Sunday, August 28, 2011

No. 23 Arcade Fire

Way back in June I started counting down my favorite bands of the moment. It's been a lesson in how fickle I am, since I didn't include Bon Iver on the list. Their new album, which is one of my favorites of 2011, would surely elevate them into the rankings, but I just can't find a spot for them.

Arcade Fire comes in here, just ahead of my friend's contemporary Christian group, which performed a casual reunion show after lunch last Sunday.

At its best, Arcade Fire can deliver epic, emotional performances that build and build until the band topples its audience like no other current band can. At its worst, Arcade Fire feels pretentious and out of touch with songs about how fucked up life is and no solutions how to fix it.

They're musically gifted, and they want you to know it, which I guess is why they've taken to swapping instruments after virtually every song during recent live performances. Did Led Zeppelin ever do this? I don't think so. Perhaps because Jimmy Page was so damn good at guitar and the band knew its fans wanted to see the master at work, even if John Paul Jones could hold his own as well.

See, I want to dismiss Arcade Fire as out of touch and over-the-top, but then they deliver certain performances I'll never forget, and certain songs that always seem to find me where I am. They won the Grammy for best album last year, which means their mass appeal is increasing and more people will be interested in what they do next. My advice is to simplify and try to write songs about something other than how messed up the world is. Coming from millionaire musicians who have conquered just about all there is to conquer, the old message falls a little flat for me.

From the Queue: Leon: The Professional and The Beaver

Leon: The Professional
This was the highest rated movie on IMDB that I had never seen, so I added it to the queue. It stars Natalie Portman, who proved at just 13 years old that she could play "quirky" alarmingly well. Jean Reno is relentlessly creepy as a mob hit man who meticulously cares for his precious house plant but is fairly incapable of basic human interaction. The movie starts out with Portman's family, who she mostly hates anyway, being executed by a renegade thug cop (the also creepy Gary Oldman). She's taken in by Reno, who inexplicably starts to teach her how to become a "cleaner," which is mobster code for a hit man. The action sequences are pretty cool and memorable, but the acting is consistently unnerving and I had to watch a few episodes of Parks & Rec in order to get the taste outta my mouth.
Three stars

The Beaver
For proof of how political the Oscars are, look no further than The Beaver, which was carried by an absolutely amazing performance by fallen star Mel Gibson. His star has fallen so far that critics, and I'm sure the Academy voters, will look past his turn as basically playing himself. The movie is about a guy so depressed that he's pretty much ready to kill himself until he finds a beaver puppet in the dumpster and uses it to create an alter-ego that is confident and masculine and owns a pretty bad ass Australian accent, which Ali got annoyed at me for emulating throughout our viewing. In real-life, Gibson seems pretty depressed and, I hate to speculate, maybe near death himself. It was clear this character hit close to home and the movie, as contrived as it is, will resonate with those of us with messed up family histories. The Beaver deserves props for daring to stand out and for finding actors who could turn its silly storyline into something resonant and memorable.
Four stars.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

From the Queue: Blue Valentine, Trust, Source Code

Blue Valentine was well reviewed because of its perfect acting, unique storytelling and edgy filming. But even though Blue Valentine will rightly be studied by film students for years to come, it fell short for me because of its bleak world view. It paints a picture of marriage, relationships and adulthood that border between being dark and outright disturbing. Want to find yourself unsettled? Then go watch the "lovemaking scene" between Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling toward the end of the film. Get a new perspective on disliking your job by watching Gosling pound beers before he heads off to his job as an interior painter. And then there's the film's climax, an uncomfortable, and not all that believable, scene where a buzzed Gosling confronts Williams at the doctor's office where she works. Watch this movie if you want your own life to feel better by comparison, or if you enjoy feeling depressed as hell.
Three stars.

Trust is a movie about a young girl who falls victim to an online sex predator and then, along with her family, struggles to cope with the crime's fallout. It's also a movie about the complicated reaction to statutory rape, where the victim doesn't always feel like a victim. Clive Owen, never one to smile on screen, plays the girl's dad, who goes off the deep end while trying to cope. He thinks about grotesque revenge with such zeal that his family, especially his daughter, start to slip away. Gritty stuff. And while, like Blue Valentine, the acting was stellar, I was kind of left asking myself what's the point of this movie? As the credits role at the end, you see a home video of the attacker walking with his wife and kids and interacting with strangers as if nothing in the world is wrong. It's creepy for sure, but didn't we already know online sex predators were creepy. Oh, and the fact it was directed by Ross from Friends inexplicably made Trust more unnerving for me.
Three Stars.

Source Code is good old fashioned utterly impossible sci-fi fun about a former soldier who gets dozens of chances to avert a terrorist attack of a Chicago commuter train. The science behind why the solder gets so many tries is never fully explained, and all the better, since no explanation is really necessary. By the end of the film, the hero (Jake Gyllenhal) has a crush on a girl on the train. He's told no matter what he does, the train will blow up and the girl will die, but he believes otherwise, and the audience knows better. This is a slapstick thriller that hooks you immediately and never lets go. Just be sure to remove your thinking cap before you watch this one.
Four stars.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A love song

For the nerds and the fanboys. For the fans of Lost and fantasy basketball. For the guys who know what Indiana's recruiting class looks like for next year and who the junior senator from Vermont is. For the guys who visit blogs to weigh in on their favorite NFL team's inside linebacker depth, and the guys who know their favorite brew's score on Beer Advocate. For those who logged on to buy Animal Collective tickets to the Big Sur show and lost (devastation!). For anyone with an XBox live handle and a grasp of Tim Riggins' strengths and weaknesses. For everyone who bought Y: The Last Man, each edition by glorious edition. For the superstars of the local dive bar trivia league, for the science geeks and creative writing dweebs. For all those guys who inexplicably and completely without reason found a girl to love them. I believe the cliche is "outkicked his coverage," correct? A love song: