January 28, 2012

Hugo

What a treat to see Martin Scorsese use his prodigious talents on a movie for the whole family to enjoy.
Not only is Hugo a whimsical adventure about finding (or reclaiming) your purpose in the world, but it's also a love letter to the birth of narrative filmmaking. My grade: A!
He only wears the beret for a minute, I swear.
Asa Butterfield (born 1997) was terrific as the determined, crafty orphan with the giant pale blue eyes and artfully unkempt hair. I wonder if Scorsese made him cry or if those massive teardrops were just faking?

Chloë Grace Moretz (also 1997) continues to charm. Isabelle is a passionate book lover, always eager to try out a new adjective, and hungry for a real-life adventure.

Ben Kingsley's Georges Méliès is a sad broken old man, but he's a joy to behold in flashbacks, playfully drunk on the joy of fantastical filmmaking.

I can't decide whether Sacha Baron Cohen is overacting or not. His performance has moments of grace and subtlety, but the yelling, the crooked limping, the warped accent, and the electric blue uniform are all so extreme. He looks like a plastic Lego construction (with an Erector set leg).

In supporting roles: Narcissa Malfoy, Vernon Dursley, and Madam Maxime from the Harry Potter movies, and Emily Mortimer, who will always be Phoebe, Jack Donaghy's ex-fiancee (the one with the hollow bones and the vertigo), from Season One of 30 Rock.

Based on a book by Brian Selznick, the plot felt overcomplicated at times. It felt like the complications were in deference to the rich detail of the source book, but they ended up with a three hour story condensed into a 126 minute movie.

I did find it odd that the movie is set in a Paris train station yet no one has a French accent. I imagine they're showing a dubbed French version in Europe which must be very popular!

A note on 3D: The 3D is done very well, but I continue to find it unnecessary. For me, 3D is a novelty at best, and distracting at worst. Every time it snowed outside, all I thought about was "wow, I wonder how much RAM it takes to render these fake snowflakes in 3D?" Why am I paying $3-$5 extra for a distracting novelty? Why is Martin Scorsese so taken with it? It's a mystery.

Theater Note: I didn't know it at the time, but this was my last-ever visit to the Church Street theater in Harvard Square (right balcony screen) before AMC closed the theater for good that summer. Check out my history of movies at Church Street, 1990-2012

January 23, 2012

136: Dove Tail

Sometimes two songs fit together perfectly. Sometimes this is pure chance, sometimes I place songs in a certain order for conscious reasons, sometimes for reasons I can't explain. Somehow, when I chose to place "Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens right after "Glory" by Liz Phair, I made a perfect dovetail fit. The end of one and the beginning of another complement each other so well. What an exciting way to start this mix.
  1. "Glory" Liz Phair
  2. "Chicago" Sufjan Stevens
  3. "Break Me" This Lemonheads song is from Evan Dando's scattershot final album before bottoming out on drugs, Car Button Cloth. The song is underwritten but has its moments.
  4. "Rearviewmirror" [live] I was at this epic Pearl Jam show, at the Orpheum Theater April 12, 1994.
  5. "Live With Me" [live] The Rolling Stones, from Get Yer Ya Ya's Out!
  6. "Evangeline" Just when it seems I've put every song from Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend on a mix already, I find this one.
  7. "The Ballad of El Goodo" I only began listening to Big Star about a decade ago, and I've come to appreciate them, if not love them.
  8. "Blood and Roses" The Smithereens
  9. "Chains of Love" A nice little Ryan Adams song, from his mellow new album Ashes & Fire.
  10. "Chasing Pavements" My sister-in-law Sara was my Secret Santa this year. She got me both of Adele's CDs, plus her live DVD!
  11. "Philosophy" Ben Folds Five I just heard Ben Folds perform this song on The Nerdist podcast this week.
  12. "Valerie Plame" I fell in love with The Decemberists The King Is Dead last year, now I'm discovering some of their previous music.
  13. "How'd You Like That" The Kooks are perfecting some mid-80s Britpop.
  14. "Running Up That Hill" [extended 12" single version] Kate Bush
  15. "I'm Looking Through You" Roberta Flack
  16. "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid" Daryl Hall & John Oates

January 15, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I am very fond of spy thrillers. They come in all shapes and sizes, and based on the trailers, I guessed that this one would be impenetrably complicated and jam-packed with the best English character actors. As long as you don't expect the crack open the puzzle box, I can recommend the movie. I also recommend the big screen. It's too quiet and dark to enjoy on TV at home, unless you watch it late at night with all the lights out.

There's lots of old-school trenchcoating in this movie.
Gary Oldman is retired espionage veteran George Smiley, called back to the MI6 to root out the Soviet mole amongst the agents who control British spies behind the Iron Curtain. The suspects:
(L-R): Dencik, Firth, Jones, Hurt, Oldman, and Hinds.
Gary Oldman is terrific as a spy winding down his middle age, creaking into retirement. It feels like he hardly talks at all in the movie. How do you write a part like this on paper? People reveal themselves to him and he observes, nods, grimaces, and gives orders. Only in the dénouement does he reveal what he's thinking, and he only raises his voice one time. Oldman's finally been nominated for the Sean Connery "De Facto Lifetime Achievement" Oscar for this part. Of course it's not his career best performance. I would be hard-pressed to choose between Sid Vicious, Dracula, and Stansfield the crooked narcotics detective in LEON.

The movie is full of tension, suspense, drama, but almost no action. Except for three people getting shot,-- two very matter-of-fact, and one extremely graphically-- the spying consists of listening, watching, and reading typed reports.

Cheers to the art direction for the dour 1970s color pallette. I think the sun came out for one scene, the remainder is gloomy wet Englishness.

The stellar cast also includes Mark Strong, who dies in the first 5 minutes (no surprise there), John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Next Big Thing Tom Hardy: After grabbing everyone's attention in Inception, he's wearing a bad wig in TTSS, and all over your TV this week in commercials for THIS MEANS WAR.
He'll be Batman's nemesis Bane in the new Dark Knight movie later in 2012.

I was also pleased to discover there were three speaking parts for women! One analyst, one secretary (Lady Edith from Downton Abbey), and one wife.

ALSO by Gary Oldman on STUB HUBBY:

Another Rant About West Newton Cinema:  It's always a gamble seeing a movie in West Newton. The clientele are the worst variety of upper-class entitled seniors, talking to each other like we're in their living room. This type of moviegoer NEVER understands the plot of the movie, and TTSS was sure to be complex. The good news this time, there were only maybe two dozen people in Cinema 1, and the baby boomers near me were quiet. I could hear murmuring in the distance between EVERY dialog scene, but I could live with it.

January 14, 2012

Guys Movie Night: 48 HRS and COMMANDO

My Birthday at the Movies
The David Patrick Kelly/James Horner Double Feature

What a great time! The Somerville Theater has a "microcinema" in their basement. It looks like a regular theater, but teeny: 35 seats, with a decent sized screen, Blu-Ray player, surround sound, and digital projector. For $200 it's yours all day. We had a great time eating pizza, drinking beer, and enjoying two manly movies for guys. What a treat it was to watch two movies I'd never seen on the big screen, and certainly never with the sound turned way up! Just the Paramount logo and the opening notes of James Horner's 48 HRS score gave me chills.
48 HRS is still terrific thirty years later. The action scenes are crackling good, Nolte is perfect as the tough detective out to avenge the cop killed with his gun, and Eddie Murphy blows up the screen in his debut, with a performance we'd all take for granted by the end of the decade. James Remar is riveting as the vicious cop killer Albert Ganz.
NOTE: grey sweater vest
It's a gritty detective movie with a funny side to it, but the humor is filtered through a grim layer of racism, sexism, and general meanness. The blend is remarkable. It's kind of amazing that it works. The humor is not fun, if that makes any sense. It's also kind of amazing that it was a commercial success, considering I can't recommend a guy take his girlfriend to see it.
Landlines & Payphones: Obviously no one has a mobile phone in this movie. It seems every 5 minutes someone is placing a call on a landline. It's hilarious. I can only imagine what my son's generation will think.

Don't stare at the lump on my forehead!
There's one scene where Nick Nolte's lieutenant chews him out "everybody's watching on this one", "your ass is on the line", etc, etc, which is such a cliche now that the same actor (Frank McRae) spoofed that speech in National Lampoon's Lethal Weapon 1 and The Last Action Hero (both 1993).

It's also hard to watch Nolte driving a sky blue 1960 Cadillac convertible with a straight face. It's such a cliche, and maybe the worst possible car to drive in hilly San Francisco. Speaking of San Francisco, you may notice the lack of romantic "postcard" views of the city- I appreciated that. Also, I think the city's historic cable car system was being rebuilt during the time of filming, which would explain why we don't see any cable cars.
The score: I really like James Horner's non-traditional score, full of steel drums. That same year he scored Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but perhaps he's best known for the score to Titanic. Other memorable films include: Avatar, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Braveheart, The Pelican Brief, Glory, Field of Dreams, Aliens, and the second movie in our double feature, COMMANDO.
Try not to stare at the vein bulging in his biceps.
I watched COMMANDO many times as a teenager. Arnold Schwarzenegger is John Matrix, a retired elite Black Ops Commando, although you wouldn't know he's retired from the size of his muscles.
Saturday is tree-carrying day.
Matrix launches a one-man war against a group of South American criminals who have kidnapped his daughter.This one-man war consists of hand-to-hand combat (sometimes versus a dozen mall cops), brute force, explosions, automatic gunfire, scalping with a circular sawblade, dismemberment with a circular sawblade, impalement with pitchfork, and finally, barely disguised homoerotic knifefighting against a portly Australian in a mesh sweatervest.

Another grey knit sweater vest, and yes, it makes you look fat.
Brooklyn native (and Tufts University graduate) Dan Hedaya plays the villain, a deposed dictator from "South America". The 1980s were a golden age of movies with made-up Latin American banana republics!
Besides all the unintentional comedy in the action scenes, the movie hardly makes any sense. Unlike 48 HRS, which was too awesome to riff on, COMMANDO was a hot mess. We had a blast picking it apart.

Our double feature had two major players in common: James Horner is back with another steel drum-filled score, but not as effective this time around. And David Patrick Kelly is back, playing another douchebag, this time with more spine. He dies in both movies.

I made all my friends pledge to host movie parties for each of their birthdays this year. If booked for a weeknight, it's only $100, or $10 each if nine friends attend. THINK ABOUT IT Adam, Angus, Brian, Brian, Geoff, George, Ilan, Jeff, Jose, Kevin, Scott, Tom, and Vinnie.

January 12, 2012

135 Calamity Music

  1. "We Belong" Big Daddy's Pizza in Brighton has good pizza, excellent hot sandwiches, tasty fried dough bites, the best crab rangoons, and a dance remix of this Pat Benatar on their "hold" music.
  2. "Every Little Kiss" I have wanted this Bruce Hornsby & The Range CD for twenty-five years. The drums and synths sound super-dated, but I don't even care anymore.
  3. "Crash And Burn" The synths on this 'til tuesday song also sound dated, but Aimee Mann is so terrific, I have been trying to squeeze this song onto a mix for 10 years.
  4. "Dawned On Me" My favorite song from Wilco's new album The Whole Love.
  5. "Secret Smile" I have been a fan of Semisonic even since I read the drummer's memoir of their one-hit wonder moment in the spotlight: So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star. This ballad has that post-Achtung Baby "One" production sound.
  6. "She's The One" When I heard this World Party song on the radio, I was immediately reminded of...
  7. "Still Fighting It" Ben Folds
  8. "Kiss From A Rose" When I was a radio DJ in 1994, I played this Seal song on the radio at least 6 times a week for six months, so naturally, I spent most of the last 17 years avoiding it. However, the karaoke version on Community cracks me up and has resurrected the song for me.
  9. "Crazy On You" Heart: The classical guitar intro fits nicely with the baroque feel of the Seal song.
  10. "Calamity Song" I love every song on The Decemberists new album The King Is Dead. This is the latest favorite. Andalusian tribes, indeed! Fits nicely with the "end of the world" 2012 Mayan baloney going around these days.
  11. "Romance" I used to play this R.E.M. song on the radio when I was in high school. It's from their "best of" album Eponymous, released at the end of their contract with IRS records. According to the sleeve notes, the song "used a microsecond in the still despairing Alan Rudolph's 1987 film "Made In Heaven".
  12. "Never There" CAKE
  13. "Crazy Love, Vol. II" Paul Simon
  14. "Long, Long, Long" The Beatles
  15. "I'll Be Back" I forget where I heard that Shawn Colvin covered this obscure Beatles track. She only released it on her Best Of collection, but, in the era of iTunes, you don't have to buy a Best Of collection to get the one new song anymore!

January 4, 2012

MELLOW GOLD Collection

The track listing of the MELLOW GOLD collection by Sessions (1976). My lovely wife found this three LP set on eBay for my birthday! Three months later, I have finally got around to "ripping" the vinyl to my PC and now I have this 33-track playlist on my iPod.
The songs on this collection are licensed from all the major record labels and range from 1965-1975. The music is uniformly good. Only a few tracks are complete dogs.

Side 1
  • "Sundown" Gordon Lightfoot
  • "Midnight at the Oasis" Maria Muldaur
  • "I Say a Little Prayer for You" Aretha Franklin
  • "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" peaked at #6 for doo-wop group The Casinos in 1967.
  • "Long Train Running" The Doobie Brothers
Side 2
  • "You Were on My Mind" went to #3 in 1965 for We Five, a San Francisco-based folk-rock group.
  • "Sunshine" Jonathan Edwards
  • "Cherish" The Association
  • "Hey Jude" Wilson Pickett
  • "Ma Belle Amie" went to #5 in 1970 as the single sold 1 million copies for The Tee Set, a Dutch pop group and truly one-hit wonder.
  • "That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be" Carly Simon
Side 3
  • "S.O.S." ABBA
  • "How Can I Be Sure?" The Rascals
  • "I’d Like to Get to Know You" peaked at #17 in 1968 for the unbelievably named folk-rock group Spanky & Our Gang. Yes, just like the old Little Rascals movies. I have to assume that the producer of this collection placed this song on Side 3 after The Rascals as a joke about their similar names?
  • "Everybody’s Talkin’" Nilsson
  • "My Special Angel" the Vogues
  • "Love the One You’re With" rose to #14 in 1970, from Stephen Stills's solo debut. Stills, a proficient multi-instrumentalist, plays all the parts except bass and congas. The backing vocals are provided by Rita Coolidge, Priscilla Jones, John Sebastian (Lovin Spoonful founder), David Crosby, and Graham Nash, making this a CSN record in all but name.
Side 4
  • "Anticipation" Carly Simon
  • "Dock of the Bay" Otis Redding
  • "Doctor My Eyes" Jackson Browne
  • "Feel Like Makin’ Love" Roberta Flack
  • "One of a Kind (Love Affair)" The Spinners
Side 5
  • "Summer Breeze" Seals & Crofts
  • "Baby, I’m Yours" went to #11 in 1965 for smoooth R&B singer Barbara Lewis; she had nine Hot 100 singles from 1963-1967.
  • "Hello, It’s Me" Todd Rundgren
  • "Send in the Clowns" Judy Collins
  • "She’s Gone" Daryl Hall & John Oates
  • "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" Aretha Franklin
Side 6
  • "Fallin’ in Love" The Souther, Hillman, Furay Band was a short-lived mid-70s country-rock group formed from parts of Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds. "Fallin' in Love" went to #27 on the charts in 1974 while the LP went gold.
  • "Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues" Danny O’Keefe
  • "Baby Don’t Go" Sonny and Cher
  • "Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town" Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
  • "Everything That Touches You" The Association

When I Was Eleven: 1983

This is not a "my favorite songs from 1983" playlist. This is a "when I was eleven, this is what I listened to" mix. I even think I thought "Der Kommissar" and "Major Tom" were the same song. If I ever heard a mashup of those two, my brain might melt.
  1. "Der Kommissar" After The Fire
  2. "Major Tom (Coming Home)" Peter Schilling
  3. "Break My Stride" Matthew Wilder
  4. "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" Daryl Hall & John Oates
  5. "Bang The Drum All Day" Todd Rundgren
  6. "Steppin' Out"    Joe Jackson
  7. "She Blinded Me With Science" Thomas Dolby
  8. "Who Can It Be Now?" Men At Work
  9. "Only Time Will Tell" Asia
  10. "Rosanna" Toto
  11. "Tainted Love"    Soft Cell


When I Was Ten: 1982

This playlist represents what I remember about pop music just before I began to pick what I wanted to listen to for myself. Basically this is music I was exposed to by my mother, and by whatever Top 40 radio managed to break through to a boy who didn't listen to the radio yet.
I was ten years old in 1982. The mix for 1983 is much, much different.
  1. "Gloria" Laura Branigan
  2. "Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" B.J. Thomas
  3. "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" Crystal Gayle
  4. "When I'm Sixty-Four" is the first song I remember singing with my mother. We would go on to harmonize on several other Beatles songs, including "If I Fell"
  5. "Elvira" Oak Ridge Boys
  6. "Rainy Days And Mondays" The Carpenters
  7. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" John Denver
  8. "Danny's Song" Anne Murray
  9. "Leaving On A Jet Plane" Peter, Paul & Mary
  10. "Monday, Monday" The Mamas & The Papas
  11. "Flowers on the Wall" The Statler Brothers
  12. "The Boxer" Simon & Garfunkel
  13. "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" Melissa Manchester
  14. "Back In Baby's Arms" Patsy Cline
  15. "A Boy Named Sue" Johnny Cash
  16. "Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)" Joey Scarbury
There should probably be some Ricky Nelson and Barbara Mandrell in there too- I distinctly remember their well-coiffed photos on the covers of their Greatest Hits LPs.