News and Notes
The King of Marvin Gardens
It's not the things that they say in this film that make it a downbeat masterpiece. True, Bruce Dern and Jack Nicholson have their share of great scenes as, respectively, an inveterate hustler and his repressed kid brother who reunite over a tortured weekend in Atlantic City. No, the beauty of this film lies in the shadows, in the long silent stretches, in the wide, sad shots of the boardwalk -- all composed by master cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs. In addition to being a gripping and bittersweet film about blood ties and reckless behavior, The King of Marvin Gardens is just one damned beautiful piece of filmmaking.
Dog in the Sand
Like a good Catholic family, Frank Black's musical brood has continued to add to its number. With the addition of guitarist Dave Philips and the return of former producer Eric Drew Feldman on keyboards, the band has expanded its sonic palette considerably. With the added textures of piano, dobro, banjo, pedal steel, and a Stones-y slide guitar, Dog in the Sand is one of Black's most organic sounding albums; with his strongest batch of songs in years, it is also one of his best.
No matter that it sits beside a noisy airport runway, dangerous power lines, and a toxic landfill, a man's house is still his castle. So when Darryl Kerrigan and his blissfully ignorant family receive notice that they are being forced to sell their home to make room for airport expansion, they simply refuse, eventually taking the case to Australia's High Court. And while that may tell you something of the simple David and Goliath plot, it's difficult to convey just how charming this goofy comedy is. Suffice it to say that The Castle possesses a certain something -- a vibe, if you will -- that makes it utterly irresistible.
The Taller You Are, The Shorter You Get
The man behind the eyebrow-raising moniker first revealed his unique musical vision in 1985 with My Dad is Dead...And He's Not Gonna Take it Anymore. Mark Edwards and his rotating cast of bandmates and rhythm machines have consistently released original albums of stark, personal, thinking-person's rock music ever since. But nothing can quite approach the heights of 1989's The Taller You Are, The Shorter You Get, in which Edwards packs gleaming melodies on top of monstrous tension in song after song for a full 72 minutes.
In her new novel, Paradise Park, Allegra Goodman has created a picaresque Jewish heroine for the baby boom generation. Sharon Spiegelman's troubled spiritual odyssey takes her from Boston folk dancing to Molokai pot farming in the '70s; washes her ashore in Honolulu in the '80s to commune with dolphins, taste Buddhism and Christianity, and embrace Chasidism with a vengeance. In the end, she finds love and gets her groove back. Goodman has drawn the people and places with just the right blend of chutzpah and exasperation to make this fractured fairy tale believable and fun.