Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Offer You Can't Refuse

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

One of the best ways to understand what lies at the heart of a country's origins is by studying their literature. In the case of American culture, Kevin Courrier suggested that Herman Melville's The Confidence Man perhaps might be key to comprehending how the self-made man and the con artist can coincide in the same person.


Melville's Trickster: Herman Melville's The Confidence Man

“Melville is not a civilized, European writer,” film critic Pauline Kael once wrote in praising Peter Ustinov’s 1962 film adaptation of Billy Budd. “He is our greatest writer because he is the American primitive struggling to say more than he knows how to say, struggling to say more than he knows.” In 1857, Melville’s particular struggle took the form of his very strange and experimental novel, The Confidence Man.

The Confidence Man, published on the eve of the American Civil War, caused quite the uproar. Perhaps Americans saw the novel as inappropriate, or even an affront to the unsettling issues the nation was then confronting. A swift and satirical discourse on a variety of moral and political concerns, The Confidence Man was an oddly structured comic allegory about a shape-changing grifter who boards a Mississippi riverboat on (of all occasions) April Fool’s Day. The grifter victimizes an assortment of passengers in a series of scams on a trip that takes them from St. Louis to New Orleans. Once he wins his marks’ trust, he cons them with promises of charity and virtue. But even as the con man’s charm tests their resolve on a number of subjects, his ultimate goal is to reveal his fellow passengers’ deeper (and often contrary) desires. Melville introduces characters who change identities so rapidly that the reader is confronted with a portrait of the American frontier as perceived through a series of disguises. The novel operates on so many levels, with Melville playing clever games with both fact and fiction; it’s no surprise some readers become so dizzy that they desperately wanted off the boat.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Delirious Folly

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Not all bad movies are dispensable. Sometimes their ambition, or their plain nuttiness, make up for the clear sanity of better pictures. There's no question, according to David Churchill, that Tobe Hooper's loopy science-fiction film Lifeforce falls into that category.

 
Lovably Loony: Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce
http://www.criticsatlarge.ca/2010/02/lovably-loony-tobe-hoopers-lifeforce.html
I said in a previous column that I would occasionally pull down a DVD from my personal collection, re-view it and see if it still deserves a place on my shelf. Today it’s Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985). The film is crackpot, insane, daffy, goofy, ridiculous and, what can I say, an absolute tub of fun. Bear with me as I try to describe the plot. It's breathtaking in its insanity.

The film begins as the space shuttle, Churchill (and no, I don't love the film because they named the space shuttle after me), is on a mission to Halley's Comet on one of its rare visits through our solar system. Within the comet's corona, they find a gigantic spaceship. Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) and his team discover inside the ship two sets of apparently dead life forms: thousands of giant desiccated bat-like creatures and three seemingly perfectly preserved humanoids (one female and two males). They radio to Earth that they have collected the humanoids and will return with them. Then, radio silence. The Churchill returns to Earth, but nobody answers the hail. Another shuttle is sent up to investigate. They find the crew dead, Carlsen missing, but the three humanoids still aboard, untouched.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar's Ode to the Silents

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

For many, last night's Academy Awards honouring of Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist as Best Picture likely came as no surprise. As movie technology becomes more digitized, it seems quite natural that a modern film using modern techniques would try to lovingly recreate the beginning of cinema. (Martin Scorsese's Hugo does much the same.) This very consideration became part of Shlomo Schwartzberg's intelligently thorough examination of why he enjoyed The Artist.


Reminding Us Why We Love The Movies: Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist


Jean Dujardin in The Artist

I must confess, I resisted seeing Michel Hazanaviciu’s The Artist for the longest time, fearing and assuming that the idea of making an honest-to-goodness silent movie in 2011 was merely a gimmick, like Mel Brooks’ tepid Silent Movie (1976). Well, I was fortunately wrong about that. Not only is The Artist one of the year’s best movies, it’s also a timely reminder of why I fell in love with cinema in the first place oh so many years ago. And though of late I have mostly fallen out of love with the movies because so many of them have been so bad, more so, perhaps in this past year than ever before, The Artist also reminds me that, when done exceptionally well, films like this can rejuvenate an art form that is well-worth seeking out and appreciating.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Come Judgment Day

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Whether you are a true believer, agnostic or an atheist, gospel music has a way of making you believe in something that's larger than yourself. Curiously, the sheer power and joy, the primal force of the music, has within it a darker apocalyptic perspective that can instill as much fear as it can pleasure. It's with that idea in mind that Kevin Courrier wrote about two similar songs from two radically different artists from two radically different times. 



Strange Things Happening Every Day: Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Graham Parker


"There's something about the gospel blues that's so deep the world can't stand it," gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe once pronounced. In the forties, Tharpe was a fiery performer who could play a steel-bodied guitar like Chuck Berry and swing her hips like Elvis Presley. She understood the depth of this power that the world couldn't stand. In 1944, Tharpe, herself wavering between the sins of the secular world and the promise of God's kingdom, gave voice to that force in her rollicking single, "Strange Things Happening Every Day":

On that great Judgment Day
When they drive them all away
There are strange things happening every day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fearless Laughter

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

It's been clear for some time now that we're not living in fearless times. With economic uncertainty and political cynicism and indifference ruling the day, protest has become proscribed rather than instinctive and most people are looking for the safest route home. All is not lost, however, as Andrew Dupuis discovered when he wrote about censorship and the TV show South Park.


The Killing Joke: Censorship in South Park

On April 21th, 2010 Matt Parker and Trey Stone were boldly unable to go where they've gone before. A week earlier, they had celebrated their 200th episode with a plot revolving around the Muslim prophet Muhammad's invincibility from ridicule and the town's desire to harness similar powers within South Park. The episode, inoffensively named "200," directly asked us if whether they were portraying Muhammad in an offensive manner or not. They placed him in a U-Haul van, in a mascot's outfit, behind a black bar labeled "censored." He does remain silent. They asked us if we would be offended hearing him speak or if we could allow ourselves to see his legs move. They weren't mocking Muhammad. They were mocking how we've come to censor our thoughts and ideas, not out of respect for the subjects brought up, but instead because of fear.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Come Gather 'Round People

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Often times you'll find that blogs are essentially a memoir of the person that created it. But since we are all arts critics at Critics at Large, we wanted the blog to be a representation of the same critical work we have also done for mainstream and independent publications, radio and TV networks. In her piece on Gerde's Folk City, however, Susan Green found a nice way to bring both personal recollection and a critical perspective to her take on this famous music club


My Back Pages: Commemorating Gerde's Folk City


Today’s adolescents swoon for Justin Bieber. My genre of choice as a teen was acoustic and dominated by geezers, like the already middle-aged Pete Seeger. Until April 5, 1961. That’s when a new kid in town stole my heart after a friend at New York University brought me to a gathering of the school’s folk music society to hear a fledgling singer from Minnesota.

Musicians we admired in those days generally had a smooth delivery -- or aspired to -- but Bob Dylan’s voice was appealingly rough around the edges. “He is consciously trying to recapture the rude beauty of a Southern field hand musing in melody on his back porch,” critic Robert Shelton wrote in the New York Times a few months later. “All that ‘husk and bark’ are left on his notes and a searing intensity pervades his songs.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sitcom Satire

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Most of the time, Mark Clamen writes about current television for Critics at Large. After all, there's more than enough programming to talk about in the 21st Century. On this occasion, however, Mark turned his eyes back to an influential Seventies show and provided a sharp commentary on its significance.



Soap: The Granddaddy of Continuity Comedy

In this age of DVD box sets, Youtube, and Hulu, television fans finally have full and immediate access to their favourite TV series, even ones that have been off the air for decades. As good as current television often is, sometimes the most satisfying viewing can come from settling in front of the TV, or computer, and immersing yourself in a classic series. Last week, frustrated by the lack of innovation in this fall season’s new sitcoms (and with all due respect to the continuing efforts of William Shatner), I pulled a much-loved series off the shelf and looked back at it, for the first time in decades. The series that caught my eye this time was Soap, which aired on ABC from 1977-81.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Riders on the Storm

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

With possible exception of The Beatles (and The Rolling Stones) most groups from the Sixties now make up the playlists of 'Oldies' rock radio, consigned to listener nostalgia for another age, another time. While The Doors show up on those lists, too, largely due to their hit song "Light My Fire," they were never really, in spirit anyway, a band of the Sixties. Their music seemed to catch instead the shadow version of their time and looked ahead to the nightmares that followed. It's with that in mind that Kevin Courrier tackled Greil Marcus's recent book about the group.

The Rump of the Sixties: The Doors – A Lifetime of Listening to Five Wild Years by Greil Marcus

Looking over the pieces I've written in the last year, I've spent a good deal of time dealing with the troubling legacy of the Sixties. Even my next book, which I'm now writing and preparing for publication, begins with the early promise of that decade and follows the subsequent ones as if tracing the endless ripple of a pebble tossed in the sea. My preoccupation is not based on my age either (although I grew up in the Sixties), or holding on to some sense of nostalgia for better times. I'm also not locked into the glory days of my youth (they weren't very glorious to begin with) and clinging to some talisman against the bitter cold. Although there are some people I know who decided to stop listening to music, reading books, and seeing movies that didn't conform to the values they treasured when they were young, I'm not grappling with the Sixties, either as an idea or a time and place, as a means to avoid the realities of the current decade. Quite the contrary.

As far as popular culture goes, for me, it still lives and breathes in the present. For instance, I'd love to write more about contemporary music; why I'm mesmerized by Matthew Friedberger's sinewy guitar that snakes its way through The Fiery Furnaces' "Two Fat Feet" from their debut 2003 album Gallowsbird's Bark; how Seattle's Fire Theft seems to effortlessly embody in their single "Chain," an emotional hailstorm, the void left by Nirvana; or, the impish joy I hear in Rachel Nagy's libidinous "very nice" that kicks off The Detroit Cobras' "Ya Ya Ya (Looking For My Baby)," a full-tilt boogie that would make John Lee Hooker smile; on how I'm moved in the most peculiar way by The Handsome Family's "Weightless Again," a song that both laments and justifies suicide in a manner as wistfully satirical about the subject as Steely Dan's "Any World (That I'm Welcome To)"; or why Okkervil River, on I Am Very Far, and the Decemberists, on The King is Dead, continue to rehabilitate our notions of what constitutes musical Americana.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pina Bausch: A Choreographic Maverick

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

One of the most important qualities a critic needs to have is the ability to take the audience inside a work, to deepen both their understanding of it and where possible deepen their love for it. In this terrific piece by our dance critic Deirdre Kelly, she not only takes us further into the movie but also its subject.


Performing Without Inhibition: Wim Wenders' Pina


"Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost."
                                             Pina Bausch

Watching Wim Wenders' hauntingly poignant and unique film about the choreographic genius of Pina Bausch, I was reminded that when I was younger I didn’t want to run away and join the circus; I wanted to join Tanztheater Wuppertal, the internationally acclaimed German dance troupe that Bausch directed from 1973 until her untimely death in 2009.

I saw her extraordinary dancers, culled from all corners of the globe, for the first time in 1984 during a rare visit of the troupe to Toronto. The piece was The Rite of Spring, and the stage was covered with spoil (dirt, peat and other detritus) that turned to mud soon after the dancers started marking it with the sweat of their extraordinary effort. Together with the approximately 2,000 spectators who thronged to the theatre that night, drawn by Bausch’s reputation as an award-winning dance artist, I watched spellbound from the edge of my seat, eyes wide open, a lump in my throat.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Pulse of Jazz

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

It's rare for any publication today to have a music critic whose interest and taste in music is as broad as John Corcelli's (which was one of many reasons why we brought him on board at Critics at Large). While most of his posts are reviews of new music, including pop, jazz and classical, he occasionally does profile pieces such as this commemorative look at Downbeat magazine.

The Downbeat Goes On

Despite the changes in the music business, particularly from a technological point of view, criticism is still relevant. This particular website is dedicated to reviewing the arts by distinguishing itself as an honest broker of artistic endeavors around the world. Downbeat magazine, which has been the best and longest lasting periodical of jazz, has just issued its 59th annual Critics Poll (August 2011). As a monthly journal that has adapted well to change, its Critic's Poll and Reader's Poll is an important barometer of what's being heard and reviewed in music.

The August 2011 edition of Downbeat features the critic’s picks for the best in jazz of the past 12 months and as a critic who did not participate in the poll, I was happy to see certain musicians getting recognition, namely, American pianist and composer, Jason Moran. His album Ten (Blue Note, 2010) was voted the best of the year. Moran himself was voted as Artist of the Year and he led the poll in the Piano category by getting more points than Keith Jarrett and last year's poll-winner Brad Mehldau. This is fine company, to say the least, and while I'm generally fickle about "best of" lists, I was very happy to see Moran grace the cover of the magazine and win three categories. Ten made my own list of the top records in 2010, and I have to admit that I'm feeling vindicated for trusting my ears and choosing new releases off the beaten path and rarely with a high profile. Nevertheless, with all the great music and musicians vying for our attention, which is bloody difficult in the 21st Century, it’s nice to see the so-called purists at Downbeat support up-and-coming musicians. In fact, that’s been an important part of their mandate since the beginning.

Established in 1934, Downbeat has had the unique history of growing with the music. (This is the single best reason to read it.) It’s a periodical interested in educating the public about the history of the music and the musicians who play it. The only other magazine of comparable quality is CODA, which is struggling now since the death of Founder and Editor John Norris in 2010. CODA started in 1958 in Toronto as a bi-monthly about jazz and improvised music. What makes Downbeat magazine special is the history of its ownership. The current President is Kevin Maher who took over the position from his older brother, John 'Butch' Maher in 1991. John 'Butch' Maher was made publisher of Downbeat in 1989, but died two years later of cancer. Jack Maher, who passed away in 2003, became president of the publication in 1970 after his father, John J. Maher, died. (John J. Maher purchased the publication in 1950.) From 1949 to 1979, Downbeat was published every two weeks. Jack Maher decided to go monthly and the magazine thrives to this day without corporate ownership by a major publishing company, such as Time-Warner.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Critic's Nightmare

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

One of the benefits of being a film critic is that you can discover movies that everyone else has ignored, or dismissed, and help build an audience for them - if they're worthy of it. Cult films, though, don't always become favourite pictures based on their quality. Sometimes a critic's pan can even create the kind of curiousity for a work that was better left for dead. This argument becomes the starting place for David Churchill's discussion of a cult film and the remake that spawned it over thirty years later.  

When Criticism Backfires: I Spit On Your Grave (1978/2010)


Roger Ebert’s review of Meir Zarchi's 1978 film I Spit On Your Grave (aka, Day of the Woman) in 1980 created both the controversy and the reputation this film holds to this day. How does a critic do that? One, by either giving the micro-budgeted film a rave review and the film finds its audience from there. Or two, he rips it to shreds, calling it, “A vile bag of garbage.” He then goes on to tear the film to such ribbons that over the years a certain type of film-goer thinks, “Let me see that for myself.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Science-Friction

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Shlomo Schwartzberg wrote our first post for Critics at Large about James Cameron's Avatar and the failure of American cinema to provide good science-fiction. He elaborated further on this frustration last summer when a number of highly touted SF movies hit the big screen.  


Floundering: Why Can't American Cinema Get SF Right?

A scene from Never Let Me Go (2010)
If literary science fiction, which I read regularly, tends to be better at bringing ideas and concepts to life than it is at evoking memorable characters, science fiction movies tend to do the opposite. They often deliver strong characterization and vivid protagonists but generally falter at inserting those people into an imagined future or alternate world that functions logically and believably.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Surf's Up

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Sometimes dream projects get away from the dreamer causing more heartache than satisfaction. The Beach Boys' Smile album was such a project. Smile was an ambitious, yet failed attempt for band leader Brian Wilson to move beyond the surf music that helped them define California culture in the Sixties. The album was never finished. But the dream of Smile wasn't. Last year, a huge box set of what remained, what might have been, was released to fans who (like its creator) wanted to turn honest failure into success. The mixed blessings of that hope became the heart of Kevin Courrier's write up on the box set's release.

The Cruel Tease of Lost Promise: The Beach Boys' The Smile Sessions

Probably no pop album experiment has ever developed the legendary mythical status afforded The Beach Boys' ill-fated Smile album. Considering that it's a record that was never finished by the band and shelved in the vaults for years (in fact, it's a work that brought heartache and madness to its creator), Smile built a large appetite over the years for its release. Now it has finally been issued in an epic box-set (The Smile Sessions) complete with 5-CDs of material that includes a facsimile of the original record, plus many CDs of session material that chronicle the album's creation. Included as well is a 2-LP vinyl set of Smile, two 45rpm singles from the work, a book with extensive background material on the making of Smile and its aftermath, and a 24" by 36" poster of Frank Holmes' quaintly evocative cover art (which is duplicated in 3-D on the front of the box itself). A more compact 2-disc set will be out shortly for the more casual and cost conscious fan. Never in the history of pop music though has an incomplete record ever been so lavished in merchandising. It puts the work itself in danger of being buried by the hype. But no amount of hype can hide the troubled atmosphere conjured within its tracks.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rastaman Vibration

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Although Susan Green is one of our best veteran culture critics, she's also a damn fine interviewer as evidenced in this encounter with the late Bob Marley back in 1978.



Revolutionary Rastaman: An Encounter with Bob Marley

Bob Marley cannot seem to rest in peace. In 2008 director Martin Scorsese was working on a documentary about the reggae singer, who died of cancer in 1981, but dropped out last year due to scheduling conflicts. Jonathan Demme signed on, with blessings from the Jamaican performer’s family. The plan was to screen the finished work in February 2010, coinciding with what would have been Marley’s 65th birthday. When the rough cut displeased billionaire real-estate heir Steve Bing, the chief investor, Demme also exited the project. Somewhere in Rasta heaven, Marley must be jamming. As a prolific songwriter who regularly excoriated wealthy capitalists, perhaps he’s even referencing a line from “Stiff Necked Fools” to sum up his feelings on this cinematic stalemate: ”Yes, you have got the wrong interpretation/ Mixed up with vain imagination...”


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dream Stallion

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

While Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of WarHorse seems to be disappearing from theatres, the play continues to captivate audiences, especially those in Toronto, Canada where it just opened last week. Steve Vineberg wrote about its Lincoln Centre run in Critics at Large last fall which left him spellbound.

The Horse and His Boy: WarHorse


WarHorse is a piece of high-voltage populist theatricality, like The Lion King – the kind of show that underlines the uniqueness of the live theatre experience and can make lifelong theatergoers out of young audiences. It’s an adaptation by Nick Stafford of a children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo that opened five years ago at the National Theatre of Great Britain and is still playing to full houses in London’s West End, where it transferred after its NT run. The production, co-directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, opened in the spring at Lincoln Center with a fresh cast (considerably fresher than the one I saw in London in June).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Game is Still Afoot

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Popular television shows come and go often breaking the hearts of fans who devote so much of their time to them. But some programs, like the popular Endgame, create the kind of lobby group that likely give programmers nightmares (especially those who flagrantly cancel them). When David Churchill wrote about Endgame last summer who knew he would find allies all over the world who are still today fighting to keep the show alive.



Rallying Support: The Effort to Save Showcase's Endgame


It's not often that I choose to write about a current TV show that is already cancelled, but this is a special case. This past March, the Canadian specialty channel Showcase launched Endgame to critical acclaim. Its first episodes did well, but then it started to slip. In June, Showcase pulled the plug and ever since there has been a feisty fan movement afoot to convince them to uncancel it. The best way to describe the thoroughly entertaining Endgame is to call it a whodunit with a somewhat unique twist. The solver of crimes is Arkady Balagan (Shawn Doyle), a Russian chess master who suffers from severe agoraphobia: the fear of going outside. We learn in flashback that the agoraphobia hit while he was staying at a luxury hotel called the Huxley. The condition developed when he witnessed his fiancĂ©e (Lisa Ray) getting blown up by a car bomb just as he was exiting the hotel to join her. He now spends his days either in his suite (a suite he is having trouble paying for), bugging the head of security (Patrick Gallagher), wandering the hotel corridors (often barefoot and in a housecoat) or hanging out in the hotel bar manned by the beauteous Danni (Katharine Isabelle).


Monday, February 13, 2012

In Another Land

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Besides his thorough awareness of North American television, Mark Clamen also keeps his eyes on the best in international programming. One show that caught his attention last year, Arab Labor, is just about to go into its third season in Israel.


Israeli TV’s Arab Labor: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the 

Checkpoint


Watching great foreign television is often a multilayered pleasure. It gives the viewer access to a whole new world of talent – writers, actors, and directors – and the stories and themes that other cultures choose to explore are often surprising in themselves. Television is too often a generic art form, and even its innovations sometimes seem to be confined to variations on familiar, well-trodden situations. Not only can the best of foreign television be refreshingly unique in its execution, but watching these shows can also reveal heretofore unknown or unobserved aspects of our own domestic television. Our most basic assumptions about character, plot, and human interaction (presuppositions that can function as a kind of storytelling shorthand, and therefore often pass without being perceived) can become visible, precisely in their absence, in these new programs. This is a fact that cinephiles have known for decades, which is why foreign language films are watched with such dedication and enthusiasm by movie lovers. But foreign television – especially foreign language television – has never been as accessible as foreign film. While cinephiles have long been able to enjoy movies from all over the world, telephiles (why isn’t this word in the OED yet?) haven’t been quite so lucky.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Randy Newman Live at The White House

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Sometimes certain seminal events can inspire the imagination to consider what if...and it goes from there. When Paul McCartney visited the White House in 2010 to be awarded by President Obama, Kevin Courrier considered what that evening might have been like if the honoured guest had been someone like....Randy Newman.  



Achilles' Subway Dream #1: Randy Newman's Sail Away

Back on June 2nd, Paul McCartney performed at the White House for President Obama, the First Lady, Michelle and their two kids. The occasion was McCartney receiving the third Gershwin Prize For Popular Song from the President. As well as accepting the award, McCartney played a whole selection of songs. With Stevie Wonder, he reprised "Ebony and Ivory." He serenaded the First Lady with the obvious choice of "Michelle," plus had other invited guests cover his material. In top form, Jack White turned "Mother Nature's Son" (while morphing it with "That Would Be Something") into something strange out of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Dave Grohl amped up "Band on the Run," Emmylou Harris brought a plaintive reading to "For No One," and Elvis Costello revisited the shimmering "Penny Lane." The Jonas Brothers (no doubt brought in for the kids) surprised all with their dynamic rendition of "Drive My Car." Later, President Obama praised McCartney saying that he had "helped to lay the soundtrack for an entire generation."

Randy Newman.
But what if, with the success of that evening still ringing in his ears, Obama decided to celebrate an American performer who was equally worthy of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song - say, Randy Newman. The evening might go like this: Newman turns up looking rather surprised to have been asked to perform (for the first time) in the White House. President Obama assures Newman that his kids loved his songs in Toy Story while Newman quietly suggests another more appropriate song. The President graciously tells Randy that it's his concert and in the new democratic spirit of the land he should play what he wants. Newman then takes his place at the piano which is situated under the photos of George Washington and his wife Martha. He begins nervously by introducing the number. "Years ago, I wrote this sea shanty for a short film that was ultimately never made," he began. "It was in the Nixon years so there wasn't very much money for this kind of thing." The audience laughs quietly in recognition of a time that had long passed. "But it's an Irish kind of tune, you know, like 'The Ballad of Pat O'Reilly.'" Everyone looks a little puzzled - especially the kids - since nobody knows the song. "Anyway, it's about a sea voyage that begins in Africa and it kind of goes like this."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bedtime Stories

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Over the years, arguably, reading bedtime stories to children may have become less a regular staple in family homes. But what Laura Warner discovered to her happy surprise was a bedtime story that was not only a controversial comical romp, but one that also summed up the frustrations of any parent in getting their young ones to fall asleep.



A Bed-Wetting Good Time For Shitty-Assed Parents: Adam 

Mansbach's Go The Fuck To Sleep


It’s late. Even for me. We’ve been through eleven bedtime stories, seven lullabies, an entire rendition of “no more monkeys jumping on the bed,” two trips to the washroom, a glass of water, one final snack and lights out. But my otherwise perfect little angel still won’t go the fuck to sleep. Apparently, I’m not alone according to author Adam Mansbach whose Go The Fuck to Sleep (Akashic, 2011) skyrocketed to the top of the Amazon best seller list before it was even available in print. In his bedtime story parody, Mansbach offers a hilarious and refreshingly honest portrayal of parenting which should be appreciated by any parent or caregiver of a toddler who insists on burning the midnight oil.