One of the most defiant films I saw at the Sundance Film Festival this year was director Rick Alverson’s “The Comedy,” a title oozing irony but boasting a weird, wooly ensemble that includes Tim & Eric, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, actress Kate Lyn Sheil and comedian Jeff Jensen. The film itself was sort of a f*ck-you to traditional, protagonist-led dramatic narratives. It was built off of an 18-page treatment with almost all of it room for improvisation, and little-to-no script .
Two documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival turned their focus on American singer-songwriters making an impact on different eras of apartheid-stricken South Africa. But one major difference between the Paul Simon “Graceland” doc “Under African Skies” and Malik Bendjelloul's directorial debut “Searching for Sugar Man” are the artists’ awareness of their influence on that African country. Simon lived it. Obscure folk artist Rodriguez had no idea what the hell was going on.
It would be unlike the industry to let a groundbreaking album’s 25th anniversary come and go without some sort of fanfare. Last year was that arbitrary and round number of years for Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and it proved to be as good an opportunity as any for a reunion.
PARK CITY -- Look closely at actor Paul Dano. You might see a little Sabbath in there.
The actor -- who also happens to be an active musician -- looked to artists like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Ozzy for his role as touring musician Joby in Sundance pick "For Ellen." Joby is more of a modern radio rock guy in a band still "making it," so Dano also listened to those brand of bands while driving around L.A.
"Not my cup of tea," he told me during our interview at the film festival. But, after driving the Strip, "I kinda got it."
"For Ellen" focuses its lens on the other side of the cutthroat industry, the quiet moments in homes with a daughter without a dad, when the money doesn't come in for support. It gently extrapolates on what happens when a rocker isn't rocking.
PARK CITY -- The fluidity and close-action shots of martial arts in "The Raid" can enable even the most pacifistic viewer to feel like they can fight. Some of the most impressive combat sequences were delivered by actors and martial artists who were slight in stature, or "ordinary" building dwellers shakily foisting automatic weaponry in their under-sculpted arms. Most of the Indonesian film is shot in a single building, in crappy apartments or littered hallways.
Director Gareth Evans' movie was shot with an extraordinarily small budget with exceptional result, so much so that Sony Pictures picked it up after it bowed at the Toronto Film Festival last year. Among the biggest revamps in time for the Sundance Film Festival was a brand new score, helmed by Linkin Park frontman Mike Shinoda and film composer Joseph Trapanese, who linked up with Daft Punk to complete the music to "Tron" just a couple years ago.
I didn't see the TIFF version, but from what I can tell from here, "The Raid" only benefits from these guys, due to the power of the audio and the added visibility of big-name artists.
Shinoda thought the pair-up was so good, Linkin Park may be absorbing a new member: he joked that Trapanese will be the "seventh guy in the band. We're gonna have dueling bass solos. It's like watching KISS, this guy."
Both of the musicians sat down with me during the festival this week, to discuss the pressure of trying to improve upon a film that was already beloved.
"It'd be difficult to handle this first score on my own," Shinoda said, explaining his inaugural endeavor into composing for what Trapanese called a "bold yet really classic action film."
There's nothing cheap about the sound of the film, and it's overall beefy and confrontational, with bubbling electronica during the quiet, creeping moments, and aggressively rock-like during the fight sequences. Evans' dark humor was met with playful musical themes, like thudding dance rhythms as bodies hit the floor or as faces met dry wall. Shinoda and Trapanese said they actively avoided trying to make it sound generically Asian or specifically Indonesian, but instead melded what they knew with what I'd describe as the apocalypse on a small scale.
"Linkin park music always has been a mashup of many different things we love that we listened to growing mixed with stuff that we made ourselves," Shinoda said, mentioning that the process here was the same. He'd like to work on scores again, but still has the band as his priority. "I still have to put Linkin Park as the number one thing in my life, but there are times that I can work at other things and as long as I know that I know I can give it one hundred percent of the energy that it needs to get done and it be great, then I'll be happy to work on something else."
Linkin Park is about to announce 2012 tour dates, and Shinoda says fans can expect the active rock band's fifth full-length album "mid-year." LP's last LP was 2010's critically praised "A Thousand Suns."
Check out the video above for more on the composing process, Shinoda's feelings on writing for film and more.
PARK CITY - James Murphy wants a new job in music. Or rather, "to figure out how to make it my job without making it my job in the same way."
It's been about nine months since the LCD Soundsystem frontman waved goodbye to fans from the stage at Madison Square Garden and during those weeks he's busily helped build the film "Shut Up and Play the Hits" around LCD's final hours, the days before after the band had officially called it quits.
And now the movie has bowed, at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, another job done.
When I spoke to Murphy at the film premiere last night (Jan. 22), he seemed calm, if not plainly wary of the fact that every fan (and journalist) wants to know what he's up to next.
"I had fun and I want to be able to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do before in the band. And ['Shut Up...'] is one of the things that I wanted to do that I couldn’t do before," he said. Beyond this, he said, he doesn't know.
Collaboration wouldn't be out of the question, since its been central to his career with LCD and beyond. He had help from Arcade Fire and Reggie Watts at the finale. Aside from starring in "Shut Up...," he also plays a role in another Sundance pick "The Comedy," directed by Rick Alverson and starring Tim Heidecker along with half a dozen musicians and comedians like Richard Swift, Heidecker's other half Eric Wareheim and Okkervil River's Will Sheff. Murphy plans to continue working with the roster at DFA Records, the label he helped to co-found. He's obviously got plenty of old and new friends who could help out on whatever it is he wants to do. But with his unsurety comes some skepticism and even healthy cynicism.
PARK CITY -- Aziz Ansari had a public service announcement: "The RAPPER is LATE."
The comedian and "Parks & Recreation" star was already bleeding sarcasm as he took the stage at Bing Bar last night (Jan 21), the opening act to rapper/singer Drake who was -- in fact -- an hour-and-a-half late for his set. On a Saturday night, at an open bar for one of the most in-demand MCs during one of the peak nights for Sundance crashers at a private party, Ansari's stand-up was met with a smilingly agitated crowd.
Ansari dotted his bits about childhood and childbearing with "this sucks" and "at least I'm getting paid lots and lots of money." It was Cuba Gooding, Jr. who crashed Ansari's party, but only to unsuccessfully persuade the crowd to shut the hell up and respect the pre-Drizzy entertainment.
There was no stopping them. The Bing-sponsored performance was one of the extremely rare dates leading up to Drake's proper tour behind "Take Care" live dates -- dubbed the Club Paradise Tour. Last night was a preview of what to expect for this highly anticipated stint, featuring openers and Hip-Hop New Class members A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar.
Drake took the stage, finally, at 1 a.m. on the dot.
Park City, Utah -- For the third year in a row, I'll be here at the Sundance Film Festival covering some of the biggest music-oriented films, and some of the soundtracks and scores to come from others featuring standout artists.
There are plenty of musicians touring through, as well, with help from returning sponsors, for after-parties and launch events. For instance, it'd be hard not to make "Party Rock Anthem" the prom-like theme to this year's 2012 Sundance Film Festival. LMFAO will be making 2,549 appearances this week, plus are launching a fashion line. I want you to be looking forward to my interview with Redfoo this week, and look damn hard.
But, no, the strength of some of the Sundance film selections will make for an ultimate, complete soundtrack and score to the week.
Lucky for me, some flicks focus in on some of my favorite artists, eras and albums...
"Under African Skies" has Joe Berlinger behind the lens; his 2004 documentary on Metallica, "Some Kind of Monster," had my face on the heels of my hands, riveted with the storytelling on a band whose lives outside of their albums lost my interest many moons before.
Berlinger's new subject matter -- the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon's "Graceland" -- won't be as much of an uphill battle for me. I consider that 1986 album to be in my top five of all time, if not No. 1 for each revisit; its coming-together in South Africa came during a tumultuous time in apartheid history, particularly coming from such an influential artist who was firmly embracing native musics from black Africans.
The promise here is a "Graceland" reunion concert. I'll be singing along, and hoping for any, um, insight into the dispute over the origins of "All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints."
The "Graceland" legacy bled over into the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," which premiered last night, with one of its subjects quoting a line from "Boy in the Bubble": "These truly are the days of miracle and wonder."
"Wonder" is an apt emotional response to the film, which kicked off the fest last night. In this internet age, it's difficult to imagine a musical mystery so pure and strange as Detroit-bred singer-songwriter Rodriguez' unknown past. It, too, takes us to the shores of South Africa (and is one of several movies at Sundance that pulls at the seams of Detroit).
I'll be writing more on the music of Rodriguez and the never-ending tale of royalty mismanagement and music industry chest-puffery later this weekend, but for now it's best for fest-goers to mark down 4:40 p.m. MST on Monday (Jan. 23) to go to the ASCAP Cafe to hear the myth and the man Rodriguez perform live.
While Rodriguez' obscurity has yet to afford him recognition in his home country, the story of LCD Soundsystem's dissolution last year was a disappearance by choice. James Murphy co-produces the film on his own band in "Shut Up and Play the Hits," which chronicles LCD's last days (and day after). Everybody always talks about the merits of quitting while you're ahead -- Murphy actually did it.
Check out the trailer to "Shut Up and Play the Hits" here. Count on many minutes of the Madison Square Garden finale, but certainly not all three-plus hours.
Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Nas, Mos Def, Eminem, Chuck D, KRS-One, Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg are all on the guest list of doc "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap," with Ice-T leading the way. I imagine it will be a difficult narrative jaunt, to cover the launch of the American art form through so many generations and iterations.
However, it does seem to be a continuation of Sundance's love affair with hip-hop, a trend best seen through last year's lineup (with standout A Tribe Called Quest doc from Mike Rappaport). A new feature this year, "Filly Brown," is a fictionalized story, but one retelling "sleazy record producer" story of crawling toward hip-hop stardom. I'm seeing another trend.
Composer Reza Safinia is back at Sundance again this year with "Filly Brown," and you can check his stuff here. I'm also eager to hear what fest veterans Fall on Your Sword ("Another Earth") have done on "Nobody Walks." The dauntingly titled "I Am Not a Hipster" has the potential of yielding acclaim for songwriter Joel P. West, whose tracks will lie at the center of Dominic Bogart's "tortured artist" character Brook.
The film has already bowed at Cannes, but I'm still intrigued to see Sean Penn take on the persona of a middle-aged rock star whose aesthetic tips its hat to Robert Smith in "This Must Be the Place." I'm even more excited to hear the soundtrack and score from Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy), may he live for a thousand years.
Besides those, I'm looking forward to music and scores from Mike Shinoda (in "The Raid"), Yo La Tengo ("Smashed"), Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips ("Price Check"), the Red Hot Organization's Stuart Bogie and Luke O'Malley taking on Arthur Russell ("How to Survive a Plague") and T Bone Burnett combining with the Civil Wars ("Finding North").
For fans of the French electronic duo AIR, a trip to the moon is fairly routine.
In the new music video for "Chains of Love," Ryan Adams and his backing band cause fireworks to shoot into a sunny day sky, due to the power of their rocking. But, naw, the amiable track is one of the easiest-going songs on "Ashes & Fire," the singer-songwriter's latest album.
There's all sorts of subtle color and cheeky detachment to said pyrotechnics. Ain't nothing wrong with rockers rocking on rooftops and in fields, just makes a good argument for a little nap.
"Ashes & Fire was released in 2011; Adams is touring soon in support, dates below.
Here are Ryan Adams' tour dates: