Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spectrum Culture Feature: Rediscover: The Promise Ring - Nothing Feels Good

For all the in-depth regional and demographical statistics, one of the biggest takeaways from Pitchfork’s recent People’s Poll was simply the opportunity it afforded to explore individual writers’ favorite modern albums. It’s not so surprising that critics still hold the first and only Avalanches record dear, or still get considerable mileage out of the Dismemberment Plan catalog. After all, these are the kinds of bands that credibility is built upon: unique, impossibly hip and eternally modern sounding artists with impeccable track records and wide-ranging influence.

Friday, October 19, 2012

DVD Review: Eclipse Series 36 - Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures [Criterion]

For a period of about three years in the mid-1940s, London's Gainsborough Pictures was one of the most audacious, enterprising film studios in the world. They'd been around since the 1920s, but after taking over in 1943, new studio head Maurice Ostrer refused to let his company take a back seat to anyone, igniting a commercial wildfire through the studio's final decade, producing some of the most righteously nasty melodramas in the history of cinema, British or otherwise. Gone were the dashing, romantic heroes and the prim and proper heroines of old, replaced by selfish, sadistic brutes and damaged, vindictive dames. This is the stuff of what we've come to know as afternoon soap operas and telenovelas, only with lavish sets, garish costumes, and up-and-coming stars, packaged and sold with an equally reckless verve.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

New York Film Festival 2012: Pablo Larraín's No

No End in Sight

Over the past few years, director Pablo Larraín has become one of Chile’s most highly regarded artistic ambassadors, producing a series of stylistically diverse films that have taken on Augusto Pinochet’s violent and unscrupulous reign, which lasted in his country from 1974 until 1990. The key to Larraín’s effectiveness thus far has been his ability to strategically, and from different angles, analyze issues surrounding the political stain the dictator left on Chile. Tony Manero, the first in Larraín’s loose Pinochet trilogy, approached the era most symbolically. Set in 1978 in the wake of the pop-culture fervor over Saturday Night Fever, the film dissects the psychology of a disenchanted civilian whose obsessive mimicry of John Travolta’s disco-dancing icon can barely mask a murderous split-personality, his alienation posited as a pointed outgrowth of his noxious surroundings. For his follow-up, the darker and somehow even more bleak Post Mortem, Larraín would aim his critique at the dawn of Pinochet’s rise to power. Patiently observing a pale-faced morgue typist as he stoically investigates the disappearance of a local burlesque dancer, Post Mortem literally concludes in a state of ambiguous transition for its characters and the culture they symbolize, but also, it turns out, for Larraín himself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Blu-Ray Review: Frank Oz's Little Shop of Horrors [Warner Home Video]

"Well, I guess there's just no accounting for people's tastes," says Jonathan Haze as eternal dweeb Seymour Krelboyne in Roger Corman's The Little Shop of Horrors, reacting to a Venus flytrap that develops an insatiable taste for human meat. And yet, Seymour could just as easily have been referring to fans of Corman's work or the cult phenomenon in general, spawning as it has generations of leftfield esoterica and underground oddities. Based on a 1932 short story by John Collier, Corman's 1960 low-budget horror comedy would soon gather just such a loyal following, one presumably more fascinated by the film's notorious shooting schedule (two whole days) and odd casting flourishes (a young actor by the name of Jack Nicholson happens to steal the film as a masochistic dental patient) than the actual quality of the finished product, which is charming in that borderline incompetent manner that cult films tend to thrive on. The Little Shop of Horrors would go on to inspire very popular off-Broadway and West End stage productions throughout the early 1980s, before being adapted for the screen in 1986 by Howard Ashman.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New York Film Festival 2012: Alain Resnais's You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Life and Nothing More

French dramatist and playwright Jean Anouilh once said, “Life is very nice, but it lacks form. It is the aim of art to give it some.” This is, of course, a noble ambition one would hope most artists strive for. And while “form” in and of itself is an ambiguous notion, Anouilh’s concern dovetails nicely with the work of countryman and master filmmaker Alain Resnais, who seems to have been in spiritual accord with a similar creative conceit for the last half-century or so. Resnais remains one of the few artists utilizing his chosen medium as a means of harmonizing various intersecting art forms—theater, musicals, literature—on a single plane of intercommunication where each refracts yet ultimately reinforces the others. His latest film, the spry, fantastical Anouilh adaptation You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, represents further reconciliation on the part of Resnais, again proving his singular ability to harness the illusory nature of life through the sensory experience of the theater.