Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Thursday, October 13th, 2011
It’s weird how some things just don’t translate from my childhood to the childhood of my own kids. I was obsessed with baseball. My kids are as likely to watch baseball as they are to watch Matlock, and they’re as likely to play baseball as they are to be Matlock. They don’t get Seinfeld at all, they’re indifferent to The Simpsons and the absolutely HATE MacGyver. Which I think makes them heathen little turdfarts, but they disagree.
Then again, it’s surprising to me how some of the things I was into actually still work. I was into Transformers. Now that I HATE the new Transformers movies, the kids love them. I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And one crappy new movie and they’re right into it too.
Then there’s Weird Al. When I was 12, I was a Weird Al fanatic. I bought every tape. (Well, to be fair, I forced my parents to buy every tape. Remember cassettes?) I watched all the videos. I saw UHF on day one. And now, MY 12-year-old is just as fanatical. Somehow, Weird Al Yankovic has managed to endure for 20 years without slipping, and watching his new DVD, The Alpocalypse Tour, he appears not to have aged a day.
We watched it together, and sadly I realized that Weird Al has, in fact, passed me by. My 12-year-old LOVES it. He sings along with every song, he keeps looking at me to make sure I’m laughing as hard as he is. But I’m not, not any more. I still felt a sweet pang of nostaligia when I heard some of the old classics – “Fat”, “Lasagna”, “Eat It”. You know, all his food-related parodies. And the rest of it, thanks to Owen, was very familiar. Polka Face, Yoda, Amish Paradise, Craigslist, eBay.
But the only recent song of Weird Al’s that I find to be true genius is his Lady Gaga parody “Perform This Way”. (Also, during the live DVD, it gives him a chance to make a terrific wardrobe change – see above video). I still enjoyed The Alpocalypse Tour, out October 4th from Paramount Home Entertainment. And I’m certain I’ll be watching it seven or eight more times. Just not by myself. Not any more.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Director’s Fan Cut Ultimate Collectors’ Edition. On DVD August 23rd. (******6/10)
Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
Country: United States
Featuring: Justin Bieber, Usher, Snoop Dogg, Jaden Smith, Miley Cyrus
Director: John M. Chu
Run time: 115 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
I know what’s coming. And I’m fully prepared to take the flak that I am sure I will take for actually recommending the Justin Bieber documentary Never Say Never. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition of the Director’s Fan Cut of the Justin Bieber Film (a run-on-title if there ever was one) comes out August 23rd from Paramount Home Entertainment. and it’s interesting.
Now, I first of all want to state that in no way is this an endorsement of Justin Bieber’s music. Were this a concert film, I would be rating it on a more Jersey Shore-ish level. But it is NOT a concert film. It’s a documentary about a subject that I actually find fascinating – how, exactly, did Justin Bieber – Justin Bieber! become one of the biggest superstars in the world? Straight from youtube to Superstar without the machinery of Nickelodeon or Disney guiding the rise to fame? How is this possible? And WHY do little girls LIKE this?
I didn’t get answers to all of this. I still don’t know why little girls like this, only that they do. And I truly still don’t understand the appeal of the music itself. But I do understand the skyrocketing fame, at least a little more than before. Three things – one, he had a team of people who believed strongly in him and forced the issue (Usher was one of them). And two, he worked really really hard. And three, he is the ultimate Social Media Entity. It was perfectly normal and reasonable for him to put everything he did on youtube. He’s been tweeting (presumably) since he could type.
That, I think, is the real story here. The triumph of social networking and social media over the conventional methods of becoming a musical star. (Or even the less-conventional, more recent methods, which involve getting a TV show where you sing, then becoming a singer with a TV show.)
That journey is what I find amazing. And that’s what this movie provides. There are other interesting moments – I was, actually, moved a couple of times. Sometimes even positively. When you see a young girl get invited up on stage to be serenaded and presented with flowers by Justin Bieber, it’s tempting to roll your eyes. And I did. I wouldn’t be crying, shaking, whatever. I wouldn’t even be interested.
But think about this in a different way, for a second. My favourite band is The Who. If I were at a Who concert, and Pete Townshend called me up on stage to sing with him on “My Generation”, I might go a little weak at the knees as well. And whether you understand it viscerally or not, watching these girls tremble and weep over such a contrived, lame set-piece is still somehow very affecting.
One thing I learned about Justin Bieber is that he can actually play music. He’s a pretty darn good drummer, and plays guitar as well. Another interesting thing about this documentary is how that ability is used by the Bieber camp. It’s a novelty. He gets behind the drum kit, because it’s just another cool, novel thing they can throw into his live show – check it out, he can play music too!
Now, you think about that for a moment, and it’s infuriating. The ability to play music is just a gimmick for people who perform music for a living? But you think about it, and you realize that for little girls today, it IS. Imagine if you found out that Britney Spears was an accomplished oboe player. Or that the chick from Pussycat Dolls grew up studying the works of Chopin at the dining room piano. Would you be shocked? Actually, you would. I think. I would be.
Now I realize, as I said earlier, that I’m going to take flak. I will be mocked and receive snarky emails from people who have never seen this film. Not that I recommend you run out and watch it. It’s interesting from a music-insider perspective, and not much more. That just happens to be something in which I am interested.
The Ultimate blah blah blah Edition blah blah of the Director’s blah blah Justin Bieber comes with a little heart-shaped Justin Bieber pendant, a soft velvetty box, and a second disc of bonus features that are more directly targeted at little girls than is the movie itself. And all I’m saying is this – if you have to buy it for your daughter (and you may well have to do that) you could do worse than sitting down to watch it with her.
Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
Genre: Documentary, Music, Sports
Country: United States
Starring: Billy Joel
Appearances: Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza, Roger Daltrey, John Mayer, Tom Seaver, Steven Tyler, Don Henley, Garth Brooks
Directors: John Small, Paul Crowder
Run time: 95 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
One of the coolest concerts ever was the one Billy Joel put on at Shea Stadium to close down the legendary old building. Guest stars like Roger Daltrey of the Who, John Mayer, Tony Bennett, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Garth Brooks, Don Henley of the Eagles, and an incredible surprise appearance by Paul McCartney. The story of McCartney’s arrival at the airport, and the help he had just to get to the show in time from the police and from air traffic control and seemingly all of New York City, is by far the best story in The Last Play At Shea, out March 22nd from Alliance Films.
This is not a concert film. There is very little footage of the concert itself, and Daltrey, Mayer, Tyler, Bennett, Brooks, Henley and the rest barely appear in the film. Rather, this is a documentary about New York City, Queens, Shea Stadium, Billy Joel and the New York Mets. Not necessarily in that order. The problem there is that the documentary just scratches the surface of each of those things, and provides little depth.
I’m not a huge fan of Billy Joel. But I found his story interesting – his marriage to Christie Brinkley, his childhood in New York and the suburbs, getting screwed over financially by a close friend - I would have liked to hear more. I love baseball, although I’m no Mets fan. And I love their story – the miracle comeback over the Cubs in ’69, Mookie Wilson’s ground ball through Bill Buckner’s wickets in ’86, those early disastrous years – I would have liked to see more.
And so it is with the rest of this incredible cast of characters. I would have loved to see a whole documentary on the groundskeeper who is still with Shea Stadium at the time of this concert, who was the guy who drove the Beatles onto the field when they played Shea at that monster show at the height of Beatlemania, who reconnected with McCartney when he arrived for this massive show.
More than anything else, though, I wanted to see more of the SHOW. The documentary shows snippets of performances, and some of the Tony Bennett and McCartney clips are longer – maybe 30 seconds at times. But John Mayer and Roger Daltrey and Steven Tyler are barely there at all. And the special features are just a couple of short deleted scenes from the doc. None of the full performances are included – although you can get them here.
I love concert documentaries, and The Last Play At Shea is okay, and worth viewing if you have a passing interest in Joel, baseball, or New York City. But it doesn’t compare to the great ones like The Last Waltz. (Another film that celebrated the end of an era – in this case the career of legendary act The Band.) What Scorcese did in that film was focus on one thing – The Band. And while he too included both interview footage and concert footage, he gave both enough time to resonate. And he included full performances.
When I see Bob Dylan take the stage in The Last Waltz, I want to see Bob Dylan play his full set. I don’t want to see nine seconds before being taken away to another subject. And that’s what The Last Play At Shea does. It gives me nine seconds at a time, each on a fascinating topic that just whets my appetite for more. It’s good, but frustrating.
Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Laurie Berkner sings in little music videos that appear between TV shows on Nickelodeon Jr. That means all of her songs are aimed at really, really little kids. Which means those songs are really, really repetitive. From a strictly musical standpoint, there is little to recommend Let’s Hear It For The Laurie Berkner Band, the DVD out September 14th from Paramount Home Entertainment. If you watch the video posted above (the second song on this disc), you will understand that both Victor and Freddie ate their food like good little boys…or good New Jersey mobsters…and then did so again, over and over and over and over.
Kids like any repetitive, bouncy and friendly music. They like the Wiggles. And the Jonas Brothers. And AC/DC. So they’re bound to like Laurie Berkner who, like Suzanne Pinel and Sharon Lois and Bram before her is bouncy and cheerful and pleasant and totally kid-friendly. And I’m sure that they can sit through 45 minutes of this, although parents may not be able to hold out that long.
Here’s the thing though – I think there is another market for Laurie Berkner’s music, much like there’s another market for cartoonishly upbeat bonkers children’s fare such as Spongebob and Yo Gabba Gabba. The stoners. Not being a stoner myself of course, I don’t know for sure that this DVD would go perfectly with an afternoon of giddy weed-fueled shenanigans. I don’t know whether the random children who appear, floating in the air, would produce giggles or wide-eyed wonder. I don’t know if the repetitive, relentlessly upbeat songs would be mesmerizing. But I suspect they would.
I also think there is something else going on behind the music. Although Laurie Berkner appears to be a chipper, effervescent Sunday-School-style goody goody, I suspect that once the cameras are off, a new Ms. Berkner appears. I think that after spending the whole day playing Paul Anka For Kiddies, she drives home to the strains of Megadeth with the windows cranked low in her Escalade. Then the Wu-Tang reverberates through her house as she downs shots of tequila and logs on to a fetish website.
I have a healthy distrust of most children’s entertainers. I suspect the worst of that pirate guy on Spongebob and the dude from Blue’s Clues, just as I did Pee wee Herman and Mister Rogers in their day. But I trust Laurie Berkner. I think she is probably a very warm-hearted and lovely person. With a dark side. One that comes through a tiny bit in songs like “Victor Vito” (seen above). I think it’s possible that Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco are more than just characters in her song. I think they may also be her bookies.
Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Genre: Documentary, Music
Language: German w/ English subtitles
Starring: A bunch of East German bands
Director: Dieter Schumann
Run time: 115 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
I like Whisper & Shout!, out January 19th from First Run Features. It’s one of those cool “rare” movies that have finally been released on DVD after many years of obscurity. This one was filmed in the former East Germany in the late 80s, and followed several bands as they played little festivals, traveled around their country and met their fans. I like the bands, and they have some interesting things to say.
The problem I had with the film was that the interesting things they had to say were mostly about music, or their fans, or the grind of driving around in a van and attending festivals. All of that is fine, and as a music fanatic I enjoyed hearing all this stuff from bands with which I was not previously familiar. But as a news junkie, and as someone who loves to learn about history, I was expecting something more. My fault, I’m sure.
I was expecting a window into the culture and life that was East Germany in the late 80s. I got that, to a degree, but it was incidental at best. I was surprised to see topless lesbians openly attending outdoor concerts together. I thought the regime was far too oppressive to allow these open-air shows with all these rowdy young people. But the cops seem to be cool, the kids don’t seem to be too worried about the police or the government, and most of their music isn’t protest music.
That makes the film interesting on one level – a lost rarity, suitable for hardcore Rammstein fans (a few members of that band appear in the movie with their earlier groups), but it just wasn’t enough history or insight into 1987 East Germany for me.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
“When overcome by their lusts, humans are no more than beasts”
I’m giving Opera Jawa the benefit of the doubt with this rating. Frankly, I can’t understand a large portion of the film. It’s in Indonesian, with English subtitles, and the whole thing is sung. Which means that the English subtitles are in flowery musical-language. Some of the scenes in the film are dream sequences and others are what’s actually happening. It’s difficult to tell which scenes are elaborate metaphors for the story, and which ones are the actual story. Both appear to be approached the same way. Which makes the whole thing very confusing.
The basic premise is a story based on a Hindu epic, The Ramayana, and “The Abduction of Sita”, a portion of that narrative. The story centres around a husband and wife, Setyo and Siti, who live in a village and sell pottery. They are happy, but when the husband is called away on business, the local butcher (who may also be some kind of local warlord or gangster, I’m not sure) decides he wants Siti for himself. At first his advances are rebuffed, but finally Siti gives in. Although the butcher can sleep with her, he can’t win her heart, which belongs to Setyo. When the husband returns, the relationship is not the same, and his jealousy and rage boil over.
At least, this is what I think is going on. It really is tough to tell. There’s a weird group of women who keep popping up to sing what appears to be nonsense, or at least something that has nothing to do with the story. Like, a song about how you can’t whip oxen to make them go faster. There are a whole bunch of woven cones that appear throughout the movie, but I could not figure out, try as I might, the significance of the cones. With all the drawn-out singing, drawn-out pose striking and drawn out bizarre hand gestures and dancing, this movie is far longer than it needs to be in order to tell its story. I think. It’s about two hours long, and the songs take forever.
I think a big problem for me was the songs. They seem to be almost atonal to my Western ear, and it was tough to discern any melody in them. Which meant that the music did not grow on me through the two hour running time. At the same time, the movie remained watchable because of the vivid use of colour and some great filming. One scene in particular has stuck with me, where a bunch of women wearing red unfurl a red carpet over a lush green field. It’s beautiful. The movie is certainly visually interesting, if not terribly impressive. And I had to enjoy watching it, because I sure didn’t understand a lot of it. I’m not sure whether some of the lines were poorly translated for the subtitles, or whether they were just bizarre lines to begin with. For example:
“My sperm sparkles in the heavens!”
Umm…I don’t get it. What does that mean? Does it have anything to do with the story? I really can’t tell. There is a “discussion guide” that comes with the movie, a PDF file that you can read on your computer. I read it because I really wanted to understand this movie more. Here is an excerpt:
“The butcher sings of his power as he dances across the stone floor of his shop. A bloody carcass hangs from the ceiling and molded human heads form a pattern on the floor. Why are there heads on the floor? What are the heads made of? Why?”
Well, these were the exact questions I had. I was hoping the discussion guide would explain some of this stuff to me, rather than just asking the same questions I had asked myself. And I had many questions. Perhaps after a few more viewings I could have come up with a better interpretation of the film, but it’s a tough slog as it is. Opera Jawa comes out Tuesday, March 24th, from First Run Features.
Monday, March 23rd, 2009
I am a big fan of Michal Cera, and after watching Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist I am also a fan of Kat Dennings, who works incredibly well with Cera as the title characters, Nick and Norah. Dennings was pretty good in Charlie Bartlett, but this is the movie that really shows her range and skill. And hotness. It’s one of those teenage one-night movies, like Can’t Hardly Wait or Go, one of those movies where teenagers seem to have but one night to get the girl (or guy) of their dreams, and the movie follows them on that quest for the Perfect Someone. The fact that they are teenagers and the resulting happy relationship will likely not last past Thursday is irrelevant. For this One Night they have a mission.
In this case, neither Cera nor Dennings is on a mission to get the other, really. They are thrust together by a shared love of indie music and their obnoxious exes, and discover they have something in common. Of course, as in every similar movie, there must be a conflict before they make up and the movie can end, and all the regular plot points are hit in order. But thanks to Cera and Dennings, absolutely everything about the film seems fresh. I am still mystified at Michael Cera’s ability to play the stammering, sort-of-nervous awkward teenager in every movie (Superbad, Juno) and make it different. It really does seem as though he’s playing the same character in every one of those movies, but the genius of Cera is that he actually isn’t. And every character he plays is fascinating as a result.
The music in the film is great, even if you don’t particularly like the indie stuff or the emo stuff. It works with the film and helps the story move quickly. There are a few problems with the film though – the supporting characters are all good, especially Nick’s all-gay band mates in the band The Jerk-Offs, but they all feel too familiar. Especially Norah’s sloppy drunk friend Caroline, who has a totally-smashed adventure through the city that feels like one of those movies where a baby goes missing and has an adventure all to himself at the mall. Except that instead of a baby it’s a drunk girl, and the jokes aren’t about formula and baby wipes, but instead about eating gum out of a pile of vomit.
It’s an unnecessarily gross scene in an otherwise smart and charming movie. The entire movie feels incredibly familiar, because every other character and every other plot point has been done before in some other movie, from American Graffitti to Adventures in Babysitting. However, thanks to Dennings and Cera, it doesn’t feel irritatingly familiar, it feels comfortable. And the two of them are certainly unlike any romantic couple at the centre of any of those other movies. Also worth noting is the performances of Alexis Dziena as Nick’s smoking hot ex-girlfriend. She is playing a familiar character too – manipulative and petty and basically rotten – but she steals several scenes and adds something fantastic to the film.
Saturday, May 10th, 2008
Once is a film I watched yesterday, as my girlfriend lay around sick after she got home from work. I wanted to watch 12:08 East Of Bucharest, but she was not awake or feeling well enough to pay attention to subtitles. Which was fine. Once was in English. Only, once it began, I still needed to put on subtitles until I got used to the accents and the Irish brogue. Since most of the movie is music, the subtitles became fairly funny. There would be instrumental parts that still, apparently, needed subtitles, so the screen would say “note note”. Well, it would have little pictures of musical notes, but I can’t find that emoticon. I suppose this was for the hearing impaired who may watch the film. My advice here is that this film is NOT good for the hearing impaired. Most of it is music, and it’s the music that carries the movie. The main character is played by Glen Hansard, the vocalist and guitarist for the Irish rock group, The Flames.
The Flames must be very good, and I plan to pick up one of their albums to find out, because Hansard is fantastic in this movie. Not just as a musician and singer and songwriter, but as an actor as well. He is effortlessly charming, and totally believable as a man hurt by a former lover. His co-star, Marketa Irglova, is terrific also, and the chemistry between the two is palpable. Once is as simple as movies get. There is a connection between two people, they come together through music, and they do some stuff. That’s it. There really is nothing more to the film, and the songs aren’t Bob Dylan-earth-shattering material. But the songs are perfect for the film in that they are simple, they drive the story on their own, and the movie gives them plenty of time to be felt. Each of the songs in Once is very good, and each one is given it’s full three minutes of screen time, in what could easily have been cheesy Patrick-Swayze-on-the-beach-type 80s montages. But they aren’t. It’s the simplicity of the shots along with the simplicity of the music that works. There is one long tracking shot of Iglova walking down the street for four minutes while the song plays. And it really works.
The ending frustrated my girlfriend a bit, but then, so did the rest of the movie. I give her a pass on that one, she’s sick. The film is so full of goodwill, it’s so charming and heartwarming, that no healthy person could really hate it. For those of you who have seen Lost in Translation, Once is as close to that film in tone as any other. It is not as good, but few films are. It is funny, it’s sweet, and it’s immensely enjoyable without resorting to the big finale where they record an album and land a gig, and then the screen fades out as they play Wembley Stadium or anything pretentious like that. There is also none of that irritating will-they-or-won’t-they get together garbage that comes from sitcoms like Friends and such. It just is what it is, and what it is is terrific.
Saturday, May 10th, 2008
Across the Universe thinks it is very smart. And in some ways, it is. But in watching it, I was constantly aware of the smug sense of self-satisfaction the people involved obviously felt. The concept of the film is that it is a story that is told through Beatles’ songs. That’s about it. So what it ends up becoming is a loose and poorly connected collection of related stories, barely adequate acting, and some heavy-handed symbolism and satire. (Example: There is a sign painted on a wall in New York that says Cafe Huh? Get it? Example 2: They sing “Revolution”, and as they talk about pictures of Chairman Mao, lo and behold, there’s one on the wall. The rooftop concert. Remember when the Beatles did a…never mind.) The characters all have very convenient names for a movie with Beatles songs as its only means of conveying plot. There is a Lucy, a Jude, and Maxwell, Sadie, Prudence and Jojo. Jojo is convenient for the song Come Together, Lucy appears in a sky with diamonds, and Jude…well, obviously. For some reason, Maxwell never goes on a silver-hammer-aided rampage, and that disappointed me a little. I mean, he WAS sent to Vietnam.
In the end, Across the Universe ends up being nothing more than a series of music videos set to Beatles songs, with the occasional staggeringly cheesy my-first-video-editor-kit special effects. And yet, somehow, against all odds, it works. It should not work. I should not enjoy this movie. In fact, I kept kicking myself, over and over, every time I realized I was having a good time watching. Which, at the end of the two-hours-plus run time, left my non-kicking leg extremely bruised. I can’t explain it. I really don’t understand why it was good. It just was. Bono shows up as a guy in a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache to lead a rousing rendition of I Am The Walrus. Eddie Izzard, as Mr. Kite, appears in a cartoon music video that looks as though it was shot by the Monty Python animation department. And Salma Hayek shows up in a nurse uniform to do backing vocals on Happiness is a Warm Gun.
In the end, the movie’s main failing is that it is WAY too long. This would have been a terrifically entertaining one-hour movie, but at more than two hours, it requires a commitment. Also, the best covers of the Beatles songs come near the beginning – a fantastic version of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, sung by a lovesick lesbian teenager, and a heartbreaking version of Let It Be set during a riot in Detroit. Also great is the take on Revolution. The only moment in the movie where you feel and see the song the way the Beatles intended. Song to skip: I Want You/She’s So Heavy. This is painful in that same heavy-handed sort of way. It’s a draft board, see, and Uncle Sam is singing I Want You…to join the army…and then the soldiers are singing She’s So Heavy while carrying…the Statue of Liberty. You want to scream at the television. Come ON! There are many other songs worth skipping as well. And the dialogue is dreadful. The guy at the unemployment line in England says “I was going to retire when I’m 64.” Get it? Or the explanation for the presence of Prudence in the apartment: “She came in through the bathroom window”. We GET IT. Now STOP.
I know, it seems like I’m ragging on this movie, and, in point of fact, I am. Nothing about it adds up. It should really be awful, and it IS awful. But somehow, it came together enough to entertain me reasonably for at least an hour. Get it? Came together? Whooo, I could have written this film. I don’t know how I could have written a more ambiguous review, but there it is. This movie is terrible. And you might just enjoy it.