Some kind of Cadwallader.

Life is tough. Over the last few years, I've alternated periods of decent equilibrium with periods when every day was a fucking slog. Even at the best of times, though, there've been things that made it hard. The economy is going to shit and I'm afraid I'll lose my job. My car died, then I got another one, then the new one died a month later. I'm having trouble writing. And the one that strikes at my heart the deepest--I can't seem to connect with other people. Sure, I've got friends, but sometimes I just feel like I'm bugging them, and I don't want to call. So I sit in my room alone and no one hears from me for a while. At times like that, all I have to turn to is music.

Lately I've been turning quite often to the debut full-length, "Some Kind Of Cadwallader," by Philadelphia's Algernon Cadwallader. They have a sound that is both jarring and intensely melodic, and write songs that seem both upbeat and bizarrely structured. And to someone who didn't live through the mid-90s era of the underground emo scene, they might seem very unusual and original. To me, though, someone who did live through that period, they give quite a different impression. When I listen to them, I hear the resurrection of Cap'n Jazz.

There are certainly people I've talked to about this band that seem ready to dismiss them for exactly that reason. "They're just stealing from the Kinsella brothers," they tell me. "What they don't take from Cap'n Jazz comes from American Football or the Owls." It's a hard position to argue against, because I see exactly what they mean. Cadwallader vocalist Peter sounds so much like Tim Kinsella that I actually had to Google Algernon Cadwallader the first time I heard them just to make sure it wasn't a new Tim Kinsella project. Sure enough, there's no connection between the two bands, which makes a great deal of what shows up on "Some Kind Of Cadwallader" a pretty direct imitation of earlier work by Tim and Mike Kinsella, plus their usual coterie of musical collaborators (Victor Villareal, Sam Zurick, etc.).

But I guess that's OK with me. In fact, I've always had a hard time condemning bands just for obvious display of influences. At the end of the day, I figure they've either got the chops or they don't. And Algernon Cadwallader have got the chops. I know this because their album's been one of the only things keeping my head above water, emotionally speaking, these last few days. I don't really want to get into why I've needed them for this, but I will make a general statement about myself that hopefully explains my specific circumstance. Here it goes: one thing I have learned this week is that while I've gotten very good at handling being single, I've still got a lot of problems with dating. In particular, I'm going to have to learn to handle the uncertainty that is a big part of making a romantic connection with another person, instead of retreating back to the safety of single-dom anytime I feel a bit nervous about whether someone reciprocates my affections.

That's all you really need to know, so let's move on.

Algernon Cadwallader have a knack for capturing emotions in their songs that seems like it would be undiminished even by vocalist Peter eschewing actual words in favor of wordless caterwauling (cadwallading?). He sings in that same passionate howl that Tim Kinsella made famous with his vocals in Cap'n Jazz, forcing his voice to crack as he gasps out notes that are obviously above and beyond his natural range. It's the kind of thing that would give any high-school chorus teacher absolute fits, but from my perspective, it somehow seems more sincere than some chorus student with perfect pitch would sound if they were hitting the same notes. What's more, Peter's voice is laden with emotion, which comes through every time it strains, cracks, sometimes even dissolving into an atonal scream that indicates complete failure to hit a particular note. The best moment with which to illustrate this point comes in the song "Horror." In this song's lyrics, Peter is comparing his favorite scary stories to books of early American history that he has read, and finds them wanting. "The one that really scared the shit out of me," he tells us, "followed Frankenstein and the walking dead. Drake Douglas depicts the African slave trade and blunts Dracula's teeth." All of this is just building towards the moment I want to call your attention to, though. At the end of the second verse, he sings, "The Texas chainsaw massacre and all of these..." then gasps out the words, "Just baby brother!" The next line, the final line of the song, is "To American history," and his point is well taken. However, it's not the words themselves that communicate the emotion of the song to me. Instead, it's the way Peter delivers the word "brother." Quite often, when his voice breaks, you can still hear the underlying note he was trying to hit. He may not nail it dead on, but he comes close, and you can hear what it was intended to be. The word "brother" as it is sung in "Horror," though, is nothing more than an unmusical scream. As he reaches the end of the word, in fact, he lets the final syllable dissolve in his throat, and it almost sounds like he's crying. When I hear this one word, it raises goosebumps down my arms.

But it's the song that follows "Horror," "Motivational Song," that really connects with me lyrically. "Johnny, get on with your life," Peter sings. "You won't get a chance to get on with it twice. So if fucking up feels right, then fuck it up!" This is the thing I most appreciate right now. So I guess let's talk a little more about me being stressed out, OK? It's tough to decide if what's going on with me right now counts as me fucking up. Really, I feel like I was true to myself, I was sincere, and I never did anything that should make anyone feel uncomfortable. That I'm aware of. And yet, I'm not having the desired outcome. Sure, some of any situation like this is just out of my control. Which, of course, is one of the things, probably the biggest thing, I need to learn to deal with. But I can't help but wonder if I fucked up. What did I do wrong? I just don't know. I guess if I did fuck up, fucking up felt right. "So fuck it up!" say Algernon Cadwallader, and it's the sort of advice I'd have no trouble giving someone else. Sometimes it's best to just do what feels right, instead of hesitating or trying to second-guess your desires. If nothing else, hopefully you'll learn something you didn't know before, and will be able to do the right thing going forward. Or maybe you won't learn anything, but at least you were true to yourself. At least I was true to myself, right? Right?

"Spread love and you're less likely to step in shit when you're retracing," Peter sings. "Share what people show you." I think I did that. In fact, I know I did--what I don't know is whether it was wise. But it felt right. Does Algernon Cadwallader have some definitive answer for me? Not quite. "Motivational Song" buids to a crescendo at the end of the second verse, at which time Peter is joined by the rest of the band, who combine to sing a wordless chorus of the type that we've all heard plenty of times. "Bop shoo wop!" They sing. "Shoo wop bop baa! Shoo wop bop!" It seems like it would have been a cliche 20 years ago, but it works here. Partly it's the sheer exuberance of the delivery, but more interesting to my mind is the fact that this bouncy, upbeat chorus is structured unusually, coming back around to its starting point every 5 measures instead of every 4, as is the standard in pop music. Underneath the singing, Cadwallader's guitar players lay down twisting patterns of single-note melody that twine around each other in a manner that somewhat resembles Mike Kinsella's American Football but actually reminds me more of another 90s emo band, Ethel Meserve, whose twisting guitar leads were dictated by their lead guitarist's insistence that the two guitarists in the band never play in unison. Like Ethel Meserve, Algernon Cadwallader are often able to create emotional crescendoes in their music without resorting to the distortion that is the stock in trade of so many post-hardcore bands. Instead, they allow the riffing itself to build the tension and the emotion in the songs, and eventually it builds up to a climax. This is exactly what happens in "Motivational Song," with the musical climax coinciding with the entire band's wordless chanted chorus. However, that chorus abruptly ends after four measures, and what follows is even more interesting. The song drops into a funky breakdown, which is almost entirely carried by bass and drums. The electric guitars disappear, and one quiet acoustic one starts playing a repetitive arpeggio in the background. Then, after a few bars, the rhythm section abruptly ends the funk breakdown, and all we hear is the acoustic guitar. A xylophone appears in the background, as does some running water and a whole bunch of ambient studio sounds that appear to be someone throwing a tambourine onto the heads of a drum kit repeatedly. This goes on for about two minutes, taking up the entire last half of the song. Then someone unplugs an electric guitar, drowning out the rest of the ambient noise we've been hearing for at least 90 seconds with buzzing electrical hum, and that's the end of the song.

Immediately, "Yo Soy Milk" begins, as upbeat and exuberant as "Motivational Song" was at its climax. "Whoa!" howls Peter as it starts, and once again the guitars twine around each other as the rhythm section drives the song forward. This time, one of the guitars is using distortion and sticking primarily to chords, but the other sticks with the undistorted single-note patterns that have become something of a Cadwallader trademark by this point. Unlike "Horror" and "Motivational Song," which have substantive points to make in their lyrics, "Yo Soy Milk" doesn't have that much to say, really. "Peeling grapes in your mouth and feeling tongue in my bones" is about as close as it comes to any defined statement, but nonetheless, Peter's voice sounds passionate and filled with emotion.

That's true of pretty much every song here, though. The album's upbeat title track seems infused with emotion from the first, even though, when you listen more closely, you realize that Peter's telling a story about having his rented aooarel ruined by his prom date. "I bought you a corsage and pinned a flower on my jacket because this night means a lot to me. Then you went and spilled punch all over my tuxedo shirt." Nonetheless, when the chorus arrives, and he starts gasping about how "It's taking me over!" it's nearly impossible not to be swept along with the passion in his voice. Much later, "Katie's Conscious" is driven by frantic drumstick taps on a snare rim, then drops into an incredible half speed breakdown, even as Peter gasps out the relative inanity "Radio rap is back for a reason!" Really?

Who knows? Who cares? This is what matters: Algernon Cadwallader write catchy songs with original structure, heartfelt vocals, and emotion for miles. Their record wears its mid-90s influences on its sleeves and still manages to completely transcend them through sheer quality of the music therein. And right now, when it'd be easy to let myself feel like crap, it's actually helping me feel kinda all right. The bands that can do that for a person are worthy of being celebrated. I'm glad Algernon Cadwallader exist.

[url=http://www.mediafire.com/?qyzyqy5vhnf]Algernon Cadwallader - Motivational Song[/url]
[url=http://www.mediafire.com/?iozdo5v2f5t]Algernon Cadwallader - Horror[/url]



Movie Diary: Watchmen/Rachel Getting Married.

I went to see Watchmen by myself on a Thursday night, because I needed an excuse to go check out the new first run movie theater that opened three weeks ago two blocks from my house, and because I needed to get out of my house due to my roommate having his most annoying friend over. This is, as far as I know, only the second time in my life that I've gone to a movie alone (the first being the time I went to the second-run place down the block from my work to see "Sicko," a decision motivated by loneliness more than any desire to see the movie itself). I figured I'd avail myself of the concession stand's rather deluxe menu, just to determine whether the surprisingly elaborate food items were worth the exhorbitant theater prices they were charging for them. Well, $13 will always be a bit much for chicken fingers, fries, and a humongous diet soda, but the food was pretty good and the drink lasted me the entire movie, so I can't complain but so much. The theater itself, constructed inside the hollowed-out shell of a former factory, is actually pretty swank, complete with stadium seating and everything. I'm kind of amazed that I can now go to a theater just as nice as the ones out in the edge cities by walking for two minutes, but I'm definitely glad of it.

But what about "Watchmen" itself? After all the expectations and the hype, could it possibly be anything other than a letdown? I knew some people for whom the answer would inevitably be "no," for whom any change from the original Alan Moore plotline would be reason enough to scrap the whole thing as a worthless pile of shit, but I liked to think that I was not one of those people. True, I didn't believe that any movie version of "Watchmen" could live up to the graphic novel, but I was prepared to judge the movie on its own merits, accept it as an independent work and not do the kneejerk comparisons to the graphic novel. Which is why I feel sort of bad saying now that "Watchmen" the movie succeeds or fails in almost direct proportion to its faithfulness to the source material. But I'm not saying that in a fanboy way, in a "I can't believe 'Tales of the Black Freighter' was cut out! It sucks for that reason alone!" sort of way. I'm saying that because it was really obvious throughout that, whenever the screenwriters and/or director tried to divert from the source material, it became really obvious that they weren't nearly as skillful as storytellers as Alan Moore is.

First of all, the violence in the movie was incredibly off-putting. As someone who enjoys gore in horror movies, I find it sort of weird complaining about blood shooting everywhere or bad guys getting their knees bent the wrong way by violent kicks from superheroes, but seriously--that kind of thing had no place in this story. It didn't fit with the atmosphere Moore created and the film, for the most part, captured. Every scene that featured violence in the original novel had 10 times as much violence in the film version, and all of it felt overly drawn out and belabored. It seemed like a pubescent boy with a love for popcorn action flicks stepped into the director's role every so often just to ensure that the TOTAL NONSTOP ACTION!!! quotient be kept above a certain minimum. Maybe this was a commercial consideration, to ensure that said pubescent demographic didn't nod off in their chairs during the quieter moments, such as the extended "Dr. Manhattan on Mars" sequence--which, I must admit, worked incredibly well--but I really don't think it was worth it.

Second, the love scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, which needed to be in the movie for about 10 seconds or so, was horribly belabored and went on orders of magnitude too long. It was awkward, it was stupid, it was completely unsexy, and it served no purpose. I had gotten up to use the bathroom two scenes earlier, and kicked myself during this scene for not having been able to hold it for five minutes longer.

The ending, and specifically the changes made from the comic-book version, was something I had mixed feelings about. Sure, it's explained enough in the movie to make it plausible on a surface level. However, anyone examining the motivations that this ending ascribes to Dr. Manhattan is going to find him/herself suspicious. Instead of Rorschach's diary showing up in the New Frontiersman and being laughed off as the ravings of a crackpot, as seems inevitable by the end of Moore's original graphic novel, the less plausible "blame it on Dr. Manhattan" version of the ending seems held together loosely enough that the appearance of Rorschach's diary seems like enough to blow the whole thing wide open. Of course, then again, maybe it'd just end up being the Watchmen-verse's version of 9/11 truth-squadders, who knows? Either way, the new ending, despite the fact that it works and avoids some of the exposition the novel's version requires, leaves me feeling far less confident in Ozymandias's ability to pull this whole crazy stunt off.

The casting in this movie has caused a lot of people a lot of problems, but I for one actually felt like everyone was well cast. Sure, Silk Spectre is annoying and over-acted, but who didn't get that same impression of her in the comic book? I felt like she was an annoying character, not a character played by an annoying actress. That was enough to make her casting work for me. I was also particularly happy with Billy Crudup's Dr. Manhattan. I was afraid that Manhattan would be depicted in the film as some godlike being, with a "James Earl Jones as Darth Vader" voice and a pompous, regal air. Instead, he seemed, most of the time, apologetically disinterested in the people and events that surrounded him. He was quiet and mostly emotionless, which fit with my original impression of the character. It was very well done.

It's a shame that the well-done casting decisions couldn't be carried over to the movie as a whole. So many choices that the director made for this film seemed to me to be made in the spirit of "Anything worth doing is worth OVERdoing." Nothing brought this point home more forcefully than the incredibly ham-fisted soundtrack. On multiple occasions, I cracked up laughing at some musical cue or another, only to draw stares from the theater-goers seated around me. Perhaps the problem here is the transition of a rather subtle comic book into a film whose target demographic is used to being beaten over the head with anything moviemakers want to get across to them. Maybe my appreciation for subtlety over ham-fistedness pushes me out of the target demographic of this movie. Regardless--"The Times They Are A-Changin'" for a decades-encompassing montage sequence? "The Sounds Of Silence" for a funeral scene? "All Along The Watchtower"--the Hendrix version, no less--for a prelude to the climactic confrontation in the villain's lair? Seriously, is the director of this movie 12? I would have seen these choices as too obvious by the time I started high school.

I'm not saying I hated the movie, though, so don't get me wrong. It's pretty enjoyable, as Hollywood popcorn action-adventure films go, and it's still grounded to a great extent in a more multi-faceted sensibility than the typical popcorn action flick ever approaches. But anytime director Zack Snyder takes too much of his own initiative, he sends it over the top, "from the sublime to the ridiculous," to coin a phrase. My disappointment with this film is not because it's terrible, but because it's a halfway decent film that so obviously could have been a great film in the hands of someone more talented. It's an object lesson in betrayal of potential. And that's a damn shame.

Now for the film I saw last week that really knocked me on my ass: "Rachel Getting Married."

I've been waiting to see this movie since reading pre-release reviews of it on the internet last year, and I am kind of amazed that it took me until it was out on DVD to catch it. That said, I managed to get Netflix to mail it to me on the day it was released, so that at least felt like a coup. "Rachel Getting Married" looks like it's a movie about a wedding, but it's so much more than that. Kym (Anne Hathaway) is out of rehab, has been clean for most of a year, and seems really to be trying to turn her life around. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is her much more straight-laced sister, and the reason Kym has gotten out of rehab and returned to the family home is because Rachel is getting married. The weekend that encompasses the marriage and the events that surround it provides a plot framework for the events that occur in the film, but they're not what's really important here. What really matter are the relationships between Kym, Rachel, and the rest of their family, and how those relationships fuel their specific interactions over the course of this weekend, one that will have a lot of emotional resonance even if everything goes off without a hitch. And as most of us can understand, it's almost impossible for anything involving family to go off without a hitch.

I had this movie through Netflix, and I managed to watch it three times during the 5 days I held onto it. I might have watched it more if I kept it in the house. Instead, I decided to send it back, just to keep myself from structuring my entire life for the next however-long around watching it repeatedly. That said, I'm now seriously considering buying my own copy.

It's kind of hard for me to put the feelings I have about this movie into words, especially since I feel like I'm on shaky ground whenever I start relating events in my own life to those depicted in a movie. That said, I'm going to make an attempt. Most people are aware that I'm someone who made the choice when I was 15 to stop using drugs and alcohol, and that I've been completely sober ever since. This often makes people look at me like I'm fucking crazy when I mention that I relate strongly to recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. It's true, though. I feel like spending every day trying not to give into a constant temptation to use drugs is really similar to my own struggles with depression. Depression feels like it hangs over my head every day, and that I have to work really hard not to give into it, let it take over my life, and surrender myself to emotional oblivion as a form of escape from the life I find it so hard to cope with. In fact, this feeling contributed heavily to my decision to quit using drugs as a teenager. It seemed like something that could become very habit-forming, that I could easily turn to using as a crutch, and that scared me enough even then to make me think that I should just skip the whole process and commit to not using them before ever getting seriously into doing so in the first place.

So OK, maybe this is some of why Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Kym in "Rachel Getting Married" hit me right where I live. And maybe some of it is because I have a shitload of trouble dealing with my family too, because I feel like my family doesn't understand me and doesn't really try, because I feel like it's easier for them to hate me for the ways in which I didn't turn out like they wanted me to, rather than try to understand and appreciate me for who I am.

But I gotta figure that a lot of it is also just because this is a fucking great movie. Hathaway and DeWitt are both amazing actors who do outstanding jobs in their respective roles. I know that, for a lot of people, Anne Hathaway = "Princess Diaries," but this movie proves that, even if she is good as a cutesy star of feel-good chick filicks, she can do equally well playing roles that are the polar opposite of something like that. She made the character of Kym so completely believable for me that I imagine that if I ever met her at some movie awards ceremony, I'd expect her to be just like that character. She probably isn't, but that's even more of a tribute to her acting ability. Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel is equally excellent, primarily because her character is one that it would be so easy to hate. After all, since we're seeing this entire story through Kym's eyes, and the two of them are so very different, it'd be easy for Rachel to come off as a snotty goody-two-shoes sort. She isn't, though--at many points in the movie, she seems just as sympathetic as Kym. Even as she's doing things that seemed horribly unjust from my perspective, she did a good job of making clear what Rachel's motivations were, and making the viewer sympathize with her even when they were feeling bad for Kym. And, um, without getting into spoilers, the truth is that no matter how sympathetic Kym is at the point in her life that's shown in this film, we learn before too long that she's got a lot to answer for in her past.

I've gotta say, though, there are a lot of amazing actors in this film besides Hathaway and DeWitt, though. Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio, a guy I had no idea could act, plays Rachel's husband, Sidney, and gives an understated but impressive performance, managing to seem like something more than a placeholder even as he's surrounded by much more accomplished actors with much more intense, high-energy roles. Bill Irwin is also awesome as the girls' father, a guy who just wants everyone to be cool with everyone else, and for all of his family to be happy. Debra Winger, as their mother, is far different, and despite having relatively little screen time, makes a huge impression on the film as a whole. Again, I can't really get into specifics, as I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but one scene about halfway through the film between her and Anne Hathaway might be the most powerful thing in the entire movie. It certainly destroyed me.

But then, all of the family interaction in this movie pretty much destroyed me. The happy moments, the sad moments, and everything in between. It all just rang so true to me. It expressed a lot of things about my own family that I wish I could get across. It had that affect on me that really good art sometimes has, where I finally felt like maybe I wasn't the only one who feels the way I do about some of the things I go through. One of the most subtle details of this entire movie struck me as hard as anything else here did--the way that, at various points during the wedding reception and other moments of happiness and revelry, Kym would seemingly wake up from a reverie, going from content and enjoying herself to suddenly self-conscious, aware of what was going on around her and feeling suddenly separate from it, alone in a crowd of the people supposed to love her the most. There was no dialogue at these moments, and generally all I had to go on, to realize they were even there, were 15 second scenes here and there where the expression on Anne Hathaway's face suddenly changed. But I recognized that change. Even in a subtle, quiet, barely there moment, I caught a powerful emotional message from this movie, one that I recognized on the deepest levels. It's a rare work of art that can achieve this kind of effect, and those involved with "Rachel Getting Married" deserve commendation for pulling it off.

One last, lighter note: one of my favorite things about this movie was the way that Tunde Adebimpe's real-life status as a well-known musician was used in the movie. It's never overtly stated what it is that he does, but a lot of awesome musicians show up in this movie, as an implied result of Sidney's position in the music industry. Fab 5 Freddy gives a toast at the wedding rehearsal dinner, jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. plays a song for the couple during the wedding rehearsal, Robyn Hitchcock and reggae singer Sister Carol both perform during the wedding reception, and there's even a great moment during the wedding when, as part of his vows, Sidney sings "Unknown Legend" by Neil Young to Rachel. The role of music in the movie, even during incidental scenes when musicians were often playing in the next room as filming occurred, is prominent, and helps add another layer of realism to the movie, as, in lieu of a soundtrack, the music in the film is generally being performed live as the scenes are being filmed. From watching the commentary, I've gotten the impression that director Jonathan Demme's experience making documentaries was a big influence on the way this movie was filmed and put together, and I have to say that I'm glad he has that experience, because it seemed obvious to me by the third viewing that a lot of the things I liked about this movie were there because of the documentary influence. Maybe more feature-film directors should do documentary work--it seems like there might be some pretty important lessons to be learned there.



Movie Diary: Hollywoodland.

Let's just get this out there right up front: I thought "Hollywoodland" was fucking excellent. I couldn't raise a single complaint about it. From the note perfect 50s-LA period details (not that I was ever in 50s LA to make a comparison, but it sure seemed right from the films, pictures, etc. that I've seen of the time) to the awesome hardboiled detective storyline to the alternating flashbacks to George Reeves's life, I thought it all worked perfectly. Oh, yeah, for anyone who doesn't know, this is that movie about the suicide of the actor, Reeves, who played Superman in the 50s TV show. It consists of two narratives, which it switches back and forth between. One involves Adrien Brody playing down-on-his-luck private eye Louis Cimo, who is freshly divorced, running his business out of his apartment, and sleeping with his young secretary. He's hired by Reeves's mother to look into her son's death, which she doesn't believe is suicide. Cimo doesn't know what to think at first, but becomes sincerely interested once he starts looking into the supposed suicide and finding all sorts of factors that don't line up at all. The LAPD seems to want him out of the case, as does the more respectable private investigation firm that he used to work for, as does everyone involved in the Hollywood film business that he attempts to talk to. Meanwhile, we're being treated to a flashback narrative starring Ben Affleck as the still-living Reeves, beginning around 7 years before his death and telling the story of his affair with Toni Mannix, wife of MGM studio boss Edgar Mannix. Toni makes sure Reeves wants for nothing where finances are concerned, but what he really wants is to be one of the great studio leading men, a Gable or a Grant. Instead, he gets the Superman gig, which makes him famous and pays his bills but leaves him miserable and typecast. Both narratives circle around Reeves's death, approaching it obliquely and from various different angles, which change as the story unfolds. I don't really want to explain what I mean, because while this is not a standard whodunit, there are dramatic revelations throughout that you owe it to yourself to see rather than read about. Adrien Brody's performance as Cimo is great, revealing lots of detail about his personal life and emotional state that isn't essential to the plot but makes the film better for its being there. There's even a subplot about another client of Cimo's that at first seems like borderline comic relief but changes dramatically later in the film. The details of Reeves's personal life are far more important to the film's central plot, but are still handled in a manner that goes above and beyond the call of duty. I know there are a lot of people out there who are going to automatically hate Ben Affleck in any role, and there are definitely times when I think he approaches all-out hackery, but by contrast, this might be the best performance I've ever seen out of him. He completely disappears into the role of Reeves, painting a complicated picture of him as a charming, sensitive man who could sometimes lack necessary seriousness but was more often a sincerely good person who always went out of his way for people he cared about. I don't know much of anything about George Reeves the actual man, but after seeing this movie, I've come away with a very positive impression of him. His death seems at first to have no emotional impact, being merely the lauching pad for a whodunit film, but by the end of the movie, it's grown to have a real resonance. I felt a lot of sympathy for him by the end, regardless of how he ultimately died. Even if it was at his own hand, and maybe even especially if that were the case. Brody's portrayal of Cimo also resonates, with developments in his personal life throughout the film underscoring those that occurred in Reeves's life. Really, I just can't say enough about how much I liked this movie. I know it's not for everyone, I know there are some people who will hear the name of Ben Affleck and immediately turn off, but if you can get past that, and if you think you'd enjoy another hardboiled LA-based mid-20th century period piece along the lines of "LA Confidential," you really owe it to yourself to give this one a shot. I don't think you'll regret it.

[For the record, I know it's the music-oriented stuff people look for from this blog, and I promise I'll get back to that stuff soon. I've just been seeing a lot of movies lately. As I'm sure you've gathered. Fear not, more music stuff is forthcoming.]



Movie diary: Jules And Jim.

Last night I saw Francois Truffaut's "Jules And Jim," and while I have a lot of thoughts about it, I am not sure what to say and what to leave unsaid here. For starters, let me just give the rest of this post a blanket spoiler warning, because I don't really know how to talk about my overall impressions of this movie without giving away several key plot points, including the ending.

"Jules And Jim" tells the story of two friends who fall in love with the same girl, Catherine. Their differing personalities make them well suited to be best friends, but also have varied effects on their relationship with Catherine. At first, she is intriguing to both of them--uninhibited, especially for the time in which this takes place (mid to late 1910s), exuberant, intelligent, and very attractive--but it's Jules who makes an advance upon her first, and Jules who ultimately ends up marrying her. He's Austrian, and the two of them return to Austria for their wedding, just in time for World War I to break out, which puts Jules and Jim on opposing sides of the war. Years later, when the war ends and both of them have survived, Jim goes to visit Jules and Catherine in Austria, and this is where things get complicated. Catherine has stopped sleeping with Jules, and is now having affairs with different men, even bringing Jules and Jim's friend from pre-war Paris, Albert, to the house to hook up. Things are super awkward between Jules and Catherine, but Jules, being kind of a passive, quiet guy, puts up with it, because he's convinced himself that it's better to have Catherine in his life in a non-romantic way than to not have her in his life at all. Meanwhile, now that Jim knows that there's nothing between Jules and Catherine anymore, he finds his feelings for Catherine returning in a big way. Catherine wants to get with him, too, but Jim is not at all sure about the whole thing because he doesn't want to hurt Jules. He almost returns to Paris, to be with his long-suffering on and off Parisian girlfriend, Gilberte, but ultimately decides to stay with Catherine due to an intervention by Jules, who tells him that he'd rather have Catherine be with Jim than continue to have random affairs with all sorts of other men. Jim moves into the house with Jules, Catherine, and their young daughter Sabine, and becomes Catherine's romantic partner.

So much more happens after this, and I don't want to get into all the push and pull and twist and turn to any great extent, but I must say I found it very interesting that I reacted so strongly to this movie upon seeing it now. You see, I didn't even remember this until I recognized a scene about 30 minutes in, but this is actually a movie I've seen once before, back when I was taking film classes when I was in college. At the time, I wasn't living the healthiest of lifestyles, and I tended to fall asleep during a lot of the movies I saw in that class. I remember being terribly bored by "Jules And Jim," and taking almost nothing away from it back when I was 18. Now, 15 years and a lot of experience later, I found it fascinating. Seeing the way Jules and Jim each reacted differently, but mostly unhealthily, to Catherine really hit home for me. I feel like I tend to behave more like Jules in my own romantic relationships--falling in love with women who have a powerful but erratic personality and then letting myself be emotionally abused by their whimsy and fickle behavior. I passively endured a lot of things in hopes that putting up with them would ultimately bring those women back to me, and it never did. Jim has a stronger personality, but is drawn to Catherine because of unhealthy aspects of his own personality that are reflected in hers. This is indicated in the film through his relationship with Gilberte, his long-suffering on-again-off-again Parisian girlfriend. She is the Jules to Jim's Catherine, always being tossed away when something more interesting comes along, always taking Jim back when the more interesting thing runs his course.

By the end of the movie, it starts to seem like Jim has grown emotionally. He's decided to return to Gilberte permanently, to marry her and stop worrying about his relationship with Catherine. Jules, meanwhile, has passively accepted his fate as Catherine's long-suffering companion, always longing for her but never getting to be with her. Catherine, if anything, has only solidified the impression of her that becomes stronger as the film goes on--that she may be fun to be around, but that deep down, she has no real moral center, and only cares about herself. She never considers the effects that her actions have on Jules, Jim, or anyone else in her life--not even her young child, Sabine. And when she learns that Jim has finally and permanently decided not to be with her, she reacts in an immature and immoral manner. At the end of the film, in one of the most blatant displays of "if I can't have you, no one can" possible, she wrecks her car with she and Jim inside, killing both of them and leaving Jules alone, having lost his best friend and his longtime love, and with a young child he must now raise on his own.

I can certainly see how a feminist reading of this film would find it horribly sexist, especially considering the horribly misogynist Baudelaire lines that Jules drunkenly quotes at the beginning of the film. That said, I'm not entirely sure that the film intends to be sexist just because Catherine is the least sympathetic character in it. I mean, I sort of felt like I was supposed to sympathize with her, at least partly, at many points in the film. Ultimately, though, I couldn't. I've known plenty of people like her in life, both male and female, and after seeing the effects those people's actions have had on the people around them, just as Catherine's actions had harmful effects on Jules, Jim, and many other less central characters in the film, it's hard to retain any sympathy.

Again, I find it telling that I took this much away from my second viewing of this movie, when at 18 I found it mostly pretty boring. I think it says something about what themes resonate with me now, as opposed to what hit me hardest when I was younger. Also, I can understand why this movie is so critically acclaimed; Truffaut told this story masterfully, using minor details to great effect. Little Sabine bringing Albert his forgotten guitar as he was heading into the house with Catherine to "work on a song," Jim's conversation with a friend in a Parisian cafe about how Jules was doing, and the look on his face when his friend said that things with Jules and his wife "must be going well," the bit towards the beginning when Catherine challenges Jules and Jim to a race across a footbridge... Lots of little moments in this movie add up to have a big overall effect. I really liked the way Truffaut used mostly stock footage during the World War I portions of the film. I have my doubts that any director would bother to do such a thing now; it feels like something that some Hollywood director would use as a perfect opportunity to spend $25 million in studio cash to make some big elaborate production set piece out of. I thought Truffaut's way of doing it was a lot better.

I thought this movie was stunning. I really liked "400 Blows," which I saw last year, quite a lot, but I think "Jules And Jim" is probably even better. This just makes me want to see more Truffaut movies, even more than I already did.



Movie Diary, 3/OK, now I'm gonna tell you guys about the other movies I've seen in the last week or so. Part of this post is gonna be way hilario7/09.

Several movies to talk about today, since I've seen a few since I posted here last.

First: I saw "Kurt Cobain: About A Son" yesterday. Not a bad documentary, really, but not that amazing. I'd say they had a better potential concept for the movie than they ended up with in actual execution. It's narrated by Kurt himself, with his voice taken from the tapes Michael Azerrad made while interviewing Kurt for his book "Come As You Are." The narration is always interesting and entertaining to listen to, if a bit painful at times. In particular, I got a little upset listening to Kurt talk about how glad he was that he kicked heroin, because if he'd continued on it, he'd probably have lost everything. And of course, he relapsed, got back onto heroin, and ended up losing everything, as a nearly direct result. That was a pretty bitter irony, and it made me sad. For the most part, any emotional resonance conjured by the movie was subtle, and I think their using Kurt's voice as narration really helped with that. That was definitely a strength of the film. The visual aspect was not as strong, though. The parts of the movie that depicted places that Kurt was talking about, or used footage or still photos from his life, worked well, but I guess they didn't have enough of that stuff to fill in an entire 90 minute movie, because there were also quite a few shots of random people, just focusing on their faces or whatever. I have NO IDEA what this was supposed to represent. The people weren't people who figured into the narration (or if they were, they weren't explained as such), and there wasn't really any connection between the visuals at those points in the movie and the audio. Worse were the parts when it showed people walking on some street or another sped way up, so they were moving really fast. Both of these techniques, used reasonably frequently, seem like they're just there to fill space that was left in the visual part of the documentary. They really could have and should have come up with something better for these parts. But whatever, it was still a decent movie, on the whole, though nothing outstanding. Don't run out and find a copy or anything, but if it's showing on Sundance one afternoon (which is when I saw it), it's worth checking out.

Next, briefly: In the last week or so I've seen volumes one and two of "The Black List," which is an HBO documentary series that really just consists of interviews lasting 5 minutes or so with a series of black people who are famous or highly regarded within their chosen fields. For the series, they interviewed everyone from Slash to Chris Rock to Colin Powell to Susan Rice to Bishop T.D. Jakes. The series switches without warning from rappers to doctors to priests to politicians. I didn't find any of the interviews to be boring, or unintelligent, or in any way lame, which, given the diversity of the interview subjects, was almost surprising. But they all had something interesting to say, and I found the series to be quite entertaining. I felt like I learned some things from it, too. If you have HBO, this is worth seeing.

And finally, at greater length: The other movie I've seen in the last few days, which I saw the night before last, was called "When Nietzsche Wept." It's a film that tells a fictional story about a bunch of real people, and specifically focuses on the attempts of Lou Salome to get psychiatric help for Friedrich Nietzsche. I'm not sure how much of it has a solid basis in history, but all of the main characters really existed, and the story that's told about them in the movie is a good one, regardless of how closely it follows history.

I'm not entirely sure that "When Nietzsche Wept" would be considered a successful film by everyone who sees it. By 20 or so minutes into it, I found myself thinking that it truly is an "art film," and this impression became more solidified as the movie progressed. It obviously had a decent budget behind it, and the period-piece details of the film were well done and very realistic, but it was not a realistic movie on the whole. I remember reading something about Paul Morrissey's disdain for realism in acting when I was reading up on "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein" recently, that Morrissey thought that such pretenses towards behaving like normal people in films were a waste of time, and that actors should go ahead and be dramatic, get intense and chew the scenery or whatever, which influenced his direction when he was making "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein" and his other films. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that "When Nietzsche Wept" director Pinchas Perry felt much the same way, as the actors in this film tended to take more of a classical theater approach to their roles. There were also quite a few hallucinatory scenes in the film, some of which were defined as dream sequences but others of which were not. All of these scenes served an effective purpose in the narrative, but you the viewer have to be willing to accept that there are points in this movie when the director chooses to explicate a character's emotional state through these strange metaphorical scenes that are not intended to be part of the film's narrative, and I know that there are some people who might have a problem with that. I thought it worked quite well, though.

Really, I just liked this movie. I found Armand Assante's portrayal of Nietzsche to be fascinating, and the character of Dr. Josef Breuer, the doctor who Salome asks to help Nietzsche with his depression, to be equally so. Breuer's young friend, Sigmund Freud, plays a secondary role in the film, and some of what he and Breuer learn from Breuer's work with Nietzsche apparently has a big influence on Freud's later psychoanalytic work. Or, so the film indicates--again, I can't vouch for its historical accuracy. Anyway, in order to get Nietzsche to work through his own issues, Breuer convinces Nietzsche to help him, Breuer, work through some issues in his own personal life that are making him depressed and causing him to be distant with his family. At first, Breuer tells himself that this is just a technique he's using to get Nietzsche to open up, but before long, it becomes obvious that Breuer's in just as much need as Nietzsche is, and the film turns into a story about two troubled men who help each other work through their problems. I don't want to spoil the whole thing, but I will tell you that the ending was very moving for me, personally. There's a lot of discussion of loneliness and the difficulty of finding friendship and love in the world that I felt was pretty dead-on, and hit very close to home for me.

For me, there was a lot to like about this movie. The plot, and the emotional issues it dealt with, were very engaging, but I also really liked the directorial style, including the unapologetic tendencies toward artiness. The historical elements were interesting, and made me want to look into the actual historical basis for the film, and the philosophical discussions between Nietzsche and Breuer (and, occasionally, between Breuer and Freud, or Breuer and Salome) got me interested in reading some of Nietzsche's writing, which I've never read. I felt like it was a pretty accurate examination of the effects of loneliness and depression on a person's life, and just how important such things can be (even though we often act like they matter but little in one's day to day life). And finally, on a much less serious note, the actress who played Lou Salome, Katheryn Winnick, was drop-dead gorgeous and nearly made me faint every time she was onscreen. (Apparently she's going to be in the film version of Philip K. Dick's "Radio Free Albemuth" that's coming out later this year, as if I needed any more reason to go and see that movie.) Pinchas Perry has apparently done very little other than this movie, but I'd definitely be willing to check out any future work of his.



Movie Diary: Monterey Pop.

Two nights ago, I caught D.A. Pennebaker's "Monterey Pop" on Sundance. That was an interesting movie. Remember how I objected to "Wattstax" on the basis that it wasn't enough of a concert film? I think maybe "Monterey Pop" was too much of a concert film. I mean, there were maybe 10 minutes, out of 80, in which a band was not playing. Now, the fact that the bands were pretty great helps to make up for that in a significant way, but when I watch a concert movie, I don't expect to see nothing but footage of bands playing, you know? Give me some context. Give me some entertaining footage of what was going on backstage, or whatever. There was a little bit of this, but really, not much. At all. But as far as the actual performances go, I guess it helps that there was some fucking insane stuff going on. The Who playing "My Generation" and smashing their equipment, Jimi Hendrix covering "Wild Thing" by the Troggs and setting his guitar on fire, Janis Joplin singing "Ball And Chain" and just about losing her shit while doing it--this was particularly incredible for me, as I'd never seen live footage of Janis before. No wonder she blew everyone's mind back then. She was giving me goosebumps. Incredible stage presence. Speaking of which, Otis Redding doing "I've Been Loving You Too Long" was equally stunning. So depressing to think that both of them were dead within 3 years of this being filmed. As for the other bands, I liked Jefferson Airplane and Simon and Garfunkel all right, though neither did songs that represent my favorite stuff by them. The same is doubly true for Eric Burdon's Animals, who covered "Paint It Black" by the Stones, and rather badly. Why didn't they do one of their awesome original songs like "Sky Pilot" or something? Bad choice by the director on that one. Hugh Masakela, a jazz musician I'd never heard before, was an interesting change of pace, and I get the idea that I'd really like his music. And the film closing with Ravi Shankar was a great idea. I'd never seen him play before either, and watching him and his tabla player just jam like crazy for 15 minutes was awesome. While the footage of the crowd that was shot during Hendrix's performance was mostly of people sitting slackjawed, seemingly not knowing how to react, the place went fucking nuts for Ravi, which was surprising to me considering the light the Hendrix performance is viewed in now. But hey, whatever.

On the whole, I guess the movie was good, but it really didn't feel like it justified itself as a movie rather than just a concert special on MTV or something. I know they didn't have MTV concert specials in the 60s, and I guess I understand that a movie would be the closest anyone would get to something like that, but I think what I really tend to look for in a concert film is something more like "Woodstock," which divides its time quite well between performances and documentation of what the experience of being at the show was actually like. Course, "Woodstock" is a three-hour film, so maybe something a bit shorter would have been in order, but still, I felt like "Monterey Pop" was a bit skimpy. Not as awesome as "Don't Look Back," that's for sure.