19 July 2014

Heaven is a place on Earth: on Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas

Heaven or Las Vegas is one of my most favored possessions. It was a constant companion during the summer of 2007 as I drove back and forth to DC. The dreaming lulls of the season’s heated hypnotism proved to be the perfect ambience for this music. Three hours driving either way, I spent an hour of it in some intermediate countryside which is when I listened to the album. The speed of the car and the lush surrounding fields were the perfect time and space for the likes of “Cherry-Coloured Funk” and “Heaven or Las Vegas” and “Iceblink Luck”. Chrome, asphalt, heat, grass, and petrol. Windows of the car rolled down, naturally. The utter beauty of “Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires” at night was the perfect experience for that song in my mind. The red and yellow euphoria of the album during that summer made that hour of the drive fold into so many fewer minutes. It was a great summer and the perfect way to enjoy that album. Sometimes I wish I’d discovered Cocteau Twins as a teen, but that wouldn’t have worked as well. Being stuck at home without a car, the ethereal world of Enya was the ticket to a different world. All I had to do was lay down on my bedroom floor. But years later racing on my heart living my dream, the forward momentum (a la “Fotzepolitic”) and lush romance of Heaven or Las Vegas was all I needed to love this band so much. And now it’s a place of escape to greater peace when I’m stationary. I don’t have to choose Heaven or Earth in the Cocteau Twins. Both are always here when you need them.

05 July 2014

HHH and an ongoing Chinese film education

Since recently finishing three books on Chinese cinema - A City of Sadness by Berenice Reynaud, Wong Kar-Wai by Stephen Teo, and Confronting Modernity in the Cinemas of Taiwan and Mainland China by Tonglin Lu - I had the good fortune this morning to find HHH - Un portrait de Hou Hsiao-Hsien via Cinephilia and Beyond. Not only was it directed by Olivier Assayas, one of my favorite filmmakers, but it remains the only documentary about Hou. Because of the historical background and context to much of Wong Kar-Wai's cinema, I've been trying to learn more about Chinese cinema and the background to Hou's work is another opportunity. Tony Leung was another factor as I wondered how he'd be used in Hou's A City of Sadness. In any case, the documentary is worth seeing and I'm glad it can be seen online.

01 June 2014

Movie diary for May 2014

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

I expected overwrought Cold War paranoia and instead I got a modest thriller. Everything is so suburban and normal that it becomes quite unnerving by the big reveal. That the movie doesn't take itself too seriously also helped. Along with Godzilla, this was a good picture about 1950s anxiety.

Adventure Time (Season Three)

Reading the list of episodes again, I'm reminded that this was a truly bonkers season. Someone is getting threatened or almost killed every other episode. Even without the (disturbingly hilarious) Fionna and Cake episode, Ice King seemed even more unhinged than usual. Somehow even that was topped by the zombie episode. I think that's the most disturbing thing I've seen on Cartoon Network. Again, such a bonkers season. I loved how the sense of group dynamics deepened in the stories this season. Jake, Finn, Marcelline, and PBG's band, for example. "Memory of a Memory" was another and among my favorites this season.


I think I liked it better than Blade Runner. Am I allowed to say that on Tumblr? I just wasn't expecting it to be this good! Now I need to watch Prometheus again.

La Rose de Fer

Jean Rollin isn't my thing but Sarah Horrocks wrote an excellent post on this film that made me watch it. Not big on the clown or fucking atop the bones but otherwise it lived up to what I expected. This is probably the mellowest film that I watched all month.

Transport z ráje

A documentary style Czech movie about the Theresienstadt ghetto? What an excellent deconstruction of propaganda and Nazi bureaucracy. I need to watch it again as there's a lot to take in.

Berberian Sound Studio

I watch it just because it's creepy and constantly ambiguous about what's up. I recommend it to everyone as it's also streaming on Netflix.

Breaking The Waves

I first saw it on VHS so let's say it's been awhile. I fucking loved it.

Les Enfants du paradis

Here's another that I hadn't seen in awhile. I remember loving it, but now it strikes me as too sentimental. Arletty is gorgeous as usual - especially in Part Two in particular wearing that veil at the theatre - and the editing is a major asset. I'm not moved by Barrault this time, however. Maybe it's what seems to me now a lack of dynamic characterization. Especially in contrast to everyone else who acts the pants off each other. Anyway, still a classic but not the masterpiece of all French cinema. Edward Turk's book on Carne is excellent, by the way.

Party Monster

And another one that I haven't seen in awhile. That it's the polar opposite of Requiem For A Dream isn't the biggest recommendation, right? It's much more entertaining that's for sure.

Blonde Venus

It's shot like a silent film which is probably the nicest thing I can say about it because the story surely didn't do it for me. The usual glamour is here, of course. Just watch!

Shanghai Express

Sorry, but Morocco is the best Josef von Sternberg picture. Dietrich has never been more assured as a persona than here, however.

Cat People

I still don't know about this one. When they went out to the dessert, I tried to make it turn into Dune which for a movie a lot of people hate it still manages to be better than this one. And I say it as a Paul Schrader fan. I just find it lifeless in ways that take out all the drama and tension. Which is too bad because at least it tries to be interesting.


Possession is the very definition of a beautiful mess. It's not a melodrama and not a horror film despite trying to be both. It's mostly an art film by default. Until the last two reels or so when it turns into a thriller. I find it easy to follow mainly what Zulawski is trying to do, but there's a lot of potential in the emotional truth he's trying to find in all this shouting. He just obscures it by the end which makes me wonder why he bothered. Tim Lucas, of course, makes sense of much of it in this post.


Men will take away your wings but women will give them back to you. Being a badass loner with magic powers also helps. I wish I could be that cool.


The imagination of the spectacle of its disaster was great to watch. Some great kaiju fights as well. It's a lot easier to like as a summer film, but it's no Pacific Rim.


The basic issue of survival here is the heart of the film. Unlike the remake, each character is situated by loss or potential loss. In the remake, aside from one notable exception, the son goes from one lucky break to the next.  The drama here is how one will survive the modern world. By relying on each other. A lesson picked up by Pacific Rim, of course.

23 February 2014


Hugh Jackman is the movie’s biggest problem. He bulldozes through everything so totally that it creates no resonance for his character’s situation. “Your daughter has been kidnapped? Sure, act like a total asshole and even corrupt your neighbors.” I’m all for making Paul Dano suffer - Daniel Day-Lewis did it best - but torturing him is something else. Jackman simply goes into a downward spiral and it’s more like watching him circle the drain. No resonance to his furor at all. Maria Bello is reduced to the wife debilitated by constant weeping. She and Jackman are nothing but cartoons! Viola Davis is given nothing to do. Terrence Howard is also given so little to do that his side eyes at Jackman by virtue of its subtlety becomes some of the best physical acting in the entire picture! Jake Gyllenhaal - let’s be honest: who the hell thought that naming him Loki was a good idea? - hardly does much and just exists to act as moral relief to Jackman. It’s a chore if you can’t stand its constant self-seriousness. The film really drags itself out for two hours until Melissa Leo steps into the spotlight creating some real drama and tension. She’s the highlight of the movie here. Afterwards, it comes to a flat conclusion the less said the better. I’ll give this to the movie: it withholds the music until the last act. Most of the film plays without a score until then. Roger Deakins' cinematography is the one reason to recommend this movie. It is superb though a pity it doesn’t serve a better movie. I wish I had a better opinion of this one.

24 January 2014

“One does not simply walk into Kate Bush’s discography"

After eleven years of loving Kate Bush, I’m still not the most informed of her ardent fans. The critical consensus seems to have placed Hounds of Love as her magnum opus. As a new fan – and then devoted listener – this album felt like the best way to get my Kate fix. It’s a wonderful album and it feels as if I’ve been rooted in that land for my entire life. Still, this album represents only one remarkable achievement in her career. Her discography is studded with gems across the output of nine full-length albums. With a work as formidable as Hounds of Love, how could anyone venture elsewhere? Kate Bush does not speak with one voice so in many ways her varied techniques of singing and rich cast of characters is the perfect vehicle for showing her talents and winning new listeners. Short of Bob Dylan, Tori Amos, or even Jandek – three prolific songwriters who come to mind randomly – who else has offered so many ways to see one person’s musical world? Not too many, but then again is Kate Bush even of this world? On the evidence of the passion, weirdness, and humanity of her music, I’d like to think that she is. Like all of Bowie’s infamous stage incarnations, there’s something immediately compelling about the sight of Kate Bush. For many, it’s the music video for “Wuthering Heights” while for others it’s the eccentric fashion sense of her early career. (Personally, the cover of The Dreaming is my favorite but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that her dancing and miming in “Wuthering Heights” remains the most potent.) Whatever the cause of so much fascination with the woman, this voice that seems to come from nowhere is still the most powerful. An acquired taste like Chinese opera or Joanna Newsom, it’s not a voice that immediately sounds like one destined for pop hit infamy. (Madonna’s first two albums were released between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love.) Despite what we consider fashionable or unconventional, it’s her voice and its wonderful manipulations that constitute much of her legend. Call her mother, witch, lover, friend, or “something that you’ll never comprehend” – all those roles are whatever you want to see in her, but it’s always on her terms. Who can’t love someone who is herself as much as others within herself in similar ways to how we love so many others different to us? Sometimes I can only wonder so here’s ten songs that bring me closer to her world. 

"Hounds of Love"
"Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)"  
"Oh to Be in Love"  
"James and the Cold Gun"
"L'Amour Looks Something Like You"

"The Big Sky"
"And Dreams of Sheep"
"And So Is Love"

10 January 2014

The Best of 2013

Wax Idols, Discipline + Desire
Janelle Monae, Electric Lady
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away 
The Field, Cupid's Head 
Austra, Olympia 
Agrimonia, Rites of Separation 
Frankie Rose, Herein Wild 
Yamantaka Sonic Titan, Uzu 
Matmos, The Marriage of True Minds 
Camera Obscura, Desire Lines

04 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street and Moral Outrage

How anyone can find the movie anything less than scathing is beyond me. Most of it is uncomfortable enough to watch, but the increasing stakes (and grotesque excess) wind up the tension even more tightly. As the movie continues, it puts you off more and more thoroughly. As if the amount of money generated to create these bacchanals isn’t ridiculous enough, the men behind the parties create the most distance. Who would even want to celebrate with them? The movie shoots it all so quickly that it hardly creates a lasting impression beyond the momentary high that these men feel. The stakes and the consequences create the only sense of gravity. Even then it doesn’t last long as an act of God makes Belfort barely change his tune for longer than a minute. He fights against everyone and everything in his way until he’s truly cornered. Even then he tries to escape with no thought for those around him. I don’t know how Scorsese could make the man more contemptible. The voiceover narration almost does it all single-handedly! In many instances, he wasn’t all that subtle. Belfort at his club late at night drugged out of his mind is a notable example. It’s not funny or light or ironic. It’s physically uncomfortable to witness as his motor functions are utterly reduced. This really is Jerry Lewis in extremis. His struggle seems impossible, but consumed with saving himself the scene continues excruciatingly as he manages to get into his car. Belfort is never more degraded than here. Still, he keeps swimming through the garbage with many proudly beside him. It’s a disturbing picture of mankind. At first, rather than being swallowed by his environment, Belfort wades into it. Two scenes early on indicate the sort of scumbag that will stand by his side. Matthew McConaughey as Mark Hanna offers advice that indicates the hedonistic wherewithal needed to thrive in the business. Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff is even more absurd as a man who marries his cousin because she’s too hot to be left around for other men to fuck her. The competitive acquisitiveness of such a man says it all and from there only gets worse. Belfort himself barely looks better. He’s not some genius analyst at all. He just wears people down and dares others to be just as overbearing. If you find that kind of man respectable then there’s not much to say. The movie certainly doesn’t make him relatable or likable. It’s a long, exhausting movie that makes the business world look like a total jungle. That the man who made Taxi Driver and Goodfellas has a cast of characters who look even worse than men in those earlier films is a sad enough commentary on our times.

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