Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

The Rosebuds/ Night Of The Furies
On their latest release, Night Of The Furies, The Rosebuds want to party like it’s 1985. It’s synth hooks galore as this North Carolina two-piece turns in a more credible version of a Killers record, albeit a more uneven and bipolar one. The good songs are very, very good – “Cemetery Lawn” with its big and bombastic sound and out of this world synth hook would be a ginormous hit if only people had taste; the similarly massive “Get Up Get Out” and “Night Of The Furies”” also shine with their swagger and their killer harmonies; and moodier tracks like “Silence By The Lakeside” and “When The Lights Went Dim” add a brooding air to the proceedings. Regrettably, the not-so-good stuff stinks like tuna salad that’s been sitting out in the sun since the mid-eighties, as “I Better Run” is plagued by lazy vocals and banal lyrics like, “I think my grandma has a piece of land/ I’m supposed to take it when she’s dead,” and “Silja Line” suffers from a gratingly martial sound. At the very least, The Rosebuds have the good sense to sandwich the crap between the record’s standouts so instead of a giant part of the record being dragged down by inferior songs, they’re merely unwelcome blips on the radar. If you’re looking for a lyrically deep record, Night Of The Furies is not it, but that’s OK. The Rosebuds just want to rock the Me Decade and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Dirty Rating: 78/100

The Rosebuds On MySpace Music
The Rosebuds' Official Site

Peter Bjorn And John/ Writer’s Block
Inconsistent albums can be maddening. A band does everything they can to empty themselves onto a record yet are unable to sustain top quality for the entire course of their album. Hearing extraordinary tracks alternating with ones that just flop… it’s frustrating for a listener. Peter Bjorn And John’s latest, Writer’s Block, illustrates this to a “T.” There are moments that just blow your mind and others that make you wonder what the hell they were thinking. When it’s at the top of its game, Writer’s Block is some top-shelf indie pop featuring languid vocals that are strongly backed by some unbelievably lush instrumentation. Lead single “Young Folks” is simply one of the best tracks of the year. It’s almost without peer – it’s THAT good. Propelled by an almost hip-hop drum beat and an ear-grabbing whistle hook (which, interestingly enough, was used simply to placemark the spot on the track to add new instrumentation until the band realized just how well the whistle itself worked), “Young Folks” features Victoria Bergsman of The Concretes and is striking for how its breathy vocals run in contrast with the rich instrumentation provided by the band. It’s as close to perfection as a band can get. Nothing else quite measures up, although the alternately skittering and dream-poppy seven-minute “Up Against The Wall,” the surf-inflected “Let’s Call It Off,” and the Nordic Beck leanings of “Amsterdam” come closest. Unfortunately, the latter half of the record is where Peter Bjorn And John lose a great deal of steam as Writer’s Block begins to sputter to a coughing conclusion. “Paris 2004” is marred by a cheesy Casio keyboard intro and overly earnest lyrics, the drum n’ bass sounds of “The Chills” don’t fit with the ‘60’s pop vibe of the record, and “Roll The Credits” is starkly minimalist compared to the rest of the album while dragging on way too long. If Writer’s Block had been an EP comprised of the first half of the record, we’d be looking at one of 2007’s top releases. As it is, it stands somewhere in the middle of the pack with the promise that if Peter Bjorn And John can tighten up their work, they’ll likely ascend to the heights of indie pop royalty.

Dirty Rating: 75/100

Peter Bjorn And John On MySpace Music

!!!/ Myth Takes
One of the more exciting trends in indie rock lately is the promising fusion of dance and rock music, often tagged with the disco-punk label. Bands like The Faint, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, and even Modest Mouse have (to varying degrees of success) combined these to contrasting genres into a new one that more often than not allows the best parts of each to brightly shine through. !!! (pronounced “Chik Chik Chik) belongs in the discussion of bands that are attempting to throw their hat into the disco-punk ring. Although their latest release, Myth Takes, shows some signs of being a contender, in the end it’s more of a disappointment than anything else. Myth Takes plays like some obvious version of Spot The Influences, ranging from U2 (“A New Name”), Gang Of Four and Girls Against Boys (“All My Heroes Are Weirdos”), The Clash (“Must Be The Moon”), and LCD Soundsystem (“Heart Of Hearts”) that !!! employs throughout the majority of the record, leading to an overly familiar “already heard it” effect. They do have moments that demonstrate the faith that critics place in them such as the title track, which is very subdued but chugs along like a locomotive, and the album’s centerpiece, “Bend Over Beethoven.” Save for its title, its slow build to a charging chorus should serve as the blueprint for the direction that the band should follow on future outings. !!! definitely has personality… but sadly for them right now that personality is often boring and rehashed. If !!! is able to focus and put out more original work like “Bend Over Beethoven” and ignore the impulse to copy their record collection every step of the way, they may yet live up to their sizable acclaim. Until then? You really shouldn’t waste your time.

Dirty Rating: 57/100

!!! On MySpace Music
!!!'s Official Site

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Movies You Could Netflix

Hot Fuzz
You don’t usually see parodies that are as loving and reverential to their source material as Shaun Of The Dead was. These movies frequently fall into the Scary Movie-type bastardization that is not only disrespectful to its inspiration, but is also painfully unfunny as a bonus. A spoof on zombie movies that was released in 2004, Shaun Of The Dead was the rare film that was not only a hilarious comedy but was also a worthy entry into the genre that it was skewering. The creative forces behind that film, star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, have attempted to take their successful formula and translate it from zombie movies to action films with their latest, Hot Fuzz. Unlike the unquestioned success of Shaun Of The Dead, results are decidedly mixed this time around. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a London police officer who’s so efficiently successful that he makes the rest of the force look bad. As a result, the London brass transfers him to the sleepy village of Sandford where the biggest criminal problems are living statues and missing swans. Angel is treated like a celebrity by the Sandford citizens, even more so after apprehending underage drinkers on the night before his first official day with the Sandford force. In struggling to acclimate himself to unfamiliar (and quiet) surroundings that include a pacified chief of police, completely inept detectives, and a total fuck-up of a partner (Nick Frost, Shaun Of The Dead) who worships action movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II (and who happens to be the son of the chief), Angel becomes a broken man. A broken man, that is, until a series of puzzling murders begins to plague the calm little village. This gives Angel a heretofore missing purpose as the Sandford force is loathe to chalk the spree up to anything more than a series of unbelievable accidents. To say any more would be to spoil the rest of the plot, but the surprising gore of the gruesome murders kick-starts the action and leads to a balls out over-the-top action movie finale that saves the film at the very last moment. Pegg and Wright are much more deliberate in setting up Hot Fuzz’s action than they were in Shaun Of The Dead, leading to a sluggishness and a sense that the movie is dragging on a bit too long. It holds fast to many notorious action movie conventions to good effect as there are referential nods to various films (like the aforementioned Point Break and Bad Boys II), but where Pegg and Wright have miscalculated their ability to translate Shaun Of The Dead’s success is in their desire to craft too much of an action film while forgetting to balance with it the comedy aspect that made their previous film so unique. The ratio of laughs to testosterone-driven action lags well behind what was seen in Shaun Of The Dead, and even the humor that they do include is not nearly as clever as it wants to be. Still, its crazy finale saves Hot Fuzz from disappointment, but you’re still left wondering how the brilliance of Shaun Of The Dead wasn’t able to carry over this time. Was it lightning in a bottle? Or is Hot Fuzz just a sophomore slump? Only time will tell which category Hot Fuzz falls into but for now, call it fairly entertaining but not quite as good as it should have been.

Dirty Rating: 76/100

Hot Fuzz On Metacritic
Hot Fuzz On Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kristen Bell + Heroes = Pure Awesomeness

Thank you Jeebus for this wonderful news.

God Bless TV

FX continues its quest to brand itself as the basic-cable HBO with its latest exceptional offering, Damages. After Glenn Close’s stint as a ball-busting police captain on the fourth season of The Shield met with both critical and viewer praise, the execs at FX concluded to design a starring vehicle tailored to Close’s strengths. Damages is the result of this decision and it delivers exponentially on its initial promise. Close (Fatal Attraction) stars as Patty Hewes, a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who has taken on a class action lawsuit filed by the employees of billionaire businessman Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson, Cheers), a man who has been accused of bilking those employees’ pension funds of millions upon millions of dollars. Now, lest you think that this is some boring procedural about dull, white-collar crime, know that the series opens with a battered and bloody woman named Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne, 28 Weeks Later) fleeing her apartment building before being picked up by police on the suspicion of murdering her fiancĂ©. Through the use of flashbacks that take us back to six months prior to the open of the series, we learn that Ellen is a recent law school graduate who has landed a prime position at Hewes’s firm despite warnings that working for Hewes can be dangerous to one’s health. The curiosity of these warnings and how Ellen ended up as a potential murderer serve as the series’ hook. Did Frobisher get to her or were the warnings about Hewes true? One of the most effective aspects of Damages is that it blurs the line between the standard good guy/bad guy convention. A typical series would set Hewes up as the white-hatted hero coming to save the day for the disenfranchised employees that were seemingly cheated by Frobisher, who himself would have been portrayed as a greedy, uncaring menace. Damages doesn’t do that. Instead, by the end of the pilot Hewes has proven her mettle as a Machiavellian genius by committing an unspeakable act that one usually doesn’t see out of a typical protagonist. As Frobisher, Danson (who after toiling for years in sitcom hell is a revelation here) shows surprising depth of character in portraying the various layers of a man torn between business and family. Another effective tool at Damages’ disposal is its use of flashbacks throughout each episode. The audience is provided bits and pieces of an account that will ultimately tell the story of how Ellen ended up as she did. Characters that seem insignificant on first glance can carry much more importance as we learn how all of the pieces fit together. Essentially, Damages is a giant puzzle that is constantly shifting in unexpected directions and, after the failures of Dirt and The Riches, is a show that continues FX on its path as the destination for HBO-lite programming.

Dirty Rating: 86/100

Burn Notice
Take a CIA agent, essentially steal his life from him by eliminating any evidence that he ever existed, and watch him scramble to figure out who screwed him over. Should be a no-brainer success, right? Ah… not so much. Burn Notice takes this promising idea and whips it into a light and insubstantial televised version of a beach read. Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, Crossing Jordan) is the wronged agent who’s given a “burn notice” – the government has blacklisted him, frozen all of his accounts and assets, and forbidden anyone from his professional life to have any contact with him. Eventually ending up in his hometown of Miami, Westen enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend (and former IRA agent) Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, The Tudors) and fellow disgraced agent Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead) to help him track down who’s behind his burn notice. Since he has no money, Westen is forced to take on menial PI jobs to make ends meet. Whereas this could have been a dark and brooding affair, creator Matt Nix plays the series for laughs. It’s treated much too lightly and I suppose for some, this is good enough. Yeah… not for me, though. I don’t want to see a trained killer gallivanting around with his ex trying to figure out how some little old lady was taken by con artists. Fuck that. I want governmental conspiracies and double-crosses and backstabbings and all of that shit. Unfortunately, since Burn Notice is on the USA Network, it has to fit the network aesthetic, meaning that it’s genetically bred to be televised junk food (see also: Monk, Psych, and basically every other original series on the friggin’ network). Ironically, one of the last times that USA ventured away from its safe formula was with the bleak Touching Evil, which starred… Jeffrey Donovan as well. No one (except for me, I think) actually watched it. For some reason, unlike Touching Evil, Burn Notice has done extremely well in the ratings as people are eating this crap up. For me, I’m gonna need something a little more significant to sink my teeth into and Burn Notice ain’t it.

Dirty Rating: 48/100

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Dirtywhirl Shells Out For Movie Tickets

The Simpsons Movie
Translating a television show into a cinematic experience will result in failure more often than not. Be it critical, financial, or even both, failure is basically inevitable. The film landscape is littered with ideas that were better left on the small screen. Bewitched, The Dukes Of Hazzard, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Flintsones, Rocky & Bullwinkle… the list goes on and on and on and on. It’s because of this less than stellar track record that it would be only natural to approach The Simpsons Movie with a decent amount of apprehension. Who would want to see the legacy of one of television’s smartest and most innovative comedies tarnished by an ill-advised trip to the multiplex? Talk about real pain. Add to that the reality that the series has been spotty at best over the past few years and that the movie itself has been some sixteen years in the making and you have all of the ingredients for a disaster. It’s a relief, then, that Matt Groening and crew have managed to buck the odds and deliver what amounts to a giant “thank you” to their fanbase. Using our decaying environment as their topical hook, Groening and his writing staff have fashioned a more than worthy foray onto the big screen as the film finds the town of Springfield in dire environmental straits. After Lake Springfield swallows Green Day in the middle of a performance (a very satisfying visual, by the way), the town’s citizens, spurred on by much prodding by resident rabble-rouser Lisa, adopt measures to clean up their polluting ways, one of which is the elimination of dumping waste (nuclear and Krusty Burger included) into the lake. Of course, this being The Simpsons, Homer ignores all warnings, setting off a chain reaction of events that leads to the federal government’s decision to encase the entire town in a giant glass bubble that prevents any Springfieldian from escaping and spreading their damaging habits across the country at large. This forces the Simpsons family on a journey of self-discovery for each member, which proves to be one of the strengths of the film. Whereas the series has gotten formulaic almost to a fault – the first five minutes will be a total non-sequitur, leading into the overriding plot of the episode until a crazy finale – the film’s lengthier running time allows for the ability to give every member of the family a purpose: Marge’s dilemma of conscience; Lisa’s predictable martyrdom; Bart’s sad realization that Ned Flanders represents a stronger father figure than Homer; Homer being… well… Homer; and even Maggie’s surprising discovery that shifts the plot in new directions. The writing is top notch as well. Gags that make the series what it is are employed throughout the movie, namely good natured pokes at the audience and at the series’ corporate master, the FOX network. Naturally, this being a film, the pacing is a little different and the animation has been punched up to fit its more grandiose settings, but the movie succeeds in feeling like a logical extension of the series. For something that was anticipated for as long and as strongly as The Simpsons Movie was, that’s really more than anyone could ask for. Groening and company also wisely avoid the temptation to pack the larger landscape with celebrity cameos, deciding instead to pepper a few here and there to exceptional result. The experience of seeing the town of Springfield and all of its denizens on the silver screen is striking, and while it’s not entirely perfect (there are so many beloved ancillary characters that including them all would have been impossible, and the film honestly does lag at spots) The Simpsons Movie is the funniest and smartest work that this crew has put out in years. It’s beyond inspiring to see that in the Family Guy/South Park age, The Simpsons is still as relevant and as irreverent as ever.

Dirty Rating: 84/100

Reviews Of The Simpsons Movie On Metacritic
Reviews Of The Simpsons Movie On Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, August 13, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

Spoon/ Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Britt Daniel is a talented guy. When he’s not killing time producing records for well-regarded bands like I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness or scoring films like Stranger Than Fiction, Daniel is the leader of one of the most overlooked bands in rock, Spoon. It would be difficult to find another act whose track record is as consistently solid as Spoon’s, particularly when talking about their past two records. We can now officially include their latest, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, on that list of successes as well. While the entire record may not take your breath away, there isn’t a weak link to be found either. Sticking with the classic rock-ish vibe of their previous album, Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga finds Spoon alternating between comfortably worn-in rockers like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Finer Feelings,” and “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case” and funkier numbers, including a sly cover of The Natural History’s “Don’t You Evah,” “RHTHM & Soul” (which borrows the bass line from Elastica’s “Connection”), and the dub-influenced “Eddie’s Ragga.” As good as all of those tracks are (and make no mistake – they’re damn good) they’re topped by Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s two centerpieces, “The Ghost Of You Lingers” and lead single “The Underdog.” “The Ghost Of You Lingers” is a perfectly titled sonic experimentation that sees a combination of dissonant piano and ethereal vocals evoke the titular ghost, which appears in the form of an EVP-like effect towards the end of the track. Very trippy and very impressive. As upbeat as “The Ghost Of You Lingers” is atmospheric, “The Underdog” is Spoon at its best. Hot producer Jon Brion’s fingerprints are smeared all over “The Underdog” as handclaps, horns, bells, whistles… shit, everything you can think of back Daniel as he warns, “You have no fear of the underdog/ That’s why you will not survive.” It’s fitting as, in so many ways, Spoon is one of the biggest underdogs in the music industry today. Despite heaps of critical acclaim, they’re never really mentioned in conversation as one of the decade’s best bands event though they have the credentials to back such a claim. That may change as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a fun, incredibly well-crafted record that should go a long way towards raising Spoon’s profile to the lofty heights that it deserves.

Dirty Rating: 93/100

Spoon On MySpace Music
Spoon's Official Site

Ryan Adams/ Easy Tiger
Ryan Adams is so prolific that he records albums almost as regularly as most people take a dump. Well, as regularly as guys do, anyway… not girls. We like to pretend that they don’t do that. Wow – I’ve gotten horribly off track. Where was I? Oh, yeah… Ryan Adams. His ninth official full-length, Easy Tiger, is his first in almost 18 months, which is an eternity in Ryan Adams time. This is after al a guy who released three original albums in 2005 alone for Christ’s sake – and one of those was a double album. As someone who’s released a ton – and we mean a TON – of stuff in his career, it’s naturally hard for Adams to break new ground because, even as a fairly eclectic artist, he’s covered a lot of sounds already. He has managed to straddle the line between country and rock so often in his career that you could almost place his albums on a sliding scale with 2005’s Jacksonville City Nights representing the most country portion and 2003’s Rock N’ Roll representing the rock end. Easy Tiger falls somewhere in the middle of this scale and, if this record was recorded by anyone else, you’d be impressed by its scope but for Adams it plays as almost a collection of songs you feel like you’ve heard before. Every track could have fit seamlessly into his earlier work save for the brevity and straightforwardness, which is a bit of a change. The album’s best songs, “Two,” “Everybody Knows,” and “Rip Off,” unsurprisingly sound like the ‘70’s California pop of his masterpiece, Gold, while the heaviest rocker on the record, “Halloweenhead,” obviously could have fit into the Rock N’ Roll collection. Fortunately for fans of the melancholy Love Is Hell, Adams includes the plaintive and introspective “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.,” but unfortunately for those who find straight-up country a bit too much to swallow, “Tears Of Gold,” “Pearls On A String,” and “These Girls” are exactly what you heard (and probably dismissed) on Jacksonville City Nights. The album’s one true moment of inventiveness is almost enough to allow you to look past the familiarity of everything else. “The Sun Also Sets” is perhaps the first fusion of glam and country, but as odd as that pairing sounds it comes off extremely well. Although most of Easy Tiger treads on already worn ground, the well is not entirely bone dry. It works as a great introduction for those unfamiliar with Adams’s past work but for longtime fans, Easy Tiger leaves you wishing that it was a little bit fresher.

Dirty Rating: 74/100

Ryan Adams On MySpace Music
Ryan Adams's Official Site

Maria Taylor/ Lynn Teeter Flower
When you think of Saddle Creek Records, one act usually comes to mind – Bright Eyes AKA Conor Oberst. Really, that’s sad because there are so many noteworthy acts on the label that you begin to wonder how Oberst can surround himself with such talented artists and still have his work come out smelling like donkey balls. But I digress… one of these unheralded Saddle Creek standouts is Maria Taylor. After initially gaining recognition as one-half of the now-defunct Azure Ray, Taylor has released back-to-back records that demonstrated her potential as a solo artist. Lynn Teeter Flower, her second outing, serves as a furthering of Taylor’s pleasantly smoky late night sound. Taken as a singer/songwriter album, it’s laden with more hooks than one usually sees on the average offering from that genre. Although its quality does fall off noticeably during the second half of the record, opener “A Good Start” proves to be prophetic as it kicks the album off with an almost hip-hop drum beat and a healthy dose of synthesizers, leading into the beautiful and starkly country tinged “Clean Getaway.” Lyrically, Taylor is average at best but her voice melds perfectly with her instrumentation, due in large part to the production decision to record Taylor’s vocals in a distant, atmospheric manner. “No Stars” (also aided by its stunningly lilting guitar) and “Lost Time” benefit greatly from this choice, while “Small Part Of Me” sounds so much like former labelmate Jenny Lewis that it would have been right at home on Lewis’s 2006 outing Rabbit Fur Coat. On the downside, Taylor also experiments with beat-oriented hip-hop on “Irish Goodbye” to mixed results, and there are a handful of forgettable tracks but there’s definitely enough here to warrant a recommendation. As a more talented alternative to the Brandi Carliles and KT Tunstalls of the world, Maria Taylor bears watching.

Dirty Rating: 76/100

Maria Taylor On MySpace Music
Maria Taylor's Official Site

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

August DVD Preview

Here now, The Dirtywhirl copies its own idea and previews the latest movies and television series arriving in August on DVD. By the end of the preview, there will be a price that you must pay for our trouble, but we know that you can handle it. Probably. Giddyup:

Disturbia – Steven Spielberg’s newest project, Shia LeBeuof (Transformers), makes like a prepubescent Jimmy Stewart as he thinks he witnesses an unspeakable act committed by a neighbor in an update of Rear Window aimed at the tween audience.

I Think I Love My Wife – Chris Rock (The Longest Yard) tries yet again to be as funny in film as he is as a standup comedian. Eighteenth time’s the charm, right?

Rome: The Complete Second Season – The second and final season of HBO and the BBC’s joint production arrives. This was once believed to be HBO’s next prestige project but turned out to be a very expensive soap opera, albeit a frequently entertaining one.

The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season – Timed to nicely coincide with the release of The Simpsons Movie in theaters, the tenth season of one of America’s comedy institutions includes such classic episodes as “The Wizard Of Evergreen Terrace,” “When You Dish Upon A Star,” and “Homer To The Max” and as an added bonus contains the following immortal lyrics: “Max Power, he's the man who's name you'd love to touch! But you mustn't touch! His name sounds good in your ear, but when you say it, you mustn't fear! 'Cause his name can be said by anyone!”

Full House: The Complete Seventh Season – Otherwise known as the worst sitcom of all time.

Home Improvement: The Complete Seventh Season - I stand corrected.

TMNT [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles] – If this means that a My Little Pony movie isn’t far behind, I quit.

Fracture – Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) goes one-on-one with Anthony Hopkins (All The King’s Men). The movie could be shit and I’d still watch just to see that face-off.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie – Future cult classic alert. If you’re not amused by a talking milkshake, look elsewhere this month.

Inland Empire – David Lynch’s (Mulholland Drive) latest kinda fell under the radar during its theatrical release but the guy’s a master. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t check this out.

Wild Hogs – Fuck you, America for letting this film gross close to $200 million theatrically. Fuck you so hard.

The Ex – Full disclosure: I’m a Zach Braff whore. That being said, Braff (Scrubs) co-stars with Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Paul Rudd (Knocked Up), and Amy Poehler (SNL) as a man who starts a feud with a guy in a wheelchair– how can that not be friggin’ hilarious?

House: Season Three – If you have the first season (or the second season), then you essentially have season three as well. Don’t bother.

Dexter: The First Season – Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) stars as a forensic specialist who moonlights as a serial killer in the first season of Showtime’s dark and well-received original series. For those who are too cheap to pony up for Showtime (myself included) here’s a chance to see what you’re missing.

Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season – If you avoid this chance to catch up on the first season of Ugly Betty, then… well… good for you.

Perfect Stranger – Bruce Willis (Hudson Hawk) and Halle Berry (Catwoman) square off to see whose cinematic turd pile was stinkier.

Blades Of Glory – Will Ferrell (Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) play a pair of disgraced, rival figure skaters. Bonus for casting the genius Will Arnett (Arrested Development) and the aforementioned Amy Poehler as their ultimate competition. One of the only films this year whose box office gross was probably deserved.

Year Of The Dog – Molly Shannon (SNL) stars in writer Mike White’s (The School Of Rock) directorial debut as a woman who was very had a very close relationship with her recently deceased pooch. Ugh… not in that way you fucking freak.

Heroes: Season One – I, for one, cannot wait to see how this series plays on DVD. The ability to pick up on the labyrinthine (and brilliant) plot in larger chunks is incredibly appealing. The closest thing you’ll ever find to a filmed comic book, this would have been the top new series of the 2006 TV season if not for…

Friday Night Lights: The Complete First Season
– Best new series of 2006 by far. Boasting some of the best writing and acting of any current television series, Friday Night Lights has been criminally overlooked by far too many viewers. Do me a personal favor and watch this. I hesitate to go the guilt trip route, but I provide you all with entertainment guidance on a regular basis and have never asked for anything in return until now. This show is THAT good. Buy or Netflix this. That’s an order.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Movies That Are... Just Movies

Black Snake Moan
Black Snake Moan could have been so good. Could have been soooo good. Portrayed in its trailers and posters as pulpy insanity about an African-American man who chains a nymphomaniacal white woman to his radiator, this could have been a balls-out masterpiece had director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) chosen to go that direction. We’re talking full-on cult classic that harkens back to the to the 1970’s glory days of exploitation films. Shit, Quentin Tarantino would have been lined up and ready to beat the drum loudly for this movie if he’d done that. Even if Brewer hadn’t gone that route, he could have chosen to examine the racial powderkeg that still exists in the South in the early 2000’s. Anything – anything – would have been a better road than the one that he leads the audience down. The film starts off promisingly enough as The Black Keys’ grimy “When The Lights Go Out” frames the open as we’re introduced to Rae (Christina Ricci, Monster), a sex freak cursed with a “sickness” that makes her get all slutty any time her man, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake, Alpha Dog) isn’t around (and believe me, I use the term “man” loosely since he’s being played by Timberlake). After getting royally trashed at a party after her manboy ships off with the military, Rae is brutally assaulted and is left for dead on the side of the road, where she’s found by Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes On A Plane). A bluesman having recently endured his wife cheating on him with his own brother, Lazarus is broken down and latches onto Rae by initially nursing her back to health, only to later decide to help to cure her of her “sickness” by any means necessary after she tries to get on his cock. This is where Brewer’s car blows an axle, as it were. Up until this point, just about everything has worked. We see where the movie’s heading and it looks like a place where everyone can have some crazy fun. Instead, Brewer swerves the ride into Lifetime movie-of-the-week territory as Lazarus begins to see Rae as the daughter he never had and Rae starts to view Lazarus as the father figure she desperately needs. My question is this: How do you fuck this up so badly, Craig Brewer?! You’ve got Sam Jackson playing a weathered bluesman, showing some surprisingly competent musical chops. The guy’s good in almost everything that he’s in (well, with the exception of The Man – what the fuck was he thinking on that one) and you proceed to reduce him to a pile of sentimental jelly. You have a half-naked (and frequently topless) Christina Ricci as a nympho…

Sorry… my mind was elsewhere. Where was I? … Oh yeah, Christina Ricci as a nympho who somehow sees Justin Fucking Timberlake as her rock and as the pillar of manhood. You also try to frame Timberlake as a tough guy once he sees how Rae has been spreading it around, even though the incredibly petite Ricci is more physically imposing than JT. And I could go on and on and on, but I don’t think I really need to at this point. After showing some promise with the entertaining (if a little uneven) Hustle & Flow, it’s obvious that Brewer has slipped more than a little bit with this sentimental nonsense. As an aside, strangely enough the film begins to get bad just as Ricci puts more clothes on. I’m just saying. Anyway, call Black Snake Moan half of a good movie whose final 45 minutes are best left forgotten.

Dirty Rating: 52/100

Black Snake Moan On Metacritic
Black Snake Moan On Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

Interpol/ Our Love To Admire
Bold statement time – Interpol’s debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, is one of the best records of all time. It’s certainly one of the two or three best albums of the decade and measures up fairly against any of the classics. It’s just THAT good. Unfortunately, this kind of success can ultimately end up serving as a double-edged sword because it’s all but impossible for a band to release a follow-up to a debut of that quality and not have it come across as a little disappointing. 2004’s Antics, while a reasonably solid second record, just didn’t come anywhere close to the brilliance of their debut and left many (including myself) wondering if Interpol was going to go down in history as a one-album wonder, destined to suffer at the hands of their initial genius. After hearing their latest, Our Love To Admire (their first album on Capitol Records after leaving Matador) they’ve shown that they just might have a little of the old magic left. Our Love To Admire is a return to the darker landscapes of their debut that still incorporates some of the more (relatively speaking) upbeat aspects of Antics, but to a much more successful result. In fact, this record sounds almost like what their sophomore outing should have been. The record is book-ended in darkness as “Pioneer To The Falls” serves as a foreboding opener that sets the tone for the rest of the album, while “The Lighthouse” is a darker than midnight closer that’s a total chiller. In between, highlights are plentiful and include first single “The Heinrich Maneuver,” a track that is even better within the context of the album than it is as a stand-alone single while incorporating surf-style guitars in its chorus for the first time on an Interpol record; the impressively layered and spectacularly titled “No I In Threesome;” the gloomy and captivating “Pace Is The Trick;” and perhaps the album’s standout, “Rest My Chemistry,” which is charming and bleak at the same time as singer Paul Banks confesses, “I haven’t slept in three days/ I’ve bathed in nothing but sweat” while aided by some phenomenal guitarwork. There is a downside among all of the hope that’s present on the record, however. It is a little troubling that Interpol does not seem to be exhibiting as much growth as one would like to see from a band on their third record, but much like Vince Vaughn perfecting one character in his films, Interpol has perfected this dark sound like no other band today so a lack of growth isn’t the worst thing in the world – for now. As expectations for Our Love To Admire were considerably lower following Antics, it would have been even more satisfying had the record been as utterly exceptional as their debut but in the end, it’s a more than fitting addition to Interpol’s growing legacy.

Dirty Rating: 91/100

Interpol On MySpace Music
Interpol's Official Site

The Smashing Pumpkins/ Zeitgeist
This may have been one of the most ill-advised albums of recent memory. Billy Corgan – still a gaping asshole, by the way – feeling less and less relevant as the days pass by, decides that he “wants (his) band back.” And how does he decide to announce that he wants his band back? Not by picking up the phone and calling his former bandmates, mind you, but by taking out full page fucking ads in two Chicago newspapers. And he apparently doesn’t really want “his band” back since founding members James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzky weren’t invited, but more accurately he wants the Smashing Pumpkins name back for marketing purposes since both his post-Pumpkins band Zwan and his own solo project totally stiffed both critically and in the marketplace. By resurrecting a bastardized version of the Pumpkins he’d basically be pissing on the memory of one of the seminal rock bands of our time. Disaster, right? Surprisingly… not as much as you’d think. Zeitgeist, their sixth proper studio album, isn’t quite the soulless pile of garbage that one would expect. Now, close to half of the record is bad – there’s no getting around that. “Bring The Light” sounds like something that wasn’t even good enough to make the Zwan album, “Starz” is laughable both for its content as well as the spelling of its title and is a personification of Corgan at his worst, and “For God And Country” and “Pomp And Circumstance” close Zeitgeist with a pathetic whimper. That being said, there’s some shockingly good work amongst the rancid crap. “That’s The Way (My Love Is)” is probably the best hope for a radio hit here as it recalls some of the few highlights of MACHINA/the machines of god; first single “Tarantula” (save for the hair metal-ish guitar riffs towards the end of the track) works better as part of the whole than it does on its own as a single, and “7 Shades Of Black” and “(Come On) Let’s Go!” stand out in their own ways. The one track that provides the most hope, however, is the nine-minute “United States.” Although it is self-indulgent at times, it’s still the strongest track that Zeitgeist has to offer and is better than any of its similarly pretentious predecessors on previous records (namely “For Martha” on Adore and “Glass And The Ghost Children” on MACHINA/the machines of god). Summoning Black Sabbath at points, “United States” is a palatable appetizer of the capability of The Smashing Pumpkins, version 2.0. It feels in many ways like a turning of the corner, helping Zeitgeist feel like less of a cash-in on past glory, along with providing the slightest bit of promise for any future Pumpkins recordings.

Dirty Rating: 59/100

The Smashing Pumpkins On MySpace Music
The Smashing Pumpkins' Official Site

The Good, The Bad, & The Queen/ The Good, The Bad, & The Queen
Take the singer from Blur, the guitarist from The Verve, the bass player from The Clash, and a legendary Afrobeat drummer and what do you get? A music fan’s cream dream, right? Uh, no – one of 2007’s biggest disappointments, actually. While The Good, The Bad, & The Queen possesses all of the elements for rousing success, it proves to be much less than the sum of its parts. With a star-studded lineup like this, one could argue that the project was set up for failure from the beginning due to massive expectations that come from its members’ pedigrees and its own comparisons to Blur’s legendary Parklife. While “Herculean” is no doubt a strong lead single with its drum-n-bass-y backbeat and “Whale Song” sounds like a tasty leftover from Gorillaz’s Demon Days sessions, the rest of the album falls disappointingly flat. Pity, because this really should have been a contenduh.

Dirty Rating: 63/100

The Good, The Bad, & The Queen On MySpace Music
The Good, The Bad, & The Queen's Official Site

Blonde Redhead/ 23
According to some, 23 is a departure for Blonde Redhead from the New York art rock sound of previous releases to a more atmospheric, dream pop approach crossed with light electronica. Some have decried this left turn but since this record serves as my introduction to the band, I can’t speak to the validity of that opinion but I know what I like, and I like this. Alternating between sounding like The Sundays and Frou Frou, Blonde Redhead packs 23 with breathy, trippy vocals that make you feel like you’re spinning in a haze (“23”), floating on a cloud (“Dr. Strangeluv”), or being washed in chugging, Cure-like guitar lines and moderate electronic beats (“Silently”). While they do have a tendency to get too bland (“Publisher”) or too cutesy (“Heroine”), 23 is an enchanting record that breathes new life into the dream pop genre – one that has laid dormant for far too long. If this is what departure sounds like, I say screw the old sound.

Dirty Rating: 79/100

Blonde Redhead On MySpace Music
Blonde Redhead's Official Site