|Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe|
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
|Kat Dennings and Michael Cera star in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)|
I recently finished teaching a class on iconic cinema and iconic actors, such as Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne, among many others. One of my lectures, the last of eight, was devoted to youth culture, examining the iconic nature of everything from A Hard Day’s Night (1964) to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), to the films starring Saturday Night Live alumni – National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984) – and, of course, the popular films of John Hughes – Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985). The sleeper of the bunch however is the little known Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), a teen romantic comedy that is more authentic then Hughes’s contrived output (Sixteen Candles is a complete mess, actually). With its smart use of indie songs on the soundtrack, from the talented likes of Vampire Weekend and The National, and deft use of underground New York City locations, it’s a movie which packs an emotional, moving punch, albeit in a sweet, understated way.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
|Errol Morris (and his subject) in The Unknown Known|
Film director Errol Morris once worked as a private investigator and his best part is his investigative-journalist side – the muckraking detective. While planning a documentary about a forensic psychiatrist who became notorious for his “expert witness” testimony in capital punishment cases, he happened to come across a death row conviction that didn't smell right and made a film (The Thin Red Line) that ended up getting an innocent man released from prison. But Morris’ reputation as one of the greatest living filmmakers, and very likely the greatest living specialist in documentary feature filmmaking, isn't based mainly on 25-year-old headlines generated by his breakthrough movie. It’s based on his being a “stylist” – on his artistic pretensions and the easily recognizable visual and aural tics that make up his style.
Morris has been known to reject the term “documentary” in favor of “nonfiction film,” because he feels that having his movies called documentaries lumps them in with films shown in classrooms and on public television. Frederick Wiseman may well be the most important documentary filmmaker of the past fifty years, but if you happened to walk past a TV set while High School or Basic Training was showing, you could take a glance for a few random seconds and mistake them for a clip from any old TV news show. Morris’ movies look and sound like Errol Morris movies. How impressed you are by the fact that, more and more, they all look and sound like the same Errol Morris movie may depend on whether you use the word “auteur” in casual conversation.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
The Holmes Brothers have just released their 11th album and these veteran musicians keep getting better with age. For the record, there are only two Holmes brothers, Sherman and Wendall. They grew up in a musical house in Christchurch, Virginia, nurtured by their parents who were schoolteachers. The boys took an interest in music beyond the Sunday morning Baptist hymns and spirituals by tuning to blues artists such as Jimmy Reed and B.B. King. Those influences took a creative hold of Sherman and Wendall who make a beautiful sound deeply rooted, but not confined to, gospel music.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
|Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (Freedom Cry DLC)|
Monday, April 14, 2014
Sunday, April 13, 2014
“Nearly all men can withstand adversity,
but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
- Abraham Lincoln
This aphorism appears at the beginning of the final program in the superb Danish television blockbuster Borgen, which is the brainchild of Adam Price who both produced and was a major writer of the consistently intelligent scripts over three ten-program seasons. (The title refers to the Christiansborg Palace, where the Danish Parliament, Prime Minister's office and Supreme Court reside.) Every episode begins with an epigraph that ranges from Machiavelli to Churchill; a casual viewer might not realize how astute it is until he or she watches it twice, which I highly recommend. Along with The Killing and The Bridge, Borgen has been an overwhelming popular and critical success in the UK, and the trio of shows are beginning to make inroads in North America, primarily through libraries, independent video stores and specialized American channels. Since television viewers on this side of the pond seem to be put off by reading subtitles (although the actors all speak excellent English when speaking to any foreigner), the two police procedurals have been remade for North American audiences with at best mixed, and in my opinion inferior, results. Apparently, HBO is considering a remake of Borgen, but I am not certain how American audiences will respond to a series that deals with coalition politics involving eight political parties, a process likely alien to many of these viewers.