Thursday, September 21, 2006

Concert Review: Eric Clapton

Concert Review: Eric Clapton
September 20, 2006
The United Center
Chicago, IL

The Cream of Clapton, Live

Eric Clapton, one of the godfathers of blues and rock guitar, played a near flawless show covering his early and latter days Wednesday night to a semi full United Center. While some people might coin the British rock prodigy the Cadillac of guitar of players, they are lying. If such a comparison must be made Clapton is the 50s era fire-red Maserati coupe of axe players. He is the kind of legend whose talent and career are unprecedented. While some of his recent solo endeavors have been mediocre at best, his slow and successful turn towards more straight blues proves that Clapton is still one of those rare musical gems of yesternow.

Dressed casually in jeans and a pink Oxford and sporting his legendary black Fender Stratocaster, ‘Slowhand’ Clapton and his band took the simply lit/decorated stage opening with the always classic, “Pretending,” from Clapton’s 1989 solo release, Journeyman. The blues rock anthem was followed by the faithful blue infused rendition of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” followed by the B-side, “Got To Get Better In A Little While” from Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos days. The first three tunes, melded together without pause, were perfect precursors for a night of songs covering Clapton’s entire cannon, from his early Cream days to his long blues jams. No rock was left unturned at the lively arena.

The opening trio was followed by a smooth 15-minute slow blues jam of, “Old Love” (also from Journeyman), which featured guest guitarist/song’s co-writer and long time Clapton collaborator, Robert Cray, whose band also opened the show. The song, which proved to be one of the main highlights of the night, featured beautiful two virtuosic guitar solos from Clapton and Cray.

Other highlights from the first half of the show included “Motherless Child” (a song improved when played live) from the 1994 record, From the Cradle. Half way through the show the band performed a four-song sit down acoustic set, featuring wonderful versions of the blues standard, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and Clapton’s “Running on Faith.”

The latter half of the performance showcased some of Clapton’s best-known anthems, including the rendition of “After Midnight” from Clapton’s first solo release, the sappy but always simple and moving, “Wonderful Tonight,” the psychedelic “Cocaine,” and the Derek and the Dominos era version of “Layla,” which along with Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing,” remains to this day one of the finest guitar rock pieces ever recorded.

The band played one stirring encore of the blues standard “Crossroads,” another of Clapton’s timeless classics. The version again featured brilliant vocal and guitar styling from Robert Cray, who sang the first two verses and joined Clapton on the last.

While Clapton has aged since his early days with The Yardbirds and Cream (he is quickly making his way to 70), his voice and sound has not deteriorated like so many musicians of the past who fade away. Rather Clapton has found a very unique style and sound that shows career maturity. His band, featuring two young guitar virtuosos, Derek Trucks (kin to Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks) and Doyle Bramhall II, respectively, add a perfect blend of country rock and blues slide guitar work to Clapton’s own crisp axe chops.

With a new album, The Road to Escondido, slated for a November release, and probable future solo and collaboration tours with blues legend J.J. Cale, it is clear that Clapton is not retiring anytime soon. Still, for anyone interested in rock and blues music he is one of those must see artists who truly is one of rock music’s best-kept legends.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Film Review: Half Nelson

Film Review:
Half Nelson—R
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: Ryan Fleck

Half Nelson, Full Drama

“Half Nelson” may be one of the hardest and depressing films you will see this year but it is also one of the finest. It features some of the best performances of the season, specifically that of Ryan Gosling (“The Notebook”) and his 17-year-old counterpart, newcomer Shareeka Epps. During the early part of the fall film season where film releases have been disappointing at best, “Half Nelson” is refreshing reminder that low budget independent filmmaking still has the ability to best its Hollywood counterparts.
“Nelson” tells the story of Dan Dunne (Gosling), a 20 something inner-city middle school social studies teacher who yearns to make a difference in his confined world. During his days he lectures his fairly attentive students about dialectics, history’s constant shifts and the corruptions and social politics of governments including the U.S. After school he coaches the girl’s basketball team, a team that as he tells a parent, “just can’t quite get the ball in the net.” Outside of the one place where he actually feels good about himself, however, Dunne is a train-wreck of a man.
His nasty addiction to crack cocaine prevents him from completing a children’s book he clearly has been talking about for quite some time. He is unable to maintain a steady relationship, lives in a ratty apartment, hangs out in seedy bars and on a regular basis self-loathes himself to sleep only to wake up for a new day of classes.
We are never given any indication to how he reached his current state of mental and physical health and in many ways we don’t need a back-story. Dunne is a good man trapped in the body of someone seriously ill. During the day he comes alive in front of the chalkboard, getting as much out of his difficult class as he can. During the night he roams the streets and bars with the mind set of someone lost in the world.
In one scene a parent of an old pupil confronts him at a dive bar as he is slouched over a glass of whiskey. The man tells Dunne about his daughter who is in her second year at Georgetown studying history while he struggles to put a name to a face. If only someone had told Dunne earlier that his work was in fact making a difference.
After an unfortunate and embarrassing moment with one of his students and team member, Drey (a wonderful Shareeka Epps), Dunne begins to form an unlikely friendship with the eager student who has had her share of hardship as well. Dunne gives Drey rides home, teaches her about the troubling sides of history and begins to warn her of a local drug dealer named Frank who is eager to employ Drey. Dunne is the last person to warn someone about drugs but still feels the need to help this one student; fueled by the idea that is he can help just one person his life will have meaning.
Epps and Gosling’s on-screen chemistry is perfect and is very reminiscent of Robert Deniro and Jodie Foster’s friendship in “Taxi Driver,” a film that in many ways shares similar themes to “Half Nelson.” Both films examine the darker sides of society and the need for change.
Gosling is one of those rare young actors who has done his share of teen romance dramas and comedies but has proven that he is capable of moving outside this typecast. The Canadian born actor devours Dunne’s character down to the finest details. The constant wiping of his drug induced sweat from his face as he teaches his students, the thick Brooklyn accent, his street mannerisms and above all his somber eyes, which at times speak more than his words or actions, are all examples of an actor’s masterful style that goes beyond mere method acting.
“Half Nelson” is not an easy film to watch as it leaves the viewer uncomfortable and unsure of whether it’s okay to sympathize with Dunne’s character. It is, however, an honest look at the struggles with depression, tackling the truth, discovering one’s place in the world and above all drug addiction. Add to this stunning cinematography, a moving score and wonderful supporting roles and you get a little film that sets out to say a lot about society and the human psyche and ultimately succeeds.

Friday, September 15, 2006

One Of The Catchiest Songs Ever

I first got introduced to The Pixies "Doolittle" album when I was a young lad. A friend of my dad ripped me a tape of the album (tapes. Remember those?) after I told him about my interests in Alt bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I remember giving the brilliant album a listen to but never truly got into it. During high school I not only resurrected the tape but also realized that The Pixies were in fact one of those rare great bands to come out of the 80s and early 90s. I often revisit Doolittle, Surfer Rosa and Bossanova on a regular basis now but a week or so ago I realized that one of their songs––one of the few radio hits, "Monkey Gone to Heaven"–– is in fact one of the catchiest tunes out there. The song is so catchy that since my epiphany I have had the song's ridiculous but brilliant hook stuck in my head (much to the dismay of my father who can't for the life of him realize what the hell I'm saying).

The song in a nutshell is kind of an allegory for growing global environmental concerns. That and a monkey. With lyrics like,

there was a guy
an under water guy who controlled the sea
got killed by ten million pounds of sludge
from new york and new jersey
this monkey's gone to heaven

the creature in the sky
got sucked in ahole
now there's a hole in the sky
and the ground's not cold
and if the ground's not cold
everything is gonna burn
we'll all take turns
i'll get mine, too
this monkey's gone to heaven

it's hard to say what the hell singer Black Francis is actually going on about. However, one this is for certain, the song will get sucked into your head. The Pixies were one of those rare bands with a sound and style that was different and bizarre but worked really well. They recently reunited for a sold out world wide tour. Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are both essential owns and for the adventurous, the underrated Bossanova is also worth checking out. Bossanova also features their best song ever written, "ANA," a must download. So if all goes well this entry will help me rid this song from my head as I am starting to tire from reciting "this monkey's gone to heaven" everywhere I go.

"if man is 5
then the devil is 6
then god is 7
this monkey's gone to heaven"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Album Review: 3121, Prince

Archive Review:

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student March 30, 2006)


No matter how often the media poke fun at his bizarre and reclusive lifestyle or how many times Dave Chappelle ranks on his quirky, sexual purpleness, Prince is still one hell of a talented musician. Which is why listening to 3121, the newest addition to the artist formally known as the artist formally known as Prince's repertoire, is so disappointing.

Following in the footsteps of 2004's Musicology, a highly successful, but fairly mediocre album, Prince attempts to return to the '80s synth-pop rhythms and sounds that made him exclaim, "Baby I'm a star," and mixes things up with a bit of hip-hop and Latin instrumental flavor. Unfortunately, the result is an album that tries hard to rekindle a sound of the past, but ultimately comes out lost and confused in an age where rap and hip-hop make up mainstream pop.

The album opens up with the title track, a funky, amusing little electro house beat about what we can only imagine is Prince's address to his personal garden of Eden. With lyrics like, "Put your clothes in the pile on the floor / Take your pick from the Japanese robes and sandals / Drink champagne from a glass with chocolate handles / Don't you want to come? 3121," one can't help but assume that this album is more a personal invitation into the secret and opulent lifestyles of the billionaire Jehovah's witness than anything else.

In the world of 3121, at least in the first six tracks, every day seems to be a party, a party with a bad girl named "Lolita," lots of "Incense and Candles," "Black Sweat" and of course "Love." In fact, the first half of the album plays out more like a self-indulged string of sexual infused funk beats (which might or might not be fantasy), than the catchy pop songs from the '80s that Prince is most commonly known for.

The album picks up the pace during the second half, however, with a number of tracks that are reminiscent of the pop life of Prince's past.

"Fury," which is the best song on the album, feels like a highly polished B-Side cut from any of Prince's truly classic masterpieces, the flawless Purple Rain, the politically charged Sign 'O' the Times and even the campy but boisterous 1999. The song opens with a driving drum beat, catchy keyboard hook that nicely resembles the works of former Revolution member Lisa Coleman and fiery axe licks that remind us Prince is still a guitar virtuoso.

According to the liner notes 3121 was produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince himself, a feat that shows both musical chops but also quite possibly control issues. There are a couple 'guest per4mers' including funk saxophone maestro Maceo Parker, some shouts and sexual grunts from Prince's '90s band lineup, The New Power Revolution and a surprisingly soulful balladic duet, "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed," featuring R&B singer Tamara, who nicely compliments Prince's highly feminine voice in the same way Shelia E. did back in the purple velvet decade of the '80s.

Overall the album seems to be lost somewhere between classic Prince fare and the sexual soul world of someone like Barry White. It's quite generous of Prince to invite us to his purple, sexual soirée, however, it's difficult to truly get into the world of 3121 while we're doing our normal daily routines like walking to class or riding the C-bus. Perhaps incense and Japanese sandals do in fact make the listening experience all the more rewarding.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Concert Review: Gnarls Barkley

Concert Review:
Gnarls Barkley
The Riviera
Chicago, IL
September 11, 2006

Gnarls Barkley, the musical spawn of two of today's most fascinating hip-hop hipsters, brought in the noise and the funk to a semi full Riviera theater Monday night. The group, founded by Atlanta rapper/singer Cee-Lo (once frequent Goodie Mob collaborator) and DJ Danger Mouse, whose Beatles/Jay-Z mash up "Grey Album" took the internet by storm a couple years back, flooded the airwaves this summer with the ever-so-catchy mega hit, "Crazy." While their concise live act was entertaining and enjoyable, it lacked the intriguing power of their studio album, "St. Elsewhere," mainly due to poor sound mixing and a rushed set.

It's hard to classify Gnarls Barkley into any one sub-genre of modern pop music. It's not quite straight hip-hop, not quite straight rock. It toys with the sounds of indie and 60s psychedelic rock while also blending in modern soul, R&B, Motown and funk melodies and rhythms. Bottom line is during a time where rap and hip-hop groups can often be a dime a dozen, Gnarls Barkley proves that its cool for art to imitate art by treading the waters of a number of different musical soundscapes.

The show was a mix of tracks from "St. Elsewhere" combined with a handful of obscure covers of bands as random as The Doors to indie alt-crooners, The Violent Femmes. Highlights from the set included the obvious opus, "Crazy," which featured an interesting but short intro by the groups string section, The G-Strings, and the gospel anthem, "Just a Thought."

Then there was the stage presence, an aspect of Gnarls Barkley that received just as much attention this summer as their chart rising single. Dressed in pajama suits and slippers the 13-piece ensemble took the blue-lit stage to a roaring crowd. Cee-Lo, who must enjoy hearing himself speak, was very animate throughout the night, dancing, shouting, enticing the audience and at one point falling over on stage–an accident that was no doubt a result of extreme energy and joy.

Danger Mouse, who is without a doubt the mastermind behind the music side of Gnarls Barkley, was somberly perched over a slew of antique keyboards and soundboards through most of the set, looking up every once and a while to enjoy a sip of bottled beer.

Gnarls Barkley is definitely one of those modern acts to keep an eye on. Cee-Lo, like fellow singer Sleepy Brown has for so long been just a hook vocalist for bigger acts like Outkast or Goodie Mob, however, through Barkley he is able to truly shine and is one hell of a talented singer. With a slightly revamped stage set up, mastered sound mixing and a longer and possibly more accessible set, Gnarls Barkley could very well move away from simply being a studio group and join the ranks of groups like The Roots who continue to toy with the different sounds and musical influences.

Film Review: A Scanner Darkly

Archive Film Review:
A Scanner Darkly-R
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane
Directed by: Richard Linklater

Drug Addiction, Darkly

(This review was published in the Indiana Daily Student July 13, 2006)

Science fiction author Philip K. Dick once said that, "Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error of judgment."

The author, best known for his sci-fi short stories of the 60s and 70s, wrote his novel, "A Scanner Darkly," as an allegory for the troubling epidemic of drug abuse that was plaguing not only those around him, but also himself (he was a speed junkie) during the early '70s. The story is science fiction, relying heavily on futuristic technological advancements, but only on its surface. Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly" marks the eighth film adaptation of a Dick story and is on par with previous successful films such as "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report."

"A Scanner Darkly" is set seven years in the future in Southern California. Keanu Reeves (playing, well, the best Keanu Reeves he can) stars as Bob Arctor, a police officer who goes deep undercover to infiltrate a growing underground drug cartel of a new radically powerful hallucinatory drug called Substance D. The trouble is Arctor is so far involved that his mind starts to play tricks on him and he begins to question his true identity. On the one hand he is Arctor, the normal guy who spends his days getting high with his friends and constructing mind puzzles that tread the waters of paranoia. On the other hand he is a police officer who goes by the code name Fred. As the plot thickens Arctor begins to unfold the intricate inner workings of the cartel while also coming to grips with his shattered mental state.

"A Scanner Darkly" is complicated and plays tricks on the audience much like the mind-bending drugs play tricks on the main characters. Reeves is decent as Arctor, however, the true shining performances come from Robert Downey Jr. ("Chaplin"), Woody Harrelson ("Natural Born Killers") and the horribly underappreciated Rory Cochrane ("Dazed and Confused's" Slater) who all play Arctor's Substance D fiend friends. Some of the best scenes of the film occur around Arctor's run-down Cali bungalow where the friends get high, ponder meaningless notions about the current state of the world they live in and create elaborate, paranoia fueled puzzles and conspiracy theories.

Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater delivers a wonderfully written script and the film's unique style of rotoscoping visual animation (a technique that Linklater helped create with his film "Waking Life") never distracts the viewer and is a perfect counterpart to the Dick's often-surreal story.

"A Scanner Darkly" deals with drug abuse and addiction in the same vein as David Cronenberg's film adaptation of William S. Burroughs' "Naked Lunch," using bits of comedy and surrealism to show the chaotic nature of mind altering drugs. The film is often very funny and visually the equivalent of eye candy, however, there is an underlying level of depressing realization that Substance D or any drug for that matter can truly have devastating effects on the human psyche.

Film Review: Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Film Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-R
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

As Melquiades Lays Dying

One of William Faulkner's best books, "As I Lay Dying," tells the story of a family who go on a mission to bury their recently deceased mother in her hometown. The family embarks on a hard and treacherous journey through America's deep South carrying their mother's decaying body. Along the way they hit a number of snags, meet some interesting characters and face numerous conflicts among each other. The book was riddled with the darkest of dark humor but at the same time was an honest and moving look at simple people who just want to please their mother's final wishes. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut film, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," is in no way an adaptation of Faulkner but would have made the brilliant American author proud nevertheless.

Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy who crosses the border illegally in search of work. He is befriended by Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a soft-spoken, somber cowboy who sees Estrada not as a "border hopper" or "wetback," as local police officers and border patrolmen call them, but as just another caballero working in the beautiful southwest. After an unfortunate accident involving a smug and careless border patrolmen from Ohio, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), Estrada is shot and killed.

Fueled by a promise made to Estrada to bury his body in his small Mexican hometown, Perkins kidnaps Norton and takes him on a slow and arduous horseback journey across the border with Estrada's decaying body riding with them.

"Estrada" is a film that is all about journeys. On the surface it is about the physical journey that Norton and Perkins undergo, navigating through the rough and unforgiving Mexican desert, however, the story is truly about the emotional journeys they take inside.

Norton is on a personal journey of accepting and understanding life in the Southwest and Mexico while Perkins' journey is gaining an understanding of his duties to his dear friend.

"Estrada" was written by Guillermo Arriaga, a rising name in world cinema whose previous films "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams" both shared the same non-linear editing format that "Estrada" does. The film is wonderfully shot and directed proving that like so many other successful actor turned directors of the past (Clint Eastwood comes to mind) Jones has a promising career ahead of him.

Watching "Estrada" one can't help but draw comparisons to authors like Faulkner and the more modern Cormac McCarthy or filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. However, the film is unique in the fact that Lee manages to put his own personal touches in it. The film has its share of dark humor and melodramatic scenes, but above all it revels in themes of pure humanity and friendship at their finest.

Album Review: Katy Lied, Steely Dan

Archive Album Review:
Katy Lied (1975)
Steely Dan

The Ambassadors of Musical Perfection

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student August 3, 2006)

During their zenith Steely Dan was a pioneer of highly polished and perfected music that somehow managed to dodge one specific genre. While some might liken the unique group to fellow rock bands like The Doobie Brothers or Chicago, Steely Dan stands out as innovators of a sound and style that can only be described by listening to its music. It's not quite rock, not quite jazz. It's riddled with subtle laid-back R&B and soul flavors, but only below the surface. Dan is poppy when it wants to be but gives straight pop a twist. Above all, the band has always relied on the best musicians around to create the slickest of the slick.

Katy Lied, Steely Dan's fourth studio album, followed the highly notable and successful Pretzel Logic and is important as being the first album recorded after the band's major decision in 1974 to stop touring and focus solely on studio sessions (a decision that cofounders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would maintain up until the '90s). The result is an album that is not only nearly flawless but dabbles in a slew of diverse styles and utilizes an eclectic group of talented studio musicians including the crooning soul vocals of future Doobie Brothers member Michael McDonald.

Songs like the funky melodic rock anthem "Bad Sneakers" or the mock jazz ballad "Your Gold Teeth II" feature tightly composed guitar solos, lounge style piano riffs, lyrics that don't insult our intelligence and an overall feeling of precision that shows a devotion to the music that is often absent from bands in the studio.

Katy Lied may not be Dan's best album to date since the band has a rich cannon behind them but it is important, as it served as a vehicle for future studio focused endeavors. The album is easily accessible--clocking in just above 30 minutes. The collection of songs are all catchy but also force the listener to appreciate the sound much like a great jazz player, and for anyone who says that the music sounds dated, corny or overworked…Well, only a fool would say that.

Album Review: Red Clay, Freddie Hubbard

Archive Album Review:
Red Clay (1970)
Freddie Hubbard

The Birth of Funk, Soul, Cool

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student April 27, 2006)

In the world of jazz there are the major players -- cats like Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Bird, Gillespie -- then there are the musicians who, although were equally as talented and important to the music, did not gain the same colossal level of popularity as the bigger names. Trumpet legend and Indianapolis native Freddie Hubbard is one of these artists.

While Hubbard had a strong early career as a backup player for bebop artists like Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins some of his most brilliant and often overlooked recordings came during the 1970s funk/fusion exploration era with collaborations with pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson and bassist Ron Carter.

Hubbard's Red Clay was released a year after Miles Davis's monumental crossover into fusion territory Bitches Brew and four years before Hancock's hugely popular funk odyssey Headhunters. The album, while more straight jazz than the avant-garde sounds of Brew, might be one of the first escapades into the fusion of soul, funk and R&B, with conventional jazz sounds.

Hubbard blends his fiery trumpet licks with the cool mellow grooves of Hancock's legendary Fender Rhodes (an instrument that has since been forgotten) and Joe Henderson's dark yet slick tenor saxophone accompaniments. The players are at the top of the game and the songs have the kind of crisp delivery that resonates long after the opening chords are played.

The smooth grooving title track is one part Hancock's "Chameleon," one part Brew with a little Issac Hayes' Shaft! soul flavor thrown in to the equation. The 12 minute cut features a driving melodic funk beat, crisp drum chops by Lenny White and scorching trumpet solos by Hubbard.

Red Clay is not Hubbard's most recognizable album and might not be his finest in terms of musical chops, however, for jazz enthusiasts or those just jumping into the genre, the album acts as a wonderfully accessible collection of '70s funk/jazz music that truly embodies the jazzism, "the birth of cool."

Film Review: Viridiana, Luis Bunuel

Archive Review:
Starring: Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey
Directed By: Luis Buñuel

A Surrealist Atheist In A Spanish Fascist's Court

(The following review was published June 8, 2006 in the Indiana Daily Student)

Spanish film director Luis Buñuel used to say, "thank God I'm an atheist." The highly outspoken, anti-fascist filmmaker is best known in the world of cinema for his early collaborations with Salvador Dalí and surrealist films such as "Un Chien Analou" and "The Golden Age." While these two crowning achievements garnered him international praise and jumpstarted his long and prosperous career, Buñuel was also considered to be somewhat of a political menace.

"Viridiana" was shot in 1961 and was Buñuel's first film in Spain since his departure to France and later Mexico in 1939. Upon its release the film was not only banned in Spain (a ban that lasted till the '70s after the fall of Franco's regime) but it was also fully denounced by the Vatican for being inappropriate and blatantly anti-Catholic.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a young, beautiful woman on her way to becoming a nun and entering a life of religious piety, chastity and above all, a strict moral lifestyle. Her lonely uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), who has just lost his wife, summons his niece to visit him before she makes her final vows and in turn he asks for her hand in marriage because of her striking resemblance to the said wife. Viridiana denies, Don Jaime drugs her in order to take care of his physical desires, then hangs himself and leaves his estate and wealth to Viridiana and his son Jorge, thus prolonging her path to sisterhood and creating tensions in the manor.

"Viridiana" is very much a film that deals with issues of lust, devotion, love, sin, civil humanity and, of course, religion. The film is a scathing look at both social politics in Spain and a departure from strict, sacred religious morals. Surrealistic images like a crucifix that doubles as a pocket knife or a scene where drunken vagabonds reenact the Last Supper, are examples of Buñuel's persistent desire to criticize and satirize the state of Spain during the Franco fascist regime.

The wonderful Criterion DVD release features a stunning transfer of the film, an interview with Mexican actress Silvia Pinal and author/Buñuel expert Richard Porton and an extensive booklet featuring an essay and interview with Buñuel. The most significant extra, however, is a fascinating mini documentary about Buñuel's career from a 1964 French television show, chronicling his early work and his cinematic styles.

Buñuel is to this day one of the most important filmmakers to come out of Spain and has no doubt influenced modern Spanish directors like Alejandro Amenábar or Pedro Almódovar, both who dabble in Buñuelesque dark humor and eroticism. "Viridiana" is an interesting vision that exposes the problems that Buñuel believed plagued Spain under fascism. It is shocking, funny and disturbing, but also has a certain level of humanity and questions morality, beliefs and basic human desires.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Film Review: Hollywoodland

Film Review:
Hollywoodland (one of the worst titles ever)-R
Starring: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Ben Affleck
Directed by: Allen Coulter

“Hollywoodland” is about the dark side of the Hollywood dream, you know, the Hollywood where nobody can be trusted. This is the Hollywood where crafty vixens manipulate their studly men, where powerful studio executives get away or could get away with murder and where even a noble actor simply trying to make it in the game gets caught up in the web of lies and deception. Yep, it’s fair to say “Hollywoodland” is out to show that the glitter and glamour of the silver screen was not always as charming as we were told.

At its core the film chronicles the short lived career of actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck) whose sudden death in 1959 to this day remains one of Hollywood’s most notorious unsolved cases. Reeves, best known for his role as Superman on the 50s television serial, was the splitting image of an actor who was made a star and thus lost all his credentials as an actor because of his popularity (insert ironic anecdote about star/former actor Ben Affleck here).

The film chronicles his move up the film industry hierarchy through the help of his older mistress Toni (a surprisingly good Diane Lane) the wife of a powerful film studio exec, Eddie Mannix (the always sinisterly delightful Bob Hoskins). At the beginning it is clear that Reeves is out to use Toni to fuel his aspirations to be the next Clark Gable. She buys him a house, introduces him to all the important people and continues to support his career. Eventually Reeves lands the part of Superman on a serial that he believes will only be a paycheck gig. The rest of course is Hollywood history.

“The Adventures of Superman” becomes a hit and Reeves suddenly reaches stardom but not the stardom he was out for. Flash forward a couple years, “Superman” has been cancelled but Reeves can’t seem to shake the tight wearing character and thus falls into a state of depression and deep self-loathing upon realization that his chances of truly making it in the industry are gone. Then one night at his home after a small party his goes upstairs to bed and is shot in the head by his personal WWII era pistol.

While at first the police deem the death suicide, a squirrelly private dick named Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) decides to further investigate rumors that murder was at play. He uncovers more about Reeves’ past, his powerful and dangerous friends and foes, devises a number of theories and also manages to do some soul searching of his own.

“Hollywoodland” is an interesting look at the not so pretty side of Hollywood. It sets out to explore one specific case but in turn attempts to shed light on the often-dangerous social politics that were behind the silver screen. The film’s ensemble of actors each capture their parts well but rarely do anything worthy of future acceptance speeches. Ben Affleck was surprisingly effective as Reeves; however, I imagine that playing a cocky actor with good lucks is not much of a stretch for Affleck.

With the upcoming release of Brian De Palma’s “Black Dahlia,” which also tackles another Hollywood murder, it’s clear that people are anxious to shed the golden age image of old school Hollywood. While “Hollywoodland” is interesting at times and is not a bad film by any means it fails to present us with any substantial meanings or messages to walk away with. Films like David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” or Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential” also set out to present the shady side of Hollywood but did so in manners that were both intriguing and left us with ideas to marinate on.

“Hollywoodland” is worth seeing for any George Reeves buffs out there (if such a hobby exists) or for anyone looking to be entertained with flashy old school Hollywood costumes and mannerisms. The film is insightful when it wants to be, has some historical importance but at the end of the reel is just a tad too stale to make any significant lasting impression. ~ B

Friday, September 8, 2006

The Best of the Best…Lists Bitches!!!

Okay, so I just applied to a film writing job that asked for a list of some of my favorite films/directors etc. Here is an extended list to marinate on. Of course a month from now these picks could change, however, I tried to pick films that I never grow tired of and that continue to blow me away.

Top Ten Films ever (no specific order)
1) Do The Right Thing-Spike Lee
2) Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her)- Pedro Almodóvar
3) The Deer Hunter- Michael Cimino
4) Short Cuts-Robert Altman
5) Tie Raging Bull/Taxi Driver-Martin Scorsese (both are brilliant pieces of cinema)
6) Mulholland Drive-David Lynch
7) For a Few Dollars More-Sergio Leone
8) Godfather Trilogy-Francis Ford Coppola
9) Stop Making Sense-Jonathan Demme
10) The Grand Illusion-Jean Renoir
10.5) Ran-Akira Kurosawa

Top Ten Favorite Directors (no specific order):
1) Martin Scorsese
2) Akira Kurosawa
3) David Lynch
4) Pedro Almodóvar
5) Jean Pierre Jeunet (yes even Alien Resurrection)
6) Quentin Tarantino
7) Wong Kar Wai
8) Stanley Kubrick
9) The Coen Brothers
10) Terrence Malick

Top Ten Films of 1950s
1) Rashomon-Kurosawa
2) Rear Window-Alfred Hitchcock
3) Bridge on the River Kwai-David Lean
4) The 400 Blows-Francois Truffaut
5) The Killing-Kubrick

Top Five Films of 1960s
1) The Wild Bunch-Sam Peckinpah
2) Persona-Ingmar Bergman
3) Midnight Cowboy-John Schlesinger
4) The Hustler-Robert Rossen
5) The Man Without a Name Trilogy-Sergio Leone

Top Five films 1970s
1) Taxi Driver-Scorsese
2) The Deer Hunter-Cimino
3) Dog Day Afternoon-Sidney Lumet
4) Godfather 1&2-Coppola
5) Amarcord-Federico Fellini

Top Five Films 1980s
1) Raging Bull
2) Do the Right Thing
3) Fanny and Alexander-Ingmar Bergman
4) The Princess Bride-Rob Reiner (because I never grow tired of it)
5) Suspiria-Dario Argento (definitely one of the scariest movies ever)

Top Five Films of 1990s
1) Pulp Fiction-Tarantino
1.5) Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All about my mother)-Pedro Almodóvar
2) The Thin Red Line-Terrence Malick
3) The Insider-Michael Mann
4) Fargo-Coen Brothers
5) The City of Lost Children- Marc Caro/Jean Pierre Jeunet

and then...

TOP Five Manliest Films of All Time!
1) Mad Max: The Road Warrior-George Miller
2) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly-Sergio Leone
3) Enter the Dragon-Robert Clouse
4) Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn-Sam Raimi
5) Aliens-James Cameron
5.5) Dawn of the Dead-George Romero
Honorable Mentions:
Rambo 3-The one where Rambo single handedly takes on the entire Middle East
Anything with the actors Dolph Lundgren, Lance Henricksen, and that little dude who played Willow.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Album Review: Low, David Bowie

Low (1977)
David Bowie
Virgin Records

A Futuristic Sound and Vision

David Bowie has always been somewhat of a chameleon in the rock and roll arena. He single-handedly jumpstarted the glam rock scene of the 1970's, paving the roads for other artists like Mott the Hoople, Iggy Pop and T-Rex, to name a few--and since then has moved from genre to genre, style to style with the comfort and ease of an artist determined to challenge himself and the world of music.

Low was the first of three albums known as the Berlin Trilogy (the others being 1977s Heroes and 1979s Lodger) that Bowie recorded in Berlin with ex-Roxy Music member/ambient soundscape connoisseur Brian Eno.

Following his brilliant but short 1976 album Station to Station, an album that was in many ways a spawn of his growing addiction to cocaine, Bowie moved to Cold War-riddled Germany to work and tour with friend Iggy Pop. The result of his time there was a trio of albums that, while stepping away from the more mainstream and conventional David Bowie, remain some of the artists finest to date.

With Low Bowie strays away from the pop-friendly songs of previous successes such as 1975s Young Americans or the unprecedented and most well-known The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. The album is harshly divided between futuristic, avant-garde synth rock tracks that are reminiscent of early German techno/Kraut Rock groups such as Neu! or Kraftwerk, and dense, often completely instrumental compositions that reflect Eno's prior ambient records such as Another Green World.

The first half of Low features Bowie experimenting with the radio friendly rock of his past. Tracks like the album's one surprising pop hit "Sound and Vision" or the cool, stripped down jazz/rock cut "Always Crashing in the Same Car" are catchy but at the same time require an avid listener due to bizarre vocal distortion and unusual instrumentation.

Lyrics fade on the radically different second half, which relies on five heavy, often depressing yet curiously beautiful instrumental compositions that include the doleful epic "Warszawa" (which may be Bowie's symphonic opus about Poland's anguish plagued capital) and the mysterious and lethargic, but utterly breathtaking closer "Subterraneans."

While Low is without a doubt the most inaccessible and challenging album of the Berlin Trilogy and possibly out of Bowie's entire catalogue, it still stands at the meridian of this versatile artist's musical gamut. It paved the way for Bowie's future reptilian style shifts, influenced artists like Trent Reznor who claims Low was partially responsible for his Downward Spiral album and to this day remains one of the finest ventures into experimental rock out there.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Why Flavor Flav is allowing the terrorists to win…

This past weekend in Bloomington I was introduced to the absurdity of VH1’s newest, “Here, you Americans have nothing better to do so watch this” Reality TV show “Flavor of Love 2” (yes the show actually has a predecessor. Apparently Flav didn’t find love the first time around). The show revolves around Flavor Flav, that small and highly frazzled rapper from Public Enemy who dresses in large pants and clocks. Apparently he is in search of love, although one could argue that he is merely out for attention and a big fat VH1 paycheck (I mean giant clock necklaces don’t come cheap my friends). Flavor of Love may be one of the trashiest shows I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of show that makes me ashamed to be an American. In one single episode (and mind you I walked in on the show more than halfway through its hour run) a handful of stupid attention whores were ridiculed, judged on their looks and attitudes by rap group/recent Oscar winners 36 Mafia, groped by Mr. Flav whose use of the English language could be summed up as dismal and ultimately pinned against each other in some elaborate cat fight for said rappers amusement. Oh and did I mention the said females were appointed names like Choclate, Deelishis, Beautiful (the only name spelled correctly), Buckwild, Krazy, Toasteee, Payshintz (whatever the hell that means) and my personal favorite, Nibblz.
So the girls compete in mindless activities for attention and the chance to “date” Flav. Flavor Flav is a pioneer in the rap world having helped launch Public Enemy, however, music should be his forte, not relishing in his own stupidity on TV.

“Flavor of Love” was produced by a production company called Mindless Entertainment, which comes as no surprise. The show is the epitome of mindless entertainment, however, watching a Bull Dog lick himself could also fall under this level of visual pleasure so you have to wonder what this says about this type of trash TV. While watching this show I was reminded by something comedian/actor David Cross said about fellow TV abomination, “The Simple Life.” Cross argues that when people say that terrorists hate our freedom, one can’t help but wonder if watching a show like “Flavor of Love” only fuels this notion. I mean let’s be honest, it’s easy to hate our freedom when watching a burned out rapper degrade women on national television is what we do with it. Prove me wrong if you think otherwise.

“Mr. Romantic, I’m Flavmantic. You know what I’m sayin’”~Flavor Flav

Friday, September 1, 2006

Album Review: Modern Times, Bob Dylan

Modern Times (2006)
Bob Dylan
Colombia Records

A Lively Spirit of Modern Times

Bob Dylan has had one hell of a career thus far. He helped merge together the folk and rock genres of the early 1960s, blended his gift for songwriting with his political and social opinions, explored various sounds and mediums–everything from straight folk to stripped down blues–and to this day has maintained his role as one of the most important music pioneers in American history. Modern Times is Dylan’s first album in five years concluding the alleged trilogy of records (the predecessors being 1997’s Time Out of Mind and 2001’s Love and Theft) that encompass Dylan’s shift towards blues-rock with a hint of bluegrass and folk. While the album continues the “millennium sound” of the past two releases, Modern Times is a refreshing listen all the way through combining a lot of trademark elements of Dylan’s past with fresh approaches.
The record opens with “Thunder on the Mountain,” a fast paced straight blues piece, which, appropriately enough, features a wonderfully thunderous guitar opening. The song features a politically charged Dylan crooning about love, lust, political and social chaos and a nice little shout out to R&B singer/songwriter Alicia Keys–“I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying / When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line.”
“Spirit on the Water,” which is the best song on the disc and one of the best Dylan songs ever written, features a beautifully simple jazz guitar riff and lyrics that are oh so tender and sweet one has to wonder which muse out there had the power to possess Dylan to produce such a poetic love song. To top it off the track closes with a beautifully melodic harmonica solo that reminds us of his flair for the harp.
The album closes with the radically different “Ain’t Talkin,’” an epic dark folk ballad that is reminiscent of previous Dylan tracks such as “Love Sick” (Time out of Mind) or even warlorn songs like “Masters of War” (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan). With lyrics such as, “The sufferin' is unending / 
Every nook and cranny has its tears / 
I'm not playing, I'm not pretending / 
I'm not nursin' any superfluous fears” once can’t help but agree that Dylan is no longer talkin’ but rather is pleading with us for change or at the least, acceptance.
For those who are only familiar/comfortable with Dylan’s earlier work from the days of simple guitar and mic classics, Modern Times will come as a surprise. Dylan moved away from typecasts a long time ago and is spending his latter days exploring the different methods and styles that intrigues him. This shouldn’t discourage listeners from Modern Times since the album, and the recent trilogy as a whole, is proof that Dylan is as brilliant a musician and songwriter as ever and that like a fine wine he has aged well with the tides of time.