Thursday, December 27, 2007

Way Down In The Hole

The Wire Season 5 arrives in just ten days. And then the clock starts ticking on the greatest, best, most important television show ever made.

In the meantime, here's a few ways to get excited.

* Watch the prequels. Cute.

* Yet another extensive David Simon interview, this one from a year ago. But it's got some great details in there. I'm constantly amazed that Simon gives such detailed interviews. Details are the trick. Someone can read 50 interviews with Brad Pitt hoping for that one detail to drop, but Simon consistently delivers the goods. The message is always the same in each 80-page conversation you read, but there's always something new.

* Kottke pointed out Heaven and Here, a fantastically erudite blog on the show and its meanings.

The first episode premieres Sunday... which means I should have it in my On Demand folder on Monday. I cannot wait.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Heima Gonna Beat Yo Ass

Just saw the Sigur Rós concert documentary Heima, screened in full HD in a crowded theater. I'm glad I did, because now I can't imagine having seen it just on my little 32" TV. It was really something. I can't promise that non-fans will be entertained... but I can promise you'll see some jaw-dropping shit.

I want to declare that the bar has been raised, but it doesn't seem fair. It's not a traditional concert film / band documentary, in that there's very little storytelling about the band, or even the band with respect to their homeland. You don't get the usual "mugging for the camera" goofiness or "hey look we filmed an argument" drama. Instead, you really just get Iceland, the whole Iceland, and nothing but Iceland... with a special appearance by Sigur Rós. It was reminiscent of a nature documentary like Planet Earth or something more than a concert film.

But to be clear, that's a good thing. The photography alone makes Heima worth seeing on a big screen. I can't remember ever seeing real life shot and reproduced on screen so faithfully. There is no stylistic anything, no unnatural lighting, no manipulation. It looks exactly like it would look if you were standing there.

The concert footage is so calm and focused that you don't need any extra face time to get a feel for what the band is like. Without the classic MTV-style jump cuts and flashes, you can just sink in and watch them operate.

Oddly, the music wasn't even all that big a deal to me. I mean, it was awesome. "Glósóli" and "Hoppipolla" and "Popplagið" are always going to be showstoppers. And the quieter songs like "Heysatan" and "Staralfur" were arresting in their own way. But I was so mesmerized by the Icelandic countryside that anytime we were back with the band, I wanted to get back to nature.

So, I loved it. If this comes out on a high-def DVD format, it'll be on the short list for early purchases.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Best Albums Of 2007

In a world... where art is enumerated...

In a place... that only exists in your computer...

In a time... when bloggers lay claim to that which is not theirs...

One man... will pretend he knows something.

... the Dunkin Donuts guy.

Well... I was hoping to discuss Time To Make The Donuts, my biopic about Fred the Baker. However, those prick Weinstein brothers refuse to release it without first cutting it to shreds in an attempt to make it more "commercial." So I can't. Let's talk about music instead.

I couldn't just make a quick list and leave it at that. Having blogged so inconsistently means that I haven't really gone on the record concerning most of the music I liked. So I've got a big one brewing. And this isn't even the end... I've got a Best Songs post on deck after this.

First things last:

* I've included videos where possible, and mp3s only in one particularly critical case.

* Seems I didn't hear much hip-hop this year. My iTunes playlist for 2007 only shows four artists: Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Common, and Blue Scholars. (All recommended.) Haven't heard the new Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah or Wu-Tang either. I'm basically calling a mulligan on hip-hop this year. Just go here for some expertise, cause I got none.

* The Pitchfork mind-meld procedure is surprisingly gentle. But they do go in through the rectum.

OK... let's chug some Haterade and Red Balls so we can get things going.

The Very Worst
(or "How To Tell What The Good Parts Of The List Won't Sound Like")

Animal Collective
- Strawberry Jam
I suppose this pegs me as someone who just doesn't get them. Maybe I'll eventually come around, or have some big epiphany. But until then, I will wear my ignorance like a goddamn badge, because all I hear is the sound of two computers blowing each other.

Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity
Absolute garbage. Congratulations, Deerhoof, you recorded the sound of three amateurs taking dumps on their instruments. The result is the musical equivalent of 2 Girls, 1 Cup. Enjoy your status as the torchbearers for the musical genius of Yoko Ono. Your music makes me feel bad for having given you a chance. Thank you. Thank you right to hell. You win the coveted Clap Your Hands Say Yeah award: worst album of the year.

Grizzly Bear - Friend EP
First guy to kick these fuckers in the nuts gets a cookie. I don't want these dopes having kids. I can't imagine, like, six pre-teen Grizzly Bear cover bands running around and ruining everyone else's lives.

[mercifully no video]

Menomena - Friend And Foe
Man... if you put the word "Friend" in your album, you apparently suck balls. With friends like these, shoot yourself.

Panda Bear - Person Pitch
I don't understand this at all. This guy's a sound editor, not a musician. He's just messing around. That's fine, but I could give a shit. Making matters worse, this is his solo project spent while away from his band: Animal Collective. Way to go, Noah, you made two of the most unlistenable turds of the year.

The Album I May Eventually Regret Not Liking

Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover
Here's the thing. I love Wolf Parade, and I love what Spencer Krug brings to the table. And yet I loathe Sunset Rubdown, and not just because it keeps Krug away from Wolf Parade. I should like it. But I find it boring and uninteresting. Maybe this will change. But last year's entry in this space (Joanna Newsom's Ys) hasn't gotten any better. So maybe not.

Brilliant Folks What Dropped The Ball With Their Followups

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
It's not bad. I kinda like "Soul Singer In A Session Band" for some reason. But it's hard to believe this is the same guy who could have used some restraint on Lifted. The video has more to say than Conor Oberst does on the entire album. Let's all hope he gets it back together before he kills himself.

Editors - An End Has A Start
There's a few likable songs on here, but the record as a whole is a far cry from The Back Room. All the energy and verve of "Munich" and "Fingers In The Factories" got scaled back. I liked them better when they were repurposing Interpol's sound instead of Snow Patrol's.

Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors [embedding disabled... fuckers]

Interpol - Our Love To Admire
Speak of the devil. Antics and Turn On The Bright Lights have grown on me, but Our Love isn't doing anything that those albums don't do a lot better. Nobody's gonna go ripping off this one.

Jimmy Eat World - Chase This Light
Most disappointing album of the year. Looks like they're out of songs. The underrated Stay On My Side Tonight EP suggested that they still had their Clarity-era fastball, but this is mostly just the same old crap from a band that should know better. "Big Casino" is the catchiest tune they've got, and it's really better served as like the 4th or 5th track on an album of better, stronger songs.

Big Casino

Likable, And Really Good... But Getting Way Too Much Love

- Untrue
The Field
- Here We Go Sublime
I'm no expert here. Both are worthy of inclusion in my own personal techno pantheon, which is quite small. But I can't honestly rank them. They're both albums I wouldn't hesitate to play or recommend, but best of the year? Not for me.

[no video]

Justice -
The trendy dance/techno pick, universally hailed and revered despite its mediocre, momentum-killing center of "Valentine" and "The Party." I'm not feeling the universal love for "D.A.N.C.E.," either. Great song, great video, really derivative. Maybe I just feel spoiled by "We Are Your Friends," which is better by a wide margin than any track on . Who knows. But I can safely say that this is not a great album, and definitely not as great as it's considered by the criterati.

Kanye West - Graduation
I'll repeat my complaint about Late Registration: he's as earnest as anyone's ever been in the same position, but I still can't get past what a rapper with some actual tricks up his sleeve would have done with the same beats. Also, four words: "Drunk And Hot Girls." Oh Mos Def, why hast thou forsaken us?

Three Albums Worth A Shout-Out

Blue Scholars - Bayani
The Budos Band - The Budos Band II
Holy Fuck - LP

Partial Credit: Stuff I Might Have Ranked If I'd Heard Them Sooner

Bonde do Rolê
- With Lasers
The Real Tuesday Weld - The London Book Of The Dead
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Pela - Anytown Graffiti
Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position

Stop Me Before I Release Another EP

Tokyo Police Club
- Smith, Your English Is Good
I'm amazed that they've basically written, like, two or three songs so far... played those same three songs about a dozen ways across their various EPs and singles... and every single song still feels unique and fresh. They've certainly got no shortage of ideas. I hope to Jesus their full-length is as good as their EPs have been.

[No time for videos! Get your Canadian asses in the studio!]

Noteworthy Runners-Up

Art Brut - It's A Bit Complicated
Likable. I'd have put it in the "disappointments" list up top, but they had such an impossible task... and Complicated is actually a fair follow-up anyway. I prefer Eddie Argos when he's turning a song genre inside out ("Good Weekend," "Rusted Guns of Milan") or being flat-out ridiculous ("18,000 Lira"... sounds like a lot of money) than when he's yapping about girls and lying around in bed... who wouldn't prefer the old Eddie Argos? But if this is what Art Brut has to be from now on, it's a happy little medium.

Band of Horses
- Cease To Begin
Everything All The Time is kinda dry and boring, "The Funeral" excepted. The meatier, thicker sound on Cease To Begin does them a lot of favors. "Is There A Ghost" and "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" are big improvements sound-wise on everything on Everything.

Feist - The Reminder
It falls where Neko Case fell for me last year. Highly recommended, frequently enjoyed, but not something I connected with. Not much going on beneath the veneer of the music, either... it's really just underproduced crooning. But still good.

Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature
Yes, folks, it's yet another finger-style folk-rocking Latin Swede! When will someone come up with an original angle??? So yeah, he's incredible. Every Nick Drake comparison is a well-earned compliment, but Gonzalez has a cool, pulsing, slightly sinister calm that is decidedly unlike Drake's joyous, colorful devastation.

Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
I wanted to love this more than I do, because there are some seriously awesome songs on here ("Atlantis to Interzone," "Golden Skans," "Gravity's Rainbow"). But the rest is lazy, unmemorable, disposable, and sometimes embarrassing. ("18:30 on the Julius Caesar / Lady Diana and Mother Teresa"? Huh? Mercury Prize my dong.) "Hook + Nonsense" works as a formula, but when the hook doesn't work, they're shit out of luck.

Talib Kweli - Eardrum
A case where stepping backwards puts you in the right direction. The beats on The Beautiful Struggle didn't have much bite; Eardrum's got bite to burn. Feels like a slicker version of Reflection Eternal, which is a good thing.

Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
Ingenious stuff. He does it all... humor, insight, sweetness, self-reference, pith, you name it. He's really nailed this lilting-English, postmodern Burt Bachrach act he's got. But if I don't listen to Bachrach, why would I listen to Lekman? I tip my cap, but this sort of thing ain't my bag, baby.

(Nothing suitable on YouToogleGube, but go here and download "Your Arms Around Me." Then come back and thank me. I like being thanked.)

Noisettes - What's The Time, Mr. Wolf?
That quality that allows you to simply say someone "rocks"? They have it. Decidedly different and unique. Enjoyed the shit out of them in person, and the album's just as strong. "Sister Rosetta" is one of my favorites of the year.

[Sister Rosetta (Capture The Spirit)... ironically, this video doesn't capture their spirit at all]

Simian Mobile Disco - Attack Decay Sustain Release
Awesome, straightforward electronica. More front-to-back consistent than most techno debuts. And any excuse to show the "Hustler" boner-fest in polite company is good enough for me!

The Twilight Sad
- Fourteen Winters And Fifteen Autumns
Their spacey, meandering, and ultimately explosive sound is good and all, but it's all held together by their singer's northern English accent. Seriously. The accent really bangs home the iconic lyrics, especially in the opening track.

[no video]

#15-11: Kings Of The Losers

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
A worthy successor to Funeral, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that they're here to stay. Clearly they were working on the organ sounds, with much patience. No "buts" are coming, either... I just don't feel like putting it on my best-of list. I don't think I can displace any album on the forthcoming list with Neon Bible. (Bonus: watch them play the title track in an elevator... living it up while they're going down!)

Battles - Mirrored
The last album to fall from the list, after several flip-flops. Best sounding album of the year... the clearest, cleanest rock recording I've heard in a long time. And the drumming is absolutely nuts. But I ultimately docked this one a few points for losing me toward the end of the record. 1-5... best album of the year. After that, it's just studio wizardry. But all the praise they've received elsewhere is totally warranted and earned. Behold the genius that is "Tonto."

The Go! Team
- Proof of Youth
Doesn't have the freshness of Thunder, Lightning, Strike, but it has its fair share of winners. Anything with the wrath of either Marcie or Mikey involved can't be all bad. Note how perfectly their "Doing It Right" video translates the band's grainy, lo-fi, Schoolhouse Rock sound into visuals:

Stars - In The Bedroom After The War
Just a solid, reliable, straight-ahead pop album. Thoroughly enjoyable, and unremarkable in a good way. It's comforting to know that someone's out there playing plain old well-made pop.

Ted Leo + Pharmacists - Living With The Living
I really wanted to show Ted more love. It stands up to his best work, growing on me the more I listen to it. "Sons of Cain" kicks all kinds of ass. But the few missteps he makes (e.g. "The Unwanted Things" and its phony-baloney reggae) really stand out... and not in an endearing way, like "Bottle of Buckie" or "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb." In a skip-me-every-time way. When you're a punk-pop trio, your margin for error is pretty thin when it comes to genre experiments, and those here didn't work.

#10-1: The Top Ten

We start out with a huge upset:

10. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
I usually hate shrill music like this. Until about a month ago, I was going to award them the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah award for overrated, intolerable trash. Then two things happened: 1) I remembered that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah actually put out an album themselves, and 2) I revisited Hissing Fauna and lost my shit. They went from the Worst List to the Top 10. Bravo, gentlemen Kevin Barnes.

This Brothers Chaps-directed video for "Heimdalsgate," one of the most randomly bizarre videos I've ever seen, had a lot to do with the turnaround.

9. Radiohead - In Rainbows
This album needs a slap. The universal acclaim MUST be given a rest. It's good... it's not that good. It's not even amongst their best work! How can it be on the top of so many lists?

Something tells me the backstory with their self-release, and the ensuing media feeding frenzy, played a huge role in the album's toasty reception. After all, what really sells music to nerds is the backstory. All their parents and friends like totally died n' stuff, and that's why they called it "Funeral!" I'm gonna go blog about these guys! And so forth.

Bottom line for me... a great album from a great band, one that lived up to my expectations. And that's about it.

8. Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
This one bounces around all over the place... it's gone from my top 3, to out of the top 10 entirely, to back in. It's been sliding around like soap in a prison shower. I slotted it above In Rainbows at the last second. But what am I supposed to do? It's both a bitter disappointment and an explosive success at the same time.

I'm still torn. It's one of the performances of the year. It follows through on its quasi-concept-album ambitions, and constitutes a leap forward for the band both musically and lyrically. But this isn't the "top 10 performances" list. The filler between classics like "Hunting For Witches" and "I Still Remember" isn't really memorable. Likable enough, but those weaker songs are mostly unworthy of the band. It's hard not to wish they'd done more. How high can you rank an album like that? And then I listen to "I Still Remember" again, and I (ha) remember what I love so much about it. My brain will explode if I consider moving it up or down the list again, so I'm leaving it right here.

7. The National - Boxer
It took many, many listens for me to upgrade it from "good ambient rock for those at-work moments" to "I might actually choose to give this some undivided attention." Nothing on Boxer comes close to the highlights of 2005's Alligator ("Abel," "Mr. November") but it's still an deep, accomplished album. There's more going on than meets the ear on the first listen... maybe not as much as the band's most ardent fans and defenders think, but more than you'd get on a single quick listen. It is the very model of a "grower."

6. !!! - Myth Takes
I was a bit too hard on Nic Offer in my initial review, for which I've since apologized. I didn't give him adequate credit for having scaled back the not-as-clever-as-he-thinks lyrics. There are groan-inducing moments (most of "Must Be The Moon," and the previously-deconstructed "Sweet Life") but Myth Takes still contains his best work. And that's before getting to the music, which is a gigantic step forward, a refinement and expansion of the sound they created on !!! and Louden Up Now. Great stuff.

5. The New Pornographers - Challengers
With every listen, the spreading of wings doesn't feel nearly as drastic as it did the first few times around. Apart from the more-obvious-than-ever comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, the band comes through with its deepest and thickest work yet. Each song on Challengers could have been re-arranged to work in the band's typical sugary mode, but none of them would have been quite right. In fact, the more familiar songs of theirs feel out of place. (Not that they're unwelcome.) Regardless, the changes are a success.

(another non-representative video, but at least this one has a bunch of Neko)

4. Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder
My #1 on the Irrational Love charts. All of the proper songs are catchy as all hell; it's a hit-or-miss proposition without any misses. And the production is just over-the-top insane; it plays like Robert Schneider's resume for working with other bands. If I have a beef, it's that the interstitial amuse bouche interludes are kinda distracting. My track-skipping finger gets itchy when they come up. However, as was the case with Sufjan Stevens' Come On Feel The Illinoise!, the little nuggets become less of a distraction with each listen. And they give the album some structure.

(the "Can You Feel It" video doesn't do them any favors)

3. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
The blew-me-away rock-out album of the year. It's a shame that people thought it was a step back, because it's a phenomenally accomplished rock album. They took the sound they perfected on Good News and used that power to rock our collective balls off. If I had a band, I'd want to knock people's cremaster muscles backwards too, turning men into women and women into men with the immovable force of my rock. That's not quite what Modest Mouse did to me, but it's pretty obvious that gender reversal is what they were after. (Huh? Nautical theme? I don't see that at all. Nope, it's clearly about sex changes.)

2. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I'm amazed that they can keep churning out music this good, while making it seem so simple and effortless. It's not like their songs are complicated. But somehow they just have a feel for what's classic and timeless without being unoriginal. "The Underdog" may be reminiscent of Billy Joel, and "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" may but it's still their own. Who out there is trying to be classic? They're a truly gifted band.

(To find out what the big deal is with the robot, watch him shake his grant-money-maker to Gimme Fiction's "I Turn My Camera On")

1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Perfect. Brilliant dance-pop from start to finish, with nary a stinker on the entire record. The only song you can nitpick is album closer "New York I Love You," but I choose not to. Everything else... just perfect. Not much else to say.

Phew... I've just about had it. If I missed anything, let me know down below. And look for my list of best songs in the near future.

(P.S. If you read all of the 3,325 words that preceded this, you get another cookie. And don't forget how you can get that first one. Get out there and kick Grizzly Bear in the balls, soldier!!!)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Damn You, Walt Whitman!

This link has nothing to do with the poem, but any excuse to make the following statement is a good one:



Monday, December 03, 2007

Katherine Heigl Also Thinks "Knocked Up" Sucks

When I first saw Knocked Up and got really bullshit about it, I thought I'd be in the minority about it.  Turns out that doesn't seem to be the case; most conversations I have about the movie naturally turn towards the story being implausible and stupid.  At first, I suspected my objections were a result of my mood as much as anything; I'm relieved to know I'm not alone in wondering what the hell was going on here.

Now comes even more objections... except these objections come from someone who was actually in the movie.

"[Knocked Up was] a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I'm playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you're portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.

I do join the A.V. Club blogger in wondering exactly how little responsibility Katherine Heigl thinks she had for the "killjoy" portrayal.  And I'm definitely on board with Knocked Up, warts and all, being brave enough to not shy away from showing women acting like uncontrollable, wrongheaded nutbags.  God knows, it actually does happen every once in a while, so Judd Apatow gets props for that.

But the proof is in the pudding.  I walked away from that movie rolling my eyes at the thought of Seth Rogen ever putting up with that woman's shit.  The end result is a nutbag woman doing nutbag woman things... and a director communicating empathy for it.  Puhleeze.

Strictly from a storytelling perspective, he's been given no good reason to stick with her.  And it's not from her character being one-dimensional; it was actually a very deep portrait of a stressed-out woman making mistakes.  That she is as much as fault as anyone allows Rogen's character to approach the final conflict without having to correct a cliched "stupid man mistake" like most romantic leads have to do.  That in turn allows us in the audience to concentrate on what Rogen will do, instead of wondering how he will correct an obvious mistake.  It frees the character to choose a path without being hindered by group notions of "right" and "wrong"... it's strictly a personal decision.  That's actually a nice touch.

If only it didn't lead to such a damn fool ending.  After two hours of plausibility, it sucks to see five minutes of utterly laughable bullshit undermine everything that preceded it.  Goddammit.  And now I'm pissed off all over again.  Why did a smart movie have to be so stupid?  Grrrr.

Anyway, I fully intend to see Knocked Up again in colder blood.  The depth of my disappointment suggests that further viewings are necessary.  After all, it was indeed a laugh-out-loud hilarious movie, and I want so badly to love it.  So I'll give it another chance.  I'm not likely to budge on the bottom line, but we'll see.


My love for the criminally unheralded film Idiocracy has been documented frequently around here. Me and, like, 12 other people like it a lot.

Naturally, then, those 12 people and I are the target audience for... get ready... Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator! Unless kottke and the Googletubes are lying to me again, someone is actually making Brawndo. It's got electrolytes!!!

This commercial actually does more to suggest it's a hoax than to promote the "product":

Fox took such a bath on Idiocracy that it'd be natural for them to license and monetize anything they could from the experience. I'm in favor of them making back as much money as they can, if only so that they might feel less discouraged from taking a similar risk in the future.

Or maybe they gave up the rights to Brawndo to one of the brand name conglomerates (Carl's Jr., Starbucks, Costco, American XXXpress) that Mike Judge hornswaggled, as a sign of corporate good-faith.

Or maybe it's a big fat fake. That seems more likely. But for now... pretty awesome.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Oi, I've Got The Death Sentence On Twelve Systems, Guvnah!

Star Wars is on HBO right now. They just showed the Mos Eisley cantina sequence. To spice things up this time, I muted the sound and instead sang the "Derka Derka" theme from Team America: World Police over the intro. It was AWESUMMMMMMM

After I'd had my fun, up came a sequence that has always bothered me: the assault of Luke by the fiendish, dastardly Dr. Cornelius Evazan.

What bothers me is the looped dialogue. The lines come nowhere near Dr. Evazan's lip movements. Even with the prosthetics obscuring the actor's lips, they can't even get close. The noticeable lack of sync led me to believe that the line was changed, not that the looping was poor.

So today I decided to ask the Googlewebs what the original line was. The answer lies in the video below, a montage of production footage from the shoot. There are many, many tasty nuggets to be savored (please do) but once you get to the 5:38 mark, you'll hear the original Dr. Evazan dialogue. Turns out the lines didn't get changed... but the actor's accent did.

Cockney! Sweet.

But having heard the original, I'm inspired to speak words that have never been spoken on the Internet until now: I agree with a George Lucas decision. (It's true. That sentence is a Googlenope. Or, at least, it was.)

Anyway, the accents are more earthy, and match the actors' motion much better, but they're also kinda distracting. The accents identify Dr. Evazan and the bartender as Brits (or Shakespeareans) much more than the dubbed accents do. Drawing attention to the dubbing is bad, but it probably would have been worse to draw a comparison between Mos Eisley denizens and lovable Dickensian rogues.

So yeah... nicely done, George Lucas. (Well, 1977 George Lucas. I qualified my praise! Take THAT!)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Canadian PSAs Are As Strong As Their Currency

Canadian PSAs getting some huge props today.

First, via Deadspin, comes this horrible, HORRIBLE kitchen safety PSA:

I don't think she's making head chef next year! Did I say horrible? How about horrifying? I'll never cook again.

But to lighten things up, let's mix in a bit of sex with our violence...

Welp... there goes my sex drive.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Today's Dose of Musical Blasphemy

I'm unblocked! I can finally stop swallowing down the bilious, hateful things I've been thinking all these weeks! So let's make ourselves a sacred cow hamburger.

Now that I'm working from my brand-new, Ikea-sweatshoppified, dorm-reminiscent PC hutch on a daily basis, my musical selections are no longer limited to whatever I bothered to load up in the office. My entire CD library is at my disposal. This has a few notable benefits:

Fun turn-back-the-clock theme days. For example, my first order of business was to dig into the high school and college era, back when I was taking cues primarily from the radio. I listened appreciatively to some albums that would probably make my head spin today. I swam out past the breakers and watched the world die. I slowly walked down the hall, faster than a cannonball. And it was awesome.

Theme Days
Pearl Jam day! Everything from Ten through Binaural! R.E.M. day! Document through New Adventures In Hi-Fi! Ben Harper day! And so forth.

Correcting Past Mistakes
If something slips through the cracks, I can give it some more attention. For example, on Pearl Jam Day, I paid very close attention to No Code, the album on which the band clearly and unmistakably turned off the no-seat-belts sign from there on out. It's still mediocre (with a few exceptions like "Hail, Hail") and clearly a birth-defective cousin to both Yield and Binaural, but it's not as unmemorable as I once felt. Standing it up against Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy is clearly unfair.

I'll get into specifics on some of those other discoveries in a later (and longer, if you can believe it) post. But for now, let's get blasphemous.

With Radiohead's In Rainbows making the rounds, I thought it'd be fun to cue up Kid A, an album I never really cared for. I tipped my cap to the band after a few listens (you can't argue their brilliance) but apart from "Natural Anthem" and the opening track, it never made much of an impression on me. But I figured that my modern-day self, a much more open-minded listener with more complex tastes than my 21-year-old self, might have a different reaction.

So I popped it on. And I did indeed have a different reaction:


I was shocked to have so different a reaction than what I expected. My bias in favor of "Natural Anthem" and against pretty much all the other tracks actually got worse. I'd say six or seven years is enough lead time to determine whether an album is really all that good or not. Unlike the famous Onion headline, I'm not getting into it, and I won't. It's unfocused and meandering. It has its high points, but the lesser tracks are boring to me.

I guess I just have a bias against experimentation for the sake of it... or, at least, subjecting us to it. The fact that they're brilliant doesn't mean their output is just as brilliant, nor should it. Who cares if it's a landmark if it's not all that good? Bitches Brew was a landmark for Miles Davis... and for the destruction of jazz. Enjoy Your Rabbit is a landmark for Sufjan Stevens, but it's nowhere near as good as the albums that have followed it. Likewise with Kid A, and to a lesser extent Amnesiac.

However, I'm grateful that those two albums influenced Hail To The Thief, the best of their post-OK Computer output. It's an ideal blend of their border-pushing electronica fetishes and the this-is-your-brain-on-drugs-[pause]-THWACK adrenaline rush that's their true strong suit. The best five or six songs on Hail are better than everything on Kid A. The fact that one couldn't have happened without the other only goes so far.

Maybe I'm just pulling a Flowers For Algernon and reverting to my old ways. Perhaps I got a taste of Everclear and the Foo Fighters and, like a heroin addict who's been clean for a few years, I got sucked back in. (Losing myself to a white-trash hell... lost inside my heroin girl!!!) But I just gave Kid A a second spin, and had the same reaction: so what??? So I guess that's really what I think.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Majorly Massive Non-Dismissive Missive On Moving

I get the sense that most people haven't really heard from me since I moved. Let's rectify that.

After exactly seven years in the DC area, I shipped off to Boston... TO FIND! MY! WOODEN! LEG! And I'll be looking for it from my apartment in the aptly named Mid-Cambridge neighborhood, equidistant from Inman, Harvard and Central Squares. I'm closest to "stuff" in Central, though the neighborhood demographic and appearance are more like Harvard. So if that leg I lost whilst climbing about in the topsails turns up in any of the fancy, high-priced Euro-style pawn shops in my neck of the woods... or perhaps in one of the twelve local Crate & Barrel shops, refashioned into a set of matching coffee stirrers... I'm all over it.

Unexpected and unfortunate unidexterity aside, I'm really thrilled to be back. My situation worked out just about exactly how I'd want it to work out. I'm in a great spot... a quick hop from anything I'd need, and a quick T ride from everything else. My apartment is nice, furnished with all the luxury items a cultured manchild-about-town could ever need. I was quite lucky to find an apartment on such short notice that covered the heating bill and also had an electric peg-leg sharpener in the bathroom.

(Here's where I stop pretending to have one leg. I am not a unidexter.)

So, some thoughts on being back...

Being back. (Great segue!) I'm adjusting, albeit slowly. It's becoming less and less of a big, romantic deal to be here... every bill that arrives at my new address reminds me of that.

But just because it's less so doesn't mean it's not so. I haven't stopped marveling at the brick sidewalk under my feet every day, nor at the weirdly-shaped streets that probably weren't so weirdly-shaped 400 years ago. And I still appreciate being able to run along the Charles, looping around at the fields where I had soccer practice in high school.

It isn't as universally awe-inspiring as casually playing ultimate under the Washington Monument... but in a way, it kinda is.

Cantabridgianity. This may not seem like a major adjustment, but it's huge. Walking around Cambridge with a sense of ownership is just totally bizarre to me. Growing up, I reserved the status symbol of Cambridge residency for Brahmins, Ivy Leaguers, professors, politicos, snobs, pain-in-the-ass Euros, and the self-consciously well-to-do. Not me, the son of public school teachers, the middle-class bankruptcy survivor. Moving to Cambridge seemed as likely as moving to Mongolia. Strictly a fictional proposal.

Of course, it's a silly way to look at it. It's not that big a deal. But it sure seems like a big deal. The fact that I'm sitting in my Cambridge apartment right now kinda blows my mind, in a good way.

My pre-Comcast routine. Prior to getting internet installed at home (and, by the way... FUCK YOU, COMCAST) I had a nice daily grind mooching wifi from cafes. It was a nice routine... plunk myself down at Darwin's, buy tons of food that I normally wouldn't because I'm mooching their wifi all day, exchange pleasantries with the mostly female employees and underage 100% legal customers of the non-denominational cafe... all that's a big step up from the office environment I left behind. (The one I'm simulating seamlessly from 400 miles away.) It's not a sustainable lifestyle, but one I enjoyed while I could.

My apartment. I've grown to like my apartment. I didn't like it much when it was empty, but I liked where it was situated. But now that I've furnished it (well, almost) I'm beginning to like it a lot.

The building isn't as ideal as its neighborhood, but the roughness around the edges can be chalked up to it being a self-built, self-managed mid-rise, as opposed to a professionally developed... development. That's something I can get behind. I'll forgive a broken AC outlet or two in exchange for the knowledge that I'm not helping the filthy rich get filthier or richer.

That's not to say it's a hole. The bathroom, for instance, is nice enough that I felt obliged to buy, for the first time in my life, a shower curtain. And not just any shower curtain... one that matched the tiling. It's not stunning, but it's a start. Maybe by the time my kids graduate college I'll give a shit what the rest of my living space looks like.

Then there's the balcony, which doesn't do me much good now that it's getting down into the 40s at night. I've been looking longingly at the planters at Home Depot, thinking about how to spruce things up a bit out there... put in an herb garden, plastic furniture, etc... only to realize that the basil plant of my dreams is about to be draped in a snow drift. But come spring... it'll be nothing but fresh basil and rosemary up in this bitch!!!

Boston is expensive. Want some advice? Don't be a neurotic, short-fused headcase who can't share space with other people. Learn to deal with minor personality quirks. It will save you thousands if you ever move to Boston, especially if you like things like "clean dishes" and "heat." Ohhh, dishwasher. How I need you.

(Call me a spoiled, insufferable, prissy little pussy who has grown up to become everything he hated as a child if you must... but this is a simple matter of public health. I've seen the foul beasts that emerge from the dish-stacked sink when I'm left to my own devices. I flatly refuse to subject my neighbors to filth and disease just because I want to prove a point. Should someone's poor old grandmother die because someone on the internet thinks I'm a wuss? Why not go kick a homeless guy in the nuts while you're at it? In summation, I need a dishwasher because I love homeless children more than you do, you inconsiderate prick.)

Cambridge is nicer than Silver Spring... I'll defend Silver Spring until I'm blue in the face. Over seven years, I watched it grow from a shallow turd of urban blight into a mere shitstain on the side of the Toilet of Columbia. What a difference a few years can make! All kidding aside, Silver Spring became a community worth taking the Metro (and leaving the District) to check out. But it's not Cambridge. You can't beat someplace that has so much character. Cambridge will always be Cambridge; Silver Spring hopes someday to be Bethesda. Chalk one up for those of us on the wrong side of the river.

...but it definitely fails the class diversity test. The most underrated thing about Silver Spring is how diverse a place it is. Even after the recent Bethesdification of the downtown area, it's still a minority-driven and largely middle-class city. How long that will last, I don't know. But that's one striking difference with Cambridge: it's not narrow, but it's more narrow. Having become accustomed to being a minority, it's odd to be back in the majority, in terms of both race and class. Not better or worse, just foreign. Just an observation, based on a few weeks' walking around.

Thank Jesus it doesn't fail the pizza test. DC is the worst pizza city ever. Much as I adored a late-night jumbo slice after a night in Adams Morgan, the faithfully excellent 2 Amys, or Armand's delivery, Washington is a gimmick pizza city. Go there and try to find a regular slice of pizza, from a typical greasy pizza shop. Not possible. The market for plain old pizza just plain old sucks. You can find a 1300-calorie behemoth, a Chicago-style cake slice, or a Denominazione Originata e Controllata-approved Neapolitan pie. But you cannot find a good old slice of pizza. Thank God I'm back in a city that appreciates a slice of friggin pizza.

Well... I suppose it warrants mentioning that the best slice of pizza in walking distance comes in squares. It counts as a gimmick, but it really, really isn't fair at all to Pinocchio's. They do serve cheese in regular slices, so they count. And my point stands if you use Il Panino, which owns every pizzeria in DC without even being a pizza shop in the strictest sense. And Pinocchio's owns Il Panino, though not by much. So there.

Bars. For now, let's just say I prefer them. Two words: People's Republik. Game, set, match for Cambridge. And how many DC bars have scorpion bowls, hmmm????????

In fairness, I have not yet been out on a typical Friday night yet. So I will refrain from judging with any finality until I've done that. I also haven't come up against any insane last call times either, so once that happens I may change my mind. But until then, I'm pro-Mass.

In conclusion... come visit. I even have guest parking decals to share!

We now return you to your regular, fluffy, frothy blog of music reviews and stuff.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Krampus, The Christmas Monster

So, I've been a bad blogger of late.  No posts in four weeks, and only five since the beginning of August.  I've slipped into the same trap that all casual bloggers fall into: the No Obligation To A Regular, Paying Readership Trap.

Not that nothing's been happening.  I've been telling everyone about this enormous blog post I have brewing, concerning my recent relocation to Boston.  How it's an escape from the music reviews, Dick In A Box jokes, and other stupid links that usually litter the landscape around these parts.  But the post has become clogged up.  The works have been gummed.  It currently discusses things that happened "yesterday," in reference to October 5th.  It's kind of a shame... I was hoping I could use a more substantial, personal post to signal my return from blogging obscurity.

But no.  Here's a stupid link.

The speaker below is Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown (the subject of the link), and more side projects than you have fingers to count them with.  In reference to Sunset Rubdown's latest album art:

Pitchfork: What is on the back cover [of Random Spirit Lover]?

SK: Oh, that's the monster.

Pitchfork: Obviously.

SK: That's Krampus. In Austria, at Christmas they have Santa Claus, but he's also followed by Krampus, who kind of beats children on the head if they're bad, and I think if I remember correctly, if they've been really bad, puts them in a basket and takes them away.

And I read an article [about the tradition], and if you look at pictures in Austria around Christmas, way more people are running around in costume dressed as this thing. And, like, partying, hanging around fires. And the costumes get really elaborate. So you can imagine being five years old, and being taught that this thing is going to come get you, and having the people chasing after you--

Pitchfork: That really changes the meaning of Christmas.

Krampus.  For those scoring at home, the question was "but... what about the children???" and Austria's answer was "have a horned freak hit them on their heads."  I'm just stunned that the people who brought you Hansel and Gretel and the Pied Pedophile also came up with a Christmas monster who puts misbehaving children in fucking baskets.

Don't let my sarcasm deceive you.  I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more Krampus.  The Venture Bros. is a start, but let's actually get him signed to a multi-year personal services contract.  Once he signs, the other companions of Saint Nicholas will follow, and hell will rain down on all the children of America.  Please, God, send your humble servant Krampus to our shores, as was prophesied in the book of Mark: "and God did so love the world, that He gave his only Krampus. / And lo did Krampus beateth the shit / out of those begotten by the meek."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Cannot Agree More With This Sentiment

Die Yuppie Kickball.  Indeed.  This site wins the internet for all sorts of reasons:

  • Their visual mission statement.
  • Analysis
  • Pranks
  • They link to this guy.  Fuck the heck?!?  What's stupider... hating Wonderland, thinking to evaluate it based on its "kickball bar" attibutes, or trumpeting how big a moron you are all over the internet?

[h/t DCist

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Creative Arts Emmy In A Box

How was my day made?  By learning that "Dick In A Box" won an Emmy for best original song.  Huzzah!  For just one night, sanity and boxed genitals reigned supreme.

Does it make up for the hideous Oscar-night loss by "Uncle Fucker" seven years ago?  Absolutely not.  That's a pain that not even time can heal.  But far be it from me to begrudge the success of two guys who gift-wrapped their penises for Kwanzaa.

Additional props to Andy Samberg for his acceptance speech:

"I think it's safe to say that when we first set out to make this song, we were all thinking 'Emmy!'" Samberg said in accepting the award Saturday for best original music and lyrics.

"The other thing we were thinking was, 'Hey! Here's this young up and comer, Justin Timberlake, who is clearly very talented and could clearly use a break,'" Samberg said. "So, Justin, if you're out there, congrats to you, kid."

Finally, check out the end of this CNN story (feel free to skip everything about the obnoxious attention whore) for a fantastic summary of the "Dick In A Box" video:

Andy Samberg of "SNL" said Saturday that he had yet to be asked by the TV academy to perform the tune with Timberlake on the Fox broadcast, but he was willing. Timberlake, on a concert tour, is scheduled to be in Los Angeles next weekend.

The subject of their "(Blank) in a Box" video: wrapping a certain part of the male anatomy and presenting it to a loved one as a holiday present.

Give that man a Pulitzer.  I could never have boiled "Dick In A Box" down to its essence so perfectly.  I would have loved to be the guy who took a crack at it, though.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Today's Nugget Of Truth

Not that a catfight between Nas and Bill O'Reilly over the former's upcoming performance at Virginia Tech is newsworthy or important, but I really enjoyed how downright sane Nas sounds here.  [h/t Idolator]

The best part is the truest part: "You can't talk to a person like that.PWN3D!!!  You can't damn someone's point of view any more effectively and finally than Nas did.  Nicely done.  If only he'd taken on Jay-Z with such force, maybe he wouldn't have disappeared for all those years.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How Many Mutha Uckas?

Too many to count, mutha uckas...

If you think you can acquire a taste for this, I urge you to do so.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Bad news, America... the Weekly World News is shutting down operations.  Probably because the internet does a much better job of providing weird stories, with the added benefit that the stories are real.  When the only true story you run in almost 30 years is Bat Boy, you know you're in trouble.

Anyway, another publishing death we can blame on the internet.  Stupid internet.  I hate a inernetEf a dumb inernet is a dumb.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rock Beats Scissors, Gun Beats Rock, Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry Beats Gun

While reading this week's Chatological Humor (a.k.a. Tuesdays With Moron, hahaha) there was mention of a recent incident near Lincoln Park here in DC, wherein a gunpoint robbery at a wine and cheese party was foiled by offering the would-be assailant wine and cheese.

My thoughts on this are scattered...

* This is the sort of thing that a screenwriter or novelist could have written, using the "imagine what's expected, then imagine the opposite of that" rule.

* It's a beautiful example of humanity and kindness overpowering antagonism.  The only thing that could have made it better is if the robber left the wine glass behind.

* Actually, it's just a beautiful example of humanity and kindness period.

* Not to mention poise and courage.  It takes courage to watch someone put a gun to the head of a 14-year-old girl and not exacerbate the situation with your fear.  That they not only composed themselves, but went so far as to be civil to this person, is astounding.

* On the flip side, I wonder how many people are sincerely outraged that none of the victims thought to disarm the guy during the "group hug" sequence.  I wonder if those same people have considered what consequences their suggestion would have had on the story, or whether they themselves would have been successful.

* Weingarten's point was spot-on: how likely is it that the gun was loaded?  Probably not very.  Would the victims have considered this in their calculations?

* Were they calculating at all?  Was this truly spontaneous, or did this just happen to be their collective fight-or-flight mechanism in all its weird glory?  (I never knew that "food" was an appropriate answer to "fight or flight.")

Either way, it makes for great reading.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Tube Of Boob

(If only such a magnificent apparatus existed...)

Before I get into it, I wanted to note my tendency to review things almost exclusively in ones and threes. How many pairs of things have I reviewed without either comparing or contrasting? Or dare I say both? (Four, of course, is right out.) That's all I had to say on that. Just thought it was weird.


Finally got around to the American version. It is indeed a different beast. It's not nearly as historic as the British version, and Michael Scott isn't anywhere close to the singularity of David Brent. On the other hand, they manage to make every single character in the office memorable and insightful.

But it's certainly reached the stage where the comparisons must end. The new version is consistently funny and fantastically written. A great sitcom.


I love this show. It defies explanation; no demographic pigeonholing is possible. Not a comedy, not a family drama in the strictest sense, not a show "about surfing," not an angry man's weirdo HBO show... just an ingenious little story about forgiveness.

Its structure reminds me of The Wire, in that not a lot happens on a daily basis, but the universe of the show is so compelling that nobody cares. Six episodes in, I'd say only three or four things have actually happened. And that sparseness doesn't matter, not even a little. Imperial Beach is just that fascinating, in and of itself.

The amazing, iconic dialogue these characters have been given certainly helps. John's tendency to parrot sentences contributes to the iconic feel of each turn of phrase, but they're also great turns of phrase to begin with. I can't get over the incredible stuff they come up with on a weekly basis for Ed O'Neill... off-the-charts hilarious and heartbreakingly sad and crazy at the same time. He's both the most and least normal person on the show. But this is a guy at the periphery of what action there is... and he's totally gripping.

Most of all, it's impressive that they can shape such coarse dialogue into a show that has so much soul. No show has its heart in the right place more than this one.

Strongly recommended to anyone with a little patience.


I have watched two episodes, but it only took the first episode for me to lose my shit that this show got fucking cancelled. I'm totally beside myself right now.

This show should be taught in schools. This show gets Judd Apatow a free pass for life. So he wants to make a TV show about paint drying? Give the man a chance! That's how good it is.

And yet it was aborted before being given any kind of a chance. There's more genius in fifteen minutes of Freaks & Geeks than you'll find in entire seasons of shows that weren't cancelled. JAG was on the air for ten seasons. FUCKING TEN!!! I can't name a single notable thing about that show, and it got 242 episodes. (I looked.) And these knucklehead networks can't figure out a way to keep a show full of broke-ass nobodies on the air? Out of 22 hours of prime-time programming every week, they can't take one hour and devote it to vegetables... it's all gotta be ice cream. What a joke. Fuck you, NBC.

The only explanation that makes any sense is that the show was somehow cancelled by accident. Like, they meant to cancel one of the fourteen Law & Order spinoffs, but some first-day-on-the-job intern clicked the wrong button by accident, and by the time someone figured out what had happened it was too late. That makes sense, because at least the incompetence can be chalked up to human error.

Yeah. This is all after two episodes. I have no idea what else happens, but I strongly suspect that whatever comes next won't change my mind.

So I guess I haven't really said anything yet. Turns out I'm angrier about the cancellation than I am insightful about the show. But I have some basic impressions:

  • Seth Rogen is a genius.
  • Jason Segel is a genius.
  • Martin Starr is a genius.
  • Screw it, they're all fucking geniuses.
  • Even James Franco is a genius. Who knew he had an actual pedigree??? I'm stunned. I mean, I thought he was good given the expectations of yet another cookie-cutter James Dean wannabe... but he's pretty good without any qualifiers. Like, you can tell he's bigger than the show. I never would have guessed.
  • I found myself getting kinda attached to Linda Cardellini, and feeling like a creep about it. I mean, she's in high school, right? So I felt all weird and dirty... until I found out she was about 24 years old when she made the show. Sweet! I don't have to go to jail!

I admit that this wasn't much of a review. "This show kicks ass" doesn't help much. But hey, I haven't exactly seen it either, so I shouldn't say much anyway, right? I just know what I love, and I love this.

And NBC... go fuck yourself. Did I say that already? Well, just in case, fuck all of you. Seriously. Because apparently the rest of the world agrees, for the most part. That's right. Eat shit, NBC. Eat my shit. All of it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Knocked Up

Given my love of The 40-Year Old Virgin, one of the defining films (let alone comedies) of the decade, a letdown was inevitable. But I was still expecting a lot more than I got from Knocked Up, which tries and fails to resonate like its predecessor.

The heart of my objection is in Knocked Up's refusal to play by its own rules. The film is littered with astute observations about parenthood, marriage, and adulthood. But the sheer quantity of laughably contrived behavior on the part of each main character invalidates all of those observations. The setting is Sturges, but the story is Shadyac, i.e. a bunch of horseshit. It's a sheep in wolf's clothing... a fairy tale hot dog slathered with the mustard of modern-day moral philosophy. (Sorry.)

A model relationship... circa 1832

Don't get me wrong. Knocked Up is hilarious. Just as a comedy, it succeeds. But once it starts taking itself and its story seriously, the whole thing falls apart. It tries to be more than just a funny movie, and fails. While I respect the effort, its failures reflect on the rest of the movie.

Instead of another 40YOV, it's another Wedding Crashers... a very funny movie with lots of caveats.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Today's Edition Of "If You Think YOUR Life Sucks..."

This guy has been hiccuping for five months.  The only cure is getting shitfaced, which doesn't cure it so much as distract him.  Poor bastard.  I hope he figures something out.  Or inspires a made-for-TV movie about his predicament that could fund a clinical study or three.  (Potential titles: "Don't Hold Your Breath," "Counting To Forever," and "House Of 1,000 Hiccups.")

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dream Free Or The Good Shepherd Dies Hard

Well above my expectations.  That it's as good as it is, despite some glaring weaknesses, speaks volumes to Bruce Willis' charisma.  It's not really a Die Hard movie, but plenty of fun nevertheless.

Two things bothered me:

1) The vacuum of faithful D.C. details was just egregious.  A tunnel with a toll booth?  A downtown street called Concord St.?  14th Street running east-to-west?!?  Have you people ever BEEN to Washington?  I won't even get into the invalid license plate numbers given for the escape vehicle.

2) Similarly, the environment isn't nearly as much of a character as it is in the three previous entries.  They keep moving around the mid-Atlantic region... Jersey, Washington, West Virginia, Baltimore... why???  There is no need for it.  The first movie took place in one building.  The second took place in one airport.  The third, up until the tacked-on ending, took place in one city.  (Die Hard With A Vengeance is a shining example of geography as a distinct character.)

If you want an explanation as to why this entry doesn't stand up to the first three, there you go.  A total lack of regard for environmental detail.  Take the setting seriously, and the story will carry weight.  Don't, and you'll end up with a forgettable movie.  Live Free or Die Hard doesn't, and it shows.

overall: 3 1/2 Washington streets assigned the wrong fucking cardinality out of 5

Great musical, and outstanding production (sets, music, photography)... but not a great overall movie.  The storytelling in the second half is too messy.  Years fly by, characters disappear into the background, there's no lead story to follow... just kinda pointless.

Maybe it's a problem with the "leads," which I'd use lightly.  Jamie Foxx, though effective, didn't bring anything to the table; neither did Beyoncé, despite putting in a great effort.  Meanwhile, Effie and James "Thunder" Early blow everyone else off the screen, for the most part.  The second act's failure is due in no small part to the reduced role of those two characters, beyond the excellent "One Night Only" and "Jimmy Got Soul" beats that are easily the back end's highlights.  (To say Jennifer Hudson is worthy of her Oscar is a gross understatement; for Eddie Murphy to lose to Alan Arkin is an absolute joke.)

Basically, from the bring-the-house-down "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" moment through the finale, there was nothing particularly moving or devastating other than "One Night Only."  Given that the story comes to rest on Deena and Curtis, I would have liked to see more from them.

overall: 3 thinly-veiled portraits of Berry Gordy out of 5

As dry throwback movies go, this one's a big winner.  Unflinching, thought-provoking stuff.  Matt Damon's  unsentimental performance is up there with his best.  The movie's climax is a legitimate make-you-gasp messed-up moment.

It's a tough movie to love, though, because of the subject matter.  I could not relate to any of the main characters: Edward damages his personal life at every possible moment; his wife and kid, who were forced upon him, also suck; his coworkers are a bunch of Skull & Bones/Ivy League/scum-of-the-earth CIA cronyist assholes.  And they're all pricks.  The portrayals are all impeccable, but watching their cold, distant machinations is disconcerting.  (It's no accident that the "mistake" around which the film revolves is a scene of passion and intimacy.)  Just as they hold each other at a distance, the film holds us at a distance as well.

And that's why films like this are such a difficult proposition.  The point isn't that Edward Wilson is a prick who should have spent more time with his family.  The point is that the CIA needed a cold-hearted prick like him to get off the ground.  How could anyone tell that story while making Wilson at all sympathetic?  There's no way around it.

I'm not saying the film is bad for that reason; far from it.  But I am saying it doesn't speak to me the same way a similarly-themed film, Munich, did.  (Quick aside: same screenwriter, Eric Roth.  He does an outstanding job in Munich with the same "patriotic antihero" angle, and with better results.  The tepid reception of that film still astounds me.)  So despite acknowledging its quality, I can't say The Good Shepherd is a great film.  But it's very, very good.

To close on a positive note, there was indeed one lovable part of the movie: making Joe Pesci look exactly like a little old Italian guy.  That was honestly my favorite part of the movie.  Yeah, he actually is a little old Italian guy now, but it's great to see an old face look so weathered.  Big, bulging nose, balding head, old-man sunglasses... just perfect.

overall: 4 blueblood scumbags out of 5

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Taking A Leak: The New Pornographers

I've been sitting on this one for a while, allowing it to marinate in the hopes that my ability to explain its appeal would improve.  It hasn't.  (If you thought Twin Cinema was a grower, just you wait.)  But we'll try anyway.

I'm very happy with Challengers.  It's a textbook "bet you didn't think we'd do this" album... a significant but successful departure for my beloved New Pornographers.  Despite working in an area well beyond their wheelhouse, it still feels like the New Pornos, albeit a version low on sugar and high on lush Fleetwood Mac/Beach Boys references.

You won't find any catchy, bouncy classics along the lines of "The Laws Have Changed" or "Sing Me Spanish Techno" on Challengers, despite the hooks being as great as ever.  It's just that those hooks are set against mid-tempo, rolling arrangements that have more in common with "Bones Of An Idol" or "The Bleeding Heart Show" than anything off of Mass Romantic.  Even "The Bleeding Heart Show" isn't an appropriate point of reference; where that song builds towards a climax, the comparable songs on Challengers stay in their mellow little place.

Is that a bad thing?  Given that "My Rights Versus Yours," "All The Old Showstoppers" and "Go Places" (for example) are so excellent without the usual dandied-up riffs, that's an emphatic "no."  In fact, somewhat ironically, the songs that are most like the Pornos of old, namely "All The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth" and "Mutiny, I Promise You," are the weakest and least compelling.  The superiority of the "new" sound with respect to the "old" sound is probably the biggest surprise to be found on Challengers.

This development was foreseen, in part, by The Slow Wonder, the Carl Newman solo effort released between Electric Version and Twin Cinema.  As with Challengers, Newman keeps the energy level low on The Slow Wonder (with the exception of the lead track) and plays with deeper, more brooding arrangements than had been seen on New Pornos records at that point.  Flashes of that work found its way onto Twin Cinema, but the whole she-bang pops up this time around.

I give Challengers 4 out of 5 transient lead singers.  I might have preferred another Electric Version in my heart of hearts, but Challengers is brilliant nevertheless.  It's a change of pace that draws you towards its side rather than failing to reach yours.  It may not be the band's 100-mph fastball, but you can still strike someone out on an 75-mph curveball.

But Will They Play It During The Service?

Yesterday, we celebrated our independence.  Today, we mourn the recent loss of an American hero.

Boots Randolph, the genius behind "Yakety Sax," has died.  Thank you, Boots, for making our lives just that much better.  Now, cue the mental image of Boots, St. Peter, and St. Peter's large-chested assistant chasing each other around at 48 frames per second.  Bawwwwwwwww, baa-baa-bupupupu, bapapapa-bupupuuu, baa-ba-bup-pa-buppa-bap!

More importantly, these sorts of deaths tend to happen in bunches.  Watch your ass, Herb Alpert.  (Aside: lyrics!)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Horse And A Zebra Fell In The Mud...

...but a horse, a zebra, and this [via Fark] came out.  ROFL THEY HAD TEH SEXES IN MUD

Nice picture, but the Sun fails in two of its responsibilities:

1) They conveniently hide the fact that the zorse isn't a particularly momentous development.  It's no different from other equine hybrids, like the mule.  If a frog fucked a babboon, and a green amphibious monkey who spoke sign language had popped out, that would be news.  This is just the circle of life.  (Well, not the circle, cause the poor bastard's sterile.  But you get the idea.)

2) They don't make it clear that this phenomenon is unique to equine animals.  Without that disclaimer, everyone's gonna go around nailing horses and zebras to see if they can make a real-life Mr. Ed.  People, please don't go out and fuck a zebra tonight.  I beg you.  It's really not as great as it sounds, and your offspring won't talk.  (You'll be lucky if it can breathe.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Better Not Transfer Your Essence Into MY Huge Powerful Body

Robotix was one of my favorite toys as a kid, if not THE favorite. While searching for a commercial on YouTube as a response to Lehr's post on Legos, I found this nugget of brilliance:

I don't remember there being a cartoon. I presume it was short-lived; this would have been right in my TV-watching wheelhouse, and I have no recollection of it. Probably just as well... those fuckers don't look anything like the toy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Insane Driving Update

I've been making a concerted effort to drive less aggressively of late.  Much as I enjoy darting through traffic at 80 MPH, it usually generates enough angst and tension to affect not just my commute but the rest of my day.  Besides, remembering to chill out and relax is generally a good thing in my case.

That doesn't mean I can't appreciate a quality piece of crazy driving when I see it.

This morning, someone on Colesville Road (north of Silver Spring's world-renowned Arts & Entertainment District) tried to make an illegal left onto Dale Drive, jamming up traffic in the left-hand lane a bit.  The car immediately behind the illegal turned, a tan Camry, jerked into the center lane, nearly ramming into a little Honda Insight (an early hybrid model).

Having watched this situation develop from a few cars back, it was obvious that the Camry was entirely at fault, having pulled an obnoxious and dangerous move on the Insight.

Now, if it were me driving that Insight, my gut reaction would be to exact revenge by speeding up, passing the Camry, and darting straight in front of it kamikaze-style as the Camry had just done.  As Dwight Schrute would say, tit for tit.  Then I would have pulled up excruciatingly slowly to the next light. in order to remind the Camry that he's my bitch, not the other way around, and eventually gone on my merry way.  That's what I would have done.

So imagine my satisfaction when the Insight driver does exactly what I would have done.  Awesome!!!  Justice was served, and I didn't even have to pull a nutty myself!  I got to live vicariously through some other nutbag who flipped out.  (The cake, which I both had and ate, was delicious.)  Just a great way to start off the day.

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect A 50 Million Dollar Opening Weekend

Director Sir Ridley Scott, a certifiable genius for his work on classics like Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, and Gladiator, has signed on to make a movie out of Monopoly.  The board game.

There's no way this can be good.  Clue pretty much nailed the "okay, fine, it's a board game, but we made it really funny" genre.  How can this possibly turn out okay?

I am reminded of the moment in Idiocracy where Luke Wilson watches a movie called Ass, which consists of exactly that, and nothing else, for 90 minutes.  One ass.  It won the Academy Award.

Monopoly is the next step in that direction.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Babies Gone Wild

If you've ever wondered how to remove a baby's inhibitions, here's your answer: take them to Applebee's.  The article doesn't tell the whole story, though: after polishing off the margarita, the toddler ordered a round of Cuervo shots, chanted "show your tits!" at his mom, and cried loudly when given Camels instead of Marlboros.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Movies Movies Movies

First, a plug for Day Watch, which just got a limited release in ten American cities.

I like cryptic sci-fi.  Really thought-provoking stuff, like 2001, or Solaris.  These stories most closely resemble science fiction in its written form, raising thoughts and ideas about ourselves by letting human emotions play out; the setting just happens to be fantastic and hyperreal.  That subgenre fits The Fountain like a glove.

The subject matter is very similar to Solaris, in that the science fiction elements are just a vessel for saying something elemental about the desire to revive lost love.  Is the story a little simplistic, or predictable?  Maybe a little bit.  But the way the story reaches across time, and the way in which it reaches its three-headed climax, will cover up for a lot of that.  And the earnestness with which Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman's characters deal with their predicament really sells it.  It's not the message, it's the way it's delivered.

Visually, it's a breathtaking film.  Darren Aronofsky and Matthew Libatique are officially 3-for-3.  The moments grounded in reality (as opposed to floating in a bubble) are believable, and the fantasy visions are beyond beautiful.  Sitting at home, watching on TV, I shouldn't have a shovel-to-the-face "whoa" reaction to a visual.  That should be reserved for seeing The Two Towers at the Uptown or something.  But they managed to make me say "whoa" anyway.  That's masterful.  I sorely regret not seeing this in a theater.

Highly recommended.  Four and a half cancerous monkeys out of five.

The original worked because it was light and fun, and had an all-time great acting performance.  The second worked because it still had good ideas, most notably the Kraken, but narrowly escaped being crushed under its own weight.  This third one doesn't do much of anything.

It's a big mess, primarily because it doesn't pay off on the second film's cliffhangers in any meaningful way.  The resolution of those cliffhangers is lumped in with everything else that gets addressed.  Its total indifference to the events of the second film make questionable conclusions like Back To The Future Part III and Matrix Revolutions look masterful by comparison.  At least those movies actually continued a story!  At World's End is more like a big checklist of things they've been meaning to tell us, delivered just like that: a list.  Each character acts only because the story requires resolution, not because they require that act as a participant.  Everything that happens is done simply for the sake of having something happen.  This was not the case in the first film, and was less the case in the second than the third.  Sad.

What really bothers me is that all the expositional busy-work chokes the main characters, to the point where they're devoid of any charm they may have had at first.  Jack's fun, but what of everyone else?  Even Barbosa could have been put to better use.  We don't learn anything new about anyone this time around.  They could have made this same exact film without any of the ridiculous story machinations.  Why put them (and us) through all the bother?

Worst of all, no more Kraken?  It was the best part of the second movie, and they can't give it an encore performance?  It appears in the third, but not in any perilous way.  That, my friends, is just silly.

Lest we be unfair, At World's End did have some good moments, particularly the brilliant Davey Jones' Locker sequence.  And you couldn't make Jack Sparrow unentertaining if you tried.

But that didn't stop the people behind this piece of shit from trying anyway.  How do you make the guy who's selling all those tickets an innocent bystander?  How can a film about the greatest pirate in history depict zero notable acts of piracy on Jack's behalf?  It has more wooden eyeball jokes than acts of piracy.  End of story.

This wasn't a surprise, but it was disappointing nonetheless.  Two and a half Krakens out of five.

Fun stuff.  Almost as good as the original.  Lots of fun, though perhaps not quite as much as Eleven.  Still, it delivers on the three things you need from the series: wit, insane visual touches, and awesome music.

The dry, snappy dialogue is a given at this point.  What's different this time around is that the antagonist (Al Pacino) is the one who gets the majority of the great lines.  And that's fine... we know what the Eleven can do.  Toss in a little banter for Pitt and Clooney, bust Damon's balls a little, make sure Casey Affleck and Scott Caan get to yell at each other, and you're all done with the good guys.  But Pacino's the guy who gets the prime cut.  He exposes all the ways in which Andy Garcia's performance in Eleven could have been better.

The visual flair of the series has pretty much peaked here.  The color choices were ingenious.  My whole spiel in the Best of 2006 post, wherein I applaud A-list directors slumming it to produce pulp masterpieces, is appropriate here as well (if not to the same extent).  Does Steven Soderbergh have better things to do?  Absolutely.  But he seems to be having fun.  And Out of Sight, technically, was kinda beneath him too, if you think about it.  So I'd just assume let him keep on slumming it.

The music, as always, is brilliant.  I'm thoroughly confused as to how Out of Sight and the Ocean's movies haven't made David Holmes more of a household name as a film scorer.  Considering how many Hollywood-cool movies come out every year, how few of them use orchestral scoring, and how uniformly brilliant Holmes's work is, I'm surprised that he doesn't get/produce more work than he does.  With no proper album work since Bow Down To The Exit Sign, his cinematic work is our primary source of music from him.  How many mediocre flicks could be elevated behind a kick-ass Holmes score?  Put this man in charge of your crappy movies' soundtracks!

All in all, very good movie.  Given that even the disappointing Twelve has grown on me, I expect this one to grow as well.  Three and a half episodes of Oprah out of five.