12 December 2011


Surprisingly, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia is not an abrasive or self-indulgent movie. The acting is admirable, the photography is beautiful, and the story unfolds with care. Part One actually seems to radiate warmth and concern for its characters. Their foibles are presented without scorn, but conveyed with sympathy. It feels like a real party – replete with actual joy and drama. The ensemble acting is flawless and each character dynamic is treated with the same concern. It’s a beautiful calm before the storm, although those distant grey clouds are visible. Part Two is a coup of acting and tone. Moving from the warm palette of Part One, Part Two is much cooler. Blue, white, and grey dominate the color scheme. The ensemble is pared down to three actors and this section of the film records their reactions to the apocalypse. Each character is not treated as a schematic of reaction, but a person with a real stake in the upcoming disaster. It’s less a matter of how they survive as much how they deal with the stress of the inexorable disaster. That they also communicate a distinct viewpoint is as much a testament to the acting as it is to the tone. The last shot of the film is almost literally stunning. I could hardly believe that it succeeded as well as it did. But it does because not only does it look good, but the actors leading the story to that point make it a truly dreadful sight. Easily, this is the most marvelous film about the end of the world that I’ve yet seen.

27 November 2011

Take the funny and run

Robert Weide made an informative, but stolid documentary on Allen. The first part is quite good as it details his early life - a section of his biography unknown to me - and the "earlier, funnier movies". But those movies are where I quibble. Possessed of wonderful one-liners, superb timing, and anarchic humor, the documentary itself displays none of this wit. Somehow the interviews manage to make Allen boring. A writer and his persona are separate entities, of course, but nowhere than here has it been more stark. When a film clip is shown, the documentary almost literally shines. But then it cuts back to the talking heads. The formula of presentation is quite monotonous - and this is a documentary about an acclaimed comedian! I had hoped that Wiede would be as fast and loose as Allen. Instead, the funny is framed and displayed like a museum piece. The second part is even worse as it does naught to belie the image of Allen as "serious artist". The encomiums from the actors are justly celebratory, but in all the critical kowtowing feel more gushing than revealing. I was disappointed that there was more celebration than insight. This documentary was more like a primer for people who had never seen an Allen film before. The documentary is not a bad one, but it could have been as full of zest and color as Allen's films themselves.

30 October 2011

Part Three: The Evening

Dum Dum Girls, Only In Dreams

Heavier and more emotionally engaging than the previous album, Only In Dreams has a more confident, accomplished singing style from Dee Dee than the previous crop of songs that felt less personal and less unique than the ones here. The guitars and drums also make a better showing on the album. The place of the drums is high in the mix, which helps propel the album forward in an exciting fashion. This is one of the best rock albums that I’ve heard this year.

It’s also very romantic. My feeling is that the majority of the songs address her husband, but instead of feeling excluded or indifferent I find this commitment to shared, mature love to be quite poignant. (Wait, does this make the album Adult Contemporary? Oh no!) It’s a celebration of stability, but also longing and companionship. She may not pull out the stops like a Celine Dion ballad, but you can drive all night listening to this album, quite easily in fact. The strong vocals and engaging drumming make the album compulsively listenable. Many of the songs are precise and lovely enough to soundtrack any movie. The showstopper is “Coming Down” but “Bedroom Eyes” and “Wasting Away” are just as equally capable as contenders. This is a love soundtrack to cherish. Be sure and share it.

Cold Cave, Cherish The Light Years

This one is here for the club experience. Any of these songs feel like anthems for (and homages to) ‘80s goth clubs. This isn’t very terrible as the synths, pounding, and melodramatic lyrics work together to make the songs unstoppable. Three that will let you get in their way are “Catacombs”, “Underworld USA” (my favorite), and “Villains of the Moon”. The game of “Is this the Cure or ABC being referenced?” is fun but tiresome if you can’t enjoy the album. Granted, I find it hard to defend “The Great Pan Is Dead” and “Burning Sage” but the rest have enough charm to move anyone onto the floor. Take your pick: catchy, effective synth openings: “Confetti” and “Icons of Summer” or aggressively catchy percussive openings: “Underworld USA” or “Villains of the Moon”. This is an album to be enjoyed whether or not you have any queeny, goth melodrama locked up inside (although it helps).

Zola Jesus, Conatus

After all the excitement of that Cold Cave album, the new Zola Jesus is a good respite. This is a slow burner so get used to the pace and let it slowly change your environment as much as your temperament. The album is less anthemic and aggressive than the past releases, but it still cultivates a studied atmosphere where you can appreciate the vocal accomplishments on their own terms. I love her voice so this album provided an enjoyable, new dimension of her art for me

Scott Walker, Tilt

I’ve heard this album many, many times and it’s still lost none of its mystery for me. From the ghostly lyricism of “Farmer In The City” to the surreal majesty of “The Cockfighter” – well, most of the songs on here can be described as ghostly, surreal, or majestic. It’s a strange album for me to recommend because it can be a slog or a journey depending on the energy and interest that you bring to it. Most of the songs feel like oneiric fragments so maybe the album is best heard one song at a time. I think that the album can be stretched out all night long for one sustained sequence of reveries, but one dream might be another’s nightmare. Walker’s voice works as a guide, but the music is a threatening sky. Who knows when the day will break?

Marissa Nadler, “Distortions”

Listen to this Clinic cover before you go to bed. It’s a simple, stripped rendition of a very strange love song, but it works so well in Nadler’s voice. I want this song played at my funeral.

22 October 2011

Franz Liszt Bicentennial

Today is the bicentennial of Franz Liszt's birth and as good a time as any to champion Alan Walker's three volume biography. Written over a period of many years, it's one of the best biographies that I've ever read and a superb treatment of Liszt's life and music. A major feat of scholarship, it comprehensively details Liszt's life in an engaging and entertaining manner. A treasure trove of information and insight, I recommend Walker's book very, very highly.

Liszt's music helped me through many dark times. The elegant lyricism, moving romanticism, and compelling drama of his piano work is a continued inspiration and salvation for me. My life and imagination have been enriched by Liszt's work. I continue to explore this work and I hope to share it with others.

14 October 2011

Tree of Life

Tree of Life was quite good. Just the music and sound design make it a good theatre experience. I do have some reservations. The movie is rather take it or leave it. Specifically, the photography goes over like a really pretty stream too much like an Anthropologie catalog. The Texas section is a big offender in that regard, but what makes the pacing seem slack may just be the nonlinear nature of the film and my taking it in on a first viewing. Technically, it's nice, but after awhile it feels really lazy, narratively. It's heavy on the theology, too. A chunk of it is like a Christian tone poem. One person on the Criterion Forum called it a "Complaint-Psalm-meets-Creation-Hymn" and another "an elaboration of the Requiem Mass." I can't say that's inaccurate, but your mileage may vary. The voiceovers during the cosmic sequences bugged me greatly. It seemed too on-the-nose during those moments. Voiceovers during the Texas sequences worked fine, though. Those scenes were the trademark Malick moments and the human element there burnished the scenes with some voiceover. Brad Pitt is great as the dad, but Jessica Chastain gets treated like a saint. I would have loved more character development for her. She's pretty and communicates well with her face so not doing more with her talent felt like a missed opportunity. I mention her beauty because it kinda made her sink into that background like a model. Her bond with the kids in the film felt like a core element of the film and it worked very well as a contrast to Pitt, but as I searched about to connect more with the characters I'd hoped that she'd get to be another anchor as well. Anyway, that's what I thought. This one will have to grow with me when it hits DVD. Those were my big complaints, though. I may see it again in the theatre. I'm a classical music lover so the music really meant a lot to me. Philosophically and photographically, I'm not sure how you'll react. The Christianity in the film may seem rather risible, but it melts away when the cosmos is rolling along or the music is playing gorgeously. Malick throws in some great Tarkovsky moments that also meant a lot to me. Again, this is great to see in the theatre, especially one with a good sound system. I love The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven, but this one lacks a certain spark that those two have. At least this one has dinosaurs and Gorecki, though.


Note: Written in 2007, this an old review for a favorite movie of mine.

This movie based on the Neil Gaiman novel was released on Friday and I saw it that afternoon. Here's what I have to say. Don't make me force you to go.

The lead is Charlie Cox. He is in love with Sienna Miller. He promises her ownership of a star if she agrees to marry him. She says yes and sends Cox out to get her a falling star. Our falling star is Claire Danes. Cox isn't alone in his desire for Danes. Michelle Pfeiffer is a witch trying to kill Claire Danes so as to gain immortality. Robert De Niro is a pirate who rather accidentally becomes an ally to Cox and Danes. Also in the mix is a prince who needs Danes so that he can ascend to his father's throne. As you can imagine, these three forces all converge in their plans to get Danes. (Just guess who wins - the how is more fun than the who anyway.)

If anyone compares it to The Princess Bride movie, what they mean is that both films share similar attitudes toward fairy tale clichés. This one, however, takes the postmodern spirit that Neil Gaiman is known for and makes it all its own for this cinematic version of his novel. It's clever, but not insufferably so. It's hip, but not in a smugly ironical fashion. It basically takes the audience along as an equal and doesn't betray that trust. It's still the work of storytellers, though, so be prepared for the twists. It's a pity that more movies based on novels don't succeed as excellently as this one. While Neil Gaiman-approved, it's still director Matthew Vaughn's own vision (as he co-wrote, co-produced, and directed it). This is still a fairy tale with innocence and terror in the old-fashioned way, but it doesn't make itself at the audience's expense. There are metanarrative elements in the film, but they operate more to underline what we as the audience already do as people who suspend disbelief (or at least who sit in the dark and ask to be told a tale). In any case, these elements don't feel smug at all. If you can take Tarantino or Whedon, you can take the postmodernity of this film.

The movie's message is one about love, of course, but it's mainly one of fantasy. As a Neil Gaiman theme, the movie is about "fantasy" and "reality" living side by side. In the movie and in the book, a wall separates the two; it's a wall that one can easily step through, however. Love and imagination here are two things that live in the fantastic and the realistic. Both are unreal, but are still based in the real: we mediate them in our imaginations. As in the movie and in real life, both have consequences. Our hero does have to step into the fantastical to save his love, but that's the consequence. One makes the action so forcefully that one eventually makes it a reality. It only depends on how one mediates between the two. There's not always the happy ending, but that's always the realism of some things.

All in all, Stardust the movie does no disservice to the original material. Vaughn pulled it all off with imagination, fun, and brio. His realisation is impressive. The costumes are great because they add to the characters so very well. The spectacle of everything is superb in that it does what it does and doesn't call more attention to itself. It still amazes, but it's not overkill like Spiderman recently. The heart of it all, however, is the acting. I can't think of a single actor not given their due. Everyone really shines and wins us over. Our young lovers Cox and Danes are a lovely pair. (Cox, quite understandably, continually has the look of a man who can't believe his luck - ahem, ahem Claire Danes.) Cox is a newcomer and does very well. Danes is already quite famous, but here she really shines (ha ha). The most fun is had from Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro, however. Their experience comes into play here, of course, but the fun and professionalism that they bring to their respective roles really make them shine. I just wish there was more Peter O'Toole, though. (He, as ever, rocks.) Each of the royal princes (well, the ones not chasing the stars, but you'll see what I mean) is a riot. I thought they were great, too. Actually, I'm amazed at how Pfeiffer, De Niro, and Rupert Everett all let their egos get beaten up a bit by the good humour of the film. Pfeiffer is a hag most of the time, Everett gets an interesting and unglamourous end, and De Niro gets to do something very un-Bicklesque. But Vaughn pulls it all together and makes it work exceedingly well.

Also, this movie gets the award for most inventive use of a voodoo doll.

It's a delightful movie, but the fact that it succeeds on so many levels makes it even more enjoyable. Whether you study fairy tales, avidly enjoy Neil Gaiman, avidly enjoy fairy tales anyway, or just need a good movie, Stardust does it all very well. I love this movie and can hardly stanch my enthusiasm. I walked in not knowing what to expect besides fun and I left incredibly entertained. Even a little moved. I'm still smiling about the movie.

11 October 2011

Blood and Mirrors in Los Angeles

Warning: This essay contains spoilers

Seeing Drive again for a second time, I’m now quite fascinated by the use of surface in the film. An important aspect of the film’s aesthetic, it’s strange to me that this has received so much criticism from various reviewers. I think that the setting in Los Angeles is a key to interpreting the film and certainly not a coincidence. A direct comment on this is one of the most evocative uses of the film’s recurring mirror motif and it highlights the film’s use of surface as well as identity. This occurs near the beginning of the film when the camera tracks past a mirror on the set to reveal the Driver on the other side – and in costume, no less! As we learn, this shot conceals as much as it reveals. For anyone who didn’t notice that one shot or even all the times he’s reflected in the cars’ rearview mirror, there’s the scene in the dressing room where the outer style of the Driver – his jacket – is complemented by his violent underside. At the first viewing, I thought that the scene was just exposition for dealing with Cook, but now I see that with the mirrors, blazing lights, and aggressive masculinity there’s more to it than just narrative. The encounter is the ultimate play of surfaces – and set with some irony in the one of the most obvious of arenas: a strip club.

As Bernie Rose notes at the garage, echoing the basic approach to authenticity that the film investigates, “That’s just a shell. The important stuff is inside.” The aesthetic style of the film is a reflection of Los Angeles itself. This is why I don’t understand the criticism of the film’s slick style. This criticism would make more sense to me if the film were set in Las Vegas, but setting the story in Los Angeles creates the perfect opportunity to make the film look as it does. On top of that artifice, it then goes all out to present the characters as not who they seem. All of the characters play on the surface. The violence beneath is the rupture that reveals the stuff inside. Brooks and Gosling are evenly matched as men who can be equally ruthless when they need to be. Sad as it is, Christina Hendricks as Blanche and Oscar Isaac as Standard have to be killed because they don’t have the foresight to duck down or the strength fight back. They’re not the only ones who didn’t get any fortune cookies. Like Shannon, they just have bad luck.

The slick style permeates the film, but the violence once it has transpired casts an ironic pallor on this aesthetic. Remember that the more vivid examples of violence take place in close temporal proximity. The violence only feels extreme because it’s concentrated in one close segment of the film. That burst more or less cracks the shiny, colorful façade. I wasn’t happy to see Blanche’s head blasted, but it surely demonstrates that the film is not fucking around anymore. Standard is made the first disturbing example of this, but Blanche is the full detonation of audience equilibrium – especially in the aftermath of the car chase when one would supposedly get to regain one’s bearings. After the motel scene, there is no turning back. The blood on the surface of the Driver’s face augers more action yet to come. A later scene is even more devastating. For me, the elevator scene functions to provide the ultimate revelation to Irene. It only feels unnecessary to those not looking because we know what’s inside Driver. However, Irene does not have this information so this scene is given to her. Why are we given the shot of the pulped head? It functions as the logical consequence of the earlier threat with the hammer. Would he really do it and attack Cook in the face? It certainly felt as if he would right there in that dressing room. But would he really go that far? He didn’t in that instance; he did in the instance of the elevator scene, though. We are now aware of how far Driver would go. The look of utter horror on Irene’s face is a result not solely of the violent act she has witnessed. It is also a result of the romantic act in which she was part(icipant). The elevator scene is the movie in a nutshell as well as a clear demonstration of the Driver’s two sides. Personally, I don’t see either as his authentic self. The man alone working on or driving in cars seems to be his true self. This is the man more or less in isolation/opposition to society. It’s the comfortable mask he wears. It's a mask that we all wear. The film clearly displays these three aspects of the Driver – and of each character. Rose gets a beautiful scene of his own as he is shown sitting down with a drink yet clearly horrified by what he did to Shannon. Again, the man more or less in isolation/opposition to the real demands of the world he is in. It’s his burden and he’s aware of it.

This use of masks or surfaces is given its fullest (and literal) expression when the Driver takes the latex one from the set and stalks Nino with it. He has now collapsed all boundaries between his differing selves: man, stuntman, and repairman. (I’d even say that he takes the latex mask as a new way to hide himself after the brutal reveal to Irene.) At this point, he has nothing to lose but himself – hence the encounter with Brooks that we know Driver should avoid. His future now changed, he has to put it behind himself – lose one part to gain another – and move on. To help the one person he most wants, he has had to sacrifice many others – even himself in large part – and give up any future with Irene. That the film does all of this so adeptly and emotionally is to me testament of the film’s beauty, power, and seriousness. All by way of surfaces, appearances, and masks in Los Angeles.

08 October 2011

Gods, Bodies, Sistinas

October is the best season for Danzig. I can listen to Misfits and Black Sabbath all year long, but there’s just one month for my Danzig fix and it’s now right near Halloween. There’s nothing about Danzig III: How The Gods Kill that makes it specific to autumn, October, or Halloween. It’s a versatile album that stands among my favorites and it’s not an album that tires one quickly. On the contrary, I’d argue simply that it feels darker during this season. Am I reading something into it? Maybe. However, I can’t think of another time when that cover art feels more appropriate. No time than now is better to feel the power and glory of Danzig.

To put it straight: Anything, Bodies, How The Gods Kill, Dirty Black Summer, and Left Hand Black are the heart of the album. It’s a superb sequence that never lets up, never lets down, and never relents. In the Danzig catalog, they are among my most favorite songs. The whole album is so strong that even including a ballad – the powerful Sistinas – doesn’t slow down the momentum. It even feels right and necessary to take a moment to reflect. Then the album ends as strongly as it started with When The Dying Calls. In a world of mayhem, darkness, lust for power, and abuse of others, the album concludes its warped journey on just the right note. I can’t help to resist another trip down that road.

30 September 2011

Goodbye, misery

This gem is one of my favorite Marissa Nadler songs. It feels like ghosts rising from their graves. It's got a steady momentum like a stream, but it goes through a haunted forest. I can feel the sun, I can feel the night, and I can feel the past. It's creeping up like the growing grass. Nadler's voice is so assured and beguiling that the song never tires even after multiple, consecutive listens. It's so soft and inviting as to insulate one from fatigue. The lap steel adds so strongly to the atmosphere that I can barely imagine the song without it. It's a perfect song and one of her greatest efforts. I count it amongst my favorite songs. Give it a try and give Little Hells a try as well. It's a greatly rewarding album

22 September 2011

"Coming Down" - Why I love Dee Dee Penny

While some critics/listeners/misanthropes criticized the Dum Dum Girls' single "Coming Down" for sounding like Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You", I found absolutely nothing to bemoan. One of the planet's greatest make-out anthems, "Fade Into You" is also my favorite Mazzy Star song. If someone wants to slow it down to twice its length then make it even moodier and torchier, I see it as adding peanut butter to the chocolate syrup. Too much but still perfect? Oh yes. Dum Dum Girls knock it off the continent. I can see the sparks grinding off their heels and flying off the drum kit now. This is what we should be proclaiming as gangsta Nancy Sinatra, kids. In slow motion angst via kiss-off love letters, we have a gorgeous song that slowly fades from the bright, August summer to memories of that rueful fling. Goodbye, goodbye - but drop the needle again.

20 September 2011

Zola Jesus

Is it permissible to love Zola Jesus for being so witchy? The dark, soaring vocals and the minor key, cold synths tell me that this is a woman who should not be crossed. The look and the sound are quite striking. Her music creates a certain atmosphere that feels witchy. Is this her intent and purpose? If not, she certainly beats Cold Cave at the game of "name that goth influence".

18 September 2011

The appeal of PJH

Sometimes I find it difficult to explain my love for PJ Harvey. As I love her music and find her performing style irresistible, others who adore her as a personality or sexual being seem to be puzzled by my admiration. I just think that she has a license to rock. She uses it to move musical expression forward. I admire this goal and its product often enthralls me. She is an inspiration so I find it easy to admire her.

09 August 2011

Part Two: The Late Afternoon

Patrick Wolf, Lupercalia

“I want to live and let people know how to get through the challenges they face in life. This album reflects a celebration of life.” Mary J. Blige (on My Life II…The Journey Continues)

This album is magnificent. Filled with so much joy and beauty, I can’t think of any other album (this year or last) that’s made me feel as happy. Unlike certain glamorous pop singers who insist on the art beneath their confections, Wolf truly sits down at the keyboard and consistently proves himself to be the real deal. He belts it out with the training and beauty of a true artist.

This new album shows great progress since the last time we were visited by the singer. Wolf reaches into every corner of his arsenal and produces a true tour de force. It even refines the artistry of The Magic Position (the Wolf opus I love most). This feels like an album with nothing to prove except its own happiness with making music and celebrating life. Wolf mines the same pop idiom as The Magic Position with even greater energy and even more confident vocal prowess that I thought possible for him. Wolf soars with that greater confidence and rallies with more inspiring strength on this album than at any other in his career. Wolf’s bravado here is irresistible. It’s a joyous affair of love and life.

Animal Collective, Feels

There’s something hot, hazy, and delirious about this album. When it’s summer and I’m driving through the suburbs or the provinces, I want something to add that surreal edge to everything around me. Part of that reason is that it was during the summer when I first heard Feels. It helped take the edge off of the heat that made me feel so miserable and listless. It was also Virginia and the music helped me feel transported far away from the mainline Baptist surroundings that were so new to me. This is still delightfully weird music for me, but its eccentricity and easy charm relax me still. Summer is still a bitch to me, though.

Wilderness, Wilderness

Whereas Feels was blissful and hazy, Wilderness was sharp and very tense. Going down the main stretch that cut through town, the music was my shield. Surrounded by cars, concrete, trees, and businesses of many stripes, this bulldozer of sound made me feel bigger than the town. Anyone announcing with grandeur the end of freedom (in a solidly Republican town) was sure to keep my attention. It was my first late summer there so the new album and I became quick friends. As I turned to it more, the songs continued to keep the same power over me. Where Galaxie 500 made me feel like I could break away and escape or where Mogwai made me feel like this town was no more than an empty paper cup, Wilderness made me feel like I could cut through the middle of the beast. All I needed was a vision and a damning hate. This record was less a lifeboat than it was a torpedo.

23 June 2011

Part One: The Morning

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours

Easily, one of the best albums that I’ve ever heard and one that’s more lovable because it’s electropop. The pure pleasure of electropop has never sounded sweeter to me than here. It’s suited to running because it’s steady and light, but very energetic with melodies and rhythm that complement motion well. The fluency of the keyboard playing goes a long way to keeping the music so light. It’s not very heavy on bass, but relies on rhythm for the running. I find it eminently suited for that. The entire album is mixed as one suite, but there are track stops on the CD and four points where the music slows to catch its breath and transition to the next batch of songs. If you’re keeping track of time, the album can be stopped cleanly in the middle where “Voices In Quartz” transitions both sides. Side one starts in media res with “Feel the Love” which is nice as it warms up rather than blasts with BPM so that the beginning jog doesn’t get forced to a sprint. It’s a superb song in the Cut Copy catalog as well. “Lights and Music” has a great guitar part that along with the keyboards really moves along the action. The heart of the album is the transition from side one to side two: “So Haunted”, “Voices In Quartz”, and “Hearts On Fire” (one of Cut Copy’s greatest tracks). The Phil Collins reference in the opening lyric is droll but delightful. “With heart on fire, I reach out to you tonight” is wonderful because how can one not want to run to that – the rhythm section doesn’t give one a choice in the matter but it’s lovely to have one song with that particular lyric. The rest of side two is great, but most of it is a little slower so one can wind down. “Far Away”, “Strangers In The Wind”, and “Nobody Lost Nobody Found” stand out on this side, however. That last song is one of the last entirely energetic songs that recalls the first half of the album. As In Ghost Colours ends, everything falls into the place and the triumph of Cut Copy is evident. This entire album is great despite some stellar singles because it’s so immersive. The one long mix, the songs that stand above others but cohere with the lesser and transitional tracks, and the propulsive lightness of everything aid that immersive process. It also doesn’t feel like it can’t be played loud enough.

Cut Copy, Zonoscope

How does one improve on perfection? By staying the same and tightening the craft. This album is somewhat less ethereal, but it opens with one of the greatest songs ever recorded that also for our purposes here suits running (not that one would know this from the Nike and Olymics promo reel that is the song’s music video). “Need You Now” also starts in media res somewhat, but builds to its climax from jog to sprint. The cowbells that add more rhythm from the opening keyboards start this up, then some handclaps, and then drums that announce Dan’s singing. His singing on this album is better because it’s even smoother than the previous album. Again, one of the best songs I’ve ever heard as well as another gorgeous love song and catalog jewel to place next to “Hearts On Fire”. I’d almost say there’s a dual climax: the instrumental one then the vocal one. This is accomplished by another Cut Copy trademark: their superb handling of glissandi. One of the greatest musical joys in this life is glissandi on electronic keyboards and this song doesn’t disappoint. The album isn’t mixed as one – which is unfortunate because a transition from “Need You Now” to “Take Me Over” would have been wonderful – but it still moves from one track to the next with vigor. “Take Me Over” is another great song as well as New Order homage. (One of many wonderful moments that reference the golden age of electropop.) “Where I’m Going” has some great shout-along on the chorus as well as great rhythm for picking up more momentum on that jog. “This Is All We’ve Got” has great drumming that moves one along. Actually, “This Is All We’ve Got”, “Alisa”, and “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” are a great suite on the latter side of the album. “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” in particular has some lovely synth parts. The entire range of songs is strong for a long run, but the last might be better for home calisthenics. “Sun God” is fifteen minutes of experiment, but also its own separate territory on the album. I dance to this one more often than run with it. It could or could not be a coda, but it works well here anyway. Zonoscope is a little more muscular than the previous album, but the popcraft is stronger and more assured. Almost any song here is excellent as a pop specimen, but the songs never feel staid or boring. This album works great for the indoor and outdoor calisthenics, has its big differences from In Ghost Colours, and might seem too smooth for some. However, one’s heart may not care as it races. Cut Copy has given us another masterpiece.

Sparks, No. 1 In Heaven

Synths that sound like doves? Jokes at the expense of disco lovers? An allusion to Fellini? The world’s only legitimate alternative to Tangerine Dream? Sure. It is the seventies. Easily, one of the masterpieces of electronic music. More practically, the BPM here is excellent for running: smooth synths, steady and sharp drumming, and Russell’s commanding falsetto. The synths are the true star here, but the entire album is sheer delight. A sonic soufflé? I think not. There’s great craft and lovely wit in this music. It’s got a beat and you can run to it. Or pine for Miami Vice with it. (NB: this is not the Sparks album that Neko Case covered.) “My Other Voice” may not be the best song for jogging, but it’s a prelude to another one of the greatest songs ever recorded: “The Number One Song In Heaven”. This one could song could be its own mixtape. It’s perfect. Perfect for running. Perfect for ending your disappointing and trashy Asia Argento film. It’s someone’s number one song. Oh, did I mention that Giorgio Moroder produced this album? That’s right: Sparks (and Cut Copy) like Donna Summers. Oh yeah.

Daft Punk, Discovery

Why not? It’s not as if I could discuss Cut Copy (who toured with Daft Punk) and not mention these guys. This is an energetic album with great BPM and it’s fun. Say it with me: “One. More. Time!” Also, I’ve been in this car with Gary Numan too long – help!

α 60, Exit Ramp Remixes

This has a beat and you can run to it. The album is somewhat dreamier than the other bands on this list, however. “Exit Ramp (Original)” and “Exit Ramp (Antoni Maiovvi's Space Chase Mix)” are the ones which are more energetic, but the entire EP is excellent. It’s spacier, glitchier, and more futuristic than these other bands, but it has great imagination. These songs are great for driving around and taking longer trips, but maybe not as perfect for running. One can do it if you increase the bass and volume, though. This is here because it’s one of the best electronic albums released this year and I wanted to bring it to your attention.

17 May 2011

My Top Favorite Movies

Andrei Rublev
Lawrence of Arabia
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
La feu follet
La mala educación
Mes petites amoureuses
The Lady Eve
The Devils

A Man Escaped
Sans Soleil
Ma nuit chez Maud
Le Genou de Claire
The Insider
Jackie Brown
Seven Samurai
Chungking Express
A Matter of Life and Death

Southland Tales
Reversal of Fortune
The Madness of King George
The Wicker Man
Johnny Guitar

Le Crime de Monsieur Lange
Scarlet Street
To Have and Have Not
The Innocents

25 March 2011

Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble (1972), Maurice Pialat

This is a difficult film to discuss, much less watch. The violence of the verbal (and emotional) abuse is such that lovers of (500) Days of Summer or even Scenes From A Marriage would have cause to hesitate before proceeding. Pialat’s own A nos amours is somewhat more manageable than this film despite the former’s more explosive violence. One may have to be a masochist to watch all of Pialat’s more emotionally wrenching work, but none more so than Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble. The saving grace of the film, however, is its acting. As Pialat’s second film, the performances he elicited from Jean Yanne and Marlène Jobert – raw, focused, and intelligent – bespeak of a talented director who knows what he wants from his actors. It’s remarkable that the acting – looking ahead to A nos amours – is this good and the themes to surface in later Pialat films already so present. This isn’t a bad start for a sophomore feature effort, especially such a revealing one. Jean Yanne’s Jean is based to large degree on Pialat himself and one is pressed to think of a more unflattering portrayal of a director’s fictional self. The typical scene of the film involves Yanne’s Jean and Jobert’s Catherine conversing then falling into an argument, Jean brutally insulting Catherine (who takes the words often with little demurral), and the scene ending. Repeat this formula for most of the picture. Yanne is the most active element of the film so one can easily tire of him. He is also an asshole and his behavior is quickly alienating. The question of how and why Catherine tolerates him for so long is never answered. She has no friends in whom to confide so little insight is given to her reasoning. (Domestic abuse social workers can find much of use in this film as the question of why smart women stay with bad men puzzles society now as much as then.) The interactions between her and Jean are those of hunter and victim. (It’s almost hard to believe that the same year saw the release of Eric Rohmer’s L'Amour l'après-midi.) One could see Jean and Catherine as a commentary on the contemporary French couple, but this depressing prospect is avoided upon consideration of the autobiographical aspect of the proceedings. (That the difficult model for Jean later directed a film about Van Gogh is hardly surprising.) The depiction of Jean and Catehrine’s relationship is harrowing, but the heart of the film is Jean himself. Lashing out abusively, he is the victim of his own violent anger and looks all the more pathetic for focusing on a woman not nearly as bad as he professes her to be. Catherine takes so long to leave Jean that it becomes evident that the film has been indicting Jean the entire time rather than waiting for Catherine to finally take action. Added to this is the documentary fashion of the mise-en-scene that adds to the rawness of the picture. Yanne’s performance is so uninhibited that it eventually lacerates his character. Jean never really changes as much as he grinds down. By the end of the film, the audience is shown Catherine for the last time to resolutely indicate what Jean is missing by not having her anymore and that she has moved on to a better place in life. That the film can document the entire relationship so unflinchingly is a testament to Pialat as much as the actors. He returned to this territory again in Loulou with the more sympathetic Gerard Depardieu, but here it seems that Pialat had a major personal burden to unloose first. While the film is often difficult to watch, it has a consistent tone and impressive mastery that is sustained in Pialat’s following work. This is not a film for everyone (or even every Pialat enthusiast), but it remains an impressive chapter in Pialat’s career nonetheless.

07 January 2011

The Best of 2010

Beach House, Teen Dream.
Wolf Parade, Expo 86
Final Fantasy, Heartland.
Sharon Van Etten, epic.
Alcest, Ecailles De Lune.
The Thermals, Personal Life.
Agent Ribbons, Chateau Crone.
Salome, Terminal.
Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone.
Zola Jesus, Stridulum EP/Valusia EP.


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