At the halfway point. 1/4 of these are documentaries. 1/4 of these may show up in the year-end Top Ten.

1. The Return
2. I Like Killing Flies
3. The Time of The Wolf
4. Dogville
5. Dig!
6. Monster
7. The Saddest Music in the World
8. Bukowski: Born Into This
9. A Home at the End of the World
10. Napoleon Dynamite
11. Nosey Parker
12. The Agronomist
13. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
14. The Fog of War
15. Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall... and Spring
16. Fahrenheit 9/11
17. Goodbye Lenin
18. Lucas Belvaux's The Trilogy
19. Kill Bill Volume 2
20. Millenium Mambo

Hopefully, # 2 and 5 will open theatrically in Boston before year's end.

Hopefully, # 9 will hold up to a second viewing, especially once the final cut is released.

Top Twenty Albums of 2004 (at mid-year)

So far, we have only one masterpiece, a smashing compilation, a few very, very good albums, and no severe disappointments. These the best albums of the year at its halfway mark.

1. Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans
2. Sam Phillips, A Boot and a Shoe
3. Tompaulin, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt
4. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me
5. PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her
6. TV On The Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
7. The Magnetic Fields, i
8. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
9. AC Newman, The Slow Wonder
10. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
11. Detachment Kit, Of This Blood
12. Hello Goodbye, Heart Attack
13. Tamas Wells, A Mark on the Pane
14. The Contrast, Fade Back In
15. Morrissey, You Are The Quarry
16. Various Artists, Shanti Project Collection # 3
17. The Marlboro Chorus, Entangled
18. Mary Lou Lord, Baby Blue
19. Kilowatt Hours/The Rum Diary, Split
20. S PRCSS, Taste Like Daughter

# 3 was a delightful surprise

# 6 has considerably grown on me since it came out in March

# 5 and 7 just keep getting better

# 15 and 18 have a few great songs, but could've been better

# 1 will be hard to top



This is one of the most unsettling films I've ever seen--even more so than Fahrenheit 9/11. I don't want to say too much about the plot, because it's best going into it knowing as little as possible, so read on at your own risk.

This is a startling change of pace for director Michael Haneke from his last film, The Piano Teacher. I wouldn't go so far to say that there's a total de-emphasis on style, but most of what transpires happens so naturally--yet, it all feels so surreal, too. The cinematography is innovative and unforgettable without being flashy. This film really gets at the essence of human behavior when the world's been irrevocably changed by some kind of crisis. Think 28 Days Later without zombies, but some sort of invisible, undefined, haunting presence, rendered with remarkable ambiguity.



Unless you've been in a coma or blissfully gabbing about a desert island for the past four years, Fahrenheit 9/11 is going to offer few revelations or surprises. Having said that, it's still a extremely powerful film. At this point, no one really needs Michael Moore to tell them that George W. Bush is a total buffoon; but it's one thing to read about it in his book Dude, Where's My Country (which this film is pretty much an adaptation of) and another to actually see it onscreen: the footage assorted here is alternately obvious, ironic, sad, and chilling. Moore is most effective in the film's second half when he delves into the war in Iraq; he uses the ridiculousness of this war (and, more importantly, its tragic, personal consequences) as his strongest argument against Bush. Moore's glib-verging-on-condescending humor hasn't entirely dissipated, but a more somber tone dominates, and it's effective. The best thing I can say about what is essentially a piece of high-gloss propaganda is that, like Bowling For Columbine, I can't stop thinking about it hours after I've seen it.

Since everybody and their mother is going to be talking about this film, that's all I'm saying about it for now.



At first, it was comforting to walk through Provincetown Friday night and see how little had changed in the two years since my last visit... all the same shops, boys, bears, and drag queens hawking their evening cabaret acts.

On Saturday, everything changed.

The world seemed much more lucid and vivid to me than ever before. My awareness of all of life's possibilities increased significantly. It was exhilarating and frightening. Initially, I felt like I was losing control, and it took awhile for that feeling to dissipate.

Anyway, that's all I want to say on the subject in my blog for now. On to the filmfest...

I saw four movies. I had already seen Dig! at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, albeit with fucked-up sound. This time, the sound was better but the aspect ratio was off. Still, it more than held up to a second viewing, and I can't imagine anyone being put off by this fizzy, highly entertaining documentary. The only challenge is getting 'em into the theaters.


Having had time to process this, I've concluded that it isn't that abrupt a change from director Christopher Munch's previous work after all. The same constants are there: sex, family, conversation, landscapes, but in a decidedly less austere package.

Harry and Max are brothers (aged 23 and 16) who both happen to be pop stars, and this film explores the slipperiness of their relationship, which crosses sibling boundaries in more ways than one. Many have commented on how uncomfortable this film made them feel, but Rick and I agreed that, on the contrary, it didn't go far enough. Instead of pushing Harry and Max towards some sort of catharsis about each other or even some self-realization, its supposedly controversial subject matter just seems like a wasted tease.


Since the book is one of my favorites, I approached this one with equal gobs of anticipation and dread. A truly faithful adaptation would have to be five hours long, and the casting of Colin Farrell gives the movie "star power", which it really doesn't need (and which I felt was a detriment to The Hours).

Even though it cuts out a fairly major character and settles for an omniscient point of view (rather than the book's chapter=character format), Michael Cunningham fully captures his book's beauty in his adapted screenplay. The story follows two Cleveland teenagers, Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) and Bobby (Farrell), from 1967 through the '80s when they reunite in New York and form a makeshift family with a female friend, Claire (Robin Wright-Penn). There are many highly emotional scenes that could've easily been cheapened into melodramatic hackwork, but instead, they're handled deftly. I can recall at least two halfway through that left me shaken and I couldn't stop thinking about them through the rest of the film.

The cast is pretty stellar, especially newcomer Roberts and the inimitable Sissy Spacek as his mother. Even Farrell proves not to be an odd choice as Bobby--it's possibly his least flashiest, realest performance to date. I hope people take notice of the actors playing teenaged Jonathan and Bobby: they're responsible for one of those amazing scenes I alluded to above.

While this isn't really an unconventional or innovative film via construction or execution (like Lost In Translation was), it was thoughtful, honest and pretty damn moving to me, and that's enough.

(What I saw in P-Town, however, wasn't the final cut. In a Q and A with Roberts after the screening, he mentioned a key scene that was cut, but will be restored when the film hits theaters in late July. It changes our perception of Bobby considerably, and although the film didn't fall apart without it, now that I know about it I'd be sorely disappointed if it didn't make the final cut.)


A film with more great performances than the director knows what to do with: just the cast alone (Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause, and Naomi Watts) was all I needed to want to see it. All four leads are good, with Ruffalo finally delivering that big lead performance his admirers have been waiting for. And people put off by Watts' histrionics in 21 Grams will love her restraint here.

Unfortunately, it amounts to a slow, brooding tone poem about infidelity/jealously/dysfunction/desire between two married couples in a small college town. I admired that someone chose to make a film about this particular subject. But The Ice Storm and The Secret Lives of Dentists had a lot more to say about it, and they tempered their pretensions with more humor and depth. Oh well, at least this one's Denis Leary-free.



The Sam Phillips concert last night was fan-dance-tastic!

The tiny, nuevo-dive Paradise Lounge was a perfect venue for her. As expected, she performed songs almost exclusively from her last two like-minded records, Fan Dance and A Boot and A Shoe. She opened with a succinct a capella version of a standard I didn't recognize. She also reprised her tape-recorder-and-voice version of "Animals on Wheels" from The End of Violence, and sang one new song inspired by an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (!) but sounding much darker and more cathartic than most of her recent work.

She recited a sweet, slightly twisted open letter to Stephin Merritt and his "man-parts", and alluded to having her heart broken recently (by longtime husband/producer T-Bone Burnett, which I had not known about). Whilst singing, she occasionally broke into this wonderfully creepy, wide-eyed expression of an Edward Gorey-esque seven year old girl. She kept her cool as a mysterious chanteuese, although you could tell she was very enamored of the audience's fervent, warm reception of her.

She still sounds like nobody else, and now I can say that she sounds even better live.

More on A Boot and A Shoe hopefully soon.


I'm heading to Provincetown after work tomorrow for its Film Festival, the beach, the sun, and Rick. I'm going to recapture my sanity, whip out a big ol' lasso around it and bring it on home, baby.

As for Everyday People, well, it was a little disappointing. Director Jim McKay has made a competent but frankly conventional film with a few good performances and a few embarrassing ones. It eschews the naturalism of Our Song for something a little more recognizable and thus less interesting. It should fit right in on HBO. At least it's honest about gentrification, less so about how some of its characters either accept or reject it.



Tonight, I'm going to the Kendall to see a preview of Jim McKay's new film, Everyday People. It premiered at Sundance earlier this year under the title Brooklyn, and will air on HBO June 26.

McKay's previous film, Our Song, was an amazingly nuanced, unpolished look at three 16-year-old girls in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn towards the end of one summer. I just viewed it for the first time since I saw it at The Brattle three years ago. What still impresses me about it is how real and uncalculated it feels. Everything--the dialogue, the narrative, the performances, seem so natural that you almost think you're watching life unfolding as it happens.

The film's central theme is the vulnerability of friendships and how complex the simple factors are that cause people to drift apart. To many, it'll seem inconsequential or slight. Although it concludes with two members of its central trio saying goodbye, the ending reminds me a little of Annie Hall in that it feels bittersweet and left open, its impact subtle rather than overpowering.

As for Everyday People going straight to cable, why not? It'll instantly find a much wider audience than the skeletally distributed Our Song ever did, and it'll probably appear on DVD much faster, too. All I'm hoping is that it will be a strong follow-up.


Also spent the last few nights watching The Tick: The Entire Series, which collects all nine episodes of the short-lived live action version of the cult comic book/cartoon. It's great about 80% of the time; the other 20%, you're left wondering how they ever could've pulled this shtick off for more than nine episodes.

The performances by the four leads are all likable: Patrick Warburton as the perfectly dim, sweet-hearted Tick, David Burke as his novice, moth-mistaken-for-bunny-costumed sidekick Arthur, Liz Vassey as the feminist but fully-fleshed out Captain Liberty, and Nestor Carbonell as the suave, hysterically-conceived Batmanuel.

Less a Mutant X-style geekathon than a sitcom whose leads just happen to be superheroes, maybe it could've been great TV if Fox gave it a chance to evolve. Or, maybe it would've devolved into a predictable cadence of one-liners and repetitions. As is, it's a pleasantly amusing diversion that almost seems made for TV-on-DVD cultists.



There, I've said it. You can take your Patriot Act and shove it.

For me, the final straw was suspension of US mail today in honor of Reagan's death. All of this past week's hoopla is a crashing reminder of how dangerously in love this country was with the guy, and how much they apparently still are.

Even my ex loved him. I'll never forget the day his voter registration arrived in the mail. I stared at him in disbelief after I glanced at the back of his card and saw he was registered as a Republican. I yelled at him, "Why, Dear Lord, Why?!!"

His reply: "I liked Reagan. He was funny"

He was funny alright, but some of us never laughed.

Reagan was a great politician, and a brilliant manipulator, but he was a horrible president. He was worse than Bush Sr., and arguably more damaging than W. He drove this country into debt. He almost got us and a buncha other countries blown up real good. He did absolutely nothing about AIDS.

He played up the kind grandfather act, but I'd like to think he was more the hardass as imagined on Robert Smigel's genuinely funny X-Presidents cartoons for Saturday Night Live.

Reagan fooled a lot of people into thinking he was more than a B-actor who bought his way into politics. He still reminds me of my sixth grade teacher, Sister Marguerite. She was also a master manipulator: a sick, selfish, ridiculously deluded woman who would psychology torture her students and then magically make everything OK by baking them cookies. In seventh grade, most of my classmates remembered her fondly, which irritated me to no end.

Ah, it's no use ranting about the man. His Alzheimer's-ridden soul has the right to rest in peace, but remember, he was no saint, just a personality who played the greatest role of his life--not on a movie set, but as leader of the free world.


Finally saw City of God last night. Goddamn, why didn't I see this in a theater? Sets a new bar for story technique and DV cinematography. Not one of "the best films you will ever see" (as Ebert gushed), but certainly one like few others you've seen.



To illustrate this documentary's effectiveness, I went into it not having read anything by Bukowski, and came out of it wanting to devour his back catalog. This is an intelligently constructed, frankly sincere portrait of a great poet. It acknowledges his mythical status as an alcoholic, misogynist visionary, but through lots of fascinating archival footage and interviews, it reveals dimensions to the man that occasionally contradict that very image. Although the film's over two hours long and proceeds at an expectedly leisurely pace, it never dragged. Nor did it go the slick, empty-headed, regretfully "hip" route documentaries about counterculture figures are often prone to. Much more worth your time than Super Size Me.


Ahhhh, what a blissful weekend spent making blueberry pancakes, dining on tapas, bicycling down to Roslindale, reading the new David Sedaris tome, Dress Your Family in corduroy in Denim, and finally getting around to watching Pixote. Summer weather may not be here yet (not to mention summer itself), but things are feelin' wonderfully lazy and leisurely for now.



My last post was a little crotchety, so I took a sabbatical, slept with my sister, didn't like it, and am back on track.


At first, I feared this was going to be quite the unbearably quirky and stilted film. I duly laughed at what are the most painstakingly elaborate credits I will ever see (set to The White Stripes' disarming "We're Going To Be Friends"). But I didn't know what to make of the odd titular anti-hero, with his jew-fro', moon boots and perpetual, bored, delayed-reaction disgust. He also has a brother who is at least 30, effeminate, and a little pathetic (wears pastel polo shirts always buttoned to the top, spends his days in online chat rooms). I haven't even gotten to the motor-scooter ridin' grandma, the football-throwin' uncle pining for the sweet old days of '82, or even all the interior desecrations (think wood paneling, blech-patterned linoleum, and a cavalcade of cheapo plastic and formica kitsch.)

Thankfully, a really sweet, endearing, hilarious story emerges. I kept thinking this is the kind of film John Waters would've made had he grown up in small town Idaho, came of age in the '80s, and was fascinated by a far less sordid shade of American trash culture. The only thing it really has in common with Rushmore is an affection for misfits--whereas Wes Anderson's film merely featured a score by Mark Mothersbaugh, this one is much, much more Devo. As the title character, Jon Heder gets my vote for one of the most original and eventually winning lead performances I've seen in a long time. Great John Hughes-influenced soundtrack, too.

The distributor is desperately hoping to get a raging cult hit out of this. I went to a sneak preview and received a free cheapo t-shirt, passes for another sneak preview of the same film this weekend, and a "frequent screener card" with a chance to become the first president of the Napoleon Dynamite Fan Club. A little ridiculous, yes, but better that than letting this sort of film fall through the cracks, I guess. I wish Jared Hess and his strange, lovely first feature all the best.


Jim Jarmusch either makes amazing films or maddeningly inconsistent ones. A series of vignettes like this (shot over 17 years!) is practically begging to fall into the latter category. Unfortunately, the weakest segments come early when the director was (probably) just shooting them as stand-alone shorts without a larger, polished framework. Most of 'em fall flat (yes, even the one with Tom Waits and Iggy Pop) except for two goombahs chiding each other for their vices, and even that's pleasant but nothing worth a second viewing.

I didn't really sit up and take notice until Jarmusch broke with the format somewhat and had Cate Blanchett play both herself and her cousin meeting up in the former's hotel room. Blanchett's brilliant as both. From there, the bonhomie starts to click, climaxing with a meeting between Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina that's deftly written and executed with finesse and great timing. To pair Bill Murray with members of The Wu-Tang Clan or The White Stripes with a tesla coil sounds leaden on paper, but it somehow works onscreen--credit the actors. The final segment, with former Warhol figures Bill Rice and Taylor Mead, concludes on an unexpectedly elegiac note, and it's really touching to see Taylor, the little imp from Lonesome Cowboys now weathered and torn.


I really want to see Alfonso Cuaron's take on the Harry Potter franchise (which opens today), but I think I'll wait until the kiddie crowds die down a bit.

Franz Ferdinand might not be the Album of the Year (yet), but I'm doubting I'll find any singles as delicious as "Take Me Out" or "Matinee" from anyone else.

I'm a big poseur and bought Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose. I like it a lot.

Morrissey's You Are The Quarry is pretty good as Moz's solo stuff goes, and kudos to him for entering the charts at #11. A respectable comeback, and a few great songs: "Irish Blood, English Heart", "I Have Forgiven Jesus" (oh Stephen, how could you?), "First of the Gang to Die" and "I Like You", whose title is followed in the chorus by "...because you're not right in the head." (!) Stop me if you think you've heard that one before.