Monday, October 20, 2014

Coming in November...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Man, I wish I could go to this...

Being sidelined by illness sucks.

Magic Mushroom Season: a song

It's magic mushroom season
But I can't find a field
I used to know a couple
That had impressive yields

You go out to some farm there
In the foggy morning mist
You sometimes aren't the first one
But there's always some they missed

You walk among the cowshit
You get down on one knee
You ruffle through the foliage
You pick the ones you see

You don't go ask permission
And you don't upset the cows
You do it quick and quiet
Because mushrooms aren't allowed

You might just eat a couple
But don't make no mistakes
The good ones have a nipple
And turn blue where they break

It's rained all through October
And the grass is damp with dew
The birds fly in such patterns
I've never seen - have you?

It's magic mushroom season
But I've got nowhere to pick
But I've got some in my freezer
From 1996

(Just a ditty, but those who have an interest in such matters should check out the Sacred Plant Medicine conference at UBC this weekend. Oliver Hockenhull's preferred long cut of From Neurons 2 Nirvana: The Great Medicines will be screening - read my Straight interview here).

Some fall photographs

All photographs by Allan MacInnis, such as they are:
Foggy Burnaby morning:

Commercial Drive, October 2014:

The Faser River in Maple Ridge

 North Vancouver night market:

Finally, when I woke up this morning, I had one weird eyebrow hair sticking straight out of my head:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Anarchy in the JFK! Plus a heartwarming music journalism moment

One of the sad facts of music journalism: you almost never get positive feedback, especially from readers. If you do any good for the bands you write about (or the music fans you address yourself to), you probably won't ever hear about it. People are sure to tell you what they don't like about something you've written - sometimes with reason, but often with a pathological, cruel glee (especially in the "comments" section after an article in the Straight, say). But even a really good article, free of errors of fact or judgment, ideally is a somewhat self-effacing thing; if it works, the writer and writing should be almost transparent, with people left discussing what a great band the band is, looking at the moon, not the finger that points to it. Almost no one (other than the occasional editor) really notices or acknowledges when a piece is well-written; and if an article actually turns someone on to something cool, or helps a band fill a venue - it's almost like people think that we're all getting paid anyhow (sometimes not the case!), we're all parasites (sometimes the case, but not always), or we're doing it for our own reasons (sort of, but still)... The nicest piece of feedback I have ever received for a piece of writing came from a buddy who (if he was telling the truth) overhead someone at a Carla Bozulich/ Silver Mt. Zion concert say that she had never heard of either band before but came to the show because of the story she'd read in Discorder (which I'd written). That was around 2005 or 2006.  It remains one of the biggest and best compliments I have received for a piece of writing, and it got to me entirely by happenstance (this person COULD have written in, but didn't; if my buddy hadn't been standing next to her, I wouldn't have known about her appreciation at all).

There are exceptions to this rule. Izzy Gibson, former Piggy vocalist, sent me a nice note about my Piggy review in the Straight a few months ago, for instance (thanks, Izzy!). Certain people I've written about have become friends and readers and give me good deals on DVDs they're selling (David, Mom and I watched Touch of Evil last night, thanks!). But another bit of feedback that caused a nice warm glow for me, that once again got to me almost entirely by happenstance, happened when I ran into Jack "Fucking" Keating at the Liquor Kings' CD launch a few weeks ago. It was my first time meeting him, though I'd interviewed him about his role in the "fuck band" scene in Vancouver, and about the nature of JFK, named for him, as the ultimate fuck band. I was just sitting at a table when he came around with flyers for tonight's JFK show at Chapel Arts. I introduced myself, established who he was, and it quickly was revealed that HE CARRIES A PRINTOUT OF MY INTERVIEW WITH HIM in his back pocket, to show people who don't know about the band. Then he whipped it out and showed it to me!

The printout, that is.

Jack, I know I said something kind of sarcastic about the honour of riding next to your ass, but seriously, dude, that was a touching compliment - not anything you said, but the mere fact that you carry that article around, creased up and close to you, set a warm, coveted glow glowin' in my abdomen. I missed the last JFK gig because I was afraid some disgruntled Art Bergmann fan would see me and beat me up after my ill-advised/ poorly received Art Bergmann show review (and because I foolishly mentioned this possibility to my girlfriend, who got skittish; she's not much of a punk gig attendee in the best of circumstances). I will be missing tonight's gig due to a cold that has me sidelined in Maple Ridge (I won't be seeing any live music this weekend - which, alas, is nothing new for me these days). But seriously, man, I wish you and the band a terrific night!

Let me take this moment to thank all gig promoters, venue operators, bartenders, and, media-wise, photographers, editors, copy-editors, staffers, and publishers for their role in supporting the scene. They get thanked even less than writers, I imagine! (Special thanks to Mike Usinger for givin' me space to write about two really cool punk bands two weeks in a row in the Straight). And if you're looking for something to do tonight, folks...:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A good month!

Got to write about two local punk bands... money is a bit better now that I'm back to work... Had a good night's sleep last night (in my girlfriend's bed!)... after a stressful few months, I'm happy to report that everything is kinda goin' okay!  Plus its nearing Halloween, and there's a lot of cool events I'm excited about, movie-wise - but especially this one.

By the way, congratulations to Liz and Blake, my friends who have just had a baby. Guess they're having a good month too...

Bishops Green interview, gig Saturday

Had an interesting time talking to Orville Lancaster of Bishops Green; their recordings are growing on me a lot. One of the interesting things we didn't get to talk about in the Straight article - but which definitely came up in conversation was the whole issue (or non-issue, as it turns out) of racism and fascism, as associated with skinhead, Oi!, and street punk culture. The truth is - I should make this clear at the outset - I'm a near outsider to the subgenre, since I grew up on American hardcore, and only know a small handful of British punk bands (Crass, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash, with occasional digressions into not-really-punk like The Jam and the New Model Army). I've never owned albums by, or had much time for, bands like the Business, the Blitz, Stiff Little Fingers, the Members, Sham 69, the 4 Skins, the Cockney Rejects, or so forth; occasionally I've heard songs I like by such bands - on Chris Walter's recommendation, I picked up Cock Sparrer's Shock Troops as part of my prep for this interview, and I'm loving it - but as a whole, this is not really "my" kind of punk. Which is pretty cool, because it means now that it's a whole new world to conquer: suddenly I want to play catch up on this stuff, and it's all thanks to Bishops Green, who are making music as good and fresh and real as any of these bands (in fact, at present, I'd rather listen to Bishops Green than Sham 69, believe it or not - I like it more!).

Here's the thing, though. Because I'm ignorant of this style of music, if I see soemone with a shaved head, suspenders, and boots, I get immediately uneasy. I know very little about the racist side of skinhead music. I've met and talked with a nervous SHARP (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice) at Funkys who was worried some Aryan skinheads outside were going to cause him trouble for the Trojan tattoo on his neck, and he was very clear in explaining to me that the whole white power angle of skinhead culture came later in the game, that the original skinheads were into ska and reggae and in favour of cultural diversity. The presence of the occasional band like Skrewdriver on the UK scene - who released one classic album, then embraced the British National Party and started writing some pretty racist/ nationalist lyrics and playing Rock Against Communism shows - screwed things up for a lot of people, tainting the image of skins, making people associate them immediately with racism and neo-Nazism, but that really all was a digression for the movement, not its main raison d'etre. (Mind you, I actually am surprised at how good some of the later music of Skrewdriver still is, even after they embraced the far right, but that's another matter; I've spun a bit of it and am kinda weirded out how much I like their sound, while finding their lyrics often repellent).

Anyhow, one of the interesting things about the interview was the decision to leave that whole part of the conversation out of it. Lancaster was unambiguously against racism, against Nazism. He felt uncomfortable with the question from the gitgo, in fact, because it's kind of, as he put it, a "when did you stop beating your wife" question, where giving any answer in effect opens a can of worms and dumps it over the speaker; he thought it was a "shame" that the topic even came up - although apparently it does on a routine basis, with reviewers writing things like "these guys make great music - they better not be racist." In point of fact, there is not so much of a SMIDGEN of a HINT that there is anything politically objectionable about Bishops Green or their music. Lancaster's quote when I asked him about whether they ever have Nazis turning up at their gigs was:
I don’t get that at all, I know it’s out there, but it’s just so far from what we’re about. They wouldn't be welcome, I'll tell you that! I watched Star Wars the other day, and you know, Yoda says something very important, that fear leads to anger and anger leads to hate. There’s so many different ways to look at the world, and I just don’t get it - I don’t want to get it, I don’t want to understand it, but unfortunately, it’s out there every day.

After chewing it over with him, I figured that none of this was really necessary for the article. Why waste time talking with a really great band about something they DON'T believe in? It was better to focus on the interview on things they do believe in, do stand for. So that's what I did. But just in case anyone sees a photo of Greg Huff and bristles with unease, just for the record: that's all about YOUR prejudices coming through, not the band's. They're a great band. I'm excited that I'm going to get to see them (I missed seeing them open for the Meatmen a few years ago because I was waiting outside for this drunk girl who was supposed to show up at the gig, who never did... at least some Golers kept me company out there while I waited).

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Rebel Spell kickoff at 333

Had a terrific time watching The Rebel Spell tour kickoff last night - and I've uploaded some video evidence, though it really doesn't capture the spirit of the evening. (NOTE: EDITED TO ADD THAT THIS CLIP DOES CAPTURE THE SPIRIT A BIT! Good!). The venue, 333, is a great place for punk shows - it's an old disused garage or something, complete with a busted toilet seat in the crapper and a separate room for alcohol for when they have licensed events. I'd go to see shows here again - a good little punk venue, with much better sound and lighting than you'd ever expect from such a place.
Above: Wretched Erin of the Rebel Spell
Below: Selfist
Bad cellphone photos by Allan MacInnis

I'm not sure if the name of the opening act, Selfist, refers to one who practices selfism - whatever that may be - or one who practices self-fisting; perhaps there's an intentional conflation of the two concepts? They reminded me for no particular reason of seeing Sludge back at the Cruel Elephant - maybe because one of the singers for Sludge had long blonde hair. I liked the bass player's solos during "Morbid History," one of the few songs whose title I got to pick out.
 The Binz

The Binz - that's a link to their bandcamp - were probably my favourite band of the night besides the headliners. Twin guitars, a tall heavy guy in plaid (named Gary) on vocals, and a complex, evolved, but still melodic approach to punk: they weren't just about power and passion, had some interesting music happening too - seemed like a smart band.
 Above and below: The Royal Red Brigade

So did the Royal Red Brigade, mind you, who came all the way from Regina by van to play this show (hopefully with a few other gigs along the way). I was feeling my two beers and the two glasses of Fireball I had downed, and feeling the heat and closeness of the room, so I spent part of their set outside on the sidewalk, breathing in cold fresh air. Still, a female friend of mine was very pleased to see they had a female bassist - while I kept trying to get a good photo of the drummer (a heavy, sweaty, hairy hard-hitter in a Clash t-shirt). I was distracted, too, by watching the female-heavy mosh pit - there were some seriously aggro girls in it, throwing punches and pushing guys around, sending them careening. I'm only an occasional mosher, but I've never gone out of my way to shove anyone in the pit, unless, say, they've just jumped on my foot and I need them off it; it's weird to see a pit where the toughest people in it are girls. (One of them seemed in a really bad mood, too - like she badly needed whatever catharsis she was getting).

The Rebel Spell were on fire as usual; I must have seen them around fifteen times by now*, and I've never seen them be less than great. Near the end, Jeff Andrew joined them onstage for his song with them, "The Tsilhqot'in War," playing violin and trading off vocals with Todd. I attempted to make a video of it, but midway through, I exceeded the storage space on my phone, and it shut down. I think I like what Andrew does, tho' - check out "Professional Asshole" on his bandcamp, say, for a witty bit of darkly political folk music. I've already said my piece on the new album in the Straight (though go figure - listening to the album on vinyl is totally different from what I've been playing on my phone; Todd's voice seems much clearer hearing it off record, while Erin's guitar isn't as dominant; I wonder if what I was sent is actually the final master, or if my phone is an unreliable way of listening to music? Hmm). Here's wishing them a great tour. Read my 2011 interview with Todd Serious here (with much, much better photos of the band, by Bev Davies and Femke van Delft).

*I have now seen The Rebel Spell:
- once at Richards on Richards, with DOA and the Furies: my introduction to the band
- at least twice at the Cobalt
- once at Under the Volcano
- once at Funkys
- twice at the Rickshaw, once opening for the Dreadnoughts, once opening for DOA's "farewell" a couple of years ago
- once at some Cultural Hall or other, for Todd's 40th birthday gig
- once at a church hall in Hammond, with an in-between bassist (after Chris but before Elliot)
- once at Adstock in Maple Ridge, just this summer
- once at 333, last night

So actually that means the total number of gigs I've seen by the Rebel Spell is more like eleven. Unless I've forgotten a couple. I may well have. Anyhow...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ten year anniversary of Alienated in Vancouver!

Holy crap, have I been doing this for ten years? My first posts are from October 17, 2014, so this blog is five days short of being a decade old. Kinda wow.

For those curious about my following, for the record, 36 people follow this site regularly, and I get an average of around 77 hits a day lately. (It's dropped as low as 60 and been over 150, during particularly productive periods). That's not a lot of traffic, but it consoles me that according to Sitemeter, the average visitor stays 35-40 minutes.

So I guess I'll keep it up.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Picks for Two Lane Blacktops

So this Vince D'Amato guy has kinda come out of nowhere for me, but holy crap is he curating some cool stuff this October. At the Cinematheque, along with UBC's Ernest Mathijs, he's hosting a whack of cool road movies and car chase films, called Two Lane Blacktops: The 1970's American Road Movie. My must-sees include The Gauntlet (surely it's Clint Eastwood's strangest, most provocative film? And yes, that's a Frank Frazetta poster); Death Race 2000 (which I agitated for quite some time ago on this very blog); and Race with the Devil. Which I also wrote about here - it's an under-appreciated movie that seems to work best as a kind of Satanic companion piece to Easy Rider, which is the one really notable missing film in this programme (tho' I guess it's not actually a 70's film). I also have great love for the cinema of John Hough, who usually directs Gothic thrillers or weird Disney UFO movies; as atypical as Dirty Mary Crazy Larry might be, it's a great piece of filmmaking, and also not without content, in the questions it raises and grimly answers about the possibilities of living a free life in America. Maybe this can be a seasonal series? I would be totally down for the Cinematheque doing regular series of spaghetti westerns (especially Tepepa) and car chase movies. Or maybe a "nature's revenge" series? Day of the Animals, Frogs, Squirm, Grizzly, Alligator, Piranha, Prophecy, Food of the Gods, Night of the Lepus...? (Most of those are kind of "bad" films, mind you, but sometimes bad is better than good).

By the way, no, I'm not a big fan of Vanishing Point; much as I love Bruce Dern, I find The Driver to be Walter Hill's most strained, pretentious, and embarrassing-to-watch film from his essential period; and tho' I acknowledge fully that The Passenger is great, I'm not ready for it again just yet (and how is it American, by the by?). Finally, I have only seen the film from which this series takes its title once, which is not enough to have an opinion; it was enough to see that it was a remarkable movie, but not enough for me to really even begin to come to terms with it.

Oh, and I've never seen The Great Race. Should I?

The Rebel Spell tonight in Vancouver

Great band, whose new album I've written about twice, here and now here, in a feature in the Georgia Straight this week. It's a very different sound for them, and one thing I didn't say in the Straight story is that I'm not actually that wild about the way Jesse Gander has handled Todd's voice; you pretty much NEED the lyric sheet for this album, compared to their past releases, where you could at least pick out 60% of what Todd was saying. Then again, spinning the new record and It's a Beautiful Future back to back only really serves to highlight just how muted and indistinct Erin's guitar sounded on the last album, compared to the amazing, up-front clarity that Gander brings to the mix. I have never been able to pick out her individual guitar parts before, and now I can, so that's cool. Check out "Pride and Prejudice," for a taste; that's some pretty stingin' guitarwork! Erin sent me a gear geek email that I couldn't work into the interview, but, besides the main amp being the one she always uses, she writes that "for the guitar tracks the rhythms were doubled: the first set up being my stage sound (Marshall JCM 900 with a Marshall lead 1960 cab), the double was a Peavey 5150 (that's the Eddie Van Halen signature amp) through a Mesa cab, and the leads were an orange Rockerverb 50." The show is at 333 Clark, with various opening acts. Highly recommend being there!

A few more VIFF thoughts: Altered States series, The Fool, a moment for Michael Massee

Compared to All the Time in the World, written about below, I haven't seen anything else that I've loved at the VIFF, but I've seen five other films I liked.
I enjoyed the BC-made Bloody Knuckles a lot more than Adrian Mack, who took the bait a bit when it comes to the film's sexism, racism, and so forth. The film does gleefully offer some ridiculous stereotypes - particularly its Chinese Canadian gangsters, who cut the hand off a cartoonist who has mocked them. For some reason, rather than being offended at its risibly evil Asians, I kept thinking about how much fun it must have been for the actors who played them to be such unremitting bad guys. Juvenile as it may be - the whole thing is basically a cartoon castration fantasy - contra Mack, I'm actually not sure that Bloody Knuckles doesn't have things to say about censorship; particularly self-censorship, since the artist in question, after his hand is lopped off, sinks into a despair and self-pity and stops to make art. That is, until his severed hand returns - pretty much in Evil Dead 2 mode, but ruder - to poke him into action. Maybe it's just that it reminded me of things I've heard from Robin Bougie (who appears in the film!), but I give Bloody Knuckles a severed thumb up.
Also in Curtis Woloschuk's Altered States program, I had a pretty interesting time with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. One thing I kept thinking of was the comparison to Jarmusch in the catalogue. It's definitely apt, but I remember watching Jim Jarmusch's early cinema and thinking at the time that he'd taken a lot of his aesthetic from Wim Wenders, in Wenders' more dour, black and white moments - Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road, The State of Things - only being a bit more playful about things. Maybe I wasn't giving him enough credit, but it didn't seem, at the time, that Jarmusch's voice was exceptionally original or different. Somehow, tho', he now seems like the dominant reference point for a certain kind of art cinema - drily funny, slightly slow, quirky, black and white films made from the point of view of a quizzical outsider. I know that it's actually been at times pretty difficult for Iranians to see American cinema, so I kept wondering if the director - Ana Lily Amirpour - might not have gotten her style from somewhere else? It would be a pleasant discovery, though I suspect, no, she's probably just seen a lot of Jarmusch.
Anyhow, it's an interesting film. It seems to be about changing roles for women in Iran, coupled with a mistrustful ambivalence about what, for purposes of simplicity, I will call "the west." I imagine it can never be shown in Iran - there's female nudity, for one, and pretty frank depictions of prostitution, drug addiction, and other "that-happens-in-Iran?" kinda things; hell, there's even a fellatio scene! But some of its images - the female vampire skateboarding down a sidewalk - are pretty indelible, and the film is undeniably successful at what it attempts. I saw it after a hard day at work, and found myself fighting the "movie nap," so I did miss a few things, like: was the gully filled with corpses ever even explained? But I liked it, I liked it.
I also liked The Well well enough, though I can't blame a certain friend of mine as shrugging it off as Mad Max with water instead of oil (and no cars). Oh, and a strong female lead (Haley Lu Richardson, pictured). But why the hell not, it's a well told story, even if it's a bit more about style than substance sometimes (like, you know they introduce the samurai sword not because there needs to be a samurai sword in the story, but because it will look cool to see people killed with it!). It's certainly the driest-looking movie to be shot in the Pacific Northwest. For some reasons, the deserts out here don't get a lot of screentime, don't fit with people's image of the place.
In the end, I think my strongest reaction to The Well was, gee Michael Massee has gotten old! (Followed by gee, he isn't onscreen for very long). I've enjoyed his work for a very long time, since I caught Monika Treut's 1991 lesbian sex comedy My Father Is Coming, also with Annie Sprinkle, but it's weird to me that that film is still probably the biggest role I've seen him in. Someone should make a movie with him as their lead, if they haven't yet; he's really good at what he does, but he always pops up in some small weird place, like the guy who runs the sex club in Fincher's Seven. Let us have a moment of Michael Massee fandom, shall we? I can find no stills of him from this particular film online yet, but as he ages, he's kinda looking a bit like Jean Claude Van Damme. Someone alert Peter Hyams, get him to make a picture where they play twin brothers, one raised in Europe, one in America, who... oh, nevermind.
And then let's move on to It Follows. Anyone who has experience of an STD, be it a caught one or a close encounter, will find some things to identify with in this film, but you know, even though its ostensibly a story about a sexually transmitted demon, I really have no idea what the theme of this movie was. The way its young people talk about sex and love, and work with each other to help their afflicted friend, seem to be more the point than the whole demon thing, though obviously the world of sex for these youth is somewhat fraught with danger and uncertainty. The creepiest moments in the film, though, aren't summed up by such a theme, have an irreducible what-the-FUCK? quality to them that make them memorable. And I haven't seen the suburbs look this creepy in awhile. Good film! I thought the John Carpenter-ish soundtrack was a bit weirdly loud at times, enough to be more distracting than enjoyable. My only real quibble with the film.
Another good film, though not an Altered States one: The Fool. It's a story of corruption and idealism in Russia, with a lead actor, the award-winning Artyom Bystrov, who rather channels Ethan Hawke, in the role of an engineering student trying to convince bureaucrats to do something about a building he is sure is going to collapse. The VIFF catalogue description, linked above, is perfectly accurate and adequate to convey what you're getting, and to offer any more would be a spoiler, so let's leave it there. I've had Russian friends who I think would agree with the film's grim assessment of the Russian condition. It's a pretty dark film, but quite effective.
VIFF repeats go on all this weekend. In particular, I've heard Wild Tales is a must see, even if you're not an anthology-film type; I gather the first and final stories in it are the best. Didn't get to see it, myself; probably won't. But I enjoyed everything I saw this year (except maybe Jauja). Now it's time to eagerly wait to see what gets picked for the Rio Grind, coming later in October, and to salivate for the Vancity and Cinematheque programmes of horror movies (including the director's cut of Nightbreed, which I will host).

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Furies Way of Life on Youtube

My second ever video posted to Youtube, from Friday at the Fairview... My not too old interview with the frontman, Chris Arnett, here.

VIFF Reviews, 2014: All The Time in the World, and others

To my surprise, VIFF 2014 has been dominated by a film I wouldn't even have seen if it hadn't been for my girlfriend, Erika; All the Time in the World, a documentary about a family's experiences - as shot by the Mom! - going off the grid in a cabin in the wilds of the Yukon, with no electronic devices besides the equipment used to document the experience, no neighbours, no school, no grocery stores - nothing but the family and the forest and the cabin. They live there for nine months, wintering there. There are no cell phones, no TV, no internet, and no one for the three kids (two girls and a boy) to play with other than each other (and their parents, and two cats and a dog). While much of the warmth of the movie comes from the family's interactions, there's a serious and rather inspiring message about our overreliance on technology (also including clocks!) and about how really we're not as dependent on it as we might think - if we're willing to do a bit of work, that is. I normally don't recommend family-friendly, heartwarming, uplifting films, but this one is all of those and yet still terrific and important.  That I see, there are no added screenings of the film at present but the director, Suzanne Crocker, advised us to keep an eye on the website for news, as they try to find a distributor. I wonder if there's any way to get a copy of it to Ted Kaczynski? The guy probably could use some cheering up. VIFF listings for the film here.
Nothing else I've seen has quite captured me the way that documentary did - it's head and shoulders above all other films so far - but I've liked several of the movies I've seen. Probably the second-most interesting one I've caught is Elephant Song, a film which reminds one of Equus on a few levels, since it's based on a play in which a psychiatrist talks with a patient at length, where both are vulnerable to the other's observations. Plus it has a dominant animal in the background (I'll let you guess which). The film reminded me of a Jay Haley article I read a long time ago, "The Art of Being Schizophrenic," which, if memory serves, posits that schizophrenics are engaging in purposive behaviour, using their own mental illness to manipulate relationships in their family - though in this case, the family is the doctor, played by Bruce Greenwood, and a nurse who is his ex-wife (Catherine Keener). Quebec director Xavier Dolan, as the patient, really steals the show; I have yet to catch Mommy, the film he directed in this year's fest, but I enjoyed Tom at the Farm last year, and Elephant Song convinces me that whatever happens with his own career, he may just end up as a superstar actor in English-language cinema, if he's not careful. It's an attention-getting role. And of course, Bruce Greenwood is always great to watch.
The Two Faces of January is very much made in the mode of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and based on a novel by the same author, Patricia Highsmith, whose works, as readers of my blog may know, I rather love. The film touches on several aspects of her work - murder, ambivalent father-son relationships, forgery, guilt, and the state of being an expatriate; Highsmith herself, Texan by birth, spent most of her adult life in Europe. There may even be a hint of homoeroticism in the relationship between the two male characters, though that element is kept well in the back of things compared to the very overtly queer-themed Matt Damon Ripley adaptation. It's is a solid, nicely realized thriller, involving an American couple (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) who are taken under the protective wing of a morally questionable young tour guide (Oscar Isaac) in Greece. There's a striking lack of trust all around, which proves more than justified, the more we learn about our characters, and there's a lot of tension generated by not knowing who is going to be the "bad guy" or how the relationships will play out... but in order to create this tension, the film holds us at a very deliberate distance from the three characters, so that you don't over-invest in any one of them and are kept off centre, not knowing who you're rooting for. That very strategy works on one level but also limits emotional involvement, at least until the film's last act; its virtue is, in a way, its downfall. Only then does it come clear what the film's themes are. It will play the Vancity Theatre after the festival, so fans of Highsmith should check it out.
Can't exactly recommend the other Viggo Mortensen film I caught this year, but it's a very different offering, called Jauja, with Mortensen ably handling both Danish and Spanish for the dialogue, as part of a group of male soldiers exploring the Argentine coast (superficial resemblances to Beau Travail deserve to be commented on but then ignored, since they are indeed superficial). It has an odd, sad, and at times strikingly surreal and dreamlike quality to it, particularly in an early scene where a soldier is seen masturbating in a rocky tide pool with elephant seals in the background. That's my favourite moment in the film, in fact. At times in my life when I was hungrier for "art cinema" I might have appreciated Jauja more, particularly in that it resembles a recurring dream structure of mine, where I'm lost in an unfamiliar landscape, trying to find someone I'm supposed to be taking care of, whom I know is likely in danger (in the case of the film, Mortensen's daughter, who appears to have been abducted by locals). But it requires a great amount of attention to stay engaged with Jauja: most scenes are presented as static shots, some lasting several minutes, with very little standard intercutting from character's points of view, and while this gives the film a painterly quality, it also ended up sucking more energy to stay attentive than it ever returned, and at times I found it nearly impossible to stay awake. I always think that film reviewers should refrain from criticizing films they admit they didn't understand, particularly if they napped several times during the course of the movie, but the whole thing seemed a bit pretentious to me, actually, was more of a headache than an inspiration; the amount of effort invested in making an arty, unusual film seemed out of whack with the rewards. I'll take Jodorowsky over this any day.
A more enjoyable - but far less ambitious - experience was The Womb, a Peruvian film about a wealthy woman who (more or less) abducts a girl with the intention of stealing her unborn baby. The director, Daniel Rodriguez Risco, present at the festival, told us how the film ended up becoming, against the odds, a big hit in Peru, getting major studio support; it's only just now begun to be shown outside South America. Risco seemed an intelligent, pragmatic man, and advised young filmmakers and screenwriters to follow his example and make genre films early in their career, rather than leaping right off to a "personal" film, as so many are told to do. The movie does have ideas in it, about class privilege and so forth, but it's mostly an effective, well-crafted thriller, made with Hitchcockian economy. The most striking moment for me was a scene where someone gets bludgeoned with a crucifix, since I had just written about the vintage noir, Edge of Doom, which also involves a crucifix-bludgeoning. It was nice to be able to ask Risco about this; turns out it was just a coincidence, - there was no reference or anything; he merely wanted to show after the various futile attempts of the protagonist to enlist the aid of the Virgin in her plight, she can get some use out of her faith (like, if nothing else, you can hit your enemies with a cross). The one issue I had with the film is that I could tell throughout that it was shot on digital video; I have no problem with that format, but I don't like its use to be obvious.
The other really worthwhile film in the fest was the transgendered sex comedy Two 4 One, in which a transman, helping an old girlfriend artificially inseminate herself, ends up accidentally impregnating himself. It's a rather charming comedy, written as "wish-fulfillment" by the director, insofar as there is almost no trace of transphobia or (a couple of references to "fruit beer" aside) even homophobia in plot - which is a good thing; since the main character's situation is quite challenging as it is. Gavin Crawford is really good in the lead role (Maureen Bradley did account to the VIFF audience why she couldn't get a transman to play the part; she did try!). Gabrielle Rose, who seems to suddenly be everywhere these days, is enjoyable as always, as our protagonist's mother. Filmed on Vancouver Island, over the course of - I think Ms. Bradley said it was a fifteen day shoot? I expected something a little more politically wrought and instead had a great deal of easy fun with the film (though as Bradley noted to us, none of the film's fun is at her main character's expense; we're laughing and groaning with him throughout).
There's still lots I hope to see. At the very least, I need to see It Follows (pictured above), which I'm told is quite terrific (and which does have a screening next week). I'd like to catch The Vancouver Asahi (added screenings October 9th and 10th) - I had initially assumed this was a mere documentary, but it's actually a Japanese feature film, directed by Ishii Yuya, who directed the previous VIFF film Sawako Decides, Then there's Still Life (with the always great Eddie Marsan - if you haven't seen The Disappearance of Alice Creed, don't let its ubiquity on discount racks mislead you; it's a terrific thriller, which I wrote about previously here), Altered States wise, there are also screenings of The Well, The Incident, and the Iranian vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Yep, an Iranian vampire movie! With luck I will catch a few of these - though it's unlikely I'll be doing further blogging on the VIFF (having a dayjob will do that to you).
One wee techical postscript: the Playhouse is an interesting alternative venue for films, but a) there is a problem either with the acoustics or the sound system, since it is quite difficult at times to make out dialogue; both myself and my girl found ourselves straining to hear parts of Elephant Song and The Two Faces of January, and another VIFF attendee reported a similar difficulty with a different film there. Also, it should be noted (b), that that glossy black paint on the stage below the screen is quite reflective, so those sitting higher in the house are going to have to contend with a shiny doppleganger of the movie immediately below, unless it's covered up, say with a black sheet? (However, those with screenings at the Playhouse should note - especially if you have longer legs or a bigger butt - that the seats in the front row are quite a bit wider than those in back, that you have a lot more leg room, that the reflective surface isn't so much of an issue from down low, and the screen is low enough and far back enough that you don't get neck strain trying to see it from in front. SFU's cinema is such that you needn't fear the front row, either!).

Happy VIFFing!