Friday, December 21, 2007

New Math

Clapton + Dylan = Awesome

In honor of one of the only two or three books I've finished this year and one of the best movies I've seen this year. Watch and enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal...

--
If Pulp Fiction is "three stories about one story," then Todd Haynes's I'm Not There ups the narrative ante, telling six stories about one story. The one story being the life, art, and maybe more accurately the enigma that is Bob Dylan. And in each of the six stories, a different actor--Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, and Heath Ledger--plays Dylan... or a character based on him... or like him... or something like that. If I sound a little confused, then maybe I am, but confused in the best way. In the way a great piece of art (a book, a song, in this case a film) can push and pull you, or maybe tug and shove; in the way a melange of competing images, sounds, and ideas can leave you in an emotional and intellectual tumult and yet can adhere to one (well, actually two) vision(s); in the way, after already two great films have been made about the de facto poet laureate of America's greatest popular art, that remarkably another great one can be made as original and different as the subject himself.

Each of the six stories tackles a different and specific phase of Dylan's life and career and, though only tangentially do any of the six intertwine, they can certainly be said to be linked thematically. And that each of the six stories are embodied by six very different actors perfectly captures the breadth of who Dylan is, the competing personalities that have defined him throughout his career: the poet, preacher, actor, rock star, troubadour, figurehead, cowboy, hermit, husband, father... and on and on. I have the feeling, if he wanted to, Haynes could've used a lot more actors.

Stylistically as well, Haynes uses a variety of approaches, not only among the segments but within them also. No more is this the case in the episode featuring Blanchett. In it she plays a character named Jude Quinn, which is essentially Dylan at his most iconic. It begins with the most notorious moment in Dylan's career: the moment he "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. (Well, it's actually when Quinn went electric, but you know what I mean.) Consequently it takes us through the period in which he emerged from a folk hero to fully-fledged rock superstar and for most of it the film has the look and feel of D.A. Pennebaker's equally iconic documentary of Dylan during that period, Don't Look Back.

But other parts of the Blanchett/Quinn segment takes both its visual and narrative cues from the work of Fellini, more specifially La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. The former can be said to be the last of his neorealist work, moving toward an almost full-blown surrealism in the latter that would dominate the second half of Fellini's career. From the mania of the media and the superficiality of celebrity to the cartoonish closeups and the mysterious Coco, the episode acts as a semi-homage to the critical point in Fellini's oeuvre, the hinge around which he changed the trajectory of his work.

And to me that's the most interesting thing about I'm Not There at large: the mashup of styles, the pastiche of influence. The entire film works as a collision of style, existing at the nexus between documentary and the avant-garde; and in doing so, shatters every notion of the traditional biopic. The cutting back-and-forth among the six different parts (featuring six different actors) only serves to blur things even more. As I've already suggested, none of these characters are even named Bob Dylan (or Robert Zimmerman) and three of the characters are named after other historical figures: poet Arthur Rimbaud, folk singer--and Dylan hero--Woody Guthrie, and Billy the Kid. Part of the implication here is that in the same way a reading of I'm Not There would have to include the acknowledgment of the various styles and influences from which it is drawing, an understanding of Dylan's life can only come from at least a recognition of the people and places that inspired him.

But the conflicting styles and shifting narratives lead also to conflicting results. On one hand, the various characters don't tie our perception down to just one monolithic view of Dylan, but a richer range of views that wouldn't be available in a more linear and anecdotal structure of the standard biopic. On the other hand, though, the helter skelter style and tone can also distance us from really getting into each story, nudging us past it and into a different direction. It reminds me a bit of Citizen Kane, when Thompson finally comes to realize that whatever Rosebud was, it really wouldn't have explained anything about the man himself. Haynes is essentially making the same comment: the search for the answers just leads to more questions; the more we think we know about him, the further we really are. In the end, he's really just not there.



I'm Not There (dir: Todd Haynes; running time 135 minutes)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing

...oh how true Ashford & Simpson in your infinite wisdom.

This past Tuesday, Boyz II Men released the album Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA. This is the first non-greatest hits album released to my knowledge by the group since 1997's Evolution. Yet, upon a quick scan on Amazon.com, the men have released no less than five such CDs. Shows how much I keep up.

The disc features 13 Motown hits, running--chronologically--from Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" to an acapella version of "End of the Road"--yes, their own early 90s chart-topper. An album such as this almost seems inevitable. Of all the R&B groups that emerged during that late 80s-early 90s period, it seemed as if Boyz II Men were the most sophisticated, the most polished of the lot. More than Jodeci, Silk, Blackstreet, Shai and the like--among whom they were one of the first and perhaps most influential--Boyz II Men felt the most throwback (also a title of one of their previous albums), the one most closely-linked to those old 60s Motown groups.

What's sad, then, is that this collection of previous Motown hits captures neither what's great about the previous Boyz II Men records nor what's great about those old Hitsville records. The album was produced by the group (now a threesome by the way, without bass singer Michael) and Randy Jackson. No, not the sixth and youngest Jackson brother and, yes, one-third of the "American Idol" judging panel. And that's what some of these songs sound like: reunion night on "American Idol"; or the final performance for a really good senior-class glee club.

The problem with an album subtitled A Journey Through Hitsville USA is that the music doesn't work unless you actually journey through Hitsville USA. And part of that musical journey is through the musicians themselves. It's easy to remember the artists (and to some extent the writers and producers), but it's the musicians, known as The Funk Brothers that have as large a claim to what we affectionately refer to as the "Motown sound" as anyone else. Paul Justman's excellent documentary on the Funk Brothers, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, goes into more depth on their influence than I can here.

But more than that, the accompanying concert that is intercut with the archival footage and talking heads in the movie shows how much the quality of the record can change simply by who's actually playing on them. Artists who sang in this concert such as Joan Osborne, Chaka Khan, Me'shell Ndegeocello, and Ben Harper are not at all better singers (though not necessarily worse either) in my opinion than Boyz II Men, but the songs are somehow more effective. They have more of a groove; are performed with more passion. The songs on Motown sound bland, soulless, like a bunch of studio musicians hired to simply back up a vocal group and do nothing else. Unfortunately, that's what they achieved.

The opening track, "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" by the Temptations is the lone truly solid song on the album. Of all the great Motown guy groups, it was the Temptations the Boyz reminded me of most and the latter's performance here of one of the former's best songs holds up well to the comparison. But most of the remaining songs either succeed marginally or fail miserably. Political fare like Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and more notably Edwin Starr's "War" lack the sense of personal urgency, the feeling of a social call to arms the original records possessed. Others, such as The Jackson 5's "Got To Be There" and Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky" sound vocally tame, as if the guys are holding back. "Got To Be There" is in my opinion little Michael's most vocally impressive performance in the days with his brothers, displaying a vocal range really only hinted at in some of their other records. But in the cover, Shawn's falsetto turns it into a soft lullaby. It's nice, it's sweet, I guess, but nowhere near as powerful.

Not that Boyz II Men can't do great covers. Remember "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday" or, better yet, The Five Satin's "In the Still of the Nite"? Part of me hates writing a review like this because the group was such a big part of my musical life growing up and to a point re-introduced to me the old great Motown music that's as important to me as the Beatles and Clapton are now. But this effort pales in comparison to the legacy they've created and the legacy their acknowledging.

At least we can reminisce a little, can't we?....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

These vagabond shoes...

So I was watching a DVD from season one of the NBC show "30 Rock" and was noticing something that always tends to grab my attention when it happens. See, "30 Rock" takes place in New York City, a city that hosts more than its share of film productions. And while larger film productions, especially in Hollywood and elsewhere block off streets or shoot in studios to control the crowd and other extraneous factors, many films and television shows set and shot in Manhattan just simply and quietly shoot out on the street, not really thinking to block out any of the space that will appear in front of the camera.

The result is a sort of guerilla style environment in which anything can happen. One of these things is the curious side-effect of innocent bystanders, random passers-by, looking directly into the camera or stopping what their doing and just observing the actors performing their scene. More often than not, these are native New Yorkers who are fairly familiar with the practice of filming on public streets and once they're done with their initial fleeting interest, merely keep going on with their normal routine. But every time I am watching a scene that does take place out in the city streets, I find myself looking for this to happen, expecting it to come at every turn, and it actually draws my attention away from the actors and the dialogue.

It's quite a funny irony I think. One obvious assumption one could draw from this practice of filmmakers shooting on the streets is authenticity. Many in the filmmaking community, especially in NYC, always complain about productions taking place in Toronto--even though the movie itself is set in New York--as a way of cutting costs. Actually shooting in New York gives it credibility and a more documentary-like feel. But here's the rub... rather than strengthening my suspension of disbelief, the physical location, actually serves to reify my engagement with the screen, turning my passivity into active viewership. It's oddly Brechtian, without for one instant being purposefully so. This quest for realism then highlights its own theatricality.

But back to "30 Rock." How great are Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan? The show won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series this year and, as much as I love the writing and the rest of the cast, I really think it's these two that make the show soar. Morgan's essentially doing the same thing he's always done, from his standup to SNL to his work in other shows, but here it's somehow funnier. His humor is so broad, not necessarily physically (although that too), but in its structure. It's kaleidoscopic in a way, shifting and morphing until it reaches such an absurd level, you can't possibly figure out where it's going. Baldwin, on the other hand, is so deadpan, so direct in his performance. Where Morgan is bouncing off the walls, Baldwin's style is choppy and staccato, hitting the beat perfectly--a little more mathematical.

And when the two are in a scene together, it's like fireworks. It's like two guitarists soloing at the same time, but each in a different key. Or maybe it's like two people playing ping pong, but without the paddles. In some cases, maybe without the ball too.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sugar plum fairy, sugar plum fairy...

Rarely does a film with only meager ambitions fail miserably. It takes such bold ambition, such overreaching aspiration for something to fall so unflinchingly. Across the Universe is that type of movie. Julie Taymor's new film tries to (re-) contextualize the most revered canon in popular music--that, of course, of the Beatles--as woven through the story of young lovers, budding musicians, and an anti-war polemic.

I will readily admit to a bias up front: I am a huge Beatles fan. When I first heard the premise for this film, I had my reservations. Why even bother covering records that were so perfect in the first place? The answer to this I don't have, but the results are glaring.

Let's start with, obviously, the music. The performances here range from the okay to the awful. At its best, the musical performances are as good as the finals of any given season on "American Idol." At its worst, they are as bad as the auditions for any given season on "American Idol." As great as the Beatles were, much of their early material was just as trite as most any meaningless pop song from before their time until now. What made them different--besides the look, besides the "mania"--was the energy of their musicianship, the earnestness of their vocals. Their music had a drive, their records a purpose that transcended the cloying and the saccharine (at least on the surface) of their subject matter. But in the hands of the three leads, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), her love interest Jude (Jim Sturges), and her brother Max (Joe Anderson), the songs just feel banal and annoying. Their interpretations of these oft-heard classics refuse to find a way into the soul of the song. It's like they somehow dance around it, glazing over it, but never really finding the true notes. They know how it goes, but they don't know what it really means.

However, the singers aren't the only ones to blame here. Part of the failure of these songs to truly connect is in the conception of their arrangements and its relation to the narrative. The songs are either so literally conceived, at which point they are just bad covers, or so wildly yanked out of their original context that the emotion of the lyric and melody has lost all relevance. Songs like "All My Loving," "If I Fell," and "Revolution" are dropped into the narrative with such lack of nuance that it's as if they charted out the band's entire oeuvre and attached a specific emotion to each song so that they could pluck out and plug in the correct one when needed. Other songs, such as "Hey Jude" and "All You Need is Love" are faithfully rendered musically, but the context within which the lyrics are contained are changed so arbitrarily that they lose any specific meaning, turning the beauty of the originals into cheesy Broadway-like showtunes.

Roger Ebert, in his four-star review of the film, says the criticism that these aren't the Beatles singing original Beatles' tunes is unwarranted, that "Fred Astaire wasn't Cole Porter, either." But in a way, that kind of misses the point. In the excellent BBC documentary, titled here as Popular Song: Soundtrack of the Century, Elvis Costello makes the terrific insight that we don't have Gershwin's voice attached to any of his songs in the way we hear the Beatles or the Beach Boys when we think of their songs. The point is that the Beatles, along with Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, and a host of others represented a massive paradigm shift in the evolution of popular music: the songwriter as performer. Name any song by the Gershwins, Porter, Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, etc. and one person may immediately think Sinatra, another Crosby, yet another Astaire. Name "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry's the only name that comes to mind, "Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan, and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," the Beatles.

And look, I'm not completely against the idea of somebody covering somebody else's material. In fact I think Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help From My Friends" is superior to the one first done by the Beatles. He was able to completely change the feel and tone of the song--from the jaunty, carnivalesque feel of the original to the aching, spare sound of his remake--and improve upon it, bringing a whole new perspective on the same lyric. And Joe Cocker does make a cameo here, singing "Come Together." So it's no surprise that Cocker and also Bono, who performs "I am the Walrus," probably do the most serviceable work as they are the most experienced, most veteran of all the performers. (Too bad Bono's acting still leaves a little to be desired.)

But the music isn't the only thing that's lacking. The screenplay is clich├ęd and obvious. We've seen anti-war movies set in the 60s before and this one predictably weaves its way through the necessary sections. Young lovers separated by the draft? Check. Military personnel arrives at parents' doorstep to inform them of the death of their child? Check. Young idealists protest the war, participating in rallies and riots, and eventually getting arrested? Check. Boyfriend gets jealous of girlfriend hanging out with leader of underground, revolutionist movement? Check. Soldier comes home after war completely mental? Check.

The story here displays a depth of understanding of this very particular period in our history sufficient enough to fill a very short children's reference book. It goes through the motions of being about what it is, without ever once producing any idea of worth, any insight of meaning. And, of course, like in so many musicals, the story is there simply as a clothesline on which to hang the songs and production numbers, but when the writing is so tired, the musical set pieces so underwhelming, instead of being enchanted and entertained, you kind of just want it to end already.

The movie has a lot of defenders and it seems like Across the Universe is one of those polarizing situations, people either really loving it or really hating it. The movie in my mind it most closely resembles is Moulin Rouge--another film I had a negative reaction towards that many others loved. To me, the music in these two movies works only as a gimmick--nothing more, nothing less. Listening to some of the songs, instead of watching the movie, I found myself imagining what the pre-production meeting would sound like: "Gee, Max is about to get drafted; there's an Uncle Sam poster saying 'I Want You.' What song could we play here? Ooh, how about 'I Want You.'" Genius!

If you want to hear a fresh take on this most familiar of music, listen to Love, the mash-up album by Beatles producer George Martin. No other person besides the Beatles themselves knows this music better and Martin plays with it, teasing us with a snippet of a song here, a subtle guitar lick from another song there, and it provides a completely new perspective on songs we all know note-for-note. Both are distinctly 21st century approaches to one of 20th century's most revered of artistic achievements, but while Love invigorates, Across the Universe merely tries to fix a hole in the ocean.

Across the Universe (dir: Julie Taymor; running time 131 minutes)

Friday, September 21, 2007

I've been gone awhile, but now I'm back.

Today (I hope) this site will finally begin in earnest. At the encouragement of my friend who will remain nameless (although her name rhymes with Smirginia), I will post reviews of movies I have seen recently or older movies on DVD or just basic observations on things cinema and beyond (like how Najeh Davenport is totally vulturing touchdowns from my starting fantasy football back Willie Parker!) So here are two reviews for movies currently out in limited release.

The 800 lb. Gorilla

We are a culture obsessed with statistics and records. Aaron's 755, Maris's 61, DiMaggio's 56, Wilt's 100, Ripken's 2131. Add to that, Mitchell's 874,300. Yes, 874,300. It was the world record set in 1982 by Billy Mitchell in Donkey Kong. Yes, Donkey Kong.

And so begins Seth Gordon's ridiculously entertaining new documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Mitchell himself is the king of Kong. Add to that the king of other classic arcade games such as Pac-Man, Centipede, and Burger Time. (What Burger Time is I don't know. I have a feeling it may be like Hungry, Hungry Hippos, only not a board game and possibly without the large, water-dwelling mammals.) Mitchell, being king and all, has a slight messianic complex--complete with greasy, stringy, long brown hair and a goatee. In a way it's tough to blame him. Those in the gaming community worship him and Twin Galaxies, the "worldwide Authority on Player Rankings, Gaming Statistics and Championship Tournaments" have unofficially elected him as a sort of figurehead--the Jordan, Ruth, and Ali of their "sport" all rolled into one. He is, in this world, the celebrity.

The film takes place current-day and Mitchell himself seems to have stepped away from gaming as a player and now acts as an ambassador for the community, promoting gaming at large, Twin Galaxies, and, oh, himself. Somehow, Mitchell has parlayed the requisite talents for arcade supremacy into the skills necessary to be a good businessman, as he is impresario of a successful sauce company based out of Hollywood, Florida.

But that's only one part to this story. On the other side of the country, in Redmond, Washington is Steve Wiebe, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good Kong-er in his own right. It's here, through Wiebe, that the film sets its dramatic trajectory. And the brilliance of the film is that it does truly play more like a well-crafted narrative feature than necessarily a documentary.

The film tracks a course inevitably towards a kong-frontation (sorry!) between Mitchell and Wiebe. But a funny thing happened on the way to FunSpot--Mitchell doesn't show up. And when Wiebe, of course, breaks Mitchell's long-standing record (to the shock and awe of the gallery), Mitchell shows up, er, let's say by proxy in a way that so glaringly screams of petty one-upsmanship and ultimately hypocrisy. That the Twin Galaxies community all blindly side with Mitchell in this move shows the power of his cult.

Wiebe's own personal life is both tragic and redemptive. He's not an unflawed hero. He's certainly as competitive as Mitchell and highly self-critical, especially from his jock days back in high school. And when Kong comes into his life, it consumes him, marginalizing even his own family. In a home video, we can overhear Wiebe's son crying to him, pleading with him to wipe his ass and stop playing the game. The long hours of Wiebe's playing even wears out his wife. But in the end, they support him, traveling to Florida with him on his quest for the record. Contrast this with Mitchell's wife, who has never once seen him play Donkey Kong. Even Twin Galaxies comes around, acknowledging Wiebe as a world-class Kong player.

But what's fascinating about the film isn't so much the record--Wiebe's quest for it and Mitchell's underhanded defense of it. It's really an interesting exploration of ego: how on one hand it is driven by power and arrogance; and, on the other, by failure and self-doubt. It's straight out of Shakespeare, or for these guys, maybe Star Wars.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (dir: Seth Gordon; running time 79 minutes)

Found in Translation

If the The King of Kong plays more like a fictional narrative than a documentary, then 2 Days in Paris plays somewhat like an intimate piece of cinema-verite. Actress Julie Delpy's second feature is like a Woody Allen film through the eyes of the French New Wave.

The film follows a thirty-something couple, Marion and Jack, who make a short stop in the city of love near the end of their vacation through Europe. The thing is, Marion is French, grew up in Paris, and has a lot of family and friends to meet. Jack, on the other hand, is a Jewish-American and doesn't speak a lick of French. "Je-egh t'aime," he says, practicing his French. "Why do you put a 'hegh'? It's so ugly. It's not German!" she complains.

While there the two stay in a tiny studio apartment she occupies for two months during the year in the building where her parents also live. When her beautiful sister Rose stops by as well for lunch, their animated discussions (in French of course) make Jack feel like he is the butt of every smile and cackle. Later, when they make their way around town, every man they encounter seems to be one of Marion's exes. In response to Jack's growing jealousy, Marion quickly diffuses it by saying it was nothing: "I may have given him a blowjob once."

There is a particularly delicate balance Delpy finds here. Adam Goldberg's Jack is himself like a younger, more physically imposing Woody Allen character. The examination of a neurotic, dysfunctional romantic relationship is also typical Allen. What's atypical of Allen--and of the French New Wave pictures this is reminiscent of as well--is its focus on the female lead's perspective. Godard once said--and I'm probably paraphrasing here--that the history of cinema is the history of men looking at women. Delpy complicates that here though by, at once, standing behind the camera and essentially turning it on herself. Godard also said, "Film is like a personal diary, a notebook or a monologue by someone who tries to justify himself before a camera." Marion is a photographer professionally, Jack an amateur one on this trip, and there are times here the film simply catalogues their vacation pictorially, while Delpy's voice-over carries the narration. During these moments, the film seems more like a documentary, like some kind of personal autobiographical travelogue instead of a polished feature.

But Delpy flips that first quote by Godard in another way. Her cinema here is that of a woman behind the camera looking at a man. Delpy's camera and screenplay deconstructs the male psyche of her lead character, strips bare his masculinity, exposing it (literally), mocking it, and certainly even empathizing with it. Her exploration of Jack's fear and insecurity and also his humor and social intellect isn't at all trite; in fact, it rings quite honestly.

Saying all this is not to say that 2 Days in Paris is completely serious. It's actually quite funny, laugh-out-loud so sometimes. Goldberg has that classic movie comedian (dare I say, Jewish) way of somehow being in a funny situation and also distancing himself from it, commenting as an aside a line of dialogue or a joke to which only he (and of course the audience) is privy. That Delpy allows Goldberg to steal the show as an actor is a testament to her as an actress as well as a director.

The previous European romance in which Delpy starred and co-scripted was 2004's Before Sunset. Like that one, 2 Days in Paris ends with the two main characters upstairs alone in a room and Marion's voice-over monologue is as perfect as the dialogue was in the previous film. The relationship isn't perfect. How could it? It's messy in the way these things tend to be. The film doesn't pretend to have the answers, Marion and Jack simply do the best they can. And really that's all we can ask.

2 Days in Paris (dir: Julie Delpy; running time: 96 minutes)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Week #10

What am I going to do with my new mp3 player? Play mp3s on it.

But seriously, folks, I already have the giant 80G video iPod, so I think I might use this smaller one when I go to the gym... or maybe I'll put one of those audiobooks I'm supposed to download on it and listen to it on that.

Speaking of which, I think I'm going download the book, The Dork of Cork by Chet Raymo. When I first looked at it I thought it would be a book about wine, perhaps something like that movie (and book) Sideways (which I loved), but it turns out that Cork is a town in Ireland. But I'm going to listen to it anyway and see how it goes.

Speaking of which, I don't know about any of you, but as convenient as an audiobook is, isn't part of the enjoyment of reading is the actual process of reading? Writing isn't performance art. The artistry is in the text. And part of the contract the writer makes with his or her audience is that they are allowed to make their own leaps of imagination from the text. If you are listening to an audiobook, then you are hearing an actor's performance of it, which may be great or less than great, but I think that removes a bit of the authorship from, well, the actual author. If you hear a different actor performing the audiobook, then wouldn't that inherently change your reaction to the book? To me that answer seems obvious.

Stephen King, in a recent op-ed column in Entertainment Weekly suggested the opposite, that all books should be heard, rather than read. He says that its all storytelling, emphasizing the "telling" part and that so much of that storytelling history is oral anyway. In fact many authors themselves travel around the country and world doing readings of their books, so I can understand King's point-of-view.

All-in-all, I don't have anything against audiobooks per se, but I'm just wondering what, if anything, gets compromised--or even improved--in the change in medium. But I'm still going to listen to The Dork of Cork.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Week #9

I must admit--and I think I've read this on a few other blog entries written for this week's assignment--that I'm a bit torn about the whole music copyright issue. On the one hand, I completely agree with the larger music recording corporations who are simply trying to protect their legal property. We are, for better or worse, under the general umbrella or capitalism. These companies and, by extension, the artists they represent put money into these endeavors and want their duly earned money.

Having said that, what I like about Steve Jobs's article is how it points to a fundamental flaw in the logic of the supposed remedy of DRM these "big four" so faithfully cling to. The technologies of Web 2.0 are so advanced now and grow at a rate so breathless sometimes that it truly takes remarkable foresight to really tackle the problem of digital piracy (music and otherwise) with any kind of effectiveness. I'm only marginally intelligent [your joke here] and thus I have no idea what kind of solutions are out there, but I'm sure that's what these corporations along with Apple, Microsoft, and the like are doing their best to find.

On to the eXplore sites--

Like one of the previous week's assignments, I find that there's a singular flaw in websites or services that recommend music (or movies or books) based on the particular artist you like. People's tastes (I hope) are varied and eclectic and to narrow down a range of likes or dislikes in this manner is, I find, slightly nearsighted. But...

to be fair, these sites really are about discovery and that really is to be applauded. If you type in an artist you like and it leads you to new artist you like, but of whom previously you had not been aware, then I guess that's a good thing. And for me--especially with music.

I freely admit to the fact that I listen almost nothing new when it comes to music. I listen almost exclusively to older music. Anything from old blues and jazz down through to classic rock and soul music from the 60s and 70s. I have though been interested recently in an indie band called Bishop Allen, whose music I first heard in the movie Mutual Appreciation. And because I'm not too up-to-speed on the current music scene, I find the music sites like Liveplasma and Last.fm pretty informative. I particularly like Last.fm because you immediately get to listen to that artist's music and then artists similar to them.

BTW, I was so impressed with Emily Wallace's music. Had to listen to a few songs a few times over they were so good!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Week #8

I should first start off by stating that I do, in general, like the idea of online learning and what the whole Web 2.0 thing has to offer. But I do have reservations about the sort of long-term ramifications it will have on our mass culture. I recently checked out a book called The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen. I won't go into a long book review of it, but Keen's position in part is to criticize the Web 2.0 culture/phenomenon for creating a too-even playing field where the line between artist and audience is blurred--even erased--thus causing a rotating series of stupid YouTube videos, Flickr pics, and uninformed op-ed blogs made by amateurs locked up in their rooms drowning out the sounds and images and ideas of knowledgeable experts who actually have something of merit to offer.

To be honest, I've always had these reservations, but in the way Keen offers in his final chapter, it really is about the way we use it and not the technology itself. If we can use the technology to highlight the overlooked and enhance, not water down our culture, then I think Web 2.0 can be incredibly useful.

But that was yet again one of my many rants. Back to this particular week's lesson. I have helped a few of my co-workers with some of the details of the lessons and I think it's really great that we are open enough to share what we think about the work we're doing, both as a group and individually. There are a lot of blogs created for this course that I love reading and I love that I get to be a part of that.

As far as Flickr is concerned, I don't have a digital camera per se, but I'm gonna try to take pics on my cell phone and figure out how to upload them and see how that goes!

Friday, June 22, 2007

AFI Redux... or redo?

This past Wednesday, June 22, the American Film Institute unveiled its second list of the 100 greatest American movies ever made. Entitled AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - 10th Anniversary Edition, this list can be seen as a do-over for the earlier attempt, a chance to right some wrongs and to reassess the collective canon of great American films.

Like any list of this nature, AFI's original 100 Years... 100 Movies caused much controversy. This list will be no different. Many newspapers and film blogs have already voiced opinions defending or criticizing the inclusion and rank of many films on the list. So, guess what, I'm joining in on the parade.

I'll start off with some of the things I believe the panel got wrong. One of the more notable omissions for me was Stagecoach, John Ford's 1939 seminal western. It was the fullest maturation of the genre, lifting it from a primarily B-movie category to A-list status. That it fell off and The Searchers vaulted up the list (thankfully!) is a bit surprising.

Another--and far more fascinating--exclusion is the one of The Birth of a Nation (1915). Its omission, at least most obviously, is a reflection of its overt racism. There's a remarkable paradox here. D.W. Griffith's film is a true benchmark of cinema to that point and to not include it because of an albeit abhorrent message seems to be a kind of timid revisionism. The AFI panel did included Griffith's following film, Intolerance (1916), which wasn't on its original list and merits inclusion here. But are they simply substituting one for the other for its lack of controversy? Good or bad, the film is an important part of our cinematic heritage and, in the end, isn't that kind of the point. But having said that, what if a movie came out today that portrayed the same kind of racism (or sexism, or age-ism, or homophobia)? I think that I and most others would be appalled--and correctly so.

So what are we left with? In part, lists like AFI's are pocket history lessons. We don't ignore moments in history just because we don't like them.


On to the good... and there are a lot of them.

The biggest jump in the list was the aforementioned The Searchers, John Ford's 1956 western. In the original list 10 years ago, the film barely made it, ranking at 96. This time, the movie jumped an astonishing 84 spots to #12. Personally, I think I would rank it somewhere in the top ten, but that the panel more readily recognizes the power and greatness of the film is refreshing.

And the panel made the right decision in finally recognizing that Vertigo (1958), and not Psycho (1960), is Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film. Despite the jagged bravura and modernism of Psycho, Vertigo is his most confident and personal, his most complete achievement as a filmmaker.

But to me the most delightful surprise of watching the TV special and perusing the list is seeing Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1931) vault 65 spots from #76 in the '98 list to #11 this year. City Lights is absolutely my favorite movie of all time and they were right (as in the similar case with Hitchcock) that it is Chaplin's highest accomplishment, better than The Gold Rush (1925), which many hold out to be his greatest.

There are so many other highs and lows that I could point out, from the thankful inclusion of The General and Do the Right Thing to the exclusion of The Third Man (if it can be considered an "American" film at all is to be debated) and the ridiculous inclusion at #50 of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. But really, that's one of the reasons lists like that do and should exist. It engages people in a dialogue about what films are great and what makes them great. And in the end, like the '98 list did for me, it provides for the would-be cinephile who wants to know what great movies are out there and doesn't know where to start.

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For additional commentary on this topic see Roger Ebert's (along with a complete list of the 100) and Jim Emerson's websites.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Week #7

I will first start off by saying I love trivia. Lurv it, luff it. I like the idea of Blufr, but I can only take so many what are essentially true-false questions. I did a little searching--and when I say a little searching, I mean clicking on the first link in Yahoo after typing in "trivia"--and found a pretty neat site called FunTrivia.com. In grand Web 2.0 fashion, you can upload and submit your own quiz and conduct your own tournaments in which other members can participate.

I also started a traineo account, but now that I think about it, I don't think I'll use it that much. I don't often think about what I eat except when I'm actually eating. Same with exercising. I eat when (and what) I eat and I exercise when I exercise. Outside of that, I don't like keeping track of that. But what I do like about it is how people can share healthy recipes and workout tips in the forums.

And I like animals just fine (and certainly more than some people I know!), but not enough to waste my Learn 2.0 time on it. Ditto on the beer and wine. The Puzzle Player was a bit of a disappointment in the general trivia stuff, but I liked the word and math puzzles just fine.

GO SPURS!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Week #6

...a little late, but oh well...

It seems a few of the library apps we had to eXplore covered the same territory or offered the same services and, of them, GuruLib was my favorite. I used to have an inventory of my CDs and DVDs on a simple document file on my computer, but I love the way their system works and how easy it is to organize and upload information.

I was interested in what What Should I Read Next? and their film and music site This One Next had to offer, but I was fairly disappointed. Maybe I didn't work the site properly, but it was little difficult--for me anyway--to maneuver and I think you can find recommendations on other sites that work better than this one. In any case, I'm always wary of these kind of places that tell you if you like one thing that you're going to like another. I'm not necessarily against it, but I think on the whole it assumes too much of why a particular piece of art (novel, film, music album, etc.) reaches the person who enjoys it. And some places simply recommend another novel or movie for no other reason than the fact that its plot is similar, completely without regard to quality, at which point the recommendation just seems empty and pointless.

Anywho, that was my mini-rant about that. I also really like the idea behind Elf, but as I am only a member of our particular library (which also offers those services), I really had no need for it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

a change to the amendment to the earlier rule of the amendment

So I was sitting in the break room today, eating lunch, reading the Calendar section of the paper and came across a review of Away From Her, the film I had blogged about a couple of weeks ago. Then I said to myself, "Jason, wait a second, if you're reading a review of this movie in the Sentinel today, then that means it must be coming out this weekend somewhere in town." To my happy surprise, it is. It will be playing this week (and I would assume at the very least one more week) at the Regal in Winter Park.

As I wrote before, this is a gem of a movie and if you want a little detour from the cacophony of all the summer blockbusters, I highly recommend this film.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Week #4

Yeah, so I was going to do this whole write-up on Web 2.0 and what's been going on in my brain as I tried to wrap my head around what it all means, but I couldn't get my thoughts together and so I'm just going to talk about some of the websites I looked at as it pertained to the eXplore assignments. (But keep an eye out for my feelings on this subject in later posts!)

On SEOmoz, I clicked on all three sites that won awards under the "Events" category. What I like about the first two, Upcoming and Eventful, were that they -- through the magic of television -- already knew that I was looking up their site from Florida, so they already had events listed for the area. The #3 website in the category did not do this so I feel it necessary to not list them here!

I'm also a list freak so I thought the "Lists and Polls" category would be fun, but sadly they were not so much. Listdump seemed the best, but I wasn't crazy about its layout or even the depth of things it had to offer. Oh well.

I wasn't too surprised about the presence of OCLS in MySpace or Youtube as I -- and others here have mentioned -- know how much our system is in tune and up-to-date with these kinds of technologies and reaching out to our communities through it.

All-in-all I think there's so much out there to look through that it's almost impossible to make sense of it. But I guess that's the point of this course: to point us in the right direction and give us the tools to make use of it how we may.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Week #3

I certainly found this week's assignment slightly more difficult than last week's. I have some experience using RSS feeds and looking up Wikipedia, but never really utilized it as a resource. Even still today, I simply do searches on Yahoo to look things up on the web. I don't even use Google but sparingly.

I'm not completely sold on Grokker, but I definitely like the Map view layout. I looked up film as a general search and there were too many listings to go through, so I decided to be a little more specific. I typed in "French New Wave" and, still, I came up with a ton of results. In these cases, especially, I think the Map view is particularly helpful and easier to maneuver than just the listings you find in either Yahoo or Google.

I found some neat sites on Bloglines and I added a feed from Cinematical, a nice movie site I had never run across before. (Think of the site as an Aint-it-cool-news.com, except good.)

I have to say, though, Yahoo Pipes completely kicked my butt. The tutorial seemed straightforward, but when I did it, it didn't seem to work to my satisfaction. I was a bit confused as to its purpose and how to use it. I will definitely try again, but I came home from this particular Adventure empty-handed.

Friday, May 4, 2007

And the winner is...

So J from Sampsynposium guessed the source of my blog name correctly. Congratulations!! You win many things; among them, nothing. It is Woody Allen's 1977 multi-Oscar winning film Annie Hall. Click on the video and watch for yourself:

dunkin' dirky

So what's worse: being the main source of blame for having your 67-regular-season-win basketball team get bounced out of the first round of the playoffs or being the guy everyone associates for being David Hasselhoff's most famous fan?

The answer: being both those guys.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The sun's not yellow, it's chicken

Okay, so Spider-Man 3 comes out this week. Then Shrek the Third two after that. Then the next installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. The summer blockbuster season will soon be in full swing. It can sometimes be hard to weed through all the muck while the studios overload our senses with these franchise pictures. (Not that I have anything in particular against these three series, but you get my point.)

With that in mind, I think I'd take time here to talk about some smaller films. Ones that I screened about a month ago at the 16th Annual Florida Film Festival (FFF). I probably would've written about some of these movies sooner, but alas, I didn't have my own blog. I won't elaborate too much on each film, but just give a general overview to some of my personal highlights during that week-and-a-half.

As is often the case at FFF, the shorts programs fuel more excitement than most of the features--and the Animated Shorts program this year was particularly inspired. My personal favorite though was Golden Age by Aaron Augenblick. These were a compilation of behind-the-scenes "newsreels" revealing the lives of once-famous, but now-fallen cartoon characters. You can actually see each side-splitting segment here.

Two other films I enjoyed were the Irish film, Speed Dating, and a quirky romantic comedy from New Zealand called Eagle vs. Shark. But, for me, the real gem of the 16 screenings I attended at the festival was Sarah Polley's Away From Her. Polley is probably best known for her work in mostly independent fare such as The Sweet Hereafter, The Claim, and My Life Without Me, although she has appeared in bigger films such as the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead.

With such a background in independent film, you might figure Polley's directorial debut to go in the all-too-typical direction of the edgy, angst-ridden twenty-somethings trying to find themselves--just the kind of pretentious, film-festival artsy junk really bad independent cinema can turn into. But her first film is much like the characters she has been known to play: thoughtful, introspective, and unsentimental. Adapted from an Alice Munro short story, Away From Her deals with the separation of a husband and wife as she is institutionalized with Alzheimer's. The couple are played by Gordon Pinsent and the great Julie Christie. Olympia Dukakis also does nice work as a wife of another Alzheimer's patient who befriends Christie's character in the nursing home.

There is none of the overwrought drama so often found in bigger Hollywood films, no big fake emotional scenes. Also none of the show-offy, first-film director tricks. Just an honest exploration of what age and disease does to two people who have been in love for decades and a great showcase for the still vibrant Christie.

The movie opens in limited release on May 4th, the same day as Spider-Man 3. Polley sarcastically said in EW that she intends her film to wipe the floor with Spidey. Good luck with that!

(Chances are the film won't open here, but our library has a number of smaller, independent films that once screened at FFF and nowhere else in town, so keep an eye out for it in a few months.)


P.S. Anybody else attend the festival and see anything good?

Friday, April 27, 2007

One of the many few

My name is Jason and this is my new OCLS blog. You will read this blog. I will write this blog. You will laugh at the humor and cry at the tragedy. I hope you tune in for future posts. I have never had a blog before. I hope these sentences don't seem choppy.

BTW, I will give 5 completely useless and imaginary bonus points and an all-expense paid trip to anywhere in the U.S. to anybody who can name the movie my blog name is quoting.** Hurry up, first reponse wins!




**(all-expense paid trip not included)