Friday, January 30, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heard These Guys Yet? - Jan 09

We're mixing things up a bit with our recommendations this month. While we love raising the profile of newer bands that we've come to dig and think you would appreciate, because it's the start of a new year, we are going to take things in a new direction this month and highlight some older bands that you should have been checking out all along. So permit us our nostalgia and, as Dan Quayle would say, go past to the back.

Recommender: Biz
Band: Margo Guryan
Blurb: This is some really cool 60s psychedelic pop. Guryan's one full-length album, Take a Picture, was released without much promotion or distribution and got very little attention at the time, but it is now beginning to be recognized as a classic 60s album. Apparently Margo Guryan was more of a songwriter than a performer, and she didn't like being in front of an audience. Her singing style actually sounds more like a precursor to later "indie" singers, like Elliott Smith. A was a classical and Jazz musician, she got inspired by the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, and the result was the 1968 release, Take a Picture. This album has great melodies over jazz-inspired arrangements, and the recordings sound great. In recent decades Margo has kept a low profile, mostly teaching music, although there has been new interest in her songs. Her album, along with a collection of demos, has been reissued on CD and itunes. She did resurface in 2007 to express some political dissent, or at least dark satire. "16 Words" quotes one of Dubya's most impeachable statements, and the song is catchy enough that is hard to forget what those 16 words are. The video is also surprisingly well done. If you're willing to take a trip down that rabbit hole, you can check it out here.
Reminds me of: Belle and Sebastian meet the sixties and lose the "twee"
File Under: I should really have tried to be clever and write the whole blurb in sixteen words.
But don't take my word for it: Margo Guryan at Myspace

Recommender: PMaz

Band: You Am I
Blurb:I came very close to passing over Australia's You Am I back around 2000. I had just picked up 25 CDs at the Mammoth Music Mart in Skokie, IL. Added to the pile on a friend's recommendation was You Am I's "Hi Fi Way." I didn't expect much from any of the CDs since they didn't cost but $2 a piece. I probably listened to one or two songs on most of them and quit. But I found myself returning over and over to a song called "Purple Sneakers" and being intrigued by the participation of The Posies' Jon Auer on another song. I figured if Auer was lending a hand, they must be good. Eight studio albums later, You Am I are still going strong with the recent release of a great new album called "Dilettantes". More subdued than their previous release "Convicts", the new album still has that loose, grungey sound most of time. From Wikipedia: They were the first Australian band to have three albums successively debut at #1 on the ARIA Charts, and are renowned for their live performances. Now if only they would make more more appearances in the U.S., we could all get out there and witness this spectacle. I am sure you would agree with me that You Am I deliver the goods.
Reminds me of: The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, Supergrass.
File Under: Keeping Cool Down Under
But don't take my word for it: You Am I at Myspace

Recommender: Jonas
Band: Say Hi (Formerly Say Hi To Your Mom)
Blurb: First off, not until researching recently did I find that the band I’m recommending, Say Hi To Your Mom renamed themselves last year to simply Say Hi. I’m not really sure what caused the change, but I like the old name better because it matched their lyrical style, which is verbose and quirky. Although quirky, the lyrics never cross over to silly, and are more often on the serious side. The music however, is always serious. On many songs there’s a very full sound of drowning guitars with keyboards and other instruments sprinkled in here and there, like Sugar. Other times they can really rock, but without taking themselves too seriously. I think much in the same way that Nada Surf can rock, but then catch you off guard with a leisurely heartfelt tune. Because each album does have some sincere tracks, it makes for a good and fulfilling mix. The vocals mix perfectly with the music. The singer’s voice is very distinctive, a little off key here and there, low and sounding like he just woke up. This, mixed with many of the minor keys of their songs give them a distant and mysterious feel, but never dark. This is definitely a band that deserves more exposure, press and a larger following. As for albums I would recommend starting out with Ferocious Mopes, then moving onto Impeccable Blahs and then Numbers & Mumbles. I’ve not heard The Wishes and the Glitch, the most recent album, but I will be looking out for a new CD in March, Oohs & Aahs on Barsuk Records.
Reminds me of: Take the wall of guitars from Sugar, mix with the indie-rocking of Nada Surf, then throw in a little bit of an Elliot Smith vibe.
File Under: Shaking Off the Shoegaze
But don't take my word for it: Say Hi at Myspace

Recommender: Reed
Band: 12 Rods
Blurb: I promise not to mention Elliot Smith in this synopsis. Ah, crap I just did! Anyway, my selection this month has nothing in common with him. I first heard about 12 Rods when a coworker put their song, "Part of 2", on a group compilation. From that point on, I couldn't get enough of this Minneapolis quartet. Though often labeled prog rock (and they were a bit mathy to be sure), they had a fire and dissonance normally reserved for crazier alternative acts. After becoming the first band signed to Virgin Records' V2 label, they put out Split Personalities, a record that just keeps coming at you. Critial fawning followed, but scant radio play. When they split with their frenetic drummer, they managed to replace him with an even better one (Dave King of The Bad Plus).
Their second album was a bit of a disaster, but its failing can be blamed on the careless production of Todd Rundgren (yeah, picking on him twice in one week). At that point, they were dropped from V2 and put out their third album themselves. A masterpiece that's alternately heavy and agile, the band was back to doing what they do best. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be and they called it quits soon after. Their albums may be impossible to track down at this point, but I highly recommend the search as #s 1 and 3 simply never tire for me. (Note, their website is down and kicks you over to their facebook page, but there are allusions to the future selling of records in that location. Rejoice!)
Reminds me of: Mr. Bungle crossed with the (electro) Magnetic Fields
File Under: Too Hot to Prog
But don't take my word for it: 12 Rods at Myspace (fan site)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Unyielding Commissioning Has a Bucket at the Ready

Oscar approaches - The Trib's Michael Phillips gives his Oscar rundown. You probably remember Phillips as the most frequent guest who filled in on At the Movies when Roger Ebert lost his voice due to illness. He's a very opinionated critic and made a good foil to Roeper's fluffy approach. Anyway, I dug his approach on this one.

Roll the credits already - Neatorama gives us the backstory on the six most famous Hollywood logos. Looking at them all lined up together, you have to admit that Warner Brothers is the coolest.

He bent his wookie - Mental Floss offers a Ralph Wiggum Test. I scored a 9/15. Really poor showing by me, and on five of those six misses, a little more thought would have gotten me to the right answer.

The new Village Voice? - The New York Times seems to keep getting more interested in non-mainstream music lately. First they had their infatuation with Andrew Bird's latest release, and now they have a pretty fluffy feature on the new album by Franz Ferdinand. The words are nothing earth-shattering, but embedded in the story, you can spin two songs from the album which are both friggin' fantastic, indicating that the album is a must-buy. (First Blush coming if I can get my hands on a copy here in Argentina).

Grodyyyy - Scene Stealers grosses us out with the Top 10 Unnerving Movie Scenes. I've only seen two of the movies listed and I'm pretty much OK with stopping there.

One Word Review: Old School

41: Dank

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

5-4-T: Overrated Gangster Movies

It sometimes seems that nothing can warm the heart of the moviegoing public more than a gangster with a conscience. A well-crafted story with this theme will almost always garner box office success, if not critical acclaim. In today's Five For Tuesday, we look at gangster films that have been overly-lauded. Some of these are actually good, just not deserving of the fawning attention they tend to receive. NOTE - some spoilers here.

5) The Sting
Though it starts off with a rather serious tone (what's more serious than a murder?), The Sting takes a steady descent into cheekiness as it progresses. Whatever tension and seriousness they try to build goes away when everything comes off as a big joke. That's not to say the joke isn't a good one, but is it 7 Oscars and 94th movie of all time good? Watch it once and that will be enough for you. Sure, it's fun, and Robert Shaw's performance as the cranky, buffoonish opposition is kind of a trip, but can you imagine Ocean's Eleven winning best picture?

4) Scarface/Carlito's Way/The Untouchables
Brian DePalma gets a triple-entry here for repeatedly trashing promising screenplays with his sledgehammer approach to filmmaking. Each of these films feature annoyingly superfluous slow-motion scenes and various other moments when DePalma announces his presence at the expense of the story. Between the baby carriage scene in the Untouchables (yes, I realize it's a Battleship Potemkin reference - doesn't mean it belongs in the movie), Tony Montana's bizarre freakout moments whenever another man is in the same room as his sister, and the ridiculous Joe Cocker moment in Carlito's Way, we can only lament that the movie studios didn't hire someone more competent.

3) The French Connection
There is that one really kick-ass car chase. And that alone makes this picture worth seeing. Unfortunately, that alone is the only reason to see this picture. Hackman has a few over the top sequences that somehow earned him the Oscar for Best Actor, and the movie also garnered Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay. But aside from there not being much of a story, the majority of this film is just people walking around the city.

2) The Road to Perdition
I cannot accurately describe the contempt I had for this movie upon watching it. To be sure, it is great looking. The cinematography is amazing and deservedly won the Oscar. But aside from that, there is so much to hate about this movie. A story that is overtly violent for the sake of the violence, yet feels as though it was made up as the movie was filmed eventually leads to an absolutely preposterous climax. Basically, this film comes off as a ripoff of the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing, but without the interesting characters, dialogue, story, and point. Yet it has a 7.8 on IMDb. The awful ending is made all the worse by the most astonishingly bad superfluous voiceover ever recorded. If you can stomach it, watch the finish here.

1) The Usual Suspects
Don't get me wrong. There is a lot to like about this movie, provided you don't mind the fact that none of it actually happened. That's right, the "surprise" ending is that everything you just spent two hours watching didn't exist. Yet, the IMDb voters have seen fit to name this non-story the 21st greatest movie of all time! Seriously, if you knew the film ended like this, you wouldn't have gone to see it, right? Basically, I found myself in agreement with Roger Ebert before I saw his review. And if that's not enough, how about: "Starring Stephen Baldwin."

Monday, January 26, 2009

First Blush: Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

It doesn't seem all that long ago when we first blushed Bird's previous record, Armchair Apocrypha, giving it a solid thumbs up that only strengthened on further listens. Bird has received a lot of attention in the interim, most notably by writing blog pieces and being featured in the New York Times. I'm a much bigger fan of his now than I was then, and now that I have the new record in hand, I can't wait to give it a spin. So let's see how he dealt with all that attention. Here we go!

Track 1 - Oh No
The album kicks off with a light, airy feel, almost reminiscent of a 1950s Disney movie. Then Andrew casually begins his vocals. This is seriously reminding me of Todd Rundgren's "I Saw the Light." No, that's not really a good thing. It's catchy in a kind of sing-songy way, but that's really far beneath what Bird is capable of. But he generally starts albums slowly. Hopefully this is just the ramp-up, and we'll get into some more interesting stuff soon.

Track 2 - Masterswarm
Is that a harpsichord? (No, it's a guitar.) Just vocals with a little guitar in the background at the outset here, it feels like a more minimal Richard Buckner tune. Then it picks up with some hand-percussion and pizzicato violin. But the vocals remain front and center. This one feels like it could be the backing track on a PBS travel or cooking show. Still waiting for him to grab my attention.

Track 3 - Fitz and the Dizzyspells
Some more unique sounds, and then finally we hear something from Dosh's drum kit and some actual guitar strumming. "We were all fast asleep" - is he talking about the first two songs? This still feels kinda minimalist for Andrew Bird, but at least things are picking up a little. But the song sounds like it's from the 1960s and not remotely breaking any new ground.

Track 4 - Effigy
Pizzicato sounds Asian as this one begins with a lot of echo on the violin. One minute in, we get our first vocal harmonies. It's another overtly peaceful song, but maybe he's warming up.

Track 5 - Tenuousness
We're more in classic Bird territory here. The picked guitar pops and the vocals are half-sung, half-spoken as they swing like an open gate. It just kind of goes long, but so far this is the most dynamic track on the album.

Track 6 - Nomenclature
Some more bedtime music, Bird croons in a sleepy sort of way with scant percussion behind him. Then 1:45 in, he suddenly grasps on to a vocal note as the rest of the sounds crest behind it - just for a half-minute or so.

Track 7 - ouo
Is this the end of side A or the beginning of side B? Either way, it's 20 seconds long.

Track 8 - Not a Robot, But a Ghost
"I run the numbers through the floor. Here's how it goes I crack the codes, I crack the codes that end the war." The song is kind of "mathy" itself. So that sounds apt. If there's a unique single that can bring in some new fans, this is probably it. His vocals sound more earnest and there's a customized, driving beat running through the whole song. But then it breaks down with spacey strings and whistling before the beat comes back. So maybe not a real single, but he's definitely doing something new on this one.

Track 9 - Unfolding Fans
Just like the name says. OK, not really, but it's a transitional instrumental that sounds reminiscent of an orchestra tuning up.

Track 10 - Anonanimal
My head's bopping to this one. He's got a certain groove going. I have no idea what this word is supposed to mean (an unnamed animal?), but he's repeating it. The second half starts to feel like a mid-90s emo band (back before emo became emo), with really erratic rhythms. I'm digging this track a lot. The most interesting one so far.

Track 11 - Natural Disaster
Another one with a calm approach. He's talking about science or something. I dunno. He's really not grabbing me here, and this song sounds so basic that it's beneath him. Perhaps on future listens, I'll get the subtlety.

Track 12 - The Privateers
Oh, another one about Steve Forbes, right? "Don't sell me anything. Your one-time offer is so uncalled for, you call it piece of mind. 'Cause I see your house from here. Now all the leaves have fallen, dear." OK, not really about Steve Forbes. But kinda. The lyrics remain defiant, but the sound is more triumphant, building positively as the song goes along before it resolves in an odd, curious coda (which works, by the way).

Track 13 - Souverian
The longest track on the album starts slowly and small, as Bird approaches the lyrics as if he's telling a tale. At 4:00, it starts to finally crescendo, but then abruptly stops, pauses, and enters into an entirely new section. The new section is even slower. Over the last 30 seconds, it devolves into some experimental sounds before fading out.

Track 14 - On Ho
Multi-tracked strings take us out of the album, as if it's time to roll the end credits and send us on our way at peace.

Every other Andrew Bird album I own has taken some time to grow on me, no matter how much I liked it at first. That said, right now I'm not all that high on this one. It comes across as a bit self-indulgent. Maybe with headphones it would garner the intimacy that these songs surely require. Or perhaps it will just take some time. I can't fathom that there is a "Tables and Chairs," "Don't Be Scared," or "Dark Matters" on this album, and that's certainly a disappointment. Bird had been evolving in a certain direction over the course of his career. Maybe he ran out of room. Or perhaps with the heightened exposure, he's going for something else that's going to take me some time to really get. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's earned it. But at first blush, I don't find myself too psyched.

One Word Review: W.

67: Familiar

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

5-4-T: Thanks for Nothing, Georgie

In this week's Five For Tuesday, we present five songs inadvertently written with today in mind, the last day in which George W. Bush can willfully harm America or the rest of the world. His damage will last decades, but today, let's just be glad that sonovabitch is gone. If these songs come across as angry, well, that should be pretty self-explanatory, right? In sum, screw that prick.

Honorable mentions:
Go Away - Living Colour
Radio - Alkaline Trio
Ruiner - NIN
Thorn in My Side - Quicksand
Career of Evil - Blue Öyster Cult

5) Super Stupid - Funkadelic

4) Hit the Road, Jack - Ray Charles

3) The End Of Our Road - Gladys Knight & the Pips

2) Glad That It's Over - 12 Rods

1) You Can't Bring Me Down - Suicidal Tendencies

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday Youtube

The 20th can't come fast enough!

Unyielding Commissioning Hates Hitting the Wrong Button

...which it already did So let's get those links out quickly.

The return of a favorite - Buffalo Beast has their annual list of the 50 most loathsome people of the year. As always, it's informative and hilarious.

You can't do that on television - Mental Floss gives us 10 great notable moments in Music Censorship

Blast from the past - Some old guy lays out his 10 Best American Movies. Not your typical list! His only post-1980 choice: Groundhog Day.

Please just calmly not from now on - Some scientist dudes say that headbanging is hazardous to your health. Thank God Kevin DuBrow isn't around to hear this news! Incidentally, I once injured myself headbanging. I had just picked up Helmet's landmark album, Meantime, and being a junior in high school, my hair was kinda long. I accidentally whipped myself in the eye, which led to a cut and then after that, an infection.

Orbison approved - Roger Ebert talks about crying at the movies, and how it makes us feel good. Another superb blog posting from Roger.

There goes your morning - Have some fun with the David Lee Roth Running With the Devil soundboard. The only reason the internet exists. All other websites are worthless by comparison. (ht: Dan)

Just some great news! - This is more pro-freedom than anything George Bush has ever done. Obama's choice to head the FCC is pro-net neutrality.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Last Action Hero

For an overview of what Schwarzenegger Sunday is all about, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

What, you thought we were done? With so many more Arnold classics to examine? OK, perhaps we hit all the classics already, but we have unfinished business. There won't be a regular schedule or anything, but it's high time we got to the movies that slipped through the cracks. First on the docket, 1993's Last Action Hero.

Last Action Hero was designed to utilize all of Schwarzenegger's star power. In it, Arnold pulls double-duty, playing himself as well as fictional Los Angeles cop/professional badass, Jack Slater. Danny Madigan, a kid who spends all his free time at the local movie theater, hanging with the septuagenarian projectionist, is one of Slater's biggest fans. He is so eager to view the fourth installment of the Jack Slater series that the projectionist gives him a free screening as well as a "golden ticket" originally given to him by Harry Houdini. Ooooh. Somehow, this ticket makes the movie come to life and when dynamite explodes within the theater, Danny is sent flying directly into the picture, landing in the back of Slater's convertible. Using his steep knowledge of the Jack Slater series he is able to help against the bad guys while poking fun at movie cliches along the way. However, when one of the characters with nefarious intentions gets his hands on the ticket and arrives in the "real world," Danny and Slater have no choice but to follow him. Now "real" people are dying and Slater has to nab the bad guy without the usual movie magic to assist him.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Slater tries to find the right deadpan cheekiness throughout the film. This means he's taking every opportunity to drop a line. Whether any of these actually work is up for debate, but I at least found the following amusing, if a bit blatant: 3
Scharzenegger as Hamlet: “To be or not to be? Not to be.
He's supposed to be on duty. He was only suspended for a month. Now shut up.
Yes, could I speak to the drug dealer of the house, please? It's a beautiful day, and we're out killing drug dealers.
“Where are you going?” “Got to catch the redeye.
Leo the fart is gonna pass gas one more time.
Silent, but deadly.
That is for blowing up my second-cousin Frank's house.” (punches him) “This is for blowing up my ex-wife's house.” (slaps his hand)

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: This category is more difficult to judge than ever. Normally, inserting more zingers is generally considered a good thing. But in this case, Arnold never really finds the right way to play it, not that there was a right way. It's almost like he knows the material is so terrible that opted to mutter his way through it. These are beyond terrible. Yes, I realize that was kind of the point. 9
Hey, do you want to be a farmer? Here's a couple of 'achers'.
“You're driving with no hands!” “You think it's easy? You have to practice a lot! And never ever do it in heavy traffic.
Iced that guy, to cone a phrase.
I'm sorry, but you're going to have to live to enjoy all the fruits life has to offer: acne, shaving, premature ejaculation. And your first divorce.
What does a doctor treat?.” “Patients.” “Look at the elbow on my jacket. What's it doing?.” “Wearing thin?.”
Don't give up your day job.
Don't leave home without it.
It's a no-fly zone, fella.
...I should note - there were many that did not get recorded. It became overwhelming at one point because they were all so damn terrible. Please find it in your heart to forgive me.

“I’ll be back.”: Of course in a movie spoofing Arnold's career, they had to include one of these, and they manage to have some fun with it. While the kid pesters Slater about how he can predict his speech, Slater declares, "I'll be back. I bet you didn't know I was going to say that!" More later. Kinda. 6

Smarmy Villain: Things are bit confusing on this front, but it all plays out as we expect here at Schwarzenegger Sunday. Initially, it appears that Anthony Quinn's Tony Vivaldi is our man, and he really sells it: "I should tell you that I have killed people smarter and younger than you." Benedict, played by Charles Dance, complete with smarmy beard and frequently changing glass eye (which doubles as an explosive), is initially introduced in the R&THenchman position. Danny even asks him as much: "Sir, are you a henchman?" "No, I only go as high as a lackey." Benedict is of course playing possum, and quickly does away with Quinn. He then finds the golden ticket which allows him to gain access to the "real world" and assume his more appropriate role as the Smarmy Villain. OK, so that's the explanation, how about the performance? As campy and stupid as this movie may be, Dance makes for an incredibly smarmy, ruthless, and clever villain. He's got enough personality to make the movie compelling, and his self-discovery of the real world (and lack of police activity therein) is entertaining as hell: "Hello! I've just shot somebody - I did it on purpose. I said, I have murdered a man and I want to confess!" Also, he has a neck tattoo way before that kind of thing became fashionable (i.e. before Allen Iverson). Badass. Originally, Alan Rickman, William Atherton or Timothy Dalton was to be cast in this role, but Dance's understated boil was a better fit. 8
Rough and Tumble Henchman: With the power of the golden ticket, Benedict goes back to Jack Slater III and retrieves the villain of that film, The Ripper. Notable in that The Ripper killed Jack Slater's son. He's most certainly menacing in a disfigured kind of way, and definitely a henchman, but not exactly rough and tumble. 7
Diminutive Sidekick: Danny Madigan is played by Austin O'Brien who, outside of a significant role in My Girl 2 and a cameo in Apollo 13, hasn't been in very many films of note. Given his performance here, it's not hard to see why. Perhaps we should be blaming director John McTiernan, but he is really, really dorky - far too dorky for a kid of his age. Quotes like "Oooh, are you gonna pay!" should have been altered if he's supposed to be the one from the real world. Also, he's just far too self aware, playing up the "movie within a movie" theme: "I know he's OK, Both cops dead." It's not really his fault; the part was just written far too cutesy, and he's not a very good actor. OK, maybe that is his fault. Also, are we sure this was 1993? Look at his damn mullet! All that said, he fits the diminutive sidekick role to a tee. 10
Rejected hot love interest: Even though Slater is a cop in Movie Los Angeles, and the place is crawling with babes, he can't seem to hook up with any of them because "this is a PG-13 movie". More on that topic later. Worth noting is the film debut of Bridgette Wilson Sampras who plays Slater's teenage daughter and whose presence in this film prompted a dude who lived in my 1994 dorm floor to fall madly in love with her. Seriously he was talking about her for months. Turns out he should have been working on his groundstrokes. n/a.
Not nearly hot enough love interest: You could argue that Mercedes Reuhl was born to play a Schwarzenegger NNHELI. She's interesting, passionate, obliquely attractive, yet certainly not hot enough. When Slater and Danny arrive at his apartment in the real world, Slater and Reuhl (Danny's mother) stay up talking all night and have clearly hit it off. Sadly, their connection remains unrequited, but it's the strongest personal relationship on display in the film. n/a

Arnold yelling: There is a ton of yelling, but few true hollers. My favorite would be at the mafia rooftop funeral when he shouts, "Look! Elephant!" 6

Arnold cursing poignantly: Early in the film, we get one "Oh shit," but Arnold's mouth remains soapy clean for the remainder. However, we get a gag that totally falls flat as Danny tries to prove to Slater that he's part of a film and not actually real. He writes down a word and asks Slater to say it. He is unable, to which Danny exclaims, "See, it's a PG-13 movie!" Ugh. 3

Arnold crazyface: Slater plays it cool all the way through. I had begun to think Arnold's facelifts had gotten the better of us. But then, at the very end of the film and shrouded in a dark rain, we get what a glimpse of we came for. It almost looks like the opening scene in Total Recall! 7
Superfluous Explosions: Early on, I thought we'd be setting a new record. Slater lights bundles of dynamite with his cigar and tosses them out of his moving car. And entire house is sent skyward. But after the first 25 minutes, we are kaboom-free. Well, except for one moment which we'll get to in a minute. Given the the short spree of explosions I can't in good conscience consider them all that superfluous. 5
Director: John McTiernan also directed Arnold in Predator, the first film to get the Schwarzenegger Sunday treatment. It is interesting to note that up to this point in his career, McTiernan had experienced a ton of success (if you don't count 1992's Medicine Man). But from here on, it's been a steady stream of stinkers, most notably that abominable Rollerball remake. Perhaps this film was the beginning of the end for him, though technically he's still working and has three films in production.

Franco Columbu: 5 We don't actually get to see Franco, but when the credits roll for Jack Slater IV, we learn this interesting fact in the opening credits:
Sven Ole-Thorsen: Also n/a

Shirtless Arnold: Arnold must have thought he was getting old. In all the movies we've SSed, there were few categories more consistent than this one. But after keeping his clothes on for True Lies, he goes with the tight T-shirt throughout this one. However, at the tail end of the movie, after being shot in the chest, they cut his shirt open in an ambulance. 2

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: The Ripper ends up confronting Slater on rooftop just as he did in Jack Slater III, only this time he has Danny in his clutches instead of Slater's son. He throws Danny over the edge, but doesn't notice that he's standing in a puddle and holding a metal grate. Slater electrocutes him with a conveniently live wire. The Ripper wails, "Iiiiii'llllll beeeee baaaaack," to which Slater retorts, "The hell you will!" Did they even write a script for this scene? 5

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: We've come to expect a certain level of gruesomeness in the demise of our villains. While this one is somewhat creative, it's hardly on par. Slater shoots Benedict in the glass eye, which of course explodes because it's a bomb. As mentioned above, this is a PG-13 movie. Had it been Rated R, the blood-factor and gruesome-level would have been much more intense 4

Plausibly implausible plot: OK, how seriously am I supposed to take this one? Of course this is an implausible plot. They lowered the curtain on the fourth wall, so implausibility is the main idea here. At no point in the movie do we take it seriously enough to be convinced that any aspect of it plausible. In fact, that's one of the big problems here. A better child actor and an R rating may have made this possible. Or perhaps a different director. n/a

Ambiguous ending: Slater is shot in the chest and surely about to die. But via the golden ticket, Danny is able to save him by sending him back to the movie world where the doctors say he is stricken with "merely a flesh wound." The only ambiguous thing about the ending is whether Danny got a spanking from his mother when he arrived home late again. And frankly, unless she's walloping him with a heavy belt buckle, we don't care. n/a

Last Action Hero is a campy comedy wearing the clothes of a serious action flick, but not the face. For a fantasy film, the script is significantly lacking in the imagination department. Avoiding a run of the mill storyline would have been a good idea. When people think about Schwarzenegger duds, two movies generally come to mind: Last Action Hero and Jingle All The Way (please, please don't make me review that one). But there's a very wide line between the two relative failures. Marketed as another Schwarzenegger action flick, Last Action Hero remains largely misunderstood. Part of that is due to the confusing name, and also because the studio made the poor decision to release it one week after Jurassic Park. That little dinosaur movie went on to gross over 350 million dollars in the US alone. The kid is utterly intolerable, and brings everything to a halt whenever he's on screen. Meanwhile, Arnold is not on top of his game, and the script doesn't give him much to work with. Still, the movie's "likable enough" and Charles Dance's performance gives it something unique. I can't quite recommend it, but there's enough to appreciate that it's not a complete bomb, either. After Total Recall and Terminator 2, there was really nowhere new for Arnold to go, but he gave it a shot anyway. And we were left with this. It's acceptable. Barely.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

R.I.P. Ron Asheton

The Ramones are always labeled as the band that "started punk rock", even though The Stooges did it better a full decade earlier. They were a band before their time. Much like many people now revere Jimi Hendrix only for his wild showmanship, the band is often dismissed as overly tight jeans and smeared peanut butter. But give Fun House a spin today and you'll find that it's an album as fiery and inventive as anything you have in your collection. The Stooges set the table for every punk rock innovation and achievement that would follow. I refuse to list every punk rock band in the history of the world, but that's really the impact we're talking about here. Everything from The New York Dolls to The Sex Pistols to Built to Spill to Rage Against the Machine.

Surely there are people that would dismiss Ron Asheton as someone who was just in the right place at the right time, lucky enough to get hooked up with an entertainer like Iggy Pop. But such thinking is ignorant of the band's impact, let alone its music. When I saw them play at Lollapalooza, of course I couldn't help but focus on Iggy's manic exhortations. But I was also blown away by Asheton's chops, calling him "lightning" and nearly having to step back as his rumbling guitar rattled the high rises lining Grant Park.

Asheton passed away in his Ann Arbor home this week at the age of 60. This was shocking news, to be sure. Not that Asheton seemed the picture of health by any means, but pretty much everyone figured some more touring and maybe another album could be in the works. I find myself disappointed that I won't get to see them again, but more just sad that the man's not with us anymore. With Asheton's death, so goes the band. Iggy Pop can still play, and may even bring Ron's brother Scott as his touring drummer, but The Stooges are no more. They will be missed, even by those who have never heard of them.

Sometimes great bands get another chance. And even more rarely, they get the recognition they deserve. I'm not sure that The Stooges will ever obtain their due credit, but they did manage a victory lap. It was a real cool time.

One Word Review: Death at a Funeral

63: Zany

Monday, January 5, 2009

Unyielding Comissioning Is Watching Football via Illegal Methods don't expect much commentary today

Julia Roberts can ruin your life - Before you say "duh", be sure you read about this recent study which proves that people who watch romantic comedies aren't as good at the whole "real life dating" thing. Before you ask, no there was not a separate sample for Dane Cook/Ashton Kutcher fans.

Well it's about damn time - The Terminator has been chosen by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. An American classic, it deserves the recognition. Now if we could just get T2 in there.

Jan 20 can't get here fast enough - Andrew Bird has been getting a ton of press in the New York Times, writing Op-Ed pieces for them during the recording of his album. Now comes a profile piece about his upcoming release. It's nothing groundbreaking for anyone who's a fan, but leaves me excited for "inauguration day" nonetheless.

Gaaaaaahhhh - You don't want to read this. VH1 has a "100 greatest hard rock songs." Might be the dumbest list to date. I'll cite only one example: #66 Europe - "The Final Countdown"

Not a dumb list - The Playlist has been one of the most interesting, lively, and insightful movie blogs on the internet for two years running. Here is their list of the 20 best movies of 2008. Highly recommended. Also worth checking out, Kozy's top films (all viewed in Amsterdam!).

And while we're at it - We link them all the time because their lists are fun and interesting. This week, go check out Eric's Top Ten Movies of the Year.

It's T-shirt weather here in South America, anyway - Jaws 5, the T-shirt (Jaws in Space). No, it's not a real movie. Yet.