Monday, November 30, 2009

Albums We Missed, Because We Weren't Born Yet -- Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life (plus live download)

Last month I posted about Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline (click here) -- highlighting a poem, of sorts, about Bob Dylan as written by Johnny Cash (who was also featured on the album). With that poem in mind, I tried to scan through my vinyls to discover other gems which you may have missed if you bought the album off itunes.

What I found was the opening passage to a 24-page lyric booklet for Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. The album was listed as the 56th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone, and I am convinced it is the greatest album name ever conceived. I have the collector's album from 1976, and I'm not sure if this opening passage was included in the standard release; but, since the standard album did not contain the lyric booklet, I'm guessing not.

If you didn't already know, Stevie Wonder's birth name was Stevland Hardaway Judkins (later changed to Morris), and this opening passage, written by Stevland, gives nice insight into his Stevie Wonder alter-ego.

Opening Remarks to Songs in the Key of Life (an excerpt):
"I've never considered myself an orator nor a politician, only a person who is fortunate enough, thanks to all of you, to become an artist given a change to express the way he feels and hopefully the feelings of may other people. It is to me a fact that Stevie Wonder is that temporary someone of myself even though we have come to know each other very well and realized because of who he is, the many doors that have been opened may have been closed to myself, Stevland Morris. It is important that you do note permanently in your mind that I do take not a second for granted. For I do believe it is that Stevie Wonder is the necessary vehicle on which Stevland Morris must be carried on his mission to spread love mentalism. In every album that I have and shall do, it is not my goal for that to be better than that and the next to succeed the others, but only that I do and give the best I can at the time of my doing and giving and that only happens because of the dis- or satisfaction that made me want to be a better someone..."
-- Stevland

MP3: DOWNLOAD Stevie Wonder -- Live in London (1/31/1974) (click here).

This solid bootleg includes: Intro-Contusion, Higher Ground, Mary Wants to be a Superwoman, To Know You is to Love You, Signed Sealed and Delivered, Visions, Dont You Worry 'Bout a Thing, Living for the City, You are the Sunshine of my Life, Superstition, Encore Jam.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sometimes Casting Is Easy...

When the makers of Invictus were trying to decide who they wanted to play Nelson Mandela, I bet it took them all of about 2 seconds to arrive at Morgan Freeman. Not only do the two look alike, but Freeman is one of the few actors in Hollywood with the presence and ability to deliver a speech that is even capable of playing the part. Unquestionably my favorite narrator in movie history (i.e., The Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby), I'm excited to see how well Freeman does at pulling off the difficult role.

For those not familiar, the movie will tell the true story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup held in South Africa. Apartheid had ended, Mandela was president, and South Africa was in desperate need of a unifying force. Mandela thought hosting the World Cup would be a way to unite his people. Matt Damon will play the captain of the South African team that went on to the World Cup and united the country.

I've actually seen a few documentaries on this already, and I can tell you that it's really a great story. But if Freeman and Damon aren't a big enough draw, the movie is also directed by Clint Eastwood. I'm sure I'll touch on this subject more in future posts, but Eastwood's move to directing has really been one of the biggest blessings to American cinema, especially his work of the last decade or so. Although I didn't really care much for Flags of our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, and Gran Torino are all flat-out terrific films, and Changeling and Blood Work were also decent. Hopefully the Eastwood-Freeman-Damon combo is a recipe for a great film.

Here's the preview:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey with a Side of Mash-ups

If you aren't a fan of mash-potatoes this Thanksgiving, try out these mashups instead -- brought to you courtesy of Super Mash Brothers. The duo, consisting of Nick Fenmore and Dick Fink, have dubbed themselves "Girl-Talk's Hot Cousin," -- and described their work as "taking all of your favorite hits from the 90's and combining them with todays chart topping rap hits in ways scientifically proven to make you shake your ass."

In my opinion, their albums are amateurish compared to Girl Talk -- utilizing far less creative sampling and far fewer songs. Still if you like Girl Talk and continuous track-style mashup albums, you'll definitely like these guys. As always, it's a surefire way to kick off any party.

MP3: Download their latest album, All About the Scrilion (click here).
MP3: Download their first album, Fuck Bitches. Get Euros. (click here).

Lost Treasures: A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

As I scrolled through the "Watch Instantly" feature on my Netflix account, I stumbled across a 2006 film that I had never heard of, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints. I noticed that it starred Robert Downey Jr. (just before his big breakout) so I decided to give it a shot. And I'm glad I did. It turns out the movie is actually pretty good. It's just that nobody has heard of it (well, nobody except the higher-ups at Sundance who gave it the Director's Award and Special Jury Prize in 2006). The film is a well-paced 100 minutes full of terrific acting (actually done by some very famous actors that would make for a huge movie if it was coming out today) and scenes of life in Queens, NY during the 1980's that seemed very genuine, but often heartbreaking and terrible at the same time.

I won't go into the details of the plot too much because, honestly, there isn't a lot to it. The movie is essentially a myriad of flashbacks from the real life of Dito Montiel (played in present day by Robert Downey Jr. and played in the past by Transformers star Shia Labeouf), and the events that led up to him leaving his hometown behind on a bus to California. Dito's day-to-day basically consists of hanging out with his friends, especially his best friend Antonio (basically the thug of the group; played really well by an actor I generally don't care for -- G.I. Joe and Fighting's Channing Tatum), during the day and getting into minor trouble here and there. They often spend time at Dito's house, talking to his father (played by Chaz Plaminteri from The Usual Suspects) and mother (played by Dianne West). And their nights are generally filled hanging out with a group of neighborhood girls, including Dito's high school girlfriend, Laurie (played in present day by Rosario Dawsome and in the past by relative unknown Melonie Diaz).

But, as the film progresses, tragedy strikes in various ways, including a conflict with group of neighborhood grafiti artists that really escalates in large part to Antonio. As things get worse and Dito's relationship with outsider Mike O'Shea (Martin Compston) begins to influence his thinking, Dito realizes he wants out of New York and wants to escape his troubles to flee to California. It is there that he becomes a famous writer before finally returning home 15 years later.

As I said before, the movie honestly doesn't have a great or powerful plot. It really is just a series of memories from Dito's life. But most of the scenes are compelling in their own way, and you aren't left feeling shortchanged at all. On top of that, the acting is really very good. Despite my opinion that he is usually not a very good actor, Channing Tatum may have had the best performance of the movie. And Labeouf does an admirable job as well.

The movie also used a couple of unique effects that I really liked. For one, it highlighted important dialogue between Dito and Mike as well as Dito and his father by silencing out all background noises so you only heard the two talking. That may not be the best way to describe it, but you'll see what I'm talking about if you ever see it. Another unique thing that the movie did was have its characters periodically look into the camera and say simple things that really define their characters (for example, Antonio looks into the camera and says, "I'm Antonio. I'm a piece of shit, and everyone knows it"), and, for reasons I can't explain, these seemed to resonate with me as I watched.

Bottom line: It's hard for me to understand why a movie packed with so many stars and so well received by critics flew under the radar like this one did. It's definitely worth checking out. (B)

Here's the preview:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Judd Apatow's Attempt at Dramatic Comedy

Judd Apatow's Funny People comes out on DVD today and, despite the film's title, is actually just as much of a drama as it is a comedy. The movie isn't just fun and games and that wonderful brand of raunchy comedy that we've come to expect (and love) from Apatow. Instead, it tries to be a lot more and actually enjoys modest success for its efforts.

It tells the story of superstar comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler, Apatow's real life ex-roommate) who is somewhat of a self-important ass. Simmons is diagnosed with leukemia and given a very small chance to live. Facing this news, Simmons decides he wants to spend his remaining days doing stand-up, his first love. And he hires struggling comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to help him write jokes for his act and basically work as his personal assistant. As the two get closer, Ira convinces George to tell others about his illness.

George contacts his ex-wife Laura (played by Apatow's real life wife, Leslie Mann) who is now married with two daughters. She tells George that she misses him and is unhappy with her marriage. Eventually, George overcomes his illness. And events transpire that force Laura to really make a decision between George and her husband (played by Eric Bana). I won't ruin the rest of the movie for anyone, but, if you can't tell so far, the plot is much more developed and serious than your average Apatow film. Dealing with life threatening illnesses and lost loves, the film is as much a coming-of-age tale about both Ira and George as it is anything else. Although not as emotionally compelling as a really good drama, I still found myself actually caring what happened to our characters (really one of the key ways that I judge whether a drama is good or not).

For as much as I've talked about the drama in this movie, there is still some comedy in it. The stand-up bits (by the way, the stars of the movie actually traveled across the country doing live stand-up at various comedy spots for the footage in the movie) are moderately funny, but they actually would've been much funnier if the film had included more of the work of Aziz Ansari (you might know him from Scrubs or Parks & Recreation) whose work as "Raaaaaandy" has actually developed somewhat of a cult following. You can check out some of his stuff that was left out here. Jonah Hill (Superbad, Knocked Up) and Jason Schwartzman are both somewhat funny in supporting roles. And I'm also really starting to fall in love with Apatow's newest stars, his daughters Maude and Iris (also the daughters from Knocked Up). They're actually really funny. But, all in all, the comedy is somewhat lacking compared to Apatow's other films. And if you have no interest in anything but laughing, you will probably be disappointed. There is just too much time devoted to more serious matters.

Bottom Line: The movie is sort of a combination of an average comedy and an average drama. But for whatever reason, I actually thought it was pretty decent. Be warned that it is rather long, but I think it's definitely worth a watch. But maybe not a buy. (B-)

Here's the preview:

Other movies coming out on DVD:

Angels & Demons -- This was a very average thriller that had some pretty entertaining parts but seemed relatively uninspired. Unless you have to own it because of the book, I wouldn't bother. (C)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

This Week In Movies

Here's this week's edition:

Movies I Want to See:

The Road -- I posted about this a long time ago. I absolutely loved this book. Hopefully, the movie will do Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece justice.

Movies I Would Go See:

Ninja Assassin -- Despite one of the more ridiculous titles in a while, I'd go see this if I was looking for a good action movie.

Movies I Would Never Go See:

Old Dogs -- Memo to John Travolta and Robin Williams: What has happened to you guys? Please stop taking every shitty script that gets tossed your way. Some actors get better with age (e.g., George Clooney, Alec Baldwin). You guys are clearly not in this category.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Female Covers Mixtape... plus Eric Prydz "Call on Me" Live

This, you could say, is a completely inadvertent mixtape. I was just skimming through my music and came to the realization that I have tons of covers by female artists. I tried to siphon out the covers that sound like they should be background for some bad romcom, instead chosing to to pick, what I think, are at least minimally interesting covers that put a unique spin on the songs. Some will probably enjoy it, others will not. I guess that's the nature of the beast ("the beast" being music).

Just in case you listen to this mixtape and feel like you have an increased sensitivity to the feelings of others and/or crave dark chocolate.... I have also posted a live version of Eric Prydz's "Call on Me" -- which should snap you out of it and bring you back to manhood.

Noisettes - When You Were Young (Killers cover)
Sky Ferreira - Animal (Miike Snow Cover)
Ellie Goulding – The Wolves (Act I and II) (Bon Iver Cover)
Bat For Lashes - Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover)
Sara Lov - My Body Is A Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
Jonna Lee - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (Postal Service Cover)
Run Toto Run - Sleepyhead (Passion Pit Cover)
Anya Marina - Whatever You Like (T.I. Cover)
Dirty Mittens - White Winter Hymnal (Fleet Foxes cover)

MP3: Download the full Female Covers Mixtape (click here).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

USA v. World (Round 3): Clash of the Titans -- Billy Joel v. Elton John

Tied at one a piece entering Round 3 of USA v. World, I decided to finally showcase the match-up that got me started on this whole idea -- Elton John (UK) v. Billy Joel (USA). This is one seems particularly strange, considering that the two musicians are not only friends, but they have been longtime touring partners since 1994 -- creating, literally, the "most successful concert tandem in pop music history."

If we go straight by the numbers, there is no question that Elton John edges out Billy Joel. Even though both musicians kicked off their careers right around the same time (the early '70s), Elton John has sold over 200 million records worldwide -- nearly doubling Billy Joel's 100 million records sold. Both have picked up five Grammys, which I actually found to be surprisingly low; however, John has also picked up an Academy Award, a Tony, and a Golden Globe. Joel's thirty-three Top-40 hits are also a far-cry from John's impressive fifty-six.

While the numbers may be skewed, music is an art... not a science. Being such, quantifiable comparisons (such as records sold) perhaps pale in comparison to unquantifiable artistic accomplishment. Let's consider this single fact: all thirty-three of Billy Joel's top 40 hits were apparently written by him single-handedly. Compare this to Elton John, who has famously collaborated with Bernie Taupin for the past 40 years. In fact, Taupin helped John write lyrics for several (verging on most) of his biggest hits, such as Your Song, Candle in the Wind, Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues, Sad Songs (Say So Much)... among others. This is a big mark on Elton John's undeniably impressive resume -- because, last time I checked, lyrics, and the ability to form them, is one of the key components of songwriting. (scroll down past video to see winner)

Elton John. USA 1, World 2.

Even with the lyrical assistance of Bernie Taupin, no sane person would try to claim Elton John lacks genuine talent -- as compared to modern manufactured pop acts who can simultaneously lack any cognizable level of talent and sell millions of records.

Instead, Elton John can bask in the knowledge that he is both a commercial success and artistic genius. He has also penetrated pop-culture in a way that most artists couldn't comprehend. Everyone knows he wrote The Lion King's Can You Feel the Love Tonight and most people were appauled at Tim McGraw's remake of Tiny Dancer... but this fact remains. His work touches on every aspect of our culture. If you're a girl, you probably own a copy of Moulin Rouge's version of Your Song and, if your a guy, you probably remember Rocket Man serving as ironic background music during one of The Rock's best scenes.

Oh yea.... and he also wrote "Candle in the Wind" -- which, following Princess Diana's death, became the best single of all time.

Live Long and Prosper (In an Alternate Reality...)

It's Tuesday so we've got another fresh batch of DVD's coming out. This week is highlighted by Star Trek. I've got to admit from the start -- I don't know anything about Star Trek culture. I've never once watched an old episode or movie. I have no clue who any of these characters are based off of or what the original actors who played them were like. But, nonetheless, I found the movie to be relatively entertaining.

The movie itself is essentially set up to provide a springboard for future films while giving audiences an explanation of why the characters are different. The plot is basically this: Nero (played by Eric Bana) travels back in time to destroy the world and the crew of the USS Enterprise before they become the well oiled machine they are in the old television series. To prevent him from succeeding, the Spock from the television series (Leonard Nimoy) travels back in time to warn his future friends (as well as himself). Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), the new Spock (Heroes' Zachary Quinto), and the rest of the crew finally get it together to save the day.

I know that the plot sounds sort of absurd, but I actually think it was sort of a genius way to provide an avenue for new movies to be made without erasing what happened in the television series. Now, the new guys are just living in alternate reality, forever changed by Nero's time travel. Then again, maybe I'm just a gigantic nerd, and we should all really just make fun of J.J. Abrams' dumb movie. Who knows? Either way, if you can embrace the plot for what it is and watch with an open mind, you'll probably find you enjoy the movie. The new members are pretty well cast. The writing is above average. And the special effects are top notch.

Bottom line: It's not as good as critics thought. But it's really entertaining and definitely worth seeing, if not owning, regardless of your Star Trek knowledge. (B)

Here's the trailer:

Other movies coming out on DVD:

Bruno -- It has its moments, but it's greatly inferior to Borat. (B-)

My Sister's Keeper --- This was just a horrible piece of film making, full of terrible dialogue and entirely too many three minute scenes set to some sad song to try and elicit tears from middle-aged women. It's one of the worst book adaptations I've ever seen. (D-)

Monday, November 16, 2009

James Cameron's Latest Sci-Fi Epic

On December 16, 20th Century Fox will release James Cameron's 3-D epic Avatar. To say that Avatar is going to be (or better be) a big movie is to state the obvious. The movie was written and directed by one the most famous and powerful filmmakers of all time, cost over $200 million to make, and was viewed by the largest live audience of a trailer ever (a bit of an unnecessary stunt in this blogger's opinion) at Cowboy Stadium a few Sundays ago.

The movie tells the story of a war in the future on a planet called Pandora. The natives of Pandora, called the Na'vi, are incredible warriors that live in peace and harmony with the rest of the life on their planet. And they are at war with the human race who is trying to take over their land (as I write this, I realize the story sadly parallels that of Native Americans -- minus the superhuman warriors). To aid in their conquest, the humans have developed a way to create human-Na'vi hybrids called Avatars (pictured above).

The story's main character Jack Sully, played by Sam Worthington (from Terminator: Salvation and a name you definitely want to remember because he is a fast-rising star) becomes one of these Avatars. But once he enters their world, he begins to fall for one of the Na'vi (played by the beautiful Zoe Saldana -- you may know her from Star Trek and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) and can't decide which side to join (sounds quite similar to the plot of The Last Samurai, a movie I really liked).

I've got to admit. The previews don't really look as awesome as I'd like, but I've got high hopes for this one nonetheless. Cameron usually doesn't disappoint.

Here's the trailer:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This Week In Movies

Here's this week's edition:

Movies I Want to See:

None this week. Sorry.

Movies I Would Go See:

The Blind Side -- I already posted about this here. I'm intrigued by the story. But I bet it's not going to be that great.

Planet 51 -- The Rock (I will never call him Dwayne Johnson) as a cartoon astronaut who winds up on a planet full of aliens? Eh, ok.

Twilight Saga: New Moon -- I've never seen the first one. But, hell, why not?

Red Cliff (Limited) -- John Woo's latest work has been getting great reviews.

Movies I Would Never Go See:

None this week.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Unreleased Spotlight: Ray Lamontagne's Acre Of Land

Accessibility to good music has never been easier, but it's a shame that unreleased album downloads still require hoop-jumping and diligence (i.e. to ensure the album is accurately labeled, without viruses, etc). Hopefully our Unreleased Spotlight, which will feature both live shows and unreleased albums, will make this process a little easier.

Our first feature is Ray Lamontagne's Acre of Land. This album, recorded in 2001, is full of acoustic, stripped-down gems that you would expect from Ray Lamontagne. I can promise you that the songs are better than the album art.

Here's the tracklist:
1- Acre of Land - 3:14
2- Big Boned Woman - 3:22
3- Get Me A Buzz - 2:51
4- Hobo Blues - 4:12
5- Roadhouse Girl - 3:36
6- Skinny Dippin' -3:31
7- Thinkin' About You - 4:28
8- Back On The Mountain - 3:07
9- Change Your Mind - 2:06
10- Still Can't Feel The Gin - 5:43
11- My Weakness - 2:48


Download Acre of Land here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Hate Bonus Tracks, And So Should You.

At first glance, when you buy an album and notice that it has bonus tracks, you probably think to yourself "niiice -- the record company and/or band has decided to give me free music! Instead of getting 10 songs for $9.99, I'm getting 12!" As you may remember from an earlier post this week, I love free music as much as the next guy. However, while some may argue that the JFK assassination, global warming, or even the moon landing is "The Great Deception," the existence of the bonus track, in my mind, is truly the greatest deception of all. Bonus tracks are evil creations. I hate them, and so should you. Here's why.

Bonus tracks, by their very nature, are not meant to reward fans. Instead, they are literally created to screw fans-- or at least the good ones. They are a marketing ploy, carried out in various ways, to entice casual fans and punish loyal fans. By loyal fans-- I mean loyal fans of any artist -- even pop-superstars like Lady Gaga or Rihanna.

For starters, if you happen to buy CDs or Vinyls, then you almost never get bonus tracks, even though you often shell out considerably more cash than the people buying the album on itunes. Sure, there are manufacturing costs-- but shouldn't we at least get the same album that someone would get on itunes (since we did, after all, pay the extra $5 bucks to cover those manufacturing costs... plus some)?

I hesitate to even call it an "album" because bonus tracks also distort the ancient principle that an album is a completed, well-deliberated piece of artistic work. Take Weezer's The Red Album for example. The Red Album technically has 10 tracks... but wait! Depending if you bought it in the US, UK, or Japan (and depending if you got the "Deluxe Edition") you might get a staggering 4-5 bonus tracks. If you bought it off itunes, you would get 2 completely different bonus tracks. Fan A, B, and C are all listening to albums with not only different flow, but also different substantive content. Again, there is a reason for this. Companies want to add bonus tracks to releases in foreign countries so fans there will buy from their distributors instead of cheaper western distributors. Of course, this means that even the most casual Australian fan will be listening to songs that the most die-hard American fan didn't even know existed.

By far the worst scenario is when a band releases an album... only to re-release it weeks or months later with bonus tracks. This is a direct slap in the face to all the fans who bought the album as soon as it came out. Not only do they not have the new songs-- but they often have to chose between repurchasing the entire album for a few more tracks or never hearing those tracks at all. I can't even think of any other reason to justify this one-- as I don't believe that creates wider appeal. For example, I don't believe some casual fan, who happened to buy an album 11 months after its release, was really that enticed by a bonus track for a band they were indifferent to anyways.

To alleviate this problem, bands should just release the same album for everyone. That way, no one is punished for buying a specific medium, living in a particular country, or buying it at a certain time. More importantly, the album would keep its artistic integrity. If bands have 1 or 2 tracks that didn't make the cut, they should just give it away on their website. If they have more, they can always release some form of b-sider album or EP (free or otherwise). Bands do this all the time anyways -- e.g. Ryan Adams' Demolition or The Format's B-Sides and Rarities.

Under this practice, the loyalty of fans would directly correlate with the music they get. Everyone, die-hard and casual, would get the same basic album. If there are free tracks on the website, the more die-hard fans will find it and get it (casual fans might also). If the band decides to cut a whole new album with b-siders, then the die-hard fan will gladly pay for it (since it is all new material), while the casual fan won't.

This makes a lot more sense to me at least.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All Time Top 5 (Movies Where Things Aren't Always What They Appear)

After watching Oldboy recently, I began to think about movies that have great surprise endings. There really isn't anything like a shocking twist to end a movie. One minute you think you know what's going on. The next, some clever writer pulls the rug out right from under you with a killer twist to the plot (even though -- if you're like this blogger anyway -- you usually think to yourself that you should've seen it coming all along). The ability to come up with unpredictable surprise endings isn't easy. And some people (see Shyamalan, M. Night) can make a lot of money off the ability to write good twist endings even if their movies aren't very good (sorry to any M. Night fans, but nothing he's done after The Sixth Sense was really anything special). It truly is an art form. And, when used effectively, a great twist can really turn a good movie into great one.

Here are the All Time Top 5 Movies Where Things Aren't Always What They Appear:

SPOILER ALERT: All readers should note that I've discussed the surprise endings in this post. Feel free to scroll over these spoilers if you haven't seen these movies and don't want to ruin it for yourself.


Primal Fear -- I'm guessing not everyone has seen this one, but Richard Gere is actually pretty good as a defense attorney trying to defend a schizophrenic altar boy (who is played pretty brilliantly by Ed Norton) accused of murder. This movie really got Ed Norton's career going.

Ed Norton was actually lying the entire time about his schizophrenia to trick everyone (including Gere).


The Sixth Sense -- I imagine that pretty much everyone knows the plot twist to this one. I have to give M. Night credit. I definitely didn't see it coming.

As Haley Joel Osmet told us from the start, he could see dead people -- including Bruce Willis's character.


Fight Club -- I know soap salesman Tyler Durden would probably kick my ass because I'm breaking the first rule of Fight Club by talking about the movie, but this one is awesome. Sidenote: As I make this list, I realize Ed Norton has been in some movies with pretty good twists (check out The Illusionist and The Score for other examples).

Tyler Durden (Pitt) and Norton's unnamed character are one in the same. So, Norton shoots himself to get rid of Durden (makes sense, right?).


Fallen -- I'm guessing this is the least watched movie on the list. For those who haven't seen it, check it out. Denzel Washington plays detective John Hobbes, who discovers that a serial killer he devoted much of his career to tracking down was actually possessed by a demon named Azazel. Hobbes then turns his attention to taking down the demon in this really underrated sci-fi thriller.

The movie's narrator (voiced by Denzel) turns out to be Azazel the entire time. And, as he reminds us, this is the story of the time he almost died...


The Usual Suspects -- A lot of people probably guessed that this one would be at the top the list. It's one of my favorite movies of all time and has such a great ending. How could it not be number 1?

Cripple Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, who actually won an Oscar for his performance) is actually the notorious Keyzer Soze. His greatest trick? Convincing the world he didn't exist...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Album Review: Fanfarlo Debuts a sure-to-be Fanpleaser (A)

Fanfarlo released their debut album, Reservoir, earlier this year; and, if this album is an even remotely accurate portrayal of their musicianship, then we will be hearing about them for quite some time. The 5 person, multi-instrument band (which even features a Melodica... that can be yours for a mere $33.00) recorded Reservoir in Connecticut late last year.

The band will undoubtedly be compared to Arcade Fire, since the first couple tracks -- especially the intro to its opening track, I'm a Pilot -- sound reminiscent of Arcade Fire's Neon Bible. Alternative Track even ran a review that stated "the album runs out of steam toward the end, but the first few tracks are gold." I couldn't disagree more.

The opening tracks are quality, without question, but it's the last couple tracks that subtly moved this debut album from "above-average" to "exceptional" in my mind. The final track, Good Morning Midnight, is a simple instrumental song that embodies the album's magnetism. It is unpretentious, unassuming, but powerful. Likewise, the second to last track, Finish Line, is probably my favorite song which, like Good Morning Midnight, will be a staple on your ipod-- even though it will likely never be one on the radio.

There are no bells and whistles for Fanfarlo. There aren't any looping samples, autotune vocals, or any other signs of overproduction (in fact, Reservoir was produced by Peter Katis who has worked with The National). This is just good music, plain and simple. You're definitely going to want to buy this album.

Fanfarlo's Reservoir: A

I'm assuming you can't get enough, so here are a few more of songs, including a video, which you should check out.

Up, Up, Up and Away

Disney Pixar's Up comes out on DVD today. And if you're going out to buy a new release, I suggest you make this one your choice. I know, I know. It's an animated film, and you may usually avoid these. But Up is not your average animated film. You don't have to believe me. I'm not the only one. The movie has a 98% rating on the well respected critic database Rotten Tomatoes -- the highest ranking for any wide release movie of 2009.

Directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.), the movie tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, voiced by the legendary Ed Asner, a grumpy old man who decides to honor the memory of his dead wife by moving their home to a place known as Paradise Falls. To accomplish the feat, he ties about a million helium balloons to his house that lift it up off the ground (hence the name Up). A local boy, Russell, accidentally gets dragged along with Carl and his house. The two end up on quite an unusual adventure -- full of massive exotic birds, talking dogs, and even Carl's lifelong hero, famed explorer Charles F. Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer whose filmography is practically endless, but you may remember him best as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music).

Up may very well be the funniest computer animated movie of all time (I would actually probably pick A Bug's Life as my personal choice, but I realize I'm in in a very small minority). The talking dogs and Russell are especially funny. But the reason Up stands apart from its peers isn't the fact that it's a funny movie. It's the fact that, unlike most animated movies, its plot is so emotionally mature. It's not just for kids. The movie actually develops its characters, and the relationships between Carl and Russell and Carl and his dead wife are very well done. There were actually several people crying in the theater at points. And if the movie doesn't touch you, maybe the story of Pixar fulfilling a dying girl's last wish to see the movie will.

Bottom line: I know that my praise for this movie may seem like a little much. But trust me when I say that it's an animated movie that isn't just worth seeing but is actually really good. (B+)

Here's the preview:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nothing's Cheaper than Free! The Pixies, The Kicks, and Coldplay

Most bands will rant and rave about how great their fans are, but in my opinion nothing quite says "thank you" like giving the fans the one thing they love (their music) for the right price (free).

Earlier this year, Coldplay showed their appreciation by releasing Left Right Left Right Left. Just under 4 million people downloaded it in its first week. The Pixies have also recently released a free EP to show gratitude to their fans. Coldplay's album takes live performances from its Viva La Vida tour, and The Pixies' EP contains live songs from their Doolittle tour.

Just for kicks (pun intended), I thought I'd also throw in a link for The Kicks' album, entitled The Rise of King Richie. One of my buddy's sent this along, and to be honest, I haven't given it a full listen yet... but what the heck? It's free.

Download away, and enjoy.

To download The Kicks' The Rise of King Richie (click here).
To download Coldplay's Left Right Left Right Left (click here).

George Clooney, Jedi Warrior

The Men Who Stare at Goats was barely worth seeing. If you read my preview post, you know that I had pretty high hopes for it. It didn't meet them. But it wasn't as big of a disappointment as some of the reviews I've been reading have said it would be. And it wasn't bad enough to actually walk out of the theater about an hour into the movie (as two people did when I saw it).

The movie is definitely lacking when it comes to anything resembling a cohesive plot. Most of the film is simply Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) following around George Clooney's character, Lyn Cassaday, in Iraq as Cassaday tells Wilton the history of a top secret sector of the military called the "New Earth Army." The New Earth Army was started by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), basically a huge hippie that convinced the higher-ups in the military to give him approval for the team, and focused their training on psychic powers (for example, the group focuses on the ability to "remotely view" anywhere in the world by simply going there in their mind). Cassaday was the all-star of the group and considered himself a true Jedi warrior (and the only one ever portrayed as actually successful in any remote viewing).

But when another group member Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) convinces the military to start using the New Earth Army for "the dark side," Cassaday quits the team. Now, years later, Cassaday is going to reunite with Django at Hooper's facility in Iraq in an effort to stop him from psychic experiments torturing prisoners (using methods such as playing the Barney and Friends theme song for 24 hours straight in their prison cells).

That's all there is to it, really. You'll definitely be disappointed if you go expecting anything more. And the movie's climax (if it even really has one) and ending are such an insignificant and honestly stupid part of the movie that I won't even bother mentioning them.

But the movie still has its positives. You will definitely laugh more than a few times. Clooney has a bunch of great one liners and does a great job convincing you that his character really believes in everything he's saying. It's really funny to hear him describe some abilities that his psychic training has given him (for example, he says he can become "invisible," but he really just means hiding himself). The nerd in me also found it humorously ironic to watch McGregor (best known as Obi-Won Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy) ask Clooney explain to him what a Jedi warrior was. And Bridges has his moments as well. But Spacey's character and performance are really not very good. And, as a friend of mine said, the movie is essentially an SNL skit that would've been hilarious for 4 minutes stretched out into an hour and a half movie.

Bottom line: The movie has a few laughs but not much else. If there's anything else you'd rather see, don't feel like your missing out by avoiding this one. (C-)

Here's the trailer:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This Week In Movies

Here is this week's edition:

Movies I Want to See:

Fantastic Mr. Fox -- Wes Anderson going animated should be interesting. For more on this one, click here.

Pirate Radio -- At bip-bip., we generally applaud those efforts where cinema and music come together. This should be one of those. And having Philip Seymour Hoffman never hurts.

Movies I Would Go See:

2012 -- I'm a big John Cusack fan, and Roland Emmerich usually gives us entertaining movies. Here's the preview post.

Oh My God (Limited) -- I'm not really to what to expect from this one. For those who've never heard of it, the movie is essentially a documentary of famous people giving their various opinions on God and religion. It could be interesting. Here's the trailer.

Movies I Would Never Go See:

None this week.

Album Review: The Misstep of Volcano Choir's Unmap (C+)

In case you weren't aware, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon teamed up with Collections of Colonies of Bees to form a new gig known as Volcano Choir. Volcano Choir released its debut album, Unmap, only a few weeks ago... and, with a such a strange/experimental sound, I tried to postpone this review several days just to make sure I could fully absorb it.

After listening to the album in full several times, and in pieces, I can't bring myself to giving this album a favorable review (even though I really do want to). Vernon's falsetto vocals are the same -- always unusual and mostly brilliant; however, Unmap lacks the warmth which made Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago ("Emma") one of the best albums of the past couple years. Bon Iver's follow-up EP, Blood Bank, showed a natural progression in Vernon's songwriting. The track Blood Bank showed good maturation and remains his best stand-alone song (in my opinon) -- with cleaner form and more developed lyrics than most of the tracks on Emma.

Unfortunately, Unmap is one step forward and ten steps back.

The main problem I have with Unmap is that it feels like it was intentionally created to be experimental, hard to digest, and unappreciated by the masses but revered by a select few. Emma, on the hand, felt completely genuine -- which added to its charm. Obviously, I don't know the actual motivation behind these albums, but I can tell you this. Unmap can be a frustrating listen -- even for the most opened-minded fans.

Where Emma created a free-flowing album that often sounded as if it was one track (think Van Morrison's Astral Weeks or Marvin Gaye's What's Going On); this album is brutally disjointed at parts. This album has received good reviews-- so some people clearly like it. I will admit that there are good songs, such as Still -- which takes Bon Iver's a capella track, Woods, and fills it out with percussion and musical undertones. Other tracks, however, such as Mbira in the Morass (posted-below), ruins any flow that starts to accumulate and, honestly, makes me want to throw the entire album out the window (it really is that bad).

Volcano Choir Unmap: C+

Click here to buy Unmap... but you were warned.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Albums We Missed, Because We Weren't Born Yet -- Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline

I just bought a vinyl this week, and it contained an insert that said "Long Live Physical Media!" -- which got me thinking. As a way to incorporate physical media into this other-wise mp3/video-laden website, I thought I'd occasionally write about some old vinyls of mine which have cool characteristics that people who bought the album on itunes may not know.

This week's selection is Bob Dylan's 1969 masterpiece, Nashville Skyline. The album features Johnny Cash, on what I consider to be the album's best song, Girl From the North Country. What you might not know if you bought this album off itunes, however, is that the back of album has some kind words (really a poem) about Bob Dylan -- written by Johnny Cash. People just don't write like this anymore.

"Of Bob Dylan" (an excerpt)

This man can rhyme the tick of time
The edge of pain, the what of sane
And comprehend the good in men, the bad in men
Can feel the hate of fight, the love of right
And the creep of blight at the speed of light
The pain of dawn, the gone of gone
The end of friend, the end of end
By math of trend
What grip to hold what he is told
How long to hold, how strong to hold
How much to hold of what is told.
And Know
The yield of rend; the break of bend
The scar of mend
I'm proud to say that I know it,
Here-in is a hell of a poet.
And lots of other things
And lots of other things.

-- Johnny Cash

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Ties That Bind

On December 4, Lionsgate will release Brothers. The plot of the movie is pretty simple. It tells the story of two brothers, Sam (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal). Sam is a marine who married his high school sweetheart Grace (played by love-of-my-life-though-she-doesn't-know-it Natalie Portman). Sam goes missing in Afghanistan and is presumed dead. As Tommy tries to help Grace get through everything, the two end up falling for each other. As it turns out, Sam wasn't dead. And when he returns, things get rocky.

I've got to admit the movie basically sounds like a rip-off of Pearl Harbor. I'm hoping that isn't the case. And, in the movie's defense, the preview looks like the movie takes the situation much more seriously. But it definitely could be. The movie is also directed by Jim Sheridan. For those who have never heard of the director, his older work is relatively decent (In the Name of the Father, In America, The Boxer), but his latest efforts have been far less impressive. Anyone see 50 Cents' Get Rich or Die Tryin'? That was Sheridan. When you put it all together, I really don't have high hopes for this one. But I'll probably go see it anyway solely because of Natalie Portman.

Here's the preview:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taking A Serious Man Seriously

Odds are, if you were going to see the Coen brothers' A Serious Man, you would've already done so (it's been out in a limited release since early October). But I didn't see it until recently so I figured I'd put in my $.02. I should preface my post by saying that I'm not a blind follower of all things Coen brothers like many movie fans. They have definitely put out some good movies. O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country For Old Men were both great. Fargo and Intolerable Cruelty were decent. And The Big Lebowski is an all-time classic. But I wasn't really a fan of The Hudsucker Proxy, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Ladykillers, or Burn After Reading. And I honestly think they are slightly over hyped.

This being said, there is one constant through all their films. The Coen brothers know how to write some of the best dialogue you can find. And they don't just have one particular style. They have the ability to use dark and laconic language like that found in No Country as well as more playful, fast paced banter like that found in O Brother. They've actually won 3 Oscars for their screenplay efforts. But great dialogue can only take you so far. You need a good story and compelling characters -- two things I think the Coen brothers occasionally fail to develop. And that's why I'm sometimes not a fan.

A Serious Man falls under the "decent" category in this blogger's opinion. It's not a great movie, but I enjoyed it. It tells the story of Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlarg -- think an older looking Elijah Woods that has the demeanor and delivery of most every Jason Bateman character ever), a Jewish physics professor in the late 1960's (approximately). He is also a pretty big pushover and going through a rough time in his life. His wife is divorcing him for another man, his brother's life is falling apart, and he's having money and work problems as well. Facing all this, he ponders his place in the world and why things are the way they are. He seeks advice in a variety of places -- his lawyer, his neighbor's wife, and different rabbi. And as the title suggests, it's probably their most "serious" and "grown up" movie to date. It focuses on real questions like faith and mortality, even when there aren't real answers.

The movie doesn't have much of a plot other than that. There are a couple of stories on the side involving Larry's son's bat mitzvah and a South Korean student trying to bribe Larry for better grades (which is actually pretty funny). I'm guessing many viewers will want more from the plot (which, as I said before, is often a problem with the Coen brothers' work) and will feel a little letdown by the ending. But Larry is a strong and compelling character, and his story is oddly engrossing even if it's not necessarily a great one.

Bottom line: I would say it's worth a watch. Any Coen brothers fan will obviously want to check it out. And those who aren't may want to give it a shot. (C+)

Here's the preview:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Push Off Fall for Another Night -- Listen to Pictures and Sounds

November is here, as is the total 6 o'clock darkness that comes along with it. If you aren't feeling like pumpkin bread and hot cider just yet, then give Pictures and Sound a listen.

Pictures and Sound is fronted by Luke Reynolds -- who has dabbled in a little of everything. Even though you might not recognize his name, he was the lead singer for the Nashville based-group Blue Merle, has collaborated with artists such as Bela Fleck, and even got a Grammy nomination for his work on the movie August Rush (talk about random).

The band is rounded out by Pete McNeal on Drums and Dave Wilder on bass (who apparently played with Macy Gray?). As the title of this post suggests, their self-titled debut album (2008) is replete with warm-weather guitar riffs and summer soundscapes.

If, on the other hand, you're actually in the fall mood -- then I recommend brewing some tea and watching August Rush. Either way, Luke Reynolds has your back.


This Week In Movies

Here is this week's edition:

Movies I Want to See:

The Men Who Stare At Goats -- I already posted about this here. I have high hopes for this one.

Precious (Limited) -- I already posted about this one, too. It's only a limited release this week. But it should be expanding soon.

Movies I Would Go See:

Disney's A Christmas Carol -- I'm not usually dying to see any animated movie, but Jim Carrey as Scrooge should be good.

Fourth Kind -- If I was into scary movies, this would be high on my list. The alien abduction tale is supposedly based on a true story, and the movie claims that it is mostly reenacting videos of documented studies done in Nome, Alaska.

Movies I Would Never Go See:

The Box -- I can't recommend this to anyone with a straight face. It's supposed to be awful. And the preview doesn't help matters. It looks pretty dumb.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to Make a Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Music Video

Since MTV doesn't play them anymore, I figured I'd post a couple noteworthy music videos every so often. Today's selections are Frightened Rabbit's Swim Until You Can't See Land and Bat for Lashes' Daniel (no, it's not a cover of Elton John's 1973 hit). Both are cool videos, with Frightened Rabbit taking a minimalistic approach, primarily showcasing the band surrounded by fans with flashlights, and Bat for Lashes' taking a more artistic (and kind of creepy) approach. Still-- both fit well for their respective songs.

Swim Until You Can't See Land is a 7' single to hold us over until the band's 3rd studio effort, The Winter of Mixed Drinks hits stores in March 2010. Daniel was nominated for MTVs Best Breakthrough Video this year, and is featured on Bat for Lashes' Two Suns.

Check em out.

The Boat That Rocked

On November 13, Focus Features will release Pirate Radio. It's a foreign film that was actually released back in April in the UK (its original title was The Boat That Rocked). Directed by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually), it tells the story of a renegade group of DJ's that start broadcasting music on the radio from a ship off the coast of the UK (in international waters) during the 1960's, when BBC was the only licensed radio station and would only play about 2 hours of music a week. The movie isn't based off of any specific radio stations, but it does have some basis in reality.

Anchoring the cast is superb actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (I generally like his movies but will never forgive him for making me sit through Synecdoche, New York) as a DJ nicknamed "The Count." Joining him is one of this blogger's favorites, Bill Nighy (Underworld, Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean) as the boss of the radio station. Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and Rhys Darby (Murray, the manager from HBO's Flight of the Conchords) will also star.

The movie received mix reviews back in the UK. But hopefully it won't disappoint. I think it's one I'll be seeing. Here's the preview:

Monday, November 2, 2009

USA v. World (Round 2): TV On the Radio v. Bloc Party

Last week, Regina Spektor edged out Kate Nash in Round 1 of bip-bip.'s USA v. World competition. This week's competition is between TV on the Radio (Brooklyn, NY) and Bloc Party (UK) (seen above); and just as last week was a close call, this week is likely to engender an ever greater split of opinion. In fact, I'm guessing most people might disagree with me on this one.

For starters, I decided to compare these bands because both, I think, are raw-sounding indie-bands that have garnered widespread, and mostly deserved, critical acclaim for their best albums. Sure, TV on the Radio is slightly more experimental -- but I think both bands often sound like they are forging similar musical paths (just take a listen to the two songs posted -- TV on the Radio's Wolf Like Me and Bloc Party's Like Eating Glass).

In my opinion, Bloc Party's best album to date was their 2005 debut album, Silent Alarm. The album was named NME Album of the Year, which is an obviously huge accomplishment in the U.K. It also won the PLUG Awards' Indie Rock Album of the Year (2006). Likewise, TV on the Radio's best album, I think, was their 2006 album entitled Return to Cookie Mountain. It was named Album of the Year by SPIN, along with numerous other accolades such as being named 4th Best Album of the Year by Rolling Stone.

WINNER: Bloc Party. US - 1. World - 1.

As I said, this was a close call. I love both bands, but the game-breaker for me was the reception of some of their follow-up albums. Bloc Party's latest release Intimacy was a solid album, that generally got solid reviews. TV on the Radio's latest album Dear Science was also a great album, but it seemed like everyone gave it a free pass. The fact that it won Best Album of 2008 by Rolling Stone, SPIN, MTV, The Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, and Pitchfork's Reader's Poll literally baffles me. I thought 2008 was one of the strongest musical years we've had in a while, with new (really good) albums from: Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Ryan Adams, Vampire Weekend, Blitzen Trapper, Of Montreal, Ra Ra Riot, The Black Keys, Girl Talk... and that doesn't even include more popular acts like Coldplay and Kings of Leon.

I'm not saying the album isn't good-- but with that many great albums... it shouldn't have been so dominant. You might argue that their critical success in no way supports TV on the Radio from being ranked worse than Bloc Party. You might be right-- but I'm still a little bitter about Bon Iver not picking up a few more awards.