What a peaceable kingdom: Andersonworld

The first memorable thing about Moonrise Kingdom is the way Scoutmaster Edward Norton holds a cigarette in his right hand as far away from his body as possible. The second are the colors. You’ve never seen a red-painted wooden house this red. Or lawns this green. Moonrise Kingdom is another Wes Anderson’s curio, a fantasia set on a northeastern island where a lawyer (Frances McDormand) cuckolds her husband, also a lawyer (Bill Murray), with the local law (Bruce Willis) and a sociopathic Boy Scout named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) runs away from Norton’s troup to meet Suzy (Kara Hayward), the twelve-year-old daughter of the lawyers possessed by the usual adolescent miseries. With his masterly grasp of survival techniques and tent assembly, Sam is a lot like Max Fischer, the obsinate permanent teenager not very good at learning what you teach him but excellent at picking up things on his own (in this one Jason Schwartzman has a small role, of course). Suzy is a ringer for the kohl-eyed Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tennenbaums.

What distinguishes Moonrise Kingdom from other Anderson joints is the frankness with which two characters — at last! — explore their sexuality. A dance sequence on a beach, reminiscent of Godard’s Pierrot le fou, leads to actual French kissing and tentative breast fondling; my audience gasped around its nervous titters. After this frisson dissipates, there’s not much else except bricolage: Suzy, for example, and her fondness for Francoise Hardy; her undistinguished siblings listen to Benjamin Britten records on a kiddie turntable; the tan inelasticity of Edward Norton’s socks; Tilda Swinton in ridiculous robin’s egg blue hat and wardrobe. Swinton, caricaturing repression, isn’t given a name but is archly referred to as “Social Services.” If you have any affinity for Anderson, then his willful constriction of feeling is at its most adept. His previous film Fantastic Mr. Fox was less than eighty minutes long and I couldn’t get enough of it; Moonrise Kingdom is just over ninety and I was looking at my watch after the second false climax. Admirers of Bresson looking for an American heir may need to look at Anderson, in whose films the intentional flatness of the line readings and meticulous blocking force audiences to look for subtexts. But his whimsy keeps getting in the way of narrative development. I liked the reticence of one quiet moment between Willis and Gilman in his trailer as they share beers (onscree Willis has a special rapport with kids), and the kids’ relationship makes sense; but there’s no escaping the fact that in the casting of Swinton, McDormand, and Harvey Keitel, Anderson’s turning star non-turns into a fetish, the same way Woody Allen has. None of these actors contribute anything deserving their billing (“Hey, what’s Harvey Keitel doing with Sam Elliott’s mustache?”). Give me smart ass animated foxes speaking Roald Dahl’s dialogue anytime.

Singles reviews 6/28

The first track from one of the year’s best records and a potent comeback from one of the last decade’s most singular laryngeal contortionists are two of the week’s best. My middling score for Charli XCX made me the Clarence Thomas of the Singles Jukebox; the song is the highest ranked to date. On the other hand, the Williams-Paisley collab is the most reactionary piece of shit I’ve heard all year.

Click on links for full reviews.

Killer Mike ft. Bun B, T.I., and Trouble – Big Beast (7)
Galactic ft. Mystikal & Mannie Fresh – Move Fast (7)
Charli XCX – You’re The One (6)
Public Enemy ft. Bumpy Knuckles – Get It In (6)
Little Big Town – Pontoon (6)
Frank Ocean – Pyramids (5)
Grizzly Bear – Sleeping Ute (5)
Wiz Khalifa – Work Hard, Play Hard (5)
Ciara ft. 2 Chainz – Sweat (5)
Kate Nash – Under-Estimate the Girl (5)
Sky Ferreira – Red Lips (5)
f(x) – Electric Shock (4)
Misha B – Home Run (4)
Morgan Page ft. Tegan and Sara – Body Work (3)
Hank Williams Jr. ft. Brad Paisley – I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams (1)

Keep it In The Family

Joey Williams (Patrick Wang) eats reheated food, drives an apple-red pickup, doesn’t read. Legal documents baffle him. So does meanness. When Cody (Trevor St John) his boyfriend of six years is killed in a car accident, the threads of polite tolerance between him and his purported in-laws begin to fray; when a will, written before Cody met him, stipulates that Cody’s sister Eileen will be six-year-old son Chip’s legal guardian, the blow is shattering in part because Joey’s facade of level-headed amiability remains intact.

The marvel of In The Family, which Wang also wrote and directed, is how an ordinary person – a man who according to any definition is a simpleton – shows such conviction about his ordinariness that it becomes a state of grace. In the first third of this almost three hour movie, the way in which Wang’s direction and performance shaped Joey made me squirm; it was like watching a liberal tract on the perils of Tennessee conservatives, on the stupidity of hospitals not letting partners visit each other. Then in quiet scenes between Joey and his neighbors or the intimacy between him and Chip, his strength becomes impressive. Wang’s camera work – a dozen POV shots over Joey’s shoulder – emphasizes his isolation. The film’s length asks the audience to hold questions about how Joey and Cody met and how an Asian man made it to the rural South, and when the answers come they make sense. The awkward, cute seduction scene between the two men, told in flashback, is worth the price of admission: two bros with Miller Lites and a Chip “Wild Thing” Taylor” CD (St John’s performance is a marvel of courtly reticent charm).

Wang has the insight to dilute some of the special pleading on Joey’s behalf by including, in an unexpected wrinkle, one more character, a lawyer whose majestic library Joey is remodeling and whose law books are getting rebound, played by Brian Murray with wit and flair (it’s a restrained Charles Laughton role). Shrewd and with an unflinching gaze, Paul Hawks is won over by Joey’s sincerity if unconvinced of his intelligence. In the last scene these elements come together in a quarter-hour deposition scene in which in-laws Eileen and Dave get to hear why Joey, coaxed and prodded by an amused Hawks, would make a splendid father. Too close to Kramer vs Kramer, I thought, until the plainspoken eloquence of Wang’s script wins. The conclusion is one development too implausible and a few scenes dawdle; for a couple of hours the clothes, Cody’s eyeglass frames, and use of land lines fooled me into thinking this was set in the nineties; but fans of Kiarostami or Yi-Yi should check out In The Family, the beneficiary of a brief New York City run last fall and two in South Florida this spring.

On interpretation

I’m no lawyer but have always been interested in the Court as an institution: its history, personalities, decisions. I often get impatient with liberals when they decry “judicial activism” or conservatives when they regard the Constitution as inviolate. If it’s so inviolate how have we accepted the Bill of Rights applying to the states and the full integration of African-Americans into the body politic (to take two) when sixty years of conservative jurisprudence ruled otherwise? At least William O. Douglas was honest: he first decided what he thought was right then found the precedents to support those results; none of this nonsense about “original intent.” It led to slipshod opinions but at least he was enough of a realist to accept that the law is like a poem or essay, subject to dozens of possible interpretations. The only “wrong” interpretation is one which hurts the most people.

My only response: win elections and we’ll get the justices we want.

The end of…something?

Gay culture contracts into an unrecognizable permutation:

The reasons for what everyone agrees is a noticeable contraction in club life go way beyond the digital revolution into even more fundamental changes. Younger gay men might be more concerned about meeting Mr. Right to marry and start families than the perpetual search for Mr.Right Now. Even the ones still on the prowl have less expendable income after paying for a rabbit warren of a room in a shared apartment in a funky neighborhood far away from Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, or the East Village. Who wants to be cooked at 4 a.m. while anticipating a long wait for a subway train and a longer walk from the station?

Besides, gay men don’t define themselves by the clubs they frequent anymore. Nor do they have to. In the years after Stonewall, clubs like the Firehouse and 12 West represented safe spaces in a hostile world where we could flirt, make out, and hook up (usually on site). With gay men coming out earlier and being comfortable hanging out with straight friends, even Blair and his partner in life and work, Beto Sutter, disagree about whether an unspoken, discriminatory door policy still works.

“At the Roxy, people complained about too many girls,” Sutter says, adding, “eight girls for every guy! Now they want diversity on Saturday night.”

A couple weeks ago a professor lamented how gay students care too “goddamn much” about marriage. They can’t help it, I explained, that they want to emulate the joy — the legitimacy — this institution confers on their straight buddies. My friend was having none of it — he wanted more danger. The trouble is, my friend is one of those older men whose homosexuality is another crochet, an idiosyncrasy like his penchant for pastel bowties, yet can’t see how this is precisely how many young gay men and women see it too. Riven by contradictions, some of which go back decades, gay culture was bound to crash against recent developments.

I was so enthused about Pride that I spent a night at a world famous Coral Gables resort after swimming in a rain-filled pool with a close friend and attending a wake. The thought of spending a muggy evening chasing meat and enduring Guetta and Tiesto remixes left me soft, not when I could eat short ribs at Palme D’Or. A product of the post-internet gay hookup scene, I’ve grown accustomed to ordering out. For my most recent hookup we met at a bar not known for m4m tongue action, to which I’ve taken every trick since the summer George W. Bush declared stem cell research a national threat but where so far I’ve seen nobody getting peed on, unless you count splashing the Puma of the dude next to the urinal waiting for you to finish.

Yet we needn’t let our ambivalence about Pride turn us into Simeon Stylites, as Rich Juzwiak discovered. Finding a hickey as “mortifying” as Karposi’s sarcoma might be the truest sign of the gay apocalypse.

Nora Ephron – R.I.P.

The dearth of active woman writer-directors in Hollywood tempts me into overrating Nora Ephron. I like the versimilitude of the Meryl Streep-Kurt Russell-Cher triad in Silkwood and how well the cast of Julie and Julia bounced off each other; otherwise she set new standards for glibness. Who needed Ted Turner threatening to colorize old movies in the eighties when Ephron was around to resurrect them in blush and lipstick as cartoonish as Robert Blake’s in Lost Highway? As for her interest in women, I’m reminded of what Jonathan Bradley wrote recently about Joss Whedon’s purported élan for showing their power: “his inability to create resonant characters, the interchangeability of his dialogue, the way his famed capital-F Feminist approach results in women who have power but no depth.” The same could be said of Ephron’s people. Of course Meryl Streep and Meg Ryan were her vessels: they can’t project a feeling that we couldn’t find at the bottom of their resumés.

Mid year report

How the year looks so far.

Miguel – Art Dealer Chic EPs
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)
Leonard Cohen – Old Ways
Kellie Pickler – 100 Proof
Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound
The Men – Open Yr Heart
Saint Etienne – Words and Music
R. Kelly – Write Me Back
Usher – Looking 4 Myself (RCA)
Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game (Decca/Polydor)
Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (Aimless0
Beach House – Bloom (Sub Pop)
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel (Epic)
Lambchop – Mr. M (Merge)
Hot Chip – In Our Heads (Astralwerks)
Sinead O’Connor – How About I Be Me (And You Be You) (One Little Indian)
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (Carpark)

People like us: The Idler Wheel

Fiona Apple could have named her first album in seven years Jonathan. It would have been as Apple-esque as The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Her band reduced to a twosome of Apple and multi-instrumentalist Charlie Drayton, the music makes demands on listeners unexpected after such a protracted gestation. Usually when artists return with long-awaited records superfluous instrumental parts dot attenuated melodies in a process also known as The Seeds of Love-ism. The triumph of The Idler Wheel is how Apple’s music gains in complexity and enigma at its sparest. In the wrong mood the reliance on piano and Apple’s darkened tones can get monotonous, but here’s the thing: just when you’re ready to dismiss the thing a sleeper like “Left Alone” creeps in, the singer infatuated with her perversions, the most transgressive of which is not the confession that she can love a man in the same bed and city but not in the same room but that she doesn’t cry when she’s sad (the other transgression: figuring out a way to sing “When you were a sure and orotund mutt”). Banged plates and bowls, scratches and screeches, and hi-hat hisses are among the percussive elements with which Apple and Drayton garnish this grave, self-mocking singer-songwriter record.

Note those adjectives. The Idler Wheel’s lodestar is paradox. Refrains like “I don’t wanna talk about anything” Apple uses to sing at length about Jonathan, a fellow who is also, doncha know, “like a captain of a capsized ship.” She likens presumably the same lover to a werewolf, a shark, chemical — all in the same song — but concludes, “But we can still support each other, all we gotta do’s avoid each other.” A weirdo with a mass cult, Apple can anchor another great number called “Periphery” with a conceit which embraces what Suzanne Vega called in a once bold euphemism “left of center” but still renounces “peripheral idiots.” She better get used to it: with records The Idler Wheel Apple’s going to be in the periphery for a while, but only idiots would mind.

How reassuring!

We’ll need boats:

If oceans continue to rise in the coming decades, the first areas to be submerged are Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Lee and Pinellas counties, said scientists who gathered here Thursday for Florida Atlantic University’s Sea Level Rise Summit.

Palm Beach County benefits from elevations that are about two feet above those lower-lying areas, said Jayantha Obeysekera, director of modeling at the South Florida Water Management District.

Singles 6/22

In which the Roots’ drummer and last year’s breakout indie star collaborate on a Fela cover and Pet Shop Boys memorialize the dimming of their creative powers in a dim song. That kind of week.

All songs scored on a ten-point scale. Click on link for full review.

Jesca Hoop – Born To (7)
tUnE-yArdS, ?uestlove, Angélique Kidjo, & Akua Naru – Lady 7)
A.G. Trio ft. M. Zahradnicek – Countably Infinite (7)
Alex Anwandter – ¿Cómo Puedes Vivir Contigo Mismo? (6)
Mighty Mouth ft. Soya – Bad Boy (5)
Chelsea Bain – Rockin’ That Trailer (5)
Starbuck’s – Wake Up (5)
Dot Rotten ft. TMS – Overload (4)
Big Bang – Monster (4)
Chantal Claret – Bite Your Tongue (4)
Pet Shop Boys – Invisible (4)
Alexandra Stan – Lemonade (4)
Danny Brown – Jay Dee’s Revenge (3)
Tyga ft. Lil Wayne – Faded (2)

“Damaged and dumb”

Corpses are no fun to kick but I can’t resist posting Alex Pareene’s column adding to his Hack List National Review Online’s Kathryn-Jean Lopez, “a hack liberal’s savage parody of a miserable, prematurely old religious conservative woman”:

Lopez just seems damaged, and dumb. All of modern life plainly makes her miserable. She seems happy only at Mass, which she frequently live-tweets. Her Twitter feed, which used to be made up primarily of normal people things like baseball and the weather, is now often just an odd series of often slightly differentiated links to her articles, all of which have bizarre, obscure headlines, and all of which are about how degraded and horrible society is, besides the pope, who is swell

On the state of early 2000’s blogging (we have the same memories):

To be fair, most political blogging used to be like this, back then. Ninety percent of the political blogosphere in Bush’s first term was bored asshole lawyers posting pictures of their mountain bikes in between urgent calls for the immediate toppling of Saddam Hussein.