Thursday, December 20, 2007
We're aware of all this, and it's more or less what happens in Ridley Scott's American Gangster, but from the moment of intensity which opens the film to its rousing final shot, we're hooked. Directed by Scott with the usual flare, the story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the real-life leader of organized crime in '70s Harlem, builds competently, if a little slowly, but doesn't start to crackle until its second act.
Lucas's story is balanced with that of Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a struggling cop who eventually heads the Bureau of Narcotics, and as each is faced with his own questions of morality, we see the good and bad in both men. Each's paths are destined for one another, and when they finally do meet toward the close of the suspenseful third act, the two powerhouses playing off of one another is truly something to see.
Washington and Crowe employ their schticks (stern-but-charming and schlub-trying-to-do-right, respectively) to full capacity, but Gangster excels by going deeper than a "good bad guy/bad good guy" scenario. By virtue of the fact that it's set in Harlem and primarily an African American story, it strives to get at the root of the conditions which allow those on top to stay on top.
Not a big one, but in case you don't - or don't want to - know what happens to Frank Lucas, you may want to stop reading. Upon his arrest by Richie Roberts, Lucas helps Roberts take down three-quarters of New York's corrupt drug enforcement officers, and Lucas's sentence is drastically reduced. This is a moral victory of sorts, though in the closing scene, in which Lucas emerges from prison and steps out into a different world - specifically, '90s Harlem - and Public Enemy leads us into the credits, we see that, yes, some things have changed, but, perhaps, some things never will.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
If you caught the 6 minute "prologue" to Knight playing before I Am Legend in Imax theaters—or wandered around online to find it—you've already been assured this is going to be an exciting movie, and the trailer further confirms as much. The big question, of course, is how Heath Ledger's take on the Joker comes off; I'd say "pretty awesome."
This Joker is different from anything we've seen before—risky, sure, but it's clear that he'll become a new, iconic embodiment of the character. We get plenty of his grimy visage and gravelly, Tom Waits-meets-Andy Dick delivery in the trailer, and even if (as I've said before) I'm not completely on board yet, he certainly doesn't disappoint.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
It's worth pointing out, though, that the Bowie/Bing duet is, at least, a little bit...uncomfortable. But I suppose that's part of its charm. To their excellent list, I would also add Pedro the Lion/David Bazan's series of Christmas 7", Over the Rhine's pair of holiday LPs, and, of course, the Pogues' immortal "Fairytale of New York." Also, you can never go wrong with A Charlie Brown Christmas, right?
UPDATE: Also, Starting Monday, Danielson and others at Sounds Familyre will be posting one free Christmas song a day on their blog. Sweet!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
"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."
Now, 1.) I liked Knocked Up a lot; 2.) I'm certainly aware of the fact that as a straight, white male, I'm catered to in all kinds of ways — movies being but one small example — and I may certainly miss things that others don't; 3.) Knocked Up was made, mostly, by men — men who may have also missed things in their own film that others didn't; 4.) I haven't seen the film since it came out, and could benefit from another viewing with this idea in mind.
But I take issue with what she said. One of the reasons that I found Knocked Up so compelling was that it didn't pander to the audience by playing into our expectations. I didn't think Heigl's Alison was a "bitch" — like the leads of director Judd Apatow's last surprise hit comedy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she is a complex character who defies easy, one-note characterization.
Similarly, co-star Seth Rogen's Ben did not go from a simple point A to point B, as has been played out so often in other look-this-person-realized-something-important stories. Even though he and Paul Rudd's Pete are funny, goofy guys, they're also the butt of the movie's jokes. We identify more closely with the stable Alison, as she is faced with a number of difficult decisions throughout the story.
I should point out, though, that this is not the first such accusation leveled against the movie. Fellow brilliant comedy writer-director Mike White (School of Rock, Year of the Dog), who worked with Apatow on NBC's cultishly revered Freaks and Geeks, told the New York Times:
"I definitely stand in the corner of wanting to give voice to the bullied, and not the bully. Here's where comedy is catharsis for people who are picked on. There's a strain in Knocked Up where you sort of feel like something’s changed a little bit. My sense of it is that because those guys are idiosyncratic-looking, their perception is that they're still the underdogs. But there is something about the spirit of the thing, that comes under the guise of comedy, where — it's weird. At some point it starts feeling like comedy of the bullies, rather than the bullied."
I take some issue with this, too, but for some reason, the words of White (who is bisexual), hit home a little harder for me — maybe, as mentioned, because his criticism is from a male's perspective, and the most immediate level on which I saw the movie was, obviously, on a male one.
Anyway, the combination of the two criticisms — and I'm sure there are plenty of others who share similar perspectives — are certainly enough to make me watch Knocked Up again, a little more closely. Thoughts? I'm particularly interested in hearing from women on the subject.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Theories abound across the internets, which is to be expected when you market your film as Blair Witch meets Godzilla - complete with an endless array of websites somehow connected to the film, whether officially or not. But general consensus, weirdly, seems to be that the Japanese Slusho, a fictional slushy drink Abrams made popular on Alias, is heavily involved in the plot.
Yup, word is that Rob, the protagonist from the trailers, was planning to leave New York for a job move to Japan's Slusho parent company, Tagruato Corp. Turns out, Tagruato has been deep-sea drilling for the mysterious secret ingredient ("seabed nectar") which makes Slusho so addictive. Now that Slusho has begun its American marketing push, the story goes, all this somehow gets tied back to our monster.
Does drinking Slusho when it hasn't been properly frozen cause consumers to literally burst, as we seem to see in the trailer (Slusho's website tells us, "I'm so happy and full of Slusho that I might burst!")? Or somehow become mini-versions of a giant whale (the site also informs us that "Everyone who drinks Slusho will become a small whale!")? Or, worse yet, cause an infection which results in little monsters - or "parasites" to burst out of them? However they show up, there seems to be some evidence of smaller creatures terrorizing people in the trailer. But why does the monster show up in the first place? And is this going to turn out to be a Heroes movie? (It better not.)
So many questions. The most important of which may be, "Are they just pulling our leg?" I'd say chances are good that we'll never even really see this monster (you'll recall that we never saw the Blair Witch, and didn't see much of Jaws the shark or Alien the alien). Chances could be equally good that, come the infamous 1-18-08, some folks will be mad they were thinking hard about Slusho when that didn't turn out to have anything to do with anything. But hey, when there's this much hype and mystery, some people are bound to be disappointed, right?
In any case, two things are certain: Abrams is a marketing genius; Cloverfield's gonna be crazy.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Some initial concerns about the movie remained (wrinkly King Hrothgar looks real; unblemished Queen Wealthow looks like an unused Shrek character), but director Zemeckis retains visionary status by creating a strange, visually stunning rumination on human mistakes rather than heroism. Screenwriters Gaiman and Avery weave a kind of postmodern take on both the epic grandeur of the original poem and John Gardener's philosophical Grendel, striking a compelling balance between the in-the-moment action of heated battle, and the pride which clouds it. Also, it doesn't hurt that the 3D is sweet.
From the moment Grendel smashes on screen (his appearence should silence any naysayers - me among them - not immediately impressed by the trailer), and the effectively creepy, brutally violent scene that follows, it feels like we're witnessing something new - which is an accomplishment, considering the source material. Beowulf truly pushes the envelope, which almost gives a pass to the fact that the characters' unblinking eyes still look pretty dead.
What ultimately makes Beowulf a success is the strength of the story's retelling, which, rather than losing anything in translation, has been satisfyingly updated for today's audience, as it has been for centuries (the "campfire" quality of the oratorically-passed-down poem remains, in all its crassness). What we're left with is a cynical, if still hopeful, view of humanity. "We men are the monsters now," says Beowulf toward the film's end. "The time for heroes is over."
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
This mo-cap thing isn't perfected yet
The digital motion capture process, which works so well for Gollums and King Kongs, still isn't entirely convincing with human characters...and, y'know, that's what we'll mostly be watching for 2 hours (although it must be said that they've clearly come a long way from Polar Express)
Story's been messed with
I get the whole "It's been retold in different ways for centuries; we're just retelling it again" angle, but why tinker with the classic story? I'd be willing to let the reinterpretation of Grendel's mother as a slinky seductress slide if they weren't marketing the whole movie around something that's not even a part of the poem
Can it really work?
There's a reason adaptations of the poem haven't been done much, and the trying-to-go-after-key-demographics journey to the big screen can sometime leave big projects like this a little muddled or uneven...will the idea be better than the realization?
Monday, November 12, 2007
Hvarf/Heim, the accompanying double album (featuring one disc of unreleased and live songs, and another, all acoustic, disc) was released last week.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Last time I posted on Radiohead - y'know, after the time before that - I asked (somewhat rhetorically) what Thom & Co. would do next. Here's our answer, according to NME: "Radiohead released a 'testcast' last night in the build-up to the likely release of their webcast tonight."
The testcast, which you can watch here, features - among other things - the band covering Bjork's "Unravel." As mentioned, they're expected to do a BBC webcast at www2.radiohead.tv at about 5 PM EST today.
What do you think they'll reveal in the webcast? That they're playing DC next year? Probably.
UPDATE: In case you missed it, Pitchfork has a nice play-by-play of the webcast, featuring videos and mp3s.
Looks like Sufjan heard my plea for some new Christmas stuff this year, and has responded with a wacky gift exchange: Suf is recording a holiday track and only "releasing" it to whoever wins a contest for the best original Christmas song - it could be you! Just write and record a hot yuletide jam and send it in. If you win, you'll own the rights to Sufjan's song (submissions will be streamed, along with his Songs for Christmas, on the Asthmatic Kitty site).
All of which is pretty sweet. Almost as sweet as if he was actually doing a 2007 Christmas record...
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Monday, November 5, 2007
Friday, November 2, 2007
The usual depressing tunes of murder and adultery were showcased, but, looking svelte and clean-cut (by Bazan standards), not to mention decidedly sober, Bazan's standouts were new songs like possible faith/lack-of-faith allegory (aren't they all?), "Curse Your Branches," the strong-melodied "Heavy Breather," rocker "Weeds in the Wheat," and Johnny Cashesque "Please, Baby, Please," all of which continue the increasingly autobiographical tone of the EP and pick up where the twangy, complex structures of Pedro the Lion's final record, Achilles Hill, left off.
Bazan and his show, like the new songs, seem more focused than ever. Even when closing the set with the uber-covered "Hallelujah" (a move that seems more like a Bazan choice from ten years ago), he effectively answered the question, "Why would someone else try this song after hearing Jeff Buckley's version?" by sticking closer to Leonard Cohen's original, and somehow managed to still make it sound like a revelation.
David Bazan's first solo LP, Black Cloud, should arrive in the spring on his new label, Barsuk.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
For lots of folks, nothing gets those endorphins pumping like a good ol’ horrible scary movie. Here are a few essential elements:
This is pretty much a given, but for me, the “otherworld” has to be involved somehow. Call me a prude, but torture porn and slashers generally just aren’t fun for me. Nope, I need the reassurance that the evil presence close by is more than just a socially dysfunctional stalker...an uncontrollable, restless spirit is good, but demonic possession is ideal. And, of course, a creepy little kid should be a part of this.
You know what demonic possession leads to…spider-walking down the stairs, 360 degree head rotation, climbing on the ceiling, all that good stuff. Something about humans making nonhuman movements is really awful, as evidenced in the jerkiness of the girl’s walk in The Ring (through the TV into your house! to kill you!), the back-and-forth head shaking of Jacob’s Ladder, and lots of other movies since.
I’m not a claustrophobe, but The Descent, about a spelunking trip gone terribly wrong, nearly turned me into one. It’s what makes scenes in The Shining (trapped in a hotel with your deranged dad), Alien (trapped on a spaceship with a deranged monster), 2001 (trapped on a spaceship with a deranged computer), and countless ghost and zombie movies (trapped in a house with deranged baddies after you) so effective. And, if you haven’t seen the ultimate example, The Vanishing, don’t worry – I won’t ruin the traumatic surprise.
In a similar vein, places that were once (especially recently) inhabited, but are now abandoned, are good. This has been used a lot – empty carnivals, old mental institutions or factories, ghost towns, am-I-the-last-person-alive? scenarios – but there’s a reason.
Gotta have a clown in there. It and Poltergeist scarred me for life as a kid.
Not an exhaustive list, but a good start. So, what would be included in your ultimate horror film? Let me know what I’m missing.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Whether the picture comes up with anything substantive in its search, however, is debatable. At this point, one thing is unequivocally clear: Anderson is a master of creating iconic scenes and characters – even if, beneath his trademark aesthetics, they can feel hollow. As always, the film is unmistakably cool, and looks great, with a lush color pallet and longtime Anderson collaborater Robert Yeoman's photography at its best. But as discussed earlier, Anderson has found himself in a bit of a rut. You’d think following two of the most beloved dramedies of the last ten years with The Life Aquatic, an undersea “adventure” with animated seahorses, would’ve allowed him to break some new ground (he deserves credit for trying something unusual), but he doesn’t seem to show much interest in moving beyond the formula of emotionally crippled white men who deliver deadpanned one-liners, experience a revelation, and end up changed.
Which is fine, I guess – it’s more or less your basic story arc. Darjeeling doesn't stray from that convention, but in more ways than one, it ventures into uncharted territory for Wes Anderson, and the combination of the (now nearly claustrophobic) atmosphere of an Anderson story and the chaotic energy of India certainly makes for an interesting movie. It feels as if he knew that would be the case, and wanted to shake things up by relenting some control and just letting things happen…which is also the moral of this story. Spiritual enlightenment and relationships don’t come through planned itineraries, learn the brothers, but rather through how we choose to deal with unexpected events which come our way.
Like Aquatic, Darjeeling doesn’t feel fully formed enough to warrant the story’s resolution, although, unique among Anderson’s films, its power stems from its simplicity. The movie’s tragic turning point comes, for the most part, with no pop soundtrack (Jack’s iPod, which he carries with him in order to convey the appropriate atmosphere of the scene – itself perhaps a commentary on Andersonian techniques – is, again, symbolically destroyed when the Whitmans’ journey doesn’t go as planned) or dialogue, and for Anderson, it feels like a revelation. Still, the nature of the story’s climax follows a troubling Anderson thematic thread of peripheral, usually minority, characters who arguably exist solely to help the protagonists on their way to becoming happy.
Anderson’s latest couple of pictures aren’t as satisfying as his breakthrough couple, but the viewer is made aware of the fact that, even within his structured framework, he is growing. Which is more than plenty of filmmakers can say. (Also, it turns out Hotel Chevalier, Darjeeling's "prologue" short, is actually a helpful seperate piece.)
The Darjeeling Limited opens in wide release tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
Everything sounded and looked (killer light show) great, even if the audience was clearly waiting for the songs they knew so well. And why wouldn't they? Given their dominance of "alternative rock" throughout pretty much the entirety of the '90s, Corgan & Co. have an arsenal of popular songs, and they certainly delivered the goods. From the pop bombast of "Tonight, Tonight" and "Disarm" to the metal frenzy of "Today," "Zero," and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," the band was tight, and their sound benefited from the bigness of the theater tour production they perfected with this summer's festival circuit. But, almost as if he can't help himself, Corgan seems to say, "You want to hear my hits? Well, you'll also have to endure my craziness."
There's the rub of the Genius. The same creative force that birthed two of the '90s greatest albums wound up releasing 2005's TheFutureEmbrace, Corgan's decent if overindulgent and pretensious solo LP. As a cynic might see things, when Embrace sold only about 70,000 copies, and Corgan/Chamberlin's new project, Zwan, fizzled, Corgan decided he wanted people to like him again, and is now enjoying both the glory of playing songs people love to massive crowds, and the rock star satisfaction of doing what he wants because he can. Those who might've tried to harness or focus that genius (former Pumpkins James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky, or even temporary Pumpkin Melissa Auf der Mar, some might argue) are out of the picture, and Billy's ego is free to reign.
Still, does it really matter? Sure, Corgan and Chamberlin exclusively performed all the instruments on Zeitgeist, this year's Pumpkins comeback record, but, as everyone knows, that was the case for most of the band's albums, anyway. And on Friday night, they sounded as great as ever. So, if it's Corgan's show, let him have it. Aside from the years of shifts in band personnel since their tumultous Infinite Sadness tour in 1996, it's not entirely clear why every album following Mellen Collie has been half-great and half-mediocre, but Corgan seems pretty aware of what's great, and highlighted those songs Friday.
Chamberlin's monster drumming powers are at an all-time high, and when performing encore opener "Cherub Rock" or Zeitgeist's powerful, ten minute freakout "United States," it was evident that he's truly a force to be reckoned with. Corgan remains an excellent guitar player, as displayed in many solos, including an irony-free, different-from-Hendrix's (still, who has the balls to do that? oh, right - Billy Corgan) "Star-Spangled Banner." Other seemingly unironic moves included closing the first encore with a singalong of "I Love Rock N' Roll," though it should be pointed out that it was the Smashing Pumpkins-focused episode of The Simpsons which answered the question, "Are you being sarcastic, dude?" with, "I don't even know anymore," so who's to say?
For every inexplicable, meandering hybrid of "Heavy Metal Machine" and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," there were nice surprises, like an acoustic set - including a lovely "1979," performed solo by Corgan - or some lighthearted, goofy banter, like a rambly song dedication to the Phillies by the Cubs freak himself. And after two hours and two encores, Corgan alone lingered on stage, greeting fans who had rushed to the front. He seemed genuninely happy, as did everyone else…and isn't that what it's all about?
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
With lots of echo-y vocals, compelling melodies, and big builds to string-enhanced finishes, more than anything, In Rainbows is pretty. Pretty…but creepy – a fairly standard Radiohead description. Whether or not you’re happy with their progression from melody-driven noisy guitars to more stark, electronic terrain, the band’s musical path has had a clear trajectory, and both In Rainbows and their last LP, 2003's Hail to the Thief, feel like a culmination of all the sounds they’ve experimented with.
The record opens strong with the percussive, “Idioteque”esque beats of “15 Step,” which incorporates its slinky guitars and bass with shouting children. Danceable album standout “Bodysnatchers” is next, and with its wailing background vocals and crunchy guitar buildup into a feedback explosion, the song would feel equally at home on OK Computer or The Bends. From there on out, In Rainbows is generally more subdued, and although it all sounds great, a couple more rockers would’ve been welcome (maybe we’ll have to wait for the 8 bonus tracks accompanying the album’s December release in “discbox” form).
As Rolling Stone points out in their album preview, the band played the slow, funky “Nude” regularly on their OK Computer tour, and it shows: its eerie sampled choir and sense of foreboding (“You’ll go to hell /for what your dirty mind /is thinking”) recall “Karma Police.”
In Rainbows also has a strong finish, with the head-nodder “Jigsaw Falling into Place” leading into closer “Videotape,” a sad and beautiful piano ballad with just enough weird percussion to keep it sinister.
With their new set of songs, Radiohead retain their status as one of the Very Best Bands in the World by both staying solidly rooted in the sound they know they do well and continually being unafraid to explore new territory.
In Rainbows will be released to stores in traditional CD from in early 2008.