Friday, December 30, 2011

Swell Season - Movie Review

The Swell Season (NR) 90 Minutes B
The Anatomy of a Break-up

Starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

During the chaos that is my December, I saw this film weeks ago and forgot to post my review.  Swell Season is part musical doc, part break-up story.  As good as the music is in this film, all anyone really wants to know is, "what happened?"  Bandmates Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova seemed so perfect for each other.  Those who saw the 2007 classic, Once, would agree.  But The Swell Season is the amicable and subdued account of their quiet break-up. 

Ironically, these two fell victim to the very lyrics they so passionately sing.  There's no bad guy, and no one to blame.  Yet, as I watched the film it was apparent that Hansard was not completely present with Irglova.  While, she seemed a bit too submissive and occasionally misplaced (I never thought about their age difference until this film).  All of these things, and different approaches to fame, eventually ate away at their union.  The couple that once seemed so rocknroll perfect, were suddenly real, with real problems, and a real ending. 

This is a good film that is better if you are familiar with Hansard and Irglova.  It is a musical documentary that can't escape undertones of sadness.  When the closing credits rolled, everyone walked out of this one as quiet as a pack of church mice.
  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Movie Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (R) 158 minutes B+
Rebel Girl

Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorik van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Bengt Carlsson, Tony Way, Per Myrberg, Josefin Asplund, Eva Fritjofson, Moa Garpendal, Maia Bergqvist, Sarah Appelberg and Julian Sands

I have not read the novel (by the late Stieg Larsson); nor, have I seen the 2009 Swedish film adaptation. Yet, none of that is necessary to enjoy one of the best films of the year.  I would've given this film an "A" if the director could've figured out a way to make this film a little shorter without sacrificing quality.  With a running time over two and a half hours the film tends to feel long.  Nevertheless, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) is the biggest badass heroine since Evelyn Salt (Salt, Angelina Jolie) and Hit Girl (Kick-Ass, Chloë Grace Moretz).  Matter of fact, Lisbeth might be one of the best in movie history.  The scene in which Lisbeth asks, "may I kill him?" is as memorable a moment as any I've seen this year. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo encapsulates much of what I seek in a good thriller- darkness, introspection, sexy time, likable characters and honest emotion.  By the end of this one I experienced all of that, plus a little fatigue.

Best viewed on the big screen.  
   

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas - Movie Review

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (R) 90 minutes D-
Dumb, and almost fun

Starring Kal Penn, John Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo, Isabella Gielniak, Elias Koteas and Richard Riehle

If you simply take A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas for what it is - a stupid, juvenile, stoner comedy...  It's not horrible.  But unless you're a fan of the aforementioned genre, don't waste your time.  Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was a fresh idea in 2004, Escape from Guantanamo Bay in 2008 was silly but permissible, and this latest installment jumps the shark. 

It isn't so much that it's offensive, it's just dumb and unfunny.  It's like the joke is on the audience for paying money to watch it.  John Cho and Kal Penn can do better.  Neil Patrick Harris (NPH), on the other hand, is the only performance worthwhile here. 

Skip A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, and rent one of these stoner comedies instead:  The Wackness (2008), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Friday (1995) or Dazed and Confused (1993).

The Working Poor and Other Realities (Book Review)

Nickeled and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich B+
Publication Date: May 2001

Writer Barbara Ehrenreich leaves behind the comforts of her middle class existence, and goes undercover as a low-wage worker. She's a waitress in Florida, a cleaning lady and nurse's aide in Maine, and a Wal-mart employee in Minnesota. This type of investigative journalism feels familiar nowadays, yet Nickel and Dimed still manages to be provocative, entertaining and relevent.

Out of the Fireplace and into the Fire (Book Review)

Out of This Furnace - Thomas Bell B
Publication Date: September 1941 (reissued June 1976) 

Now that I have finished Out of This Furnace, I feel like I should work harder and love smarter. This multigenerational novel explores the plight of Slovak Immigrants from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It's an eye opening look at their history, dreams and desires. Bell's novel (which is based on real-life events) exposes the early origins of America's cheap labor addiction.

This was my first foray into historical fiction, and I found these characters to be simple, yet inspirational. I was moved by their relationships, friendships and family dynamics. I was appalled by the evils that constantly threatened to ruin their dreams, take their lives, and keep them in a continuous cycle of poverty.

Out of This Furnace is as much about love as it is about the hardship of immigration; it's an easy read that will surprise you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Moneyball - Movie Review

Moneyball (PG-13) 133 minutes B
Swinging for the fences

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Royce Clayton

Moneyball is a solid baseball film based on Michael Lewis' 2003 bestseller, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.  It follows General Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) as he tries to redefine baseball by adopting a statistical/computer-based approach to obtaining overlooked and underestimated talent.  The players not only fit into a statical scheme, they are also affordable.  This allows a small market team to compete with the big market cash cows (i.e. Yankees & Red Sox) at a fraction of the price. 

Brad Pitt does a nice job in the film, as does Jonah Hill.  But much like their performances, the film is good not great.  Moneyball has succeeded critically, and seems likely to receive at least a sniff from Oscar.  Yet, this outing is more of a triple than a home-run.
 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Interesting Concept, Disappointing Result (Book Review)

The Homeless Channel - Matt Silady C
Publication Date: June 2007

The Homeless Channel is an interesting concept, and the illustrations are great. But ultimately, my interest waned as the story progressed. The characters fell flat, and it all felt a little contrived.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"B" List of New Releases (Music Reviews)

Take Care - Drake B
Release Date: November 2011
Thank Me Later was the most addictive hip hop album I'd heard in years.  I was afraid that Take Care would be over the top, over produced and crowded with too many guest stars.  Fortunately, my fears were mostly unwarranted.  The more I listen to Take Care, the more I like the songs I was initially less than impressed with ("Shot For Me" & "Make Me Proud") and still love the songs that stood out from the first listen ("Crew Love" & "Marvins Room").  However, I still hate the title track featuring Rihanna, and I can't help but feel like some of these songs are close to perfection, yet too overworked and glossy for my liking.  Nevertheless, Drake is still my boy and I dig his style.  File under Emo Rap. Favorite Tracks: Crew Love & Marvins Room
Crazy Clown Time - David Lynch B
Release Date: November 2011
 Much like his films, Crazy Clown Time is spooky, intriguing and weird.  The perfect album for cruising down a dark highway in the middle of the night- just you, your thoughts, and the twisted soundscapes of a Crazy Clown TimeFavorite Tracks: Good Day Today & Noah's Ark.
Modern Art - Matthew Sweet B
Release Date: September 2011
I remember when Matthew Sweet was poised to become the next big thing.  Modern Art is a reminder that he's still relevant as a solo artist and still on point.  This is not an easy listen, but ultimately I think it's refreshing and rewarding.  Sweet sounds like an man with nothing to lose, and Modern Art feels authentic and loose.  His best album (that I have heard) since 1995's 100% Fun. Favorite tracks: Late Nights With the Power Pop & Baltimore    
Ashes & Fire - Ryan Adams B
Release Date 2011: October 2011   
When I heard that Ashes & Fire was a quiet album I had mixed feelings.  I was still high from the surprising 2010 album, III/IV, and frankly I was hoping for more of the same.  Besides, Adams can crank out quiet albums in his sleep,  and at the very least they will be half way decent.  However, this one is more than half way decent.  Ashes & Fire is achingly beautiful, accessible and earnest.  It might be better than his last seminal low-key effort, 2007's Easy TigerFavorite Tracks: Come Home and Lucky Now.
  

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Decendents - Movie Review

The Descendants (R) 115 minutes B-
Single dad faces reality

Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Nick Krause, Amara Miller, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, Mary Birdsong and Rob Huebel.

Considering all the hype surrounding this film, and considering that it is directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways)... this movie was not as good as I expected.  I am not comparing it to Sideways (one of my all-time favorite films), or any other film for that matter.  But this story of a man who is forced to re-evaluate his life after he learns that his wife is dying, and she was previously having an affair, falls flat emotionally despite being a well-rounded film otherwise. 

It has and will receive a lot of attention come award season.  It is worth seeing, but don't have a lot of inflated expectations like I did.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rum Diary - Movie Review

The Rum Diary (R) 120 minutes C+
The price of everything, the value of nothing

Starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Jenkins, Bill Smitrovich, Julian Holloway

The Rum Diary is fun, and a bit over the top.  Then again, it's based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson so what do you expect... I expected a script that would be less campy and more edgy.  The Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi characters were wasted, while Amber Heard's primary role is eye candy and nothing more.  Aaron Eckhart and Johnny Depp makes this worthwhile.  Depp is charming, his character grew on me as the film progressed.  Eckhart simply manges not to over act, which seems to be no small feat in this adventure dramedy.

Thompson wrote this novel in his twenties, it wasn't published until 40 years later.  Allegedly, it also took almost a decade for the film adaptation to get off the ground, plus a couple more years to land in theatres. This might be a fun trip for Hunter S. Thompson fans, everyone else should proceed with caution.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Flying My Wild Flag (Music Review)

First Impression Music Review          
Wild Flag - Wild Flag B+
Release Date: September 2011

If you're a fan boy of 90's indie rock, and the whole rebel/riot grrrl thing, this female super group is like a wet dream- Helium's Mary Timony, Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein & Janet Weiss, and the Minders' Rebecca Cole.  These ladies will rock and rebel you through 40 minutes of blazing bliss.  I've listened to this album six or seven times, and my favorite song changes each time.  Currently my favorite tracks are: Future Crimes, Boom and Racehorse.  Turn it up loud and enjoy!  
  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Only the Lonely (Book Review)

Publication Date: May 2011
Life with Mr. Dangerous - Paul Hornschemeier B-

Amy Breis is going nowhere fast.  She just broke up with yet another loser boyfriend, and is feeling disconnected from all humanity.  Between her passive-aggressive mother and dead end retail job, Amy seeks solace in reruns of her favorite cartoon (Mr. Dangerous) and phone conversation with her friend Michael.

I was drawn to this graphic novel because of the beautiful illustrations, and the sad-but-true theme of loneliness and singledom.  Yet, the story feels a little flat and the best moments are few and far between.  Hornschemeier seems über-talented, but I wanted to like this one more than I actually did.

Book trailer for Life with Mr. Dangerous--> http://vimeo.com/22702086

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Big Year - Movie Review

The Big Year (PG-13) 111 minutes B+
For the Birds

Starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Rosamund Pike, Brian Dennehy, Anjelica Huston, Rashida Jones, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams, Kevin Pollak, Joel McHale and Tim Blake Nelson

The Big Year is billed as a comedy about competitive bird-watching (or "birding" if you will); however, it's really a film about sacrificing everything to follow one's dream.  In this case, that dream is birding all over the world for one year.  I really enjoyed this film, and found it somewhat inspiring.  But it isn't very funny, especially considering it stars three of Hollywood's most popular funny men.  Nonetheless, if you're seeking a smart adult dramedy with heart, go see The Big Year.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pretty Girls With Guitars (Concert Review)

Katie Herzig @ Larimer Lounge 10/28/2011  B+
with Butterfly Boucher       
Photo courtesy of Beth Wooley

There are few things in life that give me a natural high like a good rock show. I can't say I'm a big Katie Herzig fan, but I will say she puts on one helluva live show. This is my second time seeing her perform. Each time has been a small venue, and each time she sounds like an angel. Somehow she manages to sound crisp and clean without sacrificing honest emotion. Plus, she played "Hologram," the song that blew me away the first time I saw her in the summer of 2010.

Opening for Herzig was Butterly Boucher. I'd never heard of her before; however, she might be one of the sexiest creatures I've even seen on stage. She's got the whole skinny rock grrrl thing down pat, and her sound is full of seductive hooks. When she ramped of the volume and the beats I was thoroughly impressed, but when she slowed things down I got a little bored. Nevertheless, she's one to watch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Biracial in the USA & the Dubstepper (Music Review)

First Impression Reviews
Lenny Kravitz- Black and White America C+
Release Date: August 2011
Black and White America is an ambitious and admirable musical statement.  But unfortunately this retro hodge-podge of funk, soul and rock feels a tad overdone.  For every great song (Come On Get It), there's an equally disappointing one (Dream), and lots of songs that I will either like or loathe after more listens.  This one is catchy enough to be a commercial success, but ranks somewhere in the middle of his catalog of music. Favorite Tracks: Come On Get It, Black and White America (Acoustic Version), Superlove       


James Blake - James Blake B
Release Date: February 2011
It has taken a while to digest this one.  Initially, it struck me as more interesting than good.  But this much-ballyhooed, blue-eyed soul dubstep album is beginning to grow roots and plant its self inside my head.  Trippy, yet sensitive...  Favorite tracks: I Never Learnt To Share, Lindisfarne I, Unluck  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Secret Lives of Women (Book Review)

Fly Away Home - Jennifer Weiner B
Publication Date: July 2010

Fly Away Home is surprisingly sad but entertaining. It's the story of three women (a mother and her two daughters) at the crossroads; Sylvie- the politician's wife, Diana - the overachieving (super freaky) older daughter, and Lizzie- a recovering addict with good intentions.

I got a little bored with Sylvie about half way through; however, Diana and Lizzie more than made up for that. On the surface, this will remind you of several scandalized politicians, their fractured lives and public humiliation. But underneath you will find an emotional story of longing, lust and self-discovery.

Monday, October 10, 2011

50/50 - Movie Review

50/50 (R) 99 minutes A-
A Cure For the Pain

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston.

I was squirming in my seat all throughout this film.  The thought of a massive cancerous tumor growing on my spine is a bit unnerving.  Yet, that was the predicament of our protagonist in Jonathan Levine's latest film, 50/50.  The dramedy starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is about a twenty-something public radio employee, Adam, who has been diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. Adam, who doesn't drink, smoke or drive, naturally views the diagnosis as a death sentence.  Furthermore, to add insult to injury, his relationship with his girlfriend dissolves during chemo treatments, leaving him to rely on his womanizing best friend, his inexperienced (but terminally cute) therapist and worrisome mother.  It all sounds pretty serious and sad (and it is), but it is also laugh-out-loud funny.  Based on a true story (Rogan's real life friend, Will Reiser), the film was better than I expected.  It also had me weeping like a little b*tch!

Recommended.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Ides of March - Movie Review

The Ides of March (R) 101 minutes A
The politics of hope

Starring George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Max Minghella. 

The Ides of March was so good that I did not want it to end. The gripping political thriller (based on Beau Willimon's play Farragut North) follows the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Morris (Clooney), as he tries to win the key state of Ohio.  A once promising campaign begins to derail when it's best and brightest young star, press secretary Stephen Meyers (Gosling), engages with the enemy.  This sets off a chain of events that reaches a crescendo more emotionally intense than anything I've seen this year.  Great film!    

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Contagion - Movie Review

Contagion (PG-13) 105 minutes B
Shaking the Disease

Starring Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle and Gwyneth Paltrow

Who ever decided to release this film right before cold and flu season is a genius.  I think about Contagion every time I touch a public door handle, faucet, elevator button, etc...  This smart, creepy, contagious disease thriller will make you want to smack anyone in close proximity who doesn't cover their sneeze.

I didn't find a lot of engaging characters here, and RW is right when she said, "it sorta has a TV movie feel to it."  But nevertheless, Soderbergh continues to be a favorite, and one of the most intriguing filmmakers around.  I hope to god that nothing like this ever happens.  Scary stuff!
 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Higher Ground - Movie Review

Higher Ground (R) 109 minutes A-
Losing my religion and reaching a higher (emotional) ground

Starring Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Norbert Leo Butz, McKenzie Turner and Donna Murphy

This film is based on the 2002 memoir, This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost by Carolyn S. Briggs.  This film really struck a chord with me; it almost brought me to tears.  It reminds me of the Counting Crows song, "Rain King," and the lyrics to that song best encapsulates the film:

When I think of heaven (Deliver me in a black-winged bird)
I think of flying down into a sea of pens and feathers
and all other instruments of faith and sex and God
In the belly of a black-winged bird
Don't try to feed me
I've been here before and I deserve a little more


I recommend this film to general moviegoers, and anyone who has ever questioned religion and/or spirituality.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

First Impression Reviews - Another Girl, Hot Sauce & a Sabor Tooth Tiger... Oh My!

Juliana Hatfield - There's Always Another Girl C+
Release Date August 2011

I really want to like this one, but so far I haven't been able to sink my teeth into it.  As soon as I read that the album's central theme was failure, the title track was inspired by Lindsay Lohan, and the project was initially called Speeches Delivered to Animals and Plants, I was uber-excited to hear these songs.  Unfortunately, this has been a slow burn with only one song standing out so far, and a few others bubbling under.  Favorite tracks - Someone Else's Problem and Thousands of Guitars

Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 B
Release Date: May 2011

A playful and fun party record that I haven't taken too seriously.  Lots of old school hooks and clever beats.  It occasionally sounds cluttered, but ultimately satisfies.  File under: Sounds like summer, smells like cayenne pepper.  Favorite tracks - Lee Majors Come Again and Nonstop Disco Powerpack
  
Sean Lennon & Charlotte Kemp Muhl - Ghost of a Sabor Tooth Tiger: Acoustic Sessions D+
Release Date: October 2010

I like Sean Lennon, I was excited to see he had a new project, but this one is nothing more than boring background music.  Favorite track - Rainbows in Gasoline

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Celebrity Rehab

Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher B
Publication Date: September 2009

This one feels like a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.  I actually didn't know much about Fisher's life, yet my weakness for scandal-ridden celebrity memoirs made this one too tempting to pass up.  The Princess Leia thing is interesting, however it is the substance abuse and her relationships (with Paul Simon and Bryan Lourd) that were most intriguing to me.   

Wishful Drinking is humbling, amusing and a little annoying.  But it is hard not to like Fisher, who I suspect left out some of the juicer bits and darker moments.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Answer Key - NFL Preview 2011

My annual picks and predictions for the upcoming NFL season.

AFC
AFC East
1. New England  12-4 
2. NY Jets 10-6*
3. Miami  6-10
4. Buffalo 5-11

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh 11-5
2. Baltimore  10-6*
3. Cleveland  6-10
4. Cincy   3-13

AFC South
1. Houston 10-6
2. Indy  8-8
3. Tennessee 7-9
4. Jacksonville 4-12

AFC West
1. San Diego 11-5
2. Kansas City 8-8
3. Oakland 7-9
4. Denver 6-10

Wild Card
(3) Pittsburgh over (6) NY Jets
(5) Baltimore over (4) Houston 
Divisional Round
(5) Baltimore over (1) New England
(2) San Diego over (3) Pittsburgh
AFC Championship
(2) San Diego over (5) Baltimore
*****

NFC
NFC East
1. Philly  10-6
2. Washington 8-8
3. NY Giants 8-8
4. Dallas 6-10

NFC North
1. Green Bay 11-5
2. Minnesota 9-7*
3. Detroit 7-9
4. Chicago 7-9

NFC South
1. Atlanta  11-5
2. New Orleans 9-7*
3. Tampa Bay 8-8
4. Carolina 3-13

NFC West
1. St. Louis 10-6
2. San Francisco 7-9
3. Arizona 6-10
4. Seattle  5-11

Wild Card
(3) Philly over (6) Minnesota
(5) New Orleans over (4) St. Louis
Divisional Round
(1) Green Bay over (5) New Orleans
(2) Atlanta over (3) Philly
NFC Championship
(2) Atlanta over (1) Green Bay
***** 

Super Bowl
San Diego 17
Atlanta  14

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tree of Life - Movie Review

Tree of Life (PG-13) 138 minutes C-
Like watching a tree grow- beautiful but boring

Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Sean Penn and Laramie Eppler.

Maybe I would like this film more if I watched it a second time?  Maybe I would like it more if I took the time to consider how gorgeous, imaginative and profound it was?  But as it were, I found the film to be overdone, overlong and overrated.  Tree of Life is Passion of the Christ for the IMAX set. 

If you dare, watch it on the big screen.  It is a sight to behold if nothing else.     

Saturday, August 27, 2011

30 Minutes or Less - Movie Review

30 Minutes or Less (R) 83 minutes D-
Bungled buffoonery

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Fred Ward, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Peña and Bianca Kajlich.

An asinine action-comedy about a pizza delivery boy (Eisenberg) forced to rob a bank with an explosive strapped to his chest.  The film is shockingly unfunny and surprisingly disjointed considering how much I like Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Michael Pena and director Ruben Fleischer's last film, Zombieland

Don't waste your time or money on this one.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Future - Movie Review

The Future (R) 91 minutes A-
Full of possibilities... or not

Starring Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, Isabella Acres, Joe Putterlik, Angela Trimbur, David Warshofsky, Mary Passeri

Miranda July is an artist in every sense of the word.  Sure, she's a little quirky and her art is an acquired taste.  But whether you like her or not, there's no denying that she's an original.  Her latest film may seem whimsical, and probably a little strange to those unfamiliar with her work.  Yet, below the surface, The Future is a telling anecdote about loneliness, missed opportunities, and yes... the future.
  
Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but several things in this film felt symbolic of current society, as well as our not so distant future.  Paw Paw (a stray cat and the film's narrator), for example, could be interpreted as a symbol of those who are wounded (literally or figuratively) and waiting for that big break, that something or someone who will change their lives. 

The story follows Sophie (July) and Jason (Linklater), a non-assuming couple who have been together almost 4 years.   They live a low-maintenance/low impact lifestyle; she's a preschool dance teacher and he does tech support from home.  In 30 days they will be adopting a stray cat (Paw Paw), but before they become pet parents they've decided to take advantage of their freedom and live it up. They quit their jobs and vow to do whatever and go wherever life takes them.  They begin to explore future possibilities and in a dramatic twist (because these two seem made for each other) they find that the future is not at all what they expected or hoped (such is life, that's for sure).

Funny and intriguing, I recommend this film for those seeking something a little different.  General audiences proceed with caution.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Chemicals Between Us (Book Review)

The Wait of Atom - Jessie Carty B
Publication Date: November 2009

I discovered Jessie Carty via YouTube a couple years ago. After watching her videos and browsing her website, I recently decided to buy one of her (chap)books. It was something I’d been meaning to do for a while and I’m glad I finally did. The Wait of Atom really surprised me. For whatever reason I didn’t expect these poems to resonant with me the way they did. Furthermore, I liked the periodic table theme despite my complete oblivion about all things science.  Favorites here included: "The Wait of Atom", "House Haunting" and "Pink was the color of his weakness".  I look forward to reading more of her work.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love - Movie Review

Crazy, Stupid, Love (PG-13) 118 minutes B
The rebirth of cool

Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Analeigh Tipton, Josh Groban, Jonah Bobo, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon

As the title suggests, love is crazy and stupid, especially when you act like these characters.  This bittersweet romantic comedy follows three relationships: a thirteen year-old and his seventeen year-old babysitter (Bobo and Tipton), a couple of good lookin' twenty-somethings (Gosling and Stone), and a forty-something couple (Carell and Moore) whose relationship has dissolved after 20+ years of marriage.

On the surface this film isn't much different than other star-studded, it's complicated, adult romantic comedies of its genre.  But here the cast rises above the material and makes the film worthwhile, despite grandiose notions of soul mates and everlasting love withstanding the obstacles (age, womanizing manwhores and infidelity). 

Crazy Stupid Love runs about fifteen minutes too long, features one ridiculously stupid fight scene and is slightly predictable.  However, there's at least one twist you won't see coming, a great cast and enough sexy and cute to keep you interested.
   

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beats, Rhymes & Life - Movie Review

Beats, Rhymes & Life (R) 95 minutes B+
Beats, Fights and Forgiving

Starring Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White

In 1988 the Jungle Brothers dropped Straight Outta the Jungle.  The album was straight dope and an instant favorite.  Q-Tip was featured on two of the album's best tracks, "Black is Black" and "The Promo".  Yet, it was still all about the JBs- Mike Gee, Afrika Baby Bam and Sammy B.

In 1989 De La Soul released 3 Feet High & Rising, an album that literally blew my mind and changed the way I viewed rap forever.  So when ATCQ released People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in 1990, I liked it but didn't love it as much as the aforementioned albums.  

I didn't buy 1991's Low End Theory despite all of the great things I was hearing, and 1993 I was lukewarm about Midnight Marauders (which eventually grew on me and became a personal fav).  Consequently, I skipped Beats, Rhythm and Life in 1996, and by 1998's The Love Movement there was no love left among the three remaining members.  The constant bickering had taken its toll and the band broke up.  

This documentary details the rise and fall of ATCQ.  It sort of vilifies Q-tip as a passive-aggressive control freak/creative force behind the music, and apparently Q-tip was none too pleased.  As far as I know he has never done any promotion for the film.  Nevertheless, this was an enlightening and highly entertaining look at one of the most important hip hop groups of a generation. 

Highly recommended for anyone who likes hip hop.   

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Horrible Bosses - Movie Review

Horrible Bosses (R) 100 minutes B+
Desperate Times Desperate Measures

Starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx

I liked Horrible Bosses.  It's one of the best comedies I've seen this year.  However, it does feel like a retread of a clever Seth Rogan, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis film.  The subject matter (albeit exaggerated) is something most of us can relate to.  The dynamic cast and current job market makes it funny and relevant. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Colorado Proud! Jeni Olin Strikes a Nerve & Keeps on Truckin (Book Review)

Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems - Jeni Olin  B+
Publication Date: May 2010

Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems are wild, crazy and unpredictable. I love the images these poems evoke and the way Olin's words crash and burn with fearlessness. In the poem Welcome To Costco. I Love You, Olin delivers the catchiest line of poetry I've heard in a long time-"downing pale ales & downy pale males". While Closer, one of my favorite pieces from this collection, brilliantly captures her wit and vulnerability with precision- "touching each other professionally until it hurts just right."

Jeni Olin earned her BA and MFA degrees from Naropa University (Boulder, CO). I recently read that she has changed her name to Truck Darling.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Larry Crowne - Movie Review

Larry Crowne (PG-13) 99 minutes C-
Downsizing two of Hollywood's biggest stars

Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson

Larry Crowne (Hanks) is an ordinary guy.  He spent 20 years in the Navy. He works hard.  He is divorced.  He never went to college.  He is a victim of downsizing.  He can't afford gas. He buys a scooter.  He enrolls in community college.  He bags Julia Roberts.  We should all be so lucky.

Hanks and Roberts are the best and worst things about this film.  I also find it ironic that a film about tough economic times stars two of the richest people in Hollywood.  The script is surprisingly unoriginal and bland.  Fans of uncomplicated, big budget, adult rom-coms might find this appealing.  For everyone else, proceed with caution.

Best Films & Music of 2011 so far...

Wow! I didn't realize how weak the first half of this year was until I sat down to make this list.  Excluding the Sundance films I saw in January (which haven't officially hit theatres yet), this has probably been one of the worst years (so far) for films and music.  Nevertheless, here it is:

Films 
5.  Cedar Rapids  
4.  Midnight in Paris
3.  Win Win
2.  Beginners
1.  Bridesmaids

Music
3.  Demolished Thoughts - Thurston Moore
2.  Several Shades of Why - J Mascis
1.  Collapse Into Now - R.E.M 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I was unable to upload my video...

So this picture is all you get. 


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Beginners - Movie Review

Beginners (R) 105 minutes B+
melancholy and the infinite sadness

Starring Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent and Goran Visnjic.

Beginners is a semi-autobiographical film by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker). It's the story of Oliver (McGregor), a 38-year-old commitment phobe, graphic designer, who is coming to grips with his mother's death and her relationship with his father. Oliver's father, Hal (Plummer), has recently announced he's gay. This revelation is interesting but not heavy-handed.  The film doesn't delve into Oliver's feelings on homosexuality because Hal has also discovered he is terminally ill.  It's weighty subject matter that comes off honest, likable and bittersweet.  

Also present, Oliver's commitment issues.  Much of Beginners centers around his romance with a free-spirited beauty named Anna (Laurent).  She too has commitment-related issues, but watching them fall in love is wonderful.  Yet, Hal is ultimately the most memorable.  He effects everything in the film, and is a testament to how short life can be when you miss so many opportunities.  Expect more drama than comedy despite the talking dog scenes; a touch that is executed rather nicely.  This one might surprise you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Catching up on First Impression Music Reviews

Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts B-
Release Date: May 24, 2011
This is a mellow album.  Much has been made about it being produced by Beck.  However, this album lacks the accessibility of Beck's 2002 mellow masterpiece, Sea Change (I can't help but assume that's what Moore was going for).  Demolished Thoughts is a little bit of a grower, but it's definitely introspective.  This album would be a perfect companion on a long drive, a dark road, and miles of nothingness... or slitting your wrists.  Highlights - "Benediction", "In Silver Rain with a Paper Key" & "Mina Loy" 

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light C+
Release Date: April 12, 2011
I will admit, the first time I listened to this album I thought, "what the f*ck!" I was expecting a catchy, immediately accessible, phenomenal follow-up to Dear Science.  Initially, the first half of Nine Types of Light didn't grab me at all.  While the second half struck me as some sort of curiously addicting Cameo (the band) revival.  Fortunately, the album continues to grow on me with each additional listen. Highlights - "Caffeinated Consciousness" & "New Cannonball Blues"

Duncan Sheik - Covers 80s C+
Release Date: June 7, 2011
I normally don't like cover albums.  Although, I think it's cool when an artists covers a song and either makes it their own, or stays so true to the original that there is no drop off.  Unfortunately, most artist can't sustain the latter for an entire album. Hence, the latest by Duncan Sheik, an 80's cover album.  Previously I heard Sheik cover Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" (a trendy choice but excellent nonetheless), D-Mode's "Blasphemous Rumors" and The Smith's "Reel Around the Fountain", all with good results.  So why the hell are those songs missing from Covers 80sHighlights - "Stay", "William It Was Really Nothing" & "The Ghost in You"

Nas - Hip Hop is Dead  B+
Release Date: December 19, 2006
Vibe magazine called it "disorienting and sometimes brilliant", I agree wholeheartedly.  I am really starting to like Nas, yet the album that most consider his magnum opus, 1994's Illmatic, is still a head scratchier to me.  Highlights - "Black Republican", "Hip Hop is Dead" & "Carry on Tradition"


Julie Doiron - Loneliest in the Morning B
Release Date: August 26, 1997
So what if she sounds like a million other female singer-songwriters with an acoustic guitar.  She writes a damn good song!  Each song sounds similar to the next, yet they still stand on their own.  I'm curious about the rest of her catalog.  Highlights - "Explain", "Sorry Part 1" & "Sorry Part 2"

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times - Movie Review

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times
(R) 88 minutes C+
The Death of Newspapers

Starring David Carr, Bill Keller, Gay Talese, David Remnick, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Larry Ingrassia, Seth Mnookin, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Nick Denton, Jimmy Wales, Rick Lyman, Dean Bacquet, Ken Auletta, Bruce Headlam and Carl Bernstein.

I think journalists are cool, and I love watching how an edition of the newspaper is born each day. Page One, Andrew Rossi's documentary about the New York Times is an interesting examination of dead tree journalism.  However, there were few  revelations in this examination. This would've been better off as a documentary about David Carr first, the New York Times second. 

Recommended for news junkies and/or anyone interested in journalism.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sobule, So cool (Concert Review)

Jill Sobule @ Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret B

Denver's own Jill Sobule made her annual stop at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret tonight, and as usual the multi-talented singer-songwriter did not disappoint.  Each time I see her I can't understand why people aren't lining up down the block to see her perform.  Yet, I am always surprised at the amount of people who scream "I Kissed A Girl" when Jill asks for requests.  It's still a great song, and damn you Katy Perry for stealing her thunder.  But my god, Jill Sobule has made so much great music since that 1995 hit (the original "I Kissed A Girl"), it's a crying shame that people don't know or appreciate her impressive catalog of music.

Highlights from tonight include the acoustic rendition of "Bitter" from her 1997 album, Happy Town.  A brand new song http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/jill-sobule-sings-netroots-they-sa-0 called, "They Say They Want Our America Back" that I absolutely, positively, can't get out of my head.  As well as a cover version (featuring her mother) of Nelly's "Hot in Here".  I'm already looking forward to her visit next year.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Trip - Movie Review

The Trip (NR) 109 minutes C+
Eat Talk Fornicate

Starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley, Kerry Shale, Dolya Gavanski and Rebecca Johnson

If you're going to see The Trip, pack a little patience.  The film centers around British actors/comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and is directed by Michael Winterbottom.  Coogan and Brydon portray exaggerated versions of themselves as they embark on a six day trip through the countryside of northern England.  They talk, they eat, they do great impressions (the Woody Allen impressions are my favorite) and they talk some more.  This dialogue heavy film is part travelogue, part road trip buddy comedy, with a dash of food porn sprinkled throughout.

Once close friends, the two forty-something men find themselves drifting apart, almost to the point of rivals.  Their strained relationship is one of the more interesting dynamics in the film because it feels authentic. Additionally, Coogan's not so subtle longing for commercial success and indecision about his love life makes this highly improvised duel somewhat intriguing.  Despite being well-received by critics, The Trip is not for everyone.  I would be surprised if anyone outside of film critics, a few cinephiles and fans of this British duo embraced this film domestically.  It's not bad at all, but I don't foresee at lot people taking this trip. 
     

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Good vs Evil in the Garden of Kim (Book Review)

Lucifer at the Starlite by Kim Addonizio B-
Publication Date: August 2009

The first time I saw/heard Kim Addonizio read poetry it blew me away.  She was unlike anything I had experienced before.  Her writing was brash, sexy, raw, and 100% unpretentious.  Furthermore, she delivered it with style and verve that indicated she lived it, been there and done that.  I remember thinking at the time, "this woman should be as popular as any female singer who has ever written a hit love song."

After that, I read more of her work, bought a couple of her books, corresponded (once) via email, and I even bought her hybrid music-poetry CD, Swearing, Smoking, Drinking, & Kissing. She is a tremendous talent. However, I did not think this collection lived up to its full potential. Lucifer at the Starlite definitely has its moments, but overall it didn't consistently grab me and pull me in.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Midnight in Paris - Movie Review

Midnight in Paris (PG-13) 94 minutes B-
An Ode to Paris, Nostalgia, and the Muse

Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Nina Arianda, Kurt Fuller, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Lea Seydoux, and Corey Stoll.

Everyone knows that I "heart" Woody Allen films.  Therefore, it is sometimes hard to write about his work without great affection.  Additionally, all of the hype surrounding Midnight in Paris elevated my excitement more than usual (I have yet to see a negative review).  So, with expectations high, I have to admit that I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. 

The film is clever, smart and beautiful.  However, it is missing a little of the edginess and cynical bite I often get from an Allen film.  For my tastes, Midnight in Paris could have benefited from less nostalgic ambiance and more profundity into the main character's psyche.  Yet, most literary and artist-types will find it quite amusing to see the return of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and other icons from the early 1900's.

I tend to like Allen's darker, more tragic material. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that this is good film with mass appeal.  Furthermore, every woman I know who has seen Midnight in Paris really liked it.  This surprises me a little, but I guess there is no denying the mystical and enchanting charm of Paris, and the golden age of love, art and literature.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Beguiling & Magical Stories (Book Review)

Magical Thinking: True Stories by Augusten Burroughs B+
Publication Date: October 2004

How did I not know that Augusten Burroughs was so funny, interesting, outrageous and gay!?! Apparently, I mentally erased all remnants of the 2006 film Running with Scissors (which I saw and promptly forgot). 

Magical Thinking is a collection of true personal stories that hooked me from the beginning and ever so slightly waned near the end.  Yet, the book is still highly entertaining and recommended.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Something Borrowed - Movie Review

Something Borrowed (PG-13) 103 minutes D
A contrived love triangle

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, Steve Howey, Ashley Williams and John Krasinski.

Directed by Luke Greenfield and based on Emily Giffin's best selling novel, Something Borrowed could have been so much better.  But instead, it's overripe and contrived.  I'm convinced that Kate Hudson jumped the shark after Almost Famous in 2000.  Ginnifer Goodwin is the ultimate cutie patootie, but her character, Rachel (who is a lawyer), is way too clueless and too much of a pushover to be realistic.  While, John Krasinski (The Office) represents the comic relief and does an admirable job of playing a character that is both unoriginal and insignificant. 

The rest of the cast is more of the same.  Colin Egglesfield is "Dex," a character that most women will intially like and end up hating.  Additionally, he spends the entire film channeling his inner Tom Cruise.  In minor roles Steve Howey portrays the horndog friend plausibly, and Ashley Williams is entertaining as the smothering, fatal attraction gal pal.

Furthermore, New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote, "the most dispiriting thing about Something Borrowed is that with a little more art, craft and wit it could have been a lot better, maybe even good."  The film features intiguing elements of real-world drama and emotion that could have evoked something substantial.  Yet, unfortunately these wishy-washy characters leave a lot to be desired.
____________________________________________
Bonus DVD Review
Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour (NR) (65 minutes) B
Girls Rock!

DVD Release Date June 7, 2011
Starring Kathleen Hanna, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman

It’s a little known fact that Kathleen Hanna has always been one of my biggest "celebrity crushes".  However, I wasn't sure what to expect in Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour.  The documentary follows the band across four continents in support of their 2004 album, This Island.  The doc itself really isn't earth-shattering; although, it is an entertaining look at their socio-politics and electrifying live shows.  This toe-tapping behind-the-scences footage is sure to appeal to Kathleen Hanna/Le Tigre fans.  Everyone else may not be as geeked.    

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Hangover Part II - Movie Review

The Hangover Part II (R) 101 minutes D+
Been There Done That

Starring  Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Mason Lee, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti

The Hangover Part II is basically the same as the original. Except here, the wolfpack is in Bangkok instead of Vegas, there's a monkey instead of a tiger, and there are trannys instead of hookers... voilà! I present to you The Hangover Part II.  

Despite a few laugh-out-loud moments, the film is ridiculously silly, slightly darker and predictable.  It might be worth seeing at your local discount theater in a few weeks, or on DVD if you really loved the first Hangover film.  Otherwise, don't waste your money.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jumping the Broom - Movie Review

Jumping the Broom (PG-13) 108 minutes B-
Bourgeois vs Working Class

Starring Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Loretta Devine, Meagan Good, Tasha Smith, Julie Bowen, Romeo Miller, DeRay Davis, Valarie Pettiford, Mike Epps, and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Jumping the Broom is a faith-based romantic dramedy that I found very likable, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining (there were a couple twists I didn't see coming).  Yet, the film also seemed longer than 108 minutes and at times felt extremely contrived and unfamiliar. 

I'm glad I saw Jumping the Broom, and Paula Patton is always easy on the eyes, but this one didn't linger long after leaving the multiplex.

Recommended for fans of African-American Romantic Comedy/Drama.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bridesmaids - Movie Review

Bridesmaids (R) 125 minutes B+
Hold On, Break Free From the Chains

Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jill Clayburgh and Jon Hamm.

When I think of Kristen Wiig I think of her SNL character, "Penelope".  But after seeing Bridesmaids I might start thinking she's the next Tina Fey.  Wiig is terrific in this BFF comedy and it doesn't hurt that she has a whip-smart script and killer co-star in Melissa McCarthy.  As a matter of fact, if the Academy had an award for Best Comedic Performance in a Supporting Role, McCarthy would be a shoo-in.

Bridesmaids centers around Annie (Wiig), a down-on-her-luck, former bakery shop owner who seems destined to be alone forever.  On the heels of losing her boyfriend, her business and all her money, Annie's longtime friend (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement.  The news is bittersweet, yet meshing with a rival bridesmaid will prove to be hilariously more bitter than sweet. 

The film is funny and surprisingly sincere.  I, for one, was reminded that you can't get anywhere by sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.  Bridesmaids is the best comedy to hit theaters so far this year and there is already talk of a sequel in 2013. 

Recommended.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Everything Must Go - Movie Review

Everything Must Go (R) 96 minutes C+
Open Container

Starring Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Laura Dern, Michael Peña and Stephen Root.

If you've the seen the trailer for Everything Must Go then you've seen the funniest parts of this film.  Despite a deadpan Will Ferrell and a dash of humor, this is not a comedy.  The film falls into a genre I like to call "broken man".  Broken man films are usually depressing and strange black dramedies or profoundly dark dramas in which the male protagonist is falling apart and/or experiencing some sort of major life crisis. I'm a fan of this genre and some of my favorite examples include: Leaving Las Vegas, The Weather Man, Sideways, Eyes Wide Shut, The Square, A Single Man, Adaptation, and The Wrestler. 

Everything Must Go is based on a Raymond Carver short story in which Ferrell plays an alcoholic who is having a very bad day.  Upon being fired from his job he goes home to discover his wife has locked him out, discarded all of his belongings on the front lawn, changed the locks, frozen the joint bank account and left.  He spends the next fours days trying to drink himself into oblivion and selling his things.

I like Will Ferrell and I'm always curious about any film he does, yet there's not enough here for him to carry this one on his own.  Every scene with Rebecca Hall is terrific, Laura Dern is good in a cameo role and Christopher Jordan Wallace (son of Faith Evan & Notorious B.I.G) is a functional side kick.  But ultimately this is Ferell's film and his metamorphosis is not quite convincing enough to push me over the hump.   

Personally, I love seeing comedic actors like Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Hugh Grant, etc, portraying dark/serious characters from time to time.  However, if you prefer your funny men funny, skip this one.

For further viewing of serious/semi-serious Will Ferrell see Stranger than Fiction and Melinda Melinda.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sex and Violence (Book Review)

James Patterson & Maxine Paetro - Swimsuit B+
Publication Date: June 2009
This one had me squirming on the edge of my seat throughout. Protagonist Ben Hawkins is a former L.A. cop turned reporter and author. While investigating the murder of a younger supermodel Hawkins gets mixed up with a serial killer and is forced to write the killer's tell-all biography.  Flawed- yes.  Captivating- hell yes!

The ending is a head-scratcher and I admit it threw me for a loop. But when I consider how Patterson and Paetro could have wrapped things up nice and neat, I like the ending even more.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - Movie Review

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (PG-13) 90 minutes C+
Sell, Sell, Sell

Starring Morgan Spurlock and Ralph Nader

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is the new Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) documentary about marketing and advertising.  Here we follow Spurlock as he attempts to finance this entire film (1.5 million) through product placement.  It's an original idea but one that doesn't teach us anything we didn't already suspect. 

While I enjoyed the film and think that Spurlock is a unique talent, this one was a little spotty, a little cutesy and didn't linger in my mind afterwards.  Not bad, but not as good as I'd hoped.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Tease, A Flirt, Limbs Too Short (Music Review)

First Impression Music Review
Radiohead - The King of Limbs B-
Release Date: March 2011
Listening to The King of Limbs the first couple times reminded me of how I felt when I first heard Radiohead's 2001 album, Amnesiac; initially a little underwhelmed but intrigued by the album's tone.  After repeated listening that album became more than just really cool mood music, it became a staple in my weekly rotation. 

The King of Limbs has better beats, is more soulful and will sound amazing on blast in my subee.  But what it's lacking thus far is the aching beauty of a track like Knives Out and the heartbreak of You and Whose Army (both from Amnesiac).  Perhaps it's unfair to compare the two albums which are almost a decade apart, but oh well, sometimes it's fun to compare things.  

Favorite Tracks- "Lotus Flower", "Separator" and "Morning Mr. Magpie"

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Win Win - Movie Review

Win Win (R) 106 minutes B
Wrestling with life's choices

Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey and Burt Young

Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a small time New Jersey lawyer, family man, high school wrestling coach and all-round good guy.  But with his business on a downturn and no compensation for his coaching gig, Flaherty is struggling to make ends meet.  So when a profitable but immoral opportunity presents itself he takes advantage.  It's not exactly a win win situation but it'll keep him afloat until he can get back on his feet. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the jig is up soon after it begins and Flaherty risks losing everything. 

Win Win is a wonderfully crafted film by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent and The Visitor) that won't bowl you over but will definitely pin you to your seat.  Everything about this dramedy is subtle but affecting.  It almost feels too neat and tidy but it's hard not to like Win Win

Recommended.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

J Mascis on Fire in Denver (Concert Review)

J Mascis @ the Hi Dive - April 28th, 2011 B

Dinosaur Jr's legendary front man made a tour stop at the Hi Dive tonight in support of his latest acoustic album, Several Shades of Why.  Despite intermittent (and annoying) fire alarms throughout the show and an appearance by the Denver Fire Department, Mascis seemed unfazed. 

He opened with "The Wagon" from Dino's Green Mind album, followed by "Listen To Me" and "Several Shades of Why" from the new disc.  But it was the fourth song of the night that ended up being my favorite, a cover of Edie Brickell's 1988 hit song, "Circle".    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOQmMzn7djw

The rest of the show was a nice mixture of quiet loud acoustic distortion with Mascis occasionally tilting back his head and closing his eyes; seemingly lost in the music.  Other highlights included the songs "Repulsion" and an old favorite of mine, "Ammaring" from J Mascis & the Fog's More Light LP.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cedar Rapids - Movie Review

Cedar Rapids (R) 86 minutes B-
Cedar Rapids: the Las Vegas of the midwest

Starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Kurtwood Smith, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root and Sigourney Weaver

Naïve and sheltered insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) has never ventured outside his hometown of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. But after the unfortunate death of his company’s number one salesman, Tim must attend the annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where the goal is to win/bring home the coveted “Two Diamonds” award for excellence.  

Reluctant to leave his comfort zone and cougarlicious girlfriend (played by Sigourney Weaver), Tim realizes this is a chance to rise above his own mediocrity.  Yet, when he arrives  in Cedar Rapids Tim takes an unforeseen walk on the wild side that includes: falling in love with a prostitute, having sex with a married woman, smoking crack, participating in extortion, and getting drunk every night (reminiscent of the character Ed Helms played in The Hangover).  Needless to say the man child becomes a man by the time he leaves "Cedar Crapids".   

Essentially this is a good indie film; a little uneven and not as funny as I expected, but one that stuck with me for days afterwards.  Everyone in the cast was good, with the exception of Anne Heche, who was great as the vivacious strawberry blonde vixen seeking escape from her mundane home life.  Cedar Rapids is the type of racy indie comedy that fans of the genre will love, while others might find it slightly overblown.  
------------------------------------------------------------------
Bonus DVD Review
Hannah Takes the Stairs (NR) 83 minutes  B-
Use to be a sweet girl 

DVD Release Date: April 2008
Starring Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski, Ry Russo-Young, Mark Duplass, Todd Rohal

Hannah is young, pretty and self-absorbed.  She's insecure, slightly immature and craves lots of attention.  If this sounds annoying to you don't watch this film- you'll hate it! If this reminds you of yourself or someone you know, it might be worth your while. 

Hannah Takes the Stairs is improvised, highly experimental, raw and realistic; it's definitely not for general audiences.  Mumblecore fans rejoice!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I Know This is Changing Me (Music Review)

First Impression Music Review
R.E.M - Collapse Into Now B 
Release Date:  March 8, 2011
This one is a grower.  I've listened to it a dozen times and I like it more with each spin.  It's probably their best album since 1996's New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

"Mine smells like honey" and "Überlin" grabbed me immediately (they're also the first two singles from the album), other tracks were slightly more challenging but they eventually won me over.  Special guests include Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, Peaches, Lenny Kaye and Joel Gibb.

Favorite Tracks - Mine smells like honey, "Überlin", "That someone is you", "Blue"

Leftovers Never Tasted So Good! (Music Review)

First Impression Music Review
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - III/IV B+
Release Date: Dec 14, 2010
 I own several Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown albums and this collection of leftovers from the 2007 Easy Tiger sessions is among his best work. Just when I was afraid Adams might be going soft he released a metal album (2010's Orion) and delivers this gem-  a catchy pop album that holds together surprisingly well over the course of 21 tracks.
Billed as a "double-album concept rock opera" (tongue-firmly-tucked-in-cheek), III/IV is Demolition meets Gold with a little Rock N Roll thrown in. A single disc opposed to the two would've been a full blown masterpiece but as it stands I'm not complaining.

Favorite Tracks -"Numbers", "Gracie", "Breakdown into the Resolve", "Dear Candy" and "Icebreaker"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles - Movie Review

Battle: Los Angeles (PG-13) 112 minutes D-
Aliens Invade Los Angeles blah blah blah - who cares

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo and Michael Peña

The more I think about this film the more I hate it.  Unless you like bad sci-fi, gooey aliens, nonstop gunfire, endless explosions, loud and obnoxious video game-like films, don't waste your money. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lone Dinosaur Ponders Why (Music Review)

First Impression Music Review
J Mascis - Several Shades of Why B 
Release Date: March 15, 2011
Music critic Steve Labate (Paste magazine) wrote, "J’s lazy, just-rolled-outta-bed croon set against the stripped-bare backdrop of acoustic guitars and cellos and jingling tambourines is pure magic."  I think that pretty much says it all. 

I knew this album wouldn't disappoint, solo acoustic is about the closest we'll get to knowing J Mascis.  The dude is a total mystery but I dig the way he sings with an every-man-vulnerability and plays guitar like a god.

Favorite tracks - "Not Enough", "Very Nervous and Love" and "Where Are You"