One-little-Plane

Tunes Worth Hearing: May 2012

It’s official. My taste is turning solidly toward the folk and folk rock quarter. I still need dense enough instrumentation to keep me going (full-on acoustic singer-songwriter down-tempo on every song still doesn’t to it for me), but with nearly five months straight of my top album being in the folk/folk-rock/alt-country vein, it’s time to stop pretending it’s unusual for me to like this stuff. A couple of years ago, I didn’t really, which is why I keep being surprised. Tastes change. I’m learning to accept it.

One Little Plane – Into the Trees

I have a few different ways of finding new bands to listen to – friends recommendations, music blogs (though I’m bad at keeping up with them), Pitchfork reviews (I rarely agree with their reviews, but they turn me onto some good bands), NPR’s First Listen. Sometimes I just look up all the releases coming out in a week and randomly add albums to my Spotify playlists because I feel like I’ve vaguely heard of the band before, or just because I like the sound of their name. It’s a total crapshoot that sometimes pays off. That’s the case with this band. I have no idea why the name “One Little Plane” struck a chord with me, but I took the plunge and started up the first song and was in love within five seconds. Led by folk singer Kathryn Bint from Chicago (whose gorgeous voice easily slides into the same zone as Amy Millan or Emily Haines), this album is folk rock with just enough contemplation mixed with just enough rich orchestration to keep me enamored.

Garbage – Not Your Kind of People

I’ve been kind of a casual fan of Garbage for a while, enjoying the songs I heard, even owning an album here or there and listening once in a while, but I hesitate to claim any more fan-status than that. Still, when I heard they were coming out with a new album, I was pretty excited to get a chance to get into an album from scratch, as it were, rather than coming to it years later. And I wasn’t disappointed…I really like pretty much every song on this album, and it’s one of the few May albums I’ve really had on repeat.

Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts

Norah Jones has always been someone on my radar who never quite hit my repeat playlist. I think her voice is lovely, often perfection in the right song. I won’t necessarily say that Little Broken Hearts is a better record than her previous ones; I don’t have the experience necessary to say that, but perhaps thanks to the Dangermouse influence as producer, it’s a big closer to my personal taste than her earlier, more straight jazz/folk leanings. There’s more going on in a lot of these songs (“Little Broken Hearts” sounds like a Southern gothic noir song straight off a Neko Case album by way of True Blood, and I love that), but then when she strips it down, like in “Miriam,” it’s some of the most beautiful and ethereal stuff I’ve heard this year.

Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

I was a big fan of Silversun Pickups’ Carnavas (though I admit to being a bit behind the curve on getting into them), but was sort of meh on their follow-up Swoon, which had a few songs (“Panic Switch”) I really loved, but largely hit me as kind of repetitive. So far, they’re back on my good side with Neck of the Woods. There are a few samey-sounding songs, but by and large, I’ve been quite happy listening through this multiple times over the past month. And the songs that are on (“Bloody Mary,” “Skin Graph,” “Mean Spirits”) are very, very on.

Best Coast – The Only Place

Oh, Best Coast. I’m not sure I would enjoy them as much as I do if they weren’t such an unabashed Los Angeles band. I mean, the title track from this album is basically an ode to how awesome living in Southern California is, and that’s something I can’t really argue with myself (a lot of people could, but I can’t – I love it here). Bethany Cosantino’s lyrics aren’t any more deep than they were on their debut album, and the songwriting’s pretty similar in scope as well. But everything’s so gorram catchy.

Beach House – Bloom

I’m not quite sure what to do with Beach House, frankly. Every time one of their songs comes on or I listen through the album, I settle back and think “yeah, this is really great, I’m loving this.” And then the next one of their songs comes on, and it sounds the exact same. And then the record ends, and I can’t differentiate any of the songs apart or remember any of the melodies. The same thing is true of their previous album. So yeah. I really like listening to them, I like their sound, but I also find it highly unmemorable.

Violens – True

This was another random “let’s throw this on the Spotify and see how it is” band, and while it obviously didn’t hit me in quite the same way as One Little Plane, I really like the sound and enjoyed the album right the way through. I haven’t been back to it as often as many of the others this month, but I’ll definitely recommend it as worth a listen or two, and it could very well grow on me in the future.

May Mix

roundup

The Roundup: June 15, 2012

Okay, these things are supposed to be once a week, not once a month or whatever it keeps being lately. Still getting into the groove. Working it out. In the meantime, this will be a supersized edition – most links are within the last couple of weeks or so, but there are some exceptions where I felt the post warranted it. :)

Featured Links

MM: More Than the Silver Witch of Us All by Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun

Several posts popped up celebrating Marilyn Monroe’s birthday on June 1st, and I think this one my Kim Morgan is my wistful favorite – it’s wide-ranging and really gets at the person beneath the myth, something a lot of commentaries on Marilyn Monroe fail to do. See also The Lady Eve of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life discussing Marilyn’s final film The Misfits, a post that fits both Marilyn’s birthday and the Horseathon that was currently underway, sponsored by My Love of Old Hollywood. Also, Bobby Rivers at The Cinementals has a great post about Marilyn’s ability to make dorks and nerds feel loved.

Mary Pickford: The Girl Who Invented Celebrity by Carley Johnson at The Cinementals

The recent Mary Pickford blogathon generated a number of good posts, and I really enjoyed this one from The Cinementals. Yeah, I’m going to be linking The Cinementals a lot from now on, so just get used to it. They generate an awfully lot of high-quality content, and it’s getting to be one of the premier sites for classic movie fans. Anyway. Here Carley talks about Pickford as really the first big Hollywood celebrity – and how that differs from our current definition of the term. Also check out Page‘s picturiffic post about Pickfair at My Love of Old Hollywood, and Brandie‘s exploration of the working relationship between Pickford and writer Frances Marion at True Classics.

The Legendary Wit of Judy Garland by Lara at Backlots

Also celebrating a birthday this month was the wonderful Judy Garland (see my tribute), and Lara goes into Judy’s legendary wit, while also pointing out that it was something of a public front for her. Fascinating commentary, and the section about the candid interviews revealed a side of Judy that I didn’t really know about. See also Aurora‘s tribute to Judy at The Cinementals, and Ryan McNeil‘s perhaps fortuitously-timed Blind Spot review of A Star is Born.

The Latest Whither Criticism Kerfluffle

Seems like there’s a big debate over the “value of criticism” or “what is criticism” or approaches to criticism or what have you that takes over a bunch of the big dog film critic blogs for a while every six months or so, and even as they get repetitive, I always enjoy reading them. The current topic is the common one of film critics vs. mainstream opinions, kicked off immediately by a video podcast from the New York Times featuring film critic A.O. Scott and media commenter David Carr. Appalled by Carr’s lack of logical rigor, Jim Emerson analyzed the crap out of the video, while Glenn Kenny offered his thoughts on criticism itself. Meanwhile, others looking in, like the excellent amateur blogger Velvet Cafe (whose blog is a must for extremely well-written personal experiences with movies) wondered why all the fuss over such a trifling video. I left my own long comment on Velvet Cafe’s blog, but the gist of it is that I agree with Emerson, though I’m not as angered as he was. The video mostly just made me frustrated that the level of discussion it displays is considered adequate in any way. It’s a ridiculous video, and while it might not be worth getting up in arms over, Emerson’s breakdown of it is exactly right. If this is what passes for critical discourse at the New York Times (about criticism or anything else), then we’re in a bad way.

“Indie Blockbuster Franchise” is Not an Oxymoron by Kristin Thompson at Observations on Film Art

The Lord of the Rings trilogy are independent films. Does that statement make you go “whaaaa?” the way it did me? Check out Kristin Thompson’s extremely interesting article about big-budget independent films, which are financed not by a big studio bankrolling things from the start, but from international distributors putting up a portion of the cost up front for a share of the profits. That system is extremely risky when it comes to something the size of LOTR, but it paid off extremely well in that case, giving smaller distributors around the world a lot more cash for a few years to invest in other properties. With New Line Cinema, at the time functioning as a wholly independent producer, now subsumed into Warner Bros, who will take their place, and what blockbuster franchises can hope to be the next indie cash cow? Thompson looks to Lion’s Gate, with its recent take-over of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchise. In any case, Thompson’s look into this specific type of distribution is very interesting and enlightening.

Silent Talk: The Silent-Classic Divide by Chris Edwards at The Cinementals

Chris Edwards already runs one of the best silent film-related blogs out there at Silent Volume, and now he’s contributing at The Cinementals, as well, with a series on getting into silent films. He’s already into the series for real with a post on starting with silent shorts, but I’d like to highlight his introduction post as well, which wonders why there’s an apparent divide between classic film fans and silent films – in other words, why do so many people who love classic films draw a line at silents in a way that they don’t do for black and white, older acting styles, etc. There are a number of suggestions proffered in the comments, including lack of availability, even more different style, and lack of continuity between the silent and sound eras. It’s an interesting question, for sure. Definitely stay tuned for the rest of Chris’s posts, especially if you’re interested in getting into silent film. Also on topic and at The Cinementals, Trevor Jost runs down his favorite silent films.

Old Wives for New: Sex, Sin, and Cecil B. DeMille by the Mythical Monkey

The other “best silent film-related blog other there” (in addition to the previously-mentioned Silent Volume) is easily the Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies, where the Mythical Monkey ostensibly writes about his choices for the Silent Oscars (if there were such a thing), but actually writes excellent long-form essays about all manner of silent films. This entry is about the career and influence of Cecil B. DeMille, who is often derided today for his love of populist spectacle, but was, in the 1920s, one of the most highly respected and influential directors in Hollywood. There are good reasons for this, and I’ve got to say, I’ve heartily enjoyed all of the silent DeMille films I’ve seen, which isn’t something I can say for all silent filmmakers.

Demented Podcast: Battle Royale #4 by Nick, Steve, Rachel, Kai, Stevee, me, and Jason

A bit of a self-plug here. I was on the Demented Podcast a few months ago, and my score on their ridiculously hard trivia game was good enough to get me a spot in the Battle Royale, where the top five scorers of the podcasting season play off against each other for the championship title. Lots of great trivia, lots of fun, and lots of laughs are traded here. What’s that? Oh, how did I do? You’ll have to listen to find out!

Continue reading

West Side Story, playing Wednesday on TCM

Film on TV: June 11-17

[Every week I do a column at Row Three detailing the notable films playing on TV during the upcoming week. I will choose my top five recommendations from that list to specifically highlight here. Click through to see the full list.]

Possessed

Tuesday at 8:00pm on TCM
A pulpy noir with Joan Crawford driving herself crazy (literally) pining over a man who strings her along. He’s basically an homme fatale, which is interesting, with Crawford taking on the typically male noir role of the one pulled into ever darker despair by trampled-on love. The film tries to do too much, throwing in all sorts of other noirish plot points, but remains a really good watch for noir fans.
1947 USA. Director: Curtis Bernhardt. Starring: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
Newly Featured!

West Side Story

Wednesday at 8:00pm on TCM
I unabashedly love musicals, Shakespeare, and stylized choreography. Hence, I love West Side Story. I wish Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood were a little more interesting as the leads, but the supporting cast is electrifying enough that it doesn’t much matter, especially with Bernstein and Sondheim music and Jerome Robbins choreography.
1961 USA. Director: Richard Wise & Jerome Robbins. Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Rita Moreno.
Must See

The Spiral Staircase

Thursday at 3:15pm on TCM
A classic example of the “old dark house” atmospheric thriller, with Dorothy Maguire as a mute domestic servant whose life is endangered when a serial killer seems to be targeting people with disabilities like her. In the subgenre of creepy old mansions horror films, this one is often mentioned right up there with The Haunting and The Innocents.
1945 USA. Director: Robert Siodmak. Starring: Dorothy Maguire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, Elsa Lanchester.
Newly Featured!

Hausu

Late Friday/Early Saturday at 2:30am on TCM
This is quite possibly the most insane movie I have ever seen. Japanese schoolgirls set to go on holiday arrive at the house where they plan to stay, and are beset by crazy cats, carnivorous pianos, deadly pools, and I don’t even remember what all else. As soon as you think Nobuhiko Ohbayashi has certainly included everything he could possibly think of, he throws in more stuff. It’s like he took every cinematic element ever and every filmmaking technique ever and just mashed them all up together into one glorious, ridiculous, amazing film. You gotta see it.
1977 Japan. Director: Nobuhiko Ohbayashi. Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba.
Newly Featured!

Rio Bravo

Sunday at 8:00pm on TCM
A ragtag group made up of a sheriff, a cripple, a drunk, and an untried youth guard a man in jail against the expected rescue attempts by his brother, the local bad guy. One of the most enjoyable westerns ever made, with all the actors having a great time with their characters.
1959 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan.
Must See

Judy-Garland

Happy Birthday, Judy Garland

Back when I was a Hollywood musicals-obsessed kid, Judy Garland was understandably one of my favorite performers. By the time I was 15, I could count the number of her films I HADN’T seen on one hand. As a youngster with lots of time and parents who encouraged my classic film obsession, I made many attempts to form marathons to watch favorite stars’ films on their birthdays, but the Judy Garland one is the only one I stuck with for years in a row – even today, when I see June 10th looming on a calendar, her name immediately springs to my lips, as if an old childhood friend’s birthday was once again right around the corner.

As I grew older, my appreciation for her bigger-than-life talent and her courage in the face of personal hardship only grew as well, along with an unshakeable sense that not only was she a great singer (undeniable by anyone who’s ever heard her sing), but she was also an underrated actress, as evidenced not only by her perfect control of emotion while singing, but also in her few purely dramatic roles like The Clock and Judgement at Nuremberg, and a gifted comedienne, as evidenced by her comic timing in most every film, and her satirical performance in numbers like “A Great Lady Has an Interview” in Ziegfeld Follies (watch). In short, Judy was the consummate performer, managing to be relatable and awe-inspiring at the same time, and we haven’t seen anyone to match her since.

In fact, if she has any faults as an actress, it’s that she comes across as a bit too excited, too eager to do whatever the current film role calls for – put on a show, win the man that probably doesn’t deserve her, civilize the old west with the Harvey company, go to the World’s Fair. Her eagerness belies the tragedy of her real life, yet that shone through as well, in flashes of very real melancholy – just watch the Christmas sequence of Meet Me in St. Louis and listen to the way her throat catches when singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (see below). From her fresh-faced youth in the string of “let’s put on a show” movies with Mickey Rooney through her banner years as one of MGM’s top leading ladies and into her later years as a concert star, Judy never failed to entertain and move her audience, and never failed to show inspiring courage no matter how difficult her personal circumstances might be.

The culmination of her career is undoubtably 1954′s A Star is Born, not only her finest performance ever, but also being something of a comeback, a triumphant return after four years off-screen following Summer Stock and MGM’s termination of her long-term contract (she’d been with them since 1936). In a way, the film parallels her own life, with its story of a young singer “born in a trunk” and in show business from an early age, then discovered (undergoing a name change from Esther Blodgett to Vicki Lester; Judy’s real name was Frances Gumm) and put in movies, hitting success almost immediately but also finding great tragedy in her personal life. Of course, in the film, that tragedy is the decline of her husband, has-been actor Norman Maine (James Mason), and in real life it was her own struggle with addiction and self-image. Thus the film also contains an ironic edge as it actually marks Judy’s last great film musical, whereas in the film, Vicki Lester’s career is only beginning.

Though Judy has several lifetimes worth of great performances during her 47 years, her rendition of “The Man that Got Away” in A Star is Born is possibly her best, going from an impromptu casual performance to a full-on, all-out performance by the end. It’s heartbreaking and breathtaking, and never fails to remind me why I will always be a big fan of Judy Garland, and why I will always want to celebrate her birthday every June 10th. She is and always will be a legend, and today she would be 90 years old. Happy birthday, Judy.

And here’s a few bonus tracks, largely from a simply fantastic 2-disc set called “Judy Garland: Collector’s Gems from the MGM Films,” which has a ton of content from her tenure at MGM (1936-1949), including a bunch of alternate versions and outtakes, INCLUDING most of the soundtrack she recorded for Annie Get Your Gun before her health forced her off the project. One of those songs, “Let’s Go West Again,” was never included in the final film with Betty Hutton.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

from Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

from Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

And then a couple from the essential “Judy at Carnegie Hall” 2-disc set. I don’t usually like live albums that much, but this one is absolutely incredible. I particularly like her take on “San Francisco” because not only is it a great vocal performance, but it shows, even in just the audio, Judy’s indomitable sense of humor as she gently digs at Jeanette MacDonald (who I also like very much, but whose light operetta voice is pretty much the opposite of Judy’s, and was totally wrong for the song “San Francisco,” even though it did become an inexplicable trademark for her).

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Avengers12

Scorecard: May 2012

Apparently I turned a corner in moviewatching in May, finally having a solid streak of films I really liked to loved. I think there were a few months earlier this year that I struggled to come up with any films that a solidly loved. Obviously not last month with the TCM Fest going on, but that’s a special occasion. This month I saw and loved four very distinctly different films, which is exactly the kind of month I like to have. Not a lot of volume in May (thanks to my newly developed Minecraft addiction – seriously, if you get addicted easily, do NOT buy that game), but a whole lot of quality.

What I Loved

The Avengers

I actually wrote a sort-of review for The Avengers already, so I won’t go on about it here, except just to say that we went back to see it again the next week (we NEVER do that – I can count the number of films I’ve seen multiple times in theatres on two hands) and I still enjoyed it just as much. I expected the beginning set-up section at S.H.I.E.L.D. to drag a lot more the second time, but I was pleasantly surprised.

2012 USA. Director: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Gregg Clark, Cobie Smulders.
Seen May 5 and May 12 at Arclight Sherman Oaks.
Flickchart ranking: 382 out of 2965

The Turin Horse

Over a blank screen we’re told the famous tale of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin, running to the horse, and throwing his arms around its neck, weeping – the beginning of a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. But what of the horse, asks Béla Tarr, and of its owners? Instead of the heady philosophy or dramatic psychosis you’d expect from a story that begins with Nietzsche, Tarr gives us a mundane, human, and deeply moving glimpse into a very difficult and despairing existence. The man and his daughter depend on the horse for their lives, such as they are – and we see them throughout a week as the horse, stubborn because of illness, gets weaker and weaker and their own hold on existence gets more and more tenuous. You don’t (or shouldn’t) sit down to a Tarr film without knowing what you’re getting into, and this one is nearly two and a half hours long of basically watching these two people do mundane chores over and over in very long takes. When things are so much the same, the differences become enormous, and Tarr maximizes that by varying camera placements, or by using slight changes in demeanor or action to telegraph the changing states of mind and being of these extremely taciturn people. Settling into the film’s rhythm yields an experience that makes mundanity into something transcendent, and by the end, seeing these two simply sitting at their roughhewn table was enough to bring me to the brink of tears. Tarr has said this will be his final film, and if that’s true, it’s a pretty masterful work to go out on.

2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.
Seen May 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 433 out of 2965

Moonrise Kingdom

To some degree, you know what you’re going to get when you head into a Wes Anderson movie, so carefully has he refined his style, putting out one of the most self-consciously auteurist bodies of work of any director working today. This one is almost a spot-on distillation of the concept of a Wes Anderson film, and yet rather than devolve into parody, he’s created one of his best films yet. Here a boy scout and a young girl (who looks like a Margot Tenenbaum in the making) escape from her dysfunctional family, providing a young love of such innocence that it seems to provide a way out from Anderson’s typically ironic family drama, here played out by the world-weary and yet strangely childish adults. The film is so charming it’s easy to call it overly slight, but there’s more going on here than immediately meets the eye, and it has surprised me by never straying far from my mind since I saw it.

2012 USA. Director: Wes Anderson. Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel.
Seen May 26 at Arclight Hollywood.
Flickchart ranking: 480 out of 2965

The Love Trap

Silent-to-sound era transition films are almost innately awkward, as studios rushed to try to sound-ify any silent films currently in production, creating hybrids that sit comfortably as neither silents or talkies. The Love Trap is one such film, and I won’t deny it has its fair share of awkwardness when the film, completely silent for roughly the first two thirds, turns completely talkie and it takes a little while to settle into the new mode. Yet I also can’t deny that I loved this film far more than it probably deserves. Laura LaPlante (who after seeing just this and The Cat and the Canary is my new silent girlcrush) is a showgirl who’s bad at it and gets fired, her only recourse to try to get “powder room money” from rich men. When one gets a little too fresh, she runs out horrified and disgraced, only to find she’s been evicted. A man in a taxi rescues her and her furniture from the sidewalk, and after a quick romance they’re married – but what will his wealthy family think of his showgirl wife? It’s pretty typical of the time, but done with such charm and spontaneity that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every second of it – I say almost because there is a brief part in the taxi that bothered me, as the man begins behaving almost exactly like the cad back at the party, but somehow it’s different because we just “know” he’s the good guy. Double standard much? And the transition to sound is awkward, with poor LaPlante struggling a bit at first, but somehow by the end, she’s just as charming as she was in silent mode.

1929 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laura LaPlante, Neil Hamilton.
Seen May 9 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 555 out of 2965

Continue reading