Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tube Steak: "Friday Night Lights"--Renewed???

As this article states, perhaps my favorite drama on television, "Friday Night Lights", has been renewed. The most shocking part of this all is the mind-blowing fact that DirecTV has given it not one, but two more 13 episode seasons.

Mark sent me a text message informing me of this about ten minutes ago, and I had to call him back immediately in utter disbelief. I then instantly called Chad, another FNL fan, who was equally shocked.

This makes me feel so much better about being a DirecTV subscriber. It is one of the few times that I feel like I am spending my money well as the consumer.

With the way that this third season ended, I have to say I am intrigued as to where the series will go. I can also say I hope that J.D. McCoy and the Panthers get crushed. Regardless, I have complete and utter faith in the FNL producers to go forth confidently for two more seasons in Dillon.

The fact remains that I am fucking ecstatic. Thank you, DirecTV.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tube Steak: "Generation Kill"

It may or may not be news to you, but this Old Man was quite the fan - of "The Wire". I believe that I have said on many more than one occasion that "The Wire" is the best and most important piece of media ever produced because of the unparalleled depth and breadth of storytelling present especially considering the scope and level of social commentary within.

So it may be surprising to you, dear reader, to find out that I had not seen the David Simon/Ed Burns HBO miniseries in its entirety until this past weekend. Jack Attack and I had it sitting at the bottom of the DVR queue since it first aired last year, but for whatever reason we'd not started watching it until about a month ago. Over the past month, we've watched it in one or two episode installments.

Despite my puzzling inability to complete viewing of the seven-episode run until nearly ten months had passed, I have to say "Generation Kill" was pretty outstanding. Obviously, there is probably a slant to the story, but the seeming aimlessness and ineffectiveness of the operations on the ground in Iraq at the beginning of Operation: Iraqi Freedom while being carried out largely to the best of the soldiers' abilities is quite compelling. Much as was the case with "The Wire" there are too many great individual performances and rich characters to single out each one, but James Ransone and Alexander Skarsgard* were both great as Cpl. Josh Ray Person and Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert. Their interplay injected humor into the show, usually when the show needed it.

*He was so great in this that it makes his involvement in that shitfest "True Blood" even more unfortunate. His performance does give hope that he will be pegged for playing Thor as is currently rumored. That is, of course, if they decide not to have Vincent D'Onofrio reprise his role from Adventures in Babysitting.

The toll the war took on the soldiers in the short time they were in the presence of the reporter was pretty damn interesting. Information like that tends to be harder to pry from the source so when a presumably objective reporter can see the toll that war takes on a character like Ray, it is feels like privileged information.

Seeing how one officer is a complete fuckup ("Captain America") while another officer trusts his instincts (wisely) over ill-informed orders (Lt. Fick) and finds himself in as much shit as the lunatic who psychotically attempts to bayonet captured combatants in the field, can be frustrating. "Generation Kill" is clearly produced by Blown Deadline, as the clusterfuck that is ground operations in Iraq may as well be the infrastructure in the City of Baltimore. Neither are even remotely well-oiled machines, and both are undercut by those who are ill-suited to be making command decisions being in charge.

The series is certainly short enough to be able to digest it quickly. If you haven't done so yet, there's no time like the present.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Man on Film: Knowing

I guess the good thing about not having an opportunity to write anything of substance for a week or so is that when I do get a chance to write something, I have more than one thing that I could tackle.

First on the IP agenda is a reflection on the new Alex Proyas film--oh, who am I kidding--the new Nicolas Cage star vehicle Knowing. Now, any reader of this blog knows of my Nic Cage fandom, of my adoration of his more recent decisions to simply make the movies he wants to make while giving little thought to how these decisions will further his career/profile. This means Cage is generally doing films that aren't simply pandering for Oscars. It also means he's doing schlockier films that I would generally rather see than bullshit like Doubt or The Reader or Atonement.

Knowing finds Cage teaming with Alex Proyas, director of The Crow and Dark City, for an overtly religious* apocalyptic film. Luckily, the audience is treated to a Nic Cage movie with a large budget, meaning that Nic Cage's movie selection skills are then augmented by money--a great thing, if you ask me.

*As a, well, less than religious person, I am honestly not that bothered by a little religion in the media I am consuming. After all, I was raised by an ordained Presbyterian minister (and Presbyterians require their ministers to go to seminary).

I love
Seven Swans, the Sufjan Stevens Christian record. There is a lot of religion to be found in the works of Dylan, Springsteen, Cash, and many other prominent musicians. The Indiana Jones franchise has certainly veered into the religious, and IJ: KOCS** notwithstanding they were all pretty damned entertaining. That being said, most material that errs toward being overtly religious is made for a religious audience, which frankly makes most of it unwatchable. There is a fine line between using the tradition and history of religion to add depth and richness to a story and using a story to disseminate religious propaganda.

**Holy shit. How fucking terrible was IJ:KOCS? Seriously. I urge everyone to see it (but for God's sake, do not pay for that privilege), just to see how fucking awful Lucas and Spielberg have become. Remember when they didn't make movies that were a) fun, and b) not retarded? What happened?

From here on out, I am going to be going into the realm of the revelatory, so beware of spoilers. Knowing, if you weren't aware, is about a professor in astrophysics at MIT, Dr. John Koestler, who has recently lost his wife (as we discover a little later in the movie) in a hotel fire. Having lost his way, he has become detached from nearly everything, holding fast to the belief (in his grief) that there is no meaning to anything. The only thing that brings him out of his depression is a drunken delving in to a series of numbers his son got from an unearthed time capsule. He finds that the numbers predicted every disaster for the previous 50 years, with three events remaining on the list.

As he finds himself (by chance) at the site of the first of the three remaining predicted catastophies, the numbers are validated.

In this first event, Nic, er, John sits in an accident-caused traffic jam and realizes that the numbers following event dates and death tolls are latitudes and longitudes and the next one is directly where he's sitting. As he gets out of his truck to inspect the accident scene, presumably suspecting that the pile up is the disastrous event, a plane comes screaming from the sky and a wing rips through the rain-soaked highway directly behind our hero. What follows is an especially intense tracking shot with John Koestler rushing to the wreckage, surviving passengers and fuselage both afire. Objectively (read: Cage fandom withheld), this scene works very well and sets the bar pretty high.

As the film dives deeper into the significance of the numbers, there is the introduction of the Aryan Child Whisperers. If there is one thing Proyas brought with him from Dark City, it is the creepy otherworldly entity. The others in Knowing clearly owe a bit to Village of the Damned and a bit to Dark City. They are basically the poster children of the Aryan ideal in trench coats who whisper telepathically to children. It is a little fucked up if you think about it. As I imagined it in the theater, they were what became of the Nazi super soldiers, complete with the powers of telepathic communication, control of others' willpower, and emittance of blinding light from their mouths. Oh, and until the end, you think they might be pedophiles*.

*Courtesy of "The I.T. Crowd":

It turns out the Aryan Child Whisperers are just guardian angels/aliens (they eventually shed their earthly forms to become buff, incandescent prototypical bipedal aliens, insinuating that aliens are actually angels, which is a semi-interesting marriage of the two), and the final seemingly incomplete sequence of numbers is that way precisely because--as Professor Koestler pieces together--the entire world is about to get wiped out by a solar flare.

In between the plane crash and the solar flare realization, there is also a screechingly violent subway wreck sequence in New York that should be recognized at least for the effectiveness of the spectacle on the big screen with maxed out decibel levels.

Back to the apocalypse, wanting to investigate a mother's prescience (her mother, Lucinda, was the one who wrote the numbers on the sheet in the time capsule), John seeks out Diana Wayland (played by Rose Byrne) in his quest for answers, and Diana's daughter, Abbey*, turns out to be another target of the Child Whisperers. At first, Diana pushes John away, but after the New York incident, she turns up at his stoop.

*How the hell did the casting director find a little girl who I joked in jest was Rose Byrne's younger self before I knew Rose Byrne was in the film? Good work.

Now, this is a PG-13 movie (despite the disturbing people on fire and fairly graphic subway sequence), but the night before the end of the world, each parent finds him/herself comforting their child rather than finding warmth with one another, which I guess is plausible, but that is not where my mind went. If I'm John Koestler, I'm totally doing working the "Hey, it's the end of the world..." angle on Diana Wayland.

But I digress.

As they prepare to leave for a cave, something strikes John. Diana decides they cannot wait, and takes the kids, just as John finds that the location that was cut off was the site of Diana's mother's trailer. Then, when Diana stops for gas to make it to the cave, the Aryan Child Whisperers become Aryan Child-Whispering Kidnappers. Diana dies in a fairly violent car crash whilst in pursuit of the Child Whisperers, just as her maternal shrieking reaches a breaking point.

What follows is an odd Noah's ark space sequence, with each of the kids carrying a pair of rabbits on board the alien space ship, where they are going to reboot humankind, presumably by procreating in the manner of the animals they carry with them, and the children play on a planet that looks like a meadow in Scotland with the Tree of Life atop a hill, as other ships drop off their chosen. Meanwhile, EARTH GETS WIPED OUT BY THE SOLAR FLARE. Everyone fucking dies, including John Koestler, who returns to his estranged parents' home. The entire planet is wiped out. No one saves the day by blowing up the sun--well, obviously that wouldn't work because the whole world would blow up, but this is a fucking movie and they usually blow up the asteroid/comet that's going to kill Earth. Everyone fucking dies, but there's a sci-fi Noah's Ark scenario which is not exactly what I was suspecting.

Now, if only I could get the other part of the movie with the kids who get to carry bears with them on their space ark...

P.S. Fuck the joyless film critics who don't get the appeal of Neo-Cage and want their movies to make sense.

Man on Film: Cusack Cousins

Do you think that David Gordon (John Cusack's character in Martian Child) and Rob Gordon (John Cusack's character in High Fidelity) are related?

I mean, they look enough alike to be relatives.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tube Steak: All Work and No Play, Make Josh Something Something

Hey, sorry about the lack of entries this week. While I may write more on my Royals blog, I believe you people to be my most devoted readership, even if you are smaller in size than the traffic I get over there.

This week finds me too busy with work and the trappings of being a fantasy baseball champion (read: seeing over the draft which is happening at a painfully slow pace) to be able to devote much time to this blog (or the Royals one). That, coupled with the fact that I have to work one more shift at Capital Cruises than I was expecting to, means I have little time past this cursory missive in which I apologize to you all for my lack of time this week.

As an attempt to placate your ravenous hunger for something ridiculous, here:

Love that finger.

If you want to see something really weird, watch the British series "Snuff Box" that the clip above is from.

And then here's a bonus clip, largely for the mystery that is L. Ryan Loukie.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Diversions: The Next Bernie Madoff

Since I would prefer not to be in debt anymore, I've decided to take action.

Rather than elucidate, I'll simply show you the astounding breadth of my entrepreneurial spirit with a link:



Well, the ad was already removed, but it said

Wanted - Rich Marks for Ponzi Scheme - (Greater Austin Area)

Looking for wealthy marks--er, investors--interested in making some real money, real fast, and without any work. Must be rich and flush with liquid assets. Will accept livestock as capital, but you must be willing to transport. Would prefer it if you generally thought of yourself as a bad person, as I would feel bad about robbing you blind if you were a generally nice human being. General SOBs welcome.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: The Kim Richards Edition

Apparently the world is conspiring to force Kim Richards back into my life.

Now Kim Richards' name may not be instantly recognizable to many, but I think just about any straight male or bi-curious/lesbian female who hit the magical age of ten years old between the years 1975 and 1990 probably had a crush on her, even if her name does not ring a bell.

For those who may need a reminder, Kim Richards was Tia in the original Witch Mountain series and starred in a slew of Disney movies in the mid-to-late-70s and branched out into other work like the original The Assault on Precinct 13 and The Car. She also landed the role of Ruthie Adler in the "Diff'rent Strokes" spin-off "Hello, Larry".

While you might think that it was the new Witch Mountain movie that has stirred up memories of a childhood crush, it actually is almost entirely coincidental. About a week and a half ago, Chad and I went to The Legend of Billie Jean (which I've actually been meaning to post about) at the Alamo downtown and before the movie they showed a bunch of Youth in Revolt trailers one of which was for Tuff Turf, which was more or less an 80s re-imagining of Rebel Without a Cause starring James Spader. Since seeing the trailer, we have been itching to see the movie. Well, last night Meatballs II was on and this was the first film in which Kim Richards looks like this:

Well, I saw Tuff Turf tonight with Chad, Mark, and Jack Attack, and it was pretty damn awesome. When I first saw the trailer a little while back, Spader's love interest looked very familiar, but the film was very of its day, and Richards was made up in such a way that I did not immediately recognize her. She spends the entire film being pretty damn hot. And the film--aside from its somewhat unconventional usage of performed music in the film (songs performed in their entirety--and that is plural songs)--is honestly pretty badass. While Spader certainly seems to have suffered from Campbell Scott Syndrome* as a young man, he is about 1,000 times cooler than Campbell Scott could ever have dreamed of being and quite successfully pulls off the semi-aloof rebel character--complete with leather jacket and a sidekick (although I don't think anyone would ever say Robert Downey, Jr. was lame, while the same can not be said about Sal Mineo).

*As I think I have stated in this space before while talking about Singles, I think, Campbell Scott seems to have been born as a 35-year-old man. I think it is safe to say that James Spader sort of suffers the same affliction. While he certainly was age-appropriate to play the part of a high schooler (under 25), he still didn't look it.

But back to Kim Richards, she looked really great in the film, which led me to begin wondering what ever happened to her? Well, Tuff Turf was essentially the last movie she did before having kids. She did one more movie five years later, Escape, but after that left acting for the next decade-plus. Well, while I was trying to find out what happened to her I discovered perhaps the weirdest part of her story. Her sister? Paris Hilton's mother.

I can't say I have ever liked listening to Paris Hilton talk because she is, quite frankly, a bit on the vapid side. That being said, I have always found her kind of oddly attractive. I mean, she repulses me with her actions and demeanor, but there was always something about her that kind of appealed to me. Finding out that on some level, there is a bit of Kim Richards in her DNA makes me feel a whole lot better about that.

Now to get back to it, here is a clip from Tuff Turf:

The credits only list Jonathan Elias as a songwriter on the soundtrack listing, so I have to hope that Spader was singing there. Here is the real reason that you would want to watch this movie, though.

The weirdest thing about both of those clips is that the music is kind of out of sync, tonally, with the true nature of the film, which is actually quite a bit darker than the Jack Mack and the Heart Attack in the trailer, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: The Pre-Beard Doppelganger of Kenny Loggins

Tube Steak: "Castle" and the Prodigious Charms of One Nathan Fillion

The premiere of "Castle" marked the always welcome return of Nathan Fillion to the small screen. Anyone familiar with Fillion's past work ("Firefly", "Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place", season seven of "Buffy") walks in with an appreciation for his winning personality as it permeates his every turn. Fillion can effortlessly convery an boyish charm while playing the part of the incorrigible rascal much in the tradition of a young, free-spirited Bruce Willis or a Lethal Weapon-era Mel Gibson.

As far as pilots are concerned, Flowers for Your Grave was serviceable while not approaching anything life-changing. What it does succeed in is setting the table for a potentially fruitful series with Fillion's Richard Castle using his sway to force his way into the work of Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic, Noah Wyle's love interest in "The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice"--oh, and what I presume is that bullshitty new Bond movie, Quantum of Solace).

As Jack Attack noted, there were times that Katic seems slightly overmatched which was the Little Lady's rationale for why that Ron Livingston negotiator show failed, but Katic never seems as ill-suited to share the screen with Fillion as Rosemarie DeWitt did *edit* opposite Ron Livingston *end edit* in "Standoff".

Even if Katic never gains the swagger to draw our focus from Fillion, the show is titled "Castle" and his talents will certainly be able to shine.

It is obviously early on in the game for "Castle", but aside from initially irritating music cues* the charm and sexual tension of this show should be a welcome change from the bland procedurals inundating the primetime docket.

*Maybe it is just me, but I find that a lot of TV would be better off without adding some pseudo-rock cues that are supposed to strike the viewer as hip in the middle of Thomas Newman knock-off scoring. I get that the Thomas Newman "American Beauty" score was pretty great, but does every quasi-quirky thing that has come out since need to adopt that style?

And in no way is Stana Katic hard on the eyes, so the two are welcome to play off one another for a while as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tube Steak: "Burn Notice" Season Finale

It is probably no secret to those who read this blog regularly that I am a pretty big fan of a little show called "Burn Notice". I stand by my statement in which I describe the show as "The Rockford Files" imbued with the instructive spy teachings of "MacGyver" without the cheesiness of "MacGyver"--think "MacGyver" with a slightly more hell-raising mindset.

Season Two* has focused on Michael trying to get out from under the thumb of a dastardly mysterious black-ops organization. These are the same people who were presumably responsible for him having burned in the first place, and the evidence continues to mount that the reason Michael Westen was burned was to force him into becoming an operative for the organization.

*I like how USA has taken to breaking their seasons up into two uninterrupted runs. Every few months, I get a new mini-season of my shows "Burn Notice" and "Psych", and when they end I'm not stuck waiting two years for a new season, like I'm having to right now for "Curb Your Enthusiasm"...

So the show's second season has had Michael carrying out tasks for the very people he is investigating. Their reach seems to know no bounds, so his blows often glance off, having been misdirected by their defense network at nearly every turn. Every time he gets close to some information about who the people that burned him were, the information lacks the substance he hoped for, leaving him searching for more answers.

What works for this show in the same thing that worked for "Veronica Mars". Each episode has its own self-contained mystery to solve/client to help while also advancing the season-long story arc in its teaser and coda with a little drop here or there in the middle of the show. Also like "Veronica Mars", the show is largely character-driven. Without having a rooting interest in what the protagonist is fighting for, the show is dead in the water, but Jeffrey Donovan has charisma to spare and his character is nothing if not nobly inclined.

Much like Ms. Mars, Westen also has a support system in place filled with likeable characters and able actors. Bruce Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar play off Donovan really well as peers, and Sharon Gless plays the overbearing, guilt-tripping mother to a 't'*.

*Is that right? Is it 'tee'? Never knew that one. I took a stab.

The only casting issue I have was with Tricia Fucking Helfer. I may or may not mentioned this, but Ms. Helfer cannot act. She is always cast as this hardcore tough-ass who is not to be fucked with, and she can never fucking pull it off. To make matters worse, she does this bullshit eye-acting that just looks like she has a tic whenever she is angry. As I said before, she's "a model saying words on a screen"*, and it sucks to have her take a show down a bit each time she 'graces' the screen.

*How douchey is it that I just quoted myself? Jesus, I am an asshole. I can't believe I haven't read Ayn Rand and that this self-obsession is entirely fueled by my own massive ego.

Now, here is what KRD was waiting for...

Spoiler Alert!

She gets shot in her model gut at the end of the episode. FUCK YES! Holy shit, you have no idea how elated I was. You see everytime she dies in BSG (still hate it), it is an empty death. You know she's coming back, and there are more of her out there anyway. It's like when Captain Kirk dies in the beginning of Star Trek: Generations. You had seen the trailer, and you knew he's coming back meaning you got to deal with more of his special brand of 'acting'*. The finale of Season Two of "Burn Notice" is like the end of Generations where Kirk dies for real. Glorious.

*I don't hate William Shatner. As a recording artist. When working with Ben Folds. Sure, his early covers are funny, but I sincerely like his solo record and his tracks on Fear of Pop "Vol. 1". As a Captain on Star Trek, he does not cut it. Give me Patrick Stewart or Avery Brooks any day. I never saw an episode of Enterprise, but I'm sure that Bakula kicks his ass, too. Call me a blasphemer, but his special brand of camp acting seems like it belongs in a autistic summer camp production of The Cat in the Hat.

That alone made this pretty much the best finale of anything ever. In the history of time.

And then it got better.

Management shows up. Management is John Mahoney! FUCK YES AGAIN! The world of "Frasier" collides with the world of "Burn Notice"? This is really what Martin Crane has been up to since retiring from the Seattle Police Department, isn't it... Wait, was he always a spy? Was the cane a put-on? Is Kelsey Grammer going to be in season three? Matt Nix & Co. are trying to make up for past transgressions in a hurry.

Speaking of past transgressions, the final couple of minutes set up the third season for what promises to be a new but exciting season in which Michael's past comes running up on him as fast as he can take it.

So if you want resolution from your finales, hated characters getting gunned down by favorite characters, and exciting directions for the show's next season to go in, then "Burn Notice" gave it to you here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tube Steak: The Return of "In Treatment"

Seeing the previews for the newest season of "In Treatment" has gotten my interest piqued.

I really liked the first season, although its format* made it difficult to see in total. I'd imagine I saw about 85% of season one.

*Its first season was broadcast five nights a week in half-hour installments, a la soap operas.

Now, I am not necessarily one who touts the virtues of being in therapy. I certainly think that there are people who have problems that warrant therapy, but I think there are too many people who have turned to therapy in the hopes of having someone else fix their problems for them while bypassing self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Sure, there are very legitimate reasons for going into therapy, but there is also a portion of society that sits in therapy that could fix their problems without therapy.

Oh, someone just stole my soapbox out from under me. Sorry.

Anyway, while I may not be the most strident supporter of therapy, when someone lays bare their deep-seeded issues, it makes for some pretty great television, and watching Gabriel Byrne command the screen as the therapist is something unusual in the medium of television*.

*I am a staunch believer in television, as the opportunity to tell a truly complex story is greater in television than pretty much any other medium. Its format enables writers to tell stories that span stretches of time that allows for a much broader scope. The only thing that tends to hold television back (aside from networks bailing on shows that they didn't get behind in the first place) is the acting that is almost always slightly below the standards of film acting.

The second season of "In Treatment" comes back April 5th, and now HBO is set to air the five installments in two nights, two episodes on Sunday and three the following night. This makes the show much more accessible. Granted, HBO rebroadcasts everything it airs about 15 times a week, but now I don't have to wait until Sunday to catch the one I missed when I missed the Monday and Tuesday broadcasts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tube Steak: I Don't Get "30 Rock"

All right, I will be the first to admit that I have been wrong about shows in the past. I wrote off "The (American) Office" after its first three episodes (justifiably, I think after the atrocious Gus-Van-Sant-remake-of-Psycho approach they took to the first season of the series), only to become a big fan much later. Initially, my reaction was lukewarm to both "Freaks and Geeks" and "Firefly", seeing potential in each but not truly being grabbed until I was able to watch them in quick succession on DVD.

So I would like to open up the floor to any "30 Rock" fans who might feel compelled to argue their case for the show's worth.

To me, the show seems to be one filled with characters who are merely caricatures. Furthermore, the show seems to me to be lacking in the requisite wit that I apparently need from my comedies, and--from what I can tell--there is no heart to the show. Ultimately, it feels like an absurdist voyage into a world filled with insincerity where the only character who seems to be a good person is an effeminate simpleton.

And if the show was dark and ascerbic, I might even be able to get behind all that, but the tone the show strikes is far from that. So, fans of the "30 Rock", what about this wit-deprived, overly absurdist, heartless comedy that peddles insincerity am I supposed to find redeeming?

Man on Film: Waltz with Bashir

This will be a very brief reflection on the film. I'd like to write more but am spread quite thin this week. In the interest of keeping the momentum of my blogs going, I write this short entrant into the ongoing filmic series Man on Film. You can feel free to picture me as Damon Wayans while you read this...

Waltz with Bashir was visually compelling and stimulating. The animation was so engrossing that numerous times throughout the film it would occur to me that I had completely neglected to read the dialogue for at least the 30 seconds before the realization.

The film is an Israeli soldier's recounting of his quest to recover his memories of the first Lebanon War and the atrocities of the massacres in West Beirut. Told via animation, it is still the animation of the writer/director/star so it is still a quasi-documentary--an odd combination to be sure. The animation is great. The quest to recover the lost memories is for the most part interesting, especially as the puzzle of what actually happened in the war comes into picture more clearly.

Perhaps the aspect of the film that stands out the most is the Max Richter score which at times propels the film forward with its own momentum. His work with Ari Forman on this film certainly piques my interest insofar as Richter's solo work is concerned.

Even if the music for the film borders on scene-stealing, the film is still moving. If you are not moved to revulsion as the archived news footage is introduced at the film's conclusion, you are without a soul. In that moment, the film succeeds in levelling the audience with deft ferocity.

Here is the trailer:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Musicalia: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band "Working On a Dream"

Clearly, this is not the most timely of reviews. Over the past month-plus, I have had plenty of opportunity to listen to Working on a Dream, and that opportunity has led to a mixed feeling about the record. 2007's Magic was an altogether enjoyable record for me. When I go back to it, I never feel the urge to skip a track, at least not as the result of not liking a song.

The same cannot be said of my listening experiences with Working on a Dream.

To kick things off, the listener is assailed by "Outlaw Pete", a song which I really think could work on a different project but strikes me as more of a solo Springsteen song than an E Street song. Instrumentally, it works (as just about the entire album does), but it really feels out of place on this record and with this band. The song is not done any favors by its somewhat lame title.

After that, though, there are two rock-solid E Street songs, "My Lucky Day"--which is an unabashed rollick imbued with just enough recklessness to endear itself to the listener--and the campaign trail title track, "Working on a Dream". Its ever-presence in support of Obama probably warms me to it more than the song may have in another time and place, but no listener really goes into any song without any personal baggage. Appreciation of music is largely informed by our relationship to the music and what we associate songs with, for better or worse.

Speaking of worse, the album goes from a great two-three punch to "Queen of the Supermarket". I am not really sure how to put this kindly and, as such, have been rendered impotent for a month, at least insofar as being able to write about this album is concerned. The weird thing is the first three lines of the song along with the intro could trick you into thinking you might be in for a pretty good song, and musically it has its moments (its coda is particularly striking), but lyrically it is preposterous. You get what he is trying to do, but the song is just off, and it also has the shocking beginning of the final verse that is as follows: "As I lift my groceries into my cart / I turn back for a moment and catch a smile / That blows this whole fucking place apart." What the fuck?

Luckily, the album regains its balance with "What Love Can Do". Of course, it falters again with the next track, "This Life", which errs to far into the realm of schmaltz and simply never comes back.

Now if Working on a Dream ended there, the album would likely have been an abject failure with two of the first six songs being bad and another seeming out of place entirely (although it is not without its merits). Luckily, much of the best is saved for tracks seven and beyond.

While "Good Eye" is not the most complex song ever written, it really works as kind of a dirty electric blues song that makes me look back fondly at some of the strongest parts of Tunnel of Love. That song rolls into the simple country-western track "Tomorrow Never Knows", which bides the albums time until "Life Itself", Working on a Dream's first inarguably accomplished song both lyrically and instrumentally. It works on every level and has complexity that early tracks that work like "My Lucky Day" for all their strengths lack.

From their the album takes a two-song detour into the inoffensive but ultimately forgettable in "Kingdom of Days"--a nice enough song but is not done any favors by being placed after "Life Itself"--and the poppy but bordering on being gratingly repetitive "Surprise, Surprise", which at my count says the word 'surprise' 42 times.

Again, if the album ended on that note there may be some issues, but the last proper album track "The Last Carnival" the supremely moving elegy to Danny Federici. It's really fucking powerful, and the choir singing as the music comes down on the carnival is devastating.

And of course, there is the bonus track, "The Wrestler", which--having seen the film it was written for--makes for an album with back-to-back elegies that punches to the gut that leave you gasping for air by the time you have made your way through them.

Any doubt as to whether or not he still has it is dispensed with by the last two songs. Working on a Dream is not an album without its shortcomings, but it is quite a bit more adventurous sonically than its predecessor and has three songs that stand up to anything in his catalogue and another handful that you certainly wouldn't be upset with having seen in concert.
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