Saturday, December 15, 2012

Top Films 2012

My list of the top films I've seen this year.  There is no particular ranking.  Some of these films are new releases and some are old. Also, it would take me weeks to give all of these films the special attention they deserve. 

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (1968)
William Greaves
A significant experimental documentary about the process of filmmaking.  Worthy of noting is Greaves' creative use of split screen processing.  I hope more people discover this film. 

One of the first films I watched in film school was Un Chien Andalou (1929) and I remember being shocked by its experimentation.  The ending of Simon of the Desert is surreal, outrageous, and absolutely brilliant. The chamber drama of The Exterminating Angel had me laughing.  At the same time, I kept thinking - he shot a masterpiece that takes place in a music room!

Fish Tank (2009)
Andrea Arnold

A British film about Mia (Katie Jarvis) a 15-year-old lonely and isolated teenager who has a talent for dancing and becomes attracted to her mother's boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbinder).  This is a gritty and emotional drama.  It is interesting to compare this film with Silver Linings Playbook...

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
David O. Russel
I love David O. Russell's work.  This is a mash up of genres and a lot fun.  Reminded me of the madcap films of the 1930s. Great acting - especially De Niro's performance. 

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson continues to make interesting coming of age drama/comedies.
Skyfall (2012)
Sam Mendes
This is clearly up there with the great films of the Bond franchise.  Javier Bardem's long take entrance and monologue about rats was absolutely brilliant.  Great action film that actually raises some interesting points about transparency, surveillance, and terrorism in the digital age.

Room 237 (2012)
Rodney Ascher
A highly engrossing documentary about the various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.  This documentary demonstrates how time-shifting technologies are impacting spectatorship, allowing viewers to closely exam the moving-image. 

The Leopard (1963)
Luchino Visconti
Made by one Italy's best filmmakers.  Long, slow, beautiful, and ethereal.  The wedding sequence at the end is unbelievable.

From Here to Eternity (1953)
Fred Zinnemann
Excellent melodrama before the attacks on Pearl Harbor.  Important film for its depiction of sexuality in the early 1950s. 
Bernie (2012)
Richard Linklater

One of the best performances of the year.  Black should be nominated for an Academy award.  I love the structure of the film - reminded me of Bob Fosse's Lenny (1974).

Death of a Cyclist (1955)
Juan Antonio Bardem
Made by Javier Bardem's uncle, great thriller from Spain in the Hitchcock tradition.
49th Parallel (1941)
Michael Powell
See my random review.

Amreerka (2009)
Cherien Dabis
Great melodrama about a Palaestian mother and her son who move to Illinois.  At times a bit sappy, but I really liked this film.

 Advise and Consent (1962)
Otto Preminger
Long and excellent film made by one of the greats of the classical period.  With all of the sex scandals in politics, this film is even more important today.  Betty White has a small role.

The Guard (2011)
John Michael
Hilarious and smart movie.  Great dialogue.  I particularly loved the gangster's conversation about Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Bertand Russell early in the film - very funny.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
David Fincher
David Fincher continues to make great movies.  The chemistry between Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara works very well.  I love how the film combines digital technologies and physical materials such as documents and photos to solve the mystery.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Random Review - December 12, 2012

 Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Writen and Directed by Preston Sturges

CAST: Rex Harrison as Sir Alfred De Carter; Linda Darnell as Daphne De Carter; Rudy Vallee as August Henshler; Barbara Lawrence as Barbara Henshler; Kurt Kreuger as Anthony Windborn; Lionel Stander as Hugo Standoff; Edgar Kennedy as Detective Sweeney; Alan Bridge as House Detective; Julius Tannen as O'Brien; Torben Meyer as Dr. Schultz. 

Unfaithfully Yours begin with Alfred, a famous orchestra conductor arriving in town from London.  At the airport, Alfred meets his wife, Daphne and her sister, Barbara and her husband, August, and Alfred’s business manager, Hugo.  We find out that August had been looking after Daphne while Alfred was away.  But August actually thought that Alfred wanted her literally followed, so he hired a detective.  This angers Alfred.  August gives Alfred the detective's report which he tears to pieces.  As the film continues, Alfred keeps receiving a copy of the detective’s report.  Finally, when he meets up with Detective Sweeny, he rips up the original report so no more copies can be made.  But then Sweeney tells Alfred that Daphne had been seen with Tony, suggesting an affair.  Later that night, Alfred heads to the concert hall for this performance.   

Over each number, Alfred envisions three scenarios of on how he would evoke revenge on Daphne.  The first vision is a skit where he murders Daphne and pins the blame on Tony; the second is Alfred forgiving Daphne and writes her a check for $100,000; and that last is Alfred forcing himself, Tony and Daphne to a game of Russian roulette, resulting in Alfred shooting himself.  The films ends with Alfred in a prolonged slap stick skit of trying to orchestrate Daphne’s murder, which, of course, completely fails.  But at the end he learns that Daphne was not with Tony.  Yet, Daphne never finds out what was on Alfred’s mind - the three imagined scenarios of her death.

An object that plays an important, but subtle role throughout Unfaithfully Yours is the use of zippers and in relation to Alfred's reluctance to read the detectives report.  During the restaurant scene, early in the film, Alfred approaches August and asks him for the detective’s card.  The image cuts to an extreme close up of the wallet as August unzips it and retrieves the card.  Of course, Alfred tears the card into pieces.  But what is striking about this moment is that Sturges amplifies the sound of the zipper to draw our attention to the object, suggesting that there is something happening in Alfred’s head that neither the spectator nor the characters are privy to. One possibility is that Alfred has always been insecure about his marriage to Daphne because of his age.

For example, Alfred states to Daphne before heading to his concert, (paraphrasing) “Movies fits your culture better.”  So when Sweeny tells Alfred that his wife was with Tony, he assumes the worse, which leads to his visions of enacting revenge on them.  It is at this point in the film Sturges “unzips” Alfred’s head so we can see his mind's eye - the three fantasy sequences.   

But for Daphne and the other characters, they are “zipped up” and, of course, not accessed to Alfred's visions.  They can only hear the music, oblivious on why Alfred acts so peculiar at the concert.  In between the numbers, Hugo approaches Alfred backstage praising his conducting. Hugo ironically states to Alfred, “What vision do you have in your head?” It is only at the end, when the letter finally arrives at its destination, that Alfred learns that Daphne did not commit adultery.  All the work Alfred put into ripping up the detectives story, Alfred finally gets the truth of the letter, which zips the story shut.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Top Non-Fiction Books 2012

Below is my top list of non-fiction books I read this year.  No particular ranking.

Straightedge Youth: Complexity and Contradications of a Subculture
by Robert T. Wood

Wood's sociological and cultural studies account of the straightedge music scene greatly contributes to the field of subculture.  Wood's central argument is that when members become disenchanted with the values of their subculture, sub-groups form out what he refers to as "schisms."  Straightedge was a result of a schism in the punk rock and hardcore scenes of the early 1980s.  This is a great companion piece to Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style.

War and Cinema
by Paul Virilio

Virilio's central claim is that the development of film technologies are intimately linked to warfare technologies and strategies of war.  One of Virilio's best books on speed and technology.
How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics
by N. Katherine Hayles

I became interested in Hayles' work in a course I took at Claremont Graduate University on Visual Research Methodologies.  Hayles' book explores the question of embodiment, materiality and virtuality in the age of high technologies.  A complex read, yet totally rewarding.  I learned a lot about cybernetics. 

Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno
by Miriam Hansen

Superbly written book on the writings of Kracauer, Benjamin, and Adorno, three great writers of film and culture of the twentieth century.  I particularly enjoyed reading about the various stages of Benjamin's canonical essay, "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."

 Optical Media
by  Friedrich Kittler

Unapologetic as a technological determinist, Kittler traces Renaissance art to computational machines. The key points is that the emergence of optical media now allows us to store, transmit and process information.  This is a great read and very accessible. 

Widescreen Cinema
by John Belton

Belton considers economic, historical, and technological factors that led to the film industry's conversion to widescreen in the 1950s.  To compete with television, the film industry marketed widescreen and bigger and better sound as if you were going to an amusement park.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman

Postman argues that forms of television have significantly impacted the production of knowledge in everyday life. He attacks television that takes itself seriously, especially when it involves politics. Highly polemic, this is an essential read for those studying television.  I kept thinking about this book during the Presidential debates this year. 

Roman Polanski
by James Morrison

Excellently written by my colleague and friend.  I had the great pleasure of taking film classes taught by Jim.  This is a fabulous book on Roman Polanski.  Highlight is the chapter on Rosemary's Baby and the occult.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Top Fiction Books 2012

My top list of fictional books I read this year.   No particular ranking.  Other lists will soon follow.  I thought of the music show Later...with Jools Holland when putting my lists together, looking at literature and film from a variety of genres and time periods.

The Mayor of Casterbridge
by Thomas Hardy

The story of Michael Henchard begins with him getting drunk at a fair and then selling his wife.  Remorseful of his actions, he gives up the drink and eventually becomes the mayor of Casterbridge.  When I read the back cover of this book, my first though was that this book has to be read.  A great melodrama.  One scene worthy noting is when the townspeople skimmity ride through the town to publicly shame Henchard and Lucetta.  This part of the story demonstrates that big new scandals and carnivalish ways of gossiping have been around for quite a while.  Hardy leaves us wondering whether or not this is a novel of fate. Probably one of the best books I have ever read. 

The Shining
by Stephen King

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of my favorite films and what led me to go to film school in 1993.  I finally read the book to see what Kubrick left out of the story.  This is a great book and much different from the movie.  Whereas King emphasizes the supernatural, Kubrick underscores the psychological.  I particularly love the The Wasp's Nest sequence.  Of course, in the novel you get a deeper understanding of Jack Torrance and his dissent into madness. There are some really scary moments, especially "The Elevator" scene.  King is a great storyteller.

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury 

Bradbury's dystopia world where books are banned and burned.  Great book about literature and mass media.  It is worthy to note that this book came out shortly after Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's essay: "The Cultural Industry," which deals with mass entertainment and mass culture.  Francois Truffaut's film adaption of the novel is also worth checking out.  

The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells

One of the great all-time science-fiction novels about Griffin (the invisible man) who takes residence in a small village to conduct his research.  Griffin eventually turns to robbing the villagers in order to generate money for his rent.  Once the villagers discover that Griffin is invisible, a mob is formed and they attempt to capture him.  I kept thinking about Michel Foucault's work on the panopticon as I read this. In many ways, Griffin intensifies the villagers' sense of looking and self-scrutiny in a sort of surveillance fashion.  When it comes to surveillance, Foucault argues that it is not that someone is actually watching you that makes the panopticon effective.  It is the fact that you don't know if someone is watching you and what internalizes the gaze.  I believe Griffin has this effect on the villagers.

by Jonathan Frazen

Franzen covers a lot of ground in this long tale of the Berglunds family.  Franzen takes his time, providing the reader a detailed account of each character.  The description and dialogue are excellent here.  The storytelling is non-linear, suggesting the disconnection of the Berglunds.  I particularly love the character Richard, a disenchanted punk rocker who has a sort of strange relationship with Walter Berglund.  Though not as great as The Corrections, this was a long, yet rewarding read.  Franzen is one of our best contemporary writers.

Young Hearts Crying
by Richard Yates

Yates' gritty and melodramatic novel about of the Davenport couple.  For more, see my random review.

The Dead
James Joyce

Joyce's beautifully written novella at the turn of the twentieth century.  See my random review on John Huston's film adaptation.

Mother Night
by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut's novel tells the story of Howard W. Campbell Jr, an American Nazi playwright living in New York city.   See my random review about the film adaption. 

From Hell
by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

Alan Moore is known widely for writing Watchmen, probably one of the most important graphic novels of the twentieth century.  From Hell deals with Jack the Ripper which speculates the motives behind these horrific murders in England.  This is a haunting, gruesome and philosophical tale on the nature of evil and madness.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Random Reviews - November 3, 2012

Young Hearts Crying, Richard Yates, 1984

This was a book recommended to me by my wife who has read all of Yates' work.  Yates is known widely for his book Revolution Road, made recently into a film directed by Sam Mendes.  This is a powerful and gritty book about the marriage and divorce of Michael and Lucy Davenport.  It spans almost forty years, beginning with Lucy and Michael's meeting at Harvard and their marriage in the 1940s, ending somewhere in the late 1970s.  The novel's twist is that Lucy comes from money and has inherited 3 million dollars.  But Michael refuses to live the life of a wealthy couple, and decides they should live by everyday means.  This is because Michael is an aspiring poet and believes that wealth will distract his passion and imagination as a writer.  This is a brilliant move on the part of Yates, because it directly taps into the novel's emotional realism about creativity and the struggle of the everyday, something one would likely find in the works of Charles Bukowski.

 Young Hearts Crying has similarities to the emotional experience of watching a John Cassavetes film.  Yates' minimalist and Hemingway-ish dialogue is pungent and hits you right in the gut, so to speak. The dialogue also indicates the novel's passage of time.  For example, you can hear Michael's dialogue changing as he becomes older.  I also could not help noticing how many moments in the novel are reminiscent of the character Pete Campbell from the show Mad Men.  One wonders how much inspiration Matthew Weiner may have gotten from Yates's work?   

Michael and Lucy have their own separate stories after their divorce, as they each try to pick up the pieces and carry on with their lives.  Part of their struggles stem from the desire to create, whether its Michael hyper-focusing over one line of dialogue in his poem, or Lucy seeking approval for her paintings from her neighbor and artist Nelson.  Like the book itself, its about tapping into those deep emotions and trying to find the right word or image to convey expressions of loneliness, melancholy or frustration.

The Watchmen, 2009, Zak Synder

Watchmen has had a long history in Hollywood.  It was acquired by Hollywood in the late 1980s, and a number of directors have been attached to the project, including Terry Gilliam.  I even purchased a copy of the screenplay in the late 1990s from a nascent eBay.  When I finally heard the film was actually in production, and then saw a trailer in 2008, I was quite eager to see how director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Sucker Punch) would adapt what many have called the "Citizen Kane" of comic books to the screen.

Snyder compacts twelve chapters of Watchmen into roughly a three hour film.  The set design and art direction of the film are magnificent.  The film's use of colors and light, in many ways, reminded me of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.  I would even go as far as to add that the film has a sort of surrealistic quality.  I also love how Snyder incorporates popular music as part of the score.  Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, is fantastic and has a Taxi Driver/Travis Bickle-like quality.  As a side note, I highly recommend reading Rorschach's back story in Before The Watchmen, written by Brian Azzarello, writer of 100 Bullets.

Many reviews for Watchmen have not been ethuastic.  Yet, I believe that as time passes,  Watchmen will be considered a significant film in the cannon of the comic book film genre.  Putting that aside, Watchmen, as a graphic novel, is arguably an important work of literature of the twentieth century.  Overall, I think the film is quite entertaining and something of a tour de force for its tone, art, and set design.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Random Reviews - September 18, 2012

Lost, Fringe, Person of Interest

I recently finished watching all six seasons of the television show Lost (2004-2010) - thanks to the wonderful technology of video streaming.   For the sake of those who have not seen show, I have tried to avoid listing specificities that would ruin the plot. In a nut shell, Lost tells the story of a group of survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 marooned on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Lost is clearly one of the top television shows of recent years. The show covers many themes, such as science, religion, and family. But probably the topic given the most attention is the question of fate.  Here, the writers do a great job keeping us wondering if there is a greater purpose for the survivors of flight 815. Lost's puzzle narrative structure helps to underscore this notion.  Some random notes (after all, this is a random review): Michael Giacchino's beautiful score; the diversity of characters and different representations of races; and cinematography, editing, and acting-all work very well.  Lost deservedly won a bunch of Emmys.  But I was surprised that none of the women were nominated for their work.  Lastly, there are some fantastic stand-alone episodes.  I particularly loved "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead," which some critics, apparently, did not like.

I am finding myself drawn more and more to J.J. Abrams' fictional Universe.  I recently started watching Fringe - another great show of Abrams'. Fringe is like the scientific version of the Twilight Zone.  If Rod Serling gave us existential reasoning for the show's strange happenings, Fringe attempts to scientifically solve them!  Topics covered are telekinesis, shapeshifting, spontaneous combustion, and suspended animation, to name but a few.  Walter (John Noble), the eccentric scientist, does a convincing job to prove the scientific validity of these strange happenings.  Noble's humorous antics also help to balance out Fringe's graphic imagery.

 All of these shows strikingly share a commonality: a depiction of a post 9/11 society of paranoia. These shows, in many ways, are a microscope into our culture of rapid technological innovation, speed, and surveillance.  Abrams and Matt Reeves really tune into these features in their frantic, science-fiction, disaster, monster, digital cinema film Cloverfield (2008).  I guess in certain ways these shows can be compared to the paranoia films of 1970s, such as Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).  This is not meant to be a generalization.  But I like that the writers of the show address these issues.  Finally, I recently read that Star Trek 2 is heading into production which begs the question: does J.J. Abrams sleep?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Random Reviews - September 7, 2012

More random reviews...why not?

The Dead, John Huston, 1987

John Huston's last three films before his death in 1987 is a tour de forceUnder The Volcano (1984), Prizzi's Honor (1985) and The Dead - three outstanding films made respectively within a period of three years.  I highlight his final film - The Dead which is based on James Joyce's short story from The Dubliners. The film closely follows Joyce's story, providing viewers with vignettes of the yearly gathering of the Morkan sisters in January of 1904, which include singing and dancing, a piano performance, and recitation of poetry. There are many wonderful moments in The Dead, particularly the serving of the goose and all the different courses of foods during dinner.

The Dead is a beautifully slow and meditative non-narrative film.  It takes place when the western world was beginning to witness social and economic changes due to modernity.  Of course, Joyce's style of writing would later become associated with the broad movement of modernism. The film hits upon a number of issues, such as the political tension between Ireland and England, conversation about opera, discussion of about literature and clothing fashion of the time. There is also a sense of loneliness that pervades the story.  We eventually find out that what lies beneath this gathering is an unspoken tension between Gabriel and his wife Gretta, performed wonderfully by Huston's daughter Anjelica Huston, who had recently won a supporting Oscar for her supporting role in Prizzi's Honor.    

This is extraordinary filmmaking from man who began his career in the golden age of Hollywood - a time when a film like The Dead and its non-narrative style of would have been hard to find. The ending of The Dead has to be one of the most beautiful and power passage of prose I have ever read.   And Huston wonderfully captures this ending sequence of Gabriel self-reflecting on the fleeting nature of memories, the cosmos, "and the living and the dead."

49th Parallel, Michael Powell, 1941

This is a compelling propaganda war film made by one of Britain's finest filmmaker, Michael Powell, who also directed films with Emeric Pressburger, such as A Canterbury Tale (1945), Black Narcissus, (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and Pepping Tom (1960).   

After the sinking of their U-boat in the Hudson Bay, six Nazi sailors must evade capture as they travel across Canada. They meet different groups of people that challenge their Nazi rhetoric. One scene in particular is the Nazi speech by Peter (Anton Walbrook), the leader of the group, who tries to spread Nazism upon the peaceful Hutterite community--a group of people who happened to be of German descent.  Peter's speech literally scared me to the bones.   

This is a powerful film made during the time before U.S. entered the war. The final sequence of the film clearly alludes to this - a strong message to America to break with its isolationist stance. The poignancy of film's title addresses this as well: the geographical divide between the U.S. and Canada (the 49th parallel) - a divide that may have had no meaning or purpose for both countries if America did not join the Allies.

Most of the film was shot on location, which gives the film a realist quality.  Laurence Olivier plays a great role as Johnnie the trapper. 49th Parallel also deservedly won the best screenplay Oscar in 1941. This is clearly one of top films of the war genre.  It is great that Criterion released this one.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Random Reviews - August 29, 2012

Here are some random reviews of a few movies I had recently seen.
Collateral, Michael Mann, 2004.

Michael Mann is known for his film noir/gangster films such as Thief and Heat as well as his 1980s postmodern television show Miami ViceCollateral fits nicely with these clutch of films.  The story occurs during one night and is about a taxi driver (Max) who is forced to drive a hit man (Vincent) throughout Los Angeles. The films stars Jamie Foxx (Max) and Tom Cruise (Vincent), in one of his finest performances.  

Collateral is shot in high definition, which was kind of big deal when it came out in 2004.  Although there were slew of films that had been shot on digital video, this made a splash for its big budget and big stars. Collateral demonstrates that digital video can depict vast landscapes through deep focus photography.  This is, in particular, what stands out in Collateral: namely, the film's emphasis on empty spaces of Los Angeles in order to create atmospheric tension.  I was reminded or Alex Cox's cult masterpiece Repo Man, where cars traverse lonely highways, bathed in a panoply of washed out neon colors of Los Angeles (see image below). Of course, one of the great filmmakers to depict empty space and loneliness is Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni.

There is also great use of popular music and score in Collateral.  Mann is known for his hypnotic and majestic use of the synthesizer.  And it all works here.  An element that I have been focusing on in my own research is the soundtrack or popular song as narrative digression.  We found many moments of musical digressions in Collateral in order to build atmosphere and moods that reflect character interiority.  This is a way of moving the narrative without overt causality.

Lastly, the final moments of the film is classic Michael Mann, where Vincent philosophizes the code or life of the gangster.  This scene, in particular, calls our spectatorship into question.  We begin to question Vincent's motivates as a killing machine--even sort of feel bad for him.  It returns us to a question Vincent poses to Max earlier in the film: "Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars and a speck on one in a blink...that's us. Lost in space. The universe don’t care about you. The cop, you, me? Who notices?"

Drunken Angel, Akira Kurosawa, 1948
Drunken Angel is widely known as Kurosawa's first collaboration with Toshiro Mifune, an actor he made many movies with.  The film tells the story of gangster, Matsunaga (part of the yakuza), played by Mifune. Matsunaga is diagnosed with tuberculosis by an alcoholic doctor and will die if not treated. The doctor cares about Matsunaga and believes he can both cure his disease and free him from his gangster life.  Matsunaga, however, is stuck between these two worlds, uncertain if he can truly escape the yakuza.  But does he really have a choice or is it his fate to die? Of course, fate is a central tenet of film noir.

The setting of the town is located near a contaminated lake, possibly the cause of illness amongst its inhabitants.  One of the most striking scenes in the film is Matsunag's ocean dream, where he encounters his own death, filmed hauntingly in slow motion. Kurosawa seems to be channeling German Expressionism in this sequence--especially Mifune's excessive gestures and over the top expressions.  One wonders if Ingmar Bergman was influenced by this scene when he shot the fantastic dream/death sequence in Wild Strawberries? This is an extremely fine film made by Kurosawa during the time when U.S. had occupied Japan post WWII.  Mifune's performance is outstanding and does a terrific job embodying the character of Matsunaga.

 Mother Night, 1996, Directed by Keith Gordon
Mother Night was released during the surge of Independent cinema in the 1990s.  This is a gem of a film and surprisingly not mentioned amongst the great films of the 1990s. Mother Night is a story about Howard W. Campbell Jr. (Nick Nolte), an American Nazi playwright living in New York city.  We found out that Campbell was a spy and sent undercover to transmit special codes during his Nazi propaganda speech during his radio program.  Only a few people know this about Howard.  One person in particular was an agent of the U.S. War department, which Howard refers to as his "blue fairy godmother" played by John Goodman.   Howard chooses to live in New York City after the war.  After meeting his neighbor, George Craft (Alan Alda) things become complicated for Howard, eventually leading to his imprisonment in Israel.  

The film moves back and forth through time, during Howard's being locked up in a jail in Israel (filmed in black and white) and the recounting of his life until imprisonment. This is an intentionally slow moving film with fine performance from Nick Nolte, John Goodman and Alan Alda. Like the novel, the film brings forth complex questions of morality, with a bit a black humor.

As a random note, although the film closely follows the book's narrative, it does not attempt to match the film's aesthetics to Vonnegut's fragmented writing style.  I always felt there is a bit of the absurd in Vonnegut's brilliant prose.  And I believe there has only been one filmmaker who captured the absurdity that Vonnegut depicts in his works - and that is George Roy Hill and he is dead.  For this reason, I also highly recommend Slaughter House Five - one of Hill's best films alongsideThe World According to Garp.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Edgemont, Lipstick and Cigarettes, Fear Report

I wanted to give a shout out and support to my friends who recently released music this past summer, including myself.  Overall, I was blown away by the music on these three releases.  The sound quality and musicianship are all excellent here.

First up is my friend Anthony's band Edgemont, from Minneapolis, who released their EP entitled Like It Is.

Anthony and I have been friends for a long time and have shared tons of music that we have written over the years. I was very excited to hear about the release of his EP, which was a long time in the making.  There are many musical influence the make up the seven songs of Like It Is. There are traces of Coldplay, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. What I really enjoyed about these seven songs is the hypnotic sound and poetic lyrics.  My favorite tracks are "Uncomfortable Comfort" and "Things I've Known."

Second is my friend Erik's band Lipstick and Cigarettes from New Jersey.

Like Anthony, Erik and I have been good friends for a long time.  We were both drummers and played in hardcore bands in high school. Erik and I use to share my drum set and played in a band together called Harsh Reality.. 

I just downloaded Lipstick and Cigarettes' new release entitled About Last Night. There are so many styles happening in these songs. The Killers mixed with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol and a spice of Goth.  I love the 1980s pop sound, especially the Ric Ocasek influenced vocals.  Stand-out tracks are "About Last Night" and "Alibi."  I also highly recommend their first EP self entitled Lipstick and Cigarettes.

Last is my friend Dan's band Fear Report.  Dan and I met in film school on Long Island. Dan runs a great website called IndieTalk.  He also wrote and directed an excellent short film called To Skin a Cat - shot on beautiful black and white film. So one day Dan tells me he started a band.  I never knew Dan had the chops for singing!

I highly recommend his new album PandemicThese 13 songs encompass a range of styles - Chevelle, Stone Temple Pilots, Cold, and Faith No More.  There's even a flavor of punk thrown in.  I really enjoyed the tracks "Wasting" and "5 Dirty Cents" - overall, a great batch and diversity of songs on Pandemic.

Edgemont, Lipstick and Cigarettes and Fear Report are all available for purchase on Itunes.  And visit their websites for shows and updates.  I love that independent bands use the Internet as a source to circulate and promote their music independently.  This is not to suggest that the Internet is solely responsible for their music - it just makes it easier to share and transmit their music.  

But getting reviews and comments can be challenging for independent artists.  So I hope I can help support them with this posting.  Congrats to my friends for continuing to write and record great music.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Postcard Book Trailer and Thoughts on Quadrophenia

This is a trailer I made for my book The Postcard.   

For the past year and a half, I have been independently selling my book as both e-book and book format.  I have been exploring different ways to promote my book and thought: why not make a trailer?  I recently saw a documentary on The Who's Quadrophenia  (one of my favorite albums) and was inspired by the photos in the CD booklet (taken from the album).  

The photos narrate the experiences of Mod youth Jimmy in 1964. The images reflect the ephemeral and fleeting nature of Jimmy's memories.

The photo below of Jimmy and The Who is one of the most striking images of the story.  To the left, The Who leaves the Hammersmith Odeon during the present time (1973); to the right, Jimmy (1964) watches The Who.  As pointed out in the recent documentary on Quadrophenia, the space between these two planes of action mark a gap of time.  Jimmy, in a sense, is looking into the future and angry about that The Who as big arena rockers, which is depicted in the song The Punk and the Godfather.

Looking to Quadrophenia for inspiration made me think about the significance of album artwork and its combination with music (also see my posting on Archibald Motley and Jazz).  The album's artwork is something to study as one listens - a fusion of image and sound. In addition, albums can evoke memories of the listener - this is something I tried to depict in The Postcard when James buy his first Iron Maiden album.  Also, see my friend's YouTube postings about his experiences on collecting vinyls.

The Quadrophenia photos gave me the inspiration to make the trailer for my book.  I found this to be a great experience in terms of trying to capture the mood and feeling of the narrative.  More so, it made think about the importance of music and album artwork, and how CD and MP3s have changed this relationship.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

All Out War - Sum of All Fears Demo Release

Its been almost twenty years since I left All Out War.  Out of nowhere, I found out that a small record label called Organized Crime Records re-released AOW's first album "Truth in the Age of Lies."  And, to my surprise, our first demo "Sum of All Fears," recorded in the summer of 1992, is included with the re-release as bonus tracks.  Also available is a very cool limited 10 inch record of the demo.

All Out War was influenced by both hardcore and thrash bands of the 1980s.  Back then, fusing these musical styles was something quite new, which only a hand full bands attempted. My memories of recording "Sum of All Fears" was hot, sweaty, and brutal.  A garage converted into a studio in Garfield, NJ, all five us packed inside and everything had to happen in one shot.  No digital machines for us!  If you made a mistake, missed a cue...start over.   My only regret was that we did not record the original version of "Witness The End."   We had other songs written during that period as well, including an aborted "Sum of All Fears" which we played a few times in the Hudson Valley in 1992.  One memorable show was at a pizzeria in a mall in Wappingers Falls that booked local bands at night...that's Upstate, NY for you!  I also posted some video clips on YouTube from a show we played in Albany, NY in 1993 - sorry for the sound quality.

"Destined to Burn," "Struggle Within," "Fall From Grace," "Stuck Inside," and "Day of Judgement," these five songs are the roots of All Out War. The only one to go through significant changes was "Stuck Inside." I can only speak to this period of time since I had the left the band at the end of the summer of 1993. And there isn't really much I can add to what Mike already wrote on the sleeve for the 10 inch.  One thing I can state is that I believe that our identity was solidified in the extremely slow and grinding riff in "Destined to Burn" that opens the demo.  Hardcore bands often started with fast riffs, we took a different road that is still being explored by the band twenty years later....