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January 2009 Archives

January 30, 2009

DFW, en español

As a tangent to the John Updike/Irving post, my friend T-Rock sent over a photo he took of a couple of Spanish-language translations of David Foster Wallace books in a bookstore in Buenos Aires recently [click for larger image]:

David Foster Wallace covers, in spanish

Hilarious and strange.

Looks like the Argentinian publishers decided to go with a literal interpretation of the "Consider the Lobster" essay on the cover of Hablemos de Langostas (which T-Rock, whose Spanish is better than mine, says would probably be "Pensemos en la Langosta" if it were a more direct translation.) In the essay, DFW does some anthropomorphizing of lobsters as part of his growing anxiety about the questionable ethics of throwing a live animal into boiling water. Here's a clearer image of that cover photo.

I took Spanish in high school, so I deeply appreciate how many Spanish/English cognates there are and love learning new ones. Such as the delightful "repulsivo" in Entrevistas Breves con Hombres Repulsivos.

I wonder if Krasinski's movie version of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men involves a pudgy man in a superhero costume. Here's a clearer, small photo of that cover.

Check out other Spanish translations of DFW's works, like the classic Algo supuestamente divertido que nunca volveré a hacer.

January 29, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter- The Little Lady Who Stood Up


Lilly Ledbetter of Alabama has had quite a year. She spoke at the DNC last summer, lost her husband (who voted for a Democrat for the first time in his life in November) in December, rode the inauguration train in January, danced with Obama at an Inaugural Ball and attended a White House signing ceremony today.

Ledbetter recorded a tough attack ad for Obama, quoting McCain opposing the Fair Pay Act, saying that women "just need education and training."

Now Ledbetter's name will be associated with this breakthrough for equal pay. When the bill passed the senate, she said "I'm so excited I can hardly stand it." This in spite of the fact that she still won't get the back pay a jury tried to award her. As Gail Collins points out, the current situation was ridiculous: "Let us pause briefly to contemplate the chances of figuring out your co-workers’ salaries within the first six months on the job."
From all of us, thanks Lilly.

January 28, 2009

Irving on Updike, DFW on Updike

John Irvin and John Updike

I'm not a big follower of the late John Updike, but I like this little anecdote that John Irving tells today on Slate about how they used to receive each other's fan mail:

For a period of time—no longer—fans used to confuse the two of us. How could this have happened? Because we were both "John"? It was baffling, but I got numerous fan letters that were meant for him, and he got fan letters that were meant for me, and this gave us the occasion to write to each other—and send the misdirected fan mail to each other. This has stopped; it hasn't happened in five or six years. Maybe this was mail from a single demented village or the same deranged family; maybe it was generational, and they've died out—those idiots who thought I was John Updike and John Updike was me.

The letters would begin "Dear John Irving," and I would read for a while before I realized that the letter-writer was talking about an Updike novel; it was the same for him. I admit that I miss this craziness; it will probably never happen again.

I wonder what it was about a misguided fan letter that tipped John Irving off that it was a letter intended for John Updike. Maybe something like:

Dear John Irving,

I'm a big fan, I've read all your novels and stories and essays. You write exceptionally beautiful and vivid prose about truly unlikeable men, who usually sound like they would be self-involved jerks who can't keep it in their pants if you knew them in real life. But your use of language sure is nice!

Truly yours,
Avid Reader Who Isn't So Hot With Names

Anyway, Irving includes a few other amusing stories. This little essay is probably the most uniformly positive thing I've ever seen written about John Updike.

A less positive reaction came from David Foster Wallace. Here's his essay titled "John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists?", originally published in the New York Observer in 1997, also appearing in Consider the Lobster with the I'm assuming deliberately opaque title, "Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think."

January 26, 2009

Who'dat?™: Sundance edition

Sundance ended on Saturday, with many celebrities attending screenings and walking around Utah smoking Marlboros.

To play today's Who'dat?™, look at the photo below and try to guess who it is. Then click on the photo to see if you're right.


A few of the notable movies at Sundance this year:

  • Spread, featuring Ashton Kutcher as a hot young Hollywood stud sleeping his way into the homes of older rich ladies, with tons of nudity and sex.
  • Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey falling in love in prison in I Love You Phillip Morris.
  • We Live in Public, a documentary about early internet entrepreneur/celebrity/over-sharer Josh Harris, whose experiments with living his life online went great until he lost his money, mind, and finally "disappeared to an apple farm upstate." Here's a David Carr article about it.
  • Push, the big winner of the festival, featuring your new favorite indie actress Mo'Nique as the teenage girl character's mother, "one of the most tragic and despicable villains, maybe, in all of cinema," according to the Spout review.

  • January 22, 2009

    Lost: the meaning of season premiere music

    Lost plays Willie Nelson record

    Last night's season premiere of Lost began almost exactly like Season 2's first episode: a man whose face is obscured gets up, puts a record on the hi-fi, and goes about his morning routine. The first episode of Season 3 featured a woman playing a CD while doing domestic things around her house.

    In the Season 2 episode, the man was Desmond, and it was the first time the audience got to see evidence of regular domestic life, technology, furniture, etc. on the island, so it was a big surprise. The Season 3 episode introduced us to Juliet and life on the island before the plane crashed.

    This time, we're used to seeing fully-stocked kitchens and stereo equipment on the island, so the scene wasn't much of a shock. The obscured man in last night's episode turns out to be Dr. Candle, a lead scientist of the Dharma Initiative. According to a theory on Slate yesterday, the first scene of a new season is a little preview of what the rest of the season will focus on. So it looks like Season 5 will be about Dharma, and probably a lot more stuff about time travel.

    Since these three season openers are so alike, let's look at the songs that Desmond, Juliet, and Dr. Candle play. Desmond played "Make Your Own Kind of Music" by Mama Cass, a song about forging your own path and staying true to your own unique ideas even if it means you'll be alone. Some lyrics: "You're gonna be knowing/ the loneliest kind of lonely/ It maybe be rough goin'/ Just to do your thing's the hardest thing to do." Desmond is alone in the hatch for what, 3 years or something? And he's on a seemingly impossible but ultimately successful solo mission to find his long lost girlfriend, and also seems to be uniquely able to time travel without having a cerebral hemorrhage.

    Juliet plays Petula Clark's "Downtown" while preparing for her book club meeting in her house on the island. It's a sad, wistful song about wanting to be somewhere else--Juliet listens to it and looks at herself in the mirror and cries, and later we find out she really wants to get off the island.

    So what does last night's song tell us about Dr. Candle, and the Dharma Initiative? Dr. Candle puts on "Shotgun Willie", a 1973 song by Willie Nelson. After getting through the lyrics about Shotgun Willie sitting around in his underwear, the record starts skipping on the lyric "Well you can't make a record" before getting to the rest of the line, which is "Well you can't make a record if you ain't got nothing to say."

    The skipping record is like the whole island that starts skipping around through time after Ben turned the Magic Wooden Wheel at the end of last season. And the lyrics might refer to Dr. Candle's unsuccessful attempt to record his introductory video on the Dharma Initiative (the one we saw a few seasons ago) because he gets interrupted when his construction crew stumbles on the time-travel mechanism that lies inside a hunk of rock on the island. Or maybe Dr. Candle really does have nothing to say and the whole premise of the Dharma Initiative is incorrect, or philosophically wrong?

    Or how about this: Check out the rest of the lyrics of "Shotgun Willie": "Now John T. Flores was working for the Ku Klux Klan/ The six foot five John T. was a hell of a man/ Made a lotta money selling sheets on the family plan."

    Whoa! The Dharma Initiative is either a white supremacist operation that seeks to use the island's mysterious time-travel capabilities to turn the island into a mono-racial anti-immigrant dystopia (unlikely-- Dr. Candle is Asian, though the rest of the Initiative crew seem really white) or the sort of mocking tone of the song means that whatever utopian ideals the Dharma Initiative has for an engineered society are as absurd as a bunch of ignorant hooligans running around with sheets over their heads.

    It's impossible to read too much into this show.

    [You can watch last night's episode for free on the ABC site.]

    January 21, 2009

    Our President is Black!

    I am unable to say anything new or even very witty about what I experienced yesterday. But here's a picture of some very happy people (who may be Young Jeezy fans).

    Yes he is.jpg

    And here's Obama giving the inaugural address.

    Let's get to work.jpg

    January 20, 2009

    Inaugration day!

    watching the inauguration

    It really happened! In all the excitement of Obama's inauguration and the outrageously optimistic hopes we all have for the new day dawning in America, I almost forgot how great it would feel to watch Bush leaving the White House, for ever. Hallelujah.

    Cushie was there in DC for the big events, so hopefully we'll get a recap from her, but for now, here are some highlights:

    The text of Obama's address,

    Sasha hamming it up:

    Sasha at Inauguration

    Rahm Emanual hamming it up:

    Rahm Emanuel at Inauguration

    Dick Cheney channeling Mr. Potter:

    Dick Cheney at inauguration

    A procession of Indian school children in Obama masks:

    Indian children in Obama masks

    and maybe the most relieved person in America today, George W. Bush.

    Bush at the inauguration

    That guy is so psyched to get the hell out of there.

    Lots of parties are going on around town tonight. Listings at Gothamist, NY Mag.

    Wherever you go, expect a lot of blue (and red?) cocktails, like these tasty ones served at Vnyl today:

    red and blue drinks

    January 16, 2009

    United States of Tara

    United States of Tara

    This Sunday is the premiere of the new dark comedy The United States of Tara on Showtime. You can watch the entire episode for free, courtesy of BUST magazine, right here:

    [Also available on IMDb and the Showtime site.]

    The show was produced and written by Diablo Cody, and as you might expect, the dialogue sometimes veers dangerously into the same self-conscious, hyper-stylized teen-speak dialect that was such a turn-off for the first 15 minutes of Juno. It's used with less intensity, but it still sounds like some bewildering white suburban tween version of Airplane's jive [video].

    Anyway, I like the show so far. Toni Collette is incredible to watch as a middle-aged mom who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder.) Her alter-egos can be caricaturish sometimes, but her shifts from one to another are believable and complete. Alessandra Stanley in the Times calls her alters "one-dimensional", but for the first episode of a show with a complicated premise, I think it makes sense to clearly distinguish the identities and let the audience understand each one immediately, even if that means they get overplayed a little. I think she's great, especially as alter Buck, a redneck man. The rest of the family is good too (especially the two kids) as they incorporate Tara's multiple identities into their daily lives with sweetness and understanding.

    My knowledge of the actual mental illness that Tara has is limited, but I do know that an alternate personality is often the result of a serious childhood trauma, and that multiple alters are often the result of systematic childhood abuse. An awful and debilitating sickness, not really a topic to be used as a sitcom joke. We don't learn from the first episode if Tara did suffer some kind of abuse, (though something along those lines is referenced in the Slate review) but hopefully, when the origin of her illness comes up, it won't be glossed over as a wacky quirk. The show seems good enough that they'll handle it OK.

    Rosemarie DeWitt, who was so good in Rachel Getting Married, plays Toni Collette's subtly bitchy sister.

    January 15, 2009

    What we know about Amy Poehler's new show

    Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton on SNL

    Some news got out about the new NBC show starring Amy Poehler. Specifically, she will play Leslie Knope, a deputy chair of the Parks & Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. Her character sounds like an ambitious local government drone who takes her small-town position too seriously: the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has seen the pilot script, and says that Amy Poehler's character has the "goal of becoming the first female President of the United States."

    Hm! Sound like any other character she's played? I was never that impressed with Amy Poehler's Hillary impression--she was too smooth and smirky and didn't capture any of Hillary's deliberate, jerky, grating speech cadence that she uses when she wants to be emphatic. The one time I really liked it was in Tina Fey's first SNL appearance as Sarah Palin, when they're at the podium together and Hillary starts to really lose her shit.

    That's how I envision Poehler's new character Leslie Knope--a more delusional, poorly-dressed version of her power-hungry, losing-her-shit Hillary.

    The show will be a lot like The Office: pretend documentary, depressing, squirm-inducing qualities. But I'm going to predict right now: it will be funnier.

    Co-stars include Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, and now the lovely and talented Aubrey Plaza from UCB. The premiere is still unannounced--sometime this Spring. UPDATE: It starts April 9.

    January 14, 2009

    Times determines America pretty much just as racist as ever

    Obama surrounded by other, white Senators

    What will race relations look like in Obama's America? The Times explores this eternally tricky issue by asking a bunch of people if they have noticed any change in how people of different races deal with each other in the Age of Obama. And by "different races" they apparently mean "black or white", because that's all that gets mentioned.

    A few good passages:

    "All this exposure to this very counterstereotypical African-American has actually changed — at least temporarily — what is on the tip of the tongue," said E. Ashby Plant, a psychologist at Florida State University and an author of a new study examining the impact of Mr. Obama on the attitudes of whites. "It may have very important implications."

    In Dr. Plant's study, 400 white college students in Wisconsin and Florida were asked, between Mr. Obama’s nomination and his election, questions like, "What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of African-Americans?"

    The unpublished study found that the answers revealed little evidence of antiblack bias, in sharp contrast to many earlier studies (including one by Dr. Plant) showing that roughly 80 percent of whites have some degree of bias.

    Sounds pretty good, but white college students learning not to come out with an obviously racist remark when asked to think about African-Americans doesn't necessarily mean that perceptions are changing.

    As one black women interviewed for the article says, "I remember people saying Michael Jordan's 'not really black,' " said Gilda Squire, 39. "It's like Obama supersedes race." And not in a good way. Other people in the article note that white people often deal with their discomfort about race by just ignoring it or pretending that they "don't see color," like Colbert does as a joke.

    Some of those interviewed for the article are hopeful that race is becoming an easier topic to talk about, which is a good sign. For white people, anyway. Most white people seem to think things aren't so bad to begin with. The article refers to a survey from July: "Nearly 60 percent of black respondents said race relations were generally bad, while only 34 percent of whites agreed."

    The article ends with the weirdest story I've seen all day:

    On the morning after the election, Kristin Rothballer, 36, who lives in San Francisco, kissed her female partner goodbye on the train while commuting to work. A black woman who sat down next to her turned and said she was sorry that Proposition 8, the amendment to ban gay marriage in the state, looked like it was going to pass.

    "We grabbed hands," Ms. Rothballer recalled. "And I said, 'Well, I really want to congratulate you because we have a black president and that's amazing.' "

    "Our conversation then almost became about the fact that we were having the conversation," she said.

    Something moved her to apologize to the black woman for slavery.


    So here's the upshot of the article:

    • You will experience more open and comfortable race relations, but only if you actually are Barack Obama,
    • Watch out for white-guilt-afflicted ladies on the BART.

    January 12, 2009

    Ladies fall for "You Light Up My Life" every time

    Jared Harris in Happiness

    The Daily News has a story today about Joseph Brooks, a man who wrote the 1977 love ballad "You Light Up My Life", made popular by Debbie Boone and used as the title song in his show biz/romance movie of the same name, which Brooks wrote and directed.

    These days, the 70 year-old Brooks is using his apparently durable fame to lure aspiring actresses to his apartment via Craig's List ads, promising to show them the Oscar he won for the song and give them parts in his next movie, then drugging and raping them. He's allegedly committed 5 such assaults over the past two years. Gross.

    Maybe he was inspired by Jared Harris' use of the song in Todd Solondz's Happiness, in which his Russian cab driver character's acoustic rendition effortlessly sweeps a love-struck Jane Adams into bed.

    Here's the video (involves sex, NSFW):

    Here's a video of Debbie Boone singing the song at the Grammys.

    Mickey Rourke at the Golden Globes

    Mickey Rourke at the Golden Globes

    It was a big night for Mickey Rourke. He got up on stage to collect his Best Actor Golden Globe, dressed in a satiny suit, sequined sash, and a chain wallet, and while he was up there, he talked about his long road back, got Darren Aronofsky to give him the finger on live tv, and thanked his agent, his co-stars, and his dogs (it was not, as Spout blog notes, an acceptance speech scripted by any publicist.)

    He also restated his enduring love for Axl Rose, in what I'm guessing was Axl's first Golden Globes acknowledgment, for giving the movie the rights to use "Sweet Child o' Mine" at an affordable price. That single rights clearance sounds like it was one of the most important elements about the whole experience of making The Wrestler, as far as Mickey Rourke is concerned. In an interview about that song, Darren Aronofsky also talked about it like it was a defining event of the entire movie:

    With "Sweet Child o' Mine", what happened was we were doing the scene in the bar. Mickey was miserable because he hates hair music. He loves Guns n' Roses but he hates a lot of hair music. I was like, "Mickey, these are the only songs we can use." There were like three or four songs that we could afford because it costs more money if the actors sing along. He said, "Why can’t we get 'Sweet Child o' Mine'?" I was like, "Go ahead, get in touch with Axl and try; but, the last time Axl gave a song to which anyone could sing along, it cost a million and a half dollars."

    So as the day got closer and closer, it became a possibility because Mickey kept bothering Axl and begging Axl, "Please, let me have it." But you know you have to get the sign-off from everyone in Guns n' Roses. But Mickey’s friends with all of them, he knows all of them. The day for shooting comes and we don’t have the rights. Mickey said, "Just shoot it. I’ll get you the rights." I said, "I can’t, man. We’ll just have to do 'Round the Round.' " So I got him to do "Round the Round."

    We got halfway through the day and then Axl called and said, "You can have 'Sweet Child o' Mine'." I was like, "Oh gosh, should we go tell Mickey that we got the song? Or just keep going because we can’t reshoot?” Because we were on such a low budget that we couldn’t go back and reshoot... In the end, creatively, I liked it the best; but, now that we had the rights to "Sweet Child o' Mine", I was like, "Oh great, we’ll use it for the final entrance because it’s such an important song for us on the film." Mickey used to come out to that when he was a boxer. Whenever he’d do anything athletic in the film, he’d be like, "Put up 'Sweet Child o' Mine' " and we’d blast it so that he was all pumped up when he did his move. For the crew it became our anthem and having it in the film was just a great thing that Axl added.

    [video of his speech]

    Note: In addition to all the former members of Guns n' Roses, Mickey Rourke is also friends with Bruce Springsteen and his main awards season competitor Sean Penn.

    January 9, 2009

    Exactly how many people did you mutilate, electrocute, or dismember, Mr. Sutherland?

    Kiefer before the Senate on 24

    The new season of 24 starts on Sunday. The producers have already been apologizing all over the place for how cruddy season 6 was and promising to do better this time. They seem to feel so bad, in fact, that the season starts with Kiefer being called before a Senate committee to answer questions about his exuberant approach to torture while he was at CTU.

    I figure that with somewhere around 8-10 people being graphically tortured on-screen for each of the previous seasons, we've seen over 50 people get cattle prods in their face, fingers clipped off, thighs stabbed, electrodes to their temples, or that clinical but horrible-looking pain serum that silent beefy dudes in suits administer. It's a lot of torture. Maybe I should go play some Tetris now.

    Are the producers of 24 trying to justify the entire premise of their show, and indirectly, the Bush administration's approach to the war on terror? I'm not sure how the Senate hearing scenes will play out, but it seems like a chance for this show, a few days before Bush will be gone forever, to half-heartedly admit that its tactics were maybe at times questionable, but ultimately, in cases of national security, claim that the ends justify the means.

    The Times has put out two stories in two days about 24. The first one covers Kiefer going before the Senate, and the stern talking-to that actual US military leaders gave to the show's producers in 2006 about how showing people getting tortured all over the place on the show was screwing up their actual war operations in Iraq. They quote a Senate hearing scene in which Kiefer says, "We've done so many secret things over the years in the name of protecting this country, we've created two worlds — ours and the people we promise to protect. They deserve to know the truth. Then they can decide how far they want to let us go."

    When the show started in the fall of 2001, the public probably had less of a problem with law enforcement using violent interrogation for the purpose of protecting our safety. Plus it makes for really good television. Now that we've all read first-hand accounts of waterboarding, we're maybe not so psyched about torture anymore.

    But when watching a show like 24, we still want Kiefer to do whatever it takes, which is pretty much the only reason it's still a good show. As Alessandra Stanley writes in today's 24 article, "At the start of the two-hour premiere on Fox this Sunday, pantywaist politicians who don't understand what it takes to protect the nation from its enemies are persecuting the very man who saved the country from disaster."

    She's kidding, sort of, but if you're a fan of the show (or a former fan, anyway--last season was really bad) this is exactly how we all feel when bureaucrats start questioning Kiefer's methods. The main reason that this kind of hand-wringing is so tedious is that 24's strengths do not lie in dialogue and moral harangues. It's pretty much only good during the action sequences and the tense, bedroom-whisper exchanges between Kiefer and his enemies. This is the sneaky way that 24 has gotten big lefties to like the show and its otherwise questionable premise: action is better than talking; don't question Kiefer, because Kiefer is always right.

    There was a good interview with Kiefer on NPR this morning (yeah, they're going for the public radio crowd this year.) He talks about his character's doubts about his own actions and the "blind ideology" that drove him in earlier seasons, but says he still likes the ambiguity of the show and Jack Bauer's struggle to do the right thing in ethically muddy situations. Then he quotes Chekhov. It's great.

    My First Tilt-Shift

    There are some great examples of the tilt-shift photography miniaturizing effect at the Met's current exhibit, "Reality Check", with Naoki Honjo's "Tokyo, Japan" photo [thanks, DLK Collection]. And probably everybody saw yesterday's BoingBoing post about a website that approximates tilt-shifting with any photo you upload, TiltShift Maker.

    I tried it with a couple of shots--fun! But as with all kinds of photography, I'm not very good at it. The online program seems to work best with shots of landscapes or groups of people that have a foreground, middle ground, and background.

    Miniaturized Andy Goldsworthy stone wall at Storm King:

    tilt shift Andrew Goldsworthy


    Miniaturized stage set-up at the Bridgeport Brewing Company in Portland:

    tilt shift Bridgeport Brewery


    January 7, 2009

    Prince's cover of "Crimson and Clover"

    This is from a couple of weeks ago, but I only just happened to hear on Classic Hits station CBS (my #1 source for music news) while at the eye doctor today that Prince released a few songs from his new album recently, one of which is a cover of one of my favorites, Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover".

    His version uses the same reverb-y guitar and underwater-sounding vocals, and it sounds fantastic. It starts off a lot like the Tommy James original, then moves into some harder Joan Jett-style rocking, with a new dropped-in verse of his own that starts "Baby, I think I love you", which Rolling Stone thinks is from Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" (or is it Prince's own "I Feel 4 U"?) Actually, I think they meant the Troggs' "Wild Thing", as covered by Jimi.

    You can hear all the new songs here. You can also listen at Prince's radioactive-psychedelic new website, Lotusflow3r.

    January 5, 2009

    Top Movies of 2008

    Happy Go Lucky, Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan

    Lots of great movies this year. As usual, I tried over the last frantic week to watch all the stuff that came out right at the end of the year, but it turned out that most of the really good ones weren't the 12/26-release-in-NY-and-LA-only Oscars fodder.

    So here's my list:

    Happy-Go-Lucky. The sunshiny, effervescent Poppy, played by Sally Hawkins, gets dropped in the middle of your typical Mike Leigh movie, shocking everyone who was used to the usual misanthropes, miserable teens, and misguided abortionists from his other movies. Her series of driving lessons with the World's Worst Driving Instructor, Eddie Marsan, shows Poppy is not a mindless dingbat wandering through life with rose-tinted blinders, but an insightful person who understands what people are really like and chooses to bring kindness and positivity to everyone she meets. This movie kind of changed the way I think about everything and was my favorite of the year. Also I could have watched an entire movie about Poppy and her friends sitting around bullshitting after their girls' night out.

    Rachel Getting Married. Like Happy-Go-Lucky, Rachel Getting Married felt so natural that watching the group and party scenes felt like being at a real family's house. An insane family that might be exhausting to be around sometimes, but a believable one. Anne Hathaway was great in a totally unflattering role, playing a girl I could empathize with even though I didn't like her, and the supporting cast is the best ensemble of the year. Stephen Holden has a good dissection of the awkward rehearsal dinner speech that Kym makes while everyone cringes. I can't wait for Rosemarie DeWitt to become a big star.

    The Wrestler. A moving and emotional movie about Mickey Rourke/Randy "The Ram" finding his way in a world that's moved on without him, and getting his pecs shot with a staple gun. I really cared about this guy, probably more than any other character this year. The writing was a little rocky sometimes, but Mickey Rourke made it better than it actually was. Can't wait to see him in 13!

    The Edge of Heaven. Turks in Germany and Germans in Turkey--the latest movie from Fatih Akin, who also made the excellent Head-On. This movie is about the complicated and seemingly fated intersections of three families. Love, crime, death, politics--all heavy stuff, but it unrolls so easily that it never feels contrived or tragic.

    Let the Right One In. The life of a lonely Swedish tween and his vampire almost-girlfriend. I especially liked the sweet, tentative, sort of creepy early scenes between the boy and girl as they figure out how to relate to each other ("Will you be my girlfriend?" "Oskar, I'm not a girl.") and the scenes that matter-of-factly reveal the gruesome realities of maintaining a supply of fresh blood. Both of the kids were first-time actors in this movie--incredible.

    4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days. AKA The Romanian abortion movie. Watching this movie from the safe distance of my American living room in 2008, I was still filled with a sense of powerless dread. It was so tense and deliberately paced that it felt like it was playing out in real time. Anamaria Marinca is especially good as the main character Otilia, a helpful friend who, as Roger Ebert says, does everything but have the abortion herself. (She's going to star in Julie Delpy's next movie, so that's good news.) I especially like the nightmare of a family party scene that breaks up the main action, and gives Otilia the opportunity to lay into her clueless boyfriend for all the injustices that women face when they risk unwanted pregnancy. I loved this movie and never want to watch it again.

    Paranoid Park. Gus Van Sant's dreamy story about a skater boy in Portland trying to cope with the confusion of teenage life and the fallout of a bad accident. This one is more about style than the story--all hazy, indistinct camera work and a disjointed structure that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

    Synecdoche, NY. I think it's best to just let this movie wash over you and not try to figure out what's happening every single minute. Here's what I got: a man spends his whole life trying to capture or recreate his life in a play, then it turns out that the play actually is his life. But it seems like the only time he finds any happiness is when he's living his life, not turning it into the play. Anyway, you know how amazing the supporting cast is? Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh. My favorite scenes were the ones with the notes between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener as his ex-wife Adele (didn't she also play an Adele in Out of Sight?) who thinks he's her maid. It didn't quite resonate with me like Eternal Sunshine did, but it's still a good one.

    Waltz With Bashir. Israeli men think back to their experiences as soldiers in the Lebanon War in 1982, as one of them tries to recall the memories he's blocked out. I just saw this last night and at first I didn't like it much. Sure, the animation of real-life interviews is cool, the music is really good, and I liked the repetition of key scenes as the characters try to make sense of their role in the war. But the ending about the reality of the massacre of thousands of Palestinian refugees made the earlier musings of some ex-soldiers seem insignificant in comparison. Then I realized that, as they say in Synecdoche, NY, we're all the leads in our own stories. And I listened to the Studio 360 interview with filmmaker and main character Ari Folman, where he says it's an anti-war movie and his decision about the ending was an ideological decision, not an artistic one. So when I thought about it that way, I liked it. Plus, playing "Enola Gay" by OMD as the soldiers are sailing into Beirut was pure morbid genius [movie clip].

    Wall-E and Man on Wire. If this is going to be a Top 10 list, then these are tied. Both movies transcend their genres (Pixar family movie and historical documentary) and made their seemingly mundane subject material way more engaging and meaningful than I expected. I definitely didn't think these would be the movies that made me get a little teary, but they were.

    There are a few other movies this year that I haven't seen yet or just missed at the theater that I really wish I had seen. A Christmas Tale looks great, but that 2-1/2 hour running time put me off. Frozen River looks so good I was tempted to just put it on my list even though I'm not going to see it until later this week when MoMA is showing it again; same deal with My Winnipeg, by Guy Maddin, a director I just found out about recently but like a lot. MoMA screening schedule is here.

    Other movies I liked: The Reader. Kate Winslet is really great in this, and I love its examination of the worst generation gap in the history of the world: German kids born post-WWII who grew up realizing their parents were Nazis. But those fake German accents that everyone uses bugged me.

    Role Models, maybe the funniest movie of the year. Also Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, all good.

    Milk was just about perfect as a by-the-book biopic about a charismatic and inspiring figure, but it was completely conventional, and I wanted more. Doubt was great (go Viola Davis!), but sort of blows it at the end, and Hamlet 2 was like an out of control genius that doesn't quite hit it every time, but when it does, look out.

    Worst movies: Religulous, which was a good effort ruined by Bill Maher's irritating demeanor and glaring favoritism of Jews and Catholics; and The Spirit, which I accidentally ended up watching the third time I attempted to see Slumdog Millionaire.

    Here's the 2007 list.

    About January 2009

    This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in January 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    December 2008 is the previous archive.

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