...on all my movie watching, that is. What I saw this week:

THE SON: I only made it halfway through the Dardenne Brothers’ first film (THE PROMISE) and have spent years avoiding making time for the second (Cannes Palme D’or Winner ROSETTA). So, I watched this in its entirety, but not without fidgeting. I could make Bresson comparisons with the leisurely pace and reliance on non-actors, but the Dardennes’ ideology doesn’t mesh with the master of spiritual transcendence. I’m reluctant to describe any of this film’s plot, because it would take a dozen words and spoil everything for you. I’ll only say it’s about the desire to understand why someone commits a crime that directly effects you, and that desire alone is a crutch and maybe also a sickness, but unavoidable nonetheless.

LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE: Still piecing together this puzzling film, but that alone doesn’t frustrate me. I was so delighted by what perplexed me that I can imagine re-watching it as I did with MULHOLLAND DRIVE, discovering more clues each time out but not being able to fully explain them—and why does everything need a rational explanation? This is a film of moods, sight gags and interior emotions worn inside out, of seeing the Thai shore for the first time and finding unlikely pleasure in cleaning out a sink overloaded with dirty, rotting dishes. One scene where an apartment seemingly clean itself is the most rapturous I’ve seen all year next to the finale of BEFORE SUNSET.

MARGARET CHO REVOLUTION: This one didn’t receive a theatrical release like the last two, and that makes sense. I’M THE ONE THAT I WANT was a landmark in combining stand-up with autobiography, and it was a story that needed to be told. This film is simply stand-up, lighter on the polemics than NOTORIOUS CHO (funny, given this film’s title), but way too heavy on indulgent, near-incoherent ramblings. But Cho’s so gifted a comedienne she’d have to try really hard (or be drunk) to make an unfunny concert film, and this had me in hysterics at least 65% of the time. Who else could make an account of shitting in ones pants so worth hearing and relishing?

HERO: Zhang Yimou’s long-delayed (in the US, anyway) martial arts epic is stunning, at least technically. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle outdoes himself, the awesome color-coding even more sensual than IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE’s rain-drenched streets and intricate, congested apartments. The sound design also impressed—never has an arrow punctuating a surface so viscerally affected me. And although I appreciated the all-star cast and could even follow along with the story, it alone didn’t really move me. Certainly nowhere near other Yimou films like TO LIVE and NOT ONE LESS. If there’s only one film you want to see in theatres this year, make it this one (I can’t imagine it having anywhere near the same impact on a smaller screen), but I hope that Yimou’s new film, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (another martial arts epic due this Christmas) will possess a soul to match its outer beauty.

THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET: I’ve wanted to check out John Sayles’ oeuvre for some time, having only seen LONE STAR (pretty damn good) and SUNSHINE STATE (pretty damn boring). The premise of this one has always intrigued me: black alien slave crashes into the Hudson River and takes refuge in Harlem. Although the main character (wonderfully played by Joe Morton) doesn’t speak, this is as dialogue-centered as any Sayles film, with lots of talky, unhurried scenes set in bars, social services offices and rough-hewn Harlem streets. Without really knowing he came from outer space, the neighborhood comes to the alien’s aid when his captors arrive—it’s as clever as it is obvious, full of non-sequiturs you could never get away with in a studio film. That alone at least gives it some shaggy charm.



Zach Braff rightfully observed that there were few intelligent, realistic films addressed to his generation, so he attempted one. This directorial debut, which he also wrote and stars in, follows alter-ego Andrew Largeman as he returns home to suburban New Jersey to attend his mother's funeral. A struggling LA actor, he left town years before and has been medicated on lithium and various other drugs since he was 9 (as an experiment, returns home without them).

Between avoiding a reconciliation with his father (an underused Ian Holm) and apathetically hanging out with his townie friends (most notably Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), now a gravedigger), he meets Sam (Natalie Portman), an eccentric, talkative young woman who immediately befriends him (and kept reminding me of Kate Winslet from ETERNAL SUNSHINE..., only not as extreme.)

Even without his meds, Largeman floats through his hometown as a passive observer, his disposition in check with the film's gently quirky, occasionally surreal humor. Sam is obviously the catalyst that gradually awakens him, but to Braff's credit, the film isn't always that simplistic or schematic. Details about Largeman's past surface credibly and thoughtfully, and the script takes a few unique, unforeseen turns. In its best moments, GARDEN STATE revives/emulates the socially aware spirit of New Hollywood films of the late '60s / early '70s. Sarsgaard gives a nicely muted performance and I think this is the first time I've ever appreciated Portman: she nearly makes an annoying, difficult character likable.

Still, Braff wants to be idiosyncratic and personable while reaching the widest audience possible. There are some deftly written scenes (like Largeman and Sam's conversation that occurs in a bathtub), but also others that point towards an unfortunate, strained happy ending. This is obviously a heartfelt project for Braff: I admire the humaneness with which he draws this portrait, especially when it observes rather than speaks for a generation (which happens to be mine.) Worth seeing, but at times it could've used a director with a lighter, more experienced touch.



After much waffling, I've decided to stop writing for Splendid on a weekly basis. I'm just getting burnt out, man. All of my creative energy is going into writing reviews about crappy records and reviews that try to make mediocre records sound like they're worth the purchase or download.

I kept it up this long because I liked having that weekly deadline and I've received some amazing stuff in the process (TV On The Radio, Sufjan Stevens, Tompaulin) that I probably wouldn't have heard otherwise. But of all the albums I've reviewed since January, I've listened to maybe 5 or 6 of them again. I need to devote time to other endeavors--for starters, I want to build up this site and post more intelligent, developed music and film reviews.

I'd still like to contribute to Splendid's Departments on a limited basis. But it's time for me to step back and begin something else. However,


This week, two of my favorite blogs come to an end. I've followed Glenn McDonald's weekly music blog, The War Against Silence, for nearly four years. Begun in 1995 out of his Cambridge apartment and churned out every Wednesday night, it reaches its logical conclusion this Thursday with its 500th issue, arriving two weeks after its author's wedding day. Highly subjective and dense, it's nonetheless an impressive acheivement; what started as a forum for music criticism evolved into an autobiography of sorts. I can understand why he wants to stop at this point, but I hope he'll eventually continue in some other format.

The other RIP site is by Marcello Carlin. I don't know much about this UK-based author other than he lost his wife to cancer three years ago, and started a mostly music-related blog called The Church of Me as a way of working out his grief. Last year, it mutated into another blog, The Naked Maja, which itself mutated into Koons Really Does Think He's Michelangelo two months ago. Today, he abruptly, bitterly retired from the blogosphere for reasons not entirely clear. For a blog, his writing was ambitious, thoughtful, and poetic. I'm glad he's encouraging readers to get out of the house and live their lives, but I disagree with his statement about blogs being "pointless". I care about what he has to say, and I hope the world hears something from him again.



Bogged down by various writing assignments, ill health, muggy weather, and many other excuses. I've seen a few movies, though.

THE DREAMERS: The cinephile in me enjoyed all the French new wave references, and I sat up for Michael Pitt's resounding declaration at the end. Gorgeously shot, of course, but a little limp, and not as sexually explicit as it should've been.

A WOMAN IS A WOMAN: A kodakcolor pastiche and perhaps the first existential musical. No one sings and dances except for the director, and he's always offscreen. Only a prelude, not yet a breakthrough.

THE APPLE: The worst movie ever made? How about the most fascinatingly, howlingly ill-conceived sequin-studded extravaganza of all time? Think a deluded young disciple of Ken Russell on the end of his tether, convinced he's making the next ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW... it's like a fabulous trainwreck, so caught up in its own glee, excess and cheapo effects that you can't even imagine of looking away for one second. And the schlock-rock production numbers are unshakable like a nagging television commercial for a candy bar.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS: If you want to understand how masterfully an actor can embody a part, a character, a soul, with all its contradictions and mood swings and hurt intact, start right here with Marlon Brando and his most revealing performance. Rarely has a film felt so much like a fever dream, yet also painfully very real.



This fifty-year-old "B" movie begins as a cautionary tale, warning innocent small towns across Eisenhower's America that this could happen to you, too! So, why does Johnny, the film's lead motorcycle punk end up the most sympathetic character? Because he's played by Marlon Brando, silly.

In fact, much of The Wild One is pretty silly. The twenty-man strong B. M. R. C. (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) rides into a nondescript, vaguely suburban small town which resembles 1924 as much as it does 1954. Sure, they disrupt the town's peaceful, dull order, but not so much by what they do as how unorthodox and threatening they look (black leather jackets, loud, unruly vehicles) and act (drag-racing in the town square, drinking, whooping and even camping it up).

In fact, it's pretty innocuous in today's context until the real "bad guys" show up (led by a young, bearded Lee Marvin), and the worst that you can say about them is that they're stinking drunk and want to pick fights with Johnny's gang.

Brando and his cronies speak in a strangely Southern-sounding, nearly black patois, rendering them the '50s equivalent of today's hip-hop lovin' white boys (and part of a long line of outsiders/trailblazers, including the zoot suiters, beats, hippies, punks, etc;). Two of them scat before a wispy old man and succeed in completely (but almost affectionately) bewildering him.

Of course, there's a local girl Brando immediately pursues and naturally, she's a policeman's daughter. She's initially bemused, then taken with him, but never fully seduced. He equally disgusts and enchants her, and the film's smart enough to know that there's no possible future or even hope of falling in love for them. But she comes to his aid when he needs her the most, and their final conversation offers no impossible, sentimental promises.

Even when playing a rebellious tough, Brando's Johnny is emotionally complex and at turns, remarkably sensitive (feminine, even). He starts out as the epitome of stone-faced poseur cool and before the film's end we see him in tears. I have a feeling this reversal was lost on mainstream 50's audiences (just as most of them assumed James Dean was a Rebel Without a Cause a year later, when in fact that film's true rebel was Sal Mineo). Instead of warning upstanding citizens to watch out for people like Johnny, The Wild One ends up making an around-the-way case for acceptance and understanding, tempering its cartoonish antics with a sobering dose of reality and kindness.



I'm thinking about tearing it all down and starting over again.

I'm thinking about screaming at the meddlesome kids outside my window, knowing it would only make me look grumpy and miserable, and I don't wish to be either.

I'm thinking about the great new album by Kings of Convenience, Riot on an Empty Street. If I could, I wouldn't listen to anything else besides it for a whole week. If I didn't get sick of it, I'd know it was as truly brilliant as I believe it is right now.

I'm thinking about Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man, which I watched in its entirety for the first time this morning. I can't find the words to describe exactly what I loved about it. You'd think a silent, dense, 78-minute epic would be torturous to sit through, and it might be for most viewers. I just surrendered myself to the fleeting, multilayered images and swooshes of color like I was in church and TRULY BELIEVED WHAT WAS BEFORE ME because it contained no rhetoric, no hearsay, no guilt, no promises. It was what it was.

I'm thinking about my trip to Provincetown last week. I would've enjoyed another day or two of vacation, but the <48 hours I spent there were concise, beautiful, and sweet.

I'm thinking about the ethereal, impossible timbre Delays vocalist Greg Gilbert hits on his band's album Faded Seaside Glamour, especially the song "Nearer Than Heaven".

I'm thinking about Jonathan Demme's remake of The Manchurian Candidate, which I saw yesterday. I thought it was a terrible idea when I first heard about it, simply because the original film is so perfect. Demme's version isn't perfect, but it's better than it should be, with the first performance I've ever appreciated from Denzel Washington (understated, 180-degree turn from Training Day) and fine ones from Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber. The story (with a little tweaking) still works because the original was so ahead of its time.

I'm thinking about all the things I've been letting go, and how I just need to wash them away, cleanse my palette, and taste something different.

I'm thinking about all the television I've watched the last three nights, and how I'm refreshed, revitalized, ready to venture out and explore the city that's technically no longer new to me, but still teeming with surprise and mystique.

I'm thinking about how to make myself more thoughtful, complete and at peace.