Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Running Off at the Mouth

So many new records, so few updates.  Here are my thoughts:

Wild Flag - S/T (Merge)

Glad I stuck with this for a few spins.  The hooks aren't immediately apparent cuz this ain't a pop record, it is a ROCK record and a decidedly excellent one at that.  I could do without out all the affectation in Carrie Brownstein's vocals (the blame can be traced squarely back to Patti Smith), but this is a bracing set of songs from a band committed to energizing, powerful rock'n'roll.  There isn't enough of them and it should be encouraged at all costs.

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther Sounds)

Don't judge a band by their promo photos is the lesson to be learned here.  Based on all the buzz floating around Christopher Owens I expected something twee, precious and just a little shy of an outright shambles.  Instead, this is a clear, focused rock record with a purpose.  It draws you in with great riffs and assured playing (drumming is uniformally excellent) and the first half climaxes with "Vomit," which deserves all the comparisons it's been getting to Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, etc.  And if the second half seems anti-climactic at first I prefer to think of it as the calm after the storm as the sun rises and our protagonist starts to see the world more clearly after a dark, dark night.  Yeah, it's that kind of record.  I had no idea they had it in them.

Butch Walker and the Black Widows - Spade (Dangerbird Records)

Some kinda weirdo this Butch Walker is.  He writes unabashed little teenage symphonies with on-the-nose hooks and detail-specific lyrics that remind me of nothing less than the expert craftsmen who litter the Country Top 40 stations, not the Pop ones.  This is type of stuff you feel silly for singing along with until you realize there's no reason to feel silly at all.  The big drawback - a little goes a long way and it gets exhausting after awhile.  He's that really smart and clever life of the party who just just doesn't get the hint that everyone else has left and you really want to get some sleep.

Boston Spaceships - Let It Beard (Guided by Voices Records)

I so enjoyed Pollard's Lifeguards collaboration with Doug Gillard earlier this year that I decided to check out this, his latest from yet another project that's been floating around the GBV universe for the last few years.  Much more straight-up rock than his often meandering solo records, you still have to mine through a lot of half-baked ideas to get to the gold.  One day he'll distill all his best instincts and put out another perfect record, or maybe that's besides the point.  Maybe you just need to go along for the ride and cherry pick the stuff  you want to keep.  I mean, he's not obligated to do anything but follow his muse and I'm not obligated to love it all.  I doubt even he does.  But can't begrudge the man making a living, right?

Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)

Trying to painfully recreate a scene that hasn't existed in 40 years is no way for a young man to spend his time.  And you thought his buddy Jackson Browne was a drip.

Male Bonding - Endless Now (Sub Pop)

When did Weezer cross over into the realm of Classic Rock?  Dinosaur Jr.?  Does it matter?  This record pushes my particular buttons.  Can't tell you what any of it is about, but they make a powerful guitar/bass/drums racket.  More memorable than the first, always a good sign.  Hope that they swing for the fences  on the next one.

Tommy Stinson - One Man Mutiny (Done to Death Music)

Like a terrific character actor who's never made it as a leading man, I want to root for Mr. Stinson.  A recent live show convinced me that after 20 years of post-Replacements music making, he's got about an hour's worth of excellent Stones-infected tuneage.  One Man Mutiny adds the requisite song or two to that list (my votes go to "It's a Drag" and "Seize the Moment").  In another 5 years he may add one or two more.  That's more than most people ever do.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Come Back Fleet Foxes, All is Forgiven

I spent a beautiful late spring morning walking around Philadelphia listening to the new Fleet Foxes album, Helplessness Blues, on my iPod. At its conclusion I decided that it was a really terrific record filled with beautiful singing and compelling melodies. Robin Pecknold's voice is as pretty as Graham Nash's and his lyrics are...well, they're no dopier than Nash's and that has to count for something. Arrangements are clever without calling untoward attention to their cleverness. A simple, supremely pleasant listen.

So I started to think about my prior response to these guys which was filled with such righteous anger you'd think they were the Embodiment of Everything Wrong With Rock Music Today. Why did I hate them so much when, in fact, this was the first time I had every spent more than a cursory minute or two listening to their music? I've come to the conclusion that it had nothing to do with their music and everything to do with other people's responses to said music. I find nothing inherently awful about folk music as a concept or in practice. Some of my favorite artists are deeply indebted to folk traditions and others are just as strongly influenced by folk-based ideas. But I took the hosannas directed towards Fleet Foxes as an affront to everything I loved about rock'n'roll.

But in reality it is not everything I love about rock'n'roll.  Further, it has precious little to do with rock'n'roll period and I am fine with that.  It was as if I saw every Fleet Foxes album purchased as one less Figgs album going out the door, or Matthew Sweet or Ted Leo or Superchunk get the picture. And that's silly. It's like being mad at a banana for not being an orange because while you like bananas a lot, you like oranges even more. And how dare people prefer bananas to oranges?  Can't they see that no matter how good bananas are, oranges are even better (if I may be allowed to carry this tortured analogy to it's final resting place)?!

So enjoy your bananas.  This is a particularly good one.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Helena from the Wedding

Initially Published Here

The Film Movement series is an interesting concept. The company collects independent films from all over the world and makes them available on DVD primarily by means of a monthly subscription. You get to feel a little like a patron of the arts and each month a little gift shows up in your mailbox. Alas, I have to hope that the majority of the films are better than this simplistic marital drama.

A newly married couple invite a small group of friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a secluded rustic cabin. Everyone has their own unique strife to contend with -- there’s the passionate couple who only stop fighting long enough to have noisy sex (comedy here consists of their friends looking into the distance awkwardly while listening to them get it on). Then there’s the Type-A lawyer whose wife is about to have a baby and is questioning her husband’s fidelity. And of course the newly divorced friend who puts the moves on Helena, the only other single person at the party. They break off into pairs or small groups, reveal their doubts to one another and move on to the next earnest conversation. But first-time writer/director Joseph Infantolino has nothing new or interesting to say and while the actors are all pleasant (and recognizable as supporting TV players), they don’t have much to do here. The film aims for low-key and winds up just being dull.

The disc itself is relatively bare bones. A few cast interviews and trailers for other available films in the series. There’s no subtitle option (English or otherwise) which is a shame for such a talky little film. As a nice touch the disc also includes an unrelated short film, this one from Sweden (Awaiting Examination). Sadly, it is also fairly ho-hum.

Yi Yi

Initially Published Here

The last film completed by Edward Yang before he passed away in 2007, Yi Yi is also, arguably, his best. An intimate epic, it moves at a leisurely pace but is packed with so much detail and so many finely drawn characters that its almost 3 hour running time flies past like time spent with great friends. Like Altman at his best, Yang trusts his audience to put together the connections between people and places. The film has plenty of laughs and drama, but Yang’s camera moves with such subtle grace that these moments seem to come out of nowhere and hit all the harder for it. And the film features one of the most eloquent metaphors for the power of film I have ever encountered -- an 8 year old boy, played by Jonathan Chang in one of the great child performances ever, takes to photographing the back of people’s heads in order to show them something they have never seen before. “You can’t see it yourself, so I’m helping you,” is how he puts it and that moment has stuck with me in the decade since I first saw the film.

Criterion have upgraded their already excellent DVD package to Blu-Ray. Presentation is much more film-like than any previous home video version. Most of the extras are carried over from the prior Criterion release and include a commentary track by Yang and critic Tony Rayns, a video interview with Rayns about the New Taiwan Cinema movement and an insightful essay by film writer Kent Jones which focuses on Yang’s empathetic depiction of modern life in Taipei.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Sorry to have neglected the blog for awhile, but my family and I just returned from 9 days on the island of Hawaii (The Big Island). It was as remarkable a trip as most people who visit Hawaii claim it to be -- beautiful weather, amazing sights, great friends to share it all with. On our last full day we drove the 100 or so miles from our resort to the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park. I had doubts as to whether it would be worth the 2+ hours each way in a car with our 5 year old, but I quickly found myself in awe of the various lunar-like landscapes.  To say I felt like I was walking around in a Hipgnosis album cover come to life is to damn it with faint praise. Or maybe I just had pictures in my head of me wandering around with Nico.

But perhaps my favorite part of the trip was that drive on Highway 11 to the park.  From sea level up to 4,000 feet and back down, hugging the edge of the island for most of it with a breathtaking view of the Pacific dropping off on my right. I had my iPod on shuffle and I swear that the thing became sentient somewhere along that road. From Thelonious Monk pop classic to David Bowie piano ballad to the prettiest Superchunk song ever, I was moved by it all. And then this one came on - my favorite recording of a favorite Bob Dylan song. About 30 seconds in my wife turned and asked if it was the Clash playing. My first thought was to chuckle. But then I continued to listen with that thought in mind and it was like hearing the song for the first time. And it occurred to me that one of the greatest joys in life was getting to experience something familiar from a new perspective. I hope that never stops happening.

Monday, February 21, 2011

New Stuff 2011 - Pt. 4

As usual, music purchases were made at Long in the Tooth

 The Disciplines - Virgins of Menace (Spark & Shine CD) Second full-length from this Scandinavian band fronted by Ken Stringfellow (Posies). Much more assured and aggressive than their wishy-washy debut. Sure, it's garage-y at times, but it also recalls everything from AC/DC to T-Rex in it's monster size riffs.  And Stringfellow's voice is powerful and clean and just balls-out the entire time. A huge improvement and very pleasant surprise.   

 Lifeguards - Waving at Astronauts (Ernest Jenning Record Co. CD)  Bob Pollard in Arena Rock mode, and that's just how I like my Pollard, thank you very much.  Nothing lo-fi about the music or instrumentation (courtesy of Doug Gillard) or recording.  Maybe my fave Pollard project since GBV's demise.

 The Measure (SA) - Notes (No Idea CD) The last release from this soon-to-be-no-more Jersey punk band and arguably their best. Towards the end it gets a little too generic pop-punk, but it is front-loaded with great tunes and some pleasantly assured vocals from Lauren Measure. 

 Mind Spiders - S/T (Dirtnap LP)  Marked Men side project not dissimilar in it's mixture of rapid tempos and brittle hooks.  Perhaps a little more experimental in its instrumentation and arrangements, but fans of MM will dig it much. Brainy, forward looking punk teetering on the edge of new-wave.  

 The Parting Gifts - Strychnine Dandelion (In th Red LP)  Another side project, this time Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound) and Coco Hames (The Ettes) fashion an album of solid '60s girl-group influenced rock'n'roll. Nothing radically different from either artists respective catalogs, but a heck of a lot more fun than the last Reigning Sound record.  All comes down to the tunes and this one has 'em in spades.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kings Go Forth : Live at Johnny Brenda's

Initially Published Here


Given the preponderance of auto-tuned cyborgs passing themselves off as pop stars at the top of the R&B charts (Black Eyed Peas, I am looking in your general direction) , it may be hard to remember there was a time when heavyweight funk and soul acts were capable of delivering the goods live. It’s as if they’ve forfeited the visceral power of great live music in favor of distracting theatrics and an over the top carnival-esque atmosphere.

No, if you want to see great live funk and soul you’ve got to search somewhat off-the-grid. Like Johnny Brenda’s where Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth brought their powerhouse live show to Philadelphia for the first time. We’re talking about nine pieces crammed onto JB’s tiny stage - guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, two horn players, a percussionist and two singers pumping out a well-oiled set of classic-sounding soul. The twist is that these guys operate at an intensity level to rival the best rock show you’ve ever seen. Bass player/band leader Andy Noble isn’t joking when he says his band’s live show is closer to The Who than ______ (fill in your favorite “Neo-Soul Revival” act). Their were moments during an extended “Don’t Take My Shadow” with guitarist Dan Flynn hunched over his effects pedals and drummer Jeremy Kuzniar exploding behind his kit when the band achieved a kind of lift-off very few bands ever achieve, rock, soul or otherwise.

And floating on top of this righteous noise are the sweet harmonies of Black Wolf and Dan Fernandez. They are a perfectly matched team -- Dan providing a smooth base for Mr. Wolf to soar over. But Kings Go Forth are not a ‘vocal band’ by any stretch. There is serious muscle to their sound that is only going to get stronger as they continue to tour (touring has been sporadic since their debut, The Outsiders Are Back was released last spring). Let’s hope we get to see them here in Philly again soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Telekinesis : 12 Desperate Straight Lines

When Telekinesis’ debut hit the scene in the spring of 2009 it made nary a ripple in the indie-rock blog pond. Too close to power pop for a scene enamored with wispy folk music, it was also too grown up in its concerns to be of much interest to pop-punkers who at least still like their hooks hard and shiny. 

Two years later I am happy to say that the band (well, not really -- on record Telekinesis is a one-man operation) has not succumbed to any real or imagined pressures to redefine their sound to suit popular tastes. What Michael Benjamin Lerner has done is effectively streamlined his songwriting and sonics. The hooks here are more immediate, the melodies stronger. There’s a run of 3 songs in the middle of this record (Car Cash/Palm of Your Hand/Got You) that is as ridiculously catchy as anything you’re likely to hear all year. Does this mean Merge is gonna do any better selling 12 Desperate Straight Lines than their eponymous debut? Probably not, but that’s what Grammy-award winning bands do - enable their labels to put our great little records like this one.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview : Kings Go Forth

Initially Published Here

Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth are a 10-piece funk and soul revue with a live show to rival the most intense rock band you’ve ever seen. Led by singer/writer Black Wolf, the vocals may be sweet but there is considerable muscle behind bass player/band leader Andy Noble’s arrangements. The band’s debut full-length, The Outsiders are Back (Luaka Bop Records), came out in the spring of 2010 and the band is making their first stop in Philly at Johnny Brenda’s on February 18th. I had the opportunity to talk with Andy about the ins and outs of taking such a mighty (and mighty big) band out on the road.

Andy, I had the chance to see you guys play a record store in Austin at the last South by Southwest conference and I was completely blown away and...

Oh, we’ve gotten ten million times better since then! I feel like right now is the first time I can really recommend us -- like, “You need to see this show.” And it’s because of Europe. We actually went on a real tour where it was just eat, drink, sleep, play a show, all the time. We’d never done that before. We did two weeks of shows and the feeling instantly was yeah, that’s how you do it.

When you talk about the logistics of touring with a 10-piece don’t go to Europe and pick up a horn section or pick up a percussionist do you?

No. The logistics of bringing my guys everywhere are hard, but the logistics of doing that are even harder. Not to mention that I’m really particular. We’re trying all the time to get better and better and that wouldn’t happen if we were changing out members. That’s too much like a ‘show band’. If you were in The Clash you wouldn’t have a guy who plays bass in the US and another guy in Australia! No one would accept that and that’s how I think about our group. I don’t think about us as being like Sharon Jones, I think about us as being like The Who.

In a perfect world would you like to see Kings Go Forth on the road all the time?

I don’t think so, but things change. A year ago I would have said no, I just want to work in the basement on drum sounds. But after touring Europe I just wanted to go right back. I am addicted to the point that when I eat now I kinda mimic hospitality rider food. You know, you get hummus but no pita bread, so you scoop it up with a baby carrot (laughs). Just a vain attempt to keep on tour in my head while it’s a Tuesday afternoon in Milwaukee.

But motivations change and life changes. And this band sorta ruined a serious relationship... but, without going into too many details --, a year ago that was the most important thing in my life and I wasn’t looking to go on the road and now I just wanna go on the road all the time. But the thing that greases the wheels is money. I mean, we all need it and we’re not even close to “getting rich” money, I’m just talking about sustenance. If I take these guys on the road, I’ve got to be able to at least cover what they would have been making at home.

And you’re not crashing on people’s floors with 10 people.

Yes, but there’s a more practical explanation for trying to maintain some sort of lifestyle on the road. The show is so physical that I need to baby the group. I’ve got to make sure that the singers can sing the next night. And the drummer and conga player are basically running a marathon at every show and they’ve gotta be able to do it the next night. I can’t tell those guys to go crash on someone’s floor. Or hey, there’s no more floor space available but there’s a chair over there!

I’m curious how you feel about Kings Go Forth being included in what’s called the ‘Soul Revival’, whether it’s Sharon Jones or the Budos Band or...

Well, obviously a lot of that is business and marketing. People have to figure out how to sell your band.

But is this something you try to distance your band from or something you embrace?

I fall somewhere in between. Obviously I want people to hear about our band but also recognize that we come from a different place. It’s a double edge sword. If I was working for the marketing firm I’d probably be doing it even more, but in America there is no precedent of ‘Northern Soul’ -- these club scenes based on black American music like you have in Europe or Japan that have existed for decades.

In America our label cares so much about something like Pitchfork, which would seem on the surface to have very little in common with what we do, but the only people who buy CD’s in mass anymore are people who buy indie-rock. So our label has to think about that -- “Okay, is this the soul group that we can get indie-rockers to buy?” My business is just to make records that I like. I know there are other people who have different jobs to do. But the way they sell our band in America vs. the rest of the world is very different. But hey, when I see on someone’s Facebook page that they like Kings Go Forth and the next band is...I dunno, Radiohead, hey that’s cool (laughs). People need more variety. I like when people take their musical inspiration wherever they can get it.

Kings Go Forth bring their amazing live show to Philly for the first time at Johnny Brenda's (1201 Frankford Ave.) on Friday, February 18th. Show starts at 9pm and tickets are $12.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Stuff 2011 - Pt. 3

Dirtbombs - Party Store CD (In the Red Records) :  Grungy garage rockers put out an album of techno covers as a shout-out to their home town of Detroit (where was their Chrysler commercial during the Super Bowl?).  Did not know what to expect going in, but it turns our that garage + techno = something damn close to Kraut Rock.  Hypnotic, repetitious, groovy.  Perfect late night driving music.
The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts CD (Memphis Industries) : I've got a soft spot for these guys and gals after getting caught unawares by the giddy fun of their live show at SXSW a few years ago.  And they're a regular fixture in our house thanks to their presence on the Little Big Planet soundtrack.  Full length #3 doesn't stray far from their trademark good time sound -- goofy samples, cheerleader chants, kitchen sink production.  Exhausting over time but most excellent in small doses.
The Green Hornet - Directed by Michel Gondry (A Columbia Pictures release) : More in line with the jokey wink-wink action of the Iron Man series as opposed to silly solemnity typical of the Dark Knight series.  But Seth Green is no Robert Downey Jr. and the film goes on for at least 20 minutes too long.  Another by-committee film where a little of everything is thrown in in an attempt to appeal to everyone.  Instead you walk out wondering what anyone involved was thinking.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Initially Published Here

Over a decade after making his bones with El Mariachi (and eight years since he remade the film for Hollywood as Desperado) director Robert Rodriguez returned once again to his guitar slinging assasin in 2003 for, presumably, the final installment of the series. The action pieces and special effects are less threadbare than before but the story is still bare bones -- something about military coups and drug cartels and everyone is double-crossing everyone else. It amounts to an excuse to revel in some serious B-movie bravado. People fall balletically from balconies, bodies are propelled by unseen springboards as fireballs explode and a street fair is always a sign that a shootout is soon to follow.

Antonio Banderas plays things a little too straight here. He exhibits precious little of the lunk-headed charm he brings to his best roles. But the rest of the cast (Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo) all seem to having fun. This goes double for Johnny Depp who really seems to get off on trying to keep a straight face while parading through the film in an array of increasingly ugly T-shirts. His utter lack of seriousness perfectly compliments Rodriguez's grindhouse sensibilities.

This new Blu-ray edition looks and sounds terrific and features a slew of extras -- some wholly expected (deleted scenes, commentary track) but some fun surpises as well. Rodriguez narrates a little tutorial on how he managed to make the film on the cheap and on the fly and, in my favorite bit, spends some time in the kitchen showing you how to make his favorite pork dish. He could have a second career as a Food TV host.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nowhere Boy

Initially Published Here

Bio pics seem to work in indirect relation to one’s prior knowledge of the subject at hand. The more you know about the person(s) in question, the more likely you are to scoff at the necessary simplifications required to tell a life story in 98 minutes of screen time. In the case of Nowhere Boy we’re not even talking about a whole life -- just a few years of John Lennon’s late adolescence. The film centers on Lennon’s unique upbringing. Raised by an aunt and kept in the dark regarding his birth mother’s whereabouts, the film focuses on the bizarre love triangle that occurs when John (Aaron Johnson) begins to develop a relationship with his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) to the growing concern and annoyance of his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas at her most matronly).

The film relies all too readily on the type of shorthand tricks that define the genre. The film is filled with moments meant to foreshadow a history most of us know all too well, whether its the song Julia teaches John to play (“Maggie Mae,” which the Beatles eventually covered on their last album) or the cartoon walrus that John doodles in class instead of studying. Thomas and Duff both have the advantage of playing characters whose stories haven’t been told to death, but Johnson is in the helpless position of standing in for an icon. There’s not much he can do but go through the motions of being “John.” And the film resolves its dramatic tension by giving Thomas a maddeningly neat and tidy speech that’s meant to explain Julia’s behavior in the broadest of strokes. Much more interesting is Duff’s actual performance. There is a sexual undercurrent to Julia’s relationship with John that is unsettling and the film comes alive when it explores this deeply confused mother-son relationship. It’s a shame the film feels the need to resolve things so neatly.

Directed by first-timer Sam-Taylor Wood, the DVD does a nice job of duplicating the film’s clean, elegant and veddy, veddy British look. Extras are the standard issue featurettes and a few deleted scenes.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Company Men

Initially Published Here

It’s all comes down to perspective.

I’ve been catching bits and pieces of the Meryl Streep/Alec Baldwin Rom-Com It’s Complicated on cable lately and about the only thing that stays with me afterwards is the preponderance of beautifully lit, artfully composed shots of high end kitchen appliances and California-casual furniture. Turn off the sound and the film plays like porn for the HGTV set.

The Company Men begins with many similar shots of manicured lawns and glistening countertops, but what follows throws it all in a very different light. This film takes place in the immediate aftermath of the financial market free-fall that came to a head in September 2008. Bobby (Ben Affleck), Phil (Chris Cooper) and Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) are all executives at a large corporation that demands unreasonable growth levels despite the changing economic climate. This means cutting expenses and the quickest way to do this is by laying-off mid to high-level executives. The film then follows these three men, all in different stages of their careers with different familial obligations and demands, as they attempt to navigate their way through a very, very different world. And all of a sudden a brief shot of a gleaming stainless steel panini press takes on a weight and significance that speaks volumes.

As written and directed by TV veteran John Wells (ER, West Wing), The Company Men is as smart and thoughtful a movie about the current economic climate as I’ve seen. Unlike 99% of film and television, it doesn’t shy away from the real numbers behind the lives lead by its men and woman. Tommy Lee Jones’ presence comes with a certain built-in gravitas, but the look on his face when he eyes the $15,000 price tag on the end table his wife has just purchased says everything that needs to be said. Wells wisely allows his characters' actions to speak louder than their words and speechifying is kept to a pleasant minimum. Bobby’s blue-collar brother-in-law Jack (Kevin Costner) has a few all-too-obvious comments early on about jobs being shipped overseas, but even he’s allowed to settle in and his relationship with Bobby changes and grows in ways that are both true to the men and their situations. And each time I expected the film to take a turn towards an easy, neat resolution it veered just a little more off its expected course. Perhaps that course is a bit too melodramatic when it comes to the ultimate fate of Chris Cooper’s Phil, but the film’s ‘happy’ ending feels honest and earned. We could do with a few more films that deal so honestly and intelligently with such grown-up subject matter

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shock Corridor

First Published Here

Samuel Fuller, considered in certain circles the patron saint of American independent cinema was, in fact, a studio man for much of his career. It wasn’t until the early '60s when those relationships had run their course that Fuller turned to less conventional means to finance his pictures. The ‘indie’ film that cemented his reputation was 1963’s Shock Corridor. As subtle as a kick to the head and just as unnerving, the film concerns a reporter who feigns mental illness to gain admittance to an institution where a patient’s murder goes unsolved. But the murder mystery is an afterthought, an excuse for Fuller to expose and espouse on a variety of societal ills. Racism, communism, nuclear war all come under attack in a ceaseless torrent of invective perfectly matched to the flat staging, cheap sets and Stanley Cortez’s harsh, elemental lighting. You might shake your head at the film’s sheer brazenness, but you can’t help but marvel at Fuller’s primal audacity.

I imagine that Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition looks and sounds just as good if not better than the film did when it got its initial b-movie theatrical run. The disc also includes a terrific hour long documentary shot for IFC the year before Fuller passed away in 1997 as well as an interview with star Constance Towers and some neat new artwork by cartoonist Daniel Clowes.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Initially Published Here

The films of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet are an acquired taste. Actually, that’s wrong: “acquired taste” implies that with time their charms are likely to grow on you. For this particular critic, that moment has never happened and probably never will. Perhaps “not for everyone” is a more apt description. Stuffed to the brim with whimsy and wonder regardless of the subject matter, his films are as visually distinct and conceptually idiosyncratic as any filmmaker working today.

is his latest delivery system for Rube-Goldberg-inspired mayhem. Bazil (Dany Boon) loses his father to a landmine and years later finds himself with a bullet lodged precariously in his skull. He takes up with a group of lovable misfits (each with their own distinctly loony skill) who help him exact revenge on the weapons manufacturers responsible for both incidents. Perhaps there is a bigger point to be made regarding arms dealing and the futility of violence, but I suspect that isn’t really what’s on Jeunet’s mind. Levers are turned, buttons are pushed, traps are sprung and in the end you either find it all remarkably clever or ... you simply don’t.

This Blu-ray edition does justice to some truly stunning photography (despite working with a new DP, Micmas has the same burnished copper and lush green look of most of Jeunet’s films) and the obligatory “Making-Of” featurette is certainly more interesting than most as long as you don’t mind the magician revealing some of his secrets.

Bitter Feast

Initially Published Here

Writer/director Joe Maggio is trying for something a little subtler than your standard straight-to-video slasher flick. He’s created a quiet, contemplative feel for Bitter Feast, a horror film centered on an unstable chef sent over the edge by a contemptuous food blogger. Reading that sentence should give you some sense of why “quiet and contemplative” isn’t exactly going to cut it here. He’s wound up fashioning a film that’s neither scary nor gory enough for horror fans, but with precious little depth and substance for the rest of us. I’d say the acting is thin, but Maggio’s script doesn’t give the performers much to work with in the first place. Motivations are sketched out clumsily and ultimately abandoned to a silly chase through the woods we’ve all seen one too many times. There are some interesting ideas about trying to teach the critic some empathy for his subjects, but these are then weakly resolved: something to do with cooking the perfect over easy egg with your hands tied together.

The DVD does a nice job of conveying some conventially pretty DV photography. The disc includes the ubiquitous commentary track as well as the “alternate ending” which is more traditionally happy than the one included in the film. Guess we’re supposed to find the director’s choice more gutsy, but neither could have saved this rather dull exercise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Stuff 2011 - Pt. 2

I type this with my wizened 18 year old cat wedged in next to me on the recliner. I am 24 hours into my recovery from some minor surgery (a turbinectomy - but please don't bother to Google it as the first article that comes up makes it sound like some awful procedure that no one does anymore). I actually feel OK - not a lot of pain, just a terrible amount of congestion exacerbated by an inability to blow my nose.
But enough of that.
My friends at 215 Magazine have set me up with some DVDs, reviews of which you'll see here and on their website shortly.  In the meantime I have been catching up on my X-Mas reading:

 I read the first part of Guralnick's Elvis bio when it was published in 1995.  Don't know why it took me so long to get to part two (first published in 1999, it covers Elvis' life from when he entered the army until the end).  Just as detailed and meticulously researched, it feels unfair to criticize the book for lacking the passion and joy of part one for there were only fleeting moments of that joy at the end of Elvis' life.  Instead we get a weary litany of pills, shitty movies, young girls (most of their time spent as a cross between nurse and surrogate mama), and diminishing musical returns.  You can't help but think how things might have turned out.  He was surrounded by two types of people: those who loved and cared for him but weren't smart enough to see how troubled he was, or by people bright enough to do something to help but who ultimately cared about little more than their meal ticket.  A true American tragedy

 A slight, but fun and informative book on the creation of what is arguably the funniest film of all time.  I'm hard pressed to think of one better.  Blount is better served by his research than his own attempts to inject jocularity.  We're talking about some of the funniest folks to ever walk the planet.  Best to stay out of their way.
 Fantastically readable with tons of material I had never encountered before (and I've read damn near everything on the Stones, especially that remarkable time between 1968 and 1972).  Provides further documentation that just about all my idols are assholes, but hey nothing says that I need to able to sit at a bar and chat with you in order to appreciate your genius.
Further proof that I would rather read about than listen to 90% of hardcore music.  Tesco and Dave write with a passion and wit that frequently outshines their subject matter.  Gotta love all the old ads too.  Time to send in my $2.49 for that new Misfits single!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Stuff 2011 - Pt.1

New year, time to try something new.  I'm going to attempt to use this blog to not just to collect my reviews, but also detail my consumption of music, films, books, etc.  I'll shoot to update this once a week or so.

First up, some new music purchased at Long in the Tooth
Soul Asylum - And the Horse They Rode In On (A&M CD)
Jim Sullivan - U.F.O (Light in the Attic CD)

The Band - Rock of Ages (Capitol CD - 2 disc re-issue)
Leatherface - The Stormy Petrel (No Idea CD)

Notes : I bought the Soul Asylum and Band CDs used in an effort to fill in some holes in my collection (I have pretty beat up vinyl copies of both records).  I never got around to buying the new Leatherface CD after seeing the band live last year, but they were terrific and so is the record.  The Jim Sullivan was a shot-in-the-dark based on a recommendation from a friend.  His sad, bizarre story can be read here.  Initial listen reminds me a bit of Rodriguez, another early '70s artifact dug up by the fine folks at Light in the Attic. Perhaps a bit more Easy Listening, but in the right frame of mind I can get behind that.  A.M. Gold, so to speak.

Give a listen to the title track:
 Jim Sullivan - U.F.O. by scanny

Monday, January 3, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Initially Published Here

Street Artist Banksy has created the great cinematic 'Whatsit?' of 2010. Ostensibly a documentary about street artists as captured by an amateur filmmaker, Exit Through the Gift Shop becomes increasingly more convoluted as its tale unwinds. Thierry Guetta is a Frenchman living in Los Angeles who obsessively documents his every waking moment with a video camera. This leads to him filming his cousin, a street artist who goes by the name Invader. Invader puts his cousin in touch with other artists who tag public spaces in an effort to create ephemeral, populist art. This leads to the legendary British tagger Banksy who allows Thierry to film his clandestine art attacks across Britain and the US. But when it becomes apparent that Theirry doesn’t have the first idea how to compile his footage into a film, Banksy encourages him to make his own street art instead. And that’s when you begin to question whether or not everything you are watching is a put-on.

My two cents? Yeah, it is a put-on (for the most part), but a brilliant one at that. And if Banksy manages to garner a Best Documentary award for his elaborate fiction, more power to him. The film is as compulsively watchable and fun as the art scene that it illuminates. And like the art itself, the film leaves you with much to think about after you’ve glided over its smooth, neon-colored surfaces. And while the film is your standard issue shot-on-video release, Oscilloscope has done a nice job with its inventive packaging (postcards, paper sunglasses, etc.). It only seems fitting given the subject matter.