Monthly Archives: October 2012

We Still Care: A Conversation with Rhett Miller of Old 97s

Old 97s play their best album, 1997’s “Too Far to Care,” at the 9:30 Club tonight. Miller is second from the left.

Formed in Dallas in 1993, the alt-country act Old 97s combines the heart-tugging wordplay of Townes van Zandt with the attack of The Clash. After a couple of indie releases in the mid-90s, the group were the beneficiaries of a bidding war, signing with Elektra Records. Their major-label debut, 1997’s Too Far to Care, remains their best and best-loved album. Despite retaining a substantial following — their show at the 9:30 Club tonight is sold out — the group never reached the level of stardom their big label demanded. Since 2004, they’ve been recording for the New West label.

Their current tour supports a 15th anniversary reissue of Too Far to Care, which they’re playing in its entirety in sequence, along with a selection of other songs. I spoke with singer-songwriter Rhett Miller (whose career as a solo artist runs parallel to that of his band) by phone about the quest for perfect setlist, the excesses of major label recording contracts and the perils of singing songs you wrote at 25 when you’re 42.

This interview appears today on the Washington City Paper’s Arts Desk. Continue reading

Digging in the Dirt

Holly Twyford and Natlia Payne.

In today’s City Paper, I review the second entry in the Studio Theatre’s Lab Series for new plays, Bryony Lavery’s Dirt. She wrote the masterfully chilling unsettling kiddie-killer drama Frozen, which played at Studio back in 2006. She also wrote Beautiful Burnout, a boxing play that I’m eager to see because, well, I like stories that involve boxing for the same reason I love to box: metaphors for the bruising, thrilling experience of life itself don’t come any clearer.

I was a big admirer of Studio’s production of the first Studio Lab show, Duncan Macmillian‘s Lungs, which was at Studio at this time last year. Dirt has some thematic congruity with that play, but it isn’t quite as surefooted, at least not yet. There’s some wastage. But the good stuff is very good. Holly Twyford elevates everything she’s in and DC newcomer Natalia Payne is an actor I hope we’ll start seeing all over the place. She’s phenom-mana. Continue reading

Read my friend Rachel’s insightful story about objects left at the Vietnam Wall in the new issue of Washingtonian.

Rachel Manteuffel is a writer of upsetting talent. She’s also a good actor. We met when I interviewed her a few years ago for a video I made about a play she was in. But I was already a fan of her writing then. That’s the gift she has that I actually resent and feel threatened by.

​My only consolation is the knowledge — because we’re friends, you see; we talk — that her brilliance is not extempore. She works very, very hard to be this good. She earns it.

…and then she sends you a dashed off, steam-of-consciousness e-mail that’s funnier than anything you’ve ever flushed away a weekend sweating over. Continue reading

She Couldn’t Blame Us: Cat Power at the 9:30 Club, reviewed.

I’m sorry to say that Cat Power’s concert at the 9:30 Club last night was another heart-rending chapter in her sad history as a panicky, fragmented performer. It’s always agonizing to watch someone on stage who clearly doesn’t want to be there. I hope she’ll get the help she needs. The club was sold out, so clearly her fans haven’t abandoned her. Last night’s audience struck me as uncommonly respectful, sympathetic and forgiving. Continue reading

Making-of documentary The Furious Gods reveals the people who actually made Prometheus had no idea WTF, either.

Because I routinely make terrible decisions about how to spend my ever-dwindling supply of time on Earth, I paid $24.99 (50% of MSRP) for the four-disc, 3D Blu-Ray edition of Prometheus, a film I’d harbored huge hopes for but ultimately found disappointing. A Ridley Scott film, in other words.

​I don’t have the gear or the inclination to watch a 3D movie at home, but the deluxe set that includes the 3D version of Prometheus (along with the plain-Jane 2D in three different formats, because what price piece of mind?) is the only way to get The Furious Gods, a three-hour, 40 minute (!) making-of documentary by Charles de Lauzirika, a nonfiction filmmaker whose insightful, well-edited making-ofs for similarly lavish reissues of Scott’s only two great films — all together now, Alien and Blade Runner — have already claimed many irreplaceable hours of my life.

​I’ve yet to make it all the way through the documentary. It’s long, sure, but actually it’s longer, because I’ve been watching in “enhanced mode,” meaning that when an icon appears at the top of the screen I can press a button on my remote and watch an “enhancement pod” — a video footnote, basically — containing even more nerdily trivial information about whatever specific aspect of the film’s conception and production is being discussed at that moment.

When Scott talks about casting original Dragon Tattoo Girl Noomi Rapace in the movie, you can watch her screen test. When production designer Arthur Max reflects on the creation of the movie’s titular spacecraft (which was still called the Magellan for a long time, did you know, even after the Untitled Alien Prequel acquired the name Prometheus), you can click through dozens of drawings and schematics of the ship, which I think that all of us regardless of our political differences can agree is fucking rad. You can even watch an enhancement pod about the film’s many rejected titles. Alien: Tomb of the Gods, anyone? Continue reading

The War on Droogs: Scena Theatre’s A Clockwork Orange, reviewed

Malcolm MacDowell in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film version, which remains upsetting and inescapable.

​Scena Theatre’s production of A Clockwork Orange, using Anthony Burgess’ adaptation of his own 1962 novella, did not make me want to throw up. Reviewed in today’s Washington City Paper. Continue reading

Wherein I return to Pop Culture Happy Hour, and everyone attempts a Schwarzenegger impression except me.

James Bond, in DR. NO (1962) and SKYFALL (2012).

I was delighted to appear on Pop Culture Happy Hour again last week. (Listen here, you.) The show’s A-topic was movie action heroes, inspired by the publication of Arnold Schwarzengger‘s memoir Total Recall (which I’d only half-read prior to taping, on account of its 624-page girth and the fact I’m reading it in tandem with Salman Rushdie‘s equally substantial memoir Joseph Anton) and, I thought, Taken 2 (which I haven’t seen, and won’t, unless it turns up on Encore Action at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday eight months from now).

If they’d asked anyone but me to come discuss this topic, I’d have been crushed like Sarah Connor crushed the T-800’s microprocessor-controlled hyperalloy endoskeleton in a hydraulic press.

It turns out that the first half of Arnold’s book is a lot less annoying than the second half.

Happily, Taken 2 did not come up at all.

624 pages!

I’d come prepared to talk about the evolution of the cinema action hero: How the men (usually) of violence, reluctant or not, whose adventures fill seats around the world grew out of a conflation of the gangster pictures that dominated the 1930s and the westerns of the 40s and 50s. In 1962, James Bond arrives onscreen; by 1969, Bond one-timer George Lazenby is watching Telly Savalas (in his sole appearance as one of the series’ recurring characters, cat-loving Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld) break his neck on a low tree limb during the film’s climactic fight atop a bobbing bobsled (!) and observing, “He’s branched off!” Continue reading