Monday, January 31, 2011

Discovery #8

Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto (2010)

Ah, yes, once again Portugal The Man breaks through into the top ten. I don't know what to say except that they seem to make an album every year (heard they're ready to drop another this year) and the older they get, the more polished and amazing their music becomes. It's fluid and lovely and it rocks when necessary. They really are becoming an American icon and since they all seem to be living the dream without any notion of losing touch with their roots (they are from Alaska, just not Sarah Palin's Alaska), it appears that the future holds an extreme amount of promise for the boy wonders. I've really adopted them as my house band. It's almost as if they knew who I would become all these years later after my teenage drama faded into the soft sky but the hint of that boy still has some relevance, some residue that holds the remembrance of youth. It's a delicate straddle, holding the line between maturity and hope, never losing touch with all of the exciting energy that propelled you into tomorrow but allowing some time to wallow in all that you've become. No one likes a grumpy old person who thinks they know everything and won't listen to anyone who may have been born a decade or two after them and no one likes a young punk who thinks they know it all, like they've been there ten times over when all they've ever seen is the inside walls of their safe cocoon that was provided by others. I'd rather live somewhere in-between the two, a person who knows a few things that helps them become better people but still eager to live life with a fullness that tastes so sweet. That's where I am when I listen to American Ghetto.

Exit Through The Gift Shop - Banksy (2010)

Whatever this movie is--a documentary that shows the relevance of street art as it storms into the 21st century or a cool prank by an artist who truly understands the nature of our crass consumeristic culture--it has trapped the world with its spellbound agenda, the deer in the headlights as the monster truck of hypocrisy bludgeons us all, the possum playing dead in the middle of the road because the sound of fear is so overwhelming we accept our death in spite of the adrenaline running through our brains. Aren't we all just frozen in that moment? So unsure of where our lives are meant to go that we live in constant fear of being total and absolute nothings, while the greedy machine wrenches at the gears, chewing us apart with its schizophrenic scheme. We all want to be there, in that amazing moment when something important is happening, when the creative instinct of nature is propagating its warm sinewy web into an intricate design. Hurry up and be a witness before you find that you've missed everything important, everything that was meant for your eyes, everything that can provide inspiration. But don't we always miss it? We might see one brief cashling that catches the tail end of a bright shooting star. It blinds us just enough to drain the dream out. Because that's the disenchantment of commercialism. It pushes until it bursts and robs us of the one ingredient that gives our lives meaning. It distracts us from our own creative spirit, which is the most dynamic force in all of this life. There is a Banksy in all of us. It's not looking at us in the mirror at night, hoping to be recognized. It's hidden underneath a dark hood and it has the power to transform the world, if we would only let it out.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Discovery #9

Jamuel Saxon - Landmines & Chandeliers (2010)

This has become my new favorite in San Diego this year. Despite all appearances to the contrary, San Diego has always been a really wonderful town for developing musicians. It's not a loud and obvious scene because this town will always be overshadowed by the flickering lights of that place just a couple of hours to the north, whether that's a valid distinction or not. Yet, when it comes to music, L.A. doesn't hold a candle to S.D. For the past twenty years we've been witness to a cosmology of sound; from the Album Leaf to Rocket From The Crypt, from Transfer to XIV, from Get Back Loretta to Pinback, the wanderlust just rolls and rolls and rolls out of the speakers in this SoCal music mecca. Now we have Jamuel Saxon, picked up off a free download from Twitter, which goes to show how valuable the social media on the interwebs has become. Twenty years ago I wouldn't have even heard of these guys unless I stumbled into one of their drunk shows and tripped out on the ether of the room. Keith Milgaten is the genius behind the strange dance tracks that swirl through the air, mixing with choppy hypnotic vocals. This type of production is making the rounds lately and for good reason, as I seem to be jumping on the bandwagon, seeing that the electronic vibe is most represented on my list this year. I just love the way it grabs your neck and pulses through every nerve in your body, and how awesome is it to find such a gift right here in our own back yard. Much thanks, amigos!

Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino (2009)

Okay, this movie is no joke. It seems like it would be; a retelling of WWII where the denouement reveals the hierarchy of the Third Reich all assembled together to be blown to smithereens in a way that only Hollywood could possibly come up with. But this isn't just Hollywood. This is beyond the conventional aspirations of the studio boudoir. This, my friends, is Quentin Tarantino. Time and again we see him defying all logic and coming out looking fabulous in the end. This is a comic book. It's grand-standing. It's outrageous and farcical and wonderful. It's the world of Quentin Tarantino. After a woman's family is killed by a famous Nazi Jew Hunter, she escapes to Paris where she is operating a cinema and miraculously has the opportunity to enact revenge on those who have destroyed civilization. Meanwhile a group of American soldiers who hunt Nazis with guerrilla style tactics also learn of the cinematic opportunity to save humanity. The two assassination plots lead to the unexpected dramatic finale. The flow of the film is thoughtful and intriguing and beautiful to look at and explosive and gory and humorous, basically everything that you've come to expect in a Tarantino film. He rarely makes a mistake, taking his time and mixing just the right amount of tension and intelligence to make it work. I tried to find the opening scene for the clip because it is a perfect example of Tarantino's style and was undoubtedly one of the best scenes to grace our teevee screen last year. Alas, I couldn't get it in entirety and it can only be witnessed that way. Take the time to get immersed in this world. It's worth every second.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

3 Years (the second time around)

So our Quinnita is a little girl now. No more baby talk, no more boob juice, no more naps (at least that seems to be what she wants). The last thing on the list, which she's fighting hard against, is no more diapers! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhuuuuuhhhhhhhhh (the great sigh). Yes, the moment parents always look forward to, an aspect of child-rearing that vanishes without regret. It's one part of babydom that I will not miss. The only problem is that it doesn't seem to be an issue that is quite as important to Quinn.

As we all know, Quinn has come to us with a powerful mind. She is a determined little tyke when she wants to be and when it comes to diapers, she is not willing to budge just yet. Since three seems to be the marking post for potty training, Christina and I have looked forward to this day with a sense of relief but as each day passed and Quinn's birthday grew nearer, nothing was changing. Even after all of the completely useless comments from those who came before that informed us how much easier it was with girls. Ha! There was no seismic shift occurring in our little girl. So we decided to play hardball with her and lay the law down with an iron fist. Uhhhmmm, that was a mistake.

I have never seen someone fight so hard and with such determination over a potty. That girl decided that she was not going to use the potty and there was nothing that we were going to do about it. We even got to the point where we were able to hold her on it (taking both adults to one three-year-old) but I was amazed at Quinn's stamina. The energy she was expanding out to stop us from making her sit on the potty was incredible. We finally just gave up, both of us exhausted, and sat back to think about our next move. Turns out that neither one of us wanted to go through something like that ever again with either her or Lucas.

So Quinn is not going to potty train until she is good and ready, which I guess was what she wanted in the first place if we had just listened to her. I know that it is going to be an interesting journey with her. We've had our moments with Lucas but he's just more agreeable when it comes to our program. He moans and groans and yells at us sometimes but he'll eventually drop his head and fake his way through it at least. It appears that Quinn is going to be an entirely different kid altogether. That means that we have to get creative with helping her grow accustomed to our brilliant outlook on, life. I do not want to be in one of those scenes when she's fourteen and we're trying to force her to do something against her will. Even if it's something good for her, it won't be a pretty picture.

I simply don't want to have that type of relationship with her, anyway, and I know Christina isn't up for it. I can hardly imagine the two of them going head-to-head. It's going to be an interesting ride for sure. One based on intelligence and reason over physical or psychological pressure. It's going to have to come from our hearts so that she will understand that we are only interested in her well-being. It's a message that somehow must pierce straight into her heart because when she's thoughtful and aware, she's truly a remarkable little being. In a way, I'm looking forward to it, even though I know that it's bound to tire me at times, but I have hope that the process will become a nurturing and respectful genesis of love that will remind us why we ever decided to become parents in the first place.

Happy Birthday, Quinnie!

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Discovery #10

Matthew Dear - Black City (2010)

Grindhouse is a form of exploitation cinema that took its name from the burlesque theatres on 42nd Street in New York during the 1940's where bump and grind dancing was prevalent. Since I now live on 42nd Street and I love the bump and grind aspect of Matthew Dear's new album Black City, it seemed like a perfect time to kick off my top ten. There's a secret sexual energy that we discover in the dark, our eyes open to a full equation of human emotions. Heated and pulsing, everyone who takes a breath to engage in this deep human need gives themselves to another, free from the masquerade. That heightened sensory tale lasts forever and bears the open touch of honesty. We all yearn for that dream to find its way in our hearts but our culture has found a way to devalue it with commercialized perversion. All it takes is a moment, where you give in and accept another open heart into your own. Travel down the shadowy hallway and leave all of the false demons behind. They don't want you to be happy. Only you can find your own path toward that end. I'm not going to say that sex will lead you to happiness but it is one moment in your life that is absolutely free of all restraints. Naked skin on naked skin leaves nothing to the imagination and the erupting arch of a shout from the back of your lungs is an absolute expression of freedom every time.

Wendy And Lucy - Kelly Reichardt (2009)

Road trips are the things of legend...or so it seems when it's revisited in our cinematic culture time and again, and though the blurred essence of the American dream may float past our window, the reality of the event is usually more mundane than we'd like to admit. There's always a dreamy time machine quality to them, the future is what stares you in the face as you move forward and the past slowly disappears into oblivion in the rear-view mirror, but that's all an exotic metaphor we like to tell ourselves regarding the importance of our lives. Sometimes these trips define you in more ways than you'd ever imagine and sometimes they are such a disaster that you will never forget them. For Michelle Williams' Wendy in Kelly Reichardt's third feature film, it's more of the latter than the former. After getting stuck in Oregon on her way to Alaska to find work, Wendy is stuck scrimping and shuffling to get going again. The only problem is that she's lost her faithful companion, a dog named Lucy. She spends the majority of the film trying to find Lucy and get her car fixed. She ends up losing both, one by fate and the other by choice. Her life isn't one of leisure or comfort but she's adrift in a lacking social system that doesn't always provide for those who live on the fringes. Wendy is just trying to find a place in the world that will provide a sense of of place. Reichardt brings this green and lonely environment to life with quiet and stated grace. There's a testament to her film that it doesn't search for melodrama in a dramatic condition of life that so many people are facing in our current climate. She simply brings a human touch to the screen and allows the fine performances of her actors to convey the truth about the world around us. It isn't always pretty and it doesn't always provide opportunity but we keep on moving forward because we have to if we are to navigate the truth behind our lives.

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Discovery #11

Jolie Holland - The Living And The Dead (2008)

So often, when we hear the term country music, it's so easy to simply close our ears and pretend that it doesn't exist. With the ACM crowd that exhibits a perverted quality of sound that incessantly pervades our culture, those of us who find some connection to the roots of our nation found in real country music must look for it outside mainstream culture. I guess I shouldn't be surprised when that is the answer to so many of my cultural dilemmas. So we look for this essence of country music in the side genre that pops up so that we can differentiate our rejection of country-pop blandness from the truth; folk and americana and the blues. All American music goes back to that in the end anyway, right? African music brought over by the people when they were enslaved hundreds of years ago has penetrated every aspect of our modern music, a culture built on oral communication where the soul of a song is one of the last places where the heart of freedom still resides. Jolie Holland is the kind of country music I like, or folk or whatever you want to call it. Her voice is a distinct masterpiece and each tune flows with pure reverence to another era. Her songs reach for an intimate time and place that harbors some ache that still resonates in her heart and the warble of her words make the ghost inside them come alive. I call it country music because that always seems to be the goal of those songs. When you hear the weepy desire for loss or heartbreak or a bottle to drain your tears in, then you know that person has a deep understanding of the old days, the heart of the pasture where the sights and smells of horse dung used to settle over the land like oppression.

Ikiru - Akira Kurosawa (1952)

Ikiru is a strange film that is elevated by the hand of a master. Made in 1952 after Japan's militaristic regime had been decimated by many years of war, the ensuing government bureaucracy that settled in the dust was needed to rebuild the nation. In less than ten years the stilted nature of bureaucracy had already reared its ugly head. It appears that not much has changed with the way government is run in over half a century as even today we deal with many of the problems the people in this film faced. Kenji Watanabe is part of this bureaucracy and people come to the department that he runs for various ills that exist in society and they always get the run-around, of course. He does very little besides make sure that his stamp has enough ink for all of the paperwork that crosses his desk but after discovering that he has horrible stomach cancer and has only six months to live, the time of reckoning is upon him. The ultimate question arises, 'What has he done in life that has provided any value for anyone?' The first half of the movie deals with many of these questions and, though the cinematic story-telling is fairly impressive, there's nothing extremely special for the viewer beyond some good film-making. The second half of the film is where Kurasawa excels. It's told from the vantage point of those who remain after the old man's death. At his wake his family and co-workers share in some of the memories they had of Watanabe. This is when we discover that he left a parting legacy for the community, building a playground for a poor neighborhood that had been in his office very early in the film requesting some assistance. But it's the way that his philanthropic touches are revealed that makes the movie so exquisite. Those at his wake start to talk more and more as they get more and more drunk and it turns into a detective story of a kind as they try to uncover Watanabe's last desires, which are then shown through various flashback sequences. The story that is weaved works so well that by the end of the film your heart has been lifted. It's film-makers like Kurasawa that have always brought us into the theatre and the creative artists of the cinema of today are trying as hard as ever to make something a special as Ikiru.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Discovery #12

Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise (2010)

Driving, outside the window the world floats past. Beyond the glass you know that the air is cold, so cold it's hard to imagine the degree of shock as it hits your face. The grey day feels ancient, a longing that doesn't speak, time that won't tell you a thing. But it hardly matters because this moment is all the power left to help you transform into a blessed being. There's a softness that whistles in your ears and the pleasant aftertaste of life brings a smile to your face. Nothing could be better than the reality of this creative dance as it blossoms in your mind like spilled ink. It flows slowly until your heart is consumed with love. Oh my God, the heat that spreads out of that awareness is so damn exquisite that a light begins to grow and blot out all the shadows that were trying to creep inside. The splatter of muddy ice as it hits the windshield is the only thing that can bring you back to reality. This place, this drive, as the coldness settles in once again. It's okay, because a warm hand reaches over and squeezes a happy essence into your palm, a squishy beautiful pulse that is the heart of love, of the God of nurture. You can share that with the world, no matter how cold it is outside your window as the trees and the snow and the bleak mountains whisk away.

Beeswax - Andrew Bujalski (2009)

I'm a big fan of movies that are about human connections, without all of the preaching boredom that diminsihes the reality of that connection. Isn't it strange that we've come to expect all of the manipulative bullshit from a rom-com and every second of that BS truly detroys any sentimentality we might cherish in our own hearts? We give up the power that we have to imagine a beautiful human interaction beacuse of the despicable art of squeezing a dollar out of a dime. I despise nothing more than that facade that comes across our screens in Julia Roberts format. Andrew Bujalski doesn't care about any of that shit and he's one of my heroes because fo it. He gives us a stroll down the sweet avenues of our lives without any of the pretense garnered for studio acclaim. His movies are about real people who are simply dealing with their lives...and it's interesting! Because I know that so many others try to make these down to earth films and after twenty minutes we're ready to shoot our teevee. But Beeswax isn't like that. It's just cool and sweet and lovely. It's about two twin sisters who are dealing with various struggles in life as they've reached the age where they're now considered grown up. One, Jeannie, owns a second-hand store and is having some issues with her business partner. She is paraplegic but Bujalski never uses her disability as some heavy-handed prop so that we'll truly understand the greater burden of her life. No, it just happens to be the reality of her existence and that's it. Her sister Lauren is trying to decide if she should take an opportunituy to go to Kenya to teach English, which seems like the best option for her life at the moment. The two of them live together and share their lives as they probably would in real life. They stumble through relationships and deal with monetary issues and family dynamics and simply travel through their days just like the rest of us. It's very quirky and honest and just the type of movie I would love to make.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Discovery #13

CocoRosie - Grey Oceans (2010)

CocoRosie is very weird and that's what I love about them the most. The duo, of sisters Sierra and Bianca Casady, created their first album in a bathroom in Paris as a creative project for their own personal amusement but the album, La Maison de Mon Reve, became a cult hit as it passed through various friends hands until it connected with a producer at Touch & Go records. That was in 2004, now six years and four albums later they are still tripping out the world with their artistic and strange perspective on music. The sisters come from completely different backgrounds, Sierra studied opera in Paris while Bianca studied fringe art and activism in New York. These two elements are intrinsically woven throughout the adventures of their wonderful albums. Grey Oceans is more polished than the rest but it does have the definite feel of a CocoRosie record, quirky and jaunty Bianca rapping at the audience while Sierra's ethereal voice floats in the background or thrives through the chorus. Lemonade is just about the most perfect song of the year, so please listen and let yourself get pulled into their magical existence.

Paths Of Glory - Stanley Kubrick (1957)

A harsh criticism on the nature of war, Paths tells the story of a French battalion during the first world war that must embark upon a suicide mission to take the Anthill, a “strategic” position being held by the Germans on the front. From the moment the plan is set in motion by the top brass, as the order is passed down through each subsequent level, the men are completely aware that the mission is impossible but it soon becomes apparent that rejecting the order is simply unacceptable. Following the inevitable failure of the mission, the General in charge of the battalion holds the soldiers responsible and demands a court-martial hearing for cowardice hoping that a few executions might hinder such poor performances in the future. The Colonel of the battalion, being a lawyer during his civilian life before the war, defends the three men selected to face the charges. Once the mock trial ends, the soldiers must face their worst nightmare, being murdered by their own country. Meanwhile their Colonel, after obtaining some juicy information regarding the enigmatic General, throws a few wrenches into the gears, but does he truly care about what happens to his men or is he simply angling for a promotion? The combination of Kubrick and Douglas just as both of their careers were beginning to blossom is enough to have this film on your radar. Kubrick, the maniacal perfectionist, and Douglas, the fierce face, come together to construct a complete dissection of the nature of warfare with intelligent storytelling and striking visual acuity. Filmed in 1957, over a decade after WWII and just as the cold war was gaining steam, these two men, who both had extremely long lasting and influential careers in Hollywood, make a very definitive statement about the purpose of those who wield their destructive power. Paths was the first film of war whose images and tone were stark and honest, without the hint of sentimentality that was so customary to those types of films up to that point, something so praised in the latter half of the twentieth century with the films about Vietnam. Aptly titled the film follows the path of command as it maneuvers from the privileged arrogant prestige of those in power all the way down to the incredible suffering it causes in the lives of regular people. The storytelling naturally weaves its delicate thread through this particular company and how the weight of immoral decisions comes to bear in a variety of ways, revealing the diverse nature of humanity. In the end each man must come to terms with his dutiful obligation. Some have integrity, while others are terrible cowards. Some are mean and malicious, while others are good-natured and courageous. Even the champion of the film, Douglas' character Colonel Dax, who turned out to be one of the true untarnished heroes of Kubrick's films, isn't immune to his own path of compassion for his men. His insistent manipulation of the events as they unfold turn out to have the opposite effect of their intent and he manages to save no one from the ravages of war. In the end Kubrick pulls us back and reminds us that we all have the ability to touch our human side, the tenderness that resides in the heart. The final scene, a typical moment in most war films, where the troop is gathered to consume with hearty gusto some primal need. A young German woman, captured and at the mercy of beasts, is asked to sing for their pleasure. The ruckus in the room is so overwhelming that her pity and fear is almost unbearable to behold. It's a scene that has the ability to unfold with animalistic fervor and the crescendo of snarls being voiced by the soldiers expects only one outcome. But when she begins to find strength and once the soldiers hear the sound of her voice slowly rising to comfort them, they sink into a somber revelry that fills the heart with so much more power that even the machinations of war can't contain it.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Discovery #14

Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart (2010)

Ever since RocknRoll shook the world, quadrillions of youth (I still think of myself as young) have harnessed the guitar driven music to tap into a much needed release of aggression. As Kurt Cobain once shouted out to the masses, "Here we are now, entertain us!", the angst of our modern era is in constant desire to unleash the frustrated fury of never accomplishing our unreachable and unquenchable dreams. The many forms of Rock, from Punk to Garage to Grunge to Metal, have tried to convey the truth regarding the myth of American opportunism. Sometimes these musical thespians seem to really tap into a groove that threads into the soul of the audience, which is the ultimate goal, after all. Playing the music as loud as possible, I've found myself reaching down and hoping that the energy shifting around inside me will one day rip the mask off the face of conformity. Black Mountain has managed to tap that source inside me today. I've heard them described as Metal Folk, if that's even possible, but it just seems like good ole RocknRoll to me. Wilderness Heart is the third album I've heard by them and, even though I really liked them before, this one has many elements that take me back to my real youth, as well as connecting with my youthful heart today. I love their dual vocals and I feel myself celebrating the ripping core of eternity embodied in every power chord. You can hear it in your head, an eager chant of yes growing more and more powerful with every listen.

The Tiger And The Snow - Roberto Benigni (2005)

What a delightful film. Creative, imaginative, full of life, humorous, somber, beautiful. There seemed to be some sort of backlash against Roberto Benigni after his oscar winner 'Life Is Beautiful', which I enjoyed at the time but never went back to revisit to see what was the problem, but this guy is a really wonderful filmmaker. He immerses us (and himself) into a strange world that must come from his very own perspective and as we travel along with him we are given an amazing view that is always unique and interesting. In 'The Tiger And The Snow' he is a college professor divorcee who is raising two daughters and chasing after the love of his life (Nicolleta Braschi, his wife in real life) quite literally around the world. The movie begins very lightly, through a remarkably comical and vivid recurring dream sequence, to reveal the meaning of his life; he is in love and very few people know how to express love the way Benigni manages to do it. The second half of the movie has him (and us) using extreme persistence to get to Iraq during the U.S. invasion so that he can save Braschi from the clutches of death. His love is so remarkable that he will do anything to be by her side. Everyone has given up on her but the remarkable spirit of fortitude in his determination somehow comes through in the end. His absolute devotion toward believing in the indomitable spirit of life is such a wonder to behold and I found myself cheering for this strange and funny man as if it were my own life he was saving.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Discovery #15

High Places - High Places vs Mankind (2010)

Can you welcome us? Lift us up? Change our minds? Make us love? Can you give us a hand? Stoop down with full lips? Break that ache? Make us forget? Can you reach inside? Turn the screw? Pitch the field? So that no one kills? Can you eagerly taste? The dream that's real? High five the sun? Find redemption? Can you change your past? Bring revolution heat? Deep from your soul? And repeat repeat? Can you drive out hate? Embrace everyone? Serve them full? Starve out the cold? Can you find honesty? Within tomorrow's view? Give up deceit? Blaze into the hue? Can you arbitrate? Instead of maim? Shake the enemy's hand? And find ways to relate? Can you push back the way? Hunt devouring? Watch the smoke rise? Hear the bonfire sing? Can you search for it? The life you wish? Discover high places? Because they're a gift?

Hotel - Mike Figgis (2001)

Mike Figgis is a dream filmmaker. That means he makes movies about dreams, weird places that only can come from the the tiny corners of the imagination. I know that most of us are only aware of him because of 'Leaving Las Vegas', Nicholas Cage's primordial assault on hollywood but so much has passed since then and Figgis has evolved so dramatically that people need to reacquaint themselves with one of the most unique visionaries in American film. For me it all started with 'The Loss Of Sexual Innocence', a series of multiple vignettes that overlap and distort perception but ultimately create a incredible display. When I saw it ten years ago I was astounded and it really affected the way I looked at film afterwards. Hotel is probably as close to the tenor of that film as any others he's made throughout his career. Set in a Venetian hotel on the Lido the film follows a crew of filmmakers who are making an adaptation of John Webster's Jacobean tragedy 'The Duchess of Malfi'. In the midst of it all strange characters come in and interweave stories of assassination and documentation and cannibalism. But what is really interesting, if that doesn't catch your fancy, is the way that the movie is made. Stripped down and shot digitally, it's extremely beautiful because of the technique and that's all Figgis. He built these incredibly light-weight steadicams and he shoves the cameras into the action with intimate acquaintance and I just can't seem to get enough. I love diving right into the scene as if you're a fly that can perceive it from any vantage point. The actors all pull it off with supreme professionalism, especially considering that there was no script, only a simple idea that they all worked toward creating the finish product together. It has Figgis's unmistakeably deft touch though and I can't help but wonder how many people he's driven crazy over the years with his chaotic passion. It's a mess at times, you can't throw this many people together with very little guidance and not expect that, but in the end it comes with a very amazing sensibility that you rarely see on the silver screen these days.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Discovery #16

Lonely Drifter Karen - Grass Is Singing & Fall Of Spring (2008 & 2010)

Tanja Frinta is an old soul. Her voice is melodic and ancient, beautiful beyond repair. She causes the moon to swoon and the sun to dip in the sky. All she needs to make the world a better place is a sweet tune to back her and she may not even need that. Sometimes all you need to find a perfect place in your heart is to discover a quiet moment, someone serenading you as the night calls you into a dream. Then you wander through the landscape of a timeless place and find perspective that just isn't possible when you're awake. There's the echo of it, shimmering off the water with its luminescent presence. Grass Is Singing takes you to that place. It has a profound place in our time, an album that won't disappear. Fall Of Spring is a little more pop, trying to find a place in this modern moment, so it misfires at times. Tanja should go back to that puddle at her feet, a reflection of today but holding a glimmer of something more, something that speaks with a transcendence.

Happy Accidents & Transsiberian - Brad Anderson (2000 & 2008)

Who is this guy Brad Anderson? Have you heard of him before? Have you seen one of his movies? Do you know that he is one of the best kept secrets in Hollywood? Did you know that he has a reputation as one of the finest filmmakers here in the United States? Me neither. I've heard of many of his films but for some reason I have never seen one of them. That is, until we watched Happy Accidents. A little film that seems to come from the long vein from the romantic comedy heart. Yeah, sounds like something annoying but this one has a twist. The guy (Vincent D'Onofrio) is from the future and is in love with the girl (Marisa Tomei, not naked here) from a picture that he found so many years from today. It's funky and quirky and lovely. There's another twist at the end that has something to do with a side effect of time travel that makes everything go backwards for awhile but I won't give it away and it'll sound ridiculous even if I did. Let's just leave it with the point that Anderson just knows how to make a movie interesting; dialogue, cinematography, editing, it's all very impressive. Transsiberian is in the same boat. A thriller with brains is what I call it. It starts out like any other action movie, some drug dealer is dead and the bad guy corrupt cop has to deal with the mess. Enter a married couple (Woody Harrelson in a role that's basically Woody from Cheers who's grown up and found God, and Emily Mortimer, also not naked) who get caught up in the crossfire and have to deal with the consequences. There's intimate nuances that keep you interested in the characters without all of the cheap one-liners and enough intense moments to keep you on the edge of your seat. It's so cool to see films that try to keep the audience intelligent without boring the hell out of us. Again it works because of the guy behind the camera. He's got a few other golden tickets that I've read up on and they sound just as interesting. So we will be watching more Brad Anderson films in the future, unless life suddenly starts to go in reverse. Then we'll watch these two movies again, only backwards. I wonder what subtle messages we might find with that viewing?

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Discovery #17

Gonjasufi - A Sufi and A Killer (2010)

Crazy, mind blown halfway across the planet, on an ethereal desert drift that snakes its way through the landscape with transformative migrations, hallucinatory warp speed crunch graveled awareness that echos the underbelly ribcage distortion of organic fear, blocked by the mind's ravaged confusion, hurtled across the fiery lake into the eye of some hellish prison only to come out the other end with a humanistic heart, wallowing in the upper atmospheric revolutionary brain, angled toward the sun until it burns right through the retina and blinds everything in its path, destroys all of the fallacies that control our existence, making everyone come to a new realization that one day, in the all of the madness, we may find the truth, one day it will come to pass and that which lays bleeding back in the shadows was never worth the anguish and falsely titled god whose name we gave, it was never meant to provide any redemption or hope or joy, it was only meant to burden us with its degenerative disease, so we leave it back there, squishy in its own entrails and we walk out into the light and view the world through a divine lens.

Hiroshima Mon Amor - Alan Resnais (1959)

You know nothing of Hiroshima. These words follow us around during the opening sequence of madness that was the aftermath of the worse attack on human life ever known. It's vivid and nightmarish but the screen provides such wonderful gifts that you can't help but appreciate the kind of beauty that we sometimes find through the lens of a camera. Alan Resnais has a reputation of transforming the cinema and bringing a new awareness to the masses. It's amazing to view such a profound film that is over fifty years old but is every bit as unique as any masterpiece made today. The history of Hiroshima is one that brings fear into the mind, it's a warning of our modern existence that relies on the massive machinations of war that came out of this great destructive act. Resnais captures that feeling very well early in the film but he cross-references it with two lovers who are caught up in a moment of lust, two adulterers from the opposing cultures that fought in the war, as they come to terms with despair that is caught up in their own lives, in their past and possibly the future. It's a poetic film that immerses the viewer underneath the surface of guilt that consumes peoples lives but the entire time it's trying to lift us up to break through and breathe the fresh air once again, to feel the sun on our faces. We may know nothing of Hiroshima all these years later but the human spirit is dynamic and it does have the power to overcome such horror.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Discovery #18

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (2009)

I've always had a soft heart for melodrama when it comes to music. That's why I listened to bands like this back in high school and love this musician right now. Mumford & Sons totally trap me in that way. Their songs rise with this urgent idea of a higher place, like deep poetry or a painting awash with a majestic sunset. Most of the songs actually go from a whisper to a scream, ironically, starting with an intense gentle nature and building into an intense momentum of pouring out your soul. At least that's what it feels like to me. It's a formula that has taken over the rock world for generations and these guys are masters at the craft. Their lyrics also speak to me, full of love and hope and disregard for the hunger of authority. It either works or it doesn't, and with Mumford's rise to fame, it appears that their formula is speaking to a lot of people right now. I'm one of them, though I'm sure that in a few years we'll all look back and wonder what captured our imagination for those few moments in time. What can you do but ride the wave and enjoy the wind on your face as it goes from a gentle breeze into a gale force wind in about four minutes flat.

Cronos - Guillermo Del Toro (1993)

The best thing about Cronos, and most of Del Toro's movies, is that it has an essence that doesn't seem to come from any time or place. His films are usually about Spain or Mexico, because that's his heritage, yet he has tried some Hollywood films in between, which are much more lavish than his more introspective movies. Cronos was filmed in Mexico but Del Toro's style doesn't make it come to ground so obviously. It could be anywhere in the past fifty years and you would be hard pressed to disagree. That's why this movie will always be a delight for film students. Very few people have the ability to portray the world in their film without dating themselves but we immediately immerse ourselves in this strange place without worrying about such conventions. And what a world it is! A wealthy businessman is searching for a device in an ancient relic that has been missing for centuries: the cronos device. Rumor has it that the device is a vein to immortality. An elderly man who runs an antique store just happens to have it and soon becomes aware of it, not knowing what it does of course. It's in the shape of a golden beetle and once it connects to the body, it provides some sort of powerful substance that makes you grow younger and feel extremely vital. There's the obvious metaphor for addiction in all of it and the man's life eventually goes down a wicked road, as most tales of this sort tend to do. Yet, Cronos has such a wonderful feel to it that the camera takes you on this horrid path with such an exquisiteness that you can't help but appreciate what you are watching. The only part of the film that didn't quite stick with me was the inner world of the device, with its gears and organic matter working together to provide whatever nourishment these seekers of enlightenment are after. It isn't a proper explanation of the scientific aspects of the device and just allowing the imagination to seek out the remedy on its own would have sufficed. It's a minor detractor and doesn't really damage the structure of the film as a whole. There's much to admire here and since the filmmaker has such a unique vision, as we've seen in later films, it's a pleasure to know that the beginnings of Del Toro's repertoire is just as enticing as what has followed.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Discovery #19

Julian Lynch - Mare (2010)

This is minimalism. So quiet and assured, the soft essence of Lynch's music cuddling up inside you and making you feel okay. There's a moment in each song when I seem to feel the emotion that is being expressed; a sad love or the dream of a long lost reunion or a seething hate that can find no escape or the lapping wash at the river's edge or the anguish of losing someone so dear your heart can't breathe. Julian Lynch caresses our mind with these tales of whispers. He serenades us with the soft cry of an endangered horn. He shows us a place that we need to touch, something that we can feel within. That's the lesson of music like this, of jazz and folk and the ambient classical disguise. It's the reason we listen to music. It makes us feel close to ourselves, whether that means we want to dance or bang our heads or sing along or simply wallow down in the mad tremor of sound that goes beyond language.

The Good, The Bad & The Weird - Ji-woon Kim (2010)

There's a crazy attitude that is the film world of Korea. They seem to be searching for a form of expression that isn't tied down to any guide or theory. It's just madness but it's fucking great to behold. The past few years I've been loving quite a few Korean movies and this mocking remake of Sergio Leone's classic western by Ji-woo Kim is just as wonderful. Three men in search of their own redemption traverse the landscape of the Manchurian Desert in the 1930's. Following the trail of a map, hoping to discover a wealth of fortune at the end, the three men, along with all of their associated entourages, battle it out in colorful style and all the while the Imperial Japanese Army is on their heels. It's a fun romp with outlandish characters who have a rich background that is creatively dished out during the length of the film. It captures many of the elements of Leone's original but a highly stylized updated version, and with a Korean flair, of course.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Discovery #20

Curren$y - Pilot Talk (2010)

I wasn't a hip-hop fan growing up. Raised with a certain amount of institutional prejudice, it was difficult for me to open myself up to a broader awareness of the dynamic force of all cultures. Most of the time, the older we get the more we learn to box ourselves in but it wasn't until a decade ago when I realized that there was a diverse brand of beauty that was swishing right past. I had no idea what I was missing but I knew that my life would be better once I started listening. I began to explore the nuanced wonder of many genres of music and partake of the euphoric expanse of astounding sonic beauty that had lay hidden from my view for so long. I learned three basic factors that come into play for my appreciation of hip-hop. First are the beats and Curren$y grooves right along with my style. Another part of my upbringing that I avoided was the devil weed, marijuana. I was afraid of it for so long that when I first tried it, the paranoia almost devoured me but I was always mellow. My friends were astounded that I wasn't a stoner because they just assumed otherwise. Curren$y thrives on the mellow brand of stoner rap, as it's called and as my life reaches toward the end of its fourth decade, that type of rap is right in line with my nature. Second point is the flow. This is the essence of the artist; how he spits or lays it down or shouts it out. You know everything about a hip-hop personality based on their delivery. There are many times that a rapper is quickly dismissed because he just doesn't have that flow. Curren$y has a groove that slides through your veins and gets you moving, makes your voice want to come out in tune right along with them. The third thing that comes into play is the message, the content of the rhyme that is dispensed. For some this just doesn't matter as much as the other two and I can relate to that. There are some bands in other genres whose lyrics I don't necessarily agree with but their music is so amazing that you give them a pass. I tend not to do that as much with hip-hop. The message is so much more profound riding in the hustle and flow of this type of music that a clunky rhyme here and there can bring it down. Curren$y's message isn't too high-brow or low-brow for me. It's about scoring some weed and some chicks and drinking some drink. I can understand that but in the end it doesn't elevate my life all that much. I prefer my rap to roll with some consciousness and humanism but at least they got the first two down tight. That keeps me spinning their records and spreading the word.

Everlasting Moments - Jan Troell (2008)

What a profoundly amazing film from Sweden. Based on a true story, it's the tale of a working class woman named Maria Larsson from the turn of the 20th century who must overcome an assortment of struggles, mostly coming in the form of her overbearing and emotional husband. Told from the perspective of her daughter, the woman wins a camera in the lottery at the fair. It sits in the drawer for a long time until she randomly discovers it years later. That's when her life opens up, as the camera reveals a hidden world all around her that she discovers right through the lens. She finds solace in this world, as well as an intimate friendship with a man at the local photo shop who teaches her a thing or two about the device. But what she finds in her own heart as she begins to express her creativity is the most telling aspect of this film. The perspective of the story, brought to the screen by Troell, gives us a beautiful photograph of a time that seems so lost in the photos that we only ever see in magazines. This film really brings it to life and watching Larsson struggle with so many joys and pains that traverse along with her provides an understanding of life that we seldom get from the silver screen. It's a message that I'm always trying to discover in my own life. How do we bring out our most innate creative potential as the distractions of the world threaten to squash our efforts?

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

75 Months

We have reached another milestone with Lucas: he's lost his first tooth.

It's so hard not to notice that our little guy is growing up and this phenomenal event is bringing that reality very close to my heart. One of our new year's resolutions as parents was that we have to get more serious about Lucas's education. He's such a wise little man that we have the tendency to take him for granted. Sure, we've had moments the past year where he's resisted the efforts whenever it gets to be a struggle for him. He has natural ability in so many ways but learning isn't magic. It takes effort and Lucas is reaching that age where his lazy gene is kicking in. He's going to have to find his inner determination in order to overcome some of these difficulties.

One philosophy of parenting that Christina and I completely agree with is that our children must develop a strong work ethic. It's something that both of us have struggled with in our lives and when I look around at our society, I believe that it is one of the greatest downfalls of our culture. I'm not trying to point out any specific examples but I know that if we focused on working toward our dreams, then half of the crap that plagues our society would disappear naturally. A civilization that is full of those who structure their lives around the essence of what makes them happy will create value. This idea is a fundamental aspect of my life philosophy and even though I have many days where it's not being enacted as powerfully as I want it to, I know that if I forgot myself, then my life would swirl down a dank drain.

But it's hard injecting that type of work ethic into your children's lives. We have so many distractions and responsibilities before we had kids and now we need to find even more energy to focus on them during those few minutes we have left in the day. Well, here we go. 2011 is the year that Lucas gets serious and that means we have to get serious. I knew that the time would eventually come, never being of the mind that I needed to mold him into Mozart from the moment of conception, but it appears that six is the year where it's all going to come together. I truly believe he's ready for anything that we can throw at him.

First up: violin. Lucas is now in his third year of violin lessons and it's been absolutely wonderful. He took it up fairly quickly and he has the mental where-with-all to memorize songs very easily. We've been on cruise control with it for awhile but technically, he hasn't advanced that drastically. I could really see it when a boy his age played next to him. A year ago, they were very equal but, even though Lucas can play all of the same songs, this kid is just more sound with all of the technical aspects; posture, bowing, etc. I realized that Lucas hasn't developed with those things in over a year. He knows more songs but he's still falling back on pedestrian habits. He needs to grow with his playing skills and that means we need to be more vigilant. I know, without a doubt, that this other boy in his class has to practice assiduously and, though we try to get him on the instrument daily, it just doesn't happen with Lucas.

It's crazy to imagine how much we've changed as human beings since Lucas came into our lives. Christina and I look at life in completely new and revelatory ways. To think about the future in such a dramatic way, seeing your child's life beyond who you are, is so telling. It's the seed of compassion to imagine someone else's life with such care, that you wish only incredible fortune for them even if that means giving up on some of your selfish desires. Yet, you can't escape it. He's waking you up in the morning with his sweet-sour breath begging for cereal or dragging you out the door so that he can run ragged at the park. He's smiling at you with a toothbrush in his mouth, an empty space where his tooth used to be or he's dreaming in the dark of his room after the hours have stolen him away until tomorrow.

Today, I watched him scooter around the neighborhood as we went for a walk to do a few errands. He would race off ahead, growing smaller and smaller until he felt he was almost too far. Then he would look back with a big grin on his face. That's the exact mental image I wish to have of him growing into a man someday; eager and full of life but still looking back at us with hope in his eyes that we'll still be there watching him. He doesn't have anything to worry about because we will be there looking at him. Along with Quinn, Christina and I love nothing as much as the two of them. They have become our hearts.

I have to admit that there was also a hint of sadness skating on the sun as it cascaded down, spotlighting my beautiful boy. As the distance made him shrink in my eyes, I realized that, with each day, the memory of the little boy we cherished so dearly grows smaller and smaller, as well.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Discovery #21

Four Tet - There Is Love In You (2010)

First you lay one down. Let it run. Then you drop another one on top. And another. And another. Then lay down a voice. Let it swell. Burst at the seams. Bloat like a sausage. Steam pushing out through a pinhole. The aroma intoxicating. Until it's everything that you know. Until it blossoms into a new awareness. Then you slow it down. Lift one layer off the other. Let it melt back into silence. Or drop it out like a flick of the switch. Quiet. Only the echo remains. That's the essence of Kieran Hebden's musical experience. It's a beautiful dream. It's a wonderful trip down the scenic route. Take some time to travel down that path and you'll most definitely be rewarded.

The Road - John Hillcoat (2009)

I've been reading Cormac McCarthy for a few years now and his style of writing is completely unique and unquestionably powerful. He's captured an image of America that is vivid, honest and raw. It's the gritty passion of the old west but viscerally harboring all of the horrible flaws of our human experience. It's a really incredible ride to dance on the flow of words, to trudge on the descriptive hell of his novels. Thanks to the Coen Brothers, his stuff has gone mainstream and now we get numerous adaptations of his books on the big screen. His latest novel and newest movie is The Road and it doesn't disappoint. This world, imagined by the terror of the future as we continue to destroy the environment and perpetuate a state of war, is portrayed with dark abandon. A sparse collection of humanity remains under clouds of torment, wretched and sick, struggling to survive. Some have debased themselves, feasting on their fellow travelers, quite literally. Others just want to keep moving forward, hoping for a moment of peace, which doesn't come very often. It's not a happy place, this nightmare tomorrow, but it is awesomely revealed by Hillcoat's deft touch. It's unflinching and real, but very very human. I can watch movies that are extremely depressing to a degree as long as their is some ounce of humanity within the people who are on the screen. It's difficult to spend time in this world but absolutely worth every minute, and if you think this is tough, just wait til they film Blood Meridian.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Discovery #22

Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) (2010)

Erykah Badu makes the list this year and she could probably be on it every year because her music is just so damn sexy. Badu is the queen of groove, the maestro of funk and the kerouac of beatitude. With a smooth sweetness she gives us her heart, so big and full, expanding the limits of love and pushing us to such great heights. There are very few artists today that seem to put so much energy into creating positive musical karma and that is exactly what drives Ms. Badu. I'm sincerely looking forward to the New Amerykah as it plays out in our lives. There is no mistake that this country is in dire need of change and I'm all on board with Badu's brand of patriotism. Chapter Two has brought a gentle sway and a heavenly version of hope. May it become a permanent part of the landscape around here.

Extract - Mike Judge (2009)

Mike Judge has become one of the greatest comic minds of our generation. First he gave us Beavis and Butthead (see below) when we were apathetic twenty-year-olds who didn't know how to express our generational disdain for all that splashed across our teevees with phony abandon. Then he split open the cubicle walls with Office Space and gave us some relief from the boredom of our mundane and pointless existence inside corporate amerika. Then he dropped Idiocracy on us, so goddamn farcical and outrageous, but every ounce of it bearing bittersweet truth. Now, as we reach for our forties, he brings us the folly of our further adventures in the land of the red-white-and-blue: small business ownership. Enter Jason Bateman (a familiar face from our youth, of course), the owner of an extract designing plant, just a small dream for one of those who believes in the land of opportunity. Yet, somehow nothing ever plays out with the dignified grace of those Rockefeller ambitions. Through all the madness that occurs in the lives of the wacky characters in this film, Mr. Bateman must finally rediscover what truly matters in this life (something we attempt to do every day in ours). One thing is very clear here, Mike Judge sure knows how to write wonderfully wacky characters and in the hands of a mere mortal director, this movie just wouldn't have the stamina but in his capable grip, Judge gives us an incredibly entertaining film. If anything, this movie is worth watching just to see Gene Simmons (yes, that guy from Kiss), who plays an ambulance chasing lawyer, yell at our hero and offer a way out of all his problems. The only catch is that his "generous" solution involves Bateman's family jewels and a slamming door.

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