Friday, September 19, 2008

Biopics and Talking Bugs

When I first heard of the upcoming movie Howl, about Beat poet Allen Ginsberg's seminal work of the same name, I, of course, thought the worst: that the film industry would desecrate yet another literary work/figure with the biopic treatment.

Yes, I'm jaded; still, my initial balking has given way to at least interest. First is the scope: the film will not focus on Ginsberg's life or the "creation" of Howl, but on the obscenity trial surrounding the controversial poem. This could, of course, easily cross into pedantic, preachy message-movie territory, but I like when biographical films have a more narrow focus, rather than just doing an overview of someone's life, which tend to be reductive and shallow. And the artsy biopic is particularly reductive--Pollack, Frida, and--the worst--Factory Girl. I think I would rather see a courtroom drama than a literary biopic.

Also, a film about censorship and freedom of speech is, regrettably, particularly prescient now; after all, Howl is just the sort of book vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin would likely want removed from her local library's shelves.

I heard about the film shortly after seeing another "Beat" movie, David Cronenberg's imaginative, trippy adaptation of William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, which ended up being part adaptation of the book, part imagined explanation of the book's creation. I read the book in undergrad and actually remember very little, save for the protagonist being an exterminator and a passage involving a dildo named Steely Dan and feeling vaguely queasy throughout. So I don't know how much of the film was taken from the book, but I loved the manic quality of of it, made all the more unnerving with Ornette Coleman's free-form jazz improvisations, and the nonchalant absurdity of shooting up bug powder to get a thrill or having conversations with giant talking vaginal bugs who double as typewriters. The film is in this happy limbo of reality and absurdity until about the last 20 minutes, when a tidy explanation is given for all the talking bugs and secret government missions and made-up foreign cities inhabited by homosexuals. It seemed at odds with the rest of the film, which is brilliant--and it seemed unnecessary; with some thought and analysis we might have concluded that, yes, this was a film largely about the writing of Naked Lunch--a book, by the way, that also underwent an obscenity trial--rather than a straight-up adaptation. (The biggest clues are the friends of the exterminator--a hunky athletic type in flannels who seduces the protagonist's wife (Jack Kerouac) and a bespectacled, gangly poet (Ginsberg).) Or maybe we would have just taken it for a crazy, sci-fi movie about talking bugs. Ah well, ignorance is bliss, I guess.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

If you haven't seen on my other blog, Gen X is taking over the world!!! (And that's a good thing.)

My Q&A with Lisa Chamberlain

Review of Slackonomics

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Drizzly. Dense mist in evening. Yellow moon."

So, what did George Orwell think about when not penning literary masterpieces?

Apparently, the weather.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bodice-Ripper, Maybe

My one guilty pleasure: trashy, sensationalistic period films (sometimes known as bodice-rippers).

This is why I am so excited for Brideshead Revisted. The trailer looks so ridiculous, so intricately yet erratically plotted, so filled with latent homosexuality, so puritanically smutty (you know, there's enough sex to satisfy our prurient selves, but the sex--and the money, power, material wealth, etc.--always leads to destruction of the soul, which makes it then easy to rationalize our enjoyment of the film). Nevermind that it probably does the book (by Evelyn Waugh) a great disservice; resistance is futile, I must see this film:

However, when trolling about the Internet looking for a release date I came across some rather distressing news. The film is PG-13. Yes, PG-13. Perhaps this isn't the Dangerous Liaisons the trailer makes it out to be. (Why does everything have to be watered down so it can receive a PG-13 rating? It seems particularly silly in this case since the film clearly isn't being marketed to a young demographic, nor can I imagine many middle- and high-school girls clamoring to see an adaptation of a novel they have probably never heard of (this isn't Jane Austen or Wuthering Heights)--unless that girl was me circa 1998; I definitely would have begged my parents to let me see this.)

Anyway, great literary adaptation; delicious guilty pleasure; watered down period melodrama? We shall see.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Haiku About Park Slope

So many mopeds
But nobody riding them
The new "It" item?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Everything Is Godard

While neglecting my blog, I've been reading about Godard, watching Godard, talking about Godard, breathing Godard... And wrote a review about a book about Godard.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Once More, With Feeling, Or Not

Norah Jones in My Blueberry Nights

Every time I watch Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai's (arguable) masterpiece In the Mood for Love, I get a ravenous desire for cheap Asian noodles. Not a craving, mind you--a ravenous desire that if not satiated will last days, days I spend in anguish just thinking about, obsessing over, how I will get my hands on some MSG-laden noodles. I'm like a junkie in need of a fix. Experience has taught me to watch that film with some good take-out--or at least a cup of ramen.

This is strange since I can't remember that many shots of really appetizing-looking food in the film at all (for food porn, see The Vertical Ray of the Sun or Big Night or Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.) That's how transportive Wong Kar-Wai's filmmaking is; he films an encounter at the noodle stand, and I feel like I'm there: pushing through the crowd, yelling to have my voice heard, feeling the heat from the steaming pots of noodles, smelling them. If I had to pick one word to describe his filmmaking, it would be "sensual."

However, "sensual" is not a word I would ascribe to WKW's latest (and first English language) film My Blueberry Nights. Case in point: Despite all the money shots of gooey vanilla ice cream melting in blueberry pie, I not once craved--nor got a sensation of--blueberry pie. I just thought, "ice cream melting in pie." I also thought of how sexual the shot was, but that thought was unaccompanied by desire or feeling as well. There was no depth. The film wasn't an experience so much as a bunch of pretty pictures tenuously held together by a threadbare plot. (This coming from someone who, generally, likes her plots threadbare.)

Actually, compared with most WKW films, My Blueberry Nights has a fairly concrete and identifiable plot. (Can you imagine trying to write plot summaries for his other films? In the Mood: Two cuckolds become friends, are bereft about their marriages, fall in love, maybe. Chungking Express: a fast-food-stand server pines for a regular who is pining for his ex; meanwhile, another regular pines for his ex but finds a diversion in a smuggler with a blond wig. Ashes of Time: martial arts masters do very little fighting, a lot of pining for one another. Fallen Angels: who even knows.)

Here's Blueberry Nights: a young woman (played by a wooden Norah Jones), spurned by her lover, finds solace in the company of a café owner (a really appealing Jude Law) and then goes on a cross-country road trip to forget about her ex-lover, where she meets many "colorful" (read: stock) characters. I miss all the pining.

Jude Law in the classic Tony Leung role

I'm not being glib. One of the problems with Blueberry Nights is a lack of urgency that characterizes WKW's other films. That feeling that if you don't get the girl, your life is not worth living. To a non-romantic, or to anyone who hasn't seen a WKW film, this sounds a bit ridiculous and melodramatic, and it is, but who hasn't felt this way at some point? And every time I see a WKW movie and am overwhelmed with longing or loneliness or romantic feelings or even hunger, I feel like this is why I watch films. His films aren't just meditations on these things, they are these things. It’s the whole experience thing I discussed in my last post.

So, why does Blueberry Nights lack this urgency? First, there's Norah Jones (who isn't a cringe-inducing actress, but just has no presence); she doesn't so much act as react, though that's partly the script's fault. She's supposed to be a heartbroken mess, but she just seems like a perfectly well-adjusted girl who just was dumped by a guy whom she wasn't that crazy about to begin with but was accustomed to and so thus feels a little lost. This is not the stuff of WKW movies: No ambivalence allowed.

Jude Law's character, I thought, should have been the protagonist. A man with an interesting, not quite mysterious but maybe a little intriguingly hazy or murky past, who is pining for a lost girl who comes to his café and cries about her broken heart while gorging on his leftover blueberry pies. Law's is the classic Tony Leung part--he's also as dreamy as Leung. And he seems real, unlike Natalie Portman's character (a spitfire gambler) or Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn's fraught couple with a penchant for drinking and fighting.

Another reason why I think Law should have been the protagonist is because WKW doesn't understand women, completely. This isn't a bad thing; WKW does not usually pretend to understand women but tends to look at them--and film them--with a mixture of bemusement and awe. (The one exception I can think of is Faye Wong's character in Chungking Express, who plays a lovesick fast-food worker, and who is more empathetic than mysterious and seductive.)

Repression is also missing. One of the characteristics that make WKW's films so unbearably (in a good way) heartbreaking is the compulsion--or expectation--to repress one's desires or feelings. For this reason, his films aren't very talky, and this has made him find other ways to convey characters' thoughts and motivations. Here, though, everything is much more open (I don't know if this is merely the way he views American culture, in contrast with his own). People just talk, talk, talk, but there is no subtlety, and, because characters can just talk, talk, talk, there is not this urgency and longing to reach out to someone, this hunger for human connection that drives my favorite WKW characters to despair. I'm not saying I want characters to be despondent--I love, for example, Chungking Express, which is this sweet romance between lonely, inarticulate, crazy romantics--there's just no sense of struggle, of self-doubt, of repression in Norah Jones "journey," and there's really no obstacle keeping her from her destined love.

Of course, there are a bunch of other problems with Blueberry Nights: The camera work is jarring without serving the themes or narrative; the dialogue is, often, awkward; I miss WKW's regular cinematographer, Chris Doyle. But I could take or leave those. The romance--gut-wrenching, heartbreaking romance--is what I can't live without.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

It's Not a Puzzle

Before I get to the fun stuff--ie. the film stuff--I want to take the time for some shameless self-promotion. (Those who read my other blog have surely seen it by now.) I got a piece published in about perfumes. It's a fun little trifle. I knew almost nothing about (and, in fact, for many years, hated) perfumes. But I found the topic quite fascinating and now have the urge to begin--maybe--wearing one or two. We'll see.

Okay, now that you have read--or bookmarked, or chosen to ignore--my piece, we can proceed.

I guess I'll start with a question: Why do we watch films?

I have been asking myself this question because lately I feel like I watch films for completely different reasons than most people do.

I was thinking about this after watching Last Year at Marienbad, a 1960s French film by Alain Resnais (who had previously directed Hiroshima, Mon Amour). Last Year at Marienbad is notorious for being "difficult," impenetrable, divisive. People who love Marienbad say something like "I've watched Last Year at Marienbad X amount of times, and I still have no idea what happened last year at Marienbad" (as if obtusity gave the film some sort of artistic cred); people who hate Marienbad say they hate it because they have "no idea what it's about" (as in, they think after seeing it, "What the hell just happened?").

Somehow, I think, both are missing the point.

First, I don't think the film is meant to be a puzzle. I think it's a meditation on the past, memory, how memory distorts reality, idealism, madness, obsession -- with some social commentary thrown into the mix (those 1960s French auteurs loved to poke fun at the bourgeoisie).

Basic summary: An unidentified man (X) meets an unidentified woman (A) at a summer retreat in Marienbad and claims that they have met before (last year). The woman insists she has never seen him before in her life, and he tells her again and again, upon every subsequent meeting, the details of their affair last year and how they had promised to meet again this year at the same place. Of course the story goes through several variations and permutations, flashbacks and the present are conflated, and there's not so much conversation as there are cryptic utterances and stream-of-conscious rambling. (Sounds like a film snob's wet dream and various other people's movie hell, doesn't it?)

Since the events of the story keep changing with everyone of X's re-tellings, it's clear that X, himself, doesn't really know what happened. He's played a romanticized version in his head so many times in the past year, slightly tweaking details, that he has obliterated the truth. (There's an interesting moment where he's telling A of their romantic rendezvous in her bedroom, and then, entirely unprovoked, as if trying to convince himself, he insists that it wasn't rape, that she was willing, that the act was pure.)

Perhaps the only one who knows what actually happened is A, but she remains tight-lipped, she's not telling anyone--not X (the narrator), not the director, not us.

But it's not the fact that we will never know the plot that makes Marienbad an interesting film--it's its handling of tangible themes that make it interesting, and, ultimately, relateable. It's also its sumptuous cinematography, its gorgeous shot compositions, its eerie mood and the impossibly beautiful Delphine Seyrig (who plays A)--and her covetable wardrobe, designed by Coco Chanel--that makes us watch, that makes us appreciate the beautiful artificiality that somehow can convey truths of cinema.

Which brings me to my second point, why do people feel the need to understand a film in order to like it? I don't know what happened last year at Marienbad, but that doesn't prohibit me from enjoying what is transpiring before me on the screen. The same goes for, say, Mulholland Dr.. I hate when I tell people I liked that film and they respond with "Well, can you explain it to me?" or "Did you understand it?" Can we ever really truly understand film--or any work of art--anyway? I mean, we can't know what the director intended when he or she made a specific film. We can only interpret, experience. And interpreting is different than explaining. Who wants to have art explained anyway? Isn't it much more fun to ruminate and discuss and argue anyway?

And isn't it much more fun to experience? To let the images move you, to yield to them and let them take you on some sort of little journey? I think solving the puzzle of a film like Marienbad--or trying to solve the puzzle--is missing out on the film itself.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Moment You've All Been Waiting For: Oscar Recap!!!

I spent Sunday evening watching the Oscars with my computer on my lap and discussing the mostly mind-numbingly boring telecast via gchat. "I'm so glad gchat exists," I wrote to my friend Chris, "otherwise I don't think I could handle watching this by myself." This was early in the evening too--actually during the soul-crushingly vapid red carpet promenade. ("I'm really disappointed that there's Hannah Montana synergy happening," was what Chris had to say about that.)

Have you ever seen anyone more obsequious than Regis? I never thought I'd say this, but I think I miss Joan Rivers.

Though, WHY WAS MICKEY ROONEY THERE? AND HOW IS HE STILL ALIVE? These were the burning questions I wanted my red carpet telecast to answer! (Chris decided that was not actually Mickey Rooney, but a robot). Instead we got Regis asking random high school kids whether they were excited to see Hannah Montana (by the way, not only did she get to go to the Oscars, but she got to wear Valentino--life is so unfair) and calling Javier Bardem Xavier. Stay classy, Rege.

Speaking of Javier Bardem, who won Best Supporting Actor Sunday night (surprise, surprise), I love how he didn't bother to shave. Instead of looking slovenly, he merely made everyone else look overly vain and pretentious.

My vote for best-dressed: Best Actress winner Marion Cotillard, who wore a white, witty Gaultier mermaid dress that transcended the usual fishtail dresses you see on the Red Carpet by being covered in what looked like actual fish scales. Very high fashion. Tilda Swinton shocked everyone by eschewing makeup and wearing a slinky, almost wet-looking, black one-sleeved Lanvin dress. She looked a little Bowie, a little crazy, and I loved her for it. Cate Blanchett looked radiant and bohemian in purple Dries Van Noten. But everyone else? Zzzzzzzz... (Oh, except for Daniel Day Lewis and his wife Rebecca Miller, who were delightfully eccentric: DDL with his foppish hair and brown suede shoes and Miller with her black-lace puffy Lacroix gown with zebra-print shoes: they were like a less deranged Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter.)

As for the award ceremony itself. I can't tell you how many times I typed variations of "This is so boring" to either Chris or my boyfriend. So predictable. Only surprises:

1. Costume: I thought either Atonement or Sweeney Todd would win, though Chris was not surprised ("Can you make things that look old and European? Here's your Oscar!" was what he said about that). My boyfriend astutely noted that the bespectacled winner, wearing a calico dress, was Diablo Cody 20 years from now.

2. Cinematography: Thought the revered Roger Deakins would take this for No Country for Old Men (he has never won an Oscar before), but I thought winner There Will Be Blood was quite worthy. God, was that film gorgeous!

3. Supporting Actress: There wasn't really a clear front-runner here, but I was thrilled Tilda won. And she had the best acceptance speech of the night--waxing poetic on the golden statue's buttocks.

The montages were especially lame this year. I mean, one was scored to "My Heart Will Go On." Unironically, of course.

Other questions: Why did Owen Wilson feel the needs to translate "Les Mozart des Pickpockets" into English? Was that a typewriter Sarah Polley was typing on in the footage for best adapted screenplay? ("She has final draft on a macbook pro. has to," Chris said.) Where did all those beefcake construction workers come from (Chris: "My dreams"), and didn't that second (out of three!) Enchanted song sound exactly like "Under the Sea"? Were the Coen Bros. stoned? Is the From Here to Eternity just one scene? (Chris: "It's just 90 minutes of kissing on a beach.") Why does Nicole Kidman look skinnier now that she's pregnant? (Though, loved her diamonds!) Chris decided it was an implosive baby. Will we ever be able to see "Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go"? Pretty please.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some Thoughts On The Oscars

My two favorite days of the year are Halloween and Oscar Night. Ridiculous, I know, particularly in the case of the latter. I have gone on various diatribes against the Academy Awards and have dismissed them as merely being a popularity contest. Still, there's some sort of voyeuristic pleasure I get from watching all these glamorous people all dolled up and reveling in some crass, in-your-face, old fashioned partying and glitz. It's so very Hollywood. Also, much of the pleasure that comes from watching the Academy Awards (preferably with friends -- and ballots! -- and lots of wine!) is the griping or sometimes passionate arguments that are sure to ensue afterwards. For this reason, I was really hoping the writer's strike would be over by Oscar night. But -- because I just love film as an art form as well -- I was also kinda hoping it wasn't resolved. I feel like the Oscars isn't really a celebration of film at all. A.O. Scott articulated these thoughts in his story on the Oscars in today's NYT:

I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that I found myself hoping that the strike would shut the Academy Awards down; that for once, in a year of such cinematic bounty and variety, appreciation for the best movies could be liberated from the pomp and tedium of Hollywood spectacle.

Oh, Tony. Will you be my friend?

I am trying to get excited about the awards tonight, but, honestly, I don't even know if I'm going to watch. My apathy is due greatly to not having a party to attend or host. Seriously, what fun is the red carpet posing without the snarky commentary? What fun are the awards without a ballot and prizes? Plus, I think Juno might win, and we all know how I feel about that.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Juno: The Ultimate Male Fantasy

Aren't my sunglasses, like, so ironic? Fox Searchlight Pictures

This blog is slowly becoming entirely devoted to one specific film: the extremely divisive family-friendly hipster pseudo-indie film about teen pregnancy Juno. (I promise I will change that eventually, but now is not the time.)

I realize that much of the Juno hate (mine included) is intensified by, and perhaps even rooted in, the idea of it being undeserving of lavish praise--or of its various Oscar noms. (I wrote about this specific type of hate -- which sometimes spins off to a backlash phenomenon -- about the critics who love to hate über-hip designer Marc Jacobs on my other blog.) Perhaps if Juno were a small film that got mediocre or tepid reviews, that few people saw, and that went about its innocuous, quiet way, we would not devote screeds to its unworthiness and awful screenplay. (Yes, there are screeds.) A recent Entertainment Weekly cover story on the film had studio people saying we should expect to see many more films with strong teenage film characters now, as though Juno were the first movie EVER made about a "smart," "different," adolescent girl--to which I respond: Heathers, Ghost World, Saved (also, incidentally, about teen pregnancy), and even, I would argue, Legally Blonde, which has a protagonist who is as much of an outsider (and is empowered by her outsider status) at Harvard Law as Juno is in her suburban teenage wasteland. The blog fourfour has an excellent, smart response to the EW article, which asserts that Juno is better than its forebears, because "those characters [in Heathers and Ghost World] were more weirdos than antiheroes. They were marginalized by their difference, whereas Juno is empowered by hers." Fourfour responds:

[A]ren't Ghost World's Enid and Rebecca empowered by being marginalized? Isn't a major theme in that movie how being an outcast gives you a great vantage point from which to view society? Ghost World is, after all, fundamentally a movie about the great American pastime that is shit-talking. I'm not sure how Heathers' Veronica isn't ultimately empowered either, since she escapes her clique without, you know, dying. In fact, I'd argue that what makes those teen-girl characters so awesome is their struggle with being marginalized and empowered. It's part of the whole process of uncertainty that defines the teenage years of so many people in this country. These characters are girls, not superheroes.

I would like to take this even further: Juno's message of girl-power through succumbing to motherhood and getting the guy is admirable but, ultimately, rather faulty and retrograde. Winona's character in Heathers rejects the guy, rejects the popular clique, saves school from burning down, and becomes her own person. The last scene shows her emerging victorious from the flames and asking a wheelchair-bound girl if she wants to ditch prom and hang out and watch movies instead. I mean, come on, that is BADASS. (This is why I wanted to be Winona Ryder at a certain period in my life.) How is that final scene not empowering? Beats me.

I don't want to devalue the suffering and the bravery required to go through an adolescent pregnancy--and I think the experience could lead to empowerment. But the sugar-coated world of the film doesn't lead to that. Instead, we have the man's (or society's) version of the idealized female: the girl who realizes that her purpose really is to reproduce and who gets fulfillment through having a baby and finding a man. Typical.

(Still to come: Juno and its references (in response to your comment from my last post, Chris).)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

More on Juno, Pregnancy Films

From Juno; Fox Searchlight Pictures

First, Manohla Dargis, then David Edelstein. Now, Village Voice critic J. Hoberman criticizes Juno. Hmm... could this be the beginning of a Juno backlash. (I hope so!!!!) Also, Sasha Frere-Jones hates it too, as do some other people. (We are few, but we are mighty.)

Back to Hoberman: he has quite an insightful reading of recent American pregnancy comedies (Juno, Knocked Up, Waitress) and compares them with the Romanian pregnancy/abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which won the Palm d'or at Cannes last year. A film using an unwanted pregnancy for comedic fodder is odd enough, but three films doing so in the same year is somewhat disturbing. Perhaps the filmmakers/screenwriters can see comedy in the situations because they -- and their pregnant protagonists -- are middle-class and white. Money, religion, class, struggle, the judgment of society, the damage to their futures: these are not the primary concerns of these characters. The issue of unwanted pregnancy is significantly more complicated for a woman who does not have the money to raise a child OR to have an abortion -- or someone who lives in a totalitarian state that has banned abortions, as in 4 Months. (As Hoberman writes: "Had the protagonists been poor, black, illegal, or Jamie Lynn Spears, the movies necessarily would have been more serious and scarcely as much fun.")

Hoberman doesn't slam these films for their being pro-life (a criticism of several critics of Knocked Up), but for not allowing their protagonists a choice:

Knocked Up, Waitress, and Juno are proudly fantastic and a priori pro-life; their female protagonists have no choice other than to bring their pregnancies to term. Obviously, these movies could not exist if their preg protags elected to have abortions. What's more crucial is the fact that the Knockee, the Waitress, and even the hyper-articulate 15-year-old hipster improbably named Juno are unable to express why they feel obliged to give birth to unplanned and unwanted babies. They have no choice and they have no say. It is simply their fate.


There can be no female agency in Knocked Up, Waitress, and Juno -- not because they are comedies, but because, in each scenario, unwanted pregnancy is the joke played (by God?) on the female lead. As the most successful of the preg protags, she who is Knocked Up is necessarily the most smacked down -- the glass ceiling turns out to be Alison's own uterus. Jenna and Juno are less formidable, but unexpected fertility mocks their dreams of autonomy. All three are taught their place by their own bodies—and what's more, they learn to like it.

I do agree that the "choices" to have the babies in these films are overly simplistic and not fully developed (I mean, I would imagine even a devout Catholic who got pregnant outside of wedlock would struggle with the choice of whether to keep the baby or not.) One thing that I have found problematic (and, frankly, so bourgeoise) about other critics' dismissals of KU is the argument that no woman in her right-mind with a good job would have that baby. Well, there are plenty of reasons to choose to have a baby; the problem with these narratives is not that the women go ahead with their pregnancies, it's that they don't have free will, which Hoberman acknowledges:

If Knocked Up's Alison were a devout (or even lapsed) Catholic in addition to being a glamorous newsreader, if Waitress's guilt-ridden Jenna imagined that a child would improve her disastrous marriage, if little Juno were planning a welfare scam to fund her alt-rock band or simply wanted to gross out the neighbors, these narratives would still function, but now with the added aspect of free will.

Hoberman is critical of all three films, though he seems to have at least enjoyed Knocked Up: "at least cathartic in its humorously blatant misogyny," he writes. He calls Waitress "pathetic," but saves most of his ire for Juno: "Juno, which was written by a woman and has become something of a fetish (albeit mainly among male film critics), is positively creepy."

Juno's knocked-up 15-year-old is at once provocatively precocious and primly pre-sexual. Her pregnancy is a miracle of bad luck—she simultaneously loses her virginity and conceives a baby. It's all but immaculate... Juno decides to have her baby. Not to worry: It won't be for keeps. She will donate the infant to a deserving careerwoman with a deadbeat husband and a stopped biological clock.

Even more than Juno's understanding father and benign stepmom, this act of charity is the movie's essential fantasy. It scarcely seems coincidental that Juno was released in time for Christmas. Pivot its scenario 90 degrees to the right and you have a more spiritual version of Knocked Up. People love clever little Juno because she isn't really a teenager, let alone a person. Juno is an angel.

Wait, she's not a person? Maybe that explains why she says stuff like "I'm forshizz up the spout." Honest to blog!

Friday, January 25, 2008


...for dissing the Academy Awards AND Juno:

The surprise, of course, is the Best Picture and Director nods for Juno, a movie I’m almost alone in disliking. Of course I knew it would work for younger audiences — I concluded my review, “Brace yourself for the Juno Generation.” But the outpouring of love from every critic surprised me. In several reviews, critics patted themselves on the back for having overcome their impatience with the first twenty minutes, especially the scene in which Juno strides around her local pharmacy ranting that her pregnancy test is positive... What those duped reviewers miss is that the screenwriter, who calls herself “Diablo Cody,” and the slickster director, Jason Reitman, engineered every response. Cody and Reitman introduce the characters crudely: no subtext, everything blurted out. The father and stepmother greet the news of Juno’s pregnancy by lamenting that she’s not into hard drugs and that she wasn’t picked up on a DWI instead. Funny. The father introduces himself to the couple that wants to adopt Juno’s baby by saying, “Thank you for having me and my irresponsible child over to your home.” The prim yuppie (Jennifer Garner) offers her guests Pellegrino or Vitamin Water. On and on, with sitcom banter laboring to be epigrammatical — except that each sequence ends with a switcheroo in which the characters display unexpected (and dramatically improbable) insight. Admittedly, my favorite thing in Juno is one such moment. Dad: “I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.” Juno: “I have no idea what kind of girl I am.” Lovely. But the rest of the time Cody and Reitman flatter the audience for its sensitivity while cramming in pop-culture references (and nonstop alt-pop) to make it feel hip. Even the sexual role reversal — the girl is the tomboy aggressor, the boy the passive femme with the long, skinny legs — is a con.

Why I'll Miss Heath Ledger

Why has actor Heath Ledger's premature death left me stricken with grief? I don't usually get this way with celebrities, and I feel a bit silly about it, but I'm not alone. Even my mother and boyfriend said they were incredibly shaken and sadden by the news of his death. It's not just because he was a great actor (which he was) and thus a great loss to film. He also had a two-year-old daughter and various film projects in the works. He also seemed like someone who never exuded entitlement or snobbishness because of his fame. He seemed, in photographs and interviews and in his films (where he disappeared into his roles), like a real person. You could see him walking down the street and he actually looked like he belonged: usually celebrities seem incongruous with their surroundings (at least in New York -- perhaps it's different in LA).

This makes the press' obsession and sensationlization of the actor's death particularly despicable. The bold headlines in the New York Post and the Daily News speculating suicide or an affair with Mary Kate Olsen or whatever just make me want to vomit. The actor had pneumonia and was already taking sleeping pills to help with his insomnia: the combination of prescription drugs and illness probably had something to do with his death. It's a profoundly sad, but not an entirely glamorous, way to die. Which is why these publications go out of their way to demean or sensationalize it; they'll sell more papers that way. Sick.

Anyway, A.O. Scott has a beautiful tribute to the actor in The New York Times. Read it and remember Ledger for his haunting work in Brokeback and Monster's Ball and for his infinite charm and charisma in 10 Things I Hate About You. (Seriously.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

To Destroy or Not to Destroy

Is there an English lit major who does not adore Nabokov? (I have yet to encounter one.) I haven't read Nabokov since my senior year of college, when I took a Nabokov class, which was great but, ultimately, draining; what really did it for me was having to look up seemingly every other word in Ada, or Ardor in the dictionary which was not only annoying (seriously interrupted the flow of the prose) but did no wonders for my self-esteem either. (For the record, I never did finish Ada. Some day. Maybe.) But I loved Lolita (read it 3x -- rare for me)! And Pale Fire! And The Gift!!!! Oh, The Gift...

Anyway, where was I... oh yes. Nabokov. I haven't read Nabokov since my English major days, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for him. So, when I read that Nabokov's son may or may not burn his father's final, unfinished manuscript, I freaked out a bit. Nabokov expressly gave orders to destroy the manuscript (known as The Original of Laura) upon his death. So the question: should his son, his last surviving heir, grant his father's dying wish or should he do the world a great service and make Laura available to the public?

I hope he picks the latter, because I really want to read it!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

One Sentence Reviews: Spring Awakening

There is such a thing as too sincere.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A List

My year in music...


Favorite Swedish crooner: Jens Lekman
Favorite British crooner: Richard Hawley
Favorite Canadian chanteuse: Feist
Favorite Pakistani/British chanteuse: Natasha Khan aka Bat for Lashes
Favorite French chanteuse: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Favorite folk chanteuse: Marissa Nadler
Favorite indie multi-instrumentalist "wunderkind" who's not Sufjan Stevens: Annie Clark aka St. Vincent
Favorite brash/bratty British pop singer who's not Lily Allen: Kate Nash
Three rappers whose albums/mixtapes I liked better than Kanye West's: Aesop Rock, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne
Favorite new garage band revivalists: Black Lips
Favorite "old" garage rock revivalists: White Stripes

You're so cute, Jens; photo by Emma Svensson

Favorite song about not getting any (man's perspective): No Pussy Blues by Grinderman
Favorite song about not getting any (woman's perspective): Another Weekend Without Makeup by The Long Blondes
Favorite song about New York: Myriad Harbour by The New Pornographers
Favorite song about Paris: Paris Is Burning by St. Vincent
Favorite guilty pleasure song: I'm a Flirt by R. Kelley (not quite "Trapped in the Closet," but its pleasures are more, um, subtle?)
Favorite song that gets the hipsters dancing: D.A.N.C.E. by Justice
Favorite song that gets the rebelz dancing: Boyz by M.I.A.
Favorite song that gets the teeny-boppers dancing: Lip Gloss by Lil Mama
Favorite song about dancing: I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You by Black Kids
Favorite song that kind of freaks me out: When Under Ether by PJ Harvey
Favorite song about loss: Someone Great by LCD Soundsystem
Favorite favorite song: The Underdog by Spoon

St. Vincent photographed by Tod Seelie

Favorite album by a sexually ambiguous violinist/violist: The Magic Position by Patrick Wolf
Favorite album by a band I don't normally like: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer by Of Montreal
Second favorite album by a band I don't normally like: Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective
Third favorite album by a band, er, musician I don't normally like: The Shepard's Dog by Iron & Wine
Favorite album by a reunited band: Beyond by Dinosaur Jr.

The song that really needs no superlative: Umbrella by Rihanna

Favorite Albums (in alpha order)

Bat for Lashes: Fur and Gold
Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity
Feist: The Reminder
Jay-Z: American Gangster
Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala
M.I.A.: Kala
Radiohead: In Rainbows
Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
St. Vincent: Marry Me
Patrick Wolf: The Magic Position

Richard Hawley has cool glasses; Patrick Wolf has a cool jacket

Other favorite music moments

The reissues of Leonard Cohen's first three albums
The reissue of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation
Seeing David Byrne at The Blow concert (I know he's supposedly at every show in New York, but it was still terribly exciting)
The Blow concert
Skipping class to drive to New York to see Bjork

The new wave/post-punk revival fever subsided a bit in 2007. (Finally! I mean, I like New Wave and angular rock just as much as the next child of the 80s, but most of the new stuff was so uninspired.) Instead, we heard bands dabbling in 1960s psychedelic garage rock. The most compelling of these bands (that I've heard) are The Black Lips for their sloppy, raucous, unhinged sound. (Their live shows are the stuff of legend: apparently, vomiting, urination, and nudity are de rigueur.) Bloggers are comparing Finnish four-piece Cats on Fire to The Smiths and Morrissey (the lead singer's voice does recall Morrissey's quivering, fragile baritone), but the Hammond organ on the song "The Smell of an Artist" makes me think of 60s psychedelic group The Zombies. (By the way, I love virtually anything with Hammond organ.) Pittsburgh (holla!) band Black Moth Super Rainbow creates hippie freak-out music so trippy and otherworldly with Moog and ostinato flutes and trance-inducing ennui-ridden vocals that I can't help but wonder if I actually really am on drugs when listening to it. Their label provides this description for the band: "Deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania vocoders hum amongst the flowers and synths bubble under the leaf-strewn ground while flutes whistle in the wind and beats bounce to the soft drizzle of a warm acid rain. As the sun peeks out from between the clouds, the organic aural concoction of Black Moth Super Rainbow starts to glisten above the trees." Far out!

An Introduction


I know. The place looks rather sparse. I just moved here. Well, not entirely. I only partially moved here. But my other home was getting kind of crowded. I know, I should really curb my bad fashion habit, but I can't stop reading and commenting on women's magazines and fashion shows or showing off my new cone-heeled platforms. That's why I needed another place -- to store all my thoughts on music and films and books, which have been piling up and collecting dust since I started working on a masters in fashion journalism and spending my days trolling the archives and reading Roland Barthes and Thorstein Veblen and, um, Vogue.

This space is to be more free-form, random: a film and music journal with maybe some short book reviews thrown in. (I also write book reviews for these guys.) I will continue writing about fashion and the media on my other blog.

Anyway, welcome!