Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Book #1 of the New Year

Songbook, by Nick Hornby

When Nick Hornby started this book of essays about some of his favorite songs, he thought that many of them would tie to big events in his life. Instead he realized that most of our favorite songs transcend events, and the ones that are connected to something major are often terrible, cheesy songs that you wouldn't mind never hearing again.

Instead, good music becomes a part of our life. We become attached to songs because of what's going on in our life, not because they happened to be on the stereo at the moment of some big event. This is a theme Hornby returns to a few times in the book. Had he heard Springsteen when he was older, it may have been too late. Badly Drawn Boy wrote a song for a movie based on his book, five years after he wrote it, and yet this song seemed to be specifically about what he was going through in the present. Had it been written when the book came out, it would have passed him by.

Nick Hornby is an eminently readable author who manages to get his passion and personality across in little more than a line or two. The book came with a CD that includes most of the songs he writes about, which is a really nice bonus.

Oh, and books of essays are definitely the way to go if you're trying to drive up your numbers! I should have been doing this all along.

Movie #-2

The Queen

Helen Mirren, director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have really accomplished something major here. They may have rehabilitated the British monarchy in the public eye. Previously, my feelings about them went something like, "Wills - hot. Queen - old and boring. Charles - ugly." Now, well - now it's pretty much the same except I've turned into a fangirl about Queen Elizabeth. I know it wasn't the real Queen up there on the screen, but it felt real enough that I forgot all about Helen Mirren. The film is so British-y, with all the restraint and the dry humor, and she is just the perfect person for this role, and really any role. Mirren for prime minister!

Monday, January 29, 2007


This movie was long, long, long. The opening 5 minutes or so were astonishingly good, and there were isolated moments that were breathtaking in their beauty and emotional profundity. Plus, Jeremy Irons is in it – how cool is that? I was disappointed that he didn’t play a creepy character, but he does play a quirky director and has quite a few funny lines. Lynch has been pretty vocal about his switch to digital, and I have to say I’m all right with digital as long as people are able to use it as artfully as he has here. Lot of great textures and lighting as well as creative fades and blurs. Usually people with digital cameras just point and click, and we’re left with a pixellated, gray-toned, indistinct mess. The depth of color is definitely sacrificed, but he achieved some great clarity of light and tone.

Like I said, this movie was long. Three hours long. The seats in The Music Box are damn uncomfortable, and there are far too many shots of Laura Dern walking down an indistinct, poorly lit hallway while menacing music plays. If Lynch was trying to induce a trance-like state, he certainly achieved that. I feel like there was a lot going on, and I’d love to dissect this movie more – but on DVD, in the comfort of my own home. It’s definitely more successful than Mulholland Drive.

Guess what? David Lynch was there! He introduced the movie, and while he was standing onstage in front of the huge red velvet curtain, with hundreds of camera flashes going off, all I could think of was, “Gee, this looks like a scene from a David Lynch movie…. Whoa….” They also brought an armchair up afterwards, and he sat in it and answered questions. He seems to be an entirely cheerful, jovial, and friendly man, and it was a wonderful surprise to be able to see and hear him in person. Lehn had bought the tickets a month ago, and said that supposedly Lynch was going to be there, but I figured he wouldn’t show up and forgot about it until I got there. Nicest surprise of 2007 so far!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Movie #5

Blood Diamond

Great cinematography and interesting story – unfortunately too Hollywoodish and far too long. Leonardo looked more rugged and manly than I think I’ve ever seen him. Good acting all around… did those limbless orphans ever get those prosthetic limbs they were promised by the production company, though?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

HAPPY 2007

I'm trying to get a good jump on this year and should hit 100 films with no problem… I was slacking a little in 2006.

#1 – Casino Royale: Bond, James Bond, one more time at the budget theater.

#2 – Pan’s Labyrinth: Good horror flick, but far from the best film of the year as the critics are saying. Yes, it’s creative and visually stunning, especially when contrasted with the typical genre entry, but I found it somehow too cold and manipulative to be very moved. It’s extremely gory, and the dude with eyes in his hands is way, way scarier than he looks in the photo stills.

#3 – The Science of Sleep: Sunday morning show at the Music Box. I seem to be alone in saying this was the best film of 2006. What happened to all the fanboys creaming themselves over Eternal Sunshine? This movie is 1,000 times better!

#4 – Curse of the Golden Flower: I went to see this with my kung fu friends. They all loved it, but I was indifferent. It was basically an overwrought melodrama. The set design was gorgeous, but resembled a hippie’s acid freakout more than an imperial Chinese palace. The best part of the movie was definitely Gong Li as a quintessential diva.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Movies #-4 and -3

Movie #-4, Dreamgirls

I will admit to being a bit of a sucker for the occasional show tune. The really good ones, if there are two or three in a show, will make me believe that I loved the entire thing. It's only later, when I think back on all the cringe-worthy moments and cheesy "Oh I'm just walkin' down this street / just sayin' hello to the people I meet" nonsense that I realize, hey! I only liked those two or three songs! The rest of the show was kinda crap!

This movie was really no exception. I felt like I was waiting for two hours to see the "I'm Tellin' You I'm Not Goin'" scene (see pic above), and while it was great, you can't build a whole movie around one great song. There are other pretty good songs and everyone in the movie is pretty good: Jaime Foxx, Beyonce and Eddie Murphy are good; Jennifer Hudson is slightly better. She should stick to her day job though, because she was markedly better in the singing scenes than the non-singing ones.

Movie #-3, Children of Men
Easily the most disturbing and terrifying movie I've seen in years. It's just remarkable, and it will not let you go after the credits roll. There are so many things to praise, I'm not sure where to start.

Michael Caine is charming and wonderful as a hippie living off the grid with his invalid wife.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is pretty. And also very good as a radical with his own agenda.

19-year-old Claire-Hope Ashitey should be cast in five movies a year, minimum. She is beautiful and really talented. The repoire between her character and Clive Owen's is easy and natural and totally believable.

Which leads us to Clive Owen, who is simply one of the best actors alive today. Period. He's becoming one of those guys I immediately think of when casting movies in my head.

I'm so impressed with the way Alfonso Cuaron continues to raise the bar every time he makes a film.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Year, New Us

Well hello! It's been awhile, and you may have noticed that I didn't so much meet my exceedingly easy goals of 25 books and 25 movies last year. In penance, I'm adding the deficit onto this year's total. The movie total will be pretty easy, since I'm planning to hit Toronto with Maya and Steve (and maybe Sandy? Maybe?) this fall. The book total, however... will be less easy.

I did attend more than 25 cultural events, but you know... I don't think writing about those translates all that well. I feel like after a concert I've got nothing much to say beyond, "It was good. Loud. The people around me were annoying." Etc. So maybe we could change things up a little bit. Maybe drop the cultural events and just focus on books and movies. Or maybe we could add 25 of something else - new recipes, new songs, exciting goals accomplished?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

MOVIES 94-96

Sorry to disappoint – didn’t hit 100 movies in 2006. I’ll be more disciplined this year.
#94 – Stranger Than Fiction

A good deal for 3 dollars. At the very beginning of the film, Andrea leaned over to say “This movie is going to be stupid!” By the end, she was tearing up. Nothing groundbreaking, but it was enjoyable and cute. Some of the characters strained credibility (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s liberal baker), but some were entertaining in spite of their overdone quirkiness – including Will Ferrell in the lead.

#95 – Children of Men

Much darker and more depressing than the reviews and trailers led me to expect. I’d say this is definitely in the top 10 of the year and a must-see. Just be prepared to be somewhat devastated. Oh, also - Clive Owen is a super-stud.

#96 – Notes on a Scandal

Great powerhouse acting performances by Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. I’m usually not a fan of voiceover narration, but Judi Dench’s narration makes this movie exceptional. This film was also darkly funny and centers around one of my favorite film subjects – age-difference relationships – although this crosses into icky territory.

Cultural Events #24 and #25

I didn’t do this on purpose, but I hit exactly 25 cultural events now that I think about it. I saw DJ Rupture at the Empty Bottle – he’s a great DJ who mashes together seemingly unrelated styles – world music, hip-hop, rap, R&B, oldies, etc., to make a great drum and bass synthesis which is more experimental than anything you’ll hear any other DJ do. He threw in some funny stuff too, like a highly distorted version of “Sexyback.”

Also saw Gogol Bordello – big fun as usual. I was very happy to be on the balcony, which was sweltering – but at least there was space between all of us. People on the ground floor were saturated with other people’s sweat. Grody! I am way too old for that mosh-pit nonsense.