Archive for the ‘review’ Category

We watched Network (1976) over the weekend; first time I’ve seen it. If you haven’t seen it in a while, or have it somewhere at the bottom of your queue, I recommend moving it up. Things have changed so much in the last thirty years that they’re pretty much exactly the same.

The clip below is one of three major rants by former Union Broadcasting Systems (UBS) news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch), whose deluded sense of prophetic calling results in a ratings boom for eager conscience-less programmer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). I haven’t seen a lot of Lumet‘s films, but I found this more along the lines of PT Anderson than Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which seemed more like a story one of the characters in this film would have told than the story Network spins.

(Note: This man is going to use words you’re not allowed to say on the major networks. But they can on TNT.)


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[I’m going to talk about this as if you are among the six bazillion people who have already paid to see it, i.e., “spoilers ahead”]

The Dark Knight is a great movie, and there is plenty of print to tell you so, so I’ll skip over that point. Christopher Nolan has crafted something which, as the wife said, I know is good, whether I know if I like it or not.

The film has me mulling over Batman as a story about the “powers and principalities;” Batman as a figure seeking out justice in a way that the rulers and their swords simply can’t accomplish. He has set out parameters for himself to keep his mission clear, and, as someone who operates outside the laws of the land, to keep the boundary between himself and those he pursues. Nolan has named this boundary “thou shalt not kill,” and placed Bruce Wayne/Batman’s refusal to be executioner at the center of the character in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

The myth of Batman is as powerful as any fists or gadgets at his disposal; a man with no accountability but his own will, which appears steeled in his purpose. And a man who uses fear as much as force to disarm his opponents. This fantasy, and the extent to which we revel in it, is a catharsis for our own powerlessness against the injustice of this age. Despite the order achieved through the power of the state, the state is not to be trusted to bring about That for Which We Hope. No strategy, structure, party, or candidate can fulfill the promises that only God’s reign can, and, says the Bride, will.

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Within a few experiences of each other, I saw Mike Judge’s Idiocracy and Pixar’s Wall-E. I don’t know if this will happen to a lot of people, but it makes for an interesting vision of the future. Wall-E assumes we will be commodified and technopolied into boneless blobs of passive, isolated-in-a-crowd, roaming media eaters. Idiocracy assumes that the capacity for critical thought and intentional community will be bred out of us, leaving us in the ruins of our commodified and technopolied media eating blobness.

To infirmity, and beyond!

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I got around to Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man in the last week or so. I’ve got a book of Cohen’s lyrics and poems I enjoyed, and I get why this guy is so brilliant and all, but my taste-o-meter has just never swung towards much more than a few listens to Songs of Love and Hate. It’s true. I’m a Philistine.* But, I enjoy a good Cohen cover as much as the next guy. Buckley’s is my favorite version of “Hallelujah,” maybe because, aside from being the best one, it was the first I’d heard. Anyway, Teddy Thompson’s fresh and thoughtful take on “Tonight Will Be Fine” was the highlight of the show for me. Thompson’s latest, A Piece of What You Need, released just last week, and the samples I’ve heard are great. His cover of country standards, Up Front & Down Low, is all kinds of sweet slide guitar smooth. I like ‘im.

A close second was Antony’s “If It Be Your Will.” His haunting, as Bjork called it, “black woman” voice (Nina Simone meets Boy George?) is featured on Joan as Police Woman’s last record (Joan Wasser also makes an appearance in I’m Your Man, but not quite center stage). I wasn’t sure what I thought of him at first – it almost completes Wasser’s 70s-ish vibe, like he’s channeling Godspell. Kind of how Buckley’s “Lilac Wine” always made me feel, come to think of it. There’s a lot of incongruities in this image and sound, but the way it somehow holds together draws me in all the more to want to hear it again, like if I keep watching I’ll suddenly solve the mystery. Or it will solve me. Like the man says, “There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in” (“Anthem,” The Future, 1992). The song itself offers a prayer of such sincerity, yearning, and faith that it puts a lot of CCM to shame.

What a cool thing, music.

Oh, and I liked Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. He’s an interesting guy. Very easy voice when it comes to talking. And, if you’re not familiar with him, you can pretend it’s all made up, and Leonard Cohen is just a character played by Al Pacino.

*For the record, I enjoy a number of, shall we say, nontraditional vocalists (Tom Waits, Iris Dement, Victoria Williams, Howlin’ Wolf, Daniel Johnston, even Celine Dion). Maybe Cohen just sings in a register to which my ears don’t respond well. I have the same reaction to Cher.

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David Karsten Daniels’ Fear of Flying is a beautiful, biting and bright set of meditations on death and dying, and the self and its source somewhere in that process. It’s no goth infatuation with the abyss; it’s full of the wonder and fear of the way of all things, growing old, facing the realities of life and love as they are confronted by an inevitable end point. There is hope even in the dark, and a range of sincere responses throughout, including some stark dealings with false or failed attempts to bear the mystery of beginning and ending together. I don’t know of anything else like it in terms of the subject matter, and Daniels continues the haunted south-ern, transcendent, earthy, drawly, injured jubilee sound that Sharp Teeth set out. I’m still chewing on this one.

I’m really excited by what Ben Sollee’s If You’re Gonna Lead My Country EPette gives me to imagine he might bring with his upcoming release. (Learning to Bend arrives June 10). This little glimpse offers a combo of some of my favorite things, including soul and cello, on two great songs. I’m on the edge of my seat for more.

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So, I started the year eager for some harder fare, but after a several weeks of grinding and droning on with the Whigs, Ladyhawk, the Foals, the Dodos, and pop punchsters Vampire Weekend, I found myself under a self-induced avalanche of Van Morrison and Elvis Costello, and then back at blues guitar, digging out Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and the lovely Big Mama Thornton (a new purchase for me) for a good soak. I’ve brushed up against some formidable folksters like Andy Gullahorn and the Jack-Johnson-being-eaten-by-a-panther sounds of Thao, and am still getting used to the new Weepies. Out of all that, a standout on the rock side has been the techneoise multiinstru-mentalists Throw Me the Statue and their funky-cool drummer, whoever that is (they might all be Scott Reitherman).

But, surprisingly, my first quarter pick (with Gullahorn coming in close second) is Sun Kil Moon’s April. I first came across Moon’s songwriter Mark Kozelek with the Red House Painters, I b’lieve this was ’bout the time of the Great P2P Rush of aught one. I dug the quiet, melodic stuff they were doing. This low, dawdling album reflects that charming hush; dense, but avoiding monotone or fuzzy, and always played like a late night serenade never intended for the neighbors. And as I’m scratching the surface of things lyrically, I’m finding that rewarding, too. The geography in “Lucky Man” pulls right into my driveway, and then he offers the lovely line, “I didn’t know my purpose, ’til I stood and sang.”

For all my whiddla whiddla posturing, the song’s the thing.

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The wife and I are big Kristen Wiig fans. We got to see her with the Groundlings the summer before she started with SNL. She did a Target cashier character in her first season that gave me hope for post-Fey SNL. She commits to these nutcase personalities in a way that reminds of John Belushi, Molly Shannon or Gilda Radner, and has this amazing attention to the little quirky details that really sells it. So hilarious.

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