One of the only films that almost everybody (from cinephiles to more well-balanced individuals) was talking about last fall besides Lincoln was the latest James Bond film, Skyfall. It was an interesting take on the mythology, with vigorous direction from Sam Mendes, and an unprecedented look at Bond’s bleak, aristocratic origins.
I wrote about Skyfall as a fight for the continued notion of British imperial relevance for PopMatters:
Whatever romanticism was left in the hoary old Bond franchise, in Skyfall Judi Dench’s M does her best to put a bullet in it. The standard opening chase sequence sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a motorbike over the roofs of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul before putting him onto the top of a speeding train to do battle with an assassin. First, M instructs Bond to leave his wounded cohort behind. Then, since agent Eve (Naomie Harris) can’t get a clear shot to take out the assassin without also risking hitting Bond, M tells her to fire away anyway. Result: one big bloody hole in Bond’s trim suit coat and one escaped assassin…
Skyfall comes out today on DVD and Blu-ray.
You can watch the trailer here:
Stan Musial, the greatest St. Louis Cardinal that ever put on the red, and one of the greatest pro athletes of the 20th century, died Saturday at the age of 92. Born in Donora, Pennsylvania (where he played ball with Buddy Griffey, father to both Ken Griffey and Ken Jr.), Musial spent his entire professional career with the Cardinals, a legacy that would be nearly unthinkable today, particularly when you consider he played 22 seasons in the majors.
According to his New York Times obituary, Musial actually received his nickname in Brooklyn:
Musial thrived at the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, plastering the right-field scoreboard and hitting home runs over it, and winning the grudging admiration of the notoriously tough Brooklyn fans.
“I did some phenomenal hitting there,” he told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The ballpark was small, so the seats were close to the field and you could hear just about anything anybody said. Then I’d come to the plate and the fans would say, ‘Here comes that man again.’ And a sportswriter picked it up and it became Stan the Man.”
Earlier this year, Sarah Polley’s heartsick love triangle melodrama Take This Waltz came out and was summarily and quite unfairly ignored by audiences. It’s out today on DVD, make sure not to miss it. My review is at PopMatters:
Somewhere inside this full-tilt lovesick blur is the kernel of a wildly uninteresting story. Woman in cozy relationship sans fireworks becomes attracted to new fella, with whom she has fireworks galore, but a dubious future. What to do: stay with husband or fly off with fling? Play the good wife or bad mistress? There’s a spinning galaxy of clichés for writer/director Polley to choose from here, but somehow she skips past them (well, almost all) and delivers a shimmering and raw ode to the ferocity of desire and the heartbreak that so often follows it…
You can see the trailer here:
My review of Bruce Wagner’s novel Dead Stars is up now at PopMatters:
It’s actually possible to think, upon finishing Bruce Wagner’s Dead Stars — his first novel since 2006’s majestic Memorial — that things have somehow managed to get worse in Hollywood over the past few years, vis a vis the human soul. Wagner’s writing has always worked that seam of grandiosely disaffected Tinseltown ennui pioneered so darkly by Nathaniel West.
But as crepuscular as Wagner’s view of humanity and the modern world had been in the past, little compares to his new novel’s phantasmagoria of pain and desire, where if it isn’t Tweeted, isn’t YouTubed, isn’t continually riding the wave of the eternally cresting Now, then it isn’t worth a damn…
Dead Stars is on sale now.
You can see Wagner talking to the Los Angeles Review of Books (yes, there does seem to be some inherent contradictions in that publication’s name) about his novel here:
- So where will you be when the United Nations invades?
- Poe to Shakespeare and Burns: Lincoln’s favorite poetry.
- Foreign policy flapdoodle and the possible return of ol’ Dick Nixon?
- The Sequaltology bracket is all well and awesome, but is it worth anything without The Road Warrior?
- Admired and disliked all at the same time: rich people.
- When reviews are real, and when they’re really really not (meaning: paid for).
- This is a horrible way to act like a real spy.
- Welcome back, culture war.
- Coming soon: special-edition Campbell’s Soup cans. Yes.
- The end of this particular (race) era.
- Melville, kills career with Moby-Dick, says forget this, I’m going to Jerusalem!
- The dancing, dear Lord, the dancing.
- What, oh what happened to the home state? This happened, and then people started moving.
- Print and read: “A steady ingestion of super-PAC poison, talking-point Novocain and fund-raising spam.”
For all the ink spilled (sorry, bits uploaded) about the demoting of Ann Curry over at the Today show and whether or not David Gregory was in or out at Meet the Press, the most dramatic story in American media right now is still happening in New Orleans. The city’s daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, has a 175-year history. It was just about the only institution that managed to function during and just after Katrina. Even after the kind of budget cuts that small-minded owners in smaller media markets are so enamored of (“More With Less“), they were still putting out the kind of very strong investigative pieces that civic government needs to watchdog it.
Then came the news that the Times-Picayune owners were cutting back to three days a week. So, more layoffs. But no worries, the owners said, because our “enhanced” website is going to keep operating. One soon-to-be-laid-off reporter had an opinion on how that’s going to work and laid it out in a letter to the management:
I take a lot of pride in my work, even after I’ve been fired and told my experience, skills, and talents are of no use after Sept. 30. I know that I am good at what I do. But compared to other news outlets, our website is a joke. We break news – but no one would know because of the worst news website known to man and the priority setting – whoever is doing it, is totally ####. Embarrassing, compared to TV. And yet we are focused on digital now? Enhanced? Who is buying this crap?
Sad as this is, it does appear irreversible for the time being. For right now, New Orleans will be the only major American city without a daily print newspaper. It will not be the last. That means going forward, stories like this one will most likely not be uncovered. And the guilty will run free.
New on DVD:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
A quiet paen to personal discovery that masquerades as a quixotic journey into the wasteland of grief, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close makes a valiant attempt to understand catastrophe and loss but never manages to truly come to grips with it. This is a film in which the shadow of 9/11 is supposed to always be there, even though the smoking towers are only glimpsed a few times, once from a great distance and otherwise through televised news segments. But the horror of that day is sieved through too many filters and ends up as almost an abstraction…
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is available now on DVD. You can read my full review at PopMatters.
New in Theaters:
The Island President
What just might be the scariest movie of the year doesn’t feature skyscraper-crushing robots or species-annihilating bacteria. The setting of Jon Shenk’s documentary The Island President is the tranquil and paradise-like island nation of the Maldives. The star, Mohamed Nasheed, is a perky rights activist-turned crusading environmental politician. The villains are China, India, the United States; indeed, most of the nations of the world. The threat is rising sea levels that are already grinding away at the Maldives’ coastlines and will, within a matter of decades, drown the nation entirely. As Nasheed points out during a press interview in New York, his nation is just the canary in the coal mine: “Manhattan is as low as the Maldives”…
The Island President is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at filmcritic.com.
New in Theaters:
Willem Dafoe has played many roles in his career, ranging from T. S. Eliot and Max Schreck to a vampire hunter and sundry psychopaths, cops, and Green Goblins. Rarely is found in that resume, however, a recognizably everyday human being. There’s something in that vulpine face and sandpaper voice which translates poorly to the workaday. Even when playing a secondary character in a straight-laced drama like The English Patient, he comes burdened with a name like David Caravaggio and missing his thumbs. Given this background when considering The Hunter, one would think that a role like that of Martin, the hired gun who is sent into the wilds of Tasmania to kill the last of a long-thought-extinct species, would be a natural fit for Dafoe’s otherworldliness. In this unfocused and highly antidramatic film, though, Dafoe is measured for a role that requires him to be empathic and exceedingly normal; it doesn’t fit…
The Hunter is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at filmcritic.com.