Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Podcast Episode 3 - 6Fast 6Furiuos

ZOMG!!! It's that podcast you've always wanted -- 40 minutes talking about the latest installment of the sublime Fast and Furious franchise! Matt talks about losing his Fast and Furious virginity, Kevin discusses his favorite characters and the role of women in the films, and Pat says why the Fast and Furious universe represents his version of utopia. CAUTION: MEGA SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

3ThaHardWay Podcast - Episode 2

Welcome to episode 2 of the 3ThaHardWay podcast! On today's episode, the gang talks about singers we can't stand, bad movies we love and the first CDs we owned. Get ready for lots of talk on Point Break, Pearl Jam and how Matt offended his mom with Quentin Tarantino.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

3ThaHardWay Inaugural Podcast!

This was part of our plan from the jump, and it only took us three years to get here, so here's our first podcast! We're hoping to make it a weekly event to enlighten, enrage and enrapture. Please enjoy the high production values as you hear about why Kevin doesn't like people who don't like Justin Bieber, Matt laments the demise of CDs and Pat talks about what Bright Eyes and Tribe Called Quest have in common.


Friday, April 5, 2013

R.I.P. Roger Ebert

Ever since yesterday when I learned of Roger Ebert's passing I have been thinking of what I wanted to say about him. I mean there are better written tributes going on all over the place. For better or worse, depending on your point of view, if you are interested in movies at all you have run into Roger Ebert. I think I could say without exaggeration that the two people who most influenced my love of movies were my Dad and Roger Ebert, and it's funny because they two seemed so entwined for so long. I remember Saturday nights, I forget if it was right before or right after The Muppet Show, my Dad would always catch whatever iteration of Siskel and Ebert was on, and he would write down on a yellow legal pad whatever movies they were talking about and he would two columns: one for Siskel and one for Ebert down the middle of the pad. And as they gave the thumbs up or thumbs down, he would write Yes or No. I wonder if he still has those legal pads anywhere? He really kept track of these things back in the day, much to my detriment sometimes so he actually knew about stuff and I would have to sneak things I know hew would disapprove of but that's for another time. I remember though that my Dad always trusted Ebert's opinion more, the well spoken, everyman critic that was the absolute best at conveying his love of film, both high and low. It was funny because I felt like my Dad thought Siskel (r.i.p.) was this uppity Ivy Leaguer and Ebert was waaaay more down to Earth, which was probably true. I know for a fact that in other ways they would have disagreed, especially on politics, but he always trusted him the most, just like a lot of us did.

Almost to a person, particularly people that have become actual, professional movie critics, they always point Roger Ebert's old movie guides as being a singular influence for them and I have to agree. This was a regular gift under the Christmas tree for me as he updated them every year. I mean, not only was Ebert accessible while still being really smart, but it was through his movie guides (which I read and re-read) where he introduced you stuff that you would never come in contact with, particularly at that age, where he would write about like The Floating Weeds or La Dolce Vita, or Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, just stuff that was SO beyond my canon. He opened up all these new worlds that would have never just been available to a kid living in Westerly, RI. His writing was beautiful but accessible, and so was his enthusiasm for film, he was there holding our hands as budding film buffs. Plus I mean you hardly come across someone who was in actuality an actual good person. I highly recommend, obviously, reading any of his stuff, his "Great Movies" or even his awesome autobiography. We'll definitely miss you, Roger.


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Concert Series - Part VIII: Sigur Ros

If one were to ever ask me what the first concert I ever went to was, I’d have to say it was a Phil Collins show sometime during the summer of 1990.  However, if you were to allow me to count a show I was at in utero, then my answer would change to Jackson Browne in early September, 1977.  Now doctors may say that a fetus in the womb cannot hear until about 18 weeks into pregnancy meaning I most likely did not hear anything during this show since I was about two months away from being developed enough to detect any sort of sound waves that may have made their way to my premature ears.  I still think it’s kinda cool to say that was my first show, but in all actuality, there was probably no part of my being that could detect anything that was going on that night.  I highly doubt that was the case for the baby-in-waiting that my friends Taylor and Clark are expecting in the next few weeks during last night’s blisteringly beautiful live performance put on by Iceland’s own Sigur Ros.  And lucky for her, she was treated to a phenomenal show.

I have known of Sigur Ros for about 13 years now and have been a fan since the get go.  I was first introduced to them by my friend Pat sometime around my senior year of college.  Most of the band’s songs are sung in either their native Icelandic language or a made up language called “Hopelandic” which supposedly is a combination of Icelandic and English.  However you want to look at it, their lyrics and song titles are pretty much indecipherable and singing along with the band is near impossible.  You basically just have to focus on making the same vowel sounds as lead singer, Jonsi does and you may come up with something similar. 

Along with the unfamiliar languages they sing in, what sets them apart from most other bands includes the hauntingly crisp, beautiful, and flawless falsetto in which Jonsi sings and the consistent use of a bow he uses on his electric guitar that produces either a delicate and sustained background noise or a boisterous and all-encompassing wall of sound that feels like it’s going to bring the walls of your house down if he doesn’t let up on it.  In today’s wide range of bands, musicians, and artists, I’ve still yet to hear anyone who sounds like these guys.  They’re one of the most unique acts I’ve ever heard.

The band does not tour a whole lot and when they do they only hit select cities throughout the world.  As a result, I had only seen them once before and that was only because they played Bonnaroo in 2008.  So when I saw they were coming to the D.C. area, I was all about getting tickets.  I asked around and not many people were interested in joining me, though when I broached the subject with Taylor Clark, they pretty much bought in right away.  But Taylor was (and still is) pregnant and her due date was just a few weeks after the show was to go down.  I have no idea what it’s like to be pregnant, but I’ve been told it can be quite the taxing undertaking and can wreak havoc on one’s body and emotional state.  So I was a little concerned for Taylor and wondered if she would be in the right state (physically and emotionally) to go to such a concert.  Much to all of our delight, she is doing just fine and was just as or even more excited than Clark or I was to see them.

We arrived at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia around 7:45 and as we entered the arena, we could hear some ambient sounds coming from the stage.  Our initial thought was that the band had already started, but by the time we got to our seats it was clear they were not out there.  However, the arena was dark and there was blue lighting on the stage along with a large white/opaque sheet that hung over the front of the stage.  There was also some sort of music coming from the stage.  Honestly, I did not think it was an opening act until the music stopped and the lights came up.  I later looked it up and found out it was a musician by the name of Tim Hecker.  There was not much melody in his music and seemed to be just long sustaining notes played by some sort of synthesizer.  It sounded fine and all, but maybe I would have paid more attention had I realized it was an actual opening act and not just a roadie doing a sound check like I thought.

The band finally came out around 8:30 and that big opaque sheet was still hanging in front of them.  There were a number of lights projecting from behind them that were cast on the sheet which made for a very aesthetically pleasing stage the first song and a half.  They opened with a new song which concluded with Jonsi powerfully bowing away at his guitar to create an overwhelming sound.  What made it even cooler was that they cast a bright light behind him which was angled at such that the shadow it cast on the sheet was about twenty feet tall.  It looked like a gigantic monster going ape shit on a guitar and was all kinds of bad ass.  Their second song, “Ny batteri” which is one of my favorites from their first album, is a perfect example of what they do so well.  It’s a song that starts off very minimally and softly that eventually rises to a cacophonous and raucous full band entrance.  When it finally kicked in fortissimo, the sheet dropped and there was now nothing that separated the band from the audience.  It was great.

The show lasted around and hour and 45 minutes and they did a great job of mixing their material up.  They played mostly songs from their first three albums (which I really enjoyed because those are my favorites) and their new upcoming album to be released in June which also sounded great.  They also did an excellent job of mixing up their sound going from one soft, melodic, and beautiful song to another that built up to a full crescendo and rocked the place out.  The band not only consists of the three main members, but with a number of other multi-instrumentalists and what amounts to nothing short of a small orchestra behind them complete with string, brass, and woodwind sections.  If there ever was a true meeting of classical music and rock music, you’d be hard pressed to find a better representation.

I was also amazed at how quite and attentive the crowd was.  There are a number of times throughout their songs where the music is softer and slowed down and it would totally ruin it if you had people talking or making noise around you.  That was hardly ever the case and the crowd was quite amenable to giving their full attention at all times, even when the music was so soft it was nearly impossible to hear.  Midway through the show between songs and after the applause died down, some dude yelled out “THAT WAS GREAT!!!” and it was literally the only thing anyone heard in that moment.  Though the dude was seeking some cheap and easy attention, he was not wrong at all, and it garnered a chuckle throughout the crowd.

Though our seats were towards the back and it was hard to see the band close up, it was great to see the drummer positioned where he was; up front and to the right of the stage.  He was facing the left side of the stage so we were able to see his drumming clearly from his profile which was great because he would go absolutely crazy on those drums throughout the evening.  It was also cool to see the lighting spectacle from afar as the lighting changes were plentiful and at times frantic as they complimented the music.  Many of the lights came from behind the band and were cast out into the crowd which at times blinded and confused you.  If you easily get headaches or are prone to seizures, this is not the show for you.  At one point the lighting was so chaotic that I thought there should be some sort of warning for people like they do at amusement parks for expectant mothers and people with heart conditions. 

The band came out for an encore and they started playing the final track off their second major album which is my favorite of theirs.  They did not play it at Bonnaroo when I first saw them much to my disappointment then.  No song better encapsulates both the soft melodic beauty as well as the all out emphatic and raucous crescendo they are capable of.  It does an amazing job of building and keeps you hanging on each part for a number of minutes before it kicks into the next level.  At nearly 12 minutes in the album form and 14 in the live form it’s one of their longer tracks and there are several times when you think they’re going to kick it in to the next part, but they don’t.  They just hang there a little longer blowing you away with their ferocity and refusal to let you go.  The lights flash all over the place and end up confusing the bejesus out of you.  When they finally do come to the finale of the song you wonder how they got there from someplace so much different than where you ended up.  To see them perform it live is nothing less than mesmerizing.  When it finished, Taylor turned to me and said she was sweating just from listening.  I knew exactly how she felt.  If you have 15 minutes to kill, this is as good as it gets to seeing it live.

With that, the band and their fellow musicians left the stage to a standing ovation.  They came back out for a final curtain call which was pretty cool to see.  Though I’d still call them a relatively unknown band, it was great to see them play a larger venue like this to a near sold out crowd.  They seemed like they really appreciated everyone being there just as much as we appreciated them coming to our area. 

Taylor and Clark had pretty much the same reactions I did and I was happy to share this experience with them.  This is probably the last concert they will ever go to before parenthood hits them.  Taylor made the comment that several times throughout the show, she could feel her soon-to-be daughter kicking and reacting to the sounds that consumed the arena.  I’ve heard that your taste in music in some part is formed while you are in your mother’s womb taking in the sounds that are around you and her.  I hope that’s the case for Taylor and Clark’s daughter because if a performance like this ends up being one of her barometers and baselines for all other music to come, she is going to be one hip chick.  I like to think I have really good taste in music and if my barometer is Jackson Browne which eventually led me to a band like Sigur Ros, just imagine where Sigur Ros will lead her.  Clearly, the sky is the limit. 


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Concert Series - Part VII: Rhett Miller and Black Prairie

So back in April of last year I concluded my concert series which consisted of six reviews of a series of shows I saw over the course of a month and a half.  The fact that I “concluded” the series was somewhat arbitrary, but mostly because I was done seeing shows for the time.  Since then I have moved north and now live the D.C./Baltimore area and I’m excited since there will be many more shows coming through here than there were in Florida. 

This past Friday night I headed to the Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia with my brother Mike and his buddy Pat to see a solo acoustic performance by Old 97’s front man Rhett Miller.  I have been a pretty big fan of the Old 97’s for about ten years now and in all of those years I have only seen them live once in what was probably the most crowded show I have ever been to.  I can’t be sure, but I’d venture to say that no fewer than ten fire codes had been violated that night.  Despite the fact that they haven’t really released an album that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed since 2001, the stuff they’d done up until and through that album has been some of the best stuff I’ve ever heard.  Rhett Miller and bass player Murray Hammond have a gift for writing some great pop/rock songs and their voices compliment each other very well on their harmonies. 

Miller has also released a number of solo albums and though they are not as good as those earlier Old 97’s albums he has some gems in all of them that showcase what he is still capable of.  I’m not sure what it is that the band doesn’t grab me as much as it once did.  Maybe it’s the fact that they have run out of as many ideas as they once had, or maybe I’m more critical now but for me there is just something missing here.  Having said all that, I was very excited to see this performance particularly because of the modest $20 ticket price and knowledge that the venue would afford me a great viewing spot no matter where I was.  I jumped at the opportunity to snag some tickets. 

The morning of the show, I received a phone call from Mike at 7:20 and I answered it quickly since this was a very odd time for him to be calling me.  I was at work on morning duty in the cafeteria of the high school at which I work (I know, it’s super early.  But I’m also home at 3:00 every day too, so I got that going for me).  Anyway, I answered my phone worried about what emergency might have befallen my older brother and he asked me if I had seen who was opening the show for Miller.  Slightly taken aback, and relieved, I told him I didn’t really notice.  He replied that it would be a band called Black Prairie which is a relatively new bluegrass/folk band that is comprised of three members of the Decemberists including Chris Funk and Jenny Conlee.  I admitted I had never heard of them, but that I was pretty excited since it is rare thing to be familiar with an opening act.  Granted, I had never heard any of their songs, but just knowing who was involved sounded promising.  I became even more excited for the show.

We arrived at the venue before they opened the doors which meant we got to hang back at the bar and grab a beer.  Not many people had arrived yet and we were even able to hear the sound check and it was clear that Miller was going to play with Black Prairie at some point because you could hear them all play together and hear Miller giving them instructions on how to play some of his tunes.  When they opened to the doors we made our way to the front of the stage and that’s where we stayed the entire show.  Mike suggested at one point that maybe we should have taken a few steps back to allow the shorter people behind us get a better view as the three of us are all at least six feet tall.  While I understood his thoughts on this matter I could not condone such an action.  I rarely get to see shows from the very front and we were the ones who got there early enough so as far as I was concerned, those shorter people behind us would just have to deal.  As far as getting a good position in a general admission venue for a concert, I’m of the opinion that it’s every man for himself.

On the floor of the stage right in front of us we could see the set list for Black Prairie and the words and chords for Miller’s song “Our Love” which for me is just a stellar pop song.  Apparently, this would be one of the songs they would all play together.  It also reminded me of a story my crazy music fanatic uncle, JB, tells of a show he once saw from the front row (for the life of me I can’t remember who it was).  Evidently, as the show ended he reached for the set list in front of him while a much younger female fan reached for it at the same time.  JB employs the “every man for himself” theory even stronger than I do and he snatched it away from her.  This was an action that caused her to say something to the effect of “Oh, no you didn’t!!!”  and JB replied “Oh yes I did!!!”  She then decided to go the more mature and socially acceptable route and shouted “OH YOU ARE SOOO GAY!!!” to which JB retorted “OH YOU’RE RIGHT!  I AM SOOOO GAY!!!”  What could she say to this?  Say what you want about JB’s actions, I’m sure he still has that set list (and it makes for an excellent story too).

After a while, Black Prairie came on the stage and began their set which I found to be one of the, if not the greatest opening act sets I have ever seen.  They played an interesting variety of songs including bluegrass, folk, polka, and old-timey Irish sounding tunes.  Chris Funk mostly played the dobro, Jenny Conlee played the accordion, and they were accompanied by the drummer and bassist from the Decemberists, as well as a guitarist, and a fiddle player who was also the lead singer.  Her presence there was just another example of how a woman can become ten times more attractive if she plays an instrument in a great band (extra bonus points if she sings too).  

What made this performance so great was how surprised I was by it.  I didn’t know any of the songs (save the set closing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same”) but they were all so good and had a great variety.  One of their songs was this polka sounding folk jam that was all over the place.  It sounded like they just changed keys in the most random places.  It kept you guessing the whole time and though it sounded off here and there, for some reason it still worked. 

But by far the best part was when the band went into this mellowed out Irish-like folk song and the lead singer sang into a microphone that made her voice echo and sound all fuzzed out.  She sang a few creepy verses accompanied by an accordion and autoharp which in and of itself was great because she was singing this song right in front of me as that was where that particular microphone was standing.  But what intrigued me the most was the instrument she was holding which was shaped like a violin with one major difference; protruding from its side was what appeared to be the bell of a trumpet.  I have no idea what this instrument is officially called and a relatively in-depth Google search proved to be useless in my attempt to find out.  When she started playing it, I looked at Mike and exchanged incredulous looks as if to say to each other “Holy shit!  What the hell is going on?!”  She started playing along to the music and of course, it sounded like how you’d think a violin shaped trumpet would sound.  It was cool as all get out.

Their set ended and Mike made the comment that we could have gone home at that moment and felt totally satisfied.  I very much agreed with that assessment which made me even more excited to see Miller’s performance.  He came out to the stage with a whiskey in hand, greeted the crowd, and began the set with the opening song to his most recent album and the show was on.  I thought he did an excellent job of mixing up his material.  He included Old 97’s songs from a variety of their albums as well as a good mix of his solo stuff.  His performance was filled with energy as he pounded away on his acoustic guitar that he surprisingly never broke a string on (until one of the last songs) and never really needed to tune all that much.  He was able to take songs that you wouldn’t think would work acoustically and make them work, all the while getting as into them as possible with his somewhat odd and goofy looking dance that he always seems to employ when he plays live.

As the set moved on, he seemed to get more and more into his performance.  He rarely took a break in between songs and would just go from one tune right into the other.  Soon, his whole head became a big ball of sweat and his hair and shirt became soaked.  Surprisingly, he never reached up to wipe the sweat away or to move the hair out of his eyes.  He just kept playing ferociously on his guitar and any attempt to get the sweat out of his face appeared to be in the head-banging he was doing.  My favorite part of his show had to be when he utilized a sort of half windmill on his guitar.  Rather than going all Pete Townsend on his guitar with the windmill being based at the shoulder, Miller’s windmill started at his elbow which made much more sense for an acoustic guitar.  I’ve seen a lot of performances over the years.  I’ve never seen someone windmill like that before.  

At one point the pick Miller was using flew from his hand in the middle of a song and landed on the stage just a few feet in front of me.  I stood there looking at it wondering if it would be cool if I just reached out and took it.  Part of me wanted to act all cool as if it was no big deal and that I did not have to stoop so low as to be that guy who gets his jollies out of something as insignificant and small as a freaking guitar pick.  Plus, what if Miller needed that later?  I couldn’t deprive him of something he may need for the performance just so I can feel all special for having collected this tiny piece of plastic.  Of course, that thought was kind of dumb as Miller no doubt had any number of picks with him and as I stood there for a few minutes having this internal debate with myself, some lady next to me reached out and snatched it.  Random lady – 1, Matt – 0.

Towards the end of his set, Miller brought out Black Prairie to join him on a few songs including the Old 97’s “Broadway”, Miller’s “Our Love” and a cover of “California Stars” which was a nice treat.  I stood there during this performance taking in the moment and thought to myself “I am in the front row watching Rhett Miller and most of the Decemberists play a song written by Wilco, Billy Bragg, and Woody freaking Guthrie!!!”  Miller announced that this was the first time Black Prairie was playing with him on this tour and Mike made the comment they probably chose that song to play together since it was so simple.  While that may be true, it doesn’t make it any less cool.  Some of the best songs are the simplest ones.

I recently watched an interview with Jack White conducted by Conan O'Brien that Kevin sent to me and it was absolutely phenomenal.  It's a little long clocking in at an hour and 15 minutes, but it is so worth your time if you're interested.  During the interview, White lamented the fact that we're in this age now where we're all using our phones to message and tweet and text and video every moment of our lives.  He witnesses this all the time during live shows and is amazed at how people are so dedicated to their mobile devices and they get lost in the moment and therefore are not able to appreciate it as much as they used to.  I don't mean to get into a huge debate about this, though his point is a good one.  However, during this moment of the show, I could not help but capture some of it on video.  Yeah, I'm guilty of White's charges here, but there's also something to be said for posterity.  And watching this now, I actually wish I filmed it longer.

Unfortunately, even the best concert experiences can be tainted by some drunk-ass fan.  During one of the latter performances with the whole band, some tiny younger drunk chick with some nasty BO made her way up front right next to me and started “dancing” all over the place (including on my foot).  On two separate occasions she turned to me and grabbed both my arms and started dancing with me.  I did my best join in a bit while trying to convey that this was not something I was comfortable doing.  Plus, her BO became much more prominent to me when she did this.  Seriously, enjoy yourself and even stomp on my foot here and there.  But don’t force me into your shenanigans.  And for God’s sake use some freaking deodorant!

Miller closed out the show with an acoustic performance of the Old 97’s “Timebomb” which I thought would be hard to pull off since it is more of a raucous electric rocking track on the album, but of course, he was able to make it great on acoustic.  The show ended and I was just so glad to have been there.  As Miller left the stage I looked at a pad of paper in front of me that appeared to be a mini set list with some chords on it.  It was what members of Black Prairie used to ensure they knew what they were doing while playing Miller’s songs.  I reached out for it, tore the top sheet off the pad, put it in my pocket, turned to Mike and said; “I am so gay.”

Throughout the entire performance, Miller showed a lot of energy and seemed very appreciative of the small crowd before him.  He worked hard for every second he was out there and at some point, I started thinking about how great it was that I was able to see an artist I have admired so much for so long in such a small venue from the front row.  It’s in moments like these that I truly appreciate acts like Nickleback and Kenny Chesney and One Direction, and Katy Perry.  I pretty much have zero interest in any of them whereas the masses can’t get enough.  So while those acts are selling out massive arenas and stadiums, I can see Rhett Miller and most of the Decembersits right up front for 20 bucks.  So thank you, Chad Kroeger.  And if at anytime in the future you hear me bitching about any of those huge bands and how much I hate them, please remind me that without them experiences like this would not exist.  Oddly enough, It's so much harder to be gay at a Nickleback show.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Ten Favorite Movies of 2012

It seemed like 2012 was an odd year for movies, at least for me. I was going back through all my blog entries to jog my memory on what I had seen, and to a lesser extent, what I hadn't seen. There wasn't a lot that I saw that really stuck with me in the first half of the year, there was some, but not a lot. So this year seemed really backloaded in the second half of the year. On top of that there were some disappointments and what not along the way, but such is life. While my top ten list is hardly surprising (not a lot of sleepers here) they were the ones I enjoyed the most in 2012. Two things: 1) I, obviously haven't seen everything that came out this year and 2) of course, these are just my personal favorites and not the BEST movies of the year.

With that in mind, here we go:

10) The Dark Knight Rises

 Haters gonna hate, right? When this first came out people were like "Whoa! This is great!" Fans and critics alike seemed to enjoy it. But then as time went on the tide of opinion started to turn. So I said, let me rematch this and see what I think. In it's original run in the theater I saw it twice. And when I watched it again, I can see that it definitely has flaws, I'm not saying it doesn't I'm just saying that even with all its warts it was still really good and really entertaining to me. Is it The Dark Knight? No. But I still think it was a solid end to Christopher Nolan's trilogy. And now Nolan is free to do...well, whatever he wants. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

9) The Avengers
This Joss Whedon fella is something, huh? I think he's gonna go far. One of the many things I liked about The Avengers, a movie, for all intents and purposes should not have worked, besides the fact that it might be the most pure fun I had at the movies this year, is Joss Whedon's script. Seriously when they are flying around on their, uh, their Helo-Base or whatever and there was no city-destroying fighting going on, it could very well have been a workplace office/dramedy that you were watching with guys, and ladies, in capes and masks.

8) Argo
Sure, Ben Affleck took liberties (in more than one way considering he is supposed to be playing a Hispanic man) but man, was this story just begging to be put up on the big screen? It had everything, including a super suspenseful last half hour, which is pretty tough to pull off when one already knows the ending.

7) Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell showing that if you take convention and tweak it a little bit, you can have a crowd-pleasing romantic dramedy without it being terrible or pandering. Of course, some of that comes down to the cast, particularly Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

6) The Raid: Redemption
Nothing can ever top Die Hard, yet, as far as classic action movies go. But The Raid: Redemption is like Die Hard on meth. I can see how some people might find this wearying after a little while, but I found it so nuts and so exciting that it never bored me. Showcasing the martial art of Pencak Silat it truly is a non stop action movie the likes of which I personally had not seen before.

Seriously, that's not false advertising, the whole movie is like that. It's unreal. Also features the illest rookie cop of all time.

5) Cabin In The Woods
And here's the other Joss Whedon entry. The less you know going into this, of course, the better...believe me when I say it goes in a crazy, unexpected, amazing direction. Also helped by the Richard Jenkins rule in that he makes anything he is in about 20% better.

4) Zero Dark Thirty
As much about the procedural of finding the world's number one terrorist, as it is a look into what exact it takes to do that and the toll it can take on a person. In a weird sort of way, it is the anti-action movie where there is no real, clear ra-ra moment, and that even in triumph life will keep moving on.

3) Moonrise Kingdom
This goes without saying, but if you hate Wes Anderson, just steer clear of this one. Because this might be the MOST Wes Anderson of Wes Anderson movies. And there isn't anything in here that hasn't cropped up in other parts of his other movies. I dunno: maybe it's the young love at it's heart. But I do know the feeling I get is that it is his best live action movie since The Royal Tennenbaums.

2) Looper
Oh man. A futuristic, sci-fi action adventure movie that also involves telepaths and takes place mostly on a farm. It also is wrapped up in big ideas and big emotions. Just genuinely great stuff.

Rian Johnson might have made the movie music find of the year with this song by a duo from the 60's, Chuck & Mac, called Powerful Love which plays over the end credits. Holy crap is it good. He found it by accident while he was doing the movie, and it works SO well. Might be the movie music find of the year.

1) Django Unchained
No surprise here really.

Honorable Mentions:
-Sleepwalk With Me
-Seven Psychopaths
-21 Jump Street


Monday, January 7, 2013

One more thing about Django Unchained...

Okay, there was one more thing I wanted to add in my review but maybe it takes a little longer to explain. Unlike Quentin Tarantino I am a bit more versed in spaghetti westerns than so-called "slavesploitation" movies like Drum (although it has been sitting in my Netflix Instant queue for a long time) and Mandingo, I am sure that cinematically-speaking, Gone With The Wind has been put on cinematic blast before, particularly in the late 60's and 70's.  But it seems like it took someone like Tarantino and with his pedigree (and let's face it, because of his name) to put it on blast in  a more major way than a lot of those B and exploitation movies used to. (Of course, Tarantino's knowledge about all these genres is, to put it mildly, pretty extensive).

What do I mean by all that? Well, first to start, I think Gone With The Wind is important and worth acknowledging but overrated. Setting aside the fact that rape was a fairly big part of the "romance" between Rhett and Scarlet there are other issues that I think Tarantino, at the very least, helps to give the lie to. These are all from Margaret Mitchell's book and the movie: Blacks were happier as slaves, plantation life was idyllic, the Confederacy were the god guys because the men that fought for it were always perfect gentlemen. All of it bullshit, of course, and all wrapped up in an "epic" movie like "they just don't make any more". It always gets brought up as one of the greatest movies of all time, and while it's well acted and beautifully shot it is highly problematic.

In a lot of ways critics of Tarantino can probably say the same thing about Django Unchained, and while it might not be wholly successful to many, part of the reason I liked Django Unchained is the idea that he tries to show what a lie that movie and Margaret Mitchell puts forth. And that lie is basically that old lie about the Plantation South being the "good old days" instead of being a disgusting system rife with atrocities. Tarantino adds the sweet plum of slavemasters being killed off of course, it is a revenge fantasy, and while it might not be able to convey just how horrible slavery really was (which would be really hard) I think it takes steps to show just how twisted of an enterprise it really was. As well as showing, no matter how they dressed or attempted to act like some bullshit aristocrats from France or something, how deeply corrupt the people who owned an traded slaves were. Of course this film is set a couple years before the Civil War, but no matter really. It looks as good and you don't have to deal with Margaret Mitchell Pro-Plantation horseshit.

Now, some might say, "But it was a different time, you can't expect people in the 30's to share our modern views." Well that really depends: is the view that blacks in the South were happier as slaves because they knew their role? Is it the view that though the men of the Confederacy were naive, they were ultimately gentlemen, unlike the brutes that fought for the Union who ruined the purity of Plantation life? Is it the view that even freed slaves preferred a life of servitude over emancipation? This is not only revisionist, but at best apologist and worst supremacist.

Look, I know that Django Unchained could certainly come under fire for being revisionist. But even with all it's B-movie/spaghetti western trappings and anachronistic music, at least it is somewhat more truthful about what life was like for people in the South, and that that Southern aristocracy was not only built on atrocities but also on lies. (I think of the Alexander Dumas mention/moment...) So perhaps not historically, but, in a way, cinematically Tarantino gives the lie ultimately to what the filmmakers did so man years ago with Gone With The Wind, and how because it is so "grand" it still sits up there as "one of the greatest movies" but beyond it looking nice and being acted well, there is a lot there that is, for lack of a better term, a turn off.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

One Of My Favorite Movie Music Moments of 2012

So we watched Pitch Perfect the other night. Don't laugh, it's actually an enjoyable little time waster and not as annoyingly Glee-y as I thought it would be. And it just so happens it contains what might be one of my favorite music moments of the year. It might not exactly be the most impressive number of the whole movie, those come towards the end in the final competition (um, spoiler alert?) But, story wise, it might be the most important music moment. So a little background: the four main acapella groups at this college (I know, I know) meet up in am empty pool for what is known as the Riff-Off. Basically it's a freestyle acapella showdown/game of vocal wordplay where you steal songs from the other groups by jumping in on a song on a certain word. You can see it at the beginning of the clip but a category is chosen and the competition goes from there. So they trade off on Salt 'N' Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex", and Foreigner's "Feels Like The First Time" etc. Then Anna Kendrick (Becca) jumps in with Dr. Dre's opening verse from the STONE COLD CLASSIC "No Diggity" by Blackstreet.  It's the central moment of the movie, where she finally drops the cool-girl attitude, showing her musical chops, showing her "street" cred, as well as showing she can bring something new to the Bellas (her group's name) setlist. Everyone on the Bellas gets to show off their unique personality and skill visually during the song (Rebel Wilson grabbing her tummy on "got game by the pound" earns her boss status). It shows the group truly coming together and it takes the movie a while to get back to that. But, seriously, who can resist "No Diggity"? Not me.

And here is the original:

A close second might just be Jessica Lange singing "The Name Game" on American Horror Story (Of course, that's television but never mind that)


Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

When I see ads for Zero Dark Thirty, it seems like they are trying to market the movie as a thriller, not a thriller ala a Mission Impossible movie maybe but an action thriller definitely, when it definitely is not. Oh sure, there's tension, there's suspense, but James Bond this is not. This is a procedural through and through. What it does so well is highlight, in a way, how life isn't like those action movies. No story ever actually ends, not really, not in real life, and real life never offers the kind of closure we want. Even Osama Bin Laden in a body bag isn't the end, not for the men that went in and killed him or the people that did the work of hunting him down. Even when it finally happens, it doesn't feel like a big moment, and in the movie, in a weird way, it is not played as one. It is a moment wrapped up in codewords on the radio and a long trip home, it's seizing the hard drives and the research that is going to go in to looking for what's next. It is sitting alone and crying after everything is all said and done because you have done something big, but you also just spent 12 years of your life doing something, one thing, that you put your whole person into, and now it's all over, and what are you going to do with yourself, and what have you already done to yourself to, sometimes terrible things, and what have you become. 


Friday, January 4, 2013

Two Sides Of The Same Coin (sorta)

Django Unchained (2012)
In the span of two days I saw what might be my favorite movie of the year and what might be one of the worst movies I have seen this year. Let's get that one done first: Ted is terrible, hackneyed, and obvious. And Seth MacFarlane is awful. It doesn't even merit a full review.

The other movie? Django Unchained. A movie I have been really anticipating and, to me, I wasn't disappointed. But the fact of the matter is, I saw this movie two days ago and not only has it stuck with me but I am not even sure how to discuss it. Phoebe Robinson does a really good job of discussing a lot of the controversy surrounding it and points out one of the first things I thought of: the irony (if I am using the word correctly) that Quentin Tarantino can get the backing and money to make such a movie but a black director wouldn't have been able to scare up the kind of capital for it. Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to make a controversial movie based on historical atrocities in a B-movie setting, that gets people talking about it. I am sure it wasn't exactly what he intended, or maybe it was, but I have to think that might be one positive: it gets people talking about these things, on (or near) the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it still seems like America has never really had an honest discussion about slavery in any real sense. I think of Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds  and how Germany had to deal with Naziism in a very real sense, and how they eventually had to view it as a national shame. I feel like slavery has never really been dealt with in the same manner in the United States, like it should have. Case in point, about 10 years ago I went down to New Orleans for New Years and we went on a tour of a local plantation, and in that tour they showed us the main house and what not but they never showed us the slave quarters (we could explore them ourselves-but still) and at one point the tour guide even started referring to the people coming in and working there as "contractors" and we were like "no, they were slaves". I am probably being over dramatic, but I think Django Unchained could at least be a starting point for a discussion. I mean, for me, I couldn't stop thinking about it for a couple days and not even just the movie, but all the implications surrounding it. (Of course, then getting on the internet and going down that rabbit hole was a whole other thing....) But I don't think you can escape those implications when looking at the movie itself...and what of the movie itself? Well, I actually liked it better than Inglourious Basterds and I liked that movie a lot. Here this might be easier in list form:

1) Django Unchained works on two levels. The surface level is that of a simple revenge flick, of the wronged taking up arms in a mission of revenge. From that point of view, it’s a movie that has been made a hundred times, usually with Clint Eastwood as the hero. The movie works well in that genre. Played straight, it stands with the best of Western vengeance tales, spiced with Tarantino trademarks of ultra- violence,perfect music, and humorous asides. But the fact that this particular version of the Man with No Name is a former slave cannot be overlooked. The implications of that, and the focus of the story on slavery itself, construct the film’s second level and elevate it from effective genre film into something more.

2) Christoph Waltz was born to speak Tarantino dialogue.

3) I wasn't sure about the casting of Jamie Foxx before I saw the movie, but upon seeing it he seems like the perfect choice. This character, in a weird way, reminded me of the non talking version of his Willie Beamon character from Any Given Sunday, ( as Johnny Lieberman points out in his awesome review of that movie: "Last but not least we have Willie “Steamin’” Beamen (Jamie Foxx) as the black man that every single white man automatically hates.").just all swagger and more brooding.

4) I liked the anachronistic music here better than say in Inglourious Basterds. And who has Quentin Tarantino been hanging out with that is hepping him to the likes of Rick Ross!? It wasn't a music moment like say Reservoir Dog's "Stuck In The Middle With You" but that interstitial moment when Rick Ross' 100 Black Coffins plays is pretty amazing. As is whoever's idea it was to mash up James Brown and Tupac was just genius. Chris Rock once said on Marc Meron's WTF Podcast that James Brown was "the blackest man of all time" or words to that effect. Having him mashed up with Tupac at the end of revenge fantasy revolving around slavery is just sublime. Oh and John Legend's original song is really good too.

5) Leonardo DiCaprio is the liveliest I have seen him in years.

Roger Ebert just today posted a piece from the New Yorker looking at Django Unchained, which is interesting. The only way I might disagree with him is he seems to think that Stephen, Samuel L. Jackson's character, the house slave of Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie, is supposed to be comic relief of some sort but I didn't take the character that way at all. And maybe this is a personal thing, but the character and performance made me uncomfortable more than anything else, and I have to think that that was the intention. But the piece is interesting over all, even though it doesn't change my opinion of the movie.

Oh and also, for some reason it also reminded me of an expanded version of Dave Chappelle's "Haters In Time" sketch. I agree, I'd watch every episode of a slave master getting killed.

Lincoln (2012)
We honestly didn't mean for this to turn into a themed 2 days at the movies but it just turned out that way. I thought this was interesting, and I like the idea of a biopic that chooses a certain piece of time to focus on someone than say going through their entire life. I mean they both pose their pitfalls but it makes it, well, in some ways much more interesting. There is a lot to like here including, as everyone says, Daniel Day Lewis. Actually, I also really enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, as a history nerd I enjoyed all the back room maneuvering and the smoke and mirrors. But I couldn't help to think of this movie in the shadow of Django Unchained. I am sure Steven Spielberg could care less but it was just a matter of timing. The author mentions this in the piece above, but I couldn't shake this feeling of what WASN'T in Lincoln- this could be a product of showing how insular Washington, DC can be (and is) but besides one scene showing a battle they didn't show much of the civil war, nothing of slavery, and then made dubious decisions to make Abraham Lincoln the only moral compass around in those days, discounting radical abolitionists and, well, even African-Americans. I mean they couldn't get Frederick Douglas in there somewhere? So it looks really nice, and is acted well, and is somewhat interesting, but it ultimately left me cold. And definitely didn't get me thinking the way Django did.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Matt's Top 20 Albums of 2012

With this list representing the third of its kind, I find myself repeating the preamble I have come accustomed to crafting.  Once again, there was a ton of new and amazing music that crossed my path in 2012, and no, in no way do I feel like I heard all that was worth hearing.  Actually, it seems like the more I hear, the less I feel I truly know.  But with me now having access to Spotify and therefore just about any album that has ever been released, at least I can explore more and listen to whatever I want at the drop of a hat.

Like Kevin, this list represents my personal favorites of the year and in no way am I trying to say that they are the best albums released this year.  Of course, my thoughts on this could change over time whether it be in five years or five days.  Either way, it's cool to think about and I enjoyed the challenge of putting this together.  So, without further ado, here you go.

20)  Tennis - Young and Old

Great indie pop from a relatively new husband/wife act from South Carolina.  A lot of it sounds like vintage 50’s surfer music and you can totally picture yourself on a beach listening to a lot of these tunes.  The modernized indie sound is an added plus.

19)  Metric - Synthetica

I had been meaning to get more into this group for years as I kept hearing great songs pop up here and there on the radio.  I finally delved into this album that is packed with power and dance pop gems that for some reason sound ten times better with a woman singing them.   

18) Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams   


A very somber and melodic album from a new band I learned of this year.  There are elements of Fleet Foxes here with a lot of acoustic folk pop songs and harmonies, but for me the songwriting is much more consistent than Fleet Foxes who always seemed overrated to me.  


                                                           17)  Bob Dylan - Tempest

Though I’ve never been a huge fan of Dylan’s more recent output, I was surprised by his latest release which I found way more consistent and enjoyable than I thought I would.  Though some of the songs drag on a bit, the overall structures are there and are very solid.  As if he needed to add another great album to his catalogue, he just keeps going.  Which is pretty amazing because in all honesty it seems like he should be dead by now.

16) The Shins - Port of Morrow

I was surprised by how consistent this album was.  I kinda thought the band would be finished once front man James Mercer fired the other three founding members and went off on his own to do some stuff with Danger Mouse, Modest Mouse, and any other mouse he could find.  But he brought the band back this year (or at least the name) and crafted a very solid album of indie pop that proves he is not going anywhere anytime soon. 

15)  Spirituzlized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Although I could probably do without two of the longest tracks on this album, the rest is just so good.  This is an act that I just learned of but has been around for many years.  It’s hard to get a grasp on what is going on as the album jumps all over the place (sometimes in the same song) but when it hits, it’s either beautiful and contemplative or frantic and avant-garde.  This may be the most interesting album I’ve heard all year.

14) Beach House - Bloom

Though the album is pretty much the same song over and over again, they sound so good you kinda look past that.  There is a lush and ambient sound to each track and whatever they are doing in the studio with whatever equipment they’re using, this Baltimore based duo has stumbled on to something beautiful.  For their next effort, I might be more critical if they don’t branch out any further, but for now I think I’ll just enjoy this for what it is.

13)  The Raveonettes - Observator

The Raveonettes have been consistently putting out records since I first heard of them back in 2003, and though I very much like their style of combining old 50’s du-wop with a more modern indie rock sound, they have been spotty over the years.  For some reason, this album put everything together on a more consistent level for me and it was nice to hear.

12)  Grimes - Visions

A very catchy dance/pop album with synthesizers all over the place.  Lead singer Clair Boucher’s eerily creepy yet melodic voice sets the tone for a lot of these songs that can make you want to dance or just sit in a daze wondering if you somehow took a hit of acid without realizing it.

11)  Woods - Bend Beyond

Every year a band will release and album and I’ll hear and love it and then get all excited because I feel like I just discovered the next best thing or something and come to find out the band is not new at all but more like six years old.  And then I feel like I don’t know anything at all.  Along with Spiritualized, this indie-folk group from Brooklyn was new to me, but not so much to many others.  On this release, they created an album that at times sounds like experimental Pink Floyd and at others sounds like vintage Band or Crosby Stills & Nash records.  Either way, that’s a win for me.

10) Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet on Sky

Though this band has been around for ages, this record is the first one I ever sat down and listened to and I’m very glad I did.  It took me back a little to the mid-90’s with that alt-rock/grunge sound that was so prevalent at the time.  Oddly enough, it didn’t sound all that dated and included some of the best riffs of the year.  A little voyage into their back catalogue may be in order.

9) Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Apple’s fourth record in a whopping 16 years was much welcomed, though it did take me a long time to digest and get into it (Almost as long as it takes to get through the ridiculously pretentious title.)  But when I did, I really appreciated her passion, energy, and in some cases schizophrenic mania that came through the speakers.  She’s on some other level.  

8) Sharon Van Etten - Tramp

I never heard of Van Etten before this year, but I was very impressed by this eclectic effort that showcased her strong songwriting skills and beautiful voice.  Equal parts soft melodic tempo and sinister sounding tunes in minor chords, this album is one I could go back to many times over.

7)  Jack White - Blunderbuss

Jack White’s continuous streak of doing no wrong continues on his first solo record that incorporates an eclectic mix of blues infused rock with acoustic ballads and funk based traditional roots rock with country elements.  I know, a little bit of everything, right?  There are several moments here where you just feel like getting up to clap and sing along in many of the gospel like refrains and there is a lot on this album that music lovers of all genres can take something from.  Though it runs a bit long, it holds up and keeps you engaged even during some of the weaker tracks.  

                                    6)  Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

An excellent release from the Boss that would be much higher on this list had he cut out about four throwaway tracks that also make the album go longer than it should.  But the rest is so good that it demands a high presence on this list.  I also got to see Springsteen live for the 8th time this year, and I can’t stress this nearly enough:  If you haven’t seen him live yet, make that a priority for 2013. 

5)  Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal

I was first led on to this band by my aunt and I mistakenly thought she was referring to Monsters of Folk.  She kept talking about how awesome they were and I was left with a lukewarm feeling of, “Ehh, that album was alright, but it also came out two years ago.  What’s the big deal?”  But then my cousin jumped in and cleared up the confusion and I went home to check it out.  Chock full of catchy Icelandic pop that reminds me of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes but even better.  Very full sounds and instruments of all kind along with dual lead vocalists both male and female make this one of the best of the year.

4)  Japandroids - Celebration Rock

This blistering 40 minute 8 track album might not pack a ton of songs, but it really does deliver one of the more raucous indie rock efforts in recent memory.  The guitar drum duo out of Vancouver, Canada pick up that torch from previous noisy two pieces The White Stripes and Black Keys and modernize the sound with more distortion and bombastic sounds that straddle the line between hardcore punk and melodic rock.  It’s a phenomenal album that just gets in there and gets right out without wasting one second, except perhaps for the fireworks exploding sounds that bookend the beginning and end of the record.  Yet, somehow even that fits right in.

3)  Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory

From the opening seconds of this phenomenal record, you get the feeling that something evil is about to happen.  Building to a crescendo, lead singer Dylan Baldi is screaming as if these words are his last and his style doesn’t deviate much from that the remainder of the album.  And just when you get some idea of what’s going on, the nearly 9 minute epic second track “Wasted Days” comes on and just blows you away.  What would normally be annoying vocals is offset by the wall of sound of guitars drums and bass that are very tight, ferocious, and melodic.  Overall, an excellent indie rock record that gets better the more you listen to it.

2)  Titus Andronicus - Local Business

These guys from New Jersey are probably my favorite new act of the past two years.  Their 2012 release here continues where they left off and they crafted an amazing album that somehow combines hardcore punk, power pop, and prog rock in a way that I have never really heard before.  It’s solid all the way through and just leaves me amazed by how unique and powerful it is.  Excellent, excellent, excellent.

1)  First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

As soon as I heard this I loved it.  There is nothing all that groundbreaking with this album, but it includes a complete listing of well-crafted folk pop with lush harmonies and catchy hooks.  It is consistent and the songs vary in structure and tempo enough to keep what would be an otherwise mediocre album into my favorite of the year.  I can’t imagine this ever getting old.

Honorable Mentions:

The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
Green Day - Uno!
Mumford and Sons - Babel
The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
Diiv - Oshin
Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit
Two Door Cinema Club - Beacon
Tanlines - Mixed Emotions
Nude Beach - II
- M