Friday, November 28, 2008

The Who at Kilburn 1977

I don't write much about music or books here but both of those things are big passions--I often joke that my "holy trinity" is film, books and music. Well, after watching The Who at Kilburn 1977 I've decided to merge two interests for this post.

The Who at Kilburn 1977 (great, succinct title) is a concert film of the legendary live band after a hiatus of over a year (bands didn't really disappear for long periods of time three decades ago--they made music and toured, a lot). The concert was filmed on 35mm with multiple cameras and parts of the gig were used in the Who film The Kids are All Right. The film is gorgeous and it sounds absolutely amazing. The Who at Kilburn 1977 captures The Who in all their blistering, stubborn glory and is a great introduction to the power of live performance.

The Who were an incredible band. A unit of four shared parts with each member bringing their own individuality to the band to make them possibly the best band in the world during their peak. Watching The Who in 1977 perform live (as it was for audiences who saw them the previous decade) was a visceral experience. The band unleashes a torrent of raw rock n roll that is tight, unhinged, in your face, melodic, anthemic, tortured and unflinching. The Who were a gang; The Who at Kilburn 1977 is witness to that musical gang as they deliver a devastating set of songs to the North London crowd.

Let's meet The Who: Pete Townsend, guitarist, songwriter, windmills, scissor kicks, seething at audience/amps/self (at one point challenges any "gits" to come on stage--no one does). Roger Daltrey, tight jean wearing street fighter, swings mic better than Will Rogers could trick lasso, sings his guts out. John Entwistle, quick fingered bassist, the most underrated member of band, delivers an incredible, blistering stare into the lens at one point during the concert that might be my favorite moment of the show. Keith Moon, aw Keith, the jester, the madman drumming his arse off in his unique style, Moon was in his slide down but this show has his powerful drumming and eccentricities that have made him a beloved figure in rock history.

Put that unit of four together and they are absolutely unstoppable. I could listen to "Baba O'Riley" or "Won't Get Fooled Again" for about three straight hours. Other gems include "Substitute," "Pinball Wizard," "My Life," and "My Generation." The Who at Kilburn 1977 is as good a musical document to a band's raw power as you will ever see. Recommended.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ghost Town

Ghost Town is a smart and beguiling film in a genre that desperately needs films with those qualities--the romantic comedy. I know this is always a surprise to some friends of mine but I love romantic comedies. It's actually one of my favorite genres when they are done right. The problem is most Hollywood romantic comedies now are terrible. Ghost Town is a welcome and pleasant addition to the genre.

A brief description of the plot will send out red flags of warning to people who don't like romantic comedies. An anti-people dentist (Ricky Gervais) starts to interact with ghosts all over New York City. The ghosts want him to help with their unsolved issues with loved ones left behind so they can then move on to the after world. Gervais' character not only dislikes people he doesn't care for the intruding ghosts either. That is until he meets the wife of one of the bothersome ghosts (played by Greg Kinnear).

Sounds a bit precious I know. It's not. Gervais makes a wonderful curmudgeon and he's not your typical leading man in a film like this that it raises his and the film's like ability. Gervais has a supreme gift of comic timing and comedic acting (the English shows The Office and Extras were his creations) that he employs either subtlety or with overt physicality. The man is just flat out funny. The female lead is played by Tea Leoni and she is an actress I've always felt has been underused by Hollywood. Leoni would fit in wonderfully in my beloved era of 1930s screwball comedies so it's always a joy for me to see her in a comedy.

Gervais and Leoni don't have the current sort of "hot people" chemistry that Hollywood concocts for its audiences. They have the more old fashioned kind of mismatched chemistry that makes great old black and white romantic comedies so timeless. I'd much rather see talented odd pairings like this as they trade smart dialogue than watch plastic, no talent hacks stumble through terrible, cliche ridden scripts Hollywood pumps out with no effort these days. Don't believe me? Check out the releases around Valentine's Day and compare those films with this one. No comparison.

Ghost Town is a fun, brainy and refreshing film in a genre that really needs a hearty dose of refreshing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three films by Anders Thomas Jensen

The Danes seem like a quirky bunch. It seems every time I watch a film from Denmark it always has this odd undercurrent running through it (I have read that they have been judged the "happiest" country, whatever that means and however it is that is determined). If you judge them based on the work of director Anders Thomas Jensen then quirky is definitely the case. Jensen's three most recent films are off kilter and interesting with Flickering Lights, The Green Butchers and Adam's Apples.

Jensen's Flickering Lights from 2000 is a wonderfully titled comedy-drama about some not so bright criminals who go on the lam to escape from big city thugs in some remote Danish location. Combine the out of their element group with eccentric locals and the criminals are baffled by their surroundings in life changing ways. Flickering Lights is chock full of a favorite topic of Jensen's--men in unfamiliar places that leads to disorienting levels of humor for them and us.

I saw The Green Butchers in Seattle in 2003 and I remember enjoying this dark comedy about but
chers who find a very tasty meat product--human! Like other Jensen films there are a lot of offbeat people in the cast. It's a funny film yet it is played so dry and deadpan that the laughter comes from the uncomfortable places where you are unsure of your empathy for these people (it is a film about butchers serving human meat after all). It's the kind of film where you like these characters despite yourself. I tend to like films with that kind of attitude.

The same thing applies to the third of CineRobot's Jensen mini-fest--Adam's Apples. Adam is the most unlikable of any of Jensen's collection of characters. He's a Nazi skinhead just out of prison who moves into a church doubling for a halfway house in rural Denmark. Adam only wants to corrupt the uber-optimistic priest into renouncing God. Adam is tempted to go back to his violent ways while he wreaks abuse on the other misfits at the church. Not very likable, right?

Jensen does something interesting with Adam that other filmmakers attempt (but often fail at)--he uses Adam's possible redemption as the main positive trait to draw us to him as events unfold. Adam's comic bewilderment at some of the things said and done at the church as he slowly begins to change is pretty entertaining (he lashes out with fists, the boot or harsh words but it's still kind of funny in a dark, Danish way).

If you are in the mood for some Scandinavian comedy check out Anders Thomas Jensen and one of these three films he wrote and directed. He has also written a bunch of screenplays including dark gems Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and After the Wedding. I think I'd kind of like to visit Denmark based on the work of Jensen alone--and that world's "happiest" country tag they've been given. Copenhagen anyone?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brothers of the Brush 2009

It's that time again for all men to challenge their fellow beard growers to see who has the strongest levels of testosterone coursing through their veins. The Brothers of the Brush beard growing competition will pit beards against each other in five separate categories--from fullest to most unique to best effort and two others.

The competition takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma and lasts from December 1st, 2008 to February 8th, 2009. That's one week longer than the 2007 event. Participants get a red t-shirt with the 2009 logo on it (pictured), an '09 button, membership into the brotherhood, a free movie and general merriment. Winners in one of the five categories get over $100 in prizes!

If you live outside the area and want to support the brotherhood by ordering a t-shirt that is very doable. E-mail me the size and I'll let you know the cost
etc etc etc.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The painful wait for Synecdoche, New York

How much longer will I have to wait to see this film? Each Friday I check the local listings to see if it has made it to Tulsa yet. So far I'm still waiting.

Synecdoche, New York is the latest mind puzzler from Charlie Kaufman (his first as a director) and involves a plot so strange and convoluted it would be a waste of our time to go into it. I actually am trying to avoid the film as much as possible just so it can "surprise" me when I see it. Great cast, bizarre story lines, challenging cinema--I better get to see this before I go to New York in six weeks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Movie tickets #2

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Heart Keith Carradine

Talk about an under appreciated and underused actor--it's Keith Carradine. Keith, a member of the acting clan that includes dad (John), brothers (David and Robert) and daughter (Martha Plimpton), has had some fine movie moments in the 1970s and early 1980s but never became a "star" star. After a series of terrific films as leads or as a member of strong ensemble casts, his career saw him slipping into the netherworld of bad movies and forgettable TV roles.

It's actually two recent TV roles that has brought Carradine back to my attention and made me realize just how much I like him as an actor. The first was when he sauntered into the first season of HBO's Deadwood (a show I loved and dearly miss!) as Wild Bill Hickock (photo #2). Sporting a huge 'stache and a deadly intensity--Carradine's performance blew me away and he stole every single scene he was in which is really saying something as Deadwood was heavy on the testosterone and stellar performances. Only in four episodes, Carradine should have gotten an Emmy nomination for his stunning performance--it is that good.

TV show number two was a role on season two of Showtime's Dexter. Carradine plays a much different character than Hickock as an FBI agent attempting to capture the cop/serial killer Dexter. Carradine's Agent Lundy is a smart, confident, wry, no-nonsense yet warm character that Carradine makes believable, like able and sort of quirky. It's a terrific, subdued performance with a
lot of depth and charm. Carradine is an ace in the hole for shows like these that rely on ensemble casts who need an unselfish, generous addition to the cast.

In 1980 Carradine was in one of my favorite westerns of all time--The Long Riders. I saw this on a Sunday afternoon in some defunct theatre in Tulsa. I was already into the legend of the James/Younger Gang, this Walter Hill film full of real life brothers is about as entertaining as a modern western can be (complete with some great exploding bullets-Carradine actually takes a slug to the jaw while playing Jim Younger!).

Carradine has been in lots of other things worth seeing. He starred in some of Robert Altman's best films in the 1970s--McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us and Nashville (a film role where he nabbed an Oscar for best song-photo #3). Also worthy films from the '70s were
Emperor of the North (reviewed July '06 CineRobot archives), The Duellists (directed by Ridley Scott) and Pretty Baby (directed by Louis Malle). Hill's previously mentioned The Long Riders and a re-teaming with Carradine for 1981's Southern Comfort would be the last hurrah for Carradine before he became mostly lost in a void of bad movies and poor TV--although he did have some success on Broadway and won a Tony nomination in 1991 for playing Will Rogers.

What a shame. After being embraced by such directors as Altman, Scott, Malle and Hill in the 1970s/80s, the string of lacking roles must have been difficult. It looks as though there are a few interesting film roles coming in 2009 (I just found out he's in the lead of a Broadway drama called Mindgame that I'm going to check out when in NY in December) so I'm hopeful Carradine can be "rediscovered" and get some good character roles.

Friday, November 07, 2008

In Search of a Midnight Kiss

The new lo-fi romantic comedy In Search of a Midnight Kiss has its moments among the missteps. It's a two steps forward and one step back kind of film. I wanted to really like this thanks to my romantic leanings but a few of its flaws hold it back--it's just okay and kind of a pale imitation of another talky, romantic film released a few years ago.

A couple of lonely, slightly broken people hook up via Craig's List so they don't have to be alone on New Year's Eve. I know people use Craig's List or Myspace for this kind of thing but it has always baffled me. I don't see the appeal meeting people through wires of technology and the use of texting and e-mails for communication. I also don't get the idea of having to have someone near to kiss at the strike of midnight. If I'm alone that night, I'd rather just be alone. Maybe I'm the oddball in this day and age?

But not these two people. They arrange a meeting and it's awkward but since these two are desperate they might actually like one another. Being desperate doesn't mean you can't find a connection or love while lost in that haze of recklessness (even if it is via Craig's List!). Slowly the pair start to let down the walls and start to like each other--thanks in part to a wonderful sequence in an old, empty movie theatre. It isn't surprising as the film is more formula than it thinks it is.

The frustrating thing about In Search of a Midnight Kiss are the odd character leaps that come out of nowhere a few times. Left turns are one thing but they have to make sense as the film unfolds. They come off as over scripted with a screenwriter trying to hard in this movie. The film is compared to Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (same producers) and it does have some characters walking around talking about their lives. That's true. It isn't as intelligent or as romantic as the dialogue in those two films and the acting is nowhere near as polished from the leads so that kind of comparison only makes me long for those two films from director Richard Linklater.

I'm heading to New York for a week at the end of the year. I will be there on New Year's Eve. Alone. Should I get my Craig's List profile up and running? Should I take some new photos of myself in front of a mirror and add it to my Myspace profile? The clock is going to strike a new year and it looks like I'll be going it alone--now feeling either lonely or desperate thanks to In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Not really.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Czech Dream

There's very little I enjoy more in this world than a well orchestrated hoax. The larger the scale, the more I admire it. Original hoaxes that make it into the mass public are even rarer and and harder to pull off in this day of saturated and wide reaching media (although maybe it's easier because there are so many outlets?). Czech Dream is a funny and interesting documentary based around such a thing: a hoax directed at the general public.

Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda are two young filmmakers about to finish their studies at a Prague film school. For their last project they get a grant from the Ministry of Czech Culture and plot to pull off a hoax that ties in the subjects of consumerism, greed and the seductive power of advertising. Everything is filmed, from the planning of the hoax to the aftermath.

The pair, with the help of a sympathetic ad agency, create logos, commercials for TV and radio, splatter print ads and fliers all over Prague for a fictitious store called "Czech Dream." It's a supermarket (although they call it a "hypermarket" in the Czech Republic) on the outskirts of Prague. The main problem for those who show up at the grand opening ready to buy stuff (some come with order to buy everything from pickles to bread to electronic equipment)--there is NO store!

Ads blanket the city telling people to not come, to not spend money and to just stay away. The public just think it's a clever form of anti-advertising and it just draws them to the opening with more curiosity. They show up by the thousands. After they've walked (some people actually run toward the "building") to the front door they get a shock--there is no front door but a fake storefront in an empty field. Most of the Czechs shown are pretty irate at being duped as are the media when they get wind of the hoax.

Some of the victims look through their cloud of confusion to realize this stunt is an anti- consumerist statement against the Czech obsession for stores such as these. In 2008, advertising is so effective and sly that it can persuade the populace to show up despite clear directives to stay away. The frightening thing is this isn't just a Czech thing as this kind of hoax could have happened all over the world. People are gullible and hungry for the latest gadget at a cheap price and they are willing to show up at the crack of dawn and run through a field to get at that deal. Unfortunately for those people in Czech Dream, the store they are looking for is not real and they will instead be in a social commentary documentary that's very entertaining.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

October movies

I watched Halloween last night--the first half of the Circle's Halloween + Halloween II double feature--and how I love that film. The last twenty minutes are amazing! The terror of pursuit, the John Carpenter soundtrack, the screams, wonderful, wonderful.

---2008---usa ***1/2
Miracle of St. Anna
---2008---usa **
The Foot Fist Way
---2007---usa ****
Love Crazy
---1941---usa ***1/2
---2008---usa ****
---2004---spain ***1/2
Fools For Scandal
---1938---usa ***
Czech Dream
---2003---czech republic ***1/2
Dans Paris
---2007---france ***
Flickering Lights
---2000---denmark ***
The Horse's Mouth---1958---england ***
In Search of a Midnight Kiss--2008---usa ***
Halloween---1978---usa *****!