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Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Helplessness Blues", Fleet Foxes, 21st century folk

Helplessness Blues- Fleet Foxes
With few exceptions (including the pretty brutal review from Gavin Haines on NME, which should start a serious debate about what do we call music journalism) the second album of the Seattle indie folk band is receiving the universal acclaim from critics around the globe, certifying the privileged status the band has achieved.

In my opinion, after having the album on repeat for a long time (my enthusiasm for them has grown a lot since I saw them at Primavera Sound Festival), "Helplessness Blues", is a fair follow-up of their beloved predecessor. That's a reason to be happy, but also to raise a question mark. Let's go step by step.

On one hand, half of the album is simply gorgeous. Their craftsmanship talent cannot be more than overtly acclaimed in front of songs like opener "Montezuma", the humming  "Battery Kinzie", the Arabic vibe of "Bedouin Dress", the medieval "Sim Sala Bim", the homonym epic of "Helplessness Blues" or the sublime waltsy, fingerpicking style of "Lorelai". Robin Pecknold's voice shimmers, the arrangements and melodies soar, and one has to wonder if critics like Haines are just haters (maybe he hates folk) or people with a serious problem on the ears.

But compared to their debut something is missing. Some tunes, like "Blue Spotted Tail", "Someone You'd Admire" or "Grown Ocean" pass unnoticed. And then we have the two "slashed" songs, "The Plains/Bitter Dancer" and "The Shrine/An Argument", which could be qualified as interesting folk experiments, but where the sections doesn't really fit together.

And having in mind these disparities on the interest/entity of the songs (just my opinion of course), some needed diversity is also lacking on the album to avoid that feeling of getting tiring towards the end of it. Their first album had a slightly different approach to Americana in each song, from the rootsiness of Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, to the pop vocal harmonies and cheerfulness of The Beach Boys. Instead, "Heplessness Blues" is dominated by a publicly recognized embrace of the sixties folk boom. And more importantly, is dominated entirely by Pecknold (we could say the same about the lyrics), who sometimes seems to be almost alone in the task. Yes, intimacy and self-restraint could be excellent choices, but I have the feeling the record misses some foot-stomping or more electric guitars (almost absent except on the experimental/instrumental sections of the aforementioned "slashed" songs), particularly in its final part.

Maybe my opinion of the album has to do more with the terrific impression they gave after seeing them live. On stage, their music was not only beautiful, it was genuinely alive. During half of "Helpnessness Blues" I had that mesmerizing, contagious sensation again. But it didn't last the whole album.

SCORE: 6,5/10

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Cults", the indie-pop soundtrack for summertime

Cults- Cults
Indie-pop has been taken by the lo-fi, female fronted, joyful retro style, and the trend seems quite far to reach its climax. But it is hard to complain when the results are as good and pleasant as this highly anticipated debut album by Cults, the band leaded by Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin. What we already knew from them was promising, what we saw at Primavera Sound Festival was convincing. And finally, their first full LP, although not ground-breaking, closes the circle: Cults is a real band with a extraordinary talent of encapsulating unforgettable and cheerful melodies into indie-pop pills.

"Cults", the album, opens with the "big guns": "Abducted", "Go Outside", "You Know What I Mean" and "Most Wanted". Four consecutive flawless hits. Even if your music tastes are far from indie-pop, you have to admit these are perfect pop tunes. One could say these songs aren't new, being the tunes that feeded the fire and buzz on the band. It is true, and there's no surprise effect then, but what the hell? The four are terrific, and it should be applauded they didn't distributed wisely within the album to give a sense of consistency. They prefer to demonstrate there's plenty more to listen here.

The rest of the record keeps the airy vibe, devoted to the early sixties and the surf-rock style, but capable to sound modern and fresh. There's no song you could consider as a filler. Just a feeling of repetition on how the songs are done (the breezy beach feeling never abandons you), but luckily the record length, clocking in at barely half an hour, saves it from the risk of getting tiring. Sugar and sweetness, yes, but without exceeding the dose.

Aside from the initial "fab four", I would highlight "Never Heal Myself", where Madeline Follin's voice reaches a deeper level of suggestiveness (same as the slightly poisoned and darkened lyrics), and "Bumper" where they duet for an enchanting, sing-a-long tune with a charming, not taking themselves so seriously, climax. I'm sure that after a few more spins other songs will be added to the list. "Cults", like Tennis' "Cape Dory", shows a band with whom they share a considerable amount of similarities, shows a band establishing a signature sound. An impressive achievement for a debut.

"Cults" is a great short album for summertime, full of pop gems, a sense of nostalgia and a peculiar vibe. Some of their songs will be listed on the ranks at the end of the year, and the album itself will contend for pop album of 2012, if that category exists. More importantly, marks an excellent starting point for this young band.

SCORE: 7/10

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, young adult addiction

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Sala Apolo, Barcelona, June 20

The best alumni of indie-pop arrived to Barcelona to present their sophomore album, "Belong" and with the promise of an unforgettable night we were headed to Sala Apolo, where, despite being Monday, there was no surprise the venue got pretty full by the time the concert was supposed to start (without supporting act). Excitement was evident just by looking at people faces.  

Unfortunately, it took a bit for the band to reach a connection with the eager audience. Leaded by Kip Berman, who carried the responsibility of the gig on his shoulders, they started with "Belong", "This Love is Fucking Right!" and "Higher than the Stars", played with competence, but the intensity, that intangible that differentiates a good concert from an mesmerizing one, wasn't there.

It would get better quickly, though. Because if one thing The Pains don't lack are songs. "Heart in Your Heartbreak", followed by "The Body" and "Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now", heated the cold atmosphere at the venue as well as the members of the band. Cascading guitars (great sound all night), instant melodies, and although Berman's is not an extraordinary singer, and Peggy Wang's backing vocals were quite limited all night, uplifting harmonies. They might not be revolutionary in their sound, but their songs are vital.

The beautiful "Stay Alive" preceded another trio of  hits: "My Terrible Friend" and the already classics "Come Saturday" and "Young Adult Friction". Let's admit it. Are they the best band on stage? Of course not, far from it. But with such songs, it seemed the contrary for a while. The ice completely melted, and the band, more confident and happy to be there, continued their offensive with "Too Tough" and "Everything With You". Yes, we were indie-dancing. Could have been any other way?

After the short break, Kip Berman came alone to play "Contender" and then, backed again by the whole band delivered "Say No To Love". Don't want to use the word low-down, but they needed something more to reinvigorate the concert again, so they waved goodbye with a passionate "The Pains of Being Pure at Heart". The rescue of the encore was completed, but the band felt the need to return a second time, with  "A Teenager in Love" and  "Hey Paul", probably not the strongest choices to close the gig, but no complains. I think you get the idea by now. They may need something more live, but songs? They have a ridiculous amount of them, enough to make you enjoy any night. Ready to suffer a lot more of these Pains. Here's the complete setlist of the gig.
  1. Belong
  2. This Love is Fucking Right
  3. Higher than the Stars
  4. Heart in your Heartbreak
  5. The Body
  6. Heaven's Gonna Happen Now
  7. Stay Alive
  8. My Terrible Friend
  9. Come Saturday
  10. Young Adult Friction
  11. Too Tough
  12. Everything With You
  13. Contender
  14. Say No To Love
  15. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  16. A Teenager in Love
  17. Hey Paul

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shoegazing storm with The Ravonettes in Barcelona

The Raveonettes (+ Versatile). Sala Bikini, Barcelona, June 3rd

Among the posts pending there was the review of The Ravonettes gig at Sala Bikini in Barcelona. The Danish duo was presenting their latest album, the gloomy and moody "Raven in the Grave", and the expectations were high, due to the quality of the album, and because of the chance of seeing the group in a small venue, usually with a great acoustic.

After a local support act, named Versatile, that won't go down in history, The Raveonettes took the stage to trigger the shoegazing storm the night was destined to be. The opening trio of "Recharge and Revolt", the wonderful "War in Heaven" and "Let Me On Out" was the warm-up of the night and gave the public the first taste of how the concert would develop: intensity, a desired prevalence of guitars and percussion among the voices, close to noise sometines, full of reverb and feedback, where the subtleties of their latest album were replaced by the vibrations of the small but full venue.

That Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner chose their darkest material was clear after they combined "Dead Sound", "Noisy Summer" and the always addictive "Love in a Trashcan". By then, for me at least, as much as the guitars and double drumming were exciting, losing the vocals and their intertwining (and I was on the first row) was a bit disappointing, being one of the highlights that make The Raveonettes special.

As I said, the whole night was prolific on their garage/shoegazing classics, giving the band the opportunity of inserting almost all of "Raven in the Grave" (8 of the 9 songs from the album), that flowed smoothly with the old material, with special mention of the terrific combo "Evil Seeds"-"Ignite". In terms of cohesion, the gig was superb, making the people move with the noisier tunes and keep their breath with the paused ones. But for the ones that were expecting some more "In and Out of Control" songs (still hoping one day I'ill hear "Bang!" live), the night only rewarded us with a sublime "Heart of Stone".

Overall a good concert, with many songs to remember (was great to hear some oldies like "Attack of the Ghost Riders" or "The Love Gang") and a band in perfect form and total control of what and how they want to do things, although I would have preferred a different setlist (you can check it fully below) and a lesser garage sounding.
  1. Recharge and Revolt
  2. War in Heaven
  3. Let Me On Out
  4. Dead Sound
  5. Noisy Summer
  6. Love in a Trashcan
  7. Lust
  8. Apparitions
  9. Evil Seeds
  10. Ignite
  11. The Love Gang
  12. My Tornado
  13. Attack of the Ghost Riders
  14. Heart of Stone
  15. My Time’s Up
  16. Forget That You're Young (encore)
  17. Aly, Walk With Me (encore)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Suck It and See", the summery side of Arctic Monkeys

Suck It and See- Arctic Monkeys

Since 2006 the Monkeys have been faithful to what now seems like a prophecy, their first album title, "Whatever People Sat I Am, That's What I'm Not". Typecasting the Brits under one category of indie style is a lost battle, and every new record is a surprising new side of the band. This time, one that could be called "summery". A side that fits them very well.

The first songs we heard from the record seemed to play cluelessness with us, on a first approach. The stoner rock of "Don't Sit Down Cause I've Moved Your Chair" and the more playful, "vintage" sounding "Brick by Brick" were a bit dissapointing, recalling their previous album "Humbug" on a pretty derivative way. Together with the poor album artwork, have to say lowered the expectations on their new effort. But judging the Arctic Monkeys in advance has proven wrong again.

Because these two and "Libray Pictures", recalling early, stampede mode, Monkeys, are the exceptions on "Suck It and See", which is a warm and mellow, sometimes with a stripped down feeling, album. One could easily point out that it has a lot to do with Alex Turner's solo adventure on the "Submarine" soundtrack. As a matter of fact, in a full band version, it also includes the gorgeous “Piledriver Waltz” from that collaboration. But Turner and Co. go way further in here. With excellent results.

Is their poppier record without a doubt. But a refined and classy one, where instruments sound cohesive instead of edgier, the Monkeys trademark in the form of sharp riffs and jagged drumming during 5 years. The album opener “She’s Thunderstorms” might be the perfect example. There's a sense the song could stop any second before exploding into a frantic guitar assault, but they let the melody soar with grace, in the same vein of the wonderful "Black Treacle".

There's plenty more on the album. “Reckless Serenade” is pure pop perfection, a strong contender to be on the best-of the year lists. The "Hellcat Spangled Shalalala", and "Suck It and See" and "That's Where You're Wrong" (yes, a bit Stone Roses), are pop gems, disarmingly catchy as well. And "Love is a Laserquest", second ballad of the record, is lovely, reaffirming that one of the best improvements of the Monkeys is that Turner, always a great lyricist, has become a very good singer. The straightforward storyteller is now a meditative, ironic, romantic sometimes, crooner. He's definitely among the most interesting frontman of indie. And together with his band, seems they could retain that position for a long time.

Give it a try, they invite you in the album title, "Suck It and See", in their unique, straight and tongue-in-cheek way. I really encourage you to do so. Looking forward to see them live, in a few weeks at FIB Festival!

SCORE: 7,75/10

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Crazy Heart", Jeff Bridges' one man show

Crazy Heart

There are movies that would pass unnoticed if there wasn't an actor to bring in some life. "Crazy Heart" is one of these films.

There's nothing bad on the film, but nothing really remarkable or outstanding either, with one big exception. The script is far from being original, Bad Blake, a veteran country artist, once famous, tries to keep going, despite his star is fading and his own addiction, alcoholism, is killing him. But the second chance to reform his life is going to appear, in the form of romance (an uncharacteristically one) and a music proposal. Add that this is not the most dynamic film you have seen (the rythm is paused to say the least) and that the soundtrack is of course, a collection of country music (sorry, ages from my taste). That's not a lot to justify watching the film, or to catch your interest in my opinion. But as I said, there's one big exception. The exception is Jeff Bridges.

Because if you care about the fate of this archetypal, bearish and embittered singer is just thanks to Bridges' outstanding performance (well deserved Oscar). He impersonates Bad Blake in a way you completely believe every single line he delivers, every gesture of quiet desolation or chagrin, or every silly step towards his slow self-destruction. He is also strikingly convincing when he reveals as a vulnerable human, with the capacity, long-time hidden, of being heartbroken. Bridges composes not a character, but a flesh and blood real (although imaginary of course) person. Bridges holds "Crazy Heart" entirely. He is the film.

I'm unsure Bridges alone is enough to rate the movie as a good one, but at least makes it worth the watching.

SCORE: 5,75/10

Monday, June 20, 2011

"The Fighter", boxing and family triumph by K.O.

The Fighter
Great surprise. Wasn't expecting much, because boxing has been overused by Hollywood, and so the topic of redemption/second opportunity through sport, which is on the verge of being a worrying cliché. But luckily, "The Fighter" offers a lot more.

To start with, because boxing remains on the background of the movie, and although it is based on the true story of "Irish" Micky Ward, a local hero from Lowell, Massachusetts, the film instead reveals itself as a familiar drama where there are far more punches at the emotional level that inside the ring.

During the first hour of "The Fighter", we saw a family holding on to nothing, struggling with the decadence of Dick Ecklund (Christian Bale), once a boxing local legend, but now a human waste, consumed by crack addiction. The family is sticking with him, living of the past glory, dragging his younger brother Mick Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who also tries to be a boxer, with them. There's no glamour in this portray, as director David O Russell shows us how poverty is around the corner, and how family and the familiar business boxing is, is disgusting and ugly.

Russell really manages to make us feel the suffocating environment in which Mick is trapped because of his family. He also is able to bring the outsider character into the mix, in the form of a girlfriend (played solidly by Amy Adams), someone really meaningful to Mick who has no fear in saying the things he cannot say to his mother and sisters. She's liberation for him, a reason to keep fighting, and deciding to walk his own way. 

It might be true the second half of the film is more uplifting, with a happier, friendlier tone with the characters. Being a true story I feel inclined to believe it, or maybe, by the time the second opportunity arrives, I cannot avoid to feel a bit compelled by it. But even then, the film has glimpses of harsh reality in a poignant dialogue, a gesture, or awkward situation where the unbalanced relation between the brothers still arises. This wouldn't be possible without the brilliant job of the actors, not just Bale's manic impersonation of Dick, which made him won a deserved Oscar, but everyone on screen. Special credit to Wahlberg's performance, carrying the film on his shoulders, sometimes with just an appalled face.

So, yes, this is another movie about underdogs trying to succeed. But this time the fight is for survival, there's real darkness, filthiness, consistency, and a remarkable honesty in the script, acting and direction. Overall, a knockout triumph.

SCORE: 7,5/10

Sunday, June 19, 2011

19J: We are Many More, Peaceful, and Way Better

We are many more. Back home from the afternoon's demonstration that has collapsed the centre of Barcelona, the same that has happened in Madrid (bravo for the beautiful end with violins!) and many cities in Spain. I will leave the numbers of participation aside (they range from 20.000 to more than 350.000 thousand depending on the source), because I'm not an expert, and the experts in my country are called so because they are capable of lying in their own benefit. But allow me to say just this: the collapse has been so huge it took us an exact 1 hour and a half to move from Plaça Catalunya to the first corner at Fontanella street, barely 10 meters? And almost 3 hours to reach the end of the demonstration at Pla de Palau. Make your own conclusions.

We are peaceful. Besides the amount of people gathered, today has been a total triumph due to the absence of violence. The protest has been the best proof that what happened Wednesday was the exclusive responsibility of a radical small group that doesn't represent the movement, formed by common people, fed up of corruption and lies. Not making any reference to the police, because the video and the facts about their behaviour is easy to find on the web (also in this blog).

We are better. Puig dimissió (Puig, resignation) has been the most chanted slogan/comment this afternoon. Who wouldn't agree? But Puig alone is not enough. The resignation chants must include Mas, Zapatero, media directors, and a looong etc. The movement has to go further, it has to demand Camps, Fabra or Botín to go to prison. Because what we claim is that Europe/world, has to be for the citizens, not for the markets.

The only thing that I don't like in this sort of demonstration (besides the smoke) is the music. Sorry but I can't. So, can we include some indie music next time? Like this great tune by the even greater Neil Hannon? It couldn't be more appropriate (please check the lyrics), even the video is filmed in Spain. Let's protest with class.

Neil Hannon - 'The Complete Banker'

Discoverer 13: new indie findings

Back with the Sunday proposals, for your ears only!

Widowspeak. This trio from Brooklyn started in spring of 2010, and after being signed by the (wise) Captured Tracks they have presented two 7" this year, showing their talents: a fascinating combination of guitar melodies from another time (50's,60's, 90's sophisticated pop) with the haunting dreamy voice of Molly Hamilton, somewhere between Anna-Lynne Williams (Trespassers William) and Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star). Eager to hear their full length debut this summer. I feel this band is really special.
Gun Shy
Harsh Realm
Kids On A Crime Spree. You can always rely on Slumberland Records, so checking their new releases we found the project from veteran Californian Mario Hernandez (From Bubblegum to Sky), who became addicted to Phil Spector's wall of sound. Using old recording techniques to recreate that sound, he composed more than a hundred songs, selecting 8 for their debut album, "We Love You So Bad", released in May. An ultra-short but radiant collection of power-pop pills layered in full-of-reverb guitars, martial drumming and occasional indie-pop pure joy, like on the irresistible "Dead Ripe" (handclapping, yay!).
Dead Ripe.
Sweet Tooth
Saskatchewan. Little we know about this young band from Orlando, Florida. But what matters is that the three songs we have heard from them are stunning postcards of dreamy indie-pop, with "Nice Daze" and the wonderful "Dreamboat" (if it doesn't stick with you after 30 seconds you should probably go visit the doctor) destined to end on the best-of the year compilation lists. In a world with some musical taste, these would be the songs of the summer. More, we want more!
Nice Daze

Friday, June 17, 2011

Best songs of the year 2011... so far

It's middle June, and a good moment for taking a look to what has the year 2011 offered so far in terms of music. Here's a playlist with the best 25 songs (in my opinion, of course) of the year. Some songs have been dropped, because the selection followed two criteria: songs released during 2011, and just 1 song per group/artist, so I could include 25 different proposals. They are not in order of preference, just trying to combine them in a good playlist. Hope you enjoy!
  1. Heart in Your Heartbreak- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  2. Calamity Song- The Decemberists
  3. Helplessness Blues- Fleet Foxes
  4. It Happened Today- R.E.M.
  5. The Words that Maketh Murder- PJ Harvey
  6. Black Night- The Dodos
  7. Fast Fast- Let's Buy Happiness
  8. Lose It- Austra
  9. I Hate You But I Love You- Russian Red
  10. Alien Girl- The Very Most
  11. World Around You- Rubik
  12. Impressions from a City Morning- Brown Recluse
  13. Take Me Somewhere- Tennis
  14. Jesus Came to My Birthday Party- The Middle East
  15. Will Do- TV On the Radio
  16. Funeral Song- Minks
  17. Forget that You're Young- The Raveonettes
  18. One Moment- Motorama
  19. Even Though I'm a Woman- Seeker Lover Keeper
  20. For Jacob with Malaria- Boca Chica
  21. Reckless Serenade- Arctic Monkeys
  22. Royal Blue- Cold War Kids
  23. Exile Vilify- The National
  24. Lippy Kids- Elbow
  25. Go Outside- Cults

A song that I would definitely include is "Margot", by the great Nat Johnson, but I couldn't find it. And some songs that would have been on the list without the "just one song per artist criteria" are "Bitter Branches", "In the Dark Places" by PJ Harvey, "Überlin", "Oh My Heart" by R.E.M., "Think You Can Wait" by The National and "Down by the Water" by The Decemberists.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

FIB Festival, the feeling of being cheated

More than two months after the last confirmations, and less than a month for Benicassim Festival to start, the organization has announced, finally, some more names, almost(?) closing their line-up. It's true, though, that there were some informations in advance, a couple of interviews to important members of the organization, including Vince Power, main responsible of the veteran international music event. In both interviews, you could easily understand there was a sense of failure, acknowleding that in their task towards recruiting some more "big names" there had been underachievements, so hopes were not high.

Well, now that the last names are public, it is fair to say that feeling has been confirmed. But now, it's even worse. Now the feeling is that we have been cheated. This are my reasons why: 
  1. FIB 2011 announcements begun in an amazing way. Arcade Fire, Portishead, Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes. Impressive. It was clear this was a commercial strategy to create a huge anticipated demand and big expectations. Seems they will have their desired sold out, so in terms of marketing, I admit the success of their strategy. But in what regards to expectations.....If they sold that many tickets in early 2011, it is hard to imagine what took them so long to close the line-up, considering the final names. 
  2. The communication with the public has been, to say it politely, questionable. The programmed chats were a total failure, and the lack of information regarding new announcements has been a regular feature of the organization, sadly.
  3. In what regards to the line-up itself, and of course, just being my opinion, I have to say this is a poor Festival.With the very welcomed addition of Russian Red, there are only 9-10 names that qualify as "must see", and only 5-7 that I'm "interested on". That, for a Festival that takes place during 4 days and has years of history behind, is quite unremarkable, and pales in comparison to Primavera Sound Festival, where I ended watching nearly 30 artists (and missing no less than other 10 names that I would have liked to see). Thursday, absence of headliners aside, is the paradigm of that decadence. A really weak day.
  4. Money, money and more money. Prior to the last announcements we were informed that FIB's hand programme, including timetables and useful information, would be able on July 11th....for 5 euros! I'm going to the Festival because of the bands, the music, and I have paid a considerable amount of money for that, so having to add another 5 euros just to know when and where the artists I paid to see are going to play is miserable.
  5. It's going to be my first FIB Festival, and the last one. I don't think it resists the comparison with other Festivals, and particularly with Primavera Festival, that proposes a lot more in terms of music (that's my main goal on a Festival, not a comedy club, sorry), is way cheaper and better organised. Of course, its a matter of making profit of a business, but even during the worst moments in that Festival (massification, electronic card, etc.) I didn't have the feeling they were interested just in the economic benefit. And now I do with FIB. 
Having said that, now its time to check among the unknown and relatively unknown names in order to find a new promising discovery and add more artists to "my personal" line-up. Well, and enjoying the sun, if they don't charge us also for that....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Violence in Catalonia..but who are the violents?

Shameful and worrying morning spectacle today at Ciutadella, with a small group of violent people that have been insulting and committing acts of aggression to the member of the Catalonian Parliament that wanted to enter the building, that don't represent anyone. This lunatics aren't part of the "indignados/15M" (you can read here their official statement on today's events) movement, they just represent their own stupidity. But who exactly are they?

The following video doesn't justify today's violent acts and aggressions, which are absolutely despicable and unacceptable, but shows how far/low the police (meaning the politicians that give the orders) can get in order to create a violent situation that can justify their acts from repression. The subtitles are in Catalan (updated: also in Spanish), but the video speaks by itself clearly, specially at the end, when the suspicious group is "escorted" peacefully by the police.

UPDATE: As the original video has been censored in Spain, I have posted a new one, with subtitles in Spanish and Catalan. Additionally, let me provide some new links where you can watch it again, with more pictures and information Please check HERE

"The Ghost Writer", failed political thriller by Polanski

The Ghost Writer

An unknown writer is offered to write the memories of the former UK Prime Minister, just when he is accused of war crimes. Wow, for a while, it seems we are in front of a heavily loaded subject, miles away from the usual thriller territory. For a while.

Polanski starts "The Ghost Writer", based on the homonimus novel, with this promising subject and really suggestive atmosphere built around the place, the isolated island where Lang (Pierce Brosnan) lives and works with her wife and office staff, a sophisticated, high-class home that seems also a dungeon, where reclusion was also part of the goal. In that scenario, the ghost-writer (Ewan McGregor) has to re-write the unfinished memories of the ex-prime minister. But when the announcement from the International Criminal Court arrives announcing the investigation of the former politician, we enter into another dimension, another level. Unfortunately, the amazing potential of that premise steadily evolves into a more conventional thriller.

Because Polanski decides he is not interested in the political story anymore, just when we were more excited about how far he was willing to go in the obvious parallelisms with real former UK primer minister Tony Blair (how interesting, also necessary if you ask me, would have been seeing a fictional trial when the responsibles for war crimes in the name of the war against terrorism are judged), but what he offers us instead is a disappointing thriller, for several reasons.

The first one is that Ewan McGregor's character is really hard to believe. The whole issue (the plot) is so high-profile that is completely unbelievable than after 3 days of work he is able/allowed to get into the super-secret, deep meaning of the whole affair, even more so if his predecessor suspiciously died when he was doing these ghost-writing task. Besides, when his own life is on jeopardy, he keeps behaving in a surprisingly careless way, a struggling contradiction considering he is so meaningless in the grand scheme of things the plot has turned into. Many minor scenes (won't spoil anything), when something is revealed, a clue is founded, or some connection is discovered, are just failed attempts to let the movie flow, with poor and unrealistic results.And linked directly with that, is the second disappointment. A ridiculous, laughable, end.

Third one. I already said that Polanski decides the war crimes sub-plot is irrelevant, sadly, but the CIA sub-plot connected (google?, that's pathetic) with the personal relation taking place on the film (no spoiling again) is pretty weak, and again unbelievable, giving you the feeling the real reason of it was just for the sake of including a sexual encounter on it.

And fourth one.With so many misfires, the movie has little dynamism, and gets tiring. Overall, "The Ghost Writer" is not a total failure, I could even say that as a thriller you can forget about after watching, is a satisfaying entertainment. But after proposing so much with its initial argument, is a serious let down, with several moments on the verge to stupidity (close to his horrendous film "The Ninth Gate"). At least it compares well to the PM he is referring to. The expectations on Tony Blair's mandate were high, so was the level of disappointment after his shameful term ended.

SCORE: 4,25/10

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"The Kids Are All Right", modern family issues?

The Kids Are All Right

Familiar issues, wether if they are between the parents or/and the kids, are not an original topic to deal with in cinema. But "The Kids Are All Right" aims to be a "turn of the screw" on the traditional approach on family, as director Lisa Chodolenko presents us a lesbian couple, that start facing problems when the two kids they have raised met their biological father.

My question would be: that's a modern approach on family or just an approach to a modern family? Because in my opinion we are in front of the second case. For the good and the bad.

On the good side, the acting. Having Julianne Moore (Jules), Annette Bening (Nic) and Mark Ruffalo (Paul) makes the work easier for sure, but still, the actors seem credible and human in their behaviours, something that is remarkable considering the material, and the tone of the film. Special mention to Joni's character, played flawlessly by Mia Wasikowska. Besides the cast, with a serious question mark close to the end, the film doesn't want to present a drama, an apology of lesbianism in front of traditional family, or vice versa. To me, is basically a story about communication and aging issues in different periods of life, from teenage years to a couple that has had a long marriage and faces an emotional turmoil.

On the not so good side, the tone. I said it is nice to see a film talking about serious issues without taking itself so seriously, but the mixture between comedy and drama sometimes crosses a thin line, making some scenes a bit ridiculous. This happens quite a lot, in particular between Nic and Jules. It might have something to do with the fact the two characters are a bit charicatureque in their opposing roles, but in a film that wants to be realistic, and that achieves some very refreshing naturality on dialogues and dynamics of the characters, it feels odd. And second, and much worse, is the conscious decission of the director, taking an unexpected and unnecessary side eliminating the masculine characters of her story (Paul and Laser), when they both have their own conflicts that have been showed to us before. Having the impression it was done on purpose, I have to say that shows a pretty conservative take on family, replacing the traditional male-female patronage for a female-female one. But with the same message (you, outsider, against us, family) as always.

Could have been a lot more, but still a fresh and entertaining film.

SCORE: 6,25/10

Friday, June 10, 2011

A playlist for a rainy weekend

Off for the (long) weekend, but before leaving, here's a special playlist for a HAPPY, although rain is expected, weekend. "Raaaaain....I don't mind".Have a great weekend!

  1. Only Happy When It Rains- Garbage
  2. Brown Eyed Girl- Van Morrison
  3. Why Does It Always Rain On Me?- Travis
  4. Shelter From the Storm- Bob Dylan
  5. Slow Show- The National
  6. Like the Weather- 10.000 Maniacs
  7. So. Central Rain- R.E.M.
  8. Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman that Rains)- Ryan Adams
  9. Sometimes- James
  10. Ocean Rain- Echo and the Bunnymen
  11. Cloudbusting- Gemma Hayes (original from Kate Bush)
  12. Buckets of Rain- Bob Dylan
  13. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head- Burt Bacharach

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Synecdoche, New York", biggest paranoia ever filmed

Synecdoche, New York

Another example of a movie released years ago (the film is from 2008), that never make to Spain, due to the singular "criteria" of distributors and cinema owners of this country. But they can keep accusing everyone of piracy... End of the rant.

Is kind of surprising, but in a very positive way, that in a time were cinema is only interested in selling tickets with unnecessary remakes, bloody awful pirates and superhero movies, there's still a chance for a film like "Synecdoche, New York". A very personal view of an author, Charlie Kaufman. The man behing the scripts of some of the most risky and brave films from the last decade, like "Adaption" or "Being John Malkovich". And co-responsible, with Michael Gondry, of one of the best films ever, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".

"Synecdoche" is Kaufman's debut as director, and also his most ambitious film, in terms of conception and ideas. It builds on recurrent subject themes of his previous work, but mostly, and being a film about creating art, is easy to link it particularly with "Adaptation". But its a, staggering, XXXXXL version of that film. It might be the biggest paranoia ever filmed.

It also equals the level of pessimism of "Eternal Sunshine", maybe even goes further. Caden Cotard's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) extreme hyponcondria won't make you laugh, it is crude, and his struggle is condemned well in advance with paranoia. Humour, if any, only masks weaknesses or adds a feeling of surrealism to the lightest consequences of the monumental synecdoche that his impossible play is. Because the movie is about a play. The most realistic, and poignant, play ever made, about life and its obstacles. A play that intends to be a perfect copy of Cotard's tragic life, and the people that surrounds it.

"Synecdoche" is not an easy film, far from it. It demands patience to the spectator, and some sort of special stomach, because the majority of people that are going to expose their lives in front of our eyes, are damaged. As a film it has flaws, biggest ones in my opinion being the slow start, hard to get attracted to start, and a slight feeling of pretentiousness. But if you give a bit of credit to Kaufman, the challenge of watching the film turns into an absorbing and moving experience.

Some credit should also be given to the cast. What an stellar one! Hoffman, again, is perfect on his tortured role, and you will feel compelled by his mistakes and pains as the movie develops. At the end, Cotard's life is being showed in all honesty. And it is as imperfect as human. And surrounding him, a special credit has to be given to Samantha Morton (Hazel), the always excellent Catherine Keener (Adele) and the equally great Michelle Williams (Claire). They are essential to explain Cotard's life. And his play. And they sustain the film.

"Synecdoche" is a failed masterpiece that tries to find an answer to existence. It attempts to achieve levels of profundity unparalleled in cinema. Conclusion? Mine is that at the end, existence is what we make of it, because we have the starring role in the play that is our life. It is an exclusive role, and no one else will play it. So we better learn how to play well. Because the world, our stage, won't wait for us. It might not be the perfect film, but the risk and brave attempt of Kaufman has to be loudly praised.

SCORE: 7,25/10

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Exit Through The Gift Shop", what's art, who's an artist?

Exit Through the Gift Shop

What’s street art? Street art or urban art can be considered art? What’s art? Who can be called an artist? All this questions are adressed on this very peculiar documentary, but without spoiling you anything, I can tell you that none of them is answered. But that doesn’t ruin the film or makes it a failure. On the contrary, that only makes it a bigger, bolder, and funnier (dark, twisted humour) movie.

A hoax or a real documentary? A realistic accolade of a strange parade of peculiar people and real artists or an enormous, sarcastic pantomime to show how ridiculous and arguable is the art world nowadays? You could favour both possibilities, but you'll probably end like me, having the suspicion that no matter which side you choose, doubts will remain.

Without going into the real goal of the film (if any), the mirror game it proposes is fascinating: we have two movies inside of "Exit Through the Gift Shop". First the documentary on the street art movement, interesting and absorbing while we know more about it through the eyes of a very peculiar character (I say character on purpose), Thierry Guetta. Then, this French weirdo steals the show (won't say anything else) and we change the subject from the documentary about graffiti artists to a documentary on him. 

If Guetta is the starring role, Banksy, the famous street artist, considered the biggest and most relevant of his generation, as the creator (I say creator instead of director on purpose) of the film shows, that aside from being a unique artist, is also a gifted filmmaker, and a very clever mastermind. He suppossedly builds a movie from a failed movie. And assuming that unexpected task, he portrays a generation of artists, his artistical movement, without going into the usual hagiography, while he shows how superficial, empty and silly is the world that surrounds art, especially when art is linked to success (artists sell out? street artists were counter cultural?) . Moreover, he is capable of showing how vane and irreal fame is, adding his smart comments, little darts full of poison and wittyness, true gems of this film.

So, quoting Banksy, we can summarize the movie, "It's basically the story of how one man set out to film the un-filmable. And failed." A failure has never been so amusing to see. But it provokes more than just laughing. It will make you think, here's his conclusion,"I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that so much anymore." And wonder, do we know what's art anymore? I probably don't. But I'm willing to say that if cinema has to be considered art, then "Exit Through the Gift Shop" must be an outstanding, an original, piece of art.

SCORE: 8,5/10

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fly Me to the Moon, summer festival with Beach House

It was already announced during the days of the Primavera Sound Festival 2011. A misterious sort of announcement (you could read it on the back cover of the commemorative book of the Festival) I must say. Then names were rumored/made public. And, finally today, we get to know everything:

After the successful return to the Poble Espanyol during its last edition, Primavera Sound proposes a short cycle of l ive music under the name of “San Miguel presents Fly Me To The Moon". Two summer nights, during which it will be possible to enjoy a total of four performances.

The Wednesday 27th July centres around experimentation with the tropical and mutant pop of Animal Collective and the experimental electronic music of The Suicide Of Western Culture.

The second night Thursday 28th July will have a more delicate aura with the precious folk of the elfish Joanna Newsom and the subtlety of the ever more popular Beach House.

Tickets for Thursday night already booked! Excited to have the chance of seeing Beach House live! It's going to be a wonderful summer night! Here you have a couple of special vids of the two headliners for Thursday.

Beach House: Used to Be

Joanna Newsom Performs 81.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Coldplay versus U2, again: the veredict

This week we have heard the new songs from the two super powers of stadium rock: Coldplay and U2. A clash of titans again? Umm....well, here's my personal veredict.

Coldplay- Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall
All I can say is that is not going to be a joke, as some blogs and magazines have suggested, because it will sell millions, and it has "the hit song of the summer" written all over it. Letting aside the blushing intro/sampling of "I Go to Rio", that makes Chris Martin and Co. jump shamelessly into dance territory (bet you anything that a disco-remix is going to be huge in a couple of months), the song, at its best, is a pretty unfortunate attempt of creating another "Viva La Vida", but instead sounds like the Black Eyed Peas if they knew how to use a guitar. Prepare yourself to hate this song, cause you are going to hear it way more than you would like.
Coldplay - Every Teardrop is a Waterfall

Reeve Carney feat. Bono and The Edge- Rise Above 1
As a die-hard, long-time fan of the Irish band, that song hurts I could be benevolent and say you can recognize Edge trademark riffs at the end, and that there's a strength on the melody, but the rhythm section of the tune is so awful (close to mainstream pop or even hip-hop) that I cannot forgive.
Well, at least there are some facts to comfort myself: the song is part of  the Spider-Man "Turn Off The Dark" soundtrack, composed by Bono and The Edge, but recorded/sung by the cast of the Broadway production. This single showcases Reeve Carney, Spider-man on the play, featuring its composers. So it was written for a musical. And most importantly. This is not U2.
Reeve Carney- Rise Above 1 feat. Bono and The Edge

So, the winner is......Adam Clayton (U2's bass player) for saying no to his pals and refusing the possibility that the soundtrack would be released under the name of U2. He, together with Larry Mullen Jr (U2's drummer) decided to be aside of the project. Let's give them the credit they deserve.

"Meek's Cutoff", feminine, conceptual, real western

Meek's Cutoff

I watched the film during the first Festival Internacional de Cinema d'Autor held in Barcelona (where it received the Public Award after the open balloting), because despite the movie has been premiered around the world.... but around the world excludes Spain (that doesn't have to do much with piracy, don't you think movie distributors and theaters? why are we forced to watch only commercial crap every single week?)

I was eager to see it because her director, Kelly Reichardt, is responsible of one of the most compelling and brilliant films I have ever seen (something that I couldn't watch on Spanish theaters either), "Wendy and Lucy". A film I can't praise enough.

Movie critics have defined "Meek's Cutoff" as a "feminist western". Is quite easy to see why, but that definition constrains a film that is, at least at the conceptual level, amazingly rich. A history lesson of the United States of America in less than 2 hours. And a lesson of commitment towards cinema as an instrument to say things, to make you think and not just to entertain you. The traditional (orthodox) western, at least to my understanding, was reductionist to the extreme. We had the stereotypical cowboy, always a white male, with supposed virtues like his loneliness and a propensity towards violence, transformed into a seek for justice (easy to see North-american foreign policy still confounds justice with vengeance). Overall, a simple dichotomy between the hero, the cowboy, and the Indian, the villain, creating the false grandeur of that period of history, the colonization of the States.

But instead, in this in transit, domestic western, Reichardt gives us a different perspective. Three couples, guided by a supposedly expert cowboy named Meek towards a promised land crossing the plains of Oregon. But the trip is exhausting, stark, harsh and emotionally draining. They get lost (how many times have you seen the hero getting lost on a western before?, and they desperately need water to survive. As the movie develops, the power on the group shifts towards an anonymous heroin (brilliantly performed by Michelle Williams again) clashing with Meek (traditional macho role) and because of their relationship with "the Other" (won't spoil the film), the other main element of the film, which is the personification of fear.

Reichardt's revisionist take on the western will stimulate more debate than the story itself. Intellectually, or artistically, is an outstanding film, challenging and rich despite, on the surface, simple story. But there are two major concerns that provokes the feeling "'Meek's Cutoff"' is missing something. One is not the slow pace -doesn't help either- but is related to it. In the decision of being as realistic as possible, there's a clear unrealistic fact (don't want to spoil anything) regarding "the Other", that although being said previously on the film, soon is forgotten in order to justify what comes -overlong- after. But even more relevant than that, is the heart of the movie, the most amazing thing on "Wendy and Lucy" that is lacking here. Doesn't compel you or grab you, there's no emotional connection with the characters and that kills the movie, in my opinion. It's the story of a small group trying to survive on extreme and desperate conditions, but the director prefers to win the battle of ideas than the battle of emotions in Meek's Cutoff.

A film of suggestion, conceptually brilliant and risky, but that demands too much from the spectator for the unsatisfactory reward it offers.

SCORE: 6,25/10