Monday, January 5, 2009

The Movies And More

Journey Into Fear (1943). D: Norman Foster. Joseph Cotton, Delores Del Rio, Everett Sloane, Ruth Warrick, Orson Welles. Watch for this one on TCM. Cotton is at his dithering best in this tale of a WW II arms salesman pursued by Nazis for some obscure reason. Del Rio attempts a French accent, Welles plays a bemused Turkish secret police official, Warrick (Cotten's wife) acts unconcerned about it all, and Sloane -- as an eccentric businessman of indeterminate nationality -- heads a posse of character actors who join the fun with great relish. Although Welles didn't direct Journey, Wellesian touches abound and the suspense builds to an exciting finale. And only 69 minutes long!

Seven Pounds (2008). D: Gabriele Muccino. Will Smith, Rosario Dawson. Weak, slow, and dull, notable mainly for one of the most excruciatingly bad opening scenes in the history of cinema. Essentially, Seven Pounds is macabre take on the old story of a dying rich man spreading the wealth among deserving strangers. It's also yet another unconvincing case of an appealing but limited actor (Will Smith, in this case) giving a so-called "performance of a lifetime" by looking sensitive and misty-eyed for two hours. Rosario Dawson is good as a heart-transplant candidate.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). D: David Fincher. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Jared Harris, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond. Based on a Fitzgerald short story about a man who becomes younger as he ages, Benjamin Button is well done and engaging. Pitt shows unexpectedly range, and ever-capable Blanchett is ravishing. But in the end, the movie is essentially themeless. Fitzgerald's trifle of a short story guesses at what life might be like if we really did know then what we know now (we're better off as things are, it turns out), but the movie ignores all that. Moreover, there's no context from which to play off the central conceit: Except for an interlude set during WW II, Benjamin misses out on Vietnam, the counterculture, the Civil Rights movement (he lives in a remarkably tolerant New Orleans), the Fifties, and the Depression. Nonetheless, the story of two intersecting lives that "meet in the middle" never fails to hold interest and is surprisingly convincing. A date movie if there ever was one.

Frost/Nixon (2008). D: Ron Howard. Frank Langella, Michael Sheen. Another 3-star Ron Howard movie, this based on the Peter Morgan play purporting to show the back story to David Frost's 1977 televised interviews of former President Richard Nixon. Frost hoped that the interviews would enhance his prestige; the disgraced Nixon wanted to vindicate himself. It's a good movie -- swiftly paced and effectively acted by both stars. The interview sequences come off especially well. But in an odd way, the film unintentionally vindicates Nixon: Frost comes across as an unprepared dilettante, a lightweight who takes a pounding from his intellectual superior until a lucky punch sends the heavyweight crashing to the deck. In the meantime, Langella's Nixon studiously prepares for the interviews, taking the whole enterprise seriously while regarding it -- as he tells Frost -- as a duel. Is the best way to prepare for a final exam to party all week, then cram at the last minute? Frost/Nixon suggests that this will work every time...

New Orleans music vs. Austin music: Which is better? Does it matter? Don't miss the comments, where Editilla sets things right. I give my humble opinion, too...

Melissa Etheridge weighs in on Rick Warren...

Hendrik Hertzberg thinks that the Warren business is another one of Obama's brilliant, baffling chess moves...

If it were up to me, I'd strike a blow for secular humanism and have no invocation at all...

Paul Krugman writes that the GOP has no one but itself to blame...

Quote of the Day: "But a defeat of Hamas in Gaza -- following on the heels of our success in Iraq -- would be a real setback for Iran." William Kristol actually wrote that here. That's like saying that if Cornwallis had had a few more successes like Yorktown, we'd all be pledging allegiance to the Union Jack...

On the other hand, David Frost successfully elicited riveting moments like the following. Watch the palpable increase of Nixon's discomfort and embarrassment when confronted with his own words:



More Frost-Nixon interview clips here.

17 comments:

Foxessa said...

Holy cow, he wrote that to a Gambit audience? Guess he believes he really is in Austin to stay. His view of NO music so narrow.

I'm pretty familiar with the Austin music scene. One of my best friends is part of a band that is part of Austin's music history. They still play and put out "records". But mostly though the indie pop white middle-class gentrification music scene bores me. For one thing it's not meant to captivate me, since I'm not that demo, and that's fine. We all should have music that we can love and feel part of. But that's what I so love about the New Orleans music world, which is even more so now since the hurricane -- there isn't that division between audience and performer in the NO music scenes that I love so much. The music grows out of its own people, its great culture, its roots reaching far down and far back. Austin's is, well, made by-and-large these days by people who weren't even born in Texas, much less in Austin.

Concerning the remark he made that there's no tourism in NO around the town's hip hop / rap legacy -- well there is legacy, but Lil Wayne alone is enough to show that it's not museum stuff yet -- it's totally alive-o and still developing. However, after people read Vaquero's hip hop chapter(s) in the forthcoming (August) The Year Before the Flood, that might change. People who have read this material -- people who know, are / were there, are considered very knowledgable in the field -- and um, write about music and / or perform it too -- have stated this is some of the most brilliant music writing anyone has ever done. But then, these beta readers have said this about many parts of the book. So have I.

Love, c.

Foxessa said...

I missed including in what I love most about the music and art scenes in New Orleans is that there isn't that big self-conscious division between "I am the creator, and YOU are the consumer-audience (except at big tourist venues like Jazz Fest, when it's inevitable). In New Orleans audience and musician need each other in the most creative, positive for both symbiosis -- in order for both to survive daily life and have a little joy in what is so much life on the edge and grimly hung on to.

Reminds me of what I love about Cuba and other Afro-Latin music cultures. In Havana a dental technician regards herself as an intellectual, without irony, and so does everyone else, and she has as much gravitas to speak of the history of Cuban music as someone from a university -- and very likely more.
Love, C.

K. said...

You should post these comments on the original entry!

There is still some great stuff happening in Austin. Some terrific singer/songwriters -- Patty Griffin, Jimmy LaFave, Slaid Cleaves, the members of Band of Heathens, to name just a few -- live and work there. The indie trend notwithstanding, songwriting is the backbone of Austin music, has been for nearly 40 years, and hopefully will continue to be so. But to argue that there's more happening musically there than in New Orleans -- it's just wrongheaded. And this is coming from someone who lived in Austin and really likes the town and area.

Foxessa said...

I'd get crucified if I posted that stuff on that Gambit blog.

Yeah, me too. Austin was my favorite city in the U.S. after NYC for a long time -- until I moved to NO for a while. But in some ways it was because of Joe Ely and that kind of music. Talk about songwriters .... And some really great Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. But I liked it so much better when it wasn't all pumped up with tech moola and all the movies stars moved in. Or if not to Austin herself, to the Hill Country, etc. I also like Houston though. What I don't like about either of them is the segregation.

That's really what that blogger was b*tchin' about. His white boy stuff weren't gettin' no respect in NO.

Love, c.

K. said...

Ireland has the same kind of intellectual vibe that you describe in Cuba. I once hopped into a cab in Dublin and gave the name of the theatre I was off to. "Ah, Shadow of a Gunman," the cabbie replied, and then gave me a critique of the production. The high tech guys I worked with were well and broadly read, much more so than their American counterparts, too.

Editilla said...

Thanks, Mon! You know I stepped right into it 1st comment hehehe. Foot-In-Mouth Disease. Then the guy emailed me, rather than responding in full. So I told him to grow some raisins and tell me this stuff on his own blog and not in email where no one can witnass the thingery of it all. And he didn't...grow any raisins that is, or marbles, or even golf balls, and tried to email me again with more of what you saw later on THE Gambit comments. So that is when I unloaded on him. Then after those other folks weighed in if felt like "Editilla ain't so goddamn crazy Now, eh?!?" Mmwwwhahahaha
But to have you say I set it straight made my day.
I get stunned at first like a wild animal before the bright lights of mendacity. (bada'bing!:)
But really, I almost started feeling sorry for him after nolawriter opened up, but then thought of the emails and said to myself naaaah! Hahahaha
I was mad and punked in the first comment, but the second, long one I was determinedly Not Angry At All. Honestly. Really. It's true. No lie. I con'tell you don'beeleeeeeve me...

And Foxessa, hell if I had the money I'd pay you just to see your Name in THE Gambit, but expecially the sentiments you left here.
I know what you mean though, K does that to me too. I don't talk this way on my own blog, or even in front of family if ya'know what I mean. Sounds like you do.

Editilla

Foxessa said...

Tell me why this dork supposedly has the whatever to be an 'official' blogger for the Gambit site? He'd never be able to go mano a mano with Katie Reckdahl -- though now she's with the T-P -- much less follow in her footsteps, literally and compositionally, to the places she goes.

You don't know New Orleans if you don't get that feedback loop of the Second Line and the Indians. That's the real cultural foundation of New Orleans, the oldest and deepest of any place in this nation, root system of all our great popular music of the 20th c, the American century (it's over, of course).

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans ... it's a horrible place in so many ways. A terrible place. Still I dreamed last night that Fats Domino was holding my hand.

Love, C.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

thanks for the film capsule reviews. I had been wanting to see 7 pounds, but now am not so sure! frost/nixon has been on my must see list.

and thanks so much for the link to the melissa etheridge piece. I've been struggling with the whole rick warren business. reading what melissa has to say really has helped me reduce my anger and shock.

Rastamick61 said...

Bill KristolMeth really wants to say a big fat nuke in mid-town Teheran would really set back Iran...

Re : Nixon I always remember Kurt Vonnegut reminding us in Nixon the country had elected a man who hated the American people. And somehow, Maybe it was the fog of the Reagan era, the guy got reinvented to the point that my sainted mother in law was actually observed videotaping the guy's funeral. Last I heard he was a foul mouthed ill tempered cuss who gave W. some pointers on trampling the Constitution. Yet for a while there he'd become St. Dick. Love that big fake grin towards the end of Frost's skin peel too. Tense Dick ? Screw him and that doddering Phoney reagan too, the kindly grandpa with a spine, too bad he never bothered with his own kids or grandkids.

K. said...

Mouse: Trust me, don't waste your time or money on Seven Pounds. Frost/Nixon is good, though.And definitely keep an eye out for Journey Into Fear.

Rasta: Nixon's attitude toward the American people has metastasized across the right in general. As near as I can tell, they claim to love America while detesting the American people. Look at their attitude toward who they view as the worst apostates: Military heroes like Max Cleland and John Kerry who became liberals. It so affronts and threatens their fragile perspective that they tear them limb from limb, people who risked their lives and sacrificed their bodies for their country.

K. said...

Going back to Austin for a second, my sense is that starting in the 70's, it played an important part in the careers of iconoclastic performers and songwriters like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, and Joe Ely. Wherever they came from originally, they identified strongly with Central Texas and were grateful for their acceptance there. This helped attractive a second and third wave of talent like Jimmy LaFave, Slaid Cleaves, Patty Griffin, and Wayne Hancock. I also think that it's just about impossible to overstate the importance of Austin City Limits to all of this.

But the arrival of indie rock -- which is antithetical to the individualistic values of prior Austin music -- has muddied the waters. I suppose that a strong indie presence in Austin was inevitable: It's a music town with a huge university sitting literally in the center. But I suspect that it has both diluted and polarized the music community some.

Although the indie sound does have one connection to Austin's musical past: The city's listeners were always quick to anticipate a trend and support it early on. But that never amounted to a competing musical scene, because typically once a band or sound gained mainstream acceptance, Austinites were looking for the next thing. Since I don't live there any more, I don't know the extent to which the indie sound has presented itself as a competing scene.

That would mean that all roads do not eventually lead back to Willie Nelson. That may or may not be a good thing. Willie not only defined a musical movement, he did it with great inclusiveness and generosity of spirit. The indie scene seems exclusive by nature, although that could be middle age talking. To the extent that it is exclusive, that's a part of the Austin music scene that I neither recognize nor welcome.

michael welch said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
michael welch said...

Also, New Orleans rap music legacy is now almost 20 years strong. Rap is undoubtedly THE OFFICIAL music of New Orleans, it's what the people who live there listen to most. If you disagree with me, then you're believing the exact same hype I'm fighting.

And again: I am not against traditional New Orleans music, I just can't stand that people push it as if it's the ONLY thing we have in the city. Louis Armstrong left that place because of closeminded "music fans" who didn't appreciate the new shit.

I don't know anything about Austin yet. Seems very cool. I love New Orleans. My house, my friends, my woman, my goat, they're all back there. And I may be back there in a couple weeks too. And no one will criticize me for speaking my mind, and analyzing something I know so much about.

Renegade Eye said...

Tomorrow I'm seeing a screening of "The Wrestler."

A guilty pleasure was the new Clint Eastwood movie, with an anticlimatic Dirty Harry continuation.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is the one to see. It's "City of God" meets Bollywood.

K. said...

I've given up trying to resist Clint Eastwood movies, especially since he's become a major director. I'm really looking forward to "The Wrestler." Also, The New Yorker gave "Defiance" a very strong review.

"Slumdog" is on my list. Don't miss "A Christmas Tale." It's available On Demand out here, so you might be able to catch it on television.

Foxessa said...

Your insights into the history of the Austin music scene pretty much coincide with mine, so yeah, I'd like them, K.

["Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, and Joe Ely."]

They're all West Texas boys. Ely though, is the only one who isn't a songwriter. He sings the hell out of other peoples' song though.

That band he had with Jesse Taylor and Lloyd Maines and the others back in the 70's early 80's -- there just wasn't anything like that. Recall too, Lloyd is Natalie Maines's dad.

Love, C.

K. said...

One of the great things about Austin is the way it attracts talent from other parts of the state and the country. Patty Griffin and Slaid Cleaves are both from Maine. Jimmy LaFave is from Oklahoma.

I saw that great Joe Ely band open for The Clash in Austin. Tremendous show. Joe built his early career as an interpreter of Butch Hancock's songs in particular, but he has grown to become a strong songwriter in his own right.

The buzz around Ely in the Austin of 1981 and 1982 was incredible. His shows sold out in advance and he was sure to be the next Springsteen. He landed a contract with a national label and unfortunately released one of the weakest albums of his career, which permanently stalled any aspirations he had for stardom. But all in all, he's been remarkably productive.