Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stuck in My Head 11.30.2010

Ain't That Pretty At All

Well, I've seen all there is to see
And I've heard all they have to say
I've done everything I wanted to do . . .
I've done that too
And it ain't that pretty at all
Ain't that pretty at all
So I'm going to hurl myself against the wall
'Cause I'd rather feel bad than not feel anything at all

You know, I just had a short vacation, Roy
Spent it getting a root canal
"Oh, how'd you like it?"
Well, it ain't that pretty at all
So I'm going to hurl myself against the wall
'Cause I'd rather feel bad than not feel anything at all

Gonna get a good running start and throw myself at the wall as hard as I can man

I've been to Paris
And it ain't that pretty at all
I've been to Rome
Guess what?
I'd like to go back to Paris someday and visit the Louvre Museum
Get a good running start and hurl myself at the wall
Going to hurl myself against the wall
'Cause I'd rather feel bad than feel nothing at all
And it ain't that pretty at all
Ain't that pretty at all

-Warren Zevon

Black Swan

Oh, man. I feel so lucky.

Last night I saw an advance screening of Black Swan, the new movie by Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman. The short version is, it's stunning, amazing filmmaking, and is, so far, the best movie I've seen this year.

I so love it when I see a film and it just hits me, right in the gut. A film that simply hits all the marks. A film that's deeply entertaining, and yet strikes right at the heart of something more about the human condition.

Darren Aronofsky, I am fully on the alter of your genius now. I was pretty much there with The Wrestler, especially after The Fountain. Once again, much like in Requiem for a Dream, he displays a vast, comprehensive mastery of technical filmmaking and effects work that is used, in intriguing and intelligent ways, to only enhance and illuminate the story being told. He's the real deal, a filmmaker that we'll be talking about for decades to come.

The trailers and promotion have been selling the sexual aspects of the film, and there is no doubt that sex is deeply entwined in the story being told. It also helps that our female leads, Portman and Mila Kunis, are both highly attractive. However, I think that is selling short the depth of what's being explored here.

Now, before I get to far into this, let's make a point. I am a performer, it's deeply ingrained into my personality and how I look at the world. Since Black Swan, at it's heart, a movie about performance I very, very much connected with the journey Portman's Nina was making.

Connected is probably not the right word. I understood it. I've felt the desires that drive her character, and I've known the obstacles she faces. Although, I can't say I've every felt so entrapped by them. Yet, what she goes through is very, very real.

As I was watching, Nina reminded me very, very much of actors and other artists I've known. On such an extreme level? No, thank God, but I've known that person.

Nina is a ballerina, and Nina is a very precise, technical dancer. The Artistic Director/Choreographer (Vincent Cassel)  for her company is looking for a dancer for the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, which encompasses two roles. Twins, the White Swan and The Black Swan. He tells her if he was only casting the White Swan, the role would be hers, but the Black Swan requires a commitment, a fearlessness to go beyond mere choreography and into feeling the role. Nina is so obsessed with perfection, with the technical aspects, to allow herself to let go, and become the character.

Of course, there's always a danger that can go too far...

I realize for any readers I may have who aren't involved with performance, that seems like a really nebulous concept. Frankly, it is, but I'm certain that those of you who do perform, in any manner, will understand the concept. What's lovely about the film, and Aronofsky's work, is that it makes this ethereal idea work visually, that's married to Portman's truly amazing performance, and I think any audience will understand what's at stake.

Swirling around Nina, and the role, is an almost universally strong supporting cast. Mila Kunis is Lily, who is weaved into Nina's life in many ways, a friend? A lover? A competitor? The film leaves you guessing on that score right until the last scene.

The aforementioned Vincent Cassel is really, really fantastic as Thomas Leroy, the choreographer/Artistic Director. Is he simply working to try to help Nina out of the emotional box she's place herself in, or is his ultimate goal more insidious and self-serving? I've seen similar relationships develop many times in artistic situations, it works, and it feels real.

Barbara Hershey's Erica, Nina's mother, is probably the weakest written character. There are elements that bothered me, but I also see as being very intrinsic to moving Nina's story forward. It works in the film, and that's where it's important.

I also want to make a rather nebulous comment about the actress that plays the company's fading prima ballerina. It's a known actress who's not been emphasized in the promotion, but it's an epically great piece of casting. She represents the same sort of actress/movie star that Natalie Portman is now, for an earlier generation. I'd advise not looking it up on imdb.com, in fact I probably shouldn't have mentioned it. Still it was a lovely choice that, again, shows how much thought Aronofsky puts into choices.

Lest you begin to think the film is some sort of navel-gazing exercise in "artiness," it's also scary as hell, and keeps ramping up the tension until the last moments. There's also laughs, and it engages the audience. It draws you into Nina's world, you're bonded to her on an emotional level.

It also feels honest and immediate. It's funny, but where Robert Altman's The Company felt forced and inauthentic, despite the pseudo-documentary "real life" style he used, Black Swan FEELS like a real artistic environment, and it's strengthened by the more fantastical choices. (And no, I've never worked in an artistic capacity with a ballet, but I think there's a universality to the environments you inhabit as a performer, of any stripe.) It's thrilling to see how Aronofsky seems to steep himself in the worlds he makes films about, The Wrestler felt the same way, with a very different sort of world.

I can't recommend this film highly enough, it's brilliant. Right up there with Inception, as far as movies released this year. It's times like these, when I see truly artistic AND engaging filmmakers doing such great work, that I feel a new golden age of film may be around the corner.

And, Quentin, you're not invited.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday With The Boss - Part 15: Magic

After the previous two trips outside the E-Street Band style, Springsteen returned to the band on October 2nd, 2007 with Magic. Frankly, I find this album to be the strongest of this latter era of his career, and frankly, with The Rising out there, that's saying something. There's what I would consider a perfect mixing of the political, personal, and the outright fun on this album.

The opening track Radio Nowhere, sets the mood. It's a muscular E-Street rocker, full of big guitars and big, Max Weinberg drums. It's fun, it'll get your fist pumping, but there's more underneath. Now maybe that's an indictment of satellite radio, and the homogenization of  the airwaves. Or maybe it's about the general public's lack of reaction and understanding of the legacy of George W. Bush's Presidency. Or maybe it's just a feel-good rock 'n roll song about getting lost in the music.

Well, it's all of that. In a way it's the perfect track for Magic. All across the album, there are hints and allegations, but without ever losing the hook into the idea that what Springsteen does best is tell stories and make toes tap.

I'm a big believer that the best way to make a political statement is to tie it, intimately, to the personal. You get bonus points if you can then turn it even further and make the whole thing entertaining. Magic is an album that is simply fun to listen to. It's so much fun that even fans who had problems dealing with Springsteen espousing leftist viewpoints (and, man, there were a lot of them...which is really odd to me, it's not like it came out of the blue) took to the album.

There are so many great songs here. You'll Be Comin' Down is a personal favorite. Livin' in the Future became a live staple, despite more than a passing resemblance to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, mixing both a warning and a call to arms into a song that's just great to dance to.

Then there's tracks that embrace a new sound for the E-Street Band. Girls in Their Summer Clothes sounds like a Beach Boys tune at times. Your Own Worst Enemy and I'll Work For Your Love head in that direction, as well. It's a whole new side of the band, and we'd be due to hear more in that direction.

The last five tracks of the album proper have a wondrous unity, building a narrative around the the journey America had been on during the Bush years. Magic, which is probably the most nakedly critical track on the album, into Last To Die. From there we go to Long Walk Home, which looks to the future with a feeling that the heart of America will always right itself from the wrong path, though that process is almost always a long one. Then Devil's Arcade, which almost feels like a eulogy for what had been lost.

Last we have a late addition to the record before it was released, a song for Springsteen confidant Terry McGovern, who had passed away shortly before. Terry's Song is a truly heartfelt and emotional goodbye, and it really gets to me every, single time I hear it.

Magic is one of those albums that really shouldn't exist. An artist in the third decade of his career really shouldn't be crafting albums that feel this immediate and connected. To me, it's proof positive that Springsteen is still a valid and powerful artistic force. The record just simply says so much about how Springsteen sees the world, with clarity and power, that alone would make it special, but Bruce takes it that much further, and makes it a celebration of all that his band can do, and how much fun it is to hear them do it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Frames - Vic Theatre - 11.23.2010

Saw The Frames at the Vic last night.

Generally a fun show. I can't say it was overwhelmingly great, or anything, that would be pushing it. There were definite high points, but there were also long sections where I really felt things dragging. The band hasn't played together in a long time, and frontman Glen Hansard kind of intimated the show was a work in progress right from the top.

The band is great, let's get that out of the way right from the top. There's a ton of talent in the group, and Hansard is an engaging, funny presence. He's also got a hell of a voice. There were a few screw-ups, which Glen seemed to revel in, but the music was played solidly, and with conviction. The main thought I have today, thinking back on the experience, was that I saw the tour too early.

The problem, at least in my opinion, and I'm sure to get hate mail for this, is that the setlist was not really organized well. The show was a bit herky-jerky and stop-start, we'd get through a stunning uptempo number, I'd be ready for the show to kick into full throttle, and the next song would undercut the momentum. It's a turn of events that's not only a bit annoying, but also exhausting. I just got tired, and despite the high energy of Hansard and everyone on stage, the song order started to work against them.

One factor in that, honestly, is that...God, I'm gonna hear it for this...a lot of The Frames songs sound, and develop, in very much the same way. There's a streak in Hansard's writing that plays out like this;
  • Opening verses are low and intimate, almost conversational.
  • The chorus kicks it up a notch.
  • Second verse back to low and intimate.
  • Second chorus Hansard goes into his SUPER-INTENSE EMOTIONAL WAIL.
  • This carries through to the end of the song.
Now there's nothing good or bad about that. It's just the formula, hell, AC/DC has been writing the exact same song, over and over, for 30 years, and nobody complains. It's simply the way Hansard writes, and I admit, it shows off the strength and range of his voice exceedingly well.

The problem is, the strongest songs in the catalog reach outside of that formula, and when you hit one of those like the chills-inducing, utterly amazing song  Revelate, I am ready for more rocking...and it's back to the formula. Honestly, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Revelate wasn't in the encore, or even ending the first set. Instead two more songs, that I can't help but sit there and think, "man, not as good as Revelate."

I know I'm harping on this one particular song, but it's Just. That. Good. It's one of those kind of songs that anyone would want to write. Some people go their whole lives trying to write a song like that.

Thing is, when you don't lay out your songs well, you end up climbing the same hill over and over again. There's no ebb and flow, no natural slide from higher energy to low. You'll get the audience absolutely with you, energy-wise, and if you pick the wrong song to follow, it's gone. Then, you have to work the audience back up to that point, all over again. This is why it becomes exhausting for an audience, you're wanting to float along with the band, but you keep crashing down, then back up, then down, then up.

also, if you're going to play new material, that we have no way of ever having heard before, aim for the middle of the main set. When you're wrapping up, we want to hear stuff we know, stuff we can sing along to, and, y'know, commune with the band.

A side rant here, and it's not just The Frames problem, it's amazingly widespread with bands, although last night was a really good example.

For God's sake, can we make an encore mean something again? I'm tired of "encores" that are almost as long as the main set. It's just a joke. I suppose the idea is to make you think you're getting to hear all these extra songs, but, damn it, we know you're going to come back. We know it's all a game, it's right there on the setlist.. Instead of playing for an hour, walking off for 3 minutes in darkness, and then playing another hour, just play 2 hours and give us a REAL 3-4 song encore.

Looking back over this, I know it seems really negative. I'll be honest, I've seen better shows, but I thought The Frames were quite good. I think Glen being upfront about the "work in progress" nature of the show both explains, and forgives a lot. I actually envy the people who'll catch the tail end of this tour, because I bet they'll work out the setlist kinks, and it'll be a barn-burner.

Highlights - God Bless Mom, Lay Me Down, Star Star, Revelate, Fitzcarraldo

  • Headlong
  • Seven Day Mile
  • God Bless Mom
  • The Stars Are Underground
  • What Happens When the Heart Just Stops
  • Finally
  • Happy
  • Lay Me Down
  • Rent Day Blues (snippet of Rhinestone Cowboy sung) 
  • Pavement Tune
  • Star Star (with teases of Pure Imagination & Hotellounge)
  • Revelate
  • Friends and Foe
  • People Get Ready
  • Perfect Opening Line
  • Santa Maria
  • Disappointed
  • Dance the Devil Back Into His Hole
  • New Song (listed as "New Song" on setlist) 
  • New Song (Joe on vocals, listed as "Joe" on setlist) 
  • Fitzcarraldo
  • The Auld Triangl

New Comic Day 11.24.2010

As I said yesterday, I've been dreading this day. It's going to be a large chunk out of my wallet, with the at least $24 from last week, and this week totaling up to about $21. Ah, the pain of being a fanboy...

Batman and Robin #17 ($2.99)
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Scott McDaniel and Rob Hunter
Cover by Guillem March
Variant cover by Gene Ha

Dick and Damian head into the murky depths of Bruce Wayne's past to protect him from whoever has stolen the corpse of his old girlfriend, Una Nemo. Join them as they move from an empty grave to the flaming fingers to the Night Wedding — and meet a mad, gory new villain known as The Absence!

So, here we have the very first issue of Batman and Robin not written by Grant Morrison. I have to confess, I am very interested in how this will turn out. There's really nothing to go on. Morrison had very specific things he needed/wanted to do with this title, and he did them. Now he's gone. Leaving a couple of great additions (Professor Pyg, I love you!), and more than a few I'm less than enamored with (*cough*Batman: Incorporated*cough*).

What I can say is this, I can't bring anything written by Paul Cornell, that I have read, directly to mind. He's a blank slate. I enjoy Scott McDaniel's art. So, we're starting fresh here. Go, boys!

Batman: Odyssey #5 ($3.99)
Written by Neal Adams
Art and cover by Neal Adams
1:25 Black and white variant cover by Neal Adams

Batman knows his Odyssey must happen soon before he loses himself, but Deadman invades The Dark Knight's world and only sees the inevitable crash and burn of his old friend. Should Deadman add to Batman's "crash" – or hold off and give the Caped Crusader a few last moments of relative peace? This is Deadman we're talking about – of course he's going to step in!

Oh, and there's one more thorn in Batman's side – in this issue, The Joker arrives!

Ah, so Adams is bringing in the Joker. Like we thought that wouldn't happen. I enjoy this book. It's crazy and wild, and has about 40 too many ideas it's trying to convey on each page, but that leaves you with a jam-packed book. I'm an Adams believer, so I'm giving him lots of rope to hang himself with.

Of course, it seems like most fan online are in opposition to me, and hate this book like poison. Your mileage may vary.

Detective Comics #871 ($3.99)
Written by Scott Snyder
Art and cover by Jock
Co-feature Art by Francesco Francavilla

Up-and-coming writer Scott Snyder (AMERICAN VAMPIRE) and acclaimed artist Jock (THE LOSERS) make their debut as the new ONGOING creative team of DETECTIVE COMICS!

In "The Black Mirror" part 1 of 3, a series of brutal murders pushes Batman's detective skills to the limit and forces him to confront one of Gotham City's oldest evils.

Plus, in the start of a COMMISSIONER GORDON second feature also written by Scott Snyder, when a figure from the past returns to Gotham, Jim Gordon must face some of his darkest demons. Featuring; Art by Francesco Francavilla (GARRISON).

Y'know, it about time somebody figured out that Commissioner Gordon is a natural choice for a Batman back-up feature. Kudos to that.

Now, I don't read American Vampire, and I am unfamiliar with any work by this creative team. That said, the solicit promises something that could be very interesting, and I love that cover image. If that's the kind of thing I can expect from Jock, bring it on.

Captain America #612 ($3.99)
Writer:Ed Brubaker,
Co-Feature Writer:Sean McKeever
Artist: Marko Djurdjevic
Co-Feature Artist: Butch Guice

Not even Captain America can escape the crimes buried in his past... The most controversial story of the year "The Trial of Captain America" continues! By the acclaimed team of Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice

 So, look, I admire what Ed Brubaker has done with this book, and with the Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier/Captain America character. He brought the character back from the dead, one of the characters that had managed to stay dead in comics for over forty years, and that the entire community/fanbase understood was a character that had more power, and value, dead, rather than alive. He did it, and he made it work, and work well. It was possibly THE most audacious move in Marvel continuity since Spider-Man got married in the 80's.

**No, we're not going to discuss the "undoing" the marriage/deal with Mephisto/Satan thing. "One More Day" does not exist in this dojo.**

Not only that, he made the character compelling on many levels, so much so that when Steve Rogers "died" and a new Captain America was needed, the obvious choice, to everyone, was Bucky. That's amazing work, and amazing writing. Kudos, kudos on all sorts of levels.

But man...Wrap it up, OK? I'm sick of looking at Steve in this:

It's not right, and everyone knows it, including you, AND it's a dumb-looking costume.

How come I get the idea that someone over there in the Marvel Editorial/Corporate Synergy Department is whispering in your ear to "drag it out, we can tie it into the movie next summer!" Please, I've enjoyed everything you've put together for this title. It's all worked, on one level or another, even this current storyline, which feels like the beginning of the end for Bucky Barnes. I really hope that's what we're building toward.

Captain America: Rebirth didn't work AT ALL. The story was weak, and the execution poor. The one redeeming value was that it got Steve back...then you (and Editorial) backpedaled. Fix it.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #150 ($5.99)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Skottie Young, David LaFuente

Not only is this officially the Ultimate Spider-Man 150th issue anniversary, but it is also the 10 year anniversary of the birth of the Ultimate Marvel universe!! Can you believe it?? We can't either! To celebrate, Eisner award-winning series writer Brian Michael Bendis has created this triple size extravaganza and gathered together a stellar lineup of amazing artists!! A reunion of the greatest artists of not only this historic book but of the the entire line of Ultimate Comics. Poor Peter Parker has made such a mess of his life as Spider-Man that the other super heroes are forced to gather together and decide once and for all what to do with the young wall crawler. Guest starring the New Ultimates, the Storm Siblings, Ben Grimm, Iceman, Kitty Pryde and a slew of surprise stars! Also includes reprinting of Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special #1 featuring an all-star artist line-up! 104 pages/54 pages of reprinted material

First off, this is a GREAT series. A prime, shining example of what a really good, mainstream superhero book can be with a unified vision, and the guiding hand of a single creator. Brian Michael Bendis IS this book, it softened when Mark Bagley jumped ship, but Bendis kept his hand on the rudder and kept it focused. When I start bitching in the next paragraph, it's got zero to do with the book itself, or the creators. This series is golden, and I'll always recommend it, unless Bendis leaves.

This issue marks the tenth anniversary of the title, but, of course, with the Editorial-mandated, dunder-headed, groaning crossover mishap known as Ultimatum, the title had been re-set to a first issue. Thing is, "Tenth Anniversary Issue #16" doesn't sound very impressive, does it? So, once again, we're gonna play "pick the issue number that will sell best, and just slap it on there." Marvel's done this crap more than a few times now, and it's such a load of BS.

It's crass and mercenary to play "wheel of numbering." You wanted a new #1 after Ultimatum, because a #1 issue spikes in sales, but then you want an impressive high number for the anniversary. Here's an idea. Number it, and stand behind your product. I know it's a piddling thing, but it's the difference between feeling like the stories are the primary consideration, and feeling like we're just human ATMs to you. Bendis writes great stories, and let's that do the talking. In fact when you re-set to #1, I heard him say, somewhere (I have no source, sorry) "it's just #132 to me."

How right he was.

Oh, and by the way...Thanks for making me buy 54 pages of material all over again.

It is nice to see that fantastic Bagley wraparound cover.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Short Week, and the Mind Wanders....

I'm actually dreading tomorrow, for no other reason but that I'm going to pick up my comics. This is a pretty big week. Last week, which I didn't get to pick up, was a big week. It means a rather large bill when I stroll in there tomorrow.

Oh well...It's a hobby that, on occasion, is expensive. I am beyond overjoyed that both Marvel and DC have announced that they're going to roll back the $3.99 price point they started about a year, or so, ago. Yeah, it means the end of some great back-up features, but it also means titles like Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Justice League of America, which jumped to the higher price with no additional content, will be back in a reasonable price range.

Tonight, CByrd and I will be heading to The Vic to see The Frames. I'm excited, frontman Glen Hansard, who's possibly more familiar from his side project The Swell Season, which sprung from the film Once, is a pretty dynamic stage presence. So much so that he pretty much runs over Swell Season partner Markéta Irglová, and the Swell Season backing band is...The Frames. So, if you see The Swell Season, you're essentially seeing The Frames, with Irglová adding a couple of numbers. 

I've commented on this unequal partnership before. It's not that I think Glen's doing anything on purpose, just that the lady seems ill-suited to commanding a large audience. Now that it seems, by some reports, that The Swell Season has run it's course, it'll be interesting to see what Markéta can/will do on her own.

Which really doesn't impact on The Frames, at all, other than that the two times I've seen The Swell Season, I felt that I might as well be watching a Frames show. It ought to be a good time. 

I'm also really looking forward to The Sword at Metro on December 12th. Their latest album, Warp Riders, has been seated pretty firmly as my favorite album this year. I've written about the album in the past, but the short form is that it's old-school hard rock/heavy metal, with Warp Riders being a step into a more concise and hooky form of songcraft. There's an almost Thin Lizzy kinda feel to the record, with groove and less sprawling guitar work.

The show was originally set for October 23rd, but the entire tour got canceled/postponed when drummer Trivett Wingo left the band, apparently because of panic attacks leading to a desire to get off the road. He's very upfront and frank about the decision in this interview. I have to say, I respect the guy pulling the eject button when he knew he wasn't going to be able to pull his share. The timing sucked, and he seems fully aware of that, too. I can't say I'm happy that I had to wait another month, or so, to see the band, but the whole thing's been handled as well as anybody could expect. Wingo going on record about his problems is brave, and appreciated by this fan.

That said, I am disappointed. I saw The Sword open for Metallica a couple of years back, and the band had a really nice, laid back, "hey, we're just dudes who put a band together" vibe. I also found Trivett magnetic on stage. His look is certainly not that of a typical metal drummer, but the dude can pound.

There wasn't a ton of super complex or what you might call "elegant" drumming going on, but he just wailed. I also found Warp Riders, and the, as I said, more groove-oriented sound really served up his work well. I'm still very excited for the show, but I'll miss seeing his work. 

This story might also give a glimpse of why a guy might want to get off the road. Jesus, Phil. I thought you were over that shit. I also must point out that the author of that blog seems like a bit of a douche, himself

In other "concert news," on an absolute whim, I bought tickets to see Slash at the Chicago House of Blues on February 13th. I've gotten some crap from people on this, which kind of amuses me. The real kicker, for me, was that Myles Kennedy would still be singing on that date. Kennedy is the vocalist for Alter Bridge, and I've written about my enjoyment of that band before, too. I saw too late that Alter Bridge is playing HOB on December 11th, and it looks to be sold out.

I just really dig Kennedy's voice, and the setlists for the Slash shows have included songs from every facet of his career, Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver, and solo stuff, as well as playing some stuff from Kennedy's catalog. That seems like an entertaining evening, to me. Plus, it's Slash, and one can't deny that he's been a vastly influential guitarist in the years since Appetite for Destruction broke.

I'm still working on the acoustic set for the Stage Left Fundraiser, as well as continuing to work on tracks for a new CD. It's funny, I'm sure everybody who plays an instrument has these thoughts, wherein, depending on the day, you either can't play at all, or it just flows, almost too easy. Sunday was the latter, for me. I had a drum track that just did not work, and it didn't take me long to see that I'd simply programmed it incorrectly. I fixed it, and things really started to run smoothly. The guitar scratch track is down, I'll need to move on to bass, and build it up again.

The I just started messing around, riffing. I was really enjoying everything I was coming up with. As I've said, time and again (boy I bet this blog bores people sometimes), the "concept" is sort of a 70's hard rock thing. So much of that was blues-based, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, etc. so I just started messing around with a 12-bar blues. I really enjoyed the riffs that were coming out, and the room for variation that I was giving myself. It was fun, and I think that you'll see/hear some version of it on the finished product...whenever that might emerge.

Oh, and I got an idea for an incredibly weird spoken-word piece on the train this morning. We'll see about that.

What I really need to do is keep on that acoustic...the days are ticking away.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday With The Boss - Part 14: We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

On April 25th, 2006, Springsteen fans got a, unwanted for some, detour from the traditional idea of what a "Springsteen Record" was. Stemming from a jam session with a band that was hired to play a party at the Springsteen home, Bruce embarked on recording a set of traditional songs, ostensibly connected by being part of Pete Seeger's songbook. The result was We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

The recording of this album was an intermittent project, over many years. Occasionally, Bruce would gather musicians and record a few tracks. It was not an "in and out, it's done" proposition. I'd almost call it a hobbyist project. When Bruce spoke of it, it almost seemed that way.

Now, for myself, I always felt like the Seeger connection was pretty weak. It seemed like it was fairly quickly forgotten. By the time Springsteen went on the road for this disk, his backing band was known simply as "The Sessions Band."

I don't know if, at some point, Springsteen felt that simply putting out an album of covers of traditional American tunes wasn't a cohesive enough statement, and settled upon the Seeger tribute as an additional reasoning. I think the sheer exuberance and fun that oozes from this record was all the reason that was needed. There's a real sense of liberation in these songs, a bucking of expectations.

These aren't Springsteen-penned songs, they're not rock n' roll, The E-Street Band isn't involved. The reactions, that I saw, among the fanbase went from joy over a really fun detour, to resentment. A lot of people felt like Devils & Dust and this record, especially, were taking time and energy away from the reformed E-Street Nation, right when the momentum was high. Critics, however, ate up this record, and I found a lot of people, non-believers, really took to it. I heard, "I don't really like Springsteen, but this is great!" a lot.

For myself, I had a great deal of fun with this album, and the tour was joyous. The Sessions Band was an amazing collection of players, and the shows were as high in energy as any tour with The E-Street Band. Sure, there's a few tracks that leave me cold, that just kinda plod onward. Erie Canal starts out well, but then just seems to run out of gas, and We Shall Overcome, for being the title track, really feels uninspired, almost like it's obligatory. That doesn't take back from the goofy grin I get listening to Old Dan Tucker, Pay Me My Money Down, or Froggie Went A-Courtin'.

One thing you can say is that, for a side-project, detour-type thing, Springsteen committed to it. The tour was long, and traveled all over the world. My understanding was that the concept was much better received in Europe, as in the US, The Sessions Band played to less-than-full capacity on a regular basis. Many Springsteen fans simply refused to attend.

A damn shame, in my opinion. These shows were full of great music, expertly played, with tons of showmanship from the, I think it was seventeen, musicians onstage. Bruce also re-cast several of his songs to work in the format, including Blinded By the Light, Growin' Up and Open all Night. Frankly, the Sessions Band version of the latter is my favorite version of the song, hands down.

As the tour continued, a expanded version of the album was released, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition has to be the longest album title in Springsteen history. The added material was quite good, especially a version of How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live with a Springsteen-written verse connecting to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (which was the location of the Sessions Band's first live gig.) Also included was the only Springsteen song written for the project, American Land. The song has been a staple of not only the Sessions Band shows, but also E-Street Band shows, ever since.

If you're going to pop for a copy of this album, I would definitely recommend the American Land Edition over the original.

I , of course, have both. Ahhh...fandom.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The End of The Week

So, here we sit. The week is....ALMOST....over, and all sorts of things have been going on.

Mainly, I've been reading plays. It's selection season for Stage Left's Leapfest festival of new plays. In the last few weeks I've read about...I think it was about twenty-four plays. Some I loathed, some I enjoyed, some I wanted to set fire to, but one...one was very, very powerful, to me. I was floored reading it, and I dearly hope it's going to be in the festival.

Of course, that's not a foregone conclusion, there's another round of selection to pound through. Things can swing in any number of directions, and I'm pretty aware of the fact that my tastes aren't necessarily the same as the rest of the ensemble. Nice thing is, since I made myself read so many in the early stages, I have very, very few I will have to read going forward.

There's something to this overachiever stuff.

No, I'm not going to discuss anything in detail. The selection isn't made, and, until that happens, mum's the word.

Of course, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm going to be able to work on Leapfest. It's scheduled for June of 2011, the dates are set, but not public, not final. Still, I know I'm booked until May 15th (more on that in a minute), and CByrd and I have tentatively set a vacation trip for May 20th to May 29th. It'll be overseas, but the exact destination and itinerary are still up in the proverbial air.

Still, Rush is playing at the O2 arena in London on May 25th. Definitely a thing to make you go...hmmmmm.

Gratuitous Rush Picture - I'll get 20-30 more hits for this, no joke

So, that MIGHT prove a problem for scheduling.

Ah, well...a bridge to cross when we get there, right?

So, as to my booking. I'll be playing the role of Milt Shanks in The Copperhead by Augustus E. Thomas, with City Lit Theatre this spring, under the direction of Kathy Scambiatterra. I'm pretty excited, and more than a little scared. Perhaps there's some sort of magic in whining on a blog, because this role is very much along the lines of what I was wishing for. Milt's a farmer, so yeah..."big guy," but there's also a whole load of things going on under the surface, and a great deal of physical change I'll have to go through as the show progresses. Here's City Lit's description;
A lost gem from the early days of American realism, and it kicks off City Lit's five-year commemoration of the Civil War during its sesquicentennial years 2011-2015. In the spring of each of those years, we will produce a show dealing with some aspect of the war: its issues, personalities and legacy. Thomas' play follows an Illinois man from the early days of the war through the turn of the 20th century, as he carries the weight of his town's disapproval for his Southern sympathies. 
 So, there you go, and I can't wait to start. Of course, that's not until the end of February. I have a tentative plan to try to get off book either before we start or very, very shortly after. I found a full copy of the play on line, and printed it out, so I have the script (unless there are cuts and changes...oy!). I do wish we were starting sooner, I'm itching to have something to do.

More time to work on music, right?

Speaking of which....

I'm playing an acoustic gig for the first time in a long, long....well, forever. I'll be doing a half hour, or so, at a low-key Stage Left fundraiser at our office on December 4th. Again, excited but a little freaked. It's been a LONG time since I played in front of anybody, and a long time since I played most of the acoustic-based tunes on my first CD.

So, I'm re-learning my own songs. LOL. I suppose that's probably not as unheard of as it would seem. I mean, do you think Keith Richards knows how to play every obscure track on the flip side of Out of Our Heads the second it's brought up?

...Yeah. You're right. He probably does.

Well, it's not like what I was writing at that time was incredibly hard, anyway. It's funny, going back and revisiting these songs is making me very aware of who far I've come with the guitar. It had been so long since I'd REALLY played when I started working on that first disk. Now I feel pretty comfortable moving around the neck. I still can't do everything I'd LIKE to do, but I can come up with some interesting riffs, I think, anyway.

One other thing that's become very apparent to me since I started going over these songs again is how long it's been since I've played acoustic. It hit me the other day, when my fingers started hurting, that it's been about 9 months since I picked up my acoustic guitar. It may seem strange that there's a difference, but acoustic strings are heavier, and the tension is higher. Harder to push down, and they cut into the fingertips a bit more.

So, I'm playing a lot just to re-build my calluses on the fingertips. So silly, really. I should be putting in time on both the acoustic and electric. It's just that the stuff I've been working on lately is so very much in an electric, hard rock vein. I've thought about putting acoustic sections into a few tracks, and this experience is plainly showing me that I shouldn't neglect that part of the deal.

As for the recording/demos I'm working on, things are proceeding fairly well. I've gone completely off the rails since I found out about this gig, but I have a track on the recorder that I think will be quite good. I really ought to take some time tomorrow to finish the music, and have that off the plate to fully work on my setlist. I do think that these recordings will, ultimately, be demos. I expect I'll be getting a new recorder sometime in December (12 months same-as-cash = time for a bigger purchase), or else just going whole hog into pro-tools. It's a big decision, but I do think there's systems out there that will give me more flexibility, and better sound. Certainly a jump to pro-tools would.

Another bridge to cross when I get there.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Understanding of Christian Bale

Christian Bale has become a figure of some scorn, lately, likely stemming from the on-set rant that was recorded and leaked to the internet. I confess, I never saw it as so much of a breach of etiquette as others did. It seemed like an emotional explosion, yes, but I also understood how it feels to be an actor, trying to perform, and having someone, anyone in eyeline, or earshot, doing things that are distracting.

I can't tell you what it's like to have someone walk into a theatre late, while I'm in the middle of a scene, or open an annoyingly loud candy wrapper. Obviously, the latter is totally unconscious, no one expects such a small thing to make a sound that carries everywhere in the space, but it does.

The former, however? It's rude.

My understanding of the scene with Bale was that this DP was prone to walking into his eyeline to move lights constantly. Bale had spoken to the director about this, and yet it continued. Was he over the top? Hell, yes, but there is a certain amount of disrespect for an actor's work in what was happening. At the time, I didn't even think Bale should apologize, but my feeling there softened.

The thing about Bale, the one thing that comes across is that he is uncompromising. It's what makes his performances great, but it's also what would instigate the kind of reaction we all heard in that tape.

Thing is, I admire the hell out of that.

I just read this interview for Esquire magazine. You should really go check it out, because a lot of what I'm going to talk about is based on comments he makes in that interview.

I'm sure it'll stir up a few more calls of "Bale is an asshole." I think that's being pretty closed off to what the man is saying, and the stand he is taking about himself as a "celebrity" or "personality," and how that relates to his work as an actor.

As I read it, I completely understood his desire to control the way he's presented to the public, and how much of himself he allows us to see. To him, creating a character isn't about showing parts of himself, it's about building a false persona to fulfill the needs of the story being told. In his mind, he's not here to get the audience to react to "Christian Bale," but to "Bruce Wayne," or "Dickie Eklund," or "Dan Evans." Who Bale is isn't even an issue, because, in his mind, he's never shown us anything of himself.

Now, I think that's an extreme, and I also think it's a false assumption. I don't think it's possible for an actor to completely divorce himself from the role he is playing. You're building this person from the building blocks you have available, which is your own life and personality. You can place yourself in completely alien physical and emotional environments, but it's still you making the choices. No matter how much effort you expend to take yourself out of the picture...the judgments you make are still from your experiences.

It's a bit of a rabbit-hole, I know. I'm sure even Bale, outside of a public interview, would have to admit that there is something of himself in the roles he plays. The point he makes, however, and I really agree, is that acting is not psychotherapy, and far too many people try to act like it is. Frankly I think actors sometimes get so wrapped up in themselves and their own emotions, they lose the track on simply playing the damn part.

I love this bit from the interview;
I'm not on a couch having therapy. And it's very limiting if I have to be able to relate every damn thing in somebody else's life to something that's happened in mine. At the end of the day, I'm faking it. Pure imagination, and it's only phony if you don't go far enough with it. You can become obsessive and it can get to the point where you're almost losing yourself. You've become a vessel. And holy shit, things start happening. And I'm hating the way I'm sounding right now, because I sound like a tosser, but that's my secret ambition.
 I completely understand what he's getting at, and I do, truly, share that ambition. The feeling that happens when you've given so much of yourself to the character, and the character has given so much to you, that the choices and reactions are all immediate and effortless. "Taking flight" as my old teacher Jeff Green used to call it.
The whole interview is full of ridiculously wonderful bon mots about his work, if you look. For one, I found the multiple attempts to get the interviewer to call the real Dickie Ecklund, and make the interview about him, to be hilarious, and revealing. Bale is supposed to sell the movie, he makes it clear in the interview that it's happening because of a commitment to the studio;
No, it's simpler than that. I want to be able to just act and never do any interview, but I don't have the balls to stand up to the studio and say, "I'm never doing another interview in my life!" So I tip my hat and go, "Okay mister! All right mister! I'll go do the salesman job!"
 I'm sure, in Bale's mind, an interview with Dickie would be much more about the character and the film than anything Bale could say. It's also right in line with his philosophy of shifting things away from "Christian Bale," and to the character. Here, playing a real, living person, he has a perfect target to shift the attention to, the actual fucking guy. The character, the work, is important, not what kind of beer Bale likes to drink.

By far the most amusing thing to me was the interviewer's (John H. Richardson) grousing about Bale's insistence that the interview be published as a Q & A, rather than a prose piece. I honestly found this to make Richardson look worse than Bale. He seems so fixated on it, so angry or upset that he doesn't get to interpret Bale's answers for his readers. It almost makes you feel Bale's resistance is justified. 

But the best bit? The thing that really makes me smile? There's Bale, in reference to yet another snarky remark about having to write in Q & A form, and he says;
You don't feel like I'm allowing you to do a good story? I'm inhibiting your process? I'm inhibiting your talents? 
It's such a nice little comment, because, you see, in submitting to the interview, Bale feels the same way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Comic Day 11.17.2010

I knew it would come eventually, a big, big week. The fairly small ones leading up lulled me into a sense of security...now smashed.

Batman #704 ($2.99)
Written by TONY DANIEL
Art and cover by TONY DANIEL

Welcome back Tony Daniel as regular writer/artist on BATMAN!

Bruce Wayne may have returned, but when an aging but wealthy technology developer comes to Gotham with his beautiful daughter, it turns out he's in search of a joint project with WayneTech. DNA tracking is the name of his game, and there are others interested in his proposal. But when the developer goes missing, Batman finds that his tracks stop in the city's violent Chinatown neighborhood, where a new deadly Triad gang has taken root. Guest-starring I-Ching!

So, here we go. Bruce is back, but running around the world recruiting an international team of "Batmen," and Dick Grayson is continuing as the Batman of Gotham City. Apparently, Batman and Robin, Batman and Detective Comics will continue to be about Dick's work in Gotham, while Batman: The Dark Knight and Batman: Incorporated will be about Bruce globe-trotting. I have to tell you, I'm fairly tempted to just keep buying the titles I'm following already, The Dick Grayson books, and ignore the Bruce titles. I can just pretend Bruce is still dead, and wait until Morrison leaves, or he gets a wild hair up his rear to go back to status quo, then follow Bruce again. Mainly because you KNOW that's exactly what's going to happen.

 On the positive side, this issues marks the return of Tony Daniel as writer/artist. I was pretty happy with his work on this title prior to the Return of Bruce Wayne stuff. It wasn't mind-blowing, but it was good Batman stories month-in, month-out. He keeps a schedule and tells solid stories. That might not sound exciting, but I'll take it over one hyper-incredible issue followed by eleven that are just above dreck, or worse.

Batman: Incorporated #1 ($3.99)
Variant cover by YANICK PAQUETTE

Grant Morrison continues his earth-shattering run on the Batman titles with this exciting, new ongoing series! Featuring; Art by the remarkable Yanick Paquette (SEVEN SOLDIERS: BULLETEER), BATMAN, INC. marks the next stage of evolution for The Dark Knight. This can't-miss series will star not just Bruce Wayne as Batman, but also a huge number of guest-stars! Don't miss out on this all-new start to a stunning direction for Batman!

I know what you're thinking, I bitch about this concept constantly, but I'm planning to buy it. Let me make one thing clear, I am planning to buy the first issue. I am open enough to allow Morrison the chance to sway me to his idea. His run of Batman and Robin, and his non-Batman work allow him a chance at drawing me in.

In short, I am willing to be wrong.

Again, the real annoyance here is that this new method of operation for Bruce is never going to stand. It just isn't. It's especially annoying when DC stated policy for every other hero is to "use the most known and iconic version," hence, Wally West is consigned to...wherever he is, and Barry Allen is the Flash. So, Morrison gets to create a bunch of crappy (if Knight and Squire are any indication) versions of Batman, and indulge himself, even while the rest of the writing staff is falling back to characters that, in some cases, are not nearly as interesting as their replacements. In a year or two, Bruce will be back in Gotham, Dick will be Nightwing, I suspect Damian will remain Robin, leaving Tim as Red Robin (which I'm fine with), and this will all be quietly swept under the rug.

Y'know, way back in 1992, when they killed Superman, the creative team was almost immediately saying, "of course he's not going to stay dead, but we think we have a good story to bring him back." I like that, it's honest and it allows the creatives to play freely. I kinda hate how everything now is "changing everything," when it clearly won't.

Brightest Day #14 ($2.99)
1:10 Variant covers by IVAN REIS

Don't miss the hottest event in comics as BRIGHTEST DAY continues with the search for a new White Lantern. And Martian Manhunter returns to Mars as we discover the origin of the creature mysteriously stalking him. Plus, the evil within Firestorm now haunts Professor Stein! And Hawkman: betrayed!

I am really this series' bitch. It's like Brokeback Mountain, "I wish I could quit you!!"

I need to drop the book, but every damn time I think I'm ready to, BAM! Oh, look Batman White Lantern!! Gotta see that!!

 Sometimes I hate being a fanboy. I do swear, if I even think of staying with Batman: Incorporated, or Batman: The Dark Knight, this thing is the first to go.

The Flash #6 ($2.99)
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and Cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
1:10 Variant cover by ALE GARZA

BRIGHTEST DAY dashes on with the stunning conclusion of "The Dastardly Deaths of the Rogues!" With Barry caught between the Rogues and the Renegades, the resurrected Captain Boomerang's role in the adventure is revealed! You won't believe how this leads to the upcoming FLASHPOINT…

I am a big Flash fan. Huge, actually. This series, and Flash: Rebirth, however, will be looked upon in future decades as the template for how to shoot yourself in the foot during a major reboot of a character.

Rebirth was painfully late, and this series seems like it's on anything but a regular schedule. I almost forget it's out there before a new issue shows up. You cannot build excitement if the book isn't shipping on a concrete schedule. I have to be waiting to see what happens next. As it is, I can hardly remember what happened last!

Top that off, the re-introduction of Barry Allen has done absolutely nothing to distinguish the character from any number of others. When Wally West was The Flash, and, to be fair, he is the Flash I grew up with, the writers immediately set about distinguishing him, not only from his former mentor, Barry, but from every other hero on the stands. Wally was a broken person, he needed to find the hero and the strength within himself, and the creative teams weren't afraid to make him look bad on the way there.

I'm sorry, because I know there's a ton of Barry Allen fans out there, but Barry is boring. I enjoy Geoff Johns writing, but his Barry is just...the Barry from the 80's, the major character that actually had his book cancelled because of disinterest. There were a ton of mis-steps with Wally late in his run, with the whole "family" angle, but it just needed the right writer to get that hook and run with it effectively (excuse the pun). There really was no need to drop back and punt, especially when the punt was executed so poorly.

Green Lantern #59 ($2.99)
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE
1:10 Variant cover by GENE HA

BRIGHTEST DAY blazes on as the New Guardians seeking the Indigo Entity are shocked to discover a sedated Black Hand. Can Hal Jordan trust the Indigo Tribe to house the herald of Nekron?

Is it just me, or are the solicits for Green Lantern just getting shorter and shorter? I suppose it makes sense, the books is pretty much the linchpin for the entire direction of the line, right now. If you're into DC right now, you pretty much have to be reading Green Lantern.

Thank God the book is still pretty damn solid.

I've given a lot of crap to Geoff Johns-written books today, but that's mainly because I know what he can do, how good he can be. Green Lantern is where you find it, each month. Yeah, currently it feels a little disjointed because of the deep tie-in to Brightest Day, and that associated stuff. Even with that, Johns has an ultra-solid handle on exactly who Hal Jordan is, and how to best use him.

Justice League of America #51 ($3.99)
1:10 Variant cover by DAVID MACK

In "Justice League: Omega" part 2, as the battle between the JLA and the Crime Syndicate within the Hall of Justice explodes into the streets of Washington D.C., a new villain bent on his own form of conquest prevents any other heroes from helping save the nation's capital. It's up to five members of the Justice League to save the city's people, with serious repercussions for one Leaguer, who may turn to the dark side. In order to help their teammates, Bill and Mikaal must begin an odyssey across the world that will evoke memories of Prometheus.

Why do I have a sinking feeling? The last issues was pretty damn solid, and did a great job of making me want to read this series again. Then I see the solicit for this issue, and I feel my optimism may have been premature.

This is another series that is on the chopping block if I pick up anything new. Of course, I've been saying that for a while.

The Spirit #8 ($3.99)
Written by DAVID HINE
Co-feature written by WALTER SIMONSON
Co-feature art by JORDI BERNET
Cover by LADRÖNN

The widow Ophelia Ottoman is the drop-dead gorgeous heir of one of the most powerful crime families in Central City. So why did she ever marry a loser like Jimmy Bauhaus? And why does she creep into Wildwood Cemetery each night to speak to his corpse? There's a mystery buried with that dead man, and it's The Spirit's job to dig it up!

And in the SPIRIT: BLACK & WHITE co-feature, modern masters Walter Simonson and Jordi Bernet bring you "Gemini," the tale of twin sisters nobody could tell apart...but where one is a good girl, the other is very, very bad indeed!

As with anything published that doesn't involve the mainstream heroes of the DCU, I get the feeling this is a "quiet book." One that falls under a lot of people's radar. It's worth seeking out for the Spirit Black & White
back-ups alone, honestly.

Eisner set the bar high with his own work, and, really, only Darwyn Cooke's run a few years back has come close. The teams on this series have done good work, if not "blow-up-your-skirt" brilliant. Much like Tony Daniel on Batman, it's solid storytelling. I admire that.


Batman: The Return #1 ($4.99)
1:25 Variant cover by TBD
1:200 Variant cover by TBD

The event of the year is here! Bruce Wayne made his long journey back through the timestream in RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE, Dick Grayson and Damian uncovered important secrets in BATMAN and ROBIN, Gotham City's bravest heroes made their mark in BRUCE WAYNE – THE ROAD HOME…and now it's time for BATMAN to return! What happens to Dick Grayson now that the "real" Batman is back? How will Bruce Wayne handle a reunion with his son, Damian? This special one-shot bridges two exciting eras of The Dark Knight and sets up a surprising new status quo that's just on the horizon.

Featuring the talents of Batman mastermind Grant Morrison and superstar artist David Finch providing interior art, this issue is a can't-miss for comics fans!

Don't we know the answers to these questions from recent issues of the regular series? It's a "maybe" because I'm a fan, and I've managed to skip all the other one-shot tie-ins. This one seems the most on point. That said, it's five frakkin' bucks. Couple that with the fairly certain feeling I have that it's not essential, at all...and the best I can give it is a maybe. If I flip through it, and something grabs me, I may drop the cash, but I think it's unlikely.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Agony and the Ecstasy of "Morning Glory"

OK, by now you all ought to know that I'm "big" on Harrison Ford. I love the man, and his recent poor film choices can never wash away the positive memories of his work in the past. I can honestly say that I never flat-out hated a Harrison Ford movie until the absolute abortion that was 2009's Crossing Over. Now, that being said, I also am cognizant of the fact that the man's output since the turn of the century (and probably a couple of years before) has been spotty.

I'm actually quite fond of What Lies Beneath and K-19: The Widowmaker. Hollywood Homicide is something that just reeks of having read better than it was executed. Six Days, Seven Nights and Firewall are star vehicles that just didn't gell, and I haven't seen Extraordinary Measures, in fact, I'm terrified to see it.

Then there's Random Hearts, and, in a way, I can equate that movie with the new release, Morning Glory.

Now, there's nothing really about these films in tone, genre or style that would equate them, but what they do have is a pretty damn strong Harrison Ford performance swamped in a pretty weak script. Now, of the two, Morning Glory fares far better, as the unrelenting obsession of Ford's Dutch Van Der Broeck in Random Hearts pretty much upsets the entire film.

Not to get into it too far, but the will they/won't they at the center of Random Hearts doesn't matter at all when Ford's character is clearly unhinged by losing his wife, and finding out she was cheating , in one fell swoop. It's a committed, logical choice that fits the character (and may also be true to the book, I don't know), but it steps across a line. We don't like Dutch, and there's no character to pull us back into the story, because Kristin Thomas is a total cold fish. It's, at the core, as brave a performance as Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast, but there we had River Phoenix's Charlie to cling to. 
So, how is Morning Glory similar? Well, Ford gives a really strong performance (don't worry, I will get to the rest of the cast), in a script that almost completely lets him down. It's also a performance where Ford seems absolutely unconcerned with trying to make the audience like the character. He's called "the third worst person in the world" at one point, and I think Ford took that as the keynote line.

Yeah, Ford's Mike Pomeroy is a pretty huge bastard for almost every last second of the running time. This performance makes me feel that Ford is absolutely aware of his current reputation as a "grumpy old man" on film, and ready to use that. He, frankly uses it to perfection here. I'd have to say that every, single laugh-out-loud moment in this movie comes from Ford. (I may be short-changing Jeff Goldblum's weird almost-cameo, but whatever.) He clearly understands comedy and timing, and the jabs he takes at, well, pretty much everyone in the cast, hit the target. (Personal favorite; "Senor Shithead" - which I may start using) I had gobs of fun watching Ford work this character, and this material.
I do find it interesting that some people are looking at this performance as "more of the same," but I think it's intentionally more of the same. Clearly, your mileage may vary. I just know he made me laugh.

The rest of the film, alas, gets kind of ground up and spit out. Rachel McAdams is a lovely, and appealing screen presence. She carries the film, and displays a ton of "oh she's so cute!" awkward goofiness. However, her performance did spark an interesting conversation in the car on the way home, in regards to female leads in romantic comedies/"chick flicks." The scripts always go out of their way to let us know that these are competent, hard working women, yet the performances seem to go overboard in making them into goony-bird spazmatics. It's almost like the idea is "make them competent, but not TOO competent, because then the girls in the audience might start to feel inferior."

I mean, really...It seems like, ever since the Brigit Jones craze, female leads have become more and more ridiculous. Annie Hall was odd and quirky, but we didn't need to see her drop a paint bucket on her head, or forget to put on her skirt when running out of the apartment (as CByrd said: who does that?), in order to relate to her. It's kinda condescending, in my humble opinion.

I mean, look at a truly excellent romantic comedy, Love, Actually. the female characters are very funny, and very real. We don't need to see them doing pratfalls and getting tongue-tied at even the thought of interest from a man. One of the large missteps in Morning Glory, and many other recent films like it, is that the filmmakers want us to believe that our heroine is growing in power and stature, but the stupid bits she has to perform undermine that growth.

It's also extremely sad to see Annie Hall herself, Diane Keaton, so ill-served by this script. She does get some extremely nice moments of one-upmanship with Ford. The battle for who will tell the audience good-bye, for example, is really quite classic, and executed with restraint and skill. Outside of that, however, the character is simply a cipher, there's not enough screen time to make her into a "real person."

Now, I do realize I've been rather harsh in my comments here, but, honestly, I've seen much, much worse films in this genre. The cast is appealing, even when underused, and it's a pleasant enough film to watch. What gets to me is that I feel like there was a really good movie under all the "standard romantic comedy playbook" stuff that overwhelms the film. Hell, the romance, with Patrick Wilson, is utterly forgettable. The core relationship is between McAdams and Ford, and they never even hint at a May-December romance, thankfully. It's full-out father/daughter stuff, with cryptic lines that hint that there was a lot more father material involved before editing.

If this is your kind of movie, you'll want to see it, and you'll likely enjoy it. If you're a Harrison Ford fan, you'll want to see it, because he pretty much hits a comedic bulls-eye. It's not surprising to me that it has a pretty paltry opening weekend, because there's just not much distinctive here. You've seen it before, and it serves as what it's supposed to be, cinematic comfort food.

In that respect, it does it's job.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday With The Boss, Part 13: Devils & Dust

The next Springsteen release was on April 26th, 2005. It was a step back to a "solo" project, and back to a much more acoustic sound. This was Devils & Dust.

In a lot of ways, Devils & Dust was a clearing house of a lot of material that had been floating around for a decade or more. Many of these tracks were originally intended for a follow-up to The Ghost of Tom Joad, in the same vein. Yet, it's not all dusty, old material, as, again continuing from Joad, this is an album in the protest vein.

Kind of amusing to me, realizing just now that there is exactly one decade between the two releases. It's also funny, as I sit here looking at the track list, that it's really not as much of a protest record as I remember. There's definitely protest songs here, but the overall feel is much more of storytelling. Kind of along the lines of Nebraska, but, let's be honest, not as good.

The opening, title track is definitely a protest song. Throwing us into the shoes of a soldier in, one assumes, Iraq. Again, the real strength here isn't the political, it's the personal. Springsteen says nothing about the buildup of the war, or the misleading WMD reasoning, but asks us to envision what it's like to be a soldier in combat. The sacrifices that must be made, and the personal beliefs that are challenged, and often put aside, when it becomes a matter of survival.

Generally speaking, the recurring theme is people who've reached a point of decision, or crisis. In all of these songs, we see people place in situations where they must make a choice that will change them forever. Be it, the young man in Black Cowboys, leaving his drug-addled mother to try to make a better life, inspired by the western movies playing on TV, or The Hitter, finally coming to the last place he thinks he might find solace or acceptance, at his mother's locked door.

The one, true, honest-to-God Tom Joad sequel is Matamoros Banks, which Springsteen has called a direct sequel to Joad's Across the Border. One with a less than happy ending. He would play these two together on most nights of the Devils & Dust tour. (I'll get to that in a bit here.)

The one true classic song that most fans have embraced from the album is Long Time Comin', which tells of a man finally coming into the world of being a father. I completely agree that this is likely the strongest song on the album. It's a relatively simple song, but it's so much fun to play. The lyric is also powerful in a deceptively simple manner. When It comes around to the line "I ain't gonna fuck it up this time," I feel that, even as simply a man and a husband. I also love that he took to singing the line as "I hope I don't fuck it up this time" on tour, reflecting the uncertainty of life. (Of course, Bruce said he felt it just made him sound cocky, LOL)

I'm also a HUGE fan of Jesus Was an Only Son, which places Jesus, in his final minutes, and Mary in the context of simply a mother and child. This is one of those songs that reminds me of the power of the Christ story. I'm not an overly religious person, but the idea that Jesus was human, he felt pain and fear, he had a mother, it connects me to the sacrifice in a much more personal way. It's why I've always been perplexed by the reactions to The Last Temptation of Christ, both as a novel and film. There's something about connecting Jesus to the rest of humanity as a man, with all the strengths and weaknesses that comes along with that, that makes him a greater figure to me.

There are several gems on the album, just rattling off some favorites, there's Reno, which walks the line between what we try to call love, and what it actually is. Maria's Bed, which is just a fun song, no other way to put it. Of course, both of those songs, I wonder if their "Maria" is connected to the "Maria" of Tom Joad's The Line. I also really enjoy Leah.

One of the more interesting things about the Devils & Dust release was the only time, so far, that Springsteen has released a "value added" DualDisc. Essentially, the dick was a "flipper," with one side being the regular CD of the album, and the opposite side being a DVD, with video content, and a 5.1 Surround Sound version of the album, as well. The Video content is described on the Springsteen website as follows;

Devils & Dust (Columbia Records) has been released exclusively in DualDisc format, with the full album on CD on one side of the disc and DVD content on the other side. The DVD side will feature the first live performances of Devils & Dust material. Filmmaker/photographer Danny Clinch captured new, acoustic renditions of "Devils & Dust," "Long Time Comin'," "Reno," All I'm Thinkin' About," and "Matamoras Banks," each with Springsteen's extensive, personal introductions. The performances were filmed in New Jersey in February 2005. The DVD side will also contain the entire album mixed in 5.1 channel surround sound and in stereo.

Now, I've listened to this album quite a lot. I think I've watched the video stuff once. So, y'know...whatever you want to take from that.

One thing I do have to say as a bit of a coda to this entry is to talk about the Devils & Dust tour, which I can only really describe as a religious experience. Springsteen toured solo, much like after The Ghost of Tom Joad, but the schedule was much broader and hit a lot more cities. It also seemed, from reports (as I, personally, never saw the Joad tour), that Springsteen was simply enjoying himself a lot more. Watching the man essay his entire carreer, up to that point, on acoustic guitar, as well as some keyboards, was really, really special.

I saw the show twice. Once at The Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL, and then again at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI. The Rosemont show was far more intimate, but the Bradley Center was just a setlist to die for. He ended the show with Growin' Up (my favorite Springsteen song, ever) right into Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? which is another all-time favorite. He also managed to do pretty much all of Nebraska that night. I'll treasure those evenings.

I really don't think I'll ever forget how he re-cast Reason to Believe into a foot-stompin' harmonica number

Not the best quality, I know...but that song gave me chills.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Stuck in My Head 11.12.2010

This appears to be turning into a series. I'm really enjoying the new Alter Bridge disk, especially this track

Ghosts of Days Gone By

The misery I know
Like a friend that won’t let go
Is creeping up on me now once again

So I sing this song tonight
To the ghost that will not die
And somehow it seems to haunt me till the end

Do you feel the same
For what was remained
Yesterday is gone, we can’t go back again
Do you ever cry for the ghost of days gone by

I remember summer days
We were young and unafraid
With innocence we’d glide beneath the stars

It seems so long ago
Beyond the life that I now know
Before the years would have their way and break my heart

Do you feel the same
For what was remained
Yesterday is gone, we can’t go back again
Do you ever cry for the ghost of days gone by

And I know it’s drawing closer
With each day I feel the end
I… don’t wanna die
Don’t wanna die, don’t wanna die

I don’t wanna die

Do you feel the same
For what was remained
Yesterday is gone, we can’t go back again
Do you ever cry for the days gone by

Do they haunt you like a ghost until the end
Haunt you till the end, until the end
Until the end, until the end

-Myles Kennedy

This Is a Public Service Message.

You like cheese?

You like cheesy movies?

You like cheesy movies that are naked rip-offs of infinitely better films?

I give you. Tentacles.

Among it's joys are a cast of absolutely slumming A-Listers, John Huston, Shelly Winters and Henry flippin' Fonda, no less. Not to mention the great Claude Akins as the town sherrif, and Bo "Joe the Pha-Roh" Hopkins as our lead, the heroic marine biologist.

Fonda's performance is a treat. It's clear his entire appearance was shot after everyone else. He never interacts with anyone, save one supporting actor, except over the phone. There's a fantastic phone conversation between Fonda and Huston, where they're supposed to be threatening each other, but the editing is so gloriously poor that there's enough room to drive a truck between each line. The lack of connection, or the feeling of a real conversation, smashes into your knowledge that these are two great actors, and...your mind will be blown.

The movie is also deliciously mean. No one is safe. I mean, it opens with the giant octopus eating a baby. It's off screen, sure...but the effort to out-do Jaws is appreciated.

Let's top this off with a score that is so odd, it's hard to describe. First off, it kinda sounds like maybe it was composed on a casio keyboard. Like composer Stelvio Cipriani was going for a John Carpenter score type of thing. The music does reflect the action it's under, but...it's off. It's almost like the score got transposed into a major key from a minor. Horrible things are happening, and the music speeds up, but it's almost sprightly and happy.

It's just utterly bizarre.

Let me just finish with this....Which is a speech delivered to Bo Hopkins to his Killer Whales late in the film;

I guess you know now why I brought you here... I wanted to tell ya more about it, but there've been many people that died... I've lost a loved one. I need your help more now than ever. I remember the times when I was training ya - people used to call you killers. They used ta call me that on the streets. It doesn't mean nothing. You have more, more love in your heart, more affection than any human being I ever met. But now I... I can't ask anybody else, so I'm asking you to help me kill this octopus. I hope you understand that. I know I'm in your environment. I don't want it this way, but if I release ya and you go away, I want ya to know I'll understand. All right, enough said. I gotta go now. If you feel anything - you talk to me. Make some noises. I know people'll think we're crazy. Maybe we are... Maybe we are... 

Yep...that's about the size of it.