July 31, 2007

113 Man Band

The Tracks: This is the first mix I composed after purchasing a "USB" turntable. A miracle of modern technology, a "USB" turntable is simply a record player with both traditional "RCA" output wires and a USB cable output. This feature makes it easy to play music from vinyl on your PC and record it. Since I bought this new turntable, I have listened to dozens of LPs and 45s which I haven't played in years. All I have to do is press RECORD, and I can save these songs as MP3s, import them into iTunes, and I can add them to playlists. I may never buy an album recorded before 1987 again, when I can find a used LP at a record store or a yard sale for 99¢ ! Number 1 on this mix is Marvin Hamlisch's solo piano "Solace", a melancholy track from The Sting movie soundtrack. The LP was a birthday gift from my wife in 2005, with autographs from stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford!

The Title: While composing this mix, I started to notice there were a bunch of tracks where the artist played all the instruments themselves, either live or multitracked. So I called the mix One (Hundred and Thirteen) Man Band.

The Cover: I did a GIS for the artwork, and the font inspired the pink and grey color scheme.

  1. Solace - Marvin Hamlisch - Solo piano
  2. The Hardest Button To Button - The White Stripes - As heard on The Simpsons
  3. Zak & Sara - Ben Folds - My sister-in-law Sara's name would have been Zak had she been a boy!
  4. Don't Look Back - Barry & The Remains (A Boston-based band most famous for opening for The Beatles on tour.)
  5. Midnight Blue - Lou Gramm - HMV cutout bin
  6. Slipping Away - Dave Edmunds (Edmunds let Jeff Lynne (ELO) produce this LP, and as a result, the normally roots rockin' Dave sounds distinctly New Wavy here.
  7. I Wanna Know - The Mavericks - Scrubs TV show
  8. Let's Live For Today - The Grass Roots (I still have a hard time believing that the same Creed Bratton who played guitar on this song is the same guy from The Office.)
  9. Trouble - Lindsay Buckingham - Austin TX record store
  10. How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore? - Prince (the great B-side to "1999")
  11. I Think She Likes Me - Treat Her Right - Providence RI yard sale
  12. Diner - Martin Sexton - Scrubs TV show
  13. My Favorite Waste of Time - Marshall Crenshaw - One Man Band
  14. Strapped For Cash - Fountains of Wayne
  15. All For Leyna - Billy Joel - Birthday present, circa 1986
  16. When The Stars Go Blue - Blake Lewis - American Idol
  17. It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference - Todd Rundgren - One Man Band
  18. What Matters - Matthew Sweet
  19. Roscoe - Midlake - CD swap with George
  20. What Can I Say? - Brandi Carlile - Tower Records liquidation sale
  21. Daylight Fading - Counting Crows - Yard sale
  22. More Than This - Norah Jones

July 29, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

What a challenge, to create a successful and satisfying Simpsons feature film. We've been anticipating a Simpsons movie ever since the show was just a fad in the early 1990s. It grew from pleasant fad (remember the bootleg Bart t-shirts?) to one of the all-time best TV shows by the mid-1990s. For most of the last decade, as the show treaded water creatively (and frankly slumped badly circa 2003) rumors of a feature film percolated. I suspect many fans hoped that a movie would restore their faith that these characters could be creatively reborn. In my wildest dreams, the movie would be as funny and special as my all-time favorites (You Only Move Twice, Marge vs the Monorail, Kamp Krusty, Homer's Barbershop Quartet, Mr Plow, Homer Badman). However, the most I could realistically hope for is a movie comparable to an above-average episode, which would take advantage of the large scope and PG-13 rating of the big screen, and yet stay true to the hand-drawn and family-first tone of the TV show.

Finally The Simpsons Movie has arrived, and I cannot complain. The plot is classic Simpsons (Homer adopts a pig, Homer causes ecological disaster, Homer goes on vision quest, Homer hammers himself repeatedly), but expanded in scope to fill a movie screen. Homer and Marge's marriage is strained to the point of a heartbreaking emotional climax, and possibly the saddest moment in Simpsons history. Bart and Lisa get their own plotlines: Bart is puzzled but eventually embraces a functional paternal relationship with Flanders, and Lisa is adorable when she has a mini-romance with an adorable Irish exchange student/environmentalist/troubadour. Even Maggie has some key scenes.

The character animation looks all hand-drawn, but I noticed some inconsistency: sometimes the thickness of character's outlines would vary from scene to scene, or even within a scene, and I noticed the character animation occasionally was definitely cruder in some brief shots, especially in non-closeups. I suspect the producers had to budget where they spent their time and money on finesse. The object, background, and landscape animation was highly detailed and very well rendered, with moving cameras much like the animation on Matt Groening's other TV show, Futurama. It's about time The Simpsons got this fancy treatment! The movie does take advantage of its PG-13 rating, with some well-placed strong language, one incredibly belated drug reference, and yes, we get to see Bart completely naked. Completely. (Somerville Theater)

July 24, 2007

Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix

Adapting the longest Harry Potter novel into a watchable movie is a thankless task. Somehow, Brit TV director David Yates manages to create a more-than adequate feature film... and the shortest Potter movie to date. Our three young actors playing Harry, Ron, and Hermione are ageing gracefully. I find Emma Watson's acting a little mannered, but certainly more than acceptable. Imelda Staunton is great as Dolores Umbridge, even if I found her characteristic "cough/laugh" a little off. I really appreciated the changes in art and production design from the previous movie to this one: the Death Eaters masks are different, the Dementors are different, Sirius's fireplace conversation looks different, and Hogsmeade is changed radically. I really enjoyed the black brick look of the Ministry of Magic-- there's no reason for the whole wizarding world to look like either Arthurian legend or a Dickens novel.
Dramatic highlights include Harry's detention with Umbridge- the cute kitten plates and tinkling music box score add a creepy touch to the "lines" Harry writes in his own blood. Fred and George's departure from Hogwarts brings smiles and tears to my face. And finally, the battle at the Ministry, which I found needlessly confusing and overly complicated in the book, is reduced to its essential components and delivers a great visceral and emotional wallop.
Potter author J.K. Rowling has admitted her regret that the novel was not more tightly edited, and Yates fulfills her wishes on the big screen, by cutting out Quidditch and S.P.E.W, for example, plus several pleasant montages condense the school year into manageable chunks.
Unfortunately, the Order of the Phoenix is barely present in their eponymous movie, at the expense of several chop-worthy subplots. For example, I don't know why the thestrals are included in the film. For dramatic purposes, the winged horses give Harry and Luna something to bond over. Also, the thestrals are used by the D.A. to travel to the Ministry in the third act. They seem so easy to excise from the movie, that I wonder why they were kept in. There's plenty of other places where the movie does not faithfully recreate the book— thankfully none of the movies have been too faithful since Chamber of Secrets —so why not just cut them out? Another subplot which is totally unnecessary: Grawp, the centaurs, and the Forbidden Forest. The initial visit when Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit Hagrid and Grawp is a lengthy time-sink devoted to a dopey giant which is completely ancillary to the drama. The centaurs appearance is less of a waste of time but equally unnecessary. I suppose the writer and director could not figure out how to save Harry from Umbridge and her threatened Cruciatus curse without Grawp and the centaurs.
What's lost from the movie? The Order itself. Nymphadora Tonks, for example, has one line in the movie, and one brief scene goofing off at the Grimmauld Place dinner table. She has an important plotline with the Order and an upcoming romance, but she is only "on the radar" of this movie because Moody calls her by name, and two special effects are devoted to her. Her future husband Remus Lupin is also reduced to a supporting role, Kreacher gets one line because Rowling insisted he be retained, and I don't remember spotting Fletcher Mundungus at all. (July 15, Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with Amy and Adam; July 24, AMC Burlington with Em)


July 1, 2007

Halfway through 2007

We're halfway through 2007, and I am making progress in my efforts to cut back on the mediocre movie-going: I've only been to the movies 16 times this year. If I go to the theater 32 times total in 2007, it will be my lowest yearly total since 2000, when I only saw seventeen films on the big screen. I have reached the mythical "once per week" plateau only twice: 1995 and 2003.