Monday, October 30, 2006

Glenn Danzig moves his bricks

On Franklin Avenue in Los Feliz, in between Vermont and Hillhurst, on the south side of the street, stands the Haunted House of Glenn Danzig. (I can't take credit for the name; for that, see Losanjealous.) The house isn't quite the Munsters mansion, but it's close in its decrepitude; it's totally grown over with vines and flowering plants, and encircled by a cast iron fence with spikes.

Sounds gothic and scary, although usually the Jaguar of Lodi, New Jersey native Glenn Danzig is parked outside, and in fact, the flowering plants are attractive. Not everybody has to have a lawn, and just growing up in New Jersey, where lawns are an obsession, is reason enough to let your house go. For me, anyway.

In the five years I've lived in Los Feliz, there has been a large pile of bricks on the dead grass in Danzig's front lawn. The first time I saw them, I thought, ooh, a patio. But the stack stayed there, not moving, not being built into anything.

Suddenly, things are different. Late last week I was moseying by, heading to Alcove for afternoon snacks, when what did I see but Glenn Danzig himself, all pasty-faced and in black, directing two guys with a mini pickup who were....loading the bricks into the back of their truck. I did NOT call out, "way to go, Glenn," or even, "Garden State, represent!" but slithered quietly by.

I figure I have to go back this week and see if the bricks are gone. Maybe he just had them moved around the yard.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Marie Antoinette: What it feels like for a girl

Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola's third feature, is like a cross between The Virgin Suicides, her first film, and a music video. There's one thing she does really well, which is understand and depict certain critical moments in the life of an adolescent girl: the moment when she realizes her power, and the subsquent moments when she learns, over and over, the limitations of that power, how much in her life is really out of her hands.

It wasn't Marie Antoinette's fault that her husband, Louis XVI, didn't consummate their marriage for seven years--but she is made to suffer for it. Kirsten's Dunst's queen is a kicky young Austrian who runs up against grim reality at the court of Versailles, trapped in arcane and seemingly purposeless rituals in an airless society in which every word spoken and not spoken counts. She copes with the help of sweets, clothes, and a Swedish lover; she accustoms herself to French customs; she playacts life as a well-off shepherdess in the Petit Trianon. The court and the French people blame her for the excesses of the monarchy.

Of course they do, because she's an outsider. The outside is always blamed, and in Sofia Coppola's world, the adolescent or postadolescent female is always the outsider. Marie joins those doomed sisters in The Virgin Suicides and Scarlett Johansson's character in Lost in Translation as women who feel too much and can't or won't do enough to save themselves.

Feeling is something Coppola transmits successfully on the screen. Her visuals are all pastel confectionery, with the help of Laduree and Manolo Blahnik, and do most of the storytelling, along with period music and 80s hits, from bands like The Cure and Gang of Four, as well as a more recent cut from The Strokes. Oddly, the music doesn't jar; although many of the visuals approximate historical accuracy, it's clear from the beginning that what we are seeing is stylized, a director's vision, and it's not difficult to embrace that.

What the film is, is too long. The parties with which Marie amuses herself go on just too long on the screen. She can gamble all night, but we get numb watching her. While the story is told with great feeling, there is little depth--more surface emotion and not much reflection on what it all means, even on the small scale. Marie Antoinette is not for everyone, but if you're willing to jump into the cotton candy, it's a fun two hours that certainly left me intrigued as to what Sofia Coppola will take on next.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Prestige: Hey, it's magic!

The Prestige concerns an all-encompassing fierce competition between magicians—Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale, and Rupert Angier, played by the ubiquitous Hugh Jackman—in late nineteenth-century London. Directed by Christopher Nolan, from a story concocted by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan, based on a novel by Christopher Priest, The Prestige has the viewer in its grasp from its beginning through to the end of its two hours plus, leaving one breathless and perhaps just a few steps behind the secrets within secrets within secrets.

As is of course not surprising for a film about magicians. Bale, one of Nolan’s favored actors, is brooding and dark, playing a working-class striver. Jackman plays a toff with great ease, who resists performing, until he can’t resist trying to best Bale at his own game. Caught up in their rivalry, we follow, with wonder and amazement, but no real emotional involvement; this is not a film that inspires catharsis.

The story is crosscut between and among the distant past, the more recent past, and the present, but is not difficult to follow thanks to Nolan’s assured storytelling skills. Bale and Jackman do well by their characters, aided and abetted by Michael Caine as an ingenieur (he builds magic tricks) who knows more than anyone else how the story will turn out, and another memorable, quirky performance by David Bowie as electric genius Nikola Tesla (what has happened to David Lynch’s Tesla film?), who figures in the plot, as well. The scenes at Tesla’s hideaway laboratory in Colorado Springs are beautiful to watch; the echoes of his lifelong and real-life rivalry with Thomas Edison echo the plot nicely.

The women associated with these men live lives that are far less magical, including Piper Perabo and Rebecca Hall, both overwhelmed by poetic curls; the latter, especially, emotes all over the place but doesn’t get much from her spouse Bale, which is the point. The also-ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson fares better as a magician’s assistant who functions in the story. This time around, coming off of her Black Dahlia role in tight sweaters, Johansson is perennially costumed in fetching outfits that appear to be one size too small, especially on top. (Something for everyone, I guess; there is also the near-obligatory shot of Jackman, shirtless and hirsute.)

I won’t go into specifics of the rivalry, because that unraveling is one of the principal delights of the film, which I recommend highly.

One comment about accents: The Prestige is set in London, so one would expect a range of upper- and lower-class and perhaps even regional accents. Johansson works hard to maintain her accent, and of course Michael Caine doesn’t have to. But Jackman, who grew up in Sydney and whose parents are English, sounds completely American at this point, and Bale, who is Welsh and English, sounds as if he’s swimming somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. This all-over-the-place isn’t as distracting as it sounds, but it did lead me to wonder to what extent the director ever addressed the issue of how he wanted his cast to sound.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I'm working on it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Do you even KNOW what rock and roll is?

In this SNL video, courtesy of YouTube (soon to be GoogTube?), Lou Reed (Fred Armisen) and Patti Smith (Amy Poehler), remind you that they are much cooler than you could ever be.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Whom does The Queen love?

The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, purports to show us a crisis in the British monarchy when Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris in 1997. The crisis is not, however, with the monarchy, but with the monarch, Queen Elizabeth, played with great depth of feeling by Helen Mirren. Diana, to the Queen, is an ex-daughter-in-law; the mother of the heir to the throne, to be sure, but unmissed as an individual personality. The Queen proceeds in the wake of Diana's death as if the personal Diana that she knew is the only one that matters. Her miscalculation leads her to discover that, horror of horrors, she is out of touch with her subjects, and she therefore must change. She listens to the advice of the new Labor Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and commemorates the public face of the "people's princess." Crisis averted.

It may seem odd to note that Mirren plays the role feelingly, but it is not, because the Queen's feelings are at the heart of this very clever, very entertaining film. For whom does the Queen love but her people? It's clear from the outset that her marriage is now a ceremonial matter; James Cromwell adroitly captures Prince Philip's impatience and distance from actual matters of state, although it's always been my impression that Philip is even more of a boor than Cromwell plays him. The Queen's son and heir, Charles, has the temerity to presume that he may take The Queen's Flight to Paris to retrieve the body of his ex-wife. Alex Jennings, although given often to a Bertie Woosterish grimace, demonstrates Charles as a man who is essentially soft of heart.

But the Queen is not. The only one who sees her way in things is "Mummy," as she calls The Queen Mother. Mummy counsels that the stiff upper lip is best. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is a woman who will do anything to keep the love she needs. She returns to London from Balmoral (lovely Scottish scenery in those scenes) and, amazingly, gets out of the car in front of Buckingham Palace to read the tributes to Diana and greet the crowd. This is just not done, as they say, but do it she does, and regains the admiration of her subjects -- which is what she wants.

Tony Blair, a perky Michael Sheen, presumes that the Queen listened to him because she thought highly of his advice. Not really. It was the advice she needed, and for it she owes him nothing. Her power, which Mirren acts subtly and convincingly, is derived from God, hence the divine right of kings. Yes, in this day it may sound a bit daft, but it doesn't matter if you or I believe in it. Elizabeth does, as does Mummy, and this is the reason for her lifelong dedication, meaning in this context that she has given her life to her people until she dies, not that she'll do a nice job and retire to Scotland someday.

An especially moving scene takes place in Scotland when the Queen, driving like a dynamo through a river, hits a rock and disables her Land Rover (interesting and not surprising that she can tell the gamekeeper she phones exactly which part is broken). She fumes for a minute, then relaxes and appreciates the beauty of the natural landscape around her. Tears fall -- probably not for Diana, perhaps for the frustration and loneliness of her role, which is the same as her life. A beautiful stag appears, one that Prince Philip has talked of bagging, and the Queen is transfixed by the handsomeness of the creature. When the stag next appears, he galvanizes the Queen into action. The scenes and the metaphor are beautifully done.

The pomp and ceremony of British royalty are interestingly rendered, as is the immediate post-Diana climate. There is rather too much television news footage to provide context and mood. Overall, however, this is a fine film, and one for which Helen Mirren may indeed receive an Academy Award nomination. Although one does not expect the stiff upper lip to win, as Best Actress is usually rather more given to an hysterical role.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Let's eat: 25 degrees

25 degrees (the name refers to the difference in internal temperature between a rare and well-done beef -- go figure) is a burger bar in the revived hip and happening Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The menu is quite simple: sirloin or turkey burger or hot dog (no word on its origins) with gourmet add-ons, including a vast range of cheeses like Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk. There are a few burgers already composed, but by and large one can put it together oneself, a la Santa Monica's The Counter. Fries and onion rings are ordered separately, and are served in quart-sized Chinese takeout boxes. There are some salads, a grilled cheese sandwich served with tomato soup, and milkshakes that looked, well, properly milkshakey. (Someone can do a comparison with the super shakes at Lucky Devils, a few blocks east, but that person is not me.)

My burger was a little closer to rare than medium rare, but I'm not complaining. I added Neal's Yard cheddar, which was crumbled on top but had not melted -- I like my cheeseburger with melted cheese, thanks. A Russian-dressing type sauce, which was fine, was included. The buns are big, glazed brioche-type items, and the burgers come wrapped in what I can only think of as burger paper, as they do at In 'n' Out. The beef had good flavor, although I still want to go back to BLD to do a comparison study. The fries are thin, and parsley-dusted; they're good but not exceptional.

C ordered the iceberg wedge salad with yellow tomatoes, creamy dressing, Point Reyes blue cheese, red onion, and Nueske bacon. Her plate was nicely composed, and had two (count 'em!) wedges of the berg -- half a head of lettuce. Although she enjoyed the salad, the Wedge (as she called it) was not as crisp as it usually is -- and, frankly, if iceberg isn't crisp, what is it?

Wine list was appealing, to the point that C wondered, what with all the fine cheeses on the add-on list, would they offer a cheese platter? Would be a quite pleasant way to while away some time there. The decor is goth coffee shop -- deep red half round sized booths, dark mirror tiles on the wall. There are not so many booths, but there's a long counter.

Verdict: I'll go back. Gotta try the turkey burger and the onion rings.

Location: 7000 Hollywood Blvd, inside the Roosevelt Hotel. Valet parking in the back for $ , park on the street (good luck) for only an hour, or--as I did--park in Hollywood and Highland and hoof it (validation if you spend any $$ there and it'll cost you $2. you can always get a cream puff at Beard Papa for dessert).