Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Best Films of 2000-2009

FILM #18: 'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008)

The Oscar winner that very nearly went straight to video...Danny Boyle's look at slum life in India comes vividly alive at every winning turn.

Friday, April 16, 2010

THE 100 BEST FILMS of 2000-2009:

FILM #17: 'Le Temps qui Reste' ('Time to Leave') (2006)

Directed by Francois Ozon, this 81 minute French film explores the darkest moment of human life: knowing the time when one is to die. Romain (Melvil Poupaud)is a photographer who finds out that he has an inoperable tumor. The doctor tell him that even with chemo he has a 5% chance of remission. He decides to literally shut down everything and be as painfully honest to his emotions with the little time he has left.

That means breaking up with his boyfriend, silently accepting his fate and visiting his grandmother one last time. She is the only one he confides in and it is at this point of Poupaud's gritty performance that we see an eerie inner piece. Along the way, he sleeps with a couple and passes his entire fortune to his unborn child.

Straightforward enough but through Romain and the French culture we are witness to shocking intimacy and sadness that most American films just simply cannot unearth.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You (Lightspeed Champion) (2010)

'Here a Track, There a Trap'

It’s an unsuspecting gaffe how the very first line of Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You—‘nothing seems to be happening/except a shift from your world’-- sums up the entire feel of Devonte Hynes’, aka Lightspeed Champion, newest reinvention. The world he mentions on Dead Head Blues is not one inhabited by anyone other than himself apparently but such is the curse of the burgeoning genius. Yes, that’s right, Hynes is a musical genius, as much as Connor Oberst is and Andrew Bird and even bigger titans like Spenser Krug and Prince.

For the un-initiated, Hynes burst unto a solo career two years ago with Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, a self-conscious pop-rock project that hinted at his emerging talent. Trust me; it’d take others years to dust up brilliant tracks like Galaxy of the Lost and Tell Me What it’s Worth first time around much less ever. Before the solo outing though he was a member of dance-punk band Test Icicles and interconnecting this entire period was a plethora of online bootlegs and recordings…seriously, ad nauseum stuff.

What this is symptomatic of though is the restlessness that courses through his brain. Hynes’ approach to pop is jittery at best but when he merges it with rock then he becomes an entirely different musical beast. Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, for all its faults, at least accomplished this. This new album though, like a harsh AA meeting, has found him sobered up to the point of painful straightness. Now, instead of pop-rock experimentation, we’re limited to boring adult fare like the aforementioned Dead Head Blues.

Of course, being genius-based, it’s not a bad album by any stretch but it won’t have critics declaring him the new Beck either. For rock geeks like Hynes that is what counts though: due recognition of his art. But then that’s the problem with Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You; its ultra serious musical landscape designed for you the listener to recognize it as such and nothing else. Which is sad because, at twenty-three, with the rabid producer’s resume he’s compiled so far, Hynes can rest assured that we consider him prolific. Maybe what he lacks now is just the raw data needed (life experiences) to people his songs. Falling Off the Lavender Bridge at least could cull from that but here he’s juxtaposed growth with grasp but left out anything personal to make a crucial connection. Thus, Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You can’t hold a candle to, say, Patrick Wolf’s last gem, The Bachelor.

Speaking of Wolf, both artists still share a slavish admiration of others. It’s great to look up to innovators like David Bowie and Madonna but it’s another thing to actively try to relive their careers. Wolf is still guilty of such duplicity on a visual level whereas Hynes is still entrenched in audio guilt. So, Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You wears its idols on its sleeves and that causes serious overlap and identity crises. Middle of the Dark is a quasi-Queen pop number that shows a glimmer of originality but it’s trapped under so much Freddie Mercury self-consciousness that it ends up being the most frustrating thing here. Romart is genetically lined by the presence of Oberst; in fact if this wasn’t a Lightspeed Champion album, I’d swear it was a new Bright Eyes (Connor Oberst’s band) track.

When Hynes rests his heroes though the music comes across more naturally: Sweetheart builds nicely into a living, breathing thing with vocal urgency and guitars crashing all around. There’s Nothing Underwater fits snugly too into an original space where he manages all the little tweaks effectively. Madame Van Damme oozes wry humor; the type that could have sexed up the album much more effectively than his gender-inappropriate lyrics. Even Faculty of Tears (‘if he’s so evil/ then/ why does he like to kiss’) shows spurts of the obvious brilliance this young man can conjure, lyrically and musically. All four tracks point to the need for Hynes to step out of shadows that he’s been at pains to present on a grand scale for so long; time now to breathe the music instead of merely re-interpreting it. I’ll go even further to state that Hynes will overhaul both Bird and Oberst once he starts to get laid and realize that the guitar is more than just a handy prop. With that crazy, cropped hairdo of his and thick-lens glasses, he’s got the look. Now it’s time for him to go forth and seek the complimentary swagger.
RATING: 6.5/10

Saturday, April 10, 2010

THE 100 BEST FILMS of 2000-2009:

FILM #16: 'Borat' (2006):

A mocumentary of sort, 'Borat' is the vehicle for its star Sacha Baron Cohen to portray his immense comedic talents. Sure enough, 'Borat' is offensive, lewd, stunningly frank yet totally captivating. The type of satire and comedy involved is akin to the reality-based sketches of Monty Python.

Cohen plays Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakhstani TV personality who comes to America with his producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian) to basically explore Western culture. He then discovers Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and goes in hot pursuit of her. Along the way, he tours America and uncovers the real state of things by interaction to some politicians, special-interest groups and rednecks. Of course the trick is that those interviewed were not aware of the true nature of the project and that within itself is a huge coup for this daring yet brilliant film.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

THE 100 BEST FILMS of 2000-2009:

FILM #15: 'The Simpson Movie' (2007)

A long overdue victory lap for America's most consistent and clever animated comedy.

Friday, April 2, 2010

THE 100 BEST FILMS of 2000-2009:

FILM #14: 'Let The Right One In' (2008)

Vampire films seldom foray into 'best of' lists anymore but this Swedish gem doesn't seek to pander to excessive adolescent needs but examines the bare essentials needed to survive such a stage in life. 'Let The Right One In' is about Eli and Oskar, two outcasts in society. She is the vampire and he is the bullied youth. Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, the film takes its cues on the reality of their situations. So the endless bullying that Oskar endures results in him moving from victim to violator, right under his mother's nose without her suspecting a thing. Eli's need of blood to keep alive is masterfully played out in a sequence of scenes that are gritty and portray real terror.

Both come to form an unusual alliance because Eli doesn't view Oskar as food and besides after her 'father' Hakan dies, he becomes her only source of companionship. The sexual connotation of this bond is disturbing enough but it parallels the ease in which it is welcomed in the society. What ensues is pure art and accomplished in inescapable silence. Though the film doesn't adapt some of the more morbid plots of the novel, director Tomas Alfredson manages to keep the tension going full speed ahead.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

THE 100 BEST FILMS of 2000-2009:

FILM #13: 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' (2000)

For many of us, this was the first real karate film that we saw two women fight. I mean, real all-out war and not just over a man but over a principle. Director Ang Lee doesn't earn kudos there alone but for the exquisite tale of denied love, revenge and foolish youth. No one will ever forget that bamboo trees fight scene or the eloquence of the swords in action or the ease with which the storyline emerges and deftly restructures everything. A true masterpiece, 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', will be what comes to define Lee's work for generations to come.