Sunday, January 31, 2010

Back in the saddle...


Various twists and turns in meatspace last year=lack of time and desire to blog.

I did want to get a post in before the end of the first month of the New Year and sort of signal my intention to get back in the game.

Let's see...some added value for this post...

Hmmm, the Grammys are pointless? Is that news? A surprise? Any kind of revelation? The Grammys are a barometer of mediocrity not so much because the acts who win awards are completely devoid of talent, but because they're safe. Awards shows aren't showcases of the "new" or bleeding edge originality. They're oatmeal. They're safe, they're bland. It's not a celebration of the "best." It's a celebration of the comfortable, of music which the average person got used to mostly through constant exposure.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Let's Get Critical: X-men Origins: Wolverine

Deeply flawed and disappointing. A blown opportunity. Stupid. Pays way too much attention to the rest of the X-men movie franchise and doesn't deal enough with Wolverine.

I know, I know this is one of those movies you're not supposed to think too much about. You're supposed to just sit back and enjoy the ride…but there are moments in this movie so stupid that I couldn't stop myself from thinking about them. If I sound a little vague...well, new movie so avoiding spoliers...

Seriously, I'm tempted to sift through the Interwebs and try to find out a little more about the development of this movie. Why? Well, because it seems like a mash-up of 2 completely different movies. That or else it was movie making by committee. Or something. I'm nearly prepared to come out and say nobody who digs comics could have made this movie, but then I look at it on the flip side and, yeah, this movie could have been made by someone who loves comics a little too much.

The first half to two thirds of the movie is pretty cool and I enjoyed it a standard action movie way--sort of Commando (or Predator) meets Highlander. Then they just start adding stuff. Crappy stuff. Like Gambit. Waste of a character. But that's the fate of just about everyone in this movie, even the character named Wolverine. Everyone seems to exist as a plot point and not as an actual character. Which is stupid. We've had the X-men movies, even the abysmal third one. Isn't something that claims to be an origin story supposed to be just a little more character driven? And why the large cast of people who's screen time amounts to little more than cameos? You've got Hugh Jackman, Liev Schieber (who actually holds his own as Sabretooth), and Ryan Reynolds (criminally underused), why throw in a large and confusing cast?

The worst part is that I haven't even gotten to the geeky stuff that went wrong. Everything I've whined about so far…well, that's storytelling stuff. The comic book elements in the movie are just as stupid. There's a lot of talk about Wolverine becoming the animal, letting go, and just being the biggest baddest guy on the block and we don't see much of that. We actually don't see any of that. There's no mindless berserker rages in there. Sure, Logan gets ticked off, but he's always in control if sometimes seeming barely restrained. Hell, while there are some truly neat action sequences (Logan on a motorcycle vs. two ground vehicles and a chopper) and fight scenes (he gets smacked around by Sabretooth) Wolverine is actually much more brutal in the second X-men movie. Let's see what else. For all the nods to realism in the X-men movies (the uniforms and look) they all suffer from having the most outlandish and convoluted plots...there really isn't a change here. Emma Frost…yeah, wow, dumb appearance esp. as Silver Fox's sister (WTF?). Adamantium bullets? Yeah, the stuff doesn't work that way. Look it's Uncle Ben Kindly Old Guy who lectures our hero on how with great power comes great responsibility the folly of revenge…yawn snooze.

In the end the most damning thing I can say about Wolverine is it started to remind me of The Spirit towards the end. Like I'm watching and going, "who thought this was a good idea?" Did they make each scene without considering the larger story it was supposed to be set in? Was it a bunch of gibbering fanboys sitting around going "You know what would be cool? If this guy had laser eyes…and we need Gambit in here because he's cool." The sad part is they didn't learn from the sins of the third X-men installment. Don’t tack on a large superfluous cast just because you have this pool of mutants from the comics. Less is sometimes more. They also didn't learn from Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Did Iron Man throw in the Armor Wars and War Machine? Nope, they told a bloody good origin story. What we get in Wolverine is a 4th X-men movie, which maybe I should have realized from the dang title. The problem is it carries with it all the baggage of that franchise and doesn't redeem much of it. To borrow and twist a phrase from Mouse, "in this post Dark Knight (and Iron Man) era" this kind of a superhero movie just does not cut it.

Sad really.

I could have handled a movie that was all Wolverine "snkt!" action or I could have handled a movie explaining why character is the way he is, but…we don't get that which is sort of a problem in a movie claiming to be an origin.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I Was There: Ani Difranco @ House of Blues 4/26/09

I'm not sure what I was expecting from Ani DiFranco last night. I've always enjoyed her music, but I haven't given anything a solid listen in years and it's been years and years since she was in the regular rotation. But Ani is one of Partner-in-Crime's favorite acts so we went. And while the show was an extremely solid performance the glaring flaw was the crowd.

Personally, I'm most familiar with Not a Pretty Girl and Dilate era DiFranco. When I was listening to Ani back in '95 I got strange looks that a dude would be listening to an artist that I heard described as both a "rabid feminist" and "who didn't like guys very much." Which I thought was kind of weird given that the people who said these things had never actually listened to the albums more than causally and the fact that…well the human condition is universal and those parts of it that we directly can't experience should probably be of interest. Yeah, she was angry, but then again so I was. I'd say her music has matured over the years without losing any of it's sincerity.

And her Cleveland House of Blue's performance was an example of it. DiFranco seemed genuinely delighted to see the crowd, to be there in front of us playing her songs. It was a vibe that never seemed to dwindle or diminish throughout the night, even as my tolerance for my fellow concert goers rapidly disappeared…

Here's the thing, Ani put on a show that was darn near too subtle for the Cleveland crowd. She sung low and sweet a lot and was consistently drowned out by the buzz of hundred of different conversations throughout the club. I had to strain to hear her at times esp. when she spoke in between songs. Maybe she spoke too low…maybe the sound should have been turned up a little higher. Maybe I should have been slightly closer to the stage. should be able to clearly hear the performer no matter where you are in the HoB no matter who the performer is. The place isn't that big. And a little more volume would have drowned out some of the conversation. But with a Cleveland crowd…they just may have talked louder… As it was I got the feeling that people for large part treated her as background music at a social event.

Oh yeah, the music. I love Ani's voice. Would it be too cliché to say "honey and whiskey?" It's warm, it's distinct, and I was a bit surprised by it's versatility. I'd point out the specific songs that wowed me but my 2 lines of notes are in my other pants and I have a brief confession to make…I didn't prep properly for the show by listening to her back catalog. Her backing band was also really awesome. Haven't seen anyone rock the xylophone in…ever. And I always dig a stand up base. The drummer (and yes I should really look up her name, but I'm lazy) also seemed to rock a…box(?) on a couple songs. Which was very cool.

Oddly the entire crowd came alive for the last songs and the encore. I don't know if the set was too mellow for most or wasn't what they came to see or what but they rocked the house during the encore. I wish they had been as into and attentive for the bulk of the set. But that would have entailed sitting still and listening and fighting our city-wide ADD.

Set list is courtesy of PiC. She wasn't sure about 3 of the songs and thinks they're probably new. And then there's the President Obama song, " November 4, 2008," which I guess is on her website...

1 Done Wrong (Little Plastic Castle, 1998)
2 78% H20 (Reprieve, 2006)
3 Lag Time (Knuckle Down, 2005)
4 Napoleon (Little Plastic Castle, 1998)
5 Angry Anymore (Up Up Up Up Up Up, 1999)
6 Red Letter Year (Red Letter Year, 2008)
7 November 4, 2008
8 Smiling Underneath (Red Letter Year, 2008)
9 (?)
10 Present/Infant (Red Letter Year, 2008)
11 Flood Waters (Reckoning, 2001)
12 Which Side Are You On (Cover)
13 (?)
14 Alla This (Red Letter Year, 2008)
15 (?)
16 Shameless (Little Plastic Castle, 1998)

1 Two Little Girls (Little Plastic Castle, 1998)
2 Every State Line (Imperfectly, 1992)
3 Overlap (Out of Range, 1994)

Bottom line: Good show. One of the top songs of the night for me was her version of "Which Side are You On." Always nice to see a new spin on an old song. And I'm going to have to pick PiC's brain to help me figure out what my other favorites are. There was a really ethereal number than I really dug… If I see her again I think I'd like a different venue or maybe I'll have to bite the bullet, get there ultra-early, and carve out a space directly in front of the stage where hopefully everything but the music will be droned out.

Wait…wait…wait…I'm forgetting something…oh yeah…the opener Hammel on Trial…um, he's not bad. But I didn't think he was good. He left me scratching the head and wondering what the point was. I think my favorite song of his was his song to his guitar which was made in 1937. Otherwise he seemed to hit some pretty standard political rants and anti-commercial themes, but it was like he was preaching to the choir. Seemed like his entire performance was an extended set-up to a pay-off which wasn't delivered. It is obvious that the man can play his guitar though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let's Get Critical: The Spirit

Rarely do I ever walk away from an experience and wish for my time and/or money back. Renting and watching The Spirit this weekend was one of those times. The words "Epic Fail" seem to be the only words that apply to the movie and even they seem inadequate. It's not even a gleefully bad campy train-wreck of a film. It's just bad.

It fails on the level of a comic movie. It fails in being faithful to the "spirit" of it's source material. It fails on the larger level of being a decent film. It fails at being "so bad, it's good." It's largely uninteresting visually and if you've seen Sin City and 300 you've seen this shtick before. Though I thought 300 was boring, it was at least pretty. The visual style used here just doesn't seem to work as well.

A couple of things. I'm not a Frank Miller fanboy. I think he's done some awesome ground breaking work. The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, 300, Hard Boiled. It's all really good stuff. However…Miller's artistic development seemed to pretty much stalled and stopped after 300. He seems content to rest on his laurels and spew out material that's a remix of material and ground he's all ready covered. It all feels like Sin City, DKR, and 300. (The less said about All Star Batman and Robin the better...) And that's what The Spirit is…it's Sin City 1.5cuz it sure as heck has little in common with Eisner's Spirit comics.

I like bad movies. Who doesn't love Roger Corman? I love Hudson Hawk and watch it every time I see it's on. I enjoy the heck out of Van Helsing. I willingly watch Sci Fi original movies…

Also, I've read some of the Spirit comics. As well as some of Eisner's autobiographical graphic works. This is the man who was so influential the comics world named an award after him.

So it's a real shame that this legend's most recognizable creation gets the kind of treatment it does...

To be fair there are some scenes that try to evoke the classic Spirit of the comics which were often visually/graphically interesting. But Miller takes the easy way out and relies on cribbing the visual style from the film versions of Sin City and 300. As for the rest of it…Miller falls back on his own patented brand of pulp noir. The dialogue ranges from snappy noir appropriate to lines George Lucas might cringe at. And there's a couple few not so sly digs at other comics--there's mention made of "Robin" and "Thor's Hammer."

I actually feel bad for the actors…I think they gave it a shot, but really didn't know what to do with the material. I'd like to think that they thought somehow the film would pull together to be better than the sum of it's parts. And when they saw the final product, they went "man what?" and then cashed their paychecks. At least Samuel L. looked like he was having fun. But when doesn't he?

Final words--Miller wanted to make a movie. And he steals from his own work in comics rather than try and bring to life the vision of someone he knew personally and claims was a huge influence on him. Instead what we get is a mash up--this isn't Eisner's Spirit, this is Miller's Spirit who is part Batman, part Sin City's Dwight, with visual cues cribbed more from The Shadow than Eisner's original creation.

Want a better comic movie? One that at least pays passing respect to the source material? Watch the 1966 Batman: The Movie with Adam West. Watch the Billy Zane Phantom movie. Just don't watch The Spirit

Sunday, February 22, 2009

This post is my homework...

So I'm in grad school and it has distracted from my getting on a more regular posting schedule, which is something I've mentioned in passing here and there. But today this blog and my advanced education have collided. Allow me to give a shout out to my prof, Dr. Z, who've I've had for a couple classes now and whose clear and straightforward approach I've appreciated.

But aside from doing my homework, I'm just dropping by to say "hi" and I'll try to get back on a regular posting schedule. I mean someone has to react to Mouse's calling Chandler "over-hyped." And I keep meaning to write an justification/explanation of why listening to and reviewing the last Britney Spears' album was important...not that anyone was asking for one...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Let's Get Critical: Circus

I disagreed with the generally positive reviews view Britney's last album garnered. So as a point of pride and as a service to you the public at large, I thought I'd check out her new album Circus. Honestly, I don't know why I'm bothering. I should just copy and paste my review of Blackout here and call it day. Because just about everything I said about Blackout goes double for Britney's latest effort, Circus.

Valid ways to describe Britney's latest offering:

It makes The Pussycat Dolls look like serious musicians.
It's suitably tacky music for a second rate strip club.
It's the perfect album for those who listened to Blackout and thought it was too artistic and introspective.

The kindest thing that I can think of to say about is that if she was trying to go for an album so bad it's good…she's nearly there.

Lyrically…it's like someone took a sledge hammer to other pop songs, Craigslist personals, and greeting cards then constructed songs out of the wreckage. The songs still seem to want to be self referential which was a big part of what other critics lauded in Blackout. It didn't work for me then and it doesn't work for me now. The allusions to Brit's real life are vaguer and more tenuous this time around. Mostly because the songs are vague and shallow. But look the album's called Circus and in the song of the same name she tells us her life is just like a circus. Get it? Isn't that neat and clever? Ugh. The rest of it boils down to tired pop cliché lines which mostly come off as lazy, uninspired, and...skanky.

The greatest sin of the album is that for as over-produced as it's bloody boring. The music and vocal effects are cheesy and dull dull dull. And each song seems to have one line that's just...weird. From the "I-I-I-I-I" in "Womanizer." To the "I keeeeel" in "Kill the Lights," to the "glay-ass" in "Shattered Glass." I'm scratching my head wondering how anyone thought it sounded neat or what exactly they were trying to achieve. You know I understand refrain and use of repetition in songs, but given the way lyrics and words are repeated in these songs you'd think they were being charged serious cash every time they used a new word.

There's precious little new or even vaguely interesting here and thus little to be gained by listening to the album unless you need to be reminded of just how soulless, vapid, and unfun plastic packaged pop music can be. You know, if Britney had an ounce of self awareness or irony or even seemed like she was having fun and wasn't just more or less mouthing words she might be slightly interesting to listen to, it, just not worth your time. And unless someone with a modicum of talent or vision takes Brit by the hand I don't think she'll ever be worth anyone's time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Happy 2009...

Yeah, it's been a while...and the real reason I'm posting is cuz I was called out...

Greg is back and he asked where I went...

Long story short...well actually a bit of advice...going to grad school full time (3 classes), working full time, and working overtime...well, when people tell you you're crazy to do it...LISTEN TO THEM!
Shortly after my last post of last year I was just about burned out. I didn't know if I was coming or going. October was all kinds of crazy. And blogging was just one of the easiest things to let slide.

Getting back into the habit of blogging is tough. I both feel drawn to it and feel like it's a chore. I can't tell you how many times I've started a post only to quit after a few meager sentiments. I was even tempted to do a best of 2008 kind of thing as far as music went. But I nixed that right quick. A lot of the music I stumble on in my continuing mission to explore new worlds is older. So while something's new to me it hardly fits in a "year's best post." But it might deserve me looking at it in a separate post...

Music brings us back around to Greg, formerly of What Greg Likes, who's currently writing The Daily LP. Greg's musical taste is all over the place and that's something I dig. I enjoyed his old blog and I'm digging his new one. You should check it out. Hopefully his continuing efforts will inspire your's truly to post, if not regularly, more often.