Friday, June 24, 2011


Don't tell me what the poets are doing - The Tragically Hip

I'm in a mood. With just hours to go before the weekend I find out I have to work tomorrow. Now I gotta race home from work tomorrow and take off for the Elvis Costello concert at Buffalo Rocks The Harbor where I'm serving beer at a booth for Meals On Wheels. I don't know how these things happen. When my brother asked me to do volunteer work at the Costello show for Meals on Wheels, all I could picture was delivering drugs on a scooter to stoned out hippies at the show.

I'm live baby. Let me entertain you with the next 10 random songs on my iPod. Jesus, I wish I had a (martini).Drive-By Truckers, Moved, I hear "I moved on down to Georgia / Where people so nice they got a wild stallion stare" - I don't think that's the actual lyric and I'll be disappointed to find out it isn't. This double album from the Truckers, Southern Rock Opera, shows up a lot on my iPod. I downloaded it in its entirety. Southern fried blues wailing about disassociation in modern culture. Heady or what?

Swans, The Sound, Give this song to a guy standing on a bridge contemplating jumping, and he will certainly take the plunge. So dark, it's dangerous. It happens man. Music like this and drugs are a lethal combination. One minute you're grooving to the tunes, the next you're standing on a street corner flagging down the communist starfleet that is due in your town. Dig the broken glockenspiel tinkling at the end. Groovy, but so cliche Michael. From the album, Soundtrack For The Blind.

Swans, New Mind, It's a Swans double-header! Take that same guy standing on a bridge and give him this song and he'll ram an ice pick into his eye before jumping. For the initiated, a beautiful intolerance towards status quo. From Children of God / World of Skin.
The Afghan Whigs, Lost in The Supermarket, From the Clash tribute album, Burning London, the Whigs put their soulful touch to this London Calling fave. Social disengagement seems to be a running theme in this iPod adventure.

The Handsome Family, Up Falling Rock Hill, The Handsome Family love the dead and old Americana folk songs of cheery resigned despair. Take these opening lines from the song and picture a smoking shotgun under an Appalachian moon - Up Falling Rock Hill where the leaves swoop like bats, I shot my brother William 5 times in the back, have mercy have mercy dear brother he cried, but the wind has no mercy and neither do I. - From the album, In The Air.

The Band, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, I loved what somebody somewhere said about this song. You will not find a more concise description of the anguish caused by The American Civil War in all of history and literature. Sorrow quivers in the singer's voice as he watches his kingdom coming down around him. One of rock music's finest moments. From The Band's self-titled second album.

The Clash, Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice), It opens with what sounds like a non-music NYC public radio show being interrupted by a punk phone caller politely requesting "more music now". From there it's a delicious romp in Joe Strummer's New York City where the world seems to have jumped aboard an apocalyptic drug infused joy ride. From Sandinista.

Men Without Hats, I Sing Last / Not For Tears, You don't like Men Without Hats? Well then to hell with you. This song closes their magnificently ignored second album, Folk of The 80s, Part III. It's a sad gulp of intolerance wrestling the slightest ray of hope. One of my favorite albums of that decade.

Steely Dan, The Things I Miss The Most, Steely Dan at their most gentle; a breezy brass infused and oh so melodic ode to divorce. From another ignored album, their most recent Everything Must Go.

Drive-By Truckers, Angels and Fuselage, How cool that they started this 10 random songs and are now ending it. Come to think of it, my last fortune cookie said this would happen. From the album Southern Rock Opera, which may be an entire eulogy to Lynard Skynard, it's a ticket aboard Skynard's last plane ride. Beautiful.

It's official. Peter Falk has died again.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Is Nora a martyr or a peacemaker? The 60-something divorcee goes to great lengths to prepare a Passover meal for family and friends, but when the invited guests arrive, they find Nora has quietly committed suicide in the bedroom. The entire Passover meal; the matzah balls, the gefilte fish, etc., is neatly packed in plastic containers in the refrigerator ready to be cooked per her instructions left in handwritten notes on each container. Just help yourself, Nora says from beyond.

Nora's Will, or as translated in the opening credits, Five Days Without Nora, is a Mexican film directed by Mariana Chenillo (the first woman to receive the Mexican equivalent of Oscar for directing), that explores the social issues of death, particularly suicide, without sinking to passionate low-brow levels. No corpse humor or warm hearted enlightenment here. Instead, a nervous amusement prevails as Nora's body is kept cold with ice packs on the bedroom floor throughout the film.

Each of the guests is touched in a profound way by Nora's death, but only her ex-husband Jose (Fernando Lujan), who lives across the street and discovers the body, sees her demise as a vicious manipulative ploy; an attempt to control those around her even in death. So annoyed is he by his ex-wife's decision to kill herself, he switches the cooking instructions of each container in the refrigerator before the guests arrive.

the movie would have us believe that Nora, with a lifelong passion for suicide, is a wise old bird who understood her death would unite long severed binds and challenge the living to confront their own lives. While Nora's sudden departure doesn't tidily resolve all issues, and miraculously cures others, it does bring her family and friends closer together and forces her ex to make funeral arrangements while confronting his misunderstood past.

Even Judaism itself is called upon to answer to Nora who is without a resting place and wears a scarlet letter even in death as her suicide marks her unwelcome in a Jewish cemetery. Hence the ice packs surrounding her body and the scramble to find a place to bury her.

The conflict of what to do with dead Nora allows the film a funny barrage of religious references that finds one character saying to another after speaking with a priest on the telephone, "the Christians will take anybody".

Nora's Will is as gently imposing as attending a funeral with an impatient appetite for the post funeral brunch. A giddy nervousness prevails while a hunger for resolution keeps the film rolling at a steady pace. While the guests teeter about life and death issues and Jose cools his anger at his ex-wife, (she loved him, he learns), there is still this business of a dead body in the bedroom during Passover.

The movie is a modest amusement that seriously champions life and death issues. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Article first published as Movie Review: Nora's Will on Blogcritics.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Review: Werner Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS

In 1994, what is believed to be the oldest known prehistoric cave drawings were discovered in a mountain range in southern France. Hundreds of paintings of animals were catalogued from Chauvet Cave including several extinct species and others that have never been seen in prehistoric art before. Although the age of the paintings is in dispute among scientists, the drawings are believed to be 30,000 years old.

Due to the sensitive nature of the art, the cave is not open to the general public and great care has been insured to preserve the drawings, including the installment of a large thick steel door blocking the entrance to the cave. German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), received special permission from the French Minister of Culture to enter the cave and film the drawings under strict conditions. He and his crew were allowed only six days of shooting of four hours each. They were not allowed to touch the walls or floor of the cave, (the camera was placed at the end of a long mechanical arm), and they were confined to a two-foot built walkway traversing the paintings.

The culmination of that expedition is revealed in Herzog's new film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a 90 minute film shot with 3-D cameras that record much of the artwork. The 3-D technology is used to magnify the contour and delicacy of the art and successfully brings depth and life to the paintings. Shadows in the cave cast an eerie wavering effect on the pictures as if the play of shadow and light were of the artist's intent. Multiple images of wild horses aligned with one another gives the illusion of the horses running when a light is cast upon them.

As magnificent as it is to view the paintings in the ideal conditions of a dark movie house, Herzog's film is a bit menial in scope for the cinematic movie screen. It's singular photographic effect would be better served on television. Cable TV's The History Channel co-produced the production.

It's also a bit preachy. Serving as philosophical narrative, Herzog, his crew, and several archaeologists and scientists offer their reactions to the paintings, which sometimes disturb the sedate nature of the art. Ideally, one wishes to bask in the pictures with the advantage of Herzog's 3-D technology and ponder one's own historical, spiritual, and philosophical thoughts without a thunderous musical score and idle, maybe even pompous chatter.

It is what the camera does not show where the film leaves its deepest impression. Much of the ancient art and evidence of human activity is unreachable and could not be filmed, and one is struck with wonder as Herzog points to an area of the cave, not captured on camera, where a boy's footprint, possibly the most ancient footprint ever documented, had been found next to the paw print of a wolf. Herzog poses the question, were the boy and wolf walking together, or was the wolf chasing the boy? We will never know.

Herzog's film sheds light on the magnificent etchings of ancient man found in Chauvet Cave. It is the next best thing to being there. Very soon The History Channel will likely be bringing these deeply moving images to the comfort of your own home.

this review was first published by the author at

Sunday, June 19, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Jane Eyre (2011)

The new movie version of Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga, is the equivalent of a Reader's Digest condensed novel. All the elements of the story are evident but the writer's pace, breadth, and strategy are whisked away, reducing Bronte's proto-feminist literary work to melodramatic romance in a spooky mansion.

It would have made a splendid four-hour BBC mini-series with time to breathe like a fine wine, with its genuinely chilly England in the 19th Century atmosphere, and a broad if not probing view of class and sexual discrimination. The lovely on-location scenes from the often handheld camera gives the film a fluidity of movement, absorbing the stuffiness from a classic Gothic love story set in the lush English countryside. The supporting cast is as fine as Masterpiece Theatre can provide and the story remains riveting. At a roughly two-hour running time though, key plot elements and character motivation are sacrificed to the beating hearts of a plain, sex-hungry virgin and an older been-around guy beast.

Jane Eyre, the grand-mommy of Gothic romance, tells the story of an orphaned English girl suffering a loveless childhood under the rule of abusive relatives and a cruel school for poor girls. In preparation for a life in servitude to the upper class, the intelligent Jane savors the independence of adulthood.

She gains employment as governess to a French ward at Thornfield Manor, a spooky country estate governed by the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Rochester. Despite their difference in social status, chemistry clicks and this odd couple fall in love. For Jane, it would be Gothic romance heaven, if it weren't for a scary madwoman roaming the mansion at night, (the Gothic element), and Rochester's flirtation with the feminine elite, (the romantic conflict).

Mia Wasikowska is a quirky Jane with the high headiness the character seems to have been born with. Her few kind adult mentors during childhood are not included in this version, making her empowered feminist stance seeming to spring from nowhere. Demure and humble, she lacks a depth of character and there is a rush to capitalize on social independence in sparring matches with Rochester. Wasikowska's performance is nonetheless effective and the fault lies with the novel's narrative being unrealized.

In the book, Rochester is described as a brooding ugly man possessing a pronounced sexual allure. The dashing Michael Fassbender certainly doesn't look the part, but broods well, and again, establishes a rush to identity to curtail the novel's lengthy passages. He hides a dark secret conveyed through facial worry lines, piercing glances, and an unsettling carefree behavior.

Dame Judi Dench manages to duck our from under her royal celebrity crown and offer a believable portrayal of the lowly and kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. There is also a wonderful and brief performance from Tamzin Merchant as one-third of a trio of siblings who save Jane from certain death on the English moors.

This is a fine movie, falling just short of tapping into the excitement of the novel. As a final example, a memorable moment of the book, Jane's confrontation with the "ghost" of Thornfield Manor, is omitted from this version. Its inclusion would have added a needed element of suspense to the highly charged emotional atmosphere and would have helped make more of Bronte's purpose come through.

this review was first published by the author at