Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spain Dominates Euro 2012

There are many ways to dominate an athletic competition. Michael Jordan, at his peak, wanted to humiliate his opponents through superior skill.

Spain at the 2012 Euro championships imposed its style on their opponents without leaving them an opportunity to counter. That's what is most remarkable about their level of play since 2008. Some of their schemes - four defenders, six midfielders, no attacking forwards - left their opponents flummoxed. Their hallmark are their crisp short passes and control of possession. In a recent interview, Andrea Pirlo, star midfielder of the brave but ultimately insufficient Italian squad, said that there is no point in teams trying to play like Spain because not only do they lack the personnel, but they also lack the ability to play their style.

Here are the highlights of Spain's 4-0 victory in the final:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

D'Angelo Is Back

Twelve years later, he's back. Here is the complete GQ interview.


It took me a while to write this. The Beastie Boys are an integral part of my life and one of the most listened-to artists in my collection. The three MCs from New York, Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), Mike Diamond (Mike D), and Adam Yauch (MCA), played a vital role in the development of hip-hop and alternative rock. Unlike many Golden Age-era hip-hop groups, Beastie Boys continued to release excellent albums well after their peak.

Adam Yauch died of cancer at age 47 on May 4th. Just a few weeks prior his group had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a gifted MC and great humanitarian. His sense of humor shone through everything he did. Not much else to say. Profoundly sad.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We Need To Talk About Tilda Swinton

Instead of writing a traditional review for the masterful film written and directed by Lynne Ramsay We Need To Talk About Kevin (based on the novel of the same title by Lionel Shriver), I thought an associative list of impressions would be better. The film itself is made up of associative thoughts and memories, so I feel this is fitting. Tilda Swinton, probably the best actor now working, is outstanding. The film is shot from the inside of her head, if that makes sense, and her every thought and impulse is made palpable due to her prodigious skill. I can't recommend this movie enough. It submerges you entirely in Swinton's character, Eva Khatchadourian. (In that sense, the film is completely subjective.) The biggest question the film raises - and it slyly alludes to an older film that raised the same question - is whether a mother can love and care for her monstrous child. (See pictures at bottom.)

See the son. He is aware. Frosty contempt in his eyes, zestful cruelty in his behavior. He is like you. Pale in complexion, ink black hair. Thin. He bites his nails and positions them in a row on table. You remove egg shells from your omelette and put them in a row around the edge of your plate. He eats bread and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. So do you. You never wanted to be a bourgeoise suburban housewife. You told him so. He never wanted you as a mom. He didn't tell you. But boy did he show you. The only goal of his life is to destroy yours. But that's not enough. He wants you to know that it's him. Remember the story you read to him when he was a child? Robin Hood? What was his sole takeaway from the story?

Why did you prepare the room in your house that way? The color of the walls, the bed and bedclothes, the desk with the same book on the shelf. Why? Nothing was fine before, why allow your guilt to lead an attempt to negate what happened after? Or was it an attempt to repair your damaged psyche? Scrubbing everything away (i.e. facing reality) to build your life back together. Was it both?

Your husband is delusional. He says everything's okay. That Kevin's just a sweet boy. You try to talk about your son, but nobody will listen.

How much of his hatred towards you is a projection of your own self-hatred?

You weren't there, but if you would have been you would know why he bowed. It was on his face as he was being arrested. Can't you see? It was all for you. For you to feel his scorn and suffer the shards of his disdain. That fateful night was his masterpiece. Take a bow, maestro.

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby

Friday, March 9, 2012

Never Said A Word

Midway through 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Gary Oldman's George Smiley brings Peter Guillam to their work room to have a drink. A bottle of scotch later, George opens up about his Russian nemesis, Karla. Most of the scene is shot from Peter's point of view. The framing of this establishing shot shows an empty chair to the left, a table in the middle, and George sitting on another chair opposite. As George recounts the story of meeting Karla, he begins to speak directly to the chair, as if Karla were sitting on it. The camera then assumes that point of view, and shows us what Karla would be seeing. George's face is tight up against the screen, his large glasses serving as both a distancing shield and a instrument of examination. (Director Tomas Alfredson says that he used a specific lens in the shot that would be used again only once more in the entirety of the film.) It's a claustrophobic shot. The room behind is dark, saturated with dusty earth tones. Suddenly we become aware that we - the audience - are experiencing the same acute internal flashback George is recounting. This peerless scene is all about Oldman, a brilliant performance in one of the best films of the year.

The feature video above excludes the end of the scene. After his story, Peter asks George what Karla looked like. He replies, "I can't remember." This is perfect. On his part, George is the embodiment of droll inconspicuousness. Ugly glasses, bland suit, long coat. No memorable physical characteristics either. He could look like anybody on the street. Regarding Karla, George says he cannot remember what he - the primary villainous force in his life - looks like. Flip sides to the same coin. What better quality for a spy - any spy - to have than to appear anonymous?

Here is the making of the scene:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Foolish Heart: George Méliès and The Grateful Dead

To all those who love The Grateful Dead and Martin Scorsese's Hugo:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Return of D'Angelo

(New D'Angelo song "The Charade")

It took longer than we hoped, but now it's unavoidably true. D'Angelo is back.

?uestlove said in an interview with Pitchfork that D'Angelo had asked him to join on tour in Europe, but couldn't make it. I never believe that it would happen. Glad I was wrong. Here's hoping for a great album. (Loved the ?uest hyperbole, saying the album "at its best...will go down in the Smile/There's A Riot Goin' On/On The Corner category.") Here are some clips:

Chicken Grease
Sugar Daddy, Playa Playa, Shit Damn Motherfucker
The Charade, Another Life, Space Oddity

Live D'Angelo mixtape from Okayplayer, one of the best music sites on the web.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Don Giovanni - Coolidge Corner Theater

Last Saturday I saw this season's La Scala performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Coolidge Corner Theater. Excluding the two chatty babushkas behind me, it was a great movie-going experience. I only have one short thing to say about the production. It is about the end of the opera, so if you've never seen it or heard it, stop reading now.

Don Giovanni, the suave philanderer, has been engulfed in flames and is going to hell for all he's done. The remaining characters appear onstage and his servant Leporello (a superb Bryn Terfel) describes how he was dragged to hell by the Commendatore. The last words they sing are, "This is the end of the evil-doer. And the death of wicked men is always just like their life." At this point in the La Scala production, Don Giovanni appears in the background, smoking a cigarette and walking towards the front of the stage. He points down and all the other characters begin descending in the same way Don Giovanni had earlier. He smirks as they descend singing the same line, "The death of wicked men is always just like their life." Now only the tops of their heads are visible. Don Giovanni nonchalantly tosses his cigarette into the fiery pit, grinning.

I loved this ending. It suggests that the real sufferer isn't Don Giovanni. He's dead, after all; he can't suffer anymore. The true sufferers are the ones who are left dealing with the consequences of his actions.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Best Films of 2011

1. Melancholia
Lars Von Trier didn't do this sublime masterwork any favors by
running his mouth at Cannes. During the press conference for his film, he said he sympathized with and understood Hitler and finished it off with "I'm a Nazi." Whether he was joking or dug himself a hole and couldn't stop is irrelevant. From this moment forward, his film was stigmatized. The public mostly brushed it aside. Some critics praised it, others couldn't tolerate it. I think it's the best film of the year.

Beginning with the cataclysmic introduction set to Wagner's prelude from Act I from
Tristan und Isolde, the film, much like Hitchcock's Vertigo, welds music to visuals to themes at a relentless pace. In fact, I'd argue that knowing Tristan is the key to the film. In one scene, Justine, an excellent Kirsten Dunst, lays on the banks of a creek and bathes
in the blue light emanating from the approaching planet. She is nude. She touches her skin. It's made clear that she's deriving sexual pleasure from seeing impending death. Similarly, in Tristan, erotic desire is equated with the desire to die. In Act II, day and light (desire/pain) is what separates the lovers and only in darkness and night (love/sex/dissolution/death) can they be united. It's not only the desire for night (where they can be together), it's a desire for night (death). In death they can be together forever and the pain of life could never part them. This Schopenhauerian denial of the world (Welt) is the bleakest and most vital element in Tristan. (If Tristan's music and singing wouldn't be as gorgeous as they are, it would be merely nihilistic.) In Melancholia, Justine is so consumed by her depression that her impulse to die becomes pleasurable and desirable.

The film, divided in two parts and named for the sisters Justine and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, terrific), divulges its method for achieving self-annihilation in each section. The first part deals with Justine's disastrous wedding reception and her crippling depression. The second deals with the approaching planet named Melancholia. Justine's own melancholia is shown to be all-consuming and thoroughly destructive. The planet Melancholia will achieve the same effect. Von Trier shows us what happens to a person suffering from acute depression and then gives us a metaphor for how it feels.

It is rare for a movie to achieve this type of balance. The flawless technical and on-camera achievements create a radical synthesis that delivers an intellectual and emotional wallop. If only Von Trier had kept quiet.

2. The Artist

3. Drive

4. The Descendants

5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Midnight in Paris

7. Bridesmaids

8. Rango

9. Hugo

10. La Piel Que Habito

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back from the bunker

Best films of 2011 to follow soon.