Thursday, November 30, 2006

Breakfast of Champions



I read this book in about 36 hours. I'm not saying that to be impressive, its a short book replete with sketches. But it ate me alive like nothing has since Slaughterhouse-Five this summer. Since I picked it up, I have avoided all work, skipped a biology lab, and was thinking about it when I wasn't reading it. I just saw a clip of Vonnegut on the Jon Stewart show. He has a new book out and is still is not missing a beat. I don't know much about the man factually, but I feel like I understand him very well from the way he writes. This book is him, poured out, to the point where he literally writes himself in near the end. I did a little research and it turns out this is the book he created after he wrote Slaughterhouse-Five and said he would never write a book again. Shakeer or Ian could tell you more. A plot summary would have very limited worth. This is an anti-novel. Vonnegut tears down everything and then for a moment he puts it back together -such a moment!- and it echoes on until the end, where he just shatters it. I'm reeling.

I know I wasn't the same after Slaughterhouse-Five. Its Top Five for me. I think its perfect. This book might not be perfect, but it will take six or seven hours of your time and that my friends is a worthwhile investment. You might be offended at some points, you'll surely feel fucking awful for much of it, but its absolutely worth it. Now I have Cat's Cradle and Welcome to the Monkey House for this weekend.

Rating (the act of rating this is a sin I'm very certain, especially with our system. Wait, he'd actually like the system):
mMMmGravy.

Say it!

Now read it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Beast Moans



Beast Moans is a fluid, calm album; a dense soundscape of a record where eventually you hear everything including the kitchen sink. While there are plenty of different things going on musically, none of it is jarring. And jarring is kind of what I expected given that Swan Lake is these three Canucks, from left: Spencer Krug a la Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown (and occassionally Frog Eyes I guess), Casey Mercer the lead man from Frog Eyes, and Dan Bejar AKA Destroyer, also known for our favorites the New Pornographers.



While these three do pull out pretty much every trick they know, the fundamentals are keyboards and piano, acoustic and distorted electric guitars (which sometimes feel like an afterthought), synths, some very creative percussion (when its there), and constantly shifting vocal duties and backup methods. The first three songs are pretty unremarkable, and the fourth seems destined to sink with its promising but frustratingly quiet and weak melody until Dan chants "a venue called rubella" forever as the piano rises behind him, which oddly enough makes the song. Next up is the only potential mixtape track, "All Fires" which I have listened to over twenty times in the last two days. Its not outstanding, but its the most straightforward acoustic ballad and has a way of digging in and not letting go.

The rest is a cohesive, lowkey mix of stuff, much of which is put together by Mercer who seems to be taking this opportunity to test what else he can do. It's Sunset Rubdown without the electro-glitch, Wolf Parade without the anthem, Frog Eyes without the guts/insanity, and Destroyer without the, well actually some of these are pretty much Destroyer songs. "Freedom", in particular, has stolen a vocal melody from one of his New Pornographers songs (I'm nearly certain but I can't place which one) and a structure and production that would place it on his last record Destroyer's Rubies. Its really good. The other almost great track is "Are You Swimming In Her Pools?", a Spencer-led number that has some really cool shifts in tempo and volume and is the most reminiscent of Wolf Parade. If you're a lyrics kind of person you might find more to dive into on this album seeing as how these are three very talented songwriters, but the "band" (this is probably a one-off) doesn't put the words center-stage acoustically so I myself don't feel guilty about not concentrating on them, even though I probably should. On the other hand, if you're a verse-chorus type person you should probably keep your distance.

In the end, I was disappointed because my hopes were very high and it just felt a little uninspired. But this is a good record with no bad songs and four very good ones, one which feels complete of itself even if I want it to be more. I suspect it will grow on me.

Because I want to get this off on the right foot, I've linked a place where you can grab this, until it hits the street of course after which you would be obligated to purchase it. (I think/hope the download has a glitch on "Petersburg, Liberty Theater, 1914")

Rating: mMmGravy (75%)

post script
yeah, I invented a rating system. Gravy is worth forty. An M is worth twenty. an m before the M is ten and after the M is five. Hence that 75%. 55% is tricky. I guess it will be mmGravy and we'll just hafta remember that one. Hmm, there's no way to tell between 45% and 50%. Until further notice, nothing can be 45%. If its worse than a 40, you get to describe what kind of nasty gravy it is. Maybe it has boogers in it!

When you read the rating, you MUST say it out loud.

The rating system is obviously open to input/innovation/overhaul.

post post script
And if anyone wants to review anything else, I don't know, maybe you somehow got your hands on the new Shins album super-early or something, for example, that would be, as they say here in South Bend, cool. Until then, I'm here with you Scott. The Alfalfa to your Spanky. Er. Yeah.

post post post script
I think this should be our new blog tagline:

All aboard the Gravy Train! er, Boat!

Monday, November 20, 2006

THE FOUNTAIN

Some people do drugs. I do movies.

I’ve been going to them as far back as I can remember. I’ve seen hundreds, probably even thousands of films over the course of my life, but I have never been to anything like what writer/director Darren Aronofsky has created here. Talk is already forming comparing it to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this is not that. This is a whole other film, and it has a poetry, elegance, grace, and flow unlike any film I can recall. The best description I can think of came from Aronofsky's account of what his producer told him after reading the first draft of the film - a love poem to death. I know I post mostly positive reviews, largely because I go in with varying expectations and most of the movies I see at least meet those. But I had enormous expectations for this, beyond any I’ve had before any film before, and it exceeded them even further.

This film impacted me so profoundly; I won’t be able to really get a grasp on how strongly I feel about it for a long time and after several viewings. It would kill me to spoil a second of its beauty to you all, but I had to post something to get everyone to see it. Not only because years, maybe even decades from now, it’ll be a classic, and not only because I really can’t wait to talk about it, and not only because it’ll be one of those great movies the Oscars won’t pick up on, but because it’s just a movie that needs to be seen. Not just seen to be believed, but it just pours its heart and soul out with every passing frame, and the idea that there wouldn’t even be people to listen just kills me.

By the end of it, you might not even like it. I say this only because there are reviews from people who didn’t*. I don't understand many of the criticisms, which mostly revolve around confusion over the plot and the very questions that make the film so intriguing. Usually, with the films I really fall for, I can find the things that really only work for a select crowd that I just happen to be a part of. Not so here (but then again, I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a film I’ve loved so much, certainly not on first viewing). It does ask you to take a leap on a number of levels, its narrative, which is complex but not overly complicated, being the least yet most immediate. I pieced it together a few hours after walking out, which I don’t point to as a sign of my intelligence but rather that all the clues are really there for you; just don’t expect them all right away, and they may not hit you until hours after. But I don’t really think you should fault a film for asking you to focus, and to trust it. If you’re willing to take that leap, I guarantee you will be rewarded exponentially.

I’ve read that part of the reason it hasn’t worked for some audiences is that it deals with its theme and emotions and ideas so sincerely and straightforward, but its plot not so much, that it’s too much of a reverse from what we’re used to (straightforward plot, lesser emphasis on emotion). It earnestly tackles huge ideas and feelings of life, love, immortality, eternity, mortality, and ultimately death, and it succeeds in the span of only 98 minutes. And don't worry, even though the film deals predominantly and extensively with death, it’s done with a sort of grace and reverence and beauty. Never once is it depressing; sad at times, sure (I came about as close to crying as I am capable), but by the end I was left totally speechless, greatly moved, but also very much at peace.

“What is it about?” I’ve been telling lots of people to go see this, and every time I get that question I’m never really sure how to answer it, at least without spoiling anything. But here’s what I can give you, because it’s also pretty much covered in the trailer. In 16th century Spain, a conquistador (Hugh Jackman) is sent by his queen (Rachel Weisz) to search for the mythical tree of life, which she believes carries the secret to eternal life. In the present, a scientist (Jackman) is working overtime to develop a cure for cancer while his wife (Weisz) is dying of it. In the 26th century, an astronaut of sorts (Jackman) is traveling through space, haunted by the past. And don’t worry, this will all make sense in the end, but it should go without saying that everything is connected and everything matters.

The visuals are just stunning, and those are what will stand out to you the most when you first see it (although before very long, you’ll figure out how much the sound design plays into the film). If you come away with nothing else, you’ll at least have seen a beautiful array of visuals and sounds that is, on a purely technical level, one of the most perfect films ever made. Most amazing, the space sequence utilized almost no computer-generated imagery (CGI), only using it as a touch-up or to combine elements. Instead, it was all created in Petri dishes using microscopic chemical reactions. They filmed those, and blew them up. And that’s their outer space. Not only does it look spectacular, but it’s what’ll go into making the film a classic – the effects are timeless. As great as King Kong (2005) looks now, in five years even it will look dated. The Fountain won’t. Aronofsky recognizes that special effects are so often used for mere spectacle, and instead uses them to another end—grace. Grace is hard to find in films, from the biggest of the blockbusters to the smallest of the independents. And yet here it is.

But all would be for naught without Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Jackman especially…we’ve never seen him like this before, and I wonder if, had he never done this, we would have ever found out how truly talented he is. Not only did he finally make me forget Wolverine. It’s the best performance of the year, easily, and it’s just thrilling, heartbreaking, and exhilarating to watch him. He achieves a depth and vulnerability many actors dare not reach for. He plays three different characters (sort of), each distinctly defined both in the writing and in Jackman’s performance. In the 16th century, he’s a Spanish conquistador searching for the secret to eternal life. In the present, he’s a scientist searching for a cure for cancer. In the future, he’s…well, to say anything of the future would be telling. But it ends up being a lot of people’s favorite part of the film, and it’s the part that relies most on Jackman. And wow, does he bring it home.

Weisz is also very good as the woman who drives him to do everything he does, not quite up there with her revelatory work in criminally underrated The Constant Gardener, but she plays a lot of small, yet distinct notes really, really well. She conveys more with her eyes than most actresses out there, and it’s really exciting to watch both her and Hugh come into their own with this. Together, they and Aronofsky form this wonderfully touching, tragic, heartfelt love story that’s at the center of an epic tale spanning a thousand years. Not a romance story; there’s not a lot, if any, of those “cutesy” moments that you can watch and say, “yeah, me and this girl were just like that.” This is a LOVE story in the biggest, most profoundly personal sense of the word.

It’s been almost a week, and I still haven’t totally shaken this film. Little moments keep coming back to me, lines and imagery and sounds and feelings and I’ve listened to this one song from the soundtrack every day since and even that just brings back the rush of emotions I had going during the film (and the score as a whole is a brilliant piece of work…just beautiful).

I don’t tell you guys to go see many films. I recommend a fair share, usually with some provisions, but mostly I leave you to gather what you will from what I write. But this is one that’s just too good. It’s not just the best film of the year, it’s the best film that’s come along in…I don’t even know. Might be the best I’ve ever seen. So I’m telling you—see this film. If you’re not willing to take the leap, I guess don’t bother. Nothing I can do to help you. But I really do believe you’ll all enjoy the film if you open your mind and your heart to it. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, spiritual, and transcendent, and unlike any other movie I have ever seen. And it reminds me not only of why I go to movies, but of what film, and in a larger sense stories themselves, are capable of accomplishing.

The Fountain opens nationwide on Wednesday, November 22nd, and despite what the trailer and some other ads have said, is rated PG-13.

NOTES

The link at the title will take you to the film's trailer, which you should only watch if you need further convincing. If this article was enough, you're better off knowing as little as possible.

*And yes, as of this writing, The Fountain is not in good standing at Rotten Tomatoes, but it would hardly be the first time that some critics were unprepared for a piece of groundbreaking cinema. And it's worth noting that it received ten-minute standing ovations during screenings that were open to the public, or the average audience.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Omega Has Invaded MySpace

Hello all, its been quite some time since my last post here, and I know most of you are probably grateful for that. However... ("here he goes again.") A variety of things have been happening, that I'm sure none of you are interested so I wont bother mentioning them (visit Xan Directive if you are interested for some odd reason). Halloween came and went and Shawn and I (code band name: Tastee Fish!) were unable to release our newest song onto myspace in time for the creepy holiday. The song as you should hopefully guess from the headline is based off of my book(s) Omega, more specificly the last two posts of Omgea Zero (my blog based off Omega that has got me into trouble here before, but thats water under the bridge or whereever you want it).

The song "The Ballad of the Sekti" deviates from Tastee Fish!'s previous release "Tommy" which I know some of you have heard, and steps away from the comedic & completely inappropriate and takes on a new Dark & Creepy feel. That is why we were hopeing to release it close to Halloween, but as it is--I was busy fighting Ninjas (see related post on Xan Directive). So here it is finally.

As of right now at this exact moment for somereason or another "Ballad of the Sekti" is not wanting to completely load on the Tastee Fish! profile but it does play as soon as it is added as someones profile song. We are attempting to figure out why and correct the problem, so forgive me if you visit and it is not playing. It can be heard on my profile which is linked on the Tastee Fish! profile as well. And Tommy is having no problems if you have not yet heard this (just don't play it around your little sister).

I hope eveyone gets a chance to enjoy it, both Shawn and I put in a lot of hard work into this trying to make it as creepy and enjoyable as possible, so please do just that...enjoy.

-Alex

Monday, November 06, 2006

2 More

Normally I’d be against writing reviews under my current condition (on the verge of collapse, with a headache to boot), but a part of me thinks I might just unleash something really cool. Then again, I am totally exhausted, so we’ll see how this goes.

BORAT

Funniest f-ing movie I’ve seen in years. The most I’ve laughed since at least the Dodgeball/Anchorman days. Sure, this isn’t exactly for the crowd that’s easily offended by…anything (really, name it, every hot-, or even warm-button issue is hit), but for how smart the comedy is, it’s pretty accessible. You don’t have to watch CNN regularly to “get it.” Think of it as South Park meets Jackass meets Andy Kaufman (yeah, bonus points for recognizing that last reference), and if any of those tickle your fancy (I’m not a big Jackass fan), you’ll go nuts for this.

BABEL

Annnnnnnd on the opposite end of the spectrum. I walked past an issue of Entertainment Weekly at the library today (which was gone and replace by the time I came back to it not an hour later…fast-moving environment) that called it the dark horse of this year, which I’m inclined to agree with. It’s not being totally ignored, but I wasn’t really looking forward to it that much when I went to see it, despite the huge reviews it was getting. But it is, hands down, the best work Brad Pitt’s done in years, maybe in his career (okay, it’s no Tyler Durden), and some of Cate Blanchett’s finer work (which is a surprise if someone read her role to you in a sentence). The rest of the cast is mostly unknown (that dude from Science of Sleep is in here, and I was glad to find I didn’t wanna punch him in the face this time around). The movie just moves, moves, moves, and even the almost inconsequential story about a deaf-mute Japanese girl resonates pretty strongly.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I woke up this morning and rolled over and looked down off my lofted bed to see a bald man wearing gloves hunched down looking for something on the ground. He turned around and left my room and I didn't get to see his faced which probably wouldn't have helped anyway without my contacts. I thought about getting up and going after the guy, but I went back to sleep.

Yeah so now I think I have a Lex Luthor and may have narrowly avoided death, or at least getting my football tickets stolen.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Coupla Reviews

Forgot to post these...and since no one's posted in...awhile, here ya go.

THE PRESTIGE

I have almost nothing to say about this movie, because if I start into it I may get into spoiler territory very, very fast. If anyone who’s seen the movie wants to discuss it, I'm game. But if you have any desire to see this (and you should), see it SOON. It’s a movie with twist upon twist upon twist, which can either work to great effect (Memento, The Usual Suspects) or fail (The Village). But even twist isn’t the right word…more like reversals. You know the SPY VS. SPY comics in MAD MAGAZINE? Imagine that, but totally serious and deadly and stretched for just over two hours. For me, it worked…I think the stuff towards the end might be a bit much for some people…it gets ridiculous, but you know what else it gets? Fucking awesome.

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are both awesome, which should surprise no one (Jackman especially though is really just getting better and better…ARGH I need to see The Fountain). I only wish they had more scenes together. Michael Caine is also fantastic, but he was even good in Bewitched, so he can pretty much do no wrong. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) also finds the best use anyone’s had for Scarlett Johansson in the last couple years, which is basically a pretty face. David Bowie (I know, Bowie!) and Andy Serkis (Gollum) are also in here, and kick ass.

And that’s as much as I’ll say. But go see it, and as with any twist movie, don’t TRY to guess the end. You’ll have more fun. It’s my new favorite Christopher Nolan movie for the time being, and given my love for Memento, that should say something.

FAST FOOD NATION

I had hoped I’d have more to say about this, but I just don’t. Look, I love meat, I love fast food, and this film didn’t change it, but honestly that part of it isn’t what stood out to me (though it stood out like hell to the meat haters in the audience). What works best for me is the ensemble cast and the themes of sacrifice and compromise we all have to go through for a thousand different reasons. It’s a very effective piece of drama, and the entire cast brings their A-game, no matter the size of their role (Ethan Hawke has an especially great part for as little screen time as he has).

The movie comes out sometime in mid-November, and while I would hardly recommend against it, I saw it…five days ago, and I can’t say it’s stuck with me to any great degree.