When I was four years old, I forced my parents to show me how to use the family’s turntable record player so that I could play my favorite albums any time I wanted. Those albums were, in order, Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book”, and a collection of arias sung by Luciano Pavarotti.
Once upon a time, about 15 years ago now, I waited in line for six hours outside the Philadelphia Academy of Music, being awkwardly hit on by the ex-wife of my ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend the entire damn time, in order to get $10 student nosebleed seats (literally, the highest row in the building) to see Pavarotti perform Leoncavello’s “Pagliacci” with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
I can’t think of another artist I’d have been willing to do that for, except perhaps, naturally, Stevie Wonder. The funny thing is, I mostly don’t like opera that much as an adult: but the man’s voice cut through any kind of objection and lodged straight in your heart. I miss him already.
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Being an obsessive-compulsive completeist, but a profoundly lazy one, I pre-ordered the last Harry Potter book from Amazon a few months ago, and promptly stopped worrying about it. Today, this shows up on my desk at work:
If I did not work for a company made out of 100% pure nerdiness, I think I would be dying of embarrassment right now. As it is, I’m merely mortified.
Several years ago, some friends and I tried to go see a tiny little exhibition in Philadelphia featuring the works of Arthur Radebaugh, a nearly unknown commercial illustrator from the 40s and 50s who did the most amazing neo-Deco cars and cityscapes: all swooping lines and soaring skyscrapers. It’s the future the way it was supposed to look, before the harsh realities of pollution, population and politics finally started to impinge on science fiction’s collective self-image in the 70s. If you read the William Gibson story “The Gernsback Contiuum”, this was what you probably imagined the forgotten future the protagonist kept slipping into looked like: seductive and awe-inspiring, but also a little creepy: as much Albert Speer as Erte.
Well, due to a predictably hilarious series of events, we never actually made it to the exhibition, but several years later it’s finally online, and you can check it out:
If you weren’t seeing New Model Army at DNA Lounge tonight, I can pretty much guarantee that you weren’t having as good an evening as Miranda, Shauna and I were.
“There’s six hundred and thirty-three people in the world who’ve ever heard of this band, so I guess we’re all in this together.” — Justin Sullivan
High points: Lights Go Out, Space, The Hunt, Vagabonds, a new track that I didn’t catch the name of. Even better: an actual mosh pit breaking out in the audience, something that was sadly missing the last time I saw them. (Best of all: since the average age of their fans is, ah, a touch older these days, the pit was well-mannered enough that several women were able to join in without incident.)
Pictures tomorrow if any of them came out.
Another movie. Another set of previews:
The Black Dahlia — oh god, I want this not to suck. I want this to be awesome in the same way L.A. Confidential was. Oh god, Josh Hartnett is so not even Guy Pearce, much less Russell Crowe. Oh god, Brian DePalma’s last great film was almost twenty years ago. Oh god, Scarlett Johannsen is so not Kim Basinger. Oh god.
The Departed — Okay, a great trailer. Jack Nicholson being all… Nicholsony, in a non-self-parodying way he hasn’t been since… god, I can’t even remember. Probably before I was born. The use of “Gimme Shelter” immediately made me think: “Wow, someone’s really channelling Scorcese here…” and then, what do you know, “A Martin Scorcese film.” Leonardo… well, that’s normally not a good sign, but he sucked less in “The Aviator” than I expected him too, so I won’t scoff. But then… about a third of the way into this, my brain started tingling… I’ve seen this film before, haven’t I? Undercover cop, certain there’s a mole in his own department… shifting loyalties, secret codes… holy shit, it’s Infernal Affairs. Martin Scorcese is re-making Infernal Affairs?! Why yes, Martin Fucking Scorcese Is Re-Making Infernal Fucking Affairs, with Jack Fucking Nicholson, Mark Fucking Wahlberg, Martin Fucking Sheen, and Alec Fucking Baldwin. This will either be inhumanly awesome or the end of Scorcese’s career. (It will probably depend on whether he manages to discover the missing second act in the original’s unique “preface… preface… more preface… surprise, denouement!” story structure.) He’s got my $10 either way.
Children of Men — I swear to god, for the first half of this trailer, I thought I was seeing an ad for “Half-Life 2: The Movie”, starring Clive Owen as Gordon Freeman, Julianne Moore as Alyx Vance and Michael Caine as Dr. Eli Vance. And it looked great and I wanted to cheer: they’ve finally made a great movie out of a video game! Then just at the 50% mark, everything ran off the rails: it’s not Half-Life. Blah blah blah, lame SF scenario by obvious first-time SF writer. Blah blah blah, embarrassingly trite racial politics practically wafting off the screen. Blah blah blah, complete waste of Chiwetel Ejiofor. Also complete waste of Alfonso Cuarón in additon to all aforementioned actors. Hope everyone got paid well, won’t be giving you my money, thanks.
Jet Li: Fearless — allegedly Li’s final martial arts film, His Most Utter Expressionlessness returns to save China from, of course, a large roundeye wrestler. It looks verrrrrrrry suspiciously like Drunken Master II with Crouching Tiger’s budget, but… you know, now that I think of it, Drunken Master II with Couching Tiger’s budget sounds like a great idea. Fine, sold.
Oh right, the actual movie:
Um, embarrassingly enough: kinda good. Occasionally even awesome. Probably the most well-crafted dumb testosterone movie since Ronin. It totally channeled the complete silliness, plot-wise, of any given episode of the old TV series into a perfectly formed jewel of lowbrow filmmaking. Fast cars, boats and planes zoomed around. Unfeasibly competent men and women killed each other with grim intensity. Hard-boiled dialog was doled out in bite-sized chunks. Large weapons went boom. Gong Li rocked an Armani women’s suit like it has not been rocked in a very, very long time. Jamie Foxx performed similar amounts of rocking merely with a goatee. The plot made not a lick of sense on close examination and you Did. Not. Care. At. All.
It’s not perfect in the way that Ronin was; there are a couple serious flaws. Foxx and Farrell were good on their own merits, but together never sold their rapport in the same way that Don Johnson and Philip Thomas did. For as little dialogue as the movie had, it had a lot of clunker lines, percentage-wise. Casting Domenick Lombardozzi as Switek was great on the one hand, but bad on the other because it kept reminding you of The Wire and hence (a) making me expect that the plot would make more sense, and (b) making me keep wondering where the heck Carver was. But all in all? A good use of $10.
…except it ended up being free, because some dipshit pulled the fire alarm at the Metreon mid-way through the movie, and we all got to shuffle outside the theater for 20 minutes midway through until the SFFD gave the all-clear. Which could have been a huge pain in the ass but intstead ended up being a perfectly timed intermission — more proof that they need to revive that particular tradition.
Went to see “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” last night. Whether we liked it or not, there were previews. Mostly, “not”.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby — In theory, a satire on NASCAR culture with Will Farrell, Sacha Cohen and John C. Reilly should be something I’d get excited about. Then again, in theory I should have been the target market for “The Anchorman” and “Old School”, and damned if I could motivate myself to see either of those.
Transformers — I… I… er… what? On the plus side: John Rogers has a big fat script credit on it and he’s a nice guy who I like to see getting work. On the minus side: why, god, why?
The Guardian — Hey, it’s Kevin Costner in a big-bugdet action movie set mostly in the water! We all know that’s a sure thing, right? Right? Seriously, this looked awful: a lifeless mismash of “A Perfect Storm” and “Dead Poets Society”, starring the ever-pretty and ever-miscast Ashton Kutchner as Costner’s hot-shot protege in… blah blah blah, asleep already. Move on.
…and I think that was it, actually. Not exactly a bumper crop, but considering that Pirates is a Disney movie, I count myself lucky that we didn’t have to sit through half an hour of trailers for Disney’s latest straight-to-video animation releases. (Cinderella III: This Time, It’s War!)
Edit: Oops, I completely forgot about A Night at the Museum, which I guess is pretty indicative. A middling-cute concept (everything in the New York Museum of Natural History comes to life after dark), and a lot of decent talent, but it looks like it will probably try to Warm Your Heart This Christmas, which is a duty that sane people normally assign to bourbon.
Oh, and the movie?
Feh. Save your money. It’s not completely horrible, just…not very good. The first movie was a hair over 2 hours long and felt like it was 90 minutes. “Dead Man’s Chest” is two and a half hours long and feels like it lasts slightly longer than the Battle of Thermopylae… and at the end of the slog, it turns out to have been a 150-minute teaser for the third movie. There are some genuinely entertaining moments, but they’re all deeply buried inside a film that’s self-consciously trying to one-up its predecessor in every scene. Hey, if a two-way swordfight in a barn was fun in the first movie, we’d better have a three-way swordfight on a rolling water wheel in this one! That’ll be 50% more entertaining, right?
Also: remember how the first movie sorta skirted the edge of crappy racial stereotyping but mostly managed to avoid it, or at least give the impression that the director was trying to avoid it? Um, not so much here. Bring on the ooga-booga-ing cannibal natives! In fact, bring them on for half an hour, in a sequence that took the plot exactly nowhere. Sigh.
In short: it tried a little to haAARRRRRRRRRRd, and needed an editaRRRRRRRRRRR, badly.
Things that in my entire life I would never have expected to see anywhere, much less less than ten feet in front of me:
Brigitte Nielsen, passionately kissing Flava Flav.
…but I guess that it’s no weirder than going to a Public Enemy / Living Colour show in NYC and realizing that the median age of the audience is probably somewhere in the vicinity of 35. Which in turn is no weirder than realizing that even the 35-year-olds in the audience are a decade younger than Chuck D.
Well, actually, I take it back. Flav tongue-kissing Red Sonja is still the weirdest of all of those things.
So, yeah, I’m old, my peer group is old, and the hot/edgy/controversial bands we liked in high school are also: old. So what do you do when your gold records are a decade behind you, Rolling Stone is no longer calling you for commentary on current political events, bald spots outnumber bare chests at your shows, and nobody under the age of 25 even knows your name anymore? Well, hopefully you suck it up, screw it on, and put on a monster show regardless, which is exactly what PE and LC did last night.
I’d never personally seen Public Enemy in concert before, so I’ve got jack to compare it to other than a dim memory of them playing Saturday Night Live. Still…they pulled it off like an old prizefighter who never got the message that his day was done. Most of that is down to Mr. Chuck D: he’s got a voice like an old testament prophet, the stage presence to match, still bounces around like a jackrabbit, and had enough respect for the audience to work PE’s back catalog with both enthusiasm for the old beats and enough embellishments to keep the attention hooked. Does “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” still rock? Yes, yes it does. Did a James Brown-style funk breakdown of “Fight the Power” work? Yes, yes indeed. Was a 5-minute long audience participation chant of “FUCK GEORGE BUSH” necessary? Hell yes. Res ipsa loquitor.
The “Security of the First World” dancers/bodyguards/whatever were kinda cool/menacing in 1989 when there were like twelve of them: the 2004 incarnation of the band is down to two, still wearing the same grey jumpsuits and striking the same poses, and suddenly seem a lot more Devo than Huey Newton. Terminator X is long-gone, but “DJ Lord” stood in well enough. Professor Griff is still onstage, doing…whatever it is that he does. (Seriously? Anyone? I mean other than stand uncomfortably and think bad things about Jews?)
And Flava Flav was, of course, beamed in direct from planet Neptune.
So yeah, after a good 90 minute set from PE, Chuck and the rest of the band cleared off, leaving us, the unsuspecting audience… alone with Flava Flav. And his three children. And Brigitte Nielsen. See, apparently, Flav and Brigitte now have their own reality TV show, called “Mad Love”. And this concert was to feature in an upcoming episode. So for a good 20 minutes after the set, we were treated to Flav canoodling onstage with Brigitte, introducing his kids, attempting to play a drum solo, trying to lure DJ Lord back onstage, trying (and failing) to play a beat on Lord’s turntables on his own, having his oldest daughter mercifully shut down the turntable, giving a shout-out to his ex-wife (who apparently was in the audience) and then doing about half of “Can’t Do Nuthin For Ya Man” a capella before being coaxed offstage by Living Colour’s road crew, who were not-very-patiently waiting in the wings to set up.
Oh, and did I mention that Brigitte was wearing fake all-gold Flava Flav teeth? And speaking with a lisp because of them? I could not make this stuff up if I tried.
How do you follow an act like that? There is only one answer: pretend it didn’t happen. Which is exactly what Living Colour did, thank all the gods.
I last saw LC live about two years ago at Summerstage in Central Park, which was actually their first live show in something like 7 years. For a variety of reasons, it basically stank. Part of it was that the audience was awful: most of them were there to see the opening act (Asian Dub Foundation) and they left in droves once Living Colour was on. But mostly it was the band: they sounded like… well, they sounded like a band that hadn’t played together in nearly a decade, which is exactly what they were. Vernon looked kinda embarrassed about the whole thing, and poor Corey’s theatrics couldn’t connect with a rapidly departing audience that was mostly still in grade school the last time he’d had a gold single.
This show was…not like that. The band was inhumanly tight from two years of touring and cutting a new album together. Vernon Reid tends to get most of the musical attention for the group for his “video arcade on fire” art-skronk guitar shredding, but for my money there may be no better rhythm section in the world right now than Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish. From the opening crunch of “Type” through the final, inevitable encore of “Cult of Personality”, they didn’t let up for one instant.
(Well, except for the new, Wimbish-penned “Terrorism”, about which the less said the better.)
An interesting consequence of going to a rap/metal show where there is basically nobody under the age of 25 in the audience: even when the band onstage is pounding your lights out, it’s almost… relaxing. No fights. No attitude. No teenage testosterone bullshit. Even the brief appearance of a slam pit during “Cult” was all smiles and happy nostalgia. Age has its privileges.
After the encore, the band hung around onstage to sign autographs and shoot the shit with their fans: a class finale to an excellent night.
Walking over to the Loews 34th Street cinema last night in order to go see “Shaun of the Dead” with a bunch of the usual miscreants, Miranda and I were stopped in our tracks… well, I was stopped in my tracks, and Miranda put up with the delay, by a truly weird sight:
Nick Danger? Nick Danger? That can’t be…Nick Danger, Third Eye…can it?
My first thought: someone had finally put together the money to make a feature-length Firesign Theatre film. But that would be insane, not to mention unlikely. Plus, there’s that disurbing URL: Wear Nick Danger? Huh?
Well, it turns out that this “Nick Danger” is a line of… and I emphasize that I am not making this up… really ugly retro-70s argyle sweaters. Oh well, I guess it’s about the right era…
Last week, the lovely
What can I say about the film itself that hasn’t already been said? Visually stunning, sumptiously beautiful, grippingly kinetic, a triumph of the director’s craft, a rare example of Jet Li’s affectlessness being turned to useful narrative effect, a creepy implicit endorsement of hostile modern Chinese imperialist policy in re Tibet, Nepal, Xin Xiang and Taiwan… it’s all of that and more, wrapped up in some of the most gorgeous cinematography ever, and if you haven’t seen it yet… you should.
But of course: apres cinema, le blurbs. Well, actually first were the now-standard 15 minutes of commercials, about which I remember blessedly little save for a stunningly ill-considered spot for Coca-Cola C2, set to Queen’s “I Want To Break Free,” which technically speaking dug up Freddie Mercury’s corpse and repeatedly violated it. But once we’d rinsed out our eyesockets, we were treated to a series of quick teasers for…
After The Sunset — Otherwise known as “Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek file the serial numbers off of ‘Out of Sight’ and hope that no one notices.” But you know what? That’s kinda okay, because Salma is easily twice the actress that Jennifer Lopez is, even slumming, and Pierce Brosnan was George Clooney before George Clooney was. And hey look, they even stole Don Cheadle, which is also good because, duh, more Don Cheadle. Any movie that keeps Don Cheadle in the national consciousness by definition increases the odds of another Easy Rawlins movie getting made and is therefore good. Only cause for concern: directed by Brett “Dude, can you believe they let me remake Manhunter?” Rattner. In fact, it’s “A BRETT RATTNER MOVIE,” suggesting that somewhere, someone somehow thinks that this is a selling point.
The Aviator — Okay, could someone please figure out a way to break whatever occult hold that Leonardo DiCaprio has on otherwise sensible A-list directors? I’m willing to concede that “Gangs of New York” was an honest and well-intentioned misfire (and that as awful as Leo was in it, Cameron Diaz was worse), but there’s no excuse for making the same mistake twice. (Especially since Martin Scorcese is, as far as I know, straight.) But hey, it’s set in the 20s and 30s, so I might go see it just for the costumes.
Silver City — Four years ago, on the occasion of the coronation of George Bush the Second, my friend Satoshi opined that if there were any upside to the whole debacle, it was that punk bands were always better during conservative administrations. And lo and behold: a mostly-not-embarrassing explosion of garage punk bands, and a non-suckass album from Bad Religion. (Where’s our Dead Kennedys reunion though?) Is this relevant? Well, it’s been kind of a while since John Sayles made a movie that I felt compelled to see for any reason other than political solidarity, but this one looks like a corker. Blame Bush? Happily. Bonus: Kris Krisofferson being eeeeevil. No one does eeeevil like Kris.
Alexander — Colin Farrell’s bid for Russell Crowe-style sword-and-toga commercial domination. Well, he’s certainly got the pecs for it, but it takes more than looking good shirtless to survive starring in a late-period Oliver Stone flick: just ask Woody Harrellson. The trailer breathlessly informed us that Alexander of Macedonia was (in order) a: Warrior, King, Lover (cue dewy shots of Angelina Jolie and Rosario Dawson), Seeker, Conqueror, and Savior, but somehow seemed to lose track of the whole Raging Poofter angle, which diminishes my interest in the film significantly.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — Ten thousand special effects technicans. One omnipresent bluescreen. A first-time director and screenwriter. No discernable script. Multiple obvious telltale Kiss of Death indicators, chief among them the presence of Angelina Jolie and the enthusiasm of Harry Knowles. Will I see it? Duh, it stars Angelina Jolie and Jude Law. I may have to wear headphones in the theatre, but I’ll be there, don’t worry. I am not proud.
Hm. Low general snark level this time. I’ll try harder in the future, I promise.