Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday Classics, Vol. 1: While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Written by Daniel G. Sullivan & Frederic LeBow
Starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman

Yes, I am starting my "Wednesday Classics" with While You Were Sleeping. Originally, it was going to be Amadeus, which I believe to be the finest movie yet written, but then I watched this again, and decided to stake my notice here and now that not all the films featured in this bi-weekly column will be critical darlings. They are my darlings. My favourite films. There will be your Seven Samurais and your Casablancas, but there will always be room for your While You Were Sleepings.

What you need to know of the plot if you haven't seen it is that Lucy (Sandra Bullock) ends up being mistaken for Peter Callahan's (Peter Gallagher) fiance by Peter's family, while Peter is in a coma. They take her in over the holidays, and she grows to genuinely love them, and so is afraid to tell them the truth. Things get more complicated when she meets and falls for Jack Callahan (Bill Pullman), Peter's brother. But, of course, we know things aren't complicated. She will end up with Jack, because, well, those are the rules of this movie. And you don't question them.

It's a formulaic movie. It never jostles you. Nothing ultimately happens that we don't expect. And that's part of its formidable charm. Charm, in fact, is what this movie runs on. The writing is fine, but it's elevated by a slew of perfectly-played performances. It never makes you laugh out loud, but it always makes you smile, and it's a warm smile. You grow to care for all the people in the movie as you would for your family, if you felt about your family the way the Callahan family feel for one another... if that makes sense. And this is to say nothing of how you'll adore Lucy. Because you will. You really, really will.

Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman are pitch-perfect for one another. They have a good chemistry, and you really sense how much they care for one another over the course of events that lead to them getting married. You know about twenty minutes into this movie that it's heading for that, but it's still fun to watch. I've seen this movie countless times since I was little, and I still squeal with glee and delight every time it reaches the end, when Lucy's mindlessly taking tokens, only to hear the *ding of an engagement ring. She looks up, and there's Jack, with the Callahan Family (with the exception of Saul, they travel as a pack constantly). He asks if he can come in to ask her a question. She says she can't. He looks crestfallen. She says, "Not without a token." He tosses one in without even looking. She starts to smile uncontrollably. He asks her to marry him. She says "Yeah." I stop squealing right around here, but only because I have to breath, lest I pass out. By the time this movie ends, my jaw hurts from smiling so much. And I absolutely love it.

Grade: A+

Wednesday Classics will alternate, each week, between an album and a movie. Stay tuned!

Sita Sings the Blues

This stunning screenshot, which I'm leaving as large as I can in this format so you can soak it in, is from Nina Paley's new (to me, it came out in February of 2008) film, Sita Sings the Blues. I have never heard of Paley before, nor have I heard of the Indian story this is based on, Ramalaya. However, I heard some nice things, and once I found out it was available for legal free download, I decided to watch it. I am so glad I did. What we have here is a creation of stunning originality, vision, and, most importantly, it's damned entertaining. Honestly, I haven't enjoyed a movie so much in years, and I include recent favourite Tootsie in that statement.

There are a lot of different things going on. First, there's the story of Ramalaya. Then there are Shadow Puppets which, in charming, funny, and unscripted dialogue, explain the story. Voiced by three people who grew up in India, these were the funniest parts of the movie. Since every region of India has its own interpretation and variation of the story, all three had different ideas. The third part is the parallels from Paley's own life, which is what inspired her to make this 80-minute movie. She made it entirely by herself, which is amazing. The best parts were the musical numbers, using old recordings of jazz standards sung by Annette Hanshaw. The recordings have been in the public domain since the 1950's, and are put to very clever use.

You should watch this movie. It's clever, it's funny, it's humble, it's colourful, and it's simply a joy. Here's a link to all the places you can download it or stream it. You can even get a 200GB, 35 mm reel quality download, if you have the space. I wish I did, to be honest. It would be worth it.

Grade: A

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Harold? Oh, You Poor Thing"

Written and Directed by Steve Gordon
Starring Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, John Gielgud

Arthur (Dudley Moore) is just the kind of drunk you want to have around. He's also the kind of drunk that doesn't exist. When he drinks, and we're talking a lot of scotch here, he becomes more openly witty. He's still able to function, albeit a bit clumsily. He doesn't say or do anything he doesn't really intend, save for the first ten minutes of the movie, where he picks up a hooker, takes her to dinner, and forgets who she is or why she's there. He's not as charming as he is when he's sober... I think... but we rarely see him completely sober, so I can't say that for certain.

A lush though he may be, he's a good lush. Dudley Moore was imbued with more charm than most, and he pours all of it into this role. You feel a strong, genuine affection for Arthur, not to mention Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli) and, most of all, Arthur's butler, Hobson (A deservedly Oscar-winning turn by John Gielgud). You don't need to know much more going into this movie than the fact that Arthur is worth $750 million, and his control-freak father will cut him off if he doesn't marry a woman he couldn't care less for. All Arthur wants, like the rest of us, is to fall in love. And he really means it.

The jokes are sharp, the appeal is universal, and all of the performances are wonderful. This is the kind of simple and entertaining movie other simple and entertaining movies aim to be. The story suggests two possible resolutions from the outset. The first is that Arthur marries the woman he doesn't love and keeps his money. The second is that he decides not to marry her, and gets cut off forever. I won't tell you what it goes with. I will tell you it's not what you think. And, on a final note, if we were all as personable as Dudley Moore, the world would be a better place.

Grade: A-

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Think the Right Woman Could Reform You

Written and Directed by Blake Edwards
Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Alex Karras

1982 was a big year for cross-dressing in the movies. Victor/Victoria came out the same year as Tootsie. Both dealt intelligently and tactfully with gender roles in modern society. Both had superb casts and Oscar-nominated performances. Tootsie was about the female experience. Victor/Victoria is about sexuality.

Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) cannot get a job singing anywhere in Paris, circa 1934. Then she meets Toddy, played beyond charmingly by Robert Preston. Toddy notes that there is a booming market for drag queens, and so they set off on a plot to pass her off as a man pretending to be a woman. Feel free to re-read that last bit if you need to go over it again. It's clever. And the execution is delightful.

What this movie has is a fun script, wonderful performances, and a genuine warmth you don't get that often. It reminded me of one of the old movie musicals from the 1950's, which is undoubtedly part of what it's meant to evoke. The colours are vibrant, the jokes are one-liners, and the plot is outlandish without being absurd. While Victor/Victoria has a lot to say about human sexuality (it has more to say than you think it does, even while you're watching it), it is first and foremost an entertaining film, in the very best sense.

Grade: B+

Stop, I've Heard This One Before

Years of Refusal

This may or may not be a return to form for Morrissey. I've been told by those who listen to Mozz with regularity that it is. Based on reviews I've seen elsewhere, I'm inclined to believe that is the case. But it really doesn't matter to me if it is a return to form, because I've never liked Morrissey, whether he was on form or not. In The Smiths, a band I can't quite bring myself to love, he was balanced out by Marr's expert musicianship, and he didn't seem quite so under the impression that the world is against him. That's really my problem with Morrissey as he is now. Nowhere else in popular music is there someone capable of writing a lyric like, "I'm throwing my arms around Paris, because only stone and steel accept my love," and I don't mean that as a compliment. It takes a special kind of egocentric to so fully embrace loneliness, and to do it simply so he has something to complain about. It begs the question, at this point in his life, how has he not realised he's the root of his problems? Maturing emotionally involves reaching a point where you can accept the blame for your own actions. On the cover of this album, you'll find a small child being held by a big fuckin' baby.

Grade: D+*

*If you aren't morally opposed to Morrissey as he is now, it's a C+. If you actively like him, it's a B.

This Fear's Gotta Hold On Me

To Lose My Life...
White Lies

There's a part of me that wishes this album were better, if only because I could title the review "This Band's Gotta Hold On Me." At any rate, both the actual title and the idyllic one are references to the chorus of the opening song, "Death." That chorus is the best part of this whole album, and even it is oddly dispensible. Aesthetically, the title of "Death" just about sums it up. This is a band who would not exist without Interpol, which is to say this a band who would not exist without Joy Division. Their sound is stark and sweeping. Their lyrics tend to draw from a pool rife with sentiments like "I leave my memoirs in blood on the floor." This is doom and gloom and not much else. This debut is what they call "assured," which is usually a bad thing, since it means they haven't taken any risks, and have left nothing up to chance. It's not a surprise it made it to #1 on the UK charts, and I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a bad album so much as it's just not good, but I give it a year before we all forget this album ever existed. Not worth your time.

Grade: C-

A Little Prozac and a Polo Mallet

Manhattan Murder Mystery
Directed and Written by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston

Manhattan Murder Mystery, on the surface, is exactly what it's called; Carol Lipton (Diane Keaton) finds her elderly neighbour Paul House to be in remarkable form after the sudden death of his wife from a heart attack. Carol, like all sensible people, suspects murder, and decides to investigate for herself. The movie follows her sleuthing into a labyrinthine plot worthy of, and paying homage to, a Hitchcock movie. While Carol is the driving force, Larry Lipton (Allen) serves as the audience's lens into the story. For the first hour, he's convinced his wife is having a psychotic breakdown, and so are we.

Initially, the first hour seems unsensible. Carol doesn't strike you as the sort of person who would allow herself to get so carried away. But that's part of the point. The Liptons meet the Houses in the first few minutes of the film, having an evening cup of coffee. Carol is terrified by the prospect of ending up like them, complacent and "boring." Larry doesn't mind it. They're in great shape for their age, he says. After Lillian House dies, Carol siezes this moment as her last chance to do something crazy before she gets too old. Larry is content, but Carol is going through her midlife crisis. She just happens to be driven to prove a murder rather than to buy a car.

But there is a shift at the hour mark. It is signalled by a brief scene where Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston) teachers Larry, her editor, how to play poker. I want to note and praise Allen's wonderful physical performance here, shuffling the cards around in his hand, doing slapstick without ever really moving. Up until this point, he's spent the movie doubting his wife, and so have we. But Marcia encourages Larry to try harder, to give his wife the benefit of the doubt. This spurrs him to join her on a stakeout, where he sees something that causes him to second-guess himself. As soon as Larry is on Carol's side, so are we, and the rest of the movie bowls forward at full-speed, reaching it's excellent conclusion without time to breathe.

All the performances are solid, and while Alda and Huston are sturdy as always, Keaton and Allen were made to be on screen together. They both play neurotic so well, and in such different ways. Hers is below the surface and subdued. His is always right there at the front of it. You never question why they are together, which is why this movie works.

Grade: B

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Blair Trilogy, Part 1

The Deal
Directed by Stephen Frears
Screenplay by Peter Morgan

In 1997, when Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain in a landslide, there was shady business afoot. A year earlier, when popular Labour Party leader John Smith died of an unexpected heart attack, Gordon Brown was tagged as Smith's successor, and he was the politically dominant force. But Tony Blair was the poster child for the party, and any challenge by Brown for the leadership would only serve to damage New Labour in the coming election for Prime Minister. Over an impromptu lunch one afternoon, Brown agrees to step aside, but with certain conditions. Brown is clearly the superior choice, but Blair is in the right place at all the right times.

The Deal encompasses the fifteen years leading up to the 1997 election, and follows the friendship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as they rise from new members of their party to become its figureheads, and how pursuing "the big job" gets between them. Both David Morrissey and Michael Sheen, as Brown and Blair respectively, are on excellent form, and the movie makes the whole story captivating and interesting. The only thing I can disagree with here, in retrospect, is Blair's portrayal in the writing. Peter Morgan makes it a bit too clear that we're meant to like Brown and dislike Blair, that Brown has worked for this his whole life and Blair is opportunistic. Which would be fine if I hadn't already seen The Queen, the second part of the Blair trilogy, in which Blair is a more balanced creation. This is not surprising, as The Deal is one of Morgan's first published screenplays, and subtly comes to those who wait.

You might find it a bit dry, as it's all based on the dialogue, but that's my favourite kind of entertainment. I like words.

Grade: B+

The Title Track's Pretty Cool, Though

No Line on the Horizon

Someday, someone will explain U2 to me. There's something about them which I've never understood. With the exception of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "One," they've never released anything I believe exemplary of what music can be. What I do understand about U2 is they have managed to make an entire discography that's exemplary of what music can do. They are the only band going today which has a religious following. Their concerts are known to be incredibly uplifting, and you can hear why. These songs lend themselves to mass singalongs, and I can see a communal experience attached to these as being something extraordinarily powerful. But, taken as an album on its own terms? Music from the same vein they've been mining since The Joshua Tree and constant nonspecific lyrical statements like "Only love, only love unites our hearts" don't lead me to experience anything more than a desire to change the song.

Grade: C-

Born to Re-Run

Working On a Dream
Bruce Springsteen

There are certain artists lucky enough to make it to a point in their career where they just know how to make a good album. You dutifully listen to their latest release, and you never mind it. You don't ever press the skip button. The songs do what you expect them to do. The lyrics talk about what you expect them to talk about. Sounds are made that echo the great works the artist has produced in the past, and it makes you smile, like an inside joke with an old friend. Bruce Springsteen unquestionably knows what it takes to make a good album. Whether or not that is a good thing is another matter.

Yes, all the music in Working On a Dream meets your expectations. But it doesn't surprise you. Unlike his last album, Magic, which wasn't quite a masterpiece, but felt like one at times, there's nothing here to make you believe you are listening to the next highlight in a career scattered with genius. Take opening track "Outlaw Pete": it is either the sound of Springsteen making fun of himself, or he's flat run out of lyrical ideas. Humourously, it uses the four note sequence found in "To the Stars," used in countless trailers since its first appearance in Randy Edelman's score for Dragonheart, to trick us into being moved. That note sequence is making a comeback; it also springs up this year in U2's latest.

There are moments where Springsteen admirably attempts to stretch a musical palette that has served him well for almost forty years now; "This Life" is draped in Beach Boys harmonies, and "Surprise, Surprise" is The Boss meets The Byrds. The latter of the two could see its way onto future, comprehensive best ofs, along with "My Lucky Day," a song that makes up for its unoriginality with plentiful enthusiasm. That's probably the best way to describe this whole album; after the dark and dreary atmosphere around Magic, Working On a Dream sounds like The Boss is having fun again. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band- who go blasphemously uncredited on this release- are enjoying themselves, and that's almost enough to carry the album. Almost.

Grade: C


Directed by Sidney Pollack
Story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange

Michael Dorsey is an out-of-work actor with a reputation for being extremely talented, but a pain in the ass to work with. His agent, portrayed in a wonderful uncredited performance by the late Sydney Pollack, can't get him work. In an act of desperation, Dorsey dresses up as a woman and auditions for the role of a female hospital administrator on a popular soap opera. His character instantly becomes a sensation, he falls in love with his costar, and he has to attempt to keep his cover from being blown. This is the part where I would normally say "Hilarity ensues," but that does this remarkable movie a disservice.

It wouldn't be a lie; the film is funny for its entirety. And all the jokes come from the situations. The best comedy, I feel, is funny without going out of its way to be so. In this movie, no one does anything because it would be funny; everything is funny because they would do it. And it all centers around the fact that Dustin Hoffman is able to portray Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels with equal skill. That is crucial to the movie's success. If Dorothy weren't believable, the whole movie would seem to revolve around a gimic, and, worse than that, we would dismiss all the people around her as fools and incompetents. All the parts of the movie that are touching and bittersweet, such as the side story where Jessica Lange's father, Les, falls in love with Dorothy, would simply be for our amusement, and wouldn't forge any sort of emotional connection. These are real people, people we can relate to, and ultimately, people we care about.

Beyond that, the movie is smart. There are clever commentaries on sexism strewn throughout. Dorothy is an intelligent, strong, capable woman, who stands up for herself. There's a definitive split between Dorothy and Michael. At one point, Dorothy improvises some dialogue, and the director chastises her for it. She apologises and promises not to do it again, whereas Michael would have fought the director into the ground. That night, reflecting on the incident, Michael says to his roommate, a perfectly restrained and never-better Bill Murray, "I think Dorothy might be smarter than me." It's moments like that which remind you this is a special movie.

I've never wanted a couple to get together at the end of a movie so much in my life. And I've never been so unsure as to whether or not it would happen, either. It's a romantic comedy, so by the rules of the genre, they have to end up together, but I wasn't convinced they would, and it's a credit to the movie that it never feels formulaic. So badly did I want Julie to forgive Michael, so badly did I want them to kiss, that I may have yelled at the t.v., just a bit. And the film knows better than to give us that moment. All we know is that they walk off together down the street, with their arms around one another. What a wonderful, wonderful film.

Grade: A

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Not T.V., It's HBO

I've recently found out about a television program, In Treatment, about a therapist, Dr. Paul Weston, and four of his patients. The concept of the show- therapist treating people may in fact need more help than any of his patients- is not a new one. And, while it has gotten tremendous reviews, those didn't serve to draw me towards it so much as they didn't push me away once I got closer. The reason I was drawn to the show, and I believe this is a first, is its format.

Episodes of In Treatment are thirty minutes long, and each episode spends the bulk of its time in a single session, with the patient corresponding to the day of the week. The show works in cycles of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday episodes, with Paul playing the patient on Fridays to his own therapist. Well that's all fine and dandy, what makes this show so fascinating to me is that each episode, for the first season at least, was aired on its according day; In Treatment was aired once a night, every weeknight, for the nine weeks it took to get through all 43 episodes of its first season. You don't get that on network television.

And this is precisely why I think subscription channels like HBO are such a great thing. There is no doubting the freedoms provided as far as content goes, but that shouldn't be the sole focus anymore. In time, people will be saying "fuck" on NBC. They will. But, mark my words, a show that airs five times a week, once a night, that isn't a news program, would never see the light of day on any of the major networks, or on any channel that's a part of the basic cable package. Any network would, probably rightfully, look upon the decision to back such a program as commercial suicide. New shows that air once a week rarely pull the audience needed to recoup their expenses, let alone a show that airs every weeknight. With the subscriber system, HBO doesn't worry about ratings to bring in its money; this show was already paid for by non-viewers like you.

Not only is it a right of HBO to do shows like this, I think it is a necessity. Television is a relative young medium, but it has already seemingly run its course, as far as new ideas. There are occasional programs that seem to come out of nowhere, like the peerless Arrested Development, but, as its sad fate showed the world, fresh writing alone does not a hit make. Yes, shows like Lost, with its extreme story and requirement of total devotion to even have the slightest idea of what's going on, can be a bit refreshing, but even that is just a more extreme version of shows that have come before. Twin Peaks, anyone? Admittedly, In Treatment is not the first of its kind either; it is, in fact, an adaptation of an Israeli show called Betipul. That program is aired in exactly the same broadcast schedule, five nights a week. And I know some soap operas are aired daily, but In Treatment doesn't have a ridiculous narrative; it's quiet, it's real, it could happen.

For the second season, HBO has taken to airing "Monday" and "Tuesday" episodes back-to-back on Sundays, and then the "Rest of the week" airs on Monday nights, but I don't mind that. They gave the first season a chance to do something unprecedented on American television and I applaud it. The fact that they did it shows it can be done, and that there are still new presentational routes television can take, and this is necessary for its survival. The format of the first season of In Treatment serves as proof that HBO's motto is not only clever, but deserved.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lily Allen: Accept No Substitutes

It's Not Me, It's You
Lily Allen

You have to admire Lily Allen for her originality if nothing else. With her last album, she essentially created a new genre of female singer-songwriters. None of her offspring have proven to be half as clever nor half as bold as she is; I can't see Kate Nash (right) writing a lyric that rhymes "wet patch in the middle of the bed" with a complaint about having "spent ages giving head." Her second album comes out later this year. Maybe she'll prove me wrong. But I doubt it.

Allen's first album, 2006's Alright, Still, was intoxicating in the early listens, but within a month, the ska samples and taunting lyrics grew tiresome. I haven't enjoyed the album since the summer of 2006, and I just cracked it open a few weeks ago in preparation for a concert. She's a little older now, and her words have found a nice balance. The lyrics I quoted before are from "Not Fair," a faux-country pop song about being in a relationship with a boy who's perfect in every way, but he's completely selfish in bed. In the song, Allen tries to convince herself that there are worse problems to have, whereas on Alright, Still, she would have thrown him out on the spot. The ambiguity makes it worth returning to again and again. She's even written some absolutely wondrous love songs, the best of which is "Chinese." Better yet, she's expanded outside of her own life, taking a (successful) stab at defining the times on the songs "Everyone's At It," "The Fear," and "22," which is probably my favourite song on the album.

Allen and her producer, Greg Kurstin, have chucked the ska samples, thank God, and replaced them with noisy bits of electro-pop. The musical weaknesses of her last album related to its immediacy, and that there was little to come back to find once the initial thrill of discovery had passed. While Allen took care of brushing up the lyrics, Kurstin had more fun with the synths, adding in fun touches all over the place. Listening for the Gorillaz influence in the background of "Everyone's At It," and you'll hear how this album was built to last.

The lead-off single, "The Fear," is the best pure pop song I've heard in years. A mocking narrative from the perspective of a materialist- yes, it is ironic, as Allen herself has noted that she is the person in the song-, it features a materialism lyric for the ages with, "It will be fine, cos I'm packing plastic,/ and that's what makes my life so fucking fantastic." You don't get that from Kate Nash either.

Grade: A

"There Is No Such Person"

Being There
Directed by Hal Ashby
Written by Jerzy Kosinski
Starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine

When I watched the complete series of Freaks and Geeks, I remember being surprised by how sad I felt when I came to the last episode. I thought the show was better than average, but it never grabbed me in any way that would have indicated I was going to be sad to see it go.

Similarly, there was nothing in the first two hours of Being There which alerted me to the sadness and joy I would feel in its closing ten minutes. Peter Sellers is simply perfect as Chance Gardener, an impossibly simple man who is swept up into the world of the elite, where his constant regurgitation of gardening facts is taken to be sage, philosophical advice. The movie is meant to be a satire, but it does not hit that mark.

I'll keep this short by telling you that it is an awkward movie, because the main character is hard to relate to. He feels nothing on a level that doesn't exist in real life. He is not a sociopath, yet he does not seem to feel much outside of the gentle joy he gets from tending his garden. But Sellers is brilliance, and should have walked home with the Academy Award for this. To convey nothing is a task no other actor would be as capable of, not to the extent he manages. He is not devoid of emotion; there is a scene at the end of the movie were he wells up just enough to show that he knows he is sad, and it's absolutely devastating to watch. The very end of the movie features a surprise I won't ruin here, but I can tell you it's more affecting than you'd have thought had you read about it before hand. Worth checking out for Sellers, and for those last ten minutes.

Grade: B

Are You Also Frightened?

Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
Animal Collective

Joe and I were discussing, just a few hours ago, the declining frequency with which something truly impresses us as we get older. It is perfectly natural, and to be expected; the more you see, the more you realise how little truly stands out, and how little is as unique as it seems. The downsides to this are extremely hazardous; you can spend long stretches of time feeling as though nothing is capable of eliciting a strong response from you anymore, and that's the beginning of the absence of humanity. The upside is less obvious; when something manages to punch a whole through the monotony, it creates a sensation of purset joy.

Merriweather Post Pavilion, the first Animal Collective album I have listened to, was a revelation. My first instinct with most albums is to appreciate them intellectualy. I have to work at simply experiencing the music. MPP swept me away without ever seeming to try. The only other album I've experienced on such a gutteral level was Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago (see right), an alt-folk gem you should listen to if you haven't. That is an album which manages to perfectly relate the feelings of isolation and disappointment and heartbreak. Animal Collective's album is a celebration of purest joy, without strings and without second thoughts. It's... it's liberating, is what it is.

And it helps that the sound is so unique. The instrumentation is largely, if not entirely, electronic. Animal Collective function as just that, a collective, and their guitarist skipped out on this album. The song structures go all over the place, but they never seem haphazard or random. The songs evolve more so than they progress. But what really set this apart, and, from what I understand, is characteristic of all their albums, is the vocal style. It's not speaking on pitch, but it's not singing. I've never actually heard anything quite like this before; it's almost chanting, but it's too melodic, and too smooth. For me, the most powerful moment of the album was during the track "Also Frightened," when singer Panda Bear asks, "Are you also frightened?" It is as powerful and sincere as music gets.

Grade: A-

A Mom and Pop Operation

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Screenplay by Kelly Masterson

There are a few things this movie has going for it right off the bat, without having viewed a single frame. It's directed by Sidney Lumet, a man responsible for more than any director's allotment of classic movies. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, a man whose reputation as the best actor of his generation has finally solidified and come into focus over the last three or four years. The three primary supporting players (what an odd phrase that is) are Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Albert Finney, three actors who are solid and reliable no matter the film. So good does it look on paper, I was worried by the end of the first hour that it was going to be a let down.

I am hesitant to give away too much of the plot, so just know that it is an entry in the pantheon of heist-gone-wrong films. Kelly Masterson's masterful screenplay, which is unbelievably her first, makes use of interwoven flashbacks, revealing little details and answering little questions. I can't tell you much about the story, because there is a fantastic twist within the first ten minutes, and it's entirely reliant upon the viewer not knowing the rest of the movie.

The first hour of the film didn't strike me as anything more than an exceptionally well-executed genre exercise, but the second half is when it all comes together. The last twenty minutes had a greater hold on me than any movie I've seen in quite some time. I forgot I was watching a movie, and was completely enthralled. The actors and the writer created people who are all too human, and far too real, to make it a comfortable watch. The characters all go in with the best intentions- the heist that opens the movie is nothing like what it seems- but no one comes out unscarred. A truly fantastic movie.

Grade: A

Second Coming

In February of 2008, the original Thought's Dowinion, like all good things, came to an end. This is not to say the original Thought's Dowinion was a good thing; I am merely suggesting that it followed a similar trajectory. Since that time, I've not posted a word in the blogosphere, and I suspect all of our worlds have been better for it. I'm less than reliable when it comes to correspondence with people I care about, let alone with postings I don't know will attract any readership at all.

Having said that, two things have happened in my life since this year began which, I feel, would provide fitting fodder for a blog I could curate; for one, I have been listening to a pleasingly steady stream of new music, of albums released this year, and, second, I've joined Netflix, and I have been watching movies and television shows like a fiend. Naturally, as I feel myself to be eloquent and well-voiced and well-informed and well-worth-listening-to (blah, blah, blah), I will use the medium of the blog to write about these various forms of entertainment which I consume.

Just to set expectations at the outset, most of what I write will be reviews, but I will also essay from time to time. Reviews will be for old and new movies, television shows, and albums. I'll also occasionally throw in a book review, though I don't read more than three books a year. It took me a year to read The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross' thorough and entertaining survey of 20th century compositional music, and the book I'm on now, White House Ghosts, is moving at such glacial speeds that I imagine it won't be finished before I graduate in 20 months. My point being, don't expect a lot of book reviews. Comments are not only welcomed, but encouraged. Let me know what you think if you've seen or listened or read the subject(s) yourself, and if you have any recommendations, certainly feel free to share. Here's hoping for a better sophomore voyage!