Tuesday, November 29, 2011
A Engaging, Multilayered Murder Mystery from John Sayles
John Sayles has worked as a screenwriter and script doctor in mainstream Hollywood, but when he creates his own films, he works independently, retaining total control over the writing, directing, and editing. Of the films of his I've seen, I've most enjoyed Matewan (1987), Passion Fish (1992) and Limbo (1999), but they've all been worth a look, because Sayles is that rare commodity: a major independent filmmaker who makes cinema by observing real life, not recycling other movies.
His City of Hope (1991) interwove several plot lines to create a portrait of corruption in big-city politics. Lone Star takes a similar approach, but the result is a more human and accessible film, one that holds our interest better with both a mystery and a love story.
In a modern-day Texas border town, the remains of a former sheriff are found in the desert. The current sheriff, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), sets out to investigate this 40-year-old murder, interviewing people from all over town, who in turn flash back to the past and introduce us to a previous generation of characters. The murder mystery serves as the MacGuffin, to use Hitchcock's word - the gimmick that propels the plot, like "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane.
Sayles himself has compared this film to a Raymond Chandler novel, in that the journey of the detective is what's interesting, not who did the crime. As the murder may have involved Sam Deeds's father, Sam's investigation becomes a personal quest. He moves among a myriad of characters--white, black, and Hispanic, past and present--sorting out a complex story and uncovering the realities behind the local myths, even when the truth becomes personally painful.
With just a few quick strokes of his ever-quotable dialogue, Sayles establishes one believable character after another. For the flashbacks, he goes against sepia-toned convention and uses a nifty transition device that emphasizes the immediacy and relevance of the past. As the people and their stories accumulate and dovetail, a mosaic of the small multicultural town emerges. That Sayles can interweave so many characters and story lines and still end up with a movie that hangs together demonstrates some tour-de-force filmmaking.
There's also some thematic unity holding the strands together. In interviews, Sayles has referred to the importance of "borders" in this film. The sheriff's quest takes him across every conceivable border, from the literal Texas/Mexico line to the town's unmarked borders of race and social class, to the symbolic boundaries between the sexes, between parents and children, between past and present, between myth and reality. The journey makes for a rich and fascinating film that rewards a second viewing. Also starring Matthew McConaughey, Elizabeth Peña and Kris Kristofferson.
Free Streaming/Movie Download - Video Link: VeeHD
Monday, November 14, 2011
Undoubtedly Tom Cruise's and Cuba Gooding Jr's Best Film Ever!
Continuing my coverage of great movies from 1996, here is my take on the universally loved crowdpleaser - Jerry Maguire by the eclectic Cameron Crowe.
Cameron Crowe, who began his career as a writer for Rolling Stone, made a brilliant screen writing first appearance with the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), one of the best of its ilk. Later he wrote and directed Say Anything (1989), a delightful romantic comedy about high school graduates, which I enjoyed enough to add to my permanent film collection. Singles (1992), about twenty-somethings in Seattle, was less impressive but still worth a viewing. With the Oscar nominated Jerry Maguire, which he wrote, directed and co-produced Crowe advanced to a thirty-something hero and created his most charming film to date. (I am also rooting to see his forthcoming "We Bought a Zoo" starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church). I haven't seen all the major movies from 1996 yet, but I'm guessing this was perhaps that year's best romantic comedy and a $270 million commercial hit worldwide.
As everyone knows, Tom Cruise plays the title character, a fast-talking sports agent whose life breaks down. He builds a new one for himself, on a fresh set of values, with the aid of Dorothy, an adoring single mother, and Rod, a flashy football player and loyal client. Now, if I were a skeptic, I'd point out that for a story about a slick agent trying to reinvent himself through candor and empathy, Jerry Maguire is an terribly slick film. I mean, any time I see a child actor as drop-dead adorable as little Jonathan Lipnicki, I know I'm being suckered. But in the face of so many amusing lines, funny sight gags, endearing performances, and expertly manufactured heart-tugging moments, how can I resist a movie like this? This is one of those times when I just drop my shields and let Hollywood make the magic. Besides, who can ignore the fantastic soundtrack featuring Tom Petty, Nirvana, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and more.
The often used pitch "show me the money" isn't the only quotable dialogue from Crowe's superb script, and he has assembled a cast that does full justice to his screenplay. This is the most I've liked Cruise since Risky Business, and he gets great support from everyone, especially the Oscar deserving Cuba Gooding, Jr., as his client Rod, and Bonnie Hunt as Dorothy's wisecracking but helpful sister. Cruise, with his fame, glamour, and overblown sticker price, may have garnered the glory, but for me this film's secret weapon was relative newcomer at that time Renee Zellweger. Her performance as Dorothy, the romantic underdog who wins Jerry's affections, is so beautiful it hurts.
Speaking of things that hurt - there's a short-lived Tom Cruise butt shot in the movie. I thought I'd mention that, as I've learned it's important to a lot of you. I sat next to some women at a watering hole the other night, and all they talked about were male butt shots. Obviously, these are vital cinematic essentials.
Free Streaming/Movie Download - BluRay Video Link: VeeHD
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Dissecting 3 Fav Rock Songs from 1993
Of late, I have been digging into my gargantuan collection of music and movies from the early 80s and 90s. Converting and archiving them onto my new pool of external hard disks and my cherished favorites onto DVDs and CDs (an extra precaution!)
I wish I could compile all my audio/video assortments into some sort of an exclusive WebSnacker anthology – an omnibus of say “Rock hits of 1990”, “The Best of John Carpenter”, “The Best of Pearl Jam”, “Teen Comedies of the 80s” etcetera. Well, but I never have the time..
Anyway, I was listening to this old dusty audio tape (on whose plastic case, I seem to have scribbled “the Rocketeer set - just don’t remember, what it originally meant?) and 3 first-rate rock songs stood out. I stopped, rewound the tape and gave myself an earful. Nostalgic aural bliss!!!
Has anything like this ever happened to you? I mean, songs that make them stand out in the middle of a TV commercial, or grabs your attention on the car radio while you're driving back home, or makes you listen to your MP3 player that much harder until you drain its battery.
So, what makes a good song? I suppose there's no definite answer because music affects everybody differently. It's about emotional depth, and the songs that sum up your life the instant you hear them. So the songs that make up the soundtrack of one person's soul might mean absolutely nothing to somebody else – your treasure, their trash! But the principles involved are the same from person to person, so I'd like to talk a bit about these three rock songs that have been near the core of my “rewind” music experience the last week or so.
1. "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by the Crash Test Dummies (1993)
This No.1 Modern Rock hit single from the Canadian folk rock band has an unrepresentatively simple tune that is well put together and still seems wholly absolute. But when you actually listen to the silly lyrics, it becomes a song about the things that just don't fit. It's not just that the verses don't rhyme but they aren't really connected to each other in any reasonable way.
Each verse presents a particularly sharp, distinct image of an oddball. From the boy who got in the accident, to the girl with birthmarks all over her body, to the boy who goes to church, you get peculiar minute details that make each character stand out in the mind. And I always find myself asking what it is about these details - what do they say about their characters? Why does the boy's hair change from black to white? Why does the girl's rebuttal to change in the changing room seem so touching? The song only lets the listener in on certain niceties of the characters, but they are the kind of hazy details that leave more questions unanswered, even as the images loiter in your subconscious. YouTube Video Link
2. "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows (1993)
This is a great hit track from the American alternative pop rock band whose songwriter and lead vocalist Adam Duritz obviously had an eye for impressive details.
Though many critics feel it’s a take on Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man", I interpret it differently. From the opening line, "I was down at the New Amsterdam / staring at this yellow-haired girl," you feel as if you can see the 'narrator' of the song, hanging around in nightclubs, bars and clubs with his companion Mr. Jones. They "stare at the beautiful women" and wish that they had the nerve to approach them. And all the while, the character who is telling us all this, who seems unable to bond with one woman, wishes that he could surpass himself and become so famous that "when I look at the television, I...see me staring right back at me." When he's an image that everybody knows and loves, he dreams, he'll never be lonely again. In the meantime, he keeps looking at women and wondering if one will ever come along that will be right for him.
I guess that if I went into much detail about my personal resonances with this song, this blog post would spawn into maudlin self-pity, but the grand thing about this track is that, in my view, you never get sickened with how apologetic the character feels for himself. He always remains fascinating, probably because we can all identify how each of us, at one time or another, has watched TV or movies, or listened to the radio, and thought to ourselves, "God, I wish I was there."
After all, we live in a world where what's "real," what is often measured to be most significant, is what the media makes omnipresent. For example, never mind whether or not we actually have any real emotional union to the famous celebrity of our choice; we constantly see them, so they are forever on our mind, even when we don’t want to think about them. And sometimes, when making a real emotional connection with a different person just doesn't seem to work, it's easy to think about being connected to everything and everybody and imagine that it actually might mean something, even if it would really diminish you to nobody. YouTube Video Link
3. "Disarm" by Smashing Pumpkins (1993)
Perhaps Smashing Pumpkins’ most popular song, "Disarm," from their hit second album ‘Siamese Dream’ has a unique auditory experience, which involuntarily suggests a sense of poignant rush, of some primitive sentiment which Billy Corgan, the lead vocalist is letting loose - from the low strings to the timpani drum to the sly church bells, the track sounds insistent and forceful.
Merge that with the beautiful lyrics, which seem to portray a tormented young soul on the edge of life and you understand where "Disarm" is aiming for, and something in you suddenly just clicks. The chorus line, "the killer in me is the killer in you," seems suggestive of Jim Thompson's novel “The Killer Inside Me”, but even more than that, it suggests the vein of fatalism verging on nihilism that runs throughout most of Thompson's work, and so much of our in style “dog eat dog” culture.
The character "used to be a little boy," and then things went horribly wrong and now "what's a boy supposed to do?" It's a lingering image that runs through, among other places, even old Elvis songs like "In the Ghetto" and "Kentucky Rain,” Catcher in the Rye, Rebel Without A Cause, hardboiled detectives, Pink Floyd's The Wall, even in the Hong Kong action worlds of John Woo and Yun-Fat Chow
Lets be honest, the void calls to each of us, and yet we all are concurrently attracted to and repulsed by it, and when we are unable to admit this to ourselves, we selfishly revel in watching other folks, especially the fictional, dealing with this crisis. And if, in identifying with these texts, we momentarily blow our staid lives out of proportion. Well isn't that what great music is all about - taking the everyday and making it awe-inspiring, even if its just for a few precious minutes! YouTube Video Link
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
15 Superb Halloween Inspired Tracks (or Something like that)!!
With Halloween practically over by now, I know this post is at least a full one week late but that should not stop mortal souls like you from downloading this grand, splendid, impressive (well, I cant think of more superlatives) selection of superb Halloween inspired tracks featuring assorted genres.
Included in this truly ‘one of its kind’ (one more superlative) compilation are cool cover renditions of Halloween classics by Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden, Eurythmics, Ray Parker Jr, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the inimitable Michael Jackson. Watch out for BeatFreakz remix of Rockwell’s super hit “Somebody's Watching Me”, Matt Pond PA’s tuneful “Halloween” and Massive Attack’s eerie “Inertia Creeps”.
Time to relive the Halloween magic!!
15 tracks in playlist, average track length: 4:41
Playlist length: 1 hour 10 minutes 22 seconds
1. Apollo 440 - Don't Fear The Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult Cover) (5:28)
2. Aqua - Halloween (3:51)
3. Crystal Therapy - Welcome to My Nightmare (Alice Cooper Cover) (3:03)
4. Diesel - I Put A Spell On You (Screamin' Jay Hawkins Cover) (4:09)
5. Hoobastank - Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jr Cover) (3:02)
6. Ian Brown (The Stone Roses) - Thriller (Michael Jackson Cover) (3:28)
7. Marilyn Manson - Sweet Dreams (Eurythmics Cover) (4:53)
8. Massive Attack - Inertia Creeps (5:54)
9. Matt Pond PA - Halloween (5:02)
10. Michael Jackson - Is It Scary (5:35)
11. Rockwell Featuring Michael Jackson + BeatFreakz - Somebody's Watching Me (3:22)
12. Shadowland - Scared of the Dark (6:07)
13. Trans-Sylvanian Orchestra - Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield Exorcist Theme Mix) (5:15)
14. Washington - Halloween (3:50)
15. Yahel - Fear Of The Dark (Iron Maiden Cover - DNA Remix) (7:23)
Free Mp3 Download - 94.06 MB Single Zipped Folder – Megaupload Link