Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Compass Points West, Sorta, Not Really

Exciting news for music festival fan slackers like myself has been announced recently after the announcement of the Coachella Lineup which boasts a strange three way headlining acts Roger Waters, Portishead and Jack Johnson. The exciting news, however, is that the great state of New Jersey will host the All Points West three day music festival coming August 8 - 10th! What makes this so exciting is the fact that I, a music slacker, can't find value in spending oodles of money on concert tickest and then having to spend more money traveling to Tennessee (Bonaroo) or L.A. (Coachella) or any other ungodly far place to see three days of bands. Now that New Jersey has one at the great Liberty Park (with views of Lady Libs and Ellis Island), there is no way that three of my vacation days will be used to travel up and kick out the jams with some bands I need to see light up the stage. Now, no bands have been announced, but it's safe to assume bands such as Black Mountain, Stephen Malkmus, Autolux, Kraftwerk and the headliners of Coachella could even possibly play this luminous occasion with other visionary bands to be added to make it a lil different then Coachella Even the very slight possibility that My Bloody Valentine could pop up (not even a rumor, but they are getting back together) is exciting.

Check at the website for any possible news at www.apwfestival.com.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Innovative Popcorn

Making a low budget Blockbuster almost sounds like an Oxy Moron. But when Cloverfield was teased to audiences many months ago, no one knew what was to come. A beheaded Lady Liberty was all we got to see and that was enough to feed the bloggers for some time. Now that it's out there for audiences to eat up, the film is destined to disappoint many people, but on the contrary, Cloverfield is quite the movie going experience. Compared to most blockbusters of it's kind, a paltry $30 million budget is a kick to the shins of films like last summers Transformers or Live Free or Die Hard. It's this that shows what ingenuity and great film making can do.

The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla is what you get witg Cloverfield. From the point of view of some posh rich kid New Yorkers, we see a city in peril. After a long build of the characters interacting and partying, we abruptly (and the best abrupt launch into action ever) get thrown into the pits of death, destruction and mystery along with the characters on the screen. Lady Liberty's head makes an appearance at the front step of the apartment building, we get a glimpse of what wrathchild is pouncing the city streets of Manhattan. We see all too realistic landmarks topple and dramatic street wars engulf one of America's finest towns.
Although I don't give a whole lot away, it's best to stop reading and go see the movie to read the rest of this post.

Once the action begins, the impressive nature of the hand held direction really takes effect. We get unrelenting up close emotions from our characters that are sometimes hard to watch as their friends get killed, their loved ones get lost and everything falls apart. It's in this that we get some engaging acting from a laundry list of nobody's.

The film is put together quite interestingly. How do you get any back story to the characters without distracting from the kick ass action? Easy. Make the camera holding the infamous tape of footage dubbed over old footage of the main couple's relationship. It's great way to give us literal flashbacks. When they stop the tape to rewind and see what the monster looks like, we flash back to a few weeks earlier and get the back story we need to make the human characters more interesting.

The monster itself is an interesting enigma still even after seeing the film. What most people will be annoyed is with the no resolution ending. We have no idea what happens and if the monster is ever finished off or gets away. We don't even know what really happens to our documentors. They aren't heroes, just unaware documentary filmmakers of a disaster. This leads to even more speculation. There could be endless amounts of "sequels" from different points of view. Could be from the reporters, the military or from people not in NYC watching the footage on television. This anti-resolution is a very bold move especially since this is a big blockbuster. This is going to piss of much of the general public. Knowing that, the film is a thrill ride. A roller coaster of thrills and intense edge-of-your-seat action that is surprising from such a low budget affair.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Best Films of 2007

The year of 2007 had an interesting array of films. Most of which were blockbuster crap, but some of which had a really dark tone and interesting moral messages. A sign of the times? Maybe, but regardless some amazing performances were delivered on the big screen. Here are my favs of the year.

10. Superbad - Easily one of the best comedies of the year, maverick producer Judd Apatow delivers anothe rhit, but this time one that has some heart. What set Superbad aside from other Apotow films this year (Knocked Up, Walk Hard) was it's characters. Face paced, foul mouthed smart asses that are lovable in their nerdiness and pathetic teenage existence lead us through your classic 80's style "into the night" plot line. It's a re-used story, but thanks to the break-out star making performances of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, we achieve greatness. The supporting cast also boasted side splitting glory. "McLovin" is the year's new favorite character and no one can forget his gallivanting around with two pitiful cops who are just as lame and pathetic as the kids. It's not the kind of pathetic that you don't root for, it's the kind of pathetic that is hilarious and easy to relate to. Oh, and there were just a few dick jokes.

9. Waitress - One of the saddest moments any film fan can go through is hearing one of it's best is murdered in cold blood. Adrienne Shelley, an indie starlet of the 90's and a decent director was murdered in new York before her movie, Waitress, was to be released. Early 2007 it was finally released and a warm and beautiful story of truly American proportions was told, and not in the in-your-face propaganda way. A story of a small town girl getting pregnant by her dead beat husband and taking her anger and indifference out on the situation on pies. It delightful story with a quirky cast and a heart-felt story of triumphing over a situation that you have no control over. Keri Russell stands out more than ever in a very whimsical role as our leading lady and a surprise visit from Andy Griffith adds another touching part to the story. Looking past the sadness that overwhelms the tragedy of Adrienne Shelley's death comes a shining light and a really great film that stood out like a beacon among other movies of muck and mire that liter the film landscape of 2007.

8. Rescue Dawn - I already posted about Werner Herzog's tale of Deiter Dengler and his escape from a Vietnam torture prison. A harrowing journey through the jungles and through the human psyche, herzog gives us another amazing look into the human spirit. Although his documentary Grizzly Man was straight up document, he uses his skills to give a realistic feel to a truly great story. Much the theme of this year's finest films is the fact that the performances drove the story to greatness. As usual, Christian Bale turns in a brilliant performance as Dengler and as usual goes through a physical journey to show the war torn human spirit. Steve Zahn surprises with my pick for best supporting actor of the year. His mental breakdown and outstanding dramatic turn is impressive and one that should be hailed by many. Again, this film will suffer from the "released too early" syndrome that will ultimately make Rescue Dawn a forgotten classic.

7. I'm Not There - As pretentious as it may seem, I'm Not There is a triumphant film going experience. Maybe a little too insider, it's not the tale of Bob Dylan or the story of his life as much as it is the embodiment of his lyrics. This can be seen in the laundry list of impressive artists playing tribute to his songs on the soundtrack. But what makes I'm Not There so good is the fact that director Todd Haynes does justice to the schizophrenic career of the troubadour through a very frantic film style. Different actors playing caricatures of Dylan ranging from the impressive Marcus Carl Franklin as the ramblin' "Woody Guthrie" and the very hilarious pop icon role played by Cate Blanchett. My personal favorite side was portrayed through Heath Ledger and his relationship with Charlotte Gainsbourg showing the most humanistic side of Dylan. The hopeless romantic story between the two is touching and engaging. The early montage love affair set to "I Want You" and the heartbreaking send off with Dylan's Basement Tape version of the titular song are some of the most worthwhile scenes in a film of jaunting beauty. Definitely not for everyone and not really all that great if your looking for your usual story, but that's Dylan for you. "The sky ain't yellow, it's chicken."

6. Grindhouse - Schlock-o-philes Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez diced up one of cinemas most daring experiences this year. A double feature double dip 0f exploitation goodness saturated with hilarious gags, badass action and purposely bad films. was the more standard of the two. A great zombie flick with amazing one-liners and gore galore, the purposely grainy footage and "missing reels" leads to the most laughs. Planet Terror was followed by some fake trailers from Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright that are some of the funniest moments of the year. Death Proof starts and you either loved it or hated it. Regardless, it's almost nihilistic story of some attractive females cruising around leads into carnage by car. The "Ship's Mast" final car chase is by far one of the most intense stunt's I've seen in years. In the age of CGI, it's nice to see some Mad Max/Vanishing Point style stunts again. Why does this get such a high slot on my list? It was the years most enjoyable time sitting in the theater this year. Side Note: Death Proof wins best Soundtrack for 2007. So Good.

5. Hot Fuzz - The year's best comedy comes in parody form. Mocking Point Break and Bad Boys II sounds like an interesting idea, but adding in the British humor of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and the directing tact of Edgar Wright, a truly amazing slice of comedy was served to moviegoers. Parody films are so terrible this day and age, Hot Fuzz comes as a breath of fresh air. Hilarious sight gags, in your face self-mockery and a plot that you actually enjoy following, it's not just a parody of buddy cop films, but a kick ass buddy cop film in itself. Just like it's predecessor Shaun of the Dead, we get a genre reinvention and an enjoyable one at that. Pegg and Frost are the best on-screen comedic duo since, I don't know, maybe Wilder and Pryor? Maybe way better then they were. Regardless, another amazing moviegoing experience, the kind that reminded me that the best films aren't always the most thought provoking, but are sometimes the most enjoyable. The year's best comedy by far and a total delight. I can't wait for the next Pegg/Frost/Wright mock up, if it is a continuing trend.

4. Zodiac - When I heard a movie about the Zodiac serial killer was coming out from director David Fincher, I immediately thought it would be a rehash of Se7en and be pretty standard. Ye of little faith in the auetuer. Instead of being about the Zodiac killer, it was about three separate lives sucked into the mystery of the murderer and their desperate need to find out who it was. A law man, a newspaper columnist and a newspaper cartoonist search through the shrouds of mystery and through the clues to find out who was killing what seemed to be the most random people. No real patterns and years and years of painstaking work that led all to nothig for a few decades. Three great actors, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal all bring their A+ game and even with it's long drawn-out narrative, we are right there next to them hoping and praying they find out before they all lose their minds. Brilliant direction, writing and acting make this an easy candidate for the years best. Again, this one will slip by come Oscar time due to it's early January 07 release, but it's an instant classic in the Fincher catalog and possibly his most divergent film to date.

3. No Country for Old Men - The Coens have totally redeemed themselves. In a turn back to their gothic tales of deep, dark America, the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men is a daunting tale of greed. A scorched Texas is the backdrop to the intertwining lives of three men. One lawman, one man in the wrong place at the right time and one sociopath bent on destruction of any living creature he meets. It's a brutal tale, but one that drips with some realism and some monstrous acts. Javier Bardem turns in the most chilling performance as the socipath Chigurh hunting down poor Josh Brolin as Moss. Barely any soundtracking leads to a non stop suspense fest that will leave you chilled to the bone. Such a nihilistic movie is bound to get crap for it's ending, but that's because people might not get the point of what the film is about. The Coen's return to form not only brought them back into the graces of their fans, it also generated easily yet another masterpiece for them. Can someone have more than one masterpiece? Yes.
2. Michael Clayton - Three amazing performances in one film is not something you see all the time yet this year was chock full of them. Although the performances of Clooney, Wilkinson and Swinton were outstanding, the real thrill was seeing writer Tony Gilroy get behind the lens and direct a debut like no other. The tale of a "cleaner" who helps out a corporate law firm turn over when something goes wrong is one of lies, deceit, greed and despair. Besides the story of cover ups and turning over stones to find treachery and other evil deeds, we get into the minds of the characters and see their tortured lives trying to deal with every day life. The plot never wears thin, the characters stay intriguing and the mystery is revealed slowly to us just the way it is to Michael Clayton. This is my pick for the years best original screenplay and I look forward to more from Gilroy behind the lens.

1. There Will Be Blood - P.T. Anderson out does himself with a little help from Daniel Day Lewis in the ears finest film, There Will Be Blood. It's sometimes hard to watch as Daniel Plainview gets more powerful and becomes more greed hungry, his descent into madness is harrowing and visceral. From digging the California soil for oil to wheeling and dealing the locals to "drink up" their oil, Plainview's journey is the years most interesting character. Eli Sunday played by Paul Dano is yet another groundbreaing, career making performance. His preacher is beguiling and scary. The preacher has as much greed in his heart as Plainview and their on screen encounters are the most intense. Music care of Johnny Greenwood should earn the Radiohead vet an oscar nom for Best Score and it should be a dead lock for Lewis and Anderson in their respective categories to take home the gold. Even though the tragic rise to power is hard to watch sometimes, it's not literally hard to watch thanks to the great performances, the intense direction, gorgeous cinematography and bone chilling music, there is no doubt that There Will Be Blood is an instant classic and the best film of 2007.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

2007: My Life In Music

Every year, I do a blog post summing up the past year. Since this blog has become less personal in the past few months, this is kind of a sore thumb amongst posts, but tradition is tradition and I can't break most of my nostalgic traditions that I live by.

2007 was a year of status quo. That wasn't a bad thing, but nothing really changed. This was my first full calender year as a non student and although I miss some of the human interactions that institutionalized education gave me, I do NOT miss school. I moved out, I traveled to Italy, L.A. and Pittsburgh, the latter two on my own and I discovered some old bonds are hard to keep, but new friendships and relationships grow all the time.

It wasn't the best year, but it was a decent one. The mix reflects this feeling of longing for something more, but enjoying what you got all the same. Thanks to everyone who was there and thanks to those who dissappeared who and let me get over things. Distance helps sometimes and I think I want it all to stay that way.

Looking ahead to 2008, I see some major overhauls in my life. This is the first year I really think I need to make changes in the way I handle situations and enjoy my life. Being an adult is sweetass and I love it, but I'm ready for the next thing.

Here's the mix. This time, not as self indulgent as my two-discs forays in both the best and worst year of my life to date (2004 & 2005 respectively.)

1. Pete Townshend - Teenage Wasteland (Baba O'Riley Demo from Lifehouse)
2. Arcade Fire - Intervention (Neon Bible)
3. Islands - Rough Gem (Return to the Sea)
4. Dr. Dog - Ain't It Strange (We All Belong)
5. Mott the Hoople - Marionette (The Hoople)
6. Dinosaur Jr. - Back To Your Heart (Beyond)
7. Interpol - Rest My Chemistry (Our Love to Admire)
8. Lemons Are Louder Than Rocks - All My Old Friends (All My Old Friends EP)
9. Warren Zevon - Empty Hearted Town (Preludes)
10. Yo La Tengo - Barnaby, Hardly Working (Fakebook)
11. The Sharp Things - Through With Love (A Moveable Feast)
12. David Bowie - Word on a Wing (Station to Station)
13. Radiohead - Bodysnatchers (In Rainbows)
14. Daft Punk - One More Time (Discovery)
15. Justice - D.A.N.C.E. (Cross)
16. Wilco - Walken (Sky Blue Sky)
17. Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade of Pale (Best Of...)
18. Brian Eno - Everything Merges With the Night (Another Green World)

Onward and Upward in 2008.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Power and Greed

When first hearing about the project There Will Be Blood, there were two names attached to it that equaled instant success: Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis. Two power house eccentric's working together is definitely a recipe for something exciting. It surprises me that the two haven't worked together yet, but here we are in an intense year of dark films with one of (if not) the best film of the year. But more about the match-up later, on to the film itself.

When taking head of the menacing themes of Power and Greed, there is no better place than the early 20th century oil boom. There Will Be Blood shows the rise and rise and the pinnacle of Daniel Plainview. He's an oil man, as he likes to put it many times over. His business man attitude and his "family man" approach to buying up land and drilling for oil to make him and the locals money is impeccable. His success leads him to a lead in a town called Little Boston somewhere in California. His lead was from a young man who sends him to the Sunday Ranch. He meets a young preacher, Eli Sunday, and convinces the town that the oil rig is just what the town needs to make it flourish. In the process, Plainview reels out of control isolating his son, H.W. and any other human contact unless it's about business. It's all about the oil and that leads to his tragic flaw of greed.
Sounds pretty basic, right? It is in a sense that it's your classic story of a power hungry individual hell bent on God status. However, what P.T. Anderson brings here is an unflinching view into the psyche, soul and world of Daniel Plainview. And what Daniel Day Lewis brings to the character is a charged, passionate performance. It's a harrowing journey thats sometimes hard to watch and all the time gripping and impressive. The amount of emotion and energy DDL brings to any character in his sprawling, yet sparse career is impressive. He immerses himself fully into Plainview so much so that you see nothing but Daniel Plainview. His convincing acting is the core to why There Will Be Blood is so great.
This alone does not carry the film. The supporting cast, especially Paul Dano as the young "prophet preacher" Eli Sunday is an impassioned performance all at once tragic and sometimes comical. It shows the weaknesses of his youth and the sheer power that he gains as being seen as a prophet. Greed runs through his veins just as much as it does through Plainview's and their confrontations are the most intense throughout the film. Another standout performance is by newcomer and youngin' Dillon Freasier who plays H.W. Plainview, the young cherub son and "business partner" of Daniel's. Their relationship changes dramatically through the events of the entire film making it one of those dynamic points to the film. It stands out and stays with you throughout the movie even when H.W. is not on the screen.
P.T. Anderson nails the rest of the film with brilliant cinematography care of Robert Elswit (who also worked on Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and other various films) hits home with fluid cameras, intense mood canges with lighting and other effects that catch the eye. To take care of the soundtrack is Radiohead vet Johnny Greenwood. The score is just as intense as the visuals making the overall experience gripping and solidifying the images on the screen. Hair raising intense strings and percussion syncopate with what the action of the film is portraying showing the harsh landscapes of early oil drilling.
Overall, There Will Be Blood will be the best dramatic film you can see this year. I have yet to see some other top contenders for the prize, but overall, the experience P.T. Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis bring to the table is gold. Black gold, maybe, but gold nonetheless.