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by Bill Gibron

28 Aug 2008

The little lie begins the deceit. Soon, the lack of truth clouds everything - from love to legality. Within days, loyalties which once seemed firm are tested, while newfound friendships provide the catalyst for even more distrust. All the while, the deception cuts as deeply as the Siberian cold, the temperature unable to freeze out the feeling of isolation or the need to be insincere. Soon, there is nothing left but a mountain of fabrication, its uneasy equilibrium waiting for one loose element to cause it all to come crashing down. That uncertain fragment is Jessie, the wife of rightly religious hardware store owner Roy. While her troubled past is now a faint memory, what she will do presently along the couple’s Transsiberian train trip will call into question everything she ever was - or wanted to be.

Returning to America via Moscow, train nut Roy and his photography loving wife Jessie have decided to take the Transsiberian express from Beijing, where they have just completed a successful church mission. Uncomfortable at first, they soon meet up with Spanish ‘teacher’ Carlos and his 20-something Seattle gal pal Abby. At first, our marrieds enjoy their fun loving friends’ company. But soon Carlos is making a play for Jessie, and while adverse to his advances, he does remind her of a more freewheeling time in her life. Soon separated, Jessie is left to her own devices. When a visit to a local church turns deadly, secrets are suddenly revealed. Turns out Carlos and Abby may be running drugs, and the Russian detective who now shares the compartment with Roy and Jessie may not be the straight shooter he pretends to be. Either way, it’s going to be a rough ride across some frozen, and rather frightening, tundra.

Transsiberian is the kind of movie you have to indulge in. To be sure, it needs more than half of its 111 minute running time to get all its little narrative dominoes in place. As you sit and watch director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9) meticulously putting each one out, the mind free associates on their significance. Initial conclusions are hard to come by, but once piled together they create the kind of solid set up that only needs a single plot point twist to take us down a rollercoaster ride filled with suspense. Oddly enough, Anderson succeeds, if only slightly. While we can’t really care about his characters (more on this in a moment), we do empathize with their fate. And when the guns come out and the torture begins, our tendency toward identifying with these people is heightened anew. This is not to say that Transsiberian is wall-to-wall dread. Once it gets going, however, it delivers enough electricity to keep us right near, if not completely on, the edge of our seats.

Our leads don’t help matters much. Woody Harrelson, who can usually be counted on for something special, is stuck playing the unwilling, unknowing accessory. He’s the kind of husband so trusting of his wife that when the police are waving a firearm in her face, he still thinks its all some kind of cross-culture confusion (“We’re American!” he shouts). The same can be said for Eduardo Noriega’s Carlos. He’s all crotch shots and amoral animal magnetism. From the moment he lays eyes on Jessie, we can sense the mental undressing - and humping. It’s not hard then to see him as evil. Rounding out the male leads is Sir Ben Kingsley. On the plus side, he’s not putting on the shtick as some fart blowing guru or oversexed New York shrink. But as Detective Grinko, a supposedly honest man in the unethical morass known as Russia, he’s about as obvious with his loyalties as an ‘80s Miami beat cop.

That just leaves our two female focal points to hold down the filmic fort, and luckily, they both do. Again, we aren’t on Jessie or Abby’s side, but we don’t mind the way Emily Mortimer and Kate Mara (respectively) bring them to life. Of the two, our married mark is more troublesome. Jessie makes some very stupid mistakes and choices here, trusting individuals who never give her a real reason for such a belief while approaching all problems like something she will consider…eventually. When Roy turns up missing toward the movie’s midpoint, we instantly suspect foul play. But even in the midst of such a personal dilemma, our heroine finds time to drift out into the countryside with Carlos. If motivations were currency, Mortimer would be paying us in Confederate dollars…or wooden nickels.

Mara is better in that Anderson doesn’t give her too much to do. In a clear case of a little going a long way, Abby makes an impact for what she isn’t as much as for what she turns out to be. When Jessie argues that she’s a good girl, we really don’t see it. But over time, Mara makes us consider the possibility - which is much more than can be said for anyone else in the cast. Thanks to the way Anderson prepares us for the payoff, and the clever little clips that he and co-writer Will Conroy toss in, we don’t mind that the finale feels lifted from dozens of other thrillers. Like Brian DePalma or John Carpenter, Anderson is aping Hitchcock in the best possible way - that is, acknowledging the master while making his noted conceits all his own.

This is what helps Transsiberian thrive. As we watch each carefully planned portion announce itself and then fall back into place, as the twists and turns take us in directions we never once considered, as the characters connive and try to betray their way out of peril, we’re prepared to be held in the tight grip of clockwork caper. That Anderson almost delivers on such a promise is unusual enough. That he can do it in a cinematic era when excess drives most thrills and chills is the film’s most amazing feat. While an appreciation for old school shivers is not required to enjoy what Transsiberian is offering, such an appreciative attitude won’t hurt. This movie’s mechanics are as creaky and conventional as the steam-driven locomotives that Roy loves so dearly. That they still function is a tribute to the power of the motion picture - and a story structured on that most human of habits…the lie.

by John G. Nettles

28 Aug 2008

This column is dedicated to my long-suffering wife, a brilliant person, well-read and well-rounded, who took up with me no doubt expecting meetings of the minds, intelligent discussions of literature and art and philosophy. Instead she came to realize, alas, too late, that her man was hopelessly mired in cheesy crime novels, monster movies, three-chord garage bands, and a mountain of cheap and juvenile pursuits reeking with the stench of pop-culture effluvia.

It’s been the stated purpose of this column to seek out recent works of esoteric knowledge and literary merit to share with the discerning reader. To that end I won’t generally dwell on bestselling authors (everyone knows James Patterson doesn’t write most of his books but they still sell like crack) or books on politics (Republicans want to eat your babies; Democrats want to turn them into gay atheists—now you’ve read all of them), but rather I try to present books that have either blown me away with their beauty or shown me things I’ve never seen before.

Try as I might, however, I just can’t stay out of the junk pile. It’s just too damn entertaining in there. Here then are some of the other books I’ve read so far this year.

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming (Doubleday, 2008): Everybody knows Ian Fleming’s creation James Bond, so there’s no need to explain who he is. On the centenary of Fleming’s birth, his estate commissioned British novelist Sebastian Faulks to emulate Fleming’s style in this newest Bond adventure, which must have been interesting for Faulks because Fleming’s style was crap. Ian Fleming was a terrible writer, from his weird flavor-neutral prose to his fetishism for brand names and clothing labels, from his rampant racism and sexism to his obsession with games (whenever Bond enters a casino, pack a lunch; you’ll be there a while). But much like Mickey Spillane, Fleming was terrible in a way that was uniquely his own and nigh-impossible to duplicate—try reading John Gardner’s or Raymond Benson’s Bond novels and you’ll see what I mean. From the first page, however, Faulks pulls off the trick. Set during the Cold War, where Bond belongs, the novel puts 007 through all of Fleming’s favorite paces as Bond squares off against a deformed mad scientist with a megaweapon and an axe to grind, and one would swear one was reading something Fleming himself just ripped out between martinis. Bond fans will get this book. Everyone else should go back and watch Daniel Craig in Casino Royale again. It still rocks.

Money Shot by Christa Faust (Dorchester Publishing, 2008): One of the best things to happen to popular fiction in the last couple of years is the Hard Case Crime series of paperback potboilers from Dorchester Publishing, a mix of new and reprinted noir classics that hearkens back to the glory days of junk fiction when lurid covers hawked the beautifully brutal work of masters like Jim Thompson, Donald E. Westlake, and Richard S. Prather. And much like in those days, the Hard Case imprint has been a boys’ club until this year, with the release of Christa Faust’s sexy sledgehammer of a book. How noir is it? The book opens with Faust’s heroine, former porn star Angel Dare, stuffed in the trunk of a car and bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds. Unfortunately, all that does is make Angel mad, and we follow her as she cuts a swath through a seamy L.A. underworld of stroke flicks, white slavers, and more trigger-happy goons than you can shake a 9 mil at. This is the kind of stuff Tarantino wishes he had the stones to write—pure turgid goodness.

No Regrets: The Best, Worst, & Most #$%*ing Ridiculous Tattoos Ever by Aviva Yael and P. M. Chen (Grand Central Publishing, 2008): Yael and Chen are two of the minds behind the legendary “Dos and Don’ts” fashion column in Vice magazine, tasteless and viciously funny critiques of street fashion, done as captions under reader-submitted photos. Here they work the same dark magic in a book filled with pictures of some of the worst ideas people have ever had for permanent display on their bodies. Personally I’ve never understood those books filled with suggested tattoo designs—if you don’t already know what you want in a tattoo, then you obviously don’t need to get one—but here is a perfect guide to what not to get. If you’ve been pondering having Rodney Dangerfield or Pee-Wee Herman or a giant phallic rooster or an alien-invasion hellscape permanently etched into your hide, now you can see what it’d actually look like. And stop yourself. For the love of God, stop yourself.

Touch Me, I’m Sick: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You’ve Ever Heard by Tom Reynolds (Chicago Review Press, 2008): There are only three lines in R.E.M.’s song “The One I Love”—two suggest that the singer is in love, then the third refutes it by calling the other person “a simple prop to occupy my time”. That’s it. Three lines, very simple and pretty clear, and yet couples still sing it to each other without a smidge of irony. “The One I Love” isn’t in Tom Reynolds’s book, but there are plenty of other examples of pop songs that should be creeping us out rather than inspiring us to karaoke. The natural first choice for über-creepy balladry, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, is here (it’s about Sting stalking his ex—stop playing it at weddings!), as well as Radiohead’s “Creep”, the Beatles’ “Run for Your Life”, Eminem’s “Stan”, and a host of others, some well-known (I always thought 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” was disturbing) and others not so much. Reynolds is a dead-on music critic, well-versed in music history and the nuts and bolts of musicianship, and his insights are frequently profound, but he’s at his best when his critiques go gonzo absurd. Certain chapters have him spelunking inside Alanis Morissette’s head, reproducing Eddie Vedder lyrics phonetically, and type-synching his way through Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me”. And he hates James Blunt as much as I do. All in all, Reynolds’ creepy love song to creepy love songs is just plain fun. And creepy.

Bigfoot: I Not Dead by Graham Roumieu (Penguin USA, 2008): The long-awaited (well, maybe not) sequel to Bigfoot’s earlier memoirs, In Me Own Words (2003) and Me Write Book (2005), is as heart-wrenching and moving as the first two volumes in Bigfoot’s ongoing saga of cannibalism, the pitfalls of media saturation, and the tragic price of fame. In his frank, confessional style, Bigfoot displays the kind of eloquent pathos Maya Angelou only wishes she could muster. One only wishes the Loch Ness Monster had been this forthcoming in her autobiography. (It’s actually a very funny book, and I’m just kidding about everything but the Maya Angelou part.)

There. Five perfectly good examples of enjoyable, fun, and decidedly uncerebral books with which to kill brain cells and while away the summer hours, and note that not a single one of them is a Jane Austen pastiche or vampire porn. Even when I let my id write the column, I can still perform a public service. I only hope that someday my wife will understand.

Originally published at Flagpole.

by tjmHolden

28 Aug 2008

Source: Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive

Sometimes travel is a metaphor and sometimes it isn’t, and often separating which is what, when, can be a perplexing exercise in peripatacity.

Today I am traveling across the United States – from the West to the East coast – on a diagonal, due north, as one half of a tandem. My traveling companion is a beautiful woman in waxing flower: my daughter – fresh off a high school graduation and a summer as restaurant hostess. Neither of which have sufficiently prepared her for this particular journey. Why? Because this is the first leg of the next journey of her life. A trek that is not only physical, but intellectual, as well . . . for she is embarking on her collegiate career. This, a new stage in her life, represents both an ending and a beginning: the culmination of one thing, the debut of another. Cast that way, it is hard to avoid reckoning this moment – these paces she is now undertaking—as a representation. As a something standing for another thing.

See what I mean? Where does travel stop and metaphor start? The physical and the mystical getting twinned so facilely. Which is what I like about peripatacity. It has a knack for keeping one guessing.

 

by PopMatters Staff

28 Aug 2008

Mogwai
The Sun Smells Too Loud [MP3]
     

Batcat [Video]

Daedelus
For Whithered Friends [MP3]
     

The Spinto Band
Summer Grof [MP3]
     

Common Market
The Crucible feat. Geo from Blue Scholars [MP3]
     

The High Decibels
That Dude [MP3]
     

Koushik
Bright and Shining [MP3]
     

Land of Talk
Some Are Lakes [MP3]
     

Grampall Jookabox
Peace Attack [MP3]
     

by Christel Loar

27 Aug 2008

In the eleventh episode of Live from Abbey Road (Sundance Channel, Thursday, August 28th at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific), Bryan Adams talks about his love for studios—he rescued and renovated a gold-rush-era building in Vancouver, BC for his own state of the art studio—and how much the sound of a room can influence the sounds of songs. He performs songs from the very beginning of his career, as well as one from his 2008 release 11 in a set that, at one point, he refers to as “Busking at Abbey Road”. First up is a beautiful acoustic version of “Heaven”, with gorgeous violin accompaniment. Next, “She’s Got a Way”, a product of the instantaneous chemistry that can often come into play with creative partnerships and another lovely love song made more so by the violin. Lastly, Adams goes solo for his first big hit, “Cuts Like a Knife”.

Ben Harper, of course, is accompanied by the Innocent Criminals. His musical influences include not just genres, but every sound and conversation he has ever had. He also believes that the live music experience is of great importance and the performances in this segment support that belief, especially “Better Way” from 2006. That song’s performance expresses all the freedom and energy you might find at an outdoor festival, and is one song that he considers “an accomplishment, musically”. Harper describes his impression of studio two in Abbey Road as, “Sonically, it gives right back to you in the clearest, most honest way.” Harper and the room are kindred, then. As his closer, Harper treats viewers to his own sexy, wicked version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me”, and the note he holds near the end of the song will convince you that you can feel the room giving back to him.

Justin Currie, perhaps best known as lead singer/songwriter for Del Amitri, only performs one song during his Abbey Road session, which is a bit unusual for this program, but it’s a great song. Currie lets us in on why you must be superstitious about writing songs, or any writing really: “Because no matter how hard you work on it, it doesn’t make it any better… and the songs that you consider to be good, just come along—in a highly mysterious fashion.” His performance of “Still in Love” from 2007’s What Is Love For is a deep and haunting. It’s a ballad for piano and strings, which showcases not only Currie’s ability to write a stunner, but his talent for elevating a great song even further on the strength of his voice. You can just imagine what the room gave back to him.

Upcoming Line-ups:

Episode 12 - September 4
Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Brian Wilson

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