The Fairest of The Seasons

I'm beginning to think that surfing the 'net is worse than flipping through digital cable for obscene periods of time. It's just as addictive, with millions of "viewing" options, as opposed to hundreds. No, I'm not saying the Web is inherently evil, but it can be a crutch, a time-waster, a guilty pleasure, a receptacle of useless information.

This weekend, I watched my American Splendor DVD. Still a great, unique film, but its impact seemed a little diminished on a second viewing. But just a little... I still haven't seen anything new this year that even comes close, and that includes Kim Ki-Duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, a film about Korean Buddhist monks who live in a house on top of a raft on a lake in a secluded forest. Although the world it presents was obviously foreign, there was enough in it that felt familiar. Cultural references aside, it's a pretty simplistic tale, matching up the seasons to life cycles, dealing with the depths of human behavior and the path taken from there to enlightment. Gorgeous cinematography, of course, and a little more substance than Winged Migration.

The Magnetic Fields concert on Sunday evening was wonderful. Essentially unplugged, with acoustic piano, guitar/banjo, cello and Merritt's own ukelele marking the line up, they played about half of i, a few choice cuts from 69 Love Songs (closing with my personal fave, "All My Little Words"), some stuff from Pieces of April, and a few tracks I couldn't place. Merritt's banter with Claudia Gonson and her occasional vocals (sorely missed on i) were highlights. I can't think of anyone that's making more intelligent and emotionally direct music today; gentle, heartfelt renditions of "It's Only Time" and "Busby Berkeley Dreams" could be poignant contenders for the saddest music in the world. Merritt and Gonson kept apologizing for how quiet and unenergetic they were, but the restrained volume was just right for those songs. Forget divas and rock stars; The Magnetic Fields are in it for the songs, and it was crucial that you could hear every single, indelible word.

I'm going to see the new Jim Jarmusch flick (Coffee and Cigarettes) tonight. Amusing conceptual fun or pretentious in-joke muck? Stay tuned...


After five stagnating weeks, Ten Thousand Words has been updated. And I promise it won't be another five weeks before it's updated again.


Big Macs, Beer, and Bolsheviks

Super Size Me is this year's big buzz documentary thus far (see Spellbound, Capturing The Friedmans, etc;). It's an amusing stunt and an entertaining crowd pleaser. It glosses on the Michael Moore muckracking template, posing the director-as-star (Morgan Spurlock) as a likeable, cheap shot-taking investigative pseudo-journalist. Although Moore's delivered his share of attention-grabbing stunts, he's never indulged in such extreme, physically-challenging behavior as eating nothing but McDonald's for a month.

In the wake of Eric Schlosser's insightful book Fast Food Nation, Super Size Me uncovers nothing new about the industry. Did Spurlock really need to put his health at risk? He cites the infamous case where two obese teenagers ludicrously attempted to sue McDonald's in 2002 (dismissed because the girls could not prove that eating at the chain made them fat.) However, this is little more than a freak show. Unsettling, yes, but not for all the intended reasons. I admittedly laughed at his exploits, and enjoyed the brief expose of school lunch programs. But I don't think I'll ever need to see this film again, whereas I still believe a yearly viewing of Bowling For Columbine could do everyone good.


The Saddest Music In The World is where Guy Maddin's narrative proficiency finally catches up to his style. This silly, moving, opulent Depression era fable of an amputated beer baroness (Isabella Rossellini!) and a jingoistic contest like no other makes for a strange, enticing pastiche that's too weird to be a pastiche. Maddin's always effectively created his own distinct little world, and this is his most deliriously complex to date. The brief, scattered moments when the film magically switches from black-and-white to color are as illuminating and surprising as your first viewing of The Wizard of Oz for the transitions alone. The cast is solid, with Maria de Medeiros as the elusive, ethereal Narcissa, Ross McMillan as the neurotic, tortured, soulful Roderick, David Fox as his deluded, tortured, ex-alcoholic father, and Mark McKinney as a romantic lead strongly reminiscent of Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, without all the angora sweaters.

If you didn't like Maddin's earlier works, chances are this won't turn you on, either. But this is his first (and probably best) shot at getting the audience he deserves. Please check it out if you can.


Good Bye, Lenin seems like little but a clever farce on the surface, but it's really closer to melodrama, and better for it. Maybe it's just the score, but it reminds me of Amelie in a way, without all the hyper-quirky style and preciousness. Obviously, a lot is lost in translation to non-German/European audiences, but its tendency to ramble and meander through gags, set pieces and slice of life situations gives it some ragged charm. It's a wistful goodbye to an era director Wolfgang Becker has mixed emotions for, and his final send-off is deeply felt, regardless of where you live.


I haven't seen a new movie for *nine* days. Spent most of last weekend socializing, biking, cooking (made my very first crock-pot roast) and having very little on my agenda.

The Magnetic Fields' new album i is everything you could hope for in a follow-up to the gargantuan 69 Love Songs. Scaled down and synth-less, it's another fourteen ditties from Stephen Merritt's consciousness (all beginning with the letter I), and far more consistent than his interim releases with side projects The 6ths and Future Bible Heroes. Highlights include the lushly re-recorded "I Don't Believe You", the immaculately clever "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin", and the infectious '80s faux-electro pop of "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend". Closer "It's Only Time" is a sweet heartbreaker and shows how far an advance Merritt's made on his pre-69 Love Songs recordings. Not the Album of the Year by any means, but definitely a keeper and a grower. I'll write more about it later this month after I see them in concert at Berklee.

Sam Phillips' A Boot and A Shoe is also a grower; give me a few more weeks and I may deem it her best album yet.

As for increasingly quaint and dated network TV, I still think The O.C. is good-not-great, but as it sheds cast members left and right, it's gradually finding its voice. The everything-comes-to-a-head season finale could've been fatuous, but ended up exuding grace, thanks in no small part to Jeff Buckley's sublime version of "hallelujah" on the soundtrack.

The Survivor: All Stars finale, on the other hand, was dead-end predictable, the only joy coming from an operatic display of selfish, hurt feelings. I still want to believe Rob and Am-buh were playing each other to make a cool $500,000 each, and predict they'll go the way of Amazing Race-ers Chip and Reichen within a year or two.

Don't even care about the Friends and Frasier finales; they should've happened at least two or three years ago. Gilmore Girls, however, is as strong as ever after four seasons. I just hope the so-far-convincing Luke and Lorelai pseudo-courtship doesn't make the show jump the shark.


IFFB Round-up

Ugh, playing catch up. Looking forward to a stress-free weekend! Maybe I'll even write about an exquisite film I saw earlier this week. Maybe I'll even see it again on Sunday. Until then, here's what I saw at the festival last week.

I LIKE KILLING FLIES: You've probably already heard lots of praise about this simple, beautiful film, and get ready to hear a lot more over the next year. I can't remember another doc where I've laughed so hard and felt so moved. This follows Kenny Shopsin, a hilariously profane, unexpectedly gifted chef (his menu contains over 900 items) who ran a tiny, pre-gentrification Greenwich Village diner with his wife and five children for over 30 years. As he loses his lease and prepares to sublet a larger location down the street, viewers can practically gleam a philosophy of the entire world in his single grain of sand. Kenny may be cranky, but as the film progresses, he evenutally comes off as a honest and exceptionally humane son-of-a-bitch.

DIG!: This frenzied documentary is worthy of the hype lavished upon it. A chronicle of seven years in the lives of two bands (The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre) who start out as friends and end up taking wildly divergent paths. Deeper and much more fun than your average rockumentary, with BJM leader Anton Newcombe emerging as a fascinating portrait of a eccentric, mad, tragic genius.

GOWANUS, BROOKLYN: I wish our short film festival received more entries like this somber, subtle, soulful sketch about a 12 year-old girl and one of her teachers. Everything is delicately nuanced and left open; if the filmmakers succeed in expanding this into a feature, it could be another Our Song or Raising Victor Vargas.

BIG CITY DICK: RICHARD PETERSON'S FIRST MOVIE: A Seattle fixture for decades, Richard Peterson is a mentally challenged, musically gifted savant obsessed with Johnny Mathis and orchestral cues from the '50s TV show Sea Hunt. Initially, I feared that the filmmakers were crudely exploiting Peterson in this documentary, but that feeling disintegrated over time. To the film's credit, watching it is akin to meeting Peterson; at first, you don't know what to make of him, but gradually, he becomes familiar and (dare I say) engaging. Although the film's a little slick and overlong, Peterson is unlike anyone you've ever met (the real life "Rain Man" comparisons don't do him justice). I think I'd much rather meet him onscreen than in person.

SEXUAL DEPENDENCY: I had mixed feelings about this ambitious but flawed first feature from director Rodrigo Bellott. Beginning in Bolivia and ending up at a prototypical American University, it tracks a cast of young adults undergoing various sexual awakenings, experiences and epiphanies. It's entirely in split screen (except for one shot), which at times makes for some interesting comparisons/contrasts; at other times, it's merely superfluous and distracting. The cyclical script is a little uneven and cliched on occasion, but innovative in its construction, with a pretty surprising conclusion.