June 27, 2012
This weekend, the Miami Beach Cinematheque, one of the more bold art houses in South Florida, will indulge in a weekend of films from Greece. It’s not just the Greek language or a color palette dominated by blue and white these films share in common. All mark a new, bizarre tone in the cinema coming out of the country. There is an unsettling distance between the characters that feels awkward but also honest, primal and raw. The films also never seem to concern themselves with revealing what they are about until well into the drama, drawing the viewer in with a strange sense of mystery.
I had a chance to preview all four of the films showing that weekend ahead of their screenings thanks to an invitation by the Miami Beach Cinematheque. I have written an overview of the weekend as well as individual capsule impressions on each one of the movies for the “Cultist” blog at “the Miami New Times.” You can read the entire article, which includes trailers for every film, after jumping through the image below:
One of these films is Giorgos Lanthimos‘ Dogtooth. I have already noted it as one of my 10 favorite films of last year on this blog (An antidote for Oscar hype: My 20 favorite films of 2011 [numbers 10 – 1]). Though it was nominated for an Oscar®, it never made it to South Florida theaters until now. It paved the way for a lot of the interest in these films (the MBC will also screen that Lanthimos’ latest film Alps as well as a new film by Babis Makridis: L, a film that has no distribution yet, so this might be the only opportunity to catch that one in the theater, in this area).
But one of my new favorites has to be Attenberg (pictured above), a film by Athina Rachel Tsangari focusing on a young woman repulsed by close human contact (but a fan of the pioneering noise/psych band Suicide). It’s also the only film that seems to touch on the Greek economic crisis. At one point, her dying father, an architect, is looking over the white structures of their seaside city and comments to her, “It’s as if we were designing ruins, as if we were calculating their eventual collapse with mathematical precision. Bourgeois arrogance. Especially for a country that skipped the industrial age altogether. From shepherds to bulldozers, from bulldozers to mines, from mines straight to petite-bourgeois hysteria. We built an industrial colony on top of sheep pens and thought we were making a revolution. A small revolution.”
“I like it. It’s soothing, all this uniformity,” she responds.
Moonrise Kingdom is not your typical Wes Anderson film. As a long-time fan, I have always thought his films existed in some hyper-real dimension of unreality and loved them for it. But Moonrise Kingdom shows Anderson taking a turn into almost surrealistic territory with a more focused mise-en-scène and a subtle shift in tone. Most of his previous films, even his 2009 puppet-populated stop motion masterpiece Fantastic Mr. Fox (Fantastic Mr. Fox lives up to its title), possess a sardonic, sometimes mean-spirited tragie-humor. Moonrise Kingdom reeks of so much innocence and purity it exists as a slight detour from Anderson’s usual aesthetic. Despite taking place mostly outdoors, Anderson heightens his usual stagey feel, his actors behave stiffer than usual and he introduces a more atmospheric score, working with Alexandre Desplat for a second time. Long after the film has ended it sticks with you like a pleasant little memory.
The film follows Sam (Jared Gilman), a 12-year-old orphan who has run away from his “Khaki Scout” camp on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965. When Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) finds Sam missing (“Jiminy Cricket, he flew the coop!”), he gathers the other scouts for a search party. They arm themselves with some scary weaponry for some strange reason. But any sense of foreboding dread is subverted by the perky bounce of plucked string instruments from a classical piece called “Playful Pizzicato” on the film’s soundtrack. Sam has made plans to meet his pen pal Suzy (Kara Hayward). She is also 12 and has run away from her own oppressive atmosphere: her bitter, lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and three hyperactive, younger brothers. These two are probably Anderson’s most innocent duo at the center of the drama since Dignan and Anthony (Owen and Luke Wilson in their own debut roles) in Bottle Rocket (1996).
Anderson sets up the action at a leisurely pace, though it still seems to overflow with information. The film starts with neat, symmetrical shots of the interior of Suzy’s three-story, brilliant red home. The camera tracks through large rooms that, through props and the inhabitants’ activities, date the home to its mid-1960s time frame. The family members mostly stay apart from one another. Suzy reads and looks out of the house through binoculars, a not-so-subtle quirk that reveals her longing to escape. The camera explores the home with neat zooms and smooth pans from one room to another, as the boys listen to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34: Themes A-F” by Benjamin Britten on a portable record player. The exterior, with its perfectly pruned shrubbery and immaculate red paint job contextualize the neatness inside the home. From the outside the house’s paint job seems so polished, it looks like a doll house.
The set pieces throughout the film seem almost fetishistic in the attention to detail that produced them. In a parallel to this introduction of Suzy’s living conditions, Anderson offers an indulgent tour of Sam’s scout camp, Camp Ivanhoe. The scene opens with a kid with an eye-patch (Charlie Kilgore) blowing a wake-up call on a bugle. During a long tracking shot, the camera follows Scout Master Ward making the rounds as he accounts for all his troops. He stops next to one small group of busy boys after another, as they work on projects of various quality and ingenuity. While some practice their bow and arrow skills, others concoct an outhouse with plumbing made of sticks, water pails and a bell. Ward lingers a moment with each group to offer criticism before striding on to the next batch of industrious lads.
Of all the films in Anderson’s career, Moonrise Kingdom mostly recalls Fantastic Mr. Fox. Even the many outdoor scenes have a stagey quality. There are moments of action that include a bloody death and several scenes with explosions, but Anderson has stylized the action, which include quick cuts of still animation, to such an extent there is nothing too horrific about it. The characters also deliver their lines more stiff than I have ever seen in an Anderson film. They may have well been puppets themselves. Here are two short clips that offer a good taste of what I mean:
Though Murray makes his sixth appearance in an Anderson film and Jason Schwartzman his fourth, the film also features many new faces for an Anderson film. Both children in the lead roles make their big screen debuts with Moonrise Kingdom, and they do a decent job. There are also major acting forces new to the Anderson stable besides Norton and McDormand, like Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel and Bob Balaban. All these new faces delivering the terser-than-usual Anderson lines (this script was also co-written by Roman Coppola) makes for a slightly jarring effect. Some (Keitel and Balaban) do it better than others (McDormand, Swinton, Willis, Norton). But the style of acting does not feel much different from that of the recently hyped Greek New Wave cinema*, which also tells stories as if so aware of the cinematic limitations of representing “reality,” it skips naturalistic acting for the cold distance of human vessels delivering lines. It only heightens the surreal, nostalgic memory of long-past experiences. After all, most of the film follows the two 12-year-old kids at the heart of the film as they try to carry on a passionate love affair of 12-year-old proportions.
Using Sam’s camping skills, they disappear to the hidden inlet they Christian “Moonrise Kingdom.” Suzy reads from her young adult fantasy books like “The Girl From Jupiter,” “The Francine Diaries” and “The Seven Matchsticks.” With their simple, hand-drawn covers the books recall a time before airbrush technique much less Photoshop and the titles offer an evocative, nostalgic quality. She also plays her seven-inch singles of Françoise Hardy on the portable record player she borrowed from her brothers. Sam, meanwhile, offers his life-saving skills he learned as a camper, like putting leaves under your hat to stay cool or sucking on pebbles to stave off thirst. He also fishes their meals, keeps inventory of supplies and paints watercolors of his muse.
The icing on the cake that is Moonrise Kingdom arrives in the form of the majestic score featuring original material by Desplat, another newbie to the Anderson aesthetic first introduced to slighter effect on Fantastic Mr. Fox. Before that, Anderson mostly went to former Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh for music that had a more self-consciously precious quality. Desplat’s score has a more subdued quality with a light, sprightly touch and offers a more colorful palette of instruments that Mothersbaugh could never seem to muster. There is dynamism in the quiet moments, lending some subtlety to the mix.
Anderson’s own song selection, again with Randall Poster supervising, also adds a lot to the film’s atmosphere. The music stays true to the era, as all of it existed before 1965. From the era-appropriate French pop of Hardy to the quiet majesty of the early thirties music from Songs From Friday Afternoons by Britten.
Britten’s presence is also significant in a children’s staging of his opera Noye’s Fludde (Yes, the story of Noah’s Ark). Both its music and the on-screen staging of the opera are highlights that play to Anderson’s strengths as a filmmaker. It marks Anderson’s third cinematic detour into staging a child’s play during one of his films. The extravagance of Noye’s Fludde within Moonrise Kingdom, however, figures heavier into the drama than any of the other brief plays, be it a high school staging of Serpico in Rushmore (1998) and a play about animals by one of the children in the Royal Tenenbaums (2001).
Beyond the power of the music, it is during a production of this opera when the film’s lovers meet. Also, its dramatic quality compliments the actual storm that will soon affect all the characters of Moonrise Kingdom.
The film does have an odd quality that might seem even more hyper-stylized than previous Anderson films. But it is also one of his more focused films, elevating puppy love between two children to an almost epic quality and forgoing his usual cynical characterizations (even Schwartzman’s teenage Max Fischer of Rushmore seemed more adult than humanly possible). Everything else around Sam and Suzy is just odd noise that only enforces their need to be together. They are both lonely in their own way, and it is their private forms of loneliness that draws them together to form an original coupling that will seem impossible to break.
Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 and runs 94 minutes. It finally hits a select few South Florida theaters today, Friday, June 22. It plays at the Regal South Beach in Miami Beach, the Gateway 4 in Fort Lauderdale and Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton. Focus Features invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.
There is something primal about the music of Explosions in the Sky. It comes from a place outside language and does not compromise itself to words. As instrumental music that eschews much of the computers most bands lean on nowadays, it has a certain incomparable purity. It is characteristically instrumental music indeed and does just fine without a singer, thank you. A frontman and lyrics would probably only ruin it. The band knows how to support a melody with triumphant lead guitar work that also knows how to settle into a rhythmic role in order to serve the power of the music best.
Beyond that, the majesty of the Explosions in the Sky’s often lengthy and meandering music comes from somewhere outside the band’s instruments. The musicians who compose the band (guitarists Mark Smith and Munaf Rayani, bassist Michael James and drummer Christopher Hrasky) do not showboat, jacking out self-indulgent solos. The quartet from Austin, Texas do have an obsession with dynamics, however. They earn every bombastic moment with meandering, hushed passages.
Like the best instrumental indie bands that preceded them, such as Mogwai, Tortoise and Godspeed You Black Emperor, Explosions creates music via creative textures and atmospheres that transcend the technology they use. The sounds and instruments are easy to recognize: guitars and drums. But the band use them so creatively, they evoke images of nature: from the slow swell of clouds to the ebb and flow of waves on a shore to the rattle of the wind through tree limbs. Such moments in nature seem represented by the band’s quieter bits, but there are grand moments as well, epic storms of guitars tangling and drums pounding.
I had heard several Explosions albums prior to its latest one: 2011′s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). However, I never felt compelled to buy any of them to make a permanent part of my collection. I fell in love with this album on first listen via a stream on-line. I immediately ordered the CD. I thought the LP packaging and the double disc aspect of the vinyl too cumbersome and pricey to enjoy the music, which flows nicely on one side of a CD. But after I heard the music closely on headphones through the mp3s generated from the CD, on my iPod, I knew this was a work dense with character that could be even more thoroughly enjoyed on the vinyl format (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon).
Probably even better than that will be seeing the band perform live. More than a year after the album’s release, I am happy to report the band has scheduled a show in Miami, and there are still tickets available. The cavernous venue should make for an excellent setting for the music of Explosions in the Sky. If you want to try for a chance at winning a pair of free tickets for the Miami show, visit the Beached Miami blog.
Finally, here is an excellent taste of the soft-powerful-soothing dynamics in the new album by Explosions. This is the official music video for “Be Comfortable, Creature”:
The band’s remaining US tour continues with Zammuto supporting through these dates:
06/18: Soul Kitchen, Mobile, AL
06/19: The Ritz Ybor, Tampa, FL
06/20: Grand Central, Miami, FL
06/21: The Georgia Theatre, Athens, GA
06/22: Jefferson Theater, Charlottesville, VA
06/24: Randall’s Island. New York, NY
Governors Ball Music Festival (with Beck, Modest Mouse, Fiona Apple, Devendra Banhart, Cage the Elephant, Built to Spill, Cults, Phantogram, Freelance Whales, Alberta Cross, The Jezabels, Turf War)
06/25: 123 Pleasant Street Morgantown, WV
06/26: The Chicago Theatre Chicago, IL
06/27: Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN
June 13, 2012
This weekend will see a unique celebration unfold in South Florida to none other than Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, the inventor of ambient music, world-renowned record producer and glittery prog-pop glam pioneer otherwise known as Brian Eno. I have covered Eno’s work on this blog in some depth over the years. One of my most consistently popular posts is an examination of Eno’s music in Peter Jackson’s underrated film the Lovely Bones (Brian Eno and ‘the Lovely Bones’) from back in 2010. I also posted an extensive interview with one of Eno’s more recent collaborators, the British poet Rick Holland (Eno collaborator/poet Rick Holland corresponds on craft – An Indie Ethos exclusive [Part 1 of 2]).
Now, some area South Florida musicians and Kramer, the man who founded Shimmy Disc, will perform a variety of Eno’s music at Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso this weekend. They will also screen the 14 Video Paintings DVD on the big screen.
I had a chance to talk to some of the musicians involved in this project for a pretty in-depth preview piece for the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” music blog “The County Grind.” Check out the details of who will cover what and more after the jump through the blog’s logo below:
June 12, 2012
As promised in my earlier album review, an update to my review of Beach House’s new album Bloom, examining the vinyl record release (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). Like any decent record maximized to highlight the audio depth of the format, the 50-minute Bloom has been spread across two platters that turn at 45 rpm. Besides that, as noted in earlier posts, Victoria Legrand, the band’s singer and keyboardist, revealed that Beach House recorded this, it’s fourth album, to tape. An analog source via an analog medium is always the best at capturing the subtleties of any studio recording, i.e. “the warmth” everyone talks about when referring to vinyl.
Bloom certainly rises to the occasion in its vinyl format. The moment Legrand’s voice appears, the effect on a proper sound system will make your heart skip a beat. The clarity on the vinyl is extraordinary, from the complex subtle range of resonance in the clang of the metallic beat that opens “Myth” to the subtle twitter in Legrand’s warble. Where the mp3s had some ambiguity in the mix, on vinyl, the lyrics come across much clearer, as if Legrand is whispering them right into your ear. You can even hear the soft, subtle smack of her lips as she says “people” in “Other People.”
The record also grants the band’s dense instrumentation much more room to breath and reverberate with little distortion. For a band known as a shining example of the dream pop genre, the effect of vinyl favors the dense sound while also not compromising it. When the instruments pile up at the start of “Wild,” the music is almost a new experience compared to the mp3 version, which I spent studying for months before I heard the vinyl. The rhythm track alone is a revelation. It pulses along on a steady, spacious beat featuring a diverse array of sources. It includes a tambourine, a flat canned Casio-like rhythm track and the soft pillowy beat of toms.
“Lazuli” opens with the nice warm hiss of the recording and flows right out from the fade out from “Wild.” Another great thing about vinyl, is you will get no annoying little digital jumps that you must tolerate when stringing mp3s together. Tracks flow organically from one moment to the next. It’s very natural and of essence to the record.
If there is one protest I have about vinyl is the need to get up and switch sides, interrupting the flow of an album. It’s double worse when it comes to double albums. However, all the breaks between the four sides of Bloom actually work. By the time you get to Side 3 and the creeks of the insects start, it makes for a genius moment of starting the music anew after a pause to swap platters. The mp3 version has the chirps of the cicadas at the end of “Troublemaker,” but they clearly work to better effect on the vinyl as they kick off Side 3, just ahead of “New Year:” a bit of nature before fading into the breathy sighs and churning keyboard that open the track.
Finally of note: my favorite track, the closer: “Irene.” The pounding of Daniel Franz on the bass drum as Alex Scally pummels his electric guitar on the way to the song’s epic tangle of guitar lashings and organ drones that grows more ecstatic with each refrain of Legrand’s luscious, patient declaration of “It’s a Strange Paradise” never sounded more dynamic.
Unique to the vinyl, “Irene” ends with a series of looping clicks and surface noise, which probably depends on how clean you keep your needle. The only way to stop it and continue to the next untitled, “hidden” track requires you to physically pick up the needle and put it back down. This marks the seven minutes of silence on the mp3 and CD versions, before the hidden track appears. It’s takes some effort, but again there’s a pay off to working with a proper stereophonic system. It’s the only song on Bloom that features Legrand’s voice bouncing back and forth on your headphones or between your speakers.
There are many special moments to the vinyl, which is pleasantly presented in a wide, embossed cover sleeve (the white dots are raised on the surface). Inside are two heavy insert sleeves with evocative photography on flat-finish cardboard. Inside each of those is another sleeve with lyrics and song titles. It also includes a card with a download code for an MP3 version of the album. The vinyl is thick 180-gram weight for better, lasting sound quality.
A final note on the vinyl version: There are also two limited edition versions to look out for. Some were manufactured on white vinyl. A sticker on the wrap denotes this version as the “Loser” edition, and was available to those who pre-ordered the album on Sub Pop on a first-come, first-served basis. It has since sold out. There is also an even more rare glow-in-the-dark edition. Only 250 of those were released worldwide (300 manufactured, according to Sub Pop’s website). It also has a silver sticker of the wrap that states “Special Edition GLOW vinyl.” Here’s the only picture I found of it opened on-line from Bull City Records:
So, colored vinyl, especially glow-in-the-dark, makes for a nice gimmick to boost the value of the record, but audiophiles are sure to win no matter the color of Bloom‘s vinyl because, once again, Beach House and Sub Pop Records have created a great-sounding record for quality turntables.
Note: Sub Pop Records provided a review copy of this record for the purposes of this review.
Thanks to the Cultist blog at “the Miami New Times” I had a chance to speak with one of Spain’s most exciting young directors, Nacho Vigalondo about his new movie, Extraterrestrial. His 2007 film about murder, time travel and lots of mystery, Timecrimes, remains a favorite film of mine from that year (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). As I told him after he called me from his home base of Madrid this past Sunday, it takes a sure hand to deal in the narrative trickery of a time travel film. “It’s really flattering when I go to festivals, and I realize with great surprise a lot of praise for Timecrimes,” he said, “but sometimes it’s a terrifying situation because I totally know that my new film can be understood as quite the opposite.”
The “new film” he was referring to is Extraterrestrial, a movie he said he considers a spin on the screwball comedy, something very different in tone to Timecrimes. Asked if he felt any pressure to come up with a follow-up, he answered, “It’s funny because at this moment I feel like I had a big success with Timecrimes. But it was rejected in other countries even before going to Spain. It was a festival film instead of a big box office sensation. I didn’t feel Timecrimes was a success at that time. I can feel there’s a growing cult towards the film, but it’s not enough at the moment, so I don’t feel that pressure. I understand that for many people Extraterrestrial is the first of my movies they are going to see.”
As part of the Miami International Film Festival’s upcoming 30th anniversary season of activities, he will visit Miami this Saturday to introduce the film and stick around for a Q&A afterward with the audience. He said he looks forward to the audience’s reaction. “I love to be there with the audience because it’s a comedy, and when you direct a comedy, you become greedy, and you want to hear the reaction of the audience and the laughter,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. I know it’s kind of a childish feeling, but if I write a comedy, I love to hear the laughs.”
For more on his new and very different movie, Extraterrestrial, and details on this Saturday’s event, read my story in Cultist after the jump, through the image below:
“We’re all bad seeds,” says a character in Elena, a Russian film so focused on moral corruption it feels like a perfectly symmetrical sculpture of drama. The film by Andrei Zvyagintsev unfolds with a graceful efficiency that I have not experienced since the Dardenne Brothers’ Kid With a Bike (‘The Kid With a Bike’ harnesses potency of simple filmmaking). But where that film ended on a poetic, if ambiguous note, Elena hums along on a stark, chilling drone that never lets the viewer go.
The film’s tone steers far from the high-pitched. Zvyagintsev guides the drama with a firm, steady hand. It opens slow, as dawn arrives outside an upscale apartment. The shrieks of crows on the bare branches outside the ultra-modern apartment turn to the twitter of little birds. Inside, a couple wakes in separate beds. Middle-aged Elena (Nadezhda Markina) gets up just ahead of her alarm, and she wanders to another room to tap her slightly older-looking husband, Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov). Their relationship seems ambiguous at first, even after discussion of family and money. Instead,little details of it (they have been married two years, he met her when she worked as a nurse almost 10 years earlier) come out in well-placed tidbits here and there, cropping up to do the best service to the drama, calling for an attentive but not over-alert audience.
The film seems to just wash over the viewer with simple but illustrative situations. The viewer will soon meet Elena’s son Sergey (Alexey Rozin) and his family, after Elena takes a lengthy trek via streetcar then train followed by a long walk. All the while Philip Glass’ broody “Symphony No. 3, Movement III” drones along. It is the only extra-diegetic music Zvyagintsev uses, and it will only appear three times in the film. Like the best of efficient filmmakers, Zvyagintsev knows how to use mood music for maximal effect, cuing audience awareness.
He also knows how to use action, dialogue and set pieces to their fullest narrative potential, including subtext. The extreme difference between Sergey’s rundown, tiny apartment, located near a nuclear power plant, which also houses his wife, teenage son and baby boy feels cramped. It seems to ooze cheap possessions from its cracking façade. The graffiti covered hallways on the ground floor, along with the teenage punk loiterers stooped outside the building sharing a bottle of drink bring to mind A Clockwork Orange.
Elena is a stark experience to watch unfold, and it is so well made, it almost feels like a spoiler to explain the plot beyond the director’s expert handling of all the devices he can employee of cinema. He earns every scene while avoiding quick, flashy cuts, hysterical acting and over-stylized camera use. The film only has one jarring scene of shaky handheld camera, and when it appears it carries with it an ominous sense of dread.
Zvyagintsev employs steady-handed direction that even makes the banal dreck of game shows and lifestyle reports coming out of the TV in some scene feel relevant to his statement. Do not expect much of a cathartic release come the film’s end. In fact, the path the director takes to arrive there feels like a sickening downward spiral that offers a harsh critique of society and only continues to propagate the scary image of post-Soviet Russia. Despite its bleakness, watching the masterful work of Zvyagintsev offers its own reward. This film did not win the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes 2011 for nothing.
Elena is not rated, runs 109 min. and is in Russian with English subtitles. Zeitgeist Films provided a preview screener for the purposes of this review. It opens in South Florida on Friday, June 8, at many independent cinemas Miami Beach Cinematheque, the University of Miami’s Cosford Cinema, Cinema Paradiso, Living Room Theaters, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth and the Lake Worth Playhouse. For screenings across the nation, visit the film’s official website.