I’d like to start off by wishing a “Happy Birthday” to a warm-hearted human being and a cold-blooded entertainer – Tony Ryan…what’s up?
Lionsgate goes OFF this week with a batch of Miramax flicks from the euphoric heights of their “spend a few million on lavish parties for Acadamy voters” phase. We get Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Frida, The Piano, and Exhibit A for the prosecution: Shakespeare in Love. I think The Piano is an intense sorta’ fucked flick, and The English Patient is often gorgeous (and it has been said the transfer here might be the first to truly capture the theatrical look of the film), but…yeah – those films…they have a kind of ignominious taint to them. Do people really even remember Cold Mountain?
Also, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON in 3D also debuts this week. Now you’ll swear that a robot can nut in your eye. I love 3D. But I also love human life. There’s a conflict…
FERNANDO DI LEO CRIME COLLECTION
So here’s a batch of Eurocrime from one of the primo purveyors of Poliziotteschi (EXCELSIOR!), Fernando Di Leo. There are four films in the set – and all three of the direttore’s Milieu Trilogy rated the riscossione: Milano calibro 9 aka Caliber 9 (Barbara Bouchet!!), La mala ordina aka Manhunt aka The Italian Connection, featuring Woody Strode and Henry Silva as Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega (but not quite. But yeah), and Il Boss aka The Boss aka Wipeout!, with Henry Silva as a mob button-man taking out key guys in a rival gang, and paying a price for it, natch.
Also included, the always-leathery Jack Palance in Rulers of the City (co-starring AL CLIVER!!!).
BUY IT FROM…NO – DON’T DO THAT. BUY MY DREAM HOUSE INSTEAD!
What looks to be a project crafted as a tax write-off or to satisfy contractual obligations turns out to be Daniel Craig’s finest hour – ‘cause he totally ended up nailing Rachel Weiss. Did he fear the fury of Liev enough to refrain from taking a shot at Watts, as well? Who knows, Highlander…who knows? James Bond is a dick. Team Aronofsky 4 Lyfe.
I have no idea…
What the fuck am I supposed to be able to tell you about Drive? That it is an incredible piece of fantasy filmmaking? That it’s a towering achievement in nerd wish-fulfillment? That it’s an astounding example of style over substance (over style…over substance…over style)? That it’s a triumph of heart over both style and substance? That it’s catnip and salve for every wounded asshole with a hero complex? That it’s an extended episode of Miami Vice with no network censors and Crockett and Tubbs on the cutting room floor? That it’s one of the most artfully-rendered action films in the history of cinema – unless you’re aware of the fact that Nicholas Winding Refn has been doing this for awhile now, and is pretty-much superhuman? That I loved every minute of this film, and wish that the rest of Gosling’s career amounted to weekly sequels to Drive? That I have a reoccurring dream wherein Ryan Gosling snapped while filming this and is now just the Driver and I’m his sidekick and we end up fighting crime in elevators all over the greater Los Angeles area while wooing wispy girls by just staring at them with love and longing?
You guys should just probably by Drive.
Grand Canyon is one of those sprawling Altman-esque tales of people on different journeys that all lead to the same place, made with the hope that you will be moved. Is it successful? Is it pandering? In the hands of Lawrence Kasdan, it’s a bit of both. But one of the things Grand Canyon does that I think is really profound is that it calls Boomers out on their failure as stewards of this country and society – which, in light of his previous triumphs, speaks well of Kasdan. Additionally, this is a film that handles race in a more nuanced way than something like Crash. Canyon wipes its ass with that abysmal Oscar montage. Also – Steve Martin is brilliant in this.
Beat Takashi Kitano has been – in his own words – “creatively destroying” his career for awhile now. Pretty much since Dolls in 2002. He’s been confounding expectations and swimming in experimental waters. In the near-decade since his oddball Zatoichi redux (which I adore, by the by), Takashi has returned to the quirky comedy that built his castle, and he’s made at least one attempt at being utterly inscrutable (2005’s Takashis’ – where he meets his own doppelganger and things get weird/dark/violent) – but Outrage would seem to be a return to form – or at least to the violent gangster pictures he cemented his American Art House reputation with. How successful was it? Outrage 2 is on the way.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
I have aspired since I was a child to be as gentle, wise, dignified, and courageous as Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, but I just end up punching racists in the face more often than not. You need to own this film, and you need to understand, and you need to try to be Atticus Finch. As a parent – be Atticus Finch. As a man – Be Atticus Finch. As a human being – Be Atticus Finch. As a real hero – BE ATTICUS FINCH.
Of course, my version of Atticus stalks the streets of Maycomb with a sawed-off, wasting every fucker responsible for that bullshit conviction…
2 Headed Shark Attack
B Gata H Kei: Yamada’s First Time The Complete Series
Best Picture Academy Award Winners Collection
The Big Year
The English Patient
Fairy Tail: Part 3
Fat City New Orleans
Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection
Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking
Night Train Murders
Nothing In Common
Outrage: Way of the Yakuza
Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom
Poirot: Series 1
Poirot: Series 2
Queen: Days of Our Lives
Richard Thompson: Live at Celtic Connection
Shakespeare In Love
A Soldier’s Story
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level
Styx: The Grand Illusion / Pieces Of Eight Live
Texas Killing Fields
To Kill A Mockingbird
WWE: The Best of Raw & Smackdown 2011
When you’re heading on toward 80, it’s time to settle back, relax, and look with satisfaction at a career that sees you as one of the most respected, oft-covered, songwriters of your century. Unless, that is, your longtime manager swindles you out of your life savings… in which case you haul your bad back up off the couch, schlep yourself all over the globe, spend three years stunning audiences around the world with amazing live performances, release a pair of albums documenting them, then drag yourself back home. “And after all that,” as Dan Aykroyd, in the persona of Tom Snyder, once asked Ray Charles, “would I have the blues?” Well, damn right, says Cohen, who’s decided that this is the ideal time for him to cut his first blues album.
OK, it’s not quite what you might be imagining: there’s no real 12-bar I-IV-V going on here. But the sounds and styles of the songs are in a tradition that Cohen acknowledges as received, while demonstrating its ability to limn the experiences of a bohemian Jewish hipster as effectively as that of a Mississippi sharecropper: songs like “Amen” and “Show Me The Place” are steeped in gospel and blues iconography, which Cohen makes wholly personal.
“I’d like to speak with Leonard,” begins the sly opening track, “he’s a lazy bastard living in a suit.” Old Ideas is an album full of similar rueful self-knowledge: “Show me the place I’ve forgotten I don’t know,” “I’m old, and the mirrors don’t lie.” And the familiar blues trope of bein’ done wrong brings out some of Cohen’s most trenchant writing: “Crazy has places to hide in that are deeper than any goodbye.” The recording is impeccable, with Cohen’s gravelly whisper of a voice captured with startling intimacy.
Cohen’s time on the road seems to have made him more comfortable working with a band (as opposed to the synth-heavy sound of much of his earlier studio work), and even more than on the live albums, the musicians here support him ideally, never getting in the way; my one reservation is that the female chorus continues to be too on-the-nose, with their participation always being just a shade too obvious and overbearing in terms of placement and timing. “The Darkness,” a gorgeous blues shuffle, is Cohen at his best: the valedictory quality of lines like “I’ve got no future / I know my days are few,” and “I thought the past would last me / But the darkness got that too,” are undermined by the music’s fierce determination, and its ambiguity (is he saying goodbye to life… or to yet another faithless lover?). A young man staring into the abyss fears a life unlived, potential unfulfilled: Cohen surely knows that he’s in no danger of either of those, but for all his willingness to smile into death’s face, he’s still got the restlessness of youthful ambition: he’s already planning to get back out on the road again, hopefully with much of this album in the set.
Being the perpetually behind-the-curve type that I am, I wasn’t aware of this woman’s existence until I learned that her very presence on the music scene was controversial. You probably know the story better than I do: mousy blond singer-songwriter can’t get traction with a couple of indie-folk releases and reinvents herself as redhead bombshell magpie, working the kitchen-sink side of the street, borrowing bits and pieces from whatever’s dominating Youtube at the moment. And the critical consensus, up to this point, seems to be that we should set aside all the controversy and folderol and “just focus on the music,” but I dunno… that feels pretty last-century to me.
Born To Die is the kind of artifact that you get from, say, Lady Gaga, Foster the People, or Sleigh Bells, where the making of the art is as much about your reaction to it-indeed, depends on it-as it is anything intrinsic in the work itself. “Pumped Up Kicks” would be quickly forgotten as a nagging McDonald’s ad of a tune if its point wasn’t to have listeners figure out halfway through that they’re singing along with this generation’s “I Don’t Like Mondays.” Similarly, Lana Del Rey’s artistry is as much about the viewer’s complicity in the fantasy-in the forbidden synchronicity between the buttoned-up Bible-school girl on the album cover and the Daisy Duke’d sexpot in the latest EW-as it is about the music that accompanies it. And what Del Rey and her peers understand is that the feedback and forwarding possible in the Internet age create a shared context for their work that Bob Geldof needed an army of superstars and millions of dollars’ worth of publicity to achieve (granted, for a different song, but who the hell listens to “We Are The World” anymore?). So, as she lays her husky pipes against a jazz-hop music bed that feels like Caro Emerald once removed, or a David Lynch film reimagined for an episode of Glee, the listener gets the nagging feeling that there’s something missing: the received melancholy of a song like “Video Games” makes more contextual sense when it’s your gateway to a sidebar of videos that “you may also be interested in.” And lines like “Money is the reason we exist / Everybody knows it / It’s a fact / Kiss Kiss” and “Do you think you’ll buy me lots of diamonds?” might sneak up on you if the singer hasn’t already billed herself as the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Name-checking Nabokov once is a nicely dropped hint; calling another song “Lolita” is just blowing your cover. I don’t know that Born To Die is exactly an album I’d listen to more than once or twice, but I won’t be remotely surprised if Lana Del Rey, as a concept, turns out to have some staying power.
I was originally pointed toward Walter Da Backer aka Gotye as a natural pairing with Mayer Hawthorne, and while there are hints of Hawthorne’s retro-soul peeking through, Gotye brings a rather different perspective: if Hawthorne is filtering Curtis and Levi through the perspective of the blue-eyed soul men of the 70’s like Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, Gotye’s jumped ahead a decade or to so grab the synth-soul of 80’s icons like Soft Cell or Yaz. Part of that distinction is the somewhat more ephemeral nature of much of that 80’s music: every decade has its one-hit wonders, but in the 80’s, for every Culture Club or Simply Red there were a dozen Kajagoogoos, Joboxers, or Escape Clubs. Not to say that Gotye is destined for similar instant obsolescence—far from it—but he does seem to have a great ear for the tiny compositional bits and pieces that can set a tune to nagging in your brain.
I only heard Gotye’s 2006 Like Drawing Blood after I’d listened to Making Mirrors, but the growth is immediately obvious: the tracks are tighter, the writing better focused. The album opens on the soothing, Eno-style synthwash of the title song, but Backer makes his real opening statement with the insistent beat and slashing guitar figure that drive “Easy Way Out,” sounding for all the world like a trip-hop “Ticket to Ride.” That’s followed by the back-to-back punch of “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “Eyes Wide Open,” where we can hear the way Becker’s singing has grown and developed: not a lot of range, but plenty of dynamics, and the bitterness of the lyrics is underlaid with the careful deployment of unsettling synth effects. “I Feel Better” has the easy faux-Motown charm of Hall & Oates at their best, while it’s easy to imagine “Save Me” blasting out of the boombox (laptop? iPhone?) of a next-generation Lloyd Dobler. At this point, I need several more listens before I’ll feel I’ve got to the bottom of stuff like “Don’t Worry We’ll Be Watching You” or “Bronte;” Making Mirrors is an album that I expect will reveal new facets as it grows on me for the rest of the year.
One of my favorite recent albums, the Go! Team’s Rolling Blackouts, was released in early 2011, and pretty much forgotten by year’s end. Which was a pity, as I didn’t hear a more cheerful appropriation of pop-music flotsam and jetsam all year. Fortunately, I don’t appear to be the only one who remembers, as Denmark’s Asteroids Galaxy Tour are confirmed disciples, and on their second full-length release, they’re grabbing for bits of the B-52’s, Abba, Esquivel, Goldfrapp, the Belle Stars, Stereolab, and Talking Heads, mixing up a similar, if even lighter-weight, pop confection.
I don’t know if it’s confidence, or a genuine naïveté, that buries the irresistible dance beat of “Heart Attack” five tracks deep: most bands would kill for a hook like this one, and would not only lead with it, but probably reprise it at the end. There’s more dance-floor goodness in “Fantasy Friend Forever” and “When It Comes To Us,” while “Suburban Space Invader” and “Dollars in the Night” have an in-your-face brattiness. Though I have the idea that this is more a rotating collective than an actual band, guitarist Mads Nielsen does nicely chameleon-like work, anchoring the dizzy range of influences and styles.
The album’s certainly not perfect (that would almost defeat the purpose): confection’s great, but the Go! Team’s success at adding some depth to their bag of tricks (“Buy Nothing Day” or “Voice Yr Choice” for instance) goes blissfully unnoticed here; the sneer of “Get a car / Get a gun” is about as deep as this bunch goes. Too, singer Mette Lindberg’s squeaky chops aren’t more than a step or two up from the Chipettes, and when she wails the title track over one of the album’s less-inspired rhythm tracks, it’s kind of teeth-grating. But when she follows it up with the slinky sass of “Cloak and Dagger,” all is forgiven. I somehow doubt I’ll still be listening to this one a year from now, but even a few hours’ worth of pleasure isn’t to be taken for granted these days.
Other Notable 1/31 Releases (busy week for me; I know I missed a few)
Gretchen Peters – Hello Cruel World Smart and stark (“life is still a beautiful disaster”); would that its intelligence were supported by fewer country music clichés.
Novalima – Karimba I had no idea what “hip-hop flavored Afro-Peruvian jazz-pop” was going to sound like, and I’m not entirely sure how to describe it, but I can’t stop listening to it.
Ruthie Foster – Let It Burn The range of songs that she can bend to her gospel-choir sound is impressive (“Ring of Fire,” “Long Time Gone”), and if the arrangements occasionally get a bit fussy (“Set Fire To The Rain”), the sheer power of her voice puts every note across.
Candy Dulfer – Crazy Her last album was called Funked Up!, and that was a lie, too. There’s shit bouncing all over the place on this thing, up-to-the-minute beats and auto-tune. But she’s only crazy like the proverbial fox, and kicking off an album of danceable smoove-jazz with a track called “Stop All The Noise” is funny in all the wrong ways.
Darrell Scott – Long Ride Home Plant didn’t snag this guy for the Band of Joy for nothing: “Hopkinsville” is shot through with his bleak optimism, and “You’re Everything I Wanted to Be” is this generation’s “I Wish I Was Your Mother.” And if “Candle For A Cowboy” is just a bit much, “You’ll Be With Me All The Way” hits the less-is-more simplicity just right.
Ringo Starr – Ringo 2012 Let’s be honest… I really don’t care, and neither do you. It’s nice that he’s still alive, though.
Mike Doughty – The Question Jar Show There’s a fair amount of “You hadda be there…” involved in listening to this requests-driven live set, but for every obvious “Busting Up A Starbucks,” there’s a “Shunned & Falsified” or “Navigating by the Stars at Night” to connect in ways you hadn’t expected. And the stage banter will get tiresome after a while, but on first listen it’s pretty funny (“Stop us if we’ve already played this one”).
Alcest – Les Voyages de L’ame Says here that “… something that is common to all of the songs is the predominant feeling of euphoria and bliss, always subtly overshadowed by melancholia and yearning.” No, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, either, and after listening to the album, I’m no closer to knowing. I’d blame the fact that they’re mostly singing in French, but that didn’t slow Plastic Bertrand any. I will say, though, that “Beings of Light” is among the better Moody Blues tributes I’ve heard lately.
Various Artists – Golden Gate Groove: The Sound Of Philadelphia in San Francisco 1963 One I’m dying to hear: live recording of a vintage concert featuring The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Three Degrees, Billy Paul, and MFSB.
Video isn’t my beat (among other things, I don’t usually get to watch them in advance), but the Blu-ray or DVD of Richard Thompson-Live at Celtic Connection should be a don’t miss. With a setlist drawn from the Dream Attic tour (where he played his entire new album as an opening set, followed by an assortment from his insanely deep catalog), this promises to hit the wide range of Thompson’s abilities as a songwriter (the trenchant “Money Shuffle,” the gleefully insane “Tear Stained Letter,” the haunting “Al Bowlly’s In Heaven”) and provide further demonstration that he’s either the greatest electric guitarist to ever play acoustic, or vice-versa (“Can’t Win,” included here, is typically a showcase for some jaw-dropping solos). Worth noting, too, is the amazing band, with multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn (who will switch from sax to guitar and back again on the same song without skipping a beat), and Michael Jerome, who might be the most vesatile drummer in pop music today.
FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 (360, PS3)
It’s nice to finally have a game come out. Too bad FFXIII took the goodwill out of the mainline Final Fantasy series for a lot of gamers. Unfairly so, because XIII was nowhere near the atrocity many made it to be. It was a linear adventure (until they just dropped you into Gran Pulse like an afterthought) with a forgettable story filled with obnoxious characters. Which can easily describe Final Fantasy VII. And unlike FFVII, XIII had an interesting, engaging battle system.
For me, the Final Fantasy games have always been about the mechanics, while Dragon Quest has always been about the story. The Final Fantasy series just doesn’t have a consistent visionary like Dragon Quest’s Yuji Horii. But it has does have constantly-evolving set of mechanics that drive me to play a game for far longer than a well-written narrative can last. The newest evolution of ATB makes on-the-fly tactical decisions part of every battle with a buff/weakness system similar to Persona and some AI management from Final Fantasy XII. The system was more than enough to carry me through XIII‘s dragging narrative. By the end of the game, XII was mostly me watching a dot run in a straight line until I actually fought something. It was fun and then it was over and I went back to games with substance. After I spent years of my life playing Final Fantasy XII, XIII felt a little underwhelming – but I didn’t finish disappointed.
Now we have Final Fantasy XII-2. Or Square-Enix Has a Fuckton of Assets to Reuse and Needs Money Fast. I don’t have a problem with the obvious cash-in – in fact, I’m pretty pumped to give them my money. They listened to complaints and focused on an open narrative with small improvements to the battle system. To top things off – and secure my hard earned American dollar – Square has added a monster collection aspect to the game. If a game lets me collect and name monsters, I will do it until I run out of phallic euphoniums. They say they also fixed the story, but who knows? As long as it doesn’t have any annoying Australian children it’s gonna’ be a major step up.
SOUL CALIBUR 5 (PS3, 360)
3D fighting games hate me. Seriously. I press all the buttons and I still don’t win. Can’t figure it out. So here’s one of those. It has scantily-clad ladies getting scantily-er clad as the fight goes on. My friends dig it. I think a lot of my friends have awful taste.
NEVERDEAD (PS3, 360)
Somehow, this isn’t a Japanese game. I think Konami fired all their Japanese staff that wasn’t Kojima or something. NeverDead is actually from the guys behind the Aliens VS Predator franchise. Whatever the horrible business decision was that led to this, you play a guy who can’t die in this generic shooter. It’s like Warioland but really brown and starring a five-year-old’s doodle of Marcus Fenix.
So now it ends – for this week, anyway. Thanks for stopping by.