Happy Halloween, my kittens! What kind of treats do I have to share with you today?
Bright Star. It's probably already come and gone from your local theater, so a fat lot of good this recommendation will do you until the DVD comes out, but I have to go on record as saying this film was wonderful. I was absolutely rapt the entire running time. When the lights came up, the first thing I said to Benji (who gave it a lovely review here in his awesomely fun new weekly column over at The New Gay) was: "all those little Twilight girls should be forced to watch this as a corrective." This is how to deal elegantly and passionately with young love and unrequited physical longing. Campion and her lead actress Abbie Cornish did an extraordinary job of respecting the intensity of the emotions while still allowing them to be completely youthful and wild. Cornish's breakdown when Fanny finds out Keats has died is totally earned and totally heartbreaking. It's not just the love story that's compelling here, though--the quiet way that her family embroiders the edges of the scenes gave the whole thing a warmth and intimacy that occasionally bordered on claustrophobia (as real families often do), and Paul Schneider (yes, that Paul Schneider) continues to be one of those MVP, will-watch-in-anything-he-does kind of actors. Also inspired: hearing Ben Whishaw as Keats reading one of his poems over the closing credits instead of going straight to music.
An Education. I wanted to like it more than I did, but I think Nick Hornby's one-dimensional script just kind of hamstrung it before the movie even had a chance. It reminded me of the problems I had with State of Play--all these awesome actors borderline wasting their talents working extra hard to redeem the shitty dialogue and flat character types. Rosamund Pike especially (known to the romantics among us as Jane Bennet from the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice) did a heroic job overcoming the on-page limitations of her "I'm dumb and pretty" broken record, giving her some real sadness and charm where none were naturally occurring. Dominic Cooper, too, as her boyfriend Danny showed enough spark and charm and glamor to make his scenes memorable, and I nearly cheered when Sally Hawkins showed up for a brief, heartbreaking moment near the end. The usually unimpeachable Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard weren't served nearly as well, unfortunately--though Molina's monologue to his daughter, apologizing to her through her closed bedroom door, was tragically tender and regretful in all the right ways. But, to the film's credit, as with Bright Star, there was an enormous amount of sensitivity in portraying the lead character Jenny as quite bright while also allowing her to also be petty and vain and rash, which kept her well outside the bounds of annoying movie precociousness. You can check out the meat of Lynn Barber's true story and a little bit about the making of the film here at The Guardian.
I don't know who Daisy Chapman is, but her cover of "Our Mutual Friend" was linked recently at the Divine Comedy's Twitter page. I wanted to love it, both because that's one of the best songs Neil has written in the '00s and because DC songs should always be covered more often than they currently are, but unfortunately she sucks all the life and nuance out of it by singing the surface of the song instead of the subtext. The original version that appears on Absent Friends (and, ahem, my best of 2004 mix) is nearly inexhaustible, thanks to the way that Neil's interp reveals, in a paradoxically complex way, the essential shallowness of these characters--all the vapid conversation about how it's hard to hear your own voice at the nightclub or how the old 45s "are like the soundtrack to our lives." He also leaves enough ambiguity in the storyline to doubt whether the girl was intentionally leading the narrator on or if he just drunkenly misconstrued her level of interest in him. No such nuance in Daisy's version! Though, yes, she has a lovely voice and comes up with an inventive solo piano arrangement to reconfigure the chamber music affectations of the DC original, she goes straight for the jugular in the most uninteresting way possible. She oversings and oversells the first person narrator's heartbreak, leaving no possible interpretation aside from her conviction that she's been betrayed. Which also, of course, opens up an ugly sort of girl-on-girl catfighty misogyny now that the genders are reversed--blame the other girl for "stealing" the guy, rather than holding the dude accountable for being fickle and sneaky. Sigh. I hate to be overly critical because, like I say, I think the DC's back catalog is ripe for people to reinvent, but singers have to be able to match all the intelligence that Neil has built into these songs for the covers to actually be worth a damn.
Patton Oswalt's My Weakness Is Strong. I have nothing critically interesting to say about this, only that I LOVE IT. It's not as 100% solid from front to back as Werewolves and Lollipops, but it doesn't have to be. Some of the pro-Obama stuff will probably make you wistfully sad/nostalgic for early '09, the way it captures the time before things got all kinds of ugly with health care and whatnot, but even with that--hell, especially with that--there is so much pure joy and silliness throughout. Dude is very clearly operating at the top of his game here. Hopefully you've also read Pitchfork's very sharp review of the album and Patton's AV Club interview.
Japandrooooooooooooids! Caught these guys at a freaking 3 pm show, of all things, at Schubas earlier this month, and it just reminded me why Post-Nothing has been one of my surprise favorite albums of '09. The songs are loud and fun and dumb in the right ways, and I just wish I had a car and a stretch of open road so I could blast this stuff into the warm night air. I also totally didn't realize that they're Canadian, so there's an extra layer of delight when, after you've been pummeled with all that meaty guitar and electrifying drum work, Brian King starts gushing uber-politely about how grateful they are that we've showed up to support them. Adorable. I snapped a few pictures that you can check out here.
Be safe out there, tonight, my darlings, if you are getting dressed up and partying.