Book Review: "Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road" ~ Neil Peart

Posted by prla1983 on August 20, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

"Ghost Rider" is a fantastic book about travelling in many different ways, both literally and mentally. Neil Peart, legendary drummer of the Canadian progressive rock trio Rush, had to endure the terrible loss of both daughter and wife over a period of 10 months and this book is the very process of healing told in the first person.

This was my first Neil Peart book and I loved his prose style. Descriptive, yet it doesn't drag. An easy read and if you like stories about travelling, you'll love this one as Neil tells of his ramblings across North America (Canada and USA including Alaska) and Mexico. He's also a very gifted letter writer and his process of healing included writing a lot of letters to close friends over solitary dinners at roadside restaurants and motels. It's true the book can be a bit boring in some brief passages but even those I felt were very important to Neil on overcoming his personal tragedies. And the rest more than makes up for those.

A great book from a fantastic person. If you like travelling, especially on motorcycle, and even if you've never heard of Rush before, you'll certainly enjoy this one both as travellogue and an insightful narrative of healing the deepest of wounds. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the other books by Neil.

Film Review: "American Psycho" (2000)

Posted by prla1983 on August 04, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

The story of Patrick Bateman, the serial killer of Bret Easton Ellis 1991 novel, seen through the eyes of a woman director. Would this have been the same movie if it was done by a man? It probably wouldn't. And that's a good thing.

There's black comedy, satire and gore in equal proportions. The way violence is shown to - or kept from - the viewer reminded me of "Reservoir Dogs" in the way that the camera slightly deviates from the target forcing us to imagine exactly what's happening right there. Andrezj Sekula cinematography struck me as particularly good as it perfectly resembles that 80s look and feel in a picture that's been released in 2000.

And then there's a brilliant performance by Christian Bale, one of the best serial killer impersonations I've ever seen and Bale's best acting ever if it wasn't for stuff like "The Machinist" which would come later in his career. What's really difficult about doing a serial killer role is not exactly the killings but rather, and very much so in this case, the downward spiral of their mind. Bateman is a victim of the mid to late 80s lust in America, Wall Street in particular, like all of his colleagues. He's just gone a little bit overboard (this is obviously an understatement but you get my point). His insanity is in fact a by product of his lifestyle. There's this scene where Bateman, in a state of complete despair, admits all his crimes to his lawyer over the phone which is utterly brilliant and Bale nails it.

The final stages of the film are kind of open, lending themselves to different interpretations and personally I prefer having to rethink the whole film under a different light after I've seen it.

Album Review: "Ænima" ~ Tool (2006)

Posted by prla1983 on August 03, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

It's really interesting to see how Tool logically progresses from one album to the other in an orderly manner. Ænima can be regarded as Tool's breakthrough album, three years after "Undertow", a record that showed a band clearly above average but hardly progressive and pretty much like a diamond in rough.

With Ænima, pieces started to fall into place, with a bang. Personally, it took me quite some time to get used to it and I always remember when I used to walk around town with this record on my walkman and nothing made sense. But something in the back of my head kept telling me to insist on it and I'm glad I heard it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, bang! And then there was light.

"Stinkfist" is one of my favorite Tool tracks, a terrific opener, but it's the second song, "Eulogy" that really grabs me by the nuts and doesn't let go. This, for me, is like perfection at all levels, not the least the lyrics department. The way Maynard sings "you claimed all this time you'd die for me/why then are you so surprised when you hear your own eulogy?" there's just something utterly beautiful on the tone of his voice - which also happens in most of "H.", the track that follows.

These are basically the highlights, along with "Forty Six & Two", with its unforgettable and unmistakable bass line. What keeps me from giving this album five stars is the weaker numbers like "Hooker With a Penis" and "Die Eier Von Satan" and also how this still feels a bit all over the place and in need of some tyding up. A handful of classic Tool songs isn't enough to make a classic album just by itself and Ænima I think suffers from that. The album that would follow five long years later would fill in those blanks perfectly, though.

People who sporadically listen to Tool and don't lean too heavily into progressive music, tend to prefer this. For the proghead, though, "Lateralus" is a few notches up. Still, an excellent addition.

Album Review: "Camel" ~ Camel (1973)

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As I write this review, I'm not exactly a Camel expert knowing almost nothing about the middle of their career. Judging by reviews of albums of that era, though, it seems I'm not missing much.

Camel's self-titled debut is, however, one of my very favorite albums and quite possibly Camel's strongest album as well. There's virtually no filler on this one and their energy is at its peak.

And in fact, this is not prog in the same way early Genesis is prog, to cite a reference in the genre. Camel from this age is quite a bit more rythmic and rocking. This doesn't happen in later albums, particularly towards the end of their career, when everything getts much more mellow, yet beautiful.

"Slow Yourself Down" sets the pace for the entire record, an upbeat track sang by Andy Latimer in his quite original tone. But it's "Never Let Go" (which has an even better rendition on "A Live Record") - my favorite Camel track - and "Arubaluba" that steal the record for me. "Six Ate" has this great grooving bass line as the backbone of the entire track while "Mystic Queen" is the most mellow track yet doesn't disappoint, being beautifully sung by bassist Doug Ferguson and featuring Bardens intensely exquisite keyboards. And everywhere Andy Ward's drumming is perfect for the mood.

I find Camel to be an essential band in the genre, and as I find this to be their best effort, this record is also essential, even if you're probably better served with next year's "Mirage" for a more progressive output.

Film Review: "Clerks" (1994)

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Like many others, I believe, I got hold of the original 1994 "Clerks" because of the recently release sequel. What I found in this first installment is a good, authentic, sometimes quirky, sometimes hilarious comedy which I think we should take a bit more seriously that it takes itself.

Despite being shot pretty much in its entirety in the same two basic settings - a convenience store and a video rental store - "Clerks" manages not to get stale as it progresses because Kevin Smith is inventive in the way he shoots. The fact that this movie was done in a real life setting, where Kevin Smith actually worked at the time, lends it a lot of authenticity. The dialogue contributes for that and even the grainy amateurish black and white picture helps it.

According to Smith - who has this brilliant little role as an actor himself - this was meant to be the proverbial "movie about nothing", with a lot of F-word jokes. In theory, and then in practice, this kind of sounds like an R rated version of Seinfeld. Instead of Seinfeld's place and the coffee shop you have both stores, the relationship problems are also ever present even if in a much more earthly fashion. The real difference is that you get a lot of cursing. Other than that, it's just a day in the life of these two guys running two rusty little stores in Central Jersey.

Dante is the main character and his day shouldn't have gone down this way in the first place. He's just covering for a colleague at the store and all hell breaks loose throughout the day. Who really steals the movie for me is Randal, his partner at the video rental store right next door, with his acid view of life. The way he messes up with the head of all his costumers - including Dante's - is brilliant and funny. Nevermind if he should act like he does.

The dialogue ranges from fascinating to downright boring sometimes and it's definitely Tarantinoesque when at its best. It does suffer a bit on the acting department, which could have benefited from being a little more natural - seems rushed some of the time - but overall it's a great insight into the minds and state of affairs of Generation X America of mid 90s.

Which leads me to ask, where are we now? Maybe "Clerks II" will answer that, but I haven't seen it yet as I write this.

Film Review: "Hable con Ella" (2002)

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"Hable con Ella" is the first Almodovar film I see so I can't quite put this in perspective. What I can say is that this is a powerful drama done in a way that only non-American cinema looks and feels. There's just a "je ne sais quois" that sets this kind of cinema apart and Almodovar seems to be a master of this effect.

Perhaps much of the reason behind that is how crudely and in-your-face Almodovar tells us the story he chose to tell us, never shying away from the bare naked truth of what it really means to be in a comatose state. This, in fact, is the story of two women who are in a vegetative state and who both have a man deeply caring for them. Benigno is a male nurse who hardly knew Alicia but who fell in love with her after she had a traffic accident and got under his care. Marco had feelings for Lydia, the most famous female bullfighter in Spain, but after she's gored by a bull, all that's left to him is trying to put the pieces of his life back together while seating at her bedside.

The core of the film turns out to be the developing relationship between Benigno and Marco inside the clinic. This lends itself to thought provoking moral issues that Almodovar has no problem in presenting us in a daring and touching manner. From showing us objectively the effort that's involved in taking daily care of someone who is in a coma, to a brilliantly metaphoric short and sexually explicit - in its own extraordinarily peculiar way - silent movie, "Hable con Ella" is never ashamed of itself.

Personally, though, I couldn't really connect with these four people. I felt there was some missing link that kept me from caring as much as I felt the viewer is intended to care. Perhaps this warrants a second viewing some other time, maybe then, with the plot details out of the way, it reveals subtleties on the characters that I couldn't quite grasp upon first viewing.

Still, a beautifully constructed film.