Saturday, December 30, 2006

Someone confiscate Michael Mann's Audioslave cd.

(Above: Wasn't "Outacted by Clouds" a Pink Floyd album title?)

Last night I watched Michael Mann's new, dour-ized adaptation of Miami Vice on dvd. I've still never seen much of the tv show, other than stray scenes like this one that I try to recreate on a nightly basis, complete w/ angst-ridden pay phone calls to family and friends (much to their consternation). Nevertheless, it's a safe bet over the course of five seasons there was at least a minimum of character development and comprehensibility, which is more than you'll get in Mann's new, typically stylized Foxx/Farrell version.

The cops in the new Vice aren't characters so much as they are constructs of fetishistic, high-tech law enforcement. I wonder if Mann ever catches himself calling his fellow man "civilians" in real life. I know that on the show Don Johnson's Sonny Crockett had a son, an ex-wife and a pet crocodile. The character Colin Farrell plays, however, seems to be more emotionally unattached than Ralph Nader before hooking up with Gong Li later in the film. There's no wife, no kid, and if he ever had a crocodile, judging by his glum demeanor he probably ate it. In fact, the only piece of backstory I could pick out was a factoid about Nu-Crockett's dad playing Allman Brothers covers or something (say, was he later a roadie for Metallica?). Jamie Foxx's Ricardo Tubbs is at least shacked up w/ a hot special lady, but she just so happens to be one of his fellow vice squad officers. Even for a Mann film, where professionalism is placed above all else in life, the cops here exist in a thoroughly insular world that seemingly allows no outsider entrance, except maybe for sexy showering purposes.

Overall the film is terrible in terms of character and story. The plot finds Crockett and Tubbs infiltrating a wacky contingent of Colombians, Russians and white supremacists that the Bush administration has nicknamed the Axis of Casting. To add to the multicultural frenzy, Gong Li's character - some kind of money manager for the group - is Chinese-Cuban and possibly proficient in zero languages. I did have a better time understanding Gong than some viewers seem to have, but Farrell's accent is odd and he delivers his lines more tersely than Burt Reynolds on Celebrity Jeaprody. He also looks instantly dated and ridiculous - like Fred Armisen with pro wrestler hair and facial styling - yet he's portrayed as some sort of ladykiller (possibly literally? Hey, maybe). Foxx is neither effective nor well-suited to his role either. In the end it doesn't matter what the characters are saying anyway, as much of the dialogue is either meaningless jargon (this film will clean up at the Op-Sac Awards) or absurd tough guy talk that's nearly awfulsome but mostly awful, some ("This is the hand we've been dealt on a Saturday night at 11:37 PM" - Crockett). Don't count on action sequences to break up the verbal tedium either as there are only two such set pieces, both arriving toward the end of the film.

Despite all that, there are still plenty of visual reasons to recommend Vice, as Mann ups the ante with the striking hi-def video look that also distinguished Collateral. Many shots of swaying palm trees and ominous thunderclouds are lush enough to make Terrence Mallick go out and shoot more footage of bugs to stay on his toes. Occasionally the picture quality is noticeably gritty but not unappealingly so. Beyond that there's so much vividly shot nightclubbing and boating and traipsing around islands that it even makes the generic hard rock on the soundtrack sound good. Now I'm sorry Mann never directed a Jay-Z video (hell, I'd settle for a Fatlip video). Here's a reprinted L.A. Times article about what Mann feels are the pros and cons of shooting in high definition, and why it was actually harder to shoot that way than it would have been with film.

Unfortunately mood and atmosphere aren't enough to counter the film's deficiencies, in my opinion. I'm sure many critics would be happy if Mann's films kept getting more and more aesthetically stylized and oblique so that they can write about the auteur theory and "action movies for art film lovers," but while I usually admire his films, Mann's not David Lynch. Hopefully next time he or his collaborators bring some actual characters and better story ideas to the table. Or at least a crocodile.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Officially the Worst Christmas Ever - James Brown RIP

Clearly Santa Claus did not go straight to the ghetto this year, as JB once instructed. You have been or will be reading a lot about the World's Greatest Entertainer's importance to the 20th century, but here's a clip of probably the best incarnation of the JB's - from 1971, when Bootsy Collins and his brother Catfish (along with his wicked guitar solos) were in the band. If you want proof of how inhumanly tight they were, look no further than the change around the 3:43 mark. This is also on possibly my favorite JB recording - the Love Power Peace live cd.

Also, from the WFMU archives, here's a 6-hour JB Xmas day extravaganza put together by former dj Douglas Wolk (a critic w/ great taste) from 2001. Real Audio required.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

From happier times, before I got sick of Jack Black

Look for the amusing shot of Brian Posehn moshing toward the end:

Friday, December 22, 2006

Somehow "Date Movie" was shockingly omitted

Due to firings and corporate restructuring the annual Village Voice film poll has been moved to indieWIRE this year. OK, I'll do my homework and check out Death of Mr. Lazarescu but I've been burned before - as have we all; thanks a lot, subjectivity! - by films the elitest of the elite have raved about (I still think A History of Violence is kinda lousy, for one). Anyway, just for my own self-indulgent cataloguing purposes, here are highly unscientific letter grades for every film on the list that I've seen thus far (or so I think. My eyes were glazing over by the end), with a few scant comments.

The Departed: B+. Alec Baldwin: more hilarious here than on "30 Rock?"
Army of Shadows: A+. Ahem.
Old Joy: B-
Borat: B+
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story: B-
The Proposition: C
Brick: B- "Where are you eating lunch these days?"
Neil Young: Heart of Gold: B
Dave Chappelle's Block Party: B+. Dave gets more and more likable. There's a sequence with an odd, elderly couple who own an "Angel" house that feels straight out of an Errol Morris movie.
Lady Vengeance: B
An Inconvenient Truth: B
The Devil and Daniel Johnston: A. One of the best rock docs I've seen. Regardless of what you think of his music it's a fascinating look at how mental illness impacts creativity, and how audiences, friends and family respond.
Talladega Nights: C+
Jackass Number Two: A-. Funnier and probably more subversive than Borat. John Waters beams like a proud papa in his cameo.
Why We Fight: C+
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: B-. Initially overrated by me, as I was happy to see anything vaguely Peckinpah-ish in theaters at the time.
Street Fight: A-. Makes the election on The Wire look as soft as one of Namond's punches.

Since I mentioned it, I should mention that except for Army of Shadows, The Wire and Deadwood were several universes above everything on this list in terms of quality this year, illustrating again how difficult it is for movies to reach the novelistic depths of the very best television. And no, I still can't work up the desire to see Little Miss Sunshine.

Monday, December 18, 2006


YOU may have heard by now that YOU were just named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

Don't know what YOU did to deserve this honor? They elaborate further: "You were named TIME magazine's "Person of the Year" on Saturday for the explosive growth and influence of user-generated Internet sites such as YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. You were chosen over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea's Kim Jong Il and Donald Rumsfeld. Congratulations."

Since Ahmadinejad is always going on about how good looking he is whenever I see him, I thought I'd finally gotten the upper hand for once in my life. Imagine how my heart sank though, when I finally opened the issue and saw this sidebar:

We forgot to mention: For your questionable work ethic, perpetual lack of direction and most of all for this recent photo, you were not included among the roughly six billion winners of our Person of the Year results. Your fellow runners-up include Terrell Owens, the producers of Bumfights, and Steve the Drunk from Deadwood. Better luck next year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Filling the Christgau Void with Low-Rent Absurdity and "Wire" References: Fave Music of '06

It’s that time of year when every critic and music geek with an iPod full of Cambodian Gary Numan covers foists their pointless top 10 lists upon an indifferent interwebosphere. But why read blogs with names like PickledBeetRhapsody and My Old-Thyme Aorta when you can stay here and find out what a guy who works at a medical journal, has seven readers and has never played an instrument thinks about the ok-but-nothing-great year in music?


1. Scott Walker – The Drift. Oh the bitter irony. Just a few posts ago I was bemoaning the rise of annoying, mogwai-voiced, Legend of Zelda reject Joanna Newsom, now I go and award warbly wonder Walker wecord-of-the-year. Uhm... I sorta contain multitudes, I guess. I won’t pretend this was the album I listened to most this year, but it was genuinely unique (an almost impossibly rare distinction at this point), darkly compelling and frequently brilliant in its Penderecki-meets-Zachary Brimstead clatter. Plus, how many other singers have the balls to use an evil Donald Duck voice on one track? There’s gotta be more of a sense of humor at work here than is readily acknowledged, in addition to the creepiness. The big question is, will anyone else ever follow in Walker’s footsteps and go from former teen pop idol to reclusive, avant garde, operatic artiste? Usher, get one cacophonous orchestra and slab of percussive frozen meat, please.

2. V/A – International Sad Hits vol. 1. A compilation of tracks from four artists - Kazuki Tomokawa and Kan Mikami from Japan, Kim Doo Soo from Korea and Fikret Kizilok from Turkey. I think it’s a no-brainer that I would buy a well-compiled comp simply called “Sad Hits." Add “International” to the title though and we’re really cooking, since you don't necessarily know if the lyrics are insipid in their native tongue. It’s all mournful folk music onto which you can project your own epic tales of woe. In mine I’m an exiled balloonist traversing the clouds with my superintelligent panda friend Sho-Bing. We come across a city in the clouds that has lots of cool lamps and is ruled by a young Mimi Rogers. Then I get into lots of crossbow battles with the Lemur People* who are running roughshod and breaking all the lamps. Plus, I’ve got a pornstache. Oops, wait, most of that was meant to go in the blurb for the “Non-Threateningly Bizarre Hits” comp. Pretend you just read something else.

3. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped. The numbering in this list is sort of arbitrary, but for me this ended up being probably the most-listened-to rock album released this year. It’s also their best since ________. At the risk of my harsh words devastating him and causing him to dress sloppily, I won't miss Jim O'Rourke.

4. Mission of Burma – The Obliterati. So were they saving up that crack about Nancy Reagan’s head for 20+ years or what?

5. The Gossip – Standing in the Way of Control. The songwriting continues to improve and the riffs and singing are more righteous than ever.

6. Jay Reatard – Blood Visions. Great, moody, noir-edged punk somewhat reminiscent of the Wipers.

7. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Have you heard? She’s kinda hot. But now everybody’s all about Jenny Lewis. Sorry, but I picture Jenny Lewis having a bunch of Muppeteers and nimrods in Christmas sweaters as her frustrated platonic friends, all of them drinking strawberry shakes and singing along to Bryan Adams' Greatest Hits (what the hell am I talking about?). Give me Neko any day. I don’t like this as much as Blacklisted but it’s still great and more ambitious.

8. Bob Dylan – Modern Times. For people who thought “One Froggy Evening” wasn’t actually froggy enough.

9. Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Make You Go Out to the Backyard, Pick a Switch, Then Come Back Here So I Can Beat Your Ass With It. James McNew talks tough in these album titles but let’s hear him try to cut a convincing promo on The Magnificent Muraco. Yeah, I thought so.

10. Ghostface Killah – Fish Scale. Did you catch his 30 Rock cameo a few weeks ago? Can The Ghostface Variety Hour be far behind (and if so, has U-God been practicing his plate-spinning skillz)?

HOTT JAMMZZ (as seen on Club MTV®)

(Gnarls Barkley's most ingenious costumes yet)

1. Gnarls Barkley – "The Crazy Song" (aka "Captain Crazy"). Did a Kidz Bop version ever come out? Listing this here reminded me of this maddening, idiotic, Chuck Klosterman-penned NY Times article from June. Seriously, this article’s crimes are legion and it would take a whole seperate post to get into it. Why didn’t I do that six months ago, anyway? Is it too late? No, it’s never too late (“What about the fact that no one cares?”) “No one cares” is the new “people care,” wise guy.

2. Robert Pollard – "Love is Stronger Than Witchcraft." Easily one of his best non-GBV tracks, ranking with the likes of “Alone, Stinking and Unafraid,” “Supernatural Car Lover” and “Gifford’s Enchanted Sweatshirt"... whoops, I think I just made that last one up. I can't really tell anymore.

3. Junior Boys – "In the Morning." Low-key electro(-ish) pop, pulsating yet melancholic (“Oh yeah, that’s the stuff”). Huh? (“C’mon, be more obtuse. Just a little more, c’mon.”) Uhm, okay… uh… the supple groove is like a shimmering chimera, subtly shifting in dynamics while churning dancefloors like a worldweary buttersmith (“Oooooh yeah, that’s it! Blog me hard, baby!!”). OK, this is too creepy. Next track… (“No wait, talk to me about Destroyer! C’mon, Rubies, baby, RUBIES!! C’MON!!”).

4. Gnarls Barkley – "Smiley Faces." I may actually like this even better than “Crazy” but I don’t want to piss off any Hilton family members or troubled, schizophrenic Kidz Boppers who have access to loaded weapons by admitting it.

5. Clipse – "Wamp Wamp (What it Do)." I don’t completely get the hype around the album yet but this song is awesome (“awesome” being a popular slang term among contemporary urban youths). It would no doubt match up perfectly with the next freaky “Little Superstar” Bollywood footage that'll be dug up and turned into an online “sensation.”

6. DC Snipers – "All Humans are Garbage." I wouldn’t go so far as to call Missle Sunset album of the year, but at least it blew up and knocked Panic at THE! disco off the charts… oh, wait…

7. Cat Power – "The Greatest." Whatever happened to that possible SNL audition Chan alluded to a while back? Maybe she should apply herself instead to finally wrting a song half as depressing as the average Seth Meyers sketch.

8. Justin Timberlake – "Sexy Back." The first time I heard this, I didn’t know what it was and thought that Peaches had hooked up with some hot shit producer or something. Then I found out it was by this Henry-lookin’ motherfucker (wait, you don’t think "Henry" will catch on as a derogatory term for guys with overgrown infant heads? You’re wrong. Just dead wrong.) Do you suppose New Kids on the Block are bitter because they didn’t have Timbaland taking an inexplicable interest in them back in the day? This song is also entertaining because it presumes that sexy was somehow undervalued as a commodity for a time, like it was off somewhere taking a bethonged power nap.

9. Portastatic – "Sour Shores." Poor Mac doesn’t get the attention he deserves. Even now, I can’t think of anything to say about this song. Except it’s good and all. Damn.

10. Hank IV – "Got Got." This song is ok, it’s pretty rockin,’ but the sole reason it’s top ten is because it was inspired by Omar from The Wire. Note to all musicians: I will grant any music about or inspired by The Wire a slot on next year’s prestigious top ten list. I don’t care about your previous crimes against music. James Blunt can croon to a velvet painting of Snoop in his next video; Phil Collins can rewrite “Another Day in Paradise” so that it’s about Dukie; Joanna Newsom can record an 18-minute track for kazoo orchestra about Herc stealing the Triforce of Power from Ganon. I don’t care, it’ll all go on the list. Bet that.

(Still trying to forget Michael K. Williams' role in "Trapped in the Closet")

*Originally it was the "Manatee People" but I've since learned that manatees are off limits. That'll teach me to stray from lemur country.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Langley Schools Music Project circa 2048?

Brian Turner recently posted a link on WFMU's Beware of the Blog to a fairly jaw-dropping YouTube clip of The Young at Heart Chorus covering Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia." This was the first I'd heard of this group of senior citizens who have been staging theater and musical productions since 1983 (with an obviously high turnover rate in the line-up). Recently, there was a British documentary about the group that yielded the Sonic Youth clip, as well as the one below - a guy hooked to an oxygen machine, covering Coldplay's "Fix You." Music lesson of the day: renditions by ailing senior citizens seem to immediately lend gravitas to any Bed Head-drenched eunuch's schlocky, soccer mom-friendly, musical weepfest. If Rick Rubin is ever granted the power to re-animate the dead, look out; there won't be a dry eye in the house.

You can check out Channel 4's page for another clip from the documentary. Their own site also has links to other articles and coverage. There are items about the group's repertoire of poignant tunes, the occasional "Hey Ya" or Hendrix cover, as well as past collaborations w/ Latino breakdancers, punks, Cambodian folk artists and a production w/ a gay men's chorus called "Flaming Saddles" (I'm sure people were camping in line to see that one. Ha ha, get it? Camp? It's... ha ha... ha... uuuugh, help me, Rip Taylor). I have no idea if any of those last few projects were, y'know, watchable (yes, forgive me for having serious doubts about "Flaming Saddles"), but at least they sound like AARP meetings from Bill O'Reily's worst nightmares, which is fine by me.

Meanwhile, are you itching to hear tracks from the absurdly rare, alternate Velvet Underground & Nico acetate that was bought at a NY street fair for 75 cents and ended up going for $155,401 on eBay, probably to some douchebag emo-trepreneur? For a short time you can get mp3s of the alternate recordings over at Moistworks. The post's author is coy about his source - the party that was auctioning the acetate made a digital backup but I'm not sure if these mp3s originated from them or the poor-quality Japanese bootleg that surfaced a few years ago. In any case, I regret that I couldn't bid on this one past the $130,000 mark. I've currently got my eye on an ultra-rare 12" version of "Rapper's Delight" that replaces the third verse with a clip of Dick Cavett telling an anecdote about Groucho. They say only 5 people ever heard it but everyone who did went out and bought brown turtlenecks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tell Me About the Rabbits + Jodorowsky Mania in '07

The Inland Empire trailer is up on YouTube. Evidently that's Lynch singing. I know he did all the music; no Angelo Badalamenti this time around. Opening night in DC is Jan 13 at the AFI theater.

On another weird movie note, I watched a bootleg of Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain for the first time this weekend. It's hard to still think of Lynch as being all that weird when you've got, say, a guy being violently breastfed by an old man with two baby leopard heads on his chest. ABKCO has confirmed this film and Jodorowsky's El Topo (not sure about Santa Sangre) will almost certainly be released on deluxe dvds (w/ commentary and bonus features) in 2007, although no word yet whether they'll be from Criterion as rumoured. The commentary should be both entertaining and informative, as the extensive religious symbolism in Holy Mountain mostly goes over my head. Here's a promo interview w/ Jodorowsky concerning the films' re-release, and a WFMU blog post from '05 with a bunch of fascinating links concerning Jodorowsky's sadly never-made, visionary-sounding adaptation of Dune, which at various points was to have involved Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger, Moebius, Orson Welles and Pink Floyd. More info on that and the disaster it eventually became for Lynch here, of course.

IN OTHER NEWS (and by "news" I mean "random stuff on the internet about people I like" - the subject of my every post, it seems): Hey, another WFMU blog link! Today they offer an online primer on Chris Morris.