Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet (1990) ✭✭✭✭

1990’s Life is Sweet is generally considered - when it’s considered at all - one of the lesser lights in writer/director Mike Leigh’s constellation of films. The work’s underwhelming reputation was aided and abetted by the fact that for the last 20 years it’s been damn hard to see. With no official North American rental release, a purchase only, on demand DVD burn from Amazon has been the film’s only means of dissemination for much of the world. Fortunately, Criterion has stepped in to right this injustice with a gorgeous new Blu-ray edition, and life is once again sweet for the legions of Leigh.

In fact, Life is Sweet is the prototypical Mike Leigh film, embodying all that is right and good about the early phase of the director’s career. Before he branched into darker themes and period pieces, Leigh made his name with sharply observed comedies depicting blandly ordinary working class Brits getting on with their lives, complete with tender hopes and twinkly dreams undashed by Thatcher’s experiments in Social Darwinism. Leigh’s two films from 1988, High Hopes and the made-for-TV The Short and Curlies, used lightness and eccentricity to celebrate the daily heroism of the masses and to individualize the tough slog faced by the young and unremarkable.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rust and Bone (2012) ✭✭✭✭

Rust and Bone is at heart a love story, but don’t expect slow motion montages of a happy couple cavorting in a field of daisies. It’s a grim, tough guy sort of romance with street fights substituting for candlelight dinners and lovemaking presented as just another form of physical therapy. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a thuggish former boxer who has fled Belgium with his young son Sam (Armand Verdure) for the sunnier climes of Antibes. His wife - who is never shown - has become involved with drug use and dealing, putting Sam’s welfare at great risk. Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is a whale trainer at Marineland, where she dons a wetsuit every day and enthralls audiences with the acrobatic exploits of these magnificent beasts. The pair meet one night at a raucous bar where Ali works as a bouncer. When he helps Stephanie out of a potentially violent situation, Ali’s sexual desire is mistaken for gallantry. This white knight’s armor may be deeply tarnished, but in the modern rough and tumble world one can’t be too choosy about guardian angels.

Director Jacques Audiard loves to deliver shocking moments - more precisely the disoriented, trippy aftermath of shocking moments - and Rust and Bone has its share. When the thin wall of respect that separates man and beast is breeched, Stephanie is left floating amid electronic debris in a fizzy wake of blood. Her rehab will be slow and excruciating, prompting a desperate call to her disheveled hero. Ali responds with a mixture of empathy and blasé practicality - in his world, mangled bodies are all too commonplace - and he and Stephanie evolve into a unique relationship that seems oddly perfect given the trajectory of their lives; something less than love but more than caregiver codependency. Rust and Bone was shot with the RED camera on digital video and the format’s relentless detail works wonders in evoking the crude nuts and bolts - sometimes literally - of Stephanie’s rehab.

Rust and Bone would have made a great 90 minute film with a tantalizingly understated ending, but Audiard adds an additional act that ties all the loose strings. A lot happens here, including a stunning scene on an icy lake that will make every parent shudder, but ultimately one could argue the movie’s final half hour adds nothing but cheap thrills. By this time, most viewers will have been sufficiently wrung out anyway.

The film’s endgame also suffers from a lack of facetime for Marion Cotillard. Rust and Bone is a shining addition to her portfolio of extraordinary performances. Like Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep, Marion Cotillard has morphed into one of those talents who doesn’t merely act but utterly embodies. Her ability is a true gift beyond explanation or conventional metrics and Audiard’s script gives her plenty of opportunities. There’s an amazing scene with Cotillard returning to a deserted Marineland to commune with - and presumably forgive - the Orca that injured her. Whether the scene was accomplished, or at least enhanced, through CGI is immaterial. It’s Cotillard’s scene and for a brief moment this hobbling, deeply damaged soul seems to hold the key to life’s most confounding mysteries. At its best, Rust and Bone is built on such moments; moments that ask its viewers to contemplate the big questions. The film’s only mistake was trying to answer them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Field Guide to Cannes 2013: Part 2

The remainder of the films in competition at Cannes. The festival opens May 15.
All materials courtesy of The Cannes Film Festival


Directed by : Alexander PAYNE
Country: USA  Year: 2012  Duration: 110.00 minutes

A poor old man living in Montana escapes repeatedly from his house to go to Nebraska to collect a sweepstakes prize he thinks he has won. Frustrated by his increasing dementia, his family debates putting him into a nursing home -- until one of his two sons finally offers to take his father by car, even as he realizes the futility.

En route the father is injured, and the two must rest a few days in the small decaying Nebraska town where the father was born and where, closely observed by the son, he re-encounters his past. (Don’t worry -- it’s a comedy.)

Shot in black and white across four American states, the film blends professional actors with non-actors and aspires to mirror the mood and rhythms of its exotic locations.

Alexander PAYNE - Director
Bob NELSON - Screenplay
Phedon PAPAMICHAEL - Cinematography
Dennis WASHINGTON - Set Designer
Mark ORTON - Music
Kevin TENT - Film Editor
Patrick CYCCONE - Sound
Richard FORD - Sound
Frank GAETA - Sound

Bruce DERN - Woody Grant
Will FORTE - David Grant
June SQUIBB - Kate Grant
Bob ODENKIRK - Ross Grant
Stacy KEACH - Ed Pegram


Directed by : Nicolas WINDING REFN
Country: DENMARK, FRANCE  Year: 2012  Duration: 90.00 minutes

Julian, an American fugitive from justice, runs a boxing club in Bangkok as a front for his drug business.
His mother, the head of a vast criminal organization, arrives from the US to collect the body of her favorite son, Billy. Julian’s brother has just been killed after having savagely murdered a young prostitute. Crazy with rage and thirsty for vengeance she demands the head of the murderers from Julian.
But first, Julian must confront Chang, a mysterious retired policeman - and figurehead of a divine justice - who has resolved to scourge the corrupt underworld of brothels and fight clubs

Nicolas WINDING REFN - Director
Nicolas WINDING REFN - Screenplay
Larry SMITH - Cinematography
Beth MICKLE - Set Designer
Cliff MARTINEZ - Music
Matthew NEWMAN - Film Editor
Eddie SIMONSEN - Sound

Ryan GOSLING - Julian
Kristin SCOTT THOMAS - Crystal
Vithaya PANSRINGARM - Chang
Rhatha PHONGAM - Maï
Gordon BROWN - Gordon
Tom BURKE - Billy


Directed by : Jim JARMUSCH
Country: UNITED KINGDOM, GERMANY Year: 2013  Duration: 123.00 minutes

Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover.

Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister.

Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?

Jim JARMUSCH - Director
Jim JARMUSCH - Screenplay
Yorick LE SAUX - Cinematography
Marco BITTNER ROSSER - Set Designer
SQÜRL - Music
Jozef VAN WISSEM - Music
Affonso GONCALVES - Film Editor
John MIDGLEY - Sound

Tilda SWINTON - Eve
John HURT - Marlowe
Anton YELCHIN - Ian
Slimane DAZI - Bilal
Jeffrey WRIGHT - Dr. Watson

SOSHITE CHICHI NI NARU (Like Father, Like Son)

Directed by : KORE-EDA Hirokazu
Country: JAPAN  Year: 2013  Duration: 120.00 minutes

Ryota has earned everything he has by his hard work, and believes nothing can stop him from pursuing his perfect life and living as a winner. Then one day, he and his wife, Midori, get an unexpected phone call from the hospital. Their 6-year-old son, Keita, is not their son - the hospital gave them the wrong baby.
Ryota is forced to make a life-changing decision, to choose between "nature" and "nurture". In the meanwhile, seeing Midori’s devotion to Keita even after learning his origin, and communicating with the rough yet caring family who raised his blood son for the last six years, Ryota also starts to question himself: has he really been a "father" all these years...
The moving story of a man who finally faces himself when he encounters an unexpected wall for the first time in his life.

KORE-EDA Hirokazu - Director
KORE-EDA Hirokazu - Screenplay
TAKIMOTO Mikiya - Cinematography
MITSUMATSU Keiko - Set Designer
KORE-EDA Hirokazu - Film Editor
TSURUMAKI Yutaka - Sound

Masaharu FUKUYAMA - Ryota Nonomiya
Machiko ONO - Midori Nonomiya
Yoko MAKI - Yukari Saiki
Lily FRANKY - Yudai Saiki


Directed by : James GRAY
Country: USA, FRANCE  Year: 2013  Duration: 119.00 minutes

1921. In search of a new start and the American dream, Ewa Cybulski and her sister Magda sail to New York from their native Poland. When they reach Ellis Island, doctors discover that Magda is ill, and the two women are separated. Ewa is released onto the mean streets of Manhattan while her sister is quarantined. Alone, with nowhere to turn and desperate to reunite with Magda, Ewa quickly falls prey to Bruno, a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution. And then one day, she encounters Bruno’s cousin, the debonair magician Orlando. He sweeps Ewa off her feet and quickly becomes her only chance to escape the nightmare in which she finds herself.

James GRAY - Director
James GRAY - Screenplay
Richard MENELLO - Screenplay
Darius KHONDJI - Cinematography
Happy MASSEE - Set Designer
Chris SPELMAN - Music
John AXELRAD - Film Editor
Thomas VARGA - Sound

Marion COTILLARD - Ewa Cybulska
Joaquin PHOENIX - Bruno Weiss
Jeremy RENNER - Orlando


Directed by : JIA Zhangke
Country: CHINA, JAPAN  Year: 2013  Duration: 133.00 minutes

An angry miner revolts against the corruption of his village leaders.
A migrant worker at home for the New Year discovers the infinite possibilities a firearm can offer.
A pretty receptionist at a sauna is pushed to the limit when a rich client assaults her.
A young factory worker goes from job to job trying to improve his lot in life.
Four people, four different provinces. A reflection on contemporary China: that of an economic giant slowly being eroded by violence.

JIA Zhangke - Director
JIA Zhangke - Screenplay
YU Likwai - Cinematography
LIU Weixin - Set Designer
LIM Giong - Music
Matthieu LACLAU - Film Editor
Xudong LIN - Film Editor
Yang ZHANG - Sound

JIANG Wu - Dahai
Meng LI - Lianrong
Lanshan LUO - Xiaohui
Baoqiang WANG - Zhousan
Jiayi ZHANG - Xiaoyu's Lover
ZHAO Tao - Xiaoyu


Directed by : Valeria BRUNI TEDESCHI
Country: FRANCE  Year: 2012  Duration: 104.00 minutes

Louise meets Nathan, her dreams resurface.
It's also the story of her ailing brother, their mother, and the destiny of a leading family of wealthy Italian industrialists.
The story of a family falling apart, a world coming to an end and love beginning.

Valeria BRUNI TEDESCHI - Director
Valeria BRUNI TEDESCHI - Screenplay
Agnès DE SACY - Screenplay
Noémie LVOVSKY - Screenplay
Jeanne LAPOIRIE - Cinematography
Emmanuelle DUPLAY - Set Designer
Francesca CALVELLI - Film Editor
Laure GARDETTE - Film Editor
Emmanuel CROSET - Sound
François WALEDISCH - Sound

Valeria BRUNI TEDESCHI - Louise
Louis GARREL - Nathan
Filippo TIMI - Ludovic
Marisa BORINI - La mère de Louise
Xavier BEAUVOIS - Serge
Céline SALLETTE - Jeanne
André WILMS - Le père de Nathan

WARA NO TATE (Shield of Straw)

Directed by : Takashi MIIKE
Country: JAPAN  Year: 2013  Duration: 125.00 minutes

"Kill Kunihide Kiyomaru, and I will pay you 1 billion Yen". This is the ad placed in all the main newspapers in Japan. In placing the ad, the powerful multi-billionnaire Ninagawa puts an irresistible price on the head of the man he believes to be his granddaughter's killer. Realising he has become a target for millions of people, Kiyomaru turns himself in at the Fukuoka Police Station. Four officers are dispatched to bring Kiyomaru back to Tokyo, risking their own life, but now any number of assassins lie in wait on the 1.200km journey. The trip becomes a hellish chase, with potential killers at every turn. Will the police get Kiyomaru to Tokyo to face justice, or will justice of a different nature prevail?

Takashi MIIKE - Director
Tamio HAYASHI - Screenplay
Kazuhiro KIUCHI - Based on the novel by
KITA Nobuyasu - Cinematography
Koji ENDO - Music
Kenji YAMASHITA - Film Editor
Jun NAKAMURA - Sound

Takao OSAWA - Kazuki Mekari
Nanako MATSUSHIMA - Atsuko Shiraiwa
Tatsuya FUJIWARA - Kunihide Kiyomaru

Monday, May 13, 2013

Field Guide to Cannes 2013 Part 1

Part 1 of my look at the films in competition this year at The Cannes Film Festival starting May 15th.
All material courtesy of The Cannes Film Festival

Directed by : Steven SODERBERGH
Country: USAYear: 2013 Duration: 118.00 minutes

Before Elvis, before Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Liberace: virtuoso pianist, outrageous entertainer and flamboyant star of stage and television. Liberace lived lavishly and embraced a lifestyle of excess both on and off
stage. In summer 1977, handsome young stranger Scott Thorson walked into his dressing room and, despite their age difference and seemingly different worlds, the two embarked on a secretive five-year love affair.

Steven SODERBERGH - Director
Richard LAGRAVANESE - Screenplay
Peter ANDREWS - Cinematography
Howard CUMMINGS - Set Designer
Marvin HAMLISCH - Music
Mary-Ann BERNARD - Film Editor
Dennis TOWNS - Sound

Michael DOUGLAS - Liberace
Matt DAMON - Scott Thorson
Dan AYKROYD - Seymour Heller
Scott BAKULA - Bob Black
Rob LOWE - Dr. Jack Startz

Directed by : Alex VAN WARMERDAM
Country: NETHERLANDS, BELGIUM, DENMARK Year: 2013 Duration: 113.00 minutes

Borgman’s arrival in the tree-lined avenues of an exclusive residential area is the beginning of a series of unsettling events around the carefully constructed facade of a wealthy couple, their three children and their nanny.

Alex VAN WARMERDAM - Director
Alex VAN WARMERDAM - Screenplay
Tom ERISMAN - Cinematography
Geert PAREDIS - Set Designer
Vincent VAN WARMERDAM - Music
Job TER BURG - Film Editor
Peter WARNIER - Sound

Annet MALHERBE - Brenda
Hadewych MINIS - Marina
Jeroen PERCEVAL - Richard

Directed by : Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN
Year: 2013 Duration: 101.00 minutes

Despite a paralyzed leg that could have barred most avenues, Grigris, 25 year old, dreams of being a dancer. A challenge. But his dreams are dashed when his uncle falls critically ill. To save him, Grigris resolves to work for petrol traffickers...

Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN - Director
Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN - Screenplay
Antoine HEBERLE - Cinematography
Wasis DIOP - Music
Marie-Hélène DOZO - Film Editor
André RIGAUT - Sound

Souleymane DEME - Grigris
Anaïs MONORY - Mimi
Cyril GUEI - Moussa
Marius YELOLO - Ayoub
Youssouf DJAORO - Alhadj


Directed by : Amat ESCALANTE
Year: 2013 Duration: 105.00 minutes

Estela is a 12 year old girl who has just fallen crazy in love with a young police cadet who wants to run away with her and get married. Trying to achieve this dream, her family will have to live the violence that is devastating the region.

Amat ESCALANTE - Director
Amat ESCALANTE - Screenplay
Gabriel REYES - Screenplay
Lorenzo HAGERMAN - Cinematography
Daniela SCHNEIDER - Set Designer
Natalia LOPEZ - Film Editor
Sergio DÍAZ - Sound
Catriel VILDOSOLA - Sound
Directed by : Ethan COEN Joel COEN 
Country: USA Year: 2012 Duration: 105.00 minutes

The life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Llewyn Davis is at a crossroads. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles-some of them of his own making. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn's misadventures take him from the basket houses of the Village to an empty Chicago club - on an odyssey to audition for music mogul Bud Grossman-and back again.

Ethan COEN - Director
Joel COEN - Director
Ethan COEN - Screenplay
Joel COEN - Screenplay
Bruno DELBONNEL - Cinematography
Jess GONCHOR - Set Designer
Angela BURNETT - Music
Roderick JAYNES - Film Editor
Peter F. KURLAND - Sound
Skip LIEVSAY - Sound

Oscar ISAAC - Llewyn Davis
Carey MULLIGAN - Jean Berkey
John GOODMAN - Roland Turner
Garrett HEDLUND - Johnny Five
F Murray ABRAHAM - Bud Grossman
Justin TIMBERLAKE - Jean Berkey

Directed by : François OZON 
Country: FRANCE Year: 2013 Duration: 95.00 minutes

A coming-of-age portrait of a 17-year-old French girl over four seasons and four songs

François OZON - Director
François OZON - Screenplay
Pascal MARTI - Cinematography
Katia WYSZKOP - Set Designer
Philippe ROMBI - Music
Laure GARDETTE - Film Editor
Brigitte TAILLANDIER - Sound


Directed by : Arnaud DESPLECHIN
Country: FRANCE Year: 2013 Duration: 114.00 minutes

At the end of World War II, Jimmy Picard, a Native American Blackfoot who fought in France, is admitted to Topeka Military Hospital in Kansas - an institution specializing in mental illness. Jimmy suffers from numerous symptoms: dizzy spells, temporary blindness, hearing loss... In the absence of any physiological causes, he is diagnosed as schizophrenic. Nevertheless, the hospital management decides to seek the opinion of Georges Devereux, a French anthropologist, psychoanalyst and specialist in Native American culture.

Arnaud DESPLECHIN - Director
Arnaud DESPLECHIN - Screenplay
Julie PEYR - Screenplay
Kent JONES - Screenplay
Georges DEVEREUX - Based on the book "Psychothérapie d’un I
Stéphane FONTAINE - Cinematography
Dina GOLDMAN - Set Designer
Howard SHORE - Music
Laurence BRIAUD - Film Editor
Jamie SCARPUZZA - Sound

Benicio del TORO - Jimmy Picard
Mathieu AMALRIC - Georges Devereux
Gina MCKEE - Madeleine
Larry PINE - Dr. Karl Menninger
Joseph CROSS - Dr. Holt
Elya BASKIN - Dr. Jokl
Gary FARMER - Jack
Michelle THRUSH - Gayle

Directed by : Paolo SORRENTINO
Country: ITALY, FRANCE Year: 2013 Duration: 142.00 minutes

Aristocratic ladies, social climbers, politicians, high-flying criminals, journalists, actors, decadent nobles, prelates, artists and intellectuals - whether authentic or presumed - form the tissue of these flaky relationships, all engulfed in a desperate Babylon which plays out in the antique palaces, immense villas and most beautiful terraces in the city? They are all there, and they are not seen in a good light? Jep Gambardella, 65, indolent and disenchanted, his eyes permanently imbued with gin and tonic, watches this parade of hollow, doomed, powerful yet depressed humanity. A moral lifelessness enough to make one’s head spin? And in the background, Rome in summer. Splendid and indifferent, like a dead diva?

Paolo SORRENTINO - Director
Umberto CONTARELLO - Screenplay
Paolo SORRENTINO - Screenplay
Luca BIGAZZI - Cinematography
Stefania CELLA - Set Designer
Cristiano TRAVAGLIOLI - Film Editor

Toni SERVILLO - Jep Gambardella
Carlo VERDONE - Romano
Sabrina FERILLI - Ramona
Carlo BUCCIROSSO - Lello Cava
Iaia FORTE - Trumeau
Pamela VILLORESI - Viola
Galatea RANZI - Stefania

Directed by : Roman POLANSKI
Country: FRANCE Year: 2013 Duration: 87.00 minutes

Alone in a Paris theater after a long day of auditioning actresses for the lead role in his new play, writer-director Thomas complains on the phone about the poor caliber of talent he has seen. No actress has what it takes to play his lead female character-a woman who enters into an agreement with her male counterpart to dominate him as her slave. Thomas is about to leave the theater when actress Vanda bursts in, a whirlwind of erratic-and, it turns out, erotic-energy.

Roman POLANSKI - Director
David IVES - Screenplay
Pawel EDELMAN - Cinematography
Jean RABASSE - Set Designer
Alexandre DESPLAT - Music
Hervé DE LUZE - Film Editor
Margot MEYNIER - Film Editor

Mathieu AMALRIC - Thomas
Emmanuelle SEIGNER - Vanda

Directed by : Abdellatif KECHICHE
Country: FRANCE, BELGIUM, SPAIN Year: 2012 Duration: 179.00 minutes

At 15, Adele doesn't question it: a girl goes out with boys. Her life is turned upside down the night she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adele grows, seeks herself, loses herself, finds herself...

Abdellatif KECHICHE - Director
Abdellatif KECHICHE - Screenplay
Ghalya LACROIX - Screenplay
Julie MAROH - Freely inspired by the comic book "Le Bl
Sofian EL FANI - Cinematography
Camille TOUBKIS - Film Editor
Albertine LASTERA - Film Editor
Jean-Marie LENGELLE - Film Editor
Ghalya LACROIX - Film Editor
Jean-Paul HURIER - Sound
Jérôme CHENEVOY - Sound

Léa SEYDOUX - Emma
Salim KECHIOUCHE - Samir
Jérémie LAHEURTE - Thomas
Aurélien RECOING - Père Adèle
Catherine SALÉE - Mère Adèle
Alma JODOROWSKI - Béatrice

Directed by : Asghar FARHADI
Country: FRANCE, ITALY Year: 2013 Duration: 130.00 minutes

Following a four year separation, Ahmad returns to Paris from Tehran, upon his French wife Marie's request, in order to finalize their divorce procedure. During his brief stay, Ahmad discovers the conflicting nature of Marie's relationship with her daughter Lucie. Ahmad's efforts to improve this relationship soon unveil a secret from their past.

Asghar FARHADI - Director
Asghar FARHADI - Screenplay
Mahmoud KALARI - Cinematography
Claude LENOIR - Set Designer
Juliette WELFLING - Film Editor
Bruno TARRIERE - Sound

Bérénice BEJO - Marie
Tahar RAHIM - Samir
Ali MOSAFFA - Ahmad
Pauline BURLET - Lucie
Elyes AGUIS - Fouad
Jeanne JESTIN - Léa
Sabrina OUAZANI - Naïma
Babak KARIMI - Shahriyar
Valeria CAVALLI - Valeria

Directed by : Arnaud DES PALLIÈRES 
Country: FRANCE, GERMANYYear: 2013Duration: 121.00 minutes

In the sixteenth century, somewhere in the Cevennes, Michael Kohlhaas, a prosperous horse merchant, leads a comfortable and happy family life. Victim of an injustice, this righteous and honest man raises an army and plunders cities to restore his right.

Arnaud DES PALLIÈRES - Director
Christelle BERTHEVAS - Screenplay
Arnaud DES PALLIÈRES - Screenplay
Jeanne LAPOIRIE - Cinematography
Yan ARLAUD - Set Designer
Martin WHEELER - Music
Sandie BOMPAR - Film Editor
Arnaud DES PALLIÈRES - Film Editor
Jean-Pierre DURET - Sound
Jean MALLET - Sound
Mélissa PETITJEAN - Sound
Margot TESTEMALE - Sound

Mads MIKKELSEN - Michael Kohlhaas
Melusine MAYANCE - Lisbeth
Delphine CHUILLOT - Judith
David KROSS - le prédicant
Bruno GANZ - le gouverneur
Denis LAVANT - le théologien
Roxane DURAN - la princesse
Paul BARTEL - Jérémie
David BENNENT - César
Swann ARLAUD - le baron
Sergi LOPEZ - le manchot

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: Half Hippie - Half Man and Half Hippie - Half Man: The Addenda by Dave Ball ✭✭✭✭✭

When one considers the pantheon of famous Rock & Roll guitarists, a number of luminous names spring to mind. Chances are Dave Ball is not one of them. But like the Claptons and Pages, he too has a Gold album to his credit and has experienced the heady joys of rock stardom, from Leer jets and limos to screaming fans and wild nights of wretched excess. But unlike his better known Brethren of the Frets, Ball was not interested merely in artistry and accolades. There was a whole great big world out there, and the energetic Dave Ball jumped in with both feet.

During his 63 years on Earth, Ball has been a rock star, a soldier, a university lecturer, a policeman, a martial arts expert and a globe-trotting executive for one of the world’s largest banks, just to name a few of his accomplishments. No matter how busy you are, or how proud you may be of your own achievements, compared to Dave Ball you’re a dawdling layabout.

Thanks to two volumes of memoirs available from Amazon’s Kindle Store - Half Hippie - Half Man and Half Hippie Half Man: The Addenda - Dave Ball may soon end his long bask in obscurity. Written in an engaging, conversational style, Ball cleverly presents the twisty road of his life at a fast pace with wit so scorching it’s a good thing the books are only available electronically; if they were on paper they’d burst into flame.

From head banger to head banker, from Tai Chi to I.T. and all points in between, Ball’s autobiography will put you in a blissful trance. With turns of phrase reminiscent of Jack Kerouac meets Garrison Keillor, Ball recounts his early days in the London rock scene of the 1960s, when he pounded the pavement in search of his big break in the music biz. He made the audition rounds, including a cattle call for Marc Bolan and T-Rex. This particular try-out ended badly when Ball - auditioning as a drummer - suggested that he should play guitar instead because Bolan “was crap at it.”

Progressive rockers Procol Harum, searching for a guitarist to replace the departing Robin Trower, placed a notice in Melody Maker magazine and Dave Ball responded. It was a musical match made in heaven, and soon the young man found himself in the middle of a rags to riches story, complete with world tours, sold out venues and the other, more notorious ephemera of musical stardom. One chilly night in western Canada, Ball appeared with the band in a performance that would become the legendary Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra album. As readers of a certain age will attest, one could not turn on a radio in 1973 without hearing Conquistador, the album’s monster hit single.

After stints with Long John Baldry and Bedlam, Ball soured on the music scene and sought a new direction for his life. He enlisted in the Army, where his hefty royalty checks raised the eyebrows of his fellow grunts and superior officers alike. Or as Ball says: “How do you prepare yourself to go from Rock & Roll into the Army. Well, nobody had really tried it since Elvis so I didn’t have much to go on.”

As Half Hippie - Half Man progresses, readers are treated to vistas of faraway lands as Ball makes his way to Australia for a taste of corporate life and to Saudi Arabia for some hilarious doses of culture shock. There are also poignant renderings of life’s inevitable passages, complete with births, deaths, marriages and divorces. Ball reconstructs the dark days of 9/11 and his panic over the fate of his Wall Street based coworkers with an immediacy that will have readers nodding their heads in grim recognition. Half Hippie Half Man: The Addenda brings readers fully up to date on the Dave Ball saga, including his recent battle with cancer and his return to songwriting and recording.

Written with verve, humor and passion, Half Hippie - Half Man and Half Hippie - Half Man: The Addenda stand as shining documents of the many facets of the Baby Boom generation. While few have had Dave Ball’s plethora of first hand experience, readers will relate to Ball’s years of bohemian rebellion, followed by a long and surprising search for one’s true place in the world. While the voyage may be universal, as these volumes make clear, Dave Ball’s life journey has pursued a most audacious path.

Click Here to purchase Half Hippie - Half Man

Click Here to purchase Half Hippie - Half Man: The Addenda

Monday, May 6, 2013

The First Beautiful Thing (2010) ✭✭✭✭

The First Beautiful Thing is a densely packed comedic memoir from Italy that spans nearly forty years. Its central character, the hang-dog Bruno (Valerio Mastrandrea), is a failed poet turned uninspired high school teacher who faces the ravages of impending middle age by engaging in recreational drug use. Everything about Bruno’s life seems half measured and half baked, including his lukewarm love affair with Sandra (Fabrizia Saachi) which he approaches with the same level of detachment that defines the rest of his murky existence. When his long lost sister Valeria (Claudia Pandolfi) shows up at the school to fetch Bruno for an emergency visit with their dying mother Anna (the great Stephania Sandrelli), Bruno hides in the stairwell and must be bodily forced into Valeria’s car. But Bruno has good reason for his cowardice, and the slow revelation of this tattered family’s history will consume the rest of the film, leading its audience down many poignant trails and amusing alleys.

Despite her admission to hospice, Anna’s passion and lust for life has not abated in the least. Through the film’s frequent time-shifting, we learn that the beautiful young Anna (played in flashbacks by Micaela Ramazzotti) attracted the attention of just about every man in 1970s Tuscany. Her flirtations, both real and imagined, drive Bruno and Valeria’s tightly wound father (Sergio Albelli) up the neurotic wall and ferment his own wayward flings. Their home life shattered, Anna and her two little kids live hand to mouth, depending on the kindness of Anna’s most recent beaus while custody battles and parental kidnappings rage in the background.

These painful moments are played mainly for laughs and that generally works in the film’s favor. The First Beautiful Thing never intends to be a definitive generational document, although its littered with emotional damage; the all too familiar debris of Baby Boomers’ and their selfish lifestyles. It’s a film with maudlin pitfalls aplenty, but writer/director Paolo Virzi cleverly avoids them, even at the risk of making the film a little too breezy. Spotting his delicate balancing act are some memorable supporting roles. Fabrizio Brandi comes very close to stealing the picture as Valeria’s policeman husband Giancarlo, who doesn’t let the fact that he is incredibly boring make him any less talkative, and Marco Messeri is quite funny as Anna’s mysterious suitor Il Nesi, who partially hides his graying pate under an ill-fitting jet black toupee.

Veteran Italian actress Sandrelli has stiff competition for the audience’s focus, but she pulls it off in a strong and graceful performance. While her moody adult children openly blame her for ruining their lives - and over the course of the film viewers will come to agree with them - Sandrelli’s charming portrayal of this flickering fireball forces a more charitable assessment.

The script doesn’t help her out much, at least in the early going, as her vivaciousness seems a bit much for a character at death’s door. But it’s all of a piece, all part a bubbly, indomitable persona whose passion for life cannot be squelched by something so banal as a fatal illness. Virzi wisely avoids sentiment as Anna’s remaining hours tick down; a narrative testament to Bruno and Valeria’s deep emotional voids. Anna’s love for her children was unquestionable. But, like so many parents of the postmodern age, she simply had no idea what to do with them.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Quickies for May 2013

Elles (2011) ✭✭✭ 1/2

Worthwhile Juliette Binoche vehicle all about a journalist researching the phenomenon of university students who turn to prostitution as a method of financing their educations. Binoche’s encounters with these young women leave her both appalled and slightly envious, and she begins to resent the pampered lives of her own family. Director Malgorzata Szumowska apparently got an A in Kieslowski class at film school; she has his moods and rhythms down pat. The classical score with works by Vivaldi and Beethoven is one of the film’s strongest elements, with Binoche’s vulnerable strength holding it all together.

Belle Épine (2010) ✭✭✭✭

Beautiful Spine is a case study in how to make an interesting film out of almost nothing. Set mainly in a few dim Paris apartments - each appearing to be illuminated by a single 40 watt bulb - director Rebecca Zlotowski proceeds to captivate us with a slowly unfolding tale of adolescent grieving. Lea Seydoux stars as the 16 year old at the center of the storm and the role takes full advantage of her unique ability to realistically emote while remaining icily removed. A subplot about renegade motorcyclists gives the film some needed airiness but the camera never strays too far from Seydoux’s brooding eyes. And that’s a good thing.

Life of Pi (2012) ✭✭

Winner of four Oscars, Life of Pi takes a clever concept and some extraordinary computer images and beats us over the head for an eternity. By the end you’re so exhausted by the film’s self-importance you wish the whole thing would just go away. Looking over his career, director Ang Lee has made films of deep truths and profound insights. He’s also phoned it in to get a check. This is one of the latter. And if Suraj Sharma enthusiastically utters one more precious line in adorable Bolly-English I’m going to cut myself.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Our European Trip Part 4

We finished off our vacation with a few days at Melia Villatiana in Benidorm, Spain. Essentially a golf resort, Melia Villatiana has plenty to do for us non-duffers. There's an amusement park within walking distance and the city's beachfront is nearby.

Melia Villatiana is a recreation of an 18th century Spanish town with vistas of the surreal skyline of Benidorm. As you stroll through the village, every direction you look there's something beautiful to see. 

It was time to get back to the real world. So we boarded a plane for the long trip home, full of wonder at the big, beautiful world we all share. When we got back we found that just about every flower in our garden had was a nice welcome.