The House


Opera Jawa

The idea for this ongoing podcast series was hatched after Vadim, myself, and House Next Door co-editor Keith Uhlich (this installment's special guest commentator) met at a screening of There Will Be Blood. Fitting then that we discuss that very film during our first episode, in addition to the Paramount-sponsored podcast on No Country for Old Men featuring our colleagues Glenn Kenny, Harry Knowles, Jen Yamoto, Jim Emerson, and Elvis Mitchell. How meta! Other topics include the Opera Jawa non-controversy spurned by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Cloverfield, and a minor argument about what the heck we even call the show.

To be clear, this is John Lichman and Vadim Rizov, "Live" at Grassroots Tavern. And if you ever see me or Vadim there, please buy us drinks. (JL)

To download the podcast, click here. (Special thanks to Kevin B. Lee.) (TRT: 39 minutes, 50 seconds)

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TAGS: cloverfield, john lichman, jonathan rosenbaum, keith uhlich, no country for old men, opera jawa, paramount pictures, there will be blood, vadim rizov


Dragon Ball Z

[Editor's Note: "Idiot Savant Japan," an in-depth look at Japanese cinema, with emphasis on anime, is published every other Thursday, alternating with Vadim Rizov's music column, "Indie 500."]

You may wonder where this column has been if you're one of the poor souls who dares read it—or if you're my mother. Hi, mom! As I was about to get started on this third entry, an elite squad of sailor-suited, pink-haired ninja women—"kunoichi" if we want to be all proper with the terms—kidnapped me and did unmentionable things for days on end. They only let me out to record the brand new House Next Door podcast with fellow columnist Vadim Rizov and co-editor Keith Uhlich. They then re-abducted me the second I stepped off the train back into Brooklyn. However, I spent the last two weeks training and—to paraphrase Dae-su Oh—I will soon find out if 14 days of imaginary training can be put to good use. I have developed my new ultimate power, turned one of my captors into my comedic sidekick and will free the land from the oppression of pink-haired ninja women/kunoichi! Believe it!

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TAGS: akira toriyama, bleach, dr. slump, dragon ball z, naruto, shonen, the guyver


Juno

Hey, I just heard the funniest thing the other day. Apparently, not only are the majority of nominations in this category written by women, but there's even a former stripper competing for the Oscar. How 'bout that? Okay, unless you actually live in a strip club, you've been informed time and again about Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody's zesty résumé (even if you haven't been informed of the fact that most strippers in Minneapolis still hold a vicious grudge against her over this). While it was a canny selling point initially to the extent that it was the only thing that gave the entire opportunistic project a slightly edgy veneer, we can't be the only ones who feel like tucking five bucks into Cody's voluptuous ream of salmon-colored draft pages just to make her and her (man-)handlers shut up already about it. Still, there's no question she's going to win by one of the evening's most surgically-enhanced margins, especially considering Judd Apatow (once considered the writer to beat in this category before a woman writer stated her "Papa Don't Preach" case) is not among her competition. That leaves the category's other two, much dowdier sistas (ironically including the one who wrote the Capra knockoff about a sex toy) eating their hearts out. If Ratatouille still retains a viable contender as a spoiler, it's not because audiences continue to drink whatever Pixar puts in the Kool-Aid that gets, as Laurie Anderson would say, "ah-dults" hailing each of their new movies as the studio's everlasting masterpiece of classic filmmaking (making it simply a matter of time before one of them actually wins an award outside the best animated feature playpen), but rather because its presence in this category might remind voters that one or two of the striking writers aren't just trying to feed their own mouths. As it stands, the only one who actually stands a real chance at pulling an Elizabeth Berkeley on Cody is Tony Gilroy, whose double-dip on Michael Clayton and status as a lost cause over in best director ensure a few votes from those who feel pity and from those who have apparently seen none of the myriad law-and-order TV dramas from which the film's ruinously clichéd plot resolution was lifted.

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TAGS: academy awards, juno, lars and the real girl, michael clayton, ratatouille, the savages


Xiao Wu

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of Xiao Wu, a low-budget Chinese film that was never distributed in the United States. In 1997, few could have anticipated this work would usher in a new generation of Chinese filmmakers, or have guessed that director Jia Zhang-ke would become one of the world's leading auteurs while still in his early thirties. Since then, he has made four feature films, most of which are masterpieces and none of which are failures. His many astonishing gifts notwithstanding, it has become easier with time to see why he has caught on with Western critics and enjoyed the kind of reputation no young American director of his generation has achieved.

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TAGS: jia zhang-ke, platform, still life, the world, Unknown Pleasures, xiao wiu


Still Life

Let's start with an image: a middle-aged man and woman huddled in intimate proximity in the corner of a room. In the middle of the screen is a gaping hole, a wall ripped out of a condemned building, revealing a cityscape so static, it could only be a matte painting. But then, as the couple quietly converse, the tallest building suddenly collapses, startling the characters and upsetting the audience's expectation of a still composition. The demolition is part of a project to destroy the city of Fengjie, China in order to build the world's largest hydro-electric power station, the Three Gorges Dam, a project that has displaced two million people from their homes. As the couple, reuniting after sixteen years, attempt to address their personal history, they are interrupted by the forces of official history; this complex interplay of the personal and the political not only provides director Jia Zhang-ke with one of his most evocative images, it allows him to provide exact visual expression to the paradoxical forces that define life in modern China, a subject which forms the central line of inquiry in his small, but increasingly impressive body of work.

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TAGS: jia zhang-ke, still life


Torchwood

When Torchwood's second season debut opens with a cliché-ridden car chase, you can't help but wonder if the show runners are trying too hard. Between-seasons PR promised more team spirit and more fun; what I'm hoping for is a settled sense of, and respect for, the target audience and a lot more consistency with the characterization. "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" easily transcends its ridiculous lead-off, and sets the tone for a new season of less bickering, more questions, some answers, and a good mix of otherworldly technology, aliens, sex, and action. It works.

About that opening set piece: it's about as good as a three-minute introduction to Torchwood could be, but I'm not convinced it was necessary, and it's loaded with inconsistencies. On a dark and otherwise deserted street, Granny waits to cross; just as the light changes, a convertible driven by a blowfish-headed humanoid pulls up. The fish-head gestures for Granny to cross, gunning the engine. Because this is Torchwood, there's a moment of suspense: Will the fish-head run down Granny? He doesn't; the light changes, and he speeds off. A moment later, Torchwood's SUV pulls up and Gwen (Eve Myles) asks Granny if she's seen a fish driving a sports car. As the SUV takes off after the fish, Granny comments, "Bloody Torchwood!"

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TAGS: Burn Gorman, Eve Myles, James Marsters, John Barrowman, kiss kiss bang bang, naoko mori, recap, torchwood


Heath Ledger

Yesterday evening, I had the great pleasure to guest on the latest episode of the popular Blog Talk Radio podcast series Movie Geeks United!. Primary topic of discussion was the Oscar nominations, though the show begins with host Jamey DuVall and company paying heartfelt tribute to the late Heath Ledger.

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TAGS: academy awards, blog talk radio, heath ledger, jamey duvall, movie geeks united


The Wire

"Transitions" is what I think of a true "fan's episode" of The Wire: From beginning to end, it's jammed with scenes that exemplify everything people watch the show for—rich character interaction, crisp dialogue, dry humor, righteously indignant muckraking and complex wheels-within-wheels plotting. It's also the kind of episode that can only be done at this point in a season, when there's still time for events to play out in all manner of ways before groundwork has to be laid for the finale. Such episodes often fall a little too early to feature seismic, game-changing events, but that's definitely not the case here.

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TAGS: hbo, recap, the wire, transitions


Friday Night Lights

On the heels of the season's biggest turkey, Friday Night Lights makes a notable return to form with an episode that sees a number of storylines converging as the writers' plan for the rest of the season starts to come into focus. The big question, of course, is whether that plan will come to fruition—or, rather, will FNL's second season have 22 episodes or 15? It all comes down to how things work out with the WGA strike, of course, and it's increasingly clear that if the strike doesn't end soon, few dramas will have ended the season with more balls in the air.

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TAGS: friday night lights, humble pie, recap


2008 Grammy Awards: Winner Predictions

The Recording Academy no doubt has oodles of tedium in the works for us at this year's Grammy Awards ceremony. It is, after all, the golden anniversary of the granddaddy of music awards shows. If the show goes on (and as of this post, the WGA has decided not to picket), we can expect even more awkwardly assembled performances and a lot more montages and salutes to the likes of Clive Davis than ever before. (What's unclear is whether or not Miss Amy Winehouse will be on hand to add an even bigger sense of unpredictability to the proceedings.) Economy has never been the Academy's friend, but they've become increasing stingy when it comes to televised categories and a lack of writers might mean more trophies. Either way, we've decided to follow their lead and cherry-pick the categories we predict. Here are the 10 awards we found worth talking about:

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TAGS: amy winehouse, foo fighters, grammy awards, kanye west, rihanna, taylor swift







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