Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Björk Marathon: Medúlla

After Vespertine, Björk wanted to create an entirely "vocal album" and has said that she wanted to create an album of just-vocals with little to no instrumentation since she was a teenager, particularly around the KUKL period when at the time she was still searching for her identity as a singer.

That album, released in August 2004, would be Medúlla, one of her bravest and most unique and interesting albums to date.


Björk has also stated that the album was influenced by her being pregnant with her daughter, Ísadóra, and how she felt that since giving birth to her, she had been lazy, that there was this urgency to go back to the roots of singing which essentially started from humans singing acapella. Furthermore, she also considered the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the time to be an influence to the politically charged nature of the album. The character on the cover is like the title, where Björk has stated represents:

"...the 5,000 year-old blood that's inside us all; an ancient spirit that's passionate and dark, a spirit that survives." 

Just by listening to this album alone, Medúlla was not an easy project. Though simple, it was pretty ambitious. Though this album is not the entirely acapella album that she originally planned with some instrumentation being featured (like the piano, gong, and bass synthesizer), it's a pretty fascinating album that also showcases the vocal talents of throat singer Tanya Tagaq, hip hop beat boxer Rahzel, Japanese beatboxer Dokaka, avant-rocker Mike Patton, Soft Machine drummer/singer Robert Wyatt, and several choirs, and of course she got frequent collaborator Mark Bell to produce alongside her.

I find it interesting how despite how high-concept this album is, it would, at the time of its release, be Björk's highest charting album in the USA, making it at the #14 spot. Not surprisingly, it gained general acclaim from critics and got nominated for two Grammy awards. I think most fans, though maybe they didn't love or entirely understand this album, did appreciate it for what it stands for. I for one actually really adore and love this album. I love how dark it is, but it's far from gloomy. It's adventurous, sonically challenging, interesting, beautiful, but most of all, because of its eccentricity, it's memorable. But that's not to say that this is "easy listening" nor is this to say that one can listen to this entire album without skipping a track or two. Not every track is amazing here. Some are forgettable, but there are many glorious, shining moments on this that makes Medúlla a classic.

The opener of this album is The Pleasure is All Mine. It's so breathtaking.


Where Is The Line? is to me like the younger brother of Army of Me. See why?


Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right) is triumphant, a kind of love letter to anyone who has your back in times of need and even when you aren't in need.


Desired Constellation just blows me away with Björk's woeful cry:

"How am I going to make things right?"


Oceania is a stand out for obvious reasons. It's probably the only real accessible song on this album.


Mouth's Cradle is a song about breastfeeding. It also has a political edge to it, even referencing two political figures (which shows how dated it is listening to it now, lol).


The only other accessible (and most beat box driven) track on this album is the adorable Triumph of the Heart.


I may be in the minority here, but I also really loved the least accessible tracks, such as the stunning and heartfelt Vökuró (Vigil), which is based off of an Icelandic poem, written by poet, Jórunn Viðar. The even sweeter thing about this song is that at the time when Björk first considered putting her rendition of it on this album, when she was pregnant, she had no clue that she'd have a little girl, and the poem coincidentally was about a mother singing to her daughter. Sounds like it was fate!


I also really liked Sonnets/Unrealities XI, which was based off of the poem It May Not Always Be So; And I Say by E.E. Cummings.


Medúlla is an album that is not only about the raw human voice being the star, but it's an album that's entirely built around atmosphere and tone, which in and of itself is created through cut-up, sampled, and processed vocals, beat noises, and the clicking of tongues to create that atmospheric haze. It's not my favorite album of Björk's but it's by far one of the albums I really do cherish and appreciate.

Five singles/music videos were released around this album era:

Oceania

 

Who Is It? 

 Where Is The Line

Desired Constellation 

Triumph of the Heart


No concerts or tours were arranged for Medúlla, but Björk did a few promotions, all of them quite stunning actually, such as:

Her 2004 Olympic Games performance of Oceania, where she opened the games with this International Olympics Committee commissioned track. As the song unfolds, so does her dress, literally!


She went on an interview with Jonathan Ross, where she performed a bell choir mix of Who Is It with Rahzel.




She appeared on the French television show Album de la Semaine at Canal Studio, performing a set of six songs.


She performed in Tokyo, Japan, for the Live 8 benefit concert, performing a set of 9 songs with Matmos, Zeena Parkins, and a Japanese string octet.


And she also performed a concert in her home country Reykjavik, Iceland in support of the Icelandic Nature Preserve, billed alongside fellow Icelandic artists Ghostigital, Sigur Rós, and Múm to name a few.

And she'd also release 2 DVD's, which are part of my collection of course:

The Making of Medúlla - Inner Part of an Animal or Plant Structure 



This documentary is only 50 minutes, but it's minutes well-spent. It's one thing to listen to a nearly acapella record, but to see the making of it is even more fascinating and interesting. Here you see Björk at work, being so involved in everything from the production and the arrangements, where you see a true virtuoso at work, and doing it so well too. And this is probably the first documentary of hers where we truly see how Björk collaborates with other artists and how they all work together with her on the project that Björk is clearly emotionally invested into as is evident in her interviews in this too. The highlights of this documentary? These performances at their rawest form:

The Pleasure Is All Mine 


Who Is It

 


 Mouth's Cradle


And she released Björk: Medúlla Videos. 


This DVD contains all of the videos from this era (obviously), and also includes a bonus feature of the making of Triumph of the Heart. And honestly, that making of that song is the real reason to purchase this one. It's not only a really fascinating trip to Iceland, to the now defunct dive bar, Sirkus, and about the auditioning process of getting the right cast and the right cat to star in this video, but it's also pretty amusing how they tie it in alongside an interview with a disgruntled fan who got turned down during auditions! Seriously, it's pretty fun stuff, and worth buying just for that bonus feature.

Another thing I must note about this era that I also adored was the fashion, oh, the promo photos!






After these releases, promo shoots, and performances, that was pretty much a wrap for the Medúlla era. Her reasons for not touring Medúlla was because she wanted to work on another album straight away, and because she felt that this album would be far too difficult to perform live. Though that may be true, much later down the line, at around 2011, she'd revisit songs from Medúlla, performing them live for the Icelandic TV show, Átta Raddir. She performs some of them in Icelandic, of course. And boy, aren't these performances truly stunning! Here they are:

Oceania

Pleasure Is All Mine

Where Is the Line


Seriously, this era in her music just...still blows me away. Medúlla is truly one of a kind!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Björk Marathon: Greatest Hits

With Björk's newly released hit record Vespertine and with Björk being pregnant with Matthew Barney's child, the year 2002 saw a retrospective of Björk's career, focusing on previously unreleased material and her greatest hits thus far. First released was the box set, Family Tree.


This set includes a book of lyrics entitled "Words" and five 3-inch compact discs, including "Roots CD 1," which has songs recorded from her previous bands, KUKL, The Elgar Sisters, and The Sugarcubes. "Roots CD 2" features a few B-sides and alternate versions of previous tracks from her solo works, "Beats" focuses on new and old songs with a heavy electronica flair, and "Strings" (CD 1 and CD 2) feature live recordings of Björk with the Brodsky Quartet through 1999 and 2000.



And lastly as part of this set includes a Greatest Hits CD as chosen by Björk.

This box set is obviously for the very hardcore Björk fan, but even for those who are more casual or new to her, there's a lot here that should please everyone who appreciate Björk's artistic, experimental work. There's a lot of art put into this box set, with all art work designed by Björk's frequent collaborators, M/M Paris, and including new collaborator, Icelandic contemporary artist, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir. Björk put a lot of herself into this set, tiptoeing us through a journey to her past, through known songs that sound ancient and yet new. Every CD in its oh so cutesy 3-inch dics is a highlight here, but the one CD from this set that I loved most of all were the Greatest Hits chosen by Björk. It gives us insight into the songs that she feels is her best hit singles, the most interesting choices being "You've Been Flirting Again," "Unravel," "Scatterheart," "I've Seen It All," and "It's Not Up To You." None of these songs were actual hit singles nor were they released as singles, but to Björk, they're the hits to her.

To go along with this release was a promotional single, "Nature is Ancient," which was originally a B-side to the "Bachelorette" single, but was later included into Family Tree.

A music video of the song was released in November 2002 even though the song was originally released in 1997.


Also released separate from Family Tree was the album Greatest Hits.


The songs here were chosen by Björk's fans through a poll on her website. A DVD edition of this CD was also released, containing all of Björk's solo music videos up to Nature is Ancient.


This is a no-thrills DVD with no extras or behind the scenes stuff. It's just Björk's music videos; all of them speak for itself, showcasing not only Björk's vast talent but that of all of her collaborators.

Along with this release was the debut of the music video of a new song called "It's In Our Hands," which features a heavily pregnant Björk (d'aww!).


There was also a live box set (released in 2003) called Live Box that includes all of her live CD's from Debut, Post, Homogenic, and Vespertine. The live CD's were also released separately at a reduced price.


And lastly, to bring the career retrospective at full circle is this Björk documentary, Inside Björk. 

This is nowhere near as close to being as good of a documentary as South Bank. This documentary is pretty underwhelming in comparison. It is far too short and sprints through her career far too fast, and it doesn't dig deep enough like the South Bank documentary did. Being that it's the only retrospective documentary DVD on Björk's life and career, however, one can't pass this over. If there's one thing about this documentary that the South Bank documentary doesn't have is commentary from Björk's industry friends and collaborators, like Elton John, Missy Elliot, Thom Yorke, the RZA (Wu Tang), Beck, Alexander McQueen, Sjón, and so many others. It's pretty amazing how so many artists from various genres from pop, rock and roll, rap, trip hop, and classical have been influenced by Björk.

And lastly, on top of the tons of stuff that was released around this period, was a composition written especially for Björk by composer John Tavener called "Prayer of the Heart," recorded by Björk and the Brodsky Quartet in 2001 and then played for a slide show presentation in 2003 for American photographer, Nan Goldin. This 15-minute track is...so unbelievably spiritual and breathtaking. Listen to it. It may seriously give you goosebumps. Totally worth more than one listen.


Whew, some of you might be thinking, wow, this is a lot of material! Yes, it is, but every DVD, box set, and CD is worth every penny, seriously, because it's just so rich with wonders. This naturally won't be the last of Björk career retrospectives, but this one is the first, so this makes it pretty special. And I'd say that this one is the most rewarding and chock full of fond memories, hit compilations, lush rarities, gorgeous live recordings, quirky art work, and stellar music videos that harken not only Björk's past, but the brightness of her future as an artist, a pop star, and a new mother.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Criterion Challenge: April


March was so busy and crazy that it took me not only February but also March to finish the last Criterion Challenge! They don't call it "March Madness" for nothing!

So finally, on to the challenge for April. The films for this one are:

21. An Angel At My Table 

Synopsis:

With An Angel at My Table, Academy Award–winning filmmaker Jane Campion brings to the screen the harrowing true-life story of Janet Frame, New Zealand’s most distinguished author. The film follows Frame along her inspiring journey, from a poverty-stricken childhood to a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia and electroshock therapy to, finally, international literary fame. Beautifully capturing the color and power of the New Zealand landscape, the film earned Campion a sweep of her country’s film awards and the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Review:

This movie is a gem for a myriad of reasons. Where to start? Firstly, the subject is of famed New Zealand author Janet Frame. It's her life story filmed in 3 parts, from her childhood, to young adulthood, to her fame. Secondly, it's directed by one talented female director, Jane Campion. There are many films that capture New Zealand in all its glory on location, but this movie truly captures it in such a way that makes you feel that you are there, and that makes you wish you were actually, really there. For all the film's beauty, this is a story not for the faint of heart. It's gut-wrenching, tragic, and powerful. The cast present the characters so faithfully, and the story just feels so dedicated to doing right by the author and by New Zealand. If there's only one downside to this movie, is that it's very long, clocking at almost 3 hours, but is it worth it? Absolutely - it's worth every second!

22. Armageddon

Synopsis:

Bruce Willis and an all-star cast of roughneck oil drillers blast off on a mission to save the planet in Michael Bay’s doomsday space epic.

Review:

Honestly, this movie is so painfully over the top, melodramatic, and ridiculously campy, and at times I'm not quite sure if that was the film's intention. It's also very dated now. It's so 90's that watching this now is laughable. It's even harder to imagine that there was a time when people actually loved this movie (or maybe they didn't - maybe most just actually loved to loathe it?). Now, I wouldn't say Armageddon is a classic, and frankly I'm surprised that it got the Criterion treatment, considering that it's just a blockbuster movie, fun for its time, sure, but...it's not that great, far from being taken seriously. But is it entertaining? Oh yes, it's hilarious, whether it was meant to be or not. The movie has so many stars from Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, and so many more that adds more to its campiness, not to mention, all the EXPLOSIONS, and lots of Aerosmith music, because, you know, that's what an apocalypse is all about. Let's face it, though, Armageddon is a guilty pleasure. You aren't supposed to like it, but you can't help but love it for what it is - one gloriously entertaining, loud, and brainless summer movie that's not afraid to be shameless.

23. Army of Shadows 

Synopsis:

This masterpiece by Jean-Pierre Melville about the French Resistance went unreleased in the United States for thirty-seven years, until its triumphant theatrical debut in 2006. Atmospheric and gripping, Army of Shadows is Melville’s most personal film, featuring Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and the incomparable Simone Signoret as intrepid underground fighters who must grapple with their conception of honor in their battle against Hitler’s regime.

Review:

This could possibly be one of the bleakest, darkest, and most gripping depiction of this harrowing time in history. The cinematography is absolutely stunning, and the cast is absolutely perfect. This is not a romanticized version of the French Resistance; this is as real and gritty as it can get, and it's not only thrilling to watch, but is definitely worth seeing repeated viewings of Melville's masterpiece. 

* 24. As Long as You've Got Your Health 

Synopsis:

In this endlessly diverting compendium of four short films, Pierre Etaix regards the 1960s from his askew but astute perspective. Each part is as technically impressive as it is riotous: a man attempts to read a novel about vampires beside his sleeping wife but cannot seem to separate reality from fiction; a simple afternoon at the movies becomes a consumer-culture assault; a jarringly noisy urban landscape keeps a city’s population on edge; and a day in the country means something different to a picnicking city couple, a hunter, and a farmer.

Review:

I'm surprised that I've never heard of Pierre Etaix before. There's a reason why: his films have been unseen for decades because of legal tangles. This is all the more reason why watching his films is a must: it's not only a miracle that we can actually watch them nowadays, but seriously, this man is hilarious. He can easily be compared to a French Chaplin and Buster Keaton - yes, Etaix is as brilliant! And his physical comedy has been compared to that of Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis, but Etaix equally stands as a class of his own. As Long As You've Got Your Health is a riot! Each whacky and quirky scenario is so beautifully crafted, well-executed, and just oh so gut busting funny. I loved every minute of it.

* 25.  Au Hasard Balthazar

Synopsis:

A profound masterpiece from one of the most revered filmmakers in the history of cinema, director Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar follows the donkey Balthazar as he is passed from owner to owner, some kind and some cruel but all with motivations beyond his understanding. Balthazar, whose life parallels that of his first keeper, Marie, is truly a beast of burden, suffering the sins of man. But despite his powerlessness, he accepts his fate nobly. Through Bresson’s unconventional approach to composition, sound, and narrative, this seemingly simple story becomes a moving parable of purity and transcendence.

Review:

The plot to this movie is oh so simple: it's a spiritual fable of a donkey named Balthazar who's passed down from owner to owner, who endures one cruel event after another, showing mankind's indifference to suffering. It's about as heart-wrenching as Disney's Bambi, as you can't help but weep and truly sympathize with this sweet, innocent animal. For a story about a donkey, this will be one of the most human movies you'll ever see. Naturally, the donkey not only steals our hearts, but he embodies so much heart and humanity. Pain, despair, heartache, hope, and the flaws of mankind is seen through the eyes of this donkey, and all is ultimately transcendent in one remarkable story.


* 26.  Au Revoir Les Enfants  

Synopsis:

Au revoir les enfants tells a heartbreaking story of friendship and devastating loss concerning two boys living in Nazi-occupied France. At a provincial Catholic boarding school, the precocious youths enjoy true camaraderie—until a secret is revealed. Based on events from writer-director Malle’s own childhood, the film is a subtle, precisely observed tale of courage, cowardice, and tragic awakening.

Review:

This movie is one of the first French films I've ever seen, and I still haven't taken for granted or forgotten how heartbreaking, heartwarming, and powerful it is. It's a simple coming-of-age film about war, prejudice, and violence during Nazi-occupied France, but at the root of it all, it's about friendship and how it binds two souls together during this harrowing period in history. The most remarkable thing about this film are the two main actors, these two young boys who just really tear your heart strings. Without them, Au revoir les enfants just wouldn't be the same with its emotional impact.

27. An Autumn Afternoon

Synopsis:

The last film by Yasujiro Ozu was also his final masterpiece, a gently heartbreaking story about a man’s dignifed resignation to life’s shifting currents and society’s modernization. Though the widower Shuhei (frequent Ozu leading man Chishu Ryu) has been living comfortably for years with his grown daughter, a series of events leads him to accept and encourage her marriage and departure from their home. As elegantly composed and achingly tender as any of the Japanese master’s films, An Autumn Afternoon is one of cinema’s fondest farewells.

Review:

Something about An Autumn Afternoon is so..inviting. Just the title alone is pleasant and refreshing, but the film itself is pretty sublime, oh so colorful, and lovely, as if it's just steeped in Japan. The plot/storyline may not be the most interesting. This film can be very slow moving. A lot is built around the gorgeous visuals than on the plot and characterization, but on the whole, this is a rewarding movie. It's warm, a bit melancholy, sometimes funny, but most of all, very human.


28.  Autumn Sonata

Synopsis:

Autumn Sonata was the only collaboration between cinema’s two great Bergmans: Ingmar, the iconic director of The Seventh Seal, and Ingrid, the monumental star of Casablanca. The grand dame, playing an icy concert pianist, is matched beat for beat in ferocity by the filmmaker’s recurring lead Liv Ullmann, as her eldest daughter. Over the course of a day and a long, painful night that the two spend together after an extended separation, they finally confront the bitter discord of their relationship. This cathartic pas de deux, evocatively shot in burnished harvest colors by the great Sven Nykvist, ranks among Ingmar Bergman’s major dramatic works.

Review:

Autumn Sonata is a pretty typical Bergman film: it's gorgeous, but is oftentimes painfully slow, and makes one want to fall asleep almost within minutes of watching it. However, like most if not all Bergman films (at least from my experience of watching a whole lot of Bergman over the years), if you can approach it with open eyes and an open mind, there's a rewarding experience to be found. Yes, the beginning is painfully slow, and it almost lost me, but once the movie dug really deep into the mother and daughter relationship, that was when Autumn Sonata became compelling. The story is awfully depressing and bleak, but powerful. Even more powerful are Liv Ullman and Ingrid Bergman who truly give their all into their roles, pulling us through a relationship that's harrowing and tragic. Both of them are fueled by raw emotion. You'd be hard pressed to not be fueled with them.

29. Babette's Feast


Synopsis:

At once a rousing paean to artistic creation, a delicate evocation of divine grace, and the ultimate film about food, the Oscar-winning Babette’s Feast is a deeply beloved treasure of cinema. Directed by Gabriel Axel and adapted from a story by Isak Dinesen, it is the lovingly layered tale of a French housekeeper with a mysterious past who brings quiet revolution in the form of one exquisite meal to a circle of starkly pious villagers in late nineteenth-century Denmark. Babette’s Feast combines earthiness and reverence in an indescribably moving depiction of sensual pleasure that goes to your head like fine champagne.


Review:

If there's one movie that truly defines and pays such decadent tribute to food and how it can unite families and communities together, it would be Babette's Feast. It's a tale as rich in storytelling, history, culture, and depth as the French cuisine that's as much a star of this film as the actors in it. It's a pretty simple movie, based off of a short story and adapted to capture its religious, spiritual, and earthly essence. For its simplicity, it's also pretty complex and has many more themes and lessons to tell than meets the eye. There's also so much to admire about this movie: the heroine, Babette, how a film about the elderly isn't depressing, cute, or imbecilic, but about how these people aspire to be who they want to be on their own terms, and, naturally, the preparation of the grand feast! It's just all so delightful, warm, and inviting. And besides, what's not to love about an arthouse movie dedicated to food? Just be sure to eat something before watching it!

* 30. Bad Timing 

Synopsis:

Amid the decaying elegance of cold-war Vienna, psychoanalyst Dr. Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) becomes mired in an erotically charged affair with the elusive Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell). When their all-consuming passion takes a life-threatening turn, Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) is assigned to piece together the sordid details. Acclaimed for its innovative editing, raw performances, and stirring musical score—featuring Tom Waits, the Who, and Billie Holiday—Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing is a masterful, deeply disturbing foray into the dark world of sexual obsession.

Review:

This is one of the creepiest movies about sex and love that I've seen in a long while. And being that it is a Nicolas Roeg film, it's also artsy, engrossing, bizarre, and pretty out there. You won't look at Art Gafunkel the same way again after Bad Timing as he plays the disturbed Dr. Alex Linden who takes his love and sexual obsession for Milena Flaherty to the extreme. He and actress Theresa Russell are so consumed by their roles that it's no wonder that I was consumed to watching this film. Everything about this movie is so wrong, and yet it's so right - the editing, the awesome film score, the art references, the setting, the sex scenes, and the performances. Bad Timing is simply brilliant.

The movies that are omitted from this list are:


Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films

 
Synopsis:

In 1999, Polish director Andrzej Wajda received an Honorary Academy Award for his body of work: more than thirty-five feature films, beginning with A Generation in 1955. Wajda’s next film, Kanal, the first ever made about the Warsaw Uprising, won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and launched Wajda on the path to international renown, a status secured with the release of his masterpiece, Ashes and Diamonds, in 1958. These three groundbreaking films helped usher in the Polish School movement and have often been regarded as a trilogy. But each boldly stands on its own—a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the struggle for personal and national freedom. The Criterion Collection is proud to present this director-approved edition, with new transfers of all three films and extensive interviews with the filmmaker and his colleagues.

Antichrist

Synopsis:

Lars von Trier shook up the film world when he premiered Antichrist at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. In this graphic psychodrama, a grief-stricken man and woman—a searing Willem Dafoe and Cannes best actress winner Charlotte Gainsbourg—retreat to their cabin deep in the woods after the accidental death of their infant son, only to find terror and violence at the hands of nature and, ultimately, each other. But this most confrontational work yet from one of contemporary cinema’s most controversial artists is no mere provocation. It is a visually sublime, emotionally ravaging journey to the darkest corners of the possessed human mind; a disturbing battle of the sexes that pits rational psychology against age-old superstition; and a profoundly effective horror film.

Antonio Gaudí

Synopsis:

Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí (1852–1926) designed some of the world’s most astonishing buildings, interiors, and parks; Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara constructed some of the most aesthetically audacious films ever made. Here their artistry melds in a unique, enthralling cinematic experience. Less a documentary than a visual poem, Teshigahara’s Antonio Gaudí takes viewers on a tour of Gaudí’s truly spectacular architecture, including his massive, still-unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona. With camera work as bold and sensual as the curves of his subject’s organic structures, Teshigahara immortalizes Gaudí on film.

Arabian Nights

 
Synopsis:

Pier Paolo Pasolini traveled to Africa, Nepal, and the Middle East to realize this ambitious cinematic treatment of a selection of stories from the legendary The Thousand and One Nights. This is not the fairy-tale world of Scheherazade or Aladdin, though. Instead, the director focuses on the book’s more erotic tales, framed by the story of a young man’s quest to reconnect with his beloved slave girl. Full of lustrous sets and costumes and stunning location photography, Arabian Nights is a fierce and joyous exploration of human sexuality.

The Atomic Submarine

 Synopsis:

When a nuclear-powered submarine, the Tiger Shark, sets out to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances near the Arctic Circle, its fearless crew finds itself besieged by electrical storms, an Unidentified Floating Saucer, and lots of hairy tentacles.

The Bad Sleep Well  

Synopsis:

A young executive hunts down his father’s killer in director Akira Kurosawa’s scathing The Bad Sleep Well. Continuing his legendary collaboration with actor Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa combines elements of Hamlet and American film noir to chilling effect in exposing the corrupt boardrooms of postwar corporate Japan.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Man on Top of the World: 3 Months Later


With spring break coming up soon, and after a long 3 month hiatus from writing, I'm starting to feel the itch to go back to The Man on Top of the World, just to read it and maybe tweak a few things, but for the most part try to enjoy it for what it is, for now. I haven't heard back yet from the publisher, but I know these things take time. And honestly, I'm still in no rush or hurry. I think I've said it here before but I'll say it again, I want to focus less on short stories/anthologies and focus more on novel writing. And I don't want it to be so much about publishing a book as quickly as possible. It's more about the quality of the work than the quantity of how many gets acquired and put out there. And for The Man on Top of the World in particular, I really want to work on it with a publisher I can trust, and where I'll know that it's in good hands. If all else fails, then self-publishing is an option too. I'm just keeping those options open. The only thing I know for now about where the future holds with this book that it's still mine to enjoy, and I hope that it will find a home soon for others to enjoy too.

When/if it does find a home, the next in its series will be All That Glitters, which is already written but needs to be rewritten and expanded in many areas, and there might possibly be a third that for now is called On the Rox, but as of now nothing is written in ideas, outline, etc. It's just a thought and idea for now. Until then, we'll see what the future holds for the series. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LGBT Movie Review: Call Me Kuchu


Synopsis:

In Uganda, a new bill threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death. David Kato, Uganda s first openly gay man, and retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo work against the clock to defeat state-sanctioned homophobia while combatting vicious persecution in their daily lives. But no one is prepared for the brutal murder that shakes their movement to its core and sends shock waves around the world.

In an unmarked office at the end of a dirt track, veteran activist David Kato labors to repeal Uganda s homophobic laws and liberate his fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women, or kuchus. But David s formidable task just became much more difficult. A new Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposes death for HIV-positive gay men, and prison for anyone who fails to turn in a known homosexual. Inspired by American evangelicals who have christened Uganda ground zero in their war on the homosexual agenda, the bill awaits debate in Uganda s Parliament.

While most religious leaders in Uganda support the Bill, one lone voice from the Church is willing to speak out against it: Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a purple-robed sage who has been expelled from the Anglican Church of Uganda for his theological defense of Uganda s LGBT community. Armed with a PhD in human sexuality and a thorough understanding of Biblical scripture, this octogenarian doggedly continues his work to establish a kuchu counseling center and safe house in Kampala.
Meanwhile, local newspapers have begun outing kuchus with vicious fervor under headlines such as: HOMO TERROR! We Name and Shame Top Gays in the City.


David, Uganda s first openly gay man, is one of the few who dare to publicly protest state-sanctioned homophobia. Working with an idiosyncratic clan of fellow activists, David fights Uganda s government and tabloids in the courts, on television, and at the United Nations. Because, he insists, if we keep on hiding, they will say we re not here.

But one year into filming CALL ME KUCHU and just three weeks after a landmark legal victory, the unthinkable happens: David is brutally murdered in his home. His death sends shock waves around the world, and leaves the Bishop and Kampala s kuchus traumatized and seeking answers for a way forward.

With unprecedented access, CALL ME KUCHU depicts the last year in the life of a courageous, quick-witted and steadfast man whose wisdom and achievements were not fully recognized until after his death, and whose memory has inspired a new generation of human rights advocates. 

My Review:

This is one of the most depressing documentaries that you'll ever see. It's simply heartbreaking. The ignorance, hate, and evil that's rampant in Africa towards LGBT people is shown in such raw detail here. It's explained by many brave LGBT individuals, and shown as each individual take us on this journey through their lives and through Uganda. Their coming out stories and what they've gone through since is inspiring, albeit pretty frightening. To put it plain and simple, this documentary is NOT for the faint of heart. And to put it lightly, this documentary is truly a miracle, a miracle that it was made, and a miracle that we have a lasting document that covers the rarely seen and talked about lives of LGBT Africans that will forever be powerful. This documentary unfortunately may not change Africa---if only it would change the world---but like its advocates, Call Me Kuchu can make a difference, one brave advocate at a time.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

LGBT Movie Review: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Synopsis:

In this madcap and lighthearted comedic romp, introverted optometrist Weichung begins to question his marriage with his wife Feng upon learning of her desire to have another baby. At his sisters engagement party, Weichung bumps into an old friend, Stephen, a wedding photographer who, though also married, is living the high life of a younger, single gay man. When Stephen teases Weichung for his newly straight-laced lifestyle, dormant emotions are awakened in Weichung, setting him off on a quest for true romance and desire. 
 
My Review:

This is not the every day romantic comedy. Yes, it's lighthearted and even pokes fun at the cliche of the unhappy gay man with a wife and a child who so desperately (and of course secretly) wants to come out again, but it's not slapstick, satire, and parody. I was very surprised at how down to earth and real this movie was on so many levels, such as how Stephen, a gay man, is married to a woman, a lesbian, and how open he is about their "role reversal" arrangement and separate sexual and romantic lifestyles that's still about love at the heart of it, at home. And Weichung's unhappiness in a loveless marriage, and how adorable he is when for the first time in a long time, he falls in love with another man who loves him as much in return. I believed every moment of it. And also the conflicts: though Weichung is gay, he still loves his wife, and doesn't want for their family to be broken, but does she love him too, and is their family worth having if it's living a lie? 

I won't give anything else away, but if you decide on giving this LGBT Mandarin (with English subtitles) foreign film a shot, you'll be charmed, delighted, and impressed. It's whimsical, heartwarmingly sweet, sometimes sad, but wonderful. Just when I thought how the movie would end, it just...surprised me, in a good way! This is now one of my new favorite LGBT features. 

Björk Marathon: Vespertine

While the filming process of Dancer in the Dark was conflicting, Björk's refuge was in creating her own music separate from the movie and Selmasongs. That music would be a world full of microbeats (made from the sampling of schuffling cards and ice being cracked), the harp, celesta, clavichord, strings, and music boxes that would create an intimate, wintry, introvert, and domestic sound. She teamed up with producers Thomas Knak, Martin Gretschmann, and Marius de Vries. She got Zeena Parkins to play the harp, the duo Matmos to create the microbeats, and had the music boxes custom made to Björk's arrangements. Though the production of Björk's conflict with Lars von Trier may have been the catalyst to her wanting to make this record, the driving force of the album's love and sex theme is clearly inspired by Björk's new relationship with Matthew Barney. This new relationship and the tension with filming---where the extrovert and introvert were separated, but balanced---ultimately birthed Björk's most gorgeous, critically acclaimed album of her career.


Björk stated how she wanted Vespertine to sound like "modern chamber music." It is that, and more.

In a true Björk fashion, Vespertine is complex in its simplicity, and yet its complexity is simple. While the previous album, Homogenic, was extremely extrovert, loud, and dramatic, Vespertine basks and glows in its skittering rhythms, warm tones, laptop pulses, plinking harps, and swooshing strings, and the hushed, womblike intimacy and explicit sensuality makes this album a unique experience unlike any other. Not only does the album focus on a new found love and the cerebral and emotional side to sex, but also on "vespers" (evening prayers) and how the word "vespertine" relates things that come out at night. Björk has also described this as a "wintry" album, and rightfully so with its coziness and warmth, where the domestic side to human nature comes to life the most vibrantly. The album is also divine with lyrics that were inspired by E.E. Cummings ("Sun in my Mouth," adapted from his poem, "I Will Wade Out") and Sarah Kane's play Crave ("An Echo, A Stain") while "Unison" was described by Björk as a song of forgiveness to Lars von Trier. Along with another tradition, the character on the album cover plays a huge part on the record's theme. Björk said:

"Vespertine is an album made by a character who's very introvert. And it's about the universe inside every person. This time around, I wanted to make sure that the scenery of the songs is not like a mountain or a city or outside, it's inside, so it's very internal. So I guess all three videos are very internal. [...] Sort of how you communicate with the world in a very intimate, personal way."

And she went on to describe how the swans on the cover represent winter and romance.

Like all of her albums, the imagery is as important as the music, and with the release of Vespertine in August 2001, a self-titled coffee table book was released in September 2001 to coincide with it, which contains a series of photos of Björk, text pieces, and pages dedicated to her collaborators.


And also released were three new music videos/singles.

The first one was Hidden Place. 


This video was notable for how Björk was wearing no makeup, with close-up shots of her face, taking focus on Björk's natural beauty.

The second was Pagan Poetry.


Being that this is the only really loud, but still introvert, song on the album, it's no surprise that the music video would end up being the boldest and most controversial music video that Björk has ever done. And it's my #1 most favorite video of hers, ever, period. It is about a woman preparing herself for marriage after making love to her lover, and she sews the wedding dress into her skin after. Nick Knight, the director of the video, was asked to make this about her love life, and he simply gave Björk a Sony camera and asked her to film private scenes herself, and that's where we have the simulated fellatio and love making moments in the video. The piercings were also shot by Björk by five women who were part of the piercing subculture, with only Björk's ear being pierced by Björk herself. The gorgeous topless wedding dress is by Alexander McQueen. The video of course was banned from airing on MTV and would later on rare occasions be aired on MTV2.

And the last and final video was Cocoon. 


As equally controversial, this video would also be her most avant-garde. This one didn't raise as much of a stir since Björk was wearing a very close-fitting body suit that only gave off the illusion of nudity, it was still banned from primetime MTV.

At the time of Vespertine's release, the album would be her fastest selling album to date, and quickly grew widespread acclaim. Not long after, Björk embarked on a tour of theatres and opera houses in Europe and North America, accompanied with Zeena Parkins, Matmos, and a choir from Greenland, whom she had held auditions for during her trip in Greenland before going on tour.

If Vespertine was Björk's magnum opus of an album, the tour was also a masterpiece itself. And as part of my collection, the best and most beautiful concert DVD of hers is this:

Björk: Vespertine Live at the Royal Opera House.

A concert can't get more exquisite than this. It's still the most definitive moment of her career, and as a live performance, it's the best of her career as well. It's immediately spellbinding at Frosti.


And in All Is Full of Love.


What amazes me the most about this concert is how all the songs performed sound better than their studio versions, and also exceed and excel in its beauty even in its live form. Björk pours so much warmth, emotion, and heart into every song, surrendering her all to her music and the audience. All the songs selected flow so well together and are sung with such raw feelings that brings new life, character, and personality. Every performance here is a highlight, honestly, but here are my favs:

Generous Palmstroke 


This is one of Björk's best b-sides, originally released in the Hidden Place single. Listen to the lyrics. It's so goddamn sexy, very much a BDSM ballad and love song in one, so personal and sweet.

Cocoon 


Hidden Place


Unison





 Harm of Will

Pagan Poetry 

Joga 


And aren't Matmos, Zeena, and the Inuit choir just as lovely?

The DVD also includes bonuses taken from this Touring Vespertine DVD that would be released a little after Vespertine Live at the Royal Opera House.

I don't own this one, but I've watched it before. Honestly, it's nothing special, and since so many scenes are put into the Royal Opera House, it feels a tad unnecessary, not to mention, it's way too short and has nothing in it that isn't already said or shown for the concert DVD.

And naturally, a Vespertine Live CD was also released, with performances from the Vespertine World Tour, August-December 2001. This CD is as stunning as the DVD, and worth buying on its own. It also includes a pretty thick booklet with an interview that was taken place at her home in 2002, which gives us even greater insight into her music, her inspirations, her life and career, in her own words.


Other notable gems from the Vespertine are:

The B-Sides, and boy, didn't this album have a lot of them!

From the Pagan Poetry single:

Domestica

Originally Björk wanted to call the album by this name, but felt that in an already obviously domestic-themed album, it would be "too much," but she did turn the title into a song.

Batabid


From the Hidden Place single:

Verandi (one of my other favorite B-sides! It sounds so extraterrestial!)


Generous Palmstroke (the studio version)

Mother Heroic


This one sound sounds like a lullaby, just so charming.

Foot Soldier


I love how hypnotic and glitchy this is to the point of insanity! Just brilliant.

From the Cocoon single:


This song would also appear in the Being John Malkvovich soundtrack.

Another b-side that has yet to be released or published is a track called A Different Kind of Love.

This concert performance at NYC's Riverside Church:


This was aired on TV but never released on DVD or VHS. I sure wish it was. It's only 35 minutes, but goodness, you can't get more intimate than performing live at a little church like this one!

And lastly, the album cover photo shoots!




The Vespertine era is my all-time favorite of Björk's career, and it doesn't surprise me at all that most fans and critics alike see this era as Björk at her peak. Even Björk herself saw this album as her best record, and how from after recording this album and touring it, she felt so complete as an artist. This is Björk at her most visually and sonically sensual, sexy, erotic, daring, intimate, and emotional. And one can't blame her: she was in love with Matthew Barney at the time, and everything about this era showed just how much she was in love with her new man, with herself, and with her new music.

Friday, March 20, 2015

OUT NOW: Encore


Here's my first ever release with Wayward Ink Publishing, and it stars my M/M short story, A Night at the Opera.

Anthology Description:

An anthology about musicals… with a twist.
Who can resist a musical?
We at Wayward Ink certainly can’t!
Boys and Girls, go don your tux. Slink into your gown. Strap on your heels. Dust off that tiara and wrap yourselves in a feather boa!
Come celebrate the extravaganza with us!
Waltz through ten short stories inspired by some of the world’s most popular musicals.



Here's the blurb for my short:

Rick never cared for opera.
He thought opera singers were old, outdated, and fat.
That was until he met Giovanni, an opera singer who’s far from that!
No. Giovanni is statuesque, young, refreshing, and beautiful.
Giovanni opened Rick’s mind to a new world, and Rick’s first ever opera experience definitely wasn’t going to be his last.
But little does Giovanni realize that Rick will open his mind to a new experience too…


And so far, the anthology is getting positive reviews from:

Rainbow Gold Reviews 

Saguaro Moon Reviews

Bike Book Reviews  

A Night at the Opera has been given 5 stars by Bike Book Reviews:

"Sexy opera at its best! Love this one!"

BUY LINKS:



http://amzn.com/B00U1QZSJ6




: http://www.waywardinkpublishing.com/product/encore/






: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-encoreawaywardinkpublishinganthology-1758654-166.html









Enjoy, and HAPPY READING, everyone!

Vanessa