Sunday, May 31, 2009

Family movie producers, take note


Pixar has become synonymous with quality filmmaking to the extent that I'd go see anything they released. Thus, my interest in Up, the studio's latest, remained high, even when the trailers and premise (a man flies his house around the world) didn't immediately grab me. Unsurprisingly, my trust was well-deserved: Up is outstanding.

Perhaps my original hesitancy was due to the movie's light-on-story-details marketing, which was (again, unsurprisingly) actually a smart promotional maneuver: as with last year's Wall-E, the details of the plot aren't nearly as important as the emotions which propel it. Suffice it to say that director Pete Docter's (Monsters, Inc.) Up is centered around the journey of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen and the relationships he builds—including an important one with young "wilderness explorer" scout Russell
—along the way.

While most contemporary "family" movie storytelling remains lazy, the Pixar team seems to dare itself to make cartoons about subjects which Disney execs surely initially find inadvisable: foodies, dialogue-free robots, and now, the elderly. Many movies might introduce the curmudgeonly Carl as a cranky, older person and leave it at that, but we meet him in Up by way of a beautiful opening sequence
— similar territory was explored, though not as effectively, in Toy Story 2—which proves that this studio's filmmakers have a unique ability to effectively capture the human experience. Pixar may traffic in grand stories and ideas, but it's the little touches of character behavior and background details that allow for audience connection—a sentiment echoed in Up's message.

As with many Pixar and Disney (and other great) stories, this is an adventure tale about finding meaning in life. If Wall-E was about love and purpose, Up is ultimately about loneliness and, convergently, fulfillment. It's exciting and fun, inventive and funny.

[Note: The movie is presented in 3D, and though there may not appear to be much by way of obvious effects, the viewer comes to realizes the device is just another tool the filmmakers use for advancing the story, rather than the other way around; it's essentially subtle 3D, which seems almost oxymoronic, but also makes complete sense. (Hear more about it on Docter's fascinating interview from NPR's Fresh Air last week.)]

Grade: A-

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I'll be there (neighbor Oprah probably won't)

Seldom in life is one able to enjoy an experience as satisfying as rocking out while dining on local food and drinks in the summertime. Denizens of Chi City can do just that at next month's 12th Annual Taste of Randolph Street, in the trendy West Loop.

The three-day street fest has improved on last year's solid lineup (Mike Doughty, Drive-By Truckers, Delta Spirit) with headliners The Hold Steady, the increasingly Beach Boysesque Dr. Dog, DC's These United States, '90s hometown heroes Urge Overkill, and curiosity/supergroup (members of Smashing Pumpkins, Hanson, Cheap Trick, Fountains of Wayne) Tinted Windows.

Admission is a suggested donation of $10 to the West Loop Community Organization. Pretty sweet.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In Concert: Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Aragon Ballroom, Chicago)

Chicagoans disappointed by the absence of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Lollapalooza this summer were treated to news last month that the indie-electro-garage rockers would be opening their US tour at Uptown's Riviera. Demand promptly moved the show to the Aragon, which is a shame, because the ballroom's barn-ish acoustics don't hold a candle to that of the Riv, home to some of my favorite concert experiences in the city (Sigur Ros's () tour and Sleater-Kinney's Woods tour come to mind). Nonethless, Karen O & Co. kicked off the summer in full force last night, with a healthy mix of career-spanning jams.

Showcasing material from their dancey It's Blitz!, the band proved many of the new record's songs to be crowd hits, especially the widely played first single, "Zero," and encore opener/latest single, "Heads Will Roll," for which Karen donned a glowing, pink lucha libre mask. Although nothing from 2007's excellent, hard-rocking Is Is EP made the cut, the setlist relied surprisingly heavily on their comparatively raw, first (and best, IMHO) LP, Fever to Tell. They even followed "Heads" with the jaunty hardcore of "Art Star," - from the group's self-titled debut EP, which brought the Brooklyn trio roaring into the buzz-band limelight - providing a nice balance with the Madonna-friendly (I'm not complaining) new tunes.

By turns thrashy and soaring, there's no question that Nick Zinner commanded the audience with his guitar work, or that drummer Brian Chase was responsible for keeping the sweaty masses moving with his complex, wide-ranging rhythms, but from the second Karen O stepped out from the curtains, the stage was hers. Before the band opened with "Runaway," a giant orb, built into the stage's backdrop, rotated upward, revealing itself to be a giant eyeball (see cover of "Zero" single). The frontwoman posed and strutted in front of the all-seeing eye, spitting geysers of water into the air and releasing cannons of Y-shaped confetti during second song "Black Tongue."

David Pajo of, among others, Zwan and Tortoise, provided supporting guitar and keys, and opened the evening with an inexplicable set of solo Misfits covers. (Edit: Or, not so inexplicable, I guess, considering he has a solo Misfits covers record out). San Diego trio Grand Olde Party followed, winning over plenty of fans. But the crowd was more than ready for the headliners, and ate up anthems "Cheated Hearts" and "Gold Lion," ballad "Maps," and the frenzy of respective set closers "Y Control" and "Date with the Night." They even seemed to dig a cover of the Cramps' "Human Fly." At one point, Karen growled, "The Yeah Yeah Yeahs llllloooooove Chicago!" The feeling was mutual.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Them's got ears, let them hear

Can't wait for Wilco (The Album) to drop on June 30 (The Release Date)? Fear not: the band's recent cover of Woody Guthrie's "The Jolly Banker" - download here - doesn't solely have to tide you over any longer! Stream the new LP in its entirety over at WilcoWorld.

Tweedy & the dudes are currently on tour in Europe, but Chicagoans would like them to return home for another residency when they get a chance. Thanks.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"We'll eat you up, we love you so!"

Check out Where the Wild Things Are director Spike Jonze & Co.'s very cool new blog, We Love You So. The site, which launched last month, documents WtWTA-related products and art, as well as the influences on - and general artistic interests of - the filmmakers.

Plenty of neat info, too, on Wild Things author Maurice Sendak, about whom Jonze is reportedly working on a documentary. So pumped for the Wild Rumpus...

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Did I Step on Your Designer Shoe?

Digging on Kanye's Air Yeezys or Louis Vuittons, but not the overnight line-waiting or thousand dollar (seriously) price tag?

Perhaps an even quirkier, less famous musician's footwear is in order: behold the Danielson Shoe.

While the intial reaction to Daniel Smith releasing kicks might be one of surprise, it also makes perfect sense: his indie rock family has been putting out a line of hand-crafted goods for years through their "line," Great Comfort Stuff (pillowcases, heart-shaped "blinders," greeting cards, etc). After all, you'll need something to tide you over until Jay-Z unveils a sneaker of his own in June.

Pick up a pair, and rock them at a Danielson show this month.

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