Friday 30 March 2007

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #10 (03/26/2007)


X - More Fun In The New World (1983)

This was X's fourth straight album produced by Ray Manzarek - the first two sticking closely to the raw L.A. Punk sound (though mixing in great harmonies - between female lead singer Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe - and some rockabilly guitar), the third moving toward a more hard rock feel and this one adding more of a fun pop feel on top. D.J. Bonebrake's booming drums were always underneath propelling the songs while Exene's pleading vocals stamped on a very distinctive mark. I don't think there's a single weak moment on this entire album.

Classic English Language Film

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967)

Much more enjoyable then any musical set in an office building has any right to be. Our hero of the story wants to fast track his way through the office by side stepping nasty little requirements like talent, knowledge or work. And yet he still comes across as a sympathetic and enjoyable character. Half the songs aren't terribly memorable (though there are still some good ones), but the set design, inventive choreography (seen below) and goofy story elements easily more than make up for that. They even avoid any cloying romantic scenes!

Image stolen from Filmbrain's Week 11 screenshot contest on Musicals. I saw this in his blog and immediately wanted to see the movie...

Recent English Language Film

Manufactured Landscapes (2006)

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. These typically incorporate massive scale (the Three Gorges Dam in China) as well as a frightening beauty to both the wreckage left behind (stranded ships in Bangladesh) or the patterns emerging in things like an enormous pile of aluminum for recycling. There's deeper ideas though...First of all, 90% of the film is spent in China and it captures the rapid and almost uncontrolled growth of industry there. Though many have termed it an "opportunity", it seems that the rush to become industrialized is not only repeating many mistakes made elsewhere, but doing so at an exponential rate and on a grander scale. This leads to even deeper concerns about not just the environment but whether society's desire to "consume" is really something that should be encouraged. Don't worry, there's no environmental soapbox about to be pulled out here. The film doesn't preach, nor does it even specifically raise the questions. In a panel session before a recent screening of the film as well as the Q&A afterwards, both Burtynsky and director Jennifer Baichwal mentioned that they didn't want to get into any kind of polemic screed. They felt that the images would naturally bring the questions to mind and hopefully reach an audience not wanting to be preached to. It does an excellent job at this and the visuals are quite astounding and occasionally very depressing.

Foreign Language Film

Fear And Trembling (2003)

A young Belgian woman returns to Japan after living the first 5 years of her life there. She feels a need to reconnect with her childhood roots and belong to this society so she gets a translating job in a big Corporation. However, her naivete and lack of knowledge of the culture sends her spiraling down the Corporate ladder into more and more degrading positions. And yet, it's really a comedy. Sylvie Testud puts in an amazing charming performance as the confused yet determined Amelie. There's likely some truth to the exagerrated office politics of the Japanese Corporate world, but the point of the film is more about Amelie trying to find her centre and her comfort zone.


Le Magnifique (1973)

The first 15 minutes of "Le Magnifique" are based around the adventures of Bob St. Clare, super secret government spy and hero. The spoofing on Bond and others of that ilk is over the top, but quite funny. He immediately wins the attention of beautiful Tatiana (played by Jacqueline Bisset) all the while knocking off his enemies in pools of bright red blood without so much as dropping an ash from his multi-coloured cigarettes. And then suddenly during a big battle on the beach, a cleaning woman shows up vacuuming the sand...She approaches a door in the middle of the beach, knocks on it and walks through it. Without giving too much more away, each revisit to Bob St. Clare gets more and more outlandish (some jokes miss the mark, but there's plenty to be had). Jean-Paul Belmondo is a blast in his role and he out-suaves the best of them.

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #9 (03/19/2007)


Stiff Little Fingers - Go For It (1981)

After discovering FM radio in the late 70s, my next big musical education came in the early 80s - The New Wave and catching up with Punk. My friend Jean-Paul leant me a tape with The Jam's tremendous "Setting Sons" on one side and Stiff Little Fingers "Go For It" on the other. I played the hell out of both of them. Neither were the raw forms of the bands from their earlier days, but the power and anger were still present - just more controlled with more focused musicianship. The title track of "Go For It" was even an instrumental - and a damn bouncy and rocking one at that. Snippets of reggae influence were also a strong part of this Irish band's sound along with the racket they could kick up and they continued their strong political messages through excellent songwriting.

Classic English Language Film

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Probably one of my favourite comedies (nay, films!) of the 30s, this was my first time seeing the lovely Carole Lombard. She plays a wealthy scatterbrained woman who hires a homeless man to be her butler. The script is chock full of zingers and clever dialogue, but Lombard just simply glows the entire film and is just so completely watchable. Normally you might get tired of a character as silly as hers, but she adds just the right amount of realism and charm that you don't get sick of her at all. Oh, and William Powell is pretty great here as well.

Recent English Language Film

Stone Reader (2002)

Terrific documentary about one man's search for the author of one of his favourite books. Though it centers around this search, it's really about the joy of reading. The various people the filmmaker encounters along the way discuss their own love of specific books and tell their own tales. Having said that, the search itself is also fascinating as we learn bits and pieces of the life of this author who released a single novel and disappeared. The conclusion of the search is somewhat bittersweet, but the film is a ringing endorsement of reading.

Foreign Language Film

The Seagull's Laughter (2001)

Icelandic cinema is where it's at. Under the guise of showing this to my wife because I thought she would like it (she did), I watched this lovely film twice over a weekend. Mostly told from the point of view of a young girl, we get the story of an older female family friend returning from years in the U.S. after her husband passes away. Her return creates ripples through the town and spotlights some of the strong females. We see rivalries for attention from men, sexual awakenings and possible ties into the spirit world. The men, who leave the town for months on end to go fishing and think they dominate, really have no control over anything...Wonderful performances and characters seal the deal on this highly entertaining and intriguing film.


Uzumaki (2000)

Not your typical Asian horror film by any stretch...The residents of a small village are becomming obsessed with spirals - in their food, in clouds, in artwork - so much so that some of them can think of nothing but. People turn into snails, fixate on the inner twsiting motion of washing machines and slowly go insane. The title of the film apparently translates better to "vortex" which makes sense since none of the residents can leave. With visual tricks along the way (spirals show up everywhere in the film), you're left with a unique, disturbing and strangely entertaining journey.

Thursday 29 March 2007

The Times Of Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay city politician elected in the United States. In 1978, after barely a year as a district supervisor, both he and the then mayor of San Francisco (George Moscone) were assassinated.

So begins this 1984 Oscar winning documentary at a press conference with the announcement of the two murders. But before we find out why this happened, we need the backstory. The film gives us the basic treatment of the life of Harvey. His roots, his early understanding that he was gay (he figures it out at 14) and further details leading up to his 4 attempts at getting onto the San Francisco city council. Nothing Earth shattering here, but via interviews and old news footage we begin to get a feeling for Harvey and his importance to not only the local Gay and Lesbian community, but the city as a whole.

It's an interesting story, but it's not obvious why the events you know are about to happen then take place. You know who commits the crime, but aside from some minor disagreements between the parties, you wonder how things could escalate. The film continues from here through 4 separate sections: the build up to the murders, the day of the murder, the wake that evening and then the trial.

The battle over Proposition 6 - a proposed California law that would have made it illegal to be gay or lesbian and teach in the Public School system - is where Harvey really began to come into his own and become more recognized outside his home city. The arguments by politicians and citizens that support the Proposition are fascinating as they always come back to center on a concern for "the children". Here the film also starts to come into its own. It still uses the standard techniques to cut old news footage with more recent interviews, but it does so very effectively to build up the conflict. From here the film just gallops along and is nothing less than fascinating for the remainder of its running time.

After the crazy news footage which follows the shootings (cameras in the building tracking cops running all over the place, body bags being wheeled into elevators in upright positions, etc.), we hit the emotional core of the film - the candlelit vigil organized the night of the killings. Even the grainy footage can't take away from the beauty of the entire width of a street, as far as the camera can pan, completely filled with people holding candles. There is calm reverance for the two murdered individuals even amidst some spectators yelling "Where's the anger!?". There is quiet confidence as the trial begins that justice will be served for their fallen heroes.

But really, who could have predicted the twinkie defense?

As with the best documentaries, "The Times Of Harvey Milk" expands its scope. In this case asking questions that are still relevant today - what will society tolerate and allow in order not to feel threatened?

Mark Isham's lovely score (he does a boatload of film music and this is likely one his best) plays over the end credits as we begin to see some of the main sponsors and those who helped fund the movie. The list of names morphs from film groups to organizations to individual people. And the list grows. At least a hundred or so. And then the last line scrolls by after the names (I'm paraphrasing here): "And thanks to the 751 other people who helped fund this project..."

A remarkable film.

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Trashy Movie Celebration Blog-A-Thon

The Bleeding Tree has an upcoming blog-a-thon (starting April 8th) that will wallow in the cinematic joys of trashy movies that should be considered high art. I doubt I'll post (eloquence eludes me), but it should be fun to read...

Wednesday 14 March 2007

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #8 (03/12/2007)


Deep Purple - Rapture Of The Deep (2005)

Not the finest Purple album ever, but certainly one of the most overlooked. And it's a shame because the band plays very tight and works on some great riffs. Ian Gillan's voice has slipped for sure - some of his lines are more spoken here than sung - but the music carries the day. It's not overwhelmingly different in nature to previous efforts and is probably closest to "Perfect Strangers" (most songs have the guitars and keyboards doubling each other to provide for a more heavy riff). Steve Morse and new keyboardist Don Airey are great foils and the band seems ready to continue for some time to come.

Classic English Language Film

How To Steal A Million (1966)

Light and frothy caper film starring immensely likeable characters drawn by Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. She needs to have some of her father's art forgeries stolen from an art museum to protect his reputation and O'Toole is a willing helper - though unbeknonst to her, he is actually an art inspector. Mutual attraction complicates matters and a great time at the movies is the result.

Recent English Language Film

The Prize Winner Of Defiance Ohio (2005)

To raise and keep her ten children fed, a woman (played by Julianne Moore) enters jingle competitions for prizes. She also endures hardships and abuse at the hands of her down on his luck husband, but retains an unflappable sense of optimism for her family. The film also deals a bit with the changing roles of women in the late 50s - apparently a hard concept for some of the male characters in the film. Overall, a well acted, scripted and even inspiring film.

Foreign Language Film

Smiles Of A Summer Night (1955)

Ingmar Bergman does period romantic comedy? Yep, and better than just anybody else. The script moves between sharp as a tack verbal sparring and broad farce, but it never lags for a second. Characters are rock solid and rise and fall in the viewer's sympathies at any given moment. Though Bergman is better known for his more serious and visually arresting films like "The Seventh Seal" or "Whispers And Cries", this 1955 Cannes winner is likely my favourite of his so far.


Little Murders (1971)

The kind of film that gets called surreal when it really isn't (though at times you could understand that misnomer being handed it). It's a satire directed by Alan Arkin, who also turns in a very funny performance as a police detective who can't solve the many random shootings taking place around the city. The denizens of the city seem to put up with the frequent power outages, guns firing and occasional blood splattered strangers. Donald Sutherland has a cameo as a hip priest that is laugh out loud funny and the cast is remarkably solid all the way around (except for perhaps the female lead who plays Elliot Gould's fiancee - she just comes across as completely annoying). A strange but satisfying film.

Saturday 10 March 2007

Esoteric Picks Of The Week #7 (03/05/2007)


The New Mastersounds - Live At La Cova (2006)

Funky workouts ala Grant Green's "Live At The Lighthouse" though not quite as lengthy in their jamming. The funk riffs drive the tunes throughout, but the additional percussionist is the secret ingredient that gives each tune that extra shake. Guitar and Hammond B-3 organ - a match made in heaven.

Classic English Language Film

Peeping Tom (1960)

Often compared to Hitchcok's "Psycho", British director Michael Powell's take on a serial murderer has the "hero" of the story kill his victims with his camera as he films them. Unsettling in many ways and actually derailed Powell's career as there was so much backlash against the picture. And isn't that all you need to know in order to take a look?

Recent English Language Film

The Five Obstructions (2003)

A documentary of sorts about Lars Von trier's challenge to fellow Danish director Jorgen Leth to redo one of his old short films into five new shorts - each one though must follow certain constraints that are decided by Von Trier. It's a battle of wills at times and really is more of a document of a director's process. The creativity on display at times is truly inspiring.

Foreign Language Film

Playtime (1967)

This masterpiece by Jacques Tati is a tour de force of set pieces and visual comedy. Apart from what is really incidental chatter from some of the characters, this is essentially a silent film - though sound effects play a large role. This was the third in a series of films where Tati plays his favourite character Monsieur Hulot - each time with the encroaching modern city and technology playing a greater part.


Black Sabbath (1963)

This was my first experience with Italian horror director Mario Bava and I think I'll be going back for more...Though quite silly in some spots and with a middle story that drags (there are three individual stories in all), the colours, camerawork and visual style heightens some of the tension and brings a great deal of fun to the proceedings. Complete with Boris Karloff intro and outro (even though he has nothing to do with any of the stories)!