November 20, 2005

Ray Charles and Johnny Cash

Their life stories, as told in the movies, follow similar courses. Let's see how...
RayWalk The Line
ParentsMother offers tough love to newly blinded son. Father, absent. Mother's love, passive. Father thinks Johnny is useless, never has a kind word for him.
Brother Dies TragicallyBrother George drowns while Ray stands and watches. Brother Jack gets chewed up by circular saw while Johnny goes fishin'.
Parents BlameMother asks "Why didn't you do somethin'?" Father asks "Where were you?!"
Leaving HomeCharles's mother sticks him on a bus bound for a school for the blind. Johnny leaves home on a bus bound for the Air Force.
Marries PoorlyMarries a gospel singer who just wants to settle down and raise a family.Marries a hometown girl who just wants to settle down and raise a family.
Iconic ImageAt his first audition, Ray is given sunglasses to hide his blindness. At his first audition, Cash and his band wear all-black because that's "the only color shirt all three [band members] own"
First Public PerformanceRay comes across as awkward and uncool, but immediately wows the crowd with his raw talent.Cash comes across as nervous and dorky, but immediately wows the crowd with his raw talent.
Infidelity on the RoadBeds every beautiful woman he meets, including backup singer Margie Hendricks. In love with June Carter from the moment they meet. Pledges his love via romantic duets onstage, uninvited kisses in motel room doorways, and spontaneous marriage proposals. Cash also is seduced by teenage fans backstage.
Substance AbuseSeeks out heroin from his junkie bandmembers, becomes hooked.Offered amphetamines by roadies, becomes hooked. Drinks beer constantly.
Strung OutSweaty Ray trashes bathroom, ends up on floor. Sweaty Johnny trashes bathroom, ends up on floor.
Jail TimeFinally nabbed by Feds for travelling back from Canada with drugs. Finally nabbed by Feds for travelling back from Mexico with drugs.
Rock BottomEnters rehab to avoid jail time, sweats out cold turkey withdrawal. Crashes tractor into lake, sweats out cold turkey withdrawal.
Gets His S**t Back TogetherMovie ends with Charles still in rehab-- his new, clean lifestyle is recounted in the end title cards. Movie ends with Cash and Carter getting engaged-- his successful marriage is recounted in the end title cards.

Walk The Line

walkthelineJoaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon no longer have anything to prove- they both turn in masterful performances in this above-average biography with quality acting and breathtaking musical performances. The story is too reminiscent of Ray to offer any surprises, but Phoenix draws on a deep well of emotion over his own brother River Phoenix's death to inhabit this role: a man who always belived that his late brother was a better person that he, so Cash never tries to make something of himself when he belives he can never equal what he lost in his brother. Witherspoon has the luxury of a well-drawn role of her own: the good girl from a religious family who can't live down her failures in marriage, and is hanuted by dashed expectations. (AMC Burlington)

November 19, 2005

Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

harrypotter4Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings & A Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin) deserves to be knighted by the Queen for the heroic effort in making a watchable movie out of an insanely dense and long novel. I didn't realize exactly the scope of the challenge until we saw the movie Saturday night. Besides ruthlessly cutting out plots and subplots (house elves, Quiddich, Rita Skeeter, the Dursleys, Mrs. Weasley, all either cut out or barely present), Newell valiantly struggles to keep this intensely episodic story moving. The previous installment, Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, was delightfully organic and lyrical. This film, by contrast, was choppy and full of rough tone changes, but the whole story gets told in an entertaining manner, and that's all we could ask for.
The three kids are still very accomplished in their roles, Michael Gambon has made me forget the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore, David Tennant is intensely crazy in his few scenes as Barty Crouch Jr., and Ralph Fiennes is spot on as Voldemort. Brendan Gleeson delightfully chews up the scenery as the ex-Auror, paranoid veteran Alastor 'Mad–Eye' Moody. (AMC Fenway, November 19 2005)

SECOND VIEWING: February 11, 2006
Goblet was definitely better the second time around. We didn't need to focus on the plot, and which parts were left in and taken out. Instead, we focused on the subtext and the small details. We had a nice time despite the presence of many under-10-year-olds at this PG-13 movie.

Sure, it's easy for me to complain about parents when I am not one myself, but it seems like too many parents think babysitters are a costly option, not a necessity. It's not okay to bring a 5 year old to the movies, unless there's a monkey and a Man in a Yellow Hat. If the child does not know how to whisper in your ear, they should stay at home. Remember, this is a movie with tortured children (Harry is cut by Wormtail and suffers Voldemort's touch), murdered children (Diggory), Wormtail's hand is chopped off, and Voldemort himself, the personification of nightmare material. (Arlington Capitol Theater)

November 12, 2005

106: Sunrise

The Cover is a snap I took just before daybreak in Elizabeth, New Jersey on Thanksgiving morning 2005, as my wife and I awoke extra early to go see the Macy's parade.
This disc has no title. I created the packaging for #105, 106, and 107 all in one shot, and I was not inspired with titles.
I will say I spent more time on the back covers than I ever had before, and I am really happy with the result. Perhaps I was feeling particularly OCD that week, but I was intent on creating a custom-made pre-printed "form" to fill out, with little boxes for each bit of information.
  1. Don't Stop Me Now - Queen, as heard in Shaun Of The Dead.
  2. Lovely Day - Bill Withers
  3. Deacon Blues - "Steely Dan is not one guy!"
  4. I Can't Make You Love Me - Bonnie Raitt
  5. Walk In The Sun - Bruce Hornsby
  6. Thin Line Between Love and Hate - The Persuasions (1973)
  7. Margarita - The Traveling Wilburys
  8. Wild Mountain Honey - When I was a teenage DJ at WBMT 88.3 FM, We played a LOT of Steve Miller. Our Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits LP got a lot of use. It was nice to include Mr. Miller on one of my mixes for the first time in at least 10 years!
  9. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart - You might think it impossible to include this Wilco song on a mix, but I think I pulled it off. Sandwiched between a trippy 1970s song and a loopy 1980s song, I think it works.
  10. America Is Waiting - When I was a college DJ at WERS 88.9 FM, I played this sample-heavy experiment-rock track from David Byrne & Brian Eno on the afternoon world music/jazz fusion/experimental show Gyroscope.
  11. Screenwriter's Blues - Soul Coughing
  12. Desire - The "Hollywood Remix" of the U2 song.
  13. Mass Romantic - New Pornographers
  14. All The Right Friends - A surprisingly retrograde R.E.M. song from the Vanilla Sky movie soundtrack.
  15. Panic - The Smiths
  16. Soap Star Joe - This Liz Phair track brings the mix to a dead halt. I should have cut it out.
  17. Frere Jacques - The famous nursery rhyme, recorded in the style of "The Space Between" by Dave Matthews Band, credited to "Dave Math Shoes". I found the web site advertising this collection and I loved it.
  18. A Bit Of Alright - Paul Peña wrote the song "Jet Airliner" which Steve Miller made a smash hit. This song was (at the time) used in TV commercials.

November 4, 2005

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

kisskissShane Black has returned to the genre he reinvented in the 1980s -- the buddy action comedy -- with this funny, violent, densely-packed directing debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Hapless crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), accidentally immersed into the Hollywood machine, is plunged into a classic Chandler-style murder mystery, involving his hometown crush-turned-aspiring actress Harmony (a breakout performance from Michelle Monaghan) and a gay private detective (Val Kilmer, in his first comedy since Real Genius). The dialog is rapid-fire, the mystery tortuous and satisfying, and the violence is slightly gratuitous but creative, in other words, a typical Shane Black screenplay (see Lethal Weapon 1 and 2, The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight) .

This movie is good enough to be a big hit, even if it is lacking all the ingredients to be a big box office success: it doesn't have the kind of box office stars which make the youth of America come to the theater (which is ridiculous), and it's rated R (which is supposed to keep kids away from the language, violence and sexuality/nudity). The nearest comparison would be the success of Pulp Fiction, although Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is unlikely to be a Oscar-winner and cultural icon. (West Newton Cinema)

November 3, 2005

Only On Home Video: 1995-2004

This movie diary is a tribute to all the movies, good and bad, I have seen in a theater. These pages give me the opportunity to praise movies I love, but this document only tells part of the story. While I have visited movie theaters more than forty times per year for over a decade, some gems still slip through my fingers. After exhausting research, I have compiled a list of the Top Ten Best Movies, which I missed in theaters. I had to set a cut-off point to keep the list from growing too large (no one wants to read my Top 50!) so I restricted the list to movies I love which I missed in theaters since 1995. In Alphabetical Order:
  • Boogie Nights (1997) I missed this Los Angeles porn epic, probably because my then-wife would have hated it. I was living in Portland, Maine at the time, so who knows if P.T. Anderson's sexy masterpiece had a theatrical exhibition out in the sticks, anyways.
  • Clueless (1995) This "Emma In L.A." is still cute, smart, and funny, 10+ years later. It must have seemed kind of silly and inconsequential at the time.
  • Dark City (1998) Why did I miss this movie in theaters? It's a challenging premise with no "stars", and frankly, the trailer for the movie was badly assembled.
  • Desperado (1995) I don't know why I missed this one.
  • Galaxy Quest (1999) In an unprecedented endorsement, my parents called me right after they saw this movie, to praise how great this movie is. I saw The Sixth Sense that weekend instead, and missed this great comedy.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) I had enjoyed the Coen Brothers's Fargo and The Hudsucker Proxy, but I hated The Big Lebowski. HATED IT. So when their subsequent movie came out, I avoided it. Only when my friend Dan forced me to watch it in 2001 did I realize what I had missed.
  • Office Space (1999) I'm hardly the only person who missed this movie in theaters, then discovered it on home video.
  • Out of Sight (1998) In 1998, I didn't give a rat's ass about George Clooney or Jennifer Lopez. I still don't care about J-Lo, but she was great in this Steven Soderbergh movie.
  • Shaun of the Dead (2004) Another movie which didn't look as funny in commercials as it turned out to be. Emily and I came very close to seeing this in the theater, but never quite pulled the trigger. Thanks HBO!
  • The Tao Of Steve (2000) I remember reading a magazine or newspaper feature about this movie and it's director. I rented it from Netflix in 2001, a year when I rented dozens of movies to fill my newly-free time: In 2001 I was freshly divorced, living with my parents, mostly unemployed. This small, romantic movie about a underachieving, overweight-yet-charming guy (Donal Logue) who happens to look a lot like me won me over. I went to a New Year's party full of strangers that year, and everyone started calling me Steve, after this movie.


shopgirlA worthwhile if occasionally clumsy romance, Shopgirl examines what a male infatuation is like for the object of male desire: Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a kind, sweethearted artist who escaped the frozen wastes of Vermont for a lonely existence in the tangles of Los Angeles. Two men fall for her on first sight: kindly but emotionally detached millionaire Ray (Steve Martin) and sweet but aimless Justin (Jason Schwartzman). Martin and Schwartzman play their roles with care and affection, but they are drawn as ridiculously polar opposites. Steve Martin the screenwriter seems to be drawn to this feeling-versus-thinking, brains-or-body dynamic: His original screenplays L.A. Story and Roxanne both cover this same idea. In L.A. Story, Harris K. Telemacher struggles to choose between sexy free-spirit SanDeE* and eccentric and plain Englishwoman Victoria Tennant. Steve Martin plays brainy, witty, nose-y C.D. Bales, versus sexy, brain-free Chris (Rick Rossovich) in Roxanne.

Besides the ham-handed symbolism (yeah, we get it, Justin's poor and unrefined, and Martin is rich and polite!) the overbearing, overloud musical score made the movie feel twice as long as it should. The repeating theme sounded like Bernard Hermann's Vertigo- it made me dizzy and logy.

Director Anand Tucker (Hilary & Jackie) apparently has never been to Los Angeles before, and has never seen a movie set there either- the recurring helicopter shots of the clogged freeways are terribly cliched and stock, as if there was no other way to illustrate the locale of the movie. The establishing shot of Saks Fifth Avenue's exterior was exactly the same in each instance: How about a different angle, or different time of day?

I am hardly a follower of the Claire Danes oevure. Danes's films I have seen (on the big screen or TV) include Little Women, How To Make an American Quilt, Home for the Holidays, Romeo + Juliet, and Les Miserables. However, I was very taken with her performance: At the age of 26, Danes begins this movie a shopgirl and ends it a woman.(Kendall Square Cinemas) .

November 1, 2005

105: Apple

The Cover Photo is my wife's hand holding a freshly-picked apple October 16, 2005.
This disc has no title. I created the packaging for #105, 106, and 107 all in one shot, and I was not inspired with titles.
I will say I spent more time on the back covers than I ever had before, and I am really happy with the result. Perhaps I was feeling particularly OCD that week, but I was intent on creating a custom-made pre-printed "form" to fill out, with little boxes for each bit of information.
  1. Never Destroy Us - I found this song by The Dears when researching music for our SXSW trip earlier that year.
  2. Count On My Love - I don't apologize for liking all phases of Liz Phair's career, from the lo-fi indie rock to the current hi-fi power pop.
  3. When My Baby's Beside Me - You can only read so many critics saying how awesome Big Star are before you buy their CD for yourself.
  4. Who Did You Think I Was? - This is from John Mayer's attempt to be taken seriously as a blues-rock trio.
  5. Times Like These - Foo Fighters
  6. Chest Fever - The Band
  7. Diddley Daddy - Bo Diddley
  8. Hickory Wind - You can only read so many critics saying how awesome Sweetheart of the Rodeo is before you go buy The Byrds CD for yourself.
  9. Photograph - The first time I heard this Jamie Cullum song, I thought he sounded *exactly* like Paul McCartney. The rest of this CD is a little too jazz-y for my taste.
  10. Fine Line - Paul McCartney
  11. Something Wild - Maia Sharp was the female singer Du Jour on the radio that week.
  12. No Way To Treat A Lady - Canadian rocker Bryan Adams had a flourishing sideline as a tunesmith for other artists. Along with his writing partner Jim Vallance, Adams contributed songs for KISS, Krokus, .38 Special, and Joe Cocker, among others. Two women named Bonnie covered this song: Bonnie "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Tyler, and Bonnie "A dozen Grammys" Raitt.
  13. Get Your Hands off My Woman - Ben Folds
  14. Don't Pass Me By - The Georgia Satellites cover Ringo's song as a Southern-fried rave up.
  15. Free Girl Now - I had this Tom Petty CD single lying around for 5 years without listening to it. I finally cracked the seal and gave it a slot on this mix.
  16. Eight Years Old - I generally like Ben Lee, but I was trying too hard to find new music when I picked this track off one of his CDs for this mix.
  17. Paul Newman's Eyes - I saw Dogs Die In Hot Cars at SXSW that spring.
  18. Forty Feet - Franz Ferdinand
  19. Vox Humana - I saw this terrible Kenny Loggins video on "V-66" when I was a teenager, and I bought the cassette.
  20. Sleeping Bag - ZZ Top