Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Informant! (2009)

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Based on the Book by: Kurt Eichenwald

Steven Soderbergh has done basically everything every director could ever set out to do in his career. He brought independent film to the mainstream with his 1989 debut sex, lies, and videotape. He made a movie about Franz Kafka. He made one of the coolest heist films ever (despite the fact that it was a remake) with Ocean’s Eleven. He made a movie about the life of Che Guevera. And he’s turned a porn star into a leading lady with The Girlfriend Experience. So what’s he doing now? A movie about a corporate whistleblower based on a true story? Didn’t he already do that? Oh no that was Erin Brocovich. She wasn’t corporate, she hates corporations.

The Informant! is the story of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), the vice president of ADM, a company that conspires to fix the price of lysine, a food additive, with their competitors. After the FBI responds to a call by one of Whitacre’s bosses about an extortion claim, Whitacre decides to clear his conscience and admit to the scheme feeling that if the plan were to be exposed he would be the fall guy. The film then follows his 2.5 years in service of FBI building a case against ADM. Once FBI finally gets all it needs and raids ADM Whitacre and the film unravel into an unsettling and ambiguous mess (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

The film overall is enjoyable, but Soderbergh is overbearing and off-putting. He really wants you to know that Mark Whitacre is unstable by using voiceover to give light to Whitacre’s regular irreverent thoughts about polar bear hunting, Japanese panty vending machines, and Michael Crichton. A ridiculously upbeat score is also used during the movie’s most poignant scenes to contrast the overly serious corporate thrillers of the 90s the film seems to be paying homage to, as well as rejecting. When the film unravels in the third act and Soderbergh lets the film play out on it’s own it’s a welcome break.

But yeah, Matt Damon is awesome in this and I can totally see Mark Whitacre becoming a classic movie character.




Thursday, September 17, 2009

mcluksy - mclusky do dallas

mclusky are the coolest band. Ever.

Don’t believe me? Okay, let me count the ways:

First of all, their name is fucking mclusky. I don’t think there’s ever been a name that summed up the sound of the band so perfectly while not meaning anything.

Secondly, they have a song Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues which is no doubt the greatest song title of all-time.

Third, they’re aching from fucking too much.

Fourth, this album was engineered by STEVE FUCKING ALBINI.

Fifth, they say fuck a lot.

Sixth, they do more drugs than a touring funk band.

Seventh, the world loves them and is their bitch.

Eighth, their riffs fucking rule for a brash English punk band.

Ninth, Jody Hill likes them.

Tenth, fuck you just listen to them and find out for yourself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Insect Warfare - World Extermination

I like taking walks late at night. It’s nice to clear the head and just get some light exercise. I often stop at a nearby convenience store because it’s open until two in the morning and it gives me an excuse to give to my roommates who seem somewhat confounded I would want to just go out late at night. I found out there was a convenience store that was even closer to my dorm, but it was owned by the campus and thus would have a much smaller selection and much higher prices.

I decided I’d check it out anyway just to have an excuse to walk so I got my shit together and headed out. When I arrived, I was somewhat disappointed. The store was smaller than my room, although it did have a cooler. I circled the main rack the see if anything struck my fancy, and to my surprise something did.

Those niggas had fruit snacks on fruit snacks: Mixed berry, strawberry, cherry, need I go on? You could get a 2.5 oz bag (That’s 2.5 servings and 100% of your daily Vitamin C supplement) for $0.55. I grabbed two bags of cherry and a 20 fl oz. Dr Pepper and went to the cashier. She was watching some shit on ABC Family.

Eager to eat my fruit snacks and drink my Dr. Pepper I started to move briskly back to my dorm. However, just as the sea of lights that signaled the building came into sight I was stopped by an ensemble of young men. They asked me what business I had being out so late at night and I told them I was buying fruit snacks and Dr. Pepper. This answer did not seem to satisfy them and they inched closer to me and repeated the question. As they came into the light I saw each one of them had ghastly beards and mustard stains on their oversized Biggie Smalls shirts.

I inched backwards to counteract their movements towards me. All of a sudden, one grabbed me by the hair (I desperately need a haircut) and dragged me over to the woods. My fruit snacks fell out of the pockets of my hoodie, but luckily one of the men grabbed them and held them as he followed the gang into the wilderness. After about five minutes, I was lifted off my feet and smashed against a tree trunk that had to have a radius of about 15 feet. Thing was fucking huge. As I writhed in pain, I asked what they were going to do to me. They responded in some sort of low indistinguishable growl, and another of them repeated what the other had said in a high shriek.

I was really fucking confused and asked if I could eat my cherry fruit snacks before they went ahead with any of their plans. The asshole that had just shrieked tore the bag open and my fucking fruit snacks went everywhere. I pulled out my cellphone for some light and looked around for a fruit snack that wasn’t completely covered in leaves and dirt and shit. One of the guys came down hard on my cellphone and it snapped in half. Before I could flip half a shit this other dude came out of nowhere and pulled my pants down and started shoving the pieces of the cellphone up my ass. I started to scream but one of the assailants picked up a fistful of dirt and shoved it down my throat. I could taste a hint of cherry, but it was mostly shit.

Another dude came from behind me and shoved what felt like an entire tree stump up my ass. Another guy grabbed hold of my flaccid dick with one hand as he held my Dr. Pepper in the other hand. His accomplice twisted the cap off the bottle and he proceeded to jam my cock into the Dr. Pepper bottle. As the bottle was turned upside down, the syrupy liquid tried to escape. However, its path was deterred by my ever-throbbing member. It slowly seeped through and leaked onto my lower-abdomen and the man that had previously been sodomizing me with a stump proceeded to sensually lick it off. I gazed into his eyes and felt myself sink through into the deepest caverns of hell.

After a couple minutes of licking he lifted his head and surveyed my stomach. He then began to gnaw at the spot he had just been licking. The others joined in and I could feel the searing pain as my flesh was torn off my body. They used their teeth to tear out my intestines and proceeded to turn my bowels into musical instruments.

Then they made an album.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
"Watching Donny beat Nazis to death is the closest we ever get to going to the movies."

Everything you really need to know about this movie can be seen in Eli Roth's character's twisted, bloodthirsty smirk as his lieutenant (Brad Pitt) instructs his soldiers on their mission of killing Nazis. As the movie progresses, it reveals a similar twisted identity: ruthless characters bent on revenge, biting dialogue, brutal violence, and a character base largely devoid of morality. Clearly, Q.T.'s paying homage to some of his favorite cult movies again. While the movie delivers more classic Tarantino dialogue, we all know he can get carried away and some scenes suffer from their length, though this is not something to be surprised about coming into one of his movies. The big surprise is the fact that the main Basterds themselves do not seem to get most of the screentime, but their scenes provide some of the most badass violence imaginable. To get more of an idea of the asskicking: Eli Roth plays a baseball-loving Jew with a heavy New York accent who beats Nazis to death with a bat, and his fucking nickname is "The Bear Jew." As much as the movie delivers some very memorable development and progression, above all it is about two things: the clever conversations, delivering insight and hilarity, and, more importantly, the catharsis of watching Nazis get fucking beaten to (dare I say it....) a pulp. Brootal.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Moon (2009)

Directed by: Duncan Jones
Written by: Nathan Parker

I’ve always had a deep fascination with science fiction. When I was younger I was enthralled by the special effects, epic storylines, and explosive action scenes. As I grew older I seemed to lose interest in the things that made me fall in love with science fiction as I started to realize that the genre was full of cautionary tales about political and societal issues. I began to focus more on the themes and morals of the stories and started to lose interest in the stories themselves. Because of this, I suppose Moon is the perfect sci-fi movie for how I feel about the genre right now.

Moon tells the story of Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell), an astronaut extracting helium-3 from the soil of the moon. He is nearing the end of his three year contract with Lunar Industries, when he begins to experience severe loneliness. His only means of contact with the outside world is limited due to a malfunction of the base’s communications system and his only companion is a robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). On a mission to pick up some helium-3, Sam hallucinates that someone is outside his rover and crashes the rover. The next scene, Sam awakes finding himself back in the base’s infirmary. He sees the base he crashed at is down, and decides to venture out to see what the problem is, only to find the crashed rover and his body inside the rover. He takes himself back to the base and asks GERTY who the man is, but GERTY refuses to give a clear answer. The rest of the movie investigates who the real Sam Bell is, the limits of corporate greed, and various other questions dealing with existence and reality and some more fun sci-fi topics.

Visually the film is enjoyable as well. Shot on a meager budget of $5,000,000, director Duncan Jones did the best he could to display a realistic depiction of the moon’s surface, opting for models rather than CGI. However, the cinematography seems to suffer somewhat from the low budget set, and it somewhat detracts from the mystical quality most sci-fi films possess. Some mysticism is saved by Clint Mansell’s fantastic score which captures the eerie wonder of space as well as any fan of Mansell’s previous work would expect.

Though the film drags in places and the set feels somewhat empty and hollow, it ultimately satisfies thanks to it’s interesting themes, plentiful ideas, and sympathetic character.




Monday, August 10, 2009

Dan Deacon - Bromst

Have you ever listened to Music for 18 Musicians and thought "I like it, but I can't dance to it."

Well, now you can. Best album of 2009.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf - Big Shots

My favorite Disney movie was always The Fox and the Hound. I don’t remember if I got its message against segregation and society’s judgment, but as I grew I did. But now as I watch it, with a greater knowledge of what it does and what it sets out to do I can say that it features one of the most honest and beautiful depictions of young friendship and one of the most crushing resolutions, in which those friends are torn apart.

Now, I can’t help but look at Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf, hip-hop heavyweights lost in time, without thinking of Fox and the Hound. The similarities are both eerie and heartbreaking: Two kids from two very different backgrounds come together to make beautiful music only to be ripped apart by a fucking bear…err, mugger. The two met in Southern California in 1989, Charizma was 16 and Peanut Butter Wolf (aka Chris Manak aka founder of Stone Throw Records) was 19. The two became the best of friends and both had a deep love for hip hop and recorded a number of demos, with Charizma rapping and P.B. Wolf producing, which resulted with the duo being signed to Disney’s Hollywood Basics label. Unfortunately, this all came to an end in 1993, when Charizma was murdered, at the age of 20, as a result of a mugging. P.B. Wolf took a break from music until 1996 when he started up Stones Throw Records, and in 2003 almost 10 years after Charizma’s death he finally released Big Shots, a compilation of their work together.

Although Charizma may come off as a sort of self-serving name for a rapper, but no rapper deserves the name quite as much as Charizma does. He’s like the Barack Obama of hip hop. It’s hard to imagine him without a smile on his face while he raps and his love of hip hop is evident in his tone and his lyrics. Peanut Butter Wolf’s production works perfectly with Charizma as it’s upbeat yet meticulous, and it’s clear the two shared a deep admiration and respect for one another.

Big Shots is like the perfect hybrid of East Coast and West Coast hip hop, as it combines the carefree air of the West with the lyrical prowess of the East. We may never see a pair quite as talented and likable as Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf, so let’s take an apple juice break to remember what we lost.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

R.I.P. John Hughes

It is with great sadness that I make this post memorializing the great writer/director John Hughes, who died today at age 59. If you don't know him, he was quite simply the best mainstream filmmaker of the 1980's, and while mainstream culture in the 80's was pretty fucking horrid, Hughes' films were most certainly not. While they all possessed cliched features that seemed inescapable in that time, each of his movies maintained comedy and heartfelt sentiment. If you still don't recognize the name, let's see if you don't recognize some of the films he directed, all bonafide classics that seem to be common viewing among suburban adolescents: Sixteen Candles, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and my two favorites, The Breakfast Club and Uncle Buck. While I did not grow up in the 80's, these films all evoke a great sense of nostalgia in me, a testament to their timelessness. Shit, I used to watch Uncle Buck once a month when I was younger. His work is just accessible to everyone with a lot of underlying significance; he could possibly be called the Judd Apatow of the 80's. It is certain that many more generations of misfit teenagers will grow up with Hughes' work, which seems to have examined teenage social life so well that its features became archetypal. I'll just leave you with a quote from The Breakfast Club that all of us have dreamed of saying to that stuck-up popular bitch in high school:
"Don't you ever talk about my friends. You don't know any of my friends. You don't look at any of my friends. And you certainly wouldn't condescend to speak to any of my friends. So you just stick to the things you know: shopping, nail polish, your father's BMW, and your poor, rich drunk mother in the Caribbean. And as far as being concerned about what's gonna happen when you and I walk down the hallways of school together, you can forget it cuz it's never gonna happen. Just bury your head in the sand and wait for your fucking prom."

So, R.I.P. John Hughes, and thanks for all the classics, and for helping to define so many childhoods.

Michael Haneke

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I went on vacation and Conor is Conor. I decided I wanted to do my first movie post, but I couldn’t think of a single movie to write about so I’m going to talk briefly about Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.

Haneke has 10 feature films to his credit, however one of these films was a shot-for-shot US remake of his 1997 film, Funny Games and his latest film, The White Ribbon has yet to be released in America (although it did win the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year). Of these 8 remaining films, I’ve seen three: Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, and Caché.

Pegging down Haneke’s style is very tough to categorize. Most viewers often marvel at his ability to create suspense, some are appalled by his use of violence and sexuality. The only unifying theme in Haneke’s films is his depiction of the moral degradation of modern society.

Funny Games (1997)

Certainly Haneke’s most “prolific” film, at least in the US, probably because of the buzz his remake created, Funny Games follows a family on vacation who become subject to the sadistic and murderous fantasies of two preppy teenagers. The film is a refreshing take on the “horror” genre which has become a cesspool of “self-awareness” by employing conventional plotlines, chase scenes, gross-outs intended to scare the audience. Haneke takes all these conventions to the next level by breaking the fourth wall. The killers address the audience, wink charmingly after successfully tricking the family into trusting them, and even change the events of the film using a remote control (probably the film’s most iconic scene, I won’t go any further into the matter as it’s somewhat of a spoiler). However, while the intentions of the film are admirable, it sort of lacks in execution. The characters aren’t very well-developed and Haneke’s (supposed) intended message, that we as a society have become desensitized to violence, never comes to fruition.

The Piano Teacher (2001)

Certainly Haneke’s most “well-recieved” film, at least overseas, the Piano Teacher won the Grand Prix at Cannes, and its lead actress Isabelle Hupert received huge praise for her portrayal of an emotionally and sexually repressed piano instructor. Through the first and second act, Hupert portrays her character as a cold, emotionally-detached, controlling professor who demeans her students for each of their mistakes. However, Haneke allows us a slight glimpse into the character when he shows her enter a adult-themed stores jerk-off hut. (I don’t know what they’re actually called). The woman sits down and watches the movie playing analyzing it as if it were another piece played by one of her pupils, staring at the two actors fucking with a mixture of contempt, jealousy, and loneliness. She looks to the trash can next to her and sees a recently used tissue and holds it up to her face and gently presses it against her lips. Haneke gets the most out of Hupert’s performance by often allowing the camera to linger long after the scene should have ended. We see the pain in Hupert’s face, in her movements, and in the emptiness of the environment surrounding her. That’s really all I want to write about this movie, even though there’s so much more to it. Just watch this for Hupert’s performance, the confusing, morally ambiguous climax, and the crushing resolution.

Caché (2005)

Certainly Haneke’s most “good” film, at least in my opinion, Caché makes the most out of nothing. I’ve always been a fan of minimalism in all its forms, and Caché is perhaps one of the most minimalist films I’ve ever seen and just executed so perfectly. The plot of the film is simple. A family starts receiving video tapes showing their house is under surveillance. The father investigates the situation and finds the surveyor is a ghost from his past. I don’t really know what else to say; just watch the movie to see how Haneke creates incredible suspense where there isn’t any.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Meet Me in St. Louis - Meet Me in St. Louis

Having a good EP in your collection is essential. Sometimes you only have about 20 minutes before you have to go to work or go out somewhere or cry yourself to sleep and I mean sometimes, you’re just not in the mood for skramz. It’s because of this that Meet Me in St. Louis has the most played tracks in my media player. Their self-titled EP has only 5 tracks and runs just over 23 minutes and is perfect for when skramz just won’t do the trick.

I think the reason the EP works so well is because it is so spastic and neurotic it works well for such a short runtime. In fact, the band did release a full-length album called Variations on Swing, but I never truly got into it the way I did the self-titled. The best comparison I can think of for the band (well maybe not best, but most fitting) is Between the Buried and Me. Just like BBTAM, Meet Me in St. Louis is comprised of some wonderful musicians who can’t write a coherent song to write their lives, but they certainly know how to take their listeners on a journey. Each song on the Meet Me in St. Louis goes through about 3 or 4 tempo/theme changes, but the band’s technical prowess and Toby Hayes charming lyrics are enough to distract the listener.

Unfortunately, after releasing Variations on Swing, Haye’s decided to leave the group and the group decided to quit not long after. The band’s label started the first (un)offical Meet Me in St. Louis Day last year on September 24th 2008, so please do the world a favor and download this album so you can rock out to it this year.

Also I want to mention that Haye’s voice does this thing when he yells where his voice flares up and then sort of trickles down and I think it’s cool but I’m probably the only one. It also be of note that this band loves movies as much as we do as each track is a line from a movie:

1. We need to act like we don't need this shit then they give us the shit for free (Swingers)
2. The Kid who had his ear slapped by the druggist (It's a wonderful life)
3. Why Thank you Suzie (Fight Club)
4. What happened to you Dylan? You used to be someone I could trust (Predator)
5. You said your finger was a gun (Field of Dreams)

Sorry for the messy structure of these last few paragraphs, but I just wanted to emulate the band so that they can live on in our disjointed lives for eternity.


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written By: Mark Boal
"There's enough bang in there to blow us all to Jesus. If I'm gonna die, I want to die comfortable."

I'll be brief with this post: The Hurt Locker is the best movie I've seen this year, and I doubt it will be topped. It maintains suspense and heart pounding action, until an emotional climax that rips your heart out. It is also a fresh look at life at war, focusing on war as a "drug" (addiction to adrenaline). All in all, it feels like a remarkably genuine portrayal of war experiences (which makes sense, since the writer is an Iraq war veteran and also wrote 2007's In the Valley of Elah), and that makes it all the more affecting. The visual work in the movie is also noteworthy: the shaky cam is an effective complement to the harrowing battle scenes, there is an overall grainy texture to the film reminiscent of recent similar films, such as Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, and the opening scene has one of the most memorable shots I've ever seen. Keep an eye out for Jeremy Renner; he gives a moving and honest performance that is certainly Oscar-worthy. Go and see it for yourself, and experience one of the best war films I've seen.

8Ball & MJG - Comin' Out Hard

In a recent interview conducted by Luck in Odd Number’s dear friend Christian Baer, Thurston Moore postulated on why he thinks black metal appeals to so many indie rock fans (see: hipsters). Moore says the minimalism of black metal is what draws him in, referring to it as almost anti-music in its approach: it’s so cold and distant from the rest of the metal scene, it’s somewhat endearing. Given hipsters keen sense of irony, black metal’s lyrical content which usually consists of paganism and JRR Tolkien worship, is also rather attractive to those in love with making a statement that doesn’t actually say anything.

So why am I talking about black metal in a review for a pioneering southern hip-hop album? Well I think the very same asthetic that draws listeners to black metal is the same that draws them to hip-hop. Hip-Hop groups like Wu-Tang Clan have thrived among white audiences since their inception thanks to RZA’s ridiculously minimalist beats and the rest of the clans graphically violent lyrics. I truly doubt that over 90% of hip-hop enthusiasts can relate to lyrics of killing niggaz, squashing beefs, pushing coke, and pimping, but it sells, or rather is listened to much in the same way black metal has become popular despite the fact that 99.9% of black metal enthusiasts have never feasted at Valhalla or been to jail for murdering Euronymous.

Now we finally arrive at 8Ball & MJG’s 1993 debut Comin’ Out Hard. The production is remarkably minimalist with most songs featuring a bassline that sounds like it was put together in some prehistoric ancestor of MIDI, a drum loop tinnier than anything on St. Anger, and the occaisional vocal sample from a 60s soul track now long forgotten. However, these parts all come together to form a groove so smooth it would soon become the trademark sound of the dirty South. The lyrical content ranges from pimping, ho’s revolting, killing for money, and a robbery Johnny Clay couldn’t pull off. While the album’s relevance in undeniable, the album itself can get a bit tiresome due to the aforementioned sound quality. The best thing the album does is limit itself to 8 tracks (and an introduction) because as we all know hip-hop releases have a tendency to overstay their welcome.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Frank Pierson
"It's your job, right? You know, the guy who kills me, I hope he does it 'cause he hates my guts. Not 'cause it's his job."

From 12 Angry Men's examination of the heated deliberation of 12 anonymous jurors, to the intense interpersonal conflicts of a family in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, to the portrayal of a real-life bank robbery by a first-time criminal and his partner (both clearly experiencing mental and emotional meltdowns) in the film that is the topic of this post, Sidney Lumet's films all seem to share a distinct feature: a pervasive, overwhelming sense of tension. No matter the setting or time period (this must be the case seeing as his body of work spans more than 50 years), Lumet is a master of conveying emotionally charged conflicts with poignancy and, often, discomfort. His films also tackle contextual social issues, such as racism against criminals in the 1950's in 12 Angry Men, and homophobia and anti-war sentiment in the 1970's in Dog Day Afternoon. In this film, Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) and his friend Sal (John Cazale) rob a bank on a sweltering August day in Brooklyn, 1972. It soon turns into a hostage situation, followed by a media frenzy. As conflict builds between Sonny and the police, details of his past are revealed, giving insight into the reasons for his distress. The whole situation unravels with a remarkable sense of tension, as the heat is visually emphasized and the sounds of the city are able to prevail without a soundtrack. The movie is brilliantly shot, with a signature 70's look akin to The Godfather. Pacino's performance rivals DeNiro's in Taxi Driver for one of the best mental breakdowns on the big screen, and his famous improvised "ATTICA!" lines are an inspiring example of a supposed villain quickly turning into a sympathetic, heroic character. Though the events of movie are said to be much different from the real bank robbery, the basic details seem to be similar enough, and the film gives tons of contextual insight into 1970's New York society. Oh yeah, and nearly the entire film takes place in one building, similar to Lumet's first film 12 Angry Men. Hell, just watch it if you like a filmmaker who seems to get everything right in all of his work.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shotmaker - Mouse Ear [Forget-Me-Not]

I’m a sucker for a sludgy riff. Give me some trudging bass lines, pounding drums, and distortion up the ass. And package it under the guise of a post-hardcore…errr, emo (maybe) band and I’ll be sure to blow my load all over it. Enter Shotmaker. Hailing from Ontario, Shotmaker crafted aggressive yet inexplicably melodic riffs that could stop on a dime and rip your face off with just one swipe. Formed in 1993, the band’s early work shows potential, but is executed a bit sloppily. In 1996, the band released Mouse Ear [Forget-Me-Not] that they finally perfected their abrasive yet catchy sound and while the lyrics are for the most part unintelligible they are remarkably anthemic.

Shotmaker’s a hard band to peg. Not fast enough for hardcore. Not melodic enough for emo. Not heavy enough for metal. The sound is intangible. The lyrics are incomprehensible. The feeling you’ll get listening to “Failure” is unforgettable.