Michael Clayton

A month or so ago, some friends and I were talking about all of the movies we hadn’t seen.  Not literally all of them, that would be absurd, strictly the really famous and semi-famous ones.  I later wrote down a list of about 60 flicks that seemed like the most pertinent.  I started working my way down the list and watched Midnight Cowboy the next day.  So, you can see I got started immediately.  But then I slacked off.  I looked at the list the other day, and noticed that I had only watched two others that month-Drugstore Cowboy and Wall Street.  Now, I wasn’t in any rush to blaze through the list, but this was disappointing.  Three movies?  That’s weak man.  However, I’ve gotten back on track this week.  I nailed five of those suckers.  Michael Clayton, Friday, The Wages of Fear, Rashomon and Manhattan.  I might finish the other reviews eventually, but for now, here’s Michael Clayton.

Whoa, I finally did it.  When this came out a few years ago, all I heard was the ridiculous hyperbole Peter Travers and his ilk usually reserve for Jason Reitman movies.  Everybody loved Michael Clayton.  They might have wanted to hug him as much as Juno, but holy shit, people were diggin Michael Clayton.  So there was no way it could ever live up to the hype, right?  Well no, when all of the sane people finally got around to reviewing it, the situation looked even worse.  “Yes, this movie really is good.”  They said, “but it’s gonna be one where you really have to pay attention.”

“Nuts.” I said.  “There better not be a bunch of characters for me to keep track of.”

“Nah.”  Said everybody.  “There’s not too many.  But you do have to keep track of all of them.  Seriously, you’re not allowed to blink or you’ll miss something.  If your focus drifts away for over a second, you’re fucked.  However, it really is a great movie, so you’ll have to see it eventually.”

“Damnit.”  I said.  “Will I ever be ready for Michael Clayton?”

So I watched The French Connection.  I watched Primer.  I watched all three Matrix movies in the same sitting.  I watched Videodrome.  I watched Southland Tales-multiple times.  I watched Inland Empire.  Last night, I watched Michael Clayton and I have good news.

Michael Clayton is not nearly as confusing and incomprehensible as any of the above movies.  Well, most of them anyway.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s still pretty tough.  For example, the movie opens with Sydney Pollack delivering this incomprehensible speech to Cloon the Goon, and then some stuff happens four days later in the timeline, and then, half an hour into the movie, Sydney Pollack picks up again.  It’s probably as hard to follow as the second Matrix, but not as confusing as the third.

The director is Tony Gilroy, who mostly just writes other people’s thrillers-Devil’s  Advocate, The Bourne series, Bait, some other stuff.  This is his first shot at directing, and it comes off like a lot of other first-time efforts from other guys who’ve been working in movies for a long time.  It reminds me a lot of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Tommy Lee Jones debut directorial joint-slow, quiet, but plenty of stuff going on.  But that was an actor’s movie, and this is a writer’s movie.  Dialogue is important here, and not in a “drawing attention to itself” Glengarry Glenn Ross way.  It’s more about what’s not being said than what is, so I guess we’ll also give props to the actors, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Cloon the Goon, etc.

Michael Clayton is confusing, but not in any weird metaphysical ways.  It’s confusing the way a good crime story is, because that’s what it is.  The title character is a lawyer, but not a trial lawyer, he’s a different kind of guy his prestigious firm keeps on staff to do their dirty work.  Inevitably, Mike (Cloon the Goon) gets involved in some stuff he shouldn’t be getting his head into, etc, etc.  Not to say the story’s predicable, it just fits into a certain mold of crime story.  It’s not a lawyer movie or a mystery movie, it’s a crime movie-It’s not about solving the problem, it’s about living with yourself when you do shitty things to people for a living.  It’s a damn smart movie too.  Only once did I notice it dipping into the land of heavy-handed symbolism, but it comes so early on, and there’s so much that has yet to be explained that it pulls it off.  I guess there was the bit with the horses that I didn’t really get, but it’s not like there was a Chris Cornell song playing in the background, so I’ll let that one slide too.  This is classic noir.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave you with that.

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Kick-Ass: Comic and Movie (Spoilers Abound)

This is the comic.

Halfway through the second issue of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s, I had firmly come to the conclusion that the title character, Dave Lizewski, was not a decent human being.  When you see the emotional and financial turmoil he puts his Dad through after his disastrous first outing as a superhero, every iota of sympathy you have for the character should be gone.  The reader’s sympathy lies not for Kick-Ass, but for the people around him. Try as he might, this kid can do nothing but make things worse. Regarding his out-of-costume life, you can either get your pants in a bundle about him being Millar’s critique of the common “comics public” OR you can take solace in the fact that you are nowhere near as pathetic as this kid. It’s easy to view Kick-Ass as another criticism of superhero culture, but is it possible that it’s just about an idiot kid getting the shit kicked out of him? Does Mark Millar really hate his reading public that much?  Have you read a Mark Millar comic?  The guy kind of hates everybody.  I also failed to see all of the racism people were complaining about.  Does Dave beat up/get beat up by a lot of ethnic stereotypes?  Yes.  Do well adjusted people who finish middle school join inner city gangs?  Not so much.  If he were calling them “nigger” while getting the shit kicked out of him, we’d have a different story on our hands, we’d have Wanted, which has some pretty racist characters, but that’s probably because it’s about a guy who’s supposed to be Marshall Mathers joining a fraternity of super-villains and murdering people for a living.

This is the movie poster.

The movie tries its best to make Dave a likable protagonist and takes a much more upbeat stance than the comic.  I feel like they missed the point of the comic in the process, but it’s not like they missed the point of From Hell, Ghost World or something.  I can accept that.  What I can’t accept is the movie’s treatment of the Dave/Katie relationship.  I mean, the jetpack was pretty damn foolish, but this is almost as bad.  Lying about being gay to get closer to the girl, yeah, that’s not morally reprehensible at all.  The scene where Dave spills his guts and comes clean with her on his sexuality and tight-wearing?  Even assuming there’s some superhero fetishism going on; we’re supposed to accept that she goes from attacking him to fucking him in the span of three minutes?  Most adults aren’t that forgiving, let alone teenage kids.  This is the point where it really just becomes a teenage boy’s power fantasy, as Dave gropes his way to sexual conquest.  I tried to roll with it, and I might have forgiven it if they didn’t have to include that goddamn jetpack.

Ugh.  I see no reason why that was at all necessary. It was dumb and excessive in all the wrong ways.  The movie has gotten pretty fuckin ridiculous at this point, but certainly not jetpack ridiculous.  Maybe if someone else had been flying it, but when a character defined by his incompetence flies in and saves the day with his brand-new jetpack and Gatling guns, we’ve officially surpassed fridge-nuking and are now in the valley of shark-jumping.

I could have used some more violence and gore.  The comic is one of the goriest things I’ve read in a long while.  All I’m asking for is somebody’s head getting chopped in half.  Is that too much to ask for?  Ah well, I’m really just nit-picking at this point.  However, despite their noticeable lack of guts, the fight scenes were still mostly comprehensible. I’ve got to congratulate Matthew Vaughan on letting the audience know what the hell was going on.  The acting was also good, and I’ve really got nothing to contribute to the amount of praise everybody’s heaping upon it. So sorry, no 19 paragraphs gushing about Chloe Grace Moritz.  Nicholas Cage was probably better anyway.  He’s not as mega as he’s been recently, but he was pretty funny.

Sorely lacking.

The more I think about it, the more I didn’t like the movie. It had some great moments, a few bits of truly spectacular filmmaking, but it also had one too many really fucking awful parts.  There were some parts that I really liked, I tried to appreciate it as its own thing, separate from the source material, but it all falls apart so horribly at the end, I can’t forgive it.  I probably will sometime in the future, but I’m in no rush.

(It wasn’t just me and the nerds either.  I distinctly heard someone else in the theater say the ending was stupid, so there.)

Lightning Bolt

This is Lightning Bolt

I have two favorite albums at the moment-Wonderful Rainbow and Hypermagic Mountain, both by Lightning Bolt.  Two half-albums if we want to get into it.  They share the same problem-Strong starts, weak finishes.  Lightning Bolt makes noise.  There’ nothing pleasant about their music, the vocals are barely audible, the bass is distorted beyond all recognition, and the drums sound like free jazz on meth.  They’re the loudest, noisiest, most intense band I’ve probably ever heard and I love em.  Their music feels like doom metal via DFA via abstract jazz via Night on Bald Mountain.  It’s a little hard to describe.  Most importantly though, their music is evil.  It’s important to keep music evil.

Wonderful Rainbow

Of the two records, Wonderful Rainbow is the more diverse one.  It peaks early, but it manages to keep going after the album’s seven minute monsterpiece “Two Towers.”  “Two Towers” is a hard act to follow.  I imagine the other songs felt a bit like Dewey Cox performing after Elvis, and they’re good certainly good songs, but with the memory of “Two Towers” still not done steamrolling your spine, it’s hard to get through the rest of it.  The album’s biggest problem is arrangement.  The three best songs are all at the beginning, and they all come in a row.  I hate it when that happens, but it’s a problem we have to live with.

Hypermagic Mountain

I’ve been tossing “monsterpiece” around a lot lately, but I think it’s entirely applicable here.  Lightning Bolt’s best songs are monsters.  Fucking behemoths that either crush your skulls, or the skulls of your enemies.  Hypermagic Mountain is more monstrous than its predecessor.  I think they took my advice here, and waited till the seventh song before they got to the skull crushing.  Even the sixth track, “Magic Mountain” feels like a march to battle, a fucking death march as an army of orcs prepares to crush the skulls and drink the blood of their human enemies.  I dunno.  I might be getting carried away with this skull crushing stuff, but I it’s a damn good time for it.  If I’m gonna indulge in hyperbole, it’s either that or “orgasmicly brutal”  Mypermagic Mountain’s monsterpiece is “Dead Cowboy” and it’s probably the most epic, skull crushingly heroic, orgasmicly brutal song ever recorded.  That’s right.  Heroic.  The demon hordes are on our side this time and they’re gonna crush our enemies skulls.  Lucky us.  Dead Cowboy is so fucking good, the remaining 5 songs on the album are rendered pointless in the wake of its awesomeness.  Also, they’re not very good.  There’s nothing left to say after Dead Cowboy.  It’s an album ending song.  Not only because it’s impossible to top, but because I imagine the studio fucking exploded in the shape of a skull after they finished recorded it.

Like this,but waaaaaaaaaaaaay cooler.

There’s nowhere left for them to go after that song.  And they don’t go anywhere after it.  The remaining songs all sound the same.  They’re just noise.  I seriously thought the album was over after that one, but then the noise started up again and I thought “What the hell?  Shouldn’t everyone be dead now?”  Dead Cowboy is probably the most heroic, skull crushingly epic song ever written.  I guess there aren’t any lyrics about Vikings or shit like that, but maybe there are because it’s impossible to understand what they’re talking about.

If you really like singing or instruments that aren’t distorted beyond recognition this probably isn’t for you.  If you laughed at the part when Juno calls Sonic Youth “just a bunch of noise” then maybe it is.  Maybe.  Man, fuck you Juno.  We thought you were cool.  You can’t handle Sonic Youth?  You pussy.  You say you like the Stooges, but I bet you don’t even own Fun House.  Did you know that that’s Jack White’s favorite album?  Look at you now Juno, not so cool anymore are you?

Yeah whatever Juno.

(Update-apparently Dead Cowboy is about George Bush.  Okay.  Whatever.)

Suites For Ma Dukes

Here’s a really quick post for ya.  This was the coolest thing I saw on the internet this morning and thought I should share it with you.

http://www.hiphopdx.com/index/news/id.11022/title.b-talks-suite-for-ma-dukes-dillas-work-performed-in-iowa

J Dilla compositions as performed by an orchestra.  It’s pretty cool stuff.  I might have to find this DVD when it comes out.

damn good record.

For those not in the know, Dilla is generally considered one of, if not THE, greatest hip hop producers of his time.  His 2006 album Donuts, released three days prior to his death,  is considered THE go-to album in instrumental hip hop.  He was a talented guy, producing so much material that we’re still hearing new stuff today.  Last year, both Doom and Raekwon managed to get unheard Dilla tracks on their albums.  Check it out.

Hit Singles

First of all, many thanks to Parker for posting a link to me on his blog.  As you can see, I’ve already returned the favor.  Al l you have to do is click on his name there and you’ll be redirected to his blog.  It’s pretty rad.  It’s got lots of pictures and laffs and he finds the time to update it way more often than I do, but I’m working on it.  Expect something from me at least weekly, if not more often.  Today, I’d like to veer away from those things called “complete albums” and instead focus on these things called “singles.”  These are the songs that I somehow missed the first time around, big hits that most people have probably already heard, but I didn’t because I didn’t have cable and there’s no hip hop station in Butte, Montana and my internet was reaaaaaaally show in high school.  I don’t know if the rest of you guys are as in the dark as I am, but that’s what this post is for-rectification.

I was thinking about starting a special section of movie reviews dedicated to really famous movies I somehow hadn’t seen yet.  (I started with Midnight Cowboy.  Others  include Braveheart, Dog Day Afternoon, Sunset Blvd and Seven Samurai)  However, this would include me posting often enough to justify me having sections, so maybe once I’ve got a few more under my belt.  Anyway, this is kind of the musical equivalent and I imagine we’ll be having more of them in the future.

R. Kelly-Ignition (Remix) – R Kelly’s a weird guy.  Part genius, part pervert, part idiot-savant.  Most the time, I’m not crazy about his music, but when it works, it really works, and when it really really really works, it’s the Remix to Ignition.  Hot and fresh in the kitchen.

Estelle-American Boy – Graduation is my least favorite Kanye West album, but I think I get what he was going for.  He wanted to make something that EVERYBODY liked, and let’s face it, he pulled it off pretty well, talk to anybody.  Even people who fucking hate Kanye like at least one song, and that one song is usually “Flashing Lights” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” or his guest spot on Estelle’s “American Boy,” which came out a little later than Graduation, so I guess this is his insurance song.

Grizzly Bear-While You Wait For the Others – I am not a fan of Grizzly Bear.  I don’t hate them in an way, I just find their music boring, dry and disengaging most of the time.  Not so much as Dirty Projectors, who are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too sophisticated for me to comprehend.   However, Trevor has tried his best to get me interested and I really like this song.  Grizzly Bear certainly doesn’t rock, but sometimes they sound like the Beatles without actually being a blatant ripoff.  A few more listens of this and I might be ready to give Veckatimist a try again.  Maybe if I saw them live I’d change my mind.

The Killers – When You Were Young – The Killers are a singles band.  I can never make it through one of their albums in its entirety, but I eagerly await the release of The Killers’ Greatest Hits.  Their debut, Hot Fuss, was probably their best, but this cut from follow up Sam’s Town ain’t half bad.  They’re a band who tries hard, sometimes too hard, but I think hit the nail on the head here.

UGK ft Outkast-International Players Anthem-Holy shit!  This song was what prompted me to compose this post.  Not much to say, other than that it’s really fucking good.

Juelz Santana-Dipset (Santana’s Town) – I don’t know if I’d call Juelz Santana a good MC, but I’ll give him this much, he’s got a unique style.  He works best in small doses, particularly when he’s rapping over a trademark DIpset beat.  Lines like “I’m a baller baller/You’re not at all a baller” would sound utterly moronic over a beat with any subtlety, they still sound moronic over apocalyptic strings and a choir chanting “Dipset” but they at least sound sincere.  There’s amoral fury to Santana’s delivery, and the instrumentals bang hard.

Young Jeezy-My President-Young Jeezy could be the hip hop Tom Waits.  He’s got the voice.  Unfortunately, Jeezy seems more at home amidst the most bombastic synths this side of DJ Khaled.  Jeezy’s got a great voice.  He just doesn’t know what to do with it.  Despite all of that, I think this song works great because he’s got to live up to the guest star, Nas.

Fun fact-When I saw Nas live, this was the one he closed with.

Three 6 Mafia-Stay Fly-Okay, I guess I didn’t miss this when it first came around, I just didn’t like it.  Nothing very insightful to say, just wanted to apologize.  Stay Fly, you’re alright.

Also this one about cough syrup.

The Game-Wouldn’t Get Far and one Blood-I’m a big fan of The Documentary, The Game’s first album, but I never gave much of a listen to the second one, Doctor’s Advocate.  Part of that could be that they have the same fucking cover and I mistook Doctor’s Advocate for a special edition when I first saw it.

Seriously, how was this a good business decision?

I’ve listened to it recently though, and it’s pretty good.  Maybe not as good as the first one, but still a good follow-up.  Freshly kicked out of the 50 Cent’s friends club, Game had to get others to pitch in on the production this time.  Kanye helps out on “Wouldn’t Get Far” with the chopped ‘n’ chipmunked soul he was so fond of at the time, while One Blood is just a great showcase of Game being PISSED OFF.  “You’re 38 and you’re still rappin?  Ugh./ I’m 26 nigga, so is the dubs.”  You here that, Dr. Dre?  The Game is fucking disgusted that you’re still rappin.  The video for One Blood also includes some of the most unintentionally hilarious thug mugging I’ve ever seen.  I guess it’s not Game’s fault he has the face of an infant, but boy, does he get silly.

Wouldn’t Get Far

One Blood

Missy Elliott-Gossip Folks – I can safely assume that we’ve all heard Get Ur Freak on and Work It, right?  Don’t let me down.  Maybe you haven’t heard Gossip Folks though.  Get to it.

Outkast-Ghetto Musick – Is it wrong that Speakerboxxx is my favorite Outkast album?  Not Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, just the Big Boi solo album?  Am I the only person in the world who thinks Big Boi is a better rapper than Andre 3000?  Can you really blame me after listening to this?  Big Boi must wax his tongue, because his flow is smoother than a bowling alley.

Jay-Z – Roc Boys – What?  Everybody’s heard Roc Boys, right? More people know the words to this than they do 99 Problems, right?  Fuck, even I’ve heard Roc Boys, but in the spirit of things, I thought it would be a good one to include, just in case.

Be here next week when I post the 1960’s version of this.  That one should actually contain more hidden gems.

Obnoxious Noise is Awesome! (Dan Deacon)

So last year I really got into Deacon’s first album Spiderman on the Rings.  Hey Spiderman is an actual word as defined by Microsoft word spellcheck.  Isn’t that cool?  Oddly enough, spellcheck, spelled just like that, without the spaces,  isn’t a word.  Yet you’d seriously think it was, right?  I mean, wouldn’t  Microsoft be into that?  It automatically capitalizes Microsoft, but you have to spell spell-check with a hyphen.  That’s weird.

Oh yeah, Spiderman of the Rings.  Basically Dan Deacon makes music that I would file under electronic/dance, because I simply don’t understand the various subgenres of electronic music.  It’s all techno to me.  Drum ‘n’ Bass is the kind that sounds the most stupid, I think, but I have no idea where to go with the rest of them.  Where does trance start and glitch end?  What the fuck is house music?  Man, these guys have too many damn subgenres for their own good.  The cool thing about Dan Deacon is that he doesn’t really fit into any of them.  There’s the standard instrumentation you associate with techno, but also a lot of xylophones, chipmunk vocals, animal noises and indecipherable lyrics.  Deacon describes Spiderman of the Rings as “very youthful and carefree, sort of partying for the sake of partying.  Bromst is more of a celebration.”  Bromst is Deacon’s second album and it’s even better.  I get where he’s coming from with the celebration thing.  This record is bananas.  Ten mallet instruments stacked on top of ten people singing, half in auto-tune, the other half are dogs, stacked on top two kick ass basses, stacked on top of two or three drum sets.  I dunno.  Something like that.  I’m not great at describing music, especially Dan Deacon.  The best I can do is usually to compare something to something else, but I got nothing with this guy.  This shit is bizarre, but not like Black Dice, where it’s boring, or Pullhair Rubeye, where it’s just stupid, this is fucking awesome.  It’s the ultimate feel good record because it’s so damn obnoxious, you just KNOW that everybody else can barely stand it.  If they can put up with it, then they must like it, and they must be your friends.  Congratulations, you just made a new friend.  Dan Deacon kicks ass.  I even wrote this review as a stream of consciousness thing to kind of simulate what it feels like when you first listen to Dan Deacon.  His stuff is a little more coherent and composed than this piece, but it doesn’t feel like it at first.  I refuse to check for errors or proofread this bitch.  Now dance motherfucker dance!  Also, watch this video for Woof Woof.  It’s wacky.

I just read on his Wikipedia page that he toured with both Deerhunter and No Age last summer.  That’s fucking awesome.

Near Dark

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way-Avatar was a good movie.  People were only hating on it because it got nominated for an award it probably didn’t deserve, but who gives a shit?  It didn’t win, and it’s not like The Academy Awards are infallible, definitive bastion of movie praise.  Remember, these are the motherfuckers who give awards to Crash, Chicago, and Driving Miss Daisy (in the same year they fail to nominate Do the Right Thing).  The Oscars are just 2 ½ hours of Hollywood hotshots patting themselves on the back.  Stop pretending otherwise.  The best we can hope for is that they make PRETTY GOOD choices.  Don’t take them so seriously, is what I’m saying.  Try to look at them with a more objective eye.  Honestly, I thought this year’s selection of The Hurt Locker for best picture was a great choice.  The movie was genuinely great, and it was cool to see someone like Kathryn Bigelow, a lady who’s spent pretty much her entire career making action movies, get credit where it was due.  I liked The Hurt Locker so much, I decided to explore the Kathryn Bigelow archives.

Kathryn Bigelow is all the rage right now after winning all those Oscars, so you can impress your friends by bringing up Near Dark, her second feature, after The Loveless (A biker gang movie with Willem Fucking Dafoe!  I’ll get to that one later.)  Near Dark is all about this kid, Caleb, who gets bit by a hot young vampire girl and then he has to join her vampire gang and learn the ropes of vampirism.  You know how it is.  I’ve got mixed feelings about the movie.  On one hand, there’s certainly a lot of COOL moments, but on the other, it can be a bizarrely illogical film.  Characters make a lot of dumb decisions, and most of the vampires are just ridiculously amoral.  It’s one of those vampire movies where, not only do they never say “vampire,” but everybody acts like they don’t know what vampires are.  Never really understood the point of that.   But hey, this is pretty fuckin’ cool-

Damn, that's awesome.

And honestly, if you think that’s cool too, it’s probably worth a look.  I’ve got to err on the movie’s side.  It aint perfect, but I think it manages to pull it off, if just barely.  Bigelow’s inexperience shows.  There’s a lot of weird cuts and bad acting, but the violence is all well-staged, and it’s got some genuine suspense, mostly revolving around whether or not Caleb has it in him to kill a man.  Somehow, despite some paper thin characterization, I even managed to care about, not some, but ALL of the characters, so way to go on that one.

The supporting characters, at least the vampires, are all great.  These guys come from the bygone era when crappy movies at least had the decency to have some colorful characters.  Bill Paxton’s Severin being the star of the lot.  Paxton steals the show every time he’s on screen, stabbing and maiming his way into our hearts, but the other vampires are good too.  In addition to Paxton, you’ve also got Lance Henrikson and Jenette Goldstein.  That’s half the cast of Aliens!  Awesome!   I even liked Homer, the child vampire.  Jenny Wright and Adrian  Pasdar have good chemistry as the two star-crossed lovers.  However, the girl playing Caleb’s sister is pretty obnoxious, but luckily she’s not in it that much.  I normally don’t mind bad acting that much, but I have no tolerance for adorable children.  If those things can’t act (and they never can) they piss me off.

Lapses in logic aside, this is a pretty good, if sometimes frustrating movie.  It’s no Let the Right One In, but it’s still better than half the other vampire-related shit out there.