Thursday, March 29, 2012

The 100 Best Uses of Songs in Movies pt. 3 (of 10)

This list has become a sort of pet project right now, and the hardest part of this week's ten has been exercising some restraint and holding back on including another Tarantino or Wes Anderson pick.  So, here it is, part 3: which contains no trace of a Vega or a Tenenbaum.  If you need a bit of those things, go back and check out parts 1 and 2, and, remember to come back next week.  I'm pretty sure they'll be revisiting again soon.  As always, feel free to post your favorites!

21. "Head Over Heels" / Tears for Fears
Donnie Darko (2001)
The world of Donnie Darko in miniature, in miniature.  Tears for Fears and the high school  tour in one slow, surreal take that encapsulates, somehow, exactly what our protagonist must see when he walks through those hallowed halls.  Also, those opening notes just hit so hard.

22. "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" / Michael Crawford (from Hello Dolly!)

WALL·E (2008)

In some strange stroke of genius, Andrew Stanton (or someone at Pixar) decided that lovable trash compactor Wall-E should have a Hello Dolly showtune as his theme song.  The song plays right into a haunting bit of juxtaposition in the opening scene, and later serves as a touchstone of Wall-E's remarkably human behavior.  

23. "Superfreak" / Rick James
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Drug-addled, don't-give-a-shit-about-your-opinions Grandpa chose the song and taught  Olive (Abigail Breslin) a choreography based on strip clubs and goofy moves.  After hearing about Olive's training for much of the movie, when we finally reach the pageant, the pay-off is a moment of inappropriate, hysterical glee made all the better by the choice of song and the family togetherness it leads to. 

24. "Old Time Rock and Roll" / Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Risky Business (1983)
Risky Business would have been great without this iconic moment, but you have to admit there's something pretty fabulous about Joel's response to being left at home during his parent's vacation.  This is the kind of couch jumping I'll allow, Tom Cruise...

25. "Life's a Bitch" / Nas
Fish Tank (2009)
Spoiler alert: this is pretty much the final scene of the film.  While it reveals very little about the events leading up to it (and you really have to see it to understand), the Nas song is perfectly matched to Mia's broken family in this instant.  This is about as good as it gets between the generations, and what's unspoken between the characters is excused, in part, by Nas's rhymes.

26. "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" / Harry Belafonte
Beetlejuice (1988)
Short of projectile vomit, what more could you ask for from a possession scene?  Answer: nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

27. "I Touch Myself" / The Divinyls
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
It's an absurd on-screen moment: Austin Powers must disarm a room full of robotic killing machines programmed to seduce and destroy.  How to do it?  Oh, of course, work the mojo, show the chest hair, dance about in white socks, and make their heads explode.  I could have gone with "Soul Bossa Nova" (maybe I still will), but this scene always sort of cracked me up. 

28. "Singin' in the Rain"
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Fortunately or unfortunately, embedding is disabled on the already cut-short clip from A Clockwork Orange.  Yet, the likelihood is that you've seen it already.  If you haven't, you've likely heard of it. In the film's most disturbing moment, we watch as Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his Droogs break-in and assault a couple, gleefully raping the wife as as Alex sings the theme song to one of the most happy-making musicals in existence.  It's sickening, and, well, it's supposed to be.

29. "New York, New York" / Liza Minnelli
Shame (2011)
Look! A more recent film than the Drive pick! If you saw it, you know Carey Mulligan's night club performance of "New York, New York" is one of those strange, quietly heartbreaking cinematic moments that will be spoken about for years to come. It's an awkward, devastating rendition that reveals the vulnerability and broken-down hope in her character and the pain deep in the dark heart of her temperamental, sex-addicted brother (Michael Fassbender). 

30. "Sinnerman" / Nina Simone
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
I had to put this on here. I loved The Thomas Crown Affair remake when I was 15 and thought the clever, closing twist on the heist sequence (btw: the video is a massive spoiler) was one of the coolest on-screen 'crimes' I'd ever seen.  It's still pretty smart, and I can thank the film for introducing me to Nina Simone, one of the all time greats.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Love: The Hunger Games

Since the box office success of YA sagas like Harry Potter and Twilight, movie studios seem to have been engaged in their own type of hunger game; specifically, one of Hungry Hungry Hippos.  Read through any book rag and you'll learn that a new 'not yet published' young adult series has been snapped up by a production company practically sight unseen. Quite often, these optioned works seem to disappear into the ether, dropped when they don't hit the bestseller list.  When they make it through, however, they're often rushed, over-simplified, cast with a motley crew scraped up from the bottom of the barrel, and released in a state of dire disrepair.  If you've read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series, you know they were practically begging for a film adaptation.  Collins has a strong story, but a fast and loose prose style. The novels, as we breeze through them, are the meaty bones of a filled-in screenplay.  Collins doesn't excel at imagery, Katniss's first-person narration veers, at times, on clinical, yet, what she is able to do within the novels (the first in particular) is introduce us to a scenario that's frightening, to sustain a constant action, and to fill in just enough for us to be able to rebuild the world.  Everything is on the page, and the odds were very much in director Gary Ross's favour.  To mess this up, frankly, you'd have to be an idiot.
For those unfamiliar with the world of Panem, The Hunger Games is a dystopian vision of a future America.  In the wake of a uprising and civil war, generations have become uncomfortably numb in their fractured, fixed position within a broken-up country. Contemporary Panem is a controlled state under military rule, and one of the ways they keep it that way is via the Hunger Games, a televised national event in which a boy and girl from each of the nation's twelve 'districts' is drafted, pushed into an arena, and forced to kill or be killed.  In the Hunger Games, 12-year olds must battle 18-year olds, and vice versa.  Children mercilessly stab one another, smash each other's faces in with bricks, impale one another, and the world watches for days on end, riveted, glued to the screen as jovial announcers offer a play-by-play.  The last one standing wins honor, riches, and a lifetime of post-traumatic stress.  This nightmare has played out for 74-years, leaving a trail of destroyed families in its wake.

Where I'd argue that the book itself was more entertaining than depressing, the framework was always there and the camera manages to engage with the book's deep emotional implications.  While Ross doesn't skimp on the violence, he doesn't relish it.  The Hunger Games isn't the gleefully gladiatorial Battle Royale (though, if you've only seen the sloppy film...might I suggest the book?).  The fight to the death has been re-framed not as exploitation, but as pure, harrowing tragedy.  In early moments, as our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to step into the line of fire in exchange for her fragile sister's life, the scene is played for a frightening amount of realism.  The stark costuming and gray faces echo images of prisoners of war, of death camps and political strife.  We can see why Jennifer Lawrence was cast.  District 12 is the same down-and-out Appalachia as Winter's Bone, though its inhabitants don't have the luxury of escaping via chemical, drugged-up outlets.  Katniss is protective of her people, willing to put herself in harms way, and Lawrence has a face like a mountain lion.  We read her in every tensed up muscle, and while the screenplay keeps her lines to a minimum, she's more powerful when silent.
Lawrence does a tremendous amount of work here, and we can forgive her some of the more wooden, action-movie lines she doles out.  As with the novels, we stay with Katniss nearly every step of the way.  The character could have easily become tiring in the hands of a lesser actress, and in the first half of the film we may have been forced to wonder if we'll ever reach the bloodbath.  While for my money the film is a beautifully paced work of science-fiction that creates something worthy of a bit of hype,  it certainly has its fair share of flaws.

The Monday after The Hunger Games weekend I sat down to lunch with a co-worker who hadn't read the book.  She admitted that she didn't enjoy the movie and, what's more, was thoroughly confused by several events and interactions she interpreted as fairly hypocritical behaviors.  As I listened to  her I realized that quite a few of her points were valid. In an attempt, perhaps, at being universal and at pulling focus to the games themselves, the film fails to fill in some crucial spaces that could have added to its cause.  Maybe we needed some more time in District 12, further understanding as to how much of what Katniss was doing was illegal, a deeper knowledge of Haymitch's (Woody Harrleson) backstory, or, more of a context for how complicated the background love triangle between Katniss, fellow competitor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and at home bestie Gale (Liam Hemsworth) really is.  If you haven't read the book, the movie glosses over quite a bit, and while that's always the case in adaptation, here the cut-out pieces seem, potentially, to also limit enthusiasm for the film to its built-in fan base.  As a popcorn blockbuster, The Hunger Games succeeds.  As a movie made for fans, it excels.  The question, however, is how far can it reach?  When does the detail lost in the transition from book to film become enough to alienate a new viewer?  As the story shifts into its more political sequels, will the casual fan, the new viewer stay on board?

Monday, March 26, 2012

7x7 Blog Award

I've felt rather on the outskirts of the film blogging community over the last couple months.  Perhaps it's because I'm just not the best at staying on top of comments, perhaps because no one wanted to hear any more naysaying on much-loved The Artist.  Needless to say, I wasn't expecting anyone to pass on the circulating 7x7 Link Award this way.  I was surprised, then, to find a tweet from Mette over at the delightful Lime Reviews and Strawberry Confessions informing me it was my time to step up and engage in the self-serving narcissism of this latest thingy.  It comes with guidelines, so bear with me....

 First, before I get to all the linking and reflection, I'm supposed to tell you something that "nobody" knows about me.  Which in this case could simply mean "internet people" and could be as easy as, like, my actual name or something.   Instead, I'll tell you that while film is an absolute obsession for me, it's a side project I take on out of some strange need to talk about it.  I love analyzing and criticizing movies far more than I love writing about literature, which is ironic and terrible because literature (reading, theorizing, writing of) is actually supposed to be my official first love, my area of academic expertise, etc.  I have way more books than movies, actually get paid to write novel reviews, and secretly loathe your unholy eReader.    

Now I'm supposed to talk about my own blog posts in these categories. I feel ridiculous doing this, btw: 

Most beautiful piece... 
Um, yeah, I don't really set out to create things of beauty here.  If we were talking actual aesthetics, I'd be inclined to pick from among my recent series of Oscar snubs (specifically this list of actresses).  As far as writing goes, however, maybe when I got all meditative on Tree of Life?  

Most helpful piece... 
M. and I got a ton of outside feedback, reposts, and links when we went all out a couple years back and compiled an exhaustive list of what we argued were the 100 Most Influential Films of the Decade.  It was impossible, things were cut that we couldn't agree on (White Ribbon, and I wish I'd seen Morvern Callar just a couple months earlier so it made it on there.)  While there are places where the writing seems a little clunky now, and a couple things I'd love to swap out, I still think it's actually a pretty solid guide to the early aughts.

Most popular piece...
While it has almost no comments, my crazy person rant on the super complicated, weirdly awful Sucker Punch has been read thousands of times and was (at one point) getting outside traffic from mysterious, silent readers who were using it to comment on similar posts on established news sites.  Hey guys, you know, I'm not opposed to comments, right?  Feedback is definitely appreciated.

Most controversial piece...
Sooooooooo, have I mentioned how much I really didn't like The Artist lately?  I should probably go back and refine that now that I have some distance...

Most surprisingly succesful piece...
I'm pretty sure it has something to do with David Tennant google-optimization or something, but my nothing special review of Fright Night draws traffic like whoa.  I'm pretty sure it's all thanks to the Doctor.  Seriously, I should start putting David Tennant tags on all of my posts.  I was also pretty surprised by the success of my contribution to the Double Feature Blogathon last summer. 

Most underrated piece...
I love making playlists and fancy myself as being pretty decent at thematically collecting other people's poetry, or whatever.  So, I kind of wish my movie-inspired mixtapes had a better showing than they do.  They're not just soundtrack rehashes, guys.  I swear.

Most pride-worthy piece...
There are four posts I've gone and revisited a few times and I suppose that means I'm oddly proud of them. The first is a completely stream of consciousness collection of thoughts on Out of Africa, the second is a streets ahead (time wise) review on Black Swan, the third is a conflicted dismantling of Sex and the City 2 (really), and the fourth is a rundown of my personal grievances related to The Blind Side

Now I'm supposed to pass this on to seven bloggers (in true chain fashion I need to point out that those who haven't completed this will have bad luck or never get married or something):

Maria Sofia of FilmFlare
Sati of Cinematic Corner
Joanna of For Cinephiles by a Cinefille
Stevee of Cinematic Paradox
Kailey of Mermaidens (she's definitely inspired by film!)
Lesya Hearst of Eternity of Dream

Friday, March 23, 2012

Love: 21 Jump Street

So, you know by now that 21 Jump Street is good.  You've heard it, you've seen it, if the Hunger Games is sold out I recommend you check it out.  Because, yeah, it's awesome and yeah, it's cramp-up-your-side funny. Yet, what's perhaps most remarkable about this latest TV-adaptation may not be its tremendous success as *mere* comedy (I say that knowing full well that comedy is crazy difficult).  For, while it's certainly impressive that the minds involved (co-writers Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall) were able to harvest big laughs and outrageous new material from a drecky 80's teen drama, it's maybe even more amazing that the result may not only be one of the best high school films since Superbad, but also one of strongest TV show adaptations. Ever.   21 Jump Street is one of those rare cases where a piece of kitsch nostalgia was passed through the film industry's relentless recycling program and emerged as, like, an expensive pair of shoes or a piece of modern art instead of another aluminum can.  Synopsis-wise, Jump Street follows the basic formula of its TV namesake -youthful looking police officers are sent undercover as students to bust up any number of illegal goings-on- but the similarities seem to end there... 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The 100 Best Uses of Songs in Movies pt. 2 (of 10)

As I mentioned in the first go: I'm going to time release this. Go back and check out part 1 here and look for new installments each week!

11. "Everybody Wants Some!!" / Van Halen
Better Off Dead (1985)
Two words, my friends: claymation hamburger. The centerpiece of the already hysterical Better Off Dead is a grand moment of teen boredom in which John Cusack's character makes fast food employment somehow bearable.  Yes, it is exactly what we didn't know we wanted.

12. "Tiny Dancer" / Elton John
Almost Famous (2000)
A quintessential moment in bringing folks together.  In one of the band's darkest moments a song everyone knows comes on and magically solves all problems on screen and off.  Cameron Crowe  drops a rock standard we all know into a scene that completely changes the conversation.  You can no longer dissociate the two.   

13. "Making Time" / Creation
Rushmore (1998)
Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino are soundtrack masters and it's best to admit right now that they're bound to show up a few more times as this list continues.  Here, Anderson used "Making Time" to add a driving pulse to overachiever Max Fischer's list of accomplishments.  It transforms the nerd into a bit of a badass and gives us an inside glimpse at his delusions of grandeur.

14. "One" / Aimee Mann  [NSFW vid]
Magnolia (1999)
Ok, technically Aimee Mann recorded "One" explicitly for use in Magnolia, but as the song is a cover of Harry Nilsson's track (made famous as a cover by Three Dog Night), we can't call it an original composition.  The role it plays as the backing score of the opening scene grounds us in a world of lonely people, and its hard to imagine something that would have worked better.

15. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" / Bauhaus
The Hunger (1983)
I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again: this is pretty much my favorite opening credit sequence ever.  Say what you will about the film itself, but Tony Scott has mad style and a Bauhaus-filled goth club scene is the ideal way to begin any vampire story.  The strobes! The quick edits! The grating! The darkness! The Bowie!  Best ever. 

16. "Disco Science" / Mirwais
Snatch (2000)
I loved this song in 2000, yo.  "Disco Science" and "Naive Song" were all over my mix CDs, and everywhere else, for that matter: lingerie commercials, car commercials, mall stores, you name it. I was all for it, too. The best use, however, was without a doubt the song's appearance in Guy Ritchie's hyper-stylized  Snatch, where the slow-motion, electro-whip stretches of the song's complex beats perfectly underscore the already great paralleled montage.  Periwinkle Blue.

17. "Atomic" / Blondie
Trainspotting (1996)
Trainspotting is 100% full of memorable song moments. It's like big, heroin injected, music video. While "Lust for Life" or "Perfect Day" or "Born Slippy" have strong shots at appearing later on this list, one of my favorite scenes involves Blondie's disco-centric "Atomic" draped over a dirtied up meet-cute between Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Diane (Kelly MacDonald).  You will note- the song's natural instrumental breaks are used to a tee.  

18. "Cat People" / David Bowie
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
In a jarring moment that completely divorces the film from its timeline, Tarantino throws down an 80's Bowie track (made for a completely different film) as Shosanna's (Melanie Laurent) battle hymn. It's thoroughly bizarre, and yet instantly memorable. 

19. "The End" / The Doors
Apocalypse Now (1979)
This should be one of those entries I can throw up without explanation.  Even if you're in the anti-Doors camp, it's hard to argue with how Coppola used "The End" as the beginning of his nightmarish voyage into the heart of darkness.  See what I did there?  Times two? Huh? Huh? Yeah, you do.

20. "Stack-O-Lee" 
Black Snake Moan (2006)
The song in this clip has many names and many lyrical alterations. It is Stagger Lee, Stackerlee, Stagolee, and everything in between.  It is always, however, a folk song about murder. In this version, the perspective switches to first person.  Samuel L. Jackson is a religious man here, and his bluesy retelling of Stagger Lee's story echoes some of his own broken-hearted narrative in a way that seems cathartic, appropriate, and makes for one hell of a low-down, sweaty dance party. 

Monday, March 19, 2012


I haven't had the time to post my review for 21 Jump Street (aka: best summer comedy of the spring?), so for now please enjoy a song sung by a few dozen cinematic characters thanks to one Matthijs Vlot.  Good stuff...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Love: John Carter (of Mars)

The last time Disney tried to make a sword and sandals adventure it was the god-awful miscast joke we call Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  I bring up that scatter-plotted nightmare because I'm basically clinging to it as some sort of totemic proof that I haven't been completely brainwashed by the Disney corporation into loving any tent-pole money pit they tell me is the next big franchise.  See, I quite liked John Carter, not in the semi-ironic way one generally loves a clattering actioner with rigor mortis acting, but in the very genuine way I was able to suspend my disbelief for the fantasy films of my childhood.  John Carter is a 21st Century homage to B-movie spectacle; a whimsical, creature-filled romp set almost entirely on a Mars we haven't seen before, but which we have always known.  As Disney screwed itself over on the advertising front, perhaps I should explain: the original title for this film was John Carter of Mars, a key point that could have really worked to separate this lively bit of fun from, say, Wrath of the Titans.  As a character, he's no recent invention.  John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, who may have the perfect surname for this project) is a pure pulp hero, a Civil War-era Virginian sprung from the mind of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs who travels, without rhyme or reason, magically to Mars (called Barsoom by its inhabitants)...

Late Night Trailers: Dark Shadows

Nobody told me there would be disco in the vampire soap opera! Now that I know, I'm afraid you can color me super enthusiastic about this particular brand of absurdity.  It's been a few years since Tim Burton attempted gothic comedy, and I've always liked him best when the sincerity is exchanged for a bit of camp (remember Mars Attacks! guys?).  Seriously, how fun does this look?  So fun.  Dark Shadows is, of course, based on the famed supernatural soap opera of yore, in which a modern day family has run-ins with ghosts and eventually takes in an ancestral vampire named Barnabas Collins.  Here, Johnny Depp picks up the role of Barnabas, leading an all-star cast of acting folk I generally quite like through mayhem that looks fantastically silly, like the cure for Twilight's caustic sincerity. Summer is going to be great, obviously...   

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The 100 Best Uses of Songs in Movies pt. 1 (of 10)

Back in January, Time Out New York posted their comprehensive list of The 50 Best Uses of Songs in Movies.  Since then, I've returned to it many times in idle moments.  It's a fantastic list that's trimmed neatly of excess fat and outlined with rules that cut out the bullshit (the songs in question have to be preexisting, not composed specifically for the film or part of the official "score").  As I marveled at their efforts I began to take my own notes in self-addressed e-mails and on pieces of scrap paper.  I've compiled a pretty lengthy list of songs outside of Time Out's initial 50, and have been waiting for a free moment to jump on the bandwagon (RTN of In Camera has been similarly inspired) and start slowly revealing a full list of 100 favorite musical cues from movies minor and major.  These are the moments that altered the song's genetic make-up, that glued it forever to that cinematic moment in my memory, and which worked in that moment like nothing else could.  There will be overlap with the Time Out list, but not the full 50.  It'll take awhile to unveil to full 100, but feel free to join the conversation, point me in the direction of things I may have forgotten, or flat out tell me I'm wrong.  I can take it.

1. "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" / Urge Overkill
Pulp Fiction (1994)
I'm not a Neil Diamond fan, but Quentin Tarantino knows how to use even the least inspiring of songs at precisely the right moment. In the midst of one of my all-time favorite sequences of celluloid, Tarantino has gangster wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) queue up this track in a moment that speaks to some remaining hint of her own innocence...right before she sniffs up something she shouldn't. 

2. "Judy is a Punk" / The Ramones
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
It may not be the first soundtrack choice that comes to mind when you think of Wes Anderson, or even The Royal Tenenbaums, but overlaying a pogoing Ramones track over the detailed dossier of the secret-hoarding Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a stroke of high energy brilliance in an otherwise wry, deadpan moment of heartbreak.

3. "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" /
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
The Big Lebowski (1998)
If this sequence of Busby Berkeley-inspired choreography was all there was to The Big Lebowski, I would love it just the same.  This is the dream sequence to end all dream sequences, a hallucinatory moment that pushes the Dude away from his half-baked L.A. noir and into a backstage musical sideshow filled with strangely operatic imagery and bowling surrealism.

4. "Aquarela do Brasil" / Ary Barroso
Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam's dystopian fantasy uses more than one version of "Aquarela do Brasil", and perhaps because the song itself is as ubiquitous an elevator-music tune as ever there was, we don't necessarily consider it a 'dropped in' track.  It's perfect here in all its incarnations and works not only to echo the mundane elements of our protagonist's life, but to heighten the romantic, escapist nature of his daydreams.

5. "Nightcall" / Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx
Drive (2011)
Will this be the most recent film on the list?  Maybe, maybe not. New sheen aside, it's hard not to make note of how thoroughly this track's placement over the opening titles sets the mood for the film as a whole.  Sure, "A Real Hero" does a significant amount of work later, but I'd argue it's this opening decision that really allows that later track to function at all...

6. "Where is My Mind?" / The Pixies
Fight Club (1999)
When I was in high school, I was obsessed with this ending. There's something about this one gentle movement in the midst of complete destruction (and despair) that really hits you dead in the gut.  It's impossibly beautiful, strangely romantic, and 100% fucked up.

7. "Bohemian Rhapsody" / Queen
Wayne's World (1992)
Can you hear this song without headbanging? No. Really. Can you? Because I've never been able to, and I don't think I know a single person who doesn't understand that that instrumental break is supposed to be used for exactly that purpose.

8. "Roxanne" / The Police
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Moulin Rouge! uses a great many appropriated songs, but the transformation of  reggae-pop "Roxanne" into the heavily dramatic "El Tango de Roxanne" is perhaps the most striking, perfectly adapted musical moments in the film. Jacek Koman's gravely vocals are the exact opposite of Sting's strained falsetto, working to dirty up the prostitution ballad into something with a little more grit, a little more tragedy, and just the right amount of over-the-top absurdity.

9. "Bang Bang" / Dalida
Heartbeats (2010)
The Nancy Sinatra version could easily make this list for its presence in Kill Bill vol. 1 alone, but I've opted for a slightly less familiar version is a significantly less familiar film.  Heartbeats is a sort of French-Canadian hipster Jules et Jim, a love triangle in which absolutely nothing is on the line, yet which becomes the obsession of our two leads (Xavier Dolan and Monia Chokri).  It's phenomenally self-important, over-dramatic, and narcissistic; and it uses an abundance of slow-motion to drive home that excessive posturing to an aesthetically pleasant fault.  "Bang Bang" comes in as a repeated instance of the battling friends' own pomposity, a killer moment of ego as they seek to claim a prize they just can't win.  Somehow, it fits perfectly.

10. "On Broadway" / George Benson
All That Jazz (1979)
I'm a fan of Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical All That Jazz, warts and all.  Yet, while it may have its faults and detractors, one thing you can't really argue is that between the brief hits of Vivaldi and this, you've got one hell of a Broadway intro.  This is an audition sequence that makes the run-time on A Chorus Line look completely overblown. Everything that needs to be said happens in mere minutes, and we are thrown deep the corrupt world of the theater as we experience the highs and lows the song describes vicariously through our unnamed players.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Love: The Secret World of Arrietty

Man, the beginning of the year is the worst. The weather swings high and low, the sickness comes, people are on the last legs of their SADD dampened moods, and the theatrical releases are a piddling mess of mid-budget garbage and Oscar runoff.  So, I'm having a problem with The Secret World of Arrietty.  See, all that stuff means that consequently? I get lazy.  I fall out of my movie watching habits, exchanging weekend matinees for books, paid work, and seasons of streaming TV.  When a film does manage to pique my interest, as this one did, I seem to forget how to spit out a quickly typed review and instead log on to concentrate on silly diversions; making lists I can construct in a free moment and taking mental notes in rush hour traffic.  I make mixtapes based on 90's teen movies and forget that new things are happening.  I'm not the only one.  It seems as though everyone has cinematic ennui in the spring.  After the awards season onslaught, it's hard to care.  This is when the crap flies into wide release, when Project X, Journey 2, and Ghost Rider can manage to make a few bucks. Knowing this, it's almost entirely unacceptable that Disney went and released the latest Studio Ghibli export right now.  I mean, I'm tired, and The Secret World of Arrietty is too good for February; too good to warrant a half-assed review I have to force myself to find time to write. 
As you may have discerned, Arrietty is based on the world Mary Norton created for "The Borrowers."  It's a pleasant reality in which tiny people live beneath the floor boards, in the walls, in the garden, and live off of the scraps left by humans.  While they must scavenge for the supplies they need to live, they are not thieves.  Their presence is negligible, a bayleaf can last a season, a spool makes for a durable piece of furniture.  Our heroine, Arrietty Clock (voiced by Bridgit Mendler), is a 14-year old 'borrower' who has never met another of her kind outside of her protective parents (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler).  Old enough now to begin to learn the ways of life outside of her small world, her father begins to teach her how to forage.  On her first 'borrowing', he shows her the passageways throughout the house of the 'bigs' they live off of; they duck through illuminated dollhouses, crowded kitchen cabinets, and shadowed vents to collect a single piece of tissue paper, a carefully carted sugar cube,  and a chanced-upon needle Arrietty is able to use as a makeshift sword. The world is not safe for Borrowers.  They know they are a curiosity, a sort of sideshow vermin to be held under glass if captured.  Consequently, Mr. and Mrs. Clock don't trust the bigs, and encourage Arrietty to avoid contact at all costs when she is spotted by Shawn, a sickly boy who has taken up residence with his elderly aunt.
As is often the case in animated fantasies, contact cannot be avoided, and a benevolent friendship between opposing forces feels somehow inevitable. While this film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Ghibli auteur Hayao Miyazaki has clearly left an imprint on the film's very DNA. Arrietty stresses the importance of friendship and connection not only with one's own species, but with all creatures in the natural world. In Ghibli's moving storybooks our young heroes are always brave and true, children are always equal in each other's eyes, and our female protagonists (for, most of them are) are never relegated to a position as fugue-state princess or ailing damsel.  There's a quiet magic in Arrietty's world, and while the plot may be familiar terrain, the film feels like a precious gift.  In an early scene, we move from a lush garden into the tiny house of our small family unit. What we find there is positively breathtaking, a small, tightly enclosed marvel of colors, appropriated objects, and encapsulated nature hand-drawn in painstaking detail.  It's in contrast to the airy, cavernous world of the human house, the human yard; a place where a postage stamp is a painting and wildflowers can transform a bedroom into a jungle. When we see it, we feel as though we have unearthed something, as if we now must wonder as to what has been lurking beneath the floors in our own closets. It's remarkable, and from that point on each small movement feels considered and not quite of this earth.  Perhaps it's because these moments are not small, they are tremendous jolts to our sleeping imaginations. 

Let's just say, if Pixar is smart, they will have set out with Brave to do what Miyazaki and company have done repeatedly for generations: show us a world we want to get lost in and give us a heroine with a quest that matters.         

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mixtape: We Are the Weirdos, Mister

In which we ask you: have you ever heard of invoking the spirit? It's when you call him... Manon. it's like you take him into you. It's like he fills you. He takes everything that's gone wrong in your life and makes it all better again. May your pretty blonde locks fall out, may you heal your scars, catch that asshole's undying puppy love, and collect all the power of the universe. Blessed be, teen baby bitch witches. 21 songs to invoke the spirit of The Craft.

Listen to it here or at its official home on 8tracks.
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