Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zodiac


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/25/07


One of the most infamous serial killers to emerge in San Francisco during the late 1960s was a mysterious killer known as the Zodiac Killer. The Zodiac Killer was a killer who taunted the press through mysterious letters in the early 1970s. The mystery remains unsolved as its identity yet it remains one of the most infamous murders. The notoriety of the case and murders spread through pop culture that involved two books by cartoonist Robert Graysmith. One of them has now become a feature film by David Fincher that is simply entitled Zodiac.

Based on Graysmith's book with a script by James Vanderbilt, Zodiac tells the story of the mysterious investigation of the murders that involved two cops and two journalists including Graysmith. When the investigation goes further, it leads into a puzzling world of madness that nearly destroys their minds. Directed by David Fincher of such films as Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room, it's a psychological mystery that explores one of the most notorious murders. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny, John Carroll Lynch, Donal Logue, Elias Koteas, Dermont Mulroney, Phillip Baker Hall, Adam Goldberg, Clea DuVall, and Brian Cox. Zodiac is a harrowing, puzzling thriller from David Fincher.

It's July 4, 1969 when a couple stopped at a beach side cliff when suddenly, a mysterious man arrives, kills the woman and leaves the man wounded. A month later at the San Francisco Chronicle, a cartoonist named Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is doing his work on cartoons when a letter is sent to the editor of the paper, Al Hyman (Ed Setrakian). Hyman gives the letter to his publisher Charles Theiriot (John Terry) who reads it to the staff including Graysmith and reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) where attached to the letter is a strange code. Avery believes the murders is connected to one year before that Christmas. He calls Sgt. Jack Mulanax (Elias Koteas) to confirm the connection of the murders where reports about the murders circulate in the San Francisco area. Graysmith is interested by the whole murders since he is very good with puzzles. After another murder in a lake where a man named Bryan Hartnell (Patrick Scott Lewis) was wounded but his girlfriend (Pell James) was dead but claims he saw the man wearing a costume. Another murder involving a cab driver lead to a full investigation.

Leading the investigation are David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) who went to the corner on the night that was Armstrong's birthday. Immediately, the case becomes public with Cpt. Marty Lee (Dermont Mulroney) gets involved with the help of a code-breaker named Sherwood Morrill (Phillip Baker Hall) looking into handwritings and stuff. With Avery doing a lot of the reporting on the killings, a puzzle is made while Graysmith brings a lot of theories and ideas about what's going on about the murders. Toschi and Armstrong collaborate with the Chronicle where by 1970, the investigation gets more intense with Graysmith watching in the background. Things get worse when a woman (Ione Skye) claimed she was captured as Avery becomes more troubling with the reporting, even after getting a letter from the Zodiac killer. When a known attorney named Melvin Belli (Brian Cox) is contacted by the killer, he tries to talk to him via television but nothing comes around until Christmas when he received a letter.

With the investigation finally getting leads, they find a suspect in Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) who becomes a big suspect but because of evidence and such, he is cleared. After some tension between Avery and Toschi, Avery is forced to leave the Chronicle due to his erratic behavior and by 1972, Armstrong leaves as Graysmith later meets Toschi at a screening for Dirty Harry. For now, the case is closed and going nowhere. Four years later as Toschi is still in the force and Graysmith still a cartoonist when Duffy Jennings takes Avery's job. Graysmith takes interest in writing a book about the investigation while trying to talk to Avery about doing the book. Graysmith ends up doing the book himself where he finds more loose ends and asks for help from Morrill and Toschi about the loose ends. With Graysmith taking on the investigation, like Avery and Toschi, he starts to descend to madness which affects his family life and marriage to Melanie (Chloe Sevigny). Finding new clues and people including a woman who knew Leigh at a party named Linda Ferrin (Clea Duvall). When Graysmith goes public, things become troubling when a letter from the Zodiac re-emerged but it's linked to Toschi who is suspected for writing the new letter.

With Graysmith getting closer, he tries to turn to Toschi, Mulanax, and Mel Nicholai (Zach Grenier) for help. They wouldn't publicly but when Graysmith believes someone else might've been the killer, he gets more than he bargained for. Finally, Graysmith confides in Toschi as they are forced to believe that the Zodiac murder might be unsolved after all.

While the film is based on a true story and is set from 1969 to 1991, the whole film doesn't play up as a conventional thriller or suspense film. Instead, it plays like a puzzle that doesn't get finished or has no sense of closure. Instead, the film plays up as a three-part act. The first being the opening of the Zodiac investigation. The second is about the suspicion of Arthur Leigh Allen being the killer which is based on theory that is suggested by the book. The third act is about Robert Graysmith and his own investigation that leads to him writing the book.

While the result pays off, it isn't entirely perfect on few instances. While director David Fincher has created a superb, unconventional mystery, the film does move slowly in its pacing though it is deliberate to understand what is going on. The eventual two-hour, 40-minute running time as opposed to his early three-hours and some odd minutes does make this film to be very long. Yet, it still works on some level including how Graysmith meets Melanie, his relationship with Avery, the friendship between Toschi and Armstrong, and everything else.

If Fincher is known for one thing that is prominent in all of his films, it's atmosphere. Shooting on location in San Francisco, entirely on digital camera, the film looks and feels like a 1970s film of sorts from its production and costumes, to the look. Even some of the camera work is reminiscent of early 70s American cinema based on its dark, shady look and how time moves on to those moments of San Francisco. Part of the film is like a reporters/investigators film where the guys just take a break and be themselves with a bit of backstory on who they are.

Then when the suspense happens and the murders are shown, it is done with a fear and terror where the audience knows what's going to happen but couldn't ignore. Fincher stays true to the timeline and structure from screenwriter James Vanderbilt though there's a scene involving a projectionist (Charles Fleischer) that doesn't totally work. Yet, it raises more questions on the killings as well as suspects. In reality, the film is about three men taking on a case that eventually descends them into madness and how they come out of it. Despite a few of the film's flaws, David Fincher has crafted a solid yet intriguing film.

Cinematographer Harris Savides does some amazing camera work in capturing the nighttime look of San Francisco with some intimate lighting in many of the film's night, interior shots as well as some gorgeous exterior lights. The sunlight scenes also work to convey the beauty and griminess of some of the locations. Savides' work is truly amazing. Production designer Donald Graham Burt and art director Keith P. Cunningham do excellent work in capturing the look and feel of 1970s San Francisco with the looks of the TVs, the cars, and everything to present that feel of the 70s including a horrifying design on the trailer of Leigh filled with some peculiar creatures.

Costume designer Casey Storm also plays to the film's 70s look with the wonderfully prim clothing of Chloe Sevigny to the suits that Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards wear along with Robert Downey Jr.'s hippie-like, ragged clothes. Editor Angus Wall does some nice editing to convey the action of the killing as well as bringing the tense atmosphere of the investigation with perspective shots and jump cuts. Sound designer Ren Klyce does some amazing sound work to convey the sound of the murders, TVs, phones, and the opening murder sequence that is mixed with the song Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan. Composer David Shire, who is known for his score work in 70s classic like Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men brings an ominous film score that plays up to the suspense and atmosphere of the film. The soundtrack also includes cuts from Marvin Gaye, Santana, and other late 60s/early 70s songs.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with some memorable small performances from Pell James, Ione Skye, Patrick Scott Lewis, Jimmi Simpson as an older version of a victim of the Zodiac, James LeGros as an investigator, John Getz as the new Chronicle editor who kicks out Avery, Adam Goldberg, Charles Fleischer, Clea Duvall, Zach Grenier, Donal Logue as investigator Ken Narlow, Candy Clark as Hyman's secretary, John Terry, Ed Setrakian, and Charles Schneider as the ill-fated cab driver.

Playing the different roles of the Zodiac killer are Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, and John Lacy who each bring in a great presence to the killer without giving away anything to the audience. John Carroll Lynch is excellent as the mysterious Arthur Leigh Allen with a swagger that makes him suspicious and complex about the idea if he's really the man. Brian Cox is great as the celebrity defense attorney who tries to talk to the Zodiac while Phillip Baker Hall is also in top form as a manuscript expert.

Chloe Sevigny is excellent as Graysmith's girlfriend Melanie who tries to ground Graysmith in his role of being a family man though is forced to see his madness up close. Elias Koteas is great as a sergeant that confirms the murders to the press as he helps out Graysmith looking into files and such. Anthony Edwards is great as Toschi partner Armstrong whose years in working the investigation begins to burn him out as the more cynical, realistic cop who has yet to try sushi.

Mark Ruffalo is in amazing form as David Toschi who becomes obsessed with a corner where one of the killings happen as he later tries to bring himself back into reality only to see that he might've overlooked something. Robert Downey Jr. is also brilliant as the eccentric Paul Avery whose unconventional reporting makes him a sense of annoyance to some as his obsession leads to his own madness as he is forced to retreat. Jake Gyllenhaal gives an outstanding performance as a young cartoonist who looks on in the background only to take over as he sees how far he nearly loses it. It's a more mature yet solid performance from Gyllenhaal who proves that he ain’t no pretty boy or weirdo.

While not as entertaining as Fight Club or Se7en, Zodiac is still a very solid, entrancing film from David Fincher. Fans of Fincher's work will no doubt be challenged by his unconventional style to the mystery genre though audiences will have to take note of the film's long running time. With a great cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, it's a film that not only pays tribute to the films of the 70s but also to the people who worked tirelessly on the Zodiac murders, which remains unsolved. In the end, Zodiac is a thrilling film from David Fincher that shouldn't be ignored.

David Fincher Films: Alien 3 - (Se7en) - (The Game) - (Fight Club) - (Panic Room) - (Zodiac-Director's Cut) - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - The Social Network - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(C) thevoid99 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Deerhunter-Halcyon Digest



Since breaking through into the indie music scene with their 2007 sophomore album Cryptograms, the Atlanta-based ambient-punk band Deerhunter has become of the most exciting bands in recent years. EPs such as Fluorescent Grey and 2009’s Rainwater Cassette Exchange along with full-length albums in 2008’s Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. has made them darlings of the indie scene while the band was also selected to open for Nine Inch Nails for their 2008 tour on several shows. While side projects such as vocalist Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound and guitarist Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza has kept the group busy. The band continued to tour with other acts while making a new album with famed Animal Collective producer Ben H. Allen for their 2010 album Halcyon Digest.

Written and performed by Deerhunter with production by the band and Ben H. Allen, Halcyon Digest is an album that takes Deerhunter’s hypnotic, dreamy ambient-punk sound to new heights by adding electronic elements to their sound.  With the band, that also includes bassist Josh Fauver and drummer Moses Archuleta, expanding their sound. The record includes appearances from Bill Ogelsby and Chris McPherson to help broaden their sound. Lyrically, Bradford Cox delves into the world of nostalgia and death. Particularly the recent death of garage rock artist Jay Reatard in early 2010. Even as guitarist Lockett Pundt even sings on a couple of tracks to add his takes on the themes of the album. The result is a haunting yet extraordinary album by Deerhunter.

The opening track Earthquake is led by a slow, sputtering drum machine track that is followed by Lockett Pundt’s flourishing guitar wash as Bradford Cox sings in a calm, dreamy vocal. Featuring waves of guitar swirls and esoteric lyrics, the song is definitely a chilling yet shoegaze-inspired opener that delves into the band’s unique, ambient-punk sound. Don’t Cry is a mid-tempo track with driving guitar riffs in both acoustic and electric with a steady, bouncy rhythm section from Moses Archuleta’s drums and Josh Fauver’s bass. The song’s lyrics and Cox’s vocals delve into the loss of teenage innocence as it features a coda that slows the song down with a folky presentation.

The album’s first single Revival is a slow but upbeat mid-tempo track with bouncy rhythms and melodic chimes from guitars and keyboards. Cox’s soothing yet raspy vocals are filled with strange yet ghostly lyrics about nostalgia. Even as it shows the band’s ability to create something that can balance the unconventional with a dose of melodic pop. Sailing is a ballad led by soothing guitar strums by Pundt with warbling background noises as Cox sings in a calm vocal style with ethereal-laden lyrics that is filled with cosmic imagery. Memory Boy is an upbeat, bouncy track led by Pundt’s chime-swirling guitar melodies with chugging strums from Cox as he sings in his soothing rasp. Carried by the sparse but steady rhythm of Archuleta and Fauver, Cox gives the song a nice pop sensibility while it features some troubling lyrics of loss.

Desire Lines is a six-minute, forty-five second mid-tempo track led by Pundt’s melodic-chiming guitar track as he sings the song with his own dreamy vocal style. Featuring Archuleta’s steady yet pummeling mid-tempo drumming, Fauver’s heavy bass line, and Cox’s driving rhythm, the song really belongs to Pundt. Even as the song is filled with swirling guitars that includes an extended guitar solo as it is one of the album’s standout tracks. Basement Scene is a chilling track led by warbling wind sounds, a slow rhythm, and washy guitars as Cox sings haunting lyrics. Filled with nightmarish imagery along with themes of fear, the song can be described as the Everly Brothers meet the Velvet Underground in a grand way.

Helicopter is an electronic-laden track with chiming keyboard flourishes, slow clap beats, and swirling guitar textures. Cox’s esoteric lyrics matched with his somber vocals is really one of the album’s centerpieces. Even as it revels in Cox’s fragile persona as it is one of his best vocal performances with the band joining in to give a slow yet chilling performance with live instruments. Fountain Stairs is a bouncy, upbeat track sung by Pundt as he is accompanied by a calm yet steady rhythm and haunting lyrics. The shoegaze-inspired track is definitely reminiscent of early My Bloody Valentine as it includes a wonderful, wailing guitar solo from Pundt.

Coronado is a strange, upbeat track that features Bill Oglesby on saxophone and Chris McPherson on 12-string guitar. The upbeat yet raucous track has Cox sing in a growling rasp with eerie lyrics about death as it’s a song that revels in the chaotic presentation of the late Alex Chilton. The album closer is He Would Have Laughed which is a seven-and-a-half minute tribute to Jay Reatard. Led by a chiming harps, sputtering electronic-bass tracks, and swooning synthesizers, it is a song that revels in sadness. Featuring Archuleta’s slow, rumbling bass drums, Cox’s vocals as he reveals in the sense of fear and longing as the song features an extended coda of swirling chimes and swooning keyboards that serves as a fitting end with Cox playing an acoustic guitar asking where are his friends.

Halcyon Digest is definitely a marvelous album by Deerhunter featuring some excellent work from Ben H. Allen. Fans of the band will no doubt be happy that the band didn’t stray too far from their previous records while taking on a more streamlined yet hypnotic sound. Even as they add more pop elements that makes it their most accessible record to date. Audiences new to the band will no doubt be amazed by this band though Cryptograms remains their best work so far. In the end, Halcyon Digest is an album that definitely proves that Deerhunter is a band worth seeking out in the age of overly-processed mainstream pop music.

Deerhunter Reviews: Cryptograms - Fluorescent Grey EP - Microcastle - (Weird Era Cont.) - Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP

Related Reviews: (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Deerhunter/Imaad Wasif-10/14/06 Atlanta, GA Tabernacle) - NIN/Deerhunter-8/13/08 Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena - (Atlas Sound-Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel) - (Atlas Sound-Logos) - (Lotus Plaza-The Floodlight Collective) - Deerhunter-10/1/10 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse

© thevoid99 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Deerhunter-Rainwater Cassette Exchange


 Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/16/09


2008's Microcastle along with its accompanying bonus disc entitled Weird Era Cont. helped give Deerhunter much acclaim as they were considered one of the best indie bands in the genre. After getting some attention when they were personally selected by Trent Reznor to open for Nine Inch Nails on some dates, the buzz continued to thrive as the side projects of its individual members like vocalist/guitarist Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound and guitarist Lockett Pundt's Lotus Plaza managed to get attention as well. The Atlanta-based band, now a quartet that includes bassist Joshua Farver and drummer Moses Archuleta following Colin Mee's departure in late 2007, continues to delve into individual projects and the band as well. In 2008, the band went into a Brooklyn studio with producer Nicholas Vernhes to record a five-song EP that would showcase the growing sounds of the ambient-punk band entitled Rainwater Cassette Exchange.

Written and performed by Deerhunter and produced by Nicholas Vernhes, the Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP is a five-song EP of brand new material recorded from a 2008 session at a Brooklyn, New York studio. The five songs show the band's strange, esoteric, ambient-punk song taken into newer heights while adding more melodic sensibilities to their sound. The result isn't just some new transitional phase for the band but also the band's growing ability in songwriting and performance as they are becoming one of the most exciting bands to come around in the past few years.

The record opens with its title track, a loopy, melodic-swirling track filled with bouncy bass lines and guitar riffs with tingling percussions in the background. With Bradford Cox's dreamy vocals filled with esoteric lyrics, Moses Archuleta's thumping drums come in along with Lockett Pundt's soft, ringing guitar swirls. The song is filled with amazing production and layers of instrumentation in the guitars, bass, and drums as it's clear that this is a different record from the band than in their previous work. The first single Disappearing Ink is an upbeat, guitar-driven song with fast, charging guitar riffs and bouncy rhythms which includes Joshua Farver's wobbly bass line. With Cox's dreamy vocals and eerie lyrics, it's a song that shows new complexities from the band as it's an intense cut that is dream-like but also with a punk-like energy that most bands couldn't replicate.

Famous Last Words is a bouncy, upbeat song with thumping bass lines and drum parts that plays to Cox's raspy, nasally vocals filled with lyrics relating to death. With Pundt's ringing guitar solos along with swirling synthesizers in the background, it's a song that is carried by its superb production and the performance of the band itself. Games Of Diamonds is an acoustic cut with hollow percussions flourishes from Archuleta's bongos and smooth, washy acoustic guitar riffs. With some soothing, ethereal keyboards in the background, it's Cox's vocals filled with imagery-laden lyrics that really shine. Of all the songs in the record, this cut is the real standout as it shows a new versatility in the band with Pundt singing along to the chorus as he plays some amazing riffs to the acoustic guitar.

The last track on the record is Circulation, a thundering song with rumbling bass drum beats and arpeggio-swirling guitars filled with driving shoegaze-inspired guitars. Along with pounding bass lines, it's Cox's raspy vocals with its weird, dreamy lyrics along with Pundt's accompanying vocals that help the song. Even as its production help build up the track in the beginning as its ringing guitar melodies and intense performances with crashing drums and swirling guitar layers take shape into the song making it a fitting closer.

While it's only a record that lasts for 15 minutes, the Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP is still an amazing record from Deerhunter. For fans of the band who have been following them for the past few years will no doubt be amazed by the new material the band has created. With a new wave of bands coming out of Atlanta like Mastodon and Manchester Orchestra among others. It's clear that Deerhunter are the most interesting of all as they continue to push their ambient-punk sounds to new heights while not delving too far into the mainstream. In many respects, this is the band's most accessible record to date while it definitely ups the ante for what they could do next. In the end, the Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP is one of the 2009's best records from Atlanta's very own Deerhunter.

Deerhunter Reviews: Cryptograms - Fluorescent Grey EP - Microcastle - (Weird Era Cont.) - Halcyon Digest

Related Reviews: (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Deerhunter/Imaad Wasif-10/14/06 Atlanta, GA Tabernacle) - NIN/Deerhunter-8/13/08 Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena - (Atlas Sound-Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel) - (Atlas Sound-Logos) - (Lotus Plaza-The Floodlight Collective) - Deerhunter-10/1/06 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse

(C) thevoid99 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Solaris (Expanded Criterion DVD Edition)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/22/08 w/ Additional Content


Throughout the history of science-fiction in cinema, stories were often told about the wanders of outer space sometimes through humor or in propaganda. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick changed the perception of what sci-fi could be with his adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick's haunting tale of man in outer space came around the time the space race between the Americans and the Soviets were coming to a close. Then in 1972, Russia's premier cinematic director Andrei Tarkovsky, who had help give Russian cinema some international attention amidst the Cold War, created his own take on science fiction in an eerie tale of death and longing based on Stanislaw Lem's novel entitled Solaris.

Solaris tells the story of a widowed psychologist who goes to outer space to enter a space station near a strange planet. Talking to surviving crew members in the space station, he becomes haunted by the images of his late wife. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky with an adapted script written by Tarkovsky and Fridrikh Gorenshtein, the film is a psychological drama about a man exploring an unknown crisis in the space station as his own demons including his late wife come to haunt him. Starring Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Bonionis, Juri Jarvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn, Sos Sargsyan, and Olga Barnet. Solaris is a haunting yet powerful film from the late Andrei Tarkovsky.

Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Bonionis) is walking around the gardens and ponds around his father's home as he awaits for his departure tomorrow for outer space. His mission is to examine a crisis surrounding a space station that's been orbiting a strange, water-like planet called Solaris. Kris' father (Nikolai Grinko) arrives with a former astronaut named Henri Burton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) who brings film footage of an interrogation he took years ago. Kris and his aunt (Tamara Ogorodnikova) watch the footage where Burton talked about his own exploration around the planet of Solaris as he reveals that he saw a child on the planet's surface during a search for two scientists. With his camera having only footage of clouds, his claims were dismissed as hallucinations. With Kelvin set to depart within hours, Burton tries to give him a warning but Kelvin dismisses Burton's warning as Burton leaves with his son.

With Kelvin now departing, he sets for his journey to the mysterious planet of Solaris and the space station orbiting the planet. Arriving into the space station, he sees that the station is in ruins though still working. Meeting Dr. Snaut (Juri Jarvet), he is warned to not overreact to anything unusual as Kelvin finds himself confused and dismissive. Learning that his friend Dr. Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan) had committed suicide, he watches Gibarian's final video as he warned Kris of the things he might be seeing. During the video, Kelvin sees a woman on that video where he would follow her to find the body of Gibarian. Just as he went to bed, he finds another woman in his room but in the image of his late wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) who is more puzzled by her appearance in the space station. Kelvin decides to take her to a spaceship where he manages to get her in and then blast the rocket out of the station and into the planet of Solaris.

After realizing that Snaut's warnings were true, Kelvin learns that Hari will return as a duplicate as she sleeps with him and then, just as he was about to go the lab of Dr. Sartorius (Anatoly Solonitsyn). She becomes completely distraught and afraid to be alone as she is found badly cut and bleeding. With Kelvin treating her, he is aware that something strange is going on as he turns to Snaut and Sartorius. Realizing that Solaris has created the duplicate of Hari, Sartorius suggests that she is made by neutrinos with a possibility to destroy them. After showing Hari old films of their life, she learns of what she is and asks what happened to her as Snaut and Sartorius each make radical suggestions to deal with apparitions. Snaut wants to use Kelvin's brain waves to communicate with the planet while Sartorius wants to attack with heavy radiation.

A birthday party for Snaut is celebrated that included a reading of Man of La Mancha as a discussion over science occurs. With Hari becoming clear of who she is, only Kelvin clings on to her desperately as Snaut reveals what Solaris is in a metaphorical sense. Now, haunted by the demons of his life including a dream about his mother (Olga Barnet), Kelvin ponders what he should do about himself and everything he believed in.

While the film's plot is about a man who goes to space to observe a crisis only to become haunted by his own guilt over his wife's suicide. The film is really a metaphor in some ways about death, life after death, coping, and resurrection. Yet, it is the approach of director and co-screenwriter Andrei Tarkovsky took that makes this film more startling. While the film's pacing is slow, something that probably a majority of audiences will complain about. It's only because Tarkovsky is trying to create something where as if time has slowed down as Kris Kelvin is about to embark on this unknown journey.

The first forty-minutes of the film is set on Earth as Tarkovsky shows the audience of this world that Kris is about to leave while a man is trying to warn of what's happening in Solaris. Through interrogations and other metaphoric images that includes an extended sequence of Burton riding into the highways of Japan. It creates an idea of what Kelvin could be leaving behind. Something that might seem to harsh and mechanical. Whereas once he enters the space station and the nearby surroundings of Solaris, the haunting apparition of his wife Hari appears and because he's so filled with guilt and shame. The possibility of just being with her in outer space might seem like a better idea but resurrection comes with a price.

It's Tarkovsky's approach to the themes that he's presenting as well as his observant, eerie direction that provides a haunting quality as if something suspenseful is going to happen. Well, that doesn't really happen but instead, Tarkovsky goes for restrained, emotional drama along with discussions of science and faith. Then there's his compositions, particularly his staging of the flashback scenes. Some of it is based on paintings that draw a sense of emotion for longing and loss while giving the idea that his film has the same emotional similarity that these paintings have. The scenes in the space station have an intimate yet eerie quality filled with tracking shots and dolly to give the sense of something futuristic and ghost-like. Yet, as the film ends, it reveals of the decisions that Kelvin has made and what he has to live with. In the end, Tarkovsky doesn't give an easy answer nor a resolution that will satisfy everyone. In his direction, Tarkovsky has made a film that is truly haunting yet engrossing about the subject of death and disconnection.

Cinematographer Vadim Yusov brings a unique look to the film with is stark yet fluid camera work with its exterior setting. Yet, shots that have a sense of discolored look from the brown-tan look of the TV and flashback scenes to the grey, colored look of sleeping and dream-like sequences. Yusov's lighting for the interior space station scenes are truly superb from its heightened lighting for the day scenes to a very dark look in Snaut's birthday party scene. Yusov's photography is a real highlight of the film. Editors Lyudmila Feiginova and Nina Marcus do an excellent job with the editing in the use of dissolves and transitional cuts to maintain a sense of aura to the film despite its sluggish pacing that works to convey the film’s eerie tone. Production designer Mikhail Romadin does a fantastic job in creating the look of the future from the space station in its interior design to the home and big TV in the Earth sequences.

Costume designer Yelena Fomina does a fine job with the film's costume design from the looks of the clothes the men wear to the dress that Hari wears throughout the entire duration in the station. The film's special effects and sound work is truly extraordinary to convey the idea of the future. The sound work has a robotic feel that works to convey the atmosphere inside the space station. Yet, the special effects for its time are wonderful with its use of clouds and visual collages to create the world that is Solaris. The film's music by electronic musician Eduard Artemyev is wonderfully haunting with chimes and bells to create a vibrant atmosphere while Artemyev's take on Bach's Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ adds a sense of melancholia to the film in its opening and the flashback sequences.

The film's cast is filled with a wonderful array of actors with small performances from Tamara Ogorodnikova as Kelvin's aunt, Georgi Tejkh as a professor interviewing Burton, Yulian Semyonov as a chairman at that interview, Olga Kizilova as Gibarian's apparition guest, and Olga Barnet as Kelvin's mother. Sos Sargsyan is excellent in his small role as Dr. Gibarian who makes warnings to Kelvin about what's happening in the station while Nikolai Grinko is also excellent as Kelvin's father who tries to help get ready for his departure while understanding what he could be dealing with. Anatoly Solonitsyn is great as the cold Dr. Sartorius whose emphasis on science over everything makes him someone who wants to destroy the apparitions that is going on while treating Hari with a cold indifference.

Juri Jarvet is brilliant in his role as the sympathetic Dr. Snaut who is clearly the film's conscience. Jarvet's performance is wonderfully subtle and calm as he tries to make an understanding both scientifically and humanly while being one of the few friends Kelvin can count on. Vladislav Dvorzhetsky is also great as Henri Burton, a man haunted by his own experience in the Solaris experiment as he tries to make serious warnings to Kelvin over what is happening.

Donatas Bonionis is amazing in his role as Kris Kelvin, the psychologist sent to space only to be haunted by the demons in his past. Bonionis' performance is truly superb in how fragile his character had become and to realize his own guilt and shame that lead to the apparition of Hari that he longs for to heal all that guilt. The best performance truly goes to Natalya Bondarchuk as Hari, an apparition of Kelvin's wife who becomes aware of what happened to her and her longing for Kelvin. Bondarchuk's performance is truly the most emotional as she has the traits to act human despite her knowledge that she is just an apparition who often kills herself over and over again.

***Additional DVD Content Written and Posted on 9/26/10***

The 2002 2-disc Criterion Collection Special Edition Region 1 DVD for Solaris is one of the most treasured films in the Criterion Collection.  Presented with a new high-definition digital transfer with restored picture and sound.  The film is also shown in the original 2:35:1 theatrical aspect ratio for widescreen televisions.  With the remastered sound presented in Russian with proper English subtitles, the film is shown in a new, mesmerizing form.

The first disc of the DVD features the film in its entirety with a commentary track by two Andrei Tarkovsky scholars in Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, the co-authors of The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky:  A Visual Fugue.  The commentary features insight into Tarkovsky’s belief that filmmaking is a collaboration as well as not giving into the pressures of the Soviet Union at the time the film was made.  It’s also revealed about Tarkovsky’s relationship with his collaborators and actors, notably Donatis Banionis.  Though Tarkovsky and Banionis had a hard time working with each other, Tarkovsky was happy with his performance.  Also talked about is the locations and mood that Tarkovsky wanted for the film.  The highway sequence was shot in Tokyo to convey a city of the future for Eastern audiences as opposed to Western audiences.

The talk about budget restraints for the film was revealed into why Tarkovsky didn’t put a lot of emphasis on special effects.  Even as its revealed that Tarkovsky was not a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  During the film’s second half, Johnson and Petrie delve into the film’s themes as well as the performance of Natalya Bondarchuk, who was 18 when she did the film.  Unlike Banionis, Tarkovsky had an easier time working with Bondarchuk who practically surprised the entire cast.  Johnson and Petrie also talk about the Soviet Union’s hesitant to release the film as well as the cuts they wanted where in the end, Tarkovsky won when he released the film at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize.  It’s a wonderful commentary that talks about the film as well as Tarkovsky’s background.

The second disc is filled with numerous special features relating to the film.  The first are nine deleted/alternate scenes cut out from an earlier version to make way for Tarkovsky’s final cut of the film.  The first is a scene with opening text which is a magazine interview with Kelvin and his thoughts on science over faith that would precede the opening shot of the film.  The second deleted scene is where Burton shows what he filmed during his trip to Solaris during his interrogation as he, Kelvin, and Kelvin’s aunt watch.  The third scene is an alternate/extended scene of Kelvin’s departure from Earth and arrival to the space station that includes additional dialogue during his travel.  The fourth scene is a deleted scene where Kelvin is leaving his room to get food where Hari is worried if he would return.

The fifth scene is a short deleted scene that was to start the film’s second half where Kelvin takes Hari to the space capsule where they’re both wearing suits while Snaut listens to the conversation before they leave.  The sixth scene is an extended scene preceding to Hari’s declaration of love to Kelvin where Kelvin eats dinner while Hari feels disgusted about what she is while dealing with his guilt.  The seventh is an extended scene of Kelvin being sick as in the mirror room with numerous Haris plus an appearance from his mother which features a shot of Tokyo as well as papers being on fire.  The eighth scene is an alternate scene of Kelvin meeting his mother in a dream which features a few extended shots and dialogue.  The last scene is an alternate scene of Snaut and Kelvin finally coming to the conclusion about the apparitions with additional dialogue about what happened to Hari.

The next big part of the special features are four interviews relating to the film.  The first is a 32-minute interview with actress Natalya Bondarchuk.  Bondarchuk talks about her first meeting with Tarkovsky years before the making of the film when she was just a teenager.  She was a fan of the novel Solaris while years later when the film was set to go into production.  She auditioned and was well-received but Tarkovsky felt she wasn’t right though did get her a part for another film for another director.  Months later, unable to find another actress, the director showed footage to Tarkovsky as he realized Bondarchuk was the right person all along.  Bondarchuk also goes into detail about Tarkovsky’s directing style to the way he would create scene to how he would direct actors.  She stated that part of her inspiration for the her performance was The Little Mermaid and how that character struggled to love a human being.

Bondarchuk, who later became a film director, talked about how much winning the Special Jury Prize at Cannes meant a lot to Tarkovsky and the Soviet Union film industry.  Even though they didn’t like the film nor the fact that Tarkovsky won an award from the Vatican as well since the money he got was something Tarkovsky needed to survive.  Bondarchuk also talked about her personal relationship with Tarkovsky along with the things that happened when he was dying from cancer while she was in France.  It’s a wonderful interview that is informative with a mixture of humor in the way Bondarchuk describes Tarkovsky’s personality.

The second interview is a 34-minute interview with cinematographer Vadim Yusof.  Yusof discusses his collaboration with Tarkovsky and how they met during film school.  The two worked together up till Solaris.  During a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey, the two were amazed by the visual effects though there were some ideas of Kubrick they didn’t agree with.  Yusof also talks about some of the effects shot including how some shots during the scenes on Earth where luck was involved for some of those shots.  Notably the last sequence which were all shot as it was going on though Tarkovsky was a perfectionist.

Yusov also talked about the moments when he and Tarkovsky argued but it was always about the technical things and never personal issues.  Yusov talks about a scene he shot for Andrei Rublev where the two had a hard time figuring out how to create a scene.  After a split with the two following the release of Solaris, the last time Yusof saw Tarkovsky was in Milan following the completion of Nostalghia.  They talked and everything while their last conversation was seven months later where Tarkovsky was getting difficulty getting funds for his next project since he was by that time, a Soviet defector.  Yusof revealed that in the Soviet Union, it was easier to get funds and support but outside of that, during that time, it wasn’t which made things difficult.

The third is a 17-minute interview with art director Mikhail Romadin.  Romadin talks about his friendship with Tarkovsky dating back to film school though didn’t work together until Andrei Rublev.  Romadin only worked on doing the flying scene for Rublev but it was enough for Tarkovsky to hire him for his next project Solaris.  Romadin reveals that part of Tarkovsky’s dislike towards 2001 was over its utopian look as he and Romadin decided to make their space station look like something that the Russian could relate to whether it looked like a beaten-down bus.  

Romadin revealed that during production, Akira Kurosawa visited the set to meet with Russian film executives as he was impressed by the look of the space station.  It was there that Kurosawa decided to work with the Russians for his 1975 film Dersu Uzala.  Romadin also talks about Tarkovsky’s directing style which he feels is similar to Federico Fellini in terms of creating a film like a live painting.  Though Tarkovsky’s approach was very different.  It’s a great interview that also includes the difference between the filmmaking style of Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, the latter of which thinks of film as a form of literature.

The fourth and final is a 21-interview with composer Eduard Artemyev.  Artemyev discusses his first meeting with Tarkovsky through Romadin just after the release of Andrei Rublev.  The two both had a love of classical composers, notably Bach whom Tarkovsky adored more than anyone.  Artemyev also talked about his background through many schools while being one of the first individuals to play a synthesizer in the Soviet Union.  Artemyev also talked about how he and Tarkovsky didn’t want a traditional score but rather sound textures for the film.  While they used music by Bach performed by Artemyev for the scenes on Earth and other emotional scenes.  The rest was a combination of sound replications of nature.

Artemyev also talked about creating the sound collages which were early ideas of ambient music in order to create moods for the film.  Artemyev revealed that when Tarkovsky was shooting the last scene of the film, he was making the same score piece for that scene around the same time.  Though he was aware of Tarkovsky’s perfectionism, he was able to voice his opinions during the production of the film.  While it was known that Tarkovsky had immense contempt towards the Soviet film system, he knew he needed to work with them in order to get funding.  Artemyev’s interview is truly fascinating in revealing Tarkovsky’s personality and work method.

The last big special feature is a five-minute documentary excerpt with Stanislaw Lem, the novelist of Solaris.  The short segment reveals the importance of Lem’s novel to Poland as it was a huge international breakthrough for the novelist.  Even as Lem became the most famous novelist in Poland.  Some of Lem’s colleagues reveal about the difference between the novel and Tarkovsky’s film adaptation.  Notably for the fact that Tarkovsky was more connected to the idea of returning to Earth.  Though Lem didn’t like the film and had issues with that what Tarkovsky wanted to say, he did at least give Tarkovsky permission to make the film.

In the booklet are two essays relating to the film.  The first is from Phillip Lopate who delves into Tarkovsky’s personality and his influence in cinema.  Even as he talks about the film, its themes, and the impact it would have just as Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 adaptation was set to be released.  Lopate’s essay is definitely an insightful read that reveals how importance Solaris is to the film world.  

The second essay is from the legendary Akira Kurosawa from a newspaper article about the film and later, reprinted in a book about the legendary Japanese director.  In the essay, Kurosawa talked about how he met Tarkovsky during a visit to Mosfilm studios in his first visit to the Soviet Union.  He heard noises at one of the buildings where Tarkovsky was shooting the film as he visited the set amazed by its look.  During the shoot, he met another renowned Russian filmmaker in Sergei Bondarchuk, the father of the film’s star Natalya.  He learned that his film War and Peace was made in the same budget as Solaris where its cost in Japanese currency was 600 million yen.

Kurosawa also refutes complaints that the film is too long as he felt that the length was perfect for its tone.  Even as he chatted with Tarkovsky where the shy director got drunk at a restaurant where he sang the theme to Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai.  The essay is truly one of the finest pieces of text ever written while it shows Kurosawa’s enthusiasm for the film and Tarkovsky as it’s definitely the best complement from one great director to another.  The DVD itself is definitely another hallmark in the Criterion Collection library as it is definitely a must-have for film buffs.

***End of DVD Content***

When it premiered at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, it walked away with FIPRESCI critics prize and the Grand Jury Prize. Once it premiered in the Soviet Union in early 1973, it was only seen by a limited audience despite rave reviews and was then, finally shown to the U.S. in 1976 but with more than thirty-minutes cut from the final cut of the film. Despite Tarkovsky's faithful version to Stanislaw Lem's novel, the novelist wasn't happy with Tarkovsky's version while years later, Tarkovsky confessed that despite being considered to be one of his finest films. Tarkovsky confessed in a documentary that Solaris is his least favorite film that he made. In 2002, thirty years after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, American director Steven Soderbergh released his own adaptation of Solaris starring George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, and Viola Davis. Like Tarkovsky's version, the film also was seen by a small audience despite good reviews.

The 1972 adaptation of Solaris is a brilliant, eerie, and powerful film from Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky. While it's not a film that is easy to watch due to its sluggish, slow pacing that is a turn off for mainstream audiences. Fans of foreign and art-house films might appreciate it for its tone and study of humanity and death. With a great cast led by Natalya Bondarchuk and Donatas Bonionis, it's a film that is filled with spectacular performances, great special effects, a haunting score, and themes that is powerful to a wide audience despite its tone. In the end, Andrei Tarkovsky's adaptation of Solaris is a must-see for anyone who wants very human stories set in the world of science fiction

(C) thevoid99 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

10 Greatest Performances by Bill Murray (that isn't Lost in Translation)


In honor of my 7th anniversary of seeing Lost in Translation for the first time and Bill Murray’s 60th birthday. It is time to honor one of the greatest film actors to walk the face of the Earth. From his early days on Saturday Night Live to his most recent cameo appearance in the 2009 zombie comedy Zombieland. Bill Murray has done it all. To celebrate this great moment, it’s time to make a list of the 10 greatest performances by Bill Murray (not counting my personal favorite in Lost in Translation as Bob Harris).

1. Caddyshack


Probably his most iconic comedic performance of his career as the dim-witted groundskeeper Carl Spackler. Speaking in a stupor dialogue while trying to kill a gopher. It’s Murray at his best from the first moment he’s shown cleaning golf balls to the scene where Carl is pretending to play golf when he’s hitting flowers with the golf club for his Cinderella moment. Yet, the best scene of the film is his scene with Chevy Chase where Chase’s Ty Webb character meets up with Carl as Ty is practicing for his upcoming golf match. It’s pretty much an amazing scene where two of the best comedies actors at that time (though they didn’t like each other back then) ad-libbing and showing everyone how it’s done. It’s truly one of the best comedic scenes of all-time.

2. Groundhog Day


If there is one film that would set the stage for Bill Murray’s transition into serious acting (despite an attempt with the 1984 failure The Razor’s Edge), Murray’s performance as egocentric weatherman Phil Connors shows Murray balancing comedy and drama into a charismatic yet heartwarming performance. Murray proves he can play someone who starts off as smarmy and unlikable early in the film. Yet, when Phil is forced to repeat the same day over and over again, he makes changes to do things right. Probably the best scene Murray has in the film is where Phil is at a club playing piano without doing a lot. It’s Murray being cool while trying to win the hearts of everyone to show how much Phil Connors has changed.

3. Ghostbusters


In the role of Dr. Peter Venkman, Murray brings another essential comedic performance as the wise-cracking yet more sociable member of the Ghostbusters team. Murray’s one-liners in its smooth, deadpan delivery are among the highlights of his performance. Even as he gets into the action, fight ghosts including a fat slime ball named Slimer. Yet, Venkman is also a ladies man who definitely has a thing for Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett character, who couldn’t helped but be charmed by Venkman. Probably the best scene Murray has as Venkman is where he talks about what happened to Dana saying she’s not his girlfriend but a client who was interesting and sleeps four feet above her covers. That delivery plus Murray’s laid-back approach is a testament to his comedic genius.

4. Rushmore


If Murray should’ve gotten an Oscar for a performance (other than Lost in Translation in which he should’ve won. Fuck you Sean Penn.), then it would be his first of many collaborations with Wes Anderson for the role of Herman Blume. A millionaire in a loveless marriage with twin brats who treat him terribly. Finding solace in a friendship with a 15-year old student at Rushmore academy and falling for a first-grade teacher. Murray’s performance as Blume is an indication of range as a dramatic actor. Displaying a sense of melancholia without any kind of melodrama. The best scene to exemplify Blume’s sadness is the scene where he jumps into a pool and stays at the bottom while a kid is looking on as he is swimming underwater.

5. Stripes


In another of Murray’s great comedic performances, Murray plays John Winger. A NYC cab driver whose life has fallen apart and in need of direction as he decides to join the army with his friend and roommate Russell, played by Harold Ramis. The film has Winger deal with a hard-assed drill sergeant as well as an eccentric platoon that he’s a part of. Yet, Murray is at his best not when he’s doing his own thing but also helping other actors. Notably the late John Candy where they have a great scene together as Winger coaches Candy’s Ox character to a mud-wrestle against a group of girls. Yet, Murray’s greatest moment is with the rest of the actors playing the platoon where they perform an unconventional drill display where Murray’s cool, silly persona shines.

6. Broken Flowers


In Jim Jarmusch’s story of an aging Don Juan going across the country to find the mother of his supposed long-lost son. Murray’s Don Johnston is definitely one of Murray’s best dramatic performances. Filled with melancholia and a sense of wonderment, it has Murray playing a man who has been with a lot of women while pondering about having a son. The best scene of that film is at the end where Don hanging out with kids at a tea party where it shows this simple interaction with a kid as it’s one of the films light-hearted moments for a film where it’s mostly restrained and not having much plot.

7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou


While it’s the weakest of Murray’s collaboration with Wes Anderson, Murray does give one of his greatest roles as Steve Zissou. Playing an oceanographer whose career is going down the dumps and everything in his life is falling apart. It also has Murray displaying a great sense of humor and combining it with drama. Armed with an amazing ensemble cast that includes Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, and a scene-stealing Willem Dafoe. Murray brings live to Steve Zissou where he goes out and kills some pirates, steal a rival’s equipment, find some sea creatures, and hunt down the Jaguar shark who killed his friend. The best scene of that film is where Zissou encounters the Jaguar shark and is overcome with emotion over its beauty.

8. Ed Wood


Though it’s a small supporting role as the openly-gay Bunny Breckinridge about the story of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Murray’s performance in its restrained yet charming role as a man who wants to become a woman is truly one of his finest. Whether its trying to find transvestites, wanting to become a woman, or playing the Ruler in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Murray stands out among his ensembles while not trying outdo anyone. The scene where Bunny is about to be baptized, so that Ed could get funding for Plan 9, when a priest asks Bunny if he rejects Satan and all of his evils. Bunny’s response is “sure” goes to show what Murray could do with just a simple word with the right timing could provide a lot of laughs.

9. Wild Things


Another small but memorable supporting role as the sleazy lawyer Kenneth Bowden, Murray truly steals the film from basically everyone despite not being in it very much. Displaying a neck brace and being unorthodox as the lawyer, Murray definitely proves that he can be cool where everyone else is over-the-top and acting all trashy. Yet, among the entire cast of characters, he’s the one character that plays it straight without being too dark. His best moment is at the end when he appears with a briefcase as he has the last word of the film. Though it’s a flawed film, Murray makes the most of it by just being cool.

10. What About Bob?


Another of his finest comedic performances as Bob Wiley, Murray goes for it all as multi-phobic psychiatrist patient who decides to drop-in to visit his shrink who is on vacation. While credit should go to Richard Dreyfuss as the foil, it’s Murray’s sense of child-like innocence and being so loveable that really makes the film a joy to watch. Even as he interacts with Dreyfuss’ family and doing all of the things to annoy him. Probably the best scene that Murray is where Dreyfuss’ Dr. Leo Marvin character ties him up for some death therapy leaving Bob all alone where he has an epiphany about his problems and declares himself free.

Honorable Mentions:


Among the slew of amazing performances that Murray has over the years. There’s so many to mention whether its cameos or just big parts. Other noteworthy comedic performances that show Murray at his best are Ernie McCracken in Kingpin, Frank Cross in Scrooged, and as Wallace Ritchie in the flawed but funny The Man Who Knew Too Little show Murray being an entertainer. Cameos from films like Little Shop of Horrors, Space Jam, and Zombieland show that even the smallest of cameos can show that Murray is willing to bring his A game.


Murray the supporting actor is also fun to watch from his small role as Jeff Slater in Tootsie is a standout along with his performance as Raleigh St. Clair in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums can show what he can do as an actor in an ensemble. Another noteworthy supporting role that has him in an animated film but standing out big time is in Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox as the Badger. His great moment is where he and George Clooney’s Mr. Fox are arguing and get into a growling match.


There’s a lot that can be said about Bill Murray and why he brings joy to people whether he’s doing comedy or drama. Yet, of all the people who came out of Saturday Night Live. He’s the greatest performer from that show and there will be no one as cool or as funny as he was in the show’s history. Even in film, he has amassed a slew of memorable characters. So in celebration of his 60th birthday. It’s best if we leave it to Bill for the parting words…



Related Reviews: The Royal Tenenbaums - Lost in Translation - LIT 5th Anniversary Essay - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

© thevoid99 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Deerhunter-Microcastle


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/1/08


2007's Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP put Deerhunter in the critical spotlight as the records drew attention from critics including Pitchfork Media. The Atlanta quintet, consisting of vocalist/guitarist Bradford Cox, guitarists Lockett Pundt and Colin Mee, bassist Josh Fauver, and drummer Moses Archuleta were riding the critical wave as well as attention of other bands as they opened for bands like TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fiery Furnaces, and most recently, were personally selected by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to open for NIN in the band's 2008 Lights in the Sky tour for some dates. Though 2007 would see the departure of guitarist Colin Mee as he was replaced by Whitney Petty in 2008, Deerhunter did return to the studio in late 2007 as a quartet to record their third full-length album entitled Microcastle.

Written, produced, and performed by Deerhunter. Microcastle is an album that takes Deerhunter's unique sound of shoegaze, noise-driven rock with explorations into ambient music along with minimalist arrangements and Bradford Cox's complex, esoteric lyrics. Filled with more disjointed guitar melodies and drones along with unique rhythms and such. It's an album that is more simplistic and adventurous as Cox, Pundt, Fauver, and Archuleta create an album, though not as noise-laden as Cryptograms, that is potent and mesmerizing.

The album opens with the one-minute, twenty-two second intro-track entitled Cover Me (Slowly) with its slow, wailing guitar shimmers from Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt's guitars with washy rhythms, thundering rhythms from bassist Josh Fauver and drummer Moses Archuleta. The track serves as a build-up for the next song on the album, Agoraphobia. The mid-tempo, arpeggio-laden song is led by its bouncy rhythm and layers of arpeggio guitar melodies as Bradford Cox sings soothingly with his fragile-laden vocals and such. With its simple rhythm and presentation, it's the band delving into something more melodic with an extended coda of arpeggio, soft-fuzz laden guitars. Never Stops is a bouncier track with scratchy guitar washes and Archuleta's thumping drums with a soft, blazing guitars as Cox's soft vocals lead the way. With its haunting lyrics, Pundt's wailing guitars and bouncy rhythm definitely shows the band taking a more mature approach to their sound.

Little Kids is a smooth, rhythmic track with washy, arpeggio guitar riffs and bounce-laden riffs as Cox's smooth, high-pitch raspy vocal style lead the track. With Cox's unique lyrics filled with child-like imagery and a pounding track that comes out towards the coda, it's a great little song. The album's title track is a serene ballad with Cox singing quietly with a soft, guitar strum in the background as after two minutes, it becomes a full-on band sound with pounding drums and wavy guitar riffs. Cavalry Scars is a short acoustic track with smooth plucks and Cox's atmospheric vocals filled with esoteric lyrics and dream-like vocal backgrounds. Green Jacket is a two-minute, dream-like track led by a piano accompaniment and sliding guitar chimes as Cox sings fragile, child-like lyrics with his raspy, dreamy, high-pitch vocal style. Activa is a short, near, two-minute track with percussion tings, acoustic accompaniments, and Cox's soft vocals filled with distorted background.

The first single Nothing Ever Happened is an upbeat, bass-pounding track led by Josh Fauver's bass and Moses Archuleta's rumbling beats with Cox and Locket Pundt's wavy guitars riffs. With its moody lyrics and Cox's smooth, high-pitch vocals, it's a track that has the band's unique noise-laden sound but in a more simplistic, rhythmic style that is almost poppy in a good way until a coda of noisy guitar fuzz solos and slides. Saved By Old Times is a bouncy, blues-inspired number led by a simple blues riff and thumping rhythms as voices appear during the song as the band continue to perform with Cox's unique vocals and esoteric lyrics.

These Hands is a washy, dream-like track led by its swift, rhythm guitars and a mid-tempo rhythm with Cox's low-sounding vocals with an atmospheric guitar/vocal background. Cox's esoteric lyrics are filled with imagery as it's a soothing song for the band until its warbling, loopy coda of strange, atmospheric noises. The album closer Twilight At Carbon Lake is a moody, haunting track with arpeggio-laden guitar melodies, smooth rhythms, and Cox's eerie, haunting vocal style filled with dreamy lyrics. The song starts to pick up a bit in rhythm and performance with its warbling guitar riffs and Cox's soft, high-pitch wail. Then comes this crashing coda with crashing symbols and beats with pounding guitar riffs as Cox wails through in this amazing end.

While not as noise-laden or as powerful as both Cryptograms and the Fluorescent Grey EP, Microcastle is still a much-worthy follow-up to those records. The album also proves that Deerhunter's recent critical success is no fluke and well deserved while also prove they're the real thing thanks to praises from more famous acts including Nine Inch Nails. Thanks to the band's unique sound of shoegaze, dream-pop, noise, and such along with Bradford Cox's amazing lyrics. Deerhunter is definitely a band on the rise and should be given attention. Though not as not as the duo of Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP, Microcastle does prove that Deerhunter is a band to watch out for.


Related Reviews: (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Deerhunter/Imaad Wasif-10/14/06 Atlanta, GA Tabernacle) - NIN/Deerhunter-8/13/08 Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena - (Atlas Sound-Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel) - (Atlas Sound-Logos) - (Lotus Plaza-The Floodlight Collective) - Deerhunter-10/1/10 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse

(C) thevoid99 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Deerhunter-Fluorescent Grey EP


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/8/08


Following the release of 2007's Cryptograms, Deerhunter were on the verge of critical success as the indie, Internet site Pitchfork named them one of the best new bands of 2007. Their status was furthered even more when the band released a four-track EP entitled Fluorescent Grey. The sixteen-minute EP consisting of four tracks produced by Chris Bishop that enhances the band's unique, shoegaze sound along with their abrasive take on noise-rock and ambient music. With songs written by the band along with lyrics by Bradford Cox. The four-track EP is a wonderful accompaniment to the band's brilliant sophomore album.

The opening title track opens with a piano melody and thumping rhythm from Moses Archuleta's drums as Cox sings the song with his dark, descriptive lyrics. With jangly guitar plucks from Colin Mee and Lucky Pundt and a bouncy bass line from Josh Fauver, the track serves as a smooth yet rhythmic track until waves of noisy guitars emerge to create a chaotic sound with Cox's dreamy vocal leading the way. Dr. Glass is a more rhythmic song with thumping bass drums by Cox and percussions by Archuleta as a soothing keyboard track is playing as an accompaniment. With jangly guitars playing behind in the background, Cox sings as he channels his soothing vocal style through his eerie lyrics while the washy rhythm guitars continue to accompany the sound.

Like New is a dreamy track filled with waves of distorted, washy guitar tracks and melodic plucks as a smooth yet mid-tempo track is heard along with thumping bass lines as Cox sings in his cool, haunting vocal style. The song is truly a shoegaze song with a hypnotic style led by Cox's vocals as the guitars continue to create ethereal soundscapes that is truly powerful. The record closer Wash Off opens with a distorted jam that later becomes into a full-fledge song with a thumping back beat from Archuleta's drums and Fauver's pounding bass lines. With its jangly plucks on the guitar, Cox starts to sing as the song gets more intense as Cox becomes more menacing in his vocals. With Mee and Pundt's guitars becoming more intense and the drums get more confrontational, the song becomes a full-on rocker with spurts of distortion and Cox's vocals as he keeps singing "I was 16" throughout the song as it softens and then goes into full-on chaos.

While the EP is just over 16 minutes and with only four songs, the whole record itself is perfect since it plays up to the unique sound of Deerhunter. Yet, playing as an accompaniment to the album Cryptograms. The two records together as a whole makes for one unique listening experience that proves that they're one of the best new bands to come out of Atlanta and in the American indie music scene. The Fluorescent Grey EP also confirms that they're also worth the critical hype that they've been receiving as fans await for their new record coming in 2008.

Deerhunter Reviews: Cryptograms - Microcastle - (Weird Era Cont.) - Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP - Halcyon Digest

Related Reviews: (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Deerhunter/Imaad Wasif-Atlanta, GA Tabernacle 10/14/06) - NIN/Deerhunter, Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena 8/13/08 - (Atlas Sound-Let the Blind Lead Those Can See But Cannot Feel) - (Atlas Sound-Logos) - (Lotus Plaza-The Floodlight Collective) - Deerhunter-Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse 10/1/10

(C) thevoid99 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

George Washington (Expanded Criterion DVD Review)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/14/06 w/ Additional Edits, New Content and New Conclusion.



When people think of the American South, they will either think of Gone with the Wind or Deliverance depending on one's taste. Yet the South is filled with images that are either romantic or very desolate in whatever area it is. Still, it's part of what makes America interesting. While areas like New Orleans, Atlanta, and parts of Florida bring out interesting locations, the South has places where stories our told. In more recent years, those places do bring out more interesting stories whether its Patty Jenkins' serial-killer tale Monster or Shainee Gabel's dreamy haze of A Love Song for Bobby Long. Then, there is one director from the South who is not only considered to be one of the most gifted of his generation but has put his own, unique spin on the American South in an Arkansas-born, North Carolina native named David Gordon Green.

Born in 1975, David Gordon Green lived in the South all of his life while being aware that Hollywood wasn't making stories about the South in its realistic way. For the young filmmaker, he cites several influences into his work that included the Southern films of the 70s, Robert Altman, and the stripped-down, Dogme 95 style of Harmony Korine. Another director Green was inspired by was the brilliant, reclusive Terrence Malick for his unconventional style of narrative and visual storytelling for films like Days of Heaven and Badlands. In 2000, after a couple of short films, Green released his debut feature. A coming-of-age tale about young, rural, and mostly black children in the South dealing with death and the moral aftermath entitled George Washington.

Written & directed by David Gordon Green, George Washington is tale of a young boy who vies to become someone important through the perspective of a young girl he befriends. Taking the same elliptical approach of Malick, Green brings a realistic yet dreamy feel of the American South from its impoverished areas to the beauty that surrounds it. With an ensemble cast that is filled with unknowns like Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Rachel Handy, Damien Jewan Lee, Curtis Cotton III along with future Green regulars Paul Schneider and Eddie Rouse. George Washington is a brilliant, poetic masterpiece from one of American cinema's most promising director.

It's a hot moment in the summer as a 13-year old girl named Nasia (Candace Evanofski) is breaking up with her boyfriend Buddy (Curtis Cotton III) because he's immature. She turns to Buddy's friend George Richardson (Donald Holden) for companionship despite the fact that he's odd due to the fact that his skull is sensitive to water and he has to wear a helmet at all times. Often hanging out with their friends including the big, tough Vernon (Damien Jewan Lee) and the only white kid in the group, a girl named Sonya (Rachel Handy) who has an affinity for theft. At the railroad station where George's uncle Damascus (Eddie Rouse) just got fired from, they meet a bunch of adults they know including the boss' son Rico (Paul Schneider).

One day when Nasia is hanging out with family including cousin Denise (Ebony Jones) when Vernon asks her why she broke up with Buddy. She gives him her answer while Buddy meets George one day in church as they chose to remain cool about the whole thing. During a trip to the local swimming pool, George meets a young white boy named Tyler (Christian Gustoitis) who is sporting a neck brace. George also found a ratty dog in the street that had no owner as he chose to keep it but hide from his uncle who hates animals. With his father (Alan Thompson) in jail, George lives with his Aunt Ruth (Janet Taylor) and his sister Whitney (Derricka Rolle) in a home that is often broken down while Damascus makes his living chopping wood. Then one day when George hangs out with Vernon, Buddy, and Sonya in abandoned, park where they stop in a wet bathroom. The gang simply starts playing when Buddy accidentally pushes George into a wall which hit his helmet. George continues the pushing game when things go terribly wrong.

George, Vernon, and Sonya watch in dismay knowing what had happened as they know if their family knew, they would be in trouble. George felt the guiltiest while Vernon understood that it was an accident. George in the next days would ponder his life including his own aspirations to become someone important where he would talk to Nasia about those ambitions and their surroundings. Then one day, George finds Tyler drowning in the pool and at the risk of his own health, he saves the boy by diving into the pool. While his head did swell, George managed to be OK as he finds himself thinking of the idea that he could be a superhero. While Rico and his buddies Augie (Scott Clackum) and Euless (Jonathan Davidson) find George's ambitions to be silly, they cheer him on as Rico helps him with conducting traffic. Vernon meanwhile, is anguished with guilt and sadness as Sonya is now his only friend though she admits, she has hard time trying to feel.

With Vernon and Sonya being questioned by authorities, they turn to crime while Nasia wonders why George hasn't talked to anyone. George begins to take his idea of being a hero seriously until he has to confront with reality while remaining hopeful for himself and his friends.

The idea of a coming-of-age film is about the transition from childhood to adulthood and in Green's approach, he picks a moment in time when that transition comes. While the film has no real plot, it's not about plot but more about how young children are changed by a single incident in their life. Taking a narrative approach that is similar to the works of Terrence Malick, notably 1978's Days of Heaven, the film is told from the perspective of a young girl who recalls the things she sees and hears. The story is really about children growing up and becoming aware of adulthood while looking at their own surroundings while one of them becomes more drawn to his aspirations into becoming a superhero.

Green's writing is filled with the narrative voice-over that Malick is known for but he takes it from Nasia's approach where she sees things from her breakup with Buddy to the oddball world of George. While the film moves slowly, it's only to build a momentum of what is to come in this incident that changes the film's tone. It doesn't exactly start off innocently since Green introduces the audience to the rural world they live in and the people they're surrounded by. Especially the young men who work at the railroad station who sees the kids as equals since they all live in this downtrodden, shabby area that they live in. This provides not just the authenticity in the world they live in but the way they speak since it's very rural to the point where they're either talking about real things or just rambling.

In the directing, Green goes for a variety of style ranging from Malick's wandering, epic scale to the shaky, intimacy of Harmony Korine. There's moments where the film does resemble a bit of Malick's 1998 film The Thin Red Line in the way the characters walk from a landscape to the railroad station. Green goes for a full-on observant while letting the actors basically act natural where everything feels real, especially in the locations they're in. It's a true Southern film from the broken down corner stand that is next to old stores to the shabby, unpainted houses of the neighborhoods. Using the camera to create a dreamy yet authentic look of the South is purely one of the most beautiful films seen while Green's intentions as a storyteller is to just go for it in what is happening.

Helping Green in capturing his vision is longtime cinematographer Tim Orr whose lush coloring brings a true look to a hot summer in the South. Using the yellow-sun as a light to convey the hot summer of North Carolina, the film does have that similar, poetic quality of Malick's film but in a more rural, intimate setting. Orr's camera work brings out the desolate yet enchanting world of the American South that mixes its starkness and beauty. Helping Orr in the visual department is longtime Green collaborator, production designer Richard Wright along with art director Mike Chapman in choosing the locations and housing for the film where they create everything from the dirty corners filled with garbage to the broken homes that the kids live in where everything isn't clean. Even the clothing from costume designer Michael Tully also work in bringing the authenticity the look of the film.

Longtime editors Zene Baker and Steve Gonzales do great work in bringing out the elliptical approach of the film where though it seems slow in its 89-minute running time, it gives the film a nice momentum. Their use of dissolves, fade-out, and jump cuts brings style to the film as it help Green convey his unconventional style of directing. Finally, there's the music that features a quirky yet haunting score by the Dynamite Brothers team of Michael Linnen and David Wingo which features a lot of music of the South that isn't hip-hop but more acoustic, country-inspired drench atmosphere along with elements of ambient and melodic rock music. The score of the Dynamite Brothers brings out that true feel of the South that is a great alternative to that world of Crunk.

Finally, there's the film's superb ensemble cast that includes some fine, small performances from Janet Taylor, Jonathan Davidson, Alan Thompson, Scott Clackum, Beau Nix as Rico's father, Joyce Mahaffey as Tyler's mom, Derricka Rolle, Ebony Jones, and Christian Gustoitis. Longtime Green collaborator Paul Schneider does wonderful work as Rico, one of the few adult friends the kids have who they can talk to while bringing some encouragement to George. Eddie Rouse is also great as George's irksome uncle who might seem crazy and strict at first only to reveal why he's bothered by animals.

Now we come to the richer ensemble of the young children in the film. Rachel Handy is excellent as the lone white girl who has a fondness for theft while having troubles in dealing with the fact that she is somewhat emotionless. It's a fine performance for a young girl who is filled with confusion. Damien Jewan Lee is excellent as the tough-minded Vernon who is willing to do anything to protect his friends but once he is forced to deal with an incident, a sensitivity is shown as Lee possesses all of those complicated emotions into growing up. Curtis Cotton III is excellent as Buddy, a kid who strives to be cool and have all the things a kid could want while dealing with the heartbreak of his relationship with Nasia. Candace Evanofski is great as the mature and innocent Nasia who also brings a worldly view of things, especially in her rich narration that encompasses a young girl who sees things with an indifference while realizing that she's growing up. Finally, there's Donald Holden who is great as the awkward, strange George who isn't sure about anything only to realize what he wants to do while being a dreamer. It's great work from all of those kids who aren't professional actors as they all bring a natural, realistic quality into their performances.

When the film was released through several film festival circuits in 2000 including Atlanta and Toronto, the film was filled with a lot of buzz from those festivals. In Atlanta, the film won the top prize while critics were widely praising the film for its unique take on the South. One of those critics who would later champion the young David Gordon Green is famed Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert who praised the director for his vision. The film even caught the attention of the legendary but reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick who would later take Green as his protegee. While the film also garnered a limited release in theaters, it helped create buzz for David Gordon Green as the film received nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards for its young ensemble cast and first-film nods for Green.

***Additional DVD Content & Conclusion Written on 9/18/10***

The 2002 Criterion Collection DVD presents the film with new digital transfer supervised by David Gordon Green that is enhanced for 16x9 televisions under the 2:35:1 aspect ratio for widescreen.  The transfer is truly gorgeous as it complements the dreamy cinematography of Tim Orr.  Included in the DVD is a full-length commentary track by Green, Orr, and actor Paul Schneider.  The commentary track has the men discuss some of the film’s technical aspects, the performances, and inspiration behind the film.  The most notable inspiration for the film is definitely the work of Terrence Malick.  Green admits to using the character of Nasia in the similar vein of the Linda Manz character in Days of Heaven.  Green also talks about The Thin Red Line where he and Orr sneaked to the premiere to see the film.  Green talks about Malick’s editing style which also served as an inspiration.

Green also talked about using non-actors instead of professional in order to get a natural feel.  While a lot of the performances were rehearsed and scripted, Green did allow actors to improvise naturally for a realistic feel.  Even as Schneider talks about the improvisation for a scene where he was looking for chili dogs in his pant suits which wasn’t scripted.  Orr mostly talks about the technical aspects of the photography and how he and Green wanted the film to look like something where it didn’t come from a certain period in film.  Even with the use of music.  The commentary overall is mostly loose with the Green, Orr, and Schneider talking to each other with Schneider providing some of the funnier moments as it is definitely a fun, insightful commentary to listen to.

An eight-minute deleted scene is presented with commentary by Green, Orr, and Schneider is about a town meeting discussing issues in the community that is led by Rico Rice with George at the meeting.  The commentary reveals that the scene was meant to increase George’s desire to be more heroic.  Yet, one of the reasons Green cut the scene due to some topical issues discussed in the scene.  Schneider talked about the fact that Donald Holden didn’t want to wear the wrestling uniform during the scene because his relatives were in that scene.  Schneider convinced him and they just did it before Schneider had to go back to his other job, where he worked.

The second big special feature is a 2001 video interview with the young cast in the film.  The 13-minute feature with the cast as all the actors talk about the film, working with David Gordon Green, and how they were different from their characters.  It’s an enjoyable piece where the actors seem relaxed in the interviews while reflecting on how great the film is and how it sort of changed them.  Even as it ends with Curtis Cotton III saying he’s better than Denzel Washington.  Along with the film’s theatrical trailer comes a big interview piece with David Gordon Green from the Charlie Rose show.

The 14-and-a-half minute interview has Green discussing about his background, the film, and his desire to make films.  Green talks about that he was the kid who was more into art films like Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout rather than Star Wars.  A lot of the conversation features Green talking about his cast, the film, and future plans which included a romantic film, that would eventually become his second film All the Real Girls.  Also included in the DVD are two early short films Green made during his tenure at the North Carolina School of the Arts.  The first of which is Pleasant Grove.  The 15-minute short is really a precursor of sorts to George Washington in relation to the story about George and his dog.  The short features Paul Schneider and Eddie Rouse along with a commentary track by David Gordon Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider.

Green discusses about the short and how it would be the inspiration for George Washington while Tim talks about his own background despite the fact that he didn‘t shoot Pleasant Grove.  Even though the short is shot on video, it is a wonderful short that does set the stage for George Washington.  The second short Physical Pinball, that stars Eddie Rouse and Candace Evanofski, is about a father realizing that his tomboy daughter is becoming a girl.  Featuring cameos from Paul Schneider and Green cohort Ben Best.  It’s a wonderful coming-of-age short where a man tries to deal with his daughter becoming a girl.  Even in the awkwardness of buying tampons for her as there’s a sweetness to it along with a beautiful feel to the film’s grainy look.

The third and final short that appears in the DVD is a 1969 short called A Day with the Boys by Clu Gulager that features cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs.  The short tells the story about a group of boys playing throughout the day while they later invite a middle-aged man into playing with them where everything seems fine until something bad happens.  It’s a wonderful short featuring Kovacs’ lush cinematography as the short is said to be an inspiration to George Washington.  Green’s comments on the short has him saying it was the direction, compositions, and uses of freeze-frame editing that drew him and cinematographer Tim Orr to use these similar compositions for their film.

Also in the DVD is a booklet that features a statement by David Gordon Green about the film and its intentions.  Also in the booklet is an essay from the controversial film critic Armond White that explores a lot of the film’s themes, images, and beauty.  The Criterion DVD is truly one of the finest in its collection in displaying a formidable talent in David Gordon Green early in his career.

George Washington is a masterpiece filled with wondrous images and profound themes on death and innocence.  Helmed by David Gordon Green’s superb vision along with an amazing ensemble cast.  It’s a film that truly recalls the beauty of the decaying South as well as the soul within a child.  Fans of Green work will no doubt cite this as is finest film to date as it would permeate to his other films in the years to come.  Yet, George Washington is truly one of the best debut films ever made from the always intriguing David Gordon Green.

David Gordon Green Films: All the Real Girls - Undertow - Snow Angels - Pineapple Express - (Your Highness) - (The Sitter) - (Prince Avalanche) - Joe (2013 film) - (Manglehorn)

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