Monday, October 31, 2005

every dog has his day...or in this case four, or five

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Directed by: Nick Park and Steve Box
Rating: as delicious as aged gouda

i haven't seen an eyebrow this expressive since jack nicholson's. with a mere twitch, a lilting at different angles, this eyebrow can evince pain, frustration, amusement, happiness; any of the attendant emotions of the human psyche. oddly though, this eyebrow, this majestic purveyor of feeling...belongs to a dog. not just any ordinary dog mind you, but gromit, loyal companion and irrepressible savior of wallace, professional inventor and amateur cheese lover.
after two academy award winning short films starring the duo, director nick park offers the first full-length story with his two most famous creations. the story begins with wallace and gromit being applauded for their efforts at humane pest control, as all the rabbits they capture eating the local's vegetables are housed in pens beneath their house. when an experiment to rid the rabbits of their near unsatiable craving for vegetables goes awry though, the dreaded 'were-rabbit' of lore appears and our two intrepid heroes must capture the beast (humanely, of course) before lady tottington (voiced by helena bonham carter) begins her annual big vegetable contest and the evil victor quartermaine (voiced by ralph fiennes) can take care of the problem in a much more bloody fashion.
park's and co-director steve box present an antiquated england, where all the immediate fears and trappings of current society have no place. the people go about their simple lives, and their greatest fear is whether their vegetables will grow large enough to capture the 'golden carrot' at the vegetable contest. painstakingly crafted and detailed, park's and his team's rendering of this world is full of charm and whimsy.
the real treat though is the interaction between the two principles. next in a long line of bumbling leading men and their inimitable, indispensable sidekicks that goes all the way back to p.g. wodehouse's bertie wooster and jeeves, wallace and gromit are the most endearing, unique heroes to grace the screen in years. filled with moments that are funny for both adults and children, park's allows the story to explain the nature of their relationship in a manner that most cartoons are unaccustomed to. holding back from the in your face emotional blast of most american made animation, 'wallace and gromit' allows the world of the characters and the current of their day-to-day existence to quitely convey the depth and strength of their bond. wallace and gromit are not just master and dog, but are equal partners (even if one is silent) in their business ventures, and in their relationship with one another (the dog does the driving.)
finally, park's fills the screen with set pieces and animation that are astounding regardless of whether they're handmade or not. beginning with an opening montage that is an homage to charlie chaplin's 'city lights' as the two heroes are woken, washed and dressed through a complicated rube goldberg machine and dropped down on to the breakfast table, through allusions and tributes to the great lon chaney, boris karloff monster movies of the 30's and 40's, and ending with a hilarious nod to king kong (also a tip of the hat to the the first famous piece of stop motion animation, which parks has mastered in all its intricacy and beauty,) 'wallace and gromit: the curse of the were-rabbit' is absolutely delightful, engaging filmmaking that reminds us of the first rule of true friendship: you stick with them, even if they drive you crazy sometimes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Taste Monkeys

and now for something completely different...

Specimen Days
by Michael Cunningham
an older man, a young boy, and a young woman make their way (in different forms) through the new york of the industrial revolution, its post-9/11 fear and insulation, finally ending in a post-nuclear old new york where the first alien race contacted have replaced the irish, african, and chinese hands that toiled in the most thankless of jobs, all while walt whitman's spectre plays participatory witness. its impact almost equals its ambition. specimen days is a swirling, intoxicating, ultimately haunting work that captures the endurance of the human consciousness, and the ties that bind us to this earth.
Girls Can Tell
the essence of unaffected cool. britt daniels's smoky, stretched voice bounces all over the band's sparse garage funk, like some sort of bizzaro blue-eyed soul experiment gone awry. clocking in at just under 40 minutes, spoon's third full length is perfect pop minimalism; the sound of life behind the cigarette smoke and underneath the gin-soaked whispers, in the corner booth with your heart in your throat.
The Simpsons
The Complete 6th Season
the show has suffered recently from the competition of other not-so-subtle animated comedies (this means you seth macfarlane); this season reminds viewers why we love the simpsons, but only laugh at stewie, peter et al. while the family guy, south park and american dad attack and criticize society with their humor the simpsons mirror it and reflect back an image that, while cartoonish in its presentation, makes one feel more deeply about the characters and the world that they, and ultimately we, live in.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Taste Monkeys

Your weekly guide on what to look at, talk about, and listen to:
Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood
Atwood's thrilling, if slightly heavy handed, take on one man's seemingly solitary future amongst the ruins of a world torn apart by genetic engineering and biological terrorism. A chilling view of what our desire for perfection coupled with human ingenuity can lead to if left unchecked.

Babylon by Bus
Bob Marley & The Wailers

recorded on their first world tour in 1978, it captures everything that makes marley and the wailers' music so powerful; brothers carlton and aston barrett's propulsive, insistent rhythm work, junior marvin's guitar floating and skanking throughout the album, and above all marley himself so full of soul, righteousness, and conviction towering over the group like a dreadlocked moses, leading europe to the promised land.

South Park: Season 9 (wed.@ 10 e.)
First off, kids swearing is always funny. That the show manages to be so much more on a weekly basis just adds to its greatness. TV's most realistic take on kids, and as cynically honest as the "daily show," it inspires the sometimes uneasy laughter of all great social commentaries. Thank God they're cartoons, because to see stan, kyle, kenny and cartman grow up would be a shame.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

back in the day

i used to be in a rap group...(long, cathartic sigh)'s not a dark secret, not something i need to hide like those pictures of me dressed up as a girl when i was 2 (another long cathartic sigh)...but most of the time anything that starts of "an italian, an irish guy, and an indian"...usually ends with a punchline where either one or all three die some stupid death over a bottle of booze or a woman...but nope, this one ended with "start a rap group." actually, that might be a funnier punchline than any.
there are those small moments, thrown in between bigger memories of first crushes, family feuds, failed exams, and first loves; the small moments that fill in the spaces in our history and give it shape and color; the taste of your favorite dessert, the color of the sun the first time you saw one rise, the feel of the sand between your toes at the beach, and for me the first time i heard snoop doggy dogg (ne' snoop dogg) slink over the loping, head-thumping bass beat of dre's "nuthin' but a g-thang," like some revisionist southern snake-oil salesman, hoodwinking a whole generation into buying the idea of "gangsta." the difference was that dre and snoop didn't come off as fake like m.c. hammer or outright insulting like vanilla ice...the difference was that i was kind of scared of dre and snoop, and part of me wanted to know more about that fear, to walk into the dark cave and see how deep it went.
so i start to tiptoe into hip-hop around 8th grade. had my mom buy me "the chronic" with my thumb over the "parental advisory" sticker and then promptly denied the clerk's offer of a bag and shoved it into my pocket. then back to the house where i'd put it on my headphones (to avoid being discovered listening to a song called "a n***a wit a gun" by my mother) and listen to it over and over as i tried to picture the los angeles they were talking about, a los angeles a million miles removed from the one i grew up in.

so one thing led to another. i worked my way through everything dr. dre related...n.w.a., solo ice cube...and once that well ran dry i made my way out east, in no way prepared for what waited.
my exposure to rap was at the time limited to what i saw on mtv and heard on the radio, and "yo! mtv raps" was on so late that i could only catch it when i managed to stay up, so east coast rap basically meant ll cool j and public enemy. then i saw a video one night with a bunch of crazy looking dudes (one of them was wearing a fencing mask) on a dilapidated city bus, talking just about the craziest shit i had ever heard, and it seemed like there were 18-25 of them in the group. the wu created a whole different world to rap in;the hard knock life mixed with arcane eastern action film references, mazda mpvs and comic book heroes cohabiting the same verse. based on lyrics like these, no wonder i wanted to be in a rap group. hell, an italian, an irish guy and an indian could talk about comic books, kung-fu flicks, and dorky cars, right? right?
in the years that followed though the wu, like so many other rappers, fell off. the manic, infuriating brilliance of odb fell victim to his lifestyle, method man sold his soul to hollywood and deodorant, and the rza went the "mothersbaugh route" and started to write movie soundtracks. through it all though, ghostface lost the fencing mask, lost the "killah" and, like his superhero moniker 'iron man,' came bursting out from under the rubble of the wu-empire swinging, with one excellent solo album after another.

this brings us to last thursday, where i finally witnessed the reborn ghostface. from going above ground, where i saw him with the rest of the clan in front of too many people in '97, then back underground where he seems much more at home because, to put a spin on what a wise old dirty bastard once said, "wu tang is'nt for the kids."
almost 3 hours into the show, after a promising but somewhat flat set from ghostface's crew (the hilariously named 'theodore unit) and a bizarre, spaced-out performance by cappadonna (who mind you, was making a living driving a cab recently) ghostface finally took the stage, and the reception was thunderous. taking the stage to chants of "ghostface" and with wu-tang "w"'s held proudly in the air, he ripped through an eclectic mix of solo songs and verses from tracks he did on other albums, most notably some classics from raekwon's first album "only built for cuban linx." and as ghostface and the theodore unit traded rhymes and worked the audience into a frenzy, and the kids at the front of the stage held their "w"'s up as long as their arms would let them, as all the white girls shook booty, and 4 chinese guys rapped along with ghostface while 3 black dudes cheered them on; i realized why i wanted to start a rap group in the first place and that the cave i walked into years before led right into the light

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rock and Roll Is Fun

title: you could have it so much better with...
artist: franz ferdinand
rating: most excellent

about 15 years ago, kurt cobain and nirvana simultaneously made rock and roll relevant again, and also managed to completely suck the life out of it. the whole "why me? i just wanna write songs, not be famous," mentality created a whole generation of rock stars who simply hated the attention. there was no room for the mick jaggers, the david lee roths...certifiable rock stars that at once made great rock music and seemed to have a great time doing it. rivers cuomo, fiona apple, lauryn hill...all succumbed to the pressure of fame at one time or another.
then about four years ago there were rumblings of a rock and roll revival of sorts coming out of new york. the strokes were coming...rock and roll is back!!! or at least everyone thought so, but you couldn't understand a damn thing julian casablancas was saying, and when i saw them live in 2001, it seemed like they wanted to be doing something else (which i overheard, verbatim, from casablancas in the bathroom only 20 minutes before the show.)
so the wait continued. then about two years ago i got my hands on a copy of a cd by a scottish band named after the guy that got shot to start world war I. i listened to the first franz ferdinand cd about 4 times in a row, and i could feel it again, the pure elation that rock music can provide, even when the songs are about the boredom of being middle class, about being broke, and all the other sad/angry things that rock music's usually about. their choppy riffs, new wave rhythms, and above all alexander kapranos's cocksure, wink-and-a-nod voice that floats and wails all over the band's rhythmic exercises and exchanges was not revolutionary but absolutely refreshing.
on "franz ferdinand" kapranos always sounds like he's got a drink in his hand, and maybe a bit too much pick me up in his pants, unable to even keep his focus on one specific gender ("michael.)" the new album is no different. it's not so much an "album" as a collection of singles, each one standing on its own. 3-4 minutes of exuberant, brazen rock and roll come ons delivered without artifice or pretension. franz ferdinand is not out to change the world, a la u2, or even change rock and roll. what they do intend to do, and succeed at so masterfully on "you could have it so much better...," is to kick rock music square on its ass and inject it with the sex-drugs-party-drinks-sex-kiss off attitude that the genre sorely misses. the sounds on "you could have it so much better..." vary greatly from "franz ferdinand," with kapranos doing his best paul mccartney over some piano riffs on "eleanor get your boots on" and the guitar work seems to owe more to 70's garage rock than they do to the 80's new wave of the first album. "you could have it so much better..." holds true to its title though, because franz ferdinand take everything they've learnt over the years about rock and roll and put it together to create an album that manages to breathe life back to what many people thought was a dead genre.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I wonder if these guys know Abba...

does swedish sometimes sound like japanese? or is that just me? i think its the way they elongate their vowel sounds. many think that japanese is a rough language, along the lines of chinese, but sometimes i think that impression comes more from people who live all their lives in an environment so dependent on time and efficiency that they cannot, amidst all their other luxuries, afford lazy day conversation. japanese, spoken by monks who have stripped themselves of worldly worries, use a sonorous, lilting form of the language, melodic in its delivery.
i've never studied sweden (i did, however, spend three horrific years taking japanese) but i'm going to assume they're a bit more laid back than the japanese, or they'd be more than the country that gave us abba.
abba fooled us all though, if only for a minute, by singing in only two of them fit the image of swedes as blonde locked, blue eyed valkryies and vikings...the other two looked like my neighbors jim and nancy. and their american english was impeccable, effortlessly aping our accents and idioms (check out the rising "ooh yeah" at the end of the chorus of "dancing queen," how they almost close that note only to come back up again, like they were channeling the spirit of ronnie spector at the end of the chorus of "be my baby.")
but the whole thing, ultimately, seemed fake: a gross interpretation of american popular music, lacking the honesty and emotion that defines the best american music all the way from billie holliday to the notorious b.i.g. so, perhaps due to abba's insistence on being something they weren't, i don't think i've ever heard spoken swedish, save for the swedish chef, but i think its possible he suffered from a mental disorder so you can't really accept him as an example.
so on saturday night, in strode dungen to the empty bottle. very obvioiusly swedish: this time there was no jim and nancy to fool me, these guys are all skinny rock and roll vikings; long blonde hair thrashing in the red glow of the stage lights. when gustav ejstes opens his mouth though, you'd be hard pressed to identify it as swedish, stretching vowels and holding consonants in the back of his throat as he bounced across the stage for an hour and twenty minutes. then, between songs, he'd serve platitudes to his u.s. fans in a broken english eerily similar to that of balki bartokomous.
occassionally, as the lead guitarist and rhythm section played off each other furiously, he'd put down his tambourine and grab his flute, or pound on the keys. familiar songs turned into extended jams, a strange brew of pink floyd and the grateful dead as the songs built through the band's interplay, becoming something ethereal; there but not there like fog, until the original song came rushing back like some shrouded memory.
dungen rocks, in the tradition of all great rock and roll, because it makes you feel, even in a language so incomprehensible to me that it sounded like something from a country 5000 miles away whose only similarity to sweden is a common love for seafood. ultimately, dungen do what abba never could by understanding that the one language that's truly universal (unlike swedish, japanese, or english) is music.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

sun is shining

flipping through my limited cable channel selection the other night (70 channels, no HBO and no onDemand, so basically i watch commercials) and while flipping, i stop on the TV Guide channel to see what's on, and the next thing i know joan rivers and her ever-so-annoying daughter melissa are braying at me like two donkeys competing on american idol, absolutely entranced by how "mah-velous" the cast of "desperate housewives looks on the Emmy red carpet.
i am not bullshitting when i say joan rivers reminds me of george burns's walking corpse. if you put thick black frame glasses on her, take off her wig and shove a cigar in her mouth, joan'd have you saying "Goodnight Gracie!" in the time it takes her daughter to sound like an idiot (which, for those that don't know, is roughly 3 seconds.) but i digress, the real issue at hand is what aired after joan rivers' prattling almost caused me to have an aneurysm and i switched over to watch the post-emmy coverage on the E! channel...or maybe it was the post-post-Emmy show...or maybe even the post-Emmy party-post show. anyway...even the horror that is joan rivers could not prepare me for the world's most delicious train wreck, witnessed immediately afterward on the E! channel...tara reid in her own globe-trotting adventure show, "taradise."
the exclamation mark is the most important part of the "E!" channel brand because it indicates the "E!"xcitement and pure "E!"lation to follow the "E"!, as in "E"ntertainment!!!! with wall to wall coverage of who and what your favorite stars are doing, nothing beats "E!" in terms of pure junk food for media-obsessed fanboys, sycophants, and stalkers alike.
there's a moment in "the big lebowski," incidental but important, when a bikini clad bunny lebowski (played by tara reid) asks the dude to blow on her freshly painted green toenails, and then offers him a blowjob in exchange for a $1000, thus establishing two key plot points A: bunny is in desperate need of money, and B: she's willing to do anything to get it. then, after the post-Emmy wrap up-pre-post-Emmy party show, tara reid herself appears before me, on her new E! channel show "Taradise," and confirms what i'd always been suspicious of since that scene in "the big lebowski": tara reid is A: in desperate need of money and B: willing to do anything to get it.
For those of you not familiar "taradise" involves tara in sort of skimpy clothing to so-skimpy-she-might-as-well-be-naked clothing (depending on the position of the sun), hanging out with her friends, drinking, eating and having a "tara"-effic time (made up that one myself...)
not 5 minutes into the episode do the words "i'm horny" come out of her mouth...and then...amidst an entire group of people at dinner..."i need to find a boy to make out with." mind you, this girl took part in one of the finest American comedies of all time, and now she's playing herself in some sort of faux-"girls gone wild" motif (sans nudity sadly, thereby depriving the viewers of the two most interesting aspects of tara's personality) and stumbling her poor drunken self through the new wave of celebrity reality: the downfall. but hey, at least she's not like poor danny bonaduce who actually cried (like a man mind a man) about the dissolvement of his marriage due to his alcohol problems. ms. reid avoids that dilemma, apparently by drinking herself to the point where remembering even her own name, let alone the guy's she slept with, becomes problematic.
"taradise" helped me realize something though. entertainment, in most cases, sucks. broadcast tv, with the odd exception of an "arrested development", a "family guy", or even a "lost" (which by the way makes for quite riveting television, despite the absolute impossibility of its premise), lacks substance and style. take this over to music and the song remains the same. the radio blows, spouting mostly vapid and artless drivel. ditto movies (i mean come on..."the dukes of hazzard"? of all the shows in the history of television, they pick one where the main characters are a car and a girl's ass to make into a feature length film?) so what i propose to those select few that are chosen by me is to turn this site, my blog, now your blog, into a way to rant about the things in and around us that completely piss us off and a place to rave about the things no one else might know about and should know about. together, like voltron, we can defeat the forces of evil that allow tara reid to destroy herself on television, and allow maury povich to degrade young women and men on a daily basis by airing their innermost secrets and privacies on national television, in front of a leering, abusive audience. let us rain down on their kingdom of stupidity with brazen wit, unyielding cynicism, and an absolute lack of tolerance for bullshit. once the door opens, they'll never be able to close it on us again.