Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prick Tunes: The Civil Wars "Poison & Wine"

I suppose it seems appropriate to throw this up today, as The Civil Wars are performing at The Moody Theater tonight for their Austin City Limits taping. This is the first taping for ACL's 38th season. There's something about the chemistry between Joy Williams and John Paul White that is captivating. It may not ever be more evident than on this song.

As Luck Would Have It: Staying with Pint of Plain

The fifth episode of Luck is heavy on character development and comparatively light on advancing the plot. That's not a complaint. The pleasure of hooking into a series like Luck comes from watching character background get revealed, and seeing quality actors chew their way through great lines. My favorite bit of dialogue occurred when Ace's bodyguard Gus became genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing "his" horse, Pint of Plain, run in a stakes race the following day. This is the same Gus who in episode one didn't know the difference between a horse head and a horse ass. An oblivious beard. Now, he's come full circle. He engaged in a bit of pre-race existential joy in typical Milch-speak:
"Tomorrow's gonna be a good day Ace. Big day. We step to the plate with a shot. You know who don't?"  
"Who?" Ace asks.
"Babe Ruth. The Babe don't step to the plate, or George Patton either. You know, because they're both dead. Tremendous ballplayer, tremendous general. But out of the picture completely. Whereas you and I, we get a good night sleep. We step to the plate."
The unsightly and decidedly worse dressed doppelganger to the Ace/Gus relationship is the one between the degenerate gamblers, in particular the bond between the gifted handicapper but shitty poker player Jerry, and the caustic wheelchair bound Marcus. A man so misanthropic, he ultimately confuses his concern for Jerry as a homosexual urge. Jerry's classic rejoinder: "Just because you're short on people skills doesn't make you a bone smoker." Crassly inelegant and elegant at the same time.

An emerging theme is the succor and redemption these characters from all walks of life discover in relationships with the horse. This is true to form in real life. Any handicapper worth his salt suffers from the cliched mythology between man and horse. The same goes for owners and trainers. You can't spend as much time with horses as track people do, without developing an abiding love for the characteristics horses so often project: courage, guts, beauty, endurance, loyalty.

In less skilled hands, it may play as maudlin, corny, or unintentionally funny that Ace's date, the criminally underused to this point Joan Allen (in a demure 180 degree turn from the preacher humper she played in The Ice Storm) is carted home by Gus at the end of their date. Ace prefers to spend the night with Pint of Plain in Escalante's stables. No doubt this deft touch is aided greatly by Luck head writer Bill Barich. Barich, author of the best horse racing book I've read, Laughing in the Hills, has a knack for plumbing the peculiar blend of redemption, romance, pain, and beauty that horse racing can provide. If you are a fan of the show, I'd heartily recommend finding Barich's book. Scratch that. If you are a fan of reading, check out Barich's book.

As usual, the racing scenes are superb. Pint of Plain is injured when a horse in front of him loses a shoe, and it ricochets back and catches Pint of Plain on his hind leg or "hock," gashing it to the bone. It happens. One of the miracles of the sport is that for their tremendous size and grace, horses are an extremely fragile breed. Cuts, nicks, and abrasions are fairly common and on the benign end of the continuum of calamity that horses face every time they take the track.

Matthew 21:22. "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." The big race from last week's episode.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reading Rainbow: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Despite having owned the book for a while and having intended to read Raymond Chandler for what seems like an eternity, I just got around to reading him for the first time. My initial reaction upon finishing The Big Sleep? Wow.

Chandler's flair for turning a phrase is intoxicating. His prose possesses a lyrical panache while nimbly maintaining a masculine voice. The world that he creates is one rife with low-lives from all walks and beset with landmines lying in wait, our hero.

This protagonist, the iconic Philip Marlowe--along with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade--served as the prototype for all the hard-nosed, smart-assed, heavy drinking, distrustful private dicks that followed. Through the first-person eyes of Marlowe, the reader sees the seedy side of Los Angeles of yesteryear as told in increasingly more unique and inventive simile, rich with fascinating imagery. Marlowe's world view is sardonic and disillusioned, which whether intended or not traverses the decades that have passed and remains strikingly relevant today.

Perhaps that is the most impressive aspect of the book as a whole. Aside from a detail here and a rare bit of arcane dialogue, The Big Sleep never feels even remotely antiquated. Philip Marlowe could just as easily have been bouncing around the Los Angeles underworld today. More importantly, it seems as though if it were published today The Big Sleep would be a huge smash hit. To be able to say something like that about a book published 73 years ago speaks not only to its staying power but also its vision. Its brilliance is self-evident from the moment the book kicks off to its thrilling conclusion. If for one reason or another you've not read Raymond Chandler, do yourself a favor and pick this up.

Prick Tunes: Glen Hansard "Say It to Me Now"

Seeing this clip really makes you wish you'd been at Radio City Music Hall back in January of 2010 to see this show. Oscar(tm)-winner Glen Hansard--who the kids may know from Once/The Swell Season, the adults may know from The Frames, and the old school motherfuckers may know from The Commitments--has this preternatural ability to personalize a show so much that you feel as though you know him when you leave. He is personable, funny, frank, and loquacious on stage, and it is infectious. More importantly, though, it is moments like this one, sans mic or amp, that make the show feel so much more intimate than it ever should. When the song builds, it feels as though he is actually laying his soul bare with the rawness of the emotion hitting everybody in the audience. It is one of those rare transcendent moments that you hope to see at a concert that Hansard is somehow willing and able to give his audience more than a handful of times, sending chills up one's spine.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Prick Tunes: The Carpenters "We've Only Just Begun"

In honor of Johnny Blaze.

Man on Film: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

When word came out that the team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were going to helm the second Ghost Rider film, I nearly shat myself from excitement. Neveldine/Taylor and Cage? Sign me up. This combination sets expectations for sheer insanity.

Sheer insanity was not achieved, at least not fully.

It seems like this starts at the top with Avi and Ari Arad. Apparently Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier (the Drive Angry scribes) were asked to present a treatment for what was then just Ghost Rider 2, and Avi Arad passed because it was too violent. More details on that here (along with the full treatment in .pdf form).

Given this information, one has to imagine that Neveldine and Taylor were likely not allowed to go balls to the wall, which is what were were all hoping for. There are certainly moments that are absurd, over-the-top, and funny, but sadly those moments do not come as frequently as one would hope. If you start at the scene where Violante Placido's character Nadya takes Johnny Blaze to that nightclub and go forward through the big battle with the arms dealers and Ray Carrigan*, you've got a stretch of crazy-ass freak-outs, an almost drugged up sequence of Johnny on his motorcycle trying to keep The Rider under wraps, and then an insane fight sequence in which he takes out what equates to a platoon of mercenaries using large scale construction equipment that is engulfed in hell-fire. Over the course of these five to ten minutes, a glimpse of what your wildest dreams had hoped for is granted.

*It was really weird to see Johnny Whitworth in something that wasn't Empire Records (a movie that you'd have to be between the ages of 29 and 33 to actually like, as you'd have to have been a teen at the time to have nostalgia working in the film's favor, and even then it's a tall order to fill). It was weirder yet to see him hamming it up as the henchman. 

Unfortunately, the movie isn't all the way there.

The beautiful Violante Placido
On the acting front, you've got Nic Cage oscillating between Bangkok Dangerous and Bad Lieutenant. While he's The Rider, he actually does some pretty sweet physical mannerism work that elicited some chuckles (intentionally), and his efforts to keep The Rider at bay were just crazy enough. While Idris Elba is doing a weird French accent, his energy is actually in lock and step with what Neveldine and Taylor are going for, and his love for guns and wine is at least a little comic relief. The beautiful Violante Placido (the stunner in The American) isn't given a lot to do, but for eye-candy they could have done significantly worse. You've also got what equates to a Giles cameo from Anthony Stewart Head, whose lines could easily have been from the first season or two of Buffy, and marked the first time he'd popped up in something I'd seen since the 2006 Woody Allen film Scoop. There is also Christopher Lambert--with his entire face tatted up--making you long to see him wielding a broadsword even if he is wearing the robe of a monk. Sure, Lambert was never the most expressive presence on the screen, but Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have a knack for bringing back familiar faces that you haven't seen for ages. As far as the villain is concerned, Ciarán Hinds is perfectly suitable, at least when considering what the role called for, and he does have the requisite gravitas to make Roark a believable representation of the Devil.

Thankfully, the second installment is a marked improvement over the ghastly first part directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the man behind such gems as (in order) Simon Birch, Daredevil, and When In Rome. He also wrote Jack Frost--the Michael Keaton one. To qualify that resume as anything less than horrifying is underselling what he has done. If you need a reminder as to what depths his films sink, here:

That happened.

Need more? Here's something even worse:

Obviously, the guy who wrote and directed that horseshit should never have been allowed near any comic book film. The geniuses who brought us the Crank franchise, however, can do whatever the hell they want to. This includes an R-rated Ghost Rider film. Really, the entire Marvel Knights catalog should be R-rated. Anything less is doing a disservice to the source material. Ultimately, that's where this film falls short. It isn't insane enough. There are glimmers of insanity, but they just remind you what you wished you had been seeing through the normal parts.

For non-Nic Cage fans, this probably isn't a movie you're going to seek out. Anyone who's been coming here for long enough knows that this writer falls into the fan category. For those keeping track at home, this marks eleven straight live-action Nicolas Cage films seen in the theater, as I'm not going to penalize myself for not living in one of the markets that Trespass played in for roughly a handful of days. March 16th marks the open of the likely to be rough Seeking Justice, but perhaps it will surprise. More importantly, any Cage is good Cage. At the very least, this is significantly better than the first one--which is actually the streak-breaker for me--a film that would have worked much better for me if it had simply been Johnny Blaze talking about the crazy shit he could do as The Ghost Rider. The only aspect of the first film that I wish had been carried over was his love of The Carpenters, but Neveldine and Taylor made sure to have the music playing while people were driving be hilarious, which at least makes inroads towards recompense for me. At the very least, they give us what we've always really wanted: urinary flame thrower.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Prick Tunes: Wilco Doing NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

Wilco went into NPR's studio to do a Tiny Desk Concert back in October, and a Friday makes for a good day to burn 20 minutes at work listening to them take an acoustic run at "Dawned on Me," "Whole Love," "Born Alone," and "War on War.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rediscovering the Past: The Inspiration of Kenneth Lonergan

Here's another 'classic' post that largely fell on deaf ears. This was originally published way back in 2008, on October 7th to be exact. I'd imagine many or most of you weren't coming around to these here parts back then, as this was still a raw work in progress at that point. The seemingly doomed Margaret finally came out this past fall with Anna Paquin drawing raves and a small segment of the critic community vociferously singing its praises. 

I was just struck with the certain notion that Kenneth Lonergan (By the way, nine goddamn years, Kenny boy? Took you long enough...) was definitely driven by the powerful 80's sitcom with the following theme song of epic proportions:

Now, some might say (No, not you Liam. Pipe the fuck down.) that there's no way that the brainchild of Michael Jacobs (who in addition to being the Executive Producer of this fine program and "Boy Meets World", penned the afore-embedded theme song and perhaps more importantly the theme song to "Charles in Charge" which surely needs no embedding) and Danielle Alexandra (who I had never heard of but apparently wrote G.I. Jane--clearly the next step in the career of the co-creator of "My Two Dads") could possibly have been the inspiration for the great 2000 Scorcese-produced Lonergan debut below.

To this I say, "Screw you, you short-sighted chimp."

Think for just a moment. Pretend Loggins doppelganger Greg Evigan isn't wearing a trenchcoat. And he isn't bearded. And he's really of Italian heritage. And he mumbles a ton. In fact, pretend you can't understand a word he says, but he's from Wisconsin, so he's intrinsically likable. Now embue that man with all of the carefree irresponsibility and sexual looseness of Evigan's Joey Harris. Eliminate the moralizing as we're talking about an indie film, not a network sitcom, and you've got Terry Prescott.

(L to R) Rock-bottom Reiser, that girl from Going Places, and poor man's Loggins
Now, take Paul Reiser (no, I won't denigrate the work of a certain musician by linking him here, Mark--fuck it, yes I will, check that caption), imagine him having sex with Matthew Broderick, and you've got Laura Linney's Sammy Prescott.

To take it a step further, add a sense of hope for a legitimate future in acting to Staci Keanan (Seriously, what the fuck happened to her?) and you've got Rory Culkin as Rudy.

Florence Stanley's Judge Margaret Wilbur is swung away from the secular and turned into a priest, but to maintain indie-cred he's hapless where she's omniscient, and Lonergan casts himself in the role.

Dick Butkus is a big dude and is therefore the rest of the supporting cast in the film.

There you go. And to further my theory, Lonergan's movie that is to come out next year is called Margaret, no doubt an ode to the late Florence Stanley.

All right...

I know you wanted it, so here you go. Powells not Pembrokes.

Prick Tunes: Hayes Carll "Stomp and Holler"

Here's another stand-out track that can be found on KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories), Hayes Carll's fucking rocking 2011 release. If you don't have this album, you are doing yourself a big disservice. It belongs on the very short list of best albums of last year, right along side Tom Waits's Bad As Me, Destroyer's Kaputt, and Bon Iver's puzzlingly named Bon Iver.
This clip is courtesy of IFC and was recorded here in Austin, Hayes Carll's homebase, during SXSW last year at some fake place called the IFC Crossroads House. The best I can tell it was up Brazos from The Driskill. I couldn't even tell you what's normally there. I can guarandamntee that Hayes Carll will be playing about 15 times in Austin during SXSW, but I'll be damned if I get to see one damn show.

Check out his tour dates here because he's probably coming to your neck of the woods soon. I know I'm gonna see what I can do about getting to that Gruene Hall show March 3rd.

As Luck Would Have It: Nuts Get Rocked Off

Editor's Note: This is the second Luck entry from a writer new to the fold, Wordy G. He is a modern day Bukowski, both with the pen and his penchant for pony-related degeneracy. He knows of what he speaks when it comes to horse-racing, a particularly useful trait when it comes to sussing out what's going down on the newest David Milch skein. If you missed it, the first entry can be found here.  

Hollywood doesn't make them like they used to. An occasional nugget slips through the cracks now and again, like a penguin egg making the journey to fully fledged baby penguin, it's a God damn miracle. Thankfully, television has been a welcome refuge for producers, directors, and actors who seek the latitude to create something with more depth, nuance, and character than the usual slag playing for the rubes down at the multiplex.

One side effect of keeping the story Holy is the subtle change from "episode" television to "novel" television. Quality "episode" TV features crackling scripts that deliver the goods over the course of one episode. Drama. Tension. Climax. Drama resolved. Teaser for next week. Shows like Boardwalk Empire, Treme, and Luck trend more towards the "novel" formula. Weekly episodes tend to set up future pay-offs down the road (or, maybe foreplay with no release in the case of Treme). Each show is merely a 60 minute chapter of a larger narrative. The novel approach is a much more difficult proposition to get your arms around. It requires a bit more effort from the viewer. A little discipline to ride out the set up and patiently wait for the pay off.

In Luck episode # 4, the pay-off begins. Written by long-time Daily Racing Form reporter Jay Hovdey (who happens to be married to the most successful female jockey of all-time, Julie Krone), two scenes in particular rocked my nuts off.

The first, involved the maiden race for Walter Smith's horse Getting Up Morning.  The race comes at the middle of the episode, and is right up there with Roy Hobbs blasting home runs, Jimmy Chitwood draining jumpers, or Rocky training for Apollo Creed as far as goose-bump producing sports moments in entertainment go. At the start of the race, Getting Up Morning gets left at the gate. In racing parlance, this means he missed the break, and spots the field a massive head start. When a horse "gets left at the gate" in real life, 99 out of 100 times you assume there is no way the horse can win. Most races are run at a distance of just under a mile, with the distance between the first place horse and the second place measured in "lengths," which is about 8 feet. It takes approximately 1/5th of a second for a horse to cover a length. Even the slightest bit of unfortunate luck, being carried a few paths wide on the turn, having to slow down for a moment because another horse impedes progress, or a million other hard to predict circumstances can mean the difference between winning the race by a length or two, or completely running out of the money. To spot the field six or seven lengths at the start of the race is certain doom.  However, Getting Up Morning rallies from the horrendous start and wins the race going away. This impressive feat is made more so by the fact that it is Getting Up Morning's first career race.

It's all filmed with a nod towards epic. Slow motion sequences. A soaring score. The works. The awe and wonder shown on the faces of the degenerate gamblers, the tears in Walter Smith's eyes, Escalante referring to the horse as "a freak," are emblematic of the shock wave the horse's performance sends through the track at Santa Anita, and thru our TV screens. Secretariat lost his first race, but overcame a very troubled trip that signaled to many that he was going to be a great horse. In Gettting Up Morning's unlikely victory, Luck creator David Milch has sent the same signal.

I'll be a little disappointed if Milch walks us down the obvious path towards Ace Bernstein's horse vs. Walter Smith's horse. It seems inevitable, but with Milch's penchant for frustrating the viewer, we shall see.

I wish to Christ himself HBO had made the clip available, because its electric enough that you should see it.  Seek it out if you can.

A couple of inside horse racing points. After the race, it is apparent that Getting Up Morning has bled through his nose. This is fairly common in horse racing. Horses have such huge lungs, they are susceptible to bleeding from the exertion of a race. A typical treatment for bleeding is use of a legal drug called Lasix.  Nothing untoward is going on here. The vet examines Getting Up Morning and declares that the bleeding wasn't too severe. Some 'bleeders' have problems racing at longer distances, but typically Lasix works for the vast majority.

Also, the final time of the race is one minute, seven seconds, and change. This is an extremely fast winning time for a six furlong maiden race. Were this to occur in real life, it would be duly noted by the horse racing  press, and Getting Up Morning would begin to appear on all the Kentucky Derby watch lists.

Lastly, I've seen comments on some boards squawking about a horse coming from behind not being all that unusual. Don't believe such misguided slander. Coming from off the pace isn't unusual, but winning after missing the break and spotting the rest of the field a huge lead is exceedingly rare.

The second magic moment is the initial meeting between Ace Bernstein and Michael (Michael Gambon, better knows as Steve Zissou's erstwhile financier in The Life Aquatic). The back story indicates they were former partners of some sort, until Michael gigged Ace by putting him in a Sophie's Choice situation where Ace was forced to take a cocaine possession rap and time in prison to protect a family member. The first 3 episodes have been a prelude to this relationship, with dark hints and clues to Ace's ultimate plan for revenge. The first scene with the two men in the same frame doesn't disappoint. I particularly enjoyed the absurd ballet of the meeting, Ace initially refuses to be seated, and I held high hopes that he would take the meeting standing. He relents, and Michael one-ups him by waltzing across the room, and swinging a leg over the edge of a sofa, not quite sitting, not quite standing, but an odd straddle that still leaves him elevated above Ace. The dialogue is pure Milch, with equal parts profanity and poetry. The ultimate impact is that Michael comes off as one scary motherfucker. Ace will have his hands full trying to get over. It should be glorious to watch unfold.

Don't sleep on Luck. Below is HBO's recap of the first 4 episodes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Man on Film: Bullhead

Bullhead happens in a foreign place for most of us. Set against the backdrop of agrarian Flanders and its seamy underbelly*, it follows a small-time beef farmer who--along with his also crooked cohorts--is working on closing a deal with a notorious beef trader of the sketchy and criminal variety.

*I should proffer the information that when I saw the subtitled words 'Hormone Mafia' printed across the bottom of the screen I chuckled.

This is the set-up, but it is merely a metaphorically charged world to set the story of Jacky Vanmarsenille into motion. First-time feature-length writer/director Michael R. Roskam takes the deliberate route in presenting Jacky's tale, dropping small morsel after small morsel of information about the quiet but beastly protagonist. From the get-go, a mystery is built around Jacky. Little by little that mystery is revealed. His social timidness contrasts his physicality beautifully. His similarity to the cattle he's raising is rich with subtext. There is a poignancy to his devolution into the beasts he raises, and this relationship keeps the audience rapt with curiosity.

Despite its richness in metaphor and allegory, Bullhead does come perilously close to going over the line from contemplative to slow. While hesitant to place blame whilst watching with engorged bladder, one could question whether or not a more savage cut could have been performed in the editing room. Its pacing wasn't intolerable, but a bit probably could have been trimmed.

Regardless, Bullhead, a title that at least in part has to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, is a compelling story, and its hero is an interesting one. Matthias Schoenaerts's turn as Jacky is a heavily slanted to the non-verbal, allowing his expressive face (and the resultant subconscious of the audience) to do the talking. Roskam's eye shows clearly his background in painting, and the film is strong in spite of its deliberateness.

Prick Tunes: The Kinks "Dead End Street"

I spent much of my junior year driving around in Doug Strub's car listening to this tune. Hearing this makes me wish I had a '73 Nova.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Man on Film: The Artist

As if there were any question following the releases of Midnight in Paris and Hugo earlier in the year, The Artist cast into stone 2011's status as the Official Year of Post-Great War Nostalgia in Cinema. Sharing a common interest more specifically with Hugo, The Artist pays homage to the bygone Silent Era, choosing to show it at its winding down as cinema transitioned to talkies leaving many of its silent idols in its dust.

Michel Hazanavicius's vision is compelling. His love for Silent Cinema is evident in every frame. As a filmic exercise, The Artist is often stunning in its trueness to the form it honors. It manages to capture the vim and vigor of the late 1920s and early '30s while simultaneously feeling fresh and contemporary. Much of this may owe to the titular protagonist's plight and its relatability to our current economic climate.

What really breathes life into this film, though--what really infuses it with verve--is the chemistry between its leads: Jean Dujardin playing George Valentin, the established star of silent films, and Bérénice Bejo playing Peppy Miller, the ingenue trying to break into the trade. With George taking an interest in Peppy following their cute public meeting following the opening of his film A Russian Affair, he serves as a mentor of sorts, using his sway to help get her career kickstarted. They play fantastically off one another, and each lights up the screen whenever they're on it.

Then there are the technical steps that Hazanavicius & Co. took to make The Artist as reminiscent of its forebears as possible. Between attempting to emulate the speed of old films by shooting at a slightly slower exposure rate of 22 fps and fine-tuning all the camera moves, lighting, and lenses to achieve an authentic look and feel, they took painstaking care to have The Artist be true to form.

Really, The Artist is very good.  It's when the label great gets bandied about that reticence creeps in. By and large, the thing that keeps George from moving into the talkie era is his foolish pride. Hell, it's really the only thing keeping him from being happy, and it does become a hurdle for the viewer to have to jump to continue to buy into the film. It's a small but not insignificant thing and does take away a bit from the overall film. Luckily there's plenty to love; and while it certainly is not the best film of the year (the year being last year, of course), its inclusion amongst the Best Picture nominees is absolutely warranted.

Prick Tunes: Bread "Make It with You"

Here's a little Bread to kick off your week right and proper. David Gates and Crew are in the building.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Prick Tunes: Blur "Ambulance" and "Me, White Noise"

It may seem weird to many, but my favorite Blur album is probably Think Tank, which given Graham Coxon's virtually non-existent presence on the album could arguably disqualify it as being considered a Blur album despite the name of the band on the cover. Whether Coxon was on the record or not, it was great and clearly the next step for the band after the stellar 13
Blur, Banksy-approved
The odd thing for me is that I had remembered Think Tank being fairly well received critically but would never have thought that it charted particularly well stateside. Contrary to my perception, however, it was the highest charting Blur release. That was not at all what I expected when I was looking the album up on Wikipedia. I suppose the popularity could have been bolstered in part by the popularity of Damon Albarn's other project, Gorillaz, but aside from hearing "Crazy Beat" (my least favorite song on the album by far*) in commercials, it never felt like Think Tank had the suction that say Parklife or Blur had.

*Really, the only thing about the album that I would change would be to scrub the Norman Cook from the record entirely, as the two tracks he produced on the album are the two that don't jive with the rest of the album.

All that being said, I do love Think Tank, and now that I'm dusting it off, I think I may be embarking upon a Think Tank renaissance. What better way to kick said revival off than by throwing in what might just be my favorite song off the album, "Ambulance," the proper album opener.
Now I say 'proper album opener' here because I just found out today that there is actually a pregap hidden track on the album, which kind of blew my mind. I am not sure how I never stumbled across this information, but I'm going to chalk it up to chance. Regardless, for those of whom this is also a revelation, here is "Me, White Noise" put over a British ballroom dancing programme. 

Tube Steak: Craig Ferguson or GTFO - Morena Baccarin Edition

Why in the hell would you ever watch a talk show other than The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson? He had the gorgeous Morena Baccarin on Wednesday night, and holy shit was it hilarious. There's no other talk show on television where you get the sense of what the guests might actually be like. It's unhinged, anarchic, lewd. In other words, amazing.

She's like a sailor. A really hot sailor.

And because it sent me down the rabbit hole, here's more awesome/lewd Morena Baccarin on Ferguson.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prick Tunes: Cat Stevens "Trouble"

I'm going to attempt to move past yesterday's aberrant Prick Tunes entry, cleansing my palate as it were, with what might be my favorite Cat Stevens song, "Trouble," from Mona Bone Jakon. Many will recognize it as having been featured prominently at the emotional climax of the Hal Ashby classic Harold and Maude. By itself, on its own, the song is damned beautiful.

Man on Film: Chronicle

With found-footage films having seemingly flooded the market in the past 15 years or so, the prospect of taking in yet another in the form of Chronicle was not one for which it was easy to get excited. Somehow first-time feature-length director Josh Trank and screen-writer Max Landis (John's son) managed to sidestep most of the pitfalls that the bulk of their predecessors were unable to avoid. That isn't to say Chronicle is without its flaws, but so much of the found-footage onslaught has been in the realm of horror, therefore seeming more and more derivative that Chronicle's independence from the horror genre allows Landis and Trank--who share a Story By credit on the film--to branch out from the tired tropes of the form.

Here, the footage in the film (which doesn't ever actually claim to be "found") is primarily provided by a camcorder that outcast teenager Andrew Detmer bought to chronicle his life and (presumably) curb some of the physical abuse that his father has been doling out. As he takes to filming his life, he finds himself at a rave in the country where his cousin Matt Garetty and candidate for class president Steve Montgomery stumble across a glowing and pulsating subterranean crystalline structure which they eventually discover has imbued them with the gift of acute telekinetic powers. What follows is a film in which the young men explore their new-found powers and deal with the problems that arise the deeper they go.

Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan who played the manipulative and aggressive adopted gay teen Jesse in season three of In Treatment, is largely at the film's center, and unfortunately, this is where the film doesn't break away from its kindred found-footage films. While Andrew may be the most developed character, he is also the most irritating. Having seen a lot of him in In Treatment, it seems safe to say that the fault lies with DeHaan himself, who seems willing to take roles in which he is often called upon to do and say some awful things, but the audience is ultimately supposed to feel for that character. DeHaan doesn't seem have the range to be able to endear himself to the audience.

Thankfully, the other two-thirds of the teen trio who stumble across a supernatural source of power are great. Playing Andrew's cousin Matt Garetty, Alex Russell is able to pull off the task of being the likable voice of reason who is prone to socially awkward exchanges with girls in which he tries to come off as smarter than he is. Despite the opportunity to grate the audience's nerves if missing the mark, Russell's take on Garetty is a success.

What makes the film, though, is Michael B. Jordan's performance as the insanely popular Steve Montgomery. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been awake for the past ten years, as he was fantastic on two of the best shows of the past decade, standing out amidst very strong ensemble casts in The Wire and Friday Night Lights. If someone said that a movie just featured Michael B. Jordan being awesome, honestly that should be enough to get your ass in the seat.

One might be curious as to why the film went down the found-footage path. In retrospect, it probably makes sense. While the construct is tired generally, the fact that it is occurring in front of an amateur's lens allows for skirting around the obvious budget-related effects issues. While this is usually the case in the sub-genre, most other found-footage films also prey upon the point-of-view aspect of the film to get cheap scares and generally manipulate the audience. Chronicle doesn't engage in such chicanery and is actually freed from the confines of being told solely through the eye[s] of its characters by having them able to control the camera with their telekinesis. By incorporating other cameras (CCTV, video bloggers, police cameras), the audience is given alternate means by which they can process the action. With Chronicle, Landis and Trank constructed a film that didn't come across as stale, unlike the slew of other found-footage dreck. Were the main character more sympathetic, it likely would have blown up even more. As it stands, a sequel to Chronicle wouldn't be surprising in the least.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Prick Tunes: Crazy Town "Butterfly"

I usually don't do this because I try not to be mean-spirited in this space. Not liking something is one thing, but ripping the shit out of something/someone is an activity I generally try to avoid. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we as people in this web-based society have been able to make our world so insular as to limit our exposure to things to which we wouldn't generally find ourselves drawn, so I find myself exposed to media that I find reprehensible with such infrequency as to border on shockingly rare. Without such exposure to, well, shit, it has become increasingly easy to not end up saying nasty things.

Here is the exception.

Not Epic
"Butterfly" by Crazy Town might be the worst song ever. While talking about terrible fucking 'songs' at work, this was one of the first mentioned. If you have ever seen a bigger bunch of choadfuckers, I challenge you to point them out. One of them goes by the name Epic, which is quite possibly the douchiest thing I've ever heard. What's even better is he's the less douchy of the two rap-rock frontmen. Fuck. Tatted up, bleached hair, eye-brow ring toolshed and crew are apparently in the fucking jungle singing about some thin girl who is supposed to be attractive when he strikes a Christ pose and his fucking star tattoos on his shoulder become illuminated, free themselves from being pasted to a shithead that even they can't bear to be attached to anymore, and fly off into the sky, presumably to heaven where they will be granted access after enduring the punishment of having to have been attached to this preening stroke 'round the clock for years. Seeing this video (thankfully) for the first time, made me wish that I had a time machine so I could travel back in time and undo the existence of Crazy Town and force these douchers back to their jobs at the Pizza Hut in Encino, where a just world would certainly have left them.

Apparently, they're still a band, which is shocking to me and causes me to worry about the well-being of the world with these jagoffs on the loose.

Without further ado, a song that I wish I could abort*. Hell, hearing this song makes me wish I'd been aborted.

*Listening to Crazy Town may cause sterility.

As Luck Would Have It: An Entry Point

For the uninitiated, horse racing presents a byzantine code that often takes hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars to learn. School is in session on virtually every night, with poor, sad, magnificent bastards bent over Daily Racing Forms looking for clues. Sessions continue virtually every day, with boozy afternoons spent betting the races. Several unserious media types have decried the relatively impenetrable inside horse racing plot twists and angles as an impediment to enjoying Luck, the new HBO series produced by David Milch, directed by Mike Mann, and featuring Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, and a bunch of horses. As someone who happens to have paid that horse racing tuition (and remains involved in a continuing education capacity to this very day), I’m here to help flesh out some of the broad strokes that Luck assumes viewers will recognize.

Come on though. It’s Milch. What else do you need to know? A Yale Grad, with an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and according to legend, his father was a doctor who possibly performed some operations on big time mob wise guys. Milch is my kind of intellectual. Whipsaw smart. Ultimately accessible. A man of letters who also grasps the seedier corners of culture. Deadwood, my all-time favorite television show in the non-Wire category, is infamous for its ornate and vulgar language. Characters routinely spouted tapestries of brilliant dialogue that sounded like a mash up of Shakespeare and Charles Bukowski. Milch writes with one foot in the gutter, and one foot in baby’s breath. 

Appropriately, Luck takes place at Santa Anita Park, which remains the epicenter of horse racing west of Louisville. For those of you unfamiliar with horse culture, the track is a perfect marker for exploring and contrasting the lives of the 1% and the 99. From million dollar horse owners in Savile Row suits, to degenerate hobo’s shuffling the grandstands searching for cigarette butts and mistakenly discarded winning tickets, and all points in-between, the track has the Americana caste system covered.   

Luck, which expects much from its audience, beams the viewer right into the grandstands at Santa Anita. Over the course of the first three episodes, significant plot developments have hinged on track life that require some working knowledge of horse racing to fully appreciate. HBO conveniently provides decoding for some of the horse culture lingo, like apprentice jockeys who are called bug boys, and a summary of a lottery ticket type bet, The Pick Six. Four degenerate gamblers, who comprise a perverted Greek chorus of sorts in the series, happen to score $2 million dollars by winning the Pick Six in episode one.

Another key element is the concept of claiming races. There are several types of races in horse racing. Big time stakes races like the Kentucky Derby for example. You may see races like this on network TV. Races that take place after a poignant vignette featuring colts galloping in a field, misty eyes, an American flag flapping gently in the breeze, shots of extremely rich and extremely old white people, and Nick Lachey, all played underneath a solemn essay/ode to Americana read by Jack Whitaker, are the really important races. If the race is on a cable channel, and proceeded by an ESPN’s porcine jowled Hank Goldberg, contributing specious gambling advice, it’s merely a significant race. Big stakes races take place relatively infrequently. The three Triple Crown races take place over the course of one month from the first Saturday in May thru the first Saturday in June. The Breeder’s Cup races take place over two days in late October. Horse racing isn’t for everybody, but you have to be pretty jaded not to be somewhat moved by this type of drama. Pay attention at the 1:40 mark, and hang on thru the slow-mo replays a minute later to get an appreciation for what happens. At the very least, it will give you some perspective for what kind of reality Milch is trying to re-create in the series.

Racing doesn’t subsist on the Triple Crown races alone. The bread and butter of the everyday grind in horse racing, typically 10 races a day, 5 days a week at major tracks, is the claiming race.

In a claiming race, every horse is for sale. If you have a horse license (which, barring a felony or bestiality priors on your record, is easier to get than a HEB point’s rewards card) and cold hard cash, you have all you need to buy your very own race horse. The “claiming” or “sale” price is an efficient way for tracks to ensure that horses of similar caliber are running against each other. If you valued your horse at 20k, you wouldn’t enter it in a “claiming” race for 10k. You might be tempted, because it would be an easy way to win the purse for the race. But you would almost certainly have your horse “claimed” by another owner, for half its value. You might enter it in a race with a claiming price for 30k. Your horse may need a lot of luck to win, but even if someone did claim it, you’d get 10k more than you valued him for a sale price.

If the horsey business is making it difficult for you to find an entry point to the series, comment and I’ll be happy to expound. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Prick Tunes: Badly Drawn Boy "The Shining"

I had a much different song chosen for today and then realized what day it was. Happy Valentine's Day.
This one goes out to TSLF, the love of my life. We used to listen to The Hour of Bewilderbeast a lot, and that Badly Drawn Boy show at the Fine Line we saw the first time around was fantastic. I put off finishing my senior paper that night (due the next morning) to go to that concert. I wouldn't trade that night with TSLF for anything.

"The Shining"

Reading Rainbow: The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

It might be most instructive to preface this piece with the fact that I started reading this book when The Hangover Part II was early in its theatrical run. I finished it about a week ago. That means it took about eight months to finish this book off.

The Monkey Wrench Gang made me want to read other books in its stead. Given the fact that this book is about righteous eco-terrorism and that the statement is coming from someone who aligns himself pretty far on the left side of the political spectrum (not that I would ever condone terrorism in any form*), this is relatively damning.

*Read: no need to put this guy on a watch list, Powers That Be.

Moreover, I fucking love the American West. My notion of the deserts of the Southwest is as romanticized as possible.

Yet even with the proper predisposition heading into the book, The Monkey Wrench Gang never hit the right note for me. Abbey's prose struck me as tedious, and his endless poetic waxing on the desert rather quickly became masturbatory more than anything else. By the time I hit page 300, the only thing keeping me going was the fact that seven months was too long to halfheartedly invest in a book to punt it.

The easiest way for me to describe my reaction to the book while I was reading it was that it felt like I was reading Pynchon if you took the enjoyment out of it.

To any Abbey fans out there, please feel free to defend him, but this whole enterprise struck me as naively idealistic. I suppose that is the reading that I would tend to take when reading anyone who claims to be an anarchist though.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Prick Tunes: Bon Iver "Blindsided" and "I Can't Make You Love Me/Nick of Time"

In honor of Bon Iver's two Grammys* last night, here are two more interesting web performances, the first being from a Myspace Transmissions studio session in 2008. The song is "Blindsided" which can originally be found on For Emma, Forever Ago.

*One of which was for Best New Artist, hilariously elucidating just how truly out of touch the Grammy's truly are.

The second song is a bonus track that can be found on the Calgary single, and this video was available to those who (IIRC) pre-bought Bon Iver, Bon Iver through iTunes. This finds Justin Vernon taking a run through a medley of two Bonnie Raitt tunes continuing Bon Iver's tradition of cagily choosing material to cover that outsiders wouldn't typically associate them with. It's fucking gorgeous.

Grammy Reaction

It's a been a very long time since I've written here, but having sat through the Grammys, I felt compelled to write this entry.

I'm not sure why I bother watching the Grammy's, but this year I had a vested interest as one of my favorite bands...Bon Iver...was nominated in a few different categories. Outside of their music, the band is very forthright (and probably more especially lead man Justin Vernon) about Eau Claire being where their roots have been set, and that's where I went to college and now live. So although I had a strong interest in seeing if Bon Iver won anything, sometimes the award ceremony can pleasantly surprise me.

A few years ago, they came back from a commercial break and there were two guys standing in the middle of the audience...Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. They hadn't played together for over 20 years, and there they stood on the Grammy stage. One of my lifelong dreams is to see them perform together, and there they stood. It's moments like those that have gotten me to pay some attention to the circus that's become the Grammys. I don't know what they used to be like back in the day, but I'd imagine they much more resembled the Oscars or any other award ceremony than the orchestrated event they are today.

This isn't to downplay the Grammys, it's more to downplay the televised spectacle we see from our living rooms. I'd assume they have a more formal event which has more substance than the 3-plus hour charade we see on TV that only actually hands out 10 or so awards. The Grammys are a joke, and I'm glad Bon Iver [reportedly] turned down the opportunity to play at the awards because they aren't representative of the large majority of the music industry.

Maybe the Grammys are actually representative of the hypocrisy and capitalistic nature of the mainstream music industry, but real musicians seem to be getting tired of it. Justin Vernon clearly mentioned what he thought about the invite-only nature of big time music. He was one of the few award winners that actually had an acceptance speech, and they pushed him off the stage towards the end in favor of A SECOND performance by Chris Brown and the Foo Fighters (although I'll give Dave Grohl some leniency as his speech was clearly going in a direction that the suits didn't like, so they shut him down quick). Props to you Justin Vernon for keeping your integrity....I'd have expected nothing less.

It isn't so much that I have a great distaste for mainstream music because some of it I don't mind, but it's just not representative of the real music that's out there (both good and bad). Every year, the Grammys nominate people who don't deserve much let alone THE award the industry can hand out. How the hell does anything Bruno Mars does deserve to be in the conversation for Album of the Year? I can think of hundreds of better albums that came out this year that were better than any garbage he came up with in the last year.

I've long been frustrated with the lack of fair representation in the music industry. Maybe these real musicians don't care. I'd assume playing sold out shows at almost every stop of nationwide and international tours and boatloads of your albums purchased is pretty damned indicative of the success you've achieved, but a Grammy certainly couldn't hurt. It's just too bad it's become a joke to anyone who cares about music.

Outside of seeing Justin Vernon up on the stage accepting a Grammy for Bon Iver, the highlight was a Chipotle commercial with Willie Nelson covering a Coldplay song...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Prick Tunes: Os Mutantes "A Minha Menina" and "Baby"

The movie I was watching (Somewhere) ended and the Brazilian Butt Lift infomercial came on, which got me to thinking about the fact that I'd not talked about any Brazilian music around here. What better place to start than the seminal Brazilian psych-rock band Os Mutantes?

Part of the Tropicália movement of the late 1960s, they took a 28-year hiatus from touring before hitting the road once again in 2006. The first video is from a performance at KEXP in the Bumbershoot Music Lounge in 2009. "A Minha Menina" is originally from their 1968 self-titled debut.

The next song is their second run at their tune "Baby." Their first hack at the Caetano Veloso*-penned tune was a very psychedelic take on the song and was found on their aforementioned debut. The second time around saw them singing the tune in English and taking an approach much more akin to that of a lounge act. Both have original member of the band Rita Lee, who has not rejoined her former bandmates on their tours since reuniting.

*Caetano Veloso was another prominent Tropicália contemporary of Os Mutantes who, along with Gilberto Gil, was exiled from Brazil for two years starting in 1970.

Man on Film: Hugo

Judging by the directorial efforts of two of the greatest living auteurs in the business, 2011 was the year in which Paris's past was to be romanticized. Mere months after Woody Allen's wonderful ode to the Lost Generation, Midnight in Paris, Martin Scorcese threw his hat in the ring with Hugo--his 3-D love letter to 1930 Paris and to the early French innovators of filmmaking, particularly Georges Méliès. While Hugo may not achieve the level of success that Allen's ode to Paris did earlier in the year (and certainly not the level of success that seems to be indicated by the near-universal raves it has received), it is ambitious to be sure.

Starting with a grand CGI faux-helicopter shot of Paris that works its way toward and then into the Gare Montparnasse, Scorcese's aspirations are evident. Unfortunately the shot doesn't quite click (in this instance, its artificiality is just too damn evident), serving as a microcosm for the larger state of the film.

His re-creation of the train station in its 1930 glory is spectacular. The casting is superb, with sterling performances from young and old alike. Ben Kingsley is great as Georges Méliès, just as one would expect, but the film is carried by its two young stars, Asa Butterfield playing the lead and Chloe Grace Moretz as his friend Isabelle. The re-imagining of Méliès's filmmaking process is both enlightening and captivating. The love for the history of cinema is placed prominently in the foreground, which is particularly admirable in that it serves a purpose of hopefully endearing the foreign but vital ancestry of the art form to a new generation.

The shortcomings are in the storytelling. Hugo, a PG family film, comes in at two hours and fifteen minutes in length. If it were chock-full of action, adventure, intrigue, or plot-developments, that likely wouldn't be a hindrance. It is not. The film's narrative meanders, and while deliberately-paced film-making needn't generally be a problem, this is a movie geared largely towards children. Objectively, the film could probably have twenty minutes culled from it without suffering.

Moving on, the other glaring issue is that the film's visual palette is so close to that of the Jean-Pierre Jeunet films Amelie and City of Lost Children that it borders on being derivative, leaving the viewer to wonder if any tale of whimsy set in France has to look like this by some undocumented law. It's not that it is an unpleasant style, but one could make a silent montage of scenes from the three films and think that one director was responsible for all of the scenes.

For the most part, Hugo was a fine film, which may not be evident from the comments above, but to qualify it as great is perhaps taking things a step too far.

Would any dissenters care to throw in their two cents?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Prick Tunes: Grinderman "Heathen Child"

It occurs to me that I've not talked about Grinderman in these here parts. All I should have to say is Nick Cave to sell their worth to the unindoctrinated. Off of Grinderman 2, which is sadly going to be their last record, here is "Heathen Child."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Prick Tunes: Sonic Youth "100%"

From way back in 1992, this Spike Jonze directed video was (I believe) Jonze's first foray into music videos. The video for The Chainsaw Kittens' "High in High School" also came out in 1992, but from what I can gather (read: lazily read this on Wikipedia) Sonic Youth recruited Jonze--who had been shooting skateboarding videos up until that point--to shoot their video. He brought professional skateboarder Jason Lee along with him, so this video essentially serves as a launching pad for both Richard Koufey and live-action Dave Seville.

Man on Film: Contraband

If we are being honest, Contraband is your typical January action release. Realistically, it is not good enough nor does it have the cachet to warrant a more favorable release date for reaching a broader audience. Its lack of signature action set pieces or special effects-heavy sequences make for a pretty straightforward smuggling caper flick.

This isn't to say Contraband is awful. It is mediocre. To quote, Stu from the "Action Packed Heist" episode of The Life and Times of Tim,
I'm a Wahlberg guy.
With Kate Beckinsale in tow, it isn't hard to understand why Wahlberg's character would be willing to get back into the game to save her brother. Much like last fall's Ides of March and its casting of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti in the same film, Contraband becomes perhaps the only movie to have both Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi, who must have grown sick of auditioning for the same roles for the past ten years or so. Hell, my interest was even piqued when I saw that Baltasar Kormakur had directed the film. Having quite liked his debut film 101 Reykjavik and his follow-up The Sea, his name had fallen off my radar but seeing it in the opening credits had me hopeful.

Unfortunately the film never grabs the audience. Perhaps some of that was owing to the fucking four-year-old whose parents let her hop around in the aisle whilst talking*, but the plot kind of plods around, has some minor stuff happen, does not let the audience in on the plan (in an interesting way, of course), and has just enough turns to make it look like they tried.

*Sorry, but if you have a four-year-old, you kind of lost your right to take your kid who won't sit still or be quiet to a Rated-R movie. You chose to have the kid. Fucking deal with it. Don't make your kid everyone else's problem. 

All in all, Contraband was a milquetoast action flick.

Instead of watching that trailer, though, you could watch this (I assure you, if I could change the music, I would)...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prick Tunes: Bruce Hornsby & The Range "The Way It Is"

The other Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce. Come get some.

Rediscovering the Past: A Shocking Revelation about Enemy Mine

[This is another oldie but goodie from February 10th of 2010. I am working on an entry or two and should be keeping up with Prick Tunes entries along the way. Hopefully this is a new one for some of you.]

One of the primary goals of this series is to plumb the depths of our pop culture past, examining relics of our not-so-distant past with a fresh set of eyes.

Today's errand involves looking deeper at the sci-fi non-classic Enemy Mine.

Now, when I undertook the chore of watching this film I had no idea what to expect. I was certainly taken aback to find that I would be watching the precursor to Brokeback Mountain starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr., in the roles that would be unofficially reprised by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.

You see, Enemy Mine is about two men who are marooned on a distant, virtually uninhabited planet who take shelter from the planets harsh elements together, and eventually take comfort in each other's company. When I say "two men" what I really mean is a human and a Draconian, but as first two acts blatantly elucidate (and the third act absolutely bludgeons the point home), these two species are really just different races.

Where Wolfgang Petersen makes his bold decision, however, is when he decides to make Enemy Mine an interracial Brokeback Mountain. Even though he is in a scaly reptilian get-up for the whole movie, Petersen chose to cast a black man to play Jeriba. This is no coincidence. The racial tension between Dennis Quaid's character, Willis Davidge, who essentially starts the film as the clean-cut poster boy for the Aryan ideal, and Jeriba is so thick it could not be flushed down a toilet. As the two get to know each other while trying their best to simply survive in this crazy, messed up world, they begin to form a bond. They co-habitate. They teach each other new things. Lou Gossett, Jr., has a baby. Despite their initial racially-motivated hatred of one another, they overcame their differences and found comfort in one another's company, and what they have to show for it is an alien butt baby.
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Now, where Wolfgang Petersen loses me is when he decides to actively try to piss off all Christian groups. You see, as the film progresses, Willis Davidge evolves. He starts off the film as a hateful Nazi. As he begins to learn about the other race, he grows as a man, and eventually he becomes Jesus and somehow impregnates his male lover. Seriously, Wolfgang? Homosexual immaculate conception? Hey, I don't have a problem with it, but if this movie came out today, there would be protesters outside of your movie all over the Bible belt.

Whatever. It's your movie, Wolfgang. Make it your own.

Moving on...

So Jeriba, Davidge's lover, has their child but dies in childbirth. Davidge raises their son as his "uncle" and teaches him about both of their cultures. Then their son, Zammis, runs off, attacks a WASP, and ends up getting enslaved by the human settlers (read: Europeans) while Davidge is shot and presumed dead by Zammis's captor. Of course, Davidge is resurrected (he emerges from a body bag, not a cave) and goes to save Zammis after removing the rock from the metaphorical cave door with a fighter's weapons. When he lands, he saves the enslaved Draconians and rescues his "nephew" from his oppressors.

So what we have here is a snapshot of Wolfgang Petersen's world, one in which Jesus had an interracial love child with his male lover on Brokeback Mountain--and Jesus freed the slaves.

And just so you know I'm not crazy:
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