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Album Review: Cloud Cult – Who Killed Puck?

September 26, 2010 4 comments

Cloud Cult is a band with a long history that I have just started to appreciate. They are hard to identify because of their eclectic mix of acoustic and wired instruments with genre busting arrangements swinging from lo-fi to orchestral not just within any particular album, but within a single track!

As concept or “story” albums go, this one’s story is somewhat low key. It is a loosely themed collection of songs telling the story of the birth of “Puck” his alienation from society, his initial attempts to fit and final rejection ending in death. Depressing subject matter, perhaps, but delivered with a lyricism of startling compassion and warmth that sounds more “hope springs eternal” than Armageddon.

At first I was a little underwhelmed, but having become a fan of The Mountain Goats, Elliott Smith and Lost in the Trees, I knew that repeated listens would bear dividends… And I wasn’t mistaken. What at first appears to be a mishmash of unrelated tracks, or unrelated verses within the tracks, turns out on careful listening to be a finely crafted story of the demise of a young man who had done nothing to deserve his fate.

Who Killed Puck?

  1. Where it starts – A track I prefer to think of as “I found God” since that lyric is repeated throughout the whole song. It is a coming of age classic where a boy is constantly reaching higher highs and lower lows on his trip through adolescent to adulthood. Repetitious and remarkably catchy, the simple construction belies the multilayered music that builds slowly throughout the track. It would appear to be the story of the meeting of Puck’s parents.
  2. Conception – One voice, one guitar, recorded on a tape deck and filtered to death doesnt get much lower fi than this. A killer melody tugs on the heartstrings and makes this track a Low-Fi masterpiece. Seems to be talking about the soul of Puck moving into its host…
  3. 9 Months – a meandering, instrumental track that sways from a Mike Oldfield, Amarok-style multilayered drum heavy “native” rhythm to his electric-guitar heavy, riff laden and back without going anywhere… An ode to Oldfield, perhaps… There is a sense of frustration in the song but it’s title would suggest it is the birth of Puck…. Ending inthe whispered lines “I am Human”.
  4. Pucks 6th Birthday – a Micro segue of a warbling childlike taunt…. unsettling stuff. Thankfully short.
  5. Becoming One of You – The story of a boy who does anything and everything to fit in with the crowd, ultimately ending in disappointment and rejection. The Eels could have sung the first minute or so of this song, but the almost Heavy Metal like bass and electric guitar which come into the forefront as the track progresses might give the fact away that it wasn’t. At just under a half of the way through, the song takes a left turn and heads into familiar electronica overladen guitarwork with repeated lyrics, as is common throughout the tracks on this album…
  6. Ad Brainwash (Part 1) – A minute or so is samples and sounds from the swinging sixties, highlighting consumerism and idleness which blurs into the main event:
    6 Days – One of the highlights of the album. A mutating rhythm underlies a narrated discussion on the brevity of Human existence. Based on a speech by David Brower, an environmentalist and the founder of Friends of the Earth. Nice, but I don’t see how it furthers the concept of the album.

    The lyrics are so compelling, I took the liberty of quoting them here:

    Compare the 6 days of the book of Genesis
    to the 4 billion years of geologic time.
    On this scale, 1 day equals about 666 billion years.
    All day Monday, until Tuesday noon
    creation was busy getting the earth going.
    Life began on Tuesday noon
    and the beautiful organic wholeness of it
    developed over the next 4 days.
    At 4 P.M. Saturday, the big reptiles came.
    5 hours later, when the redwoods appeared
    there were no longer big reptiles.
    At 3 minutes before midnight, man appeared.
    One-fourth of a second before midnight, Christ revolted.
    One-fortieth of a second before midnight, the industrial revolution began.
    We are surrounded by people who think
    that what we have been doing for
    one-fortieth of a second can go on indefinitely.
    They are considered normal.
    But they are stark. raving. mad.

  7. Pretty – Puck finds temporary solace in the infatuation with a girl. The key word being temporary. Starting off with one voice, one guitar, the song builds into one of the strongest, most a soaring climaxes of the album.
  8. Sane As Can Be – The song starts off as a gentle acoustic track marks the middle of the album and is perhaps the turning point in Puck’s life as he goes over the edge as he reveals his secrets and philosophy to his girlfriend, who appears to reject him. This turning point comes as the song flips to an electric guitar track with some fine Metal drumming. Comparisons might be drawn to About a Boy mutating into Susu or Spoon.
  9. Do You Ever Think About – Segue hears two people discuss suicide as its rhythms build into something which would have fit on the heavier bits of “War of the Worlds”
  10. Ad Brainwash (pt 2) – Are two segues in a row technically segues at all? Who knows.
  11. Ready To Fight – This song continues on where from Becoming One of You left off and reveals Pucks anger boil over and his rejection of society and its values.
  12. Who Killed Puck? – A “noise track” more than a song. You can quite literally hear Puck’s whole life flashing in front of him with lyrics from ‘conception’ leaking in in the background, suggesting his soul’s return to the ether.
  13. You Can’t Come Back Again / Close – A beautiful ode to the end of life… turning full circle to ‘Conception’. Again building into a climax of Mike Oldfield “Guitars” proportions.This is where the fun ends, so you might as well stop listening here.
  14. Bonus track 1: Lies – A funky yet unremarkable track about, funnily enough, Lies. If it were to fit into the album, it would have been something that Puck got angry about.
  15. Bonus Track 2: The Yin and Yan of Sex: A dull closing track. enough said.
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The L Word – An Update

June 19, 2009 Leave a comment

The L Word

(NO SPOILERS, DON’T WORRY!!!)

In my original post, https://nanchatte.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/the-l-word/ I mentioned that I was rather disappointed at how the show the L Word was shaping up. I thought it was time for an update.

I complained that after eight episodes the program was apparently going nowhere. Well, it would appear that I have managed to manage (!) my expectations.

I am now currently half way through the second series and things have changed quite a lot.

At last, they have created an overall story that permeates the whole series, pushing weekly events into the background for the greater good. Sure there are still titbits that a casual viewer can enjoy, but the story has found its own pace and style and now rewards continued viewing.

The characters are becoming fuller, less random and more interesting with every episode. Minor roles have also become more interesting and stimulating. Real surprises await the viewers and well written, quirky humour litters the whole story.

More importantly, they’ve got the sex scenes under control. I am not a prude, by any stretch of the imagination but by the end of the first series, I was just getting annoyed at the random and graphic nature of the sex that seemed to be added to every second scene, regardless of whether one was needed or not. This second series is like the second year of any long-term relationship. The sex has got a lot more thoughtful, less random and more meaningful. It’s actually now used to enhance rather than obstruct the flow of the story.

Most importantly though, the story threads are themselves heart-warming, touching, funny and moving and sometimes even thought-provoking!

Even the token straight male part has managed to redeem himself with a bit of depth and character!

It’s as if the show itself now has the confidence to carry itself with its audience in the directions it originally intended to go without recourse to cheap titillation.

Whatever the cause is, I’m happy to invest another 13 or so hours in this series.

Film Review: Lost And Delirious (2001, Canada) – La Rage au Coeurs

September 23, 2008 2 comments


Quote

Tori: Paulie, listen to me ok, because I'm going to say this once 
      and never, ever again. I will never love anyone the way that I love you. 
      Never. You know that, and I know that, and I will die knowing that, ok? 
      But it just can never... it just can never, ever, forever be. 
      Do you understand? 

Overview

This exceedingly well acted and often touching Canadian film follows the lives of three girls whose complex relationship spells trouble in the claustrophobic confines of a posh all-girls boarding school.  

 

Synopsis

*Note that although various aspects of the story might be hinted at here, there are no second half spoilers or revelations that will ruin your enjoyment of this film*

Mary Bedford, or “Mouse” as she is called, (played by a young and slightly Sarah Michelle Gellar-esque Mischa Barton), is an intelligent, sensible and mature girl who is sent to a prestigious boarding school after the death of her mother and finds her into room with two seniors, who although both are influential and well liked by their peers are worlds apart in their outlooks on life.

Victoria “Tori” is the archetypal rebellious oldest daughter of a wealthy, closed-minded yet proud Anglo-Saxon Christian family.

And although she loves her father’s devotion to her, she despises her mother for always “mking comments about her teeth”. She feels she cannot escape the future set out for her by her family: A future where she is destined to be the wife of some successful and hideously wealthy professional. This also makes it abundantly clear to her that while smoking abundant quantities of weed is affordable, studying is merely optional. In one situation where her attitude leads to potential embarrassment, Pauli is forced to step in to protect her from making a fool of herself in front of her classmates.

Pauli also happens to suffer from an annoyingly prim and proper (except for her bad language) younger sister who is occasionally barging into her room to wake her up with her group of overenthusiastic friends and interrupting their peace and quiet.

Pauline or “Paulie” is the star of the film and is played by the deliciously adaptable and eminently talented Piper Perabo, (who also happens to have played a more recent lesbian role in the film “Imagine Me And You”).

Paulie is smart, driven to the point of obsession once enflamed and has a lot of repressed anger stemming from a desire to meet her real mother who had her adopted at birth. She has one obsession stronger than all others, however: Her roommate, Tori whom she practically idolises as some kind of angelic heroine from a Shakespearian sonnet.

Mouse, foisted upon the seniors’ secretive lifestyle soon gains their trust by being calm, open minded and mature beyond her years and by revealing aspects of her past to them that allows them to bond.

This trust, coupled with numerous room-filling marihuana sessions loosens the inhibitions of the two girls in front of her and the realisation that her roommates are sharing more than just the room soon dawns upon the unsuspecting first year.

Mouse’s maturity allows her to at first accept and later come to appreciate the precious and loving relationship her two newest friends have, as if substituting for the lack of love she feels towards her new mother.

However, as the numerous Shakespearian references to love and tragedy throughout the play constantly hint at, even the strongest of loves faces challenges and it is not all smooth sailing as the news of their relationship inevitably spreads through the tight-knit and conservative community of the school. 

Mary is forced into a difficult situation as her roommate’s relationship comes increasingly strained. She becomes the natural intermediary as Tori fights to retain her social status and position among her peers and the standing within her own family and Paulie fights to regain the love of her “Princess”.

Impressions

The beginning of Lost and Delerious starts off a little like The Shining, with the family car winding its way towards the grand estate of the boarding school, but its tone is soon lifted, with the sounds of cheerful and carefree girls enjoying their last freedom before returning to the real world.

Of course, “Mouse” doesn’t see it like that: The loneliness of the shadow of her mother’s death, cast three three years earlier and her father’s remarriage cause her to blame the new couple, her busy father in particular for her new and unwelcome situation.

This sets the tone for the main themes of: balance of freedom, love and family, which are repeatedly pushed home throughout the film.

Three girls, although from very different backgrounds feel a kinship in their “abandonment” by their parents and a feeling of being unloved and unwanted by their families and revel together in their newfound freedoms.

Yet the girls find out that their freedom is not as complete as they’d wished when obsessive love, and obsessive peer and family pressure begin to tear at their world, pulling them in unwanted directions.

The film’s crux is the point at which the secret of the two young lovers’ relationship breaks free and Mary finds her friends placing increasing demands on her stability and maturity, making her position among her classmates similarly difficult.

In the end, she herself is forced to turn to the “salt of the earth,” matter-of-fact advice of the old groundsman, whom she has built up a relationship with by helping on the school grounds, for guidance on how she can handle the important decisions she has to make and the impeding crisis which she feels is looming before them all.

Summary

The film’s attention to detail is striking, portraying the grandly austere and sometimes stuffy atmosphere of the school and varied lives of the young adults away from home and tasting freedom for the first and perhaps the last time in a much more fully than other films have tended to depict boarding schools.

Dorm room, dinner, playtime scenes and of course classroom scenes take up much of airtime, but other scenes are equally important in filling out the details, like for example the ritual daily mail check: Portrayed a symbol of the connection to the real world outside, with scenes of Mary and Paulie often returning sullenly empty-handed from their sojourns to the post boxes and almost ecstatic when a letter of any kind arrives.

The film’s relationships elegantly display how people deal with the pressure of being cast into a role against their wills and how one can be pulled downwards by the weight of love, obsession and loyalty.

A key point is Mary’s affection for and loyalty to her friends which renders her unable to let go as she is torn in conflicting directions by their obsessions. In fact, one might add loyalty to the list of themes covered by this film: Loyalty to friends and family and the costs and consequences of those decisions.

As the third boarding school film I’ve watched since Dead Poets’ Society in 1989, this one shares many aspects common to those earlier films and not to mention a tangential similarity to Harry Potter’s experiences after coming away from an unloving home.

Yet of course, this film has plenty that makes it unique, one being the illicit relationship between the two girls.

Still, unique or not, with its many Shakespearian references to love and life, and an increasingly heavy emphasis on medieval “heroes” and “heroines,” as shown by Pauli’s fascination with fencing and more unusually, falconry.

…this drama occasionally appears in danger of becoming heavy handed and a little too “thick with metaphor” but the drama is intense, the story and characters on the whole very believable and the acting of the three girls and their eccentric Headmistress, excellent, pulling this film back from art-flick territory and in to the mainstream.

If there is one minor criticism, it would be that the story is too focussed on the three girls with only minimal time time given to outsiders: i.e. the school appears to have just a headmistress, a teacher and a gardener with only the latter ever given a real relationship building chance. Even Mary and Tori’s parents are given only one peripheral scene apiece, despite their importance to the story.

For those expecting a mildly titillating upskirt, lesbo, sailor-costumed schoolgirl romp, let it be noted that you are in for a disappointment! It’s far more Dead Poet than St. Trinians.

Final Verdict: A Big Thumbs up for the acting and relationships of three main characters.

Film Review: Saving Face (2004, US)

July 2, 2008 Leave a comment


Saving Face 2004

This is my first review since attempting to “Broaden my Horizons” and selecting Asian Gay and Lesbian Films as my category of choice.

This charming and gentle family drama first screened in Canada at the Toronto Film Festival in 2004. I call this a family drama and not a “gay movie” because that’s exactly what it is. It is one of the increasingly accessible breed of movies that tries to break away from the originality-destroying, art-as-product concept of “demographics”.

It’s a film where the gay aspect is central and crucial to the storyline yet neither belabours the issue to the point of preaching nor waters it down for the benefit of the right-wing American audiences, making this a true mainstream film without most of the compromises associated with them.

The main plot is so wonderfully involved that the fact of there being a gay relationship thrown in just adds to the fun. It’s one aspect among a number of interesting twists that keep this gentle and believable drama floating along with humour and verve, without the common mistakes of falling into farce or slapstick or becoming so hopelessly bogged down in emotion that you have to stop watching it half way through.

The plot hinges around a successful doctor who has been too busy for relationships for some time. She knows she’s gay and doesn’t appear to be in denial or have any issues with it per se, but it’s one of those things that she tends to suppress as an inconvenience that gets in the way of her all important career more than, say, a straight relationship would.

Michelle Krusiec as Wil

Moreover, her mother, who caught her “in the act” some undisclosed time ago knows she’s gay but has pushed it under the table in the hope that it might just go away. And to help it do so, her mother drags her along to a terrible series of dating evenings to try and get her hitched to someone, anyone, so long as they’re male.

Joan Chen

Things change when she meets a dancer, Vivian who she’d seen at one of those evenings. They hit it off, only to find that Wil’s busy schedule and continued “protecting” of her mother from the truth becomes a strain on their otherwise quite happy relationship.

The dancer and the dance - Vivian

Things start to disintegrate as Wil’s mother reveals a shocking secret, Vivian’s own career ideas start to take shape and Wil’s family suffers a tragic loss.

To be frank, I’ve never been a fan of family dramas, they tend to be a bit sappy and predictable. This one, though, has just enough meldrama and elements of surprise to bring a new, spicy twist to an old recipe of hope, disappointment, loss and personal fulfillment while -and I’m feeling a bit awkward writing this cliché- showing that lesbians are no different than anyone else. It’s so naturally woven into the fabric of the story that I completely forgot I was watching a film that triggered a ridiculous amount of controversy when it first showed!

I feel it is such a shame to see the film pigeonholed by large distribution chains into small art-house theatres and gay and lesbian “friendly” venues just because of its “lesbian-interest” moniker.

A big thumbs up recommendation for this one!

Film Trivia:

It includes the seemingly ageless definition of gorgeousness herself, Joan Chen (Those who don’t follow Asian cinema may recognise her from the 1980s TV series, Twin Peaks! How’s that for ageless?) Looking so young that it’s almost as improbable her being Wil’s mother as Wil being a surgeon.

Wil and Vivian’s first kiss on the screen was the first time they (Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen) kissed in real life, since there was no time for rehearsals. * It is not disclosed whether or not it was the first time they had ever kissed another woman…

The film was directed by Alice Wu, a Standford University BSc and MSc in Computer Science Graduate who went on to work at Microsoft in their multimedia division on a product called Cinemania, dispite wanting to be a film maker.

She started attending screenwriting classes while at Microsoft before deciding to leave and turn the semi-biographical book she had been writing about her own coming to terms with being gay in the Chinese community, into a film.

She fought long and hard to get the movie cast the way she wanted it, with Hollywood pressing her to cast it as a straight film, oh… and while she was at it, why don’t they just replace the Asians with nice, decent upstanding white people. Her stubborness gene kicked in, and refusing to budge she looked for another production company and found Wil Smith’s production company who were willing to cast it no questions asked the way she wanted it: Asians, lesbians and all!

Thus, another minor landmark was made: this was the first, big buget, All-Asian Hollywood film since the Joy Luck Club!