February 2004 Archives

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love is not bad, exactly, just anxious and annoying and perfectly framed and puzzling. It does make a certain amount of sense, though, if you look at from my skewed perspective.

The premise of Idle Hands: an easy way to cash in on an audience that has never heard of some of the movies listed below. The story: Pot-smoking slacker teen loses control of his right hand, which goes on a murderous rampage and is undeterred by being cut off and microwaved.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, writer/director Guy Ritchie’s first feature, doesn’t just borrow from Pulp Fiction; it wants to be its British equivalent. Surprisingly, it’s mostly successful, nailing the seemingly offhand style, the description-proof plot, and the casual violence.

Ordinary People

A big part of the charm of Lost in Translation is that there is no epiphany and little character development; it’s a gentle, intimate study of two specific but relatable characters with the detail and resonance of a good short story. It approaches modest perfection.

plumber3.jpgYou’re in your apartment. Your husband has gone to work. There’s a knock at the door. A genial man says he’s the plumber. You explain that you haven’t called for a plumber. He replies that he’s checking the pipes of all the apartments because of a pressure problem. You let him in; his story seems reasonable, and he’s got the right tools. It’s an act of trust. He says his name is Max.

You’re watching The Plumber. This setup is awfully familiar. You know the plumber’s a violent man, capable of unspeakable deeds. You know the wife, Jill, is in trouble. It’s an act of trust.

Good Art, Bad Movie

Peter Weir’s debut, The Cars That Ate Paris, is good art and a bad movie. It fails fundamentally as a narrative, but it has enough interesting things going on that it’s compelling in spite of itself.

Most artistically successful groups evolve toward obscurity — think most recently of Radiohead and Wilco — crafting an idiosyncratic vision that wins admirers and praise but threatens to alienate the people who fell in love with the bands in the first place. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Queens of the Stone Age, on the other hand, have grown by refining their songcraft toward the mainstream.

King Midas in Reverse

Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin isn’t bad in The Cooler, but he’s not any good, either, and the film as a whole is terrible. The best thing I can say about Baldwin is that he’s the only performer who doesn’t look completely adrift in this disaster. If the Academy Awards measure a performer’s work relative to everybody else in a picture, then give Baldwin the statuette. Otherwise, his nomination is a joke.

Badly Drawn Boy, Cat Power, Josh Homme, Killing Joke, The New Pornographers, Bree Sharp, Sleater-Kinney, and Sonic Youth

Fiction: “I didn’t understand the party, but I was only eight. Just two hours before, they had all been crying. Especially Mother. She had stood at the front of the church, head bowed, tears navigating their way to the tip of her nose, then hesitating before dropping to the red-carpeted floor. She didn’t seem to notice.”

It’s imperative that we indulge our grief, anger, and even hatred, and it’s equally important that we shed those things, however briefly, as we consider our individual and collective responses. Anger is natural. It’s what we do with it that tells us whom we are.

I wish The Station Agent didn’t make me feel so dirty, because the dialogue is tart and the performances are exquisite. But the use of a dwarf as the lead character feels wrong, cheap, and exploitative.

Why Music Matters

Although it would appear to be a collection essays about 31 disparate songs, the true subject of Nick Hornby’s Songbook is our relationship with music, particularly as we mature.