Friday, October 31, 2008

I saved latin. What did you ever do?

1999 was a year of transition in my life. I was going to High School. I was realizing I was growing up...slightly. It was also the year I discovered that I loved film. I saw the trailer for Rushmore and as a kid who grew up loving the movies of Bill Murray (some of which may show up here on this list) I immediately wanted to see it. I had moderately strict parents so seeing an R movie was a big deal. Although the film was actually released in 98, 99 saw it's national release. I talked my dad into taking me and after the credits rolled, my freshman in high school mind wasn't completely prepared for it. I knew as I was watching Rushmore that something changed inside my mind. It wasn't until maybe a year later or so that it started running constantly on Comedy Central that I was lucky enough to see one of the best movies of my life and ultimately one of the most important ones as well.

The thing about Rushmore that really hit me was it's style. And yeah, that's an obvious thing to point out about any Wes Anderson flick. Stylistically they are all very unique. Something about Rushmore over the rest of his films after it just seems a little more realistic in certain terms. Although the characters are deadpan and dry, there is still an emotional attachment gained from their tragic flaws that is ultimately beautiful and hilarious. The film was more than just a good story with laughs, which before seeing Rushmore was something that went over my head or I just didn't have time for. The way music was important to the exposition, especially in this scene, was totally new and exciting to me.

Yeah, sure I had seen my fair share of montage's, but never to such hilarious yet heartbreaking an extent. The introduction of Jason Schwartzman, who is my oldest sisters age and at that time was just 17. For someone who was around the same age as me to have such an amazing role was really awesome to see. His performance as Max Fisher is still easily one of my all time favorite performances. His foil, Bill Murray's sedated performance as Herman Blume, also was a shining moment in Murray's career and a drastic change from what Murray could do to my young mind who only knew him in his over-the-top comedic performances.

A film like this that really changes your perspective on film rarely comes by. Only a few of these on this list will have had a drastic effect on my life, whereas most will have these attached memories and moments stuck in time. Rushmore really is something else. It's a comedy, it's a drama and it's a stylized work of art all in one. It has a soundtrack to die for and has some amazing camera work. It's aesthetics are just as good as it's comedics. It sits near the top of my list of favorite movies and is definitely one of the most quotable ones as well. The writing between Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson was at the top of it's game with it's sharp wit and dry sense of humor. Rushmore is something that really changed my perspective on art and film and it definitely is one of the movies that made me want to study film. It's one of the reasons film is important to me and it's definitely something different.

1. Cinema Paradiso (1988) dr. Giuseppe Tornatore
2. Rushmore (1998) dr. Wes Anderson

Next Up: Jurassic Park (1993) dr. Steven Speilberg

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Life isn't like in the movies. Life... is much harder

There is something to be said about the magical powers of film. It transports you somewhere else. That place can be realistic or fantastical. It can be enriching or disturbing. From the first minutes of an excellent movie, you really get taken away from life. These sentiments are what made films great in times of depression or loss. Cinema Paradiso, a forgotten classic, is one of those movies that really nails this sentiment home. It's filled with every human emotion and can reach out and touch any member of the human race. It's utterly beautiful and touching. It will make you laugh, cry, dream of better days and relish old times gone by. It's a masterpiece and it's a movie that really just hits you and stays with you. Being a foreign film, my assumption is that not enough people have seen this film. It's a shame, but Cinema Paradiso is something everyone should see once in their life-time.

It's a simple tale, really. The story of a young kid in a poor town in Italy grew up with the movies. His mentor, the towns reel operator, shoos him away whenever he breaks into the booth upstairs and tries to see every movie the small cinema has to show. We follow the youngster through flashbacks. The kid through the film is all grown up and a famous movie maker returning home to bury his old friend who has passed on. Throughout the film, he revels in the days of old. The characters of the town are as vivid as they were when he lived and grew up there. He remembers his young love affair and all the happiness and pain that came with first love. We see all of these beautiful themes juxtaposed with what classic movies are being showed at the cinema. It's a simple tale. Yet within all it's simplicity is a complex palate of emotions that run through the viewer.

I first saw this during my days of working at a video store. In essence, I was that young boy who grew up loving movies. This countdown is proof positive of that. The sentiments I get from movies and many great memories are surrounded by a love affair with film. Cinema Paradiso is a movie that made me cry. Not many have done that, but the sentiment this film portrays and wonderful. Never before had I seen a movie as enjoyable and uplifting as this. As much as I love my artistic films and indie films, it's brilliant work like this that really brings me utter joy.

1. Cinema Paradiso (1988) dr. Giuseppe Tornatore

Up Next: Rushmore (1998) dr. Wes Anderson

Monday, October 27, 2008

25 Years, 25 Films

I said I was going to update a lot and it's been a while. So for my 301st post, I will kick off yet another countdown of sorts. Beyond being a massive music fan, my love of film has definitely affected my outlooks on life, love, the pursuit of happiness and all the other trappings that have led me to this very day.

So Onward! Prepare, ye blogger readers for a great undertaking just like one I did a few months ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

THIS IS....Not Sparta, but the 300th Post!

To all those readers who like to come here for my musings, thanks a lot! Writing is something I wish I did for a living, but hey, I'll take the E-Soap Box any day. Prepare for more posts including but not limited to:
TV On the Radio - Dear Science
M83 - Saturdays = Youth
Crystal Castles
Cold Wat Kids - Loyalty to Loyalty
Nick Lowe - Jesus of Cool Reissue


All New Features and hopefully more weekly postings!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's the Deal With Deerhoof?

My first listening experience of Deerhoof was a weird fucking song called "Kidz Are So Small." This pixie voice steeped in a Japanese accent over a strange musical arrangement. It sounded like novelty to me, yet this is an art rock band that apparently gets all the indie gurus over at Pitchfork a half stacker. I decided to check out the bands latest effort out, Offend Maggie to see what the heck this strange band is about. From what I gather, Offend Maggie seems to be more accessible than some of their other outings and for that it's a delightful listen at times. The music the band writes is very structured and erratic. The pixie like vocals are a cool juxtoposition of what the music is doing sonically, but does it work on repeat listens? Is it something you are going to go out of your way to pop on the stereo? I'm stillt trying to figure that out myself.

Regardless, Offend Maggie has some really breezy songs. The first track, "Chandelier Searchlight" is a delightful bright song filled with melodies that are sweet nectar to the ears. "Buck and Judy" is a little more overbearing musically, but overbearing in an interesting way. The rhythm section is abrasive and loud while the vocals and piano lines sound more like something out of a musical. The titular track sounds like a 90s alt rocker filled with a fancy repeating acoustic guitar arpeggio. Deerhoof turns up the strange on "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back." There is something charming about the song but it's fucking weird. There isn't anything wrong with being weird, but to me it's a little bit too out there in the ether.

My final thoughts on Deerhoof is that they are a band that takes a little too much to want to go out of your way to listen to them. This kind of art rock has it's time and place. However, I really do enjoy it when I want to sit down and listen to it. Offend Maggie has many stellar moments of great music. It's just not that kind of album that you are going to go out of your way to listen to it all the time. I've listened to the album a handful of times and I can see myself going back to listen to it again, but right now I want music that's fun or just plain rocks. Deerhoof will have to wait for a day I want to fully appreciate an artistic music group rather than, say, the new Electric Six.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Detroit Pranksters Crank Em Out

Bands used to be prolific machines of pop music glory. The Beatles released 13 albums in 7 years, Motown acts cranked out hit after hit and Bob Dylan recorded album after album of deep, folk rock. Bands aren't as prolific as this anymore and this makes the people who love these bands very ornery. Waiting two years for your favorite rock bands next record is tough. Luckily, disco punk all stars Electric Six churn out album after album. Since Fire in 2003 and with this years release, Flashy just a week away, we've been treated to five albums in six years. The band went through some tumult early on with line-up changes and since their third record, Switzerland, the line-up is firmed up and much more coherent. Well, coherent to the extent Dick Valentine and CO. can be. The album follows suit in the E6 catalog, but what makes it a stand out effort among the past three discs, it is more guitar driven and this makes it a much more fantastical rock record.

Electric Six specialize in tongue in cheek lyrics swamped by catchy as fuck guitar hooks and fantasy zone synth embellishing. This record also picks up some horns here and there adding an even more bombastic hilarity and depth of field to the very rock-pop structures that E6 does so well. It's good to hear a little more cohesion in the music as the last album was all over the place in a negative way. Although The Master was a fun album with some great highlights, like "Randy's Hot Tonight" and "Dance Pattern", it was very erratic and disjointed. The website at the time of release mentioned that the mission was excess and that they did. But that excess led to filler like songs "Broken Machine" and "Lenny Kravitz." This time around, at a lean 13 tracks, the new record is just as blisteringly non-stop rocking as Fire was. And to it's credit, it's easily the best since Senor Smoke. As much as Electric Six comes off as a joke band, there is no denying that they can write catchy rock songs meant for partying to.

The first track, interestingly titled "Gay Bar Part II" works as a littany of moments throughout the career of E6 with nods to songs from the bands first three records in the lyrics. The music of the song is fantastic with mariachi horns, a driving riff and fantastic percussion work. The first signle, "Formula 409" equates keeping your kitchen clean with ones libido. Again, the music excells as excellent rocking abounds with the catchy riff. The alliterative story song "We Were Witchy Witchy White Women" is one of E6's most interesting tracks. The structure follows the same riff throughout without your usual verse/chorus breaks and ends in a kick ass guitar solo with impressive escalating drum beats. Other gems include "Face Cuts" which is the most ballady E6 track on the album. "Flashy Man" boasts some of the most ridiculously great Dickie V. lyrics on the album, including "he's the X-Box to your Atari." It's best summed up as a boogie woogie rock track that would be best used by a professional wrestler as their theme music. "Graphic Designer" is a fantastic love anthem of a woman who knows how to use Photoshop. The furious pace of this track will blow the roof off of any party. Finally, in usual E6 fashion, the final track packs a poignant and wistful punch. "Making Progress" is a beautiful track in line with "Synthesizer" or "Future is in the Future." The vocoder hides the lyrics to an extent, but they shine through behind the dygitized voice delivering them.

Overall, Electric Six knows what they are: a party rock band. If you liten to E6 and can't have fun, you don't get it. To say that they are anything more than great music to dance to or drive down the highway to is just absurd. They are the musical equivalent to an ice cold soda. No nuritional value, but damned if it isn't refreshing and tasty! Flashy isn't as flashy as other albums being more guitar driven but, hey, let this band do what they do well. And see them live. It's the most fun you will have at a dingy bar near you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ridley Scott makes a muddled mess

Ridley Scott has a long career and his movies range from the dark and engaging thriller to the muddled and over blown thriller. Movies like Alien, Blade Runner and American Gangster work well and are very fun to watch as well as engaging. With his latest film, Body of Lies, the political thriller is enjoyable to watch but it's plot is ultra hard to follow and an overall muddled mess. The problem with the movie isn't that it's complicated but that the plot is very thin. It works more like a string of events tied together and we don't really get any character development whatsoever. This is surprising as the film has two big name actors delivering convincing performances. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Russel Crowe bring their best to the leaky plot, but even this can't save it.

The story is centered around Roger Ferris (DiCaprio), a CIA operative who knows the Middle East like the back of his hand. His relationship with insiders working against terrorist orginizations is uncanny. His methods are questionable, but his results are good enough that he's young and well known throughout the intelligence community. Behind the scenes is Ed Hoffman (Crowe) who seems to be pulling the strings from the homestead. His scenes are usually him doing major National Security work from the comfort of his home. Using state of the art technology, Hoffman watches every part of the operations through the CIA HQ and is basically right next to Ferris and without his knowledge. This is the main source of conflict as they are constantly at odds with Hoffman being a right wing conservative and Ferris being a more moderate leftist. Their solutions to the problems are quite different as one will do terrible things to stop terror where the other one would rather negotiate.

The rest of the film then gets muddled by what it wants to do and who it wants to focus on. There is a really strange love story somewhere in there and the plot holes are rather large and easily identifiable. This minimally takes away from the enjoyment of the action and the performances, but ultimately ends up hurting the film. The supporting actors are just as convincing if not some of the finer moments of the film. Hani, a Lebanese intellegence expert, played by Mark Strong is one of the finer supporting performances I've seen this year. He is convincing and elusive all in one. The whole movie centers around the lying and manipulating of information between the two leads and although Hani is the most honest, he still leaves doubt in the minds of the Americans as they are unsure if they can trust him.

The film as a whole is enjoyable and decent, but creaky editing and a poor story ultimately make this just another forgettable film in Ridley Scott's line-up. Mark this next to Kingdom of Heaven and Black Rain.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Thanks For Coming Out, Rick Rubin

As far as metal goes, Metallica is the band that many think of as one of the greats. Their 80's output is some of the greatest the genre has ever seen. They knew how to rock hard, sound technical and elaborate yet gritty and hard. Albums like Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All are masterworks of metal madness. Then they decided to get poppy with their hooks and less thrashy and although their popularity multiplied, their metalness slowly waned. Their 90s efforts had hits and made money, but were weak listens. The last album, St. Anger, was an atrocity as it nearly destroyed the band altogether and everything that was Metallica was almost gone. This year, the much anticipated album, Death Magnetic, was getting much accolades harkening back to their early records and sounding more, well, like Metallica should. This intrigued me being a moderate fan and mainly a fan of the first four albums. The comparisons came in, I heard some clips and was excited. I finally got around to listening to it and well, it falls a bit short. Heres the problem:

Poor Metallica decided to go with Rick Rubin to produce Death Magnetic. Although a production change was needed, as Bob Rock sucked hardcore for them, it wasn't the right choice. The potential this album has is heartbreaking. "Heartbreaking how" you might ask? Rubin, who has revived the likes of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Johnny Cash just doesn't jive with the bombast and grandiosity of Metallica. The main problem I have with the record is its production. The production is basically nonexistent. I see where they wanted to go making it sound grittier or less polished, but when you are underproduced on purpose and not because you can't afford good production, it just comes out sounding very bland and boring.

Is it weird that the songs are bland not because the riffs aren't blistering and rockin' as ever, but the fact that it just sounds bad? This is Metallica, not Beast Worlokk who plays at your local friend's basement show. The opener suffers a lot from this. The song is decent but something in the mixing just is quite terrible. "That Was Just Your Life" is the first step and it's a step in the wrong direction. The rest of the album just follows this suffering with a few moments of glory. The single "The Day That Never Comes" has a good first half and then it just starts falling apart at the seams. Rubin and the band take a song that sounds really great and then just tacks on solos and other riffs that don't fit with the rest of the album. If the last half of the album harkened back to the original riff that the beginning did, it may have been a better song, but instead it's a forced 8 minute epic that could have been a rawkus 6 minute epic. The album is littered with songs overcooked and under produced. It's like they put Rubin in charge of making hard boiled eggs and he didn't boil them long enough. The best moment comes in the shortest track on the record The closer, "My Apocalypse", is a blistering awesome metal song, but even here there needs to be a pit more. Mainly in the drum mixing. It's so stale and run of the mill. It's sad that even the song that I thought has the best moments of the album suffers from this repeating problem.

There is one glimmer of hope: live versions. This album is probably going to sound way better in the arena. The solos, which thankfully returned to Metallica after St. Anger's complete disregard for what makes metal awesome for me at least. I can imagine these songs getting the filled sound that the arena setting will give them. The bass is nonexistent on half the songs and that is something the songs need badly. The album is swiss cheese. Just fill in those holes that Rubin let stick, and you would have a much better record.

Oh and is it just me or does James Hetfield look like Tom Waits a bit?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I'm Afraid of Americans

I rarely get political here on this old Blog, but it being an election year in the USA, and a damn important one, I can't but help chime my opinion on my e-soap box.

This election, which I was very much anticipating, has turned into a side-show. I would usually say I'm a moderate democrat, and at one point or another I may have voted for John McCain. Eight years ago, I might have voted for him. He has changed drastically in that time. Even Obama, who seemed much more confident and intense during the primaries, seems to have lost some of that magic and looks more and more like your run of the mill politician.

But let's get to the real point of contention. As Bowie said, "I'm afraid of Americans." The real important issue here is the stupidity of the American people who are being duped by the conservative Republicans. Somehow, people are finding Sarah Palin enrapturing. I don't know when talking like an idiot and running around the issues is something that qualifies you as a Vice Presidential candidate. This morning, I saw something that really scared me. On CNN, a news source that I no longer want to ever watch, had two Jed Clampit looking individuals and they were discussing Sarah Palin's cheeky and completely condescending notion that she represents "the Joe Six Pack American." These two overweight hillbillies, who looked as if they were chewing tabacco and still drunk from the night before were on a respected news source speaking of how Sarah Palin represents the common American. I realize this is a large country and that a lot of it is middle class and rural Americans, but sicne when has the image of America been that of an overweight hillbilly with food crumbs in his beard drinking a six-pack of Coors? Since when do we want someone one heartbeat away from the presidency who talks like she's with her buddies at the Country and Western Grill downtown? Since when has being knowledgable of the process in which our Federal Government works been a negative aspect of being a Presidential nominee? Since when has being vabue about your opponents stances on tax relief and all the other important issues come off as legitimate debate fodder? It's infuriating.

I know I live in the North East and I don't know what the mindset of the rest of the country is, but to me it shouldn't matter if you are living in a metropolitan area smashed in between three major cities or living on a Pig Farm in Iowa. America needs direction from someone who at LEAST seems knowledgable about all the major issues facing our country right now. Do we really want the image of someone who can't speak well as our world leader? I don't. If you don't, sweet Jesus Don't vote for McCain!

Cafferty hitting the nail on the head:

Anyway, this election in general has really got me wondering if I should stay in this country. With the economy tanking, jobs falling apart and leaving the country, health care evaporating and massive amounts of debt but no one willing to make sacrifices, I think a new way of life is beckoning my call. Maybe move to Greece and live on an island simply. Farm or something. I'm just really afraid of the direction the majority of people in this country are going. It's the fall of the American Empire and its only just beginning.