Thursday, October 30, 2008

David Lynch: Dumbland

Plot (of sorts): A typically Lynchian view of America, reduced to the the lowest common denominators possible...

At a mere (but satisfying 34 minutes) this aggressively subversive animation series (10 episodes) hits the DVD format after its debut on the net. And I laughed from start to fucking finish !!!
Sometimes, you cant help but wonder-what does Lynch really think about his fellow countrymen?
The question is unavoidable, given the grotesque caricatures that are display here. The overweight, scruffy, violent, misogynistic father; the subordinate, stressed-out, punch-bag wife; the screaming kid; weird, psychotic neighbors/friends/passers-by/in-laws. And the odd persistent ant or two...

The story lines are straight to the point, with thankfully, no time for his usual themes!

Best episodes are: all of them! its only 34 minutes of your life. There could be worse ways to spend it...

Think Southpark, but cruder, ruder and way more violent!

And very fucking funny...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Savage Grace

Plot Synopsis: The incredibly bizarre true tale of Barbara Daly's marriage to Brooks Baekeland-the heir to a fortune made from plastics/kitchenware & more Specifically, the tragic story of Barbara's alleged disturbingly 'close' relationship with her son, Tony.
Money apparently didn't buy much happiness...

This compelling movie is dominated by two standout performances, Julianne Moore as the very tragic Barbara Daly & Eddie Redmayne as her morally bereft son, Anthony (Tony). I am now convinced after watching this morality tale, that if you need an actress to portray someone who is mentally unstable, unhinged, deluded, scatty, reckless, emotionally fragile; then who you gonna call to convey all of the above? There can only be one choice-the wonderfully adaptable Julianne Moore, whose bravery knows no bounds. Indeed, many a fine actress would have thrown the script out after a few pages, knowing how this story ends up! But in a story like this, Moore needed a suitably brave actor to play against, and Eddie Redmayne is astonishing in his pivotal role as the aimless Tony, just drifting through his vague & empty life, badly needing his father-or a surrogate father figure to ground him in any kind of reality. Stephen Dillane is great as Brooks Baekeland. Even through he left Barbara, this film makes it clear that although he did have a great deal of love & affection for his patently troubled wife, he just couldn't live with her any longer (I know how that feels...).

As well as the fantastic performances, the period settings are wonderfully evoked, giving a great sense of the various era's unique characteristics. The movie is also well structured, never lagging on any particular time period. Everything flows rather briskly, adding to the growing realisation that we are on a journey to hell, wreckage is imminent, just to what degree is the only question!

And when it comes, your just not really prepared. Sometimes, regardless of how well you position yourself, you just cant avoid a situation. Its gonna happen whether you like it or not.
So you watch the last 15 minutes wondering how this ultimately very sad story ends. Hmmm, I could tell you all the details, but part of this films greatness is the way that director Tom Kalin handles the final few acts. They are unflinching, shocking, disturbing, but realistic in the emotional rawness of what might have happened between mother & son. I've checked out a few other sources of information for an indicator of historical accuracy, and although clearly a bit of artistic licence has been used, for the most part, the chain of events isn't in dispute. Its the very nature of Barbara & Tony's relationship that draws the most scrutiny. I don't always believe a movie story of events (JFK-Oliver Stone) but sometimes, some stories are stranger than fiction!

This isn't a comfortable watch by any stretch, but anchored by two brave actors, it is completely compelling in recounting a very sad & tragic love story that is based on real people. That fact is just one reason why I rate this movie so highly.

Definitely approach with an open mind, especially the last 15 minutes...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Heaven & Hell-My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) By: Don Felder

Book Summary: Guitarist Don Felder's biography of his life with a major emphasis on his often tumultuous time with one of popular music's most successful bands: The Eagles.

I've been catching up with a good mate of mine-Mike, who like me (And being a similar age!) loves music from the seventies. Can't really deny the era in which you first really got hooked on music. I for the record, just love this era ! So many great bands, great albums, great singles & great creativity & diversity as well. But before I get too sidetracked on this fantastic era, one of my most treasured records was: The Eagles Greatest Hits 1971-1975. It got severely thrashed at many a party! So, when Mike told me about this book he got as present-and how bloody good it was-I was not going to say no to his offer to lend it to me after he had finished with it. And boy, was I glad to read it. Completely changes the way in which I now perceive The Eagles-and their music.

Don Felder, out of all the various personnel that have been part of this musical juggernaut, was the most uniquely positioned to comment on what it was like to have been a part of such a mega-successful band. 2 guys preceded him (Multi instrumentalist Bernie Leadon & Bass Guitarist/Singer Randy Meisner), and 2 have joined after Felder-Bass Guitarist/Singer Timothy B.Schmidt & Guitarist/Singer Joe Walsh. The two constants are: Don Henley & Glenn Frey (Sarcastically termed "The Gods" by long suffering crew members-and many others as well).

This easy to read book has 3 main parts. Felders upbringing in a dirt-poor part of Florida in the early 50s/late 60s, His life with The Eagles (1974-2001), and life post Eagles.

With his formative childhood beginnings we learn that through his fathers love of old Jazz, how that captured his imagination and made him want to do something musical. So after trading some firecrackers for a beat-up guitar from a friend, he obtained his 1st guitar. From that, there was no turning back. He got so proficient within a few years, that he graduated to teaching guitar to other willing kids. One kid who showed promise was a buck toothed skinny little runt by the name of Tommy petty! After wooing his Childhood sweetheart Susan, they moved to New York to pursue his burgeoning dream to make a living from making music. Within a few years, without much luck in making a decent living, he gets a break & makes a life changing decision-to move to California. And so started his wild ride into rock stardom. Within a year, he got an offer he couldn't refuse, through rekindling his childhood friendship with Eagles Guitarist Bernie Leadon he was asked to provide slide guitar for the track "Good day in hell". The Eagles at this stage were looking to beef up their sound-slowly but surely, moving away from their country-rock beginnings-and Felders more rock orientated guitar licks were just what they needed.

Felders arrival in the Eagles ironically forced Bernie Leadon to realize that this new sound wasn't something he wanted to be part of. Leadon was pretty fed up with the increasing debauchery & uptake in drug usage so he departed a year after Felders arrival. Next guitarist, one Joe Walsh-who was considered before Felder. This cemented the bands new heavier rock direction.
Next to be booted out after being severely marginalized was Randy Meisner-again fed up with the bands incessant bickering & the Gods' increasing dominance of the songwriting. Enter Timothy B. Schmidt, happy just to be part of the now huge operation.
One lazy afternoon at home with his family, Felder started mucking around on his guitar. A little while later he felt he had something good. So he brought it to the studio & played it to The Gods-who declared it sounded like "Mexican reggae", but nonetheless, thought it had something, so Henley took it away and wrote some lyrics. The song was "Hotel California" . Ka-ching ! that's the sound of mega-bucks being made with probably the definitive song about California in the seventies.
Next came the protracted sessions for what eventually was the bands swansong at that time, the often underrated "The Long Run" album. Hotel California aside, this for me is where Felder really shines as a guitarist. With a great musical sparring partner in Joe Walsh, he was able to construct some great guitar workouts. My favorites are: Track 4-The Disco Strangler. Monster competing opening riffs between Felder & Walsh make this one of the heaviest tracks that the Eagles ever recorded. The only nit I have to pick is its way too short! I could easily enjoy a real long workout which lasts for 8-10 minutes-or more! Track 5-King Of Hollywood. Reputably based on the life of notorious Hollywood producer Don Simpson & his contemptible treatment of budding young Hollywood starlets, this is the extended guitar epic the aforementioned track isn't. Clocking in at 6.28, this slow brooding diatribe against Hollywood features 3 great solos as well as extremely cool rhythm guitars chiming underneath. I would love to have seen this being played live! Track 7-Those Shoes. Features Felder & Walsh playing Talk box guitars. Again, this is another criminally underrated slow burner that has aged well. I must check out from any eagles sites whether they did include these 3 album tracks in concert.

Ultimately, The Long Run wasn't aptly named-the band quit a year after its release, all the drugs, egos, disputes, bickering, antipathy finally succeeding in taking the Eagles out of the music industry. But yes, "Hell freezes over" very easily when people start adding significant zero's to offers for you to reform 14 years later! With an older but wiser, drug-free mind, Felder started to ask more about the accounting procedures unique to the Eagles, and basically got told to mind his own bloody business. It was the Gods' songwriting that really made the Eagles-as far as they and the bands manager were concerned. The rest of you merely contributed the occasional song in addition to what you played & sung on. If Walsh & Schmidt were happy, you should be happy as well "Fingers" (Freys nickname for Felder's considerable ability on the guitar). But, with a new royalty plan being devised for the new intro on "Hotel" on the "Hell freezes over" video amongst other new ways of separating the financial rewards, Felder finally found his voice & spoke out against the perceived unfairness of it all. Which promptly got him fired! Much to his bitter disappointment.

Felders story is the first from the inside of what it was like to be part of one of popular musics most iconic bands. His story is unique for his context within the band. Bought in to make the band sound more rock than country, he was an integral part of their success. Perhaps, they might not scaled the heights they did, if Felder didn't get "Hotel California" past The Gods' initial reluctance/skepticism to use songs other than which they had not wrote themselves. But history has recorded that "Hotel California" is a now quintessential part of the musical landscape.

So admit it Don & Glen. The Eagles wouldn't have been the Eagles without the fantastic contribution that Fingers Gave to the band.

It would be a major sin to think that history couldn't repeat itself, that "Hell could freeze over" one more time-for Fingers to be something he really wants more than anything else in his life. To be flying with "The Eagles" once more...

Sexy Beast

Plot Synopsis: An enforcer is sent to sunny Spain to recruit a rather unwilling former employee for one last job. Needless to say, he's not really that enthusiastic about this but, Don Logan is not a man you say no to-YES! YES! YES! would be more in line with what he wants to hear from this somewhat reluctant former employee . Perhaps he needs just a little encouragement...

When I first saw this movie, I watched it with my girlfriends parents. Which was either incredibly brave or just plain stupid! Because as those of you who've seen this tour-de-force masterpiece, its not-shall we say-a family movie. The intensity of unbridled rage is impossible to ignore, from the moment the boulder narrowly misses 'Gal', to the very end of this film, it is a compelling train wreck that you can't take your eyes off.

When you think of iconic movie villains-prior to this movie-probably you wouldn't have picked just what Sir Ben Kingsley was capable of in this role. On the one hand you have an image of him as Mahatma Gandhi-A much loved icon of peace & compassion. Well then, get ready for a massive reappraisal of his screen image as you confront his evil polar opposite-Don Logan.
Unquestionably, this bravura performance is a role that most actors typically would kill for.
Its always courageous to take on a part that will make people do a double take. To get out of a comfort zone is probably the best thing for an actor-just look at Robin Williams. Ever since he did Insomnia, One Hour Photo & Death to Smoochy I now look at him in a completely different light.
Although Kingsley's Don Logan is undeniably the main focus, the rest of this fine cast don't disappoint either. Ray Winstone as Gary 'Gal' Dove is a perfect foil to Don Logan, Ian McShane exhibits the same brooding menace that he did as the Cutthroat Al Swearengen in Deadwood.
The other parts are aptly played by James Fox as the top boss, Amanda Redman as the ex-porn star wife, and Cavan Kendall as Gal's best mate.

This pulse pounding, heart stopping powerhouse of a movie will absolutely make you see Sir Ben Kingsley in a completely different way from now on. Its Shakespearian dynamics make it a enthralling watch from start to finish. Gandhi? dead, buried, completely and utterly obliterated by Don Logan.

Now, if they could just raise Don up for one last job...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Deadwood (All 3 seasons)

Plot synopsis: The trials & tribulations of life in a lawless frontier town in the gold-laden black hills of South Dakota in the 1870's are recounted in this landmark TV series. It explores in great detail, the myriad of murky, convoluted, complex relationships of the protagonists all trying to either make a name for themselves-or just trying to do whatever it takes to survive another day. No mean feat for a town with "No law at all?"

First I gotta mention the goddamn fucking language, COCKSUCKER!!!
Now, having got that out of my system, here's the only real proviso with this Show. If you are easily offended by foul language, then you probably wont last more than 10 minutes before your reaching for the stop or mute buttons on your remote! The language is necessarily brutal, raw and violent in it's tone, volume, delivery and conviction. The language is the key thing that divides people with this series. Either you accept it, or you don't watch it! For me, it is absolutely critical to have such weighty, intense & uncompromising dialogue in a show of this kind. It feels right for the extremely high level of profanities to be an essential part of Deadwood. It wouldn't be right if the characters behaved toward each other like they would in an Merchant/Ivory movie! So, if you can accept the language-read on...

One of the very true things about casting a movie or TV show, is that if you get the casting right, the rest takes care of itself. Deadwood does this in spades. Every single actor is justifiably well cast in their particular role. And it's not only the main 'Stars' who are great. Without exception, I do believe that the shows architect - David Milch - got the casting of the supporting roles spot on as well. All these characters on the periphery all have a moment or several scenes to shine & add more depth to the often complex dealings that take place in any given scene.
Some of my favorite supporting cast are: E.B Farnum - huge kudos to William Sanderson for creating one of Deadwood's best characters. Every time EB appeared, it was always entertaining to say the least. More often than not, EB regularly got shat on - mostly from Al, but he was fair game for an ear bashing-tongue lashing bollocking from all and sundry. But, Sanderson managed to create a very human character because more often than not, ya felt sorry for the sucker! Some of his lines/spiels are amongst the finest delivered by any Deadwood cast member. Also very memorable is E.B's Hotel hand Richardson. In the 1st season, he barely gets a mention, however, slowly but surely, his character creeps into view with a pithy line, or look on his face that is just perfect for the situation. Finally in season 3 Richardson gets longer scenes & more lines and that just makes him ever more watchable. Maybe they should of had a spin-off show featuring E.B & him!
Next actor to single out is Robin Weigert & her interpretation of Calamity Jane. My god, what a role that so many actors would kill for - and Weigert completely inhabits the role with such gusto its very hard to watch her in another role without comparing her to this one. From the first time Jane opens her mouth, any sense of familiar badly under written female roles is well and truly forgotten as she unleashes her spectacularly explosive personality on all who cross her path. Hell hath no fury with her permanently boozed-up train-wreck attitude. Cussing & fighting all and sundry. You do get to see a more compassionate side to Jane as well, and Weigert's portrayal of the more feminine half is just as arresting as her dark side.

Inevitably, a show's success does hinge on the main characters. You either have to relate to them, or be blown away by the performances. It helps that Milch got the two main lead roles superbly right. Timothy Olyphant & Ian McShane as Seth Bullock & Al Swearengen respectively are utterly riveting and tear up the screen with bold, dynamic, and well judged acting performances that are simply beyond compare. The best thing that both actors bring is a great understanding of the massive moral complexity, and perhaps more crucially, the moral ambiguities that each character is saddled with. This burden manifests itself in a multitude of ways and you constantly ask yourself the question of exactly who is supposed to be the bad guy here? Both characters alternate between deeds of magnificence and deeds of extreme malevolence! And the scenes between Bullock & Alma. The scorching hot sexual longing they have for each other produces some incredibly tense moments that are in turns, enthralling & uncomfortable to view. Listen to the very funny audio commentary on episode 12 (season 1) between Olyphant & McShane which does highlight what I've mentioned very well ! Clearly, they were having fun that particular day.

The other keys factors for Deadwood's success were in the incredible attention to detail in recreating the look and feel for the time period & the foreboding environment. You can see where all the money got spent. The sets (both interior & exterior), the costumes, the lighting, everything looks and feels right. It doesn't feel fake like some shows can.
The music is very evocative and isn't overused either. A great balance of sympathetic songs & instrumental pieces add considerable flavor to great effect. The soundtrack with the naughty dialogue is well worth purchasing as well. I always fast-forward to where the Al-Mr Wu interchange comes up. "Who stole the f@#king dope?!?!? C@#&SUCKER!!!"

This utterly compelling landmark TV series is without question, one of my all-time favorite shows. Everything about it is goddamn near perfect. The sets, the writing, the acting, the dialogue, the pacing, the story arcs - everything about this sublime show just reeks of outstanding quality. Once you start watching it, you wont stop until you've watched all 3 seasons.

It is, in my opinion, one of the truly great American TV Series of all-time!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Me and you and everyone we know

Plot Synopsis:
A multi-layered, character driven debut movie from an extremely
talented first time director. Focusing on the way we approach, perceive & handle fledgling 1st time relationships, this indie charmer navigates through seemingly familiar territory, but takes a very skewed direction in getting there.

When I first saw this movie at the Auckland film festival in 2005, I knew instantly within 10 minutes that this movie was going to be one of the best things I would watch that year. And that as soon as it was available on Amazon, I was definitely going to be adding to my collection ! Indeed, since then, this film has edged into my top ten of all-time favorites. So let me now share with you why I feel so passionately about this great movie and why its worth 92 minutes of your precious time. After all, life's too short to watch crappy movies !

One of my key requirements for enjoying movies is originality. Obviously as any good film fan would know, there are only so many stories that a filmmaker can tell. Sooner or later, they can all be traced to certain types of themes. But the crucial difference is the way in which directors incorporate these themes into the film they're making. And make no mistake, its a huge challenge in this day & age to come out with something that can truly be labeled as an original. And for writer, director & star Miranda July, she achieved this goal so well, that one of the many well deserved awards it garnered was at Sundance 2005 for 'originality of vision'.

Key to achieving this, was the exceptionally talented and diverse cast for this project. Starting with Ms July herself, although not a typical Hollywood beauty, her looks are totally captivating - but even better than that is her utterly beguiling character Christine Jesperson. Slightly eccentric, kooky and yet very charming, Christine meets shoe salesman Richard Swersey (Actor John Hawkes - "Sol Star" in the 'Shakespeare in the wild west' drama "Deadwood") and immediately the two of them click together. Or maybe not. At the end of their first interaction together, the scene (thankfully) does not end in the usual cliche's. And I'm not going spoil that any further. Thankfully, Director July didn't just make this story about hers & Hawkes' characters. The rest of the cast/characters are more than mere bit parts, each character has well written roles. Indeed, perhaps somehow the real stars of this movie are the kids. From Richards two son's to the teen girls to the young neighbour, all the young actors are more than up to the task in matching the performances of their adult counterparts.

So, like many of my reviews, I don't like saying too much about the story. In my mind, its better to discover it for yourself. If you tell every little detail about a movie, then sometimes it not worth watching because you know exactly what's gonna happen-and when. Isn't it much better to view movies without knowing too much beforehand? Granted, there are occasions when it is beneficial, but the real joy in life is discovering the unknown & the unexpected. At least that's the way I try to approach my movie watching !