Month: October 2006

Late October Music

Seasonal change, I find, always inspires me to listen more closely to music. After seeing the Steve Reich gig last week I’ve been listening to him quite a great deal. I bought this CD to flesh out my collection a little bit. “Music For A Large Ensemble” just kinda picks up where “Music For 18 Instruments” leaves off. I think “18” is a better example of music beaming down to you from outer space. But “Large Ensemble” has moments of escalating beauty that, seriously, leave me short of breath. There is a very sparing use of rising brass soaring over the phasing percussion rhythms and pulsing woodwinds that, I shit you not, might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I had to stop walking and grab a parking meter on East Broadway just last night while listening on headphones and, no, I’m not usually so dramatic in public. Most fans list “Harvest” or “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere” as Neil Young’s best, but “Ragged Glory” will always be my favorite. Perhaps, I admit, this may simply be because it came out when I was a junior in high school and the songs mean something to me. . .but you listen to “Days That Used To Be” and tell me that Neil’s voice isn’t fraught with an intolerable sadness. “Love and Only Love” and “Love To Burn” both...

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Darkon (2006), Andrew Neel & Luke Meyer, A-

Glory to the Warriors of Darkon!! A joyous gem of a documentary detailing the lives, in and out of character, of an all consuming role-playing game. Who knew that each weekend, the parks of rural Baltimore were transformed into Tolkein-esque battlefields of good and evil? Who knew that the kid serving your latte at Starbucks was actually an Orc or an Elf or a Paladin? And (this is the real shocker) who knew just how well-adjusted these people are. They take their game-playing seriously, but everyone knows it is just a game. And everyone is just having a fucking blast of a good time. And, like, really changing their lives for the better because of their fantasy world. While the audience chuckles during the opening reel (’cause styrophome swords and plastic skull helmets are funny!) it soon hits you — why is this any less cool than a group that gets together to play basketball? As my grandmother used to say: go do anything, so long as you get some fresh air. (Watch the trailer. Will be in theaters...

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CSA: The Confederate States of America (2004), Kevin Willmott, B

If you are willing to suspend disbelief (the Confederacy wanted to secede, not take over) and if you like alternative-history fiction, you will greatly admire this piece. The bulk of the film is a Ken Burns-esque BBC doc on the history of the CSA from the War of Northern Aggression to today, with commercials sprinkled in. The ads, mostly for racist products, turn out all to be real items that were available as late as the 1980s (“Coon’s Chicken” and the like.) A pretty scary film; government fear mongering is the same whether its commies, terrorists or abolitionists. Good job on a low low budget,...

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Shortbus (2006), John Cameron Mitchell, C-

“Shortbus” isn’t a total disaster. Let’s set that straight. (For one thing, the making of this film led to the release of Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation.) John Cameron Mitchell writes some very clever dialogue and the first half of this movie really sings. The first half is a fine enough indie character film that does get good mileage out of its “frank sex” gimmick. These scenes are touching (Sophia watching the brunette have an orgasm) and, at times, very humorous (“Rotate!”) It’s around the midway point – when the In The Realm of the Senses egg is introduced, when things just collapse. There is nothing pushing the story forward, the blank characters haven’t the depth to hold the film on their own (sorry, but the woman playing Sophia is a terrible actress) and bon mots and fucking isn’t enough to keep me interested. (Obviously, I expect more from movies than I do from real life.) By the time we got to Jamie and the Dominatrix in the closet — a very moving and tender scene — it was too little, too late. By the faux-Nashville ending I was dumbfounded. What is the message here? This is hardly a film to promote free love! Everyone engaging in this lifestyle is miserable! Are Sophia and her husband going to get a divorce? They seem happy, but she’s a little frigid. Is that...

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Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus

No one quite does no plot quite like Vonnegut. A blackly funny little book about the absolutely miserable experience of human existence, this’d be a depressing read if it wasn’t just so fucking funny. Set in “2001” (written in 1990) and the US has outsourced itself into a blakanized prison state run by an inbred (and dyslexic) ruling class that’s proud, dammit, proud to be living in the greatest country in the world! Vonnegut’s prose is more bizarre than usual (the scribblings of a condemned man on toilet paper, backs of envelopes, etc) and each individual thought is visually fragmented. And there’s this running gag of following up most thoughts with a summation and exclamation point as if advertising copy. (It’s fun to read!) I haven’t read one of K.V.’s books in a while – he still is a...

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Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.

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