Friday, February 27, 2009

Wasted postage

The US postal service claimed some gagillion dollar loss last year, and lobbied congress to only deliver 5 days a week instead of 6, which would totally suck for Netflix subscribers. At least I've done my part to spur some biddness for snailmail, ordering more movies than I could watch on a daily basis. Here's a round up of some from the last several months (minus movies I've already written about here). The Juice Box motivated me to do this again.

Mystery Train (1989) - You can imagine Tarantino watching this film during his video clerk days, daydreaming, "Man, I could totally use this style and structure, add tons more "fucks" and pop culture blending with buckets of blood. Bingo! somebody get me an eight ball and a typewriter."
Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train follows three separate groups of people (including the Japanese couple) as they travel to Graceland. Non-linear story telling, and a Joe Strummer appearance make this an indie classic. B+

Choke (2008) - The edginess felt affected, and the voice overs often sounded like someone just reading the Chuck Palahniuk book instead of an adapted screen play. I love antiheroes, but Sam Rockwell's character Vincent and all his pals were mostly just unlikable. At worst, the dialogue sounds like Fight Club clips rescued from the cutting room, at best, it bites and snarls with the best of 'um. C

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) - Similar problems to Choke. Smith's critics often say his characters all sound like they are reading one big continues monologue. In Mallrats and Dogma, it works and fucking cracks me up. This had its funny parts for sure, but even Seth Rogen became grating. B-

Dead Man (1996) - Jarmusch is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers, and only he could make a western like this. "Dead Man" is Johnny Depp's two hour existential quest after being shot by a jealous fiance, with spiritual guidance by an outcast Native American, and several run ins with inept yokels. Niel Young's score kills. B+

Rosemary's Baby (1968) - Scary as fuck without any jump scares. Polanski is a master, and this one holds up as well as any of his other work. A

Wanted (2008) - Everybody needs a good action movie here and again, right? Wanted mostly delivered the goods. B-

Hitman (2008) - See above, Hitman defied expectations for a film based a video game were you just fucking kill people. Timothy Olyphant is sort of a bad ass. B-

Delicatessen (1991) - Best film I had seen in a while when I watched it this fall. Same French director as Amalie and City of Lost Children. His direction looks like no one elses, and once you've seen one of his films, all his other work is unmistakable. Murky yellows, his sets and production values leave nothing up to chance. The Hotel/Delicatessen setting is as much a character as its bizarre inhabitants, who all want to eat the new handyman living in the building. The whole thing bubbles with a little post-apocalyptic atmosphere and little things often tangent out to Rube Goldberg-devise shenanigans. A

The Proposition (2005) - Written and scored by Nick Cave (of gloom kings Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) this Australian western is as grim and violent as anything set in the new world. This thing is fucking nihilistic to the core. Same director as the upcoming adaptation of Cormack McCarthy's novel "The Road," which seems like solid bet considering how dark and unforgiving "The Road" is and this film are. B

The Wackness (2008) - Pretty good coming of age story (with plenty of drugs and Ben Kingsly) set in early-mid '90s New York. The old school hip-hop score keeps the slow parts from dragging. B

City of Lost Children (1995) - See Delicatessen. Same inventiveness and twisted story telling, different plot. B+

RocknRolla (2008) - Surprising return to form from Guy Ritchie. B

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - I'm not schooled in the French new wave, but I've read enough wikiblahblah to know the basics. Supposedly this (with Bonnie and Clyde) is where American directors started using some of the French New wave playfulness (jump cuts, etc). Really, though, 40 years later this just feels like a hippie flick disguised as a buddy action/comedy western. Redford and Newman are cool dudes, but I can only handle so many gun fights framed with aren't-we-sweet dialogue. It was entertaining as shit, though. B

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) - See above, this one came out a year or so earlier than Butch Cassidy. There wasn't really a likable character in the film. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunnaway are both smooth and extremely good looking, but they're vapid waifs, with more substance in the lapels of Clyde's jacket than between either of their ears. But, it was shockingly violent for a '60s flick, with bloody head shots and pretty awesome gun battles. B

Annie Hall (1977) - I started educating myself on Woodie Allen this year. This was a perfect place to start, with his neurotic humor, manic over-analyzing and non-stop philosophising. And it's funny. A

Manhattan (1979) - More serious than Annie Hall, but with Diane Keaton and Woody, again. Some of the best black and white photography of New York I have ever seen. And it's funny. B+

Semi Pro (2008) - Ferrel needs to stop making sports movies. I didn't even finish this. D-

The Kingdom (2008) - This movie was fucking awful. I just wanted 'splosions and Hollywood types fucking shit up in Saudi Arabia, and I received a dumb ass procedural that tried to market war moves to the CSI crowd. D

Southland Tales (2006) - Maybe I should have given Richard Kelly's follow up to Donnie Darko a better chance. But I just couldn't finish it. -

The Graduate (1967) - Even seeing this classic for the first time, I can totally understand the resulting tectonic culture shift both commented upon and created by the film. Existentialism, confusion and coming of age never blended so honestly. I've never been a big Dustin Hoffman fan, but his nebbish tendencies worked here, even if he was (purposefully) infuriating at times.Oh, and Mrs. Robinson is still a fox. B+

Zombie Strippers (2008) - Yup, name says it all. Freddy Kruger plays the strip club's seedy owner. Jenna Jameson is the main zombie stripper. Lots of boobs, which then turn into Zombie boobs. Also a satisfying amount of head 'spolsions and zombie slaying. B for boobs

Cloverfield (2008) - Entertaining enough, gimmick was interesting. Not much else to say. B-

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (2008) - Pretty good documentary on the Clash's leading voice. Displayed the man as a complicated character instead of just fawning over him. They did not label any of the talking heads or interview subjects, which made it hard occasionally when over the course of two hours, dozens of people come on screen and you can't keep them all straight. B

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - More Woody Allen. Classic film making, felt like old Hollywood. It's nice not having Allen on screen sometimes, just concentrating behind the camera, doing what he does best. B+

Death Sentence (2007) - Xtreme-to-the-max revenge !!! Hollywood blight with Kevo Bacon kicking ass and asking politely for names. Entertaining enough, though riddled with cliches. Props for using the Black Angels in the soundtrack. C

Body Double (1984) - Brian De Palma's sleazy '80s nod to Hitchcock. Look for the chainsaw guy from Scarface as a porn producer, dude has mad street cred. Body Double mixes suspence, horror, soft core and even a Scooby Doo plot devise. Pretty awesome stuff. B+

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Southeast Engine, updated 2/26

I'm buying this or acquiring it soon, on the strength of the sample song at the bottom of the review. Dr. Dog, The Walkmen, The Greenhorns, Okkervil River and even (gasp) Bright Eyes fans should approve.

Southeast Engine

Several Southeast Engine songs can be heard here:

Side note: picked up the new M. Ward and Black Lips today and was not disappointed. M. Ward's "Hold Time" will probably be my favorite record since ... M. Ward's "Post War."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

As a fellow '80s dollar-jockey, I'm making you my new vice chairman

I have a new goal in life: become the president of several universities over the course of the next 60 years and shut down every Public Relations program I can get my grubby little fingers on.

PR people — media hacks — disinformation distributors — are the bane of journalists everywhere. PR people are trained in the arts of industry buzz words, gloss-over phrasings, question-evading and circle-talking. The usefulness of corporate PR people is at least understandable: they do not want negative news about their employers to reach the public. What isn't acceptable is the increasingly secretive corporate culture infiltrating American government. Administrators, whose salaries are paid by you and I — do not want to talk to journalists about their government programs, even though we pay for them and are directly affected by them.

In the course of writing about the federal stimulus money central Illinois is to receive for infrastructure projects, IDOT administrators repeatedly herded me back to PR hacks ready to provide vague, uneducated answers to precise questions. It's easy: government administrators provide the media relations personnel with just enough info not to hurt themselves or the institution. Even more infuriating, I'm typically not attempting any sort of "gotcha" journalism, whatever the fuck that means. I'm simply trying to do my best to maintain government transparency and honesty.

Lucky for me, I made enough phone calls to enough IDOT departments that eventually an honest administrator spoke with me. It was nice to talk to someone that actually works on the projects and has say about where the money would go. I ignored requests to call the PR lady, but eventually she found me, unaware that I had already spoken with an informed human being, not a nonsense spouting robot.

I asked her a few polite questions but my head nearly exploded when she dropped this bit of English-breaking baloney:
"(The stimulus money) is just a piece of the pie. Like, literally, if you had an apple pie, this would be just one slice."

Never mind the misuse of the word 'literally,' she actually felt the need to explain the meaning of that incredibly complicated metaphor. Thank you, PR lady, for spending more time explaining the nuance of a cliche than you did attempting to understand the details of millions of dollars being used to repair our roads and bridges.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Ruckus is dead.
I haven't seen any reporting on its demise, but when I went to it let me know that the service no longer exists. One of the first ad-supported services to allow unlimited free music downloads of DRM protected content, Ruckus partnered with dozens of Universities (like Bradley - my alma mater). We got the service my sophomore year. The plan then, Ruckus said, was to provide the service for free to college students while enrolled, and then keep them hooked when they graduate for a small fee. Well, I graduated and they never sent me a bill even though I used the service regularly until this week. Maybe if they weren't so fucking lazy it'd still be around.

Ruckus even placed servers on campus to allow for faster downloads.

The only catch was you couldn't put the music on any Mac products (ipod ... duh Ruckus). Users could pay a $9 monthly fee to burn CDs or put the music on devises like the Zune. I downloaded hundreds of albums on Ruckus. Some people I know :) used programs like tunebite to strip the songs of its DRM protection, turning the tracks into unprotected MP3s.

Ruckus, you will be sadly missed.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Here's all the best stuff I found on Stereogum and other places today:

1. This benefit album is pretty sick: the cover artists are mostly covering the seminal acts they are always compared to Beck singing Dylan, Hold Steady singing the Boss, etc

2. Unreleased Arcade Fire track:

3. New My Morning Jacket track here:

4. I'm not a big fan of Scarlett Johansson's baritone, or her Tom Waits cover CD, but here is her covering some Jeff Buckley song. Looking at that picture posted of her while listening to the song makes it a little bit, um, more enjoyable.