Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Certified Copy reconsidered

I confess, having viewed Certified Copy again for class, that I did it an injustice in my reaction to the Straight's top 10 movies of 2010. It really is a remarkable film, it just makes my brain itch in ways I can't quite scratch, which is a maddening sensation for one such as myself. I hate an itchy brain.

Monday, January 30, 2012

See The Grey

...an excellent film. Director Joe Carnahan made an impression with Narc several years ago, a gritty, intense throwback to '70's American police thrillers (think The French Connection, Busting, and vintage Sidney Lumet), and wrote the screenplay for a better-than-average tale of police corruption, Pride and Glory, which no one else seemed to like, but has done nothing since that I noticed (unless you count The A-Team). With The Grey, he crafts one of the best men-against-the-wilderness movies I've seen, not as overblown with macho white man posturing as The Edge, not as genre-bound as (much as I love it) Rituals... (I'm not including Deliverance in the list of films I'd compare it to, since that film is less about the confrontation with nature than depraved hillbillies, and it would open the door to a discussion to a whole host of urban/rural horror films, which is not a genre that applies here). It's themed around the human confrontation with death, with a group of men who survive an airplane crash in the arctic having to struggle with the elements and a pack of wolves into whose territory they are trespassing; it may take some liberties with the human relationship with wolves - since I remember reading (I think in Barry Lopez's Of Wolves and Men) that since European settlement of North America, there are no recorded attacks of wolves on humans - but it does so believably, and Carnahan appears to have done his homework re: wolves in other regards - he's allowed a bit of poetic license.  It's perhaps one of the "heavier" films to get mainstream theatrical distribution lately, has believably human characters, great location images (it's shot mostly in Smithers), and a few images I suspect I will remember for years. The Straight's Mark Harris praises the film here, while Adrian Mack interviews Carnahan here. I also heartily endorse The Grey, and only mean praise when I say there was a sequence I mostly "watched" with my hand clamped over my eyes. Not many movies evoke that response in me these days...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

1067: the number remains the same

...but the street address is different. Makela/ Minkler/ Arai play tonight at 10pm. Same protocol as before - no signage, off the grid - but a different address. I'll leave it to you intrepid types to find it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Budos Band is coming!

I know jack about funk, but I know what I like, and I LIKE the Budos Band - one of the Daptone stable of rather retrofitted funk/ soul/ groove bands, generally working an instrumental angle on the music. They play the Red Room Ultra Bar February 18th. Check this stuff out! Or this!

RIP Theodoros Angelopoulos

I only ever saw one Theo Angelopolous film, 1988's Landscape in the Mist, but I saw it twice. I loved it, back in the 1980's, on first viewing - when I was first taking in Tarkovsky and Bergman and Antonioni and such; in the 1990's, when I attempted to revisit it, I was not as enthusiastic. A brief attempt to engage with Ulysses' Gaze on video some ten years ago also was not productive; despite Harvey Keitel's presence, I lasted about fifteen minutes. I have nothing much to say about his cinema, given my narrow and none-too-recent exposure, but he was certainly a major figure in world cinema and his passing - struck by a motorcycle at age 76 - must be noted. Condolences to those who knew him and/or admired his work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

RIP HMV flagship store

I took one final stroll through the HMV flagship store in the last half hour of its being open tonight. With the upper and lower floors empty and barricaded off, the discounts still negligible (10-20% off most items, aside from truly horrific bits of non-culture that no one wants, like $1 biographies of Fall Out Boy, or Madonna's Glee book, whatever the hell that is), and not much organization to the remaining stock, the main floor was still full of people milling about, searching for that elusive good deal right to the end (I'd snagged Morbid Angel's Heretic and a documentary about Nigerian exploitation cinema out of the $1.99 bin earlier today, but not much was left of that caliber even by mid-afternoon). Maybe we were just feeling some odd, undefinable need to bear witness, pay respects, be there when it died - since after all, this isn't just one bloated, mediocre chainstore location that's closing, it's a symptom of an ongoing paradigm shift that's going to have a profound impact on the way we consume media in the future (albeit possibly for the better). Maybe just maybe, too, we were there because, all appearances to the contrary, we felt like some part of our community was disappearing? Announcements counting down the minutes til closing made sure we understood what the real relationship of HMV to the community is, from their point of view, anyways - the guy on the mike kept telling us that it was a sad occasion, then unsubtly urging us to cheer ourselves up by buying something. Still, the sense lingers that something more than an opportunity to relocate our money from OUR pockets to THEIR pockets was being lost. Fucked if I can quite put my finger on it, though - HMV have always been better at conveying how important their model of business is to them than making connections with Vancouver culture or the real tastes and needs of their customers, so what their closure really means to the city isn't easy to see (Future Shop must be happy, though). Maybe we were just there hoping that something would happen in that last half hour that would prove that our having been customers at this particular store, having spent our time and money there over the years, wasn't, in fact, a completely meaningless thing in the end, as insignificant in human terms as whether one favours Pepsi or Coke... because if it doesn't mean anything to be present when something dies, what possible meaning could it have had when it was still alive?

In-between the touching announcements, meanwhile, we had music: Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" was in heavy rotation, obviously  programmed to tap into an easily commodified form of nostalgia relevant to the target market HMV most caters to - middleclass whitefolk who were teens when that song (and The Breakfast Club) were current, who retain fondness for it, and now have (in theory) the purchasing power that comes with adulthood. (I'm sure that HMV have done market research to determine which songs correlate with the most purchases, and surely that one's way up there. Of course, that kind of manipulative, whorish cynicism and pandering does nothing but ruin cultural experiences for some of us - because as much as I loved The Breakfast Club and even that fucking song when I was 14 or so, hearing it now makes me want to reach for a shotgun - but then, one could never accuse HMV of over-estimating their customers' tastes). I confess that I actually felt a bizarre sort of misty-eyedness at the thought that I may never again have the particular displeasure of having songs like that (or Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," say, also a HMV favourite featured in the last half hour) accompanying the experience of shopping for music or film; God knows Zulu/Videomatica won't be spinning shit like that anytime soon, or any of the other locations that sell music (or movies) to people who care and know about music (or movies)... The impossibility of imagining either of those songs over the speakers at Audiopile or Red Cat or Neptoon or so forth says something about how vastly Other the whole HMV experience is, how much MORE it is about the marketplace than culture... It got me thinking briefly what I would play to mark the occasion of the HMV flagship store's closure, if *I* were given free reign to DJ the night. I think I've come up with the perfect song - Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers doing "Isn't It Grand."

(No, seriously - there's no other last sentence to this piece, go check that song out for the conclusion).

RIP, HMV flagship store (now what the hell else is going to fill that space?).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Robots on Fire at Kozmik Zoo!

Darren Williams of Robots on Fire with Eugene Chadbourne at the Cobalt, taken by Femke van Delft, and not to be reused without permission (I mean, we likely aren't going to do anything unreasonable like ask to get paid or nothin', we just surely would appreciate the courtesy).

I first met Femke van Delft, my longest collaborator on the arts scene in Vancouver (not countin' editors) when Robots on Fire gigged with Eugene Chadbourne and Han Bennink at the Cobalt six or seven years ago. I later saw them play with Mats Gustafsson there. They're a pretty dynamic unit - I think somewhere they do a free jazz cover version of Black Flag's "My War," if that gives you any idea where they're comin' from. (Bassist Dave Chokroun says that they're "about taking musical traditions, blowing them up, and playing the pieces – including the tradition of taking the tradition, blowing it up, and playing the pieces.") They gig on the 31st at Kozmik Zoo, and tho' I won't be there, and am officially NOT BLOGGING - I am NOT here right now, you are NOT reading this - what can I do but pass on this link I just got sent? ...for those musical adventurers lookin' for something unusual to do that night (a Tuesday, I do believe)...

Glenn Erickson on The Hellstrom Chronicle, plus DVD releases

Just when there's nearly nowhere decent left to rent or even buy DVDs ('cept the Videomatica sale store in back of Zulu!), there are some great releases happening. Koji Wakamatsu's three hour and ten minute long epic about Japanese radicals, United Red Army, came out this week; I wrote about it here, mentioning its relationship to the horror film Kichiku Dai Enkai. Also Japan-wise, not too far in the future, Anchor Bay will finally issue a legit Battle Royale (hopefully the Fukasaku theatrical cut, which has a far more decisive ending than the Chinese bootlegs and Korean extended versions that circulate here), and Criterion will have Fassbinder's World on a Wire out... Alas, I have no time or energy to write about any of that right now. Except I just wrote Glenn Erickson about Ken Middleham and the amazing bug photography in the new legit release from Olive Films of The Hellstrom Chronicle, and he posted my email at the bottom of his (very able) review of that film, which is accurate enough that I don't need to say much more ('cept what I said in the email). So go read his review, 'specially if you like bugs, and continue considering my blog on hiatus...

PS. At least until I see it a few more times and have a chance to revise my opinion - which I am in no rush to do - I think I'm ranking Cronenberg's new film down there with my least favourite of his works. Bearing in mind that I'm not really that interested in the biographies of Freud or Jung or the history of pyschoanalysis or such - and thus perhaps not the film's ideal viewer - I have to say that I'd be more inclined to revisit M. Butterfly or Spider or Existenz or any of those other less-generally-loved Cronenberg titles twice before seeing A Dangerous Method again once. In brief:

1. Too many of the film's ideas are presented as mere lines of dialogue than fleshed-out, acted-out, embodied personal beliefs; for instance, we learn that Freud objects to Jung's interest in the supernatural and mysticism and such, and that this is central to the rupture between them, but the latter is never made real for us, never motivated, never shown at work, save as a topic of conversation between the characters (no scarabs knock at the window here). The same is true of Freud's over-focusing on sex - the film takes no risks in offering us glimpses into Freud's private life, to make his ideas an extension of his character; it's all just a matter of talk. Perhaps the prestige of these historical figures inhibited Cronenberg when it came to taking creative liberties with these men's biographies; if that's the case, one wishes he'd been braver.

2. Fassbender and Mortensen turn in surprisingly dull performances, with little expressive range or emotional force; this is particularly disappointing re: Fassbender, who was so good and Shame and is given quite a bit to work with. (Mortensen is doomed, meanwhile: the film is not really that interested in Freud, save as an influence on and occasional foil for Jung). Meantime, Vincent Cassell plays a much more interesting character (qua movie, not history) than either Freud or Jung, but barely gets ten minutes of screentime, appearing almost entirely as a function of the narrative, inserted in it only to motivate a particular choice on Jung's part, then quickly disappearing...

3. There is nowhere near enough sex, considering its importance to the story. When sex does surface, it's as a violent explosion of repressed energies, but these are very soon buried over again and made the stuff of conversation. All that may be appropriate - we are dealing with intellectuals in the early 20th century - but it still isn't the stuff of exciting cinema; again, perhaps the prestige of the story inhibited Cronenberg from really taking risks... (People with spanking fetishes might enjoy where he goes, though).

4.  The best moments in the film, by me - and here I stand far from the consensus - all revolve around Kiera Knightly, who makes the passions of Sabina Spielrein quite compelling (and whose "scenery chewing" not only seemed perfectly believable but reminded me of a young, rather violent woman I met once when volunteering at Riverview). I would have enjoyed the film far more if it jettisoned 70% of its Freud-Jung material and focused instead on her, if the film had ended up more of an overtly feminist biography; she ends up the emotional heart of the film, but - just as she is excluded from most histories of psychoanalysis - her story too often takes a backseat to those of Freud and Jung... It would have been interesting for Cronenberg, who has made some fairly misogynistic films (Rabid, The Brood) to really run with the idea of a feminist revisionist history, to make a film about how much more ALIVE Spielrein seems than either Freud or Jung. In fact, he very nearly does just that, but doesn't quite take it far enough...

Polanski's Carnage was much more enjoyable...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ahna, Druden, Wolves in the Throne Room

While I've gotten used to being ID'ed at 43 and frisked at the door, the overzealous security staff at The Venue really outdid themselves tonight: I was sitting on a stool in back of the hall, to rest my legs and back after an hour standing in the pit and to better concentrate on the music. My eyes were closed, my head down, and Wolves in the Throne Room were moving me to a transcendent state; sometimes the most intense musical experiences can only be had when one shuts out visual stimuli. Suddenly, at the peak of my concentration, the whole world transformed to this blissful, mournful rising wave of sound emanating from the stage and a ghostly phantom vocalization, like some sort of Satanic Gregorian chant, floating over the music, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes and look up, wondering if perhaps a friend has found me: instead it's a bouncer. "Are you okay?" he asks me. If I seemed a bit dazed at the question, it was simply because I can't see what about concentrating to music would make me not okay, but I said to him - politely enough - that I was fine. He responded with a stern command: "Don't sleep."

In case he didn't catch my reply - he was walking away, and the music WAS loud - what I shouted was, "I was LISTENING - it's called music!" (...and then I added a "term of affection" that I will not repeat here, lest I seem uncivilized.) Yes, folks - tonight, I was busted for LISTENING TO MUSIC AT A CONCERT.

Only at The Venue.

Anyhow, Wolves in the Throne Room were magnificent, and it was great to finally see Anju Singh with Ahna, her intense avant-metal duo. She's got a hell of a voice, is one hell of a drummer, and Ahna are one unique musical experience.

That's it, really. Resume blog pause.

Bad cellphone pics by me - Ahna at top, Wolves in the Throne Room below

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blog pause, plus the cellphone photography of Allan MacInnis

Well, at the start of last term I declared I was going to stop blogging altogether. It lasted two months. However, this term, I've doubled my courseload at UBC, and I really, really need to cut this out for awhile. Barring MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS, this blog is on hiatus. I mean it. Really.

Though you should all go see the Creaking Planks anniversary show at the Railway Club next Wendesday (at 8:30, as a "late show" second-billed to a free, I think, concert by Edmonton Block Heater at 7:30). And aren't we all delighted that the new Cronenberg and Polanski movies are playing? And there's a Tarkovsky retrospective at the Cinematheque (I recommend Ivan's Childhood) and next month a screening of The Wages of Fear. I'm not as familiar with the Vancity Theatre's upcoming films, and won't have time to acquaint myself, but there's a great series of films on newspapers, Stop the Presses, which features a highly underrated and very well-cast Ron Howard "comedy/drama" called The Paper, which I liked well-enough when I stumbled on it some years ago (Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, Marisa Tomei, and Spalding Gray star). Sam Fuller's Park Row will screen (I haven't seen it), as will a bunch of other films (including, of course, Citizen Kane).
The gem by me is Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, a terrifically cynical skewering of American media, screening February 2nd...

Oh, and did you notice that you can get an amazing Ingmar Bergman box set (featuring three of my favourite Bergmans - Shame, Hour of the Wolf, and The Passion of Anna) for peanuts at the HMV closeout sale? (There's about a week left, but their stock is badly dwindling. They also have a substantially discounted Murnau and Borzage at Fox box set - last I checked, there were about eight of them, marked down from $300-odd dollars to $80-something, on the main floor by the Burrard Street windows. It's still not in my price range, and they say there'll be no further markdowns, but fans of silent cinema who actually have money might want to check it out. Plans are also afoot for a birthday film event, too, though it may (or may not) run a little later this year than my actual birthday (so it won't conflict with classes). We'll see. THAT I will announce here, as it gets closer.

Meantime, to keep you entertained, here are some pictures (I'm told they're worth 1000 words each):

Mom and I go casino gambling!

Shot from the West Coast Express: trainyards in Coquitlam

Tonight's snowfall 1, circa 10pm

Tonight's snowfall circa 2:30 am

Tonight's snowfall circa 5am

Sunrise a few days ago

Pond at UBC's Nitobe gardens, the day before yesterday

The shadow of a tree, at the same

Apologies to Robert Dayton!

Jeez - I missed a July Fourth Toilet show and a Canadian Romantic performance. Mack wrote about'em here. Sorry, Robert - I'm completely overwhelmed with school stuff at the moment... I actually hoped to go to at least one of these, but by the time I checked in to see when they were (late last night, having commuted back to Maple Ridge) attending either was impossible. Damn!

Bloodied But Unbowed plus punk show tonight!

I'm kind of done with Bloodied But Unbowed, but for those of you who haven't already seen it, it screens tonight - in the "added Jello" cut - at the Astoria, along with performances by The Jolts, the B-Lines, and Hello Polly (a band consisting of Paul Leahy of No Fun and various members of the Pointed Sticks). Facebook page for the event here, Beat Route article on the film - including interviews with a whole bunch of people involved in it - here.

Glenn Erickson, Max von Sydow, and the dreams of pygmies

Still from Deathwatch
Having an interesting, cinema-intensive correspondence with DVD Savant Glenn Erickson about Bertrand Tavernier's film La Mort En Direct (Deathwatch). He's done a two-part article on Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World - part one, part two - which, in the second half, compares that film with Tavernier's, finding several apparently non-coincidental similarities (including the presence of Max von Sydow, who pops up at the end of both films; as Erickson says, "all roads lead to von Sydow"). He reports that Wenders spoke about how he and Tavernier were collaborating on a film idea, and took it in different directions - hence the similarities. I find it interesting that other of Wenders films have occasionally resonated against earlier movies - see also this blogger's discussion of Alice in the Cities, Paper Moon, and Lolita, or consider the deliberate borrowings from Nicolas Ray's The Lusty Men in Kings of the Road. Wenders imagination seems steeped in cinema, such that images from other films, consciously or unconsciously, sometimes surface in his...

Another similarity between Deathwatch and Until the End of the World, however, is that both films exist in longer cuts not widely seen in North America, which is how he and I got talking about them in the first place (he found something I wrote on IMDB many years ago about the "long version" of La Mort En Direct, and, not realizing it was me - because we've corresponded before - wrote me).

Still from Dreamscape

My big addition here is to bring up one of my favourite '80's SF films, Dreamscape (for which I have considerable more fondness than Erickson, who rather pans it here). I'd mentioned previously on this blog that it has a line that resonates with the Tavernier film. Though it has been some time since I last saw Dreamscape, and my memory has fogged, I believe Max von Sydow says something in both films involving dreaming pygmies, which surely cannot be a coincidence, and seems to suggest some deliberate creative input on von Sydow's part - as if he decided to stitch a resonance between the two films, which he made a few years apart. As Erickson's part two on Until the End of the World mentions, pygmies were to play a role in that film, too -- it's all getting rather strange, isn't it? Particularly if you note that in both Until the End of the World and Dreamscape, von Sydow plays a scientist working on futuristic dream technology...!
Still from Until the End of the World

(Note that ardent DVD hounds can find the long version of Until the End of the World either via an Italian DVD release, lacking English subtitles for scenes not in English, or a Chinese bootleg of the same that sometimes pops up in a cheapie Wenders box sold on eBay. Further, they can probably  track down the French DVD release of the European cut of La Mort En Direct, a terrific dystopian SF film about reality TV and the morality of images, starring Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, Harry Dean Stanton, and Max von Sydow; it's continued non-distribution in North America puzzles me, but it would HAVE to come out in the proper European cut, which is far superior to any previous VHS/ Laserdisc releases here. Dreamscape, meanwhile, being the cheesiest and "most Hollywood" of the films under discussion, is, of course, widely available!).

Thanks to Glenn Erickson for some interesting discussion!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A movie for Haiti: The Agronomist screens Friday

A Jonathan Demme film screening to benefit Haiti! Martha Rans, involved in organizing the night, writes that the evening is "a fundraiser for a project in Haiti that is making schooling available to kids who would not otherwise be going to school.  Especially since the earthquake.  The film is a film follows the life of  Jean Leopold Dominique, who ran Haiti's first independent radio station, Radio Haiti-Inter, during multiple repressive regimes.  The panel discussion features two people who have direct knowledge of the work of Dominique and the film as well as Daniel Laurent from Haiti who directs the school."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fuck the Steam Clock! (featuring Gunnar Holm Mikkelsen)

The Gastown Steamclock, as jacked from the matrix by Gunnar

I got friendly with a fellow student last term in the Film Studies program at UBC - a Dane named Gunnar Holm-Mikkelsen, here for one term before heading back to Denmark. He's an interesting guy - a filmmaker and a songwriter to boot, performing under the name Saint Kodiak. We shared both Ernest Mathijs' Cult Movies class (yes, the Ernest Mathijs who was recently featured in the Straight) and Lisa Coulthard's violence-centred American Cinema Since 1960 course - excellent classes, and fuel to many a stimulating conversation between Gunnar and myself.
Saint Kodiak at Funkys, photo by Al, hair by Femke

The peak of our interactions, however, came shortly after both of us got lightly sozzled at Funky Winkerbeans (the Eargoggles night, with the Rebel Spell performing).
The Rebel Spell by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

It had been fun enough to show him around the city a bit before we got sauced, offering him a narrative (as we worked our way east along Hastings Street) about gentrification, poverty, the Woodsquat riots - assisted by Stan Douglas' vivid photographic reconstruction -  and the whole Marc Emery tale, which led to a trip (tho' we didn't partake) the Cannabis Culture bookstore. Gunnar responded with tales of the Danish Freetown Christiania, which I'd not heard of previously - a sort of squatted autonomous zone inside Copenhagen where normal Danish law ceases to apply and pot culture and so forth proliferates.
Openers The Fight United by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

As I realized awhile back giving Zev Asher a similar tour (though we ended up at Scratch Records, not Funky's), there's a sort of enlightenment otherwise unavailable that comes of talking about the city to a non-Vancouverite, and once we got to Funkys (and the beer began to flow) we ended up having some great conversations with Femke van Delft, Bev Davies, and Todd and Erin of the Rebel Spell, all of whom sat at our table for a period... but the peak, as I say, was when we were staggering about Vancouver afterwards, and I asked Gunnar if there was anything else in the city he wanted to see while we were out and about.
Stepha of the Rebel Spell, photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

"I keep hearing about this Steam Clock," he said. "Is it really worth seeing, or is it just some lame, touristy thing?"

Honest-to-God, folks, I had never devoted a minute of my life to thinking about the Steam Clock before that, and I almost collapsed in laughter. No, no, it's not worth seeing, I said - or something along those lines - but that alone makes it worth seeing! As we reeled towards Gastown, I commenced a rant that I didn't know I had in me, about how the only people who seem impressed by the Steam Clock are Asian tourists and ESL students; it practically exists as a photo op for them, while actual Vancouverites walk by heedless, paying no attention to the thing and identifying with it not in the slightest. It's nowhere near as grandiose in its lameness as my own town's contribution to public art, the giant robot horse clock, known as The Beast, that (when it's working) rears up on its hind legs and nods its head a few times, as the clock chimes the hour. By contrast, the Steam Clock doesn't even have status as a public eyesore; I actually will bring visitors to Maple Ridge to bear witness to the horse (and Bev Davies and Femke van Delft both got to photograph it in action, and we stood around chatting about how utterly absurd and misguided it is - all the moreso for having its design allegedly plagiarised from a Hasbro toy), but if Gunnar hadn't asked - and if he hadn't asked in the way that he did - the Steam Clock is so negligible that it would never, ever have crossed my mind as something to show him. Better yet, Gunnar knew something about it I didn't, which the plaque confirms - that it isn't even actually an antique, that it was set in place in 1977 or such, as a manufactured tribute to Vancouver's past.

The Maple Ridge Horse Clock by Bev Davies (!), not to be reused without permission

I don't remember all that we said about it as we observed it - I seem to recall him chuckling wryly and saying "it's  a clock and it blows steam!" and he recalls saying something like "I passed up Big Ben for THIS?" - but I do remember seizing the moment - as the clock blew 2AM - to ask some equally inebriated Vancouverites who appeared on the sidewalk at that time if  they felt any identification with the Steam Clock at all. The actual wording of their response is lost to alcohol and time, but I briefly bonded with these strangers in drunkenly declaiming "fuck the steam clock!" while Gunnar looked on, laughing.

It was a sweet moment of bonding, our cursing the Steam Clock together. Though, to be honest, on reflection, having thus publicly abused the clock, I am now moved to a certain fondness for it, based in its status as a neglibile non-event; it is benign, ersatz, useless, and ever-so-humble, offending no one and accomplishing nothing (though presumably some of the tourists who pose in front of it find it moving, and I guess it does serve its function as a timepiece well enough, though I cannot recall ever having used it as one). For the true athlete of perception, it seems its value as a tourist attraction lies precisely in its lack of value as a tourist attraction; perhaps the next time I entertain a visitor to this city, thanks to Gunnar, I will bring them there, as well, so we can contemplate how singularly unimpressive and meaningless it is, as it blows its steam at the sky. It makes one wonder what actual historical landmarks the city pays no attention to, while celebrating this one... Bev Davies occasionally has pointed out to me the house The Clash stayed at the first time they came to Vancouver, for one, and I retain some fondness for the wall, long-since muralled over, where that pro-Squamish Five slogan was spraypainted, reading, if memory serves, "Jail the Real Terrorists: Litton, Hydro, Red Hot Video." Maybe there are some scorched spots left on the sidwalk from the Canucks riot?

(Check out the music of Saint Kodiak here).

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Maple Ridge solidarity gesture: The Likely Rads, the Jen Huangs

A couple of bands from hereabouts are playin' Funky's tonight - the Likely Rads and the Jen Huangs. I won't be there - too much else I gots to do - but, like, check'em out; the new Likely Rads album - a few free samples are on the bandcamp page - is pretty damn good, kinda vintage SNFUish, with maybe a pinch of DRI...

Further Funky's listings follow...

















Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Wolves in the Throne Room January 15th

There's a reason Godspeed You! Black Emperor picked Wolves in the Throne Room for All Tomorrow's Parties. The band performs a very bleak and mournful Pacific Northwest take on black metal, with considerable subtlety and nuance and a strong connection to the forests and energies of the region (though death seems a powerful presence in their music, more than the generative aspect of nature). I've also seen it said about them that they have a powerful stage presence, an environmentalist angle, and that they'd prefer people to lay on the floor and cry than mosh at their concerts - they're apparently not great fans of the violence of the pit. I must admit that I've been listening to them more than I've been reading about them, so I can't really say much else about them, but their January 15th concert at The Venue - with Ahna and Druden - sounds like its going to be an essential show. Check these guys out, folks...

Meantime... classes have started again, so I may not be so active here for awhile. Or maybe I will. Hell if I know.

Late Edition to 2011 Top Ten: Red State; plus HMV rant

I have lots of good excuses for not getting to Kevin Smith's Red State until this past weekend. I'm no Kevin Smith fan, for one - Dogma was enough of a mess that I stepped well clear of the boat long before he began sticking his own face and name all over the place (for instance, with An Evening With Kevin Smith, which I always imagined subtitled, "As If You Give a Fuck!") and making movies starring his own character (who knows, maybe Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is some sort of masterpiece but I sure haven't wanted to see it). Red State sounded like an unusual film for the guy (plus Michael Parks is in it!), and the fact that Smith announced that he was going to self-distribute it and then retire from filmmaking was kind of piquant, suggesting maybe that he'd discovered he'd become a bit of an embarrassment and had, uh, grown up - but I wasn't about to go all the way into town to see the movie on the night that he presented it personally to Vancouver audiences, especially since it meant having to hang out with the guy ("dude, I want to see your movie, I don't want to be your buddy.") Then the film had the bad luck to come out on video just as video stores were closing down left-and-right. I had no such faith that I would find it interesting that I was prepared to BUY it (unless I found a copy for $5 or less, which I haven't yet). I could just torrent it but, as I've said, I have some software issues and an 81-year-old Mom to entertain who has a finicky DVD player that won't accept my home-burned discs, so a legit copy made more sense. Finally, visiting a friend on Vancouver Island for the holiday, I suggested we rent it (there are several healthy video stores still out there, like the excellent Pic-a-Flic). My, am I glad to have made that suggestion.

A few observations about Red State:

1. It has more meat on its bones politically than any other  non-documentary American film of 2011 that I'm aware of, confronting us with a very real hystrionic homophobia that flourishes in certain Christian crevices, generally completely unacknowledged, and certainly never looked at under a microscope as it is here. It shows just how intense this phenomenon can be, and does so very believably, in no small part due to the amazing, amazing performance of Michael Parks (above). It's not an easy film to watch - I have no idea what it would be like to watch it from a gay perspective, and it's a shame that it doesn't make a bit more room for there to BE a gay perspective - it's a little "straight," considering its subject matter - but it's confrontationally direct in presenting this side of American ugliness, which gives it all sorts of weight with me. The title, too, is nothing short of brilliant, considering.

2.  It is very well-crafted as cinema. Every minute of the film, you feel like you're in the hands of a man who knows how to make movies, in a way I don't remember feeling watching the few other Kevin Smith films I've seen. It has little of Smith's brand of humour, and none of it feels inappropriate. It begins in a world that we might recognize as "Kevin Smith territory" - three morally naive but very horny adolescent boys answer a sex personals ad and set off to have a group sexual experience with an older woman - but from the moment that they find themselves abducted by a homophobic and well-armed church group, it's like we're in a different filmmaker's movie. Maybe Eli Roth's, because Red State has a lot of the tension and some of the violence and visual sensibilty of the Hostel films, which is likely why the film is popping up in the "horror" section at HMV. It's more restrained than Roth's movies, however, and has a menacing quietness to it almost from the start, which makes it very, very compelling.

3. That said, it is derivative of other films, especially in terms of technique - enough so that it counts against the film. There are jagged running sequences that suggest the Saving Private Ryan/ 28 Weeks Later variety of shakycam; they're well-used but not exactly an innovation at this point, and this fact calls some attention to itself ("Aha - he got that from..."). Cribbing a bit from the look of Hostel was a very good idea, too, but it also might have been better if it hadn't been so noticeable. The ending, further, has a Joel and Ethan Coen sort of glibness to it, and perhaps is the least effective part of the movie; Red State builds to this bizarre peak of tension, ratcheting up its audaciousness and bravery to career highs for Smith, without cheating or violating its terms - and then it cops out a bit, ending behind closed doors in a sort of Burn After Reading coda that isn't quite as dramatically satisfying as one hopes. Smith may well have spoiled his own voice in cinema with some of his past excesses, so I guess it makes sense that he borrows as much as he does from other movies, but he doesn't quite have the level of mastery at stealin' shown by Tarantino, who manages to borrow from other movies in such a way that he ends up being credited for what he takes (which is quite an accomplishment). Maybe Smith just needs more practice at it...

4. But that said, it's an interesting enough ending, to a bold enough film, that I think Red State could easily be viewed again, and again, and still be thought-provoking. I certainly will be keeping an eye out for a copy (though I'm still not prepared to pay $23.99 for it, even less the 10% discount that our closing HMV is offering). ...and may I also here reiterate that Michael Parks proves himself one of the great American film actors with this role? His many Tarantino/ Rodriguez appearances have been uniformly great, but he glitters and shines with a crazed intensity in this film, and even gets to sing a few gospel songs. (Folks who took note of the eerie but marked quality of his singing in this film should check out this clip here).

It's a shame that Kevin Smith is retiring from making films. I'd rather see him retire from making public appearances and focus on making MORE FILMS LIKE THIS (which could be subtitled, perhaps, Kevin Smith Shuts the Fuck Up and Gets Serious About His Craft). With apologies to Kelly Reichardt, I think Red State deserves the place of Meek's Cutoff at the bottom of my top ten list for 2011 (see below). It might even deserve a spot a few notches up - it's actually a kinda IMPORTANT film, which, enjoyable as it is, Rise of the Planet of the Apes sure isn't - but I need to look at it again to puzzle over it a bit before I make such a move.

...By the way, as a side note, isn't it kind of interesting to see that it only took at 10-20% discount on HMV's regular stock to get it to fly off the shelves? The store has been very nearly picked clean of interesting films and CDs at this point, with many areas completely denuded and blocked off; they'll no doubt be near empty by the final closure, just a couple of weeks from now. This proves, among other things, that people are in fact MORE THAN WILLING TO PAY MONEY FOR DVDs AND BLU-RAYS AND CDs, they just aren't prepared to pay the prices that are generally being asked for them. Given how fucking CHEAP it is to manufacture and distribute this stuff, and the sheer abundance of cheap-to-free media choices out there, it's a shame that the industries in question wouldn't just acknowledge reality and try LOWERING THEIR FUCKING PRICES as a strategy for survival, rather than digging in the way they have, even though it clearly has meant bankrupting the retail outlets that service them. It's kind of ridiculous that CD and DVD manufacturers (to say nothing of Blu-Ray) STILL keep asking $19.99 OR MORE for a fuckin' disc, when they'd  make a tidy profit and actually SELL the thing at half that price; $19.99 is two hours wages for some folks out there! Those looking for someone to blame for the state of the industry might want to take these observations in, before pissing and moaning about Netflix and torrenting and so forth: the industry has NOT responded to changing conditions, has in fact petulantly REFUSED to do so, and has thus needlessly sabotaged itself. Someone should spraypaint "Adapt or die, motherfuckers!" on the HMV hull, once the building is finally vacated. It won't be much satisfaction to those many people who would still be BUYING CDs and DVDs and so forth if they were just a bit more affordable... but it would have truth to it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Deconstructing Harry tonight!

Everyone tells me that I have to see Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry - usually during a conversation where I complain how frustrating I find his cinema. They explain that it was made as a reaction to some of the scandals around him a few years ago and is a sort of frustrated explosion of a Woody Allen film, taking risks and pushing buttons left and right. It DOES sound like a-more-interesting-than-average Woody, and it turns out that it plays tonight at the Vancity Theatre at 7:30 pm, as part of a Cinema Salon with the Straight's Charlie Smith presiding. Sounds like a not-to-be-missed opportunity - I'm quite looking forward to it!