Wednesday, February 15, 2006

2 + 2 = 5.

When I started this blog, I used to make a weekly list of pop cultural artifacts that were lodged in my head. I stopped making the lists a year ago for no real reason. It wasn't a conscious decision, I think I just forgot to do it one week and never picked it back up. A year later, I'm back at it.

  1. Obsession [DePalma, 1976]
    AKA DePalma does Vertigo. It goes a little something like this: that dude who plays Uncle Ben in Spiderman goes to Venice on business and spots a woman--played by that woman with the mutant uterus in Dead Ringers--who looks exactly like his deceased wife. Obsession follows. Yes, it sounds almost exactly like Vertigo. Yes, it's another exercise in DePalma's never-ending Hitchcock fetish. Yes, there's more to it. For starters, there's John Lithgow doing a really bad N'Awlins accent; a script by Paul Schrader that's full of his overheated psychodrama schtick; and a killer kidnapping sequence set to Bernard Hermann's ripe score. You know that sounds tempting.

  2. "I Know" (Live Recording from iTunes Originals) by Fiona Apple.
    In its original incarnation, "I Know" was a wrenching bit of melancholic jazz-pop; basically Fiona in a nutshell. In this version, recorded live for an iTunes Originals session, Jon Brion's weepy string arrangement has been replaced by a warped-calliope synth line, giving the song a narcotic charge that sounds like those Julee Cruise/Twin Peaks songs.

  3. ACME Novelty Library No. 16 by Chris Ware.
    I'm not trying to reignite the war over Mr. Ware's merits, but the latest edition of his ACME Novelty Library series is stunning. The graphic novel's themes (suburban ennui, midlife crisis, burgeoning/ misplaced sexuality, high school angst) are well-worn, but they're handled with such empathy and effortless creative ingenuity (the narrative is told from two POVs that run simultaneously for the length of the book) that it feels entirely original.

  4. The House Next Door.
    As if being a colleague of The Whine Colored Sea's Favorite Rebel Critic wasn't enough, Matt Zoller Seitz gets massive props for [1] being a fucking great film critic in his own right (I'd link to his excellent essay on the use of space in Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol, but the New York Press's website is acting crazy) and [2] for his blog, The House Next Door. If you're a film nerd and THND isn't a daily destination, shame on you; MZS's writing is too sharp to be missed. Por ejemplo (dig the Casino metaphor!):
    [Leonardo DiCaprio] deserved the acclaim he received early on; his work in "This Boy's Life," "The Quick and the Dead," "The Basketball Diaries" and "Titanic" (a great young male ingenue performance, unironic and sincere)were as good as almost anything the late River Phoenix came up with, and Phoenix was close to a genius. (I still miss him.) But DiCaprio, like Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, seems less complicated and charismatic the older he gets. And his partnership with Martin Scorsese has been a disaster -- symbiotic, dysfunctional and fundamentally unsatisfying. DiCaprio gets Scorsese the funding he needs, and in return, DiCaprio delivers a performance that's more like oil than glue; I thought he was competent in "The Aviator" and borderline dull in "Gangs of New York," and miscast in both. If Scorsese is Ace Rothstein in "Casino," DiCaprio is his Ginger, the beautiful blond who brings the whole empire crashing down.

    While I'm a shameless defender (enabler?) of later Scorsese, I think MZS is onto something here.

  5. Dakota Fanning in Hide and Seek [Polson, 2005].
    Who knew that the director of the ludicrous Swimfan@ could flip the killer kid genre on its head and deliver a surprisingly effective horror/thriller? I certainly didn't and I'm not ashamed to admit that I gobbled up every minute of the damn thing. Director John Polson isn't bad at creating atmosphere, but he's way too fond of tired genre tropes*. Regardless, it's Dakota Fanning's performance that carries the show. Well, maybe "performance" is giving her too much credit. Look: it's undeniable that Dakota is a preternaturally talented actress; Spielberg's War of the Worlds proved that. In Hide and Seek, her performance consists largely of casting those enormous eyes directly at the camera and staring DeNiro/us down. With that Wednesday Addams hairdo and the dark bags under her eyes, it's enough. Trust me. Every time she did that shit, it gave me the heeby-jeebies.

* He's especially fond of ike Surprise!-It-Was-Just-A-Cast and Doesn't-It-Look-Creepy-When-I-Shoot- Through-The-Slatted-Closet-Door?


At 7:31 PM, Blogger girish said...

OBSESSION is a fucking great movie.
De Palma tells a cool story about watching a brand new VistaVision print of VERTIGO at MoMA (I think) with Schrader one afternoon, then going to a restaurant, and cooking up OBSESSION in a few hours.

Also, I heart Genevieve big-time.
Can I shamelessly link to my gush?
(And look, Flickhead's in there too.)

At 8:26 PM, Blogger girish said...

Oh I forgot all about that "lively" comicbook discussion you linked to. Precious.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger Dashiell said...

it's easy to cook up a plot when you're aping one that already exists.

At 2:03 AM, Blogger girish said...

Hey Dashiell, just my two cents here. But this movie's not about plot at all. It plays with Hitch's plot elements, has fun with them. The main strength of the movie is that it is intensely visual. It finds really inventive visual ways to convey things that 99% of American moviemakers might use dialogue for. It's really playful and fun that way.

At 2:32 AM, Blogger girish said...

And that Joshua essay is amazing. I didn't realize he wrote for Pop Matters...

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

Awwww, Ben's linking to my bloated, overlong, cerebral rants. Thanks Ben!

And thanks to you too, Girish. I write occassionally for PopMatters . . . stay tuned for future developments.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Dash-- Give the movie a shot. I probably did the film a disservice by being flip; it certainly uses Vertigo as a template, but veers in a different direction. It really is insanely entertaining and gorgeous to look at.

G.-- I'm glad you linked to your Genevieve gush. Can't wait to read it.

Josh-- I can't wait to link to more of your crazy pomo-home PopMatters essays. Get to it.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Dashiell said...

yeah girish, depalma is still a douche. best thing he's ever done was Femme Fatale. those are my four cents.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

I really liked his Mars movie.

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous girish said...

Dashiell--Femme Fatale is a knockout.

At 2:56 AM, Anonymous patrick said...

yeah, good lineup you got here, escpecially house next door


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