Friday, March 26, 2010

Correction of the Day

From Slate:
In an item in the March 12 "Slatest," Jessica Loudis incorrectly stated that Karl Rove left the Bush administration a year ago. He resigned in August 2007.
OK, so the mistake itself isn't so bad, but the image of Karl Rove still lurking around the White House months into Barack Obama's presidency, like one of those Japanese soldiers who thought World War II was still raging, is too amusing for me to resist.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

And When I Woke Up, My Makura Was Gone

So today would have been Akira Kurosawa's 100th birthday. Unfortunately, I didn't think ahead and call out sick from work so I could take full advantage of TCM's all-day marathon, but I did do the next-best thing: have a really weird dream about the legendary director last night.

I was on the set of a movie he was shooting with Toshiro Mifune (of course) and set in feudal Japan. The film was going to be an ambitious, multi-part work (My sleep-addled brain might have thought that Kurosawa had something to do with Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) in which the performances would be mostly improvised. On the very first take, though, one of the actors missed his cue or something, and Kurosawa became so enraged that he grabbed a bow and started shooting arrows at Mifune. Why he was trying to kill his lead actor made no sense; it wasn't his fault that some other guy messed up. Plus, if you're trying to make an unscripted movie, it's hardly fair to punish your actors for not doing exactly what you expect them to.

Kurosawa was also giving direction in English; I was a little embarrassed that he was doing that for my benefit when I was just some guy hanging around, and his actors probably couldn't understand him very well.

Anyway, that's the story of my wacky Kurosawa dream. Although if you ask him or Mifune what happened, I'm sure they'll tell you a totally different story.

"This is a big fucking deal."

With those 6 words, caught by a live mike and broadcast on CNN, Joe Biden moves a little closer to becoming the hilariously sleazy character found in the pages of The Onion:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rock 'n roll is here to stay / Come inside now, it's OK

Alex Chilton has passed away at the age of 59. I can't quite explain why that saddens me as much as it does, since I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan of him or of Big Star. I mean, I knew and liked a handful of their tunes -- "Thirteen," "In the Street," "September Gurls" -- but never went much deeper than that. But I'm a sucker for all things power-pop, and Chilton was very much an elder statesman of that genre. I always meant to get into his music, because it seemed like it would be exactly the sort of thing I would love. In fact, after spending the last hour or so listening to songs on YouTube, I can confirm that it is exactly the sort of thing I love. Thankfully, the music's not going anywhere, though it probably sounds a little sadder than it would have last week.

To further highlight my ignorance, I've heard the Box Tops' song "The Letter" so many times, but never knew that it was Alex Chilton singing.

Was the Chilton School in Gilmore Girls so named as an homage to the singer? I'd never made the connection, but it seems obvious in retrospect.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I'm Going Back to New Jersey, I Do Believe They've Had Enough of Me

If you like any combination of the Gaslight Anthem, the Pogues, and/or song-cycles based on the Civil War, you really owe it to yourself to check out Titus Andronicus's new album The Monitor. If nothing else, listen to the epic closing track "The Battle of Hampton Roads."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Absurdly Proportioned Doll Fail

I wonder if whoever came up with the idea to make a Mad Men Barbie doll of Joan Holloway has ever looked at a picture of Christina Hendricks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Get Matlock on the Case

March 7, 2010: 114-year-old Mary Josephine Ray, the oldest person in America, died in Westmoreland, New Hampshire.

Mere hours later, 113-year-old Daisy Bailey, who became the oldest person in America upon Mary Josephine Ray's death, passed away.

The frightening implication: some deranged supercentenarian wants to get into the Guinness book and is willing to resort to murder to get there.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Post-Mortem

I didn't see any films that were released in 2009. Not a one! But I certainly won't let that stop me from talking about last night's Academy Awards. After all, the Academy itself has proven over and over that a judgment on the artistic merits of the nominated films is besides the point (for evidence, please see the winners for 1952, 1956, 1976, 1980, 1990, 1994, 1997, 1998 & 2005).
  • Just because I didn't see any of the nominated films doesn't mean I wasn't rooting for anyone, though, and it was great to see Kathryn Bigelow win best director, partly because it meant we wouldn't be subjected to more ego-inflation for James Cameron. Plus, as the first female director to win an Oscar, she is heralding in a new era in which directors will now be subject to the same relentless red-carpet criticism as actresses.
  • Trivia time! I spent the evening reading the A.V. Club's live blog (skip to 11:31 to see my minor contribution!), and someone there mentioned the numerous Lost-affiliated winners: J. J. Abrams's Star Trek won for makeup, composer Michael Giacchino won best score for Up, Kate was in The Hurt Locker, Ana-Lucia was in Avatar, and George Minkowski directed the documentary The Cove.
  • Am I alone in finding Peter Sarsgaard incredibly creepy? He always seems to have this dead-eyed stare, and he always sounds like he's doing a John Malkovich impression. His unsettling intensity would have made him a great actor for Stanley Kubrick, if only he'd been born a couple of decades earlier.
  • Most Embarrassing Directorial Choice: the way the camera cut to random black actors whenever Precious won anything.
  • My favorite speech of the night was costume designer Sandy Powell, who dedicated her award to her fellow designers who work on contemporary and low-budget films, and thus are unlikely to ever win an Oscar. It's long been a pet peeve of mine that the costume (and art direction) awards almost always go to lavish period pieces. There are plenty of other films where the clothing choices are less obvious, but do just as much to define the characters: think of Adam Sandler's blue suit in Punch-Drunk Love, or the distinctive outfits in The Big Lebowski, or every stitch of clothing worn in a Wes Anderson movie. Aren't these just as interesting as the latest batch of corsets and formal gowns?
  • Hey, you know what they could do instead of having each acting nominee be roasted/eulogized by one of their peers? Maybe show a nice lengthy clip of the acting that got them nominated.
  • I was of the opinion that Jeff Bridges should have won an Oscar for his performance as the Dude, but after seeing his acceptance speech for Crazy Heart, I'm not so sure he was really acting in The Big Lebowski.
  • Hey, legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis got an honorary award! I always forget that he's alive (I am possibly confusing him with Gordon Parks).
  • Interpretive dance? More like misinterpretive dance!
  • In many years, the presenter reading the nominees for best screenplay will read some non-dialogue portions of the script while the scene plays. It's a nifty little exercise, but it always seems odd that to illustrate the importance of the script, they highlight the stage directions rather than the story or dialogue. I don't think passages like "George enters the room. He sits down and pours himself a drink" are really the pinnacle of the screenwriter's art.
  • This was the first year that Nick Park, of Wallace and Gromit fame, was nominated for something but didn't win. Looks like after two decades, the brutal anti-Nick Park backlash has begun.
  • Part of me hopes that Kristen Stewart, with her slouching, persistent lip-biting, and coughing over her shoulder, is engaged in a piece of performance art critiquing the demure behavior expected of young starlets. Could Ms. Stewart be a modern-day Andy Kaufman, or at least a modern-day Joaquin Phoenix?
  • I wonder which was the greater honor for T-Bone Burnett: winning an Oscar, or getting to meet Miley Cyrus.
  • Finally, the Coen Brothers didn't win anything last night, but that won't stop me from linking to the fansite Coenesque, where you can read the screenplays for every one of Joel and Ethan's movies. I have a feeling this will consume a great deal of my time.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What I've Seen: Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur is the sort of Movie They Don't Make Anymore (TM), namely because audiences eventually realized that a four-hour film isn't necessarily twice as good as a two hour film. I could expend a comparable amount of time talking about it, but frankly, there's not a lot to say. It's impressively mounted and held my interest for most of its mammoth running time, and the central story of a man subjected to injustice who seeks vengeance is the sort of thing that keeps getting remade on a regular basis (often in a similar setting; see also Spartacus and Gladiator).

In the interests of keeping things short, there's a reason why everyone talks about the big, thrilling chariot race (and it definitely is big and thrilling) and not the hour-long Sunday school lesson that follows it.