Monday, February 26, 2007

I take it back...

"The Alternative" runs until 2am! NICE!! "Zombie" is washed away by Temple of the Dog. Cornell used to rule before the higlighted spikes.

While the punxie in The Cranberries was sullying my screen, I flipped over to VH1 Soul in time to see one of my new picks for best video ever, right up there with Radiohead's "Just" and Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" - Gnarls Barkley's "Smiley Faces".

Man, now PJ Harvey is on. I can't stay up all night watching videos...

Is that a red tuxedo??

I just want to suggest to anyone that reads this, they should be watching VH1 Classic every Sunday, from 11pm to midnight. That's when they play "The Alternative" videos. Sweetness.

In the last hour, I've seen classic videos by Husker Du, Frank Black, The Lemonheads, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Liz Phair, Erasure, The Replacements, Echo & The Bunnymen, and The Cure.

...and The Cranberries' "Zombie"...I never liked that song. I guess they can't all be winners.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

From the desk of employee # 70453

I was feeling a little nostalgic for Tower Records today. I spent the best 5 years of my life there. I doubt any job will ever be as sweet. So I thought I'd post a list of the CDs I got my last time in the store...

Mew: And The Glass Handed Kites
Comets On Fire: Avatar
Brightblack Morning Light: s/t
Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll (US version with the bonus tracks)
Band of Horses: Everything All The Time
Sway: This Is My Demo (import)
Stars: Set Yourself On Fire
Hot Chip: The Warning
Serena Maneesh: s/t
Mastodan: Blood Mountain
The National: Alligator
Les Savy Fav: The Cat & The Cobra
Arcade Fire: Funeral
The Coup: Pick A Bigger Weapon
Built To Spill: You In Reverse
The Rapture: Pieces Of The People We Love
and a few more CDs as x-mas gifts.

I bought these at the store in Huntington, NY (I worked at the Carle Place store). Well into my second hour of shopping, while I was hunched over & sweating, double fisting stacks of discs my hands could barely contain, and lost somewhere in the Pop/Rock/Soul T's, a 40-something man came up to me. He said he noticed I was buying alot of CDs, and handed me a gift card. He said, "Here. I can't find anything I want. There's $50 on here. Merry Christmas." I swear - you'll never catch a Best Buy customer doing that. I will always fucking love Tower with all my heart.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

You CAN still learn stuff watching MTV...

I know I haven't posted in a hot minute. I just got a new computer, so I'm working out the kinks & trying to get iTunes to do my bidding (it doesn't like when you try & upload 14 gb of music all in one go).

Anyway, I had to jump on and share this nugget...
You know directing team Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, they who gave us (the Oscar nominated) Little Miss Sunshine last year? Well, I thought they got their start around the mid 90's because the first time I ever heard of them was during the grand push for the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness (they directed the videos for "1979" and "Tonight Tonight"). But they apparently have a... hairier start: the iconic black & white clip for Extreme's "More Than Words". Hey, as cheesy as the song is, that's a good start for any director.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

2006 Recap: My Top Films, Part 3 of 3

05. Babel [Alejandro González Iñárritu]
In case you have yet to gauge whether your opinions are compatible with mine, allow me lay down a gauntlet – last year’s Oscar winner for best picture, Crash, was a big steaming pile of shit. That movie infuriated me, and I can’t see why anyone would watch it and feel…smarter? Better? More understanding? It’s supposed to be a message picture, but pisses all of its credibility down the drain when all the characters are revealed to be unrealistic clichés. Now, Babel is what Crash was trying to be. Babel is extraordinary in its pain and depression and struggle. It deals with communication, patience and prejudice in such a deep, real way that it could almost be a documentary. The characters transcend film to become people, and they cry and beg and bleed, strip themselves naked and walk under desert suns, screaming protests and collapsing into defeat. They plead – listen to me, please! That’s all it takes. That’s what should’ve happened in Crash - all it would’ve taken, one character to lower his or herself to simply asking for 30 seconds to explain. This is our world, a scary place, but there are people who listen and trust and give of themselves; people who will help, so have hope. Iñárritu has used his multiple, interconnected narrative motif to cover this territory before, in 2000’s Amores Perros and 2003’s 21 Grams, and yet, with this film his skill of composition and orchestration of depicting human suffering and emotional triumph just keeps expanding and growing to epic proportions. Babel will break your heart at every turn.

04. Pan’s Labyrinth [Guillermo del Toro]
Pan's Labyrinth is an incredible tale of war, both external and internal. While Guillermo del Toro excels at creatures (see Hellboy), he also has found a way to make his characters carry emotional weight and not be reduced to cut-outs; 12 year old Ivana Baquero is exquisite as the curious Ofelia, oozing the kind of childhood resourcefulness that only comes before you have to take real responsibility for your actions. It works as a fantasy fairy tale on the level of Spirited Away and The Lord of The Rings trilogy, but its main theme is the loss of a child's innocence during wartime, and Baquero embodies that just as much as the adult actors around her. There may be fairies & fauns & murderous monsters, but they can be as sinister as the evil Captain Vidal, who literally bashes a man's face in with a liquor bottle, and will stop at nothing to snuff out the remaining rebels fighting for freedom in the hills. After running the fantasy and the reality parallel for the entire film, del Toro has them converge in a horrible accident of loss, tragedy and hollow victory. This is not merely a good film. It’s a statement picture for del Toro. He’s in the spotlight now, a magnetic artiste, full of unique imagination and vision, with a huge palette to paint with. Let’s see what he gives us next.

03. Casino Royale [Martin Campbell]
Go down the list; message films, social commentaries, political satires. They’re all here, and on every other critic’s list too. But where’s the love for the explosion-filled action flick? The kind that makes the money so those other films can get financial backing. Well, here ya go. James Bond is back for the first time. And you, jaded consumer say ‘so what, that one with Halle Berry sucked my ass.’ True. But let me assure you, director Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, those Banderas-led Zorro films) has made his best film for you, the best action film I’ve seen since the first Die Hard in 1988. This is the way it’s supposed to be, when you sit down in a dark theater, and the movie just hauls off and punches you in the face with how BIG it is. Those uncompromising stunts aren’t all there is though, as they sprint neck and neck with emotional performances and actual plot. There is almost nothing to complain about here – I’d say Jeffrey Wright is underused, and that’s about it. Daniel Craig immediately asserts himself into the storied role by discarding pretty much all the history that came with it. He emerges, carved out of wood, juxtaposed with the classic figure of Sean Connery; Craig isn’t even close to perfect, and barely suave, because he knows that the only thing essential to James Bond is the inherent confidence. That, he has in spades, and the rest he (the character) can learn later. My favorite part of this movie is that Bond is always messy, making mistakes and snap judgments that don’t quite work out. Starting over is a blessing; just ask Batman.

02. Half Nelson [Ryan Fleck]
I had said to friends at one point that Half Nelson can be pretty much boiled down to Ryan Gosling's performance, which as a revisionist, I’d like to now half-redact. While his Dan Dunne is a defining performance, one that is truly heartbreaking and will go along way to making him the mega-star he deserves to be, it wouldn’t be that without the support of Shareeka Epps’ portrayal of Drey. Gosling and Epps push and pull against each other in a fascinating dance of fear and embarrassment and will, morphing from a relationship of teacher/student, to savior/saved, to friend/friend. He is constantly falling apart, while she is constantly rebuilding herself. She takes the hits and still stands, as he crumbles in glorious disregard for his self. They’re like the British Bulldogs of harrowing crack addicts and latchkey kids, but they’re both Dynamite Kids; they unite to emotionally raze the inner city landscape of the film. I left the theater with tears in my eyes & my jaw dragging on the floor. Really, only the great Anthony Mackie survives, brushing the rubble off his shoulder, covered in the slime of drug dealer Frank. It’s somehow a minor shame that Forest Whitaker's gonna steal Gosling’s award and acclaim this year, but if his name on the box gets just a few Notebook fans to watch this film, then we might eventually be saved like Dan is saved.

01. Children Of Men [Alfonso Cuarón]
Children Of Men is a masterpiece, and the best film of the last few years (since Lost In Translation in 2003, to be exact). First, Alfonso Cuarón melded the best bits of his previous two films to great effect here; he took the explorations of uneasy personal relationships while on a long journey from his Y Tu Mamá También, and mashed it up with his dark fantasy technique used on Harry Potter 3 (the one no one likes, but I think is the best one). Second, the story is built on an unshakable science fiction premise, which is [object x] can save mankind, so [main character] must go from [a] to [b], while avoiding [villainous types]. But the villains are allowed to be humans, with wrong choices and sympathy and misguided rage; even the promise of absolute power can corrupt absolutely. It's also refreshing to see a science fiction film that is actually science fiction (and not fantasy); I'd say that it's closest in tone to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later... Insert the possibilities that come from the question "what would happen if the world stopped procreating?", and the elements that come out get slashed across the movie in glorious fashion. Militia groups and religious cults are completely feasible in this future, especially coupled with the isolation that England already feels. The details are incredible, from the allusions to images of the Holocaust & Guantanamo Bay & Abu Ghraib, to the graffiti (by guerrilla art genius Banksy) and propaganda posters, the choice of music, leaning on end-is-nigh art rock. Even the image of the giant pig is a direct reference to the 'welcome to the machine' warnings of Pink Floyd's late 70's work. Clive Owen's performance is superb, all worn out and beaten, constantly conflicted, internalized, and traveling basically blind to the effects of the events he himself is putting in motion. And then there's the "battle scene" at the climax, which will go down as one of the greatest moments on film ever - Owen running through gunfire and explosions with a cameraman right behind him, with no edits for minutes on end! It's a remarkable technical achievement. The ending gives the gift of hope, which is all anyone is after throughout the movie. Hope makes people kill at will, and climb impossible mountains, and brave hailstorms of bullets. And if anyone, like Clive Owen’s character, has been beaten so far by life that he has no hope, then a chance - that new hope - is all you need to get up and do something.

2006 Recap: My Top Films, Part 2 of 3

10. Brick [Rian Johnson]
Sometimes you have to go back to go forward. I have absolutely no problem with films as genre tributes, and I definitely don't think that using an existing template (in this case, classic film-noir detective stories of the 1940's & 50's) means the details are cribbed from somewhere. Rian Johnson's debut film, Brick is refreshing and brisk and tough and urgent, and the revelation of cramming an old school murder mystery into the well-worn Hollywood fall-back locale of the Southern California high school is a brilliant stunt. Even still, through the spectacular framing of shots and the early morning dew-soaked atmosphere and the knotty, twisting slang dialogue, Johnson was lucky to get such a towering leading man. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his bid to be the Y-generation's greatest actor by playing Brendan with an unstoppable purpose and bottomless despair. I don't want to ignore the great ensemble cast full of tomorrow's possible stars, but I could easily make the claim that Gordon-Levitt could be the next Edward Norton by 35, and the next Johnny Depp by 45, and the next Paul Newman by 65. He's simply that good.

09. Borat (Cultural Learings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) [Larry Charles]
Well…what can I say that hasn’t been beaten to death in print since October? It’s a great little film, without a doubt a monumental achievement in its moment, a new classic, but it has to be lesser when put in the context of the greater film landscape (you can’t really stack it up next to fuckin’ Chinatown, now can you?). But let me not get all negative. This is masterful comedy, performed mostly on the fly. Sacha Baron Cohen’s use of the Borat character puts his best funny foot forward. With Ali G, the gag is good; the problem is it moves too slow, yet wears out quicker. Borat is perfect because his perceived innocence keeps you receptive longer, and therefore Cohen can just keep running with it. He lets the real idiots do the talking, and bounces off them, instead of having Ali G be the one to deliver the punchlines, and in that it’s also a great subversive exposé. America is unmasked in some of the worst ways; it’s not our President up on the big screens of Times Square. It’s your neighbor who you want to believe is good by default. There’s a lot of hateful thoughts in this country, and Borat’s greatest strength is forcing us to laugh at the ignorance instead of with it.

08. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party [Michel Gondry]
I hate to say it, but Hip-Hop is still not where it should be in the eyes of America; we’re 30 years in, and people are still resisting. Do you think the grumpy 60-somethings were still tossing & turning over Rock & Roll in 1982? I doubt it. Shit, it’s here to stay, get over it. And if nothing else, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is an exceptional picture of how the naysayers should see Hip-Hop. This film is all joy, from the Ohio townspeople who get to have an adventure to NYC, to the lines of fans piling into school buses to see the secret event of the summer, to the performers reveling in the community that they’ve built for themselves (thanks in no small part to the networking skills of Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson). This is Dave’s gift; his efforts in putting this concert on definitely conform to my personal life lesson that everything is better when you can share it. There are so many little moments to share and cherish, like Jill Scott’s voice, or Mos Def’s comic sidekick turn, or Dave’s reverence for “Round Midnight”, or the memory of Biggie Smalls, or just the pure existence of the streets of Brooklyn, for kids from Ohio, and the world, to hold some wonder and awe for.

07. The Departed [Martin Scorsese]
Think to recent movie history, and think on the copious amounts of shitty American remakes dressing up cult-favorite foreign films in dude-&-dudette dialogue and happy endings. Then look to Scorsese’s Departed, a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. Marty waltzes in with a bigger than life feel that hasn’t really been felt in a cop drama since L.A. Confidential (at least), and slides it snuggly into Infernal Affairs’ tight frame, tweaking plot points how he needs them but never effecting the over all resonance of the story. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are still walking the circular tightrope that Tony Leung and Andy Lau walked before them, and they do an excellent job of laying the frayed edges out there for the audience to see; DiCaprio is getting all the notice, but it’s a special moment when Matt Damon can even come fairly close to Lau’s amazing performance in the original. Damon manages to pull that feat off because he continues to grow as an actor every year, expanding inward instead of outward. Speaking of acting out, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, and Alec Baldwin are all given some scene-stealing lines, and their performances surely will be talked about for years. And in the end, well, Scorsese too tacks on the happing ending, or at least the poetic justice ending, and for once, you’re happy the American transformation is complete.

06. Thank You For Smoking [Jason Reitman]
I want to write something enlightening, but all that pops into my head is, “brilliant satire brilliant satire brilliant satire brilliant satire, etc etc.” What makes a film like this so fuckin’ awesome? I want to boil it down like Jack Black’s review of Evil Dead 2 in High Fidelity, but that’s not fun to read on your end. Let’s start with Aaron Eckhart simply knocking his performance out of the park; he disappears into Nick Naylor, and I think a lot of other actors might have nailed the smug fast-talking, but Eckhart also gets the depth, the uncertainty, the insecurity, the reality of parenting when you have a “morally flexible” profession. If your job is to tell people big tobacco companies are good, and you’re striving to find a smoking role model, “like Indiana Jones meets Jerry Maguire on two packs a day”, then how do you tell your son, who’s in your target demographic, to not smoke? Perfect casting is an understatement here; Jason Reitman (son of Ivan) personally sent letters to the actors explaining why they’d be perfect for their parts, and they all accepted. Maria Bello, David Koechner, JK Simmons, and William H. Macy are particularly good, and Katie Holmes is even pretty OK. Reitman is already a master at wringing comedy out of the misfortunes of his characters, and this is only his first film. Imagine where he’ll be a decade from now.