Tuesday, October 30, 2007
If I had to guess, I would have estimated the world record for consecutive free throws made atmaybe something over a hundred, but not by much. The actual record?
I simply can't compute it.
I'm not going to recap the whole brou-ha-ha when the folks at PopWatch and Stereogum have done it so well already, but the short version is that Sasha Frere-Jones wrote an article in The New Yorker a few weeks back bemoaning the lack of black musical rhythms and influences in indie rock music today, using the music of Arcade Fire as a jumping-off point. Then, Win Butler, Arcade Fire bandleader, politely responded to Jones with a letter defending his band's music, and, more to the point, with an mp3 that lays out Arcade Fire snippets side by side with the (mostly) black music that inspired the band.
The mp3 is a wonderful listen, providing this musically literate-bu-barely-so fan with lots of ah-ha! moments, as the inspirations behind sounds I have been listening to in the few months since I became a fan were revealed. My favorite example is the way Butler shows how the slow opening to "My Body Is a Cage" is really just field slave chant. I never heard the connection, but now I never will be able to not hear it. Awesome stuff.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
An all rock/pop edition:
1. "Miss Macbeth (demo)" - Elvis Costello - Spike
From the Rhino re-release's wonderful bonus disc - full of intriguing demo versions of the songs.
2. "Seek Up (Live)" - Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds - Live at Luther College
These stripped down acoustic concerts Matthews does with Reynolds are pretty awesome.
3. "An Cat Dubh" - U2 - Boy
Early, moody, a bit adolescently pretentious, U2.
4. "The Child Is Gone" - Fiona Apple - Tidal
Apple has a remarkable sense of tone and mood for such a young woman. That this is a debut album astounds me.
5. "Come Together" - The Beatles - 1
One of my favorite Beatles songs.
6. "Joliet Bound" - John Mellencamp - Trouble No More
This is a very underrated album, full of authentic-, but not sterile-sounding, old blues songs.
7. "You Could Make a Killing" - Aimee Mann - I'm with Stupid
I prefer later Aimee, but this early album is still well worth its time. This is a nice mid-tempo number.
8. "This Is Not America" - David Bowie - Best of Bowie
I got this after realizing that Arcade Fire has some commonality with Bowie, and that as a fan of theatrical rock, I might like Bowie beyond the classic rock station staples. Haven't gotten to it much yet though, and don't really know this song.
9. "That Was Your Mother" - Paul Simon - Graceland
A pretty straightforward zydeco pastiche.
10. "Less than Strangers" - Tracy Chapman - Telling Stories
Chapman can churn out solid, melodic, heartfelt acoustic rock with ease. This may not be special, but it's a fine little song.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Random Top Ten!!
Top Ten John Williams' Scores
Can a score achieve greatness solely on the basis of two notes? Yes.
9. Jurassic Park
I've always absolutely loved that fanfare theme for the way it presents us with a pretty straightforward high-adventure laced, simple theme of wonder and twists it with a blue note to symbolize the genetic tampering in the story, the non-natural aspect of these awe-inspiring dinosaurs.
8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Some great themes, but not as cohesive a whole as Williams' great scores. Still, Hall-of-Fame worthy just for those two big themes themselves.
7. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
The best of the new trilogy scores, with a wonderfully heartbreaking theme to represent the conflict between Obi-Wan and Anakin.
A deeply sorrowful score.
5. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
May be the most organic of the Star Wars scores, the most compelling from start to finish.
Williams, to represent the strange but effective mixture of the seemingly disparate styles of Spielberg and Kubrick creates a hybrid of his own Romantic, full-bodied sound and Philip Glassian cold minimalism. Genius.
3. Schindler's List
The score that showed me that Williams can do serious as well as anyone, that grand adventure and big, sweeping sounds are not his only tricks.
Williams at his biggest and most unabashedly epic. Those last fifteen minutes or so are just magic, and when those tympanis come in at the end? Chills.
1. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
The one that kick started big orchestral music as the go to sound for big films, a template that still has enormous influence thirty years later. I personally think that Williams will be remembered two hundred years hence for much, but if it turns out that he's only remembered for one thing, it'll be the Main Theme to this.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
As I've said previously, I am deeply in love with Neon Bible, Arcade Fire's second album, and this song is easily the highlight for me. It just pushes so many of my musical buttons - big, epic scale; on-the-sleeve emotions; theatrical style. It's got it all.
The song opens with a tongue-in-cheek sounding orchestral swell, almost the sound of an orchestra tuning up, over which we hear what sounds like a cheesy orchestra "hit" from an old Casio keyboard. This very brief introduction gives way to a very uptempo, driving and impatient bass and drum figure, aggressive and simple, that is ornamented by a quick rising and falling accordion figure. As the intro continues, the band shouts "hey!" at intervals. It sounds cheesy, but it works extremely well.
The intro, which at this point has a lot of elements going - guitar, accordion, violins, keyboard, suddenly gives way to the elemental verse, which is accompanied by just bass and drum - "we know a place where no planes go, we now a place where no ships go." I love this effect, of the many instruments and the wall of sound suddenly giving way to the fundamental driving bass and drum, only to have that massive sound come crashing in for the "chorus" - "no cars go."
After a repeat of this basic structure we get a quick bridge with some unidentifiable instrument, swirling woodwind sounds, and then a return to that main theme of accordion over bass and drum with high, seesawing violins. Which, in turn, gives way, to an ecstatic, repeating figure played by trumpet sounds. Which, in turn, gives way to a vocal interlude - with the phrase "between the click of a light and the start of a dream" repeated four times.
From here, the song begins to build to the climax - with the sonic elements slowly piling up until the lead singer, Win Butler, begins to shout out invitations - "Women and children, let's go! Old folks, let's go!"
Again - cheesy on paper. But on record, as the band crescendos and crescendos, with a big, ecstatic chorus joining in until it all finally ends, it's immensely powerful. The very simple lyrics - which seem to be about going away to a place where innocence can live unsullied, a kind of willfully optimistic and dreamlike utopia - combined with the propulsive, big, sweeping music work through some strange alchemy. We, the listeners, know that a place where "no cars go" - where we can live forever with our teenaged idealism unsullied does not exist. And somehow, through some subtle effect of the way the words are sung, the band knows as well,and knows we know. And it is precisely this combination of desperate optimism with an understanding of the fantasy of it all that makes the song so powerful.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I took down the graph, as I couldn't figure out how to make it readable. Instead, I'll just post several days' weigh-ins in that space. I still encourage all to call me names if those numbers start to slip, though.
1. Not enough characters interacting - we already did the whole "disparate storylines that will only come together at the end of the season" thing last year. This year, I wanted more working together.
2. Slow pacing. I know 22 episodes is a lot, but mindlessly drawn out things like Peter's amnesia and his refusal to find out who he is is just torturous.
3. Interesting characters who don't get anything interesting to do. Claire, Hiro, Nathan, hell, even Peter and Parkman I find interesting. And yet that interest has not paid off at all - the characters feel like they are being artificially kept in status-quo affirming, glacially slow plots to keep things from moving too fast. Because they are.
4. A soundtrack that is far too repetitive. That one mournful Eastern wail thing is cool, but that's all it ever is.
5. Hiro is the most interesting character, and he is trapped in a time travel plot that is boring me to tears.
6. The Mexican Wonder twins represent the most important new characters and they are boring, with convoluted and strange powers.
7. Only one awesome Tim Sale painting so far.
8. I just finished Deadwood, and so know how good Stephen Tobolowski really is.
9. The silliness of HRG and Claire and family hiding in a big house in the suburbs, instead of staying on the run.
10. The most interesting characters are the older heroes, and demographics being what they are, we know they won't be getting any real screentime.
I have not watched episodes 4 and 5 yet. My new modus operandi, I think, is going to be to continue to record the show, but to read Sepinwall's take after each airing. Unless there seems to be a reason to watch, I will delete the episodes as they go.
Friday, October 19, 2007
1. "Lemon" - U2 - Zooropa
U2's club song. Quite soulful, actually.
2. "Molto meno mosso - Andante" - Penderecki - Metamorphosen Violin Concerto
A classical piece I picked up a long time ago and never really listened to.
3. "Two Hearts Beat As one" - U2 - War
Like "Lemon," a stab by U2 at a more poppy, danceable song. Not a huge fan of this one.
4. "Why Trust a Shark?" - Thomas Newman - Finding Nemo
Threatening, ominous piece with lots of low strings and tympani.
5. "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" - Lerner & Lane - On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)
A song that has gone on to have a much bigger life than the musical it came from.
6. "The Knights of the Mirrors" - Wasserman and Leigh - Man of La Mancha (2002 Broadway Revival Cast)
Quixote's illusions are stripped from him. A scene, not a song.
7. "Je Suis De Sole" - Mark Knopfler - Golden Heart
A Creole-flavored zydeco pastiche song from Knopfler's debut solo album.
8. "I see their knavery" - Benjamin Britten - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Urgent aria from the opera.
9. "All I Really Want to Do" - Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series, Volume 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964 - Concert at Philharmonic Hall
Not one of my favorite Dylan songs. A bit too repetitive and direct.
10. "You Do Something to Me" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
Effortless as always.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Take a quick look to your right. Tosy and Cosh, since 9/4, have been trying to eat better and exercise in an effort to lose weight and improve overall weight. Why? Because, at 5'11'', Tosy and Cosh are overweight, and Tosy and Cosh would like to be able to do things like play basketball and baseball with their kids. Without, you know, feeling like a lung will soon be aspirated into the air. So - the graph. I've been keeping track of progress on a simple bar graph as a motivational tool. And, I figured if I put it up here, in public, and let others look at it - and gave others the opportunity to berate me if I start sliding, or stop posting it out of embarrassment, well that can only help. So, if you see that thin red line start to tick upwards, please feel free to chide me most vehemently. I will deserve it.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
My entry into the immensely enjoyable Close-Up Blog-a-Thon going on over at The House Next Door:
As soon as proprietor Matt Zoller-Seitz announced the blog-a-thon I instantly thought of this as my entry. I've long maintained that Haley Joel Osment was robbed of (at the very least) an Oscar nomination* for his performance in A.I., and the clincher moment for me is this closeup from early on in the film.
(The scene in question takes place in the 2:32 - 5:00 window of this longer clip; the close-up itself goes from 3:48-4:22, with one cut in the middle.)
At this point in the story, Osment's character, David, is simply a robot prototype of a little boy, programmed to be the quintessential "good boy" but not directed with any kind of parent-child attachment. Frances O'Connor's character, a mother who has lost her son to what she thinks is a coma he will never recover from, has decided, after a few days with David, to "imprint" him upon her. As the film has explained, this means that David will think of her as his mother, and instantaneously become completely devoted to her, with a (literally) undying love.
This moment in so many ways is the real crux of the film - David's single-minded devotion to his "mother" is the drive behind the entire film's story, and it is critically important to the integrity and internal logic of the rest of the film that we believe this moment, that we believe that David has changed, fundamentally and forever.
Now, Spielberg could have handled this in any number of ways - through the plot itself (writing a scene to demonstrate that David has changed, for example--one can easily imagine Monica saying "it didn't work" with a cut to a scene in which David's newfound love is profoundly demonstrated through action), through John Williams' score, heck, through, these days, digital effects. Instead he entrusted the moment--the moment his entire film hinged on--to the acting ability of a twelve-year old boy.
And that twelve-year old boy delivered. What astonishes me about this closeup is how subtle Osment's work is - he doesn't signal David's fundamental change of character in any exaggerated way, but through a series of very small, barely detectable shifts in expression. As Monica reads the string of random words that will trigger the change, we see some very minor changes that we might be inclined to write off as only existing in our imagination. But when she finishes the string by reciting hers and David's names, the change really takes hold, and before our eyes Osment's face changes. I've watched it dozens of times and I still can't figure out exactly what he's doing. And yet at the end of those few seconds we are looking at what is in essence a completely different character. Not a blandly pleasant little boy, but a slavishly devoted son who loves his mother without reservation or qualification. So that when, for the first time, he calls her "Mommy," we can see the wondering, astonished love behind his eyes--eyes that, only moments ago, showed no hint of any such feelings.
*I have a pet peeve about critics complaining about actors being robbed of nominations and not playing fair by labeling who should not have been nominated. After all, it's not as if nominations go to all great performances - it's just the five best. And if you are going to complain about someone who should have gotten a nomination, you really should balance the equation by noting whose slot your man or woman should have taken. That being said, I unfortunately have seen only two of the nominated actors from 2001 and can't in all fairness say that Osment should have gotten, for example, Will Smith's slot (although I have my suspicions). Nonetheless, I'd easily place Osment's performace here above the only one of the five's I have seen, Tom Wilkinson's in In the Bedroom.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Three weeks into the new TV season, and what are our preliminary impressions?
How I Met Your Mother
This season has felt a little slow so far, with the show not quite as sharp as it's been, and, while we are only four episodes in, there''s been a little too much "Ted's and Robin's wacky dating escapades." And giving us a tease about the mother (we know now she will sport a yellow umbrella), while nice, is going to start coming across as just mean if they don't follow through with it soon. All that said, it's still solid and reliable and easily worth the 22 minutes.
Two and a Half Men
Still not breaking ground, still makes me laugh out loud. Not asking for more, really. and, so far, they are doing a nice job of acknowledging the kid's advancing age and decreasing naivete without being obnoxious about it.
Aliens in America
Liked the first two episodes, but I'm not sure how much I'll watch. It's very Everybody Hates Chris-like in that regard; I like the show but never make time for it.
Considering giving up on. I only got around to finishing season one a few weeks ago, and am already behind an episode now. As much as I like parts of the show, it just doesn't coalesce as a whole very well, and the wheel-spinning they have going on right now is getting very visible.
Ti-Fauxed four episodes and haven't watched a one.
Loved the pilot, liked the second ep fine, and haven't watched the third yet. This is a show the kind of fantasy-sci-fi-laden show the wife has no use for, so not sure how much I'll really continue with, especially if reports keep showing it as formulaic.
Lovely. It's got a pretty wonderful tone going on - not at all serious, and yet just serious enough. The coy and precious elements don't bother me at all, especially given how consistent the show is, tonally. And Kristen Chenowith is wonderful as the pining-away pie shop waitress. Given the central conceit impacting the two main characters (they can't touch), I have to wonder if long-term plans have Chenowith and the Pie Maker getting together down the line.
Back to You
Seen two episodes. A decent show, but not worth obsessing over.
My Name Is Earl
The prison conceit was inspired; Earl continues to make me laugh more than most shows can. I'm very curious as to how long they'll keep him in jail; given how well they have handled it so far I would not be surprised if he stays in all season.
The hour-longs are too long, not to mention the garishness of the very visible seams showing where they have stitched two relatively stand-alone episodes together. And they keep verging on making Michael too cartoonish. And yet so much is still so right - from the empty odiousness of Ryan the boss (I have to wonder if they are setting him up for a big fall or if they will go the "life sucks" route and have him succeed despite his arrogance and lack of skill) to the sweetness and simpleness of Jim and Pam as a couple to the deepening of Dwight through his breakup with Angela.
A delight. The most hysterical laughter I have experienced in years (literally years) came during last week's episode - "She said my vanity plate was inscrutable! 'ICU81MI" - 'I see you ate one. Am I?'"
As tired and worn out as the show is plotwise (I've said it before, but wouldn't it be great if they ages the characters? Wouldn't it open up new plots for them?), they still can deliver funny, funny stuff week in and out. It's not the genius it was ten years ago, but it's still damn funny.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Answers in blue were guessed by readers; answers in red were not:
Because I have no shame whatsoever in openly stealing. Name that tune! Put guesses in the comments, and I'll put the answers in the post as people get them.
1. "D, you're a darling, and E, you're exciting, and F, you're a feather in my arms."
"A, You're Adorable" - Buddy kaye, Fred Wise, and Sidney Lippman (The version I know is sung by Mandy Patinkin)
2. "No good time, no bad times, there's no times at all, just the New York Times."
"Overs" - Simon & Garfunkel
3. "Drinking all night, got into a fight, well, I feel so broke up, I want to go home."
"Sloop John B" - The Beach Boys
4. "Dynamite's in the belfry playin' with the bats, Little Gun's downtown in front of Woolworth's tryin' out his attitude on all the cats."
"Rosalita" - Bruce Springsteen
5. "Down by the harborside, a boat is fastened by a length of rope, it was a perfect match, dreaming of escape, feeling almost attached."
"Rope" - Fleshquartet and Anne Sofie Van Oter
6. "So you never knew, how low you stooped to make that call, you never knew, what was on the ground until you made them crawl, you never knew, that the heaven you keep, you stole."
"Please" - U2
7. "Early one morning, the sun was shining, she was lying in bed, wondering if she'd changed at all, if her hair was still red."
"Tangled Up in Blue" - Bob Dylan
8. "He said, 'son when you grow up, will you be the savior of the broken, the beaten, and the damned?'"
"Weclome to the Black Parade" - My Chemical Romance
9. "The tide's creepin up on the beach like a thief, afraid to be caught stealing the land."
"If You Loved Me" - Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III (from Carousel)
10. "Lawyer's rather nice, if it's for a price, order something else though to follow, since no one should swallow it twice."
"A Little Priest" - Stephen Sondheim (from Sweeney Todd)
11. "Saw a monster in the mirror when I woke today, a monster in my mirror but I did not run away, I did not shed a tear or hide beneath my bed, though the monster looked at me, and this is what he said."
"Monster in the Mirror" - Grover
12. "You get a shiver in the dark, it's raining in the park, but meantime, south of the river you stop and you hold everything, a band is blowing Dixie double-four time, you feel all right, when you hear that music ring."
"Sultans of Swing" - Dire Straits
13. "You've been a fool, and so have I, but come and be my wife, and let us try, before we die, to make some sense of life"
"Make Our Garden Grow" (from Candide) - Leonard Bernstein and Richard Wilbur
14. "Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart, my land's only borders lie around my heart" "Anthem" - Benny Anderson and Tim Rice (from Chess)
15. "She may be the face I can't forget, the trace of pleasure or regret, may be my treasure or the price I have to pay."
"She" - Elvis Costello
16. "See, my old man's gotta problem, lives with the bottle, that's the way it is, says his body's too old for working, I say his body's too young to look like his."
"Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman
17. "And the simple secret of the plot, is just to tell them that I love you a lot, then the world discovers as my book ends, how to make two lovers of friends."
"I Could Write a Book" - Rodgers and Hart
18. "For there's no man in town half as manly, perfect, a pure paragon!, you can ask any Tom, Dick or Stanley, and they'll tell you whose team they prefer to be on"
"Gaston" - Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (from Beauty and the Beast)
19. "If you got a hunger for what you see, you'll take it eventually, you can have anything you want, but you better not take it from me"
"Welcome to the Jungle" - Guns 'N Roses
20. "But there's a full moon risin', let's go dancin' in the light, we know where the music's playin', lets go out and feel the night."
"Harvest Moon" - Neil Young
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
From Jaq, I belatedly respond to this tagging:
There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:
- You can leave them exactly as is.
- You can delete any one question.
- You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. (For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".)
- You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
That's a lot of verbiage. Here are the questions as evolved by Jaq:
1. The best near-future novel in SF/Fantasy is
Firestar, by Michael Flynn.
2. The best romantic movie in historical fiction is
Shakespeare in Love.
3. The best opera recording in classical music is
Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Sir Georg Solti/VPO.
And here is my mutation of the same:
1. The best near-future novel in SF/Fantasy is
Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
2. The best romantic movie of the 2000s is
3. The best novel of the 2000s is
The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
No tags, but feel free to mutate away.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Stealing from Jaq, yet again:
1. How do you like your eggs?
Soft-boiled, lightly mixed and broken up with a fork and some salt and pepper added and then spooned onto a hot, freshly toasted English muffin.
2. How do you take your coffee/tea?
With milk. Used to be a milk and sugar guy, but forced myself to forgo the sugar a few years back as a calorie-cutting measure. Still can't do black.
3. Favorite breakfast food?
Good pancakes. Bad, or just average pancakes, or nothing special, but really good pancakes are awesome.
4. Peanut butter - smooth or crunchy?
Smooth. 'Cuz that's what Mom bought.
5. What kind of dressing on your salad?
I'm partial to Ken's Northeast Lite Italian and Lite Caesar dressings. If I'm throwing reason to the wind, I'll go the blue cheese route.
6. Coke or Pepsi?
Diet Pepsi if there's a choice, but I really don't care that much. Although Coke Zero is pretty much awesome.
7. You’re feeling lazy, what do you make?
Throw some ground beef, eggs, and cheese into a skillet and top with ketchup.
8. You’re feeling really lazy. What kind of pizza do you order?
Everything. I like lots of different foods mixed together. When I was a kid, and we went to my grandmother's for dinner at Thanksgiving, I'd mush the mashed potatoes, corn, turkey, green beans, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce together into one thick paste and eat that.
9. You feel like cooking. What do you make?
Meatballs and sauce. My only real go-to.
10. Do any foods bring back good memories?
Grape leaves remind me of falling in love with my wife, since they are a staple of big family dinners on her side, and since it took me a long time to get to like them (the grape leaves - not her family).
11. Do any foods bring back bad memories?
Beef Stroganoff. A staple of my mother's cooking when we were kids, and not a favorite.
12. Do any foods remind you of someone?
Can't say that they do.
13. Is there a food you refuse to eat?
Raw tomatoes. Yech.
14. What was your favorite food as a child?
Mom's potato leek soup. Seriously; it was basically lightly flavored butter and cream.
15. Is there a food that you hated as a child but now like?
Zucchini. Green peppers.
16. Is there a food that you liked as a child but now hate?
No; I've added to the repertoire, not subtracted.
17. Favorite fruit and vegetable:
Pineapple and eggplant.
18. Favorite junk food
Ice cream. (Does ice cream qualify as "junk food?")
19. Favorite between meal snack
20. Do you have any weird food habits?
I have a habit of gnawing at chicken bones to the point of being pretty disgusting. I just hate letting good meat (or gristle, really) go to waste.
21. You’re on a diet. What food(s) do you fill up on?
I actually AM on a diet, but haven't found anything I can fill up on. Baby carrots, but that gets old VERY quickly.
22. You’re off your diet. Now what would you like?
Warm chocolate chip cookies.
23. How spicy do you order Indian/Thai?
Spicy. I like the dishes labeled "spicy" on the menu, at least.
24. Can I get you a drink?
Yes; cherry limeaid. Or a Boylan's Creamy Birch Beer.
25. Red wine or white?
Neither; I am a teetotaler.
26. Favorite dessert?
Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream, all by its lonesome.
27. The perfect nightcap?
Lipton's blackberry tea.
Monday, October 08, 2007
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
And somewhere in California, Tom the Dog recoils in disgust.
Once upon a time I fancied that I might end up a critic. That has not been the case, and at times like these, I sometimes wonder if that was for the best. Because, while I can tell you that The Shawshank Redemption is my favorite film, and while I believe it, I for the life of me couldn't really tell you why.
But, as to leave off here would be kind of a cheat after writing about 99+ films, I'll try. Let's start with the obvious. It's based on a Stephen King story. And not just any story, but the best story in what is probably his best story collection - the four-novella collection Different Seasons, the same collection that also yielded Stand By Me to the screen. It's a prison story, kind of old-fashioned, and yet it's not as if I have some noted taste for prison movies. And, as you'll have seen from the 99+ movies discussed thus far, my movie tastes tend to turn to the fantastic - fantasies, musicals, grand adventures, big action films. Shawshank is none of these. It's in many ways a throwback to the kind of quiet, immaculately constructed drama which is very little represented on my list.
And yet. And yet I return and return and return to this film, never tiring of it, as I can tire of even films I love dearly if I revisit them without a big enough break in between viewings. Not Shawshank. If I'm flipping through channels and chance upon Shawshank (which, given how often TNT ran it there for a while, was not hard to do), I can easily sit and watch, and be as engrossed (or nearly so) as I was thirteen years ago. Why?
The story is the biggest reason, I think that's clear. Part of it is just the elegant way king's story unfolds. How we meet this man, unsure of whether or not he committed the crime he is accused for, and slowly come to like him. How what starts as a fairly "plotty" film, about a murder and a trial and an incarceration, seems to become a fairly lightly plotted character study. And how at the end, the gears of the plot start ramming home the surprises and revelations. How that moment of catharsis, of triumphant victory, the film gives us is completely earned, and how it is not allowed to erase the hardships we've seen. And how the sappy ending works so beautifully - again, because it is earned and fair.
Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins are another big reason. It is this film that made me fall in love with Freeman as an actor, and Roger Ebert (in, I believe, his original review) got it exactly right - it's the way he uses stillness and quiet that makes his work so effective here. Something we can easily forget in thinking back, but that Freeman makes real for us as we watch is the notion that Red came by his prison sentence fair and square. We meet a basically good Red, but the qualities that allowed him to kill his wife are still there in subdued form, and Freeman lets them breathe. And Tim Robbins has never been better, using his tall, lanky frame to wonderfully ironic effect, giving us a hunched, almost mousy Andy who hides his sharp anger well.
All that being said, I honestly don't think I would revere Shawshank as much were it not for Thomas Newman's score - easily one of the best Hollywood has produced over the last twenty years. Newman, like many a film composer, can repeat himself too much, but here he gives us music that perfectly captures the quiet, understated nature of the film. Case in point - when Andy escapes, and we are given that aforementioned cathartic moment of triumph, overhead camera shot of Andy with arms outstretched in triumph and all, Newman's core is appropriately grandiose - crashing cymbals and fanfaric horns. But listen to that moment closely. As soon as the fanfare dies we hear a very quiet descending figure playing, tinkling its way down the scale. It's a sad little musical moment and it's presence is entirely deliberate - the score is acknowledging that, as happy as Andy is, he is also devastated that he has lost as many years as he has. Good as it is to escape, it can't erase the hell he has endured. And that the score gets that, and helps us to get that? Wow.
Maybe most of all, though, is Shawshank's central theme, one I love and gravitate towards in other art. It's the theme of hope. And not hope in an easy, "wish for what you want and you'll get it way." I mean hope in a deeper way. What the film tells us is that even in hopeless situations, even when there is no actual chance at redemption or escape from pain or suffering, the mere act of hoping can have immense power. It's the central theme of the film, I think. (It's also the central theme of the song "To Dream the Impossible Dream," a point very, very few singers seem to understand). And, for me, it's a profoundly moving one.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Thursday, October 04, 2007
The trailer I have very obsessively been checking for, day in and out, is finally here!
Excitable bullet points thoughts:
- Music over logo is definitely Sweeney music, but arranged differently than in the score. Awesome. I was fearing that some generic "spooky" music would be used instead.
- Voice over? Nicely gravelly.
- First look at Todd? It's pre-banishment Sweeney, and he looks just fine.
- Closeup of Mrs. Lovett. "Barker, his name was. Benjamin Barker." I love how dirty and decrepit she looks.
- Alan Rickman is suitably oily and evil-sounding as Turpin.
- Gambit of using the opening of the trailer to tell the Sweeney backstory? Not sure I'm completely sold, as part of the fun of the musical is getting that info after we meet Sweeney post-banishment, but this is Hollywood, and the ship has long sailed on trailers not giving away too much of the plot.
- We see Sweeney return - I love the look here, the look of the film. Dirty, and frayed, and torn.
- Wow. I was getting the sinking feeling that they would play the fact that the film is a musical coy - but then, boom! A substantial chunk of the score's best song is sung.
- Can Depp sing? Not really. It's a kind of character-singing (think Henry Higgins) he's doing, but it might (might) work. The tome of his voice and the insane depravity are spot on.
- Then we go into a quick montage (set to beautiful, lushly orchestrated Sweeney music) of images. Quick views of Beadle (looking beautifully ratlike), Pirelli, of the chair in action - awesome all. Whatever else they do or don't do right, they got the look spot on.
- I love, love, love the set up of ending on Sweeney's triumphant "At last, my arm is complete again!" only to undercut the drama of the moment by cutting right to Lovett asking what they will do with the dead body.
- Set up aside, they give away none of the twists, which is great too - no reference to meat pies!
Verdict. Very nervous about the singing. Love the sense that Sondheim's very dramatic, film-music inspired score will get a full unleashing, even as traditional underscoring. Overall impression? Good. Very, very good.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Random Top Ten!!!
Top Ten Rock/Pop Artists
10. Tracy Chapman
If she's never equaled the spare power of her wonderful debut album, she's still managed to regularly produce very solid albums highlighted by two or three excellent, excellent tracks.
Best Song: Fast Car
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Short Supply
9. John Mellencamp
My fervor for Mellencamp has ebbed since high school, but I still love the hell out of a lot of his stuff - Scarecrow, Lonesome Jubilee, and Big Daddy still represent string of albums that would stand up to a lot of one-two-three punches.
Best Song: Check It Out
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Jackie Brown
8. Aimee Mann
My love for Mann is relatively new, but every catalog album of hers I pick up cements that love.
Best Song: Save Me
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Goodbye Carolyn
Sacred Love was a major disappointment for me, but The Soul Cages stands as one of my ten favorite albums ever.
Best Song: Brand New Day
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: When the Angels Fall
6. Neil Young
Young's longevity and productivity astound me.
Best Song: Philadelphia
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Razor Love
5. Paul Simon/Simon & Garfunkel
Another artist whose maturity and continued relevance is a delight.
Best Song: Graceland
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Wartime Prayers
4. The Who/Pete Townsend
Townsend, unlike Simon and Young, hasn't aged as well. Nonetheless, The Who stand as the only 60s rock band that still moves me and engages me; that I love and don't just respect.
Best Song: Won't Get Fooled Again
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: I Believe My Own Eyes
3. Elvis Costello
The prolific, mighty destroyer of genre barriers, gifted with a strong, beautiful voice and the knowledge of how to use it and one of the century's keenest songwriting minds.
Best Song: Alison
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Toledo
2. Bob Dylan
It's become a cliche, but there it is - he's our Shakespeare.
Best Song: Like a Rolling Stone
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Sugar Baby
I doubt strongly that my passion and fanatic devotion to U2 will ever be supplanted.
Best Song: Where the Streets Have No Name
Best Song You May Not Have Heard Of: Mercy
On the outside looking in: Arcade Fire, The Police, Living Colour, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, Queen, Fiona Apple
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
I first saw Saving Private Ryan a year or so after its release, as one of my first Netflix rentals. At the time, my wife and I were living in a small ranch with the bedroom off of the living room, which is where our TV was. My wife was not interested in the movie, so I put it on late one night after she had gone to sleep. Our TV at the time was a 19-in., and the DVD was widescreen, so the image was very, very small. And so as not to wake my wife, I had the volume down very, very low as well. And still - still - I was stunned, almost physically, by that remarkable opening sequence. Nine years down the road, that sequence still stands as a remarkable achievement, and as a much-imitated milestone in how war battles are filmed. To be frank, if the rest of the film were horrible, it likely would have made this list for that sequence alone. But it's up here at #4 because the rest of the film is just so damn good. Spielberg never flinches for the rest of the way from depicting war as nonsensical, surreal, chaotic, or brutal. And his deliberate echo of the classic WWII film character tropes plays as canny - we feel as if we know these soldiers, and then find out in many ways that we don't. And at the center of all of this is Tom Hanks' indelible performance of a good man changed by circumstances beyond his control into a killer and leader of men. That it's a gorgeously shot film is a given; that that gorgeousness never devolves into mere pretty landscapes is a testament to how well Spielberg is holding the reins here. Just a majestic film.
3. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
Epic storytelling at its absolute best. What Jackson achieved here (and in the first two films) is, I fear, already being minimized. The sheer, gargantuan success of these films make it hard to remember that this was a huge gamble for New Line. These could have easily turned out horrible, or bombed, or just fell flat with the public. That they ended up immaculately produced, written, and acted is miracle-like. And with this last film, Jackson was able to really tie everything up beautifully. The complaints that the end goes on and on miss the point, I think, of this being the last act of a longer film. It is a long ending for a three-hour film; for a nine- or ten-hour film, it's the perfect length. What I think most impresses me is that, with all of the challenges inherent in filming three films at once, with the sheer scale of the thing, Jackson manages to pull off both the epic scale (that climactic battle is just stunning) and intimate moments necessary to make this film work. We believe not only in the scale, and ferocity, and stakes of the battles, but we believe in these characters and in the journeys they've taken. This is filmmaking that takes full advantage of the advances in the field to realize a vision that truly can only be realized in film.
2. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Had no sequels ever been made, Star Wars could stand on its own as a wonderful space fantasy film. The Empire Strikes Back cannot. And that, in the end, is why I love this film more than the original - because, for me, a large part of the appeal of the Star Wars films is the world they create, and the faux-historic scope they embrace. And this sequel nails this aspect that I love completely - from the pulpy surprises, to the dark tone, to the hints of a much larger world (Yoda, the bounty hunters). It also stands as likely the funniest, most romantic installment of the series, with Fisher and Ford showing fine chemistry and the droids cementing their function as Laurel and Hardy-esque commentators. This is the film that "opened up" the Star Wars universe, really, and that enthralled me so as a kid, and that continues to enthrall me to this day.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Last week's third-season premiere of How I Met Your Mother gave us a little tease, in that we finally viewed the titular mother - albeit from above, with everything but her legs hidden underneath a yellow umbrella. And so with this episode, the show has defined for us that the mother will have a yellow umbrella when we meet her. Fine. And I can already see the episode where we are introduced to a new love interest for Ted, with the woman revealing her yellow umbrella at the end. And that would be cool. But what they might do (what I would do) is establish a recurring comic relief character - think Janice on Friends - a character with lots of very distasteful traits; a sitcom villain. Have her come back several times, establish her as part of this universe, as the Lex Luthor to the gang's Superfriends. And then reveal that it is she that is in possession of that umbrella - maybe as the last shot in a season finale. And then let the show be about how this pretty annoying character will become the love of Ted's wife. That would be cool.