Welcome back to Special Ed! I’m Barry let’s go.

THE BIG BANG

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Oddball noir parody/pastiche finds private dick Antonio Banderas on the hunt for a sultry stripper when he stumbles onto something strange in the New Mexico desert. The film’s director, Tony Krantz (he of the charming zombie flick Otis) was a producer on David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, so…hint-hint – there’s some crazy shit afoot. Sounds interesting – and then there’s the cast: William “Fucking” Fichtner, Delroy Lindo, Thomas Kretschmann, Bill “Fucking” Duke, James “WHAT??” Van Der Beek, Snoop Dogg, and Sam “Fucking” Elliot.

Did I mention that Johnny Marr did the score? Wild…

THE DUEL

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One of the finest movie theaters in existence – Chicago’s Music Box – has ramped up their distribution arm in a big way over the last few years, and this is a film they’ve shepherded onto video. A very faithful staging of an Anton Chekhov novella, the tale spins around a would-be love triangle wherein the participants are petty and desperate and shamed – you know, like people in an Anton Chekhov story.

I AM NUMBER FOUR

Looks like number two, even if Teresa Palmer is the bee’s knees.  Not even the beloved Marti Noxon could save this thing. But what the hey – Tim Olyphant snagged a paycheck, so it’s not all bad news.

ICE ROAD FUCKERS: DEADLIEST ROADS – SEASON ONE

The show that celebrates stupid people and their shitty life choices spawns this Greatest Hicks package. What the fuck happened to educational television? Remember when the History Channel had shows about history? When the Discovery Channel was about scientific breakthroughs and National Geographic broadcasts were about real anthropology? Faraway lands and unknown cultures and the quest for knowledge have all been replaced by shows championing the Lowest Common Denominator. Instead of learning about Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic adventures, we get meth-head assholes driving semis in the snow. We get uneducated dirtbags catching seafood. We get belligerent guys cutting down trees. We get sleeveless assholes with unfortunate facial hair and utterly dumbass tattoos fixing mortorcycles.

I feel like it’s a fucking bourgeois conspiracy – like if they tell sub-blue collar assholes that their Dirty Jobs make them badass heroes destined for fifteen minutes of basic cable fame, then they’ll never aspire to anything but being sub-blue collar assholes, dreaming of one day starring on the Discovery Channel Original series DIGGING DITCHES: GUYS USING BULLDOZERS.

There is something to be said for the proud tradition of the Working Man. This world – and so many of its wonders – exist because there were men pushing stone at the end of a whip…there were men fighting in the streets against cops and robber barons for a decent wage…there were men (and women) toiling in factories to fuel a war machine to dismantle the dreams of dictators and despots…

But somewhere along the line, “Blue Collar” has become the polite way to say “White Trash” – and instead of celebrating pride and toil and innovation – we’re treated to phony narratives about guys with colorful nicknames and CDLs. Eat shit, Thom Beers.

Sorry for the rant.  We now return you to your regular scheduled programming…

PAPILLON

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Steve McQueen.  For so many – the epitome of cool. For me…a raging egomaniac who threatened to tank every film he’s in with his inability to act. McQueen’s rise has always felt to me like the tales of casting Sean Connery as Bond – legend has it the producers had to teach Connery manners. They had to train him to be smooth. McQueen seemed so desperate to sell that same kind of smooth, but he always came across to me as a smug thug. Do we really buy him as Thomas Crown? Thomas Stockman? I sure as fuck don’t. And he threatens to tear this film apart too – with his weird, raspy overacting near the end (the makeup that transforms him into an aged Malcolm McDowell doesn’t help). Maybe it’s Dustin Hoffman’s presence…maybe it’s the steady hand of director Franklin Schaffner…maybe it’s Dalton Trumbo’s script…maybe it’s Goldsmith’s score – whatever the reason, I can tolerate McQueen here (here, and in Junior Bonner). I get that I’m the minority view, and that most people believe McQueen to be a deity – but I lay out my dislike to explain to you that even someone with no interest in the lead can find something to like about this film. Never mind the story is about a couple of French guys, and no one’s even trying an accent (don’t we bag on actors today for the same shit? Anyone remember Kevin Costner is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), never mind that the real Henri Charrière was all but proven to be a bullshit artiste. Hey – it’s Papillon! On Blu Ray!

SOLARIS (CRITERION COLLECTION)

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Tarkovsky’s somber, soulful meditation on humanity facing down forces it cannot understand (both extraterrestrial and internal) played against the vastness of space and an alien world reaches Blu Ray this week. So do. It’s great.

IT MEANS EVERYTHING – THE BLU RAY OF THE WEEK:

THE GREAT DICTATOR (CRITERION COLLECTION)

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My father was born in 1940. He’s often said that was eighteen years too late. He was drafted during the Vietnam War, but that was a conflict he was uninterested in fighting; he wanted to fight the Nazis during World War II. He heard people talking about the war for years after it was done – and the stories of the men who returned (and those who didn’t) fascinated him. He wished he was one of them – a soldier fighting against the worst kind of evil the world had ever known. He’s told me that even though he knew that some of the guys “didn’t come back with all of their marbles” – they all knew that they were on the right side.

So my Dad, like a lot of Dads, was a armchair WWII historian, sponging up books and documentaries and films – I got exposed to The Longest Day and A Bridge too Far when I was super little, and when I needed an explanation of what the Nazis were all about, I got a double feature. The first film was this one – Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

It might be had to grasp now, but this is a film that was and still is brave in ways that border on suicidal. Chaplin came out swinging against a foreign power America had not yet decided that it hated (there were Nazi supporters in America until we entered the war – and if you count Tea Baggers, they’re still here today), and the film’s own leanings fueled Chaplin-as-Red rumors. Additionally, the comedian paid for this film himself – which could have been ruinous.

Tweaking his Little Tramp for the times and the talkies, Chaplin plays a nameless Jewish barber caught up in the rise of the not-even-remotely-veiled-so-much-as-insulted-like-a-schoolkid-would Nazi regime, who winds up accidentally switching places with the Fuhrer (or “The Phooey”), because he’s a dead ringer (must be the ‘tache). The fourth-wall breaking speech The Barber-as-Phooey gives to the assembled double-crossers at the end of the film moved me as a child, and it’s totally weep-worthy today. Criterion would love to share it with you.

My father wanted to show me something that would illustrate the hatred Nazis had for humanity in a way my seven-year-old brain could understand. I asked him about why the Nazis hated Jews…and I asked him about the camps – and that’s when he showed me the second part of our double bill: The Big Red One.

ALL IN – THIS WEEK’S BLU:

The Big Bang
Burning Palms
The Duel
The End of Poverty?
Gettysburg Director’s Cut
Gnomeo and Juliet DVD/ BLU3D
Gods and Generals Extended Cut
Grand Prix
The Great Dictator
I Am Number Four
Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads – Season One
Le Mans
Peanuts: Happiness Is a Warm Blanket Charlie Brown
Platoon
Samurai Champloo Complete Set
Solaris (Criterion)
Soul Eater: Parts 1 & 2  
Tigerland

AND NOW THE DVD STARTS:

CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL: FIRST AND SECOND SEASONS

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Rob Corddry and his gang goof on medical dramas with mixed results.

KIDS IN THE HALL: DEATH COMES TO TOWN

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The Kids reunite to stage a murder mystery wherein they play an entire small town.

THE TRANSCENDENT MAN

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Imagine if something like…Scientology had an actual basis in science fact, and its proponents believed that the expansion of the human mind, the strengthening of the human body, and the salvation of the human condition meant pushing technology as far as we possibly can for the benefit of all, not just the privileged few, and you have just an idea of what Ray Kurzweil has in mind for our future. The Transcendent Man is a documentary of legendary futurist Kurzweil’s life and scientific innovations.

AND ALL THE REST:

The Big Bang
Burning Palms
Capadocia: Season 1
Childrens Hospital: First & Second Seasons
Cruzando
D-Day: The Total Story
Death Hunter: Werewolves vs. Vampires
Dinosaur Train: Dino-Mighty Music
Discreet
The Duel
Eatrip
Europe All 90 Shows
Exit No. 6
Fanboy and Chum Chum
Fertile Ground
Fighting Mad/Moving Violation
Forget Me Not
God Went Surfing with the Devil
Gnomeo and Juliet
The Laura Dore Show: Laura Dore In Italy
Lemonade Mouth
Lilly’s Thorn
Louvre City
Melissa & Joey: Season One, Part One
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey’s Great Outdoors
MLB Bloopers Doubleheader
National Geographic: Return of the Ghost Ship
National Geographic: Secret Service Files
National Geographic: Ultimate Factories
Nenette Collection
Night after Night
North Star and More Stories about Following Your Dreams
Nova: Japan’s Killer Quake
PBS Explorer Collection: Brain Fitness Volume 1
Peter Manjarres: Un Concierto Para La Historia
Picasso & Braque Go to the Movies
Prime Nine: MLB Heroics
Psycho Gothic Lolita
Public Speaking
Queens Blade 2: Evil Eye Series Part 1
Reagan
Rick Steve’s Eastern Europe
Rick Steve’s Europe
Rick Steve’s Scandinavia
Rick Steve’s Spain Collection
Rick Steve’s Travel Extra
The Royal Wedding: William & Catherine
The Scenesters
Seconds Apart
Shin Koihime Muso: Otome Tairan
Small Act
Soul Eater: Parts 1 & 2
A Tale of Two Cities
TNA: Against All Odds / Victory Road 2011
Transformers: The Complete Original Series
The Unknown War: WWII and the Epic Battles of
The Unloved
William & Kate: Planning a Royal Wedding
Yes Sir: Jack Nicklaus & Historic 1986 Masters

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC – WITH JEB DELIA! (who will eventually strike me for using the name of that cheesy comp to intro him)

LADY GAGA – BORN THIS WAY

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I’m old enough to remember when Madonna’s juxtaposition of religious and sexual iconography stirred outrage; I suspect many of my readers are, too, but what’s being counted on here is that most of the target demographic for this album is not. Because the “scandalous” track in question, “Judas,” is as toothless and recycled as pretty much everything else here. I won’t deny that the album sounds like a million bucks: that’s probably on the low end of what was spent on the production to ensure that even the most timid program director would make it an instant add. And, of course, those in decision-making positions regarding music for radio, TV, etc., want nothing so much as they do familiarity, which this album delivers in spades: every beat, melody, and harmony chorus is time-tested, having anchored dozens of pop hits before. I guess it’s nice she’s ranging outside of dance music for her appropriations – there’s lifts from U2 and Springsteen, among others (including borrowing Clarence Clemons for some sax licks). But the result has all the musical innovation and urgency of a Gap commercial.

Flaccid music-making, though, can suffice if there’s something going on in the songwriting, but for an album that’s widely presumed to be a shot across the bows of homophobia, the “outrage” on display is pretty tame: “Born This Way” is about as mealy-mouthed an anthem as you could ask, where the genuinely oppressed of society are put on the same footing with the mildly annoyed; and “Hair” with its oh-so-defiant this-is-the-real-me refrain of “I am my hair!” would mean more coming from someone who didn’t spend most of her public life in disguise. But, then, there is no creature on earth more frightened of the world around them than the middle-class American adolescent, and reassuring that overprivileged demographic that the way to “express your individuality” is to buy into what corporate America will sell you is a time-honored road to pop riches.

Which seems, really, to be the point. I don’t know much about Lady Gaga as a person, but her public persona suggests someone for whom the making of music is far lower on the list of priorities than assuming the trappings, attitudes, magazine covers and other rewards of pop stardom. In other words, she’s sort of America’s answer to Liam Gallagher.

THURSTON MOORE – DEMOLISHED THOUGHTS

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Thirty years on, it’s nice that Moore is still willing to take chances; plenty of his peers settle for the comfort of the familiar to hold fans’ interest. Co-produced by Beck, Demolished Thoughts feels less like a “Major Statement” and more like a loose, slightly ragged snapshot of Moore’s thoughts and feelings on some random, rainy morning.

This isn’t just Sonic Youth unplugged: while it is certainly closer to Trees Outside the Academy than to, say, Sensitive/Lethal, it lacks the classic pop structure and urgency of Trees; sonically, it’s less what you’d expect from either Beck or Moore, and something closer to Leo Kottke or It’s A Beautiful Day. In fact, if the album has a close second cousin outside of the Moore/Sonic Youth catalog, it’s Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left or Bryter Layter: much of Demolished Thoughts is awash in the same gentle guitar and violin textures (with Trees violinist Samara Lubelski but minus, obviously, Drake’s astonishing fretwork), in the same not-quite-folk, not-quite-jazz twilight, particularly on the evocative instrumental “Blood Never Lies,” and the nostalgic “Orchard Street.”

Moore and Beck serve a few changeups to keep things fresh: “Circulation” begins with a sly lift from Donovan’s “Epistle to Dippy;” “Mina Loy” boasts atonal accompaniment and a slightly sinister whistled intro, bathing its simple lyric (“I don’t care what it takes / All she wants is you to love her without shame“) in a sense of unease, followed then by the Kottke-like mini-maelstrom of “Space.” Drake is invoked again in the light pastoral of the final track, which Moore calls “January” instead of the more-obvious “December,” ending it abruptly on a broken swirl of sound that suggests that the album hasn’t really finished, it’s just come to the end of Moore’s thoughts for the day.

Demolished Thoughts is really the best kind of solo album: rather than half-baked leftovers from his day job, Moore steps aside for a collection designed to confound expecations; one that is more about mood and texture than memorable songwriting, but addictively listenable. That doesn’t mean it’s as good as a great Sonic Youth album; the point is that it doesn’t need to be.

KING CREOSOTE and JON HOPKINS – DIAMOND MINE

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Beginning with source recordings of patrons in a Scottish coffee shop, this modest offering from ColdplayEno collaborator Jon Hopkins and singer-songwriter Kenny (King Creosote) Anderson introduces itself with the gentlest of chorded piano, and what sounds like a treated accordion, gradually giving way to the thickly-strummed guitar of “John Taylor’s Month Away,” set against the sounds of rolling surf and shorebirds. “I love to look out at the sea” warbles Anderson, and following six minutes’ reminiscnes of hius “shattered boyhood dreams“: he sums up that “I’d much rather be me.” It’s a fair microcosm of the album: langorous acoustic playing, layered with atmosphereic recorded effects, painstakingly assembled over the course of seven years into what the two characterize as the “soundtrack to a romanticized version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village.”. The stark, tender songs are an attempt by the narrator to come to terms with the slow downward path of a life that sees “silver in my sideburns” and a “diet which is going to be the death of me.” In a way, it’s the ideal album to follow the recent Doomsday/Rapture silliness: a thoughtful consideration of earthly mortality and the virtues of a life lived not in fear of time and death, but in harmony with them.

DANNY GRISSETT – STRIDE

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The Criss Cross jazz label doesn’t release new music every day of the week, and of the batch of new releases they’re presenting this May, I’ll give pride of place to this stunning piano trio. Joined by bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Marcus Gilmore, Danny Grissett’s fourth album for the label ranges widely, from jazz standards to classical adaptations to a memorable set of originals. The title song opens the set with spiky, sharply punctuated playing from Grissett that Gilmore’s entry smooths and pulses forward, on through the elegant “Viennese Summer,” also a Grissett original. Chopin’s Etude #6 eschews the glibness that non-classical players can bring to the composer, with Grissett’s thoughtful, probing performance, perfectly followed up by Frank Loesser’s “Two Sleepy People,” with Archer’s dark, deep tone wrapped around Gilmore’s sensitve brushwork. Following the insistent pulsation of     “It Takes Two To Know One,” The album concludes with the eloquent valediction of “Some Other Tine,” from Bernstein’s On The Town. There are flashier pianists on today’s jazz scene than Grissett, but for consistently strong, sensitive playing, I’ll match his discography with the best.

OTHER NOTABLE 5/24 RELEASES:

Brad Paisley – This Is Country Music. Given that Alabama guests on “Old Alabama,” and Clint Eastwood is on “Eastwood,” I wonder if the other guests are annoyed that there aren’t songs called “Underwood,” or “Henley,” or “Stuart, Crow and Jackson.”

Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers – Translucent Blues. I guess setting dead guys’ words to music becomes a habit: this album features the former Doors keyboardist wrapping his gloriously cheesy-sinister keyboard stylings, and ludicrous hipster voice, around lyrics from Warren Zevon and Jim Carroll, while slide master Rogers manages to keep a straight face. Guilty pleasure of the week.

David Binney – Barefooted Town. Stunning new collection of Binney originals, with his sax out in front of a vital combo; note particularly the piano work of young Cuban David Virelles, a name that deserves to be better known.

Foster The People – Torches. It ranges from catchy-fun to catchy-annoying, but that’s 50% better than plenty of bands manage. “Houdini” is… um… inescapable.

Carter’s Chord – Wild Together. Sisters who twang a bit, rock a bit, pose a lot.

David Bazan – Strange Negotiations. Words of wisdom: “I’m a goddamn fool and I love you.”

Antoine Dufour – Sound Pictures. Skillful, blandly pleasant Kottke-like guitar soundscapes. Two of. the tracks are alleged to be “live,” but it all sounds like Memorex to me.

Clan of Xymox – Darkest Hour. Haven’t heard it, but I can’t imagine it differing significantly from the rest of their catalog… for better or worse.

Boris – Attention Please. Wata doesn’t actually play the geisha as often as the title tune might suggest, and the balance of the album is as loud/weird as you’d hope (if the first three minutes of”Tokyo Wonder Land” don’t send you running from the room screaming, the last three will have you grooving nicely).  And advance buzz suggests that their Heavy Rocks album, also being released this month, might be even better.

Journey – Eclipse. No. Just… no.

Joseph Arthur – The Graduation Ceremony. Sensitive musings on “Horses,” shadows and gypsies. But his rough conviction redeems otherwise trite sentiments like “Love Never Asks You To Lie.”

From Bikes to Trains to VIDEO GAMES – WITH BRIAN CONDRY!

I’ve almost solved the Black Dahlia murders! So, I won’t really be partaking in this week’s releases. But Dirt 3 will probably be pretty awesome. It’s not quite my cup of tea, but for a certain segment, it will be absolutely the raddest game of the past couple of years.

DIRT 3 (PS3; XBOX 360; PC; retail)

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While I still think The Witcher 2 is the best game I’ve ever seen, DIRT 3 has better looking cars. And dirt. And threes. I much prefer an arcady racer, the Burnout series being my favorite, but Dirt 2 was really cool and really gorgeous. The sequel looks bigger and badder and better which seems like quite the value proposition to me.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: DAGGERDALE (PS3; XBOX 360; PC; download)

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You guys remember the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games? Champions of Norrath? That’s the kind of D&D game this is. Hack n’ slash. Loots. Co-op. Looks fun. And since it’s a download title, it’s cheap enough to take a gamble on.

DEAD OR ALIVE: DIMENSIONS (3DS; retail)

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I think this is the first post release 3DS game to actually give a shit about, and it’s not much of a shit at that. I’ve never had much affinity for the DoA games, but then again, I don’t feel the need to masturbate to video game boobs. This one looks to be more of the same, but easier and portable, so yay! Whatever. Why did you buy a 3DS in the first place?

OTHER NOTABLE 5/24 RELEASES:

KUNG FU PANDA 2 is out on every system known to man. It will suck. Buy your kids the Lego Pirates game. I hear it’s fun.

And this is kinda cool - Top Gun: Wingman Edition hits shelves, and it’s the download Top Gun game that came out last year PLUS Top Gun on Blu-Ray! Which would be awesome if either of those things were good. Yes, I said it. Top Gun the video game is not good. That After Burner download game was cool, though.

ROCK BAND DLC (available on Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation3 May 24):

Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Lady Gaga – LoveGame
Lady Gaga – Paparazzi
Foreigner – Hot Blooded*
Foreigner – Urgent*
Pro Guitar Additions for Legacy Songs:
Alice in Chains – Rooster*
The White Stripes – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground*

Tracks marked with * will include Pro Guitar and Pro Bass expansions for $0.99 per song.

And there you have it, Sewer Chewers. Thanks for stopping by.

FIN.