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Classic Rock Magazine

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    Screen shot 2013-12-19 at 10.51.15 AM

    Well, that escalated quickly.

    Last night, the news team/cast from Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner) dropped by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote their new project. But, fittingly, this was no ordinary interview promo.

    First off, the comedy dream-team soften up Stewart by bringing the host some gifts (paintings, lamp bases, a globe, a straw holder) which were taken directly from the Daily Show green room. “It was the least we could do,” Rudd says. “It seemed really cluttered in there,” Koechner chimed in.

    Stewart then awkwardly dishes out some edible treats to Carell (fruit “picked by abused migrant workers,” naturally — the way he likes it). Sitting in the lone swivel chair (a perk for returning Daily Show alum), Carell dished some gossip on his castmates, revealing that Koechner is an “avid porn fanatic” and confirming Stewart’s assumption that Rudd “isn’t aging in a normal human way.” (Seriously, the man looks like he’s 16. I’m a happily married heterosexual male, but heavens to Betsy, that man is adorable!)

    Then all hell breaks loose: When Ferrell takes his turn in the swivel chair and makes a move for Carell’s food, the news team turns positively apeshit, unleashing their inner warriors. (Remember, Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy once stated, “I’m a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn!” This shouldn’t come as a surprise.)

    Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is in theaters now.

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    posted in News by Ryan Reed


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    Screen shot 2013-12-19 at 11.27.42 AM

    One of my very favorite albums of the year is Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth LP, the artful and mesmerizing behemoth …Like Clockwork. The Josh Homme-led band also hit the road this year, including a set recorded for the Austin City Limits special airing next month on PBS.

    To hold you over, check out a blistering live version of skank-nasty Clockwork cut “Smooth Sailing.” With its robotic funk stylings and Homme’s creepy lyrics (“Bruises and hickies / stitches and scars”…”I blow my load over the status quo”), it feels like a holdover from the Era Vulgaris sessions — but in a good way.

    The ACL special will air January 4th. Later in the month, Queens will hit the road again, kicking off their second leg on January 30th with a date in Raleigh, North Carolina.

    Anybody catch Queens of the Stone Age live this year?

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    posted in News by Ryan Reed


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    countrymanshia

    I would like to think I’m not the only writer who keeps a giant subway-sized Joaquin Phoenix I’m Still Here promo poster on the wall in my office, but there’s a good chance I am. Very few people, it seemed, appreciated the intellectual depths and masterful executions required to “pull off” performance art of that magnitude. And such ill-termed “stunts” seem to always divide the pop culture obsessives — you either totally get it and, thus, unabashedly adore it (That would be me), or you totally don’t get it and, thus, vehemently admonish it (That’s a lot of people).

    There was a lot of talk and comparisons to Andy Kaufman during (and especially after) Joaquin’s actor-goes-rapper / life-as-art performance, and the inherent parallels are unapologetically forthright. The question I hear from most detractors, or “haters,” in common terminology, is “well, OK; but what’s the point?” The point, both then and now, is simply to highlight the very strange fact that the average pop culture consumer (and, even, the average pop culture reporter) is so willfully gullible that he or she will accept almost anything as fact and, in turn, will use these “facts” to further love or hate the figure in question. Furthermore, the infiltration of the Internet as the go-to and come-from of practically everything pop culture-related (or, well, everything) has given new life to the perpetuation of often entirely false “headlines” and “accusations.” Further still, the ability of misinformation to spread like shit-fueled wildfire is even more accentuated by the relatively recent phenomenon of what can perhaps best be described as “mindless plagiarism.”

    If you scroll through your Facebook news feed, for example, you’re likely to find a very startling amount of friends posting uncharacteristically eloquent or thoughtful prose regarding the meaning of life, the value of “moving on,” or something else perfectly melodramatic or self-inflated enough to just barely stand out amongst the usual white noise of social networks. What you won’t find, however, is accreditation.

    For the average person (specifically, for the average Millennial), the formula is as follows: “Oh, shit! Kanye West said some cool shit in that BBC interview. I can’t remember it, though. I’ll Google ‘Kanye West quotes.’ Oh, shit. There’s one. [Copy. Paste. Post to Facebook.]” Notice the missing steps of: insert quotation marks, type original speaker’s name.

    For further evidence of our generational aversion to “giving credit,” scroll through your Tumblr feed. You’ll find an endless sea of uncredited photographs, GIFs, memes, lyrics, and quotes. At best, you’ll occasionally find an embarrassingly mis-credited quotation. At worst, you’ll find “quotes” that never actually held any truth, credited to someone who never actually said them (Google “Kanye West Nelson Mandela,” for example).

    Perhaps, then, it’s time for another Kaufmanesque performance-art / finger-point from an influential pop figure.

    Enter Shia LaBeouf.

    As is likely common knowledge by now, he’s been catching a very real amount of heat this week for reportedly plagiarizing, rather blatantly, the Daniel Clowes’ comic Justin M. Damiano via his own short film HowardCantour.com, which received — prior to these allegations — widespread critical acclaim (and even screened at Cannes last year). These allegations are compelling on their own, but they’re heightened dramatically when viewed in relation to the subsequent allegations regarding further plagiarism. As mentioned in this mock-heavy A.V. Club article, LaBeouf’s own tweeted apologies in response to the incident may have been directly lifted from Tiger Woods, Robert McNamara, and Kanye West, respectively. Furthermore, comic writer Josh Farkas has brought forth even more plagiarism allegations, specifically relating to LaBeouf’s comics Let’s Fucking Party (Farkas notes some uncredited Bukowski lines) and Stale N Mate (Farkas notes “lifted and massaged passages” from Benoit Duteurtre’s The Little Girl and The Cigarette). That same A.V. Club article very jokingly mentions the possibility that LaBeouf is simply involved in a “performance art parody,” which — as I’ve outlined here — is a theory worth exploring, sans jokes.

    As a writer, the thought of someone else receiving credit for my work is akin to someone, say, shoving their unwashed hands down my throat and slowly removing my internal organs, one by one, then shoving them into a new body and saying, to the world, “Hey, look at this person I built.” It takes arrogance to blatantly steal, without manipulation, someone else’s work with the hopes of passing it off as your own. But, more than that, it takes an abhorrent disregard for not only the artist, but the art. A disgruntled old writer attaching his name to some young no-name writer’s manuscript in a desperate attempt at regaining favor is deplorable, yes; but questions of “Why’d he do it?” wouldn’t prominently exist, as its his very desperateness that lead him to such deplorability. A young, currently critically-revered artist, however, resorting to repeated acts of plagiarism very loudly begs that same question. Why DID he do it?

    Attempting to find a reasonable answer to that question leads me right back to the increasingly probable chance that Shia LaBeouf is giving us his best Joaquin Kaufman, his finest Andy Phoenix, a beautifully orchestrated (if true) “fuck you” to the Tumblr generation — i.e. his own generation. Admitted plagiarism (HowardCantour.com) aside, what actual evidence of “performance artist at work” do we have?

    For starters, a quick browse of Shia’s Twitter account (@TheCampaignBook; yes, where he tweeted those lifted apologies, including — most recently — two apologies reportedly lifted from Shepard Fairey and Mark Zuckerberg, interestingly enough) reveals that he’s following a “parody” account – @OriginalShia. That handle, as you might have guessed, is an endless stream of other goofily imagined (and, of course, fake) “Shia originals.”

    Then, of course, there’s the (quite good, when viewed outside of the inherent plagiarism) short film that started it all: the Jim Gaffigan-starring HowardCantour.com, which focuses on a day-in-the-life of an online film critic, growing increasingly frustrated with the new realities facing his passion.

    Screen shot 2013-12-19 at 8.59.29 PM

    Interestingly, when viewing the short film (It’s been taken down from its original location, but you can still view it at Buzzfeed), you’ll surely notice that Shia LaBeouf is never credited as a writer. In fact, the writer credits are mysteriously omitted entirely, giving LaBeouf the sole title of director, nothing more; meaning: There is no listed writer for the short film at all. Add this to the fact that, as previously mentioned, pretty much all of Shia’s “apology tweets” have been directly lifted from other famous figure’s own apologies from unrelated incidents.

    Given the subject matter of the film, is Shia (and, surely, a team of people behind him that would, if this were true, have to include Daniel Clowes himself) trolling the online film community?

    Better yet, is Shia trolling the whole fucking world?

    The answer remains to be revealed, but regardless, these incidents have sparked a truly fervent and refreshingly potent public dialogue on the very real problem, specifically among Millennials, of compulsive plagiarism, be it Tumblr-bred or otherwise.

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    posted in Features by Trace William Cowen


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    Screen shot 2013-12-20 at 1.31.04 PM

    Mistletoe for Misanthropes, aka Christmas Flicks for the Cynics

    The holiday season can be a tricky time for those of us who operate on the fringe of mainstream goodwill. I’m not saying we aren’t vulnerable to a sucker punch of sentimentality now and then, but sometimes the candy-coated, beribboned onslaught of “CHRISTMAS CHEER” can set one’s teeth on edge. If you’re a misanthrope, you sneer at the hyperbolic happy faces of the human cattle as they dash themselves and their bank accounts to pieces on the rocks of seasonal consumerism.

    If you’re a cynic, you cackle at the gratitude and warmth of spirit the plebeians don like a Santa hat from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, only to doff it on January 2nd in favor of the blithe selfishness with which they comport themselves for 90% of the year. If you’re an atheist, the centuries of belief systems packed into a single, syncretized midwinter mishegas is enough to send you running to a proverbial cabin in the woods, off-grid and out of reach, even for the All-Father. If you’re disenfranchised by Christmas in some other way  — an orphan of choice or circumstance at a time of year when “family togetherness” is the byword; a believer whose seasonal tenets are invisible to the mainstream; or if you just hate eggnog and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” — you greet December not with gaiety but with weariness and aggravation.

    If you belong to any of those groups, the art that springs from Christmas can be problematic at best and onerous at worst. Natalie Wood believing in Santa Claus, a plethora of British luminaries finding that love actually is all around them, even the phantasmagoric reformation of Ebenezer Scrooge: These things say little to us naysayers, no matter our degree of militarism, about our experience of Christmas, i.e. our misgivings about it and its trappings.

    Fear not, though. For the misanthrope, the cynic, the atheist, the solitary, and the anti-consumerist among us, there are some “Christmas” movies which encapsulate the spirit of the season while not shying away from its dark underbelly. For your consideration, a list of my 10 favorite “left of center” Christmas movies. Turns out that even something as seemingly uniform as holiday entertainment has shadowy aberrations tailor-made for the iconoclast.

    Batman Returns (1992)

    Tim Burton’s sequel to his own noir-ish, 1989 take on the Batman mythos — still, by this writer’s estimation, the finest Batman movie ever made — is self-consciously weirder than even the first movie, which itself is imbued by a zany darkness about that is part of its lasting charm. Returns is often underappreciated, its satirical side-eyes at politics, corporate greed, and sexism either lost on or unwelcome by many viewers. The same viewers are often puzzled by the Christmastime setting. What better balm, though, to soothe the holiday hater in you than by watching Batman, Catwoman, and the Penguin fight it out across a tableau of big-city, big-money Christmas consumerism? I mean, Catwoman blows up a department store, for Crissakes. You can’t get much more pointed than that.

    Gremlins (1984)

    Stories about charming, small-town Christmases can be among the most nauseating, which is why screenwriter Chris Columbus’ choice to set his gleeful monster romp Gremlins against just such a small-town Christmas is so delightful for the holiday hate brigade. The titular gremlins, destructive and impishly malicious, overrun the town after our hero Zach Galligan fails to follow the proper care instructions for his exotic pet Mogwai, Gizmo. (Which is supposed to teach us…what? Be a responsible pet owner? Never adopt from a Chinese man’s backroom?) The gremlins leave the town’s festive décor and mood in ruins. And then, to cap it all off, the climactic battle with Spike, the most evil and intelligent of the gremlins, takes place in…a department store. I’m sensing a theme here.

    A Christmas Story (1983)

    A Christmas Story is an institution, part of almost everyone’s holiday-movie pantheon. Despite that, it’s hardly the saccharine tale one might expect. Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun lead to scathingly funny consequences that turn Christmas’ most ridiculous excesses into punchlines, from Christmas dinner (devoured by neighborhood bloodhounds) to gift-giving itself (the much-wished-for BB gun turns on Ralphie almost immediately, and who can forget the pink bunny pajamas?). The theatrical release poster comes with the tag line, “A Tribute to the Original, Traditional, One-Hundred-Percent, Red-Blooded, Two-Fisted, All-American Christmas.” Indeed.

    Rare Exports (2010)

    The mythology of Santa Claus — omnipresent, omnipotent, benevolent: in a sense, a New Testament God figure if there ever was one — is so deeply interlaced with Western holiday culture that the two are no longer easily teased apart from one another. What could be more subversive to the idea of Christmas, then, but a movie which recasts Santa as an ancient, ravenous monster? The “naughty” side of the Santa Claus mythos (most of it appropriated from Germanic/eastern European legends of Krampus) gets moved to the forefront in writer/director Jalmari Helander’s Finnish tale of suspense, where a father and son with a strained relationship face off against the true, demonic “Santa” and his army of terrifying elves. It sounds stupid on paper, but trust: It is not.

    The Ref (1994)

    If you’ve ever sat through a tense family dinner at Christmastime, the Christmas Eve dinner in The Ref will either make you cackle in recognition or cringe in sympathy (probably both). Crook Denis Leary holds bickering spouses Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis hostage while attempting to engineer his safe escape, necessitating some Blake Edwards-style posturing when the couple’s family arrives for the evening’s Christmas celebration. The vicious sparring of the married couple, along with the awkwardness of the family dinner and the blackly-comic threat of criminal violence hanging in the background, is enough to delight the Christmas cynic in all of us.

    Scrooged (1988)

    On the surface, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol seems perfect for the holiday hater. An unrepentant, exploitative miser? Scary and unsettling ghosts? The pain of the past dredged up anew? Of course, it’s all in service to a sunrise conversion of the soul that sends Ebenezer Scrooge scampering through the London snow, imbued by the Christmas spirit and so fully changed that one suspects brainwashing or bodysnatchers instead of remorse and a newfound mindfulness. A Christmas Carol has been adapted countless times, and in countless configurations, but Scrooged accentuates the dark comedy of the tale rather than its syrupy outcome, and its timely indictment of the wealthy during the ‘80s boom makes it strangely apropos for our current cultural moment (Here’s looking at you, 1%). Highlight: Carol Kane as a physically-abusive Ghost of Christmas Present.

    The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

    Tim Burton must be a hero to the Christmas cynic. Batman Returns (see above) and Edward Scissorhands both make sardonic use of Christmas, but his story for The Nightmare Before Christmas makes it’s entire plot about the holiday. Disaffected Halloween Town leader Jack Skellington suffers a kind of suburban malaise; seeking something beyond his rote, witching-hour existence, he stumbles upon Christmas Town, and, enraptured by its beauty and cheerfulness, schemes to steal Christmas for his own citizens. Jack eventually realizes his error and order is restored, but you don’t have to strain to read the film as a sly paean to the blackhearted for whom Christmas holds fascination but little lasting power.

    Home Alone (1990)

    Though it certainly ends on a cloying note, Home Alone’s premise and body don’t toe the Yuletide line. Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin is inadvertently left behind in the self-created stressful rush of his family’s holiday departure to Paris. Criminals Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern take contemptuous advantage of the seasonally-abandoned suburban homes. The movie is a comedy, but when you pull back from it, a home invasion thriller about an eight-year-old boy fighting off two burglars doesn’t exactly scream “Christmas cheer.” And the dysfunctional family dynamics that open the film, though they are neatly resolved in the end, paint (for the cynic) a much more accurate portrait of the resentment and pessimism that mark obligatory family gatherings than what you find in other, more rose-colored Christmas fare.

    Black Christmas (1974)

    If your mood is particularly black this holiday, what better way to feed it than Christmas-themed homicide? This proto-slasher flick — released the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and sometimes known by the alternate (and more hilarious) title of Silent Night, Deadly Night — subjects a pack of sorority girls to the depredations of a psychopath. Not as elegant or influential as its descendent, Halloween (also holiday-themed!), but then again, Halloween doesn’t feature a scene where neighborhood carolers drown out the sounds of a horrific murder.

    National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

    No “left-of-center Christmas movie” list would be complete without Christmas Vacation, in which Clark Griswold’s increasingly desperate attempts to engineer a “good, old-fashioned family Christmas” meet with similarly intensifying disaster. It’s all in good fun, but of the movies on this list, Christmas Vacation most blatantly takes the facile furor of Christmas and subjects it to a…well, a lampooning. The family, the food, the decorations: no element of the holidays is safe from Christmas Vacation’s skewer, and the Christmas cynic is left, at the credits, with a jaw sore from laughing and a smug satisfaction that she is not alone in her dislike of the season. Best paired with A Christmas Story for mocking all the Christmastime craziness of the rank and file.

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    posted in Checkin' 'Em Twice by Mark Pursell


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    Screen shot 2013-12-23 at 11.12.54 AMTalk about newsworthy: Saturday’s episode of SNL was actually watchable! Well, at least the opening monologue, which featured former cast member (and future Tonight Show host) Jimmy Fallon delivering a tender duet version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Sir Paul McCartney.

    But first things first. Fallon arrives on-stage with his reliably twitchy boy-next-door stage presence (which I happen to love), smiling and thanking the enthusiastic crowd. He also notes how much he has to be thankful for in the past year: After choking back tears and mentioning the birth of his first daughter, and he also makes a subtle (apparently too subtle since nobody laughed) joke about how he’ll be taking over The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in February.

    Then the fun begins. After strapping on an acoustic guitar, Fallon excitedly introduces some guest singers (Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and McCartney) to accompany him on a version of “Joy to the World.” Problem is…they’re all stuck in traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel. But, being the “show must go on” showman that he is, Fallon plunges ahead by handling all their parts himself — by channeling their distinctive voices (Bowie’s melodramatic vibrato, Dylan’s screech, Macca’s politely British accent).

    “Heaven and nature sIIIIIIIInnng,” goes a Dylan line.

    Then Macca takes the stage, interrupting Fallon’s impression. And you know the rest.

    Oh, Paul — you charming bastard.

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    posted in News by Ryan Reed


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    Tegan & Sara 1

    Last Thursday, December 19th, Tegan and Sara took their Heartthrob tour through Orlando, Florida. The band’s setlist featured plenty of slick, radio-friendly tracks from their latest LP, balanced out by gems from the rest of their catalogue. Check out Barbara Sheridan’s photo gallery below:

    Tegan & Sara 1 Tegan & Sara 2 Tegan & Sara 3 Tegan & Sara 4 Tegan & Sara 5 Tegan & Sara 8 Tegan & Sara 6 Tegan & Sara 7 Tegan & Sara 9 Tegan & Sara 10 Tegan & Sara 11 Tegan & Sara 12 Tegan & Sara 13 Tegan & Sara 14 Tegan & Sara 15 Tegan & Sara 16 Tegan & Sara 17 Tegan & Sara 18 Tegan & Sara 19 Tegan & Sara 20 Tegan & Sara 21 Tegan & Sara 22 Tegan & Sara 23 Tegan & Sara 24 Tegan & Sara 25 Tegan & Sara 26 Tegan & Sara 27 Tegan & Sara 28 Tegan & Sara 29 Tegan & Sara 30

    Setlist:

    Drove Me Wild
    Goodbye, Goodbye
    Back In Your Head
    The Con
    Walking With a Ghost
    I Couldn’t Be Your Friend
    Now I’m All Messed Up
    I Was A Fool
    Sentimental Tune
    Where Does The Good Go
    Alligator
    Nineteen
    Arrow
    Shock To Your System
    How Come You Don’t Want Me
    Feel It In My Bones (Tiësto feat. Tegan & Sara cover)
    Closer

    Encore

    Call It Off
    Living Room

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    posted in Into the Lens by Barbara Sheridan


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    Screen shot 2013-12-30 at 11.28.51 AM

    Last night’s Kennedy Center Honors blended virtuosity, tenderness, and schmaltz — pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Along with veteran actress Shirley MacLaine (who looked a bit out of place beside all those musicians), the Center honored opera singer Martina Arroyo, jazz/fusion legend Herbie Hancock, singer-songwriter extraordinaire Billy Joel, and guitar icon Carlos Santana, using a combo of cornball career-overview narratives and mostly interesting musical tributes.

    Santana (Worst to Best)

    It’s easy to forget just how incredible of a musician Santana is, especially when you catch one of his gag-worthy collaborative singles (like “Why Don’t You and I” with the Nickelback guy) on the radio. Thankfully, this tribute focused on Santana’s excellent ’70s work.

    This segment kicked off with a medley of two Santana classics, though both were marred by lackluster vocal performances.

    First, Colombian vocalist Juanes sucked all the life out of “Black Magic Woman,” perhaps the most seductive rock song ever written. Thankfully, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello was there to rescue the performance with his blistering guitar rock — which paid homage to Santana’s distinctive bends and runs while also showcasing Morello’s trademark octave pedal blips.

    “Oye Como Va” fared a little better, though Juanes’ vocals (and sloppy guitar solo) still distracted from the hypnotic groove. The highlight was Morello’s infamous guitar-as-turntable explosion, which got a huge laugh from Santana (and Barack Obama, who — thanks to the director — was shown on camera roughly every four seconds throughout the evening).

    Buddy Guy was up next, tackling Willie Dixon’s blues classic “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man.” Not a whole lot to say here: Guy can play a geet-tar like a champ.

    Finally, the best Santana tribute was saved for last. The unlikely trio of Steve Winwood, Shila E., and Orianthi really brought the thunder.

    Winwood remains one of the greatest vocalists to ever open his mouth, and his effortlessly soulful singing (along with some tasty B-3 organ) really got the crowd moving. (Also, kudos on those incredible sideburns!) Shiela E. held down the groove with some explosive percussion, and guitar virtuoso Orianthi matched her passion with a handful of brain-melting wah-wah fills.

    Herbie Hancock (Worst to Best)

    Herbie Hancock is one of the most inventive composers and keyboardists in the history of recorded music. Snoop Dogg is — wait is it back to Snoop Dogg now, or is he still on the reggae thing?

    Anyway, the rapper’s anticlimactic tribute to the jazz great was undoubtedly the low-point of this segment. I admire the intention: Snoop tackling Us3′s “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” was a clever choice, showing Hancock’s massive influence on hip-hop. But after thrilling tributes from a spread of jazz-fusion masters, this felt boring and stale.

    More impressive were jazz greats like Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, and Jack DeJohnette, who honored Hancock with their tasty hard-bop chops.

    But the most impressive performance was the big-gang jazz-funk finale medley, which peaked with the masterful “Chameleon.” Bassist Marcus Miller was up there somewhere, along with Beastie Boys turntablist Mix Master Mike and basically every musician in the tri-state area. That’s funk so deep, it burns your eardrums.

    Billy Joel (Worst to Best)

    Ughh, who invited Don Henley? (Seriously, this dude is allergic to smiling.) Taking on “She’s Got a Way,” one of the blandest offerings in the Joel songbook, the dapperly dressed Eagles frontman went into full-on balladeer mode. Except he forgot to emote. This performance was awkward from the get-go, and his throaty vocal veered off-course a few times. Not even an impromptu “Boys of Summer” could’ve saved this sinking ship.

    I wasn’t expecting Garth Brooks to crash this party, but I’m kinda glad he did — at least for his spirited take on “Allentown.” It’s remarkable how well his voice suited this track. His take on “Goodnight Saigon,” however, was less impressive: Joel’s best songs are his liveliest, and this ain’t one of ‘em — but the “Let’s bring out a bunch of war veterans and have them stand on-stage” climax was kinda nauseating, even if the intention was sweet.

    In one of the evening’s biggest curveballs, Panic at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie tackled Joel’s upbeat rocker “Big Shot.” Most people in the audience didn’t seem to know who the hell Urie or Panic were, and Joel himself even seemed a bit confused, like “Why is this emo chump on my stage?” But Urie’s glammy, goaty vibrato actually fits the cocky bravado of this Joel classic. An unexpected treat.

    No contest: Rufus Wainwright’s powerful, emotive performance of “New York State of Mind” was the best Joel tribute of the night. It was basically the anti-Henley, full of expressive dnyamics and heartbroken drama. “Piano Man” was pretty great, too, though they should have led off with that one.

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    posted in Features by Ryan Reed


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    Screen shot 2013-12-30 at 12.46.53 PM

    Good news, Fleetwood Mac fans: Bassist John McVie, who was diagnosed with cancer in October, is returning to the stage. Tonight, the band will kick off a two-night stint at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Arena, with their rhythm section in-tact.

    Stevie Nicks talked about their return to ABC News Radio, stating that the performance will be “really good for John,” helping him “get back on the treadmill” of live performance after treatment for a still-unidentified form of cancer. She didn’t elaborate further on McVie’s health, but she did emphasize how excited she is to play Vegas on New Year’s Eve. “We get to get dressed up and go on-stage and actually be at a really huge New Year’s Eve party,” she says. “You don’t even have to find the party. It’s found you at this point.”

    This has certainly been a topsy-turvy year the band. They released a new EP, Extended Play, back in April, followed by a massive tour. Former member Christine McVie even joined the band on-stage for a pair of guest appearances during their classic “Don’t Stop.” Then, following McVie’s cancer diagnosis, the quartet cancelled their remaining dates in Australia and New Zealand.

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    posted in News by Ryan Reed


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    With “I Was There When…,” veteran music journalist Doug Collette reflects on his experiences in the glory days of live rock music. With each column, he takes us back to a specific concert he attended way back when, spotlighting bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Allman Brothers Band, among many others.

    Screen shot 2014-01-02 at 12.44.36 PM

    The late Warren Zevon played more than a few solo shows during the course of his career, almost exclusively so during its latter stages, when unjustifiably middling sales of gems like Mr. Bad Example could not financially subsidize taking a band on the road. Yet on this mid-winter night in the Green Mountains, years before the venue (the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts) renovated itself and its name, the brilliant songwriter presented himself as a scintillating performer. Totally bereft of any self-consciousness inhabiting the stage by himself, Zevon exhibited the abandon of a man freed from some debilitating weight which might’ve well been the case as and, far more he was coming to terms with his personal demons at this time, too.

    His colorful personality the source of a definite theatrical flair, Zevon was enough of a showman to know that famous tunes such as “Excitable Boy,” otherwise regarded as novelty by novices, would be the highlights of any set he played. But he was also courageous enough to include material from more recent records such as The Envoy (like “The Overdraft”) as well as homage to a kindred spirit in the form of “Before They Make Me Run,” a cover of Keith Richards’ contribution to the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls.

    Warren Zevon released two official live recordings during his career, one of which, 1993’s Learning to Flinch, is a solo show. Had there been a release of this Vermont show, there might well have been one edition comprised solely of his spoken word interludes, uproariously funny as they were, equally fondly tongue-in-cheek and characteristically acerbic, by way of introducing and commenting on the songs he played. An entertaining raconteur doesn’t necessarily proceed directly from the artful command of the English language that makes for fine songwriting, but Zevon made it sound not only natural but a logical extension of his personality.

    No verbal observations, however, could compare to the technical expertise Zevon unveiled at the grand piano when an elongated piece of playing, its classical intensity and intricacy no doubt dating to Warren’s childhood acquaintance Igor Stravinsky, morphed with a frenzy into “Werewolves of London.” His acoustic guitar playing had a comparable, if slightly lesser, dramatic impact, but throughout this single set, there was never a sense the music was lacking the accompaniment it deserved. Rather a man whose fictional personae were often larger than life ascended to that lofty plateau and brought a rapt but lively full house with him.

    Full concert from 1982:

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    posted in Features by Doug Collette


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    Beck

    Artist: Beck
    Song: “Love” (John Lennon cover)
    Album: Sweetheart 2014 (Starbucks Compilation), out February 4th
    Label: HearMusic / Concord Music Group

    Rating: 9/10

    Beck Hansen finally emerged from his creative hibernation last year, releasing a handful of eclectic stand-alone singles (like the spacey, vaguely tropical “Gimme”) and announcing an acoustic-oriented LP, Morning Phase, his first since 2008. If that album is even half as beautiful as “Love,” his new John Lennon cover, he’s sitting on his finest work in over a decade.

    The track, recorded for the upcoming Starbucks compilation Sweetheart 2014, finds Hansen submerged in blissful melancholy and reverb — a vibe sonically reminiscent of his 2002 masterpiece, Sea Change. “Love is real / real is love,” he sings in his bleary-eyed tenor over simple acoustic strums. “Love is feeling / feeling love.”

    Lennon’s original track (from 1970′s John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band) speaks about love at a primal, conceptual level: The former Beatle (fresh from, fittingly, primal scream therapy) sounds completely engulfed in sadness, overcome by the fleeting nature of “love” itself. Beck’s take is still enormously sad, but the storm clouds are receding. The uncertainty of Lennon’s seventh chords are smoothed into majors; the stark piano template brightened by a simple drum pattern, choral harmonies, and the distant, psychedelic sigh of a slide guitar.

    Back in November, Beck talked to Rolling Stone about Morning Phase and its overall themes: “There’s this feeling of tumult and uncertainty, getting through that long, dark night of the soul — whatever you want to call it,” he said. “These songs were about coming out of that — how things do get better.” With “Love,” he’s accomplished the exact same thing.

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    posted in Reviews by Ryan Reed


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    Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/NBC)

    Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/NBC)

    SPOILERS AHEAD, so study up cautiously, Community buffs…

    Season Five, Episode One: “Repilot”

    Written by: Dan Harmon & Chris McKenna; Directed by: Tristram Shapeero

    Community is back for a fifth season (They just need one more and then a movie, right?). But, you ask, what will the show be since everyone graduated from Greendale? It looks like it could be a legal battle against the school for ruining everyone’s lives — could this be the darkest timeline?

    Quick Breakdown

    The episode opens with Jeff Winger’s legal ad, depicting him as a superhero with low-grade special effects. The ad, unsurprisingly, did very little for Jeff’s career; and repo men are removing everything from his office. Jeff’s nasty friend Alan (Rob Corddry) shows up with a way to make some money. A Greendale graduate named Humphries is in trouble for the collapse of a bridge he built. Alan wants Jeff to infiltrate Greendale to secure Humphries’ records in order to sue the school for failing him in his education. Jeff seems to have returned to his more evil side.

    To get access, Jeff claims he’s starting a Save Greendale Committee to thwart the potential threat from Humphries. The Dean approves and sends him to his old study room, which has been turned into a storage room for the files. He can’t find the records he needs, but Abed does show up. The Dean told him about the Committee and he was eager to join — so was the rest of the gang, who show up shortly thereafter. (Did I just roll my eyes along with Jeff?)

    Jeff goes to yell at the Dean and catches him shredding Humphries’ files. Without them, it seems that his and Alan’s case is kaput. Until Jeff realizes that he has five potential clients who could sue Greendale. Since graduation, it seems that everyone’s lives have gone off track. Britta works as a bartender; Annie hocks pens and anti-depressants; Abed is working on a social media app; Troy is trying to ride Abed’s coattails, and Shirley’s husband has left her because she’s been so invested in her sandwich shop. Jeff tries to manipulate them into thinking they should sue Greendale.

    That, however, backfires, and they decide they want to enroll in Greendale again. Jeff is unsure of how to twist their minds back to his more devious plan — but Alan shows up and tells the gang that Jeff wants them to sue the school in an attempt to undermine their unwavering faith in Jeff. They’re mad at first, but they quickly relinquish their signatures, putting Greendale’s fate in Jeff’s hands. He feels some remorse for what he’s about to do as he stumbles upon a ghost from seasons past: Pierce.

    It’s not quite Pierce (or his ghost) but instead a hologram of Pierce that’s been court ordered to direct people to the Pierce Hawthorne Museum of Gender Sensitivity and Sexual Potency (“some people just can’t take a compliment,” Pierce says derisively). When he’s not giving his museum spiel, he goes off book and talks about how much Greendale really meant to him. It’s a forced sentimental moment that changes Jeff’s mind. He goes to the Dean and lectures him for being so incompetent. Instead of suing the school, Jeff wants to help make it better. There’s a moment where I thought the Dean would abdicate the school and Jeff would take over, but Jeff gets hired on as a teacher (something Abed predicted earlier in the episode).

    He finds the gang attempting to burn their study table (because Abed doesn’t want anyone else to use it). He does a dramatic burning of the document as he declares his support for Greendale. The burning document, however, ends up setting the table on fire (but they build a new one later). Jeff then convinces everyone to pursue their true dreams, even if it means going back to school. This was definitely not the darkest timeline but, instead, the truest one.

    Rating

    A-

    With Dan Harmon back, it’s fitting the show gets a little rebooting (or repiloting — did they just make that term up?). But if Harmon had never left, would the show even need it? This episode fully succeeds as repilot, setting up a new situation for the gang that doesn’t feel like arrested development of their character growth. As solid as this episode is, however, I’m glad they aired the next episode right after to give us a true taste of what the season has in store.

    Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…

    “I see your value now.” – Abed’s first line to Jeff (a callback to season one) in his brief monologue about callbacks, proving that the show hasn’t lost its self-referential and Meta nature.

    Abed compares this episode’s repiloting to Scrubs season nine. Did anyone realize they actually had nine seasons?

    “That’s like blaming owls for why I suck at analogies.” – Britta (still being Britta)

    “It’s not easy being Dean. It’s my i-dean-tity.” – The Dean

    “I don’t believe in evil, but this school clearly had a finger up its butt as a child.” – Britta

    Chang is back as well, despite his nefarious villainy these past seasons. I guess some things will never change.

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    posted in Community Breakdown by John Keith


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    Community Introduction to Teaching

    SPOILERS AHEAD, so study up cautiously, Community buffs…

    Season Five, Episode Two: “Introduction to Teaching”

    Written by: Andy Bobrow; Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar

    With this episode airing right after “Repilot,” NBC basically had a Jeff Winger hour. This episode follows Jeff’s struggle to become a teacher, a natural story to follow the previous episode. But how much of this season will be focused on Jeff?

    Quick Breakdown

    Jeff walks into his classroom for his first day teaching Fundamentals of Law. After a barrage of questions, Jeff realizes he has no idea what he’s doing. He doesn’t even have a syllabus! When he goes to his office, he finds that he shares it with Professor Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks, aka Mike from Breaking Bad), a grumpy professor who draws duck cartoons. He teaches Jeff to not give a crap about his students, encouraging Jeff to partake in the booze and cigarettes of their Mad Men-like Faculty Lounge instead.

    As Jeff deals with his storyline, the rest of the gang joins Abed in a “blow-off” pop culture course called Nicholas Cage: Good or Bad? Professor Sean Garrity (Kevin Corrigan) starts the class by telling everyone that there is no real answer to this question. Abed immediately devotes himself to finding an actual answer, binging on Cage’s films with the gang. While watching Cage act crazy, Annie checks in with Jeff to see how he’s doing. All she hears is him having a good time acting irresponsibly with the faculty.

    The next day, Annie joins Jeff’s class. When she sees how abominably he is running things, she tries to teach him how to teach. Hickey convinces Jeff to just give Annie A-minuses until she drops out of the course. “Teachers don’t have to explain minuses. Why do you think we invented them?”, he tells Jeff. He also tells Jeff that the school is a zoo and he needs to be extra cruel to the students to prove his superiority.

    When Annie attacks Jeff in the next class, he beats her in an argument, and she storms out. The students are amazed that Jeff outmatched her, and he easily dives into teaching. Hickey gives Annie another A- and she gets depressed. Jeff fixes it for her, dumbly revealing to Annie that the minuses are just given to students that annoy the teacher.

    This instigates Annie to lead a riot in the school for slightly higher grades. Jeff tries to calm down everyone by encouraging unity. It doesn’t stop the riot, but it does unify everyone into throwing their meatballs at him. The Dean likes Jeff’s idea of unity and puts Jeff in charge of a Student-Teacher Alliance under a real Save Greendale Committee. Naturally, the Alliance is composed of the core cast along with Hickey (Is he going to be a series regular? Is he Pierce’s replacement?).

    As everyone searches for the answer to if Cage is good or bad, Abed goes berserk. He’s somehow unable to understand how an actor can be good or bad at the drop of a hat. In class, he goes into a crazed Nicholas Cage rage and storms out. Shirley eventually talks him down by describing Cage as both an angel and a demon, which somehow seems to make him understand.

    Rating

    A-

    This episode was full of hilarity and spot-on pop culture references that I expect from Community. While I’m not necessarily on board with Jeff taking over every episode, he is becoming an ever-fascinating character. I’m interested to see if they give him a full story arc for the season. And the Student-Teacher Alliance is a neat gimmick to get everyone united again at the table.

    Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…

    So many great Nicholas Cage jokes.

    “Maybe he’s just good in good movies and then acts crazy in crap to make drug money.” – Shirley

    “I think he’s a genius. He keeps getting hired for some reason and it’s not because of his hair.” – Troy

    “If I was in 70 films over 30 years, and I spent each one talking at random volumes I might accidentally win an Oscar.” – Shirley

    The board in the classroom says: Always Be Cageing

    After Abed’s freak out, Troy chases after him saying, “Think of something safe like Holly Hunter or Don Cheadle.”

    Two random asides:

    1. What was with a French chick singing the Dean’s thoughts as he looked on at the gang?

    2. Was the tag ending supposed to be funny? Troy and Abed are dressed as furniture in Hickey’s office and he ignores them as he makes phone calls that reveal how depressing his life is.

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    posted in Community Breakdown by John Keith


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    The Swampers

    The Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in MUSCLE SHOALS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

    “You’re in rock and roll heaven, man.” That’s how Keith Richards describes Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the small town with the big sound and the subject of Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s recent documentary about the unlikely breeding ground for some of America’s most creative and defiant music.

    Yes, Muscle Shoals has been out for months now. But if you haven’t seen it yet, consider this a strong recommendation — especially if you live in the south. We get a bad rap sometimes, pigeonholed by the rest of the country as simple-minded, country-music-lovin’ rednecks. Sometimes that’s true. But as this documentary so eloquently points out, sometimes things are not what they seem.

    For example, take the fact that some of the most legendary hits came from the small Alabama town located alongside the Tennessee River: “I’ll Take You There,” “Brown Sugar,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “I Never Loved A Man the Way That I Loved You,” “Mustang Sally,” “Tell Mama,” “Kodachrome,” “Sitting in Limbo,” “Free Bird,” and “Mainstreet” are among them. Yeah. Who’d a thought? And then there are The Swampers, the FAME studio’s house band with so much soul, the three nerdy white guys were often mistaken for black musicians.

    And at the heart of this film, there’s Rick Hall, the founder of FAME studios who created a haven for black and white musicians to come together through music. Doing so at the peak of racial hostilities, he shepherded the creation of songs and even genres that have become seminal while also giving birth to the unique “Muscle Shoals sound.” And that sound attracted the likes of legendary musicians such as The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Wilson Pickett and too many others to list here. And many of these artists offer up raw and candid interviews about their experiences recording in such a musical, and even magical place.

    As part of your new year’s resolution, learn about this little-known piece of rock and roll history and watch Muscle Shoals. It’s in select theaters across the country and also available to view via On Demand and iTunes.

    Watch the trailer below:

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    posted in Reviews by Charles J. Moss


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    Opeth

    Opeth faced a chilly reception with their last LP, 2011′s experimental, fusion-leaning Heritage, but that hasn’t stopped frontman/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt from pushing the boundaries of his band’s music. In a new interview with Decibel (via Blabbermouth), the prog-metal visionary claims he’s already started work on the band’s 11th album, and it’s headed in an “unusual” direction.

    “I have about six songs done and another two or three just started,” he says, “plus a million ideas that I haven’t processed yet. Some songs are simple and stripped-down, while others are epic in the true sense of the word. Business as usual, hopefully with unusual music.”

    The biggest change on Heritage was the absolute lack of traditional “metal” sounds: no death growls, only a fraction of their usual distortion, and a surprisingly subdued sound across the LP. Of course, Akerfeldt has never been a traditional “metal” songwriter (2003′d Damnation is filled with melodic, melancholy prog, much in the vein of mid-70s Camel), but some of the band’s longtime fans cried foul. Looks like those death-metal purists will have some more complaints about the upcoming LP: Akerfeldt’s planning to record strings on at least a handful of the new tracks.

    “Some of these things could easily be done with synthetic sounds or effects,” he said, “but recording the STORM CORROSION LP with Steven Wilson made me realize what a massive difference it can mean to incorporate the real shit. I’m semi-pretentious in my songwriting and sometimes I go all in. I think it’s time for ‘all in’ with strings and the full monty. Hopefully it won’t be a mess.”

    One track I’m particularly excited about is described as a “crazy rip-off” of’70s Italian prog-rock band Goblin.

    “It’s a jam I came up with during the Mastodon/Ghost tour that we ended up soundchecking,” he says. “After a few days, you’d hear people in the corridors humming it. It’s a fucking hit! But basically it’s a not-so-subtle headbanging-type nod in Goblin’s direction. And to avoid confusion, the song is even called ‘Goblin.’ My rip-off deteriorates mid-song and becomes fusion-esque darkened prog rock like Mahavishnu or ELP. But it swings! It really does.”

    By all accounts, this album is going to be incredibly divisive — but hopefully a step-forward from the tentative Heritage. What do you guys think?

    “Windowpane” (Live)

    “The Devil’s Orchard”

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    posted in News by Ryan Reed


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    Screen shot 2014-01-07 at 2.17.51 PM

    Unless the internet is punking us all again with Twin Peaks gossip, it looks like co-creator David Lynch is filming some kind of Peaks-related “promo” today in Los Angeles. Fans of the horror-comedy-detective-soap have been trolling the internet with rumors as of late, but this latest news seems to be somewhat legit. Earlier this week, Sande Alessi Casting posted a very specific request: Apparently Lynch is looking for a “HOT Caucasian girl – BRUNETTE OR REDHEADS ONLY to play waitress.” Futher, “Age 18-27. MUST have an amazing body. Busty, very period looking face.

    Many writers are speculating this “promo” has something to do with the series’ upcoming Blu-Ray box set, which will likely feature deleted scenes from the Fire Walk With Me film. Others (including co-creator Mark Frost) are labeling the casting call a “baseless rumor.”

    Either way, it’s fun to dream about this surreal, thought-provoking, cancelled-far-too-soon series. Since we’re already in the spirit, here are our 10 Best Twin Peaks Scenes. (SPOILER ALERT, obviously.)

    10. Leland has a breakdown

    What other show can make you physically squirm from discomfort, cover your eyes from horror, and die from laughing? This scene, in which a distraught Leland breaks into a disoriented dance, nails all three emotions simultaneously.

    9. Leland’s impromptu performance of “Mairzy Doats”

    Take it away, White-Haired Leland!

    “If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey / Sing ‘Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy.”

    8. James’ awkward ballad

    There’s so much to say about this incredibly awkward scene. James, Maddy, and Donna are the ultimate power-trio, besting both Rush and Cream in their sonic brilliance. Utilizing a microphone and electric guitar (though zero electricity), James helps ease their mutual pain of Laura’s death with the soaring ballad “You and I.” The hypnotic backing vocals, the blissful arpeggio, James’ pubescent falsetto — it’s both hilarious and slightly sad.

    7. Ronette’s dream

    Here we get a horrifying first look at Laura’s murder. Ronette, who survived the brutal ordeal, awakes from her first season coma with a vividly disturbing dream of Bob’s gruesome midnight attack. The shot of Laura scream (complete with vampire teeth) is pure Lynchian greatness.

    6. Audrey dances

    Oh, dear. This one is almost awkward for me to write about because, well…it’s all about the sexiness of my pop-culture crush, Audrey Horne. This scene establishes Audrey’s magnetic sexuality — along with the seductive, intangible mystery of her character. After a conversation with Donna in the Double-R Diner, Audrey suddenly stands, enraptured by Angelo Badalamenti’s cool-jazz score, and succumbs to a trance-like sway. It’s impossible to pry your eyes from the screen.

    5. BOB’s ultra-creepy first apperance

    Grief can really screw with your head. But in Sarah Palmer’s case, it leads to a terrifying vision of a creepy demon-hippie hovering near your deceased daughter’s bed. Though the superimposed Laura-Donna head is awkwardly dated, it’s hard to imagine a more jolting scene than Bob’s first appearance — or Sarah’s subsequent scream.

    4. Mike, the one-armed man, and his nightmarish soliloquy

    “Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see / Once chance out between two worlds — fire, walk with me”

    3. Cooper’s Tibetan tactics

    Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dale Cooper is a man of unconventional methods — whether it’s following a hallucinatory dream, having lengthy conversations with a log lady, or throwing rocks at glass bottles. The latter method provides one of the series’ most iconic moments (not to mention another great line about freshly brewed Joe: “DAMN good coffee,” Cooper remarks, “and HOT!”).

    2. “How’s Annie?”

    The final scene of the Lynch-directed finale marks one of the greatest cliffhangers in TV history. After Cooper returns from his nightmarish night in the Black Lodge, he wakes up in his hotel room, ventures to the mirror, and sees the reflected image of BOB.

    1. The Red Room

    Cooper’s first taste of the Black Lodge ranks among the most unexpected and groundbreaking moments to air on the small screen. Aged 25 years, Cooper appears in a mysterious room with red curtains, as a backwards-talking Laura Palmer look-alike and the diminutive Man From Another Place. The reversed speech (generated from the cast delivering their lines backwards then reversing the tape) is the creepy cherry topping this ethereal vignette.

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    posted in Checkin' 'Em Twice by Ryan Reed


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    Rush - Rush

    Good news, Geddy-heads: Rush will be reissuing their self-titled debut album with a 40th anniversary release. In a new interview with Globe And Mail, Universal Music Canada executive Ivar Hamilton confirms that the prog-rock power-trio are “very involved” in the upcoming reissue. “It’s very important,” Hamilton says of the band’s influence. “We want their blessing. It’s paramount that they participate in the project for the sake of authenticity.”

    Rush was originally released on March 1st, 1974. Though the album does feature a handful of classics (including the Zeppelin-esque “Working Man”), it’s generally an overlooked item in the band’s catalogue — partly because it features original drummer John Rutsey instead of behemoth Neil Peart. (Poor, poor Rutsey: The late percussionist was the Pete Best of Prog-Rock.) It’s unclear what kind of bonus material this reissue will include.

    Meanwhile, Hamilton also dropped some knowledge about other possible reissues for 2014. Candidates include Supertramp’s masterful Crime of the Century and Elton John’s classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

    Damn, 1974 was a great year for music — they don’t make years like that these days. Here are some more awesome LPs that came out in ’74:

    Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
    Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic
    King Crimson – Red
    Kraftwerk – Autobahn
    Roxy Music – Country Life
    Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale
    Frank Zappa – Apostrophe

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    posted in News by Ryan Reed


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    Josh Holloway Intelligence

    In the pilot episode of Intelligence, Josh Holloway’s many talents don’t get lost in the shuffle, but, as is, he’s cooler than CBS’ daft new drama could ever hope to be.

    Holloway’s breakout performance on Lost as the cocky, complex Sawyer was so strong, I was confident he’d go on to become an even bigger star after the survivors of Oceanic 815 moved on. I vowed to give anything he starred in a chance. (Hello, 3D breakdancing movie Battle of the Year.) Truth be told, CBS could greenlight a mundane show about Holloway’s struggle to raise houseplants and I’d give it a chance. Instead, with Intelligence, they gave audiences what is essentially a hyper-serious reboot of Chuck, that is if it if Chuck had been a highly trained military officer with the tendency to go without a shirt.

    On the show, Holloway plays Gabriel Vaughn, a combat-ready government agent with a microchip implanted in his brain that enables him to access the globe’s digital information, visually recreate crime scenes, hack into emails, and, for some reason, unlock doors. It’s a simple premise that each character stops to point out more than once. Over-explaining is what the pilot episode does best, as if its viewers are living in the 1960s and can’t fathom what the Internet is. Correspondingly, Intelligence has a premise that seems dated, perhaps better suited if the series was broadcast after The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or The Wild Wild West.

    Marg Helgenberger, who plays Gabriel’s boss, says things like, “We connected a human being to the information grid — entertainment, WiFi, television, and satellite” in a way that makes it sound we don’t have access to the similar things on our phones. Helgenberger, to her credit, tries to make the series’ outlandish premise seem believable by keeping a straight face while delivering her tedious lines.

    In an attempt to make things more interesting, I guess, as the first episode tells us, Gabriel is “reckless, unpredictable, and insubordinate.” Intelligence also tries to spice things up by including villainous Chinese operatives that are determined to get the new technology and by tossing in a mystery about Gabriel’s missing wife, who seemingly went rogue years ago.

    The strongest part of the pilot is that it sets up Holloway’s character with a handler/potential love interest named Riley Neal (played by Meghan Ory), who is there as a Secret Service agent to protect the government’s interest and, simultaneously, add a much needed spark to the show. Ory is equally lovely and talented, but Holloway should also take some credit for making her character seem more interesting than she should be. After all, just like on Lost, here the actor shows a remarkable ability to develop lively chemistry and engage in likeable banter. After Riley’s wounded early on in the episode, Holloway says, in his most Sawyer sort of way, “It’s just a flesh wound. Don’t be dramatic.” It’s this sort of delivery and snarky dialogue, not the computer in the brain or the heinous baddies, which kept me watching.

    Notably, there were a few stylish scenes in the episode where Gabriel generates a completely three-dimensional crime scene and walks around it. But, visually and narratively, that will get old by episode three or four. After all, we’ve seen similar scenes in X-Men, Minority Report, and more recently Iron Man 3, among countless others. Hopefully, they’ll come up with more fanciful things for his computer mind to tackle.

    There’s a lot of potential in Intelligence, even though it’s not exactly Sawyer the Super Spy, which I would have, admittedly, preferred. When it doesn’t feel the need to re-establish its central concept every few minutes, it could be better. It’s up to the writers to determine how exciting a high-tech espionage operation of the week can be really. However, these writers initially seem to have sidelined the talented cast of Intelligence with some rather, I’ll say it, pun intended, unintelligent storytelling choices and clunky dialogue.

    Nonetheless, the show’s real success may depend primarily on Holloway’s ability to take what seems to be a very formulaic drama and create a character who can do something much more impressive than open electronic doors with his mind. He and the writers need to create a character that’s as memorable as the last one he played on television. Intelligence needs to find a way to use him better. Otherwise, viewers will eventually be saying “I’ve lost interest.”

    Holloway’s fans know that the actor has a lot of Han Solo-esque cool that hasn’t been tapped into yet on Intelligence. For a guy whose brain is connected to the Internet, it’d be nice if his character found a way to have a little more fun. A little more swagger and wisecracks from Gabriel could actually go a long way. Maybe, at least occasionally, the computer in his head could access those things instead.

    Rating

    C+

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    posted in Reviews by Jeremiah Massengale


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    Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 11.20.56 AM

    February marks the 50th anniversary of American Beatlemania, and the Fab Two, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, are reportedly contemplating a celebratory performance on The Late Show With David Letterman. According to Showbiz 411, the surviving Beatles might join forces during the late night program’s week-long tribute to the band — possibly on February 7th.

    CBS is honoring The Beatles (and their debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show) in a major way: Along with the rumored Letterman reunion, the network is planning a special about the historic Sullivan broadcast, which is set to air on February 9th, the air date of the original performance. A Grammy special featuring both McCartney and Starr is also set to air on the same night.

    And it wouldn’t be proper nostalgia without something to sell! The band’s upcoming box set, which collects all of their original U.S. LPs, will be released on January 21st.

    So…what should Paul and Ringo perform? And since we’re already in this line of thinking, if they were to play a fantasy Beatles set, who would you pick to replace John and George? (I think Jeff Lynne is kind of a given, and Clapton is a pretty logical choice.)

    Here’s Paul and Ringo playing “With a Little Help From My Friends” together in 2009:

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    posted in News by Ryan Reed


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    St. Vincent

    Artist: St. Vincent
    Song: “Digital Witness”
    Album: St. Vincent (out February 25th)
    Label: Loma Vista Recordings

    Rating: 9/10

    Finally, a track that both maligns and celebrates what it truly means to be thoroughly Millennial. As biting as it is tender, this funky chunk of satire plays to Annie Clark’s seemingly endless strengths — which, given the consistent quality of her work, should come as no surprise to anyone. In a recent press release announcing her upcoming self-titled album, Annie said she “wanted to make a party record you could play at a funeral.” “Digital Witness” nails that sentiment proudly to the wall with the line “If I can’t show it / If you can’t see me / What’s the point of doing anything?”

    In our ever-expanding “selfie culture,” there is no more inevitable and earned a gift than profound self-awareness.  However, there’s a newfound fear in many of us that such ubiquitous selfie pride will eventually render such displays as static, and thus, cloak participants in a blanket of white noise. What is pride when everyone is proud? Conformity?

    The death of privacy demands a certain amount of ponderousness, yes; but — as “Digital Witness” makes clear — it also demands an equal amount of restlessness about the future, both immediate and distant.

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    posted in Reviews by Trace William Cowen


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    saving-mr-banks-tom-hanks-emma-thompson

    Movie: Saving Mr. Banks
    Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith

    Director: John Lee Hancock
    Studio: Walt Disney Studios

    It’s hard not to enjoy Saving Mr. Banks because it is, in true Disney fashion, a sweet (or should I say sugary?) story about overcoming differences with a mixture of humor, drama, and triumph. Yes, it’s a bit incestuous — or maybe just a great PR move for Disney to make a movie about one of their most successful and cherished movies of all time: Mary Poppins. It is also Disney making one of their biggest attempts in recent history at Oscar gold.

    Saving Mr. Banks isn’t going to bring them a best picture win (It isn’t that good), but the film does have one of the best performances of the year: Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, is absolutely brilliant. Thompson, who is great in nearly everything, owns each scene she is in and helps blind the audience to the flaws within the film. Disney should be thanking her.

    The story focuses on the behind the scenes battle between Travers and Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) over the film rights to Mary Poppins. Hollywood does love making movies about making movies, and this one is another big celebration of how wonderful the movie industry is.

    Some critics feared the film would become one big ad for how great Disney (the man) was, but I was actually rather surprised at how Hanks approached the character. Hanks isn’t over the top. Yes, Disney looks like a good guy and saves the day by telling a sentimental story about his own relationship with his father, which melts Travers’ cold English heart; however, Hanks’ Disney feels pretty genuine or maybe just “Tom Hanks-y.” Paul Giamatti brings the sweetness in his role as Travers’ driver, Ralph, and the cast is rounded out by excellent turns from B.J. Novak, Bradley Whitford, and Jason Schwartzman. But even with these strong performances, the film falls short.

    For starters, there’s an extremely unnecessary amount of flashback scenes, which are meant to give the audience an understanding of Travers by showing her childhood in Australia and her relationship with her alcoholic father, played by Colin Farrell (Was it just me or did he look 10 years younger in this movie?). These scenes weren’t showing anything that complicated, yet the filmmakers thought we needed scene after scene to get the point. We didn’t. Most of these scenes were boring, and it took forever for the “Mary Poppins” figure to appear in the form of Travers’ aunt, played by the fabulous Rachel Griffiths. Honestly, I would have rather they cut all of these scenes and just had Thompson give a monologue about her character’s childhood.

    But my biggest issue with the film goes a bit deeper. Saving Mr. Banks’ most problematic flaw is that it simplifies the underlining ideas in the film and misses a great opportunity to truly explore different creative approaches and ownership over creative works. Should someone be allowed to take your piece and make it his or her own? How important is the author? Can someone else’s vision of your work be just as good or better than the original piece?

    On the surface, the film is showing this creative battle between Travers’ version of Mary Poppins and Disney’s vision for her material. But the audience knows Disney wins. When Travers begins the film by strongly opposing making it a musical or having any animation in it, we, the audience, know she loses the battle. It’s okay that she loses the battle, but how she loses it avoids the bigger issues at play here.

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    The film boils down or excuses Travers’ objections by making them strictly tied to her emotional connection to her father and her desire to see him as a good man (That’s where the title comes from). This is what connects Disney and Travers in the end — they both had difficult but loving fathers. This seems like the easy way out of all these conflicts. Yes, Travers has an emotional connection to her material (most writers do), but she also spends most of the film pointing out rather accurate or valid critiques of Walt Disney. These critiques are never faced head on.

    Travers finds Disney’s taste vulgar, over the top, and ridiculous. This is best showcased in one of her first scenes in California. She arrives at her hotel to find her room full of Disney merchandise (balloons, stuffed animals, a fruit basket, champagne, and, of course, a Mickey Mouse). With disgust, she quickly packs all of this into the closet. Later in the film, when Walt forces her to go to Disneyland with him, she says, upon entering the park, “Is it all like this?” The implication is “God, I hope not.” Thompson is perfect in both of these scenes bringing both humor and critique to her actions and words.

    She also questions the idea of creating such a fantasy-filled world that will only leave children unprepared for the realities that face them (Considering this is all taking place in the early 1960s, a lot of terrible realities are awaiting everyone). She doesn’t want her work turned into some sweet story with songs and dancing. As she hurls these critiques with perfect British wit, we have to ask ourselves, “Is she right?” But the film doesn’t give us much chance to do that. Before we know it, she’s dancing around the workroom singing “Let’s Go Fly at Kite,” and the filmmakers hope the audience is too. Many of her other critiques are laughed off as cultural differences. (Oh, those silly British!)

    I wanted a deeper discussion on these issues. I wanted both Disney and Travers to truly make their case. There’s no arguing that Walt Disney is one of the greats when it comes to family-friendly entertainment. That’s not to say the company has maintained that greatness. There have been missteps along the way, but his version is the classic Disney we hold on to and Mary Poppins is part of that. I’m not arguing that Disney shouldn’t have won the real life battle, but I wanted his character to truly make a case for taking Travers work and making it is own, and I wanted her to make the audience see why her vision is also important and perhaps serves a different purpose.

    In the end, Saving Mr. Banks feels like a bit of a tease. It’s almost the film it could be, but not quite, which makes it more disappointing. It’s enjoyable, but it feels like a Disney-ifed version of the truth (surprise, surprise). I guess P.L. Travers lost the battle twice.

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    posted in Movie Reviews by Stephen Mills


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