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-

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Will it be in Hopelandic?


Although its release has been pushed back two weeks, the Sigur Ros documentary, Heima ("homeland") - due on DVD November 20th, along with the new double-album, Hvarf/Heim - promises to be worth the wait.

The doc follows the Icelandic quartert on a 2006 tour of its heima, culminating in the largest outdoor concert in their country's history. Nice to know that since most of us have to settle for concert venues, we'll at least have the film to show us their music as it's no doubt best experienced: with a mountainous backdrop.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Snoogins

Rotten Tomatoes reports that The Weinstein Company has passed on Kevin Smith's "horror" script, Red State - about a Fred Phelps-like religious cult figure - which comes as a bit of a surprise, since the Weinsteins have worked with the director on nearly every picture he's done. Does this confirm the iffiness of the project (Kevin Smith is making a disturbing drama?), or ensure that he's headed in an exciting direction by trying something new (Kevin Smith is making a disturbing drama!)?

I, for one, have thought it's sounded like a cool idea since day one, if for no other reason than to see Smith attempt to move beyond the View Askewniverse...y'know, in a way that doesn't result in Jersey Girl. You even had to hand it to him for Jersey Girl, with its flaws, for tackling something different. Although Clerks 2 proved to be reasonably critically and commercially successful, it was a little disappointing to see him running back to the same characters he'd started his career with - some might call it a return to form; I call it redundant - especially after closing the book with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (literally, if you watched the credits).

So, a Kevin Smith horror movie? ...Yeah, why not? Maybe the script is too risky for the Weinsteins in a good way. A filmmaker who takes risks is much more interesting than one who becomes stagnant. But please, Kevin, leave Jay and Silent Bob out of it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Is it me...


...or does Sweeney sound a lot like Jack Sparrow?

Per the earlier post, the Sweeney Todd trailer is now up.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

He saved Latin. What did you ever do?

Upon first seeing the trailer for The Darjeeling Limited, I thought, "Hey, Wes Anderson! ...Hmm. It sure does look like a Wes Anderson movie." I'm not alone in this. Lately, there have been a barrage of pieces addressing the very subject. From the yellow titles to the British Invasion music, the '70s-style pans and zooms to the storybook close-up composition, the deadpan dialogue and family issues - this was going to be a Wes Anderson film.

In that regard, Hotel Chavalier, the 13-minute "prequel" to Darjeeling, certainly doesn't disappoint. Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman's performances are subdued, the dialogue is sparse but powerful, the music is great, the atmosphere is sadly beautiful...and it's decidedly pretentious. We've seen lots of these shots lots of times in other Anderson films, and Chevalier is unmistakably Andersonian. Which is fine.

Hey, it's great - like any good Anderson fan, two of my all-time favorites are The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, but more than a few of us felt The Life Aquatic was just a little too derivative of his own work to be taken as seriously as it wanted. It's a tricky, nearly "damned if you do, damned if you don't" spot to be in when you make your name on an identifiable, praised style with very successful work early in your career. Even if it does feel like he's nearly exhausted this shtick, it's much more interesting than a lot of stuff out there. No doubt Life Aquatic would be more well liked if everyone hadn't seen his earlier movies.

Darjeeling - co-written by Anderson, Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola - looks like it'll be, at the very least, another interesting film. And Chevalier, at the very least, is an interesting marketing ploy (it's availble via download, for free, on
iTunes...which is cool, but you still might be asking yourself what the point of the whole thing is).

More encouraging is that Anderson has chosen to adapt Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox as his next project. Shot using stop-motion animation, one could fairly safely assume he'll be going in a different direction with that family film...which sounds good to me.

The Darjeeling Limited opens tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Because hip hop is the only kind of music with bad words

Since, as everyone knows, the reason Imus got fired was rap music and not because he's a racist, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee held a hearing last week on negative imagery in hip hop. Although the committee apparently invited anyone involved in the hip hop industry to testify, the interesting combination of newly cuss-free Master P and indie MC on the rise, David Banner, were the only rappers to speak.

“How and when did society fail you that you would choose to write such filth?” asked Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) of MCs in general. Yes, it has been a while since the “music causes drugs and violence” card has been played, hasn’t it? It’s not that the drug and violence-riddled neighborhoods in which some rappers live might be the reason that some of their subjects are drug and violence, right?

As familiar with the No Limit catalogue as I’m sure the Congresswoman is, anyone who knows anything about real hip hop should be thankful Banner was there to talk some sense to the pols. “I can admit that there are some problems in hip hop," he said. "But it is only a reflection of what is taking place in our society. Hip hop is sick because America is sick.”


In their eye-rollingly headlined, "Hip-hop hearings are no rapper's delight," The Politico whined, "That’s when the hearing began to sound familiar, with artists and executives bemoaning the sad state of urban culture but offering no plan for change."

Why is it the job of rappers to offer plans for change? And why is Congress’ job worrying about lyrics, as opposed to working on legislation that could reverse some of the conditions they’re so offended by when rapped about?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The new Radiohead album. In a week. For free (if you want).

After leaving a series of cryptic messages (as they are wont to do), Radiohead has revealed some very big news, indeed.

Their new record, In Rainbows, will be released to the public on October 10. Before you even finish freaking out about the fact that that's, like, in a couple days, there's also this: it will inititally be available exclusively via download from
their site - for a price you set.

That they have chosen this route for the distribution of their seventh (and first label-less) LP elicits two immediate reactions: 1.) When you're one of the biggest bands in the world, you can pull off this kind of thing; 2.) Can you believe that one of the biggest bands in the world is so willing to try and pull off this kind of thing? Well, yeah. The reason they are one of the biggest bands in the world is their willingness to explore new territory - now, they're testing the bounds of the music industry in their most explicit way yet.

Oh, Thom & Co., what will you do next?