Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FILMS I LOVE

M (1931)

The world's 1st serial killer film remains, after 80 years, the best still.

FILMS I LOVE

The Birdcage (1996)

Gene Hackman in drag complaining that white makes him loook fat= priceless humor.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

MINI MUSIC REVIEWS

Dye it Blonde (The Smith Westerns) (2011)



Synth pop has been all the rage with bands of late and The Smith Western dip their hands heavily in it on this their sophomore. There’s a decidedly 80s feel to the DNA of tracks like All Die Young and Only One. The instrumentalism is solid even if it doesn’t totally distinguish itself. Ditto the lyrics but married they accentuate the positives very well. The most interesting blend here is Still New because its bleeding production is tempered in the middle instead of starting things off. The band is still trying too hard to match their heroes thus neglecting their own signature style but Dye it Blonde is good enough for us to eagerly await the next move…hopefully an original one. 7/10





No Witch (The Cave Singers) (2011)



As the first strains of Gifts and the Raft come in the Fleetwood Mac comparisons rush in. And it’s a favorable remark too because The Cave Singers are equally gifted in drafting gritty rock ballads that groove yet forces one to think. Their rustic blues reels itself off effortlessly, yet there is a variety here that The Black Keys lost on their last album. Falls incorporates backing vocals but the lead never loses power. This is just their third album but it is progressive and easily their best. The only thing left for them to perfect is memorable lyrics that read from their own lives a-la Fleetwood Mac. The production though is clean, instrumentals pipe in on cue and the syntax of the vocal arrangements impeccable as noted on the brilliant Swim Club. 8/10





Gramahawk (Modern Skirts) (2011)



One of the most divisive releases this year, Gramahawk is at least very catchy. That said, it isn’t the spawn of the devil as some critics wouldv have you believe. It doesn’t help that the band is from Athens, Georgia or that they really are not a rock band. Sure, Glass of Water is cumbersome but that’s just one outright clunker on the album, which tries to cookie-cutter its pop with slight changes to delivery but not structure. Lead track, Jane Child can stand on its own ground though, full with cooing melodies. The rest is scattershot yet very interesting. Missing in the mix is a coherent hand in the production: the sage type that would have eliminated the rough edges and delve even deeper to find the potential in the album. 6.5/10

FILMS I LOVE

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly...

Eli Wallach in a landmark role that would go on to influence all quirky bad male characters.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

FILMS I LOVE

AMADEUS...

F. Murray Abraham fucking slays as Salieri...

Let England Shake (PJ Harvey) (2011)

The Queen’s Speech



When she emerged in the early 1990s at the height of the alternative rock scene, PJ Harvey was immediately endeared to critics for the deep introspective lyrics juxtaposed to her damaged goods aesthetic. Like a Teutonic goddess from high above, she seemed to spiral through the type of blues/rock that both sexes could deify yet reflect upon long after the head-banging stopped. That dual nature of her music though has remained the apotheosis of a remarkable career that both Harvey and her fans continue to view differently. Whereas she’s always maintained a non-political stance to her music, fans have long supplanted their own issues into the mix. So, for example, Dress may have been for her a semi-autobiographical account of getting ready for a date but there isn’t a single rock historian that doesn’t view it as some hefty feminist anthem of gender inequality.

Of course, if her music wasn’t so incisive then who’d have given a damn? She’d simply be Melissa Etheridge or, Liz Phair back when she was sleeping around in her Exile in Guyville days, and we’d respect but not revere her. Try as she might though, Harvey—one third of the so-called ‘Hammer of the Goddess’—cannot escape the expectation of her work. Her last album, the morose White Chalk, signaled clearly that after two decades, her rigid self-analysis had exhausted itself. The album was the continuation of the creative-sagging process that had befallen her ever since she abandoned the blues after Is This Desire, a whopping thirteen years ago. That was the last time her ballads felt striking and relevant (i.e Angeline, A Perfect Day, Elise).

Let England Shake thankfully is a decisive step into something more historical while retaining her blues/rock past. Its focus is the psychological damage done to England during the Great War (WWI) over a blistering span of forty minutes. Indeed the bruising imagery of her vocal epiphanies makes for an immediate and startling impact. Which she will no doubt chalk up to the many months spent in research of the material. The wider impact though is the reconnection of her belief in music-making. It may have taken something as horrific as war to channel her energy upon but Let England Shake is a huge game-changing moment in her career. The album uniquely presents her observations with restrained judgment and bitterness. There is flesh jangling in dust and sweat here, tension and panic and soldiers being blasted to bits and ‘fell like chunks of meat’ (The Words that Maketh Murder).

The more she presses the imagery upon us, the more trapped within a vortex of terror she sounds. Yet, she never gets hopeless: remarking on the title-track that, ‘we’ll rise again’ defiantly even as death closes in to snatch the soldiers on the battlefield. The biting opening line doesn’t go amiss either: a jab at America’s indifference during the period (‘The West’s asleep/ let England shake/weighted down with silent dead’). Her patriotism aside, Polly Jean is also exploring the love for her homeland sounds and all the provincialism that comes along with it too. England features just her with a guitar and her torturous wails and self-confession (‘I cannot go on as I am/ withered vine/ reaching from the country/ that I love’). Bitter Branches underlines its sad tone with a pummeled guitar and Harvey repeating the line ‘wave goodbye’ in esoteric fits of brilliance. All and Everyone bangs louder yet alternates its speed with a slowed-down chorus as if to induce sheer dread.

Then there is the monumental first single, The Words that Maketh Murder. The political undertone that she’s been at pains to eschew throughout her career finally catches up to her lips when she utters the line, ‘what if I take my problems to the United Nations?’ It’s a snarky piece of viciousness and one uncharacteristic of Harvey to let fall on record but it reinforces a point of entry into any war: countries only get involved when shamed or forced to do so. In these times such a line can be heralded as threat but also as ridicule. Harvey may be revisiting WWI but the chief elements of war are timeless—death, displacement ect. It’s been nearly a hundred years since that Great War and humankind still is under threat of more wars.

Indeed, the entire Middle East is currently aflame as dictators turn upon their subjects to remain in power while all over Africa losers of elections stubbornly stay on while tribes commit genocide daily upon other tribes. We know all about the bad guys and their deeds but that is merely half the issue. Credit Polly Jean Harvey then for being the first musician to ask the good guys (The United Nations) the other half: just exactly how much longer it intends to sit on the fence before taking decisive action to quell evil…the very purpose for which it was formed.

RATING: 8/10

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Company Men (2011)

Poker Faces




The film begins with Bobby (Ben Affleck) losing his job at the blue collar company GTX due to a corporate merger—the lone negative in a life so far filled with lovely clich├ęs. From there things get comfortably predictable because John Wells’ directorial debut forgets it’s a feature film and, well, not a sitcom. Wells, a veteran writer for several popular TV shows (ER, The West Wing), simply isn’t able to translate the reality of the harsh corporate downsizing that’s swept across America and the world the last few years. What’s worse, he wrote the screenplay that has inexplicable cuts and gaps in it, none flattering or realistic.


For even if one were to look past the abrupt dismissal and the fact that Bobby gets only twelve weeks pay as a severance package for twelve years of employment, it is hard to fathom the lack of serious tension this blow impacts on his wife Maggie (the lovely but totally miscast Rosemarie DeWitt). She immediately goes into the type of cost-saving mode that makes one wonder why she wasn’t so wary of Bobby’s pernicious spending in the first place. Twelve years is a long time to feel insecure and hedging a bet on whether one’s boss will retain your services or not.


The storyline featuring another GTX employee Phil (Chris Cooper) is least developed despite being the most realistic character in the film. Cooper brings his usual crotchety genius to the role even though the ham-fisted screenplay dooms him to an inevitable outcome before real brutality can be brought up. His artfulness within the company has never been secure and Cooper plays him with a fidgety frame that works despite never explaining itself.


This is the biggest problem with The Company Men: its focus on a positive outcome overshadowing the dire ugliness of everything in between. Losing one’s job is an unhinging experience but only through Phil is that seen, whether it’s his wife insistence that he carries on a routine so the neighbors won’t suspect or the one spectacular scene when the female job placement officer tells him that his resume is too ‘old’. The look of indignation he gives her after she tells him to leave off his war experience is priceless as is his stuffed-shirt persona amid the sea of younger applicants, all busily on their Blackberry devices.


Bobby faces no such turmoil apparently; instead he plays golf and accepts his brother-in-law’s offer to work at his carpentry company. At most he loses his mansion but there are no ugly spats at home and he looks well-fed. This is a mere inconvenience for him---a cut-back on a car or dry-cleaning. Instead of severe reality being an issue it’s his pride at stake instead.


Then there is Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) who doesn’t need to worry about pride as his stock in GTX allows him to pretty much do what he’s always done. It is his duplicity though that lingers most as well as his inability to act. Or his reluctance to really call out GTX boss Craig (Craig T. Nelson) for what he truly his because he was a benefactor before the massive job cuts. What moves him to lash out is uncertain but maybe it’s the guilt of not being able to identify anymore with the ‘average Joe’. He was, after all, a senior manager and financially established. He is hypocritical too: staring down his wife’s inquiry about a company jet for personal travel but rarely feeling guilty for cheating on her with the company’s senior lawyer Sally (Maria Bello).


For all the focus on Bobby’s redemptive drive to become ‘the man’ again though, The Company Men is in fact Gene’s moment to reinvent himself into what he’s always seen in the mirror… which is, ironically, also ‘the man’. It’s the same phrase but the huge difference in the complexity of the term to both men is something Wells’ film, in its overpowering limitation, never seriously tackles. Nor is the film able to manifest the ties that bind corporate men together but seeks to instead paint a generic canvass as to what unhinges them. It is, of course, the slavish love for money and power but in the film it’s merely perfunctory, like an affair or Sunday afternoon golf.

Which is a shame because the minute Bobby sits down to head Gene’s new company he rallies the troops with the type of speech that is geared for one thing only: making money quickly. Greed is good but more importantly it is back as a glint in his eye. Back home his wife no doubt realizes what he won’t readily admit to but what we’ve been waiting for: the moment Bobby trades in one financial monster for another en route to becoming one himself.

RATING: 5/10