Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Candy

How Christ's resurrection became associated with rabbits with baskets and hidden eggs I will never understand. Was it conniving Hershey executives in the 19th century to push their chocolate agenda through the spring sales lull? Was it a big poultry/PAAS alliance trying to make Americans who would nary eat a hard-boiled egg decide to boil, dye, decorate and consume a dozen in a single day? Whatever precipitated this 'holiday', the truth is that I eat more candy this day than I do the rest of the year combined. I don't even particularly like candy, but Easter candy is another matter entirely. I feel it is my duty to rank familiar Easter candy so that you can form a solid gameplan. They are ranked from delicious to vile. 

Note: Too many companies put pastel colors on their wrapper and call it 'EASTER CANDY!!11'. They will not receive proper billing here. I LOVE Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but seriously Reese's? Pink foil wrappers don't fool anyone. Have some self-respect. Also, if you just make your candy 'egg-shaped' and don't change anything else, that's lame too. 

1. Cadbury Mini Eggs

THESE are the reason I go home for Easter (well, you know what I mean). They are SO delicious, and the complete opposite of their evil twin, Cadbury Creme Eggs (more on them later). If I were to die on Easter (don't worry, I'd be back in 3 days like JC), I would want to go drowning in a sea of Cadbury Mini Eggs (see above).


I don't know if Jelly Beans are technically an 'Easter' candy, but I enjoy them in moderation. I'm not freakish about my beans either and separate them by color, flavor or however else the voices tell you. They are tangy and fruity and generally enjoyable. Just make sure you don't get the Bertie Bott's every flavor beans. Those are DANGEROUS. Or hilarious, if you have a sense of humor and gullible siblings.  

3. Chocolate Bunnies

When I saw Chocolate Bunnies, I mean a real C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E Bunny. Good chocolate, preferably with some peanut butter/caramel, but for the love of GOD, good chocolate. Not a hollow, crumbly, waxy, I-have-to-chew-this-for-30-seconds-to-taste-it bunny. If it comes in a box and sits in an imprint on a white plastic tray, you can keep it. If it says Russell Stover or Palmer's on it, I hope you have the receipt. 

4. Robin Eggs

I think I like these. At least a little bit. They are made by Whoppers, so they probably taste like Whoppers. I like Whoppers to a point, and that point is probably a 'handful'. After that I wonder why I am eating astronaut candy and look around to see if there are any Cadbury Mini Eggs left I can steal out of my sister's basket. This is mostly here to buffer the good candy from the TERRIBLE candy. 

5. Cadbury Creme Eggs

So what if I chose an unflattering picture of a Cadbury Creme Egg. That is exactly what you are eating. You are eating that terrible hollow chocolate which has been impregnated with a sugary goo. It's like a real raw egg! Isn't that fun?! No, it's an abomination. If you like Cadbury Creme Eggs we probably won't get along. You probably also eat frosting out of the container. 

6. Peeps

If you thought I was harsh on Cadbury Creme Eggs, here's where I pull out the big guns. Peeps and ZERO redeeming qualities. They are the Twinkies and the Spam and the Pork Rinds of Easter Candy. Do me a favor for a second. Cover up the eye of the peep in the picture. What does it look like to you? Yes, you're right, a fluorescent turd. And that's exactly how it tastes. I feel like renouncing my membership to the human race whenever a person says they love Peeps. I usually ask them if they are new to this planet. You know how Just Born  (what an apt name, as those are the only people who like your candy) probably thought of the idea for Peeps? They dropped a half-melted Marshmallow in the sand. Just think about that next time you bite into one.  

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

IFF Boston

With April two days away, it's almost that time of year again. By 'that time' I mean the week in late April when New England film geeks converge upon Boston to see films they would otherwise be waiting months or traveling to Sundance or Toronto to see. 2010 marks the 8th annual Independent Film Festival Boston, and it's remarkable to see how this rag-tag festival has blossomed into an beloved 8-day blitzkrieg. Looking at the sparse list of films from 2003, I struggle to recognize any of the titles. These days, they host Q&A's with big-name actors and directors, and are frequently the East-Coast premiere for films coming out of other Festivals like Sundance and SXSW.

I first attended the festival in 2008 when I unknowingly gave the head honcho (or one of them) of the festival a ride home from an Arlington Gas Station. He graciously gave me two all-access passes as a thank-you, and I wasted no time in spending the lion's share of the next few days bouncing around the many screens of the Somerville Theatre, not especially interested in what was playing. Last year I made a huge list and was able catch many films that ended up becoming critical and commercial darlings later that year. Looking down the 2009 list, many of the films that seemed completely obscure at the time, are now Oscar-nominees. 500 Days of Summer, The Brother's Bloom, In The Loop, Big Fan, Food Inc, Bronson all played at IFFBoston, months before any sort of proper release. The question surrounding IFFBoston isn't whether there will be good films there, but which ones are the best and how will I be able find time to see them all? To save you the trouble, I've pored over the list of nearly 100 narrative/documentary/short films and picked the ones with the best word of mouth. There are Spanish Thrillers, Korean Westerns, Kevin Kline as an escort, and of course, a healthy dose of documentaries. The full list is here. I've attached links to clips/trailers/articles/whatever I could find whenever possible.

The Freebie

In Katie Aselton’s directorial debut, a young couple (Dax Shepard and Aselton) consents to permit each other one night of freedom from their monogamous relationship.

The Extra Man
In this urbane comedy, Paul Dano and Kevin Kline play writers who sideline as escorts for wealthy widowed socialites.

Ree desperately searches for her father, whose disappearance after posting bail risks her losing their Ozark home. Stars John Hawkes (Deadwood, Lost).

Mark and Jay Duplass’s hilarious new comedy about the battle for one woman’s affections, starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener and Marisa Tomei.

The Killer Inside Me
Casey Affleck portrays a Texas deputy sheriff whose dormant violent tendencies resurface. Directed by Michael Winterbottom.

In this Goya Award-winning suspense thriller from Spain, a rookie guard is trapped inside a prison during a riot and must pretend he is a prisoner to survive.

In this frenetic, high-octane Korean Western, three Outlaws in 1930s Manchuria attempt to recover a map to buried treasure.

The wife of an Italian industrial magnate (Tilda Swinton) embarks on a dangerous affair in this sumptuous film.

Michael Douglas portrays a used car magnate whose personal demons dismantle his life.


The story of two brothers-in-law, close to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, and their very different outcomes post 9/11.

Alex Gibney (TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE) investigates lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his trail of lies and deceit.

Portrait of the short life of celebrated Neo-Expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

James Franco (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) makes his directorial debut with this behind-the-scenes look at the making of an episode of Saturday Night Live.

A man deals with being savagely beaten by creating beautiful photographs of G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls to narrate his fantasy life.

Boston Globe writer Geoff Edgers fights an uphill battle to reunite the Kinks.

IFF Boston is April 21st-28th. 

Monday, March 29, 2010


In the spirit of friendly competition, we regularly have 'cook-offs' at my place of employment. They are a lot of fun, although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't miffed that I haven't won yet. At my behest, the theme of our latest competition is 'Appetizers'. For you to understand my perspective, let me briefly recap our four previous installments:

-About a year ago we had a Chili Cook-Off. I was a judge. Chili allowed for artistic freedom while still being married to the agreed upon concept of Chili. That is unless you are JD and you use tofu and your dish adopts the color and consistency of spackle. I was a judge. MT won. I did not vote for her. Her chili tasted like taco-seasoning, but I digress. There are sourer grapes to come.

-The second episode was an 'Apple-Pie' Bake-Off. Pie was a very loose qualifier (as there were several crisps) but everyone agreed that store-bought crusts were inexcusable. MT won again. Again, I did not vote for her. I don't even remember her pie, but I think it used applesauce or had no top crust or had some other unsettling attribute that blasphemed Apple Pie as I knew it.

-For the third competition, we maintained the baking theme, this time setting our sights on Chocolate Chip Cookies. After judging twice and viewing the pratfalls of others, I felt confident in my decision to make Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies. It was October and they were delicious. The ribbon was as good as mine (of course, MT opting out also helped matters). As I've already alluded to, I did not win. The reason for this is two-fold. One, because the judges for this competition were simpletons with an irrational fear of pumpkin. And two, because people cannot follow simple rules. Chocolate Chip Cookie means a Cookie with Chocolate Chips. Not a chocolate chunk brownie (yes MB now I agree brownies aren't cookies). Not a sugar cookie with Rolo's pressed into the top. I lost to both.

-The fourth and most recent foray was a Soup-Off. I pulled out all the stops and made a delicious Mulligatawny Soup. With MT and J-Fo also entering the fold, an epic showdown was brewing. I was a bit apprehensive about choosing soup as a theme, fearing that it was too broad a category and it would be difficult to compare and contrast them. But I decided I would make the best soup I could make, and if some fool wanted to get cute and make a Butternut Squash Soup, that was their prerogative, but he wouldn't stand a chance. I placed second to who else but MT. She won rave reviews for her meat-lovers soup. It was spicy beyond belief (and surely loaded with MSG) but people ATE IT UP. Judges attempted to console me, saying 'If yours was spicier, it would have won', but the damage was done. MT laughed all the while, taking pictures with her fancy camera.

So this brings me to the appetizer cook-off. I know MT can make a mean egg-roll and will probably win again, but that's not the point. How can you compare a Jalapeno popper to Crab Rangoon? Spinach and Artichoke dip to Cocktail Weenies? It's just silly. People can't be asked to judge such disparate dishes. I recommended Macaroni and Cheese or Homemade Salsa, two familiar concepts with a lot of room for creativity, but no, it was appetizers. As of now I am still boycotting the contest, but if I do enter, I can guarantee two things. It will be incredibly spicy and I will not follow any rules.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

On Repeat: Drake-Over

You probably know Drake. He started as an angsty teen on the Canadian middle-school drama Degrassi and was on the traditional fizzle track of a child star. And then a funny thing happened. He released his So Far Gone mixtape in January 2009 and absolutely exploded. It didn't hurt that Lil Wayne and Bun B offered their services on a few tracks, but the fact remained, Drake did with his So Far Gone mixtape what most rappers aspire their entire career to realize. It spawned 2 Top 20 singles (Successful and Best I Ever Had) and a new hip-hop juggernaut was born. His affiliation with Lil Wayne's Young Money troupe resulted in 2 MORE Top 10 singles (Bed Rock and Every Girl) and in less than 12 months, Drake had gone from obscure Toronto actor to being offered a verse on Forever with the 3 biggest rap artists of the decade (Sorry Hov): Lil Wayne, Eminem and Kanye West. Talk about a whirlwind.

Understandably, the hype surrounding his 'proper' debut album has been deafening. The brilliance/heel of hip-hop is that its artists never rest on their laurels. Even if they are locked up 10 hours a day working out an album, they never fail to pop-up with guest verses or scrape together a mixtape. However, by doing this, artists run the risk of over-exposure or worse, a drying of their creative wells. You can't fault them for striking while the iron is hot. So when Drake released 'Over', the first single off his debut album, a fair number of people were  bracing themselves for disappointment. Oh ye of little faith.

'Over' showcases why Drake is such a unique hip-hop commodity. He has an incredibly versatile voice that allows him to ride a complex beat one minute and then sing the entire hook himself. This is a scary development. Before Drake, hip-hop hooks were almost exclusively the domain of R&B mercenaries. On 'Over', Drake makes it abundantly clear that he has the chops to handle both. The song opens audaciously into the chorus, Drake's voice sounding so full you almost think it's autotuned. The fluttery violins and introspective opening lines are quickly revealed as a red herring (the first time those drums come in never fail to give me goosebumps) and Drake lurches headstrong into verse. While not his most engaging lyrics (the MJ and Ebert references are a little lame), his confidence and delivery are as contagious and convincing as ever.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Comedy Half-Lives

Unlike dramatic actors who seem to get better with age, the careers of comedic actors have notoriously steep arcs. They rise through the comedy ranks (SNL), strike gold with a low-brow box-office smash (See: Dumb and Dumber, Trading Places, The Jerk), coast on this creative energy, and before you know it, are making Cheaper By The Dozen 2 and Norbit. Sometimes their careers are revitalized by a dramatic role (See: Punchdrunk Love, The Truman Show, Good Will Hunting), but their comedy is never the same. It's like some 'funny' switch they can't reach gets caught on someones sleeve and turned off forever. The funnier they are, the further they fall. Chevy Chase should not be playing the voice of Cho-Cho in The Karate Dog. He made Fletch for chrissake!  So many brilliant comedians have fallen victim to this trajectory that I was beginning to think that it was a simple inevitability. It's just unconscionable. That is, until Bill Murray.

Bill Murray is the beacon of light in the ghost town of washed up comedians. He is the ultimate acting chameleon, bringing his subtle wit and reserved sarcasm to every role he plays, regardless of its tenor. He is so memorable in his roles that it is virtually impossible to envision anyone else playing Peter Venkman or Mr. Blume. He is so beloved, that even urban legends regarding him are hilarious (and usually true). Yes, he accosts people and tells them, 'no one will ever believe you'. Yes, he crashes random NYC house parties. And just this week, the following footage turned up from last weeks SXSW Festival in Austin, TX.

Yes, that is Bill Murray bartending. Sure he made Garfield (and the sequel), but at least he owned up to it in Zombieland. I'm sure Eddie Murphy still stands by Meet Dave as misunderstood societal critique. Bill Murray gives hope to the Andy Sambergs and the Michael Ceras. You don't necessarily have to 'evolve' to stay alive in Hollywood, as long as you exercise a little restraint and keep a competent agent on your payroll. Also, It helps to be funny to begin with (I'm talking to you Dane Cook).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Abridged Entry!

Forgive me this short blog entry but TBC is tonight and I am ill-prepared. I am leading our discussion of Elmore Leonard's 'Rum Punch' and I have just realized that the book doesn't lend itself to much discussion. I'll see what I can do. We are also choosing a new set of books tonight, this is very exciting. Here are the books I will be recommending:

The Yiddish Policeman's Union - Michael Chabon 

Rob already recommended this months ago, but whatever. I'm going to take all the credit if we choose it. Here's the long-winded synopsis:

For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.

But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage—and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany - Bill Buford

Heat is Buford's account of working for free in the kitchen of Babbo, a New York restaurant owned by Chef Mario Batali. Buford's premise is that he considered himself to be a capable home cook and wondered if he had the skill to work in a busy restaurant kitchen. He met Batali at a dinner party and asked him if he would take on Buford as his "kitchen bitch"

East of Eden - John Steinbeck

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families - the Trasks and the Hamiltons - whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new, rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives, nurtured by the love of all those around him; the other grows up in loneliness, enveloped by a mysterious darkness.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Classic Movie Round-Up

As I noted in a blog post a week or so ago, the month (or two) immediately following the Oscars is a barren landscape of terrible movies. I've used this as an opportunity to catch up on some 'Classic' movies that have never breached my peripheral. I have a pretty solid handle on movies made in the last 10 years, but my film knowledge outside of that can best be described as an 'affront to cinema'. Here are some brief reviews of the films I've had a chance to catch up on recently:

The Apartment (1960)

Held in pretty high esteem in film circles, this is director Billy Wilder's follow-up to 1959's Some Like It Hot. Billed as Comedy-Drama, it definitely leans heavily towards the drama and features some pretty racy material for something to come out in 1960. The premise involves CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) loaning out his apartment to his philandering superiors with the hope that he will get promoted as a result. A love triangle of sorts starts between Baxter, his personnel director Mr. Sheldrake and his girlfriend, elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Rather than use this as an opportunity for a screwball romance, Wilder opts for a much darker tone. It works by and large, but is unexpected from someone who had previously directed one of the best comedies of all time. Lemmon tries very hard to be a lovable schmuck here, and it shows. I don't think he has the everyman quality or the acting chops to carry the plot alone. He is great in Some Like It Hot however. Shirley MacLaine however, gives Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel a run for their money as she plays the original manic-pixie-dreamgirl here.

His Girl Friday (1940)

Barely 90 minutes long, His Girl Friday is as densely a packed film as I can remember and is the screwball comedy that I've been looking for. The plot features Cary Grant as newspaper editor Walter Burns who devises an elaborate scheme to win back his ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) who is soon to be married. The phrase 'chaos ensues' is an understatement. The film has the dialogue of a Quentin Tarantino movie and the plot twists of a Dan Brown novel (ugh) packed into a blithe and trim 90 minute feature. At some points it was exhausting to try and keep up, but it was always enthralling. Most of this excitement stemmed from the electric chemistry between Grant and Russell. I wasn't surprised to learn that director Howard Hawkes encouraged ad-libbing on the set, as many of the lines are delivered so deftly and naturally that I had trouble imagining them being put to paper. It may not fulfill the benchmarks of a masterpiece, but it was a lot of fun, and that's impressive for a film released 70 years ago.

King Of Comedy (1982)

Recommended by J-Fo himself, King of Comedy is Martin Scorsese's dark, comedic follow-up to Raging Bull and features Robert De Niro as aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin. Much like his turn as Travis Bickle 6 years earlier, De Niro plays Pupkin as a seemingly affable but completely delusional man, one who constantly blurs the line between his dreams and reality. Whether he does it to get attention or because he sincerely believes these events happened is unclear, but for my money he is more unnerving than Bickle. He is obsessed with TV personality Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and after speaking with him briefly, misinterprets small talk as genuine interest and sets off a dizzying series of events. Scorsese masterfully paints Pupkin as more naive than dangerous, never allowing us write him off as insane or hope for his demise. Rather, we simply hope he realizes the error of his ways and can salvage some semblance of dignity.

Monday, March 22, 2010

H.R. 3962

If you are remotely interested in the topic of Health Care reform, you've probably already read a handful of articles about the H.R. 3962, the Health Care Bill which passed the House of Representatives yesterday evening, but please spare me a few more paragraphs.

Regardless of how you feel about the provisions within the bill itself, the passage of comprehensive Health Care reform is quite an accomplishment. As Obama said far more articulately than I, many times Congress has been on the precipice of meaningful Health Care reform, and each and every time they have failed to rope the perfect storm of timing, momentum and bipartisanship that is required to push something over the finish line. I know prominent Republicans are poo-pooing the use of Reconciliation to pass the bill (despite the fact that they used this tactic for two rounds of Bush Tax Cuts), but the fact of the matter is that Democrats bent over backwards for the better part of a year to be receptive to Republicans and incorporate their suggestions into the bill. As it stood last night, HR 3962 had over 200 Republican Amendments within it. In the past few months, when Republicans began to circle the rhetoric wagons, it became very clear that they had no interest in any sort of bipartisan solution. They were simply stalling the bill with the hope that they could peel off wavering Democrats one-by-one until the entire thing fell apart. This process culminated in the election of Scott Brown in late January, and Health Care reform seemed dead in the water.

In a rare display of strength and poise, Democrats used this event as a galvanizing force and began a steady, methodical march forward. Most of the credit for this belongs to President Obama, who forced the hand of Republicans and painted them as the "Party of No". By holding a public Q&A with Republican leadership, giving speech after speech and traveling throughout the US, Obama allowed Democrats to regain control. If Republicans wanted to stoke 'Death-Panel' and 'Big-Government' fears, they could do so, but the time for negotiation had come and gone.

Many argued that Obama should have stepped in far sooner to try and smooth over partisan bickering, but like an encouraging father he wanted to see if they could handle it on their own. Of course they couldn't and the already fractured Democratic Party splintered into factions that Obama had to piece back together with Duct tape and paper-clips to get the thing done. It was an ugly, fascinating process, one that showed both the best and the worst parts of Government, but one that ultimately did what a Government should do. Improve the lives of its people. The Health Care bill may be unpopular right now, and there will likely be Democratic casualties in November, but once the frothing Tea Baggers and the talking heads fade away, all the American people will wonder is 'What took so long?'.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Old Song Review: Smith - Baby It's You

Since SS has been derelict in his duty to this blog (yes I do see that half-finished Bob Dylan entry from two weeks ago), I've decided to pick up the baton (no I will not say 'Touch Me To Finish') and keep the Old Song Review series alive. I think it's a really neat idea, and it compliments my 'BEST NEW MUSIC' and 'ON REPEAT' and 'LILWAYNELILWAYNELILWAYNE' entries nicely.  This installment comes from a band called 'Smith' and is their cover of the Burt Bacharach penned 'Baby It's You'. The track reached #5 on the Billboard Top 100 Charts in 1969, after being originally recorded by The Beatles in 1963. I'm a Beatles fan, but there is no comparison after hearing Smith's rendition. Here's the original Beatles version:

It's nice. It sounds like most Beatles songs, with a some nice doo-wop style backing vocals.

Now here's Smith

Back-up vocals are swapped for an organ and a groovy bassline. And those mop-topped teeny-boppers are replaced with Gail McCormack and her soulful pipes. Her voice alone translates the lyrics from a hastily scrawled love letter into a desperate declaration. I don't know about you, but I get chills at 2:36 when she finally lets go and screeches the last few lines.

Of course I can't take credit for discovering this song on my own. It first caught my ear on the incredible soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Tarantino is a master of the film soundtrack and constructing iconic scenes from obscure songs. In my opinion, the Death Proof soundtrack is his magnum opus. Every song is pitch perfect in style and application. Only a small clip of 'Baby It's You' is actually featured in Death Proof, but as you can see below, it's more than enough to pique one's interest.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bike Trail Code of Conduct

If the Minute Man Bike Trail is any indication, there are some fertile-ass people in the Arlington area. Why do I share these sweeping, borderline-offensive sentiments? Because on the first nice weekend of the spring (ie this coming weekend), the Bike Trail looks like tryouts for a children's circus. On such a day, every child in Middlesex county descends onto this 8-foot wide, 10 mile long strip of pavement, and it is hell on earth.

Some may say I'm exaggerating. They have obviously never ridden down the Bike Trail on a Saturday afternoon. If they had, I probably would have heard their "AMEN" from here. I don't particularly mind children, but trying to navigate around children on the bike trail is like playing 'hot potato' with Napalm. I don't have any children (to my knowledge), and I'm sure they are difficult to control, but this is why God invented the 'child-leash'. I understand this isn't practical on a bike, so if you MUST allow your spawn to roam freely on their 10-speed, make sure that they understand simple physics. By simple physics I mean inelastic collisions and the concept of 'proper braking distance'. Translated for the layman, "Make sure they know that if they get in my way I will not stop and I will crush them."

There are 3 types of bike-riding children on the bike trail, they are as follows in order of danger:

The Parasite

This is the best-case scenario when it comes to children on bicycles. The child is strapped in and unable to move. Tom Brady is a smart, courteous man (though he should be wearing a helmet), and he and his son can come on the bike trail any day. Of course, if you've ever seen the 'Daddy and Baby' skit from Jackass, you might think twice if you value your child's life.

The Sidewinder

This kid is cute, but he is a MENACE. He just graduated from training wheels and thinks he is hot shit. This kid realizes that having a bike means he can leave his parents/his sister/the cops in the dust, and he'll be damned if he touches the brakes. He pedals like Lance Armstrong on speed and has no interest in where he's going as long as it is as fast as possible. This inevitably means that every 3 seconds is punctuated with him realizing that he is about to die and jerking the handlebars the opposite direction. Reckless, but predictable.

The Pigeon

At first glance, the Pigeon appears to be the slower, docile cousin of the Sidewinder. That is until you are 10 feet behind them and they stop and look back at their parents for no reason whatsoever and you have to ride into a bush to spare their life. Sometimes they get off the bike entirely and leave it laying there. Other times they will attempt to walk their bike across the bike path, think better of it, and simply stand and wait. What I'm trying to express here is that they could not be any more unpredictable if they tried. I liken it to trying to catch a pigeon. You've picked your line, you have a bead on them and at the last second they turn the tables on you completely and you look like a fool.

The moral of the story here is never, ever, ever take your child on the bike trail. It looks serene, but then there are people like me who have no interest in leisure and use it as a speedway, and I REALLY don't want your child's blood on my hands (or on my new bike). I am convinced that if I am going to die on my bicycle, it will happen while valiantly trying to avoid some snot-nosed kid on the bike trail who got distracted by a butterfly rather than any combination of errant car door or drunk driver on Mass Ave. Please remember valiant for my epitaph.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Repeat: Lo-Fi-Fnk

I don't know if the two dudes above are the Swedes responsible for Lo-Fi-Fnk, but they are the first image that came up on a Google Image search of "Lo-Fi-Fnk", and they look exactly how their newest single "Marchin' In" sounds. A couple shirtless dudes in a field of daffodils smoking joints. Happy and relaxed. Spring. Don't believe me? Watch the video for it below and tell me I'm wrong.

Boy do those Swedes know how to write a catchy diddy. Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but Gorillaz need to take lessons on song progression from this. A simple piano part, a quiet bongo and some snaps. A bouncy bassline. Beautiful vocals merge effortlessly as other elements enter the frame. The song has a clear build-up and clear peaks and valleys. Repetition is used as a tool rather than a crutch. The song has probably less than 30 words, but it's not about the words. It has probably 30 instruments too, and with sloppier production you could probably pick them all out, but that is of no concern here. Everything just feels natural and comfortable, and I'm not even high. Whoa.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gorillaz: Plastic Beach

"With great hooks come great responsibility" -Me

When you are Damon Albarn and you have catchy riffs coming out your ears, you need to show a little prudence and make your listeners work for the hook. Ask for their patience, with the assurance that what is coming will be worth the wait. The problem with Gorillaz 3rd studio album Plastic Beach is that nearly everything sounds like a chorus. And when there's no distinction, no bridge, no lull, things get boring. Too many songs fail to build to anything significant, instead feeling like a stew of interesting ideas that fetter out and are simply repeated until the song reaches 3 minutes.

Take, for example, lead single 'Stylo" that I've embedded above. It opens with a wicked synth line and an effective verse from Mos Def, followed by Albarn's vocals and a soulful chorus (or is it?) by Bobby Womack. That brings us to about 2:30. Then what happens? The song virtually repeats itself word-for-word. Bobby Womacks chorus, Albarn's vocals, and Mos Def's verse VERBATIM. In what world is it ok to repeat a rap verse twice in the same song and get away with it? I don't care how catchy everything else is, I don't care how many different ideas are crammed into the track, it's just unacceptable. This isn't unique to this album, heck, Feel Good Inc. followed the exact same formula, repeating verses and choruses until you can't tell the difference and in my opinion distracted from the innovation therein.

Far too many songs on Plastic Beach fall into this trap, and it's a shame because the songs that actually follow a traditional VERSE/CHORUS/VERSE/CHORUS format are really great. Even the most frustrating songs are frustrating because they contain great ideas that are stifled and wasted. I'm not being pretentious here, I love a great pop song as much as the next person, but if you're going to try and get away with repeating parts of a song that aren't the chorus ad nauseum, the song needs to be FAST (See: ANY LADY GAGA SONG). It's easy to cover your flaws this way. Think of it like mooning someone in a rocketship or mooning them in a horse-drawn carriage.

As I alluded to earlier, some songs are able to rise above this mediocrity. 'On Melancholy Hill' is beautiful and focused, 'White Flag' uses verses from Bashy and Kano effectively (and only once!), and 'Some Kind of Nature' is worthy of Lou Reed's participation. But for every one of these, there is a song like 'Sweepstakes' that takes something potentially catchy and drives it so thoroughly into the ground that by the end you wonder how you ever liked it.

Sad, really.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lady Gaga - Telephone

I often receive grief for my perceived snobbery. While its true that I have little interest in most movies that gross more than $100,000,000*, I have an undeniable weakness for a catchy pop song. This is why I know/sing all those songs I have no business knowing/singing in bars. This is also why I drunkenly stuffed a dollar into a Jukebox to hear 'Semi-Charmed Life' Saturday night.

Lady Gaga is one such artiste** that I simply cannot resist. I remember hearing Pokerface over the summer and being so completely entranced that my girlfriend at the time probably considered it a cry for help. It was an absolutely behemoth of a pop song, and it deserved to be blasted from the rooftops. So I did. If by rooftops I mean in my car and at any party in which I could gain control of the stereo. 'Bad Romance' very nearly captured the same magic a second time, and the world was Gaga's.

So imagine my surprise/delight when Ms. Gaga released a 9 1/2 minute music video Saturday for her newest single 'Telephone' that includes Beyonce, a Kill-Bill homage and prison-themed dance numbers. I haven't even begun to talk about the Diet Coke curlers and the lit-cigarette glasses. Nor have I mentioned the 'Let's Make A Sandwich' detour in which Gaga instructs the viewing audience on how to engage in a mass-homicide. The entire thing is such an epic spectacle that it completely fuses with the song. It will do for 'Telephone' what the music video for 'Thriller' did. Take an otherwise forgettable pop-song and make it a cultural phenomenon. The video has been out for nearly two days and it 15 million views and 1,082 video responses and countless parodies***.

Gaga is the virtuoso to fill the power-vacuum left by MJ. Beyonce has the voice but not the flair. Taylor Swift has crossover appeal but lacks any discernible edge. Gaga pushes every boundary beyond anything that has happened to pop-stars or pop-music in the last 10 years. Fashion, music videos and pop-music have been reinvigorated in the months since Gaga stormed the scene. She tapped into the spectacle that made pop-stars of yore such larger-than-life characters. It may all be a hastily built house of cards, but for the moment it is truly a sight to behold.

By most accounts this isn't technically NSFW, but there is a lot of strategically placed caution tape, etc. Oh I think Gaga says the F-word too. Earmuffs!

*Seriously, LOOK at this list. I have seen seven of these, and am almost ashamed to admit to that much.

**No, not a spelling error.

***Many of which ALSO have over a million views.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Classic Movie Review: On The Waterfront

Being that Oscar season is officially over and out, and the movie landscape for the next few months looks decidedly sparse, I've decided to use the coming weeks to catch up on some classic films I haven't yet seen. I blogged about this a while ago, but now after listening to an Oscar-Snub edition of my favorite podcast Filmspotting* last week, I've realized that the gaps in my classic movie knowledge can't be ignored any longer.

The first movie I decided to watch was 1956's On The Waterfront, starring a young Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a dockworker with ties to the seedy mob underworld of Hoboken, New Jersey. I'm tempted to make a 'New Jersey' joke here for JL, but I'll leave that to Gov. Patterson. The Mob has a iron grip on anything relating to the dock, and after Terry is used to lure a dockworker to his death (unbeknownst to him), he becomes an unwilling participant in a tug-of-war between the mob and the deceased man's sister. The stakes continue to grow as Terry begins to fall for the sister and a member of the church takes up the cause. It is during this tug-of-war that Brando delivers these iconic lines. The film virtually swept the Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Brando), Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography and 2 others. It is currently ranked #112 on IMDB's Top 250 films and was selected by the Vatican's list of Top 45 films of all time (seriously).

The entire film is based on a series of 1949 Pulitzer-prize winning articles that detailed the rampant corruption and extortion on New York City docks. Brando's character was modeled after a real whistleblower (who actually sued Columbia pictures for using his story). The film is surprisingly profound and has aged well, with many of the tracking shots and individual scenes still affecting today's audience just as they did over 50 years ago. Brando's performance is still one for the ages, and has only served to bolster his legacy.

This is the first film of Marlon Brando's I've seen prior to The Godfather, and I was surprised with the amount of charisma he brings to the table, when so many other actors fall into tried and true archetypes. He doesn't have striking good looks or guiles, but his sincerity and everyman qualities make him eminently likable. He has the brawn to look the part of a washed-up boxer, but has the acting range to make the dramatic scenes ring true. The make-up on Brando here is also interesting. Maybe it's typical in films of this era, but Brando's angled eyebrows and eyeliner make his typically deep-set eyes very expressive. It also makes him look like a drag-queen, but it's Marlon Brando, so I'll give him a pass.

I hope to watch 'The Apartment', 'Sunset Boulevard', or some Hitchcock later this weekend, and will be sure to give them a review sometime next week. I also found this little gem on Google Reader earlier this week that is strangely appropriate.

*I don't listen to a lot of podcasts, but Filmspotting is really fantastic. If you like listening to people argue about movies. And I do.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Repeat: Bonus Edition

I couldn't decide between two tracks this week, so I'm going to talk about both. Conveniently, both fall into the category of lo-fi electro-buzz that I've been quite obsessed with lately. Similar to Best Coast last week, these two songs have humble origins but are so darn catchy that the risks they take add to the allure rather than alienate.

Sleigh Bells - Crown on the Ground

The shrieking guitar riff opening is a pretty good indication of what you can expect from Sleigh Bells. It just sounds DEAFENING, at any volume. Not 5 seconds after starting, an absolutely booming drum part stomps into the song and nearly shakes everything off the tracks. The song crackles and buzzes and vibrates in every note, sounding like a recording of a recording of a recording blasted through a blown-out stereo. Despite the rattling, the steady guitar swirls give this tornado of a song a center and direction. If it sounds a bit off-putting at first, give it another couple listens and you'll come around. I promise.

Royal Bangs - My Car Is Haunted

If Sleigh Bells are a bit too noisy for you, you'll be happy to hear that Royal Bangs exercise a bit more discretion. Not much though. Rather than place the bulk of the buzz on the drums, My Car Is Haunted fuzzes up the guitar instead, conceding the melody and hooks to the vocals. There's a frantic maraca, a cowbell that would make Bruce Dickinson proud and some post-apocalyptic lyrics referencing the 'age of lasers', an electric ocean' and 'ungodly heat'. I think a haunted car is the least of their problems.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

She's Out Of My League

I see this poster every day on a massive billboard at off Exit 36 on Rte 93. I'm not interested in the film, but the subject matter brings to light a phenomenon that's near and dear to my heart.

Once in every man's life, he ensnares a woman whose beauty dwarfs his own so massively that he loses grasp on reality. It is the stuff of music montages and animated birds and dance troupes. It is a waking dream. That is, until you inevitably crash and burn and your heart becomes a chew toy for Bagheera.

My own such experience didn't have quite the harsh trajectory, but that's because I exploded into flames so quickly after takeoff that I scarcely realized I was flying. It's funny in retrospect, but at the time it was all I could do not to stare into the abyss.

During one of the first days of freshman year at UNH, we were introduced to our fellow Chemistry majors. These people would be in all of our classes and labs for the next four years, and we looked about what you'd expect a group of 18-year-old Chemistry students to look like. All of us except Tina*. Tina was breathtaking, a fact I verified with a friend of mine when I remarked "She is the most beautiful girl I've ever seen" and she did not refute it. I crushed on her like nobody's business. In the tide pool of freshman year, Chemistry majors didn't interact considerably, but Sophomore year when there were 10 of us in an 8AM Quantitative Analysis lecture, we got pretty cozy. Within said coziness and spurred mostly by pure boredom, rudimentary flirting developed. This usually consisted of me scribbling on her notes while our Geppetto doppelganger professor leafed through his notes at the board. This evolved into pen stealing and games of tic-tac-toe. Not traditionally effective tactics, but in a room full of SERIOUS nerds, strangely endearing.

By sheer blind luck (for me, not her), we both found ourselves without dates on Valentine's day, and for reasons I still don't comprehend, I finagled a movie date at her sorority house. I don't remember the movie, I didn't watch the movie. I remember kissing her and fireworks that made the Fourth of July look like a weenie roast. Walking with her later that evening, her arm in mine, I distinctly felt like Bob Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

My friends were absolutely flabbergasted when I recounted this story, almost as much as I was. I felt like a Michael Jordan-Bono-James Dean-Ron Jeremy hybrid of awesome. I knew in the back of my mind that the clock was ticking, and that she probably was probably just lonely or rebounding off of a bad break-up or wasn't wearing her glasses when she puckered up, but nothing could bring me down. We spent more time together, this courting process culminating in an event that summarizes my complete boneheadedness better than I ever could.

One night, after a late movie, she invited me to stay over, which I obliged. Then, after a few hours of lying awake in her bed, I decided to go back to my dorm to get some sleep as we had a test the next day. I don't remember what I got on the test and whatever points I gained and whatever infinitesimal boost my GPA received from those 3 hours of sleep I got in my own bed are beside the point. When a girl asks you to spend the night, you spend the night. The whole night. It doesn't matter if you are on the floor, or in a shoebox in the closet. You can't sleep, so be it, but don't even think about going home.

Shortly after this transpired, we both went home for Spring Break week, and I effectively snuffed out the embers of the relationship by asking for her address to send her flowers during vacation. I thought (and still think) it would be cute; she did not. And that was that. The end. Finito. I had no say in the matter.

In retrospect, it was a matter of time. I could not conceivably maintain the level of cool I had somehow convinced her I possessed. That realization did nothing to stave off the waves of self-pity I enjoyed the rest of the semester, but is comforting now. If you are reading this and you've never dated light years beyond yourself, buckle up and tighten your boots, because she is coming. You will not emerge unscathed, and you will need a pride transfusion, but for a few seconds it will be wondrous.

*Name has been changed. Obviously.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hide the women and children (and PBR)

I'm growing a beard.

Allow me to rephrase.

I'm maintaining my facial hair.

What this entails to remains to be seen. It's been eleven days since my last go-round with my straight razor. Inspired by CMM's luscious* moustache, I decided to see what these little follicles can do. Much like Brad Pitt's probing question in Fight Club, I asked myself; 'How much can you know about yourself if you've never grown a beard?'. Growing a beard is a rite of passage. What if I could grow an incredible soul patch that would make Apollo Anton Ohno shave his off in shame? I owe it to humanity to try.

In my experience, there are two classes of men when it comes to facial hair. There are the men who could lose their razor for the better part of a month an no one would be the wiser**. They will remain nameless, but they know who they are. Then there are men whom ought to carry a Mach 3 in their pocket. You don't know which camp you fall into until you take the plunge. With that being said, I'm still not sure.

Here's the thing about facial hair. There's no rhyme or reason to it. So little in fact, that I've been trying to recount any childhood scalding incidents to explain the strip under my jaw that is inexplicably bare. It's filling in, but it was dicey for a while there and made we want to scrap the whole project. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.

Right now it's just itchy. I don't know if this goes away, but if it doesn't, I have a newfound respect for Zach Galifianakis. I try not to think about it. Also, it has a strange auburn hue to it, which is a relief, since I can't think of any variation on blond facial hair that didn't scream rapist or amphetamine addict. There are some benefits, which I honestly did not foresee.

Firstly, a moustache (or the makings of one) adds a level of gravity to anything you say. Maybe it's because everyone with a moustache looks like someone's dad, but I get the distinct impression that I am being taken seriously. Too seriously in most cases, since I'm usually about to fling a rubber band at them. A moustache is also the jackpot for non-verbal expression, allowing you to express despondence, fury, and confusion with subtle adjustments of your orbicularis oris.

I feel closer to the hipster community than ever before, but also closer to homeless, so we'll see how it shakes out. I'm not going to look like Pei Mei, Ron Swanson (above), or Al Swearengen***, but now I know could if I set my mind to it. That's the American Dream right there.

*This is the first and last time I will use this word to describe a non-food.

**Save for 3 inexplicably long hairs that only their girlfriend's notice.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Information Addiction

We can all agree that the internet has changed everything. Communication, entertainment, and research have each become incredibly more convenient since the advent of wi-fi. For better or worse, gone are the days of turning pages in encyclopedias, using a TV Guide, and mailing letters. However, when everything is at your fingertips and simply waiting for a URL to zing you off to sights unseen, the novelty of the little things is trampled. There are pleasures to be had in putting pen to paper, or aimlessly leafing through a dictionary. Now the experience been reduced to frantic Googling to secure the information you want as fast as humanly possible. The process has become so slight and so streamlined, that I've found myself reading entire articles and processing nothing.

This is partly due to impatience on my part. I've always considered myself an impatient person, and while I've had internet access nearly my entire life, dial-up internet imparts a degree of restraint on a developing mind. It wasn't until broadband internet and wi-fi became prevalent that my inner information glutton evolved. Today, I sigh when a Youtube video is longer than a minute long, and I read more box-scores than Op-Eds. I use Google Reader to aggregate interesting websites into a sickening buffet of information that I can consume as efficiently as possible. It is troubling, and I'm working on it.

Regrettably, blogging has probably exacerbated this phenomenon, but in many ways it forces me to focus and practice measured writing and pacing. At the same time, I have no such poise when thinking of things to write about. The whole thing resembles an ouroboros.

This restlessness is no longer an internet-contained phenomenon. I drive too fast, check my watch 20 minutes (and every subsequent 20 minutes) into a movie, and wonder out loud why anyone writes songs longer than 4 minutes. I have my phone set to check my email every fifteen minutes, stock quotes every hour, and software updates instantaneously. I'll probably never make a pot roast, a turkey, or any incarnation of slow-roasted barbecue. I rarely sleep more than 7 hours and I resent even sleeping that much.

I could argue that I'm simply interested in many things, and that there is no harm in that, which would be true if I was deriving as much pleasure out of these things as I should be. But I'm not, as the preceding paragraph has explained. So now I've established the problem, what steps am I taking to remedy it?

Well, for starter's I'm drinking tea. I'm also running a lot, and reading a lot (full chapter books!). When I do these things, I am doing only these things (mostly). This is in stark contrast to the normal cerebral whirlwind. I've done more crossword puzzles, and casually research Yoga. I've read philosophy to understand belief systems larger than myself and to gain perspective. Little things, but it's helping. Maybe I'll fall off the wagon and read Wikipedia until 3am, but I haven't been on hipinion today and I'm ok with that. That has to count for something.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Indie Band of the Week: Best Coast

Best Coast sounds like something that washed up on a California beach. Tossed around in the waves, mid-range frequencies are smoothed and softened, leaving only the sharp treble and the deep bass drone in tact. It's an interesting technique that draws favorable comparisons to the lo-fi sounds of The Beach Boys. The churning guitars of Sun Was High (And So Was I) mimic a distant lawn-mower, and Bethany Cosentino's vocals sound like she's caterwauling down a sewer pipe. Guitar riffs are blurred and loose, and Cosentino's melody sometimes makes me want to hide my stemware.

This would be a problem if the songs didn't hover around two minutes and the melodies didn't burrow themselves into my parietal lobe. The lyrics (barely amounting to more than a haiku) are repeated with a sincerity and warmth that shines through the distortion layered over them. After a string of EPs and singles, Best Coast is readying their debut LP for a 2010 release. Check out a fan video for Sun Was High (So Was I) below.    


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Adventures of Indoor Boy: Indoor Boy Gets a Flat

I have an irrational fear of parking too far away from the curb. This waking nightmare culminates in me walking out to my car to find a massive scrape along the length of my car and my side-view mirror dangling like a pinata. Maybe it's because SP's tires were slashed for no particular reason*. Another reason is the fact that LK drives a Toyota FJ Cruiser. If you haven't seen an FJ Cruiser, envision a feeder bus with a roof rack. Its a nice car to be sure**, but whenever I park across the street from it, I feel a bit uneasy.

To overcome this uneasiness, I've developed the foolhardy habit of nudging the curb when I park along the street, just to be absolutely sure that any buffoon screaming down Amsden St will have to go make a conscious effort to take out my mirror. Unfortunately, in the wintertime this usually means I can only open my door 3 inches before I meet a snow drift. Climbing out through your back seat is a small price to pay for this peace of mind. Until today.

Today*** I kissed the curb with a little extra vigor, and I knew it. I just knew it. Any lingering doubts were dashed when I opened my door and heard the unmistakable whisper of a dying tire. Knowing there was nothing to be done, I kicked it in a half-hearted attempt at euthanasia and went inside. After recruiting JL for a 'second opinion', he verified my suspicion. The tire was 'fucked'.  

Next came the humbling task of removing the lifeless rubber carcass and replacing it with something that would be better suited on a Power Wheel. For this I also recruited JL. After a moment of panic, we fortuitously discovered that the nice folks at Hyundai thoughtfully included a jack and a lug wrench (yes I had to look up the name of it). Maybe all car companies do this. I don't know. As I said, I've never had a flat. Due to my penchant for parking as close the curb as physically possible, jacking up the car was quite exciting.  JL and I tried about 5 different permutations of spinning the metal bar (all of which precipitated in scraped, bloody knuckles) before we (JL) found an efficient method. From here it was virtually a cake walk. If said cake has molten lava icing and you're barefoot.    

I Google Mapped a few tire places nearby and inched down Mass Ave, trying to convert 80kph (the maximum allowable speed on a spare tire****) to mph. It's 50, which is plenty fast on Mass Ave. However, once it becomes clear that all the tire stores on Mass Ave are closed and the one dude you were able to catch before he locked up directs you to Waltham (down RTE 2, Speed Limit 55), 50mph becomes a bit of a handicap. I had the presence of mind to ask him about the limitations of the donut before I went on my way. The exchange went something like this:

"Is it safe to take RTE 2 on a spare tire?"

"Compared to the 45 or whatever they say? Yeah. Heck, I've driven 80 on donuts before and nothin' happened."

Pause. At this point he presumably realized that telling me to drive double the recommended speed might constitute a liability on his part. So he quickly added:

"Well, I mean, don't be stupid about it"

This did little to assuage my fears. This is where I started to wonder if anyone had ever gotten a flat tire on their spare tire, and if that would be sufficient cause to call out of work for the rest of the week.

As it was, I drove like my Nana for 3 miles down RTE 2. Once arriving at the Tire Shop, I began playing the game of 'Don't-Let-Them-Know-How-Clueless-You-Are', a favorite past-time of mine. A portly gentleman recommended a Goodyear tire for $120. Knowing nothing about tires but street-smart (or paranoid) enough to know not to take the first suggestion. I coolly stammered: 

"Do I have any other options?"

In retrospect, that's like holding up an apple at Market Basket and asking if they have any other fruit. Of course they have other tires. He patiently listed off three other tires, one for $97, the rest considerably more. He then proceeded to enter lecture-mode where he referenced other tires that he may-or-may-not have "in the back". All of these sounded like they had been banished to the Island of Misfit Tires. Of course, playing the safety card is a slam-dunk so I bought the $97 Uniroyal blah-blah-blah and some mustachioed Carhartt-model named Mike threw it on my car while I read Sports Illustrated.

I made an afternoon of it and went to D'Angelos and Trader Joe's afterwards. I tend to do this when I spend an absurd amount of money I wasn't planning on spending. I go to D'Angelo's and pretend I ate a fancy dinner and go to Trader Joe's and pretend I spent $100 on groceries and Voila! Instead of spending $100 curb-stomping my car, I spent $100 on necessities. That's much easier to swallow. And what did I do when I parked on Amsden St again? Parked a cool 3-feet away from the curd, and looked up how much new side-mirrors cost.   

*I contest that he was parked too far from the curb. Or maybe SS's ex-neighbors are passive agressive psychopaths.

** It even has an inclinometer! Very helpful if gravity becomes suspended on the way to the grocery store.

***Literally 8 minutes after seeing a shredded tire on 93S and remarking "I've never had a flat. How dumb do you have to be to not run over metal shit?"


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This Week In Inexplicably Popular: How Low Can You Go - Ludacris

I'd like to use this blog a forum to publically put to rest the Chipmunkification of hip-hop music. If you haven't heard 'How Low Can You Go', count your blessings and don't press play on the embedded video at the bottom of this page. If you have, you can surely sympathize. I've never been a fan of Ludacris. His songs have always played to the lowest common denominator in hip-hop, and while this has resulted in unprecedented crossover success, you'd have a hard time finding anyone to argue the merits of Area Codes and Move Bitch in 2010. In fact, save for aging frat dudes, you'd have a hard time finding anyone to not cringe upon hearing the opening bars. Meanwhile, 15-year-old 'Juicy' brings down the house in every club at 2AM (see Saturday night).

Well, Ludacris has done it again. 'How Low Can You Go' was certified platinum last week as you can see above. I love watching him accept the award in a studio surrounded by middle-aged white record executives trying hard to look comfortable. Nobody gets platinum records anymore, so Ludacris is the record label messiah. I'm reminded of 'The Skit' from Wale's fantastic Mixtape About Nothing. That is the current state of affairs in hip-hop crossover music. 'How Low Can You Go' is 2010's 'Crank Dat Flying Squirrel'.

I don't mind Kanye West does it. Heck, most of College Dropout is drenched in the chipmunk effect (see Through The Wire) and I LOVE that record. but the difference between Kanye and Ludacris, is that Kanye is sampling legitimate soul songs and Ludacris has no such artistic integrity. Couple this absurd effect with lyrics that would make Biggie blush and you have a recipe for a platinum record. You also have one more thing that Fox News and middle-aged women will reference whenever they talk about what's wrong with America.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: Jackie Brown

Having made quick work of Elmore Leonard's 'Rum Punch', I thought I'd take a couple hours to watch Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown to see how the two compared. If you aren't aware, Jackie Brown is QTs adaptation of Rum Punch for the silver screen and his only adapted screenplay. I've been a huge Tarantino fan since seeing Pulp Fiction for the first time nearly ten years ago, and his early passion for crime-centric screenplays is a big part of the reason I decided to check out Rum Punch (and make everyone in TBC read it as well)

In my opinion, Jackie Brown is Tarantino's most underrated film (Death Proof is a close second). While it retains his ear for dialogue and vibrant characters, it is decidedly less-stylized and has as linear a plot as you're likely to find in a Tarantino flick. Much like Pulp Fiction before it, Tarantino displays an uncanny eye for acting talent. Just as he revitalized the career of John Travolta as Vincent Vega, QT makes an inspired choice here by plucking Pam Grier (of 1974's Foxy Brown fame) and B-Movie actor Robert Forster off the discarded actor scrapheap. He also casts Robert Deniro as washed-up ex-con Louis Gara and Tarantino staple Samuel L. Jackson as the pony-tailed gun-runner Ordell Robbie. Everyone is at the top of their game here, but it's Forster's Max Cherry that is the most compelling (he garnered a best supporting actor nod for it).

In typical QT fashion, even the soundtrack is homage, this one heavily indebted to soul music, opening with Bobby Womack's Across 110th Street and featuring songs from Bill Withers, The Supremes and Brothers Johnson. Most notable of these is 'Didn't I' by The Delfonics, which is played at 3 different junctures by 3 different characters, with 3 different responses. Tarantino has always taken great pride in the songs used in his films (much like Martin Scorsese before him), and his obsession with the material shows in every frame.

With regard to how Jackie Brown compares to Rum Punch, the differences are very minor. Small subplots involving an injured member of Robbie's entourage and Cherry's ex-wife are omitted, and the romance between Cherry and Brown is much more subtle through QTs lens, which is a nice touch. I'm sure much of this is due to the ease with which these delicate feelings can be portrayed on film compared to the written word. Tarantino has never been one for tact and subtlety, so to see him reign things in a bit here is refreshing. As far as the overarching plot is concerned, Tarantino is smart to remain faithful to Leonard's book, maintaining the tide of double and triple-crosses, and quite frequently using entire pages of dialogue verbatim. It is a testament to Leonard and Tarantino both that the words can transfer effortlessly across mediums, and only serves to make me wants to read more crime writing. Rum Punch is not the first Elmore Leonard book to be adapted for the screen (there have been nearly 20, including Out of Sight and Get Shorty), but in contrast to what I've seen of the others, Jackie Brown offers the perfect meshing of seemingly disparate styles. QT rises to the source material by keeping his stylistic urges in check, while at the same time, cutting scenes out of the book that would appear to be right in his wheelhouse in the interest of pacing. The result is a gritty balance of style and substance, everything you hope for in an film adaptation.