Come to me my babies – it’s time for Special Ed…
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
The first – and perhaps the best. As much as I love both Iron Man films…and thought Thor was fun – something about the Cap’n latest cinematic outing speaks to me. Maybe it’s the period trappings…maybe it’s that everyone is so flawlessly cast…maybe it’s the earnest embodiment of Kant’s Categorical Imperative…
Whatever the reason, the film is the Avengers warm-up I’m most moved by. Joe Johnston delivers on the promise of The Rocketeer with his often whimsical and charming work here. The 3D Blu Ray looks stellar, with no artifacting or ghosting to be found outside the menu, and Johnston’s instincts with regards to employing the tech work wonders. He shoots into layered, labyrinthine sets to create subtle, elegant depth and separation – saving the “Comin’ at Ya'” moments for a few soaring shields and explosions. I don’t know if the studios use the added time between the theatrical and video windows to further tweak the post-op 3D (I know that this was the case regarding the shitty remake of Clash of the Titans - not that it could save the film), but I can say that the home viewing experience is starting to blur the line – the conversion results are getting far more effective.
Coppola’s film has been described as the formalist companion to DePalma’s Blow Out, but as much as I love Blow Out, I’ve gotta’ say – being formalist in this instance isn’t a crime. Coppola’s film is an eerily-quiet slow burn – punctuated with a flawlessly-constructed sound design that enhances the creepishness.
JURASSIC PARK TREEOLOGY
Yes, it toooootally stinks that they make you buy all three just to get the only decent film in the series, and I’m not entirely sure Joe Johnston’s exciting JP III is worth owning the tedious first film and the self-indulgent mess of The Lost World, but I imagine that, after a few months, Uni will offer them as separate SKUs.
RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE
A sinister Santa – and the most disturbing elves outside of a Rene Cardona flick – make trouble for a collection of miners and hunters. Very mean. Very fun. You’ve heard it’s great – you heard right.
Oh Zombi, you brilliant, dimwitted, ludicrous, demented cheddar-wreck – why do I love your slow-motion plotting…your undead made seemingly of pottery…your close-ups of maggotry…your Al Cliver…
No one knows – but you’ve cracked me up since childhood. Blue Underground kicks a 2k transfer, 7.1 channel sound, and a host of extras (including an intro by Guillermo Del Toro).
IT MEANS EVERYTHING – THE BLU RAY OF THE WEEK!
ATTACK THE BLOCK
Joe Cornish’s alien invasion crowd pleaser reinvents the genre, saves us from War of the Worlds-style Spielbergian bloat/boredom, and manages to be far more socially relevant – as well as infinitely more engaging and awesome.
ALL IN – THIS WEEK’S BLU:
Attack the Block
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Christmas Blessing
The Christmas Shoes
Dazed and Confused (Criterion)
Elvis Costello Spectacle: Seasons 1-2
Emanuelle & the Last Cannibals – not really an Emanuelle flick, this sloppy cannibal romp from Joe D’amato features Laura Gemser – and is based on a TRUE STORY by JENNIFER O’SULLIVAN!!
Faces in the Crowd
Father of Invention
The House by the Cemetery – Catriona MacColl suffers through more indecipherable Lucio Fulci weirdness. Even when the reels are in order, it makes no sense. We’ll never know whether the children are monsters or the monsters are children.
Identification of a Woman (Criterion)
Island of Lost Souls (Criterion) – masterful make-up and melodrama (what am I, Stan Lee? EXCELSIOR) make this take on the oft-shot Dr. Moreau the most compelling.
Jurassic Park Trilogy
A Little Help
Plasma Art: Coral Aquariums
Plasma Art: Coral Reef
Plasma Art: Goldfish
Plasma Art: Lionfish
Plasma Art: Piranha Rainforest Habitat
Plasma Art: Ray Tank
Plasma Art: Santa’s Fireplace
Plasma Art: Scenic Scapes Water
Plasma Art: Shark Tank
Plasma Art: Tropical Aquariums Cichlids
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Robot Chicken: Season 5
Survival Tales of the Wild: Chimpanzees
Survival Tales of the Wild: Chimpanzees
Tom & Jerry: Golden Collection Volume One
Winnie the Pooh
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings
WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart
NOW THAT’S WHAT CHUD CALLS MUSIC – WITH JEB DELIA!
COLDPLAY – MYLO XYLOTO
In Josh Bazell’s 2008 novel Beat The Reaper, a high-powered surgeon getting ready to operate instructs a nurse to put on his favorite U2 CD, and the narrator informs us “The U2 greatest-hits album is something you learn to live with in medicine. You learn to be grateful it’s not Coldplay.” In other words, even before the end of the last decade, Coldplay was already a sort of shorthand for tired, overworked grandiosity: U2 For Dummies. And while I try to avoid hopping the bandwagon – after all, Martin seems a decent chap, appeared on Extras and all that – but nothing about this latest urges me otherwise.
I kind of like the terseness of the instrumental title track, building as it does with echoing Big Country guitar, and glockenspiel, and apart from the drab synths, “Hurts Like Heaven” with a nice Jonny Buckland guitar solo does a fair job of making the case for the band’s more radio-ready qualities. But it’s mostly a dose of the usual after that: “Paradise” is Martin at his most indulgently sensitive, “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” would be dire on the title alone, and only the spot-the-Rihanna cameo keeps “Princess of China” from being forgotten almost before it’s over. There’s some engaging piano on “Up In Flames,” but its offhand virtuosity gets swamped in the familiar Martin whimper: “Up in flames we have slowly gone / Can we put some water on?” And “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” sums things up with more generic emotional display. There’s certainly plenty of bands out there coasting on a set of borrowed clichés, and I don’t know that Coldplay deserves to be singled out for it. If they’re your cup of tea, drink up.
TOM WAITS – BAD AS ME
I was not the biggest fan of Waits’ earliest albums: they tended toward an obvious kind of sentiment, and romanticization of the down-and-out, the songs peopled with drunkards and beatniks out of central casting; when you can be covered by The Eagles, betraying no sense of irony, it’s time to step things up, and starting with Swordfishtrombones, he pretty much did exactly that. Bad As Me is, I think, Waits’ 17th “official” album, and up there among his best.
The opener, “Chicago,” kicks things off with the cry of All Aboard, All Aboard,” and the band slamming along like a freight train being driven by Howlin’ Wolf. Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo offers sizzling guitar runs on “Get Lost,” vintage R&B filtered through Waits’ skewed media-savvy perspective. As much as I love what Waits’ voice has grown into, there are times… I had to listen to “Raised Right Man” a couple times through before I realized he wasn’t singing “French fried ham” – but he’s singing it to a loping Flea bassline that is pure down-home dirt. Here, and on the Keith Richards guest spot on the Stones homage, “Satisfied,” Waits is rocking even harder and straighter than usual: solid but typically skewed. I’d be remiss not to put in a word for Casey Waits’ drumming: he anchors the trickiest signature change with a ramshackle firmness. There’s the usual dipping back into the soft-heart-of-the-bottom-of-the-bottle on tracks like “Talking At the Same Time”, “Back In the Crowd,” and “Kiss Me”, but the album’s centerpiece is the stunning penultimate track, “Hell Broke Luce,” inspired by a soldier’s horrifying true story of madness and suicide, as Waits shrieks in voices alternating the near-psychotic commanding officer and the terrified soldier: “That big fucking bomb made me deaf. Deaf!, over a huge, unholy martial beat. It’s not only the best rock song about modern war since Richard Thompson’s “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me,” it’s sadly one of the very few. The subsequent benediction of “New Year’s Eve” comes as such a relief that you forgive the obvious use of “Auld Lang Syne.”
DEER TICK – DIVINE PROVIDENCE
From shambling indie alt-country to loud beer-fueled guitar rock is not your usual career path, but John McCauley and company wouldn’t be caught dead with anything usual. The album is roughly forty minutes of skirting the fine line between straightforward and stupid, and I don’t know if it’s a mark of genius or diabolism, but I’d say it can go either way.
“The Bump” launches with McCauley boasting “I can take a tree / And tear it from its roots,” to a foot-stomping wall of guitar, before degenerating into a cacophony of drunken howling and broken bar glasses; it’s sort of the Happy Hour version of “Farmer John.” “Funny Word” opens with McCauley growling “You fucking douchebag,” and eventually slides into another ramshackle celebration of inebriated stupidity. Things move to the same pace with stuff like “Let’s All Go to the Bar”, “Clownin’ Around,” and “Something to Brag About”: anyone in sore need of Tim-era Replacements’ snot-faced noise, meet Deer Tick 2011. Over the course of the album, McCauley shares lead vocals with enthusiastic drummer Dennis Ryan and quirky guitarist Ian O’Neil, but reserves for himself the shouted approximation of Jimi Hendrix’ deconstruction of “The Star Spangled Banner.” As I say, this is not an album on which to seek introspection, but if you’ve been thinking it had been too long since you’d heard a rowdy song about drinking with a fake ID, well turn it up.
No question, She’s voice is ideally suited to the childlike wonder of something like “Little Saint Nick” or “Christmas Wish.” Somewhat frustrating, though, is the lack of musical punch that Him brings to the project. Ward’s a canny enough musician to have done more than simply sit back and play along as he does too often. In particular, stuff like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Blue Christmas” have offered predecessors the opportunity for some tasty guitar work, but he seems to think that stepping up too often would be somehow spoiling Zoe’s party. He’s also an engaging singer, with gruffly idiomatic phrasing, as he ably demonstrates on the vocal tradeoffs on “Sleigh Ride” also lending some nice jazzy guitar runs to the bridge. The album could use more of that: Deschanel’s lovely cooing of “The Christmas Waltz” and “Silver Bells” would have much more impact with some contrast at the bottom. Biggest disappointment: the version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is such a quick run-through that it’s almost over before you realize that they’ve inverted the roles, so that She’s the one seducing Him.
It is a nice change of pace to have a newly-composed tune that works as well as the lilting “Christmas Day”: melodically, it’s very much in the vein of the first two She & Him albums, but Ward’s tasteful dose of reverbed guitar tends to reinforce the frustration that he stays in the background for so much of the rest of album. Pleasant enough if you need a new, low-key holiday collection, but not quite the kitsch classic it might have been.
OTHER NOTABLE 10/24 RELEASES
Michael Bublé – Christmas. It’s awfully hard – though certainly not impossible – to resist Buble’s fresh-faced, cheerful approach to retro kitsch: if nothing else, his mambo version of the “Spider-Man” theme was testament to his openness to a weirdly wide variety of sources, and his refusal to simply worship at the Sinatra/Bennett altar. If Zoe Deschanel gets your big sister’s perspective on holiday music, Buble’s the slightly goofy dad bubbling over at the prospect of holiday family fun. I miss the crisp lightness of his “Let It Snow!” EP from a couple years back, and could really have lived without the Shania Twain duet, but probably no one since (but?) Elvis could have put “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Silent Night” back to back and made the choice between sacred and profane feel like such a tricky proposition.
Kelly Clarkson – Stronger. I have a hard time being objective about this woman, due to the irritation factor of having some in-laws who are obsessed with her beyond the point of reason. I will grant you that, for a self-pitying, I-will-survive diva, she has a hint of something that might almost be grit, maybe even personality. All she needs now is a “Rolling in the Deep” or “Rumour Has It” (or maybe a half dozen to be on the safe side) to make this album worth hearing more than once.
Michael Feinstein – The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life. As a singer, Feinstein’s always been a pretty good musicologist. As an academic, he’s pretty good when digging out the long-forgotten. But if there’s anything less long-forgotten than post- “Ring-A-Ding-Ding” era Sinatra, I’d be hard pressed to come up with it.
Darren Hayes – Secret Codes and Battleships. Mildly more savage than Savage Garden; actually, the word “mild” applies pretty much across the board.
Jedi Mind Tricks – Violence Begets Violence. I like the idea that the roster of “guest stars” isn’t full of familiar names, and both “Carnival of Souls” and “Crows Descend Upon You” betray a vision that may be too smart for street cred if they’re not careful. “Willing a Destruction Onto Humanity”? Yeah, a couple times a day, it seems.
Russian Circles – Empros. When you’ve only got about three or four actual melodies written, keeping the track numbers down helps spread the wealth. But in this case, I think six might actually be a couple too many. “Atackla” puts me in mind of Magma, which in certain frames of mind is not a bad thing.
Brian Wilson – In The Key Of Disney. Less an obvious followup to last year’s Gershwin outing as it is the concept you’d have figured to come first. Wilson doesn’t do much for Randy Newman, and Alan Mencken doesn’t need any help contemporizing the music of the mouse. But when Wilson digs into the kitsch (“Stay Awake,” “Baby Mine”) he comes up trumps often as not, and his medley of “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho” and “A Pirate’s Life For Me” has “Pet Sounds” (the track, not the album) all over it. I also have to admit that taking a Bo Diddley stick to “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” is pop genius. But if there’s a volume 2, I’d like a moratorium on anything later than about 1980, which seems to be when Wilson’s affinity for this stuff checks out.
Thomas Dolby – A Map of the Floating City. I hear great things about Dolby’s recent live shows (which evidently consist of just him and his laptop), and buoyed by the presence of guests like Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap, he evokes his 80’s heyday without ever sounding overly musty. I admit that the title of the first track, “Nothing New Under The Sun,” is kind of tempting to regard as a self-review, but, actually, “Road to Reno” and “The Toad Lickers” suggest some musical development without dimming the hooks. But if this is how he thinks “Camaro” is pronounced, it’s good that he’s starting to get out more.
Willie Nile – The Innocent Ones. Out of the wave of New Springsteens that arose in the late 70’s and early 80’s, he lacked Mellencamp’s populist vision, Money’s hunger for a hit, and Costello’s sheer talent… and he also wasn’t all that new, being a year older than Bruce. Which he still is. But he knows how to craft a hook, and most of the songs here stick, at least for a bit, as long as you don’t listen all that closely.
Ozric Tentacles – Paper Monkeys. OK, I know prog isn’t my top priority, but I swear I had to hunt down an mp3 sample of the first track here to make sure my CD was playing at the right speed. Busy busy busy fellas, with song titles developed by means of magnetic poetry.
Noam Pikelny – Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail. If you love progressive modern bluegrass, this guy is setting new standards for the banjo. Even if you don’t, youtube his appearance on Letterman when he won “the coveted Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music.”
The Aristocrats – The Aristocrats. Somewhat funkier and funnier than, say, the Yellowjackets or the Rippingtons, but equally well-produced. Lotsa chops, if that’s your idea of a good time.
Toby Keith, Clancy’s Tavern. I won’t suggest that this guy is everything that’s wrong with country music today (that does cover a lot of ground), but shit like “Made In America,” “Beers Ago,” and “Chill-axin'” suggest that I wouldn’t be that far off. And I’m trying to imagine a country star less convincing as a “Truck Drivin’ Man”… Taylor Swift, maybe.
Various Artists – The Bridge School Benefits. I was actually at the first of these, and the startling rage of Springsteen’s acoustic “Born in the USA” rings every bit as true today as it did that night. Most everyone else finds something new to bring to this mostly-acoustic context: if your favorite band is on here, you’ll probably enjoy hearing this. And if your interest in, say, Jack Johnson or Tony Bennett is as low as mine, well, that’s why they have fast-forward buttons. Just be happy the Eagles reunion from that first concert didn’t make the cut. Oy.
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan , Edgar Meyer , Chris Thile – The Goat Rodeo Sessions. As is typical for one of these collaborations, Ma makes the damndest combinations work. The compositions themselves aren’t particularly memorable, but every few minutes there’s a passage, an exchange of licks, or an impossible piece of ensemble that’ll drop your jaw… if it doesn’t put you to sleep, which I will grant is always the danger when Ma reaches out like this.
Skinny Puppy – handOver. I ran out of time before I could even listen to this once through, but my first impression is vintage sound with no diffusion of energy. So, for fans, a good thing.
John Prine – The Singing Mailman Delivers. 2 CD’s of rare and previously-unreleased material, actually predating Prine’s first proper album.
Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightning: Complete Chess Masters. As a general rule, I don’t regard the complete package of an artist’s recordings as “essential”: even the greats can be boiled down to an informed selection (even a large one) of important work. But I’m strongly tempted to make an exception in this case.
The Supremes and Diana Ross – 50th Anniversary: Singles Collection 1961-1969. I’ll let this one stand in for the host of new collections coming this week from various Motown staples (Temptations, Four Tops, etc.). Why anyone would need yet another iteration of Berry Gordy’s pocket-lining is beyond me, but on the odd chance you know someone for whom this music is a revelation, go ahead and gift one; just remember that this stuff was originally meant to be played on single-speaker car radios and tinny portable record players, and that there’s a fair amount of it (particularly on the Tempts’ set) that sounds like shit on CD.
Various Artists – The Philles Album Collection by Phil Spector. More redundancy, but this the first Spector box set to come out since he was convicted of murder. So there’s that.
Etta James – Heart & Soul / A Retrospective. Fewer hits by an order of magnitude than on, say, the Diana Ross set. Which isn’t the same as saying that there’s less great, or essential, music on this one.
Ray Charles featuring Bill Samuels – Complete Early Recordings 1949-1952. Given the redundancy of a lot of the box sets that come out this time of year, it’s nice to find that odd one of genuine historical interest. Much like Nat Cole, Brother Ray made his mark as a jazz pianist first, popular vocalist long after. This set finds him on the cusp of that transition.
Bill Wyman – Collectors Edition. A well-named set, because I honestly can’t imagine anyone besides collectors that would lay out this much coin for Wyman’s slight, breezy blooz. You could extract a well-filled single disk out of it, but the profit margin wouldn’t be as good.
Miles Davis – Warner Years 1986 – 1991. Not Miles’ most important fifteen years, or his most productive, but it’s fifteen years of jazz that was twenty years ahead of its time.
Thank you so much, Mr. Delia. Gotta’ check out the new Tom Waits…
TONY’S PLAYIN’ GAMES (with my HEART)!
BATTLEFIELD 3 (PC, PS3, 360)
The manufactured rivalry between two huge multinational companies begins. The games are similar enough to be direct competitors, but the debate is pointless. Everyone knows Activison will make all the money. EA is just jumping in early and hoping the video card porn market has risen drastically. Honestly, Battlefield will probably be the better game. Dice perfected the genre years ago, and God knows what the skeleton warriors at Infinity Ward and the Frankensteins helping them are going to come up with this year. I feel like the genre is just a year or so from Guitar Heroing anyway, so both games will probably be twenty bucks new in four months.
DISNEY UNIVERSE (360, PS3, Wii)
From gun porn to Disney porn. But not the creepy 4chan shit. Disney Universe looks like Ratchet and Clank with little nondescript dudes who jump around Disney themed levels and put on Disney themed costumes. For a giant wankfest, it looks fun enough. But it includes a level based on a Tim Burton movie. So it can fuck off. Everyone knows Capcom should have never lost the Disney license anyways.
DANCE CENTRAL 2 (360)
If you’re too cheap to buy a stripper pole, here is Dance Central 2.
MORE CRAP AND A CREEPY DANCING GAME!
Kinect Sports: Season 2 is finally coming out. Pretty anxious to see what happens after the first season’s cliff hanger. Just Dance Kids 2 is out for Wii. Protip: purchase the game alone at Wal-Mart along with a large dog kennel, shaving cream, and two bags of candy necklaces. You’ll get the Chris Hansen DLC free. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is the other big Wii release. It’s Kirby. So it is probably cute, charming, and really easy. Finally, House of the Dead: Overkill makes the trek over to PS3. Good game. I played it on the Wii a few years ago. They say “fuck” a lot.
Hey Tony – me too!
So…one week down – maybe like…five hundred more to go until I’m FIN.