The House


WilcoMost bands' self-titled efforts throw the gauntlet down, serving notice they've finally found the sound they've been looking for (either that, or name-brand groups like Zeppelin—and later, parodically, Weezer—get a bit too complacent about everyone knowing precisely who they are and how to tell each album apart). That qualifying parenthetical (The Album) is typical, then, of the push-pull between Jeff Tweedy's insecurities about himself as a musician/songwriter and Wilco's hard-to-ignore status as a beloved concert act with a large fanbase which worships Tweedy. It's a declaration of Major Rock Band Hubris, but it isn't! As if that wasn't enough self-aggrandizing self-deprecation, there's the totally hilarious "Wilco (the Song)." It's expert, textbook unimaginative rollicking '70s stuff, complete with a plodding, ridiculously simplistic keyboard riff that's just the same three notes repeated in a downward 5-4-1 progression.

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TAGS: wilco, wilco the album


The Muppets Take ManhattanA now-forgotten treasure trove of kids television: the early '90s weekend afternoon movie block on Nickelodeon. Too poor at that point to provide viewers with an entire station's worth of original programming, Nick filled out its schedule with awesome remainder-bin oddities like the Fleischer Gulliver's Travels, the dreadful Filmation Treasure Island (with Davy Jones as the voice of Jim Hawkins) and the Chuck Jones Jungle Book movies (I still have fond recollections of an afternoon spent watching and rewatching the beguiling Rikki-Tikki-Tavi). I only have a liminal recollection of that era's television programming, but when I look back at early Nickelodeon, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer frugality of the entire venture: the existential dread of cheapo Canadian import Today's Special and the endless Inspector Gadget and Lassie marathons.

Was this real? Did I dream it?

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TAGS: summer of 84, the muppets take manhattan


Coming Up In This Column: Up, Summer Hours, A Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Easy Virtue, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story, but first...

Up

Fan Mail: Brandon suggested I may have missed some details of How I Met Your Mother, and he certainly has been a little more perceptive about the show than I was. He's right that the significance of the meeting with Stella is the connection to Tony and that it leads Ted to teaching. I will also buy Brandon's point about the story being told the kids over one day, but I was getting in a dig that has bedeviled series television from the beginning: the set-up that is difficult to sustain. Here are three examples from different decades.

Racket Squad was an early fifties show, first in syndication, then on CBS. As I wrote in my book on the history of television writing, they dropped an interesting approach: "In the first episodes, [Captain] Braddock [of the Racket Squad] narrates the stories, but in the second person, addressing the victim of the con. This supposes that Braddock knows everything about the con before the victim tells him, which makes him rather obnoxious." They changed the narration to third person.

In 1963-64 there was a ninety-minute series called Arrest and Trial. In the first 45-minutes, the cop (Ben Gazzara) arrested somebody. In the second 45-minutes, the defense attorney (Chuck Connors) proved they were innocent. As Sy Salkowitz, who wrote a couple of episodes, said, "If Ben Gazzara made a good arrest, Chuck Connors couldn't get him off. If Chuck Connors got him off, it made Ben Gazzara look like a stupid ass." The show died after a year, and it took another 25-years for Dick Wolf to figure out the simple solution to make it work: the lawyers in the second half of the show are THE PROSECUTORS. Duh.

In the first season of Crossing Jordan in 2001, Jordan solved crimes with the help of her ex-cop father by acting out what they knew about the crimes. It was obvious and clunky, and it was dropped fairly quickly.

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TAGS: a night at the museum battle for the smithsonian, easy virtue, summer hours, the boys: the sherman brothers' story, understanding screenwriting, up


Doctor Who

Writing about the fourth Doctor Who Christmas Special is, admittedly, about as much fun as sitting down to eat a bowl of shredded wheat. I feel as though I've said everything there is to say about how these one-offs operate, and am not sure I can bring a whole lot that's new to the table. (Need further proof? Click here, here and here.)

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TAGS: david morrissey, david tennant, doctor who, recap, the next doctor


Wai Ka FaiWriter/director Wai Ka-fai's collaborations with Johnnie To stand out from To's filmography. Preoccupied with the concept of predestination and fated protagonists, Wai's films feel more heady, more intellectually dense. As a screenwriter who worked his way up the ranks at Hong Kong's top TV station TVB, he's earned respect and celebrity beyond perhaps even To's venerated status within the film community thanks to early minor successes like Too Many Ways to Be No. 1 and later commercial hits like Running Out of Time and Needing You, all of which were produced by To's production company, Milkyway Image.

I sat down with Wai the evening after his latest solo project, Written By, had its world premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival (June 19-July 5). Written By stars frequent Wai collaborator Lau Ching-wan as a writer who dies in a car accident. To deal with her grief, his daughter Melody (Kelly Lin) creates a story in which she died and he lived. In that alternate reality, he too deals with his grief by writing a story in which he died and she lives. Wai didn't answer many of my questions directly, but in his own way he provided an interesting perspective on his creative process.

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TAGS: wai ka-fai, written by


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I'm sick of this notion that movie critics don't like to have fun. Like any broad accusation, it's pure cop-out, especially when founded on the basis of but a handful of films, as is usually the case. Though a minority opinion in my circles, I liked the first Transformers. It was big, loud, and dumb in that manner that recalls the childhood ambition of instilling life in one's toys. More importantly, it stayed just behind the line of headache-inducing excess that stands as the starting point of this new film. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is to its predecessor like a medieval torture chamber is to a playground, but that won't keep many from swallowing it hook, line and sinker, quickly and indiscriminately. I can only hope that my feelings here are the general consensus—not just for critics, but for human beings. Few elements of Fallen are completely odious unto themselves, but rolled together it becomes a wave of inescapable proportions—a literal tsunami of shit.

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TAGS: michael bay, transformers: revenge of the fallen


Michael Jackson

Upon hearing of Michael Jackson's death yesterday, one of the first things that popped into my head was: "Have you seen my childhood?" I say that as naïvely and as free from cynicism as I can. At its best, pop music both clarifies and enriches receptive souls' personal experience. And the touchtone moments in pop culture exist as a simple purification of every individual's life experience. Speaking personally, the death of Michael Jackson will forever denote the moment I left my 20s behind; it comes literally days before I turn 30. It's a perfect parallel, in a sense. The arbitrary acknowledgement of my wonder years' passing will be forever intertwined with the death of the man who was never allowed a proper childhood, and who subsequently raged with all his creative might against the onset of adulthood. Jackson's music still serves as a crucible for our various compromises and self-imposed psychological barriers. It sounds carefree, but it's impossible to listen to without assessing its creator's hidden torment. Even the smoothest, catchiest, most disco-tastic singles in MJ's back catalog are a little obsessed. (Don't stop 'til you get enough? Got me working day and night?) Which is my own tortured way of saying it sounded great then, and it sounds great now. In the mid-'80s, I always thought of Michael Jackson and Prince as a perfect yin and yang of pop and R&B, the former representing good and the latter evil—or close to it. In retrospect, both were never more compelling (and downright terrifying) than when they confounded that syllogism. (Prince's "God" is as chillingly direct as Jackson's "In the Closet" is hauntingly abstruse.) Time's cruel joke: Now that I'm old enough to appreciate Jackson's artistic persona on its deeper levels, I only want back the simplicity of his showmanship. I want back the days when it wasn't the Eagles sitting atop the all-time list of best-selling albums. I want the Michael Jackson who somehow nailed flawless, effortless quadruple turns easing down the road in The Wiz while wearing size 37 scarecrow slippers. I want him back. Eric Henderson

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TAGS: billie jean, michael jackson, off the wall, remember the time, thriller


Review: Cheri

Cheri

There was a brief spell in the late 1980s when Michelle Pfeiffer had me completely enamored. Granted, our romance lasted only two films, Married to the Mob and The Fabulous Baker Boys, but that is longer than some romances last, whether onscreen or in life.

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TAGS: chéri, christopher hampton, michelle pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, stephen frears


God's Land[Editor's Note: The following is the fifth in a series of on-set reports by producer Jeremiah Kipp on God's Land, a feature film written and directed by Preston Miller, whose previous feature, Jones, was covered by The House Next Door here (review), here (interview), and here (podcast).]

Day Six: An Interview with Wayne Chang

We are approaching the middle of our shooting schedule, and finally making some headway. But as the weekends push on with God's Land, the balancing act of juggling a dozen actors' schedules is starting to wear on the production. Our lead actress, Jodi Lin, who is in almost every single scene, got paid work for the following weekend and we have to figure out how to shoot around that. Preston will have to operate the camera instead of Arsenio Assin, our director of photography, because he had a last minute schedule change. There would seem to be no romance and glory in making films at this no-budget level.

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TAGS: amy chiang, arsenio assin, god's land, jackson ning, jodi lin, preston miller, shing ka, wayne chang


The Yes Men Fix the World

Returning for a second feature-length tilt at gleefully executing anti-corporate hoaxes, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno follow up the inflatable penis suit and feces-generated fast food of <a data-cke-saved-href="/film/review/the-yes-men" href="/film/review/the-yes-men" "="">The Yes Men with a little more showbiz (staged comic interludes in their debris-filled "underground headquarters") to prank unsuspecting business conferees with fraudulent rollouts of a bulbous rubber survival cocoon (ostensibly from Halliburton) and a new energy source: candles made from the flesh of a gallant, industrially-poisoned Exxon janitor. Proving repeatedly that a passable wardrobe and camera-ready clichés can get them into any chair normally reserved for experts and bureaucrats, the Yes Men most satisfyingly bring temporary but unaccustomed chaos through a BBC News interview where Bichlbaum's offer of Dow Chemical billions to treat victims of the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster sends the company's stock plunging; the post-catastrophic "SurvivaBall" garb draws straight-faced questions about marketability and long-term wear; and a New York Times print parody exploits Obama-victory ecstasy by trumpeting headlines of instant Iraq withdrawal and sweeping progressive reforms. (This climactic project, though accurately conceived and read as a "dream paper," may have dated fastest of all.)

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TAGS: andy bichlbaum, human rights watch film festival, mike bonanno, the yes men fix the world







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