Tag Archives: reviews

ANY DAY NOW: Audience Award Winner at Tribeca

30 Apr

ANY DAY NOW (2012). Image via www.tribecafilm.com.

Travis Fine’s fine new film Any Day Now, starring Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, and Isaac Leyva, is the moving tale of a gay couple living in 1979 West Hollywood who adopt an abused boy with Down syndrome.  The film won the Audience Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival— and renewed discussions of whether Dillahunt and Peter Krause are secretly the same person.

Dillahunt can also be seen with hilarity as Kristen Wiig’s tacky husband in dark hit men comedy Revenge for Jolly!, which had a run of its own at Tribeca.

But seriously, Any Day Now is incredible, and totally deserving of its accolades.  Fine and co-writer George Bloom’s script could easily be a maudlin story too heartrending too connect with most audiences.  But through careful editing, separating emotion from sentimentality, and writing a work that is as often hilarious as it is tragic, Any Day Now‘s creative team elevate their story into a beautiful portrait of a loving family and the necessary struggle for what is right.  Also worth note is the film’s music, remarkably evocative of soulful yet disco-drenched late ’70s L.A.:

Not to give anything away, but the film’s closing song is a doozy.  Picture Alan Cumming, no longer in drag by this point, but quite theatrical, lit up on club’s stage and pouring his heart into this Bob Dylan tune.  Listen, picture it, and as soon as it hits a cinema near you, see this film.

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A Gmail Chat Book Review of Tao Lin’s Richard Yates

10 Feb

What constitutes illicit sex for a generation with no rules? reads the back of the book jacket.

Richard Yates by Tao Lin. Image via Melville House Publishing, http://www.mhpbooks.com.

“Possible responses to Tao Lin’s novel Richard Yates,” I typed in Gmail chat or possibly on my blog.

“I could be sad about all the talk of Dakota and Haley killing themselves”

“I could pity real-life Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment for having their names dragged through the anxiety disordered mud of central New Jersey”

“I could worry about my teenage little sister who gave me this book and how she must have also spent some hours reading about an obsessive, joyless (except the one instance of Haley Joel Osment smiling, in Florida [yes, the characters full names are used almost exclusively]) relationship in which a man asks a girl for all of her daily activities every day and that is the bulk of their relationship”

“I could feel gratitude for a writer who frees young writers from the interesting yet ultimately limiting nature of constant grammatic policing and thoughtfully literary literature via the device of Gmail chat conversations as dialogue”

“’I should just kill myself’”

“I could chew out the sort of 23-year-old male character/being who chooses to date a 17-year-old female and ignores the precarious power imbalance in their relationship, in fact exacerbating her various disorders by discouraging her from pursuing treatment and frankly being abusive”

“I might question the legal implications of using unrelated, ‘real’ names of people as characters and author as book title, and muse on how these creative commons – or not – issues relate to my own work”

“I could binge-eat and puke à la ‘Dakota Fanning’”

“I could laugh. There were funny parts.”

“I could wish to have a love or love-imitating relationship in which many hand-made goods are exchanged, but probably without the exclusive focus in life of making hand-made goods and emailing photos of stolen organic products”

“I could marvel about how for an ‘exciting new voice in experimental fiction,’ which I had been eager to read or maybe to say I had read, the prose is very straightforward. But not shitty.”

“I will mail the book to my metafiction friend

“I will accept the novel’s disparaging comment on humanity, or at least young humanity in twenty-first century America, and reach out by

updating my ‘Current City’ to ‘Atlanta.’”

***

Miranda July says:

“Tao Lin writes from moods that less radical writers would let pass– from laziness, from vacancy, from boredom. And it turns out that his report from these places is moving and necessary, not to mention frequently hilarious.”

***

Wheatus/The U. Orchestra of Great Britain says:

Move Over, Rosebud: Central’s New Veggie Galaxy Is Cambridge Diner Central

21 Sep

Inside the intergalactically delicious Veggie Galaxy. TMMV 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Disclaimer: this is a restaurant review by someone who very rarely goes to restaurants. I have the good fortune to be someone with a lot of friends who are incredible cooks, someone with good food so frequently available to her that I can rarely justify the expense of a meal out on the town. But based on Veggie Planet’s deliciousness and my love of classic diners, I knew that Veggie Galaxy would be an exception to my rule, and once I tasted the meat-free treats, I had to share the good news!

Central Square’s brand new Veggie Galaxy is another project from the wonderful Didi Emmons, who brought us Veggie Planet at Harvard Square (nestled neatly under Club Passim), Haley House Bakery Café in Dudley Square, and several more upscale Cambridge eateries. Emmons is also the author of an inspired line of vegetarian cookbooks focusing on fresh ingredients from close to home. Emmon’s book Entertaining for a Veggie Planet has inspired me to seek out my own, inner y’alternative Martha Stewart over the past year. (exhibit a: bourbon cider from the beginning-of-fall party I hosted. Mulled apple cider + Simple cinnamon sugar and ginger syrup + Maker’s Mark = bevvictory!)

Shaped like a double-wide old train car diner, and styled like the 1950s in outer space, VG packs its punches in hip, friendly waitstaff, cool décor, and most of all, blast-off, out of this world delicious space food light years away from Tang. (…Should I not have? Impossible.)

The diner seems to specialize in vegetarian/vegan versions of classic diner fare, such as a facon B.L.T., grilled seitan and greens, and Vegetable Tofu pot pie. I was so overwhelmed by the percentage of entrees I could eat (at most restaurants it’s about 12%- yet another reason I don’t often eat out.) I could literally eat 100% of the food on the menu- thrilling! Literally, all of it, in one sitting. I could lay waste to that appealing-ass menu. Vegetable nom.

In the end I couldn’t decide on one entree, so I ordered a smattering of sides including the soup special of the day, Caramelized Onion Soup. This I was very excited about because back in my omnivorous days I used to love French Onion Soup, but have never been able to find a decent version that doesn’t use beef stock.  The soup ended up tasting rather eggplant-y, and the consistency was thicker than I’d hoped.  It would have been better with cheese, but still it was pretty tasty. (Most of the menu is vegan, or has a vegan option available.)

Hash was my next epicurean adventure. The hash came with potatoes and salty, spicy seitan.  It was my first time ever getting to try the diner standby! I loaded it up with ketchup and sriracha from their cute little ‘racha saucer, and it was delicious. A little more sodium than I usually consume in a week, though. (Guessing here based on taste alone- I don’t know the actual caloric/nutritional values of anything I consumed at VG, and I don’t want to). Totally, totally worth it.

Dessert Cupboard at Veggie Galaxy. TMMV 2011. All Rights Reserved.

My last dinner item was a black pepper biscuit, yet another item that I was thrilled to see on the menu. As a Southerner I often crave biscuits since I moved north. Other than those baked in my own kitchen I’ve yet to find any comparable to Georgia quality, fluffy-layered, sweet corn-colored biscuits. VG’s pepper biscuits weren’t exactly Southern-style, but smothered in butter or some butter-like substance, they were moist and damn delicious. One qualm, though- with this and with the lemon merengue pie (vegan merengue! Yes! How the eff did they do that?!), the prices did seem a little overinflated to me. $2.95 for a single biscuit? $6.50 for a smallish piece of pie? Knock these off by a dollar or half, and a little more old-school charming diner cred would be bestowed. But everything was so good, I can forgive the interstellar aliens.

Lemon Merengue pie ends our meal. TMMV 2011. All Rights Reserved.

So, whether it’s for a tame weeknight catching up with a dear friend, as I was, or a post-church brunch, or a go-to after a soulful, raging night of dancing at Zuzu’s, Veggie Galaxy must be the place.

Within George, Without George: new Quiet Beatle biopic rocks, moves festival audience

3 Sep

A hearty hello from one of the most beautiful places on earth!  Tonight I write from Telluride, Colorado.  I am grateful to be a part of the fastidious, fabulous staff of the 38th Telluride Film Festival in this tiny town full of mountain highs.

Telluride Film Festival. Image via Lane Scarberry. http://lanescarberry.photoshelter.com/

Tonight was opening night.  One of the first films to screen was Martin Scorsese’s newest documentary film, GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD.  The prolific Scorsese co-produced the film with Olivia Harrison, George’s wife, having previously proved his rock ‘n roll mettle with the Bob Dylan doc  NO DIRECTION HOME (2005) and the historial account THE BLUES (2003).  Few in the house were unaffected by the time Olivia Harrison and executive producer Margaret Bodde took the stage for a Q and A following the Show.

I appreciated the film’s very un-VH1 “Behind the Music” approach.  No mention was ever made of how the Beatles formed, how Stuart died, the financial terms of the band, or basically any of the other flotsam any serious fan would know.  Yet at the same time, the film’s launching right in was equally accessible to audiences whether they own one copy of the Beatles’ Anthology for use and one for a collector’s item, or if they have little to no knowledge of the band.  In two parts and 220 minutes, the biopic follows Harrison – or rather, Harrison documents his own life and Scorsese and his team artfully put together the pieces – up to and past the end of his life.  In fact, death is an ongoing, provocative theme throughout the film.

LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD covers Harrison’s upbringing in Liverpool (“If you go to a wedding in Liverpool, people ask ‘How many fights were there?'” says one of George’s brothers), juvenile musical collaborations with Paul McCartney in a truly “Dickensian” school, and early Beatles years in rowdy Hamburg with Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best (before Stuart’s untimely death and Ringo’s entrance onto the scene) in Part One.  Part Two sees Harrison off into the realm of what the press terms ‘mysticism’ and the breakup of the band, George’s emergence as an independent artist in collaboration with Phil Spector (who gives an insightful yet somewhat chilling interview), his meeting Olivia and having a son together, and the attack on the Harrisons’ home and his final cancer relapse.

Poster for LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD. Image via NME.

The music is undoubtedly the star of the film.  New 5.1 remasters of the original Beatles and Harrison tracks reverberated the Palm theatre with sonic power.  Combined with the jagged, imperfect sounds of the demos, the songs made the film (they were even given the first slot in the end credits).  From the passage through Beatlemania to Harrison’s spiritual voyages in India with Ravi Shankar through the superold supergroup Harrison formed with Roy Orbison, Tom Petty Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan, the Traveling Wilburys, music drives the plot and grounds it in the constantly changing history of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Sound is engineered in LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD in a way that no song’s power is ever taken away by being placed on backup track; music is in, on full blast, or the film is much quieter.  This is one of the film’s strongest areas.  Another nontraditional approach is in the interviews: no one can get the intimate answers Martin Scorsese can.  Talking heads have no initial introduction by text.  Only characters whose presence aids the story are identified in the impressive, extensive archival photograph collection or later in their interviews.

One production aspect I was initially not sure was effective was the use of voice over narration by an actor playing Harrison.  But as the story progressed I realized how rich the material in Harrison’s own journals was, and though it was striking to hear these passages read by another man with a Liverpudlian accent, in the end the V.O. was a helpful way to provide more insight into this mysterious man. Three and a half hours, and I still want to learn more about my favorite Beatle!  But as Paul McCartney says, “He’s my mate. I can’t give everything away.”  I feel the same way about Telluride.

In short, I loved my first film since the official start of the festival.  I’m getting to see great friends from last year and enjoying the year-out lens of a former P.A.  I also managed to interact with Werner Herzog during my greenroom shift without peeing my pants!  So, I’d say that TFF XXXVIII is off to a splendid start thus far.

My Favorite Band Today: Gracious Calamity

15 Aug

Gracious Calamity, part of local Boston label WhiteHaus Family Records, is polished brass folk music for people who’ve done punk, but who grow weary of the formulaicly coiffed, piss-stained, nightclubbed to death, boy-overloaded scene.

I happened to catch a whiff of what they’ve got cookin’ one day on a local radio station, perhaps WZBC  or WERS– and the scent was distinctly different from that of the rest of New England’s epicurial (which is to say, independent music) scene.  I immediately went and bought their most recent record, Carefree Since ’83, on Bandcamp.  For an absurdly cheap 5 bucks I continued to be both impressed and transported to another land.  A land free of the uptight, tight-lipped, unfriendly vibes of the North. Free of the ubermarketable folk-inspired-ish power ballads getting too much air time of late (Mumford and Bros., anyone?)  Gracious Calamity pack a different punch, full of melancholic lemon shandies infused with lilac wine.

Gracious Calamity's Kit Wallach & Kate Lee. Image via Whitehaus Family Records.

Though somewhat mysterious – all the deejay spinning Gracious Calamity had said was that they’d be playing Boston that Friday – the band had scattered slices of information available online.  GC appears to be a two-piece band that occasionally collaborates with coconspirators; Whitehaus is also a music collective, after all.  Musicians Kit Wallach’s and Kate Lee’s voices have elements of Thao Nguyen (whose collaboration with Mirah is another of my favorite musical things right now), Devendra Banhardt (get yr freak folk on, Weird America), and Joni Mitchell.  Together the pair cast tuneful spells.

According to Whitehaus Family Records’ website, Gracious Calamity is essentially all about the vocals:

At the core of Gracious Calamity is the blessing of two voices singing together. Woven around that are interlocking threads of ukulele and guitar, picking out half-remembered, half-dreamt old-time melodies. The resulting sound is something you might hear when you have been wandering alone through the jungle or a very thick forest, and you start to imagine wisps of human voice on the vine. It was probably just a bird or some far out insect. But because you are alone you tell yourself a story about two sisters who have built themselves string instruments out of plants and spend the days wandering and singing, mimicking the sounds of the forest.

But it is the melding of Wallach’s and Lee’s gorgeous sopranos with bigger sounding arrangements that make Carefree Since ’83 such a beautiful (if brief) album.  Chimes twinkle.  A deep bass steers the rhythm.  An innocent flute adds intrigue, reminiscent on “Happens All the Time” of Peter and the Wolf’s playful, silver sylvan wanderings. Crisp drumming sounds out as though its beats are on the side of a steel garbage can or an antique firearm.  Guitar and ukelele blend together, line dancing toward melody and away in sweet, gentle, slightly-out-of-tune imagery richer than the Americone dream.  As a fanatic wordsmith, the lyrics are the lunar standout for me.  Gracious Calamity has all the poetic lyricism of a Joanna Newsom ballad, complete with wacked out Biblical references, yet distinct from Newsom’s soulful harp-backed trilling.  At times GC sing a sorrowful chant floating on the front porch, and at others a ode to solitary strength (“I’ve got enough people to love/ I don’t need any other/ Don’t need another lover/ Don’t need nobody to keep me warm… In the middle of the night, in the middle of the summer”).  Rhyme schemes are toyed with cleverly and spun into woolly spiderwebs.  Songs sing out to lovers, dying relatives, travelers with perforated heels, the once-beloved who must now be replaced.  The tidy record stretches out in a summertime hammock, kicks its hemp sandals off, and in its own lovely way, rocks OUT.

Listen to “Happens All the Time”

Listen to “Stone That Grazes My Mind”

Buy “Carefree Since ’83” on Bandcamp

Party At Ground Zero: Fishbone, Longevity Heroes

31 Jul

One of the films screening at a festival at which I’m working here in Boston is EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE.  As a music lover, I was offended by myself for not having been familiar with these guys.  I would say that they’re criminally underrated, but the documentary about the band taught me that:

a) everyone making music from 1982-1993 is in love with these guys’ work, and that

b) the band was found “not guilty” of kidnapping guitarist Kendall Jones after he joined a cult-like group, ostensibly to rescue him from the brainwashing perversion of bigamy and big time Christianity that he fell prey to after his mother’s death.  Nolo homo.

From tight, expressive and often hilarious graphics to a narrative flow that really felt for the musicians even as it dealt honestly with the craziness around them, EVERYDAY SUNSHINE was excellent.  Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler neither shied away from nor overdramatized the band’s story (Behind the Music?  You can’t be anything but under and all around Fishbone’s music, with their energetic stage diving and slam dancing antics.)  Groundbreaking, all black, all male Fishbone were at first hard to get a feel for by this Gen Y filmgoer with Gen X taste but less 80s familiarity.  However, years of interviews, concert footage, and animated recreation of pivotal event’s in the band’s history were effectively used to boldly and necessarily illuminate this L.A. story.

I thought Angelo Moore’s theramin dope initially, but later found myself turned off by his self-centered “madd” tics and wrench-throwing dynamic.  Yet the film never leaves Angelo behind as a credible, vital participant in the continuing tale of this funk, punk, never completely drunk heart and soul-pouring makers of music and culture.  I was surprised to find myself left with a ripped dude with a lone dreadlock like a unicorn’s horn as the most solid, reliable band member (Norwood founded Fishbone) and film character.  Ultimately the story of Fishbone to date is one of keepin’ on keepin’ on, in spite of sales-dipping shitty treatment from Columbia and the rest of the recording industry, adverse personal developments, creative conflicts, infighting and jealousy, substance abuse and mental health issues, some pretty bad outfits and a whole bevy of other reasons to break the band up.  It’s really incredible that they would keep Fishbone alive after 25 years, and not a single smash hit.  Yet they soldier on, bringing Fishbone’s hyperunique voice to the masses.  Or, at least for now, to music insiders and small crowds in Eastern Europe.

Watch the video for Fishbone’s 1985 song, “.”

More next week on the experience of being a white chick working for a film fest showcasing people of color.