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Saturday, April 28, 2012

"The Music Never Stopped", the songs in our heads

The Music Never Stopped

A surprising, uplifting and very touching film, particularly recommended to everyone that has music as one of the main pillars of their life. "The Music Never Stopped" mixes a familiar drama with the power of the songs that will be with us forever, and the memories, the moments, associated with them. Music lovers, this one is for you.

The film, based on the case study "The Last Hippie" by Dr. Oliver Sacks (will look for it), brings to table an experimental treatment through music for a young man, Gabriel affected by a tumour that has damaged his brain, incapable of forming new memories. With the extremely interesting "excuse" of the therapy, director Jim Kohlberg builds an absorbing familiar story, real argument of the film.

As a son that owes a lot of his passion for music to his father, and someone who grew looking hypnotized records sleeves and struck by the power of many tunes he had in his collection, and by the stories behind them, "The Music Never Stopped", really got me. This film is a tale in which Henry, played extraordinarily by J.K. Simmons, tries to reconnect with his son, a broken relationship in a double dimension: due to his illness, but previously because their differences once he grew up. The opportunity for Henry appears through the songs his son adored, a bunch of classic bands like The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan or The Beatles. The records and bands Henry blamed because, in his opinion, stole his son from him, might be their last chance to communicate with Gabriel, played with subtlety and conviction by Lou Taylor Pucci, without affectations or mannerisms.

I don't want to criticise a film that reached an intimate part of me, but I do have to mention a couple of things to make a fair review. First, there are some brutal ellipsis within its length, transitions are quite rough from scene to scene. Yes, it does make the film quite dynamic and with rhythm being a drama, but the lack of explanations, at times, damages its verisimilitude. And second, an this personally hurts, it can escape from looking/smelling a bit like a TV movie a couple of times (in particular the ones with Julia Ormond, who plays the role of Dianne Daley, Gabriel's therapist, or some of the flashbacks scenes).

But to hell with that. The truth is that I loved the film, I adored how well reflected is the music obsession father and son share, and how they can discuss about song meanings, how they test each other and learn from each other. The whole idea of connecting again, understand each other through music exudes passion and honesty, and brought me back to very special music-related memories: the magic emotion of being with my father at my first concert (Neil Finn, seems ages ago) or the moment I found he had bought R.E.M.'s "Out of Time", one of the favourite records of his son then. Oh, I'm getting emotional again. Thanks for that "The Music Never Stopped". Thanks music.

SCORE: 7,25/10

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Indie Anthology 11: essential songs

I know, I know. I already posted a song for the Anthology two days ago, but on the last few days, thanks to some great new indie/jangle-pop discoveries, like Allo Darlin', Baby Grand, etc..., my mind made me remember an incredible band, one of the finest groups of the 90s and 00s. One that everyone should know, so I couldn't help but write about them...

SongThe Golden Age of Aviation
ArtistThe Lucksmiths
Year: 1999

It's very hard to choose one Lucksmiths' song. They created some of the best gems of the called "Literate glorious pop". I remember reading that intriguing definition on the internet, which aroused my curiosity. "Staring at the Sky" was my first Lucksmiths release, on a time I also discovered Belle & Sebastian (they were their support act live). What an impression hearing them from the first time. Everything sounded so simple, pure and naturally magic... By the time the EP arrived to "The Golden Age of Aviation" I was already converted, but the combination of conversational, nostalgic lyrics, harmonies, trumpets and its 30 last seconds... The Lucksmiths were pop genius. Miss them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Indie Anthology 10: essential songs

For the 10th song in our Anthology (a little landmark on its own) a very dear one. A happy, fun and shiny tune that brings back to mind nice old memories and friends. Its a decade a long time? Not for history books, but I guess it can be quite a lot for a kid.

Song: Jane
ArtistElf Power
Year: 1999

Well, 12 years ago, alternative music had a chance on Spanish TV and in that stupid-reality show-channel named MTV today. Me, my brother, and my best friend watched the "indie hour" at 23:00 pm everyday, writing down our favourite tracks to discuss them and begin the band research. How many did we discover? Many didn't survive the proof of time, but some tunes remain as a testimony of how we were haunted by music. Like the uplifting "Jane", from the first second, with its irresistibly melodic fanfare, a bouncy, addictive dose of psychedelic bubblegum pop, Elephant 6 collective's style. 12 years, and hearing "Jane" still brings a smile to my face. That's what a great tune can do.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Discoverer 34: new indie findings

Back with our weekly findings. It wasn't done on purpose, but it's going to be a very poppie post this time. Hope you enjoy but the three proposals are stunning!

Allo Darlin'. I didn't pay too much attention to their self-titled debut back in 2009. My bad, because their sophomore album, "Europe" is going to be among the records of the year for me. I'm completely abducted by this four-piece band based in London, led by the incredible Elizabeth Morris and her ukelele. The album is so full of indie-pop perfection I'm completely incapable of highlighting a song in particular, each day is a different one since the first time I heard "Europe". Let's admit it, I think I'm in love with Allo Darlin'.
Allo Darlin' - Capricornia
Allo Darlin'
Baby Grand. As announced, more wonderful and joyous indie-pop, now from this Californian band with more than 10 years behind their backs, in which they seem to have evolved from "a more darker side" to this "Arts & Leisure", their fourth album, a lush, infectious and diverse compendium of twee-pop. Beautifully orchestrated, with the absolutely adorable voice of Gerri White presiding each tune, Baby Grand's music might recall you to all our indie-pop heroes (from Belle & Sebastian to Rose Melberg with a full-band, from Sambassadeur to Lush), but in just two words: delicious music.
Baby Grand - Arts & Leisure
Cats on Fire. And of course, if we talk about indie-pop, the nordic scene has to show up, this time thanks to an e-mail from the great Matinee Recordings suggesting me to listen this Finnish band and its latest release, "All Blackshirts to Me". And what a fantastic recommendation it has been! Pure romantic melodies, between the melodrama of The Smiths, the genuine charming of The Ocean Blue or Butcher Boy, with the peculiar additions of synths or unusual instrumentations. And this is their third record, meaning I have much more music to discover from Cats on Fire!
Cats On Fire : A Few Empty Waves
Cats On Fire - The Sea Within You Cats On Fire : My Sense Of Pride

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Record Store Day with The Walkmen, The Very Most & Beach House!

It's Record Store Day today, so you should be hunting for your desired vinyls, cds or music collectibles. Among today's releases, I haven't found any song that has impressed me yet (few exceptions), but that doesn't mean there aren't new tunes you should be checking, and isn't the Day an occasion to celebrate great tunes? So here you have, three personal favourites, adding cracking new songs to their already incredible catalogue!

The Walkmen is back! "Heaven", their new album will be released the 4 of June, so is just a matter of a couple of months... but the wait is going to be tough, because judging by the first tunes we have been able to hear, the stunning, amazing "Heaven"  and "Heartbreaker", it promises nothing but greatness. Have your say below! And please The Walkmen, include Barcelona in the tour!
The Walkmen - Heaven by Bella Union

The Very Most and the Irish national football team? When Bloodbuzzed's dearest friend Jeremy Jensen told me about it, I was really shocked. Well, seems the band got involved into an Indiecater project celebrating the team made it to UEFA EURO 2012, contributing with the song "Sing Up for the Boys in Green", also the title of the album. Quintaessential TVM' sound, full of hooks, gorgeous backing vocals, a killer chorus (I hear The Housemartins!) and a joyous vibe, the tune, with all due respect for Irish players, is so precious that should be reserved to homage the most gifted team on Earth: Barça, of course. 
And the third proposal is Beach House, who is offering another glimpse of their (believe me) superb forthcoming album, "Bloom", on a special release for the Record Store Day, with a blue, very limited 7" for vinyl collectors, including the non-album track "Equal Mind". "Lazuli" is, again, haunting. What a band!

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Z", essential thriller against corrupt governments


Seeing "Z" for the second time, after many years, has given me very contradictory feelings. Story-wise, and having in mind this is a true but fictionalized account of what happened in Greece, as the powerful ends of the credit announces "Any resemblance to real persons or events is DELIBERATE", is still mind-blowing and defiant. Even more, it's a much needed film today. Corruption, lies, violence, repression is what the people of Greece has received from its goverment and elites, and the same can be said as us, Spaniards, as well as the majority of our supposedly democratic Europe (or the Arab spring area, or Syria). But at the same time, an quite frustratingly, time has taken its toll on "Z",  in particular in the areas of film making and acting.

The importance of "Z" resides in its straightforward and vivid translation into screen of a major political crisis. The events are located in an unnamed Mediterranian country, where the characters speak French. Conservative generals orchestrate the murder of a popular politician, who is trying to shake the pillars of the government/regime with his pacifist message. Once the crisis explode, all the elements of the political "establishment" will try to stop the investigation that tries to find the truth of the vile conspiracy.

Its scary how close the plot still sounds today. Corruption, repression, a political system trying to maintain their status and privileges by all means, even if that means using violence against its citizens? Check. Check. Check. We need another Costa-Gavras (or several) brave enough to create another "Z" in the euro and "wikileaks" age. Fascism may have a different face in the new millennium, and maybe is not as pedestrian or ordinary as the one portrayed in the film, but watching it again I could easily think of "our own" politicians, Ministers, Consellers (Catalonian ministers) and a long troupe of suit-and-tie scumbags (apologies for the insult, but they really don't deserve much consideration, seeing how they are behaving).

Having praised "Z" as a political thriller that has to be seen for its contents and message, still so relevant, I have to admit that in terms of aesthetics, film making or acting, the film has been seriously hurt by the passing of time. Acting is particularly odd, even annoying sometimes, with an unwanted feeling of  being in front of a satire due to the awkward situations of absurd humour, completely lost on current day audiences. Then we have the very disturbing flashbacks, or the inclusion of characters like the one played by Irene Papas, completely irrelevant, all adding to a clumsy and slow paced rhythm, that can be tedious for many. I could understand people leaving the room in the middle of the film, without the patience to sit through its entire length.

Frankly, I'm a bit puzzled, sad to see how badly the years have treated "Z". But at least the message remains powerful and necessary, so I would still recommend to watch it. This is what this review should look like, being divided into two different categories:
Movie content/plot/message: 9
Film making: 4

SCORE: 6,5/10

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New music videos from Arctic Monkeys, Garbage, Miles Kane, Lambchop and The Shins!

New music videos today, for your viewing and listening pleasure! An in crescendo proposal, in 5 steps until reaching the perfect match of music and images, always in my modest opinion, while we check some of the newest music arrivals.

Step 1. Uninspired song and video
Arctic Monkeys: "R U Mine?"
You all know I like the Monkeys, and that "Suck It and See" was among my favourite records of 2011, but this new tune is quite mediocre, and the clip is, simply, silly. Scared to hear Alex Turner's plans to do next album immediately with this song as the pattern. Please no.

Step 2. So-so song with a nice video
Garbage: "Blood for Poppies"
Ok, Garbage wouldn't really fit in this blog anymore, but I admit I was curious to hear them back after such a long hiatus (remembrance of my teenage years). "Blood for Poppies" is not going to change any music standard or give Shirley Manson and Co. a second chance for assaulting "music stardom", but at least the video is quite suggestive with the homages to classic cinema, Luis Buñuel's references included.

Step 3. Uninspired video for a nice song
Miles Kane: "First of My Kind"
The leading song of the forthcoming EP from Miles Kane, to be released on the Record Store Day is another addictive track on the vein of "Colour of the Trap". The video, with Miles Walking through Paris and London is quite insipid, but this guy knows how to create a cracking chorus and an engaging, straightforward melody.

Step 4. Good video for an amazing song
Lambchop: "2B2"
"Mr. M", the latest Lambchop's effort is fated to be included among the best records of the year (review coming soon on the blog), and "2B2" is one of the most compelling gems you will find on it. The clip for the tune might not be very original, as it is conformed by several moments of their recent (sniff sniff, missed) European tour, but it works as the elegant and warm piece such a beautiful song deserves. Thanks, again, Kurt Wagner.    

Step 5. Amazing video and song
The Shins: The Rifle's Spiral
And finally, one of my favourite tunes from The Shins "Port of Morrow", with a visually stunning clip that immerses us, thanks to the imagination of Emmy-winning director Jamie Caliri. Surreal stop-motion animation that is also an obvious homage to Edward Gorey’s illustrations. Superb.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Eva", Spanish robot drama under the snow


Even for a person like me, not really interested in the science-fiction genre, it's obvious Spanish cinema needs three or four directors like Kike Maillo, brave enough to propose a very different type of film than the ones usually produced here, and spectacularly ready to translate them to the big screen. "Eva" is his first work, and despite its flaws, it has to be praised as a much needed breath of fresh air in Spain.

"Eva" surprises you at first. The future it presents, the atmosphere, with this sort of snow-white, melancholic and isolated locations integrated with cybernetics and robotic, puzzles and intrigues the viewer. This is where Alex, a mysterious, hermetic character, returns, performed by Daniel Brühl, in order to take part in a very challenging project. Artificial intelligence artifacts (one performed by the Goya winner Lluís Homar) and quite cool special effects are used elegantly within the story, which soon reveals itself as a more traditional drama, despite the robots.

Indeed, my problems with "Eva" might have to do with the mixture of a not-so-original sentimental love triangle, plus a father-daughter relationship and the human vs. machine topic also presented. I applaud Maillo's decision to opt for a drama in which science-fiction is basically the context, asking metaphysical questions about existence, but then his story is conventional and rather flat.

For a drama, we miss too much information, especially regarding Alex's disappearance from his previous project and the motivations for his return. The sentimental side of the movie is also quite sloppy, not intense enough to compel the spectator, not documented enough to understand their actions. By the time the end of the film arrives, the final twist doesn't produce the shock is aiming for. Maybe because rage explodes too late to rescue us from that sense of coldness, distant viewing, or maybe because it was predictable (the opening scene already unveils part of the mystery), despite its curious sci-fi envelope.

Overall, a film that despite all its flaws and feeling of underachievement, needs to be praised as it opens a new path to explore for Spanish cinema.

SCORE: 5,75/10

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Roots and Bells", Town Hall keeps their promise

Roots and Bells- Town Hall

Bloodbuzzed friends' Town Hall are presenting their first album, "Roots and Bells" tomorrow, and this blog has been lucky to hear the full LP well in advance, courtesy of the band. I can guarantee you the NYC trio has met all the expectations. "Roots and Bells" is a very strong debut, with several moments of genuine beauty and with an ambitious scope, pointing the band towards several directions, very far from the traditional, and somewhat limited, indie-folk range.  

"Roots and Bells" opens with "Mary A. Longden" and "Swim Team". For the ones that have followed Town Hall's career, the start might be unsurprising, as first tune was already included on the extremely recommendable "Sticky Notes & Paper Scraps" EP, and the second was the first song premiered of the forthcoming album. But what a couple of fantastic songs they are, announcing all the wonders of Town Hall's sound: warm harmonies, intricate melodies with delicate and gentle additional instrumentation (flutes, violins, violas, cellos) and a precious sense of closeness with the listener (I bet seeing their live has to be a great experience).

"Fix this House" and single "Good Boy", that this blog already premiered, shows the different sides of the band. The mellow indie-folk of the first tune has little to do with the crispier, tense sound, more in the vein of a 90s alternative-pop of the second. It might be among the ones that prefer their more melodic side, but "Good Boy" announces a band with a more diverse musical aspirations, and its a refreshing counterpoint within the record.

"Small" is a gorgeous gem with Phoebe Ryan's voice breaking hearts, that right now might be among my favourites (love its constrained crescendo and beating tempo) while "Rockefeller" serves as the second example of the aforementioned ambition of the band, with their many changes of direction/music background.

Also included on the previous EP "Alright" and "Charlie" open the second half of the record, aligning themselves with the warm closeness of "Small". On the contrary, "The Strongest of Hands" upbeats the tempo  of the album, and should be considered as potential single, in my opinion. The cheerful vibe suits the childish voice of Phoebe Ryan creating a superb, joyful dose of folk-pop.

The trio of final tunes of the album has already known "Just Watching My Breath" as the standout track, with their vibrant, emotional peak at the end being one of the highlights of their music. "Food" benefits from its beautiful arrangements, while closer "Dahill Road" ends the album with an intimate note, just a delicate piano piece mixed with occasional "urban sounds" and Phoebe's singalong that made me remember The Innocence Mission.

Overall, "Roots and Bells" has plenty to offer. Full of enchanting sweet tunes, slow numbers prevail, but thanks to the wise sequence of the album, including the faster number strategically, it flows as a surprising solid whole. Town Hall are not just a new group to discover. After this album, they are a band to follow. You should run to their bandcamp immediately!

SCORE: 7/10

"My Week with Marilyn", being seduced by a myth

My Week with Marilyn

If Marylin Monroe was really such a star, icon, celebrity, myth, (add your own here) etc., she deserves a much much better film than this one. Even the brilliant performances of Michelle Williams and Kennet Branagh cannot save "My Week with Marylin" from being a very flat, seriously unsubstantial movie.

I have read several reviews and opinions criticising Michelle Williams's cast as Marilyn. Many silly arguments of her not being "fleshy enough" (comparisons of breasts and bottoms included), "not radiant enough" (is that supposed to mean anything?), or not having the "bigger-than-life-aura" she had. This sort of statements are enormously interesting for a sociological study, as they reveal the amount of damage "the creation of myths" has had in society, in particular the American (think of Elvis, Sinatra, JFK, Michael Jackson). But they are completely ridiculous if we are really trying to review this film, with people talking about Marilyn as if they really met her and knew how she really was (physically and personally). Seriously people, we all know her thanks to her movies (which I remember you aren't real).

No, the issue in "My Week with Marilyn" is not Michelle Williams. On the contrary, she, together with Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier, plus the secondary role of Judi Dench as Dame Sybil, are the only remarkable of the film. Director Simon Curtis has to be so grateful to Williams and co. They simply save his movie from being a disaster. But even their performances cannot help the occasional (and recurrent) feeling we are watching a luxurious but empty TV movie. There's not a lot of interest on the main plot following Colin Clark's platonic affair, played by Eddie Redmanyne, with the "blonde myth". The film-within-the-film sub-plot, that could have been much more attractive is only exploited as a mere context, and the rest of secondary actors are unused resources.

We get the premise of the film, really. This is not a film on Marilyn, but one about being seduced by Marilyn, by then already an unparalleled a myth. But with such a premise then, why is Curtis so scared to proposing something new to us? He only offers us a bunch of flat screen recreations of what's supposed to be the real-life of celebrities while they gathered in order to make a movie, the lightweight comedy "The Prince and the Showgirl", filmed in the UK in 1956. It is slick, way too polished (unrealistically polished) and very superficial. There's zero depth on the contrived script, and despite Michelle Williams efforts of looking vulnerable despite her sensuality and ability to enchant the camera (as the blonde sex symbol did) while reflecting the contradictions between her frustrations and needs of being accepted, between self-pity and manipulation, she doesn't have many lines that aren't cliché-bounded.

So, "My Week with Marilyn" is a pointless, obviously failed film, even despite Michelle Williams. Quite a shame if we consider the potential the story could have had.

SCORE: 4,75/10

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pegasvs, machines going pop in Barcelona

Pegasvs (+ Y). Music Hall, Barcelona, April 12th

Pegasvs in action. Photo: Bloodbuzzed
This concert review is going to be quite biased, as electronic and krautrock music are not my field of (modest) expertise. So me being part of the audience can only be explained by three factors: someone "pushing" me to go, a ridiculously cheap price (reasonable prices, more tickets sold, see?), and of course, the highly addictive Pegasvs homonym debut album. 

Y, support act of the night.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
On a quite full Music Hall (is a very small venue, but still quite remarkable considering there were many concerts going on in Barcelona), showing the considerable buzz Pegasvs are making with their record, the night started with the (gig, performance, session?, sorry for my lack of knowledge) of the support act Y (seems it was their debut live). During a set that lasted more than 30 minutes, this local duo sounded like a mixture between Kraftwerk and the annoyingly ubiquitous Chromatics, thanks to the also annoying "Drive", to me. But again, electronic is not an area where I can make a lot of comparisons.

Luciana della Villa
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
After Y, the turn arrived for Pegasvs, officially presenting their LP live. But for a show advertised as an special occasion, Sergio Pérez and Luciana della Villa their performance wasn't that special. Songs were executed with precision, sounding very close to the album versions. For a non-electronic music fan, that was great, because what makes "Pegasvs" a fantastic album is that behind the Motorik rhythms and machines, the tunes sound pop, with explosive and fascinating melodies like "La Melodía del Afilador" (amazing), "Sobre las Olas" or "Atlántico". But it was also a bit disappointing, as their technically irreproachable performance was quite flat in terms of connection with the audience, giving credit to the ones saying electronic is cold. But that's something that can be corrected, experience will solve it. And it's way more easier when, like Pegasvs, you have the songs. See you again pretty soon!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Indie Anthology 9: essential songs

We are back with our anthology with one of, in my opinion, one of the best songs Spanish alternative history can offer. It's being a tough week, so I needed an important, pivotal song, where lyrics and music melt, recognise the wounds and try to heal them.

SongNunca Me Entero de Nada
Artist: Los Planetas
Year: 2004

I'm not a proper Los Planetas fan, but it would be stupid not to recognise them among the most brave, intriguing and stimulating bands this country has. My problem is, aside their remarkable (but not my taste) latest move towards mixing flamenco with indie-pop, that I don't enjoy their records as I do with many of their songs. But if we talk about tunes, the band from Granada has munition to compete with anyone. To me, "Nunca Me Entero de Nada" might be their finest hour. An hypnotical, circular melody, with an abyssal lyric, about betrayal in a vanishing relation. So true, so poignant. Emotional, inner epic. Besides, makes me remember very special friends, particularly missed in difficult times.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"The Intouchables" a feel-good tale on friendship

The Intouchables (Intouchables, French original title)

The real problem of this movie is publicity. This "advertisement era" ruins it all. In principle, its a good thing that a simple, well-intentioned film do great (ok, astonishingly great) on the box office. A movie based on characters and script, not in animation, special effects or 3-D is having an enormous success? We should celebrate that. But the snowball gets bigger and bigger, and commercial success is branded, sold and exploited. And with that goal in mind they have labelled "The Intouchables" as a masterpiece. And we are a million miles away from that.

To start with, "The Intouchables" might be based upon a true story, but it works as a very unoriginal, classic comedy about an "opposite, impossible couple", hardly unlikely to meet and forge a friendship. A brush-stroked class contrast between Driss, a young black and poor man from the suburbs and Philippe, a white middle aged, very rich and cultivated man, and since an accident, paraplegic. If you are thinking on a "Driving Miss Daisy" sort of film, you got it. Much improved, that is.

It doesn't take long to assume "The Intouchables" wants to please audiences.Which to a certain point, isn't necessary a bad thing to aim for. Especially when that feel-good smell comes from the chemistry between the main characters, excellently played by debut actor Omar Sy, who has a powerful screen presence (although his character has that "something" of bad American sitcoms too) and François Cluzet, and the humour, with some very remarkable jokes/absurdly funny and seemingly natural, situations (meaning a brilliant work of directors/writers Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano in that area). Don't expect a profound analysis/struggle on what does it mean to be disabled. Don't even expect a bittersweet film mixing drama and comedy. For almost its whole length, "The Intouchables" only wants to entertain you. Which as I said, is fine.

So, we have humour, a convincingly growing and sincere friendship, some beautiful filming, solid acting, and an undeniable connection with audience. So far so good. But the amount of positive elements is balanced by flat characters, in particular secondary acts, and a seriously lame attempt of bringing some social context to the story. "The Driss side" of story, initially presented, then excluded, much later recovered just for the sake of including a forced turning point (and maybe a counterpoint to all the feel-good amount of situations?), just to be abandoned five minutes after in order to reach the (obviously ever-pleasant end). Besides, the realism of the situation created is hardly believable, not to mention, the daily live of a disabled person showed on that film (did I say Philippe is extremely rich?). Of course, not every joke works that well. And a minor note: the flashback scene works great as an initial scene, but it has not justification later on.  

Engaging, with a genuine charm and chemistry between their starring couple, but otherwise a quite average film. Oh, and please Americans, would you please stop making absurd remakes of European films?

SCORE: 5,75/10

Monday, April 9, 2012

"A Visit from the Goon Squad", in search of lost time in the digital age

A Visit from the Goon Squad- Jennifer Egan

Just to tell you which side I'm on, as an American literature reader (my family and friends would say "obsessed") my "education" is full of: "dirty realists and damned writers", "beatniks", the "lost generation", "southern gothics", "new journalists" and Woody Allen's humour and vision of life. I overtly admit vangardists and post-modernists writers haven't had a lot luck with me (few exceptions), but hey!, I keep trying.

In that sense, "A Visit from the Goon Squad" seemed a perfect choice. The 2011 Pulitzer's Prize, coming from an unknown writer (in Spain), Jennifer Egan, who has been included by Time Magazine among its most influential people list (whatever that means), and dealing with music. Curious? Needless to say I was. A lot.

I'm not going to spoil the intricate plot for you, but as the excellent artwork used by the promising new Spanish editorial Minúscula Jennifer Egan's book works as a coral mixtape dealing with one subject: time. A very peculiar "concept album" conformed by thirteen chapters, where thirteen characters explain, in their own different ways, a significant moment of their lives. From the 70s to 2020, this stories connect with each other, as the characters are linked through Bennie Salazar, who's work as musician and music producer gives the context of this peculiar novel.

One has to praise Egan's attempt to create something different, intimately connected with the "digital age" in which we are living. Her book is an intriguing "artefact", that despite its distorted, fragmented structure and therefore, different voices inside, is capable of permeating "A Visit from the Goon Squad" with a very cohesive (and classic, but don't worry, this is not Proust) element. A genuine sense of melancholy goes throughout the novel, the characters suffering that constant defeat against time, confronting their past with their changing present.  

But this book, as many mixtapes, records, compilation albums, in particular when they include "various artists", is unbalanced, some chapters being far more interesting than others, and a few of them, being a bit annoying, in my opinion. Yes, I'm basically referring to the "powerpoint" chapter. As a post-modernist idea it might be a literary achievement, and it might serve well the purpose of reflecting how communication evolve in the digital era. But after five pages, it is boring to read. The "journalist chapter" might be a fun homage to the ill-fated Foster Wallace, but lacks his punch. And the final, futuristic episode is, well, too blatantly "modern" to  bring you back to start, to collect the disjointed pieces and compose the fragmented puzzle. 

Again, I have the impression of aesthetics being more important for the author than the story she wants to explain. But as I said, "A Visit from the Goon Squad" leaves you with a quite powerful sense of longing for time, for the past that has gone, so aside from its original structure and attempts for new narrative forms, this is finally a "modern book" that achieves being substantial and interesting. Will look for more from Jennifer Egan.  

SCORE: 6,75/10

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"The Descendants", familiy troubles of a back up parent

The Descendants

Let's face it. It has to be me. I guess I don't get Alexander's Payne movies. I wouldn't say I don't like them, but they leave me indifferent. Wasn't moved by "About Schmidt", found "Sideways" a lucid entertainment, but not the masterpiece many point out, and sorry, I can't add more than this sort of vague comments to the "The Descendants". An ok film, but not an unforgettable work, or a "movie of the year". 

To me, Payne's best works are still "Election" and "14e Arrondissement", the short-film included on the otherwise mediocre "Paris, Je T'Aime". That little gem of less than 7 minutes is really touching and emotional without needing to force any dramatic premise, even including a subtle dose of humour, as seen from the outside, life is full of comic situations.  

To my understanding, Payne's movies have a lot to do with literature. You can easily see how he cares about their characters, wanting to show the many sides we have as humans. I imagine (haven't read it) the book in which it is based has to be a detailed insight of the King's family, in particular of Matt King's, being, as he says at the beginning of the film, the back up parent, has to deal with parenthood, death, a poignant secret now revealed and heritage (that finally is left almost unexplored). But, being honest, I doubt he succeeds showing on screen all the complexities such detailed characters should require.  

Matt, despite the excellent performance of George Clooney, who does a lot without saying too much, is a blurred character. The spectactor has to assume he had a passive attitude in the past, regarding his wife and daughters. He is overwhelmed by the turn of events. He is confussed, appalled. And then, suddenly, he decides to almost "hunt" for someone (no spoiling). Sure, that drastic change of behaviour/decision, justifies the plot of the film, but really fits with Matt ever-present composure?

Then, we have the two daughters. Of course, every person deals with sorrow in a different way, but again, it was very hard for me to believe the role of Alexandra, the eldest daughter, played by Shailene Woodley. Both her previous, rebellious attitude, as well as her transformation towards a mature woman seems are pretty incredible for a seventeen year-old girl. Many other secondary roles appear, some rewarding, like Judy Greer's, others a bit insipid, as the youngest daughter, and finally, other that only exists to help defining Matt's character, as the one played by Robert Forster.

The tone of the film is also unbalanced. We could argue that being "The Descendants" an emotional voyage, the mix of depressing and pleasant moments is quite "real", but I'm afraid I have to agree with the occasional review saying they didn't feel sincerity on the emotions. I wouldn't say they are false, but they look a bit flat, a bit too polished, a bit off-beat. The whole film flows in a dull dynamic, as it it were "infected" by the peculiar "rythym" of Hawaii. This is, of course my personal opinion, but I couldn't see the grandeur of this film. It might be me.

SCORE: 5,25/10

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dum Dum Girls in Barcelona: sound matters

Dum Dum Girls (+ Arponera). La [2] de Apolo, Barcelona, April 5th

Dum Dum's style. Photo: Bloodbuzzed
I was really looking forward to see the Dum Dum Girls for the first time live. Their music is highly addictive and the chance of seeing them very close, as La [2] de Apolo is a small place, was also appealing. Pretty soon the venue revealed their pros and cons.

Before Dum Dum Girls took the stage, the support act Arponera tried to warm up the (pretty cold) night. But they couldn't. I'm pretty sorry to say it, but what was that? Someone should change that tendency of Spanish indie of lyrics that for the sake of being supposedly funny or odd makes the group relevant. There's only one Manos de Topo, and besides unusual lyrics and an eccentric lead singer, they have some (quite a lot, as a matter of fact) talent and tunes. Arponera doesn't have any of these two qualities yet, so their set was quite annoying.

Dee Dee in action
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
Time for the Dum Dum Girls, finally. Yes, the first impression can't be better. Four attractive women playing guitars (and drums), all dressed for the occasion, with drinks and bottles strategically located. Pure rock'n'roll style, despite the bassist looking a bit lost (something that would continue during the whole gig). Guitars kicked in... but not the voice. Again, the "curse" of La [2] de Apolo, swallowing Dee Dee's voice. Once more on the first row. Once more incapable of hearing the lead singer. The first part of the gig, with "He Gets Me High", "Catholicked", "I Will Be", "Wasting Away" ruined by the sound. I don't know if this fact is the decision of the bands that play here or just a matter of a bad performance from sound engineers, but I have been at this venue dozens of times, have enjoyed fantastic concerts, but suffered as well some disappointing ones. 
More Dee Dee in BCN
Photo: Bloodbuzzed

With that femme fatale attitude there was little interaction with the audience, so the fear of being a wasted occasion was present. Luckily, things started to improve, after "Rest of Our Lives" and the lovely "Bedroom Eyes". Dee Dee, who turned to be a relentless frontwoman, battling against the (excessive) noise, was able to show, slowly, her vocal range. Hits "Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout" and "Jail La La" preceded the super-catchy "Always Looking". And the best was yet to come.
Gig's setlist.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed

Because finally, sound "became" decent. It was Dee who asked the engineers to low down her guitar before starting a couple of songs, but the final tunes of the setlist sounded superb, showing the amazing mixture of these sharp guitars and noise backgrounds with their trademark effervescent pop melodies. "Heartbeat", "Hold Your Hand", before newbies "I Got Nothing" and "Lavender Haze", both excellent (next release sounds really promising with tunes like that), raised the level of the gig. "Sight of You", their Pale Saints' cover followed in a stunning performance. Afterwards, they left the stage for a very short while, returning with "Coming Down", Mazzy Star's close sister, and one of their best songs to date.

With that fantastic end, I left the venue with mixed emotions, half-frustrated, half-satisfied. This band rocks, we were able to hear it for a while, so this concert could (should) have been spectacular.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Biutiful", selling the drama?


It's not the first time I'm involved in this sort of debate. And it is also not the first time a González Iñárritu's film provokes this debate. Is this another step, after the brutal stories of "Amores Perros", "21 Grams" and "Babel", towards achieving the most ambitious, global and up-to-date drama? Or just another example of a filmmaker with a serious (gigantic, I would say) problem of megalomania?

Some critics have devastated "Biutiful" as a despicable example of "the other's pain exploitation" from a bourgeois perspective. For them, Inárritu is a director using miseries like a tourist would do, self satisfying his ego while pretending he's offering a slice of raw reality. Others, on the contrary, qualify the film as an "elegiac, melancholic poem about love, fatherhood and guilt". I see both points, but I wouldn't go that far. In my opinion, "Biutiful" could have been the best, most interesting and absorbing film from the Mexican director,    but his lack of moderation and list of excesses almost kills the movie. Let me split the review in two parts:

Praises. First and foremost: Javier Bardem. Excellent, heart-rending, very sophisticated performance of Uxbal, the absolute focus of the film, capable of saying so much with so little. Iñárritu is so lucky such a talented an actor accepted the role and became so committed to it. He's the film, giving the director, in my opinion, his first, rich, very well defined and engaging character of his cinema. Second: bye circular, supposedly avant-gardist structures, hello logic and fluidity of the story. Third: the core, foundation of "Biutiful" is a very solid story of a father, struggling with death and a dark present that leaves little hope for the future he aspires to give to their beloved ones. One can only wonder what would have happened if Iñárritu had restrained him only to this.  

Grievances. The amount of excesses is overwhelming. First: like Michael Haneke's "Code Unknown" it commits the fault of wanting us to assimilate and almost infinite list of miseries and human degradation (our degradation, of course), believing they are denouncing them just by allowing some time on screen. That's so wrong. The reality of migration and marginality in cities like Barcelona is way more complex and intricate that the one we see on the film. I'm not saying the story is unbelievable. I'm just pointing out that marginality here is the context in which Uxbal lives (and "works"), but Iñárritu also takes the occasion to "preach" about it. That mixture is, at times, indigestible. Second: elevating the amount of misfortunes, personal tragedies surrounding Uxbal doesn't make the film more authentic. On the contrary, saturates the audience and contributes creating that whiff of manipulation some critics see. Third: the paranormal story is absolutely unnecessary. Fourth: as the number of things going on is disproportionate, the length of the film is equally overlong.

Overall, "Biutiful" is a longer-than-life drama, in which the spectator opinion might differ vastly depending on her/his own preferences and personal story. Thanks to a masterly Bardem and an intense central story on parenthood, the movie becomes, probably, the most intriguing film of Iñarritu's career so far. But at the same time, it is so damaged by the excesses of his director it almost chokes the audience.

SCORE: 5,5/10

Premiere: Town Hall's first official video!

A Bloodbuzzed premiere today, from our 2012 kindest discovery, beloved friends and superb folk-pop trio Town Hall. Here's their first official video, "Good Boy", a week in advance of the arrival of  "Roots and Bells", long-awaited debut album, due out on April 15th, and hours before it "hits the blogosphere". After the release of the video (this afternoon) they will be also posting a free download of the tune on their Bandcamp. Quite an adventurous sonic drive for the band, letting aside their folk intimacy for a while, with a very fitting video. Have your say and enjoy Town Hall!

Want more? I bet you do. Here's "Swim Team" the first song we heard from the upcoming "Roots & Bell". Gorgeous indie-folk.

Side note: After watching the video and downloading the tune, DON'T FORGET to listen/grab their wonderful "Sticky Notes & Paper Scraps EP". Satisfaction guaranteed!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Martha Marcy May Marlene", identity, menace, fear

Martha Marcy May Marlene

A very tough one to rate. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a very disturbing film with a unique haunting quality. Would I recommend to everyone? No way. It's extremely sensitive subject, the awkward structure and its ambiguity makes it an option just for some audiences. Which is sad, as it's a movie that sticks in your head. Even if you would prefer not to.  

The movie starts with Martha escaping from a sect/cult/very peculiar commune, being welcomed by her sister Lucy. But "reintegration" to "normal" society is not going to be easy. Living with her sister and brother-in-law becomes a very tense and frightening period for her. The clash between her family and the "other family", where she lived for about two years builds a growing scenario of anxietyparanoia and identity crisis

Debuting director and writer Sean Durkin builds an astonishingly absorbing character study with this film. Focused in Martha, he moves the film back and forth, mixing Martha's memories/flashbacks of her time within the cult with her "new life" with Lucy. Avoiding the scabrous possibilities such a subject could have had, the transitions are smart, serving lucidly the director's purpose of confronting two defining "ways of living", and the devastating confusion it provokes on Martha, her mental health being seriously affected. Durkin delivers, being quite an impressive achievement for a first film.

Of course, if "Martha Marcy May Marlene" succeeds, is thanks to the spectacular work of Elizabeth Olsen as Martha. In an striking performance (sort of ridiculous she wasn't even nominated for an Oscar), more so if you consider she's is also debuting, she's capable of showing the many sides her extremely complex has: from innocence to an extreme fragility, from isolation to a fierce and silent composure. Stunning job that makes the audience suffer her pain and feel the (real, imaginary?) menace that don't go away.  

Having praised the film up to this point, it is fair also to express the various concerns I have, being them the reason that makes this film a good and very special movie, but far from the masterpiece it had the potential to be. My strongest concern is the exacerbated, and deliberated use of the ellipsis as a resource to build ambiguity/shock the viewer of this film. I'm not referring to its abrupt ending (works as a disturbing, more terrifying climax) but to the lack of information on Martha's past, family relations, entrance on the cult. I'm the biggest defender of the rule "show it, don't say it" but "Martha Marcy May Marlene" don't do any of them. It's hard for us to understand why Lucy (Sarah Paulson) behaves the way she does with her sister without any input on their common past (just glimpses of it). It's great when a film leaves us with questions, but this film has too many.

The other concern, quite linked to the previous one, is the lack of development of almost any other character on the film. I say almost, because Patrick, the leader of the cult, is another puzzling, scary and darkly engaging character, performed with brilliance by John Hawkes, an equally brilliant actor (same comment about nominations is valid for him). But aside from that, the rest of the cast is quite flat. Could be understandable in the case of the sect members (although some scenes, a couple of them in particular, are quite confusing as a result) due their annihilation of personalities, but again, not with Lucy and her husband. 

But anyway, despite its flaws, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a very remarkable, disturbing and powerful film

SCORE: 6,75/10