Haruki Murakami - "After Dark"

Posted by prla1983 on December 31, 2008 • 1 commentsEmail This Post

Here's a contemporary Japanese writer which I couldn't help but notice given how well published he seems to be in my home country. Translations of his work proliferate in Portuguese libraries and a year ago one of his books caught my eye and I decided to give it as a Christmas present to a friend of mine. Before wrapping it though, I couldn't help but read a few pages. I found it somewhat entrancing, weird but very appealing at the same time. I didn't read much of it though but made a mental note of Murakami - alongside hundreds of other authors in my ever growing list.

A couple of days ago, while spending some time in my hometown for Christmas, I went out for a stroll and visited the local shopping mall. Sometimes I enjoy being on my own, wandering from store to store, especially bookshops. Taking my time to peak over a few titles, Murakami came up again and, on a whim, I brought "After Dark" home with me.

What distinguishes night from day? Is it simply the sun that is set? Or is there something else? What happens after dark? This book got me thinking about it and while there's hardly any definite answer, I'd say there's certainly a different feeling at night.

Murakami's story is then a simple tale of a group of seemingly unrelated people for the duration of one late night in Tokyo. Like many people, I'm somehow attracted to Oriental culture and Tokyo has a certain je ne sais quois, some kind of sophisticated glamour that it's not entirely easy for me to pinpoint. Sofia Coppola's "Lost In Translation" pretty much exhales whatever I'm getting at here.

And so does Murakami, with mundane people affected by mundane thoughts resulting in a story that's everything but mundane, in a David Lynch-esque sort of way, where the line between fantasy and reality is blurry most of the time, such as when a TV set suddenly comes to life or when a mirror keeps the reflection after the subject is gone. Murakami manages to convincingly turn random and otherwise passable scenarios into remarkable and compelling situations and dialogue, using the stillness of the night as his best ally.

I finished this somewhat short book a few minutes ago and because of its nature, it's still a bit difficult to gather my thoughts about it. Thought-provoking books like these usually take some time to ultimately sink in but the immediate experience was definitely rewarding. Books are devices in our way to becoming better persons, even if some are just trash and don't contribute a thing to that design. Trust me, this one does.


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Righteous Kill (2008)

Posted by prla1983 on December 30, 2008 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

It should be considered a sin to finally reunite De Niro and Pacino on the big screen and pretty much waste the opportunity to do something really good. Clearly, two star actors together do not a great movie make, if the story is maybe just passable and, worse than that, it's presented in a very lukewarm fashion.

Up until now, after having only spent five minutes together at a coffee-shop table in "Heat", De Niro and Pacino had only been cast on the same film back in 1974 for the second installment of "The Godfather". Sadly they occupied two different story arcs, set in a different time and obviously never actually interacted. Overcoming what must have been a series of technicalities and financial difficulties, director Jon Avnet has brought the two together for almost all of the film's 100 minutes duration as detective partners chasing a psychopath who may not be who they (we?) think he is.

Lot of potential, right? Indeed and I can't say I hated this movie, only that I wanted much, much more. I mean, imagine Waters and Gilmour finally reuniting but instead of playing the good stuff deciding to tour only to play, say, rehashed Beatles covers. Anti-climax, right? The same happens in "Righteous Kill", as we get a shitload of dialogue between the two greats but it just isn't compelling enough. Unless you count Carla Gugino as the police officer who likes it rough.

The truth is that nothing in this movie is compelling or a novelty in the genre and if it had two unknowns in the leads its fate would most likely be a pass-through ticket straight to DVD/Cable release. One asks himself what have these two guys seen in the script to take the opportunity. But then again, I ask the same thing when I see De Niro in stuff like "Meet The Fockers" or Pacino in films like "S1m0ne" or "88 Minutes", so it should maybe come as no surprise, after all.

Definitely not one of the worst movies of 2008 - a lot of trash came out as always - but certainly one of the biggest disappointments of the year.


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prla's favorites of 2008

Posted by prla1983 on December 26, 2008 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

It's that time of the year again. Yes, I love lists even if most of the time they are hard to compile. Same happened this year and, I must admit, when it came to movies, it was a sad affair for yours truly. I did go the cinema more often than last year, but I wasn't particularly lucky either: walking out in the middle of "Get Smart" was one such example.

I did however see a few interesting films, some at home, others outdoors, just not enough to build a strong Top 10. "The Dark Knight", "Body of Lies", "John Rambo", "Transsiberian", "Felon" and "Traitor" were all particularly enjoyable and let's not forget 2007's tour de force "Elite Squad" which I did see only this year. Then I can only recall a string of disappointments, starting with "Burn After Reading",  "Vantage Point", "Get Smart" and even, to some degree, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" (I am now in the process of catching up with the very first season of X-Files, by the way, and this last movies crawls lower and lower in my ranking as I go about it).

The more interesting list, sadly, is the one made of movies I should have seen and for one reason or another haven't. All these titles are in my so-called "to see" list, so better late than never:
  • Son of Ranbow
  • W.
  • Appaloosa
  • Wanted
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
  • Revolutionary Road
  • Slumdog Millonaire
  • The Wrestler
  • In Bruges
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • The Visitor
  • Man On Wire
  • Wall-E
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Iron Man
As far as music is concerned, the only thing I'd like to say is that, again, I've listened to far less music than I would have liked to. But that's inevitable, I guess. So, without further ado, here's my favorite list of 2008 (which, again, was a great year for music):
  1. Portishead - Third
  2. Opeth - Watershed
  3. Torche - Meanderthal
  4. Russian Circles - Station
  5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!
  6. Steven Wilson - Insurgentes
  7. Cult of Luna - Eternal Kingdom
  8. Boris - Smile
  9. Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull
  10. dEUS - Vantage Point
A few honorable mentions while we're at it:
  • Black Mountain - In The Future
  • Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
  • Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling
  • MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
  • Mouth of the Architect - Quietly
  • Burst - Lazarus Bird
  • Helms Alee - Night Terror
And to wrap this up, some great shows I've attended this year:
  • Murdering Tripping Blues (PT)
  • Cynic (US)
  • Opeth (SWE)
  • The Ocean (GER)
  • dEUS (BEL)
  • Porcupine Tree (UK)
  • Iron Maiden (UK)
  • Switchtense (PT)
Welcome, 2009.

The Ocean + Cynic + Opeth @ Madrid, 30 Nov 2008

Posted by prla1983 on December 10, 2008 • 1 commentsEmail This Post

The truth is I'm tired of receiving email literally begging me to write something on this blog. I hadn't realized we had this audience of millions around here.

Actually, only one person complained, but we care so deeply about our customers that we heeded that single request. Thus, here I am talking about something utterly unimportant that no one will read. The wonders of Internet democracy.

Back to the subject at hand, a week and half ago saw me and a couple of friends doing the nonsensical act of driving all the way to Madrid to attend a music gig (the horror!). Back to Sala Heineken almost three years later where we saw Opeth in what was our first time (it didn't hurt much, if you ask me) and Opeth again we went to see. Tagging along - and maybe more than half of the reason why I bothered to travel over 1000 km in two days again - were the reunited Cynic and the German prog/post/sludge/screamo/rock/metal outfit, The Ocean. Also, we decided to stay an extra day so we could take time off to go see some of Madrid's offerings and let me tell you that, yes, the Prado museeum is beautiful, Real Madrid's stadium is amazing and Starbucks is lovely as always.

Strictly speaking about music though, The Ocean were the first to hit the stage and they definitely took the prize for most energetic band that night, what with the bass player ending up bleeling from his forehead and all. With only around 30 minutes to do their thing, they chose to go the heavy screamo way, which I don't really complain of, but left me kind of cold as I was expecting much more of Precambrian's second disc heavy prog sweetness. In any case, they rocked the house by being loud and tight and I look forward to listen to their albums many times over.

Next up were Cynic, a band that achieved cult status back in 1993 with their only EP, "Focus", disbanding right after releasing it. They got back last year and recorded "Traced In Air", 14 years later, and as far as I'm concerned, didn't lose any charisma or ability. Quite the contrary. I was especially impressed with Paul Masvidal, who seems to have a way about him that I seldom see on stage. My only rgeret was that bassist extraordinaire Sean Malone isn't part of the live band these days. They played a short set (around 40 minutes) focusing especially on "Traced In Air" but "Focus" wasn't entirely forgotten either. And I got one of Sean Reinert's drumsticks! That guy can surely play and seemed completely at ease behind his kit.

Finally Opeth hit the stage to the sound of "Heir Apparent", arguably Watershed's (or rather Watershit, as Mikael put it) heaviest song. Opeth are always Opeth and despite a lot of personnel changes in recent times, these guys are stronger and more solid than ever before. Fredrik from Arch Enemy is a huge addition to the band's sound, despite the charisma Peter had, and Axe is a fucking drum machine. The man destroys even if he certainly doesn't have Lopez's salsa. Their set wasn't too long either, they played maybe 90 minutes but it was one of the many perfect setlists they could have played so everyone left happy, I guess. Highlight for me was Still Life's "Godhead's Lament", a definite surprise, and of course the fans' favorites "Deliverance" and "Demon Of The Fall". Oh, and Akerfeldt's banter was hilarious was always...

To get a glimpse as to how it actually went...

In the end, this felt like the turning of a golden page for me. I've been fortunate enough to attend many many concerts of bands I've gotten to love over the years and I've been quite insistent in going to certain gigs of certain bands on consecutive tours. I've seen Dream Theater six times, including two very very special evenings in London, Opeth three times, Iron Maiden three times (including two early years tours), Porcupine Tree, Tool, etc etc... the list goes on and on. I feel that for a long time it is enough for me and that now I feel like attending smaller shows in smaller places with smaller bands, bands I've come to really enjoy to discover and listen to. And also to explore different genres, no matter how great it is to go out and headbang.

Slated for 2009 already are Mogwai and God Is An Astronaut, for instance...