One look at you and I can't disguise


Why Can't I Breathe?


Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue 

                          01. Modern Lovers, "Someone I Care About"
02. Shtisel 
When no one is around love will always love you

Few things of the past quarter-century are better than Moon Pix; existentially exhausted and wholly inexhaustible, lower than Low, heavier than heaven, brighter than creation's dark etc. etc. All the hearts that touch your cheek / how they jump / they move / they embarrass.


 will win/should win/should've been nominated

ww: Everything Everywhere All at Once
sw: Tár 
sbn: Benediction, Pacifiction (eligible?), Aftersun

ww: 'the Daniels'
sw: Spielberg
sbn: Terence Davies, Benediction; Albert Serra, Pacifiction (if eligible); Jafar Panahi, No Bears 

ww: Michelle Yeoh
sw: Cate Blanchett 
sbn: Frankie Corio, Aftersun

ww: Austin Butler
sw: Paul Mescal or Colin Farrell 
sbn: Benoît Magimel, Pacifiction

Supporting Actress
ww: Jamie Lee Curtis
sw: Kerry Condon
sbn: Pahoa Mahagafanau, Pacifiction 

Supporting Actor
ww: Ke Huy Quan 
sw: Ke Huy Quan or Barry Keoghan 
sbn: Ethan Hawke, The Northman and/or The Black Phone

Original Screenplay
ww: 'the Daniels', EEAAO 
sw: Spielberg & Kushner, The Fabelmans
sbn: Davies, Benediction

Adapted Screenplay
ww: Sarah Polley, Women Talkin
sw: abstain – seen one, liked none 
sbn: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

ww: Roger Deakins, Empire of Light
sw: anything but fucking Elvis
sbn: Artur Tort, Pacifiction 


Death or Glory

If guitar-bass-drums rock & roll as such isn't yet dead, then Mitski might be our one-woman Only Band That Matters. 

At the risk of heresy, I'm not sure even The Clash was ever quite as rock-your-face-off awesome as she is here, singing her best song to date along with (seemingly) the entire country of Brazil. Nirvana? Hmm, maybe. Hole? Getting warmer. Sleater-Kinney for sure; but Polly Jean Harvey might be Mitski's last real antecedent –– and sine qua non. 


 The Kids Aren't All Right (But Maybe That's Okay?) 

As the late-Gen. X parent of a late-Gen. Z teenager – though, to paraphrase Seinfeld, I don't know how official any of these categories really are –– and also as a university instructor, it's hard not to worry about the overall sanity and sense of stability of a generation of adolescents whose youth has been radically ruptured by the worst global pandemic in a century; who've heard since kindergarten about an apocalyptic climate catastrophe that it may be too late to avert; who, in learning about the history of the last World War, hear grim predictions of resurgent fascist and/or totalitarian movements, the alarming erosion of liberal democracy, and a potential WWIII that may now be percolating in eastern Europe. It is a lot, and it's difficult to comprehend exactly how all of this registers for young people today. Growing up in comparatively edenic 90s North America, such problems were either blissfully absent or seemingly more muted, e.g., the far less chiliastic discussions of "global warming" on Channel 1 or in Captain Planet episodes. 

Toward a better understanding of the "Zoomer" (a term my son detests) experience of recent years' events and discourses, one can do worse than to think seriously and uncynically about pop culture by-and-for people born in the twenty-first century. Take the video above: an MSG full of tens of thousands of surely diverse, yet presumably majority-Gen. Z, fans sings along most emphatically to the drop-line "I wanna end me!" in a song written by a then-seventeen-year-old Billie Eilish. Or take the lead-off track of then-seventeen-year-old Olivia Rodrigo's Sour, in which she first expresses her doubts about whether she'll manage to survive to the legal drinking age, then asserts "If someone tells me one more time / 'Enjoy your youth,' I'm gonna cry" before delivering the drop-line "God! It's brutal out there!" But, in contrast (or not?), consider also Greta Thunberg: her heroic activism of course, but also her sparkling wit and her embrace of neuro-divergence as a "superpower." She is at least as representative of Kids Today as Billie Eilish, and in particular of a generation that's arguably done more than any since at least the 1960s to take up (figurative) arms against a sea of troubles ––  against environmental degradation, climate-change complacency, gun laws that allow them to get murdered regularly at school, the violence and iniquities of systemic racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia, etc. etc! 

If we olds haven't already irreparably ruined this world they've inherited from us, they're going to make it a markedly better place. Even if by opposing said troubles they can't ultimately end them, they're nevertheless not going down without fighting the good fight; and not just selectively/pragmatically as per usual, but intersectionally, on every possible front of injustice. As an admiring elder, then, my best guess is that the winking nihilism of Billie E.'s "Bury a Friend" and the frustrated fuck it-ism of Olivia R.'s "Brutal" are how they blow off steam –– and it should be noted, too, that both of these pop stars themselves seem to be highly thoughtful and engaged young women. While it may or may not be The End of the World as We Know It, the standard clichés about some kind of cyclical "youth culture" –– Elvis, the Beatles, Madonna, Nirvana, Eminem, rinse and repeat –– just don't hold water. This is different. They've had experiences we haven't, or else had them during a very different phase of life. They know things we don't; and, all things considered, they're holding up awfully well under the circumstances.  


 The Ten Most Pristinely, Scientifically Perfect Pop Songs of All Time

                                                                01. The Beatles, "In My Life"
02. Otis Redding, "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay"
03. The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"
04. The Beach Boys, "God Only Knows"
05. Madonna, "Like a Prayer"
06. Prince, "When Doves Cry"
07. James Brown, "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" 
08. The Smiths, "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" 
09. The Notorious B.I.G., "Juicy" 
10. Bruce Springsteen, "I'm on Fire" 


Tristes Tropiques 

                             Some great films can be properly appreciated and enjoyed viewed through tired eyes as the third or fourth film of a long, over-stimulating festival day. Others cannot. In my experience of last year's VIFF there was no (potentially great) film that fell more clearly into that latter category than Alberta Serra's languorous tropical anti-epic Pacifiction. I knew that I was missing something, perhaps quite a lot. I knew I needed to revisit it. And I knew also that it was one of the more visually spectacular movies I'd ever seen, and so I crossed my fingers that I'd have another opportunity to watch it on the big screen. 

Now having done so (thanks, Cinematheque!), my strong suspicion is confirmed: this a singularly awesome (in every possible sense) movie, and its strange brew of political, cultural, and sexual ideas, suggestions, motifs, allusions, analogies, enigmas etc. etc. were much more resonant and interesting to think along with as a day's main event rather than its late encore. (For lack of a better description, think, maybe, Beau Travail meets The Thin Red Line meets The Conversation!) 

I still can't say that I totally understand all, or even necessarily most, of it, and I don't expect to after viewings three, four, or five. Yet its dreamlike, appropriately oceanic rhythms are so immersive and seductive –– even hallucinatory nearing the film's stunning climax –– that gradually abandoning any logical, prosaic explanation for what exactly is going on is part of Pacifiction's hypnotic affect. 

I can't shake it, don't want to, and – once again – can't wait to see it again. It is one of the few truly great films of this young decade so far. 


 Time Fades Away


I graduated from high school twenty (!) years ago, and one of the things I most associate with that period of time is Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the terrific making-of documentary I am Trying to Break Your Heart, and catching the band live on a hot day in a college parking lot (and chatting a bit with Jeff Tweedy after that show!). They felt at the moment like, maybe, possibly, the best band in the world. Or at least the American Radiohead. 

YHF was recorded before 9/11, then became stuck in record-label limbo before being released 'officially,' i.e., as an ownable physical object (a distinction that remained quasi-meaningful at the time), in spring 2002. And yet, its collage of sounds and words felt eerily prescient in invoking and capturing the post-attacks zeitgeist ("tall buildings shake / voices escape singing sad, sad songs"), one of surprisingly few great and still-vital 9/11-adjacent works of art, along with, say, Spike Lee's 25th Hour, Sleater-Kinney's One Beat, and Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers

In the years since, my enthusiasm for Wilco has waned somewhat, as none of their subsequent records (some pretty good, some 'meh') have come close to YHF. Perhaps the late Jay Bennett's notorious ego was justified after all? 

Now, though, I'm enamoured of something called (cheekily, I hope...)  "The Unified Theory of Everything Version" of YHF, accessible as 'volume' two on the five-'volume' (a tacit acknowledgment of, vinyl fetishists aside, the primarily non-physical form of musical products ca. 2022: In the Shadow of No Discs) twentieth-anniversary edition of Wilco's masterpiece. It sounds like a million bucks, especially coming through better headphones than probably existed twenty years ago; a few tracks might even be better than their official album versions. "Kamera" rocks like it does live; "Jesus, Etc." is less ghostly but no less lovely; "Poor Places" adds a piano part that unmistakably 'quotes' from George Martin's indelible "In My Life" interlude; and "I'm the Man Who Loves You" sounds even more like he means it. 


All's Well That Ends Well

No hyperbole, one of the all-time great closing scenes in cinema. 


Life Stories


Incidentally, I just finished both of these books –– one after pleasurably dipping in here and there for a couple weeks' worth of bus commutes and the commercial breaks and halftimes of basketball and football games, the other following three months of harrowing and engrossing late-night reading –– and am now consequently connecting some very odd dots. 

It may well be that there is nothing new under the sun. But has anyone else on earth concurrently read Rachel Bloom on neurotically delayed potty-training,  the sexual politics of musical theatre, amusement-park etiquette, and wearing Spanx to award shows together with an encyclopedically detailed 900-page biography of the author of If This Is a Man, The Periodic Table, and The Drowned and the Saved

If so, I desperately want to chat with that other person. 


 Top Ten Songs I Wish Rihanna Had Performed

An embarrassment of riches, to be sure. But beggars can be choosers. 

01. "Stay"
02. "Love on the Brain"
03. "Man Down" 
04. "Russian Roulette" 
05. "SOS"
06. "S&M"
07. "Needed Me" 
08. "Can't Remember to Forget You" 
09. "Don't Stop the Music" 
10. "Shut up and Drive" 



When she sang about a boy
Kurt Cobain
I thought, 'What a shame 
it wasn't about
Tom Verlaine.'


Yesterday I got so old 

 The Good, the Bad, and the Sublime

                                                                              Baz Luhrmann's Elvis is a bad movie. It is gross and garish, profoundly superficial (an oxymoron perhaps but applicable here) and wholly unworthy of its subject. Tom Hanks, inexplicably duplicating Adam Sandler's Waterboy accent, gives possibly the most jarringly awful performance ever delivered by a great actor. Austin Butler, for his part, does a pretty good Elvis impression, and he is undeniably dynamic and convincing when singing and dancing. But, given that we have many hours of the actual Elvis doing the same safely preserved on film, what is finally the point of simply (or rather, with unnecessary and visible difficulty!) recreating that footage, and with much worse editing? As a dramatic performance, Butler's off-stage Elvis is buried in the mix and never manages to register as an actual person nor anything close to it. All other characters and performances are just wallpaper, one-dimensional props in Lurhmann's Americana grotesquerie. And the less said about Lurhmann and his co-writers' facile, perfunctory take on the history of US race relations the better – ugh! 

Yet, to its credit, this putrid movie revived my interest in Elvis Presley. Or, more accurately – blech! – it prompted me to seek out ASAP a palate cleanser in the form of the real Elvis. The Sun Sessions has always been in sporadic, semi-regular rotation for me; but I hadn't listened to the terrific post-army years Elvis Is Back (1960) or the phenomenal 1968 comeback special for many years, and both are even better than I remembered, the latter awesome even without the iconic visual accompaniment. 

I also remembered the recent Elvis Presley: The Searcher, which I had meant to catch at the time but then slipped my mind. This sensitive and patiently paced 3.5-hour documentary seems to have provided the basic, core narrative for Luhrmann's film, which is whatever the exact antonyms of 'sensitive' and 'patiently paced' are. Through well-assembled archival footage combined with the reflections of friends, lovers, collaborators, and perceptive super-fans named Springsteen and Petty, Elvis Presley: The Searcher gives us something that Lurhmann and Butler never do: a remarkable man and distinctive artist named Elvis Aaron Presley. Indeed, Thom Zimny's documentary is probably the first place that longtime admirers and neophytes alike should turn to learn much of substance about Presley's complicated mortal life, aided of course by the audiovisual format. (Greil Marcus's book, Dead Elvis, offers the best reflection of/on Elvis's singularly weird pop-cultural afterlife, something ultimately only tangentially related to Elvis the Artist.) 

But best of all, save for the uppermost tier of his musical output, is King Creole. It is one of those serendipitous miracles of the (late) Old Hollywood system: originally intended as a James Dean vehicle, Presley was hired to replace the tragically deceased Dean and was granted a 60-day deferment from military service in Germany to film on location in New Orleans. The story and Presley's character –– a misunderstood delinquent in demand as a nightclub singer and with the ladies –– feels loosely like a version of the exciting, dangerous romantic fantasy that Elvis's early music must've powerfully evoked in its younger listeners (i.e., before Elvis's aura eroded into kitschy clichés under duress from rose-coloured nostalgia, tacky merchandise, and cultural garbage like Lurhmann's Elvis). 

A first-rate director, Michael Curtiz, and cinematographer, Russell Harlan, spun that fantasy into a fully realized, truly spellbinding film; Harlan's moody, shadow-drenched  cinematography is up there with the most beautiful black-and-white I've ever seen. The supporting cast, from the smallest roles up, is uniformly excellent, vivid sketches suggesting lives still going on when not present on screen. As rival Bourbon Street nightclub owners –– one a decent-enough guy, the other a sinister crime boss –– Paul Stewart and Walter Matthau are superb, as are Carolyn James and Dolores Hart as love interests, the former a femme fatale, the latter a shopgirl-next-door, both multi-dimensional characterizations that get beyond these stock types. Presley himself is pure, simmering charisma, sans corn or cheese. He handles the taciturn dramatic scenes at least as well as James Dean conceivably would have, while unsurprisingly acing the (credibly in-character) musical numbers with infinite aplomb. 

What was the big deal about Elvis, anyway? Forget all the later (and posthumous) kitsch, avoid Luhrmann's execrable flick at all costs. Queue up the '50s and ''60s records, watch King Creole, then Elvis Presley: The Searcher, and you will understand.  (R.I.P. Lisa Marie) 


A (Baker's) Dozen (non-Sleater-Kinney) Covers


Performances of the Year

01. Paul Mescal Frankie Corio, Aftersun
02. Cate Blanchett, Tár
03. Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin & The Batman 
04. Pahoa Mahagafanau, Pacifiction 
05. Zoë Kravitz, Kimi & The Batman
06. Judith State, R.M.N. 
07. Ana de Armas, Blonde
08. Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans 
09. Vicky Krieps, Corsage
10. Lubna Azabal, The Blue Caftan
11. Aubrey Plaza, Emily the Criminal 
12. Florence Pugh, Don't Worry Darling The Wonder 
13. Ethan Hawke, The Black Phone The Northman 
14. Mia Goth, X Pearl 
15. Ralph Fiennes, The Menu 
16. Song Kang-ho, Broker 
17. Adam Sandler & Queen Latifah, Hustle 
18. Tang Wei, Decision to Leave 
19. Georgina Campbell, Barbarian 
20. Nicolas Cage Pedro Pascal, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent