Majical Cloudz always remind me of Will Ferrell’s impression of Robert Goulet. Although I do like their album a fair bit.
Camera Obscura often reminds me of this scene. I wish more things did.
I was listening to an old mix my wife made circa 1999, and this song popped up. I haven’t thought about this band or this song in years, but it can safely be filed under “great semi-forgotten songs of the 1990s”.
Both my wife and I were into Luna well before we ever heard a note of Galaxie 500 or The Feelies (members of which went on to form Luna, along with a member of The Chills). I was into rap, R&B, and pop in the 80s, not indie rock (or rock period) so I’ve taken circuitous routes back to that stuff as my palate has grown.
Friend & Lover
“Reach Out of the Darkness”
This week’s episode of Mad Men reminded of this song, which I put on nearly every mix cd I made for a couple of years there. It’s such an unusual song, with an intro that’s basically a breakbeat and a minimalist drums/bass/vocals combination that is recorded like a funkier Young Marble Giants. The song flips between that and some easygoing, wear-flowers-in-your-hair trip, which like a lot of 1960s songs make capital-L Love sound mighty creepy. The arrangement and production of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” will melt your skin, and Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” is one the most frightening pop songs ever. Even the use of the concept of darkness and the standalone shrieking of the word “love” two-thirds of the way through this song is freaky (as is the fact that church groups took to this song for recruitment). Then again it’s possible that the Sixties love songs are only scary through the filter of the subconscious and the lens of history, as my generation wasn’t around for the 1960s love-ins but was around for the waves of Baby Boomer divorces.
That’s what happened with Friend & Lover, the husband-and-wife duo of Jim and Cathy post. The rest of their debut album is pretty terrible, owing to multiple producers, poorly recorded vocals, and an unfocused vision that tried to force them into being more Lovin’ Spoonful than they were really capable or interested in being. I mean, “Boston Is A Lovely Town” sure isn’t going to make anyone forget “Dirty Water.” Not long after their one and only album, the couple split.
Tracks of Two Years Ago
Dominant Legs, “Already Know That It’s Nice,” released on Invitation, September 27, 2011
The Internet has spoken and apparently “Hannah Hunt” is the agreed-upon showstopper on Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City. There’s good reason for that: the arresting ballad comes halfway through the album — after a monster stretch of songs — and slows things down to a hush, taking care to distill everything the band does well and pull together many of the band’s favorite themes into four exquisite minutes. That this song encompasses so much of what the band has spent years perfecting makes some sense, as they’ve spent almost their whole existence perfecting this one song (according to this feature on Pitchfork).
According to that same article, the song was named for a woman that Ezra Koenig sat next to in a Buddhism class in college. That woman now sings and plays keyboards in the San Francisco band Dominant Legs. The lead singer and guitarist of that band, Ryan Lynch, also used to be in Girls — making them tangentially related (now) to two critically adored bands. That adoration, however, did not carry over. Buzz for Dominant Legs never really got into second gear.
I like them, though, and I just assumed that few people shared my affection. Reviews for their work are tepid, I don’t hear about them on any blogs, and my attempts to get friends interested are quickly and politely rebuffed. I should note that I’m not saying “nobody likes them but me” because my tastes are cool. It’s more likely because my tastes can be very much uncool. The band is relentlessly cheerful, borderline saccharine, and a little bit hippie — which are all traits that rightfully turn people off.
In the right context, however, I can nurture a sweet tooth for all of that stuff, and Dominant Legs splatters their happy, hippie vibe across 80s-hangover arrangements in a way that breaks down my defenses. I first heard them in 2010 with “Clawing Out at the Walls” and was struck by the easy energy, Lynch’s Tracy Chapman-esque vocals, and the way the melody glides upward. Yes, I liked Blind Melon, too. Dominant Legs’ 2011 album, Invitation, didn’t quite deliver as much as I had hoped, but still submitted joyful cuts such as “Make Time For The Boy,” “Hoop of Love,” and “Already Know That It’s Nice.” The last in the one I went for the hardest. Yes, it has a goopy intro, but it’s rescued by a juicy chorus and carefree bounce that sounds pretty euphoric no matter how many times I hear it. And yes, that’s Hannah Hunt singing backup throughout.
The rest of the films I saw at this year’s festival:
Prince Avalanche David Gordon Green began his career as one of the most promising new independent filmmakers in America. Movies such as George Washington and All the Real Girls established him as a visionary who melded Terrence Malick’s pastoral view with distinctly Southern storytelling. Once Green established this reputation, however, he shifted to something else entirely, tackling broad comedy to varying degrees of success (Pineapple Express, Eastbound & Down) and failure (Your Highness). Prince Avalanche finds him combining his low-budget dramas with his comedic sensibility, telling a stripped-down story of two men (Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd) who do roadwork in a rural Texas landscape that’s been ravaged by forest fires. The film, based loosely on Icelandic movie Either Way, is mostly a loose framework for the two actors — who look oddly like Mario and Luigi from Super Mario Bros. in their red and green shirts and bright blue overalls — to make minor mischief. The results are absurdist, deadpan, surreal, and sometimes philosophical, but never predictable. The most unusual and engrossing film I saw in this year’s festival.
Raze The “women’s prison” subgenre was never one of cinema’s pinnacles — in fact, it was much closer to cinema’s nadir — but in the grindhouse glory days, it was a subgenre that aspired to cheap exploitation and minor titillation. The movies were crude and offensive, but there was a certain joy in them, they were (with some exceptions) goofs, and everyone involved acted as such. Raze attempts to update the women’s prison genre in the same way that many modern horror directors have updated the scare flick: by making it much more grim and relentlessly punishing, and scrubbing out anything that might be considered playful, cheeky, liberating, or cathartic. This story centers on a group of women who are kept in cells by a shadowy organization and must fight each other to the death with their bare hands so that one may earn her freedom. The thrill of combat is diminished by the fact that each fight takes place in the same small room, with roughly the same rules, and without enough space for the camera to be involved in the action. It’s repetitive violence for its own sake. Zoe Bell, who has worked repeatedly with Quentin Tarantino (and is most famous for riding the hood of the car in Death Proof), takes the star turn here. She’s got charisma, but the movie doesn’t. Bell’s presence recalls Tarantino’s empowering revenge fantasies, but Raze resorts instead to bland nihilism.
Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic Documentarian Marina Zenovich is best known for her profiles of Roman Polanski titled Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out and Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. This time out, she trains her lens on Richard Pryor, crafting an overview of the comic’s life that’s revealing and engaging even as it — to be expected — leaves the viewer wanting more. In particular, I would have liked to seen more context of the times Pryor came up in. He was clearly a revolutionary artist, but what was the specific world he was reacting against? Then again, a feature-length documentary on Pryor’s long, engrossing career and tumultuous personal life would always leave one unsatisfied, and hungry to simply see more of his actual comedy — and so through no fault of Zenovich, Omit the Logic feels incomplete. Maybe we’ll get a TV miniseries or DVD set in the future.
Sunlight Jr. Digital shooting and projection have made financing easier for independent filmmakers, but I frequently wring my hands over how it makes their actual work look. Indie movies rely much more on realism than their blockbuster counterparts, and digital video is rarely a friend to realism; it’s too sharp, and shows us the world in ways our eyes don’t quite see it. And so the look of the harrowing, hyper-realistic Sunlight Jr. was occasionally distracting — perhaps it was the projection; I can’t speculate too much — but in this case it was hardly enough to ruin the experience. Director Laurie Collyer, inspired in part by the book Nickel and Dimed, paints a portrait of the minimum-wage class in Florida and gets strong performances from Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon as a couple on the brink who live in a motel and try to survive on the woman’s cashier salary. Collyer perhaps scatters her ire at too many targets — everything from the environment to strip malls to health care to drug abuse to abortion, and many more — but her point hits home, through grace, keen observation, a moody score (by Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis) and wise performances from both stars and unknowns. Upward mobility from America’s bottom is nearly impossible, she states, and the myriad factors working against people who find themselves there range from the system to their peers to their environment.
V/H/S/2 Horror anthologies are usually good, even when they’re bad. So you don’t need to bury me up to my neck on the beach in order to get me to check out a new one. The horror genre is, for the most part, better suited for the short form: you set a mood, get off some good ideas, get in some good scares, and get out of there and on to the next idea before welcomes are worn. 2012’s V/H/S didn’t win any awards, but did well enough on the cult circuit (and Netflix Instant) to warrant another go-around, and so here we are. There are stories about ghosts, zombies (from the perspective of someone turned into a zombie while wearing a camera on his head), aliens, and a cult, all told in a “found footage” manner and sewn together with an overarching story about two people who come into a house full of snuff films. Some of the first-person camerawork gives the movie the vibe of a video game, for better or worse, but there aren’t any real weak spots here. Best by far is the story about the cult, titled “Safe Haven” and directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre). One of the finest works I saw at Tribeca, genre or otherwise, “Safe Haven” builds to total insanity with such assurance and expertise that it almost begs to have the directorial duo return for some long-form horror.
I usually write about music here, but my day job involves more film than music. I went to the Tribeca Film Festival for a few days last week and while longer pieces are to come with said job, I’ll use this space to run through what I saw.
Almost Christmas Director Phil Morrison gave us an auspicious feature-length debut with 2005’s Junebug, a smartly observed, heartfelt dramedy about a Southern family (which also introduced actress Amy Adams to wide audiences), and incredibly, it’s taken him eight years to see a new feature through to the screen. Almost Christmas is another comedy about a splintered family that is adapting to new dynamics and re-learning how to communicate. Paul Giamatti plays Dennis, a thief who is released from prison to find his former partner, Rene (Paul Rudd), is set to marry his ex-wife. Desperate for money and feeling Rene owes him something, Dennis convinces Rene to take him down to New York City so the pair can sell Christmas trees on the street. The two experience mild hardships and humor and eventually bond, all through a fairly well-worn story arc. Giamatti gives his usual aggravated performance, stomping through the movie while sniffing, glaring, and scratching his head — I much prefer him cast against type than in roles like these — and the look of the film is a bit monochromatic. There are nice moments, particularly those provided by Rudd’s dimwit, but warm acting don’t save this from being a disappointment — especially considering the long wait after such a promising debut.
A Birder’s Guide To Everything Rob Meyer’s debut feature is a coming-of-age comedy that rehashes Stand By Me’s story — with a rare bird in place of a dead body — and borrows the eccentric melancholy of Wes Anderson’s work without coming across like a Xerox. Kodi Smit-McPhee heads a cast of gifted, upcoming young actors as a boy who sees birdwatching as the only connection to his deceased mother, and sets out to find a thought-to-be-extinct duck on the weekend of his father’s wedding to his new beau. Ben Kinglsey plays a veteran birder with an authoritative hand, lending weight to the screen whenever things get too whimsical, while getting in some good lines of his own. Some of the humor probably played better on the page than the screen, and some of the scenes are not as rare as that elusive duck, but Meyer shows a gift for getting the most from his teenage actors — who have a lot to give indeed.
The Machine Low budget science fiction movies often flaunt their meager funding by embracing B-movie production values (as with Slither) or obscure their lack of funding through resourceful writing (like Primer). Rare is the low-budget SF film that actually strives to imagine an entire futuristic world on a shoestring; think THX 1138 for an example of that. Nonetheless, this is what British director Caradog James aspires to with his fable of a synthetic woman created for war but aware of love, and for the most part, he succeeds with his goal. The nods to everything from Frankenstein to Metropolis to Pinocchio to Blade Runner make the story less memorable than it could be, but the stark look and imaginative special effects help it achieve a trancelike, occasionally affecting experience.
Michael H. Profession: Director In theory, Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke should be a fascinating subject for a documentary. His work traces the cracks in society’s facades more effectively than any other working director, and few are more honest when it comes to placing their characters underneath the debris from those crumbling facades. Given how Haneke appears in photographs — his gaunt face frequently stoic behind white beard and wire glasses — it’s easy to imagine him as a Saruman-like wizard cruelly running his characters through these impossible trials. The reality is, of course, much different. He’s pleasant and affable, if guarded. He’s relaxed on the set and gently demanding of his actors — at least from what we see in this film. The fact is, documentaries about filmmakers are rarely as engaging as ones about, say, musicians or painters, because filmmaking is more tedious than the average person expects and filmmakers (managers as much as artists) are rarely captivating in the way that makes good cinema. Michae H. Profession: Director begins with his Oscar-winning Amour and works backwards through his whole filmography — which serves to remind us how many great movies he’s actually made, and to take his themes in as a whole — but the end result rarely gives us insight into the films or the filmmaker.
“Love Will Never Do (Without You)”
This is what I’m closing the work week out with. More music sound like this please.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy
I recently found my CD copy of Lie Down in the Light, which had been lost in a move, and I’m thrilled to get reacquainted with it* — I’d forgotten how much I love it. In the last week or so I’ve mentioned women who do a fantastic job writing songs about sex. Will Oldham is one of the men who excels at this. He’s playfully frank about sex in ways that highlight how natural it is and hint and how silly it is to make a big deal of it. It’s so natural, in fact, that this song depicts the boundless joy and even a renewed sense of self-worth that is achieved via receiving oral sex in public. What’s wrong with that?
* Yes I could have listened to the mp3s anytime and CDs are antiques, but the only place I keep a CD player these days is in the kitchen and the only time I listen to Oldham is while cooking (his music is great for that), so there you go.