Thursday, January 31, 2008

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!!

Top Ten Blogs

I read all the blogs listed on the sidebar at leat every few days or so, but these are the ten I turn to first, and look the most forward to reading every day:

10. About Last Night - Postings on theater, music, books, and dance by critic Terry Teachout and two co-bloggers
The best "high culture" arts blog I have found. Opinionated but not obnoxious and insightful. I find that I tend to skip the posts not by Terry Teachout, but then they tend to be more literature-focused, and more often than not on literature I'm unfamiliar with.

9. Something Old, Something New - Posts on classic TV, classical music, and classic animation by a Canadian critic
Jamie Weinman is one of the most astute and insightful pop culture writers out there. I find myself wishing I knew more about some of the topics he writes about at length (opera, conductors) so that I could enjoy those posts as well.

8. Comics Curmudgeon - Lovingly mocking looks at daily comic strips by
Always good for a laugh. I do wish that there were more comics featured every day, as many he focuses on are not ones I read. (I understand at the same time that the proprietor might well do so if he were getting paid to and therefore had the time to.)

7. The House Next Door - A potpuorri of film and TV reviews, commentary, adn news lorded over by ex-Star-Ledger TV critics Matt Zoller Seitz.
While the in-depth discussions can sometimes get over my head, and while the films and dilmmakers discussed are often obscure to me, I still check in regularly, because when I can take part in the conversation, it's some of teh most stimulating, engaging stuff around.

6. Tom the Dog - Aggressively opinionated but fun pop culture commentary and reviews by a fan.
Tom is snarky and sincere in just the right proportions, but since his move to Austin posting has dropped to alarming rates.

5. Pop Watch - Entertainment Weekly's house blog, updated many times daily with reactions and insights into the day's pop culture happenings.
Reads like it's put togetehr well-connected, well-compensated fans, not corporate mouthpieces.

4. Electronic Cerebrectomy - Oft-grumpy and very opinionated looks at movies, animation, music, TV, and the pop/celebrity news.
I can sometimes find the stridentness of his opinions, and, truth be told, his solipism, off-putting, but the sheer volume and intelligence behins his posts never faisl to come through.

3. Byzantium's Shores - Musings on film, TV, books, music, and life in general by Jaquander, an overalled Buffalonian.
Best Star Wars writing on the Web, and a great knack for weaving the personal in with all of the culture stuff.

2. A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago - A panel of pop culture fans, many of them, lawyers, post daily on pop culture news and material.
Uniformly witty, insightful, and fun, and with tastes that match up nicely with mine. Best comments community of all thesites I read.

1. What's Alan Watching? - Star-Ledger TV critic Alan Sepinwall's indispensible blog of all things TV, with running episode-by-episode postings on more series than is really healthy (for him).
Great comments section and copious posts about pretty much all of my favorite TV shows. My favorite Lost spot on the Web.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Shakiest Cam of All
Saw Cloverfield Friday night. Now, I was looking forward to seeing it, expected to enjoy it, but that was about it. I loved the concept, and thought the marketing was brilliant, but reports that there were no further "big twists" to be had had me going in with lowered expectations. Which were smashed to smithereens. I was completely won over by the film - engrossed, completely wrapped up by the story and stunned by the execution. A great, great movie.

What impressed me the most is how committed they were to the concept. I expected cheats - outside viewpoints, suspiciously well-framed and executed shots, maybe some music. And got none of it. The commitment to producing a film that could have been captured by a camcorder wielded by a terrified, numbed fleeing victim was wholesale. And it was that commitment that captured my attention so - I bought into the concept fully and so was able to feel engaged by what was going on. And the attention to detail was great. Starting with a good 15 minutes of uneventful party blather was very disarming, and helped me to buy into these characters. But most important was the way the camera never settled, never framed anything well, and how much of the film's runtime is given over to incomprehensible shots taken with the camera swinging wildly as its wielder sprints in terror, or takes cover, or otherwise freaks out. Even the conceit that he never just drops the damn camera was well-executed, I thought; the film made it clear that the camera was something for him to hide behind - we see him take the camera at the beginning after realizing that it gives him an excuse to talk to people, and a way to hide his shyness. So when the attack happens, I totally believe that he would continue filming, as it gives him a way to hide from the crazy violence surrounding him - the camera becomes a security blanket.

I was also extremely impressed with the special effects - shots like the Brooklyn Bridge being destroyed, or one skyscraper drunkenly leaning against another, were seamless, and felt completely real. And the monster, what little we saw of it, was very nicely designed; otherworldy, freakish, and not like monsters we've seen in other films.

What kind of blindsided me the most though was how much of a 9/11 move this was. A film actually about 9/11 that deployed these same shots - especially a shot of people gathered in a store as a massive wall of smoke and debris sweeps by that deliberately echoes real footage from 9/11 of the same thing happening - would feel crass and exploitative. But because this is a monster movie, a movie about a huge creature that could never exist in real life, it can get away with the imagery, and do a remarkably effective job of portraying the emotions involved for New Yorkers caught up in the attacks that day. Genius.

One last note. I had a pet theory going that this was going to end up being the New York attack that we see briefly in Watchmen, that the films would tie together and that would be the "twist" many (including me) seemed to be anticipating. But I just looked and saw that Watchmen is Warner Bros. and this is Paramount, so that's probably not the case. Fun theory anyway.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 25, 2008

Three by Three
Warnings: Three by Three may contain spoilers.

Three things I liked about Juno
  • The tone, which hovered quite nicely on the border between stylized (the music, the self-consciously quippy and referential dialogue) and naturalistic (the performances by the adults, the emotions)
  • The plot twist, which I did not see coming, and how it wasn't played salaciously but just sadly.
  • The ending, in which we saw that Juno, assured as she was, was affected, and greatly, by having to give up the baby.

Three things I did not like about Juno

  • The way they kind of elided over the physical effects of pregnancy
  • The reaction of the parents, which was maybe just a tad too easy going
  • I kind of wanted one more Jennifer Garner scene.

Until Whenever

Three and Three

Warning: Three and Three contains spoliers

Three things I liked about Superbad
  • That they nailed so well the scene at the end where the Cera and Hill characters admit how much they will miss each other when they go to college, and how they really do love each other. When teenaged girls separate, tears are, if not expected, certainly understood, but if male friends feel emotional towards each other the flags go up. I like that the film addressed this directly, and that it did so without feeling false or obvious.
  • That the cops have been playing with McLovin throughout - their seeming naivete was a bit unbelievable
  • The performance by Hill - his terror at being abandoned by Cera in September, showing itself through increasing frustration at Cera not having his back was much more finely wrought than you might imagine. That said, he nailed the boisterous funny fat kid stuff perfectly.

Three things I did not like about Superbad

  • The "beer in the detergent bottle" bit. Panicked as he was, I just didn't buy that Hill would think he could bring soapy beer to the party.
  • Some of the contrivances - Hill having his car towed ended up not really making that much of a difference in the end.
  • Some of the cops' broader moments. Humoring the kid because they remember being kids, and because he did get punched by a robber, sure. Letting him fire a gun? Not sure.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A: Madison, the Grouch, and Meyer

Brief thoughts on the Oscar nominations, made so (brief) primarily because of the paucity of films seen by me in 2007:
  • Johnny Depp's nomination as best actor is very well-deserved, even if he will likely not win.
  • Signs of auto-pilot - Cate Blanchett's nomination for the Elizabeth sequel seemed out of left field - wasn't that film mostly panned?
  • Ellen Page was as good-as-advertised in Juno - I'd love to see her win
  • No Simpsons Movie for Best Animated Film. Hm.
  • Sweeney Todd for Art Direction and Costume Design is very nice to see - it was a beautifully and impeccably designed film
  • Sorry not to see Burton nominated as Best Director. Of the nominees, I've only seen Juno, which did balance its tome exceedingly well.
  • Genius Lost composer Michael Giacchino has his first nomination, which made me deeply, deeply happy. Have already requested the Ratatouille score from the library.
  • With three nominations, Alan Menken continues to receive copious Oscar love. I wonder where he sits on the most-nominated list? Pretty high I bet. Still haven't heard or seen Enchanted, so can't comment otherwise.
  • Of the Best Picture nominees I have only seen Juno.
  • I actually think Spider-Man 3 achieved a new level of greatness in using visual effects to do comic book action, and would have liked to see a nomination. I actually think the effects there were better than Transformers, which for all of the flash and sparkle were not all that understandable.
  • Ratatouille for screenplay? Awesome.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 18, 2008

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Romance in Durango" - Bob Dylan - Desire
Dylan in a rare mood for him: languid and impetuous.

2. "Stalking Carl" - John Williams - Munich
Moody suspense music from the master. Lots of low piano chords.

3. "Finale" - Danny Elfman - Batman
This sounded so new 20 years ago, and so non-heroic compared to what we were used to. Now it sounds downright Williamsesque.

4. "It's All the Same" - Wasserman and Leigh - Man of La Mancha (2004 Revival Cast)
A great, dark song - a whore sings of how men are all the same and how sex with one is no different from sex with another.

5. "Hey Joe" - Jimi Hendrix - The Essential Jimi Hendrix
Is this now the definitive "I killed my wife for cheating" song or is there a rap song that has taken its place?

6. "Isn't It Romantic?" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Sings Rodgers and Hart
Sweet and pure.

7. "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" - Elvis Costello - Get Happy!!
Vintage-sounding rock from Elvis.

8. "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy" - Queen - Queen - Greatest Hits
Cheeky music hall fun.

9. "On the Right Track" - Stephen Schwartz - Pippin
I love how this jazzy, upbeat duet is really all about the narrator of the story convincing his protagonist to keep going so that there will be an Act II (at the end of which the narrator plans to immolate the protagonist so that the audience will be entertained). Pippin is really pretty dark.

10. "Rain on the Scarecrow" - John Mellencamp - Scarecrow
Angry or sad Mellencamp is the best Mellencamp.

Until Whenever

Thursday, January 17, 2008

In a Mellow Neil Young Vein

A fun meme from Culture Kills:

The first article title on the page is the name of your band.

The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album

The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

You then take the pic and add your band name and the album title to it, then post your pic.
And so we get:

Until Whenever

Three and Three

A new feature. We'll see if it sticks.

Three Things I Liked about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
  • The way the big battle at the end was choreographed and acted. The physicality inherent in casting spells, and the chaotic, scary way such a battle would naturally unfold was very well-portrayed.
  • The views of the city of London, which reminded us that the Harry Potter stories takes place in the real-world
  • The playing of depressed Harry, which in the books can come across as excessively dour and repetitive. As others have mentioned, Radcliffe has matured quite nicely as an actor.

Three Things I Disliked about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

  • The hurried feel of the story - it's not as if I thought any one of the book's cut subplots should not have been lost, but the overall effect was to make the story feel a little like a collection of beats and plot turns, and not so much a living breathing story.
  • The cursory treatment of why Dumbledore was treating Harry so coldly all year--that last scene between the two needed a page or two more.
  • The sad irony that, as much as the film made clear that it's the love of his friends - Ron and Hermione especially - that keeps Harry from being like Voldemort, it also paid scant attention to that friendship throughout.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lyrics Quiz - Answered

Tosy and Cosh readers did very well. Below, in green, are the ones you didn't get:

Post your answers in the comments!!!

1. "There's a saying old, says that love is blind/Still we're often told, seek and you shall find"
"Someone to Watch Over Me" - George and Ira Gershwin

2. "Someday, maybe, all my dreams will be repaid./Heck, I'd even play the maid/To be in a show."
"Broadway Baby" - Sondheim

3. "Well I'm gonna raise a fuss, and I'm gonna raise a holler/About workin' all summer, just tryin' to earn a dollar"
"Summertime Blues" - Eddie Cochrane

4. "I loved you since I knew ya/I wouldn't talk down to ya/I have to tell you just how I feel/I won't share you with another boy"
"Roxane" - The Police

5. "Strong wind destroy our home/Many dead, tonight it could be you"
"Homeless" - Paul Simon

6. "They all said we'd never get together, darling, let's take a bow/For ho, ho, ho! Who's got the last laugh?/Hee, hee, hee! Let's at the past laugh,/Ha, ha, ha! Who's got the last laugh now? "
"They All Laughed" - George and Ira Gershwin

7. "The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense/Take what you have gathered from coincidence."
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" - Bob Dylan

8. "All the late night bargains have been struck/Between the satin beaus and their belles/And prehistoric garbage trucks/Have the city to themselves"
"Your Latest Trick" - Dire Straits

9. "Who dries your eyes when you cry real tears?/Who knows or cares what imitation is?/Only you do"
"Tear Off Your Own Head" - Elvis Costello

10. "If you are confused check with the sun/Carry a compass to help you along/Your feet are going to be on the ground/Your head is there to move you around"
"Stand" - REM

11. "Now, try your best to stay calm/Brush up your Sunday salaam/Then come and meet his spectacular coterie"
"Prince Ali" - Howard Ashman and Tim Rice

12. "Oh my love, it's a long way we've come/From the freckled hills to the steel and glass canyons"
"The Hands That Built America" - U2

13. "The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast/The slow one now, will later be fast"
"The Times They Are A-Changing" - Bob Dylan

14. "You sit around getting old, there's a joke here somewhere and its on me/Ill shake this world off my shoulders, come baby this laughs on me"
"Dancing in the Dark" - Bruce Springsteen

15. "The sex you're trading up for, what you hope is love/Is just another thing that, he'll be careless of"
"You Do" - Aimee Mann

16. "I've kicked the habit/Shed my skin/This is the new stuff/I go dancing in, we go dancing in"
"Sledgehammer" - Peter Gabriel

17. "I got up to wash my face/When I come back to bed/Someone's taken my place"
"Cecelia" - Simon & Garfunkel

18. "I know how it feels to have wings on your heels/And to fly down the street in a trance/You fly down a street on the chance that you meet/And you meet -- not really by chance."
"Hello Young Lovers" - Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein

19. "Put down the knitting/The book and the broom/Time for a holiday"
"Cabaret" - John Kander and Fred Ebb

20. "That song is sung out/This bell is rung out/She was the light that I'd bless/She took my last chance at happiness"
"God Give Me Strength" - Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tosy and Cosh and Apple

Tosy and Cosh's reactions to the latest news from Apple!!

1) Super-thin laptop!!! - My computer is five or six years old, and I will probably not be investing in a new one for a few years more. And when I do, although I am interested in getting a laptop this go-round, a $1,800 one ain't even on the same table as the cards.

2) iPhone software upgrades!! - Don't have an iPhone, ain't getting one soon, so don't care.

3) iTunes movie rentals - I do have an iPod, though. And I do rent movies. I might give this a try. But watching a whole film on that tiny iPod screen isn't fun. And I'm not sure if I could use my work laptop that comes on the train with me (how I watch many DVDs now). And I'm already paying Blockbuster $17 a month or whatever it is. Now, if they introduce a similar unlimited pricing plan . . .

5) New Apple TV - a box I can use to watch iTunes content on my TV? If that unlimited rental thing comes in, Blockbuster could be in trouble.

6) Wireless hard drive - Yawn.

Until Whenever

Monday, January 14, 2008

Books on the Brain

Stolen from Roger:

1. Do you remember learning to read? How old were you?
I do. As a toddler I watched The Electric Company incessantly and picked up a lot of how to read from it, along with, to a lesser degree, Sesame Street. I also had a father who read to me in Sesame Street voices. When I was three my father would sit me on the counter at his deli and have me read the front page of the Daily News to customers to impress them.

2. What do you find most challenging to read?
Old novels - every time I get ambitious and try to read a classic author - even someone like Dickens - I find that the stylistic and structural differences in how we write a sentence now versus how they wrote sentences then stymie me.

3. What are your library habits?
I order a lot online for me and take the kids once a month or so to get books for them.

4. Have your library habits changed since you were younger?
Definitely - as a kid I went at least once a week, maybe more, and then primarily to browse and get books to read (and at times for research).

5. How has blogging changed your reading life?
Hasn't much. I do most of my reading in environments where computers are not to be found - on trains, in bed, in waiting rooms. I'll find the odd book I might not have otherwise, but still get most of my reading recommendations from newspapers, magazines, and what i know my own interests to be.

6. What percentage of your books do you get from:
New book stores - 20%
Second-hand book stores - 10%
The library - 50%
Online exchange sites - 0%
Online retailers - 10%
Gifts - 10%

7. How often do you read a book and NOT review it in your blog?
Often. If I find I'm not burning to share anything about it I usually don't.

8. What are your pet peeves about ways people abuse books?
Don't have any. Books, for me, are for reading, not protecting. I'd rather a book be read, and dog-eared, rumpled, torn, or damaged, than unread and pristine.

9. Do you ever read for pleasure at work?
Occasionally at lunch, mostly the newspaper.

10. When you give people books as gifts, how do you decide what to give them?
A combination of "they like topic A" and "this looks like a really good book on topic A)"

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007 Albums

Albums released in 2007 I bought or received:
Chrome Dreams II - Neil Young
I am absolutely loving this disc - the eighteen minute-plus "Ordinary People" has me wishing it were longer, and the closing "The Way" may just be Young's most heartbreaking song since "Philadelphia."

Neon Bible - Arcade Fire
My favorite album of the year. I've finally found an anthemic, optimistic, big-noise band to follow in my beloved U2's footsteps.

Magic - Bruce Springsteen
A great rock album. The penultimate "Devil's Arcade" is one of the most haunting songs Bruce has come up with in a long while.

Grey Gardens - Original Cast
Have not yet really delved into this, but so far I think I like it.

Joshua Tree 20th Anniversary - U2
The disc of bonus tracks is pretty repetitive from stuff I already have, but the DVD of a concert from Paris is petty awesome. I've never heard "The Unforgettable Fire" live before.

Live at Massey Hall - Neil Young
Gorgeous solo acoustic Young.

110 in the Shade - 2007 Broadway Revival
Not as grand as the studio recording from 2000, but McDonald is luminous, and the part fits her voice perfectly.

Welcome to the Voice - Steve Nieve
A classical-esque piece by Elvis Costello's longtime keyboardist. Another I still have to get into more, but that I like very much so far.

Until Whenever
How Ashamed Will I Be

So - now that it's 2008, how many 2007 films did I see in 2007?

Spider-Man 3 - Loved it, to my surprise - see thoughts here.

Transformers - Very fun to look at and a good, if exceedingly lightweight, time. My two big problems: 1) the mechanics of how the Transformers transformed looked faked, not actually though out. 2) the mix of tones (the sarcastic light teen stuff and the so-dramatic stentorian Optimist Prime speeches was jarring.

300 - A completely realized film that used CGI in ways only Sin City had approached.

Ratatouille - Brilliant, moving, and heartwarming (although two mostly bored three-year olds made the experience harder to enjoy).

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - While I may have hoped for deeper, more engaging FF films, this one was fun enough, with great work on the Silver Surfer.

Sweeney Todd - Genius. See here.

Death Proof - Fun, but for the first time in a Tarantino movie I found the scenes of characters bullshitting draggy. And not sure what to make of the shift at the end.

2007 films I hope to see in 2008:
Once, Walk Hard, Waitress, Across the Universe, The Simpsons Movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Ultimatum (but only after I see the first two), Knocked Up, Superbad, Enchanted, The Golden Compass, Charlie Wilson's War, Atonement, No Country for Old Men, Juno, There Will Be Blood, The Mist, Across the Universe, Gone Baby Gone, Into the Wild,

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!!

Top Ten Board Games

10. Balderdash
Making up fake words is fun.

9. Scattergories
Amazing how easy it is to get quickly stumped on seemingly easy categories.

8. Trouble
The best of the "roll a pair of dice and move around" games

7. Chess
If I was better it would rank higher . . .

6. Monopoly
A fun game that gets boring too quickly.

5. Scrabble
The wordsmith in me is a fan, but the spacial relations handicap I must shoulder makes me not as good as I'd like to be.

4. Pictionary
I love that drawing skill means not much.

3. Encore
Sing lyrics to songs featuring a key word. Awesome game.

2. Trivial Pursuit
I can never get anyone to play, though.

1. Taboo
I love this game, and it's one where my facility with words has no obstacles.

Until Whenever

Monday, January 07, 2008

My Handicap

From Stuff Running 'Round My Head I filch this meme, which has far as I can tell is meant to indicate how many advantages you have in starting adult life. It is based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University, and I acknowledge their copyright.


Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Were the same or higher socio-economic class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
There was original art in your house when you were a child
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house(s) or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
You had a phone in your room before you turned 18
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

There's no rubric here, but that looks to me like pretty advantaged - thanks Mom and Dad!!

Until Whenever
Because, Yes, I Really Do Think A Philip Roth Story Set in the Marvel Universe Would Be Rad

I'm about one-third of the way through John Scalzi's Old Man's War, and an enjoying the heck out of it. The premise (spoilers) - that in the future old folks can trade in their old bodies for new, awesome, Olympic level young ones in exchange for serving in the galactic army for ten years and for leaving Earth and never coming back - is simple, solid, and skilfully explicated. And the technical details he weaves in to that premise - Microsoft Office like brain-embedded PDAs/computers, the new young super-bodies being green to take advantage of photosynthesis, and super-smart guns among them - are fun and clever. I'm eagerly anticipating finishing the book and moving on to the sequel.

Anyone sense a "but" coming?

Every time I read a jeremiad against the bias the critical world has for "literary" fiction, along with the concomitant claim that there is no distinction between "literary" fiction and "popular" fiction (Michael Blowhard over at 2 Blowhards writes one every month or so) I feel vaguely offended. (Why do I feel offended? I have no idea). And reading Old Man's War I think I hit upon why. As much as I'm enjoying the book, there are moments that keep putting me off. Namely, that the way the characters deal with this immense change they are thrust into never seems psychologically real. I keep thinking that it's all a bit too easy.

As great as Scalzi is at coming up with these wonderfully imaginative and poppy ideas, and as smooth as his exposition is and as nicely tied into his moving-forward plot, he's not really taking the time to make his characters - even, and in some ways especially, his main character, John Perry, real. Perry's not some cardboard cutout character, or some simply painted type, but he's not psychologically real in the same way that a character by a "literary" novelist is - and not just the greats, but current, popular literary novelists, like Barbara Kingsolver, or Edward P. Jones.

To be fair, this isn't really Scalzi's fault, per se. For the kind of novel he's writing - a plot and idea-driven adventure sci-fi novel, he doesn't have the time necessary to create such complex characterisations. The knock on literary fiction is that not much happens, that most literary novels are largely plotless, or have simple, slow-moving plots. But that's for a reason - to create the kind of complex portrait of a character I'm talking about takes a lot of time, a lot of time spent with the character, inside his or her head, and seeing him or her react to mundane things. A "literary plot," generally speaking, can't move as fast as an adventure plot.

I'm not suggesting that Scalzi has failed, or that literary novels are "better" than popular novels. But I am suggesting that it might be fun to see what some contemporary literary novelists could do working in some of the richly imaginative worlds created by great contemporary sci-fi and fantasy writers. I'd love to see Michael Chabon, for example, write a short story set in the Old Man's War universe. Or Barbara Kingsolver to write a short novel set in the His Dark Materials world. By taking the best of what literary novelists do - create complex, very real-feeling characters and drama - and combining it with the beautifully imagined worlds that the likes of a Scalzi conjure up - I really do think some great, great, fun literature could result.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 04, 2008

An Obvious Plug

For some reason, I get the feeling that everyone knows about Coverville. But maybe I'm wrong. So - if you don't know, Coverville is a great, diverse, always-worth-a-listen podcast consisting of nothing but cover songs. And, for the most part, strange, obscure, indie, unknown cover songs. The podcaster and proprietor, Brian Ibbitt, does a great job of making selections without bias, featuring folk, dance, acoustic, metal, hip-hop, country, bluesy, a-capella, and many other types of covers. He's just finished his annual best-ever cover countdown, which is well-worth checking out. To give you a sense of the types of music he plays, and that his listeners vote for, the top ten were:

10. "Bizarre Love Triangle" (originally by New Order) - Frente!

9. "Lithium" (originally by Nirvana) - The Polyphonic Spree

8. "Hallelujah" (originally by Leonard Cohen) - Jeff Buckley

7. "Don't Stop Believing" (originally by Journey) - Petra Haden

6. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (originally by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg) - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

5. "Hot in Here" (originally by Nelly) - Jenny Owen Youngs

4. "Hurt" (originally by Nine Inch Nails) - Johnny Cash

3. "Common People" (originally by Pulp) - William Shatner

2. "Baby Got Back" (originally by Sir Mix a Lot) - Jonathan Coulton

1. "Romeo and Juliet" (originally by Dire Straits) - Monte Montgomery

Until Whenever

Thursday, January 03, 2008


As the Writer's Strike keeps chugging along, with no end in sight, I continue to support the writers, and wish them well. But as the late show hosts returned last night, one question did occur to me. Why is the WGA asking SAG members to boycott Leno and Conan? It's not as if they are using scabs, or crossing picket lines. They are doing their shows without writers, with the exception of writing their own material, which the WGA has allowed them to do. So why the boycott? What am I missing?

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Santa was good to Tosy and Cosh this year, so in the coming months we expect to be enjoying:

The Joshua Tree reissue - The CD of bonus tracks at first blush seems pretty thin, with a lot of stuff I already have, but the DVD of the Paris show is great, and includes a rendition of "The Unforgettable Fire," which I have never heard live.

Chrome Dreams II - Neil Young - Haven't listened to it yet.

The Bootleg Series Volumes I-III - Bob Dylan - Haven't listened yet, but am very excited to finally have completed my Dylan "Bootleg" collection.

Magic - Bruce Springsteen - Have heard it and love it, so am glad to have a copy for my very own.

Lost Season 3 - I still my break down and try and watch this before season 4 starts. With a 45 minute train ride each morning and evening, I can get 10 episodes done a week, so it's very doable. But I know I'm going to want to watch it all when it's done, so am not sure I want to rewatch seasons now.

Freaks and Geeks - This will be seen with the wife, who has seen some of it but nearly all.

Simpsons Season 10 - Pretty sure there are a few episodes in here I have not seen. Yay!

Spider-Man 3 - This is more of a "want the collection" than a "want to watch now" thing. None of the extras seem that compelling.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Ditto.

The Rest Is Noise - Alex Ross - I'm a 100 or so pages in and loving it. I really need to read it with a laptop though, so as to make use of the music samples Ross has posted on his blog.

Old Man's War - John Scalzi - The incessant pluggage over at Whatever has succeeded - I haven't read a sci-fi novel in a long while, but I'm reading this one.

The Complete Peanuts - 1950-1954 - Charles Schultz - A beautiful collection. I don't think I'll want the whole thing when it's done, but the first decade or so? Sure.

Until Whenever
Attend the Tale

The short version. So, so, so, pleased.

The long version. Sweeney Todd is easily one of my favorite 50 films ever and probably makes the top 25. Furthermore, I suspect that after more viewings (which will have to wait for DVD), it’ll be in the top ten. I was giddily, remarkably thrilled at how much they got right here, and, even more so, by how much they, not improved upon the stage version, but used the medium of film and didn’t try to “film the play.”

To get the most common complaint out of the way first, no, the singing was not Broadway-caliber. And yet this made it seem more filmlike somehow. After all, when we see a Broadway musical, we expect to hear a person sing, to see and hear a flesh and blood human being open their throats and make beautiful noise. But in a film, especially a quietly spooky thriller like this one, we are accustomed to much more carefully modulated, orchestrated sound, with footsteps and doors closing and the rustle of clothes all given weight in the soundtrack. And in that sonic landscape, the more natural, speech-like singing employed by most of the actors fits better. This is not to say that the songs were spoken; on the contrary, Sondheim’s glorious melodies were heard in full flower, with each note landing and each melody sketched clearly and cleanly. But if the sung melodies in the play as normally done are painted in glorious full color, with bright, bold brushstokes, then the sung melodies here were painted in beautiful, clean, minimalist charcoals. Even such operatic pieces as “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” were sung much more sweetly and simply, and less gloriously, than we are accustomed to. And the beauty of Sondheim’s melodies is that that approach works so well. These songs still sung, while at the same time telling the story in the way it needed to be told for this incarnation.

Burton and screenwriter Logan’s directorial and textual choices were all very well-considered. Losing the Ballad hurt in one sense, but I could easily see how it simply wouldn’t have fit in this context. And, if Sondheim has taught us anything, it’s that the form must work closely with the material. And that material did work wonderfully as pure music, scrubbed not just of the lyrics but the primary melody as well. Those opening credits set the scene beautifully, introducing the look and sound of the film.

I also loved the decision to cast Johanna, Anthony, and Tobias so young. For the first time, Anthony’s willful naivete and simple and pure nature made sense – he’s not some seasoned sailor who should know better, he’s an idealistic, young teen who has not yet had that idealism beat out of him. Similarly, Johanna comes across as much more believable in this incarnation, her youth serving to make her trusting of Anthony more natural. It may seem blasphemous, but her “Green Finch” was the most affecting I’ve ever heard – precisely because of her youth. And an actual ten-year old Toby is so remarkably affecting, and the horrors he’s subjected to so much more acute. “Nothing’s Gonna Harm You” has never been more heartbreaking.

Johnny Depp as Sweeney was a revelation – the way he internalized that rage and lust for revenge, only briefly letting it vent made the character very menacing and imposing. And his singing was very effective, especially the way he was able to embrace the accent more while singing, given the simpler timbre in his voice. And, while I know many have slammed Bonham Carter for her admittedly thin voice, she sings with wonderful intonation and diction, and very much in character. Her Lovett, willing to stoop as low as Sweeney to gain his trust and love, is a different Lovett than we are used to, much more naturalistic and open, and I found her journey to be especially heartbreaking here.

As for the gore: deliciously done. A hard “R” Sweeney, with blood flowing and spraying and dripping, is something new, and it served the dark take on the material wonderfully. But even more clever was the way Burton had his Todd dumping the bodies head first down into the basement, so that we could see all that literal dead meat slam and slump onto the concrete floor, in grisly and gruesome fashion. The deaths really hammered home the immorality at play here and didn’t allow the icky fun of the meat pie conceit to let us forget how horrible Todd really is.

Lastly, this was a beautiful film, all smoky, grim grays, with the odd bursts of color (the blood, the brilliant blue of Pirelli’s suit) popping off the screen. But most importantly is that in every way it is a film, and a dark, beautiful, eerie, and unrelenting one. It’s a showcase for Sondheim any Sondheim fan should be proud to have representing the man to the larger pop cultural world.

Until Whenever