March 31, 2012

137 Right Down The Line

Nicki Bluhm
  1. "Careless Whisper" Ben Folds & Rufus Wainwright; live at Mountain Winery, Saratoga CA. Found while browsing Ben Folds' retrospective box set.
  2. "Right Down The Line" Bonnie Raitt covers the Gerry Rafferty song. Heard on the stereo at Redbones.
  3. "California Soul" Marlena Shaw, heard in The Italian Job
  4. "Right As Rain" Adele
  5. "It Ain't Over Til It's Over" from before Lenny Kravitz became totally insufferable.
  6. "Dreamsome" Shelby Lynne
  7. "Driving Sideways" Aimee Mann
  8. "How Blue Can You Get" B.B. King, live at Madison Square Garden, November 1969. From the Rolling Stones Get Yer Ya Yas Out!
  9. "Split Needles" The Shins
  10. "My Favorite Mistake" Sheryl Crow
  11. "Solitaire" Wilco, heard in the movie Friends With Kids
  12. "Pink Moon" Nick Drake
  13. "How You Like Me Now" The Heavy
  14. "Hold On" I will admit that All Things Considered introduced me to The Alabama Shakes.
  15. "Stick With Me" Nicki Bluhm
  16. "My Valentine" Paul McCartney
  17. "Lonely Boy" The Black Keys
  18. "Houses Of The Holy" Led Zeppelin
  19. "Last Night" The Strokes
  20. "What You Need" INXS
  21. "Promised Land" Elvis Presley

March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games

Preview: My friend Mary Beth and I are going to see The Hunger Games tonight, at a theater almost as scary as the Games. Read my separate post about the AMC Loews Harvard Square 5 to learn all about it. So it was with much reluctance that I just paid $11.50 to buy my ticket in advance for this location. There is no way to tell in advance on which screen your screening is showing.The good news: after I paid my money, Fandango.com provided my "print-it-yourself" ticket, and voila! Our screening is in Auditorium 1! Hooray!
Trailer Notes: There were at least 15 minutes of trailers. The highlights:
  • Breaking Dawn Pt 2: The excited audience murmuring after this teaser was very interesting. I could count the millions of dollars ready to be earned!
  • The Amazing Spider-Man: After three Spider-Man movies in a six-year span, audiences are suffering from web-slinging fatigue. I am all in favor of a reboot, but 2012 is way too soon. Speaking of superhero fatigue, we did NOT see The Avengers trailer, but I predict soft business for this superhero supergroup movie. I am a Joss Whedon supporter, but I suspect the interest is not there.
  • The Host: This teaser for the movie based on Stephenie Meyer's non-Twilight novel was generic and boring. Has anyone read this book?
  • What To Expect When You're Expecting: A soon-to-be-dad is indoctrinated into the ways of daddy-hood in 21st century America by a quartet of very funny actors: Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon, and Ben Falcone. The movie also stars Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Anna Kendrick, but they're barely in the trailer.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: The lengthy trailer looked overcooked and confusing. You barely see any bloodsuckers, and then the title card comes up. The audience broke into laughter and applause. Will this translate into $$? I don't know. I really didn't like director Timur Bekmambetov's Angelina Jolie thriller WANTED.
Movie Review: The Hunger Games was really good. Straight "A"! Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) has made a humanistic, modestly directed movie with a deft touch. Too many directors show off too much, but Ross is subtle and smart. He doesn't leave fingerprints all over the movie.
Ross made smart choices to drop out the score and soundtrack at key points, especially when the imagery was overpowering on its own. The opening bloodbath at the cornucopia, and Rue's postmortem were both handled perfectly.
Jennifer Lawrence was terrific. Her acting was all inwards and quiet. There's something mysterious about her, like she's holding something back all the time. She has a sturdy build, which makes her tree-climbing and survival skills totally believable. Her face has a earthy, real quality- the pockmarks and freckles really sell Katniss' deprived, Appalachian upbringing.
The men playing Peeta and Gale were good. Lenny Kravitz was nice with his quiet warmth. I wish Stanley Tucci were a little less manic, and Donald Sutherland was a little too sleepy.

I didn't like the score very much- enough of the earthy vocal score oooOOOOooEEEEEooooo...!
One directing choice which I dislike is letting television play-by-play announcers hold the audience's hand by explaining key plot points. Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith (Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones) were inserted into the plot, talking directly to us, whenever something slightly complex happened. For most of the movie, Ross expertly played "show don't tell", so these examples stood out. The most egregious example of this phenomenon is Robert Zemeckis' Contact, where the CNN anchor team had as much screen time as Jodie Foster.

A-Hole In The Audience: The bad news is, the guy sitting in front of us checked his iPhone FIVE TIMES during the movie. The fifth time I leaned over and said "c'mon man, shut off your phone" to which he kindly replied "go fuck yourself." At this point my adrenaline had begun pounding, so I only managed to retort "you, fuck you!" Watch out Dorothy Parker! I felt slightly better when the lights came up and I saw he was:

  • Five inches shorter than me
  • balding
  • with his girlfriend
  • and, he deliberately exited his row in the opposite direction (the long way) to avoid passing me! Yay! I'm scary enough!
I spent the entire walk to my car crafting a cutting retort. The trick is to make it short but descriptive and impervious to reply. Also, I try to use a variety of swear words for color. I came up with
"Hey asshole, if you're so goddamned bored, get the fuck out."
Boy, that woulda showed him!

March 25, 2012

DVD review: Stripes

I was too young to see Stripes in the theater in 1981.  I know I saw it on a videotape at a friend's house when I was 11 or 12, because I remember the topless scenes, and I remember Bill Murray's groovy marching drills at basic training graduation. Nothing like topless ladies to make a lasting memory on an adolescent boy. Re-watching Stripes on DVD in 2012, Bill Murray's Winger is a real loser jackass. He talks his best friend Ziskey into enlisting, then Winger tries to go AWOL and abandon his best friend! He doesn't show any moral fiber until the very end of the movie. I did appreciate the chemistry between Murray and Harold Ramis. You could tell they were real friends.
I am a fan of composer Elmer Bernstein, but it's too bad the main theme he wrote for Stripes is overused. By the closing credits, I was very tired of it.

March 19, 2012

The Muppets

On the way home from SXSW: American Airlines DFW > BOS. Somewhere over the Midwest I finally got to see The Muppets, I movie I narrowly missed seeing last fall.  CAVEAT: Read this review knowing that I heard it over earbuds on a noisy plane, and watched it on a LCD screen mounted on the ceiling of a badly-lit airplane.

A gentle and loving reintroduction to the Muppets, as hosted by Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and a new Muppet named Walter. It was a little odd that Kermit was not the star of the movie, it was almost like the idea of the Muppets was the star. In fact, every minute spent on Segel, Adams, and Walter meant less time for the Muppets, so by the time the movie was over, every Muppet had been bumped down three slots to the point where second banana Fozzie Bear was reduced to fifth banana.
The humor and music was just the right tone for a Muppet movie, and the overuse of random Hollywood celebrities was very familiar- Jack Black has an extended cameo.
The ending didn't make any logical sense at all- even for a movie with a preposterous premise, the ending didn't jibe with the premise. I found Kermit to be too wishy-washy. Kermit gives up over and over (I counted three times), and must be coached and urged to fight on. He seemed to have no backbone at all (insert frog joke here).
There was one scene in the Muppets variety show where a Muppet barbershop quartet (in a barbershop) perform a shave and a haircut while singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit". If that's funny, I don't know how, and how a 20-year-old song is relevant, I don't know either.
I'm going to give The Muppets another shot, but I didn't see the slam-dunk I had hoped for.
NOTE: The movie playing on the BOS > DFW flight was The Big Year, also starring Jack Black. (No review: I was in the window seat and could not see the whole screen.)

March 18, 2012

Friends With Kids

Adam Scott seizes the opportunity in his first major leading dramatic role. The ensemble shines through, but the plot decomposes into a rote "When Harry Got Sally Pregnant" rewrite. The sloppy production values and Jennifer Westfeldt's distracting face (more on this later) made it hard to keep focused...literally. Any movie about struggling with love, parenting, and marriage for upper-middle-class 40-somethings is going to resonate with me, but I found it hard to continue to root for parents making such bad choices.
SPOILERS AHEAD
Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) are best friends with their two best married couples (Jon Hamm & Kristen Wiig; Chris O'Dowd & Maya Rudolph, all from Bridesmaids). The six of them are tightly knit, but Jason and Julie never settle down: it's shown to us from the very first scene that they care for each other more than any stranger could compete with. They don't acknowledge it to themselves, but they compare their first dates against their best friend every time.
This makes the conclusion of the film inevitable, so it's writer-director Westfeldt's job to make the trip to happily-ever-after worth watching. And it is mostly worth watching, and in most romantic comedies which explore this dynamic, it can be a lot of fun. In this case, I became increasingly allied with their child, and increasingly critical of their poor life choices. Maybe being the dad to a two-year-old has made me a killjoy or a big marshmallow, but let's face it: their clever "split custody" arrangement is worse than having your parents divorce: your parents appear to love each other, but they refuse to live together. Only later will this poor kid realize that the only thing standing in the way of a functioning family unit is the self-delusion and selfish gratification of the parents.
Speaking of selfishness, Jason finds true love with MJ (Megan Fox, age 25) whom many find to be the hottest woman on Earth. This makes 38-year-old Scott look like a horndog, especially when MJ has no other redeeming qualities. I found this especially galling when Julie (age 41) finds love with Edward Burns (age 43), admittedly a very tall and handsome man, but he's also kind to his kids and a decent man. Jason comes off much worse, especially when Julie has her revelation and expresses her true love for Jason a whole year before Jason comes to his senses and reciprocates.
Jennifer's Face: Lee Ann and I both found Jennifer Westfeldt's face distracting. The color was too uniform throughout the movie. Every scene her skin was the same color all the time. Even in scenes where no one would be wearing makeup, she looked freshly airbrushed. Lee Ann suspects Botox is to blame; I noticed the skin color more than immobility.
Production Values: I am certain this movie was made on a strict budget, but there were two shots completely out of focus, which is rare; and one scene set at sunrise in Central Park where the lighting looked totally fake. I also noticed several dialog scenes where the different camera angles were badly cut together: a characters hands mismatched, expressions not matching, and dialog from one shot used over-the-shoulder of another shot, so the lips didn't match. My grade: C-plus.
Not technically a SXSW screening. I saw this with Karen & Lee Ann at the Violet Crown Theater in Austin the day after SXSW ended.

March 17, 2012

Sleepwalk With Me

Mike Birbiglia's writing-directing-starring debut is terrific. Funny, sad, moving, scary, hopeful? I give it an A. Great music. If I have to criticize, I did find Abby (Lauren Ambrose) a little too flawless. Birbiglia is so transparent, I feel like I knew him right away, but Abby was just the "nice girlfriend" too much. I wanted to see what her character flaws were. This is not a knock on Ambrose- who, by the way, is more stunning than ever - but we needed one little example of her being a little human. Alamo Drafthouse, Austin TX

Yellow Submarine

For stoners only. Eye-bulging psychedelic "pop art" animation and spectacular music cannot save this plotless and overlong wandering through the Beatles middle catalog. The voice actors are mostly indistinguishable from each other, their dialog is mostly bad puns, the plot is "Beatles music makes bad feelings go away". The rest of the movie is Beatles music set to a Peter Max poster come to life. Beatles music in remastered stereo sound cranked up to 11, with imaginative surreal imagery is pretty awesome, but even I wondered why the movie was 89 minutes long.
NOTES: Wikipedia tells me that the character of George was voiced by one actor for half the movie, then the guy playing Paul filled in and did both. No wonder they're indistinguishable!
This plotless meandering screenplay is credited to four men! Paramount Theater, Austin TX

March 16, 2012

Beware of Mister Baker

I read Jay Bulger's 2009 profile of Ginger Baker in Rolling Stone; This 2012 biopic (Bulger is the writer-producer-director) is an excellent extension and sequel to that profile.
While Keith Moon and John Bonham were revered for their "hammer of the gods" rock and roll drumming, Ginger Baker was the best jazz drummer of his generation and a revolutionary rock drummer...and a terrible human being.
Over the course of months Bulger lived with Baker on his horse farm in South Africa, interviewing Baker, seemingly immobile in his leather recliner. Through these interviews and interviews with all his bandmates, wives, children, and peers, we discover an overlooked savant drummer and essential member of Cream and Blind Faith- two influential and outstanding bands which only lasted two years each, because no one can stand to work with Baker. Baker pushes away anyone who grows close to him, destroys every relationship, and refuses to compromise. A self-destructive, violent, drug-abusing madman who somehow survived to this day (age 72) while so many of his contemporaries didn't make it out of the 1970s.
Strongly recommended for all rock fans. The wealth of live concert and TV footage from every phase of his life is spectacular.
Paramount Theater, Austin TX

Nature Calls

Randy (Patton Oswalt) is a Boy Scout troop leader, desperate to save the troop for his dying father's approval. Randy kidnaps his nephew's sleepover party for one last Scout camping trip, but his brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville) will do anything to crush Randy's dreams.
 
Nature Calls has a couple of ideas it tries to explore, and there are moments of humor too, but the end result is a unfocused mishmash of maudlin "last camping trip with Dad" sentimentality, pre-adolescent camping humor, and the kind of boorish shouting you'd expect from Rob Riggle and Johnny Knoxville at their least restrained.
The biggest laugh was an establishing shot of a McMansion with six identical minivans parked out front.
Stateside Theater, Austin TX