Saturday, February 11, 2006

Album Preview

Artist: The Flaming Lips
Album: At War With The Mystics

Finally, it's here. Well, it'll be here in April, but I have it now. I think this album was supposed to come out last summer, and it got pushed back a number of times, and now it's here. I would be shocked if this wasn't their most successful album. Not their best. But it seems like it might be the most accessible, especially in a world where indie isn't strange anymore. But even today, this sounds easier to digest than Yoshimi or The Soft Bulletin.

It'll take me awhile to formulate a final opinion on this one, but I like what I'm hearing so far. I've always enjoyed the Lips, ever snce Transmissions From The Satellite Heart. The music is always evolving and interesting, and the live shows are a blast. To me, Wayne Coyne is just an immensely likeable guy.

I hope this album sells really well, these guys have been around forever and are due for that kind of success. I suppose you can argue that they became pretty successful after Yoshimi, but I think they have a chance to become even bigger with this album.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

About Those Grammys...

I was impressed as well. The awards were shit, of course, but there were some great and surprisingly innovative performances. The opening with Gorillaz and Madonna looked great. Kanye and Jamie Foxx put on a fun show. Paul McCartney and Sly Stone where great as well. How badass was Sly? Coldplay, however, were embarrassingly bad.

The best moment for me came when the Jay-Z/Linkin Park performance segued into "Yesterday" and Paul McCartney came out on stage with them. Amazing!

Here are some links to watch the performances. You'll have to copy and paste. I'll update when more are available.


Kanye West:

Paul McCartney:

Jay-Z/Linkin Park/Paul McCartney:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Grammys 2, Ben 0

I officially revoke my previous post about the Grammys being "incredibly tepid and predictable."
Well, 95% of the show still was tepid and predictable, but, two performances of the night blew my mind. First, Paul McCartney broke out of his usual AARP-pleasing mode and cranked out the White Album classic "Helter Skelter." Paul fucking rocked. He actually screamed like he was 24 again and like his legacy meant something to him. I was grinning like an idiot the entire time. Second, during a Sly and The Family Stone tribue, Sly Stone dramatically came on stage in long silver coat and blonde mohawk to perform his band's classic "I Want To Take You Higher." This is amazing because Sly Stone has been a recluse for the last 20+ years. He literally has not been seen by the Syd Barrett of funk music. Once again, I was grinning and flabbergasted by the Grammys. Thank you CBS for proving me wrong.

My Year in Film - Part 3

9 Songs

This should have been the most controversial film of the year, but perhaps it was so controversial that the press didn't want to cover it. And it really shouldn't have been controversial, because it's just sex. It's not pornography, it's art...right. But it's very real sex. You see everything that you wouldn't see in a conventional film. It has a respected director in Michael Winterbottom (Wonderland, 24 Hour Party People), and two unknown actors.

The plot is basically that this guy is a British geologist, returns home to London, meets a girl at a concert, they go home and have sex, see each other at another concert, go home and have sex, go to another concert, have sex, talk about life, have sex, etc etc. The sex isn't tasteless, just graphic. It's pretty hot, too, and it's more like the sex regular people have, unlike in pornography. The problem, however, is that the movie isn't very good. The acting is average at best, and the concerts are filmed poorly, as if you yourself just held a camera from the middle of the audience. Performers include Franz Ferdinand, Super Furry Animals, the Dandy Warhols, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the Von Bondies.

But I'm not sure that showing such graphic sex was essential the plot, and without it, the film would be quite boring and very short. An interesting experiment, though.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My Year in Film - Part 2

It was a good year for the comic book adaptation. I've never been into reading comics, even as a child, but I've always enjoyed seeing them brought to life, from television shows to cartoons to movies. Something about the format disagrees with me-- I can't help but just start looking at the pictures and skipping several frames ahead, skipping over the dialogue. That's my problem, but in essence they are just stories like any novel or even screenplay, for that matter. And because comics are inherently so visual, they just happen to make great movies.

In my opinion, a great adaptation (novel, comic, magazine article, play, television show, etc.) tells a complete story without giving you the feeling that something was left out. Three of my favorites from 2005:

Sin City
This was undoubtedly the most entertaining film of the year. One of those rare movies that almost leaves you breathless with excitement. Hyper-violent, of course, but in the same fun, over-the-top way as something like Kill Bill. Having taken a look at the original artwork, it's remarkable how Robert Rodriguez was able to copy the book almost frame-by-frame. It's even more interesting to know that the actors essentially just worked in front of a green screen, often without any other actors around. I'd known that all the backgrounds/effects were digital, but to know that the actors didn't always interact with each other his surprising, considering how fluid the performances are. And on top of all that, the film wasn't that expensive. It makes you wonder about something like King Kong needed such a big budget.

A History of Violence
I didn't really know anything about this movie before I saw it. I'd just heard that the reviews were good and few people I knew had seen it and really liked it. I was surprised, then, to learn during the credits that it was a comic (sorry, graphic novel) adaptation. I sometimes forget that comics aren't always about superheroes and the like. They can be human stories, like American Splendor or Ghost World. Although, what this film does share in common with other comics is its violence. There are only a few scenes of it, but it is certainly graphic when it's there. And in a way, Viggo's character is kind of like a real-life super hero, saving his family and several of his customers. A History of Violence also features one of the year's unique yet extremely erotic sex scenes.

Batman Begins
Back to a conventional comic. We all know that the last couple Batman films had been terrible. What's so great about this film is that it treats its characters like real people. This is something that the recent comic book films have done so successfully (X-Men, Hulk, Spider-Man). While Batman and Batman Returns are great, fun movies, they still seem to be treating the material as strange and highly stylized. The universe of the previous Batman movies is completely unlike our own, whereas Batman Begins and the other adaptations I mentioned all seem like they could be going on in our world with us noticing it. It was also nice to see Chicago play Gotham this time around, not New York. There's nothing dark or scary about Manhattan anymore-- unless shopping really frightens you.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My Year in Film - Part 1

Through the rest of this week, I'm going to take a look back at the year in film. Today we're focusing on the year's most disappointing (not necessarily the worst) films.

Gaper's Block
Oddly enough, two of the year's most overhyped films both have the word "Crash" in their title. Crash and Wedding Crashers. I had no desire to see either of these movies in the theater, and I'm glad I didn't. But I'd been hearing people (including many people I usually trust) singing the praises of both of these wrecks.

I'll start with Crash, the most manipulative film this side of Michael Moore. What an unbelievable piece of shit. Shameful. Offensive. Racist. These characters were all perfect, oversimplified stereotypes. The misunderstood "Arab", the reformed Hispanic, the upper class and intelligent blacks, racist and conflicted white cops, suspicious upper class whites, "weird" Asians, etc. Look, I have no problem with unbelievable characters in a movie, because I understand that movies are fictional. And this movie is fictional. But if it's going to attempt to present a true slice of American life, at least do it accurately. When this movie was over, I was angry, not because of all the racism and intolerance in our society, but because this movie only furthered the stereotypes it portrays. These so-called caricatures are put on display. Are you familiar with minstrel shows?

Don't tell me I'm missing the point. I understand the point, and this issue can be handled well. Please, for the love of God, see Do the Right Thing immediately to cleanse yourself of this atrocity. That film tackles racial tension unlike any other, and makes Crash look laughable.

Wedding Crashers
I hate Vince Vaughn. Let's get that out of the way. But he doesn't really interfere in my enjoyment of movies. I liked him Anchorman, Old School, Dodgeball, and even the sequel to Jurassic Park. And of course he was excellent in Swingers. Something about this guy just rubs me the wrong way. Again, it doesn't always affect the film. And it doesn't affect this film, either. The problem with this movie is that it missed the mark entirely.

The premise is perfect for a buddy comedy. These two guys go to weddings to meet chicks who will be in the mood for love. Fair enough. And this is executed fairly well for the first 20-30 minutes of the film before it falls apart and becomes a horribly cliched and boring movie.

It starts with Owen Wilson and Vaughn as divorce arbitrators. Now that's interseting. Why isn't this used at all in the rest of the film? Too bad. Another problem is that Wilson is supposed to play the straight man, but he's never really been good at that. He's too quirky and then you've got two weird characters on your hands, which might be fine for most movies, but considering how dull this film becomes in the second half, it's just out of place.

My main problem with this film, however, is that everyone was telling me how hilarious it was. I love the funny, don't get me wrong. I own Mean Girls, for Christ's sake. But this movie, like Coldplay, was nothing more than average.