Deep Focus (2009 – 2010)

Sally Menke, Arthur Penn, Tony Curtis, and now Deep Focus. After today, this blog will no longer be updated. It’s been a good run and I shall miss it. Heartfelt thanks to all involved. A valediction, in the form of a clip, after the jump.

Of all the clips I’ve ever had the privilege of posting on this site, here is my favorite, from Jean Vigo’s Zéro de Conduite:

Adios friends!

MC Extra Cheese: Hardest Working Man in Hip-Hop

It can be difficult to know exactly what to make of MC Extra Cheese. The title of his latest effort sardonically proclaims him The 40-Year-Old-Rapper, but the album’s no joke. The apotheosis of smart-ass, weed-addicted man-children, MCEC is just as likely to rap about his financial woes (“don’t own a home, my car is mad old!”) and unrealistic sexual fantasies (“I’d love to get cozy, with Parker Posey”) as he is the usual rigmarole of self-aggrandizing bombast (“Oh shit! I shit another hit!”). It’s the latter category, of course, that should register as a gag—only it’s sufficiently alloyed by an older white guy’s self-consciousness that it doesn’t. Even when he’s inventorying all the indie actresses he’d like to seduce, Extra Cheese apologizes by way of a chorus that insists: “I’m just playin.” It’s this kind of touch that makes his material more interesting than the usual homeboy schtick. Recently, I got a chance to talk with Cheese about his new record, television show, and various side-projects. For an artist who raps about being fueled by “the power of weed,” he’s an uncanny dervish of activity.

I’ve always wondered about your name. Are you willing to divulge where it came from?

From the back of a bum’s tee-shirt back in 1986. It was at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon, where some sort of festival was going on. I was sitting on the grass, thinking I needed a rap name, and up stood this wino with EXTRA CHEESE printed across his back.

By the way, thanks for not using my government name. This will save my mother the embarrassment of having to publicly acknowledge her son as “the 40-year-old rapper,” and will spare both her and me a lot of heavy discussions about sex and drugs.

Your last album was the massive, 53-track ’86 GL. I expect that felt like a tough act to follow?

It actually has 52 tracks. My tag line for that album is: “52 tracks, 75 minutes, feels like 3 hours.” There are so many bombastic beats and prophetic lines on that record, but in retrospect I’m not sure it’s the masterpiece I thought it was at the time. Making that record was kind of like a colonic irrigation for me and my producer Nappy G. We were just getting a lot of beats and miscellaneous rhymes—mostly written while driving my 1986 Subaru GL hatchback—out of our systems.

After the scattered buckshot of ’86 GL, I wanted to do an album of concise, Internet-radio-friendly songs. So the new CD has just 14 tracks – all killer, no filler.

“IFC” is of course the track that grabbed my attention first. As a film critic I was impressed by your knowledge of contemporary actresses.

I’m glad you asked about that song. It is actually a parody of the early Notorious B.I.G. classic “Just Playin (Dreams),” which features Biggie Smalls name-checking all the “sexy singers” he wants to “sex”. I got the idea of doing an indie film take on it from my friend Kesime Bernard, who directed the video for “Very Lazy.” Per usual, Nappy G produced the track, and I provided the rhymes, but I should mention that Kesime also coined one of the best lines in the song – “Swell as I spread béchamel on Zoey Deschanel.” Thankfully, she’s also signed on to direct the video as well. Kesime, that is, not Zoey.

Speaking of which, the album is accompanied by some fourteen music videos and a TV pilot. How is it that you’re so prolific in that department?

Get suckers to work for free. We have a motto at my company, American Cheese Hole Enterprises, and it’s printed on my business cards: “We don’t pay talent.”

But seriously, a lot of very talented people have been very generous with their time and expertise. I get a great thrill from collaborating with other people, and I have been fortunate in somehow convincing a lot of incredible artists to get on board the Extra Cheese train.

Are you deliberately going for that Beastie-Boys-ca.-1987 look? There tend to be a lot of deliberately lo-fi visual effects and an all around sense of rowdy, gleeful partying.

I guess I’m just old school. I’m not going for any specific look or sound. I’m just being me. Who put this together? Me! Me and Nappy G!

But speaking of the Beastie Boys, I was at a bowling party last year, and MCA bit my bowling style. He didn’t stick with it, but he did try to bite for a minute. It’s true. This really happened. I got witnesses.

How about your side projects? I’ve seen you play with jazz group The Dred Scott Trio, and I understand you’ve got still another band as well.

The Dred Scott guys have had a weekly gig at the Rockwood Music Hall for years, and at least once a month I’ll perform a couple songs with them. In fact, we are about the release a live album, Prepare For Blast Off, that includes songs from those performances.

My other latest and perhaps greatest project is Tit-n-Twat. It’s a 2-person band consisting of me and my dear friend Sasha Dobson, who is well-known as a solo performer and is currently on tour with Norah Jones. She plays drums and I rap. We also sorta sing some harmonies together, which is something I’ve never done before. It’s awesome being in a band with a chick, especially when performing songs like “My Wife’s a Slut.” And Sasha is one of the most gifted and talented and fucking coolest musicians I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

Any parting words for aspiring MC’s?

To quote my anthemic song, “When You’re on the Mic” from ’86 GL: “You shouldn’t be rapping.”

MC Extra Cheese plays Rose Live Music, Thursday, 9/30 @ 9pm. MCEC & The Dred Scott Trio will drop “Prepare for Blast Off” on 10/19 and play a midnight show at Rockwood Music Hall (photo courtesy of Johnny Shah)

Do Kid Actors Ruin Action Films?

Yesterday a list went up on Ranker touting “The 7 Most Annoying Kids in Action Movie History,” and I was not, in the main, surprised by the choices. Edward Furlong in Terminator 2, Jake Lloyd in Star Wars Episode I, and Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds are all deserving of fan contempt. But there’s one name on the list that I cannot get behind, not at all.

I’m speaking of Jonathan Ke Quan, he of Short Round fame in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (“Feels like I step on fortune cookie!”). Ranker put him at number three on their list, but I maintain that the kid’s fucking great. Moreover, he has an almost unblemished, if abbreviated, record as a child actor: he did Temple and The Goonies and then effectively disappeared from the big screen. Today he works as a stunt coordinator, which is perhaps another reason not to bad mouth him.

NYC Celebs Who Pack Heat

The next time you spot somebody famous on the streets of New York, don’t make any sudden moves. The Daily News is reporting that while the overall number of handgun permits in the city is going down, the number of celebrities applying for them is going up. “They can get their own security, but with the Internet, it is much easier to find people,” said John Skylar Chambers, a lawyer who specializes in the coveted permits. “They don’t want to find someone on their lawn at 5 in the morning.” So who’s already packing?

Records show that Marc Anthony is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, as are Robert De Niro, Howard Stern, and Donald Trump. But not everybody gets to walk the streets armed and dangerous. Mets third-baseman David Wright is licensed, but only to keep a gun in his penthouse. Others have lobbied for permits and failed, such as Bernie Madoff’s son Andrew. All applicants are obliged prove that they are either subject to legitimate threats, or are routinely in possession of large sums of cash. How Marc Anthony qualifies, I’m not quite sure.

Director David Fincher on ‘The Social Network’

Yesterday at the Soho Apple Store, The Social Network director David Fincher and star Jesse Eisenberg sat for a Q&A. Given that there’s already been significant flap over the film’s accuracy, especially with respect to its portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, it came as no surprise that someone asked the pair about possible misrepresentation. Just how fast and loose are they playing with the lives of Zuckerberg et al? Fincher spoke for both of them, saying, “I don’t think it would be responsible for either of us to enter into an endeavor that was simply a million dollar hatchet job.”

Fincher went to admit that lots of conversations were naturally “distilled, crystallized and crushed” for the sake of narrative economy, and that everyone involved knew full well that “specifics of what they were talking about were debatable.” Nevertheless, their aim was true. “I think we got to a kind of truth about a place, a time, and a group of people—specifically the people whose names we used. I hope it’s fair. The intention was to be fair.”

For once I agree with Jeffrey Wells: that’s a reasonable and honest answer. Fincher’s full response is below:

Hollywood Given License to Rip Off ‘Rear Window’ & Anything Else It Likes

If you saw 2007’s Shia Leboeuf starrer Disturbia, you probably noticed the debt that film owes to Alfred Hithcock’s Rear Window. Although many details were different, both share the same bedrock narrative: a bored shut-in takes to spying on his neighbors, one of whom he comes to believe is a murderer. The similarity was so obvious that no one was surprised when the owners of the short story on which Rear Window was based decided to sue Dreamworks over the film. It sounded like an open and shut case. Only it wasn’t.

THR is reporting a New York District Court has dismissed on summary judgment the lawsuit against the makers of Disturbia. “The main plots are similar only at a high, unprotectable level of generality,” wrote Judge Laura Swain. “Where Disturbia is rife with sub-plots, the short story has none. The setting and mood of the short story are static and tense, whereas the setting and mood of Disturbia are more dynamic and peppered with humor and teen romance.”

Swain went on to conclude that “no reasonable trier of fact could find the works substantially similar within the meaning of copyright law.”

So there you have it Hollywood: everything is fair game now and licensing be damned! By the way, if you could serve me up a teenage version of Vertigo I’d appreciate it.

As ‘Goodfellas’ Turns Twenty, Alternative Casting Choices Revealed

Twenty years after its release, Goodfellas is still a high-water mark for Martin Scorsese, mob pictures, and, dare I say, American cinema itself. To commemorate the anniversary, GQ has assembled an oral history of the film’s making that reveals, among other juicy morsels, some dubious casting choices that were considered early on in pre-production. A certain pop star was at least briefly in the running, as was a certain well-known (and at that time still sane-seeming) leading man.

According to Producer Irwin Winkler, “Tom Cruise was discussed” before Ray Liotta eventually won the part of Henry Hill. Considering Cruise’s star power at that time, and Liotta’s relative obscurity, this isn’t totally shocking, although the idea is nevertheless distasteful in the extreme. Even more so, however, is the thought of Lorraine Bracco’s role as Karen Hill having gone to Madge. “Madonna seemed to be in the mix,” said producer Barbara De Fina. “I remember that we went to see her in the play Speed-the-Plow. Marty said hello to her afterward. There was definitely somebody somewhere wanting to cast her. Can you imagine? Tom Cruise and Madonna?”

No Babs. I really, really can’t.

Bill Murray Gets 50 Portraits

With Get Low already skedaddling out of the theaters and Passion Play getting such bad reviews at Toronto that one wonders if it’ll be properly released at all, it may be some time before we get another Bill Murray fix on the big screen. His only other forthcoming credit on imdb is for Ghostbusters 3, which may or may not—depending on who you believe—be coming to a theater near you in 2012. In the meantime, if you need a little tide-me-over, LA’s R&R Gallery opened a show last weekend entirely devoted to the beloved comedian. “Mr. Bill Murray: A Tribute to the Legend” consists of 50 original portraits representing all manner of Murrays at all stages of his career. Highlights after the jump.

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Mr. Bill Murray: A Tribute to the Legend is curated by CW Milberger and Mark J. Yamamoto and runs through September 30th.

‘The Amanda Knox Story’ Coming to the Small Screen

That an Amanda Knox biopic would be made was inevitable. The ingredients are just too good. In 2007, the 20-year-old, all-American gamine (pictured) was studying abroad in Perugia, Italy when she was accused of violently murdering her roommate in the wake of a drug-fueled orgy. After an eleventh month trial and no end of did she? didn’t she? media speculation about “Foxy Noxy,” an Italian court found her guilty and sentenced her to 26 years in prison. She’s currently trying to appeal the verdict, but Lifetime isn’t holding its breath. The Amanda Knox Story has been greenlit for production and should air sometime next year. See who’ll play her after the jump.

Though actresses from Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox to Emily Blunt and Kristen Stewart have all been nominal contenders for the role, Deadline is reporting that Hayden Panettiere will be the one to Knox it up. What I’m wondering is which side of thing they’re going to come down on: innocent, guilty, or unclear.