Friday, April 9, 2010

lessons in the man tote

BillyKirk Hobo Toe

I try not to develop real feelings for inanimate objects, but I must say that I'm quite taken by my Pabst Blue Ribbon tote bag. Unfortunately, it's on its last leg after weathering a couple of seasons and the wear and tear of my man tote needs. And then, what do I find? The BillyKirk tote bag pictured above. I've been wanting to upgrade my man tote to something that feels and looks well designed for all year round usage. No leather, no canvas, and narrowed my search and of course it has to be large enough to pack a twelve pack, but discreet enough to not look like you're carrying around travel luggage. Happy medium has been found and I can't wait to put it to the ultimate test (fill it with an eighteen pack and see how it holds up).

Saturday, April 3, 2010


It might seem after the fact that I'm writing about a year in film that ended three months ago. It was an unusual year for film and not the year I was anticipated or had hope to close the first decade of the 21st century, especially for American film. In a year in which Sandra Bullock and Mo'nique can win Oscars and the wam-bam Hollywood blockbuster with intelligence was no where to be found, suffice it to say it was a mix bag year. Major vehicles for big stars fell flat ("Duplicity" and "Public Enemies" immediately come to mind.), reliable favorites weren't so reliable (Almodovar was running in circles with "Broken Embraces" and Von Trier's "Antichrist" was a bizarrely pretentious void I'd care not return), franchises were not so eloquent as they were in 2008 ("Terminator Salvation" will never be "The Dark Knight", no matter how badly McG wants it.), and I didn't even bother to touch "Avatar." I love American film, especially big, bright Hollywood movies that work, but they were few in far between in 2009. Thank goodness for foreign language film to satiate my starved cinema belly. It was a strong year for film not in the English language with beautiful, explosive, original works coming from all over the globe. The films that truly resonated with my eyes were films that felt daring and personal--a passion project without the vanity. These are the ten best films of 2009:

1. Gomorrah, directed by Matteo Garrone
From the opening massacre in a tanning salon to the image of a bulldozer full of dead bodies at the film's perfect climax, "Gommarah" grabs you by the throat and shoves you into a world where everyone is the enemy and people are as disposable as trash. Violent, moving, and utterly breathtaking (literally), "Gommarah" is a movie I still can't stop thinking about.

2. The White Ribbon, directed by Michael Haneke
No other living filmmaker is so in-tuned to all things macabre, aberrant, and dangerously human as Michael Haneke. In its slow burn of an operatic scream, "The White Ribbon" is an incredible allegory of terrorism and a seething damnation of a patriarchal society. Played with a light hand, but strong eye, "The White Ribbon" is a disturbing look a small town gone mad. The plague of suspicion, dread, and death is plainly pessimistic, but it's also a shock of truth that feels very of the moment.

3. I Love You, Man, directed by John Hamburg
I really liked Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding." It was an astute portrait of sibling rivalry and the tender, yet tumultuous relationship between women. It made me realize I've never seen a movie that attempted to articulate the nuances of male friendship without veering into the sappy or sophomoric. The codes of male friendship are vastly different, but definitely worth exploring and that's what makes John Hamburg's "I Love You, Man" so damn good. In its hilarious reveal we know now the awkwardness of platonic relationship making between two straight men.

4. Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze
A friend of mine joked about which auteur will tackle the children's novel. Will we see Gaspar Noe adapt a Judy Blum book or Alexander Payne take on "Maniac McGee"? Who knows, but I will say that Spike Jonze's idiosyncratic version of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" has set the standard. Deeply personal and far removed from anything classically associated a "kids movie", "Where the Wild Things Are" is a blithe movie about the triumph of a child-like spirit in face of the harsh world ruled by adults. Beautifully photographed and acted, "Where the Wilds Thing Are" is reason enough why Spike Jonze should be make more films than once every three to five years.

5. The Informant!, directed by Steven Soderbergh
The genius of Steven Soderbergh is his unpredictable pedigree. What interest and inspires him as a filmmaker is seemingly endless. He's worked in almost every genre with every kind of budget and for the most part, the product is always watchable and of some value. I didn't care for "The Girlfriend Experience" because like many of his more indulgent choices, it felt too hermetically sealed in its own experiment. However, his oddball follow up, "The Informant!" was just the tonic needed to forget about Sasha Grey's poor attempt at "film acting." A movie about paranoia, lies, deception, set to an upbeat, jaunty Marvin Hamlisch score is bold, but it's Damon's unforgettable turn as a man drowning in delusion that feels bold and fresh from not only Soderbergh but the highly underrated talents of Mr. Damon.

6. Summer Hours, directed by Olivier Assayas
Why are the French so good as movies about fractured families? Taking a break from his pyscho-sexual multi-national thriller/b-movies, Oliver Assays delivers a somber portrait of what happens when a family disintegrates and tries to rediscover who they are. After the death of the mother, a sister and her two brothers who live in various corners of the world and are too busy with their own jobs, families, love lives, etc. must come to terms with what family means to them and what to do with the summer home that symbolizes their roots and family togetherness. It's great to see a filmmaker such as Assays explore worlds and feelings beyond the kink (not there's anything wrong with that).

7. 35 Shots of Rum, directed by Claire Denis

Kathyrn Bigelow rightfully won the Academy Award for Best Director, but unfortunately she has a small community of American contemporaries. The rest of the world seems to have more working female filmmakers who make films beyond the obligatory romantic comedy. Claire Denis' "35 Shots of Rum" is a subtle display of human connection and the beauty of attraction, missed opportunities, and the bond that breaks between parent and child when the child has to grown up and grow out of the home. Denis has a gift for placing the camera in such original and specific points that enhance the experience of watching her tell a story. One of the best scenes of the film is set an empty restaurant on a rainy night. Dancing, drinking, and eating ensues in what results as some of the sensual and sensuous images you never knew could be achieved through film.

8. The Headless Woman, directed by Lucrecia Martel
What would you do if you might have caused an deathly accident to which you were the only witness? That psychological state of repression, grief, disappointment, and confusion engulfs the lead character in Lucrecia Martel's "The Headless Woman." Unable to exist in the world of her eccentric and eclectic family due to her distraction of having possibly murdered a boy, dog, thing by accidentally hitting them with her car. Watching her deal with the initial shock dares the audience to immediately decide on whether she's a good woman who made a mistake or a terrible person for not reacting in the way she eventually chooses. Stunning and slightly surreal work from beginning to end.

9. A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford
I never would have thought the big debut filmmaker of the year would be a fashion designer infamous for a collection that inspired an ad featuring pubic hair trimmed in the brand's logo. Tom Ford's "A Single Man" elegantly articulates feelings of love, loss, and earth shattering disappointment. Fully realizing his Renaissance man potential, it will be interesting to watch Ford's career as a fllmmaker begin to develop.

10. Inglourious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarentino
I wouldn't call "Inglourious Basterds" a return to form for Quentin Tarentino, but rather a return to making interesting, solid work. His brief detour with the mindless self-indulgence that was "Death Proof", Tarentino reinterpreted the Holocaust film into the ultimate revenge film in pure Tarentino speak. The "Cat People" sequence, bar sequence with Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger, and the opening are clear indications that Tarentino is as inspired as ever. That's one thing most contemporary filmmakers don't have on Tarentino. His encyclopedic reservoir of film knowledge seeps into his films in the most unexpected and satisfying ways. "Inglourious Basterds" is no exception.

Honorable mentions:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson
The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Il Divo, directed by Paolo Sorrentino

man vs. dog

Buffalo Trace
White Dog

I had the distinct pleasure a few months ago to visit the Woodford Reserve distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky. Amidst horse farms and grass that isn't quite blue, but was certainly very green, me and a group of friends were treated to a private tour of the distillery to see how one of the best tasting spirits is produced. Aside from it being very informative and proud that my home state produces such a fine product, it was also a chance to catch a buzz in the early afternoon. Our lovely tour guide, MollyAnn, allowed us to taste the clear beast that is know as White Dog. It's the bourbon fresh from the still before it's barreled, aged, and allowed to mellow out. It's 125 proof. Yes, 125 proof. It has a slight citrus taste and it's definitely warm going down. The strength of its punch will linger on your palette for a bit, but it's worth the sting. Buffalo Trace bottles it and I'd be curious to try it again, but definitely at my own risk.