Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Hurt Locker

I still remember a film review that Roger Ebert wrote 5 years ago. It was for an Afghan film called "Osama":

Who will go to see "Osama?" I don't know. There is after all that new Adam Sandler movie, and it's a charmer. And "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" is opening, for fans of campy trash. I'm not putting them down. People work hard for their money, and if they want to be entertained, that's their right. But brave dissenting Islamic filmmakers are risking their lives to tell the story of the persecution of women, and it is a story worth knowing, and mourning.

It's been on my to-watch list since then. I keep putting it off because it will probably be depressing, but I also feel like I should watch it, so I keep it near the bottom of my netflix queue, along with a bunch of documentaries.

My reaction to The Hurt Locker was similar. It came out months ago, but I kept putting it off, and only just went to see it yesterday. You should go see it too.

It's a brutal film. Over two hours of minimalist tension. There's essentially no plot: the movie skips over most of the characters' between-mission activities. The team start a mission, risk their lives, and then if all goes well, the mission ends... and then the movie skips forward to the next mission and repeats essentially the same story. This happens maybe 8-9 times. For almost the entire duration of the film, everyone on screen is under lethal danger.

The film follows a bomb disposal team. Other characters move in and out of the story, without really coming into focus, like John Travolta, and George Clooney in The Thin Red Line. Unlike Malick's masterpiece (one of my all-time favourites), the Hurt locker is focused on actions not thoughts. It is primal where The Thin Red Line was cerebral.

People die, and the tension comes from not knowing if/which characters will survive each scene, and from the slow pace of the narrative. I kept wanting the movie to go faster, to tell me how it will end. Watching the main character wipe pebbles off of an explosive device, or a sniper swat flies from his face left me squirming uncomfortably - and why shouldn't it? I'll probably never be in a war zone, a film like this is the closest I'll ever get. If a film aims to depict the wartime experience, it probably should realistically convey the fear and uncertainty that (I assume) soldiers experience.

This movie is full of basic, animal truth. It's hard to compare a film like this to other movies that have completely different goals. So, I'm not necessarily saying that this movie is "the best" of the year (Ponyo, was amazing). I just hope that, in a year where movies like the Hurt Locker exist, they don't go around giving Oscar's to yuppie-baiting garbage like Crash, or Babel.

One final comment: I recommend you watch this while it's in theaters. If you watch it on DVD, you'll almost certainly pause it, or watch it in bits and pieces, just because it's unsettling, and because you can. It won't be the same experience as being subjected to the full film all in one go, a captive of the cinematheque.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Testing Grooveshark playlist embedding

I think the internet may have finally provided a good mixtape service. (The lala playlist feature that I tried earlier is useless - you have to be logged in on my account to hear some of the songs.)

Here, hopefully, are some songs that I like.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

You're so vain, you probably think this facebook status update is about you.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been discussing the various uses of facebook, blogs, and twitter with some friends, and family. It seems everybody has different reasons for being online and apply different combinations of personal filters to their various online presences.

One of the frustrating/weird things about facebook/blogs/twitter is the temptation to overshare personal information. Usually I'm cool with that, even if I don't personally like to share too many private thoughts. Standards are changing and sharing the details of one's life is becoming more common and acceptable - and since that's the case, who am I to judge where people should draw the line?

Well... that's what I used to think until earlier this week: A high school acquaintance of mine posted on facebook that he's getting divorced, then - and this is the part that I take issue with - his grandmother commented on his status, asking: "is this true [name of friend]?" (I think it was his grandmother... because of her gray hair in the tiny little picture next to her comment... but possibly it's his mom or an aunt.)

However blurry current standards for online profiles are, there's no way this is anything but gauche. (The guy took the post down a few days later.) And, I'm pretty sure that, no matter what the future holds, there's no way it can ever be ok to announce a divorce to your family in this way.

Would I feel differently if he had a smaller circle of friends on facebook? Maybe - although, if that were the case, I would certainly not be one of them. In fact, the funniest thing about this is that I didn't even know he was married until his divorce was announced on my facebook newsfeed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My friend CL recently turned me onto some really cool music (i.e. tUnE-YaRdS). So now I'm going to try to write about some music that I think people should check out, sorted (kind of) by genre. I still haven't found a good way to share streamed music, so I'll use youtube instead.

Electronic wallpaper:

Tim Hecker is a cool Montreal artist that constructs intricate and intimate sonic landscapes. I like to listen to this while I'm studying. It's not too distracting, so I can focus on work, but then when I need a break, it's so full of interesting sounds and textures that it can easily hold my attention for a bit while my brain recharges. If you like this, you might also like Fennesz (Fennesz uses guitars more prominently, even though it doesn't really sound like guitar music).

Arovane is on a whole different vibe. Much closer to a "music for yoga moms" thing.

Tim Hecker - 100 Years Ago

Arovane - Goodbye Forever

Indie cred:

Ok... on to the music that you'll actually like.

Malcolm Middleton used to be in the downer-rock group Arab Strap. Now he makes depressing music as a solo artist.

Beirut is a young New Mexico artist. His latest release saw him combining his Old-World melodramatic crooning with rural Mexican music.

Malcolm Middleton - We're All Gonna Die

"You've got to laugh into the dark"...
This one's a couple of years old now. A life affirming existentialist ode to the cold hard truth.
I particularly like this Christmas-y children's choir version (the original is here).

Beirut - La Llorona

"Pop" rock:

I discovered Marshall Crenshaw thanks to Amazon: I bought a Love greatest hits album, and amazon suggested that I might like to buy Crenshaw's hits album... turns out they were right.

Puffy AmiYumi (or in Japanese: パフィ) make the kind of fun punkish music that Avril Lavigne should be making (think Hanson, when they were fun). They had their own TV show on the cartoon network, which was hilarious.

Marshall Crenshaw - Cynical Girl

Puffy AmiYumi - That's The Way It Is

It was really hard to find videos for these guys, and most of the videos I found were just awful. This is a great song, but they've got better songs - I just couldn't find videos for them.

Emitt Rhodes sounds like Paul McCartney in need of a better producer. He made some great music though.

The Honeys were a Beach Boys affiliated girl group. (Brian Wilson's ex-wife was one of the members) Don't make the mistake of buying their hits album - the only good stuff they put out was the stuff Brian Wilson produced, and you can find that on the "Pet Projects" compilation along with other interesting stuff like a weird teen-pop single from soon-to-be pop-country legend Glen Campbell.

Emitt Rhodes - Really Wanted You

Honeys - Tonight You Belong To Me

After the Honeys split 2 of the 3 girls formed the group American Spring, which Brian Wilson also was involved with. A whole bunch of the Wilson produced songs for both groups are great(especially American Spring's "Falling in Love," written by Dennis Wilson). This particular song is a cover of an early 20th century song. (Other great versions are here, and here)


I discovered The Hacienda Brothers thanks to Knoxville's non-NPR public radio station WDVX. Member Chris Gaffney recently died of cancer, and a tribute album was released earlier this year which features a great read on their song "Midnight Dream" by none other than Boz Scaggs. I couldn't find a video of it though, so here's the Hacienda Brothers version.

The Hacienda Brothers - Midnight Dream

That seems like plenty for now. Hopefully there's something in there that you like and that you hadn't heard before.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Advice for Roland Emmerich

This guy sure loves disaster movies (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, 2012...)

For his next film, I suggest he try his hand at adapting this classic Calvin and Hobbes strip.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dear Madison, I love you. Let's never fight again.

It turns out, much to my surprise, that I really miss Madison. Especially Madison summers.

It's was so easy to get back into the rhythm of this city: the jaywalking, the constant detours due to construction, the young moms and their double strollers getting in everyone's way at the farmer's market...

Of course, it's not the same as when I lived here: I didn't bring my bike, so I couldn't ride around the lake when it was really sunny out after the farmer's market, and I don't really know very many people that still live in town...
Still, if there were a way that I could be happy professionally and live in Madison, I would be mighty tempted.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


npr guy:
"Arlen Specter speaks of winning election to the Senate in 1980 — the year of Ronald Reagan — in the big-tent Republican Party. Is it fair to say that today's Republican Party is actually narrower and much more conservative than the GOP of the Reagan era?"

RNC chairman for the time being, Michael Steele:
blah blah blah... "So there's been no change from 1980 or 1964 or 1856."

I can't be the only one that finds it incredibly irritating to hear ever political scandal described as "something"-gate. Please, MSM, put an end to this!

On the other hand, Fitzmas is a political phrase I can get behind, and would love to see in wider use: e.g. Specter's defection = Fitzmas came early this year.
Also: Fitzmas would be a good title for a movie, or a band.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Arlan Specter switched parties a few minutes ago. That's great news for Norm Coleman's legal fund. Also, it will be interesting to see what Chris Matthews has to say about this - maybe this is the real reason that he decided not to enter politics.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that Lieberman will switch to the GOP restoring their ability filibuster (perhaps he'll cite his opposition to Obama's Iran, Iraq or torture policies (embedded parenthesis side note: how weird is this headline?)).

Actually, I think this could make the Senate less liberal, since reconciliation would look bad for a filibuster proof Dem party, and Specter opposes some liberal priorities.

Anyway, enough politics. Here's some good music:

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Testing LALA's playlist embedding

Lala is a online music store, that also features an optional music trading feature for members. The trading is why I joined in the first place: I sent out CDs I no longer wanted (everything from MC Hammer, to an extra copy of OK Computer that I had for some reason), and got CDs in the mail from other members (a bunch of U2 and Bjork singles, other gaps in my collection like Sinatra, G'n'R, AC/DC, QOTSA... but also some new bands I discovered through lala like Material Issue)

...blah blah blah... point of story is: I'm testing their playlist embedding feature.

Update: it works ok. Lala makes uploading music faster by scanning your mp3s, and "automatically" adding songs that are in their database, and that you already own. There are three big flaws I've run into, so far: a) if your mp3s are not tagged the way lala has them tagged it won't recognize them (especially problematic for compilations), and b) if you listen to a lot of music that's not in their database, then you're also out of luck. (e.g. music that's not sung in English, British girl groups, European electronic music). Also, c) they automatically add clean versions of songs with bad language.

You can also *upload* songs but obviously that takes a long time.

This here playlist is just a bunch of random songs I uploaded and a couple I bought from lala. A few highlights: Sabali is an awesome French House song created by a blind Malian couple and the guy from Blur. I Know is some amazing Italo-Disco from Sweden. Baby Blue is the greatest song Dennis Wilson ever wrote.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Top Chef - why does it exist?


The people are the usual reality show types... and unlike the Top Model show and whatever show Heidi Klum is on... you can't really properly appreciate their talent by watching tv.

You can't taste their food. They don't teach you about cooking... It's like having a radio show about painting.