Category Archives: apocalypse

Before I Lose the Minutiae

NEA Fellows in Los Angeles, April 24, 2009

Aw, Hell, it’s already gone.

It’s been six days since my NEA Fellowship wrapped up in Los Angeles with ace program director Sasha Anawalt dancing to U2’s “Beautiful Day” (twice) while making her closing remarks to me and my 22 new best friends from media outlets around the country. The program was a 11-day motion blur spent talking about the nature and purpose of Art, and criticism, with journalists and theatre artists; of sobering reports of arts journalists (including many of the ones in the room) losing their jobs; of experiencing theatre; of being schooled in writing, but also in dancing and acting; of critiquing each other’s written work; of being isolated in a fancy hotel together; eating together; being bussed everywhere together; and of drinking together every night, accumulated sleep-dep and looming deadlines be damned.

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Watch-day!

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I’m going to see Watchmen at midnight , and I can’t wait. Actually, that statement is demonstrably false, because I’ve been waiting for this movie ever since I read (retired?) DC Comics Publisher Jeanette Kahn’s “Direct Currents” column about a potential film adaptation of Watchmen back in the late 80s.

I was excited when I read in the long-defunct Fantagraphics-published fanzine Amazing Heroes that Sam Haam had written a screenplay that actually improved upon the one (arguable) flaw of Moore and Gibbons’ 12-issue maxi-series: it’s 1950’s The Day the Earth Stood Still-style denouement. (I hear that an alteration to the ending has survived all the subsequent drafts and years of development hell, though only the Writers’ Guild knows whether the finished film’s ending was Haam’s.)

I was excited when Terry Gilliam was going to direct it, even though his own revision of the screenplay purportedly sucked worse than the film version of Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If anybody could get this thing onscreen intact, I figured, the guy who made Brazil could do it.

I was excited again, ten-plus years later, when Paul Greengrass was going to do it. (Though Cloverfield is probably a fair indication of what a Greengrass-shot Watchmen would have looked like.)

I was skeptical when I heard Zack Snyder, he of the-shot-by-shot adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, had won the gig. I haven’t seen 300, but I gather it was mostly about a bunch of CGI-hardbodies wrestling in Matrix-like slow-motion. But when I read about the faithfulness and commitment with which Snyder was translating Moore and Gibbons’ sprawling masterpiece for the movies — keeping it set in alternate 1985, casting non-stars, allowing for a near-three-hour theatrical-cut run time (three-plus for DVD) and, crucially, an R-rating — I began to get excited again.

In about seven hours, I’ll be watching the movie. Sometime after that, though possibly not right away, I’ll know whether Snyder and screenwriter David Hayter succeeded. I’ve tried to avoid reading the mainstream critics’ notices, though I did weaken and read David Edelstein’s review in New York, which articulated nicely my reservations about Snyder.

I believe this much, though: Snyder tried — really tried — to make something great. Or at least to be faithful to something great.

Orson Welles, who made three brilliant films and many more failures, said it takes as much hard work to make a bad movie as it does to make a good one. But William Goldman, who’s had more commercial success than Welles but never improved upon The Princess Bride, said that most movies aren’t even meant to be any good.

Watchmen, I have faith, was meant to be good. And now, we’ll see.

Wagon of Sorrow: Theater of War at SILVERDOCS

John Walter’s brilliant documentary, reviewed for DCist.

UPDATE 6/26/08: I got a nice e-mail about the review from Theatre of War director/editor John Walter, who reports that he is shopping the film around for a distributor. Best of luck to you, John! It’s a great documentary, and it deserves as wide a release as it can get.

John also sent this cool one-sheet image:

Will There Be Blood?

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Aye, There Will Be Blood.

I saw this a week-and-a-half ago and I’m still thinking about it every day. Paul Thomas Anderson’s enigmatic and enigmatically-named film – his first since the sweet-but-slight Punch-Drunk Love half a decade ago – is a maddening, beguiling but hugely satisfying meal of a movie, bold and unknowable. Is it a picture whose self-possessed greatness will echo down the ages? Your guess is as good as mine. Anderson’s films — Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia round out his resume; he’d made all three before he was 30, the prodigious bastard — tend to give up their secrets only upon much reflection. More than any other filmmaker of his generation, even fellow visionaries like Wes Anderson, Todd Solondz, Alfonso Cuaron, or Guillermo Del Toto, you go to an Anderson film fully expecting to be interpreting it for a long time afterward.

There Will Be Blood is, without question, a great cinematic experience, visceral and absorbing. Anderson’s filmmaking has reached full maturity, and in Daniel Day-Lewis, Anderson has found his ideal onscreen alter ego, an actor as deliberate and mesmerizing as he is. As Daniel Planview, the self-described “oilman” whom we meet in 1898, as he sacrifices (in the film’s wordless, economically told first sequence) his health to extract the earth of its riches (gold, until he discovers something better), Day-Lewis is ferocious.

As with his performance in Martin Scorcese’s much-maligned 2002 Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis treads the line of parody here, talking, for some reason, like John Huston in Chinatown even before his character’s grasp on sanity and and reason begins to erode.

Reports of my influence . . .

eagles.jpg. . . would doubtless be greatly exaggerated if they existed at all. Repent, Ye Sinners, because it can’t be long now: The Eagles’ stunningly craptacular Wal-Mart-exlcusive double album Long Road Out of Eden sold 711,000 copies its first week, which in this waning era of the traditional record business qualifies as a massive hit.Let’s put that in perspective: Bruce Springsteen’s Magic, released four weeks before the Eagles opus, sold 77,000 in its debut frame. The Eagles album is an abomination, a heinous crime against taste, and also the best-selling “rock” album of 2007. Henley, Frey, & Co. were the beneficiaries of a rule change at Billboard that that allowed Long Road to be included on the Billboard 200 chart even though it’s not available from all retail outlets.Previously, exclusive releases had been barred from the Billboard 200, which is why Britney was supposed to win the week, having moved not quite 300k units of her “comeback” disc. One can’t imagine that the bafflingly positive tenor of the reviews (save for mine, The Guardian‘s, and the Sound Opinions guys’) had much to do with Long Road‘s popularity among Wal-Mart shoppers, though the $11.88 price tag probably did. After all, that’s a bargain, right? Twenty new — okay, kind of new, not counting the lead-off single from 1972 and the Joe Walsh song from the 1995 soundtrack album to RoboCop: The Series — for under $12. You can’t afford not to buy it!I especially like the paragraph-three quote in the LiveDaily story from Gary Severson, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of Entertainment, about notifying the RIAA immediately to certify the album’s “multi-platinum status.” Yo, Gary: 711,000 does not equal two million. I’m sure they’ll get there the day after Thanksgiving if not before, but you’re jumping the gun a little, Pal. (Check their excellent values on guns in the Sporting Goods section, by the way.)

Go!, Team, Go!

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Filed under “superheroes” because of the guy at Tuesday night’s Go! Team show (which I reviewed for the Paper of Record) with the excellent Flash costume. A disappointingly small number of concertgoers were costumed overall.

Review springs into unmolested action immediamente!

“The time has come for the Go! Team to find out what you Americans are all about!” declared a not-at-all-out-of-breath Ninja, sinewy MC of the Go! Team, late in the (mostly) British hip-pop collective’s 70-minute workout at the 9:30 club Tuesday night. She had already achieved the rare feat of inciting a 9:30 crowd to dance; what more could she want? A: More, faster, wilder dancing. Many in attendance seemed to have flowed over from the High Heeled Race on 17th Street, contributing to the gig’s carnivalesque atmosphere.

But the surreal vibe came mostly from the music, an ever-accelerating aural motion blur that piled sextuple-dutch loops of playground chants atop 70s cop-movie horns (played on keyboards), and layered that over traditional rock-combo instrumentation, with the odd recorder or banjo thrown into the mix.

The Go-mandatory-exclaimaition-point-Team’s six-strong, multi-national touring lineup must be exactly what founder Ian Parton was imagining as he Pro-Tooled together their debut album, “Thunder Lightning Strike,” in his Brighton bedroom a few years ago: Two drummers, two guitarists, a bassist, all swapping instruments periodically just, you know, because. He couldn’t have banked on finding a frontwoman like Ninja — essentially Angela Bassett-as-Tina Turner-as-high school gym coach. (Bassett, we say, because she can’t sing like Tina, but she sure can shout.) Parton seems to relish his man-behind-the-curtain role: Onstage, he ceded the spotlight to Ninja and Japanese guitarist-vocalist Kaori Tsuchida, surely for the best.

As with the group’s two albums, the show offered up the musical equivalent of Pixy Stix, sweet but insubstantial. By the closing one-two punch of “Doing It Right” and “Titantic Vandalism,” Halloween had arrived, granting us all license to make a meal of the candy we’d been served. Fun, sticky stuff, but once a year is plenty.

Catch as Catch-All Can

2007_1001_jonlangford.jpgJon Langford is a much more jovial and approachable cat than he appears in this photo.

Well, once again I’ve done a bang-up job of keeping you, my adoring public, up-to-date on the latest additions to my ever-swelling bibliography.

It’s already been a week since I reviewed that good-but-not-quite great Rilo Kiley show for DCist. I heard night two was better. Jenny Lewis, I am sad to report, while plenty toothsome, is not quite as fetching in real life as she appears in this photo. She sounded great, though

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My interview with original mekon, Waco Brother, Pine Valley Cosmonaut and Waco Brother Jon Langford appeared on Monday. It got cut down a bit from its original, arguably more self-aggrandizing incarnation, so I may post the unabridged version here. The mekons show at Jammin’ Java that night was just swell; 11o or so minutes of mostly-acoustic mekes, including a big batch from the new Natural LP as well as reworked classics like “Hard to Be Human Again,” “The Curse,” a Sally Timms-sung version of “The Letter,” and “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem.” Langford signed my copy of Nashville Radio for me afterwards.

p-j-harvey.jpgMy so-so review of P.J. Harvey’s White Chalk ran Tuesday in the Paper of Record. I seem to be breaking with the critical cognoscenti on this one; nearly everyone else loves it. I think it’s, you know, good for when you’re a certain type of mood. Solitary. Despondent. Sylvia Plath. I try not to spend a lot of my life in that mood.

That afternoon, I got some nice props from a reader (and from J. Freedom du Lac his own bad, bald self) during the Freedom Rock web-chat — about my Elvis Costello review from four-plus months ago! It reads like I planted it myself; check it out. (For the record, I didn’t join the chat until later, to make the case for Tunnel of Love being as strong a Bruce Springsteen album as Born to Run or Nebraska.)
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And my Bat Boy review is up today.

Tomorrow I’m talking to Josh Ritter. Watch this space for out-of-date announcements!