Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Experience There Will Be Blood

The First Annual Marfa Film Festival is featuring an outdoor 'on the set' screening of There Will Be Blood this Thursday, May 1, before the set is dismantled. No word on whether Paul Thomas Anderson or anyone else associated with the film will be in attendance.

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DVD and CD Releases - April 29th

New DVD Releases:

27 Dresses
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Golden Compass
How She Move
Moondance Alexander

Click below for more DVD's and CD releases, including the most embarassing movie I ever saw with Doc in the theater:

DVD - TV Box Sets:

Adv. of Young Indiana Jones: Volume Three
Beverly Hills 90210: Season Four
Cheers: Season Nine
Sabrina: Complete Animated Series
The Waltons: Season Seven

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

Bernard and Doris
The Classic Caballeros Collection
Dead Man's Bounty
Diamond Dogs
The Fall of the Roman Empire: Deluxe Edition
First Knight: Special Edition
Hero Wanted
Knock, Knock
The Weekend

New CD Releases:

Augustana - Can't Love, Can't Hurt
Bun B - Il Trill
Constantines - Kensington Heights
Def Leppard - Songs from the Sparkle Lounge
Estelle - Shine
Frightened Rabbits - The Midnight Organ Fight
Foxboro Hot Tubs - Stop Drop and Roll
Langhorne Slim - Langhorne Slim
Jamie Lidell - Jim
Lil Mama - VYP--Voice of the Young People
Lyfe Jennings - Lyfe Change
Madonna - Hard Candy
Mindless Self Indulgence - If
Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch
Portishead - Third
Robyn - Robyn
The Roots - Rising Down
Santogold - Santogold
Carly Simon - This Kind of Love
Steve Winwood - Nine Lives

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Interview - Robert Levon Been of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

[Dentist interview, conducted April 24, 2008]

(I’d like to personally thank the band, especially Robert, for granting time to give this interview for DLP. Please support the band by purchasing their music. BRMC will be in Austin on May 19)

DLP: When you took a bit of a departure from your classic sound on “Howl”, how easy was it to get back to a more guitar-driven record like “Baby 81”?

Robert: “A lot easier than recording “Howl”. It was a lot easier turning it up loud and just screaming your brains out than “Howl”. I don’t know, it was a lot of pulling back and a lot of…we were kind of trying to keep that space that’s in the record. It’s easier to let go of the reins I guess and lose control and in the studio it’s harder to keep control. So it was easier coming out of “Howl” than going into it, y’know?”

DLP: There seems to be a heavy Dylan and Cash influence on that album. How much did that factor into the writing of the record?

Click below for the answer to this and lots more great questions:

Robert: “There were a lot of pieces that we reached from other places for the direction of the record. The Bruce Springsteen “Nebraska” record was one that I was thinking of at the time when we were just thinking of keeping it acoustic guitars and also Neil Young. But I also thought of a lot of other bands that did it wrong, a lot of bands that made acoustic records that shouldn’t have—and that helped more than anything. It was easier to know what not to do than what to do for the “Howl” album. I guess that’s kind of the way it is for electric records as well. Other people’s mistakes can be as much of an education as when you hit it right.”

DLP: Some of the band’s supposed influences include groups like Jesus and the Mary Chain, Ride and obviously Brian Jonestown Massacre. Who would you really credit with early on helping to form BRMC’s distinctive sound and style?

Robert: “There’s really not just one band. We reached a lot of different places and I think when we started getting the band together we were listening to Hendrix and The Verve and Pink Floyd and Joy Division. That was when we first got together, but every year it sort of shifts into other things and other bands. You don’t stop loving the ones from before, but you kind of keep your ears and your mind open for new things. So that’s probably where it started, but it’s constantly changing.”

DLP: Who are you listening to right now?

Robert: “The new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album and the new Spiritualized record and The Black Angels. That’s kind of more than I can usually handle at one time anyway.”

DLP: Talk a bit about the songwriting process. How do you get from a thought or melody in your head to a song on an album?

Robert: “There’s not one way we do things, it always changes. Sometimes it’s me and Peter writing a song on acoustic guitar and then bringing it to the band and taking it from a skeleton and then making something out of it electrically. Other times we’ll just jam out as a band, at soundcheck or at the end of a show and we’ll kind of take off on something and that’ll be the start of it and then we’ll write the rest of the words later. The only thing I can’t figure out how to do is go from a poem to music. I can’t figure out how to make the words first and the music second; it usually needs to be the other way around.”

DLP: In a recent interview, you guys said that having a number one single or album isn’t the ultimate measure of success, but that it would be nice all the same. How much does commercial success matter to BRMC?

Robert: “I guess I used to worry about it more, but there’s more to music than that I guess. Writing and not letting any of that stuff affect your mind and the way you write songs. I’m sure some people sit down and try to write a hit song, but I don’t know if we’d be good at that even if we tried y’know? There’s other bands that I know of that are obsessed by that pressure, but I never wanted that type of pressure to produce—that’s for someone else. We’ve been pretty lucky just to make the albums the way we want to and produce some of our stuff so it’s kind of hard to ask for more than that.

DLP: Talk about the compromise of an artist’s work that can sometimes take place in a time when illegal downloading still takes place. How do you reconcile that with continuing to put out quality music?

Robert: “It’s not really anything that we have control over and I can’t really worry about it. We’re not looking to change the system; I kind feel like that’s going to happen either way and the only thing at the end of the day that I’ll be accountable for is what I did inside of that and what side of the fight I was on. So I’m kind of fighting just to keep making the best music we can. It can play with my mind in a pretty dark way, but I guess I always have that hope that it’s not going to be about…the definition of the word ‘quality’ can be taken different ways. Quality doesn’t necessarily mean recorded in a professional studio with lush sounding things—which is pretty wonderful if you do it right—but at the same time that wasn’t ever the definition of rock-n-roll. And so if that falls by the wayside for awhile or forever then I still have faith that what’s left will still be the heart and the soul and the feeling and the spirit. That other shit never had anything to do with rock-n-roll in the first place. The only thing that you kind of have to worry about is psychologically what it means to people to steal a piece of art and take it in its smallest, most compressed, shittiest sounding possible way, which just lessens the worth that it means to them. And that’s just something that our whole world has got to figure out because it seems like you’re getting away with something, but really it’s just the kind or world we’re living in; things aren’t getting better, just cheaper, faster and more disposable. It’s one of those things we could probably keep on talking about forever, but it would probably be more interesting to get to another question.”

DLP: There are so very few bands out there today that sound even better live than they do on the album. Having seen you perform several times I know that you accomplish that very well. How enjoyable is the live performance aspect?

”It’s interesting because one can’t really be without the other. You could make records and never tour I guess, but probably better bands than you have come around and done that…kinda like the Beatles, y’know? But you’re not going to re-invent the wheel. There’s still room I feel like to break more ground live; playing shows is always interesting, there’s just so much more that can be done, that you can bring to people. Records are wonderful, but they’re limited by nature; it’s just feels like live anything is possible. That’s the thrill that to me is more fun sometimes than being in the studio.”

DLP: Last five itunes downloads?

Robert: 1. The Black Angels: Passover; 2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig!!!Lazarus Dig!!!; 3. anything by The Ruts; 4. PJ Harvey: White Chalk; 5. Tom Waits: Blood Money

DLP: When can we expect a new album?

Robert: Working on the road, it’s kind of fun right now just writing some stuff and trying things out in front of people to see which ones sink or swim. We’ll probably go back in the studio sometime around the new year or a little bit before that.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in Concert- Charlotte, NC

[Guest Review - Dentist]
BRMC, Visulite Theater. Charlotte, NC April 22, 2008 - A

What do you get when you mix three guys clad in all black, enough guitar feedback and fuzz to split your ears wide open and a row of strobe lights to send even the most stoic into epileptic seizure all packed into a small 400 person venue? One of the most amazing shows I’ve ever witnessed and confirmation of what I already knew that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is one of the premiere rock bands on the planet. The band epitomizes rock-n-roll “cool” with an understated swagger that compliments their image and underscores the brilliant music they write. Part Johnny Cash, part Oasis, part The Verve and a sprinkle of The Doors, BRMC are an amalgam of the cool unpretentious, almost reluctant rock stars that truly embody what rock-n-roll is and should be. And they don’t just look the part. Over the last eight years they have consistently put out quality, uncompromising music that has regularly been featured by Q Magazine, Rolling Stone, Spin and NME publications on numerous “Best Of” lists. More recently, they released “Baby 81”, their fourth offering, in 2007 and the EP “American X: Baby 81 Sessions” shortly thereafter, both of which were a return to a more electric bluesy/punk sound that bookends 2005’s acoustic “Howl” very nicely. Click below for the rest of the review.

The Visulite Theater was the venue for their latest stop on the current tour and it served the music well. The theater is small, intimate and adorned with heavy, lush velvety tapestry on the walls and a gently sloping tri-level layout that makes viewing the small stage from just about any position perfect and unobstructed. I arrived and took a position on the “floor” level about 8-10 feet from the stage to secure a good spot, plus I really was anxious to hear the opening band The Duke Spirit, a UK band fronted by the enigmatic Leila Moss, who has received positive reviews for their latest offering “Neptune” and a growing surge of a fan base. The band was pretty tight with a good, albeit short, set; favorites included “This Ship Was Made to Last” and “Sovereign”. But l was there to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and after a brief stage setup change, the guys came onto the stage amidst a flurry of the aforementioned strobe lights and launched into a blistering version of 666 Conducer that finished with a haze of guitar feedback. Robert Levon Been, Peter Hayes and Nick Jago are larger than life figures and seemed all the more so silhouetted against the pale yellow lights behind them as they held the last note.
Not wasting any time on idle banter, they launched into a selection of songs from “Baby 81” and 2003’s “Take Them On, On Your Own”. Songs like “Took Out a Loan”, “Weapon of Choice”, “In Like the Rose” and “Six Barrel Shotgun” were all delivered with a veracity that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go (I don’t know how, but Peter Hayes creates this amazing, screeching wall of sound with his guitar that just sounds amazingly good). Welcomed inclusions included a new song called “The River Styx”, which has been featured frequently at other stops on the tour and my favorite song by any band right now and probably one of BRMC’s top 5 songs ever, “20 Hours”. It is a throwback to the early 90’s British music scene and is the perfect shoegaze song as good as or better than the Stone Roses or Oasis ever did it.

The band then played through several songs from “Howl”, which translate amazingly well live. The guitar, percussion and vocals were spot on on “Ain’t No Easy Way” and “Shuffle Your Feet”. One of my favorite parts of the show was an acoustic selection of songs done by Peter and an acoustic guitar (and a couple of times a harmonica). BRMC write all of their own songs, but Peter is often credited as being at least the guitar genius, if not the lyrical one as well, of the group. His voice is amazing, wiser beyond his years, dripping at times with an earnestness rarely heard in music today and the acoustic set brought into focus his amazing talents. Not to be outdone, Robert was flawless on guitar, at times wielding it like a shotgun taking aim at the audience and at one point making his way onto the floor to play amidst those lucky enough to cram in alongside him (oh, yeah---he can sing really well too).

Some of BRMC’s most well-known songs like “Love Burns” and “Whatever Happened to My Rock n Roll?” sounded really fresh and segued perfectly into a rapturous encore that included songs heavily leaned towards the bands self-titled debut “B.R.M.C.”. “Red Eyes and Tears” just absolutely shook the walls as well as my heaving chest cavity and when the last note was played I looked down at my watch to find that they had played almost a two and a half hour set.

After the show I hung around just a bit and was lucky enough to meet Peter after he emerged from backstage to talk with fans and sign autographs and he is without a doubt one of the most cordial, well-mannered guys I’ve ever met. I told him where I had seen BRMC several times before and he recounted names of venues and opening bands like he was reciting days of the week. I thanked him for a great show and came away even more impressed than I was before. These guys are the real deal and in my opinion are one of the most under-rated, yet unbelievably great bands out there today. It’s nice to see a rock-n-roll band with no pretentions, no over-produced songs and no disaffected singer with a high pitched, fairy-like warble of a voice. Unbelievable show. Go and buy their music and turn…it…up…loud!

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Baby Mama - B

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 99 minutes. Trailer.

I wish Tina Fey was one of my close friends. I share her neuroses, irreverence, and failure to assimilate into normal social situations. In her second film role (Mean Girls was the first), she absolutely nails the role of a single careerwoman in her late 30's that gets the baby itch. After she is told she has a 1 in a million chance of getting pregnant, she enlists a surrogacy company to help her scratch her matronly itch. Enter Amy Poehler as the white trash surrogate, in an expansion of her one legged SNL character Amber. Click below for more on the chick flick I actually liked.

The story is very predictable, with lots of fish out of water and white trash/uptight yuppie bits as well as baby showers and redemption of all of the characters. Tina tries to get Amy to take better care of the baby in her belly, but Amy is concealing a secret that will hurt Tina too much to tell her. Though not written by Fey (that honor goes to Mike McCullers), the script has her fingerprints all over it, and her delivery of the smarmy lines is as spot on as it is on 30 Rock. Greg Kinnear, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin and Romany Malco all turn in funny and inventive supporting performances that keep the movie from veering too far down chick flick lane.

McCullers does a good job of keeping the film out of the hokey genre, except a 14 minute sequence near the end of the film with a baby shower, really dumb courtroom scene, and baby delivery sequence. My favorite sequence was the girls night out and Fey's actions in the club. A good movie with lots of laughs.

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 111 minutes. Trailer.

Like all movies (except Dewey Cox) that fall under the Judd Apatow umbrella, Forgetting Sarah Marshall tells the story of a funny/sensitive twenty something goofball with an overly attractive female. This film was written by and stars Jason Segel (Knocked Up), the latest lumpy hero. After his TV star girlfriend breaks his heart, he goes to Hawaii to get away from it all, only to find that the ex-girlfriend and her new fling, a ridiculous British rocker, are also staying at his hotel. He tries hard to avoid her, and finds a new love of his own along the way. Click below for the rest of the review and the most inappropriate joke of the year:

Segel's character is sensitive and a little pathetic, but funny. His interactions with quality role players like Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Jack McBrayer, Paul Rudd, and Russell Brand (as the 'rocker') are consistently funny, with several laugh out loud moments. The romance between Segel and Mila Kunis works but gets about 5 minutes too much screen time. Brand steals just about all of his scenes, and is actually an interesting character instead of just a one dimensional lothario. Kristen Bell is pretty, but not really funny except when she is making fun of Brand near the end of the film. The jokes are peppered throughout and well written with a mix of irreverence and intelligence. The film is sort of a romantic comedy, but stays away from too many obvious jokes. This is about the best a film of its kind can be.

Some of my favorite lines are viewable here.

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The Mist - C-

On DVD. Rated R, 125 minutes. Trailer.

Science Fiction and Horror are two of my least favorite genres, but the involvement of screenwriter /director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and Andre Braugher (Homicide) piqued my interest in the film adaptation of the Stephen King Novella by the same name. Set in a small town in the Northeast, the film depicts the struggle for survival by a group of people stuck in a grocery store after a mysterious mist overtakes their town. The first 10 minutes (which precede the onset of the mist) were as bad as a movie of the week with bad acting, dumb backstory and a family that had no chemistry. Click below for more on "The Mist (How I lost respect for Frank Darabont)"

The lead actor, Thomas Jane, is a movie poster artist whose home is badly affected by a storm, and a neighbor's tree has fallen on his boathouse. That neighbor is Andre Braugher, a big city lawyer with contempt for those around him. They go into town together, and the mist hits while they're in the grocery store. The next 2 days see lots of Lord of the Flies social commentary, stupid CGI bugs and tentacles, and some of the worst dialogue and acting I've seen in a while. Thomas Jane (genius as Todd in Boogie Nights) is beyond bad as the actor/MacGyver alpha male. All of the bit players are weak, especially the son of Jane, whose overacting and hairsprayed hair were a big distraction. Braugher was, predictably, good, as was Marcia Gay Harden as a cussing Old Testament style Christian that eventually convinces teh majority of the group that her wacky doomsday theories are correct.

Darabont tries to make some points about religion, life, hope and society, but none of them lands. There are some suspenseful moments, but this was just a bad movie.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Recent DVD Releases

All of the following were reviewed by my collaborators during their theatrical run.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) decide to rob their parents’ jewelry store, leading to disastrous results. Hoffman, Hawke, and Marisa Tomei (their love interest) turn in career-best performances and legendary director Sidney Lumet moves the camera gracefully and sets the action in perfect locations. The flash editing for the time juxtapositions don’t appear to serve any real purpose (it worked better in Easy Rider) and Tomei’s character is inconsistent. Still though, powerhouse performances (including Albert Finney, their father) and strong direction make this one unforgettable. A-
(Click below for Lars and the Real Girl and Dan in Real Life)

Dan in Real Life
Steve Carell is fine as the widower and father of 3 and Juliette Binoche shines as his love interest. There are great supporting turns by Diane Wiest and John Mahoney. But Dane Cook is terrible and the plot takes Carell into ridiculous situations that only exist in Hollywood. The kids-know-best mentality (that Priest mentioned in his review) is absurd and the ending is as contrived as it gets. The uninspired music selections hurt. Lots of fine moments add up to less than their sum. B-

Lars and the Real Girl
When his brother’s wife becomes pregnant, a young man (Ryan Gosling) has his past trauma (his mother died during his birth) bubble to the surface. He buys a sex-doll online and tells everyone it’s his new girlfriend. Instead of being treated with scorn, the small town community shows understanding. It’s surprising how well it all works, never descending into parody or losing its tone. Gosling is nearly unrecognizable as the troubled Lars and there are great supporting turns, but the visuals are flat. And wouldn’t one or two of the townsfolk have called BS on the whole scheme? (Lawyer’s spot-on review) B

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Favorite Scenes - Rushmore

MR. BLUME: You guys have it real easy. I never had it like this where I grew up. But I send my kids here. Because, the fact is, whether you deserve it or not: you go to one of the best schools in the country.

[Max's eyes light's up.]

MR. BLUME: Rushmore. You lucked out.

[Max leans forward to the railing and begins to listen intently.]

MR. BLUME: Now, for some of you it doesn't matter. You were born rich, and you're going to stay rich. But here's my advice to the rest of you: take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs. And take them down. Just remember: they can buy anything. But they can't buy backbone. Don't let them forget that. Thank you.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom B-

In Theatres, 113 minutes, PG-13

Kung fu’s reigning princes, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, finally face off in this silly, family-friendly incarnation of kung fu. Chances are you’ve already decided if you’ll be seeing this one (either Chan vs. Li quickens your pulse or leaves you scratching your head), but if your pulse quickens and you can put up with the ludicrous set-up and the Disney-fied fighting, there’s plenty here to love.

The plot centers around the ancient Chinese legend of the Monkey King (Li in one of two roles) and a Bruce Lee-loving kid from the Bronx (Michael Angarano) who is transferred with a bow staff (insert your best Napoleon voice here) to ancient China to free said king from his stone imprisonment. Along the way he picks up a drunken kung fu master (Chan, in, apparently, an allusion to his 1978 classic Drunken Master, a film I have not seen) and a stoic monk (Li again). When they square off, it is a site to behold, perfectly choreographed and quick as lightning. Supposedly, they had to slow down after the first few takes because the cameramen couldn’t keep up. Whatever, they’re still blinding, fast-pased fun. And it’s a good thing they are because there’s nothing else here. Michael Angarano comes off as a (very) poor man’s Shia LaBouf—doughy and not particularly handsome, but with not half the personality. The balance of the cast is made up of Asian cinema regulars who are too busy trying to stick their English lines to put any thought in real acting. Still, every time the plot threatens to bog the film down, a fight scene is interjected and the world is good once more.

I fell in love with Jackie Chan in 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx and also enjoy him in some of his American fare, especially when teamed with Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights. At 57, his days as anything besides the wizened old master are numbered. Similarly, Li at 47 is no spring chicken. Enjoy them both while you can. Unlike most action films, which only require ripped abs, steely biceps, and guide wires, these two are real athletes with true skill. Keep that in mind, and you’ll enjoy this otherwise forgettable film. B-

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11 Favorite Voices

This was hard to narrow down. Some that didn't quite make my list: Elton John (Sorry Priest), Roy Orbison, Neil Young, James Taylor, Roger Waters, Richard Ashcroft, Ed Kowalczyk and Johnny Cash.

11. Stevie Nicks - The mystical songstress gets my goat with Landslide, Edge of Seventeen, and Rhiannon. Her husky voice is sonorous and clear.

10. Celine Dion - Being weird doesn't mean you can't have a great voice. My favorites include That's The Way It Is, A New Day Has Come, and, choke, My Heart Will Go On.

9. Liam Gallagher - Sneering and angry, Liam's voice IS rock. He's at his best when his throat is torn up and he struggles to get Noel's lyrics out. Best: Wonderwall, Acquiesce, and Live Forever (here's Chris Martin singing it).

8. David Gray - Probably should be higher based on his ridiculously strong concert voice. Grab a hanky: Sail Away, Say Hello Wave Goodbye (a fav of me and Priest), and This Years Love.

Click below for the top 7 and some GREAT links to songs:

7. Shaun Morgan - What do you get when you cross Kurt Cobain's 'rawness' with the power and tenor of Eddie Vedder? Shaun Morgan: The Gift, Remedy, and Fine Again.

6. Kurt Cobain - Ragged and beautiful, his voice knew the pain of which he sang. Pennyroyal Tea, In Bloom, and Lake of Fire.

5. Chris Cornell - His underappreciated throat has been much discussed on this site. Showcased on Like a Stone, Redemption Song, and Hunger Strike (with EVedder live in 2003).

4. Axl Rose - His voice has no category. It is unique, powerful and perfect when he's screaming or purring his baritone. Never better: Patience, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Free Fallin, and of course Sweet Child O Mine.

3. Eddie Vedder
- Soaring and intense, Eddie Vedder's vocals are the driving force behind Pearl Jam's success and gravitas. At his best on Black (unplugged), In Hiding, Society, and Off He Goes.

2. Michael Stipe
- His voice is emotive and vulnerable, with lots of power when he needs it. Almost any song can be transcendent when his pipes are part of the mix. E-Bow the Letter (with Thom Yorke), Country Feedback, Nightswimming and One. Each of those deserves a listen, trust me.

1. Thom Yorke - Angelic, haunting, affecting and perfect. Best on Fake Plastic Trees, Karma Police (acoustic), High and Dry, and No Suprises (acoustic).

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Son Volt - Downtown Fort Worth, April 19, 2008

The headliner for Fort Worth's Main Street Arts Festival was Son Volt, an old favorite of my bride's, so we got the gang together and headed West. The festival was impressive, with lots of quality art and a very large crowd (probably due to the perfect weather). Son Volt took the stage around 9:30 and was impressive in an hour plus set featuring several of their most well known songs and a couple of new songs, including Big Sur, with lyrics from Jack Kerouac's novel of the same name. Frontman Jay Farrar has a quiet charisma as he sings his songs, and the rest of the band was tight and clearly enjoying the show.

Click below for more pictures, including the drunkest woman I've ever seen:

Below is the scene with a very odd couple, including a woman that was so drunk the cops came and got her. Great entertainment, though, as she did her "Cherry Pie" girl routine to melancholy alt rock.

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New Trailers

Henry Poole Is Here - New Luke Wilson dramedy tells the story of a disillusioned man in the suburbs with a house that some see the image of Jesus in his stucco. Might be good.

The Fall - New film from Tarsem (The Cell, REM's Losing My Religion video). Looks really weird, like a Pan's Labryinth/Stargate, but cool visuals. Not my bag, but might be good.

Hamlet 2 - Starring Steve Coogan as a misogynist high school drama teacher. Written by the Southpark/Team America gang (Doc - Elizabeth Shue is in this).

American Teen - The best of this bunch, this documentary follows the senior year of 5 Indiana teens. Trailer is poignant and funny. (watch out for the church at the beginning of the clip)

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DVD and CD Releases - April 22nd

New DVD Releases:

Charlie Wilson's War
One Missed Call
The Orphanage
Romulus, My Father
The Savages
Starting Out in the Evening

Click below for more DVD's and CD releases:

TV Box Sets (DVD):

Friday Night Lights: Season Two
Laverne & Shirley: Season Four

Special Editions/Other Releases (DVD):

A Date with Judy
Hannah Takes the Stairs
Merrill's Marauders
Nina's Heavenly Delights
Shirley Temple: America's Sweetheart, Volume 6
Trailer Park Boys: The Movie

New CD Releases:

dEUS - Vantage Point
Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of Understatement
Barry Adamson - Back to the Cat
Anew - Revolution Rise
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Sh!t Gold
Billy Bragg - Mr. Love & Justice
Blind Melon - For My Friends
Elvis Costello - Momofuku
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Flight Of The Conchords - Flight Of The Conchords
Goldfinger - Hello Destiny
Jack's Mannequin - The Glass Passenger
Night Marchers - See You In Magic
Prodigy - H.N.I.C. Pt. 2
Ashlee Simpson - Bittersweet World
Story of the Year - The Black Swan
Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell
Phil Vassar - Prayer Of A Common Man
Whitesnake - Good To Be Bad

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NBC Thurday Night - 4/17

The Office: Chair Model
(Season 4, Episode 10)
The best episode of season 4 so far has Michael on the rebound and Kevin and Andy trying to get their parking spaces back. Watch it here. There are 2 surprisingly emotional moments (one involving Kevin!) that hark back to the best moments of past seasons. And Michael is on a delightful, politically incorrect tear. (My favorite: calling Oscar - Oscar Meyer weiner lover.) BJ Novak is usually a strong episode writer, the most willing to be offensive. He threw in a nice Godfather reference, too. I never like seeing Novak’s character (Ryan), but he sure can write up a storm.
(Click below for 30 Rock and Scrubs)

30 Rock: Subway Hero
(Season 2 Episode 12)

Improved from last week, but still not quite on track since the writers’ strike. Watch it here. Liz’s ex-boyfriend (best in small doses) returns after saving someone in a subway tunnel. Tim Conway is mostly wasted as a shocking ex-TV star. And Baldwin’s Nixon was pretty bad. But Tina Fey fares best in this one, laughing at herself and giving snappy retorts.

Scrubs: My Manhood
(Season 7, Episode 12)

I really try to watch this crazy show but the medical stuff is mostly wrong and the last minute requisite message is usually nauseating. Suffice it to say, Turk losing his testicle because of torsion is ridiculous. You usually have 6 hours of excruciating pain before the testicle loses viability. A surgeon not recognizing this diagnosis is beyond preposterous. Love watching John C. Mcginley trash West Side Story though.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Lions for Lambs - B-


While 2 soldiers (Michael Pena and Derek Luke) fight for their lives in Afghanistan, a reporter (Meryl Streep) interviews a Republican Senator (Tom Cruise) in Washington DC. Meanwhile, a college professor (Robert Redford – who also directs) tries to inspire a bright but disaffected student (Andrew Garfield). The three separate stories are tenuously connected: the soldiers’ mission is the brainchild of Cruise and Redford was their professor before they joined the military. Their reasons for joining and camaraderie give the story much needed heart and soul. (Click below for the rest)Any regular reader will know I had my knives out for this one, but I must admit, it’s interesting, stimulating, and surprisingly emotionally moving. (Pena and Luke make a great pair of outsiders who need each other to survive both in America and Afghanistan.) Sure, it’s overly talky and the liberal bromides are there but screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) shows all sides of the Iraq War arguments and indicts nearly everyone, from the press to Congress to the sedated, distracted American public.

Despite his off-screen wackiness, Cruise still has unbeatable on-screen charisma, completely relaxed and charming in front of the camera. Streep is still as potent an actress as there has ever been (she’s especially impressive in the post-interview scene dealing with the thermostat). Redford remains a great presence but his section has the most forced dialogue. Though watching Garfield turn the tables on his professor’s rhetoric was satisfying. The trailer made it look like a didactic lecture, neck deep in left-wing platitudes. But Redford is way too smart to make a movie that simple.
The title refers to a quote from a German officer in World War I, commending the valor of the British infantry: “Nowhere have I seen such lions led by such lambs.” Obviously, in the film’s context, the Bush administration members are the lambs, but I would include myself and all other Americans resting comfortably at home as well. At least most will agree that the American military are lions. B-

Note: In the UK, the film’s title was criticized for misquoting the common phrase: “Lions led by donkeys”, which is an even more interesting political observation.

Note#2: I would have given a “B” except Streep’s character naively observes that WWII lasted less than 5 years and Iraq is at already at 5 and counting. Two words: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When she freaks out later because she’s afraid Cruise will use nukes, I raised my hands with incredulousness.

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The Counterfeiters - A-

In theaters. 99 minutes. Trailer.

As the winner of the most recent Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, I knew The Counterfeiters would be good, but I didn't expect it to be great. The film tells the story of a talented Jewish counterfeiter that is taken into a concentration camp and then put in charge of the Nazi effort to duplicate British Pounds and American Dollars in order to ruin the economies of those nations and, eventually, to help buy supplies for the Third Reich. As I have documented here before, I am leery of the 'holocaust drama' and generally hold the position that there are no more stories left to tell. The Counterfeiters isn't a film about the Holocaust, though it is used as a backdrop for this rich and intelligent film. Click below for more on one of last year's best movies.

The lead character, Sally (Karl Markovics, in a brilliantly understated performance), uses his significant artistic and technical talents to survive the Holocaust, but has to come to terms with the special treatment and favor shown him while his fellow Jews are being starved to death and experiencing the atrocities that were the Holocaust. He balances his own survival, the survival of his assistants, loyalty among the assistants, and his own slippery moral slope, all under the watchful eye of Nazis. When his Nazi captor uses the same selfish rationale as the Allies begin closing in, Sally is disgusted with himself. The film is bookended by excellent, tragic scenes after the war in Monte Carlo.

The film is understated and the director (Stefan Ruzowitzky) shows remarkable restraint, given the subject matter. One of the best of 2007.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Road, A

A 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy

With Cormac McCarthy’s novels increasingly finding their way to the big screen, most notably in last year’s Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, but previously with All the Pretty Horses, I decided it was time to give him a read. Pulitzer Prize winner The Road, currently filming and starring Viggo Mortenson, Charlize Theron, Guy Pierce, and Robert Duvall, seemed like a reasonable place to start.

What I found in the reading was a stark, tragic, and brutally beautiful novel that unflinchingly explores the absolute good and absolute evil in us all. Set in a post-apocalyptic America, the story traces a father and son’s slow walk south in search of food, warmth, and hope. The time is a number of years after the circumstances (war?) that have left the whole of America burned out, depositing a constantly falling layer of ash everywhere and leaving no living animals or plants. They survive on the few canned foods that have been missed by earlier scavengers. Shortly after the apocalypse, when it became obvious that food was gone, most remaining humans formed cannibalistic bands to procure the protein needed for survival by raging against each other. The stomach-turning passages of the man’s attempt to protect his son from both the clutches and the reality of these groups haunts me still. While the father is leading them south in the hope of finding other decent humans, it’s obvious he’s been far too shaped by the hunt to ever trust enough to make contact, leaving the boy to consider a truly solitary existence should the father die.

The Road is a triumph of form creating meaning. The haunting prose is Hemingway-esque in its utility and lack of flourish, differing from Ernest only in the inclusion of occasional haunting metaphors. Everything superfluous has been stripped from the writing, including proper names, chapter divisions and any punctuation marks save the period. While it is bleak, there is also such great love and, ultimately, hope, that this reader was moved to tears on several occasions. As the boy asks his father to explain again why they’re the good guys (people that don’t eat other people) and to assure him that they’ll never be the bad guys (people that do), the necessity of a lived-out ethic becomes apparent. And when the father tells the boy that he is the keeper of the flame, that the father can see it in the boy’s eyes, and that he can’t let that flame go out, that gets to the very heart of the relationships that ultimately define us. A

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Leatherheads B

PG-13. In theatres. 113 minutes.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the screwball comedies. It Happened One Night was a bit of a yawner for me, and Bringing Up Baby left me cold. So I greeted the news that George Clooney was following up Goodnight and Good Luck (B+) with a ’30-style screwball comedy with some trepidation. Still, when first Renee Zellweger’s name (as close as we’ve got to the female comedic leads of old) was attached, and then John Krazinski’s (Jim from The Office), I was tentatively excited. Neither my trepidation nor my excitement were completely justified by this prohibition-era football romantic comedy.

Clooney plays “Dodge” Connelly, an aging pro-footballer from the days when the pro game was played in front of hundreds, not thousands, and the pay was just enough to keep the athletes in whiskey and women. When Dodge sees the crowds for war hero and college star Carter Rutherford (Krazinski), he realizes the hope of professional football is in the squeaky-clean college star and sets about recruiting him. Zellweger plays Lexie Littleton, the Chicago Tribune journalist sent to get the straight story on Rutherford’s wartime heroics by loving it out of him, but not before she’s fallen under the gaze of Dodge. Sometimes witty (and sometimes not) banter ensues as the boys fight for Littleton’s affection, and Littleton sets Rutherford up then looses the stomach for knocking him down. Still, it’s the invasion of rules and standards on a child’s game once gloriously free of them that Clooney really seems interested in exploring. What does it mean to grow up? And what does it cost you?

While Clooney and Zellweger produce a surprising amount of heat, in the end it’s the football games that are the most fun. Physical comedy comes natural for all the leads, and Clooney and Krazinski are athletic enough to be believable. The cinematography is top-notch. The story meanders a bit in the middle, but never really loses its way. The tone’s a bit uneven and the laughs, hit-and-miss. More than anything, it’s a movie Hollywood doesn’t make any more. There’s a reason for that, as the box office bore out, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, if only for sentimental reasons. B

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Monday, April 14, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - April 15th

New DVD Releases:
Aliens vs. Predator: Unrated Edition
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With
Juno: Special Edition
Lars and the Real Girl

Click below for more DVD's and CD releases:

TV Box Sets (DVD):
Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection
American Dad: Volume Three
A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila: Season One
College Hill: Interns
Melrose Place: Season Four
SpongeBob SquarePants: Pest of the West
Woody Woodpecker and Friends: Volume Two

Special Editions/Other Releases (DVD):
A Passage to India: Collector's Edition
The Backwoods
The Final Season
Loch Ness Terror
The Minus Man
Nick Jr. Favorites: Lullaby Time

CD Releases:

9th Wonder & Buckshot - The Formula
Joseph Arthur - Crazy Rain and Boredom EP
Asia - Phoenix
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - My Bloody Underground
Mariah Carey - E=MC2
The Child Ballads - Cheekbone Hollows Everclear - The Vegas Years
In Flight Radio - The Sound Inside
Kooks - Konk
Lady Antebellum - Lady Antebellum
M83 - Saturdays = Youth
Phantom Planet - Raise the Dead
Tristan Prettyman - Hello
Freddie Stevenson - All My Strange Companions
Supergrass - Diamond Hoo Ha
Thrice - The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth

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TV - the Week that Was

Thu. 4/10
The Office: Dinner Party (Season 4, Epi. 9)
Michael & Jan have Jim & Pam and Andy & Angela over for dinner. Michael & Jan’s relationship disintegrates uncomfortably and hilariously as everyone else squirms. Best moment involves Dwight showing up with his former babysitter and Jim telling her he has so many questions for her. Available: here.
(Click below for South Park, 30 Rock, and SNL)

Wed. 4/9

South Park: Episode 1205
As he teaches an inner city school, Cartman (channeling Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver) tears up New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, using him as an example of how to cheat to get ahead. Loved this part of the episode but the other half was disgusting (Mr./Mrs. Garrison had his/her sex-change reversed using a mouse to graft his member). The whole episode is here. Watch the Belichick scenes here. (By the way, the NFL will do nothing since so much money changed hands through gambling when the Patriots cheated their way to 3 Super Bowl wins)

Thu. 4/10
30 Rock: MILF Island (Season 2, Episode 11)
Good but not great episode where Jack (Alec Baldwin) is disrespected by an employee in the New York Post. He tries to figure out who it is as they watch his latest production: MILF island. Perhaps the most obvious 30 Rock ever, I’ve come to expect more from Tina Fey than the easy jokes of “MILF” and “poo”. Available: here.

Saturday Night Live: 4/12
It never was going to be a great show with Ashton Kutcher as host, but there were great moments. The "Cougar" sketch was surprisingly interesting, particularly when Kutcher explains why he likes older ladies and admits their previous husbands have been pretty cool. (Demi Moore did show up briefly in his monologue). Any argument that SNL isn’t in some sort of mini-Renaissance should be stifled watching this. Kristen Wiig is the most talented female cast member in a very long time.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bad Titles : Bad Movies - On DVD

The Good Night (2007)
Martin Freeman is miserable in a marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow (drab and brunette) and is experiencing recurring dreams about Anna (Penelope Cruz). He tries to enhance the experience and discovers “lucid dreaming”. When he discovers Cruz is an actual person (a model) and meets her, decisions must be made. The film is structurally flawed from the beginning: People are interviewed about Freeman’s character, but without context, it’s a waste. But Danny DeVito (a lucid dreamer) and Simon Pegg (a womanizing friend) are funny in support. Cruz is perfectly cast as the object of desire. When Freeman watches her dance to The Troggs “With a Girl Like You” at a club, it’s perfect cinema. Before and after that moment, the film unsuccessfully tries to say something about being satisfied with reality and exploring midlife crisis. The subject of dreams is an inherently interesting one, mystifying in their origins and importance. But as written and directed by Jake Paltrow (yes - Apple’s uncle), the film is too meandering and mostly plays like a teenage boy’s fantasy. C

(Click below for The Hottest State)

The Hottest State (2007)
Ethan Hawke writes and directs this film based on a book written by Austin-native Ethan Hawke. William (Mark Webber) is a Texan-born actor working in New York who meets and falls in love with a struggling musician Sarah (Catalina Sandino Moreno). After a brief courtship and soft-core adventure in Mexico, she breaks up which sends him reeling. He travels to Texas, seeking out his estranged father (Hawke again) who he has not spoken to since he was a child. The conclusions are neither profound nor interesting. Some of the cinematography of the changing seasons is impressive, but watching this couple bicker is unbearable. Obviously autobiographical, the only thing more depressing than contemplating the decay of family and relationships in America is watching a talented actor disappear up his own rectum with self-absorption. D+

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Recent DVD Releases

All of the following were reviewed by my collaborators during their theatrical run.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Producer-Director Judd Apatow’s successful run of films (40 Year-old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad) perfectly blended the disparate elements of raunchy humor and heartfelt sentiment. All three were about emotionally immature males struggling to grow up. In Walk Hard, Judd Apatow serves as producer and co-writer for Jake Kasdan (co-writer-director), a former collaborator on the TV series “Freaks and Geeks”. The premise is little more than a spoof of all the recent musical biopics (most notably Walk the Line). More jokes miss than hit, but there are some great moments. My favorite was when Dewey starts ripping off Bob Dylan – the lyrics are priceless. And Tim Meadows is equally great, stealing every scene he’s in. But the phallic jokes come fast and furious, averaging 3-4 per minute (and there are 3 separate instances of full frontal male nudity). This may be enough for the frathouse, but some of us expect more from our comedies these days (mostly because of Apatow). This movie drips with so much irony, it winds up drowning in it. All phallus, no heart. C+
(Click below for Sweeney Todd and Reservation Road)

Sweeney Todd – (2007)
There is some greatness to some of the musical numbers- with their odd, intersecting lines and unusual rhymes. The musical performances of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are good enough. I actually prefer Depp’s brooding here to his jack-ass portrayal of Jack Sparrow. And this is director Tim Burton best film in several years. He doesn’t go overboard with the visuals, being somewhat confined by the stage origins of the material. But I’m not the biggest fan of Broadway musicals, nor am I particularly interested in severed carotid arteries spraying blood on the walls and ceiling. The ending works better than it should, but it’s hard to get much sympathy from me after you’ve viciously murdered innocent people and served their remains in meat-pies to an unsuspecting public. B

Reservation Road – (2007)
Despite the noblest intentions of director Terry George and his actors, Reservation Road is a tough trip to take. Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly are great as the grieving parents of a boy killed by a hit-and-run driver. But Mark Ruffalo never really finds his footing as the driver. (It may have worked better if Ruffalo and Phoenix would have switched roles). This is another movie (like The Brave One) where the investigator already has a relationship with the person he’s seeking, never a credible plot point. The movie is like an extended one act play with the accident happening early on and the consequences dragged out unnecessarily for 2 hours. Unlike the great In the Bedroom (which is similar in location, theme, and plot), this movie opts for all the easy answers where love conquers all and revenge is thwarted by a swift epiphany of empathy. C+

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Various and Sundry

1. Great new site: Muxtape. Allows you to make and share an MP3 "mixtape".

2. New show: Human Giant. Starring and written by role players from past Curb and Conchords episodes. Most well known sketch here (featuring Will Arnett, and not at all suitable for work).

3. Trailer for Blindness, directed by City of God and Constant Gardner director Fernando Mereilles, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo. Looks great.

4. Trailer for Baby Mama, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Looks funny. And here is the rest of it.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Polyphonic Spree - House of Blues - April 5, 2008

As part of the Closing Night festivities for AFI Dallas, the 'closing gala' was held at the House of Blues featuring a concert by the Polyphonic Spree. Somehow or another my group ambled into the HOB around 11:30 and joined PS about halfway through their show. Click below for lots of pictures of the show, one of which features Robert Wilonsky's head.

The crowd at this 'concert' was among the weirdest I'd ever been to. Probably 99% Anglo, with ages from 18 to 85. I did a double take on the way to the (open) bar (for a water, of course) at the 80+ lady in the cleavage baring silver dress being helped by a 60+ woman. Both of them were wearing expressions somewhere between dismay and confusion. Also present were various film festival characters, from the guy with the long scarf and the white linen suit to the guy with a Budweiser and a shark skin jacket. Wilonsky's unmistakable dome (and a similarly coiffed and sized buddy) entered our frame as he chatted it up with Tim Rogers. I also spotted Gary Cogill, Michael Cain, and Delaughter's wife, Julie Doyle.

In my prime concert going days, I saw Tripping Daisy about a half dozen times all over the city, but I have yet to go to a Polyphonic Spree show, despite the urgings of Appraiser. Led by Tripping Daisy frontman Tim Delaughter, the Polyphonic Spree is a 20+ member 'band' that uses just about every known instrument. The group is best known for "Light and Day" and "Running Away". The music is a little on the hippy side for me, but the energy of the live show more than makes up for my preference issues. Delaughter spends most of the time gesticulating wildly atop a pseudo monitor as he sings the songs and directs the band. The band uses confetti and allows the audience up on stage (if you have a camera) for one of the songs. The encore included a cosmic reprise of Nirvana's Lithium, my favorite song of the night. Worth seeing live, but I was still wishing for less 'good vibes' and more Tripping Daisy.

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