Friday, December 31, 2010

Reading Rainbow: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Inconsiderate Prick Announcement:  This post is coming right before the post of a new series I intend to kick off here entitled The Queue Continuum in which I give at least a quick response to something on the old Netflix Instant Queue, which I'd imagine many of you frequenters also have access to.  Predictably, the first entrant in The Queue Continuum looks to be the Swedish film adaptation of this very novel, which I watched last week.  

I may use that space to open up this space to a few more writers, but I haven't really decided on that yet nor have I really approached anyone about this.  You guys probably know who you are, if you see this before I get a chance to talk to you about it, give me a shout/drop me a line.

Despite the fact that we haven't actually met or had a "club" meeting, I sort of read this for an impromptu book club.  That isn't to say that I didn't want to read it or hadn't bought it over a year ago, but my desire to read it was met with an approximately equal amount of reticence to pick up something that to me had the same off-putting buzz that The Da Vinci Code had.  If that many people are reading something, it can't be good, right?

What made things worse was the fact that every time I was reading the book in public, someone would invariably walk by me every 20 minutes or so and say, "Oh, I loved that book."  Rarely was this person someone who struck me as a reader.  Is it dickish of me to say this?  Yes.  Let me refer you to the name of this site.  I will simply say that I felt far less self-conscious reading the Grace Kelly bio that I had finished just before this (write-up still to come!) than when I was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo out in the open. 

Having gotten those qualifiers out of the way, the book was all right.  It was certainly a page turner.  Well, the last 350 pages were. While I wouldn't say Larsson's slow open is an insurmountable obstacle, complaints about how nothing happens for the first 200 pages or so are not groundless.  There is a lot of exposition and even more character development that could probably be compressed a bit.  For the purposes of this novel at the very least, there are multiple characters that are fleshed out much more than they need to be (I'm looking at you Dragan Armansky).

The third-person omniscient narration is probably a misstep at least as much as genre is concerned, as selective insight as to what secondary characters are thinking makes for an unbalanced tale and it does not work for the crime/mystery genre.  Why, for instance, do we know what Nils Bjurman is thinking throughout the scenes he appears in while the same treatment is not given to other characters like Cecilia or Martin Vanger?  Why are we shown how evil one character is while we are left to guess with others (although it is the inverse of this relation that is more troubling from a narrative standpoint)?

It also isn't a particularly surprising novel.  It never felt like plot points came from out of nowhere to surprise you.  Harriet's fate seemed obvious to this reader from the start, and frankly this was at the instant Henrik propositions Mikael.  It was, in short, predictable.

Larsson's failure to balance the two mysteries is truly the root of the problems with the novel.  With two puzzles needing solving, he is ultimately unable to balance the progress toward the respective resolutions well, which leads to roughly 150 pages of arguably needless and certainly excessive exposition for a mystery that then mostly disappears until page 490 or so.  When a book is as easy a read as this, it is not impossible to get past this, but the lack of balance to the two narrative thrusts is problematic. 

What does work and ultimately can be seen as the novel's redeeming quality are the lead characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.  Each character is intriguing enough to want to go along on their journey, and upon being brought together, they play well off of one another despite their disparate personalities.  While the novel probably would have been better served without their eventual (read: inevitable) romantic involvement, their relationship still works, and Larsson allows for the bittersweet coda that would not have been in the cards otherwise. 

Again, the book is an easy read.  For all its shortcomings--and there are plenty--The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is fairly decent.  Whether or not its decided average-ness calls into question its massive worldwide success is another matter entirely, but that really distracts from the point of this exercise.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Man on Film: Rare Exports

If you like old Finnish cock, you'll love Rare Exports.  If your idea of fun isn't extras from the Lemon Party being thrown into the Finnish tundra nude for 20 minutes, then maybe it would be best for you to avoid Rare Exports.

It was weird in a few ways.  Namely, it wasn't really the ludicrous Santa horror movie I was expecting it to be based on the trailer.

It was, however, the movie with the most old cock I can fathom.  That's a lot of old cock.  And it had it.  Holy hell, did it have loads of old, old, old dick.  Other than that, all of the action seemed to be in the trailer. 

It was a weird little Scandinavian film, with bearded old Finnish dudes naked in the wintry out-of-doors and a kid with a shitty mullet and some other stuff that happened.

I don't know.

I think I fell asleep.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Man on Film: Finally a Trailer for The Tree of Life

So this is kind of a weird week at Inconsiderate Prick.  Two trailers for movies that I'm really looking forward to that appeal much more to my high-brow side have found their way into my corner of the enternetz.  First it was the Norwegian Wood trailer that I just became aware of. 

Then we got the first trailer for next Terrence Malick film, The Tree of Life.  Living in Austin, it seemed like every couple of weeks you would happen across someone working on the film in some facet of the process, as Malick lives here and much of the film was filmed in and around Austin.  Yes, Malick famously works slowly, but it seems like The Tree of Life went into production fifteen years ago, yet we all wait.

This all matters, of course, because there may not be another filmmaker alive who can bring me to my knees (in praise, not a sexual way) while watching his films without sound.  Without the bells and whistles of other auteurs, Malick works in his quiet pastoral realm, preferring to turn his contemplative gaze to building mood.  His films captivate you with running time not mattering at all because time is a concept that does not apply to you while watching a Malick film.

Judging by the trailer, The Tree of Life should ably follow in the footsteps of his already stunning catalog.  Without further ado...
 
Next week, I won't have been pulling a 28 hours of work over 36 hours, killing my Wednesday and Thursday.  There is a bit of catch up to do, and I've got some ideas for some year-end columns that may or may not happen.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Guest Column: Quit calling me a Facebook Junkie...Junkie!!!

This topic may seem to be straying from the norm of this blog, but at this stage it's my intention to have my [sporadic] entries be somewhat of a diversion from the norm stylistically and content wise, but still deal with cultural elements at the same time a la an Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes type. And for the majority of the readership, facebook is very much a part of our cultural fabric.

I’ll be the first person to admit that I spend a great deal of my day on facebook. I’d be in complete denial if I tried to say anything otherwise. But, to be fair, most people in my demographic group are on facebook quite a bit. My days are spent in front of a computer, and on my computer, I have facebook up A LOT. Being in my mid 20’s, I remember when facebook first came out, then begrudgingly joining (back when you could only join if you could verify your college-issued email account), which was followed by not checking my email without subsequently going to check my facebook account. Throughout my college career, facebook was a regular part of my day.

Then I graduated, moved into the work force, and continued the same usage pattern.* When I got to my desk in the morning, I would open up three tabs on my browser window. One was my email account. A second was to stream the Dan Patrick Radio Show (which at 11 would be turned to Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current (because Pandora wasn’t up and running at the point)). The third window was for facebook. Every person that worked in that office building (of a few hundred) had similar internet uses whether they were reading the newspaper, checking stocks, playing fantasy sports, or sitting on facebook.

*We young adults get bad raps from older members of the work force for what seems to be poor work ethics. While I won’t defend the number of people I know who are extremely unproductive, I’ll also be quick to point out that every age group has those people.

See…regardless of age, workers will be unproductive for good chunks of the work day. If I were in management (which I wasn’t), I’d rather have people sitting at their desk being unproductive than standing around away from their desk being unproductive. We all have gotten phone calls that needed tending to or emails that deserved a rapid response. I won’t go any further into that, but you [hopefully] get my point.


So, don’t give my generation a bad name just because you’re too biased to look at your own generation with the same critical eye.**

**Yes, I understand that the likelihood of someone over the age of 35 reading this is slim to none…





Now, I will turn my critical eye to those in my generation. I’m sure people I know probably toss around the term “facebook junkie” as an adjective to describe me. Some might think it’s fair, but I’d beg to differ. How would I describe my relationship with facebook you ask…well…I would consider myself a facebook contributor.

Yes, I’m on facebook a lot, and if you’re facebook friends with me you’ll see that I’m updating my status on what I believe to be a reasonable basis (sometimes a couple times a day, but only on a rare occasion and it’s usually maybe once every few days), I comment on photos, statuses, and walls. My status’ are often what I find to be funny. I’ve been friends with people [notice past tense] who were updating on a more frequent/or equally frequent basis as me, and it was always with stupid shit about their boyfriend or that they were “running to the mall” or something that no one cares about. Obviously, there are people that could care less what I say, but I probably equally care less what they have to say. When I comment on photos, it’s either complimentary or funny (usually the latter), and writing on one’s wall is just an open way of communicating.

In my opinion, a “junkie” is someone who only uses and doesn’t contribute anything of substance. I’m not that person. You “junkies” are the people who are on facebook all the time but never really do anything. You look at people’s pictures, or check in on friends’ profiles, but never actually say anything. You’re an electronic-Peeping Tom. Someday, an episode of Law & Order: SVU will have a story line involving facebook lurking, and you’ll say to yourself “that could have been me.”





Again…I’m on facebook a crap ton, but I like to think I’m giving something back to the community. I’m a contributor because I genuinely believe that there are people out there who find the videos I post equally as funny as I do, or who crack a little smile when I “like” a good picture of a friend and his/her significant other because although I’m writing a guest piece on a blog appropriately named for its creator, I’m a decently nice guy under my [described my some]rough exterior.

If you’re friends with me on facebook and get annoyed with the frequency of status updates…unfriend me…I don’t care. If something like that bothers you, I probably equally dislike you as a person, too. If you take something I said in electronic form (see: without vocal tones) as a complete joke wrong, and stop talking to me, you’re probably too serious for me to actually want to be your friend. And finally, to those of you creepers who came across this entry via the Inconsiderate Prick facebook page, actually heed my advice, and start giving back to the facebook community because I’m tired of being one of the few, the proud, facebook contributors.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reading Rainbow: The Eye of the Leopard by Henning Mankell

Inconsiderate Prick Announcement: The vision here at IP has been somewhat singular for quite some time--well, always--but that is about to change.  At least a little.  On Thursday, my brother--who regular readers of this blog should know through his commenting activity here, or perhaps even his output at Munch My Benson, if they don't know him personally--will have a guest entry up.  I've given him carte blanche to write whatever he sees fit whenever he feels the urge.  He is probably (read: definitely) less a dick than I am, but he is funny and will bring a lot to the blog if/when he chooses to grace it with his presence.  The entry he has written is a helluva way to start things off.  On to the show...      

It occurs to me that if a random person stumbled across Inconsiderate Prick for the first two posts this week they would think that this is some world literature blog.  How wrong they would be...

Judging by the cover art, you'd think Belva Plain wrote it
From what I can tell, The Eye of the Leopard is not the typical Henning Mankell novel.  With my exposure to him having been limited to a couple of the Masterpiece Mystery! Wallander series, it is my impression that he is largely known for being a mystery writer.  This may not be entirely accurate, as he has written an assload of material that cannot be shoehorned into the mystery genre, but it still feels like he is largely recognized for the character he created and that Kenneth Branagh (and Krister Henriksson before him, and Rolf Lassgård before him) embodied, Kurt Wallander.  Sure, Hankell was on one of the aid boats in the flotilla attacked off the Gaza coast by the Israeli military, and he is married to Ingmar Bergman's daughter, but his Wallander series has been adapted for the screen three separate times, which is absurd.    

My decision to read The Eye of the Leopard was based solely on the fact that I wanted to read some Mankell, and it was shorter than Depths, which I also have sitting on the bookshelf.  Neither are Wallander books, but I wanted to see what else was out there.

What I got was a novel saddled with turgid pacing with its setting split between inland northern Sweden in the 1960s and Zambia in the 1970s and 1980s.  Structurally, the novel opens with Hans Olofson, the protagonist, in the throes of malaria-driven delerium in the late 1980s, and then it splits into two narratives that run in alternating chapters.  The first storyline starts with Hans's youth in Sweden and progresses through adolescence and into young adulthood.  Running concurrently, there is a storyline starting with Hans's arrival in Lusaka, Zambia, that moves on to his eventual overseeing of an egg farm in remote Northern Zambia.

Mankell uses the dual storylines to work towards two ends: what drives Hans to leave Sweden, and what drives Hans to leave.  While what happens in his youth is formative, it does tend to drag on, with each chapter of his origin laying the groundwork for the character but lacking in the gravity that is inherent in the sections that take place in Africa.  There is a foreboding looming over all of the Africa portions, and while the action may not be coming quickly, there is at least a tension in these chapters that is not present in the Sweden sections, as we know that the protagonist makes it to Africa. 

Largely, the book is focused on Hans's inability to fully understand Africans because of his whiteness.  The chasm between whites and blacks proves to be insurmountable, with even the whites with good intentions ultimately being unable to achieve what they set out to do. 

Sadly the book is paced just a little too slowly.  The fits of violence come just a little to infrequently.  The spaces between these outbursts of action is just a little too far.  The book isn't so long that this is insurmountable, but it doesn't help things.

But don't take my word for it... 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Man on Film: Norwegian Wood is Coming! Norwegian Wood is Coming!

All right, so this is sort of filler*, but it's something I'm excited about nonetheless. 

*I am working on some other stuff (write-up of a Grace Kelly bio and a Henning Mankell book, for starters), and hot stove has reinvigorated Royalscentricity a bit.  Don't worry, the actual start of baseball season will surely kill off any energy I have for the Royals...

Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood has been adapted by Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung. While reviews have been lukewarm--anything less would be surprising given the reverence of the source material--it is apparently blessed with stunning cinematography.

Perhaps more importantly, the beautiful Rinko Kikuchi plays Naoko, and her performance has been lauded.  Known to most of us for her turns in Babel and The Brothers Bloom, Naoko provides her with a rich character to embody, serving as a long overdue follow-up to her Oscar-nominated turn as Chieko Wataya in Babel.

As if Rinko Kikuchi were not enough, Jonny Greenwood has apparently composed the score.  Given his phenomenal score for There Will Be Blood, I am curious as to what he has done for this one.  

I am kind of excited, as Murakami is one of my favorite authors, and the book was great.

The trailer that follows is not the highest quality that I could find, but it did have subtitles.

The release date in the US has to be announced, but the UK date is March 18th.  Hopefully the US date is right around then, too.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Musicalia: Justin Townes Earle - The Parish - 12/04/10

Since the last time I saw him, Justin Townes Earle has had quite a lot happen.  In the past ten months, he has seen the release of his third LP, Harlem River Blues, was arrested in conjunction with an incident after an in-store performance in Indianapolis, suspended his tour, and checked into rehab.  Having taken to the road again, putting his relapse behind him, he stopped by The Parish this past Saturday evening.

This time around it seemed as though the show was perhaps a bit more subdued than his February show inside at Stubb's.  The songs seemed to have been slowed down a bit, and it took a bit longer for him to get into his groove in the banter department, but the show was still great.  Once he got a few songs under his belt, he addressed what it felt like the whole crowd was wondering about:  Rehab.  Now I'll have to paraphrase here because it's been way too long*, but Earle said that he loved cocaine and alcohol but that he wasn't any good at doing either.  It was a direct way to deal with the issue, but successfully diffused any tension regarding the issue with laughter. 

*I wanted to write this when I got back that night but didn't get around to it.  This is both good and bad, as the video embedded throughout the post surely wasn't up when I would have written this had I been concerned with timeliness, but now I can't quote what he said exactly.  Or maybe I can...


Now as for the rest of the show, it was pretty great.  Not only did he own the material from his own growing catalog, but he covered Townes, Lightnin' Hopkins, "Union Square" by Tom Waits, and closed the set (if memory serves me correctly) with "Can't Hardly Wait," but the moment that set the show apart from most was his transcendent a capella rendition of "Louisiana 1927" seen below.  See for yourself and tell me you're not convinced.

To me, there may not be a burgeoning artist on the scene that has me more excited for their future than Justin Townes Earle.  Yes, he's released three LPs and an EP, but all of this output has come since 2007.  His show on Saturday was fantastic to be sure, but there was more than that.  It held promise and gave me hope that Justin Townes Earle can continue to best his demons and deliver albums and shows that mean as much to me as the ones he has done over these brief few years.


Note: I do feel like this post owes a great debt to The Triggerman over at Saving Country Music, whose videos from the show at The Parish give this entry life.  His review of the show is also glowing and should absolutely be read.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tube Steak: The Walking Dead

I initially started writing this post as soon as I finished watching the series premiere.  I fell asleep while writing it and never really came back to it until it was far too late.  This is probably for the best. 

You see, I have begun to think that maybe it is best if I do not comment on shows until seasons have run their course.  Sure, there will be exceptions here and there, but as someone who primarily watches serialized television, it always feels like I'm writing about the first three chapters of a book or the opening act of a movie when I write about a pilot or season premiere of a show with season arcs.

*****SPOILERS ABOUNDING*****

The first season of The Walking Dead, a Frank Darabont produced adaptation of the synonymous comic book series, completed its six-episode run last night.  Its premiere was pretty damn great--essentially a Southern gothic retelling of 28 Days Later.  There were these oddly soothing almost pastoral scenes cut into the madness that the Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln*) awakens from a coma into.  It also contained the most affective scene in the entire first season, one in which the man who first comes to Rick's aid tries to pull the trigger on his zombified wife.  This moment successfully elucidates what the world has devolved into, with Morgan's pain as he trains the sight on her tearing your heart out.

*Who I luckily did not remember from the particularly cloying and distastefully saccharine Love Actually that I have apparently mostly blocked out to protect myself from repeated harm.  Instead, when I started watching, it just felt like I was watching a guy who was channeling Josh Lucas, which I can deal with.

The similarities between the pilot, "Days Gone By," and 28 Days Later are pretty obvious, and it was really hard to watch the episode without linking the two.  Things could be worse, of course, but the familiarity of the protagonist's circumstances didn't help make things feel fresh.  The thing that set it apart was the fact that he was also searching for his family, who he believed to still be alive.  He sets off for Atlanta from the rural Georgian county that he was a sheriff's deputy in and finds it to be in the throes of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.  After being cornered and trapped inside a tank, he is contacted via short-wave radio by a looker-on. 

The second episode picks up at this point, and Rick ends up joining with a group of survivors, helping them orchestrate their escape from a hairy situation in the city.  Now, despite the similarities between the Danny Boyle zombie masterpiece 28 Days Later and the pilot, it was a rather compelling 70 minutes, and there were few problems.  The second episode is solid, but it seems like after the first episode the pacing is a little off.  By the beginning of the third episode, he has already found his family because the group of survivors that came to his rescue in Atlanta were running a scavenger mission for a camp in which his family was staying in.  This coincidence is a little too convenient, and it seems like Darabont and the writing staff probably should have drawn out his quest for his family a bit longer.  After all, prolonging his search only builds the dramatic tension and creates a deeper conflict when he reappears to a wife who has been sleeping with his former partner. 

These second and third episodes are interesting.  I may have issues with the pacing being too brisk, but the first three episodes are pretty strong.  The fourth episode, "Vatos," was simply not that good.  The hostage exchange storyline and the ensuing discovery of the elderly and infirmed colony is basically a dead two-thirds of an episode.  Nothing interesting happens until the camp is descended upon by a bunch of walkers as the guys are re-approaching the camp.  In the penultimate episode, "Wildfire," too much time is dedicated to the Amy/Andrea storyline, and then it is discovered that Jim (essentially a 'red shirt') was bitten in the attack.  Both of these stories consume the episode.  It certainly seems like this series is going to be centrally concerned with how we hold onto what makes us human in circumstances as dire as these.  I get that much of what I'm complaining about in the fifth episode is doing just that, but it is simply not that interesting here, especially Andrea's near catatonia while she waits for Zombie Amy to arise. 

Then comes the finale...  The only part that stuck out as being extraordinary was the flashback sequence in the beginning of the episode, showing Shane in the hospital trying to evacuate Rick.  While he's trying to take Rick out, the military is massacring innocent people in the hospital.  Showing what actually happened as things reached the boiling over point seemed like a harbinger of doom, looming over the entire episode, was probably the most interesting part of the last half of the season. 

As the season comes to a close, everything looks pretty damn bleak.  Their hope is extinguished as the CDC blows up (crappy effects), and they are left to move on.  Aimless.  With survival being their only objective. 

While there probably needed to be at least two other episodes placed before the third episode, the first season was certainly solid enough to keep watching.  It had its flaws, but Andrew Lincoln is a compelling lead, and let's face it, there aren't any other zombie shows on the tube.  Until there are, this is probably the only place we'll be able to get our fix.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Man on Film: Due Date

Despite initial enthusiasm when first hearing of the pairing of Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey, Jr., it took nearly a month to get out and see this one.  TSLF and I finally took in Due Date Thursday afternoon.  Heading down for the first showing at the Downtown Alamo, we were the only people in the theater.  I thought this was the only time that's happened for me at any of the Alamo Drafthouse locations, but apparently we were the only ones there when we went to Jumper (fuck that movie).  Where the first time we were the only ones in the theater was fitting, this time wasn't.

Now, that isn't to say that Due Date was great.  My expectations were actually fairly low for the film considering the pairing of Galifianakis and Downey, and I'm not sure it met those tempered hopes.  Ultimately, Due Date suffers from the fact that it is a lesser version of a better film in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  Given the obvious similarities between the two and the fact that I've seen the John Hughes classic about 30 times, it seems almost impossible to separate the two when viewing Due Date for the first time. 

In both, you have the high-strung business men trying to get home for an important family event (here, the titularly implied birth of a child rather than Thanksgiving) whose paths cross with a bumbling dimwit who seems to be able to do little else than inflict damage on their traveling partner.  After Galifianakis's long overdue breakout in his last teaming with director Todd Phillips, The Hangover, the bar may have been set unreasonably high.  He definitely excels operating from the fringe, and he is on the fringe again here.  Unfortunately, Alan, his character from The Hangover, was significantly more likable than Ethan Tremblay.  Ethan is also significantly less endearing than John Candy's Del Griffith.  Where Del is really the heart and soul of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Ethan Tremblay never feels like anything more than a caricature.  Sure, his dad just died, but it feels like that was shoehorned in to the film to give the character depth artificially.  There is also the fact that at the end of the day, Del was just a widower trying to get by as a road salesman while Ethan hopes to be an actor.  There is an element of working class appeal that Del has that simply is not there with Ethan.  That isn't to say there isn't appeal to what Ethan is seeking out to do, but he is essentially seeking celebrity and his goal is to be on Two and a Half Men (no offense, Jon Cryer).  While that dream may be as much a product of this time as anything else, it is less sympathetic than Del's trade nonetheless.  

Now, while I was able to see where detractors were coming from on The Hangover, it worked for me.  Maybe it was that it seemed to signify a graduation of Todd Phillips to slightly more adult comedies.  Despite the fact that Phillips is almost ten years older than I am, it seems like he has evolved from doing undergrad comedies (Road Trip) to delaying adulthood comedies (Old School) to pre-nuptial fare (The Hangover) to pre-parenthood films.  Now, yes, I'm cherry-picking a bit here (I ignored Starsky & Hutch and School for Scoundrels during this time-line), but there seems to be a very clear movement here. In many respects, Due Date is his most adult work to date; it just isn't his funniest.  In fact, it is pretty derivative.  It basically operates on the principle that if you just take everything a little bit further than it went in Planes, Trains & Automobiles it will be even funnier than that.  That principle is sadly misguided in this case. 

As for Downey, he is very good.  There is no surprise here.  He plays the straight man to Galifianakis's buffoon well, much like Steve Martin did in 1987.  Any of the shortcomings of the film do not come down on him, so don't worry about that.

Maybe it is that Phillips has decided to step out from the group comedies he has done before.  With a smaller cast of primary characters, so much more of what has to happen is related to developing characters.  Without depth, the shortcomings of a lack of development becomes all the more glaring.  If you think about The Hangover, only one character markedly changes throughout the course of the film.  With two primary characters, when only one character changes, what was the point of the buddy flick in the first place?  Ethan Tremblay is essentially the same character that he was at the beginning of the film as he is at the end.  Sure, his dream is realized, but it doesn't seem like there is any growth.

It occurs to me that I've spent a lot of time bashing this film.  It isn't actually that bad.  There are things to like about it.  Despite the narrative weaknesses, Downey and Galifianakis are solid.  It is also nice to see a re-teaming of Downey and his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang love interest, the beautiful Iowan, Michelle Monaghan. Danny McBride is great in his cameo (something that should come as no surprise to anyone).  RZA and Jamie Foxx are both very funny as well.  And despite the film's script-related issues, I do think that Phillips has a good eye, something that is not all that common amongst comedic directors.

In the end, what matters the most in a comedy is probably whether or not it delivers the laughs.  Perhaps I wasn't in the ideal environment to be able to rule on this matter, but much like the narrative issues I have with the film, it was just kind of average in this department.  I suppose this is the most apt description of this film:  Average.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Man on Film: Four Lions

Best bumbling terrorist comedy of the year.

Now that I got that out of the way, Four Lions is the feature-length debut of Christopher Morris.  This doesn't mean much to most Americans, but it should.  Some may know of Christopher Morris from his stint in the first season/series of The I.T. Crowd, where he played Denholm Reynholm.  More importantly, with Armando Iannucci (whose own feature-length debut, In the Loop, got quite a bit of recognition last year), Morris co-created the seminal British news satire series The Day Today, which was a reinvention of their radio program[me] On the Hour.  If you are not familiar with either of these productions, perhaps the character Alan Partridge will mean something to you, as Steve Coogan first played him there.

So if it wasn't for Christopher Morris, we'd have never gotten to enjoy this:

Having laid that bit of foundation, Morris's feature-length debut is largely a success.  While much more character-driven than plot-driven, Four Lions consists of a band of four then five then four Islamo-British suicide bombers who bumble their way through a bomb plot.  Not to be outdone, British law enforcement does their fair share of mucking things up, ranging from raiding the wrong home to a sniper erroneously shooting a runner in a Wookie costume when instructed to shoot a runner in a bear costume.

But this comedy is mostly about the terrorists.  Their idiocy is supremely entertaining.  Barry, played by Nigel Lindsay, is the paranoid conspiracy theorist white Jihadist who fancies himself a great thinker but whose brilliant idea it is to bomb a mosque to radicalize the moderate muslims.  Adeel Akhtar plays Fessal, the imbecile extremist who is training crows to fly bombs through windows, who has to keep his dad from eating the newspaper, and who disguises his voice when buying dozens of bottles of bleach at the same neighborhood store despite not wearing a disguise.  Hassan (Asher Ali) seems more concerned with how he'd fit in with characters from Tupac songs than the bomb plot and ends up jamming to King Harvest's "Dancing in the Moonlight" with Julia Davis when he is supposed to be keeping their safe house secure.  Kayvan Novak's deliciously dim turn as Omar's best friend, Waj, sees him taking pictures of himself on his cellphone to see the expression on his face and uses a comically small toy AK-47 in one of their terrorist videos. 

And then there's Omar.  The star.  The ringleader.  Perhaps the most mentally together of the bunch.  Yes, this guy (played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed) puts his son to bed with tales of a Jihad-adapted Lion King allegory.  He has to try to talk sense into his mujahideen when they are deadset on bombing the mosque as per Barry's plan.  And despite his being the brains in the group, he commits arguably the biggest gaffe.  As approached by a drone when left alone at a mujahideen training camp in Pakistan, he takes up a rocket launcher and shoots it in the wrong direction with disastrous results.

Now what is weird, is that despite their reprehensible cause, their gross stupidity actually causes you to pity them a bit.  While they may spew anti-Semitic sentiments here and there, their actual grasp on their cause is shockingly uninformed.  They are so poorly informed and their ability to process information with any logical thought is so challenged that you'd think they got their news from--oh, you know where I'm going with this. Their hatred of heretics is so uninformed and their goal of martyrdom to go to a heaven that is basically like an amusement park is so childishly innocent that it is hard to stir up much anger towards them.  Perhaps this is because their ineptness throughout leaves you so sure that they couldn't really do much harm that their holy war can't seem anything more than quaint.

Regardless, the knife definitely cuts both ways in this film, and the British government is held in equally low esteem in this biting, dark satire.  While ironically plotless, this film about a terrorist plot works pretty damn well.

Post Script: 

Dear Powers that Be, 

I do not need to be watch listed.  This is a film review.  The only way I need to be watch listed is if it is for a blog that has devoted an absurd amount of time to the subject of Kim Richards and once derived an unseemly amount of its traffic from people searching for 'soapy cock shots' on Google.  And I suppose there was that short series about my disdain for Battlestar Galactica.  if I need to be watch listed for that, then go ahead I suppose, but BSG was bullshit.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Man on Film: Faster

Any Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson fan had to have been salivating when word that he was doing an R-rated revenge flick got out.  Well, Faster is that flick.  And it isn't.  While graphically violent, it falls short of what I think we all wanted from the film.

Now, I think when most of us think of what we would want from an R-rated Dwayne Johnson revenge flick, we want a shitload of righteous kills*.  For the most part, we get this.  Unfortunately, since it's The Rock that we're talking about, there is a certain way that I think we want these kills realized.  We want these bad guys, these henchmen, these minions, and especially these masterminds tossed around like rag dolls.  It's The Fucking Rock, after all.

Dwayne Johnson pursues doucher
What we get is a fearless dude fresh out of the joint who is on a mission to avenge his brother's death and his own attempted murder.  With nothing left to live for, he goes after his targets with reckless abandon and little concern for whether or not he is seen knocking these guys off.  This element of a singular purpose with a determination that cares not for such trivial things as getting caught is admittedly badass. 

*But trust me, we don't want Righteous Kill...

Unfortunately, the obvious physicality of Dwayne Johnson is woefully under-utilized.  And maybe if George Tillman, Jr. (the director of Soul Food, Men of Honor, and Notorious) didn't spend the first minute of the movie fetishizing Dwayne Johnson's massively muscular build, showing the audience what a physical specimen he is, then he could have justifiably made the argument that The Rock had been cast for reasons other than his obvious imposing stature, but it would be tough to make that case given the project.

As it is, Faster is a relatively run-of-the-mill revenge flick.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I happen to love this sub-genre.  Death WishPaybackTakenOldboyGet Carter.  The man on a mission to avenge a wrongdoing scenario is clearly fruitful ground.  It is not hard to appeal to our natural urge to exact revenge upon those who have done wrong unto us.  We can rather easily place ourselves in the shoes of the avenger, our loved one(s) perishing in the place of theirs, our righteous anger at the prospect of this violent act.  With as likable a lead as Dwayne Johnson, why wouldn't we want to pretend we were him?

The main issue that one can reasonably take against the film is that Dwayne Johnson just walks in with a hand cannon and shoots guys with a steely determination.  There is virtually no brute force used in the execution of his to-do list.

Well, maybe that's not the main issue, but that's the one that left The Leprechaun, J-Bone, and myself wanting when we left the theater on Saturday.

The main issue is that there is this lame-o British yogi contract killer who is so lame that he is dating (and SPOILER ALERT marries) Maggie Grace.  Yes, the same Maggie Grace who sucked in Lost.  That's right, the same Maggie Grace who did her damnedest to make me wish that the throat-chopping badass Liam Neeson failed in his mission to save his daughter in the surprisingly awesome Taken.  The insertion of this third-party hired to apparently add an element of The Good, The Bad, and The Choady is easily the most irritating part of the film.  The hitman who desperately wants approval of his 'faster' (yes, this is where the title comes from) target is simply sad.

Now, the film isn't necessarily poorly directed.  Just because the director is also the guy who directed Soul Food doesn't mean it doesn't look all right.  I actually kind of like the soundtrack choices, including "Just Dropped In" as Billy Bob Thornton's crooked Cop (yes, his character is just referred to as Cop, just as Dwayne Johnson is Driver, and choady toolbag (his real name is Oliver Jackson-Cohen) character is Killer) is shooting up in an alley, and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and a track off of High Violet (I think it was "Terrible Love" but now I can't remember) are prominently featured.  The score was also by Clint Mansell, whose work I generally love, but I honestly can't recall the score.  At.  All.
The other issue is the screenplay.  Written by the Gayton brothers (Tony wrote Murder by Numbers and The Salton Sea, and Joe wrote Uncommon Valor and co-wrote Bulletproof), the screenplay is relatively short on too many elements that it needed to be successful.  The Driver says virtually nothing.  The Cop is apparently a junkie, but he is hardly struggling with his addiction.  The Killer is a completely unnecessary character, and his new bride is even more extraneous. 

Ultimately, it is cool that The Rock is blowing motherfuckers away, but Faster has too many things detracting from it to recommend to anyone without them either being a huge Dwayne Johnson fan or desperately looking for a revenge flick that isn't directed by that hack Paul Haggis.  After all, I think we'd all trust the director of Soul Food and Men of Honor to direct a better revenge flick than him. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Man on Film: 127 Hours

At the heart of this film, there are two stars: James Franco and Danny Boyle.  Their respective imprints ultimately inform the entire film.  If you have a problem with either of them, there is a very good chance that you will have a problem with 127 Hours.

Starting with Danny Boyle, there may not be a director out there who uses more stylistic gimmicks than Boyle does.  Split-screens.  Surreal fantasy sequences.  Graphically disturbing gross-out scenes.  Fantasy video game sequences*...

*Sadly, there is no fantasy video game sequence.  Sorry to get your hopes up.

Despite the fact that yet another Boyle film finds itself gimmick-laden, it works.  That's the catch with a Boyle film.  Unlike, say, Michael Bay, where style gets in the way of storytelling, Danny Boyle's films all find a way to actually be augmented and enhanced by the tricks that he uses.  Sure, they are tricky, but these tricks enable Boyle to actually tap into an extra-narrative means of storytelling that few directors utilize.  His films, despite the wide array of genres that he has operated within, are always uniquely Danny Boyle films, and 127 Hours is most definitely a Danny Boyle Joint.

This is a good thing because 127 Hours would be unbearable if there were not a relief from the desperation and claustrophobia.  Without intermittent departures from Aron's dire situation, people would probably be having panic attacks.  As it happens, the guy next to me (and there was only one person in the theater who did this) had to excuse himself after the much-talked-about scene.

*****LIKELY UNNECESSARY SPOILER ALERT*****

Much has been made of 'the scene,' and the hubbub is probably warranted.  After all, we are talking about a man deciding to break his own arm and then cut it off with a dull pocket knife.  The graphic scene has been blamed for causing nausea, vomiting, fainting, genocide in the Darfur Region, and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, but the effect of the sequence cannot be chalked up to just the intrinsically gory nature of severing one's own arm.  No, the violent camera work and the abrasive discordant blare of sound that strikes the viewer's eardrum like a fucking sledgehammer as Aron attempts to cut the nerve in his forearm.

And while the direction in this scene is integral, it is not just Boyle who is responsible for its success.  The scene and the movie would be nothing without James Franco.  From the onset of the film, Franco's work endears Aron Ralston to the audience.  He imbues the role with all the affability, self-reliance, humor, and goofy charm that he can muster, drawing the audience into his shoes with deft skill.  As we are trapped in the crevice with Aron, our sense of empathetic desperation is all the more palpable because of what Franco has done.  With time running out and the chance of rescue becoming increasingly impossible, the stakes are as high as they are for us thanks to Franco.  When he finally emerges, everything about his demeanor would lead us to believe that James Franco actually had to cut his own arm off. 

This isn't all to say that it is just Franco in the 11th Hour that puts this film over the top.  If there is a scene that actually serves as the segment of the film that captures the spirit of the film, it is the faux-talk show he does on his video camera.   Aron's self-deprecating humor is perfectly balanced with his self-awareness.  While the gravity of his situation never goes away, Aron's resilience cut with his goofy disposition pumps the blood through this film, and at no point is this more evident than in this moment.

I suppose it says a lot about a film in which the beginning of the third act consists of the protagonist*, who has been on screen by himself for much of the film, self-amputating the lower third of his right arm in a rather gruesome fashion, yet that scene isn't the one that I find myself thinking about as I close this out.

*A modern Western hero, as I've seen him dubbed elsewhere.

And as if I needed another reason to love this film (and casting James Franco in a role in which he is in 97% of the film was one helluva start, Mr. Boyle), the selection of Sigur Rós's "Festival" at the film's resolution seals the deal, lifting you up and sweeping you away elated and on the verge of tears with Aron.

In short, Boyle and Franco fucking delivered.

Bonus Franco (and yes, these were on the pre-trailer reel that the Alamo put together, but not everyone can go to the Alamo):




R.L. Stine...  Barack Obama...  Gay doctors...  Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Nonplussed.

That is the word that best sums up my feelings when I think about why I actually bothered finishing this book.

From the beginning, it was a chore.  Rushdie's train of thought never ended up matching up with mine.  Elements of his style struck me as both irksome and pretentious--namely his lack of comma-usage when listing of things in a series.  The cultural chasm between me and Rushdie's post-Independence India seemed hopelessly untraversable.

More importantly, though, it felt like I had kind of been there already.  Between having read Middlesex and One Hundred Years of Solitude fairly recently, the multi-generational magical realism on display didn't feel especially fresh.  Granted, Middlesex came about 20 years after Midnight's Children, but that's not the way I came to it, and One Hundred Years of Solitude was penned 14 years prior to Midnight's Children being published.

Mostly, though, the book never grabbed me.  I appreciate that it was trying to use its narrative to serve as an allegory for the burgeoning Indian Republic, but it didn't make me give a shit about it at any point.  Most of the characters were irritating more than anything else, including Saleem Sinai, the narrator, and the construct by which Saleem has omniscience seems a little too precious.

If anyone feels differently about the book, I'll gladly respond to comments.  I was definitely underwhelmed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Man on Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

As I briefly mentioned ages ago, one could hardly call me a fan of these movies.  The first two were utter failures--Chris Columbus's direction was awful.  Maybe kids enjoyed them, but there was nothing in them for adults, and I was of legal drinking age when TSLF dragged me to the first one.  Once Alfonso Cuarón took the reins in The Prisoner of Azkaban, the series was rebranded.  Cuarón's successors, Mike Newell and especially David Yates, have continued on following his example, and the results have been mostly good.  Yes, the series is still a bit hokey at times, but it has gotten slightly more adult as the characters have aged. 

Now, as I mentioned in the aforelinked article, TSLF had some concerns upon finding out that the final installment of the series was being split into two parts.  The primary concern lied with the fact that nothing happens in the first half of the last book*.  If the final book were to be split in to, it would stand to reason that it would be split roughly in the middle.  What does that mean for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1?

*For the record, I have not nor do I intend to read any of the books.  I have bigger fish to fry. 

Longest.

Camping movie.

Ever.

So for 153 minutes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and now 146 minutes of The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 essentially nothing has happened.  Think of it like a really long Empire Strikes Back.  Now as we all know, that doesn't equate to it being bad necessarily.  In the case of Empire, much of its worth is tied directly to the fact that George Lucas's involvement in the film did not include either a screenwriting or directing credit, but that doesn't mean that it isn't similar in spirit to this film.  Both are penultimate build-ups to what should be a huge ending.  Fortunately, there will be no goddamn Ewoks in Part 2.  Unfortunately, no gold bikini, unless I'm reading this series entirely incorrectly.

As for the cast, well, we all know what they're bringing to the table.  Daniel Radcliffe brings this...  


Emma Watson is cute and pulls off bookish well.  The kid (or dude, now, I guess) who plays Ron* does that thing that he does.

*His name--and yes, I had to check the credits for this--is Rupert Grint.

And it's all fine and good. 

It's just nothing really happens.  If you go to movies as much as I do, this probably won't bother you too much.  In an eight-film series, 299 minutes isn't really that much time in which nothing happens.  Hell, nothing really happened in the entire second season of Lost.

Now, if the ultimate installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 blows ass, then you'll be dealing with a camper almost as unhappy as Peter Johansen after the finale of BSG, but until then I'm willing to allow for this to have been the longest camping movie ever.

For me to not be irritated at the fact that not much happened meant that Yates & Co. pulled off what they aimed for.  Some of the best movies ever (Rear Window comes to mind) have virtually nothing happen and succeed because of the masterful building tension.  Deathly Hallows One is no Rear Window, but for the most part it works in spite of the fact that very little happens.  In that regard, kudos, David Yates.  Kudos.
Weird Side Note:  I was totally weirded out by the fact that the only song on the soundtrack was "O Children" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.  I bet he never thought that a bunch of nerdy kids who love magic were going to discover his music via the Harry Potter franchise.

Yes, this Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Musicalia: Junip - Mohawk - 11/18/10

After inadvertently taking a two-and-a-half hour nap, I awoke in a stupor to realize that I had about 15 minutes to get down to the Mohawk if I was going to see Junip.
Not sure who did the artwork, but I like it

For those unfamiliar with Junip, they are a band featuring Jose Gonzalez, the Argentine-via-Sweden folkster whose solo work found its way into the indie pop pantheon thanks in large part to his covers of The Knife's "Heartbeats" and Massive Attack's "Teardrop."  In the case of "Teardrop," his cover was such a reinvention of the song that despite it having been the reason I got into Massive Attack in the first place I could not figure out what song it was when I first heard it and had to look at the liner notes of a friend's (Wes Edwards, oh how I miss your shoulder rubs...) copy.

Gonzalez's somewhat eclectic heritage seems to inform his music at every turn, and with the platform that Junip provides him, this is especially evident.  Here the Scandinavian pop-folk sensibility is met with the undercurrents of a Latin rhythm section.  Each song settles into a groove that gets even the most ardent of the stoic concert-goers* nodding along. 

*Speaking of concert-goers, there was a little incident fairly early in the Junip set in which a guy somewhere around 40 years old somewhat angrily told a chatty girl in his line of sight to shut up.  A song or two later (after not heeding his command) she and her friends started making light of the shut up comment.  Now personally I know it's harder for me to tell a girl at a concert to shut up than it is for me to say it to a guy** for reasons I don't fully comprehend, but the fact remains that if anyone is telling you to shut up, there is probably a fucking reason for it and maybe you should re-examine your behavior before deciding that it's hilarious that some old dude told you to stop talking at a concert.  If one person around you thought you were irritating, then the odds are pretty good that everyone around you thought you were a pain in the ass.  If you have had your back to the stage and talked through a whole concert, then I'm talking to you right now when I say this:  SHUT THE FUCK UP OR LEAVE.  YOU ARE NOT MORE INTERESTING THAN THE CONCERT.  WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO SAY CAN WAIT.  WHAT WAS THE POINT OF YOU GOING TO THE CONCERT IN THE FIRST PLACE?  WHAT SHITFACE FROM WESTLAKE (insert your own city-specific entitled rich kid suburb where appropriate) IS GOING TO SEE YOU THERE?  WHY ARE YOU ALIVE? In this instance, I wasn't bothered by the person until after Angry Old Man yelled at her, but still, stop being dipshits at concerts people.  Have some sense of decorum.

**If anyone ever had a bootleg of Kris Kristofferson's SXSW set at the New West Showcase at La Zona Rosa from about 2006, they would most definitely here me yelling at some badge-holding dickbag telling him to "Shut the fuck up!"



There is not a world in which Junip would be considered a raucous live show, as one would expect given Gonzalez's solo output, but that didn't detract from the show at all.  The music plays well live, and they closed with a collaborative cover of "With or Without You" with opener Sharon Van Etten (and band) that was very much their own as one would have expected.  Van Etten's vocals were remiscent of Chan Marshall and made me wish that I hadn't been asleep for her portion of the night's bill, and the random people that I happened into after the show solidified that sentiment with their intimations that they had actually been there to see her.

When the show let out, I contemplated meandering down to Emo's to catch the Kurt Vile show (after having slept through his in-store show earlier in the evening) but ultimately decided that Rio Rita was calling out my name, which was probably the quasi-financially responsible thing to do.

I'm getting too old for this shit anyway.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Man on Film: The Trailer for The Mechanic Remake is Up

For those of you who are not familiar with the source material--quasi-trailer that doesn't do the film justice here:

--the original film, The Mechanic, follows a hitman (played by Charles Bronson) as he mentors a young protege who seeks an education in the art of contract killing.  The 1972 film is great, starting things off with a miraculously compelling 19 minutes of film featuring no dialogue whatsoever.  Directed by Michael Winner, who seemed to only work with Charles Bronson, The Mechanic really only has one shortcoming, the leaden Jan-Michael Vincent.

Now, Sylvester Stallone had wanted to do this remake for years, but I have to say that I'm just as excited to see what the director of what is inarguably the most important movie of the 1990s (Con Air, of course) will do with this project.  With Simon West at the helm and the immensely likable Jason Statham as its star, the only potential hitch would have been in the casting of Jan-Michael Vincent's role.  Ben Foster?  Sign me up.  In addition to seeming legitimately insane, Ben Foster has strung together a list of stand-out supporting turns in 3:10 to Yuma, 30 Days of Night, Hostage, Six Feet Under, and X-Men: The Last Stand (an altogether abysmal movie).  One could easily presume that he was great in both Pandorum and The Messenger, but I've not seen either film yet. 

Regardless, The (new) Mechanic looks intriguing enough for me.  Moreover, it makes me want to go back and watch the original.  Until its release, there is one vital question that the movie-going public will be losing sleep over:  Will there be a handball scene in this one?

At least Airwolf is nowhere to be seen...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tube Steak: Things I've Learned from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Perhaps this entry title is a bit misleading insofar as I've only learned one thing from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  That, of course, is the fact that Kim Richards needs me to marry her.

Now, I know what you're thinking...  Wait, what about your SPLF, Old Man?  Well, once you and I are wed, Kim Richards, the SPLF can move on to the only man she truly loves Timothy Olyphant (sorry, Mrs. Olyphant).

Kim Richards, since I first laid eyes on you--I was eight marvelling at your ten-year-old self, but I was in 1987 and the you I was smitten with was the you from 1974 or so*.  That didn't stop me from pining over you though, and my passion for your former self was re-ignited when I watched Tuff Turf, perhaps the greatest film ever, a couple years back.

*Think Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in The Lake House**, or in an actually lamer way***, pre-crippling Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time, everyone's mom's favorite movie.****


**Yeah, dickhead, I saw The Lake House.  Go screw yourself.  


***Yes, there is something lamer than The Lake House.


****Thanks a fucking lot, Oprah.

So if there has been one thing to be learned from these few episodes, it is that Kim Richards deserves better.  That's where I come in.

I'm awesome, and I know you deserve the best.  And you're a stone-cold fox.


Kim, you can contact me through the contact information on my profile.










I miss you already.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Man on Film: Catfish

To say there are an inordinate amount of films centered around social networking would be an understatement.  As Jesse, one of Paul Weston's patients on this newest season of In Treatment*, stated this past week:
Our society is becoming increasingly bifurcated... Our lives are now half in real-time and half in virtual-time.
Taking this into consideration, I suppose it only makes sense that more and more of our media will start to focus on this.

*Which I hope to talk about later this week, but we'll see if I get around to it.

Catfish, a relatively new* documentary, follows Yaniv 'Nev' Schulman as a he strikes up a friendship via Facebook with a child prodigy named Abby, who has been reinterpreting his photography through painting. Initially inspired by the story of this small town child artist, the filmmakers, Nev's brother Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, set off to explore Abby through her interaction with Nev.  

*It's nearing the end of its theatrical run.

As he begins to interact with Abby more and more, Nev gets to know her mother, Angela, and her hot older sister, Megan, and it is with Megan that he begins to strike up a relationship.

Where it goes from here is best left undiscussed, as the development of the story is compelling but ultimately subject to spoiling.

What Catfish does serve as is an entertaining and interesting look at the nature of our social lives on the internet and our perceptions of cyber-reality or our sense of virtual selves.  The question of what can we know about these people who we have daily interactions with on the internet is explored deftly, if entirely coincidentally in Catfish; but it is a personal story, so it never feels like it has taken on more than it can chew.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Wilco: Learning How To Die by Greg Kot

Obviously one is probably going to be a Wilco fan if he or she is going to dive into this book.  As one who could be qualified as such, the book is pretty damn pleasing. 


For those of you whom the author's name does not ring a bell, Greg Kot is the co-host of music talk show, Sound Opinions, and the music critic at the Chicago Tribune.  If you are familiar with his work, then you would not be shocked to find that Wilco: Learning How To Die is a thoughtful look at Wilco as one of the bands that sprang forth from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo to become one of the most critically acclaimed rock bands of this past decade.

Learning How To Die essentially begins with Jeff Tweedy's childhood quickly getting into his work with Jay Farrar, first in The Primatives which eventually became Uncle Tupelo.  It is interesting to see the portrait painted of the unsure young Jeff Tweedy, and the elucidation of the dynamic between Tweedy and Farrar helps to frame the earlier Wilco releases, especially A.M.

From there, Kot works through the demise of Uncle Tupelo and through the early years of Wilco, showing Tweedy in many shades, not all of them flattering.  Flattering or not, though, Tweedy the Figure is a compelling one, and this makes for an interesting character study of sorts.  

Now most Wilco fans have seen the Sam Jones documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, and as such already have a pretty strong working knowledge as to what went into the recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one could reasonably make the leap and assume that the last 50 or 60 pages of the book would be re-covering familiar ground.  Fortunately, Learning How To Die actually brings a little clarity to what had been a somewhat surprising and glossed over departure of a key figure in Wilco's rise, Jay Bennett.  In the film, Bennett is suddenly at odds with Jeff Tweedy in the mixing stages, and then he's out of the band.  Kot's painstaking work shows that Bennett had kind of been losing it in the studio, and that much of what Jim O'Rourke has been accused of doing by Wilco alt-country purists was actually off base.  Bennett had been layering track upon track upon track of material in the studio, and O'Rourke helped Tweedy strip down Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to its bare essentials.  The rest of the band's relief at Bennett's dismissal is also driven home. 

Wilco: Learning How To Die is a very quick read, and one that any serious Wilco fan should read, as Kot works in more than his fair share of music criticism, which is obviously his bread and butter.  His countless hours of interviewing and seemingly boundless access to the band make for an absurdly candid look at the band, warts and all.

(Weird video with a ludicrous intro/segue to follow)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Musicalia: Jónsi - Austin Music Hall - 10/26/10

Well, I definitely haven't been staying on top of things in the Musicalia department, as I never got around to writing about the Pavement* or Caribou** (thanks again, Luke Perry's Distant Cousin) shows that I saw, let alone my ninth time see The Drive-By Truckers, and that's just over the past month.

*Actually better than when I saw them on the Terror Twilight tour.

**First time I'd seen them as headliners.  Still great.  Weirdly felt very old at the show, which weirded me out because most of the crowd was in elementary school when Caribou was still Manitoba.

Speaking of not staying on top of things, this was actually the second time this year that TSLF and I had seen Jónsi, having traveled up to Lawrence in April to see the production when it rolled through the U.S. in the spring.  As described here by a better writer, that show was great.  Liberty Hall was definitely a better setting at which to take in the Jonsi show.  For starters, it was seated, even though the venue normally is not set up for this.  We were in the third row then.

Austin Music Hall is quite a bit bigger, and if you asked anyone who ever went to a show there, the sound is pretty shitty.  Yes, it was recently renovated, but I can guarantee you that acoustic tiling existed before the renovation. 

Aside from the difference in sound, there was also a difference between sets from April 22nd and yesterday, and I don't mean setlists.  The AMH physical set was missing a significant amount of set pieces from the earlier incarnation of the show.  This may not mean much to the lay person, but if you saw that previous version of the Jónsi show, hinted at here, the product at Austin Music Hall was going to leave you wanting.

Jónsi live show by 59 Productions from Jónsi on Vimeo.
Moving past the fact that last night's show didn't meet the absurdly high standards that one would have had if they'd seen the tour at a previous stop (I'd imagine this was a shortcoming that lies on the venue's shoulders, but it is also surely possible that some of the set has taken on casualties since April, which would be unfortunate), the performance was still pretty stellar.  Obviously if you're going to a Sigur Rós, Riceboy Sleeps, or Jónsi show, you have probably gotten past the potentially problematic aspects of the band, namely the made up language that much of Sigur Rós's material has been presented in.  Assuming you can move past that (I didn't have any problems), any show is going to be affective.  The sweeping epic post-rock is going to suck you in.  This time was no different.

Sure, half of the backdrop didn't come crashing down as the deer was eaten this time around, but when the storm hits in the encore, it is transcendent.  If a concert can give you that transcendent moment, even just one, I think generally the ticket (whatever the cost) was worth the price.  After all, isn't that really why we go to concerts?

To be swept away in the moment?

To have the music overpower us and forget about everything else? 

Regardless of the sparser arrangement of set pieces, the Jónsi Go tour will give you that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Man on Film: Animal Kingdom

Under the misguided idea that this was a contemporary Australo-Western, I went into a "Katy's pick" not really expecting the film that I was about to see.  What Animal Kingdom ended up being was a dark as hell crime drama centered around a boy being re-introduced to the extended family that his deceased mother had tried to keep him away from.

While I am somewhat hesitant to liken films to other films within this space, this film does feel akin to City of God, with its young protagonist thrown into a world rife with violence.  Animal Kingdom is much smaller in scope than the Fernando Meirelles masterpiece, and J, Animal Kingdom's hero, is much less charismatic and endearing than his City of God counterpart, Buscapé.

The real strength of the film is in the supporting cast.  James Frecheville, the young lead, is (presumably/hopefully) called upon to play a character essentially in a daze.  As the film kicks off, his addict mother has overdosed, and he heads back to her family, a family of criminals.  It is those criminals who make the film compelling.

Joel Edgerton* stands out in his relatively brief time on screen as the immensely likable Baz.  It's is his character's presence that the entire film essentially hinges upon.  Without his charm, the Cody family (Baz is the eldest son Pope's best friend and partner)  is not one that can be empathized with.  While they are criminals, Baz, their leader, is such a strong presence that it is easy to root for the crew from the start.

*Recognizable to many (for better or worse) as Owen Lars from the abysmal Star Wars prequels.

This is important because once that element is missing, the rest of the family begins to unravel, and it's not pretty.  Once the shit hits the fan and the paranoia reaches a fever pitch, the brothers Cody begin to self-destruct fantastically.  J's coke-fueled drug-dealing uncle, Craig, implodes before our eyes, and Sullivan Stapleton does his best to channel Ray Liotta when making this turn.

The performance that really makes the film though is that of Ben Mendelsohn as Pope.  Pope's presence is an unnerving one.  A sociopath at his core, the danger Pope poses to everyone around him lingers in the air, tension building uncomfortably, released intermittently and randomly through outbursts only to build right back up again almost instantaneously.  Pope's desire to fit in with and ultimately be depended upon by his family and friends at first seems slightly pathetic but slowly this effort on his part shows evidence of his attempting to be a human--something he is in form only.  The chaotic energy he brings to the film is frightening, and Mendelsohn brings unhinged to a seldom-seen cinematic level.

I would also be remiss if I made no mention of the performance of Jacki Weaver.  The family had to get fucked up somehow, and it was her turn as the enabling mother who always wants to be in the middle of her boys' schemes and misdeeds.  Her willingness to do anything for her boys, no matter the moral implications, is ultimately what sets the stage for their demise.  As the movie progresses, her moral ambiguity gives way to a complete and utter amoral core, where she is willing to do anything to anyone to protect her sons, even if it means fucking her own grandson over. 

As Guy Pearce's Detective Leckie tries to protect J, he ends up throwing him to the wolves that are his family. That is where Animal Kingdom sets itself apart from the standard crime drama fare.  By the time, the end of the film rolls around the cub, J, either has to eat or be eaten.

Whether or not that particular element is intrinsically Australian (I'll refrain from stepping into the realm of cultural stereotyping, fun as I may find it to be), the film seems to be imbued with the lawlessness that we Americans tend to place upon the wild continent of Australia. There is a sparse, contemplative nature to the film that boldly compliments the narrative, a self-assured decision from the first-time feature-length writer/director David Michôd.  This is an impressive debut to be sure, and it leaves me looking forward to an Australian film that doesn't even exist--Michôd's follow-up to Animal Kingdom.

Oh, and I totally forgot how hot Laura Wheelwright was in this movie until I rewatched the trailer.
Ben Mendelsohn and Laura Wheelwright in Animal Kingdom
Katy would have been upset if I hadn't mentioned this.
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