Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Event Previews for Los Angeles: Afrojack, Neko Case & Calexico

DJ Afrojack

Event Previews for Los Angeles:

Friday, October 4th
@ Shrine Expo Hall 18+

Neko Case

Saturday, October 5th
Newport Folk (TM) Presents
Way Out Yonder Fest
 Neko Case & Calexico
@ the Santa Monica Pier - All Ages

   For me, Afrojack will always be the guy who fucked Paris Hilton as late as 2012, which is like banging an 84 year old Mae West in the mid 1970s.   That doesn't mean I won't go watch the live show.  I actually heard a live set of his at 2 AM in the morning driving back from Los Angeles a few months back and I was totally, unexpectedly blown away.  Also, because this is a corporate type show it runs from nine to midnight, and therefore does not require me to stay up till three in the morning to watch a DJ "perform."  All the reasons to go to an Afrojack show in Los Angeles begin and end with crowd watching.  Tickets are 40 bucks.

 I believe this is the first attempt by Newport Folk Festival to do a show out on the West Coast, so I'm interested in that and the fact that it is a concert on the Santa Monica pier, which is itself awesome.  Neko Case exists in a universe that is adjacent to but does not overlap with my own personal taste.  Bands like the New Pornographers, Rilo Kiley and Mates of States and performers like Jenny Lewis and A.C. Newman are not something I'm into but if ever I'm going to give Neko Case an honest shot the Santa Monica pier seems like a good place to do so.  This show goes two days and tickets are like 120 USD.



Ratcatcher (1999) d. Lynne Ramsay

James with the neighborhood "slut" Maragret Anne in Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher (1999)

Movie Review
Ratcatcher (1999)
d. Lynne Ramsay
Criterion Collection #162

  When a film is "set during the national garbage strike in Scotland during the 1970s" you have a good idea of what you are in for.  Like Scotland isn't filthy enough without a national garbage strike.  Ratcatcher is a coming of age picture about a young Scottish lad- James (William Eadie) who accidentally kills one of his neighbors during the first five minutes in a muddy canal during the first five minutes of the film.  It is, as they say, downhill from there, but Ramsay brings a strong narrative and visual approach to the utterly depressing material, making Ratcatcher a distinctive and memorable film about life in Scotland during the mid 1970s.

 There are so many scenes of children playing in garbage that this image becomes the the signature of Ratcatcher.  You've got a scene where a couple of ruffians extract an entire dog corpse from a trash bag and wave it around, you've got a little girl sitting in a pile of trash bags as one would sit on a thrown, and of course, you've got the handling of rats, dead and alive, as one would expect from the title.

 Ramsay doesn't flinch from depicted the grim reality confronting young James.  The simple fact that James kills another child in the first five minutes disorients the viewer, taking James out of the category of helpless observer of his unfortunate surroundings and more into the category of willing participant in the filth and degradation surrounding him.

  There isn't much of a plot to speak of.  The most plot-like story element is the "relationship" between James and Maragret Anne, a promiscuous older girl who takes a fancy to James even as she is relentlessly bullied into having sex(?) with a gang of neighborhood teens.  Besides the heaps of uncollected rubbish (as they say in the UK) the fetid canal serves as a visual and narrative focus.  Just looking at that canal was enough to make my skin crawl, and it is hard not to flinch when you see characters from the film immerse themselves in the filthy water.

  The ending of Ratcatcher mixes a happy scene of James' family moving into a much sought after suburban home with James jumping into the canal in what looks to be a suicide attempt.  Ramsay leaves it unclear as to which represents the "reality" but my money is on the suicide.  Ratcatcher very much reminded me of Harmony Korine's Gummo. Gummo was released two years before Ratcatcher, but if you like one you will appreciate the other.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980) d. Vladimir Menshov

Russian actress Vera Alentova plays "Katia" the rags to riches heroine of Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. Katy Perry resemblance anyone?

Show Review
Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980)
d.  Vladimir Menshov
@ Pomegranate Golden Hill

  Pomegranate Golden Hill or Kafe Sobaka/Restoran Pomegranate as it calls itself on Facebook, is a real key addition to the Golden Hill commercial strip, adding a touch of depth to the trad American delights of Luigi's and Turf Club, and balancing the chic contemporary experience of Counterpoint with some ethnicity. Don't call Pomegranate a Russian restaurant, because it is a Russian/Georgian restaurant, and, if you read the menu it is also a Russian/Georgian/California restaurant. The two cuisines have similarities and differences. Georgian drinking culture is wine centered and of course Russian drinking culture is the opposite of wine centered. Post-USSR Georgia is an independent, western-looking culture, albeit one with a strong Russian accent.

 The food at Pomegranate is enlivened by the Georgian influence, but it is an ethnic dining experience, not haute cuisine (and thank god.) This does mean you need to either bring some gusto to the dining experience or stay home. While there are vegetarian options on the menu, even those options are not for those who dislike spices or weight as characteristics of their meals.

  Pomegranate shows movies in the back room on Tuesdays and Wednesday night  at 730 PM, although if you show up 20 minutes late and are the only person there they will start it over for you.  Last night was the 1981 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film winner Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears.  Part Russian take on American Grafitti, part Antoine Doinel-Truffaut film, Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears is the tale of the lifes and loves of Katerina Tokhomirva, played by Vera Alentova. 'Katia' as she is called, comes of age as a factory worker in late 50s Moscow, where she is bff's with the scheming Lyudmila.  Taking advantage of a plush house sitting gig, Lyudmila introduces Katia to a young television camera operator, who promptly impregnates Katia, Fast Times At Ridgemont Times style.

 After being confronted by her beau's disdainful Mother, Katia keeps the child.  Flash forward twenty years and Katia is a Director at the factory where she once worked on the line.  Her daughter has turned into a beautiful young woman, but Katia is still luckless in love.  Enter, Georgi, a handsome (and single) machine tool maker. Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears is interesting on a number of levels, but I think the most notable feature is the centering of the narrative on a succesful single mother with working class roots.  Clearly, this Russian film maker was directly in the main current of world cinema and turned out a picture that has enduring, classical film values that make it watchable today.

   Unfortunately, only one other person showed up last night- but- good news- Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears is showing again tonight- and if you dig the Antoine Doinel series, Soviet culture or rom-coms, maybe give it a shot and the restaurant as well?  

The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grosssmith

Cover of the Pneguin Classics edition of The Diary of a Nobody
Book Review
The Diary of a Nobody
by George and Weedon Grosssmith
p. 1892

2012 London Daily Telegraph article on the centenary o the death of author George Grossmith

  Ooooooooh goody here comes the English Comic Novel.  Oh brother.  You know who likes the English Comic Novel?  The English, and no one.  Surely, the comic novel has played an undeniably important role in the development of comedy itself, particularly if you include the 18th century English Comic Novels like Tom Jones.  But The Diary of a Nobody isn't a sprawling 18th century proto novel, it's a magazine serial concocted by two authors who were laughing at their subject.  The Diary of a Nobody was serialized in the British satirical magazine Punch and you can almost hear the sniggering of the Audience that The Diary of a Nobody targeted.  It's the same critique that Sinclair Lewis develops in Main Street:  The Grossmiths protagonist is a British version of what he called a "Babbitt."  Actually, that comparison is not entirely apt because Charles Pooter is hesitant to venture out into society, and Lewis' Babbitt is a man of associations and clubs.

  The Diary of a Nobody is literally a diary of this Charles Pooter, but it is made clear that Pooter is a figure to be laughed at.  It's not an entirely mean spirited effort- in the end Pooter is rewarded with a great new job, but along the way he does things like prat falls and breaking glass objects with careless abandon.  Ha, ha, ha.

 It's a blistering societal critique of conformity and the company man to be sure, and I am just as sure that there is about to be a whole bunch of similar critiques in the years ahead.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Hopscotch (1980) d. Ronald Neame

Walter Matthau as a dapper CIA agent in Hopsctoch (1980) d. Ronald Neame

Movie Review
Hopscotch (1980)
d. Ronald Neame
Criterion Collection #163

  There are two main categories of films in the Criterion Collection.  The first category is are the "fun" movies and the second category are the "serious" movies.  The first category includes many of the "cult classics" and then some of the foreign films, the second category contains most of the documentaries and many more of the foreign films.  Hopscotch, a clever, witty spy thriller with overtones of the Edward Snowden affair, is firmly in the former category- as fun as the Criterion Collection can get.

  Hopsctoch is yet another fine example of why watching the Criterion Collection is such a useful investment of time.  A film I probably never would have even heard of, let alone watched, becomes a diverting way to pass a couple hours in the early evening, and provides plenty of food for thought about the way the world has changed in the generation since Hopscotch was released.

 Walter Matthau, here at this best, plays Kendig, a top CIA operative who is put out to pasture by his Nixonian boss Myerson (Ned Beatty.)  He decides to retaliate by writing a tell-all memoir, and then eludes capture in spectacular fashion. He is assisted in his escapade by the wealthy and beautiful divorce Isobel, played by Glenda Jackson and of course a young Sam Waterson would have to part of such a film.

   Neame also directed the Criterion Collection title The Horses Mouth(1958), and both titles share winning actors in the title role.  Matthau, so often cast as a nebbish, is a dapper sophisticated super spy in Hopsctoch and you can see that he enjoys every minute of the performance.   Hopsctoch is, above all, fun to watch and there is no point during the run time where I was bored or scratching at the walls to get out.  That is how I know that I'm watching a "fun" Criterion Collection title vs. a "serious" Criterion Collection title: During the serious films I'm often in sheer agony and need to take breaks or watch the film in half hour to hour blocks

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Event Preview: Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980) d. Vladimir Menshov @ Pomegranate Golden Hill San Diego WED/THURS

Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears shows in Golden Hill this week.

Event Preview:
Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980)
 d. Vladimir Menshov @ Pomegranate Golden Hill San Diego
(Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears IMDB)

  The San Diego Russian/Georgian restaurant Pomegranate recently opened a second location around the corner from the Golden Hill 7-11 at 25th and Broadway.  Up until now I've been more of a Counterpoint guy (vs. Luigis, Turf Club, Krakatoa, Golden Hill Cafe) but Pomegranate has drawn my attention.  First, they introduced out door seating, which San Diego recently legalized.

 Second, they are showing Russian films during the week at 730 PM.  It appears to be a bit of a work in progress, perhaps as they try to draw an Audience for these movies- I can't imagine there are many people out there who even know this is happening, and the subset within that group of people who would actually go is probably limited to "friends of people who work at the restaurant who have an interest in foreign movies."

 That is why I wanted to write to draw attention to the fact that this is happening: Every week, always on Wednesday's and Thursday's, Pomegranate Golden Hill shows a Russian language film at 730 PM.  This week the movie is Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears.  Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1981.

 I won't waste another sentence trying to pitch the film, but I will note that there is a social facet of Film as an art form that is (obviously) completely neglected when you watch movies on your couch on your television.  Even if you have a small group it is not the same. The creation of the social space around the viewing of a film is something very integral to the appeal of film as an art form to a large portion of the Audience.  For example, you can think of teenagers who have no place to interact with their romantic/sexual partners.  There is also the related idea of movie watching as "something to do," a social activity.  Again, this function is totally defeated by home streaming.

  On a personal note, of all the different nations that are represented within the Criterion Collection, I have found the Russian titles to be the "best" in terms of an index that combines watchability and technical/aesthetic interest.  I have't seen Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears but it looks like a very watchable film, and winning an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film during the Cold War is quite an achievement.  I believe much of the reason Russian film is neglected in the U.S. stems from neglect inflicted during the Cold War by America based film scholars.

A Woman's Life by Guy de Maupassant

A photograph of French author Guy de Maupassant.

Book Review
A Woman's Life
by Guy de Maupassant
Penguin Classics
p. 1883

  To read classic literature is to remind oneself, constantly, that human capacity for self inflicted misery is infinite. While the "happy ending" is not unknown in the realm of the 19th century fiction, it does seem like a disproptionate number of late 19th century Novels deal with misery and failure.  Here, we have another example: Guy de Maupassant's, A Woman's Life, about a convent educated French noblewoman who marries poorly, raises a terrible, terrible son and ends up miserable and alone.

  I believe this is the third de Maupassant novel I've read (Pierre and Jean and Bel Ami are the other two.)  However both of those books were read on my Kindle so is Penguin Classics edition was the first time I'd read a biography of Guy de Maupassant.  Turns out his Mom was chummy with Flaubert, and it is now clear why his work reminds me so much of Flaubert.  De Maupassant was tremendously prolific, though mostly in the realm of the short-story.  His most well known novels- the three mentioned here- share common traits of deep pessimism about human nature coupled with a constant attention to the details of prose fiction...much like Flaubert.

 All three of the included Maupassant novels are short.  You could read A Woman's Life, Bel Ami and Pierre and Jean in an afternoon.  I believe A Woman's Life is the longest of the three and it still checks in at 199 pages. The combination of a well defined prose style with a deeply pessimistic outlook about human existence is a combination that would find great favor with the modernists, so it's no surprise that Maupassant has maintained his status as a classic author.

  His small details of human misery stick with you.  In the last few months I've often found myself contemplating scenes from Bel Ami, and I don't doubt that the same will be true of A Woman's Life.  It's amazing the sheer variety of ways that human beings can make themselves unhappy, but the lesson of A Woman's Life is that if you are convent educated, do not marry literally the first guy you meet after you get out of the convent.

  It is easy to recommend the novels of Maupassant because they are so easy to read, so brief and so universal in their themes of human relationships unraveled.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Show Review: Vampire Weekend @ The Hollywood Bowl

Vampire Weekend front man Ezra Koenig

Show Review:
 Vampire Weekend
@ The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles CA.

  It seems like the most appropriate way to describe Vampire Weekend is in terms of their popularity.  2 million Facebook fans, 67 million last fm plays total,  45,000 listeners last week, #40 on the Last FM Top 500 Artist Chart.  Sold out show at the Hollywood Bowl.  Perhaps the only qualifier is that the show only sold out 24 hours prior to show time, and that Vampire Weekend, unlike say, Depeche Mode, did not have a multiple night stand at a similarly sized venue.

 Billed as "America's Largest Natural Ampitheatre," the Hollywood Bowl has a seating capacity of 18,000 and ample grounds surrounding the theater, with a food court of dining and merchandise purchasing options.  Those in attendance looked like they had been sent from central casting to represent the diversity of America's well-to-do upper middle class in Southern California.

       One might reasonably expect that the audience for Vampire Weekend to be somewhat less diverse then it actually was.  Included in the Audience were many young children who appeared to genuinely enjoy the show and knew the music.  A 6 or 7 year old girl in front of me videotaped THE ENTIRE show on a tablet type device.  A group of high school girls seated three rows up relentlessly practiced the art of self portraiture or "selfies" as the Oxford English Dictionary calls them, using the flash function on their smart phones at least 20 times during the set of opening act Beirut.  Across the aisle, a group of college age women had among their number a young woman wearing a sedate Hijab, or Islamic headscarf.

  Behind me, an ethnically diverse couple of young professionals sang and dance in the aisles. As I strolled between sections of the amphitheater during the headlining set, I saw young and old, couples and groups of singles, representatives of all the major ethnicities of Southern California, and all of them- ALL OF THEM- looked extremely excited to be seeing Vampire Weekend live.

 The performance itself can be summarized in a brief epigram, "Vampire Weekend delivers."   To be properly considered an epigram, of course, that statement can't simply refer to the live performance.  Rather, Vampire Weekend delivers across the board with a remarkably sensitive consistency that marks them as one of the leading rock bands of the here and now.  Simply to put them in a class with other top 50 rock band on the Last FM Top Artist Chart: Artic Monkeys (1), Coldplay (4), Radiohead (6), Kings of Leon, Muse, Imagine Dragons, The Killers, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons- this is a chart that looks at total numbers of listeners on Last FM on a weekly basis.

 I suppose you could make a plausible argument for Radiohead, Arcade Fire and perhaps the Black Keys, but for my money Vampire Weekend is the coolest out of the class of Top 50 worldwide rock bands.   They do their thing with a minimum of controversy and ego, eschewing misguided attempts to change the economics of music (Radiohead), insanely pretentious and bizarre lyrical themes (Muse), and being Coldplay (Coldplay) in favor of just doing their fucking job ok?

  At the Red Bull funded after part at the hotel bar at the Chateaus Marmont (this is as supposed to the Bar Marmont, which I believe is a stand alone venue next door to the Hotel.)  I came face to face with Vampire Weekend front man/songwriter Ezra Koenig and was impressed at his coolness.  He has the looks of a matinee idol, the skin of a fashion model.  He stood quietly in the midst of well wishers, politely nodding and responding to the conversation. He very easily could have been a label executive or a&r rep, a lawyer, a doctor. Koenig does not channel the frenzy of Bacchus for his art, rather his is the classicism of a Roman orator, weaving rhetoric together in an attempt (succeful) to charm the masses.

  In another day and time, Koenig would have been a priest or perhaps a magician.  Today he is a rock star.  If you are someone who seeks to deny Koenig and Vampire Weekend their due, you are someone will never succeed in the music industry, because if you don't get Vampire Weekend, you don't get the music business.   Keep your eyes closed if you must, but please no tears, this is Vampire Weekends world and we all just live in it.

Solaris (1972) d. Andrei Tarkovsky

The sentient ocean of Solaris.

Movie Review
Solaris (1972)
d. Andrei Tarkovsky
Criterion Collection #164

  Solaris (1972) was close to being next on the list by spine number, and then this week I read the Zola Jesus Top 10 feature at the Criterion Collection website, and she put Solaris at #2 and said:

Solaris is not just a movie to me. It feels like an entire language. The more I watch it, the more I learn about the genius of Tarkovsky’s vision. I still have yet to read the original story by Stanislaw Lem, but it’s next on my list to understanding the puzzle that is this wonderful film. (CRITERION COLLECTION TOP 10 FEATURE)

 That timely recommendation, plus the fact that the other Tarkovsky movie I watched (Andrei Rublev Criterion Collection #34) was KICK ASS, was enough to get me to watch.

  I knew going in that Solaris was slow, and that is "sci fi" and that there was a shitty American remake starring George Clooney, and that it was long.  It is a long, slow sci fi film, which, as the Criterion Collection site itself points out makes it "vastly different from what most Americans consider to be sci fi."  By which they presumably mean Star Wars and their ilk, but the obvious Western reference point is Stanley Kubrick's 2001- which was released in 1968.  As I recall 2001 is slow and boring in similar fashion.

  Solaris is also timely because of another upcoming film, Gravity:

  Gravity seems to be a more straight forward action picture, but shares some of the same ambiance.  And of course there is the NASA documentary For All Mankind- about the trips NASA took to the moon.  It's all kind of a metaphor about alienation from one's surroundings.  

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