2015-04-23

Music Review : The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ (2015


Music Review : The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ (2015, Merge)

With their indie rock infused with melancholy and a certain naive charm, The Mountain Goats released a new record based around wrestling and the ecosystem it is linked with. Scrumy basement rings and a respect for the discipline and entertainment it all represents. This subculture has inspired an album full of gratitude and connections with underground music and small recognition amongst peers and friends.

Adding piano, horns, and a certain depth into their songs, The Mountain Goats are pursuing the path of Transcendental Youth. With a touch of the Vince Guaraldi Trio recalling Charlie Brown on the song Fire Editorial, Beat the Champ is taking us in many territories that ask us to visit a myriad of sentiments and emotions.

As a record Beat the Champ might be more eclectic than its predecessor, but the variety of songs and the reach works well as a series of disconnected songs linked by a theme as surprising as wrestling.


7.6

2015-04-22

Music Review : Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire (2015)


Music Review : Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire (2015, Thrill Jockey)

The noise rock duo of Lightning Bolt has done it again for a seventh time with their new album Fantasy Empire.

Playing with high intensity and fast tempos it is at first almost exhausting to listen to their music. With the subsequent listening, Fantasy Empire rises to another level and becomes more than just noise rock played with by ADD kids. It makes a coherent piece that elevates noise and rock together to a form that is not only an interesting experiment.

The drums of Brian Chippendale are fast and omnipresent as their snare kick are fulfilling the space and time of every song. On the other side, Brian Gibson’s bass guitar is heavy and crunchy. Chippendale’s vocals are tortuous and have an urgency few rock vocalists have achieved before.

Fantasy Empire is one of the very good albums of the year since 2015 might be the year of noise as the rising genre of the year. Since last year was stoner the noise element is a logical evolution of music.


7.9

2015-04-21

Music Review : Alambik – Utopie (2015)


Music Review : Alambik – Utopie (2015, Label For Rent)

Rising from the country of Portneuf near Quebec City, the four-piece Alambik has recently released their second album Utopie. Working with Jef Fortin of thrash metal band Anonymus, the production has a contemporary sound and a nice feel.

Sounding as heavy as Sick of It All at times and with a clear inspiration of Motörhead, Foo Fighters, Voïvod, and the 1990’s Californian punk rock scene, Utopie however doesn’t sound like a nostalgic piece of music. As diverse as their influence may seem the blend is nicely mixed and makes it for a uniform record that can easily stand as strong as the recent releases of Bad Religion. It is also obvious that the band makes music that they like and that they would listen. Then, you have a record made without compromise that reflects the talent and the interest of its musicians.

Overall, Alambik makes efficient music that carries the ideas and the memories of a particular genre. On the side of originality the album often feels like a recollection of some moments of songs that are known, cherished, and loved by the band. It will certainly please the fanbase of the band and gain some momentary radio playing time on commercial rock centered stations. 

Will it be an album that will change the game of Punk Rock? I don’t think so but it carries its flag high, loud, and proud.


7.1

2015-04-13

Analyzing Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining For The Great Villain Blogathon




Analyzing Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining For The Great Villain Blogathon 2015

As anyone who followed this blog for many years, you can easily guess that Stanley Kubrick is my favorite movie director, it is also a given that The Shining is my favorite film from his filmography (note : as favorite I don’t say that it is his greatest film, the answer to that topic might be 2001 : A Space Odyssey). When I got aware of this Blogathon, I immediately wanted to write about Jack Torrance. Apart from the fact that I deeply love this film and that Stephen King hates it (note : King is one of my favorite contemporary author but I disagree with him on many subjects especially this one) I like the fact that Torrance is not completely a movie villain as the classic definition of the term would designate.

First, a movie villain must impersonate an antagonist position with the hero of the story, he is the cause of evil or bad things happening to the hero. In The Shining, Torrance is at first presented as the central character and in some way he is the protagonist of the story. But he is also the father who brings his family to keep in order a closed resort during the winter. He is the bringer of evil since the Overlook Hotel is supposedly haunted. The last element stated as supposedly, the haunting of the hotel, is never really clear and depending on the reading of the film you choose to pick out, the spirits might be visions of Torrance’s mind.

Since the family is isolated in the hotel Jack suffers of writer’s block, of a clear sexual repression from an unsatisfied need for encounter, and a severe need for alcohol. Sober for a long time, Torrance seems to be rekinkling with his old habits as long as the film evolves. Even taking part at an evening in the Golden Age ballroom drinking a bourbon in a room filled with ghosts. At this point, Jack’s implication with the hotel is more than just a job. He is possessed by the power of the hotel and he is given a mission to take care of his family just like Grady did before. Grady was his predecessor and murdered his twin girls with an axe in a bloody way. He was then promoted by the hotel as a permanent resident something Jack now seeks for his career.

On some level, the character might be read as the evil counter part of Danny, his son who is gifted with the shining, deliberately bringing his young family to a resort where solitude and ennui is right at the corner. However, Jack is happy and seems to need to get there and take this job. His motivation is never really clear except from having some quiet time to finish his novel. From the beginning he seems to have a natural attirance towards this job and is fearless to do it.

Towards his job, we never see him actually taking care of the hotel or even his family. His wife, Wendy, takes care of all of this. She checks the furnace and plays with Danny while Jack tries to work on his novel. Most of the time he is wandering, throwing a ball to the wall and struggling to get words onto the paper.

There are many facets of Jack that I think that can be linked to the author’s personality; Stephen King was a noticeable alcoholic in his early days and I’ve always read the novel The Shining as a play on a writer having to write through writer’s block. King often put teachers or writers as his protagonist’s occupations and this is one of his recurrent themes. An old master has said that you have to write about what you know. He sure put it to value giving Torrance both the writer and the teacher titles.


Jack Nicholson is in the role of Jack Torrance in one of his most famous characters with the legendary scene where he’s trying to open the locked door toilet door with an axe. The documentary by Viviane Kubrick, Stanley’s daughter, shows the preparation of  the actor for this highly intense scene. Nicholson seems to have no trouble getting into the right piece of mind to do those scenes while actress Shelley Duvall, who plays Wendy Torrance, struggled with Kubrick’s dictatorial directing. She often complained that Kubrick asked him to redo some scenes more than a hundred times. Following The Shining and also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nicholson will often be asked to play over the top and his acting will be reduced to be a caricature of himself.

Let’s get back to our villain Jack Torrance, his job was to bring his family to keep the hotel from the possible degradation from the difficult winter elements. In the supernatural reading of the film, Jack was mandated to bring his super powered son to be a gift or an offering to the power of the hotel.

While another reading of the film is a Freudian one, which is probably more accurate when considering the many Freudian elements from Kubrick’s filmography, Jack the biological father of Danny must get Dick Halloran (the hotel’s chef and the man who exposes to Danny all about the shining) out of the way. Halloran is taking the role of Danny’s father figure because Jack is not a potent father figure. In Freudian words, a child who doesn’t feel that he is getting the right kind of fatherly love and strong father figure will try to get it from a more convenient and potent man. In this case, a man that understands him and that knows how to correctly protect him. One could add the Oedipus Rex complex to that where Wendy compensate for Jack’s lack of attention to his son and the child will get rid of his father to be the partner of his mother. A strong father figure has to be imposing a presence of the right kind of authority and indulge fear in his son’s mind that if he tries to get intimate with his mother his father will castrate his son.

It is useless to say that Jack is a failure and at the end of the film he is tricked by his son when at the same time the sacrifice of Halloran helped Danny and his mother to save them from another horror at the Overlook.

A great villain makes a great film and I personally think that Jack is a great villain with a complex construction and he is not easy to define but always interesting to observe and enjoy.


2015-04-10

The Exterminating Angel


The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

The guests at an upper-class dinner party find themselves unable to leave.

Often described as the twin film to director Luis Buñuel’s own The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Exterminating Angel is a surrealist exercise of style and screenwriting. Again shot by long time collaborator to Buñuel, Gabriel Figueroa, The Exterminating Angel is the story of a group of high class bourgeois that are invited at a dinner party after the opera. Strangely as the guests arrive to the mansion almost all of the domestics leave the house just like rats in a lost ship. Then with twenty seven various repetitions in the story the guests are isolating themselves in the house and have to live together in this island. Much like a play on Lord of the Flies or an essay on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings, Buñuel demonstrates how decorum and ethic codes are pompous and empty when humans are piled like a horde of dogs together.

While playing on the edge of comedy, social commentary, and experimental cinema, Buñuel was a one of a kind storyteller. Even more with The Exterminating Angel than with The Discreet Charm he had to convince us of believing such a story and not make us blink with the repetitions. The first two repetitions are quite obvious with the two arrivals of the guests and the two toasts but as the story goes the subtlety of those is almost unperceptible. Just like the characters of his story, Buñuel wants to debilitate us from seeing with our conventional and conformist eye.

In this social commentary by The Exterminating Angel, there’s a clear contempt of the upper-class and its ways. Presenting them as animals or even as wolves. It is clear that Buñuel couldn’t have made such movies some those themes under the Hays code in USA. By chance, Mexican backers believed in their director and left us a great heritage of unique films of great quality.

2015-04-09

Beau travail


Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1999)

This film focuses on an ex-Foreign Legion officer as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in Africa.

This critically acclaimed film by Claire Denis is a beautiful tale of manhood in the 20th Century. A century that was punctuated by wars and the evolution of the man in the society. Centered around the tensions between men, the relationships of power and envy, and the clash between the military service, the civil life, and the opposition of the rich world (France) and the poor world (Djibouti) Beau travail demonstrates with metaphoric and symbolism a simple story of the post-modern world.

The central character of Galoup (Denis Lavant) is an interesting portrayal of a man in a position of power and submission. Leading a French Foreign troop in the deserts of Djibouti and directing a tough training feels isolated and even in those vast lands, a bit claustrophobic at times. A strong comparison comes to mind with a Spartan regiment of strong men musculated and often shown without a shirt. Their trainings are as gracious as dances and as demanding as a military exercise should be.

The camera of Agnès Godard, no relationship to Jean-Luc, is moving and creates a presence that involves the viewer. The editing proves to be particular and creates an ensemble of bits and moments of a fast but demanding lifestyle. Beau travail is exhausting and also relaxing when its moments of contemplation are in full effect.

As my second encounter with director Claire Denis, the first was 35 rhums, Beau travail is as beautiful as it is meditative and the character of Galoup gives a great canvas for its highly talented actor Denis Lavant. Evocative of many European auteur films to come in the early 21st Century, Denis’ film was probably a revelation in its whole but especially its aesthetics. Godard’s camera as aforementioned gives a nervous signature to the film.

2015-04-07

India Song

India Song (Marguerite Duras, 1975)

Poetical tale of Anne-Marie Stretter, the wife of a French diplomat in India in the 1930s. At 18 she had married a French colonial administrator and went with him on posting to Savannakhet, Laos. 

Visually stunning and populated with long shots of almost still life or still lives, India Song is rhythms only by its voice overs and the musical tracks. It plays as bits of a life of boredom into Asia that its screenwriter/director Marguerite Duras has probably took from her own experience in the Eastern World. It is also a piece of History that reminds the role of the Colonialism countries in the World. Just like the scenes in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now Redux with the French living in Vietnam. They are a strange oddity of upper-class in such a poor and distant world.

India Song is the kind of film that gives lots of time and space for its viewer to think, contemplate, get immersed in the story. However, the contemplative element of the film reminds us of how a film can be that much slow and, in fact, almost standing still. As a self proclaimed film historian and movie critic, I had my share of slow and contemplative films but in this case there are few camera movements and long, long, did I mention long takes? Well, there are many long takes in this film. It is beautiful to look at and a lot of style in the way it is done. 

But, it is so slow that it plays as watching a painting and reading a realist novel of the early last century. The composition of the frames must have been studied for weeks and just like Carl Th. Dreyer I'm sure every movement was synchronised and rehearsed. India Song, plays as a novel that was written to be felt by its words and filled with pretty pictures of grand compositions.

As a whole, India Song feels like a artsy film that brought a few number of viewers in and a fewer number out at the end. Has my first encounter with Marguerite Duras, I'm not sure if I'll ever get excited and jolly about seeing another of her films. Not that it was bad or anything but it was a demanding film that uses its own storytelling way and narratives.
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