Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top 10 Films by Female Directors

I was chatting today with a friend about great films directed by women but it was difficult to come up with any examples that he had seen (apart from those of Kathryn Bigalow). So that got me thinking, how many movies with female directors have I even seen?

Turns out, not very many! Using my Flickchart as a guide, I came up with the following list which, while quite varied in tone, would make a great film festival!

1) Titus (Julie Taymor, 1999)
A shakespeare-punk provocation, updating Shakespeare's most controversial play into an ultraviolent mindscrew of epic proportions.

2) American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
Do you like Huey Lewis and The News?

3) Japanese Story (Sue Brooks, 2003)
An odd-couple romantic comedy turns abruptly to tragedy, then heartwarming emotional truth in one of the most surprising and touching films I've ever seen.

4) Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris, 1992)
Still funny after all these years, dated pop culture references and all.

5) Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)
It's hard to express this fascinating movie in one sentence other than to say it's practically a religion for my wife... Go see it!

6) Vanity Fair (Mira Nair, 2004)
A bitterly cynical romantic potboiler elevated by stellar performances and heart-pounding visual style.

7) Ravenous (Antonia Bird, 1999)
An uncommonly brainy (ha!) cannibal film set during the American civil war, with a savage wit and unsettlingly cheerful soundtrack.

8) Sita Sings The Blues (Nina Paley, 2008)
Nina Paley brings ancient Hindu legends to life through cheerful animation and hot jazz music in this entertaining little treasure.

9) XXY (Lucia Puenzo, 2007)
A thought-provoking drama about an intersexed teenager trying to make sense of family tensions and first love.

10) The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Judy Irving, 2003)
Surprisingly, this smile-inducing documentary made me root for a crazy ex-hippie who tends wild birds in San Francisco, and that's quite an achievement

I'm always on the lookout for more films directed by women, so if you have any good recommendations, please let me know!

Monday, April 15, 2013


Two things I love and are extreme metal and J-pop, and they've now been combined in a controversial new act called BABYMETAL. Maybe controversial is a bit strong, but I've seen some very polarized reactions from American metalheads in particular over this ensemble. Basically, it's three Jpop girls fronting an extreme metal band (One lead vocalist and two backing cheerleaders who are mostly there for the cuteness factor).

It took them a few singles to get the mix down right (the style has thankfully shifted from Nu-Metal to Metalcore), but at this point BABYMETAL is downright badass. These two songs in particular point to great things for this group, and anyone complaining that this isn't metal clearly isn't listening. It's metal... with Jpop singers. And that cute little fox head hand gesture ^____^

First is "Headbangeeerrrrrr!", the song that really turned my head and made me a BABYMETAL believer:

Then their next single, "Ijime, Dame, Zettai", complete with a funky bearded prophet dude who looks a little like Fred Armisen now that I think about it...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Metal Review: Dragonforce - "The Power Within"

There's little to dispute the notion that "Through The Fire And Flames" is a modern day metal classic. But you could easily be forgiven for not caring about the rest of Dragonforce's output. Until now. If you have even the slightest appreciation for melodic metal then run, do not walk, to your nearest record shop (okay, fine, go to iTunes) and pick up their newest album, "The Power Within". Right now. Just go.

Now that you've returned with this smoking platter of digital bits let's bask in its glory. This is a creative rebirth for Dragonforce, which was already a force to be reckoned with. They've long been one of the tightest power metal bands on the planet, with Herman Li and Samuel Totman a formidable shredding duo. Their biggest weakness has been their unwillingness to write more than one song. While "Inhuman Rampage" is still a fun listen, Dragonforce's follow-up album "Ultra Beatdown" made it clear that Totman and Co. wanted to break out of the formula but just couldn't manage it.

Perhaps ex-vocalist ZP Theart was holding them back. Then again maybe the band just felt they had something to prove after such a major line-up change. Theart was a fine singer. His replacement Marc Hudson is incredible. He announces his presence with a full on power metal scream at the start of "Holding On" that Theart could only dream of. For the first time the vocal melodies are the main attraction, rather than just a thing you wade through to get to the guitar solo.

It's refreshing to realize that you can write songs shorter than eight minutes. This stuff is really efficiently written with little wasted time. Even cooler than that, most of these songs are actually about something, not just random gibberish strung into sentences. True, the band's themes haven't changed: it's mostly inspirational stuff about standing strong through adversity. "Fallen World" and "Last Man Stands" both sing the praises of humanity struggling to survive after an apocalypse, and have the most clearly "Dragonforcy" lyrics on the album.

Meanwhile, "Seasons" is slightly melancholy, with a gentle vocal line reflecting on the passage of time. "Cry Freedom" is a Manowar-esque anthem sure to get drunken crowds swaying. "Die by the Sword" even edges towards thrash metal with an aggressive stance I haven't heard from these guys before. That's probably the most impressively structured track on the record, with more ideas crammed into four minutes than in any of the band's other songs.

This new-found songwriting ability, combined with the more accomplished, emotive vocals have elevated Dragonforce to the top of my power metal pantheon. I've been listening to this record for about a month now and it only gets better. And until Lost Horizon manages to reunite, I think Dragonforce's title will be a hard one for anyone to reclaim.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

In Memoriam

Roger Ebert died today. This is kind of a big deal for me, since he's my single biggest inspiration as a writer. It hasn't really sunk in and likely won't until I manage to remove his page from my RSS reader. I'm not ready for that just yet. I never met the man and have no cute personal anectodes about meeting him in the flesh. But I have one thing to say right now as the news is fresh in my mind. I'm still pissed at him about video games.

Isn't that kind of petty? That that's my reaction to the passing of the man I've read weekly for almost 20 years of my life? But he could be a right bastard about video games and the people who played them. He regularly asserted that video games weren't art, even (especially) when nobody asked him. Every now and then he'd stop a review dead in his tracks and snipe at video game players for being small-minded or foolish.

At his peak he wrote an article mocking video game players complete with a picture of a six year old with a ridiculous look on his face gritting his teeth with a controller. I have never forgotten that picture. If you were a gamer, it didn't matter what your opinions were as a cinephile, or how smart you were, that seemed to be his view of you. I got so tired of hearing it that I stopped reading him. I made a point of it. But within a few months I came back. I had to. He's just too good of a writer.

I didn't parrot his opinions as gospel. If he panned a movie that looked great I'd still see it. But I loved reading everything he wrote. The man really got across in a few hundred words the experience of the viewer in a way that no other writer could. I might disagree about how good a movie was, but I'd know what I was in for. His "Great Movies" list is indispensable. Ebert was amazing. And he almost never stopped writing.

Eventually he made peace with video game players, admitting that as someone with no interest in ever playing video games, he shouldn't have stuck his nose into the argument in the first place and would leave it be. That was incredibly classy, and I never thought twice about forgiving it.  Sure enough, two days ago in his blog post announcing a semi-retirement he had to throw in a snipe at gamers, just because he could. Jerk. I knew I'd get over it, but two days later he's dead. I don't know what else to say. I'll miss him. You only have so many childhood heroes. They don't grow back.