News and Notes
The mother of all road-trip movies. A group of recent college grads (Costner, Judd Nelson, Sam Robards, Chuck Bush) takes one last wild ride before succumbing to adult life and the draft, the altar, the ministry. It's a funny, yet surprisingly sincere film about that terrible moment we all face when we cross the boundary into adulthood. Good Costner movies are rare; this is one of his best.
Stop Making Sense
Some might view "best concert film ever" as faint praise ("best sushi restaurant in South Dakota"), but Stop Making Sense transcends the genre. It certainly doesn't try to blow you away with pyrotechnics and lasers. David Byrne arrives onstage with only an acoustic guitar, a boom box, and a big suit; the rest of the band materializes gradually over the next few songs, and then, together, they proceed to burn down the house. Note: if you don't have a DVD player, you can still check out the remastered soundtrack. No excuses.
It's hard to pick a single album from David Bowie's long, labyrinthine musical history. However, since special attention must be paid to Bowie's time in Berlin, we can confidently recommend Heroes, the most cohesive of the Brian Eno collaborations. It glides seamlessly from the hits ("Beauty and the Beast," "Heroes") to the more atmospheric ("Sense of Doubt," "Moss Garden") on the strength of Bowie's singular vocals and Robert Fripp's enigmatic guitar. (SG)
Space Ghost Coast to Coast
Before inflated egos and sorry set-pieces ballooned the proceedings, late-night talk shows used to be half-an-hour. While Space Ghost follows the first trend to its ultimate conclusion, making the entire production about the host's ego, it bucks the latter, cutting the show to a refreshing 15 minutes. And unlike Jay and Dave, SG has the honesty to admit that his band leader is a sinister space alien who is kept locked in a dungeon between broadcasts.
Despite loose ends and frayed tangents, this immersive hacker saga rewards the perservering reader with two intriguing plots and a heroic resolution. Cryptonomicon gives homage to the unsung crypto-warriors of World War II and their offspring, the unsung Unix wizards of the nineties. Stephenson brings coherence and insight to ideas both timely and timeless -- love, loyalty, gnosis, secrecy, paranoia, greed -- and in the process, spins a ripping good yarn for net grrls and boys.
Recorded just four years before the great bassist/composer's death, Changes One is hardly the sound of an artist in his twilight years. Romantic, witty, and complex, the music owes a great deal to the legacy of Mingus's idol, Duke Ellington. The dynamic 17-minute "Sue's Changes" ranks among his best work.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
There aren't many pleasures left in America like the drive-in movie. For two bucks a head, you can relax in your car and watch a movie on a screen bigger than your house. Of course, some movies suit the drive-in better than others. Planet of the Apes, good. Citizen Kane, not so good. That said, let's consider Buffy: It's campy, tongue-in-cheek, comedy/horror fluff -- a lot lighter than the television series it spawned. Kristy Swanson is perfect as the unwitting cheerleader drafted by Donald Sutherland to be the Slayer. Throw in Luke Perry as the romantic interest, Rutger Hauer as the evil nemesis, and Paul Reubens as the undead henchman, and you've got yourself one fine evening at the drive-in.
Friday Night Lights
If ever there was a subject ripe for satire, Texas high school football is it. But H.G. Bissinger plays it straight in this surprisingly moving account of a season with Odessa's Permian High School Panthers. That isn't to say Friday Night is Capra-esque, not with its frank treatment of academic struggles, injuries, racism, and the economic realites of life in a late-'80s oil town. And while many coaches and administrators were displeased with the book, the players loved it, which probably means Bissinger got it all right.
Wycliffe Gordon takes the trombone, surely one of the most improbable of instruments, and creates a sound that seems to be extracted, with exquisite care, from deep within the earth. Which is not to say that he doesn't wail. He plays like mad, and it's a glorious thing to behold. I saw him play once: He wore a tuxedo with a perfect white shirt and held his trombone like a delicate object. He played it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, his body bent, his face crinkled, and between numbers he took a white handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his brow.
Folks will hook any fool device up to the Web these days, but in this case the result is actually worth seeing. Scientists at UC-Berkeley have connected a seismograph to a Java applet that displays ground-movement data via a dynamic, cardiogram-like image. Watch the Earth breathe -- just a moving white trace on a black background, yet strangely beautiful.
The Big Lebowski
Opening with a tumbleweed drifting through Los Angeles, The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as The Dude, a burnt-out stoner who similarly drifts through life. That is, until a pair of thugs mistakenly soil his favorite rug. (It "really tied the room together.") In his half-baked hunt for payback, the Dude gets tangled in a web of nihilists, pornographers, and severed digits. Pay no heed to the red herrings and absurd plot twists, just order up some lingonberry pancakes and watch it again. With repeated viewings, the little details add up to big laughs.