31 March 2010

La Carrera Panamericana documentary i directed

here is the trailer for the feature-length doc i co-produced, shot, directed, and edited in 2001 - about an annual 6-day car race from The Mexico-Guatemala border to the Mexico-Texas border. escorted by police, 150 mph on the freeway, all classic cars 1970 and older. let me know if you want to see the whole thing! racing from checkpoint to checkpoint by day, partying hard through the streets of old Mexican cities by night...

28 March 2010

The Wedding Present, live at The Troubadour, April 2nd - check yr local listings for yr hometown's show.

this friday, april 2, at the troubadour - The Wedding Present performs their classic album, Bizarro. even if you like em just a li'l bit, you should check em out - some of the best love-torn lyrics of any present-day rock band. watch this video and decide for yourself, they'll be playing this song...

oh, and this is from 1989, even though the singer's haircut is a common style from the present.

27 March 2010

If only Greenberg had a Hot Tub Time Machine

When dedicating a significant portion of your day to a double-feature, you might want to plan on films that aesthetically complement each other. Or maybe just strategize your time economically, sneaking into the second film just a few minutes after the first one ends. Ideally, you can just go see two films that satisfy two sides of your movie-loving brain and end up with all of the above. In this case, the real joy was in the joyous surprise of the similarities between my choice of double-feature on March 26th, 2010: Greenberg and Hot Tub Time Machine. Both films opened on the day in question, and both films' stories centered around now-grown-up Generation X'ers who are dissatisfied with what they've done with their lives, now that they're 40 (ish) - something that this viewer is always pondering. One film is a full immersion into that sad-sack of a mind, while the other is pure escapist fun. Hence, the hot tub.

Greenberg's "hero," or in this case, main curmudgeon, is a dedicated cynic, whose previous stint in a mental institution is never fully explained - but, one can guess that something/somebody steered him so wrong, that his view of the world is permanently filtered through a black window of disgust. And, in this reviewers opinion, that something/somebody is him.

Roger Greenberg (played by the usually comedic Ben Stiller) is the quintessential distrustful artist from the 90's, whose insistence on staying cool and independent with his music robbed him and his best friend's a recording contract with a major label. The attitude of "the man is gonna just bring us down" resulted in the band's dissolution, and his friends taking regular jobs, quitting music, and becoming exactly what they probably never imagined - domesticated. Greenberg went the complete opposite route and maintained his distrust of "the man" - which, in effect, stunted his growth and fueled his present-day disgust with the world and his not having any sort of root in it.

As would happen to anybody who refuses to change to Greenberg's extent, the world passes him by, and each passing day of the past becoming more, well, past, just gets more and more frustrating - to the point where he just can't relate with anybody about anything. "Youth is wasted on the young," says Greenberg's friend, Ian, as he patiently sips drinks with Stiller's character. Greenberg responds with a desperation to convince himself that it's ok that he's done nothing with his life: "Life is wasted on... people."

Ben Stiller's face is constantly tense, eyeballs batting back and forth, with a tense and frozen shrug of a posture, as if he's waiting for more reasons to hate himself and the world around him. He does this so well, that the one time he actually relaxes and breathes in this film is when he's at the breaking point and just needs to talk to someone - or else go insane again. - in this case, it would be with Florence, played with an unmatched beautiful naturalness by Greta Gerwig. He calls her on the phone, gets her voice mail; and seemingly in one breath, unloads his life story. And, like very few films that are as character-driven as this, you can see his body and face change, along with his mind, to the point where he actually emotes something positive to the one person that doesn't share his past and could actually give him some perspective. This monologue was such a relief to this viewer, that I felt my own body let go along with Greenberg's. All from something seemingly simple to most people, but not to those that feel left behind and totally lost. To create a film this visceral through nothing but human emotions is rare in American cinema. To see this story told - to see a character-driven story like this be told, emotionally reminiscent of films like Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces, is simply beautiful.

Now, don't get me wrong - Hot Tub Time Machine is NOTHING like this film - it's similarities to Greenberg are simplified as plot points. However, it, too deals with that same generation and three particular characters' unhappiness of letting their earlier lives give way to boring domesticity, with dead-end jobs and broken relationships. Whereas Roger Greenberg's insistence of not adapting to a changing world left him stunted, Hot Tub's characters gave up their dreams as youths in the late 80's after the pressure of "get a job, start a family" set in. And their unhappiness has led them to a try and reclaim their wild youth by going back to their old party grounds, Kodiak Valley - fulfilling the much-used 80's plot device, the ski slope sex romp. But, upon arrival, they've found that the resort has gone the way of their dreadful lives.

Thank god their hotel room has a Hot Tub Time Machine! Well, they find out it's a Time Machine after a night of partying in the tub and spilling their energy drinks into the tub's Back To The Future-like temperature controls, which time-warps them back to 1986. If the film wasn't called Hot Tub Time Machine, I would complain about the randomness of this plot device - what else would you expect?

Here is where they discover the obvious: if you knew then what you know now, your life would come out perfectly! The throwback to jokes, fashion, music, and movies of the 80's ensue. The plot is predictable and riddled with holes (the 4th character, a hilarious Clark Duke, goes back in time with them, but somehow he's still alive in 1986, one year before he was born) - but, with a film title like Hot Tub Time Machine, you had better not hope for a character-driven story with intelligent dialogue like Greenberg.

But that's why HTTM rocks. It embraces the wackiness of the title and it knows what it is. It's a movie told with the same sensibilities that drove the better teen-sex flicks of the 80's, but from the point of view of folks that grew up in that time that can now look back and toy with the idea of "what if we did things differently? What if we followed our dreams, rather than give in to the Man?" And, while it's far from perfect, it hilariously succeeds in its modest goal - telling the story of 3 dudes that wished their lives turned out differently and are able to do so, all the while doing those things that we all would do if this actually happened. Betting on sports events, knowing the results of all the games. Hooking up with somebody that excites you, because you know your girlfriend at the time is going to dump you. And having one more chance to start off your music career with a song that hasn't even come out yet. This film delivers the typical sex-romp jokes that you would expect, but it's hard not to full-on root for these guys, as they are doing things that you would love to do if given the chance. Well, if you had access to a Hot Tub Time Machine, that is.

There is probably a middle ground between driven insane by a refusal to adapt to a changing world, and taking the Americanized pre-destined route of job and family. Neither Greenberg nor HTTM tries to find such ground; they merely follow folks that are frustrated by the polar opposite paths that they took - one very real and naturalistic, and one very goofy and outlandish. If you're somebody in your late-30's who is wondering where the hell your life went, Greenberg will press a lot of buttons - hard and painfully. But, you'll hopefully leave the theater trying to figure out if it's not too late to ease up on the cynicism that's keeping your down. Or, if you just want to escape your existential dread, and enjoy the impossibility of making it all better through time travel, take a dip in the hot tub.

Greenberg: 5.5/6
Hot Tub Time Machine: 4/6

my attempt to enter the Progressive Insurance contest

Go to helpflo.com and check the details - and complain for me if you so wish! I've done my part, and they won't listen. They wanted entrants to make a video that explains why the Progressive girl, Flo, needs a helper/mate. And, the best video will then star in an ad with her. Most everybody turned on their webcams and delivered a monologue, basically answering the question straight. And some are funny. However, I thought it might be more fun, and creative, to actually make a "commercial" in a similar vein to the Progressive commercials - a bit cheesy, but still delivering what the contest wants: a reason to give Flo a mate, ending with the "Now That's Progressive" slogan. In this case, I'm basically saying she could use a boyfriend!

The contest folks DENIED my entry - and would not give me a reason, except saying, "read the rules and figure it out yourself." They say you can't use trademarked stuff - but, they allow people to wear what aprons that say "progressive" and they let people use the slogan! so, the liberties i took seem right in line with that. so, check it out and leave a comment, so i can bitch about this to them... thanks!

Progressive Dude: Kenneth Thomas
Progressive Girl Look-Alike: Corey Remington
Camera: Kenneth Thomas, Corey Remington

16 March 2010

Oil rigs in the golden ocean - slo-mo

Review: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchetra, "Kollaps Tradixionales" - 10/10

"Kollaps Tradixionales," the sixth full-length by Thee Silver Mt Zion, would be the perfect first album for somebody to hear from this group. Combining the simplicity of the first album, the melancholic dirges of the second album, and the increasingly confident choral singing of the remaining albums; their sixth full-length just might be their most encapsulating, and best, album.

Having re-structured their official name to Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra after bringing in a new drummer and losing a cellist after their last album, the 5-piece band is now comprised of two violins, one guitar, one contrabass, and one drummer - and all are vocalists, singing choruses in a... well, choral fashion.

It's a combination that makes these folks difficult to pin down into any genre - post-rock? Not instrumental enough. Freak folk? While the lead vocalist, Efrim, might be bearded, their music is too electric and not hipster enough to be lumped into that category. No, they are simply Thee Silver Mt. Zion - which usually means a politically charged theme running through the album, 6+ minute long songs of vocal urgency, a ghostly and tremolo-rich guitar sound, and thick layers of violin to give it an orchestral quality. Add to that the quintet's coming together at the climax of their multiple-movement songs, and you have the most majestic and sincere yearning for a better world ever laid to tape.

And that's what "Kollaps Tradixionales" is about, from the first song onwards - "There Is a Light," the album opener, starts off like a church hymn, complete with organ and a gentle building quality that eventually ends it's 15+ minute span with the entire group desperately crying out, "There is a light!!" - sentiments spoken from people who want to believe, have to believe, that there are righteous people trying to trudge along in a world that strives to push them down. And, then, at the end of the song, after all of the instruments have faded away, Efrim quietly states, "That was pretty good" - testament to the fact that, even though the group is admonished by many as being whiny and negative, that they are more than capable of creating beautiful tributes to the plights of many, and that they can be humbly surprised with their sonic results.

The rest of the album progresses very naturally - the second track "I Built Myself a Metal Bird," is easily their loudest choral rock (maybe that's their genre?) song, and their catchiest tune to date. "Catchy" is meant in relative terms - they're not going to be played on popular radio anytime soon; this song is simply SMZ at their most fun - as if the first song gave them so much hope, that they're riding that wave into this song and letting the world know that they're ready to "dance, motherfucker, dance" - which is the last repeated line of the song.

"I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds" is the flip side of that song, partially in the way that the title finishes the previous song's title with a resolution of darkness. And partially due to the change in music - the song's 6+ minute run is mostly laden with ghostly, tremolo-rich, distorted guitar and sadly whining contrabass; before it explodes with one last energetic outburst that is reminiscent of the previous track. When this song ends, you, and seemingly the band, are spent from both collective disillusionment and the sonic onslaught.

By the time we reach the last song, we are ready for the end of the album - and that's a good thing - because this album does what many, many albums strive to do but fail: project a purely emotional experience, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. While we began with a positive glimmer of hope, we quickly were reminded of the harshness of the world - but, the last song is sort of a call to arms, for both the listener and the group.

That last track, "'Piphany Rambler," states, "We crawled upside that mountain..." and then, "Don't take these blues away" - as if saying that the struggle is what keeps this entity alive, and is something that the listener shouldn't forget - that the struggle for any sort of peace and justice is simply going to be eternal, but that doesn't mean you should balk when you see "that mountain" before you. That's not what Thee Silver Mt. Zion are doing, and just listen to the result - their best album to date.

15 March 2010

2 reviews I did for TV Eye Magazine

These reviews were done for TV Eye Magazine, a rad rag that covers underground metal and other forms of extreme music, through print and DVD footage. These reviews were assigned to me as comparisons with iconic albums/docs; hence, the comparisons...

11 March 2010

future endeavors

i made this decision many months ago, after losing my job - but i'll make it official now. these days, that means posting your statement in a blog.

i've grown more and more tiresome of using my skills as a gun-for-hire - shooting and editing is enjoyable when it's an exciting project, or something in which you believe. but, too many shoots that don't fall into either of those categories leads to an overall weariness of the whole profession. i'm still considering selling the camera and becoming an organic farmer in new zealand, as that sounds damn exciting. but, then i'd want to make a documentary about "organic farming in new zealand," so i guess that kills that idea.

so, losing the job has forced me to re-think how to keep doing what i dig, which is something that needed to happen. the stress level has increased 100-fold, looking for work and all that - but the clarity of what to do next is the result of my brain being tested to its limits. go back to school, get a master's degree. in an ideal world, that would mean that i could work doing something i enjoy - teaching - and that would allow me to ONLY work on projects that i enjoy in my spare time. lack of burn-out = starting and finishing projects you believe in, with little danger of those ideas getting stunted in the infant stage.

as of today, San Fran Art Institute has said, "come on up! we'd love to have you!" still waiting on other schools, also in San Fran, LA, Boston, and Montana (!). but SFAI is looking pretty rockin'. and making a change like this for a future that seems to make a lot more sense is pretty relieving. it took losing a job to realize it, but sometimes a kick in the ass gets the head in gear.

some time-lapse videos for you, shot around California

10 March 2010

09 March 2010

Peter Ivers on New Wave Theater

top films of the first ten 2000's

…not in any particular order - and none of these surpass my current top-5, three of which come from the 1990’s…

- The Puffy Chair - haven’t seen relationship strife this wrenching and accurate since Cassavetes’ Faces.

- Mysterious Skin - Gregg Araki’s most mature film, but he retains his brutal edge and stylized vision. glad he still makes films.

- The American Nightmare - a film-studies-like documentary about the sociological metaphors and influence of social strife upon 70’s horror films. treats 70’s horror film like the art it is. set to the music of Godspeed You Black Emperor, which works perfectly with the juxtaposition of the bleak look of the films in question. my favorite doc ever.

- Heima - music doc about Sigur Ros’ concert-playing journey across Iceland. from amphitheaters to caves to schoolhouses, the settings in which they play are more beautifully shot that any concert film to date.

- The Brown Bunny - Vincent Gallo’s 2nd film. some folks say it’s too egotistical to watch; i say that this film shows one man’s pure vision more than 99 percent of films out there. do people say that a painter’s canvas is ego-driven because only one person painted upon it? no? then why do they say it when one person (pretty much just one person, for real) makes a film like this? one of the most earnest depictions of the loneliness of a man’s soul.

- The Informers - the most accurate depiction of a Bret Easton Ellis book, to date. the emptiness of his book’s characters was finally not dramatized too much for a mass appeal - probably why it got panned.

- Everything Will Be OK/I Am So Proud of You - the first 2 parts of Don Hertzfeldt’s trilogy of simply-drawn animated films about Bill, a man dying of loneliness/regret/disillusionment of life? maybe all 3? whatever the case may be, i challenge a viewer not to find their heart pierced with sadness when they watch and all-too-easily relate to this heartbreaking story.

- Anti-Christ - lovely, yes. brutal, yes. excessive? maybe. but watching the lengths that the story, and the actors, go to in this film is fascinating.