January 26, 2012

Bastard: An Acting and Directorial Debut Boot-Kick To The Teeth

The German film Bastard is a socially contemporary and topical thriller that’s uncomfortably compelling. Uncomfortable, because to an American audience that’s used to vapid teenage vampire melodramas featuring cute boys with washboard stomachs and their girlfriends with even more dubious acting skills, Bastard is a boot-kick to the teeth.

                   ©2011 Gifted Films (German with English subtitles)

The story is about a disturbingly sullen 13-year old, Leon (Markus Krojer), who kidnaps a nine-year old boy, chains him inside the basement of a public swimming pool, films his captive, and posts the footage on the internet. The video goes viral as the police, led by a criminal psychologist (Martina Gedeck), try to find the missing nine-year old and his kidnapper. Both the psychologist and the missing boy’s parents realize very quickly that Leon is the culprit. He makes no secret of it. In fact, he is tauntingly brazen about his guilt. He is equally cavalier in his manipulation of the German system which states that one must be 14 years old to be responsible legally for any crime.

At first, Bastard is an open and shut case. However, here’s where the story veers into the uncomfortable. Leon’s parents seem alarmingly unaffected, alienated – and accepting – of their out of control son. The missing boy’s mother seems terrified by Leon to such an inexplicable extent that it even exceeds what one would expect as the natural reaction of a mother towards her son’s kidnapper. The missing boy’s father seems like a caged animal rendered powerless by Leon and the German legal system.

…and then Bastard veers wildly into the stratosphere of uncomfortable…

Enter Mathilda (Antonia Lingemann), Leon’s classmate. Mathilda is the daughter of an alcoholic single mother, and whose father died when she was young. At home, Mathilda is forced to be the responsible parent to her drunk mother. Away from home, she is at once a Lolita who exudes jailbait sexuality of monstrous proportions towards Leon and any adult male and a little girl lost. Mathilda barges her way into the lives of Leon, the missing boy’s parents, and the psychologist, and becomes an instrumental complication and diversion to their standoff.

Fifteen-year old Lingemann steals this film. She delivers a spectacularly nuanced star turn with an ease that one would only expect from the best of actors two or three times her age. Lingemann’s performance provokes viewers to simultaneously love, hate, fear, feel sorry for, laugh at, be shocked by, and squirm in supreme discomfort at Mathilda. The fact that a supporting character can have such a profound impact on the movie speaks to Lingemann’s prodigious acting chops, as well as to first-time director/screenplay writer Carsten Unger’s skills.

Without ever seeming overbearing, Unger deftly provides subtle social commentary about juvenile and adoption laws in Germany, the over-sexualization of children, abuse, bullying, and the desensitization of an entire generation as a result of technology. As writer and director, Unger has cleverly taken influences from Roman Polanski, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and A Clockwork Orange to deliver a brash film that is truly his own.

January 24, 2012

Picasso: "Oh, it's just a little something I drew..."

Pablo Picasso
Study for "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"

If you missed last year's Picasso: Masterpieces from Musee National Picasso, Paris, the traveling exhibition of essential works from Picasso's personal collection, then be sure to put Picasso's Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition on your calendar.  Many of the 55 sketches from this collection served as "rough drawings" to masterpieces.  National Gallery of Art January 29 - May 6, 2012.

January 20, 2012

Paul Stanley: You Haven't Aged A Bit Since 1974

At the age of ten, I walked into the green shag-carpeted family room of my best friend and flipped through his record collection.  Walt Disney soundtracks, Sesame Street Disco, Village People, and - what the hell was this? 

The album that caught my eye was emblazoned with a red and blue, stylized double lightning bolt S logo and four small pictures of what looked to my sensibilities at the time as comic book characters.  I turned the album around to see the back cover which had the same pictures, only bigger.  There was a pretty man who could very well have been a woman superhero, a cat guy, a spaceman, and a nightmarish sweaty creature with bloody dripping from his mouth and smeared across his face as if he might even be bleeding from his eyes.  I immediately opened the double album to reveal the centerfold - the same four characters on a multi-level Dante's Inferno-motif stage that was consumed with sparks and mushroom clouds of fire.  I was transfixed, fascinated, obsessed, possessed....I hypnotically asked my buddy to put the record on..."YOU WANTED THE BEST, YOU GOT THE BEST...."

To say that my life changed at that moment may seem like hyperbole, but that afternoon during my summer vacation between the fifth and sixth grade was the pivotal moment when I went from being a little kid who listened to music that my Top 40-loving mom liked to an independent-thinking big kid who inadvertently got a taste of something new...rebellion and possibility - and I loved it.

I listened to the songs on the album obsessively and repeatedly.  I learned every single word.  King of the Nighttime World.  Calling Dr. Love.  Ladies Room.  Love Gun.  Rocket Ride.  I had no idea what their lyrics actually meant, but that wasn't important.  I suddenly wanted to read everything I could about these guys, find out when they would next appear on TV, and plot how I would one day talk my parents into letting me see them in concert.

I didn't just want to follow them.  I wanted to be them.  I couldn't look like them because...well, my parents weren't going to tolerate that (although I was the Spaceman a year later for Halloween).  So I asked them for a guitar the following Christmas.  The moment I strapped the guitar around my neck, I wanted one more thing those guys had on the cover of Love Gun...

...A bevy of worshiping, hot, semi-naked women at their feet.  Suddenly, the girl who lived across the street from me..."looked good.  She looked Hotter Than Hell"...

In the ensuing three decades, the music of this band has played in my head like a soundtrack on an endless loop, and motivated me to live out my own rock and roll fantasy - not just in my pursuit of music, but in life, in general...and that grand sense of possibility.

Happy 60th birthday, Paul Stanley!

January 19, 2012

First to Review New Springsteen (Without Bothering To Hear It)

Springsteen Wrecking Ball
The Greatest Springsteen Album Since His Last Greatest Album

I wanted RTunes68 to be the first blog to review the upcoming Bruce Springsteen album Wrecking Ball.  So here it is:

The Boss returns with the greatest rock album since....well, his last greatest rock album.  Bruce really speaks to the everyday man - his concerns, his plight - and...speaks truth to power!  The album is breathtaking, lyrically and musically.  I would bestow the monicker "Bob Dylan" on Bruce if there weren't already a Bob Dylan - that's how brilliant The Boss is.

If there were a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame for members of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce should be inducted now.

I speak for all music critics when I say that our only complaint about Springsteen is that he's too great.

(...See, I've just made all the reviews that surely will inundate the media in the weeks ahead entirely redundant.)

January 17, 2012

Roman Polanski's "Carnage" And Claustrophobia

I confess that I saw Roman Polanski’s Carnage on a whim…and slightly buzzed on pinot noir. Polanski once again treads in a familiar territory as this film is a study in claustrophobia, and the pinot buzz, if anything, heightened the sense of entrapment.

                                                         © 2012 Sony Pictures

In the opening scene, the viewer witnesses a minor playground scuffle where a boy hits another with a stick. The next scene – which comprises the rest of the movie – is the consequence of that one action wherein the boys’ parents meet and are trapped in the tight confines of an apartment to discuss how to resolve what some of them see as a monumentally significant incident. What ensues is biting commentary of the self-righteousness and self-adulation of over-involved – yet, realistically, absentee – parents in an era when playground play and scuffles have been replaced by supervised play dates and adult over-supervision.

When the two sets of parents, played by Christopher Waltz and Kate Winslet, and John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster, first meet, it’s all Upper East Side urbanity and liberal politeness. Yet after more than a few rounds of whiskey and fruit cobbler of questionable quality, all their affected sophistication and civility descends into a drunken display of hypocrisy, phoniness, pettiness, repressed anger, and cracks in the pavement of relationships the size of potholes. In effect, what transpires is the comedic equivalent of what happens weekly on Jersey Shore or Real World (Season 52?). To play along and not blow the sophisticated self-image of the two couples, let’s just say that similar territory was covered in the 1960s classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Based on Yasmina Reza’s play, Carnage the film remains a one-scene play. However, without the air, space, and din of a live audience, Polanski’s adaptation forces the viewer to feel like a trapped fly on the wall of an apartment where over-reaction and “carnage” transpires.

If you are the busy parent of playground-age children today, this film may be a bit too close to home to fully appreciate. However, if you’re friends with such parents – or if you’re thankfully a self-aware parent – Carnage is a darkly hilarious movie with several unsettlingly all-too-familiar moments.

The subtle punchline/astute concluding observation occurs during the ending credits…

January 11, 2012

The Girl With The Immigrant Song Tattooed In Her Head

Whenever I hear that someone has covered a Led Zeppelin song, I reflexively cringe.  I've heard many a cover rendered by everyone from nameless bar bands to established stadium-filling mega-artists and almost every one of them falls horribly short of the original.  To paraphrase Robert Plant from Song Remains The Same, "Does anybody remember laughter?" 

Does anybody remember Encomium?  If that officially-sanctioned tribute album proved anything, it was that encomium could be paid to Led Zeppelin, but no one can duplicate or surpass the original...

...Enter Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Karen O....

If anyone had a snowball's chance in Valhalla (does that even make sense?) of doing the Immigrant Song justice, it would have to be someone who approached it over, under, sideways, down.  That's exactly what Reznor, Ross, and O have done.  Rather than replicating the obvious - mimicking Plant's banshee falsetto wails or Jimmy Page's driving guitar riff or John Bonham's trademark drum sound - Reznor, Ross, and O make the song almost a new creation entirely.  All that's left of the original is the pummeling feel - with the drums playing what used to be the guitar riff - and Viking lyrics.

The result is debauched, almost-human, industrial-techno, calculated mayhem that's as dark, stark, and ominous as a girl with a dragon tattoo in the icy-cold winters of Sweden...

Enough with the verbose encomium, check out the song! 

                                                    ©2011 Sony Pictures

January 9, 2012

Max Zorn: If MacGyver Were An Artist

If Banksy's work has become too conventional for you, check out Dutch street artist Max Zorn.  Using nothing more than brown packing tape and light, his film noir-ish portraits and scenes are both innovative and stunning.  You can also stick his work in your city

                                                         Max Zorn 

January 5, 2012

The Soundtrack To Your Next Soul Train House Party

                                               Black And White America
                                           (© 2011 Roadrunner Records)
“The future looks as though it has come around
And maybe we have finally found our common ground”
The line from the opening, title track to Lenny Kravitz’s latest album Black And White America seems to be the manifesto for all that follows. This album could very well have come out in 1978, and yet it sounds every bit 2012, musically and rhetorically. He touches on race in an optimistic way, and rides the “love, peace, and SOUL” train with all the authority and cool of Don Cornelius.

That Kravitz worships at the altar of James Brown, Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Jackson 5/Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, and Prince is not news. Fact is, aside from the sporadic output of The Purple One, no one but Kravitz makes this sort of music anymore so consistently and so well. So appreciate it for all its rock-star-soul-brother-spaceman splendor.

Black And White America is Kravitz’s most focused, best written, and f-f-f-funkiest effort since 1998’s 5. There is very little fat or filler in this 17-track album. When there is, as when he treads dangerously in the Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson I-believe-the-children-are-our-future waters of The Faith of a Child or Dream, you almost want to excuse him because he does it in such earnest…but let’s not. To the unforgiving, cynical ear, the two aforementioned tracks are the only things getting in the way of making this album flawless.

  • Black And White America – the funky opening version and the acoustic b-side are an insight into songwriting.
  • Come On And Get It – what if Zeppelin, Hendrix, Sly, Super Fly, JB, Prince, and hot girls got in a room together?
  • Liquid Jesus – Maxwell, you ain’t the king of Mr. Lova’ Man music.
  • Rock Star City Life – this should be the theme for Victoria’s Secret’s next ad and runway campaigns.
  • Boongie Drop – close your eyes and you’re in a sweaty Kingston dance hall, as Jay-Z drops by to say “I make that pussy speak patois like Petra, remember hah?”
  • Stand – a brilliant theft of Three Dog Night’s Nights in Shambala.
  • SuperLove – Eh, Maxwell.  It might be time to call it a night.
  • War – a track worthy of Michael Jackson at his Off the Wall finest.

January 2, 2012

Young Adult: Can’t Find My Way Back Home

(© 2011 - Paramount Pictures)

In Young Adult, Mavis (Charlize Theron) is an impossibly beautiful (and she knows it), divorced writer of young adult fiction in her mid to late 30s who lives self-absorbedly in big city Minneapolis, parties too often, drinks too much, sleeps with the TV on tuned perpetually to The Kardashians, isn’t the least bit nice, and yet now wishes she could have done things differently. So she decides to go back to her suburban Mercury, Minnesota roots and try to reunite with her long-lost high school love – the one that got away.

So far, this film has all the makings of a romantic comedy starring the interchangeable Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, or Sarah Jessica Parker. Throw in Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, or Josh Duhamel and, ladies, we’ve got the perfect recipe for a feel-good movie that you can relate to and walk out of feeling like true love is possible for you too, right?


Young Adult comes from the razor-sharp pen of Diablo Cody (the author of Juno). Her mercilessly cynical writing is immensely entertaining, poignant, and funny…and all too uncomfortably relatable to a generation of women and men who suddenly find all their friends evaporating into an incessantly-self-described state of blissful matrimony and parenthood, while they’re in a suspended state of discontented adolescence. Stuck in such a purgatory, even the strongest willed among us surely have considered doing what Mavis does by going back home and righting the wrongs of the past.

However, as the cliché states: You can’t go back home. Your mirror may deceive you into thinking you haven’t changed, but the people, consequences, and circumstances you’ve left behind have. Mavis returns home, meets up with her old boyfriend Buddy to whom she’s pinned all her hopes and dreams for the future…and hits the brick wall – or street lamp (see the movie!) – of reality.

Theron would be a solo tour de force of nature in this movie if not for comedian Patton Oswalt’s portrayal of Matt, the perpetual loser/geek who was literally scarred for life by high school (again, see the movie!) and who still collects action figures, distills homemade bourbon, and owns a collection of ‘90s indie-rock t-shirts. Mavis may have ignored Matt throughout high school, but now years later, with all the reluctance and disdain of the still-mean prom queen forced to acknowledge the class geek, she grows to rely on him as her confidante, voice of reason, drinking buddy, and more.

While the Mr. Big-dreaming fans of a certain franchise may find this movie and Mavis abhorrent, welcome to the dark and real side of life (or as real as a comedic film gets) and embrace the uncomfortable humor of Young Adult.

Seemingly free of the constraints of Hollywood focus group audiences, America’s Sweethearts, and cliché, Cody has teamed up with the equally talented devil-and-single-women-may-care Theron to produce a wholly unsympathetic character and date movie from hell – and it's a damn good one!