Friday, June 27, 2008

Say Anything...

Let's put aside for a moment my great appreciation for John Cusack and Peter Gabriel, and the fact that Ione Skye looks like my fabulous friend Kristy Koopman. I just watched Say Anything... for the first time (yeah, I know, thanks), and this movie is unbelievable. Is it an amazing romantic movie? Yes. But the best part is that it's not a traditional one. Granted, it steps in a couple of the mud-puddles that others have, and perhaps the irony is that it may have set up those puddles to begin with, but this is a romantic film of honesty.

One thing that immediately struck me, once it got past it's starry-eyed first-love butterflies is the clarity to their conversations. The way that they deal with their problems is really rather extraordinary. The way that the two protagonists in most romantic comedies get over their issues is always terribly superficial, and often involves some outside source coming in at the last minute to save the day, or perhaps some simple moment of courage that sets everything right.

The beauty of Say Anything... is that it doesn't all work out. Romantic films like to parade themselves as windows of truth into the way romance can really happen, if we believe enough. And while this one might not be the posterchild for that mantra, it does something extraordinary. It tests our patience, and it reminds us that we don't always win. Everything doesn't always go "to plan."

The fact that the film ends with Diane's father incarcerated is a big choice. But there is an even bigger choice - the last shot of the film. If this is a spoiler for you, I'm sorry, but you, like me, have had just shy of twenty years to see this one so I'm going to spoil away. The final shot, of the young couple on a plane to England, fearfully awaiting the ding, which will come "any second now," that means everything is OK. That last shot lasts 23 seconds. Yes, it doesn't take a degree in much of anything to figure out that this shot is about anticipation, and puts us in their shoes. But it's twenty-three seconds. While that's not much for some (my favorite director is Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, for crissakes), that is a pretty bold move for a popular romantic comedy. The shot is completely static, and the frame contains virtually no movement and only one line of dialog. This is fabulous.

I have the tendency to talk things to death, to analyze things, and it feels crude and almost inhumane for me to try to theorize a late-80's romantic comedy, so I won't keep going any further than I have. But I will say this; this movie is a classic for a reason. Yes, it has some thrills, but it deals with the realities of a young relationship in a very mature and realistic way. There are always some movie-magic moments in those relationships, and then there are the moments of painful honesty where we don't know how to deal with the thing that we have to deal with. There is no such thing as a total happy ending. As Diane says, "good things always happen with bad things." You don't get to have your cake and eat it too. And at the end of it all, sometimes we just have to wait longer than we'd like for the "ding" sound that means everything is OK.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Sky is Falling, but where will it hit?

I'm reading "Yes, the Sky Really is Falling," the speech Mark Gill gave to the LAFF almost a week ago. In it, he discusses the very real approach of a heavy death-toll in the indie film community. The film-making community in general, perhaps, but especially the indies. I agree with a lot of what he says, but of course like anyone of firm opinion, I also disagree with some of his points.

One particular thing that he says is, "the digital revolution is here, and boy does it suck." Well, I disagree with you, Mark. Here's the thing: the digital revolution is a DEMOCRATIZING process (which Mark points out). What this means is, thus, everyone gets a turn. The problem isn't that the revolution sucks, it's that it points out how much more sucky material there is wanting to be, or being, made. It's highlighting all the stupid and uninventive people. Those people have always existed, it just didn't used to be that easy for them to make movies, and to submit those movies to film festivals. That's why Sundance sucked.

The problem here, I think, is that we need a new form of filtering. YouTube, bless it's feeble, racist, childish heart, has a great model for this: number of views, star rating, and viral sharing. People are really, REALLY good at only watching good stuff on YouTube, because a lot of the parsing has already been done. And then they just open up the blog they read, or their e-mail inbox, and the best stuff is right there waiting for them. Maybe the rules and the JUDGING need to be a little more stringent at Sundance. Or maybe it needs to be a more democratic decision who gets IN. Why not push forward the submission deadline, then let everyone who submitted (hell, maybe set up a membership process where any members can do it) vote on what films get in. Yeah, they'll vote for their film, but they'll also vote for the other films they actually LIKE.

OK, maybe it's a bad idea, because maybe people won't want to sit through films twice. Maybe they will. The point is that we need a new model all across the board as the digital revolution pokes its slobbery head out. We're seeing this necessity not just in the film festivals, but everywhere: the big movies, the music industry, computer software, everyone is feeling the crunch. Because when all this stuff is available for free, you can criminalize it all you want, but it's still going to be free and people love free stuff. So, the RIAA and MPAA and all the record labels and software companies need a new business model, a new plan to make a profit off of ALLOWING their digital stuff to be free. I will return to my old argument, if you have something infinitely reproduceable for FREE, then you don't have a commodity, and there is no such thing as supply and demand anymore.

Likewise, if anyone can pick up a video camera and get a free copy of iMovie, or hell, even a free copy of Final Cut Studio for crissakes, then you need a NEW PLAN for how you figure out who's making good stuff.

Also, Gill says: "if you decide to make a movie budgeted under $10 million on your own tomorrow, you have a 99.9% chance of failure."

Well, I'll go back to what I said before. The money trail ran out, folks. Wall Street stopped paying Hollywood, and the 14-year-old next door with the dreams of "porno and Grand Theft Auto" can see any movie he damn well pleases for zero cash, just the cost of his Mom buying FiOS.

Gill says, and I firmly agree, that there is basically no money to be made in movie making anymore, except for people on the very top tier of the ladder (and these people, he says, will continue to see a profit). Or at least for right now.

He then argues that what needs to happen is all the bad movies and bad movie-makers will suffocate each other. There will be a drastic decrease in production, and in the amount that those in production will make. But there will ALWAYS be a movie-going community, as there will always be a movie-making community. What will simply happen is we will revert to the way it used to be, where only the good stuff got through.

Now, a lot of times the arguments that I made before come off sounding as socialistic when I start spouting off about them. And to fair degree, I have a socialist streak in me. However, here's something to ponder: The Canadian Government has financial support specifically for filmmakers. The American Government does not. The American Government doesn't really give much money to anything. Except the Army and Other Countries. But, if the socio-economic infrastructure of entertainment consumption shifts largely to a free method of distribution(this excludes cinema-going and concert attendance, which will continue because people love to see stuff BIG), then I believe there will [have to] be government subsidies for the creation of this kind of art. Realizing the necessity for this consumption, and hopefully a shift away from funding international conflict, will result in government sponsorship, essentially, of the arts. What happens is that people end up paying circularly, as we always have, but through a larger circle. Rather than paying the distributors directly for the product, we will be paying the government, who will pay the filmmakers, who will create, and who will distribute their work to the public for free, who will consume it and end up paying back to the government. We do this all the time. It's called taxes.

Ultimately, this concept of a bottom line is where people are getting tripped up, and it's the reason for a lot of my disagreements with other things Gill has to say (in a speech that I think is absolutely fantastic, spot-on, and necessary to read). While I agree that films should be globally watchable and appreciable, should be memorable, and should be somehow provocative, I think that likewise films can and should be specific to a generation, or to a place, and should take their time. They do not need to be explosive, or easily condensible other than into cliché phrases like "meditative" that automatically, and immediately, result in the loss of the message. Human experience will always be exactly that. And because of that, it is possible for it to transcend all borders. It's why we watch Soviet cinema, or films from the 3rd world. There is always a story to be told. The bottom line, which I think is also Mr. Gill's bottom line, is that we should simply strive for greatness. Get great performances from actors. Make images that are beautiful, not necessarily because they're perfectly lit for 35mm, but because the framing is good, or because we're looking at something important, or because we're being forced to NOT look at something that we want to see, and we ask "Why?" You can make a beautiful movie on a cellphone, and that challenge is STILL being posed to anyone (take a hike, Spike Lee). If we strive to make good cinema (and we will never know what "good" is until we see it), we will have fulfilled our duty. It is now our responsibility to determine how to find the good work being made, reward its makers, and provide the means for them to continue to do so, however that may be.

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NYC Waterfalls

Whether the rain currently falling on Brooklyn and New York is an effort to praise or to challenge them, the NYC Waterfalls open today. Olafur Eliasson, one of my favorite contemporary artists, has constructed five waterfalls which cascade infinitely along the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the most exciting of which (to me) is the one underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

If you're going to be in New York this summer (and if you're not, you should probably come check this out because all of Eliasson's large work is historical), come check out the waterfalls. There are many vantage points, and there is a (free?) boat tour to show you around.

Learn more about the waterfalls here. Although a word of caution, the website sucks a little.


So, it turns out that all of the waterfalls except the Brooklyn Bridge one suck BIG TIME. I looked at photos on the web and have begun reading the reviews on the blogs, and it turns out that Eliasson really phoned this sucker in. As I say, I'm holding out hope that the Brooklyn Bridge waterfall will not totally suck balls because it's the only one that actually looks like it's built into its surroundings, rather than "rainy scaffolding."

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Neave Television

It's slogan is "telly without content," but Neave Television is anything but.

When you start watching, there's no telling where along its programming you will begin, but Neave takes you on a hilarious ride through a variety of spoofs, funny B-movie clips, various internet-based content, and other stuff. Some of it is recognizable (for instance, a 2001: A Space Odyssey spoof), some of it is completely inscrutable (giant foofy-dog monster), and there's plenty in between.

What's most exciting to me about this is the fact that its "lack of content" is strikingly engaging. Because the viewer has no idea what will come next (and because most of what the viewer has probably seen already is funny), one may find oneself completely glued to the screen. For me, this was a hundred times more engaging than just about anything I catch on TV when I turn one on.

The only downside? It looks like there's only a set amount of clips. And, while it does go on for ten minutes or so, if you're like me, you'll find yourself disappointed when you see a clip you've already seen.

This plays brilliant host to commentary on both TV and internet content, and does nothing short of entertain along the way.

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Where the Hell is Matt?

I like talking. I'm good at it. You've noticed that if you read this thing. And, as much as I really want to talk about this video, and how awesome, but also super important, it is, I'm just going to let the thing speak for itself.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sigur Rós

Frustrated that I woke up early the other day for the fall tour dates ticket presale and didn't get a damn thing, I started poking around the Sigur sites. Also, I found a poster today reminding me that their new album is coming out on the 23rd!

What I discovered when I got to is that you can already listen to the album, streaming, for free!! I'm doing that right now. So far, I have to say, this is a real transformation for Sigur Rós. This metamorphosis was evident in gobbledigook, whose energy was as young and vibrant as the actors in its video.

This light, youthful abandon carries into the second track, and it becomes clear that Sigur Rós is not just about the long, dramatic epic anymore. They are also capable of calling in quick songs that pack a flowery punch to the ears. In and out.

Track three is a quiet ballad, soft and sweet. If Jónsi didn't have such a distinctly sweet voice, you would easily forget that for three tracks you've been listening to the band that brought you albums like Ágætis byrjun.

These tunes are almost pop. ALMOST. There is still a quiet sense of importance, of the impending arrival of something great, something bigger than us.

Then comes track five. As it begins, "festival" is cavernous and echoing, the song's lyrics remind one of "e-bow" from (), as though the original track had been stripped down and sung by Jónsi alone in the dark. The song serves as a reminder that the somber tones that have made the band the tearjerker that it is are still incredibly relevant to the band. By the end, the sound is big and bold, pompous and seemingly in fanfare. Hoorah! So beautiful.

The choir and strings on track seven are delightful and cinematic, and still somehow Sigur Rós. Yet another track that proves just how flexible this band really is.

On "All Right," the last track, Jónsi sports English lyrics. Almost every Sigur Rós song to date has been in Icelandic, the exception being all of (), the lyrics of which were all in the made-up language of Hopelandic. But don't get your hopes up about finally being able to understand the words in a Sigur Rós song. Despite the vocals being featured, the words are surprisingly indistinguishable. They bleed into the song like dye in fabric, taking their time to fill the space. And while that means losing definite form and content, it also means a beautiful layer that operates just the same as the vocals always have. This track is maudlin, sober, like a funeral march - a fitting end, perhaps, for the end of the album. It ends silently and sparsely, sneaking out the back door before you can realize it's gone.

Overall, the album is pretty great. It lacks some of the things that have made me adore Sigur Rós, but provides new ones. This band is extraordinary and sensational, and they have begun to sweep the music world anew of late. It's a beautiful thing to watch.

Also, if you finish listening to the stream of the whole album, you get lots of fun behind-the-scenes video clips to enjoy as well.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mumblecore I

I've been starting to immerse myself in the world of "mumblecore," a contemporary American film movement fronted by, among others, Andrew Bujalski, the Duplass brothers, and Joe Swanberg, and I have to say, I'm rather elated by it.

Now, not every moment of this stuff is great. In fact, sometimes it's hard to watch. But it's only because it reminds me so much of myself - my own boredom, my own anxieties and lack of direction. It is the stuff of my life. In particular, tonight I watched Mutual Appreciation, and when the credits came on, I had a huge grin on my face.

Bujalski, himself a rather awkward fellow (or at least he plays one in this and Funny Ha Ha, the other of his I've seen), somehow manages to have an extraordinary knack for dialog. The most impressive part of all is that this dialog, for all its natural presentation and realistic flow, is largely scripted. This is a phenomenal feat in and of itself. Throw in the fact that he uses non-actors (Justin Rice is the lead singer of Brooklyn band Bishop Allen, Bill Morrison is the experimental filmmaker behind the awesomely gorgeous Decasia, and others) and his films are an absolute wonder.

Mutual Appreciation manages to tap into the real conflicts of day-to-day life without the fanfare that often accompanies the popularized indie flick. No one is crying, there are no grand gestures. Everything is very well-contained within the canon of realistic poses. These performances seem so vividly real, and so easy to relate to, that you almost hate Bujalski for making these people so real. And at the end of the film, you don't even realize you've been taken for a ride. Like life, the thing seems to simply be one big plateau. But then you realize you've developed attachments, and you have your own motives, your own desires for the future of the characters and their relationships.

One thing that makes Mutual Appreciation really exciting is its lo-fi, but 16mm, picture. This truly embodies the Cassavettes style, and makes Bujalski most worthy of the mumblecore syno-moniker "Slackavettes." What I found so hard to relate to in Cassavettes, though, somehow becomes my raison d'etre in Bujalski - people talking. Obviously the talking heads approach is not a new one, nor is it specific to these kinds of film movements. The mumblecore predecessors, like Richard Linklater, have mastered this talent as well. But somehow, the awkward charm in Andrew Bujalski's films, embedded in a real desire to portray the culture of which I am a part, is something truly magical. And at the end of both of his films that I've seen thus far, I have laughed. Not because of the moment, but because of my moment after the last moment. His films are, in short, endearing.

As I say, I've been on quite the kick. So far, of the "mumblecore" movement, I've seen:

The Puffy Chair - The Duplass Brothers
Funny Ha Ha - Andrew Bujalski
Mutual Appreciation - Andrew Bujalski
Kissing on the Mouth - Joe Swanberg
Young American Bodies - an internet series by Joe Swanberg

And, as a bonus for me, I'll tell you that you can see me in a single frame of the Bishop Allen music video for Click Click Click Click, which they shot just outside my apartment here in Williamsburg. I'm at the 1:44 mark in the white t-shirt, trimmed beard and hair. Woot!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sound of Ebay

I like to share things, relatively personal things, with you when I can. I don't mean personal stuff like when I lose my virginity (soon!) or how many eggs I like in my omelet. I mean like stuff I make. Or stuff similar to that. It can be tough to do though, since I don't really have webspace of my own just yet. Nowhere to host stuff, ya dig.

I didn't exactly MAKE this, but it was made for/about ME. The folks over at The Sound of eBay have a super fascinating tool that turns your eBay user data (all statistical stuff, not like your credit card number or something) into a musical sensation. So even if you're not musical, now you've got a song that's sort of by you. Take it on the road!

Here's mine.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

George W. Bush - Articles of Impeachment

Yesterday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich presented to the House Articles of Impeachment against President George W. Bush. The articles, totaling 35, were presented largely uninterrupted. You can watch the beginning of his address here (with plenty of other videos to choose from at the end of it):

The question that I wish to pose is the following: Is it too little too late?

I would argue that justice is justice, no matter when served. This sends a positive message to both the people of the United States of America and the citizens of the world that we wish to enact change. We are ready for change. Furthermore, impeachment of the President would prevent him from enacting any kind of scenario wherein he could impose martial law and procure and indefinite termination of his stay in office, in violation of the two consecutive terms limit to the office of the Presidency.

On the other hand, one might argue that this is nothing more than a charade, and political theater. Being so close to Bush's departure from office, it will not truly hasten the process of regime change, but rather is a half-hearted attempt at appeasing and pandering to the masses who feel long-overdue for this kind of action.

What do you think? I am curious to hear how other people feel about this.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Oldy and a Newy

OK so it's been a little while since I just posted links like a blombie (blog zombie), and I'm pretty glad about it. But I have two links I feel like sharing with you right now, and then hopefully in the next couple of days I'll have a review of the following:

"Playing the Building" by David Byrne
The Telectroscope

In the meantime:

First, I wanted to share (in the words of Austin Eustice) an Olde but a Sam Goode: The always fuzzy and sometimes creepy A Softer World. Kristy Koopman introduced me to this one ages ago, and I just rediscovered its majesty. I linked you to page 1, so all you gotta do is keep clicking "next" until your eyes bleed from the amazingness of their photos and captions.

Also, just found out about my friend Odessa's Website. It's under construction right now, so you can only see some of the older stuff. It's all drawings and stuff, plus a link to her blog, where she talks about food and stuffs. It's all cool so check it. Out.


Also, I forgot to mention that Rooftop Films started their summer programming this weekend! If you live in New York City and like movies, rooftops, and music, you HAVE to go to at least one event. Perhaps Fourth of July!


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mister Lonely. Seen it!

Well, I finally got myself out to see Mister Lonely this evening at the IFC Center. Even after seeing Harmony Korine talk about the movie, and watching clips and the trailer, I still had no idea what to expect with this thing. One descriptor I've read about this film is "dream-like." And while that word gets thrown around a lot, I also think that it's incredibly useful here.

Two separate parallel narratives are the subject matter of the film - in one, Werner Herzog plays a priest living in a small village in Panama, and while doing a food-drop with a few of his nuns, one of the nuns inadvertently falls out of the plane. As she falls, she prays to God for the ability to not fall, but fly. Or, at least, land unharmed. Miraculously, she indeed lands unharmed. The other narrative focuses on a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna), who indeed goes by the name Michael, living in Paris. He befriends a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton), who takes him to a commune of impersonators that includes the likes of Abe Lincoln, the Pope, and Marilyn's husband Charlie Chaplain and their daughter Shirley Temple (to name a few).

First, the performances. For me, the best performance comes from Samantha Morton. With the exception of her first few moments, every word out of her mouth rings brazenly true. Her emotion is raw, and she feels nothing short of consistently present. She packed the most emotional punch for me as a viewer. However, no one really put in a "bad" performance. Some of them were a bit two-dimensional, but everyone was very certain of his or her character. Everyone was in it to win it, and that definitely includes Werner Herzog. My only complaint about Herzog's performance is that by the end it feels a bit like he is parodying his own character, not taking the role seriously.

As for the film itself: I swung very wildly during this one. On the one hand, there are some moments so pure and gorgeous (if occasionally painful or heavy) that they are poster-children for the transcendent power of film. On the other hand, there are cheap moments shooting for cheap laughs, and moments that strive for greatness but can't quite make it. Those good moments, though, feel truly effortless as good film often does. And the music selection is absolutely flawless. Moody, occasionally funny, and always splendid, the music did nothing short of bolster the film very well.

Overall, it's a decent one. One thing that I was afraid of was that the film would be a high-budget mockery of Korine's style, and make me feel as though my time and respect had been completely squandered. And though there were moments that, had they lingered, would have made me feel that, I do not remotely regret seeing the film. I laughed, I cried, and occasionally was unimpressed. Not a bad showing for someone as unpredictable as Harmony Korine.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Murakami/LV commercial

I have to say, although I'm a little unhappy about the context of this creation (a Louis Vuitton commercial... blech. I can't really be surprised though. These two have been butt-buddies for a little while now), I am still super excited about it. It's beautiful, fun, decidedly Japanese, and ultimately sentimental. So, enjoy.

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