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Hello Autumn! ***update: Chabon interview link fixed.

September 22, 2008
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Another round of randomness…..

First music. I have been smitten by yet another band from Austin, TX by the name of Okkervil River. Their latest album is called The Stand Ins and is fantastic! Okkervil River along with Shearwater and Spoon make Austin a veritable indie music mecca. In an interesting promotional move for this album, Okkervil River asked friends of theirs to interpret each of the songs and be their “stand ins.” The results have been posted on YouTube for your enjoyment. Check out the one below by A. C. Newman of The New Pornographers along with Will Sheff of Okkervil River doing the killer pop gem “Lost Coastlines.” Others feature Bon Iver and many more.

Second is author Michael Chabon. He is one of my favorite contemporary writers and I just finished his latest work of fiction, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Set in an alternate history where a small section of Alaska, not Israel, becomes home to millions of displaced Jews after World War II, it essentially is a hard-boiled detective story told in a very unique setting. Reading Chabon is rewarding on many levels, with great characters, themes and bold command of language. I am very curious what the Coen brothers will do with this story, as I have heard they bought the rights to the book for adaptation on the big screen. I may do a more in-depth review/critique of the book soon. Chabon is also an eloquent apologist for ideas that this blog hold dear, namely embracing what others may call “low” culture and engaging it in a serious manner. This interview deals with this aspect primarily and is also one of the many subjects found in his latest work of non-fiction essays, Maps and Legends.

Happy watching, listening and reading!

A Truly Pleasurable Read

September 16, 2008
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Last month my mother-in-law, Katie, read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. She so enjoyed it (finishing it in less than two days) that I was inspired to borrow it and read it myself. I knew that I’d read this book at some point in my public school education, but only the names of the characters were still familiar to me… Atticus, Scout, Jem, Boo…

Now I’ve finished the book (it took me a little longer, but hey, I’m a new mom, right!?) and I wanted to write a post about the experience because I can’t remember the last time I was so taken with a book; I’m considering reading it again, right away, I was so tremendously pleased with it!

On the one hand it is the lovingly-told account of an adventuresome girl growing up during the Great Depression. On the other hand it is the complex story of a black man on trial in the deep South and a nuanced telling of its repercussions on a small town. Harper Lee’s narration from the perspective of a six-year-old is captivating and the convention of placing multiple stories within a story is executed so cogently [thank you to Drew for the word-choice there].

Kerri Miller’s Midmorning Book Club read To Kill A Mockingbird back in March of this year. (To listen to that program click here.) Some listeners said this was the most influential book they’d ever read, after the Bible. At the time the show’s promos aired I thought that sounded completely over-the-top, but the craft and beauty of this book is, in my opinion, quite inspired indeed. Some may lament the fact that Lee never wrote another novel, but reading it I had the sense that this book was as much a gift to Lee as it was her gift to us…there is nothing else she needed to give us, Scout’s story is enough.

I hope to watch the fim version of To Kill A Mockingbird soon, and I’d like to invite each of you to pick up the book, or the movie, or both. If you do, as always, I’d love to hear what you think.

A Few Short Reviews

September 7, 2008
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Here are three reviews of the most recent films I’ve seen in a theater or on DVD.

The Dark Knight (2008): the comic book film that the comic book dork [me] has been waiting for, supposedly. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige) extends the themes from the excellent franchise reboot Batman Begins, and deftly explores the nature of justice in a world in which all systems are corrupt. Is vigilante justice really the answer, or are heroes by nature prone to the same abuses of power from which they vow to protect the innocent? The production value, cinematography and acting are all superb, with a script and dialog that takes these cerebral themes seriously within the context of a big action blockbuster, which is no small thing.

Yes, Heath Ledger delivers an intriguingly creepy performance as Batman’s arch rival, Joker, and the character does well in exposing the hypocrisy of both villain and hero in a world which requires compromise. Yes, the film is in many ways a perfect example of how a popular genre, the superhero, can be artfully done. However, because there is so much going on in the film thematically and because the pacing cruises by at such a clip, there is almost a feeling of overload by the film’s end.

After watching it a second time I was able to digest much more but feel the film could have ended about a half hour earlier or used its length to add some scenes which allow for a bit of contemplation. There simply is no time taken in this film for such embellishments and while many are calling this the Godfather or Heat of comic book films, those crime epics allowed for such moments of deliberate pacing, which make them just a notch better than The Dark Knight.

Pixar is pretty much the most consistent modern film studio, they make excellent work feature after feature. This all boils down to one thing. Story. Since these animated films take so long to make from beginning to end, the filmmakers at Pixar make sure they have an intriguing story to tell before they commit one pixel to a hard-drive.

WallE (2008) is no exception to the aforementioned excellence. The attention to detail is breathtaking, be it the human like qualities of our hero robot, which the filmmakers borrow from Chaplin and Keaton with adroit affection, or the dystopic vision of a planet which is left for dead by a humanity that has consumed itself out of a home.

This film is both intelligent science fiction—in that it questions the nature of humanity—and a great romantic comedy rolled into one. And WallE is actually quite bold in the message it delivers to its viewers and it doesn’t have to resort to polarizing buzz words (“global warming,” “alternative fuels”) for the effect to be quite sobering. In the end that is what good storytelling does, reveal rather than malign.

At the prompting of a friend, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007) was moved to the top of our Netflix queue and good grief was it worth it. This film, by director Julian Schnaebel, won the best director prize at the Cannes film festival and was nominated for four Academy Awards. It tells the true story of a paralyzed man and how he communicates with the only part of his body unaffected by the paralysis: his left eye.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is visually astounding and a perfect example of form fitting function. A good third of the film is told from the main character’s point of view, which is something that has to be seen for oneself in order to grasp the creative lengths this film goes to to communicate the story. A meditation on the transformative power of creativity, no matter one’s circumstances, this film shows us how creativity can liberate and teach one about others and oneself.

Schnaebel is most notably a painter and has only done four films, but with this film he has placed himself in the big leagues by creating such a beautiful and somber film which stays with the viewer long after the credits role.

Goodbye Summer…..

August 30, 2008
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I know, I know… I have been downright lazy the last few weeks and have no excuse for my lack of involvement here. I will do better after Labor Day, I promise.

Here are a few items of interest brought to you mostly by readers of this blog. How exciting!

  • First of all, in light of high gas prices and our waning summer, check out this economic road-trip mix care of Britt.
  • Second, my good friend Kevin turned me on to this 45-minute documentary regarding famed director Stanley Kubrick (2001, Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Dr. Strangelove). His eccentricities are well known to movie fans and this film does well shedding a bit of light on his reclusive and obsessive behavior as much as it adds another layer of intrigue to his legend.
  • Third, in this season of high stakes political theater, keep your head level and feed your cynicism by watching The Daily Show at Hulu.com (or on cable). Last week’s episodes from the DNC were great and I can’t wait to see what they do when they role into Saint Paul this week for the RNC. Satire at its best, there is a reason this show keeps winning Emmy awards year after year. (Hopefully they don’t skewer Minnesota too badly, but we deserve it as much as any I guess.)
  • Finally, ride the nostalgia wave provided by the clip below. (Watch six times for maximum funny: one time for each panel!)

Fun Movie-Poster Game

August 21, 2008
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Here’s a super fun time-sucker for you! I only got fourteen correct. And, wow, am I glad you can click on the images to get the right answer, some of them would have driven me nuts! Feel free to share your score (or the number of minutes you waste!) in the comments.

http://www.empireonline.com/features/posterletters/#/

This Weekend @ the Uptown Theater, Next Weekend @ First Avenue

August 6, 2008
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  • Man on Wire is a new documentary about a high-wire artist who walked between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. This film is winning award after award on the festival circuit and is a near shoo-in for a “Best Documentary” nomination at this year’s Academy Awards. The subject matter alone seems like it would lend itself nicely for viewing on a big screen. For blog readers living in the Twin Cities area, it’s at the Uptown starting Friday; check out the trailer here. (****Correction from original post: The Uptown Art Fair was last weekend, but I assure you, Man on Wire opens this Friday, August 8!)
  • Also, If you have never heard the folk-neosoul group Bon Iver, you should. Founded by Justin Vernon of Eau Claire, WI (western Wisconsin represent!), their debut album For Emma, Forever Ago is garnering raves and can be streamed here in its entirety. Justin sings in this mesmerizing falsetto that doesn’t seem like its coming out of his body and his fellow musicians back him up nicely. He is on tour through the fall, and will be at First Avenue next Friday. Check out the clip below of an encore during a recent stop on his tour, joined on stage by opening act The Bowerbirds for a sublime cover of “Lovin’s for Fools” by Sarah Siskand.

Fire(fly) Sale—OFFER OVER

August 4, 2008
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First, I have two disclaimers: 1) we know amazon doesn’t need sales help from us, and 2) we are interested in other directors besides Joss, I swear.

That said… amazon is offering a fabulous deal on Firefly, Joss Whedon’s magnum opus (see earlier posts for more gushing). Offer now expired.

www.amazon.com/gp/goldbox/ref=cs_top_nav_gb27