Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dead Or Alive, You're... Something... Whatever.

2014, MGM Pictures
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Abby Cornish
Directed by José Padilha
4 out of 10

We live in the year 2014. Just let that sink in for a second or two. Two-thousand and fourteen. "The Future" which action and science fiction films from the last century attempted to predict (often times more comically than astutely). Yet, here we are in that very future, constantly turning our attention backwards to decades gone by. But, as our society re-purposes the music, movies and fashion trends of the days or yore, we have essentially allowed emerging technology (The Internet, smart phones, drones, etc.) to simply happen to us.

Which brings us to this refashioned and rebooted version of RoboCop, directed by Jose Pahdila (Elite Squad). Here is a movie set in the future (2028, to be exact), yet very reminiscent of a another cyborg cop action film titled, oh let me see... Here it is. That movie was also called RoboCop.

Yes, in 1987, a then relatively unknown Dutch director named Paul Verhoeven made his American debut with a blood-splattered science fiction action film about a cop killed in the line of duty that is transformed into a computer-driven cyborg defender, seeks revenge on those who murdered him as his memories come flooding back and regains his humanity in the end. RoboCop was essentially a Frankenstein-meets-western revenge flick with robots, cocaine snorting yuppies and laugh-at-the-sadness yucks, all caked in blood, bullets and bombast. It was one hell of a manic, satirical and hyper-kinetic joyride, mixing action, black comedy and pathos into one near-flawless concoction.

This new, updated RoboCop is none of those things. In fact, it's a pretty dull affair. Even if there wasn't the original 1987 film to compare this reboot to (which is an impossibility, given Hollywood's ceaseless desire to recycle itself -  but humor me here), Pahdila's film would still rate as only marginally entertaining; merely perfunctory, at best.

Set in a future Detroit that we're told is the most crime-ridden and violent city in America (yet looks a lot more clean and sedate than the actual, present day Detroit does now), mega-conglomerate Omnicorp is at a crisis crossroads: while their mechanized drones make for near perfect peacekeepers in war ravaged locales such as Tahran, the American electorate ironically won't tolerate their civil liberties to be overseen by gun-toting war-bots. As Samuel L. Jackson's Omnicorp propagandeer Pat Novack bloviates on his pundit-style "news" broadcast, The Novak Element, "Why is America so robophobic?" 

Then Omnicorp's CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) comes up with a nifty idea: he's going to put a man inside a machine in order to assuage public opinion, while also increasing his company's market share. "We're going to give Americans a product they can love; a figure they can rally behind.," he proclaims, apparently inspired by a previous night's viewing of Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Quite fortuitously for Sellers, incorruptible Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) has just been critically injured within an inch of his life from a car bomb planted by a flunky of Detroit's generically-rendered, gun-running kingpin, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). Enlisted by Sellars directly, cyber-engineer Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) tells Murphy's wife, Clara (Abby Cornish), that though he's lost a leg, an eyeball and all motor functions in the lower half of his body, the good doctor can give Alex a new lease on life. Just sign on the dotted line.

Soon the now mechanized Alex Murphy is being run through a battery of tests, both physical and demographic. While Murphy is put through the ringer by Omnicorp's sneering and seething head gun-toter Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley), Sellars and his PR flak, Tom Pope (Jay Baruchel), strategize on the best way to sell the public on their new movie... er, product. With the former action scenes playing out like big screen versions of first person shooters like Call of Duty (because what's more fun than watching someone else play a video game?), the latter scene play as self-referentially meta, clever by only half. Yeah, yeah. We get it...

Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer diverge their RoboCop from Verhoven's version almost inversely, which, for a reboot, should be commended. But story-wise, it's pretty weak sauce, as this movie is plagued with characters reciting exposition and emotion-dulling jump cuts. Where the original RoboCop wielded it's snide social satire like a blunt object, in this RoboCop the ham handed commentary on drone warfare so pertinent to today's war-weary realities simply dissolve away well before the film's second act. There's corporate board meetings, televised rallies, a seriously undercooked B-story involving police corruption, and Novak's constant recaps of scenes we've already watched that need attending to. This is tell-not-show movie making at it's most blatant.

In this version of RoboCop we're given more insight into Alex Murphy's home life, but the results never pay off with any real emotional depth. Scenes between Mr. and Mrs. Murphy play more pensive and distraught than loving or endearing, and their son, David (John Paul Ruttan) never really registers as an integral piece of the overall narrative beyond being a generic movie moppet. Later in the film, when Clara pleads with a now robotic Murphy that he needs to speak to their son, we're simply left wondering "Why?" How solid was this family in the first place, when the protagonist's wife seems to be barely holding back tears when she's first introduced?

For his part, Kinnaman gives a serviceable performance as Murphy/RoboCop. In one key scene where Dr. Norton keys Murphy into the reality of how his life will now be as a cyborg (by literally stripping away Murphy's armor down to his head, lungs and remaining right hand), Kinnaman conveys palpable grief at being robbed of everything he once knew of his physical self. We feel for this guy as tears run down his face, requesting that his family never see him like this. Too bad, though, that this emotional depth doesn't play through the entire film.

(Also, why does this state-of-the-art RoboCop have one exposed human hand? Couldn't Omnicorp spring for a matching black glove, at least?)

Though he has the acting chops - not to mention the tall, slender physique - to play the part of RoboCop, I couldn't help but be a bit distracted by Kinnaman's vocal intonations. It's as if this Swedish-born actor retained the Vanilla Ice-ian gangsta-lite drawl of his fractured and flawed streetwise character from the AMC series The Killing.

And therein lies the problem with this slickly-made Robo-reboot. As I was watching it, my mind would wander. I kept thinking about at any given point in this plodding film, what would be taking place in its predecessor. I mean here's a film loaded with a grip of talented actors, million dollar production values and Dark Knight-esque orchestra swells, and I was simply bored watching it. I mean head-cocked-to-the-side-resting-on-palm bored. Beyond having no inkling of irony about itself (it's called RoboCop for Christsake!), there was nothing memorable or stirring about this meandering, flat and, quite frankly, bland film (this despite the bursts of rapid, mind-numbing gunfire peppered throughout it). If it weren't for my notes, I would have a hard time recalling any particularly noteworthy moments from this movie a half-an-hour after watching it.

The original RoboCop had moments. It had gravitas. It had characters, lines of dialog and scenes that were (and still very much are) quite memorable. Beyond its dated special effects, the core of the original film's relevance remains intact; a highly entertaining B-movie elevated to greatness by the energy surge it created. That film tested boundaries, pushed buttons and, above all, entertained its audience with panache.

This new RoboCop isn't quite the train wreck most retooled and easily forgotten movies mined from the 1980's are (Total Recall, Footloose, and Red Dawn, for instance), but it isn't a particularly fun film to watch, either. With its lack of charisma (or even interesting villains), José Padilha's RoboCop is simply adequate (though needlessly fussy) movie going fare: a bloodless PG-13 film seemingly designed by committee to appeal to every- and anyone who believes any "old" film can be improved with an new coat of CGI. It's too bad that Hollywood, when looking backwards to make movies for today, can't (or for some reason won't) harness the chutzpah that made the properties their attempting to "rejuvenate" so fresh and exciting in the first place.

As Mattox paraphrases a line delivered better in the original Robocop, "I wouldn't buy that for a dollar." I, however, spent $10 to see this film. Perhaps I should have taken his advice, if only I knew ahead of time.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Perfect Pussy "Driver" (via SoundCloud)

It's nice to hear that studio time on Captured Tracks dime hasn't softened the Syracuse, NY-based noise punk outfit Perfect Pussy's scorched earth campaign. 

If "Driver" (from the band's forthcoming album Say Yes To Love LP - out on March 18th) is any indication, this band will fully live up to the hype and accolades they earned last year with their searingly brutal self-released debut 4-song cassette EP, I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling.

Let's just hope with all this new found (and much deserved) attention, image searches for this band yield actual pictures of Meredith Graves and co., and not (as your faithful blogger quite embarrassingly discovered) those of a more - ah-hem! - NSFW variety.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Because Best-Of Lists Are Crap: Favorite Music Of 2013

Oy vey! Where exactly did 2013 go? It seems like I just wrote one of these Year-End lists last month, 12 months ago. 

The twenty-unlucky saw the passing of Nelson Mandela (R.I.P.), the botched Obamacare website roll-out and Fox News' Megyn Kelly telling everyone Santa Claus can only be a whiter shade of pale. Oh, and "selfie" is the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year.

So, yeah: Oy vey!

Of course, 2013 was also another great year in music. And as many news reporting outlets will tell you, this years theme was... 1990's revivalism? Feminist empowerment? Kanye West's Kanye Westness? Yes, all of that and so much more. 

Indeed, 90's stalwarts such as Polvo, Daft Punk and My Bloody Valentine released long-awaited records this year. Female-fronted bands and musicians like Haim, The Julie Ruin and Beyoncé kinda, sorta, almost revived the long-too-dormant corpse of riot grrrl (I guess). And Kanye West released the best record ever recorded by a human being in the history of the world, or something like that (just ask these guys).

There was also the bitter rivalry between the reformed members of legendary L.A. punk rockers Black Flag and former members of that band, who go under the litigation-attracting moniker of Flag. Trent Reznor, who also released an album this year, simultaneously cast shade on The Arcade Fire's newest release while praising Davis Bowie's latest for being an rewarding repeat listener. And Kim Deal left the Pixies only to be replaced by The Muffs' Kim Shattuck, who was herself fired by the Frank Black via fax soon after. Yowza!

So the theme of this year (and really, doesn't every year require a theme?) really seemed to be a year in music looking for a theme. Soak in the mete, music reviewers!

Here then is my list of the 10 records I enjoyed the most from 2013. Please note that this most definitely is not a best-of list. Best-of lists are highly contentious and staggeringly stupid, and I don't purport to be one of those end-all, be-all music-reviewing taste maker hacks. That being said, here is my list of favorite recordings of the year:

1. My Bloody Valentine
m b v
Song: "Only Tomorrow" (mp3)

In the 22-year span between the dizzying swirl that is My Bloody Valentine's great sonic achievement, Loveless, and this, their latest album, promises of a follow-up strung fans along just enough become punchlines; after a while, it just didn't seem like it was ever going to happen. Then, one day earlier this year, Kevin Shields emerged from his control room and simply dropped m b v off at the Internet. As the nine songs on this album (six gauzy and dream-drenched, three bombastic and anxiety-inducing) would soon prove, that 22 year duration was worth the wait. Lacking Loveless's narrative arch, m b v is instead the sound of a band subtly expanding its fingertips further; each song here is its own vaporous, stand alone module. Belinda Butcher's breathy vocals are still the perfect compliment to Shield's tone-shifting perfectionism, as illustrated on tracks such as "New You," "Only Tomorrow" and the utterly sublime "If I Am." But it's the final act of this album that provides a honey-powered sonic wallop of droning energy surges (a counter-point to the album's chime-swept harmonic opener, "She Found Now"l), thus making, m b v a glorious, floating maelstrom to behold. Now we just need to wait for that promised follow-up EP to come out, give or take an additional 22 years. But let's hope it doesn't come to that.
2. Parquet Courts
Light Up Gold
Song: "Stoned and Starving" (via Bandcamp)

3. Perfect Pussy
I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling (Cassette EP)
Song: "I" (mp3)

4. Latyrx
The Second Record
Latyramid, Inc.
Song: "Exclamation Point Feat. Forrest Day" (via Soundcloud)

5. Sky Larkin
Wichita Recordings
Song: "Motto" (via Soundcloud)

6. Robert Pollard
Honey Locust Honky Tonk
GBV, Inc.
Song: "I Killed a Man That Looks Like You" (via Soundcloud)

7. Yo La Tengo
Matador Records
Song: "Ohm" (mp3)

8. Julia Holter
Loud City Songs
Song: "Maxim's I" (via Soundcloud)

9. Grouper
The Man Who Died In His Boat
Song: "Vital" (mp3)

10. Johnny Marr
The Messenger
Song: "The Right Thing Right" (mp3)

And now that I've provided you with a "Wait!-What-about-so-and-so?-They-released-one-of-the-best-albums-of-the-year.-This-list-is-bullshit!" list, here is a list of my other favorite things of the year:

Favorite Album Cover

Kanye West  
Def Jam Records

There's something deceptively brilliant about the spartan cover "artwork" gracing Kanye West's equally hyped and celebrated 2013 release. On the face of it, the cover of Yeezus literally doesn't seem like much: a clear CD case, Def Jam legalese gracing the outer edge of the disc itself and red overlapping sticker securing the whole shebang. It's almost as if West is intimating that the contents of this album actually matter more than the packaging around it. Any way you look at it, however, the Yeezus album cover is pretty damned iconic.

Favorite Song

Pharrell Williams
From the Despicable Me 2 Motion Picture Soundtrack
Back Lot Music

Every once in a while a mainstream song will come along that is just too damned good for my curmudgeonly, snobbish sensibilities to ignore. "Happy" by Pharrell Williams is one such song. Soulful, jubilant and and in possession of one hell of an addictive, hook-laden chorus, "Happy," (from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack and Farrell's recently released epic 24-hour "12AM" music video), simply makes me happy when (repeatedly) listening to it. I honestly can't recall the last song that's made the same, dynamic impression on me quite like this one. Along with Batkid, "Happy" has possibly restored my faith in humanity. And that's saying a lot.

Here's Williams' anti-depression ode to joyousness and movement:

Favorite Video

Julie Ruin
"Oh Come On"
From the album Run Fast
Dischord Records

I love this video because it reminds me of those video from the 90's. You know the ones: a tight confined stage decorated with Christmas lights and shit, while all-up-in-their-grills camera zooms catch each and every face mug a seemingly unselfconscious band could muster. Stone Temple Pilots had one of these type of vidoes, but they were all way too serious and precious about it. The Julie Ruin's video for "Oh Come On" on the other hand is cheeky and fun. Plus, this song rocks in a crunchy-meets-shrieky way, and it definitely would not be at home on the Crow Motion Picture Soundtrack.

Favorite Live Show

Neko Case
The Pioneer Courthouse Square
Portland, OR
September 8th, 2013

Neko Case is an amazing songwriter, as her latest album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You so easily illustrates. So it stands to reason that this gifted musician and storyteller (who also celebrated her 40th birthday this crisp, late summer night) would put on a good live show. Entering the cordoned-off (and packed!) Pioneer Square in the heart of downtown Portland, little did I know I'd be witnessing one of the best, most rollicking and absolutely fun live musical performances I've seen in a long, long time. Armed only with her songs, talent and wit, Neko Case and her band blazed through songs new and old, reverberating off the towering old building surrounding "Portland's Livingroom." Almost as lively and entertaining as the music itself, was the between-song banter between Case, her back-up singer Kelly Hogan, and the bearded "AARP" fellas in the band. Thinking back on this show - which benefited Cover Oregon, the state's new and regrettably flawed online medical marketplace - puts a smile on my face and the warm fuzzies in my heart. Damn good show, Ms. Case. Damn good!

Favorite Record Label

Sacred Bones Records

Okay, so none of the records on that list of 10 up there came out on Sacred Bones. So, why is this my favorite record label of the year. Because they released Crystal Stilts criminally over-looked album, Nature Noir. Because they released not one, not two, but three David Lynch-related records this year: Twin Peaks Season Two Music and More, the deluxe edition of the Eraserhead soundtrack and Lynch's latest album, The Big Dream. Because I like the uniformity of their album artwork, with the Sacred Bones logo in the upper left-hand corner. Because this New York-based label has a deep well of amazing artists such as Pharmakon, Moon Duo, The Men, Psychic Ills, etc. on their roster. Because they have awesome compilations like Killed By Deathrock Vol. 1 and Five Years of Sacred Bones Records. Because they kind of have a spooky vibe to 'em despite no overt appearances of being "spooky." Because I said so.

Favorite Movie

In A World
Written, Directed and Starring Lake Bell
Roadside Attractions

While 2013 gave cinema a bevy of truly fantastic films (12 Years a Slave, Her and Dallas Buyers Club, to name but a few), the one movie that I keep coming back to from this year is Lake Bell's fun, witty and observant directorial debut, In A World. Bell, of Children's Hospital fame, turns in a breezy and truly funny indie - which she also wrote and stars in - that taking place in that ever nebulous world of voiceover acting. Here she plays Carol, an underachieving voice acting coach, who when we meet her, is crashing with her father, Sam (Fred Melamed) - a man who also happens to be a legend in the voiceover community. Spurned by her father's lack of support, Carol seeks to land a sweetheart gig doing the voiceover for the trailer of a potential summer blockbuster in the Hunger Games vein, thus pitting her not only against her father, but another, more vainglorious voice actor, played by Ken Marino. Co-starring a host of familiar actors and comedians from shows such as Parks and Recreation, Party Down, The League, etc., In A World is at once a smart, charming and funny film. If this is what Lake Bell is capable of now, I can't see what she comes up with next.

Favorite Book

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz
Abrams Books

One of these year-end reviews I'm going to actually review a novel that came that given year. Something with characters and plot and accolades on the front and back covers. I swear. How does next year sound? Until then, let me tell you about this coffee table blunt object, The Wes Anderson Collection. Written by Matt Zoller Seitz, this voluminous tome stretches over all seven of Wes Anderson's theatrically released films to date, featuring not only essays on each film, but a dearth of on-set images, behind the scenes photos, fan artwork, collected ephermera, compare and contrast still from films that inspired Anderson's work, and a spate of interviews with the director himself. More than any other book on the subject, Zoller Seitz gives fans of Wes Anderson's films the closest, revealing and colorful behind-the-curtain glimpses into what makes Wes Anderson's films so endearing and important to this filmmaker's fans.

Favorite Thing

Levi's 511 Commuter Jeans

I'm a Levi's jeans guy. I've owned jeans by other manufacturers, but honestly, they weren't quite the same. Levi's has a fit and feel that fits my considerable tuchus just right. As a bicycle rider, Levi's 514's have just enough give in the legs when riding, and the back pocket fits a U-Lock perfectly. But leave it to Levis to come up with the skinnier, more stretchy 511 Commuter Jeans. These 511's feature many rider-centric amenities, such as reflective strips inside the pant leg (so when you roll them up, the strip is on the outside cuff), a U-lock loop on the beltline over the back pocket, and water-resistant/dirt-repellent protective finish. Oh, and they pretty damned comfortable, to boot. My tuchus never had it so good.

Lastly, here are some Christmas presents for your ears. Just follow the links to my some-songs-of-the-year compilations (click on the captions below the cover artwork):

Days of Past Past Futures - Vol. 1
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 2
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 3
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 4
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 5

Happy Birthday, Amy! XOXO

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Literally, The Best Podcast In The World

★★★★★ How Did This Get Made?

Sometimes you just want a podcast you don't have to think about; a little something to turn off your brain and inhale popcorn to. A podcast doesn't need to have good acting, or even some kind of hoity-toity, pseudo-intellectual plot to be awesome! HOW DID THIS GET MADE? IS THE BEST PODCAST EVER!!! If you like cray-cray action sequences, hawt sex scenes, and bombin' special effects, How Did This Get Made? is the podcast for you. If you're not a fan of fun, than your (sic) a PC hipster with no friends. FIVE STARS!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Stranger In An Even Stranger Land

The Stranger
Watching Dead Empires In Decay

By now, musical electrician Leyland Kirby must know that he's making absolutely perfect soundtracks for urban exploring, right? His previous work under the moniker The Caretaker fused warped jazz 78s with hisses and clicks; the perfect accompaniment for navigating abandoned TB hospitals, shuttered auto plants or spooky-ass insane asylums (whatever floats your boat). Additionally, Kirby's recordings under his own name and V/Vm are both atmospheric and cheekily confounding (respectfully). His latest, possibly Albert Camus-inspired iteration, The Stranger, even goes so far as to depict a derelict apartment block on the cover of its debut LP, Watching Dead Empires In Decay (natch!)

Unlike his previous work however, Kirby's The Stranger has ratcheted-up the foreboding and dread, turning those explorations down peeled-paint hallways into fodder for nightmares ("Spiral of Decline"). And unlike his previous cut-n-paste recordings, Decay features a fully realized narrative from start to finish, complete with second act denouements taking place at the gates of Hell itself ("Where Are Our Monsters Now, Where Are Our Friends?") It's all quite glorious, mad-for-sadness stuff. For those of you (us) in a perpetually melancholy mood, Decay is manna from Hades.

Just take heed of the warning sign on the the front gates before you break in, k?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Here are three (3) tips make your Halloween night safe and memorable:

1. Always trick or treat with a buddy.

2. Whistle a happy lil' tune while you walk.

3. Relax with a movie* at the end of the night.

Have fun out there!

*Thanks to Red Letter Media for the movie recommendation.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Splendiforous Wes Anderson-tatstic Weblog Communiqué

Sometimes, Saturday Night Live can really surprise you. Between groan-inducing sketches they've only given themselves a week to workshop and rehearse, the hardworking cast and crew of SNL proves that they can still pull off a bit so masterful and nearly ingenious, you could possibly forgive them for allowing Miley Cyrus to host their show weeks earlier.

Such was the case with last Saturday's episode hosted by Edward Norton. Among several fairly humorous sketches ("Halloween Candy," "12 Days Not A Slave" and the always dependable Weekend Update), one sketch in particular stood-out.

The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders proved to be fairly hilarious and spot on send-up of almost every single Wes Anderson-ism to date. Mining from Anderson's oeuvre (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, et al.), this satire imagines what a "hand crafted" home invasion horror movie directed by the King of Twee could be.

Among several keenly observed Anderson tropes consisting of vintage tchotchkes, anamorphic pull-back tracking shots, stilted line deliveries, a folk rock-heavy soundtrack, and title card sequences with corresponding foley and Futura Bold font, Norton provided a near pitch perfect Owen Wilson impersonation. All that's missing is Bill Murray, an Anderson mainstay since Rushmore and former SNL cast member (natch!)

As a fan of Wes Anderson's film, I would totally see this movie if it were real. If for no other reason, really, than to know where I can get a copy of the song at 1:56 mark:

As good as Norton is in this send-up is, however, he could take voice lessons from the guy playing Wilson in this Wes Anderson spoof from a couple of years ago:

Of course, Anderson himself has a film coming out next year titled The Grand Budapest Hotel. And just like Moonrise Kingdom before it, this one also stars Edward Norton. Here is the for-some-reason-non-widescreen-shot trailer:

"You had me at Wes Anderson."