Saturday, August 29, 2009


Usually with my film festival selections, I'll avoid the seemingly obvious commercial movies that I'm fairly certain will come back to the cinema's after completing their run at the festival-and put my time into viewing stuff that I'm not so sure of making a return. Mostly, I focus on the documentaries & animation sections. These genres are a real treat to see on the big screen. But, having said that, I always allow myself a few exceptions, historical epics are one such category! Its pretty damn cool to see vast landscapes, epic struggles, battles etc, on the biggest scene possible. This genre in particular loses a grand sense of scale that regrettably, does get diminished by reduction to the average sized TV screen.

So, with that criteria in the background of my selection planning, when I first read the brief on this film, I immediately was seduced by its potential charm to make me really enjoy the benefits of seeing it on a big canvas.

I wasn't wrong...

Justifiably the winner of the best foreign movie Oscar in 2009 (And blitzing the Japanese Oscars with 10 tucked away safely!), this utterly charming & deeply moving film is damn near perfect from my point of view!

The story is of a Cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), who after unexpectedly losing his job with an orchestra, reluctantly decides to return to Yamagata (His hometown) with his dutiful wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) to pursue a new career. Of which, he has no idea! Spotting an Ad in the local paper for someone to help with 'departures', he investigates with eagerness, thinking it might be a new career in a travel related business. Of course, he is partially right. Only before the interview starts, he does start to wonder just why there are coffins in this office...
With the owner Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) not wasting any precious time whatosever, i.e the job interview being one quick question, Daigo is hired immediately. Then he learns the truth about the company's business. Assisting the recently departed on their journey from this life to the next! Shocked, he is struck with a sense of 'how did it all come to this? so quickly in my life so far. But Sasaki is able to impress upon him the honour of such a job-and slowly over the coming weeks, Daigo begins to see things in an entirely new light. Observing the old man tenderly handling the deceased with a care & reverence that is just truly beautiful to watch, Daigo, begins to grasp the sensitive nature of this new job. At first, he is hesistant to assist, but gradually gains enough confidence to try the job firsthand. This new experience changes his outlook completely, and from that point on, there's no turning back. Or at least until Mika is made fully aware of just what Daigo actually does now for a living...

Everything about this beautifully crafted movie is perfect. From the understated, empathetic acting, the masterful direction from Yojiro Takita, the well crafted screenplay from Kundo Koyama, the stirring & majestic score from Joe Hisaishi, the set & production design-all combine brilliantly together to make for a fantastically powerful experience. Although, perhaps the most crucial element is the absolute respect the Japanese show for the deceased. It is an tradition that has been revered, honoured, and cherished for countless numbers of Japanese families for centuries. It is, unquestionably, a very moving experience to watch-even though this is a fictional tale! Half the audience we watched it with were sniffling, crying, sighing, all deeply affected by watching this cinematic masterpiece.

This was my favorite movie of the festival-and of this year to date. Its really hard to see anything else even coming close. Go and see it on the big screen if you can-otherwise buy or watch it when its available on DVD-or BluRay!

Tyondai Braxton: Platinum Rows

This is an exciting development, to say the least. Tyondai Braxton is unquestionably, an extremely talented individual with a superb musical vocabulary, steeped in a rich heritage from his father, the avant garde composer, Anthony Braxton. This musical legacy can be a millstone for many siblings who are born into famous families, many have balked at the mere idea of following the imposing footsteps that famous parents unwittingly hand down. Some however, rise to the challenge of creating new works of art that although, will be inevitably compared to their folks, they make a mark with their own distinct abilities that fans recognize as unique to that person.

Braxton has already made significant inroads in this respect, having recorded with such luminaries as Battles, Glen Branca, Prefuse73, Kronos Quartet, to name, but a few who've benefited from his unrivaled compositional talents and ability to arrange musical pieces that demonstrate his prowess supremely.

I've just sat and listened to this new 'song' Platinum Rows, which is already being touted as the centerpiece of his soon to released album Central Market. And yep, if this is the sound of the new album, then it promises to be a more than worthy addition to his small (But select) body of work thus far. The easiest (And laziest!) way to describe the sound would be "Battles meets the Orchestra". And, in all fairness to Mr Braxton, its not too far from the truth either! That is, its very much the sound of an avant-garde composer writing for an avant-garde orchestra, with a healthy dose of processed vocals, gargled with an odd assortment of unlikely musical instruments. Central Market was inspired by Igor Stravinsky, Bernard Hermann, Brian Eno, John Adams and Swans. This intriguing combination of classical & electronic composers are a vital clue in decoding Braxtons musical lineage-and dropping major hints as to future explorations.

This killer track reeks of all those influences, infused with Battles' type arrangements, but undoubtedly the major contributing factor here is Braxton himself.

Surely, a full length (30 minute plus) piece is not out of reach for a man of this many talents?

Monday, August 24, 2009

To paraphrase Jon Landau...



Absolutely mind blowing...

I have just seen the 15 minute promo for AVATAR, and trust me on this-it will be THE movie of 2009 Without question!!!

Now at the moment I don't sound like a 45 year old guy, I sound more like a pimply snotty nosed fan-boy kid who has just soiled himself rather badly but I really do feel extremely excited about this movie as much as I did when I was 14 (In 1977!) and saw Star Wars for the very first time.

I watched the trailer on Friday, and was immediately hooked, and needed more straight away. We then watched a news report telling us of the very first screening in NZ (In Wellington-home of Peter Jackson & WETA) and the reaction of those viewers afterwards. So, when I see in today's weekend paper, that my local cinema (Less than 500 yards away!) is playing the promo footage-for free! - what do you think I did next?

Soon, we are there, getting our 3D glasses, in eager anticipation of what we're about to view. It starts with JC giving us a little preamble about what we are about to view-select footage from the first half of the movie only. And then it starts...

You will totally believe you are in another dimension. The clarity, depth of field, sense of realism is quite frankly, staggering. I have never seen such jaw dropping, eyeball watering visuals on a SciFi movie before On the news report they mentioned that there is something like 850 people working on the visual FX alone! You can see where the money is being spent on this spectacle . But, having said that, the storyline does seem like it will be a major component of this movie. That is one area where, unlike some big name action directors, Cameron does give a huge focus on how the whole thing works in its entirety.

Anyways, back to the stunning visuals... The alien designs, color palates, fluidity, sense of motion, contrast between foreground & background are just absolutely stupendous, to say the very, very least. One thing that seems abundantly clear to me is how much the designers (And presumably James Cameron) were in thrall to such visionary artists such as Roger dean & Syd Mead. The dragon-like bird creatures clearly straight off a YES album cover methinks Not a bad reference point at all!

Come December 18th, there will be a mark made by this movie that will define all that have preceded it-and those who follow in its footsteps. It is going to be the movie event of 2009...

If you can, go and see this footage as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed It clearly will whet your appetite for the main course to come...
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Sunday, August 16, 2009


I love getting recommendations from friends, because you know one thing is certain. Whatever they are suggesting that you buy, watch or listen to, you know they are wanting you to enjoy it just as much as they have done. When someone is so passionate & enthusiastic about a particular band, album or movie, their infect you so well, that its really hard to say no!

So, when I walked into my favorite record store, and asked my friend Bryan about what he could recommend, he had no hesitation in suggesting this young 3 piece from the U.K, the very promising new rock band, WHITE LIES. I wont bother boring you with the details about their history etc, instead I'll direct you to the informative wiki over here. Lets cut straight to the chase, to the stuff that matters most, the music...

1: Death. From the opening minute of insistent bass & drums, you know this track is going to explode later on-and wow-does it ever, soaring into the stratosphere with its impassioned vocal from lead singer Harry McVeigh. The opening line "I love the feeling when we lift off" sets the tone for the rest of the record, with its themes based around death, funerals, loneliness, dreams, fears, anxieties, missed opportunities and a whole host of life's myriad complex human emotions & feelings. Musically, the bands sound is, as many other scribes have noted, reminiscent of obvious influences such as Interpol, Editors, and yes, almost inevitably Joy Division. But there is one major difference. Most of the aforementioned bands have had the tag of 'Gloomy' attached to them at least once during their career, but although you could argue that White Lies sound like they belong with that bunch, their music is much more joyous, upbeat- euphoric so emphatically in fact!. This song has even made it to the status of 'Sing-along-classic' with its chorus line of "Yes, this fear's got a hold of me". Check out the Glastonbury clip on the band's homepage!

2: To Lose My Life. With its Joy division sounding drums, Fuzzy bass line, this propulsive track starts much like the preceding one, then launches into a great chorus, with another interesting couplet "Lets grow old together-and die at the same time". Yep, you can imagine this line being sung along with as well! (And that's not a bad thing either...)

3: A Place to Hide. 15 seconds of shuffling drums makes way for a shiny synth & bass riffs, followed by McVeigh intoning with his now familiar convictions about guilt, redemption-all "before the storms begin". Although a now familiar musical template is being set, each tune has a unique arrangement, one that is very welcome I'd add! This is the sound of a band confident in its abilities to create something different with each respective song.

4: Fifty On Our Foreheads. Slight drop in pace for the opening of track 4, the drums clattering away, setting up for the majestic sounding verse with its glorious keyboards, rich plump toned bass lines, and more soulful vocals from McVeigh informing us to "Start burning in the sky" And, is it me? Or did I hear a snatch of Joy Division's "Atmosphere" somewhere in there as well? I suppose if you gonna reference another band, might as well be obvious about your influences! Initially this track wasn't a favorite, but breaking it down to its parts reveals hidden qualities that cant really be appreciated with one or two cursory listens.

5: Unfinished Business. Opening with McVeigh asking for a second chance, and a church organ droning away, this track bumps up a gear when the chorus kicks in, with the expansive drum pattern throwing scatter-bombs in many directions. Then, with its galloping simplistic bass lines its picks up another gear, with bassist Charles Cave adding backing vocals to the main chorus lines.

6: E.S.T. The most obvious influence in this track is undoubtedly Joy Division, with its fat, rich Keyboard providing a foundation to build from magnificently. Although keyboards are an important part of the bands sound, they never overwhelm any song, instead adding a depth & complexity to the overall sonic template. A sound that would be very hollow if they were removed. Which does beg the question of why bands like this (And many others) never seem to like to acknowledge the pivotal role that keyboards bring to a bands identity, even to the extent that the keyboard player isn't always identified officially in a bands career. See Joel Sieglers fantastic Black Sabbath website for his views on the role of longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls!
Maybe guys, for album 2, give Tommy Bowen (Who augments the band on live dates) full band credit. Your sound wouldn't be the same live without keyboards...

7: From The Stars. With its serene String section sweetly setting the tone, McVeigh regales us with a story about a friend having some sort of personal epiphany during a funeral. Another thudding drum pattern laying a solid foundation for the strings to start soaring higher during the following choruses. One of my fav tracks on the album.

8: Farewell To The Playground. A great sharp rhythm guitar riff drives this snappy driving number, with another memorable sing along chorus to keep live fans happy! "Keep on running, keep on running, there's no place like home"

9: Nothing To Give. A moody sombre introspective number, with McVeigh wishing "That I've got no regrets" and "I've clung to time like gold", this ballad is a nice step back from the rockier moments prior to this song. One of McVeigh's most dramatic & impassioned vocal performances thus far in his career, one can imagine other future songs in this vein being well received.

10: The Price Of Love. And saving the best for last? This powerhouse rocker (With a trademark slow intro) is another classic, with all of the now familiar WHITE LIES trademarks in place. Soaring, melodic, passionate vocals; driving, throbbing, thudding rhythms (An rather excellent Entwhistle-like bass riff detected!); crunchy biting guitar lines; full rich strings section complementing the keyboards. All of these come together so perfectly in this fantastically arranged track that probably is already a fan favorite!

And to summarize... This is my album of the year-so far!

Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood: Live From Madison Square Garden

DVD Disc 1: The Concert

1: Had To Cry Today
2: Them Changes
3: Forever man
4: Sleeping In The Ground
5: Presence Of The Lord
6: Glad
7: Well All Right
8: Double Trouble
9: Pearly Queen
10: Tell The Truth
11: No Name, No Face, No Number
12: After Midnight
13: Split Decision
14: Rambling On My Mind
15: Georgia On My Mind
16: Little Wing
17: Voodoo Chile
18: Can't Find My Way Home
19: Dear Mr Fantasy
20: Cocaine

DVD Disc 2-Extras

1: The Road To Madison Square Garden. An exclusive documentary featuring new interviews with Eric and Steve, together with rare footage and photographs of Cream, Traffic and Blind Faith.
2: Rambling On My Mind. The final preparation for the three legendary performances highlighted by an acoustic soundtrack performance by Eric of the Robert Johnson standard "Rambling On My Mind"
3: Bonus. Madison Square Garden Performances of "Lowdown", "Kind Hearted Woman" and "Crossroads"

This re-pairing of two of rock musics most respected & revered musicians has been a long time coming, but for 3 nights late last year, their respective schedules had sufficient gaps to allow time for this reunion to finally take place-decades after their initial teaming up in Blind Faith-one of the first supergroups of the late sixties. Although Winwood did appear at Clapton's Crossroads guitar festival in 2007, the timing wasn't initially right for a proper organized reunion, but it did whet the appetites of both Clapton & Winwood to agree to sit down & work out just when their timing would allow more time for a tour.

And thank bloody god these two get along! Unlike the often tenuous & tempestuous relationship that EC has with the other 2/3rds of Cream (Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker) his relationship with Steve Winwood was always much healthier by comparison-musically as well as personally! This point is made because it is readily apparent that Clapton & Winwood just feed off each magnificently-their playing is totally in sync with both-the demands of the music-and the stylistic differences between each other. But the key reasons why this particular concert is so much fun to watch is the passion, energy, enthusiasm & sheer joy these two grizzled gods display so effortlessly. They are having a ball feeding off each other without doubt, so it makes you wonder just why it didn't happen sooner! Presumably they felt this way as well, because checking out their respective websites, they are teaming up again for a full tour proper. And more fans will be able to appreciate this great opportunity in person.

But, this being the digital age, thank god for DVD (and Blu-Ray!). This for me, has being one of the best things about DVD, the fact that so many musical acts are now recorded for posterity via this wonderful medium. And its not just the newer acts that have cashed on this, many older more established artists have found this option an attractive idea as well. This point is even more pertinent when you factor in that many of these musicians from rocks past are getting older-and dying. So, if you can't attend the concert in person, the next best thing is to buy a DVD of the tour. And probably you'll have a better seat-and viewpoint as well! But the really cool thing is that you can replay this concert again, and again, and...again!

I suspect I'll be replaying this DVD more than a few times in the near future...