Definitely not a masterpiece, but very far indeed from a complete failure, Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s Performance is some of the best and the worst that the cultural ferment of the late 1960s — now available on DVD — has to offer, containing within its quite forward-looking surreality the seeds of its pretentious demise. Completed in 1968 but then put to slumber in the vaults for two years before Warner Bros. finally decided to unleash it upon the world, the film starts off as a sort of Brit gangster flick with Cahiers du Cinema aspirations before morphing into a free-form experiment in dualism and perspective, starring Mick Jagger, no less. It’s not hard to see why the studio couldn’t decide what to do with the film, as it seems quite perfectly clear that not even the filmmakers themselves knew what to do with it.
My review ran on filmcritic.com. Link.
If punk took years to get its deserved kudos from the establishment — though now enshrined as a marketable commodity, it was long shunned by shibboleths like MTV and Rolling Stone — there’s little telling how long hardcore will take to get even a fraction of the same recognition. The fact that a relatively small number of people reading this will even know the difference is just one sign of how far the long-moribund sub-genre has to go before even approaching mainstream recognition. In the meantime, Paul Rachman’s encyclopedic and exhausting American Hardcore will serve as a decent chronicle of hardcore’s sharp short years festering in the American underground.
My review originally ran on filmcritic.com. Link.
Using ’80s nostalgia and the ever-reliable British love of embarrassment to maximum effect, Starter for Ten is that unusual coming-of-age comedy which manages to locate the occasional bit of funny amidst all the lesson-learning and overcoming of adversity. Also, the filmmakers know that, when in doubt about how to sonically ground scenes of awkward romantic longing and melancholy, round up as many songs by The Cure and The Smiths as possible. It just helps.
My full review ran on filmcritic.com. Link
We, as Americans, are doomed, and Chalmers Johnson knows why. In his previous sky-is-falling volumes The Sorrows of Empire and Blowback, Johnson laid out the case for why American military overreach and the unintended consequences of CIA black ops were undermining the country’s very stability. Now, with Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, the final installment of this unintended trilogy of warning, Johnson strings together a collection of his favorite rants to explain why the very days of America as a republic are probably numbered. It’s a frightening collection of worrisome data, but as a policy argument, it’s far from persuasive.
You can read my full review at PopMatters. Link.
One wonders if the makers of Bridge to Terabithia actually have something against all the people who loved reading Katherine Paterson’s award-winning book as children. The original story, which deals with loneliness, isolation, and the importance of friendship, is now — thanks to a cloying screenplay by Jeff Stockwell and the book’s author’s son David Paterson — little more than an anodyne valentine to the power of the imagination or some such cliché popular among vulgarizers of young adult literature. You could ask, why can’t they just leave well enough alone? The answer, unfortunately, is they never do..
My full review ran on filmcritic.com. Link.
The Modern Library edition of Adam Smith’s 1776 magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, runs some 1,200 pages and weighs almost two and a half pounds. Smith’s original manuscript was 900 pages long and came in two volumes (which is how Penguin publishes it these days). No matter how you buy the book, generally considered one of the most influential in the Western canon, it’s some seriously heavy lifting — more appropriate for a leather armchair than the train. By comparison, P.J. O’Rourke’s On The Wealth of Nations, the first volume in the new Atlantic Monthly Press series “Books That Changed the World,” runs a brisk 256 pages and weighs a feathery 12 ounces. The organizing principle is simple: O’Rourke reads Adam Smith so you don’t have to, summarizing the salient points, surveying his influence, and considering pertinent biographical data in such a way as to make the whole enterprise more entertaining than an economics homework assignment.
You can read my full review (yippe!) in this week’s Chicago Reader. Link.
The question: did Jack Nicholson ruin The Departed? On initial viewing last fall, I had to think that indeed he had. Everything seemed to be lining up: a smart and profane script, Scorsese directing in a more tight-fisted manner than he had for some time, astoundingly great cast (Farmiga, DiCaprio, Damon, Winstone, Wahlberg, and so on). And then came Nicholson bounding into frame like a kid on a sugar high, wrecking the party. Or did he? Now that it’s out on DVD, as one of the only bona fide mainstream hits of last year that didn’t make one want to wince, it may indeed be worth a second look.
My review originally ran on CultureDose.net. Link.
One can’t read Michael Lesy’s pungent crime ballad Murder City without hearing lines from the sweetly sarcastic musical Chicago, as they both cover much of the same fertile ground, namely, the shooting gallery that was the Prohibition-era Second City, and the media circus and adoring public which fueled the flames of violence. Critics of contemporary life like to point to the celebration of the criminal in, say, hip-hop or modern action films, as being emblematic of society’s overall decline. Eighty odd years ago, though, in one of America’s greatest cities (at least, as recorded in Lesy’s book), the ruling and criminal classes had become so cozy with one another, they would have been hard to tell apart.
You can read my full review at PopMatters. Link.