Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 20 Favorite Albums of 2012

So I have all my mixes in the mail, it's time to do this. Whenever the year comes to a close and I decide to do something like this I always remember Roger Ebert's idea about quantifying art into lists like this: well, I forget the actual quote but I will paraphrase: it's next to impossible and the list is bound to change as the year/years go by. (I refer you to my lengthy Honorable Mentions list)  I'll be saying pretty much the exact same thing when I do my movie one. That being said, I will say this: this is a list of MY favorite albums of the past year not the BEST albums or anything like that, just the ones that stuck with me the most. But I guess that sort of goes without saying.

20) Archie Powell and The Exports-Great Ideas In Action

Great Elvis Costello and the Attractions-esque power pop from Chicago.

19) Screaming Females - Ugly
Punchy indie rock and scratchy post punk forged in the basement shows of New Brunswick, NJ. Sounds like Dinosaur Jr. and Woods-era Sleater-Kinney had a baby.

18) Tame Impala - Lonerism
Sad bastard lyrics set to a joyous mix of British pop, sorta metal, and pinch of 70's psychedelia. If you have the chance to see these guys live they make a righteous noise.

17) Frightened Rabbit - State Hospital EP
Speaking of sad bastard music, the first of two Scottish representatives on this list, and neither of them are from Edinborough like I thought. This pretty much a stopgap release for their full length that is coming out in 2013. If this is any indication then it should be really good, they are on a major label and seem to be on a precipice of sorts. It's still sad, and it's still loud, and it's still really great.

16) The Twlight Sad - No One Can Even Know
And here's the other Scottish band...and coming from the same line of U.K. miserabilism as Frightened Rabbit. There seems to be something to the Scottish sound these days and The Twilight Sad follows suit: it's full and loud and but never quite as noisy as the first two albums, if that makes any sense.

15) El-P - Cancer For Cure
The ever controversial El-P: there seems to be quite a divide with him in that people really like him or really hate him without too much gray area. I happen to like both his rhymes and his production, and hence his spot on the list.

14) Nas - Life Is Good
This might be weird seeing that this Nas' eleventh(!) studio album, but to me it seems to be his most fully realized one in a long time, or at least the first in a while to resonate with me. It's interesting too, to look at this from the spectrum of Illmatic when he was young and hungry to now where he talks, without being corny, about his divorce and trying to raise a daughter in this world. It shouldn't be like this but it ends up working out perhaps way better than it should have. Nas steps into the next chapter in his life with crisp rhymes and tighter production and newish, grownup worldview.

13) Jack White - Blunderbuss
Jack White's solo debut has been written about a LOT this year so there's not much else to say except that Jack White who should have worn out his welcome a long time ago, keeps making really good music.

12) Divine Fits - A Thing Called The Divine Fits
Oooh! Indie rock supergroup with members of Spoon, Wolf Parade, and the New Bomb Turks (remember them?!) make a really good, really catchy album.

11) King Tuff - King Tuff
Vermont native makes an album of garage rock, distortion-heavy indie rock, that tries to channel glam rock and tries to bring people back to the age of T.Rex when people danced to guitar rock. Plus he sings songs about hanging out alone and getting stoned. Fun stuff.

10) Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky
You know, I get this rep that I don't like old people. Not true! It's just like anything else: depends on the person. J. Mascis just turned 47 this year and put out an album that rocks, and it's great. So, there you go.

9) White Rabbits - Milk Famous
This might be weird to notice but the White Rabbits have one of the best percussion...sections(?) I'm not sure what you call it, but when I saw them live they had more than one drummer with a bunch of different types of drums and man it sounded so great.

8) The Evens - The Odds
Speaking of old people, Ian MacKaye might be even older than J. Mascis, so there. That being said, Ian Mackaye and Amy Farina put out their best album yet of minimalist....I dunno, indie rock?

7) The Future Of The Left - The Plot Against Common Sense
The sarcastic, funny,  noisy band that is trying to fill in the void left by The Jesus Lizard.

6) Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
I am super glad that Frank Ocean has become the most successful member of the Odd Future crew because he deserves it. Soulful R&B delivered from outer space that sidesteps every major radio trend to create something truly unique in the neo-soul game.

5) Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Killer Mike comes with his Southern-fried, anti-everything point-of-view and wall-of-sound production from El-P and it ends up working really well.

4) Action Bronson - Blue Chips
To me this is the better of the two mix tapes (I think here were just two) Action Bronson dropped in 2012. This is the one where the beats are tighter, and Bronson's rhymes are as good as they always are. It's always funny that someone that sounds like Ghostace and looks like me brings back some of that old-school NYC flavor. He's about to drop his major label debut and I can't be more excited for more from him.

3) ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Lost Songs
I'm not sure of Trail of Dead will ever again reach the rarified heights of Source Tags and Codes but this is the album that has come closest. I'll go out on a limb and say that it might be their best album since Source Tags. Maybe the lead singer should go off and live in Cambodia more often and then keep coming back to the States with albums this good and this strong.

2) Titus Andronicus - Local Business
Bearded Clash fans from New Jersey make an awesome and misanthropic noise.

1) Japandroids - Celebration Rock
These things always  take me by surprise, but I was surprised at how popular these guys became this year. Just two best friends from Vancouver making a big noise with an album that barely lasts 35 minutes. I mean I was surprised when I went to see them and they were sold out. Oh, If you ever have the chance to see them live I can't recommend it more highly, their live show is great, especially considering there is only two of them. It's fun to see and hear two BFF's rocking out. And to think they were close to calling it quits after their last album.

Honorable Mentions:

The Alchemist-Vodka & Ayahuasca
KA-Grief Pedigree
Ceremony-Zoo
Men-Open Your Heart
Tragedy-Darker Days Ahead
The Coup-Sorry To Bother You
The XX-Coexist
Nude Beach-Nude Beach II
Royal Headache-Royal Headache
  Oddisee-People Hear What They See
Alabama Shakes-Boys and Girls
Himanshu-Nehru Jackets
Big Boi-Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors


-Kevin


Monday, December 24, 2012

Two for One

This Is 40 (2012)
Judd Apatow is in serious need of either an editor or an editor than put his or her foot down to tighten up his movies.  I didn't hate this as much as other people seemed to, although it was meandering, funny in places, and ultimately wore out it's welcome with an ending that is way too abrupt. What's funny, not haha funny, is Judd Apatow's sensibility is definitely entrenched with what the problems the upper crust in Los Angeles are up to. These people are struggling with money, but the question isn't whether or not they are going to be able to make it to their next meal, but whether their boutique or independent record label is going to go under. But a little bit of Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCArthy, Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd, and Lena Dunham helps make things go a bit further here than they might have with a different cast. At first, and perhaps in the beginning, I thought this was a somewhat interesting look at relationships as people get older, but this premise gets pulled to it's breaking point by never really having a point. I mean, people in relationships can see bits and pieces of their relationship here in the central relationship, but ultimately it's all pretty flimsy.

The Ref (1994)
Tina was surprised to hear that I had never seen this as it's something she had fond memories of. So after we got home yesterday we decided to watch it. I was formulating an entry the other day that never came to fruition in real life about the best non-Christmas Christmas movies (like Die Hard and Gremlins). I think The Ref probably wouldn't make the top 5 of these but it was definitely amusing, coming out at a time when Denis Leary was right on top of things. It's never quite surprising, but it definitely had it's moments, and was a nice holiday trifle all the same.

-Kevin

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2012)

This was a close one. I've seen Dan In Real Life and it was a testament to how good Steve Carrell is that he came away from that movie relatively unscathed. This...well, it was close (I am sure he was worried) but again, because he's so likable that he comes out looking better than you would expect. And definitely better than other people would in this movie. It's an interesting conceit: basically it starts off with the mission from Armageddon failing, a massive asteroid that's going to crash into the earth, and sets up basically what becomes a romantic dramedy. It's different because everyone in the world has only 21 days left to live. But it's the same because Keira Knightley is annoying Manic Pixie Dream Girl type. Although I couldn't just tell if it was that or just straight quirky British. But she did not seem like someone (SPOILER) who Steve Carrell who fall madly in love with right before the world gets destroyed. Although maybe that's the point, you grasp onto anything when everything is about go kaput. I will say there were a lot comedian cameos in here I enjoyed, and I thought the conceit was good, and the ending....well I was surprised where it went at least. But besides Carrell, the main relationship left me cold and just...well, waiting for the end, so to speak. But this is was an okay distraction while eating Chinese food on a Monday night.


-Kevin

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Saturday Night Double Feature

Killing Them Softly (2012)
I know the phrase "in these economic times" or some variation thereof have become something of a joke. But Killing Them Softly is definitely a really cynical, crime noir where all the criminals in one way or the other are being affected by the recession. In this case it takes place in 2008 before, during, and after the election so the economic shit has just hit the fan, so to speak. Between bursts of fairly brutal violence, criminals have long talks with each other, everyone from the lowest on the totem pole to the top brass enforcers, are having trouble economically or personally. This isn't the issue though, the issue is that it is so heavy handed, the soundbites from the politicians at the time are one thing (although it seems a little much that a bunch of gangsters would conveniently have CNN on to George W. Bush speech about the economic collapse during a robbery that provides the narrative momentum for the whole movie. I'm not a gangster though, so what do I know?) But then right before the end Brad Pitt gives a small speech to Richard Jenkins ONCE AGAIN hitting the nail too squarely on the head. It's interesting in that it is definitely not your average gangster movie, it definitely aspires to be more, I'm just not sure it hits the heights that it is going for. The Richard Jenkins rule is in effect here: anything he is in is automatically 20% better because he is in it. And it was really weird to see Max Casella, Vinnie Delpine from Doogie Howser, MD, lay a vicious beatdown on Ray Liotta which seems to last forever.

Hitchcock (2012)
I was excited for this: Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, a movie about one of my favorite if not my favorite directors, and the making of Psycho, one of my favorite movies. And everyone is actually pretty good (although Scarlett Johansson playing Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel playing Vera Miles seems like a weird, cosmic joke) Patton Oswalt once had a routine (one which I 'd post but can't seem to find a copy of it online) on his first album about biopics and basically how filmmakers have to try and graft a narrative onto a life which often has no real narrative of their own. I mean there was something there with Alfred Hitchcock and his making of Psycho and when the film focuses on that it's really interesting-although I think his obsession with Ed Gein is overstated here. He was obsessed with making a good movie for sure, but this whole fantasy he creates in the movie talking to Ed Gein seems off to me. But the film keeps focusing on his relationship with his wife, Alma, and whether or not there is infidelities there and what not, and even though Hopkins and Mirren are, as usual, good, and I know that Alma had a hand in helping Hitch with all of his movie-every time they would focus on Hitchcock's marriage instead of the actual making of Psycho, I , well, I just didn't care. I see what they are trying to do, but no disrespect to Alma Hitchcock, I want to see how the director crafted this thing, and its sort of in there but gets sidetracked way too much. It's too bad, I thought with the focus just on Hitchcock and the making of Psycho the filmmakers might be able to not fall into the trap of so many biopics, not focusing on a life but just a smaller part of one seems like the way to go. But they couldn't focus on the part that interested me the most, so yeah, I feel like it was a lost opportunity. On the flip side the book they based the movie on: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making Of Psycho is really good if you are interested in that sort of thing.

-Kevin

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

25/50 - The Final Countdown



Yo yo yo, it’s ya boy Perspicacious P aka tha Vanilla Thrilla aka Black Tiger Woods aka White Falcon aka P-Euro. It’s been a hot minute since I last stepped to y’all, I apologize. Sometimes you run the game, sometimes the game runs you. And in the end, the game is a motherfucker

Enough of my trials and tribulations, however, it’s time to get down to some reviews. In the many months since I last saw you, I ended up finishing my quota of 25 books, and only 17 were them Shel Silverstein joints. I even got to 30, and would have had a couple beyond that, but the shitass mailman seems to always misplace my orders from Amazon. I’ve lost three books and a t-shirt, although the t-shirt was a case of me entering the wrong address online. But still. I got like one number wrong. If I see some guy in my apartment complex wearing an Ireland t-shirt, he will get questioned, you best believe that.

OK, on to the wisdom. Due to the sheer number of things reviewed, we’re going Twitter-style. Which is probably good since most of you are Americans and barely have the attention span to get through the first eight minutes of the Real Housewives of Jersey Shore or whatever is hot on TV these days.

Books:

The Brooklyn Follies – Paul Auster (Book 21 of 25)

Read this in like one night it was hella good. I was going through a NYC obsession and felt well-sated when it was done.

Moonwalking with Einsten – Joshua Foer (Book 22 of 25)

Read this for a book club that I never joined. It's about the power of memory or some shit but I forgot the rest.

Winter Journal – Paul Auster (Book 23 of 25)

Paul Auster's autobiography -- well-written and engrossing but he was sort of a douche toward women and totally glossed over an abortion.

Unfamiliar Fishes – Sarah Vowell (Book 24 of 25)

Vowell brings the heat again in a book about white settlers in Hawaii. Kind of a sad story, but hey, Hawaii is a state now!

The Big Rewind – Nathan Rabin (Book 25 of 25)

Raw autobiography of a dude who lived in a group home, but he forced a few too many pop culture references in that got a bit distracting.

Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Book 26 of 25)

Mystery/love story that takes place in post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona. The amazing writing and ill story had me from the jump.

Kingdom of Shadows – Alan Furst (Book 27 of 25)

Another book about shadows! This time a WWII spy novel! Shit was pretty fucked up back then!

Spies of the Balkans – Alan Furst (Book 28 of 25)

Another WWII spy novel, but it took place in the Balkans, so it was even more fucked up!

Night Soldiers – Alan Furst (Book 29 of 30)

More spies! More Balkans! More WWII! More fucked up shit!


Movies!!!111!!!

Matrix Revolutions (Movie 31 of 50)

Finally saw it like 10 years late -- not nearly as bad as everyone said it would be. The lesson: always set the bar low in life!

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Movie 32 of 50)

What I liked most about this was how realistic it was.

American Flyers (Movie 33 of 50)

A movie about cycling whose most memorable character was Kevin Costner's mustache.

Quicksilver (Movie 34 of 50)

I don't know what the odds were of me seeing two movies about bike messengers in 2012, but apparently they were pretty high. Kevin Bacon!

Iron Man 2 (Movie 35 of 50)

I don't remember anything about this movie but I bet it was better than 2 Girls 1 Cup although 2G1C did have a dope soundtrack.

Michael Clayton (Movie 36 of 50)

As if society needed more proof, a George Clooney thriller about how lawyers are all douche bags. Why didn't I go to law school again?

Taken 2 (Movie 37 of 50)

Slightly more believable than Crank 2.

Thirteen Days (Movie 38 of 50)

Movie about Cuban Missile Crisis but, more importantly, Kevin Costner's character has the same last name as me.

Cloud Atlas (Movie 39 of 50)

Watching Inception backwards in Icelandic would have made more sense than this, although it was still slightly more believable than Crank 2.

Argo (Movie 40 of 50)

Ben Affleck has really fallen off since the days of Gigli and Bennifer.

Wreck-It Ralph (Movie 41 of 50)

More believable than Taken 2.

Skyfall (Movie 42 of 50)

Didn't quite match the hype, but I still enjoyed it. Not enough of Daniel Craig in a speedo imho.

Chasing Mavericks (Movie 43 of 50)

I was disappointed because when I heard it was a surfing movie, I thought it was about the internet.

Silver Linings Playbook (Movie 44 of 50)

Maybe my favorite movie of the year. I will hopefully write a longer review on this soon. Great writing/acting/directing.

So there ya go people. I still have to watch six movies this year, and I hope they are that Seth Rogen/Barbra Streisand movie six times in a row.

We out. 






Monday, December 3, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)


This is an interesting and positive example of how formula, especially formula in a romantic comedy, can work. We all know that rom-coms, for the most part, are played out and predictable but if done right, those crowd pleasing moments can feel earned and not done cheaply. This is the case with the Silver Linings Playbook. If done badly, it could have been groan-worthy, but it earns the place it is trying to go to. Sure, it is David O. Russell at his most crowd-pleasing but obviously he can pull that off (see also The Fighter). Actually, the more I think about it, while it definitely has a good dose of comedy within, it probably leans more to the dramatic side anyway. It's mostly about broken people, some with real mental health issues, meeting and connecting.  This oversimplified description may sound awful, but in Russell's hands it works. It helps that he found some good, unlikely actors to carry it all out. I was probably most surprised by Bradley Cooper's performance. We've all seen movies with characters with mental illnesses that are just a checklist of symptoms and tics but Bradley Cooper here, in a surprise to me, actually makes this character a person with mental illness and not just one giant, overacted tic.  Also good here: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Tucker, and even Robert De Niro who seems to come alive in a way that he hasn't acted in years. Yeah, in the end the whole thing might be as manipulative as the next rom-com, but I don't think you'll feel cheated by it.

-Kevin

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rolling Thunder (1977)

I have been trying to see this movie for a while. It's actually not readily available yet on DVD, so when I had some free time on a Sunday evening and saw that it was on our cable's On Demand, so I decided to go for it. Quentin Tarantino has long cited it as one of his top ten (or 12) movies, even as recently as this year when the new Sight and Sound Director's Poll came out, he cited it once again (check out his list it's usually one of the most interesting at least to me. And bless Matthew Vaughn for putting Rocky III on his list-the one's that go off the beaten path, so to speak, are always the most interesting. Anyway, I should have written a post about the Sight and Sound poll months ago, so I will continue...) Anyway, Rolling Thunder, where William Devane returns from Vietnam where he was imprisoned for years in a POW camp along with a young Tommy Lee Jones. He returns to San Antonio and the town gives him a bunch of pieces of silver, one for each day he was away. Then some redneck thugs steal his silver, mangles his hand, and kills his family and the last part of the movie is him exacting his revenge on said thugs. It's written by Paul Schrader who also wrote Taxi Driver, and there are a few similarities between those movies. This movie is a lot more open about the torture Devane endured in the camps, showing a bunch in flashback, while in Taxi Driver it was only hinted at - just showing Travis Bickle's scars when his shirt is off. But Devane's character is a lot less nuts until he is pushed over the edge and decides to enact revenge. I looked up Paul Schrader because I thought for sure he must have been in Vietnam but I couldn't find any evidence of it, but he definitely spent a good portion of the seventies in a depression and these movies seem to be the product of it. That being said, Rolling Thunder seems to be more of the straight forward, pulpier companion piece to Taxi Driver, and it's good at being the lean revenge thriller it's trying to be. Oh also. Tommy Lee Jones as another vet who is returning home from a camp, he is at his Tommy Lee Jones(iest) being the more strong, silent type. If anyone is the more Travis Bickle character here, it's probably him really. It's well worth a look if you happen upon it.

-Kevin

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Parallax View (1974)

The Parallax View is one of a small bunch of movies in the 70's, like The Conversation, which were made and came out around the time that Watergate was heating up. So hence, the idea of government conspiracies and cover-ups, and of people spying, were bubbling up pretty close to the surface. Overall this is a great, paranoid piece of 70's work where Warren Beatty plays the dogged journalist (shades of Woodward and Bernstein) who tries to uncover the truth about a series of assassinations that had been happening around the country. On the one hand, I liked the paranoid thriller, there is a pretty great twist ending to it all, and there is also a virtuoso 5 minute scene in the middle where the corporation that trains the assassins (or finds people to be assassins, so to speak), shows Beatty, who is pretending to want to be a trainee, a film that is supposed to suss out whether or not he is up to the job. You'd think for five minutes the film would stop cold, but it is a really eerie set piece as this film that Beatty is supposed to be watching is shown in it's entirety, and it really gets across the worldview of the people behind the conspiracy. it's really amazing. I'd put in a video of it, but if you ever decide to watch the movie I'd want  you to catch it by surprise like I (sort of) did. On the other hand, and I guess this happens in any movie or TV show where one or two people are the only people looking for THE TRUTH, it's natural to think that a conspiracy like this would surely just fall down under the weight of how big it is. And also people seemed to be getting murdered or assassinated at an alarming rate in this movie's America, you'd think there would be more than one journalist on this case. But, then again, after a year like 1968 and with Watergate going on, maybe people really did think (or maybe it was the truth) that only a handful of people were actually looking for the real truth truth behind what was going on. Wow, this 70's conspiracy thriller really made me think!

I was inspired, one night, to watch it because of this AV Club list. But, again, don't watch that part that they talk about in detail there!

-Kevin

Reading Roundup

I realized just recently that I have gotten backed up on the books I have read towards my 25/50 project and there is only a little more than a month left in the year, so I need to get moving. At this rate I am going to start reading whatever my youngest nephew is reading (Everybody Poops!) and just calling it a day. But I am SO CLOSE to doing this, so without further adieu, hopefully I am on the home stretch:

The Man In The High Castle by Phillip K. Dick (18/25 books)
Only Phillip K. Dick would write an alternate history book where the Allies won the (longer) second World War. And inside his alternate history book, the people and characters' in his book's favorite book is an alternate history book where the Allies won the Second World War. It's enough to make your head spin. It takes place in 1962, 15 years after the Axis won World War II because of an ill prepared United States and now there is intrigue between the Axis powers and how they are going to  or if they are going to strike against each other. It's all pretty fascinating, but I was (Spoiler!) a little let down by it's open ended conclusion. I hear Dick had planned a sequel for years but had never gotten around to it.

Deliverance by James Dickey (19/25 books)
Over the Summer, looking in my parents' basement, I found a bunch of books they had stuck away in their bookshelves down there (great story!) I remember growing up always seeing a copy of Deliverance on the shelf, and I realized reading a fellow blogger's review of the book that I had never actually read it myself. For some reason I thought I had (this story continues to fascinate, I am sure) In one of those rare instances, this book is just as good as the movie, a movie, I might add, that I love. I actually would like to read about James Dickey himself, because he is supposed to be a fascinating character and there is a couple books about him floating around out there (one of which is written by his son). ANYWAY, yeah the book is just as good as the movie and includes a section before and after their trip that the movie doesn't cover. I especially liked the prologue where the men are meeting up in Atlanta to talk about their trip and their reasons for going and what not, it really helps set up and deliver (ha!) on the rest when they can't escape to civilization from their predicament. Great stuff.

The Human Stain by Philip Roth (20/25 books)
Just in time to Philip Roth to announce he is retiring, I read my second Philip Roth book! He is considered one of America's greatest writers and it is not hard to see why. For one thing I didn't realize that the narrator here, Nathan Zuckerman, actually appears in other Philip Roth books I haven't read yet, like American Pastoral, which, to me, is actually kind of cool. But he plays the narrator telling the story of a friend of his, Coleman Silk, who is actually the main character and it his story that is slowly revealed through the book. It's a really interesting book that initially plays out with the Bill Clinton sex scandal as a background but goes deep into not only University/academic politics but also race and class. It plays out like a mystery with the narrator only doling out bits and pieces of information as the novel goes on, slowly doling out the whole picture. I found it pretty fascinating, like it seems a lot of other people did, I am sure others might find it overwrought.

Communion by Whitley Strieber (21/25 books)
So Whitley Strieber himself is a fascinating character to me, he's a writer, a screenwriter, and then one day, in the eighties he releases a supposedly true book about his abduction by aliens (later made into a movie starring Christopher Walken). He is fascinating, I can't say his writing style is that compelling. At least here, I'd like to try some of his fiction stuff because it sounds like he has done some interesting stuff. I particularly want to find this one called Warday that deals with the aftermath of a nuclear war (written in the 80's again) Now this novel, it is interesting but something about the way he writes just irks me. Also I am sure he is a huge liar like the guy that wrote about his haunted house in The Amityville Horror. it's fun to imagine but I think he just went to his ski cabinet and drank a lot of scotch and then voila: Communion! 

-Kevin