Sunday, July 19, 2015

I Don't Know What to Call This Any More But It's Definitely Not 'The Week in Review'

Hi.

I don't really like that title any more. I see a lot of other critics using it, and that's rather discouraging. Suggestions are welcome. Now here's what published this past week.

1) For Village Voice: a review of Jellyfish Eyes, pop artist Takashi Murakami's underwhelming kiddy flick. xowAvwEPGz
2) For Village Voice: a review of Ardor, a lousy man-vs-nature picture starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Alice Braga. c1RFCh2jh8
3) For RogerEbert.com: a review of Alléluia, an insufferably arty horror film about the Lonely Hearts killers. alléluia-2015 
4) For RogerEbert.com: my entry in the "Who's Who in Reviews" series. I waited all week for this, and am quite happy with the results. whos-who-in-reviews-simon-abrams



Takes us out, boys.





Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Week in Review: Well, A Week and Some Change

Hi.

I've had some personal setbacks lately. But here, in the meantime, are my writings for the past month or so:

1) For Village Voice, a review of The Face of An Angel, a rather dull thriller by the often superb Michael Winterbottom: YbzoLrrlu1

2) For Village Voice, a feature on Critical Paranoia 2: Dark Night Rising, a frustrating, but intriguing experiment in conspiracy theory bullshit: LHFbgZppwy

3) For Vulture, my last two recaps of Sense8, the Wachowski siblings' uneven and aggravating science-fiction series: 5lnxamq2EL and 1NqIQTu

4) For Village Voice, a review of Phantom Halo, a tedious American indie drama directed by the daughter of Poly Platt and Peter Bogdonavich: character-driven-melodrama-phantom-halo-doesn-t-have-believable-characters-7273204

5) For RogerEbert.com, a review of Rubble Kings, a fine, but flawed documentary about real-life gangs of Fun City New York: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rubble-kings-2015

6) For RogerEbert.com, a review of Into the Grizzly Maze, a lousy, woman-hating animal-attack picture: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/into-the-grizzly-maze-2015

7) For RogerEbert.com, a review of Stung, another lousy, woman-hating animal-attack picture: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/stung-2015

8) For The Dissolve, an interview with Penelope Spheeris, the lovely, and ferociously-talented director of the Decline of Western Civilization trilogy: 0ok2frhFvs

9) For Village Voice, a review of The Suicide Theory, a wishy-washy Australian thriller/dark-comedy: http://www.villagevoice.com/movies/the-suicide-theory-6387710

10) For Village Voice, a feature on "Japan Cuts," the Japan Society's annual program of Japanese pop cinema: 8zbZI5wYcf

11) For Village Voice, a review of The Gallows, a stinky found-footage ghost story: it-wouldnt-be-a-tragedy-if-found-footage-horror-the-gallows-hadn-t-been-found-7351993

And here's some music:



Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Week in Review: All-Kicking, All-Punching Edition

Hi.

Here are links to articles that published in the past week:

1) Chilean martial arts movie Redeemer is a great vehicle for star Marko Zaror. More in my Village Voice review: UvtGxzgw4j

2) American animator Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow blows the competition away in 2015 Sundance Film Festival Award-Winning Short Films. More in my Village Voice review: IWyop6uz3z

3) Hong Kong martial-arts comedy Dreadnaught (1981)--a Yuen Biao vehicle directed by Woo-Ping Yuen--is an energizing delight. More in my Village Voice review: nCREfFUQ0v

4) J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis' uneven science-fiction serial Sense8 gets appreciably freaky in episodes 4-6. More in my second of four Vulture recaps: 1QrCSHx

5) And bleak American/Chilewood indie horror film The Stranger is a pantload. More in my RogerEbert.com review: the-stranger-2015



Sunday, June 7, 2015

Your Good Blog's Gonna Go Bad: The Week in Review

Hi.

Here are links to pieces that published in the past week.

1) My Village Voice review of Brooklyn filmmaker Eddie Mullins's thoughtful Doomsdayst.co/9PNA4FFmc8

2) My RogerEbert.com review of Swedish absurdist Roy Andersson's terrific A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existencewww.rogerebert.com/reviews/a-pigeon-sat-on-a-branch-reflecting-on-existence-2015

3) My RogerEbert.com primer on martial arts legend Jackie Chan's awe-inspiring Police Story films: www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/unholy-dedication-a-history-of-jackie-chans-police-story-franchise

4) My Village Voice review of mediocre horror film Insidious: Chapter 3www.villagevoice.com/2015-06-03/film/insidious-chapter-3-is-ambitious-but-undercooked-and-idiotic/

5) My RogerEbert.com review of uneven but satisfying Old Man Jackie Chan vehicle Police Story: Lockdown (aka: Police Story 2013): www.rogerebert.com/reviews/police-story-lockdown-2015

6) My Vulture recap of the Wachowskis' new-age-y scifi series Sense8's first three episodes: http://www.vulture.com/2015/06/sense8-recap-season-1-episode-1-2-3.html

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"And Images So Strange and Foreign Came Flooding In Like Raging Waters"

I didn't want to see my grandfather die. Watching the process, such as it was, happen slowly, and from a distance, was hard enough. This was May 2005. I had just returned from studying abroad, and the still undiagnosed illness that led to my paternal grandfather's death finally overwhelmed him. The great Robert Abrams, a WW2 vet and the founder of the Levvittown Tribune, died of complications from dementia-like symptoms. Bruce Abrams, my father, told me that the immediate cause of death was pneumonia. I still remember the impatient, distracted way he said, "pneumonia."

Prior to his death, Robert suffered from memory loss for months. It wasn't Alzheimer's, but it might as well have been. Eleanor Abrams, my grandmother and his wife, lived and took care of him. But Robert was also cared for by his two children, Bruce and Beth. They put up with his mood swings, helped Robert when his body failed him, and doted on him with all the love and attention he deserved.

I was not there. There were several times when I could have been, but I wasn't. When he was rushed to the hospital for the last time, my dad offered me the chance to go (he didn't really ask). But I didn't want to go, and said as much. It hurt too much to see my grandfather in pain, confused, angry, helpless.

A year after that, my maternal grandmother, Ellie Moschou, died. Again, I didn't want to be there. I had lived with that stubborn 95 year-old Greek woman for a couple of years, though some of those years were predominantly spent at college dormitories in Manhattan. Again, nobody expected  me to help in an extraordinary way. My mother, Catherine Abrams, constantly cared for Ellie, especially when the caretakers she hired couldn't do everything she needed them to. But again, while I did as much as I could bear to, I regret not having been more present, nor more patient.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Up Jumped the Devil: In Praise of Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives"


To begin: yes, I know this blog has become the lawn that I never mow. But I have been keeping track of everything I see. With a little luck, I'll soon get back to updating Extended Cut...but only after I finish the latest phase of an ongoing project. Thanks for your...well, I don't know what.

Also: there are lots of spoilers ahead. Lots.


Only God Forgives reminds me of a Nick Cave song. It's full of pompous swagger because it's an expression of the artist's fascination with preening machismo. Think of Cave's version of "Stagger Lee." That song ends with "the bad motherfucker called Stagger Lee" getting a blow job, and blowing a rival suitor's brains out. The song's excesses are pointed. It's a half-sneering, half-celebratory destruction of the chauvnism inherent in Cave's persona. It's about a badass that is so desperate, and so unhinged that he'll make good on all of his delirious threats (50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's asshole? You don't say...). The main difference between a Cave song and a Nicolas Winding Refn film is that Cave performs as himself. He is Mistah Staggah Lee, his own best joke. The same cannot be said about Refn's recent films. He is their primary author, but he's not immediately dabbling with his own image. Still, both artists deal in excess, and love to explore the hetero male id at its most reptilian.

Refn's latest is, to some extent, of a piece with both Valhalla Rising and Drive. As in both of those films, Refn represents the world in Only God Forgives as a surreal mix of dream, and reality. You can see that when Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) sings karaoke. Chang's singing establishes two things. The first karaoke scene suggests that the film's Bangkok is a world that exists independently of Julian's (Ryan Gosling) story. But the second scene, when Chang sings a song called "You Are My Dream" on the film's soundtrack, complicates that notion. It's the film's concluding sequence, the kind of scene a dreamer sees just before waking up. In a moment of panic, Julian's imagines/sees life without himself. Julian's dream Bangkok, a city that Chang comfortably navigates, and disappears into as if he were its avatar, has rejected him. In this case, the nightmare outlives its creator/main subject.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"There's Nothing You Can Say, You Can't Wish Me Away:" Something About Like Clockwork

For a few weeks now, I've wanted to write something about Like Clockwork, the Queens of the Stone Age's long-awaited sixth album. Despite minor reservations, I can't stop listening to it. But when I tried to write something about Like Clockwork, it sucked. It was four or five grafs of throat-clearing, "Your shoes are untied," cack. It was heavily annotated, and full of quotes from other critics. I ultimately scrapped that piece simply because I am not a music critic. The closest I've come to writing a music review is this. Not a terrible piece, really, but I think it's terrible, if that makes sense.

Which leads me to this piece. It's not a review, because who wants a review for an album that came out weeks ago? And it's not supposed to be a deeply personal cri di coeur, though it will be that. Rather, I want to relate what it's like to listen to Like Clockwork's three-hit punch of "If I Had a Tail," "My God is the Sun," and "Kalopsia." So I'll circle around something I can't bring myself to directly write about. Like the persona that Queens frontman Josh Homme presents in his music, I'm an emotional exhibitionist. I also don't like being completely transparent. In his music, Homme presents himself as a sarcastic bully, a submissive pervert, and an egocentric depressive. I like his music a lot.

Like Clockwork doesn't begin with "If I Had a Tail," but it should. My biggest problem with the album is that Homme bleeds all over the tracks. This guy has made of a career of jamming tongue into cheek. He sings about suicidal thoughts, bad trips, and strip club daymares so well that he doesn't need to make his music more overtly "personal." But still, Homme knew what he was doing when he wrote the music for Like Clockwork. On Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque piano ballad "Vampyre of Time and Memory," Homme sings, "To be vulnerable is needed most of all, if you intend to truly fall apart." By contrast, "If I Had a Tail" is a chilly, synth-heavy track with an echo chamber disco beat. It, like many of Homme's best tracks, makes you think you're riding shotgun in Homme's car while he makes donuts all over his id. "See me dance," he moans like a ghost, confirming in "If I Had a Tail," we are inside Homme's head. Maybe this is what you dream of when you're laid up in a hospital, wondering if you have the stamina to recover. It isn't a wake-up call, but a nose-dive into Nod, the land of cold sweats, and bad dreams.