I have been listening to the new Hot Water Music album EXISTER for the past two days and loving every second of it. Post-punk power done right. I love you guys, and I wanna’ give you the good stuff, so I thought a heads-up might help. And now – filmage:
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (CRITERION)
Finally. There’s supposed to be a batty Michel Gondry scene-specific commentary on this disc that makes it worth the price. I’ll bet it’s amazing.
Finally, a “found footage” film that really, truly works. Cloverfield – while often effective – uses the camcorder setup to hold back on money shots, and it spends a great deal of time justifying the gimmickry (put the camera down and run, you stupid ass – you just got Lizzy Caplan mauled). Diary of the Dead is – by George Romero’s own admission – far too arch in terms of the shooting style to even count (amateur dimwits don’t shoot like Jacques Tourneur). Chronicle doesn’t obscure the money shots – the film’s finale unloads some harrowing, expertly-staged mayhem – but more than that, it’s the first time I’ve felt as though the “found footage” element of one of these productions was remotely justified. There are two rationales for the continued documentation of the events surrounding the group of three young men who make an eerie discovery that changes their lives. The initial justification is profoundly sad, and the final rationale is megalomaniacal – and both serve character and narrative perfectly.
And they can both be boiled down to a voice screaming “I WILL NOT BE IGNORED.” Chronicle is as much of a character study as you’d like it to be, as much of an adventure as you hoped it would be, as much of a somber drama as you think it might be, and as much of a superhero origin as you can take. It’s a great piece of pop entertainment that might have a little more to say if you’re receptive to that. Highly recommended.
Liam Neeson plays a man with a very particular set of skills who is out to kill the wolves who kidnapped his daughter in this Jack London novel that hates you.
I dreamed this day would come, and finally it is upon us. Thrill to The MaSheen’s windblown hair and assless chaps as he fights the krumbling KGB (led by James Gandolfini, fresh from beating the shit out of Patricia Arquette) in the superior skydiving actioner of 1994 (though Yancy Butler 1994 beat the holy hell outta’ Nasstasjsjaaja Kinski 1994 for double sure. That said, Klaus Kinski might have beaten them both with a boat oar).
And sure, this is one more awful Echo Bridge dump – and they certainly do eat a lot of turd – but it’ll be anamorphic for the first time, and that’s gotta’ count for something. I’ve missed you, little dog named Tripod…
Before And After
Being John Malkovich
D.O.A. – Dennis Quaid might refer to a woman as “darlin’” before this movie is done.
Father of the Bride
Hell on Wheels: The Complete First Season
History of the World in Two Hours
National Parks Exploration Series: Grand Canyon Wonder of the Natural World
National Parks Exploration Series: Yosemite High Sierras
New York Stories
The Odessa File
One for the Money
Rape of the Vampire – these words are perpetually stuck in Anne Rice’s brain
Requiem for a Vampire
Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World
Smithsonian Channel: Aerial America Pacific Rim
Universe: Catastrophes That Changed the Planets 3D
Universe: Nemesis – The Sun’s Evil Twin 3D
The Universe: The Complete Season Six
The War: A Ken Burns Film 1941-1945
Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
BEST COAST – THE ONLY PLACE
If 2010’s Crazy For You was the sound of Bethany Cosentino as a sun-drenched beach girl, too warm and comfortable to do more than lazily muse over her social and romantic problems, The Only Place is a late-spring walk along the rocky California coastline, with the sun’s warmth periodically interspersed with a chill ocean breeze.
The title song challenges the listener: “Why would you live anywhere else? / We’ve got the ocean / Got the babes / Got the sun / We’ve got the waves” (or does she mean the Wavves-she’s dating Nathan Williams) but the chiming guitars have barely left your ears before we’re into “Why I Cry:” “I’m always crying on the phone / Because I know that I will end up alone”; “I used to believe in you and me / But now I believe in nothing.” The Only Place replaces the buzzy, lightly stoned indolence of Crazy For You with an ache of desperation that’s nicely underscored in the lushness of the Buckingham/Nicks/Wilson/Spector-inspired production by Jon Brion. Recording at the legendary Capitol Studios, for that vintage L.A. combination of sun and smog, he and Cosentino (and bandmate Bobb Bruno) play the studio like an instrument, letting the churning guitars of “Do Me Like You Used To Do” melt into the bossa nova groove of “Dreaming My Life Away”, and the driving, insistent “Let’s Go Home” is one last note of urgency before the album fades into the helplessness of the bittersweet “Up All Night.”
On the evidence, Cosentino’s not generally a deep thinker, and a bit too fond of “moon-June” rhyme schemes, but she rather nails it on “How They Want Me to Be,” and “Best Girl,” confessions that feel not only heartfelt (“You’ve gotta keep me away from what they say about me“), but far more specific than the generic teen-romance clichés that dominate much of the album. If The Only Place peps up the Best Coast sound a bit, it still gets by mostly on Cosentino’s plaintive pop voicings, with her double-and-triple tracked backing vocals, the sweet tunes surfing atop the polished El Lay production.
ANDRE WILLIAMS AND THE SADIES – NIGHT AND DAY
Since this column is focused on those new releases that I can preview in advance, shit slips past me all the time; some of my favorite albums of 2012 so far completely eluded me when they were first released, including Heritage Blues Orchestra’s And Still I Rise, and gravel-voiced Andre Williams’ down and dirty Hoods and Shades; now, less than a month later comes another new release from the 76-year-old Williams, and it’s even better.
Williams has been on the outskirts of the R&B scene pretty much since there’s been one (he cut his first sides in the early 50’s; among his best-known songs is the original “Shake a Tail Feather”), lived the familiar life of betrayal at the hands of women, managers, and record labels, and the decades he spent drinking and doping and palling around with Redd Foxx were interspersed with songwriting and production gigs with everyone from Stevie Wonder to The Contours to the George Clinton stable… and a bit of jail time. He continues to record sporadically, and in 1999 he cut Red Dirt with Canadian surf-guitar alt-rockers The Sadies, arguably the strangest country album of all time, with Williams growling and snarling through reverb-drenched covers of “Busted” and “Psycho,” along with originals like “Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone To Kill)” and “My Sister Stole My Woman.” In 2008, the band reunited with Williams to begin the sessions that culminated in Night and Day, just days after he was sprung from his latest stay in the pokey, inspiring the opener, ”I Gotta Get Shorty Out of Jail” (one of several tracks featuring cheeky backing vocals from Sallie Timms and Kelly Hogan), and “Your Old Lady” (in which the narrator has been screwing his best buddy’s wife while he was in stir). Instead of the southern-fried country of Red Dirt, the sound this time is down-home soul and gutbucket blues, reminiscent of Slim Harpo or Howlin’ Wolf, with some garage-guitar sludge borrowed from Hound Dog Taylor. Williams’ familiar growl is interspersed with howls of outrage that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Tom Waits album (in fact, if you’d told me that Waits secretly wrote some of these songs, I’d have easily believed it).
And talk about your manifesto: “I’m a 70-year-old nigger / I never pulled the trigger / I’m tired of everybody fuckin’ over me / Don’t / Fuck / With / Me.” ”Living in America ain’t no fun / Better have some money or you’ll be on the run / And it’s a goddamn shame / Without cash you’re trash.” For all the righteous anger and sense of betrayal that he can put into his songs, Williams has a sly sense of humor (”I like my rum / Cuz I got no teeth / I let it flow over my gums”), and I love the perverse absurdity of stuff like “I don’t use drugs no more / But I will if I have to.”
The album’s sequencing seems to track Williams’ progress from the angry despair of 2008 to the cleaned-up Williams of today, heading down the home stretch with the sprightly “I’ll Do Most Anything For Your Love,” followed by a lovely duet with Timms on “That’s My Desire,” and wrapping up with the satisfied walking funk of “Me and My Dog.” Guests like Jon Spencer, Danny Kroha, and the indefatigable Jon Langford augment the brothers Good, giving Williams backing that is simultaneously sympathetic and propulsive. Hoods and Shades is the slyly understated sound of 2012’s cleaner-living Williams; Night and Day is a reminder of the decades’ worth of folly and fucking-over that it took to get him to that point.
OTHER NOTABLE 5/15 RELEASES:
Cribs – In the Belly of the Brazen Bull
Cherri Bomb, This Is the End of Control
Cornershop – Urban Turban
Godsmack – Live & Inspired
The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart – At Least We Have Each Other
Hot Water Music – Exister
Krizz Kaliko – Kickin & Screamin
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Ottmar Liebert + Luna Negra – Dune
Mannish Boys – Double Dynamite
Meiko – The Bright Side
Mewithoutyou – Ten Stories
Willie Nelson – Heroes
The Nighthawks – Damn Good Time!
Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power
Philm – Harmonic
Santana – Shape Shifter
Shadows Fall – Fire From the Sky
Tenacious D – Rize Of The Fenix
Various Artists – Occupy This Album (4 CD)
DIABLO III (PC, Mac)
I understand that servers go down. Diablo is huge – and no one could handle that kind of day-one traffic without throwing tons of money at a problem that will work itself out in a matter of days. It happens, and I can live with it. But Diablo III has always-on internet DRM – the absolute worst kind of DRM imaginable. Beyond the obvious ISP problems many people face, now Blizzard has absolute power over when you can and can’t play a single player game.
Horrible DRM aside, I’m sure Diablo III will scratch that loot itch for a lot of people. The click-murder-loot-explosion cycle hasn’t changed since the first Diablo, and it’s still fun. It’s such an effortless system of constant progression and reward that it’s hard not to like. It’s the definition of shallow fun, but it works. Although they wisely left the genre basics alone, Blizzard did kill the progression boner a bit with their new leveling system, which severely limits the options on a level up. It’s one of many mechanics that have been oddly streamlined in ways that didn’t need it in such a structured and simple genre. After some terrible design choices and the insulting DRM, I’ll just hang out with all the cool kids waiting for Torchlight II.
MAX PAYNE 3 (360, PS3)
Here we go. This is the second mega-developer sequel this week – but this one looks to deliver.
I always had a soft spot for the Max Payne series. The story and gameplay were a mix of two things I love; noir and Hong Kong action. It was the rare game where story informed mechanics – and it all gelled into great little mood pieces. Although age has revealed some bloody-minded controls and heavy-handed narrative choices, the first two games hold up surprisingly well. Although I think Remedy did a great job with the series, I couldn’t be more happy that Rockstar, in all their many forms, are behind this newest sequel. The people at Rockstar have shown time and again that they have a deep and unique understanding of the video game narrative. That’s what this series needs to survive. That said, it’s not the most obvious move for the studio – this generation’s Rockstar games have had a weightless and floaty feel to their gun play, and a Max Payne game needs to be completely linear to work, which is something Rockstar hasn’t attempted in a long time.
Still…Max Payne 3 has multiplayer with motherfucking bullet time. Although I’ll never touch the multiplayer – that still might be the coolest bullet point ever.
GAME OF THRONES (360, PS3)
God no. Don’t.
It’s tempting, I know. Game of Thrones is great. We all love it. But don’t do this to yourself. Although it’s based on a massive, fully detailed world – this couldn’t look more generic. I know that Cyanide has stated that this title was in development for longer than the television show has been shooting, but from the looks of things, that’s either a lie…or the game had a three person development team. This screams timed cash-in. And probably a successful one too, it is a Game of Thrones-branded video game, and tons of people will buy it just for that. Can’t blame the usually solid Atlus for picking this one up. Just can’t fault good business – especially not with my 50 Shades of Gray spank simulator coming out on iOS next week.