Apparently still reunited, Dinosaur Jr. is crossing the US this spring:
March 29 2006 Gypsy Tea Room Dallas TX
March 30 2006 Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Austin TX
March 31 2006 Warehouse Live HoustonTX
April 01 2006 House of Blues New Orleans LA
April 02 2006 The Moon Tallahassee FL
April 03 2006 Free Bird Cafe Jacksonville FL
April 04 2006 House of Blues SCN. Myrtle Beach SC
April 05 2006 9:30 Club Washington DC
April 06 2006 Cat’s Cradle Carrboro NC
April 07 2006 The Orange Peel Asheville NC
April 08 2006 Variety Playhouse Atlanta GA
April 09 2006 City Hall Nashville TN
April 10 2006 Young Avenue Deli Memphis TN
April 11 2006 The Vogue Indianapolis IN
April 12 2006 Blue Note Columbia MO
April 13 2006 Liberty Hall Lawrence KS
April 14 2006 The Fox Theatre Boulder CO
April 16 2006 The Depot Salt Lake City UT
April 18 2006 WOW Hall Eugene OR
April 19-20 2006 Great American Music Hall San Francisco CA
April 21-22 2006 The Troubadour West Hollywood CA
When commenting Stylusite nyabinghi [sic] remarked in Chris Panzner’s review of Factotum that it sounded like the Best Movie Ever, I couldn’t help but agree in hyperbolic spirit, the combo of Bukowski’s ostinato alcoholism and Bent Hamer’s deadpan whimsy seeming a perfect match. Turns out two boredoms equals a boredom: can’t say, post-umpteenth firing of Matt Dillon’s Chinaski, I was satisfied with Hamer’s implicit acceptance of the lush’s idiocies. Episodic but repetitive, the languor gets nowhere.
On the other hand, if you, like me, enjoy your languor distilled into one big ambiguous steam bath ala the second half of Blissfully Yours, Old Joy offers it pretty literally, in the hot springs of Oregon forestry. Must say the Portland scenery made me ultra wistful, but what little there is of city life director Kelly Reichardt mines for maximum amiable ambience. Portland, my hometown, is still the only city where I can start up a conversation with any old street-walking meth addict without getting anxious, so a final chance meeting between Will Oldham’s Kurt and a noble derelict struck a personal chord. It also helps that I just left a budding P-town relationship behind, albeit one of a different nature than Old Joy’s renewed MOM friendship. Here unsettled, out-of-place Mark (Daniel London) and coercive metrosexual windbag Kurt wade through quietude in the form of backyard meditations and moist, secluded hikes, and disruptions in the form of smoothie-blending homelife and raging cicadas. Point being that tea-drinking granola-crunchers have their way regardless of location, be it greenery or suburbia – the film opens with a diatribe against the withered values of stay-at-home liberals, so like Yours, Joy offers the possibility that its bliss is feckless and redundant. Either way, this is a wonderful film, in a subtle, becalmed key.
I’ve mentioned the occasional walk-out-heavy screening here, but none has come close to the 30 or so in Sharon Lockhart’s structuralist experimental work, Pine Flat. And here’s the catch: most of them darted during the second shot. And we’re not talking about Monica Bellucci, taking it in a tunnel; we’re talking about a little girl reading a book. This is just one of 12 static takes loaded with the Mystery of Youth – what is she reading, we wonder, but also who is watching her, our prolonged gaze instilling a voyeuristic discomfort – and those filmgoers able to tap into that mystery are few and far between. I almost want to applaud the remaining audience members more than Lockhart herself (brave artist that she is), whether they “know” how to watch the film, or simply have the contemplative courage to at least try. There’s a guilelessness to the child actors harking back to the days of Lumiere, an innocence that is both very real and fastidiously organized, e.g. when two making-out couples seemingly commit to each other just by holding close indeterminately, it’s actually the final gesture of the girl who lifts her head up for air before swooping back down that confirms her romantic faith, undiscouraged by the need to breathe.
Cho Chang-ho’s The Peter Pan Story has a tricky title, but it makes perfect sense, if taken as existential plea, with the emphasis on “forever young” pained and fraught. Benignly opening with a happy-go-lucky swim training montage, Cho abruptly gives us suicide, nothingness, the enervated willpower. Bellicose teammates pushy in getting hero Hansoo back on the team are shown in obsequious negotiations a split second later. Nylon pantyhose is a fetish object and accessory to crime. Dealing in tonal dissonance and contradiction, Cho’s film is a virtual crash course in Semiotics 101 – if this movie were a song, it’d be the Buzzcocks’ “A Different Kind of Tension”. The director has assisted Zen arthouse superstar Kim Ki-duk, but I prefer the disciple to the master, on the basis that two meanings are better than one. Just as Justin Lin is doing Oldboy, perhaps this can be worked into an inspirational sports drama retitled Nihilism Road.
So, funny story. Right before Maria Maggenti’s Puccini for Beginners, I pull my glasses out of the side pocket of my backpack (I lost the case, and they actually aren’t even my glasses, but that’s another, longer story), and realize the left lens is missing. I can see shit reasonably clearly with only the right in focus, but the image looks just a bit blurry in a pretty headache-inducing way, so I tear out some paper from my notebook, color it black, wet it with spit, and drape it over the left socket of the glasses. Makeshift eye-patch. Worked like a charm. So glad we’re dealing with a 2-dimensional medium here. Not to be arrogant, but that story is more interesting than anything in this movie. It was also fun to see Maggenti introduce it while sexing up star Justin Kirk, the former obviously smashed and the two obviously banging each other. Even funnier is that Elizabeth Reaser’s bi neurotic bangs both leads of Flannel Pajamas in this movie. Which reminds me of a new organization I’m starting, the CAMJN, or, Critics Against the Miscasting of Julianne Nicholson, taking applications now. She’s so strident and sitcommy here it’s nearly possible to look at her and not fall in love all over again, which is just wrong. The movie? There’s some nice mockery of overused academic rhetoric, my favorite gag being the recurring auto-criticism “Author X is misogynist,” and these opera-loving thirty-somethings are more plausible than those in Match Point, bringing post-feminist hermeneutics to the table rather than archaic grandiosity. But basically, I usually shudder when I hear wispy retirees toss the descriptor “cute” at every other film playing here, but that’s what this is, more or less: inoffensive, free-spirited, pretty dumb, hey look there’s Julianne ohmygod.
On February 1, spoken word and hip-hop artist Saul Williams will release The Dead Emcee Scrolls, a new work published by MTV Books that contains a mix of poetry and nonfiction commentary. Williams is currently on a promotional tour:
2/1 - Arcata, CA - Humboldt University [spoken word]
2/2 - Sacramento, CA - California State [spoken word]
4pm - Sacramento, CA - Barnes and Noble [book signing]
2/3 - Los Angeles, CA - Eso Won Books - 7pm [book signing]
2/7 - Lawrence, KS - University of Kansas [spoken word]
4pm - Lawrence, KS - Borders Books and Music [book signing]
2/9 - San Bernadino, CA - California State [spoken word]
2/10 - West Hollywood, CA - Book Soup - 7pm [book signing]
2/13 - Kent, OH - Kent State [spoken word]
2/14 - Notre Dame, IN - University of Notre Dame [spoken word]
2:30pm - Mishawaka, IN - Barnes and Noble [book signing]
2/15 - Middletown, CT - Wesleyan University [spoken word]
2/16 - Newburgh, NY - Mt. Saint Marys [spoken word]
4pm - Newburgh, NY - Barnes and Noble [book signing]
2/17 - Bethlehem, PA - Moravian College [spoken word]
2/21 - Walla Walla, WA - Whitman College [spoken word]
2/22 - Twin Falls, ID - College of Southern Idaho [spoken word]
In news that will delight pale, sullen types the world over, the UK reissue label Renascent have set the date for the release of their four Comsat Angels reissues as Mon 3rd April 2006. They include repackaged versions of the Sheffield gloom-merchants’ first three studio albums Waiting For a Miracle, Sleep No More and Fiction and the collection of BBC sessions Time Considered As A Helix of Semi Precious Stones.
There’s a very good Q & A with the band on the Renascent Website’s Comsat Angels section, which reveals among other things the full story behind the Sleep No More drums-in-a-lift-shaft thing and that Steve Fellows likes 50 Cent.
I haven’t had a new change of clothes since arriving here Thursday. Honest, right? But also awkwardly unnecessary? I hear ya. What’s preferable: truthful provocation or blissful ignorance? Bobcat Goldthwait probes this dilemma with crude but thoughtful aplomb in Stay, a movie about [spoiler] rippling through the foundations of suburban complacency. The Housewife in Denial has long been a satirical dead horse, but what’s novel about Stay is its willed discourse, its skewed, multi-faceted appraisal of whether to spill the beans. Goldthwait smartly renders his dystopic nuclear unit, each member defective not by inheritance but by human caprice or long-trodden rebellion. I really enjoyed the Dad character (spare imdb page = vagueness), long used to servicing his wife’s ignorance but just as abundant with workman-like resolution to love his daughter. Sadly, the crass-honest dichotomy extends to the filmmaking: Bobcat just isn’t too subtle. That I barely recall any specific annoyances a day later is probably good sign.
Now The Science of Sleep, I wasn’t expecting: the first screenplay penned by Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry, it’s a thematic recapitulation of the latter, which now, unbelievably, looks restrained and conventional by comparison. To even approach the level of giddy inventiveness going on here, imagine early Godard re-interpreted by a pre-schooler on acid who just watched 8 ˝. Gondry sublimates our childhood daydreams and finds daunting significance in them, almost to the detriment of human interest: anything can metaphysically happen here, and when blue cellophane began pouring from a sink, I burst into euphoric, convulsive laughter, mentally going: “have I ever been this happy watching a film?” The pitfalls of oneiric livin’ still reign large: “people don’t work in dreams!” Gael Garcia Bernal’s adroit office-worker howls, only to be slammed down on a copy machine by his abstracted colleagues, with scribbled sharpie in place for the burden of Writing. And the film’s dilution of the mathematical with the abstract is both profound and a whole lot of fun: discussing perpetual movement as a game of sidewalk chicken with players moving side-to-side, Bernal illustrates that the human mind transcends such reiteration, and then, man’s complexity acknowledged – drum solo! What went wrong then? It’s possible any isolated 20 minutes of Science would constitute one of the greatest of all films, but 105 is just numbing, and a mere 40 or so were, for many who walked out. But considering the film’s rapturous highs, perhaps I’m being unduly harsh. I look forward to seeing it again, preferably very stoned.
Gee, directing duo Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmore of porno comedy The Fluffer shoot a film in their own predominantly Latino neighborhood… wonder where the inspiration for the sparring, inclusive but picky gay householder couple came from? It’s a blatant subplot a clef, but it’s also self-critical, and is typical of light, endearing farce Quinceanera’s many boons. Among the team’s assets are full-blooded characterizations and a casually transgressive sense of humor, both integral to shaping protag Magdalena (Emily Rios), who takes everything in stride with fussy persistence, from her bf’s sincerest oaths of affection to her draconic household’s exile, always asking for a little more even when happy and ergo set to endure progressively precarious auspices without becoming a Victim. Jesse Garcia’s turn as uncloseted tough-guy cousin Carlos is also notably fine: not a purveyor of Heathcliff-esque, stone-faced repression, he simply compensates for flaming gestures with equivalent machismo, e.g. thieving a CD for one of his older gringo paramours.
Chris Gorak’s Right at Your Door was Right in My Face, or at least the sister of lead actor Rory Cochrane was, asking me beforehand to let her know how I enjoyed her brother’s suffering. Dude went pretty deep. He’s a talent. A+. Otherwise, this movie sucks. Those who demand that disaster films reach their “natural” cynical conclusion will rejoice, and meanwhile the rest of us will cackle at Gorak’s stale manipulations – there’s a little boy, who gets saved, named Timmy, and referred to as, seriously now, “Little Timmy”! Cochrane’s Tough Decision to leave wife Mary McCormack to die is uninflected by anything besides everyman pragmatism, cues for easy identification never erring because man and wife love each other very, very much. We definitely don’t identify with the all but heartless rescue workers, who, gasp, follow orders without tearful compunction. Gorak feebly lets us know he hates our institutions, but recognizes Us. We all know the general outline of how everyday victims are left helpless by disaster. Tell us more.
Politically neutral, but no less shallow, Forgiven suggests that Paul Fitzgerald hates Dubya, but feels terribly guilty about it. Playing the small-scale GWB figure himself, Fitzgerald achieves the triple non-threat of unconvincing writing, directing and acting – too amateur to sob on command, the entrepreneur simply buries his head in his hands and shakes around a bit. He expects us to despise his oily politician for his suburban comfort and specious demagoguery, and pity him when he undergoes tragedy. Sorry, Paul, but that’s not how ambiguity works. And if you mean to ask rhetorically if anyone in your audience would enjoy seeing the president ruthlessly tortured, I suppose my answer is… maybe?
It’s Saturday morning, and I’m breaking down. A glitch in the electronic ticketing system made it appear as though there were 20 tickets remaining to films with, oh, maybe a couple left, so I spent a good five hours commiserating over collective misfortune and a precious two snoozing. I say this not to whine so much as to give an idea of the pervasive filter through which I was watching films: over-caffeinated, sleepless, so irritable as to reflexively bang on the keyboard every other minute. So if the coverage starts to subside into vfdvrgiodjfnbjgd bjbf jnfxzzvlljk, I hereby excuse myself on grounds of necessary deprivation.
Anyway, I kicked the day off, blanket and pillow in tow, with Carlos Bolado’s egregiously stupid God Only Knows, and lasted 40 minutes or so. The film is frenetically edited with no discernible logic, and it’d give a decent idea of my enervated psyche to track the devolution of noted influences from Jonas Mekas, to Michael Bay, to Diet Coke commercials. And it’s not even the infinite-coverage deluge of shots, nor the abundance of fast-mo redolent of one of those shitty MTV make-over shows, that drove me out, per se. God’s first half-hour is an onslaught of clumsily planted Winstons and conspicuous lack of real incident. We’re supposed to be too swept up in the film’s Indie Geekdom 101 soundtrack (Interpol! The Libertines!) to see clues whizzing by us, or mind the hilariously undernourished sketch of Diego Luna as a PETA-sensitive pretty boy. When the Doves began blasting, I bolted.
And slept. And then…
Sometimes I envy a curmudgeon like Mike D’Angelo: two days in, I feel like I’ve fawned over a film too many, waiting for my hard-ass engine to start revving. Wait a bit longer: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, written, directed by, and about Dito Montiel, is masterful from its tremulous first shot, and all the more astonishing for its autobiographical roots: how exactly did hustling Holes kid grow into the Hollywood cognoscenti, let alone an extraordinarily intelligent and sensitive filmmaker, reinvigorating the rise-and-fall crime saga by peering fearlessly into his own past? Montiel doesn’t dwell on his intellectual growth, but is expertly critical of its result: as modern-day Dito, Robert Downey Jr. evinces a new-agey So-Cal reserve his friends and family understandably mistake for condescension. Montiel’s dynamism is evidenced in the discrepancies between Dito the Character (reassuringly optimistic, reticent) and Dito the Filmmaker (uncertain, identifying silence with weakness). How many filmmakers call themselves meek, bald-faced liars? Just as Montiel’s ultimate stolidity alienates him from home, he identifies alienation, not excess, as the monster that killed his friends; this is perhaps the most sober American gangster film since GoodFellas falsely ensured that garishness + expiation = art. xIf you’ve ever received a late-night phone call from a friend desperately afflicted by his own idleness, you’ll understand the simple, un-gratuitous power of this movie. Montiel alternates between past and present with nothing to hide, serving up half a propulsive, effortlessly nuanced thriller and half a Resnais-like excavation through the remains of his adolescence, the double-edged problems of inescapable Time and Self overriding any pleasure he takes in reliving the past. If A Guide were a song, it’d be Johnny Boy’s eponymous theme.
And karma bites me back: next came the first big disappointment, Julian Goldberger’s The Hawk Is Dying, the long-anticipated follow-up to his promising trans. The latter suffered from lack of incident or consequence, but got by on intriguingly large disjunction between material and tone, on-the-lam potboiler and hospitable looseness. Goldberger has changed: Hawk heightens any and all, attempting to escalate Paul Giamatti’s archetypal ornery codger to bold Shakespearean dimensions, and while the departure is noble, it’s spread too thin for comfort. Goldberger has inherited from Jim Jarmusch the strength of letting minor characters co-exist with full-blooded interests of their own, but here he’s timid to embrace it, sculpting a centrifugal hurricane around Giamatti’s struggle between consuming passion and encroaching homelife in which pensive bird-watching soliloquies rule all.
Goldberger isn’t the only Sundance auteur emerging fresh from hibernation. Hilary Brougher aped the dead-pan acting style and stilted dialogue of Hal Hartley so precisely in her The Sticky Fingers of Time, that despite a 10-year window between the two, I expected her to continue the imitation-as-flattery with Stephanie Daley. But it’s considerably less otherworldly, both style- and content-wise, substituting two generations of modern repression for the overlapped post-WWII and pre-9/11 NYCs of Fingers, and while her characters still fire witty, cryptic aphorisms and off-kilter line-readings – Amber Tamblyn’s troubled teen suggests years of lonely ankle-deep winters just by slurring “Denverrrr” — they at least feign normalcy. This normalcy is crucial to Tilda Swinton’s awesome performance, all unctuous casualness concealing her personal and professional lives. Everything Swinton says is declarative, a note to self, and it allows for some freakishly insular, Marlene Dietrich-esque flashes of emotional reconstitution.
Saturday night was my first in a real bed, and perhaps the at-the-time fest nadir, Patrick Stettner’s The Night Listener, was punishment for comfort. It features Robin Williams back in creepy mode as a gay radio host investigating a lost-child writing prodigy who may or may not exist, and his paranoia and subsequent comeuppance eerily summon memories of Daniel Auteil in Michael Haneke’s Hidden. But where Haneke’s film supplied cogent socio-political context, Stettner basks in lurid red herrings – e.g., Williams’ gayness is simply a gateway to heavy-handed critique of homophobia via anti-pedophilia — and begs us to call him on bullshit. Sure.
Julianne Nicholson’s sheepish smile does wonders for Flannel Pajamas, Jeff Lipsky’s rambling chronicle of delicate love. A Molly Parker look-alike, and therefore irresistible, Nicholson, as Nicole, is the soul of myriad amazing shit – a flurry of “I love you”s receding into doubt, compliance as warring love and victimhood. Her opposite, Stuart (Justin Kirk), is blander, the sort of occasional volcano of hubris and sycophantry we can all relate to, but would rather not. The first half of Pajamas is a sometimes enthralling collision of power play and earnest romance: this is a love story that never teeters into bliss, too deep in insecurity. Just my bag, but a few late missteps, including a stylistically anomalous conversation between Stuart and Nicole’s mom that stays true to neither character and unconvincingly labels the latter as a pig-headed anti-semetic – you picture Lipsky waking up in a cold sweat, smacking his forehead and exclaiming “Social relevance! Fuck!” — hold it back from greatness.
When did Sundance get so – I’m so automatically tempted to spew this adjective that I feel a wave of guilt typing it — naturalistic? Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson emanates emotions so fuzzy, if not warm, that I’m nearly at a loss for words: this is institutional observation on the level of Fred Wiseman, filmed with as jittery a fly-on-wall aesthetic. As an examination of black-white, schoolhouse-crackhouse dialectics, it consistently flummoxes platitude, or even thematic summation, unafraid to make its hero’s struggle almost absurdly complicated. In a telling moment, base-head pedagogue Ryan Gosling dismisses his vast away of political literature as frivolous: he’s a dilettante of the multicultural, and this movie is a beautifully diffuse survey of poetic anecdotes about class and race, without simplistically touting its role-reversals.
Oh dear. I’m starting to get twee and inarticulate. This always happens, post-movie #15, and it has much to do with fatigue as a sensory overload that leads to redundant or ungrounded observations. Worry not, should you have found my raves too-dazed; I’ll be rewatching Guide and Nelson on Friday, as tradition goes. I’m collapsing, and I still have three movies to cover. Quickies: Disliked The Illusionist. Meaningful wizardry less so than the average Harry Potter entry, and its interpersonal traditionalism, i.e. a rich-girl-poor-boy story with uniqueness drained, falls far below the standard of Hermione, Ron et al. Only notable for early dashes of Murnau within candle-lit, sepia exteriors. Hated Who Needs Sleep?, Haskell Wexler’s artlessly sappy tribute to Hollywood’s overworked, and only declined to walk out because the memory of darting past the 80-something legend would be a painful one. Wexler’s reappropriation of Conrad Hall’s death to sell his Message is especially offensive. Finally, I walked out of Géla Babluani’s much buzzed-about 13 (Tzameti), a thoroughly undistinguished assault on Francois Truffaut’s axiom to clearly show a film’s subject. A contributing factor were a couple of careless fucks in a wait-list line who spoiled What It’s Really About for me, not only tainting my experience but filling me with doubt, since this Secret is a fashionably tawdry and cruel one in the vein of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” This movie has won some acclaim, and the most succinct defense I can muster is Bad Vibes, but fortunately, I don’t care to elaborate. Thank god for a philosophy of appreciative criticism, and thank god for shitty movies extending my rest hours a bit longer. Good night, and good luck.
Here I lie on the muddy brick floor of Sundance’s Gateway Center, the gathering place of those rare fanatical fest-goers who aren’t extravagantly rich, who don’t have a press or public pass, and are willing to pay for their deficiencies in the form of a wildly erratic sleeping schedule hampered by bass-heavy private parties and vomit-lathered bathroom floors. The addition of an erstwhile day-time No-Doze pill further precludes the hope of knowing when sleep will come or go. To subsist is to fill the day without regret. With the setting set, here are some pre-fest thoughts:
I did “catch” a couple “films” from this year’s Sundance at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, one during which I fell asleep (Andrucha Waddington’s The House of Sand) and one out of which I stormed the mighty motherfuck (Philip Groening’s Into Great Silence). The former is stunningly shot – Anthony Mann filtered through Bela Tarr, a very drowsy me scribbled down – but this was one of those cases where you’re watching a film and gradually, just very gradually you fall, umm, Into Great Silence (*rimshot*, synth-y transition music, cross-fade). Now this is a near-3-hour study of quotidian monk life, filmed in a manner as reverent and monastic as its subject. If that sounds awesome to you, I sincerely empathize. But I couldn’t for the life of me find a purpose in Groening’s vacillation between grainy and grainier film stock, hand-held and static shooting styles, interior rituals and exterior labor. It’s sheer self-sacrificing rigor, studied with sheer structural carelessness.
Now for the Holy Grail of Park City, my now two-day history of Adventures in Cinema. Saying I “didn’t make it,” to Nicole Holofcener’s latest, the opening-night premiere Friends With Money, seems inappropriate, given that I contributed a good five hours of fruitless wait-list tedium to Ms. Holofcener’s personal karma bank. Did I mention I come to Sundance sans tickets or passes, and avec much quixotic persistence? Or how about that the latter, post-Friends With Money, has served me quite well?
Welcome to my first screening, rather appropriately of a film I was shut out of at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, Battle in Heaven, the second feature by a strange pervert named Carlos Reygadas. His first feature, Japon, sampled filmmakers as diverse as Fellini and Tarkovsky, and it took two viewings for me to glean its precious offerings of transcendental craziness dispersed across miles of solemn drudgery. Reygadas’ signature trope is making fug sex explicit, irrational, and spiritually charged. I can think of no other filmmaker living who so deliberately subjects his audience to images only the teeniest subset of granny-chasing fetishists would even find agreeable, let alone beautiful. Taking my Toronto shut-out into consideration, here’s a brief sampling of what I *did* make it into up north: A History of Violence, Manderlay, Corpse Bride. So despite being willfully esoteric, Reygadas is veritably holding his own among some of the more prominent auteurs of the past two decades. I’m not sure I “get” Battle in Heaven, but in this decade’s International Cinema Contest of Implosive Opacity (also attended by Bruno Dumont and Vincent Gallo), I’d give it a generous smiley, if not a gold star. I read it as a savage attack on the Mexico’s diverging institutional values, i.e. church and state, with the former represented in allegory by Devoted Obese Wife and the latter by Sexy Rich Psychologically Nonsensical Chick. Reygadas isn’t quite a humorist, but his conceptual gags, e.g. the poker-faced protag glimpsing a painting of Christ mid-coitus with the DOW, ultimately compensate for his sludgy portent. Sandro Matosevic offered a fuller review here.
I saw James Ponsoldt’s Off the Black because, of course, Nick Nolte is in it, playing a goofy, washed-up umpire, and Tim Orr shot it, and on that basis alone I could reasonably expect a melancholy, shambling mammoth shot in sun-dappled grit. In that arena, it didn’t disappoint. It’s a convoluted but enjoyable father-figure-son-figure bonding movie, its brightest bits hidden in isolation. Ponsoldt’s promising, quasi-Fordian generosity shines through in unadorned sequences like Nolte’s chance meeting with the father of a past team member, or his protégée’s (Trevor Morgan) excursion into the fields with his sister, who sings in disarming struggle to open her heart. And a note: I’d usually consider myself a guy who cringes at the thought of a title explained mid-dialogue. But Off the Black contains one such so perfectly calibrated and affecting that I’m nearly prepared to renounce that pet peeve.
Brian Jun’s Steel City is yet another non-gay man-on-man bonding flick, which from now on I will confusingly refer to as MOMs. It’s also a dramatic competition film, my first of the fest. I usually try not to get my hopes up, but last year’s first comp film was so much richer, more assured, and most importantly unexpected than anything else the fest had to offer, that it would seem presumptuous not to shed any expectations I have with regards to competition entries. That film, by the way, was Rian Johnson’s Brick, soon to blaze across screens in what I’ve been assured is an even more dazzling new cut. Sure enough, Steel City gets off to a wobbly start, protag PJ (Tom Guiry, aiming for Brando and getting maybe halfway to Penn) perpetually wounded and summoning tics to the high heavens. But in fact the film’s Method pretensions pleasingly dilute its schematic screenplay, and a font of unexpectedly complex stuff ensues: Jun is a legit realist, with a thorough humanist gameplan. A fine slab of down-home path-to-redemption rue, the film also works overtime as a smart man’s Crash, where social discord is illustrated not through clunky designations of Good and Bad behavior but through lived-in, affectionate banter between folks who frankly have more important things to do than Learn About Prejudice. Jun has evidently studied the work of the Dardenne brothers, best on display in an awesomely referential from-behind tracking shot of PJ’s working-class hero straight from their The Son. Like the Dardennes’ protagonists, PJ earns our sympathy by being unabashedly flawed, a good guy who on occasion indulges his worst impulses. Jun’s subtly aberrant sensibility, per one tangent, views a casually offensive joke about truck-packing Mexicans as sincerely felt flirtation from Caucasian coquet to apprehensive Latina. The giddy warmth of nascent love is suffused with the legacy of hate, and no one is punished for sinning in the process, unless the burden of navigating through thorny anxiety can be called cruel and unusual.
Just an N.B. before discussing Cam Archer’s Wild Tigers I Have Known: I know and have worked with one of its makers, on a short somewhat composed of the same crew, so this review perhaps presents a scandalous collusion between my semi-professional and secondary-semi-professional lives. To further soil my tainted credibility, I’ll go ahead and hail Wild Tigers as the fest’s first unqualified triumph. Another MOM, it’s also hugely queer, resurrecting the homo-sensuality of Kenneth Anger for the Tarnation generation of the self-castigating, confessional diva. Archer solipsizes closeted pre-teen Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) into a realm where he can talk without speaking, dream without waking, and meander without turning back. We’re immersed in Logan’s shifting conscious, extending to his suppression of sadness – we indirectly learn he’s crying, while the back of his hooded sweater conceals all. But the details of Logan’s journey stand as unmapped, authentic territory, from the lingering eroticism of a schoolyard brawl to Fairuza Balk’s discomfiting sexpot mom. Archer captures the moment when the belief in human goodness and the admission to incompatible perceptions emerge, hug, and explode. As the director singles out a “totem of tolerance” as facile, the only transcendence he conclusively propagates is psychological. Changing the world is laughable, if only because Logan expends so much energy comprehending one or two junior high studs. Free of hetero-friendly convention, the film is personal, not universal, and it’s hemmed from an impervious social survivalism some might call insane. Call it All the Real Boys.
I’ve been feeling powerfully in thrall to Justin K. Broadrick (Final, Napalm Death, Godflesh, Jesu, etc) the last little while; first his incredibly powerful debut as Jesu and now his more abstract/instrumental work as Final.
Broadrick actually first created/performed as Final, at the ripe age of 13, and his recent live sets with Jesu and Jarboe were the first under that name in over 20 years. I haven’t heard too much of his upcoming 3 album, but over at the right section of his site there’s a short track from it called “Little Pictures” which is astounding, as well as an outtake from the album called “Failure”. All of the tracks he’s got for download are powerful, but these two new ones are possibly the best. 3 comes out in February, and I’m practically salivating already.
A release from late 2005, the DVD Love You Madly / A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral commemorates the 40th anniversary of the original release of two documentaries (originally intended and fully functioning as one film) by Ellington fan and scholar Ralph J. Gleason. The first part of the DVD, Love You Madly contains interview snippets and performances, sometimes overlapping when Ellington needs to use the piano to explain a point. He talks casually about his arranging techniqes, and gives some stories behind some of his songs, such as those that were composed in hotels or drawn from hastily conceived melodies. It’s a pinpoint moment with Ellington — where he is at a particular time — rather than a career overview, making it a fun snapshot, but more for the Ellington enthusiast than for someone looking for the big picture.
The concert, in Duke’s words, was “the most important statement” his orchestra had done, at least up to that point. He brought in special guests, including enjoyable vocalist Esther Marrow, who nails “Come Sunday.” Ellington takes a piano solo for “New World A-Coming,” and turns in one of the concert’s finest performances. As a whole, the show isn’t as magnificent as you might expect, but it is strong. The true power on the DVD turns out not to be the music so much as the scene captured — the times, the images, and the man in the middle of it. Through soft hotel-room interview or stage-commanding playing, Ellington gets himself across on this video. Perhaps that’s why he liked it so much.
With their debut album coming in March, Controller.Controller visits New England and their Canadian motherland with OK Go. A few lucky cities will get multiple shows:
Mon Jan 23 Hoboken Maxwells
Tues Jan 24 Brooklyn North Six
Wed Jan 25 Burlington Higher Ground
Thurs Jan 26 Providence Lupo’s
Fri Jan 27 Boston Paradise
Sat Jan 28 New Haven Toad’s Place
Sun Jan 29 Moncton The Paramount
Mon Jan 30 Moncton The Paramount
Tues Jan 31 Halifax Stage Nine
Thurs Feb 2 Montreal Cabaret
Fri Feb 3 Ottawa Surface Nightclub
Sat Feb 4 Kingston The Grad Club
Sat Feb 4 Kingston (all ages) The Grad Club (yes two shows)
Mon Feb 6 Guelph Club Vinyl
Tues Feb 7 Hamilton The Casbah
Wed Feb 8 Waterloo Starlite
Thurs Feb 9 London Call The Office
Fri Feb 10 Toronto Lee’s Palace
The Sword cuts a path across the US [or something less ridiculous to announce the Austin metal band’s tour dates with Early Man and Priestess]:
2/1 Philadelphia, PA @ The Khyber
2/2 Baltimore, MD @ The Ottobar
2/3 Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
2/6 Atlanta, GA @ Earl
2/7 Nashville, TN @ The End
2/9 New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jack’s
2/10 Houston, TX @ Walter’s On Washington
2/11 Austin, TX @ Emo’s
2/12 Dallas, TX @ Gypsy Tea Room
2/15 Alburquerque, NM @ Launchpad
2/16 Tucson, AZ @ Plush
2/17 Tempe, AZ @ The Big Fish Pub
2/18 Los Angeles, CA @ Spaceland
2/19 Santa Ana, CA @ Galaxy Concert Theater
2/20 San Diego, CA @ Casbah
2/21 San Francisco, CA @ 12 Galaxies
2/23 Portland, OR @ Dante’s
2/24 Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
2/27 Salt Lake City, UT @ Lo-Fi Cafe
2/28 Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
3/1 Lawrence, KS @ TBA
3/2 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
3/3 Madison, WI @ TBA
3/4 Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
3/6 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
3/7 Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
3/8 Columbus, OH @ Little Brother’s
3/9 Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place
3/10 Brooklyn, NY @ Northsix
3/11 Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
Sharon Jones and the Dapkings are back on tour, supporting their Naturally album. They’ve been building up some acclaim for their live performances, so it should be a good one for all the funk/soul fans out there.
1-Feb Richmond, VA@Alley Katz
2-Feb Raleigh, NC @Kings
3-Feb Atlanta, GA @The Earl
4-Feb Augusta, GA@Coco Rubio
5-Feb Jacksonville, FL@Jack Rabbits
7-Feb Orlando, FL @The Social
8-Feb Ft.Lauderdale, FL @Culture Room
9-Feb Gainesville, FL @Common Grounds
10-Feb Tampa, FL @Skipper’s Smokehouse
11-Feb Tallahasee, FL @Beta Bar
12-Feb Birmingham, AL @The Nick
14-Feb Chattanooga, TN @Rhythm & Brews
16-Feb Charlottesville, VA @The Satellite Ballroom
17-Feb Washington, DC @Black Cat
18-Feb Philadelphia, PA @NXNW
Calla’s on a Collisons course, possibly to your part of the world, if that includes the northeast or mid-Atlantic US:
01/25 Philadelphia, PA The Khyber
01/26 Washington DC Black Cat (backstage)
01/27 Baltimore, MD Sonar
01/28 Rochester, NY Bug Jar
01/29 New Haven, CT Bar Night Club
01/31 Providence, RI Century Lounge
02/01 Cambridge, MA TT the Bears
02/02 Northampton, MA Iron Horse Music Hall
02/03 Hanover, NH Dartmouth College-Fuel Café
02/04 Brooklyn, NY Northsix
02/05 Hoboken, NJ Maxwell’s
First things first. The Strokes are still really hot. Though it’s bullshit to dwell on their clothes and their soft pan-national faces in an album review, it’s certainly not when you’re trying to describe the experience of being ten feet away from them. And their unsubtle stabs at greater popularity on First Impressions of Earth certainly didn’t seem to get to their stage pouts (with any luck, though, Tiger Beat will print a Julian Casablancas poster by March!)
But back to the music. This was The Strokes’ first show behind FIOE, an album that RCA hopes will shed the completely inappropriate “saviors of rock” albatross and let audiences treat them like five dudes. So the band was all too willing to play their past quasi-hits—validated by the first ten rows’ wailing and pogoing to “New York City Cops,” “Whatever Happened,” and “Hard To Explain,” their anthemic, wallpaper best—and the new ones that sounded most like them.
After opening with the Iggy-esque “Heart In A Cage,” they rolled out a passel of FIOE’s Cars jams; naturally, their “Mandy” redux (“Razorblade”) was crooned right back to them by the kids who waited with bated breath for the album to leak, and FIOE opener “You Only Live Once” strutted like it didn’t know it was the ninth song of the night.
All of which was wonderful and a lot of fun, but it begs the question: if The Strokes are ready to show America that they can cut the mustard as a live act, shouldn’t they be able to show it to an audience of eager 16-year-olds at a radio station promo gig? Where was the “new” Strokes sound (essentially, more impressive guitar solos and an increased fascination with “Guns of Brixton” dub) that was supposed to prove them to the kids already bored with Franz Ferdinand? The Pogues-y punk of “15 Minutes” aside, they were short on FIOE’s relative indulgences. And the most noticeable different in their live act, replicating the pop production of FIOE with vocals and riffs further up front, wasn’t going to win them any new fans. Neither was an album promotional set that was half culled from their first two albums.
But it’s a bit early in The Strokes’ career to imagine them to be resting on their laurels, especially after the all the tours, videos, and late night appearances RCA has in store for them. And the audience was completely sold—every song worked, new and old presented as their body of work and not some as a radical departure. At least they aren’t messing up guitar solos anymore—de rigeur for their boozy performances during the Room on Fire tour—and Jules now makes just enough chit-chat with the audience.
“This one’s an oldie but a goodie,” he muttered just before “Last Nite.” This song, a rougher glance at “American Girl,” was The Strokes’ first American single, a first taste of the band that was supposed to restore the pop landscape to its rockist roots. Watching them play it now with a laugh, in the face of the biggest challenge of their careers, I can only hope that America might finally recognize their swagger as intimacy.
The Strokes played for 75 minutes at Chicago’s Park West on January 3. This was the first show in their “secret club tour” for First Impressions of Earth.
Here are a few of the albums we’re most looking forward to:
1. Calexico - Garden Ruin
2. Liars - Drum’s Not Dead
3. Cat Power - The Greatest
4. Radiohead - TBA
5. Battles - TBA
6. Various Artists - New York Noise, Part 2
7. Various Artists - Soul Jazz Records Presents Tropicalia: a Brazilian Revolution in Sound
8. Shins - TBA
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Coco Beware
10. Destroyer - Destroyer’s Rubies
11. Michael Mayer - Immer 2
12. Embrace - Exploding Machines
13. Guillemots - TBA
14. Islands - Return to the Sea
15. Flaming Lips - At War with the Mystics
16. Bloc Party - Helicopter
17. Futureheads - TBA
18. Pumice - Spears
19. Hot Chip - TBA
20. Tod Dockstader - Aerial, vol. 3
21. Built to Spill - TBA
22. Darkthrone - The Cult Is Alive
23. Mayhem - Ordo Ab Chao
24. Loose Fur - Born Again In The USA
25. Growing - TBA
26. Mountains - Sewn
27. Stars of the Lid -TBA
28. William Basinski - The Garden of Brokenness
29. Clearlake - Amber
30. Arcade Fire - TBA
31. The Rapture - TBA
32. Delta 5 - Singles and Sessions 1979-1981