Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reflection Pond #16

Fever Ray - Fever Ray (2009)

Karin Dreijer Andersson is a freak. As you should know by now, I mean that in the best way possible. I like weirdos and fringe culture. I revel in the art that makes us dwell on the uncomfortable aspects of our nature. Andersson is the type of musician that I crave to discover; self-produced, strange, creative, anti-establishment, hostile, angelic, post-apocalyptic, magical. She recently gave the greatest awards acceptance speech ever with a mask where her face appeared to be melting. She obviously doesn't give a shit about making anyone happy but herself. We know her from the group, The Knife, which consists of her and her brother and a home-made studio. They catapulted into the indie stratosphere a couple of years ago and now Andersson hits us with this amazing album as the alter-ego, Fever Ray. I hope that I will always have appreciation for artists like her and I hope that she will always appreciate fighting against the base bleakness that pervades popular consumer culture. Each year I grow older, yet I find that I only wish to push the envelope even further, to discover the weird. May we all find creative people like Fever Ray, who only hope to ignite us into learning something special about ourselves.

Milk - Gus Van Sant (2008)

When I heard that the movie Milk was directed by Gus Van Sant, I wasn't exactly sure what to think. Most of the time I like Van Sant's films but quite often I have a hard time embracing biopics. They have a formula that overcomes the story and so many directors who take on the burden of these type of films can't seem to escape it. Van Sant manages to walk the edge of the knife on this one. He does succumb to some typical storytelling guidelines in the biopic handbook but he also brings his own edgy aesthetic to the project. Besides, this is a story that is so relevant to our lives today and it's a story that reveals the foundation of a stand for equality that is our generation's civil rights movement. There is no mistake about the importance of the fight that Harvey Milk and so many others struggled for during the 70's. It is a fight for our nation's conscience. There are many on the opposite side of the right to marry who would say the exact same thing except for one glaring difference. One is guided by the glorious ideals of equality and love while the other is used to impose a strict restriction upon the way humans share their lives with one another. Funny how the latter group is the one always spouting about the evils of those who are trying to destroy our freedom, the very freedom that they won't allow their fellow citizens. It is unconscionable that we would create an environment where we restrict the sincerity of love, that we would put that language of hate into law. It is no surprise that our nation suffers when the divisive voice of malice guides our actions. That all people are created equal and that they may have the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the very soul of this experiment of democracy. If you don't think that applies to all of us then you do not believe in America. You have accepted a distortion that is so far removed from those great words that you have become blinded by filth. Love, the most noble of all our emotions because it's the very heart of embracing another. It is the source of beauty and admiration. It is the most fabulous gift of all. How can we possibly take that away from someone and still say that we truly believe in the ideals of liberty. Perhaps everyone who voted against allowing people to love one another need to simply think about the twinkie defense. Dan White, the man who killed Harvey Milk, claimed that he had eaten so much junk food that he didn't know what he was doing on the day of the slayings. Temporary insanity, that's exactly what is happening to our nation at this particular moment in history. It's time to get that shit out of our system so that we can see straight again, see the truth in those words written by the founders of America so long ago.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Reflection Pond #17

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (2009)

What a long train down into the trails of my muse. Veckatimest went from the most overrated album of the year to top ten to rounding out right about here. It's a really nice album but when it came out I played it for my brother-in-law and told him about all of the critical acclaim it was getting. We both were kinda wondering how and why, confusion spreading through the muscles on our faces. I also have a close friend from high school who refused to let me give up on them. He kept playing the song, While You Wait for the Others, which had a nice hook that you could bite into but still wasn't managing to pull me onto the boat. He told me to hold the line, listen some more, listen some more, listen some more, listen some more, so that's what I did. Well, the more you listen to them, the more you start to hear the nuanced beauty that resides within the music. It was the song, Ready Able, that eventually got me. Trapped in my headphones, I heard so many tender hooks of digital magic mixed in with the rest of the song. It was brilliant, so I took some good advice and listened some more. Veckatimest has matured like a good wine and I've had the bottle open all year, constantly taking drags off it and have yet to see the bottom. Perhaps it will fade in time but for now I'm still feeling the effects of their alcoholic embrace, enough so that I have a good warm fuzzy feeling inside as the night spreads before with wonder.

The Wrestler - Darren Aronofsky (2008)

If you want to watch a movie with a former oscar winner getting naked during the entire film, go out and look for the words, "Starring Marisa Tomei" on the description of it. For some reason it seems like her entire purpose in life now is to get naked as much as possible. I don't know if the directors take one look at her and picture her naked, which is a typical male response in our society when they are introduced to women, but how often is a women going to actually follow through with the fantasy. I guess that comes with the territory when you are a famous hollywood director. All of this should lead to a typical joke about lousy film-making, which would mean that you wouldn't be hearing about it on this list, or it could lead into a nice essay about the objectification of women in our society, which has so many roots built into the film industry that not even the biggest hurricane ever recorded could make the hypocritical tree bend an inch, but instead it leads into an acknowledgment of the fact that Darren Aronofsky is one of the most gifted directors we have here in the States. Huh? You might say and I don't blame you because this movie has every intention of being a B movie in all but flavor. The only reason for that is that it was directed by Aronofsky. He takes this generic script about a down on his luck wrestler who, due to health and age, must retire from the only thing in life that gave him passion and turns it into a beautiful piece of work. Then the guy, conveniently played by an aging wreck of a Mickey Rourke, must go through all of the trouble of finding himself in order to grow and become a better person; reconnect with his long lost daughter, develop a mature relationship with a woman, discover other passions in life; but, of course, after all is said and done, he can't run away from himself and throws his life away for some obsolete sense of identity. It's a modern day tragedy and we see it in film all of the time. Quite often it's complete garbage but then those movies aren't directed by Darren Aronofsky. I'm just a little bit sad for Marisa. I always liked her as an actor, was happy to see her win that oscar but, though I'm a bit ashamed to say that I'm not completely disappointed with her recent work, I would like to rent one of her movies and really get caught up in the quality of her acting as opposed to the quality of her...ahem

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reflection Pond #18

Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, the Commuter (2009)

The song, Brand New Sun, has been the anthem for my life the past year. Just when everything has begun to change with hope for a new ambition, I've come to realize that there is one aspect of my life where I need real change to occur, not simply rhetoric (ahhhh...if only President Obama could heed those words). I've spent the last eighteen years working at a job that has been ultimately unfulfilling. Though I've had many fortunate gains from my employment, it simply isn't what I always imagined I'd accomplish with my life. I don't mean to begrudge any of it because I feel very fortunate, I love my family and appreciate the stability that we have, but there are always moments in life when you evaluate your existence and you begin to take measures that will move you toward more idealistic aspirations. Maybe that's what happened with Jason Lytle and Grandaddy. Throughout the past decade, I was influenced by a lot of music and it helped mold me into the person that I am today. Grandaddy was probably at the top of that list. From He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot, which blew me away, to Just Like the Fambly Cat, these five guys from the grunge culture, mutating out of the ashes of the pavement, swirled in our atmosphere to provide beautiful astral lights. Eventually all things come to an end and now Lytle has gone on to create more wonder. The sound isn't that different but it is unique in its own right and it's still wonderful. I hope that I may find such a gift inside myself that moves me toward the path I wish to forge. A new decade stands before us. Let's paint it with a most luscious brush.

Goodbye Solo - Ramin Bahrani (2008)

Goodbye Solo has many interesting and wonderful aspects going for it, mostly being that it is an honest movie about real people living across cultural lines that is told through a sincere lens. But it also has Souléymane Sy Savané starring in the lead role. What a beautiful presence this man has brought to celluloid. Every once in awhile we come across an actor who carries the screen, who lights up the magic that percolates in our minds and float to the surface while sitting in the dark to wallow in flickering life. Savane is one of those people. For 100 minutes I was astounded at how effortlessly he moved and guided our emotions within this very emotional movie. Goodbye Solo tells the story of a cab driver who befriends an elderly hard-ass guy who only has one last task for himself as his life comes to a close. The film moves with meandering and minimalist qualities but it is a beautiful look at our world today and what it means to be human. I had heard of Bahrani's films before and the man is very active, Solo being his third movie in four years, but for some reason the definition of his films portrayed by the community hasn't enticed me to follow him before now. I won't make that mistake in the future. He is one of the great American film-makers of our generation and we really need to embrace his offerings with enthusiasm and appreciation. The next time I have a conversation with someone about the dreadful quality of American film-making, Bahrani's name will be the first word out of my mouth.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reflection Pond #19

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! (2009)

It's really interesting to follow the arc of popular music. There's a subtle shift that happens as each sound gets co-opted and regurgitated and flounced and flayed and splattered on our airwaves. There's a trend going around called electro-pop and it's roots flow back to 80's new wave dance music. I hate to do that, consummately disliking those people who try and compare today's music to past trends with a lazy critical eye. So I must acknowledge that new music will always have its own voice and though it may have a residue of a forgotten era, it still reflects what is happening today so much more clearly. What does this have to do with the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs recod? I don't know. It has an elctro-pop-punk-riotgrrl sound but it's very distinctively Yeah Yeah Yeahish. Sleek and polished and aggressive and earnest, It's Blitz is about as perfect an album that you'll hear. It's so much fun to catch the wave of a band as it really tunes into the underbelly of what makes music alive. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always been a remarkable aural experience but with this album it just feels like they now know how to make magic with an awareness for the subtle superb. I'm eager to hear what they have in store for us next.

The Bicycle Thief - Vittorio De Sica (1948)

I'd forever heard of the wonders of The Bicycle Thief, listening to crotchety old timers praise the accomplishments of this Italian masterpiece. I love film so I am always looking for a great cinematic experience, whether it comes from the grainy days of yore or is a bright young star upon the map. I often find that even though there are some nice qualities with a movie from before my time, they can leave me feeling like life has left them behind, that they are forever scrambling to keep up with the changes that happen so naturally to all of us. Nobody wants to be left behind and fortunately for us, The Bicycle Thief still resonates in our modern world. It's a story of a nation struggling to rebuild after the destruction of war, of a family trying to hold onto a life filled with love and a father desperately trying to maintain his integrity in front of the most important lens, his child. After his bike is stolen, a man struggling with poverty in post-war Italy searches the city for it with his son in tow. The bicycle is his livelihood and in order to support his family he must find it or fall to ruin. It's a simple story but it shows the difficulties people had to face following the devastation of war. The evil seed that is planted by the thief as he makes off with the man's very existence, slowly transforms the film into an allegory of desperation as the father eventually turns into a thief himself. This is the message that comes through and pierces my heart. The only way that we can build our communities into a thriving and generous place is through love and respect. That is how we nurture the world around us. If one person within the community undermines that love with neglect or malice then it may bring about a domino effect where the society begins to break down. When good people become desperate, sometimes they make bad choices. It was true back then and it's still true today.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Reflection Pond #20

Zero7 - Yeah Ghost (2009)

I've always liked Zero7 but they've never been a favorite of mine. From their quick fame with the song Destiny through two more albums, their pleasant sound has wafted through our lives. Extremely enjoyable and effortlessly holding to that soundtrack of our lives sound, we've spent many a night drinking and chatting with their beautiful and lofty message in the background. Sounds great, right? But they always seemed to be a bit bland, floating about but never clutching beneath my skin. So it came as a surprise to discover that their latest, Yeah Ghost, was different. Something exciting grabbed at me whenever these songs bounced in my ears. Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, the masterminds behind Zero7, decided to experiment a bit and reach toward the edge of pop, refusing to stick to their distinctive downtempo sound. I'm glad that I went after this one, after neglecting it for most of the year. It now has become a regular role player on this year's discovery of myself.

Vitus - Fredi M. Murer (2006)

We decided to head up to the cabin in Big Bear earlier this year, so that we could get away from it all. Big Bear is a wonderful little retreat. There's hiking or skiing depending on what time of year that you go. There's the fresh mountain air and absolutely nothing at all pressing to do. It's up to you. Do whatever you want and just let life drift through the day. With so much down time it's easy to get sucked into being very passive. A nap is always enjoyable on these trips and watching movies fill the days. With satellite teevee, we have so many more options than we ever have at any other time in our lives. So we often end up watching the most random films available. Vitus jumped upon us one afternoon and though you might spend many days watching only a part of a movie before passing out on the couch, This movie turned out to be rather special. It's a tale of a young boy who is declared a genius at an early age and is immediately set upon a career toward pianist fame. Eventually he simply wants to live the life of a regular child, so he fakes an accident and propels himself into mundaneville. But no one can keep the light from shining when it's so brilliant. Probably the first ever Swiss movie that I've seen, Murer has created a gentle and lovable film. His young prodigy is endearing and likeable and every step of the way, you root for him to conquer the world, which he does of course. It was so nice to escape for the weekend in our nearby resort town and it was a pleasant surprise to discover this charming world on the other side of the globe.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reflection Pond #21

Kings Of Convenience - Declaration Of Dependence (2009)

This is one of those albums that will eventually belittle this current placement. A year from now it will probably be my favorite album of 2010 but for now it lingers here. Kings Of Convenience are so profoundly wonderful and unique that it shocks people. Shocking in a way that is so hard to comprehend because the entire time you wonder what makes these guys so great. But then that wonder turns to wonder. I remember the first time I latched onto their convoy. A friend of mine thought I would dig them so I checked them out. At first my only thought was that they were extremely dull. All of the songs just kind of lilted there, which was nice to have when you were drinking wine and chatting but nothing to get excited about. Yet, eventually I swallowed enough of their little pill and became hooked on the drug. Erland Oye is a freak of nature, this generation's Rick Astley, except Oye is extremely talented. Trust me on this. He might look like a dweeb but the guy is a genius, and the combination of Oye and Eirik Glambek Bøe has quietly become some of the best music in my library. When their two guitars gently lift up the speakers to new heights it's very easy to drift off to that place where you're dreams find comfort. Their sound belongs in the rafters of a house of divinity and their songs will be prayers that give solace to the heart. They are a blessing in this lifetime, a voice from heaven. You see how exalted I feel about them, they are already floating up to the top.

The Orphanage - Juan Antonio Bayona (2008)

What a delight to travel through this world that Bayona created. For a long time we've had to listen to pompous people talk about the great French film institution and all of the brilliance that comes from that land. Now, I'm an aficionado of foreign cinema and though I have appreciated some French films during my time, quite a few of them come up wanting. They scoff at Hollywood and all of the schlock that despoils the silver screen but the industry in froggywood doesn't drift too far from scorch marks that trail off of the editorials. Yet over the past two decades we simply needed to drift a little south from both countries and discover innovative and creative work in the field. Both Spain and Mexico have been developing and nurturing wonderful filmmakers recently. From Alfonso Cuaron to Pedro Almodóvar. From Alejandro González Iñárritu to Alejandro Amenábar. From Juan Carlos Fresnadillo to my favorite, Guillermo Del Toro, who helped produce The Orphanage. Now we have Bayona with his debut film and he has become an immediate success. This is the type of horror film that doesn't offend me. It doesn't get ridiculously clever with it's ghosts and throughout the story everything eventually has very realistic explanations. It's a story about loss and the heartbreak that comes with it and that's something everyone has come to fear at some point in their life. Bayona takes us delicately through the perspective of one woman as she deals with this loss and even though there eventually are ghosts who inhabit this film, they are are subtly portrayed and even helpful to our heroine. To be mesmerized and enchanted even when you are frightened is hard to accomplish and this film delivers throughout.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Years

Quinn performed in her first concert today! Well...she didn't actually play but she went on stage with everyone and stared out at the audience with an intense look of intrigue.

Quinn has increasingly become more enamored with the violin and all of its lovely charms. A couple of weeks ago she sat in on group class and practiced with the other students for the entire hour. That was a first for her, where she usually does a couple of pieces before dropping her violin to the ground and racing around the room cackling. She's having fun with it and we are fortunate enough to have a very forgiving teacher, Miss Jane, who allows them to be themselves. If Quinn wants to play along with every piece in the book, regardless of correct knowledge, then she can do it. She also gets to decide how far she wants to go, even if that means not doing anything at all.

Which led to the reality of her first stage performance. Once she was up there, it became quickly obvious that Quinn wasn't going to play. I'm okay with that. I just want her to enjoy herself and learn about music. I want her to feel comfortable with it, meet wonderful people and develop her imagination. Just going up on the stage and standing there was a brave thing to do. It was only a year ago that Lucas gave his first concert performance and when he performed today, it was a completely different. He was so confident and determined. He held himself with composure and maturity. It was a blessing to see such a transformation.

Quinn will get there too. She'll have plenty of opportunities. I believe it's extremely valuable for children to learn early on that life upon a stage isn't as dramatic as we all make it out to be. I grew up with absolute terror of standing before an audience. I don't want my kids to feel that unnecessary burden. The level of comfort that one displays when speaking or performing before others is just as vital as the content within it. By the time they are in their awkward tween years, I want that ridiculous worry to be the furthest thing from their mind. They will have many years of stage work under their belt by then and, with the proper support, will be complete naturals up there.

In a way, I'm actually proud of my little girl for what happened today. She did it her way. She didn't freak out but she did gain a new perspective on her life. Every day she grows into her own new self. This is the age when your child suddenly starts to step away from you. I look at Quinn and I can see the unique little being coming to the surface. She no longer needs us for everything and so often now, she will express her own opinion about the world around her. It completely baffles my mind to look at her and realize how different Quinn is going to be compared to the rest of us. We all shape each other with our intimate influence but we also have our own presence. That wasn't very apparent with Quinn until now. From such a tiny spark, she will develop into a dynamic force of nature. She will control the universe. It's overwhelming to witness this development as a parent but it also makes me extremely proud. I love to watch her and imagine the huge possibilities that may come from her life.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reflection Pond #22

Metric - Fantasies (2009)

There are bands that come to define you. They represent a perfect image of who you were during that moment in your life. When you listen to the music it suddenly embodies every truth, every emotion that is churning beneath the surface. This type of identification is so amorphous and constantly changing that it's hard to pinpoint exactly when they became your favorite band and exactly when they were no longer so all-consuming, but there will always be a fondness lurking whenever you learn of anything regarding them. A couple of years ago, I found Emily Haines and her band Metric and for about eighteen months I devoured them. Sexy and cool, pop music with an edge, they consumed my being for awhile. Hailing from Canada and the Broken Social Scene collective, there is nothing mute about them, from a feminist pulse to shockwaves of a punk aftertaste. Fantasies is their fourth album and it spreads out along the warpath with a burning flare to guide the way. Crunchy guitars and Haines' sweet voice call for us to open our eyes and give up the shackles that bind us to our mundane culture. And even though I feel my life force beginning to wane from these fabulous musicians, that they don't exactly define who I am at this moment in my life, I still appreciate their energy and joie de vivre. They'll always have the taste of a sweet morsel once consumed. They'll always hold a special place in my heart.

Downtown 81 - Edo Bertoglio (1981)

What a strange movie! That's usually not necessarily a bad thing but this one was really out there. It seemed like the sole purpose of this film was to completely immerse you in the New York art scene during the late 70's, early 80's. Again, not a bad thing. I've watched a few films try and capture the time of Warhol, Schnabel and of course Basquiat. Some of them have been good in their own right but none seem to realistically dive into the strange and experimental madness of that time. Downtown 81 embodies the moment. It is New York in 1981 and Bertoglio was in the midst of it all. The movie follows Jean-Michel Basquiat as he wanders the city trying to sell a painting so that he can pay his rent and get back into his apartment, while he also chases after a beautiful woman that caught his eye when the film opened. Submerging within the art and music scene, we travel throughout a fantasy landscape that turned out to be the roots of popular culture that would come to define our generation. Once you get comfortable with the weird but oddly familiar scenes, it all starts to go down a bit easier. Plus I think I'm really at a point in my life where I don't need my films to make sense all the time. I want them to be different, to challenge the conventional ideas of art. Basquiat was like liquid when it came to that. Full of quirky confusion, he blasted the atmosphere of the living and didn't care if anyone understood any of it. The more I see stuff like this, the more I want to express my creative spirit. It's absolutely inspirational.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Reflection Pond #23

Lee Fields and the Expressions - My World (2009)

This is one of my great finds of the year. I love to discover such sweetness and through one of my many outlets, I was able to hear about Lee Fields and his wonderful brand of soul. His sounds transcends time in many obvious ways but what I truly love is the earnestness that comes out of his music. There's a spirit here that wants to embrace the world with effervescence yet, though we ride the wave of blessing filled with joy as Lee Fields' voice soothes us over, we must also remember that the heart is filled with wanting. We must realize that our humanity is still very frail, still in need of developing and evolving. We are not yet so perfect a species in this life. There is time to grow, to love and laugh, to hold one another within a sacred grip. There is a call for social justice rising from the ashes, and music has a power that can ignite a flame into a fireball. Lee Fields pleads with that type of energy and wants us to look into our hearts so that this human experiment will eventually overcome its weaknesses and see the light.

Be Here To Love Me - Margaret Brown (2004)

We randomly discovered Townes Van Zandt at the bookstore, Borders, of all places. At one of the listening stations we ran across his double disc "Anthology" and immersed ourselves in one of the great voices of American music. Since Xtimu's father loves country music and I dabble in the field now and then, it was refreshing to listen to a singer who had the mind of a poet and delivered his message in a simple and honest way. Who was this artist who'd been an intricate part of our landscape for three decades yet hardly anyone had ever heard of him? I was immediately intrigued because, after all, I do truly love a great story about a hidden star amongst the solar sphere. His music was beautiful and enchanting and intoxicating. He was a twisted spirit that spoke with foreboding and dwelt in dark dreams, yet always seemed to come out the other end with a smile on his face. Often, as you listen to his music, that's what you find on your face as well, a smile and an appreciation for a true master of his craft. Be Here To Love Me is a documentary that immerses you within the arc of this great man's life. He was neurotic, a druggie, crazy, a fiend, had all of the great faults that many iconic figures in our celebrity culture seem to display. He was also a genius and all of the great musicians from the ruggedness that defines country music as it rose up from the dust are in the documentary to let us know how they felt about his continuing influence. When we look back in history to discover the shining stars that helped create this culture of ours, we often witness a difficult dynamic mixture of incredibly gifted and complete disaster. Townes Van Zandt does not disappoint in this regard and it's hard to watch with both appreciation and hurt as one of your heroes falls beneath the embers. Margaret Brown does a wonderful job lettings us laugh and cry along with Townes, just like one of his amazing songs.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reflection Pond #24

Marissa Nadler - Little Hells (2009)

Marissa Nadler has always been on the periphery the past few years. She was originally announced as a new voice in the freak folk movement with the aura of a siren. She was weird and beautiful and no one knew about her so I immediately wanted to get her albums even though they were practically impossible to find. Eventually she drifted out of the obscure corner of music infamy and I began to listen. Little Hells is her fourth commitment and the first that I have placed upon my list, though she was floating around on the edges of acceptance for the past couple of times through. Nadler is the type of artist that consistently improves on her craft. This record is easily her best and many nights, Xtimu and I discovered that she'd been haunting our home with her dramatic and ethereal presence. Her spirit embodies our thirty-something routine and we've grown comfortable with artists who convey a sense of waning, who take you down into the calm comfort of dreams.

Water - Deepa Mehta (2006)

Let's just say that I like Deepa Mehta a lot. She makes really good movies. There are times when you watch a movie and something really clicks inside you, like you completely understand exactly what the person wishes to express. You have a karmic link with the person almost or a string that binds you to their thoughts. That's how I feel watching Mehta's films. Water is the third of her elements trilogy and once again she doesn't mince words or create glamour in order to spread the message. She simply opens the book and allows a path into the culture of India in an unassuming and intimate manner, but also quite shocking, as there are those who feel that Mehta has crossed the line again. As with her earlier films Fire and Earth Mehta shows us an aspect of Indian life that is harsh and demeaning...for women, naturally. Once her husband has left her, a woman has three options: she can marry her husband's younger brother, she can throw herself on her husband's pyre and descend into hell along with him, or she can lead a life of self-denial. Told from an eight-year-old widow's point of view we experience a group of women who try to find some purpose in their lives. This is not a tale from some time long, long ago that has no bearing to this modern life but the film makes it perfectly clear that these aspects of the scripture are still practice today. Every culture around the world has some malevolent piece that poisons the very heart of its society. Quite often it is guided toward diminishing the value of a woman's life in the human sphere of activity. It's not an uncommon thread that we weave. When people start burning down the theater because of the movie that is playing upon the screen, then you've succeeded in telling the type of story that should be told. You have struck a nerve that may allow the world to awake from its slumber. I toast Deepa Mehta and her endeavors. May she always have an outlet to reveal the worth of humanity. Salud!

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reflection Pond #25

Passion Pit - Manners (2009)

Euphoric, that's what I feel when I listen to Passion Pit. They have an energy that is infectious, bursting out of the seams with poppin beats and ascending toward the clouds with an airy note of bliss. The music surrounds me with sweetness that I can groove to and a blessing, like an ovation to the stars, thankful to be alive. Stumbling out of the desire to love, Michael Angelakos gave to the world a collection of beautiful and vibrant songs that don't hesitate to embrace with the warmth of a friendly hug. Emerging from the college scene and traveling across the planet, Passion Pit is now a strong voice in the evolution of music. If they can somehow find a way to channel their abundant energy into increasingly effective ways, there is no reason that we won't be dancing to their lovely sound for decades to come.

No Impact Man - Laura Gabbert & Justin Schein (2009)

Here's what is so great about No Impact,'s two great things about this movie. It's a movie that shows us what it means to effectively live our lives without leaving a footprint. Fabulous right? In this day and age, our new green frontier, what a wonderful gift to give to the world. Yeah, I agree with all of that but there's something more valuable that we can gain from this film. I mean, are we really going to change the planet by changing our lifestyles? When we look at the grand picture it doesn't seem like things are really changing that much around us even though we've all gone green. Even the small steps Xtimu and I have taken over the past few years have taken, well, a few years. And how many people are going to watch this film anyway? And how many of those people are going to take the important message of sustainability away and start to make changes in their lives that are going to have an effective impact? Sheesh, I'm over-analyzing again, aren't I? But here's the good thing about this film that might turn it into a cult hit some day. The world of tomorrow is going to be a lot more like this than we think. Human beings, and especially those in the the more developed countries (like Amerika) are going to have to learn how to live with less. So much of the past few years, that was quickly brought into focus by the Bush Administration, has revealed to us that we have reached a saturation point with regards to consumption. We cannot continue to buy and splurge and expand and devour and dump all of that waste back on the planet. There's no more room for it. The environment is reeling, the financial markets are reeling, our communities are reeling, our psyches are reeling. It's important for us to recognize that we will have to live with less in the future and that future isn't as far away as we think. The vital message that has been regurgitated by this mass consumptive globalized brand of life is that even though the world may be a lot smaller than ever, the most rewarding experiences in life don't come from something superficially ensconced in plastic. They happen right where we are, with the intimate people in our lives, our families and friends and neighbors. So here's the other wonderful message that we get out of this film. When Colin Beavan is asked about what he most gained from his project, the thing he loved the most was the sense of community. The people he met that were trying to live their lives in really positive and effective ways that didn't hurt the planet. There was a beautiful community out there that surrounded him and embraced him. I believe that we all have a community out there that is ready and willing to embrace us as long as we are willing to give back to the community, to become a part of a collective growth of beings that love the very place where they live. The more that we embrace our community and contribute to it, the more that community grows into a beauty that has the ability to spread around the globe.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

63 Months

(photo courtesy of Rick G. Munoz)

Lucas has become our telephone operator, answering the phone as much as he can. It's cute watching him bolt to grab the handset before either Xtimu or I can react fast enough to cut him off. I don't mind really because half the time the phone rings I'd rather not get up and answer the damn thing anyway. It's easier for me to sit right where I am and let Lucas bring the phone over once he tires of the conversation with whomever happened to call us.

And sometimes that person is me. When I call the house while I'm out and about, Lucas will pick up with sharp and eager "HELLO". It always makes me chuckle because the sound of his voice is never the one that I expect to hear. Not because I don't expect him to pick up the phone but because it's a completely different experience talking to him as a disembodied voice than when I normally communicate with him in person. So often, it seems like we give Lucas greater significance to his mannerisms and personality, mostly in the sense that he carries himself as an older person. He's still a kid, and there are definitely times when he reverts into infantile behavior, but most of the time he expresses himself so thoughtfully and uniquely that I forget how young he actually is.

63 Months, that's five years and three months old. If you asked me how old I feel he is with regard to temperament, I'd have to say that he's got to be almost six. He makes all of these expressions that give the impression of a maturity beyond his years. Yeah, maybe he's just mimicking what he sees around him but he usually gets it right and I've seen adults fail completely when trying to do the same thing. He's such a wise old owl and doesn't mind letting you know all of the wonderful knowledge that is swirling around in his brain. Half the time it's completely made up from partial and conspicuous reasoning but if you weren't aware that the words hitting your ears were BS, then you might actually believe the little guy. He sure sounds like he knows what he's talking about and people believe a lot of bullshit that others spew from their pulpits without a second thought. But what I love about Lucas is that he has the confidence to use his imagination and share it with you. I want to encourage that more, so I always try to respond with an eager smile on my face.

And listening to him on the phone brings a smile to my face as well. He's such a little kid and it fully comes out when he laughs and jabs at you over the line. His voice is so tiny. It's like a sweet tomorrow. It's hopeful and lovable. It's so cuddly that you want to reach right through the phone and hug that little boy as much as possible. Sometimes it's wonderful to remember why you became a parent. Those children that you gave to the world need your love. They need you to embrace them and hold them and let them know that it's okay to forget all your troubles and wallow in the sweet innocence of childhood. Don't we all like to do that some of the time anyway, no matter how old we are?

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Reflection Pond #26

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions - Through the Devil Softly (2009)

There are those days that require this type of music. You know the days...they seem to last forever and everything you do is like taking one step forward and two steps back and when you get home it takes all of your effort just to take your shoes off next to the couch and make your way to the fridge to find a beer or a shot of whiskey or a tall glass of wine. These days are the worms wriggling under your protective membrane to startle you into the harsh reality of life and allow in the burning desperate thought that maybe you aren't good enough to conquer, to make demands or to have ideas of confidence burden your brain. These days happen, all of us have been there. They may be rare but they do happen. If they don't then you probably aren't human and a man named Deckard is looking for you. The crazy part about it is that just as I was getting ready to write about this band, I had one of those days. Hope Sandoval is the voice that you want to hear when you finally plop yourself down on the sofa and drown in the heaviness of the day. It is beautiful and there is no escaping that, and when something so beautiful comes into you, burrows its way into you, then your life becomes infused with that beauty. To understand this one thing, that life is beauty, then it doesn't take long for beauty to become you. And in the end beauty is always stronger than anything that might try to tear you down. Always. Listen quietly and you will see. It's the most powerful voice alive and we all have it within us. Do you hear it? Down there inside you, soft and enormous. Do you hear it?

The Watchmen - Zack Snyder (2009)

I really wanted to see this movie when I saw it was coming out. Even though it has all the elements of a blockbuster megaloshitathon, I was personally invested. You see, I read the comic when I was a young adult and as a male in this society who needs to identify with the notion of cool, The Watchmen wasn't far from the top. It has a creative and complex tale of an alternate universe where, in 1985, Tricky Dick is still President and armed vigilante super-heroes roam the streets trying to impart justice the old fashioned way. It was always a story that wasn't so easy to figure out. Is the fanatical rightwing psychopath narrator as crazy as he sounds or is he a prophet? Could an uber liberal with such high-minded ideals as world peace be a true villian? If you possessed the perfect weapon, does it really make you safe? How fine is the line between protection and control? Questions that have plagued civilizition for eons and here it's addressed thoughtfully and gruesomely. It was cool to indulge in it when I was younger but now that I've matured a bit over the years, I wasn't so sure that it was still the right story for me. So I reread the comic before I watched the movie and here's why I liked it. The movie was absolutely picture-perfect in the sense that it was true to the comic. The framing of the shots were taken right out of the panels on the page, as if the comic was the storyboard. Sure, there were a couple of changes here and there but even the alternate ending actually still fit with the spirit of the story (may have even been better). It was awesome to watch and though it was a bit gory at times, I was completely engaged throughout. Sometimes you go to the movies expecting a certain fair or hoping that it'll remain true to the ideal that you have in your head. At other times you just hope and pray that the studio system doesn't fuck it up. I must admit that The Watchmen delivered on all accounts.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Reflection Pond #27

Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band (2009)

This is the type of band that has been with me my entire life. When I hear these melodies and soft rock lilting over the airwaves, I'm immediately pulled down into a reverie of unknown proportions, of dusty floors and good food and laughter, of my father's family during the seventies. I have an affinity for what I like to call casual rock or what Xtimu commonly refers to as whiny-white-boy music. It's a pleasant sound, one that floats through your brain and makes the blood in your veins feel warm and intoxicating. It brings that sleepy smile and turns your head with the sound of the sun as it sets. The Fruit Bats' album The Ruminant Band embodies the sound perfectly and if you leaf through my music library you'll find more than enough of this type of music to cover your ears like a blanket. From Luna to Margot and the Nuclear So and So's to Calexico to Alexi Murdoch to Bright Eyes and Grandaddy, but the roots run even deeper. To a life of skinny-armed squawking and trips to the desert with knobby knees churning dirt with sprayed aftershocks that continue to resonate. It resides in the warm summer of Steely Dan and J.J. Cale and Neil Young and Van Morrison and Love and Traffic, even Bob Dylan somewhere around the time I was born. See, it was meant for me and I came into the world consuming it.

Office Tigers - Liz Mermin (2006)

I originally had a difficult time with this movie. The first hour is interesting and revealing regarding the nature of outsourcing and globalized dreams of fortune 500 wannabes, but after awhile I began to despise the heavy essence in the demands of success as they are so prevalently displayed here. I got tired of being immersed in the corporate environment so intimately and perceiving the dehumanizing effects that it has on people. To strive so hard, to give so much of your time to an endless consumption of energy and resources so that a few people may benefit. Ugh. It made me very cynical, very quickly, but then Xtimu and I had a spirited discussion about the nature of the film. Was it portraying those who owned the company as heroes, capitalistic adventure made true, the dream of America spreading wealth around the globe or was it showing how exploitative they were, capitalizing on the cheap labor that can be found so easily outside our borders? Was it simply a cautionary tale for those in the first world to see the degradation of our society by these white-flight businessmen? Are we going to devolve into the type of country where very little of our common-space is taken care of in order to advance the false ideals of the free market at all cost? To see the streets of India and the separation of rich and poor after all of the supposed "advancements" that have been made over the last two decades is a bit demoralizing. It's become very apparent that many of the leaders of industry in Amerika don't give a shit about those who live and work here. If that hasn't been obviously displayed by the greed of the financial institutions over the past two years and their "demands" for assistance, then you can see it clearly within this movie. Sometimes it's important to watch documentaries that you might not like about the insidious nature of humanity in order to change the way that you think regarding the status quo, because nothing will change unless we decide to change it. That begins by becoming aware of how wicked our strictures can be. Movies like this that also should be watched: The Corporation, Who Killed the Electric Car, Life and Debt, An Inconvenient Truth, When the Levees Broke.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010


Reflection Pond 2009

This is the primer for my new series, my reflections on the past year. I love to listen to music and watch movies and every year I put up an analysis of everything that I liked about the year before. This year, like the reflection pond at balboa park, I'm peering down into the last twelve months and seeing myself, as I heard it and saw it on the screen. Our attitudes change constantly about how we perceive the world, what we come to appreciate and the art that touches us. Every year I notice different trends in the music I listen to or the movies that I really like. It reflects back to us if we choose to look at it.

So this is my primer, what you can expect for the next month on my blog. I'll call it the classic primer just to give you a taste.

Wilco - The Album (2009)

What other band could I consider as classic for our generation? Those who have followed Jeff Tweedy through the years and know the type of dedication and integrity that he brings to music, truly understand what I mean. It doesn't matter how much you've heard them or whether their time rolling upon the dime is more than enough, whenever Wilco delivers music to the masses you feel it as soon as it hits you. It's just damn good music. And this eponymous effort is no less fantastic. When I first heard the album I felt my old safeguards rise up.'s a little boring...we've heard all of these songs's nothing special...which is usually my first response with a band that I've followed for so long. Then I listened, really listened, and I listened some more. Then days passed and months and it was stuck on my playlist, never leaving, always wrapping it's beauty around my head. Once you bury yourself down inside the music of Tweedy and Co., it doesn't take long for you to feel the energy, a unique brand upon the brain. Some people have called them poetic and mesmerizing. I wouldn't disagree but I also think that for so many of us who look for a message that doesn't circulate within the sphere, that reaches beyond the acculturated demands by the homogeneous mob, then it's refreshing to know that there will always be a prophet out there that refuses to modify his voice. A group of guys who will forever speak your language.

The 400 Blows - Francois Truffaut (1959)

I've been told so many times how important this movie is to cinema; the greatest film ever made, changed the industry forever, absolutely must watch. So we finally queued it up and sat through the thing. It's a good movie, don't get me wrong but there's something about it that is despicable...every adult in the film hates children. Truffaut's 400 Blows was the defining film of the French New Wave movement, wherein a group of French film-makers in the late 50's and early 60's rejected the classical style of movie making and experimented with a radical departure of narrative force, visual style and editing. The 400 Blows follows a young teenager from a dysfunctional home as he skips school, runs away from home, lies, cheats and steals his way to reformatory school. Meanwhile his mother is having an affair while his father is a ruthless jackass. Told completely from the boy's perspective, Truffaut really wanted to convey what it meant to be a teenager in 1950's France. He wanted the audience to feel it, not just watch it and I suppose that was the reason for every adult in the film being complete jerks. He also created a film with a distinct vision of wonder. The cinematography was very honest and pulled you in, immersed you in the scenes, which was apparently very forward thinking at the time. Now, in the twenty-first century, we see these types of films all the time, from jerky hand-held manic masterpieces to macro closeups that make us sick from all the detail. We're so used to it that it would be easy to dismiss the effort put forth by Truffaut and not appreciate what he started a half-century ago. Now if only he had worked on that script a bit more.

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