Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Losing My Edge

I wish I was an extra in Slacker, that I was seeing the Replacements in '84 in Minneapolis and that it was 1905 in Peoria, that Wire was the biggest band from the '70s and Starship never existed. I wish Danger Mouse would stop trying to collaborate with all my favorite bands and that James Mercer would reform the Shins. I wish it was a Thursday night in 2004 and I was heading to Andiamos, that I was a freshman in college and that I was forming a post-pop electro/alt-dancewave punkcore proto-disco seminalchill band before sharing a cigarette with Jim Jarmusch at some crap diner in NY. I wish hip-hop maintained its DIY ethos and that Clear Channel was bought by an independently wealthy businessman and burned to the ground. I wish vintage analogue synthesizers weren't out of my price range and that I had the time and energy to read. I wish the Dormitory's jukebox was free and that "This is Happening" was out today and it didn't have "Drunk Girls" on it. I wish Yeasayer could write more than 5 good songs for an album, that nearly every good record this year wasn't completely front-loaded and that (often meaningless) NSFW music videos would stop getting such easy publicity for (what's now) standard-practice titties and gore [I'm looking you M.I.A., Flaming Lips, Yeasayer, Girls, Erykah Badu, No Age, Matt and Kim, Massive Attack, The Kills, etc (dammit they just won again)] I wish there was a performance venue in town to draw indie acts, that my hipster mailman would stop taking my issue of Paste every month that I then have to call for a replacement copy of (which has also disappeared once). I wish I was hearing Elvis Costello's "My Aim is True," Otis Redding's "Otis Blue," Tom Waits "Heart of Saturday Night," Pixies "Doolittle," Pavement's "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain," Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," and Beck's "Odelay" for the first time again. I wish I wasn't nostalgic.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Several of the most anticipated May music releases are streaming for free in their entirety:

I'm not allowing myself to listen to th new Hold Steady or LCD Soundsystem until I have the physical copies in hand, but I probably will preview the other two. What do you guys think of the new albums?

The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

The National - High Violet

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix theater

The Informant! (2009) The Informant!, on the surface, feels like the kind of movie that should have been written/directed/produced by the Coen brothers — a hapless businessman way over his head, played by a paunchy, mustachioed Matt Damon (in the Coen universe it would have been William H. Macy), a '90s Midwest setting (Decatur and Springfield, Il) ripe for comedic picking. But while the Coens would have led down absurdest and surrealist paths of symbolism, director Steven Soderbergh lets the ridiculousness of it's real-life protagonist Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) do all the work. Whitacre was a VP of ADM, the corn processing giant, who worked undercover for two years with the FBI to expose price-fixing and other supposed scandals. He proves a hilariously bumbling yet, despite himself, competent spy, fluent in several languages but with way more book smarts than street. Like an absent-minded Patrick Bateman in the Midwest (without the serial killing) Whitacre's brain drifts hilariously aloof from one materialistic aside to another — thoughts of buying new ties to whether he likes the feeling of wool on skin and other meaningless absurdities. Example: "I've been to Tokyo. They sell little-girl underwear in the vending machines right on the main drag, the Ginza, or whatever. Guys in suits buying used girl panties. How is that okay? That's not okay."
Among the wandering thoughts, he's prone to delusions of grander and totally oblivious to the fact that he will probably not be awarded the CEOship for attempting to bring down ADM's top brass. With manic depression's highs and lows, Whitacre lets the excitement and greed get in the way of his "moral" crusade, but proves ultimately endearing for his childlike naivety and indefatigable spirit. Also, this film slyly says more about the American justice system — it's perverse bureaucracy and fucked priorities — than anything else this year. David Simon would be proud. A

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Is Fantastic Mr. Fox the tweeist little twee-fest in the history of twee? Yes. But it's also as painfully detailed, sardonic, witty and dry as anything in director Wes Anderson's filmography (Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic, Rushmore, etc). But with all little things just right, the plotting provides the weak link. As Fox (George Clooney) and his band of ornery woodland creatures (Bill Murray, et al) do battle with mean ole Farmer Bean, the rules seem to constantly change (now Fox can dig is way out of any problem, now he can't, now he can again, etc). But, the familial themes familiar to any Anderson film provide the real backbone — jealousy, trust, betrayal and redemption. And, the animation looked stunning in Bluray, every little stop-motioned, hand-placed piece of fur or yarn is clearly defined and as painstakingly detailed as any live-motion set ever dreamed by the lanky auteur. B+

Angels and Demons (2009) Ugh, the papal mystery, European setting and pseudo history do provide an oddly intriguing premise, but Ron Howard is still a hack and Tom Hanks is still no Harrison Ford. At least the mullet is gone. A definite improvement on the god-awful Da Vinci Code ... but enough with the damn symbols. C-

Zombieland (2009) This movie rocked. No reason to say anything else, really. Fun time. A

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009) — I really wanted to hate this. It's "wacky" New Ageism, boomer nostalgia, based-on-a-true-story excuse for existence. But what I found was a likable, light-hearted look at some of the more eccentric LSD casualties of the '60s. I'm tired and lazy and don't want to get into it, but just know that the movie is ridiculous and dumb but pretty funny and entertaining. B

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


My new monthly entertainment column. I did not write the headline on it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lady Blah Blah

I love a pointed burn as much as anyone else. MIA on Lady Gaga:

"People say we're similar, that we both mix all these things in the pot and spit them out differently, but she spits it out exactly the same. None of her music's reflective of how weird she wants to be or thinks she is. She models herself on Grace Jones and Madonna, but the music sounds like 20-year-old Ibiza disco, you know? She's not progressive, but she's a good mimic. She sounds more like me than I fucking do!"

Bam! Lady Gaga's music could be made by anyone.  She's the worst. Discuss.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix theater

The Box (2009)
A film this reviled by audiences must be doing something right, right? Those were my first thoughts after seeing The Box's cinemascore rating (which compiles audience reaction as they exit a theater). I mean, a public so enamored with, well you know — the stuff they're enamored with — must universally hate this film because A.) it was likely unpredictable, B.) It was "boring," or perhaps C.) it made them uncomfortable. I arrogantly assumed it was the audience's insecurity, and not a lack of film craftsmanship that led to the low score. We're talking about a movie-going public that regularly makes the high-budget hackwork of Michael Bay the top grossing film of every summer. The day Transformers 2 came out, my Facebook newsfeed was overwhelmed with "OMG Transformers was awesomer" statuses.

The film's pedigree is intriguing at least: director Richard Kelly already has one cult classic under his belt, Donnie Darko, and one unwatchable, incoherent mess, Southland Tales. The Box was supposedly his attempt at Hollywood genre filmaking, the kind of picture adored by movie buffs for its adherence to genre thrills, and enjoyed by audiences for its straight-ahead suspense. It was even an adaptation of one of the Twilight Zone's most beloved writers, for Christ's sake.

As it turns out, I totally understand why audiences hated The Box. If Kelly set out to make a genre piece, he fails. The first half misfires on nearly all grounds: suspense, atmosphere, and most of all — pacing. The thing just lurches along. But then, right when you're ready to turn the fucker off, comes the philosophical/ethical premise: a middle class couple (Cameron Diaz and some dude) are presented a box with a red button. If they push the red button, they will immediately be given $1 million cash, but a person that they don't know will also be killed.  After receiving the cash, the box will be delivered to another couple that they don't know, which implies exactly what you think it implies.

After they make their decision, weird stuff starts happening. Then even weirder stuff, and then Kelly loses his damn mind right when things actually start to get conspiratorial — the NSA, NASA, lightening, Mars launches, murder, cover ups, and then, wait for it, doors made out of water that transport people to different dimensions. Kelly couldn't even make a decent, tightly conceived thriller. The whole thing reeks of a nice short story that, once placed into the hands of a LSD burnout, turns into a 2,000 page manifesto about aliens, or something. D+