Life of Pi (movie, 2012)

I guess I’m OK with the fact that they made a movie of Life of Pi, because at least it didn’t suddenly end at page 115 and get divided into three movies over 2.67 (or 3.14) years. I hope more people read Yann Martel’s book now, though, because it’s really pretty amazing.

Arguably, Ang Lee’s movie (scripted by David Magee) crosses the line into visually taking sides too much vis-à-vis the mystery of the “religion/imagination vs. reality/science” conundrum that I take to be the main point of this particular, peculiar survival story. I was also amazed that Gérard Depardieu got such prominent billing, given that he only spends about two minutes on-screen as “himself,” followed shortly thereafter for an additional five or six minutes “as a hyena.”

I’m going to have to go over the movie again to assess Mychael Danna’s award-winning, heavily world-music-influenced score.

“Come on, Children” (teen documentary, 1973)

I just watched Allan King’s sublimely weird documentary Come on, Children (1973), which includes young Alex Zivojinovich (i.e., Alex Lifeson, Rush’s guitarist) living in a rural Ontario farm house with nine other teenagers for ten weeks. It’s the winter of 1971, and Alex turned 17 the previous summer and became father to the first of his two sons, Justin, in October of 1970. He did not go back to finish high school (grade 12) during the 1970-71 school year and also seemed to be split up temporarily from his girlfriend Charlene: Justin’s mother, then apparently living on welfare. (Alex and Charlene did end up together, though, getting married in 1975.)

The movie is like “reality TV” (but 35 years ahead of time), because there are actually almost no interview elements in it at all! The part of it I had seen before (excerpted in the 2010 documentary, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage) features a family-visit day, during which Alex argues with his parents, etc. about his decision not to go back to finish high school the following year, as he doesn’t plan on going to university. He mentions that the band (never named, I think) will be able to make $240 ($80 each) per gig starting that fall.  Dissertation aside: By the fall of 1971, the band members (which didn’t include Neil Peart until the summer of 1974) would all be 18 and thus able to play in bars, because the drinking age in Ontario was set to be lowered to 18 in the summer of 1971 (it would later be raised to 19).

The parts of the movie involving Alex that I hadn’t seen before have him being relatively “grown up” compared to some of the others (cooking, making the others clean up, not really being into drugs that much anymore, I think, and so on) and having a bit of a fling with one of the girls in the group. Musically, he plays bluesy acoustic guitar (sometimes along with one or more of the other three musicians in the group, such as on John Hamilton’s performance “Mr. Bojangles”), or–more to the point–doing loud and distorted Jimi Hendrix-like instrumental electric guitar solos (including a BAD attempt at “The Star-Spangled Banner”) or blues-rock Clapton/Cream-like improvisations, etc.

The movie’s worth a look, too, for the relative freedom re teenage drinking (sometimes to excess), smoking (Alex included), drugs (pot, hash, LSD, speed, and even heroin), etc. in that period. Alex is very tame in those regards (only one of the ten abstains completely), although it could have just been edited to look that way.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I just saw the new, David-Fincher-directed “Hollywood” adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s book, Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women, which is a much more apt title than the English version: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). [No plot spoiler follows!] I didn’t find Lisbeth Salander (by American actress Rooney Mara) to be all that different from in the 2009 Swedish version (by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace), mostly because her troubled, hacker-investigator character is so vividly present in the “Millennium Trilogy” books themselves. I personally find Daniel Craig rather “beefcake-y” to be playing mild-mannered Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist, so Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist (from the first adaptation) makes way more sense to me. The primary settings remain in Sweden, but almost all of the characters speak in English, despite the fact that a fair bit of the background audio and images are in Swedish, so it is by no means obvious that English would REALLY be spoken. Both versions deviate from the book in several ways, and sometimes the same ways. The synth- and effects-heavy score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross works pretty well. It makes the most sense for Lisbeth’s “indie” (pierced, inked, etc.) aesthetic and “odd” mental state and for the quick-cuts that happen in the first half of the film–before she and Mikael start working together.

“Black Swan” (movie, 2010)

I like Darren Aronofsky’s movies, including pi, Requiem for a Dream, and even his relatively obscure “flop,” The Fountain. The Wrestler was a much more mainstream type of thing.

Black Swan strikes an effective middle-ground between arty and commercial. Natalie Portman is quite good with the material, including channeling her actual childhood ballet experience.  However, the character goes quite easily off the deep end, with “body”-obsessed fantasies, etc. (including what her rival, played by Mila Kunis, calls a “lesbo wet dream”) that seem inspired by David Cronenberg’s more bizarre things of the 1980s, but without the movie really ever providing an explanation (other than the character having an unpleasant mother, played by Barbara Hershey) for why or how she may be mentally ill in the first place.

I actually thought that the director’s space- and time-shifting meditation on life and love, The Fountain, was great, even though it failed commercially and had a very difficult production life (e.g., a drastically-slashed budget and Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz replacing Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett).

“The Social Network” (2010)

I like good movies much better than I like Facebook, even a good movie about Facebook. Even if only 20% of The Social Network is “true” (and it’s probably more like 60%), Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker are still grade-A douche-bags. I liked screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s comment to Stephen Colbert last evening that he doesn’t use Facebook and would rather call someone about having just had a great cupcake. Good one!

The movie was competently directed by David Fincher (Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, etc.), but despite its hi-tech sheen and recent setting, it’s really just an old-fashioned morality tale about greed and selling out your friends. (See one theater over for Wall Street 2.)

The Social Network covers the early years of Facebook (2003-04) extremely well, as adapted by Sorkin from Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires (2009). The soundtrack is suitably hi-tech and somewhat coldly electronic, by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross.

Facebook is NOT web 2.0: it is, at best, web 1.5. In a related matter, people who don’t want to hear about cupcakes (or somebody making lasagna for dinner, painting their bedroom, or becoming single) should check out the professional career-networking website LinkedIn.

Classicized Rock (Music and Culture – Podcast 1)

I’ve just launched my series of Video Podcasts, called “Music and Culture.” Podcast No. 1 is entitled “Classicized Rock: Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, and Chamber Music.” A full, podcast version (MPEG-4, for iTunes, iPhones, etc.) will be available from my website. The complete presentation is 30 minutes long. However, I’ve also posted it on YouTube in two, slightly-edited halves: Part 1, Part 2.

“Classicized Rock” is about selected heavy metal and progressive rock bands (Black Sabbath, Genesis, Rush, and Metallica) and some of their songs (“War Pigs”, “The Fountain of Salmacis”, “The Spirit of Radio”, and “Master of Puppets”) adapted into classical chamber music (involving early music, pianos, violins, and cellos) by Rondellus, Ingve Guddal and Roger T. Matte, Rachel Barton, and Apocalyptica.

“Chloe” (2009)

I watched Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (2009) yesterday, and I plan to watch Nathalie (the 2003 French original), so that I can compare them. An arguably-sensationalist “hotness” factor is certainly there (lesbian sex scene and all, in a story aspect apparently excluded from Nathalie), but something about Chloe didn’t really gel for me, probably at least partly because Egoyan didn’t write the screenplay.

It’s too obvious that Chloe (“escort” Amanda Seyfried) has not actually seduced the daddy (classical music professor Liam Neeson) but, rather, is manipulating the mommy (gynaecologist Julianne Moore). However, the characters are not well enough established for us to care about them (or any of this) all that much. Without stronger characters in place, everything seems somehow “clinical,” but not in the weirdly-compelling way of Egoyan’s best original screenplays (such as 1989’s Speaking Parts) or even his 1997 adaptation The Sweet Hereafter. I also could not keep myself from thinking about whether or not they had completed filming Chloe before Natasha Richardson (Neeson’s wife) died after a skiing accident in Quebec. In fact, they apparently had to re-write parts of the film to account for Neeson’s absence, but he then returned for a couple of days after her death in order to complete certain scenes.

I was surprised that long-time Egoyan collaborator (and fellow Canadian) Mychael Danna’s score was so “traditional orchestral” sounding, because what he does best is electronic-keyboard and/or ethnic-world music fusions with western instruments. It’s almost as though Danna did not find the story compelling enough to bother. It was nice to see “gentrified” Toronto, but Neeson’s character being a classical music professor (based in New York City, for some reason, although this is not very well explained), the use of a Beethoven recital (in Toronto) by the main characters’ son, etc. seemed fairly gratuitous. It was also perfectly obvious (too perfectly obvious to me) that it was going to be Egoyan’s classical-pianist sister Eve playing the “Moonlight Sonata” (and not just the easy first movement!) on the soundtrack, almost as if standing in for the conspicuous absence from this film of Egoyan’s actress-wife Arsinée Khanjian. Presumably, these things may have been to balance (in a low-key Canadian way) the fact that the film’s three primary actors are not Canadians (although R.H. Thomson and others have supporting roles), and the references to the Canadian (London, ON) band Raised by Swans, which Egoyan had already used in his 2008 film Adoration, may have been for similar reasons.

“9” (movie)

I just saw the weird “puppet” movie 9, which I’ve decided to rename The Wizard of Pinocchio: The Rise of the Machines. It’s visually inventive, but the story is rather incoherent and a mish-mash of various and–one should have thought–incompatible influences, such as a mysterious scientist who inadvertently sets nasty things in motion, puppets who try to become heroic, Judy Garland’s original performance of “Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz) underscoring an extended scene, and Terminator-like near-future machines trying to blow up everything and everyone. As with District 9, it was derived from a young filmmaker’s short film and backed by a major director/producer, in this case not Peter Jackson, but Tim Burton.

“This Beat Goes On”

The second-half of Nicholas Jennings’ CBC rock-doc This Beat Goes On (about 1970s’ Canadian rock music) was not very good at all.

The only way punk, post-punk, and new wave music make any sense historically OR stylistically is by comparison to the progressive rock, arena rock, heavy metal, and so on that preceded them. This second episode did not follow properly at all from the first one (which reasonably covered the Guess Who, BTO, Gordon Lightfoot, Harmonium, and many others) and instead dove right off the top into DOA, the Viletones, Teenage Head, etc., then covered Top 40 soft pop-rock, and then finally touched on Rush, Max Webster, etc. in the last couple of minutes. I’m not saying that hard/prog needed more airtime, but the filmmakers might as well have covered DOA in the show’s first episode and the Guess Who in a later episode, for all the sense this episode made.

I like the way they’re presenting lots of groups that people under thirty or so probably have never heard (or seen). However, the already-well-known entities (even Bruce Cockburn, but also Rush and way too many others) are just getting their best-known songs covered (any of which you can hear on classic rock radio any day of the week), rather than their much more interesting work, which would have presented them in a much better light in the context BOTH of obvious Top 40 pop songs AND of punk/post-punk/new-wave music.

They haven’t really done any better with this than the low-end fillers they usually have on VH1 and MuchMore(of-the-same)Music, and I find it hard to believe that they spent three years on it. Jennings is a light-weight: what Canadian music needs is a Malcolm Gladwell to distil what has been written about Canadian music by academics—but for a mass audience.


I like Californication (2007- ), except that it certainly does propagate the unreasonable characterization that everyone in LA is so good-looking. I suppose the Venice Beach area is well above average in this respect, though! I remember David Duchovny (this show’s Hank Moody) notoriously giving interviews around the later years of The X-Files (that show’s Fox Mulder) that he loved watching porn, so I guess it’s somehow fitting that he ended up in such a naughty, sex-oriented, yet oddly-literary show.

Duchovny is well-suited to presenting something along the lines of self-loathing and a frequently-“mumbling” spoken presentation, both of which are also present in the character of Mulder. However, combined with the actor’s family and educational backgrounds (a teacher/administrator mother, a writer/publicist father, attending an independent NYC boys’ school, a B.A. in English/poetry at Princeton, and an M.A. and an incomplete Ph.D. in English literature at Yale), these characteristics actually conspire to work much better as applied to the character of a prematurely has-been writer than to the character of a “flaky” FBI agent.

Hank is vaguely aware of pop culture and self-consciously espouses retro-hipness, saying things such as “B to the I to the double-L” and preferring LPs and mid-’70s Bob Dylan, and he also disparages not only LA (favouring New York) but also the “non-literary” context of his current occupation: blogging. Moreover, the character’s unforced level of discourse can be as erudite as: “Is there another mode of egress?” when trying to sneak out of a girls’ high school. Even more than with Mulder, you can’t help but wonder: How much actual Duchovny is there written into fictional Hank?