Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Band in Heaven, They Play My Favorite Song

I literally just got back from the David Byrne concert at Clowes Memorial Hall. Wow. Just…wow. Here’s what he played:

Strange Overtones
I Zimbra
One Fine Day
Help Me Somebody
Houses In Motion
My Big Nurse
My Big Hands (Fall Through The Cracks)
Never Thought
The River
Crosseyed and Painless
Life Is Long
Once In A Lifetime
Life During Wartime
I Feel My Stuff

Encore 1:
Take Me To The River
The Great Curve

Encore 2:
Burning Down the House

Encore 3:
Everything That Happens

This tour is in support of Byrne’s latest collaboration with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Before the tour began, Byrne promised that the shows would be a mix of old and new songs, so long as they were worked on by both him and Eno. Some of my favorite Talking Heads material came out of that partnership, so, to combat any disappointment, I looked at the setlist right after he began the tour. I was bummed that he wasn’t doing songs such as “Artists Only” and “Air.” You can imagine how surprised I was when he added both “Air” and “Burning Down the House” to the show. When he began playing “Air” I was so taken aback that I just stood there. And then when he strapped on the acoustic guitar and started “Burning Down the House”… I was in heaven. (Even if it was a cheat; Eno did not work with Byrne on that song.) Those two songs were easily the highlight of the evening for me.

As is customary with David Byrne, the show was very theatrical. Everyone was dressed totally in white and occasionally dancers would come out and bust some choreographed moves. Here’s a clip from a different show:

It was pretty cool, although he mainly used the dancers during old Talking Heads songs. He’s gone on record before saying those songs are too old for him to relate to, so my guess is he’s using the dancers to revitalize them for him. It’s a win-win situation for both the audience and the performer.

Unfortunately, all this professional dancing made the audience feel comfortable to bust a move. People began springing up all over the place, waving their hands in the air and trying to do their best to imitate the “Once in a Lifetime” video. They did not succeed. As I told my friend Aggie, it was like attending the largest, whitest wedding reception ever.

There was a very young little girl there with her parents, though, and she was having the time of her life dancing to the music. Little kids are allowed to dance like that, so I gave her a pass. Plus, any kid that likes David Byrne at that age is freaking awesome.

The song arrangements for the TH stuff wasn’t that radically different from the Stop Making Sense era. In fact, there were a lot of moments that came verbatim from that film/album during a few of the songs. I should have minded, but I never got to see Talking Heads live and I’m guessing tonight was the closest I will ever come to that. So I didn’t mind him doing some of the songs exactly as he did in 1984.

This show far eclipsed his 2001 show at the Murat Egyptian Room. The setlist was better and Byrne just seemed more into it. Plus there wasn’t a national tragedy lingering in everyone’s minds. (Last time I saw him was September 16, 2001. Life during wartime, indeed.) Yeah, I could have used more old Talking Heads songs, but, as I kept telling myself, I wasn’t at a Talking Heads concert. Maybe someday they’ll reunite, but I doubt that will ever happen. Besides, tonight came close enough for me. A great, great show. If he comes to your town, see him!

Friday, October 24, 2008

In the Fifth, Your Ass Goes Down

I spent a large chunk of this week sitting in movie theaters. I had free passes to the Heartland Film Festival and I used them with a vengeance. OK, I used three of the tickets. But that’s three free movies!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17 – Stranded: I Have Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (2007). Remember the movie Alive? The one about the 1972 plane crash in the Andes Mountains? The one with the survivors who had to eat the flesh of the dead in order to survive for 72 days? Yeah, this is that story, only told by the people who lived through it and not actors-of-the-moment like Ethan Hawke. Hearing the survivors talk about their ordeal was powerful and very moving. All sixteen survivors are still alive and agreed to participate in the movie, so there’s not one voice missing. The director pretty much let them do all the talking and kept his visual flashes to a minimum. Other than some cheesy silent re-enactments and visual goofiness, he mainly just concentrates on their story. (Since we're complaining, he could have used a new score. What he went with was basically one chord held indefinitely.) As a bonus, the director and one of the survivors fielded questions after the film. Unfortunately, neither one spoke English very well so it wasn’t that in-depth. But at least they tried. Very well done, this documentary. GRADE: A-.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18 – Paper or Plastic? (2008). Another Heartland documentary, this one about the 2006 National Bagging Championship in Las Vegas. The film started off on the wrong note for me, making fun of some of the contestants for having funny accents or for being middle-aged and working in a grocery store. But after the initial making-fun period ended the film actually became a nice human-interest piece. By the time everyone got to Vegas you were rooting for each one of them to win. While it was probably the least surprising documentary I’ve ever seen, it was still damn entertaining. GRADE: B+.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19 – W. (2008). While I am no fan of our current president, I was worried that director Oliver Stone would spend the entire movie mocking Bush. There’s not much more comedy to be wrung from that washcloth. Stone thankfully played it straight, showing how the Iraq war debacle came to be and how Bush’s advisors had a knack of slyly convincing the president to do whatever they wanted. Nearly all of the actors in the film playing his figureheads – Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Toby Jones as Karl Rove, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, etc. – were excellent, which led to some credibility to the film. (The only person who totally blew it was Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. She hammed it up a bit too much, making her feel like a refugee from a bad Saturday Night Live skit.) Josh Brolin was phenomenal as George Bush, adopting his mannerisms while not crossing the line into parody. Brolin’s come a long way from The Goonies. The themes of the movie were pretty heavy-handed, but I have to hand it to Stone: He managed to make a disastrous presidency entertaining. I was surprised to like it. And it still has the best trailer of the year. GRADE: B.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20 – Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes (2008). Another Heartland documentary. (There must be a rule that all titles at the Heartland Film Festival must be awkwardly-worded. “The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes”?!?!? There had to be something better to call this film.) I was no fan of Robert Altman’s fictional film A Prairie Home Companion. I thought it was a strange mix of music and black comedy, neither one being that strong or interesting to carry the film. So I went into this movie with a bit of trepidation. I admit that the fake folksy NPR vibe of Prairie Home Companion is like nails on a chalkboard for me. (As is most of NPR. I’m probably the only liberal in the country who can’t stand it.) But this movie wisely avoided being a documentary about that show, instead concentrating on the man in charge of it. That was a wise move. Keillor is a man built on contradictions. He loves living in St. Paul but admits that he would prefer to live in New York. Yet when he’s in New York, he misses St. Paul. He prefers to be alone yet can’t stand not having the company of others around him. He says he doesn’t like fame yet he seems to feed off of people automatically knowing who he is. The best thing about Keillor is that he knows this about himself, a point he readily makes in the documentary. The film works both as a portrait of the man and as a historical docudrama about the creation of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion. (The creation of the film gets some screen time as well.) And while it has a tendency to drag and make the same point over and over again – we get it, he likes New York City – it’s never boring or false. And it’s much better than Altman’s Prairie Home Companion. GRADE: B.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22 – Pulp Fiction (1994). Another Wednesday, another Flashback Feature. This time it’s one of my favorite movies of all-time, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 gangster epic. The film has aged extremely well, although the flaws that were apparent in 1994 are still there today. Tarantino as a director is phenomenal, but as an actor he’s wooden and unbelievable. Some of the dialogue is way too out-there to work (“Warm…warmer…disco!”). And the whole Bruce Willis/Maria de Medeiros section of the film is long and pointless. But those are minor complaints. The film is probably the most alive movie I’ve ever seen, living and breathing with every new moment. John Travolta sinks his teeth into his role as Vincent Vega, giving the best performance of his career. Samuel L. Jackson matches him note-for-note as his partner Jules. Tarantino’s career since Pulp Fiction has been hit-or-miss, but you can’t deny the electric jolt this film gives you when you see it. It’s his masterpiece. Plus it’s funny as hell. GRADE: A.

That’s it for this week. Next week we’re back to the chronological viewing project. (On tap for tonight: All About Eve.) I’m also going to try to see Appaloosa in the theater, although that might not happen. It’s currently playing in only one theater in town and is only showing at night. But it’s an Ed Harris film, so it’s worth a look…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Five Videos: Pulp Fiction

I saw Pulp Fiction last night* as part of United Artists’s Flashback Features program. Not only was it cool to see one of my favorite movies on the big screen again but before the film they played two vintage 1994 trailers for Clerks and Bullets Over Broadway#. It was like taking a trip back to the fall of 1994. Here’s the well-done Clerks trailer.

I couldn’t find a trailer for Bullets over Broadway on Youtube. Apparently, though, there’s an all-girl metal band out there called Bullets over Broadway because that site is littered with their clips. I wonder if they’re fans of Woody Allen? Or Dianne Wiest?

Too bad they didn’t show the trailer for Pulp Fiction before the movie, because it’s one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a bizzare alternate-universe trailer for the film if it starred the Muppets. And Eric Stoltz.

1994 in film could easily be summed up as Forrest Gump vs. Pulp Fiction. Here’s MadTV’s spoof/mash-up of the two called Gump Fiction^.

If you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction, please do so soon. You’re missing out. And it’s not even that violent! OK, it’s violent, but it’s not Saw for crying out loud.

*Review tomorrow!

#Don’t speak. Don’t speak!

^Not as funny as I remembered it being, but it still makes me chuckle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Caught In A Trap

The A.V. Club is one of my favorite Internet sites. Using a combination of smart, informed writing with a skewered sense of humor, they write about all things pop culture. One of their new features is called AVQ&A, a weekly question posed to the staff that is, of course, pop culture related. Since I’m all about the pop culture, I figured I could play along. And what better place than this blog?

This week’s question was “What’s the best live music show you’ve ever been to?” I’ve been to a lot of live shows, but this one turned out to be pretty easy. The answer is R.E.M. at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on August 9, 1999.

In 1999, I knew two people living in southern California: my sister and my friend Jeff, he of the 98% terrible CD collection. (He has a few R.E.M. discs, so it isn’t all bad. Of course, those discs are located next to R.E.O. Speedwagon…) Val lived in San Diego, Jeff in Orange County. I’d been trying to come up with a reason to visit both of them, and, thanks to the concert, I finally had one. We all agreed to go, Jeff bought the tickets, and I made plans to get myself out there.

I was out there for an entire week, Saturday to Saturday. I spent the weekends with my sister and Tuesday-Thursday with Jeff. Monday was the concert. My sister, my future brother-in-law, and I drove to Orange County Monday morning and met Jeff. The four of us spent the entire day looking at the Hollywood sites – that walk of fame is pretty damn stupid, if you ask me, although the handprints in front of the Chinese Theater were pretty cool – before heading to the concert. My future brother-in-law had no desire to see the show, so we deposited him at a movie theatre and wished him well. This was before everyone had cell phones, so we just hoped to see him alive after the show.*

The only thing I knew about the Greek Theatre was that Neil Diamond had recorded a live album there in the 70s. The venue was gorgeous, nestled into the hillside of a park. Trees surrounded us. It was kind of what I pictured Red Rocks to look like, although I’m guessing Red Rocks is even more beautiful. The weather was typical So-Cal: sunny, calm, 72 degrees. A perfect evening.

1999 was a strange time in R.E.M.’s life. They had just lost their drummer and, instead of calling it quits, decided to continue on with his blessing. The album they were touring behind, Up, was mediocre. Some decent songs, but all of them sounded so sedate. That happens when you don’t have a drummer. I had no idea what to expect, if they’d just come out and play an acoustic show or if they would have a full band behind them. Thankfully the latter turned out to be the case. The extra musicians punched up their sound and kicked them into high gear. All of the songs rocked. Well, all of them except for “Everybody Hurts.”

Before the final song, Michael Stipe broke into “Suspicious Minds.” The band played along for a bit but then forced him into “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” with that famous snare intro. At the end of that song, Stipe began “Suspicious Minds” again and this time the band ripped into a full-length version of it. It was spontaneous and one of the coolest concert moments I’ve ever witnessed.

I have a bootleg of the show which confirms my memory of it being a hell of a good time. When I saw them this summer they came close to topping it, but I knew they were going to be great so the surprise element was gone.

The day after the concert Jeff and I went to Vegas. That’s another story for another time.

Runner-ups in the best concert sweepstakes:

The Pixies, The Murat Theatre, June 7, 2005
The Finn Brothers, The Vogue Theatre, February 22, 2005
Peter Gabriel, Deer Creek#, July 2, 2003
Fleetwood Mac, Conseco Fieldhouse, June 24, 2003
The Pretenders, The Murat Theatre, February 13, 2003
Bob Dylan, The Murat Egyptian Room, November 5, 2002
Elvis Costello, The Murat Theatre, October 13, 2002^
David Byrne, The Murat Egyptian Room, September 16, 2001
U2, Conseco Fieldhouse, May 10, 2001
Bruce Springsteen, Firstar Center (Cincinnati), April 30, 2000
Vixen, Pendleton Heights High School, sometime in 1990-1991

Just kidding on that last one. It would rank as the worst concert I’ve ever seen if it hadn’t been held in my high school gymnasium. Come on, you have to admit that that’s pretty cool. Also, it was a “Say No to Drugs!” concert even though I’m pretty sure Vixen was baked out of their minds during the entire thing.

*Yes, he was alive and well. And sitting outside the theater waiting for us to pick him up like some poor kid waiting on his parents.

#I know it’s now called “Verizon Wireless Music Center,” but it’ll always be Deer Creek to me.

^Memorable because a fire alarm happened during the show. The band left the stage but the rest of us stayed in the theatre like a bunch of dumbasses. (A water line burst or something, which set off the fire alarm.) When Costello came back he launched into “Accidents Will Happen.” Awesome.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Simply The Best...Movies

Yesterday I posted my favorite album for every year that I’ve been alive. I thought it would be interesting to see the results if I did the same thing for movies. So, here’s that list:

1973 – The Sting
1974 – The Godfather Part II
1975 – Dog Day Afternoon
1976 – Network
1977 – Star Wars
1978 – The Last Waltz
1979 – All That Jazz
1980 – Airplane!
1981 – Raiders Of The Lost Ark
1982 – Tootsie
1983 – National Lampoon’s Vacation
1984 – This Is Spinal Tap*
1985 – Back To The Future
1986 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
1987 – The Untouchables
1988 – A Fish Called Wanda
1989 – Do The Right Thing
1990 – Goodfellas#
1991 – The Silence Of The Lambs
1992 – Reservoir Dogs
1993 – In The Name Of The Father
1994 – Pulp Fiction
1995 – Dead Man Walking
1996 – Fargo
1997 – Boogie Nights
1998 – A Simple Plan
1999 – Election
2000 – You Can Count On Me
2001 – The Royal Tenebaums
2002 – Adaptation
2003 – Mystic River
2004 – The Incredibles
2005 – Murderball
2006 – Pan’s Labyrinth
2007 – The Darjeeling Limited
2008 – Wall-E^

You can see that the 80s are mainly built of sentimental favorites instead of well-regarded films. I don't care what all the movie snobs think. National Lampoon’s Vacation and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are the best films those years had to offer me. And there was nothing else to choose from in 1977, hence the inclusion of Star Wars on this list. That movie is fun but it’s nowhere near that super-duper classic that nearly everyone in my generation makes it out to be.

This will be the end of this list thing, unless I follow my sister’s suggestion and make one based on what I really liked the actual year I was living. To be honest, this list wouldn’t change much after 1985. Pre-1985 would look a lot different. I wasn’t exactly enjoying The Godfather Part II in 1974.

*This list goes to 11!

#My favorite movie.

^So far. This year’s good movies haven’t really come out yet.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Simply The Best

There was a game making the blog rounds a few months ago. The rules were simple: You were to choose your favorite album for every year you’ve been alive and post it for others to look at. OK, it wasn’t really a game, more of a list, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to play. Here are my results:

1973 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
1974 – Sheer Heart Attack – Queen*
1975 – Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac
1976 – Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers
1977 – Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
1978 – This Year’s Model – Elvis Costello
1979 – Tusk – Fleetwood Mac
1980 – Pretenders – Pretenders
1981 – Business As Usual – Men At Work^
1982 – The Nylon Curtain – Billy Joel
1983 – Synchronicity – Police
1984 – Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads
1985 – Scarecrow – John Mellencamp#
1986 – Graceland – Paul Simon
1987 – The Joshua Tree – U2
1988 – Green – R.E.M.
1989 – Doolittle – Pixies
1990 – No Depression – Uncle Tupelo
1991 – Nevermind – Nirvana
1992 – Automatic For The People – R.E.M.
1993 – In Utero – Nirvana
1994 – Monster – R.E.M.
1995 – Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
1996 – New Adventures In Hi-Fi – R.E.M.
1997 – The Dance – Fleetwood Mac
1998 – Mermaid Avenue – Billy Bragg And Wilco
1999 – Magnolia – Soundtrack
2000 – MP4 – Michael Penn
2001 – Satellite Rides – Old 97’s
2002 – The Rising – Bruce Springsteen
2003 – Elephant – White Stripes
2004 – American Idiot – Green Day
2005 – Extraordinary Machine – Fiona Apple
2006 – Rabbit Fur Coat – Jenny Lewis
2007 – Bluefinger – Frank Black
2008 – Accelerate – R.E.M.+

Yes, I apparently love Fleetwood Mac. 1979 was a tough year. Fear of Music, Tusk and Armed Forces all could have held that spot and I wouldn’t have complained. But Tusk won out because of the sheer originality and chutzpah of it. I mean, have you heard some of those songs? They are fucked up. The rest of the years Fleetwood Mac won hands down, no contest.

Using this list as a template, I can now determine my favorite album that’s been released since I was born. Ready? Drumroll, please…

This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello. It’s a hell of a disc. From start to finish, nothing but winners.

I expect everyone who reads this blog to post their answers in the comments section. All two of you!

*1974 was a shitty year for albums.

^Laugh all you want. This album is excellent.

#I can’t help it. I’m from Indiana.

+So far.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Iraqi, With Your Gun In The Moonlight...

According to the movie W.*, George W. Bush's favorite musical is Cats.

Somehow that just seems appropriate.

*Review Friday!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Plastic. Always Plastic.

I've seen two films at the Heartland Film Festival this weekend - gotta love those free passes! - one of which was a documentary about the 2006 National Grocery Bagger's Competition, Paper or Plastic. I'll save my thoughts on the movie until Friday, but I had to comment about bagging in general.

As you all know, I spent four long years in college working in the Kroger video department. I was fine there in my little corner of the store, renting movies to customers who also needed to buy some milk, being left alone by every other employee who wasn't a non-foods worker. Unless the store was busy. That's when the jackass store manager Mr. Bonehead* would come to our department, find me, and say, "Hey, there, ol' buddy, ol' pal, I need you to help us with some bagging! Would you give it the college try?"^ And then I would have to bag groceries until the fuss died down. I might be out there ten minutes. I might be out there eight hours.

I hated bagging groceries. And I was terrible at it.

I know I was terrible at bagging because a customer once called the store and complained about me. Here's what happened: She had a pie. Not a frozen pie, one of those fresh-baked ones from the bakery. It was big, bulky and could easily not have been bagged. Of course, she wanted it bagged. So I put it in a plastic bag - per her request - and set it in her cart, telling her to not pick the bag up by the handles because it would tilt the pie sideways and destroy it. She told me that was fine, she understood. Of course, she then goes home, picks up the handles and, in the process, decimates her pie. This was my fault somehow. She called the store to complain about me and to try to get me fired. Mr. Bonehead said he wouldn't fire me, but that he would give me a stern talking to. Which he did, in his office as soon as he hung up the phone. I apologized to him and said it wouldn't happen again and that, to be honest, I had never been trained to bag properly anyway. That was a huge mistake: I spent the rest of the day watching bagging training videos because some dumb lady couldn't follow my instructions.

I had a coworker who hated bagging even more than I did. Kroger was a union store and, after being asked to bag on a busy Saturday afternoon, he called the union to complain about the manager. The union blew him off. He didn't last much longer at Kroger. (Yes, I've been a member of a union. Local Non-Food Handlers 166, baby!)

My last day they asked me to bag and I told them I refused. They started to give me shit about it, so I took off my Kroger smock# and told them to find someone else to close the video department. They bought it. I didn't have to bag.

The irony of all this? Now every time I go to Kroger I have to bag my own groceries in the self-check lane. And I don't mind it one bit.

*His name has been changed to protect his innocence. But it hasn't been changed that much.

^Yes, he really did talk this way. Right, Val?

#And I looked incredibly sexy in that smock, I might add.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Name Was Lime, Harry Lime.

I’ve decided that Fridays should be the day when I recap all the movies I saw during the past week. Since new movies tend to start on Fridays, it just made sense for me to do it then. Plus, you know, that way I won’t spend every other day talking about movies. That is, if I continue to update the blog. Keep those fingers crossed.

Anyway, here’s what I watched this week:

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11 – Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008). I’m sure this movie would have been a lot of fun…if I were sixteen years old. I went because I thought the plot sounded interesting and because Michael Cera has earned a lot of goodwill from his work on Arrested Development. Unfortunately, watching the movie just confirmed that I’m old. I kept thinking things like, “You damn kids shouldn’t be out so late! Where are your parents?” It didn’t help that I knew none of the so-called “hip” music that the movie was featuring. I went thinking it could be another Juno, a modern film about teens and love. I left feeling like I needed to check into a nursing home. GRADE: C-.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 12 – The Third Man (1949). I love, love, love this movie. It’s usually classified as a “film noir,” but it has a little bit of everything: mystery, comedy, scares, and, yes, love. And the cinematography…damn. Shadows are so prominent that they should have received second billing. And that score. And Orson Welles! And…you get the picture. (Seriously, get this picture!) Easily the movie of the week, and one of my favorites of all-time. GRADE: A.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13 – The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Sadly, not all film noirs are good. I’m not sure what I saw in this the first time around, because watching it again proved to be a tedious experience. The photography is excellent, I’ll give it that, but the plot is a boring crime-gone-wrong whodunit. I liked some of the actors – Sterling Hayden is great and it was weird to see Disney’s favorite villain Keenan Wynn in a creepy role – but overall it was pretty blasé. I pulled it from my collection and you can now find my copy onsale at Amazon. Gotta love Amazon. GRADE: C.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14 – Spaceballs (1987). For some reason, my local United Artists theater is showing old movies on Wednesday nights for only $5. And they’re not DVDs projected onto the screen; they’re actual film prints. This program is due to end in a few weeks – but not before I see Pulp Fiction on the big screen again! – and I hope they decide to continue it once its over. This week’s “Flashback Feature” was Mel Brooks’s Star Wars parody Spaceballs. I’ve never been a huge fan of Spaceballs – it’s a dumb movie concerned more with idiotic crotch jokes than smartly parodying science-fiction – but I never saw it on the big screen in ’87. Plus a friend asked me to go and I had nothing else to do, so I went. Rick Moranis is the sole reason to see it. His comedic chops are on full display here, further proving my theory that he should have been a bigger star than he was. Other than that, the movie is terribly dated. The soundtrack in particular screams 1987 – Van Hagar! Bon Jovi! “Spaceballs…watch out!!!” – and the effects are laughable, even for their time. Still, Moranis is inspired and there are far worse ways to spend 90 minutes. GRADE: C.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15 – Sunset Boulevard (1950). Damn, this movie has some balls. Kicking every facet of the film industry in the ass, director Billy Wilder created a classic that has aged extremely well. (Sad to say that some of the problems that plagued Hollywood back in 1950 are still evident today, from concentrating on big-budget pictures to tossing away actresses when they reach a certain age.) The framing device of the movie is inspired and Gloria Swanson goes for broke with her performance as Norma Desmond. The dialogue is composed of nothing but classic lines, from “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small,” to “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” It does drag in places and Swanson’s acting is so immersive that at times she becomes overbearing, but it’s nice to see Wilder go for broke and create a still-original piece of work. GRADE: A-.

Before Spaceballs they were asking trivia questions, one of which I answered correctly. (“Which famous actress was Mel Brooks married to in real life?”*) My prize was a pack of ten free passes to this week’s Heartland Film Festival, which I intend to use. So hopefully next week’s update will be full of independent, heartwarming, and generally family-friendly movies. Hey, they’re free.

*Anne Bancroft, duh.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

He Was 9 In The Summer Of '69

Reckless, 1984
So Far, So Good, 1993

When I was a sophomore in college Ball State opened up their new sports arena. And, to celebrate, they decided to put on a concert. Apparently they couldn’t get anybody really famous, because they wound up with Bryan Adams. Because when you’re celebrating the opening of a multi-million dollar facility, there’s no one better to ask to christen it than the guy who sang “Heaven.”

Also, when I was a sophomore in college, I began to remove the lame music chains that had held me down all throughout high school. No longer did I automatically buy what was number one on the charts. Instead I began seeking out music that was interesting to me. Sure, a lot of that music was the popular grunge tunes of the time, but at least it was better than the over-produced crap that held power over me in high school. (I admit it: I once owned the M.C. Hammer Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em CD, among many other embarrassing discs. Note the verb tense on that last sentence. I don’t own them anymore.)

Bryan Adams could not have come to Ball State at a more awkward time in my musical life. On the one hand, I still enjoyed some of his music. How can you not enjoy “Run To You”? On the other, he represented everything that I was growing to hate about the pop machine. It didn’t help that I had just received his album Waking Up the Neighbors for Christmas and absolutely hated it. It was 74 minutes long, twice as long as his hit disc Reckless, and filled to the brim with stupid songs like “Hey, Honey, I’m Packin’ You In!” At least every other song title on that album ended with an exclamation point, almost like he was trying to trick us into having a good time. “See! It’s an exclamation point! It’s fun!!!” It didn’t work.

But he was coming to Ball State* and I had never seen him, so I bought tickets. Joining me was my friend Jeff, pop music’s best friend^, and my girlfriend at the time, Missi. Missi did not like it when Jeff and I got together – too many in-jokes, too much movie talk – so she decided to sit in between us at the concert, punishing us for being friends. I didn’t date her much longer.+

Anyway, the concert sucked. Bryan Adams showed up, sure, but he only sang about 25% of his lyrics. The rest of the time he let the crowd sing for him. Example:

BRYAN ADAMS: I got my…
CROWD: …first real six string. Bought it at the five and dime. Played it ‘til my fingers bled. Was the summer of ’69. WOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

That was pretty much the pattern for the entire evening. One of my biggest concert pet peeves is when the audience is asked to sing large chunks of a song. If I wanted to hear myself sing, I would have stayed at home and taken a shower. Needless to say, it was not one of the better concerts I’ve seen.

That being said, to this day I continue to have a soft spot for Adams’ early work. Reckless is one hell of an album, a tight 37 minute delight full of memorable hits (“Run To You,” “Somebody,” “Summer of ’69,” “Heaven”) and crazy, off-the-wall stuff that somehow works (“Kids Wanna Rock,” “Ain’t Gonna Cry,” “Long Gone”). I never got rid of it when I was purging discs left and right during college. I also kept his greatest hits disc, mainly for songs like “Heat of the Night” and “Cuts Like a Knife.” I could do without that awful Robin Hood song, but that’s why God invented the next track button on a CD player.

Bryan Adams all but disappeared after that concert. He continues to release albums but no one cares anymore. His last grasp of popularity was in 1993 when he released the adult contemporary single “All for Love” from The Three Musketeers soundtrack. That song was a trio with Sting and Rod Stewart. Hearing it was like listening to the careers of three formerly great rockers going down the drain. It didn’t help that The Three Musketeers was so awful that it holds the distinction of being the only movie ever made to make me nauseous as I was watching it.

He also had that song from Don Juan DeMarco, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman.” You remember that one. It was the song that went, “Have you ever really, really, really, really, really ever loved a woman.” Apparently his creative well ran dry prior to writing that song.

It would be cool if Bryan Adams hooked up and recorded an album with Rick Rubin. I’d check that one out of the library. But as it stands now, he’ll be known solely for “Summer of ‘69” and “Everything I Do, I Do It For You.” (The latter song was brilliantly mocked on Arrested Development, by the way.) Which is kind of appropriate. I mean, it’s Bryan Adams we’re talking about here. He’s edgy to people who have a lot of Paula Abdul in the collections# and lame to those who do not. I never seek him out but if the iPod shuffles to one of his songs I don’t mind listening. Unless it’s about doing everything for me. I draw the line there.

*I knew a guy who knew the guy who drove Bryan Adams around Muncie when he was there. Apparently, all Bryan Adams cared about was locating and visiting all the local strip joints. Bryan Adams = pervert.

^Seriously, the guy has awful taste in music. Some of the discs in his collection include works by Color Me Badd, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion and Marc Cohn. It’s like taking a trip to Easylisteningville everytime I look at his CDs.

+Unbeknownst to me, she was actually dating another guy at the time. I knew they were talking – he lived in Florida and she said they were “just friends” – and I was fine with that, but I had no idea they were actually a couple. Just like us. At the same exact time.

#My friend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Can I Do With A B.A. In Telecommunications?

I saw Avenue Q again last night for the second time this year. I love that show. It combines my deep admiration for the Muppets with my extremely sarcastic sense of humor. The show is not for kids. Puppets have sex during the show. Funny, disturbing sex. And they sing songs like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn.” What’s not to love?

For those not in the know, Avenue Q is basically a parody of Sesame Street. It takes place in front of an inner-city block of apartments, much like the PBS chestnut we all know and love. The cast is a mixture of puppets and real people and there are short animated videos in between scenes that are very much like the beloved pinball short that everyone in my generation counts as one of the greatest videos ever. (And sung by The Pointer Sisters!)

The difference is that the puppets aren’t children, they’re jaded twenty-somethings fresh out of college with no idea what to do with their life. The first main song in the show is “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” The next song is called “It Sucks to be Me.” Want examples? Here are some bootleg videos from Broadway I found on Youtube:

“If You Were Gay”:

“It Sucks to Be Me”:

And, yes, “The Internet is for Porn”:

And my favorite characters of the show, the Bad Idea Bears:

Yeah, Sesame Street it ain’t. But it’s not all scatological, stupid humor. There’s a lot of heart to the show. All the characters are longing for your basic human needs: love, friendship, stability. And they’re all struggling with their lives. All the clips I posted above happen before the first act is even half over. Believe me, the show eventually digs its heels into the plot and becomes emotional. I haven’t choked up that much due to an inanimate object since Wilson the volleyball floated away from Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

I don’t think last night’s performance was as good as the one I saw in Louisville. The energy seemed off a bit and some of the supporting human characters were, as my friend put it, “half-assing it.” The Indiana audience seemed appreciative of the show, but very cautious. They weren’t laughing as hard as the Louisville audience did, probably because a lot of them were offended by some of the material. And, yes, there were several walkouts at intermission. Gotta love them Hoosiers.

So, if anyone reads this, see Avenue Q this week at Clowes. Not only because it’s really funny, but also because if the show is successful then we’ll have a chance to see some good touring shows come through town in the future. If not, we’ll be stuck watching the musical version of Happy Days over and over again. (Yes, there is a musical version of Happy Days. It will be in town in January.)

One last fun bit: Fiddler on the Roof, Avenue Q style:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I've Got The Biggest Balls Of Them All

I’ve been watching my movies chronologically lately, both to revisit some old friends and to finally get rid of the ones I hate. This kind of mass revisitation has led me to look at another area of my life that’s just as important to me as film: music.

My first CD player was purchased for me on July 25, 1987. I remember that date not because I mark it as a seminal event in my life – even though it is – but because my mother and I bought it at H.H. Gregg during their annual “Christmas in July” sale. I remember walking into the store shouting “Merry Christmas” – once a dork, always a dork – and leaving with a CD player boom box. The purchase was totally unplanned, I think, although now I can’t tell you what my mother and I were doing in the middle of an H.H. Gregg on a Saturday afternoon. It’s not like we hit the home appliance stores on a regular basis.

Anyway, the purchase came with a caveat: I could use the player all weekend, but, as of Sunday night, it would go into a box and not be mine until it was actually Christmas. Rules. Because I was 14 and broke, I only had enough money to buy one CD at Target that afternoon: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles had recently been releasing their material to CD and that disc had just come out, so it was on sale. Plus I was a burgeoning Beatles fan at that time and it made sense for it to be my first purchase. I played the hell out of that disc over the next 24 hours.

Sadly, I do not have that disc anymore. I leant it to one of my maybe-kinda-sorta college girlfriends and we “broke up” before I could get it back. The Sgt. Pepper in my collection now is an impostor. Also, if you think it’s weird that I would choose a 20 year-old album as my first CD purchase, the next two discs I bought were John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee and Europe’s The Final Countdown. Yes, Europe. Shut up, I was 14.

I’ve been buying CDs for 21 years now. At a rate of at least one per week. Needless to say, I’ve amassed quite a large, varied collection. And I want to write about that collection mainly by concentrating on each particular artist. And first on that list is AC/DC.

Before we jump into the merits of AC/DC, let me say a word about organization. I’ve never understood the people who have their CDs all jumbled up all non-sensical, spread out in 42 different areas of their house. How do they find anything? I’ve been an alphabetizer since 1987. It’s the only way to fly.

Now, AC/DC.

When I was in college I bought AC/DC’s first and only live disc, titled, simply, Live. When I was young I enjoyed all their big radio hits, the “You Shook Me All Night Long”s and the “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”s, but never enough to start buying their catalog. The live disc had all the hits on it and, since AC/DC has always said they will never release a Greatest Hits disc because they prefer making a statement with each album, I figured it was the best I could do.

Well, the live album shone a light on how crappy AC/DC actually is live. All the songs sounded the same. Same structure, same ending, same tempo, same double entendre lyrics, same everything. It was pitiful. I gave that disc a chance, but, in the end, I sold it to Karma. I thought that was the end of my AC/DC buying days.

Then came the era of stealing music off the Internet. And there’s no better band to steal from than AC/DC. Don’t want to release a Greatest Hits disc? Fuck you, Angus, I’ll just steal the tracks I want! One of those tracks was “Back in Black.” And, for whatever reason, that song began logging some serious headphone time. It’s a hell of a song, “Back in Black.” A great riff, a sing-along chorus that firmly implants itself in your brain, and a scorching guitar solo that ends the track. That song deserves more than a permanent rotation on Q95’s idiotic playlist. (SEGER!)

So I bought the album Back in Black hoping for more of the same. It is AC/DC’s most well-regarded album, so I figured it wouldn’t be a bad purchase. And it wasn’t…if you don’t mind hearing the same song ten different times. AC/DC has a formula and they don’t like to deviate. It’s an entertaining and simple-minded formula, but it works. Still, it kind of makes their anti-Greatest Hits argument moot, since it’s not like their albums sound all that different from one another. I would totally buy an AC/DC Greatest Hits disc if they ever released one.

Some other AC/DC notes:

After seeing The Eagles in 1995 at Deer Creek, the amphitheatre put “You Shook Me All Night Long” on as exit music. The entire crowd began singing along in a spontaneous fit of joy. Those three minutes were arguably more entertaining than the overlong and overpriced concert that preceded it.

Even though that was a fun moment, if you looked up the word “overplayed” in the dictionary, it would tell you to see “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Hell, even Celine Dion has covered it.

AC/DC is coming to Conseco Fieldhouse next month. Every single ticket in the arena is selling for $94, even the nosebleeds. See The Eagles for who to blame for outrageous ticket prices like this. I’ve never seen them in concert and, at those prices, I don’t think I ever will. Plus you’d have to wade through a sea of Seger-loving hicks in order to get to your seats. Q95…ugh.
One final note: "Big Balls" is their masterpiece.

BEST SONG: “Back in Black”
SONG THAT SHOULD DIE: “You Shook Me All Night Long”