27 December 2007


I figure I spent half my time listening to music on the ever seductive shuffle, and the other half attempting to take in full albums like we did when we was kids. Here's my faves regarding the latter:


His droopy baritone and lovably dorky demeanor always positioned this young Swede as the prospective heir apparent to Jonathan Richman, Morrissey and Stephin Merritt; the crucial advance he makes on his third album confirms it. At first, you notice the sometimes florid, often breathtaking arrangements (everything from lugubrious Scott Walker orchestration to crisp, sample-laden funk-folk). However, it's his words, subject matter and wholly original persona that set him apart. Who else would write about posing as a lesbian friend's paramour to her conservative father or accidentally cutting off your finger when your girlfriend sneaks up from behind for a hug? Who else would sing, "Most shy people I know are extremely boring / Either that or they are miserable from all the shit they're storing."? Could anyone else get away with it?

She hasn't made it easy for herself. By sticking to her guns, she's lost her major label and, to judge by this mostly ignored self-released record, much of her potential audience. Unwillingness to compromise usually results in either great art or self-indulgence, and her third album nearly overflows with both. Pared-down (for the first time, a single instead of a double!) but densely packed, it initially frustrates with its in-jokes, anachronisms and overly quirky guest stars (such as Bob Dorough of SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK! fame). Given time, though, it's not only a grower, but reveals itself as a stunning, truly subversive political song cycle. That's what ultimately makes it all cohere: the crazy musical numbers from hell ("Galleon", "Zombie"), the rock opera from heaven ("Testify"), and other intriguing, unclassifiable delights.

3. Suzanne Vega - BEAUTY AND CRIME
I nearly gave up on her after her last effort, 2001's dull, ironically colorless SONGS IN RED AND GRAY. Where was the inventive, quirky Vega of her much-derided (although I thought they were fabulous) Mitchell Froom-produced '90s albums? Well, she's back, along with the clear-eyed, folk-rock Vega of the '80s, in this utterly concise, solid effort. On these eleven introspective songs about New York City, Vega connects with us in a way she arguably hasn’t before, at least not in full. The entire set carries an older-and-wiser vibe, but she sounds fresh and deeply affecting, whether she's singing about a failed celebrity romance ("Frank and Ava"), a graffiti artist ("Zephyr and I"), her deceased brother ("Ludlow Street") or even 9/11 (“Anniversary”).

4. LCD Soundsystem - SOUND OF SILVER
The reason why James Murphy's second album has meant so much to so many could be that he cut out a lot of the first album’s clever snark, but left in its infectiously giddy sense of fun. It also helps that he ramped up the emotional content just a few notches without seeming too obvious about it. On "Someone Great" and "All My Friends" (perhaps the best New Order homage Murphy or anyone else will ever conceive), he gives the impression he's honestly singing about himself, and even if he isn't, it doesn't matter. Meanwhile, the title track and "Get Innocuous!" (the year’s best album opener) are dance grooves with actual tunes attached, and their sneakily building momentum is exhilarating.

I thought I had found the Album of the Year when I first heard this Canadian outfit's fourth full-length; overlong by two or three tracks and with a somewhat patchy second half, it's not. Still, for at least six or seven songs, it courts perfection, melding anthemic alternative pop with theatrical but genuine passion. "Take Me to the Riot" and "The Night Starts Here" are playful U2/Smiths tributes without the self-serious/self-loathing pomp, "My Favourite Book" is an eloquently sweet, soulful but never sentimental love song, "Personal" is a wonderfully downbeat lament about disconnection and "The Ghost of Genova Heights" fluently soars like vocalist Torquil Campbell's unexpected but engaging shift into an elegant falsetto.

6. Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55
Like her titanic father, she doesn't possess a "good" voice, but she sure knows how to make use of it. Like Sarah Cracknell, she's an aural presence, another instrument that adds texture to a carefully orchestrated whole. As with her acting, her singing is never flashy, but always serviceable and memorable. She's lucky that the lush, subtly tart music here suits her well, whether she's bringing empathy to a Jarvis Cocker song ("The Songs That We Sing") or cosmetic surgery ("The Operation"). On the brilliantly ornate "Everything I Cannot See", you could say her performance is award-worthy, as she successfully enables us to empathize with her.

7. Pink Martini - HEY EUGENE!
Labeling this collective a "lounge orchestra" is like calling PJ Harvey a singer/songwriter. In both cases, it's accurate but it only skims the surface of what each artist does. On this breakthrough album (it actually charted in the top 40), Pink Martini continually shift gears from bubbly exotica to wrenching torch songs to gleefully wicked tangos to stuff beyond simple description (and that's not even mentioning a version of "Tea For Two" with freaky living legend Jimmy Scott). Enchanting vocalist China Forbes may be the glue that holds it all together—it’s hard to imagine how seductive the funky, Al Green-ish title track would be without her—but just as often the group breaks no sweat in transcending its influences.

Bird's music straddles the line between gorgeously complex and infuriatingly incomprehensible so often that his latest almost didn't make my top ten. It's not radically different from his last (and best) album, which also made my list two years ago. Fortunately, it's just different enough to keep you guessing and on your toes. This is probably the closest he's ever come to making a "rock" album as it's front-loaded with his most accessible melodies. Then, it veers away towards strange but fascinating little puzzles with titles like "Static X" and "Spare-Ohs" and my favorite, "Scythian Empires", a weird little folk number with a catchy-as-can-be piano hook and a scathing, socio-political critique hidden underneath.

9. The Pipettes - WE ARE THE PIPETTES
Mix in classic girl groups like Martha and the Vandellas with neo-classic ones like Bananarama, add a smidgen of Cindy and Kate from The B-52's, and you have this British trio. Refreshingly unironic but just cheeky enough to make you think they're in on the joke, they won me over with "ABC", where they claim a guy is book smart but "he don't know about ecstasy" and for a second you think they might actually mean the band XTC. Clever wordplay also flourishes in songs like "Pull Shapes" and "Because It's Not Love (But It's Still a Feeling)"; the music's even better, both retro and newfangled and always thrilling.

10. The Bird & The Bee – THE BIRD & THE BEE
As usual, I thought of many contenders for this final slot, all of 'em listed below (with a few others that I admired but never dreamed of including here). I finally gravitated towards this beautiful, delicately acerbic slice of sophisticated pop. With both Ivy and Saint Etienne on hiatus, this duo of Inara George and Greg Kurstin provides a more-than-adequate substitute. Flawless, Brill Building pastiches like “Again and Again” and “La La La” bump heads with an ingénue’s playful but prickly diatribe against being photographed (“I Hate Camera”) and a cheerfully sardonic chorus that goes, “Would you ever be my / would you be my fucking boyfriend?”


Junior Senior - HEY HEY MY MY YO YO
Came this close to cracking the top ten. Let's the hope the upcoming B-52's reunion is half as glorious as Cindy and Kate's guest vocals on "Take My Time".

The New Pornographers – CHALLENGERS
This doesn’t reach out and grab you like TWIN CINEMA did, but it's strong enough that you nearly think AC Newman couldn’t make a truly mediocre album if he tried.

Lots of great stuff, iPod ad campaign, clever video and all, but LET IT DIE flows better from beginning to end.

Crowded House - TIME ON EARTH
Pretty darn good for a reunion album. If only they could've shaved three or four tracks off the end.

I want so much to love this without reservation, but it's challenging and dark in a way even she hasn't been before. But I'm not done trying to decipher it.

Bebel Gilberto - MOMENTO
Another solid album that refines her wondrous shtick but doesn't add anything new to it.

Tracey Thorn - OUT OF THE WOODS
At times she sounds like she's still in the woods, but her appraisal of such ("Raise the Roof") is touching, and it's just great to have her back, especially on the sublime, groovy gender-bender "Get Around to It".

They've lost that hard-to-put-a-finger-on essence that CHUTES TOO NARROW had in spades, but the best songs ("Australia" and "Phantom Limb") bottle it up and let it explode.

The Weakerthans – REUNION TOUR
Still loving/hating Winnipeg, which could give them material for ages if not different ways of expressing themselves.

Her out-of-time voice was made for standards, and while these fun interpretations couldn’t possibly surpass the originals, they’re far from redundant.

18 December 2007


I'll be posting my top ten albums of 2007 before the end of the month. I'm happy/relieved to report that this year was much stronger than the last one--and next year potentially looks even better. In the first three months alone, we'll see new albums from The Magnetic Fields, Sia, Goldfrapp, K.D. Lang (her first new LP of original material in eight years) and The B-52's (their first in *15* years). But what I'm looking forward to most is this:

Out Feb. 26. LOVE the cover--it's the first one her face has appeared on since 1996's thoroughly demented OMNIPOP. The two tracks streaming on her website are similar to the stuff on her last two records, but since they contain some of her best work (and have considerably grown on me since their initial releases), that can only be a good thing.

09 December 2007


It's December--time for another Chlotrudis poll. Here is my list of favorite funny films; the poll results will be published later in the month.

1. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (dir: Mel Brooks, 1974)
As if anything else could be on top. A gifted cast (from Gene Wilder's virtuoso, operatic comic performance to Madeline Kahn's divine, sordid brilliance) and a hilarious, stoopid-cerebral screenplay (from "walk this way... no, this way" to "He... vas... my... BOYFRIEND!") come together in a service of an irreverent but strangely sympathetic genre tribute.

2. BRINGING UP BABY (Howard Hawks, 1938)
Anyone crafting a romantic comedy today should study this smart, breezy one and take note of Cary Grant's and Katharine Hepburn's giddy, contagious chemistry, which arguably no pair has topped since.

3. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1974)
I loved it for the laffs as a teenager. Now, I just can't get over how conceptually weird and unique it is--a crowd pleasing, sublimely silly avant garde comedy.

4. A CHRISTMAS STORY (Bob Clark, 1983)
This pitch-perfect adaptation of various essays from master humorist Jean Shepherd endures because of how easily recognizable he made his childhood without diluting its sting.

5. SLEEPER (Woody Allen, 1973)
Not his best film (that's coming up), but certainly the one with the most laughs-per-minute (or second?). Only Allen could get away with a throwaway line about getting beaten up by Quakers or something as wonderfully insane as the climatic cloning (croning?) sequence.

6. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Rob Reiner, 1984)
Although ALL YOU NEED IS CASH preceded it, this is the grandaddy of most mockumentaries. It works because it gets inside its targets' skins all too well, and you'll never see more finely tuned deadpan delivery elsewhere.

7. AIRPLANE! (Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, 1980)
Okay, this certainly beats SLEEPER on laughs-per-second: no other film even comes close. This throws every gag it can possibly think of up on the screen, and it's remarkable how many of 'em stick.

8. NINE TO FIVE (Colin Higgins, 1980)
A deliciously dark feminist office comedy, it briefly revived screwball in the irony deficient '80s, showed that Dolly Parton could hold her own as a comedienne with Lily Tomlin, and makes the top ten chiefly for its gleefully wicked fantasy sequences.

9. ANNIE HALL (Allen, 1977)
A perfect confluence of wacky comedy and bittersweet drama, Allen's best film is a reminder of how well he and Keaton worked together, wrapped up in a collage of how funny life and all of its neuroses can be.

10. ELECTION (Alexander Payne, 1999)
This sharp, nasty, Preston Sturges-worthy comic fable has aged extremely well, wringing laughs from the very painful realization that high school isn't all that different from adulthood. Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon have never been better.

11. WHAT ABOUT BOB (Frank Oz, 1991)
Vastly underrated psych-comedy that reminds one how funny Bill Murray could be--and how Richard Dreyfuss is at his best when chewing up the scenery with complete abandon.

12. WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (Christopher Guest, 1996)
Guest and his overqualified ensemble deconstruct middle American small towns and community theatre, but not without making us genuinely feel for them (if only a little).

13. HAIRSPRAY (John Waters, 1988)
Leave it to the risque Waters to nearly achieve household name status with this PG-rated satire, which features a star turn from a pre-tabloid talk show Ricki Lake, an odd, odd cast (Debbie Harry and Jerry Stiller!), and a sweet, if slightly warped sensibility.

14. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Wes Anderson, 2001)
Perhaps more moving a "comedy" than any other film on this list, the comic stuff tempers but never obscures the tragic stuff in Anderson's endearingly quirky family portrait.

15. FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (David O. Russell, 1996)
The closest the '90s came to a true screwball comedy, it's a riot packed with armpit licking, baby naming, last name-mispronunciation, and a surprisingly, successfully acidic Mary Tyler Moore.

Probing a curious subculture for both laughs and tears, this incisive but fair documentary about competitive video game players finds hilarity without having to coax too much from its participants (particularly the "Donkey Kong kill screen" guy.)

Let's just say its one of the more successful TV to film adaptations, capturing every one of the show's good qualities and transporting them into an ambitious, go-for-broke, extraordinarily profane musical.

18. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (Sylvain Chomet, 2003)
This very French animated feature is heavily indebted to silent silver screen clowns from Chaplin and Keaton to Tati, yet it's one-of-a-kind: rarely has humor derived from the surreal or the grotesque seemed so charming.

Speaking of the surreal, this one features a tiara'd Isabella Rosselini and clear glass prosthetic legs filled with beer.

20. HAROLD AND MAUDE (Hal Ashby, 1971)
"Has all the fun and gaiety of a burning orphanage" went one of the original reviews and while not always a laugh riot, the film's shaggy, disarming (and at times exceedingly black) humor never fails to make me smile.

21. OFFICE SPACE (Mike Judge, 1999)
Taping into the slacker-cum-office drone zeitgeist, this already cult classic would be only a wish fulfillment fantasy if it didn't hit so close to home for so many. Bonus points for flair!

22. TOOTSIE (Sydney Pollack, 1982)
An insightful comedy that transcends its concept, since it evokes a world of issues and ideas that encompasses more than the words, "Dustin Hoffman does drag".

23. DUCK SOUP (Leo McCarey, 1933)
For an act that came from the vaudeville tradition, The Marx Brothers must have seemed incredibly subversive in their cinematic heyday, and they still do today.

24. SOME LIKE IT HOT (Billy Wilder, 1959)
An undisputed classic, it's surely the best thing Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe ever did. Everyone praises the simple, graceful closing line of dialogue, as well they should.

25. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (David Wain, 2001)
Possibly the silliest film on this list, but the ensemble cast rivals that of Guest's, and its satire of early '80s summer camp sex comedies is dead-on, even when it's fairly ridiculous.

And some others I considered:


27 November 2007


I've seen a number of films that copy the formula set in motion by the spelling bee documentary SPELLBOUND, profiling individual participants and charting their progress as they compete or work towards a unified goal. Produced for HBO but now receiving a theatrical release (and a place on this year's Academy Awards doc shortlist), Tricia Reagan's provocative, exuberant film is one of the very best.
Over a six month period, special needs educator Elaine Hall takes on the challenge of coaching a group of autistic children to write and perform their own amateur theatrical production. Reagan focuses on five particulars kids (including Neal, Hall's adopted son); their personalities and behavioral quirks encompass a wide range that effectively illustrates how autism is highly idiosyncratic and mostly irreducible to a particular set of symptoms. For instance, compare hyperactive, talkative Henry to withdrawn Neal, who cannot speak without the aid of a keyboarded voice box. Somewhere in between is Lexie, an affable fourteen-year-old girl whose astonishing singing voice is poignantly at odds with her mostly reserved, internal nature.
We intimately get to know each child and their parents as they attend classes, workshops and rehearsals. As this happens, the film also dispels myths about the disease. It presents these kids as real, complicated individuals with uncertain futures, not glossing over their flaws and difficulties, but not painting a sentimental portrait of them either. The musical itself is something to behold: although far from seamless, it's incredibly moving just to see what each child has accomplished. AUTISM: THE MUSICAL also isn't entirely seamless, as the editing could be tighter in spots. However, it is inspirational without being maudlin, and remarkable in how naturally it moves us respect these kids as we would any other—perhaps the thing their parents desire most for them.

21 November 2007


I began blogging five years ago today. Instead of linking to my very first post (if you look hard enough, you'll find it), I present a movie meme. I've been wanting to do one for some time; I found it here.

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times. A CHRISTMAS STORY, thanks to incessant, round-the-clock screenings on cable every year.

2. Name a movie that you’ve seen multiple times in the theater. MULHOLLAND DR. Just thinking about the opening music gives me chills.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie. Tilda Swinton.

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie. It’s become cliché to pick on Tom Cruise, but he still deserves it.

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, although I only saw it in the theater three times.

7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with. See # 6.

8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see. Jean-Pierre Melville’s ARMY OF SHADOWS, possibly the best movie I saw in a theater in 2006, even though it was made in 1969.

9. Name a movie that you own. I own about 100, but I’ll never sell my copy of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops. David Bowie—a predictable answer, given his music’s theatricality. But he was brilliant as Warhol in BASQUIAT.

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what? I admit I saw a Jim Carrey double feature of ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and THE MASK. Yes, it was 1994.

12. Ever made out in a movie? Yes—during 28 DAYS LATER no less.

13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it. Here are a few still simmering on my Netflix queue: ONE FROM THE HEART, DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE, 1900, THE BELIEVER, and FINGERS.

14. Ever walked out of a movie? Regretably, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, but only because I was ill, and I had seen it before (it’s one of my faves).

15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater. The end of SHORTBUS moved me to tears.

16. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater? SOUTHLAND TALES, which was ridiculous, incomprehensible and fascinating, in equal amounts.

17. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie? I prefer good movies.

18. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater? PINOCCHIO (the Disney version, of course), although THE MUPPET MOVIE must have been second.

19. What movie do you wish you had never seen? CRASH. Along with A BEAUTIFUL MIND, it established a moratorium against my having to see every Academy Award Best Picture nominee each year.

20. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed? Depends on how you define weird. I guess THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATIKURIS is kinda out there.

21. What is the scariest movie you’ve seen? I don’t know about scary, but PEEPING TOM is easily one of the creepiest films I’ve seen.

22. What is the funniest movie you’ve seen? I’m gathering a list of my favorite, funniest films for a Chlotrudis poll, so I’ll reveal the answer in the next few weeks.

19 November 2007


Rather than post a separate essay for each one of the glamorous locales I've traveled to over the past few months, here's a brief overview:

06 November 2007


Wes Anderson's latest follows three brothers as they travel across India on a tripped-out train that gives the film its title. The Whitmans, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), haven't seen or spoken much to each other since their father's death one year ago; it's immediately apparent why they're estranged. Francis is controlling ringleader of the trio, crafting daily, hyper-detailed itineraries for his brothers (and even ordering food for them on occasion); Peter is a compulsive hoarder and borrower, claiming his father's artifacts for himself (much to Francis' chagrin); and sex-obsessed Jack just seems to be on his own planet much of the time. Naturally, the brothers' effort to reconcile, bond and achieve some sort of spiritual enlightenment doesn't go as Francis planned.

More than anything in Anderson's oeuvre, this film feels transitional. It incorporates many of the themes and stylistic traits he's used since BOTTLE ROCKET: the breakdown and patching up of familial relations, the intricate attention-to-detail (a train's contours prove a natural fit for this), whimsical sequences that add more to the emotional pull than the narrative. On the other hand, it also suggests Anderson is open to expanding his repertoire, if just a tiny bit. Instead of the usual Mark Mothersbaugh score, he supplements the classic rock soundtrack with music from Satyajit Ray's films. Also, when a truly tragic event occurs midway through, he gets the sparse, mournful tone exactly right with a depth of feeling that may surprise some of his critics.

His head half-covered in bandages, Wilson plays a role that seems tailor-made for him (and a bit unnerving, given his recent suicide attempt), as does Schwartzman (who co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson and Roman Coppola). However, Brody gives the revelatory performance here, so completely at ease as he lends complexity to both the film's humorous and sobering moments. The worst one can say about Anjelica Huston's brief, anticipated appearance toward the end is that she looks unexpectedly awful, although her presence still shines through enough to carry her scenes.

On my first viewing, I had some trouble with the film's shambling final third (and in particular, the clumsy, unnecessary extended flashback to the father's funeral). After a second time, I warmed up to most of it, finding it to be a charming (if shaggy) travelogue with a clever payoff that revisits most of the supporting cast. As a huge Anderson admirer, I'm sorry to say THE DARJEELING LIMITED as a whole lacks that empathetic resolve his previous films all had; changed they might be, at the end the Whitmans are barely less self-absorbed than they were before. Fortunately, the film also carries the promise of a mature, career-defining work lurking somewhere within—like the Whitmans, Anderson just needs to shed some of his baggage.

31 October 2007


Why did Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis hang himself at the age of 23? Was it misery brought on by marital infidelity, an uneasy mixture of meds prescribed for his epilepsy, stress at the onset of fame, or was he just terminally depressed? As with many suicides, the actual motive remains as inscrutable as the man himself. Fortunately, the Curtis biopic CONTROL fully acknowledges this as it admirably attempts to piece together whatever portrait it can of its subject.

Curtis (Sam Riley) is introduced as a moon-faced, Bowie-adoring teenager in 1973. He’s a slacker and a dreamer, but also a bit of a goofball—there's little inkling of the brittle, austere music he’d make a mere five years later. He meets and weds his wife, Debbie (Samantha Morton) at a perilously young age; not long after, he meets his three future band mates at a Sex Pistols concert, which moves him to become a musician, although perhaps move is too strong a word—he volunteers to be a singer with the same affable neutrality as if he were offering someone a ride home from the pub.

The film is most effective when it focuses on Curtis and the band writing, rehearsing, recording and performing their tense, ominous music. As someone only familiar with their best-known song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, I instantly understood why Joy Division were so groundbreaking and why this film was made. Much of the credit goes to Riley, who thrillingly exhibits how effortlessly Curtis transformed himself on stage into a spastic, charismatic, one-of-a-kind front man. The rest of the band were obviously cast for their uncanny resemblances to the genuine articles, but their involvement goes beyond mere mimicry—I was floored to find out that the four actors actually performed much of the music in the film.

This is photographer Anton Corbijn's first directorial effort, and it's shot in the moody, high contrast black-and-white style he’s known for. Although often beautifully framed, the images aren’t glossy or overly pretty, lending an authentic air to the film’s grimy, late '70s Manchester setting. There are a few missteps: two brief voiceovers from Curtis aren't really needed, and I cringed when "Love Will Tear Us Apart" appeared on the soundtrack at the most obvious, literal moment. However, most of the film is as economical and crisp as the band's music. With precision and grace, Morton also works wonders with what could've been an inconsequential role.

Adapted from a book by the real Debbie Curtis, CONTROL may prove frustrating for someone fanatically devoted to the band and Curtis' legend. It's a lot to live up to, and as with nearly every biopic, you also sense that it leaves stuff out. In this case, it's often difficult to comprehend how Curtis got from point A to point B. Regardless, this particular version of his life is compelling enough, even if it's more an elegy than a document.

13 October 2007


Hingham, Mass., the day before Labor Day. This park is part of the Mass. Trustees of Reservations. The last photo was taken in nearby Hull, along Nantasket Beach--it was too good not to include here.

11 October 2007


I've been none-too-ambitious lately, at least where this blog's concerned. Work and life are sucking up too much time and energy. I just spent a long weekend in Minneapolis--went for a wedding and stayed to catch up with family and an old friend that I haven't seen in years. I hadn't been in the Twin Cities in over a decade, and not much has changed (apart from the I-35W bridge collapse, of course).

While there, I saw INTO THE WILD at the Lagoon Cinema. It's a fascinating, ambitious adaptation, but at least a half-hour overlong and terribly marred by Sean Penn's occasionally overwrought, pompous direction (any scene not dealing with the McCandless family is bascially fine). Fortunately, the performances are pretty excellent: it's clearly Emilie Hirsch's film, but Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook also shine in smaller, less flashy roles.

Also finally saw THE DARJEELING LIMITED upon my return. I'll post a review after I see it again, since Wes Anderson films always resonate more for me after repeated viewings. I'm concerned that the blind spot I gave to some of the director's quirks (and self-indulgence) in his previous films is beginning to fade. Still, I'm excited that he's slowly pushing toward something new with this one: call it a more pronounced maturity and looseness. It gives me hope that he'll eventually make something as wonderful THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, only without the cute, fussy demeanor that is so off-putting to many. To be continued, indeed.

24 September 2007


Or at least this country. I'm behind in my photo-blogging (ie-too lazy to write anything, so I'll post snapshots instead). These were taken over a month ago on a short trip to Maine's southern coast.

18 September 2007


Emanuele Crialese's film puts a novel spin on the oft-told tale of Europeans immigrating to America in the early 20th Century: instead of fixating on a traveler's first few proud, iconic moments in the new world, THE GOLDEN DOOR is about what comes before. It follows the Mancusos, a Sicilian family headed by widowed father Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato), his skeptical, superstitious mother and his two teenaged sons.

After a slow, somewhat cryptic start, the film finds its rhythm once the Mancusos reach the overcrowded boat to America. There, the men of the family are charmed by and in awe of Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a beautiful, comparatively wealthier Englishwoman whose reasons for emigrating with hundreds of Italians is not immediately clear (she's possibly the only person on the boat without exceptionally dirty fingernails). Crialese meticulously recreates what the trip really would've been like all the way to Ellis Island where the incoming are poked and prodded both physically and mentally before they're allowed citizenship (or not).

To these people, America is only a concept, and often a misconception stirred by tall tales and doctored photos of money literally growing on trees. Crialese honors this notion by never showing us (or his characters) any sweeping vistas of the Statue of Liberty or the Manhattan skyline: we're just left with hearsay and dreams, and they suffuse the film with a mysterious, compelling aura. Agnès Godard's cinematography is superb as usual, and her intuitive style meshes well with the director's approach. The whimsical final shot and closing credits, in particular, nail what this unique film is all about—I walked away from it nearly beaming with joy.

12 September 2007


I just returned from the Toronto International Film Festival. I saw 13 films over 5 days. While there, I made a few posts to the Chlotrudis blog:




Day 5: WITH YOUR PERMISSION, JELLYFISH and a rundown of ratings.

The festival did not disappoint, and I had time to explore a few new neighborhoods (I stayed here). But I'm glad to be back in Boston--I admit I felt a little homesick by day 4.

30 August 2007


I moved from Milwaukee to Boston ten years ago today. To celebrate, here's a decade in snapshots I've taken:

1997: Winchester Path, Brookline Hills
Accustomed to the Midwest's homogeneous street grids, Boston's spaghetti-tangled layout both challenged and captivated me. I was awestruck the first time I came across this pedestrian hillside walkway. This was taken on a brisk Thanksgiving Day hike when I really had nothing better to do (except maybe renting movies). Thanks to the sun's position, it's the only self-portrait here.

1998: Revere Beach
Only I would take the Blue Line outbound to its terminus on a not particularly warm November Saturday afternoon to go to the beach and explore. Luckily for me, the sky was a magnificent blend of hues and textures--plus, I had the place practically all to myself.

1999: Aldie Street, Lower Allston
Another gorgeous, otherworldly sky. I remember a few instances over the years where I just had to run home to my apartment, grab my camera, and rush back out again to capture the remnants of a sunset in all of its glory before it would irrevocably fade away.

2000: Bussey Hill, Arnold Arboretum
Now I live within spitting distance of this place, but for many years, it involved much more effort to get there. Consequently, I take this vista (looking out towards the Blue Hills) for granted until those increasingly rare occasions when I see it in person.

2001: Deluxe Town Diner, Watertown
How I ended up living in the suburbs for two years isn't terribly complicated, but not compelling enough to get into here. However, this refurbished vintage diner in my then neighborhood was a godsend; it remains one of my favorite haunts in the whole area and the only place I know where one can get real maple syrup at no extra charge.

2002: EarthFest, The Esplanade
Spring always feels more vibrant here than it did where I grew up. As with Autumn (curiously not as dynamic as back home), every year I try to capture the world in flux. This was taken at a free radio station-sponsored concert headlined by Bonnie Raitt; I love how the people strewn all over the grass almost seem like a natural part of the landscape at this distance.

2003: Belmont Street, Cambridge
Over two feet of snow fell the day before my birthday that year. I strolled through my nearly deserted neighborhood, taking pictures of sidewalks and snowbanks, crouched down in an effort to get an accurate sense of just how much precipitation the storm left in its wake.

2004: The Public Gardens
I view this now and immediately feel warm and serene. Cities can be tough, irritating places to live in and just deal with, but once in awhile you can sense their beauty and poetry.

2005: Jamaica Pond
I moved to Jamaica Plain over two years prior to this photo, and the place it was taken at contributes greatly to why I feel so home in that part of town. I'll visit The Pond any time of year and usually see something in a way I haven't previously. This shot is from late Autumn; I think it proves that trees don't necessarily need fauna to appear interesting.

2006: The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge
Having just missed a commuter rail train at North Station, I had two hours to kill. So, I ambled through Charlestown and the North End and got a few shots of something that wasn't there ten years ago. It's no Golden Gate, but it's mightier than the Hoan. I like how it gives Boston some much-needed drama (aesthetically, of course--it has more than it needs in the attitudinal sense).

2007: Winchester Path, Brookline Hills
I couldn't resist going back to where I started. Of course it's not an exact replica, this being August. But it's comforting to know it's still within my grasp (I currently work about a ten-minute walk away from it). Like Boston itself, it also still hasn't lost its charm.

15 August 2007


It's easy for most of us to forget what it feels like to be a child, especially if you don't work with children or aren't a parent. Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price's straightforward but affecting documentary unerringly captures the nostalgic warmth and pure sense of discovery of those pre-teen (and early teenaged) years. It also honestly depicts how naturally vulnerable and bewildered children occasionally are whether they're struggling to make friends or simply feeling homesick.

Recorded over one summer at the Swift Nature Camp in northern Wisconsin, the film dutifully illustrates all the familiar rituals of a prototypical spell at camp, from arts and crafts and nature hikes to talent shows and roasting marshmallows to a burnt crisp over an open fire. We meet many campers, but the film focuses on a select few, like roly-poly Cameron, whose anti-social behavior gradually spirals out of control, or loner Holly, whose cute, curious obsession with chickadees is far more significant than it first appears. Throughout a season of canoeing trips, bedtime stories, first crushes and plastic bowls of lime jell-o, some of the kids make friends and grow in character and have the times of their lives; others don't.

While not exactly revelatory filmmaking, after years of slasher pics, sex comedies and agenda-centric docs, this is as close to an authentic look at the culture of summer camps that we're ever likely to get. Refreshingly, there is a minimum (if not complete lack) of mugging for the camera from these kids, and this makes a huge difference. Beesley and Price's real accomplishment is in how genuine and unaffected their subjects appear—it's what endears them and the film to us.

09 August 2007


I had some time to kill the other night before meeting up with a friend in Fort Point Channel (for an outdoor screening of this), so I explored the Boston waterfront, which I haven't walked through much lately.

Quincy Marketplace swarmed by tourists, though you'd never know it at this angle.

In nearly ten years, I can't remember walking across the old Northern Ave. bridge before.

I think I prefer the Boston Harbor Hotel from a comfortable distance.

Last time I was this close to the new ICA, it was way too frigid out to take any pix.

Lobotomized giddiness over the prospect of eclectic cuisine, or PODS?

Same town, different bridge.