Saturday, December 31, 2005
Enough intro: the list...
1. Mercury Rev - Secret Migration: while not up to their last couple records, this is still quite superb - lush, sprawling epics in the grand style, Pink Floyd with better tunes...
2. Earth - Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword: here we enter the experimental part of the program - with an hour or two of feedback and power chords, solo guitar or guitar and drum, recorded live - rather magnificent, in its minimalist grandeur.
3. Boredoms - Seadrum/House of Sun: another long droning workout, 2 pieces, one an army of drummers augmented by piano and vocals, the other a mass of droning strings (guitars, sitars, etc.) playing one chord for 20 minutes, weaving little embellishments around it... another bit of minimalist grandeur.
4. Damon and Naomi (with Michio Kurihara) - The Earth is Blue: handsome folk rock, with one of the world's great guitarists adding color...
5. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow: the ghost of Nick Drake must be very happy. Look at all the new folk acts around - led, I suppose, by Banhardt... This record brings in a band, expanding the sound; Banhardt continues to write arresting lyrics and pretty melodies - he lives up to the hype.
6. Six Organs of Admittance - School of the Flower: a more experimental version of the new folk movement, combining folk tunes with drones and bits of electric guitar squawk...
7. The Mars Volta - Francis the Mute: maybe it's not so much a folk singer revival as a 1972 revival - for here comes the prog contingent. A good deal more lively than most of the prog I've heard - lots of guitar wanking, spanglish lyrics, starts and stops and full on zep impersonation, Tejano, you name it. Damned exciting stuff, and I am helpless before the onslaught of a full out guitar god, and Omar Rodriguez is a guitar god indeed.
8. White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan: in which the stripes move from last year's garage rock revival to this year's weird folk revival - with acoustic guitars and marimbas and pretty songs... It works, for they write some of the best songs anyone writes, songs that work in almost any setting.
9. Decembrists - Picaresque: along with the Arcade Fire and a couple other bands, taking folk sound into full band arrangements - it's hard to pick one among these bands - but I think I like them a bit more than Arcade Fire or Of Montreal, etc. - maybe just that weird stories and sea chanties get me more than their competition. So here they are.
10. The Kills - No Wow: minimalist guitar and drum and vocals, stripped down raw and lean...
I was very fond of the following live records, which I deliberately excluded from the list above:
Gomez - Out West
Richard Thompson - Live from Austin TX - including an astonishing version of Shoot Out the Lights...
Wilco - Kicking Television - I have never completely embraced Wilco, but this comes pretty close - Nils Cline on guitar gives them a definite edge.
Mars Volta - Scab Dates - how many live records did they actually release last year? who knows? who cares? I'll buy em all...
Bill Frisell - East/West
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Also tweaked the "blogroll" some more - a couple additions, a couple subtractions, a few bits moved around. Nothing too profound.
And finally - I have not been idle, despite the lack of updates - I have a pile of year end type posts queued up in various stages of completion. They should provide a weekend of reading pleasure to whoever happens by... I have held off on a movie best of the year because I expect to see a couple more films before the new year, and some of them might crack the list... music posts might make it up later today. Though first - Cafe Lumiere is playing in town - seeing that is an absolute imperative.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Well, you know. Actually, I have been wondering how much longer we could expect Damon to keep playing at the level he'd established the last couple years. (Since he took that horrible crack in the head in the 03 playoffs, then grew his hair - before that, the vultures were circling, wondering what the Red Sox could get for a washed up slap hitter with no arm. Even at the beginning of last year, before he settled down, there were moans and groans - he had a rather bad start in the field in 2004. People forgot that eventually.) Now I think I know the answer. The Yankees, in recent years, have developed an uncannny ability to acquire declining stars - A-Rod is a notable exception, and Matsui has worked out pretty well - but otherwise, they've been quite remarkable (rivaling the Mets, or the 90s Red Sox) in their knack for getting guys at peak cost after their peak value had passed. So - $52 million for 4 years? If you have that much money, more power to you - and if you're going to spend it on the last 2 years - more power to you! Sure, Damon isn't Bernie Williams - he's the Bernie Williams of 2 years ago. We know where that went.
In short - despite the gnashing of teeth about Damon's departure from the Red Sox, I don't see the point. Short term, it might help the Yankees and hurt the red sox - long term - meaning, by next year - if not by August - it doesn't hurt the sox, and won't help the Yankees all that much. Thgey'll score their runs. But so will Boston, and Boston seems more likely to prevent runs at this point. Now - it is up to the Red Sox organization to take advantage of saving some money and put the right people on the field. They are going to need to get a major league shortstop and centerfielder somewhere. Those are rare and precious commodities - though not so rare or precious as a quality starting pitcher.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Days of Being Wild ****
In the Mood for Love - ***1/2 -
2046 - **** - lots of Wong Kar Wei over the weekend. I think I promised something like this last summer when 2046 came out - but it deserves more than a couple blurbs. I have to think about it, though. Alas! We'll get there.
Alles Auf Zucker - **1/2 - Yes, it was another slow week. Still, this is a perfectly passable German comedy. An aging one time East German TV star, currently running a bar (into the ground), with a bitter wife, a gay looking son, a former jock daughter, and a granddaughter whose name he can't remember, has one last chance to save the day - a big pool championship that he is sure he'll win. But then his mother dies, and his orthodox brother and his brood - an ultra-orthodox son, a slutty daughter, and a somewhat greedy wife - turn up for the funeral, with a will and a host of difficult conditions from their mother. Oh no! Zucker has to sit for shiva! how will he get to the pool tournament? Oh no! It works better than it could have - lots of comic business, not much style, probably better suited for a TV show than a movie, but amusing enough, with a charming skunk lead who nearly carries it.
A Day At the Races & A Night at the Opera - what it starts with is wanting to watch TV while I ate, and having nothing on but football and an interesting looking chambara that was already half done... so I pop in A Day At the Races... and who can stop with one Marx Brothers film? these MGM films are bloated and full of dull patches, but when the brothers are on, they are still on indeed.
Brokeback Mountain **1/2 - Boy, it sure was tough to be a gay cowboy in the 60s and 70s; but gay cowboys sure take a good picture.
There's not much to add to that. I have seldom seen a film so single-mindedly devoted to its thesis - every shot, every line of dialogue, every overwrought symbol makes one or both of those points. It's still a reasonably good film - the actors are fine, and they and those mountains sure do take good pictures - but you really don't need to see the film to get the point.
Talent Given Us *** - An odd set-up - directed by Andrew Wagner, and starring his family - father Allen, mother Judy, sisters Emily and Maggie - playing themselves, or at least, characters with the same names as themselves. The plot goes - Emily is an actress in LA - she visits the NY branch of the family, and they head to their beach house - but as they arrive, Mom demands they turn around and leave - and then, as they drive into the city, demands they keep on going, all the way to LA. They do! They argue and talk and carry on along the way... they talk about their lives (using their real names, mind you) in quite excruciating detail - old affairs, failures, betrayals - medications, sexual peccadilloes, liposuction... The material would get you squirming - the fact that the actors are playing themselves doing this stuff, in front of their son (as director/cinematographer) - well... But the fact is, it's very funny - very humane - and uses its casting well. It's a bit like Andrew Bujawski's films - maybe with a more explicitly documentary style, but with similar structure. Looks improvised, looks utterly casual, though in fact it is well structured and carefully written. It looks caught on the fly, but it has been carefully put together - the casting of his family works - their individuality brings out the best in in the story. It's very good, a true pleasure.
Rushmore & The Royal Tennenbaums: nice to see them in a double feature on a big screen; not so nice to see them in projected video. I don't know if the Brattle is having trouble getting prints or what, but this is the second time in less than a week they've shown a video: the weekend screening of In the Mood for Love was a DVD. Annoying! Throw in the line of kids behind me talking about all the great movies they haven't seen - "have you seen The Killing?" - "No. Have you?" - "No, but it's like Reservoir Dogs, only better." - and the fact that there were people there in costume (oh god) - and it could have been better. But the quality of these films, especially Rushmore, is such that once the film gets going, you forget everything else. I noticed this before - back some years, I saw a pan and scanned version of Rushmore on TV - a horrible mutilation indeed - but still remarkably effective. The story, characters, even the design of the film (though a lot of this you had to fill in from memory) came through.
(Meanwhile, over at The Poorman, Sifu Tweety comes up with an actual explanation for the policy - technology! Specifically, cell phones and calling cards that can be had anonymously, thus creating great difficulties in obtaining warrants. Interesting - if that's the case, the government is using the same logic teenagers downloading movies on the internet are - the laws apply to old fashioned technology; new technology makes the old laws inappropriate and ineffective. In this case, the excuse is pretty weak, for the reasons given above - it couldn't have been that hard to get changes in the laws that would cover this situation. Of course, the solution might have been worse than the disease - it strikes me that technology that allows greater anonymity has to be fought with means that catch a lot of innocent people - random tests, or something of that sort. Though the situation reminds me a bit of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly - the police monitor everything - but they don't have enough manpower to actually pay attention to everything - all the information they gather becomes white noise. Getting caught doing something is completely random.
I think in general, it would be better not to live in a world invented by Philip K. Dick.)
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Oh, god. The thing is, the first minute or so, it's not so bad - sure, it's stupid, but it's stupid like a Weird Al song, like a parody without an original to make fun of. But then it keeps on going. On and on. And dumber and dumber and more and more horrible... I long to imagine it is stooopid, and that the Black Eyed Peas know thay have made perhaps the worst song in history - a dumb joke on a dumb joke.... but it keeps on going, and going, and - good lord, they think the song itself is witty, not a mockery of - of... It starts out like they're Bialystock and Bloom, but by the end, I'm convinced they're really Franz Liebkind. "My lovely lady lumps?" My god.
Fun with iPods. The last 10 what played randomly thereon.
1. Stevie Wonder - Too High
2. George Michael - Father Figure
3. Decembrists - From my Own True Love (Lost at Sea)
4. TheNew Pornographers - Jackie Dressed in Cobras
5. Donovan - To Susan on the West Coast Waiting
6. Madonna - Material Girl
7. You La Tengo - Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)
8. Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Polaski Day
9. Wilco - I'm the Man WHo Loves You (live)
10. Iron & Wine - Free Until they Cut Me Down
Monday, December 12, 2005
Aeon Flux - Moan - I watched the cartoons, back in the day. I think it took a while to get it, but I liked it - the way things moved, all the angles, the minimalism - I remember the way it sounded, the little flitting sounds... the movie, alas... Look - a movie like this - if you have to make it - is simple: there is one point - the girl in the catsuit. The filmmakers don't even get that right. Long stretches of this benighted affair are consumed in worst kind of back and forth close ups - long plot expositions with Charlize Theron and the guy (I'm not even looking the bastard's name up, not that he's all that bad, but what's the fucking point), Trevor, whatever, talking, talking talking - in alternating closeups - No, God Damn It! This is easy to film - you back the camera up, you put Ms. Theron in motion, you film. Voila. Jesus. Anyway - an online acquaintance wisely suggested that if you need to see a girl in a catsuit, you should rent Irma Vep instead - sage advice. The real irony here is that Olivier Assayas - Euro art film maker deluxe - has, indeed, already made this movie twice. Irma Vep has the catsuit - Demonlover, though, has the storyline, or lack thereof - it certainly gets the sexy nihilism of the old Aeon Flux cartoons. And Connie Nielson, who may not be Maggie Cheung, but who is?
The Wide Blue Road - *** - Gillo Pontecorvo's debut film, starring Yves Montand as Squarcio, a dynamite fisherman somewhere off the coast of Italy (Sicily? or the Adriatic? I don't know.) There is conflict in the town - no one makes money except the dynamite fisherman, but Squarcio's honest friend Salvatore is organizing a co-op that will break the hold of the capitalists and allow honest men to make an honest living. Meanwhile the coast guard is trying to catch Squarcio - at first it's led by another old pal, who's ineffectual and depressed - but he's replaced by a younger man, with a faster boat and a more manly mustache, and things get tougher. Squarcio refuses to join the co-op or stop bombing fish, thinking he can make it alone - but things go wrong... Very formulaic, especially toward the end, but Montand comes close to pulling it off, aided somewhat by Pontocorvo's tough minded leftism. It's also gorgeous, but it's hard to say if that's for or against it.
Pride & Prejudice - *** - it's been hanging around a while, with good reviews, but it's Jane Austen! whatever merits Miss Austen has as a writer, as a source for films - one takes chances.... But this weekend, there was nothing better to see (it's been a dismal few weeks, if I say so myself - there's nothing new I have any interest in at all, and it's been a while since there has been more than one film a week I care about. Thus repeat viewings and films I fear, like this one. [Aeon Flux is another class of film - that's known as a bunch of guys wanting to see some violence. (Skin may also play a role, though blowing stuff up is more immediately important. We aren't teen-agers after all.] We were gravely disappointed, and may be forced to see Syriana to adjust some kind of cosmic balance. Though Syriana looks pretty painful itself.)
Lost the plot there a bit. So faced with the choices of Syriana and that Wal-Mart documentary, I said, let's take my cultural medicine and see if this Austen thing is any good. The answer: yes it was. I quite regret snubbing this film - I should have listened to the reviews. It's a nice adaptation - gets the story told without any offenses to history (real, literary or cinematic) - and done in a way that makes you think the people in it might have been real people, not just Great Literary Characters Brought to Life on the Screen. Uses an active, mobile camera that keeps moving you through the world - and has a nice sense of solidity that is usually lacking in period films. The opening shot of the Bennett manse sets the tone - a single shot going through the farm yard, circling around to show the daughters doing laundry and such - with some nice details in the props - a shiny new (or at least clean) looking wooden table and shabby, worn out creaking wooden floors. That's good - period films are usually either sparkling clean, as if everything was just brought in from a museum, or deliberately shabby, as if everything was just dug up out of an archeological site. The real world - theirs or ours - has both. Things wear out and things are replaced - some things are maintained and some are not. In this film, clothes can be a little threadbare; hair is out of place; people are sometimes shaved and sometimes not; details appear like a servant in a powdered wig with a 5 o'clock shadow; it has worn sideboards, peeling and faded paint, cracked stone-work. Meanwhile - it is raucous and lively. The balls are noisy, cluttered affairs; people carry on indecorously, or decorously, depending on what kind of person they are... And Keira Knightley herself is quite good, in that vein - grinning and laughing - and composing herself - thinking about it... she makes Elizabeth Bennett the actor. She has a very nice kind of canny independent gaucherie. Makes for a fine movie. We are grateful.
Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes van Zandt - *** - what it says. Van Zandt was a songwriter and singer from Texas, well respected, but not exactly famous. A hard life... This documentary follows his life, tells his tale, with plenty of musicians popping in to opine. It's good - it's a bit padded, and sometimes gets confusing, but the story gets told, and the music is quite superb, though it might benefit from more complete and uninterrupted performances. But that's the way with far far too many documentaries about musicians - filmmakers should let the songs finish. Screw cinematic pacing - we want to hear the music! But that's a little unfair - I have had Van Zandt's voice echoing in my head for the last couple days, so they must have done something right.
Friday, December 09, 2005
1. Neutral Milk Hotel - Ghost [Love this song, I do...]
2. Abba - The Name of the Game [this is something I should not admit t0 - I owned this record when I was a kid. Why did I ever buy this thing? I seriously cannot imagine what I could have been thinking. I remember being a Kiss fan, and Eagles fan, a Styx fan - all the other crap I bought back then - but Abba? weird, man, very weird.]
3. Minor Threat - Minor Threat
4. Mars Volta - Haruspex (from Scab Dates) [let 'er rip, Omar...not that he needs any urging...]
5. Big Star - Mod Lang
6. Dr. Nerve - Unna
7. At the Drive in - Metronome Arthritis [more noise, more sqawling guitar - good day for it, I guess]
8. Black Sabbath - Wicked World [get those riffs going]
9. Sugar Minott - Hang on Natty
10. Son Volt - Who
Monday, December 05, 2005
Jesus is Magic - ** - Basically a concert film by Sarah Silverman - rated NC-17! I didn't know that! y'know, that's just wrong. There's something there that is just wrong. I mean, it's bad enough that Kevin Bacon's ass gets an NC-17, but all Silverman does is talk! or is it for the singing? I don't know.... Her act is funny, and clever, all that twisty morality and irony.... The film, though, is just a concert film, maybe a bit better than a comedy central special, but that's all.
Ballet Russes - *** - I know nothing whatsoever about ballet. I have heard, perhaps, of Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Balanchine and Agnes DeMille, but anything I know about their work comes from whether it turned up in Hollywood (and whatever Jane Feuer said about it.) That ignorance caused this film no harm. It is, for the most part, a talking heads and archival footage documentary - but the talking heads (the surviving dancers mostly) are charming and funny and fascinating. And the archival footage is stunning. Granted, I suppose any ballet is rather awe-inspiring to the completely uninitiated, but here it's put into just enough context that I can at least imagine I know what they are talking about when they say something is out of the ordinary... Anyway - I know more about ballet now than when I went in, and got that knowledge in an inspiring way. Nice film.
Seven Men From Now - **** - I had managed, despite all the movies I have seen, never to see anything by Budd Beotticher until this. It stars Randolph Scott, who is on the trail of 7 men who murdered his wife in a hold-up. While tracking those men, he crosses path with a husband and wife headed to California by a rather odd route, and his old pal/foil Masters, played by Lee Marvin - in LEE MARVIN mode. From there... "pow"...
The Tall T - ***1/2 - Boetticher and Scott again, plus Richard Boone as a lonely gunman saddled with a pair of young fools (Henry Silva as the necessary preening gunslinger) and Maureen O'Sullivan as the "plain" daughter of the territory's richest man. A robbery turns into a hostage situation, and the characters circle each other until such time as some must die.
These two were shown with an episode of the Rifleman directed by Boetticher. Adam West reads lines in his inimitable style in the role of a gunslinger who used to be a schoolteacher who... never mind the plot. There's a drunk and a whore (and the show comes as close to identifying her as a whore as one imagines television could do in the 60s) and a blizzard, and the threat of violence, and some nice shots - the drunk with a fork full of food waiting to eat when the kid says grace...
A History of Violence - *** - repeat viewing. In the context of the Boetticher films, it comes off better than it did the first time I saw it. The beginning, establishing the Stalls family in small town America, is appallingly bad - worse than I thought when I saw it the first time. Lame attempt at a David Lynch vibe, arch and stylized and - dreadful. Then the Bad Men arrive, and the film clicks in - there are still too many moments of cheesy soul-searching, but they don't overpower the film - it runs along on something very similar to what ran those Boetticher films. That's a good thing. On the other hand - the goofy closeups of blown apart heads, and that stupid sex scene on the stairs are very ridiculous. Oddly - both the gore and the opening sequence have parallels in The Tall T - some early scenes of happy frontier life; the aftermath of violence - both handled with a great deal more elegance and gravity by Boetticher. Cronenburg comes off a bit like Count Floyd on SCTV - ooohh Kids! scary!
Darwin's Nightmare - ***1/2 - Documentary about Lake Victoria, which has been utterly taken over by a single species of fish, the Nile Perch - which has created a huge fishing industry in Tanzania, with very little tangible benefit to the Tanzanians. The film itself reminds me of some of Herzog's documentary - different style and emphasis, but similar for its way of maintaining and presenting a very strong point of view, while allowing the subject matter, the people in the film, their chance to speak, to exist, somehow independently of the filmmaker.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra - This is not really a film one can rate. It's a strange case - a dead on parody of bad 50s SF films - that almost never quite breaks character as an imitation of one of those films - maybe a little... I remember when this first came out - seeing the trailers, and thinking it was one of the best things I had ever seen. But once I realized it was a trailer for a real, actual film, that was going to be really, actually released on the real actual big screen - well... the trailer is just as wonderful - but the thought of seeing an actual film of that sort... I didn't see it - and the reviews I've seen (then, and the ones I looked up now, like The Rog) hammered it; it turned up on TV this week, and I rather enjoyed it. I am glad I saw it on TV, though - it is too perfect an imitation of shitty 50s SF films - the pacing is dead on perfect - shots held too long - pointless dueling closeups, lots of filler shots... The stories for films like this one (or, the films it's parodying) take about 15 minutes to tell (less than that really - the trailer told the story perfectly in its 2-3 minutes of screen time) - but the films last an hour, 75 minutes - right.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Friday, December 02, 2005
2. The Warlocks - Stickman Blues
3. ELO - Poker [kind of crappy ELO - trying to Rock Out, but sounding like the house band in a Tim Burton stop-motion film]
4. Social Distortion - Let it be Me [hey! just put this on the computer - nice of the iPod to throw it up already... I remember some lady back int he 80s or whenever this record came out whining about Social Distortion abandoning punk - or something... I don't know. They're just a band, but this is a pretty nice piece of work, really]
5. Minutemen - Martin's Story
6. Replacements - I'll Buy [not awful, I suppose, but not what made them great]
7. Trusty - Goodbye, Dr. Fate [huh? something on the Dischord collection. Sounding like a cheesy remake of something from Zen Arcade]
8. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven [Argh! I'm 13 again! flashbacks! cruel 7th grade girls! noogies from the cool kids! stairway to heaven in assembly!.. oh days of yore! (the truth is, in 7th grade I was listening to Kiss and Aerosmith and Steve Miller, BTO, The eagles... the cool kids - there actually was a cool kid in 7th grade. He came in talking about the Ramones. I don't know if he'd heard any music by the Ramones, but he'd heard of them, that they were brothers, they sang about sniffing glue. A couple years later, though, I don't what happened to him, I never quite made it all that far (until after college, really), but did get to listening to the Talking Heads and Elvis Costello by the time I was 16-17. And Zep of course.]
9. Of Montreal - Requiem for O.M.M.
10. Tom Waits - Flash Pan Hunter
Thursday, December 01, 2005
O'REILLY: They don't have to say "Merry Christmas" in China, OK? They can say whatever they say in China, "Happy Winter." All right? "We like pandas." Say whatever you want. This is America. This is the big commercial holiday.
He's got something, I say. Why not sell the naming rights? If Enron field can become Minutemaid Park, if the Fleet Center can become the TD Bank North Garden (hey! it's got "Garden" in the title!), then why shouldn't December 25th be Happy Yule, if the Swedish Pagan community writes a big enough check? Should store greeters say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"? whatever gets paid for, right? and why not work in the name of the company? "Have a dunkin' donuts holiday!" "Merry Tropicana Premium Orange Juice Christmas!" "O Holy Night, the DirectTV stars are brightly shining...."
Anyway - old Bill does go a tad off the rails, but it is refreshing at the beginning to get some hint of the true meaning of Christmas - buy buy buy, boys and girls. I'm not sure where these Bill O'Reilly types get the idea that Christmas is in any way a Christian holiday - oh, sure, there's a "christ" in the name, but before the pagan elements were downplayed, the hardcore christians (puritans and the like) hated it, and it only really got popular when the retailers took it over. Bill seems perfectly at ease with that, of course....