Monday, May 28, 2007


Watched The Proposition. Sort of. Saw it in a roomful of people, with several conversations going on at all times. If you’ve been to one of these little film-watching events at my house than you know what I’m talking about—it’s a sort of controlled chaos that’s better suited to oddball genre stuff like The Calamari Wrestler (which we also watched). The kind of thing that you can look over at occasionally and wonder did I just see that? Was that an octopus fighting a squid? In a boxing ring? And then go back to whatever you were discussing. The Proposition, unfortunately, is an actual movie, one that I feel like I’ve seen a third of. Or seen all of with a third of my brain. I fully intend to write about it anyway, though, which is like one of those, what do you call ‘em, metaphors for what all of us are doing here on the Internets. Lecturing from a postion of ignorance—I recommend it!

Anyway, if you’re not familiar, The Proposition is the Nick Cave western—and that’s all the review you really need if you’re familiar with the western genre and the Cave ouevre (try saying that out loud.) Certainly it’s enough to make a lot of people edge away—I was careful not to mention the screenwriting credit when I was trying to get my guests to watch the thing. But that’s because there’s this caricature of Cave as some sort of absurd, self-important Goth Elvis (that’s Glenn Danzig!) rather than just a smart and funny guy who can write pretty damned well. Maybe it’s the moustache.

So, we’ve got an Australian western—which is a sub-genre well-steeped in insanity already. Sun. Flies. Dust. Blood. Sweat. Funny accents. Guy Pearce and Danny Huston are brothers and outlaws, Ray Winstone (or “Sexy Beast” as he will forever be known in my house) is a tormented and extremely unhealthy lawman, Emily Watson is his long-suffering wife, John Hurt is a spectacularly hammy bounty hunter. People get flogged, stomped to death, and shot in the head, although not in that order. Virtue and vice are both extravagantly punished. I think it’s pretty good.

Interesting connections: I read more than one review of this movie that tossed around the name of Cormac McCarthy. This is a slightly lazy comparison, based mainly on the western setting and the presence of lavish violence punctuated by philosophical musings, but it’s still interesting. It may just be coincidence, but Proposition director John Hillcoat is supposed to be in line to direct the movie of McCarthy’s most recent novel (and Oprah’s current Book Club pick!) The Road. Which could, you know, be pretty awesome. I just read The Road—for class, no less—and knowing what I knew, I couldn’t help but think that there was a certain Nick Cave vibe to the whole thing. I also thought it seemed pretty unfilmable—it’s mainly about scrounging for canned goods after the end of the world—but no one should ever let that stop them.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I See You've Played Knifey-Spooney Before.

So, I mentioned Spoon earlier without mentioning the extremely important, extremely troubling fact that their upcoming album has a really stupid title. (Have I mentioned that titles matter? They do.) Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga? What’s that? Did I even get the correct number of “Ga’s?” They announced that title some months ago, and I kept waiting and hoping that somebody would come out and say “aw, we’re just messin’ with ya. We’re not really gonna call it that. It’s gonna be The Bloodening. Or Smell the Glove. Or something.” It didn’t happen. Apparently it’s for real. This is a problem, especially if the album turns out to be really great—which could very easily happen. I don’t want to be put in a position where, five years from now, I’ll have to stroke my chin thoughtfully and say something like “the piano part on this track is extremely reminiscent of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga-era Spoon.” Because, you know, I’m not going to do that.

This from the band that made Girls Can Tell. Now that’s a great title. Sigh.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The National Interest

This guy has an admirable, if geeky, goal—he’s blogging every R.E.M. song. Not quite as ambitious as an album for every state, but still a hefty job of work. Sure, every reasonably popular band has one or more of those lousy “stories behind every song” books written about them, but those are inevitably just cash-in fan junk pasted together from interviews—this is more of a labor of love. I suspect some of you may recall that I was once quite the fan, back in the Clinton era; I had to suppress the urge to start posting comments immediately. (Hey, why all the hating on “Wendell Gee?” Pretty tune! Banjo! What more do you want? And “Can’t Get There From Here” is clearly the worst song on that album.)

Anyway, I could totally do that with Radiohead, but I’m sure that about 17,000 very serious teenagers already have. I might do it anyway; I’m smarter than those damned kids.

Plenty of non-nineties music to write about, though. It’s been a good spring, and it just got better. I got the Wilco album, and so far I’m pretty happy with it. It’s very easygoing and approachable, superficially nothing like the scary, sandblasted vibe of A Ghost Is Born. So—going back to the nineties for a moment—if Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the “difficult but acclaimed” album, the OK Computer, if you will, and Ghost Is Born was the “pseudo-avant-garde-nervous-breakdown” album, the Kid A, then in theory this record should be Hail to the Thief. And frankly, I’m not hearing it. No “Myxomatosis” or “Wolf at the Door” here, just lots of laid-back tunes and really, really well-produced guitar playing. So maybe we can all relax about Wilco, is what I’m saying, and so much the better. They’re going to be okay!

(And yes, of course, that means that Summer Teeth is The Bends. Why wouldn't it be? "She's a Jar" = "Fake Plastic Trees." Obviously. Why is this so hard for you people?)

You may now get excited about the National, however, If you hadn’t already—I keep trying to force them on people. “You just haven’t seen my good side yet,” Matt Berninger pleaded anxiously on Alligator, their really excellent 2005 album, and he was pretty much exactly right. He was definitely not singing about his good side, and it was great. Alligator was dark, and funny, and seductive—thirteen songs spent in the very entertaining company of people you normally wouldn’t want to be in a room with. But Berninger may have been more right than he meant to be, because Boxer came out this week, and it may very well be better. I haven’t been able to stop listening to “Fake Empire,” the first song, since I downloaded it a month or two ago. (First of all, I’m a sucker for that whole three-over-four rhythm thing they do when the drums kick in—real muscians are no doubt completely unimpressed, but for me that works every time; it always feels like the song is trying desperately to fall into place and can’t quite do it.) They can play. And this guy can write, and he can sing. No spectacular vocal acrobatics here—for you nineties fans, Berninger’s cracked baritone is a distant descendant of the late lamented Mark Sandman’s (of Morphine) and today the closest match seems to be Britt Daniel of Spoon. But Spoon is inseparable from their icy, perfect minimalism—they’re the American indie-rock band as expensive brushed-aluminum coffeemaker; the National’s music is lusher, darker, and more romantic, and Berninger’s lyrics are more anxious and more arresting. “Tired and wired we ruin too easy,” and “it’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky,” and other weird and startling things that leap out at you as you listen. I’m still working my way into it. Somebody else get this, so we can argue about it.

(Also, that's a disturbing cover. I didn't have a wedding, but if I had, I'm not sure I would have invited the National to play. Might, you know, freak out the squares, what with all the songs about stalking. And drinking. And dancing naked on the coffee table.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Missing

Hey, everybody. Been gone a month. Got married. The Departed was overrated.

Oh, don’t act so surprised. I’ve lived with her for seven years, and Scorsese clearly only got the Oscar out of pity. Sure, Raging Bull wasn’t “Best Picture,” and neither was Goodfellas, but if you get all your A-list friends together and make a big ol’ blood-soaked ball of silliness, Academy-love will follow. Every time.

That movie was okay, don’t get me wrong. It’s high time we all realized that Mark Wahlberg is a comic genius. Few people know this. I’m not sure that Mark Wahlberg himself does. But in the right hands, he’s a force to be reckoned with. Did you see I Heart Huckabees? Yeah, nobody much did, but ol’ Marky-Mark is a terrifyingly hilarious force of nature in that movie—the sort of person you should avoid at all costs. And in The Departed, he almost steals the show with a) his sincere, undying hatred of Matt Damon’s character, and b) his terrible haircut. Good stuff.

And if you’re reading this, you know where to send gifts. Not that I encourage that sort of thing.