Sunday, November 28, 2010


He will be missed

1. A big building full of patients.

Overlooked: Safe

For his short film before he broke into feature lengths, Todd Haynes decided to do a biography of Karen Carpenter-- using dolls. Playing around with different media and structure to create a striking 40 minute short. Never being one to follow the rules, all of his films have bucked the trend of traditional structure in one way or another. Which bring us to the topic at hand.

Safe is a film that resists tidy encapsulation. Throughout it, Carol, played by Julianne Moore in a tour-de-force performance, slowly descends into what she thinks is illness. Or is it? Safe has a bizarre tone to it. The sterile look of the film is Kubrick like in approach. It has the undercurrent of a horror movie but eludes all the conventions of one. Essentially, Safe is a horror movie about the normalcy of life. So if you're looking for ambiguity and subtlety, look no further. Haynes' best effort and a genuinely creepy film.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

10 things I learned from Boardwalk Empire

1. Scorsese is still a badass. (that record player montage in the pilot made me jump out of my chair.)
2. Steve Buscemi has finally landed a lead in a TV show....yes!
3. Michael Shannon continues to be one of the best actors working today.
4. Michael Stuhlberg is no longer receiving bad news via telephone-- he's making it.
5. Stephen Graham loves portraying a gangster.
6. Paz De La Huerta loves being nude. (Limits of Control, anyone?)
7. Michael K. Williams still be packin' .45s from time to time.
8. They must have put in a ton of cash for those sets.
9. Is that Brian Jonestown Massacre I hear doing the theme? Hell yes.
10. This show & Breaking Bad are doing a better job at presenting the "form" of film than most films released this year are.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tortious interference

Any Colour You Like

This is what happens when you mix in 1 part shoegaze and 1 part 60's psychadelia culled from the inner sanctum of Revolver-era Beatles & Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Lace it all together with an ambient vigor that weaves in and out of the songs. It's a wickedly fun experiment called Secret Colours.

Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, the band consists of Tommy Evans, Justin Frederick, Margaret Albright, Dylan Olson, and Dave Stach. Together they create a sound that is as feverish as it is intoxicating to listen to. Their eponymous debut hit earlier this year and are currently hiding under the radar. If you need music to sit back and chill out to, the Secret Colours are the perfect prescription.

Their latest song, In the Absence mixes a heavy dose of Eastern tinged influences with their current sound which is pleasing to these ears.

Official Site

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wall of Heroes: Oliver Stone

To take a page from the Hollywood Saloon, I thought I'd build my own Wall of Heroes. Brick by brick.

Whenever Oliver Stone steps into the ring, you know you're not gonna leave without a few bruises. Or at least that's what it's been like up until Nixon. He's always one to throw in that sucker punch and follow it up with a flurry of haymakers. The problem though, is that his work from Alexander thru Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn't a knockout punch so much as a jab to the gut. After seeing Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I left the theatre with a feeling of emptiness. Was I entertained for the duration? Yes. He even employed his visually inventive camerawork. But the overall vibe just did not click. Blue Horseshoe did not love Wall Street 2.

All this aside, Stone is never one to step back from a controversial topic. Just look at JFK for proof of that. Employing macrocuts, historical footage, Super 8, black & white. It's a cubistic style that always keeps me on my toes. Following JFK, something happened with Stone. All the peyote & mesculine he must have been taking payed off in the form of Natural Born Killers. I remember the first time seeing NBK and having it knock me on my ass, for lack of a better word. It basically took what I thought were to be rules of cinema and blasted them out of a double barrel shotgun. Super 8? Animation? & the editing! I was wayleighed from all directions.

Looking at his body of work, one can assess that he is a filmmaker/historian. There are people that are content with having history dictated to them by a director like Oliver Stone. So, allow me to look at an even bigger picture at hand: history on film. According to a 1947 letter in Sight and Sound magazine: As far back as 1915, D.W. Griffith, director of Birth of A Nation imagined the day that citizens would obtain much of their knowledge of the past by watching movies. He also believed that movies' values in presenting stories about the past that had a greater emotional and intellectual impact on audiences than did the descriptions presented in traditional ways. Finally, Griffith, maintained that intelligently designed and well-researched films could give audiences authentic pictures of history.

History is, if anything, a look at events from multiple perspectives. & despite Stone's attempt to depict clashing viewpoints throughout JFK, it ends up funneling out to one viewpoint by the end. As witnessed in the 40 minute court scene. Presenting history from an objective standpoint is futile. A 100% accurate presentation of history is impossible because there is no single truth to uncover. There is no correct interepretation; therefore all historical explanations are constructed. Stone realizes this and takes that knowledge and infuses it with his own aesthetic.

To the average person today who sees Platoon, they base their knowledge off films moreso than actual history. As I've said before, the power of the medium allows us to go to the movies, see a Platoon and feel what it could be like in Vietnam. To go back to JFK, there are people who believe the film to be true. Others think it's crap. What Stone set out to do was make a companion piece to the Warren Commission. As far as the history vs. film debate goes, I lay in the middle. Film may not be able to view the past in the fashion of a textbook, but it does serve as a means to historical thinking.

JFK is a film that's safely secure in my top 20 favorite films and one I always find new things in. Like other procedurals, Zodiac & The Insider, it shows one man's complete obssession with finding out the truth. Even though Stone's work in the last decade is not up to par with his 80's/90's work, I still feel this fighter has a few more knockout rounds left in him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

This is what happens when you find a stranger in the alps

Some thoughts on the saga

OK. I have something to confess-- I was not a Star Wars fan growing up. Being given the name Luke didn't really help things along much either. In fact, whenever I read that one post that's always on message boards, blogs and other websites on how Star Wars shaped person A's childhood, I get a little bit jealous. It seems like such an expansive universe to dive into. That jealousy is somewhat compensated for by seeing the following 40 posts discussing how Lucas screwed his fans over and pissed on the franchise. I guess one can find these angry bittersweet fans in any franchise. But with Star Wars, it's much more apparent.

You see, the thoughts running through my head at 10 years old weren't who shot first-- Han or Greedo. Or even what was the best film of the original trilogy. They were more akin to, who would win-- Jason or Freddy (with me always leaning toward the Freddy side). Back then, horror satisfied me moreso than the sci-fi genre. & regardless of the fact that 2001 is in my top 5 and not The Exorcist, that has more to do with film in general. But, I'm regressing. I would not see Empire Strikes Back until much later. When I finally did see it, I could understand how someone can safely call it their 'favorite film'. It has a good story but it's the execution by Irvin Kershner that makes it ultimately worthwhile. It has since been counted among my favorites.

Can't say I feel the same way about Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter. The fantasy genre as a whole just doesn't do anything for me. I remember seeing the final LOTR in the theatre and leaving with a sense of being underwhelmed. Were they massive technical achievements? Of course. However, I just could not get into the whole mythology and 'collectability' behind it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Somebody once wrote: war is hell

(a response to Speedy McFlash)

War films in general have appealed to me for quite a while. I find myself enjoying several historical based films but this subgenre in particular is one I keep finding myself returning to.

WWII films I've found to be quite fascinating. Thin Red Line & Saving Private Ryan are definately among my favorites-- for different reasons of course. Going even further than that though is the 'men on a mission' or POW subgenre (Great Escape, Dirty Dozen, etc.) With this, you see the director smuggle in adventure genre elements into the war genre which makes for exciting fodder.
But if I had to pick one war in particular, the Vietnam War would be the one that always interested me. Just in terms of geography, military tactics and era. The whole 60's culture in general is something that peaked my interest. The Vietnam War is known as being the first true war to be televised across the nation. The efforts to address how the Vietnam War is represented in American cinema are important to understanding how the conflict affected the culture. The power of the medium has a tendency to transform people’s views on subjects like the Vietnam War. This calls back the media and how much leverage it had on public perception and opinion of the war from 1963 to the end of the conflict in the early 70’s. Seeing photos and seeing news reports of the horrors that went on during the war were enough incentive to give people a reason to protest against the war. It also is important to understand how much films were perpetuated by the media at the time. Taking all of this into consideration, it helps give the films about Vietnam a potency of legitamacy.

There's four films that are usually brought up in a discussion of films about that event: The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon & Apocalypse Now. While I love all 4, each delivers on a different level in regards to the event depicted. Deer Hunter dealing with the marine coming home, Jacket as a means of training soldiers and turning them into killing machines & Apocalypse as basically an excursion into the madness of the war. But with Platoon, it's different. Here you have a director with first hand experience. That in itself gives Platoon a level of realism and legitimacy that it was ultimately going for in the first place. One need not look any further than the scene in the village. It gives a sense of innocence being wiped away. Moreso than any other 'Nam film. Because, that was a major focal point of it. The film is drawn from Oliver Stone’s experiences in Vietnam & written by Stone to counter the vision of the Vietnam War that was portrayed in The Green Berets. While two tribes (Elias' platoon & Barnes' platoon) are clearly identified, the lead protagonist, Chris Taylor, ends up without a stable sense of identity. This type of instability would carry over into Stone’s later film Born On the Fourth of July. Despite the legitimacy heaped upon Platoon, the film still has its flaws. Its realism is compromised by following many conventions of the war film genre. There are also recognizable character types scattered throughout. We see the inexperienced youth, the father figure and the enemy who is given no character. But I'm willing to let that slide, since it has such strong points in other areas anyway.

As far as Iraq war films go, the geographical setting & general 'feel' hasn't really done much for me. The one exception to that being Hurt Locker. Something I credit to the director and the plot involving bomb disposal technicians. Here, Bigelow creates her best film with a heightened state of tension.

It's definately a genre that has its memorable hits but with a good number of misses as well. But hey, Charlie ain't always safe in the foxhole ya know?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quick and painless, I promise.

The Hilti DX 460 MX or the Simpson PTP-- these two are my Cadillacs. The DX 460 is fully automatic with a .27 caliber-charge. Wood, concrete, steel to steel-- she'll throw a fastener into anything. And for my money she handles recoil better than the Simpson or P3500.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top 5 Car Chases

Remember, these are the greatest car chases, not races. That means no Cannonball Run or Days of Thunder. I also want to single out the James Bond franchise. I plan on doing something with that in the future. Reason being, the list would be overrun with entries from Bond.

The films were judged on 3 specific criteria:

1. Originality. The obstacle course involved. How the chase works into the story.
2. Technique. How the camera is used. Editing. Use of music. etc.
3. Visceral thrill.

5. Blue Brothers(1980)

About as fun as it gets when it comes to car crashes.

4. Death Proof (2007)
Quentin certainly built this up to be the chase to end all car chases. & I must say it certainly outdid the sources it drew from: Vanishing Point, Gone In 60 Seconds ("the 70's one, not that Angelina Jolie bullshit.") & Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. It does deliver in spades in both originality and visceral thrill. First off, we've never seen a woman on the hood of a moving car. There's nothing faked about the stunt either. Then you have the integration of the chase into the plot-- sweet revenge against Stuntman Mike.

3. To Live and Die In L.A. (1985)

Everything builds up to this point in the film. Friedkin also scores major points for doing something I've never seen done in a car chase: cutting to psychological states of the characters during the car chase. The obstacle course itself is something that car chases have been taking from since '85: a car on a freeway traveling against traffic. This is a film (criminally) missing from several car chase lists.

2. The Road Warrior (1981)

14 minutes of pure adrenaline. What makes this one unique is how it basically mixes an entire battle with a car chase.

1. The French Connection (1971)

Unmatched in visceral thrill to this day. The chase exemplifies Popeye Doyle's obssessiveness as a cop. It's also the scene that elevates this from "Wow. This is a really good film." to "Fuck! That was an amazing film."

Some honorable mentions: The Seven Ups, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Bullitt

What are yours?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Momentum III: Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights is a film that is bursting with feverish exuberance and takes turns down dimly lit paths. This dynamic is called for by the subject of the movie at hand: porn. But to be more elaborate, a family dynamic of a group of characters in the adult entertainment industry.

Boogie Nights would be the first film of PT Anderson's that I would see. This would be around late 2003. Having been a big Dream Theater fan at the time (my interest in them has since wained), I was apart of the drummer's forum. One of the things the drummer had on there was a list of his top ten films. Boogie Nights would be amongst them. My curiosity peaked. & it only deepened once I found out the band sampled the Frank Mackey/Earl Partridge deathbed scene from Magnolia (my favorite PTA film) in one of their songs (Honor Thy Father). Now at the same time, I had counted GoodFellas near the top of my favorite films of all time. I was always on the lookout for a film that matched the energy that film had. Upon my first viewing of Boogie Nights, I had finally found a film with that type of energy...or at least came very close. Whenever I have the chance to introduce people to PTA's work --which I rarely get the opportunity to-- Boogie Nights is the first film I have them watch. It has everything you could want: great cast, great idea. It's funny, tense and depressing. In addition to all of this, the virtuoso camerawork and themes are all there.

One detraction that I have found amongst people is how the first act is riddled with Scorsese-esque camerawork. The signature tracking shot into the club, the pool scene that's reminiscent of I Am Cuba, etc. While it may bother some, I actually find it visually invigorating. We have GoodFellas in the back of our minds when watching the intro to this film. But what Anderson does is brings that energy to a film based in the 70's about a 'family' of porn stars. I don't think you can do it any other way & if there are people who think they know another way, I'm all ears. To be sure, the first half is not perfect. But that stems from problems of my own. I personally feel that if there was one more celebration scene then it would have thrown the film off kilter.

The subject matter of porn is a tough marketing angle to begin with. The film has such a big canvas because there is such a variety of stories of that industry to draw from. Having already beat out certain story elements with his Dirk Diggler short, PT is better for having fleshed out that material on a bigger scale. Albeit, with a much more mature sense of storytelling. Because, let's be honest, porn can only take you so far. It's when it branches off into it's multiple narratives that it achieves it's greatness.

Tonally, there is a balance between dark comedy and drama. This whole balancing act comes to a head at a key transitional point in the film: the 80's New Years Eve Party. At the party, Horner is confronted by Floyd Gondoli about the advent of video and how the industry is in a period of change. It is this scene, not unlike the Billy Batts beatdown in GoodFellas, where characters end up having a dark cloud hang over their horizons up until the end of the film. & this is only punctuated by Little Bill's murder-suicide. A scene in which PT observes had portions of the audience cheering one moment and a gasp at the next.

What's striking about the characters of the film is just how accepting they are. Amber Waves, Jack Horner & co. are basically a surrogate family to Dirk. As Julianne Moore assesses on the commentary, it's not until they interact with the outside world, that things end up becoming harsh. Everything comes crashing down at once on top of these characters. Adherence to melodramatic scenes is something that will pop up frequently in his next film, Magnolia. In retrospect, the scenes of Rollergirl in the limo that play out at the same time Dirk is getting beat by the band of thugs is needed to balance everything out.

One of the things that makes the film so rewatchable is how it's wallpapered with a soundtrack. It would be the one film of PT's that is like this. There's just too much goodness on this soundtrack: Livin' Thing, God Only Knows, Brand New Key, etc. Then there's the scene we all know and love: the Sister Christian/firecracker scene. Some people know this scene alone from Boogie Nights because it sticks out the most. Admittingly, it is a fascinating stretch of film. & it's unfolding of tension amongst Dirk, Reed & Todd is palpable.

Amongst the joy, depression, coke, porn, and firecrackers, PT paints all of these characters in an honest and humane light. For all their misgivings, they are simply surviving the everyday struggles brought forth. As the ELO song that closes out the film so proudly exclaims: It's a livin' thing and it would be a terrible thing to lose.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Great Characters: Bill Haverchuck

Let's face it. Freak or geek, we all kinda wish we went to school with a character as interesting as Bill Haverchuck.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Free the West Memphis Three

96% of the content here is film & music related, but after hearing this news I just had to share. Paradise Lost is probably the most affecting documentary I've seen. Here's to hoping this horrible mistrial gets straightened out and the West Memphis Three are finally freed.

New hearing ordered for 3 in Ark. scout deaths

For those who would like more info, I urge you to check out the documentary.

Scott Walker- The Drift

2006 saw the arrival of two wholly original pieces of art both in film and music. In film, we had David Lynch's Inland Empire. So what could possibly be the equivalent in music? Scott Walker's The Drift. That's what. It's incredibly dark, brooding and intense. The best comparison I could make music-wise is Johnny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood. Not so much directly but more in the atmosphere and dread it creates.

Scott Walker was originally the founder of The Walker Brothers. Known for their poppy 60's era songs. His critical success however, would be found when he came into his own with 5 solo LPs. After reuniting briefly with the Walker Brothers, his work ended up becoming more sporadic. He has released 3 albums since 1980: Climate of the Hunter (1984), Tilt (1995) & The Drift (2006). Each increasingly experimental in texture and tone. With a habit for reclusiveness, it is unknown when he will release his next slab of musical anarchy.

For the music of The Drift, there are many intense changes in dynamics. Cossacks Are sets the tone immediately with its intense rhythms. There's quite alot Walker goes on abouit lyric wise within the songs. Buzzers explores the link between the Balkan Wars and the evolution of horses. Jolson and Jones is based off Walker's idol Jack Jones. With Jolson being silent film actor Al Jolson.

There's the lulling organ and drum tracks of Clara that slip into haunting, uncomfortable tones. While a track like Cue has Walker's voice lead to a haunting place of seclusion only to pull out the rug from under the listener and go into intense strings.

There's some truly "What the hell is that?" moments on here. Meat punching in the percussion. Donkeys screeching. Even Walker imitating Donald Duck. There will be listeners out there who will wonder why people listen to music that is drenched in such bleakness, but rest assured, The Drift has a human core. An album that is incredibly dense, yet pared down to its primal elements. It may cause the listener to occasionally laugh with its almost nihilstic musical approach. But rest assured, The Drift is an album that delivers Walker's voice with nightmarish urgency and grim foreboding.

For those interested in Walker's music, be sure to check out the documentary 30 Century Man. It's a good primer on his work up to The Drift.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Black Angels/Black Mountain 10/28 Concert Review

This blog has been seriously lacking in regards to music. So I offer a review of a recent concert I was at.

I have to say that I did have a troubling experience at the venue I was at. The club guard ended up carding me, as he should have cause it's his job. But as it turns out, my driver's license stating I was 24 years old just wasn't good enough. Asking me a barrage of questions (What's your Zodiac sign? When was this issued to you? When did you graduate high school? Have you had drugs or alcohol at all today?) I of course started getting flustered and unsettled. How could one not when they have a hulky figure staring them down. I ended up not getting a bracelet that allowed for alcohol consumption. I really wasn't gonna drink beer there anyway. I came for the band. Not to get drunk and wasted.

So let's dive into the actual concert experience.

Black Angels are apart of a recent revival of 60's psychadelia. Hailing from Austin, Texas, the band creates their own slab of psychadelic chaos. They've taken up the mantle of what 90's stoner/shoegazing bands like Spritualized & Spacemen 3 were doing. But with the Angels, there is a grungier, darker influence. From what I have heard, the haven't really played much of the material from their debut Passover on the last tour. Thankfully, they did a good amount in this concert as Passover is easily their strongest effort so far. Their sound is hypnotic. This band is definately drone rock influenced as it shows.

Now I haven't listened to Phosphene Dream (their latest) prior to the concert, but after what I heard them play, it prompted me to buy the vinyl. There will be a review on it's way.

In between bands my friend happen to spot the band Secret Colours in the crowd & we ended up watching the next band with them. Secret Colours are a Chicago based psychadelic rock band. Having first heard of them that night and after listening to their debut, it made a good enough impression on me to order the album off amazon. More on them soon.

Headlining was Black Mountain. This band has a distinct Black Sabbath influence. Stormy High off their 2008 album Into the Future alone proves this. One noteable thing about Angel & Mountain is how they basically release their albums in sync with each other. Directions to See A Ghost & Into the Future in 2008 and their latest albums, Phosphene Dream & Wilderness Heart which came out this year. Wilderness Heart may not be as consistent as Into the Future, but it does have its fair share of shining moments. They are definately one of those bands whose material is even stronger in a live setting. The rhythm section in particular is incredibly tight and allows the keyboardist to create musical passages ranging from menacing to mellow. Shades of Budgie and other 70's hard rock mixed in with some 60's psychadelia for good measure.

Overall it was an excellent experience minus the getting into the venue. It definately broadened my horizons even more in regards to those bands and that type of music.