Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sad and squalid

I liked The Reluctant Fundamentalist so much that I followed it up with Mohsin Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke. This one's set completely in Pakistan, though with flickers of the U.S., and has the same concerns about screwed-up relationships, the effect of the world economy on individual drones, and the pace of urban life killing us all. Singularly depressing, with a more experimental style. I didn't love it, but it was an interesting read.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The pleasure of agreement

I haven't been watching much late-night TV lately -- the time for practicing and studying guitar has to come from somewhere! But I did tune in again the other night in time to catch a delightful rant by Craig Ferguson that went something like this:

"Young people of America. I finally decided to listen to the Jonas Brothers, and oh my lord, they SUCK! (audience cheers) Young people! I'm begging you! They don't even suck in an interesting way!" The delight was in the delivery. There's a crap vid on YouTube of an old rant of his about their appearance, but apparently the music pushed him over the edge.

As I always say: they will live to regret this, much like NKOTB fans.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An imaginarium of his own

Was there ever a director with such grandiose artistic vision and bad luck as Terry Gilliam? His Baron Munchausen has become a byword, and is probably the reason stupid Warner Brothers wouldn't consider him to direct the initial Harry Potters. I've just watched Lost in La Mancha, the highly entertaining documentary about his failed Don Quixote film. Most films, I imagine, hang by a tightrope the way this one did, with actors not showing up till the last second, sound problems from planes, not hammering down contracts, etc. But this one was special. Location was (why?) next to a NATO air base. There was a flash flood on the second day of production. Then there were actor Jean Rochefort's health problems, culminating in a herniated disc. It ended with bangs and whimpers and insurance squabbles.

But it's finally due to be remade next year. The insurance company refused to relinquish the rights for years, but Gilliam's got it back, baby! Here's wishing him the best of luck and a big knock on wood, but word is that he may have to do it without Johnny Depp this time. I hope he can keep some of the old sets and costumes. The design looks absolutely gorgeous, and so did the locations (Spain). Gilliam also drew the most extraordinary mock-ups for his storyboards and designs, which I would love to see in a book.

Of course, bad as Rochefort's prostate problems and back problems were, he didn't go to the length that Gilliam's last leading man did to wreak havoc.

It was Heath Ledger. He died.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A quick rock thought

Here's one of my favorite songs from the famous Queen concert at Wembley (not Live Aid, their own concert the next year):

I absolutely adore this performance, but who let Spike Edney (Queen's extra instrumentalist in their later concerts) wear that pink tank top? And suspenders, gods above. Would not a flashing sign over his head saying "Not Really Part Of The Band" have been more subtle? All the more because the band is extremely color coordinated in their own crazy way in this concert; John's tiny yellow eighties shorts go with Freddie's Coronation Street shirt and the military-style jacket he's already shed, Brian and Roger both started out wearing stripes, etc.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A long and storied life

In the category of "finally got around to it," I read the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines, which tells the story of a young slave freed by the end of the Civil War, who lives through all the turmoil of the next several decades. Reconstruction, racism, rights, death, marriage, humor -- it's all in here, and extremely well wrought. The only fault I have to find with the book is its episodic quality, which I'm not terribly fond of. I think it could have been given a little more of an arc, but at the same time, I can understand that life doesn't always fall out that way, and it follows in a great tradition of rather episodic African American literature, like Souls of Black Folk.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I was intermittently weirdly cool as a child, probably because I so didn't give a crap about the things that I ignored. Stuff like New Kids on the Block. I think we can agree that I made the right call on that one. (All those Jonas Brothers fans are going to know what I mean in 5-10 years.) However, there were also things I was into that made me cool. Guns N'Roses was one of those things. Yes, heavy metal can keep you cool even when you're reading Dickens, wearing knee-high socks (thanks mom), and ac(e)ing every test. Ah, "November Rain," you saved me.

I hate prom

I finally figured out why I never really got into Eric Clapton. Two words: "Wonderful Tonight." Can you blame me? Of course, it's a charming, mushy, sentimental song, and his guitar sounds as good as it always does, but it was a staple of the painful junior high and high school slow dance. A girl putting on her makeup, a boy telling her she looks wonderful... Ugh, ugh, vomit. I still can't listen to it without a shudder.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Happy birthday to me

My birthday present to myself came today, two Czech Queen LPs. Why Czech? Well, Queen vinyl is very collectible, but of course, since LP collecting is odd, colored vinyl is exceedingly collectible. And so are rarities. Foreign releases often combine the two. I decided recently to collect Queen vinyl, since my dad has tons of vinyl that I will inherit someday, all classical and light music. I already had a Radio Ga Ga single and the Jazz album with its wonderful centerfold photo of the band in the recording studio. Now I have Queen I, with a marbleized white LP, and Queen II, with a black-stained green LP. Good times. Of course, someday when my ship comes in, I will get the pink vinyl Ecuadorean greatest hits or the Holy Grail of Queen collecting, the 7" limited promotional blue vinyl Bohemian Rhapsody single.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Installation heaven

I finally went to the new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago today, the modern wing. Airy, glassy, white-boxy; it's much like any other modern art museum you've been in, but newer. There was actually a moment looking at Miro paintings when I forgot where I was and wondered if I was in the Tate Modern (I've been multitasking too much lately, I guess).

But well worth your while. Some of the good old familiar pieces have been moved, like Picasso's Old Guitarist, the Roy Lichtensteins, the Gaudier-Brzeska stag sculpture. But the installations in the post-1950 galleries are great. There's a gay marriage room -- no, really -- as well as a room with a gigantic carved sculpture of a fallen cypress that was designed by the artist and made by woodworkers in Japan, and a very interesting installation room reflecting on America post-9/11. Pardon me for forgetting all the artists' names; I was clearly in a semi-hallucinatory state. I enjoyed my quick run through and will have to go back another day to see the Architecture section.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gangster epic

I went to see the movie about John Dillinger, Public Enemies with Johnny Depp last night, the first time I have been to an opening weekend in I don't know how long. Now here's a saga for you: I've been aware of this movie for a long time because it was partly filmed in Oshkosh (which I recognized in the film). My friends in Oshkosh told me to come up, sleep on their floor, and be an extra -- casting calls had gone out for women sizes 2-12 or something odd like that. Of course, I pointed out that they were likely not looking for Asian extras, unless they needed Native Americans (which judging from the movie, no, it was mostly Midwestern, especially the Oshkosh-filmed sections). Anyway, they were more excited about David Wenham, who played Faramir in Lord of the Rings, than Johnny Depp.

For good reason, as it turns out, because there wasn't really any conviction or point of view in Depp's performance, or Christian Bale's for that matter. No, I take that back. Bale had a point of view, but no ability to convey inner struggle through subtle facial expression. Whatever happened to him? He was so good at that in American Psycho. Marion Cotillard, however, was almost too great as Billie, Dillinger's girl. She has a kind of ferocity and intelligence as an actress that only Rachel Weisz also has that I can think of (what an awful sentence). This isn't to say that those are the best things to have; they're also limiting. I can't imagine either of them playing some of the roles that Kate Winslet has, for instance, and it was almost too much for a two-bit coat check girl to be an epic heroine. But it worked here, because this was definitely more of an epic than an action movie or a gangster flick.

The one really moving moment to me didn't even have Depp in it; it's the scene where Billie has been smacked around and 'tortured' during her interrogation, and Bale comes in and expressionlessly releases her and carries her out. It wasn't too hammer over the head in the parallels to Guantanamo, and nothing was said about our moral downfall as we pursue justice, etc. It had the bones of a great scene.

Really quite well made, which no doubt accounts for the storm of good reviews. Beautiful art direction, interesting hand-held style cinematography, a little bit heavy on the epic music. Compared to summer popcorn fare, it's practically arthouse. But I can't figure out how it managed to be a pretty decent movie without great acting from the two male leads, not much chemistry between the romantic leads, and not enough time ever to get to know some of the cooler side characters.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

The Statue of Liberty's crown has just reopened to tourists, albeit bagless, guided by Park Rangers, and limited to 30 at a time. While this might significantly improve the experience, let me tell you right now: it ain't worth it. I was about ten years old, I think, when we took my aunt and uncle to see it. I remember the interminable climb, which was not so much a climb as a standstill. I was sitting on the stairs at my uncle's feet, suffering in silence till the next time we got to climb a few feet. Then when we got to the crown, they were shuffling us through, so I got a quick glimpse through the small windows, which I recall not even being perfectly clean, and that was it.

In contrast, the pedestal is still a great view, it's open so you can smell the sea breeze, it's elevator-equipped for the handicapped, and you can walk all the way around. No contest.