I (Blanked) This

Yet another Tumblr from Shaun Swick, maker of Lost Lunch and Shaunline… Tumblng.

What: Sondre Lerche
Where: The Triple Door
When: September 29, 2009
Why: I tagged along with a KEXP 500 Club member to see one of my favorite singer-songwriters perform an exclusive show at one of my favorite venues. As good as they are, I never have fallen truly in love with any of Sondre’s records. Live, however, the young Norwegian’s charm shines through, and all of the songs are elevated by his no-frills approach to performing.

What: The Girlfriend ExperienceWhere: My apartmentWhen: October 23, 2009Why: Steven Soderbergh has been one of my favorite directors since Out of Sight in 1998. I will see anything he does, mostly because he dares to take chances. Mixing big-budget extravaganzas like the Ocean’s series, pet projects like Che and tiny little movies like Bubble, Soderbergh cannot be confined to a single genre or method of filmmaking.
The Girlfriend Experience, much like Bubble, was conceived as a cheap, quick, casual picture. Most of the cast are not actors in the traditional sense, and Girlfriend resembles bubble in that way. It also looks and feels a lot like the mumblecore movement, small, talky pictures that are designed to look like (and often actually are) mostly improvised, naturalistic stories. These are not movies made by established directors; on the contrary, those who prefer this style tend to stay in it.
Not Sodebergh. he casts porn star Sasha Grey in the lead role of Chelsea, a call girl trying to juggle her career, a boyfriend, and a complicated sense of self-worth. Soderbergh, as is his signature, plays with time and juxtaposes audio with visuals that may or may not eventually synchronize. These tricks aid a story that might not have been as intriguing otherwise, for the twists and turns are only available with the story not playing out in chronology.
At 75 minutes, the pace of the picture makes it seem much longer, but any boredom I might have endured was gone by the third act, when Chelsea’s plight became more apparent. The resolution to the film, if it could be called that, comes unexpectedly and abruptly, leaving on just the right note. The Girlfriend Experience is not a great movie, but it’s a really good one all the same. In any other hands this story wouldn’t even work for a scene, but Soderbergh keeps things interesting for the the entire film.

What: The Girlfriend Experience
Where: My apartment
When: October 23, 2009
Why: Steven Soderbergh has been one of my favorite directors since Out of Sight in 1998. I will see anything he does, mostly because he dares to take chances. Mixing big-budget extravaganzas like the Ocean’s series, pet projects like Che and tiny little movies like Bubble, Soderbergh cannot be confined to a single genre or method of filmmaking.

The Girlfriend Experience, much like Bubble, was conceived as a cheap, quick, casual picture. Most of the cast are not actors in the traditional sense, and Girlfriend resembles bubble in that way. It also looks and feels a lot like the mumblecore movement, small, talky pictures that are designed to look like (and often actually are) mostly improvised, naturalistic stories. These are not movies made by established directors; on the contrary, those who prefer this style tend to stay in it.

Not Sodebergh. he casts porn star Sasha Grey in the lead role of Chelsea, a call girl trying to juggle her career, a boyfriend, and a complicated sense of self-worth. Soderbergh, as is his signature, plays with time and juxtaposes audio with visuals that may or may not eventually synchronize. These tricks aid a story that might not have been as intriguing otherwise, for the twists and turns are only available with the story not playing out in chronology.

At 75 minutes, the pace of the picture makes it seem much longer, but any boredom I might have endured was gone by the third act, when Chelsea’s plight became more apparent. The resolution to the film, if it could be called that, comes unexpectedly and abruptly, leaving on just the right note. The Girlfriend Experience is not a great movie, but it’s a really good one all the same. In any other hands this story wouldn’t even work for a scene, but Soderbergh keeps things interesting for the the entire film.

What: This American Life, Season 2
Where: Netflix streaming to my Tivo (greatest thing ever, by the way)
When: September 10–11, 2009
Why: I’ve always been a huge fan of the radio show, even if I don’t take the time (even with the podcasts) to listen to it that much. That said, the first season of the TV version was one of the most consistently enjoyable television programs I’ve seen in the past decade. Season 2, as it turns out, is even better. The only way to describe this show is with a series of insufficiently nuanced adjectives: Remarkable. Uplifting. Heartwarming. Thought-provoking. Inspiring. Affecting. Fascinating.

I could go on and on. Episode 1, “Escape” features the stunning story of Mike Philips, whose inability to speak allows us to hear his emails read by none other than Johnny Depp. Episode 2, “Two Wars” featured one of my favorite segments of the season, where a young Iraqi put himself in a question booth and had frank conversations with all walks of life about his country, ours, and the war. Episode 5, “Every Marriage is a Courthouse”, kicks off with another charming animation from Chris Ware to accompany a funny story of a mis-remembered event in the life of one married couple.

The entire season, as great as it is, pales in comparison to the final episode, an hour-long feature dedicated to the life of “John Smith”. Not just one John Smith, mind you, but seven, from all stages of life. We first meet 11 month old John Smith and eventually say goodbye to 79-year-old John Smith. Along the way, the show deftly weaves storylines and life lessons, juxtaposing young discovery with old wisdom, and vice versa. The episode was, without a doubt, one of the finest hours of television I’ve ever watched. I urge anyone and everyone out there to find it however they can.

Oh, and Showtime, you better give Ira Glass, Chris Wilcha and the rest of the Chicago Public Radio crew more money for another season. America—and the world—needs more of this show.

What: Kubb
When: July 22, 2009
Where: Broad Street Lawn, Seattle Center
Why: The latest game in Team Saucony’s Seattle summer league, Kubb is an ancient Viking game that I took an immediate liking to last summer when we first learned it. Despite Team Hot Dog’s love for the wood blocks and dowels, we were soundly defeated in ‘08. Not this time around, however.

With yours truly leading the way, we forged a comeback 2-games-to-1 victory over Seattle Weekly. The real drama though, was over on the other field (the subject of this photo), where KEXP battled new league member Easy Street all the way to a dramatic conclusion (Team Easy Street pulled out a 2-1 victory as well). All in all, another great game, and another reminder that I need to get myself a Kubb set. After all, my best sports are those random ones nobody’s ever really heard of.

What: Hancock
When: July 21, 2009
Where: My apartment
Why: Needing a break from my Netflix TV rentals (I’m currently in the middle of Spaced), I perused my streaming options and found Hancock. It was somehow both worse and better than I expected. Stylishly colored and kinetically directed by Peter Berg, this action movie has one of the most intriguing conceits in recent years.

The reluctant super hero turned PR project is both an original and fun notion, but for me the movie faltered as soon as we establish the backstory for Hancock’s super powers (and make a “big” reveal that was spoiled not just by pre-movie chatter but mostly by arch foreshadowing).

Typically I hate to judge a piece of art on what it is versus what I wanted it to be, but I really wish I could’ve seen more of Will Smith’s whiskey-swilling anti-hero and much less of the family drama. I also could have done without the Back to the Future-like code word (“chicken” anyone?) for our hero. It’s just too easy!

Finally, a note about the odd (yet welcome) casting of some smaller parts. Mike Epps? Thomas Lennon? Johnny Galecki? What are these people doing in this movie? So strange. All in all, an enjoyable if otherwise forgettable movie with seeds for greatness spoiled.

What: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
When: July 13, 2009
Where: Cinerama, Seattle, WA
Why: Why? Is that a question even needing to be answered? A better question might be how soon until I see it again? The past two Potter flicks I caught twice in the theaters and this one I might have to watch one more time as well for, despite a few quibbles, this is another marvelous film in the series. Throughout the second half of the film, I kept asking myself “Where are the horcruxes?” and then when the finally appeared, the ending felt rushed and abrupt. I could say the same for director David Yates’ previous entry into the Potter archives, 2007’s Order of the Phoenix, which I sadly found anti-climactic.

Whereas the death of Cedric Diggory brought me to great sadness in Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire, here Dumbledore’s death is much less emotionally taxing. I’m not sure why, but I don’t exactly recall getting worked up while reading the book, so maybe it’s not the fault of the director after all. What Yates does remarkably well is direct his actors. As usual, the all-star British cast found yet another perfect addition with Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, and the kids are getting better and better all the time. Dan Radcliffe in particular has a knack for mixing comedy with his seriousness.

This is a funny film. Hard to imagine, considering all the creepiness of the deeper story of the Hogwarts-aged Tom Riddle (I would’ve liked to have seen some sequences from the Riddle household, even if they would’ve been overload for an already long film). Yates and his young cast are able to keep it light enough to balance the dark for much of the film, what with all this romance blooming amongst the adolescents. 

One more note on casting: everyone blasts Chris Columbus now for making two saccharine family films with the first entries in the franchise, but every last Potter fan should be thankful for the job that he and his casting director did all those years ago. Think about it, not one child actor has been recast, and every time you see them in each progressive film (Yates & team do a commendable job of giving everyone at least a scene in Prince), you never question that they are still that character. Bonnie Wright especially stepped it up here, and I look forward with great anticipation to see her increase her role as Ginny Weasley in the final two films.

What: No Depression Festival
When: July 11, 2009
Where: Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA
Why: When the lineup was announced, I was dying to go. Then the summer wore on and I didn’t care quite as much, especially if the likelihood of finding someone to go with was nil. So I didn’t buy tickets, but instead took a flyer and entered to win them from The Stranger a few days before. I got lucky, and suddenly I had two free tickets. My plan was to take a friend for most of the day, but that didn’t quite work out (oh, plans…), so instead I just saw the final three acts: Patterson Hood (solid but not really my thing), Iron & Wine (who I saw 364 days ago on this very stage, and then two more times since) and the remarkable beauty of Gillian Welch and her buddy David Rawlings. Fantastic sets by both of those acts made me glad I went, free or not. 

What: MoonWhen: July 9, 2009Where: Metro, Seattle, WAWhy: First of all, I love thoughtful science fiction. Second, and maybe more importantly, Sam Rockwell is one of my favorite actors working today. Third, my brain needed a break today. Fourth, that poster is fantastic. Fifth, I really wanted to see this at SIFF but never made it. So I waited patiently for it to come out for real. I was not disappointed. On par with Solaris (both versions), the movie is a great look at the loneliness of space, the morality of… well, I don’t want to spoil it. Go see it/rent it. And in the meantime, I’ll be watching a movie I somehow have never seen: Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What: Moon
When: July 9, 2009
Where: Metro, Seattle, WA
Why: First of all, I love thoughtful science fiction. Second, and maybe more importantly, Sam Rockwell is one of my favorite actors working today. Third, my brain needed a break today. Fourth, that poster is fantastic. Fifth, I really wanted to see this at SIFF but never made it. So I waited patiently for it to come out for real. I was not disappointed. On par with Solaris (both versions), the movie is a great look at the loneliness of space, the morality of… well, I don’t want to spoil it. Go see it/rent it. And in the meantime, I’ll be watching a movie I somehow have never seen: Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What: Team Saucony Whiffle Ball
When: July 8, 2009
Where: Broad Street Lawn, Seattle Center
Why: Team Saucony Seattle’s second event of the season was Whiffle Ball, a game we Hot Dogs dominated last season and were fully expecting to do again… until Showbox pulled yet another no-Showbox (and pulled out of the league entirely, it would seem), leaving us Yellow Shirts to play ourselves. Or some reasonable facsimile. We added a few strays including our fearless event leader Patty, and fought a great intramural battle in which WE won. Which we, I’m not so sure, but the Hot Dogs were wieners winners on this day.

What: Sexual Harassment Birthday Cake
When: July 7, 2009
Where: at work
Why: It was Mike’s birthday yesterday, so Gretchen made him a cake. It was not my birthday of course, but I still had two pieces. Nobody ‘round here partakes in the sexual harassment, but the cake sure is funny.

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