Gone Baby Gone is a pretty decent directorial debut for Ben Affleck, but my threshold for Bleak really hasn't gotten any higher with age; I can still only stand so much before I want to stab myself in the face. Seriously. I was in an incredibly crappy mood for the rest of the night after I left the theater, and I think it was just because, well, bleah: child abuse and molestation and corruption and The Downtrodden. I mean, yeah, I was curious to see the flick, but, in a more cosmic sense, remind me why I paid cash money to have my brain filled with stories of some of the worst aspects of humanity, stories that only confirm the shit that I know exists in the world without helping me understand it any better than, say, a nightly newscast? And, what's even worse, you're supposed to feel somehow ennobled by thinking deep thoughts about these topics after the movie lets out. Like some sort of freshman year ethics course, the movie very clearly wants to incite you to really dig into the flash-point debates it's built around, such as What's Best for the Child? and Is the True to Be Valued Above the Good? Oh good lord, do I just not have the emotional energy for those kinds of discussions. And, while, obviously, children need to be protected and taken care of in the face of all manner of grown up nastiness, there's this hysterical pitch of "OMG, but the chilllldrennn!!" that basically forms the core of the film and seems not necessarily shrill and not necessarily disingenuous, but like it's really a stand-in for something else. Of course, this nearly operatic level of keening isn't exclusive to this movie, nor is it exclusive to the subject of the Sanctity of Childhood (the whole Ellen DeGeneres dog adoption debacle is basically pointing at the same thing), but all the energy expended in the service of hammering home the point that children are these precious little angels, they give our lives meaning, they deserve better, etc., etc. struck me as really kind of protesting too much. Again, I know I sound like kind of an asshole right now, and it's not at all that I don't agree that kids don't deserve the abuse that too many of them so often get, but...isn't that kind of the point? That who, aside from the worst sociopaths, is going to disagree? Some portion of that excess of righteous fury seems like it would be better directed at, say, the atrocities of war currently being perpetrated by the United States government, and I think that fact is actually key: in a time of "outrage fatigue," we're having trouble finding a more or less safe outlet for our mourning and our compassion. The facts of the war (and Darfur and the environment and) can get so fraught with bitter, often needlessly divisive political associations that, on the whole, it's become incredibly difficult to find a safe place to put all our devastated, gut-churning, heart-heavy sadness. And, not just a place to put it, but a place where others can really hear it and empathize with it with equal fervor. So, it busts out wherever it can. It busts out around children and pets and breast cancer and other basically uncontroversial issues that, again, while obviously important, become these cultural totems for an idea of caring, an idea of justifiable fist-shaking at the often indiscriminate cruelty of the universe. Which is actually an incredibly hopeful thing to realize right now; that our impulse toward compassion is so strong that it needs an outlet, a pressure valve, even if has to coagulate somewhere it's ultimately not even doing that much good.
Anyway. Crab, crab, crab. Like I say, it's decently directed, even though, like you'd expect of an amateur director, he has trouble trusting the camera to represent mental states and temporal shifts (he does a rather cheesy color-faded, echo chamber effect on conversations that happened in the past; longtime readers will remember this is similar to one of the problems I had with The Last King of Scotland). The plot resolution is also somewhat unsatisfying, relying as it does on an elaborate conspiracy. As we all know, a movie with a trick ending needs to be satisfying even without its trick ending, and the gotcha in this one, while coherent enough to tie up a fair amount of loose ends, kind of just makes you go "oh." The knowing should have felt just as complex as the not-knowing. Performances are good on the whole. I will have no truck with the critics who think Casey Affleck was miscast and/or cast only because of nepotism. He does a stunning job of keeping his babyface cuteness balanced with an underdog's hunger to prove himself to/against the entrenched power structure and a naturally gifted but young man's arrogance that his intelligence and the purity of his intentions make him all but infallible. Dude is very clearly having a moment. Amy Ryan is 100 percent as good as all the reviews have said she is (the phrase "hell for leather" comes up a lot about her performance), and it's great to see Titus Welliver, long one of my favorite actors on Deadwood, use that great quality he has of coming off as a fundamentally well-meaning guy who's simply caught up in circumstances that are just a shade beyond him.
Here's Catbirdseat's now apparently annual Music Blogger Best of 2007 Cheat Sheet. Um, yup, pretty much. (For extra Catbirdseat fun, I have no idea how old this is, but OMG funny: Guide to Indie Rock Hair Styles. It's a different kind of sarcastic than what you're expecting, I promise. And Malkmus jokes? Somehow always hilarious.)
It's so ridiculous as to almost be embarrassing how much I enjoy the many variations on the whole lolcats meme. I've recently been introduced to lolsecretz; here's my fave so far. (Thanks, MS.)
Zach Galifianakis gives us a reasoned and trenchant analysis of contemporary physical comedy in just a few short minutes (via).
I'm sure everyone saw this long, fantastic piece on David Simon and The Wire in The New Yorker back whenever it was first posted (or whenever Kottke first linked it), but I just got around to reading it within the last week or so. Stunning. Yes, I'm officially the biggest fan of The Wire who's never actually seen a single episode. (Thanks again, JA.)
Better late than never, I guess: here we have videographical proof that Clipse indeed provided one of the best sets of the weekend at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival.
If I'd had any idea that both Neko Case AND Dan Bejar would be touring with the New Pornographers this fall, I certainly would not have skipped out on their show(s) at the Metro earlier this month. I only discovered this fact while scrolling through Kirstiecat's predictably stunning pics and nearly slammed my head against my keyboard when I saw the full band lineup. Challengers has really been growing on me and the two of them (esp. Bejar) play out with the band so incredibly rarely, so...bummer, man.