Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shotgun Stories

It seems like I went all semester without seeing a great movie. I liked Slumdog, but thought it was a bit overrated (and maybe a bit too saccharin?). Shotgun Stories, however, completely bowled me over. As soon as I finished watching it, I turned right around and watched the director's commentary. I have no clue how this slipped by big film festivals, the Oscars, and year-end lists ostensibly unnoticed and remarkably unheralded.

Shotgun Stories tells the tale of two different families: one that was abandoned by their father, another that was raised by that same formerly-fleeing father. The abandoned children were left at the mercy of their unloving mother in a working-class world, while the father's new family experienced the love, support, and relative financial prosperity that he provided.

The father dies near the film's outset (he never appears on screen), and these two previously separate worlds collide, once Son, the eldest of the three abandoned boys, speaks his mind at the father's funeral (their father's lack of devotion is most evident--but never explicitly explained--by the fact that the children have the names Son, Boy, and Kid). The other family, the ones that benefited from their father's sobriety and religious conversion, are angered by Son's disparaging eulogy, and what emerges is a modern tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.

The film's writer and director, Jeff Nichols, grew up Arkansas and the film is set in its rural areas. The focus on the area's natural beauty, simple surroundings, and long scene transitions had me convinced that Nichols was ripping off David Gordon Green ... until I watched the commentary and found out they had been classmates at film school and DGG put his own cash into the film when he became one of its producers. Furthermore, the film's cameras and second unit were the very same that DGG employed in George Washington and perennial Cine-Men favorite, All The Real Girls. Thus, I excused Nichols from any sort of infringement into DGG's territory.

The surprise for me here was Michael Shannon, the actor that played Son. I couldn't remember seeing him in anything and the trailer actually made me a bit skeptical of his talent, but his calculated and contained rage were perfectly portrayed for what his character embodied. A minor character (that actually plays an important role) named Shampoo provided a bit of necessary laughter to offset the film's deadly serious tone.

Blurb: An absolutely outstanding piece of cinema that somehow was--and still is--under the radar. I can't wait for Jeff Nichols' next project, even though it's entitled Goat.
Grade: A+

Here's the trailer if you want:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fanfarlo: Reservoir

So I realize I haven't blogged about any music or movies since February. Well, for the most part,I haven't had anything spectacular in either category come my way. There have been some good albums, and I probably should've blogged about Other Lives' (FKA Kunek) self-titled album (available at Amazon for $5!), but for sheer laziness I didn't do it. (By the way, that album is real, and it's spectacular.)

I came across Fanfarlo in article about bands people love that nobody knows. I was instantly smitten. Instantly. Smitten. I looked up the band and found out their album hadn't released yet, but when it became available this week, I snatched it up (only $5.99 on iTunes!). I really wanted to wait for it to come out on eMusic, but I simply couldn't wait (eMusic > Amazon > iTunes).

Describing Fanfarlo's sound is surprisingly easy: it's Beirut meets Ra Ra Riot versus Arcade Fire. I actually think that's a perfect description. These guys have been around since 2006, dropping a two-song EP each year, so I don't think they consciously took bits and/or pieces from any of the abovementioned bands (plus, Fanfarlo's first EP came out before Beirut and Ra Ra Riot debuted). However, even if Fanfarlo totally stole their sound from those bands (which, again, I don't think they did), I still wouldn't care because those are somewhat disparate sounds and they do such a great job melding them into one sound.

The lyrics are fun, playful, and downright simple at times, but it contrasts well with the complex melodies of--get this--violin, keyboard, mandolin, saw (SAW!), bass, banjo, trumpet, glockenspeil, saxophone, clarinet, and guitar. Seriously! The lyrics can also be sufficiently ambiguous, which meshes perfectly with the musical melancholia that emerges in songs like "Comets" and "If It Is Growing."

Blurb: A great mixture of the sounds of a few different bands. These guys are my new favorite.
Final Grade: A

There's no video for my favorite song ("The Walls are Coming Down," which is a dead ringer for a Zach Condon production), so here are songs for which videos are available. Enjoy (and then go buy the album!):