Monday, May 29, 2006

Handcrafted Thoughtful Rock

by Shotgun & Jaybird

Take me on a tour, a many-sided tour of your hometown, show me where you did all of your first things.

I haven’t seen Shotgun & Jaybird play live, but I have met some of the bandmembers, but I didn’t realize until later who they were. It wasn’t until I ordered the CD There Are Days and Then There Are Days from Sappy Records that it all connected together and some cool people that I met became cool musicians (to me). While most of the music that I’ve bought over the past year or so has been digital, the only way I could get this music was on an old-fashioned compact disc. I’m glad that I ordered it and it’s nice to have something arrive in the mail with a neat sticker too.
While the CD is nice, it’s really about the music. The lyrics are personal and the music is guitar-based and casual with a lovely handcrafted feel. A tiny bit folky and a little bit rocky with an emotional honesty. I liked it when I first heard it, but the more I listen to it, the more I enjoy it.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Funny Literary Adaptation

by Michael Winterbottom

Tristram Shandy was a postmodern novel before there was a modernism to be post about.

While I read a good chunk of Tristram Shandy, I don’t remember finishing it. But I do remember that it was very funny and somewhat bawdy and surprisingly experimental. With Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s novel, he manages to bring a sophisticated and yet anarchic vision to a story that is filled with digressions. The film manages to move effortlessly between drama and comedy and has a dizzying number of narrative threads running through it. It all feels casual, but as the story unfolds there is a great deal of control as more pieces of the puzzle fit together. While there is an intellectual level that is enjoyable, it is also a lot of fun. It’s a similar film in terms of style and structure as Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People but instead of the Manchester music scene, he explores a difficult (but entertaining) English novel.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Great Collection of Documentary Shorts

by Mira Nair

It’s very difficult to see short films and especially short documentary films outside of a film festival. Full Frame Documentary Shorts, Vol. 1 is a great collection of films that range from humorous to heart-wrenching. I laughed almost the entire way through Mira Nair’s documentary on the Laughing Clubs of India and I fell in love with the Mah Jong playing women of “We Got Us”. There is also a great portrait of a couple who have a family business that cleans up crime scenes and the fascinating story of the phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert and the people that were drawn to it. The DVD is like a well-programmed documentary screening at a film festival.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Fun Nouvelle Vague Musical

by Jean-Luc Godard

With Une Femme est Une Femme Jean-Luc Godard has fun with the musical. It’s a lot of intellectual fun with singing, dancing and Anna Karina. But with Godard he doesn’t just make a film, he also makes a film about cinema and he plays with the conventions of filmmaking to always let you know that you are watching a movie. The musical soundtrack will come in and out depending on what the characters are saying. People talk to the camera and wink at us. There are tons of references to the early New Wave films and Jeanne Moreau shows up to tell Belmondo that things are going well with the shooting of Jules et Jim. There are some great scenes that are silent as well where characters communicate using titles from stacks of books that they choose from a bookcase. It’s technically impressive, playful and fun for cinephiles.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Overview of European Cinema

by Michael Winterbottom

Cinema Europe gives an overview of European Cinema, but it feels a bit too long and with 6 one-hour episodes it is a bit repetitive. If you want to delve into the history of filmmaking it’s worth a look, but in the past 10 years the explosion of DVDs and features on the discs have filled in many of the gaps that show up in documentary series such as this. You can also see many of the films in the series in restored versions, but there are some rare and fascinating clips of early cinematic experiments and fragments of lost films. Check out Cinema Europe if you want to do some research, but it can be a bit dry at times.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Interesting Perspective on Iraq

by Michael Tucker (III)

Gunner Palace is definitely worth seeing as it gives a different perspective on the presence of American soldiers in Iraq. We get to see the day-to-day lives of a range of people in Iraq as things change. It’s well-shot and well edited, but the structure of the film didn’t really let me connect with what was going on. While parts of it were shot in a cinema verité style, the presence of the filmmaker narrating pulled me out of the events that were happening. It’s an important historical document and a glimpse inside a world that many people will never see or have forgotten about.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Simple and Beautiful

by Julie Doiron

Sometimes you find music or a musician that you should have found a long time ago and listened to. Finally I found Julie Doiron and listened to the wonderful words and music and voice and I am so glad that I did. It became inevitable when she showed up as one of my recommendations.
Goodnight Nobody is a simple acoustic collection of songs that are personal and clear and honest. There is a rough and loving handmade feeling to many of the tracks that make them seem like special moments that have been captured. I can’t really do justice to it through my words, but I know that I’m listening to it a lot.

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Dark, Beautiful and Empty

I have mixed feelings about Last Days. It’s very well made with beautiful images and great sound, but after all is said and done there isn’t much there, which I guess is the point. It’s worth seeing if you’re a fan of Gus Van Sant or are interested in more challenging, non-narrative, vaguely experimental films. I watched this just after I watched Notre Musique and I couldn’t help but have Godard’s experimental meditation in mind and while Godard is more uneven than Van Sant, the highs are higher. But what works well in Last Days is the stillness and silence. There are some beautiful quiet and empty moments as we watch the last days of a rock star.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

A review of "Notre Musique"

Why aren’t revolutions started by the most humane people?
Because humane people don’t start revolutions. They start libraries.
And cemetaries.

Seeing a film by Jean-Luc Godard is always interesting. They are dense, frustrating, wonderful, and challenging. Closer to poetry than narrative filmmaking they explore ideas and images and have some things that are interesting and some things that aren’t. Godard is definitely an acquired taste and not for everyone. I saw a great interview with Godard’s frequent cinematographer Raoul Coutard where he said that parts of Godard’s films may be boring, but they would also have some of the most memorable sequences that you’ll ever see. Notre Musique is divided into three kingdoms that parallel Dante’s Divine Comedy. It combines many ideas together and some work and some don’t, but overall it examines conflict and ways of connecting and overcoming that conflict. When it works, it works very well. Notre Musique isn’t Godard’s best, but it’s worth seeing if you like his work.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Summery Jazzy Music

by Jolie Holland

Jolie Holland has a voice that is almost like a clarinet. It’s light and fun and gently pushes the words out. She has a bit of fun with it too and it’s nice to listen to something calming and musical. Escondida is a warm and friendly like a beautiful summer evening. My favourite track is “Old Fashioned Morphine” which is an odd little song about why our heroine prefers Morphine.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A review of "The Gleaners and I"

Documentaries are a discipline that teaches modesty.

Agnès Varda is probably the most energetic and underrated of the directors of the French New Wave. In The Gleaners and I she makes a magical documentary that simultaneously feels casual (and causal) and playful and yet carefully and precisely constructed. Varda picked up a new digital camera and explored the possibilities with an energy and intensity that shows a deep and abiding love (and respect) for cinema as well as people.
The editing is remarkable as we follow those who glean and pick things up that have been abandoned as we also meet those who have been abandonded by society. A great film makes you see the world in a whole new way and I was surprised and moved by Varda’s gentle look at the world through her camera.

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A Nostalgic Look at High School

I had been hearing about “Freaks and Geeks” for a long time and managed to never see it, but finally over a period of a few weeks I watched the entire series. It’s a series that I connected with rather quickly and I recognized a lot of my own high school experiences in the show as well. It’s awkward, wonderful and terrible with great writing and a fantastic cast. They managed to nail the fear, excitement and boredom of high school along with sharp observations of the dynamics of families and friends.
While it’s sad that the show was so short-lived, it is lovinging preserved on the DVDs which are filled with wonderful extras and commentaries. What did we do before DVDs?

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Four Years of Bitdepth

My other site, bitdepth, has just passed the four year mark. It's hard to believe that I've been blogging there for so long. I still blog there and I'll keep putting stuff here as well. If you haven't looked at bitdepth, it's developed into a place where I write mainly about films (kind of like here...) but provide a bit more context than the shorter things here (which is why it's a digest...).
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Sunday, May 07, 2006

What Matters is the Journey

by Neil Jordan

I saw Breakfast on Pluto during the Atlantic Film Festival last year and it was one of my favourite films of the year. Now that it’s out on DVD I watched it again (two days in a row, actually) and liked it even more. It’s filmmaking at the highest level, with all aspects done perfectly, from the writing, shooting, editing, direction, music and performances. Cillian Murphy is wonderful as a person who struggles to discover their identity in a turbulent world torn apart by violence. It’s an oddly uplifting story set against a tragic background that brings the range and power of Irish literature to the screen under Neil Jordan’s direction.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Competent Mission

by J.J. Abrams

There isn’t anything really wrong with Mission: Impossible III, but there isn’t anything really bold or surprising either. There are a few action sequences that are great, but I never really cared that much about the characters and it all seemed very calculated. I loved Mission: Impossible II and John Woo basically combined a series of action sequences with a connective tissue that strengthened the relationships built tension between the characters. Tom Cruise is perfect as Ethan Hunt – too perfect. He looks great and moves great and nothing is ever wrong. I couldn’t help but think of 24, which manages to be a bit more exciting covering similar territory, but always keeping the focus on the characters. While the first Mission: Impossible played with the characters and relationships and the second one was structured around the action, the third one carefully balances everything in a nice safe package that I don’t regret opening, but it’s something that I wouldn’t really watch again, unlike the first two in the series.

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Classic Noir Story

by Rouben Mamoulian

Laura is a classic film noir that explores many of the themes of the genre without having a lot of the distinctive look. Noir is a state of mind, and Laura is a lot of fun with witty, rapid-fire dialogue and quirky characters. It’s filled with interesting twists as we find out more about the woman who is murdered and realize that we know less and less. A good film to see to see more of the subtle characteristics of film noir.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

OK Documentary on the Military Industrial Complex

by Eugene Jarecki

For me it didn’t get off to a good start. The opening music of the film reminded me of Philip Glass and seeing some archival footage with that music made me think of The Fog of War which is one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen. It’s not good when you start thinking of another film at the very beginning of a film.
But it’s not a bad film and there are some good moments in Why We Fight and a lot of confirmation of things that I had known about. So while I didn’t have a problem with the message of the film, the structure just didn’t work for me. There were several narrative threads that went throughout the film and they were fairly skillfully weaved together, but the spacing and pacing made in more academic than emotional. I would have liked to have spent a bit more time with some of the people in the film as they explored and explained the ideas.
Many of the ideas and issues were explored in a much more nuanced and personal way in The Fog of War, so if you had a choice between two films to watch to start thinking about war, politics and how it changes people and the reasons for using military power, it’s a much better place to start.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Funny Updated Film Noir

by Harold Ramis

While I think that The Ice Harvest was marketed as a comedy, it’s more of a darkly funny thriller or film noir. John Cusack anchors the film as the antihero in the midst of a mid-life crisis where he must make moral decisions. He’s also a mob lawyer. While it’s not a great film, it’s definitely enjoyable if you like Mr. Cusack or film noir or seeing Billy Bob Thornton as another cynical con man. One of the things that I found interesting about the film was how boldly it veered between humour and violence. It’s a slightly odd mixture, but worth seeing if you’re in the right mood.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Experimental Melancholy

by Sparklehorse

Maybe it was in a dream, or maybe I heard it somewhere else, but when I heard the song “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the film Happily Ever After I instantly recognized it. I first heard Sparklehorse in a short film by Gariné Torossian that was constructed around the song “Babies on the Sun”. I haven’t seen the music video for the song “It’s a Wonderful Life” (which was directed by Guy Maddin) so that’s not where it’s from. But somehow, when I heard it, it struck a chord with me.
Beautifully orchestrated with a melancholy tone throughout (and a track with Tom Waits!) it’s become an instant favourite that is perfect for when I’m in a more casual mood. Scratchy and a bit experimental without electronic overtones, it’s has an analog feel with more traditional instruments forming the background instead of synthesis. I don’t have the words to describe it accurately, but take parts of Radiohead, Boards of Canada, a little Tom Waits, and smooth it out a bit and you’ve got something close to Sparklehorse.

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