Saturday, December 23, 2006

Useless Film Snob Recommended Holiday Viewing

Christmas gets more films and television specials made about it than all the other holidays put together. While I have no problem with Christmas movies, it seems that for every It's a Wonderful Life that gets released, there's a pile of dog crap like Ernest Saves Christmas or whatever to go with it. So I'm here to help you with some of my favorite Christmas stories.

As a child of the 80's, I'm going to have get all nostalgic and go back to that decade. The 80's had its share of dreck (there was full length Yogi Bear Christmas movie that I found on VHS a year of two ago; there's no way this would be on television today). Besides the old Rankin-Bass standby, there were a pair of specials that are mostly forgotten today mostly because they're out of print and rarely shown:

A Muppet Family Christmas
This was shown on ABC in '87 I believe, at least that's the year we recorded on VHS. This must have been a wet dream for my six year old self seeing that it was the first time that all Jim Henson creations, Muppets, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock, were on the same show. It's a surprisingly funny show, even watching it now. The jokes appeal just as much to adults as little kids. I'm so attached to this show mostly because the now almost 20 year old tape I have of it is all that it remains, seeing that the DVD of it is out of print and often get $100 or more for ones on Ebay. Plus, the commercial version released has many songs cut out because Henson productions was too cheap to get clearance for everything. All in all, A Muppet Family Christmas is a forgotten gem that still is my favorite Christmas show of all time.

A Claymation Christmas
This is also on that revered VHS and another special that was released in '87. This was most notable at the time as being a tie-in with the California Raisins, whose commercials were somehow a cultural phenomenon. The show is various Christmas carols done in vignettes with various characters. It's nothing great but its nostalgic value makes it rate very highly, also because it can't be found on DVD or VHS. (Side note: South Park did something like this a couple of year ago, Mr. Hankey Christmas Classics. That episode still is one of my favorite South Parks of all time.)

There are the obvious choices here, especially A Christmas Story, which ranks highly but TBS's overkill has left my wanting to see something else. So, once again we go back to the 80's to pluck out a forgotten and overlooked film:

Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988)
In the last couple of years, this has become my favorite Christmas film. It's an updated take on A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray playing a Scroogesque television exec. If you know the Dickens story, then nothing of the basic plot is a surprise. What does work so well in the film is the biting satire of television, which in itself is a reflection on the decade. The film was partly written by Michael O'Donohouge, who was one of the original writers on SNL and was as probably as influential as shaping that show as any of the actors. The entire beginning, which is a big send up of bloated TV events, had to come from him. Bill Murray does a great job handling a familiar character but giving him enough humor and humanism to breathe new life into said character as well as the story. This film used to get shown on cable once and a while around this time of year, but less and less has been seen of it lately. It is dated, but that doesn't mean that it's not a entertaining film anymore. I happen to think it's one of the more refreshing holiday films released at least in my life of watching films. It sure beats the rampant idiocy of something like Deck the Halls. (Side note: and while I haven't seen Deck the Halls, if the trailer is any indication, it would be a complete waste of money.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I Hope I Don't Think I'm Important Now

This site has been around since January, and in the past year I've had around 120 page views or whatever qualifying feature sitemeter uses to track people visiting this blog. I'm certain that out of those 120, a good percentage were myself (I'll say around 35 to 40%). I've never created this site wishing to have a lot of visitors; it was mostly a way to stoke my ego because who doesn't want to read a half-assed review of Casino ten years after it was released? The lack of anyone else finding the site never really bothered me. I kind of accepted that The Useless Film Snob wasn't that great either.

All of this lead to the decision to just remove the site until I had a realization that since every other blog out there was posting a year-end list of the best albums, I might as well feed my ego and join in. So the Useless Film Snob got reinvented as a music site for a few days. Then, something weird happened. Since I posted the first part of my list on Sunday, I've gotten half as many visits in the last two days as I've gotten since I started the site in January. I found out the reason was that my list got posted on Largehearted Boy's index of best 0f lists, which I never expected to happen. I guess it's flattering to be on the same list with credible publications and well-known blogs. But I just made the list to for myself; and never really thought it would be taken seriously, or even seen, by hardly anyone else. I'm not trying to be an influential music blogger; there are too many of those already. What I'm trying to say is that I don't think I have any credible opinions to offer about music. I just like music a lot and happen to post about it from time to time. I do appreicated Largehearted Boy for adding me to his list. They do a great job of posting Bonnaroo and Vegoose sets to download. They are a credible music blog. And while I do appreciate that it has brought more visitors, I hope it doesn't mean this site will actually be taken seriously now.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Best Music of 2006 - Part Two

Now comes the time to reveal my top ten albums of the year. Before I start, I just want to say that 2006 was the first year that I really started to listen to lots and lots of different albums. It used to be that I liked what I liked and that was it. I was really into the whole jamband scene, but since much of it has fallen into boring repetition, I've gone elsewhere to find other stuff, and I've been pleasantly surprised at the wide range of albums that have made up this list.

Here's a category that I forgot to put on Part One of the list:
Best Music Related Website
An Aquarium Drunkard
Stereogum may be more entertaining at times, but nobody brings out the good stuff like this site. Besides the excellent podcasts, this site brings out rare stuff like The Black Crowes' "Lost Crowes" Material. Any site that posts about Califone, The Louvin Brothers, and the Bowie/Bing Crosby "Little Drummer Boy" track is worth a look. Plus, his Best of 2006 list is pretty much right on.

The Best Albums 0f 2006

10) Blood Meridian - Kick Up the Dust
Another Canadian group but their name and sound makes it sound like they come out of the American West. I consider this country-tinged rock with a hint of weirdness, music that recalls the violent and drunk West that been mythologized in literature and song. The album is a fantastic group of songs about simple themes (jobs, relationships, death) but done in such a captivating, haunting way.
Choice cuts: "Most Days", "Kick Up the Dust"

9) The Black Keys - Magic Potion
One of the appealing aspects of The Black Keys, but it also may be seen as a fault, is that you're pretty certain what you're going to get: straight-ahead blues rock. While Magic Potion may not stray that far from the sound of their previous albums, I think it's a better album than Rubber Factory, their previous effort. The sound here sounds fat, large, and almost impossible to be coming from two people. They may not be re-inventing the wheel, but if you're a sucker for classic guitar riffs and bluesy vocals, this album will appeal to you.
Choice cuts: "Your Touch", "Modern Times"

8) Bob Dylan - Modern Times
This is a natural progression for Dylan after Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft but it just doesn't seem to have the refreshing rejuvination of the first or the sublime nature of the latter. It almost sounds like these songs were outtakes from the Love and Theft sessions, they're that similar in their themes and musical qualities. Still, from Dylan, an album that almost sounds tossed off at times is infinitely better than what most other artists have released in the current year.
Choice cuts: "Thunder On the Mountain", "Rollin' and Tumblin'

7) Cat Power - The Greatest
A lot has been made of Chan Marshall's sobriety and newfound strength as a live performer, and I think some of the credit has to go to the fact she has quality backing musicians instead of just being a solo act. This album could be called Chan in Memphis, seeing that it has so many comparisons with Dusty Springfield, all the way down to the backing musicians. She sounds confident on the album, and her voice fits perfectly with subtle touches of the Memphis Rhythm Band that's been backing her.
Choice cuts: "The Greatest", "Lived In Bars"

6) Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
Jenny Lewis steps out of Rilo Kiley and makes an album that embraces country and southern soul without a hint of irony. Everything on this album is sublime, starting from the vocal harmonies on the opening track. The vocals clearly stand out but Lewis's lyrics, straight ahead and vaguely spiritual, are just as strong. The Watson Twins' harmonies add a touch of country gospel that really makes the album. I've read some reviews that this album is kind of a campy schtick, but I feel that Jenny Lewis honestly cares about this music and the country influences in it.
Choice cuts: "Rise Up With Fists!!", "Happy"

5) The Hold Steady - Boys & Girls In America
What's surprising to me about the Hold Steady's popularity and positive reviews in hipster circles is that they are making a straight-forward rock record and doing so without any irony. They're really just a bar band with songs that deal mostly with getting loaded and hookin up, none of which I think would appeal to that group. Part Springsteen, throw in a little twin guitar attack of Thin Lizzy, and some english major lyrics by Craig Finn, and you have a great rock & roll album.
Choice cuts: "Hot Soft Light", "Southtown Girls"

4) Solomon Burke - Nashville
Just hearing it, it doesn't sound like that great of an idea; the King of Rock & Soul doing an album of country covers. All it takes, however, is the first couple seconds of the opening track, "That's How I Got to Memphis" to change my mind. Burke understands that country music is just southern white should music, and the songs on this album have just as much passion and emotion of any of his soul classics. His voice may not be as spectacular as it used to be, but Burke's greatest quality on this album is the way he can make it adapt to each song presented. He can do the up-tempo numbers, and he can do the weepies. And the greatest compliment I can give is that Solomon Burke makes me feel what he's singing.
Choice cuts: "Valley of Tears", "Millionaire"

3) Band of Horses - Everything All The Time
When you want to describe Band of Horses to someone, you end up saying that they sound like The Shins mixed with My Morning Jacket. That's pretty much right on target; the songs here exist somewhere between the Americana guitar rock of MMJ and the power pop of The Shins. Ben Bridwell and company create shimmering songs that range from country influenced acoustic numbers to raw, guitar driven ones. Everything All the Time is a short (perhaps too short), concise album that I have repeatedly listened to over the past year.
Choice cuts: "The Funeral", "The Great Salt Lake"

2) Josh Ritter - The Animal Years
This album has been on or near the top of my best of list since I first got it. Up until recently, this was the album I had listened to the most over the past year, just being overtaken by the number one choice. The album is the standard singer/songwriter album, and while Ritter does nothing drastically different, the songcraft is done so well that innovation isn't something to be regarded. The melodies are superb, especially in the first three tracks. "Thin Blue Flame" is my choice for song of the year, with its vivid lyrical imagery and it quiet/loud crescendo. On a somewhat related note, in Stephen King's column in Entertainment Weekly, he declared this his number one album of 2006. Last year, he named Marah's If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry as his top choice. That album was my number two album last year, and Josh Ritter is number two this year. Strange.
Choice cuts: "Wolves", "Thin Blue Flame"

1) Howlin' Rain
Imagine a little more menacing Grateful Dead, throw in some Exile-era Stones, and you kind of have the sound of Howlin' Rain, a side project for Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire. The songs sound like the soundtrack to drinking beer in a isolated cabin on a dusty country road. The songs are more melodic than the Comets but they still feature psychedelic guitar chaos and the whiskey scarred vocals of Miller. The songs are shambling and border on the edge of disinegration, and maybe that's what appeals to me so much. Howlin' Rain isn't polished music; it's rough and imperfect, and yet it's still completely likeable. This album has that something that makes me want to listen to it over and over again. And for that, it's my choice for best album of 2006.
Choice cuts: They're all good but especially "Roll On The Rusted Days" and "The Firing Of The Midnight Rain"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Best Music of 2006 - Part One

It seems that no matter what I say about ending this site I always manage to continue it for some particular reason. Because I refuse to go the multiplex and Binghamton has no independent theatres, it's impossible for me to go into a best films of 2006 yet because I haven't seen enough of the candidates yet. But what I can do is post my best of 2006 in terms of music. My top ten will be posted later on, but here are the honorable mention candidates as well as some miscellaneous awards.

Best of 2006 Honorable Mention

The Be Good Tanyas - Hello Love
The first of a surprising number of Canadian acts on the list. A subtle blend of country, folk, bluegrass gospel and sublime vocal harmonies that make a quiet yet effective album.
Choice cuts: "A Thousand Tiny Pieces", "What Are They Doing In Heaven Today"

Sarah Harmer - I'm a Mountain
Harmer leaves AAC territory behind and heads towards a more rootsy approach. The bluegrass instrumentation and arrangements fit her vocal style just fine.
Choice cuts: "I'm a Mountain", "Will He Be Waiting For Me?"

Gomez - How We Operate
A little too polished at times but I think it's still a much better album than some reviews have said. Having seen them live twice in the past year, this material does have more vitality live, which is its greatest plus.
Choice cuts: "Hamoa Beach", "All Too Much"

Derek Trucks Band - Songlines
Bands that get labeled as "jambands" get stereotyped as being incapable of making solid studio albums. Trucks & co. are much more than a simple jamband and they prove it here, a enjoyable blend of blues, R&B, and traditional Pakistani music. And Derek Trucks may be the best slide guitar player on the planet.
Choice cuts: "Sahib Teri Bandi - Maki Madni", "Crow Jane"

Comets on Fire - Avatar
Proto-metal guitar fireworks, screeching vocals, lots of noise; it's the exact opposite of anything else on the list so far. Even though its noisy, the band can still get a serious groove going on "Sour Smoke." Still not the best Ethan Miller related project of the year however (more on that later).
Choice cuts: "Dogwood Rust", "Sour Smoke"

Built to Spill - You In Reverse
Overall, it may not be the best Built to Spill album, but it has its moments that made the wait worth it. "Conventional Wisdom" easily gets the award for guitar riff of the year.
Choice cuts: "Conventional Wisdom, "Liar"

Drive-By Truckers - A Blessing & A Curse
I don't think this comes anywhere close to the previous three albums, mostly because of the lack of stronger material from Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell. But the Truckers have proved they are more than just a "Southern Band."
Choice cuts: "Gravity's Gone", "Goodbye"

Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
The thing with Neko Case is that her exceptional voice always overshadows her songcraft. This albums has her strongest songs to day but it's still her voice that carries the album. The Sadies have added a distinctive foundation her sound that suits here just fine.
Choice cuts: "Margaret vs. Pauline", "Star Witness"

Califone - Roots & Crowns
One of the best discoveries I made this year was the genre that has been labeled 'alt-folk' or 'freak folk'. Califone seems to get lumped into this category but their music seems to go beyond that ridiculous category. These songs take a while to get into, but one you do, they continue to grow.
Choice cuts: "Spider's House", "The Orchids"

Brightblack Morning Light
Another 'freak folk' group that is re-inventing the neo-hippie aesthetic. No longer are hippies associated with jam bands; they can also create atmospheric, trippy music made for listening to in a cabin in the woods with a good amount of a certain weed. Also, this album has the best use of a Fender Rhodes I've heard in a long time.
Choice cuts: "A River Could Be Loved", "Come Another Rain Down"

Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
The Machines' second albums finds them greatly improving their songcraft as from start to finish, I think this is a stronger, more compact album of songs than their debut. While some may like the more spacey approach, I feel more concise songs greatly improve them.
Choice cuts: "Lightning Blue Eyes", "1000 Seconds"

Cold War Kids - Robbers & Cowards
One of those blog buzz bands that I happen to like quite a bit. Their appeal lies in intriguing vocals and disjointed melodies that sound new and yet have something old and familiar about them.
Choice cuts: "Hang Me Up to Dry", "Red Wine Success"

Lucero - Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers
If your looking for plain and simple Alt-Country album, you're not going to find anything closer than Lucero. While their sound doesn't stray too far from the Uncle Tupelo template, this album finds them adding piano and accordion prominently to their sound. Not as good as Nobody's Darlings, but their willingness to expand their sound gets them credit.
Choice cuts: "San Francisco", "I Can Get Us Out of Here Tonight"

Biggest Disappointment of 2006
Ray LaMontagne - Until the Sun Turns Black / Damien Rice - 9
These albums aren't disappointments in that I think they are bad albums; they both have their strong points. The problem is that I loved each's debut so much that both these albums pale in comparison. I think no mater what each released, I was bound to be let down.
But still check out: Ray - "Empty", Damien - "Grey Room"

Live Band of 2006
My Morning Jacket
Their nearly four hour Bonnaroo performance was the best live show I saw all year, nearly reaching the greatness of their rain-drenched 2004 performance. Their live Okonokos re-enforces the fact that they may be the best live band in the country right now. Plus, besides The Flaming Lips, they're the only band that can unite the hipsters and the hippies.

Monday, November 27, 2006

In Memoriam/Last Post

I have made the decision to finally pull the plug on this site but before I go, I want to recognize Robert Altman and the immeasurable influence he's had on film. While he was never as commercially viable as his contemporaries, Altman had just a big an influence on younger directors as Scorsese or Spielberg. His fluid camera, zooms, and overlapping dialogue are all hugely significant stylistic marks that made him one of the true innovative directors of the last forty years. It's hard to imagine what kind of films Paul Thomas Anderson would be making without the influence of Altman.

Personally, my favorites of his are The Long Goodbye (one of his most underrated and forgotten) and Short Cuts, but M*A*S*H* and Nashville are still solid and could probably stand up to another viewing. Robert Altman was an auteur in the truest sense of the word, when it was coined by theorists in the '60s. There aren't that many of those type of filmmakers left. The one thing that can always be said about Robert Altman was that his films were always true expressions of himself.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt

Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt (Margaret Brown, 2004) [6]
Townes Van Zandt has always been considered a cult figure, someone not well known but with a influential and extremely loyal fanbase. My first exposure to Van Zandt came from his cover of the Stones' "Dead Flowers" that played over the closing credits of The Big Lebowski and have been a fan since. Margaret Brown has made a fan's film obviously, as the film helps solidify the genius reputation that many have given Van Zandt but doesn't add that much more. The film has a wealth of archival footage and interviews which give an interesting portrait of Van Zandt the troubled individual as well as respected singer/songwriter. Van Zandt is shown as a person that is reckless and self-destructive, but still able to craft flawless songs. I'm not sure that I buy into him as a complete genius, but he was definitely a fantastic sonwriter. And throught the film, I always had the feeling that I wanted more information about Van Zandt the person other than he drank too much and was a fantastic songwriter. Also, there was a lot of Van Zandt's songs, some of my favorites like "Loretta" and "Colorado Girl" that aren't featured in the film, which is understandable seeing that Van Zandt's records were out of print for years and there has always been conflicts over who has rights to certain songs. But it seems a fitting analogy for a man who was filled with conflicts and appreciated by more after it was too late.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Short Cuts

Short Cuts (Robert Altman, 1993) [10]
I like the stories of Raymond Carver, what little of them I've read, and I know that Altman isn't 100% faithful in crafting this film, but what a tremendous film it is. Altman takes Carver's stories, which really could exist anywhere, move them to Los Angeles, and make something while still having elements of Carver's work, the particular attention to specific moments, and create something Altmanesque for lack of a better word. The film is a loose connection of stories where the characters are tied together through their actions. Magnolia, one of my favorite films, is clearly based on this, but here, there is no greater connecting feature. Altman lets the various characters come and go, with no knowledge that these interactions have any significance. A lot of characters have no idea what has occured in the other's story, which emphasize this feeling of isolation or feeling a lack of connection in a sprawling city. This easily could have been a complete confusing mess but Altman has such focus in his direction that all the transistions are seemless. After seeing this, it replaced The Long Goodbye as my favorite Altman film and is easily on of my top 10 favorite films of all time.

Useless Film Snob Version 2.0

I'm going to try to start up again and keep updating occasionally. My school and work schedule isn't going to allow me to watch a lot of films, besides being able to sit down and write a crappy review for anything. All this means that I'll probably give only short reviews, which makes this site even more useless. But what does it matter? Nobody's been here for a couple of months or so...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In limbo

This site is now on an indefinite hiatus.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cache (Hidden)

Cache (Michael Haneke, 2006) [8]
I’m pretty unfamiliar with Haneke’s work, but from what I hear, this is supposed to be his most accessible film to date. It’s a nicely constructed thriller with some taut moments but it doesn’t have anything that really pushes the boundaries of the genre. What Haneke does do is create his suspense in creative ways. For me, there was nothing that put me more on edge than the opening scene, where it looks like nothing is happening and the viewer can’t tell what exactly is going on. Things get a little bogged down when political and racial history are thrown in, but Haneke is smart in that he doesn’t let it take over the film. It’s mostly the means to an end if that makes any sense. I’m not quite sure why I liked this so much considering the main characters are Euro Yuppies who are wracked by guilt, which doesn’t sound that appealing to my tastes. However, it all comes together to make an interesting film. Definitely a contender for best of 2006.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The World

The World (Zhang Ke Jia, 2005) [6]
I really don’t have much to say of any consequence about this film. It kind of just went through me and when it was over, that was that. There’s no doubt that there’s something in the visuals here that is appealing but the narrative encased in this visual world is so shallow for me that I’m grasping for anything to define what it is I just saw. Zhang is clearly interested in what China has become and what it will be, in terms of its economic development and the effect it has on the people. I can’t think of any better place that could be a microcosm of this than World Park, a world based both on capitalism and globalization. What Zhang seems to be saying is that people and their relationships still exist in this ever expanding global power, but it feels to me that the two main characters’ relationship is dwarfed by the big societal ideas that are being presented. The film may look good, but it seems to be an empty shell, and whatever was inside it leaked out just before I got to it. And I still can’t figure out why there are animated segments in the film. They don’t look bad, but it’s still jarring.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Concert Calendar

Not much too report in regards to film reviews. My work schedule hasn't allowed for time to watch anything. Summer means concerts however. I'm off to Scranton for Phil Lesh & Friends with Trey and Mike with the Duo tonight. I got seats five rows from the stage so it should be great. Phil & Friends were really on at Bonnaroo but I didn't get to see the SuperJam which was Trey, Mike, the Duo with a special appearance by Phil. My friend and I went over to see who was in the SuperJam but it was already 12:30 and they hadn't started yet. We were exhausted and left and must have missed the start by about five minutes. Anyway, tonight will make up for it. As for next week, Little Feat returns to the glorious Magic City Music Hall in Johnson City, NY. I went when they came last year and was suprisingly impressed, considering I thought Little Feat without Lowell George would pretty much stink. They proved me wrong, and I hope they do the same next tuesday. And Magic City better have their AC working this time.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005) [6]
Really just Traffic except oil has replaced drugs. Gaghan, while he may be a credible screenwriter, doesn’t do much as a director. The aesthetic style of this film is so close to Soderbergh’s style in Traffic that it borders on ripping that film off. The story is so complex and interwoven that even the characters in the film don’t have a complete picture of what is going on, let alone the viewer. That’s part of the point of the script, but still, trying to decipher the details of the story becomes the main focus of the film. I can say that it took me out of focusing on the visual aspects of the film. It ends up being a film where the story overtakes the film; by film I mean all the story and visual aspects that define film. The script does make some solid political points, and truly has some depth of knowledge about the situation in the Middle East, so it redeems itself for that. But there’s nothing striking in anything here that makes me think that one of the best films of 2005.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2005) [2]
I can’t really give a much better review than here, which states everything that I feel about this film. Solondz is a mean-spirited filmmaker that uses cheap provocation and tries to disguise it as intelligent discourse. The entire essence of the storyline here is beyond my comprehension. What exactly is he trying to say; obviously it’s nothing that important because I can’t figure it out. Just some cheap shots at how shitty suburbia is (again) and picking on Jesus freaks (way too easy). Plus, the way multiple actors are used here makes it a gimmick, unlike in That Obscure Object of Desire, in which it has a real important and innovative purpose. That Solondz continues to get any credit as a filmmaker of substance boggles my mind.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Monthly Listening Post - June 2006

I haven't really discovered anything much this month, as I was pre-occupied with Bonnaroo. I do have two retrospectives to recommend however:

The Replacements -
Don't You Know Who I Think I Was: The Best of the Replacements
Gram Parsons -
The Complete Reprise Sessions

Like I said, Bonnaroo was fantastic. As soon I get my film developed (I don't have a digital camera) I'll post some of the pictures I took. In the meantime, here are my top 5 performances of the weekend:

1) My Morning Jacket - they laid it down late night in front of the biggest tent crowd I've ever seen in my 4 years at Bonnaroo.
2) Bright Eyes - Connor Oberst made me a convert with a great set highlighted by a surprise appearance by Gillian Welch and David Rawlins.
3) Radiohead - I was never that big of a fan before, but with 29 songs, they certainly didn't disappoint.
4) Gomez - one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend. Solid, but was surprised at the lack of a big crowd (there was a lot going on at the same time) and no 'Get Myself Arrested'.
5) Marah - this was Thursday night, so a lot of people didn't catch them. I've wanted to see this band for a long, long time, and all I wish was that they could have played more than an hour. Great cover of 'Baba O'Reilly', Dave and Serge jumping into the audience during 'The Dishwasher's Dream', and Beatle Bob doing the intro. Couldn't ask for a better start to what was a fantastic weekend.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Fog of War

The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003) [7]
While The Fog of War doesn’t stray too far from the standard documentary style that Morris utilizes in his films, he does have a couple of sophisticated montage segments that really show a side that can sometimes be missing in his films. What this film lacks a lot of the time is a dynamic quality that really engages the viewer. McNamara as a subject is really hit or miss; of course he isn’t going to go into that much depth about his horrendous Vietnam policy. But he and Morris know that is the crux of this film and it takes way too long to get the point. When McNamara does delve into that disaster, it almost redeems the film. I just he was willing to really analyze himself and the decision he made. Apply your little lessons.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Elizabethtown (Cameron Crowe, 2005) [3]
A major disappointment doesn’t come anywhere close describing how I feel about this film. I absolutely loved Almost Famous and this, Crowe’s follow-up, takes all the goodwill that picture built up in me and throws into a big stinking pile of rotten cheese. Crowe’s films have always existed somewhere between solid emotional relevance and total cheesiness, but this film is 100% limburger. Man, I was grinding my teeth anytime that Orlando Bloom opened his mouth. His character is a vapid, self-satisfied do-gooder that just pops his way in and out of scenes with nothing redeeming about him. And don’t get me started on the Kirsten Dunst character, another one of these peppy, living-life-to-the-fullest androids that teaches the dour male character that there is something in life worth living for. Give me break, please. The only time the film catches is when the Bloom characters shuts up and lets his family take over. Too much time is spent on having these two talk on cell phones, as if the cell phone has brought enlightenment to society, now that we can talk for ever and ever and ever… (A film should NEVER feature a fifteen minute sequence with characters talking on phones. End of discussion). Crowe is usually a master of handling a soundtrack but it really lands on target only a small number of times throughout the film, and he relies way too much on it at the end to give it its emotion. That’s what the images should be doing, but that was abandoned a long time before. From the way I’ve been writing it sounds like I absolutely hated this film, but I really don’t. I just expected a lot better.

One Day In September

One Day In September [/] (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) [7]
I had seen this a couple of years ago, but being that I liked Munich so much, I figured it was time to revisit it. I really don’t have that much to say about it except it’s a solidly made film. Through the talking head sequences, one is almost astonished how blundering and incapable the Germans were in handling the hostage situation. The lack of any coordination is at a level almost beyond comprehension. MacDonald uses the archival footage in a different way than standard docs. It looks like he manipulates the athletic action shots a little to give a little more visual spark that grabs the attention more. He also does a good of job of creating a more somber mood when talking directly about the hostage situation. Nothing much comes out of the sole living terrorist involved, but then again, what’s to be expected? I remember this won Best Documentary without being shown in theatres, and I was pissed that it won over Buena Vista Social Club. Looking back, however, I feel that this is the better film of the two

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Content Update

I just got back from Bonnaroo, which was fantastic. I'm still attempting to get caught up with reviews of what I saw before I left, so hopefully I'll get something up within the next couple of days. Not that anyone really cares because no one visits this site which means no one is reading this.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Essential Collection - Ken Burns' The Civil War

I don't really know why but I've always been interested in history and the Civil War in particular. I remember when this debuted on PBS in 1990 it was a big deal, but I was only in third or fourth grade and never really paid attention to the whole thing. I got it the DVD set a couple of years ago and all I can say is that this the greatest historical documentary film ever made. Ever. Ken Burns' style of filmmaking has been mocked and parodied over the years but it works exceptionally well here, mostly out of necessity. When all the historical documents are letters, and photographs, it's going to be hard to create something that can capture a viewer's attention, especially for 20 hours. But Burns does that mostly becuase he goes outside of the standard textbook history of the war, giving idiosycracies of the conflict. He has his two soldiers and their private ruminations to ground the film, while giving all the important figures and battles their due. There is just enough of the talking head shots, but the ones featuring Shelby Foote, while sometimes being anecdotal, give a temporary relief from all the seriousness. All in all, Burns made a film that can be seen as entertainment first instead of being a redundant history lesson. It's also nice to remember a time when a historical and/or political documentary didn't have to resort to partisan hackery.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Winter Passing

Winter Passing (Adam Rapp, 2006) [7]
This is the film Garden State should and could have been. It’s funny and offbeat at times, but it seems to have a real purpose behind it, unlike Zach Braff’s film. It’s the same type of story: a child is returning home after the death of a parent, to come into conflict with a father that doesn’t quite understand her. While I don’t fully buy into that whole storyline, it works in this film solely by Zooey Deschanel’s performance. With her porcelain skin, somewhat shaggy black hair, and her wide-eyed blue stare, there’s a way her physical presence really stands out in a film. Her performance has a kind of post-ironic bend to it; she always has a way of giving her lines in a somewhat flat way that sounds disinterested but is in fact the opposite. Perhaps my overabundance of praise on Deschanel clouds my overall vision of the film, but I really don’t think so. Rapp’s visual style, with quite a bit of handheld work and scenes that look muddy and bleak give the film its attitude. It’s a quiet, reserved film, dark at times, with a main character that almost exists in a cloud. As I said before, Deschanel carries the film, but there are some other strong performances. Who knew Will Ferrell could actually be funny by restraining himself? The only problems I have are that the Ed Harris character is underdeveloped and the ending gets a little too sentimental for my tastes. But this is an actor’s film, and all the actors understand their roles in the film, which makes it work.

Two For the Money

Two For the Money (D.J. Caruso, 2005) [4]
For the last couple of years, Al Pacino has become known more for his overblown performances than the serious acting chops he showed in the 1970s. He’s pretty much played into the parody of Al Pacino that can be seen on sketch shows, and this film does nothing to discredit it. Pacino hams his way through every scene, that his manic performance towers above all else in the film. That’s good because it gives this scattershot film something to cling to. On one hand, it’s about the business of sports gambling and the effects that has on people, but it also wants to be about family and the bonds created through men in the Walter (Pacino) and John Anthony (McConaughey) characters. If the film had focused more on the business of gambling and exactly how Walter’s business is run, it would have been a much more interesting film. The film’s best moments come out of here, whether it’s Jeremy Piven’s performance as a jealous son figure or the near satire that comes when Walter and his handicappers are taping their show. This is the one time that Pacino’s overacting plays perfectly into the character of the film. But all the other characters fall flat in comparison to him throughout the rest of the film, which makes this less than effective.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Grifters

The Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990) [7]
Neo-noir is, for me, something that’s pretty hard to define because it doesn’t have any concrete characteristics to define it the way film noir did. This film is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to being considered the template for neo-noir, not so much for visuals but just from the film’s atmosphere. The characters here are two-bit chiselers trying to find a way out of their seedy, crime-ridden lives. The three main characters here are prototypical noir characters, but they also have a bleaker undercurrent to them than most noir protagonists. That could be because they were the creation of Jim Thompson, who always creates dark stories. What complicates this film is the issue of family and relationships. It’s never easy to tell what the true relationships between all three characters are. Is what we are seeing really how the characters feel about each other? I can never be exactly sure and that’s my only problem with the film. It’s very often that I admonish praise on a score, but Elmer Bernstein’s here is a perfect film noir score. The end is 100% noir, with the characters realizing the need for survival trumps all.

Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005) [7]
This was the first film by Jarmusch that I have seen and his minimalist style is certainly on display here. I have to say I really like it, especially when it focuses on the Bill Murray character’s interaction with the women in his past, especially when it involves dinner. As the Hack has pointed out, the film has a sense of upstate New York regionalism to it, as the shots of Don driving look very similar to what surrounds me here in Binghamton. The film uses these settings in a way that creates a world where there is a lack of action and that certainly could describe upstate. The character of Don is interesting to me, but I also have some issues with him. Murray plays him with just the right amount of resignation in regards to his Don Juan past, but I have a hard time pinpointing his motivations for his journey. It feels like the Jeffrey Wright is pushing him to do this in order to let his character exist in the story as a detective type. I think it is a film that visual style trumps story, which puts the actual film in a sort of middle ground that I can’t make up my mind if I like it more than I do.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

F For Fake

F For Fake (Orson Welles, 1976) [5]
This is a rambling, shabby documentary which was the last finished film released by Welles. I begrudgingly recommend it because it does what Welles says it’s going to do; play with the notion of what is real and what is fiction. What starts as a straight-forward doc on a notorious art forger morphs itself into a meditation on the nature of creating hoaxes and fiction, which is essentially what filmmaking is all about. What really intrigues me about the film is Welles’s domineering presence in the film. He overshadows the two characters that he meant to chronicle. This could have been extremely pretentious, but it comes across as engaging. The film itself has no center, as it ambles from thought to thought, with Welles giving just enough information to keep it together for the most part. The end goes off on an extreme tangent about Picasso and some women, but it makes sense when you realize the ground rules that Welles laid down at the start of the film (I won’t give away the secret). It’s not close to the best work of Orson Welles, but it certainly has its interesting moments.

On another note, occasionally, I will revise some of the grades of films that I've given. I felt I was a little too generous with a couple. Me and You and Everyone We Know went from 9 to 8 and 2046 is now a 9.


Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005) [10]
With the exception of Schindler’s List, I haven’t been that big of a fan of Spielberg’s work. I respect that he has considerable skills in the craft of filmmaking, but I always find his films sterile and overblown. Munich is almost the exact opposite, a film that has tangible emotions but crafted in a way that makes it entertaining in typical Spielberg fashion. This is a film that has a moral ambiguity and doesn’t take a specific political side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but still creates empathy for the Israeli operatives. The one point where they are foiled by supposed CIA agents in an assassination attempt actually had me mad at the Americans. While this sympathy with the main characters could be a determent, I think it works in advantage for the film. The audience progresses as the characters do: at first gung-ho in their tasks, but as events progress, everything they’ve been doing gets questioned. I feel Spielberg is trying very hard not to take sides, and he is questioning the endless cycle of revenge and violence that has ensnared the debate. He does it tactfully, and even though the film is fairly simple in political terms, it’s still effective in the overall scheme. I was also really impressed with the filmmaking, as Spielberg adopts a more European, 1970’s visual style with all the handheld camera work and use of the zoom lens. Like Schindler’s List, Munich goes beyond the standard entertainment that Spielberg films usually give. When he does that, he makes films that I really like. The best film of 2005.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monthy Listening Post - May 2006

This past weekend was my college graduation - sort of (I have one more class to take in the fall but Binghamton University let me walk in the ceremony) so I've been a little busy of late. I did see Munich over the weekend, and while never a big Spielberg fan, it's one of his best and on my top of 2005 list. A review will be posted in the next couple of days.

May's listening post is a little late this month. Since I'm heading to Bonnaroo next month and I don't think I'll have another listening post post until after I get back, this month is a collection of some of my favorite past performances that I've seen as well as some acts I'm going to catch this year:

1) Gomez - How We Operate
2) Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
3) The Black Crowes - Live at Bonnaroo 2005
4) My Morning Jacket - Live at Bonnaroo 2004
5) Drive-By Truckers - Live at Bonnaroo 2005

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The New World

The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005) [8]
The films of Terrence Malick are the reason that I became a film buff. I saw The Thin Red Line and it was a eureka moment for me. Days of Heaven is one of my top three favorite films. From all this you might think I have a bias towards any new Malick film. I certainly like this a lot but I was a little disappointed in the film overall. The first thirty minutes are utterly fantastic, the visual majesty just stupendous. My issue comes with about the final third of the film, with John Smith gone, and John Rolfe in. I’m not saying Colin Farrell is a great actor but he has a presence that is much more in tune with the film than Christian Bale as Rolfe. It feels to me that this section removes itself too far away from the meditative presence of the natural world that was so predominant in the first half. It kind of redeems itself with a nice juxtaposition of imagery at the end of Pocahontas, but I still feel the strongest moments exist with her with Smith in the new world. All in all, I still admire the film just for the staggering beauty of the cinematography, which drew me into Malick’s films in the first place.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Milk Was a Bad Choice

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004) [5]
I’ve seen pieces of this but have never sat down and seen the entire film. That may work to its’ disadvantage, seeing that this is a film of funny moments that doesn’t quite make a very good film. The plot really isn’t that important, it’s just a way to let the jokes out. Will Ferrell’s performance has its really hilarious moments but at other times it feels he’s trying too hard to come with an out-of-left-field joke or response. It feels like a lot of this was improvised, which means a lot of it is hit and miss. Still, its funny moments are a lot better than most comedies being released today. And it has possibly the most absurd, hilarious line I’ve ever heard in a movie.

Fair and Balanced?

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (Robert Greenwald, 2004) [4]
Here’s a big surprise for you: the Fox News network is in cahoots with the Republican Party and gets across an overwhelmingly conservative viewpoint! The problem with this film is the only people that are going to see it are ones that already know that Fox News is a joke of a news network. So Greenwald doesn’t have to do much except preach to the choir. It’s a shame that these hack, partisan documentaries (on both sides of the political spectrum) are getting so much notoriety because they plain stink as films. This film doesn’t have any filmic elements to it, just a lot of talking heads and the ironically at time, the same graphic schematic that Fox News utilizes so well to their advantage. It’s never good when you’re argument is relying solely on far left talking heads, the exception being a couple of scenes with Walter Cronkite. The film does have some good moments, most prominent being the Bill O’Reilly “Shut Up!” montage. As a liberal though, I can find nothing here that I didn’t already have a hunch about, which is a little disappointing.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Essential Collection: The Long Goodbye

The essential collection are films that I have already seen and own that I consider some of my favorites . All of these films I have seen before and for the most part, they received a grade of 9 or 10 with some exceptions. As I re-watch these films, they will get a post under being part of the Essential Collection. The latest edition to the collection is The Long Goodbye, from 1973 by Robert Altman. I'm a little up and down when it comes to Altman films, but this is definitely my favorite of what I have seen of his work. What really appeals to me is that Altman has reinvented Philip Marlowe from the tough Humphrey Bogart character of 1940s L.A. and placed him in 1970s L.A., all frumpy and mumbling, played by Elliot Gould. It can be seen by some to be a disatrous move, but I think it was brilliant. The concept of "Rip Van Marlowe" is key here, as it seems as Marlowe had been asleep for thirty years only to wake in the 70s and be completely out of place. I really like Gould's portrayal of Marlowe, nothing like Bogart's, but something that still makes him sympathetic. The story is a typical winding Raymond Chandler plot with a lot of gaps not clearly filled in. Plot was never that important to Chandler and it's really not here, as the characters that inhabit the film really shine, especially Sterling Hayden and Henry Gibson. The Long Goodbye is often a forgotten film of Altman's, and while it's certainly of a certain time, there are plenty of things to like about it, especially Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography.

Don't Look Back

Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) [9]
Considering I’m a Dylan freak, I’m almost amazed at myself that it took me this long to see this film. There is no doubt that D.A. Pennebaker is one of the great rock and roll documentary filmmakers with this film and Monterey Pop, bringing the cinema verite style into these films. The most interesting thing about this film to me is that there really isn’t that much music, and when it is present, it’s underwhelming. Dylan is clearly bored with being considered a topical folk singer; he seems just to be going through the motions a lot. The one moment of premonition comes when the camera captures Dylan window shopping, gazing at some electric guitars. The real focus of the film is what occurs off the stage. From this film, one could get the impression that Dylan is a childish, crass b.s. artist. I think it shows an artist attempting to deal with all the inane questions from the press and all the ridiculous baggage of being “the voice of a generation.” The times they have-a changed, and Bob Dylan has changed, and this film is a perfect documentation of the young artist at a particular time in his career. This also has one of the most mean-spirited moments I have ever seen in a film. There's a scene where Donovan is playing a twee love ballad for Dylan, Dylan complements Donovan, takes the guitar from him, and goes into "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." You can pratically see Donovan's soul getting crushed.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Some Food for Thought

Felt like posting some non-film related stuff. So here it goes:

1) Carlos Mencia is like that annoying kid in school who would say or do anything to get everybody's attention. He is quite possibly the most overrated (if he is held in any esteem at all) comedian today and his show is childish and simply put, sucks.

2) Josh Ritter's new album is possibly the best album I've heard since Ray LaMontagne's Trouble. If you don't know who he is or his sound, definitely check him out. (This reminds me of last Tuesday's Scrubs where J.D. describes himself as a "sensie", a sensitive guy whose soundtack is acoustic alternative. I think that pretty well describes myself. Josh Ritter fits into this category.)

3) This summer may be the best for concerts in a while. Since it's my last summer of reckless freedom before I have to go into the real world with a real job, I'm going to go to as many as possible. Besides my yearly trek to Bonnaroo, there's the Radio Woodstock Mountain Jam at Hunter Mtn. in upstate NY, there's the Black Crowes/Robert Randolph/Drive-By Truckers, Trey Anastasion & Mike Gordon with the Benevento/Russo Duo and Phil Lesh, Ray LaMontagne/Guster, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and as every summer, the Allman Brothers. Then there's the great lineups at Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, which I can't afford to go to.

4) The greatest 2 minutes in sports, The Kentucky Derby, is this weekend. I was lucky enough to go the 2001 Derby and have to say there is no sporting event quite like it. I have been around horse racing my entire life (my dad used to own a couple of horses), and while the culture of it may go against my leftist leanings, I still love it. I'll go with a Barbaro/Point Determined/Cause to Believe trifecta. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, just forget all of what I just said.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Importance Of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest (Oliver Parker, 2002) [6]
I had to read Oscar Wilde’s play for a British Literature class, and subsequently we watched the latest film version in class. The problem inherent in making of a film of this play is that it isn’t a very long play, which means this film has some filler in order to get it to reach ninety minutes. I really don’t have much to say about this film. Wilde’s humor is consistently witty, and there are truly some really funny moments. But there is only so much I can take of lampooning upper class Victorian Britain; it’s not something that is that interesting to me. The material that was added to the film that wasn’t in the film doesn’t add anything else to the film and a couple of scenes added for comedy really don’t fit with Wilde’s humor. This film really isn’t supposed to be anything more than a filmed play, and director Parker is smart enough to stay within the boundaries that Wilde crafted. All in all, a breezy picture that no glaring faults that I can find.

By the way - I encourage anyone who is a rational thinking human being to support The Day Without Immigrant rallys and boycotts going on throughout the country today even though I'm being a total hypocrite and going to work. I still believe that all immigrants, illegal or not, deserve to have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else in this country.

Freak 'n' Roll Into the Fog

The Black Crowes: Freak ‘n’ Roll Into the Fog (director unknown, 2006) [7]
The problem with concert films in the age of digital media is that it has become possible that every band can make their own film for very cheap. While that may be good in that fans can have a keepsake of their favorite band, it has also made the quality of these films very poor. Concert films nowadays aren’t even close to the quality of a film like The Last Waltz or Woodstock. This one isn’t any different, but since The Black Crowes are one of my favorite bands, I’m going to like this. The fact is this is a better constructed film than some of the other direct to DVD concert films that I’ve seen. The continuity of shots and editing are much smoother than I really expected. The real reason I feel this is watchable is the performance of the band itself. I have seen The Crowes twice in the last year and they have never been better as a live act. The one thing this film does is capture a band at their pinnacle as a live act, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Ice Harvest

The Ice Harvest (Harold Ramis, 2005) [5]
This is a somewhat begrudging approval for a film that really had the potential to be a lot better. When this was released last holiday season, it was marketed as a black comedy a la Bad Santa. What this film actually is, however, is a modern noir laced with elements of black humor. I think that if Harold Ramis realized this, he could have made a much better film. John Cusack plays the standard noir protagonist, an everyday loser who gets into events way over his head. I liked Cusack’s character for the most part, but felt the film tried to hard at the end to make him a nice guy when he really did some awful things. I didn’t think there was enough humor to consider this a comedy even though Oliver Platt and Billy Bob Thornton do have some funny moments. The whole sequence between Thornton and the trunk are really great. The one real aspect of this film that I give issue to be that the beginning is a little rambling. It goes all over the place before it finally lands on the central action. The scenes where Cusack and Platt are together really seem too long and feel detached from the rest of the story. But I felt it picked itself up enough to recommend it, if just barely.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) [10]
Yes, I have finally seen this and after watching that piece of self-important garbage that is Crash take best picture over this, it makes me sick. Brokeback Mountain is by far the more superior film in every regard and in fact, much better than I anticipated. The film is essentially a melodrama with gay cowboys but I never said I didn’t care for melodrama. This is an achingly gorgeous film, in images as well as action. Ang Lee’s direction, while not taking many chances, is still enthralling, especially how he uses the images of the vast American frontier to frame this doomed love story. I don’t think I have seen a better first 45 minutes of an American film in quite a while. Lee simply lets the camera linger and let it capture. Nothing is forced in the acting, and the deliberate silence in which Ennis and Jack form their relationship is exceptional. Heath Ledger is great but there is something about Michelle Williams’ performance that really gets me. It almost borders on transcendence. That is the acting performance of 2005. A lot has been made of the politics of this film, but at its essence it is just a story about doomed love. That the relationship is a gay one has no consequence on the story itself, which is exquisitely told; the socio-political ramifications should have no bearing on its craft. As of right now, the best of 2005.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Monthly Listening Post - April 2006

The number of new releases this past couple of weeks has been tremendous. These are the best of what I've heard recently. I know I'm leaving the new stuff by Fiery Furnaces and Calexico, but I haven't got a chance to hear them yet.

1) Drive-By Truckers - A Blessing and a Curse (in my mind, this is the best band in the world right now)
2) Built to Spill - You In Reverse
3) The Flaming Lips - At War With the Mystics (a funny thing; when I first heart Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, I absolutely hated it. I listened to it a couple more times and saw them at Bonnaroo 2003 and now they're one of my favorites.)
4) Band of Horses - Everything All the Time (sounds like The Shins mixed with My Morning Jacket)
5) Josh Ritter - The Animal Years (may just be the album of the year)
6) Cory Branan - 12 Songs
7) Nicolai Dunger - Here's My Song...

Monday, April 10, 2006

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005) [6]
Let me just say that you won’t find a bigger fan of Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared than myself. Those two shows were created and produced by Judd Apatow, who happens to direct this movie. So maybe I came into this with a little too high expectations. Its funny and all, but that’s about it. There’s nothing in this film that really creates the connection in me the way those two T.V. shows did. All that being said, it’s nice to see a comedy that can still be consistently funny and have some real emotion behind it. The characters, especially Steve Carrell’s, gets ridiculed but is still treated with humanity and real emotion. The character of Andy could have easily been a cheap joke punching bag, but he is portrayed as a real person. But I feel that Carrell does carry the film on his shoulders a little too much. I thought the other characters, while having tangible qualities, relied a little too heavily on stereotypical humor, especially the characters that weren’t white. I didn’t like the Paul Ruud character, and I’ve never found Paul Ruud really funny in anything. And I can’t remember a comedy that was over two hours long (unless you consider The Godfather, Part III…...ZING!).