Yeah. I missed last week. Finals were absolute murder. But we’re back to business as usual.

First – a recap:

5.1.12:

CLUELESS

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Thrill to the ageless beauty of Stacey Dash, and the quirky charm of Brittany Murphy – before Hollywood tried to turn her into a Skinny Blond Girl (something about the ages).

HAYWIRE

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The woman I love kills a bunch of dudes…that…I also love, while Steven Soderbergh creeps one film closer to retirement with this action thriller about a burned, spurned black-ops babygirl.

JEREMIAH JOHNSON

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Sundance stars as Liver-Eating Johnson, a wannabe mountain man/trapper whose harrowing exploits became the stuff of legend – and this film. Having not seen it in better than two decades, I am very interested in revisiting the restored version.

MEET JOE BLACK

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This movie is a fucking mess, there’s no doubt about it. A far more melodramatic take on 1934’s Death Takes a Holiday, the film never equals the sum of its incredible parts – the quiet dignity of the characters, the radiant warmth of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, the magnificence of Thomas Newman’s score, and the achingly beautiful Claire Forlani are all under-served by a screenplay that, while often affecting, is incredibly overwrought. The film is also absurdly bloated, and ends on a note insulting emotional dishonesty bordering on the sinister – but…dammit, there’s some stuff to like here.

PILLOW TALK

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Not to be confused with my documentary about the disappearance of the actor who played the villain in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (I should probably put together a Kickstarter for that, huh?) – this movie is such crap. It’s nothing but a lie crafted to suggest that, despite the joys of playful banter and promiscuity, every slick guy and smart girl needs to be pinned down by marriage and kids.

Oh, fuck it – Rock Husdson and Doris Day are awesome. This movie is great fun. Pillow Talk – I can’t stay made at you…

THE WIZARD OF GORE/THE GORE GORE GIRLS

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Oh look – High Def Herschell Gordon Lewis. The Wizard of Gore was an insanely important part of my youth. I must have watched this flick with my friend Don in grade school a dozen times or more in order to figure out the goofy gore effects – but what really happened was that we both wound up with the uncanny ability to endlessly quote and perfectly impersonate Ray Sager’s hilariously OTT Montag the Magnificent performance. Humming Larry Wellington’s sensationally jazzy score became a punchline in and of itself. The film – about an illusionist who performs a nightclub routine that involves the fun kind of vivisection, is a wonderfully corny delight. The Blu is super-cheap, and it aloes comes with the not-nearly-as-good Gore Gore Girls. Four Stars – Jason says check it out.

About A Boy
Believe In Me
Clueless
Haywire
Jeremiah Johnson
Joyful Noise
Meet Joe Black
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
New Year’s Eve
Nova: Secrets of the Sun
W.E.
The Wizard of Gore / The Gore Gore Girls

5/8/12:

42ND STREET FOREVER

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Synapse’s first Hi Def look back at the glory days of The Deuce is a melding of the first two volumes of the long-running trailer compilation series. If you never got in on them, this is as good a time as any.

A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL

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One of the best-known “Zapata Westerns” comes to Blu. Bandit El Chucho (Gian Maria Volonté) is stealing guns to sell to revolutionaries. He’s joined by El Nino (Lou Castel), and the men’s interaction forces Chucho to reconsider his motivations.

GANJA AND HESS

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1973’s Ganja and Hess is the eerie tale of an anthropologist (Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones) stabbed by his suffering and suicidal assistant (the film’s director, Bill Gunn), who wakes from the dead with his wounds healed and the need to feed. Yes, it’s a vampire film – but not explicitly so, especially since Gunn is more interested in exploring the post Civil Rights-movement spiritual and cultural identity of African Americans. And even this is not so heavy-handed, as Gunn’s skill and elegance circumnavigate any preachiness or budgetary limitations.

GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH

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In many ways, this is the only film that matters this week. Truly one of the best sequels ever made, and one of the more subversive comedies ever made on a studio’s dime – because it’s literally an indictment of the studio system itself. Joe Dante rules the Earth.

LA HAINE

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Criterion brings this sad, harrowing tale of ghetto youth in France to Blu Ray this week. Last week, director Mathieu Kassovitz got his ass handed to him by Gina Carano – now he’s staring down the barrel of Vincent Cassel.

TIM & ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE

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Yep. This hits today. I’m not going to argue with you. If you’re in, you’re in. If you’re not – what can I say? That’s right – nothing.

TORA! TORA! TORA!

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Imagine Pearl Harbor without the bullshit. There you go.

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING

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I might sound like a pig here, but Kate Beckinsale’s Shiny Vinyl Butt is kinda’ why 3D was invented. Will this be brainless? Undoubtedly. Will Kate Beckinsale be gorgeous? Certainly. Will her Shiny Vinyl Butt fly through the air in slow motion as she shoots creatures? Indeed. So the film is a raging success, then, yes?

WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII

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Well…CM Punk vs Chris Jericho is great.

42nd Street Forever
Back To School
Bakuman: Season 1, Part 1
Beautiful Wave
Big Momma’s House 2
Bird Of Paradise
A Bullet for the General
Chuck: The Complete Fifth and Final Season
City Slickers
The Front Line
Ganja & Hess
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Guin Saga: The Complete Collection
La Haine
Last Breath
Little Lord Fauntleroy
The Man in the Iron Mask
The Mel Brooks Collection
Mother’s Day
Murder Obsession
Playback
Psychotica
Shock Labyrinth
The Thomas Crown Affair
Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Underworld: Awakening
The Vow
Wrestlemania XXVIII

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – OUT OF THE GAME

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A genetic predisposition to musical idiosyncrasy (to say nothing of the personal variety) has been a useful tool in assembling the Wainwright legend; it’s allowed him to fashion a career out of shaping ungainly melodic lines for his lithe, elastic voice, supported by his plangent, distinctive piano, without the danger of turning into, say, Billy Joel. The news that he was hooking up with producer Mark Ronson had a certain amount of the fanbase concerned that, even if his sights weren’t set on Joel, Wainwright was at the very least making a play for a share of the Piano Man’s audience. And, to be honest, I can’t say that some won’t feel that way after listening to Out Of The Game, but frankly, I found it delightful.

First clue might be the dedication to his newborn daughter Viva (born to Leonard Cohen’s daughter Lorca–talk about your genetic idiosyncrasy!): like film stars who make superhero movies so there’s something age-appropriate for their kids to watch Daddy in, Wainwright and Ronson have crafted an instantly-appealing sound (you could almost call it a form of “music appreciation” for the kid, if they had such a thing anymore) that can almost serve as a gateway to Wainwright’s more conventionally challenging work. From the lush backing vocals that propel the title song to the sweet 70’s pop of “Barbara” to the Dap-Kings’ lusty backing on “Rashida,” to the range of guest stars (including Nels Cline, Sean Lennon, Andrew Wyatt and Nick Zinner), the album nods in the direction of the retro-soul that Ronson and others have crafted for singers like Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones, or Nick Hawthorne (whose limited-but-admittedly-catchy debut LP is out this week, too), but Wainwright broadens the palette, as though spinning the dial through his favorite radio stations in some vague period in the 60’s or 70’s, as the first step towards the fully-formed adult Rufus.

Lyrically, Out Of The Game transposes the new hope of fatherhood with the fading appeal of the artist’s vagabond life embodied in the album’s title: “One day you will come to Montauk / And see your dad trying to be funny“, which is more or less the perfect way to introduce the child to the eccentricity of the family she’s been born into, but with a bittersweet apprehension of what it may mean one day: “And see your other dad pruning roses / Hope you won’t turn around and go.”

NORAH JONES – LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS

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Given the amount of exposure she gets from side projects, and appearances on other artists’ recordings, it’s odd to think that it’s been over three years since Jones’ last full-scale solo album. She’s a breathy, distinctive singer, with a surprising knack for collaboration, able to bend to the demands of producers and bandleaders from Charlie Haden to Danger Mouse with seamless ease. Which, of course, was the problem with her previous releases: a vocal and emotional malleability that too often skirted the edges of the manufactured passion of an American Idol contestant. That Little Broken Hearts largely avoids this problem may be due to the “Adele factor”: the Norah Jones we meet on these sides seems to have been through some shit of late, and rises to the occasion with some startlingly forthright songwriting that plays very much against what we’ve come to expect.

Reteaming with Danger Mouse (who worked with Jones on last year’s Rome project), Jones sets the tone right up front: “Good Morning” trades the embracing warmth of previous outings for the chilly greeting of a woman who’s had enough of being the pliable one in the relationship, either musical or personal: “You don’t have to tell the truth / Cause if you do, I’ll tell it too.” “I’m folding my hand,” Jones tells her lover, but she hasn’t given up: she’s simply decided to stop playing his game, and follows it up immediately with the curt dismissal of “Say Goodbye.” “She’s 22″ is as sharp and pithy as its title, the narrator sneering pity for the man she’s losing to a younger woman. The kicker is the hypnotic “Miriam,” where Jones matter-of-factly informs the other woman: “Miriam / That’s such a pretty name / You know you done me wrong / I’m gonna smile when / I take your life,” followed by the cold murder of “Was it a game to him / Was it a game to you / Don’t tell me lies / I’ve punished him from ear to ear / Now I’ve saved the best for you.” Not every song rises above the generic (“Broken Hearts” and “Travelin’ On” don’t add much to the library of similar songs with identical sentiments), but the strongest ones are certainly the most interesting writing that Jones has done to date.

While Burton engages in his usual crate-digging production (there’s Francoise Hardy franco-pop, swelling Morricone soundtrack swell, spy-movie guitar reverb, lush vocal overdubs), it’s the purposeful tone of Jones’ singing that is most impressive: for a woman whose last release was a repackage of her second-banana contributions to other people’s albums, Little Broken Hearts is all refocused energy and dark emotion.

STEVE KUHN, STEVE SWALLOW, AND JOEY BARON – WISTERIA

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The fluid ease and confidence of this album makes perfect sense when you consider the rollcall of giants these guys have played with, including Chet Baker, Ornette Coleman, Stan Getz, Don Cherry, and John Coltrane… and that’s just Kuhn! (Baron and Swallow’s respective resumes include stints with Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, Gary Burton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lee Konitz, among many others).

Wisteria takes its cue from Art Farmer’s… well, “wistful” title tune, with Kuhn’s “Chalet” opening the album on a note of introspection before its segue into a bouncing rhythm; Baron and Swallow locking down the groove they’ll maintain throughout: firm, but never rigid, with Swallow’s mellow electric bass tone an important part of the melody line. Both “Adagio” and “Morning Dew” belie any question of sentiment or sleepiness with Kuhn’s familiar rubato and bright left-hand work driving the tunes. Swallow’s walking bass is the insistent backbone of “A Likely Story;” Carla Bley’s “Permanent Wave” receives gospel shadings in its deep chording, while Dori Caymmi “Romance” is an elegantly deconstructed Bossa Nova, nicely counterpointed with Swallow’s own Latin-flavored “Dark Glasses.” The album concludes on another Swallow original, the triumphant “Good Lookin’ Rookie,” with fierce ensemble driving things home. Kuhn’s orchestral albums can feel a bit hit-and-miss, and in fact, several of the songs here were reworked from such recent outings as Mostly Coltrane and Promises Kept, and in every case, I’d strongly recommend the versions in this trio setting.

OTHER NOTABLE 5/1 RELEASES:

Damon Albarn – Dr Dee
Blockhead – Interludes After Midnight
B.O.B – Strange Clouds
Brian Jonestown Massacre – Aufheben
Dirty Dozen Brass Band – Twenty Dozen
Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Hurt – The Crux
Izz – Crush of Night  
Lower Dens – Nootropics
Marilyn Manson – Born Villain
Pennywise – All Or Nothing  
Rasmus – Rasmus
Santigold – Master Of My Make-Believe
Sea of Bees – Orangefarben  
Carrie Underwood – Blown Away
Nick Waterhouse – Time’s All Gone
Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard

I wasn’t able to preview any 5/8 releases, but as it happens, there wasn’t much this week I was all that excited to hear anyway (with the exception of the trainwreck possibilities inherent in the Dee Snider album).

NOTABLE 5/8 RELEASES:

Barenaked Ladies – Stop Us If You’ve Heard This One Before!
Alex Clare – Lateness of the Hour
John 5 – God Told Me To
Keane – Strangeland
Greg Laswell – Landline
Marina and the Diamonds – Electra Heart
Mary Mary – Go Get It 
Moonspell – Alpha Noir
OFF – OFF!
Trevor Rabin – Jacaranda
Royal Southern Brotherhood – Royal Southern Brotherhood
Arturo Sandoval – Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You) 
Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods 
Sleep – Dopesmoker 
Dee Snider – Dee Does Broadway 
Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion
Tank - This Is How I Feel 
Turnpike Troubadours, Goodbye Normal Street
Sara Watkins, Sun Midnight Sun

5/1/12

TERA (PC)

Look, a new MMO people are freaking out over. Supposedly, this one has “Fluid Action Combat.” Apparently, the absence of Fluid Action Combat has been what’s made MMO’s boring, stale social experiments for the last eight years. Even though I have no interest in this at all, I’m sure a couple million people will – for about a month or so.

SNIPER ELITE V2 (PC, PS3, 360)

Usually I watch a video and read up on these games before I barf out a few words about them. Not this time. I’m pretty sure the title says it all. Sniper Elite. Version 2, apparently.

5/8/12:

STARHAWK (PS3)

This thing has been in beta for what seems like a year now, so I can say pretty confidently that this game kicks ass. The general feel is a lot like the previous Warhawk, but with an updated space opera skin. It’s a third person shooter with a major emphasis on vehicles. Despite the high number of vehicles, guns, and turrets the game is incredibly well balanced. They’ve added some base defense aspects to the game with a new “Build and Battle” system that adds summonable vehicles and structures. This simple addition to the formula adds a whole new layer of strategy and risk/reward. The game somehow achieves that perfect balance of slow, steady strategy and fast paced dogfights that Battlefield has been chasing for years. The beta was a blast, and early reviews are glowing – making this a safe bet during this quiet release season.

And there you have it – two weeks of sights and sounds for you to enjoy. See you next week!

FIN.