« May 2009 | Main | July 2009 »

June 2009 Archives

June 29, 2009

Lynndie's back

Lynndie England, 2009

After causing a crisis in US military morality, being the subject of an Errol Morris documentary and spawning the global internet photo meme "Doing a Lynndie", what is Lynndie England up to in 2009?

Not a lot. She hardly leaves her house, she's depressed, she can't get a job, and she's on welfare. AP has a piece on her today about her upcoming pulpy-sounding biography called Tortured: Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib and the Photographs that Shocked the World.

Lynndie served half of a 3 year sentence for her role in Abu Ghraib, but says she's still getting treated unfairly. "They think that I was like this evil torturer ... I wasn't." We all know that the highest levels of government authorized "enhanced interrogation" of suspected terrorists in Iraq, but the lead prosecutor from Lynndie's case points out that prisoners that she was guarding at Abu Ghraib weren't terror suspects, and none of them were interrogated. As the article says, they weren't terrorists, they were regular suspected "Iraqi-on-Iraqi" criminals. Her mistreatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners was just as unacceptable as mistreating any suspected criminal in a US jail would be.

So here's Lynndie, back in West Virginia with her 4 year-old son, getting turned down for restaurant jobs because the other employees said they would quit if the manager hired her. Clearly, moving back to one's rural hometown and sending around a bunch of resumes that say "Lynndie England" on them isn't a good post-release employment strategy.

Extreme cellulite cures

Babies and cellulite

Last week, the Times had an article explaining the physical differences between men and women in how they get cellulite, and why even fit and slender women can end up with oatmeal-like thighs, while men can have expansive acres of fat rolling out in all directions and still have smooth, non-dimpled skin. It's due to differences in connective tissue that holds fat in place under your skin, and the explanation is pretty simple and interesting.

And, of course, there's nothing you can do about it. If you have cellulite, it's probably not going anywhere, despite many creams and treatments that basically just irritate your skin a little bit so that your lumpy butt is temporarily masked by uniform swelling. Ow.

But that didn't stop readers from writing in with their tales of diet and exercise curing them of their cellulite. Or, in one woman's case, breastfeeding for a long, long, long time:

Breast feeding for a very long time permanently cured me of cellulite. When the body is forced to supply the calories that a growing child demands, it uses up all of the fat stores and --- at least in my experience --- the fat cells never come back and they'll also never nag you for food again. OK, so it took 5 straight years of breast-feeding (2 kids), but it was good for them and it was excellent for me. No cellulite, no hunger pains, and most important ... VERY HEALTHY KIDS.

It's an unexpected benefit of kids: they suck all the fat out of your body like hungry little ticks! In five years, your legs will be taut and your children will be fat and happy, nourished by your cellulite.

This advice sort of makes biological sense, but I bet most ladies out there are going to be fine with buying their useless cream at the Rite Aid and spending their lives doing some occasional squats and other non-lactation activities.

[tx esskay!]

June 24, 2009

Double Down Oscars

Drag Me To Hell

Some interesting news today: the Academy decided to double the number of nominees for Best Picture this year from 5 to 10. So all those movies that you love but you know are never ever in a million years going to be considered for an Oscar? They could actually get in.

This move was probably prompted by last year's race, in which no Best Picture nominee was particularly successful at the box office. Slumdog did well for an independent, but other than that, there was stuff like Frost/Nixon and The Reader. The movie industry is probably worried about alienating those few remaining Americans that still purchase actual movie tickets, because those people tend to be interested in movies like The Dark Knight, and are less enthusiastic about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

In the spirit of the announcement, here are 5 movies that have come out in the first half of this year that I'd love to see get a nomination, which in any other year probably wouldn't stand a chance once Shutter Island and A Serious Man and Ninja Assassin hit:

Adventureland. Funny, sweet, subtle, and smart. Anyone who has ever had an unrequited crush can get into this movie. Killer soundtrack and outstanding cast, especially Martin Starr and, surprise, Ryan Reynolds.

Goodbye Solo. So minimal you hardly realize anything is happening until you get to the end and your mind is blown.

The Girlfriend Experience. Hell, maybe. It's one of Soderbergh's better small movies, quietly moving and sadder than you think it's going to be. I can't get behind the stunt casting at the center of the movie, but it still holds up.

Drag Me to Hell. If there were awards for Best Genre Picture, this would be it. Hands down the funniest, grossest, most rollicking good time of a horror movie I've seen in forever. It's like Sam Raimi finally got to do all the awesomely sick stuff he's been saving up over 6 years of Spider-Man. Freaking fantastic. Like coming home again for horror fans.

Moon. This movie uses some ideas from 2001, Alien, Sunshine, and sort of Nabokov's Despair, but somehow still goes somewhere new and original. Sam Rockwell deserves a Best Actor nomination for creating more than one completely believable and engaging performance while acting in a vacuum on a big empty set. An unsettling exploration of what it would be like to encounter yourself, then discover that you're actually sort of a jerk.

There will be a lot more good movies this year, but this decision opens up the awards to lot of interesting stuff that would otherwise get overlooked. As the President of the Academy said, "Who knows, there might even be a comedy."

June 22, 2009

Alice in Wonderland = Tim Burton x 1,000

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter

Today we get to see some images from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which suggest that for this movie, he took the psychedelic Victorian Willy Wonka get-up he created for Johnny Depp a few years ago, soaked it in radioactive Kool-Aid, then gave it to a CGI Elijah Wood robot to put on.

Looks like Burton is relying more and more on facial distortion effects and wacky costumes, which makes me look back wistfully on his movies like Ed Wood that concentrated more on good actors and memorable characters, and the unadulterated gorgeousness of Johnny Depp. Even Sweeney Todd (which I liked) had a more understated look, and that's a Sondheim musical for crying out loud.

You can look at more images from Alice in Wonderland, including a hallucinatory videogame-like garden, a scary/funny Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and a surprisingly un-processed Anne Hathaway.

June 18, 2009

TV theme songs

Mary Tyler Moore opening sequence hat throw

Today's Daily News has a long analysis of the evolution of TV show theme songs. It doesn't seem to be related to anything, but it's pretty good anyway. It starts out with the idea that you can identify someone's generation by which theme songs they know all the words to: "Gilligan's Island" represents one generation, "Brady Bunch" is another, and "Greatest American Hero" is another. Of course, anyone who's in my generation knows all three because of the Golden Age of Afternoon Reruns in the early to mid-80's.

Anyway, the point of the article is that with so many shows on all the network and cable channels, audiences don't have the time or the brain capacity to get to know and love theme songs they way they used to, and many shows have almost completely gotten rid of theme music all together. Think of those 3 seconds of abstract whooshing that seems to be the theme music for "Lost".

There's a long tradition of theme songs that set up the premise of a show and characterized the storyline that extends into recent years. The theme song for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" [video] about how Mary's gonna make it after all sets the stage for the show in much the same way that They Might Be Giants' "Boss of Me" did for "Malcolm in the Middle" [audio], and that ran until 2006.

Today's producers seem to be less secure about holding viewers, so they cut the long theme song to get straight to the action: "Now that most of us have dozens or hundreds of channels to surf through, and a remote to do it with, the networks are terrified that the minute one show ends, we will start looking around ... The idea is that we shouldn't have time to even think about picking up the remote before we're seeing action from the next show."

Maybe that's why cable networks are comfortable with longer opening sequences with theme songs than networks are, so we get "The Sopranos" [video] and "Weeds" [video] with one and a half minute intros, and on the networks we have a few quick bleeps to introduce "24".

So I'll share a few of my favorite theme songs and TV theme music. Please add any other stellar examples or personal favorites in the comments. (Click on the show names to hear the theme music.)

Miami Vice: My entire family used to be whipped into a frenzy of excitement every Friday night when that Jan Hammer music came on.
Mad Men: That moody, jazzy theme song with the hesitant descending strings somehow captures everything you need to know about the show.
The Jeffersons: I know. It's obvious, it's predictable, it's fantastic. It's by Ja'net Dubois.
Fame: Maybe I'm being influenced by the trailer for the new movie, but the original was really great.
Law & Order: Both the succinct "Dick Wolf Cash Register Sound" and the funky shuffle of the original show's theme music.
The X-Files: Abstract and spooky, maybe most popular ambient TV theme song ever?

The site Television Tunes seems to have every theme song ever--over 11,000.

June 16, 2009

Francis Ford Coppola is still upset

Francis Ford Coppola at Cannes for Tetro

Francis Ford Coppola is, arguably, back. His new movie, Tetro, has gotten good reviews, and in recent interviews he's talked about what a relief it is to make a movie where he created the story, wrote the screenplay, and directed, something he hasn't done since 1974's The Conversation.

But he's had some rough times too (remember Dracula?) and says he's been in a creative slump for 25 years (that would be since around Rumble Fish.) He seems to have some specific, residual bad feelings about his career: I remember seeing a list of his favorites of his own movies a couple of years ago when Youth Without Youth was coming out, and he purposefully left off all the Godfather movies.

Today, he's still hating on The Godfather, a movie he made when he was younger than I am now. In a letter to viewers that was sent to the Landmark Film Club members this week, he says "Tetro is the kind of film I might have been making 35 years ago, had my career not taken an abrupt and sudden turn as it did with The Godfather." Then he goes on to say that his success with The Godfather made the studios want him to do more gangster movies, or "if not a gangster film, then take your choice between a thriller, a caper film, a romantic comedy (nothing wrong with that) or sci-fi epic (nor that)."

In another interview in The Examiner, he says he didn't even want to make The Godfather II, and that his success with those movies didn't mean a thing when it came time to make Apocalypse Now, which no one would fund.

You know, there aren't a lot of people out there who, after accomplishing something like The Godfather II, would dismiss it as something they didn't even want to do it in the first place.

I guess when you've had a wildly erratic career like his, you're going to end up talking about your older movies at least as much as you talk about your current one. How many more millions of people have watched and loved The Godfather than will ever see Tetro? A lot. It sounds like Coppola will always be dissatisfied with how his career turned out and which movies he'll always be remembered for. He still hasn't gotten over his early success.

Here's an interesting thing: when he did an interview about Youth Without Youth in 2007, he said that Tetro was going to star Matt Dillon and Javier Bardem, neither of whom are actually in it. Instead he got the aggressively insane Vince Gallo and an unknown Alden Ehrenreich, which he now says is better because non-stars are "100 percent in control of their careers," like he says Marlon Brando also was for The Godfather.

Of course, the reason these actors are so in control of their careers is that most other directors wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole, but clearly this strategy has worked well for Coppola before. I haven't seen Tetro yet, but I hope it's good enough for this poor guy to start feeling better about being Francis Ford Coppola.

June 15, 2009

School of Seven Bells, Rock and Roll

School of Seven Bells at Bowery Ballroom

[photos by tammylo]

I first saw the Deheza sisters when they were part of On! Air! Library! back at the now-defunct Rothko in October 2004. I liked them--dreamy, atmospheric programmed rock with some guitars, and beautiful vocal harmonies. They were better live than on their album (I think they only ever did one)--harder, louder, and I didn't mind the repetitive droning aspects of their music that got a little tedious when listening at home. On the album, some songs felt like they were 2-3 minutes too long, prompting one non-fan friend to make an ingenious play on their name: I! Hate! Them!

Anyway, they've since regrouped as School of Seven Bells, and have been touring like crazy for the last couple of years in support of their album Alpinisms. I got to see them Friday night at the Bowery Ballroom.

They've moved up in the world of New York venues, and they've really jumped ahead in their sound. Those same gorgeous harmonized voices from gorgeous twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra, on top of some searing guitars with tons of effects, tight keyboard melody lines, and some big big beats. They sound like the harder early Lush tunes (think "De-Luxe" and the louder version of "Thoughtforms") with some noodly MBV-style shredding. And then Orbital or Underworld's drums programmer doing some kick-ass electro-techno beats.

Their album doesn't always sound like it, but School of Seven Bells live are an abstract-rock party band, something less blowsy than dream pop. Dream Rock? They also had cool video at the show, including one visual effect that I still can't figure out, which involved a bright light creating a shadow of the band on a white backdrop, then smaller and smaller versions of that same shadow image moving in flashes up the screen. It was pretty wild.

Their first album is out on Ghostly International, the Michigan label that also has Matthew Dear and some other dancy stuff. The next one will be big, I bet.

Here are some more photos of the show from Time Out, and some videos, which are OK, but they're a lot better live.

June 11, 2009

What went wrong with Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad bear season 2 finale

It's been a week or two since the season 2 finale of Breaking Bad on AMC. We don't usually spend a lot of time talking about TV and movies we don't like, but there was a little commentary on the season yesterday on Variety (by Liz Smith, who loves the show) so I thought I'd say something about it.

Season 1 was great. I love the premise of Bryan Cranston as a high school chemistry teacher who starts producing high-quality meth when he gets diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. The show had all kinds of complicated moral issues about how far you can reasonably go to provide for your family, and it was interesting to see a TV show that explored how successful drug dealers can be if they run their operation like a business and aren't moronic fuck-ups. Watching Bryan Cranston blunder through an unfamiliar, chaotic world was a real pleasure, especially when he started realizing he was actually good at dealing drugs.

Season 2 slammed on the brakes from the first few episodes. Whole weeks went by when nothing happened apart from Bryan Cranston bickering with his lovable numbskull partner in crime, Jesse, and his wife, Skyler, vacillating between suspicion of her husband's behavior and outright hostility. Week after week. Skyler also turned into the most irritating character on television this season, and didn't get much to do besides yell at Bryan Cranston and spend hours in the bathroom rubbing grooming products on her face.

The only good episode in the first part of the season was when Bryan Cranston and his partner got kidnapped by the pathological big-time dealer Tuco, and taken to his cabin the middle of the Mexican desert. The shoot-out was awesome.

But I gave up on the show for a while after noticing I could have missed a whole month of episodes and not missed a single plot development. Things picked up in the last few episodes of the season with Jesse and his new mean girlfriend and the two of them getting back on drugs together until she dies.

Then came the big finale, in which we finally find out what that charred pink teddy bear floating in Bryan Cranston's pool was all about, after seeing it over and over in the first shots of a bunch of episodes through the whole season.

It was a total letdown. A plane crash? Sure, that's dramatic if there are people on the plane that are connected to characters we know and care about. I like John de Lancie as the grieving father of Jesse's dead girlfriend, but we didn't knew his character well enough to be drawn into his flubbing up his air-traffic controller job. The end of the episode felt contrived, like manufactured drama that wasn't connected to the main action and characters of the show.

The burned teddy bear falling into Bryan Cranston's pool was like a clumsy moral judgment raining down from on high-- Vince Gilligan (the writer/creator who I usually love) actually said it was meant to symbolize "the wrath of God." The Slash Film recap calls it "fatalistically ludicrous." Liz Smith thinks the finale's events were "so dramatic, unbelievable and yet unhappily believable that they defy TV expectations," which is true if you expect that TV shows have storylines that make sense within the reality of the show.

Breaking Bad will have a third season, and I really hope more happens in each episode, instead of trying to cram all the action into an unsatisfying Biblical act of destruction at the end that hits viewers over the head with weird vengeful moralizing.

June 9, 2009

Christina Aguilera's mysterious cool trajectory

Le Tigre and Christina Aguilera

First she put her pants back on. Then she recorded an album of 40's style jazz with beats. Now Christina Aguilera is recording her new album with Ladytron, who reported that they were doing some tracks for the album, including a (presumably chilly-electro-style) cover of Ladyhawke's "My Delirium", a rockin' little song that was totally ubiquitous all winter and spring at the spinning class I go to.

And now she's recording with Le Tigre, those raging synth-punk feminist rockers we had almost given up on. It's been 5 years since their last album. But according to Le Tigre's JD Samson, the whole band is doing something with Christina for her new album, which comes out this fall. As Pitchfork reports, it will be a "bizarrely awesome combination."

I'm hoping for a duet of Christina's four-octave soul stylings and Kathleen Hanna's joyfully pissed-off snarl-screech. Hopefully recording with a mega-superstar will encourage Le Tigre to return to the catchy, banging, punky-pop sound from their early days.

June 5, 2009

Reviews of The Hangover

The Hangover

So The Hangover looks pretty hilarious. The Times did a sweetly admiring profile of director Todd Phillips last week (in which he quotes Mike Tyson during the shoot as saying, bizarrely, "Oh, man, this is great. I’m getting taught to punch by the captain of the Jewish debating team.") And the cast is great.

So I was surprised to see A.O. Scott's review in the Times, which is so dripping with contempt for the movie's adoration of its man-child characters and barely concealed sexism that, as my friend T-Rock said, you have to check to make sure it wasn't written by Manohla Dargis. He acknowledges that the movie is funny, but says that you'll probably end up feeling bad about yourself if you laugh, because of all the immature jokes and racism and sexism. It's funny, but it's wrong.

But Roger Ebert's review? Three and a half stars!

Here's what I love about Roger Ebert: he would never criticize a horror movie just for being too violent. He would never criticize a romantic movie just for being too sentimental. And he would never criticize a movie about a bunch of doofusy guys having a wild bachelor party in Las Vegas just for being too ridiculous and immature. From his review:

Now this is what I'm talkin' about. The Hangover is a funny movie, flat out, all the way through. Its setup is funny. Every situation is funny. Most of the dialogue is funny almost line by line. At some point we actually find ourselves caring a little about what happened to the missing bridegroom -- and the fact that we almost care is funny, too.

Here is a movie that deserves every letter of its R rating. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, especially after you throw up.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Either Roger Ebert is secretly a sexist fratty jerk or for once he's a little bit savvier about how genre movies work than A.O. Scott.

UPDATE: I saw the movie. It was very immature and ridiculous, and I laughed a lot (though maybe not quite as much as Roger Ebert did) and didn't feel wrong or like a bad person about it. Also, the director totally used the same inappropriate song at a formal event joke as he did in Starsky & Hutch, where the band at a girl's bat mitzvah played "Feel Like Makin' Love".

Yeah, the characters are man-children, and they follow completely predictable development arcs where the wimpy one grows a pair, the jackassy one gets a little bit nicer, and the weird one with no pants sort of gets his act together (but still doesn't have any pants.) The women are one-dimensional fantasy plot devices, but not any more so than most male characters are in ridiculous movies for women like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or The Holiday.

For what it is, The Hangover is good. And it looks like the public is on Ebert's side: even sort of late on a Sunday night, the theater was full, and those people ate every infantile joke up.

(Tx Stef!)

June 4, 2009

Good, crazy, violent Bob Dylan video

Still from Bob Dylan Beyond Here Lies Nothin' video

Pitchfork has a regular feature called Director's Cut, where they interview the directors of interesting music videos. Today's installment is about a new video for Bob Dylan's "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'", which is more like a short movie that uses the Dylan song as its soundtrack than a traditional music video.

In addition to hearing the song, you can hear a lot of ambient sounds of the main action of the video/movie, which consists of a man and a woman beating the crap out of each other in a motel room. The storyline is minimal and inexplicable, but it's an engrossing, violent video.

The video is by an Australian director Nash Edgerton, who has mostly done stunt work in a million action movies, and directed a few of his own movies. Looks like he's a big fan of the Uma Thurman/Daryl Hannah scene in Michael Madsen's trailer in Kill Bill 2.

And there's your tie-in tribute to today's sad news about David Carradine.

June 3, 2009

Microsoft makes you the decider

Bing ad still

Microsoft has launched its new search engine, Bing, and tonight will start showing some TV ads to try to get more than 8% of the market share to use it.

The ad starts with a montage of lots of the internet memes we've come to know and love. The still image above has a bunch of them--you've got the OK Go video, Chocolate Rain, Dramatic Chipmunk, Afro Ninja, the cat on the piano, the monkey on the laptop, Perez Hilton, and on and on.

Then a voiceover says, "While everyone was searching, there was bailing." Then we see images related to the financial crisis and bailout, and flashing text says we're all "lost in links" and suffering from "search overload", as though the current recession is somehow related to popular YouTube videos.

Anyway, then we move on to shots of smiling children using electronic devices, joggers, a rubber stamp that says "Let's go!", and the Bing logo. The voice-over narrator says, "It's time to *Bing*!" in falsetto.

This ad is a little bit better than the Google Chrome ad with the colorful toy blocks, but it seems to be targeted to people who don't enjoy the internet. The ad says that old search engines (Google) are for using interactive sites like YouTube and watching funny videos, and for reading news about the economy, which is more or less how most people actually use the internet. But this new search engine isn't about that: it's more focused, and it's for "deciding". The ad calls it a "decision engine", not a search engine. It's like Microsoft actually wants you to think "I'm the decider" while watching this ad.

Here are Bing search results for Bing Crosby and Steve Bing (number one related search for Steve Bing is Rick Santorum, ha!)

You can watch the whole ad on YouTube, that symbol of woefully outdated internet search, or just turn on the TV over the next few days.

About June 2009

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

May 2009 is the previous archive.

July 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35