Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Peter Jackson and The Hobbit

After a contentious battle between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema over revenues from the Rings trilogy, the two have finally made nice, put a couple of flowers in each others hair, and smoked the peace pipe (or whatever Pippin and Merry were smoking in those movies). Peter Jackson was upset because he felt New Line was hiding some of the profits of the Ring movies and requested an audit, which New Line refused. Jackson then went the route of suing New Line.

What's changed? Well, The Golden Compass bombed for one thing, meaning New Line was left without a flagship fantasy series. Also, they both probably realized that they could make boatloads of money on The Hobbit so all this fussin' and a fightin' was worthless.

To make things more complicated, MGM had a distribution deal, and supposedly, through some weird system, owned part of The Hobbit as well. A while back, MGM then claimed that a Hobbit film would not go through unless Jackson was on board. Much of this is speculation and rumor.

It looks like Jackson won't be directing, but rather producing where he will sign off on all creative aspects of the film. This is fine by me since The Hobbit has a much more innocent tone than the Ring trilogy. My vote is for Peter Weir and maybe he can find a role for Harrison Ford since most of Ford's best work was with Weir. Although, I hear that if the plot doesn't revolve around Ford saving his family then he's out. You can find a more detailed story here.

It looks like things are moving along much faster than anticipated. I found some test screenings here:

Leonard Nimoy as Gandalf? Stranger things have happened...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Telecom Amnesty

I won't get into all of the how a bill becomes a law stuff. Who really needs a definition of cloture?

On the road to being signed by George W. is a law revamping the FISA courts, but what's really important is what's tucked away in this law, a Christmas present to Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and the other telephone companies that complied with the White House's illegal wiretapping program: retroactive amnesty.

Despite the obvious fourth amendment violations there are also federal laws targeting private companies who spy on American citizens. In the bill presented to the Senate there was a provision granting these telecom companies amnesty from any past wrongs related to spying on Americans. It's a good old fashion get out of jail free card courtesy of our government.

There are several arguments that have been trotted out in defense of telecom amnesty:

The telecom companies were just doing their patriotic duty by helping out the government.

If by "patriotic duty" you mean the White House threatened to withdraw profitable government contracts if the telecom companies didn't comply, then you're onto something. Apparently Qwest, the only company to refuse the White House's request (or should I say, re"qwest"?...oh, I shouldn't, sorry) claim that profitable contracts were withdrawn when they did not cooperate. It's not surprising that these corporations were more concerned with the bottom line than "patriotic duty." Besides, what's so patriotic about helping the government break the fourth amendment? Isn't that the exact opposite of patriotism?

Those poor telecom companies didn't know what they were doing. They were confused when the big bad White House pressured them into breaking the law.

Multi-million dollar companies have multi-million dollar lawyers. I know there are a lot of dumb people graduating from law school but they don't work for Fortune 500 companies. Besides, Qwest's lawyers obviously knew it was wrong, and if I remember correctly ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Because the White House coerced these companies into breaking the law, we should go after the White House instead of the telephone companies.

There was a reason why the federal laws specifically mention private companies. It doesn't matter who's spying, or whether it is the fourth amendment or federal statute as presiding law, the simple fact is they broke the law. Besides, thanks to executive privilege run amok, suing the phone companies might be the only means of discovering the breadth of government spying. There is a reason why Bush is threatening to veto any FISA bill, regardless of whether or not it gives him everything else he wants, if the bill does not contain telecom amnesty. If the telephone companies are sued then they will be forced to hand over loads of information to the courts, which in turn will likely implicate the White House in a violation of the fourth amendment. I don't think the president can pardon himself if he's the one in jail. However, if the White House itself is prosecuted, then they can merely claim executive privilege - as the argument goes, handing over documents could hurt national security so the White House, unlike the rest of the country, does not have to do so. This leaves any prosecution with zero evidence to support a fourth amendment violation.

But there is an "intelligence gap" between us and the terrorists, and if we don't pass a bill that revises FISA quickly, then Al Qaeda will come over here blow up our babies, use their blood for 'dem 'der Rahamadajan ritual, and convert them to Islam...but not in that order.

Which is why there is an identical bill that can be brought to the floor of the Senate that both revises FISA and removes telecom amnesty. It is called the RESTORE act. Why that is not on the floor of the Senate and telecom amnesty is, I have no idea. Assuming you buy into the argument that FISA must be revised or we could face another attack, then why would Bush risk another attack by vetoing a FISA bill just because it doesn't immunize the telephone companies from the law. Hmmm...something to think about.

Just when it looked like telecom amnesty was going to the floor of the Senate to be voted on, where it would inevitably pass, presidential candidate Chris Dodd swooped in from Iowa to lead a filibuster. Ignoring his own party's leaders he argued passionately against telecom amnesty. Here is an excerpt:

And you thought that Chris Dodd was just some guy who was always on the very far side of the debate stage who looked peculiarly like your grandfather. Here's a link to another segment of his speech. Despite Dodd's impassioned speech a vast majority of Senators, Republican and Democrat alike, voted to bring this version of the FISA bill, telecom amnesty and all, to the floor of the Senate. The handful who voted against it: Boxer (California), Brown (Ohio), Cantwell (Washington), Cardin (Maryland), Dodd (Connecticut), Feingold (Wisconsin), Harkin (Iowa), Kerry (Massachusetts), Menendez (New Jersey), Wyden (Oregon). (On a side note, being from Ohio I feel like my vote for Sherrod Brown was the one vote from which I received action rather than talk).

Despite these votes, thanks to Dodd's filibuster, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D), reluctantly took the bill off the Senate floor. Reid ignored a hold that Dodd placed on the bill to prevent it from reaching the Senate floor, forcing Dodd to filibuster. Instead of respecting Dodd's hold, as he has with the holds of many Republicans, Reid decided to bring forth the FISA bill with telecom amnesty, rather than the RESTORE bill without telecom amnesty.

It looks like the bill will come around again in the New Year, so if you want to show your support by typing your name and e-mail onto a petition expressing disappointment with Harry Reid, you can do so here.

In closing, here is a thank you from Dodd to all of his supporters:

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hugo Chavez's Defeat

In a surprise defeat, today several proposals backed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were voted down. The proposals would have affected Venezuela's Constitution and, among others, would have allowed the president the ability to run for and indefinite number of terms, enact states of emergency indefinitely, and increase the state's role in the economy. The Venezuelan democracy survived by the skin of its teeth with a close 49/51 point spread.

For a while now its been somewhat popular for liberal celebrities to make dignitary visits to Venezuela to show their support for Chavez, and while I think post in the axis of evil, or whatever other catchy name they've come up with now, is highly exaggerated, I find many things to dislike about the man. He is an egomanical leader who has pushed the position of president to the brink of monarchy -- it's the executive branch run amok (sound familiar?). His most egregious act was to shut down a television network off the air earlier this year.

Of course, I will give him his dues. He did provide cheap oil for the needy in Massachusetts and has pushed a series of populist proposals in Venezuela for which the people apparently love him. At least he was actually elected, unlike other presidents. I guess the Venezuelan people decided as much as they like the guy, like most house guests, they don't like him in perpetuity.

Oh well, Chavez is South America's old news. Of all the leftists South American presidents I've always been a bigger fan of Evo Morales. How much do you want to bet his campaign slogan was "Even his names says morals...Morales!" Hey Morales, do ya happen to need a new campaign manager? (call me).

Where does he get those wonderful sweaters?

This of course begs the question of what will happen when Chavez has run out of terms and must leave the presidency? Once thing's for sure, Noam Chomsky is going to have to find a new agent. (call me).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

All Star Batman & Robin #8 (1/5)

All Star Batman & Robin #8 (1/5)

This review should be unnecessary. This kind of piss-poor writing and snail paced plot should be dismissed and choked to death with lack of sales. Except that the name Frank Miller is on the cover, which for some people is the mark of quality no matter what. After all this is the man who's comics are turned into box office money and one of the few names non-comic book readers actually recognize. So when his name is on the cover people give him the benefit of the doubt, far too much benefit and far too little doubt.

I'm not a Frank Miller hater by any means. I think he's got a great sense of pulp and I even enjoyed The Dark Knight Strikes Again which was a hilarious send up of the Bush administration. Most people defend All Star Batman & Robin by saying it's a parody of DC comics and shouldn't be taken seriously. I'm all for poking fun at comic book conventions but there's not much that's actually funny. Thanks to Miller's lazy writing most issues have focused on a superhero from the DC showing up briefly but not doing anything to further the plot. In this issue it's Hal Jordan's Green Lantern and the "gag" is he's dumb. The entire scene consists of a rooftop exchange between Hal and Batman. Hal is eating a hot dog (hilarious!) and he's unable to find Batman hiding in the shadows for the first half of the conversation (what a Laruel and Hardy combo!). Batman then calls him a "moron" about fifty times and tells him they'll meet later. In eight issues there has been an issue and a half worth of plot (and this is being generous). The pointless cameos have ground this series to a halt.

If anything All Star Batman & Robin is a parody of Miller's writing style. The over the top violence and "grit" lose all meaning because it's so absurd, and when you start making fun of yourself without realizing it readers are going to look over past work and wonder if they stand up as well as they once thought. The Joker is portrayed as a date raping serial killer. The psychopath Joker characterization too often leads to striping the character of any of his defining personality. Where are the twisted punch lines and tortured logic that's his m.o.? All Miller did was make a generic sociopath and give him white skin and green hair. This is the kind of thing a Frank Miller wannabe does, not the original.

I remember reading that Miller said this series was supposed to be a prequel to his classic The Dark Knight Returns, but I don't get that feeling anywhere. The first sign of of a connection is that the weird shirtless Nazi woman with swastikas painted on her chest makes a brief cameo. So if there are any fans of that flash in the pan Frank Miller creation feel free to pick up this issue but for anyone else stop inflating this man's ego.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Writers' Strike

The word on the street is that a deal will soon be struck between the robber barons and those Hollywood factory workers, the writers. This has been an interesting development and the first time E! has ever aired real news. Not that I'm singling them out, it has also been the first time in a long time CNN has aired real news as well.

The movie studios were supposed to have been safe. After all, don't they have an endless number of scripts of remakes and sequels locked away in that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Unfortunately Hollywood forgot just one thing, that each script is tinkered with endlessly by an orgy of writers to make absolutely certain every film is exactly the same. Johnny Depp's next flick, Wolverine, and some others have been the victim of their scripts not being ready. Which begs the question, why is a film being OKed with a subpar script. Shouldn't that be the first thing in place to make a good movie, or have I just answered my own question?

Before the strike began the thought was that since the 1988 strike reality television had caused a shift in the balance of power. After all, no one writes those witty lines for Simon Cowell, that's pure Simon, and American Idol happens to be the most popular show on television. Apparently people don't want fake TV, they want fake TV pretending to be real. Too bad the networks already tried this several years ago with a reality television craze. Too bad most of those shows bombed. Does anybody remember Tommy Lee Goes to College because I certainly don't. I don't suspect there has been much short term damage, even with the immediate death of most "variety shows." Although, I will admit I've been watching less television, not that I watched that much to begin with. Here's a little clip to tide over all you Daily Show fans.

Not surprisingly, the writers have apparently been winning the war of words. I mean who are you going to side with, some rich guy that forced American Idol on the world or the person that makes Stephen Colbert say all those funny things. Writing for a living probably helps get your message across as well. A new poll says that 63 percent of Americans side with the writers.

This is another interesting situation where the internet has given more power to artists and less power to the robber barons. Earlier in the year Radiohead forged their own small revolt by leaking their own album online and then asking people to pay what they want. The writers are using the internet as a means of communication, and now that communication is slowly being democratized, the people are seeing fewer producers being interviewed on CNN and more youtube videos of picket lines. On a level playing field the pen beats the purse every time.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Margot At the Wedding

Margot at the Wedding (4/5)

Margot at the Wedding, previously known by its original title, A Weekend of Dysfunction, is the latest film by auteur Noah Baumbauch. I first heard of Baumbauch when he replaced Owen Wilson as screenplay collaborator with Wes Anderson on the divisive The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Both directors share an interest in family dysfunction, which has largely defined Anderson’s later films and Baumbauch’s last film, The Squid and the Whale, was an ugly portrayal of divorce. The difference between Baumbauch and Anderson is that Anderson actually likes people. If there is one thing Margot at the Wedding is not, it’s uplifting.

Margot (Nicole Kidman) takes her son Claude to Long Island for her sister Pauline’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) marriage to Malcolm (Jack Black). Mentioned, but not present, are Margot’s other son, a third sister, and Margot and Pauline’s mother. In the fine tradition of great short storytellers, Baumbauch uses the great Hemingway analogy of the iceberg for story structure, and while we are privy to plenty of sordid secrets that are unveiled over a series of days, you can’t shake the feeling that there is even more hiding under the water. In other words, it’s the kind of film Freud would gleefully add to his DVD collection.

I’ve never been a big fan of Nicole Kidman but she does a great job as a character who is entirely unredeemable. This isn’t some lovable goof who’s just a little selfish, this is someone who mentally abuses her son, someone who becomes angry at others when they do something altruistic because it makes her feel bad that she wouldn’t do the same thing. There is absolutely nothing likable about Margot. Pauline and Malcolm aren’t too far behind. Malcolm is an unemployed “letter writer” who, when frustrated, is prone to yell profanities at Pauline. Pauline is the most likable of the three but at times can seem weak and it’s suggested that she’s marrying Malcolm out of desperation. John Turturro shows up part way through the film as Jim, Margot’s husband, to remind us that truly good adults do exist, and also to remind us that John Turturro is still a kick ass actor, and to make us wonder why the Coen Brothers didn’t cast him in No Country For Old men since he’s been in most of their movies anyway – I mean, he was Barton Fink in Barton Fink for chrissakes – you would think they could have squeezed him in someplace, maybe a cameo like he has here or something.

With the exception of Jim, the only decent human beings are Claude and his cousin Ingrid. Much like The Squid and the Whale the children are used as proxies by the adults so that they can air out their frustrations and to covertly disseminate damaging secrets without being held accountable. At the end of the film Margot has to make a decision to stay at her son’s side or to leave him behind. I won’t tell you what she decides but at the time I thought it would be better to have them separated.

Unlike The Squid and the Whale the film is more concerned with the adults than the kids so we spend most of the time with characters we cannot relate to and any sort of emotional growth is nonexistent. This is a brave decision when you ask the audience to loath people they’re going to spend two hours with. But why not? There are terrible people in the world and why shouldn’t there be terrible people in movies? Reasons why Margot is so dysfunctional are hinted at but any kind of revealing moment where Margot describes a childhood trauma in detail with “Adagio for Strings” is playing is strictly avoided. Perhaps we could forgive her if the film wasn’t so blatant in its portrayal of Margot’s mental abuse of Claude. I can’t promise everyone will like the film but I can promise it won’t leave your mind quickly.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Southland Tales

Southland Tales (2/5)

Ever since the doomed premier at Cannes, I’ve always been intrigued by Southland Tales. Call it perverse, but I had the same reaction when I heard about Marie Antoinette being booed by the French. In some weird way I thought that the French, who have produced some of the most pretentious films in the world, just didn’t “get it” and here were two films that defied even the culture that gave us Althusser, Lacan, and Derrida. After seeing Marie Antoinette I realized how wrong I was. In fact a few more pretensions would have helped that film. Instead it was an ahistorical mess that obscured the tragedy of a starving nation with pretty shots of cakes and a few good songs. Imagine if in The Last King of Scotland Idi Amin Dada was just a foolish leader who liked to play with army men and was completely unaware of any political executions. For some reason I think Ugandans would have booed that film as well.

This brings me back to Southland Tales, a film for which the word “mess” seems like an understatement. We begin with an overabundance of voiceover, perhaps the laziest cinematic technique in a director’s bag of tricks. The narrator is Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake) an Iraq War veteran who carried some facial scars back from the desert. We are informed that after several nuclear attacks Republicans have control of congress and have implemented The Patriot Act on steroids. The Republican presidential contender is Bobby Frost along with the VP candidate Eliot (Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot are quoted throughout the film). Frost’s son in law, Boxer Santaros (played wonderfully by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), an action movie star, was lost in the desert but wound up in the arms of porn star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Geller), star of a talk show, a hit single (“Teen Horniness is Not a Crime”), and an energy drink which, apparently, is “very, very good.” Boxer has amnesia and is unaware that his wife Madeline (Mandy Moore), Bobby Frost’s daughter, is waiting for him at home, and is also unaware that Krysta Now is in cahoots with a band of Neo-Marxists who plan on framing Boxer for a double homocide in an attempt to sabotage the impending presidential race. In turn, to accomplish their mission the Neo-Marxists have employed the twin brother of a supposed police officer, Roland/Ronald Tavener (Stiffler…er, Sean William Scott), who takes Boxer along with him on his police rounds. Oh, and there is a also Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn, more commonly known as the guy who says “inconceivable” in A Princess Bride) who has some sort of building off the coast of Venice Beach that promises clean, renewable energy. Don’t worry, I’m not giving much away since you learn this within the first fifteen minutes thanks to the overbearing voiceover. The question I have is how the back jacket to the DVD will read. Inevitably the first line will be “It’s the end of the world…and we all feel fine!”

At even two and a half hours, you would think that the film would have to move along at breakneck speed to fit in so many plots and subplots. Unfortunately this is not the case. Each subplot has only about ten minutes of story arc a piece, maybe Boxer’s is a little longer, but the result is that we forget about Roland/Ronald Tavener’s story for long stretches of time and when he shows up again I couldn’t help but think to myself, “how long as the twin brother been knocked on conscious and left in a garbage bin?” The film would have been better served if it was a series of nominally related shorts that take place in the same universe (note to Richard Kelly: feel free to borrow my idea but I expect revenues!)

One of the problems is that, like Star Wars, these are chapters four, five, and six of a larger story that begins with some comic books I haven’t read. When final revelations are uncovered they’re about incidents that take place off screen and are only briefly mentioned. Similarly, the alliances and double crosses are unclear as well and any shock or suspense is deflated. Despite the immensity of the project, and the fact that twenty minutes have already been trimmed from the final product, you get the feeling that even more could have been cut; the film tries to make confusion a strength anyway and how many scenes do we need of the president’s wife sitting in front of a bunch of surveillance cameras?

The overabundance of characters (the above synopsis covers about half the cast) seem like the result of Richard Kelly thinking about some old sitcom and asking himself “I wonder what John Laroquette from Night Court is doing these days? Or how about the guy from Highlander and while I’m at it I might as well make an allusion to his now forgotten role as Raiden in that Mortal Kombat movie?” In their defense, the actors do a fine job with what they’re given. Dwayne Johnson in particular, playing a schizophrenic paranoid with a series of strange tics, shows he can flourish outside of all those scripts originally written in the eighties for Arnold Schwarzenegger, even if his character is modeled off of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Too bad he wasn’t given material on the same level as his performance. The entire affair feels like a series of non-sequiturs played for two and a half hours, which is fine if someone had told Richard Kelly that a non-sequitur isn’t funny merely because it’s a non-sequitur (although I’ll admit to being a particular fan of the “pimps don’t commit suicide” line, which I’m attempting to use in everyday conversation). The film follows the twenty minutes rule: every twenty minutes something interesting or funny happens. In other words, the DVD cut will probably be about ten minutes long with the dream sequence of Pilot Abilene singing The Killer’s “All These Things That I’ve Done” as an Easter egg extra.

Much of the political commentary seems obvious or outdated, perhaps because the film was written two year ago, but the one idea that has some heft is the use of the CNN split screen. When people watch television several things are gong in different segments of the screen, similar to a twenty-four hour newscast. Images of the Iraq War are played side by side with commercials for Budweiser. The result is that a beer commercial is prized as much as information about Iraq. This post-modern leveling of information is eerie and caused me to question once again why CNN is spending more time talking about celebrity gossip than they are about the military crack downs in Pakistan and Burma. Perhaps this is why allusions to Robert Frost stand alongside an allusion to Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat? The way information is presented in post-modernity we no longer have the ability to judge what information we need and what is filler.

The obvious reference for this kind of film is the tremendous Repo Man, and the finale makes the association obvious, but while Repo Man’s dialogue was consistently memorable, Southland Tales gives us a mere handful of quotables. I have the sinking suspicion that if Southland Tales was just funnier I would be able to accept the fact that it’s a complete and total mess. Richard Kelly has engendered plenty of good will from Donnie Darko, a film that more deftly combines genres, and while Southland Tales is a failure at least it’s an ambitious failure. So while it won’t immediately turn me off from Kelly’s next opus but I can’t promise you I’ll be buying Southland Tales: The Double Disc Special Edition.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (5/5)

While Spoon’s sound has never made large evolutionary leaps, they have consistently tweaked their sound enough from album to album to keep their audience interested. If you listen to neighboring albums you might not notice much of a difference but put Telephono up against Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and you’ll quickly realize that in over ten years they’ve danced across the indie rock spectrum from The Pixies to The Beach Boys. It’s kind of like the sonic equivalent of six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, their latest and arguably best album, continues this trend and is a fine example of craftsmanship and attention to detail without sacrificing what really matters: the songs.

Oftentimes when I hear an album filled with multiple tracks and noise tucked behind the instruments it causes me to roll my eyes and sarcastically exclaim that, whatever band I happen to be listening to, has “just discovered they were recording in a studio.” Here the songs are upfront but Britt Daniel and company have also become interested in painting in the corners. What is amazing is that all of their choices seem like natural extensions of the songwriting. On another album the “studio talk” that appears at the beginning of “Don’t You Evah” would be placed before the music begins, but here it’s mixed within the drums and bass and seems like a perfect beginning before Daniel breaks into the first verse. Throughout the albums little additions like this enhance the songs in places (especially during the bridges) where most bands would clumsily throw in the kitchen sink just because they could.

The biggest break from past albums is probably “The Ghost of You Lingers.” Here simple piano chords ride out the song while stereophonic Britt Daniels coos from all directions accompanied by a series from-a-can noises. “The Ghost of You Lingers” is the closest that Spoon has gotten to avant garde sound and yet feels perfectly natural and it’s a reminder that the band has been experimenting from album to album. Although it’s a track that mp3 lovers might call filler, in the context of the whole album it evokes tension that’s begging to be released.

And that tension is released with “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” a wonderful pop song we’ve come to expect from Spoon. This series of tension-release occurs several times throughout the album. The middle songs never quite break into the full voiced choruses they easily could, and it isn’t until track seven that “Underdog” delivers us a release with an uninhibited horn section. The platitude “You’ve got no fear of the underdog/ That’s why you will not survive” may not have meaning at face value but when you’re screaming it at the top of your lungs driving ninety down the highway you’ll believe, oh, you’ll believe. “Japanese Cigarette Case” is another fine example of tension/release within the same song, a vein popping chorus manages to break out the tense verses.

Too often Spoon has been called minimalists, and while not wholly inaccurate, it’s also not a terribly consistent description. While the band may at times see what simple bass and drums can do, they’re not afraid of a full sound, and a full sound is exactly what they revel in on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Spoon have proven time and again that minimalism is merely a starting point but what the ending point is I, thankfully, cannot tell.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Foo Fighter's Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of The Colour and The Shape

Just this week the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Colour and the Shape was released. No, they didn't change the spelling to match American-English Dictionaries, but they did add some unreleased tracks. Most of which I downloaded long ago (ahhhh, the days of Audiogalaxy...sigh).

The Colour and the Shape was a windows down in the summer album, it was also the kind of balls to the wall guitar driven pop that most bands aren't making anymore. I'll always prefer the first album but I can't argue with great songs like "Hey, Johnny Park!" or "Enough Space." I should bill Dave Grohl for blowing out the speakers of my Ford Escort (stranger litigation has happened). Below is a live rendition of one of the b-sides, oddly enough entitled "The Colour and the Shape" in the wonderful tradition of naming an album after a song that didn't make the cut (see Ted Leo's Living With the Living/"Living With the Living.")

Keep your eye on Dave Grohl. I didn't know that muthafucka' could transport too!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

FBI searches for Ted Stevens' series of tubes.

Well, it finally happened. Apparently Ted Stevens, the Senator from Alaska who became synonymous with pork barrel earmarks because of his "bridge to nowhere", is being investigated by the FBI. I'm a personal fan of Stevens, if only because he's certifiably senile and 100% grade A batshits insane. Just yesterday Ted Stevens' home was invaded by the FBI who took pictures of his residence. Apparently they believe additions he made to his home were actually paid for by VECO, an Alaska based oil-fields services and engineering company. Apparently VECO's founder, Bill Allen, was previously convicted for bribing state officials. At least that's the official story, but I like to think the FBI is actually looking for an illegal caches of a "series of tubes." Here's the original article.

It's not a big truck? Shit, I just failed my Internets 101 final. Oh, and if you're hosting your own rave.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Simpsons Movie Weekend

In honor of The Simpsons Movie opening this weekend I have exhibit A as to why The Simpson's is still the king of animation. Sure, it's a little older, a little less shocking, and a little less funny, but the first nine seasons have engendered such good faith that The Simpsons is still tops in my book.

What other show has so radically changed pop culture and what is acceptable on television? I like to make fun of Family Guy's lack of originality now and again but I'm glad The Simpsons made it possible for that show to exist. Oh, and judging from The Simpsons Movie box office they've also given South Park a slap down. That's right Cartman, respect their authoritah!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Sunshine (4.5/5)

The keystone to Sunshine is the fact that once you strip away the sci-fi coveralls the film is essentially about a handful of people under very extreme circumstances. The central problem with extended space travel is the fact that after a year shoved into close quarters on a space aged Winnebago everyone is going to hate the guy next to him. I think 2001 had it right where they froze half the crew and made certain the remaining two had zero personality.

Apparently the same psychiatrists who okayed Lisa Nowak also approved the unhinged crew of Icarus II, whose mission is to reignite the dying sun. The ships psychiatrist has an unhealthy obsession with being “enveloped” by the sun on the ship’s observation deck, the ships botanist, played by Michelle Yeoh, has an unhealthy connection to plants, and the ships diametric young males, Capa (Cillian Murphy) and Mace (Chris Evans) get into a tussle without an apparent provocation. In their defense they’ve been living shoulder to shoulder for a few years now, and despite the inherent tension, each crew member acknowledges that everything else, especially their lives, is second to delivering the ship’s payload to the sun’s surface and saving the human race.

As expected from a Danny Boyle film, sci-fi is used as a jumping board for some philosophical musings as well as some overwhelming visuals. The guys behind the computers of Transformer should probably be ashamed of themselves after they see what can be accomplished with a fraction of the budget. Sunshine is absolutely gorgeous and takes full advantage of it’s location within the orbit of Mercury.

Fans of science fiction will be able to tell which parts have been cobbled together from movies past, but while this at times a drawback, it’s still incredible what Boyle can do within the confines of genre filmmaking. Those who are looking for a tense thriller in the vacuum of space will be satisfied and those who want something more cerebral will be able to rack their brains. Whether you’re a fan of Alien or Solaris, Boyle’s latest film should please not simply because it knows it’s working in the shadow of both but because it fully understands what made those films work and connects the dots between both kinds of science fiction.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

New Smashing Pumpkins

Here it is in all its underwhelming glory, the new music video by the new reincarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins. The song is called "Tarantula."

Wondering who all those extra people are. Are they the new members of The Pumpkins? Probably not, they're probably there to appeal to as many demographics as possible. Billy Corgan, you marketing whiz kid you.

Oh, and if you want to hear the whole album, then listen here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Duke Spirit - Cuts Across the Land (acoustic)

Here's The Duke Spirit doing an acoustic rendition of "Cuts Across the Land" at Sonic Boom Records in Seattle. Apparently the lead singer's voice is just as unique sans studio. The cameraman does seem a little too interested in the tambourine, or is it something else he's zooming in on?

If you'll excuse me I want to run out and by the latest issue of Paste magazine.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Times New Vikings - The Paisley Reich

Times New Vikings - The Paisley Reich (5/5)

The post-modern fear is that nothing is new. Originality is a farce perpetrated on an audience in order to trick them into believing something is important and they should want it when in fact it’s the same old thing people were listening to a decade ago with different packaging. After you listen to enough music this fear becomes more pronounced and you start to look beyond just the songwriting to the song production. It’s less important what chords are being played than how the band recorded those chords.

Times New Viking’s The Paisley Reich is just as interested in how the music sounds as they are about writing catchy songs. Times New Viking’s take a lo-fi aesthetic to the extreme and much of it sounds like a high school band practicing in the garage…from down the street. I can imagine the bassist succumbing to some Spinal Tap like accident and the rest of the band look at each other and figure they can just cover up his absence with lots of treble. At the best moments I was nostalgic for my ’93 Escort’s blown out speakers.

If Times New Vikings merely used lousy recording to cover for lousy music then they would have overstayed their welcome after the first song. Fortunately they write some damn catchy tunes. It may take a listen or two but once you push through the white noise there’s some wonderful pop songs. In another context “Teenagelust!” could be a summer radio hit and songs like “New Times, New Hope” become addictive thanks to some punchy percussion. The entire fifteen tracks go down in under thirty minutes, which is just as well considering that any longer and the experiment might have degenerated pretentiousness. For the sake of everyone involved the album turns out to be a perfect realization of their experiment.

Times New Vikings gives me hope that some originality exists out there, even if it’s just the same old songs recorded with a new idea. Still, I’m curious as to where they go from here. Do they move on to another noise experiment or maybe they become more accessible? Whatever they decide, this tremendous debut has me anxious to find out what happens next.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wilford Brimley = The Lorax?

Any Seussian fan can tell you the name of this website was taken from more than one of the good doctor's stories, and you could probably tell me the answer to the question. I'm a big Seuss fan and have been since before I could read, and that's why I was excited at my recent epiphany, even though no one I knew cared very much. After looking at a picture of Wilford Brimley it becomes painfully evident that he was the inspiration for the Lorax. He's the spitting-fuckin'-image. Don't take my word for it, look out below!

You can’t see the Brim-fler
Behind his moustache
But if you are kind and pleasantly ask
He just might tell you
A story you won’t want to miss
About his new system
And how to check your diabetis.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Suspect Device (live)

Here's a video of Ted Leo doing a Stiff Little Fingers cover.

I love Leo's covers, they give his shows a bar band feel.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What Is the What by Dave Eggers

What is the What by Dave Eggers (5/5)

I knew something was afoot when I read “Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly.” Where was the self aware ego, the fictional non-fiction (with notes), the inner dialogue masked as a conversation between corporeal persons? Instead of his usual tricks I found a semi-allegorical story concerning western imperialism in third world countries. Didn’t this guy try to get on the Real World? Eggers transformation from post-modern slacker to politically minded provocateur is complete and out of his chrysalis has sprung one of the best novels I’ve read in years.

It’s not an easy trick to make one’s way from self serving aggrandizer (even if one is admits he’s a self serving aggrandizer) to someone with a political message, especially if that political message is about the plight of a group you don’t happen to belong to. If handled incorrectly the author risks presenting his work as no more than a cultural furlough so that he may play native for awhile. There are several reasons that explain why Eggers does not fall into this trap.

First, the novel is semi-biographical. It is based on the life story of Egger’s friend Valentino Achak Deng. In fact, the entire title reads What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achack Deng and, curiously, underneath reads “a novel.” To avoid a long, and inevitably supplemented, introduction detailing the difference between what happens in the book and what actually happened, Eggers decided to term his work a novel despite its origins in real life. Eggers goes so far as to write the novel in first person and overhauls his style to approximate Valentino’s speech. If he were a lesser novelist Egger’s writing would reek of cultural poaching, but by the second paragraph I forgot it was Eggers writing the novel and not Valentino. Like a great actor he manages to hide himself behind the prose.

Second, Eggers makes it very clear his purpose is to motivate people. The novel begins with Valentino being robbed and subsequently kidnapped. The robbers leave a young child, presumably their kid, to watch over a bound Valentino. We learn of Valentino’s life in Sudan as he pretends to address his captor. Throughout the novel this same technique is repeated as Valentino imagines himself telling a hospital worker or a gym attendant his story. The reader is made aware that Sudan’s atrocities do not just occur to people thousands of miles away but also to those we pass everyday in the street. It also mirrors the fact that these atrocities have occurred for decades while the rest of the world remains ignorant. Eggers also makes good use of a schoolteacher character who leads a band of lost boys across the country. The schoolteacher attempts to explain to the boys why they are running from their homes and into Ethiopia, and by educating them he is, of course, also educating the reader. I am reminded of when Robert Jordan, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, attempts to explain land reform by likening it to the Land Rush in the United States, but of course his real purpose is to make socialism seem less scary to an American audience.

What Is the What is a novel with a clear purpose and isn’t the worst for it. In fact, it’s much better for it. What really holds the whole thing together is Egger’s superb writing. The “flashback” segments are used to great effect and the time we spend in the present only creates more suspense as we want to uncover what happened to Valentino in his homeland. The details regarding how computer packages dropped from plans land differently than other packages struck as particularly impressive. This kind of detail does not read like it was written by someone who wasn’t even there. Of course, much of the credit goes to Valentino who relayed his story to Eggers. What Is the What is that rare work of art that immediately touches the world beyond the page.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Blonde Redhead - 23 (music video)

Here's the music video to the title track off Blonde Redhead's new album, 23. I won't be doing a full review because I don't really have a lot to say about the album other than it's really good and getting better. The use of layering and repitition makes this song ripe for a remix. Which, if I was in the band, would be my idea for the next EP, a remix of Blonde Redhead songs. Anyway, here you go.

You know, it kind of reminds me of this music video from back in the day.

If you relax your eyes you'll see a sailboat.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Walking With the Baldwins

Walking With the Baldwins

Evolution. First posited by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book Origin of the Species, this scientific theory has become widely accepted as the explanation of how our Earth could be inhabited by such marvelous and diverse creatures. It not only explains how we got here, but it shows us where we’ve been. The implications of this seminal work have been far reaching and challenged not only how we view the world, but also how we view ourselves.

Of course, the theory of evolution has not been without controversy. In 1864 the School Board of Dover, Pennsylvania made it a requirement to teach Intelligent Design, a somewhat-less-than-a-scientific theory posited in Of Pandas and People that claims a giant bearded man in the sky made both Pandas and people but that all other animals were Satan’s work and should be eaten. The book was written by Snidely Moses Darwin, Charles’ evil twin brother.

Over the next one-hundred and fifty years Darwin’s theory has been perfected and is now considered the cornerstone of modern day Biology. But has science gone far enough? Millions of years to get from species to species seems a bit much. What about in the womb? What about from child to child? Or, as everyone in Hollywood is thinking all the time, what does this have to do with me and why aren’t you talking about that?

Because Hollywood is the center of the universe after all, I will discuss what evolution has to with the “me city,” and, specifically, how did America’s favorite acting fraternity go from bit parts to appearing in every other movie Hollywood released in 2006? Travel back in time and witness a story of evolution that spans decades as we go…walking with the Balwins [cue strings and pan out].

Watch as the primitive Australopithecus DannyBaldwinesis evolves all the way to the modern Homo AlecBaldwinesis. It’s an extraordinary journey that spans from Vietnam Vet #1 in Born on the Fourth of July all the way through Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock and beyond!

Australopithecus DannyBaldwinesis, or Danny Baldwin as his brood calls him, may not be a household name but he is often the subject of many arguments as to whether that person up on the screen is Stephen or Alec Baldwin.

After a stint of small and nameless roles, Danny Baldwin received his first major break in the television show Homicide: Life on the Street. For years Danny’s career survived in those cold days before Republicans fessed up to Global Warming by spending his time at Homicide’s snack room, and became the first Baldwin to build up a significant amount of blubber to keep him warm during California’s winters. Danny also spent much of his time huddling for warmth with other C-List celebrities. However, when Danny had a desert shoot for Vampires, directed by the prehistoric creature John Carpenter (Oncegreatdirector Nowhackesis), the temperatures took their toll and extinction was certain. This change in the weather was compounded when a Republican president admitted that Global Warming exists. Except for a mug shot uncovered by scientists, Australopithecus DannyBalwinesis is almost non-existent.

Paranthropus StephenBaldwinesis started off strong in the 1990’s Indiefilmithic Period with his portrayal of Michael MacManus in The Usual Suspects. After this brief moment at the top of the food chain Stephen began a long slow decline. Even though Stephen’s jaw muscles allowed him to chew a larger variety of food than his brothers, paleontologists have attributed his eventual decline to Stephen’s smaller head and thus a tiny brain. Stephen tried to make use of this disadvantage in roles like Bio-Dome, Half-Baked, and The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas but could not adapt when 90’s stoner humor slowly died out. Stephen’s extinction finally came when he converted to evangelical Christianity, which disavows evolution. Once Stephen stopped believing in his own evolution he successfully thought himself out of existence.

Adam Baldwin, or scientifically Homo AdamB…oh, wait. He’s not related? Never mind.

Homo WilliamBaldwinesis, or Billy as his friends and family call him, at first made an impressive debut on Earth. He was a skilled hunter and gatherer and managed to capture large roles in the successful films Flatliners and Backdraft. After several more starring roles in less successful films, however, Billy’s kind was fading slowly. Billy was unable to compete for projects because, unlike the more advanced Hollywood stars, Billy did not fashion himself a more advanced agent. After the 1990’s it was long thought Billy had become extinct. However, like the sealacant, he was uncovered years later by Noah Baumbach who decided to put him in his film The Squid and the Whale. In order to keep his kind going, Baumbach attempted to mate Homo WilliamBaldwinesis with Laura Linny, but unfortunately the two did not take and he is currently on the endangered species list.

Homo AlecBaldwinesis is the only Baldwin who is not extinct or on the endangered species list. Much like his less successful relatives, Alec managed some memorable lead roles early on in his career and, also like his relatives, he managed to make a few bombs. Archeologists have puzzled over why Homo AlecBaldwinesis has survived and his brothers have not. Many theorize that it is due to his pair of brass balls he confidently displayed in Glengarry Glen Ross. Alec’s brass balls have given him the advantage of chewing through each role more quickly than his competition. In 2006 alone Alec appeared in four different films. Of course, even Homo AlecBaldwinesis has his own natural predators, particularly Homo KimBasingeresis. KimBasingeresis is known to first mate with her prey and then feed off their wealth to survive the winter months using a pair of mandibles that can also be used as high profiled lawyers. Thanks to Alec's brass balls, used, presumably, to crush KimBasingeresis's lawyer/fang aperatus when she bit on them, Alec has successfully evaded his most dangerous natural predator. Homo AlecBaldwinesis’ success has guaranteed that for the foreseeable future a Baldwin, most likely Homo AlecBalwinesis (sorry other Baldwins) will be a familiar face in the entertainment industry.*

*Amazing enough, this article was written long before the infamous recording of Homo AlecBaldwinesis' threatening grunting used to intimidate his spawn. Apparently Homo AlecBaldwinesis is also capable of eating its young.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Shins - Australia (music video)

The Shins - Australia (music video)

Normally I don't really like the narrative video, but this one's whimsy so easily matches that of the song that it really won me over. Besides, the end of the video reminded me of going out to Red Lobster as a kid, getting a balloon, and then releasing it in the parking lot...and then probably killing a whale.

And so it was James Mercer who was responsible for the Great Whale Genocide of 2007.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Living With the Living

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Living with the Living (5/5)

“‘Cause we're not trying to change when you tell me that I change
and when I try not to change, well then you tell me that I don't change
And there's not much I can change about that, sir”
- Some Beginner’s Mind, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

Ted Leo makes music to set your life to. While other bands are content with introspective navel gazing, and still a few others deal strictly with the political, Ted Leo finds a comfortable medium between the public and private, and, ultimately, he shows us there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two. Ted Leo attempts to wrap his arms around the immensity of our world. Leo’s success is credited to his ability to make his politics seem about the individual. For example, on The High Party he lets it slip that 9/11 is his birthday while ruminating on the politics of propaganda, and on Living with the Living the most strident anti-war song, Bomb.Repeat.Bomb, is told through the eyes of a bomber pilot. His politics sound less like sleep deprived manifesto than the ruminations of someone walking around the city without a destination.

On their fifth LP Ted Leo and those irascible Pharmacists construct a musical diorama of all the styles that have informed their sound. While in his previous albums these influences could be heard through parts of his songs, a bass line here or a lyric there, on Living with the Living, Leo has adopted these styles whole instead of piecemeal. The album feels like he’s making a mix tape of all his favorite styles but with his own music. Living with the Living runs through hardcore (Bomb.Repeat.Bomb.), Irish folk (Bottle of Buckie), reggae (Unwanted Things), and new wave (La Costa Brava) just to name a few. There are also genres you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Ted Leo, like funk (Lost Brigade) and R.E.M. style jangle pop (Colleen).

I think the reasons behind these genre specific congs can be found in Some Beginner’s Mind. The aforementioned quote shows the paradox of this album: Leo’s sound is evolving by devolving his songs to their genre origins. It makes a kind of sense. I read somewhere that this song is referencing the Zen concept of shoshin, or “beginner’s mind.” I ran across this little quote by Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.” By rediscovering the sounds that first made him excited about music in the first place, Ted Leo is actually uncovering multiple ways of songwriting.

The strength of Leo’s political writing doesn’t end with his ability to make the political personal. The political songs on Living also make great use of analogy to attack the current war in the Middle East. Nowhere does Leo mention the second Gulf War. However, he has called Bomb.Repeat.Bomb. a song about America’s involvement in Guatemala, Annunciation Day/Born on Christmas Day references the Falkland War, and C.I.A. takes on our overly secretive institution. At the same time, the shadow of our current war can be felt throughout the album. Ted Leo is implicitly drawing attention to the fact our current war is not a finite problem, but rather a part of our systematic dealings with the rest of the world. His call for change is as far reaching as it is individualistic. Once again, Leo manages to wrestle a complex view of our world through seemingly disparate dichotomies.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t even touched upon whether or not the album is any good. Ted Leo is such a natural songwriter that his albums are always good, but more than that, Ted Leo’s work has become such a part of my life I’m less interested in the mostly boring question of quality, than I am interested in how his craft is evolving. Judging by Living with the Living I’m sure I’ll be returning to Leo’s latest album, whatever that album may be at the time, until he no longer puts music to disc.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut

R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut passed away today. It's a real shame. No other author has been able to capture post-modernity the way he has. Nope, not even Don Delillo. Delillo is a great writer, but he's obsessed with the idea of high art and low art, and his books are filled with unease that this low art will overtake what he considers high art. You can tell that even though he uses the structure of a post-modernist, he pines for the days of Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.

Vonnegut, however, may have had a pessimistic view of the world, but he was perfectly happy working in what some would consider low art. He had zero compunction about writing a science fiction novel for example. In fact, Vonnegut and Williams S. Burroughs are the only two science fiction writers who are taken seriously in academia. The mere fact that he was able to write his way out of a literary ghetto is a testament to his talent. He truly was the 20th century's Mark Twain.

Several reviews below is a review of Vonnegut's Mother Night for anyone interested. "So it goes."

Friday, March 30, 2007

Adam Sandler = Bob Dylan?

I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice this, but doesn't Adam Sandler's character in Reign Over Me look a lot like Bob Dylan?

I smell Oscar bait. Quick get those guys responsible for Ray on the phone.

I can imagine the scene where Bobby D. is touring England and being booed for going electric. What does the soft tempered Dylan do? Well suddenly his soft-spoken attitude is interrupted by psychotic screams. Hilarious! Oh, and then he has to fart into the microphone, you just cannot forget that old comedic standby.

The Acadamy has ignored Adam Sandler for too long. It's time for him to pull a Robin Williams. Do you think old Bobby D. will be as upset about this upcoming film as he was about the Edie Sedgwick film Factory Girl? Only the inevitable nature of this film will make us sure.

My only question is, can they get anyone who looks less like Andy Warhol than Guy Pierce for the inevitable Andy Warhol scene?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


300 (2/5)

Last Friday I saw a matinee of 300.

After the movie I had a cavity filled at my dentist. When they asked me if I wanted any painkillers I told them that Spartans didn’t have pain killers. When Spartans were born they were subjected to years of dental checkups without Novocain. They would have mouths of cavities filled without one shot of anesthesia. When they drilled into my tooth I gave out a scream. A warrior scream, not a girly scream, never a girly scream. I cried “We are Sparta!” Well, it sounded more like “Eee aaw Staaata!” Of course, the dentist did wonder why I came in greased up and in an ancient loincloth, but then again she probably didn’t see the movie.

That night my girlfriend tried to fry me some tofu. I wouldn’t stand for it. “I don’t eat my tofu fried,” I said, “I eat my tofu raw!” I grabbed the uncooked tofu and ripped its slippery flesh with my newly cleaned incisors. “This is madness,” she exclaimed. “No,” I said, “this…is…tooooofuuuu!”

By chance three of my friends from Ohio visited me that weekend. That Saturday the three of us met up with a friend of mine from Boston. He brought four people with him. “You only brought three drinkers with you?” he questioned. “How many alcoholics do you have among you?” I asked. Two Bostonians sheepishly raised their hands. “O, H” I yelled. To which my three friends replied “I, O.” “You see,” I said, “I brought more alcoholics than you.”

At least that’s how I pictured my life after seeing this movie. Too bad I just felt lethargic.

300 is the story of Thermopylae, where three-hundred Spartans defended Greece against an onslaught of Persians. Of course, historically speaking, there were plenty of other Greeks and lots of help from the Athenian navy, but don’t let history get in the way of a good yarn.

The whole battle starts off from a little misunderstanding. A Persian messenger comes to King Leonidas and asks for him to pay tribute and bow before Xerxes. Well, apparently Spartans don’t bow because the messenger finds himself looking for the bottom of a bottomless pit. Much of the dialogue is concerned with what Spartans do and do not. “Spartans are this and Spartans are that.” It’s all very boring. In fact, they should have replaced every word with variations on Sparta. “Sparta Sparta Spartans. SPARTA!”

Right now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “well, you already made fun of the historical inaccuracies and the dialogue, but I really just came to the movie for the action.” That’s all fine and good except for the fact that even the action sucks. Sure, the choreography isn’t too bad, but the film is almost entirely shot in slow motion. In fact, there’s about a half-hour of film stretched out to two hours. I was waiting for the dialogue to be slowed down and the inevitable “nooooooooooo” but alas the film did not deliver. Slow motion should be used for emphasis, but when every action scene is in slow motion then it loses its impact. It’s kind of like using a highlighter to highlight an entire book instead of just the great passages.

There’s also an inordinate amount of homoeroticism, which isn’t a problem in and of itself, but the fact that the filmmakers seem absolutely unaware of it is rather odd. For example, Leonidas calls the Athenians “boy lovers” but then goes and greases himself up, puts on a Speedo, and then hangs out with 299 nearly naked greased up men. It’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. Despite an attempt at showing a romantic relationship between Leonidas and his queen, the only convincing relationship is between the captain’s son and the “fight in the shade” guy (I don’t think we hear more than two or three names throughout the movie). I was barraged by a series of come hither glances and double entendre and halfway through the movie I wanted to tell the two to get a goddamn room.

I could continue and complain about lack of characterization, the inane queen plot, or some of the more laughable visual choices but what I really want to talk about is The Watchmen. A Watchmen film has been rumored for years and it seems that 300 director Zach Snyder has finally gotten his CGI obsessed hands on it. The Watchmen is the holy grail of comic books and was even chosen by Time as one of the all time greatest novels alongside The Grapes of Wrath and The Sound and the Fury. It’s some heavy stuff with lots of post-modern implications and a questioning of superheroes in general. However, Snyder’s handling of 300 has made it evident he does not have the intelligence to handle a Watchmen film.

300 is pretty faithful to the comic book, but in one of the tiniest changes it betrays a complete misunderstanding of Frank Miller’s intent. One of Snyder’s more awkward visual was his attempt at tearing Ephialtes from the page and put him on the screen. As expected, Ephialtes looks like a guy with lots of makeup and a fake humpback. It’s almost Ed Woodesque. In both the comic and the movie Ephialtes explains that he was born as a Spartan but because of his malformation he was whisked away by his mother to avoid being cast off a cliff. Since that time his father raised him as a Spartan and taught him how to fight. Ephialtes implores Leonidas to allow him to join the Spartans in their battle but Leonidas explains that because of Ephialtes’ physical shape he is unable to raise his shield high enough to protect the other Spartans in their famous Phalanx formation.

This is where Snyder changes Miller’s words and also shows he doesn’t understand the complexities of a mostly undemanding comic book. In Miller’s version Leonidas tells Ephialtes “I can’t use you” and then turns his back as Ephialtes jumps off a cliff. In the film Leonidas suggests that Ephialtes carry the dead off the battlefield or take other non-combat jobs before he throws himself off a cliff. Later in the story it is Ephialtes who betrays the Spartans by showing Xerxes the pass that allows him to outflank their position. In Miller’s version, if Leonidas, and by extension, Spartan society could have mustered the imagination to find a place in society for everyone, then they would never have been outflanked. While most of 300 the comic book exalts the Spartans, Miller still has the insight to slyly critique some of their shortcomings. Snyder completely misses this point, and while reading the comic probably wondered why Leonidas wasn’t a little gentler to poor Ephialtes and decided to add the line about carrying dead off the battlefield. This was a mistake. If Snyder isn’t able to understand the slight complexities of 300 then there’s no way he’s going to understand the mass complexities of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The only hope is that Snyder keeps close enough to the source material that he stumbles upon some of Alan Moore’s brilliance.

300 was disappointing, but it was also an adaptation I wasn’t expecting, or would have immediately thought “hey, what a great property for film adaptation,” but Watchmen is. I’ll just have to keep telling myself that I’ll always have the original no matter how badly Zack Snyder fucks up the only graphic novel that matters.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (4/5)

Before reading this book I had heard point of references ranging from The Catcher in the Rye to On the Road. After reading the book the comparisons don’t quite mesh. In fact, I think the best point of reference would be The Great Gatsby. Certainly not in quality, I would never make that blasphemous claim for fear the literary gods would strike me down where I stand, but rather there are similarities in structure. Imagine, if you will, a world where, like Gatsby, there are two sets of couples (Nick/Jordan and Tom/Daisy) as well as a love triangle (Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy). Of course, in Chabon’s version Nick is sexually attracted to Gatsby.

Stick with me here. In Mysteries the narrator, Art, enters the social circle of Arthur, Cleveland, and Jane. Cleveland and Jane are a dysfunctional couple embroiled in a good old fashioned love/hate relationship. Art starts seeing Phlox, a rather annoying and unsympathetic homophobe. At the same time Art and Arthur have budding feelings. I’ll diagram it for you:

Art and Arthur (sexual attraction)
Art and Phlox (couple)
Art and Jane/Cleveland (friends through Arthur)
Arthur and Phlox (frienemies)
Arthur and Jane/Cleveland (friends)

Yeah, I know that the love triangle is all mixed up, but you have to admit that structures are similar. This leads to an obvious question: were Nick and Gatsby gay? It has been suggested in some circles that 19th century American literature is preoccupied with “blackness”, slavery in particular. After all, in a society that claims to put equality at the center of its creed, to have completely marginalized a segment of our population has to affect our national psyche and our perception of ourselves. Likewise, in the 20th century, as gender roles became more fluid, perhaps the idea of homosexuality latched on to the national sub-consciousness. I don’t have a whole lot of evidence to back this up, but it’s interesting to think about.

Back to The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Like most coming of age novels (of all ages) this one is light on plot. There is an unconvincing subplot about organized crime which leads to the eventual (albeit predictable) tragedy at the end of the book. Where the novel really shines is in the language and characters. Chabon has always had a way with metaphor and simile and it’s impressive he had all but mastered these techniques so early in his career. The characters themselves are whimsical and uncertain. In fact the only character who, my opinion is completely certain is Phlox, and she is certain of her bigotry. This uncertainty perfectly captures the feeling of teetering on the edge of adulthood. The characters are so finely drawn that when characters change their bed-partners it feels earned and not gimmicky.

At times Chabon suffers from a case of aggrandizement, something he would learn to wield more confidently in his more panoramic novels and make his drawback a strength. While this tendency to go over-the-top doesn’t work as well in a contained summer of uncertainty, it worked perfectly in the decades spanning Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

For those with an undying love for the twenty-something coming of age novel, then this should feed your hunger. For those, like me, who fell in love with Chabon’s writing when they read Kavalier and Clay, I would recommend seeing how the maestro started out. It’s a strong opener to a strong career.


Break out the champaign, it's time to celebrate!

Fifteen minutes ago "Scooter" Libby was found guilty on four of five counts of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury. While he wasn't found guilty of making false statements to the FBI, I'm still pleased as punch that the jury had the insight to get him on the other four charges.

This is the first time any accountability has been handed down to George W.'s White House, and while it's not much, it's still an uniquivical condemnation of an administration out of control. Maybe rule of law is a little slow to catch up but thank the gods it's hasn't absconded with separation of powers and disappeared for good. Hopefully this is merely the beginning and next we have Congressional committees look at the war profiteers at Haliburton. I'll take some solace in the fact that Scooter's new place will be minimally funded by the Federal government, at least until he's pardoned right before Bush leaves office. Let's hope this is just a taste of things to come.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Aloha - Some Echoes

Aloha - Some Echoes (5/5)

Who would have ever though that prog-rock would achieve an early 21st century revival in the form of the decades biggest indie rock? I would never have guessed that the bones of such forgotten dinosaurs as Yes, Queensryche, Electric Light Orchestra, and Genesis would be uncovered by those trendy (and impeccably dressed) kids of The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and The Arcade Fire. Well, add one more to that list. They may not have the major label or the recognition of said bands but they don’t have a problem writing songs as good, if not better, than their populous counterparts.

Aloha hail from my home town of Cleveland and I did have the pleasure of seeing them play live once. At the time their music struck me as confused with a few more ingredients than needed. I’ll admit that I had read somewhere they were a post-hardcore band, which isn’t the case. Pre- Some Echoes Aloha experimented heavily with improvisation which probably explained my reaction. Some Echoes is their shot at a more pop oriented album. This doesn’t mean that every song is verse chorus verse, but it does sound more accessible than they did a year ago in Cleveland.

There are two things that make Aloha better than prog-rock. The first is the fact that they don’t profit in bombast. While a band like Yes seemed determined to use every damn track a studio could provide, each instrument on Some Echoes moves the song forward and seems necessary to the structure of the song. The masturbatory instrumentals are non-existent. For example, if this happened to be the mid-seventies, the arpeggios that appear at the end of “Brace Your Face” would signal the beginning of a ten minute instrumental representing the fairies bringing in the morning dew. Aloha, however, uses them as means to bring the song to a comfortable close.

The second thing is that the lyrics are abstract and don’t tell a story in the way that The Wall or Tommy or that forgotten masterpiece Kilroy Was Here. Such head-scratchers as a “pine cone tangled up in steel” (it makes sense when you realize what a monopine is) and “turn the lock with the hidden key” compliment the more conventional subject matter in “Ice Storming” and “Mountain.” It could be argued that the more straight forward “Ice Storming” wouldn’t resonate emotionally if it wasn’t for the more difficult songs and lyrics.

This brings me to the best connection between prog-rock and Aloha. Prog-rock wasn’t so much about songs as it was about albums. While each song on Some Echoes would sound great on its own, being a part of an album enhances their impact. In a world where technology has reinvigorated the single, it’s nice to listen to a full album that feels stronger than the sum of its parts. Like a drive home from a restful vacation, by the time you reach the final notes on Some Echoes you look back and realize it was the perfect journey.

If you’ve seen a preview for some sort of meta-fiction film (think Adaptation or Stranger Than Fiction) then no doubt you’ve thought to yourself, “you know, parts of ELO’s music was actually pretty damn catchy.” Well, imagine if ELO had done away with their self-indulgence and decided they were musicians and not JRR Tolkein…that’s Aloha.