Sunday, December 30, 2007

...and then there were none

...which has nothing much to do with this post, does it?

I admit that I am living a few centuries in the past in my reading habits. The best thing I read all year (late getting around to it, I admit) was a little volume called "The Iliad" involving a lot of ill-tempered people sulking and going into battle and finding out that the Gods are even more sullen and bad-tempered than they are...
But of the slightly more than 100 books I read in 2007, around 20 were actually published within the last 14 or 15 months or so - rather than recited from memory or etched into stone tablets or shouted out at dirty mobs in the Globe.
The best, in the order I read them and not in order of preference:

"Popeye: "I Yam What I Yam" ' by E.C. Segar (the first volume in Fantagraphics reprint of the original comic strips..)
"Mere Anarchy" by Woody Allen
"Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar" by Dori Hadar
"Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock’n’roll’s last stand in Hollywood" by Domenic Priore
"Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl" by Steven Bach
"At the Same Time: Essays & Speeches" by Susan Sontag
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J.K. Rowling
"Things I’ve Said, But Probably Shouldn’t Have" by Bruce Dern with Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane
"The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett

Also of note:
"Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination" by Neal Gabler
"I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon" by Crystal Zevon
"Spook Country" by William Gibson
"Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector" by Mick Brown
"The Book of David" by David Steinberg
"Diaries 1969 – 1979: The Python Years" by Michael Palin
"Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life" by Steve Martin

... powers of ten

The lists keep coming. I admit that, being Extremely Old and Irrelevant, I don't keep track of new releases in music as much as I did back in the days when I was a Highly Desired Demographic with Flammable Money. But I was a bit perturbed last year at around this time to discover that all of the new recordings I had liked most in 2006 were by people who first stepped up to a microphone at least 30 and in some cases almost 60 years earlier. My favorite new recordings this year were not entirely as biased by old age, but I'm sure you'll still see a few signs of Creeping Historicism on the list.
In no particular order, with appropriate video links....:

Arcade Fire - "Neon Bible"
Bryan Ferry - "Dylanesque"
Jarvis Cocker - "Jarvis" (Bonus track here)
Amy Winehouse - "Back to Black"
Bruce Springsteen - "Magic"
Radiohead - "In Rainbows"
Bob Dylan "Modern Times"
Neil Young "Live at Massey Hall 1971"

And my favorite song of the year:

Coming up next: books of the year...

Counting to 10

I was recently asked by a local web publication to contribute a top ten list of my favorite films of the year and while I am always reluctant about these things, I complied. I was given specific instructions that it had to contain exactly ten items, no more, no less, and that they all had to be 2007 releases. I've bent the rule here to add two more titles, one of which I hadn't seen at the time I made the list. Here it is, with a few annotations.

Best of 2007
(roughly in order of preference, though once you get past the first 3 or 4, it gets blurry)

1. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes)
2. Across the Universe (Julie Taymor)
3. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)
4. Sicko (Michael Moore)
Everything else, in no logical order:
3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold)
The Golden Compass (Chris Weitz)
Romance and Cigarettes (John Turturro)
Hairspray (Adam Shankman)
Once (John Carney)
Zodiac (David Fincher)
The Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)
The Landlord (Adam McKay)

Not a very good year in all, but far above the norm for musicals and westerns - and in the case of No. 1, both.
After much thought, I finally decided that I couldn't quite justify adding "Redacted" or "Helvetica" to the list. The former stays off because it's ultimately muddled, the latter because I suspect my fondness for it has more to do with my own font obsession that with the film itself.
Still haven't seen at least a few films that I'm told have a shot at a top ten list ("Sweeney Todd", "The Assassination of Jesse James", "Persepolis", the Joe Strummer documentary), but you have to draw the line somewhere...

Best DVD release: "Popeye the Sailor Volume One: 1933 - 1938" (Warner Home Video)

(I'll add a list of music and books later....)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

In a Safe Place

The 2007 National Film Registry list has been announced by the Library of Congress:

• Back to the Future (1985)
• Bullitt (1968)
• Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
• Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
• Dances With Wolves (1990)
• Days of Heaven (1978)
• Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
• Grand Hotel (1932)
• The House I Live In (1945)
• In a Lonely Place (1950)
• The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
• Mighty Like a Moose (1926)
• The Naked City (1948)
• Now, Voyager (1942)
• Oklahoma! (1955)
• Our Day (1938)
• Peege (1972)
• The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)
• The Strong Man (1926)
• Three Little Pigs (1933)
• Tol’able David (1921)
• Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969-71)
• 12 Angry Men (1957)
• The Women (1939)
• Wuthering Heights (1939)

You can find the complete press release here, and a list of all of their previous selections since 1989 here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This is my happening...

...and it freaks me out.
For no particular reason, I found myself thinking of "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" this morning. "BVD", as it's affectionately known to its fans, is one of those movies that hooks me every time, and now - in light of the more recent events in the life of Phil Spector - even seems creepily prescient. Roger Ebert may have a lot to answer for (I date the decline if film discussion and the rise of the blockbuster/Box-Office mentality from the day he and Gene Siskel turned criticism into the modern equivalent of the Roman coliseum, but that's another subject for another day) but he'll always have a special place in movie history for this melo-comedic gem. I've never met him - well, that's not exactly true, since I shared an elevator with him at the Rihga Royal in New York once. I regret not having thanked him for scenes like this:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Birth of the Cool

...made in Japan? James Bowman, writing in The American, suggests that the kind of cool detachment we associate with Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade found its strongest cinematic depiction in the post-war films of Akira Kurosawa.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Theology, authority and bears

There have been a lot of articles about Philip Pullman in the last few weeks, due - obviously - to the release of The Golden Compass. And of course the rather silly objections calling on a boycott of the film because it might actually encourage children to read the books. This interview from "moreintelligentlife" is one of the best I've seen in a while.
My own feelings about the film are that despite the obvious elisions and compression in turning a complex book into a movie - and a movie intended to become a money-earning franchise, no less - , it's a visually stunning and exciting companion-piece to Pullman's extraordinary books, and if it does well enough to a) introduce new readers to His Dark Materials and b)get the next two films made I'll be very happy indeed.

You can watch the first five minutes and other clips from the film here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Birdie Num Num

Thanks to and Bedazzled for digging up this early short film directed by Robert Altman somewhere around 1964 or '65. Released as a Scopitone for the Herb Albert track "Bittersweet Samba", it's also known as The Party, and has quite a few points in common with the great Blake Edwards film of the same name.

A slightly better quality copy can be found here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Color of Money

Whether you call it a 10 minute commercial in the form of a tribute to Hitchcock, or a 10 minute tribute to Hitchcock in the form of a commercial for a Spanish wine company, this new short film by Martin Scorsese is a lightweight but amusing parody, not only of Hitchcock but of Scorsese himself. It's amusing if insubstantial, but redeemed by the final shot.

And while we're on the subject of world-class filmmakers selling upscale wares,here's
Wong Kar-Wai launching a new perfume from Dior (with Eva Green as Cinderella), a competing scent from Lancome (with Clive Owen) and a High Definition TV for Phillips, all released earlier this year. The Phillips spot is easily the best, a garishly colored Science-fiction/detective mini-epic with a nod to Godard's "Alphaville".
(Warning: The Dior and Phillips sites are both very slow-loading and pop-up heavy, so be prepared to wait a while...)
Busy guy, that WKW. In addition to the above and My Blueberry Nights (which is his first English language feature, now scheduled to hit US screens next February) he also directed Brad Pitt in an ad for a Japanese cell phone company - but it seems to have been eradicated from the internet completely!

Meanwhile, here's a PSA that I don't recall ever seeing before..

And as long as we're diving into the Youtube advertising pool, here's a blast from the past, Baz Luhrmann's Chanel ad with Nicole Kidman, from a few years back. Hard to believe that this is the only thing he's made since Moulin Rouge.