November 28, 2008


A good old-fashioned epic romance, at long last Australian director Baz Luhrmann tells the entire history of his homeland in a 165-minute saga. Luhrmann is making a style homage here, almost as classic as Far From Heaven. Baz has clearly wanted to make an old-fashioned romance for his native land, and he has done so, including location photography combined with the classic "campfire on a soundstage" look of old movies. There are plenty of outdoor scenes where the lighting is obviously artificial, and my wife thinks a lot of color-adjusting was going on (a la O Brother Where Art Thou)- she noticed one scene in particular where the blue sky was a perfect match for David Wenham's irises. I noticed some special effects in Hugh Jackman's facial hair- at age 39, are we supposed to believe that Hugh's beard is 100% brown? He looked like a three-hour Just For Men For
Beards commercial.
Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, a headstrong fish out of water, crossing the hemisphere to dispose of her unfaithful husband's cattle ranch. If the premise sounds like a remake of Out Of Africa, you're not alone! Ashley enlists Hugh Jackman's cowboy The Drover, to "drove" 1,500 head of cattle to Darwin to break the monopoly of King Carney and his wicked son (Bryan Brown and David Wenham.) This section feels a bit like City Slickers, but ends before it gets too tedious. Along the way, Ashley and the Drover become the surrogate parents of Nullah (Brandon Walters), a 10-year-old half-Aboriginal orphan, who acts as the movie's narrator, soul, and the director's proxy for the long legacy of racism and abuse of Aboriginals, especially Aboriginal youths in Australia. Luhrmann tries to tell the entire history of Aboriginals in Australia through Nullah and his family, which mostly works, but sometimes becomes preachy and forced. Walters is a heartbreaking revelation, jerking tears from the audience every time he is separated, then rejoined, with those he loves. The last third of the movie tells the story of Australia's own Pearl Harbor, a Japanese aerial bombing of Darwin shortly after Pearl Harbor in 1941. While the movie tries to pack in a lot of history, and several lengthy stories into its 165 minutes, the pacing is actually quite brisk, and the editing and cinematography are quite fluid and dynamic. There are lots of effects shots, to include WWII-era ships, planes, etc, but they are rendered with less compulsive perfectionism (see Titanic) and more lyrical impressionism, like you'd see in an old 1950s movie. Hugh Jackman earned his "Sexiest Man Alive" crown with his portrayal of The Drover, a classic cowboy crossed with Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. Whether he was filthy and bearded, shirtless and soapy, or smooth and tuxedo-ed, Jackman had hearts a-twitter throughout the theater. Nicole Kidman somehow managed to stay pale and pristine throughout- she must hold a patent on 1,000 SPF sunblock to remain porcelain throughout a movie set in the Outback! I certainly enjoyed myself, I was never bored, and I even leaked a few tears in this old-school epic romance. (At the Somerville Theater, the day after Thanksgiving, with my wife, plus Debbie, Kathy, Becca, and Sara)

November 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace

In the first "direct sequel" Bond movie, 007 continues to backtrack the organization which conspired to kill his would-be girlfriend Vesper Lynd. He discovers a worldwide secret society codenamed QUANTUM. This organization is kind of like Enron crossed with Halliburton, and the still-green Bond is outsmarted at almost every turn, leaving everyone around him dead.
SPOILERS APLENTY: The villains don't seem particularly powerful or memorable: the main heavy, Dominic Green, is played by another in a long series of sallow-faced, black-eyed actors from Europe: French actor Mathieu Amalric. He's basically swindling a series of third world countries out of their resources. It's true that resources are the source of true world power in the 21st century, but there simply wasn't enough at stake at the climax of the movie. Nuclear bombs and space lasers inflict permanent and devastating damage. All Bond would have to do to undo Green's villany is tear up a few contracts. I'm not asking for volcano lairs or submarine-swallowing ships, but toppling an evil Enron is a little tame and ordinary.
Bond keeps crossing paths with Camille, a tough and angry woman with a indeterminate past and muddy accent: Russian actress Olga Kurylenko. It turns out Camille and Bond are on parallel and complimentary missions: she's on a revenge trip after her family was murdered. Bond has crossed paths like this before. This subplot is lifted directly from Goldfinger, where the sister of the woman who was painted gold attempted to avenge her sister on Goldfinger. I found this subplot boring, and the acting of Kurylenko didn't draw me in or make me care what happened to her. My wife pointed out that it's a sign of progress in a Bond movie when a Bond Girl gets a subplot of her own, with her own motivations, and she doesn't sleep with Bond either.
The good news is, the action sequences were all top-notch, equal to the standard set in Casino Royale. The opening car chase was spectacular, the fistfights were great, and the footchases were still exciting and fresh.
2017 Update: watching it again, I gritted my teeth through maybe the darkest sequence in any Bond movie. Several people very close to Bond have died over the years, but the death of Mathis was pathetic and grim: Bond talks his retired fellow agent Mathis into helping him. During the mission, Mathis is shot in Bond's arms and dies pitifully. As he's dumping Mathis' still-warm body in a nearby dumpster, Camille asks "Is this how you treat your friends?" Bond replies "He wouldn't have cared."
(Regal Fenway Stadium 13, Theater 12 (The Green Monster), with my lovely wife, plus my brother + sister-in-law, Karen & Ilan, and Angus & Kristen.)

November 4, 2008

119: ROCK You Can Believe In

Use of my iPod's "Shuffle Songs" tool continues to heavily influence my song selection: letting pure chance pick out great unknown songs from my favorite bands is paying dividends!
  1. "Dropped" Phantom Planet: A great kick-off song. I find a lot of new songs and new artists these days from the soundtracks of TV shows. For example, NBC's action-comedy Chuck includes a lot of alt-rock music on the soundtrack. But where do I go when I want to hear more from the band whose song was featured in that chase sequence? Most popular shows have fansites which list songs from each episode. I love the Internet!
  2. "Sarayushka" Andy West, Henry Kaiser, & Michael Maksymenko: This is a faithful cover of the ZZ Top song "La Grange", sung in Russian. The LP is called Crazy Backwards Alphabet. In college, I was the host of a radio show Gyroscope on WERS-FM Boston, which featured world music, plus all sorts of avant garde jazz, and whatever else the college DJs felt like. Having no world music background, I specialized in covers of classic rock: The Gipsy Kings covering "Hotel California" in Spanish, Tito Puente covering "Day Tripper", A polka rendition of "People Are Strange", a bluegrass cover of "Brain Damage", and this nugget.
  3. "Wild Rock Music!" is a mashup: Madonna singing "Music" over Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild". Mashed up by
  4. "27 Jennifers": Mike Doughty is the former lead singer of Soul Coughing. The singles off his solo CDs (this song is from Golden Delicious) are decidedly more "poppy" and less "out there" than Soul Coughing (which I appreciate!)
  5. "Should've Been In Love" from Wilco's debut album A.M.
  6. "Sweet Soul Dream" World Party: All my favorite contemporary bands in high school were heavily Beatles-influenced, including World Party. I found this track thanks to my iPod's "Shuffle Songs" setting.
  7. "Nobody's Child", The Traveling Wilburys donated this maudlin track to Nobody's Child, a CD to benefit Romanian orphans.
  8. "Debra" An exceedingly silly "white soul" classic from Beck.
  9. "Smile On" Deee-Lite
  10. "Proto-Pretty", The Wondermints were a one-hit wonder. I found this song on the Power Pop collection Poptopia.
  11. "My Bird Performs", XTC: I did not like the XTC album Nonsuch at first, but it's grown on me.
  12. "Great DJ", The Ting Tings: I heard this song featured on the podcast of a good friend of mine. Check out Radio Free Jersey.
  13. "Something Beautiful": Back in the late 1990s, I was a big fan of Tracy Bonham's first two albums, The Burdens of Being Upright and Down Here, but I had lost track of her over the last decade. I went on iTunes and bought a few more recent tracks of hers, including this gem.
  14. "The Twist", Frightened Rabbit: This song (also featured on the TV show Chuck) needs a better arrangement, but it's catchy nonetheless.
  15. "Dance Me to the End of Love": All I know about Madeline Peyroux is that she sounds just like Billie Holliday.
  16. "Dark Side of Night": Foxboro Hot Tubs are a "secret" side project of Green Day. They're going for a mid-1960s garage rock sound here.
  17. "Borrowing Time", Aimee Mann
  18. "You Don't Know Me", Ben Folds featuring Regina Spektor: There aren't many artists whose CDs I will buy automatically when they come out. Aimee Mann and Ben Folds are on the list. This Ben Folds song, a duet with Regina Spektor, is insanely catchy. The album, Way To Normal, is hit-or-miss, but the several gems make up for some underbaked dross. I think I mixed too many metaphors there!
  19. "Chelsea Dagger", The Fratellis: Also known as "the song from that Amstel Light commercial."
  20. "The 20th Century Is Over", Ellis Paul: My wife and her parents are huge Ellis Paul fans. I think he's great too, but I am still getting to know his stuff, including this dark, non-folky track from his album Sweet Mistakes.
  21. "Fake Empire" The National: This song was featured on at least one Obama campaign video, including the one played in Chicago soon before Barack stepped onstage on Election Night. My friend Julie heard it and identified it for us. Obama's campaign slogan CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN was the inspiration for this mix's title.