What You’re Listening To In 2012: Death Grips

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Death Grips have a little but of soul and a whole lot of anger. It’s not the sort of anger that you’re used to, straightforward, aggressive, over and out. It’s more of a consistent dread, an implication that if you think this is bad, then what’s next is worse.  There latest 2012 release, No Love Deep Web, is never comfortable but always interesting.

The future is not likely to hold a Death Grips Greatest Hits collection. Going forward it’s likely that bits and pieces of what this scary noise rap outfit does best will be used and abused, by bands that will forever be more popular than Death Grips from the standpoint of commercial marketability.

Right now Death Grips is ours, even if we didn’t wan’t, didn’t need, or didn’t ask for them.

What You’re Listening To In 2012: Thee Oh Sees

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You can cover a lot of ground by referring to Thee Oh Sees as that fuzzy, poppy version of The Velvet Underground we’ve all been waiting for. I can highly recommend getting good and soaked on Guinness, to the point where that fine liquid is seeping out your pores, and giving Thee Oh Sees a play as you melt into your furniture.

Thee Oh Sees 2011 release, Castlemania is good, and there 2012 release, Putrifiers II is great. You wont want to share this vast wealth of goodness with anyone, but you’ll feel consumed with guilt if you don’t.

Tree Of Life Trips Over It’s Own Dick

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Terrence Malick has made himself some films, yes he has, yes he has.  His film making range lies somewhere in between unintentional masterpiece and reluctant masterpiece. With Tree of Life, the jig is up, much like a drug addict mishandling their compulsive lies. Not only does Malick try to make a masterpiece, he seems pretty intent on projecting the fact that he is trying to make a masterpiece.

Anyone who’s honest with himself will tell you that Malick’s previous film, 2005’s The New World, had a certain waft about it. It wasn’t a total misfire but there was certainly just a little something not quite right about it. I think the end product of The New World is something that Malick should have taken a step back from during editing, if not the writing of it, maybe reassess and tighten up the story he was trying to tell.

In Tree of Life, Terrence Malick is able to both capture the world of a young man growing up, and present it to us in a way that is both original for film and familiar to the soul. The bulk of the movie takes place in the 1950’s, a time that I have no experience with, and yet the scenarios, actions, and the way that the main character of the young boy see’s the world feel so familiar.

Tree of Life wanders, but it wanders in such a way that it doesn’t frustrate the viewer in the moment, because you know you’re in the  hands of a great storyteller. The frustration sets in sometime after the end credits roll and you ask yourself… why were those pieces put together?

Somewhere in Tree of Life, there is a wonderful film, it’s just that the product Malick has delivered to us is less than the some of its excellent parts.

The Dancing Outlaw Chronicles

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Jesco White is the son of legendary mountain dancer D. Ray White, who was profiled in the 1987 documentary Talking Feet: Solo Southern Dance: Buck, Flatfoot, and Tap, and was considered one of the greatest mountain dancers in the United States. Mountain Dancing is a mash up between tap dancing, clog, and a good old fashioned jig, usually featuring pieces of horse shoe glued on to amplify the tapping sound. After the murder of D. Ray White in 1985, Jesco vowed to carry on in his father’s tradition.

The Dancing Outlaw is a 1991 documentary about the life of Jesco White, the mountain dancing, chemical huffing, no fuck giving, outlaw son of a gun.  One’s first reaction to this scene is that of disbelief, surely this is a film ghost directed by the great Jon Waters. All awe aside, enough depth is displayed by the end of it’s barely forty minute running time to make you a believer. Jesco is an odd bird in a family and region full of them. What works here is that it’s just a glimpse into the man and the culture, things are kept short and sweet and while you may not be left wanting more, you are satisfied by the entertainment value at hand.

Of course Hollywood came a knocking after the underground success of The Dancing Outlaw. In 2009 Jesco’s life story was put to film in White Lightnin’, starring Edward Hogg as Jesco White and Carrie Fisher as Jesco’s much older lover ‘Cilla.

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The first third of White Lightnin’ is a bit sketchy. The actor who plays young Jesco is pretty darn solid especially considering the fact that he’s filthy in just about every scene he’s in. The direction and camera work is unimaginative and uninspiring and gives the impression that the director is either unfamiliar with his subject or uncomfortable portraying it. Scenes don’t play out in a very cinematic way, even though the art director, cinematographer, and costumer department are all doing their best. It’s a half hour into the movie before the mountain dancing culture is treated with any sort of authenticity.

The quality does pick up shortly before Jesco meets his true love ‘Cilla, played Carrie Fisher, as in the Princess Leigh Carrie Fisher. ‘Cilla is much older than Jesco, an unflattering amount older. Carrie gives us a veteran performance, a performance that easily could have rested upon over the top cliches but doesn’t. At this point the movie kind of grows on you despite it’s flaws. The story is becoming more concise and Edward Hogg as the adult Jethro is every bit as charming as the real deal. I don’t have much to go on with Edward Hogg. He has a tidy IMDB resume, and I imagine I will be checking out Bunny and the Bull and I do remember the previews and hype around Anonymous, so that may be worth watching. Overall I get the feeling that he will be involved in some major projects sooner rather than later.

The last ten minutes is where the film goes unforgivably haywire. The story had built up enough charm to look past the fact that it pretty much ignores Jesco’s siblings and presents the murder of his father as factually incorrect, but those last ten minutes were are just unnecessarily pretentious. The quality work of cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones, art director Ivica Trpic, costume designer Blanka Budak, as well as the stand out performances by Owen Campbell as young Jesco, Edward Hogg as adult Jesco, and Carrie Fisher as ‘Cilla are all flushed down the toilet with a worthless ending. Imagine what this story could have been with the right up and coming director and or Harmony Korrine. Boogie Nights and some selctions from the French New Wave directors come to mind. I’d even go so far as to say that this could have been a fun movie to feature David Arquette as the lead, he’s certainly got a little bit of Jesco in him.

In short, the movie’s director, Dominic Murphy, is a fucking moron.

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The latest adaption of Jesco’s White story is the 2009 full length documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. It’s produced by Dickhouse, the creators of Jackass, and features music and interviews from Hank Williams the III.

At this point in is life, Jesco White is a bigger celebrity outlaw than he’d like to be. Oh, he’s fine with the outlaw bit, but the clebrity part has become an invasion of his comfort, and it is implied that his siblings are a bit jealous of the attention. The story presented is much deeper than previous versions, not only does the film crew follow the Whites around for a year of their life, but it covers Jesco’s younger, more criminal years, the current lives of the living siblings, the career and death of Jesco’s father D. Ray White, and so much more. As much grime and dirtbaggery that is portrayed here, the film’s tone never comes off as exploiting the life situation and culture of it’s subjects. If anything, once you see a couple of interviews of what others have to say about the Whites, it may be the Whites that are exploiting the film makers. This show is very candid about a lifestyle that most people would not be able to tolerate. At the same time, once you’re immersed in the story, it’s hard to imagine it’s participants behave in any other way.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is the perfect companion piece to The Dancing Outlaw. An older, toned down, grey bearded Jesco White continues to dance while taking a moment to consider the fatalism around him.

and for the road, here is some D. Ray White

Eight Long Years

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It’s been eight long years since Shane Carruth released his directorial debut, the clever and trippy sci fi delight, Primer. We made mention of Primer a while back, you can check that out here.

https://swedishgodzilla.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/in-case-you-missed-it-and-you-probably-did-a-little-something-called-primer/

The trailer for his latest, Upstream, is being billed as a 2013 release and appears to be a real humdinger. The top youtube comment for this vid is “I know less about this movie than I did before I watched the trailer.”

That’s just music to our ears.

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In the opening scene of Tyrannosaur we are introduced to Joseph via his deplorable actions and even worse attitude. Joseph appears to be a menace in a neighborhood that are full of them, and he is prone to bursts of violence that are both confrontational and passive aggressive. Joseph wears his emotions on his sleeve and walks with a menacing purpose. There is so much not to like about Joseph that you’ll wonder just what it is that could possibly happen in this story to redeem him.

After a very bad day of his own making Joseph attempts to hide out in the second hand store of Hannah. Hannah is a nice god fearing sort, a bit aged her owns self, and offers prayer to the disturbed man whom she’s never seen before. Before you think that you get an idea of where this is going, Hannah does not redeem Joseph, as this is not a story about redemption at all. It’s more about the different sides to colorful characters and the surprising edge to the more respectable seeming members of society.

Joseph is played by veteran Scottish actor Peter Mullan. He gives a very straight forward and unflinching performance of a character that knows he’s a very flawed man.Tyrannosaur doesn’t go where you think it’s going to and presents a fresh take on melodrama.  All the major and minor players in this film hit just the right notes. This is actor turned director Paddy Considine’s film making debut, and kudos to him for his subtle touch behind the camera, as well as being able to encourage the performances on display. Cinematographer Erik Wilson paints a very bleak picture without laying it on too thick.

Tyrannosaur is a solid picture that doesn’t try to reinvent anything nor be cliche’ about it’s situations and characters. Maybe if we all give it a chance Paddy Considine will spoil us with more of his excellent storytelling.

 

Bellflower is Finally on Netflix

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Last year we ran a teaser piece about Bellfower, you can check that out here

https://swedishgodzilla.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/a-fine-piece-of-business-called-bellflower/

This isn’t a standard review by any means and that’s mostly to due with how much ambiguity plays into the experience of this film, in particular the last third of it. We’re all for a story that’s left open to interpretation when it’s done right, and Bellflower is very good at that. A good example of a bad example would be the recently reviewed Beyond The Black Rainbow. Balance between story telling and story interpretation is needed in order for this to work effectively.

Bellfower did pretty big business at our local art house theater, and now it is available on Netflix. What’s unfortunate is that it has yet to be shown on the Sundance channel or IFC. If these channels were of the caliber they were ten,  or even five years ago, Bellflower would be on once a week at least. Back then they were playing Donnie Darko with that sort of frequency, but these days they are content to serve up the same fare as TBS. Sad, sickening, yet all to true.

These days you have to work just a little bit harder to find the good stuff.

Lawless Resonates

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Upon first seeing the trailer for Lawless, I rolled my eyes some and groaned a little. I knew what was coming to a certain extent, being familiar with the work of director John Hillcoat and taking a peek at his next project at IMDB. Hillcoat’s stern, oddball, Australian western, 2005’s The Proposition, was simple and bloody with nary a frame of film gone to waste. I must admit that I had no good reason to skip out on his next feature, 2009’s The road, other than the fact that after I saw the trailer, I just wasn’t feeling it.

Can’t say I was feeling it with the trailer for Lawless either. While the accents portrayed aren’t the worst pieces of shit to grace celluloid, they come at you quickly and out of context, and by the time Guy Pierce and his..get up.. appear at around the 1:30 mark, I checked out. There was still a part of me intrigued enough to want to see a movie that features the always interesting Gary Oldman, there was a part of me that wanted to give the man who directed The Proposition the time of day, and as I have more Nick Cave albums and concert ticket stubs than I care to admit to, there was certainly a part of me that just had to see how his influence played out in this movie,  even if it means tolerating another grating performance by Shia LaBeouf .

Lawless is the fictionalized account of the 2008 novel The Wettest County in the World, the story of three prohibition era brothers, the Bondurants, who made a living bootlegging moonshine. The novel itself was written by Matt Bondurant, grandson of LaBeof’s character Jack Bondurant. It’s important to keep in mind that Matt Bondurant wrote a novel, and not a biography or a work of historical fact. There are facts, sure, and it’s based on a true story, for certain, but what you’re seeing on the screen is a dramatized version of what is proposed to be a fictional account based on a true story.

It is one smooth piece of business let me tell you. Tom Hardy plays the eldest Bondurant brother, Forrest, who the locals say is invincible, and as the story goes along you see he is composed of equal parts luck and extraordinary toughness. Those elements come with there fair share of gruffness as well, as Forrest is not only a man of few words, but a man whose words aren’t exactly recognizable. Howard Bondurant is the middle brother and the ass kicker of the bunch, played by Jason Clarke who hits the right notes with what he is given. The character has his moments, just not on the scale of the other two Bondurant brothers that are played by more prominent actors. Overall, the lack of big moments by this character help him act as the glue between Howard and Jack.

The moonshining business is going good as local law enforcement looks the other way, until the arrival of a Chicago special deputy named Howard Rakes played by Guy Pearce. Guy seems to be channeling the early work of Gary Oldman with an accent and mannerisms that aren’t quite over the top, but certainly have an aftertaste to them. I’m not the first reviewer to take notice of what Guy Pearce is doing here, but I will say that not only does it work on several levels, it’s also not even close to the repetitive bombastic villain performances you see in the majority of Hollywood style releases. If you think I’m going to see whatever it is that Mark Wahlberg and his Bunch of Funky Assholes are serving up in in Contraband, you are at the wrong blog, but I can wholeheartedly guarantee you that whatever bad guy action is going on up in that piece is irritatingly over the top. I also don’t spend a lot of time immersing myself in the filmography of Jason Statham, but I’m pretty sure that any one of those movies is going to feature a grinning, wide eyed hack whose inspirations are some sort of demented combination of Stephen Dorf and Daniel Baldwin. So by comparison, the exotic content that Guy Pearce gives us here is nothing to complain about.

It is curious as to how a Chicago special deputy would end up checking out the action in rural Virginia. That is one aspect of the movie that is never explained at 100%. Is he a federal marshall, or are we to assume that this being the time of Al Capones reign in Chicago, that Howard Rakes is just legit enough to be considered law enforcement while being attached to Capone’s corrupt payroll? I was leaning toward’s the latter with my assumption, and, if I had been in the shoes of the Bondurants I would have either payed the money or shot Rakes in the head upon first site, but that wouldn’t have made for an entertaining story at all.

The Bondurants play ignorant to the demands of Howard Rakes, and Howard Rakes plays ignorant to the way things are done in hillbilly country and each others actions escalate. When Jack Bondurant is getting a physical beat down from Howard Rakes, or an emotional beat down from his more experienced brothers, he is wooing the town preacher’s daughter, played by the elegant and lovely Mia Wasikowska. I like Mia Wasikowska, she is is quality goods. Meanwhile Forrest Bondurant is playing hard to get with the new girl in town, the very urban Maggie. Maggie has spent some time in seedy joints, but she is not a “broad”, she just knows how to handle herself. Howard Rakes may be short sided in some areas, but he knows his business, he works the angles, exploits what he can, and antagonizes who he pleases. Guy Pearce is effective without taking over the movie. Gary Oldman shows up in a few scenes as a seasoned gangster from another town, with Noah Taylor ( see our review of Red, White, and Blue) as his right hand man. It’s a solid performance, and Oldman leaves you wanting more. His character is sort of a catalyst but I won’t get too deep into the ins and the  outs of it so as it is not to spoil anything.

The two biggest reasons that I had apprehensions for this film were the accents and the presence of Shia LaBeouf. Neither is any sort of problem to the viewing experience. I’m guessing that the accents came off as jarring in the trailer due to the lack of context and the fast paced way that trailers move. Some executive somewhere may want to take into consideration that not every movie can have a a trailer by the numbers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Shia has range with his performance here, but he does go a good job of proving that he is at least competent at acting. It was great not to see a jittery, coked up, fake testosterone laden performance. I think his flaws were hidden well in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street Money Never Sleeps, while at the same time the things that we all hate the most about Shia were put on display at the right time in terms of what his character was expected to do in that movie. Here he gives a subdued performance as his character progresses in many different ways. So, he gets mini props for not ruining the whole show here, but I wouldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt going forward, I would still tread very carefully.

Lawless isn’t as long as it could have been, and it’s a very mature film. While it may have a flaw or two, the story, characters, acting, cinematography, and direction are all better than can be expected from a significant Hollywood production. Studios get it wrong so often that when they get it right it should be duly noted. The soundtrack even has just the right touch to it, with the aged voice of Levon Helm covering Velvet Undergound’s White Light.

Lawless isn’t great, but it give a chance and you will see that it is very good.

Nick Nolte Smokes Crack Straight From The Pipe

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The Sundance Chanel has been airing a strange little documentary/biography of Nick Nolte, wherein Nick Nolte, interviews Nick Nolte, about Nick Nolte related events.

The context provides some quality entertainment value from the mouth of Nolte, who comes off as a cross between Charles Bukowski and America’s version of Klau Kinksi. The mini interviews of various stars and behind the scenes people who have worked with Nolte over the years are well meaning enough, and stop just barely short of being out right ass kissy.

Where the project goes wrong is in the presentation. It is poorly shot and likely to have been edited on someone’s lap top, there really isn’t any sort of definitive flow or rhythm to it.  Nolte gives some candid answers about his life and dishes out humorous nuggets of wisdom with out so much as a flinch. Nolte’s time, effort, and energy deserves a more inspiring, if not more professional setting. One really has to wonder about the heights this project could have aspired to if the people behind the camera didn’t damn near ruin the entire thing.

There are worse documentaries about better subjects, and there are better documentaries about less entertaining subjects, but this is one that could have had an impact in both pop culture, the film festival scene, and the movie awards, had it been handled right. As it stands it’s still pretty darn good if you have the right amount of time and patience.

For anyone who would rather immerse themselves into the more quality work of Nick Nolte, some of his best include Farewell to the King, Mother Night, Affliction, and The Good Thief.

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