Shall we begin…?
I don’t know…it seems like people did a mini freak-out over this flick when it first hit. Made a big splash at Sundance. I can say that I’m almost genetically predisposed to liking a flick like this one, since – as a kid in the ‘80s – I was inundated with endless cinematic post-apoc fantasies. With a doddering B-Movie actor/saber-rattler in the White House with an itchy finger on the Big Red Button, it seemed like I had to be at least marginally aware of how to survive when the shit went Thunderdome (or World Gone Wild, since that would have given me the opportunity to keep a vigilant eye on the safety and purity of my beloved Catherine Mary Stewart).
The two dudes in this film are similarly inclined to prep for the end, spending all of their time tinkering with murderous inventions crafted to fend off gangs of marauding loincloth and shoulder-pad clad psychos.
Their circle-jerk fantasy is fractured when one of them meets a Shiny Girl at a bar one night, beginning a whirlwind courtship that builds into a violent storm. Somewhere in here we’re supposed to get a sense that this is all about man-children needing to step into adulthood, lest their whole socially-inept “I need my comics/movies/pop-cult crappo to be ‘dark’ and ‘badass’” thing gives rise to a nightmarish lashing-out.
I’m on board with all of this – and then one thing – one word – rips it all apart.
Everything I’ve seen that can be described as such has made for underwhelming viewing. Most of these filmmakers seem to want to run with John Cassavetes – these films try to be shoestring-budgeted acting showcases that hope to say a little something about people.
Perhaps it’s due to filmmaking ineptitude…perhaps it’s the inherent narcissistic sense of entitlement of the generation grinding out these films…perhaps it’s the lack of truly magnetic performers – in any case, these films come off as the most self-indulgent indie filmmaking since Edward Burns cast Jennifer Aniston and Cammy Diaz to fight over who wanted to fuck him more.
So the talk is about how the director built all of this flamethrowery shit himself, and he concocted this crusty camera system that seems to amount to not much more than a state-of-the-art HD cam with some unfortunate shit slapped on it for no other reason than to make it look like the footage was shot through a beer bottle (or Michael Bay’s favorite orangey filter). Maybe the footage looks amazing projected, but if the promotional materials are any indicator, it looks like the “Hipstamatic” app at 24fps. I dunno’ – feel free to tell me how you feel about the flick in the comments or on the boards.
I remember reading a Rolling Stone piece on the making of The Departed. It was said that when Martin Scorsese first saw Infernal Affairs, he said he had no idea how to do something like that. His finished film proves him right – Infernal Affairs is superior in every way.
Gleaming, contemporary Hong Kong is as important a component as any of the characters in the film, and Scorsese’s worn wood-paneling world of Boston just feels as dead as the one we live in (and yet not as realistic or truthful as the Boston Ben Affleck seizes in the two films where his city plays a part). William Monahan’s Departed script closely adheres to the story beats of Alan Mak’s stellar Infernal Affairs screenplay, but when it does deviate – every move is a misstep. For example, by dividing the duties of the character Anthony Wong plays in IA between The Departed’s Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, it dilutes the importance of both men, and ruins the mentor/manipulator role the character plays to Andy Lau/DiCaprio.
And I can’t express enough disappointed disgust in Jack Nicholson’s failure in this film to craft a performance that approximates anything remotely human (but that‘s been a problem with him for awhile, I guess). His tone-deaf bullshit batshit sinks the film, nullifying every other performer’s incredible work, and completely ruining the thematic reality of the piece. Wanna’ see how this story was supposed to be told? Pick up Infernal Affairs.
THE RULES OF THE GAME (Criterion)
Criterion ports their presentation of Jean Renoir’s class struggle drama to Blu. Okay, so it’s not exactly a drama – there are some comedic notes – but even they come with a side of disenchantment brought on by the social mores of the day’s bourgeoisie.
IT MEANS EVERYTHING: THE BLU RAY OF THE WEEK!
EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN – 25th ANIVERSARY EDITION
Twenty-five years of the film that started it all for me. I mean, I’ve wanted to make movies since I was eight, but reading about the rise of Sam Raimi in Fango made me believe it was possible for some goofball from the Midwest with a sense of humor that could kindly be described as “cheeseball” to actually pull it off. Sam’s revamping the Wizard of Oz, Bruce Campbell has become bitter self-parody, and both men are positioning their first film for a remake, but nothing can tarnish the gleeful gory glory of this film for me.
Unless we’re talking about the Anchor Bay Blu Ray from a few years back. That thing is the drizzling shits. Excessive application of Digital Noise Reduction software destroyed grain structure and fine detail in an attempt to bring the film in line with cleaner, more polished productions, the colors were pointlessly – and disappointingly – muted, and the image itself was way too dark – with thick, crushed black levels and very little in the way of grays.
Enter LIONSGATE – a company that really does take care of catalog titles. They subjected the film to a new remaster, retaining the grain, retiming the color, and crafting a new 5.1 DTS sound mix.
The film will never look as polished as today’s films – it’s an intentionally rough-looking film shot with a variety of film stocks and speeds (one of the fannish thrills of watching this new master is being able to see in much greater detail how Raimi manipulates the ferocious velocity of the film in camera and in post – you can see the grain move at different speeds) – but it’s hard to imagine the presentation here being beaten anytime soon. The only defects here are the ones inherent in the film’s production.
The great Michael Felsher and his Red Shirt Productions contributes all new special features, including a talking head documentary punctuated with VHS footage shot by effects legends Robert Kurtzman, Howard Berger, and Greg Nicotero (this stuff was part of the Anchor Bay DVD and Blu packages, but Felsher and team wisely refashion it to speak to a narrative crafted by their new interviews). Raimi and Rip couldn’t make it to the party, but almost everyone else is present and accounted for.
The disc is super-cheap, so even if you’ve purchased previous iterations (and man, I have – the Vestron VHS, the Elite Laserdisc, the Anchor Bay DVD, the Blu Ray of the same master, and now this version), you’ll find a lot to like here.
ALL IN – THE REST OF THE BLU:
Assassin’s Creed: Lineage
Being Human: The Complete First Season
Best of Europe: British Isles
Best of Travel: Australia & New Zealand
Best of Travel: Beautiful Japan
Best of Travel: Beautiful Mexico
Best of Travel: China
Black Country Communion: Live Over Europe
Bleach the Movie: Fade to Black
Dreamworks Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury / Book of Dragons
Evil Dead 2
Gods and Generals
Griff the Invisible
Hell in the Pacific: Prisoners of the Japanese
Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, White, Red
Korea: The Forgotten War 1950-1953
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One
My Fair Lady
Nature: Amazing Places Africa
Nature: Amazing Places Hawaii
Nature: American Eagle
Nature: Extraordinary Animals Africa
Nature: Extraordinary Animals Bears & Wolves
Nature: Jungle Eagle
Ozzy Osbourne: God Bless Ozzy Osbourne
Pound of Flesh
The Rules of the Game
Scenic National Parks: Alaska & Hawaii
Scenic National Parks: Best of the National Parks
Scenic National Parks: Grand Canyon
Scenic National Parks: Great Train Rides
Scenic National Parks: Yellowstone
Scenic National Parks: Yosemite
Scenic Walks Around The World: Historic Pathways
Scenic Walks Around The World: Our Dramatic Planet
Sea Rex: Journey to a Prehistoric World 3D (IMAX)
Sigur Ros: Inni
Spy Kids Collection
Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon
Tom Cruise Blu-ray Collection
Treasure Hunter: Live Action Movie
Turtle: The Incredible Journey
Turtle: The Incredible Journey
The Ultimate Gift
Vietnam in HD
Warbirds of WWII Set
Water Life Collection
Water Life: Big Blue
Water Life: Planet Water
Water Life: Water’s Journey
The Weird World of Blowfly
West Side Story
WWII in HD
NOW THAT’S WHAT CHUD CALLS MUSIC – WITH THE INCOMPERABLE JEB DELIA!
KATE BUSH – 50 WORDS FOR SNOW
The idea of a Kate Bush album on the subject of winter conjures up delicate, Debussy-like piano, soft as a snowfall, and ethereal whispered vocals like a chill breeze through a darkened copse of trees; however, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have hoped she’d have done more with the idea than she does here. Your reaction to this album will likely depend on whether or not you’d have preferred something a bit less predictable.
For the first half of the album (composed of “Snowflakes,” “Lake Tahoe,” and “Misty”), we have the familiar figure of pensive Kate at the keyboard. Melody is less important than mood here, with the material’s core expressed as much in the piano texture as the words. One small twist is that, in those occasional moments where Bush actually sings above a whisper, her voice has aged and darkened to the point that there’s a touch of soul-music grit; the effect at times is more Ann Peebles than Enya. It’s a subtle distinction, but on an album buried this deeply in reserve, it’s welcome. On several tracks, Bush trades vocals with her son Albert McIntosh, as well as classical singers Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood.
Lyrically, “Misty” is probably the heart of the album, a 14-minute fantasy (one presumes) of sex with a snowman. OK, probably intended as a metaphoric one (though the album cover does seem to show a girl kissing a literal snowman), but a lover so cold that after their “one and only tryst“, he/she melts into a puddle, leaving wet sheets and “dead leaves, bits of twisted branches.” It’s a tribute to the capability of the rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Steve Gadd that the track never feels as slack or meandering as you’d fear. What the concept needs, though, is the full-on looniness of something like “Wuthering Heights” or “The Dreaming”: taken at this sober, stately pace, the listener just has too much time to parse the relatively trite metaphor (or be creeped out by the horror-movie images).
“Wild Man,” with heavily treated vocal support from Andy Fairweather-Low, steps away from the drawing-room piano as Bush growls out endearments to another… unusual… inamorata, a yeti this time, against a bouncing melody reminiscent of something from Hounds of Love. “Snowed In At Wheeler Street,” with Elton John, is an unfortunate bit of stagy pizzazz, right out of Les Miz or Cats. The title song employs the always-invaluable Stephen Fry reciting the “50 Words” over Bush’s beloved Afro-Celtic percussion, but on Q.I., he’d dispense with the topic in three minutes and a quick laugh from Alan Davies, not ramble on for 8:30. “Among Angels” returns us to the hushed sounds of the album’s first section, with her take on another familiar Yuletide symbol. As the first all-new material from Bush in nearly seven years, 50 Words For Snow is worth hearing at least once, even if its sum is something of a letdown.
LOS CAMPESINOS! – HELLO SADNESS
Last year’s Romance is Boring seemed to have slipped beneath the critical and commercial radar; where both Hold On Now, Youngster… and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed turned up on all the best Top Ten lists, in 2010, the Cardiff kids got crowded out as the world (and the Grammys) went indie-mad for The National, the Black Keys, Band of Horses… oh yes, and Arcade Fire. And while I don’t pretend to have direct insight into Gareth’s creative process, it certainly feels as though a few spins of The Suburbs took place in the background while Hello Sadness was being assembled. It’s possible that the fragmentation of the group over the past year made it easier to look outside for a model, though as you’d expect, Los Campesinos! work a highly idiosyncratic take on it.
That’s not to say that Hello Sadness isn’t the usual joy to listen to: cascades of keyboards, horns, and strings pump up the title track, and Ellen and Harriet are all “Shangri-La’s in a thrift shop” on “Songs About Your Girlfriend.” But the album opener “By Your Hand,” is more typical, setting aside the layered, loose, giddiness for a firmer, more propulsive sound. Lyrically it’s Gareth at his most discursively obsessive, with its bus route numbers, urban directions, and aural memento: “She dresses loosely in her bathrobe / With her hair up in curls / ‘Cause we were kissing for hours / With her hands in my trousers.” As the album title implies, Gareth does his best to greet misery with a chipper nod (“Life Is A Long Time,” “To Tundra”), but as often as not, he seems to succumb to the darkness (“Baby I Got the Death Rattle,” “Hate for the Island,” “Every Defeat A Divorce (Three Lions)”). “It’s only hope that springs eternal / And that’s the reason why / What’s dripping from this broken heart / Is never running dry.” See? It ain’t only women that bleed.
SIGUR ROS – INNI
This one was always going to be a bit tricky, given the near-impossibility of recreating any great live performance on a pair of coated plastic disks, compounded with the band’s decision to strip away much of the studio texture for a leaner live sound. The fact that, since Inni was announced, Sigur Rós has also revealed plans for a new album in 2012, this would be easy to write off as a holding action at best, an afterthought at worst. And I won’t disagree with the serious fans who already seem disappointed in this, as though a live Sigur Rós album was ever going to live up to impossibly ecstatic anticipation. I’ll simply suggest that for anyone whose expectations are tempered by the realities of the setting, it should serve as a fine aural souvenir until the new one comes along.
“Svefn-g-englar” opens the proceedings with hushed intimacy, its beat even more elephantine than the original. And while there are moments of magic on the first CD (I actually rather like the stripped-down “Hoppípolla”), it’s Disk 2 where things seem to take off most, including the huge “Saeglopur,” the “OK-here’s-one-for-those-Yanks-and-Brits” “All Alright,” and the main set-closer, “Popplagið,” followed by the previously-unreleased (so far as I can tell) “Lúppulagið.” The audience isn’t intrusive, but the ambience is definitely different from the deep insularity of the studio albums; your reaction will likely depend whether you’re looking for openness or intimacy.
It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t have a chance to preview the 75-minute concert film version that comes on DVD, but it seems to be pretty well-received.
R.E.M. – PART LIES, PART HEART, PART TRUTH, PART GARBAGE: 1982-2011
I can recall the exact moment that these guys had me: near the end of “Radio Free Europe,” following the dazzling psychedelia of the bridge, the propulsive wall of sound drops out for just an instant, there’s almost enough time to catch your breath as Stipe wails the refrain, then Bill Berry fires off a quick machine-gun burst, and Mills, Buck, and company take one last victory lap with the unforgettable melody and near-indecipherable lyrics. Like so many of their greatest predecessors, R.E.M. was as eloquent with silence as with sound, and the deliberately murky quality of the vocals, and words, challenged the listener to fill in the gaps.
It’s always tempting to begin to doubt your favorite band when they hit it big, and there’s no question that the enhanced aural clarity of hits like “The One I Love” and “Orange Crush” seemed to signal an end to the dreamscapes that had haunted Murmur and Fables of the Reconstruction. Rather like Athens brethren the B-52’s, though, R.E.M. found the ability to move forward into a mass marketplace that needed things spelled out just a bit more clearly, without completely abandoning their musical core. There’s a degree to which it’s hard to argue with success, and the fact that “Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts” feel like sensitive-adolescent readymades, tailored for easy insertion into movie montages, doesn’t deny their simple honesty; while the looseness and humor of “Stand,” It’s The End Of The World As We Know It,” and “Shiny Happy People” reflected the band’s refusal to settle for being po-faced pop sages.
There’s no question, though, that even great bands can get written out, and disk 2 of this set follows a general decline in melodic invention, if not intelligence: once you get past “Man on the Moon,” there’s a certain generic “R.E.M.-ness” to a lot of the material, including the three (unremarkable) previously-unreleased songs, oddball one-offs that might have varied the tone on the overly sturdy Collapse Into Now that they released earlier this year. In a way, the real final document (so to speak) for this band was 2009’s Live at The Olympia: a 2-disk set that showed Stipe, Mills, and Buck digging deep into their back catalog, finding new ideas and sounds in the familiar, and playing with a bite and passion that belied their three decades in the biz.
I don’t know that the three new songs here justify purchase of this set if your R.E.M. collection is already well-filled, but anyone who lost touch with the band over the last decade or so may find this a nice reassurance that, even if they never fully recaptured the magic of their earlier albums, R.E.M. never coasted, and never took an audience for granted. Not many of those left, and now we’ve lost another.
OTHER NOTABLE 11/15 RELEASES
Drake – Take Care. Rihanna again, check. Nicki Minaj, a bit of spice. Rick Ross, with cigars. What’s not to love? Plus, dude’s Canadian.
Nickelback – Here & Now. Coming hard on the heels of the new Coldplay, you sort of feel like bucking received opinion, and maybe finding some reason to suggest that these guys aren’t the worst option out there. But fuck that– I listened to half of this thing and gave up. Sometimes, opinions become conventional wisdom for a reason.
Taylor Swift – Speak Now World Tour Live. More interesting as a songwriter than as a singer, and with only three previous albums’ worth of material to draw from, this seems redundant, at best. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the next studio outing wasn’t a good one.
Bob Seger – Ultimate Hits: Rock And Roll Never Forgets. I know that it’s probably label politics or something, but a 2-CD Seger collection that includes “The Little Drummer Boy” but NOT “Get Out of Denver” or “Heavy Music” is one sad holiday joke.
Tegan & Sara – Get Along. Didn’t get a chance to preview this one, but it includes 2 CD’s of live performances, a live DVD, and a pair of documentaries.
Daughtry – Break The Spell. I have an irrational resistance to anyone who was ever on American Idol or any of its ilk, and actually listening to this album reinforces my notion that sometimes prejudice is just common sense and a desire not to waste my time, or yours. “Let s not try to sound like anything,” says Daughtry in the press release. Check.
The Who: Quadrophenia: The Director’s Cut. There aren’t many pop musicians whose insight into the creative process, acid prose, and blend of arrogance and self-loathing make for the kind of fascinating reading that Townshend always does. So while I still regard the original version of this album as an over-produced, underwritten mess, with the odd high point here and there, and though the demos included don’t really add much, I highly recommend putting out the coin just for the book that comes with it.
The Rolling Stones, Some Girls: Deluxe Edition. If you’ve never heard the previously bootlegged shit on disk 2, be prepared to ask yourself what the fuck Mick was thinking in keeping it on the shelf. Yeah, you get a book, and photos, the “lewd” picture-sleeve vinyl single of “Beast of Burden” and all that, but you mostly get the world’s greatest rock and roll band at a time when that title meant something.
I also note that this week sees the release of The Rolling Stones: Some Girls – Live In Texas ’78 on CD and DVD. Haven’t previewed it, but the ’78 tour might have been the last time that the sheer desire to be up onstage playing was what kept Keef and Charlie coming back for more; Mick’s motivations are always both more obvious and murkier. Either way, while there is no dearth of live Stones out there, my guess is that, if this one was filmed at all decently, it’ll quickly move near the top of the list.
AWWW – TONY’S PLAYIN’ GAMES!
HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY (360)
I recently got into Halo again. And by “again” I mean for real this time. I played the original a bit and dipped a toe into Halo 2, but I never really sunk enough time into the game to see exactly how well it does what it does. Reach is the height of FPS refinement. The campaign is a guided tour of cinematic firefights and tactical options and the multiplayer is silky smooth and still sports the best frontend UI this generation. And now we get to go back to where it started. The scary part for me, as someone new to the franchise, is how exactly Halo: CE is going to play in 2011 after Bungie perfected what a Halo game is. I’m almost positive the answer is “very dated.” Without context or nostalgia, this HD seems like a step back.
That being said, as someone with a love of video game history, I’m all over this shit. Halo: CE is a relic now, but it’s an important part of the evolution of console gaming and it should really be treated as such. I’m sure most people know this (and a fuck ton more about Halo than me), but the legion of fifteen-year-old kids who started with 3 might be in for a bit of a shock. Or maybe they’ll like it and dig deeper into Bungie’s brillance. Play some Marathon. And ruin their keyboards with vomit.
SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD (PS3, 360)
Oh, man. This is the one game this week that I’ve actually seen in action. And holy fuck. Honestly, I don’t know if there is a good game here. I’m sure there is. But seriously. Wow. I could spend the next couple hundred words describing things that happen in this game and it would be glorious. But describing the insanity makes the game seemed forced and juvenile, two things Saints Row very much is. But not in that way. Here goes my best approximation; Saints Row: The Third is the Freddy Got Fingered of games. That should be enough. I know it is for me.
RAYMAN: ORIGINS (PS3, 360, Wii)
Considering the job Ubisoft has done to muddy Michel Ancel’s creation, the excitement I have for this game is astounding. It looks sexy. Really sexy. And it doesn’t have Rabids. It’s been too long (please have taken that long because of Beyond Good and Evil 2 Ancel, please) and gamers need a gorgeous HD platformer since Nintendo’s been sitting 1080 out. The demo took me back to the summers when I used to no warp Mario 3. I’m down for some tough, precision based jumping backed by whimsical harmonies and surreal French cartoons. If you have any interest in 2D platforming or the franchise, run out and get this. I know they decided to release all the video games today, but whatever else you want will be cheap soon enough. We need to show developers that there is a market for full-fledged retail platformers on HD systems or we’ll be stuck playing Rayman 2 on Wii-U next year. Also, if Ancel makes them even more money Ubisoft has to actually fund and make Beyond Good and Evil 2, right? Right?
ASSASINS CREED: REVELATIONS (360, PS3)
I don’t know anything about this. My time with the series amounts to the little of AC2 I could play before a glitch fucked me into the ground. But this is a huge release and I’m sure someone would get mad if I didn’t include it. So yeah, it’s out and it is about genetic memories, secret societies, and possibly aliens. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to understand unless you play the living shit out of the others. I don’t know. It’s a yearly franchise that is focused on a complicated narrative and iterations on repetitive gameplay, which scares the shit out of me.
EVERY OTHER GAME:
Fuck, this week is loaded. It’s a stupid move to get everything in stores before America celebrates murdering Native Americans by buying a lot of shit. So we, the consumer, must now suffer. Of course there is no real reason to buy all this shit, and Gods know I won’t, but I still want it all. Even Imagine: My Dogz Farm 2. Worse, in two weeks no one will be talking about these games anymore. But if you have more disposable income than common sense, there is a ton more shit to pick up. And you can open it all eight months from now when when you’re done with Skyrim.
Jurassic Park: The Game is probably Telltale fucking up. The thing has been delayed for a major overhaul at least once this year and I’ve yet to read a single positive preview. Ultimate Marvel Versus Capcom 3 drops so Capcom can milk fighting fans twice in the same year. Or more likely it has something to do with licenses. Still, NERD RAGE. Yoostar MTV is out, which, badadum, lets you star in MTV shows. All I know is, this motherfucker here is getting sixteen and pregnant this weekend. EA continues the worlds most inconsistent series with Need for Speed: The Run. It has virtual Christina Hendricks cleavage. I know there is at least one guy out there buying it for that reason and that reason alone. The sane can just wait till Criterion gets a turn at the bat again. Finally, Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympics is out on Nintendo platforms if you like mascots and waggle. You creepy furry.