East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

They deserve the Oscar nominations

Helen Mirren: J. Dark pans: "The other thing that critics just love is lead characters who are fundamentally inexpressive, at which point capital-A Actors can haul out their minimalist retinal tics, lip quivers and eyebrow twitches, allowing critics to blather on about how nobody so eloquently indicates a complex inner life with nothing more than a glance, a crinkled earlobe, blah blah blah. We should never have to read that sentence again. Sure, it's a skill: a mildly technical skill that's no more challenging than being appealing or sexy, witty, smart or funny, awful or fearsome." What he doesn't note is that all those final adjectives apply to Mirren's performance here (expect, er, sexy). Point taken: Mirren isn't any better here than in Last Orders, for which she won not much. But still, granted that I've yet to see Inland Empire, it's the best 2006 Best Actress-eligible performance by a non-Asian actress I've seen, except for...

Meryl Streep: Her relaxed banter with Lily Tomlin in A Prairie Home Companion suggest she's finally relearned to be warm. But don't worry: she's still a terrific supervillain. Any other actress playing that role with an eye on Oscar would work in at least one screaming fit. Streep has the confidence in her ability (and reputation) to destroy minions at normal volume. Two caveats: she couldn't carry Anne Hathaway to a good performance (Hathaway knows when to roll her eyes and when to pout, but she's awkward compared to the rest of the cast; hey, why didn't Emily Blunt get nommed?), and she couldn't redeem the movie's product placement (Miranda a Starbucks drinker? Come on.)

Forest Whitaker: If you're a black actor who wants Oscar attention, your role options are saint, monster, cop, convict, musician, athlete. More than one of these would be better; given this, it's surprising Denzel's never played a singer. Whitaker only uses one option -- monster -- and really runs with it. Unlike Streep, he shouts -- a lot -- but he's also charismatic, even seductive in his evilness.

Other justifiable nominations: those for Letters from Iwo Jima (first Eastwood joint I haven't had serious problems with), Paul Greengrass (!), Marky Mark.

Probably deserving, will see them soon: Pan's Labyrinth (the Foreign Film list is unusually relevant), Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, Pretty Old Tool in Venus.


Monday, January 22, 2007

How the hell did The Departed win the Film Comment poll?

OK, when you watched Infernal Affairs, maybe you had a migraine, or your wife had just left you, or the couple behind were slinging Cantonese slapdowns at Andy Lau. I can understand how an individual could prefer The Departed to Infernal Affairs. But for a group as learned as the Film Commentators to anoint The Departed as 2006's top dog, when two years ago Infernal Affairs placed 34th, is bewildering. They showed the whole trilogy at the NYFF that year, so you'd think most of their writers would've seen it, and if any electorate could compare fairly movies in different languages, it'd be this one.

This is the kind of oddity that leads me to distrust the demonstrably useful auteur theory. Or maybe it's just that a lot of Film Comment's writers wouldn't know good acting if Tony Leung held a gun to their heads.

The end-of-year poll with the most impressive list of participants was the LA Weekly's (they even nabbed Manohla Dargis, usually barred by the Times from participating in such things); perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, they were also the only poll to crown the correct winner.

CLARIFICATION: The Departed is a pretty good movie, despite that final shot that's hopefully a gag but more likely is mindwipingly banal, and Nicholson adds to more scenes than he wrecks. I'd even go as far as to hope Marty gets his Oscar for this, if only because Clint owes him one.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What I learned yesterday

Video games do make people violent.


Friday, January 19, 2007

You know you care about movies too much when...

getting (semi-)fired is only the second-most distressing experience of your week, behind dealing with a non-functional video screen on your trans-Pacific flight.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

With 30 days to go before Satantango,

the best anagram I've found for it is "Gnat Sonata".


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Top ten: Talkin' loud and sayin' nothing

  1. Joanna Newsom, "Emily": Newsom's knack for lyrics has little to do with meaning; rather, it has something to do with mood and more with sound. Her use of similar-sounding words, and words that can me made to sound similar, is as clever as the best rappers can claim. So I forgive her "thee"s. Don't know about her "hydrocephalitic".
  2. Tom Waits, "Road to Peace": It begins with a teenage suicide bomber and end with a lost God. It may not be hard to capture the horror of the Israeli-Palestianian coflict, and to condemn American policy in relation to it. It's another thing to quote Kissinger on the subject; still another to have the first act of violemnce occur on King George Ave, Jerusalem.
  3. Clipse, "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)": Just when the Neptunes beat, with its same damn drum break floating over the top again and again, is sounding like a classic, Malice spits "the family close knit and deep like the Hutu, you cockroaches." You'd worry -- if this didn't suggest he's watched Hotel Rwanda, and if he didn't say "cockroaches" in his best Tony Montana accent. If only all assholes were so well-informed, and so insincere.
  4. The Klezmatics, "Hanuka Dance": The Klezmatics end the giggliest of seasonal party albums with a post-prandial unwinding: sit on the floor and watch the kids dance. Lorin Sklamberg turns in yet another classic vocal, employing the most delicate of passagios. As full of blissful warmth as chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
  5. Bobby Pinson, "Don't Ask Me How I Know": I put Pinson's Man Like Me album at #37 on my 2005 list; its wisdom seemed obvious it took me a couple of years to discover it wasn't. This song implies the narrator knows through experience, which mustn't be true. Don't ask Bobby, he's just the songwriter.
  6. Hot Chip, "Over and Over": Note how each spelled-out word is one letter shorter than the last: makes more sense than cinquains, let alone English-language haiku. Nerd flirting at its finest.
  7. Dengue Fever, "We Were Gonna": Cambodian psychedelic rock was extinguished by the Khmer Rouge; this SoCal-based revival band was nearly wiped out by the INS, who jailed their singer for overstaying. Now legal, their new found fascination with Ethiopique funk makes them a little too El Lay, but in small doses they kick out the multiculti jams like nobody.
  8. Joanna Newsom, "Sawdust & Diamonds": The lines may be a couple of feet or a clutch of anapests. Almost every one rises and falls in one breath, beginning in front of the beat and ending behind it.
  9. Nâdiya ft. Smartzee, "Tous ces mots": What French pop has that Anglophone pop lacks: roaring engines. Neither form wants for guitar thumps and bad rapping, but rarely do both appear in one song.
  10. The Roots, "False Media": Black Thought is the latest hip-hopper to have something inside him snapped by Repbulican rule. Jumping off a line from "Don't Believe the Hype", he raps from the POV of GWB, and the psychology is unconvincing largely because of his character's awareness.
Ten more: Camille, "Ta Douleur"; Ornette Coleman, "First Meeting" and "Matador"; Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, "How Do I Let a Good Man Down?"; Mastodon, "Sleeping Giant"; P.O.S. ft. Craig Finn, "Safety in Speed"; Bernardo Sassetti Trio, "Refleos/Mov Contrario um dia/Atraves do vidro"; Irene Schweizer & George Lewis, "First Meeting"; Bill Sheffield, "I Don't Hate Nobody"; Tokyo Police Club, "Citizens of Tomorrow".

I wish it were 1980 so she wouldn't be born yet: Sandi Thom.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

We need a resolution

Note: the following entry is even more self-serving than usual. You really should be reading Greg Tate's eulogy for James Brown, even more staggering than the one he wrote for Richard Pryor.

My primary New Year's Resolution is simple: get to know the Nineties better. They should have been my formative years, and technically they were, but I spent most of them sulking. I barely went into a movie theatre, rarely bought albums that weren't in the $2 bin at Real Groovy, and only read what I was assigned. Some things I've caught up on, others I haven't. This year, then.

My secondary resolution is to knock off the top of my list of movies I should be embarrassed I've haven't seen. Here are a few (omitting others I really am embarrassed I've haven't seen):

Andrei Rublev
Barry Lyndon

The Conformist
The Mirror
The Night of the Hunter
Rio Bravo
La Strada

Thirdly, learn to cook properly. This should also be fun, though harder.