Category: 2010


Ariel Pink

Well, this wasn’t quite the way that I intended to use this particular song, but if I was ever going to use it, I suppose this Bonnaroo series works. “Round and Round” from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s 2010 album Before Today is my favorite song of this decade so far. I mean, it’s not even a close race. I had the opportunity to shoot Ariel Pink at this year’s Bonnaroo, and I’m sad to say that I was actually sort of really disappointed. I only stayed for three songs. That’s how little I was feeling his set. I probably should have been stoned. I’m choosing this song, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear him perform this particular number which was pretty disappointing. Still, it’s my favorite song of the 2010s to date. It’s insanely catchy and has so much going on underneath the surface that even after three years of endless listens, I still find new things to discover in this phenomenal song. Enjoy.

(side note. I couldn’t get any good photos of Ariel Pink himself. I got a bunch of good photos of the Asian guitar player, but I figured I should use one of my pictures of Ariel Pink himself for this post. Also, be warned, this Wayne Coyne-directed music video is weird as fuck).

 

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2008’s Iron Man breathed new life into the cinematic Marvel universe after catastrophe after catastrophe including Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine threatened to derail all of the good will Marvel superheroes had earned from movie goers in the late 90s and early 2000s. With a fresh script, Jon Favreau’s “one of us” direction, and Robert Downey Jr.’s career-resuscitating performance, Iron Man was a hit with critics and audiences alike, and is still one of the standard bearers of great superhero storytelling alongside The Dark Knight and The Avengers. I’ve avoided watching the sequel, Iron Man 2, for nearly three years now because all of the critics said it couldn’t hold a candle to the original film. And, sadly, they are right. Not only does Iron Man 2 completely lack the character-driven sparks of its forebear, it lacks most of the smart, fun spectacle that made the first such a massive hit to begin with.

Even when films are full of mindless explosions and endless action-sequences (ala any Michael Bay film), one can at least appreciate the spectacle of big-budget bombast. The Transformer films may be intellectual hogwash, but they are rarely boring (except for the over-long second film). So, it’s astounding that Iron Man 2 is both often mind-numbingly boring and totally devoid of compelling character development or witty dialogue. That it manages to not be as stupefyingly bad as Thor is only because of the natural and omnipresent charm of Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle as well as an absolutely scene-stealing turn from Moon‘s Sam Rockwell. Summer superhero blockbusters are supposed to be fun. More than any other trait that is what needs to matter (except for, maybe, Watchmen), and at the end of the day, Iron Man 2 was as far from fun as humanly possible.

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After defeating his father’s old partner at the end of the first film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has helped create an unheralded period of peace on Earth thanks to his powerful Iron Man suit. Although Tony lives the life of a rock star, it’s not all fun and games because the palladium used in the arc reactor keeping Tony alive (and that also powers his suit) is also slowly poisoning Tony’s bloodstream. To make matters worse, the United States government (in a situation that I can only say has to be a reference to Atlas Shrugged hero Hank Rearden) is calling on Tony to hand over the Iron Man tech to the military which Tony does not want to do. This also puts Tony at odds with his best friend, Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), a military pilot who may be forced to act against his own best friend at his country’s orders.

The situation is compounded even further by the presence of an ambitious and greedy rival weapons manufacturer, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who will stop at nothing to develop his own version of Tony’s weaponry in order to secure lucrative development contracts with the government. And Tony’s life keeps getting worse when a revenge seeking Russian nuclear physicist, Ivan Vanko (Diner‘s Mickey Rourke), makes a suit of his own and terrorizes a Monaco speedrace under the moniker, Whiplash (they never actually say it in the film, but that’s who he is in the comics). As tensions grow high between Tony, Vanko, Hammer, Rhodes, and the U.S. government, Tony must choose where his loyalties lie, and he must find a cure to his Palladium poisoning before time runs out and before his increasingly reckless decision making runs his company into the ground.

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There really isn’t much to say about Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in this film. It’s par for the course from what we now expect from his portrayal of Tony Stark. No new ground was broken. And, hell, just like the rest of the film, there were times where even Downey’s performance felt phoned in. Perhaps he was just playing to how thin the script is. Don Cheadle proved an adequate replacement for Terrence Howard (who left the franchise after money disputes) although Rhodie himself didn’t have much to do in the film. The only real acting suprise/delight of the movie was Sam Rockwell’s deliciously pompous turn as the sneering and scheming Justin Hammer. It wasn’t a meaty part, but Rockwell ran with what he was given, and for the vast majority of the film, it seemed like he was the only one having any fun with his part.

And, in addition to the general predictable nature of the performances and characterizations (at least in The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale tapped into new layers of the Bruce Wayne character), the superhero spectacle of the film was virtually non-existent. During the film’s two-hour run time, which was mostly padding, there were exactly two moments where I felt the action was fun, witty, or new. The first is a fight where (SPOILERS I guess) Rhodes commandeers one of Tony’s power suits and becomes War Machine for the first time and Tony and Rhodes duke it out. It was fun and funny, and the fight furthered the story’s examination of the breakdown of their friendship. The other moment may not have had as much symbolic story impact, but a sequence where Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow infiltrates Hammer’s facility is pure, ass-kicking fun, and we don’t see enough bad-ass women in the movies these days (or ever).

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All in all, Iron Man 2 has to be one of my biggest superhero disappointments since the emo shenanigans of SpiderMan 3 (seriously, how freaking bad is that movie). Iron Man was one of the movies that helped make it okay to be a nerd at the box office again, and The Avengers would have never happened had it not been such a massive success. Thankfully, the reviews for Iron Man 3 have been much more positive than they were for this entry, and its release a couple of weeks ago was the only reason I even caved and watched Iron Man 2 in the first place. If you’re a fan of the Tony Stark character, I suppose it’s necessary to see for it’s place within the Marvel film canon, but if you’re a more casual superhero movie lover, go ahead and avoid this clunker. You aren’t missing anything.

Final Score: C

 

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This is not a Bonnaroo-related Song of the Day (although they performed at the 2011 Festival as one of the headliners. what I wouldn’t have given to be there for that). I’ve just had this song stuck in my head ever since I woke up for reasons that I literally can’t comprehend. I actually remember most of my dreams from last night (mostly cause one was especially long and vivid), and I’m fairly certain that Arcade Fire didn’t figure in that dream at all. It definitely didn’t figure in the one where the government quarantined my hometown and everybody started to slowly turn into the aliens from Steven Spielberg’s E.T. Anyways, I love the song “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire. It’s one of my favorite songs off of 2010’s The Suburbs, although it still doesn’t come close to being as magical as “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” but I’m saving that song for another day. Anyways, if you haven’t heard this song before, enjoy.

 

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(quick aside before my actual post begins. My sister came over today, and therefore, I didn’t have a chance to do very much of my Bonnaroo research. Therefore, this Song of the Day is not Bonnaroo related and was really just the first thing that popped into my head)

Are we far enough removed from the summer that “Pumped Up Kicks” dominated the radio non-stop (requested by legions of listeners who apparently didn’t catch on to the song’s darker subtexts) to finally admit that Foster the People is actually a pretty good band. Yeah, they’re no Radiohead or Arcade Fire, but as far as fun (and I can’t stress how important that is and how little credit “serious” music types tend to give it) indie rock/pop goes, they get the job done. Their album, Torches, is a consistently pleasant and surprising mix of danceable and catchy pop-rock tunes that stick with you even after the album is over, and I think they suffered the same sort of shaming that many “indie” bands who get super popular do, where “indie” fans decide they no longer like them (look at what’s happened to Mumford). I like Foster the People and am not ashamed to admit it. My favorite song on the album is “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls),” the danciest of all of their tracks. Check it out.

 

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Understanding that documentaries rarely make an impact with mainstream audiences outside of Michael Moore films and sports stories like Undefeated or Hoop Dreams, I consider myself to be a fan. Hell, the very first movie I reviewed for this blog was the Oscar-winning opera documentary, In the Shadow of the Stars, and it’s been a love affair with great documentaries ever since (Children Underground, Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Road to Guantanamo just to name a few). The chance to see into another life and another world in a truthful way is something that you don’t often get from fiction (except for anything David Simon makes). However, the key to a great documentary is more often than not (I’ve realized over these last two years) great editing. You can have a fascinating concept, but if you don’t capture the right material (or aren’t choosy enough about what material to present), your film will not succeed to its fullest, and a lack of decent editing is the only thing keeping 2010’s Sweetgrass from reaching the ranks of the great documentaries of this decade.

Because conceptually, Sweetgrass taps into something that few other documentaries really attempt to find. Rather than utilizing subject interviews or voice-over narration or any type of conventional expository structure, Sweetgrass is instead just an hour and forty four minute series of images (with often excruciatingly long shots but more on that shortly) and it expects the viewer to follow along and relate to the trials and tribulations of its protagonists  without being led by the hand in any way whatsoever. And I respect the film for that decision. By removing any sort of barrier between the audience and the subject matter, Sweetgrass becomes a documentary in its purest form by simply documenting. And through this structural decision, Sweetgrass becomes one of the most intimate documentaries I’ve ever watched. Sadly, it is not always one of the most interesting or compelling.

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Sweetgrass follows the very last summer pasture sheep-herding of a massive herd of sheep in a particular Montana mountain range. I actually don’t remember the names of the two main men in the film (and I’ve been taking fairly extensive notes for my reviews again) because they are so often secondary to the images and quest of the film. In fact, the movies goes nearly 20 minutes before there’s any actual spoken dialogue (unless you count the yipping of one of the herders on the ranch). The sheep (as an entire unit) are just as important characters in this film as are the men that are stuck herding them for their summer pasture. And whether it’s the birthing of a new litter, the shearing of the herd before their pasture, young lambs running for the first time, or the inevitable death of sheep at the hands of natural predators, you get sucked into the world of Sweetgrass on the power of image alone.

However, and this is important, Sweetgrass can be slower and more deliberately paced than Eeyore after he’s smoked some barbiturates (I’ve think I’ve made this joke before). There are countless shots in this film that test the patience of even the most patient movie-goers. The film overflows with gorgeous shots of the Montana landscape and memorable images of the sheep herd, but nine times out of ten, the directors/editors chose to just let the scene last at least twice or even three times as long as it should have. I started trying to keep track of the number of times in the film where they just let the camera linger on a scene for what felt like an eternity when nothing was happening (and the shot didn’t progress the themes of the film any more), and I lost count. I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched a documentary that was this hell-bent on ruining a great premise and some great moments with absurdly awful editing.

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For a film that only runs an hour and forty four minutes, Sweetgrass felt like it lasted an eternity. And longtime readers know that I have an endless lover for deliberately-paced, slower films, but the incessant lack of something happening in this film always kept me from fully immersing myself in the world of these ranchhands and sheep in the way that I’m sure the filmmakers intended me to. If you like documentaries, Sweetgrass attempts to do something really interesting, and despite my complaints about the occasional moments of total agony this film put me through, I still enjoyed it and it had enough truly memorable moments to make it worth your while. But if you don’t have any interest in the documentary genre, you should avoid this film like the plague because it will bore the holy hell out of you.

Final Score: B

 

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(A quick aside before my actual review. Steam, the digital distribution service run by computer software company Valve for the purchasing of video games, has been running a lot of really good sales this week. I’m also on Spring Break. Combine the fact that I’m buying some AAA video games at absurdly low prices (i.e. Just Cause 2 for $3 and Hitman: Absolution for $5) with the fact that I actually have time to play them cause I don’t have any classes this week, and it’s easy to guess that I’ve been playing a lot of video games this week. I watched this film Tuesday, and I’ve only just now realized that, hey, maybe I should actually review it now)

What is art? Along with “What is the meaning of life?”, it’s arguably one of the oldest and most consistent questions that we’ve asked ourselves as a people. I aspire to both create art (my two as yet unpublished screenplays as well as my third screenplay which is 50 pages in the works) as well as to analyze it (this blog’s reason for existence). And though I think I’m fairly open-minded in my appreciation of artistic endeavors and can appreciate both the high and low-brow, there are still moments where I wonder if what I’m watching is art or if it’s mass-produced industry that happens to exist for entertainment purpose. Out of nowhere seemingly, that question, “What is art and, perhaps, can art be popular?” becomes the glue that holds together the riotously funny and insightful Oscar-nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop.

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In the early 2000s, Thierry Guetta was a French immigrant to Los Angeles living the American dream selling vintage clothes in a bohemian L.A. art district. With his wife and kids, Thierry had achieved success. But Thierry had an odd quirk. No matter where he went or what he was doing, he always carried around a portable video camera. Thierry was obsessed with capturing every minute aspect of his life and had amassed thousands and thousands of tapes of his recordings of his daily life. But, Thierry’s life was changed forever when he took a family holiday to France to visit his relatives and he discovered that his cousin was Space Invader, a rising star in the exploding world of underground, illegal street art. After finding a rush in filming his cousin’s exploits of putting his Space Invaders tag all over Paris, Thierry decides to make a documentary about the street art movement.

However, despite the fact that Thierry’s camera is never far from his hands, Thierry only knows how to record moments in life, not how to make a film. After months and months of following around many of the world’s most famous street artists, Thierry just has footage and nothing else. But Thierry keeps hearing rumors about the existence of an elusive street artist called Banksy, who was pulling some of the most daring and high-profile street art stunts in England. Thierry makes it his mission to meet this shadowy figure, and when they finally do, it’s a match made in heaven. However, Banksy soon realizes that Thierry is more interesting than him, and Banksy makes an actual documentary about Thierry as Thierry tries to become a street artist phenomenon himself, going under his new name, Mr. Brainwash.

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The movie is practically overflowing with fascinating tidbits about this burgeoning movement that Thierry finds himself lost in. Whether it’s the rush of being almost caught by the police or realizing that one of the main supporting people in the film (Shephard Fairey) is responsible for arguably the most iconic political image in decades (the Barack Obama hope poster) or just appreciating the nuances of these people’s art (because this film shows again and again that what these men do is beyond simple graffiti and vandalism), there are almost never any moments in the movie where you aren’t lost in this world you’re being shown. Documentaries are often a type of voyeurism into worlds we don’t see very often, but Exit Through the Gift Shop takes that about a hundred steps further, when you realize that most of the footage of the film is of a man who was a self-professed voyeur.

I wouldn’t be doing my job here if I didn’t mention the serious speculation surrounding the authenticity of this film. There is a popular theory (which I don’t believe because mostly, the evidence suggests its real) that this film is actually a “mockumentary” and a massive prank by Banksy himself, and that Mr. Brainwash is simply an offshoot of the Banksy brand. I don’t really think it’s true but I should bring it up. By the film’s end, when Thierry is on the verge of becoming a street art superstar himself, Exit Through the Gift Shop poses some complicated and thought-provoking questions about the nature of art itself. Though I actually enjoyed Thierry’s art quite a bit (I’m a movie expert though, not an “art in the classic sense” expert), the movie is fairly blunt about how Banksy and Shephard Fairey don’t think highly of his work and that Thierry’s success is somehow illegitimate because it arrived so quickly. I disagree with the film’s conclusions, but the movie still makes a compelling case for it’s opinions.

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I’m going to keep this review brief. I watched the film 48 hours ago (which is usually the point at which my ability to say interesting things about a film diminishes), and I have Argo home from Netflix. I really want to watch it (which should go without saying since it won Best Picture, and Best Picture winners/nominees from the current year take top priority in my blogging). If you enjoy documentaries, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a must-watch. I would argue that it doesn’t have the cross-over appeal that Undefeated had, but even for simple art lovers, Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the most consistently bizarre and fascinating films I’ve watched in a while.

Final Score: A-

 

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I did not like the new Neon Trees album. At all. “Everybody Talks” is admitted a pretty great song but one good tune does not an album make. I’ve never listened to their debut album, 2010‘s Habits, so I can’t tell if it is cut from a similar one good tune vein, but if you’re going to only have one good song on your record, you might as well make it their absurdly catchy “Animal.” I actually heard this song for the first time during the second season of Glee. Yeah. Yeah. Judge me. Long time readers know I’m a closet Gleek (and I used to review the series on here). I think I may actually prefer the Warbler’s rendition of this song to the original but the first version is pretty great too. Enjoy.

 

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There are CDs that you fall in love with after just one listen. Florence + the Machine’s debut LP Lungs was definitely one of those CDs. I’d heard “Dog Days Are Over” about a million times on the radio, and I really liked it, but honestly, after having listened to the whole record so many times, it’s probably not even in my top five songs on the album. I’m honestly not sure what my favorite song on the record is. “My Boy Builds Coffins” is a good contender. “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” is as well and obviously “Kiss With a Fist” ranks high. But a favorite from among my first listens to the record is “Hurricane Drunk” which is as great a showcase for Florence Welsh’s astounding voice as any other track on the record as well as for the brilliant way she combines the modern soul revival against the more lush arrangements of classics like Kate Bush. Enjoy. (This comes from my vinyl collection as Lungs was one of the first records I ever bought.)

As a life-long native of West Virginia (not counting the summer I lived in Italy and the four months at the beginning of this year that I lived in New York City), I am always wary of fictional portrayal of my home state. We’re either portrayed as the dirt-poor bumpkins we used to be (Matewan and October Sky) or we’re made out to be psychopathic in-bred killers (Wrong Turn et al). The only film I can name where taking place in West Virginia was just a random, not important part of the setting was the under-rated Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. The low-budget indie horror comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, with it’s West Virginia setting and hillbilly protagonists, had the potential to be another West Virginia set film to offend all of us mountain children, but with its consistently hilarious tongue-in-cheek sensibilities and inversion of the college kids vs. evil redneck stereotypes, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil was instead a B-Movie blast.

Simple but lovable rednecks Dale (Invasion‘s Scott Labine) and Tucker (Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk) head up to their isolated vacation home in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. Camping not far from their site is a group of obnoxious college kids, including the sweet and innocent Alison (30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden). The big-boned and big-hearted Dale takes a fancy to Alison but his backwards demeanor and country look scare the college kids. When Alison falls and hits her head on a rock while swimming, she’s rescued by Tucker and Dale, but the college kids think they’re in a horror movie and that Tucker and Dale are going to kidnap and murder their friend. As the college kids try to “rescue” their friend, Tucker and Dale’s lives take a turn for the complicated as the kids rescue attempts end with death and destruction and every one becomes certain that Tucker and Dale are psychopathic killers.

Fans of Firefly and Serenity (or even his scene-stealing bit as “Pirate Steve” in Dodgeball) don’t need anyone else to tell them that Alan Tudyk is a terribly under-appreciated comic actor. He plays the redneck Tucker perfectly straight, but he still manages to get most of the biggest laughs in the film. Combine his deadpan and dead serious delivery with the gut-bustingly funny things he has to say, and you have the recipe for a great performance, and Alan Tudyk delivers. Tyler Labine was consistently the second best part of Invasion (behind the commanding William Fichtner) and he turns a stock horror stereotype like Dale into a loveable and very endearing lead. Katrina Bowden is one of the most gorgeous women working in television today, but I’m not sure if her comedic chops are up to keeping up with Labine and Tudyk, and the other college kids were either forgettable or outright bad actors.

The humor in the film comes from constantly flipping traditional horror storytelling devices on their head and playing with perspective in a way similar to Atonement (although obviously not as well done or artistic as that film). While the college kids are your stereotypical horror protagonists, Tucker and Dale break the mold in almost every way imaginable. Their just real, actual rednecks that I would know and go to high school with. They drink too much beer. They go fishing. They wear really unfortunate clothes, and they’d give the shirt off their back to strangers in need. And as they try to help Alison throughout the film, it is their appearance and a lack of complete information that drives the crazy college kids to think Tucker and Dale are killers. Which leads to hilarious moments like Tucker trying to explain to a cop why a college kid would just jump into a wood chipper.

The film succeeds when it goes for a winning brand of stupid but still funny sophomoric humor and genre satire. But when, by the end of the film, it tries to play the horror even just a little bit straight, it begins to feel like the terrible B-movies that it’s making fun of. The twist at the end seems especially unnecessary but the film is a loving homage to terrible B-films so perhaps it felt the need to throw in those types of ridiculous plot twists. But when the film is running all cylinders, it can be an almost endless set up of visual gags and gross-out humor. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil does not shy away from the gore that is part and parcel of the horror series, and few films have made carnage so hilarious.

It’s not a perfect movie, and if you’re one of those types that can’t enjoy films that are so dumb they’re brilliant (i.e. Idiocracy, early Adam Sandler, the first Dumb & Dumber), you probably won’t understand why I thought this movie was so hilarious. Still, tonight’s Halloween (although I watched the movie at like 1 AM this morning), and is there a better way to celebrate the holiday than a good horror film? Plus, I’m going to be watching Rocky Horror Picture Show as well before I go to bed. So, there will be a review for what I still think is one of the best B-movies ever made. My last work on Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is that for fans of horror and for fans of witty satires, this film will provide a lot of laughs.

Final Score: B

 

Back during my first tenure at FYE at the Morgantown Mall, we used to be forced to play DVDs over all of the store’s televisions. Then, these DVDs would have their audio hooked up to the store’s main speakers. These DVDs had music videos on them as well as trailers for films that were coming out on DVD or Blu-Ray soon. 90% of the songs that wound up on those DVDs were absolutely terrible and bordered on torturous. I don’t know how many times I had to listen to Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus 5 times a day because they were on the DVD. And that’s before we get into some of the truly horrendous country music. However, there was a silver lining to all of this. Most of the DVDs had at least one and maybe two bearable songs and occasionally a really great one. “Erase Me” by Kid Cudi feat. Kanye West was one of the good songs to show up on those DVDs. I’m not really into the whole hip-hop via pop music thing, but this is one of those songs that just does it undeniably well. I’ve never really gotten into Kid Cudi all that much (cause I’m not big into stoner rap), but this is a great tune.