Surf, Sand, Silver Screen

These wintry economic times can put a chill on fun in the city (even during the summer), but the Rooftop Films folks are helping to alleviate that a bit with free Monday night screenings at Coney Island. They put a huge inflatable screen right on the beach (tethers keep it from swaying) by the main boardwalk drag and movies start at 8PM. So bring your blanket, find a good spot and enjoy a free movie. Tonight is Iron Man 2, and coming up they’ve got Moonstruck (a personal favorite of mine), Annie Hall, the Justin Bieber movie and How She Move.

If you come early, you can listen to me spin tunes. I start at 6:30. Come out and say hi.

MP3: Sloan – In the Movies (BUY IT)

Complete list of movies and dates are here:

Iron Man 2 — Monday, August 1 @ 8pm
Annie Hall — Monday, August 8 @ 8pm
Moonstruck — Monday, August 15 @ 8pm
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never — Monday, August 22 @ 8pm
How She Move — Monday, August 29 @ 8pm (I don’t think I’m DJing this one)

What Up with Gruff Rhys? A Lot.

 
Sepposterimage
Gruff Rhys stays busy. When he's not recording with Super Furry Animals or writing concept albums about the Delorean or making great solo albums… he still does other stuff! Currently, two more things. Both of which are a) connected, and b) pretty weird.

The first actually sounds amazing. Rhys stars and co-directs (with Dylan Goch) the quasi documentary Separado! which follows Rhys across continents in seach of a lost uncle. The official synopsis:

Star Trek meets Buena Vista Social Club in this psychedelic western musical as Welsh pop legend Gruff Rhys takes us on a pan continental road trip in search of his long lost Patagonian uncle, the poncho wearing guitarist RENE GRIFFITHS. 

In 1880, following a controversial horse race that led to an unresolved death, Gruff Rhys’ family split as Dafydd Jones took his young family to join the burgeoning Welsh community in Patagonia, South America. There was to be no contact between the families for almost a century when in 1974 Rene Griffiths arrived in Wales with his Latin infused Welsh love songs and became an over night sensation.

It played the L.A. Film Festival last week, and Variety said:

"Nominally concerned with tracking down the singer's mysterious uncle in South America, this sui generis film is equally devoted to travelogue, exiperimental music, Welsh history and the properties of a magical Power Rangers helmet…with frequent pit stops of concerts (including one for a crown consisting entirely of wild horses), interviews with local characters and cheeky freak-out interludes. Yet even when the nostop digressions begin to test one's patience, the film is always easy on the eyes and ears, and a dramatization of 19th-century Welsh emigration via Bollywood-style interpretive dance is worth the price of admission."

Here's the trailer:

And the opening titles

      

I don't think Separado! has a North American distributor at this time, but maybe it'll play at CMJ or the NYC Film fest? It's currently touring the UK, with Gruff performing as well. Some of the dates also feature an odd, cosmic-looking dude in a headband you may have spotted in the trailer. 

 
Tonygruffflash_web-(1)
That would be Tony da Gatorra, "a Brazilian TV and VCR repairman, musical freedom fighter and the inventor of his own unique ‘Gatorra’ instrument." While in Brazil filming Separado!, Rhys made an album with the guy which is called The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness which is credited to Tony da Gatorra Vs. Gryf Rhys and it's out today. Rhys explains further:

We spent 5 days rehearsing a set of songs to play live at the venue – our only shared language was music itself so there was no small talk, just intense
concentration on the music. On the final day, as the rehearsals had been so productive, we hooked up some recording equipment and took about 5 hours out to make this record.
We recorded several live takes of each song then chose the best versions. I added a harmony vocal overdub on two songs, otherwise it’s pretty much what we recorded at
the time. 

Upon returning to Cardiff I took the songs to producer Kris Jenkins’s studio whose excitement for the album and general encouragement was infectious – then we called in noise legend Sir Doufus Styles to oversee the final mix.
Armed with 5 flasks of strong coffee, 75 sticks of gum and a bank of vintage compressors we mixed The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness at extremely loud volume in one epic 12 hour session.

The result kind of sounds like a South American version of The Fall. Clanky old-school drum machines, fuzzed-out guitar, repetition, a lot of shout-talking by an old dude, the occasional melody. Gruff exerts his influence on this one:

MP3: Tony da Gatorra Vs Gruff Rhys – In a House with No Mirrors (buy it)

UK Separado! screening dates are after the jump.

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Going Going Gondry

Ouioui

I became aware of Michel Gondry around 1994 when I became obsessed with the video for "Lucas with the Lid Off." It's single-take, in-camera effects blew my mind and I then found out Gondry was the director of Bjork's "Human Behavior." Then I became obsessed with Gondry's work in general. I actually saw Human Nature in the theater! (Not that good.) It wasn't until getting his volume of the Director's Label DVD series back in 2003 that I knew he played drums in Oui Oui, a band he started with Etienne Charry that existed from 1983 – 1992. I'm not sure that Gondry had a whole lot to do with the band's sound (cute, catchy Franco-pop) but it was the music videos he made for the group that made them stand out — and gave him a career after Oui Oui broke up.

The group released two albums, both of which fell out of print soon after their release and have remained that way. A bit surprising, given Gondry's success. Neither are Lost Masterpieces but if you have a fondness for jazzy chords, whistling, cheery melodies and the French language, they're worth seeking out. Here are a few MP3s:

Ouioui-chacun_tout_le_monde Chacun Tout le Monde (1989)

 MP3: Les Cailloux

 MP3: Ma Maison (different version than is used in the video)

Ouioui_formidable Formidable (1991)

MP3: La Ville

MP3: Formidable

More_Videos_DVD-2 Lots of other Michel Gondry news. His second DVD collection of music videos, short films, etc is now available through his website. In addition to videos made after the first collection (like Steriogram's "Walkie Talkie Man") it includes some of Gondry's work that was left off the first time, like The Black Crowes' "High Head Blues," Radiohead's "Knives Out" and Donald Fagen's "Snowbound." It's also got some of Gondry's viral videos, like the one where he solves a Rubiks Cube with his feet. Also available through his website: If you email Gondry a picture of yourself, he'll personally draw a sketch of you based on it. For $19.95 which seems pretty reasonable to me. He's also got toilet paper, comics, callendars and other quirky, creative stuff. 

On the feature front, Gondry is one of three directors behind Tokyo! The Movie, described as "an omnibus triptych examining the nature of one unforgettable city as it's shaped by the disparate people who live, work (and even run amok!) inside one enormous, constantly evolving, densely populated Japanese megalopolis – the ravishing and inimitable Tokyo." It's currently in limited release in the U.S., including the Sunshine Theatre here in NYC. His next major film is directing Seth Rogen in comic book flick The Green Hornet.

Some Oui Oui and other Gondry-related videos after the jump.

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No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to… sing!

Qos-wallpaper-2-sm

By now you’ve probably heard that Jack White and Alicia Keys are doing the theme song for the new Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Disappointingly, the song is called “Another Way to Die” — presumably because it would be really hard to work the film’s title into the chorus. (How about “your love is lawless / the Quantum of Solace”? That totally works.) Which is probably also why the theme to Octopussy was titled “All Time High.” (Again, they could’ve sung “James is no wussy / he loves Octopussy”) Also, since the movie title this time doesn’t feature a generic combination of “live,” “die” or “kill” they sort of had to put it in the theme song. And I bet Sony execs with “Another Way to Die” was the name of the movie. But not me, I’ve grown to like Quantum of Solace. It’s better than GoldenEye.

I think having Jack White behind the controls of this first-ever Bond duet is a potentially great thing. The closest we’ve had to a good Bond theme in the last 20 years is Garbage’s “The World is Not Enough,” though it cribs so liberally from John Barry’s ouvre it sounds more like a cover to me. David Arnold has scored the last four films and he gets the Barry-but-updated vibe mostly right (though sometimes it drifts a little to far to hair salon music for my taste) but he’s not much of a songwriter. Hopefully Jack White has written a song worthy of 007 and produced it in a way that will still sound like a classic 40 years from now, the way my favorite Bond theme, “You Only Live Twice,” does. Nancy Sinatra sang the original (sampled by Robbie Williams on his 1999 hit “Millenium”), but here’s a cover by onetime Chameleons frontman Mark Burgess:

MP3: Mark Burgess – You Only Live Twice

I think that was from some aborted Imaginary Records tribute album. (The label put out a zillion of them in the late ’80s/early ’90s). Bjork also covered “You Only Live Twice” for 1997’s Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project, which was a bunch of covers all produced by the man who would end up landing the job as 007’s music man a year later. It ended up being pulled from the album at the request of Bjork herself, and she later explained why: “I learned the hard way that you should never cover your favorite tunes because they are good already. Cover bad tunes and make them good.” I agree with her argument but it’s a pretty gorgeous rendition:

MP3: Bjork – You Only Live Twice

It’s removal was probably for the best, as most of Shaken and Stirred hasn’t particularly aged well, reeking of mid-’90s UK electronica (Leftfield, Big Beat stars Propellerheads who you may remember scored a hit with Bond’s golden girl, Shirley Bassey), though he did cast well with some appropriately melodramatic singers: ABC’s Martin Fry, then-hot-stuff David McAlmont, and Pulp who covered Octopussy’s “All Time High” as only they could do:

MP3: Pulp – All Time High

And one original for you, the unused original Thunderball theme song, and a great one, “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” as sung by Dione Warwick.

MP3: Dione Warwick – Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Way better than Tom Jones’ hamfisted “Thunderball” they ended up using. “He strikes like Thunderball”? Really?

Watchmen Trailer Has Arrived

Watchmen
I am still skeptical they can turn Alan Moore’s masterful graphic novel, Watchmen, into a 2 1/2 hour movie (a three-part TV miniseries would’ve been ideal, but surely too expensive) but damn if the trailer for Zak Snyder’s attempt doesn’t look amazing. Everyone apart from Ozymandias looks just about perfect and the tone looks appropriately… apocalyptic. I don’t even mind the Smashing Pumpkins song used in it…though maybe there’s a few too many slo-mo action shots (which Snyder’s 300 overdid).

It’s showing before The Dark Knight, but you can watch it now and analyze every frame over and over  in pristine Quicktime. (Which allows us to freeze frame the Speilberg/ET-reissue in-joke: MPPA regulations state you can’t point a gun at the camera in a movie trailer, so Snyder turned it into a walkie talkie.) Watchmen is also the cover story in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, which you can read online as well.

I am not much into comics and graphic novels, and I understand those who have trepidations about dipping into what seems like a super geeky world, but Watchmen… I can’t recommend Moore’s 1986 original highly enough. (Get it now.) The Cold War themes that were so timely then make the specifics a bit dated, but it still holds up.

Watchmen hits screens March 6, 2009. One can only hope the midnight screenings will actually be held at 11:55.

MP3: Pop Will Eat Itself – Can You Dig It?

I first heard of Alan Moore in this Pop Will Eat Itself song, which let me know that “Alan Moore knows the score” and namechecks Watchmen too. It’s a bit dated too, but I will admit that at the time their 1989 album, This is the Day…This is the Hour…This is This was a constant on my stereo. Frontman Clint Mansell now scores movies, and his theme to Requiem for a Dream is used in more trailers for other films than I can count.

If I was a psychiatrist, which I am, I would say that I was turning into some sort of paranoid personality, which I am!

PresidentsanalystJust a quick note for those NYC folks that tomorrow one of my favorite movies, Theodore J. Flicker's 1967 comedy The President's Analyst, will start a one-week run at the Film Forum.

If you've never seen it, the basic premise is that James Coburn — at his turtleneck wearing coolest — is drafted by the US government to become the, um, President's analyst. Such an opportunity is impossible to turn down, but Coburn quickly becomes a target from virtually every other country in the world who wants to find out what's going on in the head of the world's most powerful man.

Flicker, a TV writer who went on to create '70s sitcom Barney Miller, could've played this as a straight-up paranoid thriller, but instead goes the wild comic ride route, sending up suburbanites, hippies, hipsters, the Cold War and the all-powerful phone company along the way. It would make a good double feature with Dr. Strangelove.

In addition to the witty script, Flicker has a nice eye too and uses the widescreen format to full effect. It's also got a score by Lalo Schifrin, who also wrote the song "Look Up" for the film. As far as I can tell, there was never a soundtrack released for it, but "Look Up" did later make it onto a Christmas Music compilation — "joy to the world" is sung over and over, though I'm pretty sure Schifrin never intended it as a yuletide number.

Jetset2
I actually prefer the version of "Look Up" that made it onto the 1999 album Songs for the Jetset Vol. 2 which was mostly a bunch of reverent covers of obscure 1960s soundtrack songs, from movies like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and President's Analyst.

MP3: Kim & Co. – Look Up

The whole album (not really a compilation despite different artists being credited to different songs) is great and is fairly easy to find — either on Amazon or digitally at Emusic.

Room Service

HotelchevalierWes Anderson‘s The Darjeeling Limited premieres at the New York Film Festival tonight and will be in two NYC theaters tomorrow. Having not really liked The Royal Tenenbaums and full-on disliking The Life Aquatic, I am wary… but hopeful this will be back on track. Reviews are decidedly mixed. That AmEx commercial was amazing, right?

For those who don’t live in Manhattan and have to wait to find out, you can get a taste via Hotel Chevalier, Anderson’s short film "prologue" to The Darjeeling Limited. They aren’t going to show it with the film for some reason, though it’ll be on the DVD. You can download it for free from iTunes, however, and I really encourage you to do so. At 12 minutes, it’s funny, sad, charming and just about perfect, with more genuine emotion than anything in Aquatic.

It also features "Where Do You Go to My Lovely," Peter Sarstedt‘s lovely, Francophilic single from 1969 that spent six weeks at #1 on the UK pop charts. I’d never heard the original before watching Hotel Chevalier, but I knew the song via a cover version done for a 1992 compilation called Ruby Trax that celebrated NME’s 40th anniversary. Performed by Welfare Heroine (a one-off group made up of NME staffers at the time, I think… anyone) the cover takes a Saint Etienne meets The Wolfgang Press approach to the song, making it danceable but maintaining the original’s classy, Frenchy vibe.

MP3: Welfare Heroine – Where Do You Go to My Lovely?

Product Shop NYC has an MP3 of the original tune. And David Amsden’s feature on Anderson in this week’s New York is well worth reading (Guess what? He’s just like his movies!).

…and the Really Long Title

Crystaljones
So the only thing interesting to come out of last night’s horrendous VMA’s was Shia LeBeouf letting everyone know the title of the new Indiana Jones movie: … And the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If nothing else, this should increase the number of hits on one of Seattle’s more underrated bands. Quick guys, write a song called "Indiana Jones" or "I’ve got a Jones for Indiana" or some variation on that theme… maybe Spielberg will use it!

MP3: Crystal Skulls – Hussy (from 2005’s Blocked Numbers)

MP3: Crystal Skulls – Baby Boy
(from 2006’s Outgoing Behavior)

Dead Souls

Controlstill_curtis Anton Corbijn was the obvious choice to make a movie about Ian Curtis. The Holland-born photographer moved to Manchester after hearing Joy Division‘s Unknown Pleasures, and his photo of the band, taken from behind in a Tube station, is the iconic image of the group. (He also directed the posthumous, pretentious, and silly video for "Atmosphere").

Was he the right choice? Debatable, but probably. In the press notes for Control, he repeatedly complains about being stigmatized as a "rock photographer" and that he had no desire to make a music-related film as his first feature. He agreed to make it once he realized Control would be made with him or without him and he preferred not to have someone else mess it up. While you can’t tell Ian Curtis’ story without telling some of Joy Division’s story, Control is definitely not about the inner-workings of one of post-punk’s most influential bands. For that, or at least more than you get here, rent Michael Winterbottom’s superb 24 Hour Party People.

Corbijn does a good job of fleshing out the enigma (played by newcomer Sam Riley), whom most of us only know through his bleak lyrics, impassioned vocals, photos and performances caught on video. As much as he can. It seems apparent that nobody really knew the introverted singer, not his bandmates, not Tony Wilson, not Corbijn, not even his widow Deborah, on whose book, Touching from a Distance, the movie is based. Curtis is not portrayed as a brooding sourpuss stereotype. This is someone who laughed, had fun, worked at the Job Centre by day and was in a band at night. A guy who enjoyed being in a band… at least until his epilepsy got worse and was forced to take a variety of medications to control his seizures, drugs that significantly altered his mood.

Problem is, Corbijn doesn’t do much speculating as to why Curtis did it, so what we’re left with is a bit dramatically thin. Unlike the "Atmosphere" video, he thankfully doesn’t put Curtis on a pedestal. The man was also no saint, neglecting his wife and infant daughter, sneaking out of the house to go on tour,
leaving for weeks without calling or letting her know where he was. He also carried on
an affair with a Belgian fanzine writer, Annik Honoré, for the last two
years of his life.

Riley, in the crucial role, does a fine job as Curtis. He also can sing like him. Actually, one of the most effective parts of the film is that the people hired to play Curtis, Steven Morris, Bernard Sumner, and Peter hook, are actually playing in the perfomance scenes. And they’re great, they’ve got it down. Except… the one area where Riley disappoints is his dancing. If you’ve ever seen footage of Curtis onstage, it’s like he’s in a trance, an out of body experience. To name another Mancunian, Riley’s dancing is more like Bez.

Samantha Morton, the only marquee name here, brings some emotional heft as Deborah Curtis — the scene where she discovers Curtis’ body is absolutely heartbreaking. But it’s a supporting role in this scattershot film that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. As you’d expect from Corbijn, Control is gorgeous to look at, with his signature super-high-contrast black and white photography that changes to blue tint and then sepia as the film progresses. He gets the period details right (including an appearance by the real John Cooper-Clarke, performing his f-ing classic "Evidently Chickentown")) and he doesn’t overload it with music, though the song accompanying the final shot is a bit obvious.

The real question is, who is the audience for Control? Joy Division fans will surely want more of the band, Martin Hannet, Rob Gretton, and Tony Wilson; and everyone else is likely to wonder what all the fuss is about. Control is not a bad film, just a disjointed one. And probably unnecessary. The music is testament enough.

MP3: Joy Division – Dead Souls
(Buy it)

Control is released October 10 in the U.S.

Dropping Like Flies

Jeez, first Bergman and now Antonioni? Sad week for cineastes. I still have no idea what Zabriskie Point is about (then again, neither did he), but for my money, Michael Bay doesn’t hold a roman candle to Antonioni when it comes to blowing up stuff.

Are there any major directors who got their start in the ’40s who are still with us?