Thursday, December 20, 2007

And on to the Oscar contenders...

At this point, we know the gangster biopic forumla nearly as well as that of the musician biopic, and it's ensentially the same: clear-sighted guy rises to stardom by employing revolutionary skill, marries, negative side of success kicks in, he mistreats his wife and those he loves, his life unravels and results in either death or redemption.

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.

(SPOILER ALERT)
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.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Breaking News: Billy Corgan writes something weird and cryptic


Much like actual Philosophy undergrad students, when Billy Corgan posts blog entries, he's so sincere-but-annoying that I'm not sure if I want to give him a hug or yell, "Are you messing with me? What's your problem, pal?"

Couched in the latest ramblings of The Bald One (ever notice how often journalists employ this cutesy moniker? it kind of pisses of me off, yet here I am, using it like a sucker) was the news that Smashing Pumpkins will release a new EP, American Gothic, on January 2nd. Sweet! The set of acoustic songs will be released exclusively - initially, at least - via iTunes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The H is O: The Hobbit is On


Remember a few years ago, when Lord of the Rings was dominating everything with its awesomeness, but then the movies stopped coming out every Christmas, and a lot of people were like, "What? No more Lord of the Rings? I hate you, Peter Jackson - make The Hobbit now!" and a lot of other people, like me, were all, "I don't know, I'm not sure if that's such a good idea"?

And then, there was a really long, increasingly bitter, legal battle between New Line and Peter Jackson over royalties, and Jackson was like, "Maybe I won't make your little Hobbit movie after all, how 'bout that?" and New Line was all, "Fine, we don't care, we'll get Sam Raimi to do it," and Raimi was like, "Maybe, I guess, I just made Spider-Man 3, which sucked," and everyone went, "No! Peter Jackson has to do it!" and New Line was like, "We don't have that much time, our rights to Hobbit are almost gone - give that Jackson guy more money!"?

Remember?

Well, now, apparently, it's definitely happening, although Jackson is just serving as executive producer, which was long-rumored...but wasn't the bulk of the dispute over the fact that LOTR was Jackson's vision, and everyone wanted him to direct it? It was hard for me to be convinced there was much of a point to this even when Jackson was going to direct, but now - combined with the fact that they're definitely filming it as a two-parter - it seems even more like merely another opportunity to make money off Tolkien's name.

But, then again, when I first heard LOTR was being made into a movie, I thought they should've started with The Hobbit first, so what do I know? Maybe it'll be amazing. No word yet on a director, or whether any Leonard Nimoy songs will be featured.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yay, Batman

I'll admit it: It's difficult for me to not post something every time even the slightest news pops up about The Dark Knight (which, thanks to its agressive viral marketing campaign, happens about every five minutes). I'm a geeked-out fanboy when it comes to Batman, I thought Chris Nolan and Christian Bale nailed Batman Begins, and everything I've seen so far on its sequel has done nothing to deter that geekdom. Imagine my giddiness, then, when an honest-to-goodness trailer popped up online.

If you caught the 6 minute "prologue" to Knight playing before I Am Legend in Imax theatersor wandered around online to find ityou'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 beforerisky, 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.

I'm pumped.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Found in Translation? (Har har)


So, like a lot of people, I think Lost in Translation is a great movie, and much of that greatness comes from its subtleties - the things left unsaid and the lack of a pat, Hollywood ending for a story mostly about longing and connecting.

That being said, aren't you a little curious about what Bill Murray actually whispers to Scarlett Johansson at the film's close? Sure, I love that the audience doesn't need to - and isn't supposed to - know what the dialogue is, but thanks to Rotten Tomatoes, Slashfilm, and a YouTube user with some fancy digital processing, we can get right up in the characters' intimacy.

(Spoiler: The line is a nice one, and would've been fine in the movie, but we still feel more shorthanded by hearing it than imagining it).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No, I don't really see it as a series...maybe a movie


Jason Bateman (he of Arrested Development, Juno, and Teen Wolf, Too fame) gave Bluth fans more hope recently by telling MTV Movies that "The Arrested Development movie is not dead, au contraire."

For this rabid fan, it's actually one of the few shows that I think could work and be benefitted by a big screen adaptation. SpoutBlog has put together a nice list of possible "AD: The Movie" scenarios. Any ideas to add? A Franklin spinoff, perhaps?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Super Bon Bon!


If you haven't heard ex-Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty's Haughty Melodic (2005), you really ought to. Produced by ex-Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson (who helped bring the sound of Doughty's two previous sparse, solo records to a richer, fuller realm), and released on Dave Matthews's ATO label (new US home to Radiohead), it's a solid collection of pop songs that are decidedly more uplifting than Soul Coughing ever was, but weird enough to exist in the same family.

If the two new songs on Doughty's MySpace page are any indication, we can expect more of the same good stuff when his second ATO LP, Golden Delicious - produced again by Wilson - drops in February. In the meantime, you can check out his just-released live record, Half Smofe.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Walk the Line" + "Ray" x Judd Apatow = ...


Catch the first 10 minutes of Walk Hard at Rotten Tomatoes. I heart John C. Reily.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Couple new trailers worth mentioning



One, of the my-girlfriend-will-make-me-go-but-I'll-still-want-to-know-what-happens variety; the other, of the wow-is-this-weird-looking milieu.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Getting sick of "Holly Jolly Christmas"?

Since I've already posted on both Sufjan Stevens' and Sleeping at Last's Christmas records, you can safely guess that I've got a serious soft spot for holiday tunes...or, in any case, for those that, as NPR highlights, are tolerable.

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?

Other suggestions?

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

Q: So, like, why is there singing?


Got a question for Tim Burton or Johnny Depp? Leave it with Cinematical, and it just might get answered during their Sweeney Todd edition of Moviefone's unscripted interview series.

Sweeney opens December 21. In the meantime, watch the trailer here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More news on...


-Obama (or at least his campaign staff) having good musical taste
-Me continuing to be jealous of Chicago for unique events...might as well mention Magnetic Fields' six(!) shows this spring at Old Town School of Folk Music, too. Lucky!

Jeff Tweedy, the Cool Kids, and others will play the Chi city senator's "Change Rocks" (don't you love it when politics try to sound hip?) event at Uptown's Riviera Theatre this Friday.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Judd Apatow: Sexist homophobe?

Katherine Heigl recently shared with Vanity Fair that she felt the year's biggest comedy hit, Knocked Up, in which she starred, was "a little sexist." She goes on:

"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

In Concert: M.I.A. (9:30 Club, Washington DC)

Things kicked off full on, revolutionary style last night for Sri Lankan-British M.I.A.'s stop in the District. Before the electronica-infused MC (ne. Maya Arulpragasam) made an entrance in all her spandexy glory, a video of ultra-leftwing activist turned Tokyo gubernatorial candidate, Koichi Toyama, played across huge screens lining the stage. "This nation must be destoryed!" read the subtitles, as Toyama shouted in a campaign speech. "If you think you can change something by voting, you are COMPLETELY wrong," he said, middle finger raised, as the speakers' bass buzz grew boomingly loud. "That guy's in jail now," Arulpragasam told the sold-out 9:30 Club crowd as they screamed upon her arrival. Thus began the evening's audio-visual assault.

I'm not complaining. Just listening to her excellent records, 2005's Arular and this year's Kala, is enough to overwhelm you - as much to take action on justice issues as to shake your moneymaker (Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield aptly described her music as "the sound of jump rope rhymes in a war zone"). One would expect the live show to meet that challenge. After Baltimore's DJ Blaqstarr and Chicago's Cool Kids (think Neptunes meet Beastie Boys) hyped the crowd, Arulpragasam - decked out in a crazy costume, naturally - got everyone moving with Bollywood sample-laced opener "Bamboo Banga."

Regularly stage-diving and inviting others up front (during "Bird Flu," she brought up dozens of audience ladies onsatge), Arulpragasam's considerable charisma and insane beats were on full display. Taking advantage of her visit to Washington, she even graciously took the time to thank the F.B.I. and C.I.A. "I probably won't be allowed back in the country until you have another president," she said of her soon-expiring Visa. In front of an always-colorful backdrop of what looked like video games, African documentary footage, and music videos, she and right-hand-woman Cherry led the sweaty masses in fist-pumpers like "World Town" and "Pull Up The People," before giving the chance for another Baltimore native, MC Rye Rye, to spit onstage for a bit.

But the party seemed to hit its peak just before 2 am, post-set and pre-encore, as the audience joined together in spontaneously singing the "Ya ya hey!" refrain of M.I.A.'s breakout hit, "Galang." When she again took the stage for the first of three encore songs, the Clash's "Straight to Hell"-based "Paper Planes," everyone seemed to be feeling the love. "DC! I love all of you," said Arulpragasam as she walked off after closer "URAQT." "Good luck with your election."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Crispin Glover: Still one weird guy


Fresh off his turn spitting Old English as Grendel, here he is promoting his latest crazy movie, It is Fine! Everything is Fine. Oh, C-Glo - you'll always be my density.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beetlejuice?


In case The Dark Knight's slew of viral sites aren't enough to keep you busy, Empire has an exclusive look at The Joker from their new cover story. In keeping with other Joker pics released so far, it's pretty creepy.

Yes, he looks a little like Beetlejuice, and no, I'm not completely, 100% sold on Heath's take yet, but Batman Begins got so much right that I'm not at all worried.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sweding - To Swede, verb


The official website for Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind is now up, with lots of cool stuff...like what "Sweding" means.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More indie Xmas presents


Sleeping at Last has done us another holiday solid by offering their new version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for free (download it here) - just like they did with "Silver Bells" a couple years back, after releasing the Ghosts of Christmas Past EP.

Also, you Chicagoans have another reason to be happy, as Sleeping at Last plays House of Blues with a string section next month, where you can surely expect to hear a carol or two.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Concert: The Hold Steady (9:30 Club, Washington DC)

Part of the reason Lifter Puller, the previous collaboration of Craig Finn and Tad Kubler (the frontman and guitarist for The Hold Steady, respectively), broke up was that - big though they were in their native Minneapolis - they just couldn't seem to break much into the general market. "It'll happen any day now," people would tell them...but it didn't come. It was a little funny, then, that they were more or less immediately crowned the new Princes of Rock when Finn and Kubler moved to Brooklyn and started a very similar band. 

Not that they don't deserve it. The Hold Steady's international tours and critical darling status are all the sweeter for those of us who've been following the guys for a while, and last night at a sold out 9:30 Club (you can listen to it here), it was great to see just how much everybody in the place - the band included - was enjoying it. "There's so much joy in what we do up here," said a smiling Finn to the crowd, repeating a sentiment he often shares during shows. When he enthuses, "You guys out there, and us guys up here, we're all The Hold Steady," it's hard not to root for them. 

The set, divided pretty evenly between songs from 2005's Separation Sunday and last year's exceptional Boys and Girls in America, relied heavily, naturally, on Finn's trademark hyper-nasal-storytelling delivery and Kubler's classic rock guitar virtuosity (at one point, performed from atop a set of speakers). But standouts included two new songs which showcased their punk influences, "Stay Positive," and "Ask Her for Some Adderall." The first, with its shoutalong chorus and Minor Theratesque power chords, was dedicated to DC hardcore ("Basically, hardcore when it was good," Finn said) after some kind words about the honor of playing the 9:30 for the first time.

Everybody's favorite bar band gave us just enough of exactly what we wanted - good times, solid riffs, crazy stories - and a promising glimpse into where their continuously evolving sound is headed next. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For those not keeping up...

So, what do you think? Is it Cthulhu? Is it a non-Godzilla Godzilla? A giant whale? An adaptation of the video game Rampage? I'm talking, of course, about Cloverfield, JJ Abrams's (until recently unnamed) monster movie, which entered the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere when its teaser was released alongside Transformers this summer. The speculation - over what exactly the creature(s?) wreaking havoc in New York will be - was further fueled when the new trailer premiered before Beowulf this weekend.

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

Answer to previous Beowulf post: "Yes"

I know I've posted on the dangers of "messing with the story" (especially when the story happens to be the oldest one in the English language known to humanity), but, it turns out, the best thing about Beowulf is that it isn't a brainless excuse for stuff that looks cool, but rather, a classic myth retold in an exciting way...with stuff that looks cool.

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."

Grade: B+

Friday, November 16, 2007

Go ask Disney Digital 3D Alice


Speaking of Tim Burton, dude just signed with Disney for two 3D features. The first is Alice in Wonderland, which - like every Burton project - certainly sounds really neat. With Burton, though (genius he may be), these ideas can sometimes be much more exciting than the movies themselves turn out to be. Mercifully, the film will be live action with motion capture elements, rather than entirely "mo cap." We'll see what this looks like a little further down the line, but let's hope it's more in the realm of Pan's Labyrinth than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The second, somewhat strangely, is a full-length adapataion of Burton's live action short, Frankenweenie, shot in stop-motion (a la Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride) - as will be Coraline, yet another 3D production, directed by stop-motion veteran/Nightmare director Henry Selick (and adapted from the similarly Wonderlandish Neil Gaiman novel). I'll try to not get prematurely excited about these movies so as to not be potentially let down, but I gotta say, it'll be tough. Maybe Steve Jobs was right, and sooner or later, everthing will be in 3D...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You Chicagoans better count your blessings...


Kim and Kelley Deal, Steve Albini, Jeff Tweedy, and Will Oldham will play the sixth annual Christmas benefit show at Second City next month. This, after hometown hero Tweedy plays Chi City's Old Town School of Folk Music 50th Anniversary show a few days prior. Jealous.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Eye of the Raven?


Imagine...if you dare, a biopic about Edgar Allan Poe. Which writer/director of gothy sensbilities do you picture taking on the task? Tim Burton? David Lynch? Jean-Pierre Jeunet? (That'd probably be awesome, actually.) Nope. Try First Blood himself, Sly Stallone. In case you hadn't heard, John Rambo wrote a script - "the best thing that I've ever written" - for the tentatively titled Poe, in the 90s, and intends to direct it soon. Interesting.

Robert Downey, Jr., was once attached, but, Dark Horizons tells us, Viggo Mortensen has now been offered the part. (Good call.) The whole thing is made a little less surprising with the knowledge that Stallone has clearly expressed an interested in branching out - at one time, he was set to helm the now-shelved Notorious, about the murders of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, for HBO (not to be confused with Fox Searchlight's Biggie biopic of the same name). Go figure.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Will Beowulf be any good?

After the disappointing film adaptation Beowulf and Grendel, a proper movie version of the Oldest Longest Poem Ever, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery no less, sounded pretty sweet. But, as much as I'd like to be 100% on board, trailers don't get me there.
Cons:
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?

Pros:
Really cool-looking
There are worse things than movies with an exciting, distinct style - even if it's a style that trumps heart or intelligence

In 3D
Anything in Imax already looks great, let alone Imax 3D

Certain to be action-packed
With epic battles, monsters, yelling, and other things that fill the holiday Lord of the Rings void which still lingers

Um...did I mention it looks cool?

Monday, November 12, 2007

As Mighty Ducks taught us: Greenland is full of ice, but Iceland is very nice

Since they're winning this month's poll (and since I posted on it last month), it might be worth turning your attention to a clip from Sigur Ros' new documentary, Heima, due on DVD next week.

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

Radiohead continue to use Interweb good


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.

Another Festivus miracle!


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

Area3 has gotta be just around the corner


Old crazy Moby is at it again, doing more of that Robin Hood philanthropy reported on last month. This time, he's offering up his songs to non-profit filmmakers in search of a soundtrack for free at MobyGratis.com (commercial films can get them "for a small fee," which is then donated to the Humane Society). How 'bout that? If we were all a little mo' Moby, the world would be a better place.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Just in case...

...you haven't seen the trailer for the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men yet - it's awesome. (The movie's site also has a "Redband" R-rated trailer option.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Does it come with a sensible tote?

In addition to its regular posting of great, full concerts (largely recorded here in the District), NPR's music site has had a recent makeover, and now, they've got all kinds of cool stuff going on.
Including a new blog by former (?) Sleater-Kinney words-and-guitarist Carrie Brownstein; the new "All Songs Considered" series "Project Song," in which artists (first up: Magnetic Fields' Stephen Merritt) are given 48 hours and a studio full of instruments to write and perform a song; and an NPR-exclusive Media Player. Just try not giving in to those pledge drives now!

Monday, November 5, 2007

One can safely assume there's no rain of frogs in this one


Know what's interesting? The trailer for There Will Be Blood, which is now up. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, star Daniel Day-Lewis, composer Jonny (Radiohead) Greenwood, and muckraker Upton Sinclair, author of the 1927 novel about an oil tycoon, Oil! (upon which Blood is based), also, are each exceptionally interesting. All of which certainly implies Blood, opening December 26, should be, too.

Friday, November 2, 2007

In Concert: David Bazan (Black Cat, Washington DC)

Ex-Pedro the Lion/occasional Headphones frontman David Bazan brought his solo show to the Black Cat in DC Thursday, and it was a decidedly rockin' evening, as - unlike his last couple tours - this time, he plugged in. When headlining Black Cat last year, he was in the midst of his first set of solo dates supporting the Fewer Moving Parts EP, and armed only with an acoustic guitar, presenting stripped down, though surprisingly intact, versions of songs from his entire artistic catalogue. The time spent as a solo performer clearly did him good, with his voice stronger than ever and increasingly sophistocated approach to songwriting on display last night, playing electric guitar exclusively.

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

Anyone else think it looks like it might bee lame?


I'm a little concerned about Bee Movie.

At first, the idea of a cartoon feature truly pitched to "kids of all ages" (take a hint, crappy computer animated movies: Pixar's Ratatouille and The Incredibles were great because they didn't pander to any audience, and thus, pleased everyone...a tired pop culture reference doesn't automatically mean "adults can have fun, too!") written by Jerry Seinfeld sounded pretty great. And when I read stuff like this or this, I'm temproarily reassured - "Maybe it will be different and funny!"

But from (the admittedly little of) what I've seen, it comes off like any other lame Dreamworks CGI: ugly animation, unfunny jokes, nothing new or exciting. Still, I have faith in Jerry...we'll see.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

File under "Continues to seem like a bad idea"


Irish director Ruairi Robinson is attached to helm a live action remake of the classic 1988 anime breakthrough Akira. I mean, I guess you never know...maybe it could work out?

Monday, October 29, 2007

In related news, the Saw franchise sucks


The fourth entry in the Saw series cut through the competition (har har - thanks, countless headlines!) this weekend by inexplicably raking in another ton of money. Boooriiiing. (Please, people, see Michael Clayton instead.)

Also, Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D continues to perform pretty strongly in its second year of rerelease, so it's probably likely that Disney will turn this into an annual tradition.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My ideal scary movie

As Halloweekend is upon us, I have, naturally, been thinking a fair amount about horror flicks – which might also have something to do with the fact that I’ve been watching plenty of Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments” – and what I like about some, dislike about others, etc. I won’t bother ruminating over why this may be (unresolved childhood issues?), but whether it’s roller coasters or vampires, skydiving or haunted houses, many of us enjoy the adrenaline rush of being scared.

For lots of folks, nothing gets those endorphins pumping like a good ol’ horrible scary movie. Here are a few essential elements:


Some sort of ghost or demon from beyond
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.

Unnatural movement
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.

Closed-in spaces
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.

Something deserted

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.

Clowns
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

Don't worry, it has slow motion scenes with British '70s pop

Whereas all of Wes Anderson’s previous movies have opened by establishing a controlled, carefully composed environment, The Darjeeling Limited begins with a frantic car chase through the frenzied streets of India. When a scrambling Bill Murray misses his train, the Darjeeling Limited, and the camera follows the train rather than staying with Murray, it’s the first in a series of symbols in the film that seem to say, “I’m trying to go somewhere new.” Like its protagonists, estranged Whitman brothers Jack (Jason Schwartzman), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Francis (Owen Wilson) on a reconciling trip through India, Darjeeling is searching.

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.

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Can't get enough of the Suf


Sufjan Stevens thinks rock is dead (except for Jack White). Huh. Also, that BQE thing is happening soon.

Anyway, think we'll get another Christmas record this year? C'mon, we've been really good...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More impending Portishead album news


According to Geoff Barrow's continued ramblings on the band's blog, there's good reason to celebrate.

The world could use new Portishead. Dummy, Portishead, and Roseland NYC [Live] still sound great (and, by the way, make for a nice pre-Halloween season soundtrack).

Monday, October 22, 2007

In Concert: The Smashing Pumpkins (Tower Theater, Philadelphia)

As if there were ever any doubt about it, Billy Corgan made it clear Friday night that, at least in his mind, he is the Smashing Pumpkins. "Thanks for listening to my songs," he told the sold out Tower Theater during the first of four shows in Philadelphia. For a solid two hours, the newly reunited Pumpkins - consisting of Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin (whom Corgan introduced as his "life partner") and three studio players (Jeff Schroeder, Ginger Reyes and Lisa Harriton) - alternated between rocking hit after hit and indulging in long, experimental jams...neither of which should come as a surprise to fans.

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

Not exactly about movies...


...but since The Sopranos was certainly cinematic in its scope, it's worth turning your attention to Entertainment Weekly's fascinating excerpt from the forthcoming The Sopranos: The Complete Book by Brett Martin. In it, series creator David Chase opens up about the finale's controversial ending just enough to make you even more perplexed.

I fell pretty solidly in the "This ending, while frustrating, brilliantly compliments the show's eight year run by continuing to not spell anything out for the viewer" camp. But the series always walked a tricky line...the reason people loved it was that it didn't patronize its audience; still, Chase shouldn't be so surprised when fans agonize over the show's every little detail. When the dots aren't connected - if there even were dots to connect - everything starts to look like a puzzle. And his ruminations ("Here are some hints -- oh, wait, nevermind - I'm not talking about hints") don't help. But it sure keeps plot analysis fun, doesn't it?

Incidentally, can you imagine the uproar if he would've gotten his way and held the blackout without any credits?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Count me excited, folks


I don't know about you, but I'm plenty sick of Hollywood ruining important things from my childhood.

However, If a studio head were to approach me and ask, "John, under what circumstances would it be acceptable to make a movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are?" my response would be close to, "Spike Jonze should direct it, and co-write the script with Dave Eggers. Also, the first press photo for the film should look like the above picture."

New York magazine has seen the Eggers-Jonze screenplay and says, "it's really, really good."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Getting into the Halloween spirit


Variety reports that the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror flick, The Orphanage, scored the second best Spanish opening ever when it premiered in that country this weekend.

Given the success of del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth - not to mention Orphanage's selection by Spain as Best Foreign Film submission to the Oscars - it's reasonable to expect this to be a sleeper hit when it opens stateside in December.

Monday, October 15, 2007

WaPo also points out, "Nobody listen to technooo"


The Washington Post has designed "The Moby Equation," calculating the degree to which a particular artist has sold out.

The device - titled thusly due to its namesake's unique distinction as creator of the most licensed album of all time - is cute, but doesn't bother to mention that, as I asked him about in my interview for Sojourners, Moby actually gave away the proceeds from many of his corporate licensors to organizations that work against those very corporations (i.e. car commercial profits to environmental non-profits, etc). Or that he lives incredibly simply for someone who holds that distinctive title. But whatever.

The fact remains that it's difficult to hear the song "Porcelain" without thinking of a sleek, German auto. (Still, if the same practice leads to your music being equally synonymous with the Bourne series, it can't be that bad, right?)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sorkin + DC = everybody's happy again


The trailer for the Aaron Sorkin-scripted, Rob Reiner-directed, Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts/Philip Seymour Hoffman-starring Charlie Wilson's War - due in theaters just before the year is out - is now up. Think Universal hopes to snag an Oscar or two?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Clooney schools us in corporate responsibility

Questioning without being overly preachy, Michael Clayton is at its best when it offers no easy answers. Shot with a close intensity by screenwriter/first-time director Tony Gilrory (who also penned the Bourne series), Clayton, as does Bourne, excels in a tired genre by painting with shades of grey.

George Clooney, like the rest of the cast, gives a strong performance as the title character, a "problem fixer" at a major law firm whose star attorney, Arthur Edens (an incendiary Tom Wilkinson) may or may not be going insane. Having had a spiritual awakening brought upon by the questionable morals of one of his clients, agrochemical conglomerate U/North, Edens eccentrically leads Clayton down the rabbit hole to the truth behind the class-action lawsuit against the corporation.

Gilroy has a gift for rich dialogue and tense pacing, and effectively gives the story an ominous, quiet mood. But the ending, while satisfying, feels a little too pat for a film which, until then, has thrived on its subtlety.

Michael Clayton opens in wide release tomorrow.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ok – now tour, please

In a move some are quick to call a revolutionizing of the music industry (and as mentioned last week), Radiohead’s seventh LP, In Rainbows, was made available to download from their website today, sans record label, for a price the listener sets. Nine Inch Nails have followed suit, and others are reportedly close behind. But how does it actually sound? As if there were much of a question, fans can relax, as the album is excellent.

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.

Grade: A-