{fv_addthis}

Latest Blog Posts

by PC Muñoz

12 Oct 2009

I’ve always believed that the best songwriters have a bit of a shaman in them. They journey into dangerous emotional and spiritual terrain, engage with the darkest aspects of the human condition, and return with hard truths, insight, wisdom, and of course, sometimes more questions. True masters of the power of song are able to negotiate their shamanic gifts and write songs which resonate with listeners at the deepest, most personal level.

Rosanne Cash fits that description well; she is a deeply soulful and gracefully powerful artist. In her life’s journey, she has encountered the kinds of struggles that everyday folks deal with (divorce, substance abuse, unforeseeable medical issues), as well as struggles unique to being the child of Johnny Cash, a veritable legend. The work she has crafted out of these experiences is thoughtful, heartbreaking, fierce, and truthful.

In my opinion, Cash’s sonically inviting and emotionally cathartic 2006 release Black Cadillac is a good place to start for newcomers to her work. From there, it’s easy to navigate back to previous albums and find lots of other great work.

by Bill Gibron

12 Oct 2009

What did Dr. Seuss ever do to Hollywood? How did the genial children’s author, responsible for many of the most memorable kid lit classics of all time turn into such a cinematic pariah? Granted, last year’s Horton Hears a Who was a wonderful CG miracle, an update of the favored tale that added just the right amount of contemporary comedy zing. But sadly, such an accomplishment remains a real rarity when it comes to adaptations of Theodor Geisel’s works. In 2003, Mike Myers urinated all over the memory of Thing One and Thing Two with his horrific hackneyed take on The Cat in the Hat. But the whole anti-Seuss vibe probably started when a then hot Jim Carrey soiled the stellar reputation of Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff when he turned How The Grinch Stole Christmas into a distressing example of star hubris excess.

By now, everyone knows the story of how a mean old monster with a hatred for the holiday season tried to steal the celebration away from the Whos down in Whoville. As with any good fable, the Grinch has a last minute change of heart, recognizes the reason for the season, and saves the day. This updated version has a terribly trite backstory which sees the character, now a decidedly freakish member of the Who clan, pining away for a cutesy classmate, later played by Christine Baranski. When he is ridiculed by his peers, he turns into a meanie, makes his way up Mt. Crumpit, and becomes the city’s resident urban legend. When little Cindy Lou Who decides to nominate the myth for a festive Yuletide award, the town balks, including the Mayor played by Jeffrey Tambor. When the Grinch accepts, and is mocked again, he decides to teach the Whos a lesson once and for all. So it’s on with the familiar Santa suit, off with the village’s many merry Noel trappings.

Someone should have stopped director Ron Howard when they had the chance. You can tell he thinks he’s making the most magical, spirited seasonal masterwork ever conceived. His intentions are so obvious, his frame so overfilled with as many eye candy confections as possible, that claims of excess become understatements. Indeed, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is so big, so bloated with unnecessary red and green froufrou, that Seuss seminal message gets lost - nay, trampled on, tossed aside, and treated like an afterthought. Even more overly complicated thanks to the new Blu-ray version from Unviersal, this hallucinogenic horror is half ego trip, half toddler night terror fodder. Between the Whos who look like shaved mice (take that, Rick Baker’s undeserved Oscar for Best Make-up) to the dogged Disney-like art design (no straight edges or recognizable geometrical shapes in this chaotic creative hodgepodge), we are treated to a craven cake overflowing with too much icing, too many nonpareils, and not enough sugar-less substance.

It’s not all the filmmaker’s fault. Howard casts his film with a group of likeminded movie minions who take the notion of fantasy to nauseating, nonsensical extremes. For every Bill Irwin, quite capable as the clown, we have Baranski, or the leaden Tambor who both believe that playing wistful requires a combination of the cloying and the creepy. It’s the same with Molly Shannon as Irwin’s wife and Clint Howard as Tambor’s Mayoral assistant. In fact, the Whos are so uninvolving and uninteresting that we could care less if their Christmas is ruined. We simply see their dilemma as part of Seuss story and wait for the plotpoint to payoff. Everything else here is narratively unnecessary. The grade-school Grinch sequence is painful in its pat psychobabble tone and the Baranski love interest is borderline sickening. Indeed, the whole concept of the Grinch is never given much clarity. If he’s not a Who, why is he treated as one? If he is, why is he the only odd looking member of the clan?

Of course, Carrey is no help. He’s his typical mid ‘90s scene stealing hog here, taking control of every moment to work through his various levels of adlib (in)efficiency. Sometimes, he scores. Most times, he misses by miles. His mountain retreat is part horror film, part theme park proposal, and his dog Max (turned into a live action cur) is less a silent Greek chorus and more canine comic relief. By the time the movie gets around to actually investing in Geisel’s moral, we’ve sat through endless shouting and shenanigans that fail to provide a single saleable laugh. Carrey is complete adrift here, doing his shtick without recognizing how ineffectual and inappropriate it is (should a children’s film really revel in shrill, softcore asides?). If the rest of the movie weren’t so distended, the former superstar would be the goiter giving How the Grinch Stole Christmas its swollen spirit.

The desire to pack in as much as possible is apparent throughout the bonus features included on the Blu-ray release. We are taken to Who School (?), shown the various details in the production and art design, witness the way in which Carrey constantly countermanded the script to exercise he proposed purposeful witticisms, and watch as the special effects give overkill a comfy new motion picture home. There are deleted scenes a’plenty (which is stunning, considering how crammed full the film already feels), a look at Baker’s make-up techniques, and a vile music video from Faith Hill. Perhaps the most telling piece of added content is the commentary by Howard. Ported over from previous DVD editions of the film, it offers no perspective on the critical consensus on the film. Instead, it plays like a pep talk, the filmmaker convincing himself over and over again that he made the right decision in turning Seuss’ legend into a spotty, slapdash spectacle.

Well, at the very least the image and sound get a much needed format update, the better to show off the senseless surplus within How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ vision. One of the worst elements of the revamp is turning buttinski urchin Cindy Lou into the voice of reason amongst a populace already clueless as to how to control themselves. Her arguments about sensing inner beauty and de-commercializing the date are so shrill, so saccharine in their cutesy pie approach, that you hope this Grinch grinds her bones to make his bread…or something like that. If you want to see what Dr. Seuss’s amazing message can look like when properly treated and translated, seek out the 1966 cartoon classic. The original celebrated the triumph of the individual spirit. This one is nothing more than a crass mainstream cash grab. Though the sentiment is apropos, the packaging is just awful.

by Eleanore Catolico

12 Oct 2009

It’s always cool to poke fun at the government, especially at their most frivolous. Pirate Radio, directed by Richard Curtis, follows the antics of eight DJs who daringly continued to play rock records in the middle of the North Atlantic, despite the angry protestations of British officials. The rock ‘n’ roll dissenters include Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, and many others. Pirate Radio, which came out in the U.K. back in April as The Boat That Rocked, opens in the U.S. on November 13th in select theaters.

by Jason Gross

12 Oct 2009

A colleague of mine who works in the non-profit world made this prediction: “it’s my belief that, within the next year or two, Facebook or some other social networking service will completely replace email as a way… to reach out to our audiences.”  Mind you, he’s not saying that e-mail itself is gonna die and Facebook will replace it. But the thought that the way that non-profits plus marketers, magazines, promotion (PR), bands and all sorts of other businesses will rely on social media rather than e-mail is an interesting idea to ponder.

The whole idea of social media taking over from e-mail as a way to reach out to audiences almost makes e-mail seem like an antiquated 20th century idea that’s on the way out in this early part of the new millennium. Can we gaze into our collective crystal ball and see how this will shake out?

The rise of social media has been stunning, becoming one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Internet. MySpace (only six years old now) was once the king of the hill but has been overtaken by Facebook, which is only five years old, but Facebook itself is now being challenged by Twitter, which is only three years old now. See the pattern here? Obviously, something is overdue to come and knock down MySpace, Facebook and Twitter off their perches. And a year or two after that happens, something else will take over as the new kind of social media world.

by Bill Gibron

11 Oct 2009

Sandra Bullock is much more than her current career arc. She’s a better actress than her RomCom credentials would suggest, and when given material to match her mantle (Infamous, Crash), she can compete with any of her credited competition. Still, Hollywood continues to push her into one lackluster chick flick moneymaker after another, the most recent being the psycho-stalker abomination All About Steve. Interestingly enough, Bullock brought her appreciable A-Game to a different 2009 comedy, a far more favorable look at a megalomaniacal boss and her decent if rather misdirected assistant. A sizable hit for Touchstone, The Proposal (coming soon to Blu-ray) proved that, when put in the right setting, with a semi-sound script and decent direction, this post-millennial matron can sell even the most clichéd claptrap to an audience eager to be swept off their own wish fulfillment feet.

Margaret Tate is the cutthroat editor-in-chief for a highly successful New York publishing firm. She is feared and hated by everyone in the office - including her emasculated, subservient assistant Andrew Paxton. While he has his own motives for taking her taunts and tirades, getting a promised promotion seems more and more like a pipe dream. When the Immigration and Nationalization Service comes after Margaret for an expired visa (she’s Canadian, by the way), it looks like she will be forcibly deported, losing her job in the process.

Suddenly, she has a brainstorm - she will get Andrew to marry her, thereby giving her an out with the Feds. Of course, they are suspicious of Margaret’s motives, and so she invites herself to the Paxton home for his grandmother’s 90 birthday celebration. Arriving in the small Alaskan town of Sitka, Margaret soon learns that her ‘secretary’ comes from a very wealthy family, has issues with his father, and has sacrificed a lot to move to the Big Apple. When the Paxton’s plan a quickie wedding for the couple, it’s crunch time. Either they must go through with the ruse and risk getting caught, or realize that they are actually falling in love with each other.

The Proposal is an inconsequential little piffle, a movie aiming directly for the middle and almost always achieving its aims. Certainly, it flirts with some significantly low brow leanings (the Alaskan male stripper with a pot belly and the savoir faire of a Teamster, the nude meet cute moment between the stars), and prays it offers insight into the reasons why people fall in love. In truth, it’s just 108 minutes of innocuous motion picture archetypes. There’s the distrusting, disappointed dad, the saintly mom, the dirty old granny, the smokin’ hot ex, etc. It’s the same in Margaret’s NYC kingdom, including employees who goof off instead of doing their job, underlings who curse the very ground their bitchy boss walks on, and owners more interested in dollars signs than keeping a dynamic (if rather impersonal) leader in place.

Together with a script that follows the genre formula’s to a comfy flannel ‘T’, and a cast that does its best to enliven the often infantile material, The Proposal is pleasant if almost instantly forgettable. Instead of being emotionally engaged, we simply wait around to see if Margaret and Andrew will fall for each other, or if the morally askew big wig step will aside so that her overworked and underpaid staffer can finally be happy. Everything on the Paxton side of things - except for pissed-off papa Craig T. Nelson - seems sunny and secure. Even Andrew’s previous girlfriend, as played by Malin Akerman, comes off as the most trusting and loving former flame in the history of devastating dumped relationships. The issue with his parents is more of an independence thing than an “I hate you” happenstance. Margaret, on the other side, has a single facet to her one-note characterization. On her own since her parents died when she was 16, she’s simply forgotten what it’s like to have a family that loves her. When the Paxtons show her kindness, she’s unequivocally thrown for a loop.

It’s a good thing then that both Bullock and Ryan Reynolds are on hand to hold down the histrionics. While we never buy our bubbly lead as the kind of callous fiend who would feed a small dog to an eagle in order to retrieve her cellphone, we do feel her isolated pain. It’s especially potent during a late night confessional when she reveals some little known details about herself. Her beefy co-star is equally adept, light on his feet and quick with many of his above-average one-liners. He’s a nimble foil to Bullock’s bravado. Director Anne Fletcher also shows some improvement over her previous attempts at behind the camera creativity. The Proposal is much better than Step Up, or the horrifically ordinary 27 Dresses. Sure, the greenscreen Alaskan backdrops show through early and often (Massachusetts’s was the stand-in for Russia’s famous ‘neighbor’), but she handles the human element of the story rather well. Indeed, this is one of the rare RomComs that doesn’t lapse into illogical slapstick or forced farce every five minutes…sometimes, it takes a good twenty before the burlesque arrives.

Thanks to the new Blu-ray release, we can see just how sappy and silly this movie could have been. The deleted scenes shed light on subplots that could never pay off properly, while the alternative ending is one of the weakest, most misguided attempts at humor in recent cinematic memory (it involves the mishearing and mis-delivery of messages - no, honestly). As for the rest of the added content, there is also an interesting commentary track from Fletcher and screenwriter Peter Chiarelli that illustrates why some alternate narratives are too self-congratulatory to be much good. As for the technical side of things, the movie does look amazing, filled with a natural wonder that only stock footage of the Yukon can provide, and the 1080p HD picture is excellent throughout. Sure, the locational sham is exposed in this updated format, but like the rest of the movie, it’s an excusable flaw.

Maybe that’s why Bullock continues to pull down the big bucks. Even inside a premise as implausible and confusing as The Proposal (if Reynolds is such an amazing assistant, how did he fail to anticipate the visa debacle?), she lifts the material to her level and does her best to drive it home. With an able company of fellow finery by her side, it takes a lot to let the audience down. Sure, the finale feels plodding and unnecessarily serious, considering all the oddball eccentricity we’ve seen before (Betty White, in full Native American headdress, dancing with abandon in the woods?), but there’s still enough here to satisfy. Bullock will branch out once again come awards season, playing a snooty member of Tennessee society who adopts a homeless black teen in the true story The Blind Side. While such a move shows her range, she seems endlessly stuck in situations like this. Good thing then that, unlike other examples of the type, The Proposal is more or less acceptable.   

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Stone Dead: Murder and Myth in 'Medousa'

// Short Ends and Leader

"A wry tale which takes in Greek mythology, punk rock and influences of American suspense-drama, this is an effective and curious thriller about myth and obsession.

READ the article