Saturday, July 22, 2006

TWISTS, TUNES AND ALL OF THE GREATEST HITS: THE SLIFR WEEKEND READING LIST



I walked into the office tonight around 9:00 p.m., thinking I'd relax, do a little work, do a little writing, then go home. But as soon as I began to climb the stairs toward the second floor it felt like someone had left the oven on. The thermostat read 91 degrees and was not responding to any attempt to lower the temperature and get some refrigeration going in here. So here I sit, puddles a-formin', all thoughts of office work having long since flown away on undulated waves of heat, resolved to at least get a reading list posted before I drop another six pounds and go into dehydration shock. Just another damnably hot day (and night, it seems) in Los Angeles. Find a swamp cooler, a fan or, preferably, a nice, air-conditioned room, and click on the following for some fun reading to help the hell-like conditions pass with a minimum of misery.

I'll start off by telling you about a trifecta of new blogs that have taken up residence on my sidebar in the last couple of weeks. My short review of Cars generated a response from one Daniel Thomas MacInnes, who had a very interesting take on the movie, one that I don't remember reading from anyone else who has written about it since its release. Here's Daniel:

"I have mixed feelings about Cars. I've found that a certain charm still lingers days after, and goodness knows everything looks terrific. On the other hand, the script is weak, very cliched and formulaic. I wasn't as enamored with Finding Nemo as many other people are (I made the mistake of watching Studio Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart on the same day I watched Nemo), but I don't remember that movie relying so heavily on sitcom routines and '80s movies like Doc Hollywood.

On a deeper level,
Cars serves as a metaphor for the Pixar studio. The film was made while the studio was ending their contract with Disney, and wondering what direction they should take. Could they break away, plow their own independent path, and cut a distribution deal with one of the other major studios? Or should they stay with Disney, embrace the corporate behemoth with all its status and money and opportunity.

So we can forgive
Cars for offering an ending that's a bit of a copout. It wants to thread the needle, to have it both ways. I don't know if that's possible, and I'm unsure just how much freedom Pixar had in choosing to walk down the aisle with Disney (the other studios balked at a deal). But Lasseter and his crew have their optimistic hopes, and they've made their choice.

To his own credit, Lasseter received the thumbs-up from Miyazaki. Is there any other person, aside from family, whose opinion matters more to him? Likely not."


Turns out Daniel is a bit of an animation aficionado, with a serious obsession for the output of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and he heads up a blog and a Webzine that are both chockful of fascinating items and reviews of just about any title one can think of. The blog is called Conversations On Ghibli and it is exactly as advertised-- loaded with enticing observations and lots of good writing about one studio that deserves to have lots more written about it, and lots more read about it, especially here in America. And the Webzine, a little more generally positioned, is DanielThomas.Org.

Over on the sidebar of Conversations are exceptionally well written articles and reviews of most of the major Ghibli titles that have seen theatrical and DVD releases here, including three that are on my daughter's heavy rotation list these days-- Pom Poko, a surreal look at urban development and ecological concerns through the prism of Japanese culture and through the eyes of a bunch of shape-shfting raccoons-- and My Neighbors The Yamadas, the story of a typical Japanese family. Both are directed by the great Isao Takahata. Hee's Daniel on The Yamadas:

"A mastery of Japanese zen animation: visually sweeping and grand while being nothing at all. This is among the most daring of all animated movies. Also, it happens to be screamingly funny. Yamadas is an adaptation of a popular newspaper gag strip in Japan, one of those crudely-drawn comics that everyone swears they could do in their sleep if they really, really wanted to. This may seem lke an unusual subject for the naturalist master who gave us Grave of the Fireflies and Omohide Poro Poro, but often, in the midst of all the sheer emotional beauty of his movies, his keen sense of humor can be overlooked. But make no mistake, Takahata can make you laugh as easily as he can make you cry; after this movie, you'll believe he could completely master any genre at will."

Whispers of the Heart, directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, is the third Japanese animated film currently occupying my daughter's viewing habits. Daniel describes it as "the best coming-of-age story ever made, full of vigor and wonder, full of the spark of youth."

I'll be catching up on all of Daniel's reviews, I think, because my daughter has become fascinated with the Ghibli oeuvre, and I'm very interested to read fully his review on Pom Poko in particular, which looks to my eye to be the most intriguing and patently odd entry from the studio that I've come across in a while. You may not be as fully immersed in the Studio Ghibli as Daniel is, but you'll still find his writing fascinating, inclusive and free of the esoteric minutiae that tends to bog down similar fully dedicated sites.

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A couple of days ago my wife sent me what she termed "a fun movie article," and when I clicked on the link and began to read it I realize how right she was. The article, entitled "Let's Do The Twist: Our Favorite Films the Pull the Old Switcheroo", written by Kim Morgan, who currently writes for the L.A. Weekly, Fandango and Reel.com, and who was once film critic for the Willamette Week and The Oregonian (NORTHWEST ALERT!). The article is far more smartly written than the usual stufff of this sort, and you can tell Morgan is the real deal because the article, the premise of which sideswipes the new M. Night Shamlayan movie Lady in the Water by talking about that particular Shamlayanian albatross, the twist ending, doesn't go for all the obvious mentions. Morgan includes Charade, The Others, Oldboy and Les Diaboliques in her top-ten roundup, and her observations are sharp, to the point and consistently, addictively entertaining.

So imagine my happy surprise when, at the bottom of the article, there was this note: "She also writes for her blog, Sunset Gun." Intriguing title, and Morgan delivers. Sunset Gun is a treasure trove of Morgan's delightful, propulsive and brash film criticism, with lots and lots of links to previously published articles and reviews, as well as detailed examinations of stars like Frances Farmer, movies like Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place, Hedy Lamarr's steamy Ecstasy,
Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (Morgan's entry in Jim Emerson's Opening Shots project) and turbo-charged posts like "Car Power--Greatest Car Movies". Check out what Kim Morgan has to offer at Sunset Gun, one of my favorite new blogs, and see if you don't get lost in the linkage catching up with all the excellent writing and surprising points of view she has at the ready. And she was an Oregonian, at least for a while! What's not to like?

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And finally, another word about Peet Gelderblom's blog Lost In Negative Space, which Peet might describe, in a lighthearted way, as the dark underbelly of his Web site for serious film writing and discussion 24 Lies A Second. Which is not to say that Negative Space ain't serious-- his excellent posts on UPA Animation and Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War ought to be evidence enough of a mind at work that takles movies seriously. But then there's also stuff like Peet's series on Embarrassing Movie Posters to keep us laughing, cringing and gawking in amazement. Do pay him a visit, won't you? He hails from Amsterdam, as does the blog, but you can read Peet and drop a comment for a WHOLE lot less than the cost of a plane ticket to Holland.

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There's an excellent troika of writing on music that caught my eye this week too that is well worth passing along. First, That Little Round-Headed Boy is asking all of us who gleefully spun Peter Frampton's landmark live album Frampton Comes Alive back when we were in high school or junior high to take a moment and pay our repsects as the album celebrates it's 30th anniversary this week. TLRHB expressed surprise when I admitted to being one who couldn't get enough of the album-- particularly side four's unbeatable one-two punch of "Lines on My Face" (approximately 7:45) and "Do You Feel Like I Do" (approximately 14:30). But I was, and I still dip into it on occasion, this week, thanks to TLRHB's keen remembrance, being one of those occasions.

Jim Emerson has a bit of extra-readable reportage on Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's accusation that the premise of the none-too-well-received Owen Wilson vehicle You, Me and Dupree was cribbed from their Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature, and in particular the song "Cousin Dupree." But Jim takes the item and runs with it, suggesting that the title track from the Dan's 1980 masterwork Gaucho is perhaps even more intimately and intricating related to Wilson and company's allegedly plagiarized concept. No static at all? Perhaps a little this time.

And finally, writer Hua Hsu dives into the undulating, turbulent pool that is Thom Yorke's psyche, as self-plumbed on his first solo album sans the participation of Radiohead. The album is called The Eraser, and it's a very good one. Hsu honors it with one of the best-written, most honestly observed pieces of rock criticism I've read in a while. Well, in truth, I stopped reading most rock criticism because it usually isn't this good. But I might gleefully start back on my habit if Hua Hsu keeps working the trade.

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Dave Kehr is getting back to the much-appreciated business of writing lots of good, short, potent reviews and posting them on his blog. Some of the stuff that has popped up there lately are terrific bits on the long-out-of-circulation Bob Hope-Katharine Hepburn vehicle The Iron Petticoat, Robert Aldrich's The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (second unit directed by Sergio leone), James Cagney in Gordon Douglas's Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, and Bela Lugosi in Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, as well as a couple of titles fresh out of the developing bath-- Lady in the Water and the exceptionally scary-funny Monster House.

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If you picked up the entertainment section of any newspaper this week, you';re probably aware of the arrival of Kevin Smith's Clerks 2, the 12-years-later follow-up to his 1994 independent film sensation. Jim Emerson checked in with an opinionated take on Smith's perfectly timed run-in with "film critic" Joel Siegel, and Ray Pride at Movie City News has a follow-up and interview with the increasingly thin-skinned director. The blog at IFC TV checks in on the subject with a little something called "The Art of Storming Out." And Sean Burns has fun hanging out with Smith and then dares to be honest and give Clerks 2 a mostly negative review. That's sure to be a topic of conversation the next time Burns requests an interview or a screening of the next Kevin Smith movie. I've usually liked Smith's movies (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and even the maligned Jersey Girl) and have occasionally loved them (Chasing Amy, Dogma), but this recent exposure of his obsession with those who criticize his work, and the lashing out that comes out of his apparently far-reaching insecurity has definitely cast him and his work in a different light for me. I'm still looking forward to Clerks 2, but after reading this week's Kevin news I'm filled with a trifle more trepidation that I've ever had going into A Kevin Smith Film before.

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Brian Darr, master chronicler of the San Francisco festival and revival scene on the truly awe-inspiring blog Hell On Frisco Bay is in Seventh Heaven writing about "A Silent Film Weekend." Dig, if you will, the flickering pictures from part one and then part two of Brian's exhaustive, envy-making post.

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You'll need a couple of hours if you head over and catch up with Tom Sutpen and If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats. Tom's addictive site is like a photo tabloid for smart people and, like those damned potato chips, you can't click on just one...

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Girish complements the Scanners Opening Shots project with his own unique and trenchant observations on a very much related subject, the long take, and in particular some of those who practice it particularly well, like Hou Hsiao-hsien.

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Michael Guillen devotes a couple of sessions of The Evening Class to piqueing my interest in a couple of horror films, one new, one old. First, a grotesque tale of cannibalism called Feed, the other a lesser-known title from the oeuvre of giallo master Dario Argento: Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

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The Self-Styled Siren has posted a fascinating survey devoted to the Great Voices of the Screen. To her excellent list, which includes Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains, William Powell, Jean Arthur and many others, I would respectfully add the great, gravelly-voiced character actor Eugene Palette. Add your favorite in her comments column! And there's a wealth of excellent writing under the Siren's umbrella, so don't just stop at this post. Click, click, click, and find a little corner of film blogging bliss.

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And finally, Eric over at the deliriously titled When Canses Were Classeled (there's a story behind it, and if you ask Eric might just tell it), has the equally delirious and hilarious opening credits from Brewster McCloud all You-Tubed and ready to go. You have not lived until you've heard Margaret Hamilton try to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," and then jump down the throats of her marching band accompaniment when things don't go as planned. You must see it! And while you're there, visit Eric's fabulous series of Brian De Palma screen grabs, including shots and analysis from Blow Out, The Fury, Body Double and Raising Cain. Absolutely great stuff.

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That's it. Three hours later, and it's dropped to a positively brisk 89 degrees in here. I'm thinking of offering myself up with a four cheese-and-pepperoni topping if I don't get out of here soon. Belated wishes for an excellent (and somewhat frigid) weekend for you all. Thanks to everyone whose links you see above for keeping the blogosphere such an entertaining, elightening and edifying place to hang out. Ciao!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dennis,

About your "worries" concerning Kevin Smith's newfound "Thin-Skin" I'd have to say that anyone who spends enough time around highly creative and intelligent film makers have got to understand that what they do tends to be very personal even when they are not working with material they've themselves created. With Kevin Smith and his new film it's even more personal since these are the elements that gave this man his career. He owes his past, present & future to Dante, Randall, Jay & especially Silent Bob so I don't blame him for taking it personal when the very anal film critic Joel Siegel decides to upstage Kevin's film in front of an audience made up of fellow critics by announcing that enough of "His" time was wasted and he was now leaving the theater. This is a blatant slap in the face to the film maker. Very uncool as the "dude" would say. It seemed to me and alot of my friends that Joel was doing a critic of Kevin Smith and not of Clerks 2. That is personal and very, very uncool!

Anonymous said...

BTW... I just read Jim Emersons blog about the newly "thin-skinned" Kevin Smith. What I learned was that it's fun to pick out a whipping boy and let'em have it. First of all to react to a publicist as though they are the hand of God, or Kevin for that matter, is very unfair. Often times publicist are trying to "weed out" potential negative reviewers for the good of the "client" or the film. This is a part of the business of promoting a film. It happens with Spielbergs people, Lucas's people and any other high profile director making films today.

The fact that Kevin Smith reads all the reviews both negative and positive shows that he "cares" what people have to say. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. And the fact that he is self-depricating in his descriptions of his talent is probably a truism that some people just cannot relate to within themselves. Not all of us can tell others how bad we are in certain areas. It's refreshing to hear a big time director tells us how badly he does his job. The fact that Kevin Smith decided to call Joel Siegel onto the carpet was just a convenient coincidence for Jim Emerson and his "newfound" league of Kevin bashers

Sal said...

Sorry, The first two comments were mine.

Sharon said...

I don't think much of the Smith/Segal contrempts except from the perspective of a fellow audience member. I have been to many a film that I've paid to see that I found to be a waste of my precious time. I would NEVER disturb the other paying customers in the audience in the way that Joel Siegel did. Hell, I've even been to free screenings of equally horrible timewasters and would not even them consider announcing my displeasure to those assembled while the film was screening. No Siegel knew he was soon going to go on national television and say how much he loathed the film, which is why he was in the theater in the first place. But he really crossed the line IMHO by his actions. For that I say Boo, Joel Siegel, BOO!

As for the weekend reading list I again lament that there just aren't enough hours in the day! My employer expects me to show up and work or else they're going to cease giving me money. I continue to be baffled by this attitude. Why they can't just send the check without expecting me to show up, I'll never understand. So many good suggestions, so little time!

Brian said...

Dennis, thanks for the "Awww-shucks I'm blushing"-inspiring praise.