Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie Review: Synecdoche, New York

As a huge Charlie Kaufman fan, I've been waiting to see this movie for awhile. I didn't get around to seeing it in theatres, mostly because most people I know didn't seem interested, but I finally got around to renting it. I expected good things because Philip Seymour Hoffman is amazing and the rest of the cast is fantastic as well. But I have to say: this movie was weird.

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've watched and enjoyed a lot of very weird movies in my day, a lot of them Kaufman films. And this movie showed elements utilized in previous Kaufman films, particularly the likes of Being John Malkovich or Adaptation. It's instantly recognizable as something with Kaufman written all over it, and in many ways seems like a culmination of the ideas he'd been accumulating and refining with his other films. Jon Brion also does the music for this one, which is always a great touch. Kaufman and Brion go so well together.

I couldn't recommend this film to many people. In fact, I wouldn't recommend it to most people because I think most people would find it tedious, eccentric and pedantic. There is something so difficult about watching Philip Seymour Hoffman's character Caden Cottard languish and toil his entire life on something that to him is both nothing and everything at once. The role gender and age plays in the development of the plot could be jarring for most audiences and I think a lot of people would be just plain bored.

But there is one venue in which I think this movie will find a happy home, and that is from the academic perspective. From a film studies side, I don't think any movie has ever been made like this one ever. It's almost like a play within a play within a film within a film. For those well versed in postmodern slang, it's essentially a "metametafilm on metametatheatre" and that is saying a lot.

The other element, which may only appeal to me and other Comparative Literature/Theatre/German nerds (so, well, me and my friend Katie), is that I've never seen a movie that reminded me so much of Bertolt Brecht's "epic theatre" or "episches theater". Epic theatre, as opposed to dramatic theatre, is defined loosely as theatre in which all natural and realistic elements are removed such that the audience is unable to identify with the characters or the story. To explain it succinctly, as this website from Oregon State explains:

The dramatic theater's spectator says: Yes, I have felt like that too-- Just like me--It's only natural-- It'll never change--The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are inescapable--That's great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world--I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh.

The epic theater's spectator says: I'd never have thought it -- That's not the way -- That's extraordinary, hardly believable -- It's got to stop -- The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are unnecessary -- That's great art; nothing obvious in it -- I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh.

The characters within the movie create a play much like epic theatre not just in its size and scope (a scale model of an entire town) but also in that their characters can be boiled down to singular actions or mindsets, much like Brecht's gestus. Everything seems terribly fragmented and disconnected from its proper place in space or time throughout the film, and this effect makes you constantly aware that you are just watching a constructed story rather than a singular plot. This detachment from the story, awareness of construct was central to Epic Theatre (or "Dialectical Theatre," as Brecht preferred) because it allows for a creative dissonance between the space of the story and the audience.

So anyway, this is not a film I would recommend on the whole. But if you're fascinated to see something different, to see something like what Brecht might do if he were a postmodern filmmaker, then definitely check out Synecdoche, New York.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Christina Hendricks? Totally Bangin'

I just wanted to applaud Christina Hendricks, the actress known for the lead role of Joan Holloway on Mad Men, for having one of the hottest and simultaneously most realistic bodies on television. I know it seems like a stretch to have to point out when an incredibly sexy and attractive curvy woman gets to play a sexy woman in charge of her femininity in our culture, but its true. And frankly, I would be so lucky to have such dangerous curves. Not to mention, I read an interview she did and she's the most down-to-earth, sweet lady. I love her! Here is a great quote of hers from Page Six magazine:

"Sure, I'd be happier with 10 pounds off-- wouldn't every woman? But when I looked at pictures of myself at the Emmys, I thought I looked beautiful. I didn't tear myself apart."

On a completely separate but still related note, heard that Hung was having a difficult time casting actresses for the show. They wanted normal looking, average sized women over 35 and many of the talent agencies they approached told them that they didn't even have such women at their agency. Sort of a disgrace, if you ask me. There are plenty of talented actresses ready for a shot if their body doesn't, well, get in the way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: Killing Yourself To Live by Chuck Klosterman

If my enjoyment of a book can be measured in reading speed, this is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time. I simply couldn't put it down.

Now, I may be biased. I think Chuck Klosterman is totally likeable because I think, more than most people I read, he thinks like I think. And I think a lot of people have this private thought when they're reading him. Here is this nerdy guy who throws around pop culture references like sprinkles on the cupcake of his own self-deprecating over-analyzing sadness. And frankly, I think we all feel that way sometimes.

But I can also see how other people might not like Klosterman. And the book isn't perfect. It moves around a lot, inserts references that aren't always clear, but thats part of its charm. Its like Klosterman wrote a particularly funny diary for us about this road trip he went on and reading it made everyone feel a little better about the times they can be a little self-absorbed or monomaniacal or just plain bad at communication.

Klosterman is a reflection of all of us at our most earnest and sometimes most awkward.

Now, this book is ostensibly about rock star death but I really think its about the death of one's self throughout life. How certain chapters have to be closed in order for new one's to be started. On this theme, Klosterman is poignant and heartfelt, in his own way, and it really is what makes the book so worthwhile.

This book, as well as Klosterman in general, comes highly recommended. And when you read it, and fall in love with it, be sure to feel super envious of my autographed copy.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Review: Americana by Don DeLillo

I really wanted to like this book. I remember when I read DeLillo's book "Libra" that I had been completely enamored with his prose. It was a really good book, and he had a penchant for detail that was completely unmatched. And the prose in Americana is good, but I just didn't like it as much. It's not DeLillo's best.

There are a lot of good things I can say about the book. I did love his repetition of icons and ideas that really are associated with Americana: the cheap hotel room, the idea of female sexuality as glorified by commercials, the romantic ideals of cross-country travel. The strongest sections are those in which the protagonist, David Bell, reflects on his own past, particularly his memories of his family and his mother.

There is also a clear transformation in David's character from the beginning of the book to the end, and that ultimately comprises the majority of the story arch. And DeLillo's prose is still very lush and exciting at points. I definitely love the way he phrases things because it is very vivid and alive.

What is important to note about Americana is that it was DeLillo's first novel. He can't be expected to have the poise and delicacy in his early writing that he would later in his career with works such as "Libra" and "Underworld."

Further, some of the frustration I had with the novel may be more a matter of timing. The novel was written in 1971 and was very much a novel of its own time. The Vietnam War is at the front of consciousness throughout the book, as are elements of changing cultural mores. It seems an early example of the kind of work that would inspire the likes of Bret Easton Ellis, with his literature of the grotesque, and it is clear that the novel investigates many postmodern elements.

All said, while Americana wasn't all that good itself, I would recommend it to any DeLillo fan in order to gain a wider understanding of his work. For anyone else, I would recommend DeLillo and I would start with his excellent novel, "Libra."

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

Late Summer/Fall Movie Preview

Okay, so a lot of people talk about summer blockbusters, but it has never been my experience that summer is all that great for movies. At least, it seems, the movies I tend to like seem to always come out in the fall and into the winter, pushing themselves to the front of people's minds for awards season. All I know is there is a lot of stuff that either recently came out and/or is coming out soon that I'm really excited for. I figure it's my blogly duty to put it on your radar, no?

Coming Out: October 16th, 2009

This is a sort of follow-up to very lovely Paris Je T'aime and it looks good. It doesn't look as good as Paris Je T'aime necessarily, and I would definitely recommend that one see that movie before ever seeing this one, but I'm still excited. I loved the concept of a series of short stories creating one film, written and directed by people who might not necessarily write or direct (or who might, really). I can even set aside my distaste for Natalie Portman in support of the cause.


Out Now

I've heard nothing but good reviews about this movie and I'm really eager to see it. By the way, Keving Spacey is a robot! I'm not normally interested in sci-fi but this really does pique my interest.

Food Inc

Out Now, but generally in select theatres, you have to seek it out

I like documentaries a lot, and I've had this one on my radar for quite some time. I'm definitely excited to see it, even though I'm pretty sure I won't be able to eat anything but organic, local vegetables for at least a week after. Maybe I'll lose some weight?

Paper Heart

Out Now

I'm pretty pumped for this movie only because it has elements of mockumentary mixed with elements of fiction mixed with Charlyne and Michael were dating at the time for real (they've since broken up) and so it might imitate life a bit, too. It's bound to be an interesting mix of filmmaking. And the line about Applebee's? Classic.

The Cove

Out Now

Every review I have seen about this documentary says that it is heartbreaking, haunting, and very good. And suspenseful, to boot! I love the human layer that Ric O'Barry, the guy behind the film, was once upon a time the trainer for the dolphins that played Flipper. He actually witnessed a dolphin commit suicide by refusing to breathe. He feels this tremendous guilt about dolphins being kept in captivity for shows because he feels by making Flipper successful, he contributed to their popularity. What these Japanese fisherman do is technically legal, and majority of the dolphins used in captivity are caught in this cove, and the filmmakers want to expose the atrocities committed. It's almost like O'Barry's mea culpa, and I really like that element of it.


Out Now, select theatres

I haven't heard anything directly about this movie, but I have seen the trailer a couple different times now, and it just seems so sweet. It might have to do with my soft spot for people with Asperger's.

The Hurt Locker

Out Now

I'm not normally drawn to movies, but I've read some really good reviews about this movie that say it adds a really human element to the story and that the acting is impeccable. It was also directed by a woman, which doesn't sound like much of an anomaly but a woman directing a mostly male cast in a mostly male genre IS interesting. What I've read is that seeing a typical male topic as viewed by a woman reveals something new and different, and for that reason alone, I think it will be worth seeing.

Cold Souls

Out Now

Paul Giamatti plays himself in this movie, and it seems quirky and interesting. It almost reminds me of Being John Malkovich (a movie I love) and it seems like a great sort of dark comedy. I'm excited, at least.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Awesome Picture.

So I sort of have this online friend named Chris I talk to occasionally. Tonight, he showed me this picture:

I must post this simply because it clearly takes the cake for best accidental photo with nerdy celebrities. It's far superior to any other accidental nerd celebrity photo I've seen, my hoodie shot with Mike Birbiglia included. Chris, if you haven't figured out, is the beardly fellow watching Ira Glass and David Cross play poker for a charity event which was held at 826NYC on July 26, 2009. Chris reports that Ira lost early on. Suck it, Glass.

He also once memorized many facts about Ulysses S Grant in order to have a historically accurate Halloween costume. And his senior photo showed him posed as Elvis Costello circa the This Year's Model album cover. Right now, he is well in the running to take the crown for "Coolest Nerd (In My Opinion)" of 2009. I dare any of you to contend with that. Yeah, I've officially just made it an annual contest. I expect some competition.

Full disclosure, you'd also have to contend with this visor. Great job!

Monday, August 17, 2009

News: Man Totes Semi-Automatic Weapon Near President

I just read this article from the Huffington Post, which includes a video, of a man carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle (AR-15) at a rally where Obama was speaking, in plain view of the President. Now, this is legal in the state of Arizona but I think it's a little horrifying. Regardless of one's feelings on gun control (personally, I'm staunchly against it), I cannot understand a single justification for bringing an assault rifle a. near the President and b. in such a crowded area. Furthermore, this one man was not the only person in the crowd with a gun. Really horrifying. I can't imagine being in that crowd and seeing that, the discomfort I would feel. I think there is a big difference between exercising your right to own a gun, regardless of how I feel about it, and displaying an intimidating weapon in a way that is meant to cause fear.

This also happened earlier this week, on the 11th, at another rally in New Hampshire. If you're interested, check out this article. Now, this guy was carrying a sign that says "It's time to water the tree of liberty" which is a reference to the Thomas Jefferson quote: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Now, this opinion may seem a little liberal but I don't care: if this were a middle eastern looking man near George W. Bush, wouldn't he have been rotting in some prison by now, without a court date? I respect that they're willing to protect, essentially, this guy's free speech but when tactics of fear-mongering and intimidation are involves, shouldn't we be a little more concerned with the President's safety? I don't support violence against any public figure, no matter what your opinion is no the matter. What do you all think?

This Week (In My Opinion): Week of August 16th


I have to lead with this because I am almost positive that I am not the only person, even among my (so-far) limited pool of blog readers who is absolutely, 100%, hardly containably excited for the premiere of season six of Project Runway. Guaranteed. As the show was moving from Bravo to Lifetime, it got caught up in a cyclone of legal bureaucratic nonsense that almost kept this season off the was filmed almost a year ago at this point, and fans have been biting their nails in anticipation. It's hard to put one's finger on the pulse of exactly why this show is so good, but it simply is. I think it has a lot to do with seeing some industry insiders whose expertise pack a true punch foster and reward new talent in such a way that it seems to actually have an impact in the designers' continued success. That, and it's just so full of personality. It's been far too long since Tim Gunn inspired me to make it work. It premieres on Thursday, August 20th on Lifetime at 10pm ET/PT.


I plan to say a lot more on this subject at a later date, especially given my strong personal opinions on the matter, but as for a blanket statement related to the topic's timeliness, am I the only one who feels a bit jerked around by the ongoing legislation? Everyone seems to have some wildly bold opinions on what they want to do with healthcare and yet just about everyone can agree that our current system isn't working for everyone. If we can agree the current system isn't working, then why are people so resistant to ANY change? And on a separate note, I am a staunch Obama supporter, but if its true that he plans to "back off a plan," as some pundits have stated, I think it's a bad time for that. If he wants to make this a pet issue, he needs to really drive it, not have a jelly spine on the matter. I would be disappointed if, rather than focusing the issue on what we can accomplish, he gives up on the fight. Stay strong, Barack! I mean, at the very least can we agree that it should be illegal to dump people from insurance plans for getting cancer (it happens, in a roundabout way) or exclude people from coverage for pre-existing conditions? I think we can all agree on that...


Colin Meloy, the lead singer of the Decemberists, has a lot less to do with topicality and a lot more to do with things on my mind lately. He's just so ridiculously good looking and I appreciate that in a genre overrun by really unattractive, very tight jeans and ridiculous outfits that make hipsters and their ilk fodder for ridicule, Colin Meloy can still rock a suit and occasionally, a beard with the rest of them. I love it. He's so good looking, not to mention his talents. I think I like him and the Decemberists because in an industry overwraught with excessively simple lyrics, they dare to be as grandiose and verbose and other ten-dollar-words as they like. Good for them. And with John Cusack, my previous predominant celebrity crush falling from grace due to some grammatically appalling and boring/ridiculous twitter updates, Colin seems fit to fill his shoes. In my dreams.


I'm sorry to offend any die-hard fans out there, but with members of my family and a couple friends being interested in the show, I've attempted to give it a couple different shots and can only conclude that it SUCKS. Yeah, I had to bold that. I've yet to get through a full episode and most sections I see inevitably include either overly dramatic exchanges or gratuitous vampire sex. Seriously, this goes far beyond my distaste for vampire stories in general and well into the realm of cliche and a little sad. Observe the picture I found, I feel it's absurdity sums up a lot of why I think this show is bad. There are so many good shows on television that investigate so many different subjects that I just find it a little silly that the shape-shifter orgy show is getting so much buzz. Does that make me prudish? No. Do I think people are less intelligent for liking a show that to me seems stupid? Who am I to judge, I love The Bachelor. But I know that for all the recommendations this show seems to get, it deserves a bad review. I'm giving that to you.


I haven't heard the entirety of Neko Case's new album "Middle Cyclone" yet because poverty keeps me from behaving as I please. But I do know that I've heard a lot of the songs already and I'm dying to get it. I also downloaded the All Songs Considered Live Concert Podcast of her show at the Newport Folk Festival and it's so, so good. She's so funny and personable in between songs, much like she is when she plays with The New Pornographers and her voice is just as clear and twice as emotional when you hear her live. I've nothing but good things and recommendations to say when it comes to Neko Case and I think she deserves all the accolades I can muster. To listen to that podcast, simply look up the All Songs Considered Live Concert Podcasts on the iTunes store. They're free and Neko's show is there a long with a lot of other great shows. Or you can go here: Neko Case on NPR Music


I just thought I'd remind everybody about Lisa Frank, because I was at Target the other day during school supply shopping for the kiddies and I definitely saw a Lisa Frank puppy poking out of a cart. I don't think she's as prevalent as she once was, but I'm glad to see she still rocks the school supply circuit. Does anyone remember these? I'm pretty sure I had this one pictured here when I was in third grade. I'm pretty sure.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: Young@Heart

So, Young@Heart came out awhile ago...2007 to be exact. But it seems that so few people I talk to have ever even heard of it, and after watching it for a second time tonight, I simply MUST recommend it. I'm definitely a fan of documentaries, not only because I find a certain satisfaction out of hearing a true story once in awhile, but also because I think it's a difficult genre to do well. This is one of my favorite documentaries, because it really captures the humanity of the story. The chorus is made up of older folks (not a single one younger than 70!) who love singing Rock and Roll songs by the likes of The Clash, David Bowie and Sonic Youth. Definitely a trip.

I haven't recommended this film to a single person who didn't then report back that they loved it. Every single person interviewed from the chorus is so full of life and they're all hilarious. They really seem to take life by the horns and refuse to go out with a fizzle. I think that's why the group has had such success worldwide, playing to audiences as diverse as local community theatre and the royalty of Norway. It's impossible not to love them, and to admire the work of their director, Bob Cilman, who helps these individuals take these modern popular rock songs and transform them into pieces that speak to the emotions of the lyrics and music.

There are truly some touching scenes in this movie, including one scene in which the group travels to a local prison and sing their songs for a bunch of hardened criminals. I seriously cannot recommend this movie more, because its impossible to watch it and not feel better inside. That may sound like an exaggeration, but its true. It makes you feel a little more vitality and joy about the parts of life us younger people take for granted. Everyone should see this movie. In fact, I demand it.

To see the trailer, check this stuff out!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: 500 Days of Summer

I was excited to see 500 Days of Summer. I think most people I knew were excited about this movie. This is punctuated by the fact that I mostly hang out with the type of people who pretend not to judge you by their taste in movies and music and then totally judge you on your taste in movies and music. And I think that 500 Days of Summer was made with a very specific target audience in mind. And the thing was, it was a pretty okay movie. There were parts that were moving, and parts that were cheesy, and in all it balanced out to pretty okay. I'd even recommend it on a general basis.

I suppose it just isn't what I was expecting. It certainly wasn't a comedy in the way it seemed to be projected by the previews, which is true of a vast majority of movies I've seen this year (Sunshine Cleaning, anyone?) but I was kind of okay with that. I will give many accolades to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With a different actor in the role, Tom could have either seemed hokey or flat, and luckily Gordon-Levitt handles the role deftly. He has the exact combo of self-deprecation and cheekiness needed to envelope a role in a movie of this type. Not everyone can pull off a dance scene with monochromatic dancers in a park and animated birds. The dance scene, by the way, was excellent. I won't give too much a way, but I will say this: Hall & Oates. I can't fault anyone for that scene, it was pure gold.

As for Zooey Deschanel, she did alright. She's a perfectly good actress and while I don't feel compelled to nominate her for an Oscar anytime soon, it does seem that if the role weren't written specifically for her, she did a good job of making it seem that way. One thing I will note is that I didn't find her character likeable, really. I'm not sure if she was even supposed to be necessarily, but I think I was just surprised at that reaction. Any more on the matter might serve as a spoiler, so I'll drop it. Her outfits were off the charts adorable, though, and she's ridiculously cute 100% of the time. Her delivery just makes you want to hug at every turn.

All in all, I think its important to go into this movie expecting exactly as much as I did: a cute movie that will remind you at every turn just how cute it seeks to be. And if you're the kind of person who is fine with that, then you'll definitely like this movie. Especially if you're the kind of person who is fine with that AND secretly believes in the soul-binding power of The Smiths.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mix Tape From A Friend: Quarterlife Recession!

My friend Neil recently made a mix tape, via video linking, concerning the phantom feeling of the "Quarterlife Crisis." Here's what Neil had to say on the matter:

The mix deals with issues of being in your twenties during the current economic slump - feeling lost/indecisive, finding a home, making sense of relationships, and a whole bunch of other good junk that no one can really put into words. It was partially inspired by this excellent article about quarterlife crisis: Go on, read it. Now!

The mix can be found in video blog format here:
(note: videos 4 and 13 start on their own, because dailymotion is a newb to video hosting. You should probably pause them immediately)

I've checked out the mix and it is very cool. Props go to Neil because the mix includes two of my very favorite songs on the matter of feeling displaced/indecisive about your life...
-"Let's Get Out Of This Country" by Camera Obscura
-"This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" by Talking Heads.

By the way, for a sweet Arcade Fire cover of that particular Talking Heads song, check this out:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Book Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

At first, I wasn't sure I would like this book because the description of setting and plot is so sparse, which is contrary to my usual taste. But I found that the more I thought about my experience reading the book, the more I realized how much I truly enjoyed it.

I think what made it so powerful was how well it encapsulated the experience of re-education in a communist world. It didn't necessarily seek to answer all sorts of historical question, but it did seek to give an accurate account. The characters are made very tangible in the context of this world, and that is refreshing. It's easy to slip yourself into their experience, and traverse their journey with them.

Further, I feel like the idea of reading literature for the sake of knowledge comes alive in the context of the story, and makes the book itself seem more alive. It's definitely easy to recommend this book to just about any sort of reader, because I believe the story at the core would appeal to anyone who is a lover of literature. And at only 192 sparse pages, its a quick little read, and thus well worth the effort.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

Monday, August 03, 2009

All Songs Considered Poll: Best Songs of the Year So Far (2009)

All Songs Considered on NPR did a listeners poll about their favorite songs of the year 2009 so far. If you want to read the actual All Songs Considered Blog, go here: ALL SONGS CONSIDERED BLOG!

In any event, the list turned out to be pretty in line with my opinion. As the woman on All Things Considered pointed out, the list may be a little skewed by the tendency of young white hip people to be the main demographic that follows All Songs Considered, despite the diverse music featured on the show. But that said, most of the songs are really good. In fact, two of them I've featured on this blog before (those are italicized) I've reposted the list here and bolded and/or featured some of my favorites. To also read their list of the top albums of 2009 so far, go to their blog.

1. My Girls - Animal Collective
2. Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear video
3. Blood Bank - Bon Iver video
4. The Rake's Song - The Decemberists video
5. Lisztomania - Phoenix

6. Zero - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
7. This Tornado Loves You - Neko Case video
8. Sleepyhead - Passion Pit

9. Laughing With - Regina Spektor

10. The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid - The Decemberists
11. Train Song - Feist and Ben Gibbard
12. Knotty Pine - David Byrne & Dirty Projectors
13. Daniel - Bat For Lashes

14. Summertime Clothes - Animal Collective
15. One Wing - Wilco
16. The Fear - Lily Allen
17. Heads Will Roll - Yeah Yeah Yeahs video
18. Wilco (The Song) - Wilco
19. Stillness Is The Move - Dirty Projectors
20. Help, I'm Alive - Metric video
21. Anonanimal - Andrew Bird video
22. On No - Andrew Bird
23. No You Girls - Franz Ferdinand video
24. I And Love And You - The Avett Brothers
25. French Navy - Camera Obscura

26. Magpie to the Morning - Neko Case
27. Woods - Bon Iver
28. Black Hearted Love - PJ Harvey and John Parish
29. While You Wait For The Others - Grizzly Bear
30. Panic Switch - Silversun Pickups

I think my only surprise is that my favorite on Neko Case's new album, "People Got A Lotta Nerve" didn't quite make the cut. That's one I would have definitely put on there.