Daniel Carlson

About movies, mostly.

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Month: January 2009 (page 1 of 2)

That’s All It Took

In the fall of 2007, I wrote about the first time I saw Emmylou Harris in concert. It was a great show, and it turns out clips of the eventual BBC program have now turned up on YouTube. I’m posting a couple here because, well, you can never get enough Emmylou, and I also feel lucky to have been at a show that was filmed.
“For No One”:

These aren’t embeddable — which I think we’ll agree is kind of dickish — but you definitely want to click through:
“The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn”
“Sin City”/”Wheels”

Even In Death, Ana Lucia Is Still Kind Of A Dick

You know, Hurley, people would probably be more inclined to believe your crazy story if you didn’t start babbling like a retard when you tried to explain it. Sometimes I wonder if you even have the capacity for abstract thought and higher-order emotions.
Click here for the recap.

And Here I Thought You Needed A Flux Capacitor

The return of “Lost” means the return of the weekly recaps I construct for Pajiba, and I’ve been looking forward to them, and the show’s return, for a while now. There’s no other show out there quite as fun and interactive, at least in the sense that it rewards you with minor clues and twists the more you devote your fetishistic attention to the happenings of people who crashed on a time-traveling island.
Anyway, although the first two episodes aired on one night, the recaps are still split by episode, so there are two this week.
Click here for the recap.

Passages: “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”

From David Foster Wallace’s essay about growing up playing tennis in the Midwest (available here online and as part of the fantastic collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again). He writes about being a lazy but occasionally inspired player thanks to his love of math, and it’s a nerdily detailed and completely entertaining read:

When I left my boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend my dad’s alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I all of a sudden developed a jones for mathematics. I’m starting to see why this was so. College math evokes and catharts a Midwesterner’s sickness for home. I’d grown up inside vectors, lines and lines athwart lines, grids — and, on the scale of horizons, broad curving lines of geographic force, the weird topographical drain-swirl of a whole lot of ice-ironed land that sits and spins atop plates. The area behind and below these broad curves at the seam of land and sky I could plot by eye way before I came to know infinitesimals as easements, an integral as schema. Math at a hilly Eastern school was like waking up; it dismantled memory and put it in light. Calculus was, quite literally, child’s play.


Tennis-wise, I had two preternatural gifts to compensate for not much physical talent. Make that three. The first was that I always sweated so much that I stayed fairly ventilated in all weathers. Oversweating seems an ambivalent blessing, and it didn’t exactly do wonders for my social life in high school, but it meant I could play for hours on a Turkish-bath July day and not flag a bit so long as I drank water and ate salty stuff between matches. I always looked like a drowned man by about game four, but I didn’t cramp, vomit, or pass out, unlike the gleaming Peoria kids whose hair never even lost its part right up until their eyes rolled up in their heads and they pitched forward onto the shimmering concrete. A bigger asset still was that I was extremely comfortable inside straight lines. None of the odd geometric claustrophobia that turns some gifted juniors into skittish zoo animals after a while. I found I felt best physically enwebbed in sharp angles, acute bisections, shaved corners. This was environmental. Philo, Illinois, is a cockeyed grid: nine north-south streets against six northeast-southwest, fifty-one gorgeous slanted-cruciform corners (the east and west intersection-angles’ tangents could be evaluated integrally in terms of their secants!) around a three-intersection central town common with a tank whose nozzle pointed northwest at Urbana, plus a frozen native son, felled on the Salerno beachhead, whose bronze hand pointed true north. In the late morning, the Salerno guy’s statue had a squat black shadow-arm against grass dense enough to putt on; in the evening the sun galvanized his left profile and cast his arm’s accusing shadow out to the right, bent at the angle of a stick in a pond. At college it suddenly occurred to me during a quiz that the differential between the direction the statue’s hand pointed and the arc of its shadow’s rotation was first-order. Anyway, most of my memories of childhood — whether of furrowed acreage, or of a harvester’s sentry duty along RR104W, or of the play of sharp shadows against the Legion Hall softball field’s dusk — I could now reconstruct on demand with an edge and protractor.

We Come To Proclaim An End To The Petty Grievances And False Promises, The Recriminations And Worn-Out Dogmas

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”
— President Barack Hussein Obama

Review: Waltz With Bashir

A fantastic, moving documentary.
Click here for the review.
Here’s a brief scene:

Passages: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

From Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-winning, heartbreaking, flat-out brilliant novel:

As they made their way through the increasing gloom, Joe seemed to steer only according to the light shed by the action of her palm against his wrist, by the low steady flow of voltage through the conducting medium of their sweat. He stumbled like a drunken man and laughed as she hurried him along. He was vaguely aware of the ache in his hand, but he ignored it. As they turned the landing to the top floor, a strand of her hair caught in the corner of his mouth, and for an instant he crunched it between his teeth.

My Musical Year In Review, 2008 — Coda

Total albums purchased/acquired in 2008: 78
Of those, albums released since 2000: 53
Albums from before 2000: 25

The number of albums I got this year bumped my total collection to somewhere in the neighborhood of 370 records, meaning that something like 20% of my total collection came from 2008. Weirdly, I wound up with the same ratio of acquired albums to total library last year, which I didn’t think would happen and would be impossible to continue to repeat unless I bought a storage unit and started stockpiling CDs like a madman. But if anything, it’s a reminder that the collector in me still enjoys keeping track of the numbers and seeing what I’ve got, where it came from, what the trends are, etc.

And because I still feel the same way, here’s what I wrote last year:

“I do know that the sheer amount of music released last (and every) year, combined with the atemporal and personal-discovery nature of music, means that my list of the top albums of the year almost never looks like the ones compiled by the aging critics at Rolling Stone or the hipsters over at Pitchfork. My best albums of the year were quite literally my best albums of the year, the ones I bought and listened to and couldn’t take out of my car stereo without just one more listen. Music is personal like that, and this was what last year was for me. I can’t even really make a top 10 list or anything; all I could hope to do would be to trim a few disappointments and leave the many good albums I came up with. But since I can’t do that, here’s a selection of tracks from my year in music.”

And I still hold to that. It would be impossible to list here all the songs I loved last year, but these are some of the best. (Instead of embedding the clips, I’ve linked to them where available. It saves space and load time, so deal.)

Gary Louris, “She Only Calls Me on Sundays”
Billy Bragg, “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”
Justin Townes Earle, “South Georgia Sugar Babe”
Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, “Two Different Things”
Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, “Something Less Than Something More”
Willie Nelson, “Time of the Preacher”
Muddy Waters, “She’s Nineteen Years Old”
Gin Blossoms, “Cajun Song”
Blind Boys of Alabama,“Way Down in the Hole”
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, “Once in a While”
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, “Sweetest Waste of Time”
Ben Folds Five, “Song for the Dumped”
Eytan Mirsky, “(I Just Wanna Be) Your Steve McQueen”
Hank Williams III, “Broke, Lovesick & Driftin'”
Old 97’s, “Here’s to the Halcyon” Old 97's - Blame It on Gravity - Here's to the Halcyon
Tift Merritt, “Broken”
Tres Chicas, “Foot of the Bed” Tres Chicas - Sweetwater - Foot of the Bed

My Musical Year In Review, 2008 — 7 (Christmas Bonus Edition)

(Almost done. I got a lot of music this year.)
This year, my sister and I didn’t buy each other that many albums as Christmas gifts. We realized that some of the CDs we wanted were already owned by the other sibling, and that we’d be a lot better off just swapping music en masse. So when we met up at the family homestead, I brought my laptop, she brought a couple dozen of her favorite albums, we bought some blank CDs, and that was that. I had bits and pieces of a few of these albums (the Dylan, the Chicks), but for the most part they were all new to me. As such, I haven’t even begun to process all the music she gave me apart from liking it as much as I figured I would. (I also think it’s pretty clear from the release dates that she buys a lot more new music than I do, so I really won out. It’s like I got great records from 2008 for free simply by waiting.) So here then is a list of the albums I ripped from her, and that I’m sure I’ll be spinning throughout 2009:
Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin’ (2008)
Ray LaMontagne, Gossip in the Grain (2008)
Lucinda Williams, Little Honey (2008)
Alison Krauss and Union Station, Live (2002)
Lewis Black, Anticipation (2008)
The Fratellis, Here We Stand (2008)
R.E.M., Accelerate (2008)
M. Ward, Post-War (2006)
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
She & Him, Volume One (2008)
Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (2001)
Patsy Cline, The Definitive Collection (2004)
My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges (2008)
Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal (2008)
Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs (2008)
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces (1998)
Dixie Chicks, Fly (1999)
Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska (1982)
Johnny Cash, My Mother’s Hymn Book (2004)
Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight (2007)
Coldplay, Viva La Vida (2008)
The Killers, Day and Age (2008)

On Standards: A Live Transcript

Her: Do you watch “The Big Bang Theory”?
Me: [with dismissive but not unfriendly laugh] No.
Her: Oh, that’s right — Tim said —… Are you artsy?
Me: Do you mean “discerning”? Then yes.

My Musical Year In Review, 2008 — 6

Murry Hammond, I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m On My Way (2008)
The best way to describe it is ethereal roots music, shot through with images of lonesome trains. That reads like nonsense, but the music is great.
Mindy Smith, Long Island Shores (2006)
A beautiful, accomplished follow-up to her debut One Moment More. I wish I could come up with something smarter or more engaging to say than that, but right now, I can’t. Just pick it up if you get the chance.
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison (1968)
Untouchable classic. I already owned At San Quentin, and needed this to feel complete.
Ryan Adams, Cardinology (2008)
Ryan Adams has been almost startlingly prolific in the past few years, churning out albums and EPs like a depressed little machine. He’s mellowed into the sound that defines his current era — countryish rock with a faint ’70s vibe — and he makes it work for him, even on an outing like Cardinology, which is more adequate than anything. He doesn’t hit the songwriting heights of, say, Jacksonville City Nights, but this also miles better than 29. It’s a solid little Adams record, and I’ll take that any day of the week.
San Saba County, …Though Cheating Was Never an Option (2008)
This is a great alt-country record with a mature sound that’s often reminiscent of Son Volt or other harder-edged outfits. But I love the way I came by it. I mentioned in an earlier post how I’d picked up San Saba County’s first record online, and a couple days later I got an email from frontman John Saba asking if I’d like a copy of their new one. Things like that rarely happen to me, a guy who runs a small blog mostly read by people he actually knows, so for that kind of connection to happen through the magical tubes of the interweb was cool. And it’s a good album, to boot.
Steve Earle and the Dukes, Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator (1991)
Steve Earle live. Enough said.
The Jayhawks, Sound of Lies (1997)
This is the first record The Jayhawks put out after the departure of Mark Olson, but the leadership of Gary Louris proved itself over and over in this group of fantastic songs. Edgier but more polished than the band’s previous efforts, it’s a wonderful example of how the group stayed together and reshaped its sound even in the absence of one of their guiding lights. They wouldn’t top this album until 2003’s Rainy Day Music.
Mark Olson and the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, My Own Jo Ellen (2000)
A total value find at a CD Exchange on the north side of San Antonio. CD Exchange is a decent but mostly ratty chain of used music stores, and their shelves run mostly toward mainstream pap from a decade ago; basically, imagine your iTunes library hijacked by a baby boomer. But most stores have a small Americana section carved out toward the back, and it’s there that you can find some genuinely good albums like this one.
Sam Cooke, Portrait of a Legend: 1951-1964 (2003)
This is a greatest hits collection that’s packed with great songs, from a couple of spiritual Cooke did with the Soul Stirrers to classic tracks from the era, like “Twistin’ the Night Away” and “Another Saturday Night.” Good stuff.
Muddy Waters, Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live (2003)
If this double-disc reissue of Muddy Waters live doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will. Powerful, blistering blues from a master.
The Drams, Jubilee Dive (2006)
I didn’t pick this up until I saw the Drams open for the Old 97’s, even though I was familiar with Slobberbone, a great Texas band that’s since broken up and re-formed as the Drams. They put on as good a show as ever, and most of their raw energy is pretty well captured in their album.
The Welcome Wagon, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon (2008)
The producing talents of Sufjan Stevens are evident from the first note, and that’s a good thing. Stevens’ songs already brush up against modern religion, and this album by the husband and wife team of The Welcome Wagon is the reverential flip-side to Stevens’ pop-infused explorations of Americana. Good stuff.
Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue (1998)
This is another one of those records for which I already owned a few songs — “California Stars,” etc. — but not the whole album. So I picked it up, and of course the rest of it was just as wonderful.

Review: Last Chance Harvey

As disappointing as you’d think.
Click here for the review.
The comment thread also allows me another opportunity to show just how sad and stupid some commenters can be. I spend 1,300 words talking about why the movie isn’t good, and then a commenter named Xtreme writes, “Well written Daniel, but I can’t say you’ve made me want to watch this one. Sounds as exciting as “About Schmidt”.”
If this is some elaborate hoax designed to make me slowly lose my mind, congrats to whoever orchestrated it. Now please call it off. It’s already hard enough to make it as a writer, and I don’t know if I want to try and do it in a world where people can so powerfully miss the point of a simple film review.

Passages: How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken

I’ve been meaning to cook up a section on this here blog-type thing that would allow me to share worthwhile sections of books I’m reading or past favorites. (John has a great section that does this as well.) I figure the new year is as good a time as any to get this going, and I hope to regularly offer interesting passages and receive book suggestions in return.

Anyway, to kick things off, here’s Daniel Mendelsohn from in the introduction of How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken, his collection of essays and criticisms. The phrase is from Tennessee Williams, and Mendelsohn is writing about why it struck a chord with him:

But to my mind Williams’s haunting phrase illuminates not only the nature of certain works that have preoccupied me, but also something about the nature of the critics who judge these works. For (strange as it may sound to many people, who tend to think of critics as being motivated by the lower emotions: envy, disdain, contempt even) critics are, above all, people who are in love with beautiful things, and who worry that those things will get broken. What motivates so many of us to write in the first place is, to begin with, a great passion for a subject (Tennessee Williams, Balanchine, jazz, the twentieth-century novel, whatever) that we find beautiful; and, then, a kind of corresponding anxiety about the fragility of that beauty.

Subtitling: Punchline Guidelines

“The Quickening”
“The New Batch”
“…In Space”
“Lord of Illusions”
“The Wrath of Khan”
“The Revenge”
“The Final Nightmare”
“…With a Vengeance”
“Back in the Habit”
“Electric Boogaloo”

My Musical Year In Review, 2008 — 5

Justin Townes Earle, The Good Life (2008)
As I wrote for John: Justin Townes Earle’s The Good Life is everything you’d expect from a man fathered by Steve Earle and named after Townes van Zandt, which is to say, it’s a solid collection of story songs, alt-country, and old-school sounds that’s completely listenable. “The Good Life” has a Hank Williams swing to it, while “South Georgia Sugar Babe” has a bluesier stomp that would be right at home on one of the elder Earle’s records. Justin Townes Earle is determined to do right by his dad, his namesake, and his influences, and every song on the album can be pegged to one of those sources. However, the resulting record doesn’t feel fragmented; rather, it feels like a young musician — the kid is like 25 — exploring the music he loves and trying to figure out how to tie it all together.
Laura Cantrell, Humming by the Flowered Vine (2005)
A wonderful record and great gift from a friend. Giving music is hard, but my buddy Collins is the best.
Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, Begonias (2005)
I’d had this album in the back of mind as something I needed to buy for more than two years, but it didn’t come into my life until a friend gave it to me. As is often the case, it arrived at what turned out to be the perfect time: The sound, lyrics, and general sensibility — a mix of brilliant alt-country and vintage style — were exactly what I needed. The album is one of shattering duets, songs that are so sweet and sad that listening to them is a bracing, stirring activity. It’s in the gentle sway of “Please Break My Heart,” or the lovelorn worry of “Something Less Than Something More”; it’s in the heartbroken but proud swagger of “Party Time,” or the resigned ultimatum of “Whatever You Want.” Most of all, it’s in the hard-earned wisdom of “Two Different Things,” the song that opens the album and sets the honest tone for what’s to follow: It’s just perfect.
The Two Dollar Pistols With Tift Merritt, The Two Dollar Pistols With Tift Merritt (1999)
A solid record of country duets between Tift Merritt, who’s got a voice like a damn angel, and John Howie Jr., the frontman for Two Dollar Pistols who’s got a crazy swagger to his powerful baritone. The titles tell you everything you need to know: “If Only You Were Mine,” “Counting the Hours,” “Suppose Tonight Would Be Our Last.” Yep.
Tres Chicas, Sweetwater (2004)
An alt-country group comprised of Lynn Blakely, Tonya Lamm, and Caitlin Cary. What more do you need to know?
Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger (1986)
The classic concept album that will have you singing along through the tears. Willie gets me every time with, “He cried like a baby / he screamed like a panther in the middle of the night.” And “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain?” Damn.
Hank Williams III, Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’ (2002)
Talent clearly skips generations. Hank III is a fantastic heir to his grandfather’s heritage, fusing classic-sounding riffs and swing with a modern edge. “Broke, Lovesick & Driftin'” and “5 Shots of Whiskey” will get you where you need to go. Completely great.
Nothing. Broke, exhausted, stressed, and just never able to make time.
Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen (1997)
This is one of those albums that always existed on the periphery for me, even though I was familiar (like everyone) with “Brick” and “Song for the Dumped.” But when I found a cheap copy, I happily picked it up and plugged the gap in my collection.
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, Under the Covers: Vol. 1 (2006)
A strong, simple collection of well-done covers of 1960s pop and rock, and the same great sound that Sweet has been making all along. Their rendition of “Monday, Monday” is fantastic.