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End of Year Spins

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Sunday, December 31st, 2006

The last few days I find myself listening to the amusingly named CD “Naive and Sentimental Music” by John Adams.

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It’s three tracks consist of variegated styles — some quite “modern” and others just triumphant. Quite terrific stuff.

Also: on frequent repeat: Shoot out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson.

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Definitely the best thing either of them ever did (and that’s saying a lot) this, too, is a collection of very different moods. “Man in Need” has a bouncy march tempo and fabulous harmonies; “Walking on a Wire” is absolutely heartbreaking and the title track ties with “Idiot Wind” as the greatest song ever recorded that manages to be both filled with tenderness and with rage. (And the guitar solos ain’t bad, either.)

It’s less than 24 hours from the New Year’s Eve countdown. Anything peppy and party-like? I whipped out “Little Creatures” today as we cleaned the bathroom (still aching over all that inhaled bleach.)

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I’m going to make a bold statement. Of the 8 studio albums Talking Heads released, this is my least favorite. That doesn’t mean it is anything less than brilliant. I’ve always been particularly fond of “The Lady Don’t Mind.”

The Way Things Go (1987), Peter Fischli and David Weiss, A

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Sunday, December 31st, 2006

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It’s 100 feet long and takes 30 minutes to get from one end to the other. And you spend most of your time watching it muttering “awesome. . . ” There are some edits along the way, but I’m of the belief that they are just time ellipses for the foam to reach the top or the smoke to reach a critical point. Either way, like I say, “awesome. . . ” I will not deny, though, that the Honda Cog ad created 15 years later doesn’t have one or two moves that outshines the original.

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Day of the Dove, TOS 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Thursday, December 28th, 2006

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There are some episodes of Star Trek that transcend TV and become small masterpieces of literature. City on the Edge of Forever deals with themes of fate, Amok Time with identity, A Taste of Armageddon with social conditioning. “Day of the Dove” is a parable, an examination, a rumination on the sources of war and violence. It treats its premise — an alien life force that feeds off of the human emotion of anger — with surprisingly little depth. Clearly the intention is to allow the viewer to make current paralles (as easy to do in 1969 as today) and try and fill the real-world gaps. If world bodies are instigated to fight, who gains? Where does human nature end and manipulation begin? When is it noble to be strong and when are we just caving to our baser instincts? What does one do when a foe refuses to accept reason? What if a foe would prefer mutually assured destruction to peace? These are very deep, fundamental questions — certainly nothing that can be answered in fifty minutes of television. And perhaps “Day of the Dove’s” dovetail into peace is far-fetched. It is still welcomed to see these themes played out — and played out in a cogent, strategic, well-structured manner. . .a manner that is also thrilling what with the fighting Klingons with swords and self-incinerating dilithium crystals!

5 Pictures of Amanda S. Vetrini

Jordan | The Jake Files | Monday, December 25th, 2006

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Clash of the Titans (1981), Desmond Davis, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, December 25th, 2006

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A lot of people talk about how when they were kids they watched King Kong and Godzilla. I did, too, but the two movies that really hit me hard were Dragonslayer and “Clash of the Titans.” (Tron came out a year later.) I can’t deny that, until I moved to Astoria, most of what I knew about Greek culture was derived from this film. Some of the remarkable things about the film (other than that they got Laurence Olivier to play Zeus) is the rather frank way they don’t pull their punches that much for a kiddie film. You want mythology, well, here’s your violence, depravity, catty fighting, adultery, beheadings, genocides. . .all is glorious color stop motion! Also: some quick glimpses of real nudity. Like, more than Janet Jackson on the Super Bowl (“Dragonslayer,” if you watch it on frame-by-frame, even has a flash of bush!) 1981! What a time!! Anyway, the scene in Medusa’s palace — I musta watched this 900 times as a kid — seeing it again I was amazed at just how many of the shots were burned in my memory. Good fun. And the Bobo, the little Robot Owl, got Goober interested in the movie, too.

Garden State (2004), Zach Braff, C

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, December 25th, 2006

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There’s nothing in this movie that delivers quite what is advertised in the image posted above. It is a spectacular image and it is shoehorned into the film (early, thankfully) simply because it is spectacular, even though it serves no purpose story-wise. But tone is good for a movie, right? But not if said tone is the only thing driving your movie. If your conflicts are tired and your characters are phoned-in, then when you cut to a groovy shirt/wallpaper shot (or fade up an emotional Simon & Garfunkel song only to fade it down six seconds later) the tone will actually detract from your film. And you wind up feeling cheated. There are plenty of great love stories with emotionally disturbed characters. This isn’t one of them.

The Passenger (1975), Michelangelo Antonioni, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, December 25th, 2006

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I hate to be a pain in the ass, but I must be honest. I found “The Passenger” to be a good film, not a great one. The internet is ablaze with raging Antonioni fans, many of whom claim this is his best work, but I much prefer La Notte, Blow-Up, or even, God help us, Zabriskie Point. There are two big annoying things about this movie. One is the rather unlikely plot machinations (gun runners?) that (literally) drive parts of this movie. The other is the flim stock. Blech. How is it that Red Desert, shot ten years earlier, has richer colors? (Between the bad stock and the occasional dips into plottiness one sometimes has to be reminded this is Antonioni and not Starsky and Hutch.) On the positive, when the scenes are workin’, they are really workin’. The whole first thirty or forty minutes is just spot on. And the famous last shot? The one they showed us in film school? I still don’t really understand how they did that.

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Symphony 1997: Heaven, Earth, Mankind

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Thursday, December 21st, 2006

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I find myself listening, again and again, to Tan Dun’s “Symphony 1997.” Commissioned to celebrate the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, it features Yo-Yo Ma, The Yip Children’s Choir and, most excitingly, a collection of recently discovered bianzhong bells that are 2400 years old.

It is an incredible piece of work that ranges from beautiful to sublime to total frenzied kick-ass. You can read a slightly more educated description here.

Spectre of the Gun, TOS 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Thursday, December 21st, 2006

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Oh, dear lord, this episode is stupid. It just makes no sense. There is an attempt to explain everything away in the last moments with a brain in a vat theory, but it is misinterpreted. Plus, if it were a brain in a vat and the “bullets weren’t real,” why would punching the baddies be real? And what was left on the editing room floor that everybody just shows up back on the bridge of the Enterprise at the end? And Chekov is just hanging out, after being dead? So. . .if this is so awful. . .why the two insignias? Well. . .I really like the look of this episode. Playing to the strengths of being low budget, the Tombstone, Arizona set has an oneiric quality to it. I especially like the clock, clearly hanging on fishing wire, dangling in a void. I also like, for camp reasons, Kirk’s meltdown in front of the Sherrif. “I won’t! kill! him!!” Classic.

The Case of the Grinning Cat (2006), Chris Marker, A

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, December 21st, 2006

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As Ann & I finished up our coal oven pizza at Arturo’s I made it plain we had to hurry. “C’mon, we gotta hustle, the movie is gonna’ start soon. It’s about an old guy walking around Paris talking about what he sees. We don’t want to miss any of it.” For some reason, I absolutely love Chris Marker. I don’t wanna sound like a homo or anything, but I might just consider the guy a kindred spirit. Here’s a guy who likes to wander around the city, look at buildings and signs, listen to musicians in the subway, gets all kooky when he sees cats and has a fascination/vague affiliation with The Left. Go into the archives of this blog a little further and tell me what you see. Anyway, “The Case of the Grinning Cat” covers the 2001-today period inside Marker’s head. Starting with flash mobs and ending with a tabloid scandal that must’ve been a big deal in France, but I never heard of. Along the way is M. Chat.

Film Forum has programmed this “Case of the Grinning Cat” with five shorts they are calling Chris Marker’s Bestiary. Cats, Owls, Rhinos, Elephants. . .all on shoddy early video with bad sound. What more could you want?

As Time Magazine has pointed out, YouTube has made all of us media moguls. As time marches on there will be fewer and fewer opportunitites to see “film diarists’” work in a theater. (And, sigh, Marker has moved to video. Is Jonas Mekas still shooting on film?)

Three Streams!

Jordan | No News Is Good News | Thursday, December 21st, 2006

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El Topo is playing in revivial at the IFC Center. J. Hoberman skips the review and writes about chilling with Jodorowsky.

Yi Yi (2000), Edward Yang, A-

Jordan | No News Is Good News | Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

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I can’t really explain to you what it is that makes “Yi Yi” such a good movie. It sure isn’t the plot, which can be summed up in about three sentences despite the film’s three hour running time. It isn’t even the originality of the conflicts — frankly, on paper, nothing interesting happens in “Yi Yi,” a story about an extended family (and a family of neighbors) going through every day struggles in life. There’s just enough soap opera going on to keep the shred of a story moving but, basically, we are totally in the hands of Edward Yang who is somehow creating an engrossing picture out of thin air. What does it is the quality of the acting and, more importantly, the unique shooting style and, to some extent, that we in the US don’t see that much every day footage of life in a modern Asian city. This film is a great antidote for anyone convinced that all Asian films involve swordfights and kickboxing. Someone out there online quipped that Edward Yang is like the Eric Rohmer gone to Taipei — that’s true to a sense, if Rohmer were to have a more adventuresome color palette and more curious framing. Also: many fantastic uses (perhaps the most in one movie I’ve ever seen?) of the “Magnificent Ambersons shot” where a reflection and a subject are blended in a shot of/through a window.

Now: question: why did it take me so long to see “Yi Yi?” It seems like it is right up my alley, it got terrific reviews when it came out — J. Hoberman liked it, the French liked it, it played an extended (and extended) run at Film Forum. What gives? Truth: I could never get past the marketing. Take a look at the American poster.

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I remember when my friend Ed suggested we see “Yi Yi” and I pointed to the poster and said, “Come on, I’m gonna spend three hours with this adoreable kid as he has life lessons??! Please, I don’t have time for that!” And while the adoreable kid probably did get some butts in seats, it is a (thank god) misleading poster. The kid isn’t in it that much and, while he is adoreable, there are no swelling strings as he learns life lessons. (Yi Yi isn’t the kid’s name.) It isn’t another Kolya. (Another movie I never saw.)

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The Right Stuff (1983), Philip Kaufman, A+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

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The Right Stuff is one of those few examples of the movie being better than the book. That’s because Tom Wolfe’s book has the specific distinction of being told from Tom Wolfe’s point-of-view. This makes for good reading, but you’ve always got that voice. Kaufman’s film has the best of both worlds. He can dip into some Wolfe schtick periodically (there are bits of dialogue lifted directly) but then he can go off and do his own thing. I first saw The Right Stuff when I was nine years old and I’ve never been the same. I’ve since read many books about the Space Race (the best for a introductory & full overview, I feel, is James Schefter’s “The Race: The Complete True Story of How America Beat Russia to the Moon”) and what anyone who knows anything will tell you is that “The Right Stuff” (Wolfe’s or Kaufman’s) is only, say, the first act. The whole driving force of the early space days, the specific goal that had to be reached to “beat the Russians,” was getting a man on the moon. This is downplayed, because to tell that whole story you’d need a ten hour movie. What we have instead is character exploration of the seven original astronauts, plus the one who wasn’t chosen, Chuck Yeager. (Read Kerry Dye’s entertaining review of this aspect of the film.) But what I want to talk about is Bill Conti’s score. At age nine, I had never been exposed to that kind of music before. In my memory, the sound systems at theaters were much better and louder back then (probably not true.) Conti’s score, the epitome of symphonic chutzpah, louder than an Atlas rocket . . .who ever had the guts to blast that many French Horns in a movie score before? This is, I strongly believe, the greatest original film score ever written.

The photo up top? My favorite moment in a movie, period. Yeager, faced with irrelevance, charges upward to see just how far he can push the envelope. Assumed dead a startled ambulance driver points to a figure by the crash site. “Is that a man?” The rejoinder, “You’re damn right it is!”

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974), Rainer Werner Fassbinder, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Saturday, December 16th, 2006

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This is an enjoyable film to watch (well, enjoyable may be the wrong word — let’s say engrossing) but there is a principal problem with it. Fassbinder’s strength is usually in his realism, his scrutiny of the mundane. The behavior displayed here is too mannered — either ridiculously muted or overblown with nowhere in between. As a result, it comes across as a false film. I think that if I saw this movie when I was younger, before ever seeing similar dead-pan masterpieces, I’d've really loved it. Seeing this last night my reaction was, “yes, I see what he’s doing here, I got it. What else?” Another mostly-positive-but-not-100%-review for me for Fassbinder.

Is There In Truth No Beauty? TOS 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Saturday, December 16th, 2006

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This is a pretty nifty episode featuring telepathy, consciousness transference, traveling into unknown voids, pandora’s boxes (even if said box looks like a giant tabletop rolodex), infectuous insanity and Spock in a really dorky looking pair of goggles. Also: Leonard Nimoy so obviously has a cold during production and delivers all his lines stuffed-up. Welcomed to the series are some hand-held shots, wide-angled tracking shots, jump cuts, spooky gothic pipe organ music and nutty flashes of Brakhage-esque color treatment.

And The Children Shall Lead, TOS 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Saturday, December 16th, 2006

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Wow, we’ve finally hit it, and, if I may use an oft repeated phrase: Worst Episode Ever. Unlike, say, Spock’s Brain, which is at least fun in its camp, “And The Children Shall Lead” is insufferable. It is annoying, aggravating and it makes no sense. It has the logic of a story told to you on the fly by a young child, where important elements that need revelation at the beginning are sprung at you at the end. And we are still never given an explanation for any of the powers the intruders posses. Their motivation is all over the map, we’re never sure if they are evil or possessed, and there are about five different times when Kirk & co. could stop the trouble easily if they just picked up their phaser and shot (on stun even!) but they just won’t do it! By the time we get to the end, where the happy conclusion shows McCoy smiling now that the handfull of small children are weeping for the parents they murdered, it’s time to just turn off the TV.

John Updike, “Licks of Love”

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Thursday, December 14th, 2006

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There was a time when I was really into John Updike. I haven’t read one of his books in some time so I picked up this collection of short stories. As I slogged through the first 100 pages I was tempted to toss it across the room. “Oh, who cares about adultery in the suburbs!!” Because that’s all any of these stories are about and, to the best of my recollection, that’s all he’s ever written about. But then there was some sort of breakthrough and I was able to get back into the rhythm and voice of these stories. By the time I hit the dessert (“Rabbit Remembered” a coda/novella of Updike’s triumphant Rabbit tetralogy is saved til last) I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I spent most of today kinda hiding in the corners, reading on the job (you can do that on slow days, sometimes.) I was reminded at just how stinking depressing Updike can be (remind me never to be a suburban adulterer) and how fabulous the Rabbit books are.

The Paradise Syndrome, TOS 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Thursday, December 14th, 2006

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I know I should rate this episode lower, but I just can’t. I know I should hate an episode which balances on the unlikely premise that the magic code that opens the secret door just happens to be the same phonetic sounds one would make if one were saying “Enterprise – this is Kirk!” Yes – that is a farce, but. . .but. . .let’s look at the good elements of this episode. For starters: I Am Kirok!! Kirk gets a bump on his head and lets himself get talked into believing he is a Native American God! And then he falls in love and even impregnates a woman. (She dies and the child dies in utero, so we don’t have to worry about them monkeying about in next week’s episode — have no fear!) I distinctly remember seeing this episode as a kid, but falling asleep midway. So I never knew how Kirk was going to get off that planet before the killer asteroid did. Little did I know the writers had no idea either.

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