Friday, May 30, 2008

My Life Without Me
A tearjerker about a young mother with a month to live that rightfully passed the bullshit detectors of Sarah Polley and producer Pedro Almodovar. It did take a small leap of faith to believe that Polley would want to experience the love of someone other than husband Scott Speedman, as Scott Speedman is cuuuuute.

Peter Stormare, James Gandolfini and Joaquin Phoenix do an excellent job of bringing the post-Seven sleazy set design and Andrew Kevin Walker script to flamboyant life, but Joel Schumacher's direction lacks the exploitive pizazz and detached eeriness David Fincher and Paul Schrader respectively gave similar material. Nic Cage acts like Bruce Willis if he traded his charisma for a little more hair. SPOILER! Seeing this after watching The Wire makes the identity of "Machine" infinitely funnier.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do you remember, or should I rewind?

Songs new to the Billboard Top 50 Singles Chart (last week), and the top debut.

#18 (from #63): Usher featuring Beyonce & Lil' Wayne, "Love In This Club, Part II"
Usher's new singles don't build off Confessions the way Confessions built off 8701, but the complacency evident his SNL performance hasn't sunk his recorded output yet. Starpower isn't wasted here so much as casually deployed. Such a mild display of largess isn't without its charms, but I'm worried what will pass for a minor track on Here I Stand.

#27 (from #66): Duffy, "Mercy"
Recommended to soul enthusiasts looking for something a little less in-your-face than Amy Winehouse or the Commitments.

#40 (from #76): Katy Perry, "I Kissed A Girl"
Because we needed the ability to directly contrast late-90's quests for self-definition with late-00's equal opportunity objectification. Because someone had to put the "She" in She Wants Revenge.

#47 (from #54): Ne-Yo, "Closer"
Nobody does better tributes to Michael Jackson, but I've gotten over the whole "why is this not a big hit?" thing. Three albums in, Ne-Yo should have a little more to his personality than "nice Michael Jackson fan." With Chris Brown's "Forever" back below "With You" on the charts, it's possible listeners don't want their dreamy male r&b singers coming off like CeCe Peniston backup dancers (though God knows I don't mind).

#57 (debut): New Kids On The Block, "Summertime"
Girl, remember when you would buy our merchandise and we would point at you and smile? The happiest days of our lives! Why did they ever end? Ok, don't think too hard about that. Just ask yourself, "is it really too late for us to relive that moment? At least for one summer...tour?"

Friday, May 23, 2008

Love Theme From "Web 2.0"

I was hoping to spend today thinking about anything other then the internet, but Emily Gould's "Exposed" and Weezer's "Pork And Beans" video put the kibosh on that. Both kind of feel like tail-eating themselves moments, and naturally I prefer the one under three minutes thirty with great editing and overdrive pedals more than the one ten webpages long and written like a college admissions essay. But while there was plenty to prune, I'd rather read "Exposed" than a piece by or about Gould extrapolating insights into "the blogging generation" from her experience. The newsworthiness of it (at least to those actively participating in Web 2.0) is obvious by the number of people who've read it all the way through, whether or not they were bored the final product*. While, thankfully, she didn't trump up the piece by claiming so herself, many of her observations could be seen as common among folks with an online social life, even universal.

Knowing that the worst of my online oversharing is still publicly accessible doesn’t thrill me, but it doesn’t scare me anymore either. I might hate my former self, but I don’t want to destroy her, and in a way, I want to respect her decision to show the world her vulnerability. I’m willing to let that blog exist now as a sort of memorial to a time in my life when I thought my discoveries about myself and what I loved were special enough to merit sharing with the world immediately.

That this penultimate paragraph is followed by one repping her current blog is annoying, but "Exposed" gives a definitive look at where personal blogging can take someone, emotionally and occupationally. An article "about" bloggers would be written to the uninitiated, and the debate would be over whether the piece "got it right." Having a livejournal post on the cover of the NYT magazine doesn't suggest how things have changed, it proves it.

"Pork And Beans" is nowhere as self-revealing, but the way Weezer exploits, legitimizes, celebrates and identifies with the subjects of viral internet humor is equally an acknowledgment that things have changed; its such an overt surrender to web culture at its most potentially humiliating that it might as well be titled "Youtube Killed The Video Star." The clip is oddly moving for me, providing a context for the song that takes my attention away from the overly specific whiny meta of the verses and puts it on the defiant, unapologetic chorus: One look in the mirror, and I'm tickled pink. Where most entertainers are looking for a way to maintain some dignity and distance, Weezer soaks in it.

The information industry is being sucked into a new marketplace, and will be whether or not it can find a way to turn public attention into enough loot to maintain its current size and structure. I appreciate Emily Gould and Weezer speaking up for the people caught up in it, whether or not that was their intent.

*I don't usually claim that attention proves merit, but people aren't angry because she's wrong, they're angry because they think she's overpaid.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A standard, blue-tinted serial killer movie made more entertaining by being the best argument against net neutrality yet (if no one can control access, homicidal web freaks could make hit count hungry snuff films and put them up on Russian servers! Or something!). The third act doesn't really make sense (can you really hack someone's car computer and make it stop?), but by that point we've seen Colin Hanks sitting in a tub full of battery acid, blinking in morse code, so no complaints.

I'd suggest that Will Ferrell seek bigger game and stop making poorly scripted sports comedies with first time directors, but Stranger Than Fiction might be his worst movie. Most of the actors are likable, but only Andrew Daly and Will Arnett's sportscasters have anything near quality material, and it's pretty hard to for a comedian to fuck up a "color commentator" role.

I'm Not There
Last year, I only got about ten minutes into No Direction Home, as I'd just read a biography covering the same time period, and didn't really want to watch "Judas" footage with the vocals mixed louder than all hell. After this poor, pretentious man's Rutles, I'm really tempted to revisit the doc. My Morning Jacket's never getting another chance, though.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

You're so ugly when you cry.

Songs new to the Billboard Top 50 Singles Chart, and the top debut.

#1 (from #53): Rihanna, "Take A Bow"
I'd complain that Beyonce would haven taken this kind of sassy heartbreak ballad to the bank, but, commercially, Rihanna is doing just that.

#15 (debut): Coldplay, "Viva La Vida"
Is it a coincidence that, singing from the point of view of a deposed king, Chris Martin sounds more like Bono than ever before?

#40 (debut): Coldplay, "Violet Hill"
That the song works better as a soundtrack to "Dancing Politicans" than the band's capering merely proves that world leaders inspire more inchoate emotion than Chris Martin, even though he tries harder.

#45 (from #51): Rascal Flatts, "Every Day"
Jesus, Red Cross workers, people who stop me when I step into traffic - thanks for everything!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The action sequences in the Iron Man trailer seemed so clunky that I worried they'd drag between the obviously entertaining "Tony Stark" scenes, but Jon Favreau keeps everything moving, if not necessarily inspired (the best thing I can say about the climax is that it wasn't incoherent). Whether or not Favreau succeeded in achieving his "if Robert Altman directed Superman" fantasy, he does more for Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Robert Downey Jr. than anyone else since forever, Oscar movie or otherwise. Juicy roles in a carefree context - it's no wonder they look like they're having the time of their life.

Ironically, I can easily see Downey receiving an Academy Award nomination for Iron Man. He has fun in supporting roles, but it's all too easy for someone as awake and charming as him to steal a scene - he's great when has to carry it. Terence Howard and Faran Tahir don't give much hope for sequels involving War Machine or the Mandarin, but their characters weren't interesting anyway.

The Spider-Man and X-Men movies have a grander pull (power-wise and metaphorically), but only the "now it's your turn" intervention fantasy and some surprisingly ugly womanizing for a family movie really interrupted the fun. Iron Man is probably the best B-superhero A-movie we'll get.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My tongue dances behind my lips for you.

Songs new to Billboard's Top 50 singles chart, and the top debut.

#31 (from #60): Lil' Wayne, "A Milli"
Whether the vocal's a freestyle or an incredible simulation, I'm not sold on the repeat entertainment value of a great rapper's improv. I might feel different if I was sold on the beat.

#47 (from #51): Flyleaf, "All Around Me"
From - It can take a while for an aspiring band's music to finally kick in with a general pop audience, and alt-metal group Flyleaf nicely illustrate the point. Their debut album appeared in October 2005. It is the collection's 3rd single that is finally climbing the pop charts admirably filling the current rock niche on top 40 radio. Fans of the band Daughtry will recognize producer Howard Benson's palpable influence here. Rock, are you going to just lie there and take this?

#50 (fromt #56): Carrie Underwood, "Last Name"
Theme from What Happens In Vegas.

#57 (debut): Madonna, "Give It 2 Me"
Pharrell, like Timbaland, is giving her his best autopilot - the primary distinguishing feature being Pharrell's fondness for goofy jazz keyboards. Madonna's autopilot has seen better days.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Currently probably my favorite indie rock song of 2008. Pretty and unhurried, yet muscular and moving, it's a polished Electr-O-Pura outtake, sung by someone who wants you know to what he's saying. The Postal Service warmed me to Ben Gibbard (I used to call him Ben Gelding), though I can't remember what made me warm to the Postal Service. More bands should make the Big Striking Song on their album the heavily promoted single. Especially in indie rock, where there's no reason to play radio-friendly. With youtube and satellites and such, you might get enough of the curious impressed with your ability to be Big and Striking that radio, if they ever care, won't demand you edit your Bohemian Rhapsody. Then you get to be Queen! Or at least Radiohead. And you know your A&R man wishes you were Radiohead.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Movies watched at home last week, from favorite to least.

Incest belatedly breaks out in a family that seems like it should already have been that, no pun intended, fucked. Revolted "ewww"s gradually morphed into a more sympathetic "wow, why hasn't this kid killed himself yet," but I can't say I found it frequently funny, shocking or "shockingly funny." Points off for the cop-out ending. Hitchhiking? Are we Bob Rafelson now? I rewatched Flirting With Disaster, David O. Russell's follow-up, immediately after and while it's infinitely more of a sitcom than his debut, the alternative would have involved becoming Todd Solondz. Or Bob Rafelson.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

So go on, shawty, and tell him you found a new man.

Songs new to the Billboard Top 50 singles chart, and the top debut.

#9 (debut): Chris Brown, "Forever"
"It's you and me, moving at the speed of light into eternity!" r&b's disco/house worm begins to turn. "Feels like we're on another level!" If you're not paying close attention (a good idea in and of itself), it sounds like Stevie Wonder's playing harmonica on it. "What a beautiful lady, no ifs, ands or maybes!" What's scary is that Chris Brown may not be our Leo Sayer.

#14 (debut): Jesse McCartney, "Leavin'"
"Gosh, I would love to hear a smug millionaire spit pimp cliches at me over a beat Ace Of Base might reject. I just don't want him to What's that? The 21-year-old soap star who provided the voice for Theodore in Alvin and the Chipmunks wants to take me out and let it rain? Sold!"

#45 (from #55): Metro Station, "Shake It"
With bands like Panic At The Disco going for baroque well before mastering simple, I'm glad to hear an act that sounds influenced by the first All-American Rejects album: hooky punk-pop with a programmed beat, the "emo" reduced to a yelp in the throat not unlike new wave's. I'm only a little embarassed that it came from the older siblings of two Hannah Montana stars.

#47 (from #56): Gavin DeGraw, "In Love With A Girl"
Maroon Two and a Half Stars.

#50 (from #63): Phil Vassar, "Love Is A Beautiful Thing"
I'm surprised to hear the mother of the bride is dead. Sure, it's nice they included one unique detail in this celebration of the swellness of weddings, but it would seem to risk some cover band royalties. Kenny Rogers will probably add it to his repertoire anyway.