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Entries in eleanor morrow (43)

Tuesday
Feb232010

In Which Heaven Forbid We Should End The Evening Reflecting On Our Own Mortality

As You Can See, I Just Love Things

by ELEANOR MORROW 

An Education

dir. Lone Schorfig

95 minutes

Nick Hornby has spent his years listening to the Beta Band and haunting us all with his elegiac tales of how white people also have feelings. Then he wrote How to Be Good, one of the worst books of the twentieth century. After that he just hung out a lot and read Sasha Frere-Jones and thought about how much he sucked as a music writer in comparison and how he wished he was Hugh Grant or even, sometimes, Colin Firth. Then he adapted Lynn Barber's Granta article about getting boned by Peter Sarsgaard into a movie. Luckily, Peter Sarsgaard was available for this important role because Jeff Bridges was doing his wife.

At first, An Education is about Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a silly young girl who gets A+ marks on her papers but really at her heart just wants a bun in the oven. (When the bun is not available, she wisely opts for a latke.) Of course this is how Nick Hornby believes all young girls think, and when David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard) pulls up in his sharp automobile and reveals to everyone's surprise than he is both smarter and better-looking than her domineering dad, Jenny's pleased as punch.

The difference in age is glossed over rather quickly, but unlike a similar relationship that Roman Polanski had some time ago, here a banana was only used for the breaking of the hymen. It's totally cool with Jenny's parents that David gives her lavish gifts, and makes up an elaborate story about knowing C.S. Lewis. After all, before 1961, no one in the world was creepy.

The movie then does a 40 minute stretch where Jenny becomes more aware of David's general tendency towards inaccuracies and lies. He also coincidentally reveals that he is a Jew; well, he actually does this within minutes of meeting her. It is truly a wonder that they didn't consider forcing the character to wear a yellow star, but I guess the time frame didn't really allow for that.

I didn't have a major, but my thesis was on Latin American economic policy.Jenny's dowdy teacher is played by Rushmore's Olivia Williams. This is good for a laugh, but ultimately it's a bit disturbing that Olivia once played the hot teacher and now she's playing the one unfamiliar with mascara. Soon enough Jenny is off on trips to Paris and Oxford, which are places a million miles away from where she was before, even though every part of England looks the same except when James Herriot is involved.

David's business partner is Danny (The History Boys' Dominic Cooper, replacing Orlando Bloom). The two steal paintings and money and work for Peter Rachman, the famous Notting Hill slumlord. David is slightly more at ease with this lifestyle than Danny. The filmmakers cast the most gentile partner-in-crime they could think of, and then made him the ethical conscience of this whole storyline.

Danny is in fact the most morally upright thief in history, and he tells David that he doesn't want to see Jenny hurt, and he tells Jenny that she has a future that doesn't include David. It's almost like David's ability to manipulate and distort situations rubbed off on this poor, gentile criminal.

The last movie that so lavishly perpetrated invidious anti-Semitic stereotypes besides the Harry Potter movies was Schindler's List. (The Pianist wasn't so great either.) Avatar was also borderline anti-Semitic, given that the qualified member of the anthropological team was Jewish and he never got to put his blue thing into her blue thing because Sam Worthington was in the way. Also, why were there no chosen people in The Matrix? Think about that.

Of course, the only exciting thing about An Education is the Jewish man. He takes everyone to the nicest places, the finest bars and restaurants. And no one asks any questions about this, until they do, and then they're super-disappointed. If this isn't the most alarmingly anti-Jewish metaphor for the Third Reich I've ever heard, it's up there.

The English turn the Jew into the other because they're too afraid of anything really different, so they prefer the slightly less boring version of their own lives. In Hornby's imagination, the ideas that provincial people have about non-provincial people are generally provincial. In this case, they're bigoted, too - as Jenny's father, Alfred Molina dislikes all the Jews he knows, but he professes that "he's not really like that."

Uh-huh. And the goblins that haunt Gringotts are just for funsies, and the Brothers Grimm had lots of Jewish friends.

I know you're mad now, but can I get your word that this won't become a movie?The most pernicious of the literary Jew haters was maybe Roald Dahl. Matilda is one of the most bracingly anti-Semitic stories of its time, including a mustachioed car salesman who cons his customers by rolling back their odometers and pores over the Torah during evenings. Don't get me started on Charlie on the Chocolate Factory. I really don't know what the English fascination with the Jews is, all I do know is that Peter Sarsgaard is about the most Gentile actor I can think of, I mean he was an altar boy for christ's sake. He's from southern Illinois; the only Jews there are in Obama's field organization.

An Education falls in the end rather flat, but mainly because this is a story that has been told so many times we can barely suffer through it once more. What surrounds that tale is easier to recommend. The visuals and performances are diverting, and the direction is capable, a microcosm of the story itself, where mere excitement isn't enough to carry meaning forward any. As in About a Boy and High Fidelity, An Education dismisses a way of life as inadequate without finding anything worthwhile to replace it. An Education is the perfect Hornby project, because as John Cusack openly wonders at the end of High Fidelity, isn't attraction just liking the same things?

Near the end of the film, after David asks her to marry him, Jenny finds papers in his glove compartment that he left there for her so that he doesn't have to go through with the marriage. They inform her that he is a married person. Instead of thanking him for his openness, she calls him and his friends liars. She instructs him to tell her parents that the whole thing was all his mistake, as if she had nothing to do with it. After getting kicked out of school, she still gets to Oxford, and true to her real-life counterpart, she spends the next seven years working for Penthouse.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Crazy Heart.

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"Easy Chairs" - Suckers (mp3)

"It Gets Your Body Movin'"- Suckers (mp3)

"Afterthoughts & TV" - Suckers (mp3)


Friday
Feb192010

In Which We Don't Want No Part Of This Crazy Heart

Whatever Happened to the Dude?

by ELEANOR MORROW

The Dude entered all of our lives somewhere in the 1998-1999 era and jokes based on his one liners ("he peed on my rug!", "mind if I do a J?", "there's a beverage here", "they killed my fucking car") touched the lips of every person more concerned with his own amusement than the pleasure of others. Now the Dude has been recast in a full length motion picture where he is essentially himself, only slightly different: Whiskey rather than vodka is the new Dude's poison of choice. For a hard luck alcoholic, the Dude is better at making it work for him than most. Sometimes I put on Blown Away just to remind myself Jeff Bridges still has a face under whatever's growing on his. The new Dude is named Bad Blake, and he's a singer/songwriter.

that was brilliant. drive me to work.But wait - Bad Blake has entered into the unlikeliest of romances! And what's not to like? Bad Blake, his handle in Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, is a alcohol-swilling malcontent who coasts through life under the premise that someone may recognize him and be grateful enough for that human contact that they take mercy on him. Blake is constantly having to conform to a society that mystifies and disturbs him. For example, he performs at a bowling alley.

The Dude was never this way. He wanted out from the conspiracy, to leave the rat race and the popular culture behind him and just relax. He was too old and too fully automated to be forced to change. In contrast Bad Blake wants to change, like a hopeful puppy. And he does. In Crazy Heart, he kicks his lifelong history of alcoholism in under 90 seconds, a record only surpassed by one of the Lizzy McGuire movies, if I'm not mistaken.

You'll spend most of Crazy Heart luxuriating in the fact that Blake's "romance" with Maggie Gyllenhaal is so unusual. I mean, they both like Lefty Frizell, but only one of them I guess actually met Lefty. To make this romance even more unusual than is commonly depicted in collected oeuvre of Zooey Deschanel - including her fake "marriage" to Ben Gibbard - the two connect while she interviews Bad for a story she's writing for an mp3 blog.

Adding to the super-realistic complexity of the entire situation is that Maggie has a son, who is named Buddy. Was he called this just so the Dude can get a lot of mileage out of creepily/kind-of-jokingly connecting to Maggie's teeny son while he says "Buddy" upwards of 5,000 times? When Maggie and Buddy show up at Blake's house for a visit, he has a breakdown and loses the kid in a bar somewhere. I mean, what is this rule about children not being in bars? The last three bars I went to had children in them. Blake and Maggie spend most of their time connecting one-on-one about how unusual this is. The Smiths never come up.

In between, Blake heads out on the road, or what is left of it. We witness scenes where Blake stumbles around like an elephant walking the high wire, vomiting and then heading onstage for more. The performance segments prove Bridges isn't the worst singer in the world, and although Crazy Heart captures little of the thrill (or lack thereof) that drives Blake from town-to-town, above all we are in the hands of someone who loves to be the center of attention.

Broke and fucked-up, Bad Blake is forced on the mercies of his former protege Tommy "Ponytail Beeswax" Sweet. Needing the money, Blake performs the opening act for his incredibly popular student, acting like a petty master the whole time. At one point the silly-named Sweet joins Bad on stage and we can feel the older man's resentment, like, "You'd take this from me, too?" What kind of room could a woman find in the life of such a person?

As the Dude's life tumbles to shit as it was wont to do after Donny was lost to us and the Dude got Donny's ashes in his beard, he enters into a wholly unexpected creative period.

Crazy Heart equates the painful onset of a hard life with the material necessary to create art, hardly a new perspective on the matter. Bad Blake's previous hits (written largely by Jeff Bridges and one super-cute duet with Colin Farrell, "Falling and Flying") were rollicking, unapologetic anthems. Seeing Blake grind through them one more time is like watching someone with obsessive compulsive disorder cleaning their room.

In the flush of getting laid by a worthwhile woman for the first time in three decades, the new music Blake writes is introspective, heart-stopping. His unusual girlfriend starts a weepfest in bed because she overhears him playing something memorable. It'd be hilarious if it was Joe Francis, but in the otherwise capable hands of the Dude it's a goddamn shame.

Later he tells his other buddy (Robert Duvall, who also gets a song on the soundtrack and produced Crazy Heart) about this woman he met. He sounds like a sixteen year old instead of a multiple divorcee. Soon enough the Dude is dressing more modern. He starts to resemble Harrison Ford. His incredible 90 second recovery from alcoholism belies the fact that he was the least harmful drunk in the history of drunks. Blake starts wearing a cell phone on his hip like everyone else over 50, and he's not as crabby during soundcheck.

Maggie calls Bad up one day. "I'm worried about you," she tells him. He's making eggs on the clean stove. It got that way because of the energy level he maintains while not craving alcohol. He's clean-shaven, looking at something in the pan. He's happy, in artistic control, and she is the one who becomes the wreck.

The pleasure-seeker - which the Dude most certainly is - pursues his self-satisfaction in many guises. Bridges' strength as a performer has always been the way he slips into a role while simultaneously being unrecognizable; the acting equivalent of deja vu. This pleasure seeker has his fill of life's tiny little orgasms, until in a candid moment a doctor tells him to stop smoking, stop drinking, and lose 25 pounds. Just 25! Did you see what this guy ate in a motel room in a towel?

For the pleasure seeker, a heady grasp on your own mortality is part of the package. For the Dude, money itself has no value or status, it is simply the means to a more explosive end. He tells Tommy Sweet, who he apparently taught guitar to, and who therefore owes Blake a living for some reason, that he needs money, but he's lying. That's the last thing he needs.

Tommy Sweet is played by Colin Farrell, which is a laugh. They might have been better off with someone who could sing, but Farrell at least brings a star magnetism to the role of a pouty superstar. Hearing him vocalize Blake's finest artistic achievement is painful, but mostly because Farrell's smoked approximately 49,000 cigarettes in his short life and his lungs look like two black testes.

By the end of Crazy Heart, instead of being emasculated by this intrusion of commercial culture onto his own personal throwback lifestyle, the Dude tells his ex-girlfriend that he's taking it one day at a time, possibly the worst cliche in a long history series of them. The point for the pleasure-seeker is the experience rather than the end result. In Blake's case, it produced a work of art, so the pain was worthwhile. You gotta ask: what's Brad Pitt's excuse?

It isn't what happens in Crazy Heart that's terribly exciting. It's not the places we go in our heads or in the real world. For people like Bad Blake, life is shortened, abbreviated, childlike. This is the exact position that being the constant moving target of a consumer culture puts us in. It's no wonder Blake sends Maggie's son Buddy gifts to spoil him and win his favor. That's the only appropriate expression of his grief for what's been lost without adult behavior and artistic maturity. It's a way of participating in life that is distinctive to this time and place. The Dude would have mixed himself a White Russian and told everyone to fuck off.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about the premiere of Big Love.

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"The Weary Kind" - Ryan Bingham (mp3)

"Live Forever" - Robert Duvall (mp3)

"If I Need You" - Townes Van Zandt (mp3)

"Brand New Angel" - Jeff Bridges (mp3)

"Reflecting Light" - Sam Phillips (mp3)

Wednesday
Jan132010

In Which Big Love Walks A Lonely Road

The Very Ecstasy of Love

by ELEANOR MORROW

How should we treat the ones we love? The new season of Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer's HBO series Big Love puts this issue into the sharpest of focus. Do they need a firm yet giving hand? Do they require a major degree of autonomy to function? When is it right to criticize and challenge those we love, and when is the same behavior certain to destroy them?

It's rare to see actual bad parenting portrayed on television, and this only one strange element about the relationship of Big Love's character to its audience. We can't fully sympathize with characters who treat their children in this fashion, and yet we're drawn into the dilemmas of the Hendricksons slowly but surely, without realizing what exactly we're doing. In case you're overly prejudiced against multiple partners and have avoided the show, the Hendricksons are currently spawning new babies quicker than Brad Pitt's rimjobs: Teenie, Aaron, Lester, Ben, Nell, Wayne, Sarah, Cara Lynn are only the beginning of the large brood routinely ignored by their parents.

weirdly, this is the most attractive Harry Dean Stanton has ever beenNone of these kids are turning out very well. The oldest is Sarah, played by Amanda Seyfried. Last season had her dealing with a pregnancy that got deus ex hendrickson'd into oblivion. Now she's just a regular Mormon girl dealing with her Mormon problems, like what dress that goes down to my ankles should I wear today? Given that she's more occupied with movie roles where she's tonguing Julianne Moore, the intriguing questioning Mormon Seyfried portrayed will be missed as a crucial part of Big Love's success, absorbed into a relationship in the same fashion as any other girl you know.

What can fill the void? Nikki's surprise daughter Cara Lynn has been a fun start. The junior math whiz tells her dirtbag father that she doesn't like it with the Hendricksons, but we sense that's about to change when she realizes she can do whatever she wants on her new compound.

The surprise daughter trick has worked quite well as a plot device in soaps, and that's the direction Big Love has headed. The seedy prophet Roman Grant tied the show into a very disturbing portrait of a cult that subjected its members to a series of disgusting circumstances. With his departure from the drama, the stakes have lessened somewhat, and the soap aspects naturally come to the foreground. Before, there was always the distinct and frightening possibility that any character would end up in the joy book of Juniper Creek and became another cog in the wifely machine that is polygamy.

For this reason, I expected the premiere to be more of a reboot than it was. What we really care about are the ties between people on this show, and since Juniper Creek is no longer the pressure point it was during the first three seasons, the show is desperately in need of a new antagonist who represents the morality of the outsider who produce, direct, and write this show. Fortunately guest turns by Sissy Spacek as a lobbyist, Željko Ivanek as Nicki's ex and the return of once fourth wife Ana are promised in the abbreviated nine-episode season to come.

The new opening sequence is a neat metaphor for how the show has changed over time. No longer are wives and husbands swirling away from one another in a fog. They now just fall singularly like Mormon Don Drapers into a new abyss of their own making.

honey, would it make you feel better if we recast you after this season? go play with your brothersThe tension between Roman Grant and the Hendricksons wasn't the only captivating storyline that made Big Love so exciting. There was always some fear of Bill, Margene, Nicki and Barb being discovered and outed. Now it's obvious that every attorney and police in Salt Lake City knows that Bill butters his bread in three houses. If they knew how rarely he was actually getting laid, they might not be so acrimonious. Bill's sex life has struggled terribly now that he's opening his collaborative casino project with the kind and potential Mormon-hating indigenous people of Utah. The focus is on Bill's business, for better or worse, and by the end of the season premiere, his business is in serious trouble.

With the focus shifting towards Bill's casino venture, Margene Hendrickson's plucky, sexpot saleswoman wife has become the unwitting protagonist of Big Love. Where last season she tried to get Bill to bring on a saucy foreign fourth wife, this year her reinvention as Home Shopping Network star promises more laughs than all the scenes Bradley Cooper wasn't in during He's Just Not That Into You. The show's writers have turned one of the most easily pigeonholed characters on the show into one of its deepest.

beeeeeeeeeeeeellllll?In contrast, Jeanne Tripplehorn's Barb has become minimized as a result of the focus on the other two wives. Barb's done it all - she beat cancer like a champ, she found dry land in Waterworld, and she got excommunicated from her religion. While the experience of being disliked by Indians is somewhat captivating, she's run out of creative steam and it's going to take a major shakeup to make her anything other than Bill Paxton's dialogue coach.

That brings us to Chloe Sevigny. What starlet was more likely to have a face tattoo and a heroin addiction? And yet Sevigny only keeps on working in what can charitably be described as the role of a lifetime. Her Nicki is a tic-ridden, subversive amalgam of woman, so good and bad at once she'd give Jesus (or Joseph Smith) one hell of a headache. To add insult to Mormonism, she's never been more beautiful. With her father out of the picture, it simply leaves more room for the note perfect scenes between her and her similarly conflicted mother Adaleen (the magical Mary Kay Place). In these scenes on the Juniper Creek compound we get the most obvious evidence of how corrupting an ideology that pervades every aspect of our being necessarily is.

this is a really cute hat bill. could our tribe have it?Over time, Big Love has grown more suspicious and derogatory towards polygamy. This is only right - what to the non-cultists looks like a unique but not entirely savage family arrangement over time reveals itself to be more corrupting than you can ever imagine. Bill himself has nothing more to give to his wives, and as if compensating, they find little in common with him. The practical benefit of having a large family is virtually all that can be said in the favor of this family structure.

And yet we ultimately recognize that the ideology which pervades the hypocritical government persecution of the Hendricksons is just as all-knowing and insolent. We should never speak for others, even when what they do is strange and weird to us, as long as it is freely chosen. No one needs a lecture on why polygamy is generally bad for wives and the children that result from such arrangements. The gay married masterminds behind the show Scheffer and Olsen have no intention of giving one. All families have something that redeems them, no matter how disturbing their structure. What redeems the Hendricksons is an open question.

Financial freedom is part of the equation, as it is for every other family in America. But there is something larger beneath that about what we see when we look at our children. Staring in a mirror at the daughter she didn't see in twelve years, Nicki Hendrickson puts on a look of total care and total dominance. She wants nothing of Juniper Creek for her daughter, but she is not perceptive enough to learn or diligent enough to figure out that her daughter may in fact want something of Juniper Creek. But then, if children didn't always surprise their parents, what exactly would be the point of having them?

family meeting: I really hate what you guys have been wearingEven as Big Love conscientiously and dutifully assails the evils of polygamy, it is also offering a brief that the human heart remains capable of more love than we commonly give it credit for. On the other hand, it also endorses a more cynical view - sooner or later, we run out of this mysterious and desired substance.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about John Lennon and Bob Dylan.

"The Great Elsewhere" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

"Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

"Flare Gun" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

You can purchase the new FF, Heartland, here.

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