Saturday, March 28, 2009

Now Is
the Time

& Cups,

Lithe yet playful, Kitsap County quintet Alligators dec-
orate their chiming, swirling, surprisingly diverse debut
with tasteful prog-rock, jazz, and psychedelic touches.

Consequently, Piggy & Cups makes for a pleasing listen,
vaguely reminiscent of the Church or a less synth-oriented Of Montreal, but it isn't necessarily the most memorable one. Not
all indie-pop has to be studded with hooks, of course. Recom-
mended for those who prefer atmosphere over songcraft.

Broadcast Live, Boomerang
Metropolis, Rebel Army Media

Not to be confused with Birmingham's Broadcast, Albany, NY's
Broadcast Live offers Saul Williams-style rapping and singing,
sometimes in Spanish, over drum machine and rock instrumen-
tation. On their sophomore release, the quartet castigates homo-
phobes, celebrates Che Guevara, and proclaims that "now is the
time to seize the means of production" because "they watered
down jazz and now they're strangling hiphop" (major record
companies, I would assume). Victorio Reyes's commitment
to social justice comes through loud and clear...but I'd still
rather listen to the down-tempo introversion of Broadcast.

Cinema, Cinema, Exile Baby, Digitone Records

Surely Brooklyn duo Ev Gold (guitar, keyboards) and Paul Claro
(drums, percussion, woodwinds) are baiting cineastes with their
screen-tastic name. Well, I'll bite. If I didn't like their full-length
debut, I'd be doubly bummed—I write about movies for a living—
but I glommed on to their SST-style psych-rock from the start.

Gold's pitch can be wobbly, but Cinema, Cinema knows how to
work within his limitations, i.e. the music supports his voice rath-
er than leaving it to flop around on the sand like a jellyfish...for
lack of a better metaphor. Hüsker Dü meets the Flaming Lips
by way of Das Damen with some Doors and Sabbath on the side.

Common Market, The Winter's End EP, Hyena Records

Regardless as to what people
outside the Northwest think
about Common Market,
there's no doubt that Seattle
has a lot of love for this brainy
beat-making duo. Based on
the depth and quality of their
new EP, I predict greater
national visiblity in '09.

The first track alone offers elegiac horns, a smattering of French, and other unexpected touches. And so it goes with the rest of the release. Eclecticism for its own sake isn't worthy of praise, but MC RA Scion and DJ Sabzi expand their genre's borders with grace.

"Freedom Song," in particular, which weaves woozy brass with a bob-your-head chorus ("Freedom song/for my people right here/we belong"), deserves to be a hit. Let's hope it happens.

Endnote: For more information about Alligators, please click here or here; for Broadcast Live, here or here; for Cinema, Cinema, here; and for Common Market, here or here.
Images from Fanatic Promotion and Planetary Group.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Winter

In remembrance of
Tony Award-winning
film and theater ac-
tress Natasha Rich-
ardson (Patty Hearst,
Cabaret), who died yesterday at the age of 45, here's a link to my blog post about David Mackenzie's Asylum, which features what may
be her best, most underrated work.

After watching the movie, I felt sad...and not just because
it's a tragedy. Why aren't more people seeing and talking ab-
out it, I wondered. It isn't perfect—few pictures are—but that's beside the point. Some of the most fascinating films are marred
by flaws of some sort, especially when they attempt to grapple with the inherent messiness of human desires, frustrations, and fantasies, and Richardson dives right into the muck. Hate this pessimistic movie if you must, but don't hate the player.

So, I started a blog, and posted a rant (and it's definitely a rant, rather than a proper review), but if I encouraged even one per-
son to take a chance on Asylum, I'll feel like a made a differ-
ence, no matter how small. Richardson's perfectly-pitched performance should've nudged her towards the top-tier of internationally-recognized actresses. It didn't happen, and
I submit that her work afterwards wasn't as risky or as vis-
ible. With time, that would've changed, but time ran out.

I also mention Richardson, briefly, in a review of the BBC version of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, in which she co-stars with Dame Maggie Smith—and more than holds her own.

Natasha Richardson was the daughter of Oscar-winning ac-
tress Vanessa Redgrave (Julia) and Oscar-winning director Tony Richardson (Tom Jones), the granddaughter of actress Dame Rachel Kempson and actor Sir Michael Redgrave, the sister of actresses Jemma and Joely Richardson, the niece of actress Lynn Redgrave and actor Corin Redgrave, and the wife of actor
Liam Neeson, with whom she had two sons, Michael and Dav-
id. That's one hell of a lineage, and she did her people proud.

For more tributes, go here.

Endnote: Yes, I relish adding the prefixes Sir, Dame, and "Os-
car-winning" to the names of British entertainment figures, and the Richardson-Redgrave clan provides ample opportunity to do so. Natasha also acted opposite family members throughout her too-short lifetime, notably James Ivory's The White Countess (Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave) and Lajos Koltai's Evening (Vanes-
sa Redgrave). Image from The Villager. Click the link for an in-
sightful interview with Richardson about her performance
in another Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

Friday, March 13, 2009

of the

Several months ago, I reviewed the following controversial Chin-
ese films for Video Librarian, and thought they were worth sharing.

(Yu Li, China, 2007, 112 mins.)

In her native land, Yu Li's third feature experienced the best and
worst her country had to offer. On the one hand, Lost in Beijing
was a hit. On the other, authorities pulled it from theaters after a
few weeks and imposed a two-year ban on the director and writ-
er/producer Li Fang (Summer Palace). Western viewers may not
find the results as "pornographic" as China's Film Bureau—non-
gratuitous nudity aside—but nor will anyone confuse this claus-
trophobic melodrama for chamber of commerce propaganda.

In Yu Li's Beijing, money buys everything but happiness. Liu
Ping Guo (Fan Bingbing, Battle of Wits), wife of high-rise window
washer An Kun (Tong Da Wei), works in a foot massage parlor.
Lin Dong (Tony Leung Ka Fai, Election), husband of infertile aesthetician Wang Mei (Elaine Jin, Yi Yi), runs the joint. One couple is poor and powerless; the other rich and powerful.

After a night of drinking with a depressed colleague, Liu Ping
Guo passes out at work, and Lin Dong takes advantage of her.
Washing windows outside the parlor at the time, An Kun catch-
es him in the act, and attempts blackmail. Then, when his wife
becomes pregnant, he offers to sell Lin Dong the baby. Relations
between the haves and the have-nots become hopelessly tangled.

Tough going at times, but always well acted, Lost in Beijing
loosens up once the two couples become unlikely business part-
ners. Fans of Jia Zhangke (The World) and early Zhang Yimou
(The Story of Qiu Ju) should find this film of particular interest.

(Lee Ye, China, 2006, 140 mins.)

In 2000's dreamy Suzhou River, Lee Ye proved he had a strong
visual sense. With the leisurely-paced Summer Palace, his
fourth feature, the director combines fluid camera work with
an impressionistic narrative that spans almost two decades.

Starting in 1987, the beauti-
ful, but introverted Yu Hong (television veteran Hao Lei) leaves her provincial boyfriend behind when she goes off to Beijing University. In the city, she drifts aimlessly until the outgoing Li Ti (Lingling Hu) befriends her. Yu Hong's new friend then introduces her to
the idealistic Zhou Wei (Guo Xiaodong), with whom
she enters into a tempestuous relationship.

From that point forward, her journal entries serve as narration. After the pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen, she drops out
of school, Li Ti moves to Berlin, and Zhou Wei enters the militar-
y, later joining Li Ti in Germany, while Yu Hong remains in Chi-
na, traveling from Wuhan to Chongqing and from man to man.

All the while, she thinks about Zhou Wei, but makes no effort to
contact him (and vice versa). Eventually, she settles down, and
Zhou Wei returns from Europe, but they're more tamped-down
than ever. The director doesn't spell it out in so many words,
but the events of 1989 have crushed their collective spirits.

On the surface, the story may not sound controversial, but Chi-
nese authorities sentenced Lee Ye to a five-year ban due to the
Tiananmen footage and sexually explicit material. At 140 min-
utes, Summer Palace is longer than necessary, but comes rec-
ommended for its intimate approach towards historic events. Two
featurettes examine the production (The Making of Summer Pal-
ace) and the controversy (Summer Palace and Chinese Censorship).

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part Three: Chris & Don

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. Incidentally,
I covered these films at the same time as The Last Emperor and
Sunflower. Fortunately, I never get tired of Chinese-oriented
cinema. And speaking of Suzhou River, I caught it at the Toronto
Film Festival. It's a lovely film, but Lee Ye had a hard time talking
about it. From the extras included with the Summer DVD, it's
clear he's learned to articulate his ideas more succinctly (there
are few things more discomfiting than listening to a filmmaker
hem and haw for several endless minutes in a row). Images
(copyright 2007) from the late great New Yorker Films.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

March to Fuzz

These are the reviews
and other pieces I'm
working on this month.

Amazon DVDs: Breaking Bad - The Complete First Season (with Emmy winner
Bryan Cranston) [three-disc set], The Starter Wife (with Debra Messing and Judy Davis) [two-disc set], The Nanny -
The Complete Third Season
[three-disc set]
, Mulligans, Azur & Asmar - The Princes' Quest, and Little Dorrit [four-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: Sunshine Cleaning, Sin Nombre, and Tyson.

Still playing: Confessions of a Shopaholic, Doubt, Gomorrah, He's Just Not
That into You
, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Two Lovers, and Waltz with Bashir.

GreenCine: The Oscar Live Blog archive lives here.

Siffblog: I fixed the link
for Tonite Let's All Make
Love in London
. Once
Siffblog completes the mi-
gration to Blogspot, I'll
have many more to fix.
The old ones still work,
but sometimes yield
weird-looking results.

Still Playing: Gran Torino and Medicine for Melancholy.

Seattle International Film Festival: A quartet of
notes for the '09 program guide; more to come in April.

Video Librarian: Careful, Cat Dancers, Darius Goes
West, Disarm, Brian Eno - Music for Airports, Girls Rock!,
Hell on Wheels, The Holy Modal Rounders...Bound to Lose,
, Killer at Large, Azur & Asmar - The Princes' Quest, Becoming Family, Café Chavalos, International Doc Challenge, Lost in Austen, Praying with Lior, The Real Ghostbusters, The Secrets, and Phish - The Clifford Ball [seven-disc set!].

Endnote: David Hockney image from the archives,
Mudhoney cover from the All Music Guide. Click here for
their review of the double-disc collection March to Fuzz.