Monday, 26 February 2007

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #6 (02/26/2007)


Hoodoo Gurus - Mars Needs Guitars (1985)

One of Australia's finest power pop exports, the Hoodoo Gurus delivered their best (well, IMO) set with their second full length release. Riffs and hooks abound throughout this album and almost always done with a sense of fun. Lyrically they ranged between silly and inspired cleverness and never came up dull. I think I actually "discovered" these guys while watching MuchMusic one day (when it was watchable and actually touched on the subject of music) when they played the video for their surf tinged single "Like Wow Wipeout". Though they broke up in 2000, it looks like they are back together, touring and have a recent album out (as yet unheard by me).

Classic English Language Film

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

Probably my favourite Western of all time. Two drifters wind up in the middle of a lynch mob and side with those pleading for calmness. The mob wants revenge though and no one seems to care about facts when the goal is quick "justice". All handled in an economical 75 minutes, this is a remarkable study of flawed humanity (both individual and group). Many people also consider this film to belong to the Noir genre. Though I don't think it hits the standard requirements of Noir, it certainly has some beautiful stark cinematography as well as a sense of foreboding throughout.

Recent English Language Film

Street Fight (2005)

Solid documentary of the mayoral race in Newark New Jersey from a few years ago. Fascinating yet quite depressing to see both the political system and the electorate abused in various ways. It's actually actively frustrating at times, in particular when you see many voters simply ignore what's right in front of their faces in order to stick with "traditions" and buy into stock platitudes.

Foreign Language Film

Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles

Zhang Yimou is one of my fave living directors. After many beautiful simple human stories starring actresses like Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi ("To Live", "The Road Home", etc.), he moved to stunning visual pieces like "Hero" and "House Of Flying Daggers". Before moving to another visual spectacle ("Curse Of The Golden Flower" - great looking, but one of his least enjoyable stories), he put togther this little gem of a film. A father trying to re-establish contact with his dying son, travels to China to find an opera singer. Along the way, through other relationships he builds (in particular with a small boy) he develops the greater understanding of his son that he always wanted. Very touching and, as with most of his films, human.


Lessons Of Darkness (1992)

In the early 90s Werner Herzog compiled some astounding images of the burning oil fields of Kuwait. Instead of doing a straight up documentary about them, he instead cast the images into the framework of a sci-fi tale. The running commentary over the images is sometimes goofy, but really underscores the completely alien feeling of seeing these enormous fires over a blackened landscape. The footage is at times jaw dropping and the lack of additional voice over narration (to explain the context of what you are seeing) manages to make it all the more unsettling.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #5 (02/19/2007)


Rockpile - Seconds Of Pleasure (1980)

Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds each released great solo albums in 1979 ("Labour Of Lust" and "Repeat As Necessary") and did so with virtually the same lineup on each record (both artists plus Billy Bremner and Terry Williams). So the next year, the whole band went into the studio to record as, well, a full band. The result is some pure pop pleasure. Opening with "Teacher Teacher" (proof that "Cruel To Be Kind" could be tweaked a bit and still sound fresh) and wrapping up with the exuberance of "You Ain't Nothin' But Fine", the album flows from one hook to another. Rockabilly-pop with a strong sense of humour.

Classic English Language Film

In A Lonely Place (1950)

Humphrey Bogart gives one of his best performaces as a struggling screenwriter in this film noir from Nicholas Ray. The mood and lighting are both dark and you can't help feel that fate has already played its cards. The gorgeous Gloria Grahame provides Bogart's character (called Dixon Steele - what a great noir name) with an alibi for a murder and they begin to fall in love. But Steele's dark side keeps popping up and threatens the new relationship and casts doubt on whether he really is innocent.

Recent English Language Film

Frailty (2001)

Bill Paxton's debut as a director has him directing himself (and Matthew McConaughey) in the story of a father who enlists his two sons' aid in killing demons. Is the father a fanatic who simply sees evil everywhere or is he really doing the world a service? Along the way, we see flashbacks that show a split in the devotion of the two sons - one firmly believes in his father's calling and the other questions his sanity. Effectively creepy and manages never to let your interest wane.

Foreign Language Film

Casque D'Or (1952)

You know how some films just grab you right out of the box? And sometimes you can't even explain why? I started this film late one night just to get an impression of its style and ended up cruising through the whole thing (even though I was quite tired). Jacques Becker has a natural ability to tell a story in an interesting manner without you ever being overly conscious of what he's doing. It just seems effortless. The tale here involves some small time Parisian gangsters at the turn of the century. The golden haired Marie is at the centre of the attentions of three of them, but only desires one. Let's just say that it then gets a little bumpy...Each character of the film is rendered so well with small touches that enable you to join their world easily.


Branded To Kill (1967)

Drop any pretensions of narrative cinema at the door. Seijun Suzuki takes a completely different approach to telling a basic yakuza style tale of a hitman looking to reach the pinacle of his profession (ie. No. 1 killer). For his efforts, Suzuki was fired from his studio after delivering this picture, but you can't blame the guy for trying something a bit different than shooting the same old 'B' picture quickie. What he's doing is playing with the form...The plot and storyline still come across, but the images aren't exactly what you would expect. Other films of his like 'Tokyo Drifter' and 'Youth Of The Beast' are also highly recommended.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

A Movie quiz...

I cribbed this little quiz from the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog. For my own amusement I'll try to answer it here as I like some of these questions

1) What was the last movie you saw, either in a theater or on DVD, and why?

The Hungarian gem "Hukkle". Not a word of dialog, but lots of sound and amazing visuals. It's a cross between "Microcosmos", "Koyaanisqatsi" and a crime mystery.

2) Name the cinematographer whose work you most look forward to seeing, and an example of one of his/her finest achievements.

Just for the beautiful "The Conformist", I'd say Vittorio Storaro. Christopher Doyle's name always gets my attention though for the lovely Asian films he's done.

3) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson?

Joe for sure. I had to check IMDB for Bo. Anyway, I just saw Joe in Steven Soderbergh's fine "The Underneath" and he was also in "Mitchell" - one of the finer MST3K episodes.

4) Name a moment from a movie that made you gasp (in horror, surprise, revelation…)

Somewhere in the middle of the documentary "Capturing The Friedmans" when the detectives are discussing their questioning of the young kids who had allegedly been molested, the male detective says "We had to help them remember some things...".

5) Your favorite movie about the movies.

Probably the documentary on cinematography "Visions Of Light". It had some truly great clips and showed how well light and shadows can be used to set mood.

6) Your Favorite Fritz Lang movie.

Though I really want to see the noir "The Big Heat" again, I don't think "M" will ever be displaced.

7) Describe the first time you ever recognized yourself in a movie.

Can't really think of a specific case right now, but others saw me in "Almost Famous (when he was spinning his sister's albums) and in Hi Fidelity (certain moments in the record store and others while sorting his collection - not so much the screwed up relationship portion...).

8) Carole Bouquet or Angela Molina?

Out of the two objects of desire, Angela was definitely the least obscure.

9) Name a movie that redeems the notion of nostalgia as something more than a bankable commodity.

The first thing I could think of is Barry Levinson's "Diner". Not my favourite movie, but handled the time and place so very well. Even better (as a film and with its use of nostalgia) is another Levinson film called "Avalon".

10) Favorite appearance by an athlete in an acting role.

Wayne Gretzky in "The Young And The Restless". Ha! Just kidding...Probably Jim Brown in "The Dirty Dozen".

11) Favorite Hal Ashby movie.

"Being There". But "Shampoo" is the only other Ashby film I've seen...

12) Name the first double feature you’d program for opening night of your own revival theater.

I'd love to see both "Kwaidan" and "Onibaba" on the big screen. Classic Japanese horror.

13) What’s the name of your revival theater?

Nothing snappy comes to mind. Probably would call it something simple like "The Movie House".

14) Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould?


15) Favorite Robert Stevenson movie.

Thanks again IMDB...I guess it would have to be "The Love Bug".

16) Describe your favorite moment in a movie that is memorable because of its use of sound.

Probably the sudden lack of sound in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Pulse". In certain key scenes, the dropping out of all ambient noise heightens the spooky/creepy factor way up. One of the strengths of Japanese horror films is their use of the sound field, especially in subtle ways.

17) Pink Flamingoes-- yes or no?

Haven't seen it yet, but let's just say it's way down on the list...

18) Your favorite movie soundtrack score.

"Ocean's Twelve". It fit so perfectly with the spirit of the movie.

19) Fay Wray or Naomi Watts?

Can't really lose on that one. I might have said Naomi Watts, but I recently watched the original "King Kong" and Fay is just stunning in that scene early on when she's doing a screen test for the camera.

20) Is there a movie that would make you question the judgment and/or taste of a film critic, blogger or friend if you found out they were an advocate of it?

Short of the obvious 'Z' grade movies, 2 sprng to mind that I saw last year: "The Girl From Monday" (just horrible acting and a mess of what might have been an interesting story) and "Hangman's Curse" (played like a lame after school special with a tidy family moral at the end and not the intriguing horror film it was presented as - proof it sucked: Michael Medved likes it).

21) Pick a new category for the Oscars and its first deserving winner.

I liked someone else's answer for this one --> Best Opening Titles.

22) Favorite Paul Verhoeven movie.

"Robocop". Funny both in satire and in sight gags. And just pretty damn cool at times.

23) What is it that you think movies do better than any other art form?

Envelop you.

24) Peter Ustinov or Albert Finney?

Albert Finney.

25) Favorite movie studio logo, as it appears before a theatrical feature.

The Japanese Nikkatsu logo.

26) Name the single most important book about the movies for you personally.

"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die". A great wide ranging list that has really helped expose me to classic and foreign language cinema.

27) Name the movie that features the best twist ending. (Please note the use of any “spoilers” in your answer.)

"Fight Club" worked perfectly for me and caught me right off guard.

28) Favorite Francois Truffaut movie.

"Day For Night". Though at this stage, it's my only Truffaut movie.

29) Olivia Hussey or Claire Danes?


30) Your most memorable celebrity encounter.

As soon as I have one, I'll let you know.

31) When did you first realize that films were directed?

"Raising Arizona" was probably the most influential film for me in recognizing a director's style and methods for telling the story.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Documentaries Are Movies Too!

I've heard people say they don't mind documentaries, but why would you ever watch one twice? They can't be as good as a solid fictional narrative film, can they?

Damn straight they can! Here's a few lists of different types of docs that kept me interested and made me want to come back for another look. These aren't necessarily the best or the most insightful, but they all either shocked, surprised or simply engaged me in the unfolding story and its characters.

10 Entertaining Documentaries

A Perfect Candidate
- A document of Oliver North's 1994 campaign for the Senate. Before you snigger at the thought of voting for North, you should see the other guy...

American Movie
- Mark Borchardt's dream is to make his movie. Don't try to convince him he can't.

The Aristocrats
- Comedians of all stripes tell the world's dirtiest joke, but it ends up being more about the thought process behind a joke and the many different approaches that can be taken.

Bowling For Columbine
- Michael Moore's scattershot take on why America loves its guns. It's messy, but it's very entertaining and asks a lot of questions that aren't easily answered.

Dogtown And Z-Boys
- I'm biased because I loved skateboarding as a kid and knew about these pioneers of surfing on asphalt, but you don't have to care one bit about it to enjoy the history and people of the sport.

For All Mankind
- Piles of NASA footage from Apollo missions. Isn't that enough?

Mad Hot Ballroom
- Though the thought of ballroom dancing and kids may give you the willies, this is an exceptional story about some inner city kids who are determined to compete for the city championships. It's not about the dancing, it's about the people.

Riding Giants
- Stacy Peralta's follow up to "Dogtown And Z-Boys" is about the big wave surfers and is equally good in all respects to his first feature. Some of the footage is staggering.

- We get to follow several kids as they prepare for the annual U.S. Spelling Bee and get to know them and their parents. As with "Mad Hot Ballroom", it's not really about the main subject of the film...It's about the people.

- Really fun documentary about Crossword puzzle solvers and the lead up to the National championships. Intermixed with celebrities who also have a passion for solving the daily crosswords, we get to meet some pretty interesting folks.

10 Documentaries with Incredible Stories/Lives

Capturing The Friedmans
- A family's set of home movies help to tell the story of a father and his youngest son who are both accused of having sexual relations with young boys. Throughout the course of the film, which includes further interviews with police and others, we become less and less sure of what really happened.

- The governor of Illinois has 60 days to decide the fate of over a hundred prisoners on Death Row. A number of journalism students have uncovered the fact that some of these prisoners are innocent and the clock is ticking towards the end of the governor's term.

Go Tigers!
- Massillon Ohio isn't just football crazy, they revolve their lives around it.

Grizzly Man
- Werner Herzog develops an remarkable portrait of wildlife activist Timothy Treadwell, by using Treadwell's video diaries of his trips to Alaska to live amongst the grizzlies.

Hoop Dreams
- 5 years in the lives of two high school basketbal players with their sights set on the pros. You just can't script this kind of stuff...

Mr Death: the Rise And Fall Of Fred Leuchter Jr.
- One of Errol Morris' most interesting films. Beginning with a look at how Fred Leuchter became a designer and builder of electric chairs (and other devices used in prison Death Rows), the film suddenly takes a jaw dropping turn as we see that Leuchter is looking for validation - any kind of validation.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills
- Tremendously disturbing tale of the killings of three young boys and the two teenagers sent to prison for their deaths. As the film progresses, not only do we see what was likely a great injustice, but we meet one of the creepiest people ever...

- 10 years after being a Big Brother to Stevie, filmmaker Steve James returns to visit.

Street Fight
- This 2005 document of the mayoral race for Newark New Jersey is one of the best political films I've seen. Pretty damn upsetting too.

The Thin Blue Line
- Another great Errol Morris film that was actually the catalyst for the release of an innocent man.

12 Documentaries on filmmaking/films

A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies / My Voyage To Italy
- I can think of no one else I'd rather listen to speak about film than Martin Scorsese. His trip (via clips and personal recollections) through American films that inspired him is faulty in only one respect - he stops once he reaches the 70s and his peers. A similar travelogue through Italian films from his youth is equally interesting - though be warned that spoilers abound.

Celluloid Closet
- An excellent survey of how gays and lesbians have been portrayed in films over the years.

The Cutting Edge: The Magic Of Movie Editing
- The focus here is on editors and their work. It provides some superb examples of how editing can effect a specific scene and give it a certain tone.

Decade Under The Influence
- Ah, the 70s...Interviews with the directors and actors who made so many memorable films from that decade.

The Five Obstructions
- Lars Von Trier challenges fellow Danish director Jorgen Luth to remake one of his old short films using five different sets of parameters and restrictions. Surprising turns are mixed in with flashes of filmmaking brillance by Luth.

Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
- Thought "Apocalypse Now" was a mind trip? The reality of making the film is just as screwed up. Worth it alone for the amazing outakes of Martin Sheen in the hotel room.

Schlock: The Secret History Of American Cinema
- This is a really fun ride through a bag full of, well, schlock films from the 50s and 60s. Any film that includes a scene from "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" is OK with me.

Lost In La Mancha / The Hamster Factor
Think Terry Gilliam is a fascinating director? Then these two documents of him behind the scenes are just what you're looking for.

Visions Of Light
- One of my favourite documentaries of all time...An excellent look at cinematography and how effective "painting with light" is in creating mood within a film.

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession
- Though the heart of this movie is the sad story of Jerry Harvey - the programming chief of this early cable station - the joy of it is to listen to the many people influenced by the classic foreign and off the beaten path films it showed.

10 Music Documentaries

A Great Day In Harlem
- Some of the greatest jazz musicians to ever walk the Earth, gathered for a photograph one morning in 1958. Through interviews and performance clips (the section on drummers is worth the price alone), we get to see each participant. Though I haven't seen Ken Burns' mammoth documentary series on Jazz, I'm not sure it'll give you much more of a feeling for the music than this hour long account of the taking of a single picture.

Calle 54
- Each performance by this mixed group of Latin jazz musicians (Tito Puente, Chucho Valdez, etc.) seems to top the one before it. The filmmakers also took pains to drape the scenery in lots of colour to give a feast for the eyes while the ears are digging the music.

- A very unique look into the daily lives and battles of two bands who began as friends. The career paths of the Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre certainly diverge over the course of the film and we get to see everything from backstage antics to total onstage meltdowns.

The Last Waltz
- One of the best filmed concerts ever. Martin Scorsese does a freaking phenomenal job in composing the shots and capturing The Band's farewell performance (with countless guest stars).

- An introduction to electronic music of all types including Stockhausen, Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa as well as more modern day DJs and techno artists. Not a straight line history, but simply opens up a vast number of possibilities for music to follow.

Monterey Pop
- Otis, Jimi, Janis, etc. A seminal document of the 60s music and counterculture scene - with a kick-ass Ravi Shankar performance.

Pink Floyd - Live At Pompeii
- I just love seeing Floyd playing with those huge stacks of Marshall amps.

- If you've never understood what's so musical about scratching records or thought "Feh, I can do that!", watch this film and be prepared to prop up your jaw. I'm sure not everyone will enjoy the sounds, rhythms and beats developed, but I fail to see how you could not see how it is musical.

Stop Making Sense
- Each song in this Talking Heads concert is lit a bit differently than the one before it and the camera work has been mapped out beforehand. Throw in a tremendous band, high energy show and David Byrne's unique enthusiasm and you have another of the best concert documentaries ever filmed.

- Can I say seminal again?

10 Documentaries of Images

- The cinematographer of "Koyaanisqatsi" steps out on his own for a similar styled film. This one focuses a bit more on people - customs, relationships with nature and our barbaric abilities.

Fata Morgana
- Werner Herzog makes incredible movies. Unique images abound and this collection of images from the desert feels like one entire mirage.

- Life Out Of Balance. Not only the theme of the film's images, but an appropriate description for how you may feel after watching so many familiar things viewed in totally different ways.

Lessons Of Darkness
- Werner Herzog makes incredible movies. The burning oil fields of Kuwait have been recast as a sci-fo story and gives one the feeling that Herzog has some insight into what the Apocalypse might look like.

Man With A Movie Camera
- Ah, Russian silent cinema...Dziga Vertov's various city scenes of daily life are edited together in extraordinarily innovative ways that are still visually intriguing even today.

Manufactured Landscapes
- Terrible beauty is a term that just kept popping into my mind during this film. On the surface, it's a documentary on photographer Edward Burtynsky and his pictures of mankind's changes to the natural world due to industry. Digging deeper there's an unspoken warning.

- Within the confines of a small piece of nature, this film opens up fascinating worlds on the small scale. You may never look at a dung beetle the same way again.

Rivers And Tides
- Andy Goldsworthy is an artist who works with nature and creates what is essentially temporary art. Whether is sculptures on a beach awaiting the high tide, ice formations that will melt away or beautiful patterns from fallen leaves, each of his constructions is definitely a work of art. And fortunately we now have many of them on film.

Sketches Of Frank Gehry
- If an architect's buildings match his mindset (neat and orderly, creative and sleek, etc.), than Frank Gehry's mind must be littered with crumpled up Salvador Dali paintings. Though without the melting clocks...

Winged Migration
- The trailer alone for this movie is stirring. The music combined with stunning images of birds from angles you never thought possible gives me the goosebumps everytime. Beats those damn penguins...

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #4 (02/12/2007)


Bobby Previte - The Coalition Of The Willing (2006)

As a drummer, Previte has played with a wide ranging set of musicians across many styles. Grounded mostly in jazz, his solo albums have been (the ones I've heard) odd but with great moments and sections. This latest has a more rock vibe and is consistently driving with great riffs and tunes throughout. Charlie Hunter guests on guitar and blasts out some great lines backed with Hammond B-3 and additional support by a few members of Galactic. This is instrumental music that is challenging, but remains interesting throughout.

Classic English Language Film

The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

As a crooked preacher, Robert Mitchum gives one of his biggest performances. On the trail of some stolen money, he convinces a young widow and her town that he is a righteous man, but he's really looking for the cash that only the widow's children know about...Beyond some great monologues by Mitchum and a fine story, the black and white cinematography is just glorious. The trip down the river by the children is given a slightly surreal feel and one specific image under the water (you'll know it if you see it) will leave a lasting impression upon you.

Recent English Language Film

Next Stop Wonderland (1998)

One of the best romantic films around. Not so much a "rom-com" as it doesn't try hard to be cute or laugh out loud funny, but you'll find a smile on your face for a good part of the film. Most of that is due to an excellent performance by Hope Davis who is just radiant in some of her scenes. Her male co-star (Alan Gelfant) is less successful in his role, but the script shores up any of those shortcomings. I've yet to see a mediocre film from director Brad Anderson ("Happy Accidents", "Session 9", "The Machinist") who has a great eye for visuals, but really knows how to tell an interesting story about interesting people.

Foreign Language Film

Le Samourai (1967)

Jean-Pierre Melville's superb film of a lone hitman and the rituals and lifestyle he leads. Alain Delon is the coolest cucumber you'll ever see in a film and he never seems to break stride. I hesitated to put this under Foreign Language (ie. for me --> non-English) because it's probably closer to a silent film and would have worked just as well. So there is a great deal riding on the visuals to lead us through the tale. There's a terrific, tightly choreographed sequence in the police station when the head investigator in a murder moves between rooms and other portions of the police station all the while questioning different suspects - just one example of Melville's sure hand at delivering the proper feeling when required.


Hukkle (2002)

A gem of a little film (~75 minutes) from Hungary's Gyorgy Palfi. It's almost completely without dialog, but certainly not silent. The chirps, chortles, blorts, clicks and hiccups of nature, humans and machinery all coexisting together fill the soundtrack and feel almost musical at times. The men of a small village seem to be dying off at a fast rate and a police constable is on the trail. But the beauty of the film (and it's almost like "Baraka" mixed with "Microcosmos" at times) rests with the nature scenes interspersed with village life. Sometimes the film contrasts quiet nature versus clanging farm machines and at others it parallels the humans simple existence (a snorting hog and an old man hiccupping). Even more so than some of the Shohei Imamura films I've seen of late, Hukkle tosses mankind into the same ring as the rest of nature.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #3 (02/05/2007)


New Birth Brass Band - New Birth Family (2005)

The term "rollicking" was invented for this album. It's great fun in a Dirty Dozen Brass Band vein, but the singing is less forced and rough and there's an overall more jubilant mood. Gospel mixes with funk and the groove is so steeped in New Orleans that you can't not shake to it (I love double negatives). The band is essentially all horns and percussion and they have fun with it (eg. interpolating a bit of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" in "Who They Want"). If there's a common element in music coming from New Orleans, it's a joy of living.

Classic English Language Film

The Man In The White Suit (1951)

In the late 40's and early 50's the British Ealing Studios created a number of gentle satires, many of which starred Alec Guinness. This is one of my favourites. Guinness plays a young scientist who develops a clothing material which cannot ever be stained and never wears out. After the initial rush of the discovery both management and the union realize that this new material is bad for business. The humour is low-key but consistently funny throughout and Guinness plays naive perfectly.

Recent English Language Film

Mr. Death - The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. (1999)

One sign that you've hit upon a good documentary (or at least an interesting one) is how often your jaw drops to the floor or you say out loud "Holy crap!". There's a moment somewhere in "Mr. Death" - after Fred Leuchter takes us through the many execution devices he has built for prisons and how he accidentally got involved in this career - that simply came out of nowhere and leads to the "Fall" portion of the film. It's a fascinating portrayal of a man who desperately wants to be recognized and considered an authority and achieves this through incredible wrong-headed means...

Foreign Language Film

Harakiri (1962)

Superb take on a time in Japanese history when samurai were "out of work" due to peace and the different clans being essentially split up. One such samurai asks that he be allowed to commit ritual suicide on the grounds of a lord's property. But it's not that simple...Beautifully composed and filmed, I found the story quite riveting. The director's name is Masaki Kobayashi and he has a keen sense of human qualities that make for sympathetic characters. Two of his other films ("Samurai Rebellion" and "Kwaidan") are equally excellent and also contain beautiful and even stunning cinematography.


The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Enormously entertaining Vincent Price film filled with colour, multiple ingenious murders and lots of organ music. Price doesn't actually so much act as glower for most of the film, but there's a definite tongue planted in cheek. The revenge murders on a group of doctors become overly elaborate at times as they each are designed to mimic one of the Biblical plagues.

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #2 (01/29/2007)


Carpe Diem - En Regardant Passer le Temps (1978)

Prog that pulls in the best parts of the "serious" French bands, the sweeping classical feel of the Italians and bits and pieces of prime Genesis. There's a slight jazz feel to it at times as well because of the sax/flute combo, but again, it uses the best parts of the fusion aspect to keep the music engaging and thoroughly entertaining. Their second album "Cueille Le Jour" is equally good.

Classic English Language Film

The In-Laws (1979)

Arthur Hiller's late 70s comedy is one of the funnier films from that decade. Peter Falk pulls his future in-law Alan Arkin into some government spy business and the lunacy begins. It never gets too over the top silly though. The more panicked Arkin gets, the calmer Falk gets. You'll also never think of the word "serpentine" in the same way again.

Recent English Language Film

Lucid (2005)

A Canadian film that isn't overly earnest? Yep, it's possible...A young psychiatrist has trouble sleeping and begins to get deeply involved in the lives of three patients from his encounter group. Things get complicated as the patients begin talking about "repeaters" and the psychiatrist tries to help each of them with their Post Traumatic Disorders, all the while trying to cope with his wife leaving him and getting through to his young daughter. The mysteries mount up and the resolution is handled quite nicely and unexpectedly.

Foreign Language Film

The Conformist (1970)

A true classic just recently on DVD. One of the absolutely most beautiful films I've seen. A visual cornucopia (if I may be so bold as to use that word) of images, colours and shades of light. A feast for the eyes. Oh, pretty good story too...B-) A young Italian Fascist wants nothing more than to conform with society and do what he is supposed to do. His party sends him on a mission to kill his former professor (a radical) as the young man deals with a new wife and potentially a new lover. Again, simply outstanding cinematography raises an already good story to lofty heights.


Cure (1997)

A detective is on the trail of several similar murders that seem to have been committed by different people who seem to be otherwise completely normal. They have little memory of why they did it, but all share having met a young amnesiac. His tendency to ask everyone he meets who they are in slow steady repeated ways seems to almost hypnotize them. Is he implanting murderous actions? Just getting them to act on their innermost desires? A very intriguing and thought provoking mystery from Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #1 (01/22/2007)


Jimmy McGriff & Groove Holmes - Giants Of The Organ In Concert

Hammond B-3 in all its dirty, squonky, live glory. Complete with some funky and sharp guitar licks. There's no cheese filling here - no lounge-y remakes of pop hits, no ballads and nothing that makes you think of an old 60's TV theme. I'm not sure if this is still available via CD, but the wondrous had it available for download, so I shnagged it. Yes, even MP3 versions of these songs cook and ooze the analog feeling of the organs.

Classic English Language Film

Grand Prix (1966)

A John Frankenheimer film from the late 60's takes you on the Formula 1 circuit to experience the lives of several drivers. The real grabber here is the racing footage...Tremendous stuff that I don't think has been duplicated since. Frakenheimer gets his cameras into the actual F1 cars, intermixes real footage from real F1 races they followed that year and even incorporates small roles for the actual F1 drivers. Stars James Garner and Yves Montand did their own driving after extensive studying with professional drivers and this pays off in a big way as you get a solid feeling these guys were really driving (and they were).

It's long and the romances off the track slow it down occasionally, but when the story gets back to the drivers' racing woes and wins it makes for fine viewing.

Recent English Language Film

Brick (2005)

A modern Film Noir, complete with deadpan conversations, quick verbal sparring and a language all their own. Plus, it's set in a high school with high school kids. This doesn't work for some people, but I bought into the concept and loved the end result. Not just the plot and its headlong plunge into the fates in store for the characters, but the visual flair and plain fun of its style.

Foreign Language Film

Lady Vengeance (2005)

The closing chapter of Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy. Can one woman find solace or even simply closure in her years long quest for vengeance? Decide for yourself as you watch this incredible piece of celluloid which is at turns funny, gut-wrenching (the scene where she convinces other victims to help seek vengeance can be difficult to watch) and simply beautiful to look at. It's a complete work of art and has become one of my favourite all time films. Don't miss the other two films in the trilogy ==> "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance" and "Oldboy". Remarkable films from Korea.


Schizopolis (1996)

I wanted to include a category that was for the fringe "What the heck was that I just saw?" type films. No better place to start than Steven Soderbergh's 1996 film Schizopolis. Somewhere between the indie success of "Sex, Lies And Videotape" and winning an Oscar, Soderbergh threw together (with help from friends and little to no backing) this odd assortment of loosely tied skits and characters that represent, um, well I'm not completely sure...But the sheer absurdity of most of what happens here is a lot of fun if you don't take it seriously. Occasionally you also find some rather intriguing ways that Soderbergh attempts to get some ideas across. Soderbergh stars in parts of the film as 2 different people, one whom is married to a woman (played by his ex-wife) who is having an affair with the other. The rift in their communication is made clear using several different devices (one of which is Soderbergh's character suddenly speaking only in Japanese).

A patchwork of fun, odd and sometimes meaningful pieces of dreams. Or perhaps pretentious noodling. Your call...