Most Viewer Hemorrhaging Event: Kirk Douglas's excrutiating hijack of the Best Supporting Actress award, his face frozen in a rictus of desperation as he clung like Grandpa Simpson to his last sliver of limelight, slurring come-ons to the "beautiful women" who were nominated. About as undignified an exit for a Hollywood screen legend as could possibly be imagined. You could feel all the younger viewers attracted by the appointment of Franco and Hathaway turning off with a collective eww.Most Effective Decimation Of What Remained Of The Under 25 Audience: the random snatches of Hollywood history —a tribute to Gone with the Wind? — inserted into the event at irregular intervals to teach the kids some respect. Or else invoke glamor-by-association. And why did the powers that be at ABC — the one who are so desperate to attract a younger audience — also insist on turning up on stage to talk for two minutes about the recent deal they'd struck with AMPAS? Since when are 'the kids' interested in the fine print of TV scheduling deals?Most Dismal Admission of Defeat: Bringing on Billy Crystal to remind us of the time when the presenters used to be funny and then having him reminisce about Bob Hope, who was then rescusitated with computers to do some presenting himself, thus creating an Escher-like loop of pure self-emptying hopelessness, in which presenters presented more presenters, and those presenters still more presenters, each better at their job than the one we happen to be stuck with. You know the Oscars are screwed when even the presenters get nostalgia reels. What next? The orchestra? Best speech drown-outs?Most frequent shout-out: Christopher Nolan. "None of what I did could have been possible without the incredible vision of my master Christopher Nolan," said Wally Pfister. Does anyone who works with the guy sign a contract agreeing to call him their "master" at awards ceremonies in perpetuity? Next year will they all stand up on their seats and call him "captain, my captain"?Best Joke: Randy Newman's admission that he's been on the show many times "and I slow it down every time."Second Best Joke: James Franco's “I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen." Otherwise: he looked catatonic throughout, as if radioing in instructions to one of his many Franco clones from an undisclosed location. Hathaway did better once she ditched him.Best Red Carpet Appearance: Jennifer Lawrence. You could practically feel the envy on her skin.Most Deserved Win: Trent Reznor's. It took you a while to figure out what was so bizarre about it and then it hit you: innovative creative work, justly rewarded. Fancy. It further hemmed The King's Speech into one of the most cramped Oscar hauls in years. It's increasingly the new norm: the Mr Potato Head Oscars, with all the major awards scattered to the four winds.Most Unseemly Gesture: the clenched spasm of victory that rippled through Tom Hooper's frame upon hearing his name called. As lonely as the air punch of a rapist.Worst reverse innovation: the loss of the circle of praise from former winners, seemingly modelled on Krypton's council of justice in the first Superman. About the only recent innovation to actually work, so naturally it's now gone.Most Transparent Piece of Tokenism: Halle Berry boring on about Lena Horne, the only dead person to get a personal obit on account of being black in a year when the Academy felt bad about its dearth of black nominees.Worst Car Crash Moment: Christian Bale forgetting his wife's name.Best Speech: Colin Firth's. Practise makes perfect. "I have a feeling my career just peaked" was a refinement of the rather too candid mid-life crisis comments he made during the Golden Globes. Similarly, with the thanks to Harvey "for taking me on when I was a mere child sensation".Best Presenter: Sandra Bullock, bringing off a ticklish blend of tribute and teasing the producers would do well to pay close attention to, and Steven Spielberg, reminding the best picture losers of the company they keep — “If you are one of the other nine movies that don’t win, you will be in the company of The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, and Raging Bull”. The timeliest version of that consolation I've come across.
Feb 28, 2011
The 2011 Academy Awards: after thoughts
Feb 25, 2011
Academy Award predictions 2011
Best Film: The King's Speech
Best Director: David Fincher
Best Actor: Colin Firth
Actress: Natalie Portman
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Supp Actress: Melissa Leo
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
Original Screenplay: David Seidler
Cinematography: True Grit
Costumes: The King's Speech
Editing: The Social Network
Make Up: The Wolfman
Sound Mixing: Inception
Sound Editing: Inception
Special Effects: Inception
Score: The King's Speech
Song: We Belong Together
Documentary Short: Strangers No More
Live-action Short: Wish 143
Foreign Language: In A Better World
Animated Short: The Gruffalo
Documentary: Inside Job
Feb 23, 2011
My one-word review of HBO's Mildred Pierce
Feb 22, 2011
REVERSIBLE TRUTHS, no. 56*
If The King’s Speech wins, it will become the first film in 83 years of Oscar history with a British monarch as the central figure to win Best Picture. If The Social Network wins Screenplay, Editing, Directing but then loses Best Picture it will join the ranks of only two movies in Oscar history to do so.
Oh to be as blameless as Bates the valet
Feb 21, 2011
Such stuff as dreams are made on
“Anna Nicole,” by the British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and the British librettist Richard Thomas, finally had its premiere here at the Royal Opera on Thursday night before a sold-out house with standees everywhere. And it proved a weirdly inspired work, an engrossing, outrageous, entertaining and, ultimately, deeply moving new opera... Turnage and Thomas have given us a tragic operatic heroine, a downtrodden nobody determined to make it, to “rape the American dream,” as she puts it, any way she can. Their Anna Nicole is in the lineage of Bizet’s Carmen, Berg’s Lulu and the Weill-Brecht Jenny... There are flashes of Weill in the clattering cabaretlike scenes in which the reporters, wielding microphones, mutter like a Greek chorus; and jazzy sneering brass writing in the scene with the dancers at the “gentlemen’s club” in Houston... “Anna Nicole” can probably claim to be breaking new ground in the scene in which Anna Nicole receives breast-implant surgery from the fast-talking Doctor Yes (a vibrant Andrew Rees). ... a musically rich, audacious and inexplicably poignant work." — New York Times
Casting doubt on true Beliebers
during the Grammys, when Mr. Bieber lost the award for Best New Artist to the relatively unknown jazz musician Esperanza Spalding. Within minutes, her Wikipedia page was crudely defaced, presumably by the viral swarm of Mr. Bieber’s young, Internet-savvy fans, clamoring to defend his honor. It’s not the first time the Beliebers have lashed out in defense of their idol. The last year has seen several outbursts of rage from Beliebers against enemies of the state, be they YouTube users deemed insufficiently respectful of the king, or Kim Kardashian, who claimed on Twitter that she received “death threats” from Mr. Bieber’s jealous fans after being seen with him in public.
"What has Mr. Bieber done for these fans apart from inspire crushes? Does his music speak to their needs and interests as young girls? Is he someone who, a few years from now when they (and he) are all grown up, will appear in retrospect to have been a suitable receptacle of their adulation."Seriously? Are we really going to do this all over again — the whole you-can't-hear-the-music-for-the-screaming thing? The answer to the first question is "record good pop records," the answer to the second is "yes," and the third shouldn't be answered by anyone serious about their music. Nobody decided whether to buy I Wanna Hold Your Hand by considering whether the Beatles "might appear in retrospect to have been a suitable recepticle for their adulation". (Could the broom be any further up the ass of that phrase?) They bought the record because it sounded like nothing they had heard before. The fact that it was something they could listen to in five years time was a nice bonus, but even if the record had turned out to be a source of lifelong excrutiation for Beatles fans, that, too, is the peculiar power of pop music, which pins you to the present with such power that listening to it many years later can bring a blush to the cheek — like leafing through an old diary. Of course some of Bieber's music is going to embarrass some of his fans in years to come: that's the point. And some of it may do a lot better than that: he has a sculptural grasp of melody, and gifts of phrasing — for divining a path for his voice through a song — as surefooted as Mariah Carey's. U Smile needn't bow to anyone. It doesn't suit Caramanica's purpose to get into a discussion of the merits or demerits of Bieber's music, though. The bulk of the article turns out to be the ill-advised comments on abortion that Bieber recently gave to Rolling Stone.
“I really don’t believe in abortion,” he said. “I think [an embryo] is a human. It’s like killing a baby.” The reporter pushed him, asking if that held true in cases of rape. “Well, I think that’s just really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason.” Looking “confused,” in the word of the reporter, he added, “I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”
Carmanica adjudicates thusly,
Even if Mr. Bieber is heartfelt in his opposition to abortion (and there’s no reason to think he isn’t), his reply wasn’t the clearest or most sophisticated distillation of that position... like most kids, he no doubt wants to be treated like an adult. That means no minder on hand, presumably, when being asked these questions. He’s treated like an adult in other ways, too. Take the Rolling Stone cover photo, a rough-trade-style shot by the provocateur photographer Terry Richardson — or the recent tabloid photos of him kissing the Disney star Selena Gomez while on vacation in the Caribbean... as Mr. Bieber fills out as a man, he may or may not inspire the devotion that Justin Bieber the boy is capable of generating.
Caramanica isn't buying, but note what he isn't buying: his own crappy goods. First he sidelines the music, so he can accuse Bieber of being more than a musician, then projects onto him a set of aspirations ("he no doubt wants to be treated like an adult") so as to to crunch them cruelly underfoot ("his reply wasn’t the clearest or most sophisticated distillation of that position.") Actually I found Bieber's answer both perfectly clear and admirably nuanced: he is anti abortion but when it comes to rape, concedes that "I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.” That seems to be about as evolved and compassionate a pro-life attitude as one could hope for. His only mistake was to make his views public, if only because it allows columnists like Caramanica the chance to execute the old commentator switcheroo — accuse a subject of a sententiousness that you have just planted yourself.
Feb 18, 2011
Film Detail have unearthed a 12-hour audio file of Hitchcock/Truffaut, the legendary interview between French critic/filmmaker Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock, translated by Helen Scott.
Feb 16, 2011
REVIEW: Unknown (dir. Collet-Serra)
Feb 14, 2011
REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau (dir. Nolfi)
Feb 13, 2011
Is this the best British film of all time?
1. Don't Look Now2. The Third Man3. Distant Voices, Still Lives4. Kes5. The Red Shoes6. A Matter Of Life And Death7. Performance8. Kind Hearts And Coronets9. If...10. Trainspotting
REVIEW: Cedar Rapids (dir. Arteta)
"To be as charmed as I was, you have to enjoy scenes like the one in which insurance agent John C. Reilly plops himself down at the hero’s table in the middle of the ostentatiously holy convention leader’s morning prayer and declares, “I am so hung-over… big-time beer shits… You got a pube on your cheek.” It helps that Reilly is the opposite of a slob-comic. With his hangdog melancholy, he makes even the nonstop cunnilingus allusions poignant—the product of emotional longing. (I hadn’t heard the phrase “Eating tuna from the bottom shelf”—is that native to this movie?)." — David Edelstein, New York
Feb 12, 2011
What's so funny about reliable narrators?
Feb 11, 2011
SO GLAD I DON'T HAVE TO LISTEN TO: P J Harvey's 'Let England Shake'*
"It says something that 'Let England Shake' – an opaque exploration of Englishness delivered in a high, keening voice, that contains not one, not two, but three harrowing songs that explicitly reference the 1915 Gallipoli campaign and a further handful that seem more generally informed by the carnage of the first world war – represents one of the more approachable albums in her oeuvre.... its 40 minutes passes without anyone getting anything shoved up their bum... It's more a matter of tone. The music sounds muted, misty and ambiguous, which seems to fit with Harvey's vision of England: "The damp grey filthiness of ages, fog rolling down behind the mountains and on the graveyards and dead sea captains," she sings on The Last Living Rose.... On Written on the Forehead, she performs a similar trick with an even more unlikely source – reggae singer Niney the Observer's Blood and Fire, a deceptively cheery paean to imminent apocalypse. Its weird juxtaposition of subject matter and mood infect the whole song, which is possessed both of a beautiful melody and a lyric about people trying to escape a rioting city and drowning in sewage.... Harvey's voice certainly has its dramatic moments... it's almost blank-eyed as she details The Words That Maketh Murder's battlefield carnage: soldiers falling "like lumps of meat", trees hung with severed limbs... Rock songwriters don't write much about the first world war, but, perhaps understandably, when they do, they have a tendency to lay it on a bit thick: you end up with songs like the Zombies' The Butcher's Tale, so ripe it sounds more like the work of a fromagier. Harvey clearly understands that the horror doesn't really need embellishing: her way sounds infinitely more shocking and affecting than all the machine-gun sound effects in the world." — The Guardian
Happy Valentine's weekend, everybody
'They are very much a form unto themselves, a species of fiction, really, wherein wannabe Romeos dash off lightly-fictionalized, Gatsbyesque versions of themselves in a tone halfway between come-hither foxiness and plangent entreaty, as if forever posed in some doorway, blowing smoke rings and delivering unrehearsed zingers, before disappearing into the night to work in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.I am an outlaw, a troubadour, a world traveler, a born again romantic. I am grounded yet prone to flights of fancy and / or midnight cupcake hunts. I am athletic yet like oysters and know how to eat them. I am easy-going yet firm in my beliefs (high fibre, good scotch, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Yes I liked that speech, too). I like to laugh at myself as often as I can and once cooked blue spaghetti for 12 people. I think that road trips can be a transcendental experience, if unplanned. When I say "let's pack our bags and move to a farmhouse in Tuscany" I want someone who will reach for the closet and start packing. A friend and confidante, a partner in crime, a co-pilot in secret explorations. A thinker, a doer, a lover, a fighter, a laurete. Also, must love porridge and power-tools.
The key, it seemed to me upon first entering this strange alternative universe of spontaneous road-trips and brightly colored pasta, where coy exteriors belied deep reserves of untapped silliness and nobody is ever allowed to plan for anything, ever, seemed to lie in those all-important conjunctions “yet,” and “but.” Thus armed, the author could advance an admirable trait (groundedness), then, spotting the possible negative connotations of that trait (dullness), pivot onto its opposite (fanciful), in an act of triangulation that would bring tears to the eyes of Bill Clinton himself launch into a series of Whitmanesque paradoxes: Easy going yet firm. Grounded yet romantic. Shy but adventurous. Athletic but oyster-loving. Everyone seemed to be “easy going” and “down-to-earth” and liked to “laugh a lot,” mostly at themselves. Favorite Books featured a lot of Haruki Murakami and Stieg Larsson, with maybe some Augusten Burroughs thrown in to suggest the liveliness of the author’s Saturday nights, and then something Tibetan to reassure you they weren’t a complete alkie. Favorite Onscreen Sex Scene tended to be a lot of rough, up-against-the-wall number from 9 ½ Weeks or Damage. Celebrity I Most Resemble ellicited a lot of Maggie Gyllenhaals, closely followed by “moi.” If You Could Be Anywhere Right Now, on the other hand, was an opportunity to kick free of the Gradgrindian exactitude demanded of you by the preceding questions and make good on your profile’s nascent kinship with headiest flourishes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Strolling along the cobblestone streets of Prague. Picking berries in Port Townsend. Looking for tortoise in the Galapagos islands. To judge by their personals, a date with your average New Yorker consisted largely of trying to keep up with some pith-helmeted Maggie-Gyllenhaal lookalike, laughing madly to herself as she leapt like a mountain goat from rocky outcrop to cupcake shop, pausing only to have sex in the nearest alleyway before dusting herself down and leaping back into the madcap three-ring circus that was her life, her quest for her own zest-filled quiddity undimmed.'
— from my article about online dating for Slate. Photograph by Trine Søndergaard.
Feb 9, 2011
BOGART: his toughness was an inside job
'Bogart was 37 when he got his break in movies and 41 before he went over big with an audience — already on his second marriage, the death of both parents under his belt, no wunderkind, with his lean smoker’s physique, and receding gums which turned every smile into a grimace, “a map of distress” in Kanfer’s words. In Hollywood faces are destiny; the first real sign that Kanfer is serious as a Bogart scholar — the only qualification, really — is the amount of time he spends scanning that mug, with its fissures and fault-lines, and unexpectedly beautiful mouth. “It was very full, rosy, and perfectly modeled,” noted Louise Brooks, no slacker in that department herself. “To make it completely fascinating, at one corner of his upper lip a scarred quilted piece hung down in a tiny scallop.” The stories vary as to how he got the scar — a blow from his father in a drunken rage, a scuffle with a prisoner during his time in the Navy, a passing U Boat shell — but it lent his voice its trademark lisp, which Bogart kept to a minimum by keeping his volume low.“Bogart was a medium-sized man,” said John Huston. “Not particularly impressive off screen.” Put him on camera, however, and “those lights and shadows organized themselves into another nobler personality, heroic.” His entire film career was to rest on a single, judiciously prolonged piece of miscasting: his stiff, slightly old-fashioned patrician bearing was slightly redundant when deployed in the service of patricians, but transplated into the bodies of toughs, condemned men, and private eyes — the closest the modern world has to the knights of the round table— and the result was a brand of hard-bitten, rueful integrity that fit the times like a glove. Caught between the hardships of the Great Depression and the heroism of the second world war, audiences found both in Bogart, the hardship written on his face, the heroism carefully hidden so they got to find out something for themselves.“We’re wrong in looking forward to death,” said Seneca, “Death is a master of all the years that are behind us.” Nobody came as close to embodying this as Bogart who could literally look back on all the times he had died onscreen, and whose essence, as first Andre Bazin and later Ken Tynan realised, was stoic: he endured. He withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, not in a spirit of masochism, but rather as his due, the price of a man’s course through the world. These days, we measure toughness by the damage dished out to others — by body counts and kill ratios. Bogart’s toughness was an inside job. “When a man is sick, you get to know him,” said the doctor who treated him for the cancer which finally brought him down. “You find out whether he’s made of soft wood or hard wood. I began to get fonder of Bogie with each visit. He was made of very hard wood indeed.” A film likeInception, in so many ways the grand-son of The Maltese Falcon, not least in it’s smoky femme fatale and noirish plotting, remains strangely unfogged by anything that would mess with those pristine snowscapes: blood, emotion, even death, which now becomes something reversible, an optional extra, something to be scrolled through in a menu, and then re-done, as if in some eternal a video game in which the game is never over. What lends singularity to Bogart's films is the sense of irreversible actions, with moral consequences, being bourne by a man standing as if waist-high in a river, braced by events. The action held him in place. Once things happened to him, they didn’t unhappen. He didn’t get a do-over. When he got slugged, he rubbed his jaw like a kid coming away from the dentist. “When he sweated you could have wring his shirt,” said Francois Truffaut, doubtless thinking of the first scene The Big Sleep, where Marlowe comes across Major Sternwood in his hothouse, living off heat like a newborn spider, surrounded by orchids whose flesh so reminds him of the rotten sweetness of corruption. “Why did you have to go on?” Lauren Bacall asks him. “Too many people told me to stop,” he replies.'
— from my review of Stefan Kanfer's Tough Without A Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart
Feb 8, 2011
Elvis Mitchell on John Barry: 1933-2011
"Even in Barry’s Wolves music, he doesn’t simply romanticize Kevin Costner’s Vision/Quest, the cinematic version of a dreamcatcher hanging on a pick-up truck’s rearview mirror. Rather, the Wolves score invokes a white-knuckled (I know — a redundancy in Costner’s case) grab for a world that’s dissipating before Costner’s eyes. It’s that etude for the brawny Old World that works for so many of Barry’s guy’s-guy scores, such as the muscularly seductive opening credits music for The Ipcress File... Barry’s elegiac songwriting made him the leading proponent of the dimming-of-the-light subgenre: They Might Be Giants, The Last Valley Monte Walsh andRobin and Marian all belonged to the self-conscious passing of masculinity into myth niche. Barry’s playful, yet mournful Robin and Marian — in which Sean Connery is a spiritually exhausted Robin Hood the same age as Russell Crowe’s in last year’s Robin Hood — has a knowing beauty." — Elvis Mitchell, MovielineAnd the best of the Bonds? Diamonds Are Forever (despite being one of the worst of the films). I have never personally destroyed a fully operational oil rig wearing scuba gear and armed with nothing more than a harpoon, but thanks to Barry's music — an impossibly exciting mixture of pounding timpani, briskly skipping snares, muscular horns and thrillingly vertiginous flute-and-glockenspiel glissandos — I have a good idea of what emotions might be best suited to such an occasion. It's one of my favorite pieces of martial exhortation, along with Ron Goodwin's theme for Where Eagles Dare and John Williams' Imperial March. I defy anyone to listen to it and not feel the immediate urge to drop what they are doing, head out the door and enlist.