Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bob Moog 1934-2005


(A few weeks ago Robert Moog passed away. Being a huge fan of synethesizers you can
not avoid Moog's
impact on what could be done with electronic instrumentation. He had
more influence than anyone else
and his Moog synths happen to be the end all, be all
for me and many other electronic music fans. I
wrote this piece earlier in the year when
the documentary
Moog came out and wanted to post it here on Cinerobot. Enjoy and
long live the Moog synthesizer!)


I'll admit it: I'm in love with a machine. It's a love affair that has lasted over twenty years
and began one early teenage day when I watched a group of men from England stand
behind a bank of
synthesizers. They pressed keys. They twiddled knobs. Waves of
electric sound erupted from their
machines. I was awestruck.

The man who did more than anyone else to give birth to the modern analogue synthesizer,
Robert
Moog, is the subject of a documentary recently released on DVD. Moog (pronounced
like rogue) began
making modular synthesizers (he coined the phrase, meaning a synthesis
of previous ideas into one
instrument) in 1964, but these early synths were huge systems,
that due to expense, few people could
afford. This changed with the introduction of the minimoog
in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The minimoog,
and its variations, helped usher in modern
electronic music as young musicians were able to afford the
smaller, more mobile synths.
Soon, artists such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman were performing extended
prog-rock
solos while German band Kraftwerk were showing what analogue synthesizers could do in a more

traditional pop song format.

When I hear good electronic music created with analogue synthesizers I think I am hearing
music
from the future. To see a person standing in front of a machine that takes up half a
wall, cables
and wires plugged in everywhere, notes surging from the keys--this is an
exhilarating thing for
me. It is the sound of the future, of science fiction and of the unknown.
Robert Moog is the mad
scientist creator of the possibility of such a sound, and to paraphrase
Moog at one point in
"Moog", to play a Moog synth is like being a current of electricity inside
a machine. It's that
idea that makes analogue synthesizers so fantastic. When you play one
you are not playing a
string, drum or traditional instrument--you are playing electricity. What
is more futuristic than
that?

It is that futuristic element that people thought was so frightening when the Moog synth first
came into being. Moog states in the documentary that traditional minded musicians and the
general
public thought of the synths as "harmful" and possibly ruinous to the future of music.
It took
until the late 1970s with bands emerging from the punk rock aftermath to spread the
synthesizer
sound to a more mainstream, youth friendly pop market. In England bands such
as Fad Gadget, Human
League, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan (the huge sweeping notes on
"Cars" are from Moog synths),
Orchestral Maneuvers In the Dark and John Foxx, as well as
the Japanese band Yellow Magic
Orchestra were at the forefront of a new electronic music.
Current bands such as Toronto's Solvent
and England's Ladytron are examples of the usage
of the instruments in the 21st century. Virtually
every dance band on the planet uses it in
some shape or form to create its grooves. The analogue
synthesizer is such a key instrument
now it will never disappear and hopefully will retain its
futuristic quality.

The documentary is a short (72 minutes), bare bones affair that comprises interviews with Moog
(who often does not look comfortable on camera), old footage of the early days of his work,

interviews with other people who love the instrument and live footage of bands playing various

Moog synths (Stereolab, Money Mark and Mix Master Mike, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman
among others).
I loved that there were theremin bits (an instrument played with the magnetic
fields of
electricity--you literally play air when playing a theremin, think "Good Vibrations" by the
Beach
Boys) in the film. I personally would have loved more old footage and live performances
to at
least push the running time up to 90 minutes but am just happy to see anything about Bob
Moog and
his groundbreaking Moog synthesizer. When you are in a lifelong love affair, like I am,
any amount
of time will make your heart happy. If you see this, maybe you'll too fall in love.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The trouble with free screenings

Last night I happened to be at one of these promotional screenings that are populated with people who are there for one reason: free movie! When the film is some brainless popcorn blockbuster this is fine with me as I don't need to pay much attention to write a 500 word review and don’t become bothered by the chatter and noise that will come from the audience.

But last night I was trying to watch the new David Cronenberg movie, “A History of Violence”, with a packed theatre and it was rough going (I should have known there would be issues when I saw that the crowd was culled from the listeners of a local sports station known as the “Sports Buzz” and an urban top 40 station called “Powr95”). Brutish, loud behavior erupted continuously from the emotionally stunted and just rude people who were there because it was free.

For example, there is kind of a heated sex scene between Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello that involves oral sex in a more ramped up way than is normally seen in American films. Giggling and cackling erupted all over the theatre like the audience was nothing but hormone drenched junior high boys. It was embarrassing. I was embarrassed for these people. One guy sitting next to me kind of moans out loud during the scene while saying to anyone within earshot, “That’s what I’m talking about right there.” Thanks for sharing you moron.

Bello later does a brief full frontal nude scene and you would have thought the first lady Laura Bush was baring her pasty, robot-ass pubes up there the way people gasped and guffawed.

And people act surprised when Americans are accused of backward, prudish thoughts regarding sexuality? Come watch a free movie in Tulsa with adult themes with (gasp!) naked people and those stereotypes will hit you full on in the face.

Even the violence in the story drew protests and shock from the people around me. This was a David Cronenberg movie people! But, as I said, the audience was here because it was free, not because the film is getting seriously good reviews or because of Cronenberg’s previous films. The shame is I was there as an avid film lover and an adult who can handle adult themes. Unfortunately, these repressed yahoos couldn’t.

I was at another free press/public screening a few months ago for a film called Me and You and Everyone We Know. I loved this movie but it is not for everyone, as it is a hyper-quirky meditation on love and how people connect or disconnect from one another in the 21st century world.

Well, an aspect of the film involves children and sexuality—a taboo subject if there ever was one. I counted six walk outs during one scene in particular.

I felt kind of sorry for those people leaving. I can see them muttering to each other during the film: “I don’t care if this is free, what in the hell is this junk? Some 8 year old talking about poo in and out of butts forever and people pay for this garbage? Let’s get the hell out of here and go watch Flightplan, now that’s some real moviemaking!”

Do people ever look and see what movie it is they are getting free passes to? My experience says no, they just show up and expect the formulaic dreck that usually comes down the road. When they come face to face with something odd or surprising, they turn away, get up and leave or sit and giggle like teenagers.

Here’s hoping that next time I’m at one of these screenings every single person will get up and leave the theatre who is shocked, freaked out, disturbed, offended, sickened by what they see. If I’m the only person left in the darkened theatre after they’ve left in a huffing-mad horde, that would be fine and dandy by me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lord of war = lord of crap

There’s always a multitude of reasons why a big Hollywood movie fails to draw a crowd and is labeled a bust. Some of the more popular ones include horrible marketing, wrong choices regarding release dates with too much competition or an uninterested, apathetic viewing public. My personal favorite and the reason I think Lord of War has tanked in box office return—the film is terrible.

No one involved in any movie before it is released is thinking the film is going to be a disaster. They are dreaming of the moolah that will be flowing into their bank accounts. Embarrassing acting or clich├ęd and poorly written scripts never enter into it until it’s too late and negative reviews pour in while theatre seats remain empty.

Lord of War has a combination of bad elements—acting, story and writing—that make it one of the least enjoyable bits of cinema I watch the entire year. Worse films may come my way, but on just enjoyment factor, Lord of War is just wretched from its smug beginning to its smug ending.

Nic Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, a dissatisfied Ukranian-American living in Brooklyn. One day he’s hit with an epiphany after watching local Russian gangsters carry out a hit in a restaurant. Days later he’s somehow scored an Uzi and is selling it in some low-rent hotel.

Soon after he’s running guns in other countries and we never see how he engineered these connections. Who knows, maybe in Brooklyn in the 1980s you could just spread the word that you are ready to run some guns and poof, machine guns and grenade dealers just show up at your stoop. Lord of War was in such a hurry to get ahead in the story it couldn’t fabricate a plausible back-story and this makes Yuri’s rise to riches/power completely ridiculous.

Lord of War attempts to be a revealing satire so we see messages hammered into us like “guns are bad” and “governments are corrupt” and “guns used by governments kill people” (oh wait, I used that one already). I’m not opposed to films with this message on an international, or local, level but when they are delivered in such a forceful, humorless, soulless way all I feel is revulsion.

What makes this even worse is it uses this “smugger than thou” narration by Cage that attempts to explain the motivations of Orlov and how to run guns to foreign dictators. The narration is often played for laughs with lame quips about Bin Laden and weaponry but it falls flat the entire movie. At times there was more narration than dialogue in the film and it just did not work.

Nicolas Cage is awful in Lord of War. He delivers a performance that is so distracted and bored I am curious why he even agreed to do the film (cash money baby!). His speech is spoken with teeth clinched tightly so often I wonder if he had some kind of dental issue going on while this was filmed. I won’t even bring up his toupee as that might be hitting below the belt. You’d think with a budget of millions that a better toupee wrangler could be found wouldn’t you?

I don’t know what has happened to writer/director Andrew Niccol. The first two films he wrote or directed were The Truman Show and Gattaca—two great, interesting movies. Since then it’s Simone and Lord of War—two horrible movies. Who knows what his next one will be like but I’m losing interest in a hurry after watching Lord of War.

Lord of War is a heavy-handed, soulless, vile satire that fails on nearly every level—writing, acting and story—that is an unpleasant thing to have to sit through.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My kind of science-fiction

To put it simply, Code 46 is my kind of science fiction. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton, it’s sci-fi that puts ideas over CGI bombast that tells a romantic story set in a future of restrictive laws and extremely controlled genetic manipulation.

Code 46 is atmospheric as all get out and is a bit on the slow side (something I enjoy) as the story itself isn’t all that gripping—the film is more nuance than thrilling adventure. I don’t mind that, as I like seeing the future portrayed in realistic ways without shootouts with high-tech weaponry.

The film shows the future as it might be in our lifetime—society is rigidly controlled; people either live in cities of neon and glass or are shunted into empty desert wastelands; DNA is monitored so completely that who you sleep with, marry or have kids with is administered by government law; people take a “virus” to know a language, become psychics or learn something; languages have become global with people using English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese as they speak; it’s a future of architecture and design that varies wildly between those who have and those that do not.

Despite some clunky narration from Morton, Code 46 is an interesting reality-based future that we might see in our lifetimes. Forget flying cars or jetting off to Mars or that kind of sci-fi, this is sci-fi that is attainable, as it’s much like the world we live in, only buried in the technological future that we careen toward as a culture and planet.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The whereabouts of 2046

I've been waiting to see 2046, Wong Kar Wai's follow up to In the Mood for Love, for what seems like years (which is how long I've been reading about the project). A couple of months ago I was watching uninteresting trailers before a film when the trailer for 2046 came on the screen unexpectedly. My heart exploded in my chest and I almost jumped up from my seat and hollered out to the smattering of people, "Yes! Wong Kar Wai!" like I was some kind of Star Wars nerd about to watch George Lucas' latest cash cow product tie-in.

I still haven't seen the movie and I'm starting to get angry about it. I might have to drive somewhere to see it if it doesn't hit Tulsa soon. Has anyone else seen it or want to see it?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Weeks and weeks of movies

I’ve been quite busy the past few weeks so here’s a group of short reviews of some of the things I’ve watched worth mentioning.

It’s the ten-year mark for Martin Scorsese’s Casino, so I decided to watch it again. It’s a great movie from him and one that belongs next to the other high marks in his career--my personal favorites being Raging Bull and Good Fellas. I don’t see how a film can be made that can completely cover the dead era of Las Vegas in the ‘60s and ‘70s better than this unbelievably detailed and nuanced film. Scorsese even makes Sharon Stone turn in a good performance and that is miraculous since she is so unrelentingly awful. Oh, and never let Joe Pesci put your head in a vise. Bad things will happen, particularly to your eyeball.

My own festival with James Garner is still going strong as I’ve seen 16 of his pictures this year. Saw Victor/Victoria, Duel at Diablo, Decoration Day and Tank the past month. That’s four different films from the talented Garner that vary greatly from a Blake Edwards film to the silly tank driving picture. The man is just a solid, solid actor and makes me proud to be a fellow Okie.

Enjoyed The Constant Gardener. This was a pleasant surprise that had Ralph Fiennes’ best work in years and maybe Rachel Weisz’s best ever. It’s an artistic, lively, challenging mystery directed by Fernando Meirelles and is worth checking out.

Saw Junebug and was kind of lukewarm toward it. I loved the performance of Amy Adams as a talkative, pregnant Southerner. She is just so unbelievably open and honest in this film. Other elements I found put upon and the dude from the O.C. I wanted to punch in the throat. He should stick with trashy tv. Loved seeing Will Oldham show up for an unexpected cameo. The weird folk art painter and his “erotic” Civil War battlefield scenes were great. I wanted more of that guy and his crazy accent!

I also saw one of the filthiest and funniest films I’ve seen in a long while with The Aristocrats. Proud that Circle Cinema is the only place in Oklahoma showing the documentary, as everyone else is too scared I guess. It’s just language people. Although, it is one of the nastiest, crudest, vulgar things I’ve seen in a long while. It’s also frequently hilarious as a bunch of comics try to top each other in how filthy they can make an old joke that’s been around forever. The Aristocrats is as much about the way comics work as it is about the joke. Hilariously filthy!

Swede director Lukas Moodysson’s Lilya 4-Ever is about the most heart wrenching, bleak and depressing film I’ve seen in a while. The film is about this teenage girl that is abandoned by her mom and she resorts to prostitution in some hellhole in Russia. She thinks she is escaping to Sweden but it just gets worse for her. Powerful, yet, the sort of unrelenting film that will make you shove a handful of prozac into your mouth after you’ve seen it.

Frank the evil bunny


Here's another photo from the Donnie Darko screening. I got to Circle Cinema about 11.15 that night and this person was already in the lobby waiting for the film to begin. It made me think that a good turnout was soon to come despite the looming thunderstorms that hit the city right as the movie was starting.

Midnight movie turnout


Sorry I haven't posted anything in a while but I've been busy busy busy.

The turnout to Circle Cinema's first midnighter was great! The theatre holds 105 and we drew 91 on night one; 86 on night two. I was very pleased and happy with the response. Thank you Donnie Darko!

Here's a photo of the first crowd a few minutes before the film started.

Alien is this months film if anyone wants to come lose sleep on September 30/October 1.