The House


Hunky Dory I went back to my hometown of Austin for a few days last week, something I do twice a year to catch up with a few folks who haven't moved, and also to eat BBQ and Tex-Mex (a decent fall-back if you're in the area and short on time, but featuring one of the worst websites known to man: if you click on that, be prepared to hear uber-hack Pat Green singing "Have some tacos and beer and let ourselves go." Tacos and beer! Sodom trembles.). Since I stopped buying CDs pretty much when I got to college, everything I have back home is an automatic nostalgia trip: I will never know any albums as well as I know these, though I'm not sure I want to reclaim the circumstances that made me learn them inside-out in the first place. Back when my income was, um, considerably more straitened, every used CD purchased (new albums? Ha! I was bankrupting the RIAA before it was cool) was a thoughtful investment, to be played something like 8 times each at a minimum. I'd spend hours trolling half.com, freakishly absorbing what the basic price for every CD was, then comparing it to whatever copies I found. This could quite satisfyingly fill up a lot of hours and, as a high school loser, I had a lot of hours to fill.

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TAGS: david bowie, hunky dory, taft, the dodos, the spirit of space, this machine kills rhythm, thug slaughter force, visiter, weezer


Keith's Korner

Two weeks missed. So now that that's over with, let's get back on track:

When I was very young, I received a fuzzy toy caterpillar. Memory suggests that it came in one of those packages with bright cardboard backing, the toy itself encased in plastic lightly smudged with fingerprints. The caterpillar was vibrantly colored (a subtle blend of shades of the rainbow) with big googly eyes that seemed to look outwards and upwards simultaneously. It fit, with only slight dangle, in the palm of my hand, and it was, for all intents and purposes, alive.

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TAGS: keith uhlich, keiths korner


Doctor Who

"Forest of the Dead" is an episode that left me so thoroughly perplexed that I had to see it several times to even begin thinking I understood it. I can honestly say that no installment of the new series (or even classic Who for that matter) confused me as much as this one and if that earns me the nickname "Thick as a Whale Omelet Ruediger," then so be it. I asked for some help from fellow Who/Moffat enthusiasts Steven Cooper, Peet Gelderblom and Chris Hansen, three people whom I figured could help me get to the bottom of it all. They did help, were full of insights and opinions and their words are as important to recap as anything I've got to say. Yet another viewing helped, too, and I'm starting to believe the story is either not as complex as I'd originally thought, or it's so obtuse that I'm never truly going to see the bigger picture.

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TAGS: alex kingston, catherine tate, Colin Salmon, david tennant, doctor who, eve newton, forest of the dead, jessika williams, recap, russell t davies, Steve Pemberton


Satoshi Kon

"Satoshi Kon: Beyond Imagination" opens today at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and runs through July 1st. In anticipation of the retrospective, Brendon Bouzard, John Lichman, and Keith Uhlich gathered at Grassroots Tavern to discuss Kon and his work. See after the break for their podcast conversation and a transcript, slightly edited for clarity.

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TAGS: brendon bouzard, film retrospectives, john lichman, keith uhlich, satoshi kon


Why $140 a Barrel Isn't High Enough

Back in the '80s, saving the world seemed so easy. I have a Polaroid picture of myself wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and a self-satisfied grin after my kindergarten class sang along to a cassette tape of "We Are the World" for all of our parents. In first grade, my school went out in the playground and created a human chain for 15 minutes as part of Hands Across America. At home, my mother used to cut the plastic rings that hold six-packs before throwing them in the garbage so marine wildlife wouldn't get caught in them when our trash got dumped in the ocean. Each week we gathered up all of our bottles and cans and newspapers and magazines and brought them to the local recycling center. I felt proud as I took the bundles from the backseat of the car and threw them into the giant receptacles. We didn't realize then that even if all of our friends and neighbors across the country were doing the same things, we wouldn't even make a dent in the problems we'd been causing since the Industrial Revolution.

In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen (now an advisor to Al Gore and a professor at Columbia University) testified before Congress about climate change. The idea of global warming, which I'd heard about in science class, was about as distant and farfetched as the idea that the sun was going to expand and swallow the earth in five billion years. We could recycle and plant trees and sing songs until we were blue in the face but what was required to reverse course was fundamental change at the federal level. There would need to be massive changes in the way we function as a society. Entire industries would have to recalibrate to those changes. Some businesses might even go out of business. (The sun turning into a red giant was another problem altogether.) But no politician was going to legislate the loss of jobs, and it's clear little has been accomplished in the two decades since Hansen went public with his concerns.

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TAGS: enron, john mccain, oil prices


The Brave One: Trumbo

Trumbo

Trumbo, Peter Askin's poignant, mind-stirring documentary about the defiantly prolific screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten blacklisted during the McCarthy era, based on a play written by his son Christopher (from letters Trumbo wrote during that tumultuous period) is essential viewing for all film critics—any professional writer really—recently affected by the economic recession. To call Trumbo tenacious, awe-inspiring, a courageous hero doesn't do the man justice. How many writers working today would accept poverty and prison, shame and exile to stand by their convictions—and do it for ten long years? How many writers in 2008 would have prefaced that with nearly another decade stoically working as a night bread wrapper for an L.A. bakery while studying at USC, repossessing motorcycles, reviewing films for a trade magazine—and churning out six novels and eighty-eight short stories (all of which would be rejected for publication)? To all those laid off writers I say, if you can't write without a paycheck being involved then you've no business considering yourself in the same profession as Mr. Trumbo (thus you probably didn't deserve that paycheck in the first place. Ah, isn't karma sweet?)

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TAGS: Dalton Trumbo, Peter Askin, trumbo


Fear Itself: In Sickness and in Health

Episode four of NBC's Fear Itself brings together several "masters of horror" with director John Landis at the helm and Jeepers Creepers creator Victor Salva penning the script. Salva's story plays like an old-fashioned radio play—a woman-in-peril melodrama filled with phony red herrings and a plot hook that immediately telegraphs its twist ending. Still, there's a definite tongue-in-cheek tone to the script that suggests that Salva is knowingly playing with old formula while Landis brings his usual charm and energy to the telling of the tale.

As the title In Sickness and in Health suggests, the episode takes place during a wedding. Maggie Lawson and James Roday from the USA Network series Psych play the bride and groom, Samantha and Carlos. Samantha's bridesmaids and childhood friends Ruthie (Sonja Bennett) and Kelly (Christie Laing) are supportive but concerned that their friend is rushing into marriage without knowing Carlos really well, and a mysterious note Samantha receives minutes before walking down the aisle causes particular alarm. It reads: "The person you are marrying is a serial killer."

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TAGS: Christie Laing, fear itself, in sickness and in health, james roday, john landis, maggie lawson, Sonja Bennett, Victor Salva


Letter to Anna

In Letter to Anna, Swiss director Eric Bergkraut juxtaposes interviews he shot with the crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya—before her still unsolved murder in the lobby of her apartment building on Vladimir Putin's 54th birthday in October 2006—with interviews with family and colleagues to create a personal video diary of a woman fueled by an obsession with justice, more a tribute than a "letter" or film. Though dry and straightforward, even clunky in spots (especially when narrated in the English language version by Susan Sarandon, standing in for the filmmakers), the doc is a low-key, respectful summation of a life that resembled a tabloid-ready espionage thriller.

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TAGS: anna politkovskaya, human rights watch film festival, letter to anna, vladimir putin


Letter to Anna

Letter to Anna's greatest strength—a no-nonsense, straightforward approach that heralds hard facts and concrete documentation over polished style and structured pacing—is also its greatest limitation. Like No End in Sight's all-encompassing deconstruction of Bush's Iraq war, Eric Bergkraut's film forgoes cinematic artistry in favor of pure information, a decision that renders the cumulative effect somewhat bipolar in its efforts to straddle separate mediums but a worthy sacrifice if the potential result is greater awareness of its chosen subject matter. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaïa was among Vladimir Putin's most vocal dissenters, an accomplished journalist who sought out the stories in most dire need of telling regardless of the dangerous baggage that accompanied her efforts. Though loved and respected by many, her singular dedication to human rights (regardless of the political particulars at hand) made her a loner in constant danger of violence, whether it be on her many trips to the war-torn ghettos of Chechnya or on her way home from a trip to the local grocer. Her role as a martyr was solidified when a government assassin gunned her down on her own steps on October 7th, 2006, and the understandably awestruck Letter to Anna suggests that such tragedy only further empowers her life's work, a point emphasized not only by the opening scenes of crowds mourning her death but by the decision to interweave footage of a very lively and passionate Anna with that of friends and family speaking after her death. Assembled from stock footage, historical recordings and news broadcasts, and narrated by Susan Sarandon, Letter to Anna proves far more invigorating in content than form, though the use of quotidian imagery—such as a shadowy cemetery used as a backdrop against a voiceover discussion on genocide and justice—gives it a much-needed occasional stab of poetic poignancy.

Letter to Anna @ Human Rights Watch International Film Festival

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

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TAGS: anna politkovska, eric bergkraut, human rights watch film festival, letter to anna


Lew Ayres

My grandmother was not much of a moviegoer, but when I mentioned Lew Ayres in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), her face lit up with recognition. "I saw that picture! At the end, doesn't he reach out for a butterfly?" Her hand reached out, and she mimed the famous last scene. I nodded. "I can't believe I remember that!" she said. "I can see it in my head, just what it looked like." A whole generation was haunted by Lew Ayres reaching out for that butterfly in the final scene of one of the worthier Best Picture Oscar winners, but Ayres himself suffered for taking the lesson of that anti-World War One movie to heart. At the onset of World War Two, Ayres declared himself a conscientious objector and suffered savage criticism from all sides. He served honorably in the war as a medic, but refused to put himself in any situation where he would have to kill another human being.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, advise & consent, all quiet on the western front, holiday, johnny belinda, Lew Ayres, the kiss







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