Saturday, October 15, 2005

U2 Live @ MSG

Yesterday I saw U2 live at Madison Square Garden. I've been a fan of the band for a while, but was never able to see them live, and considering their reputation as one of the best live acts around, I was very excited to get to see them. It took me five hours to make it from Middletown to Madison Square Garden, starting with an hour long bus delay, an hour wait for the train at New Haven and a trip along the entire New Haven line. Anyway, I got there about five minutes before U2 went on, so it was perfect timing, though I'd have preferred to have gotten there a bit earlier, so I wouldn't have to hurry so much.

This was the first concert I've been to where I wasn't in the GA section, and that was a change. I'm used to being in the mess of people, whereas here I was in a seat, near people, but not really caught up in that group mentality. I got the cheapest tickets (still rather expensive at $55), so my seats weren't the best. I was pretty close to the action, only slightly off the floor and not that far back, but I was behind the stage. So, I saw the backs of everyone as they performed, which was a bit odd. It put me at a distance from things.

But that doesn't mean that the show wasn't great. The level of charisma that they had far surpasses any other band I've seen live, there was such energy and assuredness in the way they played. The songs were all tight, but with enough variation to make the live show unique from the recorded version.

The way they had the stage set up worked great. It's a big circle, with the stage at once end, and a whole bunch of people in the middle, and the band members would walk around the circle at points during the show. The circle had all kinds of lights on it and they did some very cool effects throughout, with the lights setting a different mood for each song. They had a bunch of spotlights right in front of where I was, and it was interesting to see that they had a whole team of people sitting on these lighting structures suspended from the roof, operating the spotlights. That's got to be an annoying job, not one where you'd want a fear of heights.

Music wise, I was a bit disappointed in the song selection. There are songs that are essential to play, like Pride Where the Streets Have No Name, and songs from the new album they're definitely going to play, which leaves only a few spots for some of the less popular stuff. So, most of the variant songs here were from their early albums, with Electric Co. and Gloria, songs that aren't bad, but I'm not that big a fan of. There was only one song from Achtung Baby, one from Zooropa and none from Pop.

Even though the crowd was really into it throughout, this was clearly a group that knew the hits more than a thorough knowledge of the entire back catalog. When they went to a less popular song, like Miss Sarajevo or a lot of the stuff off the new album, the crowd just wasn't that into it, whereas on Sunday, Bloody Sunday or I Still Haven't Found what I'm Looking For, you could barely hear Bono because the crowd was so loud. On 'Still,' he stopped singing and the crowd did an entire verse on their own, which was very cool to hear. So, even though I'm not as a big a fan of those songs, hearing the crowd reaction to them, it's clear why they need to be played at the show. I think the new songs are actually better than most of the classics, but the crowd really wasn't giving much on them, or at least that's what it was in the area I was at. The crowd in the ellipse seemed to be a lot more into every song.

I was really impressed with the musical skill throughout. The guitar lines were great and there were a bunch of cool things, like having a seperate drum on 'Love And Peace Or Else,' that was probably the best song they did. That was another one that used the circle well.

Most of the songs in the encores were better than the stuff in the actual show. First Time was great, and the acoustic version of 'Stuck in a Moment' was even better than the album version, particularly when the bass and drum came in after nearly two songs dormant. And the combination of Yahweh and an amped up version of Vertigo to end the show was great.

On the whole, it's an astonishing thing to watch 19,000 people completely get caught up in this show, and the performance was that good. Seeing U2 from inside the circle would probably be the best show in the world, and even from behind the stage it was phenomenal. I'm thinking about trying to get tickets to their November show because I really want to see them again.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Top 10 U2 Songs

Tomorrow I'll be seeing U2 live. I've heard they're one of the best live acts out there today, so I'm psyched. To commemorate the occasion, here's a list of my top 10 U2 songs, if you've only heard their big hits, check out some of the more obscure tracks here, because they're brilliant.

#10. Until the End of the World (Achtung Baby) - One of U2's trademarks is the delay guitar and this song features one of their best riffs, essentially functioning as the song's chorus. After the lyrics about "the end of the world," there's a great instrumental part, with some non-lyric vocals. The final verse ("In my dreams I was drowning in sorrows...") is the highlight here. It's a great example of building a song primarily around an excellent guitar riff.

#9. Miss Sarajevo (Passengers) - This is a song off the album U2 did with Brian Eno, mostly ambient stuff that's ok, but this track is exceptional. The lyrics are great, particularly the repetition with the "There is a time for..." bits. The high point is the Pavarotti cameo, which takes the song beyond just a slow ballad and into the stratosphere.

#8. Discotheque (Pop) - This was the first single off the much maligned Pop album, an album that I'd rank among U2's best, and the opening track is the high point. This is a great example of a rock song built around dance rhythms, that uses a lot of repeitition within a few distinct sections. There's the verses, "You can...," the "Know you're chewing bubble gum" part, the chorus ("boom Discotheque") and finally the B section ("Looking for the man..."). All the sections are strong individually, but it's the combination and variation that makes it work. It's a song with a lot of hard edge, but with a pop structure. My favorite bit is the "Boom cha cha boom Discotheque" part.

#7. City of Blinding Lights (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) - When I first saw the track list for the new album, this one sounded instantly promising. I always love titles that involve light, and this sounded like it would be a huge, anthemic track, and upon listening, it was. I think this does everything that 'When the Streets Have No Name' does well and then goes beyond it by combining the anthemtic style of 80s U2 with the experimentation of 90s U2. I love the buildup in the first part of the song up to "I'm getting ready to leave the ground," which leads to a great instrumental section and the soaring chorus. The way the words are spaced out on "Oh you look so beautiful tonight," is another high point.

#6. One (Achtung Baby) - This song was huge for a reason, it's a great low key, yet driving track. This is probably Bono's best vocal, or at least most emotional vocal, on any U2 song, and the guitar line adds a lot. And in the interaction between the two you get magic, as in the segue from "Carry each" into a great guitar part. That's consistently the most interesting thing in U2's music, the way the guitar and vocal compliment each other, such that each song seems like a duet. The crescendo at the end from "all you got is hurt" to the chorus stands out as well.

#5. Stay (Zooropa) - This is another song in the lo-fi lounge mode of One, but Stay goes even more loungetastic in its stylings. The interaction between vocal and guitar here is phenomenal, most notably in the chorus, the way "Then the night would give you up..." segues into a beautiful arching guitar line. I also love the way the verse segues into the chorus, the music building to the point that it's inevitable for something interesting to happen. The second chorus is the high point here, and it all dissipates in the comforting final verse. So the song takes you on a journey from this dark night to a bright morning.

#4. Walk On (All that You Can't Leave Behind) - This song has so many things I love about it. The slow opening, backed by some electronic sounds makes the bigger verse rewarding, and the chorus here is the best of U2's anthemic songs. But the best part is the ending with its repeated line of "All that..." phrases. I always love the repeating of stuff like that, such as on Pink Floyd's "Eclipse," and it works wonderfully here, particularly with the vocal interjections over the repeated phrases.

#3. Ultraviolet (Achtung Baby) - I'm mystified that this song was never released as a single because it's incredibly catchy and captures everything that the best U2 songs have. The guitar line is a phenomenal example of delay work, nicely dropping in after the a capella opening. I love the chorus here, with the repetition of "Baby, baby, baby light my way." It's such an exhilirating song, and the start of the phenomenal three song run that ends Achtung Baby.

2. Acrobat/Love is Blindness (Achtung Baby) - I know two songs sort of breaks the rule, but I see these as a suite since they flow into each other so well. This follows Ultraviolet on the album and it's the only U2 album that closes on a high note. They usually front stack their records, so the end just sort of fades out. However, here it ends on a great dark progression. I love the way Acrobat's opening verse builds within itself, and following it, the way the instruments echo "Don't let the bastards grind you down," with the keyboard progression repeating those notes. Also, the lyrics in this song are phenomenal. There's a desperation in the delivery that really sells it, and is complimented nicely by the hard edged guitar which cuts into the song following the choruses. Love is Blindness follows with more darkness, this time a low key, electronic track, and fades out on an eerie instrumental bit. The two of them together are beautifully dark and a great end to U2's best album.

1. Lemon (Zooropa) - This is a crazy song, another one built out of disparate parts. There's the verses ("She wore lemon..."), the "I feel like I'm slowly..." part, " the chorus ("Midnight is where the day begins...") and the b section with "Man paints a picture..." I love each of these individual parts and together they form the best song U2 ever recorded. The vocal goes to so many different places, from the soaring "Midnight" to the detached, almost monotone "Man makes a picture..." and it's all backed by similarly varying instruments. My favorite instrumental part is what's going on behind the "Midnight..." part. Listening to the song as a whole it's like nothing else I've ever heard, the combination of production and performance skill is unparalleled and the song itself cobbles together a bunch of disparate pieces into a great cohesive work. This is one you really have to hear for yourself to understand.

Well that's the top ten. It's exclusively stuff from U2 Phase 2 and U2 Phase 3. I don't dislike their early work, but there was a massive jump with Achtung Baby, and the stuff from then on eclipses what came before. Even though Achtung and Zooropa are my two favorite albums, I have liked the things they've done recently, when they've promoted a retreat from the experimental period. I think the past two albums have fused what worked about early U2 with what worked about experimental U2 and that's made them successful again. I would love to see more stuff like Zooropa, but it just doesn't seem to be happening, so I'll enjoy the top notch stuff they did on the most recent album.

Judging from the setlists online, there seems to be a fairly even spread through the eras. There's not much Zooropa or Pop, but there is a lot of Achtung, and Miss Sarajevo, which should be great. And perhaps they'll mix things up seeing as how this is their fifth New York show in a week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ghost World

Yesterday I watched the film Ghost World for the first time in about two a half years. I first saw the film in 2001. I loved it then and I still love it now, though it was a bit odd watching the film and being older than the characters in it. However, the thing that separates Ghost World from other 'teen movies' is the fact that here the characters just happen to be teenagers, but their concerns are universal. This is a film I always really relate to, it's quietly brilliant.

Ghost World is one of my top 20 films of all time, and the only film comprable to it within the twenty is Chasing Amy. Both are films that on the surface seem rather disposable, good, but not spectacular, either in terms of scope or filmmaking technique. While I think Ghost World is better shot than Chasing Amy, both films are extremely minimalist, relying almost exclusively on dialogue to forward the plot. Both films are about shifting relationships, the hazy line between friendship and romantic relationships, and the complications that emerge between friends. Even though neither one seems particularly ambitious in terms of plot, the character interactions are apocalyptic for those involved, and each film follows the total destruction of the status quo over the course of the film. And the other big similarity is the way both films seamlessly navigate between some of the funniest dialogue ever captured in film and utterly devestating emotional drama.

The sharpest writing in Ghost World comes in the early going as we get to know Enid and Rebecca. I love the opening sequence, both for the great music and visuals, and for what it says about our main character. Right from the beginning it sets Enid as someone who's so hip and cool she's spending her time watching 60s Indian movies. She places herself above the mainstream, and as we soon find out, clearly looks down on everything that mainstream culture stands for, something brilliantly articulated in her apalled reaction to the graduation speeches. And yet, even as she hates it, she wouldn't want it any other way, because her identity is composed as a reaction to the blandness of mainstream culture.

The party scene brilliantly captures the feeling of leaving high school, in that it's simultaneously something you've been waiting for forever, a great event, and a bit sad because it means you'll never again see all the people who were just there. What once was a group now splits into disparate individuals, all going on their own path. I love when Melora says they should get together over the summer and Enid says "That'll happen," knowing that that's something people say but don't really mean.

As the film moves along, we start to see conflict emerge between Rebecca and Enid. Recognizing that high school is over and it's time to start growing up, Rebecca makes plans to move towards mainstream society. In high school it's ok to be the crazy girl who hates everything, but when it's time, she recognizes that it's time to stop looking down at the people who work at the coffee shop and instead become one. This is further evident in the scene where she goes shopping with Enid and is picking out bland looking plasticware, much to the offense of Enid. Rebecca is less concerned with being hip than with ensuring that she's successful on her own.

However, Enid is much too self conscious to allow her to become so shamelessly mainstream. After Rebecca suggests that they should dress like yuppies in order to get an apartment, she goes out and dyes her hair green, totally rejecting the safe, mainstream image that Rebecca wanted to project. This probably stems from her jealousy of boys' attraction to Rebecca's blonde haired, blue eyed beauty, leaving her uncomfortably on the fringe. I think her fear is that Rebecca could leave her behind and live a normal life, as if the persona she had was just a construct, and the text would support that idea. At the beginning of the film, Rebecca's eager to follow the 'satanists,' but at the end she's most excited about a fold out ironing board, and this leaves Enid alone. She'd been able to be a defiant outsider because she had someone to support her, but when she's alone, her fears about being alone come to the surface.

This issue also comes up in her interaction with Seymour, most notably in the bar scene. In Seymour, she saw someone she could relate to. He's totally outside mainstream societal norms, and his obsession with kitsch objects fits her perfectly. Also, he's someone who needs her more than she needs him. She takes on the mission of finding him a date, but when she actually succeeds in putting him together with a woman in the bar, she finds herself uncomfortably alone, staring at people who are having a much better time than her.

The scene is genius in the way it conveys her simultaneous disdain for and jealousy of mainstream culture. She watches these people drinking beer and playing pool and hates them, yet they're having so much more fun than her, and they're connecting with others. She is too self conscious to allow herself the pleasures that other people take. She couldn't enjoy something so mainstream because to do so would be to lose some of that which makes her unique. She would rather confront societal expectations, as with the punk apparel, than conform to them, and that makes it impossible for her to fit in in that environment. She seems completely out of place, with her 50s style glasses, pale skin and dark hair, next to the tan, blonde people who populate the bar. This same dichotomy can be seen in the graduation party scene, when she looks at a jock type popular couple together, mocking them, but at the same time standing alone.

The film seems to set up blonde women as representative of mainstream society, with Enid as the deviation from that. Dana lures Seymour away from his unique lifestyle, and towards an existence that is more acceptably mainstream. He's someone who's so lonely, and has such a low opinion of himself, that he's willing to go along with this relationship, even though he has nothing in common with Dana. It's only when Enid expresses a sexual interest in him that he's able to end it with Dana. If she hadn't, it's unlikely that he would find the courage to reject her.

The film takes a mocking and elitist tone, clearly looking down on a lot of people, but at the same time, it recognizes that that stance is flawed. Enid finds herself alone at the end of the film because she has alienated everyone around her, and ruined the relationship she had with Seymour by making him think she would give him something she never could. She so strongly values her individuality that she's unable to compromise, and that puts her at odds with the world at large.

In the end, she sees Seymour as who she might be in thirty years, working a boring office job at Computer Station, collecting strange stuff, but ultimately disconnected from the world, unable to reconcile her disdain for the general populace with her strong desire to connect with other people. And that's the reason that she walks away from it all. In another place, she could get a fresh start and redefine herself, freed from the shackles of the identity she'd created. I don't think it would be a total redefinition, but it would be a chance to start relationships anew, and it's her willingness to leave the prescribed path and try something different that makes her so unique. Everyone else is pushing her towards college and a job, thinking of that as the only way. Instead, she chooses something different, and boards the bus, unsure of where she's going, but that doesn't matter, because all she wants is something different.

Watching the film this time it reminded me a lot of Six Feet Under. There's the obvious Thora Birch->American Beauty->Alan Ball connection, but there's also strong similarities between Enid and Claire and Brenda. It's the same defiance of mainstream norms and fear of being a cliche, subtly navigating the line between sincere and ironic. Enid's ironic commentary on 70s punk is quite similar to Claire dying her hair blue as an ironic commentary on blue hair. Plus, their pretentious art school misadventures are not far removed.

I've said it before in talking about Six Feet Under, but I think the navigation between original and cliche, sincere and ironic, mainstream and subcultural is full of dramatic potential. These are conflicts that don't lend themselves to easy resolutions, but can produce challenging stories.

Ghost World is one of the funniest movies ever made and also incredibly sad. I don't usually enjoy a film that's just funny, and that's because stuff like The Office and this film showed me how comedy can be used as a way to open deeper wounds and raise relevant issues about the direction of a person's life. This is a film I loved when I first saw it and watching it today, it's if anything, even more relevant.

Monday, October 10, 2005

X-Men 177-194

The journey through X-Men continues, and I've now read 100 issues Claremont's run on the book. 100 issues is a huge accomplishment, the only run on a book I know of that's longer than Claremont's on X-Men is Dave Sim on Cerebus, with his thirty year 300 issue journey. And at 100 issues, Claremont is still going strong, though in these issues, some of the problems that would plague the book down the line begin to emerge.

The first storyline in this chunk of the book concerns the X-Men's fight with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. This is rather unremarkable until the issue that closes the storyline, 179, where Kitty is forced to marry Caliban, the Morlock. It's a bizarre setup, perhaps best exemplified by the cover:

But the story itself is pretty sweet, as Kitty chooses to honor the bargain she made to save the X-Men back in the first Morlocks storyline, and Caliban recognizes that Kitty doesn't belong here and lets her go.

On the whole, this set of issues isn't as strong as the Paul Smith era. The characters are always split apart, and we only get a few moments of strong character development. Kitty and Wolverine barely appear, and only Storm has major changes.

A large part of this problem is the fact that a lot of storytelling is happening in other books, I feel like I'm missing a lot by not reading New Mutants, and I'd really like to see what happened in the Wolverine/Kitty Pryde miniseries. If this were the 80s, I'd definitely be picking up all these books, because Claremont seems to have done a great job of creating a coherent universe. So, when Wolverine appears in only one book a month, not seven, but that means that we miss out on what he's up to in this volume. Same thing with Kitty, she spends a bunch of time away, and that's tough because she's probably my favorite character at this point in the run. I wouldn't say this is a flaw in Claremont's writing, I know if I was reading both books I'd love the intertitle continuity, but reading in this format, it's difficult. I really wish they'd put out an Essential New Mutants book as companion to this.

This volume is interesting because it's the first time the idea of being "hated and feared" is really beocming essential to the story. There'd always been some anti-mutant prejudice in the title, but it's becoming much more important now, and nearly every issue has a scene with some government types talking about how something needs to be done about the mutant problem. It's really interesting stuff to read, that's the strength of the book, the conflict between the old and new.

However, even as these storylines work, the book is dragged down by a series of awful storylines. The stuff with the wraiths drags on for a whole bunch of issues and leads nowhere. But the worst offender is Kulan Gath, a three issue storyline that quite literally goes nowhere, because at the end it's wiped out of the time line. It's an apallingly bad storyline, with awful mystical stuff and the main focus is on the Avengers and New Mutants, not even the X-Men.

The storyline also sees the female characters frequently dressed up in lingerie and thigh high boots. I've got the feeling that Mrs. Claremont ends up wearing this stuff every once in a while because it turns in his work so much, it's not just coincidence. It's required wear for the Hellfire Club, and Rachel, Storm, Callisto, Selene and even Kitty end up wearing some variation of the outfit. This cover basically sums it up:

I bet there were a lot of awkward moments when kids tried to get their parents to buy them that comic. A lot of the time this stuff is probably subconscious, but it's clearly a motif in Claremont's work.

Anyway, while this stuff was rather crap, we do get some great material when Storm loses her powers. Over the course of thirty issues or so, Storm has gone through massive changes, first changing her appearance and when she loses her powers, it forces her to struggle to redefine herself outside of her role as an X-Man. This culminates in the brilliant issue Lifedeath, which consists almost entirely of one night's interaction between Storm and Forge, folllowing them as they grow closer together and then ultimate are torn apart. It's a brilliant issue, the best by far in this chunk of the series. There's very strong emotional tension and it's devestating when Storm rejects Forge. We want them to get together, and it's not really anyone's fault when they're torn apart.

Forge is someone I'd seen a bit of in the TV series, but never in the comics, and he's a compelling character in his appearance here. He fits in perfectly with the anti-mutant sentiment in the government, working as someone torn between the security of his work and the moral obligation to do what's right.

The other major new character in this stretch of the book is Rachel Summers. I think bringing her in was a mistake. Clearly she's designed to replace Jean Grey, but I don't think Jean needed any replacing, especially without Cyclops around. She's got some interesting issues as a result of her time in the Days of Future Past world, but she just makes things too complex, and starts the books on the path to numerous alternate future characters that would lead them away from the more grounded state of the Paul Smith era. Plus, she's not that interesting.

The thing I did really like seeing was Xavier in charge of the team on field missions. It's a great change in the status quo and puts everyone else in an uncomfortable position. Xavier at this point is one of the most interesting characters in the book, and I'm annoyed that he's spending so much of his time off in New Mutants.

So, these issues are still good, and there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, but the book's tight focus is starting to slip and the numerous mysitcal storylines take the focus away from the character interaction that's at the center of the book.

A History of Violence

Ever since hearing the buzz about this out of Cannes, I've been looking forward to seeing it, and thankfully, despite being an arty film, History of Violence made it out to the local cinema here, and as a result I was able to see it. The film's action genre trappings clearly helped it get more acceptance than your average Cronenberg film would, and while I don't think this movie's got blockbuster potential, it's clearly something that's accessible, yet challenging for your average viewer.

David Cronenberg's a filmmaker who seems like someone I would love. However, to date, I've only seen one of his films, Existenz, and I was not a fan. It was very gimmicky and uninvolving, and despite some good ideas, it never really gelled together. However, I do want to see some of his other stuff, like Videodrome and Naked Lunch, because he has a really good reputation. Plus, he had a great guest appearance on Alias.

Compared to Existenz and from what I know of his other work, History of Violence seems to be a departure, working outside the trappings of the horror/sci-fi genre. However, the film actually has a lot in common with what was explored in Existenz, however, here it's taken from a completely different angle.

The film starts off a bit slow, which is a neccesity for the plot, but the beginning wasn't that strong. That's one of the problems with having to set up a mundane status quo, if you spend too much time on it, it hurts the film's forward momentum, as in the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter, however, if you don't spend enough time, you get no sense of the change when the action elements emerge. So, I think this film finds a solid balance, you thoroughly understood this guy's life.

The film is interesting in the way it navigates around the generic conventions of the action film. The story at first seems to have very little in common with an action movie, and when Tom stops the diner robbery, it's a momentary blip in his normal life, not an impetus to enter a generic space. That makes the film's forward progress even more interesting. We stay in the 'normal' world of the first twenty minutes well after the first apperance of the action stuff.

I was under the impression that the film would be primarily about the effect of this diner robbery on a man's life, and had no knowledge of the whole Joey issue. I think there's plenty to explore in how this one act of violence changes the way someone perceives things, but what this film did touched on a bunch of bigger issues. I always love films that discuss identity issues, and the way in which people 'wear' false personas. Tom is a construct, entirely fictional, but for those who know him, he's more real than Joey. That would mean that Tom has become more real than Joey, and the only person he has to continue fooling is himself.

But his act of heroism sees the Joey persona reemerge, and the appearance of Fogerty threatens to destroy the life Tom has led. With the emergence of Joey, the film leaves the everyday realism of small town America for the hyped up intensity of the world of action film. First glimpsed in the diner fight, this comes to a head in the scene where Tom kills Fogerty. The film presents extremely graphic violence, and clearly takes pleasure in showing Tom's skill as a killer. The noise of buzzing flies and sight of rotting flesh ties this in with the decaying organic environments of Existenz.

When Tom kills those men, it is Joey emerging to protect the false Tom indentity. Edie's discovery of this alternate persona calls into the question her entire life, most notably articulated when she asks if Tom just made up the name 'Tom Stall,' and if he did, what does that mean for her identity and the kids'. One of the more questionable scenes in the film is the rape, where Edie essentially stops resisting Tom and seems to enjoy what he's doing to her.

I do question it, but at the same time, I think her motivation is apparent. In the previous scene she'd told the sheriff that there was no Joey, realizing that to expose Tom's secret would be the destruction of her life. In the following scene, she has the choice between rejecting Tom/Joey and again rendering her life false, or accepting this man as Tom and allowing their life to continue as was. In the end, she chooses to let him back into the house, and in the final scene, even though we're not sure what will happen next, it's clear that Edie has embraced the lie, and chosen to see Tom as the family man he's created, rather than the killer he was.

The film reminded me of Chanwook Park's Vengeance trilogy, in the way it's a film about the negative effects of violence, yet at the same time clearly fetishizes the filmic depiction of violent acts. Cronenberg stages the final showdown as a hyperbolic scene of murder excess, where Joey's full skill as a killer comes into play to destroy everyone who knows about his past. Ironically, it's only Joey who can protect Tom, and after he kills all Richie's people, he's essentially killed Joey as well. He can go back to the life he had, and no one will know about who he as, except for Edie, and she's chosen to embrace the lie.

The film is clearly a critique of American life, implying that our peace and stability is a false front, built on countless violent acts, with more and more violence neccesary to preserve the status quo. I think this was a top notch film, simultaneously entertaining and thought provoking. It reminds me of Straw Dogs, in the way it uses thriller trappings as a strong critique of American life.

Film 2005

So far, this has been a pretty weak year for movies, or at least for American movies, because it usually takes a year or two for stuff from Asia and the rest of the world to make it over here. Other than Revenge of the Sith, there hasn't been one film out this year that I'd consider a truly great film. Crash, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Serenity, these have been good, but nothing essential. And more than that, there haven't even been that many films that I've wanted to see.

However, in the past couple of weeks, we've been starting to get the awards season films coming out and I'm suddenly flooded with films that I want to see. I'm on break this weekend, and I'll be heading to the city to see Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Mirrormask. I'm usually a bit hesitant about the young person transported to fantasy realm genre, it just seems very 80s. I remember even as a kid noticing the dated clothes and hairstyles of the people in them. However, a few weeks ago I watched Labyrinth and really enjoyed it. It was extremely 80s, but strangely, I love the datedness of the fashion now, it only enhances the story. Bowie was great, and it was cool to see a young Jennifer Connely. Some of the muppets worked, some didn't, but the fantasy ball sequence made the whole film worth seeing, with its wondeful masks and Bowie music. Between Eyes Wide Shut and this, there's just something about crazy masks.

And that brings us back to Mirrormask, which is being touted as a thematic successor to Labyrinth. The trailer's amazing and Neil is one of my favorite authors, even if this film does seem to indulge in some of the weaker points of his writing. But it seems to McKean who's the real star here, the visuals do an uncanny job of capturing the feeling of his comic art and design work.

I'm also hoping to get to Thumbsucker when I'm home. This is a film firmly planted in the quirky indie teen dramedy genre, and I usually enjoy those. It's got a great cast, and Air named a song after the director. However, the biggest draw for me is the soundtrack by The Polyphonic Spree. I got the soundtrack album, which is great, and I'm really interested to see how their music plays in a film.

Next week sees the release of two new films I want to see, though both have rather negative advance buzz. One is Domino, whose trailers have been a gloriously post modern, quick cut assault of off beat action. I think action movies usually work better when centered around a female protagonist, because it creates more interesting themes. If a man is going around as a bounty hunter, it's accepted, if a woman is, it raises questions, and there are very legitimate questions about why anyone would want to go around killing people. I'd like things to reach the point where people inherently question the reason why men would kill too, but we're not there yet.

Along with this, films with female action heroes are frequently more focused around creating realistic, or at least emotionally alive characters, as in the case of Kill Bill II, or on TV, Alas or Buffy. Of course there are exceptions, like Catwoman or Elektra. And it's not to say that you can't have good action films centered around men, Angel is a character who's just as emotionally complex as Buffy, it's just that generally your male action hero is motivated solely by either a family member who's kidnapped or a family member who's been killed, and that's what passes for character development.

And if you consider the fact that Keira Knightley and Natalie Portman at times look uncannily alike, this is closest we'll get to a followup to Leon. The trailers promise a quick cut, varying film stock, crazy visual film and I'm hoping that the finished product lives up to that.

Also on Friday, Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown is released. This is a film with awful advance buzz, but I'm willing to give anything Crowe does a look. Almost Famous is one of my favorite films, and I loved Vanilla Sky. However, Elizabethtown seems to have the same plot as Garden State, and I feel like that film covered the territory perfectly. So we'll see, that one may be a wait for the DVD.

Capote is something else I'd want to see. Philip Seymour Hoffman's one of my favorite actors, and I've read In Cold Blood twice, so I'd like to see how the book came about.

So, we'll see how much of this I get to. Reviews will be forthcoming.