Lichtenstein was on to something

Planetary_27_Legion_CPS_022

Until you reassemble that team, mind you, that cat is both alive and dead.

Batman And Robin #5 014

Keyser… Söze… KEYSER SÖZE!!!!

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Tonight’s route (oy)

jonsevening

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The Screener Stack No. 1: “Rumba”

So my newspaper folded last week. This has left me with two things: lots of free time, and a large stack of DVD screeners I received at work but never managed to watch.

Some of these are from film festivals, others for theatrical releases, and they’ve been gathering dust on my desk for months. Most are from the last year; a good few haven’t made it to U.S. theaters, and likely won’t.

So, since I can’t think of a better tonic to the tedium of joblessness, unless I find gainful employment first (unlikely), I’m going to review them all, right here. Film-critic purgatory doesn’t have to be so bad.

Rumba

France/Belgium | 2008 | 77 minutes | Not rated

It’s too bad I sat down for this strange, charming movie feeling so cynical. “Rumba” is a pithy, funny, mostly wordless fable starring Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, and although its characters don’t wind up on a beach until the final act, the film immediately evokes “Les Vacances de M. Hulot” (1953), Jacques Tati’s classic seaside romp, which I loved when I was younger for its slapstick (equal parts Marceau and Keaton), its silliness and its intoxicating primary colors. “Hulot” isn’t the best Tati film, I suppose, but it’s probably my favorite; my mom used to rent it every few months from a French-language video store in Bethesda, Md., which I’m fairly sure went out of business some years ago.

“Hulot” is like silent film with the benefit of sound and color; all is in the service of comedy and theme. Which is why “Rumba” — which Abel and Gordon wrote and directed with Bruno Romy (who also appears) — is so delightful: The directors clearly have internalized Tati’s lessons without over-relying on them. Notwithstanding its buoyant pace, expert physical comedy and bright, hyperchromatic palette, “Rumba” almost immediately pivots toward darker thematic territory. I admit, I read a blurb about “Rumba” earlier in the year and erroneously decided the silly/sad juxtaposition would result in something in the vein of a British absurdist black comedy. I was wrong. The film’s tragicomic alchemy is unique, and it works.

Abel and Gordon play a husband and wife who teach gym and English (respectively) at a exurban public school and who moonlight as semiprofessional Latin American dancers. Their reality is heightened and quirky: In the film’s first sequence, Fiona (the characters have the actors’ first names) teaches her students some choice phrases involving the word “dog” while, just out the window, Dom skips across the frame and back with his brightly attired gym class. A bell rings, the school day ends and a mob of children erupt out of the school with a chorus of yays; a second or so later, half a dozen teachers burst out with equal velocity, harmonizing their whoas. Meanwhile, the string-bean-thin protagonists stay late each afternoon, shuffling on pointed toes to the gym, where they dance. Their hobby defines and informs their relationship; even when Dom and Fiona brush their teeth and get ready for bed, their movements are synchronized.

(An aside: Quirk seems especially anathema to American critics these last few years. What gives? OK, so lately we’ve been getting diminishing returns from Wes Anderson and I have low hopes for the “Arrested Development” movie, but stylistic unreality should never be an automatic negative, especially in comedy. Lighten up, people.)

Fiona and Dom’s idyllic arrangement is upset when their car careens off the road as they drive back from a competition. When they wake up in a hospital, she has lost one leg below the knee; he seems to partially have lost his mind. Not long after, they lose their jobs, their home and each other. Yet the filmmakers handle each sour development with a whimsical touch.

If “Rumba” at all grates, its when it extends a gag for too long (like when Fiona, thinking Dom dead, repeatedly throws a rose off a cliff; each time, for over a minute, it blows back in her face). I forgave the film, partially because most of its humor was so refreshingly unexpected, mostly because its rococo veneer still allowed for a nuanced, deeply felt romance that begged for a happy ending (whether it gets one, I won’t say.) Quite literally, Fiona and Dom depend on each other; each has a faculty the other lacks. There’s something very real beneath their quirkiness.

And there’s something very beautiful to this silly film. Sitting by a bonfire midway into the film, Fiona and Dom sing the oft-covered oldie “Sea Of Love” (of Phil Phillips, Del Shannon, Honeydrippers, Tom Waits and Cat Power fame) to each other — a sweet, fleeting moment before Dom aloofly tosses his guitar into the blaze and Fiona’s wooden leg catches fire. By the end of “Rumba,” when Fiona and Dom end up on that Tatiesque beach, we become aware of the song’s not-so-slight significance: Even when life unravels, there’s clarity to be found in our simpler pleasures.

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arbitrary listmaking

Top 5 movies I’ve seen/will see this week.

1. “Hunger” (brutal)

2. “Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur” (anti-nostalgic)

3. “Explict Ills” (overwrought)

4. “Julia” (tragic)

5. “The Last House On The Left” (depraved)

More top five lists here.

I chatted earlier today with Jan Troell, the great Swedish filmmaker who’s been nominated for an Academy Award five times, about his latest film, “Everlasting Moments.” Well, sort of chatted, since he could barely hear me (he said his hearing’s going) and the static coming from his end sounded like whatever the Swedish equivalent of a blizzard is. But it was an interesting interview, and he had a lot to say. More on this later.

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whole load of Wednesdays

I’ve been pretty silent for a while — well, I’ve more or less neglected this space since I’ve had it. But I never fail to get amped for smart, damaged pop music. Polly Scatterwood — within the next few months you’ll be hearing a lot about her new, mostly great debut — easily fits in that category.

She’s in her early 20s, barely out of school (the Brit School, in fact, which also produced ingenues like Kath Nash, Amy Winehouse, Adele and so on…), and she apparently wrote 800 songs while she was there — though only 10 of them made the album. Most of them have a short attention span but sprawl beyond pop music’s 4.5 minute reverse-Mendoza Line; they’re tortured, cyborglike dirges that hit skeletal nadirs (PJ Harvey with beats?) and cathartic, ebullient, maximalist apexes (Kate Bush with a toy keyboard?).

The single, “Nitrogen Pink,” is all beautiful, messy, dopamine-teasing catharsis, though. Whew.

Nitrogen Pink – Polly Scatterg…
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Request for direction: I have none. What should this blog be about?

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the songs sound like this

stuff-156

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dance party for misanthropes

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