Welcome to an exciting new column. (In other words, scrambling to catch up and jot down a legible post.) It was going to be about just ten films, but I've decided to turn it up to... oh, you know.

I'm not an expert on (or even much of a fan of) martial arts flicks, but I enjoy Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's work (or at least the two films of his I've seen: FIREWORKS and KIKUJURO). His take on the classic Japanese serial about a blind samurai is as irreverent as you'd expect. Whereas HERO is a gorgeous, polished, painterly epic, Kitano's film has a more wiry pulse: it's a leisurely paced character study, equally devoted to intricately choreographed battle sequences and comic asides drenched in the director's off-kilter sense of humor. Maybe too lesiurely-paced--to me, the film felt a little long and occasionally boring, but Kitano delivers a masterful, nuanced performance that's never pretentious or austere. However, I have to admit the lively tap dancing sequence at the end won me over. Anachronistic? Sure, but it works in a convincing genre film that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Of course this is the best Harry Potter film by miles, as Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN director Alfonso Cuaron is a virtuoso compared to the execrable Chris Columbus. This is the first Harry Potter book I've actually read before seeing the film adaptation, and my only gripe is that it feels a little rushed. It has no time for character development or most of J.K. Rowling's idiosyncratic little details and fanciful asides. While they're not essential to the story arc, they're certainly a major part of the books' allure. Still, if the first two films came out like Disney, this one's far more Miyazaki. The now-adolescent actors have grown, not only in physique but also in performance, and Cuaron renders the world of Hogwarts in more than two dimensions, especially with linking shots that approach visual poetry.

An old, endlessly quotable favorite. Still the finest feature length sitcom ever devised, and everyone in the principal cast (Dabney Coleman, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda) has never been funnier. The canabis-enhanced dream sequences are as inspired as golden-age screwball comedy.

"Abysmal" was how one friend described this notoriously misguided train wreck. He's right, but rarely has something so abysmal seemed such a campy, vampy pleasure to behold. It's "better" than THE APPLE, but you probably don't wanna watch this one entirely sober, either.

Fairly average Hong Kong action cop movie that wouldn't exist without Woo, Tarantino, et al... but entertaining and inoffensive enough. As double-crossing moles, Tony Leung and Andy Lau give the picture identity and some charisma. However, I doubt Scorsese's eventual American remake will be an improvement (although at least it'll steer him away from the overblown biopic/historical epic ghetto).

Delightful if slight documentary about a Finnish Men's Choir that shouts rather than sings. Funny in sort of a deadpan, Monty Python-esque way, and for now, that's all I have to say about it.

Worth seeing for the underseen (on film, anyway) Carol Channing in her prime. She's dressed like Big Bird's mother in one scene and inexplicably wearing a pirate costume in another (while singing the title song, no less). As a former mafioso who takes his first acid trip, Jackie Gleason can't help but lazily, hammily channel Ralph Kramden, and an aged Groucho Marx reads his lines off of cue cards (it's that painfully obvious). Still, this 1968 film directed by Otto Preminger (way past his prime) is a fun stoopid time capsule that really doesn't represent its era all that well, and that's kinda touching (albeit, also pathetic). "Skidoo, skidoo, between one and three is two!"

Yes, this one actually exists, and unlike SKIDOO, it's a tedious stoopid movie. Anthony Newley stars in a loosely autobiographical X-rated romp (although it would earn an R today and isn't really lively enough to be a "romp") and it plays like an inept version of Fosse's ALL THAT JAZZ set on a mystical seashore. No one comes off well (especially a way-past-his-prime Milton Berle), but you have to love that then-Newley paramour Joan Collins appears as a love interest named Polyesther Poontang. She also sings a trifle called "Chalk and Cheese" and sounds a lot like Nico (minus that chanteuse's velvet-y cool).

Engrossing documentary about Al-Jazeera, the Arabian world's equivalent to Fox News. Filmed during the first few weeks of the current Iraqi war, it doesn't entirely celebrate (or condemn) the network, but it probes into the causes and casualities of war and the media's role in reporting it with real insight. If you haven't seen FAHRENHEIT 9/11, don't bother and rent this instead.

So-so adaptation of a wicked good Ian McEwan novel. Starts off smashingly with an eerie, expertly-rendered balloon crash, then gradually devolves into a Hitchcock/De Palma imitation. McEwan's complex, purposely irritating narrative is a bit outlandish at times, but never as over-the-top or obvious as this screenplay suggests. Daniel Craig is fine as the lead, but Samantha Morton is given precious little to do and Rhys Ifans doesn't show any depth in the krrrrazy-person slot. As with the far superior LAWLESS HEART, Bill Nighy nearly walks away with the film in his few-and-far-between scenes.

Troy Duffy serves as a poster child for how one's ego and ineptitude can turn a once-of-a-lifetime possibility into a raging train wreck. It's creepily fascinating, but in a guilty-pleasure sort of way more than a fair account of what went wrong (see LOST IN LA MANCHA for the latter). A thinly veiled kiss-off made by two former members of Duffy's entourage, you could say they were justified in charting how stupendously he blew his Miramax deal and dug his own grave. But Duffy comes off as such a cartoonish loser that you can't help but root for his failure. OVERNIGHT makes a decent cautionary tale for aspiring auteurs, but for the rest of us, it's like a glum version VH-1's BEHIND THE MUSIC without the tacked-on optimistic ending.



Now that I’ve been bloggin' for two years, a little autobiography for y’all.

No, I’m not Southern (I just like typing “y’all”). My hometown is Milwaukee. I grew up in a perfectly nuclear family on the city’s South Side (or if you're a native, "Soud Siiide"), as did my parents--they now live in a different state too. No brothers or sisters.

Attended a Catholic grade school, a Catholic high school, and a Catholic-Jesuit university. When asked of my religion today, I lean towards Agnostic.

After earning a BA in Journalism, I decided I had little interest in working for the media. However, I loved the Film Studies classes I’d taken for a minor. On a whim, I applied to programs in that field at three non-Catholic universities in other cities. Two rejected me, one accepted me.

So, I moved to Boston in 1997. I earned my Masters of Sciences (that’s what it says on my diploma) in Film Studies from Boston University and have lived in the area ever since. My parents moved to exciting, exotic Des Moines in 1998, so I only make it back to Milwaukee sporadically.

Like many other liberal arts majors, I worked a variety of mind-numbing temp jobs until one of them became perm. This February, after four years of toiling for the Man, I was downsized. This turned out to be a good thing, however: Since April, I’ve worked in the office of a non-profit art house movie theater. Not a dream job (actually, what I do now isn’t all that radically different from what I did before), but a decent place to work and a good fit for me.

I started a journal in the summer of 1995. I was working the overnight shift as a desk receptionist for student housing—all I had to do was check in the very occasional guest, so I had an excess of free time. Between consuming copious quantities of Cherry Coke and aimlessly staring out into the vast lobby (the building used to be a hotel) in the wee hours of the night, I wrote.

I kept up these journals for well over seven years. Along the way, the black-spined composition books evolved from diary entries (and a few laughable attempts at poetry) to lengthy bouts of writing practice, autobiographical essay and literary wankery, all of it first draft, most of it illegible and incomprehensible.

By 2001, I was writing film and music criticism about 95% of the time and making more of an effort to write stuff that other people would conceivably want to read. Then, in the fall of 2002, I discovered what a weblog was, and within a week or two, Lymejello was born. The name comes from my e-mail address, which itself comes from a lonnnnnng story for another time.

I like using this as a place for music and film “criticism” (or “half-assed rants”, if you prefer), best-of lists and the like. Earlier this year, I started another weblog counting down my one hundred favorite albums. Once that’s finished (hopefully before the year ends), I plan to focus exclusively on this blog. It feels good to have kept this up for two years, but it could be so much more.

For now, however, The Basics (and a few other random things about me):

--I’m a guy (well, you never know, my name is Chris…)
--Birthdate is February 18, 1975
--I live in Jamaica Plain, MA with two roommates, both of whom are also about to turn 30.
--I’m gay—totally out and comfortable with it, but I don’t make a big deal about it.
--I enjoy biking and hiking (well, walking), but steer clear from most competitive sports (apart from very occasional bowling).
--Blonde hair, blue eyes, no Aryan blood that I know of. My last name is not Polish; it’s Bohemian (but since I’m 75% Polish, it might as well be Polish).
--I don’t eat melted cheese. Really, I don’t.
--I do eat just about everything else—take me to J.P. Licks (ice cream, for those of you outside Boston) to get on my good side. Or, if we're in my home state, Kopp's for frozen custard.
--I currently obsess over the following TV shows: The Amazing Race, Gilmore Girls, Arrested Development, Desperate Housewives, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
--I used to obsess over Mystery Science Theater 3000, Sex and the City and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
--Favorite Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums (current), Young Frankenstein (classic)
--Book: To Kill A Mockingbird
--Author: Tom Robbins
--Magazine: Mojo
--Song: “Lazy Line Painter Jane” by Belle and Sebastian
--Band: Saint Etienne
--Diva: Sam Phillips
--Sound: foghorns off Lake Michigan I heard growing up.
--Comic Strip: Peanuts
--Game Show: Jeopardy
--Board Game: Scrabble
--Smells: cloves, mangoes, and green tea incense.
--I’ve never owned a car, ever.
--I’d rather be making mix CDs/tapes.
--People who I think should be household names: Andy Partridge, Derek Jarman, Emm Gryner
--I just don’t get these much-loved celebrities: Eminem, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts.
--I have no use for ignorance or intolerance.
--Obsessive about music, movies and pop culture in general. VH-1 Classic is my God!
--Ideal places to be: Nubble Lighthouse (York Beach, ME), Boerner Botannical Gardens (Hales Corners, WI), Sunset Cliffs (San Diego).
--Greatest Ambition in Life—still trying to figure that out. It will likely involve publishing, film, or a combination of the two. We'll see.



Believe it or not, it snowed here today. It looks like frickin' January outside. It's admittedly pretty, but at least a month too soon.

Lately, all I want to write about are things a little too personal for this public blog. So, unless I feel so inspired, there will be no more posts for at least another week.

One thing, however: I really enjoyed UNDERTOW, David Gordon Green's third feature, and the first I can embrace without any reservations. It's sort of a Southern Gothic suspense chase story told in the style of an early '70s low-budget feature, but so much more than that.

As usual with Green, distribution is limited--actually, buried is more like it. Last week, it played three area theaters, but it was down to one afternoon screening per day at each one. What's the sense in that? Now that I work in the industry, I more fully understand why low-performing first-run films get dropped, but why relegate it to an afternoon performance when, during the week, much of its potential audience can't even see it?

I'm hoping something will bring me out of this lingering funk.


This Year's Vintage: SIDEWAYS

Viewers who have come to admire director Alexander Payne as a modern-day Preston Sturges might find SIDEWAYS surprising. Continuing in the vein of his last film, ABOUT SCHMIDT (minus that film's condescending humor), this one moves even further away from the social commentary-gone-screwball of CITIZEN RUTH and ELECTION (not to mention Omaha), and into deeper, more introspective terrain.

What I find refreshing about SIDEWAYS is how it sidesteps (ha-ha) the whole high concept route. This isn't about how to lose a guy or gal in ten days, swapping partners, or any of that star-studded studio nonsense that has little connection or resemblance to anyone's life. This is simply an honest, bittersweet, sometimes acerbic and occasionally laugh-out-loud road trip tale.

Friends since college, fortysomething Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) drive up to Californian wine country for a week-long getaway before the latter's impending marriage. They're slightly mismatched: the tortured, self-deprecating Miles is an English teacher, struggling author and wine-aficionado reeling from a recent painful divorce, while aging actor Jack is more like Spicoli from FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH twenty years later--laid-back and a little naive, Jack's a wine philistine who's adamantly focused on getting laid one last time before his nuptials.

Not long after reaching their destination, Jack meets Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a self-assured, spunky single mother who works at a vineyard. They settle into an impulsive affair, and set up Miles with her friend Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress Miles has admired from a distance on previous trips to the area. There's a lengthy, beautifully-executed scene where Miles and Maya intimately talk to each other about their unusual passion for wine, but it may as well be about the way they see their own lives, and things they see in each other that they cannot yet articulate.

The cast is solid: Giamatti matches his great performance from AMERICAN SPLENDOR, and Church, primarily known for his TV work from a decade ago, finally has a script worthy of his comic talent. Oh is delightful as ever, and Madsen overcomes the potential blandness of the film's trickiest, subtlest role (the desired ingenue) enough to mesh well with her louder, more flamboyant co-stars.

Given all the glowing reviews SIDEWAYS has already received, I approached it skeptically, and spent the first half wondering, "OK, what's so great about this one?" But be patient--it's the more the film's cumulative pull that's affecting than individual if memorable moments. Despite Miles acting like an adolescent on occasion, this is really a movie for adults. My friend Diane's comment that you "have to have been around the block a few times" for the film to resonate is spot-on, but I'll also say the last twenty minutes is where it earns all of its glowing reviews. The conclusion, although not as perfectly open-ended as BEFORE SUNSET, nearly flirts with sentimentality only to come to its senses and offer up something to chew on, or in this film's case, sip up.


Lots of updates this week on Ten Thousand Words (which is actually past that number by now). Finally made it to the top twenty!



(by Super Furry Animals,
from the LP Rings Around the World)

When you fall asleep
Before the end of the day
You start to worry

Like when the taxi comes
To take you away
When you're in no hurry

Yet as our hair turns white
All the stars still shine
So bright, above

At least
It's not the end of the world


We could live it large
Because we're only old once
Let's make a difference

Turn all the hate in the world
Into a mocking bird
Make it fly away

Yet as our hair turns gray
Everything is far
From A-Okay

At least it's not the end of the world



And tonight, I will go home, watch Gilmore Girls, and listen to Monty Python's Election Night Special.

Inevitably, I'll get drawn into media coverage. I'll probably opt for Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, although if we have a repeat of 2000, I'll be keeping one eye on Dan Rather. It's always a gas to see the professional facade crack and some authentic feelings weasel their way in.

Speaking of 2000, I did not vote then. I was, however, miserably ill, more so than I've ever been before or since. After days of an escalating hacking cough, I acquired medical attention. The best the doctor could tell me was, "It could be mono, but we're not sure." Thankfully, it wasn't mono, but I didn't entirely shake that cough for weeks.

By election day, I was well enough to go to the polls, but I didn't care. Couldn't stand Bush (still can't), felt indifferent towards Gore, so I wasn't registered. I don't fully regret not voting then.

I feared that debacle of an election would destroy our faith in democracy and government to the point where future voter turnouts would reach an all-time low. Fortunately, the opposite thing happened. Not that people aren't more skeptical of those institutions than ever before, but at least it seems our society as a whole wants to make a difference. Even if less than 50% of us vote nationally, that's still an improvement.

This is the third presidential election I'm eligible to vote in, and the first crucial one. The country isn't necessarily going fall apart if Bush wins, just as it won't become an utopian Neverland if Kerry wins.

I just hope that whoever wins this election, wins it fairly.