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Tag Archives: Documentary

Weekly Mishmash: February 14-20

album_cruiseJulee Cruise — Floating into the Night. An album I’ve been wanting to hear ever since it came out 21 (!) years ago. The 1989 fusion of the scintillating Ms. Cruise, arranger Angelo Badalamenti, and director David Lynch is a spellbinding exercise in dream pop. Much of the album floats by in a dreamlike, eerie atmosphere with the occasional ’50s pop flourish (e.g. the abstract sax solo on “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart”). “Falling,” a vocal rendition of the Twin Peaks theme, is the best-known tune here, but I like how the album’s second half delves into the darker, sleepier mood of a sustained lullaby. Listening to it from this distance makes me realize how truly one-of-a-kind this collaboration was, although it inspires cravings for cherry pie and damn fine coffee.
49 Up (2006). The most recent chapter in Michael Apted’s astonishing documentary series that profiles several “average” British citizens at seven year intervals from childhood through middle age. At this stage, the subjects are feeling very ambivalent about revisiting Apted and the strange celebrity that comes as a result of these films. It makes for voyeuristic but compelling viewing. Mostly it feels like catching up with old friends that you haven’t seen in a while. I’m always amazed at the editing, which has curious, gawky children gradually morphing into self-aware, pudgy adults. It must be somewhat painful for these people having to re-evaluate their lives every seven years, but I hope they’re aware of the great contributions they’re making to film history.
Hunger (2008). Great film about the brutal treatment of IRA members in the early ’80s British prison system, culminating in the two month hunger strike of resistance leader Bobby Sands (brilliantly played by actor Michael Fassbender). Director Steve McQueen crafted this film into an impressionistic mood piece that gradually draws the viewer in. The approach works infinitely better than it would have been with strict, straightforward storytelling. The film is filled with static shots of things like the prisoners’ feces-smeared cell walls, ugly things that look strangely beautiful in this setting. The gradual deterioration of Fassbender’s body fits into that milieu, as well. I was puzzled as to why McQueen focused on a prison guard, then an average prisoner, then Sands in the course of the film. It may have made more sense to have it centered around a few characters throughout — nonetheless, this film is an uneasy, unforgettable experience.
Orphan (2009). Well-made but far from subtle horror flick about a well-heeled couple (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) who adopt a creepy Russian girl with precocious talents for folksy paintings and quasi-Victorian fashions. After settling in with the couple’s other two children, things start to go very, very wrong and the concerned ma starts to suspect that little Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) isn’t who she appears to be. This is a pretty stupid, predictable little potboiler, but it’s fun. I was entertained by the way this film so liberally takes cues from other “bad child” movies such as The Bad Seed and The Good Son (the giant treehouse built prohibitively high above ground level in the latter). The cast seems committed — I was particularly impressed with Aryana Engineer as the youngest kid — but this is pure hokum from start to finish. It might even have the makings for the next camp classic.

Weekly Mishmash: October 18-24

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Trust. I owned this on a rinky dink cassette tape in the ’80s, when I had no choice but to savor every music choice for whatever it was worth. I got to re-savor it again recently on CD (the old Rykodisc reissue CD from 15 years ago, but still…). Costello fans consider this something of an inconsistent halfway point between the herky jerky r&b of Get Happy!!! and the tortured balladry of Imperial Bedroom. It even contains a few songs, like “Luxenbourg,” that I mistakenly took as Get Happy!!! tracks. Stylistically the album is still all over the map, but honestly this one contains some of my favorite E.C. material — compositions as clever and melodic as he’s ever been. “New Lace Sleeves” is one of them:

By the way, Columbia records dropped the ball on the singles issued from this album, opting to release the pleasant “Watch Your Step” in the U.S. (where it bombed) over the superior U.K. single “Clubland.”
Crazy Love (2007). Slickly made, engrossing documentary about a supremely odd couple. The saga of Burt and Linda Pugach began in the late ’50s, when a spurned Burt went psycho and flung acid in Linda’s face. She got nearly blinded, he landed in jail, and that should have been the end of it — except they eventually fell in love. This was such a trip, and not just for the saggy, wrinkled faces on the now elderly participants. The Pugachs are flawed, not entirely likable people, but they won me over for proving the old saw that love can bloom from the strangest circumstances.
Planet Terror (2007). I wasn’t expecting too much of the Robert Rodriguez half of Grindhouse, but truthfully the film wound up a cheesy delight — more fun than a bagful of severed testicles, you might say. Despite the novelty of Rose MacGowan’s firearm prosthetic leg, the story itself goes into familiar “zombies on a rampage” territory. Freddy Rodriguez tries too hard to act tough in the lead, but he’s okay. Fake film scratches and a muddy soundtrack add to the enjoyment, and the retro ’80s musical score (also by Rodriguez) couldn’t sound more perfect.
Zack & Miri Make a Porno (2008). Awful “comedy” only proves to me that Kevin Smith is one of the most overrated people in the movie business, along with Judd Apatow (whom Smith apes shamelessly here). This one starts off vulgar, then takes a strange shift in tone to insincere sweetness. Neither approach works, and there aren’t many laughs.