Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Discovery #1

Gayngs - Relayted (2010)

Talk about melodrama? This takes it up tenfold and expands on it and meshes it and blows it out of the water. It's so unfathomable that I almost don't know what to say. There's flamboyant pianos and intricate beats blending over angelic harmonies awash in a poetry that imagines a gaudy extravagant means toward salvation. I feel like I'm on a drunken ride of magnanimous proportions when this music speaks to me. The past decade has been called the naughties, as in zero, and I like to refer to it as the era of elimination. I don't mean that as a nullification of identity or as a brain fade but as in the globalization of cultures. We have the means now to learn from so many different languages from around the world in very quick and drastic ways. It's wonderful! It's changing our attitudes about nationalism, an adjustment that is vitally important for our future. We are awakening to a human identity, a global citizenship, as in we are all connected by the intimate aspect of our humanity and in no way does this truth bear out than in art, in music, in the creative spirit that is inherent in every person. Bands are now melding across cultural lines and blending various styles of music in the creative process. It is allowing dynamic new forces to come forth and lets us indulge in a broad range of experimental and classic forms. Gayngs embodies this idea in so many ways and with some heavy mixing in the process, they have come out with an album that just feels absolutely perfect. It's gotten under my skin and I can't let it go. It's fabulous!

Silent Light - Carlos Reygadas (2007)

Just watch the opening shot (below) of Reygadas's film and you can never go back. It is one of the greatest spectacles in cinematic history. A time-lapse dolly of epic proportions and it is a mindblowing visual display of creativity in the universe. It's these moments that show the wonders all around us. We see them every day and we appreciate them in our own way but sometime it takes finding a new perspective through someone else's eyes to see it fresh once again. It's a very slow and beautiful shot and it embodies the pace of this movie, Silent Light. It's a shame that our culture doesn't reward intimate thoughtful spare movie experiences in meaningful ways. Movies like these may get some applaud amongst the circles of critique or a nod during awards season but never will they cause a stir in the sphere of public appeal. I suppose it says something about our culture but who wants to wallow in such device whilst describing their favorite movie for the year. Silent Light is about a family in a Mennonite community in Mexico. The father must come to terms with affection for another woman, a simple plot full of intrigue but Reygadas gives us a unique take on the genre. What little dialogue exists in the movie is obscure and poetic but the heart of the film is the grand visual storytelling that traces across the screen. Reygadas used people who actually live in the Mennonite community instead of professional actors (which may be the reason for so little dialogue) and he manages to get such heartfelt performances from them that they float upon the screen in a very natural way. It's a difficult film to to behold and after a couple of hours of such a gradual meandering pace filled with little more than exquisite shots, I can understand the reason some may wish to give up on it but the denouement comes together with such sacred clarity that it's worth every second. Take the time and have the patience for this gem, it's one of the great films of our era.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Discovery #2

Bonobo - Black Sands (2010)

This is about as perfect a mixture of heavenly beats and groovilicious rhythm as I've heard in a really long time. And it isn't just one song, it's every song, it's every ounce of music falling upon you like fresh snow, cold and clean and delightful. Bonobo is the brainchild of Simon Green, a producer from Britain, who has been around since 1999. Damn, why haven't I heard about this guy until this year? A do-it-yourself magician of electronic music he is revered as a pioneer of the independent mindset, working outside the studio system to bring music that is truly from his heart. These are the type of artists I adore and covet. You can hear their individuality and passion blowing out of the speaker with every thump of downtempo bliss, with every soft melody flowing from the throat of Andreya Triana, another self-taught independent who sings on three of the tracks for this album. We all understand the energy that comes from those who are hungry, who wish to provide an honest expression in this world that tries to devour any individual thought as quickly as possible. It's a ravenous culture that wants to consume this youthful spirit as if it were our own creative reflection but the lazy convention of this spectator view ultimately has the power to destroy that energy, turning it into a shallow expression of its former self. So it's wonderful to find a musician who continues to defy this culture with every beat, every breath, every strain of muscle, especially when their creative life has over a decade old.

Bright Star - Jane Campion (2009)

Jane Campion is one of the greatest filmmakers of our era. She has an incredible vision for cinematic storytelling, really reaching down and touching the heart of tale. Bright Star is a phenomenal amalgam of her talents and it attests to the growth of her artistry. Bright Star follows the story of the poet John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne during the last three years of his life. It's a wonder to wallow in the poetry of this film, where each frame brings a beauty that speaks to the heart but, due to the great director, it never falls into melodrama. The actors portray the characters with honest realism and the struggles of developing friendships and relationships are actualized with all of the natural strangeness of everyday life. I can't help but appreciate filmmakers who are willing to handle their films with such openness and hope for the audience to accept it. We've gone so far to the opposite extreme in our fascination with fantasy and dishonesty with the movies that are thought of as successful that it's difficult to believe that people are willing to give in to an emotionally bare portrayal such as the one we find in Bright Star. Personally, I feel that poetry lifts the soul to such great heights and I search for it, devour it, express it as much as possible. So it was such a great pleasure to discover Jane Campion's film and, as much as I looked forward to viewing it, I'm equally eager to think about it and talk about it and share it with anyone who is willing to listen.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Discovery #3

Warpaint - The Fool (2010)

There's a seething calamitous angry melancholy riding below the surface. It wants to devour everything that exists in the world because of the ravenous plight humanity has unleashed in our lifetime. It causes the red to glare out at the night and threaten with dismay, to pierce through the fog of ignorance that has enveloped all. This entity that rides in the air and searches through its bird's eye view for those responsible beckons with a harsh wail causing all to cower under the reign of terror. There's a part in all of us who waits for the fall. It's the evil nature that resides in our souls, a negative force that curdles around inside, waiting to whisper its nasty message that undermines all hope. It comes in waves, slow and building, until we feel ourselves coming apart at the seams, the thread stretching and straining against the voice. It's natural, this anguish that settles in us, but we don't have to give it access to control. We can harness it and use it to create value. I know it sounds impossible but we always have the means to turn poison into medicine. We simply have to learn the proper alchemy, to twist the elements to our liking. Music does that for me and Warpaint has become my seething voice. I want it to be so loud and all consuming but it never quite gets there. It only teases with its ethereal presence. So I use it, I turn it into a massive poetic force so that I may see the beauty of tomorrow, once again.

Summer Hours - Olivier Assayas (2008)

Olivier Assayas is a filmmaker who is creating valuable and interesting cinema. Summer Hours is a wonderful film that I reviewed earlier in the year on this very blog. It's about family and loss and acceptance. It is a very subdued film that taps into our human interactions with such beauty and clarity that it brings an honest tenor to your heart. I warmly encourage everyone to check it out and look for films like this because they help us understand the world a little better through the strong voice of art.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Discovery #4

Christian Scott - Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (2010)

Sometimes you hear music and it feels so definitive that it blows your mind. I believe that there are musicians who tap into a moment that is so primal and powerful that they expand the consciousness of humanity. They create a sound so massive that it will forever blast the immortal refrain. It doesn't happen often and it's not always very obvious when it occurs, like maybe it takes a few years for people to understand the breadth of change that is happening. Christian Scott doesn't have to worry about all of that because he's been getting accolades and prestigious awards for the past year now with this latest album, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, and for good reason. This is one of those moments and right now, Scott is Jazz music. I remember the first time I understood Jazz music - lying on my sofa in our first apartment after we got married, I smoked a little of the green and put on John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, and the drums echoed their way down into my subconscious so effectively that I saw the purpose of life, I saw the age-old question of human diversity and I saw the dream, and my mind expanded with each beat, with each flow of saxophone delicacy, with every ounce of heart that was wrapped up in Coltrane's madness - It was magnificent! Christian Scott has that energy and he is now showing us the world through the lens of enlightenment. He is offering a brief awareness of the spiritual wonder of music.

I Am Love - Luca Guadagnino (2010)

Uh, how do you say "WOW" and truly mean it? Christina and I like to cook and there are times when we've accomplished a truly amazing feat in the oven. The taste enters your mouth and it's an awakening. It helps you love this life a little more. There is a moment in this film when Tilda Swinton experiences that feeling and once it happens, she can never go back. And why would she go back? To her enormously wealthy family? To her massive and lush home? To her incredible privilege? How can all of that compete with the heart? It never will if you seek happiness in this life. This movie is lush and beautiful and lovely and hard for those involved. It expresses a very primal understand that we need to feel alive in order to live if we are to ever appreciate this small place given to us. Nothing lets us feel that way but love. The bloom that waits in the burst of the bud is where it waits. We have to allow it to come forth, to give ourselves this gift. It's terribly sad when we don't let it come out, when we delude ourselves that this life has other meaning. There are so many tempting devices to distract us, after all. Yet, we truly know in our hearts that there is only one path, one outcome that can touch the heat in our veins. We have to grab it and cherish it because it really is the only thing that makes us feel majestic.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

76 Months

Our perspective on life comes from those who teach us, the special people in our lives who give us guidance that we believe in, a teacher or mentor in life and definitely our parents. Lucas is getting most of his unique view on the way that the world looks because of us, Xtina and me. Whether that's a benefit for him, time will only tell the tale.

I was raised as a Christian, being taught to believe in the grand idea of an almighty God that looks and acts like human beings, and that Jesus was the personification of that belief sent down to represent humanity's understanding of God in the flesh. It's a strange and lasting story that remains a powerful driving force in our western world. I followed along with this charade for years like a good Christian child until I reached the time in my life where I needed to find belief in myself. In order to do that I had to come to terms with many of the elements of this theology that just didn't quite make sense and, as we learn more and more about the universe, aspects that continue to evade even some basic reason. That's not to say that people who follow the Christian mytholgy do not gain benefit from the teachings, as much of the philosophical understanding of our experience in this lifetime comes down to relating to certain metaphors that help with all of the mystical gaps that our limited awareness is unable to interpret. I believe that this metaphorical interpretation of life through the eyes of various religions can be very profound and helpful in many ways but only if they are addressed with the definitive awareness that they are simply metaphors that we continue to cling to in order to help us through the vast and blinding night.

That wasn't the way that I was taught Christianity and, for the most part, that is not the view that we see when we look at this faith in our culture. It is represented as the truth, it is viewed as a reality, not metaphor, and that is simply something that I have difficulty with because there is no possible way to prove the validity of that dogmatic stance. Unfortunately that opinion isn't the way that most of the western world views the Christian faith and that means that Lucas is being raised in exact opposite of most of his peers.

Something that I tend to take pride in regarding our parenting methods is the way that we are trying to inform our children. Regardless of the subject, we try to be as open as possible with them while also keeping a close eye on certain influential elements that can hinder their growth. For instance, for a child who is six, I believe that the aspect of our culture that we should shield from them the most is violence, which is at the heart of all deviant behavior. Yet, I have no problem talking to Lucas about the nuances and purpose of religion and the way people use it in their lives. He knows that there is a large variety of different religions in the world, as well as being aware of the extraordinary diverse collection of cultures and life philosophies that help guide human beings during this era of life. We are introducing him to all of them but the most abundant religious experience in his life is coming from our Buddhist practice that he sees on a daily basis.

At first I thought that it was good that he was coming from a different perspective and I admired his determination to stand by his belief in the face of opposition. You see, some of his friends have already confronted him about his trangression, as they see it, but he stood up to them and argued and expressed his awareness, as limited as it may be at this point. But a strange thing began to occur. He's become more and more adamant about his belief that "God is not real!", so much so that he shouts that exact phrase with loud determination whenever the word God is introduced in conversation. It's actually pretty surprising how much the word pops up because we've been hearing his signature denial of the almighty very frequently indeed.

This all was a bit amusing at first, expecially beacuse I agree with him, but as it's escalated we've had to come to terms with the runaway train that we set loose. It reached the tipping point the other night when we had my mother over for dinner, who was the parent that was instrumental in the childhood religious education that I mentioned earlier and who still firmly follows the tenets of the late Jesus Christ. Right in the middle of dinner we started talking about the death of George Shearing who is commonly referred to as God by a certain influential writer from half a century ago. Throughout the conversation Lucas was shouting at the top of his lungs regarding his perspective on the existence of a certain deity whenever Shearing's nickname was introduced, much to the bemused shock of his Grandmother on his right elbow.

Now, what I was truly bothered about, wasn't that he was offending his grandmother, so much as that he was being so disrespectful while doing it. The main problem with the conflicts occurring between many of the religions around the world is that one doesn't have any respect for the other. The most important aspect of our human community is the basic understanding of the sanctity of life, which is at the root of all religions, all philosophies. It is impossible to denegrate another human being and not give up this valuable understanding of human interconnectedness. Once that happens, our devotion to our faith begins to lose validity. We no longer have the power to affect a profound and positive change in the lives of others.

Not only that, but Lucas was just annoying the hell out of me. Imagine how he might be annoying to those people who truly do believe in the idea of a Christian God, even if they are only six-years-old? So we had a long talk the next day about respecting other people and the purpose of dialogue in our mutually civil society. No, that's not a joke, and it wasn't the first time that he was given a lecture like that. Like I said, we tend to tell him more about any given subject, rather than less.

But I'm so proud of him in many ways. He does have immense confidence when communicating with others. He believes in the power of his words and he's willing to express it. I never did that when I was a kid. He can stand on a stage and play a musical instrument in front of thousands of people. Something else I didn't do. He has a strength that I always hoped would become him, but he's also very sweet and joyful and generous. Were also beginning to see that he has passion, as well, a fire that burns with dignity. Just something else to admire, I suppose.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Discovery #5

Gotan Project - Gotan 3.0 (2010)

The Gotan Project has been my favorite band since I stumbled onto them five years ago. I immediately began to devour all of their music and their reprtoire continues its heavy presence time and time again here at CasaWeX. So I was extremely excited to discover that they were delivering their fourth album this past year. This was one of the ones that you feel under your skin when you hear about it, a tingling purr that blushes the veins, and it didn't disappoint. What a wonderful blend of old-fashioned flamenco style rhythms and modern down-tempo beats. It takes you to another world, filled with the beauty of raven-haired dancers with smokey eyes beckoning under the dark leaved canopy of a forest dream. It sets you down in the midst of any major city in the world today, the diverse urban landscape crossing through all the people as they taste the sweetness of tomorrow. It takes you into a magical place and for awhile you are able to escape the pithy Amerikan atmosphere that rarely allows such a distinctly creative force to take hold with the type of passion dreamt of within the land of angels. I love it and version 3.0 was a delight to experience.

Seraphine - Martin Provost (2008)

Seraphine was an unknown painter in France during the turn of the 20th century. She worked as a housekeeper for middle class families and, unbeknowest to her employers and neighbors, painted to candlelight far into the night. She was discovered by the famous German art collector Willhelm Uhde while he was staying in Senlis. During a dinner party at his neighbor's house he found one of her still-lifes and was astonished that it came from their housekeeper. He would promote her work from that point on, with a brief lull during the first world war that disrupted most of Europe. She ended up becoming quite famous during the late 20's but would eventually become disconnnected with her work and her fame, leading to her internment within a mental institution where she would pass away a decade later. This French film, which won seven Ceasar Awards, follows the story of her life with incredible devotion and it was rightfully recognized as the top film of the year. It's an amazing film, filled with beauty and wonder, just like Seraphine's artwork. The camera work is astounding and the visual journey we take along with this remarkable woman is worth every second. She saw everyday life as a form of enchantment and she used the world around her to enhance her paintings, even getting her pigments from the natural sources, such as flowers and plants. It's one of the greatest displays of an artist ever presented on the silver screen and it was only her mental collapse that brings down the tone of the film in any way. The perspective of Art is a constant changing animal that we all understand in some unique form, whether consciously or subconsciously, and to be able to watch such a beautiful expression of a historic moment in the human development of Art is remarkable, especially when it is done so superbly.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Discovery #6

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (2010)

This is modern day youth angst defined. If I was a teenager, this would probably be my favorite album of the year. So full of energy that wants to burst forth and claim the world's atrocities in one clarifying shriek, to shout down the madness of those who influence today the most. We all look around and see the stupidity and confusion of our modern world, brought on by greed and anger and violence and oppression. It's everywhere we look. We watch it and it gets us worked up and if that isn't happening to you then you are an ostrich. Crystal Castles are very very aware of the phenomenon spreading across the globe. No one puts it down with such driving beats and intense melodies and anguish shouting madness. I can hardly think straight when their music assaults my senses but I don't care. I only want to know, to remember that we have so much more to fight about, that we have to stand up and shout if we are really going to change things for the better. This is the path, this is the word, this is the message. Make your life something worthwhile so that tomorrow will be special for all of the children of today.

Incident At Loch Ness - Zak Penn (2004)

This movie was a crack-up. I still find myself smiling as the images and situations loom up in my mind like some prehistoric beast slivering through the murky waters of a loch in Scotland. The reason it is so amusing is because of Werner Herzog. If you haven't heard of this man then you must become acquainted with his work as soon as possible. He's a mad maniacal genius who has made some of the most incredible films of the last forty years, all done outside the studio system. He's also acted in some of the more quirky independent films along the way and here he gives us a taste of both worlds. The one defining aspect of all of his work is that it always appears that he is so profoundly sincere about the subjects that you can feel that sincerity coming right off the screen. It's totally refreshing to witness that, especially in a creative field where that kind of honesty is always trumped by the need for greed. Even though he didn't officially direct this "documentary", it appears that he had a lot to do with this film coming to light. It follows Herzog, as himself, filming a documentary about the Loch-Ness Monster, in which terrible disaster overcomes the entire production. Herzog is very clear from the beginning of the film that he doesn't believe in any of the tales surrounding the great myth of the Loch-Ness Monster but then everything begins to fall apart. Zak Penn, also playing himself and who ends up being the director of the final edit, is the producer of the original endeavor but manages to undermines the production by bringing in a bunch of characters who aren't exactly what Herzog needs for his film. It all just turns into a mess where everybody gets angry with everyone else and the only thing that stops them from killing each other is the fact that they have to worry about a greater menace lurking in the water. The best part about all of it is their undying attempts to make it all seem real. Everyone plays themselves, the film crew, the captain of the boat, even the model Penn brings in for visual appeal. They all go along with the drama of the event. Even the special features on the disc follow along with the story, right down to the audio commentary feature that is commonly available. It all is supremely well-made and quite funny. The one telling aspect that gives it away is that Penn makes himself look like the biggest ass of the entire affair. Now, it may very be likely that he just is a big ass in real life but why would he edit it in such a way that he looks like such a big ass? It's a minor thing to overlook in order to see such a great take on the meta-nature of the film industry, perceived so well through the lens of Herzog and company.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Discovery #7

Beach House - Teen Dream (2010)

Pure bliss. Beach House is Sunday morning laid back lifestyle personified. We all have an idealized place of comfort that we conjure into our mind when we imagine the most perfect place on the Earth. For some of us that image is one of ghostly beaches, white sand spreading off in the distance, no one around, the emptiness existing only for you. Or amongst a thick crop of pine trees spreading across the mountainside, snow on the ground, a fire built up in the hearth, warming every aspect of your existence. Or in the penthouse suite overlooking a cityscape, the night sky reaching out with its twinkling fingers to touch a lush dream, the cold crisp air lifting you up to even greater heights. Or the glassy reflection of a lake just off the porch, lemonade and ice in your hand and the buzz of nature in your ears, the heat shimmering with liquid vision. Or the sweating night of a loft in the midst of New Orleans, jazzy beats floating in the open window, whiskey burgeoning in your blood causing the rush of the dark hazy ambiance to fill your veins and give into the lounging affair. All of them as idyllic as possible, the dream of perfection, so hard to discover. Teen Dream takes us there, wallows in that place we've all come to know in our hearts.

A Prophet - Jacques Audiard (2009)

We've all seen this movie: young, petty thief goes into prison with nothing and comes out in the end a criminal mastermind. It's a classic movie formula that has been used and abused until the end of time. I'm sure that this film will not be the last one to explore the genre but it may be the last one that you ever need to see again. Jacques Audiard has become a well-respected name in France and that says a lot about the quality of filmmmaking. He's always been incredibly nuanced with his cinematic storytelling and his films come across as intelligent and real. That's because he wishes to reveal the true heart of his characters and the lives that they lead rather than pandering to a simple-minded audience that yearns to shut off their brains for two hours. He tackles the prison system with his fifth film and it's a world of terror and influence and jealousy and commerce and guilt and injustice. It takes a master to show all of the inherent flaws and prejudice that engulfs the prison industrial complex without getting bogged down in that type of narrative. A Prophet is ultimately about an individual who learns how to become a smarter criminal and with a strange bit of luck and mysticism discovers a way to the top of the food chain. Sure, it's an indictment but it doesn't come across as preachy. Instead we are witness to a beautiful and brutal depiction of our westernized form of punishment.

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