Monthly Archives: January 2012
Well, Utah’s famed Sundance Film Festival has once again come and gone, and once again, I wasn’t invited. Sigh. I won’t let that stop me from throwing in my two cents, though!
When all of the mega-celebs, indie darlings, and first-time newbies gather in Park City donning their Winter gear, the result is always plenty of buzz-worthy films to get excited about. Sure, a bad film can definitely get poor reviews and die at the annual festival, but it is more often than not a launching pad for great new films, actors, writers, and directors who are poised for stardom. Think about it; many Oscar-nominated and now-classic films got their starts at Sundance, including Reservoir Dogs, Hedwig and the Angry Itch, Napoleon Dynamite, Thirteen, and Winter’s Bone. Of course, there’s also anything starring Parker Posey. Love her.
So, what did 2012 have in store for those lucky enough to catch the screenings? If the many blogs, mags, and critics are any indication, there was a lot worth seeing and worth discussing. And since there seemed to be simply too many exciting new films to talk about, I’m going to give you five (just five!) that I am most looking forward to see in the upcoming year.
In no particular order…
1. Liberal Arts
Written and Directed by Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser, Zac Efron
Josh Radnor, of “How I Met Your Mother” fame, hit a little bit of a dud with his 2010 debut film, Happythankyoumoreplease. Also having premiered at Sundance, it was initially well-received but then faced mixed reviews after getting its wide release. It is unsure whether Liberal Arts will face the same fate, but what we do know is that Radnor’s sophomore effort is generating some major– and most important, positive– buzz. Featuring an impressive and eclectic cast of actors, including new It girl Elizabeth Olsen in her first romantic lead role, the film is the story of a 35-year-old New Yorker (Radnor) who visits his alma mater and bonds with a 19-year-old student named Zibby. Critics have noted that the film’s message is a tad simplistic and that it takes a few wrong turns, but for the most part, Liberal Arts is shaping up to be a well-acted one-to-watch.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhane` Wallis, Dwight Henry
This moving story, told through the eyes of a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy, took home the festival’s big Grand Jury Prize and is receiving overwhelming critical acclaim. Inspired by the locals who chose to stay in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had devastated their homes and communities, it features two non-actors: Dwight Henry, a real-life owner of a bakery, and Quvenzhane` Wallis. You don’t know her name now (and probably can’t pronounce it), but this little girl was chosen out of 3,500 candidates and her performance is already being hailed as one of the greatest ever by a child actor. New York Magazine called the film an “Ode to Bayou life” that features incredible cinematography, amazing performances and elements of magical realism. It can’t be too long until Mr. Oscar starts calling.
Written and Directed by Leslye Headland
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson
Does anything with this film seem a little familiar? Of course, it’s odd timing that a film entitled Bachelorette would premiere only a year after the outta-the-park home-run mega hit that was Bridesmaids; there will inevitably be non-stop comparisons between the two films. And yes, they feature similar premises: in Bachelorette, a gang of thirty-something high school friends throw a bachelorette party for the first among them to be engaged, and wacky hijinks ensue. However, many critics say that Bachelorette is a far less lighthearted film; hardly a comedy at all. While it’s funny and definitely crazy, there are a lot more drugs, booze, and less jokey subject matter. While it has gotten mixed reviews, Kirsten Dunst has received praise for her acting, and in my opinion, you just can’t go wrong with anything starring the charming and beautiful Lizzy Caplan. I don’t think that I’ll run to the theatre to see this, but the cast definitely piques my interest.
4. Simon Killer
Written and Directed by Antonio Campos
Starring: Brady Corbet and Mati Diop
Antonio Campos made a huge splash with Afterschool in 2008, and Simon Killer is poised to follow in its footsteps, despite some less than stellar reviews. Brady Corbet was most recently that awkward guy who boned Kirsten Dunst on her wedding night in Melancholia, but despite his mere twenty-three years, he has already established himself in the indie world with several supporting roles, including in Funny Games and Martha Marcy May Marlene. In Simon Killer, Corbet plays a recent college grad in Paris who falls in love with a prostitute and undergoes an allegedly quite violent, psychological transformation. There is also a lot of nudity, a lot of sex, and no, not everyone thought this film was worth seeing. I, however, am curious about it. I happen to really like Corbet (particularly in Funny Games) and would like to judge his performance– and the film– for myself.
5. Safety Not Guaranteed
Written by Derek Connolly
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Kristen Bell, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass
Aubrey Plaza is known for her deadpan-style comedic skills, but she expands her horizons in Safety Not Guaranteed, a part sci-fi, part rom-com film which has really exploded as one of the biggest hits of the festival. Mark Duplass plays a man who puts out an ad seeking a companion for time travel, and Plaza’s skeptical magazine intern, Darius, seeks him out, unexpectedly falling for him. I’m also excited to see Jake Johnson on the big screen, because he is so great to watch opposite Zooey Deschanel on “New Girl.” Safety sounds both hilarious and heartfelt, and you just can’t get deterred when a film makes such waves at the festival. It’s a winning combo.
I am a huge fan of electronic music, but nobody does it quite like Sweden’s weirdest brother-sister duo, The Knife. 2003′s Deep Cuts is, in my opinion, their very best work, and one of the standout tracks is “Pass This On.” The song is one part warehouse rave, one part Bahamian beach getaway, and one part slow jam. And the accompanying video is just as weird. And awesome.
Horror. Humiliation. Sheer and utter terror– we felt it all. It’s like how people can’t help but watch a car as it’s crashing; only, imagine that car crash was a glittery golden unicorn, slowly and unpleasantly disintegrating into a pile of bloody guts while the entire nation watched. That was Lana Del Rey’s now infamous performance last week on “Saturday Night Live.” But let’s rewind.
In the beginning, I didn’t really get the whole “Lana Del Rey” thing, if that’s even her real name. Actually, it’s not; her real name is Elizabeth Grant, and she’s a rich kid from upstate New York who put a few of her songs on Youtube. She doesn’t even have an album out yet– “Born to Die” is due to be released January 30– so I had never heard of her until the summer, when a story on BrooklynVegan detailed an angry rant against the 25-year-old singer from Amy Klein of Titus Andronicus. On her blog, Klein wrote:
“Lana Del Ray is the lie we like to tell ourselves–that America has always been, and will always be, this gorgeous woman who can make all our dreams come true. So it doesn’t matter if she loves you or hates you because she is going to take all of your money and you are going to let her get away with it. That’s the reality of who she is.”
Ouch. Those are real fightin’ words. So, naturally, I was all like, but who is this Lana Del Rey, anyway? I googled her, and watched the video for her song, “Video Games.” I read articles on her– there were many– and looked at pictures– there were a lot of those, too. In the end, the conclusion I reached was that I didn’t have a problem with Lana Del Rey at all. In fact, “Video Games” is actually a pretty great song.
Up until that point, the biggest controversy over Ms. Del Rey was, in fact, what got Amy Klein’s knickers all twisted: the idea that Lana is not real but a fantasy, a dream-like, MPDG figment of the collective male imagination. That, by dressing like a 60s era pin-up with brass knuckles and referring to herself as a “gangster Nancy Sinatra,” she is trivializing the antiquated notions and sad inequalities of mid-century American gender roles. In other words– she’s a floozy and she’s a total flake.
Which isn’t to say that this criticism isn’t valid; I get it. While a part of me will always be attracted to the glamor of the decades when women wore gloves and party dresses to the grocery store, I prefer to admire this era from the other side of my television screen. I am truly appreciative of my freedom in not having only three professions from which to choose for my life: secretary, school teacher, or domestic slave. But really, is Lana Del Rey the only modern girl to dress in a swingin’ sixties shift dress and make such a splash? She wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last. What about the perfectly coiffed characters on popular shows like “Pan Am” and “Mad Men?” What about another singer like Adele, whose style of dress so mimics the same sad and soulful women of the past that her voice does? Or, what about the countless twenty-first century girls (myself included) who troll thrift stores for vintage scarves and purses that once belonged to women whose lives could have never resembled our own? Aren’t we all guilty of the very same offense? We glamorize the past, choosing to focus on the happy things, like the fashion and the music and the fun, and overlook all the negative.
Because really, what makes “Video Games” great is not that its quasi-sexist lyrics are a joke; it’s that they are totally and completely serious. The man over which Lana pines is no Mr. Darcy. He’s drinking beer, he’s shooting pool, he’s pretty much ignoring her while yes, playing his video games. Still, she hangs by his side, wishing only to fulfill his every need, crooning in her most vulnerable, breathless voice, “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you/Everything I do.” This isn’t an ideal relationship, it’s maybe not even a healthy one, and the listener knows this; if Lana were our friend, we would tell her to ditch this loser and find someone to treat her right. But none of that matters. She’s in love, and love is sick and flawed and stupid and turns you into just the character whom Lana portrays. That’s why it feels so real.
So, if her single is such a huge hit (especially in Europe, where it gets serious radio play from the BBC and hit number one in Germany), then what went wrong last Saturday night? You’ve all seen it by now, so there’s no need to re-post that sad, silly excuse for a musical performance. Lana looked beautiful and ethereal, and all she needed to do was stand there and sing her song. Instead, she looked awkward, nervous, and uncomfortable, like a little girl trying on Mommy’s dress and realizing that it doesn’t quite yet fit. Perhaps she was trying too hard to be sexy, because she only ended up looking a little bit crazy. Or a little bit on crack.
The worst part, however, was her voice. On the recorded version of the track it is slow and sweet, her words melting out like thick molasses. Sung live, it was sketchy, pitchy, and filled with bizarre twists and turns. I literally could not believe what I was hearing– that it was even the same song. Still, I hoped that she could maybe redeem herself during the second performance, where she sang “Blue Jeans.” She didn’t.
The backlash Lana Del Rey has received from her performance has been fierce, and no, none of it is surprising, frankly. This was her big moment– her sparkling live debut to an American public who may not have known what a blog-sation she was, to whom she was a blank slate who could have totally blown them away. It was her time to shine, and she dropped the ball, big time. There is just no defending a performance like that.
What else I won’t defend, though, is the criticism aimed at her money, her family, and other things that are no one else’s business. Is it her fault that she’s rich? That she’s beautiful? We can be as jealous as we want, but let’s face it, there aren’t many true rags-to-riches stories nowadays. Most wildly successful young singers, actors, and whatevers are who they are because they came from wealthy families. Hey, talent is talent, but it’s a lot easier to get the train rolling when you don’t have to worry about paying your rent or having a “back-up” life plan. She had the means to get people to start paying attention to her, and now they have. Be careful what you wish for.
In the end, it doesn’t even matter how she performed on SNL; we’re talking about Lana– or Lizzy– nonetheless. And if you take the amount of news stories, media attention, or google hits into account, you know that she’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Until she releases a sex tape or gets caught on tape doing coke with Pete Doherty or something, all press is good press. I don’t know if I love Lana Del Rey just yet; I don’t know if I hate her. What I do know is that I’ll have to make my mind up soon, because it seems that there is little room in between.
Off of their fantastic sophomore album, 2004′s “Bows + Arrows,” here are the Walkmen with “The Rat.” The clean, minimalist video perfectly complements the best features of the song: Hamilton Leithauser’s gritty, emotive vocals and Matt Barrick’s absolutely INSANE drumming (seriously– the drums in this song!) It’s one to watch over and over and over again.
Despite my curiosity as to why a movie would be re-made into English when the perfectly good Swedish original is barely a few years old (that one’s for you, Mr. Fincher), I went to the movies and saw “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. I’m actually glad that I did.
The movie itself is pretty sick nasty awesome, heavily featuring a few of everyone’s favorite things: rape, torture, incest, and yep– Happy Meals. But besides the masterful weaving of the story and the phenomenal acting (Craig is at his best ever and Mara has just secured herself a one-way ticket to movie stardom), the coolest part of this film has to be the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
I’ll admit, I know about as much about Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails as I do traditional Bavarian polka music– that is to say, nothing. What I do know is that Fincher, Reznor and Ross have, once again, come together to create something really special. Where the Oscar-winning score to last year’s “The Social Network” transformed a movie about Facebook into a suspense-driven adventure, the score to the heart-pounding, violent and adventurous “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” keeps perfect pace with the film’s thrilling ups and downs, never threatening to overpower them. It is ominous, mysterious, and will keep you guessing.
The biggest surprise of the soundtrack is the opening title sequence, featuring a frighteningly cool update of Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Immigrant Song” from Karen O. Apparently, Reznor did not want to feature the song in the film and only did so at Fincher’s request. I, for one, am thrilled that it made the cut. Here is the incredible opening sequence that already feels like a modern film classic. Don’t just watch it here, though– go see the movie, you fucking fuck (you’ll get it when you see it).
Happy New Year! I was far too busy getting shwasted this weekend to sit down and write any sort of “Best Of” post to sum up the year, and I actually didn’t think I wanted to, either. Every blogger in the sphere will have come up with his and her own list, so why should I? Well, I spent a lot of time talking about music over the holiday, and I realized one thing: despite my moans and groans over bygone music eras of the past, this year was in fact a pretty awesome one as far as music goes.
By the time 2011 closed, we had been gifted a little bit of everything. There were the returns of some old favorites (Feist with “Metals,” The Rapture with “In the Grace of Your Love,” The Roots with “Undun”); a few overnight sensations (Tyler, the Creator, Cults, Lana Del Rey); even a couple of truly epic game-changers (M83 with “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” Jay-Z and Kanye West with “Watch the Throne”).
All in all, it seems like we were all over the map this year, but really, a lot of it was just about bringing things back to basics. With the exception of a few really great releases, I found 2010 to be a tad lackluster; I guess 2011 proves that other people felt that way, too. There was great music everywhere, from pop and hip-hop to the indiest of indie rock. A new favorite of mine are Iceage; a friend told me about them rather recently, but it didn’t take long for their debut, “New Brigade,” to make an impression. Pure, classic, post-punk energy. Others I found less than impressive; while I’ve got respect for James Blake, I just can’t get behind the guy. Same goes for The Weeknd (the band, not the thing).
Anyway, I could go on and on, but instead I’ve chosen to condense my appreciation for the great year that was into a list of favorite tracks. So, here they are: the ten best songs of 2011, according to yours truly. Enjoy!
10. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
9. Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”
8. Cults, “Go Outside”
7. Factory Floor, “Two Different Ways”
6. Fleet Foxes, “Lorelai”
5. Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”
4. Neon Indian, “Polish Girl”
3. Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Niggas in Paris”
2. The Rapture, “How Deep is Your Love?”
1. M83, “Midnight City”