The House


BSG

After two episodes full of deliberate but pulse-quickening pacing, Battlestar Galactica's latest episode, "Sine Qua Non," written by Michael Taylor and directed by Rod Hardy, feels a little scattered. Part of that's by design (the fleet is thrown into chaos after the sudden disappearance of Roslin, Baltar and a whole Basestar), but some of it just feels like the show trying to cram a bunch of plot points in so it can get back to the basestar and answer the questions everyone has. Battlestar almost never exposes the hands moving its various chess pieces around, but tonight, those hands were too obvious in a few scenes. Still, the last act gave the episode a grandly epic feeling, even pulling back for a rare long shot (albeit, a CGI-enhanced one, but still). In its final season, Battlestar is almost taking on the feel of something romantic and sweeping, even as it remains committed to its vision of following a fleet full of people who are very, very frakked up.

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TAGS: battlestar galactica, edward james olmos, mark sheppard, Michael Hogan, michael taylor, recap, Rod Hardy, sine qua non, tricia helfer


Doctor Who

In the comments section for "The Sontaran Stratagem," Joan wondered why at the close of the episode "...no one thought to break the window of the car while Gramps was asphyxiating." And so "The Poison Sky" begins with Donna's mother, Sylvia, doing just that. It's a huge anticlimax for the cliffhanger, but I would argue that the whole point of a cliffhanger is in the hang, not in the resolution in the next episode. Cliffhanger resolutions almost by their very nature are destined to suck, because if our heroes succumbed to the disastrous situations they're left in, there would be no more show. We always want the resolve to be as thrilling as the minutes that preceded it in the narrative, but there's a big difference in the first couple minutes of an episode, and the final moments of another. And there's no point in delivering the best you've got at the start, right?

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TAGS: catherine tate, christopher ryan, dan starkey, david tennant, doctor who, freema agyemen, recap, rupert holliday evans, ryan sampson, the poison sky


Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Terry Gilliam captured slash-and-burn counterculture daredevil Hunter S. Thompson in his first-rate film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but little of the vehement political creature was evident. It's this often overlooked side that makes Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson both an absorbing documentary and an apt follow-up to Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side. Focusing mainly on Thompson's decade of maverick stardom, from 1965 to 1975, the film doesn't starve for anecdotes about mescaline-laced sessions and confrontations with the Hell's Angels, though its heady mix of excess and inquiry doesn't really take off until the reptiles overrunning the Casino Strip go from projections of a substance-lubricated brain to manifestations of journalistic fury. Thompson's legendary coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign is portrayed as his zenith as a gonzo agitator, and not surprisingly, that's where the film finds fresh topicality in the time of Vietnam and Nixon ("How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President," Thompson muses incredulously in archival footage). If Gibney often succumbs to easy period standbys in his recreations of the subject's life—a filmmaker should be fined every time "American Pie" is trotted out for elegiac tugging—he is a lucid interviewer, getting barbed, surprising comments from Pat Buchanan (fondly remembering Thompson's description of him as "Nixon's Davey Crockett"), Jimmy Carter, George McGovern and Tom Wolfe. Johnny Depp, who became friends with the notorious writer while preparing to portray him, reads pieces from Thompson's most incendiary years, yet Gonzo for the most part steers clear of fanboy adulation: There's never any doubt that the boundary-pushing approach that revolutionized the press also made him a prick of a husband and father and, later on, encased him in the shell of his own cultish persona. It's this refusal to settle for Thompson's druggy image that enlarges the film's view of political disillusionment and connects it to our own era of fear and loathing.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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TAGS: alex gibney, gonzo the life and work of dr. hunter s. thompson, sundance institute at bam


Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Rock titans Slash, Lemmy Kilmister and Lars Ulrich extol the virtues of Canadian metal outfit Anvil at the outset of the aptly titled Anvil! The Story of Anvil, yet Sacha Gervasi's documentary about the little-known group isn't propelled by musical brilliance but, rather, by bittersweet blood, sweat and tears. Once a 15-year-old roadie for the band's 1985 tour, Gervasi reconnects with the group—led by Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, who founded the band in high school 35 years ago—in order to both find out what impeded their path to success as well as to help grant them the recognition he believes they deserve. The director's fondness for the group, however, doesn't unsettle his warts-and-all portrait, which begins by recalling their halcyon 1984 days performing with bondage harnesses and dildos in Japan alongside Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, and then charts their current, arduous efforts to keep teenage rock n' roll dreams alive while supporting families through nine-to-five drudgery. A European tour fraught with shady venue owners, missed trains and in-fighting, and subsequent efforts to record their 13th studio album, is—when accompanied by references to Satan and a visit to Stonehenge—a misadventure that a less compassionate filmmaker might have wrung for cheap Spinal Tap-ish humor. Gervasi, though, eschews at-their-expense jokes to concentrate on the simultaneously pitiable, poignant and stirring perseverance of Lips and Reiner, lifelong friends who keep trudging forward, despite economic hurdles, the ravages of time, and repeated blows to their self-esteem and brotherly relationship, in the hope that their star might yet ascend. Lips proves particularly fascinating, his never-say-die resolve destabilized by the painful weight of responsibility he feels toward those who count on him to make the band go, and his deep discontent epitomized by the candid admission that sometimes, when on stage, he closes his eyes and tries to imagine a crowd as big and wild as those which greet his idols. Anvil! revolves around a band that, in all probability, will forever fail to attain Metallica or Megadeth-levels of popularity. But if fame and fortune elude them, their abiding, unadulterated love of shredding guitars, thunderous drums and growling vocals nonetheless exemplifies something just as vital: the fast, brutal, never-say-die essence of metal.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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TAGS: anvil the story of anvil, Robb Reiner, Sacha Gervasi, steve, sundance institute at bam


Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman). It doesn't matter how big a Kaufman devotee you are, how many times you've seen Being John Malkovich or Adaptation. or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It doesn't matter what you've read or heard about Synecdoche, New York, his directorial debut, because nothing could possibly prepare you for the overwhelming mindfuckery on display. It is easily Kaufman's most ambitious project, which means that it is easily one of the most ambitious films I've ever seen. The role of the artist in society; coming to terms with death, God and fate; and the importance of escaping from the trap of solipsism in order to connect with others are among the most prominent themes, but they are far from the only ones. The sheer depth and complexity of the ideas Kaufman is out to explore here is mind-boggling.

Obviously, Synecdoche, New York is not an easy film, or a clean one. The first twenty minutes or so are relatively straight-forward, all things considered, as they detail the day-to-day life of a theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Adele (Catherine Keener). When Caden's health begins to deteriorate in strange and grotesque ways (the possibilities of these sicknesses being all in his head or being meant as a literalization of his fear of death seem quite likely), Adele takes his daughter to Berlin for a week-long trip. They never come home, and as the film becomes increasingly focused on Caden's mental state, things like temporal and narrative cohesion start to feel like a distant memory.

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TAGS: cannes film festival, catherine keener, charlie kaufman, giulio andreotti, il divo, palermo shooting, paolo sorrentino, philip seymour hoffman, synecdoche new york, wim wenders


At the Death House Door

"The biggest and most important thing is, I believe and always believed and always will believe that no one should die alone," says pastor Carroll Pickett, who for 15 years ministered to death-row inmates at the "Walls" prison unit in Huntsville, Texas. "Somebody should be with them who cares for them as people."

Starting in 1979, three years after the Supreme Court reversed itself and declared capital punishment legal, the soft-spoken Pickett was present for 95 executions, before leaving the prison system and becoming an anti-death-penalty activist in 2004. Now 73, he's the ostensible subject of At the Death House Door, a documentary by Hoop Dreams directors Steve James and Peter Gilbert that debuts Thursday 29 on the Independent Film Channel. But the movie, like Pickett, proves more complex than its placid surface suggests: As terse and subdued as Hoop Dreams was expansive and exuberant, Death House slowly and subtly reveals itself to be about far more than one pastor's life. It's about the politics and ethics of the death penalty, the human flaws that prevent it from being carried out equitably and consistently, and the moral calculus that those involved must go through to be able to sleep at night.

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TAGS: at the death house door, carroll pickett, peter gilbert, steve james


Squeeze

Hello. My name is Vadim, and I've been a derelict blogger. I truly apologize; after filing my last column (2 MONTHS AGO!), it became increasingly obvious that running the next month's gauntlet of wrapping up my undergraduate life forever, moving house (5 stops closer on the L! Woo!), and covering the Tribeca Film Festival would be hard enough without listening to anything but the same four albums over and over for comfort's sake. (This mostly amounted to listening to the new, leaked Notwist a bunch, which was fab. More on this in the A.V. Club when it actually comes out.) Keith was kind enough to give me the time to tweak out on my own, and now I'm back (which is to say comfortably underemployed and reveling in it, at least for the moment). There's a lot of ground to cover, so let me adopt a slightly superficial capsule mode for this round til we're all caught up again:

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TAGS: alopecia, argybargy, atlas sound, beat pyramid, consquence, don't quit your day job, elbow, leaders of the free world, let the blind lead those who can see but cannot feel, Squeeze, tapes 'n tapes, the loon, these new puritans, why


F. Murray Abraham Much more entertaining and enjoyable than any movie I've seen in the last several days was actor F. Murray Abraham's refreshingly plainspoken talk about his life in the theatre and the disappointments of his post-Amadeus film career. Holding court for a too-short 90 minutes at Northwest Film Forum this past Memorial Day, Abraham, every bit the engaging charmer, reminisced about working with Milos Forman, Woody Allen, and Lina Wertmüller (the last of whom confessed to him, over a few glasses of wine in between takes, "I haven't been able to make a good movie since I got rich").

Abraham also offered a delightfully contrarian dismissal of Daniel Day-Lewis: "He has scorn for acting. If you have to have surgery, you don't go to a surgeon who operates once every three or four years. He makes shoes or something."

Asked by moderator Jeff Shannon to elaborate on what he meant by saying "I teach arrogance" to his acting students, Abraham replied: "All of art is basically arrogance. Any creative artist is arrogant. You're a creator—what does that put you next to? How else can you stand up in front of 5000 people and not control them, but take them with you?" Of his own training, he confessed that the longer he studied with Uta Hagen, the worse he got—that in emulating her techniques, he lost his own: "Don't fall under their influence completely, forgetting everything you know. Don't try too hard to please—find your own way."

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TAGS: f. murray abraham, it always rains on sunday, milos forman, ploy, seattle international film festival, the children of huang shi, the red awn


Hello My URL Is

A note to our readers. We've changed our URL to http://www.thehousenextdooronline.com so please update your bookmarks and records accordingly. The transition takes a few days, so if there are any problems the original URL (mattzollerseitz.blogspot.com) will take you to the site as well, and should continue to after the fact. Thank you.

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TAGS: house maintenance


The Character Assassination of Hillary Clinton

Watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann used to make me feel a little less alone in the world. I live in New York City, where everyone I know predicted the heinous mess the Iraq War would be long before it was even fully sold to the American public, but it was comforting to see and hear our views broadcast beyond the tiny bubble of Manhattan. After all, my somewhat liberal sister only lives an hour away and she voted for Bush in 2004 because she said he made her feel "safer." In recent months, however, it's become increasingly difficult to watch Olbermann, as he seemingly takes some kind of sick pleasure in trashing Hillary Clinton. There is plenty to condemn about the New York senator's poorly managed campaign, and by displaying a willingness to criticize a Democrat I suppose he thinks he's proving himself to be an equal-opportunity watchdog, but the smug, venomous bias with which he disparages Clinton for things he might otherwise shrug off if there weren't someone more appealing running for President reveals an obvious prejudice, if not a specific agenda.

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TAGS: 2008 election, barack obama, hillary clinton, keith olbermann







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