Josh Hornik Blog

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December 31, 2005

4 more Movie Reviews

Have been seeing the year-end onslaught of Academy Award wannabe's. Here are a couple of should-be's and a couple of not-so-much's.

The Promise
This is China's entry for Best Foreign Film and, though noone will have seen it (I had to go across town for the 1 show at 11:30AM at the one theater that's getting it qualified for the Oscar), it wouldn't be out of place nominated for Best Picture.
A girl, given a choice by a beautiful floating goddess, decides her destiny and sets up an epic tale of love, loyalty, sacrifice, and heroism. Yes, it's another Chinese fantasy film with swordplay, kung fu, people who can outrun a stampeding herd and climb trees with a few hops, and, of course, gorgeous costumes and scenery. Though the cinematography and scenery may not be quite as spectacular as those in recent films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the story here is a little richer and easier to follow. And carries more emotional depth. Special effects don't exactly look real, but in a movie like this, nothing has to be too realistic. You just say 'wow' and go along with it.



Coolest gay cowboys ever
Brokeback Mountain
About halfway through the movie, I was wondering why it was getting so much hype, but I guess that is the reason. Without forcing anything, the story and the emotions build over the course of the entire film -- it's not an extraordinary story. It's just a normal (if tragic) love story about two people who happen to find each other but can't make it work.
But by the end, we believe in the love so deeply, that the end, as natural as the rest of the film, is extremely affecting. (It helps to have two incredible, elegiac songs over the closing credits: a Willie Nelson version of a Bob Dylan song that's better than the original, and sad-voiced Rufus Wainwright with a beautiful folk/gospel song.) The script (by Diana Ossanna and Larry McMurtry, of "Look at those pigs swim" fame) is a miracle of economy. Nowhere have characters said so much with so little. The acting is consistently terrific, starting with Heath Ledger, who had the most difficult and conflicted role, but including Jake Gyllenhall, and all the supporting actors. Ang Lee does his usual great job of letting the direction serve the story. He seems to come upon the story as it happens, somehow just manageing to be there at the most important times. He focuses on the smaller moments, so that the bigger shocks have even more power.

King Kong
I will say this for Peter Jackson: he knows how to direct a special effects scene, and he knows how to create a completely digital character and make him seem real. As for the rest of his direction, I'm not so sure anymore.
I shouldn't be so hard on Jackson. I'm sure he just wanted to make a very good "B Movie" with some exciting scenes and a somewhat-believable love story. Unfortunately, had he only cut the first and last thirds of the movie down and focused on Skull island, he probably would have had that. Had he not made us wait an hour to get to the island, we might be more forgiving about the preposterous survival of so many people during the action scenes. (This movie was the least believable I have seen since The Island -- not a good thing.) Focusing on the positives, there are some amazing scenes on the island, especially the scene in which Kong fights several T-Rexes while juggling Naomi Watts from hand to foot to keep her from being eaten or falling. And we do care about King Kong enough that it is sad when he dies, and Watts is just good enough to make the "love" story not so ridiculous. But it's not enough to make it worth watching 3 hours of this movie. (And I still say Star Wars should win Best Special Effects.)


Match Point
The trailer for Match Point was very tricky. It didn't reveal that this was a Woody Allen movie until the very end, after people had already gotten interested in a film that seems nothing like a typical Allen picture. Except for one thing. When I saw the trailer the first time, I thought to myself 'this looks like a rip-off of Crimes and Misdemeanors'. I guess if anyone can rip off Woody Allen, it's Woody Allen, but, having seen the full movie now, I still feel like I would have been better off just renting the true classic Crimes and Misdemeanors.
This is a picture just begging for a punchline, but I have too much respect for Woody Allen to do that...

Sure, for Match Point, Allen threw in some points about class (unfortunately under-done) and his main theme about luck (extremely over-done). But once the movie becomes a story of a man, cheating on his wife, who finds that his extra-marital lover will not quietly wait her turn (a truly cliched storyline), the film becomes awfully tedious. Though I liked the actors' portrayal of an upper-class British family, just smug enough to seem to deserve any bad luck they get, the biggest problem was a horrible performance by Scarlett Johansson as the American object of affection. (You would think she was struggling with an accent, her line readings were so stiff.) Allen's direction (always underrated) is great, but it's his writing that let him down this time.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2005

Santa Monica Symphony 12/11

Hey, I'm not just movies & TV. I've got some culture in me, too.

Heard the Santa Monica Symphony play the other day. This is the 2nd time I've heard them, and once again, I was impressed by how good they sound, considering they play for free for an audience mostly consisting of the Greatest Generation (i.e. OLD). OK, they're all pro's and studio musicians, probably, so I shouldn't be surprised.

Anyway, the program consisted of an early Schubert symphony, a concerto for piccolo & contrabassoon (yes, you read that right) by a 20-something baby composer, and excerpts from Copland's Rodeo.

The Schubert symphony was good. Like Mozart, it had nice melodies and was certainly enjoyable to listen to, but lacked a little passion. I think this was a symphony Mr. Schubert wrote in his teens, so I'll cut the guy a break. I'm sure after he'd heard a few more Beethoven symphonies, he got a little deeper with his stuff. Hopefully, at least, he started using less of the clarinet and more of the bassoon.

The Concerto for Piccolo and Contrabassoon was doomed from the start. The concept was to write a piece of music for the highest instrument in the orchestra and the lowest. Note to music lovers: the highest & the lowest instruments are meant for texturing and building sound, and not for carrying melodies by themselves. This just didn't work. In fact, I'm fully behind anyone who would like to burn every contrabassoon in existence. (How can the bassoon be so amazing and the contrabassoon be so horrible?) Besides the failed concept, I think composer Damian Montano wrote some good music. Whenever you read "premiere" in the program, you know you'll be hearing something weird, and this had it's atonal moments. But it also had some great sections (when the full orchestra took over the theme). Montano writes for TV and movies, and listed a film scorer as one of his influences, and the music was a little too background-y, but (when the contrabassoon wasn't trying to croak itself a solo) pleasant.

Finally, Copland's Rodeo was entertaining. The brass came in to liven things up. The different movements rarely maintain a theme for very long, which would be my biggest complaint. But when they got to Hoe-Down at the end, I was ready to dance like a Sooner or a Cornhusker. Unfortunately, I hadn't eaten dinner and that is also the music for The Beef Council's ads ("Beef -- It's What's For Dinner") and the entire last movement made me starving for a steak.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:17 PM | Comments (1)

December 21, 2005

New Fantasy vs. Old Fantasy

This is a review of the movie versions of new fantasy book Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire and the old fantasy book The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. What did you think it was going to be? Pervert!

Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire
This is a pretty good movie, but I still can't help thinking if everyone wasn't already all caught up in the whole Potter saga, this movie wouldn't rise above any other fantasy film. The writers & director did an excellent job of cutting a 700-page book down to a 2-hour movie. All of their cuts made sense, though I think I would have been awfully confused if I hadn't just read the book. The filmmakers even added some things that really helped the movie. The action was more detailed and longer than in the book (which is light on action and heavy on exposition. Sigh.) And the dragon scene was pretty cool, I have to admit. But the real success of the movie for me (though probably not for the majority of this movie's audience) was the Wizards-Hit-Adolescence subplot involving the ball. The director hit all the right notes, and the actors actually played it very well (especially Emma Watson, who's still the most charismatic of the three leads.) Personally, I find the future Ron Weasley - Hermione Granger relationship possibilities much more interesting than the rise of Voldemort.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
As a Lord of the Rings guy, I always considered Narnia (unfairly, yes) a total ripoff. And I've carried those biases to today, and really didn't expect to like this movie. And I really wasn't impressed with the story, at all. It's all too easy. (Even when one brother gets imprisoned by the White Witch, one word from Aslan and the kid is freed in the easiest guerilla raid of all time.)

But the special effects are so effective and charming that you just go along for the ride and enjoy the scenery. There's a lot of talk about King Kong, but that lion looks as real as any talking animal I've ever seen. (Even if he does sound like Qui-Gon Jinn.) Tilda Swinton is truly chilling as the Witch, and as child actors go, these three are about as good as you can hope for, and very believable.

The Christ references are not only extremely obvious, they're downright distracting. Thankfully, the filmmakers had the sense to leave out the "scourging of Aslan" scene.

Posted by JoshHornik at 07:23 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2005

Ho Ho Ho

Here's some holiday spirit for you:

Sarah Silverman sings "Give the Jew Girl Toys". (Click on the link on this page to watch the video.) Hilarious.

And since it's so great, here's another plug for Sarah Silverman's movie Jesus Is Magic. If you like this video, you'll like the movie.

Posted by JoshHornik at 11:09 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2005

The Josh Sampler 2005

OK, we're coming to the close of another year. Now is the time to look back at all the great music I bought this year, and share the best tracks with the world.

For those of you who received a Sampler CD from me, here are your liner notes. If you didn't get one, but you want one, email me.

The CD focuses mostly on music released this year, but there were a few classic tracks that I purchased this year and just had to include.

1. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
If this song were 10 seconds long and only consisted of the opening riff, it would still be one of the greatest songs ever. That riff is so excellent, it makes me happy every time the song starts.

2. The Magic Numbers - Mornings Eleven
The Magic Numbers are a new sensation out of England. They're at their best on their upbeat tunes -- happy songs with great boy-girl harmonies. This one's my favorite on a pretty good album (The Magic Numbers). I had a ticket to see them live, which I'm sure would have been great, but my stupid back was hurting too much to drive over and stand for 3 hours.

3. Joy Zipper - Thought's a Waste of Time
Joy Zipper is my super-secret music find of '05. Popular in England, despite being 2 Americans, they make great mellow tunes for late nights. I bought 2 Joy Zipper CD's this year (both released this year, I think) and this is from the 2nd (The Heartlight Set), which is much more straightforward (less psychedelic) but still good. I tried to see them live, too, but got there late and only heard the last note (literally).

4. Bright Eyes - First Day of My Life
Bright Eyes (aka Conor Oberst) lived up to all the hype (and there's lots) this year with 2 incredible CD's. This is the first of 2 tracks off the acoustic CD (I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning). Saw him play this at the Newport Folk Festival. Nice lyrics, and a really good, clean melody that seems so obvious, it's weird it was never done before.

5. The Decemberists - The Sporting Life
The Decemberists are definitely getting short-changed on this Sampler. For the first 6 months of the year, they ruled my iPod. I bought all 3 of their albums (after Tony turned me on to them on his 2004 sampler). This is one off their 2005 release Picaresque, but all their albums are awesome, and I recommend you buy them all. Managed to make it on time to their concert and it was one of the best I heard all year.

6. Ray Lamontagne - Trouble
Here's another pickup from the Newport Folk Festival. I admit he is entirely retro (this just feels like a Stephen Stills album from 1969), but in a good way. Incredible voice. I kept trying to figure out what it was about this track and I finally placed it. Electrify it and add a horn section and this could be a classic Otis Redding tune from the Stax collection. And that is incredibly high praise.

7. The Rolling Stones - Fool To Cry
I filled out my Rolling Stones collection this year, and here is one of the underrated classics from the (also greatly underrated) Stones late-70's catalog (Black and Blue). Not enough falsetto being used these days, and Mick is one of the all-time falsetto kings.

8. Devin Davis - Turtle and the Flightless Bird
My favorite song from my favorite album of the year (Lonely People of the World, Unite!) From the organ intro, to the triumphant chorus, to Davis' incredible barely-reaching vocals, to the poignant lyrics about loneliness and loss, this is an ALL-TIME CLASSIC.

9. Iron & Wine and Calexico - He Lays In the Reins
I got into Iron&Wine (1-man acoustic rainy-day music) this year, and one of the most interesting CD's of the year was his collaboration with Calexico for an EP (In The Reins). It's definitely a nice mix -- Calexico's layered instrumentation cozily sitting behind Iron&Wine's almost-too-mellow vocals. Also, my childhood friend Nick Luca engineered and played on the record.

10. Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day
I dare you to sit and listen to this song and think about the lyrics, and not cry. It's that powerful. It's a good example of the genius that was Stevens' album Illinois -- interesting lyrics and even more interesting music (though this is one of the most restrained songs on the album). The guitar lays down the chords. The banjo provides accents. The trumpet solo is perfect. And the focus is on the vocals, as it should be with lyrics this good.

11. Death Cab for Cutie - Your Heart is an Empty Room
I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed with the new Death Cab album (Plans). But this is a standout track.

12. Coldplay - Talk
OK, here's another good track from a disappointing album. Nothing too interesting in the new Coldplay album (X&Y), but it's all solid enough. I guess.

13. Curtis Mayfield - Pusherman
Back to the classics. It doesn't get any funkier than Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack to Superfly. This one didn't get the radio-play (I'm guessing due to the n-word in the chorus), but for my money, it's the best song on the album.

14. Joy Zipper - Dosed and Became Invisible
Clearly from the title, this is a song from the drug-influenced, psychedelic Joy Zipper record (American Whip). I was coming home from Hollywood late one foggy night. I turned this song on and made my way down through the lights of Hollywood Boulevard, and I think I got a taste of what it's like to drop acid. Anyway, don't be scared by the drug-influence. This album is full of great music that envelops you and makes you feel it.

15. The Walkmen - There Goes My Baby
One of the best albums of the year was the soundtrack to a video game (Stubbs the Zombie). It consisted of modern bands re-interpreting 1950's rock'n'roll songs. There are a bunch of great renditions on the CD, by bands like Cake, Oranger, Clem Snide, and Death Cab for Cutie, but The Walkmen have the winner.

16. Ray Lamontagne - Jolene
I pretty much could have chosen any song from Ray Lamontagne's album (Trouble). They're all consistently great. (They're also all very similar in tone, let's be honest.) I picked this one, because I like the line "a picture of you, holding a picture of me, in the pocket of my blue jeans".

17. Devin Davis - Deserted Eyeland
I'll say it again - Best Record of 2005! This is one of my favorite songs for a bunch of reasons, the biggest of which being the 4-second silence at 2:15, followed by a rousing horn-fueled finale.

18. Bright Eyes - Land Locked Blues
This is ostensibly an anti-war song, and though the concept that war could end if everyone just "walked away" is a little feeble, Bright Eyes uses repetition the best I've heard since Bob Dylan (think Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts, or Tangled Up In Blue). Something like 10 verses that all sound pretty much the same, but he keeps it interesting w/ lyrics, harmonies, and musical nuance.

Enjoy! And look for Joshcars 2006 coming soon!

Posted by JoshHornik at 09:56 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2005

Boy, I guess I really am old...

You know you're getting old when you realize society has changed since you were born...

Today, I was looking at my birth certificate. Here are the official fields that needed to be filled out on my birth certificate, circa Sep. 22, 1970:
1. Name of Child
2. Date of Birth
3. Sex
4. Place of Birth
5. Residence of Parents
6. Name of Father
7. Occupation of Father
8. Birthplace of Father
9. Maiden Name of Mother
10. Birthplace of Mother
11. Date of Record

Notice anything missing? Maybe it could fit between #9 and #10?

Boy, what a backwards, paternal society we had way back when I was born.

Posted by JoshHornik at 07:42 PM | Comments (1)

December 05, 2005

Asashoryu and Koto'oshu: Mission Accomplished

Somewhat late, but here is the final update from the Kyushu tournament.


Asashoryu went 14-1, won the tournament, and broke 3 of the greatest records in Sumo:

- 7 tournament championships in a row. (Never done before.)

- A perfect 6-for-6 in a calendar year. (Never done before.)

- 84 wins in one calendar year (an 84-6 record). Best all-time.

Asashoryu celebrates his 7th straight championship

Asashoryu has now won 15 tournaments in his career, putting him 5th all time (7 behind Takanohana in 4th).

Meanwhile, Koto'oshu, the only wrestler to beat Asashoryu this tournament, finished 11-4 (after a disappointing loss to Kaio on the last day). That was enough for him to warrant promotion to Ozeki. He broke a record himself -- the fastest promotion to Ozeki ever. (Also the first Ozeki born in Europe.) Koto'oshu also picked up both the Outstanding Performance award and a Fighting Spirit award.

Other award winners were:
Fighting Spirit -- Miyabiyama and Tochinohana
Technique -- Tokitenku

Other final records:
Ozekis - Chiyotaikai 11-4 Kaio 10-5
Kotomitsuki 8-7
Hakuho 9-6
Russian brothers Roho and Hakurozan both went 10-5
Takamisakari lost his last 5 matches to end up 7-8

Posted by JoshHornik at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)