What You Can Learn From: Milan Vukmirovic

Sunday  May 31, 2009

Fashion designer, photographer, editor, and, oh yeah, co-owner of Miami’s coolest new clothing emporium. The Webster’s Milan Vukmirovic on the art of living well while working relentlessly

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Milan Vukmirovic may not be the most high-profile guy in the fashion world, but he’s certainly one of the busiest. A founder of the Paris design mecca Colette, he now shuttles between France, Italy, and the States, serving as creative director of the revamped Italian label Trussardi 1911, editor-in-chief of the French fashion mag L’Officiel Hommes (for whom he shoots most of its content), and co-owner of the just opened South Beach store the Webster.

Why I do so much:
“Nothing I do feels like work. Plus, people can do much more than they realize. Look at Hedi Slimane: He’s a photographer, an artist, a fashion designer.”

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Handcrafted pens that can handle the weight of your words, at www.montblanc.com.

What inspires me:
I travel a lot. And for me, on the train, on the plane, in the cab—that’s when I think and draw and write down ideas. I always carry a notebook, my Montblanc pen, and my Smythson of Bond Street stationery.”

How I stay fresh:
“I see a lot of movies, listen to a lot of music, read a lot of magazines. It’s very important to be like a sponge. That was the foundation of Colette: fashion, furniture, design. They’re all connected, and they all influence each other.”

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Aesop antioxidant facial toner

How I look fresh:
“Aesop antioxidant facial toner, Armani skin minerals face cream, and Shiseido retinol eye patches—they all help me look less tired.”

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This compact digital video camera makes feature-quality film, at www.red.com.

What I shoot with:
“The Mark III Canon—it’s very, very fast. I’m also eyeing the RED, a small digital video camera. The quality is amazing, and I want to try my hand at movies.”

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The ultimate—and luxurious—lightweight travel scarf, at www.hermes.com.

What I fly with:
“Hermès does a cashmere losange scarf, very light, that I always wear on the plane, because it can get so cold. Children have a piece of fabric they need, and this scarf is like that for me.”

Keep it casual:
“I wear white V-neck T-shirts by American Apparel. It’s a basic everyone should own.”

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Washed-leather boat shoes from Belgian brand N.D.C., at the Webster

Shoes you need:
“N.D.C. were among the first to do shoes that looked used. I love their boat shoes. New Yorkers call to have us ship them from Miami.”

How I rock denim:
“I like to wear a denim shirt with jeans. Maybe in the U.S. that looks too cowboy. But in Europe it looks more like the Clash than like Texas.”

The French perspective:
“I go to L.A. and people tell me, ‘I love the way you dress, but I could never do that because everyone will think I’m gay.’ American guys worry too much about what others think. Fashion is fun, and you should be able to play with your look.”—andy comer

The 'Survivor' Dude Goes Wild

Friday  May 29, 2009

Mark Burnett’s Expedition Africa is like that other show. Except this time the contestants, you know, might not survive

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On May 31st, reality TV creator Mark Burnett debuts his latest dirt, sweat, and tears franchise, Expedition Africa: Stanley and Livingstone, an eight-part History Channel series that follows four modern-day explorers as they retrace the 19th-century journey of American journalist Henry Stanley (of “Mr. Livingstone, I presume” fame). It’s like Survivor—minus the craft service table. We caught up with Burnett to find out, among other things, whether a hippo can kill a man.—mark kirby

Of all the expeditions in history, why re-create Stanley and Livingstone?
Because it’s an incredible story—an American looking for a world-famous British explorer. Stanley wanted to show the British who’s on top, and at the time—the late 1800s—nothing could’ve be worse for the British than having an upstart American find their lost hero. And as far as vicarious adventure goes, Africa wins every time. There’s a sense of danger all the time: whether from crocodiles when crossing rivers, poisonous snakes—I think there are 29 different kinds—lions, and hippos, which turned out to be quite a problem.

Hippos? They look so peaceful at the zoo.
People don’t realize how dangerous they are; I think there are as many river boating deaths from hippos as from crocodiles. They’re incredibly territorial; shooting footage around African rivers, they’re the thing you’re most concerned about.

So are you outfitting the explorers with weaponry? I mean, how historically accurate is the show supposed to be?
Well, of course, it couldn’t be exactly like Stanley and Livingstone, but we wanted to remove things like GPS and give them the old style maps that Stanley would’ve used, which required them to talk to villagers to get a sense of the route. It was really planning how much can you push through in a day—where do you stop for the night, where can you get water or fuel for a fire? Water was also a big problem—we weren’t resupplying the explorers with it. They have to find their own water and boil it. But sometimes the water was so dirty at river’s edge that they have to go out in a little dugout canoe to collect it, all the while seeing crocodiles surface and watch them. They were very, very nervous in those boats.

There’s no “voting off the island” or boardroom meetings with Donald Trump here. It seems like a return to the lo-fi stuff you were doing at the beginning of your career, with the EcoChallenge races.
When I was producing EcoChallenge in Morocco in 1998, I spent a lot of time with the Berber people who live in the Atlas mountains above Marrakech. Before the winter, they cross the peaks of the mountains to head for the Sahara, and then each summer they cross back. Everyone goes—old people, young people, every family—and you can imagine how hard that is. They have this very important saying: Choose your companions before the road. And whether it was Survivor or EcoChallenge, my storytelling has always been informed by reading about expeditions and realizing that it was never really the people who had the physical prowess or technical expertise who would be likely to succeed. It’s really about character. How do you keep your ego in check when you feel like yelling at others? And that’s the through-line for Expedition Africa: Four type-A, very-sure-of-themselves adventurers who had to work together.

How’s that work out for them? Any Survivor-style catfights?
One of things I’ve learned over the years is that you cannot predict who will get along with whom until you get there. The most unlikely people rise to the top and are kind and human, and other people who you think seem to be kind and human turn out to be difficult. You don’t know until you start walking.

There seems to be a greater appetite for this programming now than when EcoChallenge first aired. Survivor, for example, is about to begin filming its 19th season. Any chance you might revive the Eco franchise?
My instinct says that there’s a lot of negativity out there right now—between people’s jobs, their bank accounts, and their general fear for the planet as a whole. At those times, escapism is quite good. And so I do feel that there’s an opportunity for me to do EcoChallenge again—a lot of people have wanted me to do it. It’s just a matter of me focusing and finding the right television partner. It’s a good time for this kind of expedition, exploration, and vicarious adventure travel.

The GQ Punch List

Thursday  May 28, 2009

What you need to watch, do, buy, and check out in the next 72 hours.

Remind yourself why you still love Pixar. Instead of watching Up! this weekend with a theater full of sticky, wide-eyed seven-year-olds, stay home and watch the studio's early award-winning shorts on iTunes, or compiled on the new DVD Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1. They'll satisfy your animation jones, at least until the theaters clear out.

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Settle into a ringside seat for the clay-court slug fest at the French Open. The field's been thinned and third- and fourth-round matches dominate the weekend. This year, Rafael Nadal's looking to five-peat, Andy Roddick's trying not to embarrass himself further, and the Russian women are…well, at least Maria Sharapova's back! Why not sit back and watch her until she gets her telegenic derriere kicked by Safin's little sister, who's stalking her first Grand Slam win? (And there's no way a morning watching tennis will interfere with this weekend's NBA playoffs—those games will be on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, if there are games at all.)

Stash your wool for the summer. Stop thinking about yourself for one second and think about the welfare of your wool. Your favorite flannel suit? The cashmere turtleneck you scored last fall? What will become of them this summer, huh? Will you leave them to the moths? Of course not. Now's the time to get them cleaned and packed away in garment and sweater bags—and it wouldn't hurt to get some cedar for your closet, too. Moths hate it for some reason, which is why should love it.

Don't spill a drop. The Danish design store Normann Copenhagen's new glasses have curved bottoms, creating a fluid stance that wobbles, but never falls down. This may provide more unsteadiness than some would want out of a night of drinking, but they still look damn cool in slow motion.

Browse Oliver Spencer's new online store, assuming you can't get to New York or London to see his collection in person. The UK designer's signature skinny belts, casual Brit outerwear, and other modern (but trend-proof) classics can now be accessed through oliverspencer.co.uk.

Read This: 'Mr. America,' by Mark Adams

Thursday  May 28, 2009

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Bernarr Macfadden was one of those old-fashioned, quintessentially American specimens of virility so rarely seen in today’s effete, technology-dependent twenty-first-century world. Muscular, sexually voracious, and obsessed with bowel movements (he went by “B.M.”), he invented modern vegetarianism, bodybuilding, and tabloid journalism, all in a violent rush of productivity between the First and Second World Wars. Vegetarianism, weight lifting, and modern tabloids from the same person?, you may ask. How could any one man be so prodigious?

Answering that exact question is the project of Mark Adams's laugh-out-loud-funny new biography, Mr. America, which describes Macfadden’s ascent from sickly, orphaned hotel orderly to international publishing magnate and bestselling alternative-medicine guru. It takes nothing away from the book to reveal that the answer includes sex, whole grains, nudity, and lots of very, very long walks. Macfadden, who often fasted for days at a time and sometimes made the 25-mile commute from his home in Nyack to his office in Manhattan by foot, believed that the body needed to be pushed to physical extremes in order to reach peak performance. And so he pushed himself—and his poor family—constantly, often in hilarious ways. (Adams undertakes a bit of immersion-journalism by submitting himself to some of Macfadden’s bizarre methods in the book’s appendix.)

The most compelling thing about Adams’s biography, though, is the case he makes for the ways in which we are all, today, cultural heirs to his patently ridiculous subject. Macfadden was a prominent champion of writing frankly about sex, diet, and the body; he was a twentieth-century antidote to the repressions of the Victorian world, a more-vulgar-than-cerebral, wholly American analogue to Freud. With his magazines—Physical Culture, True Story—his books, and his marginally successful wellness retreats, Macfadden paved the way for our present-day obsessions with body image, health, and pulpy “reality” entertainment. Would there be such things as the SI Swimsuit Issue, the detox fast, and socially acceptable conversations about poop without Bernarr Macfadden? Possibly. But the world is so much more amusing when you imagine it all starting with this strange little man.—mark kirby

The Michelada

Thursday  May 28, 2009

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The Mexicans know how to deal with heat better than you do. They don't just drink their beer—they doctor it, and then it doctors them.

• Salt (something with large crystals, like kosher or sea salt)
• Juice of 1/2 lime
• Tabasco or preferred hot sauce
• Worcestershire sauce
• Beer (a light pilsner seems to work well, but you can go dark with interesting results)
• Lime wedge

Salt the rim of a chilled pilsner glass. Toss in the lime juice and a dash of the Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Fill the glass with ice and pour the beer to the brim. Garnish with the lime wedge and take the rest of the day off.

Honky Tonk Man

Wednesday  May 27, 2009

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Dwight Yoakam's guest musical performance on Jay Leno's final Tuesday as host of The Tonight Show (read GQ's exit interview with Leno here) reminded us that Yoakam doesn’t just have country music's second-greatest voice (nobody beats George Jones)—he’s also got the genre’s most original (and specific) sense of style. On Leno, he wore a khaki suit with cowboy boots and his trademark hat, but nobody has ever done painted-on denim quite like Dwight. And although we’re a little hesitant to give specifics—Yoakam's look should come with a “don't try this at home” warning—we will say that over the years you could usually find him in Levi’s 517's, a signature-model Stetson (bull-rider brim with a rodeo crown), and an elaborate pair of cowboy boots that probably cost about six months' rent. In honor of Dwight’s appearance last night, we here at The Q put together a brief photo and video retrospective.—will welch

A smoking version of "Guitars, Cadillacs," in brown leather pants.

"A Thousand Miles from Nowhere," in a fringed leather jacket.

"I Sang Dixie" in a rhinestone-studded jacket, most likely custom-made at Manuel’s in Hollywood.

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Denim-on-denim, with a tribute to the late Buck Owens scrawled on his Gibson.

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Levis 517’s, stone-washed and ripped to shit.

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In his signature pose—and ridiculously tight leather pants.

Buy This Book: 'Memories of Myself,' by Danny Lyon

Wednesday  May 27, 2009

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What happens when you hang out in brothels, derby pits, and dark alleys for forty years? For starters, you take some damn memorable photos. That’s been the path of American photographer Danny Lyon, who, like a Method actor, immersed himself in the subcultures he documented. His iconic work from the ’60s (pre–Easy Rider photos of bikers on the road) led to exhibitions in MoMA and the Whitney and two Guggenheim fellowships, and he’s credited with pioneering the New Journalism movement in photography. In Memories of Myself (in stores now), he shares 134 mostly unpublished pictures—of Colombian prostitutes in hair curlers, chain-smoking greasers, and Brooklyn teens playing Wiffle Ball—that are so intimate they could have come from the photo albums of the subjects themselves. This is the genius of Lyon’s work: He inhabits, rather than invades, the personal space of his subjects.—andrew richdale

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Boy with the Puppy

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Woman with the Red Mouth

The Multitaskingest Rookie in Rap

Tuesday  May 26, 2009

Wale—that’s Wah-lay—is a massively talented rapper from Washington, D.C., who’s about to take over the world. (Just ask him, he’ll tell you.) But between the cell, the BlackBerry, the Sidekick, the networking, and an endless stream of Tweets, where does this guy find the time to rhyme?

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By Will Welch; Photograph by Mark Seliger

Spend fifteen minutes with Wale and it’s obvious that the era of artists kicking back and eating shrimp while the label gins up hype is dead and gone. At a recent photo shoot, while his publicist flipped through a magazine, Wale used every spare moment to, well, be his own publicist. When he wasn’t updating his Twitter page, he was messaging every deejay in his Rolodex, imploring them to talk up the “leak”—Wale himself carefully orchestrated it—of “Chillin,” his new single featuring Lady Gaga.

Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, now 24, cut his teeth as an 18-year-old by jumping onstage to kick rhymes with D.C.-area go-go bands. A self-released single, “Good Girls,” found its way to Mark Ronson, who signed Wale to his label, which led to a management deal with Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation. Now, finally, his first official album is finished—and Attention Deficit might be the most sonically adventurous major-label hip-hop debut ever. With production from Ronson, Cool & Dre, and even Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, the upbeat album has tribal go-go drums, throwback horns, walls of sound from Sitek, and a live-band feel developed over countless club dates. And like a young Jay-Z or Kanye, Wale has a crystal-clear, jocular flow—They keep sayin’ “whale” but my name Wah-lay / Hos call me Mr. Never-Wear-the-Same-Thang—that puts him leaps ahead of his freshman competitors.

Yet the best thing about Attention Deficit is that Wale’s still snotnosed, with all the fight and wit of the underdog. On “Triumph,” he raps, I asked Mr. West for a little bit of help / Then realized us new niggas gotta get it ourself. Immediately after his photo shoot, the A.D.D. MC was right back on his phone, haranguing ?uestlove from the Roots. “Can you post something on Twitter?” Wale asked the hip-hop veteran. “Tell ’em my first single is coming out tomorrow. Tell ’em you heard it, and tell ’em it’s crazy.”—will welch

Tony Soprano for Mayor!

Tuesday  May 26, 2009

James Gandolfini hijacks 'Pelham.' But why is he playing a Bloomberg knockoff?

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We’ve been missing James Gandolfini for two years now—missing his menace, his unparalleled acting chops, even that breathing, so tortured it sounds like a duck being asphyxiated. But suddenly he’s everywhere—from Broadway to Sundance to multiplexes around the nation—and this, indeed, is cause for celebration. GQ caught up with the onetime Tony Soprano to talk about how you get past playing an iconic mobster, what happens when you shut down First Avenue in New York City, and the pitfalls of starring as an eerily recognizable politician in this month’s remake of the subway-hijacking flick The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.dan fierman

Playing a part like Tony Soprano can trap you. How’d you plan your next step?
I don’t think like that. I just think, Is it good? Do I want to do it? Do I have to go to Bangkok for nine years to shoot it? I never looked at changing my image or any of that nonsense. Also, come on, be honest. I’m a big fat fuckin’ bald guy; there’s not a lotta places for me to go.

In Pelham you play a billionaire mayor who made his money in the finance industry, takes home a salary of $1 a year, and doesn’t even really like the Yankees. So basically…Michael Bloomberg.
Honestly, it was a little bit of Bloomberg, a little bit of Giuliani, a little bit of I don’t know what. And I’m only in, what? Five minutes of the thing? So I think I’ll be okay. [beat] Okay, I hope I’ll be okay.

The original is such a New York classic, going with the local cast—you, Turturro, Luis Guzmán—seemed smart.
And to shoot it here! But I gotta tell ya, Tony Scott didn’t get New York. I went to see this big stunt they were going to do with this car crash. It was at 59th and First—so he shut down the whole street! All these people were screaming and yelling. Very amusing. And Tony asked me, “Why is everyone so pissed off?” And I was like, Are you kidding? You just shut down First Avenue. I shoulda been a location consultant.

To my reading of your filmography, Scott is the guy who put you on the map. That scene in True Romance in which you beat the crap out of Patricia Arquette started everything.
Oh yeah. I couldn’t get work. I had sent out videotape after videotape, I had auditioned everywhere, nothing. Then, the next thing I knew, I was in L.A. throwing this woman around. It did everything for me.

You’re such an N.Y.C. guy. I have a hard time imagining you living out there.
I lived in L.A. for a year and a half. I dunno, man, I don’t want to wax philosophical about it; a lot of people in L.A. are fine, but I laugh ten times a day walkin’ down the street in New York. I felt very disconnected or something. I wanted to get back.

In Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are—out in October—you’re the voice of one of the monsters. Now there are all these rumors about studio meddling, terrified children in test audiences, and tons of rewrites. What the hell happened?
I don’t know. I kept looping dialogue. I’d do my dialogue. Then they’d rewrite it and I’d do some more. But what Spike did is unbelievable. Visually beautiful. And the script is great. It’s not going to be scary for kids—they’re going to identify completely with it. [beat] But then, what the hell do I know? I’m not 9 years old. [laughs]

John Hodgman Reads the Wedding Announcements

Tuesday  May 26, 2009

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When the newspapers are finally defeated by the computers, we will lose not only an important source of very flammable material that stains our fingers but also three unique human emotions:

First, the reassuring calm of the Funny Pages. (It comforts me to know that Dagwood Bumstead is immortal and that no one looks at him funny just because he wears clothes from the ’30s and has deformed hair. I wonder if he is a Highlander.)

Second, the sheer awful panic of the Obituaries. (But wait! No one is really immortal. All of these people died. This is terrible! This is as bad as reading “For Better or For Worse,” the Canadian comic strip in which everyone ages in real time and then their dog dies.)

And finally, the happy two minutes of hate we call the Wedding Pages. (Go on and grin, you damn preppies. You’re not immune! You will die, too. Just like a Canadian dog.)

I cannot tell you how many Sundays I passed enjoying these comforting rituals before I stopped reading newspapers for good. (They were getting into my head.) And always, it was the third—the Wedding Pages—I enjoyed the most.

I was poor then, having moved to New York with nothing but a degree in literary theory and firm convictions that life owed me a living. I ended up with a job tearing out pages from one book and taping them into another all day, and then retiring to my girlfriend’s apartment, which was very small. It was basically a sink and a bad fridge with some floorboards around them holding up some cast-off furniture and a Cézanne print.

We tried to make a life there, she, I, her roommate, the guy who was crashing on the sofa that had no legs, and the various friends we would invite over for our sad, ridiculously ambitious nine-course weekend dinners in which we would cook a gigantic turkey and attempt to carve it with the only unused butter knife.

It was around that time of fright and yearning that my girlfriend first introduced me to the Wedding Pages. Perhaps she was trying to drop a hint, but I took it differently. Here were people actually beginning adult lives instead of woefully faking it, as we were. They had planned well, majored in finance or better, and were at that very moment in the process of fulfilling the American dream: marrying into money.

Their parents, who sat on boards and foundations and/or oversaw arts centers in East Hampton, did not worry about them. They did not worry about anything.

I was jealous at first. And then I felt something else. There is a German word, I trust, for the feeling they inspired in me, but I do not know what it is. Not schadenfraude. Not pleasure taken in another’s unhappiness, but rather the relief I felt considering the unhappiness I imagined for these smiling couples—that as time wore on, they would age as well, and suffer. This brief moment of newspaper glamour would fade, to be replaced by many more photos full of the same hope and self-congratulation and soft cable-knit sweaters. And this was hilarious to me, as I was young and cruel.

Now I am older, and no longer quite as defensive and fearful. (I am on television.) Newspapers are disappearing. And also, I am married, and we never did get our picture in the paper for it. And I regret it.

For I look at the Wedding Pages differently now. Yes, they are as pompous as they are banal. These are but two keys to the Gordian knot of comedy. But what I am now beginning to understand is how brave these people are.

A wedding announcement is a window into the most goofball daydream a couple can have about itself. To write out your own romance novel, even in glorified newspaper prose, and give it to the world to see is incredibly, ridiculously courageous. It might as well be accompanied by every picture of a horse the bride ever drew in grade school, and every D&D character the groom ever rolled. It is as foolhardy and beautiful as, well, actually getting married.

Wedding announcements are little human stories, full of want and hope, even when they involve falconry. I root for these couples the way I root for all married couples now, and I do not want them to die. I want them to be immortal, Dagwood-style, caught in that frozen moment of hope forever, smiling like morons, happy.

That is all.


Excerpted from the foreword of Weddings of the Times: A Parody. Foreword by John Hodgman and Weddings of the Times by Dan Klein, Robert Baedeker, John Reichmuth, and James Reichmuth. Copyright © 2009 by the authors and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Go Here: Craft (Los Angeles, CA)

Friday  May 22, 2009

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Photographs by Michael Williams

With the exception of a few clothing stores—namely, American Rag, South Willard, and Secret Service—the West Coast retail scene always leaves me wanting more. As a New Yorker, I get excited to shop in L.A., but normally end up seeing a litany of the same brands (Nice Collective, Wings + Horns, Surface to Air) at different stores all over town, and finally just leave empty-handed.

But the new West Hollywood men's store Craft—which was founded by husband-and-wife team Pete Arbelaez and Rosa Diaz, formerly of Union (a bi-coastal streetwear shop)—seems to be ushering in a new era of coolness. A lifelong New Yorker, Pete's been living the easy life in Southern California for the past five years. But he became frustrated with a customer that he says "he had little in common with," and eventually it became apparent that Pete would have to take matters into his own hands and open his own place.

And so, accordingly, Craft's concept is based on Pete's own personal style—mixing tailored clothing with workwear, or, as he describes the store, "more of an expression of how I would like my closet to look."

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The sparsely-filled space—which would make a great closet on any coast—stocks a strong combination of under-the-radar Japanese and American labels, with an emphasis on jeans (something sure to make SoCal denim-heads happy). Brands like Buzz Rickson (purveyor of super-accurate vintage denim reproductions), Sugar Cane (a top-notch Japanese selvage denim line that also incorporates other workwear-inspired clothes), and another Japanese favorite of mine, Left Field, who make a great button-down shirt. Craft was also able to secure a distribution deal (no doubt through its East Coast connections) to be one of the few shops in L.A. to stock the venerable New England shoe brand Alden.

For fall, the folks at Craft have a few more tricks up their sleeve. Labels like Nigel Cabourn (who recently designed an entire collection inspired by the famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary), Lower East Side optician Sol Moscot, Japanese denim maker Kato, and a few other special lines will join Craft's already strong roster of stylish goods. Hopefully the airlines will relinquish the bag-check fees by the time I'm back in L.A.—it seems my empty-handed days are numbered.—michael williams

Craft: 513 North La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA; 310-855-3976

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The GQ Punch List

Friday  May 22, 2009

What you need to read, do, see, and buy in the next 72 hours.

Read this. With all that mortarboard flying around, it’s easy to forget how useless education can sometimes be. Walter Kirn’s new memoir will remind you. In Lost in the Meritocracy he recounts the scholastic tricks that allowed him to slither through Princeton—but that left him devoid of bona fide knowledge. Follow him from his early foibles (when he wasn’t trying to rack up gold stars, young Walt took rips from jars of rubber cement: "Education, intoxication, forever linked") through a series of highly entertaining college tales that touch on the constant, knotty convergence of drugs, sex, and erudition. Read our full review here.

Dig a hole. If you’re thinking of growing your own this summer—whether it’s cucumbers, tomatoes, or peppers you’re after—don’t wait any longer to get your seedlings in the soil. For all your hard work and tender cultivation, you’ll hopefully harvest enough to make this strange and delicious pizza.

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Get over your aversion to period chick flicks. A movie based on a Noel Coward play, set in England, in the ‘20s? Really? Stop whining. Easy Virtue is actually quite funny, and it features a bloomer-clad Jessica Biel (recognize her?), as a saucy American whose virtue is the film’s obsession and whose libido scandalizes her uptight in-laws. Or, go fall asleep during Angels & Demons. It’s your call.

Go to the source. If you’re a fan of the vintage-inspired clothes purveyed by labels like Rogues Gallery, RRL, and just about everyone else these days, why not seek out the originals? Ned Martel, a former editor at Men’s Vogue, spent a month this winter picking his way through vintage racks across America. The result is One Trip Pass, his temporary clothing store selling the best of ‘70s Americana—from summer flannels to goofy graphic tees. But go soon—next week the store closes forever. (Through May 27 at Billy Reid, 54 Bond Street, New York, NY; 212-598-9355; www.billyreid.com)

Scrub your tunes. The misnamed songs, the misspelled artist names, the mysterious tracks 07, 04, and 09 by unknown artist; in other words, the weak spots in your otherwise carefully curated music library. There’s a cure for that—a program called Tune Up that runs through your collection fixing spellings, naming tracks, and adding cool artwork. As of this week, it’s being sold at the Apple store, as well as online. $30 gets you a lifetime of tune-ups; $20 gets you a one-time rinse. (Tuneupmedia.com)

Read This: 'Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever,' by Walter Kirn

Friday  May 22, 2009

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In elementary school, Walter Kirn learned that emptying the pencil sharpener earned him gold stars and that rubber cement got him high: "Education, intoxication, forever linked." From there, his opportunistic approach to learning—hilariously recounted in Lost in the Meritocracy—valued prize over process and permitted him to slither his way through Princeton (four years of sex, drugs, and erudition) even if it failed to procure any genuine knowledge along the way.

These rollicking college episodes add up to a sense that in part, Princeton did him wrong (by further privileging privilege)—though it's tough to take this message at face value with the awareness that the doors Princeton opened for the author are the very reason the memoir exists in the first place.

But ultimately, the tricks he picks up—acquiescence to instructor's opinions, pompous lingo, cunning standardized test strategies—become the very elements against which he must rebel. For his deficiencies, Kirn is left to fault no one but himself. The takeaway? Princeton isn't what it seems (or maybe this confirms it's exactly what it seems). Ivy League drama kids are the worst. And only the “college boy” on a triumphant return to his hometown is capable of cleaning up with the foreign exchange chicks.—daniel riley

Read This Book: 'Sunnyside'

Thursday  May 21, 2009

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Consider for a moment the fame—at once envious and oppressive—that dogged America’s first true movie star, Charlie Chaplin. As writer Glen David Gold tells it in his long and damn good new novel, Sunnyside (Knopf, $26.95, May), the simple mention of the name might bring trains to a halt and transform hotel lobbies into tittering theaters of the absurd. Sunnyside, the follow-up to Gold’s 2001 novel Carter Beats the Devil (about an early 20th century magician competing with Houdini), finds a fictionalized Chaplin struggling with family life, pressures from film studio bosses and his vanity. Hugely competitive with fellow stars of the time, Chaplin, Gold writes, was also an early master at spin, making sure journalists depicted him “no longer as just a comedian but also as an expert tennis player, composer, pugilist, a clever dancer, golfer, motorist (though never at excessive speeds), and, most of all, a stickler for poetry.” Beginning in 1916, the action at home plays against the fighting in Europe—a war that had its own unique scorecard for members of the American press. Stateside newspapers took note of young and able entertainment types who weren’t fighting abroad; these so-called “slackers” could expect to be shamed in prominently-placed front-page articles. Chaplin and other stars of the era did their bit by raising money through huge public rallies, but the stress got to him. Gold brings in tales of others swept up in the hysteria of the times, but Chaplin, of course, is the book’s star. Though this man would redefine the film industry with the founding of United Artists, he forever feared that he wasn’t living up to his potential. Gold, meanwhile? He’s doing just fine.—kevin canfield

Wednesday  May 20, 2009

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Cannes Film Festival: Wednesday, May 20

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An hour or so into this morning’s press screening of Inglourious Basterds—the movie that had been looming in our collective anticipation like a Cote d’Azur Gottedammerung ever since the Festival began, although the expected riot to find seats didn’t materialize—I got to wondering just how steamed Harvey Weinstein must be at Quentin Tarantino right about now. My tipping point was a scene that featured crusty British general Mike Myers—yes, you read that right—briefing the dapper, handsome commando played by Michael (Hunger) Fassbender on his upcoming mission behind enemy lines. As a glowering Winston Churchill (Rod Taylor) looked on, his cigar serving as a shorthand identifier a la Mickey Mouse’s ears, Myers asked what the commando’s occupation had been in civilian life.

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Predictably, Fassbender’s valiant answer—“I’m a film critic”—brought down the house. But we aren’t your typical house, and our reaction is pretty damned unlikely to be duplicated at multiplexes Stateside come August. When I first heard that Tarantino was moving heaven and earth to get his long-brewed World War Two epicready for this year’s Cannes, I didn’t realize that was because the cinema-soaked attendees were the movie’s only surefire target audience.

While I can’t imagine what Weinstein and Universal thought they’d be getting for their megabucks, I’m pretty sure Inglourious Basterds isn’t it. Just like all of Tarantino’s other features, it’s set nowhere but inside Quentin’s astoundingly fanciful brain. The difference is that, since people named Hitler and Goebbels (both characters here) have a separate and indeed—spoiler alert —radically different existence in history books, this time we have a point of comparison.

Then again, nobody was expecting verisimilitude. What must be giving Weinstein apoplexy is that, for most of the movie’s two-and-a-half-hour running time, Tarantino the action addict—you know, the guy who could have outdone The Dirty Dozen’s bloodbaths with one eye tied behind his back—takes a distant back seat to the Tarantino who loves protracted sequences of edgy, oblique dialogue that’s jammed with allusions to his private talismans. Even when the talk builds to a tense showdown, which it usually does, the climactic bang-bang is over and done with in seconds. It also can’t have made Harvey any too happy that a lot of said dialogue—including a lot of the best of it, since QT’s no slouch at palaver—is in subtitled French, German and Italian.

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Tarantino has talked up this script for years as his “guys-on-a-mission movie,” but that concept seems to have long since fallen by the wayside. Once they’re introduced, the Basterds—eight presumably ultra-motivated American Jews recruited by moonshine-country alum Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) for savage guerilla reprisals against the Nazi fiends—turn out to be vestigial to the storyline; I couldn’t tell you which of them was which if Colonel Klink was waterboarding me. The true focus of Quentin’s interest is the heroine of the movie’s other main plot strand: Shosonna, aka Emanuelle, who’s introduced when SS Colonel Landa (Austrian actor Christoph Waltz) massacres her family in an opening sequence full of bravura Sergio Leone-ish flourishes.

By the time we meet her again three years later in Paris, she’s running the art-house cinema where a Nazi propaganda film called Nation’s Pride is soon to get its gala premiere. Once she learns the Fuhrer, Goebbels, Hermann Goering and Martin Bormann will all be attending, Shosanna/Emanuelle hatches a suitably cinematic scheme to blow the entire Nazi leadership to Quentin come, and let’s just count ourselves lucky that QT doen’t play the role himself. Melanie Laurent does instead, but my guess is that, figuratively speaking, she’s the most autobiographical character in any Tarantino movie to date. She’s his fantasy of how he’d have behaved if he were a European Jew during 1939-1945, from her place of work to her apocalyptic revenge on her would-be executioners.

As for Pitt, you should know that his scenes take up around 40 minutes tops. And I wouldn’t have minded more of him, since he’s uncommonly focussed and funny; not only is his thick Tennessee drawl a hoot, but it gets even better when he’s got to say “Buon Giorno” while masquerading as an Italian. (The several jokes about American ineptitude at foreign languages are one more hint as to which audience the movie’s aiming to please—not Des Moines action fans, to say the least.) But as things stand, the male performer who ends up dominating is Waltz as the aforementioned Colonel Landa, Tarantino’s version of the ultimate Cool Nazi—polylingual, witty, amoral and demented, which means he gets all the best laugh lines. As a conception, Landa is as over-the-top as Jack Nicholson’s Joker, but Waltz is so terrific in the part that I just hope he hasn’t ruined himself for straight drama forever.

My hunch is that Inglourious Basterds is best understood as Tarantino’s love letter to Europe—or “Europe,” a place he learned about from movies as well as one he’s grateful to for honoring his own. Beyond that, you might as well know that I a) loved every delirious minute of it and b) can’t honestly argue that I think you should feel the same. Its relation to the real World War II is Oz’s relationship to Kansas, yet that’s just why—c’mon, tell me you didn’t see this one coming— it may say more about our jumbled cultural memories of that now distant, endlessly Hollywoodized conflict than Steven Spielberg’s high-minded adulation ever will. But maybe I shouldn’t be trusted, since the truth is Quentin had me from the moment I recognized the Ennio Morricone-ish opening music as “The Green Leaves of Summer” from John Wayne’s not-so-good epic, The Alamo.

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Since I’m flying out of here tomorrow, that pretty much wraps this up, too. Except, of course, for this blog’s awards, which for some reason aren’t as prestigious as the Palme D’Or.

Best South Korean movie I hope you’ll check out: Mother, by Joon-Ho Bong. Best South Korean alternative to Netflixing Twilight: Thirst, by Chan-Wook Park.

Best reason to think Mike Leigh and Ken Loach aren’t all that: Fish Tank, by Andrea Arnold. Best reason to think John Keats isn’t all that: Bright Star, by Jane Campion.

Best reason to be glad Janis Joplin died childless: Taking Woodstock, by Ang Lee. Best reason to hope Lars von Trier emulates Janis: Antichrist, by Lars von Trier. Best movie by a director I’d never heard of until Monday: Independencia, by Raya Martin.

Best Johnnie To movie of 2009: Vengeance, by Johnnie To. Best Johnnie To movie of 2010: A Prophet, by Jacques Audiard. Best Quentin Tarantino movie since Kill Bill, Vol. 2: Inglourious Basterds, by Quentin Tarantino.

Tuesday  May 19, 2009

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Cannes Film Festival: Tuesday, May 19

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“A film must be finished, even if it’s blindly.” So goes the closing line of Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces, spoken by a literally blind director as he completes the restoration of Girls And Suitcases, the butchered comedy that indirectly cost him his sight 14 years earlier. The extended sequence from Girls And Suitcases we’ve just watched is a witty self-tribute—a pastiche of the early Almodóvar’s biggest crowd-pleaser, 1987’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. While charming, the look back to past glories amounts to a confession that—after the artistic second wind that gave us All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education and Volver—this often wonderful but not inexhaustible filmmaker is bumping up once again against the law of diminishing returns.

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Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar

The mechanism that kicks off Broken Embraces is virtually identical to the opening gambit of Bad Education. In both, a film director is approached by a shadowy figure out of his past who’s peddling an idea for a movie. This time out, the hero is Mateo Blanco (Bad Education alum Lluís Homar), who’s been writing screenplays under the pseudonym “Harry Caine” ever since blindness ended his other career. The intruder is the ferrety gay son of a recently deceased industrialist whose mistress (Penelope Cruz) was the star of Girls And Suitcases back in the day, leading to tsuris aplenty once she and Mateo fell in love on the set. Next stop, Flashbackland, letting Almodóvar indulge his current mania for finding the missing pinks in film noir.

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Because his mature technique is so assured, a lot of Broken Embraces is very smoothly engineered. Not only does it look great (he’s Almodóvar), but he knows how to make jigsaw-puzzle plot construction both accessible and surprising. The big problem is that you never believe he gives a damn about these people—or concoctions Xeroxed and reshuffled from his last few movies, anyhow. When Almodóvar is on his game, his adoration of his own characters, especially the female ones, is a wonder to behold. Here, he only seems invested in Blanca Portillo’s role as Mateo’s long-suffering ex-lover and assistant, and loyal female sexual martyrdom isn’t exactly undiscovered territory for him.

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The proof that he lost interest in his own devices around two-thirds of the way in is that the final revelations—which ought to be one nifty melodramatic mousetrap after another—are communicated via simple recitals instead. These scenes are so short on verve that even the “Did you know X was your father?” ploy that surfaces at one point would move you just as much if X had been Y’s podiatrist. And speaking of being moved, Almodóvar—like the pomo self-advertiser he is—has often found pretexts for including clips from his forebears’ movies to signal his own priorities. But the scene from Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia he has his hero and heroine watch on TV in this one is the first time I’ve wished he’d reconsidered, since the primal power of ten seconds of that classic turns his riff on the same themes into an ambitious sitcom.

About all that he seems genuinely smitten with in this movie is Penelope Cruz—not the character she plays, but her. So he’s happy to give Cruz the best comedy bits and photograph her looking gorgeous, two things that tend to happen simultaneously. But the fact that what glow Broken Embraces has defines it as a movie from Cruz’s still developing career rather than Pedro’s midlife one can’t help but make you wonder if she’ll turn his next script down. Come to think of it, that might be good for him, too.

Download This: Passion Pit, 'Manners'

Tuesday  May 19, 2009

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In recent years, acts like Justice and MGMT have broadened Electronica’s appeal beyond the Euro glowstick crowd. Helping them hold down the fort are newcomers Passion Pit, whose debut EP, Chunk of Change—a lo-fi experiment crafted in the Emerson dorm of frontman Michael Angelakos as a gift for a girlfriend—has had indie types selling out shows in Portland and New York all year. Look for the band to crossover with their freshmen full-length disc, Manners (out today) which more than delivers on the EP’s promise. This one’s a strobing flood of euphoric beats, manic loops, and refreshingly optimistic lyrics—in short, the kind of turn-it-up album that has you asking, What recession?andrew richdale

Monday  May 18, 2009

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Cannes Film Festival: Monday, May 18

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He may have a Palme D’Or for Dancer in The Dark and a Grand Prix for Breaking The Waves behind him, but Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier is still a small boy who thrives on enraging people. If he were really that age, we’d find his craving for attention too touching to be shocked—or do I mean “shocked, shocked, shocked”?—by how he’s gone about getting it this time around.

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Willem Dafoe, Lars von Trier, and Charlotte Gainsbourg

As you may have read here and there by now, the choice sights in von Trier’s new one, Antichrist, range from a fully erect penis ejaculating blood and female genital self-mutilation in scissors-to-clitoris closeup to a hole drilled through a man’s leg to attach a heavy weight to it. And I’ve left out the disemboweled fox who develops the power of speech just long enough to play Yoda to poor Willem Dafoe, whose haggard face hardly needs anthropomorphic help by then to register that something has gone amiss. “Chaos reigns,” chirps Foxy—a moment somehow made even funnier at Sunday night’s jammed press screening by the subtitles’ dutiful translation, “Chaos reigne.”

This, you’ll be glad to hear, is our Lars’s post-Strindbergian take on the war between the sexes, personified by Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple mourning the death of their only child who take refuge in a secluded woodland cabin named—no, not Smitty’s: Eden. Since he’s an intellectual control freak behind his reasonable mask and she’s as bonkers as Chucky, things go downhill pretty quickly after she dashes off into the woods to masturbate when he refuses to smack her during sex. Mainly because she’s blessedly stopped talking, at least watching Gainsbourg play find-the-anchovy for our dubious benefit is an improvement on the pair’s deep-dish dialogues about the perils of capital-N Nature—the sort of guff only a clot mistakes for profundity, but which von Trier is either ingenuously or disingenuously (always hard to tell with him) peddling as just that.

Even so, the audibly indulgent laughter that greeted the talking fox told me I wasn’t the only crit who’d figured out over the years that getting worked up about von Trier’s wilfulness just means you’re taking him altogether too seriously. My own hostility to him melted for good sometime during 2005’s Manderlay—the sequel to the Nicole Kidman-starring Dogville, also shot on a bare sound stage with chalklines indicating the sets. Around when our Nic’s pinch-hitter, Bryce Dallas (as in Ron) Howard, started boinking Jim Jarmusch regular Isaach de Bankholé—bringing back fond memories of Mandingo, which von Trier has either never seen or watches every Tuesday with selected, cheesily Danish friends—I finally realized that taking umbrage at something this dotty was the humorless equivalent of chopping off a first-grader’s hands to punish him for dipping girls’ pigtails in inkwells.

By coincidence, the Filipino movie Independencia also features two people running off to the forest to escape a trauma—in this case, the U.S. suppression of the natives after taking over the islands in the Spanish-American War. It’s also just as stylized as Antichrist, but what a difference a director whose eccentricities are choices rather than needs can make. The filmmaker in question, Raya Martin, is a new name to me, but if his earlier movies are anything like this one, Guy Maddin has a prize pupil to be proud of. The evocativeness of Independencia is all in Martin’s decision to shoot it in the style of a pre-Griffith silent movie, when nobody knew that film had any purpose except mimicking a theater’s proscenium arch. If that didn’t make it clear we’re watching a fable of the Phillipines’ past, the final image wouldn’t be nearly as wrenching—or as pointed. Beyond that, all I can say is that I’ll be at Martin’s next one with bells on.

This morning’s big in-competition film was Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, but I can’t tell you a thing about it. That’s because I played hooky, sneaking off to a film-market screening of Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming The Girlfriend Experience instead. One explanation is that I still haven’t recovered from Loach’s dismal The Wind That Shakes The Barley, which inexplicably won the 2006 Palme D’Or.

Another is that, as any Cannes vet can tell you, skipping at least one obligatory screening becomes something of a psychological imperative at some point, and I wasn’t about to pass up the new Almodovar (Tuesday), much less Tarantino (Wednesday). But the real reason was that GFE, as it’s known, was my only chance to see Glenn Kenny at Cannes.

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Long at Premiere and now the capo of his own movie blog, Some Came Running, my old pal couldn’t make it here in 3-D this year. But to the delight of his friends, he has a small but already notorious part as a sleazy Internet escort reviewer—self-named the “Erotic Connoisseur”—in Soderbergh’s look at a high-end call girl (real-life porn star Sasha Grey) plying her trade just before Obama’s election. The movie itself is minor Soderbergh in his I’m-still-experimental mode, though it’s lots more watchable than, say, Full Frontal. And less inadequate to its real-world subject than Che, but I digress. Anyhow, GK’s pretty good in his one scene. Call me self-indulgent if you like, but I’m in France and it was fun. As Antichrist’s foxmight put it, Cannes reigns.

The Oldest Living Sports Blogger Tells All

Monday  May 18, 2009

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When Murray Chass was pushed out of The New York Times last year—he’d been a sports columnist, a baiter of Red Sox fans, a berater of stats analysts—he did what most unemployed journalists do: He started a blog. The only difference? He’s 70. Even more surprising was the entry he promptly wrote railing against his former employer for its ownership stake in the Red Sox: “There was no clearer conflict of interest I encountered in [my] 39 years [there].” In what may be the unlikeliest love story of the year, an aging curmudgeon embraces the Internet and does some of the best writing and reporting of his life. Chass’s off-season piece on the A-Rod scandal featured interviews with Gene Orza, Don Fehr, and Bud Selig—and showed some real teeth. Another report, on four-man pitching rotations, included the remarks of Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver, Fergie Jenkins, and Robin Roberts. As for the haters—those critical of his blog, Murraychass.com, which some initially thought was a hoax—he offers this: “I’ll do what I do, and they’re entitled to do what they do, let’s put it that way.”—nate penn

Monday  May 18, 2009

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Cannes Film Festival: The Weekend Roundup (May 16-17)

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From 87-year-old Alain Resnais, still at it almost half a century after Last Year at Marienbad, to bad boy emeritus Pedro Almodovar, this year’s Cannes roster has its fair share—and then some, say the grumblers—of tried-and-true European big names. But as has generally been the case in recent years, the new releases from Asia’s young and old masters are where to look for that 21st-century buzz.

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Director Chan-Wook Park

Among the South Koreans, my fave Chan-Wook Park has both the biggest rep and the best shot at provoking critical arguments. Three days after the Thirst screened, Park’s gory, comic, ultimately moving mashup of The Diary of a Country Priest and a sexier Dracula was still the movie my colleagues were having the best time bickering about. So even though group interviews aren’t my idea of a chance to probe, I naturally hied myself down the Croisette—Cannes-ese for what Americans would call “the Boardwalk”—on Sunday afternoon to Park’s press roundtable at the Mammon-love-it (God doesn’t) Hotel Martinez.

The problem with these things isn’t only that time is limited but you’re at the mercy of the stupidest questioner present. In this case, that turned out to be the Brit bonehead next to me who wanted to know all about Thirst’s fake blood: “The actors said it tasted like grape juice, but they couldn’t tell me what was in it. Was it different from the blood you’ve used in your other movies?”

Well, yeah, most likely—since in his other movies, the actors didn’t have to drink the stuff by the gallon. But whether or not his translator managed to improve the question on its way into Korean, Park’s answer was splendid. “The hero is a Catholic priest who drinks the blood of Christ every day while serving Mass,” he reminded us. “Then, against his wishes, he becomes a vampire, and learns he needs human blood to survive. Of course this blood had to feel different from the blood in my other movies.”

Which didn’t stop Bonehead from going in for a second try. “But was there grape juice in it? I want a recipe.” Not that anybody else’s questions were such pearls, my own included: I asked him about all the deliberately incongruous slapstick in his work, eliciting the interesting but doubtless not wholly novel response that comedy had been his most important early influence. But in a gentlemanly way, Park gave better than he got, whether the subject was his M.O.—“I carefully calculate everything, so if it has an adverse effect at the end of the day, I don’t have the excuse of saying it was an accident”—or the inevitable violence issue: “It’s my choice to go with extremes and provocation. Just because it’s a controversy, I’m not going to start making movies about pretty clouds moving in the sky.”

The translator was pretty good on his own, too. “You know, even if it’s something he’s been asked 100 times before, he tries to come up with something fresh,” he told a couple of us 101’ers after Park left. Then came a grin: “And if he can’t, then I do.” Which was probably a joke he’s made before, but he and his employer are a good match.

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Director Sang-Soo Hung

As for Park’s gentler compatriot, Truffaut wannabe Sang-Soo Hong, I admit I didn’t feel wracked with guilt about skipping his new one, Like You Know It All. And that title may unintentionally say something about why, since I’ve already seen two (or was it three? I honestly can’t remember) of Hong’s gracefully made but cloying movies about filmmakers not unlike himself coping with one or another private crisis. Sue me for suspecting I was unlikely to exit sockless after sitting through yet another.

By contrast, anything new from 39-year-old Joon-Ho Bong, who’s everybody’s current favorite not least because he straddles the difference between the garish best of Park and the calmer best of Hong, is cinema manna I wouldn’t dream of passing up. Mother, which screened here Saturday, is Bong’s first feature since The Host, a phenomenally smart and zingy monster-movie riff on family ties and Korea’s half century of hosting (cough) the U.S. as its benevolent occupiers. After becoming the 2006 festival’s sleeper hit when it played here in the Directors’ Fortnight program, it went on to be the biggest box-office success in South Korean history, making cine-heads slaver to see what he’d come up with next.

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His contribution to the anthology film Tokyo wasn’t much more than a placeholder, but Bong doesn’t seem to be the type to rattle easily. Instead of trying to top The Host’s pop flash, he’s returned to the deceptively unshowy, wonderfully engrossing style of his earlier, equally first-rate Memories of Murder—the unacknowledged but obvious template, incidentally, for David Fincher’s Zodiac, if you’ve ever wondered how come the best ideas in Zodiac seemed so un-Fincher-like.

Played by Hye-Ja Kim, the title character is a devoted, long-suffering, ostensibly saintly single parent who goes feral when her dim bulb of a good-for-nothing son is arrested for killing a schoolgirl. (Though Kim is unknown to me, she’s a huge TV star in her home country, celebrated above all for a long-running sitcom in which she was the loving mother of everyone’s dreams—making this the equivalent of watching Happy Days’ Marion Ross or The Brady Bunch’s Florence Henderson go to the dark side.) Bong starts out playing by the rules of a whodunit, but then bends them when the solution of the mystery comes earlier than we expect, setting up Mom’s solution to the solution. As it becomes steadily clearer that she’ll stop at nothing to save her pride and joy, Mother evolves into a deadpan variant on Psycho in which Mrs. Bates is not only alive and well but poor Norman might as well be a stuffed bird. The movie’s wit is terrifically dry, and I could swear there isn’t one misjudged shot or trite performance in it.

Ultra-prolific Hong Kong veteran Johnnie To, on the other hand, keeps making variants on the same shoot-‘em-up, but he’s so expert at finding jaw-dropping new ways to deliver the goods that I could happily watch one or even two a year until Hong Kong freezes over. Less idiosyncratic than 2007’s Mad Detective, his new one, Vengeance, is an especially close cousin to 2006’s terrific Exiled, with the same hardy character actors—led by the indispensable Anthony Wong—once again playing hit men doomed by their own code of chivalry. This time around, they’re hired by Johnny Hallyday to avenge the massacre of his daughter’s family, making for complications when the murders turn out to have been ordered by the same crime boss they usually work for.

Since honor gives them no choice but to live up to their contract even after a revelation that makes it clear Hallyday in no position to compel them to, our heroes march forth to quixotic glory. Their showdown with the boss’s dozens of other goons is one more of the virtuoso set-pieces To can apparently concoct and shoot before Martin Scorsese—here to host a screening of Powell and Pressburger’s classic The Red Shoes, incidentally,and looking more like a Muppet than ever as he got the ululation treatment from celeb-starved Cannes photogs—has so much as finished his first cup of coffee for the day.

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A very different sort of crime film had kicked off our weekend. Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet is a ferociously well-managed saga of a young Muslim (Tahar Rahim) who’s sent to jail and goes to work for the wily Corsican mobster who secretly runs the joint. Starting out as a gofer, he eventually accumulates enough guile and resources to challenge his boss for mastery of the prison, with metaphorical implications that may well hit a nerve for France’s Islamic and non-immigrant populations alike. The first hour or so, especially, is absolutely crackerjack—the most riveting and detailed depiction of prison sociology I’ve ever seen—but things don’t really let up much afterward.  

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Sunday night brought us Lars von Trier’s much-buzzed Antichrist, which I think I’ll postpone until my next post. Let me leave you with the all too appropriate image of a very determined Russian-or-was-she-Italian journalist insistently grinding her right boob into my armpit—presumably on the assumption I’d be polite enough to step aside and let her worm past me, which I wasn’t—as we all started to panic about whether or not we’d get in.