Monday, February 20, 2012

Sundance 2012 Wrap Up - Day Three

More bad movies. Me at the Zoo seemed promising. It was meant to be an exploration of fame derived from youtube and other online avenues. This premise is quickly abandoned once the movie settles on Chris Crocker, the transgendered Tennessee teen who famously posted a video of him crying in agony over the treatment of Britney Spears by the media. Pretty soon, you realize that the movie is nothing more than a bunch of his youtube videos strung together with little to no narrative. Crocker is a lunatic and not a lovable one. Saying something about this kind of fame and using him as an example would have been a fascinating idea. Letting the movie be 90% him ranting and raving in his exaggerated, drag queen preening makes you want to kill someone (him, especially). He was at the Q&A and I remember him saying he was glad the movie was out there so people could see he isn’t a total crazy person. Sorry to break it to you Chris, but that is the one thing we’re certain of now. The guy had no sense of how he relates to other people. I came out feeling angry.

This was actually supposed to be the second movie of the day, but there had been a snafu that we didn’t realize until late the night before. Brooke, Farrah’s sister, bought our tickets and didn’t realize til then that they had given her tickets to the wrong movie. So, we had tix to a movie that took place 4 days earlier and didn’t have them to the one we wanted. No biggie. It happens and it all worked out fine in the end, but I’ll be double checking whatever Sundance gives us from now on.

From here we waitlisted for a movie called Bachelorette, which was weird because it feels like we’ve done a lot of that in year’s past and yet this was the only time we waited this year. In fact, this year went by in a flash. We rarely waited, we rarely had long gaps between movies, we hardly had much time to eat now and then. I liked it, but I sort of missed the down time. Btw, we were with Brooke and Jake and the four of us were the last ones let into the theater.

Bachelorette was a pretty blatant rip-off of The Hangover and Bridesmaids. It’s the night before one of the girl’s wedding and chaos ensues for Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan complete with the usual suspects: sex, drugs, and close calls. It was fun, the formula is pretty Teflon, and I did laugh once I got over how derivative it all was. I’d be more descriptive, but just know that any joke you saw in The Hangover was probably recycled here. I’m sure it will be released at some point. SCORE = 6

In prior year’s we’ve always had tickets to whatever the Grand Jury Documentary Prize winner was. This year we went with the Grand Jury Dramatic. The risk you take is that the winning film will be something you’ve already seen. We were killing time with Brooke and Jake when the announcement came that the winner was something they’d already seen. So, they sold their tickets quickly and headed back home. Well, a couple minutes later we realized that Brooke misread and the winner was Beasts of the Southern Wild and the movie she thought won, won something else. Overall, not a great couple days for Brooke, sadly. It would have been fun to close out the fest with those guys.

Beasts of the Southern Wild sounded lame, but ended up being an extremely emotional and visceral experience. It centers around a young black girl and her absentee father deep in the southern bayou of Louisiana. I’m talking as deep as it gets, like out of the third world deep. The young girl is pretty much on her own all day, just surviving as best she can. The depiction of life in this community was fascinating, you can’t believe this is happening in America. Eventually, Katrina hits and destroys the paper-thin existence they knew. The father is dying, the mother’s already dead, and so it’s up to the girl, who’s about 10 to figure life out on her own.

It’s not for everybody. It’s very textural, more cinematic than linear. Reminded me in some ways of The Tree of Life. But, it’s really beautiful, from the camera work, to the score (amazing) to the odd special effects (there are Beasts afterall, but it’s more like they live in a dream). It will be interesting to see how it’s received when it comes out. SCORE = 8

In between shows we got to see our good friends Jon and Natalia Anderson, and enjoying the festival with Joe and Leslie and Brooke and Jake always adds to our fun. This tradition has become the highlight of our year and we’re especially grateful that Farrah’s folks watch the kids so we can get away. I'm excited for next year within seconds of the last film. There's nothing like it.

Sundance 2012 Wrap Up - Day Two

Unfortunately, it kicks off with more of the same. The End of Love is ANOTHER movie with no script! This time, writer/star/director Mark Webber fixes the camera on his relationship with his toddler son, Isaac. Mark is a single father who is trying to land acting jobs in LA after his wife dies. Isaac is played by his real-life son, so that makes it more interesting and the kid is cute, which helps. It just so obviously seemed like it was ambling to somewhere, but never getting anywhere revelatory. Again with the long shots of nothingness! I appreciated the difficulties this guy has in raising a child by himself without a steady income and I empathized when he was dealing with roommates and girls and love etc. But, after three movies that mistake vast nothingness for deep, cerebral meaning, I was over it. That being said, Farrah and our friends Joe and Leslie that saw it with us, liked it a lot more than I did. SCORE = 4

This movie marked the one and only time I saw a star not affiliated with the movie we were watching. In this case it was Hurt Locker star Anthony Mackie who sat a couple rows behind me. I overheard bits of his conversations and he sounded like a totally decent guy, which is always nice.

Finally things pick back up with the best movie of the weekend. Bones Brigade is a documentary about the Bones Brigade, which were the first stars of skateboarding in the late 70s/early 80s. The most famous member of the brigade is Tony Hawk, who’s the most recognizable face in skateboarding, but he’s just one of about 7 guys who made up the group and watching them tell their story mixed with the usual frenetically artistic style of filmmaker Stacy Peralta (who also gave these guys their start back in the day when he ran Powell Peralta skate gear) made for the perfect jolt of life (as is often the case with a Peralta film).

Everyone but Tony Hawk were at the Q&A afterwards (he had another commitment, he wasn’t ditching or anything) and for some fanboys in the audience it was like seeing Jesus. It made me wish I had been more of a boarder back in the day so that I could have fully appreciated having these guys in front of me. The adoration from some of the guys in the audience (“you guys formed my whole life, you taught me how to talk”) was emotional. I actually got choked up.

They all seemed like really decent guys and seeing how the fame they enjoyed as teenagers has impacted the rest of their lives was fascinating. Loved every minute of it. SCORE = 9

From here we barely make it to the last film of the day, Smashed. I enjoyed it, but of all the movies we saw it’s the last one that comes to mind when I recollect the trip. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (so hot in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) plays a young, married alcoholic who decides to break away from her toxic but comfortable life with her enabling husband (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul). Her road to recovery, which includes some funny interaction with her sponsor played by Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec), is good, but the movie brings nothing new to this type of genre. You’ve seen the cycle before. They hit bottom, they get help, they start to get sober, they trip up, they tentatively try to come back and it all ends in a subtly ambiguous way so that you’re hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst. It was pretty good and it’s only problem was being so normal. SCORE = 6

Sundance 2012 Wrap Up - Day One

It all started badly, as it often does, because we were running late for our first movie. We didn’t allow enough time to get from Bountiful to Park City during morning rush hour and began snapping at each other as the time slipped away and we were stuck on the freeway. Thankfully, we managed to get to Eccles with about 5 minutes to spare which put us near the front row to see Price Check starring Parker Posey and Eric Mabius.

Price Check hit really close to home for me. Uncomfortably close. It’s the story of a guy (Ugly Betty’s Mabius) in an unchallenging, safe job with a wife and young baby who’s world is turned upside down when the new high-strung, workaholic boss (Posey) comes in to turn the place around. The new culture and intensity level throws off the whole comfortable balance he’s been enjoying.

Posey takes a liking to Mabius, gives him a big raise, makes him a VP and begins to mold him in her image. Suddenly, he’s working nights and weekends, he’s alienating his former equals at work, and his home life is affected. BUT, he’s reaching a new level of success in his career, so there’s good and bad. Eventually, this leads to an affair, a firing, and a near-collapse of his marriage.

These are very present themes in my life. How hard can I work and still maintain balance? If I go for the brass ring at work, will I become corrupted in the process? Will it cost me my family? Is it worth it? Am I selling myself short if I don’t at least try? Is a comfortable job better or worse than a challenging one? I am constantly feeling heavy with the burden of these questions, no joke, so watching it play out negatively on screen made my insides twist. Mabius worked in music earlier in his career, so when things get bad he considers starting his own label and getting back to what he really loves. Now, I know better than to think like that, but it doesn’t mean I DON’T think like that!

The ending falls a little short, the repercussions of everyone’s actions don’t seem big enough, but it was an excellent ride up to that point. And Posey is her usual quirky, enchanting self. They were both at the Q&A afterwards and the crowd really gave her hell for such a despicable character, completely ignoring how funny she was (the movie’s a black comedy, did I fail to mention that?). I hope this gets released because it’s a gem. SCORE = 8.5

Next up was Love Free Or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is Changing the World, the story of openly gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson and the sea change his rise has brought to the Anglican Church.

Robinson’s profile has increased over the last few years. He even gave the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration. As one can imagine from a staid and traditional organization like the Anglican Church, his mere presence is threatening to throw everything they’ve known to be true and right for the last few hundred years into chaos (geez, where have I heard of this problem before?).

Robinson is a pretty amazing man, extremely lovable and humble, and can’t imagine a life outside of the church, even though their position flies in the face of what he feels to be right and Christian. The movie shows the annual conference the Bishop’s attend where a vote will take place on whether or not to allow gay Bishops and the potential restrictions on their service. The whole time I’m watching this, any time someone refers to “the church” I, of course, switch theirs for mine because the exact same dialogue is happening for us too. I wish big decisions like this could be put to a diplomatic vote and that policy could change just like that. We know it doesn’t, leaving the LDS church even behind the Church of England in the “get with the times” race.

As important a topic as this is, it deserved a slightly better movie. The doc was pretty by the numbers, more of a feature on 60 Minutes. Still, it should be required watching for any religious person who is conflicted over the emergence of homosexuals in their religion. You have a choice: you can love and embrace them or you can continue to shun. I vote for love. Oh, and I got to shake Gene’s hand on the way out and tell him how much I admired him. That’s what Sundance is all about, if you ask me. SCORE = 7

Here’s where things go downhill into “typical Sundance garbage” mode. The next movie was called The Comedy, even though it lacked what the title promised. It stars comedian Tim Heidecker (a poor man’s Zach Galifianakis) as a New York trust fund brat who wastes away his days hanging with his other trust fund buddies and getting high. I only know this because that's what the marketing materials said, not because it was obvious to the viewer.

I didn’t know who Heidecker was, but I guess he’s part of the comedy pair Tim and Eric who have a big cult following. The entire movie was made up, no formal script or structure, and it’s obvious from the first scene when the camera stays fixed on Heidecker’s face as he eats a cookie for about 5 minutes. There are many many scenes like this, most of the movie in fact. At one point, he picks up a girl and brings her back to his boat to get high. They get flirty and start to take their clothes off when she has a seizure. You see it start to happen, but then you just hear it as the camera stays on a close up of Heidecker as he just sits and watches it happen. Again, this goes on for like 5 minutes without a cut.

As painful as it was, there were maybe two or three funny scenes that had me laughing out loud. I could see it being a hit with the right kind of audience and under the right circumstances. There is a slight glint of a shabby charm that some may be more forgiving about. But, mostly it was just repellent and unpleasant. SCORE = 2

And now, for the final film of day one, we come to the worst one of the festival: For Ellen. It starred Paul Dano as a nobody rock star going through a divorce who is trying to negotiate for more time to spend with his estranged daughter that he hardly knows (that’s who Ellen is, btw). These negotiations take place in a nameless small town in the heartland that is cold and wet and covered with snow. Dano’s lawyer is played be Jon Heder (Napolean Dynamite) of all people.

Talk about a movie with long stretches of close-ups of forlorn, sad faces meant to evoke a deep reservoir of emotion! With all that snow, there’s plenty for Dano to stare at for hours and hours. And, it’s another movie with a thin, skeletal script that is largely improvised and made up on the spot. Why do aspiring filmmakers feel like that is attractive to viewers? It never is.

There isn’t much to say about For Ellen. It’s really lethargic and slow. The thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was why would Heder break his rule of no rated R movies for this piece of junk? There’s a scene of him and Dano drinking in a bar (where Dano does the weakest, most lifeless lip-synch to Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” that is humanly possible) and then they share a cigarette afterwards that Heder doesn’t want to smoke (“I just like holding it”). My guess is the roles are drying up and this was a chance to be seen in something, anything, so he grabbed it. I don’t blame him, he probably was going to need to do that at some point, but why this inconsequential movie? Sad all around. SCORE = 1

Friday, February 18, 2011

Best of 2010 - 5-1

5. Vampire Weekend – Contra
I can’t think of a band more universally liked. Does anyone have a problem with VW? No. You know why? Because they’re infectious and fun and even the most hardened pessimist has to admit that they’re on to something. Something special. And, there’s no one else like them doing this faux-reggae/calypso/jangle-pop hybrid thing that they do. Contra is even an improvement on their first record because the sound, while staying basically the same, has evolved slightly with some electronic and brass elements that weren’t there before, which I’m sure were influenced by the Discovery side project. Keep ‘em coming, boys.
Nugget: “Run”

4. Jonsi – Go
This one took me a while to fully digest and is really only best appreciated through good headphones. Jonsi is the lead singer (wailer?) of Sigur Ros and he brings their trademarked cinematic lushness to his first solo album. This album is the sound of childhood, of innocence. It’s the sound of wonder and curiosity. It’s the sound of life seen through the eyes of a child who’s frames of reference are fantasy and magic. It’s fitting the Jonsi did a song for the film “How To Train Your Dragon” because he evokes the sensation of flight. Animated flight even. The colors are lovely.
Nugget: “Boy Lilikoi”

3. The Soft Pack – ST
There’s almost nothing better than the sound of a garage band grinding out fast and furious rock in the true DIY style. It’s perfect simplicity. That term may seem boring. Simplicity is so… simple. But, when done right, simplicity is also the sound of truth. That’s why true Pop music is such an amazing thing; it’s the sound of universal truth. It’s irrefutable. The Soft Pack don’t over-think things or stretch beyond their comfort area. They just thrash a melody, a chorus, and an ending all in a couple minutes. Pure and simple.
Nugget: “Down On Loving”

2. Underworld – Barking
I wrote off techno and Underworld years ago. It’s not really my thing anymore. So, imagine my surprise when one of the pioneers release something better than anything they’ve done in over 15 years, or since techno mattered. In their old age (they’re in their 50s!!!!!) they’ve matured. The silly experiments are gone and Barking is just plain warm and spirit-lifting, which is what the best techno always was to me. It’s the best workout music you’ll ever hear. When I’m really in the zone, I call it a bio-rhythm, the beats and my feet are movie together and my breathing is natural and normal. This album helps me get there. It’s a selfish pick because it doesn’t take over-analyzing. I just liked it. A lot.
Nugget: “Always Loved A Film”

1. Fitz and the Tantrums – Picking Up The Pieces
When deciding who to pick for #1 one, the biggest determining factor is “who do I want the world to fall in love with?” They are. My favorite music moment of the year was watching them perform with Daryl Hall on Live From Daryl’s House and see the alchemy between their modern version of retro soul and Daryl’s years of experience working the same retro groove. A torch was passed. Every song is a blood-pumping barnburner of classic soul with lots of horns and organs. Very Motown of today. I’m rooting for them above and beyond everyone else.
Nugget: “Moneygrabber”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Best of 2010 - 10-6

10. Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs
This is the comeback of the year (decade?) award. Wolf’s had an inimitable energy since his days fronting the J. Geils Band (“Centerfold”, “Freeze Frame”). It’s like he’s approached rock stardom with a wink and a grin, like he realized early on not to take it all too seriously. Bless him for it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make as much music these days, but Souvenirs is a classic bar band album of lived in cuts bathed in whisky and nicotine from a guy who’s been there and back and kept his sense of humor. He’s more rooster than wolf. In fact, he’s actually more peacock.
Nugget: "Tragedy"

9. Maximum Balloon – ST
This is basically a side-project for TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek to indulge in his mad professor-ness. Sitek handles production duties for TVOTR as well as other up-and-coming artists like Scarlett Johansson, and his style is layers upon layers of dense vibes and textures. You know a Sitek production when you hear one. Max Balloon is him turning knobs and twisting dials while a bunch of guests file through the booth making special appearances. Some of it is hip-hop, some of it is alternative, a lot of it sounds like a variation on Massive Attack. All of it kills.
Nugget: “Groove Me”

8. Cee Lo Green – The Ladykiller
Cee Lo has positioned himself as one of the most important artists active today. He’s written, possibly, the two best singles of the last 10 years, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and last year’s “F**k You”. His mind is twisted, he’s neurotic and paranoid. He’s like the musical equivalent of a Richard Pryor stand-up routine of the 70s, airing his demons for all the world to see. And whether he’s rapping or singing (that voice is a gift from God) he’s cutting to the heart of the matter with a devilish grin. The little fat man is a mad genius. And Ladykiller is a near masterpiece.
Nugget: “F**k You”

7. Joe Elliot’s Down N Outz – My Regeneration
So, Joe Elliot, lead singer of Def Leppard, gets asked to open for a back-together, Mott the Hoople, one of his rock idols. This inspires him to throw together a covers album of some lesser known Mott nuggets as a tie-in to the show, and to indulge himself of, I’m sure, a lifelong dream of fronting his favorite band while turning the world on to them. Joe attacks the project with passion and teeth. He takes what were already long-forgotten glam rock classics and “regenerates” them for today’s audience. The best part is, you can tell how much fun he’s having and it’s contagious. If only we were all so lucky.
Nugget: “Golden Opportunity”

6. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
How to describe Janelle Monae? I think of her as the modern day Prince. Her tastes run so wide and her abilities so limitless, it reminds you of when His Purpleness was at the heights of his uncontainable imagination during the 80s. There’s rock, r&b, jazz, opera, classical, all on the same album. And “album” is a key word here. There is no one song that defines who Janelle is. Over the course of 18 tracks, she morphs from one ArchAndroid to another, blowing minds along the way. She’s quietly setting a new standard of excellence. People will look back on this album for years to come and know “that’s when a shift was made”.
Nugget: "Tightrope"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best of 2010 - 15-11

15. !!! – Strange Weather, Isn’t It?
These post-punk, hard funk, jazz-alternative geniuses are another band that can do no wrong. They’ve created a groove that is downright delicious and never gets old. I would almost find it hard to be in this band because the consistent level of funkiness displayed would have to be exhausting after awhile. Can anyone (or anything) be that funky? They’re working on it. Weather only gets docked a point or two for merely sustaining the funk, rather than elevating it to a new level. More please.
Nugget: "AM/FM"

14. Hoodoo Gurus – Purity of Essence
When one of your all-time favorite bands comes back with a new album after a loooong hiatus (one album in the last 15 years, no good ones in the last 20) the comeback better be good (I’m looking at you Howard Jones and Crowded House who both released junk last year). Thank God when it is! The Gurus started out with some of the most addictive jangle-pop of the early 80s, but then took a weird turn into almost metal for a while. Shame since they’re better at what they do than almost everyone. Purity returns them to the catchy songcraft of their early years, but with meatier hooks left over from their second half. The two sides combine for an excellent comeback. FINALLY!
Nugget: "Crackin’ Up"

13. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
I’ve never cared for this band’s brand of gauzy, fuzzy dream pop (if you can even call it “pop”). It’s too murky and shapeless. Halcyon Digest, however, is one beautiful piece of work. It’s still gauzy and, sometimes, murky, but with beautiful textures that stir true emotions rather than sounding like it’s all underwater and being made up on the spot. Some tracks are simple and languid, others build into an extended frothy jam. Both are good. Sneaky good. It’s the kind of album that worms into your skull and leaves a mark.
Nugget: "Desire Lines"

12. Film School – Fission
This is some beautiful 80s alternative in the mold of classic bands like Psychedelic Furs, the Primitives and Lush. They didn’t use to be. Always practitioners of the fuzzy distorted pop of shoegazer bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain, Film School added that priceless “chick singer” element (making for those transcendant boy-girl, Beach Boy-like harmonies) by putting the bassist’s voice higher in the mix, plus the occasional blip and bloop of 80s technology. They've warmed up the sound and improved the songwriting by simplifying the approach. Every track’s a keeper.
Nugget: “When I’m Yours”

11. Warpaint – The Fool
Think Deerhunter, only girls. Warpaint create these dreamy, dirge-like layers of sounds that penetrate deep in the heart and bring meaning to dark corners of the soul. It’s the kind of album you can put on and get lost in. That seemed to be their M.O. while making it, since many of the tracks just liftoff to jazzy improvisation that always serve the overall mood. Put it on and tune out the rest of the noise in life. Or, as John Legend would say, "Get Lifted". Did I mention they are girls? Maybe it’s sexist of me, but that's significant in my book. Of all the bands I've played for friends this past year, Warpaint got the strongest response.
Nugget: "Undertow"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Best of 2010 - 20-16

20. Nada Surf – if I had a hi-fi
They’re probably my favorite band of the last 10 years, but even I’m not a big enough homer to rank this cute album of covers any higher. Is it as essential as 2002’s masterpiece Let Go? No. (I won’t rest until everyone hears and loves that album). But it is the thinking man’s covers album, especially for our generation, when the interpretations include Depeche Mode, Kate Bush and the Go-Betweens run through Nada’s unique brand of warmth. Put it this way, everything they do is good. Even the stuff that is most disposable.
Nugget: "Enjoy The Silence"

19. Tie - The Roots – How I Got Over / Wake Up!
The Roots. The Roots. The Roots were on FIRE last year!
Not only did they release their strongest and sleekest album in over a decade (Over), but they teamed up with John Legend to reinterpret some classics of jazz and blaxploitation cinema (Wake) for today’s r&b lover. Over holds the edge of the two ever-so-slightly because of the strength of the material (great originals has to trump great covers) and the assemblage of out-of-nowhere collaborators (Joanna Newsom?!). But, Wake Up brings excellent, forgotten classics to the masses. Which would you choose?
Nugget: Over – “How I Got Over” : Wake – “Compared to What”

18. Elton John and Leon Russell – The Union
When was the last time Elton did anything worth anything? Not in the last 20 years at least. Is it a coincidence that it took bringing his idol Leon Russell back from the dead to inspire him to produce one of the greatest things he’s ever done? The last 10 years has seen Elton trying to go back to his earlier, rootsier stuff and none of it has hit. But match him with Russell and the two kill it. Proof you must sometimes go back in order to move forward. 10-1 says John’s next solo album goes back to sucking though.
Nugget: "Hey Ahab"

17. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Prog rock for the modern rock lover. The Lakes build these intense, majestic soundscapes, like tidal waves crashing in the night, that never veer off into noodling weirdness, and always nail the target head on. Almost every track is a complete journey with a slow build (or a fast one, but always a build), a goose-bump-inducing middle, and a post-orgasmic comedown. Think Sigur Ros with hair on its chest.
Nugget: “And This Is What We Call Progress”

16. Massive Attack – Heligoland
It’s been a while since MA have come close to reaching the galactic heights of perfection that they managed to reach with 1992’s Mezzanine. But, Heligoland comes closer than anything they’ve done since, and near perfection is still pretty damn good. The dark, milky intensity remains with that beautiful black undercurrent of dread lurking in every shadow, and who would want it any other way. They’re always one of the most intensely gorgeous musical experiences you can have.
Nugget: "Girl I Love You"