Archive | September, 2009

As Tiiiiime Goes By…

29 Sep

handAck! No posts for a little while, and such is life. I’ve been getting ready for next week’s show at the Hotel Utah (Facebook event is here), which is going to be super fun, but has eaten up a ton of my time. We’re doing a totally different show this time around, with an acoustic band featuring cello, violin, upright bass, trumpet and trombone, and, of course, three vocalists. Because of that, I have… an entire set’s worth of music to chart out. Again. Hmm. Might not have thought this through.

The upside is that once we do this show, I’ll have a full set of charts for all the music for both full-on electric band and acoustic band, and I probably won’t have to do this sort of marathon chart-writing again.  The downside is… well.. marathon chart-writing.  Blurg.

Anyhow.  I have a few things I want to write about – some good local music, a fun thing I heard about last week’s Mad Men lawnmower incident, some great iPhone games to try, but I won’t be able to find the time until later this week.  Until then, thanks for stopping by, and mark your calendars for next Thursday!

Rest In Peace

23 Sep

Here lies The Internets

Yesterday I heard a lady on a cell at Trader Joe’s say it, and she just sounded so pleased with herself…

Sigh. Let’s just accept it and move on. There will be time to grieve later.

“Adventureland” – A Hearty Endorsement

23 Sep

Are you looking for a really good movie?  A movie that will make you feel warm and fuzzy about things, about people, that will make you laugh, make you cry, make you want to believe in true love again?  My friend, it is with gusto that I recommend to you Adventureland.

Adventureland Hilltop

It’s not the film you may think it is – though it was directed by the same guy, (Greg Mottola), it is totally not some goofy Superbad-ish comedy about pervy teenagers. Also, though it features Kristen Stewart, AKA “Girl from Twilight,” it is not some overwrought teen romance movie. What it is is a heartfelt, beautifully shot coming-of-age movie with a killer soundtrack, part Dazed and Confused and part Garden State. I mean both of those comparisons in a good way.

It’s kind of like when the Farrely Brothers made “Outside Providence” – based on the ad campaign, everyone thought it was a goofy gross-out flick when it was actually this really sweet, nostalgic, and personal movie about family and one’s place in the world. Just as with Providence, one gets the sense that Adventureland is a very personal film, based on Greg Mottola’s own experience (it is). It also captures a place and time (Pittsburgh in 1987) in much the same manner as Providence captured Rode Island in the 70′s. And the film is similarly well-written, generous to its large, hilarious cast, and really easy on the eyes.

Adventureland Fireworks

Adventureland Lisa P

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig

Adventureland Jessie Eisenberg

Plus, Freaks and Geeks fans rejoice, it features the one and only Martin Starr.  In a speaking role!  That lasts more than a few scenes!

Martin Starr 3

And, as if that weren’t enough, you get to see Bill Hader do this:

Adventureland Bill Hader Baseball Bat

And did I mention?  Martin Starr!!

Adventureland Martin Starr 1

So, seriously.  Go rent it!

The Fantastic Mundane

21 Sep

New Pornographers Twin Cinema DetailI recently read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Matt Zoller Seitz’s article on IFC, titled “The Mundane Fantastic.”  In it, he discusses how even in this age where entire scenes and even films can be composed digitally (with no camera at all), filmmakers still strive to re-create the physical camera. As he points out, they go so far as to add lens flare, camera vibration, simulated hand-held camera jitters, and in one notable case, a speck of dirt on the lens of a camera floating in space.  A speck of dirt that never existed, on a camera that was never there.

The question Zoller Seitz has set out to explore is, “why?” As CGI moves further and further along the path towards being able to re-create reality wholesale without the need of any analog camera or audio equipment, why is it that filmmakers are moving away from the clean, fixed-camera work of earlier films and more towards artificially flawed, “real” seeming work?  As MZS states:

…with cinema in the final stages of its digital evolution — the production process evolving from one that used to be entirely analog, with component pieces (film, tape) that one could literally hold in one’s hand, to a digital process wherein almost every stage is created electronically, and the bits don’t physically exist in quite the same way — it’s worth asking where this craving for “believability” comes from and how it’s being expressed via the camera. I think it has to do with the subliminal knowledge (on the part of filmmakers more so than the viewers) that reality is imperfect, and that to make a moment seem real, one must present it somewhat imprecisely, to counteract the meticulous, slightly inhuman slickness of CGI.

I think he’s onto something, particularly in how he discusses earlier special-effects-driven films, and how by today’s documentary-style, post-Bourne compositional style, even rock ‘em sock ‘em movies like Back To The Future and Terminator 2 seem staid and evenly composed.

The difference between the “Forbidden Planet” approach and the herky-jerky style of so many current special effects-driven movies is the difference between spending a long, meditative afternoon in front of a foreign landmark and Chevy Chase hustling his family from one highlight to another in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”: “Hey, look kids! There’s Big Ben! And there’s Parliament!” Even 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” arguably the opening salvo in CGI’s dominance of the modern special effects epic, feels stately and classical compared to “District 9” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Director James Cameron breaks out the handheld camera for fight scenes, but elsewhere relies on smooth Steadicam and dolly shots (and a fair number of static images and locked-down pans).

N'Dugu ChancellorThe whole thing has me thinking a lot about music production, and about how the exact same questions and trends apply, though on a slightly different timeline. I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Jackson lately (whether I want to or not), and I can’t help but notice the sparseness, the almost quaint style of his records, particularly Thriller.  The instrumentation on Billie Jean is incredibly sparse – just drums, bass, a single keyboard, and strings.  The tune works like it does because of the almost ridiculously strong groove from drummer N’dugu Chancellor, and the fact that it was recorded in a way that gives what the recording engineer, Bruce Swedien calls “Sonic Personality.” As he points out, there are very few songs that can be immediately identified by the first few drum beats – the amount of work they put into the mix (detailed in Swedien’s afore-linked-to post) really paid off.

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I Love You, San Francisco

19 Sep

The Marina
Giants Stadium

City CarShare

Music In The Park

Stow Lake

Alcatraz

Feet In The Presidio

Just sayin’.

TV Round-Up

18 Sep

The summer has come to a close, and with it, I’ve wrapped up several shows I was watching and started several others.  Also: is it just me, or has the standard fall/winter/no summer TV schedule ceased to mean anything at all?  Here it is late september, and Mad Men is just heating up, 30 Rock doesn’t start for a month, Lost and Chuck aren’t around until 2010, and So You Think You Can Dance is on.  Again.  Where am I?  What time is it? Where are my pants? Anyway.

True Blood:  Admiral Cain vs. Frank Sobotka = Everybody Wins

true-blood-eric-posterI thought that season 2 of True Blood was flippin’ great, though I was a bit disappointed by some of the later episodes. Mainly the resolution of the Fellowship of the Sun plotline, which felt like it wrapped it up too quickly in order to have a few episodes left to deal with Maryann.  I think that perhaps it’s because the show feels forced to revolve around Sookie at all times, so they needed her to be present for both story resolutions?

But check it: the fact of the matter was that, love it or hate it, Maryann’s storyline was really Tara and Sam’s storyline – they were the reason for the season,  were the ones caught up in it, and it would have made sense if they had been the ones to resolve it.  Having Sookie wander in at the last minute to sit around and be mad about Gran’s house and then sort of weakly push over an idol with some electricity powers seemed weird.  And forced.

Don’t get me wrong, it was cool to bring everyone together, and Jason and Andy’s unlikely alliance was great, but it didn’t seem as though the writers were wrapping up the season with a desire to really make the resolution interesting, from a character standpoint.  I’m picturing a way better finale with Sam finding a way to rescue Tara from Maryann’s influence and the the two of them leading a scrappy insurrection against her, with Tara being forced to kill Eggs, and Sam almost dying in order to save the day… and all of that playing out at the same time as the resolution in Dallas, so that everything felt bigger and more epic.  Maybe even if they found a way to weave the two stories together somehow? I bet there are some interesting drafts on the writers’ room floor, is what I’m saying.

But still, season two was still really good times, and I looked forward to the show every week.  Just a bunch of dumb hicks getting wasted and screwing, with lots of blood and Alex Skaarsgard rocking the shit – hard to fault the show too much, you know? Also, damn – I’ve always been a fan, but Anna Paquin just might be the sexiest chick on TV the moment. Good lord.

Nurse Jackie:  Is That All There Is?

nurse-jackie-2Hmm. Not so sold on this one.  Nurse Jackie seemed like it was gonna be really great, and, as a friend of mine put it, I could watch Edie Falco do her laundry and it’d be pretty cool, but still.  Is that really all there is?  I think this show fell victim to the half-hour-dramedy syndrome.  It’s enough time to get some laughs, if you’re focusing on the “medy,” but it’s not enough time to truly develop any “Dram.”

After a while, it just started to feel as though every episode started with a possible conflict, teased around the conflict, had some funny bits, and then ended with Jackie standing outside of the hospital, giving a mirthful shrug off into the heavens, putting her hands in her pockets and walking on down that lonely ol’ road.  And then the next episode would rinse and repeat, and nothing would ever actually go anywhere.

Also, as Sepinwall pointed out, the show did a great disservice to Anna Deavere Smith’s character – she was never really developed beyond being an inconsistent foil, and anytime she walked on camera, that Super-Irritating Plinky Music Of Wackiness started playing.  God, do I hate the SIPMOW.  It’s such laziness, writer’s shorthand to cue the audience when on-screen events aren’t making things clear.

Anyhow, I thought this show could’ve been good, and the supporting cast is great, but there just wasn’t enough there there for me to want to come back.  It was a lot like Weeds, actually, though the premise is stronger, the supporting cast far less irritating, and the leading lady a better actor.  Even with all that going for it, it still felt a bit pointless.  This about sums it up: I watched the finale and didn’t realize it was the finale, and for weeks was looking for the finale to download, until I finally realized that I’d watched the finale, so I had to go read a recap to remember what had happened.  Not a good sign.

In Treatment Season 2:  Oh My God, With The Acting Already

In Treatment Paul and AprilJFC. This show stands as, like, a testiment to old-school acting, to everything that the thespianic among us strive for.  For character, for consistency, for showing and not telling, for the mystery of the human face.  The writers and directors work so, so tirelessly to make it happen, and the camera just unflinchingly shows what these people are going through, and the whole thing is so unbelievably well-done and compulsively enjoyable and engaging… it’s like, the opposite of what people who complain about television’s shallowness describe.  The whole thing feels like a grand experiment in programming that is working, and even as I’m watching it, I still can’t believe it exists.

Actors must get their agents to kill people to get them on this show, huh?  I thought that everything about season two was even better than season one – the sessions were cleaner, the characters a bit more appealing, the season-long plot (the lawsuit, etc) more engaging.  And considering that I effing loved season one, that’s no small thing.

The way in which Paul’s own persona drama (with his dying father) tied into the problems of his patients was more elegantly executed than his failing marriage in season one, and far less painful to watch. And the cast!  Holy hell, the cast!  To a one, they were perfect, and Gabriel Byrne must be the best dad in the world in real life, because the chemistry he has with kids… gosh.  His scenes with Aaron Shaw (who played Oliver) were just heartbreaking, man. The little turtle! Who carried his house on his back!

And do I even need to point out the ridiculous awesomeness of Allison Pill?  Woah.  After Mia Wasikowska rocked it so hard in season one, it was hard to imagine anyone one-upping her, but I really think that Pill did.  And everyone else, too… it was an incredible season, and even though it is longer than an average TV season, it seemed to just fly by.  I highly recommend it.

Onward To The Future:  You’re Gonna Need A Bigger DVR

REAPER

YES

And so those three seasons are over, and we have several more to take their places.  I think that Mad Men is off to a great start, unsurprisingly, and am really stoked to get to watch the show on my sister’s amazing new LCD HDTV.  There’s some sort of irony in the fact that the amazing technology they use to shoot the show serves to make their old-school period details look so incredible, but I don’t want to get sidetracked.  Love it.  The Office and Dollhouse start up again soon, and given how hard I thought the Dollhouse “Epitaph One” bonus episode rocked, as well as the just-announced fact that frickin’ Ray Wise is also joining the cast (in addition to what appears to be the entire former cast of every Joss show ever, as well as most of Battlestar Galactica), I am pumped for the new season.  A lot.  Glee continues to worm its way into my heart, if only because I like to talk about the problems I had with a given episode as much as I like to talk about the parts I liked, so the whole thing is a pretty enjoyable experience.

I’m also getting mentally prepared to bust through the two existing seasons of Breaking Bad, which I know is the best show since sliced bread, and that I’ll love it, but have gotten enough “don’t watch this show before you go to bed, it will wreck you” warnings that I’m feeling scared of it.  But, time to bunker down and watch, I guess.

And I guess that’s it!  Wait, no, there’s also Always Sunny, 30 Rock, and David Simon’s upcoming HBO series about Jazz Musicians in New Orleans, (Yes, you read that right) called “Treme.” Wow, that’s plenty of TV – no worries to Chuck and Lost, or any of the other shows that are delaying their start.  You guys go ahead and take your time. There are so many of you, and you’re all so good!

The Exited Door, in Wordle

17 Sep

Thanks to Sonia for showing me Wordle.net, where I input all the text from my blog series on the creation of The Exited Door.

The Exited Door Wordle

Yeah, I'd say this about sums it up. (Click to enlarge.)

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