Thursday, September 29, 2011


I won't lie. If Dexter had me wrapped in plastic and with a scalpel at my throat I'd have to admit that his show is my single favorite on-going series on television. That said, I review the new season here for Slant Magazine and it is a less-than-stellar beginning.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

This Tsui Hark-directed film is a blend of Wuxia-style martial arts action and mystery story. It's pretty nice to look at, and has some creative action sequences, but it was just so confusing to follow, such a jumble of plot twists and random characters, that I just couldn't keep up. Maybe I'm too old, or maybe it was just a bad film. And more proof that if you call something a detective story I will go and see it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Poetry Monday

I was listening to the Tony Bennett's duets on the NPR First Listen page. (If you don't go there you should). His duet with Norah Jones is a song called Speak Low, with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ogden Nash. I'd never heard it before and it's an excellent song and, of course, also poetry. Ogden Nash is not one of my favorite light poets but I had no idea he was also a lyricist. Video below, plus the lyrics.

Speak low when you speak, love
Our summer day withers away too soon, too soon
Speak low when you speak, love
Our moment is swift, like ships adrift, we're swept apart, too soon
Speak low, darling, speak low
Love is a spark, lost in the dark too soon, too soon
I feel wherever I go that tomorrow is near, tomorrow is here and always too soon
Time is so old and love so brief
Love is pure gold and time a thief
We're late, darling, we're late
The curtain descends, ev'rything ends too soon, too soon
I wait, darling, I wait
Will you speak low to me, speak love to me and soon

Sunday, September 25, 2011


A very good baseball film with a solid (better than solid, really) performance by Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A's and the first implementer of the moneyball system of baseball management. It's a clever script, well-acted on all fronts, and I think the film even has some soul; one of its questions is whether a game like baseball means anything. Charlene thought the film was too long and she was probably right. It runs quite a bit over two hours. She also suggested they cut the flashback sequences that show Billy Beane when he was major league ballplayer. Again, probably right. They use those sequences to build up a motivation but I'm not sure it's really necessary--it's all there in Brad Pitt's performance.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

I am kind of fascinated by the late Woody Allen movies that are completely nihilistic. Match Point was a thriller in that mode, but this film is ostensibly a comedy. A nihilistic comedy in which the final message seems to be that the only potentially happy character in the bunch of neurotic Londoners is an alcoholic old woman who has come to believe in reincarnation, her disillusionment allowing her to deal with her unhappy day-to-day. This is a bleak bleak film, but the dialogue was pretty sharp and the acting was particularly good. Both Gemma Jones and Anthony Hopkins were excellent as a divorced older couple, each desperate to find something to get them through old age, but I was particularly taken with Naomi Watts as their only daughter. She has a chilling final scene where she turns on her mother.

Still, none of this is exactly new territory for Woody Allen and some of the dialogue will be familiar from other films. The question is: if you've seen every Woody Allen film before can you stomach another one about neurotic city dwellers desperate for love? And if you haven't seen every Woody Allen films then why would you choose this one over, say, Radio Days or Manhattan or even Midnight in Paris?

One last thing: I know that Josh Brolin is playing a narcissistic talentless writer but he does he really deserve that haircut (see below), and in what universe would he be able to seduce Freida Pinto?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Anna Karina

71 today. Model, actress, novelist, screenwriter, director. But really I'm just posting this as an excuse to post the video below from Bande a Part. I could watch this dance sequence (here it's set to a Nouvelle Vague song, not in the original movie) endless times. Coincidentally, this was the scene that Tarantino showed to John Travolta and Uma Thurman before filming their dance sequence in Pulp Fiction. They were nervous and so he wanted to show them that film dancing didn't necessarily have to be perfect. A Band Apart is also the name of Tarantino's production company. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stars and Bars (1984)

This is easily my least favorite of the William Boyd novels that have consumed my summer of reading. It's a comic novel, a fish out of water tale about an English art appraiser on a trip to the deep South where he becomes embroiled with a family of eccentrics. It suffers from that comic-novel problem of ultimately not being all that amusing. It's especially painful when there are clearly scenes intended to be both outrageous and riotously funny that fall flat. Also, the main character, Henderson Dores, is described early on and frequently as suffering from shyness and it doesn't really fit. I know shyness, and he doesn't seem to have it. He's more of a spineless prick. Can't win 'em all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Poetry Monday

There's not a whole lot of poetry in movies and television, except for Shakespeare, of course. So it's notable that e. e. cummings' poem "somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond," has played a crucial role in both a film and now a television series.

It was used first in Woody Allen's brilliant Hannah and Her Sisters. Philandering husband Michael Caine buys a book of cummings' poetry for his wife's sister, played by Barbara Hershey. He directs her to a certain poem and Woody Allen has Hershey read the lines in voice-over. He even uses the final line of the poem as a chapter heading.

It's a nice moment in the film, and the poem makes Barbara Hershey overlook Michael Caine's glasses and have an affair with him.

The same poem was used in a similar vein in last week's episode of the first-rate new BBC American show The Hours, about a BBC news hour set in 1956. The character played by Ben Whishaw sends the poem to Romola Garai. He doesn't have the same luck that Michael Caine did. By the way, The Hours took a little while to get going but it's pretty great television, and it is beautiful to look at.

Without further ado, the poem:

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I didn't really love Drive, the existential, arty (Gosling's protagonist has no name) thriller, even though I would love more arty, existential thrillers in my life. Especially ones that ape the rhythms and visuals of 1980s cinema, other moody pieces like Manhunter and Mona Lisa. So why didn't I love it? I don't really know right now. The first two thirds of the film were very enjoyable with Gosling (always good) as a detached professional, a driver who splits his working hours between film work, mechanic work, and getaway car driving. But the film shifts toward tenderness and ironically (intentionally so) toward brutal violence. Maybe it was trying too hard. Still, go see it if you enjoy well-crafted old-school action sequences and can stomach the sight of a man's head being stomped into a pulp.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Steven Soderbergh's virus-spreading thriller is a good example of trusting one's material. Despite it's all-star cast the film unfolds almost like a docudrama, detailing to the spread of a brand-new contagious disease. Needless to say: riveting. Or at least riveting for those of us who enjoy movies and books about deadly viruses.

The only misfire: Jude Law as an obnoxious immoral blogger trying to cash in. And why was he given an ugly prosthetic tooth? We all know he's Jude Law, handsome movie star. It was just distracting. Picture below.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

A perfect performance by Richard Burton as a weary cold-war era spy on one last mission for Queen and country. It's a slow-moving, calculated cynical thriller, beautifully directed by Martin Ritt. I can't believe I'd never seen this film before. I'd read the book and this is a perfect adaptation. Now I'm even more excited to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy this autumn.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Congratulations Tim Wakefield

on 200 wins. This will probably be my first and only sports post on this blog but knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has been my favorite Red Sox player for many, many years.

Oh, and the Red Sox actually won a game. That was good, too.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I believe that director Joe Wright has a masterpiece in him somewhere but this wasn't quite it. I enjoyed it, and it made me want the world to have more arty thrillers rather than less but the artiness in this one somehow got in the way of the story. At some point I was still admiring the compositions and not particularly invested in the narrative. Not exactly what you want with a B-movie plot about a super-human pre-teen killing machine.

Next up for Mr. Wright is Anna Karenina, starring everyone who has ever acted in one of his films. Fingers crossed for the masterpiece.