Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Old Yeller (1957)***
Good family film about a Texas family in the late 1800's and the "yeller stray" dog that comes into their lives and manages to save them from all sorts of peril. Tommy Kirk in his debut does a surprisingly good job as the oldest boy who starts off resenting the dog but comes to appreciate and love him, after all. A bit over the top, but the film redeems itself by its un-sugar-coated ending.
Lucinda Williams - West (2007)*
I like Lucinda Williams. I thought her last record, World Without Tears was one of the best of 2003. This one, however, is nearly unlistenable. The only track I liked is "Learning How to Live" and it is starting to wear thin. All the rest are mind-numbingly repetitive, not just musically, but lyrically. The first track, "Are You Alright?" is mainly that phrase repeated endlessly, relentlessly. There is very little songwriting going on here. I understand she has been through a great deal of pain and feels her music helps her get through that, but it seems as though in this instance she's merely pushing the pain onto us instead of transforming it for our benefit. Very disappointing.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why all the hate for Little Miss Sunshine? - By Matt Feeney - Slate Magazine:
"By now, [Time critic Richard] Corliss' thesis is more than valid. It's obvious. You might even say it's formulaic. The critics have a point, which they sometimes make with noticeable bitterness, that many independent films are stale and mannered. But for some of these films, this critical dismissal is a strange fate: to be faulted for pretense, preciosity, and stylistic calculation when their real achievement is to reintroduce an enjoyable sort of broad humor into American cinema. You may not find the next Bergman at Sundance, but you might well find some fancy poop jokes."

I gave a poor review to LMS also not because it was pretentious, precious and stylistically calculating, but because those traits seemed OBVIOUS to me in viewing the film. I loved Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know", which was at least as pretentious and precious as LMS, but the film didn't proclaim that fact in every frame. The story, as quirky as it was, seemed to flow more evenly, characters seemed to be real people. I don't exactly know how Ms July did that and Dayton-Faris did not, but to my eyes, there was a big difference between her film and LMS.

(Thanks to kottke.org for the link!)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Apples In Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder(2007)***
There's just too much filler to put this album into the 4 star category. I mean, "Energy" and "The Sun Is Out" sound nice and bouncy and all but come on give us more than a half of a verse and a chorus repeated over and over. Plus I'm not a big fan of "experimental" and "linking" tracks of which there are plenty. And although I am a big ELO fan, let's use their songs as an inspiration not a blueprint next time. "Same Old Drag" sounds like "The Diary of Horace Wimp, Part 2". "7 Stars", "Sunday Sounds" and "Open Eyes" are among their best work however.
Dynasty Restaurant ****
A recently added restaurant on the Modesto dining scene, Dynasty finally brings good Cantonese/Hunan Chinese food to the locals. I haven't tried the full dim sum menu but if it is anything like their mu shu pork, spring rolls, lemon chicken and Mongolian lamb, it should be very tasty. These are dishes you will see in the typical low end Chinese food place of which there are a few in town, but they are done here with care, fresh ingredients, attention to detail and subtle variations. The sauces are not overpowering and enhance rather than dominate the dish. I can't wait to try some other offerings on their 109 item menu. Located in the Coffee - Standiford shopping center, the same one that houses the remarkable Sushi Garden Japanese restaurant. Eating out in Modesto keeps getting better!

Monday, February 19, 2007

David Fincher - Zodiac - Movies - New York Times:
"Robert Downey Jr., impeccably cast as a crime reporter driven to drink, drugs and dissolution, called Mr. Fincher a disciplinarian and agreed that, as is often said, “he’s always the smartest guy in the room.” But Mr. Downey put this in perspective.

“Sometimes it’s really hard because it might not feel collaborative, but ultimately filmmaking is a director’s medium,” he said. “I just decided, aside from several times I wanted to garrote him, that I was going to give him what he wanted. I think I’m a perfect person to work for him, because I understand gulags.”"

The eternal struggle between actors and directors as played out in David Fincher's new film "Zodiac". I find it interesting how some directors like Fincher, Kubrick often do dozens and dozens of takes in an effort to get the performance they want from an actor, and others, like Clint Eastwood for example, manage to get good results with a handful of takes. I mean, why would you need 70 takes of a scene? Kubrick it seems, often wanted a certain stylized portrayal difficult for most actors to do. Maybe dozens of takes made this possible. I don't know much about Fincher or his films but he is critically respected and his films are popular. Actors do want to work with him.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Free File Home - Your Link to Free Federal Online Filing
Yeah it's free all right IF you make less than $52,000/year. This really pisses me off. I can't imagine any reason, other than protecting their bureaucratic fiefdoms, why ANY taxpayer has to pay to electronically file their tax return. Not only that, but the IRS should be providing the tax preparation software also free of charge. After all, we all pay for the IRS. Providing this software and allowing for free e-filing would reduce their expenses. It is mind-boggling and insulting. California has this capability already. It is a readily doable thing. Argh.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nacho Libre (2006)*
I can handle dumb, goofy comedies as well as the next guy, but this reaches a new low. It's just not funny nor particularly interesting.
Chris Brown - Now That You're Fed (2006)****
Lush, beautiful, exquisitely polished pop gems. "April" is a stunning tour de force of songwriting. Some Dylan-esqe and Buckingham-esqe flavors to the tunes. In a very good way.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Guardian - How the US sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish:
"To oversee the expenditure the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] was supposed to appoint an independent certified public accounting firm. Instead the CPA hired an obscure consulting firm called North Star Consultants Inc. The firm was so small that it reportedly operates out of a private home in San Diego. Mr Bowen found that the company 'did not perform a review of internal controls as required by the contract'.

However, evidence before the committee suggests that senior American officials were unconcerned about the situation because the billions were not US taxpayers' money. Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA, reminded the committee that 'the subject of today's hearing is the CPA's use and accounting for funds belonging to the Iraqi people held in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq. These are not appropriated American funds. They are Iraqi funds. I believe the CPA discharged its responsibilities to manage these Iraqi funds on behalf of the Iraqi people.'

Bremer's financial adviser, retired Admiral David Oliver, is even more direct. The memorandum quotes an interview with the BBC World Service. Asked what had happened to the $8.8bn he replied: 'I have no idea. I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't - nor do I actually think it's important.'

Q: 'But the fact is billions of dollars have disappeared without trace.'

Oliver: 'Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?'"

It will be interesting to see how the supporters of the administration spin this away. Most likely they will simply ignore it and watch the story just fade away since it's not exactly tearing up the American press. So the plan was to just dump billions of dollars of American bills paid for by Iraq into the hands of random Iraqi's? And that would jump start the economy? That would rebuild the infrastructure? That would provide the clean water and consistent power? And it didn't matter, STILL doesn't matter, who got the money? AND THESE PEOPLE ARE STILL IN CHARGE???
Bookshops' latest sad plot twist - Los Angeles Times:
"This is the paradox of modern bookselling. Even in an entertainment-saturated age, people still buy books. But the casual reader has many other places to get bestsellers and topical books, from warehouse stores to the mall. Meanwhile, book nuts — the ones who simply must buy several volumes a week — are lured online. Few businesses can survive that lose customers from both ends of the spectrum."

The problem is not the technology in and of itself. The problem is the independent bookseller has now got to compete with it. If a bookstore opened up across the street, it would have to compete with it too. This is not a new thing. You've just got to use some imagination AND use YOUR strengths. What strength would a small, independent bookstore have over Amazon? What about the ability to get the book you want immediately? Amazon has to ship it. The local store has it right there waiting for you. What always bugged me about online shopping from brick-and-mortar stores was the fact that I could not order the item online and pick it up at the store that day. This is starting to change but the last time I checked you still couldn't do this at Barnes & Noble. And there are precious, precious few local independent booksellers who have ANYTHING like a web site. At the very least, you need to have a web site where you can post recommended new titles, upcoming author visits, events, or even store hours for crying out loud! It is not expensive and it is not difficult. It IS new though for most of these owners. But you can't win if you don't play.
Brick (2005)***
Basically a remake of The Maltese Falcon but set in a southern Californian high school. Interesting, quirky, with some great art direction. Good, smart entertainment.
The World's Fastest Indian (2005)****
A textbook example of how to carry a film. Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers a towering performance, lifting the whole picture to a level it really doesn't belong in. The direction is shabby, the script is weak in a number of scenes, but the supporting cast is generally fine. It's reminiscent of The Straight Story and often hits that high mark, thanks to Hopkins. His performance ranks up there with George C. Scott's in Patton as far as I'm concerned. Brilliant.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Memento mori, Kevin:

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going —
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.
-- Kozan Ichikyo's Death Poem

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mitch Easter - Dynamico(2007)****
I may have to reconsider my 4 star rating system because this album deserves 5. It's been a long, long time but we finally have a new Let's Active CD and it is wonderful. Great tunes, beautifully, powerfully produced. Transcendent power pop.