Saturday, May 31, 2008

Look Out, Boys!

"Monkey, Monkey Monkey, Raskolnikov"

Doc Ock meets Outbreak?

If movies have taught me anything - and I believe they have - it's that experimental technologies will invariably be exploited for evil.

Waitin' Round To Die

From Heartworn Highway

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Je suis Henri.

BBC Rocks

Mild disappointment with the latest Indiana Jones film left me nostalgic for the theological mysteries and Christian iconography of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade and today I felt compelled to re-watch my favorite clips from those films.

As always, I found myself fascinated by the mysterious contents of Sean Connery's grail notebook and curiosity led me to research the origins of the grail story. I found that provides an excellent overview of the grail myth, complete with a gallery of artistic interpretations ranging from 14th century French illuminations through modern films.

Further exploration of the BBC history site led me to the amazing, interactive Timeline of British History. Anyone who was entertained enough to stay awake during a hypnotically narrated Simon Schama documentary will appreciate the BBC's efforts.

Incredibly comprehensive and browsable, the flash timeline loads up in only a few seconds and spans from the Neolithic Age to the present, providing expandable links and summaries of every major event in British history. A variety of filters allow you to focus your timeline by subject, region, and period.

R.I.P Sydney Pollack

I find the following quite ironic. Yesterday I was hanging out with my friend Corey Garry and his grandfather had passed not 4 hours before we were scheduled to go out. I was driving my mother's Chrysler 300 and in the CD player was a mix I had made years ago for my father. The song "Guilty" came on, a duet by Barry Gibb and Barbra Streisand. This immediately led us to talking about Streisand movies and our counter views on certain performances. What we could muster to agree upon was that "hey, wow The Way We Were was quite a film". I always admired Pollack's work as a director and I was especially a fan of his supporting roles in a wide array of films, from his prick attorney role in the pathetic Changing Lanes to his overlooked performance in 2007's Michael Clayton. He was certainly one of Hollywood's finest living artifacts. He will be surely missed. Rest in Peace, Mr. Pollack.

The New Humanities Initiative

Today in the New York Times:

New Curriculum Designed to Unite Art and Science
...a few scholars of thick dermis and pep-rally vigor believe that the cultural chasm can be bridged and the sciences and the humanities united into a powerful new discipline that would apply the strengths of both mindsets, the quantitative and qualitative, to a wide array of problems. Among the most ambitious of these exercises in fusion thinking is a program under development at Binghamton University in New York called the New Humanities Initiative.
Read the full article here

...also of interest in today's Times:

On The Trail, One Aide Looms Over Obama
...some unofficial rules have emerged between the candidate and his aide. From Mr. Obama: “One cardinal rule of the road is, we don’t watch CNN, the news or MSNBC. We don’t watch any talking heads or any politics. We watch ‘SportsCenter’ and argue about that.”
Read the full article here

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dangerous Times

Not the first time and certainly not the last...

Mini Movie Channel

An online collection of short, independently produced films of varying length, subject, and quality:

Mini Movie Channel

Friday, May 23, 2008


Featured yesterday on NPR's Morning Edition, acclaimed concert violinist Hilary Hahn and folk-rocker Josh Ritter are collaborating on a series of shows.

I had never heard of Hahn before and I had nearly forgotten about Ritter after a series of mid-decade studio albums failed to deliver on the promise of his always excellent live performances; however, irregardless of interest in either Ritter or Hahn, the spirit of this project is laudable.

Too often musical collaborations are reduced to cameos that feel either hasty or contrived and it's refreshing to hear one that seems to have originated out of mutual curiosity and professional respect.

You can listen/read the Morning Edition segment here and find links to the entire concert in the sidebar.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Free Streaming Movie Review: I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

Out of curiosity and a love (obsession perhaps?) for HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm I decided to watch Jeff Garlin's film I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. Garlin writes, directs, stars and produces the 80 minute Weinstein Company release and he truly does a nice job. Jeff Garlin plays James Aaron a 39 year old, overweight, struggling actor who lives at home with his mother. The film takes place in Chicago and it lets you know this on many levels, Aaron parks his car near Wrigley Field so he can compulsively eat when something depresses him or sets him back, he's also a seasoned performer at the famed Second City Improv and alas there is no absence of Chicago taxi cabs.

The film is an homage to Paddy Chayefsky's 1955 film Marty (starring Ernest Borgnine). There are multiple references to the Oscar winning picture as there are many clear parallels between the character of Marty and that of Garlin's character. Also, James Aaron learns about halfway through the film that a local production company is producing a remake of Marty. To Aaron's demise he's not even allowed to audition for it and instead the casting people want to market the remake to a younger audience and to add insult to injury a boyish Aaron Carter is cast as the lead instead. As James Aaron's life is slowly going down the toilet he meets a semi-psychotic ice-cream parlor employee named Beth (Sarah Silverman) and is smitten by her charming yet quasi-frightening demeanor. The titular line arises as the two are strolling through a park watching a young couple and they both decide "they each want someone to eat cheese with". The cast is besieged with cameos by an array of actors (many recognizable from Curb Your Enthusiasm) like Dan Castalleneta, Bonnie Hunt, Richard Kind and Amy Sedaris. What Jeff Garlin did here was basically make a simple, sleek, intriguing art film that just makes you feel at ease. There are no big underlying themes to ponder, no real moral message, just an endearing film about a guy trying to better himself. If you have an hour and a half, give it a shot.

In lieu of anything else to say...

... Monica Vitti makes me remember my love of walking, napping, and movie magazines.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Peter Parker's Glasses

As the summer movie season is already in full swing it's worth taking a moment to appreciate the fact that rather than suffering through the bloated, special effects laden superhero blockbusters of yore we can now depend upon comic book films to deliver both balls out action AND compelling melodrama in a single package.

After the Batman & Robin debacle, studios had every right to throw in the genre towel (like they did with westerns and musicals) and search for a new direction; however, luckily for summer film goers everywhere, studios continued to green light new franchises and in the hands of capable directors and talented actors, the superhero blockbuster has (with some exceptions) been elevated from forgettable escapist pap to thematically complex and emotionally engaging cinema. This summer is bookended by Iron Man and The Dark Knight, serious, big budget productions featuring awards caliber actors in the title roles; not too long ago the best we could have hoped for was George Clooney playing cute in a rubber suit.

Whether you enjoy superhero films or not, there is no denying that the increased care and attention that has gone into their production has yielded surprisingly high-minded and well-made results.

Jump back to 2002. Yearning to be taken seriously, the producers of Spiderman 2 brought an early draft of their script to Pulitzer prize winning author Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) for a rewrite. According to Chabon, the original version featured numerous costumed villains and suffered from a lack of focus. Chabon did a full rewrite, paring the narrative down to just two costumed characters, Doctor Octopus and Spiderman, and offering a more thorough treatment of their respective alter egos, Otto Octavius and Peter Parker. The script would undergo more revisions before filming but many of Chabon's key plot points remained intact (he was given a credit for screen story) and Spiderman 2 stands as arguably the most compelling and fully realized character study in the superhero film pantheon.

Recently released for a limited time as part of a promotion for his new non-fiction book Maps and Legends, Chabon's script lacks certain memorable scenes such as Mary Jane's disappointing attempt to recreate her upside down kiss or Peter gratefully accepting a piece of cake from Mr. Ditkovich's niece, but as a whole it is a more elegant and serious treatment of the film's basic themes of identity and duty.

Development of some of the side characters is lacking - Harry Osborne and Aunt May feel penciled in almost as an afterthought - but Peter and Dr. Octavius both benefit from Chabon's more thorough attention. Octavius especially comes across as a much more intriguing character and his romantic relationship with Mary Jane would have added an interesting dimension to the film. Chabon also authors a more graceful and physiologically plausible explanation of how Peter loses and eventually regains his powers.

Spiderman 2, for all its considerable merits, is admittedly uneven and at times benefits from an indulgent viewer's willingness to forgive certain inconsistencies and extrapolate meaning from subtexts that are very thinly explored. Fans of the movie will find much to appreciate in Chabon's script as it more candidly addresses some of the film's darker qualities and provides a more consistent and carefully considered view of Spiderman's world.

Michael Chabon's Spiderman 2 script - it really takes off about halfway in...

I understand that this script may be of limited or no interest to many Dinner on the Molly patrons; so, for the rest of you, here is Michael Chabon offering up his eloquent - yet strangely twitchy - endorsement of Barack Obama:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

DVD Review: Youth Without Youth

Francis Ford Coppola took on quite an endeavor in making "Youth Without Youth". The film was financed by Coppola's successful vineyard and the original cut was a daunting three hours long. The poor editor Walter Murch had to sift through over 170 hours of footage just to get a releasable motion picture. Francis Ford Coppola is quite notorious for cinematic narcissism and it is well rumored that Robert Evans had to beg, plead and threaten a young Coppola to shorten the already epic "Godfather". So, it really is no mystery that "Youth Without Youth" being a personal piece of Coppola's resume of motion pictures dares not to defy his headstrong approach to filmmaking. "Youth Without Youth" is visually stunning, though. Adapted from the novella by Mircea Eliade, Coppola gathers a rather renowned cast to bring this story to celluloid: Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Little Odessa), Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall), Bruno Ganz(Wings of Desire) and an uncredited cameo by Matt Damon.

Tim Roth plays Dominic Matel who at the very beginning of the film is an elderly professor of linguistics. When he is miraculously struck by lightning he begins to age backwards. The audience sees the film in forward yet reverse (chronological) order (if that makes any sense). As Dominic's predicament gains the attention of the growing Nazi party obvious conflict arises. Nazi scientists want him for experimental reasons and Dominic wants nothing more than to reunite with his long lost love, Laura. Dominic is also interested (to a fault) in the origins of language. The ultimate conflict is the fight to chose between what he wants and what he needs. "Youth Without Youth" is not meant for leisurely viewing. The complexities of this film don't hide in the plot necessarily but in the mere fact as to why someone would make such a motion picture. Many critics have called "Youth Without Youth" a 'personal film' which obviously falls on Coppola's lap. There is no doubt in my mind that this was indeed a 'passion project' but it is quite obvious why YWY got a limited cinematic release. Roth is wonderful despite his cryptic and almost philosophical lines of dialogue while Maria Lara's performance, despite her stunning looks is a mere after thought. If "Youth Without Youth" happens to be somewhere on your Netflix queue, I advise you to remove it immediately.

Caption this Picture! Punnett!

"Ah, yes, the pea plants are growing beautifully."

Let's Hear it for the Left!

I’ve always been fascinated with handedness. Only 10% of humans are left-handed, and being left-handed has some consequences for how the brain is organized. In lefties, language, a normally left-hemisphere dominant function, is more lateralized between both hemispheres of the brain – some even show a right-hemisphere dominance. While it is still unclear what effects these differences in cortical organization have on everyday functioning, it is possible that lefties, being wired a bit differently than 90% of the population, may have a few extra tricks up their sleeves.

With that being said, I was reading a popular press article about the handwriting styles of the candidates. While this stuff is probably a bunch of bunk, I thought it was fun to see that our two nominees (for all intents and purposes) are both left-handed. And, that four of our last six presidents were left handed (the exceptions being Bush Jr. and Carter).

Now we just have to hope that the left-leaning lefty becomes the next president.

Monday, May 19, 2008

We Can All Die Happy

Many of us know that when it comes to beers, nothing is more refreshing, nor more classy, than an ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon tall-boy. Some of us might even love it so much that we want to drink it forever and ever. And if we really, really love those PBR pounders--like I know we do--we'll want to keep chugging them even after we're dead.

One such Chicago man took his love of the exceptional brew to unprecedented heights, ensuring that he can still enjoy a frosty PBR from the grave:

SOUTH CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. — Bill Bramanti will love Pabst Blue Ribbon eternally, and he's got the custom-made beer-can casket to prove it. "I actually fit, because I got in here," said Bramanti of South Chicago Heights.

The 67-year-old Glenwood village administrator doesn't plan on needing it anytime soon, though.

He threw a party Saturday for friends and filled his silver coffin — designed in Pabst's colors of red, white and blue — with ice and his favorite brew.

"Why put such a great novelty piece up on a shelf in storage when you could use it only the way Bill Bramanti would use it?" said Bramanti's daughter, Cathy Bramanti, 42.

Bramanti ordered the casket from Panozzo Bros. Funeral Home in Chicago Heights, and Scott Sign Co. of Chicago Heights designed the beer can.

All I can say is, when I die, I hope I meet Bill at the bar in heaven so I can buy him a round.

PBR Fun Facts:
-Pabst was the first brewery to put beer in cans back in 1935.
-Pabst was originally called "Select," but people started asking for that "Blue Ribbon" beer in 1882 when the Pabst Brewing Company started tying silk ribbons to the bottles.
-The words "Blue Ribbon" were officially added to the bottle in 1895.
-The first cans had a picture of a can opener on the side with instructions on how to open the can of beer.

Elmo and Robert De Niro on Sesame Street

This may have been circling the net for a while now. I discovered this WATCHING the Street one afternoon and I was blown away on a number of levels. It's Elmo and De Niro shooting the shit about acting. What a right. A laugh riot.

ahahahah ahahahha ahahahah

Dolly, Goddamn.

Before she was the darling of the country music scene, Ms. Parton made some experimental forays into pop music with stellar results.

Don't Drop Out (1966).

I think end of semester congratulations are in order for anyone still in school.

Product Review: Life Vanilla Yogurt Cereal

I don't like milk and consequently I only utilize cereal in a dry snack capacity. Usually I stick with standard plain cereals like Cheerios but on my last trip to the store I decided to shake things up and try something new. Life Vanilla Yogurt cereal by Quaker is a mix of a vanilla flavored Life squares and yogurt covered oat clusters. Compared to Cheerios, it packs a higher calorie punch while providing just as much iron, folic acid, and essential B-vitamins. On paper this seemed to satisfy all of the core requirements for a solid snack cereal but as soon as I opened the box things fell apart.

Life Vanilla Yogurt cereal can kindly be described as tasting like generic brand Nilla wafers and leaves a film on your teeth reminiscent of sugary kids' cereals. I thought perhaps that the yogurt clusters would redeem the cereal but not only were there no yogurt clusters in the first two handfuls, I had to remove the bag from the box before I could even see one. In the bottom corner of the bag amidst the broken squares and Life dust were half a handful of pathetically small clusters. I dug some out only to find that they tasted exactly like the Life squares; in a blind taste test it would be nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two elements.

While certainly not the worst cereal I've ever had, Life Vanilla Yogurt is high on the list of most disappointing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tough Talk

More than any policy that I personally oppose, and even more than his chilling attempts to raise his arms, I am terrified by John McCain's dependence on teleprompters. Here he is "passionately" reacting to Obama's declaration of McCain's toughguyism.

I fully understand that a lot of campaign speeches are carefully constructed by enormous teams of strategists, but this method is unnerving. The way he turns his vehemence on and off is embarassing. Are the people in attendance really convinced that he is formulating what to say in his head? And even scarier, are they really pacified even if they know that he isn't?


This a short film by the artist known as BLU.
When the man eats the paper, you know shit is whack.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Teenage angst has paid off well - now I'm bored and old"

Considering recent discussions on the condition of one's twenties, I think we can all agree at least that teenage problems are so passe. While I can certainly drum up some nostalgic enthusiasm for the angsty anthems I used to load on mix tapes, mix cds, and finally mp3 playlists, the apprehension and anxiety of adulthood affords the opportunity for even moodier introspection.

Consider if you will Toni Basil. Best known for her 1982 bubblegum smash "Hey Mickie!" Ms. Basil was charting songs all the way back to the sixties and before she was a 40 year old cheerleader she was faking her age in the opposite direction on "I'm 28," a deliciously dark and moody pop B-side about the pathos of being single, alone, and dreading the fact that your best years might already have passed you by.

Give it a listen here: "I'm 28" mp3 from Bubble-gum Machine

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Larry Gonick

A friend suggested I read his copy of "The Cartoon History of the Universe: Volume III" by Harvard graduate and accomplished cartoonist, Larry Gonick. I read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have since picked up Gonick's "The Cartoon History of the Modern World: Volume I" and am tearing through that book as well. Gonick has written ambitious and incredibly entertaining books on history, science, sex, computers, the environment, etc. for about thirty years. Check out for more. The two books I've read offer immense amounts of information and are consistently engaging. I now have the urge to read all of his books as I feel they will provide me with the kind of background knowledge/context I missed/never got. This quote from Gonick sums up his mission and the spirit of his cartoon texts: "Since 1972, I’ve been creating comics that explain history, science, and other big subjects. Why such heavy stuff? Because I’ve made it my mission to bring people the information they need to make wise decisions about the future of the human community. I’m only trying to save the world here!"

The Dumbest Generation(?)

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, has written a book entitled, "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future." After TAing for upper-level, writing-intensive college courses and seeing the typewritten swill that is trying to be passed off as prose, I'm concerned that Bauerlein may actually be on to something. I haven't read this book yet, but I think I'm going to. Within the next five years, I'm going to be a college professor, so I guess it's time to figure out what I may be up against. And, according to this guy, we're all part of the dumbest generation, so I'd also like to see what crimes against intellectualism we're taking the rap for.

Here's a list of 8 reasons why people shouldn't "trust anyone under 30" taken from the book.

Which ones do people agree with? Disagree with? Any that he left out? And, is anyone else thinking of reading the book?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Alien is My Brother

I assume I'm not the only one who's struggled to reconcile my Catholic faith with a belief in aliens and today straight from the Vatican comes some good news about our souls and the potential souls of our extraterrestrial brothers. Head Vatican astronomer Fr. Jose Gabriel Funes said in an interview with L' Osservatore Romano that believing in extraterrestrial life is not opposed to Catholic doctrine. Repent, rejoice, and look to the skies.

Full Article: Believing in Aliens not Opposed to Christianity, Vatican's Top Astronomer Says

Monday, May 12, 2008

In the Ongoing Theme of Shameless Idolatry...

...Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Leonard Cohen

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The King's Last Hurrah

Having been born well after Elvis had passed on, I understood him and who he was only through cultural cliches and static images. Having dabbled since my birth in a sincere interest in Elvis, I found this clip refreshing. It has given a new life to my understanding of Elvis. For a person that has by and large been reduced to a name, a voice, and a jumpsuit by those who aren't "Elvis people", Elvis was so much more and I think his rendition of "Unchained Melody", including his exit, shows just this.
Notice the fleshy microphone stand.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mattress Man

If you're a fan of the P.T. Anderson film Punchdrunk Love, you probably remember the unforgettable "Mattress Man," played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. What you may not know, is that buried as an extra in the "bonus materials" section of the dvd release is a "Mattress Man" commercial. And what you STILL may not know, is that this commercial is a note-for-note imitation of an ACTUAL commercial.

Here is the remake:

Here is the original:

Is that THE SAME FUCKING LIMO? Yes, I believe it is.

Friday, May 9, 2008

DVD Review: I'm Not There

Directed by Todd Haynes
Starring Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Christian Bale


Consider if you will the following scenarios, both of which really happened:

1. A daring and original filmmaker assembles a star-studded ensemble cast to make a film about a reclusive entertainer living in a world that doesn't make any sense. He fills the soundtrack entirely with Bob Dylan songs, mixing originals with covers by both well known and obscure artists. Dylan fans across the country flock to theaters to get a glimpse into his inner world and hear a rare track recorded with his touring band that has never been officially released before (!).

2. A daring and original filmmaker assembles a star-studded ensemble cast to make a film about a reclusive entertainer living in a world that doesn't make any sense. He fills the soundtrack entirely with Bob Dylan songs, mixing originals with covers by both well known and obscure artists. Dylan fans across the country flock to theaters to get a glimpse into his inner world and hear a rare track recorded with his touring band that has never been officially released before (!).

The first film is of course Bob Dylan's Masked and Anonymous, a bewildering clusterfuck of a film wherein Bob Dylan stars as Jack Fate, a troubador "who was famous long ago" released from prison to play one last show to save the world. At the heart of the soundtrack is a song that makes Dylanophiles salivate: the only existing live recording of "Cold Irons Bound," recorded with perhaps the greatest incarnation of his Never Ending Tour band.

The second film is of course Todd Haynes's I'm Not There, a bewildering clusterfuck of a film wherein six actors play six facets of Bob Dylan's ever changing professional identity. At the heart of the soundtrack is a song that makes Dylanophiles salivate: the only existing live recording of "I'm Not There," recorded with perhaps the greatest incarnation of any of Dylan's touring bands.

Confusing? No, not really. Todd Haynes is by all accounts a talented filmmaker but he is also an avid Dylan fan, an unfortunate character flaw that makes him uniquely unqualified to make a film about the man. Part of the appeal of Dylan's work is his mesmerizingly arrogant sense of entitlement; from nicking melodies and lyrics early in his career to the outright thievery from yakuza novelists and forgotten Civil War poets on his latest albums, Dylan has always appropriated whatever he feels like without apology or acknowledgment. Haynes, who received Dylan's approval to make the film, doesn't exhibit the same artistic chutzpah and I'm Not There commits the gravest of filmmaking sins - coincidentally the same sin committed by nearly every Dylan cover song - it is boring and predictable.

There are certainly inspired moments throughout I'm Not There, but ultimately no matter how many creative casting decisions, visual tricks, and winking references Haynes throws out, the truth of the matter is that his source material is inherently more interesting and capable of initiating challenging discussions on artistic integrity and personal identity in the modern media age than his film is. There is no shortage of iconic imagery and primary source material associated with Dylan - photographers and filmmakers contracted by Dylan and his management traveled with him for the better part of a decade and he gave extensive and frequent interviews - and Haynes does his audience a disservice by shamming rather than re-imagining this material. The Dylan captured by D.A. Pennebaker's cameras from 1965-1966 is infinitely stranger and more fascinating than Cate Blanchett's drag doppelanger and the little black boy pretending to be Woody Guthrie falls short of the real-life Jewish boy spinning fantastic lies of a carnival upbringing on Cynthia Gooding and Studs Terkel's radio shows in the early 1960s. Blanchett's character, Jude Quinn, physically resembles Dylan the most, but she only hints at the incredibly strange femininity and alluring charisma that Dylan exuded during the period. When Blanchett removes her glasses she only manages to look scared and tired whereas in the footage of the un-shaded, "real" Dylan we see in close-up at the end of the film he is shockingly drawn and emaciated, all dead-pan resignation and wasted eroticism. These final moments reveal the truth that I'm Not There spends over two hours building to; the greatest actor to ever play Bob Dylan is, of course, Bob Dylan.

The most interesting sequences in I'm Not There are perhaps not so surprisingly the ones focusing on a man who only pretends to be Dylan. Heath Ledger plays Robbie, an actor famous for playing Jack Rollins (Bale's version of Dylan). Robbie's story borrows just as heavily from the visual iconography of Dylan history, but is unique for being more emotionally and thematically speculative than the other segments. For the most part, Haynes's Dylans are little more than caricatures, the key elements in a series of elaborately arranged yet static tableauxs; Robbie, however, is refreshingly dynamic. Considering Dylan's litigious reaction to his unflattering portrayal in early cuts of last year's Factory Girl, Haynes is treading on very dangerous ground prying into the less glamorous details of Dylan's personal life and Robbie's relationship with his wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg tackling the most elusive and fascinating figure in the Dylan universe) is fiercely combative and engaging. The content and perspective in Dylan's music has always been distinctly masculine - often bordering on outright misogyny - and Haynes's one truly daring move in this film is showing the majority of this segment from Claire's female perspective***. Bookended by beautifully executed sequences set to Dylan's own versions of "I Want You" and "Idiot Wind," Claire and Robbie's story of adult disillusionment following youthful passion most fully illustrates a crucial reality: Dylan, and by association I'm Not There, inevitably falls short of the ludicrous expectations his reputation creates.

Like much of Dylan's own output, I'm Not There is frustratingly inconsistent - a flaw that is only emphasized by the stretches of undeniable brilliance amidst the clutter. Haynes is caught between a rock and a hard place: it is 100% impossible to make a film that simultaneously satisfies Dylan fans as well as less invested audiences. There are plenty of subtle, and not no subtle, references to keep even the most savvy of Dylan fans happy (and any serious fan, whether openly or privately, considers themselves to be THE utmost authority) but these same esoteric tidbits scattered throughout the film are likely to frustrate and confuse neophyte fans. For all its flaws, I'm Not There is a game effort and Haynes deserves grudging respect not just for an innovative and ambitious approach to an impossible task but for daring to take on a lifetime of awkward encounters that begin with," Mr. Haynes, I really liked your movie, BUT...."

*** those interested in a female perspective on Dylan's early career might be interested in Suze Rotolo's upcoming memoir. A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties will be released on May, 13.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cinema Snapshots

Screen tests are used to evaluate an actors suitability for a specific part. Usually shot alone in front of a fixed camera, the actor is given a series of questions and prompts by the casting director who scrutinizes their physical appearance and personality. Old Hollywood screen tests were often silent, used simply to examine how an actor or actress would look on screen. In the 1960s Andy Warhol filmed a series of silent, celebrity screen tests in this style, creating a series of living portraits of artists like Salvador Dali, Bob Dylan, and Alan Ginsberg.

By their very nature, screen tests are awkward and intimate affairs and buried deep in DVD extras and archival footage you can find early auditions - both failed and successful - that provide a glimpse of the process that makes or breaks an actor. Below is a playlist of seven famous screen tests. They range from newcomers like Jean-Pierre Leaud searching for his first break to Greta Garbo's final footage as she tried to make a comeback.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Beginning of the end...

The democratic race has been painful to watch, and after today, the votes will be counted and, for what it's worth, it'll be basically over for the voters. Sadly, I've contracted the voter fatigue that critics think may do in the democrats' chance of winning this election. Because this race has been so tight for so long (which isn't a bad thing per se - it shows that our democracy is working), the candidates have resorted to pandering to blue collar workers and the middle class (i.e., the type of family many of us reading this blog are from). In some ways, it's nice to see the candidates showing that they can relate to the common people. But, it'd be more sincere if the candidates told it like it is: "Hey, show me what you do around here. Tell me what concerns you in this town. What do your kids do for fun? How are the schools?" Obviously, the candidates are now VERY far removed from the everyday lifestyle of a blue collar worker, even if that's where they came from originally.

Here's an article from the Washington Post talking about the candidates' recent blue-collar escapades.

I can't remember if it was Colbert or Stewart who talked about Hilary's fake Southern accent now that she's campaigning in North Carolina. I tried finding it on YouTube, but I haven't located it yet. Check it out if you can; it's pretty funny.

Glitter and Doom Tour

Recording artist Tom Waits announced he will be embarking on a rare live tour this summer across southern America. For an explanation of his unusual tour route, watch this press conference.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Movie Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand


Plots for romantic comedies are never especially original and since Forgetting Sarah Marshall so helpfully provides the gist of the movie right in the title, I'll keep the synopsis portion of this review brief: television score composer Peter Bretter goes on a Hawaiian vacation to forget his actress ex-girlfriend only to discover that she is staying at the same resort with her new rock star boyfriend. Awkward antics ensue.

Written by and starring long-time Apatow regular Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall inevitably must be compared to the recent slew of Judd Apatow produced movies that have flooded the market. For better or for worse all of those films have adhered to the same There's Something About Mary model of infusing third rate romantic comedy plotlines with elevated levels of profanity and risque humor and then casting overweight or unattractive male comedians opposite B-list starlets to draw in male and female fans alike. Though undeniably financially successful - somewhere studio execs are still in disbelief over just how many 18-24 year old males they tricked into buying tickets for 9 Months II - this model has yielded films that lack comedic consistency and that usually fall short even of the modest story standards set by the unapologetically trite and predictable romantic comedy genre. I recently read an article on The Asylum, the company that produces straight to DVD mockbusters like Transmorphers and Snakes on a Train, and found an uncanny parallel between their business model and Apatow's. When their Japanese buyers requested a submarine movie - a genre their monster craving US buyers had no interest in - Asylum responded by inserting a giant squid and calling it 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea. As Asylum exec David Latt noted, "the big submarine battles made the Japanese happy, the giant squid satisfied our domestic buyers, and we got to make a really fun movie."

Like Asylum, Apatow draws on a small pool of writers, directors, and actors to work on his films and everyone involved seems to be having an excellent time (check or the DVD extras of any of these films for further proof of the non-stop behind the scenes fun). Although some of Apatow's early players have graduated on to careers of varying levels of success (Linda Cardellini for example has done some quality dramatic work under the radar) most alums have had their greatest success working within the safe confines of the Apatow world (see Seth Rogen and the otherwise unemployed Martin Starr). Jason Segel has been working with Apatow since the Freaks & Geeks days and although he has enjoyed some success outside of the Apatow world on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, major film roles have not been forthcoming and it comes as no surprise that Segel returns to the fold for his first starring feature.

Although Forgetting Sarah Marshall has the requisite raunchy humor of its predecessors, it is far less concerned with hiding its romantic comedy roots and as such avoids the filmic identity crisis that crippled Knocked Up. Segel throws in plenty of frontal male nudity and similar low brow sight gags at us early on but the film quickly settles into a comfortable and predictable girl leaves boy, boy meets new girl who helps him rediscover his passion for life love story. Segel has been playing variations on the same well-intentioned, romantic screw-up since his days as Nick on Freaks & Geeks and, while he may not be proving himself to be especially versatile, there's no denying that he has the part down cold. As per usual with Apatow films, the best lines all go to male characters and the female parts are appallingly one-dimensional and underwritten. In past films, talented actresses like Catherine Keener and Leslie Mann have managed to coax substantial performances from woefully thin material but Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis lack their acting chops. They do as well as can be expected with what they're given to work with but both end up spending long stretches of the film with nothing to do but stand around looking pretty (ironically, one of the few scenes that allows them to show some personality actually involves them mutually complimenting one another on being pretty). Despite these shortcomings there are some bright spots in the movie. There is genuine chemistry between Segel and Bell and newcomer Russell Brand as Sarah's new rock star beau steals every scene he's in; unfortunately, pointless, momentum killing cameos from Apatow regulars take precedence over fleshing out these more interesting main characters.

Chances are you've already made your mind up about the Apatow family of films and if you loved Knocked Up and Superbad you'll probably find this entry lacking; however, if you found Knocked Up derivative and Superbad insufferable, you might find this one surprisingly watchable. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a much more modest film and as such a more successful one; it makes a play for fans across genres, but for the most part Segel sticks to his strengths and the result is an unremarkable yet respectable romantic comedy for young adults.

Final verdict: No matter what side of the fence you're on in regards to Apatow films, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is lightweight, unoffensive fare worth a matinee-priced ticket or rental.

25 Years of Tom Cruise being a Celebrity!!!

Nauseous, disgusted, Dakota Fanninged, impressed. These are all emotions I felt while watching Oprah Winfrey's Tom Cruise Ass-Kiss-A-Thon called "25 years of Tom Cruise". Watching past cast-mates and collaborators like Dustin Hoffman (who was actually more retarded in the shout out than he was in Rain Man) to Steven Speilberg to oh so creepy and 10 going on 75 Dakota Fanning sharing and telling glorious, flowery memories of their days spent working with Mr. Cruise deeply affected me. I was nauseous because it was disgusting, I was then Fanninged by Dakota Fanning and overall I was impressed that Oprah Winfrey would take time out of her busy schedule of giving things away to audience members to honor such an American Icon and level 4 Scientologist such as Tom Cruise. Not only did Mr. Cruise do a KILLER Jack Nicholson impression... he didn't jump on any couches! Cruise just sort of sat there with his chiseled features, smiling and possibly levitating audience members off-camera with his mind, while other celebrities talked about how "great" and "awesome" he is and was and would be to work with. I retract my notion that Oprah stopped doing what she does five days a week at Harpo Studios, each audience member received a Tom Cruise DVD box set (sick!) and a special edition of "Risky Business" (heyooo!). I can't wait till the 50th anniversary.

Product Review: Kashi TLC - Natural Ranch Tasty Little Crackers

For those who know me, this will come as no surprise: I do not like foods with strong tastes. For me, usually, the blander, the better.

With that said, I would like to offer a review of Kashi Natural Ranch TLC all natural snack crackers. Kashi has wittily used the acronym TLC to refer to “tasty little crackers.” After tasting these crackers, I have to ask, who wouldn’t want to give themselves a little TLC with these TLCs?

Aesthetically, they leave something to be desired; they look like a snack you may give a small rodent or bird. And, the consistency is what you’d expect from a cracker made from 7 whole grains, and no hydrogenated oils or trans fats – crispy and grainy. Don’t be surprised if you get a seed stuck in your teeth. However, the taste is absolutely heavenly: Earthy, hearty, with the slightest hint of ranch. After you take a sip of water, the taste is essentially completely cleared from your pallet, unlike many other ranch flavored snacks that seem to linger for hours on the back of your tongue.

While not particularly high in fiber (8% of your daily suggested value per serving), the sodium content is extremely low for a salty snack at 200mg. And as we all know, foods sans trans fats and high in whole grains are heart-healthy!

I bought these crackers at a small, over-priced campus grocer for $3.49, but I’m sure in a more traditional grocery store, they’d be much cheaper. If you can’t find them with the other snack crackers, try the health food aisle.

German Idealism REDUX

If philosophy isn't your cup of tea, please scroll down and enjoy Josh's delightfully introduced link to TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People list. For everyone else, please enjoy/criticize the following:

The ALL – The concept of ALL is similar in function and nature to the concept of infinity. That is, both consist in irony. In other words, the concept ALL is not and can never be identical to the ALL per se. Infinity and the ALL are both originally and essentially positive. Subjectivity itself is defined by the revelation of the ALL as differentiable, which consists in negation, i.e. subjectivity.


The ALL and its remainder – If the ALL is fundamentally a paradox, like nothing and infinity, there is an insurmountable chasm between the sign and the signified. These words by definition resist identity-thinking because they are expressly non-identical to that which they refer to.


The primacy of belief – Any and all forms of negation consist in belief. Belief itself can be divided into justified belief (knowledge) and dogmatic belief (faith). The structure of belief is a wall, or a point beyond which questions pertaining to the ontology of that which is in question become incoherent and unintelligible. The wall of knowledge is the cogito, while the wall of faith is the ALL.


What does it mean to disbelieve? – To disbelieve is the essence of skepticism, which itself paves the ultimate path to pure knowledge. Skepticism recognizes the fundamental reality that all positive knowledge really consists in negation, and thus all knowledge consists in belief. In fact, Hegel’s project in the Phenomenology consists largely in showing that Kant provides a realization of this paradigm, insofar as he assumes an absolute skepticism towards reality per se, and imagines a secondary contingent reality – the phenomenal realm, or realm of possible subjective experience – of which, he claims, positively justified knowledge can be known. As an idealist, Kant had faith in this distinction. He achieves the absolute separation between the subject and the object by creating an absolute separation between the object and non-objective reality, or the ALL. By dividing the ALL per se into phenomena and noumena and simultaneously extracting the subject from the ALL, we are confronted with the absolute, unquestionable subject/object distinction.


Hegel vs. Kant – In response to the unquestioned irony built into Kant’s epistemology, Hegel inverts Kant’s reality by giving phenomena primacy and dismissing noumena, which cannot be objectively known, as “less than shadows.” Hegel’s distressing fear of irony* forces him into a repetitious, often circular epistemology that aims at a communion of subject and object. Hegel’s Absolute, the totality of objectively knowable reality (thus everything), has no outside and thus claims to be the ALL not simply identified, but identified as the totality of that which is always already becoming.

*Hegel and Irony – It is not irony in itself that Hegel fears; it is the unexamined, assumed irony that Kant unquestioningly uses as the bedrock upon which he erects his three critiques. Attempting to overcome irony, rather than ignore it, although necessarily futile, proves to be the nature of life itself. Thus when we find that Kant was bound to his hometown and was no traveler to say the least, the hermetical odor that pervades his work makes perfect sense, while Hegel, not afraid to confront uncertainty without writing it off as such, produced works that have a far more human flavor. Hegel’s Romantic grandiosity exists in truth, while Kant’s certainty-driven epistemology exists for truth.


Apperception as negation – Apperception is essentially negation. In other words, if I call to mind the fact that I am currently formulating ideas and writing, I am essentially saying that I am absolutely doing nothing else, thereby making an a priori objective statement. If the conditions of the possibility of my formulating ideas and writing are met, I am necessarily doing nothing else but formulating ideas and writing. In order to believe this to be a proper description of reality, I must grant knowledge – i.e. the primacy of the objectively answerable question – primacy. Pure knowledge, of course, does not consist in positivity, but in negativity. As an epistemologist, Kant had to first negate reality (ignore it as unknowable) in order to assert anything positive about it (as phenomenal reality). Pure knowledge requires that we disbelieve that it is itself a form of belief.


All knowledge is reducible to self-knowledge – Within the Kantian framework, knowledge can be reduced to self-knowledge insofar there is only one Self, i.e. the rational agent. Within the Hegelian framework, knowledge can be reduced to self-knowledge insofar as there is only one Self, i.e. the Absolute, or Geist. The difference between these two notions of Self is a variation on the subject/object theme, which itself is a variation on the opening theme, that of the ALL. Specifically, the Kantian Self consists in an absolute separation from the world, i.e. the universe not only exists independently of Self, but Self probably can’t even say anything necessarily true about the universe. The Hegelian Self, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with collapsing this differentiation by a return to ALL. In religious terms, we are faced here with the schism between Protestantism and Catholicism. The Kantian world has no metaphysical structure beyond our ability to describe it in terms of how we confront it, while the Hegelian world resolves into the Self by making the Self, or subject, not an object, but the Object.


The Voice of the Remainder – Kant’s world, though like Descartes he didn’t necessarily intend it to, annihilates the remainder through the doctrine of “the condition of the possibility.” Thereby, Kant sees but does not hear the remainder. On the other hand, Hegel annihilates the remainder through his rigorous practice of the science of phenomenology, or the taking of phenomena as more real than noumena. Thereby, Hegel hears but does not see the remainder.


Transcendence and Immanence - Kant believes in an outer ultimate reality, while Hegel believes in an inner ultimate reality.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Who's Your #1?

TIME magazine just published their list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The list covers world leaders, scientists, artists, and captains of industry.

100 Most Influential People - complete list

Just for kicks, go through and see how many names you recognize. I got 33/100, taking a big hit on the Scientists & Thinkers and Builders & Titans sections. I did significantly better identifying selections from the preview for PEOPLE magazine's upcoming 100 Most Beautiful People list.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I hate to sound like a total pussy but here goes

I like cleanliness. It's a good part of life. Smelly people are smelly because they simply don't give a shit about whether they smell or not. Like I said I enjoy smelling nice. Granted I don't wear cologne, cologne is for _____________. Although if you read this blog and you do put on cologne, ignore my statement. Perfume on a woman is fine. Regardless my last entry had to do with a hand soap that is quite unbelievable. There happens to be one more thing that smells nice and makes me happy. It's a simple car air freshener. It's made by Yankee Candle company. Many of you probably have them. This is sort of a product review but I'm not reviewing the Yankee Candle car air fresheners in general, but instead one fragrance of car air freshener: MidSummer's Night Car Jar. They call it a car jar because they are corny and they want to pretend like you have an actual candle hanging from your rearview mirror but instead it's really just an air freshener. MidSummer's Night is the manliest scent they sell but because I grew up with an obsessive compulsive Mother and I dealt with fresh smelling scents all over the household I wanted something I could feel comfortable with. I get the same car air freshener every Christmas in my stocking and recently I found one in a coat pocket I hadn't worn in a while (WHAT A SURPRISE!). When I found the Car Jar, needless to say I was pretty excited. I'll take a MidSummer's Night from Yankee Candle over a generic "New Car" scent any day of the week. If you haven't experienced a long drive with one of these things dangling from your rearview mirror---you truly are missing out. So do your car a favor and buy one.

5/5 Fo' real, son.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes

As a companion to the previous post on Slavoj Zizek's Pervert's Guide to Cinema I suggest reading his article "Revenge of Global Finance" in which he incorporates an analysis of Star Wars Episode III: the Revenge of the Sith into his commentary on capitalist society. The article is a good example of how he uses popular culture to illuminate his commentary on more "important" subjects. In the article, Zizek leaves the obvious criticism of Revenge of the Sith's considerable flaws to lesser critics and offers up a more thorough critique of the film's shortcomings. A sample:

And—back to the Revenge of the Sith—the price for the film’s sticking to these same New Age motifs is not only its ideological confusion, but, simultaneously, its inferior narrative quality. These motifs are why Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader—the series’ pivotal moment—lacks the proper tragic grandeur. Instead of focusing on Anakin’s hubris as an overwhelming desire to intervene, to do Good, to go to the end for those he loves and thus fall to the Dark Side, Anakin is simply shown as an indecisive warrior who is gradually sliding into Evil by giving way to the temptation of Power, by falling under the spell of the evil Emperor. In other words, Lucas lacked the nerve to really apply his parallel between the shift of the Republic to Empire and of Anakin to Darth Vader. Anakin should have become a monster out his very excessive attachment with seeing Evil everywhere and fighting it.

I've always been of the opinion that the essential story of Anakin's downfall is more powerful and compelling than that of nearly any film or novel ever published and that the film's failure to even remotely live up to its considerable potential is possibly the greatest theoretical tragedy in modern art (imagine if Picasso had decided to go through a blind-folded period from 1901 -1912). Zizek's article goes on to examine the troubling ideology that is shaping modern capitalism, but I'm glad that he took time out of his undoubtedly busy life to comment on the grave artistic injustice perpetrated by Mr. Lucas on us all.

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

Recognized the world over as one of the preeminent social theorists to emerge at the end of the 20th century, Slavoj Zizek is one of the rare intellectuals who has made the jump from academic authority to cultural celebrity. Recently he made a stir in the academic world by writing captions for photos in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Questioned as to whether this was an appropriate application of his considerable intellectual talents, Zizek replied that he would rather make money writing ad copy than "kissing ass to get a tenured post." A charismatic and engaging speaker, Zizek unapologetically simplifies the content of his work during public lectures and television appearances, often making comments that seem contradictory to his published materials (if you're looking to waste some time, a YouTube search of 'slavoj zizek' yields a wealth of entertaining and thought provoking clips).

Zizek is the subject of numerous profiles and videos (I had to watch Zizek! in a class and would highly recommend it) and the latest film issue of The Believer magazine includes a DVD of part one of his recent film The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Originally broadcast on British television, The Pervert's Guide provides a crash course on psychoanalytic film criticism as well as Zizek's own thoughts on human desire and the nature of reality. He covers films as diverse as Vertigo and Revenge of the Sith and his commentary comes across more like astute observations from an enthusiastic fan than serious criticism from one of the world's most renowned thinkers. You might not learn anything profound about any of these films, but watching Zizek deliver sweaty, over-enunciated commentary from inside faithful set recreations of the scenes being analyzed is wildly entertaining. He delivers a lecture on the superego from Norman Bates' basement and sits casually on the hotel toilet from The Conversation whilst discussing perception and desire.

Currently unavailable on Netflix, you can get the first hour of The Pervert's Guide to Cinema with a copy of The Believer (the issue also has a great feature breaking down the budget of a feature film) or seek out a copy online.

I've included a sample clip below, and if this is your type of thing, the entire film is available on YouTube (I'm too lazy to stitch together all 15 segments into a playlist here on The Molly; just search "perverts guide to cinema" and they should all come up)