Movie Monday! #4: Making-This-Quick-Because-I'm-Packing-For-New-York Edition

I'm moving to Brooklyn and don't really have the time to write a bunch of movie reviews right now because I'm packing. Please enjoy the severely underrated kung-fu gem and Wu-Tang Clan inspiration Eight Diagram Pole Fighter in its entirety, in lieu of my musings this week. The kills at the end are some of the best in movie history.




Madvillain - Accordion

After a few stoned nights trying to freestyle with friends it occurs to me that Doom is showing off here. As he crafts a vague picture of the king of gangsters his rhyme scheme slips in and out of wild complexity in a way that only the most virtuosic could do with any style, and it's presented such a laid back ease as if he saying "this ain't even shit for me, I write this in my sleep." He starts by rhyming "ticks faster" with "sick blaster" leaning back on a half rhyme, mid line "Dick Dasterdly" (a 1960's cartoon reference) and right onto "sick laughter" and "mix master" before finally handing off to another sound. From there it's "E cold" to "be old" rhymed with "three fold" to another mid line half rhyme "he sold scrolls" straight into "behold" and then "story told". At this point he puts in third mid line rhyme "glory gold" but the end of the line starts the next sound, as if the "be old" rhyme was tagging off in boxing match. He meanders in off beat rhymes, twisting them around like they're toys, even pulling self-indulgent winks like rhyming "Freudian" with "accordion" while dropping his act and slipping into playful couplets. It reminds me of old painters needing to craft a masterful self portrait to show their skills for entry into a guild. But Doom needs no such acceptance because he's well aware that he's in a league all his own.

Belle and Sebastian - Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying

The first stanza was always a counter to arguments that this band was just empty sentimentality, when they are, in fact, harsh bitterness cloaked in sardonic catchiness. This song spews tails about the young scottish hipsters, how they seem so alive and happy and good looking and how the world is going to hit the like a fucking truck. "Think of it this way you could either be successful or be us". A take on the young beautiful/doomed theme, sure, but you start to get the sense that he doesn't even think him and his peers are all that beautiful, that he hates everyone, that his catchiness and good looks, that his smile is purely to mock you.

Evian Christ - Fuck It None of Y'all Rap

Taking hip-hop out of context and making it feel lost, alone. Floating in an empty space of loneliness and letting it flail. But of course, still with a heavy hitting beat pounding on your head, perfect for the car stereos late at night, to creep out the hoodlums roaming the streets of your neighborhood. They should know better.

Drive Like Jehu - Here Come The Rome Plows

Sometimes, as young kids in america, we forget how angry we should be. Especially now, as everything is telling us to be complacent, to not mosh as concerts because it's vulgar and our friends will get kicked and annoyed, when every raging liberal we know is more concerned with the nomenclature for various sexual identities than they are concerned with actually helping curb the oppression. We forget that people are being killed and crushed economically. We forget that our forests are being leveled and our concert venues are being raided by police. We forget that we are no longer allowed to sleep in the woods when we want to, to sit on our sidewalks or go to our public parks past 11. We forget that it takes the first one hundred hours of work at our minimum wage jobs just to pay rent on our tiny sublets, and we don't get sick days. And even at that we are the lucky ones, so many have it so much worse. That we just live our lives everyday with this knowledge. We forget that we are angry, angry, angry, angry, raging.

Burial - Kindred

Today there were thunderstorms in new york city and we live mixed them with this track.



Disposable Music

A few years ago me and my younger sister were crashing on the couch of a Harvard Graduate student in Cambridge. Though he was a remarkably accommodating host, he didn't have much time to show us around this unfamiliar as most of his time was committed to research and writing papers. I remember reclining in his living room reading some Wilde stories I had found on his shelf and hearing a stream of shuffled indie pop/folk/etc flow out of his room where he hunched over his desk. It was delightful. I had recently discovered the sugary joys of the New Pornographers and Apples in Stereo, not to mention a still constant flow of deeply effecting bands like Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and The Shins, and found myself sitting there thinking, Damn, this stuff is amazing. There is so much wonderful indie pop in the world, I could just listen to it all the time, forget everything else. Look at how interesting and tuneful all of these sounds coming out of his stereo are. I listened closer. Occasionally I'd recognize something, So Says I and Young Folks, and more often I knew enough to place a band without having really listened to them before, Devotchka, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but most of the time they were the kind of unimportant but delightful bands that swarmed the scene at the time.

And through this closer listening I realized that most of the music coming out of his speakers was not that good. Most of it was derivative and catchy in an uninteresting way. Each song would use an instrument in a way I hadn't previously heard, sure, but had none of the power and depth of the great songs of the genre. There would be no, say, "Seeing Other People" or "I Woke Up Today". These songs were great, and the mix was superb, but they were disposable.

One blizzard and three days later I get back to New York and sit down to make a tape of indie pop songs that would be as amazing to listen too as the MA student's, but with only incredible songs. Only songs with the catchiness and the orchestrative playfulness but also containing incredible depth and power. Only the "I Am Warm + Powerful"s and "Death By Misadventure"s of the world. And I realized that I couldn't do it.  All told I had maybe ten or fifteen albums of indie pop that I loved wholeheartedly and to make this flow of music I would need so much more than that. And that perhaps the brilliance of the Cambridge mix outshone the dullness of each of its tracks individually. It created an emotion and continuity that couldn't be gained by a list of unique and striking songs. Perhaps the whole was greater than its parts.

This was the first time I ever understood the benefit of disposable music, worth in a scene that goes beyond worth in individual bands. This is perhaps a particularly internet age phenomena as previously mixes took hours to make, not to mention the expense of buying so many records in order to create this wash of music. Now with internet streaming and shuffle it's a natural way of hearing this. And it opens up worlds.

The ambient music scene is buzzing (/pun) like it never has previously, if there even ever was an ambient scene before. And though I doubt I could point you to many individuals that have blown my mind (besides, perhaps, Sean McCann and Noveller ) a quick stroll though bandcamp or youtube will show you few stand outs but and incredible wave of music that could bring wonder and definition to every summer afternoon. The same holds uniquely true for the worlds of dubbed out bass music and instrumental hip hop beats and free mix tapes, and certainly of the streams of violent garage bands and surf rockers and synth-pop textureists swarming the Brooklyn scene today.

It goes almost exactly against the Post-Punk ideal of forward forward forward and, at the end of the day, you probably won't be finding things that change your life. But with everything going on in the United States underground music oceans these days I've found brilliance in the whole what I couldn't find in its parts.


Oh no Animal Collective oh my God what have you done

Jesus Christ in heaven this is some impossibly horrible album art. Good God I can't even believe a human being created this and put it on the cover of something. I can sort of believe that Animal Collective would approve it since they seem like the kind of people who would be like "this is horrible which is why I like it," but that doesn't excuse whoever made this thing. Nothing can excuse that person. That person poured acid in a child's eyes, from a beaker, so you know that they didn't just trip while holding a box of acid. You know it wasn't an accident, that which caused that little girl's tortured shrieks. They wanted that child's eyes to melt and seep down her chubby little cheeks in puddles of searing ocular fluid and they should go to jail.

I guess that's the long and short of it, is that whoever drew this should go to jail. Maybe not for a very long time, maybe even just a low-security prison. I'm not even saying this should be taken off the stands because your right as an American is to make any stupid and horrible thing you want to as long as it doesn't cause any direct harm to a person. Although even that is debatable because I might have to kill myself after acknowledging that this is an image that could belong on a CD cover. Is that murder? It should be considered murder. Forget what I said before, I'm going to kill myself and the person who made this is responsible and they should be put on death row. Lethal injection. You made the cover for Centipede Hz and you need to die for it. It is the only correct action available to us, in this world that was previously painted in shades of grey. No longer. Centipede Hz is wrong and its creator should be punished under a just society.

I can't even get over this a little bit. Do you ever look at Something Awful's Photoshop Phriday? This is what a Goon would make if the subject was, like, "Deakin is insanely cranky about being left off of Merriweather Post Pavilion and takes his awful revenge." Did Deakin do this? That would make sense, he always seemed like he might do something like this. I mean, I think we all knew this was a possibility, that an indie group would come up with sleeve art that would make even the most egregious Pog blush with discomfort, the same way the men who worked on the Manhattan Project were aware of what an atom bomb would do to a human body, but nobody...nobody could have prepared themselves for this. This is what it must be like to have your arm torn off on a roller coaster. Deep in the back of your mind you always knew that there was the vaguest chance that it could happen, but the pain is as sudden as it is unbearable and in an instant all probabilities disintegrate and reform as moaning ghosts to weave the fabric of horror that your life has turned into and "vaguest chance" becomes "inescapable nightmare." The cover of Centipede Hz is an inescapable nightmare, is the point I'm trying to get across.

You know how sometimes you'll be talking to someone at work that you thought was an alright guy, and then he says something like "I think reverse-racism is the real problem in America today" and you just suddenly want him to lose his job? Not even that so much but to take his job from him, somehow? I want Animal Collective's careers after seeing this album art. I want their children to go hungry, I want the heads of their fathers hung low in shame. I want a formal apology: "We, the men of Animal Collective, apologize for making you look at this for even a second. We had the power to make sure not a lot of people looked at this and we did the opposite by making you look at it, and we can never undo the damage caused by that decision, but we can offer our most sincere condolences for the mental trauma that acknowledging the reality of the cover of Centipede Hz has undoubtedly caused you."

In conclusion, this is the worst image imaginable and I am a worse person for having looked at it, as are you all. Fuck you, Animal Collective. Fuck you for what you have turned us into.


(when not humorously overblowing the mental consequences of terrible album art, I also write the webcomic Boys and Girls in America)


Movie Monday #3: All Prometheus Edition (SPOILERS)


2012; Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba; directed by Ridley Scott

So the numbers are in and not a whole hell of a lot of you took too kindly to Prometheus, relatively speaking. #2 two weekends in a row isn't the kind of success rate that a major blockbuster wants, certainly not one tied to one of the most beloved science fiction films in history. It's a difficult thing for me to parse out, personally, since I thought it was the most important sci-fi movie to come out this decade, but I think it might have a lot to do with expectations. That's not exactly a novel observation where this movie is concerned, but let me explain.

I went to Prometheus with my brother and his assessment of it was that it was fair-to-middling. His reasoning behind this mostly concerned some lazy scripting errors: How the crew of the Prometheus doesn't check the camera feed to see what might have happened to two of their crewmates still stuck down in the ruins, how those same crewmates seem to conveniently forget that they have a map with them that they can use to get out of the ruins, how...well, this Penny Arcade comic does the best job of explaining this one. And so on and so forth. All valid complaints, all notable gaffes that in some way detract from the movie. And with almost any other film, I would have agreed with him that such bungling would make for significant marks against the movie.

Where I think Prometheus skews away from most other sci-fi films in this regard is that it has much, much more going on underneath the surface, to the point that most of the philosophy that one would refer to as being subtextual can probably just go ahead and be referred to as textual. There's already been so much discussed about the themes of childbirth and parricide, how the movie exists as a kind of metaphor for filial aggression. I want to talk about something else.

I want to talk about predators.

There is, to my mind, one message of the movie that comes through even ahead of the stuff about killing your parents and killing your children. Near the end of the film, David quips "Sometimes in order to create, you must first destroy." I think the point of the movie is something a little bit different: We create in order to destroy. Every character in the movie exists to die, or to become an agent of death. The crew of the Prometheus arrives seeking answers, only to awaken long-sleeping weapons of mass destruction. Was this the intention of the Engineers, the purpose outlined for humanity shown on the cave paintings at the beginning of the movie? We don't know; the creature attempts to kill David and the rest of the crew before shambling off to deliver his cache of horror to Earth.

Answers are, at every turn, denied. What did the paintings mean? What were the Aliens created to do, specifically? Was the planet really a military institution, or something even more significant? How did the one Engineer manage to survive when the rest of his colleagues were killed? Why was man made in the first place?

"Why do you hate us so much?"


"Hate" is, of course, not entirely accurate. They have to kill the humans because killing is what you do to things you create. You raise animals to feed upon them. You make bombs to detonate them. You drive a car until you don't, and then you turn it into scrap. They made us and now it's time for us to go away, because that's the kind of decision you get to make when you build something. And it's worth noting that the rule works for the humans too: Elizabeth gives birth to a monster and she, ultimately, gets to use the monster to her own ends, much how despite all his resentment and attempts at sabotage, David is still, by movie's end, a thing to be used. It's a film with about the bleakest mindset I've seen in a major film in years: It posits that man, regardless of their ambitions, is not free from the driving principle of the universe, which is that one lives only and specifically to die.

People went into Prometheus expecting a sci-fi horror movie and instead they got a philosophical treatise about the cosmic, unstoppable death march that is the human experience. You went in being told that you should look to the left while everything of note was going on to the right. Divorced from its hype and marketing, Prometheus may come to be regarded as a truly important movie and, possibly, among the most vital of Ridley Scott's handful of masterpieces. Some movies will be honest with you; very few will tell you to be honest with yourself.

One final note.

Right before the credits, we see the emergence of what is presumably the first Alien to exist. My mom and brother wrote that final scene off as being something the studio stuck in to concretely tie the movie to the Alien franchise. That's probably what it was in practical terms, but I saw it as something more. I don't think it was an accident that we are introduced to the cosmos' greatest killer directly after Elizabeth narrates "My name is Elizabeth, and I'm still searching." We are not only being shown what she has left behind; we are being shown what her travels will always, eventually, lead her to.

Death will come for you until it doesn't have to anymore, and it will get better at what it does until it doesn't have to anymore. All paths, all journeys, lead to the maw of an ultimate predator, one that is without empathy and, most tellingly, without sight. For death, like justice, is blind.


(Besides thinking about movies a lot of people didn't particularly enjoy, CJ also writes the webcomic Boys and Girls in America)



No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.


Here's a picture of a person.

This guy is dead. He played guitar really well, he irrevocably changed the course of popular music from now 'til doomsday, he was a prolific lover and by all accounts a really sweet guy, and forty two years ago he took too many pills and drank too much wine and died. He's not on earth anymore and he's never going to be here again, because that's what it means to be dead. It means you're not alive anymore and you can't be alive anymore.

Here's a picture of another person.

This guy is dead. He sang in a way that inspired a lot of vocalists that came after him, he defined a lot of the poetic attributes that have come to be associated with psychedelia, he was sort of a strange fellow that never really seemed comfortable even as he reached the peak of his success, and forty one years ago something happened that nobody is quite sure of, and he died. He can't breathe anymore and he can't walk anymore and he certainly can't sing anymore. That's what happens when life leaves your body.

We, and by we I mean people, have a big problem with letting things go, and we also have a big problem with assigning dollar worth to intangibles. Technology has developed in such a way that the music industry has been able to create a new avenue of exploiting both of these flaws, by computer engineering a method of putting a gas tank in a corpse and throwing Christmas lights on top of it for purposes of a stage performance. You couldn't have asked Philip K. Dick himself to paint a bleaker, more cynical future of the entertainment industry.

A man approaches you and says that if you give him some money, he'll let you see your dead father again. If you talk to him he won't talk back to you, you can't touch him, but the thing that you're looking at will move like him and sound like him and if you're lucky, for a minute, you might feel like you're spending a moment with the man who raised you. You're not-he's dead and he can't come back-but this thing may lead you to imbibe a moment of connection because, on the surface, it's similar to something you're familiar with and something that means a lot to you.

A man approaches you and says that if you give him some money, he'll let you see your favorite performer. There will be no lungs in his form to sing from and if you throw something at him it will pass through the image that your eyes have trained you to register as a human body, but the thing you're looking at will move like him and sound like him and if you're lucky, for a minute, you might feel like you're in the presence of the artist who has most inspired you. You're not-he's dead and he can't come back-but this thing you're looking at may lead you to imbibe a moment of awe because, on the surface, it's similar to something you're familiar with and something that means a lot to you.

A thing, by any conceivable standard, is not a person. Jimi Hendrix can go on stage and play the guitar and preform for you. A hologram of Jimi Hendrix may be able to present a reasonably convincing facsimile of such but it is at best an afterglow of a person who has not been alive for almost half of a century and at worst a mockery of one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. And it is a mockery because buying a ticket to see a hologram of Jimi Hendrix is a signal that you care about what he represented more than what he was, that the idea of him is more important than who he was as a human being. And it makes you forget that he was a person at all, that the sounds heard on Are You Experienced? or Band of Gypsies did not spring fully-formed from a mystical sonic womb but were composed and created and preformed by men like you and me, with fingers and throats and minds to guide them. And that's exactly what they want; the companies can sell you the music but they can't sell you the man himself. Or at least, they didn't used to be able to.

This is happening. We didn't really know it was happening when they produced a synthetic Tupac Shakur and paraded him through the desert; some of us were able to fool ourselves into believing that it would be a vulgar one-time stunt with no hope for marketable longevity. But what we have told the record companies, in overwhelming numbers, is that a person's visage matters more than their material, as long as it is a man that we have some fond connection towards. We have said that the content of an action matters so much less than the representation of such. We have told them that we are fine with memories of things that never happened, and that nostalgia is as good or better than the experience that inspired it in the first place.

We have embraced the dreams, and forsaken the dreamers.



El-P- Cancer for Cure

May 22, 2012; Fat Possum Records

"I should have stayed asleep, waking up can get you killed"

... so a lot has happened since El Producto's last album, 2007's mighty opus I'll Sleep When You're Dead. A new President in the White House. The war in Iraq coming to an end (more or less). A financial crash and worldwide recession that still has everyone in a slump four years later. Bin Laden's death.  And Def Jux going on hiatus in 2010, just as a new and promising wave of hip-hop stumbled onto the scene.

Five years later, though, and most of the ol' bullshit is still hanging over our heads--Orwellian doublespeak, drone strikes on TV, TSA strip searches, domestic wiretapping, a failing war, a country split in two squabbling over the same political garbage while the same fat wallets get ever fatter.

Welcome to the New Normal, that 24/7 fog of overstimulated paranoia, creeping poverty and angry helplessness. And one Jaime Meline is very, very pissed off about it.

 "Kids sing along, this is all we have left bitch, sing a song"

That's not to say Cancer for Cure represents a retread for him. If anything can be said about El-P it's that he's one of the most forward-looking producer/MC's in the genre, and this album is the culmination of nearly twenty years behind the boards and the mic. The usual roster of Def Jux regulars--Aesop Rock, Cage, Mr. Lif, Vast Aire, et al--are out, but the replacements more than hold their own. Killer Mike, still rolling hard after his breakout success from this year's R.A.P. Music, drops in on "Tougher Colder Killer" alongside Despot. The bangin' centerpiece "Oh Hail No" has both a ground level, rhythm-in-your-bones verse from Mr. Motherfuckin' eXquire and a thoroughly ill blast of coked up imagery from Danny Brown that will have many heads rushing out to pick up last year's XXX (if they haven't already). Nick Diamonds provides a sublime, hazily crooned hook on late album highlight "Stay Down."

El-P's been keeping up. Worlds away from his halting and occasionally disjointed flow on first solo Fantastic Damage, the triple-time of "Request Denied" will leave jaw-shaped holes in the floor. However he hasn't traded an ounce of lyrical venom, and there are an elliptical flurry of bitter and incisive punchlines that will leave everyone within earshot puckering. From the overcaffinated Tropic Thunder-referencing (among other things) lead single "The Full Retard" to the sick interrobang of "Sign Here," El's dark worldview never wavers but has picked up extra layers of sarcasm and humor on the way through a miserable half-decade.

"To the mother of my enemy, I just killed your son"

But as usual, El-P's greatest asset are his beats, jammed full of dissonant piano hits, grimy loops, bent synths and droning klaxons, an aesthetic that still hasn't gotten stale--and these are some of the best he's ever dropped.

Residing somewhere between the stutter-step cyberpunk bangers of Fantastic Damage and the iron galaxy sprawl and industrialized funk of his last album, taking the best aspects of both and ramping up the aggression, Cancer for Cure's backdrop forms a perfectly grimy synthesis with the razor tongue screeds--abstract and exotic enough to retain the spaced vibe of old, but organic textures like the wounded animal horn skronks of "Stay Down" and the crashing jazzy percussion behind "Drones Over BKLYN"'s verses keep things primal and raw.

"You cannot throw me in the briar patch, bitch, that's where I live" 

Cancer for Cure's greatest moment arrives in the form of eight minute closer "$4 Vic/ FTL (Me & You)"--a rant styled similarly to I'll Sleep When You're Dead's "Poisenville/No Wins," El dedicates the album to fallen Def Jux labelmate Camu Tao (from lung cancer in 2008) and then proceeds to tear through that beat like raw steak and fucking dismantle all of society's dross with a hard focus worth more than a dozen lesser MC's. It's a triumph, one of the greatest things I've heard in a long time.

No one does this better right now on the bleeding edge of hip-hop, and if this album has disappointed anyone, they aren't listening hard enough.

"And I can no longer contain what's under my disguise, I've always had the cancer for the cure, that's what the fuck am I"

Pump this shit like they do in the future.


Movie Monday! #2

The Long Good Friday

1980; Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Derek Thompson, Bryan Marshall, Eddie Constantine; directed by John Mackenzie 

This is an interesting one in that it's one of those seemingly pretty rare films that's a very good movie just by virtue of being a very good movie. You know what I mean? Like, the story is engaging, the script is well written, the characters are interesting, the performances are top notch, it's well shot...just basic things that you need from a story-driven film to be able to consider it good. Ambition is always desired, but sometimes you need a movie like this, one that doesn't technically do anything special except to execute the story it's telling to the best of its ability, to remind you that sometimes nothing necessarily needs to be "pulled off" in order for a film to be worth watching or memorable.

One Touch of Venus

1948; Robert Walker, Ava Gardener, Dick Haymes, Olga San Juan, Eve Arden, Tom Conway; directed by William A. Seiter

An avatar of the goddess Aphrodite is kissed on the lips and falls madly in love with a man who is, if not mentally retarded, indistinguishable from such for about 70% of his time on-screen. It's the kind of movie nobody would have any degree of tolerance for if made in 2012, but because it came out in the '40s you have a protagonist whose job is to straighten curtains at a mall (???) and a villain with a tiny mustache who rolls his rs. It sucks by any measurable standard except the standard of "I want to watch something with songs and don't have a lot of time or thought to invest" and the standard of "Ava Gardener in a toga," so what I'm saying is, maybe watch this movie? Probably don't? Elia Kazan's name popped up somewhere in the credits, which I found incredibly unsettling for reasons I'm not able to put my finger on.

Sin Nombre

2009; Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Kristyan Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta Mejia; directed by Cary Fukunaga

I seem to be the only person who had this problem with it, but there's a moment in the last third that was so preposterously stupid and unbelievable as to completely destroy practically any dramatic payoff, which sucks, because oh my God was there a lot of drama to account for. It doesn't "wreck" the movie by any means, because so much of it-the "uno, dos, tres" sequence, Smiley's first kill, the confrontation on the train that any other movie would have used as the denouement-is impossible to ruin. It's absolutely worth watching, but it's also one of those movies that's fantastic right up until it isn't, and it's the kind of flawed gem that sometimes makes you appreciate a movie like The Long Good Friday even more, because there's almost nothing worse in art than having to compromise your enjoyment of something that should have, by all rights, completely blown you away.

Sawdust and Tinsel

1953; Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ake Gronberg, Hasse Ekman, Anders Ek; directed by Ingmar Bergman

This movie has a reputation as being more worth watching as an important film in Bergman's growth as a director than on its own merits as a film, which is a damn shame considering it's every bit as vital and disarming as his later films. Much like Bergman's other movies, it's about selfishness and failure, but brought to more of a public eye-these characters are career fools, but that doesn't save them, it certainly doesn't redeem any of them. It's hard to write about Bergman's films if you don't have any kind of film schooling because so much of why these movies are as amazing as they are has to do with technique, but so much of what registers is pure gut impact, and either way I have a hard time putting the appeal of these films into words, except to say that you will be cut down to size, beautifully, and completely. This, I guarantee.

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman

1969; Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Essie Lin Chia, Chen Lui; directed by Chang Cheh

Possibly the greatest action movie ever made? There are very, very few who get everything this right-the violence, the pacing, the motivation and the payoff. Kill Bill, Death Race 2000 and Die Hard are the only ones springing to mind and none of them come close to carrying the level of venom this film stores in its fangs. I've never seen a movie that was ostensibly about giving the viewer a good time at the movies so heartbroken at the stratospheric bodycount that is achieved by the end. Evil is defeated, but it's pretty hard to claim that anyone comes out the other side not defeated. It's a movie that understands what happens when you've killed everyone there is to kill, and what happens is nothing at all, because reaching your goal carries with it the implication that the means change the significance of the end. One could almost see this as an anti-Vietnam tale if one were so inclined, but the world has never had any shortage of sons cutting their throats for the sake of their fathers. As good or better than any canonical classic that game out of the decade.

Higher Ground

2011; Vera Farmiga, Molly Hawkey, Dagmara Dominczyk, Joshua Leonard; directed by Vera Farmiga

This movie tries to pull an interesting trick-it tries to portray Evangelical Christians as actual human beings as opposed to loutish caricatures, and for a good part of the movie it pulls it off.  The problem is that it seems to be nearly impossible to approach this corner of society without at least a drop of condescension, so you get parts where people just stop behaving like people right in the middle of what are for the most part extremely human portrayals of people who aren't...normal, exactly, but who have patterns and hopes and fears just like anyone else you know. It breaks you out of the moment even more in that way, because that isn't an intentional choice to portray these people as a bunch of clowns, that's a slip-no director wants you to lessen your understanding of the cast in movies like this. It's at least good that somebody tried.

Kirikou and the Sorceress 

1998; Theodore Sibusiso Sibeko, Antoinette Kellerman, Fezele Mpeka; directed by Michael Ocelot

Wild stuff-a lot of this is like Rene Laloux for children. Slightly dumb in the way that a lot of children's movies are, where the screenwriters sometimes forget they're writing for kids and not morons, there's more than enough compelling imagery to make up for it, with bedazzling, dreamy West African art aesthetics coupled with a "proud to be hand-drawn" ethos that almost dares you to say it's a bad thing that this is clearly a bunch of sequenced sheets of paper. I don't think I've ever seen a kid's movie that has an origin story that's clearly a metaphor for both rape and colonialism, and I'm not sure if it's something that should even be in many kid's movies, but here it works. As a rule, nothing with nudity this unappealing tends to be a bad thing.



Movie Monday! #1

Eyes Wide Shut

1999; Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack; directed by Stanley Kubrick

The sets are great, Tom Cruise has a couple of charming scenes with a prostitute and her roommate, and one segment (the one pictured above) does a pretty compelling imitation of a Federico Fellini movie. Before you get too excited over that soon-to-be-backhanded praise: Nicole Kidman's performance is laughable, the script is nowhere approaching competent ("I need a costume at 2 A.M.? Good thing one of my patients happens to own a fucking costume store, that's the most convenient thing that's ever happened to me") and the moral is both fatalistic and apologetic, which is about the most noxious combination attributes a denouement can have. Some people don't have any trouble masturbating to this movie. If that doesn't describe you, and if you've seen a European movie from the 1960s, you'll sit down hungry and leave the same.

Take Shelter

2011; Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon; directed by Jeff Nichols

The next time you're talking to one of those dipwads who tries to work Yasujio Ozu into every conversation and complains that no movies "of substance" are being made any more, take a DVD copy of this movie and put it in their mouth. They won't be able to breathe, and they'll die, and you won't have to listen to them speak ever again, about movies, or anything. There's a distinct possibility that the ending cheapens a lot of the tragedy and emotional progress you thought was being made over the course of the film, but I've come up with an interpretation where that doesn't necessarily have to be the case, and besides, the important part of all this is that you killed that guy from the first sentence. He's dead. He can't judge us anymore.

The Wages of Fear

1953; Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli; directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Clouzot and screenwriter Georges Arnaud took a big chance by making their protagonists such hateable sacks of garbage, and while that sometimes means that you don't care very much about what happens to them, it also puts them in situations that "good guys" wouldn't be in, in the crosshairs of oversight and betrayal. The first half hour is very slow going and the last ten minutes are predictable enough to drain the tension out of a would-be shocking finale. But you're not watching it for those forty minutes, you're watching it for vicious terrain, explosives, grimaces, the loneliness of the long-distance truckers. You'll get all those things. You won't get anything more, but it's a good meal if you like the taste. This movie invented Sam Peckinpah.


1971; Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider; directed by Alan J. Pakula

Jane Fonda's Bree Daniels is an immensely likable character, which is why you'll feel a little bad for wanting the movie's serial killer to either shit or get off the pot, because this is the kind of movie where you feel every minute trudge by. The lack of urgency is unforgivable, and Donald Sutherland has all the charisma of cold oatmeal, which might have been intentional, but that doesn't make him any less unbelievable as a romantic lead. There are some interesting conversations to be had about the way Fonda manages to be sexy without giving cause to leer, and if you're still invested in Bree by the last half hour you'll find the climactic sequence to be as gripping and breathless an example of filmmaking as you've ever seen. But someone should have told Pakula that there's a thin line between methodical and drowsy and that if this film were a person, it would've had its driver's license revoked.


2010; Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, a bunch of other people who should've known better; directed by James Gunn

Unfunny, mean-spirited and smug. Over the course of 96 minutes, one joke, out of many, provides a laugh. This movie has an endless number of horrible aspects that are worthy of scorn,  and to mention and discuss everything about it that sucks-the eyebrow-raising number of gay jokes, the plot threads that lead absolutely nowhere, the desperate, pleading physical comedy- would be a massive, unwieldy use of mental energy, so I'll just say that if it's possible for a movie to be worse than Crash, than this is the one. This is the one that pulled it off. I'll have to spend some real time considering what "bad" actually means after seeing Super. James Gunn is going to be limbo champion for a long time to come.


2010; James Franco, Aaron Tveit, John Hamm, David Strathairn; directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

The first half of the movie is used to find its footing-this first while is when Franco's narration can get tiring, and the animation sequences are a little too on-the-nose for their own good. But you've got 75 minutes to spare, the acting is phenomenal, and the story is vital enough on its own merits that one gets the impression that this subject matter would be borderline impossible to bungle. Some things need to be seen, not due to quality or to cultural significance-this movie has both things, but they are wholly tertiary to the drive, which is that there's a reason you can't get some people to shut up about some things, because some things are worth not shutting up about.

Le Cercle Rouge

1970; Alain Delon, Andre Bourvil, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonte; directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

You know how earlier I mentioned that fine line between methodical and drowsy filmmaking? Melville didn't always see that line, but when he did he gave us movies like Le Cercle Rouge, and movies like Le Cercle Rouge are the reason his nuts will never go unattended. Characters of substance that are easily definable, daring heists, luscious cool, savory mustaches...this is what noir, neo or otherwise, is all about. This is the genre boiled down to its barest components-ugly men in bad suits doing awful things for money-and stretched out to the point of extravagance, so that even the parts you fall asleep during feel like they deserve an honorary cigarette. Miles Davis didn't do the soundtrack, but this movie is the visual that accompanies every Miles Davis album.