First-time director Liev Schreiber probably couldn't have picked a more difficult book to adapt than Jonathan Safran Foer's eccentric first novel. Cutting out most of the book's flashbacks and folk tales, Schreiber sticks to the main, linear narrative where a young man by the name of, ahem, Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood), travels to the Ukraine to track down Trachimbrod, the pre-World War II village where his grandfather was born. His tour guide there is Alex (Eugene Hutz), a hipster doofus who speaks in broken English not far off from the "wild and crazy guy" character Steve Martin used to play in his SNL days. Also joining them is Alex's crusty grandfather, who thinks he's blind, so he has a seeing eye-dog (or "officious seeing-eye bitch") named Sammy Davis Junior, Jr.

As a likable piece of exceedingly quirky whimsy, you can already tell that this works much better on the page than it ever could onscreen. And Schreiber stumbles somewhat in the film's first half, with some of the jokes falling flat and other scenes lacking the punch and finesse a skilled director could give them. Fortunately, like the book, the film takes a serious turn in its second half and is much better for it. Some may balk at the major change made with the grandfather character, and as a buttoned-up "collector" of all ephemera, Wood sometimes seems barely there. But the energetic, oddly engaging Hutz (leader of the NYC-based gypsy-rock combo Gogol Bordello, also on the soundtrack) is an inspired casting choice, lending Alex enough depth to make him more than a caricature. When the troupe finally reaches the mysterious, seemingly unattainable Trachimbrod, you feel like you're in a completely different film--a superior one. (2.5/5)



June 1999: C-90 cassette tape.

1. Cowboy Junkies, "Something More Besides You"
2. Sam Phillips, "Plastic is Forever"
3. XTC, "I'd Like That"
4. Morcheeba, "Part of the Process"
5. Ani DiFranco, "Everest"
6. Saint Etienne, "Former Lover"
7. New Order, "Temptation"
8. Velvet Underground and Nico, "I'll Be Your Mirror"
9. Concrete Blonde, "Someday?"
10. Billy Bragg and Wilco, "California Stars"
11. Belle and Sebastian, "A Summer Wasting"
12. Meryn Cadell, "Maidenform"

1. Bjork, "Joga"
2. Portishead, "Glory Box"
3. Jane Siberry, "Would You Go"
4. Joni Mitchell, "The Arrangement"
5. R.E.M., "At Your Most Beautiful"
6. Rufus Wainwright, "April Fools"
7. Soul Coughing, "Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago"
8. Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, "Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus"
9. Towa Tei, "Obrigado"
10. Dead Can Dance, "Emmeleia"
11. PJ Harvey, "Is This Desire"

The first mix you make for someone, of course, is the most crucial one. You want to expose them to all the music that means something to you, but you also want to make sure it's stuff you can imagine them liking, based on what you know about them, or what they have in their collection.

This was the first of many mixtapes I made for M. A former roommate (she moved out partially 'cause she couldn't stand the third person we lived with), she eventually ended up out West and is currently a law student. Once upon a time in Boston, however, she was an aspiring musician/artist/waitress/writer/actress (I don't think I've left anything out.) Like me, she was never a serious musician, but loved music passionately. When we first met, she confessed to having a poster of Michael Hutchence on her bedroom wall when she was a teen, and once told me the only person she ever wrote a fan letter to was Sheryl Crow.

For her 25th birthday, I made her two mixtapes: this one (the title is meaningless, just a clever grocery list culled from track titles) and another called MOOD SWINGS, which wasn't radically different in tone or selection; I simply had too many good songs for one tape. She raved about MOOD SWINGS more, although, in my opinion, this one was slightly better. I'd been making mixes for about five years by this time, and I think I was really beginning to get the hang of setting a mood. The Cowboy Junkies song that kicks off side one also kicks off my favorite album of theirs, LAY IT DOWN (1996). When I made this mix, I'd just heard the song in the film NIAGARA, NIAGARA, where it also had an indelible, establishing effect.

I was also learning how to make interesting, carefully orchestrated transitions between tracks: one of my faves is Bjork lost in a heavenly echo chamber, repeating the proclamation, "state of emergency / is where I want to be" over and over until it gives way to the ever-so-gradual fade in of the Issac Hayes string sample on Portishead's cinematic, devastating "Glory Box". I also aimed for far more dramatic side-closers than ever before, searching for haunted spaces in a capella songs by Meryn Cadell, Dead Can Dance, and, with her guitar, PJ Harvey.

Most non-thematic mixes inevitably include stuff that was relatively new to the maker when it was made, like "At Your Most Beautiful", a song I fanatically adored (but probably haven't now heard in years). Still, one reason this mix stands out from all the subsequent ones I'd make for this person is that it's much more than a record of what I liked at the time. Of course, '99 was the year I discovered Serge Gainsbourg and Belle and Sebastian, but I still like 'em today. Six years later, my enthusiasm for many other selections here (especially the one-two-three punch of "Everest", "Former Lover", and "Temptation") has not diminished. Maybe that first mix you make for someone is the most pure and inspired--especially when it clicks with whom it's intended for.



At last, reviews on the Chlotrudis website of what I saw in Toronto last month. Since I wrote them, one of the films I gave 4.5 "cats" to I'd easily raise to a 5; it'll certainly find a spot on my year-end top ten.



...and a movie that I can't find a C-word for. I actually had to visit the multiplexes for two of these films, and they're showing a whole lot more that I want to see. And I admit I occasionally let mediocre reviews sway me, which is why I haven't yet made the effort to catch EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED (and am placing ELIZABETHTOWN, which opens today, far down on my to-see list).


This historical re-creation of Edward R. Murrow's televised expose of Joseph McCarthy is a strong second directorial effort from George Clooney. An impressive ensemble is headed by David Strathairn, who delivers a career-best performance as Murrow; also good are Frank Langella as CBS chairman William Paley, Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson as newsroom co-workers (and a couple whose secretive marriage is used as a counterpoint to McCarthyism), and Clooney himself, who has never shown so much restraint and ease, in a supporting role as Murrow's producer Fred Friendly.

With its relatively low budget, the film painstakingly recreates the breakneck chaos of a TV newsroom of the time. Instead of casting an actor to play McCarthy, Clooney incorporates actual footage of the man himself. Along with the inclusion of period commercials, it gives the film a documentary feel, although the stunning black-and-white cinematography and commenting intrusions from jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves are, in contrast, heavily stylized. But the mesh works anyway. The only major flaw? Clooney ends up sanctifying Murrow a little too much, occasionally obscuring vital issues of journalistic objectivity. Although smug, at least Murrow doesn't come off as completely humorless: his off-camera demeanor is given fair depth, especially his inclination to educate an audience, rather than conduct yet another fluffy interview with a fluffy celebrity like Liberace. (rating: 4/5)


If you loved the earlier shorts, I can't imagine you'll be disappointed by this wonderful, long-awaited feature-length adaptation. It's true to the spirit of these beloved characters: you get all the expected Rube Goldberg-like contraptions, delightfully bad puns, Wallace cheese-worshiping and the most dynamic facial expressions you'll ever see on a silent clay canine. Here, it all comes together in a sly, genuinely thrilling homage to THE WOLF MAN. Practically each frame is packed with inventive, blink-or-you'll-miss-them sight gags and typically droll British humor that may appeal to adults more than children, but it never feels condescending or cheap like many American animated films that employ similar tactics. The two big celebrity voices (Helena Bonham Carter as the desired heroine, Ralph Fiennes as the dastardly villain) also fit in perfectly without seeming like distractions. Sympathetic to both googly-eyed rabbits and the oversized vegetables they desire, this just edges out TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE for the year's best Halloween-friendly stop-motion animated epic. (5/5)


Boy, was I underwhelmed by this. The whole intersecting, mostly unpleasant Los Angeles characters being really awful to each other thing has already been done to death (see the superior SHORT CUTS or MAGNOLIA) and this one repeatedly hits you over the head with the groundbreaking revelation that not only is racism bad, but also as omniscient as ever. Watch to see who finds redemption, and who doesn't! Writer-director Paul Haggis' general idea behind this film is fine, but the execution totally lacks nuance, coming across as shallow as some of the characters. And don't even get me started on some of the most schematic, implausible plot twists you'll ever see. Of course, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, even Ryan frickin' Phillipe are all fine, but if you want to see an insightful, innovative study of race relations, rent Cassavetes' SHADOWS, or NOTHING BUT A MAN, or even DO THE RIGHT THING. (1.5/5)


This Thai film begins as a generally straightforward, refreshingly matter-of-fact gay romance between Keng, a soldier, and Tong, a young man from the provinces. This goes on for about an hour, building up a heady sense of erotic tension and longing until it reaches its breaking point. Then, the screen goes black, a new title appears, and with it, seemingly a whole new film. Set in the Thai jungle, it casts the two leads from the previous half as mythical figures in a traditional, dialog-free, hour-long Thai folk tale. Although knowing the film's structure ahead of time (as I did) may take away some of the surprise, it does make it a little less frustrating to watch. I'm still trying to draw parallels between the two halves and figure out what the director's intent was regarding such structure. But that doesn't make the second half any less visually mesmerizing or atmospherically tense. So, although the whole isn't as intriguing as its parts, I'd recommend this one for more adventurous viewers when it comes out on DVD next month. (4/5)



If you know me, you know I love to make music mixes (and there’s a good chance I’ve made one for you). In an effort to post on a more regular basis, here’s the first in what will (hopefully) be a regular series where I present a mix I’ve made and comment on it. This isn’t exactly a bold new innovation in blogging; the idea is borrowed from Seattle Weekly, which runs a weekly column called CD-R Go! As for “Kriofske Mix”, well, it was what I called one of the first mixes I ever made for a friend. Nearly a decade later, I’m still making mixes for her, and those very words tend to find their way onto them in some fashion. To inaugurate this feature, however, let’s start off with something brand spanking new:

OLD SCHOOL (October 2005; Format: CD-R)

1. Nico, “These Days”
2. Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, “Twisted”
3. Dionne Warwick, “Walk on By”
4. Frank Sinatra, “It Happened In Monterey”
5. Blossom Dearie, “Rhode Island is Famous For You”
6. Dusty Springfield, “Breakfast in Bed”
7. Nina Simone, “Either Way I Lose”
8. Charles Mingus, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”
9. Spanky and Our Gang, “Like to Get to Know You”
10. Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
11. Billie Holiday, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”
12. Ike and Tina Turner, “He’s The One”
13. Louis Jordan, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”
14. Cannonball Adderly, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”
15. Vince Guaraldi, “Peppermint Patty”
16. Ella Fitzgerald, “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues”
17. Keely Smith, “Don’t Take Your Love From Me”
18. Laura Nyro, “Eli’s Comin’”
19. Stevie Wonder, “Creepin’”
20. The Supremes, “It’s Time to Break Down”
21. Julie Covington, “My Silks and Fine Arrays”
22. Chet Baker, “My Funny Valentine”

A quick glance at the artists here and it’s not too hard to figure out the theme: yep, all of these songs were recorded before I was born. One sticky night over the summer, I was thinking it’d be cool to have a mix of older music to play now and then—not necessarily for nostalgia’s sake (or just to see if I had enough good stuff in my collection to do it). Sure, there’s admittedly something cozy and soothing about songs from this thirty-odd year period, but oldies and easy listening radio formats always seem to get it wrong, playing the same, well-worn once-hits into the ground.

That’s why this mix opens with a Nico song, arguably one of the greatest of its era, even though it took THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS to bring it to most people’s attention nearly 35 years later. Obviously, Nico was just a little too unusual (and off-key) for top 40 consumption at the time. In that spirit, I’ve mostly shied away from massive hit singles, apart from Al Green and Dionne Warwick, both of whom will never sound overplayed to these ears.

The remainder shifts between jazz (Mingus, Charlie Brown music from Vince Guaraldi), vocal jazz (Frank, Ella, Billie, Keely), jazz novelties (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’ still-fresh “Twisted”, Blossom Dearie’s definitive take on an endearingly goofy Broadway chestnut), soul jazz (Cannonball Adderly, Nina Simone), soul (a delirious must-hear number from Ike and Tina, a smooth, underplayed one from Stevie), blue-eyed soul (Laura Nyro, Dusty (in Memphis, of course)) and some dependable, middle-of-the-road pop—although “Like to Get to Know You” has that neat, unexpectedly psychedelic final minute, as if someone had begun listening to Jefferson Airplane all of a sudden.

Some selections, like “Walk on By” or “Breakfast in Bed” have been favorites since I can’t remember when; others I’ve rediscovered within the past year, like “Creepin’” and especially Holiday’s ebullient reading of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”. I confess that three selections are discoveries from this music mix; one of them, the Julie Covington song (ice princess rather convincingly asks you to bring her an axe and a spade over a snaking, sinister arrangement) lends a thrilling, ominous edge to Chet Baker’s “My Funny Valentine”, which follows, closing things on a decidedly creepy note. So much for innocuous nostalgia.


JUNEBUG and other films

An adequate-length movie review, and a few tossed-off ones.

Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), owner of a Chicago gallery specializing in outsider art, finds herself very much an outsider when she travels to small town North Carolina to acquire a local artist's work. Coincidentally, George (Alessandro Nivola), her husband of six months (following a seven-day courtship!) grew up nearby, so this allows her to meet her in-laws and the lifestyle George seemingly couldn't wait to escape.

This isn't exactly a groundbreaking premise for a film; predictably, Madeleine awkwardly clashes with George's family, and it's difficult to get a handle on either her or George or why they're even together in the first place (apart from lust). But director Phil Morrison depicts this milieu without any contempt or satire, observing rather than criticizing. He expertly employs silences as poetic interludes and uses snatches of local color (the film opens with a startling, intriguing non-sequitur) that give the film a real sense of place, the setting as predominant and felt as some of the characters.

As Ashley, George's very pregnant, young sister-in-law, Amy Adams gives a powerful, fearless performance. As if she stepped out of a Mike Leigh film, Adams at once is abrasive yet totally engaging, desperately craving Madeleine's friendship and worldliness yet entirely genuine in her own self and intentions. She also has a scene near the end that's just heartbreaking. See this film for her.

A solid advance on director Eytan Fox's slight but well-meaning YOSSI AND JAGGER. Exploring modern Israeli-German relations, male bonding and good old-fashioned guilt, it's never heavy-handed and only sporadically melodramatic. Arrives at too tidy a conclusion, but it takes many revealing little detours in getting there.

It takes a long time for this indie quirk-fest to get going (just around the time the main character's Ritalin kicks in). Tilda Swinton is expectedly great in suburban mother mode, but who knew Vince Vaughn could be charmingly restrained as a high school debate teacher or that Vincent D'Onofrio could show restraint, period? I still detest The Polyphonic Spree, and the movie's point is so obvious it's fitting that Keanu Reeves should spell it all out for you in the end. But that doesn't mean the film's a waste of time.

He should stick to stuff like this over not entirely necessary remakes, which is not to say I didn't enjoy CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. But this is altogether more creative and wicked, a better testament to the macabre invention that should always so effortlessly pour out of him. Includes a who's-who of wonderfully-distinctive Brits providing the vocal talent. The director's best since... ED WOOD?

At the very least, this has much more to say about pornography and censorship than THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT ever did, but the real money shot here is the phenomenon itself: how a ridiculous blue movie (supposedly) grossed $600,000 and transformed public perception of porn. Still, it left me wondering what relevance, if any, the original film has today.

Hungarian film set entirely in the Budapest subway system. Shows that being a ticket inspector is one of the most thankless, least effective jobs imaginable. Features a female character who's usually dressed in a bear costume. Dark, stylish (the film rarely looks less than stunning), scrappy, scabrously funny and occasionally grand, it's one of the better TRAINSPOTTING knockoffs I've seen.