Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Full Of Itself Sometimes Too

Good one - As an aspiring writer, I find it sometimes helps to go back to things I've written that I thought were good or clever. It's useful for two reasons. 1) I often realize that I wasn't so good or clever, and it is a nice reminder that progress can be made (and hopefully has been made). 2) It turns out that the line was indeed quite a good one and it's fun to feel like you put something good together. It's nice to see that one of the best writers working today, Roger Ebert, engages in the same type of self-aggrandizement. Today in his blog, he looks back on some of his favorite lines from the thousands of reviews he's penned. Maybe of them are derogatory zingers, a way of dealing with the pain of enduring horrendous films. As you might imagine, it's a very long list (and continues to get longer as fans leave reminders of their favorites in the comments section). Here's one that made me chuckle:

It was W. C. Fields who hated to appear in the same scene with a child, a dog, or a plunging neckline--because nobody in the audience would be looking at you. Jennifer Aniston has the same problem in this movie even when she's in scenes all by herself. -- "Picture Perfect"
And this one:
Two things that cannot be convincingly faked are laughter and orgasm. If a movie made you laugh, as a critic you have to be honest and report that. Not so much with orgasms.

Still that time of year - Now Greg Kot has declared his top ten concerts of the year. His list is vastly superior that of his colleague, Jim DeRogatis, and Greg and I actually have the same #1s - Stevie Wonder at Taste of Chicago. Jim's still going with his year-end lists, giving us his worst/most overrated albums.

ITTOYA - Over at Baby, You've Got A Stew Goin', Steve is laying out all kinds of end-of-the-year lists. His favorite albums, songs, books, even TV shows. (There are good TV shows? I had no idea.) Rather than link each of those individually, I simply direct you his way so you can peruse on your own.

ITTOYA, Part IX - The Onion's AV Club has a great rundown of the year's best films. Reading their list, one can't help but note what a weak year it was. Decades from now, we'll be looking back at 2007 as one of the great years in cinema history. 2008, not so much, but in case you're wondering what to rent or watch, they provide an excellent year-end roundup.

Everything's coming up Milhouse - Mental Floss presents a Milhouse Van Houten quiz. And just in time for Christmas! I scored 11/12. How'd you do?

Tohhhh-gah tohhh-gah! - Yes, I find myself linking to Scene Stealers Top Ten list every week. But that's only because they keep putting out great lists. This one leaves something to be desired, but only because there are so many examples of Great Movie Party Scenes that just can't fit into the list. However, it seems that every time they make a list I end up leaving a comment about a John Landis movie that they forgot. I don't know why this keeps happening, especially because he only has five movies that I really dig. Mayeb they each have a slice of life that can be found in a top ten list... But this time, he tops the list. Go take a look in case you haven't figured out which one I'm talking about yet.

HOOOooooo! - Someone put a lot of effort into this. No, as far as I know there isn't a real Thundercats movie in the works, but who needs real when someone can throw this together for us? (HT: TMB)

5-4-T: Believe it or not, I found five worthwhile Christmas songs!

And they're all originals, how you like 'dem chestnuts?

Fishbone - It's A Wonderful Life

Run DMC - Christmas in Hollis

James Brown - Soulful Christmas

Ramones - Merry Christmas Baby

Marvin Gaye - I Want to Come Home for Christmas

And one for all the members of the tribe out there:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Youtube

Warning, if you haven't seen No Country for Old Men yet, skip the youtube today. Go rent the movie and come back.

This is a fan-made video, and it's interesting to note that the ostensible main character of the film doesn't show up at all. And you don't miss him at all. And also, this is really freaking badass. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Explosively Excited

For all you Big Jim Slade fans - To be released in 2009, Black Dynamite is apparently a real movie. And while it is clearly a send up of 1970s Blacksploitation theater, it has also done us the favor of taking itself very, very seriously. Even the soundtrack seems promising. Please. I'm begging you. Go watch the trailer. Note that it is definitely not safe for work, unless you work in a brothel. Odds that this film gets an airing in Buenos Aires: 2.3%. Odds that I fly back just so I can watch it: 8%. Odds I find a way to see it eventually: 100%. There is no official release date yet, but everything about this seems badassss....

It's still that time of year - Hear Ya Indie Music Blog is running down their top 50 albums of the year. Unlike most of these, year-end lists, this one is actually interesting. #s 50-41 went up on Monday, and 40-31 arrived yesterday. Each album listed has an mp3 so you can check out the band yourself. The list is highly recommended for your musical edification. Watch their site for updates throughout this week.

Abiding their time - Requisite report from Lebowskifest brought to you this time by the New York Times. Honestly, everyone I know who's attended the festival came away perturbed by the level of pretension and how all the attendees tried to out-Dude one another. But any mainstream media coverage of this phenomenon is a welcome thing. They did go and actually speak with original Dude, Jeff Dowd, and ask him about the white russian thing. His summation: they're tasty.

Looking a lot like that time of year - Greg Kot of the Tribune runs down the year's best boxed sets. Then he gives you his favorite albums of the year. His choice for #1 comes as no surprise based on his previous ovations - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Everywhere you go - Jim DeRogatis also weighs in on the albums of the year. His choice - also Nick Cave. Maybe these dudes are hanging out together too much. Personally, I found the Nick Cave album to be fine, but nothing remotely as earth-shattering as they are trying to convince us. Jim also lists his top ten concerts of the year.

Naughty and nice - Scene Stealers is in the giving mood and drops two Top Ten lists on us. First, Top Ten non-Christmas Christmas movies. Second, Top Ten Christmas Scenes. Note that no movies end up on both lists. I had no idea Eric was such a yen for Yule... As per usual, both lists are highly entertaining. Check 'em out...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

5-4-T: Colorfully Colorless

There are some people I know that refuse to watch black and white movies. It isn't simple prejudice. Generally it's because they don't want to watch anything older than the 1960s. Heck, maybe most of them won't watch anything older than the 1990s, but whatever the reason, the lack of color turns them off right away. In today's Five For Tuesday, we examine modern movies left intentionally colorless, and the impact of that decision.

Honorable Mention) Clerks
Really, I just wanted to include the below scene. Obviously this was done for cost reasons, but if the movie were in color all the amateur acting would have stood out that much more, right?

5) Good Night and Good Luck
When they showed test audiences screenings of George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, they felt the actor portraying Joseph McCarthy was overdoing it, stretching the bounds of believability. Unfortunately for history's sake, that was no actor, but actual footage of the senator from Minnesota. Had this film been in color, all verisimilitude would have gone right out the window. To correctly place the events in their time in history, B&W was the only way to go.

4) The Man Who Wasn't There
The Coen Brothers have long traded in the world of Film Noir, but in their purest homage to the genre yet, they chose to limit Roger Deakins' considerable talents to blacks, whites and grays only. That didn't harm Roger at all as he won the AFI award for cinematography and was still nominated for an Oscar. Given Billy Bob Thornton's bland main character, removing all the color from the film put all of his minimal actions (mainly just sitting there and smoking) in stark relief. It also effectively placed the film in 1950s America.

3) Manhattan
One of Woody Allen's most acclaimed features, Manhattan is part ode to his city and part lament for all the humanity residing there just trying to get through it all. The opening montage shows off the city in glorious fashion, but when the characters are forced to deal with one another and their own failings, the lack of color makes it seem all the more personal and intimate. After all, "we're just people."

2) Schindler's List
Putting the film in black and white not only effectively entrenched its place in historic terms, it made it more palatable. Because had all its gruesome details played out in color, it would have been far too much for most filmgoers to take. Black and white in this case allowed viewers to witness the film as the episode in history it was intended to be and be detached enough to make their way through it.

1) Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks has plenty of fans. I'm honestly not one of them. But in Young Frankenstein, he struck gold. His most hilarious movie from start to finish, it's one of the best spoof pictures ever made. In color, the film would have failed to adequately set up the gags. In an oblique way, the movie feels like it could have been made right after the 1931 classic.

So what's your favorite modern-day B&W movie?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I can't get enough of this right now:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Has Had About Enough

Smashed - Greg Kot interviews Billy Corgan and more amazing blather comes out of his mouth. There is some interesting material, but with Corgan, you never know when he's going to reverse himself, so it must all be taken with a big grain of salt. Most notable is that he seems to admit that Zeitgeist isn't very good and that they've gotten better through touring. That was my exact premise for why the album was so weak. Still, Billy's always entertaining. My favorite quote:

"We didn’t come back for the cash, we came back to be great again. It made me mad that people thought we’re done, that we don’t have a future. Get out. We don’t want you. We’ve never been that band. That happy band. We picked up where we left off. We’re not the retirement band playing our old hits. ... I don’t give a [expletive] that most of my heroes got lame when they turned 40. I spent most of the last decade thinking about that. Why do they go from this insanely high level of work to diminished echoes of the past? And I think it’s a coziness thing. You do something amazing and you don’t want to lose the crowd that tells you that’s amazing. You’re out in the cold. Well we like to be out in the cold. We’re done with the record business, so we’re free to do whatever I want."
At this point, I feel like you can just throw out any topic to Corgan and he'll go off on an insane rant. For instance, if you were to walk up to him and say, I dunno, "Toaster!" His response would probably be something like:
"D'arcy wanted to take a toaster on tour because she was obsessed with having chunky peanut butter slightly melted on her PB&Js. This was back when we were driving around in a rented van and didn't have anyone's help with anything. James was still dating her and was totally conflicted because he knew it was a dumb [expletive] idea, but it was his girlfriend. So we battled over this [expletive] toaster for three weeks before we left town and it was one of the things the band never came back from. But [expletive] that. I don't want to talk about the past and all of those things. We're a new [expletive] band."

It's that time of year - The Onion's AV Club goes through their picks for the top 30 albums of 2008. Aside from Death Cab for Cutie being too high, it's a pretty solid effort.

It's that time of year, part II - Roger Ebert declares his top 20 movies of 2008. Alas, the move to Buenos Aires means that I've only seen, like, three of these. And I call myself a movie blogger. Anyway, as with just about anything written by Ebert, this one is worth reading.

Strike up the band, turn off the random - Eric over at Scene Stealers lays out his top ten fictional movie bands. Also, in the comment section, I scuffle with someone over the most insignificant of problems. Yay internets!

Denied - Mental Floss has a quiz about actors who were nearly cast in famous roles. It's a tougher quiz because you have to identify the lie instead of the ture statement. I don't know why. 8/10 for me. How'd you do?

Friday, December 5, 2008

First Blush - Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy

We haven’t first-blushed anything in a while around here. Part of that is due to the Buenos Aires move, but also because there just haven’t been the released worth reacting to in real time. But now, from Los Angeles and parts-unkown, comes a release more deserving of a First Blush than any we’ve seen previously. Coming 17 years after their last real album, and utilizing only one of Guns N Roses’ real members, Chinese Democracy is technically the most anticipated album in history. Rumors indicate that over 13 million dollars were spent on the release, which is amazing for a band whose prime was so long ago. I could pontificate further, but rather, let’s find out what all the fuss is about, shall we? OK, Axl, let’s see whatcha got!

Track 1 – Chinese Democracy
Distant sirens are always a risky way to begin an album, even if they are actually guitars meant to sound like sirens. But that’s the band’s first salvo in 17 years. Meanwhile, hushed voices argue in some language (presumably Mandarin?) - are they the hushed voices of political freedom? Only Axl knows. Speaking of Axl, he joins in at 1:20 with his trademark wail. Halfway through, the song definitely sounds as though it’s from a different time (that time being roughly 1994), but there is no doubting that it rocks, which is what we’re here for, right? “It don’t really matter, I guess you’ll find out for yourself.” Lyrics were never Axl’s strong suit, so why the high-minded title if you’re just going to ramble about nothing? I guess it’s not nothing to him. Anyway, so far, I’m impressed.

Track 2 – Shackler’s Revenge
Heavy and dissonant for the sake of being dissonant and heavy. Wow are these lyrics bad: “Don’t ever try to tell me how much you care for me.” Well through the song, I find myself uncompelled to write anything. With an album runtime of 71 minutes, maybe they should have left this one out, or at least not made it track #2. Or maybe it’s all downhill from here. If so, I have some laundry to tend to.

Track 3 – Better
We’re not in classic GN’R territory here. Axl is trying to sound inspirational. His strong suit has always been faux anger, but this song is working anyway. This track is halfway between Alice in Chains and Helmet’s Betty album. Nice evolution, but again, very ’94. Perhaps these 14 tracks are meant to represent each of the years that have passed in the making of this album? THAT would be quite the concept. I can’t wait to see what the band does in response to 9/11 and Katrina!

Track 4 – Street Of Dreams
Uh-oh, Axl sat down at the piano again. And there’s some acoustic strumming going on. This may be November Rain, part III (yes, Estranged was part II). 45 seconds in, Axl is really Joe Cockering it up here. I must admit, it’s bringing a smile to my face that is only 40% based on amusement. It’s a little melodramatic, but not quite as heavy-handed as the Use Your Illusion melodrama. But I could do without this one. 3:55 in, Axl has discovered protools. That’s not a good thing, and we end on an incredibly cheesy chord from the string section.

Track 5 – If the World
I just noticed that there isn’t much bass work of note on any of these songs. I must admit that the band misses Duff McKagan. I never, ever, thought I would say something like that about duff McKagan. Axl’s flexing his range and this one just kind of plods along. But it’s inoffensive in its plodding. This song doesn’t bother me at all.

Track 6 – There Was A Time
Despite my hopes that this is a cover of a superb James Brown hidden gem, it’s not. “It was the wrong time for you, it was the wrong time for me, it was the wrong time for anyone, but it looks like it’s meant to be.” This song could be about anything, but I want to assume that it’s the story of Chinese Democracy, any and all definitions. “But there was a tiiiiiiimmmMMME.” OK, he just won me over, despite the annoying strings. A ton of guitar solos on every track, which is great. The solos themselves aren’t great, and definitely below the standards set by Slash in the band’s heyday, but if they just tried to gloss over his absence with heavy riffing, the result would have been a disaster. Incidentally, there are seven different people credited with “guitar” on the album, and I have no idea who plays on which songs. 4:05 and Axl is really wailing right now. No protools needed. Damn. That’s right, I said dayamn.

Track 7 – Catcher in the Rye
Can you imagine GN’R titling a song Catcher in the Rye back in the day? There is no “Back Off Bitch” to be found on this album, apparently. Now is when I reiterate that faux anger is Axl’s strong suit. I’d like to hear more of it here. Incidentally, this one sounds like Keane or Maroon 5 covering a Guns N’ Roses song. No, that isn’t a compliment to anybody.

Track 8 – Scraped
A capella opening (but it’s more “Ah! Capella! Make it stop!”). But from there, we start to rock again. “Don’t you try to stop us now. I just refuse. Don’t you try to stop us now. ‘Cause I just won’t let you!” Wailing and riffing galore. This is what we came for.

Track 9 – Riad N’ the Bedouins
A loose, but kickin’ track with aggressive vocals. “I don’t give a fuck ‘bout them, ‘cause I am cra-zy!” Axl used to sing, “You’re crazy,” but maybe he’s somehow become even more self-centered? That’s what happens when you break up a band and then continue using its moniker when you really just mean yourself.

Track 10 – Sorry
Oooh, dark and spooky. “You’d like to think that some way it’s me and not you.” Yeah, Axl’s not very well read, is he? This song’s not bad – very late 90’s, early 00’s, post-Soundgarden bluesy whatever. (Actually, it most closely resembles the supremely mediocre post-Blind Melon outfit, Unified Theory, but nobody’s heard of them – quite rightly – yet this works.) “Close your eyes, all well and good, I’ll kick your ass like I said that I would.” He really means this stuff – at least he thinks he does. This time my smile is 95% amusement-based.

Track 11 – I.R.S.
Stompy track that features Axl front and center. This is the closest we’re going to get to rap-rock, but he’s definitely singing each word. “Gonna call the president. Gonna call a private eye. Gonna get the IRS. Gonna get myself the FBI.” By the way, I’m pretty sure this is a love song. 3:31 – extended wail that just blew my damn mind. This might be the best track on the album (guitar solos are top-notch on this one, too). OK, that was actually like Nickelback, but perfected. I’m as shocked as you are that I think such a concept is a good thing. No, that still doesn’t leave me with any hope for Nickelback.

Track 12 – Madagascar
Horn and string arrangements are followed by electro drums and Axl sounding tender. Then we get melodramatic again, but once again it works. The second half of this disc is far superior to the first. Now there are audio clips by Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” spliced with far too many others, including the same Cool Hand Luke clip they used on Civil War. The track has degenerated to nonsense. It cannot be taken seriously (even though it’s actually a good song). Who let that idea pass the smell test? Never mind, I know who.

Track 13 – This I Love
Uhhh…. sounds like a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. “I just can’t let it die, ‘cause her heart’s just like miiiine.” Even for a vanity project, this track is far too indulgent. I foresee them playing the song as the last encore while even the die-hard fans stream for the exits.

Track 14 – Prostitute
This is sounding really cheesy for a song called Prostitute. “Iiiiii saw the damage in you, my fortunate one – the ending of youth.” How perfectly unsubtle. The album ends by mellowing out into a strings-only finish. I don't expect to play these last two songs very often.

On the whole, my first blush take is that this album is surprisingly good. Because, let’s be honest, everyone thought this would be Axl’s ego just taking a dump on a record. Does it have anything to do with China or democracy? Not as far as I can tell. Most of the lyrics are horrendous, but that comes as no surprise. Will the album be a hit? There isn't much out there like this right now, and the brand name is relatively useless. I don't hear a smash single, but at the same time, a lot of people will really dig the album as a whole. Was it worth the 17 year wait? Um, sure. Is it on par with Appetite for Destruction? Of course not, but its unevenness perfectly matches that of the Illusion records. What's lacking is the rebellious persona that Axl wore so well in the past. But if a 46 year old redhead with braids in his hair tried that, would any of us take him at all seriously? In sum, Chinese Democracy is probably as good as it could possibly be.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Woefully Short On Content

Hanging On - Phil Rosenthal reports that so far, the removal of Richard Roeper and "friends" from the cast of "At the Movies" has led to a downturn in the show's ratings. Very much like Rosenthal, my first inclination was "serves the bastards right!" But also very much like Rosenthal, I then realized that they're actually doing pretty well. Time will tell if this dumbed-down version of the show takes hold. I'm guessing that they're in serious trouble in the long run. I've always liked Ben Mankiewicz's work on The Young Turks, if not his delivery. Ben Lyons, on the other hand, is by all accounts a dummy. We'll see if the public likes their reviews dumbed down and corporatized.

Speaking of Bens - Roger Ebert really lets Ben Stein have it over his pro-Intelligent Design "documentary." This is a long piece, but freaking hilarious.

They're Not Gonna Take It - The Trib runs down the worst holiday albums of all time. What's the best of all time? Of course, it's Fishbone's It's a Wonderful Life EP!

Big Girls Don't Cry - Scene Stealers' Latest top ten - Gigantic Women! No, Amazon Women on the Moon is not included. I think they have a no Guttenberg clause over there.