Friday, February 25, 2011

Bob Dylan

I saw the Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back a few years ago as part of a documentary class. While I liked the film a lot, I came out of it thinking that Dylan was a bit of an ass. I expressed this opinion to a classmate who didn't feel the same way and attributed it to either him having seen the film before or my age. The latter seemed unlikely and still does as I'm only about two or so years older and I can't attest to the former because I haven't revisited the film.

However, I have watched another Dylan documentary: Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home (which I expressed an enjoyment of here). Having watched this, I think I can finally put to rest my issues with Dylan from Don't Look Back.

Much of No Direction Home is comprised of talking heads reminiscing about Dylan (or Dylan reminiscing about himself) and while that's interesting, they are all done through their own experiences. As a result, you don't learn so much about Dylan as you do about the person talking. An example, Joan Baez tells a story about being on tour with during his '65 tour (the one featured in Don't Look Back) and how she regrets it now, but at the time just wanted to be a part of the scene. It's nice insight, but all we learn is that Dylan was smoking pot and drinking. Nothing really new there. Baez' story is really about Joan Baez.

The rest of No Direction Home is archival footage taking from a myriad of sources (again, Don't Look Back is featured prominently). This is far more interesting from a voyeuristic point of view and an editing point of view. In the first part of the documentary, Scorsese cuts the growth of Dylan as a folk singer with his electric performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. It's all pretty nifty, but the really enlightening stuff happens in part two.

The first half of part two is talking heads doing what they do. Then Scorsese lets the images take over. Dylan has pretty much moved on to a full band and his tour is comprised of half acoustic, half electric sets. Amidst all the backlash and overreaction (because the music is damn good), Dylan went through a crazy promotional blitz being interviewed constantly by throngs of people. In Don't Look Back, it's the interviews where Dylan comes off as a prick. He doesn't give straight answers and he treats the interviewers with disdain.

Now here's the part that eluded me the first time around: Dylan is 25 years old. All he wants to do is make music and do it his way. He's got loads of fans spewing vitriol at him because he's had enough folk/acoustic music for now. His artistic interest is with his band. On top of that, the press is trying to anoint him as some type of deity. He's being asked all sorts of questions that don't have anything to do with his craft. He's right to question reporters if they would ask The Beatles the same questions. In isolated incidents, it seems like he has an attitude problem, but Scorsese shows several interviews all in succession of the same sort of asinine questions. It's no wonder Dylan rejected the questions so flippantly.

Dylan's life was in flux. Split between fan bases and musical styles. Young, but a god to many. A musician people are trying to hoist meaning on. I'm not suggesting that he's a cipher that can't be defined or anything like that (like a certain movie might), just that he was young and facing a considerable amount of stress. I get it now.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Life Smugglers needs your help!

Spending two years of my life (and untold thousands of dollars I didn't/don't have) at film school, I was bound to make some friends with great aspirations in filmdom. And before I go on, yes, going for film studies still counts as film school even if I didn't gain many discernible skills.

Two of these friends, Dave Wells and Wes Ford (who would give their kidneys, livers, lungs, and eyes to you should you ever need them), are trying to raise some money via Kickstarter to put the finishing touches on their short film The Life Smugglers. You can find all the information you need here.

They still need to raise about $1500, but anything helps. In fact, if you look down the right-hand side of the page, you'll see various perks alongside donation amounts. See? Helping is mutually beneficial! He even left this message to help rally the masses:
Today is February 15th. It's 24 degrees outside and the wind is strong enough to knock you down. You know the kind of cold I'm talking about here. So, if by Midnight Friday you all can get your friends, family, etc. to increase our funding by 1000 dollars from what it is now, I will jump in the ocean and video tape it. That's right folks, polar bear swim, just as a little present.
I don't know if the offer still stands, but I'm sure we can get him to do something pretty crazy if we can push him over his goal in the next three days. Let's give Dave and Wes an Oscar weekend miracle! When they're super-famous, you'll be able to say you helped them get their start!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Short Post About Downtown Parking

I had to run an errand at City Hall (in Portland, OR for those who may be reading and unfamiliar with my location) today. Since it was raining and my errand involved carrying checks around, I decided to drive instead of bike. I'm pretty sure I've never had to park the car downtown without Andrea being there to deal with the pay parking, so I've never given it much thought, but the city is running quite the racket these days.

There are no longer individual parking meters at each spot that one pays into. Instead, there is one pay station that takes credit cards and change and it will print a sticker out that you stick in your car window that says what time the meter expires for you. This isn't unique to Portland by any means. I think most cities have made the change to this type of parking (I have an image of Paul Newman cutting down parking meters in every city running through my head).

Gone are the days of pulling up to a meter and finding there's still 20 minutes left on it. Instead, the city is making money on top of money since there's no way to use the time someone else paid for (unless you happen to be leaving just as someone pulls up behind you). Since most people overpay (I know I did. One never knows how long a trip to City Hall might take), there's a lot of doubling up on parking payment, which suits the city just fine.

I'm not actually upset about this. It's a perfectly legitimate way to make some money. People would overpay for parking regardless. It's just making sure everyone pays for parking instead of some getting a lucky spot. When you go downtown, you expect to pay. It's a pretty victimless way to get a little extra money. I don't know if that was part of the intention when they installed the new kiosks, but I kind of admire the move either way.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Netflix Week Plus

I was at work pretty much all weekend then attempted to get into the Clash of the Titans Shanrock Trivia Championship (with my team Took a Page from Your Playboy) so it's been a little over a week since my last post of this nature. I don't think it was particularly missed, but I still feel compelled to offer an explanation for its absence.

Mimic -- Guillermo del Toro
Del Toro is on record as not being entirely happy with this film. The studio took some control and restricted him a bit, but it's hard to hate a movie that's willing to kill a couple of kids so freely even if the most annoying one gets a pass (and, apparently, a new family). I'm endlessly impressed with the set builders for del Toro's films. They do such a great job of creating a realistic fantasy realm, though Mimic's world is based far more in reality. Decent film with some cool scenes and creatures.

Sherlock (BBC TV Show)
I love Martin Freeman, so I'm predisposed to love this show. Plus, the man playing Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, has a simply epic name. Maybe it's because I've been watching the full run of The X-Files, but Sherlock's depiction in this show (and other Holmes stories) is very similar to Mulder in that they both get struck by a notion and follow it at a whim without explanation, even to their respective partners. It's immensely enjoyable, though the mystery in the second episode (there are only three hour and a half episodes) wasn't the most involving for me. The first, however, is incredible and does a lot to defy expectation and treats texting in a very interesting way. I haven't seen the third episode yet, but it's coming this week. Very excited. Warning: there was a super long wait on Netflix to get the first disc.

Ip Man -- Wilson Yip
I watched this solely because my theater is currently showing the sequel. Normally, I don't go in for kung fu movies (or boxing or anything where fighting is the main attraction), but aside from some over-the-top acting, Ip Man is pretty awesome. Donnie Yen comes off as quite possibly the nicest man alive who just happens to be one of the greatest fighters, too. There's more substance to Ip Man than your typical fight tournament film and given the technicality of the styles of fighting, great care is taken in the filming of the fight scenes. Incidentally, Ip Man would eventually go on to train Bruce Lee.

Night of the Iguana -- John Huston
When this came in the mail, my girlfriend rolled her eyes upon hearing the title, thinking it was some kind of crazy horror movie (which, by this point, you know I watch a lot of). I took great glee in explaining that it's anything but that with a great director, great writer, and great actors involved. Still, that didn't necessarily mean I would like it. It is an intense personal drama after all and I don't much care for that genre. But Night of the Iguana rules! Richard Burton is totally charismatic as the alcoholic, defrocked priest. I definitely need to see more films of his. All of his female foils are just as good. (post-Lolita Sue Lyon [though still playing the seductress], Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner, and Grayson Hall). There is a lot of risque business that I'm pretty surprised the makers got away with. Highly recommended.

The Asphalt Jungle -- John Huston
Part two in my inadvertent John Huston double feature. One of the main problems with many heist films is that it can take a long time to get to the heist. The Asphalt Jungle falls into this category. I hesitate calling that a fault because it's all in sacrifice of character development, but it took me a while to engage with the characters. That said, once the film gets going, it's pretty great. Plus, and I didn't realize this could ever happen, Marilyn Monroe gives a darn good performance. It was also surprising how skinny she was. I didn't recognize her until the film was almost done. One bit of unintended comedy: watching the heisters slide themselves under the motion sensor eye in and out of the vault.

The Music Man -- Morton DaCosta
I don't care for musicals, but I try to check out the ones that might appeal to me. Since The Music Man is a direct influence on one of the greatest Simpsons episodes ever (Marge Vs. The Monorail, written by Conan O'Brien), I felt that it's a viable candidate for me.

And it is pretty good. Everyone loves a good con man. The problem with The Music Man is that it's bloated (a problem I have with many musicals). There's a lot of spectacle that pads out the run time. At least in The Music Man, it makes a bit of sense. The man is a showman and the nature of his con lend themselves to spectacle. I don't know if I'm ready to sit through again anytime soon, but it was an enjoyable (and relatively quick) 2.5 hours.

Let Me In -- Matt Reeves
I'd heard pretty good things about Let Me In, even about how it's different from the original. My hopes went up upon these reports. And then I saw Let Me In. It's not a bad movie by any means. It's just totally pointless. Nearly every story beat is exactly the same. There are no surprises. Even worse, Let Me In comes in at about the same run time as Let the Right One In, but contains significantly less nuance. The most disappointing thing for me is that there is so much more in the book that's not in the original film to use, but instead, Reeves added only the detective. He had a chance to set the film apart from the original but created something entirely unnecessary. At least the car crash was pretty cool.

The Hidden Fortress -- Akira Kurosawa
Best known as the inspiration for C-3PO and R2-D2 in Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress was much better than I'd ever thought it would be. I don't know why I had such a low opinion of it. Maybe it's that it was inspiration for George Lucas, but that just seems petty. I never new what it was about anyway. The film is beautifully shot and the peasants' bickering and scheming is always amusing. Even the plot contrivances are elegant. Toshiro Mifune has to be one of the most badass actors to appear in film. I think the extras are cowering in the face of his awesomeness, not because they are acting.

Vampire Circus -- Robert Young
I've seen a fair amount of Hammer Horror at this point and I tend to feel the same way about all of the films. They're decent. They all have the same look, the same pacing, the same actors, and the same plots. I think what keeps drawing me in is the amazing artwork. That and Hammer's special relationship with eroticism (linked in with the artwork). Vampire Circus is pretty fun, but most notable (for me, anyway) because David Prowse (the man who wore the Darth Vader costume... hey! we're back to Star Wars) plays the strong man. Incidently, Let Me In was the revival of the Hammer brand. It's fun to see the accidental connections between all these films!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Heaven's Gate

I probably would've been content never seeing Heaven's Gate and just referencing it as a historical mess. One that almost ruined a studio. But my workplace, The Hollywood Theatre, was showing a 35mm print the past few days, so I figured if I'm ever going to see it, on a big screen in 35 was the way to do it.

There's a good movie in there somewhere. Perhaps contained in what was shot. At its core, the story is quite arresting. Two men love the same woman, a madame who takes stolen cattle as payment for her and her girls services. She ends up on a hit list along with most of the town. One of her lovers has been tracking down people on this list.

There's potential for an awful lot of conflict there and in many ways I admire the film. There is a tremendous sense of place with the sets feeling authentic and, more importantly, bustling with life. Much like McCabe and Mrs. Miller (also shot by Vilmos Zsigmond), Heaven's Gate lacks the romanticized feel of many westerns; you feel like you have to wipe your feet watching everyone tromp through the mud. There's some beautiful imagery and nice performances, so why doesn't it work? I'm inclined to forget about the many controversies surrounding Heaven's Gate (discussions about animal cruelty and budget overruns aren't very productive when trying to evaluate a films merits) in trying answer that question.

First, I want to make it clear that Heaven's Gate isn't nearly as bad as its reputation. I think the critical reception has as a lot to do with people wanting to get their licks in on an already notorious film (interestingly, readers of Empire voted it the 6th worst film of all time, but on IMDb it has just under 5,000 user ratings suggesting that perhaps people are voting based on reputation alone). Christopher Walken's climactic scene is phenomenal. Actually, nearly all of the post-intermission film is worthwhile. It's getting there that's a slough.

The film opens at a Harvard graduation (note: there is a lot cut out from this scene) where we meet several of the men with whom we'll be spending quite a lot of time. This preface to the story reminds me a lot of the wedding in The Deer Hunter except without anything of importance being set up. The only thing really established is that Jim (Kris Kristofferson), Billy (John Hurt), and Frank (Sam Waterston) graduated from Harvard together. That and Jim liked a girl in college. The film takes around twenty or so minutes to set that up and it doesn't really matter much in terms of the rest of the story (apparently the studio let Cimino shoot it for $3 million in England after principle photography was finished, which is crazy to me). In fact, the only thing to come out of this is paid off in the equally useless epilogue where it turns out Jim was married the whole time to his college sweetheart. It adds a nice irony to his anger about Ella's (Isabelle Huppert) desire for two men, but that comes through pretty clearly with the photograph by Jim's bed. By excising the prologue and epilogue, the film loses about 30 minutes of run time without hurting the narrative remotely.

We head to Wyoming twenty years later and are introduced to a mightily impressive set and we ease into the action (and ease is a polite way of saying it). I'll admit to drifting in and out of consciousness during these scenes and frankly, I didn't miss anything. Bloated is the perfect term for why Heaven's Gate doesn't always work. Scenes go on well past their expiration date. Spectacle becomes the order of the day. As nice as this scene looks (followed up by the embedded clip), it doesn't really serve much purpose (and why is it in sepia?). We already know the town is close.

In the first hour and fifty minutes, there's probably around thirty to forty minutes of useful footage. As I said, the film picks up after the intermission and I'd be content to leave most of that in. Sure, it's still bloated, but at least it's action. The shootouts reminded me of Peckinpah, which is never a bad thing.

One minor annoyance was the use of The Blue Danube Waltz in the soundtrack (played by a lone acoustic guitar). That song is completely linked to 2001: A Space Odyssey in my head that every time I heard it, I was distracted, and you hear it a lot. I can't really fathom why composer, David Mansfield, would choose a song already associated with another film, especially one so popular. At least he was good at roller skating and fiddling at the same time.

Say whatever you will about the methods of Cimino (allegedly he tore down the town only to have it rebuilt because he thought the streets weren't wide enough), when the dust has settled, there's something remarkable about the accomplishments of him and his crew. A studio may have been nearly destroyed, but their craftsmanship stands as a testament to their incredible work. In the end, the film is the thing. If it doesn't get finished, then all was for nothing (the same can be said of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). Studios have to keep their eyes on the bottom line, but trying to craft a motion picture purely for big opening weekends is missing the point. Films are not brief moments in time. They have a life beyond that weekend. Some age well, some don't, but playing it safe will never yield more than fleeting notoriety. Sure, Heaven's Gate is a mess, but that's what makes it interesting.

As a final note, I think it would be interesting to try to edit the footage available to see if one can make a good 1.5 to 2 hour movie out of it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Film Wreck: Hatchet II

You may remember that not long ago, I sang the praises of Hatchet, an amazing horror-comedy from Adam Green. One of the reasons I posted that article was because I noticed the sequel was available on Netflix. Excitement flooded my veins. One of my favorite horror movies of the past ten years (maybe twenty) and the sequel started right where the last one ended (which if you've seen Hatchet, you has an intense and abrupt ending). I was especially excited that Green was returning to this Louisiana swamp because his two films between are uneven at best.

Oh my. I've never felt such disappointment. Apparently, Green felt the best way to make a sequel was to remove everything that made the original so great (likable characters, realistic dialogue, humor, and yes, over-the-top violence/gore) and to focus on the easiest of these to replicate: gore. It doesn't help that Hatchet II follows easily the most uninteresting character from the first film, MaryBeth. But in the first film, she doesn't need to be interesting. She has an amazing cast around her, plus Joel David Moore bouncing off her. You barely notice that it's a nothing role that exists only for exposition. I was hoping that changing the actress from Tamara Feldman to Danielle Harris would be an upgrade, but even as the lead, MaryBeth is a nothing character.

This being a slasher, the cast needs to be filled out for the body count to pile up (according to IMDB, there are 17 on-screen kills in this film, a record for a slasher). Back is Tony Todd as the Reverend Zombie. Instead of a hilarious cameo like in the first one, he plays it mostly straight and delivers the longest backstory ever (and why do we need it? We already know all we need to know in the first film). Wasted. Perry Shen is back playing the twin brother of Shawn, Justin. He's in another movie entirely. Insanely charismatic and totally believable as the concerned brother. The only believable character in the film. Wasted.

The rest comes in the form of some bull shit Victor Crowley hunting party. Most are mildly obnoxious or given some cheap backstory to try to make the viewer care, but we don't. There's no chemistry amongst the cast. It's incredible watching the difference in this and the first film. I wanted to be friends with Joel David Moore and Deon Richardson (and even though he lied a lot, Perry Shen). I can't fault the cast, though (OK, in some cases, I definitely can), the writing is abysmal. Attempts at humor fall flat and the entire pretense for the story doesn't work. No way is MaryBeth going back for her family. She barely made it out alive the first time and seemed totally content leaving them behind.

Personally, I don't understand the hunting party story decision. I think the film would've been much more convincing if MaryBeth had gone to the police saying simply that her tour group was killed by a psychopath and that she needs help. They need her to escort them through the swamp, you've got your cadre of victims built in, and most importantly, you don't need the momentum stopping exposition.

There are some moments that add a little to the original, such as Justin being the brother who normally gives the tours, but Shawn was covering that night, which is why he did such a poor job with the tour. Reverend Zombie gets the money from the tours after all even though he said he doesn't run them anymore. There are also some fun allusions to other films such as Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Green's own Frozen. But all that cannot sustain a movie.

Probably the biggest miscalculation made by Green is that without all of the other key ingredients of the first film, the violent set pieces don't play the same way. Instead of the film being taken in light-hearted over-the-top fun, it winds up excessively brutal. The fun is zapped from the film. I'm not sure I've ever experienced a bigger chasm between expectation and end result. There was mild controversy about how the film was handled by theaters upon distribution, but I think it's mostly because it's a terrible movie. Don't watch Hatchet II.

In a rare instance of following the lead of the original, Hatchet II has a shitty trailer, too.

Netflix Week

I think I'm going to get rid of the "Weekly" aspect of my film recs/wrecks. The only predictable part of my schedule anymore is waking up an watching a movie, so I keep missing the weekly stuff. Plus, I'm usually trying to write from a perspective removed from the viewing experience, so the pieces aren't as good as they always could be. From now on, it will be when I'm particularly moved as opposed to shoe-horning it in there. For those curious, here are some films I planned on writing about, but won't now:

Body Double
The Shootist

Wrecks: The Matrix
The Departed
The House of the Devil

Onto the main event!

Season of the Witch -- George A. Romero
Speaking of Film Recs, I wrote a post dedicated to Romero's non-zombie films, pretty much recommending all of them that I'd seen. Well, no longer. Season of the Witch isn't bad, really, it's just incredibly boring. It's the story of a bored housewife who turns to witchcraft, but is really just a whole lot of talking politics, either overtly of subtextually (no evidence that this is a word). It's the sort of personal drama I don't really care for to begin with, but it could've been handled a lot better. A Woman Under the Influence of Witchcraft kind of thing. Instead, Season of the Witch just kind of sits there.

Fantastic Mr. Fox -- Wes Anderson
I don't really remember the book much, so I more or less came to this film with a clear mind. It was enjoyable. I don't know if I loved it as much as some of Anderson's other work, but it has a fun style. Even though it looks exactly like a Wes Anderson film, it looks completely unique, too. Definitely something to revisit, though there are two things I hate about it: the annoying whistle that is Mr. Fox' "thing" and (and this goes for so many films) that dancing is the distillation of pure joy. I pretty much hate pointless dancing scenes in films and have been mentally preparing a screed against them for a while.

After.Life -- Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
The main reason to see this movie is if you want to see Christina Ricci's boobs. A lot. It's a decent enough film with enough to make the viewer question what is real or not, but it's mildly repetitive. Justin Long plays essentially the same role he played in Drag Me to Hell only less likable. Really, neither Ricci nor Long are likable in this film, which leaves Liam Neeson, who is good, but I much prefer him kicking some ass. On the other hand: boobs...

Dead Presidents -- The Hughes Brothers
I remember when this came out I had no interest in it. The ads did nothing for me, which is ridiculous because the ads made it seem like nothing but a heist film and heist films are awesome! Instead, Dead Presidents is a melodrama about black men who fight for their country in Vietnam and come back with nothing. In some ways, it's a bit like The Best Years of Our Lives meets Le deuxieme souffle (not the best known of heist films, but they rob and armored car and it's amazing). Probably the most remarkable aspect of Dead Presidents is that it features Chris Tucker and he's not unbearable! Plus, any film that features Keith David prominently must be seen. It's a rule.

No Direction Home (Part 1) -- Martin Scorsese
I'm halfway through this documentary and while I haven't learned much I didn't already know, it's very good. Scorsese cuts between early footage of Dylan during his "folk music" days and a performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in Manchester England. I could watch footage from that concert all day because, contrary to the reactions of the audience (who largely seemed to hate that he wasn't alone with his acoustic guitar), the show was amazing! The crowd is hilarious in retrospect, but it's fun to hear other concert-goers argue with the interviewees that they are witnessing something unique. Probably my favorite talking head personality is Dave Van Ronk who is funny, likable, and has a great look about him. Definitely looking forward to Part 2.

Conquest -- Lucio Fulci
For those who love ridiculousness with your nudity. The main villain wears a mask the whole film, but remains topless (frequently writhing around on the ground with a boa constrictor wrapped around her). There are bizarre rat-faced Wookies, swamp zombies, shape-shifters, laser arrows, and so much more. With all of that, you'd think it would be great, but after an amazing start (think "wishbone"), the film derails fast. Oddness alone sustains it for most of the run time, but that's not enough. And soft-focus doesn't lend a dream-like state. It makes a movie look hazy. One could cut a hell of a trailer out of this, though. Let's see if they did:

Nope. And now you've seen the movie.

Hatchet 2 -- Adam Green
Oh boy. This is going to take a post of it's own...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

iPod Observations (iPodservations?)

Instead of just writing to insanely short posts regarding my ipod (I should probably use the term mp3 player, but who has time to write that out? Plus, it makes an even shittier portmanteau), I figured one kind of short post would be doing us all a favor.

They Might Be Giants -- "Apollo 18"
They Might Be Giants are, in short, awesome. I can't recommend going out and buying all of their CDs enough. Even their kids albums. It's OK. No one will judge as if you just bought a Wiggles CD. But Apollo 18 is something special. Not because it's songs are any greater than others (though they are awesome), but because of the presence of Fingertips: 21 tracks of random song tidbits.

According to Wikipedia (because I'm too lazy to check up on it myself), the liner notes bear the message, "The indexing of this disc is designed to complement the Shuffle Mode of modern CD players." That's all well and good, but you still know what to expect when listening to the CD on shuffle. What they couldn't have been prepared for is how amazing the album is when you put your iPod on shuffle.

Most people have the capacity for at least 1000 songs, genres and styles varying dramatically. One could easily swing from Robert Johnson to Air to Metallica without skipping a beat. But throwing any of these song segments between:

elevates the listening experience into something legitimately surprising and fun (my personal favorite is, "What's that blue thing doing here?"). It's like little non sequiturs just for you. I can't recommend adding Apollo 18 to your iPod as soon as possible.

Music for Show
I don't think I'm alone in exploring someone's iPod when I get the chance. You see it sitting all lonely, just playing some music and you wonder, "what else you got?" It's like examining someone's book shelf or record/DVD collection (except, in this case, there's the likelihood of the person having never listened to some of the stuff on there). We all have our biases when looking for stuff. We'll judge when we feel it's warranted and laud likewise. But I'm going to make a confession: some of the music on my iPod is for show.

It's not that I don't like everything on there, it's just that I'm simply not inclined to listen to some of it. I recently had to put all of my music back on my iPod because it crashed, so right now, there's even more on there that I probably won't listen to because I'm trying to give some stuff another chance (though I doubt my Adam Sandler CDs will hold up as well as they did in high school).

Some examples: since I mentioned him earlier, Robert Johnson. Sure, it looks great and like I have a deep appreciation of roots music, but I can only take so much in one sitting. And if you look, I only have music by the most famous of the early blues musicians.

Elvis Costello -- I can't say this wholly because I only have When I Was Cruel, which is a fine album, but not one I've felt like revisiting since its release. I still need to check out more of his earlier stuff to see if it will wind up in the same place.

Feist -- She has some great songs, but also some fairly dull songs mixed in. I find that my middle of the road opinion of her as a solo artist hasn't changed since 2005. Didn't stop me from buying The Reminder, though.

Frank Zappa -- I actually love everything by them I've heard, I just haven't heard that much. The album I have, Just Another Band from L.A., is pretty much to make me look cooler than I am.

Tim Buckley -- His son is one of my favorite singers ever, but I never really dove into Tim Buckley's music, but I keep him hanging around.

Van Morrison
-- I actually don't care for him much at all (and I loathe Brown Eyed Girl), but tons of people like him so I feel bad if I ignore the fact that I have one of his CDs (greatest hits). Plus, it was given to me as a gift. I don't need the added guilt.

Warren Zevon -- He's loved by musicians, so why shouldn't I? I actually took this album from my college radio station and it's good, but I couldn't hum a melody from it if you asked me to.

What about you? Any music you keep around just to impress those nosy friends and acquaintances? I just realized that most of mine are from an another era. Maybe I have a deep guilt about not appreciating the "classics" as I should.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Netflix, A Week in

Normally I'd do a Film Rec in this place, but I had a busy week and didn't get to my film watching, so I'm going to forgo the recommendation and let you decide if any of these sound good enough to seek out.

The Limey -- Steven Soderbergh
I don't think much of Soderbergh one way or the other. He's interesting in his experimentation (releasing Bubble in several mediums at once, Schizopolis) and his bouncing between star-studded, mainstream studio pictures and smaller, more personal films. Admittedly, I haven't seen a lot of his films, mostly because neither of his extremes much appeals to me. However, The Limey is a pretty pleasant way to spend your time, even if the editing is kind of ridiculous at times. I just can't get behind the idea that Wilson (Terence Stamp) is having the same conversation with the same person in different locations at the same time. It's a silly bit of experimentation that I don't feel adds much. Stamp is all sorts of awesome in the role and it's a pretty interesting take on the Hardcore plot, except instead of a father looking for his daughter in the world of pornography, he's looking for those responsible for his daughter's death in the world of crime. I think I mostly liked watching Stamp be a badass.

Taxi to the Dark Side -- Alex Gibney
I typically don't care about who wins what Oscar. My tastes are rarely in line with the Academy when it comes to nominations, let alone wins, but I can't believe Taxi to the Dark Side won for Best Documentary. I can't attest to the quality of the others as I haven't seen them, but Taxi to the Dark Side seemed like it could have been made for Dateline, or any other hour long news show. There was nothing unique about the way it presented information, going simply for talking heads and pictures of awful things soldiers were doing for prisoners. It didn't win for Best Picture, it won for Most Important Subject. Man on Wire was amazing because turned the documentary into a heist film. Taxi falls into that category of film that's made to make people feel smart about a controversial/complicated subject.

Le deuxieme souffle -- Jean-Pierre Melville
Melville simply makes kick ass crime films. Souffle is long, but it's completely worth it. Jail break, armored car heist, deceit, it's got everything. Paul Meurisse as Commissaire Blot is incredible (the only clip I can find of my favorite scene has no subtitles, so you may have to trust me on its greatness):

Le deuxième souffle
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Forget Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, and the rest. When it comes to classic French filmmakers, Melville is the one for me.

Wolfen -- Michael Wadleigh
There's not a whole lot to say about Wolfen. It's a perfectly decent film. It's got Albert Finney, Gregory Hines, and the always great Tom Noonan in it. The biggest strike against Wolfen is that it never really rises above the level of an average Monster-of-the-Week X-Files episode with some master story arc Native American mysticism thrown in for good measure. It pretty much went in one eye and out the other.

God Told Me To -- Larry Cohen
I'm starting to sense a trend of Larry Cohen films not living up to their premises. There's a lot to be mined from the idea that people are randomly killing because God told them to, but the story focuses more on Det. Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) coming to terms with his own faith and upbringing. I feel weird saying that's a bad thing, but maybe if Robert Forster (who originally was cast in the role) was playing it, I'd feel different. I spent much of the film thinking Lo Bianco was a poor substitute for Forster before I even knew he was a substitute for Forster. Still, it's a pretty interesting film and it's fun to see Andy Kaufman pop up randomly (though not so randomly for you now).

Death to Smoochy -- Danny DeVito
I loathe Robin Williams. I've been tossing around an idea for a post about actors and actresses who need to stop acting and I can't get past Robin Williams as the whole list. His pandering and need to be loved make me sad for him. The way he trots out the same jokes every time he's on a talk show for the past twenty years makes me hate him. But I had a professor who talked Death to Smoochy up for my two years at school, so I had to give it a chance. And it's good! Smoochy got ravaged by critics upon it's release, mostly, it seems, for being a black comedy (kind of like The Cable Guy). But there's tons of great lines, a story that weaves together quite nicely, and Robin Williams does the same thing he always does except you're supposed to think he's sad. It's perfect casting!

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid -- Carl Reiner
I don't know why it took me so long to see this film. I love Steve Martin and Carl Reiner. It doesn't really get talked about when mentioning either of their careers, so maybe that's why. It's a great homage to the hard-boiled film-noirs of the 40s and conveniently features "cameos" from many of that era's biggest names. The integration of old footage and new is pretty seamless. When one thinks back on all of the great films Martin has made, it can't help but make one lament about his most recent choices.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

15 MInutes Will Get You a Crappy Commercial

Geico tries awfully hard to make buying car insurance fun. I'll even admit to enjoying the Caveman commercials, especially the later ones where they didn't even need words to voice their frustration (the TV show, on the other hand, I can't form an opinion about because, like nearly everyone else, I didn't watch it). If you've been watching Hulu lately, you can't avoid a Geico commercial at every break (that and Google Hotpot, which seems to be another way for Google to get to know you just a little bit better). Based on some minimal research, most of the Geico commercials lean heavily on the Gecko (get it? Because Geico sounds like Gecko) and the various shenanigans his human counterparts thrust him into. These are mostly tolerable even if they try to hard to be funny. But every now and then, you'll get one of these:

In theory, these are supposed to show what you can accomplish in fifteen minutes: "We made a commercial! You can get car insurance!" Instead, what I get out of the commercial is: "That's the shittiest commercial I've ever seen. Seriously, it's worse than Taco Bell ads. If they don't feel it's important to put time and effort into their advertising (the one thing everyone will see), then surely they don't care about quality in any form."

The worst part is that most of the commercials end with some stupid non sequitur that, quite simply, isn't funny. Not only did they decide to represent their company in the worst possible way, but they couldn't even fill out a full 30 seconds with appropriate material. The obvious next step for these commercials is to acknowledge that they are terrible...

... so mission accomplished.

The moral of the story: if something takes you fifteen minutes, it's probably a piece of crap.