Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brit Trailer for The Avengers (2012) Arrives

Oh those pesky Brit audiences and their old fashioned expectations of a plot and character development! As they apparently are not impressed with just explosions, they've got a real trailer for The Avengers (2012).

As Buzzfeed reports, the trailer reveals some minor plot points but the whole "getting the band together"-style narrative shouldn't be too much of a surprise to anyone. After all, it's the first Avengers movie so, obviously, that stuff was going to be shown, eh?

Not much to add to the trailer. Go watch it. A lot of the stuff I wanted to see is in this one and not the US trailer.

But, I've got to ask: When do we finally get to see-and-hear a clip with the "Avengers Assemble!" line said by, presumably, Stark or Nick Fury?

Hey, it's already 1 March here in Hong Kong so only about 8 weeks until this rocks theaters here.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Dirty Three Bring Us Toward The Low Sun on Drag City: A Mini-Review

The Dirty Three. Ambient music? New instrumental? Soundtrack tunes for unmade films?

What do we call this music? What do we call this genre?

If I can't really define the genre, I might not be able to write about music like this. But I'm gonna try.

Toward The Low Sun is out on Drag City on 28 February and it's good to have The Dirty Three back.

Mick Turner, Warren Ellis, and Jim White have banded up for their first Dirty Three record in nearly 7 years and the results are the usual sort of genre-bending instrumental magic fans are used to.

From the free-jazz workout of "Furnace Skies" to the soundtrack-worthy moments of "You Greet Her Ghost", the 9 tunes here survey a range of emotional landscapes.

"Sometimes I Forget You're Gone" has a vaguely country-ish feel thanks to that Warren Ellis violin. And "Rising Below" works due to the calm-and-fury of Jim white's drumming.

Toward The Low Sun is another solid collection from the band and fans of The Dirty Three should be happy.

The record is out on 28 February on Drag City.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Unexpected Thrills of The Director's Cut of Superman: The Movie (1978)

Sometimes I need the familiar charms of a long-loved film to make my mood seem a little bit better. Yesterday, as I looked at apartments, and weighed my options for a bigger place on my current budget here in Hong Kong, I knew that I needed a sort of cinematic pick-me-up and Superman: The Movie (1978) never disappoints. Luckily, I was easily able to find it for $2.50 USD -- new! -- in the depths of Mongkok's Sino Centre.

Little did I know that this Japanese DVD contained the Director's Cut of the first Superman film. As I had seen the TV version with its extra scenes, as well as the Director's Cut of Superman II (1981), I knew I might be in a for a treat but one scene in this version pleasantly surprised me with its poignancy.

But, first, lunch and shopping!

I had lunch Saturday at the curry house in Wan Chai that I stumbled upon back in January. The place is a bit hard to find for me still. But it feels like an adventure when I finally find it and explore that varied menu.

This was supposed to be egg pakora. The batter was unlike any pakora I ever had at an Indian restaurant in America. It wasn't bad just sort of odd to me...

Last time, I eyed this on the menu so I had to try it this time: mint chicken. Actually, I'm sorry to report that it was a bit bland and not very mint-y. Frankly, I couldn't taste much mint at all in that sauce. Still, it was okay and I didn't get heartburn after it which is significant...

Lost in the bowels of the Sino Centre...

I think that all the other bonus scenes in this version of the film were familiar to me -- at least I had read about them -- but the one scene that really moved me was one that I don't remember ever reading about before.

After his "first night on the job," Superman retreats to the Fortress of Solitude to again consult the hologram (?) of his father, Jor-El. In this scene, Superman, appearing more human than ever, asks his father why it felt good to do good deeds.

Jor-El acknowledges these feelings and says he expected them and so on.

And then, in a surprisingly emotional way, Jor-El's hologram expresses regret that he can not be there in person to embrace his son and Superman reaches up to grasp the apparition of Jor-El.

The scene is, admittedly, a bit odd but it works. Frankly, I think it strengthens the greatness of Superman: The Movie (1978) and here's why:

1. It establishes the Fortress of Solitude beyond the earlier transformation scene between the young Clark Kent and the adult Superman prior to his arrival in Metropolis;

2. It paves the way for the numerous Fortress of Solitude scenes in the second Superman film, and makes it clear that the place is used by Superman on a regular basis; and

3. It makes Superman more human. Really, to see the Man of Steel so vulnerable is a great thing for a viewer. It really adds a bit of warmth to the film in this middle section where Luthor is making things feel a bit more campy.

The film still works without it but, honestly, Superman: The Movie (1978) would be even better with this one deleted scene added back in.

Even the Man of Steal has his moments of doubt. And, if you want to run with that Jesus analogy which is already in the film, the scene works in that regard as well -- like the final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maybe.

I don't want to make the sequence sound too heavy, or ponderous, or touchy-feely -- though it is a bit -- but, really, I was moved by this little moment.

What made Superman: The Movie (1978) a classic, and one that still works nearly 35 years later, is not the special effects. No, what made it work was the humanity.

A witty script allowed Christopher Reeve to find the humanity in this alien, this Christ-figure from outer space. Superman's struggles to find his place in the world and his mission to serve it -- those are the points on which this drama hinges.

And this little moment from Richard Donner's Director's Cut makes Superman: The Movie (1978) even better than it already is.

And it's nearly perfect as far as these superhero films go.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Brain Pulse Music from Masaki Batoh: A Review

Bridging the gulf between the experimental and the personal, we have Brain Pulse Music from Ghost's Masaki Batoh, out 28 February on Drag City.

Meant as an exorcism of the negativity following the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Japan, the record somehow terrifies and soothes, sometimes in the same track.

The effect is, frequently, one of dread turning into calm in the space of a few moments.

Given that, this isn't music that is easy to review; this is an album that is -- obviously -- more than a collection of songs so the music should be approached in that spirit.

Add to that the element of technology.

Masaki Batoh used a brain pulse machine to translate the brainwaves of patients traumatized by the earthquake into sound and music.

I don't know the science. I don't know if that's at all possible but I do like the idea.

So when listening to Brain Pulse Music with that awareness, one is confronted with that mix of dread-and-peace I hinted at earlier.

The 10-minute "Aiki No Okami" dominates the record and features traditional Japanese instruments and chants against noise and ambient effects. It's not the sort of thing that will appeal to every listener but I did listen to the track a few times in a row.

Writing about this is like writing about Mogwai. It's hard to express in words why it works but it works in spots.

That said, this is much more...experimental and diffuse. The "music" here requires patience.

But, as I find myself downloading singles from iTunes, it's nice to be faced with an album that requires that sort of dedication in a listener.

Brain Pulse Music is a work of (odd) art but it's an affecting one. Approached in the right spirit, the album will instill in a listener an idea of the trauma of the earthquake and a hint of the calm afterwards.

Still, the healing continues and the horror of that event will never be forgotten by the survivors.

Brain Pulse Music is out on 28 February on Drag City.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Track From The Enemy - Play It Here!

A hint of good tunes on the upcoming album, "Gimme The Sign" is the new single from The Enemy. The Coventry group is set to release their 3rd album, Streets in the Sky, this spring and I'm now looking forward to it.

You can play the song below or download it via the group's official website, or via the group's official Facebook page.

The Enemy - Gimme The Sign by PurplePR

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hooded Fang Bring Us Some Throwback Goodness: A Review Of Tosta Mista

What the hell is in the water up in Canada? On paper, this looks like a precious, contrived endeavor. In reality, it's one of the best -- if shortest -- albums I've heard in some time.

Hooded Fang are set to drop Tosta Mista in wide(r) release in March and I urge you to pick it up. In the UK, they are on Full Time Hobby.

Tosta Mista is a mess. It's a hot mess of influences but the songs work even though they shouldn't.

I just haven't heard anything quite like this in years.

A song like "Brahma" uses riffs that sound like leftovers from the house band in any Frankie-and-Annette beach movie, with a vocal line bearing the influence of every North American indie crooner since Beck. The tune sways and charms.

"ESP" is more of a Nuggets-worthy cruncher with a vaguely Beach Boys-esque guitar clanking in the mix and a psychedelic feel to the melody.

But it's really "Den of Love" that makes the album an essential purchase. This cut sounds like Pavement doing Frankie Lymon! If that sounds like an unholy combination, so be it. The song is quite simply one of the best tracks I've heard in ages and it's got that weird mix of the familiar and the new -- I can recognize the pieces of genres that make up the song but "Den of Love" still sounds wholly unlike anything I've heard before.

Tosta Mista is a short record but at least it's consistent. Apart from the little instrumental bits, all of the songs sound like lost gems from the 1960s. It's like your hip friend rained a vinyl shop, found some weird bands you'd never heard of before, and then made a mix of a bunch of the best cuts.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Submarine (2010): An Instant Classic

I finally got around to watching Submarine (2010) today because the WideSight shop on Lockhart Road marked it down to $49HKD (less than $7USD).

A recent review over at A Hero Never Dies also sealed the deal in advance. And, like that always readable blogger, I felt that Oliver in the film bore a certain similarity to good old Max Fischer.

Craig Roberts is pretty solid as Oliver, our hero and narrator. Like Max Fischer before him, he's not an entirely likable character. There's a fine line between being precocious and being a selfish jerk and Oliver crosses that line frequently.

Still, the film is more subtle with this sort of thing than any American film would ever be. Oliver is not perfect but he's human and recognizable to a viewer.

(Add to that the fact that Roberts' performance calls to mind a young Woody Allen in many moments.)

The other reason to go back some 14 years to Max Fischer is that this is perhaps the most well written teen character we've seen on cinema screens since Rushmore (1998).

The budding love affair between Oliver and his dream girl (Jordana) is well done and I found myself almost crying with joy during the film's exquisite and perfectly paced first half.

Another plus here is the presence of the always excellent Noah Taylor as Oliver's dad.

Paddy Considine adds another wacko to his CV. Really, he's never going to top Morell in A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) for me. I've not seen all of his films but he's always an interesting actor and, oddly, he underplays the kook in Submarine (2010) a bit. The character -- that mullet! -- is a broad one, to be sure, but Considine tones things down a bit and leaves a lot of questions unanswered about this character. We're never quite sure what that fellow is up to beyond his New Age claptrap.

Yasmin Paige is fantastic as Jordana. She makes the school-girl less a simple object of affection and more a real character. As viewers, we only know of her what Oliver chooses to reveal as a narrator but, still, she seems altogether more mature, if a bit caustic, than Oliver.

The film lost a bit of steam in the mid-section but, still, it's a near masterpiece as far as I'm concerned.

Submarine (2010) shows a character in the process of growing up and, frankly, that ending is so good because Oliver is a bit of a selfish idiot at times.

And the scenery of the Welsh countryside adds immeasurably to the mood of the picture.

I feel a bit stupid now having waited so long to finally watch such an affecting and touching film. Submarine (2010) is just a joy to watch.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hang Cool Teddybear: On Watching The Japanese 2-DVD Edition Of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls In Hong Kong

I made my way to The Sino Centre yesterday and I picked up a 2-DVD set of the greatest movie ever made, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970).

The Japanese edition is more or less the same as the US one from a few years ago, though it seemed like there were more photo galleries on this one. On the special features of this set, the Japanese subtitles are burned on, but on the film itself they are removable.

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970), as always, remains a weird and wild masterpiece.

I had read about the film, and director Russ Meyer, prior to finally seeing the film but none of that prepared me for the surreal charm of the thing. Sometime in spring or summer of 1994, I was supposed to go to work the next morning (a Saturday) and I also had tickets to see The Auteurs at the old 9:30 Club in D.C. the next night.

But I stumbled upon Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) on Cinemax in the middle of the night and was entranced. The film was like a bad dream. Frankly, being half asleep made the film seem like even more of a strange masterpiece. I had to watch the film again as soon as possible just to convince myself that I had not imagined that shit in some half-sleep stupor.

It's almost like someone went back in time and made a satire of the era from a more modern perspective. Part camp, part straight drama, part comedy, part exploitation picture, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) is every bit as funny as any of those Mike Myers Austin Powers pictures -- the first one quotes from this one, by the way!

Still, silly and campy bits aside, the film is a marvel of tight editing and sharp cinematography. There's an expert use of montage here as well as some witty musical cues.

But the effect of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) is really just one that inspires awe. It's so wholly unlike anything else I've ever seen.

Frankly, I was a bit disappointed with the other Russ Meyer titles I watched after this one got me interested in the guy. They are so cartoon-y where this one is campy, so unsubtle where this one is mildly suggestive.

Yes, there are 2 Playboy Playmates in this (Dolly Read and Cynthia Myers) but the film is remarkably tame when viewed today. But, somehow, that makes it a nice reminder of an era where sexy could be conveyed with a bit of wit and a lot of cleavage. Somewhere between the antics of TV's "Laugh-In" and a Benny Hill bit, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) is a throwback thrill to an era when women had curves and looked somehow more natural and less contrived, even if impossibly proportioned as Meyer preferred.

Endlessly quotable -- that epilogue! -- and always a string of visual delights, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) rarely fails to charm. It's not the sort of film that I can watch portions of. It always feels like I've got to sit through the whole thing.

But those nearly 2 hours of time are always time well spent. Easily the best thing ever written by Roger Ebert, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) is just pure camp joy and high gloss pop pleasure from an era sadly gone.

"This is my happening and it freaks me out!"

Indeed, Z-Man, indeed.