Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wasted Postage - Reports from the Netflix theater

Gran Torino (2008)
Gran Torino, at times, feels like a death march - the lonely doom of a man without a country, slowly realizing he's the only outdated model left on the shelf. But the apparent glee in which Eastwood's Walt growls rapid slurs and insults almost finds a stand-up comedian's rhythm and unwinking acknowledgment, offending only the clueless in the crowd. It's not all Archie Bunker one-liners. When Eastwood stares down some neighborhood thugs, he's as menacing and believable as ever. As a topical depiction of America's changing portrait - the titular muscle car reminds of Detroit's fallen empire, the decaying rust belt neighborhoods - is all relevant and gracefully executed.

The questionable moral many might take from the story? Xenophobia is fine as long as you hate all the gooks, zipper heads, crackers, slopes, guineas, Jews, spooks, spades and mics all the same. But, maybe not. Hopefully more people walked out of the theater knowing that hell, if Walt can work past his old attitudes and help a neighbor in need despite himself, maybe we can too (even if his transformation takes place in a Holywood two-hours). Demerits for the sniveling young priest's uneven dialogue, and the forced macho scripting during the "teaching-young-Thao-how-to-talk-like-a-man" montage. B+

Transporter 3 (2008)

Xtreme Mountain Dew Monster Energy Red Bull Lager Doritos ('splosion) C-

Teeth (2007)
Purity-ring-wearing, bible thumper Dawn learns she is the vagina dentata myth personified during a sexual assault (it does not end well for the male attacker) in this indie horror/comedy. Even during attempts to go over-the-top in it's satire of evangelical chaste, Teeth misses all the good jokes and beats us over the head with the easy ones. The film's one success is flipping the misogynistic dentata myth on its head. In ancient lore, it was a story to scare men away from doing the deed with the vile and untrustworthy fairer sex. In Teeth, her, um, gift becomes a tool of female empowerment. But, in the end, the gore isn't even fun, and that's all that really matters, isn't it? D

Bananas (1971)
More slapstick and absurd than Allen's later comedies, Bananas plays like a string of one liners and physical gags tied together by the satirical story. Allen plays Fielding Mellish, a clumsy milquetoast trainwreck typical to Allen comedies. After a courtship ends in disappointment (in one of the films funnier and more insighful scenes), he leaves New York for the insignificant fictional country of San Martin in an attempt to impress his politically active lady friend. Through a series of mishaps, Mellish becomes involved in a South American revolution and before long, he's become the president/dictator in a fake Castro beard. But, as with most Allen films, it all comes back to his relationship with the girl, and his neurotic feelings of inadequacy.

Meta and postmodern well before those words were part of the mainstream's film vocabulary, the film is bookended by Howard Cossell color commentary of an assassination/coup and then a marriage consummation.
"Bananas" is strongest in its NY-set first half, before it sags under the weight of its high concept plotting — proving slight for an Allen film — but leaps and bounds beyond 99 percent of everything else out there. B+

Friday the 13th (2009) - Of course it's completely pointless, serves up a bunch of kills — none of them creative — and boobies. But it could have at least been funny, suspenseful, or I dunno, competent. Jason's newest reboot is best used for joke fodder while drinking with friends. The unambitious (even for Jason standards) plotting doesn't attempt to make one hair of sense, despite that it would have taken about three more seconds of effort to clarify all two of the plot points. You can't even tell which disposable 20-something is dating which disposable 20-something, eventually they all just start banging each other for the sake of more boobies, with girlfriends all-of-a-sudden not caring that their douchebag BF is in the next room with an identical floozy. D+

Friday, June 26, 2009

NEW Spoon EP on the way

Mere weeks after writing an entry complaining about the lack of new Spoon tunes, I find out they have a new single/EP whatever out this soon. Hells yeah. I hadn't heard anything about this until reading Stereogum today ... is there a full album on the way? Anyone... Bueller ...Bueller?

Now, obviously Spoon's Brit Daniels has been one of my five devoted readers for some time, but who knew my amateurish rants would inspire him to write new material?

UPDATE: Amazon has now removed the listing. Weird.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More album cover trends - return of the collage

The collage has long been a part of the rock 'n' roll album-art style book — most memorably punk's political-statement by juxtaposition — but also in classic rock like the Beatles' iconic "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" cover. In fact, the first true album cover, ever, was a rather striking collage, of sorts. It seams the style has come back in vogue, not that it ever went away, but I'm seeing more and more appear on both pop and indie rock covers — not all of them indebted to punk.

Vintage magazines provide the best and most affective source material for album-cover collages, conveying a perverted, commercialized version of past lives and trends. It provides apt ammo for one traditional target of alternative music — consumerism. Or sometimes it just creates a skewed nostalgia affect. With the Internet, creepy old advertisements or any other printed ephemera is almost too easy to gather for art purposes.

I had some fun with this style myself here and here. (anyone in need of an album cover, my services run as cheap as the quality of my work.)

The resurgence:
Oasis - "Dig Out Your Soul" (2008)

Thermals - "Now We Can See"

Thermals - "The Body the Blood the Machine"

Heartless Bastards -
"The Mountain"

Panda Bear - Person Pitc
h (2007)

N.A.S.A. - "The Spirit of Apollo"

(editors note: this album sucks, but it might be my favorite cover on the list)

Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 - White Lies for Dark Times

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cover me

Is 2009 the year of washed-out landscapes at dusk? These all look like single frames from the same 16 mm film. I have a soft spot for that slow, warm and flickered look too, but I'm sure there's plenty of graphic designers in need of work, find one. It's not like these album covers were grabbed from across wide ranges of the InterWebs, all of these exist, and are well known within the same indie universe.

Andrew Bird - "Noble Beast"

Woods - "Songs of Shame"

Bill Callahan -
"Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

That's all I can think of now, I'm sure there's more.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Several bands seem to be distracted by over-productive side projects, detours or, who knows? I need new albums by the following:

Spoon — The Austin, TX band last released 2007's excellent "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," continuing an epic run of four near-perfect albums (it was their sixth full-length over all). The boys have been busy, front man Brit Daniels produced the White Rabbits' good new album "It's Frightening." It sounds (big surprise) a lot like Spoon — shades of the Walkmen — with unusual percussion occasionally replacing standard drum kits, captured studio chatter and sparse pianos fulfilling some of the rhythm duties. "It's Frightening" has some great sounds, it needs more great songs. This sounds harsher than I intended. It's a good record with some absolute standouts, namely "Percussion Gun," and "Company I Keep." Definitely worth checking out, especially for any Spoon fan.

Spoon drummer Jim Eno recently produced Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears' garage-soul riot "Tell 'Em what Your Name Is!"

Spoon will also headline each night their own three-day festival of sorts (named Spoon x3) at Stubbs in Austin from July 9-11. Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears, ... Trail of Dead, Low, Dale Watson and Atlas Sound open on select nights.

All this Spoon news and yet, where's a new album? I haven't heard anything about the band in the studio, or writing fresh material, so a new one will probably be a ways off, but I always like surprises.

White Stripes — The band's last effort, "Icky Thump" was alternately brilliant, hum-drum and down-right awful. On two tracks, White's fashionation with the UK unfortunately translated into bag-pipe informed Scottish doodles. Since the spring '07 "Icky Thump" release, Jack White has arguably been the busiest man in rock 'n' roll. His other band, The Raconteurs, released 2008's mainstream-leaning grower "Consolers of the Lonely." His other other band The Dead Weather (he's at the drums this time) is set to release its debut next month. In the meantime, he managed to start a record label, Third Man Records, with a new Nashville facility featuring a vinyl record store, performance venue and studio. He also toured with the Raconteurs and is starting a new tour with the Dead Weather. All this doesn't leave a lot of time for the White Stripes.

But, in a recent interview, White said last month he is working on new White Stripes songs for an album that isn't “too far off. Maybe next year.”

UPDATE: This may or may not be complete bullshit, but apparently White allegedly maybe sorta might have also hinted at working on a solo album on top of it all.

Sufjan Stevens has also stayed busy, laying his indelible orchestration on the Welcome Wagon's debut ( a Brooklyn husband/wife duo singing original church songs — though you'd never know it unless you listened to the lyrics). The songs are good, but it's Stevens' production and arrangements that prove the album listenable for folks who otherwise keep things secular.

I'm pretty sure Stevens also released a Christmas album, I didn't bother.

His last full length of originals, 2005's "Illinois," is one of the best albums of the decade. More, please.

The Hold Steady — Yeah, yeah it's only been 11 months since the release of "Stay Positive," but dammit I'm greedy. And it's the band's fault they kept up a pace of an album every 1.25 years. Now they're locked in. They've been touring nonstop during that same time span, and I haven't heard anything about new songs. Figure it out, Craig. They did contribute a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" to the War Child charity album this year, and released their first live album "A Positive Rage" packaged with a documentary DVD.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wasted Postage - Even more reports from the Netflix theater

The 400 Blows (1959) - As someone said in archival footage in the special features - this is one of the few films to treat children seriously and with central focus — rendering the adults frivolous and the child's struggle important. 400 Blows would be an accomplishment for anyone, let alone a debut picture by a young film critic (Fran├žois Truffaut) that launched an entire movement of film. I saw Truffaut's second film, Shoot the Piano Player, a couple weeks ago and liked it a bit more. It had more of the French New Wave trademarks and playfulness, and mishmashed some of the more pulpy genres. 400 Blows is more somber, with autobiographical details and a fictional story of juvenile delinquency. The main character is a poorly-behaved 14-year-old who, through a series of opportunistic lies and bad luck, ends up on the streets, scrapping for a dollar. His interaction with adults and the desperation of his parents comes from a universal place — everyone can relate to his adolescent troubles — whether you grew up in Paris or not. The final shot of 400 Blows says more than the entirety of most two-hour movies. A

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
- Eh, don't really feel like getting into it, other than the Titanic framing devise of an old lady croaking on about her pre-liverspots romance is completely unnecessary. Lopping it off could have saved 30 minutes, and possibly the over-long film. It's gorgeously shot, and the effects are great, but ultimately inconsequential. And tacking on hurricane Katrina doesn't make it any more relevant. Topical! Can we have the old David Fincher back? C

Let the Right One In (2008) - This is a Swedish vampire movie, sure, but the bloodsucking is mostly used to add fright and atmosphere to a film about childhood horrors, specifically bullies. Effectively disturbing, LTROI saves the gore for the end. Protagonist Oskar, cruelly picked on at school, has a fascination for true crime stories and newspaper clippings, and has his own quiet propensity for violence. He finds a dangerous new friend when a vampire and her elderly caretaker move into the same apartment complex. The two bond over the somber and quiet isolationism instantly recognized between the two outcasts. B+

Palindromes (2004)
We stay the same, birth through death, fat or skinny, the products of genetic coding at birth, said Mark, an unfairly accused pedophile in Todd Solondz' bizarre fifth feature. Central character Aviva is played by several different actors - a few different adolescent girls, a 300 lb black woman, a young black girl and even an adolescent boy - as she goes on a strange journey to have "lots and lots of babies," and recover from some unfortunate interactions with other humans. Even as her physical appearance changes in every scene, it's hardly as jarring as it sounds, as each actor maintains her pathetic, solemn nature and need for male comfort. Solondz traffics in the uncomfortable - abortion, dead babies, pedophilia v- and does not coat the issues in sugar for easy digestion. He drapes them in despair and the darkest humor. That doesn't mean he always adds anything to the discussion. Palindromes makes the audience think at times, but occasionally feels like shock and repulsion for the sake of shock and repulsion. For fans of Welcome to the Dollhouse, Palindromes exists in the same universe. The opening scene is Dawn Wiener's funeral, and the above-mentioned Mark is her brother from Dollhouse. B-

SLC Punk! (1998)
— Had I seen this in 9th grade (like everyone else I know), it probably would have had a lasting effect on several burgeoning ideas. But at 23, Matthew Lillard's polemic monologues, told directly to the camera, are little more than platitudes preached as the writer's idea of "punk" gospel. As Lillard's character begins to find the error of his ways, it becomes clear that some of the diarrhea flowing from his mouth early in the film was meant to be slightly naive. But I won't assume many impressionable minds will get it, instead taking away the perceived importance of poseurs versus real punks, MAN!

SLC Punk! has, unsurprisingly, little about music or even what the mo-hawked youth are rebelling against. It's more about a bunch of dumb-asses more interested in taking acid and unfairly beating the fuck out of rednecks. (Side note - writer/director James Merendino loves to romanticize punks beating the shit out of other subgroups. Fuck that shit.) None of the punks are likable, nor even interesting, as hard as Lillard tries to do both. He chews scenery like a Midwesterner at a buffet, occasionally stumbling upon the intensity needed to the drive the nearly plotless film, but mostly just filling the idea-empty spaces with his gaping horse mouth.
Lillard's character seams to redeem himself at the end of the film (with the requisite hair-cut — you can actually guess exactly when he will go to barber), but his redemption comes in the exact way you predict it will when first introduced to him and parents in the first half hour. Lillard's turn around (the film implies that in order to be a punk you have to be a miscreant leach of society) does happen in a somber and disorientating second act that nearly redeems the first. C