Friday, December 30, 2011

PSA: Gone Missing - The Final Journey of Old John Needs Your Support

My friend, John Pike, is working on a film project that is in need of help. While having already procured some funding, director Till Coster's vision does require just a bit more backing than he's currently got. In his quest to track down a colorful old acquaintance who seemed hellbent on cutting his way deep into the jungle to die, Till hopes to do what a lot of us often long for: resolving those nagging questions as to whatever happened to that person who never quite leaves our thoughts. Here is the introductory video from these guys to give you a better sense of what they're setting off to do.

Their vision can be brought to life with your help. Their project is up on Kickstarter and has a long way to go towards meeting its goal of $5,000. Any help you can give will be met with kind thoughts and apparently also a personalized 'thank you' video.

Here is the link to their Kickstarter page if you feel so moved.

Prick Tunes: The Civil Wars "Barton Hollow"

Finding a new band that I actually like is becoming increasingly rare as my spirit morphs into that of a 75-year-old man. Every once in a while, though, it does happen. Finally getting around to checking out the new album by The Civil Wars is just one of those rare cases. I love the opener of Barton Hollow, "20 Years," but there didn't seem to be an official video for it. The title track is damn fine, too, and it may pull you in a bit more than "20 Years" or even the first single "Poison & Wine" might.

If ever there were a song that seems destined to be in an episode of Justified, it is "Barton Hollow."

Man on Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Having both read the book and seen the Swedish film, there was a hope coming into seeing David Fincher's take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that someone would finally cull a good, balanced story out of the material. The novel had significant structural issues with its climax coming about 150 pages before the end of the book, and the roughly 300 pages of bookended Mikael Blomqvist fall and redemption ultimately fall flat. The Swedish film does turn its focus much more to the search for Harriet's killer, virtually ignoring Mikael's story, but there are some issues with Niels Arden Oplev's take as well, namely casting and the lack of rationale behind Mikael and Lisbeth Salander hooking up. But most of the substantive issues with the Swedish film lie in the fact that there are significant plot holes to get lost in. 

Fincher's turn at the helm, aided much by a smoother Steven Zaillian script, is a marked improvement. For starters, it's David Fucking Fincher behind the camera (at least in the larger, non-literal sense). Whatever issues one may have had with relative duds Panic Room and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, his entire catalog of films look fucking amazing. He has an aptitude for the aesthetic aspects of film-making that few working directors have. If one only partially subscribed to auteur theory feeling only comfortable applying the name to a select few directors, there is no goddamn way that label wouldn't be attached to David Fincher. The ambiance he builds in his films lend to an unease among the viewership, especially in his darker works. Setting him loose on a wintry Scandinavian crime tale with very dark elements seems like it is perhaps the most logical choice for this Americanization. His adeptness in the arena of mise-en-scene set his film apart from both other entrants in the contest. 

Honestly, from the moment that the opening credits kicked off, I was sold. The all-black nightmarish tar sequence set against the sonic backdrop of the heavy Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross/Karen O cover of "Immigrant Song" is unsettling and rocks the audience. Karen O's vocals are fucking awesome. The duality of Karen O, who I'm both afraid of and drawn to, is perfect for this song, and the duo of Reznor and Ross clearly have something going here in the wake of their second straight stellar Fincher score, this one seeming to have only been topped by this year's Cliff Martinez Drive score. 

Past mise-en-scene and score, there is still quite a bit to like about Fincher's rendition of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's primary asset is in its casting. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara have great chemistry together, and Craig (unlike his Swedish counterpart Michael Nyqvist) is clearly handsome enough to be able to reasonably attract the much younger Salander. Apologies to all who find this take on the Swedish film, but from a strictly superficial standpoint, it simply was not believable that she would jump him. Both inhabit their roles with aplomb. The secondary characters are well-cast, too. It is difficult to imagine a better [non-Swedish] fit for the role of Henrik Vanger than Christopher Plummer. While not as meaty a role as his fantastic turn in Beginners, he holds down the role of tortured patriarch with the requisite gravitas. Stellan Skargard has the range required to pull off the role of Martin Vanger, even if much of his character-development is left out of the finished product. 

Given all the praise I have heaped upon this film, it would almost seem as though I took no issue with the film. That would not be the case. Unfortunately, just as with the novel and the Swedish film adaptation, the bookending of all of the developments in the Mikael Blomqvist storyline leads to a disjointed and unearned redemption. He falls from grace, goes to the country with his tail between his legs, ignores his problems under the condition that his efforts will be rewarded in the delivery of Wennerstrom's head on a platter, and passes the next two-plus hours working on the interesting mystery while the resolution of his own problems is COMPLETELY IGNORED. How is this not problematic? Sorry if the arm-chair screenwriting is coming off as a bit pedantic but wouldn't the obvious solution to this problem be to have Lisbeth conducting her own investigation into Wennerstrom in secret and parceling out that information occasionally throughout the narrative? Without something of that nature, no one gives a fuck about what happens to Blomqvist by the time the Harriet mystery is resolved because they've been encouraged to forget about his problems by the fact that any mention of his redemption story virtually disappears from the screen for the greater course of the movie.

It is just so goddamn frustrating to see a story that could have been great told in such an anti-climactic way when such an obvious solution lies right there in plain view. Luckily, Fincher's vision carries this film into a realm that its Swedish predecessor was unable to enter. Most of the potential plot-holes in the emphasis on narrative economy are circumvented with efficient use of the montage and other non-dialogue driven information provided on-screen. The only real issue, and it is a big one, is the aforementioned disappearance of the Blomqvist story only to find ourselves right back in it well past the point at which we all forgot about it. Once forgiving this shortcoming, it is evident that this is as close to being great as anyone has gotten with this story, which is saying something. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Prick Tunes: Sophie B. Hawkins "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover"

Whenever I paint the picture of myself ending it all, I do it as follows:

I light some candles and draw a bath. I feel the water to make sure it's warm. I put on Sophie B. Hawkins's "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover." I get into the tub and reminisce (not lewdly) about when Dylan held Kelly in his arms on the beach in that classic summer episode of 90210. Then I knock the toaster that had been leaning precariously on the edge of the tub into the water.
Today (I'm writing this on Christmas night), I spent three or four hours at the place that I work as the Austin Fire Department put out a massive fire. Unlike really any other job I've had, I truly love that job. It's weird, but I've never been as happy at a workplace as I've been in my five years in the employ of Capital Cruises. Now the job I love hangs in limbo. While the scenario I just painted is an exaggeration, I have no idea what is going to happen to the owner, who I respect so much, and my friends and co-workers, who I'd sincerely miss seeing every day.

I'm so fucking down.

Oh, I really don't know how active I'll be this week. Sorry in advance.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prick Tunes: Waylon Jennings "Waymore's Blues"

There aren't many fellas cooler than Waylon Jennings was. I could probably dedicate a whole month to the man and still unearth more interesting stuff along the way. I guess there's no better place to start than with the third verse of "Waymore's Blues," which perfectly and succinctly encapsulates the conflicted machismo running through much of his work.

I got a good woman. What's the matter with me?
What makes want to love every woman I see?
I was triflin' when I met her, I'm triflin' again
And every woman she sees looks like a place I came in.
(Looks like a place I came in)
(A place I came in)

Put yourself back in 1975, listening to the radio and hearing the end of that verse for the first time. In the self-titled "Waymore's Blues," we find Jennings at the controls of the runaway train that was Outlaw Country. With its whiskey-soaked rollick providing the rhythmic backdrop, Waylon first evokes the memory of one of the forebears of the genre, Jimmie Rodgers. In the verse that follows he seems to be bridging the gap between the generations by describing through analogy the way his predecessor played the game and how he plays it in the present. Travelling across that bridge, he contemporizes the experience of the troubadour, inserting a bit of that cocky outlaw ethos in the final two verses.

The result is undistilled brilliance.

Here is a live version that stays pretty close to the album cut from Dreaming My Dreams.

And here is an acoustic version from Cowboy Jack Clement's TV show (if it is properly attributed on YouTube).

Now, if I'm not mistaken that's Jessi Colter in the second video on the bench. If so, kudos to you Waylon. Kudos to you.

The Queue Continuum: Croupier

Croupier finds director Mike Hodges and Clive Owen teaming up for the first of two movies together (the next being I'll Sleep When I'm Dead) and sees Hodges returning to a form unseen since his masterpiece British gangster film Get Carter 27 years earlier. If the original Get Carter is not a familiar reference point for you, then I would advise you to rectify this immediately. If it is, then your interest in Croupier should be piqued.

Owen's writer/croupier character Jack Manfred seems to be very much cut from the same cloth as your archetypal noir protagonist. While slightly closer in tone to a Jim Thompson tale than a Raymond Chandler story, this is definitely one of the stronger entrants into the neo-noir oeuvre in the past 20 years. Jack caroms through this seedy casino world bouncing from woman to woman, getting played and playing others himself. The plot is serpentine, and the film's rhythm has a quiet urgency about it.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that it was a British production--Film Four, to be exact. As it was produced by a British television network, Croupier does look much more dated than it actually is. British TV productions, at least up until the beginning of the 2000s, usually looked about 10-15 years older than they actually were as a result of low production value. Croupier, despite the fact that it was released in 1998, looks considerably older than it actually is. Luckily, Hodges builds character and mood so well that this flaw moves to the subconscious quickly.

Once one is able to move past this unavoidable shortcoming, it is smooth sailing, at least for the viewer's rapt attention. If you ever wondered why so many people were clamoring for Clive Owen to be the next James Bond, you need look no further than this film to see why he would be perfect for the role.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prick Tunes: Toto "Hold the Line"

Once one moves past the fact that singer Bobby Kimball doubles as a living and breathing cautionary tale of cocaine use in this video, it becomes pretty clear that Toto could fucking bring it. Blessed with the presence of the insanely talented Porcaro brothers*, Toto were a force to be reckoned with in the early 80s with their influence even being felt on the top-selling album of all-time Thriller, which saw many members of the band acting as studio musicians and Steve Porcaro getting a co-writing credit for "Human Nature."

*Jeff Porcaro was the preeminent American studio session drummer from the mid-1970s up until his death in 1992. He was the drummer on the albums Thriller, Pretzel Logic (Steely Dan), The End of the Innocence, Like a Prayer, and Beauty on a Back Street (Hall and Oates) to name but a few. Steve Porcaro is actually still having his work heard as he scores the badass Timothy Olyphant star-vehicle Justified. Mike Porcaro joined the band in 1982 and served as its bassist up until 2007, when he left the band stemming from hand numbness that was later revealed to be symptoms of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).


What really matters here, though, is this song off of their self-titled debut album. "Hold the Line" everybody.

The Queue Continuum: Winnebago Man


Winnebago Man follows Ben Steinbauer as he sets out to find the titular man also often known as "The Angriest Man in the World." This trailer will bring you up to speed.

The obvious pitfall of a documentary like this is that there is a fine line between the respectful and the exploitative. Given the fact that the film is about a man whose claim to fame is being the star of a viral video in which he is freaking out while shooting a corporate sales video for the Winnebago. Director Ben Steinbauer definitely manages to keep the tone of the film respectful, which is an attribute to the film. The result is a portrait of an acerbic and curmudgeonly yet well-spoken man with a healthy amount of affection for its subject. More importantly, though, it is funny in large part because Jack Rebney is funny.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prick Tunes: Gerry Rafferty "Whatever's Written In Your Heart" and "Days Gone Down"

It should come as no surprise to any of the readers here that I love me some Gerry Rafferty. Anytime I can fit him into a post, I do. "Whatever's Written In Your Heart" is the stand-out track from the second side of his 1978 sophomore solo release* City to City. As much as I love "Baker Street" and "Right Down The Line," this may be the track that I find myself looking forward to on the album the most.

*He had released his first solo album Can I Have My Money Back? in 1971 following the break-up of The Humblebums, his band with future comic Billy Connolly. He then spent 1972-1975 in Stealers Wheel and spent the three years following their break-up unable to release anything as a result of legal ramifications of the band's dissolution before finally being able to move forward with his solo career.
And while we're on the subject of deeper Gerry Rafferty cuts*, here is the second track off of his follow-up to City to City, 1979's Night Owl: "Days Gone Down (Still Got The Light In Your Eyes)," which was recently featured in 50/50. It was his highest charting US single off of Night Owl, although the title track was a much bigger hit in the UK. 

*For some, anything past "Baker Street" and the Stealers Wheel hit "Stuck In The Middle With You" are deep cuts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Man on Film: Take Me Home Tonight and the Near-Certain Eddie Money Renaissance That Will Ensue

[This is an oldie, but a goodie. From time to time, I'll repost an old entry. Don't worry, I won't re-post shitty entries. This is from late February and is near and dear to my heart.]

As if you were not keenly aware, the [chris]Topher Grace star-vehicle Take Me Home Tonight opens on the first Friday of March. Judging by the [very adult NSFW Red-Band] trailer below, this will surely be a comedic tour de force that rivals Arsenic and Old Lace, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Modern Times, Duck Soup, and The New Guy.

Yes, there was once a film starring Dennis Miller
All right, maybe not, but it might not suck. And if the only other Angie Everhart movie you saw was Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (read: this guy) only to swear off getting teased like that again, then here is your chance to finally see her [presumably] partially nude, albeit 16 years after the fact.

Any talk of the movie is largely irrelevant, at least here. It is opening against Rango--not this film's target audience--and The Adjustment Bureau--perhaps the perfect counter-programming for those not wanting to indulge in the paranoid world of Philip K. Dick's imagination. It will get its audience of stoned/drunk 17-to-45-year-olds*, and nothing I say here will affect this one way or the other.

*Let's not pretend that this will not be a core demographic, kids. Americans stopped growing up after the baby-boomers came of age.

What is most important is that this will surely start an Eddie Money renaissance. If ever there were a more deservingly fella than Edward Mahoney, I've not seen him. And, oh, the possibilities...

If there is one thing that Hollywood has proven they are willing, nay, likely to do, it is take an idea and run it into the ground. For a frame of reference, witness Battle: Los Angeles, which is basically the same film as Skyline (no, I will not be embedding the trailers here), and both of those look to be the same fucking film as every other alien invasion movie ever. Given the inarguably bright future for Take Me Home Tonight, it is important to prepare ourselves for the orgiastic onslaught of Eddie Money tunes that will be finding their way into film titles for years to come.

Buckle up kids.

Think I'm In Love

Taking a slight cue from the video that inspired the film's name, this will feature Ron Livingston as an mild-mannered introvert, Mark, who lives in the estate left to him by his dearly departed parents. A professor in Library Sciences, he is dragged out on the town by his amiable graduate assistant (Adam Brody), where he meets a wild, mysterious, vampiric woman (Monica Bellucci) who casts her spell and sinks her teeth into her mark. After a whirlwind month-long romance, he begins to wonder if things are too good to be true, looks around at how he seems to have lost his bearings, and says, "Fuck it, this is Monica Bellucci."

We Should Be Sleeping

A black comedy in which a couple married for 35 years (Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns) find out they both have inoperable brain tumors from obsessive cell phone use and make a suicide pact. In an extended take on the first act of Harold & Maude, their various attempts at taking fate into their own hands are unsuccessful in hilarious ways. When they finally give up and decide to let God do his will, a grand piano falls from the sky, crushing them while the titular song plays the movie to its credits featuring candid photos from the set of Growing Pains.

Club Michelle

An indie comedy in which a college student group dedicated to honoring the current First Lady tries in vain to secure Michelle Obama as their special guest speaker at their year-end mixer with their intra-campus rival group the ObaManiacs, who have netted Rahm Emanuel as their speaker. Their efforts are continually cross-cut with segments of Rahm Emanuel's insanely lewd speech at the mixer.

Endless Nights

Hugh Grant stars as a father of ten-year-old triplets who has to watch as all three of his daughters try out for and get parts in three separate community theater productions that end up rehearsing every weeknight. A fully aware father, he has to watch as his daughters, who are all clearly horrible actresses, butcher already awful plays while getting absurdly effusive and earnest praise from everyone around. The disconnect between his realistic read on things and everyone else's feedback cause him to contemplate moving his family to Barrow, AK, where the nights may not end in the summer but they don't have community theater.

Walk On Water

Scott Stapp stars as the Second Coming of Christ, the role he was born to play, but rather than usher in the end of times, he falls for a drive-thru worker at a Popeye's in Atlanta, played by Stacey Dash. He goes through the drive-thru every day trying to work up the courage to ask her out, but her boyfriend (William Zabka) is having none of it. After a confrontation, Zabka's foil challenges Jesus to a water-skiing contest, which Jesus dominates, of course. Jesus gets the girl, ushers in the end of the world, and Zabka's character gets sent to hell, along with the dickish owner (William Atherton) of the Popeye's in the film.

Two Tickets to Paradise
*
Despite the universal acclaim for the directorial debut of D.B. Sweeney in the first film called Two Tickets to Paradise, 
(here is the trailer )
the name is used again, this time for a Terence Malick film in which a single mother (Charlize Theron) and her 12-year-old son (Haley Joel Osment) win a potato sack race only to find that the prize is two bus tickets and a three-week stay in Paradise, MI, a small town in the Upper Peninsula with nothing to do but watch the freighters on the Lake Superior. Weirded out by the UPers and their backward ways, they soon find themselves ostracized after badmouthing Tom Izzo and have to wait out their final week in Paradise while the locals scowl at them.

*This version is strangely faster than the album version. I wonder why...

Baby Hold On

Epitomizing big studio laziness, Open Water is re-titled Baby Hold On, a Money-centric soundtrack is inserted, and the film is re-released.

Shakin'

Not to be left out, Michael Moore turns his lens on epilepsy... Of the feline variety. It is a scathing indictment as to how our government is failing our cats. As he uncovers reams of documents, he finds that it is, in fact, Wal-Mart and Monsanto acting in cahoots to draw our attention to seizing kitties of a family-friendly variety while they actively find ways to kill us in an effort to take over the world.

Prick Tunes: David Bowie and Mick Jagger "Dancing in the Streets"

Shared moments. Longing gazes. Two of the biggest names in Rock. This video has it all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Prick Tunes: Mungo Jerry "In The Summertime"

It's hard to know where to begin on this one. You could start with the weird foot stomps. You could start with the camera's proclivity for capturing only up-nostril shots of the Peter Tork/Jimmie Dale Gilmore bassist. You could certainly kick things off with a discussion about how the band felt about poor girls or drunk driving.

Or you could just watch this weird-ass video.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Prick Tunes: Destroyer "Savage Night at the Opera"

I know it hasn't been long since the last time the Dan Bejar project Destroyer graced these cyberpages, but I didn't want to forget that this video existed. Then there's the fact that I love this album.
Once again from the album Kaputt, here is "Savage Night at the Opera" from everybody's favorite male New Pornographer.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Prick Tunes: Bill Callahan "Riding for the Feeling"

Sorry, this is a little late. It occurs to me that Bill Callahan hasn't been properly represented in this space. This definitely doesn't jive with how much I actually listen to him, which is a ton. In the past decade, there may not be an album I've listened to more than the final Smog album, A River Ain't Too Much To Love. Apocalypse, his newest album is also great and features this song.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prick Tunes: Leonard Cohen "Chelsea Hotel, No. 2"

This is the song responsible for getting me into Leonard Cohen. I was very late to the game and should have been taken with him much, much sooner. The moment I heard the song and it clicked for me was while watching an episode to the short-lived series Karen Sisco*. As Cohen intimates in his intro in this video, this song is about his time in the famous Chelsea Hotel in the late 60s. As he usually dedicates the song to Janis Joplin, whether overt or furtive, the assumption is that the song is about her. The element of the story he tells in the intro in which he claims to be Kris Kristofferson is fucking hilarious.

*This, of course, was the series in which Carla Gugino took the reigns from Jennifer Lopez, who had played the filmic incarnation of Elmore Leonard's U.S. Marshal in Out of Sight, marking what might be the only instance in history in which the TV version of a character was hotter than the film version.


If you were looking for an entry point to a Leonard Cohen obsession, this song and (in a larger sense) New Skin for the Old Ceremony is your gateway. Also, do not hesitate to try to track down the 2005 Liam Lunson documentary Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, which offers a ton of insight from the man himself along with a lot of performances and is available on DVD through Netflix.

Man on Film: The Descendants

While the prospect of sitting through a film in which a family tries to pick up the pieces of their lives as one of their own sits at death's door can often be a daunting one, especially if you've experienced such loss in your own life, Alexander Payne's latest feature The Descendants adeptly skirts around the tedium, melodrama, and depression into which most grief-driven fare often tumbles.

At this point, Payne's curriculum vitae should speak for itself. In his last three features--Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways*--Payne and long-time writing partner Jim Taylor** combined to made films that while often dealing with protagonists who should have been little more than sad-sacks ended up carving out a niche that saw them crafting much less depressive films than the subject (and protagonist) would otherwise have been if in the hands of others.

*I always forget about Citizen Ruth, in large part because I've never seen it. Oddly, I always thought it was a movie made for HBO. This was not the case, as it was a Miramax release. 

**I just found out that Payne and Taylor were two of the three credited screenwriters for Jurassic Park III. What. The. Fuck?

This time around Taylor isn't in the writing mix, just wearing the hat of a producer. In his stead, Payne enlisted the help of Nat Faxon (recognizable to most readers as Garlan Greenbush from Party Down episode "Party Down Company Picnic") and Jim Rash (Dean Pelton from Community). Working from the Kaui Hart Hemmings debut novel by the same name, Payne & Co. have given the movie-going public a movie that doesn't simply deal with death in the typical way of blindly honoring the dead.

As Matt King (George Clooney) learns shortly after his wife's accident, his wife had been cheating. The marriage wasn't exactly on the best of terms, but the typical course in the woman being kept alive by machines is deified is not the one that is run here. In the wake of his wife's boating accident that has rendered her a vegetable, Matt must connect with his daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley of The Secret Life of the American Teenager) and Scottie (Amara Miller). All the while, he must come to his own terms with his strained marital relationship without being able to talk to his spouse. In attempting to reconcile the bombshell that her infidelity was, he tries to balance his duties as sole trustee (in a trust set to expire of his large family's 25,000 acres of virgin land on Kauai with trying to work through the grieving process while trying to step up from his previous role as "back-up parent." He accomplishes the latter by bringing his daughters--and Alexandra's quasi-beau Sid (Nick Krause)--along with him, working through their grief together.

Delving into the plot any further is largely pointless in talking abut the film. It is not the plot of The Descendants that sets it apart. Rather it is the rawness and breadth of emotions covered therein. As Matt works through the anger, pain, confusion, and sorrow, his journey is one that is quietly but intensely affective. The gamut of emotions that Matt runs are easily relatable. The audience can place themselves in his shoes with little thought or energy spent. The verity of his emotional sojourn is naturally evident; quite simply, The Descendants attains a level of truth that most films do not.

What matters the most here is that The Descendants feels genuine. There are lighter moments and clear laughs (much of what happens with Sid), but these aspects of the film are simply complimentary. The backbone of the film is the natural handling of grief with which Payne and Co. have imbued it. At the film's pre-coda close, this obedience to truth pays dividends and the audience is left touched.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tube Steak: Boardwalk Empire Realizing Its Potential

Coming into its sophomore season, the lasting impression that the first season of Boardwalk Empire left had been one of promise but mild disappointment. After a stunning and opulent pilot directed by Martin Scorcese, the first season seemed like it should have been groundbreaking. There was so much capacity for transcendent greatness, yet the show managed to just be very good. Perhaps such expectations for a show were too lofty, but it seemed given the fact that it had a cast and crew teeming with talent and an historical scope that should have lent itself well to a sprawling epic chronicling the rise of organized crime as we know it.

To be fair some of those elements were present and well-represented, but there seemed to be just a little too much potential left unrealized. While always blessed with art direction and production design that should saddle the crew over at Mad Men with crippling inferiority complexes, the style over substance concern certainly lingered.

The second season, which came to a close with its finale Sunday night, quelled any lingering concerns.

[SPOILERS will be prevalent from here on out. Be wary.]


Season Two saw Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson (Steve Buscemi) running scared from enemies on all sides. On the legal side of things, Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) begins sharing an office with Assistant US Attorney Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson)--who along with her chief investigator have been brought in to try Nucky on election tampering--at roughly the midway point of the season. Nucky also is met head-on by a rival faction in Atlantic City led by his spurned brother, Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), his predecessor,  Commodore Kaestner (Dabney Coleman), and his former protege (and bastard son of the Commodore), Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt). Those three align themselves with some of the old power brokers in the city along with an up-and-coming Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky, the latter two working under the watchful eye of Arnold Rothstein. And then there is the threat that lies within his own house, Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald), whose loyalty to Nucky has formed a bond between the two that becomes endangered as she becomes wrought with guilt and turns back to the Catholic Church.

It is with Nucky scrambling to stay afloat that Boardwalk Empire hits its stride. Much like the second season of Dexter, the show only grabs ahold of the audience once the dark anti-hero of the story is backed into a corner and has everybody gunning for him. The stakes are raised for the protagonist just as he is going into survival mode. Perhaps the set-up going on in the first season is necessary to have the audience fully invested, but the fact remains that this second season shows actualization--to borrow from baseball parlance--of its tools.

As the second season progressed, the teeth of history sunk further into the narrative that Terence Winter and Co. were weaving. While not imperative for the telling of this tale, by tying the semi-fictional world* of Boardwalk Empire's Atlantic City into the Genesis story of the modern crime underworld and the infamously corrupt Harding administration there is a heft added to the equation that a simple work of fiction would not be able to attain.

*As you are likely aware, Boardwalk Empire is based on Enoch Johnson and is loosely adapted from the book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.

So far, I have really only attributed the success of the show to the narrative backing into a corner of Nucky Thompson, which in and of itself could be enough to induce such a positive response. This would be short-sighted as it is really the world that they have created that makes the show so compelling. The supporting cast of characters provide a rich tapestry of color as a backdrop.

While most of the fascinating character development happened in the first season for Agent Nelson Van Alden, Michael Shannon's turn as the self-flagellating, hypocritical religious zealot who knocks up showgirl and former love interest of Nucky Thompson Lucy Danziger (played by the irritating but oft-naked Paz de la Huerta) while his pious wife sits at home in New York is one of the most interesting acting jobs in recent memory. His face conveys all of the inner conflict and turmoil through his veneer of stoicism.

The hushed and pensive performance of Kelly MacDonald as the widow Margaret Schroeder should be studied by all aspiring actresses. Her approach to the abused Catholic widow gone astray as her life is improved with the interest taken by the complex but corrupt Thompson is one of restraint and subduction (in a non-geological sense). Ascribing her daughter's having been stricken by polio to her wayward relationship with God, the pendulum swings her back firmly into the arms of The Church as is seen and firmly determined in the final sequence of the season finale.

There are also the diametrically opposed right hands of Nucky and Jimmy Darmody, Owen Sleater and Richard Harrow. Sleater, whose Irish brogue and cocksure swagger make him impossible not to be taken by, and the actor Charlie Cox were a great addition to the show this season. Largely a utilitarian, his cold-bloodedness when combined with the general warmth that he exudes is magnetic. As for Harrow, Jack Huston (great-grandson of the legendary Walter Huston) fell into the role of a lifetime. Richard Harrow is a shell of a man, wearing the scars of service to his country both on the exterior and interior. Harrow is broken. While introspective and a sensitive soul, his experiences in war have hollowed him out, making him perhaps the most interesting character on the show. His near-suicide attempt was quite possibly the most emotionally affective moment of the season. His mask bears remembrance of the moment with every shot he is in. As the season closes, the one whose well-being we inevitably grow concerned for is not one of the main characters but is rather Harrow, who over the course of the final three episodes had every last shred of human connection torn from him. These two men are the supporting characters to whom our attention is invariably drawn.

But the heart of the season is in the conflict between Nucky and Jimmy. The dynamics in play give the show such rich subtext. Nucky resents that his protege veered from the path he proscribed. Jimmy resents that Nucky wants him to work for something he feels he has already earned. There is the father/son element playing at so many angles, with Jimmy being the biological son of Nucky's predecessor, the Commodore, while essentially being raised by Nucky--not his father--but feeling as though Nucky's seat was rightfully his on account of his biological father. The overthrow that is engineered is rife with father/son (both literally and figuratively) conflict, and the prince is ill-suited for rule once he has seized the throne.

The conclusion of the conflict between the two is really the only way everything can be resolved. Despite the fact that the assassination attempt was in fact Eli's idea, Nucky has no other recourse but to deal Jimmy's insurrection in the way he saw fit. It shows Nucky to be above emotional attachment, entirely cut-throat, and not averse to getting his hands dirty when the occasion calls for it. Jimmy, knowing that his fate is in Nucky's hands, is also willing to own up to his actions for the first time. It shows just how powerful Nucky is.

Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt play the parts exceptionally well. It seemed inevitable that this would be the case for Buscemi, but Pitt's performance was a bit revelatory. While initially seeming to do little more than his best imitation of Ethan Embry in Brotherhood, Pitt eventually wore down my defenses, winning me over, at least in this role.

All in all, the second time around proved to resolve any reticence among the trepidatious audience. Boardwalk Empire became transcendent television before our eyes.

Prick Tunes: Justin Townes Earle & Dawn Landes "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind"

This is a cover of the Dolly Parton hit from Heartbreak Express. Recorded in a session for Paste Magazine, I've embedded it in the original format from Paste and then as a video from YouTube. You can pick your poision.


Now this version is much more akin to a version of the song that she recorded with Chet Atkins than the album track from Heartbreak Express. While not drastically different, the vocal arrangement in the cover is much more like this:

Regardless, Dolly penned a helluva song.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Prick Tunes: Bread "Baby I'm-A Want You"

First things first. I really fucking dig this song. I have multiple Bread albums on vinyl. Not all of their material is this lite, but they are damn fine at doing what they do.
That being said, this video is pretty weird. YouTube user ChrissyKim uploaded this video, which consists of Susan Dey stills from the early-to-mid-70s set to the song. Don't get me wrong, she was kind of hot, but time machine lechery of a barely legal Susan Dey set to Bread is odd. Awesome, but odd.

The Queue Continuum: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

An adaptation of a collection of David Foster Wallace short stories by the same name, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men marks John Krasinski's first foray into the realm of feature-length screenwriting and directing. Staying true to its title, this is a film in which the men on display are often pretty terrible. 

Starring Julianne Nicholson, who some may notice from her stints on Boardwalk Empire* and Law & Order: Criminal Intent or films Tully and Kinsey, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men consists of interviews that are the product of her character's (Sara Quinn) graduate study trying to find the truth about men. Through the course of her research, she finds the slimy underbelly of most of these men. The disgust that is often reflexive upon hearing the confessions of these men is often off-set by their eventual revelations of fears and insecurities, but the fact remains that these are not stand-up dudes. 

*More on that, hopefully tomorrow.

There stories, at least initially, are repulsive. The pictures of men painted here are not flattering. While that doesn't necessarily eliminate the film from enjoyability, it does rule it out as being a film that the common man is going to want to see. 

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men has its audience. Structurally, it is interesting, and the innate curiosity regarding her motivation for the study is compelling for the film's duration of 80 minutes. Ultimately, I don't know that this film is worth your time, and I certainly wouldn't want to be the person that urged you to watch it. I didn't mind it, but I certainly wasn't in love with the film and have little desire to see it again. Perhaps it gets to the core of what makes men tick. I guess I'll leave that determination up to you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Prick Tunes: Feist "Mushaboom"

It's not new. That isn't the point of this whole exercise.

By embedding this video, I'm running the risk of making even more men fall hopelessly in love with idea of Leslie Feist. I'll be goddamned if she doesn't have supernatural powers akin to the sirens.
I'll be goddamned.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Prick Tunes: Seal "Kiss From A Rose"

Were I so inclined, I could write a letter to Casey Kasem that would surely get read on the air about a childhood friend and his summer camp romance. In his torrid two-week affair with Connie, they shared a moment under the stars with this song as the soundtrack to their middle school passion. When this friend (you know who you are) got home from camp, he found out that their relationship was over via the U.S. Postal Service. All he was left with was this song. And his tears.

Connie, if you're out there, Tadd still sheds a tear in memory of your romance for the ages.

From the Batman Forever Original Soundtrack, Seal's "Kiss From A Rose."

Tube Steak: Conflicted on Sons of Anarchy

If hard-pressed to choose which show on television is the most uneven, it would be hard to imagine a show other than Sons of Anarchy taking that title. In its now four season run, Kurt Sutter and Company have struggled to maintain momentum while setting up each season's story arc, saddling viewers with a front-loaded handful of episodes in nearly every season that sap the viewer's energy. Nearly every season that has gone by shared this characteristic, and Sons often finds itself piling up episodes on the DVR after it hits the three episode mark, feeling far too much like an obligation.

Season Four was no exception to this trend.
In its fourth season, Sons of Anarchy had its two primary agents of narrative action looking to parlay a high-dollar/high-risk arrangement with the Gallindo Cartel into an lucrative exit from SAMCRO*. Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) is trying to get one last payday before his arthritis succeeds in rendering him unable to ride while Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam, who finally got to cut his hair) is angling for an exit from the club for the sake of his family. The two establish that they share this goal and agree to steer the club into the Cartel deal in the first episode. Once this arc is set in motion, it takes forever to actually get off the ground, plodding along through plots and subplots that are too infrequent in their real pertinence to the story.   

*Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original for the unindoctrinated.

[From this point on SPOILERS ABOUND. Read on at your own risk.]

As is typically the case, though, enough of these stories begin churning along, and the pace picks up to where the desire to watch the next episode is actually present. The conflict between Clay and Piney builds. Tara fans those flames and then decides to step right into the fire. The MC's involvement with the Cartel puts them into more and more peril as they get pass the point of no return. Juice and Otto give the Feds virtually everything they would need to take the club down with a RICO investigation. The truth about the demise of Jax's father, John Teller, gets closer and closer to reaching him and finally setting into motion what viewers have waited four years to happen.

Unfortunately, the season reaches its climax in its antepenultimate episode, where the club finds itself torn asunder and Opie shoots Clay for murdering his father. There are two long episodes that follow this in which Jax discovers that Clay has now killed two of the Original 9, John Teller and Piney, and tried to kill Tara (Maggie Siff) as well. The club is about to get descended upon by the Feds while the huge arms deal they brokered with the Irish and the Gallindo Cartel goes down.

And then everything goes off the rails.

Sutter elects to have SAMCRO get off scot-free because the Cartel is actually backed by the CIA, but the club can't extract themselves from the deal with the Cartel without being taken down by AUSA Lincoln Potter's RICO investigation that the Cartel has known about all along. And then there's the fact that the Irish will only deal with Clay, so Clay needs to live.

This is all such a huge cop-out. The introduction of the CIA to the whole equation was simply absurd. It was a convenient (read: lazy) out to absolve the MC of responsibility while extending the need for Clay to stay alive for asinine reasons. There were already some signs of trouble with the Juice's and Tara's respective storylines, which simply were not working, but these decisions were egregious errors in judgment.

I guess some of this should be expected. After all, Sons of Anarchy is basically just white-trash Hamlet if you threw Lady MacBeth into the mix*. It is a show that revels in the ideas that a motorcycle club is operating with the ulterior motive of keeping their hometown safe from drugs. It is a show in which that hometown is called 'Charming.' It is a show that spends roughly 45 minutes of each season engaging in the glorification of the utterly juvenile and patently inane activity of trying to ditch the cops.

*There is no way that Gemma is just Gertrude.

A show with such glaring faults still can jump the shark, though, and it's entirely possible that it happened when the fucking CIA rolled in and they were backing the fucking Cartel. Seriously? WTFuck?

Then to add insult to injury, Tara walks into the chapel at the end of the finale and assumes the position behind Jax--who had taken the President's seat at the table--that a young Gemma had taken behind John Teller in a photo seen earlier. As if the gesture wasn't overt enough, they had to dissolve to the original photo, treating the audience like simpletons who cannot connect two strikingly similar snapshots without having their hand held.

Honestly, it is hard to recall a situation in which a show had rendered nearly the entire thrust of a season moot in one asinine brushstroke, but Kurt Sutter managed to accomplish that feat and then prolonged the agony by searing that heavy-handed final editing choice into our collective memories.

It is hard to look into the future and see Sutter righting this ship. Trust has certainly been lost.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Prick Tunes: Destroyer "Kaputt"

If ever there were a video that was more befitting a song's aesthetic than the video from the title track from Destroyer's most recent release, I'd like you to show it to me. Until then, this will have to do.
From one of the best albums of this year that has almost passed us by, here is "Kaputt" from Kaputt.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Prick Tunes: The Kinks "Victoria"

There was a span of about a year in which I was listening to Arthur (or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire) at least three or four times a week. "Victoria" has to be my favorite song off of that album. While this is a live version, it seemed like it was the best video for the song.
Ladies and gentleman, The Kinks...

Musicalia: World's Best Band at World's Shittiest Venue?

Perhaps a bit of hyperbole was employed in the title of this entry, but The National might just be the best band out there right now.

With seemingly every occasion to see The National occurring during SXSW, Fun Fun Fun, or ACL Festival, this has made it hard for Austinites to see them outside of the undesirable festival setting. In fact, since the last time I had tickets to see The National and foolishly elected to squeeze an Architecture in Helsinki show in rather than sticking around after Clap Your Hands Say Yeah opened, The National have not rolled through Austin outside of a festival weekend. During only one of those stops did they play a show in which one could actually buy tickets and that was during ACL weekend of 2008. Tickets for that Emo's show with Blonde Redhead and School of Seven Bells were extremely hard to come by, makiing this the first time they rolled through town without a festival bringing them here since 2005.

Unfortunately, this stop through town brought them to Austin Music Hall. While there may be worse venues in the world, I've not been to one. I saw Wilco at the Cedar Park Center. I saw Radiohead at Alpine Valley Outdoor Amphitheater. I saw Nick Cave at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. These were absolutely worthless venues to be sure, but Austin Music Hall puts them to shame. Cursed with the acoustics so bad that an airplane hangar would be a marked improvement and a redesign that--having been clearly motivated by little other than greed--renders a full two-thirds of the balcony obstructed-view seating, Austin Music Hall is a wretched shithole that only a band of The National's ilk could succeed in drawing me through those fucking doors.

It appears to me that a visual aid may be helpful to demonstrate what I mean by obstructed view, so I took a photo. For those who don't know me, I stand 6'3". The photo I have uploaded is taken from the vantage point of someone who would have been taller than me by roughly half a foot (or a sixth of a meter, for you metric sons of bitches).
I am well aware that this is a shitty photo. It is really just a reference point.
From this vantage point, that is roughly 35% of the stage that is visible. If you are my height. TSLF was unable to see a fucking thing. For the entire show. It doesn't matter if you are closer to the front on the right or left side of the General Admission section of the balcony. It doesn't matter if you move farther towards the stage. The grade of the bleachers/risers is simply not steep enough for anyone to see.

Now, you may be wondering from where exactly did that greed line three paragraphs ago come, and I can answer that for you. Rather than have those bleacher seats extend to reasonable edge of the overhanging balcony they begin at least 15' back from the edge because there is a VIP section of seating that actually extends the balcony without maintaining a grade of stage visibility. For those keeping track at home, a conservative estimate would be roughly 500 people in the house who can see virtually none of the concert that they paid to see because an extension to a balcony gives them VIP seating at $20 more a ticket. If you were on the stage-left side of the venue, you saw the touring trumpeter, the touring trombonist, half of the Dessner Brothers (Bryce, I think), and half of Matt Derninger. That leaves half of Matt, an entire Dessner twin, and both Devendorf Brothers out of view.

Fuck you very much Austin Music Hall.

You are the worst venue in this town. By. Far.

Just sink into the ground and go back to your home in Hell. You can even get the entrance/exit right (you cannot walk straight up to the main entrance, you have to walk away from the nearest corner only to double back to that very corner). Were you designed by the same assholes who designed Austin's broke-ass highway system?

Rant over.

Sorry.

As for the music, once getting beyond the terrible acoustics in that godforsaken shithole, it had a lot to offer. I'll refrain from talking about Local Natives for the most part. I'm sure they're great guys, and I've been negative  for five paragraphs now, which is surely tiresome for all of y'all who are still reading. I know it's reductive, but they share many likenesses with Fleet Foxes, a band whose allure wore off for me. I can see why people like Fleet Foxes. I can see why people would like Local Natives, as well. For the most part, Local Natives were simply a little too psych folk for my liking.

The one exception to that, however, was their set closer "Sun Hands," which struck me as an ideal musical fit for Sons of Anarchy if 85% of the music on Sons of Anarchy didn't suck. In the live setting, it succeeded in channeling a propulsive Western feel that was genuinely interesting, especially at it built to a huge climax. Here's a video from SXSW of them performing it live to give you a sense of what I'm talking about. Once they hit the three-minute mark everything explodes, and it's transcendent. It's just that "Sun Hands" was the only song that grabbed me.

Luckily, The National were great. With only one exception, they sounded great. The one exception was not even remotely their fault, but during "Runaway," the show opener, there was a sound issue where the mic on the floor tom was mixed too loud and when combined with the higher bass line notes in the chorus were blaring over the top of everything else. It was odd and perhaps isolated to the area we were standing in, but it seems like whoever the sound engineer was at least got the issue fixed by the time the third song kicked off.

Aside from "Runaway" having that weird sound issue, everything sounded great. The somewhat reasonable concern that some of the slightly more low-key songs off of High Violet was completely unfounded. "Terrible Love" settled in shockingly well into the encore. "Bloodbuzz, Ohio," which I expected to play well live, far exceeded expectations and was much bigger than I had anticipated. "Anyone's Ghost" was sped up ever so slightly but played better for it. The percussion drove "Conversation 16"* much more than I could have thought likely.

*Does anyone else feel like the 
It's a Hollywood summer
You never believe the shitty thoughts I think
Meet our friends out for dinner
When I said what I said I didn't mean anything
We belong in a movie
Try to hold it together 'til our friends are gone 
section of the song evokes that scene in I'm Not There with Heath Ledger out to dinner with Charlotte Gainsbourg and their friends Grace and Martin where he opines that "chicks can't be poets," or is that just me?

As for the material off of Boxer, Alligator, etc., it was rock solid. "Apartment Story" and "Mistaken for Strangers" both played very much like the singles that they were and could have drawn in even the casual listener. "Squalor Victoria" and "Fake Empire" were every last bit of what I had hoped they would be. "Mr. November" was the huge rocker I'd heard it was, and it sure as hell appeared as though Matt Derninger went into the crowd during that one (in the encore), but no one upstairs could see this.

The most transcendent moment of the night definitely lied in the encore closer: "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." Perhaps having taken a cue from their pals, Bon Iver and Megafaun, Matt, the two sets of brothers, and their two man brass section stepped out to the front of the stage sans amplification and belted out the closing track from High Violet. Every time I've seen a band do this it has fucking killed, and this was no exception. They walk up to the line marked 'earnest,' line their toes up just before the line, and it worked like a charm.

Between that and the legitimately funny between song banter, it was hard not to love the show. That is saying a lot because that venue is fucking godawful. The National were outstanding and solidified my growing belief that they may just be the best rock band out there. If ever there were someone capable of taking that title without squandering their talent and potential on deviating from their artistic ambitions in favor of chasing commercial success, it is The National. They are one of the few bands recording today whose albums get better with each release, and unlike much of what I hear these days, their albums don't release their hold on the listener. Ever.

Hopefully that praise made up for the rather lengthy rant I went off on at the beginning of this post. I'll leave you with the two following things: An Open Letter to Touring Acts Considering Venues In Austin, and an entire embedded concert.

*******************************************************************

Dear bands rolling through Austin, 


Please do not book your shows at Austin Music Hall. If you are big enough to play that fucking abomination of a venue, hold out for the Long Center, the Moody Theater, or the Paramount. 


Sincerely,
The Citizens of Austin


*******************************************************************

If you didn't get to see the show last night, I did find a video of a full concert from Oakland in 2010. It was part of a graduate research project and was shot by a fella who cryptically goes by J. Flynn. More information on the recording can be found here. I know it wasn't easy to get tickets, since it sold out quickly, so I guess this is the next best thing. And unlike if you'd been to the show and been in the balcony, you can actually see this concert.

Guten tag.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Prick Tunes: Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile The Goat Rodeo Sessions

John Oates gave me a free iTunes download of a song off of this album. True story.
I sort of chuckled. Then I saw them on The Colbert Report the next day, and my interests were piqued. Well, the Musicians@Google series featured the quartet on their series, and the result is this 33 minute video that is roughly half performance and half panel interview. The perfect recipe for relaxation at work. Put this on in the background, and let it ride.

Strings!

Man on Film: 30 Minutes or Less

This is the last of the woefully past due write-ups. In less than a week, the internet issues that I've been persevering through should be solved, which can re-open The Queue Continuum window. All will soon be right in the world. With the release of 30 Minutes or Less on DVD and Blu-ray this week, now seems as good a time as any to get this out there. 

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, whose first feature was flawed but likable Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less actually seemed less uneven than his first more favorably received film. Where Zombieland was an 80-minute movie with a 20-minute vacuum of nothingness interspersed in sizable chunks, 30 Minutes or Less is actually surprisingly evenly paced. Its premise, while not entirely fresh, plays out well, putting a fresh, comedic spin on the ticking time bomb scenario.

More importantly, it is--thanks in large part to Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride--pretty funny. Given McBride's and to a lesser degree Nick Swardson's talents, they prove extremely capable of playing an inept band of redneck foils for Jesse Eisenberg's slacker delivery driver, Nick. While Ansari's role of high school teacher and Nick's best friend, Chet is a bit reserved and doesn't allow for him to really spread his wings, perhaps this is for the better. Ansari's comic timing is great. With Swardson and McBride in the mix, having an Aziz Ansari in a rough reprisal of his role (at least in spirit) of Randy in Funny People would likely be overkill. Michael Pena's presence is always welcome as well, even if Chango is underused. And if you spent the years of 2000 and 2001 fantasizing about Bianca Kajlich on Boston Public, your dreams are realized here as she plays Juicy. Judging by the character's name, you should be able to ballpark what her occupation may be.

Now 30 Minutes or Less wasn't a perfect film, but its decidedly tepid reception seemed a bit odd to me. It was an enjoyable if not earth-shattering film. As a rental or movie that will soon be making the rounds on the premium cable networks, it will be easy to watch multiple times. As far as a comedy is concerned, that's likely the most important thing. It is rewatchable, if not ownable.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Prick Tunes: "Anonanimal" by Andrew Bird

Well, it certainly seems as though this video is making a strong statement about the nature of ejaculate in its open. If you wait it out though, you get to see some more suggestive clay-mation and hear a damn fine tune along the way.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prick Tunes: Todd Rivers featuring Dean Lerner and Garth Marenghi "One Track Lover"

Sure, this is from a TV show (the brilliant Garth Marenghi's Darkplace) and isn't a proper song like typically fills this space, but that is not going to stop me from posting this gem here. As within the context of the show, "One Track Lover" is cut off, there will be two clips. The first is of the song with the glorious partial music video, but as you'll see at the end of the clip, the song is cut off. The second clip will be of the full song, but the pictures are simply stills culled from the show. 

Video 1:
Video 2: 

Man on Film: Tower Heist

Clearly when one elects to go to Tower Heist, they are doing so because of the cast. This has to be the case as Brett Ratner is the director of the film. A quick perusal of his filmography sorted by IMDb user ratings shows that his highest rated feature-length 'film' was 2002's Red Dragon, which garnered an impressive 7.2. With his next highest showing being the atrocious X-Men: The Last Stand at 6.8, one should certainly temper his expectations regardless of other factors such as cast or screenplay. With Jeff Nathanson--one of the scribes responsible for IJ: KoCS and the second and third Rush Hour movies--as one of the two credited screenwriters, expectations get lowered once more.

The other credited screenwriter is Ted Griffin. If this means little to you, one of the films on his curriculum vitae proves especially meaningful when setting expectations for Tower Heist, and that is Ocean's Eleven. When I say that it proves especially meaningful when setting expectations, I mean that you can pretty much expect to see a working class, post-recession edition of Ocean's Eleven.

The problem with that statement lies with the credited directors of each respective film. Where Ocean's Eleven had Steven Soderbergh directing*, Tower Heist has Brett Ratner at the helm. No strength in casting is going to overcome that.

*While Soderbergh certainly has his detractors, I don't think many would put him in the same tier of directors as Ratner. For those keeping track at home, Soderbergh has directed 17 movies that have higher user ratings at IMDb than Ratner's second highest film. On a tangential note, the most disturbing aspect of these ratings, is that somehow Red Dragon's 7.2 rating is higher than The Limey, Out of Sight, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which all came in at a 7.1 rating. Now, when one looks at their Metascore, the stars realign and Red Dragon nets a 60 while The Limey (73), Out of Sight (85), and Sex, Lies, and Videotape (86) net ratings much more representative of their quality in relation to Ratner's oeuvre. I suppose all this proves is that IMDb user ratings are populist to a fault (albeit in an entirely anecdotal and incomplete fashion), but we all probably knew that.

So we find ourselves with a movie featuring the likes of Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, and Eddie Murphy, who in aggregate have more than enough comedic chops to carry a film. Stiller is not saddled with the role of the pensive and neurotic jew. Murphy, too, seems to have been freed from the shackles that have bound his funniness for the past 15 years. Yet, there are not enough laughs to go around in the screenplay. The only one who sticks out as being especially funny in Tower Heist is Michael Pena. This is sad.

There is a bevy of talent wasted here. Murphy had been given what everyone hoped was an edgier role--one that should have been an ideal vehicle from which to begin a comeback--but when all is said and done, the role has little in the way of comedic substance. Really, the same can be said for all the other roles. I'm not entirely sure that Pena's character had anything particularly funny written for him either. It could well be Pena breathing life into the movie on his own. This would make more sense than believing that somehow one role is funny as written in an ensemble film. It is easier to believe that we live in a world in which one character is funny because of how Michael Pena played him than the alternative in which two screenwriters and a much-maligned director combined to succeed in making one character amusing while the rest fell flat.

Needless to say, Tower Heist was not an impressive film. I suppose it wasn't awful, but a film in which the 99% try to get even with a member of the 1% who bilked them that fails to fully capitalize on a plot that has built-in goodwill cannot be classified as great either. This is essentially a middle-of-the-road caper comedy, which given this cast (yes, even with Ratner at the helm) is a disappointment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prick Tunes: Bon Iver "Holocene"

With the release of the Deluxe Edition of Bon Iver, Bon Iver with accompanying videos for each song (story here), it only makes sense to throw this great video for "Holocene" out there. The videos will be available as free digital downloads on iTunes with purchase of the album or (if I understand this correctly) at participating record stores on DVD with purchase of the album. This is set to be released today, November 29th.

Kids, ask your parents for an advance on your allowance and then figure out who is getting your extra copy of the album.
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