Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sub Rosa @ The Beat kitchen

Some full disclosure here. I am friends with Sub Rosa frontwoman Jenny Boeder, and she bought me a drink at the show. Also, my brother played drums on their upcoming release. That said, I had never heard their music before seeing them live. The most notable thing about Sub Rosa is how pure Boeder’s voice sounds. She possesses a rich alto that doesn’t strike the notes, but rather evokes them as though they’re emitted from a pipe organ. The songs did sound different live than on the recordings (I’ve since checked them out) – more stripped down, but at the same time more personal. It’s a smaller venue, so I’m sure that added to the intimacy of the set. The mix wasn’t perfect and on some songs one of the guitars ended up overshadowing the vocals and other instruments, but that’s a minor quibble. My biggest complaint would be that they didn’t play long enough, with a set lasting just over half an hour. Maybe they wanted to keep ‘em wanting more (going out on top like George Costanza). Either way, it was a solid performance and I’m looking forward to their next show.

Monday, January 29, 2007

OWR: The Warriors

82: Digable

OWR: One Word Reviews

Some folks have requested an explanation for what this OWR stuff is all about. I cannot claim the invention of said reviews as my own, but maybe one day I'll be considered the man who popularized them. First, let’s cover a little history. Several years ago, it was relayed to me through a friend that my buddy Christo’s one word review of Gangs of New York was “Cartoonish”. I found this to be a superb concept and proceeded to begin using it myself. Christo has given me his blessing and claims that he is honored that I stole his idea. The OWR is my chance to sum up an entire movie using solely one word.

However, I do believe that one-word reviews can occasionally be misleading regarding the overall quality of a film. So you will also see a rating for each movie from 1-100. Things to keep in mind here:

  • This is not a letter grade. A 70 is still a pretty good movie – one that I would enjoy watching a second time. Whereas a C-/D+ would mean you didn’t try very hard or should take a more remedial version of the course. Anything 85 or above can be considered a truly great movie.
  • I tend to see more good movies than bad movies. Why on earth would I want to spend my time watching bad movies? So when you see that nearly all the movies are rated above 50, don’t complain.
  • My ratings are correct – if you disagree, you probably didn’t understand the movie as well as I did…

I’ll post a new OWR every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Feel free to comment and take issue. I may refer you to point #3 above if necessary. And if you have one-word-reviews of your own, please chime in to your heart’s content.

NOTE: To see all editions of OWR (starting with the most recent), click here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

OWR: Idiocracy

65: Jocose

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Assembly w/ Slings and Arrows, Apteka, Sunday Morning Chameleon, and Planes for Spaces @ Metro

First a little full disclosure. I’m friends with two of the guys in Apteka, which was the main reason we went to the show. So there’s that. We got there early because it was free to get in before the bands started. Planes for Spaces (I thought they said their name was Places for Spaces, but this is what Metro’s website lists) are a guitar and drums outfit from Minneapolis – kind of like the Black Keys. They were pretty decent at times, but many of their songs could have used more instrumentation. They’re just not getting the kind of sound that other bands with the same setup are able to get. But they set us up for a promising night. Ubiquitous Chicago poet Thax Douglas was at the show and he read a poem for Sunday Morning Chameleon. I noticed that there were a lot more women around then one would expect at a random five-band Metro show, and they didn’t seem like the typical Metro, indie rawk crowd. As soon as the band started playing, I understood why. They resembled New Radicals, but not as good. We went back to the bar area because they were bothering us. Apteka was up next, and they did not disappoint. The band I would say they most closely resemble is probably Sunny Day Real Estate, but they were far more rawkin’. Having never heard their songs before, I was impressed. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Jesse Hozeny is an incredible drummer. And yeah, I’m friends with the guy, but he’s great. So there. I came away impressed and also pleased because there’s nothing worse than having to hang out with someone and lie to them about how much you liked their show. Slings and Arrows were up next. I honestly can’t recall what they even sounded like. I can recall distinctly thinking two things: 1) Their singer has one of the worst shirts I’ve ever seen. 2) I have to get the hell out of here because this is just awful. So that’s what we did. I wanted to see The Assembly, but it will have to wait for another time…

OWR: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

77: Explosive

Monday, January 22, 2007

OWR: The Departed

84: Tensey

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Predator

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders to the right. Note – there will always be spoilers.

Arnold plays “Dutch”, the leader of “the best” group of mercenaries in the US military system. Dillon, an old acquaintance played by Carl Weathers brings Dutch’s team in for a mission to save some hostages. Turns out that Dillon lied to Dutch about their mission and it was really just to kill a bunch of people and get information. Or something. On the way back, members of the team are picked off one at a time by an alien hunter. Eventually, Dutch is the only one left and must face the Alien alone.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Half the good lines in this movie go to other characters. And even those, while oft quoted, aren’t anything too special. “I ain’t got time to bleed” may make for good gubernatorial campaigning, but in practice, it doesn’t have the fun that we generally hope to expect. Arnold has one fantastic line which we will revisit below. But he does throw the following back to back: “Stick around” (after hurling a hunting knife into one of the “rebels”) is followed by “Knock knock.” There is of course, the classic "GET TO THE CHOPPERRR!" which is quoted more for its delivery than content or humor.3
Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: As stated above, we’re just not getting much here, but I’m willing to believe the fact that his team of mercenaries gets into the act because Arnold wanted to share. So counting theirs, we’re not in terrible shape. 4
“I’ll be back.”: Surprisingly not used. Granted, there really was no adversary who would have understood this one, but you’d think they could have thrown it in somewhere. Frankly, I’m surprised. n/a
Smarmy Villain: Things get complicated here. Clearly the main villain of the movie is The Predator. However, Dillon is a complete dick and pretty darn smarmy about it. So we’re going to reverse roles a bit and Dillon will be the smarmy henchman. Or something. 5
Rough and Tumble Henchman: Again, Dillon is not all that rough and tumble. Mac shows him up on several occasions and is clearly not the least bit afraid of him. So the Predator becomes the Rough and Tumble Villain. He is surely that. Imposing as he is physical, he’s a beast to be feared. 7

Diminutive Sidekick: We really don’t get this here. If anything, Arnold allows himself to appear small compared to the gigantic Predator. n/a

Rejected hot love interest: Anna is played by Elpidia Carrillo and she’s even hot when covered in other people’s blood:

If you don’t think she’s hot, you’re probably a racist. Arnold doesn’t really reject her as they’re running for their lives the entire time. So we’re going to lose rejection points, but he doesn’t make a move on her in the helicopter, either. 6
Not nearly hot enough love interest: Umm… Are we sure the Predator isn’t female? n/a
Arnold yelling: I thought we’d go through the movie without getting this one. But then, to call the Predator into battle, Dutch lets out an “AAAAAAAAHH!” while raising his torch. 9
Arnold cursing: And here we have the best line of the picture. Dutch lets the Predator know exactly what he thinks of him by succinctly stating, “You’re one… ugly motherfucker.” 10

Arnold crazyface: 8 How’s this grab ya?
Superfluous Explosions: Rampant. When Dutch’s gang attacks the “Rebel Camp” pretty much the entire places goes bazoom. Even the trees explode:
We also get an atom-bomb level explosion when The Predator self-destructs at the end of the movie 9:

Director: John McTiernan is easily best known for Die Hard, and it’s easily his best work. He and Arnold teamed again on 1993’s Last Action Hero.

Franco Columbu: n/a

Sven Ole-Thorsen: Blink and you might miss him. In an uncredited role, he played the “Russian Officer” 9.

Shirtless Arnold: For most of the movie, Dutch runs around in something you’d expect to see on a swimsuit model or something. But after he learns the mud trick, he’s cruising around the jungle topless the rest of the time. 7
Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Again, Dillon is our henchman here. First he has his arm removed whilst it continues to fire rounds in no particular direction. He’s then impaled on the Predator’s metal claw thing. 8
Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Well, there is that whole gigantic rock falling on the Predator’s head, but this could have been way more gruesome. If Verhoven was directing this one, we would have seen something ridiculous. Plus, how severely brutal can something be when the villain in question is laughing his ass off? 3

Implausibly plausible plot: Oh man, where to start? OK, so they’re in some random jungle somewhere and they have to attack a camp to apparently get some sort of files. Dutch never really knows what the plan is, but he goes along anyway. The complex is manned by Hispanics, but yet Sven is playing the “Russian Officer.” Dillon has a random change of heart and tries to go help Mac. Hell, Mac leaving in the first place is ridiculous. Oh, and of course the overarching premise of the movie is that some kind of gigantic thing flies down from outer space to hunt people, but only when it’s really, really hot outside. 9

Ambiguous ending: Not really relevant here. We don’t begin to get answers about the Predator until we turn to LA for the insipid and somewhat racist Predator 2. But at the same time, we don’t really care. n/a

I always remembered Predator as the quintessential Arnold movie, but I think we’ll find as we go along here that there are others that fit the mold better. It takes forever for the Predator to enter into the equation. I don’t know if they were trying to build suspense ala Jaws, but it doesn’t really work. We’re just completely confused by what the mission is supposed to be, and we know that it’s all leading up to facing the Predator, so why bother with this nonsense? The script for this part is just horrible, so it’s pretty obvious that it was secondary and tacked on the end. In any event, it’s worth it for the ugly motherfucker line alone.

All the Schwarzenegger Sundays:
The Terminator
Raw Deal
The Running Man
True Lies
Pumping Iron
Conan The Barbarian
Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Last Action Hero
Roundup, Part I
Roundup, Part II
The George W. Bush Administration

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Overview

Arnold Schwarzenegger literally burst onto the scene when he appeared in 1977’s Pumping Iron. He’s starred in over twenty-five films since then, most of which were tremendous box office successes. Whether it’s because he started as a weightlifter, has an accent, or went into a career in politics, people have never respected him as an actor and generally thought him to be unintelligent. But if that’s the case, how could one explain his work’s such tremendous popularity? Every two weeks, we’ll examine a different Arnold vehicle and utilize the following criteria:

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: These are oft quoted in our culture, and we’ll examine the strength of these efforts in each film. The better the lines, the higher the quality.

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: Quantity has to count for something.

“I’ll be back.”: Schwarzenegger’s most famous line reappears in most of his post-Terminator outings.

Smarmy Villain: I’m not sure if smarmy is going to end up being the right word. We’ll see, but nearly every Arnold movie has a top villain who is so evil and sinister, yet a bit sleazy.

Rough and Tumble Henchman: The villain almost always has an unfailingly loyal tough-guy who can take the heat and go toe to toe with Arnold. He is a man to be feared.

Diminutive Sidekick: There have long been rumors about Schwarzenegger’s true height. He’s listed at 6’2”, but many question it. I vacillate on the issue myself, and my roommate’s dad once shared a drink with Arnold and claims he’s about 5’8”. In any event, in most of his movies, he has a buddy or sidekick who would, well, let’s just say Arnold would look tall next to the guy and leave it at that.

Rejected hot love interest: Arnold is often presented with a ridiculously hot woman who he usually rejects for…

Not nearly hot enough love interest: For a big Hollywood movie, you’d think some incredibly good-looking starlet would have the female lead, but it rarely turns out that way.

Arnold yelling: I just love it when he hollers. We’ll see a lot of this.

Arnold cursing: He often throws out a poignant curse word, be it humorous or powerful or both.

Arnold crazyface: Arnold makes the most ridiculous faces. He's like the Bill Cosby of action movies. You'll see what I mean.

Superfluous Explosions: It's a near guarantee that something is going to blow way up.

Director: Arnold rarely works with directors just once. We’ll note the other collaborations.

Franco Columbu: Arnold’s weightlifting partner makes his way in to many a movie in a bit part.

Sven Ole-Thorsen: Another body-building buddy of Arnold’s, he’ll show up often as well.

Shirtless Arnold: I suppose the saying goes, “when you’ve got it flaunt it.” Since Arnold has more of it than any human could possibly need, he tries to show it off whenever possible. I assure you I am not attracted to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Prepare for arms being ripped off, brains being splattered and many other types of brutality.

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Double that.

Implausibly plausible plot: Or is that plausibly implausible? Either way, it seems that there is always some extremely farfetched adventure involved, yet we end up believing all of it. Something about these movies is compelling enough to win us over, even though on its face, the storyline doesn't make sense.

Ambiguous ending: We don’t always get to see this one. Or do we? It’s up for the viewer to decide.

So there you have it. All of our criteria. Each will be rated on a ten-point scale. When we're all finished, we'll crown the most Arnold-est movie of all time. I’ll also post a summary and/or extra comments because I can’t shut up.

This list of reviews we've done:
The Terminator
Raw Deal
The Running Man
True Lies
Pumping Iron
Conan The Barbarian
Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Last Action Hero
Roundup, Part I
Roundup, Part II
The George W. Bush Administration

Friday, January 19, 2007

OWR: Clerks II

52: Chunky

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In Defense Of: Faith No More

Sandwiched in between Glam Metal and Nickleback-style Post Grunge, horrendous rock music took a brief foray into the world of Rap Metal. Noisemakers such as Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, Biohazard, Kid Rock, and, those cheaters Limp Bizkit bombarded airwaves, high school locker rooms, and fraternity parties everywhere. The lack of talent collectively possessed by these bands was truly appalling. Yet, young folks in need of inspiration to “break stuff” were able to overlook the sheer awfulness of this musical movement and mosh in their living rooms. As it goes with every genre of music, the end resembled the beginning on an esthetic level, but not on a musical one.

In this case, the beginning was Faith No More. I’m sure some would try to say that Aerosmith and Run DMC doing a video together was the genesis of Rap Metal, but I would say that was more Rap Blues. Calling Aerosmith “Metal” is a bit like calling Shaquille O’Neal an actor. They may have a Metal name, but they’re really a fat, black center. Thanks to Jim Martin’s crunching, edgy guitar work and Mike Borodin’s pounding beats, Faith No More was undeniably Metal, despite Roddy Bottom’s orchestrated synthesizer strings. After going through a series of vocalists, their first true frontman was Chuck Mosely. While Chuck does truly sing on some of the songs from those first two albums, all of their strongest early tracks featured Chuck rapping. When he crooned, he sounded more like a drunken Wesley Willis.

Faith No More would have most likely just been another solid, California band had they not chosen to kick Mosely out. The result of that move was to pick up 20 year old Mike Patton. On their next release, The Real Thing, Patton continued Mosely’s rapping style, but also displayed his superior chops. See below. It’s Rap. It’s Metal. It’s Fat Dr. Dre and Ed Lover:

The Real Thing was a landmark album, and the songs still hold up today. It featured by far their biggest hit in “Epic” (yes, the one with the fish). They went on to top that effort with Angel Dust. A creative masterpiece whose lyrics covered such topics as blow jobs, redneck suicidal fathers, masochistic masturbation, and “Crack Hitler”. On those two albums, they managed to perfect the Rap Metal genre. And while Rage Against the Machine managed to give it a solid go, recording two fairly good albums themselves, no one else even came remotely close to what FNM accomplished.

Many of their followers like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock have claimed Faith No More as an influence, and ended up seeing far greater commercial success than Faith No More ever attained. The public was inundated with garbage from carpetbaggers with no discernable musical ability. Jim Martin was kicked out of the band, and their style became less distinctive. Patton would later show off his remarkable talent in various endeavors, but never really return to the style that put him on the map. Now they are largely remembered as the band that led to late 90’s awfulness. If they can be condemned for anything it is that their forays into the bizarre tacitly endorsed lyrics that seem unimportant, allowing songs like “I’m a Cowboy, baby,” to become massive hits. But that’s hardly their fault. All they did was make the two best Rap Metal albums before anyone else even got started. Talented bands chose not to go there because there was nothing left to prove. So we ended up with garbage.

PS – if there’s anyone who believes Kid Rock is anything but a talentless carpetbagger, check out The Polyfuze Method sometime – if you can stomach it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Monday, January 15, 2007

OWR: Little Miss Sunshine

83: Winning

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mission of Burma w/ Pinebender @ Double Door

I came to be a fan of Mission of Burma much later than the average indie hipster. I played them on my radio show in college a bit, but really didn’t become get fully into them until early last summer when I finally picked up VS. I think both of their latest releases are superb, so I was extremely excited for this show. They played well at Pitchfork over the summer, but the mixed crowd gave their set a bit of a distant feel. I knew this would be different.

The average age of the crowd was roughly 38, and the average gender was male. Very male. In fact, there was a huge line for the men’s room all night while the women waltzed right past us. One lady was nice enough to give us all the finger. I don’t know if it was due to their age, but the crowd gave a bigger response to their older songs. Like I said above, to me all their songs are new, and I think the current albums have more going on.

Everything was loud. People often talk about the “wall of sound”, referring to bands with a rich fuzz such as Swervedriver, or overpowering guitar solos like Dinosaur Jr., or even Phil Spector produced 1960s R&B. Mission of Burma’s sound is just as powerful, and every bit a wall. However, instead of having it wash over you all at once, they choose to catapult piles of bricks, sans mortar, directly onto your head. And they do that for well over an hour. The highlight songs were, without a doubt, Donna Sumeria, The Enthusiast, Wounded World, and of course, That’s When I Reached for My Revolver. The first three simply because they rocked the hardest. The last one because the crowd was at its peak state.

I can’t help but compare this show to the Buzzcocks at the same venue last summer, as both bands are in the rejuvenation phase of their careers. This audience was older and way more subdued. The Buzzcocks show featured a joyful mosh pit and tons of energy. But other than the divergent fans, they had more in common with one another than not. Just like the Buzzcocks, MoB got right down to business with very little chatter and fit as many songs as they could into their set. When a band is good and has a lot of songs to play, they don’t need to banter with the audience…