Archive for October 2011

Filling the gaps: Sweet Smell of Success, or, I Will Make Babies with J.J. Hunsecker Though He May Consume Them For Dinner

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WHY I HADN'T SEEN IT:

To be honest, I hadn't even heard of it until Tony Curtis died. A number of memorials took care to remind us that, hey! Tony Curtis had a dramatic career once! (I, for one, was shocked).

WHY NOW:

Of late, Twitter has been the best source for movie recommendations. I was discussing "favorite old movies" with a number of people my age, and we all gushed over All About Eve (having seen All About Eve is itself a sign of good taste, for disliking it is impossible).

More than one person then commented, "If you like Eve, then you need to meet J.J. Hunsecker, Eve's little brother!" That was the sound of heart going squee.

THE MOVIE:

The best kind of entertainment is that which lets us intrude on the lives of truly horrible people. When you add in a script as witty as Sweet Smell of Success's, you have filmic gold.

When we first meet Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), we're led to believe that he's the worst kind of horrible people: the one with the pretty face. But that's only because we've yet to meet J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster).

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But no! We actually meet J.J. first! Just his eyes, plastered on the side of a truck, staring out over the grim newsyard like the eyes of T.J. Eckleberg, complete with golden glasses. The truck guides us all through New York, until we land on our antihero, Sidney Falco.

And before we are given even a moment to take measure of Falco, J.J. interrupts again:

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Falco keeps showing glimmers of what resembles a conscience, and keeps finding the wherewithal to suppress that conscience. What drives that ability to suppress seems uncomplicated at first: the ol' greenbacks. But there's something almost noble about his tireless pursuit of it. He runs around town as much to maintain his image as a shyster as to reap the profits of being a shyster.

Even still, J.J. steals his thunder. Sidney sets up petty swindles, then J.J. tries to break up his sister's true love with a guitarist named Steve. Falco hits the town without a coat so he doesn't have to pay the coat-check tip. J.J. wears his coat, and doesn't bother to tip.

You can almost see the film as a trail of one-upmanship (not unlike Jeux d'Enfants, but considerably less sentimental). After Sidney schemes to prostitute a woman he once called a friend (and probably lover), J.J. tricks poor, idiotic Steve into asking for his own funeral.

They're a pair of horror stories existing in perfect tandem. If there's one weakness in the film, it's that we don't get to see them turn their considerable manipulative skill against each other. Falco worships J.J. until the very end. It almost seems like the only honest statement he makes in the whole film is when he claims that J.J. is one of his "best friends."

J.J., meanwhile, holds Sidney in slightly lower regard than a cigarette crushed under his fine leather shoe. He doesn't love Sidney the way Sidney loves and worships him (interestingly, only Sidney and J.J.'s sister love him. Everyone else hates him.) J.J. only loves his sister and, more crucially, himself.

There is no coded homo-eroticism here, like we see in Gilda. One line sums it up: "I'd like to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic." That may sound homoerotic, but look at Sidney's face:

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The line is definitely more of a case of J.J. throwing his dog a bone: "Look at you, little Sidney, you're almost as evil as me," he says, with a patronizing pat on the head.

The movie thrives on three opposing forces: how Sidney sees J.J., how J.J. sees J.J., and, most fundamentally, how Susie sees J.J. Oddly enough, the rest of the world doesn't really figure into this strange triangleSo when the movie ends, we know that this story is finished.

OTHER

-I don't think even Woody Allen has taken better advantage of the city of New York. The neon lights have never seemed quite so sinister. Like J.J's omnipresent glasses, they watch over events both seedy and magnetic.

-I'm a little stupidly in love with J.J. What does that say about me?

- I know what I said earlier about homoeroticism, and yet there is this publicity still:

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ONCOMING FIRSTS

-1st Burt Lancaster movie (and definitely not the last!)

Daily Inspiration: Phantoms of the Sun

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Photo credit: Monty Leventhal, OAM

Courtesy of Universe Today, I bring you a phenomenon known as a "prominence" of the sun. Monty Leventhal, an amateur astronomer, estimates that the pillar stands more than 98,000 miles from the Sun's surface.

It's a terrific photo, and you can imagine the creative possibilities (especially if you're a giant nerd like me).

Anyway, it just goes to show: nature wins at life.

Blog Holiday

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Resounding apologies for not posting recently! There's been mishap after mishap, and now I have visitors. I hope to be up and running again by Monday!

Until then, I will try to share links to other sites you need to be reading. Ta!

Same Song, Different Version: Madonna's "Bedtime Story" vs. Bjork's "Sweet Intuition"

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One of Madonna's most distinctive songs, "Bedtime Story" was actually written by Bjork (shocker, right?). Bjork had declined the opportunity to co-write a song with Madonna, but did agree to write a song for her. The lyrics are actually a subtle critique of Madonna's own aesthetic, but Madonna kept it as it was. She then retaliated in the video for "Human Nature," casting a Bjork-alike and spanking her to death.

Bjork proceeded to rewrite the song entirely as "Sweet Intuition," keeping only one lyric intact: "And inside we're all wet, longing and yearning." The songs are otherwise so different that they scarcely bear comparison, but that won't stop us from trying. Which is your favorite, and why? I'm leaning towards the Madonna on this one.


Madonna - Bedtime Story by zocomoro

5 Best Classic Doctor Who Episodes for Newbies

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I entered Doctor Who fandom straight from the placenta, it feels like. My parents were devoted fans who recorded every episode as they aired, usually late on Saturday night on the local PBS station (it really used to be a hard life as an American Doctor Who fan).

As devotees of the reboot, it's easy to dismiss the classic series as "of-its-time" at best or "naff" at worst. But even when I remove my rose-tinted glasses, there are certain classic episodes that rival New-Who in quality and entertainment value.

I used to try and get people into Who by showing them "State of Decay." Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one was convinced (I still love it though!)

I'm not suggesting you should sit through the entire series, but since we're in the off-season, here are 5 episodes I think you should check out if you're interested in sampling Classic-Who. I'd love to hear other people's suggestions in the comments!

(and if you're interested, you can find my Best New-Who Episodes for Newbies here: http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2010/11/best-doctor-who-episodes-for-newbies.html)

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Spearhead From Space

For fans of: Rose

The Story:

The Doctor enters his third regeneration in exile, deprived of his TARDIS. But since trouble seems to follow him anywhere, this doesn't deprive him of adventures. He meets an eccentric plastics manufacturer, who's bent on installing his peculiar creations everywhere in the world.

Why You Should Watch It:

As in Rose, this episode introduces a new Doctor and new companions, and they face the Autons. While Rose did an better job of introducing Who to a new generation (and a better job of introducing the characters), the Autons themselves cannot hold a candle to the original; they are TERRIFYING. The way their initial invasion scene is shot and directed rivals the best of horror films, helped along by the subtle soundtracking.

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Mind Robber

For fans of: Blink, Series 6

The Story:

The TARDIS crew begin to have strange hallucinations of home and of other adventures, and the visions become more and more vivid until the TARDIS itself explodes.

Why You Should Watch It:

This episode basically invented fan fiction years before it became a big thing. This episode also takes the idea that Doctor Who is basically an eccentric space fairytale to its logical conclusion, throwing the Doctor and his companions into fairy tales both past and future. Many science fiction shows deal with the idea of aliens requiring humans for their creative prowess; this episode offers one explanation why an alien relies on creativity to sustain its world.

The AV Club has written a great (spoilery) piece about the many layers of meta-narrative in this episode, which is definitely worth a read: http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-mind-robber,59816/

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Caves of Androzani

For fans of: Doomsday, The Rebel Flesh, Midnight (as suggested by hermitknut)

The Story:

The Doctor and Peri land in the middle of a smuggler's war, and quickly become pawns in their game. Adding confusion to terror, you can't tell who's an android and who's not. Finally, a Phantom of the Underworld becomes unhealthily obsessed with Peri. The twin threat leads to one of the most edge-of-your-seat episodes of the classic series.

Why You Should Watch It:

Davison's performance in this episode essentially fuels the entirety of David Tennant's conception of the character. The Doctor will do literally anything to save his companion, he'll battle through hellfire and plague, and it's guilt that drives him to do it. This episode is a terrifically suspenseful thriller, and best of all, it originally starred David Bowie as the villain (imagine the possibilities!)

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Curse of Fenric

For fans of: The God Complex, Empty Child/Doctor Dances, Dalek

The Story:

The Doctor and Ace end up at a military installation during World War II. The scientist believes he's translating coded German messages using his supercomputer, but really he's translating the code that releases a being called Fenric from his watery prison. Things go pear-shaped from there, as Fenric unleashes a horde of vampires.

Why You Should Watch It:

I suppose "because it's awesome" isn't sufficient reason. Suffice it to say, this is one of the most intense Doctor-Companion episodes that exists in the classic series. The fight between the Doctor and Fenric progressed over centuries, and the question becomes, is Ace just a pawn in the Doctor's game, or something else? You need to watch it.

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City of Death

For fans of: (I can't think of a new Who analogue, but feel free to suggest one in the comments! Maybe Vampires of Venice?) (Shadowturquoise has suggested The Shakespeare Code, as the Doctor and his companion enter the stories as tourists in both cases.)

The Story:

The Doctor and Romana go on a romantic holiday to Paris, only to encounter a plot to steal the Mona Lisa. Humor abounds.

Why You Should Watch It:

It LOOKS expensive. The entire episode was shot on location in Paris, so you get wonderful scenes of the Doctor and Romana wandering around being witty (oh the possibilities of a Woody Allen-written Doctor Who screenplay...but I digress). But then again, who needs Woody Allen, since this episode was written by Douglas Adams? Yes, that Douglas Adams.

This entire serial is television magic: the villain is played by Julian Glover, there's a ham-handed gumshoe that's escaped straight from the pages of Dashiell Hammett, and a cameo I wouldn't spoil for you if my life depended on it.

Go on. Which classic who episode do you recommend for newbies? Any that you love or hate?

Tom & Jerry and Franz Liszt

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This past Saturday, Franz Liszt would have celebrated his 200th birthday.

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is now, and will probably always be, my favorite piece of classical music. Liszt draws from Hungarian gypsy rhythms to create the most divine ivory alchemy.

So, to celebrate, I bring you my favorite performance of this piece, "Cat Concerto", which won an Acadamey Award for Best Short back in 1946. (You still can't match Tom and Jerry for sheer bloody-mindedness...)

The technical achievement of this particular short is on par with Liszt's own genius. For the first couple of minutes, even the correct keys are played in the animation.

Let William Hanna and Joseph Barbera bring joy to your Monday!

Woody Allen Solves the Shakespeare Mystery? FIND OUT MORE!

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So yet another movie is coming out about the myth of Shakespearean authorship. While I think it's all arrant bunk, Anonymous does look like a fairly awesome (if ridiculous) movie:

However, for the Shakespeare skeptics among you, I will allow Woody Allen to provide the definitive (and definitely silly) account of the provenance of Shakespeare's works. Enjoy a laugh or ten, I know I did.

Woody Allen - "But Soft...Real Soft."

Ask the average man who wrote the plays entitled Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Othello, and in most cases he'll snap confidently back with, "The Immortal Bard of Stratford on Avon." Ask him about the authorship of the Shakespearean sonnets and see if you don't get the same illogical reply. Now put these questions to certain literary detectives who seem to crop up ever now and again over the years, and don't be surprised if you get answers like Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Queen Elizabeth and possibly even the Homestead Act.

The most recent of these theories is to be found in a book I have just read that attempts to prove conclusively that the real author of Shakespeare's works was Christopher Marlowe. The book makes a very convincing case, and when I got through reading it I was not sure if Shakespeare was Marlowe or Marlowe was Shakespeare or what. I know this, I would not have cashed checks for either of them - and I like their work.

Now, in trying to keep the above mentioned theory in perspective, my first question is: if Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's works, who wrote Marlowe's? The answer to this lies in the fact that Shakespeare was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway. This we know to be factual. However, under the new theory, it is actually Marlowe who was married to Anne Hathaway, a match which caused Shakespeare no end of grief, as they would not let him in the house.

One fateful day, in a jealous rage over who held the lower number in a bakery, Marlowe was slain - slain or whisked away in disguise to avoid charges of heresy, a most serious crime punishable by slaying or whisking away or both.

It was at this point that Marlowe's young wife took up the pen and continued to write the plays and sonnets we all know and avoid today. But allow me to clarify.

We all realize Shakespeare (Marlowe) borrowed his plots from the ancients (moderns); however, when the time came to return the plots to the ancients he had used them up and was forced to flee the country under the assumed name of William Bard (hence the term "immortal bard") in an effort to avoid debtor's prison (hence the term "debtor's prison"). Here Sir Francis Bacon enters into the picture.

Bacon was an innovator of the times who was working on advanced concepts of refrigeration. Legend has it he died attempting to refrigerate a chicken. Apparently the chicken pushed first. In an effort to conceal Marlowe from Shakespeare, should the prove to be the same person, Bacon had adopted the fictitious name Alexander Pope, who in reality was Pope Alexander, head of the Roman Catholic Church and currently in exile owing to the invasion of Italy by the Bards, last of the nomadic hordes (the Bards give us the term "immortal bard"), and years before had galloped off to London, where Raleigh awaited death in the tower.

The mystery deepens for, as this goes on, Ben Jonson stages a mock funeral for Marlowe, convincing a minor poet to take his place for the burial. Ben Jonson is not go be confused with Samuel Johnson. He was Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson was not. Samuel Johnson was Samuel Pepys. Pepys was actually Raleigh, who had escaped from the tower to write Paradise Lost under the name of John Milton, a poet who because of blindness accidentally escaped to the tower and was hanged under the name of Jonathan Swift. This all becomes clearer when we realize that George Eliot was a woman.

Proceeding from this then, King Lear is not a play by Shakespeare but a satirical revue by Chaucer, originally titled "Nobody's Parfit," which contains in it a clue to the man who killed Marlowe, a man known around Elizabethan times (Elizabeth Barret Browning) as Old vic. Old Vic became more familiar to us later as Victor Hugo, who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which most students of literature feel is merely Coriolanus with a few obvious changes. (Say them both fast.)

We wonder then, was not Lewis Carroll caricaturing the whole situation when he wrote Alice in Wonderland? The March Hare was Shakespeare, the Mad Hatter, Marlowe, and the Dormouse, Bacon -- or the Mad Hatter, Bacon, and the March Hare, Marlowe - or Carroll, Bacon, and the Dormouse, Marlowe - or Alice was Shakespeare - or Bacon - or Carroll was the Mad Hatter. A pity Carroll is not alive today to settle it. Or Bacon. Or Marlowe. Or Shakespeare. The point is, if you're going to move, notify your post office. Unless you don't give a hoot about posterity.

Excerpt drawn from The Complete Prose of Woody Allen, 1991, pg. 101-103

24 Hour Readathon

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Yesterday, in a fit of optimism and/or insanity, I signed up for the 24-hour readathon that suddenly took over my twitter feed.

I have no illusions that I'll make it all the way through. My flu ridden state has guaranteed not only a copious amount of phlegm, but occasional bouts of narcolepsy.

That said, I intend to approach the challenge in the spirit intended, and am looking forward to celebrating/commiserating with my fellow participants. (It''s not too late to join, if you're a masochistic book lover like me!)

The plan is loose, but here's what I have on my options list:

  • The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
  • Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Life in Movies, by Roger Ebert
  • Blackout, by Connie Willis
  • The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Others may worm their way in, especially short stories, but lets see how we get on!

1) Where are you reading from today?

In my bed in my flat in my tall, tall building off a road in central London.

2) Three random facts about me…

a) I am making myself immune to colds and vampires...

3) How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?

7 to start off with, more to come.

4) Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?

Nope. Just wanna take over the world, as usual.

Music Video of the Day: M83 "Midnight City"

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The art of the music video seems to have greatly improved since the decentralization of musical culture and the fading importance of MTV monoculture.

Avant-garde filmmakers Fleur & Manu have given M83 the cinematic treatment that they've always deserved, something both uplifting and destructive at the same time.

A modernized take on Village of the Damned, we watch a group of superpowered children come to terms with their superpowers, until they seemingly band together to destroy the council flat hell-hole that surrounds them.

Creepy and wonderful. Watch on.

M83 - Midnight City from naiverecords on Vimeo.

Friday Five (Six): Best Emo Records, Literary References Included

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Before emo went MTV, it referred to a very specific sound (one that bears no resemblance whatsoever to My Chemical Romance, for the record). For example, Bright Eyes was quintessential emo (but I think his emo stuff is absolutely awful, whether solo or with Desaparacidos. Stick to the indie-folk stuff).

While it was born of the punk movement (specific roots lie with Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate), it bears no resemblance to the "pop-punk" with which the term is now exchanged synonymously with. In fact, the movement was resolutely against makeup and style. We knew it was over when the sorority girls starting showing up at concerts with studded belts freshly purchased from Hot Topic.

In our day, it was about angsty white people who were heavily into literature and poetry and lost love, all the better for this brown girl who had the first two and had never experienced the last. For me though, the best emo was a little less angsty and more earnest.

When these artists grew up, they grew into straight pop. But for a brief, shining moment, they were ours, and ours alone.

I'm doing six this week because I need to include Sunny Day Real Estate, as the forefathers of the movement, though it wasn't strictly one of my favorites (it is awesome though.)

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Special Guest: Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate

The genre wasn't always consigned to the underground. In fact, Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate was headed for the big leagues. SDRE performed the song all over late night television, and hitched a ride with Soul Coughing and eventually the Foo Fighters in support of the album. Then they had songs on two MASSIVE soundtracks: The Crow and Batman Forever. Sadly, the band suffered from internal turmoil, and never quite made it.

But in Diary, you hear everything that would come to define emo: literary references galore, high contrast between clean guitar and distortion, a powerful sense of melody, and dynamic range.

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Clarity perfectly captures the other main characteristic of emo: the music tends to be so damned pretty. While Jimmy Eat World would go on to the greatest success of any "emo" acts (many say by selling out, but I think Bleed American is awesome), Clarity remains the album that emo boys would play to the girls they liked.

There wasn't a single guitarist I knew in college that couldn't play "For Me This is Heaven." Intricate dual-guitar parts? Check.

And as for the requisite literary references? "Goodbye Sky Harbor" borrows lyrics directly from the climactic scene of John Irving's Prayer for Owen Meany.

My personal favorite is "Just Watch the Fireworks", but I couldn't find a good live video for it, so you get this FANTASTIC performance of "For Me This is Heaven" instead. It's got Rachel Haden, who sang backup vocals in the recording, and was in many seminal acts of her own, such as That Dog and, more importantly, The Rentals.

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Like many on this list, their first album was classic emo, and then they transformed into another genre entirely (in their case, 60s psychedelic rock. Very odd, but very awesome.) But Designing a Nervous Breakdown still holds a very special place in my heart, as I first heard it when I was struggling to learn guitar, and played many of the riffs over and over again.

And because we love our literary references, there are songs on this album titled: "The Heart is A Lonely Hunter," and "Hart Crane."

These guys were also headed for the big-time before they split, closing things out with an appearance on The O.C., if memory serves.

"All Things Ordinary" is a fucking kick-ass song, and the video is pretty damned fun. That is all. I particularly enjoy the "hoedown" skin in the video. Let me know your favorite.

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Rainer Maria has the decency of putting their literary reference right there in their name. This doesn't stop them from naming songs "Breakfast of Champions," however. I was really stuck on which album to choose. Look Now Look Again is more traditionally emo, but Long Knives Drawn is a great example of how to take everything that's great about emo and make it a little less maudlin.

But this is an emo list, so I guess Look Now Look Again takes the cake. "Broken Radio" stands as one of the first five emo songs I ever heard (so when people claim there weren't females in emo, I always bristle, even though statistics-wise, it's probably true). The band became extremely polished, but "Broken Radio" makes full use of the rotten production values, and can't quite handle Caitlin de Marrais' shouting (but at 18, I certainly could, and LOVED it).

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Guys, words cannot convey my long-standing and everlasting love for The Juliana Theory. I've seen them live about ten times, and if they hadn't broken up, I'd see them live many more times. They were the second concert I ever attended (the first being The Bangles), and the first time I saw them was within days of heading to college.

They did some serious genre-fucking in this album and in its follow-up, Love, which meant that even when a major label picked them up, they had no idea how to sell the band. Even in their earlier days, they were considered an emo band because no one knew how the hell else to characterize them.

From "Into the Dark" all the way to "You Always Say Goodnight, Goodnight," the band takes you on a journey from emo-pop all the way to metal, with bits of gospel in the middle (I know, right?). (The follow-up album went from rock to techno to soul, so this is not a band that's afraid of innovation).

I'd link a video to the 9 minute masterpiece rock finale, but I'm saving that for a future post. Instead, you get another old favorite: "Into the Dark."

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I thought about cheating and including both Swiss Army Romance and Places You Have Come to Fear the Most. For all intents and purposes, all the songs are part of the same album, and choosing between the two is a fool's errand. In fact, Places has a couple of remakes of songs from Swiss Army Romance. But listening to them today, Swiss Army Romance is clearly superior.

I still remember the first time I listened to "The Best Deceptions." I was 16 years old, and on a trip to Paris with my family. Convinced by one of my "cool friends" to listen to this song and to Bleed American, I burned them on a cd. As we took the train to and fro Versailles, I listened to this cd over and over again, until I made peace with Chris Carrabba's voice (it's a bit of an acquired taste). And then the inevitable happened.

I fell in love with Chris Carrabba in a bad, bad way. When that MTV Unplugged aired in 2001, I recorded it and watched it until I wore out the tape. These two albums represented everything that life held in waiting, mistakes and deceptions and loves and lost loves and just a hell of a lot of poetry and guitar.

I may not listen to Dashboard Confessional anymore, but he's had an indelible effect on my guitar playing and my obsession with alternate tunings and dynamic shifts (Joni Mitchell also deserves credit for this). But once you get past the angst and melancholy, this record opened my eyes to the fact that acoustic guitar could be just as raucous as electric.

And can I give a shout-out to Jolie Lindholm, backup-vocalist? When you hear a female harmony, it's her. (She also had her own band, The Rocking Horse WInner, but it was more pop than emo.)

Here's "Sharp Hint of New Tears," a song that remains one of my favorites. Seriously guys, that is one guitar part, played solo.

 

Crimes Against English: Leverage As A Verb

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While it's common for grammarians and prescriptivists to blame everyone from blacks to women to class distinctions on the erosion of English grammar, they ignore the biggest culprit: modern business-speak. If real life were twitter, I believe most of us would instantly unfollow anyone who uses the word "synergy".

Allow me to add another word to the unfollow canon: "leverage" as a verb. If you think I am merely being pedantic, consider the following. Would you say "I can't managementate my flock of children"? "Don't cry over spillaged milk?"

Of course you wouldn't. You know why? There's already perfectly good root verbs: to lever, to manage, to spill.

Not only is leverage a grammatically obtuse word, it's completely meaningless. When you leverage a project, what are you doing? Are you beginning a project, ending it, or ramping it up? Are you selling it? Are you dancing upon its grave? It's meaningless doublespeak, to obscure the fact that the speaker either lacks clear information or is wilfully misleading the listener.

In a nutshell, unless you work as a carpenter, a homebuilder, a lever manufacturer, or a financial professional, there's little reason to use "to lever" as a word, and even less reason to use "leverage."

I leave you with a quote from 30 Rock:

Liz: "Cross-promotional...deal mechanics...revenue stream...jargon...synergy!"

Jack: "That was the best presentation I've ever heard."

Oncoming Hope, out. Argue amongst yourselves in the comments.

Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus," or, The Point of Nanowrimo is to spend time revising

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IN A SENTENCE

Great premise, incredibly sloppy writing.

IN MANY SENTENCES

My experience with Night Circus leaves me very hesitant to recommend it. While I ultimately enjoyed the novel, readers with more cutthroat instincts will probably abandon this movie 20 pages in, as I very nearly did.

The first quarter of the book goes on and on with long descriptive passages that barely even serve the purpose of exposition, and certainly don't pay off later in the novel. Had the initial premise not been so compelling, I definitely would not have continued. Morgenstern shifts from perspective to perspective, leaping back and forth in time in a manner that precludes any connection with the characters or with any particular storyline.

I thought then, and I still think now, "Was the editor drunk?"

When the novel finally became engaging (right at the 26% point!), it struck me that the previous 1/4 of the novel could have easily been summed up in a few paragraphs, and those paragraphs could have worked to serve character instead of just sitting there, static on the page.

In case you don't believe me about the dull, flat writing:

"The first to arrive (after the pianist, already playing) is Mme. Ana Padva, a retired Romanian prima ballerina who had been dear friends with Chandresh's mother. He called her Tante Padva as a child, and continues to do so to this day. She is a stately woman, the grace of a dancer still visible through her advanced age, along with her impeccable sense of style. Her sense of style is the primary reason she is invited this evening. She is a fiend for aesthetics with an eye for fashion that is both unique and coveted, and provides her with a sizable income since her retirement from the ballet."

It's not even grammatically correct! Allow me to use Morgenstern's own words against her:

"The goings-on of the circus are dutifully reported, but with such matter-of-fact precision that he cannot picture it in the richness of detail that he desires."

If only.

But then things improve. Once we become more involved in the intricacies of the circus itself, the book transforms into something far more magical. There are plot holes galore and the finale is vaguely disappointing (I say vaguely because what happens isn't precisely clear), but there's much to recommend about it. The characters finally come alive, and the romance in the novel feels real and adult, which is unusual for a young adult novel.

But Morgenstern never overcomes the lack of trust in her writing ability. Typos and occasionally grammatical mistakes are fine, but this novel felt incredibly sloppy in so many ways. It doesn't even feel like a first draft, it feels like the regurgitations a writer makes that is then shaped into a first draft. There are diamonds in the rough, but it's up to you whether you feel like digging through.

You're not going to hear me say this often: I can't wait to see this made into a movie. I guarantee that even the worst screenwriter will cut the fluff and improve the story.

Have you read Night Circus? What did you think?

Meet the World's Next Tallest Building

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Meet Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia, which I imagine will be the setting of many a Roland Emmerich film in the future.

Originally planned to be a mile high, now it's just over one kilometer high. Judging by its pointiest of points, it will serve a secondary purpose of impaling alien spaceships.

Look, its first prey is built into the design!

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You can read more about the building here, if you're less interested in alien threats and more interested in mundane details like "architects" or "square meters".

Birthday Post: 27 Movies for 27 Years

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In just over two days time, I enter year 27 (woohoo!) It's a strange year, utterly lacking symmetry. But this week, I'll try and do posts centering on 1984. But for now, you get the pleasure of judging and mocking my life in film.

A friend over at Let's Get Comical alerted me a while back to a wonderful blogathon that's circling the Interweb: choosing a favorite movie for every year that you've been alive. As is the way of these things, he got the meme from The Stories That Really Mattered. (you, dear reader, ought to be perusing both of these blogs now and again).

The experience has proven surprisingly difficult, especially in the 1980's. And there's a hole in the early 90's where I am just not too filmically aware (for shame!).

Disclaimer: When forced to choose between two films, I will generally choose the movie I can see myself watching again, rather than the one I remember loving more.

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The first time I saw Sixteen Candles, I was just a few weeks shy of my own 16th birthday. The particular loneliness that Sam experiences really spoke to me at that age (though perhaps not as much as Andie's experience in Pretty in Pink, but thankfully I've grown out of that phase). This movie has stayed with me because, to the great surprise of my non-adolescent self, it's incredibly funny, and isn't particularly angsty. To this day, a wide smile spreadsover my face whenever I hear the strange synth opening of The Thompson Twin's "If You Were Here."

(Runners-Up: Starman, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)

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Yes, folks, that's Explorers. And yes, that's mini Ethan Hawke. I very dearly loved this movie when I was younger, but frankly, I wouldn't dare watching it today. Though I do remember quite distinctly that Ethan Hawke already had his pouty thing down.

If this choice seems to have come from left-field, well, there weren't too many options in 1985. There are plenty of other movies I like, but none I really love.

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The excessively creepy picture above sums up everything I love about Labyrinth, which is probably the movie that introduced sexuality to many kids of my generation. And if David Bowie's tumescent balls aren't terrifying enough, there's an entire scene of headless chickens dancing around like...well...headless chickens. And even though I know it's deeply, deeply wrong, I can't help but hope that with every fresh rewatch, this time they'll work it out.

Runner-Up: Aliens

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This was a toss-up between Dirty Dancing and Living Daylights. I know Living Daylights is not the most popular Bond, but I really love Timothy Dalton, and I have endless amounts of glee for that ridiculous scene of them sledding down the hill INSIDE A STRADIVARIUS CELLO. But let's be honest, Dirty Dancing is a better movie.

I won't lie, I hated it the first time I saw it (I was probably way too young to comprehend the many social issues undergirding what seemed to my 14 year old self like a sickly romance). But I've seen it many times since, and each time I'm surprised by the darkness in the film and the bleak lives of all the characters who aren't named Baby. So the triumphant end isn't so much a validation of their love affair, but of the how you have to find joy wherever you can.

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A friend lent me her DVD of Cinema Paradiso, claiming it to be her favorite film of all time, telling me little else about the movie. Watching it was a revelation, a tribute to the magic of movies. I was inroduced to the film with the special edition, however, and I wonder how different I would feel about the movie if I'd only seen the original cut. Run and see this now if you haven't. A simple tale of a boy and his town's projectionist.

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Heathers is still so...very. Allow me to quote from a previous piece about Winona Ryder:

It's astonishing to think that an entire archetype would not exist without Winona Ryder: the moody outsider who flies dangerously close to the dark side but never loses her firm belief that the world has no purpose except to provide a vehicle for her sarcasm and narcissism (there have been many male characters of this nature, but Ryder's take is uniquely female, and infinitely more strange than the Holden Caulfield type). Teen girls would never be the same. There would be no Mean Girls or Buffy without the road paved by many classic Ryder characters.

The movie's still fresh, and if you haven't seen it yet, well fuck me gently with a chainsaw!

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I'm sorry to say that I hadn't seen Goodfellas in its entirety until just a few months ago. But don't worry, I'd seen the legendary long shot a million times before, and seeing it in context for the first time didn't add to or distract from the beauty of that scene. Once again, I was surprised by how funny the film was. I was expecting something more along the lines of The Godfather. Ray Liotta was a great lead, and it's unfortunate that his career seems to have trickled out.

Runners-Up: Ghost, Pump Up the Volume

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What's there to say about Beauty and the Beast that hasn't been said a million times before? It's the Disney model brought to perfection, and I don't think they've matched it before or since (we'll see how Tangled stands up in ten years, however). There's a charm in the performances, a spring in the animated steps, and most importantly, really great songs. Starting this list, I wouldn't have expected to put an animated film on the list, but there you go.

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Choosing a favorite film from this year was very near impossible. We've got Batman Returns, Ferngully, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Mighty Ducks! But, believe it or not, I do hold Buffy the Vampire Slayer very dear to my heart. It's completely over the top and ridiculous, and knows it, giving us the best death scene in the history of ever:

I defy you not to laugh. People love to hate this movie, but I love it most sincerely, and without it, we would never have had my beloved Angel.

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Dazed and Confused leaves me little cold plot-wise, but it's the perfect love letter to my beloved Austin, Texas. There's not a single locale in the film where I haven't wasted excessive amounts of time in my college years. The crowning scene is the climbing of the radio tower in Zilker Park. A good friend of mine made it all the way up. My youth didn't just imitate art, it imitated Dazed and Confused. (Though the pranks played by my high school Powderpuffs were far more insidious.)

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The Crow couldn't be more 1994 if it tried. Everything about it is so particular to its milieu that it's impossible to imagine a remake that does justice to the original. It's not just a time, but a particular goth metal social group that doesn't really exist anymore, at least not in the same way as it did in the 1990's. Also, what a fantastic soundtrack. From The Cure's "Burn" to Nine Inch Nails "Dead Souls," it's the most perfect style of music for me and for this film. It's one of the luckiest breaks in the movie world that Trent Reznor has shifted full time to soundtracking.

Here's the video for "Burn":

 

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Before Sunrise or Goldeneye...yikes. or EMPIRE RECORDS!!! Yeah, ok, it's Empire Records. Why? I've gone a bit cold on Before Sunrise in recent years (still adore Before Sunset, though. Apparently it's a sign of maturity when you begin to find young Ethan Hawke intolerable, according to an article from The Awl that I can't quite locate at the moment). Yet Empire Records, somehow, has not staled.

Very much a product of its time, it celebrates a mythical world in which teenagers can find jobs (I know!) doing things that still allow them to behave like teenagers. And while Empire Records is chock full of storylines that make you want to roll your eyes in frustration (why did Robin Tunney shave her head? Why is Liv Tyler completely intolerable?), it's got a magical spirit just the same.

Here's Rex Manning's fake music video (oh Rexy, you're so sexy!):

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Oh 1996, the year o' the blockbuster action film. There were so many classics to choose from: Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible, The Rock, Broken Arrow, Executive Decision, and more. But I'm giving this one to Star Trek: First Contact. It was the first movie ever to give me nightmares, a special brand of dystopian nightmare that recurs every now and again, where I'm the only one who knows the truth in an Escherian society out to destroy me or make me conform.

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I probably need to write a longer post justifying this choice, but let me just say that this is the last great romantic comedy. For one brief, shining moment, Cameron Diaz showed us what a likeable star she could be, and then promptly forgot after this movie was released. Julia Roberts devours her role, playing someone truly horrible in every way, but still allowing us to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for her (very tiny, mind you). Oh, and Rupert Everett.

Runners-Up: Contact, The Game, The Peacemaker.

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Who would have thought that Ethan Embry would have showed up twice in this list! Can't Hardly Wait marks the brief moment when he was very attractive (he looked weird in Empire Records, and looked weird in every movie after CHW). Lauren Ambrose plays, basically, a stand-in for me, and this whole high school enters one of the nuttiest parties in high school movie history. Other highlights include Seth Green as a would-be hip-hop star, Jenna Elfman as an angel prostitute, and the best damn performance of "Paradise City" ever.

Runners-Up: Great Expectations, The Mask of Zorro

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Check out 1999: Being John Malkovich, Ten Things I Hate About You, Election, Girl, Interrupted, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I narrowed this down to Ten Things and Talented Mr. Ripley, but I think Ripley wins by just a hair. I hadn't seen this movie until about a year ago, but it left a deep impression. Matt Damon plays Ripley so subtly that we're never quite sure when he's being sincere and when he's being devious, even though our heads tell us it's usually the latter. Even his most villainous acts are coloured by the most obvious longing, so we can't help but feel sorry for this psychopath.

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Frequency may seem like a strange choice in a year with Requiem for a Dream and High Fidelity, but I have personal reasons for including it. When I was in high school, I was pretty much a lone sci-fi fan. But when I showed this movie to professed sci-fi haters, they were converted. So I have to give it credit as a gateway into the realm of the fantastical for those who haven't experienced it or are revulsed by it. I've rewatched it since, and while the ending is completely ridiculous, the rest of the movie stands up. Also? Physicist Brian Greene plays himself in two different timelines!

Runner-Up: Coyote Ugly. I have no shame and I don't care what you say.

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To say that I remain fascinated with The Others is an understatement. The Sixth Sense didn't seem to reward rewatching; once you've seen it once, you know the twist, and that's it. But The Others still surprises me everytime I watch it. There are little hints peppered all the way through the film, so the ending doesn't just feel like a cheap twist. Nothing is extraneous or sentimental, and watching Nicole Kidman's treatment of her children would be just as riveting without the grand twist. And the scene with Christopher Eccleston is just so damn eerie. When they cast him in Doctor Who, I actually was like "really? the creepy guy from The Others?"

Runners-Up: The Mummy Returns, Lord of the Rings

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Chicago is more than a minor obsession of mine. I have a fairly completist knowledge of the entire saga, all the way back to the 1920's. I still dream of getting my hands on the recently unearthed original silent film, Roxie Hart. It's become almost like a fairytale of our time; it's been told and retold, and each new version reflects something fundamental in our society. Also? Great songs. I don't dare listen to even one song, because that means I'll just end up watching the whole movie again.

Runners-Up: Two Towers, Minority Report, Secretary

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Jeux d'Enfants (Love Me if You Dare) kicked off a long love affair with Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet (of course they're together in real life, they have millions of oodles of chemistry). This remains a litmus test for friendship, with rare exceptions. Friendships with people who hated this movie have fallen apart, while fellow lovers of the movie have become some of my closest. I'm now afraid to show it to anyone who hasn't seen it before, for this reason...but as they say...cap ou pas cap?

Runner-up: Lost in Translation (if I'm honest, this movie might win were I to choose again tomorrow. LOVE it.)

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Unlike Jeux D'Enfants, one of favorite things is introducing others to this film and watching them fall in love with it too. Kate Winslet's great "fuck you" to the manic pixie dream girl trope still resonates, and I'm eternally sad that Jim Carrey's career didn't reap the many benefits he should have received (by all accounts, he seems to have gone a bit nuts).

Runners-Up: There are no runners-up. You can't beat Eternal Sunshine in my mind (unless, maybe, you're Lost in Translation). So instead, I give you a WORST MOVIE EVER: Garden State. It's one of God's funny tricks: with something exemplary, you must also receive unabashed bullshit. And I realize I still owe many of you a long post of cathartic hatred of this movie, which you may yet receive before 2012.

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You can love Pride and Prejudice or hate it, but I don't care what you think, as a firm member of the former camp. When I'm down or miserable, this is the movie I turn to for a reliable pick-me-up. There are a million sentimental reasons to love it, but its greatest strength is how Joe Wright teases out every last bit of humor from any situation. The dinner with Mr. Collins remains one of my favorite comic scenes from any movie, and Keira Knightley proves herself very adept at comedic work (she seems wasted in period melodrama these days). Also, this film kicked off a long love of Joe Wright, one of the most exciting directors working today.

Runner-Up: Serenity

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A weird, disturbing and wonderful movie, Little Children moves us adeptly through scenes we might expect and scenes we would never have expected in a million years. It's very funny in scenes that no one would dare to find the humor in, and the denouement is truly shocking.

Runners-Up: This was a fantastic year for heartbreakingly depressing movies. Water. Children of Men. Half Nelson.

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If you haven't seen Once yet, why not? Made on a shoe-string budget, Once tells the tale of an Irish street busker who falls in love with a Czech pianist, and together they make musical magic, but struggle to record or release their songs. I like the pretend that the events of the film continued on in real life, culminating in the ultimate recognition: an Oscar for best song. I don't mind admitting that "Falling Slowly" was my wedding song.

Watch the video and tell me it doesn't feel like an extension of the film, the perfect ending. It begins as sparsely as the original, then the symphony orchestra elevates it to another place.


Glen Hansard y Marketa Iglová en los Oscars by videoyouth

Runners-Up: Lives of OthersWalk Hard

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Anne Hathaway earned a lifetime pass for Rachel Getting Married, where she plays Rachel as a completely unpredictable mess in a movie that takes a surprising turn every few minutes. She's let out of the mental hospital for one weekend, for her sister's wedding (to the guy from TV on the Radio, hilariously), and she manages to really fuck shit up. Jonathan Demme films the movie almost like a documentary, never allowing us to escape even for a moment from this uncomfortable hell-hole. It's not something I'd want to watch over and over again, but come on guys. Sociopaths in Saris! (Band name, I call it!)

Runners-Up: Mamma Mia. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The Dark Knight.

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Adventureland boasts a terrific cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, more), but that's nothing without a great script. Greg Mottola (Superbad) keeps the movie tightly focused, about an aimless college graduate looking to save money for grad school by working at a horrible theme park. This movie has more in common with the sweet teen films of John Hughes than the cynical teen films we get today, which feature kids that are ten times too knowing for their years, who are cynically detached without ever having experienced real life.

Runners-Up: Zombieland. Moon. Hurt Locker. Up.

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Oh, Easy A. It's not the best movie of 2010 by any objective metric, but as I've seen it about 15 times already, there you go. I look forward to Emma Stone's world domination by 2020.

As I wrote previously about the film:

Easy A's greatest strength is that it's not afraid to have a little fun. Take the early "Pocketful of Sunshine" scene, a bit of random silliness that shouldn't be funny, but really really is. Only because it's true. It's a peculiarity of Hollywood that filmmakers believe that when teenagers are alone in their rooms, all they do is stare dramatically at their ceilings or ponder their social lives and body image issues. But no. Sometimes we just dance like idiots to absolutely ridiculous songs without any shame or self-consciousness. (Another truth: normal girls who don't have social lives to speak of often have excellent relationships with their English teachers).

Because it never ceases to amuse:

Runners-Up: Tangled. The Town. I Am Love. Winter's Bone. The Social Network.

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I know it's much too soon to put a pin on 2011, but I feel that I ought to try. I'm still struggling to find the words to convey my experience with Tree of Life, but know that it moved me tremendously. It's not often that a director has the guts to stretch his film across timespan of the universe itself, and you may disagree over whether he succeeds, but you cannot deny the scope and ambition. It may be a flawed film, but in many ways, it's the perfection of Terence Malick's unique gaze.

Also? It starts fights. Gotta give Malick credit for that.

Runner-Up: Bridesmaids

 

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