Sunday, December 17, 2006

PAN'S LABYRINTH

I’m glad I waited a few days to write about this. When I left the theater, I was impressed but not blown away like I expected to be. But I recognize good cinema when I see it, even if I’m not the biggest fan. My main problems walking out was that the movie was so much different than I was expecting. Every piece of promotional material had this being a very, very different movie - the trailers, the tagline, the poster, hell, even the TITLE (which was changed for the American release…it’s a Spanish film, and the original title, El Laberinto Del Fauno, translates to “The Labyrinth of the Faun,” and the titular faun is never given a name in the film; I guess you’re supposed to assume he’s Pan). It all made it seem like a story in which the power of belief in stories, and more specifically fairy tales, can be a very powerful thing. And that’s a story I’d love to see (I guess that’s essentially Finding Neverland, a movie I adore).

But that’s not what the movie is. And it took me a night’s rest to figure out how much I loved it because of that.

The movie is about a girl, Ofelia, who goes with her mother to live with a Captain of the Spanish army soon after Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. Her mother married the Captain after her father died in order to better support the both of them. Ofelia doesn’t like her new home, or the Captain, and as an escape she invents (or does she?) an entire fantasy world in which she is a princess trying to get back to her kingdom.

I’m not going to tell you any more than that, but it’s very, very atypical of the fantasy genre that’s been present in America since Fellowship of the Ring, in that it’s hardly an escape. It’s also much better than any fantasy film at least since Fellowship, and it affirms Guillermo Del Toro (better know for directing Blade 2 and Hellboy) as not just a great genre guy, but a truly great storyteller with a better understanding of his craft than so, so many higher-profile directors.

The real world plays just as large a role, if not larger, and is just as compelling. And it’s that real world where most of its well-earned, R-rated violence comes from (I’ll be going back to this when it comes out December 29, and I really hope parents don’t bring their kids, expecting Narnia). The plot that takes place in the fascist regime of this small, rural fortress of sorts could make a whole movie all on its own.

But it’s the fantasy that elevates Labyrinth to capital-G Greatness. There’s so much imagination in these parts, not just visually (and oh…the visuals), but especially in how the story reflects what’s going on in the real world. It’s a fairy tale for adults, but it succeeds because it elevates the mood and atmosphere to give us all the same feelings that those simpler fairy tales gave us as kids (remember how scary those Disney movies could be sometimes?). Don’t watch the trailer, if only so you’ll be blown away by the appearance of the Pale Man; I’d seen the trailer, and that scene was still frightening.

Even the end at once defies the sort of end we expect from fairy tales. And by “fairy tales” I mean both Disney movies or the original Grimm stories. It changes all the rules of the happy ending, and made me question which one this truly is (I lean towards happy). It feels like there’s so much to the movie I haven’t totally figured out yet, and I can’t wait to see it again.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Music of 2006

great 2006 album:
....

well, here are the very good ones, let me know if you think I'm missing something:
TV on the Radio
Yo La Tengo
Beirut
Califone
Destroyer
Decemberists
Liars

good:
the hold steady
band of horses
peter and the wolf
grizzly bear
margot and the nucs (rerelease tho it still got shit for coverage)
clipse
swan lake
subtle

pretty good:
six organs of admittance
gnarls barkley
islands
mogwai
tarkio (shut up I'm counting it)
mountain goats
belle and sebastian
thom yorke
danielson
asobi seksu
bonnie 'prince' billy
built to spill
franz ferdinand
neko case


disappointments:
sunset rubdown
...and you will know us by the trail of our dead (big)
the flaming lips (very big)
beck (ha)
cat power (eh)

things I haven't listened to yet from this year but should (because one might be that great album that never came out this year):
futureheads
neil young (well, I pretty much saw him perform it, sans 100 gospel choir)
walkmen
mission of burma
rapture
sonic youth
regina spektor
m. ward
my brightest diamond
xiu xiu
joanna newsom
chad vangaalen
horse feathers (portland! a kid younger than us!)
yeah yeah yeahs
the thermals
bob dylan (i've had this forever but have no desire to hear it)
peter bjorn and john
boris
man man
fiery furnaces
and I don't know for sure but I'm assuming thanksgiving put out at least three records

a lot of these we have up at the station, i just need a bigger harddrive. there's only some much death cab a man can delete. that was a joke. but seriously.

Next year promises to be bigger, what with these established kids releasing albums that I'm looking forward to:
arcade fire, deerhoof, clap your hands, apples in stereo, explosions in the sky, ted leo, architecture in helsinki, dinosaur jr., the go! team, interpol, magnetic fields, pornos, pixies, wilco, andrew bird, british sea power, bloc party, spoon, modest mouse, radiohead, wrens, shins, etc/ the link has some definite dates


and the odds that some great new thing will have to come around seeing as nothing that fantastic showed up this year.

vote for your favorite though if you please, i'm kind of curious (no the avalanche does not count. no. no it doesn't. because it doesn't, okay?)

mine:prolly califone

yeah, i can't sleep. my body apparantly hates me

Saturday, December 09, 2006

APOCALYPTO

A lot of critics are torn here, and I gotta join ‘em. It feels like director Mel Gibson was trying to tell a really important story about the fall of a great civilization, but it doesn’t work on that level. The level it works on is being completely and totally awesome, and if you go in wanting that…man will you get it. It starts of a little slow but once it hits its stride, there aren’t a lot of wasted moments.

The basic plot is this peaceful Mayan village is ravaged, and everyone in it is either kidnapped or killed. Except this guy Jaguar Paw hides his wife and child in a pit before being taken away himself. So then it becomes an effort for him to get back and save them. Along the way…well, there’s an amazing part in the Mayan city. If you at all dig huge, elaborate sets that recreate a lost piece of history…this is all over that. GREAT costuming and make-up here, as is true throughout.

But anyway, the movie REALLY picks up once Jaguar Paw escapes. From there, it’s a relentless chase through the jungle where pretty much everything you’d want to see happen to people in a jungle happens (a jaguar chews a guy’s face off…for example). There’s almost no dialogue in this section, which is pretty sweet.

Speaking of dialogue, it is all in Mayan, but I think it works (note…I thought the Latin in The Passion worked in favor of that movie as well, so do with that what you will). A lot of the dialogue would come of pretty frickin’ cheesy in English, and actually I think it would’ve worked just fine without subtitles, as there’s almost no vital information communicated in the dialogue. And like I said, it’s not a very talky movie; most of it’s people running and beating the crap out of each other.

My biggest problem with the movie is a screenplay issue, because they (Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia) really make Jaguar Paw the luckiest man alive. While he does take care of his own share of business, there are two major times when he is clearly screwed when he is saved in the most ridiculous ways, and many more when he’s saved by slightly more believable means that are still lucky as hell.

But that’s kind of a small quibble, ‘cause the movie as a whole definitely works. At least, if you’re looking for balls-to-the-wall, savage violence (oh, yeah, forgot to mention…the movie’s gory as hell…not one, but TWO people get their hearts ripped out).

Friday, December 08, 2006

BLOOD DIAMOND

There’s a lot to like about Blood Diamond – solid cast, great action sequences, a really interesting subplot about the use of children in rebellion groups. But there’s probably more not to like. Leo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, and Jennifer Connelly play pretty solid types, but their characters really are just that – types (the rough-and-tumble greedy opportunist who has a change of heart, the noble countryman concerned solely for his family, and the crusading reporter trying to make a bigger difference, respectively). With a little extra push, they could’ve made the types interesting, and there are times when it seems like they’re veering from the path, but don’t worry – they aren’t. It all ends just about like you’d expect.

The central story is that Djimon Hounsou (who was the MAN in Amistad and In America) is torn away from his family by a bunch of rebels making money on the diamond black market. He’s forced into working for them, where he comes across a massive diamond, worth millions alone. So he decides to steal it and hide it, despite having seen a fellow worker shot on the spot for doing just that a few days back. There are a couple of problems here – first, the guy who was shot for doing that was spotted doing so by a guy…I dunno, a hundred yards away? Two hundred? And that one was tiny. Second, he hides it between his toes, and the guy who searches him (Djimon gets excused so he can take a crap) looks in his mouth and ears and nose and pockets…but not his feet? Third, when Leo finds out about this diamond and forces Djimon to take him to it, Djimon never really presents all that much interest in keeping it for himself, which brings into question all kinds of things about why he risked his life in the first place.

It’s these kinds of leaps in logic that keep Blood Diamond from being as real as it should (although it is violent as shit – so if that counts for realism, you’re in luck), never mind the multiple instances of high tension that are broken by large groups of people with guns coming in and shooting the crap out of everything (except the three leads, which is a convention I’ve just come to accept).

There’s also a lotta awkward shifts in the film. Mere seconds after laughing off Connelly opening up, telling her that Americans (DiCaprio is supposed to be South African, but the accent’s a bit of a stretch) put too much emphasis on feelings (which I thought was a pretty strange stereotype to begin with), he breaks down over the loss of his parents and the current state of Africa. Wouldn’t have minded it so much if it had anything to do with his character at all, or if it somehow lent itself to some sort of payoff; I would’ve even settled for Leo and Jenny to hop into bed, but it really is just there to make him seem a little more friendly.

It’s hardly the worst you can do at the movies right now, but for what it aims to be (a serious examination of the effects of global trade), it just doesn’t reach there. The best parts of the movie are these really small bits that comprise…I dunno, ten minutes worth of screen time that involve training children to be a part of the rebellion. It’s really frightening stuff, and you really hate the hell out of the militia group for it, but it’s too bad that the rest of the film couldn’t find that same tension and be as interesting.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY

If any film yet this year has the chance to emerge, years from now, as a cult classic discovered only on DVD by those unlucky enough to witness its glory on the big screen during its brief theatrical run, that movie would be TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY. Snakes on a Plane was, in the end, too much the public's cult film...a cult film for those who have never truly been a part of a small group rallying around a film nobody could ever appreciate but them, but desperate to ironically latch onto what they assumed everyone regarded as a massive joke.

But THE PICK OF DESTINY is the real thing.

It's nonstop rock (nay, RAWK!) from the start to the finish at its 93-minute mark. It's a stoner comedy that blasted Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell all night long while barreling down road at 120 miles per hour and lived to tell the tale.

The central yarn revolves Jack Black and Kyle Gass' quest to find the mythical pick of destiny, which would allow them to rock as hard as the legends and thus pay their rent. There's a kick-ass break-in scene, an awesome car chase, and a showdown with the devil himself (played by non other than Foo Fighter's leading man David Grohl). It's a funny movie, but only a comedy by default. It is, above all else...a ROCK movie.

It you love rock n' roll (and by rock I mean ROCK...I'm talkin' Queen, Dio, Zeppelin, Meat Loaf, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Guns n' Roses, KISS, AC/DC), THE PICK OF DESTINY was crafted in the fires of Hell for you and your legions. Go...and know its glory.

Also, any movie that has Meat Loaf in it is automatically in the running for greatest motion picture of all time.

In Spokane, this is normal

I was walking back from philosophy when:



all of a sudden a car pulls onto the curb in front of Robinson House and the driver gets out and walks away.



(note that the snow is where the curb ends)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chin Up Chin Up [live]


I like this band, but I could never get too into them. I think it was the lack of choruses. Seeing them live put a whole new perspective on it. Chin Up Chin Up is an instrumental band- one that happens to sing. They don't have a great (or even mediocre to be honest) vocalist, so they don't force something that wouldn't work well: where a normal band would put a chorus, these guys step away from the mic and let the audience hear the great melodies they put together and the way all the band members interact with each other. In that manner they're kind of like Built to Spill. This was the last show of their tour to support their new album This Harness Can't Ride Anything (MmGravy) and they were playing to a small crowd in a shitty venue. But they played like they loved their songs and they had everyone dancing.

I guess art pop is their most common description, but I don't like it. They're a rock band that plays guitar almost exclusively on the high frets, has a very active bass (but one that is mixed low, which I like), a keyboardist who fills in the spaces, and a drummer who does a great job sequencing with the guitars, kicks off all the songs really well, and unobtrusively drives the band. All this makes the sound energetic and easy on the ears, but it was clear watching them that this was rock sounding poppy rather than pop made to sound like rock. They hit three choruses all night long; all were guttural, authentic, and satisfying pieces of their songs. My friend calls it sissy indie which I think may be a contradiction in terms

The setlist was tight, there wasn't a ton of banter, and there was no encore.

I met their bass player (he owns the record label my friend works for) and my friends and I took him up to the station for an interview/plug. He stole one of the posters for the show on his way down the staircase. He reminded me of Mr. Daley.

If you have the chance to see them, please do so. This was a very good example of how seeing a band live can increase your love of them and their music, which is tough when you're just playing them out of your computer speakers. Take the opportunity and you'll be dancing and humming afterwards.

Rating: MMGravy

post script
Its a good thing I wasn't reviewing concerts before, I would have always been gushing seeing as how I didn't have a bank with which to compare shows. That said something tells me shows will almost always have higher rating than their respective albums.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Movie Catch-Up

Well, hesitant though I may be to admit it, there are some other good movies out besides The Fountain (just go see it! Please!), so here's a rundown of everything I've seen since...I dunno, mid-November I guess.

While I am a big fan of Ben's rating system, I'm not gonna use it. It's sort of a mental thing where it suddenly becomes a competition for every movie ("If I gave Movie X a 75, is Movie Y really an 80? It is...but it's not REALLY better than Movie X..."). It's totally my own insanity, but what'll you do.

STRANGER THAN FICTION - The kind of movie that gets the film geek inside of me all happy - a director (Marc Forster, Finding Neverland) putting out yet another very fresh film from a completely original script by a first-time screenwriter (Zach Helm, who has a very bright future) with a cast you would never otherwise see together (when else would Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah have cause to join together?). Will Ferrell's fantastic in it.

HARSH TIMES - The movie, which mostly deals with the psychological scars left by military life, is only slightly above average. Christian Bale's performance, however, is incredible, and the movie's entertaining enough. Definitely a dude flick.

FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS - One of those difficult movies that's really well made, but is just too weird for most people (me, I just didn't care for it).

CASINO ROYALE - It's damn good, if a little long for its own good, and Daniel Craig is a great James Bond, but the best Bond movie ever? Hardly. I'll take Goldeneye any day.

OLD JOY - Hey, look, a true indie movie shot in Oregon! And it really made me miss home, but not because there's a shot outside the Franz bread company on 12th, but because it really evokes that "Portland vibe."

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION - New movie by Christopher Guest and company (the guys who did Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind), and the first 2/3rds really feel like it. Then the final act starts and it just gets...sad...but not in a good way. At all.

DEJA VU - I love time travel movies, I really do. And while this isn't anywhere near the glory of Primer, it's pretty damn great and pretty damn geeky. There's a car chase sequence that's unlike anything ever done that'll cement this movie in history.

This week, I'm seeing Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (SO EXCITED!), Blood Diamond, and The Nativity Story. Then next weekend, Apocalypto comes out (which by all accounts is going to be incredible), along with some movie called Fuck that's basically a documentary about the word. I'm going for the portions of the an interview with the late Hunter S. Thompson. And because it's a fun word. Also, The Holiday comes out, but I'd rather see that right before Christmas (girls, wait for me to get home, I really want to see it with you).

Tromple-L'oeil

These French Canadians:


Made this album:


For you:
I wish I could insert an internet mirror here.

After a short intro, Malajube hits you with "Montréal -40°C", a song that goes from dance to twee to some delicious combo. "Pâte Filo" is great energetic pop followed by "Le Crabe", by which point you wonder if Malajube has discovered a melody mine where they go, dig these suckers up, and then proceed to stuff like ten in per song, like they don't plan to make another album. "La Monogamie" is another strong cut, followed by "Ton Plat Favori" which is the soundtrack to going to the carnival on uppers I think.

They start to lose a little creativity (but never spunk) on "La Russe" and "Fille À Plumes", after which the record takes a decidedly different turn. "Casse-Cou" alternates between calm pop and metal freakout, setting you up for my favorite track on the record, "Étienne D'août". I guess the band found one hook they could all agree on -and you'll hear why- and built a five and a half minute song around it. It rises and falls beautifully, and in general reminds me Slowdive. This should have been the end of the album (which would make it a concise 35 minutes, just about right for a pop album) but they tack on "St-Fortunat", a throwaway, and "La Fin", almost eleven minutes long-45 seconds of instrumental, eight minutes of silence-and a nice little minute and a half of a sketch of a song. Pointless and stupid.

So if you want some energetic disco rock where you never know what's coming next (e.g. they actually try rapping at one point), or just want to hear men singing in French (you know who you are), there are a few of the songs in the link, as well as some that aren't on this album (their first). If you're a big Unicorns/Islands fan, give it a shot.

Rating: mMGravy