Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Marie bought me this book a few years ago. I've been meaning to re-read it and finally got around to it. Shit, it doesn't even take an hour to get through. I shouldn't have waited so long.

Trying to explain Wabi-Sabi is impossible. Explaining it isn't the point. You have to know it. True to Japanese culture, this concept is intuitive rather than scientific. You don't have to write it down and formulate it for it to exist or to be understood.

Confusing? Yeah, kind of.

The book says, “Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese Aesthetic. It is beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional…“

That's Wabi-Sabi in a nutshell. This book gives examples and expands upon what it means in regards to metaphysics, spirituality, state of mind, moral precepts and material qualities.

When we buy our next house I'll revisit to book to probably help focus our interior design decisions.

Wabi-Sabi is something I know, but didn't know it had a name until I was introduced to it. It just is. Sort of like being introduced to StraightEdge when I was 13 or 14 or whatever. I just knew.

This is the weirdest, most confusing and bizarre write-up I've done. But if you take an hour to read the book, it'll all make sense. It's by Leonard Koren and it appears you can download a pdf for free from here. Or get it on Amazon for ten bucks.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Blueberry Nights

I first saw this in a theatre in Bangkok. I wasn't that impressed. James, my friend who saw it with me and who's also a big Wong Kar-Wai fan (I believe) wasn't that enthused either. But I didn't want it to end like that. I wanted it to be better than I remembered so I gave it a few years and watched it again this morning.

Visually it's awesome from the get-go. Wong Kar-Wai's trademark saturated hues and gratuitous use of slo-mo. The cinematography is fucking awesome. But the dialogue just wasn't working. And for a film that's pretty much all dialogue...that's a crucial element! I didn't want to look at Norah Jones for 90 minutes either. Where's Natalie Portman?

So, even though it was gorgeous to look at, I wasn't that hooked from the start. But as the film went on I started to dig it more and more. New characters came into play and eventually it just clicked. I like this movie now.

Natalie Portman does eventually show up. Ok, her hair is awful in this, but even bald she's still the hottest chick in the room. Goddman she's sexy. Especially rollin' in a jaaaag. Tantalizing.

Anyway, Norah Jones is a good actor. My only beef with this is the script. Since this is Wong Kar-Wai's first English film I can cut him a bit of slack, I guess. I love him for the space between words. The glances. The longing. The pain. The music. The colors. The slo-mo. The framing. The loss. The negative space. I don't particularly love him for the dialogue. Normally it's very spartan. And normally it's in Cantonese, so I'm only getting a subtitle. I don't know how it reads in its native tongue. I felt the English in My Blueberry Nights was just a little too cheesy or poetic at times. Sort of noir-ish, really. I might have loved it if they were speaking in Cantonese and I was reading subtitles. Who knows. Wong Kar-Wai is famous for writing scripts literally the night before filming, on set, or not really having one at all. But clearly this was nailed down prior to shooting.

So, I think this is better than I thought it was. But I'm looking forward to something better when his next movie comes out, which is about the dude who trained Bruce Lee and stars Tony Leung. That's gonna be freaking rad. The Grandmasters. Word.

Friday, November 23, 2012

13 Assassins

Last year I pegged 13 Assassins as the 2nd best film I saw in 2011. It's goddamn impressive. I checked it out at the DFT and I was pretty blown away. So less than a year later I decided to watch it again on Netflix. It still rules fucking hard.

Takashi Miike, the prolific Director being Ichi the Killer, directed this amazing flick. It's a modern distillation of everything you want in a samurai film, with some unique flavor thrown in for good measure. The plot revolves around politics and honor, as it should, but it's not so complicated you get lost. The first hour is set up and the second hour is all swordplay and rivers of blood. It never gets dull, though. Miike knows how to shoot, pace and edit the action so every slice is as riveting as the last. Every decapitation as vital as the next.

One of the unique aspects of this film is the FUCKED UP Lord Naritsugu. His character is vile beyond imagining. He's a truly shocking character and has to go down in cinema history as one of the most twisted fucks on the silver screen. He makes Freddy Kreuger look like Mahatma Gandhi. It's worth noting this film isn't for those with a weak stomach.

This film rules. You're retarded if you don't see it.

"Being a samurai is truly a burden. Do what you want...with your life." Immortal words.

Mesrine Part 2: Public Enemy #1

I just watched Part 1 for the second time a few days ago. I wanted to watch Part 2 shortly thereafter, so I sat down with a tofurkey sandwich and fired up Netflix.

I don't have anything to expound upon that wasn't covered in the first review. The difference between both films is minimal. I found Part 1 to be better because it was a little bit more dynamic. It was more drama-oriented. Part 2 is almost non-stop action. So depending on how you like your pacing or depth, you might lean towards one or the other. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.

Some great Peugeots in this installment. And that brown 5 Series with yellow lamps? Awesome.

Truly a spectacular double-feature. A legitimate classic. I can't think of a better gangster film. Seriously.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Somers Town

I really dug Shane Meadows' 2006 film, This Is England. It took his film-making to the next level. Dead Man's Shoes was a worthwhile flick from '04, but This Is England was truly powerful. So with two good flicks under his belt and the lead actor from This Is England, I was confident Meadows' 2009 flick, Somers Town, wouldn't disappoint. And it definitely didn't.

Shane clearly did this film on a shoestring budget. I haven't researched how he went about making this film, but it reminds me of the way the Nouvelle Vague would shoot. Natural light, non-actors, on location, and just seemingly flying by the seat of their pants. Very D.I.Y. Very minimal. Exceedingly good.

The 70 minute film is about a friendship forged between a Polish immigrant kid, and a young boy running away from familial strife in the Midlands. They form an unlikely bond. Things are a bit sketchy at first, but good things eventually happen for the two of 'em under the grey skies of London.

The film is pretty much a two-person play, with a few supporting rolls popping up from time to time. The two young actors really pull off believable and sympathetic performances. It's rather kitchen sink, but not in the über-depressing manor you expect from such dramas.

Meadows is a great story-teller. Very human. This is well worth watching. The trailer doesn't do it justice. It's a funny, sincere, entertaining drama. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Generation Ecstacy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture

I wanted to know more about techno as I've recently been diggin' on some old British drum'n'bass like Goldie and Grooverider. I've also been bumping a lot of Prodigy and Underworld. But my list of electronic music is very clearly limited to album-oriented artists in the mainstream. Aphex Twin, Crystal Method, Justice, Roni Size, Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, Bjork, Portishead, etc. I love it all, but I wanted to get deeper to find more artists who produced music similar to my favorites. I fucking love the first three Prodigy records, especially the first two. Who else does shit of that caliber and what's it even called? I'm diggin' the Metalheadz stuff, but where do I go from there? And what else am I missing? Clearly I'm a neophyte and I hoped a 450 page book on the first 10 years of techno might help a brotha out. So my friend suggested I pick this up. And that I did...

I dig that it starts in Detroit, like a lot of good, heavy, world-changing shit seems to do. While I was here in its heyday, I was far too immersed in hardcore punk to even contemplate hardcore techno. Fuck dancing, fuck drugs. Not my thing. Never has been. But the music and the creativity...clearly I was missing out big time. I wish I could go back in time and accompany friends to some of those warehouse raves. Sheeeeit.

The parallels between both hardcore scenes (punk and techno) are shockingly apparent. After reading the book it's no wonder many punks (especially anarcho-crusties) crossed over and really got into techno. Evidently I'm a bit late to the party. All I knew in 1995 was that I loved the music from Hackers and Trainspotting. And still do. But now I'm putting it into social and evolutionary context.

But enough about me. This is about the book.

It's half good and half jounro' pomp. The chapters that deal with music chronology and history are good. The half that expound on theories and the author's philosophies aren't so hot. He can weave a good tale, and I don't mind it being interspersed with opinion, but sometimes he just rattles on about philosophical garbage. The diction changes from straightforward sensible word-choice in the documentary parts of the book, to thesaurus-requiring unnecessary journalistic one-upmanship in the psycho-babble parts. Maybe the book would read better as two tomes: The History in part 1 and the Analysis in part 2.

Allegedly it came with a cd, which would have been rad if it really did...But I purchased a used copy on Amazon for $4 and alas, it didn't. However, a cursory search didn't reveal any new books that mentioned anything about a cd at just used youtube on my iPhone to bring up songs as I was reading along. "What's "gabba" sound like? Ooof, this sucks. How about Chicago "house"...oof, this sucks, too."

SL2 "on a ragga tip" we're talkin! ;)

Hyper On Experience? More of that please.

Unfortunately most of these artists were vinyl-oriented and track-oriented, meaning it's impossible to get this crap on cd ten years after the fact. So it might be slim pickings as I hunt down some of the stuff I'm diggin' on.

This is a worthwhile read. It's a good crash course and general overview on techno. It's certainly flawed, but it's still worth the effort if you're a music nerd historian. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct

I saw this in the theatre last year and pegged it (along with Part 2) as the best films of 2011. I watched it again on Netflix cuz I was in the mood for some fast-paced prison action. Errr…that sounds terribly wrong.

Vincent Cassel is the man. Great actor who really shines in this real-life French gangster flick. The dude was a nutter. No regard for his life or the well-being of others. He had a twisted sense of loyalty and a warped sense of morality. Serving in the French Army couldn't have helped. Anyway, his life is awash with bank-robbing, prison escapes, women, fast cars, babies, guns, gambling, violence and a great mustache. Put all this in a blender and you've got one hell of an action-packed film. It's all documented with a classicism that avoids pastiche and simply exists as a legitimate documentation of the times it portrays. The styling is top notch. The editing is great. Definitely a nod to Saul Bass here and there. It's fucking great.

The content is certainly rough, though. If you're afraid of some sickening violence against men and women, then stay away. If you can't handle prison torture and you don't like seeing terrible things happen to good people…this isn't the flick for you. It's brutal. It cuts deep. Just like most great art should. Cassel isn't afraid to step up to controversial films, as we've seen in the in-fucking-credible Irreversible. While this isn't on that level, it's still pretty gnarly at times.

Anyway. It didn't disappoint on the second viewing and I'm looking forward to watching Part 2 later this week. Vive la France!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Deep Water

The sea is a scary-ass place. Unforgiving waves ready to crush you like an insect. Blackness. Emptiness. Cruelty. Void.
You're surrounded by impending doom. 70% of the Earth's surface is covered in water. That's 70% Doom.

In 1969 nine sailors decided to race around the world singlehandedly in an attempt to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat without stopping. No aid. Just a dude and a boat trying something that had never been done. Brass balls.

This documentary is about that race. But it's specifically about one dude from England. The Dark Horse of the nine. He was in Deep Water and subsequently in Deep Shit. You'll find out why if you watch the flick.

The film uses archival footage and photography mixed with interviews done for the film. There are no recreations. It's well put together. I think it's an interesting narrative and it's accompanied by compelling visuals. It doesn't rely on slick effects or bullshit like that. It's just real people telling a real story. It's woven together cohesively. I enjoyed the trip. Tension mounts, brothers and sisters.

It's streaming on Netflix. It's inspiring. Watch it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Prometheus starts off with some CGI.
CGI sucks.

Then we're introduced to the archetypical crew of Alien-mythos characters: We've got a simulant who bleeds white "blood", we've got a bad ass black dude, we've got a crazy white dude with a predilection for foul language, we've got some nerdy scientists, we've got a the woman-on-a-mission who won't take shit from anyone, we've got a token non-white guy, and then some other people who are just good for death scenes. We wont miss them because we never got to know them. Sound familiar so far?

Then we meet a couple new characters introduced for this flick. The Weylands. You'll find out about them if you watch the movie. Thing is, I don't suggest you watch the movie.

The trailer looks way cooler than the flick really is. The trailer is more ominous. Big massive fuck-off score that gives you the chills. The flick looks immense. But it's not.

Visually it's alright. Sonically it's mediocre. Acting is crap to good, depending on who it is. It's just not as intense as it could have been. Honestly, I think it could have been an hour longer and that would have helped it. Yup, a three hour version might have saved it.

The thing is, the film isn't bad. It's just not that great. You could watch many worse movies, but you could watch a zillion better ones, too. So why bother with Prometheus? Fuck CGI.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Man's Story

I wanna be rich like Ozwald Boateng.

I want a wardrobe like the motherfucker, too. Ever since I first saw Boateng's designs I knew that he'd be the first guy I'd go see if I ever truly "made it." I'll fly my ass over to London and beat down his door on Savile Row. I want him to make me a suit before I die.

Boateng takes a very sharp, very modern approach to English tailoring but adds his own dandy twist to the party. He's provocative and ballsy, but somehow he manages to keep a lid on it. He's irreverent in some of his color choices but it's completely alright because it's so well proportioned and put together that you just can't argue with it. He offers a very refined "fuck you." Love it.

The film follows Ozwald for ten years! You see him go from the gutter to the penthouse. It's great to see the ascension unfold. The dude is unflappable. The production value is pretty low. The audio isn't always that great. The video isn't always that great. It's never distracting, though. But the film is definitely raw. I woudln't give the Director any awards on any level. The whole thing is pretty good, but it's really basic. You could give the raw footage to someone else and I think they could do something better, to be honest. But whatever. Good effort.

If you wanna watch a fly-on-the-wall doc about the best men's fashion designer currently cutting cloth, then this is for you. Otherwise...meh, you could watch something else. Hey, I just got Prometheus in the mail today...

As Tears Go By

I finally watched the first Wong Kar-Wai flick, and subsequently the last full-length feature I needed to see to complete his filmography.

I gotta say, it starts off kinda rough. I know it was his fist flick and it was 1988 in Hong Kong...but that music is inexcusable. I could point to far too many other Directors that weren't using crap like that in 1988. But let's not dwell on it. Moving on. It seemed a little shoddy right off the bat, but as the film went on it was almost like Wong Kar-Wai was putting it all together right in front of your eyes. Things just got better and better as time ticked by. By the end of the flick you've forgotten about any rough spots and you're fully immersed.

It's cool to watch because you can see Wong Kar-Wai planting the seeds for his future masterpieces. His trademark color and chiaroscuro is already in play. We don't have Christopher Doyle on hand just yet, but the DP does a great job on this, too. Many of Wong Kar-Wai's trademark visual cues are employed even in this first film. It's instantly recognizable as one of his own. It's rough, but that's alright. Sometimes it reminded me of a Samo Hung / Jackie Chan flick. That's both good and bad as it relates to As Tears Go By.

The plot is a pretty straightforward Chinese gangster story. Of course there's love, there's violence, there's culture and tradition, and there's tragedy mixed into every Wong Kar-Wai flick, and this one is no different. The acting is great. I really dug the characters and the plot. It's pretty rad actually.

Having said all this...of all the Wong Kar-Wai films out there, I wouldn't put this at the top of your queue. I'd want to see some of his classics before digging into something as raw and maybe early as this. If like me you've seen all the rest, then I definitely think you'll enjoy this. It starts out rocky but it soon brings you into the fold. It's some good shit.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Just watched Objectified again. It's by Gary Hustwit, who also Directed Helvetica. This is the second in his design trilogy. I just watched the final installment, Urbanized, a little while ago. All good films in their own right.

Objectified doesn't glamorize or try to make industrial design sexy. It's a somewhat dry documentary. Maybe "subtle" is a better word than "dry." I don't know. I dig it. It's unvarnished and pretty mellow. We see interviews with a variety of designers who have some pretty interesting and relatively deep insights into design. And we see interviews with a couple lunatics. The art fags you just couldn't see eye-to-eye with in art school. SOME of them end up getting paid well for being flighty art fags. Whatever. The rest of the cast have their heads pretty well screwed on to their bodies.

Surprisingly, Karim Rashid has some really valuable insights. I say "surprisingly" because the man wears white nailpolish and lots of pink accessories. The long-hair dude with the nice couch in the background is my other favorite interviewee.

The ideas are translatable to other areas of design. Obviously, as an Art Director, I could relate to their processes even though we work in different specialized fields.

If you've ever wondered about industrial design process then watch this flick. And even if you don't care about how they design handles for this flick.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grand Prix

Total fucking car porn. This movie is amazing. Rent it. Buy it. See it. Car porn, design porn, style porn, it's just all round x-rated.

I started watching this and I was hooked from the opening shot. I knew something good was in store. I just didn't realize HOW good it was gonna be. So, the credits start rolling and it looks slick as hell. The editing is just pure class. It's innovative, it's intimate, it's just so well balanced and juxtaposed. Then I see Saul Bass is the man behind it all. Of course. It's only a shame he didn't design an awesome movie poster, too. The one they use is kinda lame. If Bass had done it I might have gotten a freakin back-piece tattooed of it!

Anyway, the movie starts and it's pretty much 20 solid minutes of the 1966 Monaco GP in glorious car porn fashion. Amazing onboard POV shots. Helicopter tracking shots. Heel-toe shifting spliced with two other simultaneous shots for a triptych split screen. Glorious 60's FI cars racing through the Monaco streets. It's just awesome.

The film is 3 hours long. It's about the 1966 F1 season. The attention to detail is second-to-none. Frankenheimer made a car film for car nerds. He was also responsible for the other car  film I watched recently; Ronin. He's a serious car nerd and he really poured his heart and soul into Grand Prix.

You've got a big-name cast including Toshiro Mifune and Eva Marie Saint. It's an international cast that hops from circuit to circuit around Europe. From Monaco to Belgium to Monza to Brands Hatch to wherever. They filmed during the actual racing events. It's all real shit. So, there IS a story, too. It's about racing, love (of course), mortality, fidelity, perseverance, the human spirit, and crap like that. They wrestle with existentialist issues. They get drunk. They race. Some crash. Some die. Some live. And one even breaks up with Francoise Hardy...idiot! 

Before the sponsors, before the money and before the safety there were just bad ass dudes like Phil Hill and Jackie Stewart racing balls-out cuz that's how they fucking rolled. If you call yourself a gear-head, a petrol-head, a car-guy, or even just a fucking Man; you must see this film in all its 60's racing glory.

Northlanders 6: Thor's Daughter

When Conan runs dry there's fucking Northlanders.

Actually, that's not fair. That's implying that Northlanders is inferior. It's not. It can be just as good as Conan. Albeit in a very different way. Northlanders is definitely unvarnished. It's raw, gritty, brutal viking yarns set in many grim and frostbitten kingdoms. Awesome series.

Thor's Daughter isn't the best installment, though. And to me that's cuz the main story is illustrated by a new guy and his style clashes with what I love about the first 5 books: Realism. Normally I find the art sharper and more visceral. But that's alright, the other stories are illustrated with a style that's in keeping with the older books. This book ends up having some of my favorite and least favorite art in it.

But that's only a small hiccup. The stories are still awesome. The writing fucking rules.

Vikings tell the best stories.