Bronson (2008, Nicholas Winding Refn)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

There are probably two types of people: people who think Winding Refn is a genius and people who think he is ponderous, boring and way too interested in style over substance. You can count me among the latter. Despite all the praise over Valhalla Rising and Drive, I found both movies to be flawed. I wanted to like the former more than I actually did, for example. Anyway, I appreciate someone who is trying to chart their own course, even if I don’t like his aesthetic, so I still watch his movies. And, for once, watching Bronson, I think maybe Read More

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008, Stefan Forbes)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This is a TV-quality documentary that offers a lot of insight into the man it’s about, but also the South and modern American politics. There’s a lot here to chew on that’s worthwhile. But, there’s also a number of problems, including a lack of context for non-American viewers and an odd structure that veers between straight-chronological and episodic. The lessons of Atwater’s life, if there are any, are extremely relevant to the US today so, for that reason alone, this is worth watching. 7/10 Read More

Body of Lies (2008 Ridley Scott)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

I have no idea whether or not this film is accurate as to the day to day actions of CIA operatives in the Middle East – I doubt it, but it is a fictional film – but, for much of its run, it is an effective political thriller with a strong sense of place and grounded in what feels like a realistic portrayal of CIA operations in Iraq and Jordan during the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. Crowe and DeCaprio are both excellent, as is the supporting cast, which makes it easy to like the movie, even while Read More

Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008, Chris Bell)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This is an entertaining and thought provoking documentary about steroids in particular, and performance-enhancing drugs in general, in the US. The filmmaker uses the often annoying framing device of how the filmmaker and his family is affected by the issue, but here it actually works as it turns out the family is a bit of a microcosm of American society at large. This movie raises many legitimate questions about why steroids in sports are bad, when numerous other substances are legal when either the health risks are worse or they are just as “performance enhancing.” It’s well worth it if Read More

Mad Men (2007)

Categories: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and TV.

I watched Mad Men over an even longer period than most of you, so my memory of the individual episodes is not perfect. I know there were some weaker ones in there, and there even parts of seasons (perhaps even whole ones) that I didn’t enjoy on the level of the best parts of the show. But I want to talk about the show as a whole, and not dwell on its occasional missteps or the fact that it ran on too long (like most other American TV shows…). Read More

Inkheart (2008, Iain Softley)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

I can imagine the pitch meeting where someone thought this was a good idea. And though I later learned it came from a book (I have not read it, obviously), it doesn’t make me think that pitch meeting was any more reasonable. Ideas like this always sound good, but it takes a lot imagination to make them work on the page. And, aside from the obvious problems of having characters whose very acts of reading aloud create (what happens if they read philosophy? math? etc), the filmmakers failed to be imaginative enough. Everything feels like second rate fantasy, looks like Read More

Trumpet Concertos (2008) by Alison Balsom, Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

Categories: 1710s, 1760s, 1790s, 1803, 2008, and Music.

This is a collection of Classical and Baroque trumpet concerti, and it’s a good selection of these pieces, giving a good idea of how the music progressed…only the sequencing is, um, kind of backwards. I’ve heard both the Hummel and Haydn before and so won’t be commenting on them. They’re both classics, though. The oldest concerto here, the Torelli (sometimes called a “sinfonia”), which dates from the 1710s or earlier (he died in 1709 and I can find no record of when he actually wrote anything), is sequenced third. That’s odd. I’m not sure why. Anyway, from it’s opening notes, Read More

Before Tomorrow (2008, Marie-Helene Cousineau, Madeline Ivalu)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This is the third Inuktitut-language film to be released, to my knowledge, and the first one not to be made directly by the people behind Atanarjuat (though I believe they funded this one). All three films embody a similar aesthetic, even if this film tells a significantly different story than the other two. There’s a certain fatigue I feel, not for Inuit stories, but the way Canadian filmmakers seem to feel they have to tell them. This will sound awful, but I feel like once you’ve seen Atanarjuat, which is the gold standard here anyway, you’ve experienced this style of Read More

The Beaches of Agnes (2008, Agnes Varda)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

First off: I have never seen an Agnes Varda film before. So you would think that would make me the wrong audience for a film by Agnes Varda about Agnes Varda, however… This is a delightfully eccentric autobiography. Varda uses whims of fancy and various experimental film techniques to complement her narration, the usual pictures and interviews, and clips from her films, to create an engaging, entertaining, self-portrait that also serves as a personal history of the 20th century in France and the US from WWII to nearly the present. It says a lot about Varda’s abilities as a filmmaker Read More

The Definitive Collection (2008) by Billie Holiday

Categories: 1935, 1937, 1939, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1956, 1958, 2008, and Music.

Full disclosure: I do not like vocal jazz (as you know). This is a compilation of 22 tracks over the course of Holiday’s career. I have no idea how definitive it actually is, as I do not know her at all (beyond her reputation as one of the great singers of the century, and “Strange Fruit”). I also have no plans on listening to her entire oeuvre (and, given when she recorded, curation is necessary anyway, because much of her music was recorded pre-album). Read More

Stay Positive (2008) by The Hold Steady

Categories: 2008 and Music.

The Springsteen influence is heavily tamped down on this record. It’s still there in in Finn’s songs – he has to be the most Springsteenian songwriter I’ve yet devoted time too – but the musical influences have expanded. The punk edge is definitely greater (though, do not mistake me, I am not calling this “punk”) and there are various other musical influences we would expect from American indie rock in the Aughts. And this is all well and good because they have stopped sounding like a louder, grittier E Street Band. So good for them. I still don’t like Finn’s Read More

Appaloosa (2008, Ed Harris)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This appears to be Harris’ attempt at making a classic western, though there are plenty of elements that update it, making it more revisionist than it really seems. The film has the pace of a classic western and the same kind of plot/scenarios and most of the characters. But Harris’ character (who has more than a little Seth Bullock in him, at least in one scene) is a little more flawed than the classic western heroes (though Mortensen’s isn’t really) and Zellweger’s character is entirely not a woman you’d see in an old western. And the way the plot unfolds Read More

Ravis and Other Tales for the Stage (2008) by Carl Kihlstedt, Matthias Bossi, Dan Rathburn

Categories: 2008 and Music.

This is a collection of theatre music for different productions – mostly instrumentals, soundscapes, with one or two songs. The music itself is engaging and generally the kind of stuff I like. The primary problem is there is no overlying theme. It feels completely scattershot, and that makes sense, given the nature of the collection. It basically feels like an outtakes/rarities collection, even though it is a collection of stuff specifically written for public performance. So this is only of interest to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum diehards (three of the five members participate). The music isn’t really anything like SGM, but Read More

Iron Man (2008, Jon Favreau)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

I think I would have enjoyed this more had I not seen The Avengers first and so been previously exposed to Downey’s charms in this role. That being said, I think I like this more than the early X-Men films and certainly more than most of the other Marvel films I’ve seen. It’s entertaining and enjoyable and it does a good job for this side (the light side) of the comic book movie spectrum. 7/10 Read More

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008, Andrew Adamson)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

I don’t know whether it’s CS Lewis’ fault or the adapters, but despite an apparently bigger budget, this is somehow weaker than the first. The basic plotting is all wrong: people who should do things do the opposite: for example the man who didn’t know Narnians existed knows more than the Kings and Queens do about Narnia; time definitely shifts depending on where we are during the climactic scenes; there are apparently all these citizens of whatever the hell the human city is called, but they are shown twice, and the first time is 80 minutes into the movie; etc. Read More

Haydn: Piano Concertos in D / F (2008) by Ralf Gothoni, Finlandia Sinfonietta

Categories: 2008 and Music.

This is a hodgepodge of the 2nd, 6th and 11th concertos for keyboard, all played on a piano (shock horor). (In case you are not a classical music snob and have no idea what I’m joking about: pianos were invented well before this music was written but weren’t very common until shortly after the 11th concerto was composed. Haydn was unlikely to have written for the piano, I’m guessing, until the 1790s, whereas the music on this disc was composed well before that.) The 11th concerto starts the disc. It’s the only one I know of that might have actually Read More

Adoration (2008, Atom Egoyan)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

Oh, Egoyan’s attempts to understand the past through contrivances and meta-narratives! Gotta love’em. Whereas with Ararat, Egoyan tried to get us to understand the Armenian genocide through making a movie about making a movie about it (yeesh), here he tries to get us to understand suicide bombing and terrorism, and the resulting prejudice, by making a movie about a kid who Spoiler Alert! lies about his dad being an infamous terrorist. I don’t know why Egoyan thinks this is a better or even a decent way of getting us closer to “truth”, whether it be factual or emotional. I find Read More

Addicted to Plastic (2008, Ian Connacher)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This should be an important film – the problem of plastic is a major problem for our time. Unfortunately, this is one of those ‘journey of self-discovery’ documentaries, where the host is omnipresent and his “I’m just an everyday guy” shtick is difficult. (As are the children’s cartoons created to explain stuff to us.) Fortunately, the host is realistic in his condemnation of the industry, understanding that everyone uses this material, no matter what the long-term risks. This is the tragedy of the commons (well, one half of it) and it’s good of him to recognize it. The film is Read More

Adam Resurrected (2008, Paul Schrader)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

I struggle with Schrader as a filmmaker – the man has written some of the great American films, but those films are always directed by someone else (Scorsese among others). As a director I always wish that someone else had made his movies (with the exception of Mishima), and this one is no different. This is a film that could be great I think, and I haven’t read the novel so I have no idea how the novel is. I more feel like the material could formed into something on the level of a 21st century Pawnbroker. And Goldblum isn’t Read More

Earfood (2008) by the Roy Hargrove Quintet

Categories: 2008 and Music.

Hargrove is significantly more confident – more his own man – and more “modern” (in the sense of “modern jazz” rather than in the sense of modern) on this set than he was in his early days. He certainly takes (relatively) more risks, his band is significantly more out there than in the past, and everything points to Hargrove having a better idea of what he wants to do within the bop tradition than when he first emerged. But that being said, this is still very much within the bop tradition. And it’s hard to really get what all the Read More

Family and Friends: Rambling Boy (2008) by Charlie Haden

Categories: 2008 and Music.

There is nothing wrong with this album. It’s clear everyone involved in the making of it had a great time, and everyone is very competent, sometimes even very appealing. But this album doesn’t really do anything for me on any level. I can hear rawer versions of the standards on a very many different records. I get that Haden loved this stuff. That’s great. But these interpretations just don’t move me. Everything is just too damn professional and polished. 5/10 Read More

Gould; MacMillan (2008) by Quatuor Alcan

Categories: 1921, 1930, 1956, 2008, and Music.

This is a decent compilation of Canadian string quartets from the 20th century. As I have said elsewhere, I like the Gould quartet though I feel like I should be a little less enthusiastic about it. The MacMillan pieces are fine, but they are typical of most if not all Canadian “classical” music I have heard – it’s obvious that the only reason they are played by anyone is that Canadians are patriotic. Nothing about MacMillan’s pieces would probably be notable if he were British or American, I suspect. Enjoyable, but nothing special. 7/10 Read More

Why I Gave Up on Sons of Anarchy (2008)

Categories: 2008 and TV.

I had heard good things about Songs of Anarchy from various people before the wife and I finally got around to watching it sometime last year. She liked the first season a lot more than me – I found it over the top, soap opera-y, but at least it was entertaining. But the second season feels like a complete retread of the first, with more drama – this time internal – that is resolved in the most ridiculous Deus ex Machina kind of way. (I guess it’s technically not Deus ex Machina, since we the audience new about it from Read More

Complete String Quartets (2008) by Philip Glass, performed by the Smith Quartet

Categories: 2008 and Music.

First off, this is no longer ‘complete’ if it ever really was – Glass has apparently written a 6th quartet. (Also, there are other pieces he has written for string quartet that do not appear here, but they are not numbered among his string quartets, apparently.) Glass’ first quartet is a really great piece of music, in part because it doesn’t sound so Glassian as almost all of the rest of his music does. My guess is this was written so early in his development that he had failed to fully establish his style. And normally one might assume that Read More

Outlander (2008, Howard McCain)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

I really wish movies like this would try just a little. Just a little. This is essentially Vikings and Aliens but it wouldn’t be so horrible if a little more effort was put into it: Canada substitutes for Norway – which might not be so bad if the CGI weren’t so terrible but it regularly feels like the actors are standing in front of a good old Hollywood backdrop – the character motivations are the same as every other movie like this, everything is amped up to the ridiculous and, yes, the CGI is legendarily bad. But it’s the ridiculousness Read More

Indignation (2008) by Philip Roth

Categories: 2008, Books, and Fiction.

This has some great moments but on the whole it feels a little forced, for lack of a better word. I feel like the whole “dead narrator” thing is unnecessary, though I’m not sure how I’d fix it. When I was on the bus that I read this on, I was having trouble putting my feelings into words, in part because of jet lag. I guess what bugs me is that I do not believe in an afterlife and, though I find Roth’s idea of an afterlife in this book a little thought-provoking. but I don’t find it complimentary to Read More

Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009)

Categories: 2003 and TV.

Battlestar Galcctica, the reboot, is probably the greatest science fiction TV show of all time. (That obviously depends on what we mean by “science fiction”, as if I included the original Prisoner in that genre, maybe I would be forced to rethink my position. And no, no version of Star Trek has ever particularly impressed me.) It has the highest production values of any science fiction show to date, it has the most complex mythology outside of Star Trek, and its characters are not one-dimensional – in fact most of them are quite complex. At its very best, it was Read More

Breaking Bad (2008)

Categories: 2008 and TV.

This review obviously contains spoilers. Breaking Bad is a product of what we might call the “second wave” of the golden age of television; the time when other channels besides HBO got in on the act of making movie-quality, mostly serialized TV, with boundary-pushing subject matter. Because Breaking Bad first premiered nearly a decade after The Sopranos launched the era, it was obviously made with the benefit of the lessons learned from the first wave shows. Because of this, I suspect it will hold up a little better than, say, the first season of The Sopranos, which now looks like Read More

The Chemistry of Common Life (2008) by Fucked Up

Categories: 2008 and Music.

I really have to start coming to these hyped albums when they are first out, certainly before I have had a chance a read / hear how great an album or band is a million times (or perhaps before the record wins the Polaris). On first listen I was extremely underwhelmed – maybe not David Comes to Life underwhelmed, but close. And it really has nothing to do with whether or not this is “punk”. That seems to me to me a really stupid question. Rather, the issues I have with this record stem most likely from being told how Read More

30 Rock (2006)

Categories: 2006 and TV.

When Seinfeld ended, I was done with the sit-com. I honestly didn’t see what it could possibly offer me any more. Television was getting smarter – and would get significantly smarter over the next decade – and I just couldn’t handle being told when to laugh or having to suspend my disbelief to laugh at a set-up that never appreciably changed. I think I spent the last years of high school watching Seinfeld and Simpsons re-runs (and I was still watching new Simpsons episodes back then). I honestly don’t remember what other comedy I was watching back then; maybe some SNL and MadTV, Read More