Monday, August 27, 2012

Blu-Ray Review - Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia [Criterion]

The Who's 1973 double album Quadrophenia represented the pinnacle of the English rock band's outsized ambition, both as musicians and storytellers. Guitarist and creative spearhead Pete Townshend's writing style lent itself naturally and consistently to the visual realm, early on painting small-scale portraits of infidelity ("A Quick One, While He's Away") and sexual affliction ("Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand") before graduating into expansive, cross-media narratives such as Tommy, their beloved 1969 rock-opera-cum-hallucinogenic-musical-extravaganza. Quadrophenia, however, represented something different for the group. In place of playful fantasias involving Pinball Wizards and baked beans were now first-hand tales sketching a rising British youth contingent, one based in both social realism and raw coming-of-age revelations. The material would prove inherently cinematic, and it wasn't long before Townshend's story of a young Mod's growing disillusion with society's strictures, his youth movement's isolationist tendencies, and love's inevitable defeats would be turned into a feature film.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blu-Ray Review - Richard Linklater's Bernie [Millenium Entertainment]

From political and celebrity biopics to documentary dramatizations, modern American cinema's true-to-life narratives have grown increasingly tired over the years. Whether overly liberal interpretations that tend to lose the thread of realization or more reverent chronicles utilizing verisimilitude as artistic safety nets, the results have remained pretty consistently stale. At first blush, Richard Linklater, helmer of Gen-X stoner classics (Slacker, Dazed and Confused), small-scale Éric Rohmer riffs (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset), cutting-edge rotoscope experiments (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly), and adolescent-rebellion comedies (School of Rock, Bad News Bears) alike, wouldn't seem like the filmmaker to shake up such a traditional framework. After all, his most recent attempt at transposing real-life events into dramatic text with the curtain-raising Mercury Theater chronicle Me and Orson Welles, proved competent yet conventional in a manner which fell in line with the growing number of similarly staged nonfiction narratives. Then again, if nothing else his career has certainly betrayed a restless, thematically magnanimous spirit, the kind of approach that curtails most effectively with matters both familiar and, in best-case scenarios, personal. His latest film, the darkly comedic Bernie, horribly marketed and then snuck on to far too few screens this summer after sitting in distribution limbo for over a year, captures this playfully reverent energy in top form.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Record Review: Mission of Burma - Unsound

Mission of Burma are in a curious position in their career. No longer able to parlay the novelty of their reunion into media exposure, they’ve now nearly quadrupled the entire output of their original incarnation in very workman-like, understated fashion. With the shackles of expectations now thoroughly discarded, they’ve inherited that most unenviable of statuses: that of scene veterans. On the one hand it must be liberating—and they have taken the opportunity these last few years to write some of their most playful material to date (see The Sound the Speed the Light's [2009] self-explanatory “1, 2, 3 Partyy!”)—not having to live up to or answer any particular expectations, while by that same token it’s probably frustrating knowing that little you do at this point could stoke any outright excitement. Hearing these guys roar back to life with “The Setup” in 2004, and then seeing them string together fourteen similarly invigorating tracks on The Obliterati (2006), is one of the great unexpected success stories of the aughts indie reemergence. Unsound is Mission of Burma Mk. 2’s fourth album, and it arrives in a very different landscape then when they decided to plug back in eight years ago. What’s nice is that it lives up to the one thing everyone does expect at this point: it sounds like Mission of Burma. And no matter the prevailing trends, that’s always welcome.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Blu-Ray Review: Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre [Criterion]

The cinema of Aki Kaurismäki is so often reduced to either deadpan machination or austere absurdity that it's threatened to leave even the most unfortunate political or societal conditions which inspire these works completely unacknowledged. While he's certainly dabbled in straight farce (his Leningrad Cowboys films are works of high, impressive buffoonery), the Finnish master's best films have traditionally been those which parlay their nascent sociological themes into stark critiques of contemporary Europe without sacrificing the black humor which has painted the surface of his work for nearly three decades. Le Havre, Kaurismäki's wonderful utopian fable from 2011, in many ways epitomizes this synthesis. Darkly comic and outwardly sensitive, but laced with anger and a passionate distrust of cultural strictures, the film embraces humanity over political precedence and ultimately arrives at a place of quiet resolve.