Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Per our usual every two month tradition, I've polled our expert music fans looking for the bands that have recently turned them on. We had to take some time off this spring, bringing this to you a bit late, but the gang is back with some new recommendations for you. Check 'em out!
Band: The Life and Times
Blurb: The old axiom is that writing about music is like tap-dancing about architecture. So, this is my tap-dance about the Life and Times, a great band that I have enjoyed live on a multiple occasions and they were always fun to see. Unfortunately, I haven't come up with eloquent words to describe their music. I feel like describing them as a mix of, I dunno... "old school emo" and "shoegazer" but still pretty rockin' all around, also very polished and precise in their playing. All this seems like the usual words which still don't really do them justice. The Life and Times is very much a proper rock band that rocks in the way you want to see a band rock, with a big loud sound and awesome drumming. There is something ambitious to their sound, like they should be as "big" as Radiohead, even if thus far they're not. Maybe they're good in a way that just isn't interesting to write about. I like their first album from 2005 the best, Suburban Hymns, but their latest freshly-released album, Tragic Boogie, offers may tasty things for the ears, and it's growing on me. Their albums are meticulously well-crafted, almost too perfect sounding at some moments, so you might need to experience them live to appreciate how good they are, in real life... and in real times, of course. I had the pleasure of playing in the opening band when they played at the Note a couple years ago (not to mention the pleasure of playing at the Note before it closed). The Life and Times is Allen Epley's band, formerly of Shiner, and I tend to think of them as a local band to Chicago, but they are actually more local to the Midwest. On New Year's day this year I saw them play at the Double Door and open for Hum, a band that is sonically similar, and yet still quite different. Anyway, I suggest you stop reading and give them a listen yourself.
Reminds me of: Hum, but not really
File Under: That reverb your mad-libs are lacking
But don't take my word for it: The Life and Times at Myspace
Band: The Little Ones
Blurb:Actually, I am hoping everyone HAS heard of The Little Ones because they are quickly moving up as one of my favorite bands. The ironic thing is I have had their first EP from 2006 for quite some time and never gave it much of a listen. But when I was listening to a Paste Magazine CD Sampler one afternoon last year and hit the song "Morning Tide", I thought, "Don't I already have something by these guys?" I immediately wanted to hear more and was very pleased with the entire album (also called "Morning Tide"). Since then, my wife has ALMOST wore me out on the new album and fortunately I found another EP prior to this album to occupy my time. Reviews I have read for them compare them to many twee bands like Belle & Sebastian, and I will say that the music starts and stays happy pretty much throughout - no angst here, move on. But I am not a big fan of twee and I personally feel that The Little Ones have more guitars and solid bass throughout. How else would they get invited to open for bands like the Kaiser Chiefs and Nada Surf? By the way, while the lead singer (Ed Reyers) and his brother are fairly short in stature, the band is named after Ed's two pugs.
Reminds me of: The Shins, The Beach Boys, and OK....Belle & Sebastian
File Under: Pug Pretty
But don't take my word for it: The Little Ones at Myspace
Band: Prefuse 73
Blurb: Finally, a review of a band that isn’t from Brooklyn !... well at least that’s how I WAS going to start the review. However, in researching for this review I found out that the great electronica sounds of Prefuse 73 are indeed from Brooklyn . For whatever reason I assumed Prefuse 73 was from Europe since it’s on the English label Warp, home to other electronic outfits such as Boards of Canada, Flying Lotus and Squarepusher. As one might assume with company like that, Prefuse 73 is in the same vein with decidedly downtempo rhythms, samples galore, and layer upon layer of sounds. Like so many other electronica bands, Prefuse 73 is one person, Guillermo Scott Herren. However his collaborators have run the gamut from underground hip-hop stars like El-P, Aesop Rock and Ghostface Killah to Blond Redhead and TV on the Radio. His music is very heavy on samples (ala Girl Talk), but he is very conscious of creating quality music to go along with it (unlike Girl Talk). He started in 2001 with ‘Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives’ and had a bit more of an underground hip-hop edge to it, and although that influence is still there, he’s really evolved into more of a downtempo ambient sound with his 2009 release ‘Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian’. The beats stay trippy and never really become “danceable”, which is an excellent thing in my book. Every album has an extremely high replay value due to the music’s composition combined with all the other elements he’s placed in the background. However I would explore Prefuse 73 in this order, start with ‘One Word Extinguisher’ from 2003, then 2007’s ‘Preparations’ and then the recently released ‘Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian’ mentioned above.
Reminds me of: The Soundscapes of A Cloud Mireya mixed with the sampling of Girl Talk and the beats of El-P.
File Under: Multi-layered for your enjoyment
But don't take my word for it: Prefuse 73 at Myspace
Band: Harlem Shakes
Blurb: I must admit that I am somewhat cheating this month. I am writing about a band I've written about here before. But their first full-length album was recently released, and I liked them so much before that I can't help but sing their praises once again. I caught Harlem Shakes at The Abbey Pub when they opened for Tapes N Tapes. On paper, they're not the kind of band I would like. Their guitars don't fuzz very much, and lead singer Lexy Benaim has a somewhat thin, almost tinny voice. But the band has a bouncy energy that is inherently compelling. They really play as a unit, with subtle vocal harmonies and a clear connection on stage. While their new album, Technicolor Health, is receiving some reviews complaining that it is too laid back and dreamy, it still has plenty of their brand of pep. I don't expect it to burst them on to the national scene, but this is a band with a ton of potential, especially when playing live. The odds of them paying Argentina a visit are not very high, but I hope I can catch them in person again sometime soon.
Reminds me of: Koufax with a pulse and a wink
File Under: Rally round the campfire
But don't take my word for it: Harlem Shakes at Myspace
Monday, June 22, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Sorry for the tardy response. I ended-up buying a last minute ticket to Frankfurt for a weekend getaway. Sitting at Schiphol Airport, waiting for my flight I was spaced out, listening to the constant din of overhead announcements outing irresponsible passengers causing flight delays. “Passenger Connie Lingus, you are delaying the flight to Shannon.” What? Did they say what I think they just they said? Two more repetitions. Yep. They said that. And with no hint of irony. I’m not sure if Connie is a distant relative of Aer, or if Bart Simpson is crank dialing the Netherlands these days, but you'd think with a name like that, she'd get her ass to the gate on time.
But back to Terminator Salvation. To answer your question... No. I do not think that you are being too harsh. You are a self professed Terminator nerd and for that reason you have every right to expect the same quality delivered in the past 3 films. The faults you describe are real. Connor is not played with the same brilliant self-doubting awareness. The machines are dumb and either too easily destructible or impossibly indestructible, determined singularly by the needs of McG to move the scene forward.
Terminator Salvation is really a one trick pony. And that trick? Action of course. As I stated previously, I left T4 with a smile on my face. That smile was produced by all of the action and effects. I can compare the feeling to a day at Six Flags. After walking off the Eagle at Great America I have a smile from ear-to-ear, knowing that what I just sat through was a fun time-wasting adrenaline rush. Five minutes later, I am in line for the Demon. To judge this movie against the standard set by its lineage will certainly produce an unsatisfactory result.
I have a feeling that this movie creates a new action roller-coaster format for the series -- a ride that you will likely not want to take. During an interview with Christian Bale I heard that two more Terminator films are in future production. Who knows? If this film's predictions are correct, we won’t need to worry about watching the next two installments, as Skynet will have destroyed the world we know and we’ll be occupied with scrounging for fuel and food in a desolate wasteland. Now that’s something to look forward to.
If all does go to hell as predicted by McG, at least I can take salvation in a final great weekend in Frankfurt. Actually, I think the part of Frankfurt near Main Station may already have arrived to that nasty, unrepairable future John Connor is half-assedly trying to save us from.
My globe-trotting amigo!
South Africa followed by Frankfurt? You're quite the jet-setter! We may have to change our map or the name for these reviews. Then again, A to SA to F to BA is quite the mouthful, and I spent six solid days photoshopping that map and I'm too tired to change it now. Please stay put for at least a little while.
I don't think I need to defend my action cred on top of my previously established nerd and terminator cred. But I like a good action movie as much as anyone. That said, any action thrill ride must adhere to its own premise. If, after taking a spin on the Demon, you realized that the last three loops were simulated via bluescreen technology, you'd be pissed, even if you only realized it ten minutes later while downing some cotton candy or bowl of Dippin' Dots. Furthermore, Terminator: Salvation is the kind of rollercoaster with a big drop followed by a towering loop and then just a bunch of boring turns. A great action movie doesn't blow its wad in the first half hour. Think about it: Die Hard, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Matrix, Aliens, Fight Club, Lord of the Rings - completely different types of "action" flicks, but they all have the big crescendo near the end.
While there were a few relatively impressive sequences, nothing in this movie really holds together - even within its own standards. The plot is self-contradictory throughout. You mentioned Christian Bale said there will be sequels. These are just rumors, but I heard from various people that he exercised a lot of control over the movie's production, forcing script rewrites and demanding that he play John Connor instead of Marcus Wright (which would have been much, much better casting, let's face it). Plus, he's listed as "Assistant Editor." So who was really making this movie? Did McG adhere to the wishes of his star, who we know has problems with both ego and rage and has never written or directed a movie in his life? Does McG even know that this isn't a music video?
The bottom line: this is a Terminator film. And if McG had such a hard-on to do some dumb action movie, he could have just gone and made Hart's War II or farted out a Gobots flick. Making a decent robot movie doesn't cut it here. He was handed the keys to one of the most successful and beloved sci-fi series we've ever known and drove it into a ditch. A friend pointed out something really important to me. Ever since 1984, we have been waiting for this movie. As much as I adore T2, in the grand arc of the story the middle two films are technically placeholders. This movie is technically a bigger let-down than Star Wars: Episode I. I can't fathom that I will ever watch it again. I doubt there's anything else to get out of it, and certainly nothing left to "get." The more I think about it the angrier I become.
The week before I saw the film, I had to present to a client here in Argentina. One of the people in the room had a legitimate complaint about the presentation. I tried my best tapdance, albeit in a foreign language. I nearly had him convinced by talking about minor points that painted a potential story to address his issues. But then he'd think for a second, shake his head, and respond with a vociferous "No." I kept thinking about him during this movie. I wanted to believe what they were selling me, but no matter how hard I tried, after just a couple seconds I had to declare, "No." My OWR will come when we're finished with this back-and-forth, but it will be hard to top that client's reaction.
Sorry I had to be so harsh, but they broke the franchise, and I'm not happy about it. I know the Halcyon Company wants to make their money, but they're not investing for the long run. The level of excitement for Terminator 5 is going to be considerably lower. That's their fault.
Care to finish us up with a big crescendo?
I don’t think you need to defend your action cred one iota either. Your roller coaster analogy cracks me up! I have to say I agree with you on all the points. Except one maybe – that being that Fight Club has a crescendo ending. Do you really think that? Fight Club is beyond brilliant for first hour and then devolves into a stinking stupid mess with all the dudes running around the city playing pranks and blowing up credit card companies. And I’m not just being critical because I used to work for the 4th largest US credit card company. It was idiocy plain and simple -- much like the final 30 minutes of Terminator Salvation. Well, I guess not quite as bad the end of T4, but still, pretty bad.
The Christian Bale stories you mention confirm he is officially a bonafide asshole. According to the imdb his “In Production” movies include T5, so it seems more likely then not we will see him reprise the John Connor role. I did not know that he was originally slated to play Marcus Wright. I agree that would have been a much better role for him. I guess he thinks he’s got to be the franchise, which of course is quite silly as everyone knows that John Connor and Batman are the less interesting characters. Of course, that may just have something to do with the actor that portrays them.
Like you (or maybe because of you) I no longer have that big smile when I think of T4, like when I walked out of the cinema. Terminator: Salvation simply does not deliver the goods in a satisfying way. And for that reason it has already faded from my thoughts over the past week. The Halcyon Company. That just sounds evil. Kind of like Skynet. I bet some crazy bored hacker dude could find a way of rearranging or combining the letters of both companies to create a word that is truly unholy.
So I think the next flick should be my pick. Let's get off the action schnide for a bit, huh? I am scanning the marquee for Romantic Comedies as I finish this email.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Hey there Kozy!
Last time we dealt with Sci-Fi and time travel, things devolved into personal attacks and the two of us trying to out-dork one another. However, I don't think we're going to have the same problems with McG's latest opus and the fourth "official" edition of the Terminator series, Terminator: Salvation. As you know, I've done rather extensive reviews of the first two movies, and consider myself a die-hard fan of the series. In this case, I think it's safe to say that I am the bigger nerd. To be honest, I'm not really sure where to begin. The fact that this movie comes on the heels of the other three benefits its storyline greatly. We accept a lot of plot points because we accepted them in 1984. At the same time, the original bar is set so high that if I try to review this movie using that bar, it will surely be deemed a failure. So I'm of both minds, but I'll try to dig through my points and end up at a fair conclusion.
First of all, it is important to note that the events taking place over the course of this movie do not match the future Kyle Reese laid out to Sarah Connor in the first movie. This is totally OK and fits with the series' claim that the future is always changing. The date and nature of Judgment Day was changed because of the actions taken in the 2nd movie. So it is entirely possible that there are new kinds of Terminators and the storyline is different. I'm willing to accept that.
I'll start by saying that while his efforts here definitely do not exactly absolve McG for his crimes against humanity via two Charlie's Angels movies, there are some good sequences in this film. He didn't resort to slow motion and kept the pace up at the right times. Some of the series gimmicks were there and well-played (I particularly liked the GnR cameo).
I've talked about this on Schwarzenegger Sunday, but in every other film in the series, one actor turned in an amazing performance, adding realism to the story. Michael Beihn as Kyle Reese set the table before Sarah Connor stole the show in T2. Nick Stahl really sold us on the idea of John Connor as a conflicted young adult in the third one, bringing a level of seriousness to a movie that continuously bordered on becoming pure camp. But such a performance was not present in this movie. Anton Yelchin (Chekov from the new Star Trek) did a great job of imitating a teenage Michael Beihn - for a minute I thought they actually had a time machine. And Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright was fine when his Aussie accent wasn't breaking through. But none of the actors did much to push this story. Not that this was their fault. With a plot as simple and linear as this one, they didn't have the opportunity, though I saw no reason for Christian Bale to start using his gravelly Dark Knight voice.
In a side note, Worthington's rampant masculinity made my girlfriend forget all about Christian Bale. No easy task. Even though McG found someone even less attractive than Claire Danes to play Kate Connor, at least Moon Bloodgood was around. On one side, as a straight-ahead, normal action movie, I thought this one was fine. From that perspective, it delivered what it needed to. I haven't gotten into how it fits with the legacy left for it - the high bar I referenced at the top. I'll get to that soon enough, but first, I wanna hear your thoughts!
What say you?
I just got back from a rockin' vacation in South Africa. So if I sound a bit cheery in my response, you'll know that it's because I am well rested and full of African zest!
Without question I will anoint you the bigger nerd. And certainly in regards to your Terminator love and knowledge you earn High Nerd Honors. While I have watched the previous three films, only T2 really sticks in my mind. That is probably just because I am a massive Edward Furlong devotee. Captain of the fan club maybe even. Seriously though, I have little Terminator knowledge. So let's just accept that for what it is. The thing I remember most about T2 was how technologically advanced the T1000 Terminator was, played by Robert Patrick. The effects gave me the same "this is re-donk" feeling like when I first saw the Michael Jackson "Black or White" video. Today we see similar effects in Mach 3 Gillette TV ad's.
In T4 we turn the clock back to 1984 Terminator design. Sure this time around the big robots come in many shapes and sizes. But in essence, they are all hunks of metal. A bit ho-hum compared to the T1000 if you ask me.
As an action movie, T4 delivers the goods. Giving McG Directing responsibility was a risky move. His past work was bad, very bad. However in T4 he created some thrilling sequences that kept me on the edge of my seat. He also kept the pacing swift and interesting. Overall he did a solid job, which resulted in movie that certainly agreed with me.
In terms of the babe factor, T4 unfortunately does not have the Uhura factor. I forgot Claire Danes was in T3, but yeah, the pregnant girl from this installment would never, and I mean never have a chance with John Connor in real life. Moon Bloodgood was the only ray of light this time around. I have to say though that her introduction into the film was so hokey I could barely keep myself together. Here is a very dark film about the future that half-way through had yet to give any significant screentime to a female and then, poof! Remove a helmet and reveal a mega-babe letting down her long, brown, curly hair. Of course this sequence is nothing compared to some of the other even hokier and more improbable events that would happen later.
And before I forget, we MUST talk about the longest/worst big-budget walkie-talkie shouting match I have ever seen in my life. Did you take notice of that as well? You certainly have piqued my interest in how you see T4 fitting into the Terminator legacy. Lemme hear it.
Hola Kozy! Man, I gotta get me some African zest. Sounds a little dirty actually. And I totally forgot about your Furlong fandom. But now that you mention it, I recall a trip to the E-town cinema planned by you to catch Little Odessa during its week-long theatrical run. Those were good days. In sum, I think we can agree that you get the Furlong nerd cred, if such a thing were to exist.
OK, so I'm about to unload on this movie. When I walked out of the theater, I felt like it was fine, as I said in the last e-mail. But then I gave it some more thought. This is not something McG generally asks of his viewers and certainly not something that should be done after watching one of his movies, but I couldn't help feeling something nagging at me. And here it is. Terminators are fucking scary. They have always been scary. In the first film, Schwarzenegger was just unstoppable, and the post-explosion endoskeleton was even more terrifying. In the second, all 150 pounds of Robert Patrick frightened everyone. And sure, the third was not as dynamically scary, but she was still wildly murderous and maintained a steely focus throughout the film. What drove this series was fear. The characters were constantly terrified and we feared for them, too. To somehow lose that fear is to fail completely with what Terminator should be. That Christian Bale is able to fight one off with his bare hands shows that they lost the thread and should never have been allowed to make this movie. A Terminator is an unstoppable killing machine, not a sparring partner. And that's the biggest crime against the series here. We can't possibly watch this movie and find these things scary. Now, they look like rejects from the Itchy and Scratchyland episode of the Simpsons.
KIND OF A SPOILER ALERT. My other major problem with the movie is that its singular focus was on saving Kyle Reese, and therefore saving the sperm that will eventually become John Connor. I mean, the title is "Salvation" for a reason. One of the fascinating things about Connor was always his doubt. In T2, it was his doubt that in his mother's stories. T3 showed his doubt in himself as a leader. At this point, he's strong and confident, but if the resistance is really about to blow up Skynet and take a major step forward in battle, shouldn't he doubt whether derailing that plan is worth it just for him? Instead, he gets on the radio and says "Don't attack. Stand down for our future." Well, he's really just talking about himself. It's an arrogant move that any leader would have to question. Here, it is taken as a fact. None of the other characters even question him. At least give his wife one worthwhile line. Just a few minutes of doubt would have improved the entire movie, giving us a real character in Connor, instead of a proud, grunting general. END OF KIND OF SPOILER
Also, much like in our last review, the villains are really, really stupid. I won't get into the last 20 minutes of the movie in detail, but let's just say it's more far-fetched than anything in The Running Man. Yes, even Dynamo. Just a crescendo of nonsense right up to the last scene. Once again, Terminators were never stupid in the past, why are they idiots now? Idiots are not scary unless Fox News gets them all riled up first.
James Cameron tried his best to make T2 the final chapter. He called it "Judgment Day" well before J-Day actually happened. He originally filmed a scene from a peaceful future where John Connor is a senator and Sarah is an old woman who sits in a park. The scene was a bit hokey, so you can see why they didn't include it, opting instead for the night road trip shot and discussions of how the future is always changing. I don't know if he saw this film or the last one, but I have to think he'd be furious at this result and possibly lamenting not including his cheesy coda. I don't believe that this film tarnishes the other ones, but I do think that the future of the series is probably ruined. I can't fathom a "restart" ala Star Trek at this point, and I also can't fathom a quality movie following this. We will instead just get a lot of action scenes and even stupider machines.
Am I being too harsh? It seems to me that McG did a "proof of concept" here for some high-tech action, but was a poor caretaker of the legacy. It is clearly his best movie, but still one that he fumbled badly.
Can you talk me back to positivity?
Here's where we pause for today. We'll be back tomorrow with the conclusion of this back and forth review wherein Andrew will probably get even more pissed off. I know, I can't wait either!
Previous A to Bs:
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
These renowned acts that many would consider among the greatest of all time. For whatever reason, I've just never gotten into them. So here's my explanation and regrets. In today's Five for Tuesday, we explore the Top Five Holes in My Musical Experience.
Honorable Mention: Mudhoney, The Jesus Lizard
These bands perhaps aren't considered to be in the same caliber of those below. But I have always felt like I needed to pick up more of their work. Maybe there's still time, what with both bands back together and playing some shows.
5) The Velvet Underground
This almost didn't make the cut. I've never had any real interest in The Velvet Underground. Their music is just too lo-fi and sleepy for me. Like there's no passion in it. But every once in a while, I'll see a movie that perfectly inserts one of their tracks, and wonder if I've been missing out all this time. Can any Underground-enlightened person persuade me to press onward? Here's the best Youtube I could muster:
...even the announcer put me to sleep
I feel like Kraftwerk is the group I must have decided I'll always have time to come around to. I realize that they are apparently ridiculously influential and without them, many of my favorite bands and tunes would never have existed. But I honestly can't even name one of their songs. In fact, all I can really declare about Kraftwerk is that in The Big Lebowski, the nihilits' rock band was meant to spoof them. They played here in Argentina recently and I didn't make it to the show. We don't get a lot of European bands, so that's a pretty large "meh". Someone gimmie a foothold. Where should I begin? I really think I want to like these guys, but I have never bothered to give it a proper shot. Then again, here's part of the reason why:
3) Sonic Youth
If Kraftwerk was the band I simply never got around to, Sonic Youth is the one that somehow avoided me. I don't know how, but I am pretty sure I've never listened to a Sonic Youth album all the way through. One of my college roommates (and FtY frequent contributor, Biz) was a big fan, and had pretty much everything the band had recorded. Once again, I realize how important they are, and their peers such as Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies I count amongst my favorites. I have no problem with indie-dissonance. Perhaps it's the fact that they never seem excited to be doing what they're doing, I can't get excited. Biz, any luck helping me out here?
2) Iron Maiden
Maybe I just like the idea of Maiden more than I like what I hear in practice. All the pieces are there. A devoted fan base, wailing vocals, great technical ability, and aggressive rawk. But despite all the morbid CD covers, there's just something about this band that falls flat for me. Like there's a little too much Ratt in their sound. Somehow, this is less compelling than it should be:
1) Neil Young
He's always been around, right? And in many forms. I have the greatest hits, but haven't taken the time to get beyond that. People I know who really know rock and roll swear by the man (once again, Biz included). He's got a great big box set coming out now. Maybe it's time I took the plunge. I'll tell you this much, this video sure is winning me over: