5 new ones this week reviewed
Tokyo!-A film by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-ho (Liberation Entertainment)(US)
Tokyo! is an excellent little film sliced into three parts to give three great directors a chance to stretch out and get a little crazy. The only common thread tying these vastly different vignettes together is the gargantuan megalopolis of Tokyo. And though the entire film centers mainly around Tokyo and the peculiarities unique to Japanese culture there is a sense that the vastness of this huge city is also a symbol for a more Hopperian sense of urban isolation and loneliness. Tokyo! could have just as easily been called Mumbai! or Los Angeles! even despite the strong Japanese flavor.
Gondry is perhaps the most well known of the movie's directorial trio by Hollywood standards for directing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His piece, entitled "Interior Design" opens the film with couple Hiroko and Akira finding themselves as recent emigres to the city and quickly swallowed whole but its monolithic indifference. The character of Akira is predictable as an aspiring film maker with a singular dream and terrible film in tow. Gondry riffs off of this with a series of movie insider gags that move the story along, playing it for laughs, but adding little of value to his portion of the film. Hiroko on the other hand, the typically demure and sheepish Japanese woman finds herself as the centerpiece of attention-a castoff quickly eaten alive by Tokyo only to find herself radically transformed discovering the purpose she had so desperately craved. The humor here is dark as Gondry borrows from Gabrielle Bell's comic Cecil and Jordan in New York and Hiroko thusly becomes a part time chair. The special effects that enhance this metamorphesis are stunning and give the otherwise flimsy story a rather breathtaking conclusion.
French director Leos Carax sketches a rough hewn Hemmingway like portrait of modern terrorism in the second installment entitled "Merde". The subterranean sewer dwelling humanoid "Merde" (French for shit) emerges from the city's netherworld first as an urban annoyance and after an accidental grenade discovery-a full fledged agent of chaos. The reactions of panic from people on the street genuinely mimics that of a panic stricken Tokyo after the subway poison gas attacks of the 1990s. At the end of the piece "Merde" is sentenced to death only to re-awaken hanging from the gallows with the promise of a trip to America before mysteriously disappearing. The meaning is oblique and buried in some Terry Gilliam like grotesqueries but Carax does make some palpable attempts to show how quickly any city (or nation) can quickly be stricken by a massive panic. The Godzilla sound effects sprinkled throughout add a campy, almost necessary, element of humor that is difficult to ignore.
The final third of the film is directed by the relative newcomer of the bunch-Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho. Entitled "Shaking Tokyo" this character sketch is delicate touching on easy to recognize themes such as loss, loneliness, hope, and love. The story revolves around two shut-ins and a whole bunch of earthquakes. The plot line at first seems rather conventional and even a bit zany but the gentleness of the storytelling leads to one of the rather pleasant surprises in an already wonderful film.
DJ Hell-International Deejay Gigolo CD 11 2xCD (International Deejay Gigolo)(Germany)
The eleventh installment of DJ Hell's much-respected International Deejay Gigolo singles compilation series catches the German artists and his label in full on roots mode. Both disks of this collection are flooded with tracks paying homage to the old school sounds of Metroplex, Transmat, Trax, and Tresor. It's a marked improvement over the electroclash leanings of the label earlier this decade with all sassiness crushed by savage sawtoothed 303 bass lines. Not everything works here but nothing is truly terrible-just a bit generic at times. The highlights include new material from DJ Pierre, Peter Kruder, and Abe Duque that is top shelf peak hour dance floor material and utterly addictive due to sme. With a new artist album in the works and a revitalized label vision it seems that old geezer Hell still has something viable to say.
Omar S-Fabric 45 (Fabric London)(UK)
Following in Ricardo Villalobos' footsteps up & coming Detroit producer Omar S drops a Fabric mixdisk comprised entirely of his own material. And while I felt that at least Villalobos had enough quality material at his disposal to make his mix sound a little more credible than just a big old smelly testament to one big ass ego, on Fabric 45 Omar S unfortunately does not have such resources. My advice to any artists is as follows: If you are going to snub a whole bunch of other talented producers including those from your own fertile backyard when make a mix for the legendary Fabric label you'd best make it some fucking solid gold dynamite. Sadly, wet fart is about the best Mr. S aspires to with a middle-of-the-mix section so ganja spliff scented and noodle saturated I thought I was listening to an Edgar Winters electronic music jam for about twenty minutes of this thing. I wanted to effin kill myself for large chunks of it that's for sure. Tough luck for me because there are a few great tech house tracks buried beneath all of that granola meandering. But that seems to be the general theme on Omar S's Fabric mix and really lame for a guy who claims the reason for his not playing anyone else's tracks on this is because he's not feeling anybody else right now. The way I see it is that half of the sixteen tracks on here could have been replaced by anybody and it would have been better than this disappointment.
Lisa Shaw-Free (Salted)(US)
The second album from Lisa Shaw on Miguel Migs' Salted imprint picks up where the Naked Music vocalist left off on her 2005 debut Cherry and the big stack of singles before that. It's a shame that someone with such a great voice and songwriting ability gets saddled to such dated material as that found on Free. Each of the producers on this album do their best to pin Shaw into the role of Sade for the dance floor with no room for her own talents to breathe. That was great way back in 2000 and probably even refreshing but at this point that limitation more than any other is holding the gal back. Despite all of that on a great track like "Can You See Him" Shaw proves that even in a world dominated by singles and the next big thing that a singer and a good song are still worth their weight in gold.
Mumiy Troll-Comrade Ambassador (Mumiy Troll)(?)
These guys are Russia's biggest rock band and in comparison to what we know about rock out in the West they are pretty white bread and tame. But in the post-Soviet world of rock these guys stand way, way above the competition in terms of energy and talent. The slick production that strips in parts of the Police, Elvis Costello, and John Mellencamp would be headed for the Kevin Bacon/Grand Funk Railroad middle of the road pile if Mumiy Troll was just another American rock band. However, these guys sing all in Russian and include a hearty helping of evocative Eastern melodies that gives Comrade Ambassador a little something special besides sickeningly sweet FM radio hooks. At least the album and concept is interesting which is more than I can say about Nickelback.