Monday, June 30, 2008

Stevie Wonder @ Taste of Chicago

It’s not often that you can attend a free show that you are this eager to see. While finding an open spot on Hutchinson Field was anything but easy, I would have traversed a small desert to see Stevie Wonder. In the middle of Taste of Chicago on what turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous afternoon, close to 80,000 people crammed themselves onto every available patch of grass. Arriving two hours early was far too late to grab a seat in the convoluted front section, but our small spot was comfortable at least.

Stevie took the stage right on time with an enthusiastic “Hello!” and thanked Chicago for inviting him back to return to Taste after 20 years. He led off with some of his later era tunes, a relaxed beginning that matched the festival atmosphere. Even though we were positioned very close to some speakers, the sound quality was far from pristine. Nuance would be hard to come by. But it didn’t seem to matter for the diverse crowd in our vicinity. Just seeing Stevie, even if he was 150 yards away, was a momentous event. But you got the sense that the ramp-up was going to be gradual.Chart-toppers were peppered throughout the set, and each successive hit drew a more jubilant response from the audience. Many of the more ardent Stevie aficionados got the pleasure of hearing album cuts such as Golden Lady, Knocks Me off My Feet, and Hey Love. A lady behind me excitedly announced, “Oh, we’re going waaaay back for this one!” People of every age, race, and gender spent most of the show on their feet, dancing for most of the nearly three hour set. By the time he rolled Sir Duke right into I Wish, I swear joy was sparkling in the air. Late in the set, during the extended jam of Do I Do, an impromptu Hustle broke out that grew to immense proportions by the end of the song. There were probably 200 people Hustling together. It was as beautiful a line dance as I’ve ever seen.

During the course of the show, one couldn’t help but note just how many hits Stevie has in his repertoire. He played 32 songs, many of them world-renowned, and there were still a ton of classics left on the table. With such a body of work, there are few musical performers in history that can compare. More importantly, Stevie may be 58 years old, but his voice is in superb shape. He hits notes that most can only dream about. Between his amazing catalogue and manifest talent, there’s simply nothing like Stevie Wonder.

If there is one overarching theme in Stevie Wonder’s music, it is love. Love of life, love of family, love of fellow man. That love can bring us all together and conquer the awful things in the world. You have to be amazed that someone like Stevie Wonder even exists. Not only has he written some of the most amazing music ever recorded, he played nearly every instrument on those albums, and has an incomparable singing voice. All this despite being blind from birth. You have to ask yourself if he was put on this planet for a reason. Whether that’s hokey or mystical doesn’t really matter. What matters, and what must be noted, is just how lucky we are to have this man, and how extremely fortunate everyone in Grant Park felt to hear him perform, no matter how far from the stage they were.
Stevie Wonder Setlist:
As If You Read My Mind
Master Blaster (Jammin’)
Did I Hear You Say You Love Me
All I Do
Knocks Me Off My Feet
I Mean It (new song?)
Have You Seen Her?*
Higher and Higher*
Higher Ground
Spain**
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
Visions
Living for the City
Golden Lady
New song?
Stevie’s daughter, Aisha Morris sings a song
Isn’t She Lovely
Ribbon in the Sky
Overjoyed
Hey Love
My Cherie Amour
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Sir Duke
I Wish
My Eyes Don’t Cry
Do I Do
I Just Called to Say I Love You
I Was Made to Love Her
Superstition
Fever*** (sung by Keith John)
As

*Brief portions of Chi-Lites and Jackie Wilson tunes
**Chick Corea cover
***Keith John, one of Stevie’s backup singers, is the son of Little Willie John, the original performer of Fever
****Sorry, even I don’t know every song in Stevie’s catalogue


NOTE: Greg Kot's review can be found here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Gets Nostalgic for the Good Old Days

Raise Your Voice -- Over at The Silver Key, Brian has laid out his picks for the Top Ten Heavy Metal Vocalists of all time. No, Lita Ford didn't make the cut. Check out his list. I think he did a great job.

Shuffle You Can Believe In -- By now, I'm sure you've heard. Obama has finally released his I-pod roster. Thank goodness. Our long, national nightmare is finally over. Basically, he likes the kind of music people that are 46 years old like. Jazz, blues, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, he lauds Stevie Wonder's incredible string of albums in the early and mid 70s, a run that nobody else has ever matched in terms of quality in such a short time span. Yes, that includes the Beatles. Speaking of Stevie, are you aware that he's playing Taste of Chicago tomorrow? For free? You simply must go. See you there when he hits the stage at 5:30.

We'll take Cooke's car. He won't be needing it. -- This weekend, at the Music Box, Commando. That's right a movie once reviewed here which I said was "over the top in all facets - from plot to acting to explosions." Highly worth seeing if you haven't yet, it's playing at midnight on both Friday and Saturday. Seeing word of Commando reminded me that there are still a handful of movies that really deserve the Schwarzenegger Sunday treatment. This summer is an impossibly busy one, but I'll see what I can do. I'd hate to just leave them dangling out there like Sully, or worse, let them go like Sully.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

OWR: Death Proof



64: Self-parodic

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lolla Lolla Lolla Get Your Lineup Here

As mentioned yesterday, the Lollapalooza detailed schedule has finally been released. And it's looking pretty darn sweet. Check it out here. Let's take a look at what we have to work with and any quandaries we need to tackle.

Friday
Honestly, I don't need to see anything until Rogue Wave at 1:15. I may even work a half day. Friday features some difficult calls all afternoon. It may be a situation where you have to bounce from one stage to the next and check out partial shows.
Friday plan at this moment:
1:15 - Rogue Wave
2:15 - Yeasayer vs. The Go! Team (leaning Yeasayer)
3:15 - Louis XIV (but maybe checking out what else is on)
4:15 - Gogol Bordello (sorry, Black Keys, you can't compete in this race)
5:15 - Mates of State
5:45 - Grizzly Bear (unless Mates are really wowing me)
6:15 - Bloc Party
7:15 - CSS (maybe)
8:00 - Radiohead headlines alone. Might go a little something like this:

Also on Friday, afterparties: Black Lips @ Empty Bottle, Brand New @ HOB, Gogol Bordello w/ Ting Gings @ Metro, Mates of State w/ MGMT @ Double Door (FREE!), Rogue Wave & Dr. Dog @ Schubas, Whigs @ Hob Back Porch. Black Keys performs at Metro on Thursday night.

Saturday
Honestly, I can wait to arrive on Saturday until 3:30 for MGMT. It would easily be my latest arrival at Lolla. But nothing before that is very compelling. There is really only one major decision to make. Broken Social Scene, Battles, and Lupe Fiasco all play at the same time. It's irritating, but not that tough a call. BSS was so captivating two years ago, I wouldn't dare miss them this year.
Saturday plan at this moment:
3:30 - MGMT
4:30 - Explosions in the Sky
5:30 - Okkervil River
6:30 - Broken Social Scene
7:30 - Toadies or maybe a much-deserved break
8:30 - Rage Against the Machine trumps Wilco. Might go a little something like this:

Saturday afterparties: Battles w/ Foals @ Double Door, Broken Social Scene @ Metro, Bloc Party @ HOB, Flogging Molly w/ Black Joe Lewis @ Congress Theater, Margo & the Nuclear So and So's @ Empty Bottle, Okkervil River w/ Octopus Project @ Schubas. How on earth do you choose just one of these? Maybe based on who plays the best at the festival?

Sunday
Honestly, there's nobody I'm dying to see until nearly 5pm. After an afterparty, a leisurely morning might be a good idea. I can't believe I'm saying this. Clearly, there is more research to be done on all these acts, and I may want to check some of them out. Once again, everything is subject to change. But on Sunday, we have no horrendous conflicts as of right now.
Sunday plan at this moment:
3:30 - Black Kids
4:15 - Iron and Wine
5:00 - Saul Willaims
5:15 - Flogging Molly (unless Saul locks me down - very possible)
6:15 - Gnarls Barkley
6:30 - Girl Talk (maybe - depends on Gnarls)
7:15 - The National (the calm before the storm...)
8:15 - NIN. Here is what a recent practice session looked and sounded like:

Did you get all that? You are not leaving this show early. Without question, they will bring the house down. Sunday afterparty: Poison, Dokken, Sebastian Bach @ First Midwest Bank Amphitheater (just kidding, they're on at the same time...).

So, all those thoughts of how sturdy the lineup is this year are now steeled as the schedule breaks extremely well. No Stooges vs. Kings of Leon type problems. Honestly, this weekend may kill me, but it will do so blissfully. Anyone have other ideas? Other unmentioned bands worth checking out? Other quandaries? Which afterparty are we hitting? Leaning towards Double Door both nights, but BSS may get me out to Metro on Saturday. See you there!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Is Way Behind and Short On Time

...so you're going to get a massive link dump with scant little commentary. Some of these go back over a week. Sorry to keep the good info from you for so long.

Jim Derogatis' Best Albums of the Year So Far -- Proving myself further out of touch by not owning any of these. What can I say, I'm a bad blogger right now. Interesting that he has Weezer at #2 even though it generally didn't seem to be very well received by critics. He's also just convinced me to buy that Nick Cave record. Everyone agrees it's amazing. So far I've heard only one song which didn't do much for me.

JD's Top Ten Movie Soundtracks -- I know I keep linking these guys every week. I promise only to link when their lists are good. But they're always good.

The Ten Best Selling Albums of all time -- Kinda interesting to look at. I had no idea AC/DC's Back In Black did this well. Did you? Also surprising to yours truly: Dark Side of the Moon and Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell. Wow.

Bird on Bird is Back in Action -- A while back, we reported on Andrew Bird's opinion piece in the New York Times. Apparently he has a running deal with them because his second such column showed up yesterday. More interesting personal insight from Bird here, but the real kicker is a 47 second sample of "Oh No," one of his new tunes. It's smooth and friendly. Check it out.

Hideout Block Party Tickets On Sale -- Band playing include: Neko Case, The New Pornographers, Black Mountain, Robbie Fulks, and many more. It's the last show of the summer, so go get you some.

Lastly for today, in case you haven't heard. Stevie Wonder is playing Taste of Chicago for free. If you can deal with the crowds, you get to see Stevie Wonder for free. A small price to pay for this kind of thing:
I could have picked a more upbeat, well-known tune, but my goodness. There's just no comparison to Stevie.

Oh, there's so much more to talk about. Will we ever get to it all? Coming up this week. Lollapalooza released the detailed schedule. We'll have plenty of comments, but the initial, gut reaction - thumbs up! Also, those final AFI genre lists were released. We talked earlier about how they botched the balloting, but the initial, gut reaction of the results - thumbs up! We'll go into detail as there are some interesting finer points.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Swervedriver @ Metro

Even before the band took the stage, the energy from the crowd was palpable. Everyone there had been waiting for this performance for a looooong time. As you might expect, there were a lot of old dudes. I'm not sure if I fit that category yet, but I must at least be getting close. The only people under 30 appeared to be girlfriends. I think everyone was curious about which track would begin the set. They opened with Sci-Flyer, the first song from their first album. Fitting, if not as hard-charging as Son of Mustang Ford or one of the other singles.

One of the great strengths of Swervedriver's music is that each part seems to be doing its own thing, yet all the disparate sounds find a way to work together. It's not just that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but that the whole works despite the fact that the parts don't want to have anything to do with one another. Kind of like the New York Giants. Unfortunately, over the early parts of the set, things sounded a bit muddy. A friend of mine said that he thought there was too much fuzz on the guitars, which you'd think could never be a bad thing. But yet, something was amiss. However, once they launched into For Seeking Heat, everything changed. From that point on, the show was the ear-drum barrage we all anticipated, even though each instrument did its own thing.Adam Franklin's voice sounded as pure as ever. He seemed to match his levels from the original album recordings. On the songs from Raise, he blended in. On their later material, he became the featured sound. The thing that has changed is the way the band looks. Gone are Franklin's long dreads and sunglasses. His receding hairline and bushy beard indicate the years that have passed. Stage presence was never the band's strong suit. Franklin addressed the microphone, but rarely the audience. I said last week that the band didn't really fit the shoegazer label, but live and in person it's certainly more apt.

Nevertheless, the audience showed all kinds of energy, particularly after the set picked up halfway through. The singles of course drew a positive response, Duel in particular. When the band launched into Rave Down, seemingly every head in the building bobbed in rhythm. Well, every head except the four on stage. The main set ended with an over ten minute version of Duress. Most bands would probably want to end on a rocker, but it was clear that the crowd loved it.Also last week, I mentioned how this band was a particularly star-crossed one. Things just always seemed to go against them. But seeing them perform again makes you wonder if they just weren't quite patient enough. Perhaps a star-crossed band can earn the success they deserve after all. Their music is still every bit as viable as it once was. I wouldn't be surprised if a reunion album eventually arrives. Some record label will mess everything up, but there's just something so compelling about this band. After their encores, the drummer got on the mic and told the crowd that they knew as soon as they got back together that they had to play Metro in Chicago and that since they're not playing the UK on this leg of the tour, this was their home show. Maybe he says that everywhere, but it seemed earnest enough. In the end, it was a pretty fantastic performance. They sounded every bit as good as they did on the same stage a decade ago. I can't wait for them to return. I just hope I don't have to wait another ten years.


Swervedriver setlist:
Sci-Flyer
Sandblasted
The Birds
99th Dream
Scrawl & Scream
These Times
For Seeking Heat
Duel
Blowin’ Cool
Deep Seat
Sunset
Last Train to Satansville
Rave Down
Son of Mustang Ford
Duress
----
Never Lose That Feeling
Kill the Superheroes

Friday, June 13, 2008

Oeuvre: Swervedriver

In this new feature, we’ll take an artist who’s put out at least four albums and go through each one in succession with a focus on career arc an the importance of each record in a historical context. Kind of like a bizarro First Blush. Today’s artist is Swervedriver who are reunited and playing Metro tomorrow night. If you are remotely close to the Chicago area and not already going, you are a confused fool. OK, I don’t really mean that. But I do mean that. Tickets are still available so go get you some!

The band’s first release, 1991’s Raise, opens with pounding drums and churning, distortion-laden guitars. From the first instant, you know you are being pulled along by force. Sci-Flyer, the opening track, is five minutes of pure driving power. But when the album was released, it was unlike anything we’d heard before. The thick fuzz already associated with shoegazer rock was bolstered by precise yet heavy drums and matched with lead singer Adam Franklin’s whispered crooning. His vocals are buried deep within the mix and are clearly not the featured instrument on this record.

By the time you get to Track 3, Son of Mustang Ford, the urge to nod your head along with the near frantic beat is overwhelming. This song was their first single, the band’s introduction for most fans. Starting fast and intense, it only becomes more so as the track cooks along. The most clear vocals yet are delivered with zeal, “Been driving for daaaaayyyys now. Oh yeah!” Needless to say, you believe Franklin. Many of the songs on the record feel like instrumentals. The vocals are simply another instrument included in the mix. There quite simply hadn’t been an album like this before. As it progresses, the songs lose a bit of steam. The punchier, more grabby tunes are in the first five tracks. Track 8, Sandblasted, picks the intensity back up and features one of the best coda transitions in rock n roll. The album’s closer, Lead Me Where You Dare…, is the perfect way to wind things down. A step back in intensity and ardor, as if we are coasting to a stop. One could argue the band was a one-trick pony at this point, but it was a trick nobody else had yet learned, at least not to the point where they could perform it with the same flair. The release rightfully garnered a ton of attention and portended optimism for their immediate future.

If Raise took you on a ride at its outset, Mezcal Head sends you into orbit. Starting from silence with crashing drums and feedback, as soon as you get a feel for the beat, the guitars turn evil and the drums catch fire before everything finally breaks near the three minute mark so you can catch your breath. From there, we go straight into Duel, the album’s first single. It is now clear that the band has evolved, but maintained its penchant for unique rhythms. The sound is more streamlined and Franklin’s vocals are featured more than before. It’s catchy and complex at the same time.

The album ebbs and flows, going from manic pace to perfectly mixed calmer interludes until it reaches its centerpiece, Last Train to Satansville. The train is clearly careening off the rails, but keeping its pace anyway. You’d get off out of concerns for personal safety, but you’re enjoying the ride too much. It’s the kind of song that you should never listen to while driving because you know you’re going to get in a wreck, yet listening while stationary is somehow insufficient.

The album continues with rich sound and a certain level of aggression until Duress, an eight minute song that fits into a deep gully of sound. If Swervedriver ever had a true shoegazer song, this is it. The last track is the nearly 12 minute Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn. It begins as a quick rocker but descends into a drawn out extended riff featuring a sax solo that somehow fits in perfectly. The the proverbial come-down after an especially intense acid trip, it eases you back to earth, letting you savor the album’s conclusion. One of the best albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, it sounds as fresh as it did in 1993. It has a certain indescribable perfection, but while you’re listening to it, you know you’re experiencing greatness. There isn’t one bad song, and you can play it over and over again. With two superb outputs behind them, the world expected great things from Swervedriver.

Unfortunately, success was almost impossibly fleeting as Swervedriver quickly became starcrossed. Various record label label jerks, a-holes, and morons led to the band being dropped multiple times. Consequently, their third album, Ejector Seat Reservation, was never released in the US. Perhaps appropriately, the first song is an instrumental titled “Single Finger Salute.” The first two real tracks are catchier than anything Swervedriver had delivered before, but lack some of the edge that had differentiated them from their peers. The sound is still rich and full, but it was clear that the band was no longer the aggressive machine on display from before. Track 4, Son of Jaguar ‘E’, brings in an acoustic guitar. Swervedriver has now turned a page and is starting to point in the direction that will later become Franklin’s solo project, Toshack Highway. What we get over the rest of the album is a further turn towards the poppy and upbeat. A nice gem late in the album is How Does it Feel to Look Like Candy?, so sweet it makes sugar taste like salt. EJR is a new kind of Swervedriver, and not what I feel they do best. But there are those who believe this is their best album, and they make a persuasive argument. Unfortunately since it was not released in the states, few here got the opportunity to judge. It is without question good music, even if the distinctiveness is somewhat stripped away.


Three years later, the band gave it one more go, but not without further torture from record labels. Geffen was set to release the album in early 1997 and then changed their mind and dropped the band. 99th Dream kicks off with a bit more edge than the previous release, but the poppier approach continues. The songs, be they dark or bright, are more soulful than we’ve heard before. The album fails to grab your attention in the way that Swervedriver is capable. Track 6, Stellar Caprice, is a sweet and spooky instrumental. It leads in to the most powerful song on the album, Wrong Treats. On this song, you can feel a bit of their old intensity coming through again.

The album's last track, Behind the Scenes of The Sounds & The Times, is a seven minute driving piece of psychedelic soul. The last song we would ever hear from the band, it lacks the artistry of previous album closers, but is nonetheless a great way to say goodbye. Adam Franklin expressed frustration with the recording process, as the album went through many machinations on its way to completion. It's clearly not their best, but the songs are still solid and with a bit more edge could be compelling live. While it doesn't match their previous projects, there's still a lot to love on this final release.

The band parted ways after 99th Dream. Their fans assumed they would never get the chance to hear them again. The closest we could get was Franklin performing an acoustic rendition of Last Train to Satansville at Schuba's in 2000. But now they're back. They have made no decisions about going back into the studio and are simply enjoying their current tour. Once agian, they play Metro tomorrow. Have you purchased your tickets yet? See you there!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

About Those Upcoming AFI Lists

A year ago, we talked about how the American Film Institute had run out of ideas for their High Fidelity-styled lists. This coming Tuesday, the American Film Institute is ready to come out with their new list of ridiculousness, live on CBS at 8pm EDT. This year's list? The AFI 10 top 10. That's pretty clearly titled, right? Let me explain in English what that's supposed to mean. They have created ten genres and are looking to narrow down the ten best American films in each one. In late 2007 they released their nomination form (PDF). The ballots were sent to a jury of "over 1,500 leaders from the creative community." But upon inspecting the blank ballot, we've already seen some problems. We'll take it genre by genre since that's apparently what they expect of us.

Before we begin, a few notes on their criteria. (1) One requirement is "English language film with significant creative and/or production elements from the United States." Reasonable as this is the American Film Institute. However, there will be some questions about the way these rules were employed. (2) There is no "comedy" genre. So if you're a slapstick movie without romance, you can't make it on the list - or even if you do, you're competing with dramas. For instance, Caddyshack is the "Sports" genre. Not really fair, is it? (3) Films must be released before January 1, 2008. The categories: Animated, Fantasy, Gangster, Science Fiction, Western, Sports, Mystery, Romantic Comedy, Courtroom Drama, Epic. More on this issue later. Let's take things genre by genre using three categories each. Nice to see -- the films we were happy to see included that may not have been obvious choices. Curious Inclusions -- rather self-explanatory. You forgot -- unforgivable exclusions from the ballot.

Animated
Nice to See: The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Iron Giant, The South Park Movie, Waking Life

Curious Inclusions: Robots (6.4 rating on IMDb), Madagascar (6.5), Pocahontas (5.8!),

You Forgot: Ratatouille (#128 all time), Spirited Away (#57 all time)

The lack of a spot for Ratatouille in their ballot was the initial impetus for this posting. It's nothing short of an outrage. It's the best animated movie I've ever seen. It fits all of their requirements and somehow is left out in favor of Pocahontas?!? Astonishing. Spirited Away, a very close second for my favorite animated film, technically isn't American, though it was released in English with American actors. I would concede this point, but as you will see in other categories they were only strict with this when it suited their purposes. And by "their" I mean "probably Disney." There is a spot for write-ins. Let's hope that enough of these 1500 folks thought to put the Rat in there. But if it doesn't show up on Tuesday, you'll know why.

Fantasy
Nice to See: Groundhog Day, Conan the Barbarian, Being John Malkovich, Beetle Juice, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Princess Bride, The Dark Crystal, The Mask

Curious Inclusions: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lionel, the Richie, and the Wardrobe, Clash of the Titans (6.5), Splash

You Forgot:

There's really nothing missing here (many of the best Fantasy films happen to be foreign), and the curious ones aren't even that curious. I'm surprised that they chose Fellowship of the Ring over Return of the King, but I actually liked that one better, so I'm not complaining (though the movie was filmed in New Zealand by a kiwi director, so how is it American?). Narnia was pretty mediocre, as is Clash of the Titans, and Splash doesn't really hold up over time. But all in all, they did a superb job on this category.

Gangster
Nice to See: Miller's Crossing, Donnie Brasco, Heat, Reservoir Dogs

Curious Inclusions: Some Like it Hot, Bullets Over Broadway, Boyz N the Hood, Bonnie and Clyde, New Jack City (6.2), Bugsy Malone (6.4)

You Forgot: The Sting, True Romance, Carlito's Way, Sin City

This is an extremely narrow category, and the top four are pretty much open and shut, right? Two Godfathers, Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction. But I suppose we have to round out the top ten. Why didn't they simply call it "crime" and therefore be able to include all sorts of film noir and some of the other Coen Brothers movies? Because of that narrow classification, we get a lot of older films. Some Like it Hot belongs in Romantic Comedies, Boyz N the Hood has gangsterism in it, but none of the central characters are involved with gangs. Bonnie and Clyde is a great film, but just a two-person gang, and New Jack City just isn't very good. With such a small genre, overlooking The Sting is a galling mistake, and True Romance and Carlito's way should at least be included for consideration. At least Road to Perdition thankfully didn't make their cut.

Science Fiction
Nice to See: Children of Men, Cocoon, Contact, Robocop, Total Recall, Tron, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Curious Inclusions: Independence Day (seriously), Repo Man, Westworld, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Stepford Wives

You Forgot: Aliens, The Thing, Twelve Monkeys, Gattaca, Pi, Dark City, The Abyss, Young Frankenstein

There is no "Action" category, so you'll see those films split between here, Epic, and maybe even Mystery. So we have Alien in here, but Aliens is out, even though it's possibly a better film, but because Alien fits the genre better. Yet we see "Escape from New York" here, which is clearly an action movie. Whatever, this is getting silly. I fully accept that some people would have Cocoon as a Curious Inclusion, but I happen to dig it, Guttenberg notwithstanding. Independence Day was short on science, big on fiction and big on dumb. They might as well have included Transformers: The Movie. Yes I mean the cartoon. Repo Man has science fiction elements, but that's really quite a stretch. Westworld, too. Maybe it belongs in Western. Or just not mentioned at all. A.I. is fine I guess... There were a ton of borderline titles that I left out of You Forgot. Generally this is a pretty botched category. I hope Terminator 2 cracks the top ten.

Western
Nice to See: Red River

Curious Inclusions: Blazing Saddles

You Forgot: The Man With No Name Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West, Brokeback Mountain, Dead Man

Nearly all of these movies are rather old, as you might expect. I'm afraid this is not a genre I'm that familiar with, but it seems like they got most of the major ones here. I contend that if Young Frankenstein didn't make Sci-Fi, Blazing Saddles shouldn't make Western. Again, a comedy genre would have been a good idea. Brokeback Mountain certainly should have made the cut. To have none of Leone's Western films included is a travesty. A Fistfull of Dollars and its sequels were filmed in Spain, so perhaps they don't deserve to be included. However, Once Upon a Time in the West was filmed in Arizona and stars Henry friggin' Fonda and Charles friggin' Bronson! It can't have anything to do with Leone either, because they included his Once Upon a Time in America on their ballot twice. So even though I don't know this category well, I know enough to know they screwed up a bit.

Sports
Nice to See: Cool Runnings, The Great White Hope, Horse Feathers, Slap Shot, Breaking Away, White Men Can't Jump

Curious Inclusions: Cool Runnings (6.4), The Color of Money, The Mighty Ducks (5.8!), Personal Best (6.2), Jerry Maguire, Ali (6.5), Any Given Sunday (6.5), Downhill Racer (6.0!),

You Forgot: Hoop Dreams, Kingpin, Cinderella Man, Prefontaine, The Waterboy, The Harder They Fall

Yeah, I put Cool Runnings in there twice. I like it. But it also doesn't deserve to be in this list. In general, this project generally seems to avoid sequels. If that's the case, The Color of Money doesn't belong. Mighty Ducks is the most blatant example of a pro-Disney bend in the entire list. Jerry Maguire belongs in Romantic Comedy and shows up there again anyway. Hoop Dreams doesn't qualify because it's a doc, but any chance I have to mention it, I shall. There aren't a ton of really compelling cases that were passed over in this category. Perhaps there just haven't been that many good American sports movies. So they did an OK job filling up a thin category. Some of the fine English sports movies could have really bolstered this list.

Mystery (aka the Hitchcock division)
Nice to See: The Big Lebowski, The Big Sleep, Blue Velvet, Charade, Mulholland Dr., Murder on the Orient Express

Curious Inclusions: Devil in a Blue Dress (6.5), Gosford Park, Sea of Love (6.6),

You Forgot: The Sixth Sense, The Manchurian Candidate, Deathtrap, Zero Effect, No Country for Old Men

Hitchcock is nominated nine times here. No Big Lebowski and I would have been furious. Incidentally, four of the fifty films in this genre begin with "The Big..." Gosford Park is the only movie that ever caused me to fall asleep in the theater while sober. I am somewhat irate that The Sixth Sense is not nominated in any genre. This seems like the one where it should have showed up. This is probably the category I am most drawn to as a moviegoer, and I have to say that the list is solid here. Gosh I hope Mulholland Dr. somehow makes the top ten.

Romantic Comedy (aka the wedding division)
Nice to See: The 40-year Old Virgin, Harold and Maude, Say Anything..., There's Something About Mary, Sixteen Candles

Curious Inclusions: The American President (6.8), Bridget Jones's Diary, Bull Durham, Clueless (6.6), My Best Friend's Wedding (6.2), My Big Fat Greek wedding (6.6), Roxanne (6.6), Sleepless in Seattle (6.6), Something's Gotta Give (6.8), The Wedding Singer (6.8), Splash (6.2), Working Girl (6.5), 10 (5.7)

You Forgot: Almost Famous, Singin' in the Rain, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Graduate, Coming To America, Dave, High Fidelity, Lost in Translation, Knocked Up, Airplane!, Punch-Drunk Love, Sideways, Marty

Bridget Jones's Diary is considered American? Oh, and good? Wasn't Bull Durham a sports movie? My Best Friend's Wedding: are you freaking kidding me? Can't we, as Americans, move forward for once? My Big Fat Greek Wedding: can't we, as Greek-Americans, move forward for once? Roxanne hasn't aged well. Sleepless in Seattle is a rather empty movie, but a downright cornucopia of life compared to Something's Gotta Give. Splash gave us the name Madison, but also hasn't aged very well. Incidentally, Daryl Hannah hasn't aged that well, either. Then look at the large list of omissions. I'm sure I could dig up a ton more, but I'm sick of even thinking about this. Just a horribly botched category. Horrible job on this one. Bad AFI!

Courtroom Drama
Nice to see you:

Curious Inclusions: The Client (6.4), Ghosts of Mississippi (6.4), Legally Blonde (!!!!!! 6.3, which is way too freaking high), The Pelican Brief (6.3), The Rainmaker (6.9),

You Forgot: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, JFK, Witness,

This needs its own category? The good folks at the AFI know that TV shows aren't included, right? It's just way too narrow a genre. This is how Legally Blonde ends up on the list. Also, their strange fascination with Julia Roberts continues. Frankly, I'm totally bored by the existence of this category. To Kill a Mockingbird will be first, 12 Angry Men second, and then nobody cares. Let's just move on.

Epic
Nice to see: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Last Temptation of Christ, Reds

Curious Inclusions: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Gandhi, Gladiator, The Godfather Part II

You Forgot: Hotel Rwanda, There Will Be Blood, Platoon

The Bridge... and Gandhi both had British directors, British stars and were not filmed anywhere near the United States. So how exactly are these American? These rules seemed to be so strict when we were talking Westerns. The Godfather Part II is an epic? Also, I'm not a Gladiator fan, even though I know you all adore it for some bizarre reason. They really did a good job on this genre. I have nothing to complain about. Except Gladiator, but I'll save it for another time.

A few last comments...

As noted above, it seems that they were sometimes extremely strict about rules regarding what makes a movie "American" and also which genre a movie belonged in. Also, the below movies all ended up in multiple categories which seems really unfair to the long list of overlooked films above:
The Usual Suspects
Adam's Rib
Jerry Maguire
Bull Durham
The Godfather Part II
Once Upon a Time in America
Field of Dreams
Splash
...and probably a few more
If you're going to bother putting these films into neat little boxes, shouldn't each movie only get to play in one box?

Lastly, there are some seriously classic American films that didnt' show up anywhere, even in the "You Forgot" sections. This list includes (but is not limited to):
Casablanca
Boys Don't Cry
Taxi Driver
Dr. Strangelove
The Shawshank Redemption
Double Indemnity
The Silence of the Lambs
The Night of the Hunter
To miss these and probably countless other films from their list indicates that they really didn't put enough thought into this process at the outset. And then some of the blatant omissions in the categories means there will probably be a lot of outraged movie fans come Tuesday night. Oh well, at least you'll be able to ogle Jessica Alba.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

OWR: Pulp Fiction


99: Respectful

Unyielding Commissioning Is On a Diet

I'll Have Just a Taste -- GvB gave us the heads up on the sparest of tidbits from Franz Ferdinand's new album. It's just a few measures on a loop, but it sounds very interesting. A little bluesier or something. Like they've been hanging out with The Black Keys or something. Check out the sampling here. Anyway, we dig it.

An Inarguable list -- The Ten most expensive movies ever made.

A Debatable List -- ...but hard to argue with as well. Eric's Top Ten Worst Twist Endings. His #1 is undeniably accurate. Thankfully, we haven't seen many of these films, but Eric cautions us about putting any time into any of them. We're planning to heed his advice.

Happy Wonkaversary -- Gene Wilder turns 75 today. We happen to love the guy 'round these parts. Happy Birthday, Gene! In celebration of the man and his work, here's one of his best:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Booking Bands

While tossing back a couple lemonades on Friday night with some friends, one told us of a recent corporate event where the head honcho held a Q&A, but wouldn't let anyone even begin to ask question unless they booked a band. He went on to explain that it was simply a semantic exercise by which you combine the name of a famous book with a band. Over several more lemonades, we came up with a ton. Lo and behold, the fad has been going around the internet recently. Without looking at those sites very carefully, here are some of the best we could come up with:

The Heart of The Darkness








The Picture of Dorian Grayarea

Far from the Madding Crowded House

All Quiet on Front 242

Moby Dick Dale and the Del-Tones

The Name of the Guns N Roses








Count Basie of Monte Cristo







The Cask of Amon Tobin

The Call of the Wyld Stallyns (yeah, I know they're not real, sue me)







The Scarlet Lettermen

The Old Man and the Sea and Cake

Rammer Jammer MC Hammer







The Audacity of Hope Conspiracy

The Lionel, The Richie, and the Wardrobe









Alice in Stevie Wonderland







And there are yet more options!

Booking Video Games:
Catcher in the Rygar









Pac Man of La Mancha

The Brothers Super Karamazov

Banding Films:
Broken Social Scenes from a Marriage








There Will Be My Bloody Valentine









I could go on all day, but I'm looking for some group participation here. Who's got some good ones?

OWR: Repo Man



66: Pointy

Friday, June 6, 2008

Mort and Stephen Preview June

This month's edition of Morty and Stephen comes a bit late. We had trouble tracking Stephen down to meet with us. Apparently he went to Canada to meet with an artist and have him design some new tattoos. He plans to be inked once again in the coming weeks. But also in the coming weeks are the movies of June. In case you missed it, we heard from the pair last month where they ripped What Happens in Vegas a new one. Once again, Mort is 87 and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Ethel. Stephen is 26 and resides in the Ukrainian Village area of Chicago's west side.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan
IMDB Synopsis: A Mossad agent (Sandler) orchestrates a scenario that will allow him to move to New York City and reinvent himself as a hairstylist.
Release Date: Today!
Click here for trailer


FtY: After seeing the trailer, what do you think?


Stephen: So it's a cross between Borat and Edward Scissorhands? Is that even remotely a good idea?

FtY: to be fair, they had this script nearly finished back in 2000, well before Borat.

Stephen: Yeah, but Borat came out last year, so it's not like it didn't influence this. I mean clearly. Clearly!

Mort: Ethel and I went to Israel. But that was 18 years ago. I don't remember seeing anybody like this. They had army guys all over the place, but they didn't goof around and scream and yell and carry on.

Stephen: Precisely! What's with the accent? I mean, it's terrible. Didn't he practice this before filming? For a guy who's supposed to be Jewish, I am really disappointed by the accuracy.

FtY: You should see him trying to teach it to Baron Davis.


Mort: He's Jewish? Sandler? That doesn't sound Jewish. Maybe his mother was Jewish.

Stephen: Am I the only one worried that the biggest laughs in the theater will come directly from the screen? These Sandler movies always look worse than they are, but this one especially looks really, really terrible.

FtY: So, verdict?


Stephen: Brew N View or not at all.


Mort: I don't think this is my cup of tea.


The Incredible Hulk
IMDb Synopsis: Geneticist Bruce Banner (Norton) takes flight in order to understand -- and hopefully cure -- that the condition that turns him into a monster. Complicating his situation is the military initiative that wants him captured and controlled, as well as the arrival of a more-deadly nemesis: The Abomination.
Release Date: June 13
Click here for trailer

Stephen: Didn't they just make this movie a couple years ago?


FtY: And people complained about the computer animation then, what do you think now?

Stephen: Looks worse, but honestly I don't remember much about it.


Mort: That show was such a big hit. It was on TV, but they just hired a really muscular guy and painted him green. This guy seems a bit unrealistic. Yes, it's a science fiction film, but this is too much.

Stephen: I'm more worried about the plot, actually. I just have a feeling this is going to flop and flop hard. To turn the Hulk in to a mano e mano thing is just a dumb idea. The Hulk doesn't need an equivalent villain to test him - he's already testing himself constantly, and the government is after him. It just seems like a really obvious plot that we've seen a million times before.

Mort: And how come he didn't say "You won't like me when I'm angry?" I love when he says that.

FtY: So are you going to see this one?


Mort: I don't think this is my cup of tea.


Stephen: I'll see what the reviews say, but I doubt they're going to say something good.


The Happening
IMDb Synopsis: A family is on the run after natural disaster threatens the entire planet.
Release Date: June 13
Click here for trailer




Stephen: Shyamalan has so much riding on this, right? It's been a steady decline since The Sixth Sense. So... that makes me more interested in this for some reason.

Mort: Based on the trailer, we don't know what's going on, but it's obviously creepy and scary. I don't usually go for the horror movies, but I can sometimes go with creepy.

Stephen: Yeah, it's the fact that this trailer basically shows us nothing that makes it interesting. "There is something happening." OK, what does that mean? And why am I dumb enough to fall for it? Ever since Unbreakable, we've been on to Night's gimmick - just fool us for an hour and a half and then have some stupid ending that wraps 'er all up.

Mort: I don't think there's any way I'm going to get Ethel to see this one, but maybe can grab a friend or go by myself. I definitely don't want to be by myself in an empty theater, but I still want the matinée.

Fty: So you're both pretty positive on this one?


Stephen: Yeah, I might go see it. But if it's another step down, then I'm done with Shyamalan for good.

Mort: Maybe I'll go.



The Love Guru
IMDb Synopsis: Pitka (Meyers) an American raised outside of his country by gurus, returns to the States in order to break into the self-help business. His first challenge: To settle the romantic troubles and subsequent professional skid of a star hockey player (Malco) whose wife left him for a rival lover (Timberlake) before the NHL Stanley Cup.
Release Date: May 30
Click here for trailer

Mort: Is he winking in every scene in this movie? It sure seems like it.


Stephen: Totally agree. I think they decided to make the most ridiculous Mike Meyers movie they could think of. Not like they made it up as they went along, but as if they never thought any of the ideas were bad. Like whoever answers to Dick Cheney. I can totally see them saying, "Yeah, let's take a hockey player. And we can make him black!"

Mort: Of course, the maple leafs so that they can film in Canada and have it make sense. Why can't they make movies in America anymore?

FtY: Technically Morty, Canada is in North America.


Mort: Oh, you know what I mean!


FtY: Sorry, yeah. Being a dick.


Stephen: It doesn't seem promising that the best parts of this preview are all lesser versions of done-to-death Austin Powers material. But at least Verne Troyer is working.

FtY: So what do you guys think?


Stephen: I think it's going to gross about 12 million dollars. Should've gone straight to video.

Mort: I don't think this is my cup of tea.

So there you have it. Morty and Stephen will be back next month to preview June which will include Hancock and The Dark Knight.