Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Man on Film: The Grey

While the trailer certainly doesn't indicate this, it is not much of a stretch to say that The Grey is Joe Carnahan's most existentially concerned film to date. Of course, this is the man who directed Smokin' Aces and The A-Team, so the bar is not set especially high on that front.

Set against the harsh backdrop of the wintry Alaskan wilderness, The Grey pits the survivors of a plane crash against the elements and a pack of gray wolves. These survivors had all been flying home from the Arctic oil drilling post that, we learn from Neeson's character John Ottway, is populated by "outcasts, rejects, convicts, assholes: men unfit for mankind,' but the plane goes down in an area so remote as to render being found unlikely at best. With six surviving the crash, they are left with little choice but to work together to try to get back to civilization.

What follows is a harrowing, albeit predictable journey. With each man's death, there is a corresponding telegraphing of their fall. That isn't to say that their deaths are not affective, but you are never caught off guard by one.

What does work is Liam Neeson. John Ottway is at the remote drilling operation tasked with killing wolves that threaten the business and its workers. In its open, The Grey shows Ottway at the end of his rope, writing a suicide note to his [estranged? ex-?] wife and then going off to kill himself at the perimeter of the facility when a wolf crosses his line of sight. He shoots the wolf, puts a comforting hand on the wolf as it breathes its last breaths, and elects not to commit suicide. Having gotten on the plane to go back to civilization only to have it crash*, Ottway stumbles to the plane from where he came to in the snow. What follows is the best scene in the film. As Ottway eases Lewenden (James Badge Dale of 24, Rubicon, and The Pacific) toward inevitable death, the film reaches epic heights and leaves the audience hoping that gets there again.

*And crash it does. The scene pops of the screen. It is visceral and violent, jarring the audience; setting them permanently on edge.

It doesn't. That isn't a damning statement, but it doesn't get there again. Neeson leads these men blindly into the wilderness, hoping in vain to reach civilization. Neeson is great, clearly drawing from the emotional turmoil that his wife's death has caused him to make the sorrow and longing for Ana palpable. His rebirth as an action hero, while oddly timed as he turns 60 this year, makes all the more sense in The Grey. It is an atypical but gripping survival tale, one that can be read many ways but seems primarily concerned with manhood serving an allegorical purpose exploring the contentious relationship between man and nature, nature and man. While the ending is a bit vague, it does seem as though it lends itself to the interpretation that the two are likely fated to mutually assured destruction. Given the ultimately hopeless story, this seems as reasonable a reading as any.

Regardless, this film has much loftier, if not entirely attained, goals than one could possibly have expected from the director of a film in which its heroes fly a tank.

Prick Tunes: Alan Parsons Project "Sirius/Eye in the Sky"

If this doesn't get you hot and bothered, I worry about you. Since this appears to be the first song from an Alan Parsons Project concert, there is a build-up to when "Sirius" kicks in, so if you're bored, feel free to kick it forward to the 1:25 mark and go on from there.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Prick Tunes: Daniel Martin Moore "In the Cool of the Day" and "Up Above My Head"

Having released his follow-up to 2008's beautiful Stray Age a mere two weeks ago, it would seem appropriate to put up the video for Daniel Martin Moore's newest single, the haunting Jean Ritchie-penned title track from In the Cool of the Day.

More so than his debut album, Moore's sophomore solo release would seem to bring him even closer to his Kentucky roots, hunkering down in Appalachian folk and traditional gospel, which is clearly evident when listening to his take on the gospel ditty "Up Above My Head," seen in the studio performance video here:

The Queue Continuum: The High Cost of Living

With the exception of Scrubs* and certain aspects of Garden State**, Zach Braff's resume has been fairly lackluster. Some of this is the result of his awkward presence and its inevitable exclusionary nature in regards to his viability as a leading man in standard Hollywood fare. The other factor sitting front and center is that Zach Braff's film choices haven't been particularly good since Garden State. A quick live-action role run-down consists of The Ex and The Last Kiss. That's it. And that's bad. Both of those films are abysmal.

*If we're being honest here, Scrubs took a precipitous nose-dive once Turk and Carla had a kid. 
**There were aspects of Garden State that really worked. Much of the dialogue (especially the dialogue for Natalie Portman's character, Sam) does not work--particularly that shit about The Shins changing your life; it made it really hard to like The Shins, a band I once liked a lot, because that line and the band became inseparable. Garden State did, however, look great, and Braff did a fine (read that modifier however you would like) job capturing the malaise of "mood-stabilizing" numbness from medication to treat depression. 

Coming into The High Cost of Living, an expectation of anything less than trepidation would likely be foolish. With that mindset going in, Deborah Chow's The High Cost of Living isn't as bad as you would expect. Braff plays Henry Welles, a fuck-up drug-dealing American living illegally in Montreal. While drunk and high driving the wrong way down a one-way street, Henry hits a pregnant woman who is waiting in the street for a cab to take her to the hospital. With no witnesses, he takes off, largely because of his illegal residency status and the drugs he had in his possession. Wrought with guilt, he tracks her down, starting by following her, then befriending her, discovering that the accident ended the pregnancy.

What follows is a story which on the surface is sweet but is acrid and perverse beneath. The result is a mixed bag. The High Cost of Living has its nice moments, particularly the simpler ones between Henry and Nathalie (played capably by Isabelle Blais) in his apartment, and it definitely has the pure intentions of a film trying to give us a morality tale that lives in the gray area of the real world, but its shortcomings certainly temper any positive response the viewer can have coming out of it. For starters, there is something about Braff's performances in general that render the more dramatic moments strained, specifically in such scenes where the drama is driven by dialogue, as he starts speaking in a distracting stilted manner. Then there is his default method of acting which too often finds him falling back on his awkward aping that might work in something a bit broader but not in an indie melodrama. On the narrative side of the discussion, the film tilts the scale a bit on the dull side with its plot being fairly simple and its character-driven nature ultimately falling a bit short on account of its characters not being compelling enough on their own merits to make the audience want to go along on their journey.

While this is better than the reprehensibly bad The Ex or Braff's tiresome and soulless outing The Last Kiss, I don't know that this can be considered good, even if the ending is much more palatable than one would expect.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Prick Tunes: Pulp "Common People"

What's that you say? 

You're not feeling well?

Here's the cure: A little Jarvis Cocker for your Friday.

Reading Rainbow: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

So that happened.

Having devoured every Haruki Murakami novel that has been officially translated into English with the exception of After Dark and Kafka on the Shore*, there was no reason to be leery of his three-book magnum opus 1Q84.

*I simply haven't gotten around to those two.

I was wrong.

For the first time while reading Murakami, my interest waned. With none of his novels having taken more than 10 days to read previously, I half-heartedly labored through the first 770 pages or so over the course of the past four months. Once Tengo's editor Komatsu came back into the picture, the narrative began to hurtle towards its end, eliciting a long-awaited sense of relief. The pace picked up. The pages began to almost turn themselves. Chapters ended and a desire to actually continue reading took hold. The last 150 pages were genuinely enthralling.

Unfortunately so much of the book consists of its two protagonists (who are featured in alternating chapters) doing the literary equivalent of running out the clock with little in the way of actual plot development. By the time to two star-crossed would-be lovers finally re-connect after about 20 years of being separated, somewhere in the neighborhood of 880 fucking pages have passed. While Tengo Kawana and Masami Aomame unknowingly long for one another, they meander through a surrealistic alternate 1984. It is just that this other 1984 is only slightly surreal. There are Little People, Air Chrysalises, and two moons; but given 900+ pages, the vision of this world might just be too pared down.

And then there's the issue of Aomame. She is a contract killer who eliminates abusive men, a feminist killer if you will, but she is emotionally fragile and withdrawn. Approximately 40% of the book is told from her perspective, but it never feels like Murakami feels at home telling her story. She never feels quite right.

When so much of the novel relies on a character that isn't well-executed, that's kind of a deal-breaker. There is simply too much time misspent in the first 5/6 of the book to have its conclusion (and an anti-climactic one at that) right the ship.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Prick Tunes: Punch Brothers "Reptilia" and "Rye Whiskey"

Another day [starting with a 't'], another cover. This time we've got the Chris Thile fronted Punch Brothers in studio at WNRN in Charlottesville, VA, taking a run at The Strokes' single "Reptilia" from their 2003 sophomore release Room on Fire. Call me crazy, but I'd have to say I prefer this to the original.

Rather than leave it at that, I'm electing to throw in another performance from the same session (that or these boys need to get themselves a change of clothes). This is "Rye Whiskey," the studio release being found on their 2010 release Antifogmatic.

It should be noted that Punch Brothers' third album comes out in less than three weeks on February 14th.

Man on Film: Haywire

Looking at Steven Soderbergh's curriculum vitae, one thing is certain: He is not a director who can be pigeonholed. More so than most high-profile directors, Soderbergh is willing to do virtually anything that he feels compelled to do, be it cast a hard-core porn star (a very good one, at that), remake a Rat Pack bomb, or release a movie both theatrically and on DVD on the same day. While such a propensity for taking risks can be exhilarating, sometimes he does misfire.

While Haywire doesn't quite misfire, it is far from a perfect film.

Perhaps most importantly, Haywire is a bit light on action for an action film. Soderbergh went and got himself a real-life action star to be his heroine in the form of MMA star Gina Carano. When her very palpable skill set is put to the test, she passes with flying colors. Unfortunately, such an asset, such a legitimate ass-kicking lady had her primary skill-set underutilized. That's not to say she doesn't excel at these scenes. The culmination of the chase scene through Barcelona gives us a glimpse at her prowess. The magnificent fight scene with Michael Fassbender* is really a showstopper. It's visceral. It utilizes her Muay Thai background. It feels authentic.

*In retrospect, isn't it insane that Soderbergh had to fight the studio to let him cast Fassbender? Granted, this was two years ago, but still, if ever there were an instance in which a larger issue in Hollywood were  inarguably elucidated by a singular incident, it is here. This certainly gives one pause when thinking about how many projects have theoretically been derailed by studio/network casting tampering.

There are just too many long gaps in which she isn't getting to do her thing. In this regard, Haywire is a bit reminiscent of Faster, a hard-R action film in which there is this physical specimen [Dwayne Johnson in the case of Faster] that you want unleashed on the film yet the flashes are too few and too far between. Honestly, this is probably the first time the movie-going public has gotten a chance to see a female action star who can really kick ass. Perhaps it's greedy, but without knowing what the future holds, one can't help but want a balls-to-the-wall action flick starring the fetching Carano.

Normally, I'd probably cut Soderbergh a little slack here, as there is probably just enough action to quench one's thirst, but there are faults that run past this.

For starters, the score completely misses its mark. There are far too many scenes where the score accompanying the action recalls themes from the Ocean's movies. In what is essentially a film in which the protagonist is going up against a larger conspiracy against her, the score is more apropos of one for a caper flick.

The roll out of the development of the plot is a little plodding, and the plot is frankly not as labyrinthine as it probably should be since it is ultimately a conspiracy-driven action film. There is also the problem wherein the fact that she has been betrayed/wronged is given away at the very beginning, the betrayal is then elucidated via flashback for roughly half the film, and then the film picks up in the present and works its way to its conclusion. This construction of the narrative lends itself to much less suspense than simply allowing the events to take their course in their natural progression. I'm all for inventive/non-conventional narrative structure, but it needs to be implemented in a way that actually enhances the film, which does not happen here.

If one were gauging how I felt about the film by what has been written thus far, one would conclude that my reaction was a negative one. That wouldn't be entirely correct. There is a lot to like.

To start with, there is Gina Carano. While her acting was a bit raw, she was passable--especially for a non-actor--and going forward it isn't hard to imagine her becoming slightly more natural with the camera fixed on her. For every note that was just a bit off, there was a redeeming moment. Her presence in the action scenes separates her from everyone who has come before her. She also has this thing that she does when she bites the right side of her lower lip that is insanely alluring; and despite a scar on the underside of her chin, there is very little about her that screams former prize-fighter, at least in the unflattering sense.

While Soderbergh has made some questionable decisions with Haywire, it looks as good as one would expect, especially in Dublin, where the Irish gloom is captured vividly. The scenes in snow-covered Upstate New York with Michael Angarano and Channing Tatum* look great as well.

*Is it weird that I'm starting to dislike him less? I mean I still can't picture him as a Roman sentry or whatever the hell he was in The Eagle, but he might have been the only good non-Jennifer Connelly part of The Dilemma

The casting was pretty great as well, with the aforementioned slew of actors joining up with Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Mathieu Kassovitz, Michael Douglas, and Ewan McGregor to flesh out a formidable cast, effectively picking up the slack that having a novice front and center can lead to.

Haywire is far from a perfect action film, but its imperfections are not so dire as to render the film less than enjoyable. It has enough going for it to have it be a net-plus even with its weaknesses.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Prick Tunes: Paul Young "Every Time You Go Away"

I have this on vinyl. Dutch Import. I often stare at the cover, trying to get a glimpse into his [blue-eyed] soul. Sometimes, sometimes it works, and I'm brought to a better place: Paul Young's world.

Suck it.

When staring into his eyes, I try not to hold this against him.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prick Tunes: Steve Earle "Copperhead Road"

There was a long stretch of time in which it seemed that every time I went to the Hyatt to TCB this song was playing in the bathroom. Now whenever I walk in there, a little part of me expects to hear those (faux?) bagpipes playing me to bliss.

Good times. Great song.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Prick Tunes: Tom Waits "Hold On"

I was certain that I'd posted a Tom Waits song much more recently than I actually had. It's been over two months by my calculations, which is far too long.

If you thought that Waits was too out there for you, here's your gateway drug. From the fantastic album, Mule Variations, "Hold On."

Tube Steak: Justified Is Fucking Back!

Despite their ridiculous obtuseness, the teasers for Justified that seem to have been running on FX since it wrapped up its second season last spring have certainly worked up everyone's feverish hunger for new episodes. As January 17th drew nearer, it grew harder and harder to keep my anticipation in check.

Holy shit was that anticipation justified warranted.

If one is to gauge where this third season may go from where "The Gunfighter" kicks things off, it is hard not to be watching on with baited breath, especially on the heels of Justified's fantastic second season. After a cursory nod to Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens having been shot in the finale of season two, writers Graham Yost and Fred Golan waste no time in establishing the fact that Raylan's years on the job have left him worse for wear, with his aim being off while rehabbing. Despite the fact that Winona is with child (which is played around with well in this first episode), this hints at a metaphorical impotence and as is evidenced here will force him to get by more and more on his wits.

As is usually the case, the show really hits its stride once Walton Goggins struts onto the screen as Boyd Crowder, with his tête-à-tête with Raylan in the Marshals office getting the show off the ground. The best moments in the show often come from their back and forth, and this is no exception with this priceless nugget of dialogue coming from it:
Boyd: Well now, if I found that kind of money, I'd be in Mexico by now.
Raylan: Boyd, I've been to Mexico. I don't think you'd like it.
Boyd: How so?
Raylan: There's a lot of Mexicans.
This is but one in many great moments in the episode. Dear John [the Judd Hirsch series] alum*, Jere Burns's character, Wynn Duffy, is set up to be featured more prominently as the next in line to head up the Dixie Mafia in Frankfort. His return to the show made for a funny exchange and a reneging on Raylan's promise that their "next conversation wasn't gonna be a conversation."

*And more recently, he was featured as the last remnant of The Management on Burn Notice.

The presumed big bad is introduced namelessly as Neal McDonough comes to Lexington representing the innocuously-named entity referred to as 'Detroit.' His character [whose name will be revealed to be Quarles at some point] clearly has both gravitas and panache and should prove to be a formidable foe, even if he only proves to be the tip of the 'Detroit' iceberg. His introduction is an impressive and cold-blooded one and leaves you wondering what could have been had Terriers been given a second season.

The imminent threat in this episode comes surprisingly from Dexter's Desmond Harrington, showing up here as wanted fugitive Fletcher 'The Ice Pick' Nix. While his choice of accent is odd to be sure, he does pull off menacing hitman pretty damned convincingly.

Luckily for all involved, the best moment is saved for last, and the one remaining question mark in the episode is answered with a silent Boyd exclamation point.

By the end of the episode, Justified had successfully resumed its status as the most eagerly anticipated hour of television every week.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prick Tunes: Jose Gonzalez "Heartbeats"

There's something about the way that Jose Gonzalez covers a song that's arresting. The first time I heard his cover of Massive Attack's "Tear Drop" I listened to the whole song and couldn't figure out for the life of me what song it was despite the fact that I own Mezzanine and have watched every episode of House. His cover of The Knife's throwback tune "Heartbeats" is no different.

Here is the original:

Here's Jose Gonzalez's sincere take on the song, which I've been completely enamored with for years:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Prick Tunes: Iron & Wine "Lion's Mane"

I happen to really like the direction that Sam Beam has taken Iron & Wine over the years since he burst onto the scene barely above a whisper. While Kiss Each Other Clean may not have been my favorite release, he has done a damn fine job of allowing the sound to evolve organically while retaining the most important aspect of his music, the lyrics rich with evocative imagery.

That said, going back to the early days has its merits. Straight from the demo he sent to Subpop at their request, here is "Lion's Mane" from the release The Creek Drank the Cradle:

Man on Film: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

After back-to-back films in the franchise that could easily be classified as bad*, Tom Cruise & Co. enlisted Brad Bird from the Pixar stable of directors. Despite the fact that he was stepping out of the world of the animated film for the first time, Bird succeeded in righting the ship.

*I suppose M:I:II could have been all right if one had never seen Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, from which the entire plot is essentially stolen...

Now, if you have seen any of the other Mission: Impossible films, you know what you're getting. The one thing that is consistent throughout is that the films send the team down a path with unpredictable twists and turns in which information (at least from the standpoint of the audience) is often doled out after an event to clarify what has passed. It is an effective means of keeping the audience on edge but is, on the basest of levels, manipulative.

While Ghost Protocol does not break the chain of manipulation, it is more interesting along the way.

I could prattle on about various plot points but doing so wouldn't be of much use. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are back with Agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and they're off doing their crazy-ass shit. Luckily this one culls all the unintelligible/uninteresting nonsense from the previous installments, treating the viewer to a relatively taut 133 minute action flick.

The high point of the film is the absolutely insane scene on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The sequence is one of the most affective action scenes in recent memory. Having not even seen it on IMAX, it is intensely nerve wracking and actually induces physical discomfort while watching it while no blood is shed. The fact that Cruise does these stunts himself is nuts. There are other action sequences of note, particularly the one that pits Cruise against the team's nemesis in the film Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) in that vending machine cylindrical parking tower in Mumbai, but the Burj Khalifa scene is exhilarating.

It's so exhilarating in fact that by the end of the film and the lifting of nearly all emotional weight that had been carried throughout the first two hours of the film in one fell swoop you don't even care that you spent that much time worrying about something that didn't matter. That's certainly a credit to the film. It's been nearly a week since I saw it, and I'm still pretty goddamned enamored with that balls to the wall scene on the side of the world's tallest building.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Prick Tunes: REO Speedwagon "Keep on Loving You"

I don't know that it could ever be said that Kevin Cronin (the one who looks like Horshack) oozed masculinity, but this song has a shameful charm. If you haven't seen this video, wait for the shocking reveal at the end.

If you then watch this sister-single from Hi Infidelity, you might start to wonder who screwed Cronin over in the early part of 1980.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Prick Tunes: Minnie Riperton "Loving You"

This one goes out to all you special people--straight from me via Maya Rudolph's mom right to you. Happy Damn Friday.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Prick Tunes: Megafaun "The Longest Day" and "Kaufman's Ballad"

Having risen from the ashes of DeYarmond Edison*, brothers Phil and Brad Cook and Joe Westerlund formed Megafaun, who have distinguished themselves over the course of their four releases as fiercely adventurous. The two songs in this post are in the much more traditional vein of Americana, which they excel in, but their catalog isn't just that of an Americana band, as they veer into the realms of psych, free jazz, and noise with confidence and ease. 
*The notable other member of DeYarmond Edison was Justin Vernon, who has done all right for himself with his own project, Bon Iver.

To kick things off, we've got "The Longest Day" as recorded in a session with Hear Ya in April of 2010. The song comes from their second LP, 2009's Gather, Form & Fly, and might just be my favorite song off that album.

Also originally from Gather, Form & Fly, this performance of "Kaufman's Ballad" appears to have been filmed for an Irish program called Other Voices Live. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Man on Film: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

While it wasn't for everybody, I actually liked the first installment in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes series. The energy between the three lead actors--Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams--was intoxicating, and their banter was engaging.

Unfortunately, nearly everything that worked in the first one is absent from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The witty banter is largely missing. The chemistry between Downey and McAdams is gone because she is taken out of the picture in the first ten minutes. She is replaced with the leaden Noomi Rapace, whose Roma fortune teller brings little to the tale. The dialogue between the rakish Holmes and Watson lacks the verve that was present in the first.

And despite the fact that he's finally facing off against the supervillain, Dr. James Moriarty (played effectively by Jared Harris), the action sequences, especially the one in the woods, are so obfuscated by Guy Ritchie's infatuation with that herky-jerky, computer-generated, stop-and-start editing of action set pieces as to have been rendered completely unintelligible.

If you liked the first one, this is quite a let-down. If you didn't, you'd like it even less.

Prick Tunes: Oasis "Live Forever"

I'm sure this happens often, but for whatever reason there are two different versions of the "Live Forever" video: both a UK and US version. Granted, the song is awesome and could stand to have ten more videos, but what about the UK one (which I'm assuming they shot first) made their label think it wouldn't play in the US?




Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Queue Continuum: Terriers

Having wanted to watch Terriers since it had begun airing only to have a DVR snafu render that impossible (at least without downloading), I was ecstatic to see that it was finally getting some sort of post-airing treatment, even if that didn't include a DVD release.

Upon finally getting to watch it, all I can say is: Holy shit.

All right, I can say more. A lot more actually.

(L to R) Michael Raymond-James and Donal Logue
Terriers was so damn good, I've actually watched the whole series twice-through since it went up on Netflix less than a month ago.

It isn't particularly groundbreaking, but absolutely everything works. Terriers, much like its ancestral kindred spirit The Rockford Files, has its private investigators living on the fringe of society. Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) is a cop who was kicked off the force; Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James) is an ex-thief trying to live at least slightly on the other side of the law. They are barely getting by, find themselves in trouble with the police, almost always end up getting screwed over eventually, and usually end up worse for the wear when they're done. Hank and Britt are often their own worst enemies, with self-destructive tendencies that would have a shot at doing them in if they were simply left to their own devices.

All that said, they are insanely likable characters. Their faults somehow manage to endear them more to the audience. Their banter is funny and fresh and would be enough by itself to make the show utterly enjoyable. Hank and Britt's relationship with one another is perfectly complementary. By the time the show has made its 13 episode run, you feel as though you are losing two friends.

While all of this would be fine in and of itself, what sets the show apart is its taut and nimble storytelling. More so than most other shows of its ilk, Terriers excels at balancing its complex season-long story arc with its single-episode cases, doing so more deftly than any other show in memory. Characters and plot points from early episodes prove to be relevant in later ones to satisfying effect. The narrative bounces unpredictably from season story arc plot points to character plot points to single-episode plot points while never leaving these aspects of the show neglected.

Given the fact that Terriers Creator Ted Griffin had experienced Executive Producers Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear* in the fold, the fact that it is damn fine television should not be a surprise, but that it distinguishes itself as one of the best shows on television in the past few years is unexpected to be sure.

*Ryan and Minear have worked together often, having both been writers/producers on Angel. Ryan went on to create The Shield and The Chicago Code while serving as an Executive Producer on Lie to Me and The Unit. Minear's resume includes having been an Executive Producer on Firefly, Wonderfalls, Dollhouse, and The Chicago Code, while having also been Co-Creator of The Inside and Drive.  

Laura Allen as Katie Nichols
While much of the show's success owes to the creative forces at the helm, the show would not be set itself apart as it does without its cast. As stated earlier, Logue and Raymond-James are fantastic together, but the supporting cast is full of great performances. Laura Allen, who you may have known from The 4400, All My Children, or Dirt finally gets a role she can sink her teeth into. It has always puzzled me as to why she didn't get better roles, and Terriers only solidifies the bewilderment, as she is outstanding as Britt's girlfriend, Katie Nichols. Rockmond Dunbar, who many will recognize as Deputy Sheriff Eli Roosevelt from this past season of Sons of Anarchy, nails the role of Detective Mark Gustafson, Hank's former partner on the force who was burned just enough by his friend to be permanently gunshy when it comes to having Hank's back. Long-time Upright Citizens Brigade performer Jamie Denbo is perfectly sardonic and grounds Hank and Britt as their lawyer (who they need often). As Hank's ex-wife Gretchen, Kimberly Quinn finds that point precisely where she can teeter back and forth between love and hate with Hank and summons up a performance rife with nuance and subtext.

In all, Terriers is phenomenal. While it is a damn shame its ratings were so dismal, likely owing to both an obtuse name and an advertising campaign that certainly left me wondering what the fuck it was about, the first and only season holds up on its own merits. If a show had to end before it should have, Terriers manages to end on a note not unlike Freaks and Geeks with the road open in front of the main characters. Fortunately, there is enough resolution to have not left the audience with any questions, and we do have 13 amazing episodes to go back and watch whenever we want. It's just a damn shame that we don't get to see the further adventures of Hank and Britt.

I cannot recommend Terriers highly enough. What the hell are you waiting for? Start watching now.

Prick Tunes: Robert Duncan "Gunfight Epiphany"

In Empire Records, it was Rex Manning Day. Today at Inconsiderate Prick, it's Terriers Day. This is the Robert Duncan penned and performed theme song for Terriers, as seen at the beginning of every brilliant episode of that show.

Come back around at 3:00 PM for the newest entry in The Queue Continuum.

Holy hell, do I love this show.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Man on Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

In his follow-up to the wildly successful--at least artistically and critically, though it does seem to have also found a life post-theatrically on both Netflix and by more traditional rental means--Let the Right One In, director Tomas Alfredson sinks his teeth into the classic John le Carré espionage thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Eschewing the commas, Alfredson & Co. set out to (and succeed in) craft a slow-burning espionage thiller heavy on the intrigue but light on the actual action. Reflective of the Cold War that was the backdrop, the war is fought primarily in the backrooms with the action that plays out in the field being secondary to what happens at home. This is where Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy lives, and this is where it excels.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a throw-back to the spy thrillers of old. In total, there are three gunshots fired (if I remember correctly), yet the audience is kept precariously on the edge of their seats for the duration of the film. Suspense is built masterfully through old-fashioned means that do not come across as dated, choosing to forgo the bells and whistles of recent thrillers, instead reveling in actually constructing a labyrinthine plot with characters that earn the emotions the viewer is supposed to invest in them while giving plausible rationale for betrayal to each of the titular chess pieces.

In piecing together this tale, Alfredson nails the stark 70s British look. It's hard to tell if the sun ever shined during filming, but it looks fantastic for having the sun nearly eliminated. The art direction and production design succeed in vividly capturing the era. Alfredson's lens lets in only the dreary and, in doing so, captures the mood with aplomb.

All of this would be for naught were it not for the performances, especially those of Gary Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Both carry the film with their cool, calm, and restraint. The brief views of their characters' human sides make the audience care--brilliantly so, as this is done through was equates to little more than filmic snapshots. With Oldman, one expects him to seamlessly embody his character without ego, but Cumberbatch (the titular Sherlock in the outstanding BBC series) distinguishes himself well amongst a cast that includes Colin Firth, John Hurt, and Tom Hardy. While everyone holds down their own role in a tonally apropos fashion, it is Cumberbatch and Oldman who distinguish themselves above the others

If Alfredson was at all concerned with having bitten off more than he could chew, he can sleep soundly because he followed up Let the Right One In with a fantastic espionage thriller that captures the feel of its ancestors while feeling entirely fresh on the current cinematic landscape. Yes, this is odd to say about something that is the second adaptation of le Carré's 1974 novel, but regardless of whether or not you've seen the 1979 BBC mini-series or not, the statement remains true. Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a helluva palette cleanser from the dreck that otherwise litters this landscape.

Prick Tunes: Hayes Carll "Another Like You"

While I tend to refrain from placing arbitrary rankings on things, I would not hesitate to rank Hayes Carll's 2011 release KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories among this past year's best releases. There is plenty to love on this album, so I'll just start you off with the single that has a video. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Prick Tunes: The Swell Season "Low Rising"

I don't know how or why, but I'd never seen this video. Perhaps I've said too much in these here parts about Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, et al, but whatthefuckever. The well-documented bittersweet romance between the two plays well in the video.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Prick Tunes: Super Furry Animals "Runaway"

While their post-Rings Around the World output has left me a little cold, I went with this for the video directed by Richard Ayoade and starring Matt Berry.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Queue Continuum: Portlandia

When it was originally airing on IFC, I caught a sketch or two (the hide-and-seek sketch and maybe another) of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's sketch comedy show Portlandia. On a superficial and incomplete initial perusal, my reaction was that of indifference. The hide-and-seek sketch wasn't particularly funny with the exception of the old woman. Based on that*, it seemed likely that Portlandia would think that it was a lot cuter than it actually was, coming across as cloying.

*Well, that and the fact that Fred Armisen was never particularly funny on the extremely unfunny Saturday Night Live. With the possible exception of his faux interview with Jeff Tweedy in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, I couldn't muster one example of when I'd been taken with something he had done. Given the fact that Carrie Brownstein was known simply as half of Sleater-Kinney heading into this trepidation was understandable. 
Those assumptions were very wrong.

It takes no more than the first sketch of the first episode to blow notions of mediocrity apart. Portlandia was so good that it took one sketch for me to shut down the computer and watch the entire six-episode run in a sitting with no distractions.

Maybe my reaction stems from living in Austin, what has to be the most similar city to Portland in the US, but there was a lot of material here that really hit where recent attempts at launches of other sketch shows did not*. The Aimee Mann sketches were hilarious. The song to kick the series off had me laughing hysterically. The leash sketch struck a nerve with me. The fixed-gear character seemed all-too-familiar in a way that a large segment of society may not get.

*Funny or Die anyone?

The issue here is whether or not the jokes are too insular to a certain subset of society. They probably are. This may not play well in Peoria, as the saying goes, but I'm damn sure never going to live in Peoria. As long as that's the case, I think there's a lot of room for enjoyment with Portlandia.

The second season starts airing this Friday night, and you best believe that I'll be there watching with bells on. IFC. 10 PM, 9 C. Be there.

Prick Tunes: Tangerine Dream "Cloudburst Flight"

Today feels like a Tangerine Dream kind of Tuesday...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Prick Tunes: Akkilles "Grasslake" and "Crimes"

Having been hepped to Akkilles by fellow [unofficial] Royals Review scribe, Clam Simmons, it would seem that this is the project of one David Bennett, who doesn't seem to have enough of an internet presence for me to be able to say much about. Unless, of course, he is the same David Bennett that is a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the Truman Medical Center - Hospital Hill. Then, man-oh-man, I could tell you some stories.

When Clam hollered at me through the interwebs, he said that Akkilles seemed like it would be my speed. He was correct. It's good stuff.

"Grasslake" weirdly starts in a place where it is evoking memories of Hans Zimmer's "True Romance" variation on a theme originally established in Carl Orff's "Gassenhauer" while contemporized with a lo-fi, ever-so-slightly noise-influenced mindset. As I positively love "Gassenhauer," this is no slight. Slowly it morphs into a haunting piece that in the end is quite striking.

  Grasslake by Akkilles

In "Crimes," Bennett shows off his pop acumen with a song that pangs with regret while set over two simple but effective guitar parts and a tamborine. He has adopted a lo-fi approach to his personal brand of folk music, and it works damn well.

  Crimes by Akkilles

For more Akkilles, check out their SoundCloud page.
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