Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Arbor

What has prompted me to blog after over a year's absence this time? One of those films that I knew next to nothing about going in, but was completely absorbed by. I've probably mentioned before that I love the Gene Siskel Film Center's European Union Film Festival for the broad selection of European films it offers - ones that may or may not get picked up for regular theatrical runs in the US. I'm so wrapped up in work lately, that I hadn't made it to any screenings since the festival opened a couple weeks ago, and I don't know if I will make it to any more. But, I'm glad I saw this one. View the trailer here.

Clio Barnard's The Arbor transcends any style, weaving together documentary, oral history, writing, cinema and theatre together with some brilliant acting to tell the story of one family and one rough neighborhood in a way that I've never seen before.

Critically acclaimed English playwright Andrea Dunbar died at 29, in a local Pub in Bradford, leaving behind three young children and the community that that was the centerpiece of her short writing career. Barnard's film, built mainly from actors lip-syncing to actual interviews of Dunbars children, family and neighbors, gives a fresh look to what could have been portrayed as just another story about the vicious cycle of poverty.

It seems much longer than its 90 minutes, but even though I was a little skeptical at the beginning, we learned so much about the family in that short time. I thought the acting was phenomenal. It's hard to imagine how one becomes a character to match a recorded voice. It almost makes me think about actors voicing animation, and I wonder if it's a similar process.

Although a lot of the actors are well-known in British TV and film, the only one I recognized was (that dreamy) Jimi Mistry, yet he seemed the most out of place in this movie - looking suave and intelligent, yet playing an abusive, illiterate deadbeat dad.

I don't know if this will get theatrical distribution here, but I won't be surprised if it does. In any case, it's made me want to seek out the actors as well as Andrea Dunbar's work, and wait to see what Clio Barnard will do next.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Live Music of 2009

Rounding out my year-end listmaking is my live music recap. Enjoy.

Top FIVE Shows

1)Loud & Rich (Loudon Wainwright III & Richard Thompson) - the Vic - 29 October
2)The Hold Steady - House of Blues - 15 January
3)Thao with the Get Down Stay Down - Empty Bottle - 30 October
4)Andrew Bird - Schubas - 6 August
5)Blind Pilot - Lincoln Hall - 25 November

Honorable Mentions to Neko Case, AC Newman, Heartless Bastards, John Vanderslice, Loney Dear, David Bazan, Beirut, Mountain Goats and Liam Finn

Most Pleasant Surprises
The Rural Alberta Advantage - Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park - 24 August
The Cave Singers - Schubas - 12 September
Nellie McKay - Schubas - 6 December

Most Disappointing

Blitzen Trapper - Empty Bottle - 19 Feb

My Decade in Music

It's the time of year when many a music lover sits down and tries to identify the "best" albums of the year. Although I find these lists interesting, I also recognize that as tuned in as we might like to think we are, we all have fairly narrow scopes when it comes to considering all of the genres. So I just make lists of my favorites. Over the last few weeks, I've been working on a year-by-year list of my most enjoyed albums. I'm sure I missed a few, but, well that really doesn't matter.

Then, I picked out 15 that I think represent what I've enjoyed most throughout the decade. That's what you'll see first, followed by the yearly shortlist. My apologies to anyone who cares if I got any of the years wrong.

Norah's Favorite Albums of the 2000s - TOP 15
John Hiatt - Crossing Muddy Waters
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks - Beatin' the Heat
Joan Osborne - Righteous Love
Rufus Wainwright - Poses
Amy Ray - Stag
Patty Griffin - 1000 Kisses
Le Tigre - Feminist Sweepstakes
Mason Jennings - Century Spring
Kathleen Edwards - Failer
Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm
Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride

Norah's Favorite Albums of the 2000s - Yearly Shortlist

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Cat Power - The Covers Record
Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues
Bebel Gilberto - Tanto Tempo
Rickie Lee Jones - It's LIke This
Southern Culture on the Skids - Liquored Up and Lacquered Down
Mason Jennings - Birds Flying Away
Erin McKeown - Distillation
John Hiatt - Crossing Muddy Waters
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks - Beatin' the Heat
Richard Shindell - Somewhere near Paterson
Keb Mo - The Door
Joan Osborne - Righteous Love
Various Artists - O Brother, Where Art Though
Jeb Loy Nichols - Just What Time It Is
Teddy Thompson - Teddy Thompson
Ani Difranco - Revelling/Reckoning
PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Dusty Trails - Dusty Trails
Paul Simon - You're The One
Richard Buckner - Since
Kirsty MacColl - Tropical Brainstorm
Allison Moorer - The Hardest Part
Emmylou Harris - Red Dirt Girl
Patty Larkin - Regrooving the Dream


Amy Ray - Stag
Grant-Lee Phillips - Mobilize
David Byrne - Look into The Eyeball
Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)
Rufus Wainwright - Poses
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - The Swimming Hour
The Be Good Tanyas - Blue Horse
Jay Farrar - Sebastopol
Le Tigre - Feminist Sweepstakes
Lucinda Williams - Essence
Paris Combo - Living Room
Edith Frost - Wonder Wonder
Jonatha Brooke - Steady Pull
Ryan Adams - Gold


Mason Jennings - Century Spring
Patty Griffin - 1000 Kisses
Steve Earle - Jerusalem
Various Artists - I Am Sam Soundtrack
Aimee Mann - Lost in Space
The Mountain Goats - Tallahassee


Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears
Gillian Welch - Soul Journey
Kathleen Edwards - Failer
Erin McKeown - Grand
Deb Talan - A Bird Flies Out
Belle and Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Patty Griffin - Impossible Dream
Lhasa - The Living Road
Various Artists - Garden State Soundtrack
Laura Veirs - Carbon Glacier
PJ Harvey - Uh Huh Her


Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm
The Decemberists - Picaresque
The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Animal Collective - Feels
Iron and Wine and Calexico - In the Reins
Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
Page France - Hello Dear Wind
Richard Buckner - Meadow
Amy Ray - Prom
Andrew Bird - and The Mysterious Production of Eggs


Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Erin McKeown - Sing You Sinners
Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
My Brightest Diamond - Bring Me the Workhorse
The Blow - Paper Television
The Kooks - Inside In / Inside Out

Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers
Various Artists - Darjeeling Limited Soundtrack
Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
The New Pornographers - Challengers
Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
Radiohead - In Rainbows
John Vanderslice - Emerald City
Voxtrot - Voxtrot
Liam Finn - I'll be Lightning


Various Artists - Juno Sountrack
Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers
Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Fight
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
Vampire Weekend -Vampire Weekend
Tift Merritt - Another Country
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
Blind Bilot - 3 Rounds and a Sound (But I didn't listen to this until 2009
Erran Baron Cohen Presents: Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah

David Bazan - Curse Your Branches
Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
A.C. Newman - Get Guilty
The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns
Laura Veirs - July Flame (Not out until 2010 officially, but I've been listening to it nonstop since October.)
Various Artists - Dark Was the Night
Micachu - Jewellry

Friday, December 18, 2009


I'm considering making one of those lists of my favorite movies and or music of the decade. CONSIDERING. Don't hold your breath.

Monday, October 26, 2009

10 by 11 - My adventures at the Chicago International Film Festival and Beyond (Part ONE)

Flash back to two/three years ago, and I was working my way through my Netflix queue at warp speed, watching obscure films from all over the world at a rate of three or four a week. Then Netflix added instant viewing, and suddenly, there were hundreds of movies available for me to watch with the simplicty of a single click, including many from my beloved Film Movement.

But, sadly, I haven't been watching. I'm not sure what has or hasn't happened in my life to change my habit, but now I'm lucky if I even watch one disc per month, and I almost never take advantage of the instant viewing. I have several theories about what might be causing this - but, I realized I really was missing a lot of great foreign and independent films.

So - this summer/fall I renewed my membership for the Siskel Center, and then decided to take things one step further and bought a pass (and a gala pass to boot) for the Chicago International Film Festival. After a few warm-ups at the Siskel, which I won't go into here, in the interest of keeping things current, I embarked on an 11-day, 10-film wild ride. Below is a day-by-day account of the undertaking.

Saturday 10 October

I started at the Siskel with Majid Majidi's The Song of Sparrows. It wasn't part of the festival, but provided a good starting point. I enjoyed watching the story of Karim and his family members, which the other Majidi films, centered on story of a very good person encountering one minor tragedy after another, (i.e. life). I like the complexity of the main character, and the simple beauty and use of color, water and nature, throughout the film.

Then on the the festival proper for my old favorite, Ken Loach's newist offering, Looking for Eric. Although some people will dismiss the story as too far-fetched, I really enjoyed seeing depressed postman Eric, conjure up his personal hero, footballer Eric Cantona, to act as his therapist to help him get his shit together. Not as predictable as one might expect.

Monday 12 October
I went to the Gala screening of Lars Von Trier's new monolith, Antichrist. I did my best not to read anything about the film in advance, and went almost solely based on my near-obsession with Charlotte Gainsbourg. It was a very difficult film. The opening sequence is beautiful and dreamlike, and a lot of that beauty carries through the rest of the film, but the hard parts were so difficult to watch, I came away with the idea that I would never recommend it to anyone.

This unnamed couple loses their child, and when conventional methods don't seem to be pulling the mother out of her grief, her husband decides to take matters into his own professional hands. I think that one can make this film as simple or as difficult as one would like in interpretation. I essentially took it as a story of a guy who thinks he can fix his wife, but in the middle of it all, realizes that her problems might be a lot more serious than he initially thought - however, I think her realizes this too late, and before he figures out how to abort his mission and take her back to civilzation, all hell breaks loose - and I really mean that.

The Q & A with Willem Dafoe afterward was really helpful in terms of giving some insight to Von Trier's motivations and process, and also in giving us permission to interpret the film in our own ways, like any artwork.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Coming Soon

Just in case anyone's reading this - I've got a very full plate for Rocktober 2009, which includes a handful of concerts and two handfuls of movies, thanks to buying a pass for the Chicago International Film Festival. So, if there aren't at least five new posts here by the end of the month, well, I don't know why you bother checking.

I spent several weeks in Europe this summer, and tried out Pitchfork when I got back. I don't think I'll feel like I need to go next year. The Flatstock portion aside (where I finally tracked down that Diana Sudyka mermaid poster from the Laura Veirs/Liam Finn Show last spring), it's not really my scene. I did get to catch a special Pre-Lollapalooza Andrew Bird show at Schubas in August and that was amazing. I saw The Rural Alberta Advantage in the park for free, and took unplanned trips to Schubas for The Cave Singers and to The Green Mill for Astral Project last month. I had an adventure chasing Sufjan Stevens tickets all over two states and one province and never did catch a one - though I was in Montreal at the same time as him AND the Dalai Lama.

What does The Wonderful World of Fall have in store for Nobo? We shall see. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Magpies & Other Birds (Andrew Bird @ Civic Opera House 4.10 and Neko Case @ Chicago Theater 4.24)

Once again I've fallen too far behind to write meaningful reviews. Maybe now that I'm on twitter, I can just post my genius thoughts DURING the shows for you all to read. Because there are so many of you, dear readers.

So - the birdman: It was such a treat to be in the radiance of the opera house, and to sit and be civilized. Bird played a lot of pieces from the new album, as well as several from the last two - and nicely surprise us with a few pieces from The Swimming Hour and beyond. I think playing for the hometown crowd, he knew he'd please some folks with that, especially on night two. He brought Nora O'Conner out for the older bits, and I whispered to my friend my prediction that we'd see her onstage with Neko Case in a couple of weeks.

And I was right. Two weeks later, we sat in the similarly opulent Chicago Theater - the opened, Crooked Fingers, was enjoyable, but didn't play any of the tunes that I'm familiar with. It was nice to see Miranda Brown for the second time in a month, since she was such a treat playing with AC Newman at Logan Square earlier this spring.

The stage set for Neko was spectacular - An owl wrapping its wings around the screen, on which were project film and animation throughout the show. We heard mostly from Middle Cyclone, so there were not the knock-you-on-your backside vocals from some of her past shows, but there was a quiet beauty to behold. Especially on Middle Cyclone itself. As always, the banter between Neko and Kelly Hogan could not be topped, and there was a tiny bit of Nora O'Conner as well. Hogan cranks a mean custom music box too.

The highlight for me was "Red Tide." I love all of the marine and nature references on Middle Cyclone, and hadn't really dug any deeper on any of the lyrics of the songs. Neko said that this one was about breaking up with a town - and either she or Kelly mentioned that Seattle was the "bitchy town in question" for this case. Then they launched into it - and it made me want to be in rainy Seattle, even though I've never been to the Pacific NW.