And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead was a very intense show, and the band was clearly having a very good time. In addition to the musicianship on display, the sound was excellent as well; having been on both sides of the live music equation for a bit of time I know how hard it is to get off a completely technically flawless performance, and that was the case here.
I was also very happily surprised by one of the bands that is touring with them, The Octopus Project. They played some very trippy music which incorporated a theremin!
A theremin is a musical instrument that is played by moving one's hands through an electrical field generated by the device to alter the pitch and tone. I have seen footage of a theremin played, but I have never actually seen one performed live, particularly not during a psychedelic jam.
It was fucking cool.
Claire Danes shows her breasts in this film, which is about the best thing you can say about her performance. Billy Crudup is very good as a famed actor who plays women in the twilight of the Elizabethan theatre, and the rest of the cast (which includes Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Richard Griffiths, Ben Chaplin and Edward Fox) is uniformly good. Danes, however, is a disaster, her performance a complete mess. She always seems to be going for the wrong emotional pitch in every scene.
The acting styles depicted in the film are also uneven. Director Richard Eyre has trouble depicting the differences between stage acting and film acting - and modern acting and period acting - that István Szabó navigated with ease in Being Julia. George Fenton's score and Jim Clay's production design, however, are outstanding.
It's a decent movie about a transitional period that isn't given much thought to in modern times; the idea that Danes and Crudup would essentially be teaching each other how to play the others' gender on stage is a fascinating concept, but sadly, Danes is out of her depth.
This is generally considered one of Gus Van Sant's best films, but despite the effort that clearly went into it, I feel that the film has been rendered somewhat obsolete by the rawness of drug movies that have followed it. The cast, led by Matt Dillon, is very good, but the film just isn't gritty enough to convey what it's about, nor does Van Sant really establish the relationships between the characters well enough to involve the audience in Dillon's struggle to break free. His history with Kelly Lynch's character is an important aspect of the film, but she is so sketchily written that it is impossible to feel their connection.
That's not to say that the film is bad. Far from it. The character Dillon plays is very interesting, and he engenders sympathy even if the others do not. Many of the elements that would eventually find their truest expression in what is to my sensibilities Van Sant's crowning achievement, My Own Private Idaho, appear in a nascent form here. The journey he takes is a harrowing one, and he has a great showstopping scene in which he describes himself to a social worker. There is an Elliot Goldenthal score that presages the weirder elements of Titus; as usual, Van Sant's musical choices are spot on.
Although I had wanted to when the film came out, I never got around to seeing this movie. Thanks to my friend Carlos from work, I finally have been able to, and all I can say is that the hype surrounding this film is completely earned.
Michelle Rodriguez nails her role as Diana Guzman, a disaffected teenager whose life is empty for some very good reasons that go beyond your standard run-of-the-mill Adolescent AngstTM. She finds a constructive outlet for her frustrations by training to box. The story is very well laid out, but the point of the film is the journey that Diana makes, and Rodriguez, despite her lack of experience, shows a mastery of both her emotional delivery and physicality. This is a great performance, and one can see the character develop and mature over the course of the film. Sequences that involve her romantic relationship with Adrian (Santiago Douglas) are genuinely erotic not because of exposed skin or breathy exchanges (of which there are none), but because they are moments that are earned by the actors and filmmakers and seem to grow naturally from the characters.
The film is gracefully directed by Karyn Kusama, and the sequences in the boxing ring have a kineticism to them that one rarely finds in boxing pictures, mostly because there is a greater emotional investment by the audience. The film was artfully shot by Patrick Cady and soulfully scored by Theodore Shapiro (to date, this is the best thing I've heard him do). Rodriguez is ably supported by Jaimi Tirelli, Paul Calderon and Ray Santiago. The DVD has a really good anamorphic transfer of the film with a very spacious Dolby 5.1 track and a commentary by Kusama in which she is very candid about what she was attempting and what she achieved (it also has a pan and scan edition for stupid people). It will be added to my library at the earliest convience.