Monday, March 29, 2010

MusicMonday: Favorite Songs of 1st 1/4 of 2010

That's a first: I'm actually a little bit early posting my favorite songs of the first quarter of 2010. There really is no explanation for that during this whirlwind time. Except maybe that music just got caught up in the whirlwind as well and I'm already collecting songs for the second quarter list.

To my disappointment I had to realize that one of my favorite songs of the past months actually seems to be from 1998, not 2010 (or late 2009), so Weightless Again by The Handsome Family did not make the list after all.

The High Road by Broken Bells

Love Doesn't Just Stop by Standard Fare
(stream entire album via link above)

Walls by Shout Out Louds
New York Is Killing Me by Gil Scott-Heron
100 Miles by Blonde Louis
Henry Rollins Don't Dance by Allo, Darlin'
Polly Got Away by Clinical Trials
(download entire EP by following above link)
F**k You, the Truth! by Hot Club de Paris

I Hate People by Jemina Pearl (feat. Iggy Pop)
Answer To Yourself by The Soft Pack
Under Control by Good Shoes
Capital of Norway by My Little Pony
Free Walk by Nick Cave & Debbie Harry
Me And The Devil by Gil Scott-Heron

Cloudbusting by Wild Nothing

The Dream Song by Barzin
(download song for free following above link)
Where Did The Night Go by Gil Scott-Heron

Let me know...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sound is done! Sound is done! Sound is done!

All's Well and Fair final sound mix wave forms visualized in Final Cut Pro

A huge milestone was reached this week for the new Good Hard Working People documentary All's Well and Fair. For the last two days I got to sit in on the sound mix - and today sound designer/editor/mixer par excellence Tom Lino handed me the final sound mix! And it sounds fantastic! 

Any of you who have seen a rough cut (maybe even back in 1996 when the first part premiered) or have heard me talk about how the first part was originally edited on two VCRs (with the magical audio dub function) might also remember that I didn't get the best sound in the world. After all, the '96 part was recorded with an onboard mic on a VHS camera in fun-sounding locations like a laundromat and a cafe with jazz music doodling in the background. 

But Tom diligently worked on the audio and fixed, enhanced, manipulated and did all the magic stuff that post-sound people can do to make a film sound great and clear and finalized. I couldn't be more grateful and excited!!!

While listening to the film through powerful speakers I became aware again how awesome the music is (all original songs, not a score written for the picture). When we have a full website together for the film, we'll certainly include links and maybe even some mp3's for all the bands... 

But for now please check out these three amazing bands that have songs specially featured in the documentary: 

There are still a few steps (and some are very laborious and tedious and slam-your-head-against-your-computer-screen challenging) that need to be taken care of before the film is totally finished. But I've already started submitting it to a few festivals. Please keep your fingers crossed or put in a good word ;-)

The official super-short synopsis from the submissions: 
'All's Well and Fair' juxtaposes the lives and ideals of three single punk rock mothers on welfare during the 1990s with their realities and opinions ten years later - giving a unique perspective on alternative culture, growth and identity.

Monday, March 22, 2010

MusicMonday: Mumford & Sons + Laura Marling (+ Noah & The Whale)

"Little Lion Man" by British band Mumford & Sons originally came out in 2008 on the EP "Love Your Ground", then was included on their September 2009 full-length album "Sigh No More", which led me to put it on my favorites of 2009 mix. Now the album is getting some attention in the US - and I still can't get enough of it.

Always fascinating to see how long some musicians, filmmakers, writers will be living with and sharing a particular work before it gets discovered and catches on. Also fascinating how young Marcus Mumford and his band mates are (early twenties) - considering the feel of the music and the sound of his voice.

"Little Lion Man"
by Mumford & Sons:

By the way, the band first caught my attention through the connection to Laura Marling, whom they have supported on tour. Another part of the clique is Noah & The Whale, a band I like a lot as well - except that I'm a little turned off by their name, which is supposedly an homage to Noah Baumbach and The Squid & The Whale. A film that's highly appreciated by most, but seemed too "poor little privileged white boy self-involved" for my taste (although I was charmed by the beautiful depiction of our neighborhood). Which brings me to: when will there finally be a film based on Jonathan Lethem's "Fortress of Solitude"?

In Europe, "I Speak Because I Can" , the new album by Laura Marling, gets released today - in the US it won't come out until early April. On her website you can interact with a clever album preview video, which makes excellent use of annotations (visual tags) to reveal additional content.

Beautifully subtle annotation (visual tag) through slight coloration of flower pot

Once you click on the annotation, more information is revealed

Here's the video for the current single "Devil's Spoke" (at least until EMI tracks down this embed and disables it as they did on YouTube). Quite fittingly it seems to feature Marcus Mumford at 1:17.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Good Omens is not The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - but still funny

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Funny book about Armageddon. Clever, witty and entertaining. Made me smile - if maybe not laugh out loud. Wish I had read it earlier: as a teenager during the impressionable days of discovering and obsessing over Douglas Adams. It might have seemed as brilliant and I might have re-read it over and over again like the Hitchhiker's books. But maybe it's not on that level. One extra star for imagining what it would have been like to have read the book back then.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009/2010) & The Millenium Trilogy

This week the Swedish film Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) is finally coming to theaters in the US under the same English title as the book its based on: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the first book in the Millenium Trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, who supposedly planned a ten-book series, but died before he wrote the fourth book and, tragically, even before any of them were published - so he never knew how hugely successful his novels would become.

I love the books and had a chance to already see the film, since it had been out in Europe for a while. As a matter of fact, I've got the second movie on the way now and can't wait... Even the third book I had to get from Germany since the American version (The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest) still hasn't been published.

In very brief: The Millenium books are thrillers set in Sweden. They mainly focus on a middle-aged journalist, Mikael Blomqvist, and a young tougher-than-nails computer hacker an heroine for our times, Lisbeth Salander, who solve several crimes while discovering shocking secrets, making personal connections and kicking a lot of butt (especially Lisbeth).

What I liked about the books was that they weren't mere suspense thrillers or crime novels: there are elements of family saga, industrial espionage, history, Swedish culture, romance, social study, technology, women's rights, government intrigue, world politics and very fascinating and fresh characters. The description of brutality, especially against women, gets intense and made me wonder at times what this might say about the author. But there was a perfect balance by focusing just as much on the repercussions of abuse in the lives of women and, of course, all the exemplary heroines in the book.

Another aspect that made the books hard to put down is that the personal stories of Lisbeth, Mikael and many of the other characters continue throughout and become the plot - with a serious cliffhanger at the end of book 2 (The Girl Who Played With Fire). It really is a shame that we won't be able to read what other revelations and complications Larsson had imagined, e.g., what's with Lisbeth's twin sister? (Although there are rumors of a fourth manuscript and a family scandal surrounding the book getting finished by Larsson's girlfriend or family.)

The movie, I thought, was great because it had all the same elements described above. That's an accomplishment. But it also makes the film long: 2 1/2 hours. There was less brutality and less minor characters, as to be expected with a movie version.

Noomi Rapace (as Lisbeth Salander) and Mikael Nyqvist (as Kalle Blomqvist) in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

But most importantly, I thought the casting was perfect. Yes, Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth might not look like a 15-year-old boy as she's at times described - but she is exactly as I imagined her: boyish, but beautiful, pierced, tattooed, black-clad, with rings under her eyes and hardly a smile or any unnecessary gestures. Bravo. And Mikael Nyqvist as a not unattractive middle-aged man with  a bit of a belly looks like the real deal, like a real man even. Who's ever seen that? A lead actor that looks like a real person? It was wonderful to be pulled out of the movie for a moment and rejoice the fact that non-American movies still cast actors that look like people. This is truly one of the things I loved most about the film. Also their performances were fantastic, which really brought the well-imagined "written characters" to life.

Now the cinematography (art direction and nature) were stunningly beautiful - and so many scenes just played out elegantly without much music or dialogue. Was the beauty overdone and unrealistic? I don't know - I hear Sweden really is that charming looking and, after all, the Swedes are responsible for the sleek designs of IKEA and H&M. And Salander's place is a real mess.

So, of course, as this film, which was a huge success in Europe, comes to theaters in the US in Swedish with English subtitles, rumors about the American remake abound: David Fincher to direct,  Hollywood-glossy screenplay by Steve Zaillian, maybe cutesy Carey Mulligan as Salander... I even heard George Clooney and Brad Pitt as Blomqvist. Horrible. It'll be the opposite of what I cherish in the books and films, I'm sure.

It's really too bad that the average American doesn't watch more foreign films. Most people seem to dismiss dubbing films. But I always wonder if dubbing films doesn't open up more cinematic culture to the average movie-going audience. After all, I bet most Germans saw The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo dubbed in German and not in Swedish with English subtitles. But I'm not sure if they all flock to see the American remake... Yeah, they probably will.

For those, like me, who can't get enough, here's the Swedish trailer (with subtitles) for the sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden):

And here's the trailer (with English subtitles) for the third film based on The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes), which just came out in the Scandinavian countries, but won't be in Central Europe until the summer.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Four Weeks Germany - A Few Visual Impressions

These are a few pictures I took during the month (February) I spent in Germany - a week near Hamburg at my parents' and three weeks in Berlin. The amount of snow and ice was a record breaker. Unfortunately, so were the temperatures.

The pictures are in chronological order but are only a small selection and by no means capture all the wonderful things I saw and all the great people I met. The more personal pictures I'll upload to facebook when I get a chance to sort through those.

The white sky blends into the white ground at my parents' house

Driving to Berlin as the sun begins to set behind the wind turbines

This picture started the spontaneous shoot which led to this video

The Spree River in all its ice-covered and yellow-skied industrial beauty

Three (3!) disco balls at Festsaal Kreuzberg for the Revolver Magazin Party

Mystery tree outside Judith's apartment

The sun came out!

Swans on the Landwehrkanal

It's not that cold? Um, that's ice on the sidewalk, which apparently has been there for about six weeks by now. Just saying.

Outside my door. Not sure if they see each other or came there together or even showed up the same night.

Walking downstairs from our 5th floor seats at Berlinale Palast where Elke and I saw the Norwegian film "A Somewhat Gentle Man". In case I don't get to write about it at another time: I highly recommend it.

People coming (cement floor) and going (red carpet) at Berlinale Palast

Black Swan getting special treatment

Maren and Andi at his store: Fumanchuh

Back at my parents' outside Hamburg - the snow is almost gone but the skies are gray again.

I'll be back in spring when the sun is out and the first flowers are blooming. I can't wait. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stop Violence Against Women - An International Rescue Committee Petition

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling for people to sign a petition aimed at US Congressional leaders to support the International Violence Against Women Act and help stop violence against women and girls worldwide. 

In the chaos of conflict and disaster, women and girls can suffer unspeakable violence, exploitation and abuse. The odds are against them as they struggle to survive and protect themselves and their families.

The IRC is a non-sectarian, non-governmental international relief and humanitarian aid organization based in the United States. It has its beginnings in 1933 when Albert Einstein suggested to start an American branch of the European International Relief Association, to help Germans effected by the Third Reich.

Monday, March 8, 2010

MusicMonday: Broken Bells - "The High Road"

My pick for this Monday is the Sophie Muller-directed video for "The High Road" by the much hyped Broken Bells (James Mercer, singer of The Shins, and Danger Mouse, über-hip producer probably best known for Gnarls Barkley/"Crazy"). So far my favorite song of the year.

Tomorrow the album by Broken Bells will be released - and the day after they play their first New York show. Of course, tickets were sold out within minutes, which makes you wonder (not for the first time) if tickets for a show were ever really available or if they went directly to all the music biz people and the ticket sales blitz is just a convenient PR move. Eh, I like to believe some lucky local kids are going to be all blissed out at the show on Wednesday.

And here's the cute promo video featuring a few kids reviewing the song:

Currently you can listen to the entire album for free on NPR and on MySpace.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Fabulous "... Fabulous Stains" (1982)

"We are The Stains and we don't put out!"

Dianne Lane as Corinne in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

How did I miss this movie until now?

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, directed by Lou Adler (Up In Smoke - NSFW) and written by Nancy Dowd, has been alluding me since 1982. For shame!

Fortunately, I was recently stuck on a very long flight without individual TV monitors and therefore forced to turn to movies backed-up on my laptop... and then I discovered this gem!

Diane Lane is gorgeous. Her attitude is perfectly snotty and exudes the magnificent power of the female - especially potent as a teenager. The stereotypes of the various bands and fans and characters of the era are priceless. The contemplation of putting out / selling out / following your dream / DIY vs. marketing are always worth contemplating. Did I mention how gorgeous and fresh Corinne "Third Degree" Burns looks? The hair, the make-up, the clothes, the legs, the SHOES!

If only there had been a little more Laura Dern and a few more songs from The Stains besides "Waste of Time" and (the stolen) "Professionals".

(For people with short attention span, jump to 2:12)

I'm already looking forward to enjoying this film over and over again.

And for some extra geeking out, here is a documentary about the film:

... and a bunch of stills.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New music videos - to be viral or not... OK Go and Ich + Ich

More music? I guess it's just a music video kind of a week. But if people keep making great videos, I'll keep pushing them on everyone. Kind of amazing to watch cool little short films promoting music when: music television is dead, "there's no money in the music video business" and record labels pulling their videos off YouTube...

Regarding the "there's no money" part, OK Go (known for their incredibly viral videos - "Here It Goes Again" has almost 50,000,000 hits as of today) have gone a very fascinating route: third party corporate sponsorship. Their new video for "This Too Shall Pass" was sponsored by State Farm Insurance. Fascinating... music videos not only as clever little commercials for the band and the song but also for a corporate sponsor (unrelated to the record company)...

The previous video for the song hadn't been too shabby either - featuring the Notre Dame Marching band and no cuts. The incredible new video, which is all about one of those "what happens next machines", was apparently made without CGI (although I had my doubts at first and will be watching for online discussions on the subject), and has turned viral immediately - already over 1 million hits in 2 days!

According to the YT page, the video was directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs and produced by Shirley Moyers. It was filmed in a two story warehouse, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. The "machine" was designed and built by the band, along with members of Synn Labs over the course of several months.

There are even four behind-the-scenes videos:

A little less flashy, yet for me personally more significant, is the beautiful and heart-warming new video for the song "Einer von Zweien" by the German band Ich + Ich featuring the full band (for the first time) and a group of marathon dancers (literally I'm sure, considering how long a video shoot lasts). My dear friend Thimo Sander plays guitar in the band and, by coincidence, on my recent trip to Berlin I also had the pleasure of meeting Ingo Georgi, one of the owners of Katapult Filmproduktion, the company that produced the music video. Congratulations on a great video!

Unfortunately, the video "Einer von Zweien" so far only seems to exist within the embedded flash player on the band's official website. There's no option to embed it on a blog or other site, nor could I find it anywhere else. While offering the option to share a link via Twitter, Digg, etc., the marketing team of the band/record doesn't seem to want the video itself existing anywhere else than on their destination website. Or are their hands tied?

It's the total opposite approach from OK Go, who will probably get a lot of new fans again through their viral video strategy. Ich + Ich is one of the most popular German bands right now, if not the most successful German band altogether, so I don't think they have to worry about their sales or fan base. But you still have to wonder... And I do personally think it's a shame that we can't share the video with others, because it really is a beautifully shot, choreographed and edited video for a moving song. And I wonder if the restriction on sharing the video is due to their record label (or GEMA, the royalty collection group) not wanting other websites making money off of their content, a contemplation and past actions that have caused heated debates in the German music and online communities.

If the video for "Einer von Zweien" becomes available as an embed or at least as a direct link, I will add it here. Until then you can find it as part of the video page on the Ich + Ich website.

Monday, March 1, 2010

MusicMonday: Shout Out Louds and "Work"

A clever way to introduce "Work", the new album by the Swedish band Shout Out Louds: a creative video (directed by bass player Ted Malmros) let's you listen to excerpts from the album while watching guitarist Carl's brother Gustaf von Arbin draw and paint the band members. Fun to watch even if you don't know or care for the band... which might just lead to you getting into their music.

Now I only need to shake the jet lag to enjoy their show in Brooklyn tonight...

MusicMonday: Gil Scott-Heron - "Me and The Devil" and more

Right before I left Germany for New York again, my dad gave me his copy of the new record by "legendary godfather of rap" Gil Scott-Heron: "I'm New Here". My dad may actually have taken a cue from the liner notes that advise: 
Play your CD.
LISTEN all the way through.
Think about what you got.
Think about who would appreciate the investment.
Decide if there is someone to share this with.

Although I do think this amazing album (full of poetry, beats, soul, the old, the new, urban atmosphere and a late night drink) is best enjoyed in the recommended setting and in its entirety, here are a few songs I especially like. 

The awesome, atmospheric video for the Robert Johnson cover (reinvention? reviving?) "Me and The Devil":

The beautiful and real "Where Did The Night Go?", which is still available as a free download from the Gil Scott-Heron website:

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a video yet for my favorite from the album (a song which may  have some personal resonance as I'm preparing to move from New York to Berlin - although without quite that desperation): "New York Is Killing Me":

And for good measure here is the original recording of the Gil Scott-Heron classic "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" illustrated with a recent video collage: