relative innocents like Marcia. For even after Rhodes stabs her in the back (figuratively), she continues to sit in the sidelines and watch. The show, and Rhodes, just seem to suck people in.

Those who continue to fuel the fire are just as guilty as the firestarters, and maybe that's more my read on things and the current sad state of entertainment than what we actually see in A Face in the Crowd. But in an age of micro-blogging (full disclosure: I have a Twitter page ... doesn't make me proud about it, but what can you do?), recyclable YouTube stars, Celebrity Fit Club and all that other mind-rotting shit, Kazan and Schulberg's lesson on the power of celebrity image is one you can't help expanding on.

Is that what makes A Face in the Crowd great cinema? I'm not sure if I can answer that. The film is beautifully shot, impeccably acted and the story carries you along from beginning to end. Kazan and Schulberg probablly didn't have a clue just how prophetic the film would be, but that's how things usually work out. When George Orwell wrote 1984, he said he wasn't writing about the future - he was writing about the present, and my guess is that's how Schulberg felt when he wrote the short story and then adapted it into A Face in the Crowd.

You could say (and many people have) that On The Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden are all timeless films, if not the indistubatle widely-recognized Kazan masterpieces. But A Face in the Crowd feels made for the here and now, and however inadvertantly, manages to comment on our current social condition more than any of those aforementioned classics.

Does that make it the best film of the bunch? Probably not, but that doesn't make it any less essential.

And now, I defer to YouTube, a weapon I strive to use for good and not for watching Pandas sneeze or whatever.





Saturday, June 27, 2009

Suite101.com Review: Tokyo (2008)

(Image courtesy of Liberation Entertainment via www.movieweb.com)

Another day, another review. Due to Suite101.com's pain-in-the-ass template, I had to break this down into 2 parts, but there's a link at the bottom of Part 1. I was lucky enough to see Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-Ho (plus cast members) present Tokyo! at it's world premeire at Cannes 2008, which was quite a treat. Glad to see Gondry return to form, so here's hoping The Green Hornet doesn't lapse into everything that was awful about Be Kind Rewind.

Without further rambling, here is my Tokyo! DVD review. Enjoy!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Drew McWeeny of HitFix remembers Michael Jackson



Personally, I've never been a huge fan - I'll take Purple Rain (or 1999, Under the Cherry Moon, Around the World in a Day and many other Prince albums) over Thriller any day. But there's no denying the pop culture impact of Michael Jackson, as well as the media circus that has followed his strange saga to the end and beyond.

There are plenty of obits. and tributes to sort through online, but if you're looking for something a little different, interesting and really introspective, I highly recommend checking out Drew McWeeny's (former AICN writer) piece over at HitFix. "The Motion Captured" is one of my favorite movie-related daily reads, and with Jackson's passing, Drew does what he does best by making such a large media event distinctly personal.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Beck's Record Club posts "Waiting For My Man"



For those of you who do not begin every morning by groggily reaching for your computer and perusing Pitchfork.com, Beck is up to a lot these days. His website overhaul, an album with Charlotte Gainsbourg, and maybe most interesting of all, Record Club.

Beck will be informally meeting with friends/musicians and knocking out a cover of an entire album in one day - first one is ambitious as hell but pretty logical for Beck: Velvet Underground & Nico.

Check out Beck's site for track no. 2 - "Waiting For My Man." It's certainly less-polished than his go at "Sunday Morning" - very rackety, but appropriately so. Judge for yourself.

R.I.P. Sky Saxon (of The Seeds)



This sucks. Farrah Fawcett (granted that one was expected) and now this. If you're unfamiliar with the work of Sky Saxon and The Seeds, Saxon (originally Richard Marsh) was one of those early innovators of garage psychedelia. "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" and "Pushin' Too Hard" were both immortalized on the Lenny Kaye-curated Nuggets box set, but even Saxon's later work with Yahowa 13 is worth checking out.

Considering that Saxon was about to tour with "Love" (quotations added since Love died when Arthur Lee died, no matter how much respect I have for Johnny Echols and backing band Baby Lemonade), the artist's hospilization yesterday and subsequent death comes as a particular shock.

Our wishes here at MMM go out to Saxon's friends and family.

BLURT review: Elvis Perkins in Dearland

(Photo by Zachary Herrmann)

Life's been a little busy lately, so I'm gonna be brief. Last Friday, I saw a terrific set at Johnny Brenda's by Elvis Perkins in Dearland. The review is up on BLURT magazine's website. I'd say it's worth a read, but don't just take my word for it - click away!




Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jay Bennett, ex-Wilco member, cause of death: overdose

I can't say this one is at all surprising - it's probably what most people assumed the second they heard the former Wilco member had died. Billboard has the AP brief up if you want the details. No matter where you fall in the "which incarnation of Wilco was better" debate, Bennett was one hell of a talent and contributed to Wilco's best studio work.

Such a shame. I have to admit I was sort of taken back by how much this one really got to me. Maybe it was just because all those Bennett-era Wilco recordings were the first ones I latched on to. Not to knock the new stuff, which I do enjoy, but those are still my favorites -- Being There, Summerteeth, YHF and both Mermaid Avenues. "California Stars" dropped into my life (via a 1999 live recording) when I was a sophomore in high school, which is about as impressionable time as any for a teengager ... and I digress.

Bottom line, no matter how much credit Bennett is owed for those albums (I'm not touching that one with a 10 foot pole ... not yet, anyway), those are the Wilco songs I'll play and sing along with for the rest of my life.

Below is a video of Wilco doing what I believe is the only song Bennett received full song credits for, "My Darling". If you're unfamiliar with the material they did for that Session at West 54th, click around YouTube and check it out - it's all pretty excellent.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The 400 Blows (1959) and The Quiet Man (1952)

( Image courtesy of Les Films du Carrosse via http://gentlebear.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/400_blows_v1.jpg)

I know - not the most natural of pairings, though as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema, Francois Truffaut was a staunch defender of John Ford. But bare with me here. There's a connection somewhere and damn't, if there isn't, I'll force one (since I sort of did by watching the films back to back).

It's said that an artist/musician/filmmaker/whatever has an entire lifetime to draw on for his debut. The trick comes in the follow up, where pressure, deadline and expectations begin to weigh heavily. As a result, debut films are often the finest and most personal work from a director. Less restrictions and a gut reaction can yield great art and entertainment - look no further than Citizen Kane for the example to end all other examples.

Of the four Truffaut films I've seen, The 400 Blows isn't the best nor is it my personal favorite, but there's no denying it is his most personal of the bunch. Truffaut hadn't yet reached that exuberant blend of style and punctuation that, at least for me, makes Jules and Jim the gem of the New Wave. But he was definitely searching and well on his way.

The 400 Blows works for many reasons, but most of all, it works because this is Truffaut's story to tell. The troubled, 15 year-old (he looks much younger) Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) appears to be the auteur's on-screen surrogate. Antoine's love affair with the movies, his "lifting" of material from another artist (Balzac) and the way in which Paris alternates from playground to prison - it's all part of the grand (and not too heavy-handed) metaphor for the freeing sensation of cinema and filmmaking.

But it's more than that. From the opening shots from a car moving toward and then pulling away from the view of the Eiffel Tower, The 400 Blows is a referendum on France and French culture. There seems to be paradigm shift taking place, and the old guard has completely lost touch with the next generation. At home, in the cramped Paris apartment, Antoine witnesses his parents marriage swing between dissolution and solidarity, which leaves little love and compassion for him.

Of course, the kid is kind of a fuck up, and the scenes in which Antoine ditches school with his school mater René are some of the film's finest. Henri Decae -- who would later photograph Le samouraï in 1967 for Jean-Pierre Melville -- does some really lovely, simple camera work, occasionally opting for some more ambitious visual risks.

The whirling of the centrifuge ride and (SPOILER!!!!!!!) Antoine's police paddy wagon ride through the city as he gets carted off to reform school are both striking sequences (END SPOILER), visuals that alternately capture that aforementioned freedom and imprisonment. Overall, it's just incredibly assured work from a young director in the way that Mean Streets would be for Scorsese (though it wasn't actually his first film, just the first important one).

For John Ford, it took a lot longer to make his personal masterpiece, The Quiet Man. Many call it his best -- I have to respectfully defer to The Searchers -- but if you're going for his best non-Western, then it's got to be either Quiet Man or How Green Was My Valley. The latter, which is the film that beat out Citizen Kane for the Best Picture at the Academy Awards, gets a little choked up in nostalgia. It's a fantastic film, but The Quiet Man is the more balanced work. The Fordian sense of humor goes a long way.

Nearly 20 years after Ford purchased the rights to the story, he finally got the film made, and if you know a thing or two about Ford, it's no surprise he never gave up. Like the director, the lead, Sean Thornton (John Wayne), is an Irish-born American who returns full of love for his native Ireland. And, like Ford, there's a shade of darkness in Thornton, something eating him up inside.

In America, Thornton was a famous boxer, but something forces him away from the ring, away from violence and off to Ireland. Once he arrives in his birth town, Thornton sparks a fight with one of the locals, Squire Danaher (Victor McLaglen) by purchasing the cottage and plot of land Danaher had his eyes on -- Thornton's childhood home. He falls for Danaher's sister (Maureen O'Hara, fiery and beautiful as ever) as the local matchmaker (Barry Fitzgerald) helps introduce him back into the ways of his homeland (drinking pints of porter, going courting and the like).

What saves The Quiet Man from becoming overly quaint or nostalgic is its classic Fordian subtexts -- the value of home and the domestic subdivisions within that home, be it the physical space or just the larger idea of home, what it means to be a man (across cultures) and the struggle of the outsider. Struggles with religion and sexual desire surface and more explicitly than in most pre-MPAA films - thematically, it may be Ford's most personally transparent film. You see so much of the man in the film as he lets his guard down.

All this married to the Ford Stock Company (Ward Bond, is, of course, fantastic as usual) and Winton C. Hoch's Academy Award-winning cinematography makes for one of the Ford's most essential entries.

And really, that's all I got for now. Sorry for being brief but I'm sort of all written out from this weekend, and expect to be writing a good deal more ... so, yes, there are good things to come! So for now, I leave you with these embedded YouTube videos, as a token of my, er, laziness.





Sunday, June 21, 2009

Suite101.com Review: Waltz With Bashir (2008)

(Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Hey all. Hopefully I'll rouse myself to write up a little piece on The 400 Blows or Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore by tomorrow night. Until then, I've got a spankin' fresh DVD review up for what was, in my humble opinion, the best film of 2008: Waltz With Bashir.

Check it out at Suite101.com and, if you haven't seen the film yet, do yourself a favor and get on that. If you have seen it, then see it again.

That is all.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Johnny Guitar (1954)

(Image courtesy of Republic Pictures via http://cinemacc.files.wordpress.com)

If there were ever an American classic sorely in need of a home video revival, it would be The Magnificent Ambersons (Criterion, are you there? It's me - Zach). However, continuing down that priority list, somewhere not too far from the top resides Nicholas Ray's upheaval of the classic Western, Johnny Guitar.

Ray was a master of subverting genre and playing it cool under the Hayes Production Code, or later on, what was left of the Code in the mid-to-late 50s (see Rebel Without A Cause). The censors were always a little slow on the uptake when it came to Freudian psycho-sexual allusions, and Ray's work is loaded with repressed, dark tension. As a result, years later his films don't feel quaint and scrubbed clean in the way that even some of the greatest films from the same period are.

For any viewer with even the most casual knowledge of the classic Hollywood Western picture, Johnny Guitar stands out from the get go. As Sterling Hayden's titular character rides into a valley, a mountain range explodes. He then moves on to watch a stagecoach robbery and shooting, which the posited hero glimpses with little reaction. We are introduced into a world of chaos where the rules of the game no longer apply.

Our symbolically impotent hero carries a guitar, not a gun, and turns out to be not much of a hero at all. Good guys and bad guys are completely relative in Johnny Guitar - morally, we don't have much room to side with the law or the outlaws, which sort of disrupts the continuity for those who argue the film as an allegory for the McCarthy-era witch hunts. It's definitely there to some degree, but Ray isn't building up anyone to be 100 percent innocent of anything.

Joan Crawford's Vienna calls Johnny to her casino/pub joint in a frontier town under the auspices of needing entertainment for the place. Really, she's looking for protection from a long lost lover (don't worry, it's really not much of a spoiler). Vienna is caught in the throws of a Shakespearean stand off with Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) , John McIvers (Ward Bond) and what seems like the rest of the town. Partially, the feud is financially related, but much of Emma's deep-rooted hatred for Vienna comes from her inability to deal with her love for the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), a local outlaw with his eyes on Vienna.

The HUAC undertones come in as Emma tries to pin her brother's murder on Vienna (via her association with the Kid and his gang). If it sounds like I'm leaving out Johnny Guitar, it's because the title character is largely absent from his own film. As he confesses toward the beginning of the film, "I'm a stranger here myself." Johnny is largely cut from the action in deference to Vienna, his old flame. Traditional male heroism is continually undercut by a stronger female presence - it's something the men in the film never really come to terms with, mostly because the women won't allow them to.

Thematically, Johnny Guitar cooks up many of the ideas Ray would visit again in Rebel Without A Cause. Even in 1954, Ray sensed a paradigm shift in American values. He was a bit ahead of his time with Johnny Guitar, and as a result, the film's reception was pretty mixed in America. It's no surprise Variety didn't know whether to make heads or tails of the film. It's jarring. Everything that "should" happen in a Western generally doesn't, or at least happens in a very different way. Ray inverts the rules.

Some of Ray's most ardent contemporary support came from the young French critic Francois Truffaut, and it's easy to see why Truffaut and other future New Wavers dug so hard on Ray and Johnny Guitar (Truffaut called it the "Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, a Western dream"). What the New Wave would do for the gangster film (Breathless, Shoot The Piano Player), Johnny Guitar at least partially does for the Western. The genre mold is there, barely, but within that structure, the language is completely different - far more poetic, far less literal.

There's plenty of lyricism in John Ford's masterpieces, but none of Ford's films is as truly bizarre as Johnny Guitar. I realize that's not necessarily a flat out endorsement, and I'm certainly not going to make any bullshit claim that Johnny Guitar is a masterpiece in league The Searchers or Stagecoach. But Ray's film is a wrongfully overlooked and influential chapter in the Western pantheon. In the very least, I think that warrants a proper DVD release.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Power of Film?

So, in going to check the running time for a film on imdb, I found this.

Lovely, right? Now to be fair, not all of the Acura-sponsored "Power of Film" features suck or shill this hard. But how some PR flack or imdb staffer was able to type up the bit about "those movies that help drive the box office and promise to give fans more of what they liked the first time around" without choking a little on their own vomit, I'll never know.

Underworld: The Rise of the Lycans? The Pink Panther 2? Fucking Wolverine? Hurray for Hollywood.

Rant over. Time to watch a movie.

Cue Intro Music/Washington Post Express feature: Phoenix

(Photo courtesy of Pascal Textiera)

So Zach went ahead and started a blog without me — while I was at Bonnaroo, nonetheless — but now I'm in on this new media mess too.

I'll use this space to occasionally rant and rave about music and movies, but mostly I'll be posting my articles from various publications for all to read.

First up, I've got my second feature on rising indie-pop band Phoenix in as many months. For those of you riding Metrorail in Washington, you can read it here, then again in the Weekend Pass section of tomorrow's Washington Post Express. One of my biggest regrets from this year's Bonnaroo (more on those later) was not checking these guys out while I took a much-needed nap at Phish's Friday late-night set.

As an extra bonus, I've also got my review of David Byrne's June 6 show at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va. This was the second time I'd seen Mr. Byrne play the songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno — the first being in Baltimore in September — and he was so good, I did it all again less than a week later at Bonnaroo. This review comes courtesy of Glide Magazine's Hidden Track blog, where you'll find most of my concert reviews.

Also, I cannot stress this enough, if you haven't seen David Byrne on this tour, do what you can to make it out, it's the closest we may ever get to seeing Talking Heads play together again.

Say It Ain't So: Bride of Frankenstein to be Remade?

(Image courtesy of Universal Pictures via www.bergoiata.org)

This report comes to us via The Hollywood Reporter's Risky Biz blog by way of Ain't It Cool News It just goes to show - nothing, including James Whale's 1935 masterpiece, is off limits. There's (maybe) one person I'd ever want to hear about tackling this film, and he's going to be kept busy in Hobbit land for quite some time.

I've got to agree with AICN - Neil Burger certainly has talent, but not the Guillermo del Toro-sized ambitions and vision this project would need. Personally, I had no clue that someone had been trying to get this remake (oh, I'm sorry, I guess I meant "re-imagining") off the ground for the last 5 years.

Great.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Suite101.com Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

(Image courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment/American Zoetrope)

Hey all (OK, so who am I kidding, at this point, "all" probably constitutes a very select number of friends and family ... anyway, I digress).

Suite101.com just posted my review/essay of Coppola's Dracula (1992) - I wrote this one under the auspices of the return of True Blood and ensuing New Moon fever. So there's the timeliness for yah.

Anyway, check it out here (because you love me, my opinions and what I do for a *cough* living).

Graham Greene article in NYT

Just thought this might be of interest -- Terrence Rafferty wrote a pretty excellent summation of Graham Greene's screenwriting career over at NYT.com. Of course, recent MMM-featured film, The Fallen Idol, receives mention.

Definitely worth a read.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

(Image courtesy of the Criterion Collection via http://members.quicknet.nl/ahum/M20%20in%20the%20movie1.htm)

After seeing the later Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger (a.k.a. The Archer's) classic, The Red Shoes, and reading up a little on Scorsese's high opinion of Powell's work, I purchased The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp on a whim. Why this film hasn't enjoyed a reputation equal to Renoir's Grand Illusion as one of the greatest cinematic critiques of war, I really can't say. As I said with The Fallen Idol, British cinema gets overlooked too often in America.

Taken from the popular, farcical British cartoon character, Colonel Blimp, Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) is the ostensibly unchanging face of the British military. From his younger days in the Boer War, Candy matures in a series of conflicts which shapes his expectations for how a war is to be properly conducted. It is a gentleman's game with carefully observed rules. When one party deviates from the script and does something unsportsmanlike, as the Germans do in WWI, it is only fitting that the behaved party emerges victorious.

As Candy's German friend and foil, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) represents a much more flexible view of war. He too is brought up on the idyll of a gentleman's war -- it is this principle that first brings him into contact with Candy, dueling against his personal belief to defend the honor of the German Army, who Candy offends while visiting Berlin at the turn-of-the-century. It is there that both men meet Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), the woman Theo marries and Candy longs for throughout his life.

Given that the film was released in 1943 -- in the throws of the second World War -- Powell and Pressburger (credited as screenwriters on the picture as well) tackle the evolution of war with an inredibly prophetic scope. Even a fair and balanced criticism of the British Army in a film that is neither blindly patriotic nor scathingly treacherous could not be accepted at the time. Winston Churchill despised the film and wanted to see it banned. But that sort of knee-jerk reaction completely ignores the valuable criticism of war and British culture Powell and Pressburger offer.

Nazism, aside from being the ultimate evil, represents a complete end to the gentleman's game. Candy remains confident through the end of WWI that the Germans lost because they refused to play by the rules. His view of war running like clockwork already seems antiquated then, but when taken in with the full, horrific implications of the Nazi regime, Candy's idylls are entirely invalid. His friend Theo notes that the British are no longer fighting to win -- they are fighting for their entire "existence." And should they lose, there will be no other values but Nazi values for a very long time.

Beneath the political skepticism (Kerr delivers one of the film's best lines: "Good manners cost us . . . 6,000 men killed and 20,000 men wounded—and two years of war. When with a little common sense and bad manners there would have been no war at all.") and razor sharp dialogue, Powell and Pressburger also deliver one of Technicolor's early masterpieces. While their color cinematography is not quite as inspired as in The Red Shoes, their work alongside DP George Périnal (who worked on The Fallen Idol) is no less assured, from the opening shot of the M20 motorcycle (which seems to have informed David Lean in the opening of Lawerence of Arabia) which pulls out to reveal the British Home Guard in all its pomp and splendor.

What makes it all work is The Archer's decision to transform Blimp from a contemptible joke -- a chararicature -- into Candy, a full-blooded tragic figure. He's still bound, like Blimp, to the old guard's failing ways, but there's a profound sadness to the demise of how things were. They handle their satire with absolute sincerity, though not without a sense of humor.

The title of the film could be seen as misleading -- we never see Blimp/Candy's onscreen death. In fact, the film ends with him very much alive. But that would be an all too literal reading of "Life" and "Death". At the film's conclusion, Candy finally recognizes just how much the world around him has changed. England is no country for old gentleman soldiers, and while this evolution is inevitable, The Archers seem to mourn this passing, despite the absurd decadence and contradictory idea of so-called civilized war.