Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Best Man
Henry Fonda (who sure played a lot of thoughtful liberals) and Cliff Robertson's Joe McCarthy are somehow vying for the same party's nomination. The film pretends to be cynical but then has Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton by giving his electoral votes to Dennis Kucinich. A good reminder that people (in this case, Gore Vidal) were writing melodramatic political exposes about the media's love of scandal and lowest common denominators well before Aaron Sorkin.

Trite biopic juiced by celebrity cameos. As in the Prestige, David Bowie pulls off a cartoon of a cultural icon by making their emotional distance oddly cuddly; it's a neat trick he could probably win an Oscar for if he did it more often. Director Julian Schnabel keeps stealing star Jeffrey Wright's moments for himself (why let the actor express loss when you can have his inner child run past him and dissolve?). Despite all the drugs, sex, racial conflict and art, the only real edge comes from a spacey, vicious interview of Wright by Christopher Walken, who always seems to give his most surprising performances in otherwise weak Oscar bait, i.e. Catch Me If You Can.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I tried to post this video on here last night, right before Buddyhead took down the YouTube. They've also since taken down a copy on Vimeo. Who knows how long this link will last, but I pray their remix of Guns'n'Roses' recently leaked "If The World" won't ever truly go away. The amazing thing, if you haven't already heard the track, is that they didn't change the music at all. Easily my favorite remix of the year. (Thank you, ONTD.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My hands don’t like to be unemployed, they like to work.

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

#35 (from #52): Estelle feat. Kanye West, "American Boy"
It's a shame this isn't Kanye West feat. Estelle. She's a fine sound effect on the chorus, but her jazzy refinement is so much less immediate than his American smirk that the song suffers when he's away too long. Better than Duffy, but no summer jam.

#46 (from #53): Kenny Chesney, "Better As A Memory"
His voice put me to sleep before the initial arrangement (spacey keyboards and a minimal guitar riff that had me hoping for some country Joshua Tree) even had a chance to bland out. Maybe that's why I can't remember ever hearing a song of his before.

#49 (from #54): Flobots, "Handlebars"
"These guys sound just like Cake. You don't know Cake? HE'S GOING THE DISTANCE! HE'S GOING FOR SPEED! Oh come on, you kids don't know Cake? I'm totally making you listen to some Cake when we get home. If you like this, you'll love Cake. Seriously."

#62 (debut): Plies feat. Jamie Foxx & The-Dream, "Please Excuse My Hands"
I'm not yet sold on the godliness of emphysematic stream-of-consciousness punning, so I guess that Plies (which I will always pronounce plee-AYS, thanks to my little sister's dance classes) is my pop rap messiah by default. (every critic has to have a pop rap messiah, right?) All four of his charting singles are horndog valentines with a hook hero on the chorus. First T-Pain, then Akon, Ne-Yo and now Jamie Foxx and The-Dream. (Don't waste two on a track, dude! This only leaves R. Kelly before you're down to Omarion or Chris Brown.)

I assume Plies raps about something other than giving orgasms on his albums, but I like that he hasn't felt the need to make sure pop fans know. Whether you find him better or worse than the similarly reliable but lyrically forgettable Flo-Rida probably depends on whether you find lines like "I call my baby 'wet-wet'" amusing or gross. Me, I'm laughing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Deer Hunter
The first hour and a half is some Best Movie Ever shit. The opening wedding sequence revels in male camaraderie with neither ironic distance nor romantic exaggeration. Michael Cimino's camera surveys the boisterousness without calling attention to itself or providing comment. Everyone is so vibrant and likable that, for the first time in film history, I even had affection for George Dzundza. When the movie suddenly moves to Vietnam, Cimino shows the POW nightmare with equal respect, knowing that the contrast expresses more than enough anti-war sentiment.

Following this powerful work, the last hour thirty feels like a flawed sequel by a different director. Everything's buried in gentle finger picking and violins, when the first half had almost no score at all (something I didn't even notice until the music began to intrude). The film devolves into convoluted soap opera as characters are put through repetitive, overlong scenes in hopes of reaching a grand climax, as if Cimino didn't think the film was an epic yet. He eventually settles on a shot of shattered friends singing "God Bless America," a move that almost capsizes the film, despite its masterful beginning. Cimino's sudden fall from grace isn't surprising after watching The Deer Hunter, but becoming aware of his potential now makes it tragic.

The Signal
Well-meaning adulterers search for each other as a TV signal causes its viewers, including the cuckold, to turn murderously delusional. I was already impressed by the movie's look (drained but not overbearing) and intelligence before I learned it was filmed by three young directors from Atlanta (each helming a third of the film) for $50,000. Despite the windy last third, the character work is unusually affecting for a horror film of any budget.

Drugstore Cowboy
Following a junkie and his gang from pharmacy robbery to pharmacy robbery probably felt a lot more edgy in the "Just Say No" era, but its the embarrassing, Lynchian interstitials that date the film. Even with those gratuitous moments and an overlong third act, the lively, nonchalant scumminess feels fresher than Gus Van Sant's later To Die For. The actors (even Heather Graham!) are uniformly energetic without descending into tweaker parody.

My Own Private Idaho
Hustler River Phoenix looks frustrated and wrestles with narcolepsy while hustler Keanu Reeves does his surfer Shakespeare thing. It's nuttier and more indulgent than Drugstore Cowboy, but I'll take that over the passive stolidity of Van Sant's later experimental works.

Be Kind Rewind
The film-shoot sequences are among the cutest I've ever seen (I love that the reference points range from Last Tango In Paris to Rush Hour 2), with Michel Gondry making his trademark visual inventions more affecting by showing their seams. But for the first half of the movie, everyone in Passaic, New Jersey appears to be functionally retarded.

Matt Damon and Edward Norton play poker sharks of varying self-destructiveness in an upscale Mean Streets. Excessive narration and Gretchen Mol keep the film from taking off, and we can probably blame Harvey Weinstein for both. John Malkovich has a lot of fun with a Russian accent.

Town & Country
In this fascinating conflation of late Woody Allen and the Farrelly Brothers, a bevy of thirtysomething sexpots (and Goldie Hawn) make it impossible for a geriatric Warren Beatty to remain faithful to Diane Keaton, while Garry Shandling (coming off like a Billy Crystal grotesque) wrestles with his budding homosexuality. Between the disastrous sex comedy and countless crane shots (the only visible display of the film's $100 million dollar budget), I want to believe this movie was actually directed by Johnny LaRue.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

With whom?

I don't know how anyone could claim to regret seeing The Happening. How can you regret laughing your ass off? I can't imagine a more ridiculous (which is tantamount to "hilarious" in my book) movie coming out this summer, not just for its plot but the dialogue ("I see you eyein' my lemon drink!"). It doesn't lose steam, either. Rich (and I'm eternally grateful he agreed to see this with me) left for five minutes to get some food and missed a man calmly feeding himself to a lawnmower, as well as Mark Wahlberg (who hasn't been in as entertaining a bad movie since The Big Hit) apologizing to a rubber plant. The last movies I can remember seeing twice in the theater are The Blair Witch Project and Battlefield Earth, so it's no surprise I'd consider giving The Happening a similar honor.

SPOILER!!!! The last words in the movie are "Mon dieu!"

Monday, June 16, 2008

Inside fish sticks, outside tartar sauce. Pocket full of celery, imagine what she tellin' me.

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

#31 (from #76): Pussycat Dolls, "When I Grow Up"
Wouldn't this declaration of ambition be more appropriate on someone's first album? Wouldn't it have made more sense for the vocal hook to be "meow meow meow meow?" (the non-Nicoles being pussycats, you know?) Neither change would actually make the song any good, but it would show a little more thought on the part of its creators.

#36 (debut): Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, "Put On"
I won't tolerate Young Jeezy for allegedly being the best unimaginative hernia sufferer in rap, but it's charming when he briefly drops food metaphors I don't entirely grasp. Kanye does not improve the song by pondering fame through a vocoder.

#49 (from #56): David Banner feat. Chris Brown and Yung Joc, "Get Like Me"
Despite the failure of last year's "Speaker," David Banner would like you to know that he's doing nicely (the proud owner of a several cars), and that he can still get people like Chris Brown and Yung Joc to appear on a status report.

#50 (from #62): Three 6 Mafia feat. Project Pat, "Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)"
It's a little odd to hear Three 6 Mafia pretending to be Flo-Rida feat. T-Pain, but "like Barack Obama said, yeah, it's time for a change!"

Friday, June 13, 2008

After Hours
Griffin Dunne goes to Reagan-era Soho in hopes of getting laid, and barely escapes with his life. I'd probably mind that this urban fantasy puts him at the mercy of lunatic art chick after lunatic art chick, but Terri Garr, Catherine O'Hara, Linda Fiorentino and Rosanna Arquette are so much fun that any misogynist pathology underneath is drowned in almost Harold & Kumar levels of whimsy.

Body Of Evidence
An erotic legal thriller that consists entirely of Madonna fucking Willem DaFoe, Julianne Moore gritting her teeth and Joe Mantegna yelling "objection!" Everyone gets naked except Joe Mantegna and special guest star Frank Langella, who still gets to describe being sexually dominated by Madonna. The courtroom frequently erupts in hubbub. Every once in a while, a character reminds you the film is set in Portland. So awesome.

Down By Law
I didn't think I'd get all the way through a Jim Jarmusch film starring John Lurie (as a pimp? please), Tom Waits (as a hipster DJ, ugh) and Roberto Benigni (double ugh). But the affectations diminish once the characters meet up in prison, and, as he probably knows, Jarmusch's long takes are always easier to take in black and white.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Got memed! (Thanks, Alfred.)

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.”

I'm taking this as an opportunity to write about seven of my Top Ten Singles Of 2008 So Far, ignoring "Pork And Beans," "Beat It" and "I Will Possess Your Heart" as I've already said plenty about them.

Chris Brown, "Forever"
We've only got one night to double your pleasure, double your fun, and dance forever. Again. We've only got one night to double your pleasure, double your fun, and dance forever. Read it slowly. We've only got one night to double your pleasure, double your fun, and dance forever. This the biggest lyrical vortex in pop since the Backstreet Boys' "empty spaces fill me up with holes." It's so insane that I sometimes forget Brown opens the second verse with "it feels like we're on another level" and rhymes it with "we could be two rebels." Thanks to the blithe, carefree music and Chris Brown's jubilant delivery, resistance is futile.

Coldplay, "Viva La Vida"
Watch out, Arcade Fire! Thanks to you, these guys have figured out how to make grand music without being messianic or singing about love, and their leader doesn't sound like a turkey when he gets excited. The perfect song to celebrate the existence of term limits to.

Gnarls Barkley, "Run"
I enjoy the zebra-stripe sequence, but the goofy video gets in the way of the lyric, which does apocalyptic dementia even better than Dick Valentine. With every listen this song sounds better than "Crazy," better than "Hey Ya," better than just about anything I can think of. No other song sounds more awake to the world at large; it's as fun as a fire alarm gets. Where Electric Six is trying to live in the nightmare, Cee-Lo still thinks there might be hope, but only if we run(!).

The Hives, "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S."
Interscope, are you really just going to throw "Tick Tick Boom" in a bunch of action ads and then call it a day? I know "Throw It On Me" stiffed, but come on, this song has fluke novelty hit written all over it! You said this was going to be a single in February, so fund a video! Put it in ads! It's perfect for The Gap! They got together with Pharrell and made you a classic, now do your damn job!

MGMT, "Time To Pretend"
Indie is the new alternative, but what I'm psyched for is when it becomes the new alternapop. Between Myspace shrinking bands down to a four-song introductory EP and labels of all sizes trying to hook their acts up with advertising companies, I'm thinking bands are going to learn how to focus fast, leaving us with a bunch of cool songs from disparate sounds that only have some vague social context in common. Indie used to be about using your collegiate leisure time to find the diamonds in the coal, now the bands have some impetus to do it for us.

Nine Inch Nails, "Discipline"
The Slip inspired me to finally revisit Trent's pre-With Teeth full-lengths, and I was surprised to find I enjoyed Pretty Hate Machine even more than his recent arena boogie, thanks to his punkest vocals and late '80s percussion tracks that undercut any metal power-tripping (a flaw that sinks much of The Downward Spiral, despite the extreme production detail that also fails to keep Trent from hitting the wall on The Fragile). I originally took "Discipline" for "Only, pt. 2" but its contradictions are far more interesting than that sum-up would imply. Why is he more comfortable than ever with pop on pop's terms now that no one's asking him to conform? And how awesome is it that he decided to give the evidence away?

Trina, "Single Again"
Sometimes I'm inordinately bothered by female self-contradiction (Xtina's "words can't bring me down so don't bring me down," for instance), sometimes I'm not, like when Trina tries to act triumphant after getting dumped. Sure, she's clearly not as over it as she's claiming, but it's hard to fault her mix of heartbreak, anger and dismissive disgust. Maybe it's because she doesn't throw in self-pity.

And now to pick seven other blogs to send the meme on to.

Blackmail Is My Life

Kitty Power

Her Jazz

b-r-double o-k-lyn drama


Mind Your Own Goddamn Business

Flaming Pablum

Friday, June 06, 2008

Looking for that magic rainbow on the horizon.

Songs new to Billboard's Top 50 Singles chart this week, as well as those that debuted last week and are still on it now.

#9 (from #3): David Cook, "The Time Of My Life"
The only song from last week's American Idol deluge to remain in the top 50 this week, so I guess I should acknowledge what is basically the theme to yarl's Super Sweet 16 (if we count the "Sex Type Thing" as its birth). Congratulations, yarl, on your debutante ball.

#13 (debut): Lil' Wayne feat. T-Pain, "Got Money"
There might be some excellent rapping here, but I can't get over the unpleasant combination of laryngitis and autotuning.

#32 (from #43): The-Dream, "I Luv Your Girl"
The only song not by a guy named David to debut last week, and its rise is bittersweet. I'm a big fan of Love/Hate (no recent r&b album sounds like it was more fun to record), but I'm not feeling this edit. The song was slight enough without tacking on a horrendous, minute-long grunt from Young Jeezy and removing the falsetto "fuck that n---a" hook. Judging from the latter alteration, I guess "Ditch That" doesn't have much chance of being released as a single, unless they use the word "trippa" instead, like I do (cuz I'm a PC dork).

#40 (from #51): Kardinall Offishall feat. Akon, "Dangerous"
When I lock eyes with an attractive girl at the club, I do not like to imagine Akon standing in the corner, watching the both of us and singing "Dangerous" by Wyclef and the Ying Yang Twins.

#41 (from #53): K.I.C., "Get Silly"
You know what the Hokey Pokey always needed? Orchestra stabs and a slower beat!

#42 (from #57): Keyshia Cole, "Heaven Sent"
I'm no angel, and she's no Mary.

#43 (from #56): Chris Brown, "Take You Down"
"With You"'s smiley inanity got me to the campfire, and "Forever"'s smiley inanity got me to dance (the Wrigley's ref wrapped in an oxymoron was too much to resist), but this smiley inanity will not get me into his bed. Neither will that guitar solo.