This week is so insane that I can’t understand why some of this stuff wasn’t spaced out a bit over the last month or so. There are threve Hitchcock features, as well as a few Image releases of Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder collaborations. They couldn’t release Moving today too? There is no God. Or maybe there is, and he just hates us. Yeah – that’s probably it.

Midnight Cowboy and The Apartment are supposed to happen today, but there are no links at Amazon. Weird. I’ll keep up with them and attach links once they do happen.

50/50

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A great cast lays it down in a project that smelled a lot like a standard-issue tearjerker dramedy. 50/50 is based on the true story of the film’s screenwriter Will Reiser, and it turns out it might actually be worth a look.

THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS

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Always thought this weird-ass flick would have been better were it narrated by Dudley Moore and Peter Cook…as Derek and Clive.

ANNIE HALL

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Woody Allen has never worked for me as a filmmaker. As a kid, I loved seeing him do stand-up on TV – but his films always bugged/annoyed me. I guess it’s that – after a fashion – it became tough for me to sympathize with his shtick. Almost universally-acclaimed (despite a shockingly uneven filmography) and grossly successful as a brand, Allen and his characters seem to have bottomless reservoirs of self-loathing/pity – and yet, he and his surrogates seem to think of themselves as absolutely right about everything. It’s hard to handle the idea that Allen can’t find joy in a world where people pay to see his dreams play out onscreen.*

His Annie Hall character, Alvy Singer, is the absolutely punchable epitome of this. A creative, intelligent, and successful comic, he nevertheless is an incredibly self-loathing being, incapable of finding happiness under the best of circumstances. And while I get that it’s the point of the thing, it makes for tedious viewing.

That said, this is the quintessential Allen experience. His sharp, forth-wall breaking observations bring to bear the best elements of his stand-up, and he’s served so well by the flighty charm of Diane (Annie) Hall (Keaton). Writers far better-versed on Allen’s career than I have spoken to the autobiographical nature of this film – which Allen downplays – and I’ve got to say, there’s a reason to downplay that notion if you let this woman get away. Sure, she’s a weirdo – but she’s the sweetest weirdo. And with her performance, Diane Keaton earned an Oscar and a career. When you’re a kid…and you see her pop up in stuff like Baby Boom…and you just don’t see the appeal – Annie Hall is the Rosetta stone.

Manhattan also sees release this week. Good times if you’re a fan.

*And while it could be argued that my criticism is one of the artist and not his art, I can’t actually think of a filmmaker whose work is so inexorably tied to him (Michael Bay notwithstanding).

GODZILLA (Criterion)

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The story here is that the old Century Media Blu Ray was 1080 interlaced, with some “combing” effects and boosted contrast. It looked like absolute butthole. Word is that Voyager’s transfer does show the film’s age, but it is a far better version of the film than any prior release. I am filled with joy.

LOOK AT ALL THE HITCH!

NOTORIOUS

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REBECCA

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SPELLBOUND

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Very excited to see so much Hitchcock hit Blu. Universal needs to get off its ass now – which, now that their big celebration is at hand…maybe they will?

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (Criterion)

I tend to not be dismissive of films. Even when marketing doesn’t appeal to me enough to get me into a theater, I’m likely to give a film a shot on video. But Rosi’s career was an uneven one, and FUCK BULLFIGHTING.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

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Did I just say I try not to be dismissive of film, no matter how uninteresting they seem to me?

That’s right Matrix – you said that!

I lied.

REAL STEEL

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Hugh Jackman wades into Shawn Levy territory – and Shawn Levy wades into good movie territory? I’ve heard that Rock Sock ‘Em Robots is a great time, despite its flaws – and while I couldn’t bring myself to pay for a ticket to a film directed by the guy who did Just Married, The Pink Panther, and Cheaper by the Dozen – maybe I can watch a film from this guy without shame:

THE DEADLY SPAWN

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Dumbass cult confection sees it’s Blu Ray day in the sun. A very inexpensive alien lands on Earth and hides in the basement of a lovely home, attacking all who venture downstairs. DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT.

WINGS

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Has “Wings? Fuck yeah!” ever been typed before? Guess there’s a first time for everything. The single most obvious inspiration for Pearl Harbor comes to Blu Ray with its proper tinting intact and a newly-crafted soundscape.

50/50
The Adventures of Milo and Otis
Al Di Meola: Morocco Fantasia
Annie Hall
The Apartment
Disney WOW: World of Wonder
The Doors: Mr. Mojo Risin’ The Story of L.A. Woman
Ef – A Tale of Memories: The Complete Collection
Flash Point
Godzilla (Criterion)
Happy, Happy
Hell and Back Again
Manhattan
Me Again
Memphis: Original Broadway Production
Midnight Cowboy – I’ve seen no Amazonian evidence.
The Moment of Truth (Criterion)
Notorious
Paranormal Activity 3
Real Steel
Action/Science Fiction
Rebecca
Restless
Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn
The Scorpions: Get Your Sting & Blackout Live 2011
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Spellbound
Stir Crazy
Stripes
The Summer of Massacre
The Toy
U2: From the Sky Down
West Side Story
The Whistleblower
Wings
The Woman
WWII in 3D

NADA SURF –  THE STARS ARE INDIFFERENT TO ASTRONOMY

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It’s never too late for teenage dreams,” bleats Matthew Caws, as a sort of rallying cry against the need for “power pop” to grow up. But where Matthew Sweet’s current 20th Anniversary tour of Girlfriend makes some pointed commentary about the world-shift that’s gone on over those twenty years, and the recent releases from bands like Gin Blossoms highlight the gulf that now divides them from their adolescent days, Nada Surf’s new album is a long, tuneful rage against the “let’s-face-it-we’re-grownups” bug that bites everyone sooner or later.

Caws, Lorca and Elliott aren’t above thinking past high school—the album’s hifalutin title came from Caws’ college prof dad—but a line like “Sometimes I ask the wrong questions / But I get the right answers” posits a worldview more naively instinctive than reflective, while “They say you die of shame, not cold / In the wild” is much more the product of a young man’s bravado than the voice of experience. But the willingness to trade off the pain of adolescence for its comforting simplicity can’t last forever: “Every birthday candle that ever got blown out / Is one more year of someone / Trying to figure it all out.” It’s not easy keeping it fresh as you get older: last year’s Nada Surf covers album included the Moody Blues’ “Question,” suggesting that Caws and company may not have all the answers, but neither did their Caws’ dad and his generation, weighty album title or no. The quest continues.

The sound is as fresh and energetic as anyone else working this field these days, with walls of guitar, booming drums, and sharpened harmonies; producer Chris Shaw brings the sonic punch for Caws to put the songs across. “I cannot believe / The future’s happening to me.” But does that really mean he has to grow up?

FIRST AID KIT – THE LION’S ROAR

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Given that the Söderberg sisters got their first international exposure by covering Fleet Foxes on Youtube, last year’s The Big Black & The Blue was a bit of a disappointment: inert and somewhat coy; granted, it was only a first album, but when you invite comparisons to a band that can squeeze so much melodrama out of folk harmonies, you kind of raise the bar for yourself. This time, they’re much closer to clearing it.

I’m a goddamned coward / But then again so are you.” A nice statement of purpose: no one’s wilting or swooning here, and the Söderbergs have the confidence to include themselves in the shitstorm. The title track informs us that “the pale morning sings of forgotten things,” and First Aid Kit seem determined to dig ‘em up and bring ‘em to light, chips falling where they may.  “Emmylou” will probably get the most notice, as the venerated Ms. Harris’ romantic flings are enumerated, with a bit of longing for the freedom, and an arched eyebrow or two over the destructive powers, of lust on the road.

Musically, the album steps well forward from the debut, and Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis blends disparate elements like The Felice Brothers and Conor Oberst into a completely organic sound.  But these women have already shown what they can do with just a guitar and two voices, and the haunting “To A Poet” and “Dance to Another Tune” (“I go from nowhere to nowhere / Searching for the key“) show that there’s more to their growth than adding a few guest stars.

CRAIG FINN – CLEAR HEART FULL EYES

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I’ve never been the biggest fan of Finn’s sprechgesang, and while I generally find his writing interesting, The Hold Steady’s E-Streetisms only work for me sporadically; to be honest, my favorite song of his is the Baseball Project’s “Please Don’t Call Them Twinkies,” which seems to match words to music precisely enough that his inability to sing (or, more probably, disinterest in doing so) isn’t as much of a problem. On this solo album, he seems to be working to craft music to words, rather than whipping up anthemic arena-rock riffs, then undercutting them with his bemused lyrics.

And when you’ve pushed past forty, even the bemusement begins to sound a bit more strained, a bit desperate, as the cars and bars feel less like means of escape, and more like the tokens of circumscription. “Certain things get hard to do when you’re living in a rented room” isn’t your typical rock and roll rallying cry, and over and over on Clear Heart Full Eyes, we find Finn’s characters coming to terms with leaving behind the relative certainties of youth for the restricted possibilities of maturity (“I’m pretty sure we’re all gonna die“). There’s a lightness to some of the writing, as “New Friend Jesus” casts a gimlet eye on fundamentalism (“It’s hard to suck with Jesus in your band“) while taking a poke at religious symbolism (Jesus can’t play baseball, because the ball keeps going through the nail holes in his hands); while “The devil’s a person / I met him at the Riverside Perkins” blends the absurd and the mundane in a style that perfectly matches the offhand earnestness of Finn’s voice.

For all that Finn seems to be working to put together a more musically varied experience than he gets with his regular band, there’s a caution about the accompaniment (including members of White Denim, the Heartless Bastards, and Phosphorescent) that flattens things out in a way that’s not unusual for one-off studio project like this. It’d be interesting to hear The Hold Steady take on some of this material: it might provide the band an even more successful change of pace than it does for their front man. To cite the Baseball Project again, Clear Heart Full Eyes is no home-run, but I’ll call it a ground-rule double.

RODRIGO y GABRIELA – AREA 52

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Buena Vista Social Club gave us the first hint that Cuban jazz might be one of the most malleable and fusion-friendly Latin forms. A year or so ago, Afrocubism‘s synthesis of the desert blues with Cuban jazz restated the point, and now everyone’s favorite Mexican-Irish acoustic/flamenco/metallurgist duo demonstrates that it’s open to just about anything. For their latest, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero have hooked up with the 13-piece jazz  orchestra known as C.U.B.A. (featuring members of Los Van Van), as well as such international interlopers as Indian sitarist Anoushka Shankar, Palestinian oud gods Le Trio Joubran, with guidance from producer Peter Asher (yes, that Peter Asher), and pianist/arranger Alex Wilson.

It’s arguable that a bit too much familiar ground is being worked here, as nearly every song has appeared on a previous R&G album (this is the fourth time around for “Tamacun”), but it does allow the listener to get deeply inside the re-invention process taking place, hearing familiar tunes deconstructed and reassembled. “Hanuman” goes salsa, while Shankar lays a touch of Pepper-era psychedelia over “Ixtapa.” “Logos” is Latin blues, anchored by the fluid bass of Spain’s Carles Benavent, while “Diablo Rojo” is the kind of acoustic shredding that R&G fans live for. It’s possible that the excitement of the album owes more to sheer sonic energy than anything deeper; it’ll be interesting to see if it has the kind of legs that Afrocubism (or, indeed, Buena Vista Social Club) demonstrated.

OTHER NOTABLE 1/24 RELEASES:

Various Artists – Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan It would be hard to think of any songwriter less in need of a guided tour through the vast possibilities inherent in his music: you could probably assemble a new multi-CD set like this every year from the endless stream of cover versions. As you’d expect, this one has a few strong offerings from folks obvious (Rise Against on “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” Flogging Molly’s “The Times They Are A-Changing”) to unexpected (I’d never heard of Mexican singer Ximena Sariñana, but her “I Want You” is gorgeous),  and a bunch of decent-to-undistinguished ones.

Dion – Tank Full Of Blues The man’s a survivor, give him that, and if he wants to give a New Yawk twist to the white-boy blues, I say good for him. But what was an interesting choice in 2007 with Bronx In Blue, is maybe a bit less essential second time around.

Ingrid Michaelson – Human Again Despite calling the first song “Ghosts,” this is actually less ethereal, more down to earth, than 2009’s Everybody. Love may be strange, but it is human.

Lacuna Coil – Dark Adrenaline It’s Cristina’s album this time out, whether slashing full-tilt through “Fire and “Intoxicated,” or elevating the mundanity of something like “Don’t Believe in Tomorrow.”  It’s not their fault that, with the timing of R.E.M.’s demise, their cover of “Losing My Religion” sounds hopelessly opportunistic; it is their fault that it sounds pretty bad, though.

Seal – Soul 2 Did he know that Heidi was going to give him the boot when he was cutting these sides? It might explain the extra helping of yearning in his version of Rose Royce’s “Wishing On A Star,” or why his “Lean On Me” feels a bit enervated. If you liked this the first time he did it, go for it.

Weakerthans – Provincial Evocative of Manitoba in the same way that Nebraska was of its titular locale: geography as state of mind, and “When I Write my Master’s Thesis” might be a better nod to Bob Dylan than all four CD’s of Chimes of Freedom.

Jazzanova – Upside Down It’s not just that the remix contributions from Henrik Schwarz, Ye:Solar and Ame, Atjazz and Mr. Scruff, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Midnight Mauraders and Soldiers Of House sound better than the originals… it’s that this group always sounds better in remix form; it’s making a case for cutting out everyone but the middleman.

Graffiti6 – Colours Only time for one listen, but it’s so insanely catchy that I’m already hooked: the best slice of hip-pop since the Go! Team’s Rolling Blackouts.

moe. – What Happened To The La Las Haven’t heard it yet, but fans will want to lend an ear to the band’s first collection of new material in four years.

STREETS OF RAGE 2 (every console worth owning)

‘Cause why the fuck not? With Final Fantasy and Soul Caliber being smart bombs aimed at nerds’ free time, why not just play the best game ever while you can?

There isn’t even any Wii shovel-ware hitting this week, truly marking the end of an era. But I’ll see you next week when Japan tries to make a game as great as Streets of Rage 2 and fails.

Okay then – that’s it. See you next week.

FIN.